Posts by: Max Gray

Song of the Day: “Gin House Blues”

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Today, the so-called British Invasion of the ’60s is remembered primarily for its flagship band, The Beatles. Another English group called The Animals—widely known for their international hit version of the folk song “House of the Rising Sun”—are unfortunately obscured by the long shadow of the former, but their screaming fans knew and loved The Animals’s gritty rock.

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Song of the Day: “Let Me See That Ponytail Run”

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The Defibulators are the rootsiest bluegrass outfit to come stomping out of Brooklyn, New York, in a long time—perhaps ever. Named by VICE Music as “Brooklyn’s kings of alt-country, minus the ‘alt,'” The Defibulators’ sound has been described as truckerpunk, Americana, citibillie… the list goes on.

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Song of the Day: “Have Some Love”

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The diversely talented Donald Glover has gained a following in almost every artistic arena, from stand-up comedy, to sitcoms, to film and music. First making a name for himself as a writer for the smart and funny NBC program 30 Rock, Glover went on to star in Community and the FX series Atlanta.

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Song of the Day: “Paul”

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As 2016 draws to a close, it is a time for both endings and beginnings. The electric folk of Big Thief is well-suited to such introspective moments—tinged with sepia-toned nostalgia and a shy sweetness that suggests hope for the future. Their gentle, unhurried song “Paul”—off their critically welcomed record Masterpiece—perfects the dual flavors of sweetness and bitterness while letting in flashes of self-deprecating humor.

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Song of the Day: “Back Door Santa”

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Soul—that mysterious orientation towards the world that seems to be frequently accompanied by a larger-than-life personality—is probably the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of Clarence Carter, that bombastic and passionate artist whose timeless music still echoes across the airwaves and our collective memory.

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Song of the Day: “The Frim Fram Sauce”

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One of the most entertaining things about the early days of recorded jazz music is the clever way musicians worked around the conservative mores of the time. The well-loved etymologist William Safire, in a 2002 article, diligently attempts to decode the playful gibberish sung so beautifully by Nat King Cole in his suggestive tune, “The Frim Fram Sauce,” only to shrug, in the end, and concede that it’s probably “about sex.” You can almost hear the smirk in Cole’s silky smooth voice as he sings:

I don’t want French fried potatoes, red ripe tomatoes
I’m never satisfied.

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Song of the Day: “Louder Than A Bomb”

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“Rhythm is the rebel,” Chuck D raps on “Louder Than A Bomb,” one of many outstanding tracks from Public Enemy’s touchstone 1988 record, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Of all the controversial and heartfelt statements made on this widely acclaimed and influential album, this is perhaps the most telling, as DJ Terminator X’s raw backbeat—a sound now associated immediately with hip-hop music—and dissonant horn samples signal right away to the listener that the genre’s longtime association with party music was evolving rapidly into a musical protest against systemic racism, poverty, state surveillance, and the militarization of police. 

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Song of the Day: “We the People”

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If A Tribe Called Quest had to make one final statement, a boisterous, politically conscious, and funky record would be the most fitting way to do so. We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service was released on November 11, 2016, eighteen years after Tribe’s last album and only a few months after the death of founding member, Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor.

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Song of the Day: “Lord, Help the Poor and Needy”

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Maybe growing up with a father who was a Jehovah’s Witness caused Charlyn Marie “Chan” Marshall to develop a sensitivity to the plight of the unlucky and underprivileged. Then again, Marshall, who is widely known by her stage name Cat Power, might also have an artist’s innate empathy and receptiveness to others’ pain—something that we, as a nation, could stand to develop ourselves.

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Weekend Rumpus Roundup

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First, in Rumpus Saturday Fiction, Sherman Alexie’s shares three short stories—”Fixed Income,” “Honor Society,” and “Valediction”—that all offer his trademark whimsy and insight into the human condition. Three different teenagers struggle with poverty, endemic racism, and social exclusion, and must depend upon themselves to make the right choices in difficult moral situations.

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Song of the Day: “Secret Life”

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The passing of songwriter Leonard Cohen last Thursday added another mournful chapter to an already difficult week. The prolific and underrated artist—most famous, perhaps, for his aching ballad “Hallelujah,” popularized by John Cale, Rufus Wainwright, and Jeff Buckley—had a long career of ups and downs.

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Weekend Rumpus Roundup

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First, in Saturday Rumpus Poetry, Connie Voisine shares three new poems. Body shaming is the subject of “Shameful,” in which the speaker considers modeling herself after someone else, “like a person on TV,” but she only watches English programs “where actors have yellowish/teeth and red eyes.” The physical body, here, is “an artichoke.” Voisine exposes the visceral experience of motherhood with analogy and active, surprising language in “No, Dog” and tackles the mysterious and the mythological in “Self Portrait as Sphinx.”

Then, in the Sunday Essay, Deborah Jackson Taffa tells the story of returning with her children to the Yuma Nation reservation after fifteen years away, and the memories of struggle and exploitation that their visit dredges up.

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Song of the Day: “Helpless”

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Neil Young’s name has become synonymous with a special brand of rock music that came of age in the 60s, matured in the 70s, and burned on well past its contemporaries. From the laid back Buffalo Springfield, to the soaring harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, to his solo career, his songs and his voice have managed to stand out from some of the most noteworthy moments in music history.

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Song of the Day: “8 (circle)”

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It takes courage and artistic vision to take risks with music that has already won you commercial success, but lasting artists persist in doing just that. Bon Iver’s third album, 22, A Million, supports this view. The familiarly warm and affecting melodies of song writer Justin Vernon’s earlier work are reinvented here, nested in a cocoon of distortion and digital noise that holds listeners at arm’s length, rather than drawing them in close.

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Weekend Rumpus Roundup

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First, in the Saturday Interview, Michaelsun Stonesweat Knapp and Tommy Pico discuss Pico’s book-length poem, IRL, and its themes of temporality, Indiginous identity, and lyrical humor. IRL (which stands for ‘in real life’) reflects a “terrifying” and cathartic creative process in which Pico churned out new material four days a week and spent Fridays aggressively editing.

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Song of the Day: “When the Tequila Runs Out”

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Dawes is one of a handful of groups, including peers like Wilco and Broken Social Scene, who have undergone personnel changes without losing the essential heart and soul that make them who they are. Their first manifestation in 2006 as the post-punk group Simon Dawes included the multi-talented guitarist and producer Blake Mills.

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Weekend Rumpus Roundup

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First, Sasha LaPointe meditates on the “language of trauma” in the Saturday Essay. An abusive experience from her childhood manifests itself in strange images of floating boats, images that she struggles to express in writing. LaPointe delves into the psychology of dissociation and discovers a wellspring of strength coming from her Native heritage and its oral histories.

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Song of the Day: “Black and Blue”

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Given the anarchic, traumatic, and deeply worrying events of recent months, some might begin to lose hope. However, music—and especially jazz, the most particularly American music—never seems to lose its power to soothe and calm us. Louis Armstrong, in a special song that might sound deceptively typical to the hasty listener, made a groundbreaking statement on race relations in his recording of the 1929 Fats Waller tune, “Black and Blue.” Rather than making a misguided apology for his own racial identity, as some have interpreted it, Armstrong’s incomparable dignity transforms the bluesy song into an ageless lament that rivals monumental recordings like Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit.” Maybe we are all feeling a little black and blue today.

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Song of the Day: “The Heat Is On (Part 1 & 2)”

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Everyone knows funk music reached its heyday in the 1970s, but even legends like James Brown and George Clinton were hard pressed to compete with funk powerhouse The Isley Brothers in 1975. The title track “The Heat Is On (Part 1 & 2),” from their record of the same name, is a hard-driving, wall-shaking revelation that takes this oft-underestimated genre to new heights.

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Weekend Rumpus Roundup

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First, in the Saturday Interview, Helga Schimkat talks to author Eden Robinson about silencing the inner voice of criticism. Robinson, whose award-winning novel Monkey Beach is set in British Columbia, emphasizes the sensory and emotional role of home in her work, saying, “Writing about your community is difficult for any writer.

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Song of the Day: “Burn the Witch”

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Radiohead is no stranger to anxiety. A tense tone—like a taut cord reverberating—runs through the high-energy opener “Burn the Witch,” from their latest record, A Moon Shaped Pool. Thom Yorke’s delicate wail floats over the brazen guitar and strings as the tempo speeds up and the anxiety mounts.

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Weekend Rumpus Roundup

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First, Chip Livingston recounts his transformational experiences with Reiki and alternative healing practices in the Saturday Essay. A shocking recording of a tarot reading empowers Livingston to feel hope again for his ailing lover, Ash, who is HIV positive. Then, Livingston learns a new way of healing at a Native American conference that complements his tarot reading.

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Song of the Day: “I’m Glad You’re Mine”

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The Reverend Al Green’s fifth album, I’m Still In Love With You, appears at the top of many critics’ rankings, including that of the Village Voice‘s longtime writer, Robert Christgau. And for good reason. The second track of this mesmerizing record is the silky smooth, organ-punctuated “I’m Glad You’re Mine.” Green’s drummer, Al Jackson, Jr.—who built his reputation for rhythm as a session musician at Stax Records—holds down a beautifully laconic, almost lazy backbeat, and a rolling Hammond organ helps to show why the song deserves to be known as a staple in the soul canon.

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