We caught up with ECR Music Group owner and recording artist Blake Morgan to talk about the new restored and remastered version of his sophomore album Burning Daylight.
As someone who’s been following your work for a while, I always felt there was a huge leap between Burning Daylight and the more nuanced Diamonds in the Dark. This reissue seems to equalize those records, illuminating some gradations lost in the original mix of Burning Daylight. It’s a tighter and more focused record now that sits comfortably among your best work. But you didn’t George Lucas it. There’s no re-recording or alternative takes, right?
[Laughs] No, no––unlike Han Solo in Lucas’ newer version, I’m proud to say that I still shoot first and there are no awkward scenes with a new and computer generated Jabba the Hutt. To be clear: no retakes, no re-recording, no autotune, no “sweetening,” no auto-tempo. None of that. In truth, I started with the original multi-tracks of the record and remixed each song from scratch. I think the result is a really striking one. I agree it does feel much tighter and more focused, much more natural, and it adheres more to its analog nature (it was originally cut to tape). Because of that, I feel the songwriting is now able to jump forward and into view better than ever.
I have to say, this is how I always wanted the record to sound when I was first making it. So in truth, this isn’t a departure from the original plan for Burning Daylight––quite the contrary––it’s a better implementation of the original one.
The original Burning Daylight was released thirteen years ago. Do you still connect to those songs?
I really do, and I’m so glad of that. Those songs really matter to me and I think they’re reborn with this new mix. I feel a great mix should almost go unnoticed, the way a great film should be transparent. We don’t want to leave a movie saying, “Wow, that was so well made!” We want to leave a movie emotionally affected because of how it was made, whether our ribs hurt from laughing or our eyes are red from crying. We want to leave saying, “Hey, can we go somewhere and just talk about this for a while?” I think the depth and emotion in the songs on Burning Daylight has been unveiled. I really love believing in them again. For me, it’s like the windshield in front of the songs has been wiped clean with this mix, and they’ve been newly revealed.
The new mix really showcases the musicianship behind the songs. From your vocals, guitar, and keys, to that kick-ass rhythm section of Jonathan Ellinghaus (drums) and John Turner (bass). It sounds like a whole new record. Have they heard the new mix?
Thanks so much, I feel that way too. They certainly have heard it––they poured their hearts and souls into this record from the beginning, and they’ve both been invaluable in accomplishing this new mix. Jon and JT are two extraordinary musicians I’ve had the fortune of working with for a long time. They’ve never sounded better than they do on these tracks.
Jon always plays drums like a songwriter (because he is one), and he’s completely selfless in the process. All he cares about is getting the songs across and contributing what he can to achieve that. And he does so, unlike any drummer I’ve ever worked with.
JT has taught me more about the bass guitar––and probably music in general––than anyone I know, and his ears for a mix are invaluable to me. Seriously, I have not finished a mix on a record in the past 15 years without seeking his counsel. He’s one of the only people in the world who can convince me I’m wrong in five words or less, and I’m so grateful for it. Not to be overlooked, JT is also singing his tail off on this record––he’s doing almost all of the backing vocals. Rebuilding this record from the ground up wouldn’t be possible without the foundation that those two musicians provided. The upper architecture of the arrangements on the record really shine now, but it’s all because it’s laid on top of Jon and JT’s work. Same with my vocals. Who wouldn’t want to sing their lungs out on top of a foundation like that!
Can we expect to see any of your other albums get the remaster treatment?
Yes––in fact each of my four albums will be re-issued in the coming months. The impetus was the combination of my record label, ECR Music Group, securing a new worldwide distribution deal with SONY/Orchard, and me personally signing a new music publishing deal with Modern Works Music Publishing. Those two developments made me think, “Well if I was ever going to go back and look under the hood of my recorded catalog, now would be the time.” That’s really what fueled this whole remaster-and-reissue idea.
“This is how I always wanted the record to sound.”
So, following Burning Daylight, my debut album, Anger’s Candy, will be re-released worldwide on October 26th, Silencer on November 16th, and Diamonds In The Dark on December 7th. (Silencer is also getting the full remixed-and-remastered treatment like Burning Daylight, and I’m thrilled about it too.) Revisiting Anger’s Candy and working on that remaster was a unique trip (it was originally mastered by the great Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound), and I feel like it’s been given a really beautiful new lift. The artistic arc between it, Burning Daylight, and the albums that followed has never felt so satisfying to me. This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to be able to honor the work that the earlier versions of me did, while also using all the artistic tools I now possess in doing so. It’s been moving, and joyful. These past few months rank among the best I’ve ever spent in music.
Your continuing residency on Stage 3 of Rockwood Music Hall is one of the best tickets in town. There’s always a lot of love in the room. You recently featured some super talented special guests like Tracy Bonham, Jesse Harris, and Chris Barron, to name a few – opening my eyes to those folks in a whole new way. I know you do a lot of touring in and out of the states, but I get the feeling the Rockwood residency is particularly special for you. Am I right?
Without exaggeration, it’s changed my musical life. All of the nearly 100,000 miles of touring I’ve done over the past three years is because of the Rockwood residency. It caught on early in its first year––much to my surprise I might add––and once it did, it gave birth to touring opportunities I’ve never had before. Close to 150 concerts on both sides of the Atlantic now, and more to come. I certainly never expected to sell out three years of shows at Rockwood, or to even have three years of shows at all. Now, we’re starting the fourth year, and I will keep doing it, happily, for however long people keep showing up.
“These past few months rank among the best I’ve ever spent in music.”
To be able to have a musical home in New York City has been a dream of mine since I was a boy (I used to go see Les Paul at Fat Tuesday’s where he’d play for 50 people every Monday night). Now, I have a home of my own (and what a home!) with incredible guests––many of whom have become dear friends––and an audience who brings an energy to that special room like none I’ve ever known.
The residency has given me a chance to stretch and grow as an artist, and to try things I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. The whole “storytelling” part of the show, for example, is something I never used to do, and now it’s an indispensable feature of both my Rockwood show, and my show on the road. Performing brand new songs at almost every show is also new for me, and perhaps the best and most valuable part of the whole experience. I have a busy musical life, what with running my label, producing and recording other artists, etc., and finding time to write can be a challenge. As the saying goes, “the shoemaker’s shoes always get fixed last.” But this residency has put me on the schedule with myself in a way that’s changed everything for me. It’s a show I have to do, and do well, every 8 weeks rain or shine. I love that. As Duke Ellington once said, “I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.”
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Eric’s Top 10 Records of 2019
As usual, this is a “best of” from records I actually purchased this year. If I didn’t buy it, it’s not on the list. Now get off my lawn.
Anak Ko – Jay Som
My favorite album of the year, easily. Jay Som (Melina Duterte) hides gifts in each track that reveal themselves with every listen. (more)
“I’m where I can feel it, I’m where I can feel.”
Big Thief – Two Hands
Big Thief are on fire and released two great records this year. “Not,” from their latest, is pure poetry – particularly this live performance. Seeing a band this connected is a beautiful thing.
“It’s not the meat of your thigh, nor your spine tattoo, nor your shimmery eye, nor the wet of the dew.”
Jaime – Brittany Howard
Brittany Howard’s first record outside of Alabama Shakes is full of magic – from the classic soul of “Stay High” to the funkadelic “History Repeats.” It may be physically impossible to stand still during the last minute and a half of this song.
“I just don’t want to be back in this place again.”
Self Titled – Better Oblivion Community Center
Skillful collab between Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers is some honest-to-goodness songwriting. “Dylan Thomas” is a pure pop nugget I listened to more than my doctor this year.
“I’m strapped into a corset, climbed into your corvette, thirsty for another drink.”
Beneath the Eyrie – Pixies
The new record is as cohesive as their early work, yet nothing like it. Bassist Paz Lenchantin plays the Nancy Sinatra role in “Ready for Love.” (more)
“I’m succeeding as a failer.”
Lux Prima – Karen O & Danger Mouse
Producer Danger Mouse teamed up with Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for a collection of sprawling space rock. Think Air’s Moon Safari for a new age.
“I’m nowhere, I’m no one, I’m nobody… there’s nobody but you.”
Old LP – That Dog
“Don’t bother to say goodbye, just walk away.”
Itekoma Hits – Otoboke Beaver
My go-to record when feeling aggressive this year was by Japanese punk rockers Otoboke Beaver. These ladies are magically unhinged.
Lets Rock – The Black Keys
The Black Keys made a quick and dirty record this year in search of the next “Louie Louie.”
“Tell me lies, la-la-la-la-la-la-lies.”
Means to Me – Long Beard
Leslie Bear’s jangly dream-pop would be a treat for any Harriet Wheeler fan.
“Only you can make me feel like I need something more to do.”
- King of the Dudes (EP) – Sunflower Bean
- Abbey Road Anniversary Deluxe – The Beatles
- South Of Reality – The Claypool Lennon Delirium
- Groove Denied – Stephen Malkmus
- My Finest Work Yet – Andrew Bird
- Then I Try Some More – Johanna Steinberg
- Nostalgia Kills – Jill Sobule
- Years To Burn – Calexico & Iron & Wine
- Fool – Joe Jackson
- Help Us Stranger – The Raconteurs
- Anima – Thom Yorke
- Minidisc [Hacks] – Radiohead
- The Center Won’t Hold – Sleater Kinney
- Sunshine Rock – Bob Mould
- Planet England (EP) – Robyn Hitchcock and Andy Partridge
- Hyperspace – Beck
Kelsey of Blak Emoji’s Best Music of 2019
“Best Of” lists are just opinions right? Exactly. That being said, these are my personal favorite album and single picks of 2019! I kept it to 10 albums and singles. There are other albums and singles that also rotated in my ears quite a bit this year. Check @blak.emoji stories this week for a recap of…
BRITTANY HOWARD JAIME
I’m definitely an Alabama Shakes fan but Brittany expands on what we already knew she was capable of. This album’s tight knit band and sound blends perfectly with Brittany’s powerhouse voice and songs. I have no more words on how great this album is except you need it in your life if you don’t have it already. Instant classic.
MICHAEL KIWANUKA KIWANUKA
This man’s voice is an instrument itself. Once again Michael and Danger Mouse craft an album of excellent songs with top notch production. So many perfect songs here (I can’t stop playing ‘Piano Joint‘ and “Living In Denial‘.) This third Kiwanuka album is like the perfect indie soul lullaby. This might be my favorite album of his.
DANIEL CAESAR CASE STUDY 1
Daniel’s voice and songs are so great! Been hooked on his music for years. Case Study 1 is the link to retro soul, neo-soul (‘Open Up‘ has D’Angelo written all over it) and modern r&b chill. Even with the star power here of Pharrell, John Mayer and Jacob Collier, Daniel is still the main star of the show. Almost anything he touches is instant classic to me. This is a beautiful album.
FKA TWIGS MAGDALENE
One of my favorite concerts this year was seeing FKA Twigs in NYC. I had no idea I was in store for a night of ballet, opera, tap dancing and theatrics along with her avant electro-pop sound. I dug her before but this album rose the bar to a higher level. You need headphones to really appreciate the intricacy of sonics going on here. Plus “Cellophane“ is hands down my favorite song of the year. Damn that’s an incredible piece, and the video is stunning.
LANA DEL RAY NORMAN FUCKING ROCKWELL
I wasn’t a huge Lana fan when she first came out. However, since the Dan Auerbach collaboration album, I’ve been Team Lana ever since. She has this California summer breeze vocal and style that hits you like good sunshine weather. This album in particular is a masterpiece and her best work by far. Laid back but dense AF. Definitely a milestone!
FAYE WEBSTER ATLANTA MILLIONAIRES CLUB
Faye is one of my favorite new artists at the moment. She’s new to me but been around for about 5 years. She’s only 22 but her music has the maturity of Sharon Van Etten or Shelby Lynne. Faye gets categorized in the indie folk or Americana tag but she’s so much more than that. AMC has a tinge of alt/country, Southern soul and even funk (Pigeon!) that works perfectly, trap too. Great musicianship and solid songs! Faye is so heavy, straight up.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ JIMMY LEE
After decades of graces us with classic songs, production and musicianship, Saadiq is at the top of his game NOW! He takes retro-soul up a notch with a modernized, yet classic feel. He seems to bare his soul lyrically big time on this one too. So many great songs here but “So Ready” is one of my favorite singles of the year. That bass tho!
This was a pleasant surprise. Beck doesn’t repeat himself much which is part of his charm as an artist. He flows through genres like he’s brushing his teeth. Hyperspace is a damn good album that stands up to some of his classics like Odelay and Midnight Vultures. Lots of vintage synths mixed with modern beats and vibe (hey, that’s what I’m trying to do.) Beck and Pharrell make a great team, better late than never. Electro synth-pop treat this year.
DE STAAT BUBBLE GUM
I just found out about this band earlier this year. They’ve been around for 10 years lol. These guys, from Netherlands friggin rule. They’re the electro-rock band I’ve been looking for recently. I saw the video for “I’m Out Of Your Mind” then downloaded the album (and their older catalog too.). They’re fun, tongue in cheek and infectious to your dancing feet. Get all their s**t.
KALULU COATS REMIXES
It’s very rare that a remix album is solid throughout and just as good as the original work. This is one of those exceptions. Kalulu, from Rotterdam have also become a recent favorite of mine. I love the songs, production and Marinka Stam’s voice so much. Grab their Coats eEP which dropped last year because it’s amazing. Then grab this remix compilation to be blown away again. I hope to work with these guys someday.
Cellophane FKA Twigs
Instant classic and the best song I’ve heard all year. It’s one of the catchiest heartbreak songs ever.
Everything I Wanted Billie Eilish
Billie has tons of fans and naysayers too for whatever reason. But if you don’t think this song is great, I don’t know what to say. This is a perfect f**king pop song! Wish I wrote it.
Patience Tame Impala
Danced hard to this indie-disco joint all year. You can’t keep up with Kevin. Always on the next sonic move. Definitely looking forward to the new album net year.
Bullet From A Gun Skepta
One of the best hip hop songs I’ve heard in a long time. The words are clever and biting, production is killer (video too)! When I first heard this, my attention was immediately grabbed. Now I’m a Skepta freak!
So Ready Raphael Saadiq
This song is SO funky and feel good. Then you hear the lyrics and it’s a slightly different vibe. He comes clean with all his mistakes and it’s “please baby please”. So you’re dancing, but you’re also routing for the guy. Damn Raphael.
Ibtihaj Rapsody w/ D’Angelo & GZA
This is a Wu-Tang tribute done right. Plus Rapsody is one of the most slept on rappers in the game now. She gets props yes, but she deserves more. D’Angelo is so badass and funky on the hook.
Harmony Hall Vampire Weekend
I played this song so many times in a row, my phone probably thinks it was out for years. I’m still addicted to this song. Lots of parts going on at once in this tune and they don’t get in the way of each other. Pop perfection!
The Archer Taylor Swift
Again, like Billie….the fans, the doubters, this song is breathtaking! One of the best Taylor and Jack Antonoff ever wrote.
I’m Out Of Your Mind De Staat
This was the track that turned me into a De Staat stan. Reminded me a bit of NIN but De Staat are way more angular with a keen sense of humor.
Karma Lucky Daye
The vibe of this tune reminds me a bit of Ginuwine’s “Pony”. But it’s Lucky Daye’s tune by far. Funky, catchy head bobbing pop funk. Love this tune but it was a battle between this or “Real Games”. Don’t sleep on this dude.
I first heard of Lizzo 5 years ago with her song “Batches & Cookies”. It’s great to see that she’s on top of the world now. Much deserved. This song was played out the ass everywhere this year, for a reason. Pop, funk, hip hop banger. More flute please.
GANG STARR “ONE OF THE BEST YET”
Straight out the gate we’re taken down memory lane with an intro reminding us of what Gang Starr was and still is about! The intro brought great comfort to my ears in letting me know that their main ingredients of boom bap and rhymes weren’t going to be forgotten. True to my hypothesis, the bar continued to rise and rise throughout the album.
The unmistakable cuts, clever samples and monotone flows are in full display. Exactly how you would expect to hear a Gang Starr album! The repeat again and again factor is naturally achieved from beginning to end. Thank god for technological advancements or there would be an abundance of damaged records, tapes and CD’s out there due to overuse! It was as if the album was recorded with elements of the past with intentions of the future!
With that notion in mind, DJ Premier and Guru enlisted the services of some of their familiar collaborators and recruited some worthy new friends to join the movement. The likes of M.O.P, Q-Tip, Group Home, Royce da 5’9″, Jeru The Damaja, J.Cole, Ne-Yo, Nitty Scott, Talib Kweli, Big Shug and Freddie Foxxx make up the ensemble of talent that merged perfectly in this tremendous gift to Hip-Hop.
It was as if the album was recorded with elements of the past with intentions of the future!
It was as if the album was recorded with elements of the past with intentions of the future!
The cameos of his son Keith Casim Elam on the album and in the music videos (Family & Loyalty/Bad Name) brings this project full circle. His father would have been proud of the family representation and the Gang Starr extended family showing out on every opportunity in “One Of The Best Yet”.