Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pandora's Box

By now you've probably noticed the list of songs and three on-line radio stations in my sidebar, courtesy of Pandora. When I learned of this site, my first thought was "Why didn't I think of this?" Based on the Music Genome Project, Pandora allows you to create your own on-line 'stations' by planting seeds (songs of your choice). Pandora then builds your station by finding songs with similar genes; musical structures, tonalities, etc. Brilliant. You can make your playlists as concise or as open as you want, add more seeds, and tell Pandora not to play certain songs. It's a great way to find new music, something FM radio rarely does anymore. Needless to say, I'm having some fun with this. Oh, and it's free, if you can tolerate a little advertising on your screen.

The original seeds of Wild Mercury Radio were The Late Greats by Wilco and Off The Record by My Morning Jacket. The playlist had evolved and turned me on to some great stuff from the 90's that eluded me, and some great new music, like Portastatic's I Wanna Know Girls, which I've purchased.

Dinosaur Stomp is designed to be the epitome of heavy 70's arena rock. Pandora keeps trying to turn it into the Rory Gallagher station, but I'm slowly carving into shape.

Blues Before Sunrise is all about the blues, based on Albert King and the North Mississippi Allstars.

Check out my stations, then have some fun making your own. Radio as it should be.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Forever Young

How fortunate we are to live in the time of Bob Dylan. Such an artist comes along maybe once every few hundred years. An artist so prolific and influential that it boggles the mind. Arguably the greatest artist of the 20th century, Dylan turns 65 today and shows no signs of slowly down. Still on The Never Ending Tour, hosting a radio program, planning a new CD release and writing his memoirs, Bob plugs on with the energy of men half his age. He could easily rest on his laurels and live on the royalties of his staggering catalog, but that's not what he's about. Bob is in a class with artists like B.B. King, Duke Ellington and Bill Monroe, put on this Earth to write songs and perform up until the bitter end. Bob singlehandedly brought poetry and literacy to rock music. Without him, we'd all still be singing about cars and girls.

Listening to Dylan is a lifelong pursuit. No artist that I know of is capable of transforming his own songs so completely. By altering tempo, phrasing and vocal inflections Bob has redefined his songs year by year, tour by tour, sometimes night by night. And as 44 years of recording have passed, we now have the young and wide-eyed coffeehouse Bob of 1962, the rock/poet star of 1965-66, the exuberant arena rock hero of the 1974 tour with the Band, the mid 80's born again Christian, the Traveling Wilbury, and the worldwise, grizzled Bob of the 21st century.

To pick a favorite Dylan track to share is impossible. My preferred songs change like the weather. Here are two from the superb Biograph compilation, a great starting place for anyone who wants to explore this music beyond Blowing In The Wind and Like A Rolling Stone.

Up To Me is a discarded track from Blood On The Tracks, quite possibly Dylan's best album. Unusually reflective, it's one of my all time favorites, with fantastic lyrics:

"If we never meet again, baby remember me
How my lone guitar played sweet for you that old time melody
And the harmonica around my neck I blew it for you free
No one else could play that tune you knew it was up to me."

This version of Forever Young was never meant for release. Bob played it in his publisher's office in 1973 when asked for the words and music for copyrighting purposes. Bob played it into a tape recorder. It's a timeless song, one that you imagine no one wrote; we've just always had it. It could be hundreds of years old, or brand new. Of the song, Bob comments:

"I wrote it thinking about one of my boys and not wanting to be too sentimental. The lines came to me in a minute. I certainly didn't intend to write it, I was going for something else; the song wrote itself. You never know what you're going to write. You never know if you're going to make another record, really."

Happy Birthday Bob!

Buy Biograph - make sure you get the remastered version -wm


Monday, May 22, 2006

Store Bought Bones

The latest disc that has been in my car CD player since I bought it is the debut from the Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers. 34 minutes of pure pleasure. Short but sweet, a la Weezer, sometimes less is more. Contrary to what you might have heard, this band is not led by Jack White, he is simply in it. The Raconteurs don't try to do anything special, or even anything overly original; it's just rock music for the sheer joy of it. If you've read negative reviews, they are probably by writers that were expecting (or hoping) for a four man White Stripes. This is not that, and that's a good thing.

Opening with Steady, As She Goes, a song that flat out steals the bass line from Joe Jackson's Is She Really Going Out With Him?, it sounds like it could be a pop hit you might hear on the Disney Channel. From there it's a variety of 70's rock, grunge and just a hint of Jack; he never dominates with the expected White Stripes bombast. In fact, White sounds completely content as merely a band member here. The stand out track for me is Store Bought Bones, a great track with loads of prog-rock and Deep Purplish flavor.

I picked up this CD for $9.99, with an offer for a $3.00 rebate. For this reason, I will not post a song from the CD here. Go out and buy it!

Instead, a live track, a cover of the Ron Davies composition It Ain't Easy. I'm sorry, I don't know the date or location, but enjoy it just the same.


Friday, May 19, 2006

coolwalkingsmoothtalking Pete is 61

Once again, time to honor my muses on the anniversary of their birth. For nearly 30 years Pete Townshend has amazed me, and today he turns 61. Thanks to The Kids Are Alright, my gang and I discovered the 'orrible Who while the rest of our high school grooved to the sounds of Journey and Reo Speedwagon. The visceral sound and visual punch of Pete's band was just too much be denied, and we were thrilled. I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt walking out of the theater after seeing The Kids Are Alright for the first time. A whole new world had opened up, and my musical life has never been the same.

We convinced our parents to let us see their show in Chicago in 1979, just days after the Cincinnati stampede. We held a special student council meeting to listen to their new album Face Dances. We rented the film (the actual film mind you, this was before VCR) and screened it in our school auditorium, to a packed house. Then we borrowed the film and a projector and watched it at home a few more times (that night). Ultimately, the soundtrack and video became daily rituals.

We made our pilgrimage to a few 'farewell' tours, including the infamous Schlitz Beer Tour of 1983. We marveled at Pete's solo records and dreamed about how great some of that material would sound if performed by the Who. Why the mediocrity on It's Hard when he was holding out with Stardom in Acton, Give Blood and White City Fighting? In 1989 we flocked to see the band perform Tommy in its entirety, with Pete hiding in a glass phonebooth on stage due to his hearing loss. On Pete's Psychoderelict solo tour he told us that the show we saw at the Arie Crown Theater was the "worst of the tour." We didn't care; he played A Quick One. We loved the 1996 Quadrophenia show despite the distractions of Gary Glitter and Billy Idol. Pete seemed re-energized, and the solo acoustic reading of Drowned is an indelible memory. The 2000 and 2002 tours were fabulous, despite Entwistle's untimely death.

Over the years Pete has struggled with the Who as a musical entity. He has spoken about the difficulty of writing for the Who, as opposed to writing music for himself as a solo performer. Yet, some of his songs for the Who are my all-time favorites, my so called 'Desert Island Tunes'. In fact, Pinball Wizard might top the list.

To me it seems like these days Pete has come to terms with it all, and I sense a Who/Pete renaissance. Whether it's Who music or solo material, I look forward to whatever Pete decides to write and perform, and I am grateful for 40+ years of truly fantastic music.

Happy Birthday Pete.

Here are a few lesser known tracks for your listening pleasure:

Listen: Sheraton Gibson

Listen: Heart To Hang Onto (w/Eddie Vedder)

Buy Pete

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Friday, May 12, 2006

The Forgotten Records #4 - Buffalo Tom

Deep in the recesses of my CD collection is Big Red Letter Day, the 1993 release by Boston based Buffalo Tom, a great trio that never seemed to garner the attention of their contemporaries. Compared to the likes of Dinosaur Jr., The Connells, and Galaxie 500, I think there were just too many bands of this type in the late 80s and early 90s for everyone to rise to the surface. Probably best known for taillights Fade from their 1992 album Let Me Come Over, the music is a predictable mix of heavy yet jangly guitar, crisp harmonies and a hard rock base. What sets the music apart are the clever lyrics and empassioned vocals. Perhaps the polished production of the album pidgeon-holed these guys into a more mainstream category; the grungier style of their earlier records might have kept them in with the indie/college crowd. Yet, they live on in the local Boston scene, and plan an album release. Bassist Chris Colbourn has a new release with Hilken Mancini that I've heard on Pandora that sounds good.

Some records you purchase on the basis of one song: Sodajerk



Monday, May 08, 2006

On The Road In Dublin

After the rousing success at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, Bruce takes the whole show on a European tour. On this tour we can expect a pretty regular set list from the Seeger Sessions material with a few slots throughout the show for his own material. The May 5 show in Dublin included Adam Raised A Cain, a perfect choice for this folk/gospel inflected band. A favorite from the Darkness on the Edge of Town album, Bruce opened a few shows on the 2003 tour with a blistering version of this song, including August 13, where yours truly was luckily in attendance.

May 5 Setlist: O Mary Don't You Weep/John Henry/Johnny 99/Old Dan Tucker/Eyes on the Prize/Jesse James/Adam Raised a Cain/Erie Canal/My Oklahoma Home/Mrs. McGrath/How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?/Jacob's Ladder/We Shall Overcome/Open All Night/Pay Me My Money Down
Encore: My City of Ruins/Buffalo Gals/You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)/When the Saints Go Marching In

I'll be on the lookout for some audio, in the meantime here's How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? from the Jazz Fest show. It's a depression era song with additional lyrics by Bruce.

Buy the Seeger Sessions

[Correction: In my last post I guessed that Bruce had not played You Can Look since the River Tour. Doh! He played it on his solo acoustic tour a few times last fall. 1,000 pardons!]

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Dreams, Schemes and Themes

I’m not yet prepared to pay for satellite radio, although I have been tempted. What may push me over the edge is a new program on XM called the Theme Time Radio Hour, hosted by none other than Bob Dylan. The first installment aired May 3, although it was ‘leaked’ by XM for promotional purposes and has been available on Dylan fan sites in various formats for two weeks.

The show in a word is fantastic.

Dylan is notoriously reclusive, doesn’t talk much to the press, and in recent years rarely utters a word on stage between songs. In this format, Bob is chatty, down to earth, informative and supremely entertaining. Last Sunday morning, we listened to the hour long program and felt transported to the 1950s, like we were sitting around one of those old wood radios, sipping Maxwell House and smoking Chesterfields. You imagine Bob sitting behind a big microphone like Ed Murrow, chain smoking, spinning platters and introducing Dean Martin and Slim Harpo with casual anecdotes (in reality he’s recording his bits from home or his tour bus, and XM is finds the tracks and puts it together). It never feels contrived. Dylan has remarked on how listening to the radio in his youth affected him. Here, it seems like he’s opening a door to his subconscious, sharing with us the blues, country and early rock and roll music that shaped his genius. Each week has a theme; the May 3 show was weather. Future programs will focus on mothers (for Mother’s Day), cars and whiskey. Here’s the playlist from the first show:

Blow, Wind, Blow - Muddy Waters
You Are My Sunshine - Jimmie Davis
California Sun - Joe Jones
I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine - Dean Martin
Bob talks about The Prisonaires
Just Walking in the Rain - The Prisonaires
After the Clouds Roll Away - The Consolers
Let the Four Winds Blow - Fats Domino
Raining in my Heart - Slim Harpo
Summer Wind - Frank Sinatra
The Wind Cries Mary - Jimi Hendrix
Come Rain or Come Shine - Judy Garland
It's Raining - Irma Thomas
Stormy Weather - The Spaniels
Jamaica Hurricane - Lord Beginner
A Place in the Sun - Stevie Wonder (Italian version)
Uncloudy Day - The Staple Singers
Keep on the Sunny Side - The Carter Family

In future shows, Bob will be answering e-mail from listeners. For a lot of us, this is like talking to God.

Dreams, schemes and themes. Say it in Dylan’s nasal tone and you can’t help but smile.

[Note: I'm trying a new file sharing site, so if the links don't work, I'm working on it]


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Boss in New Orleans

Springsteen apparently brought the house down last weekend at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Dedicating a new song to 'President Bystander' and blasting the current administration for 'criminal ineptitude', the Boss won over the crowd, probably his first show in years for an audience that wasn't entirely made up of his own disciples. I was keen to see which of his own songs he might perform with the 17-piece Seeger Sessions band. My City of Ruins was obvious, and could have been written for post-Katrina New Orleans: "Young men on the corner, like scattered leaves, the boarded up windows, the hustlers and thieves, while my brother's down on his knees. My city of ruins."

Here's the full setlist:

O Mary Don't You Weep/John Henry/Johnny 99/Old Dan Tucker/Eyes on the Prize/Jesse James/My Oklahoma Home/Mrs. McGrath/How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?(the new song)/Jacob's Ladder/We Shall Overcome/Open All Night/Pay Me My Money Down

Encore: My City of Ruins/Buffalo Gals/You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)/When the Saints Go Marching In

You Can Look probably suits this band just fine, played as a rollicking Cajun stomp, and one he probably hasn't played since the River tour in 1980-81. This upcoming tour should be lot of fun.

For more on the New Orleans set and all things Bruce: Backstreets


Monday, May 01, 2006

17-7, Meat Puppets and Gravy

White Sox stomp on opposition...

Multiple thoughts to share today…

After the first month of the season, my beloved White Sox are 17-7 and own the best record in the major leagues. I must admit I feared a letdown after the way they cruised through the post-season last fall and then dropped a few games to the lowly Royals at the beginning of this season. Sox fans are in uncharted waters here; a championship team that seems to have improved in the off-season and appear to be headed right back to October baseball at this rate. This is just about where they were at the end of April 2005. So this is what it feels like to be a baseball fan in New York and Boston?

Oh, and a message to Mike Scioscia, Kelvim Escobar and the Angels: Take your bush league beanballs and go pound sand. Plunking A.J. on Saturday was clearly pre-meditated and reeked of frustration. Escobar was on the mound in the World Series when A.J. ran to first after the dropped third strike fiasco, and again when he tried to tag him with his glove while holding the ball in his other hand. His dislike of A.J. is well-known. Too bad Escobar never has to step into the batter’s box.

Next issue: The Meat Puppets are reuniting, plan to record new music and possibly tour. Neat trick, I first thought, since I was sure one of the Kirkwood Brothers was dead (turns out it was just a drug dealing incarceration). This could be interesting. The Pups sloppy country-punk was a little scary at first, but once they learned how to sing and play their instruments, they made some remarkable music. A huge influence on Kurt Cobain, this band was always underappreciated, in my opinion.

This news came via Billboard, which, by the way, is a great site for breaking music news. You’d think they would only cover chart topping drivel, but it’s surprisingly diverse.

Plateau from Meat Puppets II

Eyeball from No Joke!

Finally, GRAVY, a band you most likely have never heard of. My friend’s college roommate is moonlighting as a manager for this LA band, and put together this electronic press kit. To my ears, they sound like a mix of Phish and 70’s rock, and probably sound great in a small club on a Friday night after a few longnecks. I’m not sure istudio reflects how this band really sounds (which is course is a problem for many jam bands), and the lyrics need some work (also a Phish problem), but the songs grows on you. Three free mp3s in the press kit; give them a listen, or if you live in LA, check them out.

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