King Khan recommends Jeff Clarke

King Khan and Jeff Clarke

King Khan and Jeff Clarke

King Khan’s artist recommendation: “There are often many unsung musical heroes who never seem to get the credit that they deserve. Jeff Clarke is one of those heroes. During the past 15 years he has branded his own type of psychedelic country rock n’ roll such that world has never heard before.

I remember meeting Jeff Clarke in 2002 in Montreal when the Demon’s Claws first shared the stage with King Khan & BBQ. Watching them play made my mouth drop, it felt like discovering the Rolling Stones! They managed to capture the raw power of pure unhinged rock ‘n’ roll and add to it a gunslingin’, whiskey drinkin, severed-head-on-a-stake kinda swagger the likes of Merle Haggard, Billy the Kid and Conan the Barbarian all in one!!!

The reign of the Demon’s Claws was one that was wrought with many accidents and bumps along the road but what they left was a huge stain across North America and Europe. They were a part of the origins of the “Death Cult” along the likes of the Black Lips, Jay Reatard, King Khan & BBQ, the Gris Gris and the Spits. In fact in many ways they were the outlaws amongst the outlaws. Their unruly hedonistic behaviour was stuff that legends were made of and subsequently had them banned from many clubs and feared by many promoters. The truth of the matter is that the sound that Jeff Clarke “not-so-innocently” unearthed nearly a decade ago has influenced so many of the young groups of today. There would be no Acid Baby Jesus if Jeff Clarke hadn’t inseminated rock n roll with his fertile seed.

His new incarnation goes by the name of Hellshovel where he has teamed up with an international team of players. Their sound invokes both demons and angels. This time around Jeff Clarke’s songwriting has truly evolved and embraced a new level of fiction. Imagine Walyon Jennings being sucked up into an orgasmatronic UFO and surrounded by light beings that poked and prodded him.

Could Jeff Clarke be the Arthur C. Clarke of modern Rock n Roll? Is Hellshovel that great black monolith in the sky that will have all the primates crushing each others bones over? All that can be really done is celebrate that we are amidst a true living legend in his prime. If his music isn’t enough to draw you into his world then try his avant-garde paintings or perhaps his incredible comic art. Whatever form of Jeff Clarke you chose to try it will leave you with a very strong taste in your mouth and might change your life forever.”

King KhanAbout our guest author, King Khan: Spy the image of King Khan in his wacky merman warrior helmet on the front page of his website or read about how he mooned Lindsay Lohan and it’s easy to think of the guy as some sort of camp novelty act. Don’t be misled. Khan, born Arish Ahmad Khan, has been creating great garage-funk-rock since he joined The Spaceshits in 1996 and has collaborated with the likes of The Black Lips (they were all part of a side project called The Almighty Defenders) and has performed with GZA of Wu-Tang Clan. Khan is now touring behind his new album, Idle No More that sounds like spaced out tour through rock and soul’s most exciting music, making stops at the exits for James Brown, Sun Ra, The Velvets and The Rolling Stones. His touring band, The Shrines, will simply blow you apart with an assault of precision percussion from Ron Streeter (who previously supported Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder) and a blazing horn section led by Torben Wesche (tenor sax) and Frederic Brissaud (baritone sax). Check the YouTube clip below to see what you’re in for and then check the King Khan and the Shrines tour page to see the 2013 dates that are closing in on your home town.

Matt Lipkins of The Shadowboxers recommends Magnus Tingsek

Matt Lipkins and Magnus Tingsek

Matt Lipkins (l) and Magnus Tingsek (r)

Matt Lipkins’s artist recommendation: “Back in 2009, my bandmates and I were writing some of our first songs together. We hadn’t formed any sort of identity yet; we knew we liked what each other brought to the table and that we had common tastes, but we didn’t know how to bring those tastes together into something that still fit on “the table.” Alas, we had three writers writing three very different types of songs. Dig? Scott brought in some very large scale, classical, emotional pop sensibilities in line with Elton or Billy Joel. I was trying to write a sequel to Maroon 5′s Songs About Jane and Adam was still finding his voice, discovering old folk and moving away from the Jason Mraz-y stuff he did in high school. One night I introduced D’angelo’s Voodoo to the other guys and our feelings about it were pretty mutual: it’s the baddest shit ever. It had huge pocket, it was raw, the vocal harmonies were like nothing we’d heard before, and it was sexy. Great, so we knew that we wanted to incorporate some of this into our new songs. But it still left us scratching our heads, thinking, “well, how do we incorporate all of the other stuff that we love into our music?”

Later that summer, my cousin sent me a few tracks from a Swedish artist by the name of Magnus Tingsek (or Tingsek for short) and I then realized I had to change my vision for what I thought The Shadowboxers music could sound like…cause this guy had nailed it already. I must have listened to those six songs (off of his 2006 album World Of Its Own) every day for two months and every listen was more exciting than the last. I don’t really know where to begin about his stuff, so I’ll just brain vomit and hope that it comes out somewhat legibly.

For me, when listening to music for the first time, I need to be excited by hearing something new. Something needs to stimulate my ear in a way that it hasn’t before. Sometimes it’s a melody or a new sound, sometimes it’s a voice (see: Michael Kiwanuka or The Tallest Man on Earth), sometimes it’s musicianship, and often it’s harmonies or chords that I wasn’t expecting to hear next to one another. When listening to Tingsek for the first time, all of these things were present simultaneously. Track 1 off the album, for example, is Good Way of Life. Right as i’m getting used to the bright guitar meeting the drum beat, a flute motif is introduced and now we’ve got two melodies playing between a rhythm pocket that’s somehow funky even though the emphasis is on the 1 and the and of 3. WHAT? Somehow, all of these traditional instruments are played/recorded in ways that sound so light and refreshing (due to the stellar musicianship, I’m convinced) that vintage sounds somehow shine in ways i’ve never heard before. It sounds like the album was recorded in your uncle’s basement…but he’s way hipper than you. And you can’t beat his harmonies; they’re on par with D’angelo! They’re loose, sometimes indistinguishable, but always wonderful. Sorry to sound like a music critic, but it seemed like the best way to describe WHY his sound is so affecting.

And this is how most songs of his play out; the guy somehow manages to combine very organic, smart, and warm instrumentation with these out-of-bounds vocals that hit so hard because they sound like they’re taken from an entirely separate genre of music. The melodies are unexpected and take you on a journey (which is really what music should do, right?). Does he make “soulful pop”? “Poppy soul”? I don’t know, I don’t care, it’s Tingsek.”

New to Magnus Tingsek? Matt suggests you start here: “Start with his 2009 album Restless Soul. Good vs. Bad is an amazing track.

Matt LipkinsAbout our guest author, Matt Lipkins: Matt Lipkins is a vocalist and keys player for The Shadowboxers, a young group from Atlanta that landed a rare opportunity in 2012: an invitation to be the opener AND backing band for The Indigo Girls. One listen to the group and you can see why Matt and company were a perfect fit for the task. The Shadowboxers pride themselves on old school recording techniques and beautiful three-part harmonies, making them the perfect act to warm up the Indigo crowd and bolster their own musical arrangements on stage. The collaboration went so well that the boys lent some of those fantastic vocals to the new Indigo Girls record, Beauty Queen Sister. But enough about The Indigos. The Shadowboxers have an album of their own called Red Room which was produced by veteran Brady Blade (Dave Matthews, Citizen Cope, Emmylou Harris, yeah, pretty awesome resume…). The band also played on a fantastic set on Daytrotter that brings to mind the best Hall and Oates stuff. Be sure to check The Shadowboxer’s tour page and site to find out when they may bring their greatness your way.

Drew Schultz recommends The Funk Brothers

Drew Schultz (l), Uriel Jones, Eddie Willis and Bob Babbitt of the Funk Brothers (r)

Drew Schultz’s artist recommendation: “If there’s one band that’s had the most influence on my life so far, it’s got to be The Funk Brothers. Although they’ve had some exposure because of the documentary film about them called Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, I believe that they’re still the largely-unsung heroes of R&B and Soul music. The Funk Brothers were the studio recording band that played the instruments on nearly every hit that Motown Records recorded during its Detroit era of 1959-1972. Regardless of the songwriters, singers, producers, or even sometimes record labels, The Funk Brothers are a common thread through countless hits by artists including the Four Tops, Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Contours, Mary Wells, Junior Walker & The All Stars, The Isley Brothers, The Spinners, Jackie Wilson, The Dramatics, John Lee Hooker, and countless others. I could fill up this entire piece just by listing artists who they recorded for. The actual song titles could probably fill a library.

Although the name originally referred to a core group of the Motown session players, today The Funk Brothers name has evolved to include the jaw-dropping roster of musicians that made up the regular rhythm section in the Hitsville studios in Detroit. They really packed that studio too. Once you start listening closely to many of these iconic hits, you can hear that they recorded with two drummers, two hand percussionists, three guitarists, two keyboard players, and bass guitar, all BEFORE adding horns, strings, and singers. They made each instrument fit in like a puzzle piece. For example, check out the guitar work on some of these hits and you’ll see that while Eddie Willis might be chanking up high on his axe, Robert White is strumming a rhythm line, and Joe Messina is playing a single-note line lower on the instrument that weaves in and out of the other patterns. Each player had a role, and they rarely deviated from that role. Because of this, The Funk Brothers had this interlocking percussive sound that is way more nuanced than most folks realize.”

Not familiar with The Funk Brothers? Drew suggests you start here: “If I could recommend one specific album to find that will get you into The Funk Brothers, I’d say you’ve got to find the deluxe edition of the Standing In the Shadows of Motown soundtrack. Hear some of the live performances from The Funk Brothers’ triumphant reunion. Check out Bob Babbit’s slick eighth note triplet bass walkdown in (Love Is Like A) Heatwave. Hear drummers Uriel Jones and Richard “Pistol” Allen meld together seamlessly as they both play kit on I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Listen to the mind blowingly intricate bass line that James Jamerson played on the Four Tops hit song Bernadette. Hear the crowd go wild as the announcer goes down the list of members from the “greatest hit machine in music history;” bassists James Jamerson and Bob Babbit, drummers Benny Benjamin, Uriel Jones, and Richard “Pistol” Allen, percussionists Eddie “Bongo” Brown and Jack Ashford, guitarists Robert White, Joe Messina, and Eddie Willis, keyboardists Joe Hunter, Earl Van Dyke, and Johnny Griffith. All of this is only on the first disc!

The second disc of this deluxe CD set might be solely responsible for teaching me how to write and arrange soul music. The bonus content consists of remixes of the original instrumental tracks that The Funk Brothers recorded for Motown. During the songs, instruments will fade in and out of the mix so you can hear how this immense cast of players made their parts fit together in the overall picture. You can hear how the three guitars didn’t get in the way, how the two drummers made things lock in, and how each ostinato rhythm section pattern becomes a hook all by itself. I’ve been trying to emulate that feel and that spirit ever since I started writing. Whenever I’ve felt down or needed music to pick up my spirits, I reach for Motown music. Having dug into Standing In The Shadows, I now know that I’m really reaching for The Funk Brothers.”

Drew SchultzAbout our guest author, Drew Schultz: The nickname “Kid Motown” couldn’t be more appropriate for percussionist Drew Schultz. Drew began playing the drums at the age of 13 and specifically keyed into the Motown sound for inspiration. He studied music at NYU and began performing in his teens with his idols, The Four Tops, and later with The Temptations, The Dramatics, Aretha Franklin and Martha Reeves. Earlier this year, Schultz released an album of 16 originals called Back to Class which features performances from The Four Tops, Dennis Coffey, James Jamerson Jr. and Melvin Davis. Now, Schulz is back with a new single that features Eddie Willis of the original Funk Brothers (see the great video for Take It Slow featuring Eddie below). Beyond the album and single being chock full of soul greatness, there’s another reason to check out these tunes: 50% of the profits will go to benefit the music programs at the Detroit Public Schools. Please support this fantastic cause and buy the music that will reward you with smiles for days to come.

Be sure to check:
* The Back To School YouTube Channel
* Buy the Back to Class CD
* More coverage of the Back to School Project on the Blue Bird Reviews website (thanks so much for introducing us to Drew, Bluebird!)

JC Brooks recommends Amy Winehouse (and a bunch of other artists!)

JC Brooks and Amy Winehouse

JC Brooks and Amy Winehouse

JC Brooks’ artist recommendation: “Amy Winehouse — tragic case and an incredible vocalist and an even better lyricist. Plus, I identify with her work because we both happen to be too willing to give our hearts to dudes who don’t deserve our time. I like Adele for the same reason, except she’s kinda the opposite of tragic. Where Amy’s pain ultimately destroyed her, Adele parlayed it into several Grammys and a tidy fortune.”

Album recommendations from JC Brooks:

Whokill by the Tune-Yards
Merril Garbus is an incredibly inventive musician and she has a very unique voice that you either love or you hate. I love it.

Severe Tire Damage by They Might Be Giants
It’s got all the hits. I find it impossible to not be amused by this album.

Tango Zero-Hour by Astor Piazola
It’s fun and (at times) creepy. It’s what the accordion was invented for.

Channel Orange by Frank Ocean
Because Channel Orange by Frank Ocean. I feel about this album the way Zooey Deschanel’s character in Almost Famous felt about The Who’s Tommy…

Rapture by Anita Baker
You either get it or you don’t. Amazing jazz/R&B from the peak era.

The Heart Of Saturday Night by Tom Waits
It features some achingly beautiful lyrics delivered in Waits’ unique style. It not only makes you want to fall in love, but it makes you kinda want the heartbreak that comes from a deep and abiding love.

The Royal Scam by Steely Dan
(It was tough to choose between this, Gaucho, Two Against Nature, and, though not a Dan release, Don Fagen’s The Nightfly). Jazz-Rock FOR.EV.ER! Brilliant writing, undeniable grooves, music your dad would be proud to catch you listening to.

Blue by Joni Mitchell
C’mon, this is poetry prose from one of the best lyrical storytellers of her day. I could go on and on…

Where Have I Known You Before by Return To Forever
Picking a single Chick Corea album was almost as hard as picking a Steely Dan album, but WHIKYB was my first and I have to honor that…

Under The Pink by Tori Amos
This one wasn’t my first tango with Tori (that was Boys For Pele), but it’s my favorite of her work, from Pretty Good Year all the way to Yes, Anastasia (which is a journey in and of itself) the album is solid, and weird, and emotional, and angsty, and endearing. BFP is a close second, though.

JC BrooksAbout our guest author, JC Brooks: Jackie Wilson was known as “Mr. Excitement,” but the same moniker could be applied to JC Brooks, the Chicago based trained actor turned soul man extraordinaire whose live show reaches the frenetic glory that Wilson, Otis Redding and James Brown once provided. Brooks and his band, the Uptown Sound, formed in 2007 and put out two solid long players, Beat of Our Own Drum and Want More. Their live performances have brought them through Bumbershoot, Lollapalooza and World Cafe Live, where they co-headlined a bill with Gary Clark Jr. Those performances helped form a strong following, but, for us at Rock Torch, the band’s highlight gig of the past few years has to be Wilco’s Solid Sound festival (check the band’s upbeat take on Wilco’s normally gloomy I Am Trying to Break Your Heart and wait to see Jeff Tweedy crash the performance half way through). JC and the band are back with their third album Howl, which is produced by heavy hitter producer Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, GodspeedYou! Black Emperor). Check the band’s tour page for electrifying performances coming your way.