Are You a Southeast Uker?

Do you play the ukulele? Have you always wanted to? Do you live in or near Atlanta, GA? The Southeast Ukers are a group of ukulele players who get together twice a month to play and sing together. We meet at the Waikikie Hawaiian BBQ restaurant on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of each month. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been playing for 20 years, 20 minutes, or just played air uke in the shower, we would love for you to join us.

For more details, check out our Meetup.com group

The Southeast Ukers

 

My Varied Musical Tastes

I use the last.fm application on my Mac to “scrobble” what songs I’m listening to. This allows me to keep a record of what’s been playing, but it mostly allows me to be a complete exhibitionist and show “the world” what sort of music I like. When I indicate that I “love” a song, that even shows up on my Friendfeed page, for added coverage.

This morning, I happened to be on my last.fm page and I noticed the graph below, showing my top 15 artists by the number of songs I’ve played by them.

top15

Pretty interesting, eh? I’ve always had diverse musical tastes, but Frank is still the man. If you go to my page, the little arrow icon indicates that you can listen to some of that artist’s work. Shame on them for not having anything by Eilen Jewell!

American Idol Switcheroo on iTunes

If you watched Idol last week, you were treated to a bunch of mediocre renditions of classic Motown songs, plus a stunningly beautiful re-imagining of Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears.” Adam Lambert is the one who pulled off that coup. He sang with an acoustic guitar, upright bass and slapboard-drum-type-thing, and it was so tender and gorgeous and moving. If he continues with performances like that and his brilliant reworking of “Ring of Fire,” he’s going to go all the way.

Ryan Seacrest makes a point of saying that you can buy recordings of the contestants’ performances on iTunes, so I tried to do just that last Thursday. Unfortunately, last week’s performances weren’t available yet. I tried again this morning and they were. But what they are selling is not what you heard on the show. I went directly to the link for Adam’s “Tracks Of My Tears” and when I previewed it… WTF?!? Gone is the simple rhythm section and Adam’s tender vocals. Instead, you get Adam doing karaoke vocals over the original recording’s instrumentals. That is not what I wanted in the song, and given the comments from 587 other fans, not what most people want. Idol pulled this same switcheroo last year with Jason Castro‘s performance of Brudda Iz‘s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” In Jason’s case, however, the tenderness of his singing and his ukulele playing were left intact and you couldn’t really tell it was not the same performance that you saw on the show.

The people who are really upset are those who prepaid for the song. I know I would be too. This should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone who is thinking of preordering any Idol performances in the future. There’s no way I’d pay in advance for anything from Idol now.

By the way, if you’re technically inclined, you can buy the video of his performance that was so beautiful and then rip the audio track into its own mp3 file. That’s what I’m going to do. But you shouldn’t have to do this. Idol should be selling what we heard on the show, not a studio do-over. I don’t have a problem with them also selling the studio do-over, but what people want and expect to get is what they heard on the show.

Neko Case And Anti- Records Give To Charity

I don’t usually believe it when I see emails or blog postings saying that for everyone who posts/forwards this email/blog posting that Company X will donate $Y to Charity Z.

But this one is for real.

The lovely Neko Case, and Anti- records are giving $5 to Best Friends Animal Society every time someone posts her new song on their blog. I loves me some Neko Case, so here it is. And if you have a blog, follow these directions to post it yourself. I like the song, BTW.

03/06/2009 Update: The player plugin was popping up errors on some browsers, so I removed it. If you want to hear the song, use one of the links above, or go buy the album. It’s great.

I Am Full of Teh Happy

Yesterday was a good day for me on several fronts. Let me tell you them.

First, whilst searching for various things in the iTunes store, I saw that Metallica had released their new album, Death Magnetic. I had bought the first single, My Apocalypse, a couple of weeks ago when it came out, and I was excited that Metallica might be good again. I was a Metallica fan from way back in the 80’s. I loved, loved, loved every album up to and including …And Justice For All. I didn’t like “the black album” at all for several years, but then it grew on me. I thought everything after that, starting with Load, sucked out loud. I listened to the samples of the new album and immediately clicked the “Add to Cart” button. I’ve listened to the whole album about 5 times now, and it’s playing again as I write this. This album is full of awesome. It’s fast and heavy with glorious Kirk Hammett guitar solos throughout. If you liked “old” Metallica, you will love this album. Buy it. Memorize it. Love it. Standout songs include “My Apocalypse,” “Broken, Beaten & Scarred,” “The Judas Kiss” and “All Nightmare Long.” 

I was also happy to see that iTunes had finally added 0 + 2 = 1 by the very strange band NoMeansNo. I had this as a cassette, back when it was originally released, but I haven’t been able to find it in any format since. iTunes had one or two NoMeansNo records, but not this one. I have been checking periodically, but they never had it. Until yesterday. I’ve listened to it twice since buying it. It’s heavy and a bit odd, but very good. “0 + 2 = 1″ and “The Valley Of the Blind” are the best songs on the record.

And if that weren’t enough musical goodness, Dar Williams’ new album, Promised Land, was also available. I think this is one of her best albums ever. I have her entire catalog, and this album has already moved to the top of the list for me. It has her signature lyrical twists, and it’s quite upbeat, with beautiful melodies. I’ve only listened to it twice since buying it, but it’s really good. My favorite songs, so far, are “It’s Alright,” “Buzzer” and “Troubled Times.”

Yes, I have eclectic musical tastes.

Next, as anyone with an iPhone knows, Apple released iPhone OS 2.1 yesterday. I was really looking forward to this update because OS 2.0.2 had lots (and lots) of problems and annoyances. The biggest problem I had was with how long it took to backup the phone. Every time I plugged it into my Mac, it would easily take over an hour to do a full sync. That’s absurd. I have less than 2 gigabytes of stuff on the iPhone and it took one-hour+. I have 60 gigabytes of stuff on my iPhone, and a sync never takes more than a few minutes. The other major annoyances were a terrible lag when using the onscreen keyboard, and the fact that when you updated an application, it didn’t stay where you put it, instead moving to the first available open spot. Not good. 

I’m very happy to report that iPhone OS 2.1 has fixed these problems, for me, anyway. A full sync is taking around five minutes, which is completely reasonable. The keyboard feels responsive, and after updating applications, they stay where I put them. Bravo, Apple. Keep the goodness coming, KTHX.

And finally, the first two discs of season 3 of Weeds arrived from Netflix. I watched the first three episodes last night, staying up far, far too late in the process. Damn, I love this show, even though I know I shouldn’t like it, if you know what I mean.

My First Impressions of iTunes 8 “Genius”

After Apple announced iTunes 8 yesterday, I downloaded and installed it, eager to see the new “Genius” feature. This feature had been rumored to be similar to Pandora, the wonderful service that finds you more music based on what you already like and don’t like. In actuality, Genius has two parts. The first is the “Genius Sidebar” which shows you songs from the iTunes store that “match” or in some way go with the songs currently selected in your library. The second part generates playlists based on a song selection. You select a song, click the Genius button, and it generates a playlist of songs from your music library.

Since I have such varied tastes in music, I decided to give the sidebar a whirl. I selected “Rock This Town” by Stray Cats and checked my results. Expecting to see other rockabilly bands, I was a bit surprised to see the top three results:

  1. The Romantics: What I Like About You
  2. Kiss: Strutter
  3. Mötley Crüe: Shout At the Devil

I guess they went with 80’s bands instead. The rest of the list included Billy Idol, Jane’s Addiction, Cheap Trick, and others whose heyday was in the 80’s.

I then selected “You and Me and Rainbows” by The Tear Garden. I was shocked to see the top recommendation was a song by Jessica Simpson, but then I saw the text at the top saying that they couldn’t find anything based on that song, but here’s the list of top songs at the iTunes store right now. Reassured that the Genius was not a moron, I carried on.

I then selected “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Genius did a good job with this one. 

  1. Jimmy Dean: Big Bad John
  2. Marty Robbins: El Paso
  3. Hank Williams: Your Cheatin’ Heart
  4. Roger Miller: Dang Me

In this case, not only did it match the generation, but it also matched the genre and feel of the song pretty well.

I then tried several Tom Waits songs. Most of the results involved Neil Young, Tom Petty and Nick Cave, none of whom I like. Based strictly on which songs I was picking, I don’t think the matches were very good. You could argue that the bands gained fame at roughly the same time, but Tom Waits’ style(s) don’t really match with the recommendations, in my opinion.

Pressing on, I selected “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” by Tony Bennett. The top recommendations were:

  1. Fred Astaire: Puttin’ On The Ritz
  2. Frank Sinatra: Nice ‘n’ Easy
  3. Bobby Darin: Call Me Irresponsible
  4. Ella Fitzgerald: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Good selections. What I like most about the first one is that this Tony Bennett album was a collection of songs made famous by Fred Astaire. Thus, having an Astaire song as the first hit seems very genius-like.

Next, I selected “Quicksand” by Abdel Wright, a Jamaican singer who does mostly folksy, protesty songs. I don’t understand the results from Genius, which included Maia Sharp, North Mississippi Allstars and Kyle Riabko. The Duhks were also included with a cover of Sting’s “Love Is the Seventh Wave.” None of these songs/artists share a style with Wright, and I didn’t detect any degree of protest in the thirty second clips. Curious.

Finally, I tried two songs by Afro Celt Sound System: “Deep Channel” and “Lovers of Light.” The results for “Deep Channel” were mostly Indian-influenced groups, which don’t really fit, but weren’t awful. The results for “Lovers of Light” were much better, including a song by Baka Beyond, which was very similar musically. These results rather impressed me, as this band bends and blends styles.

So far it’s hit or miss with Genius. I haven’t used the playlist-generation feature much yet. At this moment I’m listening to a Genius-generated playlist based on “Deep Channel” and I’m not too sure about these results. 

Click to see larger image

Some of the results seem OK, but not all. I can only assume that as more people use Genius, the results will get better. For now, if you’re looking for recommendations, you should probably rely more on Pandora than Genius.