A mix of sorts

So a couple of months ago, inspired partly by my brother Z’s excellent podcast, Radio Free Hipster, I decided to try my hand at putting together a mix tape for the first time in probably about 15 years or so. It was totally off the cuff, so it is a little rough around the edges, but I’d like to think it has some charm. So, after letting it age for awhile, I’m finally throwing it out for public consumption. Feel free to leave comments. If folks like it, I’ll see what I can do about putting together another.

The initial idea for this mix was to do two mixes, each about 45 minutes in length (the length of one side of a 90 minute tape). The first would be labeled Saturday Night and have some fun tracks to move around to. The second would be labeled Sunday morning, and would be kind of a modern riff on the programming that they used to have on Sunday’s on the DC NPR station WAMU. Before the station slipped into copy cat NPR land, Sunday’s were dedicated to mountain music. A mix of country fried gospel, old school Country and Western, and a whole bunch of string band music thrown in for good measure. It was a great way to start off a nice relaxed Sunday. And the perfect music to sooth that little hang over that served to remind you of the depravity of the night before. Alas, I could just never get Sunday to come together like I wanted, and I’m still casually working on that one. So, you only get Saturday Night, and while there’s a little religion in this mix, you’re pretty much on your own for saving your soul.

Saturday Night (a love note to the rhythm section)- a mix from free-geek.
(note: The link to the file is at the bottom of that page, under the ad, if the download doesn’t work for you, try again later. If someone knows of a better free service, please let me know)

Hello Bonjour – Michael Franti & SpearheadYell Fire!
Franti’s an artist who typically takes repeated listens before I can really get into his tracks. And even then, there’s some tracks I love and others that strike me as just OK. Backed by none other then Sly & Robbie, one of the most famous and respected rhythm sections in reggae, I knew this track was going to be fun. And it delivers in spades. I dare you to stand still while listening to this track. And since it’s at the beginning of the mix, you can easily hit rewind over and over again.

Chop ‘Em Down – MatisyahuLive at Stubb’s
When Matisyahu first popped up he was a bit of a novelty. A Hasidic Jew singing reggae? Surely this was some kind of joke. This live version of Chop ‘Em Down shows why no one thinks he’s a joke anymore and if you still think he’s a novelty, you’ve obviously not heard him. Where Franti brought the politics that so commonly peppers reggae tunes, Matisyahu brings the religion that is just as important.

33 RPM – John Brown’s BodySpirits All Around Us
After the politics of Franti, and the religion of Matisyahu, it seemed only fitting to close out the reggae portion of this mix (or Act 1 as I like to think of it), by turning inward with this JBB track about the healing power of throwing on the headphones and loosing yourself in your favorite music. Plus, the bass hook in this track is just mesmerizing. If the rest of the song was crap, that bass line would keep me coming back. The fact that the rest of the track is equally as strong just makes it that much better.

No Clothes On – All Mighty SenatorsRaw Power Live
Opening up the second act of this little play, you need a track that really makes a mark. I decided to go with the Baltimore, MD institution known as the All Mighty Senators. Fronted by Baltimore’s own super hero Landis Expandis, AMS have been gigging since the mid to late 80s. No Clothes On is an older track that gives you a taste of what a Senators show can be, but don’t be fooled, this is a band that must be seen to be believed.

Hey Good Lookin – The Bomb SquadSophistafunk
After the Senators I was tempted to pull out one the Bomb Squads scorching high energy funk tracks. Instead though, I decided to throw in a little curve ball action by going with this more low key number. The old bump and sway is still there though and this is a great track off the band’s first album, back when they were still fronted by the great Jen Durkin.

Stop The Bus – Grace Potter and the NocturnalsThis Is Somewhere
Of course, going with the low key Bomb Squad track also gave me a nice set up to move the mix into Act 3, the bluesy act. Here we have the wonderful Grace Potter and the Nocturnals with a track off their second album. I’ve got to say that there are some tracks on this album that don’t really grab me, but that’s in part because the tracks that do grab me do it just so damn well that “good” just seems like an insult. Stop The Bus is a great example of this, with a great bass line that locks the track down and gives it the slink that it needs to underline Grace’s lyrics.

Drop Down Mama – The North Mississippi AllstarsShake Hands With Shorty
This was probably the hardest track to place on the entire mix. I knew I wanted a NMA track on the album, but which one!? NMA is one of those bands that look so good on paper, you’re sure they aren’t going to have anything where it counts. A power-trio lineup that includes two of Jim Dickinson‘s sons, and that used to include Duwayne Burnside, son of famed blues man, RL Burnside, on second guitar. The fact that they play so well that you forget all of that, is just short of amazing. Drop Down Mama is an electric jook joint number that gets your toe tapping about 3 seconds after it got your ass shaking. Another track that I dare you stand still to. And seriously, if you ever get the chance to see these guys live. For the love of god, do it! You’ll thank me later.

I Need More Love – Robert Randolph & The Family BandUnclassified
If Drop Down Mama is the jook joint on a Saturday night, Randolph is church on Sunday morning. That is if Sly Stone was the preacher. Slide guitarist Randolph originally came to his instrument via the sacred steel musical tradition that’s associated with the House of God church. I’m not even going to pretend I’m familiar with that tradition, but there is a definite ecstatic joyful noise to the man’s music. As mentioned earlier, the most obvious touch stone for the Randolph is Sly Stone and the Family Stone (nope, I don’t think the name thing is just a coincidence). I Need More Love is a pretty solid introduction to the man’s music; funky, fun, positive and sure to put a smile on your face almost as wide as Randolph’s.

That’s What Love Will Make You Do – Little MiltonStax 50th Anniversary Celebration
Since I decided to impose upon myself the old 45 minute time limit that has defined so many mix tapes, I ran into one of the hardest decisions there is. What is going to be the last song you pick for inclusion in the mix? While this isn’t the last song per say, it was the last one I picked. It needed to fit into the over all vibe of the tape, and had to be the right length. To long, and I’ll miss the time restraint. To short, and you end up leaving a ton of dead air on the tape. Luckily, when I picked through my iTunes catalog I noticed a collection I’d downloaded off eMusic of old tracks from the venerable Stax Records. And sure enough, Little Milton doing the classic That’s What Love Will Make You Do, filled the void perfectly. It has enough swing to sit along side Robert Randolph and hold its own, but it also has enough blues to remind us that we’re still in the bluesy third act of this little mix. Beyond that, its a great take on a great song that was released on a great label. What the hell more do you want then that?

One Step Closer To You – Michael Franti & SpearheadYell Fire!
I know it is a sin of mix tapes to include two tracks from one artist. And I know that two tracks from the same album makes it even worse. That said, I thought there was a nice symmetry to ending as we began. And after the third act, I thought this track might offer a nice counter point. Sometimes after being blown away by a hot band at a club, something nice and chill just hits you perfectly. For me, and how I was envisioning this little mix, One Step Closer hits the mark, both in vibe and message.

So that’s it folks. 10 tracks of fun. I hope you enjoyed it and came away with some new tips on groups/albums that you want to check out. As I said above, if you dig this and would like to hear more, leave a comment below. I have been accused of having widely eclectic tastes in music, so who knows what the next mix will end up like.

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