Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Shins-Wincing The Night Away

I’m one of those guys who agreed with the idea that the “Shins will change your life.” The band seemed to be at the right place in my life at that moment, and because of this, an immediate affection was developed.
While I failed to see what the hullabaloo was for Oh, Inverted World was, I could appreciate it as one of those retro-minded artifacts of 60’s pop that a lot of bands seemed to be shelling around the turn of the century, immediately after they discovered Pet Sounds for the first time.
It was one of those albums lost in my year-long haze of the real McCoys, the Nuggets box set, which seemed more real, believable, and a ton more rockin.’
Nothing, however, prepared me for Chutes Too Narrow, an album that resonated so true, it was like leader James Mercer was a fly on the wall in my life at the time. The difference was, of course, he could more eloquently translate my personal drama in under three minutes than I could in a forty-five minute counseling sessions. To that point, I think I may have mentioned Chutes Too Narrow to my counselor before giving up after he declared that he wanted a Creedence Clearwater Revival album for Christmas.
With lyrics like “just put the ring on the rails for the wheels to nullify” a virtual metaphor for my own failing marriage, The Shins became my band after they already were claimed by others. The thing of it is, they wrote such uniformly great, smart songs on Chutes that I didn’t mind how many people picked up on ‘em; I actually want them to be huge stars in some respects, because talent like this deserves to be heard.
The fear, and it’s one that I’ve had before with other bands, was that they’d follow up such a wonderful album with either one that totally sucked or didn’t manage to measure up to the great surprise that Chutes was.
The first sign of trouble: they took there own sweet time making Wincing The Night Away. For a band that only released a pair of albums, each one clocking in a hair over a half hour, this seemed like trouble in the works. In those three years, I got a chance to revisit Inverted World just to get a fix and, in the process, heard the things that I’d been missing originally and understood what prompted all the praise it received.
It also allowed me to prepare my ears for Wincing, simply because I noticed the progression between those two albums and understood that by moving forward, they were forcing me to move along with them.
The teaser came in November with “Phantom Limb,” the lead-off single which is (smartly) more of the same that we’ve come to expect. Seriously, when I first heard it, I could have sworn that there was something wrong with my download; somebody must have mislabeled this file because I was positive that I’d heard it before.
I fought the urge to download the leaked full-length because “Phantom Limb” scared me from it. I mean, what if the rest of the album was full of “Phantom Limb(s).” What a disappointment that would be!
The good news is that The Shins have used the past three years wisely; Wincing The Night Away is a clear progression from Chutes while managing to continue the formula that made it so great. Mercer is proving to be one of the greatest American songwriters of his generation and the rest of the band seem intent on providing him with arrangements that complement his talent while, at the same time, seem to challenge their own abilities.
You’ll immediately notice that the production quality itself has expanded vastly over the first two albums. This may be an issue for some who enjoyed The Shins’ exploration of 60’s jangle, but in the context of the band’s own musical development, why not allow the listener to hear how good they’ve gotten at mastering their instruments. And in Wincing, there’s a lot of instruments being used.
“Australia” sounds like the best Smiths song Morrissey/Marr never wrote, featuring the best “give me your hand and let’s jump out the window” ranking up there with “I dreaded sunny days, so I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates” in terms of complete contradiction of words and melody.
The album’s greatest departures from Shins-past also happen to be the album’s highlights: “Sealegs” and “Red Rabbits.”
“Sealegs” starts with a little bit of Love & Rockets-styled “No New Tale To Tell” acoustic guitar before the strings swell in. Underneath this is the funkiest bass line the Shins have ever committed to wax with the occasional flourish of 80’s synth to make things interesting.
“Red Rabbits” allows the band to continue with its recent discovery of keyboards, much in the same way other guitar-based bands have done. But just before you start to worry that they're heading down that road to pretention, the acoustic guitar returns while Mercer declares “we’ve pissed on far too many sprites.” Suddenly, everything is back to normal in the world of The Shins again.
The reaction from fans (and some critics) who have had leaked copies of Wincing to consider for a few months now is mixed. Ultimately, the discontent points to the fact that even with three years under their belts, The Shins have made a record that still managed to be ahead of the curve and too much of a progression for some of their base to contend with. The reality is that, like my own life since Chutes, the band have moved forward and found them in a better place. So maybe the expectation should be to consider them as a band that won’t change your life, but they might be a perfect soundtrack for the changes that your life is bound to take.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Collins Kids

Rhino Records does a wonderful job with reissues, and Rockin' Bones is no exception. A four disc collection of rockabilly tracks, it covers songs that are easily recognized ("Summertime Blues," "Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On") and songs that were criminally lost over time ("Flyin' Saucers Rock 'N Roll," "Switch Blade Sam") thanks to limited pressings and poor distribution. Like their Nuggets collection, you find yourself falling in love with rock 'n roll all over again...And learning a little bit of rock history in the process.
Several of the best tracks are from artists that needed to get the rock out of their bones before turning back to a "straight" life. But for two and a half minutes, their id took over and someone had the good sense to throw it on tape with a shitload of echo.
Some of the artists actually had a go of it, but remain frequently overlooked today. Take Lorrie and Larry Collins, aged 16 and 14 respectfully, and straight from small-town Oklahoma. Pint sized Larry played a double-necked guitar like a kid who missed his Ritalin dose while Lorrie looked hot and sang well enough to create some mutterings from the church-goin' women back home.
Here's a bad-assed clip from the Collins Kids on Town Hall Party, a syndicated country & western show back in the 50's. Hosted by Tex Ritter, he contributes some awkward backing vocals before letting Larry shred with Joe Maphis on "Under The Double Eagle."

Lorrie later broke Ricky Nelson's heart by dumping him for Johnny Cash's manager while Larry found some extra cash in his pocket when he penned "Delta Dawn" and "You're The Reason Why God Made Oklahoma."
And for the gearheads out there: Larry's picking on a double-necked Mosrite that's worth more today than what the duo probably made in an entire year on the road.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Songs The Spacemen Taught Me (Or How I Came To Love Spacemen 3)

I’m sitting in my basement with only one intention: to listen to every single Spacemen 3 record that I own, review them, and discuss why I’m such a Spacemen 3 fanboy to the extent that I would listen to all of their recorded output (at least, what I posses) some 15 or more years after they disbanded. They’re a group I never got the good fortune to see live, but was fortunate enough to discover while they were still in existence.
It helps that I got in their good graces on the album that many, including myself, consider to be their highwater mark, The Perfect Prescription. It came in complete happenstance; a cassette version of the album (Glass Records) that sounded like shit and was anything near the sonic quality of what you’d expect a pre-recorded “official” cassette to be. I’m talking audio quality here, and while pre-recorded cassettes typically fell well below the kind you could make with a good old Maxell XL-II, this version what even below the normal-bias shit you’d get from your friendly, money-loving record company.
Yet it worked.

The tape hiss, the wow and flutter, the decaying oxide all added to the element as if it was itself a band member.
I knew nothing about the band before I got the cassette. To be honest, their name intrigued me as did the cover art which featured two dudes on it. One of them was seated in front of a Vox amp, strumming a chord on his Fender Jaguar with his eyes closed. The other guy standing next to him held a Fender Telecaster Thinline. His eyes were closed too.
For me, the image of these two guys who looked stoned and around the same age as me, was enough to warrant interest.
And the music I discovered within the poor fidelity of the cassette was enough to warrant continued interest.
Their sound was completely minimal: seldom straying from one or two chords and frequently without the aide of a drummer. The guitars were a blend of vintage six strings, fed through vintage amplifiers and effect pedals. There was lots of feedback, and often it was left unchecked to the point where the drone of fuzz created a layer of sound that hung in the air like a fog. Within the fog, you could make out subtle nuances and harmonics; Spacemen 3 were first and foremost a guitar rock band for people who didn’t give a shit that the same chord, key, and tempo would be played to the point where either your patience was tested or your hallucinogens were wearing off.
The lyrics were a perfect compliment to this primitive sound, with lots of drug references, odes to Lou Reed, and halfhearted pleas to higher beings and doctors to help them break their chains of drug addictions.
It would be remiss for me not to suggest that a band like The Velvet Underground certainly helped prepare myself for Spacemen 3; they have an obvious debt to them (repaid in full on “Ode To Street Hassle” from The Perfect Prescription) but while the V.U. seemingly reinvented themselves on each of their four albums, Spacemen 3 seemed content on exploring and perfecting “Sister Ray” to the point where every measure of that song could create an entirely new being.
Like the Velvet Underground, Spacemen 3 only released four proper albums during their time together. Afterwards came the obligatory push of legitimate, semi-legitimate, and complete bootleg releases that seemed content on providing the Spacemen 3 cult with every recorded note they made. Like a good fan-boy, I’m working on owning all of these, but can freely admit to becoming frustrated with the endeavor as I’ve noticed a ton of overlapping and bottom scraping along the way. I’m trying to become more sophisticated at this, and perhaps this can serve as a flow chart for my own obsession and as a reference guide “for all the fucked-up children of this world.”
The listing of the following albums represents the timeline in which they were recorded and not in the order they were released. The “proper” four studio albums are designated with a “*” following the album title. These are the albums that novices should first start with.

For All The Fucked-Up Children Of This World We Give You Spacemen 3

takes a five song demo from 1984, labeled here as the band’s “first ever recording session,” tacks on 2 additional “alternate mixes,” and calls it a release. Hardly essential stuff, but if you’re into hearing a band find their way around frets, arrangements, and tempos then this would be your album. Strictly for completists, the Spacemen at this point haven’t reached the wall of sound that they later explored, but they have a pretty good blueprint in place.

Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To

The next step forward from the initial recordings from ’84 found on Fucked Up, Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To are the demo sessions from late ’85. There’s a lot of replication here, but if you’ve become obsessive enough to document the Spacemen’s progression, you’ll find it here. Rawer (!) than the Fucked Up sessions, the tracks are starting to become more realized and closer to the final product found on Sound Of Confusion. A lot of tracks from both that album and Perfect Prescription can be found here. The performances are tentative at times and both Sonic Boom and Jason seem to be discovering the right arrangements to match their drug-addled visions. There’s an inconsistency in fidelity (this release was first issued as a bootleg) and Taking Drugs isn’t necessarily a title that one needs to seek out. “2:35” is repeated three times, “Hey Man” is found twice (once titled as “Amen”) and the others? The better versions can be found on the proper releases. Only “Mary Anne” (which features the same chord progression as “Transparent Radiation”) and a cover of “It’s Alright” stand out as tracks that can only be found here.

Sound Of Confusion*

The debut…and a great starting point for the uninitiated. The Taang! Records version which is out currently does an adequate job of presenting the original 7 tracks in their entirety. They also add “the first single and demo” (which is actually the Walking With Jesus e.p.) on the end of it. Sound Of Confusion is one of those stunning British debuts and it’s the sound of a band that’s very much in tuned with where they wanted to be and it provides a great blueprint into what they could have eventually become.
The Walking With Jesus e.p. that ends the set on this disc is obviously culled from the record itself; there are noticeable pops through out it and some of the high-end is cut of at points. Taang! could have worked harder at locating the master tapes for this. The version of “Rollercoaster” from it adds another 10 minutes of fuzz ‘n feedback, “Walking With Jesus” is performed at a quicker pace than the version that ends up on Prescription and “Feels So Good,” another track that would appear on the second full-length shows up here for the first time too. There is a demo version of “2:35” that’s included on here too, but it’s completely redundant and offers no new insight. but it’s very obvious that they’ve culled these songs, literally, from the record itself; there’s noticeable surface noise and cut outs on the high end. But fuck it: the bonus material is gravy anyway.

The Perfect Prescription*

From the opening fade-in drone guitar, one can hear a progression from The Perfect Prescription over Sound Of Confusion. First of all, the release itself is essentially a concept album that mends itself perfectly to a drug experience. Secondly, the band’s playing has increased nicely. Not to the point where they’d be mistaken for experts of their instruments, but instead, their performances are confident and assured. Surprisingly, a lot of the material here was in their setlists for some time, so how they were able to take songs from their catalog and incorporate them into a complete and update concept album about the drug experience is astonishing. But it works, and The Perfect Prescription is a masterpiece of psychedelic layers and is, without question, one of the top ten albums of the 80’s.
“Take Me To The Other Side” is a requiem for the pleasures of drug use, and the pro-drug vibe continues until things start to crash during side two’s “Call The Doctor.” The ups-n-downs of drug usage are finally brought to a hilt with the seventeen minute long piece “Rollercoaster.” While The Perfect Prescription doesn’t do much lyrically to describe the effects of foreign substances on the human body, the music provides a complete and accurate account of these events.
A remarkable masterpiece that sounds as essential today as it did when it was first released twenty years ago.

Forged Prescriptions

If The Perfect Prescription blows your mind, then its companion Forged Prescriptions (released 16 years after Perfect) will give you a similar experience. Disc one is based on the “alternate mix” of the Perfect album; it contains more studio effects than the original release. On the second disc are the demo versions of the album. It does provide some nice insight into the Spacemen’s rehearsals “Take Me To The Other Side” contains some different lyrics, there’s an unreleased “Velvet Jam,” and an unreleased cover of Roky Erikson’s “We Sell Souls.” While Forged Prescriptions isn’t as essential as the original, it’s still a very worthy trip.

Dreamweapon: An Evening Of Contemporary Sitar Music

The story goes that the original mixes of The Perfect Prescription were too “complete” and would be impossible to recreate on stage. So Sonic and Jason toned down the released version and, perhaps, in the process discovered the power of their minimalism.
Their live shows would often test their minimalist dogma, but nothing reflects it better than a performance at Waterman’s Arts Centre in Hammersmith, England on August 19th, 1988. That show was recorded, albeit not in the most professional sense of the word, and released under the title Dreamweapon.
The title itself is a direct lift on La Monte Young’s minimalistic “dream music” experiments in which melody in music is disregarded in favor of a series of overtones and harmonics. Young’s most common point of reference is The Velvet Underground (John Cale and original Velvet’s drummer Angus MacLise played in some of Young’s projects), so it’s of no surprise that the Spacemen picked up on some of his theories and tried them on themselves.
The Waterman show presented here is one song, one chord, and lasting for forty-four minutes. If the listener can get beyond the obvious challenges of this, they’ll find that within those forty-plus minutes is perhaps the most pure expression of the Spacemen’s vision. It’s not a listen that can be recommended first or to those that expect to hear any sense of melody. But for me, it’s one of the Spacemen 3’s finest achievements; the guitar patterns drone on and on, to the point where the listener is lost into a trance-like stage. If there was ever an album more appropriately titled, this would be it.
Throughout the performance, the band loops prerecorded sounds of subway arrivals, a perfect (even if it wasn’t intended as such) commentary on urban repetitiveness and how even the most mundane sounds can be viewed as music if you’ve got the headspace to believe it. The headspace of the audience is questionable: throughout the performance, you can hear people chatting away thanks to the open-mic recording technique used during the performance. Oddly enough, even the audience conversations somehow lend a positive role to the recording.
The release I have from the mid-90’s (on the Sympathy For The Record Industry label) contains a great Sonic Boom guitar workout called “Ecstasy In Slow Motion” and a fifteen minute-long “Spacemen Jam” rounding out the disc. Later releases include the introduction music they used to start their performance. Interestingly, this music (found as the “Ecstacy Symphony” pieces on the Prescription disc(s)) continued to be used by Jason on Spiritualized shows.

Playing With Fire*

The third Spacemen album finds hints of separation starting to enter: Jason Pierce starts incorporating more subdued material while Sonic Boom continues the exploration of ear-shredding guitar freakouts. There’s still a sense of continuity between the two, however, as both ends of the spectrum (pun intended) are based on a format of minimalism.
As a result, it all works beautifully together and some of the band’s finest material can be found here. “Revolution” created enough of a stir in the indie rock circles for Mudhoney to take notice and cover the song for one of their singles while befriending the Spacemen during a European tour. The two bands are, of course, perfect complements of each other, with one (Mudhoney) wonderfully tapping into the Detroit garage rock fury while the Spacemen explored the extraterrestrial leanings of primitive guitar workouts.
Spacemen’s albums come complete with appropriate covers that directly point at the band’s primary influences. When they don’t cover their idols, they offer up their own penned tributes. Like The Perfect Prescription’s “Ode To Street Hassle (and Forged Prescription’s “Velvet Jam”), Playing With Fire provides its own tribute to Alan Vega and Martin Rev’s band Suicide with the song, unimaginatively titled “Suicide,” an eleven minute exercise in guitar feedback brutality.
The bonus tracks on the Taang! Records reissue feature a live version of “Repeater (How Does It Feel?)” and “Suicide” (also found on the Threebie 3 e.p. released the same year as Playing With Fire) as well as the b-side of the “Revolution” single: a cover of Suicide’s “Che” and a stunning rendition of “May The Circle Be Unbroken.”


By the time Recurring was released, the two primary creative forces in the band hated each other to the point where they refused to work with each other. To address this, the album featured one side of Sonic Boom’s material and side two contained all of Jason’s tracks. There’s an obvious difference between the two sides resulting from this and I will confess to (initially) liking side two more. Boom’s material heavily relies on synthesizers and drum samples; Jason’s material is more organic and follows a road he would continue to travel with Spiritualized. I’ve grown more appreciative of Sonic’s side over the years as I discovered much of the krautrock formulas he was trying to explore. At the same time, Jason’s material is a tad stronger and the lyrical content feels like an end point, which is exactly what Recurring ended up being. My least favorite (official) Spacemen album, but that shouldn’t deter you from finding out how fantastic side two of Recurring really is.

Losing Touch With Your Mind

I remember browsing though the Spacemen 3 section of The Record Collector a few years after they had disbanded, hoping to find a rare import or two. I found this title, complete with no record label listing or supporting documentation. I can only assume that this is an un-official release not sanctioned by the band members; the fidelity of the tracks included here also point to illegitimacy. What you get is a collection of different mixes of Spacemen 3 songs, most are too subtle to be vital and, therefore, this becomes the first release of many that followed (some even legitimately authorized by Sonic Boom) that are redundant, bottom-feeding, and somewhat exploitive. Try to avoid this one, even though the packaging looks decent, particularly in the vinyl configuration.

Admittedly, the Spacemen 3 catalog is a mess, and it can be a frustrating endeavor for anyone who’s initially exploring them. Stick with the proper releases, try them on in order, and discover if you want to get involved with the posthumous compilations that (seemingly) repeat the same songs over and over.
By the time you get to the last album Recurring you’ll be able to decide which way you should go with their solo material; side one of that album sounds a lot like Sonic Boom’s first release Spectrum after Spacemen broke up while side two sounds a lot like the first Spiritualized album Lazer Guided Melodies.
The other frustrating thing about Spacemen 3 releases is how often they seem to fall in and out of print (this is a big problem with Sonic Boom’s Spectrum material and his later E.A.R. project and it’s starting to be an issue with some Spiritualized albums now). Because of the inconsistency in availability, I believe that it is depriving this band of the unanimous praise lofted towards My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus & Mary Chain. For every fan of Loveless or Psycho Candy, they should also allow one offering from Spacemen 3. The problem then becomes, which one to choose.
Hopefully, this overview helps with that.

Todd Totale is pursuing the following Spacemen 3 titles to complete his collection and “to make me feel better.”

The import version. It’s been remastered and it includes some additional tracks on it. My version is the original release, so watch me drop $35 for a title that I already own. Brilliant.
A live set from the Perfect Prescription European tour. Because I don’t have enough versions of ”Take Me To The Other Side” already.
Live In Europe 1989 (a.k.a. Spacemen Are Go!)
A live set from the band’s final tour.
Translucent Flashbacks
A collection of b-sides and rarities. I only need this because it has a Sun Ra cover on it that used to be on my cassette of Perfect Prescription.
Threebie 3
Maybe. I actually have everything on this mini-lp already. So I’d be buying this just for the cover art (which is nothing really) and…well…I’d be buying this for the cover art.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

William Elliott Whitmore - Live Review

William Elliott Whitmore
The Picador

Homecomings in my hometown were generally considered with a certain amount of festivity. We typically had a homecoming parade on the day before the big game complete with the marching band, themed floats created by the members of each high-school class, and at least four couples competing for the title of “Homecoming King & Queen,” named during the halftime show of the big homecoming football game.
It was the kind of event that usually drew out the town’s alumni and was celebration enough for the alumni who live outside of the city limits to trek back home to see their old football team take on an opponent in their district. Even when the home team was not blessed with a talented squad and, therefore, had no chance of advancing on to the championships after the end of the regular season, people would still come to fill the stands of the stadium and show their support.
William Elliott Whitmore had his own sort of homecoming at The Picador on Friday night and even though his style of music really doesn’t have a chance in today’s fractured popular music environment, the supporters were out in droves on this January night, witnessing their Iowa boy shake out demons from his acoustic guitar and paint vast images (slightly fabricated at times) of life in Iowa from his well-worn banjo.
The setting was quite a memorable moment actually; it was the kind of crowd that is generally reserved for those historic performances (Built to Spill, Soul Asylum, the mighty House of Large Sizes) that you often refer back to when gauging the number of people who can fit into the confined accommodations that is The Picador.
This huge showing of support clearly made an impact on Whitmore, who frequently thanked the audience and commented on how many recognized faces came out to see him. His affection was genuine and it seemed to make him reach a little deeper into his soul on some songs, to the point where he needed to compose himself (“I need to take a minute and catch my breath!”) after the song had ended.
Lifting his hour-long set heavily from his latest Songs From The Blackbird and his second release Ashes To Dust, Whitmore laced his performance with several nods to his homestate, instilling a sense that we should be mindful and proud of our roots as he is so often to do within his own arrangements; with his stomping foot providing the only rhythm, Whitmore’s performance was as minimal and honest as they come. The audience took note of this, encouraging him with the drunken yells and hollers that probably mirrored the juke-joints and roadhouses that filled the era William strives to revive.

Whitmore does a good job of channeling this mystique with stage banter of how he lives in a one-room log cabin or how his dog killed a skunk on the night before, causing the rodent to spray its defense right into the mouth of his four-legged friend. But his “act” never seemed contrived as, in the middle of his cornfield reflections, he also encouraged the audience to check out the new Clipse album.
Whitmore noticed that the audience was fairly crowded and then started to invite anyone who was interested up on to the stage with him to make additional room. Throughout the night, the rapport between the performer and the audience was close, with several drinks (shots of whiskey and bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon) being offered to him to the point where he declared “I’m fucking drunk!” The banjo playing then became a little looser and, either because of the alcohol or because the magnitude of his local supporters was finally realized, Whitmore ended his set with a tribute to the ground that we all would walk on when the doors closed: the fertile Iowa soil.
Whitmore makes his way back overseas next before returning to the states for a small tour of America. Regardless of where he travels, one can be certain that there will be a little bit of that black Iowa dirt on his shoes wherever he goes.
And we’ll be here for another homecoming celebration when he finally returns.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Baby 'Kicks Out The Jams'

A recent photo of the baby "screaming for vengeance" at 21 weeks.

He/she likes to kick out the jams every night around 10p.m.

There's a $5 cover if you want to check him/her out live at our place.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Deep Tracks From Dad's Record Collection

You know, for a dude that’s created enough inner drama than I care to admit, I’m still taken with the fact that the old man’s been influential on a number of levels, music included. Looking back on it now, there are a few albums (or 8 tracks, in many cases) that stand out as well as those that don’t.
The following albums are some curios found in my Father’s record collection that, for whatever reason, stand out.
Even stranger, I’ve sought out a few of these items before suddenly returning to my senses and realizing that Father figure nostalgia doesn’t necessarily translate into quality records.

                • Miles Davis-At Fillmore: Live at the Fillmore East
                  Dad was never a real jazz fanatic, so what this was doing in his collection is beyond me. This record single-handedly turned me off of Miles Davis for over 15 years. At Fillmore contains Bitches Brew-era Miles in a live setting, yet completely skull fucks the notion of a live album by manipulating the recordings and splicing segments together with no sense of continuity. So what you get is freak outs in progress suddenly edited at the most incoherent moment. And the freak outs? There’s no better word to describe them and there’s no way a child with a developing sense of music could comprehend. At the same time, there’s a good possibility that most adults wouldn’t be able to comprehend this. Typically, I could only set through this thing a few minutes at the time (it was on 8-track) which is more than I can say for my father. I never saw/heard him play this title once. I don’t fault him for it, either.

                • John Mayall-U.S.A. Union
                  When my Father talked about music, it sometimes involved Eric Clapton, or specifically, how great Eric Clapton was/is. He thought Cream’s Disraeli Gears was one of the best albums ever made. He felt that Clapton’s solo on Cream’s “Crossroads” was one of the best in rock history. He explained that John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton was the greatest blues/rock albums ever made and contained some of Clapton’s most spirited performances. I agree with that last statement, actually, but I’m not sure about John Mayall’s place in history, other than being a lucky son-of-a-bitch that had the good fortune of having one of rock’s most gifted guitar players appear on one, count ‘em, one of his albums. A while a lot of other very talented musicians have also worked with Mayall throughout the years, U.S.A. Union found Mayall working with a group of U.S. musicians he hadn’t previously worked with. The results were mixed; Mayall doesn’t have the strongest voice to begin with and his lyrics are weak at times. On the other side, this is a fairly nice, laid-back blues album (he neglected to secure a drummer) with lots of clean guitar, violin, and some excellent harmonica work from Mayall. Enough for me to seek out? Perhaps, but it’s nothing that I need to own to make my life complete.

                • West Bruce & Laing-Whatever Turns You On
                  What happens when you add two people from Mountain (Leslie West and Corky Laing) with one dude from Cream (Jack Bruce)? A supergroup with a lower case “s.” This album featured some hideously bad cartoon cover art, which is probably the reason why it remains out of print today. However, I vaguely recall this album being a pretty good effort and I’m fairly sure that it would hold up today.

                • James Gang-Live In Concert
                  In my mind, the James Gang should be about a hundred times more respected than they are. Their Rides Again album ranks as one of the best albums ever made. I think the band also thought the album would do better than it did, because the following album, Thirds, is pretty shoddy in spots and sounds like a band that had run out of creative juice. Walsh went solo before landing a fairly good paying gig with the Eagles, and the James Gang’s record company decided to give fans a taste of what this power trio sounded like in, of all places, Carnegie Hall. Walsh plays like he’s on fire and after listening to it, you’re left wondering why he isn’t acknowledged more as one of the greatest rock guitarists around. The answer probably lies in the litany of half-assed solo efforts he released in the 80’s and in his half-assed work ethic in general. Nonetheless, for those of us who know about the power of the James Gang, you tend to forgive Walsh’s alcoholic complacencies. There’s nothing complacent about Live In Concert; I played Dad’s 8-track until it broke and I’m debating on getting it again.

                  Dad had a lot of the usual suspects in his collection too: Fleetwood Mac Rumors, Steve Miller Band Fly Like An Eagle, Linda Ronstadt Living In The U.S.A., etc. But the albums mentioned here represent some left-of-center titles that stand out in my mind several decades after they were last listened to. If you were to ask my old man if he even remembers these albums, I’m sure the answer would be “No.” Which makes it fairly cool (for me, anyway) to see how he spent his money on music. There are some patterns with the choices, particularly with the West Bruce Laing/John Mayall connection to Eric Clapton, and then there are some crazy things popping up out of left field (Miles Davis stands out).
                  Crazier still: I remember them. And while I can’t vouch for their quality or even recommend them to you, I can still list ‘em as memories because there were many times in which the turntable ended up being more of a Father figure anyway.

                Sunday, January 14, 2007

                Proof That Gene & Paul Are Married To Each Other

                Why does this remind me of two Grandparents bickering at each other?

                Taken before Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve in 1994.

                Thursday, January 11, 2007

                The Top 73 Albums 'In Order'

                Sure, you can comment here all you want about what's turnin' you on or about why it's taken me months to post a new picture of Chan Marshall....Or you can list your top 73 albums at Mark Prindle's Record Review site. Per Mark: you have to do them "in order," so there's a little bit of work on your part. And you have to format it just right, or he gets real pissy and starts hacking into your computer.

                Just kidding.

                After you've got your list together, send the results to him. Prindle will then spends hours compiling the data after he's spent hours surfing the internet for sexy pee videos. Then, he'll display the watersports videos on his website.

                Just kidding.

                He'll put the list together and the world will rejoice at "The Top 73 Albums In Order."

                So have fun and send him your favorites before some douchebag gets their friends together and starts stacking the ballots for H.I.M. or Hinder or Bloodrock.

                Here's the information about the survey.

                And here's the first picture of Chan Marshall for 2007:

                Wednesday, January 10, 2007

                Bob Dylan-Street Legal

                I've become a supporter of the theory that every real fan of rock and roll will, sooner or later, discover Bob Dylan. I know there's lots of rock music supporters than can only handle him in small doses and are perfectly content with greatest hits packages. I'm also aware that there's a lot of music lovers that can't get beyond the voice and don't understand what all the fuss is about.
                Then there are those that find a Bob song, or find several, that just speak to them.
                Then all hell breaks loose.
                I mean, his catalog is too daunting to completely absorb, right?
                Plus, there's the obvious concern that his catalog contains some duds, and who wants to fall into an album that is poorly executed and could possibly tarnish your entire appreciation of him?
                When you start with the obvious choices (Highway 61 Revisited, Blood On The Tracks, Blonde On Blonde, etc.) you know, or should know, that you're getting into acknowledged landmarks. So what about those lesser known titles like Slow Train Coming, Empire Burlesque, or Planet Waves?
                Christmas is a great way to discover these titles; simply put 'em on your Christmas list, find 'em under the tree and if they reek, you're out nothing.
                The only thing to contend with: will your opinion of Bob change if you hit that bummer elpee?
                I intended to find out, starting with Street Legal.
                Released in 1978, Street Legal came immediately after the one-two punch of Blood On The Tracks and Desire, both excellent endeavors and both hard to top.
                The first thing you notice with Street Legal is how different it sounds from the aforementioned efforts. Thick with slick production and unnecessary horns and over-the-top backing vocals, it's an album that probably sounded better in rehearsal and on the demo reels.
                Lyrically, Dylan has compiled another batch of winning material, but it's hard to focus on it as the arrangements are too busy to remain focused.
                "New Pony" is a great number with a blues-y feel and the opener "Changing Of The Guards" possess enough imagery to contend with some of his mid-60's masterstrokes. It takes a while to get there, and I can't blame anyone without the necessary patience to get there.
                So Street Legal isn't bad enough for me to step away from delving further into the Dylan cannon, but it's uneventful enough for even the most ardent Bob fan to admit there's not a lot here to return back to examine again.
                Street Legal is merely an interstate you'll use to get to his next important work.

                Saturday, January 6, 2007


                According to The Lefsetz Letter, a blog that I totally enjoy reading, I am reaching the point where my cd collection is obsolete and will be worth a total of, oh, around $347 by the end of this year.

                Sometime in the next twelve to eighteen months CD sales are going to decline so precipitously as to cause the major labels to rethink their digital strategy. With the iTunes Store no replacement for discs, they’ll be forced to authorize a new method of distribution, just to maintain their bottom lines.

                You’ve seen this movie. With film. For fifteen years seers predicted digital would eclipse the old format. This finally happened a year ago, when Konica Minolta exited the camera business and Nikon essentially stopped making film cameras. Same thing is going to happen in the music business, with CDs, it’s just a matter of when.
                Would someone remind me why I sold off all those records twenty years ago?
                I'm becoming increasingly frightened that my idea of music is completely archaic that I'll become yet another forgotten hold-out that record companies will eventually write off.
                And this after moving nearly 2,000 individual discs into a new home while people can carry double that in an iPod.
                I have no right to make fun of 8-tracks, RCA SelectaVision, or Betamax tapes any longer.

                Thursday, January 4, 2007

                Pete Townshend-Who Came First

                Let me start with a digression.
                In the fall of the 7th grade, our English class was presented with the idea to collect original material and place it in a collection, representing our work as writers, poets, and whatever 13 year olds put down on paper.
                I was doing well in English class and had, what I would consider, to be a bond with the teacher. Nonetheless, 7th grade proved to be one of those years where the idea of social stratus was much more important than grades, especially harebrained ideas like collecting the written words of our English class.
                Much of the stuff I had written, personal stuff that was guaranteed anonymity from my peers, would be completely out of the question for this collection. Since we had the final say in what would be included, I quickly drew up a completely stupid short story written from the perspective of Pete Townshend’s guitar. It was juvenile and I knew it. Yet I submitted it for entry anyway.
                My English teacher stopped me after class and, knowing that I had written much better material than the Townshend piece, asked me to reconsider. I refused. Worse, I lied, saying that I really liked the story. She didn’t challenge me further and let it go into the collection as planned.
                The idea or fear that I had was that it would be safer to include a funny little story about a guitar instead of acknowledging some real emotional piece that might subject me to additional ridicule from friends. I was growing in the social ranks, so why on Earth would I subject that to a composition that may prove to be disastrous in the lunchroom, at the football game, or on the long walk home after school? For Christsakes, that walk was already hindered by a stupid looking trombone case, so why make matters worse?
                The collection came out and it was filled with the obligatory bad poetry, poorly executed artwork, and creative input that you’d probably come to expect from 13 year olds. In short, it was the stuff you would be embarrassed with five years later, no matter how good it was. And adding to the embarrassment was my stupid little story about Pete Townshend’s guitar.
                The guitar feared for its life every time Pete picked it up. It whined about how hard the owner played it. It viewed Pete as a guitar killer, as several of his “friends” had died after Pete smashed them on stage. I can’t remember how it ended, but it was probably something stupid like “Oh no! Here he comes again! I hope he picks the Rickenbacker!”
                What killed me was that inside of the collection, a girl by the name of Lisa had written a poem entitled “Their Brother.” Lisa was not a very popular student. Born into less than privileged means, she wore a perpetual scowl on her face, seemingly acknowledging her social place and telling everyone what side of town she resided in. I didn’t know Lisa. I never actually spoke to her and I never saw her smile. But I did know that her poem was the best thing in our 7th grade English collection.
                For a few days, I debated on the idea of approaching her and telling her this. It would have been an honorable thing, perhaps the act may have prompted her to try harder and continue on with her talents. It’s presumptuous of me to think this, of course, but at the very least some positive feedback may have made her feel better about her day.

                Honor wasn’t what I was about at age 13, and I never spoke to her about obvious talents displayed in “Their Brother.” The poem, with no hint of rhyme or the structure that 7th grade English told us that poetry should posses, was a heartfelt admiration of an older brother in one of Lisa’s group of friends. I’ve never told anyone about this until now, and I’m sure that if I would have pointed it out, particularly at the time, it would have been ridiculed (“That’s a poem?! It doesn’t even rhyme man!”) and reinforced her status as “scurve.” As chickenshit as it seems now, I knew it was great, and I studied Lisa a little more closely than I did before.
                Lisa ended up not graduating with our class; by the 10th grade, she was placed in the “alternative” school, the one that allowed the kids to smoke outside and, seemingly, come and go as they pleased. In our town, the classrooms were usually held in an old elementary school building, one that had been abandoned by the school district in favor of cost cutting measures, but structurally sound enough to house the “bad kids,” or in politically correct terms: at risk children. They were the ones that either prompted the “What the fuck happened to that guy?” reaction by the senior year or were met with surprise when their blurry school photographs (not the professional ones that the rest of us had) were included in the yearbook.
                I bring up this long-winded digression because I recently went Christmas shopping and, as one frequently does, found an item that I ended up purchasing for myself. I was sent to Best Buy, a task that I hate going through during the holidays because every douchebag in America has to go to Best Buy during the holidays immediately after they their shit at Wal-Mart.
                I picked up an sd card for my girlfriend’s parents, a Joss Stone cd for my Mother (my Mother didn’t ask for it, and I’m not very familiar with the work of Ms. Stone, other than her cover of “Fell In Love With A Girl,” which was polite enough for me to remember “I bet my Mom would like her.) and Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You for my Dad (again, he didn’t ask for it, but everyone should own a copy of this soul classic).
                While perusing the cd racks, as I’m inclined to do whenever cd racks are present in a store, I came across a reissue of Pete Townshend’s first solo album Who Came First. I remembered that Ryko released the disc several years ago before letting it fall out of print. The title stood out to me because I used to own this album on vinyl as a kid and remember being intrigued by it.
                It was a weird case of synchronicity too, because on a few occasions lately, I’ve found myself singing the words to “Parvardigar” to the little one while giving him a bath. Strange, not necessarily because of the subject matter (essentially an interpretation of Meher Baba’s prayer, whom Townshend was a follower at the time) but because I remembered the lyrics (“O Parvardigar the Preserver and Protector of all/Without beginning are You Lord without end”) a full twenty-five years after I had even heard the album. Meher Baba, it had seemed, had sent this reissue and place it in front of the racks of the “T” section as a sign.

                Coming off the success of Who’s Next, Townshend was pressed by label executives looking for a solo album, particularly after Who bassist John Entwistle released Smash Your Head Against The Wall on his own. Waving a promise of contributing some of the solo album’s royalties towards various Baba projects, Townshend agreed and started compiling material, both new and leftover Who fragments, to round out the effort.
                I should note at this point that I am not a huge Pete Townshend fan and, with that being said, this shouldn’t be an album that other non-Townshend fans first pursue. It’s worthy enough, but novices should seek out other more fully realized Townshend solo efforts (Empty Glass, All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes) before starting here. As for me, I enjoy hearing Townshend’s building blocks, even more than the aforementioned titles, which is why I only have the demo-derived Scoop and now Who Came First in my own collection.
                The early versions of “Pure And Easy” and “Let’s See Action” are great as they’re presented here. There’s also a great Ronnie Lane track (“Evolution”) as both Lane and Townshend shared a common bond of drinking and being followers of Meher Baba.
                My favorite track is the acoustic “Sheraton Gibson,” which is a very basic “I’m on the road and I miss my home” song with a chorus that sings the praises of Cleveland, Ohio, the home to a band that Townshend provided huge support for, the James Gang.
                The rest of the album is, essentially, songs inspired by or provided for Meher Baba. The object of Townshend’s affection was an Indian spiritual “avatar” with an extensive history of regimented discipline and obedience from his followers. Meher Baba, which translates as “compassionate Father,” remained silent from 1925 until the time of his death, a good example of the discipline he required of himself. He gained a certain amount of notoriety during the late 60’s when he was interviewed about the spiritual aspects of drugs. His response clearly contradicted the prevailing psychedelic culture at the time yet, ironically, his overall message of (literally) “Don’t worry, be happy” became common fodder on dorm room posters across America.

                I’m generalizing, obviously, but something in Meher Baba’s lifelong teachings and messages clicked with Townshend around the time of Tommy and he’s remained, at fluctuating levels of devotion, a follower of the avatar’s message ever since.
                Who Came First is a very relaxed, personal, and enjoyable journey into Townshend’s spirituality and a good example of the range of his talents.
                But more than anything, its message for me is the strength in actually releasing it. When word got out of Townshend’s newfound spirituality, many Who fans looked at it with skepticism and some hostility. This was a band, remember, that was huge on bravado and had a history of aggression (mod supporters, the Smothers Brothers show, etc.). So it took a very brave Pete Townshend to show a lack of concern for his fan’s perceptions and agree to release something as personal as Who Came First. Maybe if I had understood this and been a little braver myself, I wouldn’t have worried so much about what others thought about a middle school English project.

                Tuesday, January 2, 2007

                2007: Don't Believe In What They Said And What You've Always Been Told

                Perhaps you've noticed the layout changes to Glam-Racket.
                Maybe not.
                In any event, they're part of one of the few New Year's Resolutions for 2007. The rest of the resolutions are found below, but before we tackle those...

                Let's recap the progress of 2006's New Year's Resolutions:

                • Watch more boxing (Hell yeah...HBO's Boxing After Dark got put to good use last year; I'm a huge 'Pretty Boy' Floyd Mayweather fan now.
                • Todd Totale Will Stop Smoking. (As of this writing, the cigarettes have diminished, but here's the first mulligan from '06).
                • Purchase 6 Bob Dylan cds. (Done and done)

                1. Freewheelin Bob Dylan
                2. Bringin' It All Back Home
                3. Nashville Skyline
                4. Desire
                5. Street Legal
                6. Modern Times
                The world can now breathe a collective sigh of relief.

                The 2007 resolutions are:

                • New Glam-Racket layouts (Done and done..Woo Hoo!)
                • Get married
                • Have a baby (June '07)
                • Get a job
                • Get 5 new cds from The Fall (1 down and 4 to go)

                Here's hoping that you'll get everything you want in 2007 and that the year finds you healthy, happy, and returning here as often as work 'n life allows. Comment frequently and nicely.