Monday, August 4, 2014

The Gregory Brothers

I love this group. They're extremely talented, happy and intelligent. They have a very comedic persona for most of their music; for instance, they've released a whole album about playing sad songs in happy styles, and vice versa... awesome. But I believe there's much more to the Gregory Brothers than their public, comedic personas (though by all means I love this aspect of their work and hope they continue to nurture it!!).
The group are very talented singers, songwriters and musicians. It's a pleasure listening to new takes on music. So... here's some good listening for you.

Song: Hello Again | Wrecking Ball - Country Version | DJ Play My Song | Good Morning Sarah | Always Summertime
Album: Hello Again - Single | Wrecking Ball - The Country Version | DJ PLay My Song (single) | The Lost Year | Always Summertime (single)
Artist: The Gregory Brothers

  • Andrew Gregory
  • Evan Gregory
  • Sarah Gregory
  • Michael Gregory

Genre: uncategorizable, but centered around: pop, country, blues
Youtubeable ?: Definitely! Perhaps the most Youtubable group so far reviewed.
Karaoke Difficulty: Extreme. While the songs aren't always difficult, nor the lyrics always complex in delivery, the quality of singing is always excellent. If you sing these songs well, at Karaoke, you'd win karaoke, but most people might not know the Gregory Brothers yet so while they would obviously sing your vocal praises they would wonder what you just sang.
Listenable ?: Highly Listenable.... The group is highly talented and the songs discussed are on my playlist of "Best Music Ever."
Popularity: Hmm... depends on which aspect of the Gregory Brothers you are referring to:

  • Autotune the News: some popularity
  • Singles of iTunes (like Double Rainbow song, Bed Intruder Song): Very popular
  • More serious recordings (The Lost Year, Meet the Gregory Brothers, etc): less popular.

Notable Song(s) by Artist:

How I First Learned About the Gregory Brothers (and Sister Brother): 
Autotune the News is one of the greatest things on the internet and I wish more were done. They are catchy and smart and hilarious and great to listen to on repeat (many days of work have passed listening to the Autotune the News tracks).
Other Tracks to Listen to:

  • West Coast Time
  • A Wonder
  • Do You Think

The Songs

You can find all of these songs on Spotify.

Hello Again:

The singer (Michael Gregory) has a great voice, able to get a clear sharpness from single notes that can cut through and get right to your inner listening. Also really appreciate the arrangement, from the strong bass line that plays a focal point in the song (and not just a subconscious supporting role). Lyrically, this song really hits home for me. The number of times I've felt this way kinda wrecks me sometimes, and in that, this song is able to produce a feeling in the still deep quiet of my emotions. We are all suckers for feeling something true or present in ourselves. The supporting voices are also well done. All in all... love this song, from start to finish.

Wrecking Ball - The Country Version

I'd classify this as a bluegrass version of "Wrecking Ball." The best part of this song are the layered vocals during the refrain.I'm always partial to bluegrass and so hearing this pop song turned bluegrass was a treat. In addition though, the Gregory Brothers really understood the genre and recreated the song faithfully inside a different genre. The instrumentation is a single snare, a bango and a guitar. This song is worth listening to, multiple times.

DJ Play My Song

Are you tired of mindless pop music? Do you wish someone would spoof by masterfully creating an earworm of a pop song, and then mocking it? Best part of this song is the conversational back and forth between the lead female (Sarah Gregory) and the DJ (Evan Gregory). Listen to the lyrics. They are hilarious. On top of the cerebral hilarity, the song is well crafted and sung. Kudos Gregory Brothers for your ability to diversify and still succeed.

Good Morning Sarah

I listen to this song non-stop, on repeat, for hours. This song speaks to ancient parts of me in ways that I can't explain, like the music that calms the lion, this song brings a wave of peace immediately and it delivers that peace the whole way through. The layered guitars and brush snare really define the whole song, and the vocals of Andrew Gregory take the song beyond. I cannot state how much I love listening to this song.

Always Summertime

This really shows off the strong vocals of Sarah Gregory (who's technically more of a sister brother, than a brother brother, because girl. Also, this is the Gregory Brother's own classification of Sarah Gregory... so I cannot claim that spot of comedy gold, though were I buoyed by scruples of a lesser quality then I'd totally steal that joke and ride that fame all the way to the Daily Show. le sigh).
The song is an amazing paradox in that it is very peppy and sunny but the lyrics are so opposite. I chalk this up to the playful and intellectual experimentation of the Gregory Brothers. And again... amazing talent.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Otis Redding is Much Better than "[Sitting on] The Dock of the Bay"

Otis Redding is still remembered by most as the artist who sang "[Sittin' on] The Dock of the Bay." I'm here to tell you that he's contributed so much more, and that the one song that he's usually identified by isn't half as good as the music he's recorded over the years.
The first thing to know about Otis is his voice. Otis pulls emotion from songs like Michelangelo pulls delicate human forms from solid marble (Hey David!).

Song: These Arms of Mine / I've Got Dreams to Remember / I've Been Loving You Too Long
Album: These songs appear in multiple live, best of, and studio albums
Artist: Otis Redding
Genre: Soul
Released:  1964 / 1968 / 1965 (original release dates)
Youtubeable ?: Extremely, but most videos will be of the audio with image stills and a text crawl of the lyrics
Karaoke Difficulty: Difficult. You probably can't sing soul or blues with the same tender, deep and strong voice that Otis Redding can. It won't help if you decide to start smoking either. If you do try to sing any Otis Redding songs, just put your own style on it, instead of trying to mimic or match Otis Redding. Conversely, if you can sing like Otis Redding... get thee to YouTube and start posting your voice!!!
Listenable ?: Immensely. These songs, by themselves or in groups, or absolute treats. There's nothing like this on the air right now. One listen - from a very short time acquaintance, to a recommended Otis Redding song - and I was hooked.
Popularity: Unknown but probably not well remembered outside of the following groups:

  • People whose parents raised them on Otis Redding and the early versions of the 'soul' genre
  • Die Hard fans of old school soul music (I mean 'soul' from the 60's and 70's with piano, brass arrangement, one to two guitars, and drummer).
  • Radio DJs for 'oldies' stations

Tempo: Each of these songs are slow. Y'know when you pour jam from the jar onto your waiting piece of peanut-butter smeared bread, and the jam oozes out, like time waits for the jam? Yeah... time seems to wait, in anticipation, for Otis Redding as it hangs on every soulful syllable. And no, I don't care that my jam metaphor didn't work for you.
Time Signature: 6/8 (I think the supporting guitar line is what makes me think this is 6/8 instead of 3/4) / 6/8 / 6/8 (probably, because though it breaks down into 3/4 just fine, the melody and phrasing divides itself into complete counts of 6.
Notable Song(s) by Artist: Sitting by the Dock of the Bay
Other Songs Worth Listening To:

  • That's How Strong My Love Is
  • Mary's Little Lamb (just listen to that controlled wailing / bleeting)
  • Respect
  • Try a Little Tenderness - worth listening to for a more complex intro arrangement, containing layered chords in multiple directions, and an Otis song with a touch more jazz (you can hear it especially in the jazz/rock beat from the drummer as well as the wandering piano and organ. It then builds into something approaching jazz /  funk.

The Songs

All songs are reviewed from "The King of Soul" multi-disc album.

These Arms of Mine

This is a simple song, with the low key guitar and drums providing a skeleton rhythm creating a perfect backdrop to showcase the power of his voice.
The brass line comes in just after the one minute mark, and come back at 1:45, for the build and key change, and then carry the song around 2:06. At 2:50, Otis starts belting out his dreams in a gust of blues passion.

I've Got Dreams to Remember

Very similar in style to "The Arms of Mine" except it doesn't build as much and creates its fabric of blues on voice and rhythm alone; the brass section is absent here.

I've Been Loving You Too Long - To Stop Now

This is another Otis Redding, crescendo song with power and emphasis provided by a brass section. The minimalist beginning, the slow,
At 1:10 a small build starts that cleanly transitions from building brass notes right into Otis' voice carrying the climax of the section. The transition from horn to Otis' voice is near seamless at first because of the contorl he has over the timbre of his voice; it's worth listening to for that moment (and the crescendo to come).
The great crescendo at starting at 2:13. The mood for this crescendo starts around 17 seconds prior. You can hear it in the slight shift in instrumentation (the added trumpets).
In the height of the crescendo the piano is louder, but still as simple; everything is louder, without falling apart. It's just more intense.
Why Is this Album Amazing?: Read up here: link to wiki page. Here are the highlights:

  • Did you love the "Blues Brothers" soundtrack? Many of those musicians also play on this album
  • The album was recorded over a 24 hour period, with a break to let the musicians play a gig.
  • Otis wrote some of the songs (like "I've Been Loving You" and "Respect"*)
  • The back half are covers of other great songs.


* Yup. According to the article, Otis Redding wrote "Respect" (though some dispute exists as to whether he did it himself). This is the same song that Aretha Franklin rocked out and recorded the most popular recording of that song. She also rocked it for the "Blues Brothers" soundtrack (that scene in the diner is classic).

Be My Girl

Let's be honest... sometimes in this world we just need a little love. This song = "When a gender and a gender really, really, love each other they make whoopee." Seriously, if you do listen to this song, please avoid the following items:

  • Strawberries
  • Wine
  • Chocolate
  • Oysters
  • Influential Imagery
  • Bananas
  • Cucumbers
  • Viagra (R)(TM)(C)(abc) (I have no permission to use the name of that medicine)
If you accidentally mix this song, and any of the above items... Congratulations! You and/or your partner are pregnant.

Song: Be My Girl
Album: Joy Ride (I really think the album name says what the song title doesn't)
Artist: The Dramatics
Genre: Soul
Released: 1976
Youtubeable ?: Highly!

  • A live recording from 2012. The quality is poor, but it's real video of the band.The woman (1 minute in) just got pregnant. This is a 12 min jam version though, so if haven't already given birth then you'll enjoy the whole video
  • Here's their official YouTube channel.

Karaoke Difficulty: You have two options here.

  1. Don't try. Failure to successfully sing this song will dry up the most passionate of mates. You will be friend zoned by your wife, or husband, SO, or ISO.
  2. Do it and Succeed. Congratulations! You've impregnated the entire bar / disco / class reunion / PTA meeting; this holds true regardless of the singer's gender.

Listenable ?: Yes, but make sure your mate is near by and ready to be ravaged by your super-charged sweet, sweet love, or you'll suffer a blueing of your gender appropriate organs.
Popularity: Not very. And this might be good. Were this song to get out, I believe the population would explode.
Tempo: Sex
Notable Song(s) by Artist: Just go have sex already
Why Is this Song So Potent?:
Imagine, if you will, a land before time, before the trappings of class, society, propriety and the stifling proliferation of grammar nazis and coffee shops (somehow, these last two things are probably related). Imagine a time when there was one word and that one word was whoopee.** This whoopee is in us all though we oft try to hide it from the eyes of those who would dare to judge. But, it's the whoopee that somehow, the Dramatics distilled into a song by mixing: honey, cuddles, innuendo, silk nighties, fine cognac and friction reduction emollients into a single track.

If you're listening to this song, you'll probably be making the sex soon.*

You're welcome.


* You're at it again... I can tell.
**  If I translate this aging word into jargon that is currently supplanting our lexicon for the act of making whoopee, the word that I'd have to use would be too direct, too vulgar and too common. This song, and style of songs, were powerful because of their ability to suggest and to do so with such calm confidence that no undergarment went undropped.