The prolific jazz musician Ramsey Lewis passed away earlier this September at the age of 87. Lewis was a Grammy award winning artist and is best known for albums like “Sun Goddess” and “The In Crowd.”
Lewis is also responsible for a wonderful cover album of The Beatles’ music, called “Mother Nature’s Son.” “Rocky Raccoon,” off of The Beatles’ self-titled album (better known as “The White Album”) is my favorite song by the band. Lewis’ cover of “Rocky Raccoon” breathes a wonderful and vibrant life into the song, making it one of my favorite songs of all time.
The country song makes a wonderful canvas for a jazz cover. The cover starts off rather percussive and before you know it, a whole band of instruments have bled their way into the scene. The cover builds until it’s a pleasant storm of noise, with the melody on the keys serving as the rain and everything else draped behind it as the clouds.
Only 2 minutes and 38 seconds long, the cover is around a minute shorter than the original, and packs the same spirit into the same amount of time.
One of the best things about listening to an artist is seeing how their sound develops over time. Hearing an artist’s sound evolve from album to album is truly a special thing. Sometimes, however, an evolution can sound more like a fall back than a step forward.
Chicago duo Whitney is famous for their wistful falsetto vocals and warm instrumentals. They make indie that incorporates folk and country, topped off with soul.
I was excited to see that they started releasing singles in June for an upcoming project. “REAL LOVE” was the first in a string of five singles that would release before the record.
Sadly, most of the songs released before the album left me desiring something more. Something I was hoping I would be able to hear at the album’s release.
The first thing I noticed about each song on “SPARK” was the incredible production. The synths, strings and horns, which Whitney has utilized before, are on full display for these songs. At its peak, the production of each song truly melts in your ears.
However, I cannot help but feel like these peaks are few and far between on Whitney’s new record. It seems the sacrifice for the clear, crisp production of this album was a lack of variety and songs that die out before the halfway point.
A big problem I have noticed with many of the songs on this record is they are very front-heavy. Songs like “SELF” or even “REAL LOVE” (which I still admittedly like a lot) start with a strong premise but instead of building on that premise, they plateau.
This isn’t to say the new Whitney album is all bad. “BLUE” is quickly becoming one of my favorite songs by the band. On the slower, more melancholic songs, like “COUNTY LINES” the high-quality production is at the forefront and sounds great.
There’s something about this album that makes me want to like it more than I do. Maybe it’s just the fact that I’m such a fan of their first few albums. It could also be that when this album is at its peak, it sounds excellent. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t hit that peak enough.
In “SPARK”, instead of evolving into a new and original sound, Whitney falls into a sound that highlights many of the band’s shortcomings. While there are highlights, if Whitney continues to make music in this vein, I hope they increase the variety within and songwriting of their tracks.
I fully believe Whitney is capable of doing this. I think that if they can get a better grasp on this new sound, they could release their best album yet.
This weekend I went to The Grey Eagle in Asheville, NC to go see Florida indie band flipturn in concert. To state it simply, this was one of the coolest concerts I have ever been to.
This show was the second stop on flipturn’s tour after the release of their debut album, “Shadowglow”. Opening for flipturn was Nordista Freeze, a band I had never heard of until they came on stage that evening.
Both flipturn and Nordista Freeze did not disappoint. Nordista Freeze was a great opener, they did a great job hyping up the crowd before the main event. flipturn did an excellent job, their performance gave me a new appreciation for every song they played.
It was my first time at the Grey Eagle. I think the venue an artist plays at can add or detract a lot from the show. While both bands utilized the small venue very well, a slightly bigger venue would have been better.
I think the organization of the entrance to the Grey Eagle was quite poor for a show this large. The entrance to the stage, ticket check, and merch were all in one narrow hallway which made it quite a cramped waiting experience before they opened the doors to the stage.
I was pretty close to the front of the venue for the show. This enhanced my experience of the show greatly because I could see everything that was happening on stage easily and everything was perfectly loud.
After getting in right after the doors opened, I was happy to see Nordista Freeze come out right on time. As I have gone to more concerts, I have come to appreciate this more and more.
Nashville indie band Nordista Freeze was quite frankly wild to watch live; I don’t think I have ever seen an opener bring so much energy so instantly to a crowd.
Every member of this band has such off-the-walls energy and watching them riff off of each other. They played with energy like it was their first show ever but with the confidence of having played a million shows before.
The band is comprised of a drummer, bassist, lead singer/tambouriner, rhythm guitarist and lead guitarist. The lead singer also brought his girlfriend out at the end of the set to sing with him.
Nordista Freeze members were not scared to use the smallness of The Grey Eagle to their advantage. Many members jumped down into the crowds throughout the show. The lead guitarist played one of the most technical solos I’ve ever heard while in a pit.
The lead singer/tambouriner brought a crazy amount of hype to the show. He ran through the crowd over five times and hopped up into the trusses of the venue and started swinging around, twice. He was extremely in-tune with the band as well, emphasizing every important note and beat drop with his tambourines.
Seeing Nordista Freeze open instantly made me a fan. My favorite’s they played live were “Wysteria” and “All I Wanna Do”.
flipturn had a comparitively chill energy compared to Nordista Freeze, sadly we did not get to see lead singer Dillon Basse get up and swing in the trusses, but that is not to say they did not bring energy to the show.
I first got into them in 2020 from their hit, “August” and I had only listened to them semi-regularly until the release of their debut album, “Shadowglow”. This album is in my opinion their best work and I was excited to hear so many songs from it live.
They played mostly new material, even some songs they had never played live before, which I was extremely happy to hear. The crowd was too, as everyone in the venue was singing right along to every song.
They started the show with the first track off of “Shadowglow”, “The Fall”. They then went directly into “Sad Disco”, which I enjoyed a lot more live compared to the recording. A highlight of the setlist was hearing them play the transition from “Burn” to “Weepy Woman” live, which is my favorite part from their new album.
Seeing flipturn live gave me a new appreciation for their instrumentals. The drummer of flipturn was absolutely ripping it up. In a short intermission, he took a tom and crash symbol off of his kit and had two audience members hold them and he played a short rhythm.
The lead singer and bassist both seemed so genuinely happy to be there. Both of them were smiling throughout the entire show. The keyboardist and lead guitarist were both in their elements as well. It was fun to see the keyboardist move from keyboard to keyboard between songs.
The set design and lighting weren’t outstanding, but I think they did the most they could with what they had. I was confused by the choice to put the drummer on the right-side of the stage instead of the center. However, besides that one small gripe, I think they made the best out of the small stage they were playing on.
After a quick walk-off stage, they came back on and played their most popular song, “August”. They followed this by a song I had never heard before “Nickel”. I like hearing how bands try to make the most out of their hit songs and flipturn did not disappoint with “August”. Even though I had never heard “Nickel” before this show, I thought it was the perfect song to end on.
Overall, flipturn was awesome to see live. This concert provided everything I wanted and more. It was the type of show that made my ears ring for hours afterwards and I was not upset about it at all.
The crowd was one of the most energetic I have ever been in,. Everyone seemed super excited to be there and was singing along to every song.
I am definitely going to try to see flipturn again the next time they make their way to North Carolina. If only to hear the transition from “Burn” to “Weepy Woman” one more time. Seeing them live has me listening to their new album and looking forward to their next one even more than I was before.
You can buy tickets to go see flipturn live here, I would definitely recommend seeing them if they are coming anywhere near you. You can also check out an album review of “Shadowglow” by Michelangelo here.
The Friday night of Seun Kuti & Egypt 80’s set had the perfect taste and feeling of a crispy cool Fall beginning, looking back, it was probably due to the rain coming the next day. Their show was an hour before Perfume Genius went on, so I had plenty of time to enjoy my fill of Seun Kuti.
As I sat with a cheap, soggy, broccoli pizza in my lap at Moore Square, Kuti & Egypt 80 started their show. The first trumpet blast could have knocked me backwards. It shot out of Kuti’s lips, bewitching the crowd into movement. Soon everyone and the stage were swaying in the night breeze as Seun Kuti played “Theory of Goat and Yam”.
I feel as if I lost the next 30 minutes of my life through a magical time warp this band created with their music. Stars were twinkling to drum beats, and even the moon was smiling down on all of us as we experienced some of the most special music I’ve heard in my life. It eventually inspired me to write a short poem before I got up to join the swaying masses in front of the stage:
The band on stage
waved to the moon.
As it smiles downward,
reflecting warmth of the sun
poem by the author.
Then, as their set continued Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 kept layering magnificent tracks and solos on top of each other. They played “African Soldier” and “You Can Run”, which were lovely to experience, especially with Kuti’s vibrant blank and red attire. He jumped and we jumped. He swayed and we swayed. Kuti and the band moved the crowd effortlessly, which created a sense of endless joy.
After Seun Kuti & Egypt 80’s performance I was certain I would never see anything comparable to that experience again, but I was very wrong.
On Saturday, it rained all day. I went through two shirts, shorts and shoes, but the weather didn’t go nearly far enough to stop me from attending most events that day. Makaya McCraven’s set was set up the same way Seun Kuti’s was, it was an hour before headliner, Kim Gordon.
With a rain soaked field I did not plop in the grass for this performance. I stood and grooved along with a surprisingly large crowd for the weather. From the stage to the sound booth it was lined with jazz and “cultural synthesizer” (as Makaya McCraven calls his music) fans.
Instead of an opening trumpet blast, I was rocked into a rhythmic wonderland by drum beats. McCraven is a “drummer, producer & beat scientist” as stated by his website, so it only makes sense that he opens with undulating beat patterns and crisp drums.
I went into McCraven’s performance without knowing a thing and it still had a profound effect on me. With a medley of instruments and McCraven’s drums on fire constantly it was hard for me to split mid set and watch Kim Gordon’s set.
By some miracle or the beautiful beat gods smiling down on me, I caught the last two songs of McCraven’s set after Kim Gordon had finished. They had played for about an hour and a half straight all while having a large crowd and Kim Gordon’s show going concurrently.
The energy the entire band put into this performance was heartwarming. They shot forth fumbling chaotic noise and made another impression of live music I won’t forget.
Off on Your Voyage
Both Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 and Makaya McCraven’s shows made Hopscotch extremely memorable for me. I want to experience live music like theirs everytime I see a show now, but I know it won’t happen.
Being able to freely give love through that sound must mean these two groups have reached a cosmic understanding with the universe I can only hope to achieve.
Something about Pinegrove stands out to me in a way that no other band does. For this reason, Pinegrove has become my most listened-to band in the past year.
Lead singer Evan Stephens Hall wants his listeners to think critically while they listen. Within the catchy, heartfelt songs and records are an entanglement of depth and meaning. As an avid climate activist, Hall uses his platform as a way to spread awareness about climate change and what we can do to stop it.
Drummer Zack Levine, guitarist Sam Skinner, guitarist Josh Marre, keyboardist Nandi Rose Plunkett, and bassist Megan Benavente make up the rest of the six-person ensemble. Each other these members help to create the flair that makes Pinegrove as special as it is.
If you’ve never listened to a Pinegrove record and want somewhere to start, “Cardinal” is what you’re looking for. In this record, I think they best exemplify their sound in its purest form. This album has Pinegrove’s most popular song and many of my favorites. It hits indie rock highs but is clearly rooted in Americana.
Starting with “Old Friends” and ending with “New Friends”, the message is clear: at its heart, “Cardinal” is about friendships, relationships and the movement through them. Evan’s down-to-earth and reflective lyrics are best put on display on this record.
“My steps keep splitting my grief / Through these solipsistic moods / I should call my parents when I think of them / I shoud tell my friends when I love them”
Pinegrove, “Old Friend” lyric
Released after “Cardinal”, “Skylight” is a great progression from that album. This record is less structured than their previous album but it shines because of it. The structure and instrumental progression become more free-form, allowing more room for the reflection that Pinegrove is famous for.
Their latest release, “11:11” is also excellent and provides a new flair that Pinegrove was in need of after “Marigold”. This album leans more into a country sound than anything else on their discography, clearly inspired by artists like the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Still full of the internal reflection they are famous for, Pinegrove also looks outward in “11:11”. This is their most politically charged album by far and focuses on many of the problems that our world faces.
“They’re trying to ignore it / We always knew they’d try / Today the sky is orange / And you and I know why”
Pinegrove, “Orange” lyric
I have seen Pinegrove in concert twice. The first time I saw Pinegrove was back in October of 2021 at the Haw River Ballroom in Graham, NC.
This show was what got me hooked on Pinegrove. Evan Hall’s charisma and clear passion for the music he makes really did it for me. The entire band is so in-sync while playing and the highs and lows of every song hits extra hard live.
They had just released “Orange” for their new album and Hall, wearing a DSA shirt, took a moment to talk about the ongoing climate crisis and inform the audience of ways they could go about inciting change.
He took a similar break in his show a few months later in February at the Orange Peel in Asheville, NC, an understandably more packed venue. This show was soon after the release of “11:11” and they played through the entire album.
Hearing each song live provided more depth and gave me more appreciation for each one. If you get the chance, I would definitely recommend going to see them live.
Pinegrove always shines a light where there could be darkness. Their songs touch on many things that in different contexts could seem hopeless but instead of basking in dread, they push forward.
Pinegrove has had a lot of personal significance to me in the past year. The hopefulness they inspire definitely helped me through some harder times. They are the first band that I ever saw in concert more than once for that reason.
Thematically and sonically, Pinegrove continues to grow and evolve. I can’t wait to hear whatever they do next.