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Brad’s Morning Exercise Music Rundown, 12th Installment: Pete and the HoboSapiens, Downtown Merrylegs, Aaron Bowen, Scott Bricklin, Rose Gabriel, Box for Letters and Paolo Alderighi & Stephanie Trick

September 20, 2017
bradspurgeon

Sit Ups

Sit Ups

For my 12th “Morning Exercise Rundown,” – the 11th of which ran in May 2016 – I have seven musicians or groups to talk about, all of which were discovered in the open mics I attended since then. (Although I have known some of them for a few years.)

The Morning Exercise Music Philosophy

First, as a reminder, the idea behind this regular – but occasional – column is that for most of my life I avoided classic daily physical exercise because I felt I was able to do without it and it bored me to death. In recent years, I had a kind of flash of aged wisdom and realized that I might bore myself to death if I DON’T exercise. (No time in life for exercise? No! No time in life to NOT exercise!) That did not, however, alleviate the boredom of doing it. So when not doing my nighttime exercise of riding my unicycle around the neighborhood – which does NOT bore me – or jogging – which does bore me to a degree – or riding the apartment cycle in front of the TV, which staves off the boredom – I do my exercises in the morning (sit ups, push ups, etc.) while listening to new (and old) CDs that I acquire from musicians at open mics (and including EPs on SoundCloud or other sites) or from any other source.

I do not pretend to be a music critic, but simply to talk about and describe, and give my impressions of the music I listen to during my morning exercises. Keep in mind that my impressions and opinions, therefore, will have been formed while straining to reach a record number of push ups, sit ups, couch ups, deep knee bends, stretch downs and simply catching my breath. So maybe my opinion will be warped.

Pete and the HoboSapiens


Pete and the HoboSapiens – Time and Place

The thing that really gave me the kick in the butt to get my 11th edition of this morning exercise rundown out fast was the reception yesterday of this video to a new project by Pete Cogavin, his new band called: Pete and the HoboSapiens. I just loved this song, “Time and Place,” and sound and video so much that I thought I should get the thing up on my blog along with the other stuff I have been exercising to as quickly as possible. Pete I met in 2010 or 2011 when he was hosting his own evening of music at Shapko in Nice, France. He let me go up on stage to sing a few songs, as he did most people who asked, in his informal open mic at the time. We met the following year too, I believe, and have kept in touch ever since. I loved his voice and music at the time, but it is clearly growing and developing. There is a song-writing skill here, the music is bright and uplifting, it just bounces along, the voice has its distinct Pete Cogavin quality, and there has been some nice effort put into the video. You can also find Pete and the HoboSapiens’ full new CD on Spotify.

The Downtown Merrylegs: Pollen Cloud

Downtown Merrylegs

Downtown Merrylegs

I discovered this Paris-based English band through performing at the Rush Bar open mic, hosted by the genial Charlie Seymour, an Englishman who has spent decades playing music in bars in Paris without us somehow having run into each other until he began hosting that open mic this year! I usually arrived at the open mic too late to hear his opening set – of which I am ashamed – but one day recently when I gave him a copy of my CD, he gave me a copy of his. What a fabulous surprise this CD and band, The Downtown Merrylegs, most of the songs of which Seymour writes and sings. This is British folk rock of a kind I like, but the thing that was extraordinary was when I suddenly realized how close this man’s voice sounds to one of my favorite singing voices of recent years: Wally Page. Page is a little-known Irishman who has, nevertheless, written songs and performed with Christy Moore, the great Irish traditional singer songwriter of Planxty fame. But while Seymour’s voice may be a dead-ringer for Page’s, the stories they tell are entirely their own.

Aaron Bowen and his Wide Sky and other CDs

Wide Sky - Aaron Bowen

Wide Sky – Aaron Bowen

Aaron Bowen has a story to tell in his music, sure, like most singer songwriters. But this San Diego musician who visits Paris regularly, also has a very cool story to tell about his music, the latest which release is “Wide Sky” from More Than Folk Records in Paris. Working in a business in his 20s he suddenly had to sell the business, and found himself deciding to make a life in music. One day, jamming with a friend, he had written a song and wanted the friend or someone to sing it. “Oh, you can try to sing it yourself,” said the friend. Bowen, a fabulous guitar player from a musical family, said to his friend that he could not sing at all. The friend pushed him to try. He sang the song, and out poured the most mellifluous and original voice the friend had heard in a while – and it hit every single note perfectly. Comparisons now often come to the voice of Paul Simon. Whatever. A new singing, songwriting career was born, and Bowen never looked back. I love this CD, Wide Sky, one of two he gave me in recent months, the other being a thing call Spring Demo. But I’ll keep that to myself for the moment! Oh, and by the way, I just wrote that story about his vocals from memory after a night at a Paris open mic many months ago. It is quite possible that I got some details wrong, but that’s the gist of it!!!!

Scott Bricklin, Not Lost at all, on Lost Till Dawn

Scott Bricklin - Lost Till Dawn

Scott Bricklin – Lost Till Dawn

Scott Bricklin is a hugely talented multi-instrumentalist from Philadelphia, who had a previous life on a label somewhere in the U.S. with a band with his brother. Now a permanent Paris expat, he is keeping very busy playing here and around Europe, and has just come out with another album of his cool, laid back folk rock. (At least that’s the way I hear it.) What makes this very homogenous album really interesting for me, and maybe for one or two readers of this blog, is that unlike the last CD of Bricklin that I heard – on which he played basically all the instruments – here on “Lost Till Dawn,” a good most of the CD consists of Bricklin playing along with Félix Beguin and Jeremy Norris. These are the same three performers who played on the first five songs on my CD, “Out of a Jam.” (Beguin also played on two of the other five tracks on my CD.) So it was really cool to hear what other fabulous sounds these guys could make, and it was not a disappointment.

Wrapping Up With Rose Gabriel, Box for Letters and Paolo Alderighi & Stephanie Trick

And so I come to the round up area at the end of this morning exercise report. I’m not rounding up these final CDs because they are in any way lesser in my heart, but because, holy crap, if I don’t get this page out there tonight, who knows how much longer I’ll be sitting on it before I finish it! It has already been so long!

Rose Gabriel

Rose Gabriel

I am not one to love country music, but the songs, stories and vocals of Rose Gabriel’s very personal “Desert Flowers” completely subjugated me. Rose is from Austin, Texas, and I have also seen her a couple of times in Paris. But it was not until I listened to her CD that I really sat back and realized the original voice and stories she had to tell – although the last performance I saw of her at the Rush Bar in Paris was so great that I wasted no time at all listening to the CD she had given me that night!! All about life growing up in Texas, this is very coollll… or rather, hot.

Box for Letters

Box for Letters

I met the lead singer, songwriter, for the Malaysian Band “Box for Letters,” on my last trip to Kuala Lumpur last year, and found a highly original voice and temperament, and another extraordinary story to tell: Here was a man with a promising musical career who suddenly, very young, had a terrible motorcycle accident. Among the multiple injuries were a severely fractured jaw. It seemed his singing and playing career was over. But no. It took him a year or two, but he came back with this beautiful recording – Cerap.

Alderighi and Trick

Alderighi and Trick

Finally, and this is not last as least, Double Trio, is the fabulous live album of Paolo Alderighi and Stephanie Trick, a married couple who are both leading stride piano players. I have written about them several times before on this blog, which is why I am not doing more here now, but this CD (with Marty Eggers on bass and Danny Coots on drums) is a real fabulous demonstration of what this couple can do live in their four-hands act. I had the great pleasure of hearing them in Milan recently, and I can attest to it that this CD is a perfect representation of what they do. Alderighi is from Milan, by the way, and is certainly Italy’s greatest young jazz export, and Trick is from the home of stride piano, St. Louis – where they both spend much of the little time they have when not travelling to put on shows!

Well, that rounds that up. Another morning exercise crop of CDs and SoundClouds, my 12th edition since I started doing this in April of 2013….

“Out of a Jam” Now Up on Bandcamp – With the Lyrics to the Songs

September 5, 2016
bradspurgeon

Out of a Jam

Out of a Jam

PARIS – Back in Paris after a long train ride from Milan, I’ve finally finished putting up on Bandcamp my CD, “Out of a Jam,” that I released this year. This is the first of what I’m planning to be many different releases for the CD on various sites – iTunes, etc. – and I really like this particular site, Bandcamp. Anyway, what is really really cool about the Bandcamp site is that it incited – no pun intended – me to use their feature to put up the lyrics of the songs too. So for the first time, I have put up the music – these are the mastered versions of the songs exactly like on the CD (my SoundCloud versions were not mastered) – as well as the lyrics, and where I feel I have some grasp of the names of the actual chords that I play, I have put up the chords too! So go check out “Out of a Jam” on bradspurgeon.bandcamp.com, if you do not already have a copy of the CD. Well, what the hell, go check it out even if you do!

Brad’s Morning Exercise Music Rundown, 11th Installment:

May 18, 2016
bradspurgeon

Sit Ups

Sit Ups

For my 11th “Morning Exercise Rundown,” – the 10th of which ran on 29th December 2015 – I have, fittingly, 11 CDs to talk about, all of which were received from musicians I have met in open mics over the last few months. (Although I have known some of them for a few years.) No, wait, I’m wrong. There is one of them that I received from a friend in England, who is a friend of one of the musicians, and we kind of did a trade of our CDs, mine for theirs. And you could not get two different sounds! Back to that in a second.

The Morning Exercise Music Philosophy

First, as a reminder, the idea behind this regular – but occasional – column is that for most of my life I avoided classic daily physical exercise because I felt I was able to do without it and it bored me to death. In recent years, I had a kind of flash of aged wisdom and realized that I might bore myself to death if I DON’T exercise. (No time in life for exercise? No! No time in life to NOT exercise!) That did not, however, alleviate the boredom of doing it. So when not doing my nighttime exercise of riding my unicycle around the neighborhood – which does NOT bore me – or jogging – which does bore me to a degree – or riding the apartment cycle in front of the TV, which staves off the boredom – I do my exercises in the morning (sit ups, push ups, etc.) while listening to new (and old) CDs that I acquire from musicians at open mics (and including EPs on SoundCloud or other sites) or from any other source.

I do not pretend to be a music critic, but simply to talk about and describe, and give my impressions of the music I listen to during my morning exercises. Keep in mind that my impressions and opinions, therefore, will have been formed while straining to reach a record number of push ups, sit ups, couch ups, deep knee bends, stretch downs and simply catching my breath. So maybe my opinion will be warped.

The Haunting Cello Suites from Kirk Brandon, with Sam Sansbury

Cello Suites of Kirk BrandonThis is the one CD that I did not receive directly from the hands of the musician at an open mic, as I have never met Kirk Brandon. Brandon was the leading member of the post punk, new wave band Theatre of Hate, and then the more mainstream, Spear of Destiny. We’re talking early 1980s Britain, with the former group’s Westworld album rising to 17th position in the British charts. He has had a long, varied and sometimes controversial (can it be any other way for a former punk?) career, including playing in the supergroup Dead Men Walking. I was given this CD, Cello Suites, by a friend in England who knows the cello player, Sam Sansbury, who accompanies Brandon’s guitar and vocals, in a very haunting, minimalistic style of music that holds together from the beginning of the album to the end in an original concept of darkness and light. What the hell do I mean by that? Well, with Brandon’s poetic, but also sometimes outrageous lyrics and declamatory style, you sometimes don’t know whether to laugh, cry or fly. In fact, you do a little bit of all of that. And the CD, although it will never be to everyone’s taste, really invited me to want to listen to it again and again to figure out what it all meant. Ultimately, it’s a unique Kirk Brandon voice and world – definitely cool.

Rusty Golden and His Sober Musical Tour de Force

Rusty Golden - Sober

Rusty Golden – Sober

I discovered Rusty Golden in Bahrain of all places. He was playing keyboards and singing as well as accompanying another singer, at a place fittingly called, Big Texas BBQ & Waffle House. And yet the last thing I expected to find was Rusty Golden, an American musician of the illustrious country and gospel family, his father being a member of The Oak Ridge Boys, a Country Music Hall of Fame band the name of which any music lover in the U.S. knows. Even less did I expect to see that Rusty, after a long and illustrious career with disparate bands, and solo efforts since the early 1970s handed me an album that I found spine-tingling bona fide music that I would first call Rusty Golden, then situate somewhere in the folk-rock, country, pop area. In fact, I kept thinking even of The Band. There’s something about Rusty’s deep down-home vocals, and strong emotional grounding. Did I say “grounding?” This CD is all about recovery, thus the name. And while that’s a theme that you might think you could get tired of over the 13 songs of this album, the answer to that is no way. Working with Scott Baggett as producer, and with some great Nashville musicians – including the legendary bass player, David Hood from Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, who has played with everyone from Cat Stevens to Paul Simon to Traffic, Boz Scaggs and Etta James, this CD is lyrically, emotionally and musically first rate. I wished I could have spent more time in Bahrain listening to more of his stuff live, and learning stuff….

Greg Sherrod’s Mighty Blues, Soul and Rocknroll

Greg Sherrod Album

Greg Sherrod Album

I met this blues, rock, soul singer on his first night in Paris on a bit of a European tour he was doing. He had found an open mic – Some Girls, on the rue de Lappe – through my blog, and we immediately hit it off, enjoying each other’s company, and sets behind the mic. We also exchanged CDs. When I went home and then played this CD, I found a whole new world, or rather, three worlds: As the album’s title says, it is Blues, it is Soul and it is Rock ‘n’ Roll. The album is set up, in fact, with those three categories covered section by section. And of course there is crossover amongst the sections. Some people might define some of the blues as rock, etc. One thing is sure: Greg Sherrod has his own voice, and his own world. But he works well within the traditions, and the whole production is first class. Too bad I could never see him with his band in his home area of Connecticut, amongst his fans…who, by the way, paid for this CD in a very successful crowdfunding operation. Thank goodness! Thank them!

Yann Destal’s Ethereal Vocals and Sounds

Yann Destal

Yann Destal

I met Yann Destal several years ago at the restaurant of the Bus Palladium venue in Paris, and I was immediately captivated by the purity of his vocals and emotional delivery. He’s also an exceptional multi instrumentalist, and one of the few French singers I have ever heard who seems not to have an accent in his English delivery. I quickly learned that he might be playing in an unassuming way in an interesting, but far from massive venue, but he had in fact as a very young man had a worldwide hit in the year 2000: Lady, from his band called Modjo. Since that time, he has gone on a solo career, releasing most recently the album, “Let me be mine,” which I received from him while we were both performing at an open mic in Paris called Mammalia. The album actually dates from 2013, but it is fabulous, haunting production, with his airy vocals, and lyrics and almost a concept feel to this. And if Yann plays mostly cover songs in places like that open mic, or the restaurant of the Bus Palladium, the album consists of 13 of his songs, plus the very original take on The Beatles song, “Oh! Darling,” which is so original that at first you don’t recognize it – then you go, brilliant!

Wrapping Up With Vincent Lafleur, Velasco, Florian Gasquet, Ant Henson, Claudio Zanetti, Tsipora and DTSQ

And so I come to the round up area at the end of this morning exercise report. I’m not rounding up these final CDs because they are in any way lesser in my heart, but because, holy crap, if I don’t get this page out there tonight, who knows how much longer I’ll be sitting on it before I finish it! It has already been so many months!

Vincent Lafleur

Vincent Lafleur

As I write these words, I’m pretty sure that Vincent Lafleur is directing the music orchestra on his piano at the crazy Soirée Buzz, in Paris. Vincent is an accomplished pianist, and I have known him for a few years now hosting one open mic or another, and doing the music behind the Soirée Buzz. But until he gave me a copy of his new CD – Mr. Lafleur, “Des racines, Et…” – I had no idea that he was writing his own songs too. And most importantly, where he may sing in English during most of the open mics, here he has written songs in his own language: French. What did not surprise me was that they were written – and sung by him – in the medium in which he seems to feel most at home: Soul. And if Van Morrison can do Irish soul, why not Mr. Lafleur doing French soul! Ok, Mr. Soul, thanks for the CD and 13 songs to savour….

DTSQ

DTSQ

When I showed up at the open mic of the Féline bar the other day I was told I had just missed an incredible electro pop band from South Korea called DTSQ. But I went out front of the place and found them talking to some musicians and I joined in, and together we shared stories of the various bars and venues where they play in South Korea, since I had gone and played there annually for about four years. We knew of some of the same places. I then offered them my CD, and they offered me theirs. Electro, yes indeed, and shocking. Rhythmic would be the word above all others. They gave me both their latest 2015 CD as well as their tour CD of live stuff. I loved how the former was full of fabulously produced electro static, hard stuff and then suddenly, the final track was this somewhat primitively recorded song with the accompaniment of what sounds like a crappy acoustic guitar from the back of some bar somewhere. It was done on purpose as a contrast, no doubt, and it worked wonders.

ant henson

ant henson

Ant Henson I met at the open mic at the Noctambules last year that I helped to found and host. He lives in England but came visiting for a while. His CD, “57,” has as its opening song the clever and catchy, “57 Stars,” and that sets the tone for a wonderful collection of 10 songs that Ant told me he had been putting together for years, including something to do with “teenage angst.” Well, the angst was there, but I couldn’t find the “teenage.” It was very catchy CD most of the way through, with the bopping, lively approach that he gets across in his live performances shining through no problem at all.

Now, I said at the beginning of this post that I had 11 CDs, but I think the list grew from when I began to write it, and today when I finished it and post it. I don’t care! I don’t want to count up the number of titles. Suffice it to say that I have four more to talk about, and keep finding myself going into so much detail! So here’s something I’ll try to shorten:

I met Tsipora at the open mic of the Café Jean in Pars, and found her to have a lively, cool voice full of energy and inventiveness. This was clearly confirmed by her CD, “Mes rêves, mes envies,” which again, like Lafleur’s had the lyrics all in French…and was nicely recorded.

Claudio Zaretti’s CD, “Deux Diamants,” let me know what Zanetti was all about after I’ve seen him many times in live performances around Paris, mostly at the old and now defunct “Le Baroc” open mic. Zaretti has crystal clear lyric writing skills, and melodies that place one right in a French tradition that reminds me of people like Michel Delpeche, although I may be totally wrong on that! Zaretti had a small career a few decades ago, and as I understood it, returned fairly recently to music – this is the result – fabulously recorded and produced.

And speaking of French traditions, this CD called “D” by Florian Gasquet, whom I met at the short-lived Zebre Rouge open mic, for me falls right into the tradition of the French chansonnier who focuses so much on the lyrics, story-telling and word painting…. He’s a good guitar player, too. Five songs on this EP, that will take you right into Gasquet’s world.

Velasco

Velasco

And now, it is always necessary to have a case of “last but not least,” right? In fact, I really really enjoyed this CD by Velasco, an Italian who lives in Paris, and whom I have met on several occasions mostly at the Some Girls open mic near the Bastille. But I did also happen to bump into him in the park in the Place Vendome recently as we were both picnicking! In any case, this CD, called, “Just Begun,” did not really surprise me for its excellent vocals, solid rock backing, and very lively, moving four songs. All in English, we have here a guy like Yann Destal, who has no problem singing or writing in the language of Shakespeare….

Well, that rounds that up. Another morning exercise crop of CDs and SoundClouds, my 11th edition since I started doing this in April of 2013….

Brad’s Morning Exercise Music Rundown, 10th Installment: Cotton Field Scarecrows, Leandro Bronze, Shall We, Steve Kessler, Lorin Hart and Jan Sloane

December 29, 2015
bradspurgeon

Sit Ups

Sit Ups

For my tenth “Morning Exercise Rundown,” – the ninth of which ran on 9th February 2015 – this post is, as it happens, also the 1000th post on my blog since I started it in March 2010. A thousand posts! That might seem like a lot, but all I know is that it works out to being not one post a day, and every day I miss is an opportunity missed in the blogosphere…. Or something like that. And if you think about it, applying the same effort to putting up a post as I would to writing a page a day on a book, and I should be way, way, way above 1000 posts. So I’m not bragging. But it is a nice anniversary to note.

Less nice is the nearly one year that has passed since my last morning exercise music rundown!!! That is pure laziness. Well, no, in fact, the more time that passes, the more CDs, EPs and other musical listenings that I have to choose from, and the more I feel a foreboding about getting it all down! So without further verbiage, here we go.

The Morning Exercise Music Philosophy

As a reminder to readers, the idea behind this regular column is that for most of my life I avoided classic daily physical exercise because I felt I was able to avoid it and it bored me to death. In recent years, I had a kind of flash of aged wisdom and realized that I might bore myself to death if I DON’T exercise. (No time in life for exercise? No! No time in life to NOT exercise!) That did not, however, alleviate the boredom of doing it. So when not doing my nighttime exercise of riding my unicycle around the neighborhood – which does NOT bore me – or jogging – which does bore me to a degree – I do my exercises in the morning (sit ups, push ups, etc.) while listening to new (and old) CDs that I acquire from compilations of magazines, that I also occasionally buy or receive from budding musicians at open mics (and including EPs on SoundCloud or other sites) or from any other source.

I do not pretend to be a music critic, but simply to talk about and describe, and give my impressions of the music I listen to during my morning exercises. Keep in mind that my impressions and opinions, therefore, will have been formed while straining to reach a record number of push ups, sit ups, couch ups, deep knee bends, stretch downs and simply catching my breath. So maybe my opinion will be warped.

The Americana from Malaysia of The Cotton Field Scarecrowes

Cotton Field Scarecrowes

Cotton Field Scarecrowes

During my trip to Kuala Lumpur in March the last thing I expected to find at one of my favorite open mics in Malaysia – or in the world, for that matter – was a Malaysian group that has the Americana feel down to more than a convincing art form. The Cotton Field Scarecrowes (sic), may have a weird spelling for the word scarecrow in the name of their band, but the rest of it is bona fide Americana. Laid back, cool and earthy, deep feeling vocals make this album, “Dancing Hymns And Broken Rhymes” one of my favorite of the year. It is rare that I will listen several times over a long period to a CD from a band I meet in an open mic, but that is the case for this one from The Cotton Field Scarecrowes..

A Duet Made in Heaven, Called, Shall We

Shall We

Shall We

Speaking of open mic connections, one of the cool moments of the end of the year has been discovering a project called “Shall We,” which is a duet composed of Olivier Bernard and Maddie Speed, two people I met in open mics, and whom I introduced to each other at an open mic a few years ago, and who have now created this fabulous duet and released their first Shall We EP on SoundCloud. (And as I write these words Shall We will be making their concert debut in Paris tonight at Le Mecanique Ondulatoire.) Olivier went on to start one of the best open mics in Paris, at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, and Maddie went off to complete her studies in England. Somehow they met up again and Olivier moved to Berlin, and now, they have given us this fabulous EP that I can best sum up as having a feel of Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue. In fact, when I mentioned that to Olivier, he said they actually do sing the famous “Where the Wild Roses Grow.” In any case, with Olivier’s deep and sandpaper coated voice along with Maddie’s slightly fragile, smooth and gentle voice, the duet is a peaceful, laid back cool listen – with just the edge of vitality that I look for.

Leandro Bronze, the Powerhouse Personality from Brazil

All right, I can see where this post is leading. I’m onto my third open mic related link here. But given that this is the 1000th post on my blog, and most of the posts are related to my open mic adventures, I think it is probably just as well to devote this entire Exercise Music edition to the musicians I have met at the open mics. I mean, I have stacks of compilation CDs from the various music magazines that I had planned to review. I also have some links to music sent to me from PR people eager to get web presence for their clients – but I don’t know them from a hole in the wall, and none of the music has fired me up. So that’s it. I’ve decided this will be a special edition of music from the musicians from open mics that I met this year. As good a way to close out the year – and the 1000th post – as any.

Leandro Bronze

Leandro Bronze

While my now ex-girlfriend was running what was for a very brief period this year no doubt the best open mic in Paris (and perhaps fittingly now no longer exists, since I started it with her), at the Noctambules on the Place Pigalle, one of the regular musicians was the boisterous and gentle giant, Leandro Bronze, who had come to Paris from his native Brazil to try his luck in Europe. Leandro, for whom I always had to raise the mic as high as the ceiling, was forever making up in his bright personality for whatever he lacked in the way of English or French. But it was with his onstage presence, his fine guitar playing and warm, boisterous vocals that he really lit up the room – and indeed, the whole Place Pigalle. His self-named EP, available as a CD, is a reflection of all that. Check it out.

Wrapping Up With Jan Sloane, Steve Kessler and Lorin Hart

Aactually, blog posts are supposed to be fairly short, easily digestible things, and I’ve been running on forever here! So I think that I will have to do a quick roundup on the final three performers that I met and whose music I listened to this year on their albums…. Continuing on from the Noctambules open mic mentioned above, another who showed up several times was the British singer songwriter, Jan Sloane. I must admit that it was not until I heard Jan’s CD, Factor 55, that I truly got the gist of Jan’s very typically and specifically British sound and lyrics sense. His music was so highly personal or specific at the open mic, that I was very pleased to finally be able to say, “I get it now!” When I heard his CD and realized where he was coming from.

The first thing that made me turn my head and ears directly toward the stage of the Baroc open mic (hey, wait, that one no longer exists either, and it was the place I introduced Olivier and Maddie a few years ago, oh, and Olivier’s Ptit Bonheur no longer exists… what’s going on?) was when I heard Lorin Hart talking about how she had attended the Woodstock festival of 1969…. That’s a good line for anyone anywhere in the world to announce their presence on stage! But Lorin need not have such a calling card, since her songs, finely crafted and feelingly sung, do the trick. “Love Come Back” is a beautifully crafted album from a woman who has witnessed a hell of a lot of history.

Steve Kessler and Saturday June

Steve Kessler and Saturday June

Last but not least are the two albums from Steve Kessler and the Saturday June Band. I met Steve at the O’Sullivan’s Rebel Bar open mic – hey, this one is still in existence, and run by Etienne Belin, formerly of the now extinct Coolin open mic! – and I could hear instantly without knowing anything about him that Steve was a true song craftsman, with lots of experience. The Saturday June Band is one of Chicago’s longtime – more than 20 years – local bands that has played all over town, and continues to do so. What I just loved seeing with these CDs is that the one that was released in 2011 “A Better Place,” actually appealed to me more than the one that was released in 2001, just called Saturday June, under the name of Steve Kessler. I love discovering any writers, poets, painters, musicians, filmmakers, anyone at all who does better work 10 years later….

Well, that rounds that up. Another morning exercise crop of CDs and SoundClouds, my tenth edition since I started doing this in April of 2013….

A Not-Film-Review: Asif Kapadia’s Documentary: “Amy”

July 9, 2015
bradspurgeon

Amy

Amy

Because I believe in Ernest Hemingway’s dictum about writers not criticizing other writers in print as reviewers – “You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds,” he said – but because I love to read good books and listen to albums and talk about them, I have started up two column categories on this blog, one dealing with albums (CDs) and called, “Brad’s Morning Exercise Music Rundown,” and the other called, the “Not-Book-Review,” in each of which I talk about the latest music or books I have listened to or read, but not as a critic, just as a guy reading or listening to music, and saying what it triggered in me. Today, due to seeing the film “Amy,” by Asif Kapadia, I have decided to start a new occasional column along the same lines, called, “A Not-Film-Review.”

I had been looking forward enormously to seeing Asif Kapadia’s documentary film about Amy Winehouse for many for strong reasons. One was because I had become a fan of Kapadia’s work through his film about Ayrton Senna, from 2010, which I had been drawn to and wrote about in my professional capacity as a journalist of Formula One racing, but not as a critic, and I was very keen to see what Kapadia would do as a follow up to that. My interest there was that having interviewed the filmmaker at the time of the Senna film, I remembered strongly him describing how one of the biggest challenges and pleasures of making the Senna film was that he was forced to use footage that was all taken by someone else, as Senna had long since died.

So here was a filmmaker who also said that one of his biggest concerns in making a film was an overall “look” to the film, using television footage, family footage, and just whatever footage he could get – press conferences, etc. – to string together a dramatic narrative and to somehow make sure that the whole held together as if emanating from the same central source. With Amy, I realized as soon as I heard about it, Kapadia would have the same challenge, except with a completely different subject matter, and at a much later time in history, when there would likely be a lot more better quality footage than there was of Senna, given the spread of handheld personal cameras, cell phone cameras, as well as the amazing TV and concert footage that would have existed surrounding one of the most popular pop stars of the last decade.

But obviously, I had another thing that interested me here, and that was that this was a musician as subject matter, and one whose music and voice I love, and whose life and death touched me, as I knew it through the media, and videos, etc. In fact, I recalled the day I learned of her death, when I had just arrived in Cologne, Germany, for the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, in July 2011, in that same year that I was carrying around several cameras and recording devices with me to record my year on the worldwide tour of open mics and jam sessions, and creating the footage I am still editing today, for my own documentary!! (That day I put up on this blog the only post ever in which I said absolutely nothing, giving it the title: “A Blog Post of Silence for Amy Winehouse.” Today I’m making up for the silence with far, far too many words.)

I was also, therefore, very keen to see how Kapadia would make a music documentary, as well, using music footage – and crappy quality videos by friends and family – and blending the whole thing together into a comprehensive narrative.

Amy publicity photo

Amy publicity photo

So there were so many reasons to see this film, not the least of which being my own desire to see what had gone wrong in the life of such a talented singer, and a woman who could have lived on so much longer and done so much more, had she managed to escape whatever it was that was pulling her down. At least, those were the thoughts I had since her death, and I was eager to see if the film would provide any answers. (There is a great, tragic quote from Tony Bennett near the end of the film in which he says something to this effect (as a not-film-review, I saw no need to take notes during the screening, which I saw on the film’s release in Paris last night at a Gaumont cinema by the Opera(!!!): “If I had seen Amy again, I would have told her: “Slow down, Amy, life will teach you how to live it, if you can just live long enough….”)

So how did it all pan out, then, in terms of fulfilling my expectations, or giving me things I did not expect, etc.? The first thing I want to say, is that like the Senna film, I will definitely go back to watch Amy again, and maybe even more than once. Unlike with the Senna film, I will be doing that with Amy simply because I enjoyed the film and really want to experience it all again to further my understanding of her, of the film, and simply to live it all over again. Quite simply because I know I loved the film. With the Senna film, as someone who knew the subject matter as a professional Formula One journalist, knew the subject matter like the back of my hand, and who already had copious opinions of my own about Senna, and the Senna-Alain Prost battle, and someone who had seen much of the actual footage over the years before it was shaped into a dramatic film, it took me several viewings of the film to decide that I did really indeed like the film. It had been highly rated everywhere, and when I first saw it, I admit to a little bit of a let down, in terms of, “Why has there been so much fuss about this??” I believe the reason was because for me Senna was not news, but for the general public, he was a sudden discovery.

With Amy, on the other hand, there are probably a lot of people who were close to her who have criticisms of the film, and surprises, and things that they expected to see that are not there, etc. But I could not have those ideas, not knowing anything about her. Well, except for a few general gut-reactions, such as, for instance, is it really possible that a diva like Amy could be such a “nice” character? She is only really nasty once in the film, when she has been let down by her father who appears on holidays with a camera crew, and all she wanted was to see him; so when he asks her to sign an autograph of a couple of tourists, she does so, but makes a nasty, cutting comment to the couple. I just find it a little hard to believe that such a complicated and emotional character as Amy did not also have some very nasty, angry, cutting sides to her in her personal life – and we don’t see them. On the other hand, I’m ready to accept that she was just a doll, a victim, a sad person manipulated by everyone around her, who finally succumbed to her helplessness.

That’s possible; and her hopping from guy to guy even while married is certainly not a sign of a pleasant character, but it remains unexplored in the film.

Kapadia weaves together an incredible narrative in Amy with “found footage”

Having said that, those were really my only expectations that were let down, and the beauty of this film is that Kapadia has gathered together in an even more masterful manner than with Senna the film footage and woven together a story that makes us feel really like we are living intimately with Amy Winehouse in her world. There are many moments in this film where we feel as if the scenes were shot by a director for the purpose of the story. It is exceptional for a film made of “found footage.” I’m talking, for instance, about intimate moments of film footage in cars with friends, just playing around; or when she is with her husband Blake, and talking in front of the camera as they walk down the hall of some building about the great moment to come of escaping to a toilet to make love. (The language is more raw than that, by the way.) It really feels like you’re with her, in the life of Amy.

The way he used the various qualities of footage was also a revelation for me, or no, not a revelation, but a reassurance: As someone said to me a few years ago when I was depressed about the lousy quality of some of my documentary’s footage, it’s the story’s subject matter that counts the most in a documentary, and the audience is ready to forgive a lot of bad quality if the subject is interesting enough. That person said something to the effect of what was the most electrifying, most watched and crappiest film footage that ever existed?: Neil Armstrong taking a first step on the moon in July 1969.

And that is what really shines through this documentary for me from beginning to end; the story is riveting. It is a tragedy, it is a success story, it is a beautiful woman with a giant talent, and unrealized potential. Dying young, at 27 (yes, like Joplin, Morrison, Hendrix, and others), like Senna at 34.

And the music in all of this? The moments of Amy singing just shine through in a way that feels as if there is a kind of light from somewhere else in the universe that suddenly materializes and carries us away through her enormous vocal and emotional talent, shining in and cutting through the chaos and horror and sadness that was her daily life. A victim of a bad upbringing, a crappy boyfriend, manipulative father, well-meaning managers who just didn’t have a clue, through it all came this electrifying, pure and monumental voice and music.

General feelings at the end of the Amy Winehouse film by Kapadia

Which is made all more exceptional when we see her incapable of being able to sing on a stage in a concert she did not want to do after a period of good health and during a moment when she no longer wanted to sing the same songs from “Back to Black,” but wanted to advance and move forward. And the extraordinary footage with Tony Bennett when they are recording and the first thing she sings comes out sounding like some of the great female vocals of all time, and she stomps off, saying something like, “Oh, I can’t do this, I’m sorry, it’s terrible…” He rassures her, and she says, “I have to get it right….” It reminded me once again about how little good great talent ever did to the possessor of it….

The end feeling for me was, “if only.” Yes, I ended up feeling after the film the same way I did in July 2011, “If only” some little thing had happened that led her to an insight into how to live a liveable life, but still to produce great music. It makes you wonder if that is possible, but the answer is that she wrote Back to Black in a period of lucidity, not in a time of drugs to the point of overdose, and partying in Camden Town amongst the destructive “friends” who were incapable of doing anything to help her find her way.

OK, this blog post is really, really rambling now. The best thing to do is to go and see this film. Maybe you will agree with my thought that another thing this film has over the Senna film is that Amy Winehouse’s soundtrack is certainly more accessible to a larger public than the music of a Formula One engine from the 1990s….

Brad’s Morning Exercise Music Rundown, 9th Installment: Thomas Arlo, Paolo Alderighi (and Stephanie Trick), Juliette Jules, 3rdegree and Forebear

February 9, 2015
bradspurgeon

Sit Ups

Sit Ups

For my ninth “Morning Exercise Rundown,” – the eighth of which ran on 28th June 2014– I am in the unusual situation of having misplaced all of the CDs that I intended to review from the last six months! Yes, having made a recent move, the CDs got misplaced and I have no idea where they are. But since this is possibly the longest period between Morning Exercise rundowns, I decided that I would simply approach this instalment from my memory; That probably means it will be a great instalment because it is made of the stuff that stood out most in my memory over this period. Another slight difference with this rundown is that a lot of the EPs and albums here were listened to online only – not sure why those are the ones I remember too….

The Morning Exercise Music Philosophy

As a reminder to readers, therefore, the idea behind this regular column is that for most of my life I avoided classic daily physical exercise because I felt I was able to avoid it and it bored me to death. In recent years, I had a kind of flash of aged inspiration and realized that I might bore myself to death if I DON’T exercise. (No time in life for exercise? No! No time in life to NOT exercise!) That did not, however, alleviate the boredom of doing them. So it is that when not doing my nighttime exercise of riding my unicycle around the neighborhood – which does NOT bore me – or jogging – which does bore me to a degree – I do my exercises in the morning (sit ups, push ups, etc.) while listening to new (and old) CDs that I acquire from compilations of magazines, that I also occasionally buy or receive from budding musicians at open mics, or any other source.

I do not pretend to be a music critic, but simply to talk about and describe, and give my impressions of the music I listen to during my morning exercises. Keep in mind that my impressions and opinions, therefore, will have been formed while straining to reach a record number of push ups, sit ups, couch ups, stretch downs and simply catching my breath. So maybe my opinion will be warped.

The Haunting Rock ‘n’ Croon of Thomas Arlo

Room EP by Thomas Arlo

Room EP by Thomas Arlo

Thomas Arlo is a young American expat musician who I have seen for years at the open mics, almost always playing solo with his guitar and his interpretations of cover songs – Beirut, Gainsbourg, others – in a voice part rock and part crooner, as well as his own well-constructed songs. There’s a touch of Elvis in the croon, and a touch of I don’t know what in the rock. But there’s truth to it, and an otherworldliness. In any case, when Thomas sent me the link to the songs of his first EP, called “Room,” I was truly delighted to find five recordings done in the same complete simplicity and purity of his performances at the open mics, but with some tracks having light touches of overdubbing, other musicians and instruments, and the most effective, a duet with Amélie Pagenel. I’d also seen Amélie at the open mics, but when I heard her voice here, I wondered who was this amazing singer. Thomas now seems to have disappeared to live in Greece – without a word, without a trace – but we’ve got his music here wherever else we might be in the world, and I highly recommend it. My two favorite songs are “Bolder of Men,” which is constructed in a similar way to “Sympathy for the Devil,” (and a touch of Dylanesque diction and phrasing) but is amazingly haunting. And then I like the one with Amélie, called “Either Way,” with alternating singing between the two. So go and give a listen to this great Room, by Thomas Arlo.

Paolo Alderighi and the Italian Stride Piano

Paolo Alderighi & Stephanie Trick

Paolo Alderighi & Stephanie Trick

A few years ago, while flying from Tokyo back to Paris, I loaded my guitar bag above my seat in the Air France flight, sat down and the young man next to me asked about the guitar. We got into a conversation, and I learned that he was a pianist, Italian, and returning from a concert in Japan. We ended up talking music for most of the night flight, and I even let him hear some of mine. What I learned later was that I had been discussing music with one of Italy’s greatest upcoming jazz pianists on the international scene: Paolo Alderighi. I immediately looked him up on YouTube to hear his music, and found this amazing thing of an Italian playing that distinctive American style of jazz piano known as Stride, that arose in parts of the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s – notably St. Louis – and that he was highly respected even in the U.S., and around the world. It was only last September that I finally got a couple of his CDs, and had a real good listen. We have met several times in Milan now, when I travel there for the Grand Prix and if he happens to be in town. And since we first met, he has also had a kind of fairy tale meeting with a woman named Stephanie Trick, an American who is a world leader in the stride piano style: The two of them got married, and now in addition to playing concerts separately, they also play together in the magnificent and awe-inspiring “four-hand” mode. So I listened with great self-division as to which thing I preferred: The CD of the two of them together – “Sentimental Journey” – or Paolo’s solo album called “Around Broadway.” The former is full of punch and dazzling fireworks, while the latter takes classic broadway songs – Berline, Gershwin, Rodgers, etc. – as a starting point, and Paolo then flies off into his own bits of interpretation and improvisation. The conclusion? I love both CDs. But I am no expert at all in matters of jazz piano. So how best to describe Paolo’s music? There’s a great description on the liner notes from the respected Michael Steinman: Although some may characterize Paolo Alderighi as “a jazz pianist,” “a fine young musician,” “a gifted improviser,” his true designation is both simpler and more profound. Paolo Alderighi is an artist.

Introducing Juliette Jules – a French Teenager Gone Global

Juliette Jules

Juliette Jules

And speaking of fairy tales, one of the more interesting stories – and voices – that I’ve heard recently is that of a 16-year-old French girl named Juliette Jules, who was playing songs on her guitar in a park in Paris a while back when she was overhead by a Canadian music producer. The Canadian approached her, listened, spoke, queried, whatever… and ended up taking Juliette Jules on as an artist, recording her, promoting her, and now the 16-year-old is in the midst of a fully-fledged career beginning, with great reviews from around the world for Juliette’s first EP, “Black Crow,” containing her own songs but also the Leonard Cohen hit, Hallelujah. She has been praised all over for a voice of experience beyond her years, but for me, years never matter: Only the music counts. I first listened with a sceptical ear, as someone who has attended more open mics around the world than most people, and so heard just about every form of talent that exists. (Well, not quite.) But from my immediate first impressions with an obvious comparison to Lana Del Rey, I’m picking up new sounds and impressions every time I listen. There is definitely something rich and interesting in this woman’s voice. I can’t wait to hear her live, and to see where the next batch of recordings will take us (she recorded a new series last summer). Definitely a cool story.

A Progressive 3rdegree Takes Me Back in Time

3rdDegree

3rdDegree

At the beginning of the era of progressive rock, I was a fan. I listened to bands like Gentle Giant, Genesis, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Van Der Graf Generator, Yes, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, you name it. I loved it at the time because it was progressive rock music. It was taking rock into another future realm, going the next step, beyond the clichés, beyond the blues. It was adding a classical element to rock too, in fact, but in a “progressive”-feeling way. I never lost my interest in those bands, really, even if I listen to them rarely now, and have rarely listened to them for decades. So all of this is to expose my musical ignorance by saying that although I only had the vaguest idea that there was still a genre called progressive rock, it was really only in reciving an invitation to download the latest album of a progressive rock band from the U.S. called 3rdegree, which is well known in American progressive rock circles, did I realize that progressive rock had actually ceased to progress much since the days I listened to it. But that is NOT to denigrate it! In fact, if you listen to the blues, you realize that it is a style of play, and that it is made up of certain themes, styles, chords, etc., and that it has not exactly “developed” either. Great musical styles do not necessarily have to develop. So I was completely amazed when I listened to this band that has been around since 1989 was playing music that I completely understood the basis to, felt was speaking a “progressive rock language” and that I could comfortably say I knew where they were coming from. The album, “The Long Division,” (wait, what was that Pink Floyd album? The Division Bell?) just felt so familiar, yet at once different. I could understand and identify with the riffs, I could expect certain themes, knew where they came from, whatever. It was an acquired language. Now, the only thing I can say about my initial feelings about the name of this genre is that I feel it unfortunate that it was ever named “progressive,” since that indicates to me that it should be like a James Joyce situation where each novel gets totally more crazy and progressive than the next… or am I mixing up the idea of “experimental” music and writing…. Anyway, suffice it to say that I got a lot of exercise out of the Long Division and the computing I did in my head over progressive rock….

And Finally, a New Beautiful Indie Band, Called Forebear

Forebear

Forebear

And finally, thanks for having got this far with me, if you did. One of the things that made me get this edition out now, was that just a couple of days ago I received an interesting email via my BradSpurgeonMusic.com site, but referring to this blog, with a few links to the debut EP of an interesting indie band from the U.S. called Forebear, inviting me to download the Forebear EP. I had nothing to listen to for my morning exercises and I immediately downloaded it, and listened. I stopped exercising for a while on a couple of the tracks to listen to the music and lyrics!!! I preferred the slightly slower, more folk-oriented songs – if you can call it folk – and especially loved the guitar on one of the tracks, which reminded me distinctly of the sound of a friend of mine who lives in LA also, and whose 1997 album, “Billy’s Not Bitter,” won an LA Music Award for the best independent album that year. There are some fabulous melodies, I really like the singer’s voice, but that ethereal guitar stuff is the winner. As are some of the lyrics, particularly this one line that really stopped me in my stride: “we are same sides of a different coin/permanently engraved with the year we were born” Just go and check out Forebear’s EP immediately.

Well, that rounds that up. Another, rather large, morning exercise crop of CDs, my ninth edition since I started doing this in April of 2013….

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Paris

December 26, 2014
bradspurgeon

Paris Skyline

Paris Skyline

My worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.

This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.

So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in Paris since I first started.

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