Monday, January 15, 2018

Matthew O'Neill Takes Inspiration from Neil Young and Nature

Matthew O’Neill’s goal when recording his most recent album, Trophic Cascade, was “timelessness,” and with so much creative musical diversity flowing through it, its appeal will undoubtedly last for many generations.

Trophic Cascade, released on the environmental record label Underwater Panther Coalition, has touches of rock, folk, and psychedelic music, and all the styles O’Neill uses are alluring.

“We managed to create a unified work despite the songs covering wide stylistic and lyrical grounds,” he says. “It tells a story. My intention is to represent nature and indigenous perspectives in song — to make something that is useful for people to relate to. I see how landscapes integrate diversity, and I feel we accomplished something sonically similar.”

For many years, the environment has been at the forefront of O’Neill’s life. He was born in Dundas, Ontario, and raised outside Philadelphia, but then proceeded on a wandering path where he encountered many different geographies.

“When I was 19, I got fed up with college and mainstream culture,” says O’Neill. “I was more than a little misanthropic at that point and probably at the edge of a nervous breakdown. I bought a Bondo’d out ’56 Chevy wagon for $2,000, packed it up, and drove to the Rosebud Reservation (a Sioux reservation in South Dakota), where I stayed with the Spotted Tail family. I camped in their yard for a while. From there, I went to the Black Hills and eventually down to Colorado, and on from there. I lived in ultra-remote areas, often high mountain passes, out of a tent. Deep solitude, infusing in the infinity. I moved around, walking, writing, exploring, praying, seeking. New Mexico, Arizona, California. I lived that way for a long time.”

O’Neill, who is now 40, says he slowly started making his way “back into the world” in the Santa Cruz, California, area. He worked at a University of California farm and garden while living in the Santa Cruz Mountains and began performing solo again.

“I met an amazing woman who was a caretaker at a big ranch overlooking the Pacific Ocean in western Sonoma County, and we lived together for a while,” he recalls. “I was writing songs and working with draft horses. At some point, I decided to move back to Prescott, Arizona, and finish my studies. When I showed up there, I quickly formed a band and began recording and performing.”

O’Neill now lives with his family in New York’s Catskill Mountains, in the tiny hamlet of Phoenicia, about 14 miles northwest of Woodstock. Phoenicia had 309 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. census. 

“I’ve traveled all over the country, and I live here because, for me, it’s the best,” O’Neill says. “I have wilderness and water around me, and I want that for my children.”

Getting away from the hubbub and embracing nature in rural areas has been a major part of O’Neill’s life. His record label aims “to improve our connection to Mother Earth through curated musical projects — to protect and honor the Earth through music and activism.” The label says it donates half of all profits to Earth-protection groups, “with a focus on Indigenous rights and clean-energy initiatives.”

A backpacking trip to the Southwest and the death of his dad when O’Neill was 13 changed his life forever.

“My father was an avid sportsman and craftsman and my best friend and teacher,” O’Neill says. “I loved being out in the fields, mountains, and ocean with him. Once I had wheels, I spent my time following in his footsteps with a guitar in hand. Losing him suddenly was very tough. It shook me to the deepest depths. He was my anchor. In the wake of his passing, I became connected very directly to the spiritual and sacred. Music became my way of expressing this connection. It has always been very important to me to try to be the kind of great father he was.

“A couple years after his passing, my uncle took me on a backpacking trip to northern Arizona. We traveled place to place, led by Phil Bartow, who had represented native people in the area and had spent many years in the back country.  We had a blind friend on that trip who hiked with us to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and everywhere else.

“Phil is Yurok (a tribe in northwestern California), and his friend, Greg, lived on the Navajo Reservation. We stayed with Greg’s adopted grandmother in her hogan. She was in her 90s and still had flocks of sheep. Her prayers were powerful. We also took a Hopi prayer offering to the top of the Sacred Peaks. There is no way to explain what happened on that trip, but it was akin to what people tend to call enlightenment. From that point on, I adopted native ways, because I related to them completely.”

O’Neill has also often related to different forms of music he encountered during his travels and says a Joanna Newsom concert at a Unitarian Church in Philadelphia probably influenced him more as a musician than any other show he has seen.

“I've seen so much great and inspiring music in log roadhouses, high mountain lodges, and off-the-beaten-path joints.”

The best concert he ever saw, though, was a “secret show” of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. It was a Verde Valley School benefit near Sedona, Arizona.

“They were unannounced,” O’Neill recalls. “I was 17 and had just moved to northern Arizona. My girlfriend from southwest Colorado and I got ahold of some tickets through a college professor. They went on as the sun was setting with red rocks all around. It was cosmic — and perfect in sensitivity to the place. I had seen them on the Ragged Glory tour as a kid, with Sonic Youth as the opener, and that was a very different — and equally powerful — performance.”

I tell O’Neill that I hear lots of influences — maybe Neil Young, Pink Floyd, J.J. Cale, and Fleet Foxes — on Trophic Cascade. 

“I’ve studied music all my life, all the way back to bone flutes in caves,” he says. “Proper soul music — Philly soul especially — is my foremost influence. Pink Floyd was my favorite band in middle school, and later it was Neil. I’ve listened to a lot of J.J. Cale. I’m not very familiar with Fleet Foxes, but I know they sing harmony, and I’ve always loved that.”

O’Neill cites numerous musicians he loves that may have been an influence: CSN&Y, Sonic Youth, Miles Davis, Emmylou Harris, Thelonius Monk, Pharaoh Sanders, Joni Mitchell, the Band, PJ Harvey, David Bowie, Tom Waits, Gordon Lightfoot, Ali Farka Toure, XIT, Fred Chopin, Link Wray, Modest Mouse, Royal Trucks, and P-Funk. And “my grandfather always bought me Waylon and Willie records for holidays.”

Despite the many influences, O’Neill says there’s no “intentional style” that permeates through Trophic Cascade. “It’s a collaborative studio effort.”

The 15-song album was recorded by a five-piece band in three days in early 2016. Then six months were spent editing and mixing it. 

“As we were working on the album, the Standing Rock situation (protests in North Dakota by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and supporters against construction of an oil pipeline) was growing into a major thing, and it really correlated with what I was trying to express in these songs.”

O’Neill says he doesn’t know what the albums’ songs look like “from the outside, but, from where I’m walking, a song can have a touch of Philly soul, a touch of Bacharach, Orbison, and Sonic Youth, and be its own thing.”

Thea Gilmore on Making Stuff that Matters

Thea Gilmore doesn’t subscribe to the belief that an artist’s best work comes early in his or her career.

“I think one of the biggest myths in music is that you make your best art when you’re super young,” the prolific British singer/songwriter tells me. “It’s bullshit. Look at Leonard Cohen. He was making some of his best, most vital music just before he died.”

At age 38, Gilmore has a long way to go before anyone accuses her of artistic regression. She released her 16th album, The Counterweight, last year and has released a constant string of must-buy albums since her late 1990s debut.

“My main aim has always been to keep creating one way or another ’til I shuffle off,” Gilmore says. “I want to make stuff that matters, helps people, and makes things a tiny bit better until I’m gone. It’s what I do best and how I can be of the most use. So, living, loving, helping, watching, and, above all, growing are my big plans.”

The Counterweight aims to tell a story, she says.

“Perhaps I’m a woman out of time by using the album as a whole to create a narrative in a world that’s looking for single songs to hit the mark. It might be a bit retro of me, but I love the album as an art form. The Counterweight is trying to bring the listener on a bit of a journey through the ups and downs of personal trouble and out into the wider world to take a look at everything that 2016 specifically threw at us in a global context.”

Gilmore says she wrote mostly personal songs on her previous few albums, and The Counterweight is a departure.

“The Counterweight really fires me back into a social and political commentary frame which, in all honesty, is more my comfort zone. And, truly, how can you not write about the shit that has gone down over the past few years? We’re living in a dystopia that none of us saw coming!”

Gilmore worked on the album’s fourth track, “Reconcile,” as Britain voted to leave the European Union, and recorded the seventh track, “Johnny Gets A Gun,” three days after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. “War,” the 13th and final song on the album, mentions the Orlando tragedy and was inspired by the murder of Jo Cox, a member of the British Parliament.

The slaughter at the Pulse nightclub, where 49 people were killed and 53 wounded, “was horrific and gut-wrenching,” Gilmore says. “I cannot begin to imagine the pain that people who were caught up in it felt.”

Gilmore doesn’t hide her distaste for guns.

“I have always hated guns,” she says. “They literally make me feel nauseous. Something that can take a life so quickly and from so far away feels inhuman to me. I feel that gun legislation needs to change, and it needs to change fast. There will always be bad people in the world, so it makes sense to make it as difficult as possible to give them access to such an effective, destructive tool.”

Prior to The Counterweight, Gilmore released a 20-song album, Ghosts & Graffiti, in 2015. She considers the album a retrospective.

“It's me looking in the rearview mirror and to the horizon,” she says. “I revisit and rerecord older songs of mine and set them alongside brand new tracks to tell a story. Plus, it's got a huge array of amazing guests on it, including Billy Bragg, the Waterboys, Joan Baez, and John Cooper Clarke. They add their special voices to the album, making it a celebration of everything I’ve done.”

With 16 albums recorded, does it seem like time has flown for Gilmore?

“It’s true, and time does fly for sure,” she tells me. “This business is getting heavier and heavier. It has a habit of dragging artists down into it which means a lot of music gets dull ’cos it’s not coming up for air.

“I get bored fast. I like to be constantly moving and be light on my feet. That means, out of necessity, I’ve worked outside the mainstream for a long time, which is hard but lucky, too.”

Another artist who has always worked outside the mainstream, Bob Dylan, was saluted by Gilmore seven years ago when she released an entire cover album of John Wesley Harding.

“It’s not my favorite Dylan album,” she says. “But I get asked to cover Dylan songs a lot, and I’m not really into doing covers unless I feel I can bring something new to the party. John Wesley Harding was the album I almost always went to. It suited my voice and my way of doing things best.”

Gilmore says Dylan’s song, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” from his classic 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home, “literally had me high on lyrics from about the age of 10.”

She marvels at “Dylan's way of telling a story, but not telling it — of making the audience work and bend and shift position to see it from all the angles.

“His work, at its best, is transformative,” she says. “You come out of it a completely different person. I certainly did anyway!”

Gilmore cites a July 1997 concert by Ani DiFranco at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London as the best one she ever attended. She was 17 years old.

“I don’t think I’d ever been to a gig that made you feel such a part of what was going on onstage,” she recalls. “And to see a woman command a crowd, play the guitar like a demon, and exercise humor, wit, and political engagement. It made me want to be that good. It made me want to do what I’m doing now. I will always be thankful to her for switching on that light in me.”

She points to another concert, however, as the one that most influenced her as a musician. It was a show by Paul Westerberg at the London nightclub Scala in October 2004.

“I’d been a massive fan of the Replacements and Westerberg's solo work for years, but I’d never come close to him live,” she says. It was a revelation. He was loose and fluid and completely mad. Half the audience joined him onstage on a sofa. That show made me realize that live performance isn’t an us-and-them experience. It taught me that one of the joys of music is the community of it, and the best musicians are as indebted to their audiences for making the shows explosive as they are to themselves. That's an important lesson for a performer to learn.”

Blues Rocker Albert Cummings Releases CD/DVD/Blu-ray “Live at the ‘62 Center”

Dubbed “A Great Guitarist” By The Legendary B.B. King, and Having Played with the Likes of King and Other Blues Legends From Buddy Guy to Johnny Winter - Singer/Songwriter and Blues Guitarist’s Full Concert Experience Set to Be Released Via Ivy Music

Following the release of 2015’s “Someone Like You”, Blues Rock and Americana Guitarist/Singer/Songwriter Albert Cummings is back with a brand new Live CD/DVD/Blu-ray collection out now! Recorded at a recent performance in his hometown of Williamstown, MA the aptly titled “Albert Cummings Live at the ’62 Center” features the widely respected bluesman and his band performing their hits past and present.

Albert Cummings has always loved being spontaneous when it comes to his music, and this creative spirit certainly came to the forefront during the recording of his most recent Live Album/DVD/Blu-ray collection. Putting together a newly formed version of his usual trio that afternoon of the October, 2016 recording- Cummings added keyboards and background singers for what would be their very first performance together.

With the crowd’s anticipation building, the lights came on and the band found their groove on song after song following the star effortlessly as if they had played together for years. With longtime friend and Grammy Winner Jim Gaines behind the soundboard, what comes through in both sight and sound is an incredible journey into the live performance world and artistry of one of today’s most seasoned blues musicians.

Sure to be a favorite among his fans both new and old, “Live at the ‘62 Center” captures Cummings’ unbounded joy for his craft performed in his very own hometown.

Eric Clapton: "I'm Going Deaf But Will Still Keep Playing", New Documentary dives into dark phases of Clapton's life

Iconic rock musician Eric Clapton has revealed that he was “going deaf” after being diagnosed with tinnitus.

“[What] I’m concerned with now is being in my 70s and [staying] proficient. I mean, I’m going deaf, I have got tinnitus, my hands [are] just about work,” the singer-songwriter, who has just released his documentary, “Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars,” said in an interview with BBC Radio 2.

At 72, Eric still goes to work and plays gigs.

“I mean, I’m hoping that people will come and see me for more than that; [because] I’m a curiosity,” he said. “I know that is part of it, because it’s amazing to myself that I’m still here.”

As previously reported by Variety, the documentary is directed by Lili Fini Zanuck, Oscar-winning producer of Driving Miss Daisy, in partnership with producer John Battsek, whose credits also Oscar-winning films One Day in September and Searching for Sugar Man.

The documentary will also dive into dark patches of Eric Clapton's life, including his drug and alcohol addictions and the tragic death of his four-year-old son Conor in 1991.

Battsek said the team was given access to Clapton’s extensive personal archive of classic performance clips, on- and off-stage footage, iconic photos, concert posters, handwritten letters, drawings and personal diary entries.

Following its premiere at the Canadian film festival this weekend, the documentary will air on Showtime on Feb. 10, 2018.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Breeders at Capitol Theatre, May 2

No bye, no aloha, indeed: The Breeders are back with a new album. And for the first time since Last Splash, the record will feature the lineup of Kim and Kelley Deal, bassist Josephine Wiggs, and drummer Jim McPherson.

Those who managed to see the 2013 tour supporting the 20th anniversary edition of Last Splash (also known as LSXX) were the first to see this reunited lineup in action, and while it will also be The Breeders’ first album since 2008's Mountain Battles (not to discount the weird 2009 EP Fate To Fatal—well, maybe discount it a little), this will be the first music recorded with the same foursome who laid down “Saints” and “Divine Hammer” more than 20 years ago. All Nerve is set to be released on March 2, featuring 11 tracks recorded over the past couple of years, including with Steve Albini in Chicago and Mike Montgomery and Tom Rastikis in Dayton, Ohio.

Along with the new record (about which you can find out more information on the 4AD website), the band will be going on tour in spring and summer throughout North America and Europe. The list of dates is below, and tickets go on sale this Friday, January 12.

The Breeders 2018 Tour

North America:

4/06—LOS ANGELES, CA—Theatre at Ace Hotel

4/07—SANTA ANA, CA—The Observatory

4/08—SAN FRANCISCO, CA—The Masonic

4/10—PORTLAND, OR—McMenamins Crystal Ballroom

4/11—VANCOUVER, BC—Commodore Ballroom

4/13—SEATTLE, WA—Showbox SoDo

4/15—BOISE, ID—Knitting Factory

4/16—SALT LAKE CITY, UT—The Grand at The Complex

4/18—DENVER, CO—Ogden Theater

4/19—ALBUQUERUE, NM—Sunshine Theater

4/21—AUSTIN, TX—Emo’s

4/22—DALLAS, TX—House Of Blues

4/23—HOUSTON, TX—House Of Blues

4/25—BIRMINGHAM, AL—Iron City

4/26—NASHVILLE, TN—Cannery Ballroom

4/28-4/29—CINCINNATI, OH—Homecoming Festival

4/30—BROOKLYN, NY—Brooklyn Steel

5/02—PORT CHESTER, NY—Capitol Theater

5/04—BOSTON, MA—House Of Blues

5/05—MONTREAL, QC—Corona Theater

5/06—TORONTO, ON—Phoenix Concert Theater

5/08—CHICAGO, IL—Vic Theater

5/09—MILWAUKEE, WI—The Rave

5/11—KANSAS CITY, MO—The Truman

5/13—MINNEAPOLIS, MN—First Avenue


5/27—DUBLIN—Vicar Street

5/28—EDINBURGH—Liquid Room




6/05—FERRARA—Cortile Estense

6/06— MILAN—Santeria


65/28—STOCKHOLM—Gruna Lund






Sunday, January 7, 2018

HR (of Bad Brains) at The Safari Room at El Cortez, February 9

Last year, Bad Brains played their first shows with the classic lineup of HR, Dr. Know, Darryl Jenifer, and Earl Hudson in years, including a semi-surprise show at Darryl’s art show in NYC and Riot Fest. HR has now added a small solo show happening in Bushwick at The Safari Room at El Cortez on February. Tickets are on sale now. It’s the only HR date that we’re currently aware of.

At Bad Brains’ NYC show last year, they brought out Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe and original Bad Brains vocalist Sid McCray. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Trinary System (Mission of Burma's Roger Miller), Munic Hoof and Bentley Anderson/Nicholas John Stevens at El Cortez, January 6

Pharoah Sanders at (le) poisson rouge, April 19

In A.B. Spellman’s essential 1966 book, Four Lives in the Bebop Business, Ornette Coleman said the following: “The best statements Negroes have made, of what their soul is, have been on tenor saxophone.” As wise as Coleman was, it’s a debatable point: Charlie Parker and Ornette himself both ignited revolutions on alto. But it makes sense, too. Whether Lester Young, Dexter Gordon, or Albert Ayler (to name just a few), black musicians gave their lives to that instrument, told their stories through it, and crafted and refined — and defined — the tenor saxophone’s various sounds and textures.

“The tenor’s got that thing,” Coleman went on to tell Spellman, “that honk, you can get people with.” No one honks and hollers, howls and hums, quite like Pharoah Sanders. The native of Little Rock, Arkansas, who got his start in New York with Sun Ra and made his reputation playing with John Coltrane, went on to record an essential series of eleven albums as a leader for the Impulse! label between 1967 and 1974, three of which — Tauhid (’67), Jewels of Thought (’69), and Deaf Dumb Blind Summun Bukmun Umyun (’70) — have just been reissued on vinyl by Anthology Recordings.

In 1966, Coltrane said that Sanders, whom he had hired the previous year for his landmark Ascension session, and then for his regular quintet, was “always trying to reach out to truth. He’s trying to allow his spiritual self to be his guide.”

Coltrane’s later phase of spiritual jazz would transition into the astral, or cosmic, jazz of his wife (and bandmate) Alice after his sudden passing in July of 1967. While Sanders — who was  convinced to change his name from “Farrell” to “Pharoah” by Sun Ra — was a key contributor on many of Alice Coltrane’s releases of the same era, also on Impulse!, his own works from this period are significant for their Afrocentric aesthetic, which make them particularly timely now.

“Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt,” for instance, is a gorgeous, searching, sixteen-minute Sanders-penned suite from Tauhid. Sanders employed an unusual group for this session, which included Dave Burrell on piano, Sonny Sharrock on guitar, and Henry Grimes on bass, each especially splendid. Sanders, still active at 77, may be most renowned as a tenor, but like many saxophonists he’s well-versed in the entire woodwind family, and early in the piece, he has a striking solo on the piccolo before he raises up a sandstorm with his horn twelve minutes in. The song ends quietly with his own vocal effects — Pharoah as a triple threat.  

On Jewels of Thought, he assembled a different but equally impressive group of musicians: Lonnie Liston Smith on piano, Idris Muhammad and Roy Haynes on drums, Cecil McBee and Richard Davis on bass, and the inimitable vocalist Leon Thomas. In “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah,” the first of two expansive pieces, Thomas contributes spoken word and his signature avant-yodeling. Sanders reminds us how lyrical he can be, and what an exceptional tone he has, early in the composition, before he takes off into hyper-expressionist cries.   

Throughout these albums, and especially on Jewels of Thought‘s “Sun in Aquarius,” the sidemen contribute with an assortment of percussion instruments — chimes, rattles, bells, gongs, and kalimbas — which creates a whirl of sound that is earthbound yet otherworldly.

The following year, for Deaf Dumb Blind Summun Bukmun Umyun, Sanders added Sun Ra’s longtime drummer, Clifford Jarvis; trumpet star Woody Shaw; and alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, eight weeks before he would be onstage with Miles Davis in front of 600,000 at the Isle of Wight Festival (where he wore a Pan-African flag button.) 

Like Jewels of Thought, it has two extended pieces: “Summun Bukmun Umyun” (Arabic for deaf, dumb, blind) and a ravishing Lonnie Liston Smith arrangement of “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord,” where McBee solos movingly with his bow. If it’s not necessarily the space, or setting, for Shaw to dazzle, it is for Bartz, whose sharp, slashing tone pushes back against Sanders’s soprano nicely. Bartz, still in fine form today, was at a particularly fertile moment in his career as well. Later in 1970, he would record the rich, varied Harlem Bush Music — Uhuru (featuring vocalist Andy Bey), which was reissued recently by the Jazz Dispensary.

The cover art for Deaf Dumb Blind is telling: Six black men, standing in the main plaza of the relatively new Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera House hovering behind. It was the neighborhood formerly known as San Juan Hill, a famously African American area. Smith holds a kalimba in his right hand. They wear bold colored shirts, not dashikis exactly, but gone are the accoutrements of polite dress that were required in certain institutions. Do they want in? Or are they set to establish their own cultural pillars?

Sanders has had interesting turns in his career. He had a proto–smooth jazz hit with “Love Will Find a Way” in 1977. When I saw him for the first time, at the old Fat Tuesday’s during the Lincoln Center–led neoconservative movement of the mid-1990s, he used an electric bass player, anathema at the time — and brought the house down.   

The three works here are both of their time (“Sun in Aquarius”) and ahead of their time, as Sanders has helped shape the sound, vision, and sensibility of Kamasi Washington, who has cited Sanders’s Karma as an influence. And that slight pivot away from Western culture fifty years ago has turned into, to borrow a term from Coltrane, a giant step. The music on these Pharoah Sanders recordings doesn’t break down into mere tunes, but instead is a journey, into new and old terrain.

Rick Eberle of Iridesense at Stereo Garden, January 5

RZA Live w/ Special Guest Performance by the WuTang Killa Bees and Invited Guest Inspectah Deck (WuTang Rolling Paper Launch Party) at City Winery, January 5