Sunday, March 30, 2008
Has there been another more frustrating band than R.E.M.? (See Counting Crows below) When drummer Bill Berry quit in 1997, I don't think any of their fans could have predicted the dire turn R.E.M.'s music would take. Since that fateful day, they have released 3 downbeat, simply boring CD's. My biggest problem with them wasn't just the lack of straight ahead melodies, the lack of decent guitar work we have come to expect from Peter Buck, or the fact that the songs sounded nothing like the same band I had been following since 1985; it was that the songs made me feel nothing at all. Something R.E.M. had always done was make you FEEL something, whether you had a clue what the song was about. The other frustrating thing was that anyone who saw the band live during the last 10 years knows that they are still one of the most best live rock bands on the planet. So why the bland studio releases?
In the months leading up to the release of 2008's 35 minute "Accelerate", I kept reading about how this was going to be the big return to rock and roll song craft the band was known for. Is it? The answer is absolutely. Starting out of the gate with the propelling "Living Well Is The Best Revenge", the band makes it known that they can still bring the ROCK. In fact, many of the 11 tracks on this disc are the hardest, most guitar heavy material Stipe, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills have ever produced. The war in Iraq, the media, and the general shitty state of the USA seem to be the prime lyrical content for Stipe. In some cases this is a good thing; in others, I long for the I.R.S. days when you couldn't understand a word he was singing.
Is this enough to change the minds of many who feel R.E.M had lost their stature as one of the best American bands of all time? The problem for me is that the two songs on the disc that rank as two of the worst in the band's cannon ("Houston" and "Sing For The Submarine") almost sink the entire thing. Take these two songs out, and you have a classic R.E.M. 28 minute EP. With them in, we have a flawed disc that I want to like more than I actually do. The other problem I have is that as much as I like the overall sound of most of the songs, they don't make me FEEL anything. Not happy, not sad, not excited, not mournful. Nothing. Maybe that is just my problem, but I fear many other fans will feel the same way. If I had to rank this with the rest of the band's discography, I would put it above "Up" and below "Green" on the scale. That would put it about in the middle of the pack. I guess the best thing about it is that it's good to hear some life back in the band. And that may just be enough for some...
R.E.M.-Horse to Water
Another huge musical frustration has been the career of the Counting Crows. When their classic debut came out in 1993, I was certain these guys were going to be as important in the history of rock as Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, or The Band. Unfortunately, The Crows not only haven't lived up to the original greatness of their debut, but their career has been plagued with some horrible decisions (think Shrek, Coke commercials, Vanessa Carlton, huge package stadium tours, and "Big Yellow Taxi"). The music on their subsequent released has ranged from great to embarrassing.
It has been 6 years since the release of their last studio disc. So was it worth the wait? Unfortunately, not really. The disc is split up into two "sections", with Saturday Nights being the rocking side and Sunday Mornings being the comedown. I like this idea in theory but unfortunately it puts a magnifying glass to a huge flaw of the band. That being that the Crows are best being mellow. They can definitely rock out as a band musically, but doing so tends to make vocalist Adam Duritz sing (yell) way out of a comfortable listening range and tends to make the content of the song sound overly dramatic.
The band fares much better when they tone it down a notch. Mid-tempo rock or acoustic ballads are their strong suite so the disc is much better towards the latter half (tracks 7-14). The best song is an "Astral Weeks"-inspired ditty called "Le Ballet Dor". It is unlike anything I've heard them try before and it's good to hear these guys exploring some new musical (and lyrical)directions.
So once again, we get another frustrating release from Counting Crows that hints at greatness but doesn't consistently achieve it.
Counting Crows-Le Ballet Dor
I have long been under the impression that Jack (White Stripes) White is one of the most talented and prolific artists to come around in many moons. He has co-written, produced, and released 8 albums since 1999. This week finds the surprise release of the new disc from Jack's "side" project, The Raconteurs. The Raconteurs are the perfect anecdote for anyone who wondered what Jack White would sound like with a bass player, background vocals, and a more technical drummer. In true Jack White fashion, the disc was recorded last month and the record label didn't find out about the release plans until the week prior to the date. With that in mind, one would expect "Consolers of the Lonely" to have a thrown together vibe to it and it does; in a very good way.
The thing I didn't like about the first Raconteurs disc is that is sounded like two separate discs. With two primary singer-songwriters, I suppose that was to be expected but the disc just does not hold together for me as a whole. I'm sure most Jack White fans have deleted the Brendan Benson songs from their I-Pods by now. "Consolers of the Lonely" is much better in that area. The songs sound like the guys collaborated together more and had a blast doing so. I'm sure people will still split the tracks up into the White/Benson catagory, but there is no denying this is now a "band" and not just a vanity project for White.
The sound ranges from early 70's Bowie-esque romps to White Stripes style blues to Brendon Benson's Beatles channelling. Not all of the tracks are stellar, but there is an overall vibe that is impossible not to like. It makes for the best mix tape you didn't have to make yourself and it's a shoe-in for my summer album of 2008. Crank it up loud and remember the days when good artists made old-fashioned rock and roll for the fun of it!
The Raconteurs-Rich Kid's Blues
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Check out the Top Searches for today. I can understand the nonsense culture we live in that makes people want to search for Jamie Lynn Spears and Carla Bruni but who the fuck is searching for the evil that is REO Speedwagon?! They haven't been relevant since "Three's Company" and indoor roller rinks. There must be some pop-culture reason for it but dammed if I can figure it out. These are the things that keep me up at night and yes, I realize I need help.
Please respond to me if you can help with my queries!
Today's Yahoo Top Searches-March 27, 2008
Jamie Lynn Spears
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
To help with the weekly grind, I thought I would give you all some good music to crank up. Here is my second installment in what I hoped would be weekly mix tapes. Again, there is not much rhyme or reason to these. They are just some songs I have been listening to lately. I've been loving some new albums by R.E.M., Bob Mould, Mike Doughty, and Drive-By Truckers so some of those tracks find their way in here. And like last time, the song titles are below the files for those who don't want to see the track list before listening. I hope you enjoy these tunes as much as I do!
1. R.E.M.-Living Well Is The Best Revenge
2. Bob Dylan-Can you Please Crawl Out Your Window
3. Devendra Banhart-Sea Horse
4. Steely Dan-Midnight Cruiser
5. Drive-By Truckers-The Opening Act
6. Feist-I Feel It All
7. Neil Young-Campaigner
8. Sufjan Stevens-Chicago
9. The National-Green Gloves
10. Levon Helm-The Mountain
11. Broken Social Scene-Fire Eye'd Boy
12. Gillian Welch-Tear My Stillhouse Down
13. Bob Mould-Very Temporary
14. Joe Jackson-Invisible Man
15. Beth Orton-Pass in Time
16. Old Crow Medicine Show-Wagon Wheel
17. Sleater-Kinney-One More Hour
18. R.E.M.-Until the Day is Done
19. Jerry Garcia-Rubin And Cherise
20. Mike Doughty-Navigating By The Stars At Night
Monday, March 24, 2008
The Wilco track is called "Glad It's Over" and when I listen to it, I feel like I am 7 years old again listening to AM radio in the back of parents car. It has a breezy Steely Dan vibe to it that would have fit perfectly on Wilco's recent "Sky Blue Sky" album. Me likely!
Wilco-"Glad It's Over"
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Here is an excerpt:
"Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way
But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:
"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters....And in that single note - hope! - I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories - of survival, and freedom, and hope - became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about...memories that all people might study and cherish - and with which we could start to rebuild."
That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.
And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love."
Bruce and the E-Street Band rampaged the Bradley Center last night and more than lived up to their reputation as one of the finest live rock and roll bands.
The last time I saw Bruce, he was supporting The Seeger Sessions disc singing traditional folk to a crowd that mostly wanted to hear "Thunder Road". That tour missed the mark because of Bruce's horrible decision to play that music in basketball stadiums. It was a rare opportunely to witness Bruce perform something special which was unfortunately lost on an arena crowd who didn't know Pete Seeger from Bob Seger.
That was certainly not a problem last night as Bruce and the E-Street band delivered the anthem rock his fans have come to love. I hadn't seen Bruce with the E-Streeters since 1999, but at that show I thought there were moments when Bruce seemed bored singing those songs again. There certainly was no boredom to be found last night as Springsteen was as loose as when I first saw him long ago in 1984. Bruce seemed engaged and energized all night long and the crowd responded in kind. No one can rock a stadium like Bruce, even if he may not be able to play to the back row like he once could. My only complaint is the same one I've had of the band since the mid-80's; that the music tends to sound so busy at times that it's impossible to pick out an nuance anymore. This is more a fault of stadium shows in general then of Bruce or the band.
I am enough of a Bruce geek to follow the setlists on a current tour, and I can say that we got special one last night. Opening with 1984's "No Surrender" into the new instant classic "Radio Nowhere", Bruce had the crowd eating out of his hand.
There were many "holy shit" moments for me, but the clear highlight was Bruce treating us to the rarely played album cut "Streets of Fire". As I watched Bruce shred two guitar solos during that tune, I felt like I was at the Roxy Theater back in 1978.
After a couple tracks from the new CD, Bruce did a totally reworked Tom Waits meets ZZ Top version of the "Nebraska" cut "Reason to Believe; complete with harmonica and Bruce singing through a bullet mic. Next, Bruce shocked the die-hards by playing the oldest song of the night; 1973's "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City". This one featured a fiery guitar dual between Bruce and his long time foil, "Little" Steven Van Zant that proved that Van Zant hasn't lost his great soloing ability.
But this was no nostalgia show. Lest we forget Bruce is trying to sell a new CD, and the tracks played from the new disc sounded much better than the studio versions to my ears. I am of the opinion that Bruce's current producer makes dirty sounding discs that end of giving me a headache with their "kitchen sink" sound. Live, the "Magic" tracks were allowed to breath and it seemed to give new life to tracks like "Long Walk Home" and "Last to Die".
You can certainly tell that the current shitty state of our country is on Bruce's mind, but these songs were always followed by songs of hope. "Reason to Believe" followed the paranoia of "Magic", "The Promised Land" followed the "this can't be happening" theme of "Living in the Future", "The Rising" followed the shattered-soldier epic "Devils Arcade", and the new hopeful classic "Long Walk Home" followed the anti-war anthem "Last to Die". One of my favorite things about Springsteen is how each setlist tries to tell a tale, and I thought this was done masterfully last night.
The final "Holy Shit" moment for me was Bruce bringing out his old friend and bass player Richard Davis. Davis was the bass player on Van Morrison's masterpiece "Astral Weeks", and he played on the album versions of a few Bruce classics including the chilling "Meeting Across the River". That song was played last night with just Bruce, Davis, and the masterful pianist Roy Bittan on stage.
And just like on the Born to Run album, Bruce's epic "Jungleland" followed which brought chills to anyone in the crowd with a soul.
As Bruce has done on every show of the tour, he ended by playing the Pete Seeger inspired "American Land". The song is a Irish-style rave-up about the hopes and dreams of those coming to the Unites States. It was a perfect ending on this St. Patrick's night, and one came away with the feeling that our country can again be the beckon of hope that Springsteen has always sang about. Mission Accomplished Boss!
Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band-Bradley Center-Milwaukee, WI
Streets of Fire
Reason to Believe
It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City
Prove It All Night
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
The Promised Land
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
* * *
Meeting Across the River (with Richard Davis)
Born to Run
Friday, March 14, 2008
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
So I scanned though my Tivo'd copy of the 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies last night. Thank goodness for the fast forward button! I have watched many of these induction ceremonies, and every year I am struck by how dull and non-Rock and Roll they are. The Grammy awards seem like a drug-fueled orgy compared to these. It didn't help that this year's inductees were kind of bland anyway (The Ventures, The Dave Clark Five, John Cougar Melencamp, Leonard Cohen, Madonna). The big draw obviously was Madonna who I have long been a huge fan of. However, she didn't perform which meant we had to listen to her talk for 30 minutes. Iggy & The Stooges played two of her songs instead which sounds cool, but it sure wasn't. These days Iggy looks like he needs a walker and as cool as he sounds doing his own stuff, he should never attempt to sing Madonna. I'm all for punk, but it has to sound good to the ears on some level.
The point of this post is to mention 2008 nominee Leonard Cohen. Cohen has long been on my "artists I need to check out" list. The only material I really knew by him is the song "Hallelujah". If that was the only song the guy ever wrote, he would be a legend. I think everyone but me has covered it and Damien Rice did a great job with it at the ceremonies.
After a shaky Lou Reed introduction, Leonard Cohen got up and gave one of the best speeches I have ever seen. The guy is one cool motherfucker, that's for sure. The speech is mostly Cohen reciting the lyrics to his song "Tower of Song". It was enough to get me to want to hear every lyric this guy has written. See it for yourself and congratulations Leonard. I'm sure you deserve the honer, whether anyone knows it or not...
Sunday, March 9, 2008
One of my favorite things to do in the world used to be making mix tapes. Yes children, in the old days there were these things called tapes and you could record different songs on them. They had two sides and each held about 45 minutes of music. And when you made the tapes, you actually had to listen to each song in real time as it recorded. It was a perfect way to share with others your thoughts and feelings through music.
Nowadays, the art of the mix tape is as dead as buying records in your favorite local music store. Well I sure can't send you all tapes, but through the magic of the Internets I can share an electronic mix tape on these pages. I hope to do this every week and I hope you enjoy them. These are nothing more than songs I love, but to me they mean a lot.
I always like to first listen to mixes without looking at a track list. If you are curious, the lists will posted below.
1. The Stooges-Search and Destroy
2. Richie Havens-Tombstone Blues
3. Jackson Browne-Your Bright Baby Blues
4. Drive-By Truckers-The Righteous Path
5. Joni Mitchell-Amelia
6. The Raveonettes-Dead Sound
7. Joseph Arthur-In the Sun
8. Gram Parsons-Six Days on the Road
9. Mike Doughty-I Just Want The Girl In The Blue Dress To Keep On Dancin
10. Steve Earle-Steve's Hammer(for Pete)
11. The Waterboys-The Whole of the Moon
12. Relatively Clean Rivers-Journey Through The Valley Of O
13. Bob Marley and The Wailers-Positive Vibration
14. Bruce Springsteen-Long Walk Home
15. Patti Smith-Boy in the Bubble
16. Los Lobos-The Road to Gila Bend
17. The Rolling Stones-Food to Cry
18. The Kinks-I'm Not Like Everybody Else
19. Radiohead-Weird Fishes Arpeggi
20. Sly and the Family Stone-Thank You For Talkin' to Me Africa
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Bob Mould-If You're True (1989 Outtake)
Friday, March 7, 2008
Touring on the heals of the fantastic new release "District Line", Mould appeared with a killer four piece band that my ears are still ringing from. The show opened with an electrifying one-two blast of the first 2 tracks from Sugar's "Copper Blue". Going into the show, I would have been thrilled to hear any songs from that album, but Mould treated us to 4 of them throughout the night. The show featured a great mix of tracks from his solo discs, Sugar, and a seven song Husker Du explosion at the end (including Divide and Conquer, Celebrated Summer, Chartered Trips, Could You Be the One, Makes No Sense at All, and Hardly Getting Over It). But this was no nostalgia show. The five tracks played from the new CD sounded perfectly in place with Mould's best work, and that includes the Husker Du material. What stuck me most is how passionate Mould sounds after all these years. He was screaming those Husker Du songs as if the wounds that spawned them still hurt like hell. Go see him if you have the chance!
Bob Mould 2008 Tour Dates:
03/07/08 Chicago, IL @ Metro
03/08/08 Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
03/09/08 Hamilton, ON @ Casbah
03/10/08 Toronto, ON @ Mod Club Theatre
03/12/08 Boston, MA @ The Paradise
03/13/08 New York, NY @ The Fillmore at Irving Plaza
03/14/08 Philadelphia, PA @ Trocadero
03/15/08 Washington DC @ 9:30 Club
03/17/08 Charlotte, NC @ The Visulite Theatre
03/18/08 Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
03/20/08 Austin, TX @ Antone's
03/22/08 Boulder, CO @ Fox Theatre
03/24/08 San Diego, CA @ Belly Up Tavern
03/25/08 Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theater
03/26/08 San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
03/28/08 Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
03/29/08 Seattle, WA @ Neumos
03/30/08 Vancouver, BC @ Richards on Richards
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Every once and a while an established band comes into your world and you think, "how have I never heard of these guys before"? Today I had that thought while listening to the excellent new CD by the Drive By Truckers.
That is not to say I haven't been reading about the Drive By Truckers since they released their supposed 2001 double CD masterpiece, "The Southern Rock Opera". That disc topped many year-end lists, but something about the descriptions of the music and their name kept me away. What a shame for me! After cranking their brilliant 2008 release "Brighter Than Creation's Dark" a few times now, I am on a mission to seek out the rest of their material.
Their sounds is roots-based rock along the lines of "Exile on Main Street" Rolling Stones so if twang ain't your thing, you may want to stay away. The band's main appeal to me is that they have three unique singer-songwriters in Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and new member Shonna Tucker, so the tunes all sound varied. Lyrically, each song feels like I am living a snapshot of Southern characters who are dealing with the typical issues of life (death, love, war, religion, crystal meth). But however heavy the lyrical content may get, the songs never sound heavy handed or depressing. These guys can rock your socks off or rock you to sleep depending on the tune and the lyrics are all top notch. If I am not the only one left who hasn't heard them, do yourselves a favor and give the new songs a listen over at their MySpace page. You'll be glad you did.
Also, check out this killer 3 hour show from 2006 archived on the NPR website.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
I was in Florida taking care of a loved one. Because of that, I was able to watch a lot of movies and bad TV. The highlight of my viewing was most definitely watching Woody Allen's 1989 masterpiece "Crimes and Misdemeanors". I have long been a big fan of Allen's work and I know I saw the film back when it was first released, but I don't remember it leaving much of an impression on me. The thing is, I was only 19 years old in 1989 and not mentally ready for the themes Woody explores during the movie. Those themes would be; fidelity, importance of family, religion, murder, consequences of actions, good over evil, nostalgia, and love. These are familiar themes to any fan of Allen's films, but as far as I'm concerned this film explores them better than any of his others. This is one of Allen's draumadies, so it is hilarious in parts but the drama is what really hooked me in.
The plot is sort of separated into two segments, with Woody at the center of one and the amazing Martin Landau at the center of the other. I will not give away any plot points, but I have to say that I was more emotional during the final 2 minutes of this film than any I can remember. Woody always tends to be a "glass half empty" kind of guy but this movie explores how people can get that way. More importantly, he touches on the potential light at the end of the tunnel that we all use to see each day through. Perhaps it was my circumstance last week with facing my Dad's mortality, but this movie pushed all the right buttons for me and really made me question how and why we live our lives the way we do. If you have never seen it, go to your local library now and check it out. It may actually change your life.