Staff Picks: Music
All of us who had the true pleasure of working with Dale Ford knew his passion for music. He and I shared an obsession with Todd Rundgren, though Dale was without doubt the greater fan. Years of our Rundgren-related conversations got me to the point where I couldn’t put a Todd record on without Dale crossing my mind.
The diverse nature of Rundgren’s recordings – not only as a solo performer, but also as a member of various bands (Utopia and Nazz among them) and producer (he helmed Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell and XTC’s Skylarking, to name only two elpees’ worth of tunes) – is at turns challenging and rewarding. 1973’s A Wizard, A True Star does a great job of showcasing all of Todd’s musical personalities – art rocker, soul balladeer, experimentalist, spiritual lyricist, guitar hero, jokester.
In a pensive mood, I prefer the soulful second half of the collection – feeling more adventurous, the synthesized psychedelia that opens the collection suits the mood. The second half pays tribute to Rundgren’s R’n’B influences, while the first half itself is influential, its sonic textures prefiguring disco, new wave, and even hip-hop. The wide variety of sounds on this disc (especially enjoyable on headphones) should send impressed listeners on a search for more of Rundgren’s work. Dale wouldn’t have hesitated to point the way.
A Wizard, A True Star
Last night, 96 fans of old old-time country swing and blues were lucky enough to catch a free concert from the Lansing-based band Steppin' In It. The band performed many songs from the newest CD Simple Tunes for Troubled Times to a very energetic crowd seated in a circle around the stage. Between tunes the band discussed their instruments, the stories behind the songs and answered questions. The Van Deusen Room was swinging especially when the guys brought out the trumpet and trombone!
By kind permission of the band, here are a few clips from the show... "Break of Day," Give My Regards to Miss Moline," and "Gold and Silver."
The show was the first in a series of concerts each month this summer. Don't miss the Pacifica Quartet on July 8th and Rachael Davis on August 12th.
Ann Arbor rock group Kiln has been making instumental music for a decade, longer if you count the work they've done as other bands. Starting out as purveyors of a clanky, textural drone, the Kiln sound has been refined with each passing album into a cool fusion of heavily processed guitar sounds and sputtering electronics. Picking up where 2004's Sunbox EP left off, Dusker features a sound both frenetic and hypnotic that swirls around through wide stereo effects, warm buzzing tones and and choppy clicks and clacks. However, where Sunbox was somewhat mellower and dub-influenced, Dusker is more straight-ahead rock with a stronger emphasis on the guitars and a more propulsive beat on many tracks. They still bring back a dub sound on songs like "Flycatcher", and there's still soft touches of electric piano and melodica here and there, it's just that there's a sharper overlay of distorted guitar rounding things out.
The best thing about Dusker is the warmth infusing each track. Where many other producers of ambient and glitch electronics often isolate the listener with an overly artificial sound, Kiln instead provides that rare electronic release that inspires feelings of happiness and joy. As a friend remarked when I played some of the songs on Dusker, "Listening to Kiln is totally like being tickled." I couldn't agree more.
At first the new CD by the New York City based, Nada Surf did not thrill me. Tracks from their fifth studio release Lucky kept playing when the iPod was on shuffle and I finally realized what I was missing, an awesome effort. The alt-trio best known for the MTV hit "Popular" in 1996 have released a power pop CD celebrating their ability to keep making music in today's industry. I dare any of you to play this at your next summer outing and not smile.
Will history prove that Nada Surf will be more than a one hit wonder or will new listeners find themselves "Lucky" enough to see beyond that "Popular" track? Check out Lucky and judge for yourself.