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10 Outstanding Music-Revival Artists
Often, you have to go back to the past to find success in the present. Such is true with the many musical artists around today. With recent music awards and big record sales going to artists such as Amy Winehouse and Duffy, it’s evident that reviving past genres can actually sound completely original and be popular among both critics and audiences. But those two are just the tip of the revivalist iceberg. They are included here, along with many others, who play a variety of throwback musical styles, from jazz to pop to rock to surf. And most of whom perform original material that sounds like it’s from a different era, rather than covers.
I should note, this is by no means a complete list, nor is it a “best of” list. These are in no particular order. In fact, if you have any additions, I look forward to discovering other artists to add to my iTunes, so please include them in the comments! I’ve also included other similar artists to listen for, if you’re interested… Enjoy! Special thanks to Josh Pincus Is Crying for his assistance on this list and for introducing me to many of these terrific artists.
Thanks to Quentin Tarantino and his innate sense to cobble together kick-ass film soundtracks with obscure tunes. April March’s “Chick Magnet “ (a translation of the French pop classic “Laisse tomber les filles”) was heard in his flick “Death Proof” and has since become a regular in ads and indie radio. Although born in California, April’s obsession with all things French led her to study there and draw heavily from 1960s French pop music. Interestingly, she was an animator by trade, working on Archie Comics and Pee Wee’s Playhouse. As a recording artist, she did the theme song for Cartoon Network’s I Am Weasel. Check out “Chick Magnet” and “Voo Doo Doll.” Other similar artists to look for: Holly Golightly; Fabienne Delsol; Kahimi Karie.
With two-part vocal harmonies reminiscent of The Everly Brothers, backed by garage-rock style fuzzy electric guitars and a big wall of sound, the Danish rock duo The Raveonettes take ‘50s and early ‘60s rock to a new level. Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner have been compared to The Velvet Underground, Jesus and Mary Chain, with a bit of Phil Spector thrown in. Their first album, 2003’s Chain Gang Of Love, was produced by Richard Gottehrer who wrote the classics, “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy,” so you can see how their sound came to life. Download: That Great Love Sound; Dead Sound; Love In A Trashcan. Other similar artists: Detroit Cobras; The Duke Spirit; Thee Headcoats; The Forty-Fives; Jarvis Humby; The Come-Ons: Saturday Looks Good To Me
Just like their name, Pink Martini is a bubbly concoction of ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s martini music and style. A blend of Latin, lounge, classical and jazz, this “little orchestra” was formed in Portland, Oregon. Lead singer, the gorgeous chanteuse China Forbes has a voice reminiscent of the women who sang over the airwaves during the war, and she’s fluent in several languages. If they come to your town, make an effort to see them live. Their songs have been used in movies and TV shows such as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Sopranos, and The West Wing yet sound like they belong in the great melodramas of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Songs to download: Let’s Never Stop Falling In Love; Everywhere; Lilly. Also listen to: Michael Buble; Paris Combo; Pepe & The Bottle Blondes; Waldeck
Back in the mid-1990’s, a swing music revival took place, partly from a smart, fun Gap commercial, and further fueled by the great movie “Swingers.” This movement spawned dozens of swing bands. One of the more original bands to emerge was Squirrel Nut Zippers (named after a chewy nut penny candy). Formed in Chapel Hill, NC by Jimbo Mathus and Katherine Whalen, among others, the band fused Delta blues, gypsy jazz, ‘30s swing and more to find a unique niche all their own. More jazz than swing, they were nevertheless lumped in with the swing revivalists. Their jazzy song, “Hell” from 1996’s platinum album “Hot”, reached #13 on the US charts. A couple original members still tour under the Squirrel Nut Zippers name. Download “Hell,” “Prince Nez,” and their awesome Christmas CD, “Christmas Caravan.” Other artists: Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers; Ingrid Lucia; And more traditional swing bands: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy; Atomic Fireballs; Brian Setzer Orchestra (Yes, from the Stray Cats)
Gypsy jazz, sometimes called Gypsy Swing, (in France, it’s called jazz manouche) began in the 1930’s, when guitarist Jean “Django” Reinhardt put together his ensemble. The main instruments are guitar and violin, sometimes clarinet or accordion is also included. It’s marked with a very upbeat jazz guitar and pizzicato plucking on the violin. Reinhardt’s band was Quintette du Hot Club de France, which is why so many of the revivalists use the moniker “Hot Club.” There are Hot Clubs from Norway, Tokyo, New York, and numerous ones throughout Europe. One of the top U.S. bands is Hot Club of San Francisco, hailing from guess where… and have been together for about 20 years. Listen to: “Tschavolo Swing.” Others include: Pearl Django; Hot Club of Cowtown (gypsy swing with a twang); Stochelo Rosenberg; and the innovative Gypsybilly.
Constantly compared to one of her inspirations, Billie Holiday, Madeleine Peyroux also cites Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Leonard Cohen and Charlie Chaplin (yes, Chaplin! He wrote “Smile” and scored all his films) as her musical influences. With a voice as smooth as butter and beautifully rendered original songs, along with covers, the jazz singer who hails from Athens, Georgia has a serious following. Moved to Paris at an early age with her mom, Peyroux discovered street musicians in Paris’ Latin Quarter and joined a jazz/blues group. Her second solo album, “Careless Love” contained some of her biggest hits, including “Don’t Wait Too Long,” which was used in a Dockers commercial. Peyroux is known as a very shy artist and often takes a long break between releases. Her latest CD, “Bare Bones” was recently released. Get these: Getting Some Fun Out Of Life; Don’t Wait Too Long; Careless Love. Check out: Diana Krall; Jane Monheit
Steppenwolf, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath: All classic ‘70s stoner rock/metal, and all inspiration for Wolfmother, an Australian hard rockin’ band that definitely sound like they step out of That ‘70s Show. While comparisons to those other bands are obvious, no one would put them in the same league as those rock legends, but Wolfmother has their share of both fans and detractors. Their 2005 self-titled CD achieved them international success, winning several Australian music awards. Download: Woman; Dimension. Similar sounds: The Black Angels; Kings of Leon
Maybe one of the truly American sounds is that of surf guitar. Made famous by artists in the 1960s such as Duane Eddy, Dick Dale, Link Wray and The Ventures. (Not The Beach Boys!! Just listen to these artists and you’ll see the difference) There are a lot of surf revivalists around today, and some of the originators are still performing. Los Straitjackets, formed in Nashville, Tennessee in the late ‘80s, have released over a dozen studio and live albums, featuring guitarists Eddie Angel and Danny Amis. Their trademark is their Mexican Lucha Libre wrestling masks and Amis’ fast, badly accented Spanish introductions to each song during their amazing live shows, which are a must-see. Download: Hornet’s Nest; Casbah; The Munster’s Theme (youtube clip above). Other notable surf revivalists: Man Or Astro-Man?; Laika & The Cosmonauts (Finland’s finest and only surf band, recently defunct); Southern Culture On The Skids (Surf with twang that they call “surf-a-billy”)
Heavily influenced by Motown and Dusty Springfield (although she reportedly hates being referred to as “the new Dusty Springfield”), maybe even a little Petula Clark thrown in. Duffy is a Welsh singer-songwriter who hit the charts in 2008 with her album Rockferry. The songs “Mercy” and “Warwick Avenue” were huge hits in the UK, with Duffy being the first Welsh female to achieve a number one pop single in the past 25 years in the UK. She also won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album and was nominated in two other categories. Her smooth voice, cool backup band and catchy pop melodies have won her raves. It doesn’t hurt that she’s very easy on the eyes, and not looking to land in the tabloid headlines. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with next. Also listen to: Adele; Gabriella Cilmi
Amy Winehouse brought it to the forefront, but Sharon Jones got the ball rolling. Credited with starting the whole ‘60s/’70s R&B/soul/funk revivalist movement, Jones and the Dap Kings play searingly real homage to the music of the era. On songs like “100 Days, 100 Nights” (from the same titled album) and “What Have You Done For Me Lately” from Dip Dappin’ With the Dap Kings, the band really blazes, and Sharon sings with incredible raw power and authenticity. Check out their truly original cover of “Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In.” She has no current equal in my book.
Okay, say what you will about her completely misguided and abusive lifestyle, how bad she looks, and what the odds are on her in your death pool, but the girl has (had?) talent. Her second release, “Back To Black” in 2006 truly kicked butt, and won her five Grammys and was the best-selling album of 2007 in the UK. (her first release was “Frank” in 2003) Great songwriting, an amazing back-up band (The Dap Kings), and an incredibly intriguing voice made this ‘60s R&B throwback a ton of lasting power and originality. The question is, will she ever be able to get back in the studio? Hopefully, she’ll clean herself up and make a comeback. If you’re one of the few that doesn’t own this CD, check out the title song, or “Tears Dry On Their Own,” or the overplayed “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good.”