Saturday, January 30, 2010

Now Hear This! - Vol. 4

It's been a few months since I've compiled a list of earworms for you, but let's get to it! As always, these are not exactly chart-toppers, and as always, I'll choose at least three newer ones and just as many older ones. These tracks can all be downloaded legally -- or at least streamed on an authorized website.


"Tell Me What I Have To Do," The Bacon Brothers (available on New Year's Day)

Remember how I reviewed The Bacon Brothers' XPN festival performance last year and how I included an entire TV program of same in my 2009 Video Time Capsule, yet I never once spotlighted any of their songs in particular? bad. For my Philly peeps, the title track to the Bacons' latest album is a wonderful celebration of a local tradition, but the rest of y'all out there probably have no clue what a Mummer is, so I'm choosing a more universal song that I also can't get out of my head. "Tell Me What I Have To Do" is an aggressive-yet-gentle folk-rocker in which Michael Bacon mumbles his way through some off-the-wall musings about unrequited love. Great harmonies and tasty harmonica round out the package.

"Balboa," Downtown Harvest (available on Discovering Dinosaurs)

Taking care of more unfinished business from 2009, you might recall a few news updates about DTH's new album. Oddly, a PR rep for the band told me that Valentine's Day is its official release date, but check your favorite digital music store and you'll probably find it now. There are a few "earworms" on this one, including the album's opener, "Balboa." Adroit vocal trade-offs, a funky jazz-rock sound, and lyrics that are either sexy or criminal (perhaps both) make this track a must-hear.

"Don't Let Me Forget," Charlotte O'Connor (availability details below)

My friend Katie recently spotlighted this artist on her blog and even picked this song as a winner, so I had to hear what all the fuss was about. This young British singer/songwriter has a major label deal and is working on her first album, but she has already built up quite a following and played many shows. And yes, Katie is right: "Don't Let Me Forget" is a gem. Breezy mainstream pop, yes, but good breezy mainstream pop with heartfelt lyrics and some nice vocal moments. It just works, but you can't get a copy of it yet: you'll have to listen on Charlotte's MySpace. Incidentally, if you go to her website and register, you get a free download; hoping to get "Don't Let Me Forget," I was offered "Move On" instead. Not a bad song, but "Forget" is gold.


"Stranger With A Black Dove," Peter and Gordon (available on Peter and Gordon [1966])

More unfinished business from 2009! Remember how, when Gordon Waller passed away, I named this "sublimely abstract" song as a prime example of Peter and Gordon's songwriting talent? Well, it's not my fault that it took so long to get onto iTunes! It was actually intended as the A-side of the single, but got flipped over with "There's No Living Without Your Loving" taking top honors. Pity, because "Black Dove" is one of those 1960s folk-pop songs with strangely mystical lyrics that make you remember just why the '60s were such a special decade for popular music. On a personal note, I'm thrilled that I no longer have to listen to my scratchy vinyl copy -- or anyone else's!

"Help Me Find A Way (To Say I Love You)," Little Anthony & The Imperials (available on The Best of Little Anthony & The Imperials [Capitol Records - not the Rhino label comp])

I've spent half my life as a fan of Little Anthony & The Imperials -- an unusual thing for a 28-year-old to say, but it's true! However, I only recently discovered this minor hit from 1970 which hasn't always made it onto the group's greatest hits compilations. Here in Philly, Thom Bell worked soul magic with vocal bands that weren't necessarily heavy on talent, but Little Anthony & The Imperials sure could sing. And they were veterans by this time, having been on the charts every now and then since 1958. The assured professionalism of the group, combined with the elegant touch of Thom Bell, made for a great overlooked Philly soul record. Anthony really hammed it up with his lead vocal, but in so doing he brought a lot of depth out of a song that was pretty simple on its surface.

"The Dedication Song," Freddy Cannon (available on Boom Boom Rock 'n' Roll - The Best of Freddy Cannon)

They should prescribe Freddy Cannon's records as antidepressants! His specialty was and still is loud and proud all-American rock 'n' roll, and he had his biggest hits at times when America sure needed them: the period of 1959-1963, when rock 'n' roll had been beaten into submission thanks to the payola scandals and other unfortunate developments; and 1964-65, when the British Invasion was knocking many American artists off the charts. But by 1966, the Boom Boom Man was falling out of fashion as well, and the rowdy "Dedication Song" stalled just outside of the Billboard Top 40. It was Freddy's last Hot 100 hit until 1981, but what a way to go out: a crazed, hyperactive arrangement and ol' Freddy's typically raw vocals delivering a tune that paid homage to the rock 'n' roll deejays who made dedications for their teen listeners. This Russ Regan composition is a timely song now that radio deejays just ain't what they used to be.....

Freddy Cannon fans, check out this recent, extraordinary retrospective and interview with Ronnie Allen:

Text copyright © 2010 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

EP Review: Definitely Not "Idle"

"The rain is comin' down to clean the streets / Wash away the liars, wash away the cheats" (from "The Surge")

Way back in March of 2008, I introduced you to a self-described "dirty rock 'n' roll" band out of Liverpool called The Idles. These days, The Idles are still turning out music for those who like their rock 'n' roll loud, raw, and unpretentious. Their new EP, Arrogance Through Ignorance (Forty Six Records), is a professional studio effort with all the requisite sonic polish, but while many bands would sound watered down in such a context, The Idles sound brash and powerful. New member Aaron Sawyer's drums are particularly forceful in these mixes, while the fluidity of Matthew Freeman's rhythm guitar takes on new significance.

"Powder" is an excellent example of the band's tremendous playing, while Ben Hartland's soulful, raspy vocals are best displayed on "Changing Faces." This song is similar musically to "Rock 'n' Roll Room Service" from their demo EP Dirty Rock 'n' Roll, but while "Room Service" was badass and snotty, "Changing Faces" accomplishes the more impressive feat of being tender while still rocking. As for "Everyday I'm A Rockstar," which the band previewed online last year, its double-edged lyrics will keep you amused for months.

Most bands need to grow or expand stylistically so they don't become stale, so it's nice to hear The Idles change things up with "The Surge," a moody, bluesy shuffle with vivid lyrical imagery.

The release of Arrogance Through Ignorance was delayed twice, but you can find it now on iTunes and Amazon. Get it while the getting's good.

For music and more info:

[revised January 20, 2010]

Copyright © 2010 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

One Video Ahead: Teddy and Bobby (Not Kennedy)

Our first "One Video Ahead" of 2010 is yet another poignant entry in the series, and remember that the volume varies on these clips and they might not be available forever. That said, you may have heard the news by now: two of the greats of R&B just passed away, and neither one of them should be sent off without some major props for their contributions.

In the realm of Philly soul, Teddy Pendergrass was one of the tops. Sure, the group that made him famous was called Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and he was not their first lead singer or their last. But his voice, with a little help from Gamble and Huff, propelled the Blue Notes to their greatest heights:

Pendergrass went on to have a successful solo career, but a horrible car accident in 1982 left him paralyzed from the waist down. What always struck me about him was that as he continued to perform post-injury, he still had an obvious love of performing:

If you are interested in learning more, here's a good two-part feature on Teddy and his spinal cord injury from 2007: (Part One) (Part Two)

We've also just lost Robert Charles Guidry, better known as Bobby Charles. Either of his names seems ubiquitous when looking through the history of Louisiana music. A reclusive, somewhat mysterious singer and songwriter, Charles recorded the original version of his composition "See You Later, Alligator," which became a hit when Bill Haley and His Comets covered it in a rock 'n' roll style. Charles went on to write more classics of the early rock 'n' roll era and later worked with luminaries like The Band and Dr. John. Here are some of his greatest hits:

Bobby Charles - "See You Later, Alligator"

Bill Haley - "See You Later, Alligator"

Fats Domino - "Walkin' To New Orleans"

Clarence "Frogman" Henry - "(I Don't Know Why) But I Do"

For more on Bobby Charles, check out this excellent article:

Rock on, Bobby and Teddy. Rock on!

Text copyright © 2010 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Album Review: Ultimate Jake

I first reviewed Jake Snider in September of 2008, and if you've been following One Note Ahead since then, you might be a tad confused by the release of an ostensibly new Jake Snider album featuring a lot of familiar song titles. I'll clear it all up for you, but first let me say that if you're new to Jake Snider, you should check out his eponymous full-length. Here's a young singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who most definitely does not fit the bland teenybopper profile that dominates the radio these days. The Jake Snider album showcases his jazz, soul, piano pop, and classical influences at their best, with lyrics that are intelligent without being pretentious. Go to enough Jake Snider shows and you'll see a frequent supporting cast including sax-playing brother Cary Snider, bass picker and drum basher Jeff Berman, harmony queen Emily Bach, and bass jam-master Ben Berry; they're all on this album, as is Eric Bazilian. Yes, you read right.

What about this album's specific contents?

=> Two tracks on Jake Snider, "How?" and "Prisoner of the Alley," appeared previously on Jake's debut EP Green Lights For Granted. These songs contain some of Jake's darkest lyrics -- for example, "Alley" features lines like "Call me slave of the street, but I don't want no more sympathy; sympathy just makes me lonely." Back in the day, I wrote that "
the glorious 'How?' needs little adornment to cement its position as a sublime slice of jazz-pop," and I still stand by that. A third title, "To the Ocean," sure looks familiar but don't be fooled: the version featured on Green Lights was a polished studio recording, whereas the version on Jake Snider is Jake's original rough demo. I can't really say which one is better; it's the first Jake Snider song I really fell for, so I'll probably be a sucker for it in any form.

=> "All You Need," "The Seven," "The Day I Got Old," "Headmasters of the Past," and the instrumental "King's Cross" first appeared on a limited-release EP called The Seven. Though I announced last October that the EP would get a large-scale release, it was handed out at certain shows and that's all. Jake described it as being influenced by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I'm no Harry Potter buff, but "Headmasters of the Past" certainly relies on a J.K. Rowling connection, and I'll guess that "The Seven" does, too. The others can be enjoyed absent any literary context. This goes especially for the amazing "All You Need," whose elaborate structure and arrangement complement, rather than overshadow, the song's message: "And we stand, you know love is a mountain, the higher you climb, the slower time is taken away."

=> Completely new to this album are the songs "City Blues," "Something Beautiful," "Rewind," and "Moment In Yours." "Something Beautiful" and "Rewind" exemplify the magic that takes place when Jake combines his mood-shifting compositions with Jeff's jazzy drumming and Emily's warm voice.
I want so badly to write off "Moment In Yours" as piano lounge mush, but I can't; it's just too sincere in its delicate beauty. "City Blues" is a moody, funky masterpiece, with Cary's scat-like sax technique used to satisfying effect.

=> Three worthy songs still available on Green Lights For Granted are not here: "Early Morning Somewhere," "Mr. Hemingway," and "Say Farewell." Your life will go on.

Jake Snider is in college in New York City these days, but he comes back home to the Philly area when he gets a chance. So if you live in or near either of those places, keep your eyes out for him because he is well worth seeing in person. Meanwhile, the Jake Snider album is available on CD Baby and iTunes.

For music and more information: or

Copyright © 2010 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.