Music revolutionary Gil Scott-Heron passes away at 62

im-new-herePopularly known as the “godfather of rap” and the “black Bob Dylan,” poet Gil Scott-Heron died Friday in New York City at the age of 62.

According to an article on Rolling Stone magazine online, the renowned artist had recently taken ill after returning from a tour in Europe and had checked himself into St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in Manhattan, where he eventually passed. While a particular cause of death has yet to be determined, sources maintain that Heron had been battling serious addiction and health problems, including being HIV-positive, for years.

First coming to fame in the 1970s as a spoken word performer and musician, Heron has been widely recognized for his unique vocal style and his writing of the song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, which is known for its mix of political content and numerous references to pop culture icons. Many hip-hop figures have cited the track as an influence on their work, and credit Heron with inspiring them to create music. Though Heron himself at times seemed ambivalent about such claims, he acknowledged the association by “paying back” artists like Kanye West through including samples of them in his own work.

Watch the video for the track “Me and the Devil” from Heron’s last album “I’m New Here”:

While suffering from a variety of drug and legal troubles over the past decade, Heron remained active in the music scene until his death. In 2010, he released his first album in 16 years I’m New Here, which features an interest in a more electronic-orientated sound and lyrical content that centers on reflection. And in 2011, British artists Jamie “xx” Smith produced a record-long remix of the album entitled We’re New Here, though he largely worked on the project solo and without input from Heron.

“He was a father figure of sorts to me,” said producer of I’m New Here Richard Russell in an online tribute via the New Musical Express (NME) magazine. “He had a fierce intelligence, and a way with words which was untouchable; an incredible sense of humour and a gentleness and humanity that was unique to him. Gil was not perfect in his own life. But neither is anyone else.”

For more information on Gil Scott-Heron and his work please visit www.gilscottheron.net/.

Out Tuesday: Eddie Vedder keeps matters simple on new disc Ukulele Songs

Eddie Vedder - Ukulele SongsEddie Vedder

Ukulele Songs

(Monkeywrench Records)

Release date: May 31, 2011

Though four years have passed since the release of his last solo album, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder has yet to stray far from the rootsy appeal that made his contributions to the soundtrack for the 2007 film Into the Wild so successful.

In fact, with his latest record Vedder has now seemingly stripped his sound down even further for an entire disc’s worth of original compositions and covers performed solely on a single instrument. And what instrument is that you ask? An acoustic guitar? Or maybe a piano? No, the answer this time is a ukulele. Yes, you read that word correctly. The iconic singer, who once belted out the haunting rocker “Jeremy” and hurled himself from unimaginable heights to surf the crowds below him, has completed his latest work using the same tool that brought Tiny Tim international fame and fortune. Yet, unseemly coincidences aside, the results are still undeniable.

Interestingly, the only nod to his more rocking side that Vedder makes at all on Ukulele Songs is in his choice of album opener. “Can’t Keep” the first track on PJ’s 2002 record Riot Act is re-imagined here in even sparser fashion with no other accompaniment to Vedder’s voice than his simple strumming. While a fitting introduction, the tune only hints at the charms of the record still to come.

Watch the video for the first single from Ukulele Songs “Longing to Belong” here:

For example, a particular highlight is the appearance of Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power), who shows up to duet with Vedder on the classic ballad “Tonight You Belong to Me.” The pair’s voices mesh flawlessly on the track, and at times even manage to conjure up some of that old Tin Pan Alley magic where the song has its roots. Elsewhere, Glen Hansard of Once fame joins the action for the relatively more modern “Sleepless Nights,” which was first written in 1960. Hansard will be a featured guest on Vedder’s tour behind the new record, and if his vocals here are any indication audience members should be in store for a nightly treat from the Irish musician.

Though some fans may quibble over the length of certain numbers (the longest song comes in at three minutes and 23 seconds and the album itself is over in little more than half an hour) or the fact that there is so little variation from song to song, the task remains difficult to criticize Vedder for his unique vision. With a name like Ukulele Songs, record buyers are getting exactly what they’re paying for. Obviously, the former grunge star hasn’t made such an intimate-sounding record to sell millions. He gave up that exercise years ago, and instead has turned to using his brooding baritone to voice matters closer to his heart. Consequently, for those seeking some soothing music to relax to after catching an afternoon’s worth of waves the results couldn’t be more perfect.

For more information on Eddie Vedder or to see the dates for his already sold-out solo tour please visit www.pearljam.com. Also, be sure to pick up the DVD featuring live concert performances from Vedder’s first-ever solo outing entitled “Water on the Road,” which comes out the same day as “Ukulele Songs” (May 31).

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In other news, while we may have craftily dodged the apocalypse a week ago, the footage caught in this video proves that the four horsemen are still out there plotting a particularly gruesome finale for our end of days. Scary.

Made this way? – Lady Gaga’s new album leaks online

Born This WayCan’t wait to listen to pop diva Lady Gaga’s hotly-anticipated new album Born This Way? Well, thanks to the wonders of digital piracy your wait has just gotten a little shorter.

According to an article in the online edition of Rolling Stone Magazine, one of the most highly-hyped record releases in years leaked online late Wednesday night (a mere six days before its official release date) and has caused a flurry of newfound discussion amongst fans and critics.

So is Born This Way the pop masterpiece that Gaga promised to all her little monsters, or is the disc, as Entertainment Weekly has said, “an inconsistent blend of icy techno-pop and greeting-card empowerment that’s more a triumph of production than songwriting”?

The answer, as always, exists somewhere in the middle. Yes, the album’s title track still plays like a rip-off of Madonna’s “Express Yourself”. And okay, when removed from its shameless religion-baiting release date and video, “Judas” appears as more of an ‘80s-inspired techno track than the true dancehall smash it’s been made out to be.

Yet, with the final number on the record (“Edge of Glory”) Gaga is able to successfully bridge the gap between the past and the future. Complete with a timely sax solo by none other than Clarence Clemons, the song is the definition of an anthem. And, when finally released as a single (though that would likely mean five plus singles from an album with only 14 tracks) the hook-laden tune could very well take over the radio this summer, much like the Boss did in 1975 with Born To Run.

Interesting. If Madonna and Bruce Springsteen ever hooked up during an all-night dance party in a club in 1980s Manhattan, their potential offspring might sound a whole lot like Lady Gaga in 2011. Who ever saw that one coming?

For more information on Lady Gaga or to see future tour dates please visit www.ladygaga.com.

Has the end finally come for garage-rock heroes the Libertines?

Libertines albumThough having balanced for years on the fine line between greatness and disaster, the sun appears to have finally set on the careers of popular British rockers the Libertines.

According to a recent interview with noted rock magazine the New Musical Express, group co-founder Carl Barat said, “There is no future,” for his old band and that “Right now is not the right time for the Libertines.”

While not entirely unexpected, the news still came as a surprise to many fans following last month’s premiere of a new documentary about the Libertines by director Roger Sargent entitled There Are No Innocent Bystanders and after the band’s triumphant reunion concerts at the Reading and Leeds festivals just last year.

Even though the group has failed to release any new music since 2004s self-titled album, they have managed to maintain a presence in and out of the headlines for years owing mostly to member Pete Doherty’s drug abuse, criminal activity, and dalliances with supermodel Kate Moss.

Watch the video for the Libertines’ track “Don’t Look Back Into the Sun” here:

Still, far from putting a complete end to any talk of a future comeback, Barat also claimed anything was possible if he and songwriting partner Doherty could fix the lingering personal problems between them.

He said, “I don’t believe we’re healed from the hurt. If our hearts heal up then we can break them all over again. But right now… it’s hard.”

For more information on the Libertines please visit www.thelibertines.com.

Indie rapper Eprhyme expands horizons on new record Dopestylevsky

EphrymeEprhyme

Dopestylevsky

(K Records)

On the first hip-hop album to be released under the indie-minded K banner in over 10 years, Eden Pearlstein (aka Eprhyme) appears ready to bring his unique style of rap up from the underground despite somewhat uneven results.

Described in press materials as “an uncanny mix of live/ acoustic instrumentation, heavily processed digital madness, and earthbound-cosmic lyricism that once again sharpens the cutting edge,” Pearlstein’s collection of tracks are far-reaching in their scope.

Frequently, many songs feature rhymes that are as clever as they are inspired by literature and other less typical subjects. For example, “Poppasong” includes references to Beat generation poetry, the Zulu nation, and the Fresh Prince. Elsewhere, “Life Sentence” references calculus, the Garden of Eden and even Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

Watch the official video for “Punklezmerap” off of Eprhyme’s debut album Waywordwonderwill here:

Though impressive in his level of verbosity, all of Pearlstein’s efforts would be in vain if the music itself was lacking. Luckily, most numbers are surprisingly tight with horn sections and klezmer music (courtesy of fellow Jewish virtuosos the Erev Rav) ably filling the gaps. In fact, the track “Smoke Break” is even shorn of vocals all together, but rides along nicely as an interlude between the rhymes.

Unfortunately, rhyming is sometimes where Pearlstein runs into trouble. When dropping hyper-literate couplets about politics and religion he sounds like a more book-orientated version of the Beastie Boys. However, when he shifts gears to echo his so-called troubles experienced on the street he sounds more like a pretender than a poet. Future recordings would do well to lose the tough-guy act altogether.

For more information on Ephryme or to see future tour dates please visit www.myspace.com/eprhyme and www.facebook.com/eprhyme.

Same old song: Dropkick Murphys remain tried and true on new album Going Out in Style

Going Out in StyleDropkick Murphys

Going Out in Style

(Born and Bred)

Upon hearing that Boston’s own punk rock heroes the Dropkick Murphys were releasing a concept album, many fans’ feelings (this writer’s included) were decidedly mixed.

For those not up on their musical nomenclature or for that matter the word nomenclature itself (hint: it has to do with the process of naming things), a concept album is a record that is connected throughout by a common theme, whether musically, lyrically or by the idea of an overarching story. For example, pop punkers Green Day executed their own idea of a concept album to perfection on 2004’s American Idiot, and recent Grammy winners Arcade Fire were able to spin their concept work The Suburbs into Best Album award gold.

When done correctly, the risks inherent with recording a concept album can pay off in spades. However, when the process doesn’t work…well…when was the last time that you listened to Chris Gaines?

Fortunately, after listening to the Murphys latest release the fact appears that the group has spent so many years fine tuning their own brand of Irish-inspired punk and hard rock that now any change to the formula appears only to add to the band’s immense charm.

According to press materials accompanying the record, Going Out in Style is meant as a tale tracing the life of fictional character Cornelius Larkin, who is “one of those guys who immigrated to America at 16, got drafted into the Korean War, married young, had lots of kids, worked hard, and lived a full life rife with different characters, ups and downs, and trials and tribulations.”

Based mostly on people and events from the band members’ own experiences, Larkin’s story unfolds from one raucous track to the next with even the record’s namesake number imagined as his party-starter of a wake, complete with guest vocals from NOFX’s Fat Mike , The Living End’s Chris Cheney and comedian Lenny Clarke.

Watch the video for the title track from the Dropkick Murphys new album “Going Out in Style” here:

Another special guest who appears on the album for the latter song “Peg O’ My Heart” is none other than Bruce Springsteen, whose blue collar roots and working-man persona mesh flawlessly with the fervently pro-union Murphys. Though coming in at a mere two minutes and 20 seconds, the Boss’ appearance makes the tune a highlight.

Still, apart from a few other high points (“Memorial Day,” “The Irish Rover”) most of the new release feels decidedly cookie-cutter. Many songs fail to leave lasting impressions, and even with a running time of just over 49 minutes the record seems over too quickly.

The fact is not that Going Out in Style is a bad album, far from it. The majority of the disc is actually pretty great. However, the fact is that the record isn’t really a concept album at all it’s a Murphys album, much like The Meanest of Times or The Warrior’s Code (still far and away my favorite DKM release).

While the boys are still capable of crafting solid sing-along moments, they might be better served in the future by truly stepping out of their comfort zone instead of just making a half-hearted attempt. After all, there’s no need to throw some loose-fitting storyline around a punk rock record. But then again, with noted author Michael Patrick MacDonald (All Souls, Easter Rising) working with the band on compiling the story behind the music I may one day grow to eat my words.

For information on the Dropkick Murphys and to see future tour dates please visit www.dropkickmurphys.com.

Beady Eye rises from ashes of Brit-rockers Oasis with debut release

Different Gear, Still SpeedingBeady Eye

Different Gear, Still Speeding

(Dangerbird Records)

By opening their debut album with the hard rocking track “Four Letter Word,” the band formerly known as Oasis makes no bones about drawing a firm line between the past and the future. “Nothing ever lasts forever,” sings frontman Liam Gallagher and it’s not hard to guess who or what he is talking about.

After parting ways with principle songwriter and brother Noel Gallagher in August of 2009, Liam, along with the other members of Oasis (multi-instrumentalists Gem Archer and Andy Bell), could have taken the safe route and retired to a comfortable life in the British countryside. However, instead of lounging lazily and getting fat off royalty checks the group decided not so much to reform as to return from a very brief vacation.

That momentary pause in the action is evident on the new release, and so is a seemingly renewed feeling of invigoration. Without the controlling presence of the elder Gallagher around, many songs seem to revel in their tossed-off and carefree qualities. Standout number “Bring the Light” rides a hammering piano riff over extended “aaaaaahs” and hand claps, while “Beatles and Stones” appears as a shameless homage to, oddly, “My Generation.”

Watch the video for Beady Eye’s debut single “Bring the Light” here:

Interestingly, those expecting a full-on failure or a lame version of Brit-pop lite might be the most disappointed. Sure there are a few clunkers present, and even the best tunes of the bunch don’t quite approach the heights of Oasis’ iconic back catalog. But as a fresh start for a gang of talented all-stars the future couldn’t be brighter.

For more information on Beady Eye and to see future tour dates please visit www.beadyeyemusic.com.