Ibrahim Ferrer - Melodía del Río

Cuban singer, Ibrahim Ferrer, was catapulted from obscurity and poverty to international fame in the twilight of his life. He was born in 1927 when his mother went into labor at a dance. Orphaned at age 12, he earned a living busking on the streets of Havana and joined a group the next year. He was fairly popular in Cuba in the 50's and the time immediately following the 1959 Cuban Revolution. But in the early 60's, Cuba dived into poverty and Ferrer was forced to move to the slums of Havana with his wife and 11 children. He continued to sing and took odd jobs to keep money coming in.

Looking on the bright side, he said "The music got better after the Revolution because we weren't playing for tourists so much". He 'retired' from music in 1991, but was coaxed out of retirement in 1996, when Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González and American Guitarist Ry Cooder traveled to Cuba in search of musicians for a project. They were blown away by the now 69-year Ferrer who along with 89-year-old guitarist Compay Segundo and the 77-year-old pianist Rubén González recorded Buena Vista Social Club. The album, released in 1999, sold over four million copies and made Ferrer and international celebrity.

Melodía del Río
(River Melody) is off his last release, Mi Sueño, an album devoted to the bolero. The album was released in 2006, a year after his death in Havana of multiple organ failure.

Blue Six - Aquarian Angel

Blue Six is the creation of musician, producer and remixer Jay Denes. Denes moved to New York, but did not hit it off until he began working on his own freestyle project. He co-founded Naked Music and released his first album, Beautiful Tomorrow released in 2002. It was a laid back lounge house music album that is a pretty good chill album.

It took five years for Denes to release a follow up, Aquarian Angel. This album, like the first is silky smooth, cocktail lounge house music album. Like Beautiful Tomorrow, it is an appealing groove to play as background to a house party, but not get people on a dance floor. The title track of the same name, is a fairly good groove that you can kick back and just let flow over you.

Curiosity Killed the Cat - Misfit

Another Hear Today, Gone Tomorrow tune! I was playing some music and this song popped into my head. I have no idea why, maybe I heard a riff that triggered this catchy pop hook. Curiosity Killed The Cat seemed to pop up out of no where and disappear just as quickly; more quickly in the US than UK. However, they only released two albums and vanished.

Blending just enough jazziness, funkiness and pop along with their clean cut good looks they fit perfectly with the end of the 80's sound. Misfit is off their debut release, Keep Your Distance.
Really Interesting useless fact: Andy Warhol became a fan and even did a cameo for the "Misfit" video.

Alison Krauss - Gravity

More than any other artist, Alison Krauss brought bluegrass into the mainstream. Blending bluegrass and folk, she made the music accessible and both her and the genre's popularity increased.

At age eight, she started entering local talent contests. By age ten she had her own band. When she was thirteen, she won a major fiddle championship and the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass in America named her the Most Promising Fiddler in the Midwest. She recorded her first album in 1985 at age 14. and has not looked back. Most recently, she recorded the album Raising Sand with Robert Plant. The album went platinum and won all 5 Grammys for which it was nominated.

Gravity is off her 2004 release Lonely Runs Both Ways which was recorded with her band Union Station.

Soul Ballet - Smooth Vegas

Smooth Jazz group, Soul Ballet, is really producer\composer Rick "R.K." Kelly. Soul Ballet mixes cool, smooth contemporary jazz with pulsating electronic beats and a surprisingly dark, moody atmosphere. Occassionaly, Kelly will include guest vocalists, but records instrumental smooth jazz.

Smooth Vegas is off the 2007 release, Lavish.

The Jam - That's Entertainment

Defiantly British punk group, The Jam created an indelible mark on music, but never really made it big in the US. They were huge in the UK, having 18 consecutive Top 40 singles in their 6 year recording career. Although they came in around the same time as The Clash and The Sex Pistols and had the "Angry Young Men" persona, they differed from the two other bands because they incorporated more of the 60's rock influences into their music. Definitely political, The Jam did not shy away from writing songs that lamented the current state in England.

That's Entertainment is today's Hump Day Retro-Closet track off the absolutely stellar 1980 album Sound Effects. The album was influenced by the post-punk bands, Joy Division and Wire. However, guitarist and lead singer Paul Weller said he was influenced by The Beatles' Revolver and Michael Jackson's Off the Wall. That's Entertainment is listed in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers - King Harvest

Bruce Hornsby has always been interested in all types of music. He studied music at the University of Richmond (VA), Berklee College of Music and the University of Miami. His first real band was a Grateful Dead cover band called "Bobby Hi-Test and the Octane Kids" which included his older brother Bobby.

Hornsby then moved to LA and worked as music writer for 20th Century Fox for 3 years before moving back to Northern Virgina. In 1984, he formed Bruce Hornsby and the Range and had his biggest hit in 1986 with The Way It Is and won a Grammy in 1987 for Best New Artist.

He continue to be successful but began to branch out. From 1988 to 1995, he became an informal member of Grateful Dead. He wrote prolifically for other artists including End of the Innocence for Don Henley and I can't Make You Love Me for Bonnie Raitt. During this era he slowly began to slip jazz and bluegrass elements into his music. He reworked his hit "The Valley Road" with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and won the 1990 Grammy Awards for Best Bluegrass Recording.

Hornsby recorded several solo albums and even moved into Jazz. (Interesting Note: Hornsby is big St. Louis Cardinal fan and is friends with manager Tony LaRussa. La Russa introduced him to jazz bassist Christian McBride, which then led to the formation of jazz trio, The Bruce Hornsby Trio)

King Haven is from Hornsby's group The Noisemakers off the great compilation of The Band covers, Endless Highway: The Music of the Band.

The Sea and Cake - Aerial

Chicago-based, The Sea and Cake, was created from the remains of several local independent groups. The name of the band came from a reinterpretation of a misinterpretation of the song "The C in Cake" by Gastr del Sol.

Original intended as a one-off project, the jazz-infused group continued to create, record and play live. Preferring to release album, they have not really released any singles. After taking a hiatus from 2004-2007, The Sea and Cake came back releasing 2 albums in space of 17 months.

Aerial is off their latest release, Car Alarm.

Joshua Radin - Brand New Day

Anytime I hear a song on a TV show or movie that catches my ear, I have to look it up. This time, I was watching the final episode of Eli Stone (I won't rant about networks canceling excellent, intellegent, witty shows - uh ok, I just did) and heard a great song as the episode ended. After a few Google searches, I found it was by Joshua Radin.

After growing up in Cleveland, OH, Radin graduated from Northwestern University, majoring in communications and drawing and painting. He recorded a demo of his song "Winter" and when a close friend, actor/filmmaker Zach Braff, heard it, he featured it on his show Scrubs. The song got great responses and sent him on his way.

Brand New Day is off his sophomore release, Simple Times.

Röyksopp - Eple

Norwegian duo, Röyksopp, is made up of Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge. The two were schoolmates, but met up again in the 90's in Bergen. Bergen, at that time, was a vital scene for underground electronic music at this time (called Bergen Wave).

The band name is a stylized version of the Norwegian word for the puffball mushroom, "røyksopp" or literally, "smoke mushroom". Their music has been used in many commercials and as background music in movies and TV shows.

Eple off their 2001 debut album, Melody A.M. is their most well know song.

Rusted Root - Dance In The Middle

Pittsburgh based, Rusted Root, burst on to the scene in 1992 with the single Send Me On My Way off their second album When I Woke. A working touring band, they traveled extensively to support their albums, releasing 5 albums in 10 years. Although still occasionally touring, the band members went their separate ways and pursued solo projects. Drummer Jim Donovan has released five highly acclaimed solo CDs as well as four instructional drumming CDs and became a full-time instructor of music at Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania.

Rusted Root recently returned to the studio in released their 6th studio album, Stereo Rodeo which contains the track Dance In The Middle.

Natalie Merchant - Tell Yourself

Natalie Merchant began her musical career at age 17 with 10,000 Maniacs and quickly became the artistic influence in the group. After a string of successful albums, she left 10,000 Maniacs at what appeared to be the height of their popularity to begin her solo career.

Her first two albums, Tigerlily and Ophelia were very successful with the albums going to #13 and #8, respectively, on the Billboard 200 chart. It took 3 years before she released another studio album, Motherland. This time she teamed up with T-Bone Burnett and his influence seemed to add a grittier, edgier element to album. In 2003, she released the album, The House Carpenter's Daughter, which contained traditional and contemporary folk music.

Since then she has not released a new studio album and focused on her family and many charity and recording with other artists, like BeauSoleil, David Byrne’s Imelda Marcos life album and joining Cowboy Junkies to record a song for their 20th year anniversary release of The Trinity Sessions. The good news for fans is that earlier this year, she returned the studio to record a new album of her original songs.

Tell Yourself is great song with a great message off her 2001 Motherland release.

Hot House Flowers - Thing of Beauty

A great track for the Hump Day Retro-Closet. Irish band Hothouse Flowers combines traditional Irish music with influences from soul, gospel and rock, which they do with gusto. Their songs pack in a lot of emotion.

They formed in 1985 when Liam O'Maonlaí and Fiachna O'Braonáin began performing as street musicians, or buskers, on the streets of Dublin, Ireland as "The Incomparable Benzini Brothers". Others joined the band and they renamed themselves Hothouse Flowers. In 1986 U2's Bono saw the Flowers performing on television and offered his support. They released their first single, "Love Don't Work This Way", on U2's Mother Records label, which quickly led to a deal with the PolyGram subsidiary London Records. They then released their first album, People, in 1988 and it became the most successful debut album in Irish history.

They never gained the popularity in the US as they did in the UK and Australia, but did have a loyal following. In 1994, they took a one year sabbatical that turned into several years. Their last studio release was 2004's Into Your Heart, but still continue to tour.

Thing of Beauty is off their 1993 release, Songs From The Rain.

The Hush Now - Sadie Hawkins Dance

Boston based indie-rock group The Hush Now's start can be traced back to a bizarre auto accident. Guitarist and singer Noel Kelly had a serious car accident in Los Angeles when he crashed into a church while attempting to drive with a broken wrist. After his brush with death, he moved to Portland, Oregon and began writing the material that would become The Hush Now's first album.

Kelly then moved to Boston, met the other members of the band and recorded the songs he wrote in Portland. Sadie Hawkins Dance is an excellent indie-pop tune off this self-titled album.

Lucia Micarelli - Samarkand

Lucia Micarelli began playing violin at age 3 and played her first concert with an orchestra at six years old. After being classically trained at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music she became the concertmaster with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on their Christmas Season Tour in 2003 when she was only 20 years old.

Samarkand is off her first release, Music From A Farther Room, which was produced by Josh Groban after she toured with him on his Closer Tour as a guest soloist and concertmaster.

Recently she has toured with Jethro Tull from 2005-2007. Currently she is touring with Chris Botti.

Lloyd Cole - Woman In A Bar

Lloyd Cole has been around awhile. In the 80's he led the group Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. The group disbanded in 1989 and Cole began a solo career. His first two solo releases enjoyed success both in the UK and US. Although his subsequent releases lacked the same level of popular success, Cole continued to write and record.

The most noticeable thing about Cole's songs are his very smart, blackly humorous and self-deprecating lyrics. He writes intelligent songs with a pop tune.

Woman In A Bar
is off his 2006 release Anti-Depressant, an album Cole uses to examine the mid-life trappings,failures and delights.

Stakka Bo - Here We Go

I wanted to start a new feature on Hoi Polloi. I've always had a fascination with a song or band that catches my ear, but that disappears just as quick as they came on the scene. They many not be a one hit wonder, but are more of a flash in the pan - Hear Today Gone Tomorrow. I'll occasionally post one of these tracks.

The first entry in this is Here We Go from Stakka Bo. Stakka Bo is Swedish musician Johan Renck. He scored a minor hit in 1993 with Here We Go off his Supermarket release. He released a second album, which didn't enjoy success.

Renck changed careers and switched to directing music videos for several artists, including Kylie Minogue, All Saints and Madonna. He recently moved into directing films and had his first film, Downloading Nancy, premier at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival where it was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize.

Jamiroquai - Starchild

Jamiroquai is really a band that changes around front-man, singer, songwriter, groove-master Jay Kay (known as JK). The band's name is a combination of Jam session and "iroquai", based on the Iroquois indians. Kay formed Jamiroquai after he unsuccessfully auditioned as the lead singer for The Brand New Heavies.

Bringing in element of soul, funk, pop, electronic and acid jazz, Jamiroquai has evolved since their first release in 1993, Emergency on Planet Earth. Starchild is off their 2006 release, Dynamite. They released a 'best of' compilation in 2008, which completed their Sony contract. It is rumored that they will be releasing a new album on Columbia later this year.

Grizzly Bear - Two Weeks

Brooklyn-based indie rock band, Grizzly Bear, began as a home recording project. Music experimentalist, Edward Droste, holed himself up for 15 months in his Greenpoint, Brooklyn, apartment and recorded on a small hand-held tape recorder Multi-instrumentalist, Christopher Bear, added additional instrumentation and vocals to Droste's stripped-down sonic blueprints.

The album, Horn of Plenty, we supposed to be just for friend but eventually circulated through New York's underground music scene. It was released as a full album in 2004, but did not gain success until the band toured extensively. Since then, their popularity has grown with new releases and releases of older Droste recording.

Two Weeks is off their 2009 release Veckatimest (named after a small island off Massachusetts)

B-52's - Private Idaho

This week's Hump Day Retro Closet track is from The B-52's. I still vividly remember the first time I heard them. I was playing basketball with some friends and someone put on the self-titled first album (cassette tape, actually) on a big boom-box. I had to stop playing and ask who it was, because I had never heard anything like it. I was floored.

Their second release, Wild Planet, from 1980 is a perfect extension of their first release. It's hard to remember which album a specific track is on. Today track, Private Idaho, embodied everything that is the B-52's.

Paris Combo - Chez Nous

To continue the world music theme, today I bring you Paris Combo, which as their name suggests, they are based in Paris, France. They are an acoustic group that have an eclectic style, blending elements from the traditional French chanson, American jazz and swing, Roma music and North African music. This 5 member group is as culturally diverse as their music with two French members, vocalist Belle du Berry, drummer Francois Francois, Australian trumpeter Davis Lewis, Madagasgan bassist Mano Ranzanajato and Mediterranean guitarist Potzi.

Chez Nous is off their 2000 release, Living Room.

Eliane Elias - Day In Day Out

I fell in love with Eliane Elias' voice and jazz piano from the moment I first heard her. She originally trained as a classical pianist in her native Brazil, but grew up listening the jazz albums that her parents played at home. She started composing and, more notably, performing her own jazz pieces at seventeen.

Eventually landing in New York, she recorded with several notable jazz artists and in 1986 she became a successful band leader in her own right. In 1988 she was elected as "Best New Talent" by the JAZZIZ magazine poll of jazz critics.

Starting with her 1990 album "Eliane Elias Plays Jobim", she began to add her own vocals to her recordings. Her intimate, direct style of singing contrasts charmingly with her muscular piano solo work, which itself contrasts nicely to her gently driving stylings under her vocals.

Day In Day Out is off her excellent 2008 release Bossa Nova Stories.

Nickel Creek - When You Come Back Down

Nickel Creek is Chris Thile (mandolin), Sara Watkins (fiddle), and her brother Sean Watkins (guitar). They have never had a permanent bass player, but Mark Schatz has played with them regularly since 2003.

They formed in 1989 at "That Pizza Place" in Carlsbad, California with Scott Thile, Chris' father, playing string bass. The two families, the Watkins and the Thiles, met after Sean Watkins and Chris Thile had mandolin lessons with the same teacher. They don't like to be called a bluegrass band, but describe themselves as progressive acoustic that incorporates bluegrass into their music.

When You Come Back Down is a great Toad The Wet Sprocket cover. The track is off their first release, Nickel Creek, which was produced by bluegrass legend, Alison Krauss.

Gomez - Little Pieces

British indie-rock band Gomez has been together since 1996. They played their first gig together without a name for the band. They got their name, Gomez, because they left a sign out which read 'Gomez the gig's in here" for a friend of theirs whose surname was Gomez to indicate that it was the site of their first gig. People saw the sign and assumed that the band's name was Gomez - the name stuck.

Gomez tours extensively and has slowly built up a following in the US by playing many festivals like Cochella snd Bonnaroo.

Little Pieces is off their lastest release, A New Tide. This is their third release on Dave Matthews' label, ATO.

Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals - In The Colors

Ben Harper grew up with music. His grandparents owned a music stored called 'The Folk Music Center and Museum' which listed Leonard Cohen, Taj Mahal and David Lindley as patrons.

Since, recording his first album at age 20, Harper has continued to explore music, playing and recording with a wide range of artists. His early music was more popular in Europe and Australia than in the US, but that slowly changed and his 2006 release, Both Sides of the Gun debuted at #7 on the Billboard charts.

In The Colors is an excellent song off his 2007 release with The Innocent Criminals, Lifeline.

Scarlett Johansson - Green Grass

People know Scarlett Johansson for her prominent film roles in movies like Lost in Translation and Girl With A Pearl Earring. But recently, Johansson has begun to build up quite a music career also. In 2008, she released an album of ten cover versions of Tom Waits songs and one original song. It was produced by Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio and features David Bowie, members from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Celebration. The album was named the "23rd best album of 2008" by NME.

Green Grass is off this album, Anywhere I Lay My Head. In September, Johanssson is releasing a duet album with Pete Yorn.

Van Morrison - Into The Mystic

Today's Hump Day Retro Closet track is one of my favorite tunes of all time. Into the Mystic off Van Morrison's 1970 release Moondance, was not even released as a single as the record company did not feel it worthy.

It was covered by Johnny Rivers and was a top-40 hit for him. But Morrison's original version is so much better and contains the true essence of the song. As a lyricist, Morrison is often less interested in using words for meaning than for sound and Into the Mystic is perfect example of that. The exact lyrics have been debated for years; but it's not the words of the song, but the mood it induces that makes this one of my favorites.

Greg Laswell - Sing, Theresa Says

Hailing from San Diego, Greg Laswell was originally part of the group Shillglen, which released one album in 1999 and enjoyed moderate local success. The band quietly split in 2001 and Laswell went on to record solo material.

He founded and ran All the Rest Records, which went out of business in 2004. Since then, he started the label 20 Inch Records with associated artists Anya Marina, Ingrid Michaelson, Molly Jenson, Derren Raser, and Minnie Driver.

He has released three solo albums and several EP's. Sing, Theresa Says is a really wonderful song off his 2nd album, Through Toldeo.

Lucinda Williams - If Wishes Were Horses

Lucinda Williams born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, is the daughter of poet and literature professor who worked as a visiting professor in Mexico and different parts of the American South before settling at the University of Arkansas. Williams started writing when she was 6 years old, was playing guitar at 12 and had her first live performance in Mexico City at 17, as part a duo with her friend.

She release her first albums (traditional country and blues) in 1978 and 1980, to little success. It was the song 'Passionate Kisses' off her 1988 self-title release that was covered by Mary Chapin Carpenter in 1994 that began her climb to fame. She got a Grammy for Best Country Song for the song in 1994. Her 1998 release, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, is her most successful release to date and she garnered another Grammy for it. She has continued to release albums to critical acclaim, but not the same commercial success although she did get a 3rd Grammy for Best Female Rock Performance for her single, Get Right With God.

If Wishes Were Horses is off her latest release, Little Honey.

Interesting Note: In the fall of 2007, Williams announced an unprecedented series of shows in Los Angeles and New York. Playing five nights in each city, it was the first time a major artist would perform her entire catalog on consecutive nights. These albums include the self titled Lucinda Williams, Sweet Old World, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Essence, and World Without Tears. Since these shows, other artists have imitated this idea in different variations, but to date no else has accomplished this exact feat. Each night also featured a second set with special guest stars.

Golden Smog - Ill Fated

Golden Smog is a loosely connected group of musicians comprised, at various times, of members of Soul Asylum, The Replacements, Wilco, The Jayhawks, Run Westy Run, The Honeydogs and Big Star. Golden Smog's lineup has often changed, but relative constants who appear on all the recordings are guitarists Kraig Johnson (Run Westy Run), Dan Murphy (Soul Asylum) and Gary Louris (The Jayhawks), along with bassist Marc Perlman (The Jayhawks).

Their beginnings are a bit fuzzy due to their evolving nature. But it is said they debuted in January 1987, when a band billed as 'The Take It To The Limit Band' played an (almost) all-Eagles cover show at the Uptown Bar in Minneapolis. This band consisted of Dan Murphy and Dave Pirner (both of Soul Asylum), Jim Boquist (later of Son Volt), and Martin Zellar (Gear Daddies). The show ended with a cover of then Bangles hit song "Walk Like an Egyptian." This same group later played a Rolling Stones-themed show in 1989 under the band name "Her Satanic Majesty's Paycheck."

They finally appeared under the name Golden Smog in 1989 in Minneapolis and released their first album, an EP called On Golden Smog, in 1992.

The group took their name from the name of a Flintstones character, which, in turn, was a parody of singer Mel Tormé's nickname (The Velvet Fog).

Ill Fated is off their 1995 recording, Down By The Old Mainstream.

Willie Nile - Game of Fools

Willie Nile (real name: Robert Anthony Noonan) came from a musical family. His grandfather was a vaudeville pianist and his uncles played boogie-woogie. Nile began playing piano at age eight and took classical music lessons until he was a teenager, when he taught himself his first rock & roll song. He soon began to compose short songs and continued the habit into his college years, when during the summers he made trips into New York City to frequent clubs like Folk City and the Gaslight.

After college, he went to Greenwich Village, determined to make a name for himself as a latter-day troubadour, which he did throughout the 70's and became a fixture in the Village. He released his first album in 1980 which garnered high critical praise. After his second album, he ran into legal issue with his record company and did not release a new album for the next 10 year, although he continued to write songs and tour.

Hard Times in America is off a great 1992 EP of the same name. The song seems to have relevance, even today.

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