Memorial Day usually signals the beginning of leisure season. Weeks off for fishing at the cabin. Barbecues and coolers full of sweating cans. Friday office hours ending at noon. But in the music community, it's time to work harder than ever.
Given that music is the primary art of those enjoying leisure, musicians and people in the music world naturally work opposite the general population. While you're browsing food tricks and sipping Summit at Soundset, they're mic checking and getting ready to sweat out a half-hour set. While you're smoking ribs and watching the bug zapper spark, they're in the studio agonizing over the bridge to a song they hope you'll play on your upcoming road trip.
This weekend, let's take a second to acknowledge those who are working to make our relaxation just a little bit more enjoyable. Hopefully they find a moment to kick back before the summer sprint starts.
Jay Smart - "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (Bob Dylan cover)
This past Tuesday was the 75th birthday of ol' Robert Zimmerman, better known to the music fans of his home state as Bob Dylan. As one of Minnesota's greatest exports was celebrating finishing off another quarter century of greatness, Kenyan-born Minneapolis singer-songwriter Jay Smart saw fit to pay homage to the Hibbing native with his own rendition of the 1965 standout "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."
Filmed in Minneapolis' HumansWin Studios, Smart's cover does right by Dylan's original with spare, almost haunting acoustic guitar work. But Smart's arresting falsetto on the chorus and his latent accent imbue the cover with a beauty that is all his own. If Bobby himself saw it, he'd be proud. See also Smart's reworking of Nirvana's "Smells like Teen Spirit."
People WILL Dance - "Vibes"
Having a name like People WILL Dance is a little ostentatious. That is, unless you've got the goods to back it up. Luckily for the fresh local soul-funk trio, they've got the vibes to support their claim, as evidenced in the live video for "Vibes."
Leading the three-pronged improvisational performance is Taylor Seaberg, who works the keys with a master's touch all the while looping a gospel hook over the persistent work of drummer Jay Weiler. Bassist Donovan Seaberg thumps along dutifully, giving the song that thick, funky dancibility they were talkin' about. Vibe on.
The Plott Hounds - "Thirsty For Something"
Anoka country-rock revivalists the Plott Hounds love that familiar warmth of good cowboy songs. They bend notes on steel strings in hopes of giving lonesome highways the perfect soundtrack for dusk. It's something they've been fighting for since their debut, Living Free, came out last year.
Now the band members are ready to release their purposeful followup, Thirsty for Something, on June 14, so they went to the familiar confines of 10k Brewing (also in Anoka) to film the visuals for the title track. In the song, you can feel the band's comfort with the venue, as they playfully goad the crowd and lean passionately into the chorus. It's the kind of good time you find when you're surrounded by folks who share and appreciate your passion for the classics. If you're thirsty to get in on the good times, join the Plott Hounds on June 18 at the Fine Line for their album release show.
BiG WiZ and AbhiNav - "Whatever I Want"
BiG WiZ a.k.a. Nic Swisher has been a behind-the-scenes force in Twin Cities rap as the brass behind Long D.O.E. Records and a promoter for rappers like Baby Shel. But WiZ has been known to wreck the mic, as his performance this weekend at Soundset demonstrated.
The Twin Cities rapper just dropped Power of Thought alongside fellow local rhymer AbhiNav, and "Whatever I Want" is that five-song product's statement track. It's a kicked-back jam that you can put on during whatever outing you have planned for the summer.
Taylor J - "Heaven Like "
St. Paul rapper Taylor J isn't afraid to ask the existential questions. In the new video for his song "Heaven Like," he wonders about whether his life of hustlin' has rendered him unwelcome in heaven. He's not particularly apologetic for devoting himself to the paper chase, but in the song, he takes a moment to ponder the karmic heft of that life. Has he sequestered himself from God? Perhaps. The bigger question is whether it was worth it.
The video, shot by @13TwentyThree, shows J on the steps of an old stone building in his hometown of the Silver City — a place he reckons is what hell looks like, which might be a bit hyperbolic. Though no definitive answers are found, J's mixtape The Wakeup is due out next month, and it may hold answers to "Heaven Like"'s philosophical questions.