Weekend Recap: Record Store Day, Norah Jones, Kill The Alarm

Saturday marks the ten-year anniversary of Record Store Day, an event which began back in 2007 as an attempt to revitalize the dwindling independent record store business. Since its humble beginnings, when Metallica visited fans at Rasputin Music in San Francisco to promote a limited-run EP produced specifically for the event, Record Store Day has grown from a grass roots Americana gathering to an international sensation, with both independent and major labels getting in on the action.

Adding to the uniqueness of this happening is the fact that audiophiles can grab limited-edition releases, made only available on the day of the event - often containing rare and previously unreleased material which will never see the light of day on an album proper. In fact, this year's roster of commemorative releases is so huge, the PDF on their website is over 8 pages long, and includes both alternative (The Claypool/Lennon Delirium, The Lumineers, Avenged Sevenfold) and major label heavyweights from all genres, from Johnny Cash to Elton John to Cheap Trick and Dolly Parton. It goes without saying that Capitol/EMI will be showing some love to the millions of Beatles fans out there - on it's 50th anniversary, the superlative 45 "Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane" single will be re-released in its original 45rpm record format. Whether this limited pressing will devalue those singles purchased back in 1967 remains to be seen - but if you've had your 45's hermetically sealed and protected from the elements all these years, I'd say your investment is safe.

"Snorah" No Morah: Norah Jones Gets Her Groove
Back On Her Latest Album

Fifteen years ago, the little known progeny of sitarist Ravi Shankar launched her solo career with the jazz/pop hybrid, Come Away With Me. With her smoky bedroom voice, ingenue looks and tasteful genre assimilations, the record shot to the top of the album charts, taking home an astounding five Grammy Awards the following year, including Best New Artist and Album of the Year. And while the album was well received critically as well as commercially, some of us found Come Away With Me just a wee too precious for our mature musical tastes; subsequent albums found Jones pretty much mining the same musical territory, offering up serviceable but on the whole, not very challenging music. 

This led some to nickname her "Snorah Jones" - suggesting well, I think you can figure it out. So when it was announced late last year that Jones would be returning with 2016's Day Breaks, expectations were not exactly monumental. But surprisingly, Day Breaks bristled with both a prickly introspection and some really intriguing sonic accoutrements that give a much needed rough edge to her 'smooth jazz' ambience (because let's face it, why emulate Sade when Sade's around?). In the six months since landing, the album has been slowly gaining momentum on both station playlists and in the music press: this week, a new politically-charged video was released for the album's second single, "Flipside" (see below) that's sure to garner even more buzz for Jones. 

Musically, the tune is a cross between Van Morrison and PJ Harvey - with a dark and sinister piano/organ propelling Norah's searching lyricism ("I tried to get high, but you wanted me low/Moments pass by, and I cry...") leading to an anthemic chorus of protest "I can't stand when you tell me to get back/If we're all free, then why does it seem that we can't just be?" Shots of Jones plaintively singing are interpolated with archival peace and protest march footage, including shots from a Black Lives Matter rally that's sure to ruffle some feathers for its inclusion alone. If there's any right-wing backlash leveled at Jones, I hope she has the temerity to fight back, and take a stand for free speech and social justice. With Day Breaks, Jones may be granted a soapbox to speak on the political landscape which informs this record. If so, may she not squander that opportunity.

Kickin' It With Kill The Alarm's Garen Gueyikian

Ten years ago, writing for Boston Metro, I did a piece on NYC-based Kill The Alarm, in support of their debut album, Fire Away and upcoming gig at Harper's Ferry in Allston, MA. Recently, I reconnected with frontman Garen Gueyikian (who moved from New York to Nashville) where he's in high demand as a music producer, while continuing to work on his own projects as KTA. The following are excerpts from that conversation, and the myriad subjects we touched upon:

DG: The first thing that comes to my mind Garen is how much the sound of Kill The Alarm has evolved since the days of Fire Away - I hear contemporary country and pop idioms I never expected...

GG: Well, the 'band' is essentially me, surrounding myself with other musicians I feel simpatico with to help me get my vision. The move to Nashville allowed me to sets my sights on a grander scale than what I could accomplish staying in New York City. It's allowed me to explore new genres, given me access to a wider variety of collaborators, as well as expanded my opportunities to produce for other artists. 

DG: Sounds like Nashville really was a game-changer for you...

GG: Absolutely! In Nashville, I find myself writing almost every day - and not just that, but a different kind of song every day. It's a city made for artists, especially self-producing creatives. I mean, the KTA output is mostly me singing and playing all the instruments. Occasionally, I will get into the studio with a couple of likeminded friends, and something will come out of that. But mostly, being in Nashville has allowed me to really hone my craft - and yes, the latest album Sleeping Giant, definitely represents a wider sonic palette.

DG: Yeah, Upon first listen, I was pleasantly surprised - perhaps even taken aback, by the Nashville country influence that informs the album.

GG: There is a mix of genres going on there - some of the tunes are more in a straightforward rock vein, other tunes you can hear a slight country influence......although with my voice in the mix, it still sounds like a KTA song. It's refreshing for me to hear my voice accompanying a tune that is musically outside the box from what I've done previously. But at the end of day, I think it's both my voice and production that keeps the tunes being uniquely mine, versus sounding like I'm trying to be someone else.

DG: So you've been calling Nashville home now for how long?

GG: About four years - and in that time, I've done a lot of work as an independent producer for other artists in the area. I have sessions booked all the time - an artist will come to me with either a finished song he wants me to produce for them, or its a collaborate process where they are looking for me to contribute my musical ideas to what they are working on. Back in New York, I was 'producing' out of my humble apartment, now I have a professional studio set up, so I have the freedom to both explore my own work and to source my expertise to other artists and produce for them.

DG: As part of the Nashville environment you find yourself in, do you participate in any workshops with other singer/songwriters, as is common there?

GG: I'd have to say my main reason for coming down here was not to be a quote "singer/songwriter", but to be an artist and further my career as a music producer. I've been open to working with other artists who book the space and want me to co-write with them, still I don't see myself as a songwriter for hire, pitching my work for other artists to record. And when it comes to my own material, I tend to be very selective in terms of who I bring on board, as I have a particular vision of what I want my music to sound like, and I make sure those I do work with are on the same page in that regard.

DG: As an artist [I want to say 'singer/songwriter, but I'm afraid I'll piss him off (joking)], what has moving to Nashville done for you, creatively-speaking?

GG: I couldn't even begin to say - I mean, with a city like Nashville.....it's the people. Like 70% of the folks who live here are musicians or in the industry. You can't leave your front door and go to the supermarket or Starbucks without running into fellow creative types like yourself. The energy of all these creative types is incredible. You get to have these great conversations about music, to discuss musical ideas and bounce them off one another, exchange tips and techniques....one can never be at a loss for inspiration here, which is magical. You can live here and literally find yourself writing a song with a different person every day of the week, if you're so inclined. And the demographics are so varied, you can find yourself influenced by a 17 year old folkie starting out, to a 70 year old country veteran who's lived here forever.

DG: Speaking of which, would you say rock has become more of an influence in what has been traditionally thought of as a country mecca? Certainly, when I listen to contemporary country on the radio, I'm hearing a lot more rock and pop than one would hear 20 or 30 years ago...

GG: Nashville continues to grow exponentially - I've been told they project that the population here will double in about five years time. And I wouldn't say the majority of folks migrating here now are necessarily country artists by any means. For example, Lady Gaga used Nashville writers on her last album - on top of that, she recorded it here as well. A lot of pop artists are flocking to Nashville, and if anything, I only see that trend increasing. 

DG: But specifically, I'm saying that rock has been branding a lot of country music lately....

GG: Rock's influence on country music is definitely significant and continues to be so. The male country performers today are heavily rock-influenced.......sometimes, you hear a song by a contemporary country artist, and it sounds a lot like the 90's alternative rock of Alice In Chains or Guns N Roses. Except maybe the subject matter lyrically is more attuned to a country vibe. Or someone throws in a pedal steel guitar solo. It seems to me every genre is becoming more rock-influenced, even if rock as a genre itself tends to be more eclectic, or defy categorization. That said, what's unmistakable is that country artists today realize the power of a good hook can be the key to a hit record, and in such a heavily saturated market, that 'rock hook' can make all the difference in getting your song heard on the radio.


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