Saturday, October 24, 2009

Now Hear This! - Vol. 3

You know how this goes by now: a bunch of earworms that you might've missed out on, some of which are oldies, others more recent. I try to make sure you can find them all as individual tracks online, and I tell you which albums they're on if you want more than one song. Songs from albums or EP's I've already reviewed on One Note Ahead are not eligible.

Let's do this!


"Polite Society," Maia Sharp (available on Echo)

I found out about this artist because she was supposed to open for The Guggenheim Grotto here in Philly. That ultimately didn't happen, but I did get to discover this fantastic slab of impossibly sweet-sounding angry rock 'n' roll. The biting lyrics ("The greater good you go on about has been redefined to keep everyone out") are offset by smooth vocals and a melody that could've come out of the Brill Building. A must-hear for fans of female singer/songwriters, but it has great potential to appeal to a much wider audience.

"Lost and Found," Victor Victor Band (available on Chatterbox)

Like The White Stripes but better. Hyperbole? Damning with faint praise? Check out Philly-based couple Jamie and Danielle Victor and decide for yourself. Personally, I'll reconsider my opinion when Meg White can play keys and drums at the same time like Danielle does. I honestly cannot explain why this particular track from their current album stands out to me. I just know that I can't get it out of my head. And hey, ONA loyalists, did I mention that Andrew Lipke produced it?

"Once Was Love," Ingrid Michaelson (available on Everybody)

You might recall that Ingrid was a major ONA darling last year. Of all the songs on her new album, "Maybe" was chosen as the lead single, "Soldier" became the opening track, "Everybody" lent its title to the album, and "The Chain" seems to be the pick hit in my circle -- at least among the ladies! All those songs have their merits, but "Once Was Love" leapt out at me like no other track on the album: a hypnotic, slightly sharp-tongued ode to love gone cold, with Ms. Michaelson doing some unusual vocal acrobatics over an arrangement that at times sounds like it was copied from the Philly soul playbook. Ingrid, if you're reading, you might want to consider this as a single.

And now, a bonus: I told you that ONA favorite Jake Snider was releasing a new EP called The Seven. It's been available at his shows and is supposed to get an online release later this fall, but if you can't wait, check out the amazing "All You Need," a standout track which is streaming on Jake's MySpace page now.


"You Won't Forget Me," Jackie De Shannon (available on What The World Needs Now Is...Jackie De Shannon - The Definitive Collection)

Jackie De Shannon sure had a lot going against her, writing and singing serious pop, folk-rock, and soul songs at a time when white female singers weren't supposed to write their own material, sing serious music, or sing soul music. And folk-rock wasn't a recognized style, either. Think I'm exaggerating? Perhaps a bit, but Jackie sure was a trailblazer. Take "You Won't Forget Me," a sophisticated pop composition in which the female protagonist takes an empowered stance against her cheating lover. Powerful stuff for 1962 -- too powerful, probably, for radio at the time.

"Little By Little," Dusty Springfield (available on Dusty Springfield Gold)

Well, I had to go from one trailblazing woman to another! Dusty was so influenced by American music that it's easy to forget she was from the UK, where she had much more chart success than she did here. For example, "Little By Little" was stuck on a B-side in the US, while her UK label recognized it as hit material and released it as an A-side. It's a bouncy Motownish number with a great melody, but let's remember that Dusty was a great interpreter of song. In this case, she injected the lyrics with a lot of fire while also retaining the cool, understated feel the melody demanded. A delicate balance, to be sure, but she nailed it.

"Turn Up Your Radio," The Masters Apprentices (available on Fully Qualified - The Choicest Cuts)

Though it is under-recognized worldwide, Australia has a colorful rock 'n' roll history of its own. The Masters Apprentices were one of the top Aussie rock acts of all time, and "Turn Up Your Radio" was one of their most beloved hits. The 1960s were turning into the 1970s, and rock was getting louder and heavier. These Apprentices edged into near-metal territory with a song whose lyrics paid homage to early rock 'n' roll of the 1950s! Somehow, it worked. Loud, raunchy, crude, and brilliant, this song reminds us all that no matter how the music changes, rock 'n' roll is still rock 'n' roll.

I hope these earworms keep you entertained for now.

Copyright © 2009 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.
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One Video Ahead: Oh, Diane!

So a few months ago, I spotlighted "Fools" by Diane Birch in my Now Hear This! series. I was trying to demonstrate that she has more good songs besides the ubiquitous "Nothing But A Miracle," a point which I would have preferred to drive home with good live videos of her performing such songs. But I wasn't pleased with what was out there.....until recently.

Here are a couple of songs she performed for Spinner's The Interface. First, let's go with "Fools."

Now another favorite of mine, "Valentino."

I haven't even had time to watch it all, but there is more where that came from:

Text copyright © 2009 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.
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Friday, October 16, 2009

One Video Ahead: Exclusive Michael!

I know I've spent a lot of time avoiding the volatile subject of Michael Jackson, but the new "This Is It" song and movie are not the only lost MJ treasures finally being unearthed. I've gotten ahold of exclusive video of a previously unaired, unreleased interview with and performance by The King of Pop himself, and whether you're a fan of his or not, you have to see this!

Okay, okay, sorry about that. But I really think the subject of MJ needs a little good-natured humor now and then. That was actually Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry back in 1990 on their BBC sketch comedy series A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

Here's another one for you, featuring Steve Martin and Jay Thomas in 1984 on the short-lived NBC sketch comedy series The New Show.

And that's about all for now.

Text copyright © 2009 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.
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Sunday, October 11, 2009

In the interest of disclosure.

The Federal Trade Commission recently issued new guidelines to remove the veil of secrecy from bloggers' faces. The FTC wants us to disclose whether we are getting freebies or kickbacks in exchange for our reviews. I haven't yet made up my mind whether this is merely well-intentioned government action to protect consumers or an attempt on the part of our government to discredit bloggers. Either way, I've got nothing to hide.

I have at times reviewed products I paid for. But if I can get free a CD or DVD in exchange for my review, I might just take advantage. "Might" -- I have standards when it comes to what I review for One Note Ahead.

Take the DVD set Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Shows. A marketing company contacted me about posting a press release or review on ONA. I wasn't going to post a press release and merely advertise a product I had no connection with. However, I did some research on the product and decided that I would most likely be able to write a review that was both favorable and honest, so I agreed to review it. The marketing company sent me a copy of the DVD set, and the rest was history. I still have the DVDs; incidentally, this article claims that traditional journalistic venues (as opposed to blogs) typically must return products they receive for review, but I really haven't known this to be the norm in music journalism. And bear in mind that I have worked as both a music journalist and a music publicist.

There have been plenty of instances in which artists, bands, and their representatives offered me a complimentary copy of an album or EP for review. I accept the offer only if I believe I can write a review that is (here it comes again) both favorable and honest. I don't review artists or products I don't like; it serves no one's purpose and it wastes my time.

Now, there have also been times when I've offered to review an artist or band and they (or a representative thereof) accepted my offer and gave me a free copy of whatever they wanted me to review. This is just the way things work, people! But I always operate on this principle: if I offer to review an album, EP, or DVD and get a free copy only to decide I don't want to review it, I will pay for it. I will not review it just to avoid having to pay for it.

I have NEVER requested or accepted payment for my reviews. If someone puts me on the guest list to a show or does me some other favor because they like my review, fine -- I don't expect it or demand it, but it's a nice gesture when it happens. But no monetary bribes or rewards! I refuse to play that game as a reviewer and as a publicist because the moment I do, there goes my integrity and thus my credibility. One Note Ahead has never been a money-making endeavor. Why do you think it takes a backseat whenever I'm otherwise occupied? I never wanted One Note Ahead to be bound up with the need to make money because as a music journalist I had gotten so concerned with making money that I began to devote less consideration to the music. I always wanted ONA to be pure in that sense, but that means I need to make money elsewhere and the blog must become a secondary or tertiary priority when my income-generating work leaves me little to no blogging time.

In closing, I will add the following: I no longer make a habit of reviewing albums, EPs, or DVDs I paid for. I might do it occasionally, but most of the products reviewed on ONA from 2008 onward were freebies. If someone gives me a freebie and asks for nothing in return, I may or may not review it. That said, the "Now Hear This!" series is open anything that's available to the general public, whether I paid for it or not. I've only ever reviewed one book on ONA; it was a book I read because someone in the music business recommended it and I happened to find interesting enough to review.

Any questions?

Copyright © 2009 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.
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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Album Review: Tippy Canoe (but no Tyler)

On one song, it's jaunty country-rock. On another, it's '80s power pop. '60s girl-group styles dominate elsewhere, leaving Vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, and Latin motifs to be explored on still other tracks.

And that's just the sound of this album.

Tippy Canoe & the Paddlemen are not exactly your typical indie-pop band. Parasols & Pekingese (Late Bloomers Works) is not exactly your typical indie-pop album.

Aside from the Randy Newman-ish "Monday Night Man," on which guitarist Mikie Lee Prasad takes the lead, the focal point of this record is girl-with-ukulele (were you expecting "guitar"?) Michele Kappel-Stone -- that's Tippy Canoe to you, thank you very much! Her songwriting is multifaceted, to say the least. She delves into the rich history of popular music with glee, but displays a thoroughly contemporary attitude with songs like "Mood-ish Me," whose lyrics include "Did I conjure you to saw me in half?" and "Kick my ass for my own sake."

I have to stop and let you digest that one.

Tippy is quite good at taking unexpected left turns and juxtaposing seemingly contradictory moods. "Champs-Elysees" has a bouncy melody and paints cheerful pictures of gumdrops falling on the street, yet it climaxes on a snarky "Ha ha joke's on you!" refrain. "Sleep, Sleep My Dear" is a chilling, macabre lullaby, but she sounds undeniably sexy dragging out its syllables in that robust voice of hers: "Sleeeeeeep, sleeeeeeep, my dee-heeeeeeeeeeeear......"

That voice is a captivating instrument, with an almost operatic lilt and a sweetness offset by Ms. Canoe's tendency to hit the notes ever-so-imperfectly. Instead of making her sound like a clueless American Idol hopeful, her natural imprecision brings nuances out of the notes, each tonal variation contributing to the memorability of the performances.

There's only one real complaint I have about the album, which is that the recording quality could stand improvement. I try to be forgiving of such things when it comes to independent and small-label releases because they are often made on a shoestring budget (if even that much). But at certain points on Parasols, Tippy's voice is somewhat buried in the mix and one must listen especially carefully to make out her lyrics. This is particularly true on "Mass Transmissions," an otherwise solid commentary on the culture wars we wage every day: "We hold so dear our warring contradictions, and often times they're just two sides of the same coin."

Michele is from Baltimore and is now based in Oakland, keeping a busy tour schedule when she can. Having seen her when she swung through Philly recently, I can tell you that she is a delight live and she plays a mean ukulele. If you get Parasols and Pekingese, be prepared for one of the most unusual -- and most interesting -- pop albums you've ever heard.

For music and more information:

Copyright © 2009 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.
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One Video Ahead: New Swimmers

Remember The Swimmers? They're baaaa-aaaack! And their new album, People Are Soft, promises to be a lot darker and heavier than their debut Fighting Trees. The Swimmers are previewing tracks on their website and MySpace right now, and they've also got a video for the song "What This World Is Coming To."

Yes, I know: I share video clips of live performances and interviews, but rarely do I share music videos. I'm not usually a fan of music videos, but this is one of the most striking pieces of audiovisual art I've seen in a long time. And take note: among its directors are Swimmers frontman Steve Yutzy-Burkey and Jonah Delso, not only a talented solo artist but also ONA-approved Tim McGlone's funky bass player. What a small world the Philly music scene is.

What This World Is Coming To from the swimmers on Vimeo.

People Are Soft is due from MAD Dragon Records on November 3rd.

Text copyright © 2009 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.
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