Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Life in a Semi

Hello, Gentle Readers. It's been so long; I am glad to see you again.

Actually, it seems like a lot longer for me than it may for you, since my last couple of posts have been 'in the can,' as the say, since the end of August. Fashion Week happened between then and now, and that pretty much disrupts everything else. And when I say 'disrupts,' I mean 'completely obliterates.' I have this joke with some of the people I work with that my year only has 48 weeks; the 4 weeks that get lost by doing Fall and Spring Fashion exist outside of the normal flow of time and space, like Festival Days in olden tymes.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with music? Why, nothing, actually, and I ought to stop talking about it now. I bring it up only to ask your forgiveness if this post seems awkward; it's been a while since I had to write anything coherent. So- enough about me darling; what do you think of my dress?

Like everyone else here, I imagine, I like a good playlist. One of the things I do to entertain myself is to take a subject and then build a list around it. I know, hardly a revolutionary concept. But it has exposed me to music and bands I might otherwise never have heard of. Because once you get a really good concept going, who wants to stop at the bounds of music they already have? Not I, certainly. I mean, what fun would that be?

One of my all time favorites is built around the theme of driving a semi. At first gloss, you might think that this would be dreadfully boring. Probably you have all heard some of the classic truck drivin' songs, and you're thinking, 'How much variation can there be?' When I started this particular little quest, the only songs on the list that I had were Six Days On The Road by Lee Conway, Give Me Forty Acres to Turn This Rig Around by The Willis Brothers, and Truck Drivin' Man by Jimmy Martin. All classics, to be sure, but also all cut from similar cloth, style wise. So I was sort of thinking the same thing- how much variation will there really be? I was pleasantly and thoroughly surprised, not only by the variation, but by the endurance of the truck drivin' theme. Take a look at the list- just the titles should give you an idea of how varied a treatment this subject has gotten.

Girl on the Billboard by Del Reeves
Six Days On The Road by Lee Conway
Truck Drivin' Queen by Moore & Napier
Keep On Truckin' by Hot Tuna
Truck Drivin' Man by Jimmy Martin
I Took Three Bennies & My Semi Truck Won't Start by Commander Cody And The Lost Planet Airmen
Mexican Vampire Truck Drivin' Girl by Jasper Stone
Give Me Forty Acres to Turn This Rig Around by The Willis Brothers
Drug Store Truck Driving Man by The Coal Porters
Eighteen Wheels On A Big Rig by Ralph's World
Overloaded Diesel by Jimmy Griggs
White Line Fever by The Flying Burrito Brothers
Big Rig Blues (Long One) by The Cowslingers

The sub-themes (that is, besides truck driving) of those songs encompass, in no particular order, obsession, exhaustion, racism, faithfulness, adultery, humor, irony, the supernatural, incompetence, drug abuse, the capricious nature of machines, loneliness, math and numbers, the chase, the escape, delusion, and endurance. If I could have found video clips for all of them, I would have posted them here, and damn concerns of an obnoxiously long post! But, as it is, I have only a few choice examples for you.

Give Me Forty Acres to Turn This Rig Around :: The Willis Brothers

Forty Acres is, of course, a classic, and deservedly so. I think anyone who has ever tried to drive even a U-Haul can appreciate how hard it must be to handle 53' of tractor and trailer, and the sense of humor in this song makes it deserving of a listen in any case.

Girl on the Billboard :: Del Reeves

Who among us has never obsessed over what is out of their reach? This is another one with humor and, I think, universal appeal.

I Took Three Bennies, and Now My Semi Truck Won't Start :: Bill Kirchen, formerly of Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen

Can you think of anything sadder than being hopped up on speed so that you can drive all night, only to have your truck break down? It is truly Shakespearean in scope. Or something.

18 Wheels on a Big Rig :: Ralph's World

I don't want to spoil this one, so you should just listen to it; but I think it is the best of the bunch, if only by virtue of its sheer cleverness. Oh, and it's a kid's song...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Reluctant Heart-Breaker

A friend from work just broke up with a guy she's been with for six months. She knew from the beginning that he was not a forever boy. He was sweet and cute and treated her spectacularly well, but he didn't have the edge she wanted. When he first said he loved her she experienced a crisis of conscience, but let it go with the hope that she would eventually "love" him, as well. She didn't, so needless to say, this break-up was in the works for a long time. Despite all her mental preparations, when she actually pulled the trigger she was a mess for a few days. I knew how she felt. It wasn't the fact of being alone, or concern over actually missing him; it was the feeling that she had done a bad thing to a good person. It was the lingering sadness from knowing that he truly did love her (as naive as that love may have been) and that she had broken his heart.

I say all this only to introduce my favorite ballads of the reluctant heart-breaker. I started this list with the intention of burning an olde-fashioned "Mix CD" for this woebegone friend, but by the time I had gathered even a smattering of songs, her woe was actually gone. So I put it to the viewing public: what classics am I missing?

Dar Williams - February

James - Tomorrow

Fiona Apple - Carrion

(Her intro here is a bit much, but accurately illustrates the point, I guess.)

Bob Dylan - Don't Think Twice It's Alright

Ai DiFranco - Sorry I Am

I've included Jeff Buckley, Bjork, and Death Cab for Cutie, in addition to the album versions of the songs above on this mix:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nigger Lover

"You ever heard of the Emancipation Proclamation?"

"I don't listen to Hip Hop!"

In the realm of music, few things annoy me more than the term "black music." The idea that there is a single genre that is representative of an entire race is absolutely moronic, not to mention completely offensive. Is it supposed to be reflective of the listeners? If that's the case, than all of my white and Asian friends who went to see Blackalicious last year have obviously fucked that demographic up. Is it supposed to represent the artists? As if to say that all black people can produce is soul, R & B, and rap music? It's obviously not - it's those things, and reggae, and blues and punk and rock and roll and everything in between. BUT, I also understand that the more radio-friendly acts are likely to fit the more commercial niches, and as such we hear more Beyonce than Bad Brains. Well, let's try to fix that a little bit, shall we?

So with that in mind, I figured we'd talk about some artists/groups that void the stereotype. Black musicians and artists who walk their own path.

Living Colour is one of the greatest rock bands of the late 20th century, and sadly a band that burned up quickly and fell into obscurity. One of the rare all-black punk/rock bands, they successfully and brilliantly fused rock, punk, rap, funk and soul music into a wondrous mixture. Their first album, Vivid, was a shock to the system of music fans everywhere at a time when popular black music meant Bobby Brown or, God forbid these days, Whitney Houston. But Living Colour was the real deal - talented instrumentalists (Vernon Reid, Muzz Skillings, Will Calhoun), intelligent songwriters, and Corey Glover's amazing singing talents all combined to truly, for the first time in a long time, create something that was brand new. Their second album, Time's Up, was a bit more experimental, and didn't garner quite the same popularity as Vivid. Sadly, by the time their third album, Stain, came out, they were on their way out. All three albums are good for different reasons, but I will always remember Vivid as the one that opened people's eyes. Here's Love Rears It's Ugly Head, from Time's Up. Enjoy.

Since we're on the subject, next up is Bad Brains.

Now this was something truly innovative, though not even remotely mainstream. Bad Brains, out of Washington DC, blew the doors off my world when I was 13 (though they'd been around since 1982), and I've never looked back. Long before Living Colour, there was Bad Brains, the first (and possibly only) all black reggae/hardcore punk band. They were loud, fast, serious Rastafarians, incredibly political and intelligent, almost incoherent at times, but poetic in their lyrics and amazingly talented in their music. Gathered together by Dr. Know, the guitarist, they were most well known for H.R., their tumultuous lead singer (who once recorded the vocals for a track from a prison pay phone). Sadly, after numerous independently released albums and a couple of major label ones, they disbanded. They went through the motions in the late 90's, trying new lead singers, but could never recapture the magic. This is one of their more accessible songs, I Against I, off of the album of the same name. I'd recommend that, Rock For Light, or Quickness. Do me a favor and really listen, and let me know your thoughts.

Bad Brains actually recently got back together and put out a new album, Build a Nation. It's a little watered down, but probably more approachable for the more mainstream listener. I'd advise giving it a shot.

So now let's talk about Dead Prez, who I mentioned back in my Hip Hop post. So yes, they are unquestionably a Hip Hop act. A damn fine one at that. But what makes them even more interesting is that they include instrumental pieces on their albums, and those instrumentals are actually staggeringly beautiful. Truly wonderful stuff that's just as interesting and introspective as their regular beats and rhymes. Here's "You'll Find a Way" off of Let's Get Free.

Just for fun, here's an incredible live performance by Stanley Clarke, Victor Wooten and Marcus Miller. It's 14 minutes long and worth every single second, especially if you appreciate bass guitar.

Finally, we close with one of today's great innovators, another Hip Hop artist who knows how to bend, twist and ultimately destroy a genre, Mos Def. Here's "Ghetto Rock", a mix of rock, blues, hip-hop and spoken word poetry. It's off The New Danger, easily his most remarkable album - recorded with a house band led by none other than the aforementioned Doctor Know of Bad Brains, it's a phenomenal album. I highly recommend it.


That's what I've got for now. Hope you enjoyed. Full disclosure, portions of this came from a blog post of mine from a couple of years ago. Also, first person to mention Darius Rucker is gonna end up with my boot where their teeth should be.

Now playing: Massive Attack & Mos Def - I Against I
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Death Magnetic: Can Metallica Rise from the Dead?

If the first song on this album isn't a reference to the fact that this is an effort to bring back the Metallica that died in the early 90s, then I'll eat my shorts. The organic sounds of a heartbeat, followed by what I like to call a "classic" Metallica intro (a slow, warbly rich guitar tone and the dum, da-da dum, dum of Lars's drumkit), is like breathing new life back into a band that I had all but given up for dead. Followed by—and excuse the expression—a fucking awesome drive and an almost natural (gasp!) evolution into a decent metal song strong with ripped riffs, the first track has me completely convinced that Metallica has come home, and it isn't even my favorite from the album. This isn't to say that they don't lose their way at some points in throughout album, because they do—I mean, seriously, can they just NOT have a bass player and save Robert Trujillo the indignity??—but that all takes a backseat to what I find the most satisfying part of this album: Kirk Hammett's solo extravaganza.

I stopped listening to Metallica after the Black Album. I liked the Black Album, but also note that when it came out, I was an 11-year-old girl stuck in Southern Suburbia—not the typical Metallica fan at that point. The Black Album was my induction into the earlier works they had produced that helped created the thrash metal craze. As I worked my way through Kill 'Em All, Master of Puppets, and the truly incredible ...And Justice for All, I understood why people had felt they had gone so far off course. (I can't name anything produced after 1991, because little metalheads everywhere lose their goathorns when anyone mentions those...disasters.) So in truth, Death Magnetic is rising from the grave for Metallica and their fans everywhere, and I hope they ride the lighting as far as it will go.

The album has its highs and lows, but for the most part it is a strong work that evokes "vintage Metallica": Solid riffs, breakneck tempos, long instrumental interludes and clean, crisp guitar solos (All Nightmare Long, the 5th track of the album, is a testament to how far they have come while retaining their Metallica-ness, and it is a headbanger's wet dream). But the lows are typical Metallica-bashing fodder: No hint of allowing the bass to come through (really, what is it about these guys and bass players?), the drumwork is decent at best, temporary lapses into a prog rock genre that they never really grasped, and lyrics that are bordering childish in their "metalness" ("catatonic overload," "slave becomes the master," and "tainted miser-AY" are just a few of the lyrical gems). But if you can look past those few foibles, you are really going to enjoy the ride. The songs are 7, 8, and 9 minutes long, there is a great blend of new sound contained within their classic 80s metal style, and the production is truly fucking amazing; I mean, seriously, this sound is fucking STACKED. For the first time in a long, long time, it feels like Metallica is going somewhere.

All Nightmare Long, from Metallica's Death Magnetic (2008)

Overall, I give Death Magnetic 4 out of 5 goats. Not too shabby for a metal band I had committed to the grave over 15 years ago.

The Lost Art of the Mix Tape

There is a two-page ad in The Rolling Stone I got today for this movie. The first page is your basic movie ad. The second page of the ad makes me want to throw up, because some fucker in Marketing has decided to build a guide on "how to make the perfect playlist." It gives advice such as "a playlist is for someone special. Someone who means something. Period. If you start giving away too many, they become like party favors - fun for a minute and easily forgotten."

Fuck you. Maybe if you made good mix tapes, then you wouldn't have to worry about this sort of shortcoming. Here's a clue: Maybe keep all of the throwaway hits of the past 3 months off the playlist. It's a start, sweetie.

I started making mix tapes when my dad brought home different components, linked them together with RCA jacks, and called it a "stereo." This was definitely an upgrade to the "all-in-one" Sears stereo with no cassette, and no 8-track, just the radio and the record player. Okay, maybe it had an 8-track, but I'll be damned if we owned more than 5 of those. I started out by putting all of my 7-inch records (both A & B sides) onto a tape. I quickly learned the importance of a pause button. This totally improved the time between songs when having to stop the tape between single songs.

I'd make mix tapes for everyone and anyone. The mood had to strike. I will admit that the majority of my tapes went to girls. But it wasn't because I was looking for love. It was because I wanted to share something important to me with other people, and well, to tell you the truth, the girls just seemed to "get it" a lot more than the guys ever did. Most of all, I did it to introduce people to the stuff I was interested in, or at times, put one together to meet the occassion.

My friend, P-Mart, was throwing a bash in Kansas City at his house circa 1995. I was invited, but it was like a 6-hour drive from where I was living in northeast Iowa. I had two weeks, so I told P I wouldn't be there, but I'd show up. I threw together a 90-minute mix tape full of 70's tunes. This was before you had satellite radio and Music Choice on cable TV. I had to dig to find some of that material. Oh, and special thanks goes out to the "Carlito's Way" soundtrack for that tape. P called later in the night, saying that the people at the party loved the tape. Course they did! I'm the master, bitches!

The loss of the mix tape is unfortunate in so many ways. The length of the 90-minute tape was perfect. 45 minutes per side allowed for approximately 11-14 songs, depending on the style of music and how you put them together. Sometimes I wanted 2-3 seconds between songs. Other times, I wanted to have the songs go bang! bang! bang! and carry the banner. The trickiest part was squeezing that last song onto the last part of the tape. I can't tell you the number of times I nailed the last dying note on the tape before the leader came in. Sometimes it was two or three cranks of the wheel with my index finger before the leader showed up. That's close enough for rock and roll. The CD is a solid 74 minutes, which usually leaves me wanting a bit more. And there's no thrill thought of "Wow, that was great. Can he nail it another 45 minutes?" Flip that sucker over and find out!

Making the tapes were as fun as listening to them. Usually, drinking beer is involved. Also, song selection and order is important to keep the flow going. It was nice having two tape decks, a CD player, and a record player hooked up. Usually, I could plan two or three songs ahead, and as I was listening, I could figure out what would go good where. I always adjusted the volume level, since not all songs are mastered the same.

How do I know I made good tapes? I still get people that I run into on the internet that I went to school with who say things like, "You made me a great mix tape back in the 80s," or, "Man, I was just going through and listening to some of the tapes you made me...you were ahead of your time!" P-Mart's little brother sent me a book by Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience. In the package was a letter stating, "You made me a punk mix tape when I was in high school and that really got me into the Mr. T Experience. I never got to thank you, so please enjoy this book."

You know, after watching the trailer to that movie, it doesn't look too bad. I'll leave you all with a case of Sierra Nevada Porter and a sample of the playlist for my 2007/8 New Year's Eve party:

It Never Rains in Southern California - Albert Hammond
Kodachrome - Paul Simon
Like the Weather - 10,000 Maniacs
Take It Easy - Andy Taylor
Angst in My Pants - Sparks
Million Miles Away - The Plimsouls
California Stars - Billy Bragg & Wilco
Sometimes Found - Bottle Rockets
Lost in the Supermarket - The Clash
The Beast and Dragon, Adored - Spoon
Black Cadillacs - Modest Mouse
California - Semisonic
Maggie May (live) - The Faces
Drank Like a River - Whiskeytown
St. Cajetan - Cracker
I Couldn't Spell !!*@! - Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs
Sucked Out - Superdrag

Friday, September 19, 2008

lost like a slave that no man could free

ok. my turn! i've been gleefully waiting to talk about my most shameful, dark, guilty music pleasures... but now that it's here, i'm hesitant. what's worth sharing? what's actually not that bad?
i think my deepest shames come in the form of pop music. not britney-christina pop, because seriously, that's not even enjoyable. i'm doing a show right now that uses a song off the new britney album in which she namechecks herself. i think that's just retarded.
so. ahem. anyway. pop music.
well. i'm probably not going to do this story justice, but there was an ad on t.v. a couple of years ago for some service verizon offered having to do with phones that were also music players. (gosh! remember when that was new and innovative?) anyway, there was one that involved a really femme guy working out at the gym, listening to his music, and then he came over and made us listen to his music for a while and then he said "oh, bro, gotta go, that's my lady!" because his phone was ringing. and his lady was calling.
and my roommate and i watched this ad and were both in agreement: there is no way that a dude listening to that song likes ladies.
not that there's anything wrong with homosexuality. not at all. more that there's a severe cognitive dissonance between the hardcore straight dude verizon was trying to play and someone who would listen to this song while, uh, pumping iron. or doing anything, for that matter.
in any case, as that roommate also pointed out "the fat kid with glasses sure can sing." (his words! not mine!) and it's true. he really, really can.
fallout boy - this ain't a scene

it's not totally shocking that some of my deepest, guiltiest musical pleasures have come to me through different media than the songs that i can listen to and still respect myself in the morning. the guilty pleasures often come by way of radio play, or television, or a snatch of something heard (for fuck's sake!) over a public sound system somewhere.
if it weren't for the fact that i lived in a co-op with cable my last year in college, and that cable happened to have an east coast satellite feed, i would never have sat up half the night every night with denieal watching late night music videos on a bastion of "edgy pop" called insomniac music theatre. it was so bad. we knew it was bad. and yet, this is still on my ipod. and i listen to it more than i should admit. this is definitely the worst example of pitch-corrected, automated, boppy pop of which i'm guilty.

the corrs - breathless

then there's this. i had never watched any of their videos before doing this post, but i've been listening to their music for years. now that i've watched some videos, i'm kind of squirming. but trust me - this is the sexiest violin quartet ever. the question is, is this a good thing? suddenly, i'm not so sure. (or maybe it's just the extreme embarrassment of sharing how much i enjoy this group...) (also, don't you think it would be really hard to play your instrument with all those wind machines?)

ok. we've gotten as far out as i'm willing to go. if you're still with me, it either means you really like me (hi, ma!) or you have a really deep sense of schadenfreude. i'm going with the latter.
so, in order to justify you sticking around this long, i'm going to give you some actual good ones.

all of my dear, talented musician friends have a fetish that i couldn't understand for the longest time. steely dan. i didn't get it. why would a young, attractive female jazz singer groove on steely dan? why would a successful, creative, interesting percussionist listen to music meant for my dad?
so i listened, and i listened, and i listened and suddenly, one day, i realized: i had become like them. steely dan is a musician's band, made up of consummate musicians (in whichever incarnation) playing for musicians.
that doesn't mean i'm not going to totally skip these tracks if we're listening to music together.
steely dan - peg

the next song is another one that if someone gets in your car and this is on, you probably dart to change to the radio before they notice that you're not only listening to tom jones, but you're listening to tom jones sing about killing someone. oh, ha ha! you say brightly. i don't know what that was! some crap!
but it's not crap. you love it. and as soon as you get rid of the person in your passenger seat, you're going to put it back on and listen to the rest. and by "you," of course, i mean "i."

tom jones - delilah

you especially don't want anyone to catch you singing along while you're cleaning your apartment, no no, you really don't.
ahem. so. i feel like now i have to come up with something really alternative and cred-filled to wash away this shame. but you know what? it's kind of fun to wallow a bit.

look at that welsh man go!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Got the Need to Blow It Out on Saturday Night

Occasionally, there have been tunes that have inspired me. More often, though, it's been a band that has become my favorite that has been inspiring with their catalog. In 2002, I had just moved my family to Wilmington, North Carolina, which is still holding on by a thread as being my favorite place I've lived in this country, after living almost 7 years in Pensacola, Florida. I was reading a Rolling Stone magazine and read something about the Drive-By Trucker's Southern Rock Opera.

I think I used Lime Wire or some other shit download software and pulled all the songs from Southern Rock Opera off the internet. I must have listened to disc one of that album for like 6 months straight. Then I found a Yahoo group that was dedicated to the band.

Soon thereafter, Decoration Day was released. I bought the CD right away and they became my favorite band. When I got my head cut at the end of 2002, a member of the Yahoo group who worked for the same company as me in a different state sent me a whole bunch of live recordings by the Drive-By Truckers to ease the pain of losing my job. In fact, there was another guy who contacted me from that list to see if I would be interested in moving to Memphis to work for his construction company, which I thought was damn nice.

Writing about the DBT is a difficult thing to do, because I could talk about this band all day. I'll give you a brief rundown if you have never heard of them before: Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley are the two main guys in the band, but if you have to pick a leader, it's Hood's band. Both Hood and Cooley grew up in Alabama. Hood's dad is David Hood, who played bass in the Swampers, the "house band" for Muscle Shoals Sound, where a lot of great music has been recorded. You maybe could give a fuck about that. It lets me know that Patterson has a great appreciation for the history of music in this country, and THAT is important for me, because understanding history is important, boys and girls, even in rock and roll.

When Decoration Day came out, Jason Isbell joined the band and provided them with a third songwriter. He stuck around for two albums, wrote some great songs, and now has a solo career. Shonna Tucker also joined the band at this time on bass, and even has 3 songs on their latest release, Brighter Than Creation's Dark.

There's a lot more to the history of the band, but if you're that interested, I suggest you check out their website, run by the wonderful Jenn, or go over to the Nine Bullets forum. You can join the Yahoo group if you want, but mostly you'll just get crazy great messages from Ant and others who may discuss the band, but there's no guarantee. Also, if you like your DBT sprinkled with liberal politics (and who wouldn't?), check out J's site called Alabama Asswhupin'.

The greatest thing about the Drive-By Truckers is that you could get 15 people in the room to talk about which songs are best on any album, and you'd likely come up with 15 different lists. You may think a song is the greatest they've ever written and there are people who would say it was their worst, and vice-versa. There is something for everyone in this band.

I have only seen the band once; it was at the Vic Theatre in Chicago in May of 2006. They came on and Cooley started playing "One of These Days" off Pizza Deliverance. There's a line in that song that goes, "I remember him saying Chicago was a hell right here on earth..." When Cooley sang that line, I completely lost my shit. Some people cry at movies. I cry at rock concerts.

Let's start things off with a recent tune off their latest album, Brighter Than Creation's Dark, "The Righteous Path." The most amazing thing about this video is how awesome it looks and sounds. If only half the vids on Youtube were this amazing...seriously, open a new tab and just listen to the sound. The mix of instruments is so great. It may even sound better than the actual album, and that's saying something.

Really, though, you can go to fabchannel.com and check out the entire show. This is probably the best way to introduce you to this band. In a lot of cases, these live arrangements are better than the studio ones, including the first tune, "Putting People on the Moon", which grooves so nicely here. I recommend checking out the versions of "Zip City" and "I'm Sorry, Huston" as well, if you're short on time. I would've created a muxtape for you, but the RIAA has completely shot that to hell. So here's a list of my favorite tunes by the DBT. And I do own all of these CDs. The artwork by Wes Freed alone makes them worth having.

From Pizza Deliverance:
"Nine Bullets", "Uncle Frank", "One of These Days", "Margo and Harold"

From Gangstabilly:
"The Living Bubba", "Panties in Your Purse", "18 Wheels of Love", "Sandwiches for the Road". I'm sorry, but I'm not a big fan of "Steve McQueen" or "Buttholeville". They're okay in a live setting, but to me, they stick out like sore thumbs on this album of mostly acoustic-styled numbers.

From Southern Rock Opera:
Everything on disc one is pretty much a keeper except for the spoken word selections (Days of Graduation and The 3 Alabama Icons) and "Moved". " Zip City" is my overall favorite of the disc. There is just something so beautiful about the statement "I got three-fifty heads on a three-o-five engine, I get ten miles to the gallon, I ain't got no good intentions" that has nothing to do with automobile engines and fuel efficiency.

Disc two has some pretty great songs as well. My favorites are "Let There Be Rock", "Plastic Flowers on the Highway" (so haunting and beautiful), and the lyrical winner, "Shut Up and Get on the Plane". Yes, Cooley, living in fear is just another way of dying before your time.

From Decoration Day:
"Outfit", the title track, "Heathens", "When the Pin Hits the Shell"

From The Dirty South:
This is damn near as perfect album as I have heard from anyone. The track order flows so nicely. Overall very rocking. I can't say as there are a lot of my favorites on this album, but they are all at least 4-star songs. If I had to pick three, I'd go with "Tornadoes", "Danko/Manuel" and "Daddy's Cup".

From A Blessing and a Curse:

I really like what they did on this album. Some really good tunes on here, and a little bit of a departure from their past stuff. I like "Aftermath USA", "Gravity's Gone", the title track and "Daylight".

From Brighter Than Creation's Dark:
What's cool on this album is there are quite a few songs less than 3 minutes. Sorta fucks with what I'm used to. "Checkout Time in Vegas" has 26 seconds of instrumental before the lyrics kick in, and it's only 2:41 in length. When a song starts out mellow then delivers the words, "Bloody nose, empty pockets, a rented car with a trunk full of guns," you know Cooley brought his best to this album. That includes "A Ghost to Most", which I think is Cooley's best song ever. If this song was released in 1978, it would be a top 10 hit. I really like what Shonna is saying in "I'm Sorry Huston." Even though it's about an intense, small man looking for a horse, the lyrics really say so much more to me than what it was written about. Patterson's got a ton of great songs on here as well, including "The Righteous Path", "That Man I Shot" (real cool song about soldiers and people in Iraq) and the thoughtful "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife".

The Drive-By Truckers are on tour with The Hold Steady this fall. Check them out if you can. I've heard a few tunes by the Hold Steady and I think they're great. If you're at the show, the DBT recommend you enjoy it with a can or 8 of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sunday is gloomy, the hours are slumberless

I don't really want to kill myself. At least, not yet. But we have all thought what it would be like; the morbid mind game of choosing an end for oneself. And we all probably know someone that, if not succeeded, has at least attempted it; surely it is not a joking matter.

We all have that dark place. When I go to that dark place, I listen to the music that reflects my inner gloom. Only some of these song are about suicide, but they are all songs that I gravitate towards when I'm low; they are the ones with the most impact for me. A few might be cliche—hell, one is even straight up cheesy—but they all touch something in me, something that I rarely let anyone else see, much less touch. I let this music touch me so that I don't feel so alone in that dark place. So that I can feel like life is worth living.

Gloomy Sunday (Reszo Seress), covered by Bjork
Bjork can really tear me to pieces (see Dancer in the Dark). Hearing her sing these lyrics with that passionate pain behind her voice, I imagine that she feels every word; they aren't just lyrics for her, she lives the words as they emit from her soul.

Fade to Black (Metallica), covered by Apocalyptica
The cello is by far my favorite instrument for its ability to pull from me a feeling of loss. It's tone vibrates deep within, and when you combine this resonant sound with Metallica, well, it's an amazing product of raw emotion.

Hurt (Trent Reznor), covered by Johnny Cash
Oh Jesus. Just watching this video puts me on the edge. Cash's eyes are filled with memory, loss, and pain. If you can't relate to this song, then you have had a far happier life than 99% of the rest of the world.

Needle in the Hay (Elliott Smith), covered by Kermit the Frog
It is almost too much for me to listen to Elliott sing this song, especially considering that he did commit suicide, and in a way far too brutal for me to imagine. So I give you Sad Kermit, which in all honestly isn't that much better. But at least he's just a puppet.

Fire and Rain James Taylor
If I need to have a good cry, I start singing this song. Inevitably, I break down through the second line.

Mad World (Tears for Fears), covered by Gary Jules
This heartbreaking rendition reaches directly to the emotion that I believe the original writers were seeking, but couldn't quite attain with their style.

Everybody Hurts R.E.M
Granted, a cliche. But it is a cliche for a reason. Everybody does hurt.

At Least That's What You Said Wilco
Not quite a typically sad, suicidal song, but I hear such pain when I hear this. It is almost an anthem.

Lived In Bars Cat Power
This video brightens the tone of this song tremendously, because I feel it much more strongly with my earphones on and my eyes closed.

Roads Portishead
Ah, I can't begin to express what this song does to me. I love it so so so much. But again, if I need to cry, I just start singing it.

Fly Away Poe
This is pretty much the dedicated song to anyone that dies. Enough said.

Trouble Cat Stevens
A sad enough song if you have seen Harold and Maude, and an excellent song to listen to while driving around at night with nowhere to go.

Other songs for when I'm down:

Everything is Free, Gillian Welch
With or Without You, U2
Angel, Sarah McLaughlin (cheese, I know)
Wild is the Wind, Nina Simone
I Don't Like Mondays, Tori Amos
Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd
Bang Bang, Nancy Sinatra
Yesterday, The Beatles
Disarm, Smashing Pumpkins
Wanting Memories, Sweet Honey in the Rock
I See a Darkness, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Back to Black, Amy Winehouse
Are You There, Anathema
Another Little Hole, Aqualung
Cup of Coffee, Garbage
Danny Boy

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A little something I discovered today

So here I am sitting around on my "mental health" day listening to my iTunes, when all of a sudden it starts playing a song that I've never heard before nor do I have any idea how it got on my playlist. I have a lot of random shit on my iTunes, and I swear music just pops in like fricking magic.

The song that starts playing is "Stake Your Claim" by Eli "Paperboy" Reed and a surge of excitement rushed through my body. It was the same feeling I always get when I discover new music that I know I will have a love affair with for the rest of my days. My stalking skills instantly kicked in and I went searching for anything I could find on him online. Unfortunately there is barely anything out there except for his pretty empty official site and his MySpace page. Apparently he's from Boston, and if you liked my post on Jamie Lidell just throw in a little Otis Redding and you get Eli Reed. We've seen the female throwbacks like Amy, Duffy and Adele. It's time to recognize the guys who are doing it bigger and better.

"Am I Wasting My Time"

"Am I Just Fooling Myself"

"Stake Your Claim"

Monday, September 15, 2008

Maybe I Was Just Born Lucky

I often buy music on a whim, for some reason that has nothing at all to do with the way it sounds; because something about the cover art, or the font used, or the title of a song just grabs me. I know it seems ridiculous to spend money on so tenuous and unrelated a cue, but I have always been really lucky in this regard. I honestly can't remember the last time I bought a lemon because I indulged my first gut reaction.

This is how I came to buy Punch, the debut album by The Punch Brothers. You want to know what made me know I would like it? I'll tell you, Gentle Readers, but I assure you that it won't make sense out loud. Or in type. I don't think I fully understand it myself, even; I just know what the trigger was. Ready?

It was because of the combination of the uses of the word 'punch'. Not only is it part of the band's name and the name of the album, but it also appears in the title of the first track, Punch Bowl. And something about that just... grabbed me. Punch Brothers and Punch evoked a certain rough, maybe even violent, camaraderie to me, and Punch Bowl made me think of, well, a punch bowl. And along with that comes the idea of a party, and getting drunk. But combined with the roughness of the other meanings of the word, which is the way it seemed like it should be taken in the band's name and the album's title, it seemed juxtaposed and discordant and maybe even a little lonely. And in the split second that all that rattled around in my head, I knew I would like it.

(I hope that's less clumsy to you reading than it seems to me writing.)

In any case, I was right. I love this album, and I can't wait to see what comes next from them. It's immediate, visceral, full of undercurrents of loneliness and anger, but there is also a sort of raw defiance underneath that. It seems simple on the surface a lot of the time, but it's really complicated when you start to pay attention, and while it is traditional Bluegrass in a lot of ways, there is nothing stale or recycled about it.

I am going to stop talking now, and let the music speak for itself...

Punch Bowl


I Know You Know

Heart In A Cage

Fantastic stuff, yes?

Friday, September 12, 2008


Gott in Himmel, this is embarrassing.

Alright, let's get this over with. In 1999, I was a sophomore in college. After an "80's Night" at my frat house (or co-ed literary society, if you prefer) one of my siblings sent me an IM to say that I had reminded him of Nena, with my bandana-around-the-forehead look. Embarrassingly, I had to look up Nena on the Napster. "Oh yeah! I remember who she is; she sings the Luftballons song!"

And that's where it started, but it's not nearly the end.

Back in the glory days of Napster, I downloaded any damned thing that crossed my mind. Not content with both the German and English versions of 99 Luftballons, I downloaded every Nena song I could find, including this one:

Okay, whatever, no big deal; everyone has some weakness for 80's music and mine manifested itself prominently in German pop. So what?

So Napster listed Nur Getraumt under another artist as well: Blumchen.

If you know where this story is going, you should probably be ashamed of yourself, too. I don't know if this helps my case, but I don't actually speak German.

Fuck it:

In the near decade that I've known and loved Blumchen, I've never found anyone who shows anything but pure disgust when they catch me listening. And they really have had to catch me! I learned quickly (from my roommates in college) that this was something to hide; something no one would understand. For a while I reveled in that and held up my Blumchen-love as an example of my free spirit and disdain for convention. There was a time when you could tell I was getting ready for a party because I had dragged my boombox into the bathroom to rock out while I applied my super-hot make-up. I'd yell along (phonetically) with the oh-so-catchy choruses. How was I to resist this "fantasy techno," "happy hardcore" or "hyper-pixie-techno-pop" (my phrase)?

Over the years, I have developed a well-deserved shame in regards to this habit. I still listen; don't get me wrong, only Blumchen or Garrison Keillor can get me to clean the kitchen. But I quickly turn down the volume if I here a key in the lock or footsteps in the hall. I value my relationship with my roommate too much to let him hear this mess.

To be honest, the chagrin has gotten worse since I started this post. In all the years I'd been listening, I'd never seen a video of this woman, let alone seen her (twice!) dancing on a damned beach.

Yeah... actually? Can we forget I said anything?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Covers - stealing or improving on the great??

People run out of creativity after a while, but the money still needs to flow in somehow. That’s how I see a lot of covers or use of samples in the music business. But there might be another side to it too. Maybe an artist really respects another artist’s work and wants to pay homage somehow. Or maybe their ego is so big that they think they can improve on a classic. Any way you slice it, these are some of my favorite covers/use of samples:

"Feelin’ Good" by Muse, originally written for the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd according to Wikipedia (WTF???) but the Nina Simone version is probably the most well known. Muse recently made it onto my top bands list and I was heartbroken when I had to choose between them and Interpol at Lollapalooza 2007. Needless to say, they are still on my list of bands I need to see before I die.

"Can't Forget About You" by Nas feat. Chrisette Michelle, sample used from "Unforgettable" by Nat King Cole. Thanks Ryan for NOT reminding me about the Nas show last weekend!! Anywho, Chrisette kills it on this song.

"Stronger" by Kanye West, sample used from "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" by Daft Punk. I don't give a dick what anyone says, I love me some Kanye. Mix in some Daft Punk and you've got a masterpiece.

"Killing Me Softly" by The Fugees, cover of original song by Roberta Flack. Ok, yeah. This one is obvious, but it's still one of my favorites.

"Alone Again (Naturally)" by Har Mar Superstar, cover of original song by Gilbert O'Sullivan. I couldn't find a video, but go here to listen to it. It's worth the extra click you lazy asses.

"Inside and Out" by Feist, cover of original song by The Bee Gees.

"One" by Mary J. Blige, original song by U2. Ok, so she had U2 as her backing vocals, but that just proves that she turned this shit out and killed it. Even U2 took the backseat and let Mary drive.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

rejoice like stars

my brightest diamond is one of those bands that i liked, but didn't love the first few times i heard some of her music.
but then, slowly, after a couple of listenings, i found myself drawn in. i fell, if you will. fell deeply into her thrall, and she quickly became on of my absolute favorites. she's one of those soft-spoken storytellers, so you strain a little bit to hear, and then suddenly you find your whole body engaged in really listening to what she has to say.
the robin's jar is one of my favorites from bring me the workhorse (no video, so close your eyes and listen):

it was this song that made me realize that worden is, well, more than a lovely voice. (like some of my other favorite singers, she trained as an opera singer, only to abandon it for pop. go figure.) she's a sheherezade, weaving thick, dreamlike story-spells in with her music.
my real favorite, golden star, is only available in studio quality on youtube accompanied by a weird user video.

i love the cinematic quality of the whole workhorse album, the breathless way that it's possible to get completely lost in these tales, the oddly spare yet satisfyingly rich musical accompaniment, the pictures that are woven by the interplay of voice and music. the voice is definitely the centerpiece. though the music never detracts, it's more of a cradle, a background, a springboard for worden's vocals.
when i listen to this album, i really do get lost. i'll step out of the train station, head in the clouds, music in my ears, and if it's not gray and raining and deliciously cool outside, it's a physical shock to my system, because i'll have been lulled into a quiet trance, for which the only appropriate physical world seems like autumn.
to be honest, i hesitated to write about my brightest diamond, if only because it wasn't love at first listen. but then, i got off the train the other morning, in one of the story-trances, and it was cool, and delicious, and at the base of a pillar near the station entrance was a robin. at that point, it just seemed inevitable.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Long Live the Kings!

Is there any musical figure who has imprinted himself more deeply on the American zeitgeist than Elvis Presley? I'm not talking about being successful, influencing other musicians, or being a mover and a shaker (no pun intended) in the world outside of the music industry; While Elvis certainly did all those things and more, you could make solid arguments that others were more important or influential... I am talking about achieving mythical cultural status. There are only a few people who have even come close, but to my mind none of them touch The King in terms of the breadth and depth of the impact on our collective unconscious.

Don't believe me? I hold up as my argument a selection of Elvis impersonators so culturally and musically diverse it makes my head spin. These are not hacks in a jumpsuit from the local goodwill... each and every one of them brings talent and drive and dedication to the stage. And while they would all, I think, be perfectly capable of having a career as themselves, they would rather serve The King with their talent.

Dread Zeppelin :: Hearbreaker

These guys, I admit, are a little schticky. But there is no denying that they are passionate about and inspired by Elvis, and having a hell of a good time in the process.

El Vez 'Mexican Elvis' :: En El Barrio

On a scale going from 'Impersonator' to 'Inspired By,' I think that El Vez is furthest toward 'Inspired By' in this particular group. Plus he gets a lot of points for taking a song that is awkward even in the language it was written in and making it work in translation.

The King :: Whole Lotta Rosie

I have already talked about The King, and while I hate to repeat myself, I think he is one of the best Elvis impersonators I have ever heard, and I could not in good conscience omit him here. Not to mention the fact that his whole album is 'Elvis' covering the songs of other artists that have shuffled off this mortal coil, well, I think that is deeply amusing. Whatever that says about me.

Metal Elvis :: Viva Las Vegas

When you got up this morning, I know you said to yourself, "Self, my life would be 110% better if there was a hard rock Elvis impersonator out there for me to listen to." It is icing on the cake that this is from 3000 Miles to Graceland, which, while not a great movie, does have thieves pulling a heist in Vegas dressed up as Elvis. Because, you know, then they blend in.

Robert Washington 'Black Elvis' :: Let It Be Me

This guy is just amazing.

Jelvis - The Jewish Elvis

I have no words for this one. Really. I'm speechless. I found this while looking up clips for the others. I had no idea he even existed before this. Speechless, I say.

And that, Gentle Readers, is my argument on this subject. Take or leave it as you will, but you cannot deny the talent on display.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Rock Ain't Dead

Every so often, someone will come up to me and say, "Man, rock and roll is dead!" and then I hear a song that tells me, no, rock and roll is not dead, it may not be the same three chords and mayhem, but if a tune can get you to pump your fist or bob your head, then I say to you truly, in the immortal words of Heavy Pettin', "rock ain't dead."

To prove my point, I give you the following examples. First, the Beauvilles. Faced with a firing squad, do these young men cower? No, they do not. They burst forth with song and bring the rock.

Then you have Les Savy Fav. I won't say this video is the best video. Looks more like an afternoon with friends, a keg of beer, and a video camera, if you were to ask me, but then, don't ask me:

I wish I could find a video with a good studio version of Spoon's "The Beast and Dragon Adored". The tune is absolutely rock and roll and about rock and roll. Unfortunately, this amateur film with the music as the background will have to do:

Then you have My Morning Jacket. I've heard two new tunes off their new album and like them both a lot. Here's the official vid for "I'm Amazed".

Leave your suggestions in the comments section, and enjoy with a Goose Island Pere Jacques.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I know I'm not the only one....

I was completely oblivious to the fact that Third Eye Blind could be classified as a guilty pleasure until half of my friends made fun of me for driving to Milwaukee to see one of their shows two summers ago. They were even on my short list of bands I needed to see live before I die and they still hold a place on my favorite bands list. The show in Milwaukee was excellent by the way and that weekend, as a whole, was a fucking blast.

I have fond memories of driving around in my high school best friend's mini van blaring and singing along to "How's It Going To Be." But it's not the radio hits of 3EB that made me fall in love with this band, it was how effing hot Stephen Jenkins is! Ok sort of, but not really. It was songs like Motorcycle Drive By, Deep Inside Of You and Narcolepsy. Here is an EXCELLENT video of Motorcycle Drive By live in San Fran.

Deep Inside Of You video

My second guilty pleasure, which I am fully aware of its status as such, is Mariah Carey. And I'm not talking about her new "Shake It Off" shit. I mean, that stuff is OK but what I'm really talking about songs like Emotions, Vision Of Love, Underneath the Stars and her cover of The Jackson 5's I'll Be There from the MTV Unplugged tape. Yes, I said tape. This seem like an ancient artifact for some of you, but I still rock that shit.

I even loved Mariah Carey so much that I wrote an essay on her song "Hero" in junior high. My question is, who is this new Mariah with stick straight hair, wears t-shirts as dresses and marries a former Nickelodeon star? I want the pre-looney bin Mariah back with her all natural curly hair, her old-enough-to-be-her-grandpa husband and her flannel shirts tied at the waist.

Vision of Love video

Underneath the Stars live in Japan

Oh shit, the 90's just flashed before my eyes...