Monday, February 26, 2007

The Forgotten Records #9 - Blancmange

Time for another episode of the Forgotten Records. The early 80's were a grim period in music, in my humble opinion. It was the era of one-hit wonders, maybe more so than the garage rock days of the mid 60's. The difference though is that so many 'bands' of the 8o's were nothing more than soul-less electronic duos or trios, indistinguishable from one to the other. At least the garage rock bands has some raw appeal; the 8o's synth-pop groups were often as synthetic as their instruments. Thankfully, we had the Talking Heads, U2, REM and some good indie music to save our souls.

Once such one hit wonder was the Brit duo Blancmange, a meteor of obscurity that scored with Living on the Ceiling in 1982. Chances are you have not thought about this song in 25 years, or more likely, you've never heard it, though it reached #7 in the UK. Blancmange, named after a gelatin-like dessert (literal translation from French is 'white eat'), had a smattering of hits, peaking with this track, that combined Middle Eastern flavors with a pulsing dance beat. The sound was very similar to Simple Minds. Lead singer/guitarist Neil Arthur and keyboardist Stephen Luscombe broke up in 1986, never to be heard from again (at least to my knowledge). Imagine my surprise when I learned that the band has reformed, has a MySpace, and is writing new material.

This post would not be complete without mentioning the epic Monty Python sci-fi movie skit where giant alien blancmanges turn Englishmen into Scots, consume tennis players and actually play tennis. It was obvious of course that "they mean to win Wimbledon." Thankfully, the alien pudding was thawarted by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Brainsample, who turn out to be from the same planet as the blancmanges, but I digress.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Reunited and it feels so good.....

Tickets for the Police reunion tour are selling like wildfire, according to tour organizers. 2-night gigs at MSG and Fenway Park sold out in minutes; six shows across Canada are also sellouts, with second shows in the works. It’s shaping up to be the tour of the summer, as many insiders predicted.

Meanwhile, the Van Halen reunion tour has apparently crashed and burned before it even took off. Reports from Pollstar indicate that the tour has been postponed indefinitely. The VH camp claims the press hype had things much further along than they really were, meaning that it will take some lengthy rehearsal time for a band consisting of an aging vocalist whose last two gigs were ambulance driver and dj, a frazzled egomaniacal guitarist and a 15-year old bassist with no tour experience…..

Also at Pollstar, two-thirds of the Jam is planning to reunite. Trouble here is that the third that is missing is Paul Weller. Weller recently trotted out some classic Jam tunes at a solo gig for the first time in years, but apparently is unwilling to join fellow Jammers Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler. A great, overlooked band, but the Jam without Paul Weller is like the Stones without Mick. It’s not a reunion, but a Jam tribute band.

Now, enjoy the Jam performing the old Who favorite, Disguises


Monday, February 19, 2007

New Music Monday - Earl Greyhound

Part of my mission here is to share new music that I’ve discovered. It’s a ying-yang kind of thing. This blog has motivated me to widen my horizons, and the more I find the more I am compelled to share. My latest find is a Brooklyn band named Earl Greyhound, brought to me by the weekly podcast Musicheads at Minnesota Public Radio, an informative discussion of music topics, new bands, new records, etc. Earl Greyhound is a trio made up of Matt Whyte on guitar and vocals; Kamara Thomas on bass and vocals and Ricc Sheridan on percussion. Playing a hard rock/blues mix, this band could easily be lumped into the Black Keys/White Stripes camp and quickly lost in the shuffle, but after listening to several tracks from their recent record Soft Targets, there’s more here than meets the ear. There’s a heavy dose of Zeppelin and 70’s glam-rock thrown into the mix, and something tells me you’ll be hearing more about this band. Check out It's Over and let me know what you think.

Note: If everything is working properly, hover your cursor on the artwork below and an audio player should appear.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Johnny Blaze is Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider the movie opens this Friday night, and I thought it would be fun to provide some background, as this character is not nearly as well known as some of the other famous caped crusaders to make it to the Silver Screen. Nicholas Cage is in the title role, and as an avid comic book collector for many years, coveted this role. The movie’s story line seems pretty faithful to the comic, but here’s a synopsis, cobbled together from various sources. The preview is encouraging; it appears to me that Cage is not taking things too seriously. If you’re a comics fan, you probably know some of this story. If not, you will probably find the folloing synopsis to be hilarious. However, the best comic books are nothing short of mythology, and a venerable form of original American art. That’s a topic for another day, though.

A Marvel character, Ghost Rider first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #5 in 1972. Sold for 20 cents originally, today, a mint condition issue of this comic is worth about $250.

The origin of the Ghost Rider has been reworked in the past few years, but the first story involved a young motorcycle stuntman named Johnny Blaze (a slang term for marijuana, by the way). Not to be confused with Johnny Storm, the Human Torch of Fantastic Four fame, Johnny Blaze was the orphaned son of Barton Blaze and Naomi Kale, who worked in a traveling motorcycle stunt show with Crash Simpson, Johnny’s adoptive father. Unbeknownst to Johnny, his family was cursed. The first born son of the Kale line (his mother’s side) was cursed to become the Ghost Rider, a spirit of vengeance. His mother, who was still alive, made a deal with Mephisto, a powerful demon. She gave her soul to Mephisto and in return she asked that Johnny would not have the curse of the Ghost Rider upon him. Mephisto agreed, but hatched another plan in the meantime.

When it was discovered that Crash was dying of cancer, Johnny did the unthinkable. He learned of a spell to summon Satan and used it, offering servitude to the devil in exchange for Crash’s life. During a stunt show, Simpson attempted to jump his cycle over 22 cars and died in the attempt. Mephisto arrived to collect Blaze's soul, explaining that he had only agreed to keep Simpson from dying from the disease, not dying at all. Blaze's fate seemed sealed when Mephisto was driven off by Simpson's daughter, Roxanne, who used Blaze's Big Book of Occult Practices to perform a spell that protected Blaze. In revenge for this, Mephisto created a bond between Blaze and a demon named Zarathos, a fiery skeletal figure who could use his flames to burn the very soul of his victims. Blaze began to transform into Zarathos at night and in this form became known as the Ghost Rider. Though initially the transformation only took place at night, Blaze later would transform when he encountered evil.

Marvel reintroduced the character in a different form in the early 90's with a updated origin. A teenager named Danny Ketch discovers a motorcycle in a graveyard where he and his friends are hanging out. When the friends are caught in a battle between two groups of criminals, Danny's sister is mortally wounded. The gas cap of the motorcycle begins to glow and when Danny touches it he and it are transformed. Danny becomes the Ghost Rider who desires vengeance for wrongs wreaked on the innocent. In true comic book fashion, it is discovered that Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch are actually brothers separated at an early age with no knowledge they are descendents of the Kale family. Let's hope this movie is as good as the Spiderman flicks, and nothing like the Daredevil and Electra movies.

More than you need to know about the movie


Monday, February 12, 2007

Epic Album Cover

A little more on Blood On The Tracks before I move on. What do you do when one of your favorite albums is covered by a relatively unknown alt-country band, which has the nerve to record the event and release it on a CD? I must admit I felt a little uneasy when I learned of Blood On The Tracks: Recorded Live at Arlene Grocery, recorded in 2001, by a band called Mary Lee’s Corvette. I learned of this CD when it came out, but hesitated, and only picked it up very recently. Although Dylan himself enjoyed the recording and streamed part of it on for a while, surely no one could do this record justice, particularly live in a casual club setting. It would be a mockery, right? Or did I fear that I would like this better? After repeated listening, the verdict is mixed.

Lead singer Mary Lee Kortes has a good voice, reminiscent at times of Chrissy Hynde blended with the likes of Neko (see previous post). She does best with the slower songs like Simple of Twist of Fate and You’re A Big Girl Now, but can’t muster the energy or venom in the album’s high point, Idiot Wind. She seems to lose focus and stamina on the longer songs, and allowing an audience member to begin the marathon 15-verse Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts in a mocking Dylanesque whine nearly spoils the entire set. The arrangements are pretty similar to Dylan’s own, but the playing is more than adequate, with some especially nice guitar fills here and there. The most overlooked track on Dylan’s record is the bluesy Meet Me in the Morning, and it’s well done here too. Overall, the disk is enjoyable, but not a knockout performance. If you’re a Dylan fanatic, you probably need this record. If not, proceed with caution. However, the album has prompted me to seek out some of her own material, and it may do the same for you.

Buy It


Friday, February 09, 2007

Neko Sings Dylan

Neko Case, everyone’s new favorite alt-pop-country singer, has covered a song from my favorite Dylan album, Blood On The Tracks. Actually, this album might be my all-time favorite. It’s hard to pick only one, but most days, it would be Dylan’s 1975 masterpiece. I’ll talk about a full live cover of this album in an upcoming post, bur for now, Neko. Taken from the album Live From Austin, Texas, Neko brings her sweet, amazing voice to Buckets of Rain, the album’s closing track. The original is one on Dylan’s most plaintive love songs, and displays some of his finest acoustic playing. The song is perfectly suited to Neko’s song style. Check it out, then go out and pick up any her fine solo albums.

Buy the CD


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Reunion Fever

Plenty of news these days on several major band reunions in the works for 2007. It seems that reunion fever is spreading. The question is what might be motivating these acts. Most reunions seem to be perfectly timed for a money-grubbing summer tour. Is that all we can expect here, and will any of it be any fun? Here’s my take:

The Police – Scheduled for an inaugural performance at the upcoming Grammy Awards, rumor is Sting, Stewart and Andy are planning a tour. A few years ago, I remember watching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, where the Police temporarily regrouped for a few songs. I remember being truly impressed with their sharp playing and, dare I say it, synchronicity. Let’s face it; these guys are accomplished musicians and great songwriters. Stewart Copeland is simply one of the best living drummers. Just listen to the records. As long as Sting’s ego is kept in check, this reunion has promise.

Van Halen – We’ve all waited and waited for the inevitable reconciliation of Eddie and Diamond Dave. Lots of questions here, foremost being whether or not Dave still has the chops. I wonder if he’s got the stamina, judging from recent pictures. And at the Rock and Roll HOF ceremony, who’s going to play bass? You may have heard that Eddie fired founding bassist Michael Anthony and replaced him with his own 15-year old son Wolfgang. This should be interesting. The tour has the potential of being a real blast, or a quick and messy implosion.

Genesis – When I heard that Genesis was reuniting, I was excited, until I heard that Peter Gabriel was not taking part. Seriously, what else can he be doing? We haven’t really heard from him in any meaningful way since the So album, and that was 1986. It’s only the basic trio of Collins, Rutherford and Banks, and while they are formidable, if this tour features only the pop-Genesis version of Abacab and Invisible Touch, count me out. A full blown original line-up, playing their prog-rock classics is much more interesting to me, but alas, much less marketable. I think it would be fascinating to see Gabriel play with these guys again, and lend his style to the good post-Gabriel material before they wandered down Collin’s syrupy pop path.


REM - Expected to regroup with original drummer Bill Berry only for the RRHOF ceremony. Stipe and company have been unable to coax Berry out of retirement (he’s a raspberry farmer now, I think) for anything more. REM was never a great live band in my opinion, but I’d pay to see the full band play again.

Smashing Pumpkins: Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlain only, with a band that reportedly can do justice to the old material. Corgan is finding life as a solo artist pretty difficult, and his ego can’t bear the apathy. Frankly, I couldn’t care less.

The Stooges – Working on their first studio album since 1973, this reunion might be the only one that’s not financially motivated. Although they’ve played a few festivals and one-off events in the last few years, a tour this year may be in the works. The youngsters won’t believe how these guys can rock. The new album is being produced by Steve Albini and Jack White. Call this one a renaissance, not a reunion.

Still waiting for word on the Pink Floyd reunion. I’m crossing my fingers.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Miami Blues

It's not a good sign when your hometown team is in the Super Bowl, but all that impressed you was the half time show. Yes, Da Bears really made a mess of things last night, and Prince stole the show. I had high expectations for this performance, as I think Prince is a consummate showman and a superb guitarist, but I must admit he really blew me away. It's hilarious that only a few years after Janet's Nipplegate, this year's show ended with a larger than life shadow of the Symbol with positively satanic and phallic imagery (see photo below). How he managed to play through the rain is a bit of a mystery, but there was no lip-synching that I could detect. Who could have guessed he'd play more covers than his own material, including a Dylan/Foo Fighters medley in the middle. What I was really expecting, if anything, was a nod to James Brown. I guess in many ways Prince's whole thing owes a lot to Brown. The bluesy All Along the Watchtower was terrific, so I had to do some surfing today and track it down for you. The bar has officially been raised for future half time shows. As for the Bears, let's hope it's not another 21 years for a repeat appearance.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Clear Lake, Iowa, 1:00am 2-3-59

Another bit of music history to acknowledge today, albeit not as joyous. While most people think of Groundhog Day on February 2, today's date also signifies the 48th anniversary of Buddy Holly's final performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, and in the wee hours of February 3, the infamous plane crash that took his life, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. The Day the Music Died. Untimely deaths in rock music always cause speculation on "what if?" Most focus on Hendrix, Joplin, Vaughan and other pioneering musicians that no doubt would have continued to change the face of music. For example, Hendrix was moving into some really interesting jazz influenced music at the time of his death, and who knows what the future would have held for us. In this regard, Buddy Holly seems to be overlooked, at least by younger generations. A talented songwriter and performer, Holly was also way ahead of his time in terms of recording and studio techniques, musical arrangement, instrumentation, harmonies and even subject matter. To me, his records sound so different from many of his late 50's peers, and his untimely death makes you wonder what he would have accomplished in later years.

There's a great summary of the fateful night at Wikipedia, including a little hint of conspiracy, which I had not heard of before.

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