New music from Columbus: Nick Tolford and Company

With a sound that recalls the rock and soul of the early ’60s built on a solid foundation of ’50s R&B, a Nick Tolford & Company show feels more like a party with a few hundred of your closest friends than a rock ‘n’ roll show (which is just how a rock ‘n’ roll show should feel). “Every Day” comes from the band’s second LP, Just a Kiss, released in January.


From the Stacks: Jan Bradley – “The Brush Off”

I love the dusty shelves of forgotten books you find in the darkest corners of musty libraries and those crates of “worthless” old 45s you find in every junk shop. I can’t help it. There must be dust in my blood. I even worked in a music archive for a year after university (it’s still the best job I’ve ever had). I guess that makes me some kind of amateur cultural archaeologist.

Of course, you and I know those neglected 45s are far from worthless. There are so many great songs languishing in those cardboard dumping grounds. And sometimes, of course, I’ll find something that I really wish I could share with people only to discover that even the seemingly infinite YouTubes occasionally come up short. So, I’ve taken it upon myself recently to fill some of those gaps. And since, these are obviously the sorts of things I wish other people could hear, I’m going to start posting about them here from time to time—one of those times being right now.

Given that her early records were released on Chess, it’s surprising to me that Jan Bradley’s recordings are so difficult to find online. YouTube only has a few of them (Spotify only turned up one). As the story goes (read: according to Wikipedia) Bradley was discovered at a high school talent show. A while later, after auditioning for Curtis Mayfield, she would go on to have a regional hit with “We Girls” and nationally with “Mama Didn’t Lie” (both written by Mayfield).

The current track “The Brush Off”, appeared on the flip side of “I’m Over You”, a minor hit (#25 on the R&B chart) from early 1965. Both feature that unmistakable Chicago soul sound, and though there are a couple of videos floating around for “I’m Over You”, I was unable to find anything for “The Brush Off”, which is a shame, because it’s a smooth and easy bit of Northern Soul that deserves to be heard. So, I made one.

Here it is. And, apparently, Ms. Bradley (I don’t know her married name) still lives somewhere in the South Suburbs. So, if you happen to encounter her singing with her church choir, please, pass on to her my sincerest appreciation for her all-too-brief career.

(Here’s the Billboard review of the single from January 2, 1965. Also, this guy has some good info on Jan Bradley.)

Current obsessions – Vanessa Carlton, Asa, Imelda May

I’ve been gone for a while. (Keen readers—or keen prospective readers, as the case may be—may have noticed this.) I haven’t really had much time to sit down and write over the last month and a bit. But what can you do? Unexpected family emergencies will do that to you. But things are beginning to look up again, so be patient with me while I try to get caught up. And is there ever a lot of catching up to do?! So, here, let’s get started with a few of my recent obsessions, which just so happen to be from some well-established artists (“established” relative to the other artists who typically show up here, that is).

Vanessa CarltonRabbits On the Run. Yes, you read that right. I said Vanessa Carlton. Stylistically, your typical Indie Handbook fare is about a thousand miles from—well—“A Thousand Miles”, but that doesn’t change the fact that, when I was 18, I loved Vanessa Carlton. I was in love with Vanessa Carlton, but we parted ways before she even managed to release a second album. So imagine my surprise (and delight) when I first heard “Dear California” jangling overhead at a local coffee shop. I honestly thought for a moment that I had missed a new Camera Obscura album. Sure, the album sports a handful of piano pop tracks in the vein of vintage VC, but far more interesting are tracks like “I Don’t Want to Be a Bride”, “Hear the Bells”, “The Marching Line”, and “In the End”. Rabbits On the Run is, by far, Carlton’s most mature work to date, and, for that reason, it is one of the most exciting albums I’ve heard all year. If she keeps this up, the next album is definitely going to be something to look forward to. It may even be safe for me to fall in love again.

AsaBeautiful Imperfection. I love soul music. Now, I know that doesn’t always come across. But seriously, nothing makes me melt faster than the idea of Sam Cooke singing just about anything. I guess, in general, I agree with my dad on the issue of contemporary soul music. They just don’t make ’em like that anymore. But here’s the thing, apparently, they do. First with Aloe Blacc’s irresistible “I Need a Dollar” and now Nigerian soul-pop siren Asa’s sophomore release Beautiful Imperfection (Naïve), it’s perfectly clear that the old school sound is still alive and well. Go ahead and try to watch the video for “Be My Man” without immediately pressing the replay button at the end. Highlights: “Be My Man”, “Why Can’t We”, “Bimpé”

Imelda MayMayhem. UK readers, no doubt, know this is old news. But Universal has been dragging their feet on this one and only managed an American release back in mid-July. Anyway, I’ve been on a serious rockabilly kick lately (I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve listened to that Blue Angel record this week) and rockabilly just doesn’t get any sexier than Imelda (not even that frenetic 27-year-old Cyndi Lauper can compare). Really, the whole album is brilliant, but I honestly never thought I would come across a version of “Tainted Love” that put’s Soft Cell to shame the way Imelda’s does.

CMW Recap – Day 3, part 1

I’ve said it before. A lot of things about Canadian Music Week caught me off guard. Of course, though I complained about the distance thing for the first couple of days, I really did grow accustomed to it once the sky stopped spitting on me every time I set foot outside. (Realistically, a ‘short’ walk in Toronto is really no different from a ‘short’ walk in Chicago or London, just with fewer commemorative plaques to read along the way.) But the main thing I will be taking away from CMW (other than the bomb I’m going to drop on you in my Day Five summary) is the sad fact that, while some of the most exciting music I’ve heard is happening so close by, such a miniscule fraction of it manages to trickle down to us here, south of the border.

And, yes, it’s rather ironic that I would make such a statement at this point in the weeks, as Day Three would turn out to be the most internationally diverse lineup I would experience during the course of the week, but with most of the bands (even the English and Greek ones), I already had some idea of what to expect. However, walking into Revival (a gorgeous venue in its own right), I had no idea what I was getting myself into. What awaited me would prove to be the most exciting show I’ve seen since the Babblers made a surprise stop in Columbus last year.

As we’ve discussed here before, new wave certainly seems to be alive and well all over the world at the moment. And then there’s my torrid love affair with the Stiff Records back catalogue, which has been well-documented over the course of the last six months or so, but I certainly didn’t expect to find all of that embodied by an immaculately attired four-piece from Montreal called GIRL. I’d been handed one of their fliers at a showcase the night before though they were, in fact, one of the first acts to be added to my CMW schedule two weeks earlier. From the opening chord to the final chorus, the pace of the show was relentless. There is something amazing that happens when a band is firing on all cylinders. In this case, frenetic energy and raucous singalong refrains. It wasn’t long before I felt a tap on the shoulder from another audience member eager to know who they were. Make sure to download their free EP from Bandcamp (or from the player I embedded below). The more I listen to it (and I’ve listened dozens of times since I returned home), the more I get the feeling that it could well be the most promising thing I’ve heard so far in 2011. Of course, there’s still the matter of the name. Though, if long-winded San Francisco stoners—Girls—had any sense of decency, they’d hand over the moniker to the boys from Montreal.

Following GIRL* was—well—an actual girl. That is, Gabby Young and Other Animals. In this case, the Other Animals were local music students as the usual Animals had been left back in Britain. With a sound that walks some sort of line between Kate Bush and Regina Spektor, Gabby Young puts on a show that is impossible to ignore. And that’s not just a credit to the bright red hair or elaborate stage attire. It’s a testament to a performance both riotously fun and beautiful executed with poise and personality. Some of you may have had a chance to catch one of her showcases at SXSW last week. If not, hopefully, at least, we can expect to be seeing a little more of her around these parts. Just a few hours before her Revival set, a North American release of her album We’re All In This Together on Four Quarters Entertainment in April. And it’s a good thing, too. Given the state of things, I reckon we could all use a little more circus swing in our lives.

Going into CMW, there was one artist I kept hearing about more than any other. Most everyone I heard from appeared far more interested in the fact that I was going to see Maylee Todd than the other marquee names on the CMW schedule (e.g. Janelle Monae, Janet Jackson, Sammy Hagar: none of whom are of particular interest to me anyway—well, maybe Janelle Monae). It’s no secret that word of mouth publicity like that can backfire, raising expectations so high that no artist could ever realistically hope to fulfill. But when they do—that’s something else entirely.

And Maylee Todd is everything they said she’d be. From the aethereal crooning of her beautiful solo harp numbers to the powerful soul of full band explosions reminiscent of 70s Motown, Maylee’s shows are unforgettable. I’m starting to see what all the fuss is about, but just think: this was only the warmup set for a full scale spectacle later that evening. The second show, unfortunately, conflicted with another gig I’d be attending down the road. But still, I understand now why so many people kept insisting how incredibly lucky I was to be there, even for a 30-minute set. I don’t if Maylee has played many (if any) shows here in the States, but I sincerely hope Canada will share her with us soon, because there’s nothing I can say that could even begin to do her justice.

*Apparently, there were some major label A&R guys among the audience at Revival Friday night, as well—not particularly interesting or relevant information in this case, but a good setup for the snarky comment I am about to make. (At one point, I—along with everyone else—was encouraged to give them a round of applause though I have yet to figure out what they’d done to earn it. Is spiky hair now grounds for a standing ovation?)

apologies and old valentine

Hi everyone!  As some of you know, I’m getting married in 10 days, and for that reason, I’m feeling more ridiculous than normal, and kind of like everything is floating around in my head and I can’t get a grasp on it.  I locked my keys in my car yesterday for the first time in my entire life.  My head is not screwed on right, and it will probably only get worse until November 8th.  You’ve been warned.

Yesterday one of my friends said he resisted reading The Indie Handbook for a long time because we sound pretentious.  Ok, he didn’t say we sound pretentious, he was actually really nice about it, but the basic jist was that we sound sort of stuck-up and obsessed w/being indie.  And this is one of my friends.  He knows me.  He likes me (I think).  So I have no idea what you guys think when you read this, and I don’t know how Eric feels about me saying these things, but I would just like to clarify.  If you read our About the Indie Handbook page, you will understand our goals.  But if we come across as biting, condescending, or elitist…I’m really sorry.  When it all comes down to it, I really don’t think I’m better than anyone else.  I don’t like myself very much most of the time.  I think the music I listen to is pretty great, and I want you to listen to it and like it too, partly because you may not have heard it and I think a) you deserve to hear as much good music as possible and b) good music deserves to be heard, and partly because I want to connect with you–I want you to appreciate what I appreciate, and I want to be understood.

We don’t really care about being indie (I mean come on, read Eric’s “The State I Am In” post), whatever that means.  We don’t really care what Paste magazine says is cool (except to be mad when they think STUPID things are cool…haha joooooke…).  I hope you don’t take our sarcasm for elitism, and if you do, there’s not much else I can say about it at this point…so, I apologize.

Moving on, today I wanted to write about Nic Dawson Kelly, but that stuff sort of sidetracked me, but I’d like to get back on topic and talk about music again, if that’s alright.  The other day I was listening to Nic Dawson Kelly’s debut album Old Valentine at work, and one of the students asked me, “are you listening to folk music?”  To avoid more explanation, I said that yes, I was listening to folk music, but in reality, Old Valentine is much less easy to label, more of a folk-blues-rock mix.  I could have sworn that somehow the White Stripes had slipped in at the beginning of “The Musician” (“We’re Going to Be Friends”), but after the first few chords, the whistling and one-of-a-kind voice gave it away as something completely different.  How to describe Nic’s voice?  At first, I wanted to compare him to Coner Oberst, but I feel like Nic has a better grasp on technique and is less grovelly/talky.  It seems kind of lame just to call his voice unique, even though it is different from anything I’ve ever heard and in a good way.  He just really knows how to use it, like a classically trained musician; like I said recently, you find that once an artist knows the rules, it sounds/looks/feels better when they break them.  Nic knows what he’s doing, and he uses his voice in a ton of very cool ways–shaking and narrating and teasing–and, like Will Sheff from Okkervil, you can hear the emotion in it.  This is great because he achieves tenderness, sarcasm, and fun convincingly, with soft chords (“Marilyn”, “Oh Well”) or playful swagger (“The Musician”, “Old Valentine”) backing evocative vocals.  As for the album itself, I’m impressed with how well-crafted it is.  The songwriting is beautiful and the flow is perfect.  I was afraid at first that it would be too country, but it definitely isn’t; there’s a level of soul in every song that is incredibly refreshing and works as a nice balance to the harmonica/acoustic guitar sound.  Frickin’ awesome.  I think Nic Dawson Kelly is a definite up-and-comer, or whatever the crap you call it, and I’m excited to encourage you to buy this album!  On iTunes!  Tonight!  You can even get a first listen on his myspace, just to prove it.  My favorite on the album is “Marilyn,” just fyi.  Precious.  And look at that precious face!

wearing lampshades & onesies has never been cooler

posted by jake on that is

Happppppppy Monday!

(I know things are way less funny when I have to explain them… I always seem to have to…but did you guys see the 30 Rock Valentine’s Day episode with Rachel Dratch playing Jack’s hooker and she’s like, “Happppy Valemtime’s!” in the most sloppy drunk voice ever?  Because that’s the voice I was referencing.   Happpppppy Monday!”)

My ipod-in-the-car thing broke and lately I’ve been listening to music a) at home and b) at work, which has greatly limited my music-listening time.  I spend a lot of time driving.  Anyway, so lately my work music has been 6 little songs by Lulu & the Lampshades.  Lulu & the Lampshades is from London and I get the impression that sometimes they wear lampshades and maybe onesies?  But maybe not always?  But Lulu & Luisa & Jemma & whoever the crap else is in the band (I’m very confused about this) make me grin because their voices are so lovely and soulful, and they are paired with great sounds SUCH AS ukelele sounds, and also apparently melodica/accordian sounds.

Here’s the deal.  The dynamic girl duo bit reminds me of First Aid Kit, which I love.  The acoustic style of “Cherry Coke” and “Something New” remind me very much of Jaymay.  Their accents remind me of Kate Nash (oh whatever, I’m a stupid American, I even listen to Pink sometimes).  But you know what is really fantastic?  As much as I love acoustic, folk, coffeehouse stuff, they are not all/only that.  For instance, “Impasse” follows no generic structure…just some strums and “ooh ahhs” and some words, too.  I know when I explain it you think “oh that sounds like coffeehouse to me” but you’re wrong, and you should just listen to it.  On “Elastic Limbs” you will pee yourself because the melodica and/or accordian (sorry I can’t tell the difference, really.  My music major didn’t focus much on these two particular instruments, although my friend Wesley does play the accordian and I am wondering now why I didn’t think of this when planning my wedding*) is so freaking awesome!!!!  The sound is really something special.

And, here is something cool, Lulu & the Lampshades has a new single out, and it’s called “Feet to the Sky,” and I think it is PERHAPS my favorite of the songs on their myspace.  It’s pretty catchy, but not in a way that pisses me off.  There are hand claps and precious lyrics and tempo changes–I love tempo changes because no one ever seems to make use of them in anything other than instrumental music.  And all in all, these girls are quite talented and fab and I want you all to listen to them immediately.

*Speaking of weddings, I’m getting married in November (7th, actually) and Eric is going to need help posting for about a week.  Any takers?

Finally, if you read nothing else, at least WATCH this video.  It is the reason these guys are my new heroes.  I used to play this game when I was…12 or something?  But I sure as hell couldn’t do this.  I think also it is a drinking game…that I need to play.  ASAP.