Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #238. I am John Book, welcome.
This column is about music reviews, along with music-related books, DVD’s, etc. Each review will usually be followed by a graphic, when upon clicking you can make a purchase:
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Now, the column.
When it comes to success amongst musicians, you generally see the excess. With a band as big and bold as Iron Maiden, one would expect to see them living the good life and being spoiled by their riches. Perhaps it is their British sensibilities that keep them grounded, and that’s what makes their Flight 666 documentary so amazing.
Here is a band who has become one of the most influential heavy metal bands of the last thirty years, and they’ve done it with a considerable amount of MTV airplay in the early days of MTV but limited radio airplay. Def Leppard and Whitesnake they were not. Nonetheless, the band wanted to conduct a tour in 2008 not only as a way to play some of their classics, but to bring to a younger audience a chance for them to hear the songs their parents fell in love with over 20 years ago. Iron Maiden continues to record new music that is a progression of what they’ve done since the late 70’s, and the only true sign of their success you see in the film is the Iron Maiden plane that they went on tour with. They wanted to be able to have a plane that they could travel on with families and roadies, while carrying all of the equipment with them. Not only that, but singer Bruce Dickinson, himself a trained pilot, wanted to fly the plane.
What you see in Flight 666 is a band who truly love to play and have friendships that are genuine, they don’t put on faces for each other for the camera. In fact, outside of magazine photo shoots and music video, Iron Maiden have generally been shy from the kind of bombardment the paparazzi places on entertainers, but that’s generally the case for a lot of British and European stars. They even talk about how they feel the cameras might be a slight invasion, but directors Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn never push themselves onto the band to find a story. Instead, the story is the power of their music amongst the fans, particularly fans who have either never seen them or had only seen them once fifteen years ago. It shows not only the dedication toward Iron Maiden, but also heavy metal and basically rock music. South American fans are known to be hungry, and they treat the band like religious figures. It’s incredible, and I think any of the fly-by-night artists of today who think they have it made should watch this. This is a band who has it made, but works at it to make sure their success never goes away.
It’s not just serious 24/7, although the one who always makes sure the machine is running at the appropriate moments is bassist Steve Harris. The only time you see him breakdown is when he talks about having jetlag when he traveled from one country to the other, and having a possible case of the shits. But he says that the crowd doesn’t care what you have or how sick you are, and a lot of times the adrenalin of the moment keeps you going and smiling for two hours, only for you to touch ground when it’s all over. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson is often the voice of the group on and off stage, and isn’t afraid to be open with his fans. However, if you are a true Iron Maiden fan, then you know that the funniest guy in the group has to be drummer Nicko McBrain. Most got a chance to know the ways of McBrain from an Iron Maiden B-side called “Mission From ‘Arry’, a secret recording made by Dickinson of an argument between McBrain and Harris. It was a chance to hear McBrain with his thick accent, talking about “fuck my ol’ boots” and eventually discovering someone recording the conversation and then coming up with the statement “some cunt’s recording this.” The humor expressed in that recording, his photo shoots, and music videos presents himself in the interviews featured in the him, and his love of cheese pizza can’t be denied.
Fans also get to see a side of guitarist Adrian Smith most haven’t seen, the fact that he is tech savvy and wants to be sure that everything is done as properly as possible. Unfortunately we don’t get to hear much from longtime guitarist Dave Murray, but the band state that he is the man of wisdom. Janick Gers gets a chance to speak a bit but not as much as I would have liked. Perhaps next time.
Again, it is about the music and the fans, and you’ll get a chance to hear many of their classic songs, including “Can I Play With Madness”, “Aces High”, “2 Minutes To Midnight”, “Wasted Years”, “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner”, “Run To The Hills”, “The Number Of The Beast”, “Heaven Can Wait”, and of course “Iron Maiden”. But to see the loyalty amongst fans in India, Costa Rica, Brazil, Tokyo, Anchorage, and New York City shows that when you love your favorite artists, it’s to the death. The documentary doesn’t look like an MTV mess, instead it is edited at a comfortable pace and you wish that they could have added more to this. Flight 666 is a testament to one of the greatest bands in my lifetime, and it’s a nice finger to the naysayers who used to think they were the most evil bands in the land.
The Graff Life is not like some of the other graffiti documentaries that have come out in recent years, and there have been many. This doc, directed by Randy DeVol, takes a look at the Metro Transit Assassins, a graffiti collective that explains without disguises or cenorship what graffiti means to them. It is a way of life, and it comes from not only their love of hip-hop music and the community it comes from, but for the pride and respect that graffiti demands.
It’s a unique video from the inside because one is able to see how certain graffiti challenges are created, and what the end result is. The narrator (who sounds like an 8 year old boy but the credits show the name of a woman) also explains that a lot of times resorting to graffiti comes out of boredom, due to local, regional, and national arts programs being taken away, something that has increased in the last 25 years. On one hand it may indeed be vandalism, but for an artist they need to express themselves and these guys are doing what they can to get their names seen and known. They follow graf artist ethics where you don’t write over another person’s piece. But if a wall or train is clean, it’s fair game. At the end of the day, these guys do have real jobs, while some will live the ways of a G and do what needs to be done, by any means necessary. It amazed me that these guys allowed themselves to be recorded. This movie was done before the Metro Transit Assassins, also known as the MTA did their now-famous half-mile tag displaying the MTA letters in the Los Angeles River:
Had that footage been captured (and perhaps it is in someone’s archives), it would have been incredible. Nonetheless, The Graff Life is a great look at a bunch of individuals who simply want to create, and rather than devote themselves to gangs, they celebrate their friendships and their love of bombing L.A. and beautifying the ugliness that exists in the inner and outer city.
There is heart to this doc, and that perhaps is what makes this movie different from the others. It looks at the art, the people, and makes a successful attempt at explaining why they do what they do, even if that means debating on whether it’s right or wrong. It’s freedom of expression, and the hope is that they’ll express themselves until they no longer can. It is certain that there’s a new generation out there ready to display their talents on the public canvas.
Critics have called ApSci “alternative hip-hop” but if that’s what people call N*E*R*D as well, so be it. In this case, Ra Lamotta and wife Dana Diaz-Tutaan create fun-loving party music with a nice dose of new wave and rock with hints of hip-hop, even though the hip-hop influence is as mixed up as everything else in their sound. For most of Best Crisis Ever (Quannum) they sound like they entered electro land and found themselves sliding in baby oil for the funk of it. It’s kind of loonie at times but the one time the group let their guards down is in the sensitive song “The Tradeoff”, where they speak on what must be done to become a success and the attempts to keep it, and by revealing they are the risk takers, they also reveal that they don’t want to fail at it either. It may not be the song that ends up defining them in 2009, but it should be. It’s the group you’ll find at a hotel at 9:57am, not knowing where they are or why they have to get up in the first place. People may be quick to compare Diaz-Tutaan to M.I.A. or Santigold but she is her own singer doing things completely different from them. Discover her for herself.
The silliness of things threw me off at first, but once it got to “The Tradeoff” it made me want to listen to it with different ears. Best Crisis Ever may become one of the biggest sleeper hits of the year. Do not fear them.
(Best Crisis Ever is scheduled for released on August 11. Extra bonus points to the group for shooting the video partly up at Tantalus and near Rabbit Island on the island of O’ahu in Hawai’i.)
Psychedelic music can be a little difficult to describe since its sound isn’t exactly distinct. It can be trippy musically or lyrically, but when you have a band that combines both, it’s a recipe for success.
Or at leas that is what the hope was for Pisces, a band from Rockford, Illinois who simply wanted to trip out while making potentially awesome music at the same time. They did, but no one ever got to hear it. With The Numero Group to the rescue, they’ve released A Lovely Sight, an album meant to be but never was.
The liner notes indicate that this was heavily influenced by The Beatles‘ self-titled album (a/k/a “The White Album”) from 1968, but one can hear strains of Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane in there. A song like “Children Kiss Your Mother Goodnight” may sound like a lullaby, but the band tells the children that when they wake up, their mother will be dead. Yeah, real nice. (That was sarcasm, BTW.) The album was privately made and they were going to release it themselves, and sadly it wasn’t. Had it been released, it could have been a cult favorite, if not someone’s holy grail. They get freaky for the sake of freaky but they could play fairly well and knew how to do everything right at the proper moments. It is hidden/lost albums like these that keep me wanting to hear more from The Numero Group. Here’s to more.
Church are a band who are in the vein of Engine Kid, Sonic Youth and to a degree Radiohead, where they like to make music that starts off soft and proper before building it up to a multi-climax and never letting go until it’s absolutely necessary. Song Force Crystal (Tender Loving Empire) is an album that mixes up rock, pop, and a heavy dose of boldness one commonly finds in indie rock to create something that mixes real instrumentation with electronic elements. The clash could be typical of everyone else doing the same thing, but what works to their advantage is the quality of their songs, which are really good. The distorted guitars and snail pace of “Opposite People”, the partial ugly tones of “Hidden Tone”, and the curiosity of notes that open “Quinty’s Guilty” helps develop the band’s full picture, with many colors and hues that help shape their sound that makes you want to hear them continuously. In other words, it’s an album that deserves the attention of the listener, something you just can’t throw at a party and expect for it to entertain as audio wallpaper. Church are intense, and they like it like that as they sing songs of dispair, agony, and innocent charm.
Looking for a jazz singer with the stylings of Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Al Jarreau, and, well, just a damn good singer who puts most so-called R&B singers to rest? You’ll have to take a listen to Ron Mitchell, whose Jazzy Me: Live In Japan (REM Solo Music) is a live recording showing how lacking much of today’s singers are. Mitchell takes some of his cues from the past, be it jazz, Broadway, or even a few showtunes, but takes it into today’s world without catering to the needs of today. In other words, he brings a sense of class and style that at times seems missing in today’s music, if not today’s world. This is someone who would make the ladies drop panties in his instance, especially upon hearing “Someone To Watch Over Me”, “The Look Of Love”, and “Our Love Is Here To Stay”. Mitchell never forces his voice to go overboard, he knows how to work it and it’s a delight to hear.
Please, get this guy some work and share his talents with the world.
Wand is James Jackson Toth and as he puts together material for a new album, he has released Hard Knox (Ecstatic Peace), a compilation of demos, outtakes, and home recordings that allow fans to hear not only new music, but new things from a musician who continues to excite and delight thousands of fans.
Basic versions of songs well known will reveal a lot as it’s now possible to hear what went on from the initial recording to what it would develop into, but what also is a trip is to hear all of the songs that did not see the light of day until now. It’s a shame, but I can see this album being used for television shows, movies, and perhaps a few laid back surf movies. With luck, it will be the reason people will make love and have children. I feel it, and I feel like procreating right now.
Want to head to West Africa but can’t afford it? You can do it through sound and find thousands of classic albums, or maybe wait for a band from Africa to play in your city. If you can’t wait but want to hear its influence right now, look for Toubab Krewe. Their Live At The Orange Peel album (Upstream) allows you to hear a North Carolina band mix up the sounds of Africa with a bit of Appalachian folk, rock, and pop to create music that sounds like what would happen if everyone was heavily influenced by Paul Simon‘s Graceland, but it’s much more than that. It’s a rootsy and folksy music that at times sounds neither rootsy or folksy, it’s very much of the now and it may move people to dance and discover their own roots.
From Senegal we have Maher & Sousou Cissoko, who play an instrument called the kora, with Sousou being one of the few women who have mastered the kora. Together they have recorded the album Adouna (Ajabu!), bridging together Maher’s African origins and Sousou’s Swedish upbringing to create some of the most harmonious music I’ve heard in some time. Musically they merge the sounds of Africa with hints of the influence of the Middle East, so through the kora you may hear the kind of playing one may expect with the Indian santoor or sarod. In “Keep On Trying” the bluesy harmonica work of <BSam Hagberth lets people know that this is travel music, or that the sound of the blues can be translated into all languages. It sounds like something you would find on Peter Gabriel‘s Real World label, various musical and cultural hybrids that end up creating a one world music. Maybe through the Cissoko’s, we’re one step closer to that reality.
I have a lot of music to go through, and I’m the only one doing it, I’m trying my best to review everything in a timely manner.