Monday, January 19, 2015

Working on a Dream

It does not take a newspaper to make good news.  If you want the newspaper version of the 11th Annual “MLK Shabbat: Visions of Freedom and Justice” honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel  service Friday night at the 6th and I Synagogue in DC, here is a link to it: 

The press coverage is relatively decent.  However, the thousand (or so) people of all faiths and “beliefs” (and “disbeliefs”) who crowded in to attend the service will recognize, the press account misses some of the true feeling and the essence of being present at the deeply-rooted interfaith service.  It was a service built on a strong foundation of a shared home and shared mission that continues to grow.  The foundation is built on the two faiths that have shared one building—what is now 6th and I Synagogue, which was once Adas Israel Synagogue from 1908 until 1951, then became Turner Memorial AME Church from 1951 until 2001, and is now Sixth and I (from 2004 to now and the future). 

What was striking on Friday night were the feelings of the residents of one home that was faithfully shared over the span of more than a hundred years, now coming together again to share and become one congregation of people, who have so much in common—the human condition, and goal of everyone having a good-quality life.   But what we have in common is unfortunately sometimes forgotten and “passed over,” by the stresses of everyday life.  Hopefully, it will not be easily forgotten again by, at least, those who attended this incredibly moving service that featured several faith leaders, two choirs (I was especially proud to have one of my nephews participating in one of the choirs), and dancers who worked together and separately (but always linked) showing a path to our merging musical and dancing traditions so effectively.  There were words spoken that were so moving, but it was the spirit and common feeling that was the most powerful.  It was a glorious night of memories that fills the holiday that we celebrate and commemorate today, and gives us a sense of hope that we do indeed have a path to our common dreams .   

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014: Back to the Past and the Future

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

Dickens may have had it right then, and it may sound right now for the year just passed.  We had our serious times to make us scared with some extreme weather, disease, misunderstandings that came to light, and downright violence and tragedies, but we also had our moments of justice, reflection, and recovery, and our movements towards giving all people and peace a chance, so that we could see hopeful signs. This year had its ups and downs, but since I am an optimist at heart, I trend towards the best of times. There was enough good in this year to make it potentially the best yet, and 2014 had its magic moments.  So, maybe Dickens did not have it quite right a short hundred and fifty-five years later after all is said and done. 

Technology speeded up our lives, and showed some of the promise of 1989's "Back to the Future 2" had seen for 2015.  It brought us closer together by making the distances between us ever shorter, yet for some, technology drove a wedge between us and sent us farther apart. Technology brought music to us everywhere at the light touch of a fingertip.  The winsome rhythm and beauty of many forms of music along with the continual rapping beat was so easily accessible this year for us, that we had to be hopeful that the music industry and its artists were rebuilding their industry and their craft, while searching for new models to foster continued creativity, and showed some promise that it was building towards a brighter future.  Yes, we had the best of tunes and the worst of tunes, and it was all readily available on line.

It was a year of some formulaic music that led us to be more "Addicted to You" (Avicii) and we became blissfully addicted to Daft Punk/Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgers' "Get Lucky," and the ever-present and ever-smiley faced "Happy" by Pharrell Williams, and Passenger's "Let Her Go," Katy Perry/Juicy J's "Dark Horse,"Pitbull/Ke$ha's "Timber," and OneRepublic's "Counting Stars" John Legend's "All of Me" and there were Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" that crossed between 2013 and 2014, but finally we "Let It Go," as the "Frozen" soundtrack finally let go of its hold on the top album spot at the end of 2014, as we were finally magically set free to explore the new sounds to come from 2015. 

My own favorites for the year 2014 were in the following order:

Jenny Lewis' album "Voyager" produced by Ryan Adams, was a cut above the rest, and the music was uniformly solid and fresh throughout the album.  After so many promising entries with the Watson Twins, Rilo Kiley, Jenny and Johnny, and the Postal Service, Jenny Lewis brought it all together in a tuneful, infectious manner.  Especially listenable and well-composed were "She's Not Me" and "Just One of the Guys," which she was certainly not.

Spoon's "They Want My Soul" also was a solid effort for the former Austin group that took a rest and a trip to LA, and reformed with delicious hooks and crevices led by the eminently hummable "Do You."

First Aid Kit's "Stay Gold," also showed "My Silver Lining" a mature,and well-produced solid effort that was  was well-produced by the talented Mike Mogis, and featured songs that was more personal to the lives of the group.

Sylvan Esso,  the North Carolina electro-folk, syntho-real indie duo showed their evocative promise in its name if not in its music in "Sylvan Esso," the album, and in particular in the live and official video versions of"Coffee," a gateway hypnotic entry into the slow, trance-like folk dance electronic market.

Tweedy, showed its fine father and son reunion in the tuneful "Sukierae," that had a lot of the 60s Beatles sound on "Low Key," "Wait for Love," and "Summer Noon ."  This was a pleasant interlude while waiting for what will be coming from Wilco and and the follow up of Tweedy.

The New Pornographers, showed its positive roots showing in "Brill Bruisers" a lively entry that kept me thinking of the key building of rock-composing, the Brill Building, updated and a bit bruised with a new facade.

A little less accessible but still listenable was St. Vincent's namesake album "St. Vincent " Digital Witness with its unpredictable twists and turns.

The rock divas still claimed their day with Aretha Franklin's "Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics " with strong treatments of the recent and past hits remade with soulful "respect," including a cover of Adelle's "Rolling in the Deep": and Anne Lennox's bare-boned collection of the standards, rock and jazz pages of the American songbook in "Nostalgia."

The top ten is rounded out this future with the back to the future with cross-over to pop maturity album by Taylor Swift in "1989" with its tuneful "Blank Space" and "Out of the Woods," not to mention the easily mocked "Shake it Off."

Bubbling below the top ten in an order that gets you to my top 40 were the following:

The War on Drugs', “Lost in the Dream” "Red Eyes" - Philly indie rock is alive and well
Beck's, “Morning Phase” - A long awaited companion piece to the 2002 "Sea Change"
Bastille's "Bad Blood" "Bad Blood" and "Pompeii" --Catchy rock comes alive.
Arcade Fire's "Reflektor"-Interesting even at their lower points
Nicki Manaj'a "Anacosta" - Rockin it out and was even able to laugh at her image on SNL
Sam Smith's "The Loneliest Hour" "Stay With Me"- Classic crooning by the Brit wunderkind.
Girma Yifrshew's "Love and Peace" "Sememen" - Ethopian jazz meets Chopin in a smooth mix
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger's "Too Deep" - Sean Lennon matures towards John
Off the Rhine's "Blood Oranges in the Snow" "Let It Fall" - Pleasant, accessible mid-rock.
Sharon Van Etten's "Are We There" Your Love Is Killing Me" The NJ/Brooklyn songstress' 4th.
Run the Jewels' "Close your Eyes" --NYC hip hop duo shows their stuff.
Real Estate's "Atlas" "Talking Backwards" - A fuller sound for the shimmering indie group.
Jesse Ware's "Tough Love" -- The talented British singer-songwriter releases her second album.
Y Music's "Balance Problems" - A fine mix of classical and pop and I do not mean classic rock
St Paul &The Broken Bones' "Half the City" Memphis-styled blue-eyed soul by way of Alabama.
The Both's “The Both” - "Milwaukee" Aimee Mann and Ted Leo join up for an interesting mix.
Atl-J's “This Is All Yours” "Left Hand Free" - Easy to take indie rock from Leeds England.
Fugazi's First Demo  10 tracks from the original demo tape from DC's post-hardcore royalty
Temples' Sun Structures --Straight-laced psychedelia from the 60s via the Byrds/Tame Impala.
Hozier's "Hozier" "Jackie and Wilson" "Take Me to the Church" - Talented Irish singer.
FKA Twigs' "LP1" "Pendulum" "Two Weeks" -- Experimental trip-hop British/Jamaican singer.
Kishi Bashi's- EP, "Philosophize in It! Chemiclisze with it The Jupitor One/Of Montreal talent.
Hooray for the Riff Raff's "Small Town Heroes" "The Body Electric"- U.S. folk 'n blues singer.

Roseanne Cash's  "The River and the Thread"- Comfortably explores southern roots on her 13th.
Perfect Pussy's "Say Yes to Love" "Interference Fits"- Frenetic, raucous Syracuse group.
Lana Del Ray's "Ultraviolence"- Easy on the ears, this singer is still recovering from her SNL debut.
Lydia Loveless' "Somewhere Else" - Talented alt-country singer from Columbus.
Leonard Cohen's "Popular Problems" - The venerable singer songwriter blooms again.
Bob Dylan's "The Basement Tapes" - Dylan and the Band enjoy the early joy of folk/rock.
T-Burnett's "Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes" Elvis C and others re-tackle Dylan.

and now 41 through 61:

41. Lake Street Dive - "Bad Self Portraits" – A tuneful effort from the indie pop-jazz group from Boston/Brooklyn
42. Black CrowesTurn Blue” – “Fever”- A good catchy eighth album from the sure-fire rockers.
43. The Slambovian Circus Of Dreams – “A Box Of Everything”  “Light A Way” – A good effort by the punk folky jam group from the Hudson Valley NY.
44. Angelique Kidjo – “Eve” A purely joyful tribute to the women of Africa in several African languages.
45. CaribouOur Love” Electro r and b and hip hop from the Canadian group’s sixth album.
46. J ColeForest Hills Drive” A reflective, sometimes melancholy take on the North Carolina rapper’s views. 
47. Young Thug and Bloody Jay – “Black Portland” Energetic over explicit rap with a soft undercurrent.
48. D'Angelo – “Black Messiah” – Sly-ly Prince-pled funk driven music after a 14-year hiatus.
49. Lucinda Williams – “Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone” - Road wearied poems from the folk warrior.
50. Laura Mvula with Metropole Orkest – Funky jazz orchestrally driven sounds that are pleasant to the touch.
51. Ingrid Michaelson – “Lights Out” “Afterlife” The sixth album for this catchy, quirky, basic songstress.
52. Jason Derulo – “Talk Dirty” – Vocally catchy singing but often thin songs.
53. TV on the RadioSeeds” Well-produced art rock from this Brooklyn group.
54. ThompsonsFamily” The mother-father-son reunion makes for very pleasant well-performed music.
55. Kat Edmonson – “The Big Picture” “All The Way” – Fine jazz inflected pop/folk on Kat’s third album. 
56. Arctic Monkeys – “AM” “Do I Wanna Know?” A carryover from 2013 for this maturing rock band.
57. U2 – “Songs of Innocence” “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” “Every Breaking Wave” – More high-quality rock from a premiere rock band. 
58. Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk” – Classy funk grooves.
59. Tove Lo – “Queen of the Clouds” – Delicious electro-pop from Sweden. 
60. Johann Johannson - "The Theory of Everything Soundtrack"  Expansive thought music. 
61. Tom PettyHypnotic Eye” A strong effort by the rock veteran.
62. Bruce SpringsteenHigh Hopes” Bruce kicked off 2014 with "high hopes" and a good start. 
The year's music was varied and crossed genres and ages--even T. Bennett and L. GaGa teamed up.  While the music industry was being remade, the print media continued its downward slope, but bricks and mortar bookstores stayed alive and cover and bound books were still fun to have and hold, and the print edition of the year-end music industry's Billboard was relatively easy to find this year.  So the music, books, movie, and news industry continued to try to find their proper places in this social media driven world, but there was great music in 2014 and hope for 2015, The New Year is like opening day; we all get a fresh start and anything can happen; we look forward to a happy, healthy, and excitingly fresh year ahead.  So, let the future continue.