Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Free Music - 100,000 artists

millions of tracks, over 100,00 artists and available in Australia for free...for one month anyway. That is the promise.

JB HiFi are launching a music subscription service in Australia. They are currently sending out invitations to people on thier mailing list with the URL for beta testing.

So if you follow this link you will be able to sign up for the one month free trial to see for yourself what subscription music is all about. One of the best things about this trial is you don't have to sign up for the paid version yet and don't have to give any credit card or payment details.

JB-HiFi Now beta

So what is subscription music and how does the JB-HiFi offering stack up?

The basic idea is that instead of purchasing CD's or even individual downloads and keeping them on your computer/iPod you subscribe to a music service by paying a monthly fee. In return for which you get access to the entire music library the service provides. JB-HiFi are claiming millions of tracks and over 100,00 artists.

You don't actually download the tracks you select, you have to use the application or web interface the service provides to stream the music as required. If you stop paying the monthly subscription then you stop having access to the music. Jb-HiFi are currently offering a web interface which allows you to search for and select music from the library and add it to your favorites or you playlist. There is the promise of a mobile app in the near future to make it easier to use the service from your android/iPhone.

Is it worth while? It was free so I signed up to find out. The first big advantage for me is that it is actually available in Australia. Most of the subscription services launched so far are not because of the antiquated mess that is copyright and licensing law.

I found the web interface a bit difficult to navigate at present but the system is still in beta. First up I tried searching for artists to put their claims to the test. A search for "Elvis Presley" produced a list of all of his released albums so our resident Elvis tragic will be catered for. Searching for my favorite Russian bluegrass band "Kukuraza" was not so successful with no results being displayed.

I then tried "The Beatles", a test that I knew was unlikely to succeed as the Beatles music has only just been licensed for iTunes and are probably not available elsewhere. No actual Beatles albums were displayed. There was a cover album from Finland which had some novelty value and an even more interesting album called "Butchering the Beatles" which was a collection of rock/metal artists giving their impression of Beatles classics. I have to admit that Alice Cooper's version of "Hey Bulldog" rocks.

It is in this area of finding new music that the service has some advantages. Apart from just searching for artists yourself you can search for and "follow" other users to see what they are listening to as well as searching for "Whats Hot" If you select and play some music you can see who else has played this track and look at their favourtites as well as having the service list similar artists.

If you want to find out what I'm listening to you can search for and follow "SJB" (at no charge) You can even view profile information other users have opted to share if you find a musical soul mate. You can add tracks to "Mixes" which serve as playlists for you to come back to whenever you log in.

I next checked out the "What's Hot" page looking for more current music. I was able to listen to Amy Winehouse on Lioness: Hidden Treasures and suddenly the service was looking good. I could play the entire album, add it to a mix and play it as many times as I want (for free in the next month)

The next album I checked out was by Reece Mastin. I had never heard of him before but I believe he was a contestant on one of the TV Talent shows and I thought I had seen a music video of his yesterday. Again I was able to listen to the whole album to make a judgement of what songs I wanted to hear again. Personally I enjoyed "Good Night" the single from the album but would not bother again with most of the covers. Still the service worked well and the quality of the streaming was more than acceptable. 

Currently for me this would serve as a way to find and try music before buying a copy for my collection because I have a whole ecosystem built up with a server and wireless players throughout the house and iPods and iPhones for each family member.

The prices listed at present are as low as $ 80 per year which is good value on a monthly basis if you buy more than 1 CD or download every two months. I would have to see and test the mobile app to see how that works and how much data that takes from my cap. I'm always concerned that the price will go up in future and having some gaps in the service (e.g. The Beatles) also makes it impractical for me as my only source of music. But for free, for one month...well worth giving it a try.

Monday, December 19, 2011

All I Want for Christmas is...Elvis on an old 78

One comment on my Christmas Music post mentioned Elvis Presley as their Christmas Favorite.

Elvis has been around for as long as I can remember and his unique style and presence would certainly serve to burn those memories deep if your early childhood Christmas was Elvis themed. shows 483 results for the search of "Elvis Christmas" so there is no shortage of material despite his untimely demise over 30 years ago.

More about Elvis's Christmas Music later on but first I want to talk about my first memories of the King.

In the early 60's as a child I spent quite a bit of time with my Grandparents in a flat above a fish and chip shop in Whetstone London N20. In fact I was living there for the year when I first attended school. To help keep me amused while they worked all hours in the shop below one weekend my Grandmother purchased an old wind up gramophone from the junk shop further down the block. Similar to the one shown here it was a portable version, probably from the 1930's and it played old 78 RPM discs. Powered by a spring, if wound tight you could play a whole song at a time. The discs were large, hard and brittle. If dropped onto a hard surface they would chip or smash. Being hard they did not scratch as easily as the softer vinyl LP's I later became familiar with. In fact it was the needles that suffered each time the record was played. The needles were small pieces of soft metal pointed at one end. They had to be inserted and tightened into the arm and they had to be replaced after a few songs as they would bend out of shape.

Possibly purchased with the player from the Junk shop I now had a number of 78's to play. These included Gracie Fields singing "The Biggest Aspidistra in the World", The Laughing Policeman and Elvis Presley's 1957 smash hit Teddy Bear. Shown here on a much later turntable, the copy I had was in a simple paper cover and backed with "Loving You". Now to this day I have a soft spot for Gracie Fields but over the course of the next few years I'm certain that pounds of needles were sacrificed playing Teddy Bear. (they were purchased half an ounce at a time)

Moving on through 45's, LP Albums, Cassettes, CD's and digital downloads this has remained my favorite Elvis song. There was even a time when I created an Elvis mix tape which consisted of 23 straight recordings of Teddy Bear.

Now back to Elvis and Christmas. There are three different types of Christmas Music from the King:-

1. Traditional Carols - Elvis brings his Gospel background to these and sings them straight. So while the voice is unmistakable they are perhaps the least 'Elvis' of his Christmas offerings. Not a lot of hip movement here.

2. Other Christmas songs like Silver Bells where he tries to put his style on a classic. Sort of half traditional and half Elvis. Some hip movement.

3. Then there are the numbers where he goes Elvis all the way. Sometimes when I listen to his version of "White Christmas" it seems so exaggerated to almost be a caricature of himself. But I just have to remind myself that he was the original and back then everything he was doing was revolutionary and not seen through the prism of all the impersonators and imitators that have followed.

Whichever type of Elvis Christmas music you prefer I can certainly see that if your first Christmas Album was Elvis then that would stick with you to this day and for you that would bring back the ghosts of Christmas past...but hopefully in a good way.

Of the 483 options at here are a few to consider listening to again...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What qualifies as "New" music?

Article first published as What Qualifies As "New" Music? on Blogcritics.

Sometimes the best place to look for "new" music is in the past.

Without decrying the state of the music industry or dismissing current artists or the media that hangs on them, it is possible to find yourself feeling the latest releases are not to your taste.

Familiar artists may have drifted off into producing albums of "standards" rather than the pop or rock of their earlier career, and perhaps you just can't connect to the music your kids are playing.
All is not lost. One avenue to explore is the back catalogue of your favourite artists. This can work particularly well if they were previously in a less than famous band before achieving their solo success. Another factor that may help is if you are on a different continent to the artist's original home.
These factors can have conspired to keep the artist's earlier work shrouded from you, thus making the music new to your ears.

With all the Internet search tools now at your disposal, it is now much easier to find both the artist history and to listen to and then source the albums.

One example of where this worked for me was with Paul Young. From the U.K., he had some big hits in Australia in the '80s. Many years later I was able to trace backwards and listen to some of his work with the Q-Tips, his previous band that I had been unaware of.

What I found in those recordings were the qualities that got him signed and then made him into a solo star. The soulful voice, song selection and delivery were all there. Plus, there was an additional energy supplied by the band itself, including a lot more up-tempo numbers and some of the rough edges that were later removed to make him a teen Idol.

The album I selected, Live At Last by Paul Young and the Q-TIPS, was a live album, and it was clear the band members were enjoying themselves. Perhaps the performance was not note perfect, but I had nothing to compare it to so it didn't matter.

The album contains 20 tracks, mostly of British soul with a party feel. The CD is now hard to come by but Amazon has it available as an MP3 download that is much cheaper anyway.

You could do much worse than have a listen to this album, and unless your were in the U.K. in the early '80s, I'm sure this will qualify as new music to your ears.

So, try searching out the back catalogue of your favourtite artists, as you might find some "new" music of your own.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas Countdown - Nostalgia Rules!

Christmas music is different. While I still like to find and play new and different albums, it is the familiar and traditional that reigns supreme as far as Christmas music is concerned.

The best Christmas songs trigger happy memories, the further back the memories go the stronger the effect of the music. In my childhood my parents did not have multitudes of different Christmas albums to choose from. In fact I can recall only one. Every Christmas was celebrated to the sound of Johnny Mathis and his 1958 Album. "Merry Christmas" I recall this being played on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, a Grundig and the sound was limited to the 4" speakers in the player. But for all its limitations, this music for me has always been Christmas. It triggers strong memories of years and parents long gone. Years later I picked up a copy on CD and it still has the same effect on me every time I play it. Somehow the Percy Faith arrangements and Johnny's unmistakable voice induce time travel every time.

Later on I meet my LSW (Long Suffering Wife - Kathy) and she brought with her a different musical tradition. So the Bing Crosby Album "White Christmas" became part of a new family tradition. For me this album does not take me back to my childhood but to those first Christmases with Kathy. (or at least the first ones after we purchased a CD Player)

Around that same time of starting a both a Family and a CD collection I added the compilation "A Very Special Christmas" to the yuletide playlist. To me this remains the best of the series of Christmas Albums made to benefit the special Olympics. Some of the tracks remained true to tradition. In particular the Pretenders version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" is the best at conveying the sadness that runs beneath the surface lyrics of this song. At the same time John Mellencamp brings a new feel to the classic "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa-Claus". Perhaps it was just the high rotation of the album for those early years but that is the time I go back to when I hear those songs.

But to each his(or her) own. These are the Christmas songs that take me back in time. Everybody else will have their own, based on what was played all the time for their early Christmas holidays. I'm sure some people can't eat turkey without listening to Slade sing "Merry Xmas Everybody" and new traditions are now being created with Lil Wayne and Young Money providing the soundtrack.

So for now particular reason I'll offer up these two versions of "Sleigh Ride". Merry Christmas whichever version you prefer. Leave a comment at the bottom of the post. What is your favorite Christmas Album or song?

Johnny Mathis

The Spice Girls

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tinariwen - Taureg-Berber Guitar on Colbert!

As my last post could be described as a bit "middle of the road" featuring as it did Elton John and a Cello duo, I have moved way out to the area where mostly only hard-core fans of the unusual and different reside.

And who better to drag us all way out to left field than Stephen Colbert. Last night flicking through the TV Guide I noticed that Tinariwen were listed as gusts on the Colbert Report. Being familiar with their work I was surprised to see the Taureg-Berber group of musicians listed on a major US show even Colbert. So I had to watch.

So its a "Tip of the Hat" to the Colbert Report for once again managing to be informative, inclusive and above all funny while exposing his audience to people and ideas they will not get anywhere else. His interview with the band members in their full desert garb was great and then the band performed a track from their latest LP.

Then its a "Wag of the Finger" to the Colbert Report. I'm petulantly refusing to give a link to their website "" because once again we run into that infuriating copyright issue that just shows the message "Unavailbale Video" because I have the temerity to live outside the US. I'm not giving up yet but it still seems to be a difficult concept for some people that www stands for WORLD-WIDE-web and the World is bigger than just the cities that play baseball in the "world-series".

The link below will show you what the band looks like and what they sound like. I think you will agree they are not standard prime time fare anywhere (with the possible exception of Mali)

So onto the actual Album. I'll repeat the warning that this is not an album for the casual appreciator of things different and new. But I'll trust that you listen to the samples before laying down any actual money just on my recommendation. This is the first Tinariwen Album I purchased. (and yes there is also a second album in the collection.) It could easily have made it just on the basis of the album cover, the Guitar and Camel motif is unusual to say the least. I was drawn to listen to some tracks on the basis of a review which described the guitar playing as being a unique style. I have to agree, I don't understand a word of the lyrics and to be honest the almost chant like vocals loose their charm after a while but the electric guitar is at the same time familiar and strange/eerie and mesmerising. The image in my mind of the roadies unpacking the camels before each gig just raises the question of which oasis has power available for the amps?

I do have translations for some of the track titles so I'm happy to give you this sample which hints that being a desert nomad in war torn Mali is no bed of roses:-

Track 2 - Oualhia Ar Tesininam (Oh My God, You're Unhappy)
Track 8 - Aldhechen Manin (Tired, I'm Tired)
Track 9 - Alkhar Dessouf (Feeling Worry and Nostalgia)

So none of this Album is on any of my party playlists, but if you are up for something truly different then have a listen.