Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006 Music In Review - Part 2

Continuing my mini retrospective of favorite tunes this year:

sm Lightning Blue Eyes – Secret Machines, Ten Silver Drops. These young guys from Texas have a sound that is both totally unique and reminiscent of 70's hard rock, again, a little Floyd, 80’s industrial rock, even some hard rock stomping. I love the whole album, but this track and I Hate Pretending are outstanding. I read a lot of reviews of this one, and many cried the sophomore blues in comparison to their debut full length record Now Here Is Nowhere. I disagree. This one is better.

neko Lion's Jaws – Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. This disc is on most people’s best of lists, and rightly so. The songwriting is unbelievable, and Neko just has a stone cold gorgeous voice. As a lead singer in the New Pornographers, her sparkling voice doesn't have the same impact as on her solo records. There seems to be a little more of a twang, and as a result, the music soars. It’s tough to pick a favorite track, but I keep coming back to this one, Star Witness, and Maybe Sparrow. The whole disc is wonderful.

ew Tea and Theatre – The Who, Endless Wire. The last time I bought a new Who album (new music, not reissues) was 24 years ago, I was in college and the Who were riding on fumes. I honestly never thought I'd see another batch of new Who tunes. Endless Wire has moments of brilliance interspersed with some uneven, maybe overambitious music, but as a whole it’s growing on me. There's bits of Who's Next, Quadrophenia, Who Are You and even the pre-Tommy singles days woven into the music, which is at times grounding, and at other times too derivative. Tea and Theatre is nothing like anything that has come before from Pete and Roger. I first heard it performed live in Chicago in September, as Pete and Roger took the stage in a quiet, poignant acoustic moment to end the show. It was touching, and the song is equally moving on the disc.

gs Corvette - Golden Smog, Another Fine Day. I'm a big fan of Wilco and the Jayhawks. It's been eight years since the last Golden Smog record, Weird Tales. A supergroup combining Jeff Tweedy from Wilco, Gary Louris and Marc Perlman from the Jayhawks, and Dan Murphy from Soul Asylum. I get the feeling that Golden Smog is a diversion for the unofficial Smog leaders Tweedy and Louris, a way to explore different song styles and make music without the scrutiny they get from fans and critics when writing for their regular bands. This record has much less of a Tweedy influence than Weird Tales, and has loads of 60's and 70's pop rock influences.

potion Modern Times- The Black Keys, Magic Potion. If I told you the best blues music right now is being recorded by two white guys in their basement in Akron, you'd probably think I was nuts. Well folks, it's true. Heavy riffs, driving percussion and the ghosts of the Delta bluesmen, cut and recorded in very few takes, in a raw, primal manner. This is their fourth, and best record so far. A two-man band that makes a hell of a lot of noise, they are not a cheap imitation of the White Stripes. These guys are for real.

bdmt Nettie Moore - Bob Dylan - Modern Times. And then there's Dylan. Completing a trilogy of astonishing albums that started with 1997's Time Out of Mind, Modern Times is quite an achievement. A synthesis of many different musical styles that are distinctly American, the record becomes richer with each listen. There was a brief backlash shortly after it's release, with critics asserting plagiarism, but those accusations miss the point entirely. Dylan has always drawn heavily from music history and folklore. He's not stealing from the past, he'e embracing it, making it a part of his own musical legacy. If his Theme Time Radio Hour is any indication, Dylan's vast knowledge of American music should be treasured. What you hear in Modern Times is a blend of folk, blues, country, early rock and roll, a bit of jazz, crooning 1940's popular song, to name but a few, performed through the weary soul of a 65 -year old man. Netty Moore is a masterpiece. With a chorus taken from a 19th century folk song and lines borrowed from W.C. Handy, it's a heartbreaking wonder. Dylan was quoted this year as saying "I feel like I'm in my middle period. I have no plans of retiring." To me, that has to be the best music news of 2006.

Also worth noting, All This Time by the Heartless Bastards, and Firecracker, by the Wailin' Jennys, but I've run out of time for now. See you all next year. Drink responsibly and drive safely.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

2006 Music in Review - Part 1

This is the time of year when you about all you see in the media is the famed ‘Best Of’ list. Indeed, the blogosphere contains hundreds, if not thousands of Best Of 2006 lists. I am always amused at the blogs that list dozens of best songs by obscure bands, as if saying “Look how cutting edge I am. These are the best tunes I’ve heard this year, and you’ve probably never even heard of these bands.” At least that’s the feeling I often get reading some of this stuff. Who’s to say what is the best, anyway? Music, like beauty, is a very personal matter. The bloggers told me that Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah, Tapes & Tapes, The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens and The Arcade Fire were the cream of the crop, but I wasn't overly impressed. In the case of Clap Your Hands, it was almost unlistenable. Massive hype is running rampant in cyberspace, and often misdirected.

I’ll admit that at 43 I’m pretty set in my ways musically, and tend to stick to artists I've listened to for years. This year I’ve made an extra effort to seek out some new music. I know there’s worlds of music out there that I’ve missed, so instead of giving you a Best of List, I present my Preferred Songs of 2006. The following, in no particular order, are songs that really made an impression on me. Some of these songs were not even released this year, and in one case, were recorded 36 years ago. There's no hype in what follows here, just my honest opinion of what I liked this year.

Z Off The Record – My Morning Jacket, Z. Ok, right off the bat I'm talking about an album released in late 2005, but I bought it in early 2006, so it's this year for me. This song is probably their most accessible and not the best one on the disc, but I couldn’t get enough of it. Simple and catchy, with a moody, Floyd-like finish. A band to see live, I’m told. I will try to see these guys in 2007.

guster Ruby Falls – Guster, Ganging Up On The Sun. Guster is one of those bands that been around for a while, writes great pop songs, and supposedly is a great live act, but ask 100 people if they’ve heard of them, and you’ll get a lot of ‘nos.’ A 7-minute pop masterpiece, also with a Floyd-like ending (there is no theme here, I promise).

wolfm Woman – Wolfmother. Fuzz-tone, power chords, wailing vocals and big hair. Wolfmother is so immersed in 70’s rock that at first you think the whole thing is a parody. The fact that they’re serious makes this even better. And best of all, a new band that my 11-year old son and I can both appreciate. Rock On!

neil Down By The River - Neil Young, Live At The Fillmore East (March 6-7, 1970). Speaking of distorted, feedback drenched music, there’s ‘Ol Neil. This disc is a fantastic piece of rock music history, and let’s hope it’s the first of many releases from Neil’s archive. It’s only 43 minutes long, but it is glorious. From a guy with a ridiculous number of live albums out there, we need more.

greenland The Riverside– Cracker, Greenland. A comeback record of sorts, Greenland is an exotic mix of musical styles that I haven’t fully absorbed yet, but this hard rocking track stands out for the moment. I’ve always admired Cracker and David Lowery; they have steadfastly defended their artistic integrity, although it has clearly cost them some commercial success.

More tunes in the next post.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Norelco Santa is back - Now I feel better

It seems like this classic 60's commercial would run on TV annually during the holidays, in more recent years simply for the nostalgia. Or, maybe its just running in my mind. At any rate, I have fond, vivid memories of these 30 seconds (actually, only the first 5 seconds) as I'm sure many 40 somethings do, and I doubt it's really on TV anymore. Hope this makes you smile.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

My Three Songs #2 - 'Tis the Season

Holiday music can get pretty cheesy, and generally I'm not a big fan, but you've just got to love the three songs included here. You may not be familar with these versions, so enjoy 'em, and happy holidays.

Baby It's Cold Outside - Dean Martin

Everybody loves Dean Martin sometimes. Whether it's Matt Helm, the celebrity roast host, or the swingin' martini sippin' hipster, Dino's the man. Lots of great holiday tunes from the Rat Pack.
Buy Dino

Frosty the Snowman - Fats Domino

Fats keeps rolling along, despite having his home and many of his possessions and musical mementos wiped out by Katrina. I can't imagine a better fit for this classic tune than Fats Domino.

Buy Fats

Merry Christmas, Baby - Charles Brown

The first time I heard this song, it was a live version by Springsteeen. Elvis' version is just a little too tame for me. Here's a nice bluesy take on the song from 1961. Brown had a much bigger hit with Please Come Home For Christmas.

Buy Charles Brown


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Clap For The Wolfgang

For an obsessive music fan like me, the recent on-line streaming of concert recordings on Wolfgang’s Concert Vault is like a gold miner hitting the mother lode. Wolfgang’s Vault is a rock memorabilia site, selling T-shirts, posters and vintage items from a vast collection amassed by legendary promoter Bill Graham. Graham was a bit of an obsessive, and made soundboard recordings of most of the shows he produced. The archive contains about 5,000 recordings, and over 300 are already streaming on the site, which is run by a San Francisco entrepreneur named Bill Sagan. Drooling yet? There are unbelievably good recordings by David Bowie, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, The Who, to name just a few. New shows are released weekly, and everything I’ve listened too has been surprisingly good quality. The streaming is intended to increase the traffic, and ultimately sales, at Wolfgang’s Vault.

Of course, it didn’t take long for debates to surface over the legality of this endeavor. Some of the artists are considering legal action, claiming ownership to these recordings, while others seem to accept the idea as the sharing of historically important music. Artists claim that although Sagan owns the recordings, the rights to distribute belong to the artist’s label. The most interesting development is the streaming of Neil Young and Crazy Horse from March 1970, performances that were finally released commercially by Neil’s label just a few weeks ago. The vault started streaming it four days before the release. I can’t imagine that the suits at Reprise are pleased at this moment. However, Sagan stated that he pays songwriter’s royalties for all the music that’s streamed, and considers the site no different than an Internet radio station. I’m interested in what, if anything, the artists signed prior to the performances. They must have known that Graham was rolling tape.

All I can say at this point is to register and start streaming, before the lawyers get involved. This has to be the greatest collection of rock music concert recordings anywhere. A lot of this material has been buried for 30 years. How long would it take for the labels to release these recordings commercially, if ever? There is just too much here to be ignored. As an example, there is recording of the Who from 1968, pre-Tommy, that is superb. This is an important recording, as Townshend has said he destroyed all of the tapes from the 1969 tour, citing dissatisfaction with the quality. Until last Friday, I had never heard a pre-1970 concert recording of the Who, except for snippets in The Kids Are Alright, Monterey Pop, and some Woodstock footage. For a Who fan, this recording is revelatory. Zeppelin? How about a screaming version of Train Kept A Rollin’ to start a blistering set from 1969? There’s the 1975 one-off of Dylan, Young and the Band from a 1975 benefit show, and Springsteen’s 1978 tour de force at Winterland. I could go on and on, as this is just 4 of 316 shows currently on-line.

A lot of the material probably doesn’t have wide commercial appeal, and I would think that hard-core fans already own bootleg copies of some of these shows. As a rule, live recordings are generally not great sellers, typically targeted for the converted fans (Frampton and Cheap Trick aside). I see no harm in this site, only pleasure. In my opinion,pull any recording that has been commercially released, and let us fanatics have our fun with the rest. If the lawyers pull the plug on these treasures, we may never hear them again.

Buy Neil Young and Crazy Horse Live At The Fillmore



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