Do you remember Yaz? No? Well, how ‘bout Depeche Mode? Yeah, you remember Depeche Mode. So, but do you remember Erasure?
Why all these questions? Is someone on trial here? No. Unless you like Erasure, which I unapologetically do. Erasure was founded by Vince Clarke (he was our mystery musician from Yaz and Depeche Mode) and Andy Singer in 1985. They were a British synth pop group. Hurray!
Why hurray? Because this stuff is fun. It’s harmless fun. Erasure is very dancey. And very catchy and hooky. You listen to this stuff and you want to dance and you want a drink with a fruit in it. You know why I like this stuff? Well, one reason is because it’s so vastly different from what I typically choose to listen to. But also, the vocals are pretty good. And the synth is very poppy, which is what you want in a snyth-pop group.
I mean, have you heard this stuff before? I never know if I’m the first person to tell you awesome readers about a group, and I’m pretty sure I never am, but if you haven’t heard Chains of Love, or A Little Respect, you’re kinda in the minority. Both songs were huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic.
1989 brought Erasure’s fourth record and pretty much the end of them. Just as there was a backlash against the folk music of the 1960s, synth pop was headed for an early grave, the work of early grunge and popular innovations from the world of R&B dance.
One of the world’s largest exporters of vagina music, the Indigo Girls, came on the scene in 1987, but founders Emily Saliers and Amy Ray had been friends since elementary school. By 1988, they’d signed with Epic Records, home of Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman. If you know the Indigo Girls at all, you know they’re an acoustic rock folk duo, with Emily as the mellow, sweet one and Amy as the harsher, harder one.
It was a formula which has served them well. Indians, Nomads & Saints was a gold record in 1990, and set them up for success with 1992’s Rites of Passage, which included performances from the likes of Jackson Browne and David Crosby alongside Siouxsie and the Banshees. That one went platinum, and so did 1994’s Swamp Ophelia. These girls were hot in girls circles.
They played Lillith Fair, and anywhere else they wanted. They put out a live compilation, and a bunch more records. They did side projects and just for good measure, they recorded more albums and toured again some more. They’ve peaked by now, but they still command a strong following among strong women and the not-as-strong men who love them.
Say what you want about this band (I have!). These women write their own songs, play their own instruments (very well), and harmonize beautifully. Everything they do rings of honesty and authenticity. Unfortunately, the duo only has so much to say, and I feel like they’ve said it all. Some of their stuff starts to sound the same if you listen to too much of it at one sitting, but just don't listen to too much of it at one sitting and you'll be closer to fine.
Tim Wheater is a Facebook friend of mine. Don’t be impressed by that, but I wanted you to know how Tim Wheater came to be featured on your favorite 365 blog.
What happened was, I was lying in bed one Sunday morning, trying to resist motivation. I had the television tuned to one of those music channels the cable service provides. This channel was called Soundscapes, and it was all sorts of New Age-y reflective meditation type music. So I was lying in bed, trying not to get up, and I was ironically appreciating the cheesiness of the Soundscapes Channel. And a song by Tim Wheater came on.
I was intrigued. First, because he had an ordinary name rather than one like Wolf with Flute Playing, or Anastyjunga Mayore. Second because the music channel was not able to offer any of their cute “Did you know?” trivia, which is ordinarily done. So I got out my googler and I found Tim Wheater. Turns out he’s a celebrated English composer and performer, and he’s won just scads of awards. His website, though, was simply awful. It was cluttered with typos and repeated information. So, being the cheeky one I am, I emailed him. I let him know I dug his music, but that he really needed to get someone else to run his web site because it was embarrassing.
So, he did. It’s a much better web site these days. I had also asked him what his inspiration for “1000 Mandolins” was, but he did not give me an answer. Go find Tim Wheater on Facebook, friend him up, and compliment him on his new website and on his clear-headedness regarding taking advice from strangers.
We said 365 bands in 365 Days; we never actually said we'd do one every single day. Jeez.
Sarah Lee Guthrie is one of “the” Guthries, Woody’s granddaughter and Arlo’s daughter. As a young person growing up around music, Sarah Lee never felt the lure of performing on stage. In 1997, she acted as Arlo’s tour manager, and seeing all the fun at the late night pick-and-grins, she finally picked up the guitar and spent time learning from her father.
Johnny Irion is a hard-working singer/songwriter in the vein of Mason Jennings. He’d bounced around different parts of the country, working with bands such as Black Crowes and the Drive-by Truckers. In fact, it was Chris Robinson who introduced Irion to Guthrie. The two met, fell in love and were married.
They started performing and recording together, and soon attracted a strong following. The Guthrie name still carries a certain amount of weight, and Sarah Lee and Johnny have done records for Smithsonian Folkways, and were part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, along with Arlo and the family band.
The Guthrie name may lend authenticity, but there never was a lot of money in folk music, even when updated to include rock sensibilities. I met Sarah Lee and Johnny after a show once, and it was a pretty low-key affair. Just the two of them and a family member who pulled double duty as merch girl and babysitter for their small daughter. These are working musicians, modern-day traveling troubadours, and I love that they are carrying on the Guthrie tradition in so fine a way. They’ve got a new record scheduled for next year, to be produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.
Fleetwood Mac is a blues band from England which was formed in 1967, mostly with a lot of guys who were veterans of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers band. The band was named for drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, but derived its power and signature raw blues rock sound from guitarists Jeremy Spencer and the mercurial Peter Green. Their first release, a self-titled affair, was a huge hit in England, and pretty much nowhere else.
The band sought to raise their profile by recording their next album with Willie Dixon and other established bluesman. This was enough to get Warner Brothers interested in distributing their music in the United States. Fleetwood Mac had added Danny Kirwan on guitar, and had enjoyed two #2 hits, both penned by Green.
In 1970, Peter Green flaked out. Meaning, the 1960s, with all of its attendant sex, drugs and rock & roll had pretty much kicked his ass and he was more or less a baked potato. He split Fleetwood Mac without much warning, landed with Santana for exactly one album, and then more or less slipped into obscurity. And that was the end of Fleetwood Mac. Despite what you may have been told, nothing happened after that. Fleetwood Mac was over.
Concrete Blonde was founded in Los Angeles in 1982, a product of the L.A. club scene. Singer Johnette Napolitano joined forces with guitarist Jim Mankey, and the two started out calling themselves Dream 6. They spent a few years being a little too precious for the likes of most record labels until 1987, when they were signed by I.R.S. Records, whose biggest claim to fame was a band from Athens called R.E.M. Michael Stipe suggested to Napolitano that she change her band’s name, and so they became Concrete Blonde.
What kind of band? They bordered on punk. They were a three piece rock band with a one-two punch. One was Napolitano’s gritty yet tuneful vocals. Two was the expressive and hard charging guitar work of Jim Mankey. They scored a minor hit on their second album with God Is A Bullet and were asked to record a Leonard Cohen song for 1990’s Pump It Up soundtrack. 1990 was also the year of Concrete Blonde’s biggest commercial release, Bloodletting. A preoccupation with vampires and other monsters was the major theme, and the band scored another minor hit with Joey.
By 1993, the band’s fortunes had stalled. They’d put out two more titles after Bloodletting, but neither gained traction with critics or with the record-buying public. The band called it quits, then issued a best of collection before getting back together for a one-off reunion/collaboration with the Latin group, Los Illegals.
This stuff is a guilty pleasure for me. The lyrics are sometimes a little hokey, but also perceptive and touching at times. Meanwhile, Jim Mankey’s guitar work is usually rewarding.
Sollee --> Fleck --> Grisman --> Garcia
(I can't stop)
What kind of guy is Ben Sollee? He plays the cello. He likes to bike. But he’s a little more serious about both those pursuits than the average person. For one, he was invited to come play his cello at Bonnaroo, and for another, he rode his bike to that high profile event, towing his cello and 60 pounds of equipment over 300 miles to the event.
Everybody started taking notice of Ben Sollee in 2008, when he released his debut album, Learning to Bend, and was named one of the year’s Top Ten Great Unknown Artists of the Year by NPR, but I met him in the summer of 2006. I can’t remember if he was still enrolled at Indiana University at the time, or if he was a recent graduate, but he was young and he was on tour with Abigail Washburn. She was promoting her first solo project, Song of the Traveling Daughter (which featured Sollee), and the tour consisted of her on banjo and vocals and Sollee on cello and harmonies. Washburn muddied the waters between Appalachian and Chinese folk music, and Sollee’s cello provided sustain and color against the insistent torrent of her 5 string claw hammer.
By 2008, Sollee was gaining attention in his own right. He played the cello, but he was never stodgy. He had something of an Amos Lee thing going on vocally, and his playing was hip. When Abigail Washburn joined forces with Bela Fleck to form the Sparrow Quartet, Sollee was brought in alongside veteran Casey Driessen to round out the group. I’ve already written about what a badass group that was in an earlier article you should absolutely go read right now if you haven’t already. For Sollee, playing with high caliber talent meant great exposure in all the right circles. He’s used his small amount of fame to speak against the mountaintop removal approach to coal mining, and he’s advocated for various environmental and political causes, playing benefits as often as possible.
Since his first release, Sollee has collaborated with a number of diverse musicians, not least fellow Kentuckian Jim James of My Morning Jacket. They’ve used his music on PBS, and they’ve used his music on Weeds. He’s got a couple of EPs, a couple of LPs, and a new cd due out on September 25th, called Half-Made Man. I’ll be looking for it.