Rock News: Music's high and low notes

By JOHN SWENSON, United Press International  |  Dec. 17, 2002 at 3:00 AM
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New York-based Easy Star records has released a reggae tribute to Pink Floyd's classic rock album, "Dark Side of the Moon," titled "Dub Side of the Moon." The Pink Floyd album is reimagined by the label's in-house producers, Michael G and Ticklah, a.k.a. The Easy Star All-Stars. The scheduled Feb. 18, 2003, release of "Dub Side..." coincides with the 30th anniversary of the release of the album that inspired it.

"We're hoping it will be an introduction to reggae for a lot of people," said Michael G. "We didn't have to compromise ourselves at all. We took the source material very seriously, and we were careful to respect the integrity of these songs, as Pink Floyd had written them. But we found that they lent themselves to this process, and the more we explored, the more possibilities opened up."

Michael G and Ticklah first set plans for the album in motion, with the help of other Easy Star co-founders Lem Oppenheimer, Eric Smith and Remy Gerstein, more than three years ago. Since then, they've recorded at several different studios and enlisted scores of guest vocalists, including roots/blues artist Corey Harris, dancehall veteran Frankie Paul, current Wailers singer Gary "Nesta" Pine, harmony trio The Meditations, electronic artist Dr. Israel, legendary toaster Ranking Joe, and frequent Easy Star contributor Sluggy Ranks. On the instrumental side, the album features members of Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, The Soul Providers, The Dap-Kings, The Daktaris, Roots Combination, King Chango, and Tru Mystic Sound System, among others.


New Orleans' most celebrated family, led by the patriarch, Ellis Marsalis, will tour for the first time beginning Feb. 23, 2003. The concerts, to take place at U.S. and Canadian performing art centers, are in support of the Feb. 4 album, "The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration" (Marsalis Music), a PBS special to premiere Feb. 20, and a spring DVD release. All four multi-media events were inspired by and document the historic August 2001 New Orleans concert, an occasion that marked Ellis' retirement from teaching duties at the University of New Orleans, and the school's establishment of a chair in his name. Before a packed house in the Kiefer UNO Lakefront Arena, the Marsalis family, along with bassist Roland Guerin and a special guest appearance by Harry Connick Jr., were so inspired by each other's presence that, as Delfeayo Marsalis puts it, the performance "reflected our family collectively and individually." Branford Marsalis sums up the results by noting, "Everybody came to play the music as well as they possibly could play it."


Recorded in a box-sized bedroom, mellowdrone's "a demonstration of intellectual property" testifies to how much mileage one artist can get from budget gear, hard work, and a sprinkle of genius. This six-song extended play, originally made available by mellowdrone -- aka Jonathan Bates -- last February and remastered for an April 1, 2003, release on ARTISTdirect Records, marshals enigmatic lyrics, massed harmonies, searing dissonance, a rhythm track sketched by the artist's voice and fleshed out by vivid drum samples, textures that float like clouds and slash like hurricanes -- all as a self-portrait intended to reveal Bates as, in his words, "a sarcastic little bitch."

From the simplicity of the two-chord instrumental track "tiny little" to "bitelip," a meditation on death that opens in a state of fragile sorrow and ends in a convulsion of furious agony, "a demonstration of intellectual property" will challenge skeptics of lo-fi production.


Burrito Deluxe, a band that features legends Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Garth Hudson, Tommy Spurlock and Carlton Moody alongside newcomer Willie Watson, will release its debut album "Georgia Peach" (Lamon Records, distributed by Redeye Distribution) Feb. 28, 2003. Among the album's special guests are Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, former Flying Burrito Brother Gib Guilbeau and Barry Bales of Alison Krauss and Union Station. "Georgia Peach" derives its name from another GP -- the late, legendary Gram Parsons, nicknamed the "Georgia Peach" -- with whom Sneaky Pete played in the Flying Burrito Brothers. Spurlock frequently accompanied the band on their Los Angeles dates. Burrito Deluxe culled its band name from the title of the Flying Burrito Brothers' second album. The band's tri-generational makeup illustrates the depth of Gram Parsons' influence on contemporary music of the past three decades.


Sacramento, Calif.,-based Oleander have a new album, "Joyride," scheduled for a March 2003 release on Sanctuary Records. Vocalist/guitarist Thomas Flowers, guitarist Ric Ivanisevich, bass guitarist Doug Eldridge and drummer Scott Devours maintain their new record label is allowing the band to grow.

"We felt total liberation in the music we were making. It was a good time for a new change. We very much had carte blanche over the new music because we didn't have a label looking over our shoulder doing things like asking to hear rough cuts or wondering whether we were giving them a hit single," Flowers said.

"A lot of pressure was on us in the past, but it was much different this time. More relaxed and natural," Eldridge added. "Whenever we write a new record, we know immediately what we like. We didn't go backward and use any leftover ideas on the upcoming album. Everything's new on the new record. We even worked differently this time. Instead of doing two weeks of preproduction on 15 potential songs, we concentrated solely on four or five songs at a time. It allowed them to develop a little more, and we were able to focus better."

Flowers and Eldridge first started playing together in Sacramento 12 years ago. Ivanisevich began playing with them two years later. Ultimately, Flowers, Ivanisevich, Eldridge and original drummer Fred Nelson Jr. named themselves Oleander after a poisonous wildflower indigenous to Northern California.

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