Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bill Callahan - Apocalypse

Bill Callahan’s only fault may lie in his consistency. His latest solo effort, Apocalypse is neither better or worse from the last or the one before that, and occasionally that can be a bit frustrating.

Because after nearly twenty years of doing this, you’d expect him to shit or get off the pot in terms of making an accessible record that garnishes a bigger audience.

That’s my issue-not Bill’s-and for a dude that’s admitted admiration for Jandek, I should probably just forget about Callahan’s IRA and just accept that he’s an introverted artist that digs a slow pace in both his tempos and career.

The story arc on Apocalypse is the same as any other Bill Callahan release with references to man and country and the occasional hints of love. Everything is delivered via Callahan’s mysterious baritone and simple chord structure.

It usually begins with Bill strumming an acoustic guitar, then a barely there drum pattern and finally some electric ambience thanks to Matt Kinsey’s electric guitar and analog/digital delay pedal. In between, there’s room for a harmonica, flute or keyboard during some points, but otherwise, this is as Americana as you can get.

Speaking of, the worse song on Apocalypse (“America!”) happens to be the one specifically devoted to Callahan’s patriotic influences. He lists them-Kris Kristofferson, George Jones, Johnny Cash-and then he lists their ranks and service, presumably in the order of his own influence. He then suggests “I’ve never served my country,” indicating that he’s yet to achieve their level of contribution.

And with lines like “I watched David Letterman in Australia,” it’s true. These are words that mean more to him than the rest of us, and every influence that he’s mentioned within “America!” was at least able to place emotion behind their words so that they’d be relatable to the listener.

Thankfully, most of the songs on this seven song set are relatable, particularly on the eight-and-a-half minute closer “One Fine Morning.” Callahan repeats a simple two chord pattern on his acoustic while a lone piano adds dramatic flourishes behind. The drums provide a few key false starts and Kinsey weaves in and out of the mix.

All of this minimalist backdrop places the entire song in Callahan’s hands, a gentleman not know for linear song structures and verse/chorus/verse.

Indeed, he doesn’t follow such conformity, and he beats each word down by going up and down the scales until he’s exercising something from within.

Something endearing.

Something that makes me not give a shit how many people hear it, because it's good enough for me to want to keep it to myself for just a while longer.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Johnny Winter Bobblehead and Live At Rockpalast DVD

From the same folks that brought you the Roky Erickson bobblehead and the G.G. Allin bobblehead, shield your eyes and witness the release everyone’s favorite white albino blues artists-Johnny Winter-and a faithful reproduction of the star’s 1979 appearance on the German Rockpalast television show.

I’m not sure what the criteria is for these bobbleheads, but jeeselouise, the makers are coming up with a strange catalog of artists that I cannot find seven degrees of Kevin Bacon on.

Thank god they didn’t choose Edgar Winter during the They Only Come Out At Night era.

Here’s the sale pitch:

Johnny Winter Live Rockpalast 1979 DVD

Guitar Gods Limited Edition Collectible Figure Arrive July 26

Live Rockpalast 1979 features Johnny and his three piece band live on Germany's famous Rockpalast TV show in 1979... Straight up blues like only Johnny can deliver, lean and mean. Johnny and the band also blaze through some killer covers like the Rolling Stones' "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Suzie Q."

Johnny Winter had nothing to prove by the time April of 1979 arrived. Thirty-five years old, he was an established international star and already a decade removed from his seminal 1969 debut-a groundbreaking record followed by an unforgettable appearance at Woodstock, scores of sold-out arenas, a well documented stint in drug rehabilitation, and a steady stream of celebrated albums.

But as this performance makes clear, Winter's musical soul wasn't entirely at peace the night he stepped before a massive audience in Essen, Germany, to record a performance for the popular German television program Rockpalast ("Rock Palace"). The Texan, armed with his Gibson Firebird was on a mission to reaffirm for his audience-including millions watching the broadcast across Europe-his devotion to the blues, the music that consumed him as a young man during the 1950s and '60s but was later cast aside as rock stardom beckoned.

The proof can be found in the night's setlist: "Hideaway," the guitar workout made famous by Freddie King, kicks things off. It's followed by "Messin' with the Kid," a staple of Chicago harp master Junior Wells. "Walkin' by Myself," co-penned by another Chicago great, Jimmy Rogers, follows.

But it's not just what Winter plays that tells the tale; it's what he says. "I hope there's some people out there that get off on blues," he offers. "I know we've got a lot of rock and rollers. But you've gotta remember that if it wasn't for the blues, there wouldn't be no rock and roll."

And with that, the master goes deep into the Delta, unleashing a breathtaking, 17-minute reading of Willie Brown's "Mississippi Blues," an undeniable highlight of this unforgettable night. Winter follows up with Sleepy John Estes' "Divin' Duck" before attacking Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q."

Ever gracious, on "I'm Ready," Johnny picks up a bass as his bassist fires away on guitar. The arrangement continues for "Rockabilly Boogie," a joyous performance replete with some crowd-pleasing showmanship. But then it's back to the blues.

"Well I know I'm fighting a losing battle, but I'm gonna to try to do some more blues," Winter says. "I hope there's somebody out there that might understand what that is and might want to hear a little bit of it."And with that, Johnny delivers a master class medley that leads off with Robert Johnson's "Stones in My Passway."

The artist finally throws a bone to the rock enthusiasts with a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash." But it's best to think of this offering as a reward, not a concession. Johnny Winter's statement on this night had long since been made.

Also, arriving next month is the first figure in the Guitar Gods series... None other than the legendary master blues guitarist Johnny Winter.

The figure is limited to 1500 numbered units, stands at 7 inches tall, and is made of a lightweight poly resin. Displayed in a window box, here Johnny is not only accurately sculpted right down to his signature black hat, boots, and guitar, but also has movement at both the arm and head, and yells "Rock N' Roll" at the push of a button!

If you'd like to purchase the bobblehead, click on the link here. The same link will also get you to the area that's selling the DVD.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Neil Diamond - The Bang Years 1966-1968

Looking back on my youth, I remember my father getting all worked up about Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night album, declaring it to be one of the best live albums ever. I’ve yet to obtain a copy to see if his assessment was right, but I’ll agree that he was pretty spot on with a similar critique of Live At Leeds.

All of his talk about Neil Diamond heightened during the time when he tapped Robbie Robertson to man the controls for Beautiful Noise. My dad was certain that the pairing would turn out as legendary as it must have looked on paper.

After he played it, I had a chance to sample it for myself. During this time, Aerosmith was the shit, as was Humble Pie, Peter Frampton, Alice Cooper, and those legendary artists that dad turned me on to when I was first transfixed with the shitty turntable in my bedroom.

For me, Beautiful Noise was so tepid that I began to understand Diamond’s appeal was isolated to generations that were older than me-like my father. I didn’t question my father’s authority about what was good in music, but I had begun to establish my own grounds as to what I felt was good.

For me, the quality of good depended on one thing: a talkbox. Aerosmith used one on “Toys In The Attic.” Joe Walsh whipped one out for “Rocky Mountain Way.” And Peter Frampton used one to ask us if we felt like he did.

I don’t remember Diamond bringing out a talkbox, so maybe that was the problem.

At the same time, I don’t think there’s a person on earth who can resist Neil Diamond’s early pop landmarks. It was after all of that Brill Building assembly line work, when Diamond began to enjoy the spoils of his art and write songs about seagulls, immigration and alien Muppet characters with healing powers.

Can you blame me for completely dismissing Diamonds talents? And with a recent comeback attempt-a “comeback” from what I don’t clearly understand as he’s logged well over three decades of immensely popular tours with that aforementioned fan base-stuck in the mud thanks to some shortsighted label product that acts like a flesh-eating virus on your computer, I still could safely keep Neil Diamond’s output in the North Miami Beach Retirement Village’s record collection and not have to deal with him.

But the fucker goes out and finally gets the issues with his old label resolved just as the world is preparing to kiss the cd format goodbye forever. So yeah, The Bang Years is a last effort cash-in before the whole shithouse goes up in flames, lending what young Neil Diamond fans there are left to scrounge around for free bits on the internet, lending Diamond to continue his Hot August Night revivals well into his 70’s and under the assistance of a Rascal scooter.

Don’t misconstrue my cynicism as attack on the material presented on The Bang Years. This is easily a five-star collection that deserves a place in everyone’s home, even those smartass critics who were happy when the family cocker spaniel puked on the cover of Beautiful Noise causing their father to pitch the record in disgust.

My resentment comes from the amount of time it took in releasing this gem and is yet another example of how the chickens have certainly come home to roost in terms of record label greed and their moronic leadership who couldn’t get their shit together enough to lend a hand in getting a comprehensive compilation together for younger generations to examine.

Regardless, it’s a blessing that they have, presenting Diamond’s whirlwind two year tenure with Bang! Records in full monophonic glory that the songs will fart from your earbuds in much the same way they must have from shitty car speakers during their first proclamation.

In other words, as good as this music is, it ain’t the type to split hairs over fidelity and separation. Save that shit for the Jonathan Living Seagull MOR schlock that came after Uni and Columbia records noticed Diamond’s money-making services with the shuffleboard set and Martini & Rossi housewives.

This is tight, concise pop music, composed with purpose and drive (Diamond had a newborn to support at the time) delivered with a sense of urgency that made it hard to resist. The added focus worked as Diamond finally began to chart some of his own success with these songs when other artists didn’t cover them to their own advantage.
One of the immediate things you’ll notice is Diamond’s impeccable use of rhythm, from the double-time acoustic rhythms that serve as high-hats to the rhythmic handclaps (like on “Cherry Cherry”) that immediately serve as hip-shaking stimuli. It’s a glorious urban day throughout this material, and the course of his two sole long-players for Bang Are over quickly, giving you the added pleasure of starting over to recapture the joy that was inexcusably gone for far too long

The Bang Years will change your mind about Neil Diamond, or at least tolerate the adult contemporary schmaltz that came after his brief tenure at the label. Will it make you sing along with drunk strangers during the eighth inning at Fenway, tolerate even the most gaudy of sequined jacket he dons, or find you agreeing to the declaration of “I Am…I Said?”

Maybe not. But you’ll understand every bit of adulation and find yourself on the right side of history when it comes time to chart this man’s impressive tenure.

Father does knows best as it turned out. He just didn’t have enough sense to start me out on the very same place that Diamond began with: the two-and-a-half minute pop song.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Glen Campbell Diagnosed With Alzheimer's

I got some flack for calling into question some of Glen Campbell's behavior when I saw him perform live last summer, and a recent announcement explains it.

Campbell's representative announced today that the legendary country artists is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and the illness may contribute to some noticeable moments on stage.

I certainly noticed them last summer, and like I stated before, was taken to task by some loyal fans who claimed that I treated Campbell unfairly by pointing this out in my review.

I'm reposting that review which originally appeared in Glorious Noise below, but in no way am I doing it as part of some "I told you so!" act to make myself look smart.

I think it's part of the story in the sense that Campbell's camp has released the information to prevent future questions like mine to be considered by his fans. And while I didn't think that Glen was drunk-the biggest concern that his management had if fans noticed unusual behavior from him-I did wonder if maybe his diminished capacities were part of something serious.

Unfortunately, they were, and I'm sorry that Glen and his family have to contend with this awful disease.

A new album and a final tour are scheduled later this summer.

Glen Campbell
Live At Riverside Casino
September 5, 2010, Riverside, Iowa

It was the smell of active cigarette smoke that made me feel a little unsettled. I suppose that’s a testament to the various laws that have been put in place for the past few years, prohibiting smoking in public places like bars and restaurant.

Public places other than casinos, which are exempt in my state.

I was walking aimlessly around the casino, the one-armed bandits providing an endless G note from the continual chirp of electronic sounds.

Finally, I stopped a casino worker to point out where Glen Campbell was playing that Sunday afternoon.

I was alone; nobody except a co-worker expressed much interest in seeing Glen Campbell. He’s about my age too, which points to the idea that Glen might not have the same appeal for those who don’t remember when songs like “Southern Nights,” “Wichita Linemen,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” were saturated on AM Top 40 after they’d already fried the country radio station airwaves.

I was one of the younger ones, believe it or not, as evidenced by the overwhelming mops of grey that graciously filled a “theatre” for Glen that probably served as a wedding reception area the following weekend, or maybe the casino’s own job fair. It was cold and dark in the acoustically dead banquet hall, and when the usher pointed out that my seat was housed in between two ladies in their late 60’s, I asked if I could just sit alone in one of the empty seats a few rows back.

To say that Glen Campbell knew who the audience consisted of and where he was playing would be an understatement. Glen’s probably done enough of these things in his sleep that he can get away with mediocrity. But he cannot feign the spark that still rises on occasion.

For this afternoon it will be during the extended guitar solo that Campbell conjured up during “Country Boy,” a cleanly picked strut down his Fender Stratocaster that even prompted a “look at that old man go!” grin from his keyboardist/bandleader T.J. Kuenster.

Apart from that moment, and a few others that managed to catch fire, this performance was most definitely a by-the-numbers set that changes so infrequently, you’d only need to see it once.

But for Glen, even the repetitiveness requires a teleprompter.

It’s hard for me to say for sure, but there’s something amiss about Glen Campbell’s capacity nowadays. It wasn’t just the teleprompter; there were other moments that hinted Glen is now 74 years old. I noticed a few guitar notes that sailed into different keys, a few moments where Campbell just plain gave up playing after a few measures of trying to get the feel of the song, and a few rambling stories, including the one of why he kept popping throat lozenges (“I used to drink water. But T.J. has got me on these….So I don’t go…tinkle as much.”)

This is why Kuenster is there, not only to play keyboards and signal chord changes, but to make sure Glen stays on task. He is the same man that arranges Glen’s Branson, Missouri show too. He also answers Glen when he asks “Who wrote this one T.J.?” and “What key is this one in?” and “We like the Foo Fighters, don’t we?”

Glen also has the benefit of several children working for him, and you get the sense that they’re with him because they know he needs a little extra care as of late.

Debby Campbell-Glen’s oldest daughter-has been with his touring band for over twenty years, and she plays the perfect fodder for Glen as June Carter Cash during “Jackson.” She pokes fun at her dad as he struggles to open water bottles while holding a microphone, occasionally missing a word or two of the classic.

At only twenty-three, Ashley Campbell is stunning and she has carved out a bit of talent like her older sister from Glen’s gene pool with some great fingerpicking of her own. She plays with brother Cal Campbell in a band called Instant People, and she demonstrates some nice vocal prowess.

Yes, the Campbell girls are provided their own portion of the show, roughly about fifteen minutes of the hour and fifteen minute-long set. There are no originals, just covers, including a rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” on banjo with Debby handling some great harmonies.

Of course, Campbell himself voiced many covers-and it’s important to remember that his work prior to his own solo success came as a session player in the Southern California area, working with some other regulars under the moniker “The Wrecking Crew.” There’s a little bit of truth to that line “there’s been a load of compromisin’/on the road to my horizon” during “Rhinestone Cowboy,” probably the evening’s biggest hit.

“This song’s been very good to us…Who wrote this one, T.J.?”

“Larry Weiss”

“Larry Weiss….We like Larry Weiss!”

For over and hour, there were hits like this-usually ending with Glen’s exclamation of “Next song!” which I couldn’t tell if those words were coming up on his teleprompter or if he was just really eager to get the hell out of that casino.
In the end, Glen got his money, we got our favorite hits, and a chance to see Glen Campbell one last time before the long farewell begins at some point.

The fact that Campbell delivered a well intentioned-but obviously average-set of songs isn’t my main complaint. It’s the fact that we’ve put Glen and others on this well-paid, yet seldomly rewarding string of casino dates instead of multi-generational theatre shows. And while I will partake in these types of casino events for the convenience in running through my bucket list of “artists to see before they stop touring,” I dream of a tour of national worship, like the old blues legends received in England back in the sixties.

But instead of adoring young fans trying to visualize their influences on stage, we’ve left them to their peers, a network of slot-playing retirees, eager to give away their nest egg and catch a show of old Glen Campbell hits before hitting the buffet.

So you see, I can’t say that I deserved better from Glen Campbell during his performance than what I got on that Sunday afternoon, but he certainly deserved better from us.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tune-Yards - Whokill

I knew the moment would come when Merrill Garbus, the oddball creative force behind Tune-Yards, would have to abandon the literal D.I.Y. of her debut Bird-Brains and take her muse into the sterile confines of a real studio. There have been countless lo-fi artists that have had to make similar decisions, and I’ll be damned if I can remember one that completely flopped thanks to the additional recording tracks or professional mics that a studio provides them.

After all, most of these artists had plenty of noticeable talents within the hiss and noticeable lack of perfections and in Tune-Yards debut, there was an undeniable creativity behind all of the clutter.

It’s just that the story of Merrill’s D.I.Y.’s journey made for some infectious reading while trying to get a handle on her out-of-control delivery.

Thankfully, all of the studio “sheen” and “professionalism” don’t damper her zaniness and on her journey towards accessibility, there’s still a wide gap between what the public is willing to accept from her and what’s she’s willing to relent to them.

The result brings Whokill between the Raincoats’ Moving album and some Tom Tom Club album, if both were fronted by a woman with enormous vocal talents.

Garbus is not afraid to come across like some savant with no noticeable inner control mechanism to let her be concerned with such trivial things like embarrassment. And when you take a look at some of the subject matter within Whokill, it’s obvious that she also isn’t afraid of things like body image (“Es So”), her neighborhood (“Gangsta”), and the fact that she doesn’t mind having her lover bang her from behind (“Powa”).

Her self-empowerment and confidence is so infectious that it transcends how it was recorded. And the fact that the main storyline behind Whokill is that it was legitimately documented makes it even more stunning as you clearly hear how there’s a method to Merrill’s madness, and that method is borderline genius.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Metallica and Lou Reed Pretend To Make An Album Together

Metallica and Lou Reed.

Even on paper, this doesn’t sound good.

And while Rolling Stone’s David Fricke seems to think this is some match made in heaven, I’m of the opinion that David Fricke gets a little too worked up about things that may need to be viewed after first taking a deep breath.

This is one of those things.

I may be paraphrasing here, but I could have swore that he compared this to a Master Of Puppets meets Berlin or something equally as dumb or completely off-based. There is no way that it will be anywhere near Puppets or Berlin because 1.) Cliff is dead and 2.) Lou can’t remember the chord progression to “Lady Day.”

The collaboration is as simple as two artists without the hassle of a record contract, dicking around together because they can afford to.

For Reed, it’s probably a matter of his ego getting stroked by an immensely popular band who haven’t done anything creatively relevant for over twenty years. Of course, Lou is too old to understand this, but then again, Reed hasn’t been creatively relevant for over twenty years either, but nobody has got balls big enough to advise him of this.

And nobody will have the balls big enough to advise him that this project is ridiculous either. But mark my words, someone at Q Prime will politely tell the band that this pairing is not in line with the inroads they made to re-secure their fan base with Death Magnetic.

That album was more of a stop the bleeding effort, a public relations image builder than it was an actual creative re-birth. Do you really believe the band looked forward to revisiting the old thrash formula after spending well over a decade trying to flee from it?

And after re-establishing their popularity and attempting to regain some of the fans who got tired of their shenanigans, do you think Cliff Burnstein is going to let them release a full-length collaboration with Lou Reed? A record that’s based on the writings of German author Frank Wedekind?

No chance.

At best, this ends up on an overly-hyped Lou Reed album, in much the same way that all the eggheads creamed themselves over The Raven while most Reed fans declared that album to be a piece of shit.

If any of this does manage to end up on a Metallica disc, it will be done in a single song offering, not a full-length.

And it will be just as well-received as Reed’s other hard rock collaboration, Kiss’ The Elder.

Chad Van Gaalen - Diaper Island

I don’t know what Chad Van Gaalen’s trip is with shitty album titles and profoundly stupid song names (“Shave My Pussy” anyone?), but it needs to stop now. It’s creating a perception of laziness and limited songwriting craft-which is just the opposite of his abilities, as I learned once I finally got the nerve to dive in to Van Gaalen’s latest.

Diaper Island verges on the lo-fi direction of half-a-country away Woods, and countless other N.Y.C. units working with limited production values and a brainfull of big melodies. He finds himself harmonizing with his own voice, overdubbing his barely tuned guitar over Moe Tucker drums and occasional vintage electronics.

Van Gaalen slathers a big layer of echo throughout Diaper Island, which is turning into an overused strategy as of late with indie bands. Yet it works well throughout this record, giving Diaper Island a creepy and haunting vibe.

When he combines it with a nautical motif like ”Throw those bodies from the ship/Let’s feed them to the sea/’Cause no one can remember how/They got here anyway” (“Wandering Spirits”), it’s apparent that he’s spent a great deal of time making Diaper Island a consistently rewarding effort.

Now if he’d only do the same with his album title, maybe more listeners won’t be scared off by what could only be seen as a potentially juvenile release outside of the shrink-wrap.

Because Chad Van Gaalen has done more than just released a polished turd, he’s released a potentially career-defining album.

And who would want an album of that stature identified by some off-the-cuff handle that belies the ambition and hard work contained within it?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Red Fang - Murder The Mountains

Red Fang make the kind of metal that gets you reaching for a guitar-or tennis racket if you’re unable to locate a six string-and bash out pretend riffs until your head hurts or until the Old Milwaukee wears off.

There’s nothing new on their sophomore release-Murder The Mountains-that hasn’t been done before, and there’s nothing on it that will have you caring much either. It’s all Melvins-inspired riffage with heaping helpings of sativa-fueled performances that must be a riot to witness live as it is on headphones.

Look, you should probably be warned that I’m a sucker for this stuff to begin with, and I should probably direct you more to those early aforementioned Melvins records, Saint Vitus, or even that awesome album from The Sword last year.

But pot smoking kills your inhibition to the point where I’m too lazy to add a few extra paragraphs describing all of the influences that Red Fang wear proudly on their sleeves while they’re rolling joints and slamming cans of Tecate.

Instead, let me lay on a most awesome video for “Wires,” one that shows a running tally of the video costs as they blow it all on smashing into shit with a we-tote-the-note used car purchase.

It’s good enough to get you to consider purchasing Murder The Mountains, but listening to it without the visuals will be enough to get you to stake your claim directly in front of the stage the next time Red Fang stroll into your town.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stevie Nicks - In Your Dreams

To be real, Stevie Nicks hasn’t been in my dreams for several decades, and she’s certainly been off my radar since the days for a least two of ‘em. Remember the last time she tried to be “modern” and she ended up working with Brett Michaels in a weak attempt to look “hip?”


The thing about Ms. Nicks, and God, I hope she would have figured this out by now, is that she created her own enigma, so fuck everyone and run with it, sister!

That moment in School of Rock where Jack Black spins “Edge of Seventeen” for Joan Cusack’s character? That shit’s real! Stevie had the ability to transfix fans back in the day, even under the presence of compressed recordings and dumbass electronic drums. The only thing that and Brett Michael’s co-writing credits did was make us forget how compelling she could be lyrically and stylistically.

I don’t know about you, but I got tired of having to make excuses for her stupid decisions that I walked away. And now there’s news that she’s ready to make nice and give an album that’s good even though it’s been forever when an album like In Your Dreams really mattered.

Fans of Stevie will call this a return to form and they’ll be very pleased with this effort. These are the people that she should be groveling to, but judging by the half-assed marketing effort, and yes, the half-assed effort to again sound “modern,” Stevie once again is stuck in the past where she believes this record will somehow be received well by others who don’t have their hearts already lodged in her Bag of Holding.

To do this, Stevie has created a soundtrack for the Twilight/True Blood sect, that may get a kick out of embarrassing New Orleans odes and tales about vampires, but it doesn’t do much for me at all.

Seriously, she’s in her 60’s now, and a bunch of her material on In Your Dreams sounds like the kind of work she would have tossed out during Rumors. It’s half-assed, and for someone who released her best work around the time of Rumors-and someone who hasn’t released a new album in almost a decade-you would think that Stevie would give a shit with this album and not settle for “half-assed.”

Instead, she delivers that aforementioned ode to New Orleans (called simply “New Orleans,” btw) with the skill of someone who’s never really been there, but has glanced at the brochure. “I want to dress up/I want to wear beads/I want wear feathers and lace/I want to brush by Anne Rice/I want to go down Bourbon Street” is the best she can come up with, along with some references to ghosts, Mardi Gras, and Hurricane Katrina.

Nicks dishes up another reflective middle-age musing about a trip to Italy (“Italian Summer”) with such phrases as “Oh it’s so romantic/Hey it’s so soulful/The rain falls down and the thunder rolls.” It makes my parents’ own retelling of their trip to Venice a few years ago sound positively enthralling.

Thankfully, producer Dave Stewart-a pairing that I struggled with when I first heard the news-does a good job of keeping even the most cringe-worthy lyrics tolerable by working together a mix that references her most organic moments and ones that won’t make In Your Dreams sound too remarkably dated in a few years.

Ironically, the album’s two finest moments come through the opening track, “Secret Love,” and with “Annabel Lee.”

“Secret Love” turns out to be a leftover from Stevie’s Rumors-era songbook, concerning yet another beau she bedded during her cocaine nose-job period. No names are provided, but then again, do you really want to know after learning about her affair with Mick Fleetwood?

“Annabel Lee” is the peak performance, a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem of the same name. The song has been floating around the Nicks’ cannon for a while now, never officially seeing the light of day until now. It’s worth the wait, and one of tracks within In Your Dreams that keep it from falling into the grasp of middle-aged moms across the country still following the flight of the one-winged dove.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Fleetwood Mac - Rumors

I can’t listen to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors objectively and you can blame my parents for this.

There was a period between 1976 and 1979 where my parents probably listened to only a half-dozen albums and Rumors would most certainly be at the top of that list.

I enjoyed the album at the time of its release, and I enjoyed the pleasure that it brought my parents as they played their vinyl version to death, even after our dog puked on the cover, leaving a stain on its beige cover forever after.

But there became a point where the optimism of “Don’t Stop” leads me to consider affirmatively to the band’s coos of “don’tcha look back.”

I would indeed, never look back on this overplayed relic of my youth, and it most certainly contributed to fueling my own musical independence, in which I would spin some of the most parent-hated music I could find.

Years later, I began a process of trying to reclaim some of the albums that I had purposefully banished, and Rumors was indeed, one of those records.

And while I tolerated it, especially when my live-in girlfriend at the time became drawn to it with a “Wow, this is a really good record!” type of enthusiasm, undoubtedly free from the record burn that yours truly experienced.

I let it go. Figuratively and literally. I let the album to play again in my apartment with her, and I let her take it with her when she moved out.

Forward on to a few years ago when Warner Brothers records could see that nobody was buying cds anymore and they began repackaging some of their most popular titles as “deluxe” editions, complete with demos, alternate takes, you know, the shit that geeks like me love to obsess over.

I noticed that they had done this treatment to Rumors and knowing that Lindsey Buckingham is a frigging genius and friggin’ geniuses are perfect fodder for “deluxe” editions, I once again put this album on my radar.

Joy of joys when I received some kind of discount for the only record store left in our town (Best Buy), to which I happily walked into that shitty, big box world to spend my fake money on a cd.

I considered Rumors for a moment, that is, until I saw what price tag our normally low-priced big box store had on the deluxe edition of this classic album. The price tag came to around thirty bucks, a price that I felt was too exorbitant to pay on an album that I had already bought previously and one who’s only difference was that it included the shit that they worked on to make it a near-perfect pop album masterpiece.

That’s right, in terms of this review: Rumors is a fucking masterpiece, go out and buy it for fucks sake if you haven’t already. We’ve gotten beyond that acknowledgement, regardless of the cue-burn that my family instilled on the album’s legacy for me.

Long story short, I didn’t feel like paying Warner Brothers an extra $30 for demos, outtakes, and all of the behind-the-scenes stuff that led to the album being a no-brainer.

And yet ends another tale of why record companies are stupid douchebags who burned the bridges of their most loyal customers so much that I’m encouraging anyone who hasn’t illegally downloaded their own copy of Fleetwood Mac’s deluxe edition of Rumors to do so immediately.

It’s a fan’s wet dream, maybe not worthy of the $30 price tag, but definitely half-of that if you’re looking to acquire it legitimately. Even with pictures, liner notes, or any of the physical detail that I would have loved to spend time with, the magic is within the music and you can see just how awesome Buckingham is even when he’s working on the skeleton arrangements of what would become one of the most successful pop albums of all time.

The beginning acoustic structures of “Never Going Back Again” show how underrated of a guitarist Lindsey is, while the final mix demonstrates his knack at arrangements.

The outtake of “Songbird” shows that, perhaps, every take they got through on the day of recording was probably just as good as the released version, and the same is true with some of the demo recordings too.

Hell, even when Fleetwood Mac was farting around, like they were with the basic blue rehearsal titled “For Duster,” they were a better band than most could claim to have even after a few years of rehearsing.

Which is exactly why Rumors is so great. Even in the face of personal adversity and improper excesses, the band was good enough when it counted to keep it together and focus long enough to create one of the undisputable masterpieces of pop music.

Just keep it away from my parents.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I.C.P. Announces Gathering Of The Juggalos 2011 Line Up

I've been brutal on Insane Clown Posse for quite some time, but I have to admit that their informercial for this year's Gathering of the Juggalos is better entertainment than any Two And A Half Men episode, and second only to the endless amount of Juggalo video uploads you can watch on You Tube at any given moment.

I don't want to suggest that I'm growing soft on these clowns (Ha!), but I do feel a bit sorry for their dim witted fan base who buy in-literally-on the band's endless explotation of them under the pretense of "family," "independence," and general lack of responsibility.

While I.C.P. get wealthier, their fans either fall into two categories: Juggalos who simply aren't smart enough to become more self-reliant by educating themselves towards a better life or Juggalos who like to pretend that it's all in good fund and any naysayers (i.e. "haters") are too stuck-up to get the "joke."

Where is punk rock when you need it?

It's the complete ambivilence of violence that bugs me the most, but hey, if you want to live your life worshipping a pair of bozos who trade in your outsider plight for a bit of overpriced merch and a logo that will ultimately have you labeled as dumb patsy for permanent entry-level jobs, then be my guest.

At least you could grow your mohawk out when you figured out the real power of human spirit.

But enough of my Dad talkin'. I've got to hand it to these hustlas for putting together an outrageous thirty-minute video that holds your attention like no other and gets you to burst out laughing at regular intervals.

In other words, if I.C.P. is looking for voice-over work for future infomercials, then I am totally down with the clown!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

George Harrison - Somewhere In England

During the 70’s, I was transfixed with anything Beatles related. That meant I was forced to consider any number of Beatles solo project, or any item that was touched by a Beatle at one point.

It was too expensive to taste every item, but a boy could dream.

A boy could also walk away devastated by the murder of John Lennon and view McCartney’s off-the-cuff remarks about his former bandmate’s death as callous, completely negating any of his post-McCartney II work on the grounds of something that I had no real frame of reference on.

His death also had me consider two records by former Beatles as a matter of loyalty. And while I could only afford one of them, George Harrison’s Somewhere In England, I also had Ringo’s Stop And Smell The Roses on my radar. Both, from what I understood, had at least some reference to their former friend and this was an appropriate way for me to memorialize my favorite Beatle.

I went with Harrison because the last thing I’d heard from him-“Crackerbox Palace”-I rather enjoyed. Surely, Somewhere In England-a phrase coined when looking for comment from Harrison after Lennon’s death-would contain a worthy amount of good material.

After dropping the necessary amount on the full-length, it appeared that I was wrong.
Not only did it feature the needlessly sappy “All Those Years Ago,” it featured about nine other also-rans that cushioned the album’s only hit, all of them pointing to the fact that George’s heart just didn’t seem to be in record making any more, and dare I say it, song making.

Right out of the gate, Harrison laments how people want to hear Beatlesque material, when the reality was much different. We only wanted to hear good Harrison material. “Blood From A Clone” name-checks Frank Zappa about a decade too late while deriding current trends (“And not New Wave”/They don’t play that crap”) for no apparent reason other than to come across as a grouchy old man who can only find inspiration by bitching about others.

Even that aforementioned hit is standard-issue Harrison, complete with his weepy slide and the sound of settling for an earlier time, that really wasn’t all those years ago when you think about it. With only a decade removed from his fab past, a storyline he’d repeat again with the even shittier “When We Was Fab,” Harrison finds comfort in coming off like a middle-age crisis, rattling off easy observations about his Beatle brother instead of tapping into any semblance of emotion about the incident.

The lack of emotional quality is unsettling; a ghost writer could have written “All Those Years Ago” for all you can tell, and the rest of Somewhere In England points that tragedy may have been the only reason for issuing the album to begin with.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sebadoh's Bakesale Gets Reissue Treatment

It's a toss up between Sebadoh's III or Bakesale as my favorite album from the band. With the upcoming re-issue coming up, I'll get to spend some quality time with an album that I haven't heard in a while.

Admittedly, it's been Lou Barlow's revisit of the Dinosaur Jr. fold that had me neglecting his Sebadoh's work, which exceeded Mascis' output for a while in terms of quality.

Here's the straight poop from the band's label, who would appreciate it if you purchased the expanded, physical product instead of just downloading it for free and labeling the file as "deluxe edition."

Best of all, if you pre-order it, you can get a big ol' picture of Baby Barlow playing around in a toilet.

Who wouldn't want that on their walls?

Sebadoh’s 1994 album, Bakesale, was the band’s fifth full-length album, arguably their best and certainly their most acclaimed. For this June 14, 2011 deluxe reissue the original album has been re-mastered and a full CD of b-sides, EP tracks and rarities, all from the same era as Bakesale, has been added (the full track listing is below). All of which was overseen by Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein. The album is also being reissued on LP for the first time in years and will include the bonus material as a digital download. If you pre-order Bakesale via prior to release date, you will also receive a free Bakesale poster. Click here to pre-order.

Sebadoh began in the late 1980s as a songwriting outlet for Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr. What started as a few acoustic songs taped at home on a four-track recorder grew into a grassroots fanbase and a record deal with Homestead. With Barlow officially parting ways with Dinosaur Jr. in 1989, he and collaborator Eric Gaffney focused on Sebadoh and with the addition of Jason Lowenstein the band began touring and recording demos. It was these early demos that lead to a deal with Sub Pop Records in the early ‘90s. Bakesale was Sebadoh’s third album for Sub Pop and seventeen years after its original release, it stands the test of time. With an entire disc of bonus material for this deluxe reissue there are more reasons to fall in love with this album all over again.

Right now on you can download a free mp3 of the song "Rebound" from Bakesale (click track name to download) and watch the associated music video.

For more information on Sebadoh please visit here.

Bakesale Disc 1 (original album):
01 License to Confuse
02 Careful
03 Magnet's Coil
04 Not a Friend
05 Not Too Amused
06 Dreams
07 Skull
08 Got It
09 S. Soup
10 Give Up
11 Rebound
12 Mystery Man
13 Temptation Tide
14 Drama Mine
15 Together or Alone

Bakesale Disc 2 (bonus tracks):

01 MOR Backlash
02 Not a Friend (four-track)
03 Foreground
04 40203
05 Mystery Man (four-track)
06 Drumstick Jumble
07 Lime Kiln
08 Fancy-Ass / Destitute
09 Perfect Way (four-track)
10 Give the Drummer Some
11 Cementville
12 Social Medicine
13 On Fire (acoustic)
14 Magnet's Coil (acoustic)
15 Rebound (acoustic)
16 Punching Myself in the Face Repeatedly, Publicly
17 Sing Something / Plate of Hatred
18 III Screams (Wet Synth Mix)
19 Monsoon
20 Rainbow Farm
21 Hank Williams
22 Careful
23 Dramamine
24 Not Too Amused
25 Shit Soup

Sebadoh - Rebound (OFFICIAL VIDEO) from Sub Pop Records on Vimeo


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Make no mistake; the hype that you’ve been hearing about this record is fleeting.

This is a record that will outlive its hype, and all the pretention and petty name-calling will fall by the wayside, while future music fans will merely pick up Helplessness Blues based on its merits alone, seeking the same beauty they’ve heard from samples, other’s collections, and perhaps from reviews like this.

To be honest, I could care less if this review prompts you to check out the material. The Fleet Foxes' second album is so unassumingly wonderful that to scream its tactful brilliance would counteract what makes it so good. This is music you stroll into, and by cozying up to it in such a shy fashion, you begin to hear how perfectly the vocals and harmonies are. You hear how intricate the baroque arrangements and acoustic guitars are. There’s a few other instruments at times, and steady timbres of what sound like basic percussion instruments.

It all fits together perfectly.

Helplessness Blues will end up becoming one of those generational touchstones, an acoustic Nevermind for the kids who fight back with hollowbodys instead of Big Muffs. The same feelings, uncertainties and newfound realizations are happening, but leader Robin Peckhold isn’t screaming back with the years of family neglect and broken homes. In fact, he’s cool with the both of them, considering the years of coddling that both of them probably provided.

“I was raised up believin’/I was somehow unique,” he explains on the title track, “And now after some thinkin’/I’d say I’d rather be/A functioning cog in some great machinery/Serving something beyond me.”

Do you know how long it took me to realize that for myself? And I’m betting that I’ve got well over a decade on this dude!

“How could I dream of such a selfless and true love?/Could I wash my hands of just looking out for me?” Peckhold asks on “Montezuma.” He understands that-up until now-all of this, including the grandeur of the record he’s just created, means very little when you stack it against the joy and hardship of starting a family, building a human relationship, and connecting with another person in a world that’s wired to do the exact opposite.

I think they call someone who’s young, but is able to handle such perspective an “old soul.” Peckhold certainly seems like a good candidate for that designation, but for me he’s demonstrated that-despite the defeated record title presented with Helplessness Blues, the kids are better than alright.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stephen Stills - Just Roll Tape

With harmonies becoming such a staple with indie-rock factions as of late, I began to consider the origins. Yes, the recent Roger McGuinn show had something to do with the history lesson, as early Byrds is a great starting point for anyone wanting to move from Fleet Foxes right back to one of the first bands that started the whole thing.

And like everything that is great in rock, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to that first Crosby, Stills, and Nash debut. Then you’re set.

But I stopped there.

And I discovered a collection of Stephen Stills’ demos released a few years back under the title Just Roll Tape. Doing the cursory search of this package, I noticed that the date is off. According to a few Buffalo Springfield geeks, on April 28 1968, Stephen Stills was performing in Arizona with that band, not in front of the studio microphone like the title would suggest.

What is known is that, around that date at least (the band played their last show a few weeks later), Stephen was helping his girlfriend Judy Collins with the recording of one of her albums. After the session, Stills stayed around and offered the engineer a little bit of money to record a few demo songs he wanted laid on tape.

The master tapes that he used remained in the studio until it closed a decade later. Shortly before closing for good, one of the last clients was offered to snag some leftover tapes and he noticed a few labeled “Stephen Stills.”

For nearly twenty-five years, he tried to get Stills attention, but it wasn’t until he spoke to Graham Nash about them that the ball got rolling.

If you haven’t heard any late period CSN material lately-or Stills’ own solo material for that matter-you’re doing yourself a favor. Most of the songs are layered in cheese and sugar, so that fact that some lost, bare bones demo songs from 40 years ago didn’t necessarily mean that they’d see the light of day.

Thankfully, Stills was convinced to release the songs as-is, complete with plenty of tape hiss and guitar tunings right in the middle of the songs, in the case of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”

Start with that one. It’s awesome, warts and all. There’s no debating that even at the age of 23, Stephen Stills was one hell of a guitar player, regardless of the lack of amplification.

It’s already suitable for a bigger studio. The song parts are there, the lyrics perfect, and all that’s needed is that “do do do do dooot….doot doot da doo da doot” bit at the end. The strange thing is that, now after hearing the demo of “Suite” on Just Roll Tape, the final product is, in my opinion, isn’t as good as that first run through. It’s honest, personal, and closer to the heart than the glad-handing end harmonies of the first song from Crosby Stills & Nash.

Just Roll Tape presents a bunch of familiar songs in this way, all the way up through material that appeared later on Stills’ first few solo releases in the early seventies. It’s a remarkable discovery, and if you’re a hipster that’s currently running with Fleet Foxes or Iron & Wine’s material, you should really check out the source material from four decades ago.

There’s one track, “Treetop Flyer,” that’s actually a demo from his 1991 release “Stills Alone,” a record that was released during that period of music when everyone including Eddie Fucking Money was releases “unplugged” albums for no real reason.

For Stephen Stills, though, solo acoustic versions were already part of his tapestry. And that “Treetop Flyer” number may sound a bit cleaner than the rest is just as critical to the story itself as it was the first song that made Stills want to consider performing music in the first place.

Just Roll Tape is revelatory, a demonstration that these were real works of art even before the beautiful harmonies were added and the surroundings became more professional. They’re perfect, even with a bit of dirt on their sleeve, and their raw state just happen to make the entire release probably the best solo work he’s done since leaving them on the shelf back in ’68.