Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Matter of Taste

If you want to find out more about this photo, check in at Chicagoist on Tuesday.

I gave in and bought the Amy Winehouse album, to see what's the big deal about her. And yeah, I'm hooked. I'm spinning it so much I've only given a cursory perusal to the new Kurt Elling record, and not even played Nick Cave's Grinderman. I tried to read Jim DeRogatis' compare/contrast last month between her and Joss Stone in the Sun-Times. But he isn't fond of either of them. At least that's the vibe I got listening to him and Kot bicker on "Sound Opinions." But, there's no comparison between the two.

Sure, they both mine the fertile ore of old soul music. But while Stone comes across as a rank imitator (when she does that "talk to the hand" thingy while she's singing, I imagine grabbing her by the wrist and smacking her with her own hand.), Winehouse is oozing soul in her voice. Sure, it's the misspent youth of your twenties, but who in their twenties didn't feel like everything was about them. Hell, I know some folks in their thirti
es and forties who still feel the same way.

The English have long had a better appreciation for American musical tradition than we, dating back to the Stones and Cream co-opting the blues, the Who's fascination with R&B, and later, the slick, blue-eyed soul of Simply Red's Mick Hucknall, Annie Lennox, and the acid jazz stylings of the Brand New Heavies, rooted in the soul funk of the '70's. What makes Winehouse a cut or four above Stone is her study and total assimilation of the pop girl groups of the sixties. Back to Black has a sound that reminds me simultaneously of that and Phil Spector's "wall of sound." If she does have a contemporary, it wouldn't be Stone, but Rachel Nagy of the Detroit Cobras, who has a similar love for greasy, lo-fi soul music.

The Phil Spector reference is as good a segue as I can get to sharing an old Ike and Tina Turner track that I never heard before. It's off a compilation disc I found called His Woman, Her Man. Ike and Tina will be best remembered for their volatile relationship, but their musical part of their respective legacies were created together, with tracks like the ones collected in this record. This is especially true in the case of Tina Turner, an ultimate survivor for whom all the commercial success after "What's Love Got to Do With It" just makes a well-earned victory lap after taking the best shots (figuratively and literally) from Ike. I thought about posting Ike and Tina's rendition of "Only Women Bleed" (titled "Only We Women Bleed" on His Woman, Her Man), but opted not to only because, by the time the track was cut, Tina was truly singing from the voice of experience.

Ike and Tina Turner: "I'll Be Any Way You Want Me"

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Everyone's a Critic

Here's a snippet of David Cross review of Yo La Tengo's "I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass" at eMusic. 'Course, he prefaces the review by claiming to have not listened to the album, and simply based it on the track titles:

"Track 9: 'Daphnia'
Ughhh, what the fuck kind of name is 'Daphnia'? Is that the name of some Evanescence fan from Winnipeg? I don't like this song, I imagine."

What the fuck kind of name is "Daphnia", indeed.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Movin' Right Along

One of the reasons I feel blessed to work where I do, even under the uncertain climate in which HotHouse is currently embroiled, is the view from the gallery. There's an distinctly urban romanticism about looking at the skyline from the gallery, fog clouds enveloping the tops of the skyscrapers, the elevated trains passing by, sparks flying from the thrid rail as a jazz trio like e.s.t. forms a groove onstage. Before the superdorm in the right of the picture was built, people had a clear view of the Harold Washington Library. Now the Library Towers across the street is quickly rising, eventually blocking the view. When I finally can't see it, it'll be like a chapter in a book closing.

I've worked in the South Loop for over seven years, and I've been witness to the changes both in and outside work. I'm not even the same person who started working at HotHouse as a part-time bartender. I was angrier then, confused, depressed and placing everyone I cared about at a distance. I know I needed help, but was too proud to ask. Still am today, to an extent. The major difference is that I'll ask for help now if I feel I need it.

So take the time to really look at the picture while listening to this song I included here from the Ensbjörn Svennson Trio, who absolutely brought the house down last night. Unlike here in the States, where Wynton Marsalis and his allies at Lincoln Center seem to have successfully consigned jazz to the status of Latin, and where smooth jazz and jazz vocal are where advertisers place their marketing dollars, jazz music is treated as a vital, living organism in Europe.
e.s.t. is just one example of the boundaries being pushed by jazz musicians. Their music is fearless, ambitious, and succeeds because it knows no bounds. Like the picture at the top of this post, the title track from their album "Tuesday Wonderland" also carries with it a distinctly urban romanticism.

e.s.t. - Tuesday Wonderland

Rest in Peace, Andrew Hill.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


And an action-packed weekend it's been. I attended WhiskyFest Friday night. Left during the "Great Debate: Scotch or Bourbon" between Dalmore master blender Richard Patterson and Jim Beam distiller Fred Noe. I knew going in that the "debate" would be nothing but a spirited but transparent sales pitch for both brands, since they're marketed by the same liquor holding company. Once you get past that, you can enjoy the seminar.

I had to leave early because I was managing front-of-house Friday night (and all weekend). Checked e-mail when I got to work, received an unexpected bit of great news related to the "Year of the Squeaky Wheel." Sones de Mexico was playing that evening, and I was expecting a quick and early close so I could get home, walk the dog, and be relatively fresh for the Hervé This seminar at the Union League Club yesterday morning.

And that's when the monkey wrench came in.

After finally clearing the house, I noticed that there was a man in the gallery. He was waiting for his friend, who holed herself up in a bathroom stall in bad shape. This woman was apologizing profusely for her condition and asked that we tell her friend not to wait for her. Well, that just wasn't gonna happen. I mean, she looked bad. We asked if she wanted medical attention, she declined, stating that she was going to stay in her downtown office for the evening. Finally, I cleared the house of all other employees, leaving me, the woman and her friend.

I managed to get her out of the stall and on her feet. We worked our way into the gallery, where her friend readied her coat. I went for my keys, came back, and she was gone. Headed back into the bathroom, she was bent over a sink, vomiting and apologizing again. Here is where patience kicks in. I went back to the bar, fixed some bitters and ginger ale to settle her stomach, and went about the task of recollecting her again. The apologies were getting on my nerves, not because she was offering them profusely, but because they weren't necessary. We've all gotten sick after a night of drinking before. My concern was whether she had mixed alcohol with some other medication or, God help me, someone dosed her. Looking at her friend, I ruled out the latter.

We walked to the elevator and made our way outside, where he grabbed his car. She puked on the curb and offered that it was nice of me to help her out like this. I allowed that it was part of my job, but I couldn't leave with her in the shape she was in. trying to comfort her embarrassment, I told her that most of the people I've seen in her similar condition usually do that to themselves intentionally. Settled in his car, I finally managed to close up the club and head home.

I made it to bed at 4:30 a.m. after watching the cops slowly scour McGuane Park for the gangbangers that hang out in the darkened southwest corner of the park at 30th and Poplar. As much as I wanted to hear Professor This, I just wouldn't be in the right frame of mind for it, and my snoring during the seminar would not have been appreciated.

This week, I wanted to share a track from Lee Fields, commonly known as "Soul Brother Number 2" for his uncanny - some might say outright aping - of James Brown. The late New York label Desco specialized in cutting molten hot chunks of funk in this style, and Fields' Let's Get a Groove On LP was one of the high watermarks of the Desco era. When Desco split into Daptone and Soul Fire Records, respectively, Fields cast his lot with the latter label, its grittier production, and greasier sound. Problems, the record Fields released on Soul Fire, doesn't have the polish of Let's Get a Groove On. Its charm is in the force that the record hits your ears, like when Ali perfected the rope-a-dope technique. It insists that you sit and take notice.

Of all the tracks on this record, I chose one of the slow jams. "Honey Dove" is a classic, incessant plea of love from Fields to his woman. It's mournful, hopeful, and insistent in the plea of the chorus, with a greasy organ in the background.

Lee Fields: "Honey Dove"

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The More Things Change...

When I found myself face-to-face with the "Check, Please" effect at Yassa last weekend, one of the things that stuck in my mind that I didn't write about was a question one of my impromptu dining companions asked.

"This really isn't a developing neighborhood, is it?"

I asked why she thought that, and she said that she couldn't find any new construction on the way down. Her partner and I both allowed that it may not seem that way, but if she was to look north of 79th on the way to the Dan Ryan, she'd see bungalows, three-flats and classic courtyard-style apartment buildings in good condition. As I was walking back to the Red Line with my leftovers, that question sort of stuck in my head as an example of how north and south siders look at the changing fabric of the city. I saw in Chatham countless businesses owned by people who work and live in the neighborhood. She didn't see town homes. It's truly Pavlovian.

Shopping for fruit and vegetables at Egg Store, I noticed that they've started stocking small amounts of organic produce. I saw organic oranges, romaine lettuce hearts, and hydroponically grown tomatoes. It's a small caveat to the slowly changing face of the neighborhood, but I don't expect to see Egg Store going completely organic and free range overnight. Besides, those oranges were tiny, even at 69 cents a pound.

... The More They Stay the Same: The Bridgeport barista wars B News declared haven't exactly come to fruition. For starters, Hi Tea is in the South Loop. It's two different fronts between there and 31st and Morgan, Bridgeport Coffee House's main competition would be Scoops, the ice cream shop at 31st and Wallace. And that place uses an automated espresso machine. So until Hi Tea opens a location steps from my apartment, Mike Pilkington will go uncontested.

But we were talking for a little bit Thursday night about the stoner pet store that opened up next to the Ramova Grill. It's fucking scary. There was this pet store on 35th, between Halsted and Lituanica, that closed down last year. I'd go there occasionally and load up on rawhides for Emmy. Apparently the owners of this new pet store bought out a sizable portion of the old one's inventory. Specifically, they cleaned up on exotic fish, birds, turtles, and reptiles, probably while baked out of their gourds. It's like they decided to buy every colorful, dangerous animal the old pet store had in stock. They probably thought the giant iguana that had B News freaked out was talking to them, and are trying to sell it to some other drug casualty as a talking iguana.

I went in a few weeks ago after eating breakfast at the Ramova, looking for treats for Emmy. Her hip pointer was really bad then (better now), so I was looking for something heavy in glucosamine. I walked in the shop and saw a giant cage on the main counter with a rabbit inside, a bunch of iceberg lettuce, and newspaper to col
lect the droppings. I asked the lady at the counter if they stocked glucosamine treats. She looked at me and asked blankly, "What's that?" Then a cockatiel perched in the back of the store let out this bloodcurdling shriek and sized us up like our eyes were treats. I slowly backed up and got the hell out of there. They do seem to have made fast friends with the Ramova staff, even going so far as to synchronize their smoke breaks together.

Finally, I'm stoked about this new album by CéU, a young Brazilian singer who combines samba and bossa nova with trip hop and droning house rhythms. Her debut album on Six Degrees Records reminds me a bit of labelmate Cibelle's debut record. CéU is the first "international" (an even more generic term than "world music") artist to be featured on Starbucks' Hear Music series, because apparently they can't sell enough Norah Jones records with the venti lattes. But they actually got this pick right, as CéU's music is catchy as all get out; I totally expect to hear this as background music in some bistro real soon. It's on heavy rotation on the sudoPod right now. CéU is playing HotHouse on April 19th, and I'm including a couple tracks for you to grok. Hopefully, you'll get off your duffs and decide to buy tickets. It should be a good show.

CéU: Roda

CéU: Ave Cruz

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Y'Know? I Don't Doubt it in the Slightest.

Keith Richards: "I Snorted My Father."

Now we're just being fucked with.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

I Got the Douche Chills

It's inevitable that one day we're going to sit down with the kids and give them "the talk," that generic term for the uncomfortable discussions about sex, drugs, peer pressure, and what we expect from them as they grow up. And, to a child, they're going to look at us like tools as we sit in front of them and try to relate to them how cool we still are to them, when they just see us as corny parents.

However, I hope none of us stoop this new definition for "rock bottom." It also typifies just how out of touch Republicans are with mainstream America, if not reality:

Watching the first ten seconds of that made my pee hole hurt.

No Stretch at All

I decided this week to upgrade my eMusic subscription to the "connoisseur" level (100 downloads for 24.99 a month). I mentioned to a few folks last week that browsing eMusic was the internet equivalent of spending a couple hours in a dusty record store, looking for that elusive rare gem. Stones Throw Records has more than their fair share. The label that calls the late J. Dilla, MF Doom, Madlib, Quasimoto, and Peanut Butter Wolf home is also one hell of a depository of old funk and dusties. Old cut collectors should consider the collections The Funky 16 Corners and Cold Heat must-haves. From their reissue line, I downloaded yesterday both Free Your Mind: The 700 West Sessions by Amnesty and the Kashmere Stage Band's Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974.

The latter is the find. The Kashmere Stage Band was a group of high school band musicians from Houston under the direction of Conrad Johnson. Johnson was influenced by the harder soul and R&B rising from Stax, James Brown and the Soul Power movement, and drilled the influences into his students. With their matching platform shoes and suits, they won band competitions around the country, and were as tight as any funk outfit in business at that time. NPR ran an interview with Mr. Johnsone and Egon from Stones Throw Records August of last year, coinciding with the release of Texas Thunder Soul. In my initial attempt at using Yousendit, I've included a clip of their cover of "Super Bad" by clicking here.