The legendary Smiths guitarist discusses his new solo LP 'Playland,' his musical foundation, and the abiding pursuit of his next creative move.
'Music is one of those things that brings us together.' — Nathan East
With this five-song EP, the Austin-based singer/songwriter proves herself to be a striking, sophisticated new talent.
September 28, 2011
September 21, 2011
Long distinguished in the music industry as a GRAMMY®-winning songwriter and producer—and this is supplement to nearly three decades of collaborative work with Cohen, their creative partnership peaking with 2001’s masterful Ten New Songs—Robinson established herself as a recording artist in her own right in 2008 with her debut album, Everybody Knows.
Striking an eclectic balance of jazz-inflected soul, eloquent songcraft and Robinson’s suave and sophisticated vocals, the album earned both critical and popular acclaim. It was released in the early phase of what would amount to a nearly-three-year tour with Cohen, however, and thus benefited from only minimal publicity and promotional appearances. Nevertheless, the album ultimately fulfilled the promise of Sharon Robinson's rich, multidimensional talent. “I was looking for a sound that was mine,” she said to this writer of Everybody Knows. “I had to dig deep to find it, but at the same time it felt very natural. It feels like the kind of music that I like, what I want to put out there.” Now the opportunity is hers to do so in person.
Details on Sharon Robinson's upcoming West Coast tour is available at the artist's official website. Dates and locations are as follows:
October 8 // Zoey’s Cafe // Ventura, CA
October 15 // Spaghettini // Seal Beach, CA
October 29 // Hotel Café // Los Angeles, CA
November 3 // Café Du Nord // San Francisco, CA
November 5 // Barkley Theatre // Fallon, NV
(First published at Blogcritics.)
September 13, 2011
Can you perceive any evolution in your songwriting over the course of your career?
September 05, 2011
In collaborating with a few friends–guitarist Greg Leisz, violinist Jenny Scheinman, drummer Kenny Wollesen, and bassist Tony Scherr–the experience was made all the more poignant. "It really did bring us together in this way I’d never felt before," Frisell reflects. "It was almost like this healing, warm cloud came over us that the music put there."
Throughout such classics as "In My Life," "Beautiful Boy," and "Across The Universe," All We Are Saying..., which will be released on September 27 by Savoy Jazz/429 Records, honors Lennon’s artistry with considerate, inspired performances.
"I didn’t prepare for it," says Frisell of the effort overall, "but then it was like I’d been preparing for it my whole life."
In making the album did you learn anything about John Lennon’s songs that you perhaps weren’t as aware of before?
It reminded me of how deceptively simple they are sometimes. Some of them maybe just have two chords or three chords. If you analyze it in a conservatory kind of way, it’s like, “Well there’s this, and there’s that.” It doesn’t seem that complicated, but then what happens with it is so extraordinary. You listen for five seconds and then the song just latches onto you. You can’t shake it off. And it’s not because of some big corporate, commercial machinery that’s rammed it down our throats. It’s genuinely because of the music, I think. There really is something transcendent about it; it transcends all. So much of it is so personal to him, but it’s also so universal at the same time. We all know what he’s talking about.
An improvisational spirit runs through much of your work in general. On this one in particular, how did you channel that into songs which are already so ingrained in the culture?
I didn’t want to re-harmonize them or deconstruct them. For me they’re just these perfect gems of music. The only thing we had to do was play it. The luxury I had there was that the band I was with, we have such a long history together and a way of playing together. Fifteen years ago I started playing with most of them in one way or another. So there’s just a way of communicating with each other when we play that we don’t really have to figure things out or talk about them. We just start going. It’s improvising, but it’s also sort of—
Yeah. I mean, nothing on this album was really worked out or figured out beforehand. We just started playing whatever song it was. And there’s kind of a way we have a way of playing... One person will start a melody and another person will finish it. There were no arrangements. We had charts, but the charts were just representations of whatever the original version of the song was. Then we just went for it. For me that’s the most inspiring way of playing anyways. Whatever the music is, I want it to feel like everyone at every moment there’s not one person that’s less important than another.
How do you maintain your enthusiasm for making music, whether you’re interpreting someone else's music or writing your own? What keeps you curious and what keeps you motivated?
I guess I take it for granted, but that’s the least of my… It’s more fighting to have the time to stay in the world of music all the time. There’s never any lack of… You never have to worry about what’s coming next. If you’re in the music there’s something always there right in front of you, like, “Wow, look at that,” or, “I want to try this.” That’s what it’s been my whole life. I never have to think of what to do next because it’s like this overwhelming amount of possibilities always right in front of me. So I try to get to as much as I can.
So the well never runs dry?
No. I mean… Music is crazy. You wake up every day and there’s as much in front of you that you haven’t done as there ever has been. You never think it’s the end of it. To me it feels good being in it. I never get tired of it, that’s for sure.
Does the guitar challenge you still?
Oh yeah, totally. Every day, I swear, it doesn’t feel that much different than the very first time I ever picked it up. I mean, I’ve been playing it for 50 years or something. And then today I’ll grab it and it’s like, “Oh my God, how am I gonna play this thing?” It still feels like that. You’re just at the beginning all the time. That’s something I’ve had to get comfortable with. It can be discouraging. It can bum you out, like, “Man, I’m never gonna get it.” But then part of the thing with music is you have to be comfortable with the idea that you’re never gonna get it right. You just have to get as close as you can. Everything I play is just an approximation of what I wish I could really play.
(First published at Blogcritics.)
September 02, 2011
In Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter, author Randy L. Schmidt chronicles the often-troubled and ultimately tragic life of one of popular music’s most gifted voices.
In one particularly telling passage, the author notes that when Carpenter started making records and touring with her older brother, Richard, she considered herself foremost a drummer, then a vocalist. At the time she was, if anything, a bit overweight. Yet by all accounts Carpenter seemed either content with her curves or indifferent to them altogether. However, as the duo’s success necessitated that she step into the spotlight — literally, as concert audiences had difficulty discerning the five-foot, four-inch singer behind her drums and cymbals — her self-esteem and health began to deteriorate.
The author gives much consideration to Carpenter's personal (mostly familial) relationships. While her father is rendered as being genial and supportive, her mother comes across as overbearing at best and, at worst, dictatorial. Richard Carpenter seems to fall somewhere between these two extremes, appearing as a musical perfectionist yet also a protective if, at times, condescending older brother. And yet even accounts of some rather heated arguments between the two can't diminish the overriding impression that Richard loved his sister to no end.
In depictions of the behavior and various tactics she resorted to in maintaining and masking her illness — and over time she acknowledged she was indeed contending with something more than low self-esteem and poor eating habits — Karen Carpenter never comes across as willfully self-destructive. Her actions were, it seems, a means to cope with circumstances in which she felt helpless or inadequate. Anorexia nervosa instilled in Carpenter a false sense of security, providing her a means of control, the only kind she believed she had.
Though the author wrote Little Girl Blue without the Carpenter family's participation or blessing, the narrative is nevertheless well-substantiated, insightful, and riveting to read. Karen Carpenter's story, of course, remains heartbreakingly sad.
(First published on Blogcritics.)