Whether he likes it or not, John Ralston will always be seen as the vagabond singer/songwriter whom people love to hate. Most South Florida folks either remember him from his days of touring with Dashboard Confessional or for working at local bars in the area, but these days, John Ralston wants to be known for something more profound. His last album, Needle Bed, was filled with songs that deal with love, love lost, and heartache. The record made girls swoon and guys grimace, but at least he was being true to himself. Now he's at it again, spending late nights in the studio, working on his newest album, Sorry, Vampire, which will be released this summer. Although he spends most of his time in Knoxville, Tennessee, recording, he called New Times himself to make sure our readers have the inside scoop.
Outtakes: Is your approach to songwriting a lot different these days than on your last album?
Ralston: With Needle Bed, I made it for myself and never thought it would be released. Knowing that this album will be released is a bit more intimidating, but it also made me work harder. I think the main thing people will notice is that the production is much better. Needle Bed was stripped-down and sparse, but the new record is more lush.
Does that call for a lot of late nights in the studio?
Yeah, last night we didn't shut things down until 5:30 a.m., but that's how we do it around here.
Have you been performing your new collection of songs in public?
Not really. I play a few songs here and there, but I'm not playing out that much. Most folks I'm relying on for feedback are personal friends, so I'm looking forward to coming home and playing a bit more of the album for folks and hearing what people have to say. It feels like it's time to start playing live.
What's up with the album name, Sorry, Vampire?
You know what happens with me and album titles. Usually it comes to me on my way to or from recording. There's no rhyme or reason to it. I named Needle Bed as soon as we were driving home from Knoxville.
Any chance you'll be back on the road with Dashboard Confessional soon?
I talk to those guys all the time. They're good friends. We're actually working on touring together later this year. It's not for certain, but I think Chris [Carrabba] and I will make it happen. Jonathan Cunningham
John Ralston performs Thursday, March 29, at the Bamboo Room, 25 S. J St., Lake Worth. Tickets cost $12, and the show starts at 9 p.m. The Modern Skirts are also on the bill. Call 561-585-BLUE, or visit www.backroomblues.com.
Ever since the world-renowned vacation and guide book company the Rough Guide began cataloging music several years ago, it's done a great job of not only introducing us to the sounds of the world but also taking an educational approach along the way. It travels a similar path to discovering global rhythms as its competitor, Putumayo, but the Rough Guide is famous for giving listeners a historical point of view, digging for obscure tracks, and putting out compilations that capture the essence of world music at its finest.
As the Rough Guide continues to research global rhythms (it has a Bollywood CD in the works as of this writing), it has also taken a look at what happens around U.S. cities that don't warrant much radio play or press coverage. While the world is full of insatiable music that Western audiophiles should enjoy, the Rough Guide has boldly decided that, quite often, the hard-to-discover nuggets of American musical culture are equally as interesting. It's recently released a boss compilation simply titled The Blues on which it uncovers some serious juke-joint tunes from the Mississippi Delta. Of course, the usual B.B. King, Albert King, and John Lee Hooker tunes show up here, but there are unexpected moments, including a rare cut from the first commercially released blues record, Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues," and Robert Johnson's infamous "Crossroad Blues," in which he tells the story of his deal with Satan in exchange for musical talent. There are also extensive liner notes and detailed writings on topics like boogie-woogie, gospel, and the best blues record labels included with this CD.
Another one of the label's most recent discs, Salsa Dura, continues the focus on the United States and looks at the second generation of Latin musicians who, back in the 1950s, made New York an unlikely mecca for the mambo craze. On this album, the contributions of Cuban musicians who found a home away from home names like Desi Arnaz, Tito Puente, and Celia Cruz are celebrated, as are long-gone venues like the Palladium, where much of that music was showcased on a nightly basis. Tunes by Eddie Palmieri and Ray Barretto are highlighted on the disc, specifically for their harder, "dura" approach to salsa that is light-years away from what the genre has morphed into these days. The strongest attribute of this compilation is that it exposes listeners to an entire catalog of American-based salseros, such as Los Soneros del Barrio and Jimmy Delgado, who have rich stories that deserve to be heard. Ernest Barteldes
Purveyors of reggae culture are all over the world. The genre may have gotten its start in the Caribbean, but these days, you're just as likely to hear the one-drop sound of reggae in Newark as you are on the island of Jamaica. Just ask local singer Marijah, an Italian-American reggae artist from New Jersey who brings a unique style of foundation reggae to the stage every time she and her band perform. She's playing the Ninth Annual Reggae Fest/Caribbean Carnivale this weekend and singing songs from her newest album, Mystic Angel. Since she's one of the few women picked to play the festival, we thought we'd try to pick her brain about the future of reggae and the lack of feminine energy within the genre.
Outtakes: As a female artist, what peeves you about the reggae industry?
Marijah: I don't feel like women get the recognition that we deserve. And some of the artists need to give women more respect in reggae as well. It's as if reggae is only a man's world. There used to be more female artists, but lately it's getting worse.
What can be done about that?
Radio DJs should play more women artists. They need to seek out more women to perform at reggae shows as well. When you see women perform reggae, quite often it's powerful, but women need more exposure. There's an imbalance on the Earth between the masculine and the feminine, and it carries over into reggae as well. If there were more women artists, there would be more harmony.
Is reggae in general headed in the wrong direction?
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There are two different crowds in reggae. There's the conscious crowd and the dancehall "bling bling" crowd. Most dancehall songs aren't talking about anything on a deep level it's all about the booty shaking. All the Sean Paul stuff and what's on the radio. And people don't always want to see booties and BET, but that's what's thrown at them. So it's hard to say. Roots music isn't about bling bling, it's about truth and love.
Did you grow up among a lot of reggae culture? Where does that come from?
I'm from Newark. I lived in Jamaica off and on for five years, though. I became a part of the whole Jamaican lifestyle. I was hustling like everyone else. I had a singing group. Shoot, nobody was sending me MoneyGram. Jonathan Cunningham
Marijah and the Reggae Allstars perform at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 31, as part of the Ninth Annual Reggae Fest/Caribbean Carnivale. All performances are at Bryant Park, 7 N. Dixie Hwy., Lake Worth. Tickets cost $5. Call 561-582-4401, or visit www.lwchamber.com/reggaefest/.