Video Exclusive: unwrapping Kohli Calhoun’s “Zebedee”

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Over the last several years that I’ve spent writing about music, I can easily say that I’ve had good fortune come my way with the artists that I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and work alongside.

But this collaboration is something entirely new. What I have for you today has never before seen on OTBEOTB. In fact, it hasn’t been seen at all because this post is introducing the exclusive music video premiere for Brooklyn-area artist Kohli Calhoun and her song “Zebedee”.

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If you’ve read some of my prior content here you’ll certainly already know who Calhoun is, but if you don’t here’s a quick synopsis. As I said before, Calhoun is based out of Brooklyn, and after an tumultuous beginning to her musical career she “rose from the ashes” so to speak in order to create her first full length LP Take Me Away. The record came out earlier this year, and has already received favorable press from the likes of the Huffington Post as well as Calhoun’s recent selection as a Featured Artist on the website Noisetrade.

But that’s not why ya called. Today I want to discuss the aforementioned “Zebedee”, a melodic haunt of a track from Calhoun’s Take Me Away that seems like an apt choice for the music video treatment. And that expectation is well-placed as the video explores the song’s themes of love, loss, betrayal, and sadness through the eyes of a beautifully illustrated world of animation that gracefully illuminates the differences. I could easily speculate about the meaning behind many of the small details of note in this video, but that I leave to you as a fellow member of the audience to interpret for yourselves.

Suffice it to say, the visuals on this video are a stunningly creative complement between Calhoun and her collaborators to one of the strongest tracks on Take Me Away. Its work like this that makes the world of music videos a relevant place again, and we’re truly the better with the level of depth this visual context can provide.

So on that note, let me step aside and have you enjoy the music video for “Zebedee”, brought to you exclusively by On The Back Edge of the Beat.

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A reflection on some of these recent days…

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I don’t often wax on the current event side of the fence when it comes to the material I write online. My day job requires me to write news anyway, so usually when I come here looking to discuss something about music the news and political topics of the day are the farthest things from my mind.

But in wake of a suggestion I received recently to talk about the mass shooting in Las Vegas as it relates to music, I can’t help but finally weigh in and wonder why its taken me this long. I mean the first guess is obvious, given that any mass incident of death, heartache and pain is impossible to comprehend as an observer, let alone to try and put it into words. To this point, I’m still not sure if any words I say will even be right.

But despite that, I also can’t pass up the opportunity because in addition to this tragedy taking place at a music festival, it coincided with the sudden passing of rock icon Tom Petty. Now those are vastly different losses that I am by no means trying to equate, but each have hit me together in a way that’s ultimately too hard not to speak up about.

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Unfortunately though, I have to start by returning to the most difficult fact of all in this story. Namely, that another shooting has taken place at a venue for live music. I’m not sure when it started that concerts became one of the latest targets for these atrocities, but it hits especially close to home because of how significant a role concerts have played in the shaping of my life.

I mean as many a diehard music fan will tell you, the live show is the musical equivalent of Mass on Sundays. For those who’ve never felt it, just picture your greatest joy and exhilaration gathered in one place, magnified by knowing that feeling is being shared by hundreds to thousands of people all around you.  In every theatre, festival and concert hall. Those who are there to relive nostalgia perhaps, eulogize that hard breakup they had that *insert band name’s song here* got them through, or just to come hit the high that comes in on the first guitar note or vocal line.

That’s one of music’s many great qualities as a unifier. I have heard it said that in our world today you have to “always keep your head on a swivel” just in case someone decides to create an atrocity. But going to see live music is the universal, gender-neutral, bilingual, bipartisan, multi-racial opposite of this so-called “mantra”, and it deserves to stay that way.

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People deserve a way to escape the world for a few hours, whether thats at a concert or in some other distraction. Whatever country they live in, and no matter how much money they have in the bank. I work in a newsroom five days a week, and with the amount of sadness the world can show you in just that short amount of time…. distractions are necessary just for mental health.

I have to bring Tom Petty back into the conversation at this point. For one thing because he was and shall always be an everyman figure of rock and roll, and we need those figures now more than ever in this increasingly divisive world. I know that in my case, my heart will hurt for a long time knowing his figure isn’t in the same world where I grew up on Wildflowers and Full Moon Fever during trips in the car.

But the other reason is simple: to slightly twist one of Petty’s most famous song lyrics, we can’t back down. And while that might sound a bit like stereotypical cheese for a situation like this, what it really means to me is that we can’t be made to alter our lives in exchange for more fear. No one ever made history or great memory from behind the couch waiting for the knocking at the door to go away.

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So to everyone out there, both music fan and otherwise, stay strong. Don’t let a thing in this world stop you from seeing any of the great concert halls and gathering places and areas where humanity can still figure out how to connect with itself regardless of creed or color.

Those are the places of love, and as granola as that may sound to the most cynical in our midst, in a world where divisive hate has had some of its biggest growth in years we need to hold on to all the love and camaraderie we have.

You belong somewhere you feel free. 

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In appreciation of music’s true “Screaming Eagle”

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There’s something to be said for listening to a true musician in the house of blues and soul trade their wares with the ferocity of a fire and brimstone preacher.

You see, to me blues music is different from a lot of genres in the way that it relies on feeling. Not that it just simply possesses feeling, as I’m sure you could say for many songs in just about any genre you can wrap your head around. No, I’m talking more about how blues music could sell off and sacrifice every conceivable piece of itself, yet would still have all the tools it needs in just one vocal take to relay to the listener the pain involved in enduring each of those sacrifices. Mainly because the humanity contained in those vocals goes beyond just knowing how to sing on-key or turn a pretty phrase of poetry.

That would be too perfect, coated in too much varnish and veneer. Life is rarely ever all that pretty, and all the best in blues and soul made it to that pinnacle because they each had the vision and the ability to express their emotion as a pure, scratched-raw animal of a thing living in their music. Whether the person you were referencing was as smooth as Otis Redding or rough as Robert Johnson. They didn’t make it because of large figure recording contracts, reality show wins or one good single that had the fortune of enough people hitting the iTunes “download” tab.

Instead, they bled to earn their place at that microphone.

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And that’s where Charles Bradley comes in. His late-in-life musical opportunity didn’t emerge until his early 60’s with 2011’s No Time For Dreaming, and only lasted for a trajectory of three records before his untimely death from cancer last month. Still, Bradley made every mile he had count by pouring the true anguish and joy of his own life into every artistic step he walked here. It takes talent for many musicians to even be considered believable wringing out the same emotion from songs they might sing hundreds to thousands of times on stage. Bradley always seemed to charge right through believable and into open wound though with his trademark electric shriek that helped earn him the nickname “The Screaming Eagle of Soul”.

Bradley’s work is the type of music that doesn’t require an analytical microscope or a Pitchfork review. Rather, think of it as every feeling of emotion you can’t quite phrase lingering in the ether of your mind that words won’t ever quite be able to describe, yet we can all relate to. A good example in that vein is Bradley’s song “Victim of Love”, a song strung together by ramshackle acoustic guitar and wandering backing vocals that lay low and loose as the staging area for Bradley’s earth-scorching lament to love gone and flickered away.

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But regardless of the setting or production choices, Charles Bradley really did possess a set of talents that few others could say they had all in one place. He could croon like a Sam Cooke, hammer in gravelly rasps like Muddy Waters, and emote like James Brown in a way that recalls Bradley’s run as Black Velvet, an impersonator of the Godfather of Soul.

I’ve still only just begun my journey into the run of Charles Bradley, but if you have the time or the attention I would urge you the reader to do the same. Not only because Bradley is a fine example of it never being too late in life to pursue your dreams, but also because he took that chance and didn’t waste a second of it in telling his story. And we could all learn a lesson from that.

So lets keep that story alive and breathing through the power of the music Charles Bradley has left us.

Ryan makes waves on breakout debut “Currents”

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Andrew Ryan and I have crossed paths many times as our journeys through separate sides of music have progressed. And while I would say that his has been the more interesting route, regardless I’m just appreciative to have played a journalistic spectator to his creative and musical evolution.

And no period in all that time has been more significant for him than the one here today. Since I’ve known him, Ryan has been a drummer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, writer and versatile jack-of-all-trades. But with his debut solo album Across Currents, we find him out of the support role and instead thrust directly into the spotlight.

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And thats not just because his name comes first on the bill, either. With this album Ryan is now the creative center line on the map drawing all the pieces his way, and Currents gently reflects the care of an artist who is very much aware of that. Much like we all do on a daily basis Ryan is figuring it out as he goes along here, but he manages to do so with a carefully enriching level of honesty.

Singing with a voice somewhere in the gentle timbre of an Elliott Smith or Mark Linkous mixed with a twist of slack-rock drawl, Ryan’s vocals are often more musing than momentum-filled. But that’s a very effective style for him, as tracks like “Take Aim” and “City Lights” demonstrate so well. “Out Of My Head” and “Gwyneth” show even further potential for Ryan down that road, as mourning the death of someone close and celebrating the love of his daughter brings out some of the most moving moments this record has to offer.

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And those effects are boosted when they’re brought together by Ryan’s deft hand for production. Where musicians like Smith or Linkous might be more content with tape-crackled landscapes with the ribs brought through, Ryan has a much warmer campfire to pull up a chair to. Currents generously sprinkles in horns, keys, drums, guitars and vocal layers (among other things) to dot the terrain with constant levels of shifting interest. On many occasions I found myself doubling back to a song just to catch a fragment of saxophone or winking of piano or harmonica that managed to sneak a cameo into the arrangement.

In a way, sneaking in is the best thing that Across Currents does. The tone of the record may not hit you on the first listen, but thats the thing about art built around introspection: it doesn’t just reveal itself after a few minutes. As a recovering introvert myself, this kind of storytelling takes time to reveal but means a lot if you just make the time to sit and listen to it.

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Its also the type of storytelling that can be very difficult to willingly tell (especially publicly), and for that I give Ryan a lot of praise.

He’s created a fine start to what I hope is a long solo career still waiting to be heard.

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For more, visit andrewryanandthetravelers.com. Photos courtesy of the site. 

Phan uses “Fear” to succeed on stellar latest LP

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Fear is the Teacher.

Those are the first four words to greet you when discussing emerging singer-songwriter Ben Phan’s latest LP. The phrase is the title of the album, but also in some way acts as the mission statement for it as well.

Phan has described the album as a collection of his own varied fears, and that is a truth this record upholds quite emphatically. The emotional tenor of Teacher is a skillfully introspective landscape that gazes thoughtfully at the up’s and down’s of worries of the day to day in human life. The record has all the folk-side campfire warmth of the Fleet Foxes, matched by a sense of energy and camaraderie similar to Old Crow Medicine Show or early-day (AKA: best day) Mumford and Sons.

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The genuine honesty of the album’s storytelling is as equally genuine as the chemistry Phan has with the musicians crafting with him in the studio. The group sounds seamless as they bob and weave through bluegrass jangle, ramshackle gypsy waltz, soft-hearted folk balladry and every stop of the train in between. The time signature shifts on tracks like “Beast of Desire” and “No Pain” alone are an impressive display of musicians riding a chromatic wave together in lockstep, no easy feat by any means.

Gazing further into the arrangements, one of my favorite colors spread onto the canvas is the consistent presence of Molly Barrett on the fiddle. Ordinarily, I feel the instrument is often used as a background appetizer in music and less of the main course. On Teacher however it has the chance to flourish, one moment seizing the terrain with grateful strokes before being able to hover between something I can only describe as Kentucky get-down and Classical reserve.

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But ultimately, this record boils down to the beauty of what Ben Phan has done here. You could chalk that up to instrumentation, the words behind the beat, the production in the mix, but in the end… there’s undeniable soul wrapped into this album’s pores. To begin to tap into that, fast forward to the end of Fear is the Teacher and its closing track “Be Still My Beating Heart”.

There are a lot of sights to see before you get to the end, so by no means should you skip those chapters for long. But “Heart” deserves special mention here, for many reasons I won’t be able to explain with entirety. Suffice it to say, with it’s plain-hearted richness and layered harmonies stripped back to one of Phan’s most stirring vocal declarations… the song will leave you in shivers.

But enough from me. Go check this out on http://www.benphanmusic.com, and start writing your own mental stories.

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(Photos courtesy of benphanmusic.com) 

 

 

Calhoun raises haunting “Phantom” into life

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To my recent memory, few musicians have truly captured the spirit of ethereally drawn emotional agony quite as close to the bone as indie songstress Kohli Calhoun.

Calhoun had already snagged my interest earlier this year with her prior single “Take Me Away” and its ability to ruminate on profound emotional discomfort with a Regina Spektor knack for wrapping it in brightly fragile pop. Her latest single “Phantom” takes that concept and walks off down a dark hallway full of whispers with it. The feeling is still familiar, but now its filled with a greater desperation of yearning vocals, swirling synths, heartbeat taps and an ominous tape player slink worthy of a St Vincent track.

The video for “Phantom” brings that internal dissonant chaos to visceral life in the form of a woman moving through a forest with a primal, almost seizured level of intensity. It boils the song down to emotion rather than wordplay, which is where “Phantom” seems truly meant to thrive the most.

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If Calhoun’s latest line of music continues to explore the depths of this musical headspace, I look forward to seeing where the rollercoaster of her thought will bend to next. The journey certainly won’t be an easy one, but it is a rare gift on Calhoun’s part not to just sing but to sing with her whole heart poured into every note.

“Phantom” doesn’t just stand out because its a strong single. It stands out because its almost uneasily direct in how it expresses itself. Not because its a Whitney Houston ballad from The Bodyguard and this moment called for something sad. Rather, it breaks down the finer details of what makes that sadness exist in the first place.

And in some way that imperfection, is sometimes the most perfect thing to hear.

Grade: A

For more: Visit kohlicalhounmusic.com

A note on a side project…

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So as I made brief mention of in a prior post, I haven’t had the time I might like to pursue writing about music and the musicians who tell it lately because of my immersion into radio. Its made for a busy life and not a lot of time to talk about this kind of stuff.

With one exception.

I have launched an arts and culture segment for my radio station called The Arts Beat where I get to talk about subjects like music, theatre, art and so much more I’m still planning to do. The stuff doesn’t always revolve around music (though it still gets the lion’s share of the time), but it shows some more of my versatility and I’m happy to have that out there.

So check these out, enjoy them (they’re only about a minute long each), and keep checking for a new one each week. There’s even a guest appearance from X Ambassadors keyboard player Casey Harris.

Still not sure how I made that one happen.

Check it out here

Now introducing… The Interview Series!

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So as you may have noticed, my presence here on this website has been minimal at best for a bit now. And while I hope to slowly change that over time, a big reason for this has been a greater launch of my life into the world of radio as a news reporter and broadcaster.

Its led to a lot of great opportunities to both hone and enhance my skills (which I hope to start utilizing here soon enough). What it has also done is allow me to have a greater realm of access to recording equipment and new things I can bring to On The Back Edge of the Beat.

So lets start with this new segment, which I’m calling The Interview Series! Much like the pieces I’ve done here in the past, the focus will still be on the music of underground and indie musicians. In this case though, we’ll be personally discussing their craft, new music, background, and most other notable stuff under the musical sun.

For this first volume I had the privilege of interviewing the lovely Talay. Her recent self-titled EP has been a big hit in my earbuds and car radio, so when the chance came to snag her for a phone interview I was understandably pretty excited. Having already reviewed her EP (which you can read here), I was glad we could dish out more on the new music, Talay’s writing process, what’s on deck for her next EP and a whole hell of a lot more.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more of these in the future!

Pop rock roars with life on smashing “Talay”

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Break out your headphones or roll down your windows, because one of the most anthem-filled EPs of 2017 has arrived.

And its made its way to the world in the form of Megan Talay’s 2nd album, simply entitled Talay. If that (self-titled) album title is meant to indicate a greater ownership of the sound of these songs, it leaves one hell of an impression burning in its embers.

While Talay’s debut Piece By Piece was certainly a strong beginning start, it was more of a creamy Ani DeFranco center surrounded by an acoustic coating. Talay instead rips up that formula and replaces it with spastic electric guitars, brilliantly cutting, lip curled like a punk rock heroine lyrics, and a sense of constant crowd-surfing spirit thats more than worth a few stage dives.

Talay is essentially the all night party living next door to a rave. Even the initially-drifting “I Hope Your Band Goes Nowhere” groundswells into a belting riff-roaring growl of taunting defiance against a douchebag ex-boyfriend (maybe the same charming percussionist from prior romper “Drummer of the Band”). The album fluently demonstrates Talay’s proficiency for early to well into the-2000’s pop rock, embodying the guitars of Prince’s final all female band 3rdeyegirl and the vocal twistings of a revival straight out of Josie & The Pussycats or The Runaways.

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Talay manages to channel the heart and earworm choruses of those girl power outlets into one of the best rock EPs of the last several years. And not because it requires the technical proficiency of a Fleet Foxes album being reviewed by Pitchfork. Music is not a complex animal that requires a thesis statement.

Sometimes, the best music is all about feel. And Talay has it all the way to her “Parent’s House” and back again.

Grade: A

Songs To Download: “Parent’s House”, “I Hope Your Band Goes Nowhere”, “City”

Listen Here: http://www.talay.bandcamp.com

Talay brings alt-punk jamfest to “Parents’ House”

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I was first introduced to Megan Talay’s music over a year ago when her Piece By Piece EP landed directly in my lap courtesy of Megan herself. The New York City-area singer-songwriter immediately had all the earmarks of well-honed acoustic pop with a hearty dosage of capable songwriting to back it up.

And while I was a big fan of Piece by Piece at the time, there was a part of me that was looking to see more from Megan. Like that wasn’t the entire picture fully formed just yet. And eventually I began to see more the more I followed her work, though what eventually riveted me the most was anytime Talay touched an electric guitar. Whether it was jamming out to Prince or punk, the girl had some serious shred skills that didn’t quite manifest themselves on the quieter songs. I began to listen for more Joan Jett instead of Ani DeFranco.

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Then along comes Parents’ House, Talay’s latest single and what feels like a wish granted. Inside are plenty of well-muscled electric guitar workouts bumping and grinding off one another in what feels like a bounce house battle between Weezer, Green Day and prime Avril Lavigne with just a dash of No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani. From a lyrical perspective Parents’ House feels straight out of the River Cuomos section of tongue-in-cheek with its nod to the struggle of the average millennial still living at home with their parents. I know I had to nod along with more than a few of the comparisons, and even though living at home is quite common these days I felt like it was a genius topic for a song that’s SO easily relatable.

Parents’ House is not only an addictive party banger of a song, it has hooks for miles in a Buddy Holly-esque runtime of righteous girl power that will feel over before it even begins. In a time of so much serious, this is pure unadulterated happy and we need that not only for rock n roll’s sake, but for the sake of our sanity as well.

Go pick this one up. You will NOT regret it.

Grade: A

Listen to the new track below!

https://myspace.com/article/2017/3/7/talay-parents-house-premiere