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JoeMc on 06/04/2009 at 12:46PM

He Did It Then

Spade Cooley

One of the most notorious figures in country music history is western swing pioneer Spade Cooley. Cooley was known as the "King of Western Swing" in his heyday, but due to a gruesome incident in his private life, he is often viewed these days more as the Sid Vicious of Western Swing. His is a model lesson in how a brilliant musical legacy can be overshadowed by unsavory personal problems.

Born in Oklahoma in 1910, Donnell Cooley showed an early aptitude for the violin. Shortly after his family moved West to escape the ravages of the Great Depression, Cooley struck out for Hollywood. At first, he paid the bills as a day laborer and card shark (his nickname "Spade" arose from a poker game in which he got three straight flushes, all spades), but soon his fiddle playing in the evening started to pay off. A sideman gig with country bandleader Jimmy Wakely led to a featured spot at the Venice Pier Ballroom in Santa Monica, one of the premier venues for the mix of country and western, swing, polka, and jazz that came to be known as western swing. Cooley hand-picked some of the best musicians in the area, gave them cowboy names, and his new band went on to set attendance records.

Unlike Bob Wills' Playboys or Milton Brown's Brownies, the other two bands responsible for the popularity of western swing in California, Cooley's band didn't have many rough edges. Cooley and his musicians were well-trained, and they showed it in their accomplished performances. The song featured in today's post, a radio transcription from 1944, shows just how polished they were. Pedro DePaul's accordion, and the trio of fiddles played by Cooley, Rex Call, and Cactus Soldi, interact smoothly and seamlessly, while Cooley's star vocalist Tex Williams conveys the carpe diem ultimatum of the lyric perfectly.

Record companies came calling, as did the movies. Cooley had several hit records, hosted his own radio and TV shows, and appeared in over 50 films. He earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and became a multi-millionaire. Although Bob Wills might've argued the point, Cooley's self-appointment as King of Western Swing was not too wide of the mark.

Despite his onscreen amiability and great showmanship, however, Cooley had a dark side...


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blocsonic on 06/03/2009 at 02:35PM

Givin’ the instrumental and experimental world some love, introducing netBloc Vol. 22

The cover of blocSonic’s “netBloc Vol. 22: Life on Ceres”

It all started sometime last year with a friend of mine, Rob Pitt, saying that he’d love it if there were a “minimal” netBloc release. However, with the netBloc series being about variety, I felt that I couldn’t release something so narrowly focused on one sub-genre. If I were to put together something remotely like that, it had to be something more varied. I decided to begin slowly pulling together instrumental netaudio gems as I came across them while developing other netBloc releases. After many months, this eclectic mix of instrumentals became what it is today — a joy for the ear. I was able to find songs that were not only “experimental” but also accessible to those of you who may not be as keen on sonic experimentation.

While I was still on the hunt for interesting instrumentals, another friend, Marco Kalnenek, began to make music again and tweeted about a particular new experiment on Twitter… I downloaded, listened and instantly fell in love with it. It’s name, as you may have already guessed, “Life on Ceres”. I wasted no time in requesting permission to include it in a future netBloc release. Shortly thereafter, Marco also released an alternate version of “Life on Ceres” – to me it sounded like a perfect reprise and I wanted to include it along with the original! From there it followed that “Life on Ceres” was an excellent title for a collection of instrumental music. With Marco’s blessing, this netBloc release was christened “netBloc Vol. 22: Life on Ceres”! This netBloc also became the very first to have a title track!


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MikeNF on 06/03/2009 at 09:23AM

Universal Dominance

Tha Connection

SmooVth Dude and Hus Tha KingPin are Tha Connection, and they've released Universal Dominance, one of the best free hip-hop albums I've heard. The default sound is laid back, jazzy hip-hop, but they've got a team of producers providing enough variety (and bass) to keep your head moving. Twelvebit, Ialone, Max I Million, AGQ, Sci-Fi, Vans Cal, DJ Kryptonite, Elaquent and Darkitect all had their hands on different tracks but have managed to put together a coherent sound. Tha Connection did an interview at Wake Your Daughter Up if you want to know more about Universal Dominance or what the producers are doing.

The album comes to us from Domination Recordings, who have provided the FMA with a mess of excellent hip-hop. Another great Dominance artist, BIG TreaL, has given us a serious 9-track EP called The Stimulus Package. The music is slow and powerful, with a focus on vocals. TreaL has written and produced all of his songs and brings a poli-sci degree to his songs, "Blockin ya on Blessings" and "Fred G Sanford" are some favorites.

Breez Evahflowin, The Good People, Shorty Raw, Majik Most, and Laws are all on Dominance Recordings as well, and they all have songs up for download. I tried to come up with some highlights, but everything they've put up deserves your attention.

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astarkey on 06/02/2009 at 07:26PM

Explore the roots of American music on KEXP

Jason Isbell (photo by Ron Henry)

Every day KEXP spins a diverse mix of music, spanning many genres and styles, which you'll see reflected in our in-studio performances. In the evenings during the week, our DJs focus on specific genres like World, Hip Hop and Rockabilly to dig deeper each body of music. Recent additions to the FMA from KEXP show a lot of Americana, Folk and Country from artists exploring rock roots traditions, artists like Jason Isbell, formerly of the Muscle Shoals-founded Drive-By Truckers; Justin Townes Earle, the son of Steve Earle with a penchant for old-timey songs from the Carter Family and his other namesake, Townes Van Zandt; and Bobby Bare Jr., the son of Nashville legend Bobby Bare. These influences can also be heard in other artists not so directly linked to Country royalty, like Clem Snide, The Tallest Man on Earth, Blind Pilot and Cotton Jones. Take a stroll through the roots and influences of American music as there were performed live in the KEXP studio.

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jason on 06/02/2009 at 06:02PM

Kurt Vile signs to Matador!

Kurt Vile live at WFMU August 2008 (photo cc by jason)

We're very excited to hear that Kurt Vile, a friend of WFMU and FMA-favorite, signed a multi-album deal with fellow constant hitmaker Matador Records. The big label rumors had been out there for a while, and they turned out to be true.

In his Matablog announcement, Gerard Cosloy calls Kurt Vile "one of the more important figures in American music circa 2009". A lofty claim? Perhaps. But take a listen to Kurt's live solo set on WFMU, recorded last year by Trent Wolbe, and I think you'll find the claim to be pretty well substantiated. My favorite track from the session, "I Wanted Everything", is available below, with a few more goodies posted here on the FMA.

Kurt Vile spent most of this decade playing constantly in Philadelphia while churning out homemade CD-R EPs. Some of his greatest hits were compiled by Gulcher Records on 2008's Constant Hitmaker, which was reissued on vinyl earlier this year by Woodsist.

2009's already been a helluva year for Kurt Vile. The Hunchback 12'' EP, his first release with full band The Violators, came out on Richie Records. And Mexican Summer released another 12'' of solo jams titled God Is Saying This To You. All the while, Kurt Vile's been saving what he's referred to as his "ultimate" album. That album, Childish Prodigy, will be out on Matador later this year. So psyched!

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herr_professor on 06/01/2009 at 08:19PM

Funky Linguistics

Funky, Live, Blippy.

Mr. Spastic is similar to the first few artists that I've chosen for the archive in that while he is drawn to 8bit era sounds, he is not a slave to 8bit style compositions. On 8 to 16bit, which he started out making as a kind of a lark, Spastic creates elaborate funky fresh break dance electro on a tiny midi studio budget that shows flashes of the constant brilliance that pepper his two later 8bitpeoples releases. This release proves to those adverse to the somewhat quirky world of trackers, there are still many synthesizer options for running gear that can interface more easily with a modern music system.

Nate Mccoy's, Mr. Spastics human moniker, custom midibox sid project is nicely documented in this youtube video. This project brings the power of the Commodore64 sound chip (which is actually a pretty powerful synthesizer on it's own) in a more midi friendly format. For those not handy with a soldering iron, there is also Midines, and the NES, which makes up the bulk of the sounds in all his music.

Whether or not you emulate or work on the real thing, the important thing is the music. Listening to these tunes here and elsewhere on the archive is a good start.. so chew on it for seven and we'll catch you next time.

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pushbinlou on 06/01/2009 at 03:20PM

Updated Sea Shanties

Gina V. D'Orio - photo by - nuflicks

Here is a great track from Gina V. D'Orio's (Cobra Killer, EC8OR) album "Sailor Songs" which came out on Dual Plover in 2003 but has since sold out and is pretty tough to find.  Gina dedicated the record to her grandfather who was a ship builder and she had been recording tracks for the record as far back as 1998.  

The majority of the record sounds along the lines of Cobra Killer so don't be disappointed if you were expecting to hear digital hardcore madness.  On the other hand "My Anchor" certainly does not sound like a bunch of burly deckhands doing the old "yo-ho-ho".  Check it out.....

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macedonia on 05/31/2009 at 05:45PM

Netaudio Examined Through The Lens Of blocSonic...

Dig Deep album cover. courtesy of blocSonic.

Just shy of its two-month anniversary, the Free Music Archive currently hosts over 8400 tracks and is growing at a rapid pace.  Already I can sense the ease of getting caught up in what's brand spanking new in terms of uploads at the risk of forgetting about what blew my mind the previous week.  Diving into Creative Commons selections confirms once and for all that I could live several lives and not know all of the incredible music that's out there.  I will always be in a perpetual state of catch-up.  And you know what?  I'm actually okay with that.  It means that I can focus on an increasing backlog of sonic goodness and sidestep the audio okie doke.  Sounds like a win-win, if you ask me.

Prior to the FMA's existence, my primary source for finding the best in net audio was blocSonic, a website founded by Michael Gregoire.  From Old Orchard Beach, Maine, he holds it down for free and legal sounds from across the globe and has proved his dedication to the music time and again through his netBloc series.  With over 20 volumes under its belt, not only does the series cover artists from numerous genres, but each volume comes with a beautiful booklet in PDF form featuring interviews with the artists.  I'd never seen anything like this before and was immediately impressed with the hard work and meticulous detail going into something that was being given to the world for free.  I still consider blocSonic to be an invaluable resource and I can personally attest to my hunger for Creative Commons releases growing sevenfold just by following the site on Twitter.

It was only a matter of time before blocSonic started releasing original works.  This year marked the premiere of an album by Just Plain Ant, a producer from Richmond, Virginia.  Dig Deep is reflective hip-hop of the highest order and a reminder of what can happen when boom bap gets grown and deals with the peaks and valleys of life, only to notice that the valleys have been outnumbering the peaks.  The album deals with love lost, not letting go of friendships, attempting to make sense of your dreams, loneliness, and so much more.  Heartfelt and heavy, it's emotional without falling into the "emo" side of things.  And while there's always the threat of too many guest artists on producer-led albums, a delicate balance is struck on Dig Deep.  Highlights include "Still Dreamin'" featuring Jay Slim, "Can't Say Goodbye" featuring Elijah, and the beautiful poetry of Caitlin Meissner on "Love Letters."  However, the featured track below showcases one of Ant's instrumentals.  "If You're Not True To Me" somehow manages to be seductive even in its underlying sense of distrust within a relationship. 

Respect due to Just Plain Ant for a phenomenal release - certainly one of the best hip-hop albums to drop so far in 2009.  I'll be looking forward to the next blocSonic original release with great anticipation...

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DylanGoing on 05/29/2009 at 03:01PM

Close Encounters of The Business Mind

Promo bux for "Money In The Air"

"Well, I started listening to hip hop at age 10, released my first single, 'Haters,' at age 13, and here I am today..."

-Yung Nittlz age 15

Last Friday, Bay Area high school rap phenom (mc AND producer) Yung Nittlz took a break between shopping for record deals to come down to Jersey City to chat and perform live on Billy Jam's show. 

"You may wonder why I speak about money alot...well that's because I speak the truth and I rap about the stuff that I got."

If you got it, rap it!

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zlayton on 05/29/2009 at 01:04PM

Crackleknob CD Release

Last Sunday ISSUE Project Room hosted a release party for the trio Crackleknob.  Crackleknob is an improvisational project that brings together Nate Wooley, Reuban Radding and Mary Halvoerson.  Here are a couple tracks from the show last Sunday.  Grab a copy of their new CD at Downtown Music or at http://www.hathut.com/.

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