[From The Cutting Room Floor]: The White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys and The Doors

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Often, seeking out new music can feel like a treasure hunt (or sweeping a minefield, depending on how you look at it). And every now and then you will come across those completely unexpected diamonds-in-the-rough that appear in the form of B-sides, outtakes or bootlegged live cuts. Those happy moments where you stumble across something that stops you in your tracks and think ‘Why is this only a B-side?’. This feature is about digging out those deeper cuts that deserve more attention than mere relegation.

‘Let’s Shake Hands’ – The White Stripes
Not a B-Side, but given that only 2,500 pressings of this release exist and that it wasn’t featured on any of The White Stripes’s studio albums it certainly qualifies as rare. Landing in 1998 on a limited 7″ run of 500, this single marked The White Stripes’s first recording and as a statement of intent they don’t come more definitive than this. Racing along on Jack White’s frenetic riffing and Meg White’s relentless drum pounding before clocking in at just over two minutes, this is taut, visceral garage punk at it’s best. It was paired with their ragtime version of Marlene Dietrich’s ‘Look Me Over Closely’, showing that the band had more than one string to their bow and singled them out as one to watch

‘You And I’ – Arctic Monkeys Feat. Richard Hawley
Crediting themselves as The Death Ramps on the B-Side to 2012’s Black Treacle, a pseudonym the band had used previously to anonymously release limited singles, Arctic Monkeys shift into fifth gear on this speeding road anthem. Sheffield’s elder songsmith, Richard Hawley, gives his meanest whisky-and-cigarettes-stained vocal delivery before the band head full-pelt into some scuzzy and searing solos. The whole track drips with attitude and quite frankly blows A-side ‘Black Treacle’ out of the water.

‘Who Do You Love’ – The Doors Feat. Albert King
When you can tour with blues giant Albert King as your opening act, you know you must be doing something right. Although their live acts courted much controversy in the preceding year and Jim Morrison would suffer an apparent breakdown onstage later in the year, forcing the band as a live unit into early retirement, performing here in June 1970 in Vancouver it is impossible to deny the elemental force The Doors wielded onstage. With Albert King invited onstage to provide slide duties and powered by Ray Manzarek’s groovy organ hook, the band burn their way through Bo Diddley standard ‘Who Do You Love’. While during this period Morrison’s performances were something of a crapshoot depending on how intoxicated he was, during this concert he is at his roaring best, a blues shaman channeling energy from somewhere else. As one of the last recorded performances and with Morrison dead within a year, this concert remains a testament to The Doors’s short lived greatness live.

What are your favourite B-sides and rarities? Let me know in the comments below.

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[Artist Spotlight]: Bombino

bombino_by_ronwyman_06__photoset-photo“Awa tarhed, arhekh” (What you desire, I desire it as well)

An extraordinary amount of great music came out last year and I’m still playing catch up to a certain extent, and one of the gems I missed first time around that I can’t get enough of lately is Tuareg guitarist Bombino’s album Nomad. Gaining the nickname “Bombino” (a corruption of the Italian word for “little child”) from his time in Haja Bebe’s band, Omara Moctor has lived through interesting times including two separate Tuareg Rebellions in Niger. Like his desert blues contemporaries Tinariwen, Bombino sings almost exclusively in the Tuareg language of Tamashek and his lyrics frequently address the plight of Tuareg existence in the regions of Northwest Africa which deny their nomadic way of life. During the Tuareg Rebellion of 2007-09 the guitar was banned as a symbol of rebellion and Bombino went into exile after two of his bandmates were executed, though he maintains “I do not see my guitar as a gun but rather as a hammer with which to help build the house of the Tuareg people”. On return to his home in Agadez after the conflict Bombino and his band staged a concert at the base of the city’s Grand Mosque which saw over a thousand people congregate to dance and celebrate. This event and the music of Bombino is featured in Ron Wyman’s 2011 documentary Agadez: The Music And The Rebellion, which brought Bombino to global attention and lead to the recording of his debut Agadez and then the followup Nomad, produced by Black Key Dan Auerbach.

The belter that kicks off Nomad‘s mind-melting journey through psych-tinged desert blues is ‘Amidinine’, a song that translates simply as ‘My Friend’ and Bombino explains “as humans most of us have shared experiences with friends and these are true friendships, but they don’t last. It’s a shame as it is so important”. While that statement may convey some regret, ‘Amidinine’ is nothing if not joyous. Bolstered by the steady boiler room of rootsy keyboard and percussion, Bombino’s drenched vocals and idiosyncratically bluesy guitar takes centre stage. It could reasonably be argued that nothing new has been done with the blues for forty years, but when you hear it coming from another angle like this you can’t help but be floored by it’s raw immediacy. The music is visceral and effusive, hitting the body first and the mind second. It’s a perfect opener to a revelrous, jam-oriented album and I urge you to snap it up when you get the chance. It’s heady stuff.

Bombino is currently touring North America and Nomad is available now through Nonesuch Records.

[Cover Me]: Josh Ritter, Jeff Buckley & Julia Holter

There are good covers, and there are bad covers. These are some I think belong in the former category.

Josh Ritter – ‘The River’ (Originally by Bruce Springsteen)
Simply one of the best songs ever written, this rendition was one of the first tracks that turned me onto Josh Ritter and marked him out as one to watch. Capturing the broken and forlorn spirit of the song, Ritter’s plaintive cries send a shiver up the spine. I saw him perform this at his show at the Paradiso in Amsterdam last year and it was spellbinding, where time seemed to stand still for the briefest of moments.

Jeff Buckley – ‘If You See Her Say Hello’ (Originally by Bob Dylan)
Found on the extensive and unparalleled Live At Siné, this recording sees Jeff Buckley in his element performing in his café stomping grounds before the release of Grace. Buckley covered many of Dylan’s songs, seeing him as a songwriting muse in some respects, but as ever he left his indelible mark on this slide-driven version of the Blood On The Tracks highlight. He didn’t just play songs, he inhabited them, and the emotional intensity of this song (and many others) remains an indisputable testament to his effulgent talent.

Julia Holter – ‘Hello Stranger’ (Originally by Barbara Lewis)
Virtually unrecognisable from the original, Julia Holter definitively updated the R&B hit on last year’s Loud City Song, taking the fifty years since it’s release in one giant leap. Stripped of the “shoo-bop-she-bop” vocals and jaunty organ, ‘Hello Stranger’ drifts amongst textural soundscapes and Holter’s reverberating vocals, becomeing less a chance meeting in the street and more of an intense channeling, like meeting someone from across the years in a dream.

[From The Cutting Room Floor]: The National, Led Zeppelin & Michael Kiwanuka

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Often, seeking out new music can feel like a treasure hunt (or sweeping a minefield, depending on how you look at it). And every now and then you will come across those completely unexpected diamonds-in-the-rough that appear in the form of B-sides, outtakes or bootlegged live cuts. Those happy moments where you stumble across something that stops you in your tracks and think ‘Why is this only a B-side?’. This feature is about digging out those deeper cuts that deserve more attention than mere relegation.

‘Blank Slate’ – The National
Appearing on 2008’s The Virginia EP, a collection of extra material and live cuts from the Boxer recording period, this song actually began life some three years earlier as a B-side to Abel called Keep It Upstairs‘. While ‘Keep It Upstairs’ owed it’s slightly anaemic and meandering sound to the heightened introspection of its parent album Alligator, ‘Blank Slate’ rumbles headlong with the wiry tautness of Boxer‘s ‘Apartment Story’ or ‘Mistaken For Strangers’. Soaring and fuzz-laden, this could be one of The National’s few unabashed anthems.

‘White Summer / Black Mountainside’ – Led Zeppelin
Fuelled by their own creativity and momentum in pioneering hard-hitting blues-rock, the band were on a prolific high in their early period and their live shows quickly gained a reputation for their intensity. Recorded at a 1969 show in London between the release of Led Zeppelin I and Led Zeppelin II, this arresting guitar instrumental signposts Jimmy Page’s emergence as a striding guitar hero. Flying solo with occasional help from John Bonham to up the drama, over eight searing minutes Page fuses Arabic scale influences with a rather untraditional, vamped up take on the traditional Irish folk song ‘Down by Black Waterside’ (although Page’s version actually owe’s a lot to Bert Jansch’s arrangement).

‘I Need You By My Side’ – Michael Kiwanuka
A perfect song to greet Sunday morning, this track from the I’m Getting Ready EP sees Michael Kiwanuka donning his musing-folky cap. When this EP and the Tell Me A Tale/Isle Of Wight Sessions EP landed in 2011 they garnered Kiwanuka a lot of attention, and from this song it’s easy to see why. Centred on his economical guitar and moving vocals, with tasteful horn and vocal accompaniments, ‘I Need You By My Side’ evidenced newcomer Kiwanuka’s skill as a soulful and mature songwriter. Above all though, it hits the heart first and the head second.

What are your favourite B-sides and rarities? Let me know in the comments below.

[Cheap and Cheerful]: PHOX

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What’s better than discovering great music? Discovering it’s free as well. Cheap and Cheerful intermittently throws free downloads your way for continued listening pleasure that doesn’t break the bank.

With the worst of winter’s frosts behind us and the temperature hovering around 10°C where I am it might be safe to say that spring has sprung and that the weather is, dare I say it, quite good! What better way to celebrate that than with some sunshine-infused pop from Wisconsinite collective PHOX? Hailing from Baraboo, WI, they describe themselves on their bandcamp as “a gaggle of goofy wizards performing minor illusions and bigtop music”. While that description might seem fanciful there is an air of wide-eyed wonder and big possibilities they weave into their music, and this is nowhere more apparent than on their live set from last year’s iTunes Festival, which has been made available for free/name-your-price over at NoiseTrade.

Performing tracks from their Unblushing and Confetti EP’s, this offering is short and sweet, but above all memorable. Powered by a mini-orchestra assortment of instruments and seamless vocal harmonies, the multi-instrumental PHOX create chirpy and charming earworms with a bit of depth that stay put long after listening. There’s also room for moments of drama and slow, building movements though, as on standout track ‘Blue and White’ which sees principal vocalist Monica Martin deliver a powerful lighters aloft performance. For this band to have made it onto the iTunes Festival listings with only two EP’s under their belts points to something special, and with a debut album in the works at April Base, home studio of Bon Iver mastermind Justin Vernon, I think you can expect PHOX to be making a few waves when it lands in the summer.

PHOX Live at iTunes Festival is available for free from the good folks over at NoiseTrade. Find it here.

[Cover Me]: The Band, The Nighthawks and Nina Simone

The Band – ‘Baby Don’t You Do It’ (Originally by Marvin Gaye)
Groovy, bluesy and impossibly catchy, The Band’s souped up version of the Holland-Dozier-Holland song hits you square in the guts. The Band recorded it multiple times (it most notably opened The Last Waltz) but this recording snatched from a 1972 show at the Academy of Music, NY for me is the most powerful. Levon Helm’s barking vocals are at their most desperate, Robbie Robertson’s guitar solos are at their most searing and the dramatic break before the band come back in full unison showcases an iconic band at the height of their powers.

The Nighthawks – ‘Sixteen Tons’ (Originally by Merle Travis)
While the most famous version of this song is arguably Tennesee Ernie Ford’s version, this full pelt rendition by Washington, D.C. bluesters The Nighthawks has had a wide circulation due to its appearance in The Wire. While the slight swing vibe and slightly cheerful clarinet motif in Ford’s version might seem a bit disingenuous given it’s subject matter, this version bristles with rage. Rattling drums, harmonica honks and blistering guitar make for one hell of a ride.

Nina Simone – ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ (Originally by Blind Willie Johnson/Traditional)
Appearing on 1969’s Nina Simone and Piano, this earthy spiritual emphasises just how powerful a performer Nina Simone was in isolation. Each note in her raw vocals bleeds emotion and her bold piano playing echoes the conviction of one who has sensed the devil breathing down their neck. A spine-tingling song from a force of nature who could make any song her own.

[Artist Spotlight]: Mutual Benefit

Mutual-Benefit“On a train through the Midwest, I was trying to get reborn”

While Mutual Benefit, the chosen stage moniker of Jordan Lee, may not be a particularly rock n’ roll name, his recent full-length debut Love’s Crushing Diamond is far more appropriately named. Glimmering and beguiling with an apparent simplicity that belies its complexity, Lee’s music is a reverie inducing blend of Americana with percussive and melodic influences from world music. Think Abigail Washburn with a proclivity for prolonged daydreaming. After self-releasing a number of EP’s and mini-albums with varying lineups on his Kasette Klub label (all available digitally over at his Bandcamp), Lee signed with fledgling record co. Other Music to release the Love’s Crushing Diamond LP and has resulted in a steadily growing universal wave of following and recognition since it landed.

Lee’s musical pursuits have lead him from his Columbus, Ohio hometown through to Austin, Boston and New York, and this wanderlust comes through in the meandering character of his music, especially on ‘”Let’s Play” / Statue Of A Man’.  It does not come at you head on so much as it sprawls out in all directions, gradually unfolding into an indelibly complete soundscape of disparate elements weaved together. While Mutual Benefit is ostensibly a musical unit with Lee as the only constant and a revolving door personnel policy that allows for limitless collaboration (and LCD’s long personnel list suggests a lot of collaboration), the balanced and singular sound that is carved from these sounds, melodies and cacophonies shows that Lee has a steady auteuring hand. But really, at its core this is grand, dreamy pop indebted to the joyful potential of making music. Mutual Benefit may not immediately grab your attention, but if you give the music your attention you will slip into it and never wish to resurface.

Love’s Crushing Diamond is available now through Other Music/Fat Possum.