MAJOR DUDES

A minor music blog by Beth.

Donny Hathaway might just be one of my all time favorite singers.  And no doubt an incredible influence on the soul, r&b, and gospel music worlds.

Instead of a jam of the summer post, I’m shaking it up with a full on album of the summer

This year it’s throwback gold — Donny Hathaway’s Live (I recently acquired the vinyl album after quite a hunt). Live was recorded in 1972 at two shows: side one at The Troubadour in Hollywood, and side two at the The Bitter End (sadly it closed in 2012) in Greenwich Village, Manhattan.  And if you’ve never taken a listen, get ready to be blown away.

Live 1972

My favorite young metal band, Unlocking the Truth, scored a record deal.  Pretty impressive for 13 year olds.  And filed under things I miss about NYC.

If that ain’t a nudge to keep after your creative pursuits.

The Top 5 1/2 Jaymay Songs by Eric Wolfson

Editors Note:  I’m passing the Major Dudes wand to my pal Eric Wolfson.  A talented musician, incredible artist (if you’re in need of a Jimmy Carter painting, Eric’s your man) and married to the incredibly talented Annie Crane Wolfson.  I met Eric at one of Annie’s shows and since moving south of the mason dixon line I’m fortunate to call them totally awesome new friends.  This post is the result of Eric asking me if I’ve ever heard of Jaymay — the best singer song writer that no one has heard of.  I hadn’t. 

Back in 2006, I was just another scruffy postmodern Dylan-wannabe kid trying to crack into the NYC singer-songwriter scene that I had read about in all of the Dylan books (SPOILER ALERT: It hasn’t existed since Dylan went electric, as I was soon figuring out). In the meantime, I was going to all kinds of rock shows—such as one fateful evening when I went to Pianos (a Lower East Side music institution) to see the Philadelphia-based indie rock band The Teeth. But then, right when the show was about to start, one of the guys from the Teeth jumped onstage to announce that their friend was going to play a few songs before their set…

1. “Gray Or Blue” (Sea Green, See Blue EP, 2006; Autumn Fallin’, 2007).


I didn’t catch her name at first—& indeed, neither did most of the crowd, since everyone shouted her to repeat it when she mumbled it into the mic—but after two more tries from her side, we learned it was Jaymay. Her guitar was missing a string. She said something about how she didn’t know how to restring it, or something. But when she started strumming on the five remaining ones & began “Gray Or Blue”:

I—

Feel so helpless now

My guitar is not around

& I keep struggling with the xylophone

To make these feelings sound…

But I watched you very closely

& I saw you look away

Your eyes are either gray or blue,

I’m never close enough to say—

But your sweatshirt says it all

With your hood over your face

& I can’t keep staring at your mouth

without wonderin’ how it tastes

& I’m with another boy

He’s asleep, I’m wide awake—

She had me at awake. A girl who can write like Bob Dylan & stack her words like Bruce Springsteen, with the sharp eye of Joni Mitchell & the confessional wit of Liz Phair?

THIS is what I came to New York for.

By the end of the set, I learned “Gray Or Blue” was no fluke. I bought her still-excellent Sea Green, See Blue EP & never looked back. What follows in the post below is 5 1/2 more choice songs by one of the finest living songwriters in America.

2. “Blue Skies” (Autumn Fallin’, 2007).

If “Gray Or Blue” was Jaymay’s proof of her potential, “Blue Skies” is her flat-out masterpiece. Its tagline & mood seem to be lifted from Irving Berlin’s 1926 standard (Al Jolson sang it to his mom the following year in The Jazz Singer), but this is merely an incidental cosmic connection to the greater pop unconsciousness
that only enhances the song’s greater richness & depth.

From the moment the opening drumbeat continues for an unexpected fifth bar (instead of the standard four), unleashing the wash of strings & vocals with the “dah-dah-dah” hook that takes the song to the edge of psychedelic rock without ever crossing into it, this is a recording that exists on its own terms. All of Jaymay’s hallmarks are present—the seemingly effortless vocals, the internal rhyme schemes, the deceptive simplicity of the music—along with my favorite trick of all, the way in which she plays words off each other by drawing one into another (“I prom—mister Blue Eyes I would never be unkind…”).

& on one level, everything described above is just a set-up to be catapulted into one of the most perfect bridges I’ve ever heard, which is at once a contemplation, a work of poetry, a killer returning to the scene of the crime, a temptation, & a dare—not to mention a graduate-level course in melody.

3. “Rock Scissors Paper (Rsp)” (Long Walk To Never EP, 2010).


Jaymay

If people in the outside world know Jaymay, it’s probably from the use of her song “Sea Green, See Blue” in the Season 2 finale of How I Met Your Mother. The star of that show, Josh Radnor, is a big Jaymay fan & asked to use her music for his 2010 writing &
directing debut, Happythankyoumoreplease. Perhaps the best one featured in the film was “Rock Scissors Paper (Rsp).”

“So I have under 2 minutes to sing you this song,” it begins, but rarely have two minutes been used so economically in a pop song. Over the course of 120 seconds, the singer confesses her love, spins a tale about a message in a bottle, & ruminates on the etiquette, moral, & legal implications of plagiarism—all while keeping track of the time (“Now, I have under 50 seconds to finish this song…”), making room for a lovely synth solo, & switching up the dynamics with a clap-along breakdown in the third verse.

Oh yeah, & at the center of it all, she sings the bluntest line like a scrap of overheard conversation that defies the song while summing it up perfectly: “Really, who cares how they feel?”

4. “Corduroy” (Sea Green, See Blue EP, 2006).

A love-letter to NYC open mic performers & the late-night trains that take us away from them. As a song, pure melody; as a production, pure beauty.

5. “One May Die So Lonely” (A Long Walk To Never EP, 2010).

3 minutes & 37 seconds of voice & guitar, straightforward strumming & matter-of-fact singing, delivered in a second person narrative. In terms of delivery, “One Might Die So Lonely” may be Jaymay’s finest vocal, brimming with confidence, clarity, & humor (just listen to the way she twists the line “little old man”).The song is the rare stream-of-consciousness narrative that feels as coherent as a set story, with the singer searching for words, building off of them one another, stitching together snippets of conversation with thought & explanation.That’s all well & good, but I would include “One Might Die So Lonely” on this list if only because of the line delivered towards the end:

It just gives me hope

Like music is a rope

To hold you right here

As far as I can tell, therein lies the power of songwriting & listening to music, summed up in three lines or less.

5 1/2. “40 Hours Ago” (Single, 2011).

When Jaymay made her catalog available for Josh Radnor’s
Happythankyoumoreplease, it provided the perfect outlet for songs like this—one-minute, half-song sketches that play like demos with a raw honesty that would far outstrip any “finished” version that might try to complete it.

“40 Hours Ago” is one of Jaymay’s best of these short songs—it contains a confessional vocal, a lovely melody, a playful lyric filled with internal rhymes & her signature word- connecting (“What did you come here for—ty hours ago, I was feeling one way…”), an understated production that shrewdly lines up the piano key with a doorbell ring, & a direct intimacy that doesn’t let up after multiple listens.

In terms of length it may only be half a song, but in terms of content it’s an executive summary of the signature hallmarks that make Jaymay a masterful songwriter. But all that said about Jaymay, there is one element to her music that for me trumps all the rest: The rare & elusive ability to create a song that sounds like it simply has always existed. Her music walks the line between the old & the new, the forgotten & the remembered, the might-have-been & the never-was. This is what stopped me cold & made me listen on that New York City night all those years ago—& it is what has kept me listening ever since.

Work Song, performed live at Other Voices Dingle 2013 by Hozier.

Currently on steady rotation for Major Dudes.

2013 WRAP UP: 2 OF 2 (FINALLY!)

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Here we go Summer!

Well, better late than never.

After a nearly three month breather — moving boxes, much travel (2 countries, 8 cities), and carving out some comfort in a new town — Major Dudes is back. On a regular basis.

Without further delay, my wrap up of 2013’s finest gems:


1. “Dreamers” – Savoir Adore

Dreamers is perfect parts spunk, new wave throwback and pop rock lullaby. I want to shimmy my hips to it all the time.

2. “Adore You” - Miley Cyrus

Cyrus’s tabloid fodder aside, the woman is really talented. And Dolly Parton is her godmother, which means with a few years of rebellion out of the way, Miley’s going to be just fine.

3. “Power of God” - Jaimeo Brown

Harlem based Motema Music does it again with Brown’s debut album “Transcendance”. The stand out on this recording is the featured samples of the Gee’s Bend Quilters, spiritual singers that hail from rural Alabama. And yes, if I could carve out a full time gig as a music anthologist I would.

4. “Somebody to Love” - Valerie June
If you read Major Dudes on the regular, you already know the impression Pushing Against A Stone Left on me. I strongly suggest you catch Miss June live. 

5. “My Hands” by Grey Reverend

L.D. Brown’s solo project, Grey Reverend is a study in stunning simplicity.  After being diagnosed with focal dystonia (a neurological disorder that affects fine motor skills), Brown had to learn new ways to play music.  The result is an unhurried and handsome sound.  I was lucky enough to see L.D. Brown play with the Cinematic Orchestra years back and I’ve been keeping tabs on him ever since.

6. Muscle Shoals (the entire soundtrack)

Watch Muscle Shoals immediately.  I’ve had the entire soundtrack on repeat — especially Arthur Alexander’s You Better Move On - since first watching the film. 

You can thank me later.

7. “Chum” - Earl Sweatshirt
Yesssss. Earl is back!

The very gifted Thebe Neruda Kgositsile (M.C. Earl Sweatshirt) remerged this year with his solo debut Doris.The entire album is noteworthy, but Chum is hands down the gold star track.  With honest lyrics (Kgositsile opens up with feelings on his absent father and his struggles with racial identity) and raw beats the song is supremely awesome.

8. “Silver Lining” - Kacey Musgraves

Musgrave’s Same Trailer, Different Park is littered with catchy tracks, which might be part of the reason it earned this year’s album of the year award from the Country Academy of Music.  Fusing a delicate balance between simple words and straight up honesty, Silver Lining is strewn with wisdom beyond Musgraves’ 25 years.  And well it’s my guilty pop country indulgence.

'Cause if you're ever gonna find a four leaf clover
You gotta get a little dirt on your hands
And if you wanna find a head that fits your shoulder
You’re gonna have to go to the dance
 

Damn straight Kacey.

9. “Take Me to Church” - Hozier

Thank you Jessica Berta for the Hozier tip off.  Those haunting vocals hooked me at first listen. 

10. “Birmingham” - Shovels & Rope

Though Birmingham quickly became my favorite track from O’ Be Joyful, the whole album is pretty incredible.  Carve out some time and listen to the entire album, from beginning to end.

If you need any more reason to love De La Soul… they went ahead and gave all their fans a pretty sweet valentine - their entire catalog for free (well for 25 hours, ending yesterday at noon). Also doubles as a toast to their debut album 25 years ago.

If you didn’t catch that — De La Soul just hijacked the music industry.

Check out the sweet note I got from them below. Of course I’m only using this to fill in the gaps of what I don’t already own.

Hey beth,

We’re really sorry if you haven’t gotten your downloads yet, the response from our fans was overwhelming!


If you haven’t received them, here they all are:

Mase, Pos, Dave

(Stay tuned — Part 2 of Major Dudes’ 2013 Wrap Up is really on its way. Promise.)

I’m a sucker for a good redemption story. And last night’s performance is proof perfect that Jason Isbell is really something live.

(Stay tuned — Part 2 of Major Dudes’ 2013 Wrap Up is on its way)

I saw the incomparable Charles Bradley last week. And it was incredible.

If you haven’t watched Soul for America, do yourself a favor and find 74 minutes. Just like Bradley’s brand of raw & classic soul, it’ll warm your heart and lift your spirits in a way few music documentaries and people can.

Any man that launches a career at 62 has pearls of wisdom a plenty for all of us.

I love that man.

2013 Wrap Up: 1 of 2.

This year I’ve called on 11 friends with exceptional ears to submit 1 stand out track for Major Dudes’ year-end musical wrap up.  I love the idea of a giant playlist with folks collaborating from all different backgrounds, most who have never even met before.    

Happy 2014! Enjoy the playlist right here.

1. “Do I Wanna Know” – the Artic Monkeys 

Tough one, as I can’t name a client’s track as other clients will get mad! I would say probably “Do I Wanna Know” by the Arctic monkeys. Great start to a great album.  Their best work yet and it’s definitely elevated them to the next level!

Nicky Stein is a London-based attorney who represents every band you love.  Seriously, he does.  He’s an almanac of the best vegetarian joints across the globe.  And promises not to fall asleep on Beth the next time they catch a show together, even if he just got off a plane.

2.”We the Common (for Valerie Bolden)” by Thao and the Get Down Stay Down

The story has a dark side, but I find this song’s energy and joy infectious. 

As noted on NPR, in a joint statement from Thao and music video director Lauren Tabak: "This song was inspired by a poignant, candid and unshakable conversation with Valerie Bolden, a woman serving life without parole in the California state prison system. It’s hard to imagine that meeting would be anything but somber — but it resonated with a humanity and humor that greatly outshone its surroundings. It’s in this spirit that "We The Common (For Valerie Bolden)" was written."  

Jessica Berta is a San Francisco-based writer who once lived just a few blocks from Beth Silverman in Brooklyn. Jessica hails from Milwaukee, where she was raised on cheese and ice skating. 

3. “Vicious Cycle” by Dirg Gerner

Eglo is one of my favorite labels. Most record companies I follow stick to either making music for the dancefloor or the home hi-fi, but rarely does one so expertly present both. The Dirg Gerner EP is more of a home listening record, and any one of the tracks from the EP could’ve been my pick.

Justin Carter is one half of the amazing Mister Saturday Night outfit.  If you have yet to experience the Mister Saturday Night magic, put it on your 2014 agenda.  Justin also gave Beth her favorite sweatshirt of all time.  

4. "Ya Hey" by Vampire Weekend

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(Image courtesy of Lastfm)

My fave song of the year is “Ya Hey” by Vampire Weekend. 

Eric Hutchinson is a super talented singer (and songwriter), who once made Beth compete in a dj competition in a tiny East Village bar.  Eric’s new album drops in April people.  And it’s gonna be good.

5. “We Sink” by CHVRCHES 

Songs I love generally fall into two columns:  those that inspire solo (or group) apartment dance parties and those that are the perfect complement to a night drive.  ‘We Sink’ by CHVRCHES fell squarely into both of these categories for me this year.  ‘The Mother We Share’ was the first track that drew me to CHVRCHES, a synthy Glaswegian trio, but ‘We Sink’ was the one I kept returning to time and time again.  Simultaneously sad and euphoric, its driving beat proved to be the ideal soundtrack for heading down an open road watching headlights stream by while the resounding shouts of ‘say, say, say’ had me singing and dancing along like few other songs in 2013.

Taylor Pankonien is a farm girl turned NYC-based urban designer.  While in grad school together in Philadelphia, Beth and Taylor discovered their shared love of music, live shows, and sweaty dance parties.  A love that continues to this day.

6. “25 Bucks” by Danny Brown 

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As Kanye was the most interesting pop music of 2013, old Danny Brown may have the most noteworthy message.  This song’s lyrical set up is established simply in the opening chorus, which describe a home hair-styling business, where, for “25 bucks, mama braid your hair.”  Through that structure, Brown raps poignantly about the lives of some of the 99 percent, if not the 47 percent: non-traditional workplaces; off-the-books income; chronic health problems; family strife; aging; drug addiction; and, of course, fast food.  It’s fitting that Brown hails from Detroit, a city that, in 2013, typified what’s gone wrong with the American dream.  Musically, this song has a single commonality to much of 2013, namely the presence of an electro-pop act (here, Canadian duo Purity Ring).  But the sound on "25 Bucks" is dark and doleful, and far from Robin Thicke (whose"Blurred Lines" Beth rightly predicted as the song of the summer). It’s disappointing to me that “Old” didn’t get more love in the end-of-year lists, but it’s well worth checking out.  And this song is a stand-out.

Michael Hartman was Beth’s high school prom date.  He’s a stellar attorney fighting for the good guys and might as well be deemed Washington DC’s Minister of Musical Culture.   Every once in a while he drags Beth to an insane hip hop show, which she always loves.

7. “Disconnected” by Funk Storung

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I stumbled upon this song the other day that I really like - it’s called ”Disconnected” by FunkStorung (don’t watch the youtube video because it’s creepy).  Disconnect to reconnect. 

Hannah Trimble is a Brooklyn-based industrial designer and former pro-mountain biker, who originally found her way to NYC to help build the Red Hook Criterium racing series. In addition to sharing a love for the greatest bluegrass joint in NYC, she is also Beth Silverman’s favorite old running budding. 

8. Repulsive Arousal” by Vastum

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(Photo by Taylor Keahey)

Vastum released one of the most cro-magnon death metal albums of 2013 with Patricidal Lust — my favorite song being the closing track "Repulsive Arousal." It starts off brutally dumb and slow before pummeling you with disgusting riffs that will leave your neck aching for days. If that isn’t enough, the outro will send you in to a blur of circular head banging so fierce you will most assuredly wake up with a bangover.

Brian Stegall grew up in rural Ohio and has toured the US and Europe with various punk and metal bands. He has lived in NYC and now resides in San Francisco, where he’s raised by his Italian Greyhound, Lemmy.

 9. “The Wolves (Act I & II)” by Bon Iver

Impossible to pick you just one… but on a more personal note, the rediscovery of Bon Iver — The Wolves"Someday my pain will mark you. Harness your blame." The best performance of that song we saw live together. Maybe best show ever in my life.  

Eloy Anzola is a Brooklyn-based photographer, developer, and bicycling enthusiast.  Check out his awesome work here.  Beth had the pleasure of being Eloy’s plus one to the incredible Radio City Music Hall show noted above, which solidified for both of them just how far Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver project had come.

10. “She Found Now” - MBV*

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I don’t know much about the music that came out this year. But I love track one of the MBV album. Meeting Kevin Shields was awesome and everyone in the band was very nice. We met them after their Denver show right before we drove through a tornado. Probably one of the most frightening moments of my life. Everyone in the car, including myself was drained of color from fear. I said "dear god don’t let me die in Wyoming. This isn’t good is it?" And Billy (Asobi Seksu’s bass player) said “don’t look at me I’m from Brooklyn.” (Editor’s Note:  To listen to this track, follow these rules)

Yuki Chikudate is an amazingly talented singer and keyboardist.  Most recently for the dream pop band Asobi Seksu. Yuki is also an badass rollerskater and promises to take Beth for a spin in Brooklyn soon.

 11. “Maxim’s I” by Julia Holter 

Not sure what to say about this song, except for some reason, I listened to it many times while working under lots of stress in Barcelona. It reminds me of that time period.

David August Trimble is the founder of the Red Hook Crit, an international fixed gear cycling series.  He is also one of eight kids (see #7 above).  Dave met Beth at a bluegrass bar at the edge of the universe many years ago in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where after a few swigs their totally awesome friendship began.  

12. “Somebody to Love” by Valerie June

Maybe it’s her Tennessee drawl or because not too long ago Valerie June was cleaning other people’s toilets, but whatever it is, I’m hooked.  A lullaby both beautiful and haunting, ”Somebody to Love”  covers themes of love, loneliness, and wandering underneath June’s heartfelt vocals.  If you can, see her live as soon as you can.  It’s really the best way to experience her music.

Beth Silverman created Majordudes two years ago to will her closer to opening her own music venue one day (she’s working on it).  Beth’s loved music since age 3, when her grandfather played her Harry Belafonte on his beautiful Electrohomerecord player.

13. “Slipped” by the National

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This is the song that defined 2013 for me: someone once said to me that this song is an earworm—she couldn’t have been more right. At first listen, I didn’t pay it much mind to the national’s new album and dismissed it as a mumble of lyrics. And then I came back to where I slipped. The shining spot of this song is the gut wrenching lyrics. Have you ever had that moment when you could pinpoint when you went wrong, when you slipped?  This song is an ode to that very moment.

Teresa Vazquez is a NYC-based music lover who makes the world just a bit more awesome with her work at Echoing Green.  An encyclopedia of soul, bluegrass, funk and beyond Teresa continues to introduce Beth to her favorite songs.  And school her in surfing the waves in Costa Rica.


Please Stand By… Major dudes is buried in moving boxes.  But a stellar post is on the way.

Please Stand By… Major dudes is buried in moving boxes.  But a stellar post is on the way.