You probably know her from her surprise hit, "Luka," a compelling first-person story/song about a boy who's a victim of child abuse that somehow became a Top 10 hit in the ’80s. But did you know Suzanne Vega is also considered "The Mother of the MP3"? When German audio engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg was designing the now-ubiquitous file compression format, MPEG Audio Layer 3 (aka MP3), he used the opening a cappella track "Tom's Diner," from Vega's 1987 Solitude Standing album (also the source of "Luka"), as a test because of the pure quality of her vocals.
It's unrelated, but "Tom's Diner" became a hit in 1990 when Brit electro duo Nick Batt and Neal Slateford added a dance music background. Not that they told Vega -- the record was a bootleg until she agreed to have her record company release it.
What's she been up to lately? She's been living in New York and recording regularly since the ’80s. Last year she contributed a song, "The Man Who Played God," to the ill-fated Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse project, Dark Night Of The Soul. Contractual issues with mega-label EMI halted official release of the album, but the music was freely distributed online. A Dark Night... book was published with visuals by David Lynch -- it included an envelope with a blank disc marked, "For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will." (Curiously, the version I downloaded credits Nina Persson on Vega's track.)
She's also been working on a four-CD set, Suzanne Vega Close-Up. The first installment, Vol. 1, Love Songs, came out earlier this month. The new disc includes acoustic updates on early work like "Marlene On The Wall" (the single from her debut album) and one of the first songs she ever wrote, "Gypsy." (It still sounds fresh and contemporary.) Her "Close Up" tour kicks off this week -- it brings her to the Van Duzer Theatre Saturday night.
The Absynth Quintet plays this Thursday at Humboldt Brews for what Ryan Roberts describes as a "send off party for Wintergrass." Now don't get suspicious thinking they're misusing the money you pledged for the new album -- Wintergrass is a prestigious string music fest in Bellevue, Wash., where AQ will play alongside folks like Tim O'Brien and Crooked Still. At HumBrews, they'll be joined by friends The Sundown Poachers from Etna (out in the Siskiyous), a nice 'n' twangy Americana-type combo who call their music "FolkaTripdaChronic." Hmm, maybe we should be suspicious.
Thursday at the Red Fox, it's another blast of hip hop assembled by Reba of That's How We Roll: Scarub and Eligh of Living Legends are up from SoCal with The Cool Catz (PM Cool and Mr. Keyz) and Pow Shadowz from Nashville.
Clay "Shredder" Baker, guitarist for Synrgy, a "reggae massive out of Arcata" (originally from Flagstaff, Ariz.) writes to say the band is having a CD release thing this Friday at the Jambalaya for their Live in Love disc. The sound is solidly rootsy with just enough dub; the songs touch on what you'd expect. The title track is about living the love, another track, "For Marijuana," speaks of being busted for weed, and gives a plea for legalization: "Take those shackles off of Mary Jane." Sinizen, a like-minded outfit from Huntington Beach, joins them at the Jam. "We also have our all ages CD release Feb. 26th at Muddy's," adds Clay.
More reggae at Nocturnum Sunday -- well, cross your fingers. Reggae legend Mykal Rose, former lead vocalist for Black Uhuru, was supposed to begin a series of U.S. gigs last week (featuring B. Uhuru material), but all were postponed due to visa problems. His booking agent says, "We are pulling all possible strings," and, Jah willing, Rose is due to fly in from JA this week, work permit in hand, in time for his Eureka date, where he'll be backed by Dubtonic Kru. Al Pancho joins him; Selecta Prime spins before.
The Mateel revives the tradition of the Black and Red Ball with a very cool double bill party Saturday pairing the alt. musical circus The Yard Dogs Road Show with awesome New Orleans paraders The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Bellingham's YogoMan Burning Band has developed a fervent local following. Don't be surprised if some show up for both shows this weekend: Saturday YMBB hits the Red Fox with SambAmore; Sunday afternoon it's a rare matinee all ages family show at Six Rivers.
Sorry, it's adults only for the Third Annual Night of 1,000 Funks Saturday at Jambalaya as AfroMassive and Bump Foundation join forces once again.
Also funky, and also on Saturday, dreadlocked Kiwi breakbeat pioneer FreQ Nasty lays down electro-dub and glitch hop at Nocturnum with Ana Sia up from S.F. for the occasion.
Deadhead alert: Melvin Seals and JGB play Saturday at Humboldt Brews with guests Stu Allen and Jimmy Tebeau from the Midwestern Dead tribute band, The Schwag. (I suspect you Deadheads already knew this.)
Has former garage band Cadillac Ranch hit the big time? They have their first casino gig Friday at the Wave, then play their twangy folk rock Saturday at Six Rivers.
The ALO "Tour D'Amour" hits Humboldt Sunday, stopping at Humboldt Brews. Formed in Santa Barbara, ALO has always had a laid-back beach vibe in their jams, something accentuated by a long association with Jack Johnson who produced their brand new disc, Man Of The World. Good stuff. They're touring with Chris Velan, a looping one-man-band from Montreal who's perhaps best known as producer for Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars.
Have you see any of the Love, Humboldt YouTubes? The quiet, mysterious redhead with the basket of goodies is Aimee Montague Taylor, who, in another life, is drummer for The Monster Women. (That guy is not her husband.) Aimee's band plays Tuesday at Nocturnum as local support (along with Mister Moonbeam) for Brit indie songwriter Scout Niblett, who's kicking off a month-long American tour for her Drag City release, The Calcination of Scout Niblett, here in Eureka. Produced by Steve Albini, the new disc is a powerful set of raw, dark testimonies with skeletal accompaniment: Scout on grungy distorted guitar and drums.
That night at an undisclosed location, Starving Weirdos host a house show with Zaimph (aka Marcia Bassett from Double Leopards) plus Stellar Om Source (aka Dutch experimentalist Christelle Gualdi) and Pacific City Nightlife Vision Band, a new hypno/psych outfit from Portland with Spencer Clark of Skaters and members of Eat Skull. What house? Ask Merrick at La Dolce Video or email email@example.com.
Same Tuesday, Pete Bernhard, frontman for Devil Makes Three, brings his solo act to the Jambalaya. Pete's sound is omnivorous like DM3, just a bit less old timey. Sharing the bill, The Blushin Roulettes from Mendocino and The Bad Lilas.
Back in 1981 when Third Wave ska was brand new, guitarist Robert "Bucket" Hingley started a band called Not Bob Marley, which eventually became The Toasters. Nine albums and 29 years later, Hingley is still into ska and The Toasters are still touring. Catch them Wednesday, Feb. 24, at the Arcata Theatre Lounge with local Fifth Wave ska band Killbot Factory and the punkier Vigilante Death Squad.
Same Wednesday at Humboldt Brews, Garrett Dutton and company, aka G. Love and Special Sauce, lay down funky blues grooves with a touch of hip hop. Vancouver reggae-rockers Redeye Empire open.
They started off busking on the street that runs to the asylum in Austin, but the Texas country/blues/rock/jazz/novelty band Asylum Street Spankers has gone on to much bigger things, even a stint on Broadway. They're back in Humboldt for a couple of shows: Wednesday evening they play the Mateel with The Dirt Floor Band opening. Thursday, Feb. 25, they're spankin' at Humboldt Brews.