Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Out In The Weather

Album Review
Meshell Ndegeocello - Weather
Genre: Neo-Soul

I had never heard of Meshell Ndegeocello before getting this album. I found her when I did a Google search for female bass players. Having just come off my review of Kira Small's album, I was eager to find another female performer. Specifically, I wanted to check out a female bassist.
My search showed that she has recorded many albums and performed with many bands and musicians during a career that spans more than twenty years. She has received ten Grammy nominations. Okay. I found my bass player!

Since I was new to her music, I made the decision to go in without digging in to all her background information. I shut down the search pages and went to iTunes to get her most recent album, called "Weather." I didn't preview the songs - I just bought it. I was going to have to have that first clean moment.

Once the first round of listening was complete, I went did all the regular research things. I looked at the YouTube videos, read the info from her site, and let my experience broaden. I read the lyrics and learned a bit about their meanings and driving forces

It was at that point when I wondered if I was even qualified to review her work. Me, the uninformed. She is a thousand times bigger than I thought she was. Again, it's my lack of involvement in the music being made by women that needs to be upgraded.

I do this review to educate myself, and I am now among her listeners, so...

Her playing is very inventive; it's not so much "experimental", but more "exploratory". Her vision of the bass is respectful of its purpose in a song and yet she knows exactly how to kick it off balance with syncopation and blended partnerships with the other instruments. She can get jazzy, bluesy, funky, or just rock the beats with equal skill. She's a thunder-maker of extraordinary skill.

The vocal harmonies with her guest background singer, Benji Hughes, are impeccable. I always pay special attention when people sing together - there must be a connection and a chemistry or the songs won't work. These two have it down pat! The other musicians on the album are Chris Bruce on guitar, Keefus Ciancia on keyboards, Deantoni Parks on drums, Gabe Noel on the cello and Jay Bellerose in a guest spot on the drums. It's a well-synched combo. Love the cello. Nothing sounds as good as a cello and a bass guitar talking to each other. They're like cousins who don't exactly speak the same language, but are absolutely able to understand each other.

People don't usually make records when they are 100% at peace with everything. They want to tell their stories when they are in transition. When things are changing. Weather is just that, a turning point for Ndegeocello. She tells the story of a changing world, changing relationships, and trying to re-define her place in it all. When things go astray, she will try to find safe places, or she will abandon them and throw caution to the wind. You know the old saying, "If you want see the weather change, just wait five minutes"? It applies here, for sure.

From the musical standpoint, the songs go back and forth between gentle ballads to aggressive ground-pounders that keep reminding you that the person at the helm of this boat tossing on the waves is a bass player. She sings her stories, but she also rumbles them through her instrument.

The songs:

01 - Weather: Ndegeocello and Benji Hughes sing of the tribulations of human emotion. The beat is easy and carefree, a contrast to the contemplative nature of the words. The bass is a gentle presence somewhere underneath it all.

02 - Objects in Mirror are Closer than They Appear: This is a disquieting and troubled song, full of rhythmic starts and stops. The bass and cello work together in ways I've never heard before. One of my faves on the album.

03 - Feeling for The Wall: A personal song. Looking for a safe place to fall when things go wrong. Again, you can feel the bass, but it's buried deeply within the empty spaces.

04 - Chance: This is the first song on the album that really started to remind me of Roger Waters, another artist who tells his stories both through voice and bass. As with Waters, Ndegeocello writes complicated, personal lyrics. Whether they be about politics, the world or the human heart, the words always come first. Then the artist sets those words to infectious, uplifting beats that contrast the seriousness of the message, and yet fit so well to its purpose.

Ever find yourself dancing around the room or driving in a car - singing "We don't need no education! We don't need no thought control!" Such confrontational lyrics, such great dance beats! A rallying cry for change...change that might never come because we're just so happy to sing and dance! It's a pure dichotomy of art.

Well, Ndegeocello's song "Chance" is the same kind of thing. You're dancing, you're singing, you're afraid of taking the chances. But you still have to.

05 - Oysters: A keyboard, a singer, and the night sky. Introspection at its finest. The voice is split in two and feeds through both sides of your headphones. Each side is slightly out of sync with the other...right until the very end, when they come together as one. She doesn't just sing the song, she feeds it into your head.

06 - Rapid Fire: Top of the heap. My fave song on the album! Primal. Drums and bass. Some of the best bass I've ever heard! Ndegeocello sings in a lower register than her previous songs. This one sort of hits me in the same place as "The Ghost Song" by The Doors.

07 - Chelsea Hotel (Leonard Cohen cover): Since I love Leonard Cohen, I enjoy hearing other people's takes on his stuff. It's a tribute to Janis Joplin. From Ndegeocello's version, I wonder if she's also paying tribute to a woman, or putting herself in the shoes of the muse.

08 - Dirty World: Here we go again with the rhythmic monster! A funky bass grinder. A bassist's song.

09 - A Bitter Mule: Sorry to say that I really didn't get into this one as much as the others. It's a slow, waltzing ballad, but maybe a little too slow. I hear a bit of Angelo Badalamenti/Julee Cruise here. Deliberately overly moody. Badalamenti and Cruise did the music for all the "Twin Peaks" shows and the movie, "Fire: Walk With Me." Ever hear Cruise's song "Into The Night"? Slow and hypnotic, but it never quite hits my sombre bone in just the right place (and I love a good downtrodden song). After hearing Rapid Fire, A Bitter Mule is a little too far in the other direction. But I do see its value as a part of this whole album package.

10 - Crazy and Wild: Ahh, back to the bass and rhythms. Crazy good keyboard. And Benji Hughes again, singing underneath Ndegeocello's fair voice . This is what slow and deliberate should sound like. I love it.

11 - Petite Mort: Hey, I don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. This is a song of carnal relations. La Petit Mort is French for "Little Death"...or in more urban terms, a climax. The song is exactly that. 'Nuff said. Just have a listen...maybe in the bedroom. The bass is gonna take you there anyway, so...

12 - Dead End: Great gungy bass and guitar. The picked guitar and the staggered lyrics remind me of Lindsey Buckingham's song "Go Insane" from his album of the same name. I like the way the music here fits the name of the song. Frustration. Just like "Go Insane" it describes a process of being out of control. And, of course, the bass is the best!

13 - Don't Take My Kindness for Weakness: The original was from "Soul Children", a STAX group from the 60s - 70s. Ndegeocello strips it bare, slows it down and makes it her own. Instead of the haughty "don't-mess-with-me" attitude of the original, this one is more internal. The Soul Children told a man to back off - in no uncertain terms. Ndegeocello seems more to be asking. She's really hoping he won't take advantage of her heart while she's down. Much more vulnerable.

I am very glad I found this artist and this collection of songs. Weather is both a bassist's and a story teller's album. Different to an instrumental bass record, where the story is told by the bass. Everything is so gorgeous here. A true aural feast from the bottom on up. Listening to this one made me think more deeply about her story because (as I said before) there's that hint of the Waters style, and I am all over that kind of presentation. Such intense, personal journeys played out against infectious rhythms and drives.

If you already know her music, getting this latest album will only further your understanding of her story. If you're like me and are starting from brand new, it'll be an inspiration to go back into her world and ask more questions.


© 2012 CL Seamus for Thunder Row

Monday, 30 January 2012

Facebook and Me

I had signed up for Facebook some time back in 2010, but ended up cancelling the account because it wasn't turning out to be of much interest to me.  I've just reactivated the account and am going to try it again.

The thing of it is that I've never really considered myself to be so overwhelmingly interesting as to have my entire day mapped out online.  Not every word out of my mouth is a golden nugget.

(koff koff)

I would rather spend time planning and preparing Facebook information so it has something more substantial to offer the cyber-world.

What I've done so far is to friend a few people I know through Thunder Row, post some pix of my basses and my cat William (RIP).  Then I filled up my LIKES with as many of my fave movies, books, TV shows etc as I could think of.  I'll add to it as I go along.

Anyway, here's the link:

I also put a link on the front page of this blog.

Since I'm pretty new at this, I might be tweaking some of the settings for awhile, until I get something interesting to look at.  Ha!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

A Couple Of Great Reads


I'll read anything this man writes. He is, bar-none, my favourite author. I have a couple of extra faves of the faves in my Schechter collection.


This one is very special to me because it concerns Earle Nelson, a killer who actually passed through my own city of Winnipeg in 1927, and committed two murders while here. I've been to the house where one of the murders took place, been to the grave where one of the victims is buried, and been to the old gaol where Nelson was was finally hanged in 1928. As a Winnipeg local, I know the places that are spoken of in the book, the streets and the stores, and I'll tell you something: to stand outside the house where Emily Patterson was killed, and the building where Nelson was hanged is a chilling experience.

This is a link to the Winnipeg Police archives of the case.

A very intense read, to say the least. If each Schechter has a FEEL to it, this one is DIRTY. It seethes with the basest of the human mind.

I have this one as a hard copy book. In fact, I currently have ALL my Schechters as hard copies.


This is the account of Roland Molineux and his double - almost triple - use of poison in 1898. A highly detailed and intense investigative account of how two people met their end at the hands of this young, well-to-do son of a Civil War general. You dive head first into this turn-of-the-century courtroom story - a story so riveting that you almost forget it's NOT fiction. 

Get out your notebook - you'll want to get your own investigation going so by the time you get to court, you'll be ready to deal with the high-brow lawyers and their shrewd methods of getting to the truth! 

The feel of this book is SLIPPERY. Keep on your toes.

Kira Small & Brian Beller - Lightning And Thunder

Album Review
Kira Small and Bryan Beller - Live at the White House
Genre: R&B

I received this album as a Christmas present, and it turns out to be an instant favourite.

Truth be told - and this is really to my discredit - I don't usually scope out recordings by female artists. Not because they aren't good, but because (based on my tastes) most of my fave lady singers went out with Dinah Shore, Margaret Whiting, and Vera Lynn. My music collection is stuffed to the gills with those ladies and others of their era, so I worry that their like does not easily surface in today's music.

But boy, oh boy, am I glad I got this new one. Taught me a lesson about the evils of not looking harder for the sounds I like! They are actually out there...I mean, if I'm willing to admit I'm just getting too old and cranky, and maybe need to take off the blinders once in a while. Hmmm...

Kira Small is every bit as sassy and smart in her vocals as any of those monstrous talents from the golden days, and she brings to the party a modern, smoky soul that makes me want to start taking a look at her previous albums...like, right now!

The songs on this solid R&B album have everything I want. Mood, subtlety, soul, groove, infectious keyboard licks, and tremendous basslines. The entire album just makes me want to light up a cig and curl my lip in a sneer...and I don't even smoke!

The live recording is pleasantly simple - just Madame at the keyboard and husband Bryan Beller on the bass. Any more instruments would ruin this tender collaboration and take away from the one-on-one interaction they share with each other.

The tunes are chosen from Small's three studio albums - one is from Beller's solo album, "View". For this outing, all were performed at The Timucua White House in Orlando Florida.

Small and Beller chat with the audience between songs, and these little snippets are enjoyable to listen to - they set the mood for this intimate venue.

Let's take a look at the songs:

I Ain't Never: The opener starts with a funky bass and then fires up into a sassy tune, with a huge bass fill in the middle. Small's lively keyboard bounces along on the high side, with as much attitude as Beller's bass on the bottom. Impressive chemistry.

Make Up Your Mind: A smoky little number. I like the way Small controls the song with her vocals - the bass drops neatly into line, the footmen on her carriage. So exactly paced.

Miss You Bad Tonight: Based on Small's spoken intro, we learn this is a very personal song. I like that about this album - everything comes from different rooms of the heart. Her voice in the spoken intro quivers with such honesty that you know she's telling you a story of deep feeling. Beller's bass rumbles gently beside her: the purring lion to soothe her as she exposes her truths.

You Gonna Regret Losing Me: This one starts out with a Carole King "I Feel The Earth Move" sense to it, but takes enough bluesy turns to drift into more of a Motown feel. The whole thing sounds all right by me; very slick and stylish. Snake-smooth bass solo in the middle. Beller's on, that's for sure.

I Will Raise My Voice: Another one from the deepest part of Small's heart. Her spoken intro tells how - despite her gregarious exterior - she is often very shy when it comes to summoning the courage to speak. The song is about finding that voice, overcoming fears and stumbling blocks to allow the words to come out. Spiritual song, almost gospel. Finding her place.

Hootchie Mama: Small relinquishes her keyboard to Beller for this one, while she plays the tambourine. The tune is about road musicians and groupies...and the women who keep them at bay! It's a big finger-snappin', Aretha Franklin type warning to all the Hootchie Mamas out there! Stand back, girlfriend! She's a 24-7, 365 Ho Patrol. Mmm, hmmm.

Wanderin' Star: I like this one very much. A very old fashioned, jazzy tune with a crazy good walking bassline. Small fits this genre like a comfortable glove, and vice versa. If she made an entire album of this type of tuneage, I'd be there.

Shouldn't We Be In Love: What a gorgeous ballad! Torchy and so heartfelt. And there's Beller, the throaty, purring lion again, laying at her feet and generating a vibration of deep resonance to remind her of his support. Their teamwork on these songs is a lock of synchronised emotion.

Hurtin': A funky Rhythm & Blues toe-tapper. I hear a little Roger Hodgson in her keyboarding for this one - the clipped staccato taps on the keys. Maybe in the vein of "The Logical Song". And the bass drops in so deeply that you might have to dip under a low-slung limbo bar just to hear it! Ha!

Digging In The Dirt: A great cover of Peter Gabriel's song, done with a bass looper. So good. When I hear a looper pedal at work, I get a brand new shiver down my back about the power of the bass guitar. Small's sharp vocals and keyboard add the perfect upper register contrast. A tasty take on a pop tune. Less 90s, more grit, more soul. Yow.

Sugar Man: What else? It's a song about "cooking" (insert snicker here). Hey, if you can't stand the heat...

A raunchy R&B "come hither" number. Gal on the prowl. The bass knows what she's talking about and answers back in her language. If Small and Beller hadn't been together when they recorded this, they surely would have been when it was done.

Backwoods: Bryan Beller's electric version of the John Patitucci acoustic bass song (from the album "Sketchbook"). Very musical solo, rich and fully realised in depth and range. The electric bass at its finest, raw and true. Deep thunder, scorching twangs, and snappy pops. This is the one that (as mentioned before) appears on Beller's album, "View".

Ain't No Sunshine: You know this Bill Withers song, but Small and Beller take it where it's never been before. The bass nips at the heels of the vocals for control of the mood. Small works hard to keep that control, but because we are bassists...well, we might just have to side with Beller. Ah, why compete? The two of them together form a searing combo for this song, and one just wouldn't do without the other.

I Can't Stand The Rain: The closer is a tangy tune and once again I feel that lip's gonna start to curl into an attitude-rich sneer. In the "reminds me of" department, this one sort of brushes up against a Ray Charles kind of sound. Not bad, Lady. You're all over it! Incredible bass riffing in the middle.

There isn't a song on this entire album that could be considered a weak link. It's all A-List material, well played and sincere. From start to finish, Small's voice rules with rock steady tone and power. She's the lightning to Beller's thunder, and together they cook up a seriously delicious storm.


© 2012 CL Seamus for Thunder Row

Sunday, 1 January 2012


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