Music Reveiw: On The Rocks “The Fifth”

A+FifthMy dear friend Rob introduced me to this fabulous a capella group. The latest studio album from On The Rocks, entitled “A Fifth”, is their fifth studio album (clever huh?). If you have an Internet connection, you’re probably one of over five million people (as of this writing) who’ve watched the video for On the Rocks’ cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. (If you haven’t seen it, follow this link. Go ahead; I’ll wait.) The good news is that, the arrangement still sounds great on A Fifth these guys don’t just rely on gimmicks and fun choreography.

First, though, Bad Romance: there’s so much energy and fun in this arrangement, and these guys absolutely nail it. I’m not in love with the Poker Face snippet, but it fits; still, more impressively, these guys just know how to build a rich, full arrangement that doesn’t sound busy. The “walk, walk, fashion baby” segment is so intricately layered that it conveys a rumbling tension without sounding chaotic, and the whole song just flows and sounds great.

The rest of A Fifth is more of the same high-quality, well-executed arrangements; the only difference is that most of the rest of the songs are older mid-tempo tunes. That’s hardly a complaint, though: their version of Earth, Wind & Fire’s Sing a Song is crisply precise; their take on Brad Paisley’s Then drips with emotion; and their cover of CSNY’s Helplessly Hoping just shimmers.

What’s great about On the Rocks and A Fifth is that everything these guys do, they do well: We Don’t Eat is a collaboration with all-female group Divisi that is flawless. There are three originals on this album that stand up beautifully next to the covers here. It might be nice to hear a little more breadth of dynamics (and some of the syllables on And So It Goes are a little distracting), but ultimately, these guys have delivered a solid, stunningly-executed collection of songs.

Music Review: Nathan East

nathan-east-album-coverChances are you have several CDs with Nathan East playing bass on them. Nathan has played with Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Kenny Loggins, George Harrison, B.B. King, Whitney Houston, Wayne Shorter, Barbra Streisand (yes, THAT Barbara), and even the show I direct, The Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree. If you watched the Grammys, he was featured on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” one of the biggest records of the year and winner of the Grammy for album & record of the year. Here’s the link to the performance.

I was a fan long before I ever met Nathan. Not only is he the premiere bassist in contemporary music, he is an exceptional human. You’ve heard people say, “They are really nice in person”, well, Nathan might be one of the nicest humans I have ever met. Not an ounce of hubris or arrogance. He is brilliant, and can talk about any subject.

His self-titled solo album is a tapestry of musical styles, filled with phenomenal arrangements and performances from incredible musicians, including original compositions by East, such as the Fourplay standard “101 Eastbound,” co-written with his brother, Marcel, and renditions of classics like Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” which is impossible to listen to without smiling (as big as Nathan smiles!).

“Letter From Home” is a Pat Metheny composition. I can remember in one of my late night talks with him, he told me of his great affection for Metheny. Michael McDonald brings his distinctive vocals to Van Morrison’s “Moondance”. It starts simply with Nathan & Michael, and then a big band drives this classic in a completely different direction, in a word, “brilliant!”

Proving he is in touch with what’s happening in the music scene and keeps himself up-to-date constantly, Sarah Bareilles sings “I Can let Go Now”, a poignant Michael McDonald tune. Then just to make sure you’re paying attention, “Daft Punk” another original, lays down a hybrid of Jazz, Funk & House music.

Fans of Contemporary Jazz will love Chuck Leob’s (Fourplay’s guitarist) “Sevente” as well as Bob James’ (Fourplay’s keyboardist) “Moodswing”. “Madiba”, is another original (co-written with Yamaha’s Chris Gero, who also co-produced the album), with Nathan adding some really hip vocals to a gospel/world music groove.

Eric Clapton shows up on Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”, an incredibly touching song that makes you stop and assess what is important in life. In case you forgot (didn’t know), Nathan shows off his remarkable voice in a duet with Clapton’s inspired guitar playing. The arrangement is open and airy with room for the melody and music to connect with the listener. Noah East, Nathan’s son, plays a duet with his dad on “Yesterday”. Something so often recorded can become pedestrian. The chord changes and phrasing here, is anything but. I get emotional listening to this interpretation.

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Nathan playing with the Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree

Occasionally, I consider learning to play harmonica (never offered at the Conservatoire I attended), but when I hear Stevie Wonder play, I rethink my folly. He is perfect on his version of “Overjoyed”.

The closing anthem is “America the Beautiful”, starting with Nathan, solo on his bass, then a full orchestra accompanies his lyrical playing, when the horns introduce the choir, an enormous sound takes this rendition to Super bowl level performance.

What a joy to listen to this disc, anticipating the next track and each time, finding oneself surprised at the musical turn taken, a breathtaking album worthy of any collection.

How to Moonwalk in 5 Simple Steps

Well it’s Sunday, so it seems like this would be a good idea right?! Mashable is a great place to fine almost anything.

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Who Played What: The Beatles Song Chart


What Kind of Music Do You Listen to Music While Studying? [infographic]


Staircase and Bed Made out of Two Salvaged Pianos

piano staircaseIn 2012 UK-based artist Tim Vincent-Smith converted two retired upright pianos into a custom staircase and loft bed. To build the structure, Vincent-Smith had to carefully disassemble the pianos in a process he likened to butchery:

Dismembering them put me in mind of the French restaurant where they kill a cow on the weekend and prepare every part for food. Nose to tail carpentry. The noises that came out of the carcass – as one by one the strings were cut, as the age-jammed creaking screws were forced loose with brace and bit, as the hide-glue joins were split with a wooden club and meat cleaver – composed the most extraordinary swan song. As with good butchery, great care is taken to preserve the best cuts and though to the faint hearted observer the scene is perhaps macabre, to the butcher it is an honour to pay homage to the life that has passed in this way. Even in the dry acoustic of the studio every sound resonates through the body of the instrument creating the effect of a large stone hall.

What The World Is Listening To

What the world is listening to

What You Need To Know About 2013 Music Sales [infographic]

Music Sales Info

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s this thing called Spotify that everyone’s using these days. Lately, there’s been a lot of grumbling in the music community about the impact of streaming services like Spotify — mainly being that artists are given a pretty insulting amount of compensation. It’s so incredibly convenient though, and considering that fact, it’s free, how can you really blame anyone for taking advantage of it?

We really have come a long way since we were hand cranking those wax cylinders on our phonographs so that we could feast our ears on some vaguely musical hissing sound that came from a horn. Streaming is a relatively new phenomenon, and it’s pretty hard to argue that any advance in technology has ever negatively impacted the progression of music in the big picture.

So, maybe, there is hope. But wait, is vinyl making a come back? No, not really. People are definitely buying a whole lot more records than they were seven years ago, but the vast majority of people still listen to music via digital format. There are people who have invested exorbitant amounts of money in hi-fi equipment to supposedly prove that their records sound better than your iPod.

Your run-of-the-mill Crosley turntable that you picked up from Urban Outfitters definitely doesn’t though. So what gives? Is this really just a result of hipsters being nostalgic for a time they didn’t even know? Maybe, but my guess is that it’s a reaction against the lack of sentimentality that digital music has, and what fills that void better than owning the huge physical artifact that is the vinyl LP of the music you cherish?


Can Music Improve Athletic Performance.

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Here a great video from the CBC explaining the value of music in athletic performance.