Every year around this time, when the weather starts to act more like a friend than a foe, the windows are thrown open and work begins on the transformation of the backyard from post-winter wasteland into friend-welcoming mini-paradise, I immediately get the itch for some reggae. I love pretty much everything that came out of studios overseen by Coxsone Dodd and Lee Scratch Perry in the Jamaica of the late 1960s and early ’70s, but my favorite of the bunch is Bob Marley & the Wailers. I might be justifiably criticized for picking such a “mainstream” reggae favorite from true reggae’s deep annals – Marley is, after all, a figure you can find the likeness of emblazoned on T-shirts at Target, lava lamps at Spencer’s Gifts, a “relaxing tea” known as Marley’s Mellow Mood and a list of similar products that might even make the trademark-happy Gene Simmons of Kiss blush. But I don’t care. Marley is the real deal, an amazing songwriter, profoundly great singer, a legitimate revolutionary figure and a man who led one of the greatest live bands ever, in any genre. His music is a salve to me, and I know I’m not alone.
I’ve always loved Marley, but it was guitarist/vocalist Tom Fenton of Buffalo’s the Dreadbeats who truly deepened my appreciation of the man’s music. I worked with Fenton in the warehouse at Record Theatre in the early ’90s, and he was a fount of Marley information and enthusiasm. He also taught me how to play the classic reggae rhythm guitar chunka-chunka. I can credit Fenton with making me aware of Buffalo reggae legend Neville Francis, too. (Thanks, Tom.)
On Sunday, June 11, 1978, Bob Marley & the Wailers brought their “Kaya” tour to Kleinhans Music Hall. (I wasn’t there. I didn’t live in Buffalo yet, and I was only 10 anyway.) A document from that tour, which found the Wailers in top form, and pulling from every aspect of their remarkable career, has been released by Tuff Gong/Universal as “Bob Marley & the Wailers: Easy Skanking in Boston ’78.” The Boston gig was three days prior to the Kleinhans show, and it is an absolute scorcher.
The anniversary of that Kleinhans performance is approaching rapidly. Perhaps a local show celebrating that fact, with area artists collaborating to cover the Kleinhans set list, is in order. What do you say, Mr. Fenton?
Step inside this ‘House’
The eponymous debut album from Buffalo’s A House Safe for Tigers hasn’t left my turntable too often over the past week.
A collaboration between multi-instrumentalists Brandon Delmont (Girlpope, Odiorne, Son of the Sun, Lindbergh Babies) and Mark Constantino (Exit Strategy), this is mood music with substance, a heady blend of psychedelia, indie-rock minimalism, and the sort of succulent ear-candy best enjoyed through an expensive pair of headphones. Lush, layered keyboards, stately drum fills, Constantino’s plaintive, emotive vocals, and hooks that land and take hold deep beneath the skin fill both sides of the platter. (You also can grab a digital version of the album through BandCamp.com.)
Fans of Mercury Rev, Odiorne, the Flaming Lips and the work of producer Dave Fridmann in general, will fall for this, and hard. It’s smartly conceived, well-crafted and beautifully produced stuff.
OMG, you’re so popular!
David Guetta’s “Hey Baby” (featuring Nicki Minaj)
This week, I spent some time dissecting French DJ/producer David Guetta’s massively popular EDM single “Hey Mama.” The song sits at No. 5 on the iTunes charts presently; it has been lurking around that area for a good while now, as the song hit big immediately following its mid-March release. In April, it hit the top slot on the Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic chart.
The song is a massive hit, and, of course, part of the reason for that is the presence of Nicki Minaj, who does her freaky thing – a liberally interpreted version of Jamaican dancehall, a staccato half-rap that forms one of the song’s several hooks – atop Guetta’s assembled beats and samples. Minaj is only part of the equation, though. “Hey Mama” kicks off with a preverse hook that sounds like a marriage of a field holler from the American South, and a snippet of old-school gospel music. The contrast between the rural organicism of the “field-holler” hook with Guetta’s blips, bleeps and automated hand claps is striking, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking – Moby and Fatboy Slim, for example, had big hits employing a similar conceit during the late ’90s.
Guetta’s hook is actually a sample of a field recording by American musicologist Alex Lomax. The tune in question is called “Rosie,” and its origins are somewhat unclear, beyond the fact that Lomax recorded it during one of his song-finding excursions into the deep South in the early ’40s.
Following the Lomax sample, Minaj arrives to do her thing, providing most of “Hey Mama’s” lyrics in the process. (These are concerned with occasionally disturbing pledges of submission to the wants and needs of the man Minaj is addressing. So much for female empowerment.) Now it’s time for the chorus, folks. It’s a big, gauzy fat one, a huge hook set atop a repeated synth figure that is straight-up contemporary EDM. This particular piece of the puzzle was written and performed by pop singer/songwriter Bebe Rexha, who has written tunes for Eminem and Cash Cash. For whatever reason, Rexha is not credited on the song, though all involved have acknowledged that she wrote the tune’s chorus, arguably the most important part of any pop hit.
So, we’ve got a sample from a Lomax field recording; a heavily auto-tuned and edited Minaj dancehall verse; a basic musical bed provided by Dutch producer DJ Afrojack; and a chorus written and sung by an uncredited American pop hit maker. What does Guetta bring to the table? The ability to mash all of these ingredients into a gray, mushy, easy-to-digest music-resembling substance. Meet the 2015 version of a “musical genius.”
“Hey Mama” is catchy, vibrant and danceable. It’s also completely forgettable, at least in the long view. If you’re getting sick of this one, don’t worry, Guetta’s “Listen” album is crammed full of similar ditties, including one (“Yesterday”) where Rexha actually receives credit. Guetta is a dilettante, much more of a “brand” than a “band,” and is therefore kind of an artistic joke. That said, according to CelebrityNetWorth.com, he’s worth about $45 million. So the joke is clearly not on him.