Friday, December 31, 2010

The Baker's Dozen 2010

So. What the hell happened this year?

It’s like the crazy-juice that we supposedly banned after Obama got elected somehow got its formula changed and is now part of the Tea Party company.
And now it’s made with extra crazy!

Thankfully, new music was in full bloom which made narrowing down a list to just thirteen fairly difficult.

At least some things stay the same.

After considering a large list, narrowing it down some, and then breaking it down to the top thirteen with an obligatory honorable mention of thirteen more.

1. Roky Erickson with Okkervil River True Love Cast Out All Evil

It helps if you know the story of Roky Erickson before listening to True Love Cast Out All Evil, because it makes its impact a lot more noticeable. But even if you’re not familiar with Erickson’s incredible tale of redemption, True Love paints an aural biography for you, one that will undoubtedly have you discovering more about this man’s legacy. Truly inspiring.

2. Kanye WestMy Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

At these prices, you’d be silly not to check out Kanye’s tale of discontent. His issues with ego, fame, and his own talent are presented in this challenging record that is both catchy and clever. After watching Ye come close to getting crucified for some of the most ridiculous “controversies” that our lazy media conjured up, MBDTF comes across as a welcomed ball of vitriol that ends up being the best rap album in a long time.

3. High On Fire Snakes For The Divine

For years, Matt Pike seems pretty content with delivering album after album of solid metal. With Snakes For The Divine, he ramps up his ambition and delivers his first album that matches the brilliance of the genre’s most notable efforts.

4. Paul Weller Wake Up The Nation

Another impressive rebirth as Weller gets back to the Mod swagger of his youth. It is, quite simply-the best work since The Jam while managing to be more consistent than his old trio’s own output. Getting older has its advantages, but the Modfather sounds like he’s having a blast during his second wind.

5. Pantha Du Prince Black Noise

With probably the most perfect cover-the music sounds like it was created in a cabin in the Alps-Pantha Du Prince combines organic ambience with subtle beats into a deceivingly brilliant effort. This will no-doubtedly become an electronic reference point but Black Noise’s quality will be apparent to any music fan. A perfect soundtrack to winter, Pantha Du Prince has created a warm counterpoint to electronic music’s traditionally cold landscapes.

6. Vampire Weekend Contra

Not only does Vampire Weekend overcome the sophomore slump with Contra, they manage to explain the hype of their over-rated debut through sheer musicianship. They’ve won me over-hands down-with this quirky and complex gem of mood improving music, and if you let your own cynical guard down a bit, you might just hear it’s impressiveness too.

7. The National High Violet

Stunningly good. The first half sounded a bit too slow at first, but now I’m wondering if it’s a matter of pacing. Because the second half of High Violet is about as good as you can get in rock. It’s a perfect soundtrack for these troubled times, with references to the economy (“I still owe money to the money I owe”), the war (“It’ll take a better war to kill a college man like me”) and how the past decade was ruled through fear (“Venom radio/Venom television/I’m afraid of everyone.”). If the next decade is just as bad, The National will just get that much better.

8. DeerhunterHalcyon Digest

By my accounts, Deerhunter are probably the most consistently good American band operating today, and each record seems to further affirm how talented they are. Halcyon Digest builds upon a few layers of accessability, but it includes the band’s wonderful penchant for Velvet jangles (“Desire Lines”) and Brandon Cox’s love of atmospheric textures.

9. Best Coast Crazy For You

Just a cute little scurvy pop record that’s perfect for anyone who doesn’t mind limited songwriting, primitive musicianship, and an abundant amount of beach blanket bingo. A fun, thirty-minute distraction that could have easily been a guilty pleasure if it wasn’t so awesome.

10. Titus Andronicus The Monitor

Nothing like reaching for the skies when a bunch of New Jersey boys ape Born To Run and Rum, Sodomy and the Lash in equal measures. Titus Andronicus write and perform like it’s their last musical statement ever. And when it doesn’t fall over from the weight of its own Ritalin-aided spaz, it damn near reaches the heights of those aforementioned classics.

11. WavvesKing Of The Beach

Another shameless blast of 80’s pop-punk that also manages to place Wavves’ frontman Nathan Williams in a better light than his previous offerings. Thanks to a bigger production, Wavves is no longer a band of enormous hype and dubious talents, they are contenders who finally found out that clearing your head occasionally gives you the clarity to create a tremendous album.

12. Wolf Parade Expo 86

Another record planted firmly in the sonic landscape of the 80’s with a firm eye towards tomorrow. Expo 86 sounds as wide-eyed and nervous as the moment you tossed your graduation cap up in the air, only to ponder “Now what?” It’s also the first Wolf Parade album that sounds like it was created by a band instead of just a side-project. And what a good sound that is.

13. The Sword Warp Riders

A concept album of sci-fi proportions that fueled by laser-tight guitar chords and asteroid destroying tempos. There’s a bit more shitkicking in the guitar chords than other comparable metal band mining from the same creative pool, which makes The Sword a unique fixture in the genre and Warp Riders one of metal’s high points.

I'm sure that other albums will crop up after posting this, causing havoc on the overall list. While I'm confident that the Baker's Dozen will remain as listed, the real danger comes in the following honorable mention, which has changed about a dozen times prior to this post.

14. Arcade Fire The Suburbs
15. The Fall Your Future Our Clutter
16. Gil-Scott Heron I’m New Here
17. Holy Fuck - Latin
18. Serena-Maneesh SM2: Abyss In B Minor
19. Bryan Ferry Olympia
20. Morning Benders Big Echo
21. Love Is All Two Thousand And Ten Injuries
22. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists The Brutalist Bricks
23. ShearwaterThe Golden Archipelago
24. Bob Dylan The Witmark Demos
25. FoalsTotal Life Forever
26. No Age Everything In Between

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Big Dipper - All Going Out Together

It's a song about nuculer annihilation, but it's often misheard as a song about getting ready to go out on the town.

Big Dipper was/is one of those forgotten bands that probably deserved a lot more than they received. What they received was a blurb review in People of which this gem can be found on.

Here's some footage of the band performing what may be their best known song from 1988.

Post your own New Year's Eve plans and I'll read them while staying home watching Female Trouble.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wavves - King Of The Beach

I’ll confess that Nathan Williams’ erratic behavior at last year’s Primavera Sound Festival sure looked like the crash landing of yet another internet darling, ending Wavves ascension almost quickly as it began. Primavera was the type of event that reeked of another example of what happens when we put notoriety before talent. It was perfect ammunition for the cynics, dutifully pointing out how the internet scenemakers are just as awful at picking tomorrow’s talent as the dumbasses at major labels.

Wavves’ frontman, Nathan Williams-the same Einstein who thought that combining ecstasy, Xanax, and Valium before performing in front of a bunch of paying customers would be a good thing-sounds like he’s put down the drugs long enough to deliver on all that promise and hype. King Of The Beach finds Williams putting the portastudio in the closet and stepping into a real studio. Whether it was that act-or an inherent need to prove himself after last year’s debacle-the album works as both an attempt at redemption and one that completely vilifies his prior acclaim.

The full spectrum production lets all the hooks, melody and charm shine through. Williams bounces from spastic surf pop to primitive Beach Boys harmonies to garage rock rave-ups. But producer Dennis Herring introduces elements of wiggy psychedelia and chillwave trances that would find a home on Merriweather Post Pavilion. Regardless of whatever twists and turns Williams finds himself navigating, King Of The Beach handles the road with the kind of confidence of an artist that’s completely in control of their senses and their creativity.

The concern then becomes if this sudden burst of sonic maturity has dulled Wavves’ sense of recklessness. Thankfully, Williams’ lyrics remain as childish as ever, including a completely unwarranted fear of the ocean, water, and yes-waves.

He waxes on and on about worthlessness, spinning themes of self-loathing into fun pop bursts. On “Idiot,” he offers a half-assed explanation for his poor behavior and a feeble attempt at an apology. “I’m not supposed to be a kid” he claims, “But I’m an idiot/I’d say I’m sorry/But it wouldn’t be shit.” And underneath his psychoanalysis lies a peppy “Sha la lala la la” backdrop, pointing out that his suggestion of stupidity is merely a cover-up, hiding a very smart artist that has the potential of being around for quite a long time.

Provided, of course, that he can keep his hands away from the pharmaceuticals and on the studio control board instead.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Foals - Total Life Forever

It’s going to take a few spins to appreciate Foals’ muse-for the first few plays of their second release, I put it in the increasingly growing category of bands that count Talking Heads’ Fear Of Music as their primary business model.

I also thought it was a re-issue of Catherine Wheel’s Chrome album until I looked at the cover art more closely.

After a few more listens, I began to notice all of those math-rock influences that Foals’ members claim to have instilled in them.

So in addition to Fear Of Music, check out their love of Don Caballero’s American Don and watch how they turn Total Life Forever into a rhythmic avalanche of interloping guitar patterns and paradiddled high-hats.

Foals may be building to some form of release throughout Total Life Forever’s eleven tracks, but lyrically it sounds like what began the construction was dismal stuff.

“You were better than anything that ever came before” vocalist Yannis Philippakis pleads during “After Glow,” his voice breaking like the most heart wrenching Robert Smith moment, “Without you here to save me, save me from the door.” At that moment, the band kicks into overdrive before undertaking a polyrhythm shuffle, complete with cleanly picked staccatos and roller-coaster feedback.

Probably the most head-spinning moment comes after you’ve progressed through Total Life Forever a few times. It’s “Miami,” one of the record’s shortest tracks and certainly the most accessible, complete with sweet backing vocals and concise groove. Yannis asks, “Will you be there for me in Miami” before asking the significant other if they’re up to the task of saving him again from some other turmoil.

Total Life Forever isn’t without certain faults. That “Miami” track is probably my least favorite, but the one that will ultimately gain the biggest attraction; it’s bouncy appeal becoming the record’s most unnatural entry.

It’s about 10 minutes too long which means that a lot of those plucked guitars and tail-wagging grooves begin to sound alike after a while, only to have their identities come forward after spending additional time.

The good news is that additional attention is pleasurable and makes Total Life Forever a rewarding listen. It also means that the subtlety may make Foals’ impressive second album one that ultimately gets overlooked-a casualty of Philippakis’ sweet vocals and the band’s own ease at building beauty from their doubt and misery.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Under Shrink Wrap

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Christmas one last time, specifically what I got for Christmas that is music related. I do this because there is nobody except you readers that could appreciate it-my own family really has no idea the impact that music has on me. Growing up, I’d throw down records that I wanted as Christmas gifts, and inevitably I’d get “What do you want besides records?” to help fill in the gaps that couldn’t be filled with just a visit to the record store.

But of all things, my Mother-in-Law seems to be making an effort to understanding as evidenced by a Christmas present that wasn’t on any list.

She said that she had read my post on the Bruce Springsteen documentary, where I confessed that I never owned Darkness On The Edge Of Town and that I’d probably seek out the re-issue set sometime later.

Instead of doing the obvious-merely ordering that newly issued edition-she sought out an original vinyl edition. Not only that, but the copy I ended up getting was a sealed copy, complete with the promotional sticker “Contains ‘Badlands’.”

Now I’m at a dilemma: break the seal and listen to the record just like I would have in 1978, or keep it sealed. I do have one of those album cover picture frame things where the shrink-wrapped album could be displayed nicely, but it almost seems like defaulting on the integrity of the music of Christmas past.

I would always retreat and listen to my presents, absorbing whatever information I could about the gift.

It’s not about wanting the value to keep increasing on the album-I don’t think Darkness is that rare of a commodity-but it’s not every day where you can find a sealed record that’s over thirty years old.

Whatever the decision, it’s a great gift and it reminded me how something, which may seem insignificant to others, still means a lot to me.

Share your own Christmas music booty in the comments.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas From Glam-Racket!

I have no idea where this Glam-Racket tradition started and I have no idea how to stop it. But Happy Holidays with our annual revisiting of R. Kelly’s Trapped In The Closet saga.
Merry Christmas to all.
And to all, a midget.

Friday, December 24, 2010

David Bowie & Bing Crosby - Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth

I know there is an update version-a parody which is more creepy than funny-but for me, the original is (obviously) still the best and just as weird.

Because the notion of David Bowie-fresh off of the androgyny of Ziggy Stardust and still considered a fringe rock artist in the mainstream-sitting down to croon a duet with Bing Crosby was absolutely bonkers back when this song was done for a Crosby Merrie Olde Christmas special.

Bing died a month after recording this song.

Bowie was asked about the weird paring, admitting that he did it because his mom liked Bing Crosby. He didn’t like the song “Little Drummer Boy,” so songwriters wrote “Peace On Earth” to tack onto the more recognized classic.

I’d looked for a copy for years, under the assumption that the performance was only available as a bootleg. I learned through someone that a record collector in Waterloo, Iowa had a copy-probably more than one, actually-and that he might be able to sell me a copy.

I was in college at the time, and I had a few rarities of my own. I called up the man unannounced and offered to meet at his place to discuss options.

I return for a promotional copy of Jimi Hendrix Live At Winterland, I scored a copy of “Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth” and an eighth of an ounce of weed.

Looking at it afterwards, I realized that RCA records had actually released “Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth” as a single. “Fantastic Voyage” was the b-side, and Bowie became upset with RCA Records for the yuletide cash-in, a full five years after the song was originally broadcasted.

And for a real hoot in parody, check out this stellar version from the Venture Bros. camp.

"Come in. Come in. Come in, David Bowie. Now."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Singles 45's & Under: Tobin Mathews Orchestra - "Ruby Duby Du"

Ah yes, another one of my 45’s.

You can tell it’s mine, because (again) I’ve indentified it as such with a childish handwritten “Todd” right under the publishing information.

I do this sort of thing with cars, electronics, and furniture, but it never seems to have the same results.

“Ruby Duby Du” is performed by the Tobin Mathews “Orchestra” (more on this later) and the label states that it’s from the movie Key Witness, both of which my parents have no recollection of.

Neither Mom or Dad could identify where this record came from and neither one ever recalled going to a movie called Key Witness, the only reason I could think of why you would even buy this single.

Thanks to the internets, I’ve learned a few things about this record-and the story is intriguing.

First of all, Key Witness was a movie-evidently an overacted drama about a witness to a gang killing….1960 style-that featured none other than the late Dennis Hopper. It also features Johnny “I Can See Clearly Now” Nash in a role. The plot sounded good enough for me to include it on my Netflix queue, but I’m not holding out for a stunning piece of work.

“Ruby Duby Du” is the theme music to the movie, but from what I understand, it is a different version that the Tobin Mathews’ version.

The version here is an original pressing from Chief Records, a small label out of Chicago that asked a bunch of local musicians to re-do the song. The head of Chief Records then put together a “front-man” by calling up a local guy and asking him if he wanted to be in a band to support the labels up-and-coming hit single. The label head named the fellow “Tobin Matthews” after simply lifting the first and middle name from his own son.

Willy Henson was a guitarist from Calumet, Illinois. By the time “Ruby Duby Du” hit number 30 on the Billboard charts, he was better known as Tobin Mathews. Although Henson…er, Mathews…was well known around the Chicago scene, he didn’t play a note on the song.
I find this fascinating-a label decides to record a cover version, and after it’s recorded they decide to build a band around the session performance.

Henson had enough talent and good looks to eventually parlay the “Ruby Duby Du” gig into a couple of contracts with Warner Brothers and Columbia records.

Henson/Mathews has his own blog where he’s cataloged some of his rock music stories and photographs from his past.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Captain Beefheart - Lick My Decals Off, Baby

There’s no middle ground with Captain Beefheart, so this review is for those who have already taken the big leap into the man’s polarizing body of work and are looking for the next step.

The assumption here is that you started with Trout Mask Replica, the massive document captured by Frank Zappa that’s perceived to be Beefheart’s crowing achievement. That perception is debatable, but I won’t argue its brilliance and I won’t fault anyone who chooses it as their first ride on Beefheart’s off-the-map journey.

It’s the first Beefheart album that captures his off-center compositions, a strange blend of that aforementioned train ride that’s piloted by an engineer under the influence of tainted moonshine and too many Howlin Wolf and Ornette Coleman records.

Trout Mask Replica gets people’s first attention because it had the benefit of the Zappa affiliation. That in itself was a weird form of commercial appeal, but not in the sense that Zappa made the album accessible enough that you’d actually hear the good Captain on the airwaves. His work on the album got people to take notice, in the same way you’d want to go check out Serrano’s Piss Christ because you heard Annie Leibovitz developed the negative.

So let’s assume that you’re like me: you’ve got your Trout Mask Replica record and you’re blown away by it because there is nothing on Earth quite like it and all you know is that you need more of that.

Where do you go next?

The next logical step is to get going forward from Trout Mask Replica, right into the follow-up album, Lick My Decals Off, Baby. This single l.p. offering follows the same pattern as its predecessor, but it features a touch more of the primordial weirdness that completely eliminates the jokester aspects that Zappa tried to display on Replica with false starts and studio novelties.

If Replica was recorded “through a flies’ ear,” then Decals uses legitimate recording technology, with microphones, tape machines and combo amplifiers. It takes the inherit weirdness from its predecessor and streamlines it, packaging the off-kilter arrangements into nice Van Vliet stomps.

It’s that foot in the blues that leads me to think that Beefheart fans can become jazz fans, but not the other away around. He’s an accomplished blues shouter, which makes lines like “She stuck out her thumb, and the fun begun!” so much more authoritative than if it were uttered by Zappa, Alice, and whoever was on the Straight record label at that time.

Beefheart fills Decals with matters of the flesh, saving the smart stuff for those incredible moments of interplay and impossible chord progressions. There’s a chance that listeners not accustomed to this kind of “wrong” playing, but there are real images within those challenging passages. And when the Magic Band breaks into one of their recognizable grooves, you are very aware of how passionate their performances are, regardless of the measure.

And then there’s Vliet himself, who smartly positions political statements in between lines of absurdity. The sarcasm that fills his anti-Aquarius barb “Space-Age Couple” sounds like a prediction of the entire counter-culture crash a full half year before Altamont even took place.

Ironically, Lick My Decals Off, Baby was released during the same month as Altamont, and it died as quickly as Meredith Hunter. It seemed that there were very few people who were still interested into seeing where this strange cat was going after his bulbous double l.p.

But for those who did-and for anyone wanting to see where’s the good Captain’s ship was heading after stirring up the waters, this record is a sturdy vessel to navigate this artist’s weird waters.

It also shows that Vliet’s brilliance was not a fleeting thing. He was by this point a certifiable artistic figure that could shine very consistently-and he did so during future records.

And you didn’t need a “fly’s eye to see it” with Lick My Decals Off, Baby.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Friday, December 17, 2010

So Long Captain: Don Van Vliet R.I.P.

At first, I was dismayed at the way I learned of Don Van Vliet’s passing.

I learned about it on Facebook.

Some would claim that this is the power of the social network. That your circle of comrades will scour the internets and newswires-feeding back only the news of interest to your social strata.

I felt that the death of Captain Beefheart was deserving of a worthier announcement. It was an announcement that should be broadcasted from the top of Rockefeller Plaza. His passing should be on the bottom screen ticker at Fox News.

“Captain Beefheart, dead at the age of 69…” the closing sentence of Katie Couric’s evening news.

Then it struck me how the news of Van Vliet’s passing came from an update from the very same friend who introduced me to Captain Beefheart.

The same person who brought Captain Beefheart into my life also told me when he left it.

I’m reaching there-searching for clever metaphors that suggest how Captain Beefheart’s music will live on, and all that.

But the truth is I’m not so sure.

How often do you hear Captain Beefheart on the radio? A silly question, but the truth is, I just heard a song on the public radio station last Saturday night.

I got genuinely excited.

Because it’s a rare event, and Beefheart is one of those rare icons that created just for the sake of creating, that you can just imagine from his name that the results did not bode well for radio airplay.

Now that I recall it, my friend wasn’t actually the first time I’d heard Beefheart. The first time was watching him on Saturday Night Live performing “Hot Head.”

I hated it.

But then my friend turned me on to Trout Mask Replica while in college, and an entire world of wrong notes, vividly descriptive wordplay, and the closest thing to Howlin’ Wolf’s voice that I had ever heard, came through a lens of understanding.

From there, Lick My Decals Off, Baby.

From there, Doc At The Radar Station.

And so on.

Discovering Beefheart during a time when he wasn’t even active musically added to the attraction. What happened to him? Where did he go? Was he just another acid casualty?

You’re never forgotten on the internet, and someone put together a comprehensive Beefheart sight that advised everyone that the Captain was now just “Don” and those covers of his late-career material was, in fact, art.

It was good to know that he was doing well with his art.

You also began to get the picture that Don wasn’t doing so well health-wise. Multiple sclerosis. What cruel irony gave a man with such a vast imagination with a disease that devastates cognitive ability?

It prepared you for this day, but it doesn’t soften the blow.

I like how Don’s relationship with Zappa deteriorated when Beef felt that Zappa was painting him and his magic band as a freak show. This was serious stuff to Don, and he didn’t sweeten the mix with accessibility, or have a care in the world how his stuff was going to be marketed.

To be honest, Zappa may have been trying to do the only marketing that would have been possible with Beefheart: promote the zany sounds.

But listen closely and you’ll hear that those wacky chords are very complex. This was not a nut-job working like a monkey for Warner Bros. This was an artist who pulled the unthinkable by landing on a major label and still managed to release some heady, life-changing records that sound just as challenging now as they did when they were released some forty years ago.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Best Of Billy Joel

Admittedly, this video isn't for everyone.

My wife, for example, wouldn't think this is funny by any means.

But for me, it's a riot-all of Billy Joel's greatest hits played at the same time.

I laugh at the moment it begins; all bold from the first notes of a new hit record from Billy Joel.

And while it kicks off into chaos, it progresses into a weird blend of existential weirdness.

No wonder he had trouble with the drink!

And then the "heart attack ack ack ack ack!!" thing can be heard, and I lose it.

I'm admittedly not that familiar with "Captain Jack," the song that weirdly ends the proceedings.

I could have sworn it would have been "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Big Joe Polka Show

I don’t know if the Big Joe Polka Show is on in your area, but I do know if you have access to it, you must give it a sample.

The Big Joe Polka Show is a polka show-think of the Lawrence Welk Show with nothing but polka music-hosted by a large elderly man with white hair by the name of Joe Siedlik.

Here’s where it gets weird: there is some kind of contractual dispute between Big Joe and the station that carries his show-RFDTV, which is some kind of rural only channel from Omaha that specializes in poorly produced polka shows and shows about horses.

Evidently, the producers of the show and the station that broadcasts them are embattled in a bitter dispute to this day with allegations of “slander and defamation.”

If you’ve ever seen an episode, you’ll understand how hilarious this all is. The Big Joe Polka Show is Joe sitting on a chair, introducing polka bands and their next songs. Joe is very jovial about his introductions, sometimes telling jokes and declaring how some of the guests were invited back by popular demand.

The cameras keep a close eye on the audience-which usually contain a few dozen couples dancing to the music on a plywood floor. Some come in matching outfits-the louder the better-and some have a natural attraction to the camera-hamming it up whenever the cameraman is near.

The median age of the crowd is 70.

Al Grebnich recently came out of retirement to perform a few classics from his catalog on Nebraska records (I’m not making any of this up), which include “You Are My Sunshine.” I know this because Big Joe mentioned that Al is “still in the record and cassette business” and even admitted that he has a few 8 tracks still available.

Again, I’m not making this up and again, this was from an episode that was recorded in 2010.

Al looked to be napping while performing and he sported the same loud grey plaid suit that he bought forty years ago

But let’s not single out Al for his attire: the entire crowd looked to raid an old clothes trunk from decades past, or at least live in some kind of secret Polka society that is immune from any outside contact with the world circa 2010.

Peter and Paul Wendinger sported some newer clothes with a blue shirt that had a floral emblem. They also wore hiking shorts and cute little Czech hats. They performed their hit “Minnesota Polka” (every state seems to have their own Polka) which contains the verse:

“Fishin’ Minnesota
Fishin' Minnesota
You’re sure to hit your quota
When you fish in Minnesota”

The song ends with an offer to “have a beer in Minnesota” and even the fish themselves serve up an offer to come visit and kill them for consumption.

For some of you, this may sound like an alternate universe, but here in the Midwest, there are still Polka dances taking place and some radio stations broadcast a weekly Polka show. I’ve heard there’s even a younger contingency of Polka supporters in the Decorah, Iowa area-but there’s a lot of Norwegian up in that area, so it may just the genetic make-up.

Also of note: do you know the Grammy's no longer have a Polka category? They said that with one of the last polka awards feature at the Grammy's, there was only one nationally released effort that qualified.

Hell, I should have been looking for a gig in the Polka genre. I'd get to be on a nationally syndicated television show for exposure and have a good shot at a Grammy in a few years!

And here's another example of why SCTV may have been the funniest comedy show ever.

Fishing With Dean Ween

I don’t know why I didn’t learn about this before, but it’s awesome.

For anyone wondering what Ween does in the off-season, the answer is that we now know that half of the members are fishing…and making a living at it!

I guess I always assumed that Ween had been fully engulfed by the jam band populous that they could afford to constantly tour under the moniker and make a living.

After all-and I learned this later on-Ween is probably in peak form when they’re on stage.

Check out Ween covering Led Zeppelin.

Evidently that is not the case, and the duo must find other sources of income when the Ween machine is not on the road.

And for Dean Ween, that other source of income is taking you out as a sportfishing guide.

Want proof?

Take a visit to Mickey’s Guide Service which gives you the option of several guide packages to choose from and a list of credentials that is impressive.

But the credential that seems to me to be the most important is that he claims to be a “pretty good conversationalist.”

For real, if I had money to burn, I’d totally hook up with Captain Mickey Melchiondo and spend a day fishing with him. If things got too out of hand, he’s Red Cross certified in first aid and CPR.

Photo of Deaner courtesy of his website.

Friday, December 3, 2010

RIP Armando Javier Acosta

I don’t expect you to know who Armando Javier Acosta is and I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on his life.

In fact, I don’t expect many of you to know that Acosta was the drummer for a band called Saint Vitus.

I would like you to know that he passed away today, and some recognition is needed for his contribution to Saint Vitus-a doom metal band with roots in the late 70’s that borrowed not only their name from a Black Sabbath song, but also their ability to cause men to bob their heads in time to a layer of repetitive sludge.

You see, following the blueprint of Sabbath in an environment of hardcore So-Cal punk was in itself pretty punk rock back in the day.

Combine that with the fact that Black Flag regularly named this oddball bunch of longhairs to open for them is in itself pretty amazing.

“Mondo” was not particularly a great drummer, but he was great at what he did with Saint Vitus: turn their riffs into a slow motion anvil, rarely raising the heartbeat of the audience, choosing instead to just hammer away at the rib cage with the intent of stopping the vital organ altogether.

Saint Vitus were the precursor of bands like Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age, “Born Too Late” as one of their album titles explained, while never getting the recognition they deserved until after the band broke up.

In a weird case of syncronicity, my cousin sent me a copy of the recently re-issued Hallow’s Victim just days before Acosta passed away.

He was 58 years old, and while that is way too young to pass away, it surprised me that he was approaching 60. It’s hard to believe that he was approaching 30 when Saint Vitus was beginning to take off with the other early SST labelmates.

In catching up with the band’s whereabouts, it seems that Mondo left Saint Vitus after a recent reunion with the Wino line-up, with another member hinting of some personal issues between him and the other band members, which resulted in a new drummer being added to the fold for a recent set of appreciative shows.

Here’s a clip from happier times with Armando behind the kit. Check out how everyone raided the Black Flag merch table when they ran out of clean clothes.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Singles 45's and Under: Glen Campbell - Where's The Playground Susie

Here's a look at the Capitol label circa late-60's/early 70's.

Here's a Glen Campbell gem that he performed when I saw him in Riverside this summer.

Unfortunately, not everyone was so lucky. Some crowd favorites weren't performed at all.

I heard a middle-aged woman lament to her husband on the way out that Glen didn’t play “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife.”

If that was my wife, I’d say she was trying to drop a hint.

She looks in the mirror and stares at the wrinkles that weren't there yesterday
And thinks of the young man that she almost married
What would he think if he saw her this way?

He didn’t notice. They kept walking together to the casino door.

Speaking of, the review of the show continues to receive comments of anger from some Campbell fans who felt I was too harsh on the aging country superstar, focusing too much on his advancing sunset and not recognizing his contribution to country and pop music.

But the fact is that I love Glen Campbell, and teleprompter or no teleprompter, I had a great time at the show with my Boomer neighbors. They simply have a hard time understanding that the Glen Campbell we saw on that afternoon was a different man than 30 or 40 years ago.

It’s obvious that Glen is showing the signs of age-which is why it’s critical that any fan with a passing interest see him now before it gets embarrassing.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Singles 45's and Under: The Beatles - I Want To Hold Your Hand

Case in point: here we have an original 45 of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” b/w “I Saw Her Standing There.” Note the nifty Capitol swirl! Note my declaration of “Wow!” wonderfully hand-written by yours truly at the age of three or four. Note how, even at that early age, the seeds of cataloging seem to be in place, thanks to my documentation of "1964" on the left side of the label.

The fading of the orange color represents my feeble attempts later on at trying to remove the markings with a pencil eraser.

Somebody do the legwork and tell me what this thing goes for in mint condition.

Aside from the horrendous condition of the label, the grooves of this single are completely shot, changing the color of the vinyl from traditional black to a near grey quality. This is probably due to a cheap needle from my old record player and a curious tradition of taping loose change to the top of the tonearm with Scotch tape.

One thing is sure: I played the piss out of this single when I was young, entranced by the power of rock and roll with no regard for how much the Beatles’ first American smash hit might be work in the decades to follow.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Singles 45's and Under

I went to my folk’s place for Thanksgiving.

It’s different now that the parents live in a different town-sometimes it feels weird to be there after they spent decades at our old house, the same one I lived in since 1978.

In 1978, I had 165 45’s. I know this because I wrote the number on my record case. The following year, it increased by only 10.

I know this because I wrote that number below the first one.

The vast majority of my singles were hand-me-downs from my parents. It was their preferred format growing up while mine was most definitely the album.

But those old singles did provide me with a lot of memories and, more importantly, they taught me a lot about music. Singles-at least the ones I purchased-were used as a way to see if I liked an artist. I was the type of guy that listened to both sides, and if the b-side was a success then there was a good possibility that I’d like the whole album.

To hear my Mom talk, they would buy a bunch of their favorite hits in high school and then tote them around to each other’s houses for study nights, sleepovers, or whatever it was they did for fun as teenagers in small town Iowa.

Their record players enabled them to stack the 45’s up, dropping a new disc the moment the tone arm got out of the way. That picture is one of the three cases that I received to lug around those 165 singles. It’s probably in the best shape of the three.

I wonder what ever happened to the Amberg File & Index Company?

My Dad brought out the record cases one day over the holidays, presumably to ask if I want to see if there’s anything worth taking, while secretly hoping that I’d take the whole lot of them and get them out of his storage room.

I glanced through them to see if there were any gems, and there are several, but the issue is that they’re not worth anything and they are completely worn out in most cases.

I didn’t take very good care of those 45’s and no one told me to treat them with care, as they might be valuable someday.

So I did what any stupid kid would do: I wrote all over them. Mostly my name, but occasionally I’d just write stupid shit on them, some primitive form of ownership in case there were any doubts of who they belonged to.

On the floor of my parent’s furnished basement, I lamented over a bunch of Apple singles with “Todd” written with permanent pen on the green apple logo. I see a Peter, Paul, and Mary single with the entire label ripped off, only to be drawn back on with my 8-year-old hand. I see an old Beach Boys single with the yellow/orange swirl Capitol label on it, identifying not only the song (“Surfer Girl”), but also that “Todd is #1.”

My 1978 single inventory that was on that box also marked the moment when I began to start caring for my stuff. I noticed that I began keeping the sleeves of those 45’s around that same time. I began cleaning the grooves before playing them.

Most importantly, I stopped writing stupid shit on them.

Instead of taking these worn out and worthless (value-wise, not musically) singles home with me, I just began taking photos of them. I’ll post the photos of some of these and then relay a story about the songs-probably something in regards to what impact the song had on me or some other personal artifact.

Because what came from those grooves is more important that what those grooves are worth in mint condition.

At least that’s what I tell myself every time I see those desecrated Apple labels.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ozzy Osbourne - Scream

What happened? At one point, he was an adorable, self-proclaimed “Prince of Darkness” shuffling around his home for public consumption, releasing forgettable solo albums that took the bite out of any horrorshow he conjured up in earlier days. The next, he’s a puppet to his wife’s celebrity and a slave to her authority, shuffling around in a goddamn variety show while firing longtime guitarist Zakk Wylde, giving him the pink slip during an interview on a radio show.

Scream is Ozzy’s 10th album and the first with thirty-year old guitarist, Gus G. It has a thoroughly modern sound with lots of compression and heavily processed vocals that usually find Osbourne yelling some anthemic phrase like “Scream!” or “I’m Fearless!” or “Let It Die!” or “Soul Sucka!”

In fact, the album was almost named “Soul Sucka” before fans provided enough feedback to Ozzy….er, Sharon…that an Ozzy album with the title of Soul Sucka would be just as prophetic as a Black Sabbath album named Never Say Die!

There’s also a few mid-tempo tracks with positive messages to ensure they are played on rock radio next to the latest Nickleback songs.

Of course it sucks, and of course I’m bitter that the people holding Ozzy’s strings right now are dismantling his legacy piece by piece, making him as irrelevant as Kiss and Alice Cooper. What’s more frustrating is that the slow decline is logging a few decades now, but the descent is seemingly in freefall with Scream, a patchwork of technology and provocative one-liners.

“How will I know you, Mr. Jesus Christ?” he asks on “Diggin’ Me Down,” “Have you already been here once or twice,” seemingly referring to Christ’s visit to the Native Americans. Yes, Osbourne’s barrage of attacks against Christianity is so worn now that he is setting his sights on the Book of Mormon.

Thirty-year-old guitar wunderkind Gus G. provides Scream with plenty of bite and screaming whammy bar dives, but he provides no real identity to what kind of guitarist he is. Not that I’m a Zakk Wylde fan as the redundant guitarist was present for Osbourne’s previous low points, but at least he developed a persona that fans could attach to and associate with. There are also reports that the album-including the guitar parts-were already in place before Gus G. signed his contract with Ozzy Osbourne LLC. Even so, I’ll bet the thirty-year old guitarist already has a signature series guitar for sale from whatever company he’s using.

All of this talk about guitarists may mean nothing to the average Ozzy fan, but it should, as his entire career is dependant on the strength of what guitar player he’s working with. On Scream, he’s working with a very capable axeman who no one would be able to identify without the help of the liner notes.

The bulk of Scream’s failure has nothing to do with his guitarist, however, and everything to do with the man himself and producer Kevin Churko, whose fingerprints are all over this release that it will be impossible for Ozzy to re-create these songs live without the aid of an IT department.

One good thing that I can say about Scream is that it is the most consistent album he’s done in twenty years. Even though the material is an embarrassing attempt at gaining favor with the active rock outlets, it plays like a straight line in consistency with none of the songs jumping out for inclusion in a “classic Ozzy” playlist.

The other positive thing about Scream?

This one wasn’t produced by Timbaland.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Lookout Kid...It's Somethin' Ya Did

That’s a picture of my son with the mascot of our local hockey team from earlier tonight.

The week before, we drove up to the dome of my old university and watched a football game.

Sometimes I think he tolerates it more than enjoys it, feeling that it’s more of an obligation of what sons are supposed to do with their fathers. I’d like to tell him that it is indeed worth the boredom to tag along with your old man to an obligatory father/son outing. I don’t remember too many of them with my own father, and I’d like to believe that they’re meaningful enough later, when you begin recalling events to use against your old man.

There will not be a point where my son starts a blog and writes “I don’t remember too many of them with my own father” when tallying all of the sporting events the two of them went through.

It’s the trip to them that’ll probably be forgotten, but I’m taking steps to paint an audio picture that will trigger something-maybe subconsciously-whenever he hears those songs later on.

Tonight on the way to the hockey game, a bit of Back In Black seemed appropriate. It was a dark night, with steady drizzle and the dropping temperature of Thanksgiving eve could potential make the overpasses a slick affair.

I won’t debate the nature of the subject matter-which is pretty much junior high entendres anyway-but the drive and stomp seemed appropriate. Sure enough, they played “Shoot To Thrill” over the p.a. at the game during a stop in the action.

It registered with him.

My job was done.

On that weekend of the football game, I told him that I was going to play a song that would blow his mind.

It was “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

“Who is this guy, Doctor Seuss?” he asked.

I think Dylan would have smiled.

I went deeper-this time on to “Its Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding.”

It’s not like I expected him to understand everything that was being said, but my suspicions about the silence in the backseat were confirmed when I heard him laugh at the “Sometimes the President of the United States must have to stand naked” line.
“Did he just say ‘naked?’” he asked.

That’s all I can ask for. That he pay attention sometimes.

It’ll come back, someday.

It did for me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Black Cab - Call Signs

Released nearly a year ago, I’ve only now come across the third album from Melbourne, Australia’s Black Cab, which mysteriously made its way into my iPod and discovered through a quick search of the “Recently Added” playlist.

It was one of those pleasantly surprising moments where you actually pause to discover the unfamiliar sounds emitting from your player because those sounds are quite enjoyable.

Call Signs starts off in with a very pleasant, shoegaze fashion, reverberating the ambivalence in a sound reminiscent of the Doves’ great 2000 release, Lost Souls.

Rather than get caught up entirely in the shoegaze revival which is showing a very welcomed presence as of late, Black Cab add elements of Krautrock and analog keyboard backdrops. The result is an immediately infectious blend that combines familiar overtones alongside Call Signs almost intentional attempts at a concept record during certain moments.

The album features a bunch of instrumental interludes, ranging from the signal tones of that begin side one and two, to eerie synthesizer passages (the Mute Records-ish “Desden Dynamo” and the Autobahn propulsion of “Sonnenallee”).

When Black Cab does begin to speak up, it’s immediate identified with vocalist Andrew Coates’ lethargic baritone. The first full track, “Church In Berlin,” is probably his best vocal contribution and his ego isn’t large enough to want his chops on every note throughout Call Signs.

In fact, he lets Died Pretty’s Ron Peno handled the mic during “Ghost Anthems,” a jarring departure from the rest of the moody Call Signs. I’ve gotten used to his contribution now and like how the song signals the final third of the record.

But the gem is “Black Angel,” a gentle tribute to Judee Sill, which features a recording of the late folk singer introducing the number. Coates uses less dramatic moan here, opting for a more appropriately weary recitation while guitar James Lee provides a looped acoustic run. It’s the record’s standout track, and the most unique one to boot, turning against the rest of the album’s electronic leanings into and creating a memorable track of open sky authenticity.

Call Signs is not the kind of album that you’d associate with Australia, but it’s good enough to remind us all that it’s necessary to glance down under to see what signals are being transmitted from that country’s endless roster of talented rock artists.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Blitzen Trapper - Destroyer of the Void

It doesn’t take very long into Destroyer Of The Void to hear that Blitzen Trapper is swinging for the bleachers with their fifth full-length. Aside from the overtones of late 60’s Beach Boys, you’ll also find strangely appealing prog-rock tendencies, somewhere between Bowie and Jethro Tull, believe it or not.

Don't worry: the influence is restricted to campfire acoustical moments and frontier arrangements. What's left is a weirdly compelling album that has hints of greatness as well as its share of hair-pulling moments.

Destroyer Of The Void works best with altered states-something that’s needed on occasion as Eric Earley’s lyrics jump from old west narratives to musical arrangements that could have be lifted from Deram Records circa 1968.

And like any project that’s forged from forcing hallucinations into creative statements, there’s a feeling the Blitzen Trapper is biting off more than they can chew. Destroyer Of The Void’s most damning complaint is that all of that hippie love buzz makes for an uneven listening experience.

It's what makes the transition between songs like “Love And Hate” and “Heaven And Earth” stand out like a sore thumb rather than blend together to form that big statement that Blitzen Trapper are obviously going towards.

“Love And Hate” is fueled with hippie optimism (“Why love and hate/Cohabitate”), fuzz guitar and Procol Harum organs before jumping into “Heaven And Earth’s” bold piano and strings serenity. It’s hard to follow Earley’s jump into those big, universal themes (“The canyons of our deepest dreaming lives”) immediately after he’s advising his old lady to move back into his place after an epic spat.

The good news-and there’s enough here to warrant your attention-is that every bit of Destroyer Of The Void sounds like it's coming from an honest creative burst hashed out in basement rehearsals and practice space sessions.

It also sounds like a transition record, and they sound good enough to adapt to either direction that’s prevalent in Destroyer Of The Void.

Now we just need an album focused enough on one of those directions to determine if Blitzen Trapper has decided to put down the joint or the horse saddle.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Mojo

Hot off the class-reunion jam of Mudcrutch, Petty attempts to bring a similar sense of noodling over to the Heartbreakers. The most glaring question is “Why?” considering the bands under-appreciated keep-it-simple-stupid approach on record and cole slaw grind while on stage.

With that sense of “Let’s ring up the fellas and play guitar awhile” approach out of the picture with Mojo, Petty’s twelfth album with the Heartbreakers sounds like lazy meanderings and the most uninspired collection of songs in his otherwise impressive catalog.

It’s clear that the time with Mudcrutch, road work with the Black Crowes, and the stark reality that Petty and the Heartbreakers are at a point where they should be a handsomely rewarded, perennial touring unit at this point, the band seems to be carefully considering life as a jam band. The shitty thing is-even with these reportedly first and second take songs-the Heartbreakers sound stiff and anemic throughout Mojo.

There are no wrong notes, no derring-do, nothing to suggest the performances wrinkled anyone’s shirts or brought a sweat to the brow of those involved.
Take the song that comes close to raising a pulse, “I Should Have Known It.” New drummer the dude-who-isn’t-Stan-Lynch, kicks out a big, wide open beat while Petty and Mike Campbell work out a snaky pattern on guitar. It’s wonderful on paper and well performed, so why does the band sound like they’re counting the measures to the abrupt stops before the chorus.

“US 41” tries hard to stir up some Delta snarl, but even with Campbell’s wonderfully toned slide guitar and Petty’s distorted vocals for an antiquated effect, the song is delivered so monochromatically that the color blue is nowhere near it.

But nothing will prepare you for the absolutely worst Tom Petty song of all time, a track so embarrassingly bad that you’ll prey for Jeff Lynne to burst in to start an intervention. The song is “Don’t Pull Me Over,” performed in the same ballpark of Eric Clapton’s “I Shot The Sherriff,” only an exclusively white ballpark. Yes, it’s a reggae-infused song about being driving high and seeing a cop in the rear-view window and yes, it’s worse than you could possibly imagine.

Around this point, you’ll inevitably come to realize that you’ll breezed through a good chunk of time to get to “Don’t Pull Me Over” and the album still has a few more time requirements. Whether or not you choose to spend them with the rest of Mojo is a matter for consideration, but it’s something you normally experience on other Heartbreakers albums.

Because Mojo fails on another level, and it’s the ability to get it done in a nice, efficient manner. It carries on and on, to a point where it goes beyond authenticity and hovers right around the avenue of self-indulgence. It possesses none of the virile passion its title would suggest and is a flaccid attempt at trying to sound loose while sounding too uptight to even get it up.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Wolf Parade - Expo 86

It’s album number three for Wolf Parade, and we’re finally getting a sense of them as a band rather than a press sheet bio of performers who sound an awful lot like or who run around with you know who.

Maybe all of that name-checking and recommended if you like comparisons have prompted a darker hue with Expo 86, but I like the end result-which is also another way of saying that I didn’t think as highly of Apologies To The Queen Mary as everyone else seemed to.

Or maybe it was Ugly Casanova.

I lean more towards the Dan Boeckner material, probably because Expo 86 marks the first Wolf Parade that lives up to its lobos billing. Don’t worry, there’s still a bunch of that obligatory analog synthesizer wallpaper to match all of the pussyboy squeaks, yelps, and nervous vocal ticks that Boeckner and Spencer Krug dish up on the records’ eleven tracks. The fact that they’re manning up with guitars and letting the drummer kick the shit out his kit more than the snare ‘n bass drum simplicity of Apologies is a nice touch too.

All of the racket helps blur the line between the absurd (“We built this city on cocaine and lasers”-“Pobodys Nerfect”) and the damn-near witty (“The body takes the heart from place to place”-“Little Golden Age”), but more importantly it intrigues the listener just enough to put Expo 86 on repeat.

And repeated listens enable you to discover how Wolf Parade are learning the very important art of rocking the blues away-figuratively of course, because there’s no way that Howlin Wolf would sound as close to giving up as Boeckner and Krug do every time they seem to open their mouths.

A minor complaint would be that the band gets so wrapped up in their own chemistry that Expo 86 can leave the timid fans in their wake, the inevitable “Did I do that?” Urkelism once the crash cymbal fades and the guitar feedback ends. It’s about five to ten minutes too long to be considered a great piece of work and the closer “Cave-O-Sapien” begins with such wonderful abandon that it’s a shame that it ends with such a blue-balls slow fade.


Wolf Parade have finally delivered an album that’s closer to the gloating praise it’s received for lesser efforts.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Friday, November 19, 2010

And I Can't Stop Thinkin' 'Bout That Thing Between My Legs: Whatever Happened To Blue Hippos?

There were so many good bands that came out of the Twin Cities during the 80’s that it’s a shame you only know about two or three of them.

Blue Hippos were one of those bands that you’ve forgotten or never heard about, but back in the late 80’s they seemed like they could be one of those bands that was ready to fall in line with the more notorious acts of the Minneapolis area.

Blessed with a shit-hot guitarist by the name of Paul Osby and featuring former bassist for Riflesport (another Twin City gem), this trio cooked up some sloppy funk and hinted at upper Midwest soul.

Whatever that means.

Their records for Twin/Tone only told half the story. The other half could be found in their great live show, where Osby usually ended up sweating through his shirt while still managing to deliver jive with his sunglasses on.

Sometimes they’d bring on a saxophonist with them to really bring out the Fun House freak flags.

The rumor-and again, this is tenth tier scuttlebutt that probably isn’t true-was that Osby battled with addiction until the momentum was so far from the Blue Hippos that is was impossible to regain it.

Some favorites from back then include the fun “Can’t Stop Thinkin’” from Forty Forty and the legendary “Drug Party” from their debut e.p.

Below is a rare clip of that song, featuring the drummer falling out of time right at the beginning.

Because you can’t have sloppy funk without the sloppy parts.

Did you notice that can of Jolt soda sitting on one of the amps?

The night of that video, the band opened (that's why their gear is in front) for Run Westy Run who was opening for Soul Asylum.

Betcha that was a good show.

What’s crazy is that there are a bunch of Twin/Tone bands that only ended up selling around 2,000 copies during their initial run. To me, bands like Blue Hippos, Run West Run, The Magnolias, etc. all seemed like huge stars. Maybe a tier below the Mats or Husker Du or Soul Asylum, but still worthy enough that you didn’t dare approach them or carry on a conversation with the members.

That, my friends, is how rumors get started.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Twilight Singers Return With Their First New Album In Five Years

From the promotional department of Sub Pop records comes this bit of interest. I could have sworn that an Afghan Whigs reunion was immenant, but this press release from last week demonstrates otherwise:

"Considering the success and critical mass Greg Dulli has enjoyed over the past two years with The Gutter Twins (with his long time friend Mark Lanegan), it’s almost hard to believe that there hasn’t been a new album from his band The Twilight Singers since the 2006 release of Powder Burns. Finally, that wait is almost over.

Sub Pop Records will release Dynamite Steps, The Twilight Singers fifth album, on February 15th, 2011 worldwide. While long time Twilight Singers and now Gutter Twins fans will certainly find what they’re looking for with this release, Dynamite Steps goes further with it’s ambition both sonically and confessionally than ever before.

The album explores the thin line between life and death, mortality and immortality, resignation and celebration—that mythical moment when your life flashes before your eyes, drawn out here over the course of eleven songs.

Clearly the next chapter in an already long and stellar career for Dulli, Dynamite Steps reaches a whole new level of catharsis and progression, evocatively cramming all the highs and lows of the maverick singer-songwriter’s past half-decade into unexpected sonic trapdoors. The opening track “Last Night In Town” encapsulates that vibe, setting the stage for the emotional thrill ride that’s about to come over the rest of the album.

Dynamite Steps was “shot on location” at various locales significant to Dulli’s life. You can hear the sense of place emanating up from the grooves: here, the weary nighttime decadence of New Orleans rubs up against the oppressive sunshine of Los Angeles and the desolation of Joshua Tree’s desert vistas. Various guests make contributions to the album including: Ani DiFranco, Joseph Arthur, Petra Haden, Nick McCabe (The Verve), and of course Mark Lanegan.

Since the late 80’s Greg Dulli has been a musical force to be reckoned with. Rising to fame as the magnetic leader of the Afghan Whigs during the 80’s & 90’s. As the Whigs split up at the end of the decade, Dulli followed his muse and began to innovatively fuse post-punk, soul and electronic sounds in his post-Whigs collective The Twilight Singers, who released their first album, Twilight As Played By The Twilight Singers, in 2000. Their beloved second album Blackberry Belle followed in 2003, followed by a covers album She Loves You in 2004. 2006’s Powder Burns made many critics “Best Of” year end lists.

In 2008 Sub Pop veterans Dulli and Mark Lanegan returned to the label as The Gutter Twins for their debut album Saturnalia. The band toured the world over for two years, made SPIN’s Top 20 Albums Of The Year list and performed on Later With Jools Holland and the Late Show With David Letterman.

Greg Dulli is currently in the middle of his stripped down retrospective “An Evening With Greg Dulli” tour where after seeing his New York performance the Village Voice stated, “His voice is a soulful rasp that can spit out invective as easily as it can seduce a lover into believing his lies… the music he's made throughout his career straddles the gap between early Amerindie's spitfire and soul's hip-thrusting.”

Prior to the start of the tour, Dulli made one of the new Twilight Singers tracks “Blackbird And The Fox” available for free download from their website – .

The Twilight Singers will announce their worldwide touring plans for 2011 shortly."

Full Track Listing For Dynamite Steps
1. Last Night In Town
2. Be Invited
3. Waves
4. Get Lucky
5. On The Corner
6. Gunshots
7. She Was Stolen
8. Blackbird And The Fox
9. Never Seen No Devil
10. The Beginning Of The End
11. Dynamite Steps

For more information please visit:

Here's something from the Twilight Singers a few years back, a clip so awesome that you'll wonder why they aren't playing venues as big as some Disney teen act. Dulli's a bit heavier now that in his fighting days with Afghan Whigs, but the life that brought him a few extra pounds also brought him some additional perspective. Tell me that your heart doesn't get a little weak when he turns it on around the five minute mark, dropping to his knees to preach a little rock and roll to the crowd.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Whadya Mean It's 'Too Rough To Feed Me?' Gimmie A Sandwich, Cookie

Thirty five years ago, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank into Lake Superior.

A year later, you couldn’t go more than an hour before you’d hear Gordon Lightfoot’s six-minute history lesson called “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” on the radio.

It was awesome.

Still is.

It’s a spooky little nugget filled with a few historical inaccuracies (some of which Lightfoot has even apologetically commented on) but it’s also filled with such compelling narrative that you’re locked in so tight throughout the entire song.

Play it for a kid, and I’ll bet you can see their brain move from all the visuals going on in their head.

The “big lake they call ‘Gitche Gumee’” line.

The defeated goodbye of “Fellas, it’s been good to know ya’.”

The church bells that rang 29 times.

Damn right it’s on the top five best songs about death, Laura’s dad edition.

When it was released, a friend of my folks (whom I’ve referenced before on this blog) bought a bunch of records one week, one of them happened to be Gordon Lightfoot’s Summertime Dream.

He was spellbound by “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,”and not just because the song was good.

It was also because it had relevance to him.

He was a member of the coast guard, and he would later be stationed in a lighthouse on Lake Michigan.

I’m sure that song played in his head a few times before the move to Michigan and probably a few times more when he had to face Mother Nature when the gales of November came early.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?)

I’m not sure how this Netflix Wii feature works, but it’s thoroughly entertaining.

I understand that not all of my Netflix queue movies will work as an immediate download-probably some licensing bullshit issues that I don’t care about-but it seems that some titles appear randomly and then disappear, making the game console feature the equivalent of another movie channel, but with the benefit of getting to play the titles when I want.

And last night I wanted to watch the new movie about Harry Nilsson.


It’s one of those documentaries where you immediately want to go out and buy a bunch of Nilsson records, making mental notes of the song samples that come up so you know what to look for later.

For me it’s the song that sings a increasing tally of past years-1941, 1945, etc.-presumably an annual autobiography on events from Nilsson’s past.

And if you know anything about Harry, much of his past was surrounded by turmoil.

Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) is a detailed glimpse into this criminally neglected artist, providing a refresher course into the man’s repertoire while painting a fascinating narrative of the man’s personal speedbumps that continuously arise.

I was prepared for the drunkenness; Harry Nilsson was the first person I thought John Lennon might have been with when I first learned that he’d been shot. Nilsson’s exploits were well known to me, and I thought that would have been the only explanation why Lennon would have been shot in the first place.

But Lennon as it turned out had found comfort in family while Nilsson continued on his downward spiral.

The revelation to me is pre-Nilsson Schmilsson. It’s an era of his career that I’m not at all familiar with, aside from the obvious hits.

If I was prepared for the shenanigans resulting from his excess, I certainly wasn’t prepared for how beautiful his voice was for that first record.

I didn’t know that he destroyed that beautiful instrument during the Pussycats sessions with John Lennon.

The film has a wonderful variety of interview subjects, from the slightly irrelevant (Robin Williams) to the long-forgotten (Paul Williams). But the most sentimental are the ones from the musicians and producers who worked with Nilsson first hand, the ones that know the real devastation of his passing.

And now, thanks to this comprehensive retrospective on the life of Harry Nilsson, the rest of us can understand that devastation too.

Monday, November 8, 2010

We Hear The Playback, And It Seems So Long Ago

It’s my fault.

On my IPod, I’ve created several playlists that are labeled as radio stations. So when I want to listed to reggae, I might play my reggae playlist called “K-JAH.”

If I’m in a metal mood, I tune to “K-IRON.”

And if I let the kids sweet talk me into “their” music, I may dial up “K-KID.”

There is very little actual kids music on it. It may have a couple of Laurie Berkner tracks and it may have a song or two from Yo Gabba Gabba, but it is essentially a bunch of tracks that I remember liking as a kid and lots of cutesy cuts that I imagined that my kids would find endearing.

I’ve had luck with my selections, proving that if I know you long enough and if I know a little about your musical tastes, I could probably whip up a good mix-tape that you’ll enjoy.

Except my wife. I still haven’t figured out her.

But the little ones are easy. The only thing that’s annoying is how when they find a “favorite,” they’ll want to hear it over and over again.

If you check out my track listings, you’ll notice that The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” is my most played track ever.

Want to know how it got that way?

Because some three year old girl keeps requesting it in the car.

My wife receives the brunt of it, mainly because she doesn’t say “No.” For me, music is important enough that I have a firm line drawn in the sand so that my ears ignore the request line in the back seat.

As a result, if you look at my wife’s IPod tally, Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” is the number one most played track on her device, and it continues to add up because of a certain princesses daily request.

I’ve stopped the growth of “Cherry Bomb,” but there’s a new fear with another song.

The song is The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star.”

Ironically, The Buggles have undertaken a reunion, to which I’m curious if their set list is anything beyond that song. I actually think that the reunion thing is merely a one-off performance, as I’m sure Trevor Horn understands quite well that The Buggles’ notoriety is as a one-hit wonder that kicked off MTV.
My three-year old daughter doesn’t know this.

Hell, my wife was born when “Video Killed The Radio Star” was first released, so I’m sure she doesn’t know it either.

And all I know is how cute it is when my little girl is in the bathtub singing that chorus.

Then, just as I’m conditioning her hair (I did mention she’s a princess, right?) she looks at me and asks.

“Daddy, what does ‘rewind’ mean?”

Before too long, she’ll want to know what the word “video” means too.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Regarding The Awesomeness Of Joe Pernice's "Prince Valium"

Overcome By Happiness is where I first learned about the Pernice Brothers, or specifically, Joe Pernice. I have no idea how I discovered them. In fact, it wasn’t until I fell in love wit that album before I knew about Scud Mountain Boys or that everything was pretty much a project of Joe’s. In fact, I assumed that the Pernice Brothers were some kind of brotherly project, like the Bee Gees or the Beach Boys or any other band that’s fronted by siblings.

Needless to say, I fell in love with Overcome By Happiness and wanted more. In the process of discovery, I found my favorite song ever by Joe Pernice-a song that came from a solo effort.

Or at least from a solo effort from the album Big Tobacco.

In the process of trying to help you discover how awesome this song is, I could only come up with an audience member video of a solo acoustic performance. The original version is a lot better and the lyrics are utterly stunning.

Hopefully, the greatness of this track transcends the quality of the video and you’re able to hear the words of my favorite Joe Pernice track ever.

I’d recommend Overcome By Happiness first; as a whole record, it’s much better than Big Tobacco. But if you’re not a completists or if you’re not one that needs to have the complete release, then go over to ITunes and spend the buck or so on “Prince Valium.”

If you need proof of the greatness of the lyrics, they’re reprinted below.

Follow along and weep; I swear I lived this track at one point in my life.

Once or twice to kill my pain
And once to bring it back again
Though I never leaned so heavy on a song

It’s the losing end that will bring you down
So broke and lonely you won’t be found
Though you pray sometime you’ll go back there again

Because the cure is long and coming
And it never lasts so long
Guess a little was just a little too much to ask you for

Maybe once or twice, for the last time try
And once to let my feelings die
I can’t remember if we both survived

Always knew you’d be going
But I did not know just when
So help me Lord, get me stoned again

Update: In the quest for these lyrics, I found out that there’s an artist with Caesar that has a song named “Prince Valium.” It’s not the same tune, and I don’t know why someone wouldn’t tell Caesar “Hey, you know Joe Pernice has a song that’s also called ‘Prince Valium,’ so you may want to change yours a bit because Pernice’s version is incredible.”

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lessons Beneath The Surface With Geoff Bartley

I understand why kids flunk out of college.

When you’re eighteen, you know the difference between right and wrong and you think you know independence, but you really don’t know shit.

It’s difficult making the transition without your parents or some authoritative figure present. You get swayed by booze, drugs, and the very idea that you’re in control of your life can be a bit overwhelming if you’re not ready for it.

The notion that you have to get up for an 8:00 am class without the help of a nagging mother to assist takes responsibility. That responsibility also comes into play the night before, when your friends think it would be fun to go out and get drunk. The choice is yours, and there are some students who just don’t get the idea that maybe it’s best to stay home and study, or at the very least, go home early instead of waiting until they’re blotto and the bar tells them to go home after last call.

You want to socialize; it’s a new environment and you don’t have the luxury of your traditional support system present-so you try to build new ones in bars, dorm rooms, and vague parties that you’ve caught wind of from someone you vaguely know.

Do you go to that party, or do you do the right thing and stay home to study?

For those who “get it” and understand the reason why you’re at university in the first place, you stay home. I lost track of the number of people who chose to go out instead, only to find themselves with their funding cut at the end of the semester, or worse, their grades reduced to shit, to the point where they are asked to leave.

We would then hear about their decision to “take a break” from college for a while or how they were going to a community college part time or going back home to work to get a little extra money.

For those that managed to get by, we didn’t press the issue with our defeated counterparts. We accepted their explanation because we understood how easy it was to make the wrong decision and get caught up in this newfound freedom.

On one particular night, I was forced to make a similar decision. Several friends in my residence hall had decided to go out for a weeknight celebration. There was a test that I needed to study for, so I passed on the festivities. My roommate also decided to stay behind, something that he would often do in these situations. His girlfriend from back home also went to the same university, and they would frequently just hang out in our room and watch television.

Because of this distraction, and because I understood the need to leave lovebirds alone, I packed my things and decided to study in the student union.

Of course, the student union provides its own distractions if you allow it. There’s the obligatory fast food options, a couple of rooms with big screen televisions, the continual influx of students and on this particular evening, the sound of a man playing an acoustic guitar.

There was barely an audience, but he was good enough to get my attention. I left my study materials and backpack at my table and went over to the performer, finding a spot in a big cushion chair close by.

The artist was Geoff Bartley.

I don’t suspect that you’ve heard of Geoff Bartley, and there was even less recognition of him back then. He had a self-released album to his repertoire and he was in the midst of what was probably a very lonely and never-ending tour of collegiate one-nighters and public radio appearances.

He was a folk artist who expertly maneuvers around his hollowbody with a lilting, fingerpicking style of playing. He choice of genre meant that he could travel light and could probably book live dates on the fly if needed. I wondered if his Cedar Falls stop was more of an afterthought than a predetermined date given the sparse audience until I noticed a Xerox flier that announced an earlier performance on Live From Studio One, a weekly live show at KUNI.

Evidently, Bartley had walked from the show at the radio station and set up shop for an impromptu performance in the student union. Since very few students actually listen to the folk-heavy Live From Studio One show, there were not very many people (including myself) who even knew that Bartley would be there aside from a couple of student workers who moved a few tables to give the performer some room to work.

It was a soothing, northeastern baritone that drew me closer to the gig, but it was an instrumental piece that had me considering something to take home. I noticed an album, Blues Beneath The Surface, which was available to purchase.

The title track that impressed me the most, that and a gentle folk love song called “Who Should Know.” Both were good enough for me to feel sorry for Bartley, sorry for the fact that his student union performance wasn’t promoted better.

I was also sorry for the fact that only a handful of people were paying attention while a much larger crowd of students continued on with their students, and most of them were too busy socializing rather than truly studying.

Bartley clearly did his own studies and I’d like to think that the evening’s chance encounter made it possible to understand the long-term reward of working hard. I’m sure there were other places that Bartley would have preferred to be at instead of a student union at some Midwestern university filled with spoiled kids, but did his set, endured the indifference of his tiny audience, and quietly packed away his gear in solitude afterwards.

He thought that his performance was one of such anonymity that he was gone after I had gone back to retrieve my backpack and collect my things. I wanted to buy a copy of Blues Beneath The Surface, but it seemed that fate and Bartley’s lesson of hard work would be one that I’d only be able to remember on my own.

I went back to my table by a bank of pay phones and noticed one with an acoustic guitar case leaning against the outside glass. Inside one of them was Bartley talking on the phone to someone, the smoke of his cigarette rising up towards the florescent light at the top of his booth. I waited until he was finished, surprising him with a request to buy his record.

I still have that record, and after playing it recently, I was reminded of this story. A quick search of the internet shows that Bartley continues to perform regularly at a local restaurant and at various coffeehouses around the Massachusetts area.

He doesn’t appear to tour much anymore, so it’s a good bet that I won’t be able to see him live again. But I still appreciate the one, chance moment when I did see him, on a night where I set out to acknowledge my responsibility and invest in my adult independence only to be distracted by music once again.

Nevertheless, Geoff Bartley taught me something that my over-priced textbooks simply couldn’t.