Monday, July 19, 2010

Play Them Songs: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - 'Mojo'

I am a huge fan of classic rock. I mean I LOVE it. Led Zeppelin changed my life. But, as a personal rule of sorts, I don't buy new CDs by "old" artists. This stems from an experience I had in high school. For reasons still unclear, I decided to buy Aerosmith's 2001 release Just Push Play -- and it was awful.

However, a few weeks ago I was at Best Buy and saw that Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' new CD, Mojo, was only $10. So I picked it up.

Mojo sees Petty and his boys go back to Petty's Southern roots with a blues-infused rock and roll record. Right from the start, with "Jefferson Jericho Blues," Mojo displays an upbeat, guitar-driven foundation that continues throughout with tracks "Candy," "U.S. 41" and "I Should Have Known It."

With a few slower numbers to balance itself out, Mojo makes for a fairly solid listen. It isn't Petty's best, nor does it have any signature standout singles that have made Petty so famous. But what it gives you is a different side of Petty.

If you listen to Petty's library, you'll hear a very tight, very focused band that takes a very professional approach to their music. The case can even be made for calling Petty a perfectionist, if you recall the tale of how Petty broke his hand punching a wall after becoming frustrated while recording the song "Rebels" on the Southern Accents album (of course, drugs are also to blame for the incident).

Mojo, on the other hand, presents Petty and the band at arguably their most relaxed. While it doesn't posses the raw swagger of someone like The Rolling Stones, the blues influence does give the album a very laid back vibe.

It's not perfect, but the album is a gratifying listen for any Petty fans looking for something fresh. Plus, it got me to repeal my ban.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cycle of CDs: The Lemonheads - 'It's a Shame About Ray' (1992)

Yes, the first song I ever heard by the Lemonheads was a cover that they did. It truly defined them for me, though, at least for at least a little while. Their version of "Mrs. Robinson" was great for various reasons: it was already a popular song, it gave the band a chance to let people know their style, and they did a hell of a job of putting their spin on it. I really regret not putting it on my list of favorite covers.

And, I pretty much of bought It's a Shame About Ray because of that cover song.

The Lemonheads, almost as their name implies, were (and still are on most counts) just a perfect, sweet, pop band. Most folks will label them as indie, rock, or alternative, but that's not the case. They are pop.

See, it goes back to at least part of my theory on cover bands -- they used to be a great stepping stone for bands to get their start and to learn their trade before doing it themselves. It wasn't shameful or dull. People, not very different from today, like to go out and hear a band play their favorite songs. Forty and fifty years ago, though, popular songs played on the radio were actually good. The Beatles were a pop band. So were Elvis, Jerry Lee, and Chuck Berry. Who would be ashamed to play Beatles covers, even if it was "I Want to Hold Your Hand"? Somewhere, I would venture to say just after Michael Jackson peaked, pop music became disgusting, simplifying its music, its words, and its range. Our culture, on the whole, became dumb. What would a cover band have to play now that is considered "popular"? Miley Cyrus? The Black-Eyed Peas? Katie Perry? Those are usually names I see on the Top 40 Lists.

I've digressed. True, guitar-driven pop music still exists, though, and it's still as good as some of the original pop music of the late Fifties and Sixties -- you know, back when bands played their instruments and at least wrote some of their songs.

That's where The Lemonheads fall in the musical spectrum for me. And, It's a Shame About Ray is a wonderful, guitar-driven, pop record. I'd go so far to call it a masterpiece of its time if it wasn't for "Ceiling Fan in My Spoon," which isn't bad. It just sounds lacking compared to the rest of the tracks.

But, oh my God, the rest of the CD? I've never gotten tired of it.

First of all, the sentimental tracks are just beautifully made, no matter their content. Take "My Drug Buddy," a tale of two friends (I like to assume one of them is a girl), who are friends due to their shared interest in drugs, maybe beyond. "Hannah and Gabi," a cute tune of beginnings and doubt, has one of my favorite lines on the entire record ("Though it wasn't hard or far/I walked you to your car").

The rockers are just plain fun. The opening, hectic riff of "Rockin' Stroll" starts the album off perfectly. "Kitchen," another song of romantic beginnings, can't be beat, either, especially with lines like, "I'll tell you things I know you like to know/Treat me to cake every night" and "We repeat the same stories/But, of course, never in front of friends/How it all started in the kitchen/Remember the time when you said we could wait a while?/You'd let me know when you changed your mind/Yeah, I was sad for some time."

Add that to the fact that Juliana Hatfield played bass and sang idealized backing vocals for the album, and you've got a collection of songs that you'll want around forever.

Nevermind Evan Dando's dick-and-douche personality in his live shows. Forget the cover, which was originally included only as a bonus track. You'll get addicted to the simple greatness that is The Lemonheads with this one CD.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cycle of CDs: Hole - 'Live Through This' (1994)

When I was sixteen or thereabouts, I hung out with these older folks around our incredibly small town. It was a tiny commune of people who were "cool." At least, that's the way I looked at them before I "joined" the group. Looking back, I don't think any of us considered ourselves to be cool at all; we just liked to do the same things, i.e. drink, and we liked to listen to a lot of the same music. We tried our best to keep each other abreast of bands and songs.

In that group was an even smaller subgroup of two older girls that I thought were just the hottest things ever. For one reason or another, they took me up as a friend and I was sometimes allowed to hang out with them.

Anyway, they loved Hole. They thought Courtney Love was the shit. When I was around them, we would listen to Live Through This constantly. Since it was almost always on cassette tape, we would listen to all of side one, flip it, and listen to all of side two while riding around and finding cemeteries to haunt. I would've liked the CD on my own. That's my theory, anyway. The fact that they were jamming it at all hours in Tiny Town, U.S.A. like the roll n' roll, bad-ass bitches they were certainly didn't hurt.

I recently double checked myself, though, to see if I would still like it. I got the CD out and put it in the car for a couple of days. I just let it play straight through, just like the old days.

My conclusion? It's still flawless. It is a rock masterpiece, easily, that is roughly themed around doing drugs and having to furiously grow up due to several obstacles, many of which center around a baby entering one's life. Just polished in just the right spots, perfectly raw in all other areas.

Look, forget the contraversy of whether Courtney wrote all the songs or not. She would've had to have been influenced by Kurt, right? Of course! She was married and lived with him for years. Did he write some of the album? Take a listen to Hole's first. It's similar to Live Through This; her latest work reflects that she has some talent, even if it may be fading. Honestly, I don't know.

More importantly, I don't care. If he did write some of it, that's fine. The album is still a motherfucker. It would be very different if she didn't (or couldn't) play her own instrument(s). She did, as far as I know -- that's usually not the argument I ever hear against the album. For more on that type of controversy, scroll down and read the third-to-last paragraph here. There are your rock gods for you, tweens.

The lyrics on Hole's second album are stout, man; it doesn't matter if you are male or female. Who can't relate to high school being a factory to keep everyone formulaic -- a place where you'd do anything to fit in -- especially when said with such beautiful brashness? ("Well, I went to school/In Olympia/We look the same/We talk the same/We even fuck the same.")

Haven't we all dealt with self-conscious issues, even if they aren't quite drug induced? ("I am/doll arms/big veins/dog bait/Yeah, they really want you/They really do.")

Surely you've been jealous, right? ("Was she asking for it?/Was she asking nice?/If she was asking for it/Did she ask you twice?")

I'm telling you, haters, subside with the did-she-or-didn't-she-write-it shit and embrace this raging, wonderful, rock n' roll record.

In fact, when I first saw/heard this video on MTV, I was sold, even if those cool chicks had already somewhat sold me on Live Through This:

Sorry that it skips, but you get the idea.

Editor's Note: This is number thirteen of a series of essays where the author takes a look and listen into every CD he has in his collection.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cycle of CDs: The Flaming Lips - 'Transmissions from the Satellite Heart' (1993)

The evolution of MTV's programming amazes me. In bad move, worse move, to horrid move, MTV went from a place to catch some varied music and an occasional funny show to being the channel that brought us the unwatchable shit known as "The Jersey Shore." (I judge people who claim with pride that they watch this crap.)

Back in the day, MTV was still devoted enough to music to incorporate it into their programming. Remember "Remote Control," which brought us our first sight of a young Adam Sandler? How about "Beavis and Butthead"? I watched Beavis and Butthead from almost day one -- I remember catching them late night in a hotel room in Mobile and laughing while loving the music. I found them funny, 'till they wore out their welcome in my house. But, before that day, they played the recent, odd-ball videos and commented on them from their couch, much like my friends and I did. Even when the stopped being funny, I'd still tune in to see if they'd play "Punk Rock Girl" or an awesome Violent Femmes tune.

That's where I first saw The Flaming Lips with their psyhed-out crazy, if not interesting, "She Don't Use Jelly" video. It was catchy. I sang along. I loved it. About half of my friends did not. I went out and bought the cassette tape. Hell, as it turned out, the whole tape was amazing!

It started out with a bit more serious song, if not equally as fun. "Turn it On," with its talk of supporting radio that plays things totally different than corporate stations, sort of predicted what MTV was going to become ("If it ain't got no relation/To all those other stations/Turn it on").

The album, as a whole, is a joyful one that perfectly tempers its loud, boisterious, original rock with the sporadic slower songs.

The thick riffs on here are loud and crunchy as if they are played from a wall of Marshall stacks. They also stick with you for you to hum along to on a summer day.

Sure, the Lips would go on to be praised for their later albums (they deserved it, too), but I always will love this one. A full theme had yet to emerge for the album as a whole, but I still think that the theme of fun prevails. Summer music from a time when MTV gave a shit about artists rather than the almighty, shitty-show dollar! Can you imagine that now? Grab it, 'cause I know you got it, and turn it on.

Editor's Note: This is number twelve of a series of essays where the author takes a look and listen into every CD he has in his collection.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Cycle of CDs: Ryan Bingham - 'Roadhouse Sun' (2009)

When I first heard Ryan Bingham's song "The Weary Kind" for the movie Crazy Heart, I wasn't impressed. I thought that the movie people had gotten it wrong; they could've found a better song. It was bland to me. (Trivia note: that's Bingham in Bad Blake's back-up band in the bowling alley scene of Crazy Heart.)

Then I caught Ryan Bingham on the episode of Austin City Limits with The Drive-by Truckers. I thought, "Shit yeah. That's more like it." He was backed with a great alt-country band, was wearing a cowboy hat with Converse All Stars, and sang better songs than "The Weary Kind." So, I ordered his CD.

Bingham has that voice that I like. It's very much in the vein of Ben Nichols of Lucero. What's lacking is his songwriting. He's good, don't get me wrong. And this album has some great stories, lines, and music; however, you know deep down, he's yet to write his best song.

One of the standout tracks is "Dylan's Hard Rain," which references the Bob Dylan classic while reflecting on the current state of America. I especially like the line in it where Bingham considers the idea of legalizing weed: "On the border of Tijuana/People are growing truckloads of marijuana/Maybe someday our friends will be American farmers." Not bad.

Where he falters is in his repetitiveness. Even within his verses, he repeats a lot of the same lines that aren't particularly the strongest in the song ("When the day is done/I was born a bad man's son").

His slow songs are really slow, too. They are a nice break from the rest of the CD, but they do tend to bog the album down a little.

The production is great, though, and the music is fantastic.

It's a good effort, but it's not the best thing in the world. If you like country or alt-country, you'll like Bingham's Roadhouse Sun. You may not like all of it, but it has some really great moments. I'd be willing to hear more.

Editor's Note: This is the eleventh of a series of essays where the author takes a look and listen into every CD he has in his collection.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cycle of CDs: Damien Jurado - 'Saint Bartlett' (2010)

It didn't take long after being introduced to Damien Jurado that I was sold on him as a favorite musician. A friend happened to hear his music being played in a record store. He liked it, bought it, and brought it to me to listen on a visit to Tuscaloosa. That album was Where Shall You Take Me?

Fast forward several years ahead and a few albums later, and we have Jurado's Saint Bartlett, his most recent release. I picked this up on the day of his show last week, and I'm glad I did, as he played the entire album from start to finish with a band that did an excellent job of layering the songs without stepping on the important aspects of Jurado's work: his vocals and his words.

The album is like that, too. This is as good as production gets. In it, you can pick up ambient sounds, odd instruments, and beautiful noises; however, none of it takes away from the songs.

If you like Jurado, you do because of his knack of turning the plain, ordinary thoughts into things of extremely haunting beauty. The amazing thing is that he absolutely never goes cliche. You just won't find overused phrases in any of his works. He is a master at using simple words and having them sound brand new, and I think he does this by not overdoing any one particular thing.

Jurado is probably most famous for his brief snippets of life and bringing out the depth of their normalness. There's always a hint of sadness in Jurado's work that truly sticks with you; for exammple, even we tries to go positive, he just can't help but bring it back down to Earth ("I wish that/I could float/Float up from the ground/I will never know/What that's like").

That tinge of sadness prevelant throughout his songs doesn't depress you, though. It lifts you up and helps you to know that we're all the same -- it's the univeral notion that great authors accomplish consistently. Jurado's work is equally consistent, too; I've yet to hear a CD of his that wasn't great.

I honestly could go on and on about him. I'll just leave you with it, though. Go to his myspace and listen to some of his new tracks. Like an urban John Prine, he gets what life is. Maybe more importantly, he also gets what life isn't.

This is a master at work. I cannot stop listening. If he and his songs aren't an argument for the support of local record stores, I don't know what is.

Editor's Note: This is the tenth of a series of essays where the author takes a look and listen into every CD he has in his collection.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Not-So-Weekly List: My Top 5 Concerts

There are few feelings in life better than seeing a band you absolutely love live in person. Everybody remembers their first… actually, I don’t. I was about three and my parents took me along with them to see Alabama and The Charlie Daniels Band. I imagine it was awesome, though.

Seeing your favorite band live is a rite of passage among American teenagers. It gives older generations a chance to relive their youth. A good rock and roll show can change a life in such a profound way – young kid sees favorite band, buys guitar next day, grows up and forms Nirvana (I don’t know if that’s how that actually happened, but it feels right).

(On the flip side, the profound change could also be: teenage girl goes to concert, meets teenage boy, 20 years later their child finds out they were conceived at a Poison concert. Rock and roll means well…)

Reading Blaine’s excellent CD-reminiscing series got me to thinking about the many concerts I have seen in my life, and I tried (damn hard as it was) to come up with the best concerts I have ever seen/remembered.

Honorable mention:
Al Green, Little Richard, B.B. King. Pier Six Pavilion, Baltimore, summer 2007 – Reason #45436 I love my mother: earlier that summer, she plainly states to me over dinner one night, “Hey, I have two extra tickets to see B.B. King, Al Green, and Little Richard in August. Wanna come?”

City Stages 2008. Birmingham, summer 2008 – Among the many wonderful acts I saw that weekend: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Roots, The Wailers, Shooter Jennings, and the Dexateens. Oh, and I managed to get backstage for Al Green.

5. Lucero. Bottletree CafĂ©, Birmingham, summer 2008 – I had heard a Lucero song or two via my roommate at the time, and they piqued my interest. But then she invited me along to this show, and Lucero completely won me over. Packed house, everybody singing at the top of their lungs, loving every minute of it, and the band gave the love right back.

4. Powerman 5000 w/ Shinedown and Reach 454. Shakey’s Bar, Hershey, PA, summer 2003 – Reading that lineup, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “uhhh… say what?” Let me explain: I was 19, and still in my “I really love mosh pits” phase – and it really didn’t get any better than a Powerman 5000 pit. Also, they were probably my favorite hard rock band at the time, and happen to be really cool guys. Below is a picture of myself with lead singer Spider (little brother of Rob Zombie), in the summer of 2006, when I had the pleasure of meeting the band at an exclusive XM radio show in D.C. But I digress...

The bar had a ceiling about two inches above your head. The amps were stacked high and wide. It was about 103 degrees, so before the show even started everybody was covered in sweat. After one unmemorable band (Reach 454), some little unknown band took the stage and really caught everyone’s attention (little did anyone in the audience know they just saw a band who would go on to make two platinum albums).

Then Powerman took the stage. For the first four songs of their set, the ENTIRE crowd was a mosh pit. You didn’t have a choice. Bodies collided, sweat poured, ear drums burst. We assaulted by rock and roll for an hour and a half. After the show everyone just stood there, as if waiting for the roof to collapse because we sure as hell couldn’t find anything better outside the bar than what we just witnessed.

Bonus story: On the way back to my friend’s apartment in York, PA, we stopped at a Denny’s to chow down at about one in the morning. The four of us were all still soaking wet, and the restaurant was ice cold. We devoured our Grand Slams while shivering like the dickens, yelling at each other because our ears wouldn’t stop ringing for a week. We couldn’t have gotten more “oh my god, look at those crackheads” looks even if we busted out a pipe and sparked up right then and there.

3. Alabama Farewell Tour. Hershey Park Stadium, Hershey, PA, summer 2003 – I grew up listening to Alabama and nothing else. It’s all my dad would play in his vehicle, and it’s all I would listen to in my room. I’ve seen them more times than I can count. So naturally, there was no way I was going to miss their last tour. About 30 minutes in, Randy Owen informs the crowd that there is lightning on the way and we have to break for safety. 30 minutes roll by. An hour passes. 90 minutes gone by, and nothing but rain, thunder and the sky falling. Finally, while ignoring the pleas of those wanting to give up and go home, I hear the crackling of a P.A. system. They tell us the show will go on. The boys from Ft. Payne get back on stage, and finish their entire set, time be damned.

I’ve seen them play tighter shows. I’ve seen them with the cowboy from the second season of the Real World opening. I even got to go on stage with them once. But that show will forever stay with me because of their dedication to their fans; and appropriately enough they finished with “The Fans.” The only reason my favorite show from my favorite band isn’t #1? They didn’t play “My Home’s in Alabama,” and I'm still disappointed to this day.

2. Crush Cancer Benefit, featuring Dexateens, Model Citizen, Carroll County Picture Show. Egan’s Bar, Tuscaloosa, AL, spring 2009 – For the first time ever, Egan’s asked me to pay a cover. But, it was for a great cause, so I didn’t mind one bit. What I didn’t know was that I would get a show I would’ve gladly paid $50 to see. Model Citizen opened and blew the doors off the way they always seem to do, almost daring those who followed to even come close to their performance. CCPS followed and gave everyone a breather.

Then awoke the sleeping monster that was the Dexateens live at Egan’s. I had never seen them there before, and I probably will never get to again. But their show that night reassured me that rock and roll is meant to be loud, fast, and oh so dirty. It was nasty, it was sweaty, and it was everything our parents warned us about. After the show I ended up at someone’s house shooting guns in their backyard, then drinking whiskey in their hot tub. Any other night that would’ve been the highlight. That particular night it seemed like a formality.

1. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers w/ The Black Crowes. Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD, summer 2005 – Earlier in this post, I mentioned the concert as a rite of passage. If you grow up around Baltimore, you absolutely must see a show at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Physically, it’s a huge amphitheater tucked away in the woods. Spiritually, it’s where a young adult growing up in central Maryland goes to experience life at its fullest… by dying. I don’t know who started it, or why; but when you see a show so amazing that it makes you forget the life you knew before you heard the opening note, then you’ve died at Merriweather.

In July 2005, my friend Ben and I went to see Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers play with opening act The Black Crowes. We danced in the mud with complete strangers. We drank overpriced beer, smuggled liquor and euphoria. We sang arm-in-arm with whoever was in reach. I was even told “you look like a guy who knows about some shrooms.” (I didn’t.) We compared stories with other concert-goers. We wished it would never end.

We died.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cycle of CDs: Old 97s - 'Satellite Rides' (2000)

Nashville, in its current state as a music city, produces pop. That's it. Other than the occasional exception, artists who have to fight tooth and nail to even get heard because they don't fit the tween/pop/faux-country mold, there's little argument to be made that country-music radio is pop; most of it is even horrid, unlikeable pop garbage.

Then there's there are the Old 97s. These Dallas-based musicians really do the job that Nashville should have began doing years ago but have since dropped the ball -- they take country and pop, mix it together, write good songs, play their instruments, and keep it from sounding like shit.

I forgot exactly how I got into the Old 97s. I just remember it was sometime between 1998-1999. I remember asking a friend who had internet access to burn me as much as she could of them using either Napster or a similar program. It basically turned out to be a greatest hits CD of them for me, and I liked them a lot.

A lot of those greatest-hits songs, I came to find out, were on Satellite Rides, a fine pop-country-rock CD with a bad album cover. Rhett Miller, lead singer and co-songwriter, writes killer lines. Maybe the best of them appear in "Buick City Complex," a song where the narrator's dying town of Flint, Michigan is inspiring him to quickly find love, lust, or both. In it, Miller croons, "They're tearing the Buick City Complex down/I think we're the only people left in town/Where are you gonna move?/Where are you gonna move?/Do you wanna mess around?"

Other songs have similar, catchy lines. Take these from "Designs on You": "I don't want to make you excited/Except, secretly, I do/I'd be lying if I said I didn't have designs on you." Pretty good, right?

Another narrator asks if he's arrived too late to find his lover or if she has died in his absence ("Am I Too Late").

There's not a real clunker on the album, although "Can't Get a Line" is a bit weak compared to the others. And though Miller's pristine-quality vocals aren't ragged at all, it never takes away from the authenticity, songwriting, and musicianship. This is a keeper.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hear Them Songs: A Short Take on Local Music

I'm guilty as charged. Somewhere along the line, I have not practiced what I have preached.

Last night, I went to Egan's to watch the game and to stick around for a band, Dividing Numbers. A guy I have come to know fronts the band, so I thought that I would listen to a few of their songs. I'm really glad I did go, but was also sad.

As it turns out, it was their last show, which really stinks. They seemed like a band that was getting its collective wheels firmly rolling. They not only had potential to be good, they were already there. Why had I not seen them beforehand? Laziness? Schedule conflicts?

Egan's wasn't flooded with people, but Dividing Numbers had a good crowd. I think if they would've had more support somewhere along the line, they would still try to continue even though a member of the band is moving away (I think).

Don't let their low-fi recordings on myspace fool you, either. They sounded better live. And they did something that I don't see from enough bands when playing Egan's: they played at a volume that was comfortable. Why do all bands insist on making your ears bleed? The craft should be focused on the songs and getting them to sound good for the listener.

I digress. The point is this: we, including myself, should support music as much as we can. Often we'll find little diamonds in the rough like Dividing Numbers.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cycle of CDs: Pedro the Lion - 'Control' (2002)

When listening to the opening song of Pedro the Lion's Control, brace yourself for some serious shit -- as if you couldn't tell from the slowing beat and droning guitars. David Bazan sings of a man who tells his wife, "I told her I loved her/And she told me she loved me/And I mostly believed her/And she mostly believed me." It's overpowering. It knocks the damn breath out of you. And that's the first song.

Bazan, pretty much Pedro the Lion for all intents and purposes as the line-up has changed more than a baby's diaper, wrote Control to be about a specific man, with all the songs sort of chronicling different points in this average guy's life. It could be anyone; the picture Bazan has painted is so realistic. Along with the backing music, these images also serve to make the album extremely heavy. Bazan does manage to pick up the pace from the initial drone of the opening track, but the bare-bones rawness of the plain-spoken lyrics keep the entire work rooted in this darkness that is normalcy. This is both John Prine and Raymond Carver, minus all humor.

Bazan's unnamed character goes through doubt ("Options"), infidelity ("Rapture"), shit-hole, corporate work ("Penetration"), child-rearing ("Progress"), regret ("Magazine"), and eventually death ("Priests and Paramedics"). Does he find redemption at the end of the tunnel?

I won't spoil it completely and tell you what the corporate everyman finds out in the end, or even how he dies, but I will say that if you can handle the deepness of your own life, you should probably examine Pedro the Lion's Control, too. It's not an entertaining piece as much as it is a masterful, thematic CD that works almost as a movie.

The stark lyrics will stick with you.

"He wakes up screaming/'Oh my God, am I gonna die?/Am I gonna die?'/As they strapped his arms down to his sides/At times like these they'd been taught to lie/'Buddy just calm down, you'll be alright.'"

Editor's Note: This is the eighth of a series of essays where the author takes a look and listen into every CD he has in his collection.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Random Cool Shit: "With a Little Help From My Friends"

A recent response from a reader (thanks Hayley) reminded me of a video; I don't recall if it was Ham Bagby that showed it to me or if I introduced it to him.

Anyway, it's Joe Cocker doing "With a Little Help From My Friends," written, of course, by some little band from England in the Sixties. I'm not sure who it was; nonetheless, did you know the words to Cocker's version? They are very different that what you may remember hearing on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

You can find the startling information by watching this video, which has the lyrics provided:

It never fails to make me laugh.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cycle of CDs: Lucero - 'Tennesse' (2002) & 'That Much Further West' (2004)

I am a sucker for a voice that is different, less clean, or just plain rough. In fact, the prettier the vocals on an album or fronting a band, the less likely I am to like it. Give me someone whose vocals crack, break, or just plain bleed throughout the song. I need a hell of a lot of reality. You'd better be able to convince me of what you're saying, and sometimes that's what a song needs -- a ragged voice. I like to use the analogy that loving only those singers that belt out tunes beautifully and pitch-perfect is like always pulling for the guys/girls who are just naturally athletic, not the poor, regular sap who is training his/her ass off every day to get to their goal. (Obviously, there are some exceptions to that. I'll not get into here.)

I got my first Lucero CD in the early spring of 2006. Thanks to Pandora Radio, I happened across one of their songs from Nobody's Darlings. I liked it; all of the songs on the CD was really up my alley: rough vocals, great songwriting, rocking songs.

I soaked in Nobody's Darlings, but soon bought Tennessee and That Much Further West almost back to back. I can't remember which of those I picked up first.

It's hard to really have a favorite Lucero CD. I go through the three I've mentioned more than the rest, but if all I could own was Tennessee, I reckon I could live with it. It may have my favorite song of Lucero's on it, which also includes Ben Nichols' best lines he has yet to write. It's "Chain Link Fence," in which Nichols blasts: "Now it's the end of the summer, and I'm just 21/I been in California for the last two months/And there weren't no girls like her out there/Her boyfriend don't like me, and I think that's fair." You can take that shit to the bank.

What makes Lucero songs appealing are the subtle differences they opt for in the studio work of both these CDs. Upon first listen, you may think many of them follow a similar format; however, go back and catch that hint of piano in "Ain't So Lonely" or the banjo in "Old Sad Songs." Lucero won't break any mold that they have made for themselves, but they don't have to that.

The guest appearance of Cory Branan, prevalent in the opening track, "Sweet Little Thing," as well as hidden throughout other songs also makes me smile every time I listen. What a refrain he helps bring to life there -- "A kiss'll make you close your eyes/A kiss won't make you stay/Sweet, little thing."

The companion CD to Tennessee could be That Much Further West. Granted, the guys started throwing a hint of some (very entertaining and different) electric drum beats in That Much Further West. No real worries, because it works. It's not the distraction one might think, especially when the normal kit is still in the mix.

But when the workday is done, it's got to be about the songs. They are what really attract people to Lucero. You can get over Ben Nichols' voice or you can't; that's pretty cut and dry. After that, it's the songs. And, shit man, he can write them.

That Much Further West has almost as many winners as Tennessee. We've lived through these relationships in these songs ("See never says hi to me more/And that's a pretty good way for her to even the score"), and most of us have thought these things ("I just wanted to make my grandfather proud/Even though he's not around/He's been gone since I was thirteen/And I'm still worried what he'd think about me").

While I prefer Tennessee to That Much Further West just a bit more, the later does have "Tears Don't Matter Much" as well as a really cool bonus disc. What they give you with the bonus CD are all the songs from the original release with a twist. They are different in some manner. While it seems Nichols uses a few of the same vocals on these repeats, they give you acoustic takes for some, completely different arrangements on others, and live versions of "Joining the Army" and "Tonight Ain't Gonna be Good." It's nice to see a band actually use the bonus disc for something that is also worthy of a listen.

So, give them a try. I'm willing to bet that you'll either straight love them or you'll be disgusted. They are quite a polarizing band. Hell, I even managed to convince Toby Hartleroad they were worth checking out, so maybe that says something.

Editor's Note: This is the sixth and seventh of a series of essays where the author takes a look and listen into every CD he has in his collection.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Not-So-Weekly List: Top Five Covers of All Time

I recently read this little, hipster blog about the San Fran band Girls doing a cover of a song called "It's the End of the World." You may remember that one, once done right by the glorious Skeeter Davis. Girls, the band, did an okay version of the song. I'll give them that. But, to see this hipster gushing on and on about it made me sick. I thought, "What an ass. She probably has never heard Skeeter's take on this." That was probably wrong of me, but it made me think of what covers almost bested the original.*

I'd be amiss not to mention a few of those that I found honorable to mention. It was a hard list to make, but these artists came damn close to capturing what the original song did while putting their own twist on it.

Honorable mentions (in no particular order): Rage Against the Machine - "The Ghost of Tom Joad" (Bruce Springsteen); Louis Armstrong - "Moon River" (Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini); Townes Van Zandt - "Dead Flowers" (Mick Jagger/Keith Richards); Marilyn Manson - "Sweet Dreams" (Dave Stewart)

5. Ray Charles - "You Don't Know Me" (Cindy Walker/Eddy Arnold)
To me, this version is amazing. The sheer beauty of it alone makes it an immediate classic for anyone who hears it, but when you put the song in the hands of Ray Charles, well, you have something that exceeds amazing. What you have is a song one that not only breathtaking, but perhaps the best song about goodbye one can imagine.

4. Pearl Jam - "Crazy Mary" (Victoria Williams)
Not being known for a spectacular voice, Victoria Williams is known in many circles for her impressive songwriting, focusing on her life in the South. Give "Crazy Mary" to Pearl Jam, though, and you've got a haunting set of lyrics about a good night gone bad. Veder's voice was made for this one. The song builds to the climax where you realize what the driver did, and there's no turning back. Though the studio version that Pearl Jam did for the tribute album to Williams is timeless, it can become even better live, where McCredy breaks through with an attacking lead that cuts with a build up of loud, erratic notes.

3.Lucero - "Kiss the Bottle" (Jawbreaker)
The idea of this list was to create a list of the five best works where an artist has taken the words and music of a song and made it his or hers, either by improving the original or by adding something that completely makes it new again. If you know Lucero, you know their sound. But listen to Jawbreaker's original version, and it's not quite the same, other than the lyrics. Lucero take take it, own it, give it that Lucero sound, and work it even better than Jawbreaker's. These lyrics were meant for Ben Nichols' whiskey-soaked voice to sing.

2. Johnny Cash - "Hurt" (Nine Inch Nails)
When Trent Reznor first heard Cash's version, he and Zach de la Rocha were about to leave the studio and go eat. Instead, Reznor had to sit down for a moment. That about sums up the first time I heard it, too, which was while watching the still desperate, gripping, amazing video. I dare you to listen and watch and try not to feel something.

1. Jimi Hendrix - "All Along the Watchtower" (Bob Dylan)
What else could there be? Let's be honest: there are so many bad, wretched versions of this song, which is only one of the reasons why Hendrix owns the number one spot. (Take Dave Matthews' cover of "Watchtower" where he simply builds and calms; it's so boring and tame -- too bad that's the version cover bands tend to try to emulate now.) Compare Bob Dylan's with Jimi's. No, they are nothing alike. Yes, they stand on their own, away from one another. They could even have different words or chord progressions, but they don't. (Hendrix does play his in Am, where Dylan opted for the C#m in his.) Even Dylan admitted that after hearing Hendrix's version, he can't help but try and play it like that. The original is a sparse, three-chord vision of the end of times. Hendrix makes it a full-blown apolocalpse.

*Editor's Note: Ham Bagby once said that there has never been a cover that even came close to the original version, no matter who or what it is. He's got a debatable point, you know.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Cycle of CDs: Dinosaur, Jr. - 'Hand it Over' (1997)

J. Mascis has been a hero of mine since 1993. Maybe it was actually in '94 that he become legendary to me; nonetheless, the point is this: there has always been something about him and his band, Dinosaur, Jr., that have made me want to crank up the car stereo and become just a bit introspective. My friend once said that if Mascis' songs were a color, they would be purple.

I got a close pal a Dinosaur, Jr. CD (Where You Been) for a graduation present, but it was actually me who got hooked.

Well, the album cover for Dinosaur, Jr.'s 1997 release Hand It Over won't win any awards, but it was certainly purple.

I can't remember how I came to get this one in particular, but I think I made a copy (on cassette tape, you bet) of it from someone. Of course, I loved it. I didn't fall for it quite as much as Where You Been, which I think to be one of Mascis' greatest albums, but I certainly liked it better than Without a Sound, which came out just before this one, Hand it Over.

Hand It Over is jammed full of what makes J. Mascis and Dinosaur, Jr. awesome: snake-like, overdone, heartfelt guitar solos; common, throwaway phrases used in a way to make you think differently about the words altogether; and, of course, J. Mascis' half-growl, half-mumble that is his voice. I love them all. Together, these components kick ass and make you genuinely feel something that I can only relate to something along the lines of having that first date, first kiss, first dance, or first whatever. You take your pick. Mascis' words, and more importantly, his hum-along melodies, take you back to that place.

Hell, I don't know. Maybe not.

One thing is for sure -- as previously stated, he has a way of using the common and making it sound original. Take "Gettin' Rough" with the simple statement, "There must be one kiss/So, give me hope/I know I've been that way too long" played up to perfection. Put those lyrics in another artist's hands, they sound pedestrian. With Mascis' insane falsetto that he sometimes employs, and instead, you've got chills.

The choices for the songs are a little different than other Dinosaur, Jr. albums. of a drummer. "I'm Insane" has a trumpet. A piccolo carries the melody for "Never Bought It."

It's these things that make me want to go on and on. I'll save some talk of Mascis' oddness and guitar anticss for another post.

I'll leave you with the lyrics from "Never Bought It." Take a listen below and see what I mean about him twisting the simplistic phrases for his own meaning:

"I've believed you every day/And now suddenly I see it/It's not just me who threw it away."

Editor's Note: This is the fifth of a series of articles where the author takes a look and listen into every CD he has in his collection.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cycle of CDs: The Rolling Stones - 'Exile on Main St.' (1972/2010)

I really wish I was rich. I could've bought the Super Deluxe Edition of the Rolling Stones' ragged and wonderful album Exile on Main St.; however, I am not rich. I had to settle for the more working-class Deluxe Edition. Oh well.

Look, there's been enough that's been written and said about this one, so I won't waste any time giving you endless facts and details. See the video below, too. It is amazing that they recorded it in such conditions, out of a basement (dungeon?) of a castle in France. The title alludes to the Stones' flight out of England to avoid high taxes.

This album sounds great. Are the bonus tracks mandatory to have? Well, for a Stones fan, they kind of are. "Plundered my Soul" is pretty good, as is "Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren)" but the stand-out track of the bonus CD is "Dancing in the Light" where a lady's appearance suddenly changes for the better with a little help of a doctor or two ("Now that your nose got some redefining/You look like a million bucks").

These bonus tracks aren't the best of the Stones, obviously. What they do have is a fun factor that carries over from Exile on Main St. It's cool to see how "Good Time Women" turned into "Tumbling Dice." It's entertaining to have those different takes of "Loving Cup" and "Soul Survivor" (though the alternate take of "Soul Survivor" is nowhere near as good as the one picked for the album).

There are so many great tracks from the original album that I'll dare not begin to recommend one, though "Rocks Off" is one of favorite songs, ever. The bottom line is simple: if you love rock n' roll -- real, dirty, raw, busted, bluesy, drugged-out rock n' roll -- you'd be hard pressed to find a better album. In fact, if someone were to say that this is one of the best albums in rock's history, I couldn't really argue with them.

The Rolling Stones are rock n' roll, and Exile on Main St. is one of their better works to show to those who doubt them.

If you don't like the Stones, you may like Dave Matthews songs, your little jazz ears will be bleeding after a dose of Exile, and you're fucking lame.

This will probably be a really interesting documentary. I vote someone buys it for me, comes over to the house, and we get all Keith Richards like to watch it.

Editor's Note: This is the fourth of a series of articles where the author takes a look and listen into every CD he has in his collection.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cycle of CDs: My Morning Jacket - 'It Still Moves' (2003)

I didn't know a lot about My Morning Jacket before I bought It Still Moves, and quite frankly, I still don't know a bundle on the guys. It remains the only My Morning Jacket recording I own; however, other than reverb-heavy lead singer Jim James insisting on going by Yim Yames when he does solo projects (it's not even that amusing the first time, Jim), I do like them. I also imagine that I would love them even that much more if I were to see them live, overdone reverb vocals or not.

Almost all of the songs on the CD are long by radio standards with nearly each one clocking in at over five minutes. They do not drone on, though, in a jam-band sense that would make them annoying or distracting. Instead, they have a take-me-for-a-drive feel to them. This album has proven to me to be a good companion on a trip to the beach.

To add to that, even the sad, slower songs ("People have always told me/That bars are dark and lonely/And talk is often cheap and filled with air") have a certain, good vibe to them that makes you tap your foot, smile, or both, even if the lyrics tell you to do otherwise.

The centerpiece of the album, and maybe the best on it, is "One Big Holiday." It's a rocker that has these beautiful guitar attacks throughout that seem to have a healthy dose of Lynyrd Skynyrd influence. When I hear that song played over the loud speakers at Egan's, it almost always puts me in a good, rockin' mood. It takes me back to a good place even though when I was originally listening to it a lot, I was not in many very good places. Does that make sense? It doesn't matter.

I guess I just have to stop and say thanks to Nathan Pitts for turning me on to this one. I don't remember how he did it -- maybe it was just a suggestion -- but the CD gets a several spins almost every summer.

Hope you enjoy the video of back when Jim James was kinda crazy lookin', completely hidden with hair, and Conan was where he belonged.

Editor's Note: This is the third of a series of articles where the author takes a look and listen into every CD he has in his collection to see how they stand, why he bought them, where the music takes him now, and other general musings.

Cylce of CDs: Merle Haggard - 'If I Could Only Fly' (2000)

When I went to see Merle Haggard some six or seven years ago, what really stuck with me (other than the show was completely flawless), was that he played the title song from his two-year-old album "If I Could Only Fly." Technically, he was still touring behind the album with the same name, not having released anything since it. It's one of those that can get to you, if you aren't careful.

It took me a while to discover that the song "If I Could Only Fly" was older than Haggard's 2000 album itself and was written by Blaze Foley, who is also a great songwriter.

I didn't get Hag's If I Could Only Fly when it was originally released in 2000, but I did hear the title track on 90.7 once or twice on a Sunday or two, many years ago. Perhaps this is shocking, but sure enough, The Capstone (or, as it was called then, "New Rock") played wonderful songs by wonderful artists. I most often caught Merle's version of the song during the classic (*ahem* real) country show that came on Sunday mornings. I needed that old, and sometimes-new-but-still-great, country during those hours more than I did any time else. I'm positive that if I was up and listening, I was hungover and driving for food or, even worse, the family's house. It was great to have Merle and Bobby Bare there for the ride.

Instead, I finally got around to getting the CD in the mail this week. I've given it a complete listen a few times, and some things stand out to me:

-It is musically wonderful. It feels like a classic Hag album, a la Big City, minus the breath-taking hits that just simply floor you.

-The production is also top notch. It's easy to return to the CD for a listen after the first and second.

-The songs are rather short, blunt, and autobiographical. Sometimes, the words are so straightforward, it takes you back to a personal experience of your own. Take to the opening couplet of the entire disc, where Hag admits, "Watching while some old friends do a line/Holding back the want to end my own addicted mind," and what you get is Haggard as his stark best. Other times, the lyrics stumble, but it is only a slight stumble ("When you need someone to turn to/Turn to me").

-Haggard, in 2000 and now, is still doing things his way, which included making an honest, problem-filled country album: ("The kids don't want my cigarettes around/They say it's time that dad should lay tobacco down.")

-The opening track, "Wishing All These Old Things Were New," is as good as Haggard gets. It's a slight shame that this disc gets overlooked. His take on "If I Could Only Fly" is worth the price of the CD alone, but there are those classic Merle songs sprinkled throughout. It's as great as it is sometimes dark. Just listen below:

I would say get this if you love Merle Haggard. If you don't love Merle Haggard, you won't like this record, and you won't like a lot of classic country records in general, so prevalent is his influence. You may want to move to another section of the store while in Oz.

(Editor's Note: This is only the second of a series of articles where the author takes a look and listen into every CD he has in his collection to see how they stand, why he bought them, where the music takes him now, and other general musings.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cycle of CDs: Smashing Pumpkins - 'Pisces Iscariot' (1994)

Oh, Billy Corgan. I suppose you captured my teenage years and the angst that went along with them as well as several of your musical generation.

Such is Pisces Iscariot. It is almost too full of trite, emo lyrics, but the music is there. Sure, this was a collection of B Sides, but I want my collection of B Sides to kick ass as much as any regular album with the exception of perhaps a cohesive feeling between every song. Why else would you even bother to release them later? I guess for the fans, of which I am/was one.

I really liked the Smashing Pumpkins when they had all their original, dysfunctional members. In all actuality, they shine pretty well for this to be a CD of B Sides. I remember upon first hearing it that James Iha's "Blew Away" was the best track on the album. Ol' William Corgan hardly ever let any of Iha's songs appear on the Smashing Pumpkins' albums. He should've. Especially after listening to this live version of the song, which is even a bit better than the studio one.

Now I can appreciate the loud rockers on the CD more than I could as an angst-riddled teen. I wanted my sad lyrics with some slight volume but not much. I'm glad I have this CD. I'll play it again and again, even as I lose the teen dramas and get adult ones.

Editor's Note: This is the first of a series of articles where the author takes a look and listen into every CD he has in his collection to see how they stand, why he bought them, where the music takes him now, and other general musings.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

On the Tube: 'You Don't Know Jack'

I went to the movies this evening and caught Robin Hood. It was a fine film - the acting, directing, and cinematography were all superb. It could've withstood about fifteen minutes of it to have hit the editing floor, but otherwise, it was quite entertaining. Go see it if you want to see a good (not great or perfect) movie.

I also watched an HBO film You Don't Know Jack about Dr. Jack Kevorkian. He was played by Al Pacino. I watched it in two parts, mostly due to the length paired with my laziness and the fact that I went to the movies to see the previously mentioned piece. Now, having said that I watched the HBO film in two parts is not to say that it was boring. Quite the opposite. Tt wasn't, especially the second half of it. I honestly am not sure that Al Pacino doesn't top himself playing Dr. Kevorkian. He did what Heath Ledger did for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight: he made it to where I couldn't make it be Al Pacino any more while I was watching it. He became the doctor of death. He was him.

Maybe what made You Don't Know Jack so enthralling is that it seemed to be very truthful to the events and how they happened. I didn't hear anything that really sounded like the truth being stretched, and they even went so far as to use actual video documentation of Dr. Kevorkian's assisted suicides on almost all of his patients. Yes, that's in the movie.

He made many excellent points during the movie. More importantly, he made really great points in his actual life (some of the lines were used in the film). I love movies that make me think. They are important to our culture.

What do you think? Or, do you?

Lastly, I found it interesting how both Robin Hood and You Don't Know Jack had some similarities with their protagonists. They are truly men of the people, fighting an antiquated law to help others, no matter the danger it may bring to them.

You should really watch those youtube videos when you have the time. They should get the ball rolling on thinking, I hope.

Friday, May 7, 2010

In the Theater: Kick-Ass & Iron Man 2

Comic book movies are a tricky venture. It's easy to get them wrong: you can make it too cheesy and unbelievable; and on the other hand, you can take it too seriously suck all of the fun out of it. But, when you get it just right, you make an incredibly entertaining, exhilarating movie experience.

This week, I saw two movies that managed to find the right mixture: Kick-Ass and Iron Man 2.

Kick-Ass is the tale of ordinary people who decide to become "super" heroes -- kind of like Watchmen, but without the super-serious overtones and gigantic blue penis.

What ensues is a shit-ton of hilarity and good story-telling. It's nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary (kid wants to do good, becomes superhero; others want revenge, become superheroes), but it is something that Hollywood hasn't seen too much of lately: a damn-good movie that's well-written, well-directed, and well-acted.

As you can tell from the red band trailer above, it ain't exactly a kid-friendly flick. There's intense language, and a pretty good load of violence. To top it off, an 11-year-old girl calls someone a cunt -- if that ain't funny to you, well then it's best we not hang out.

What Kick-Ass excels at is reminding people that going to the movies is supposed to be fun. It doesn't sacrifice story for action, and it has its share of "whoa" moments. It's definitely something I'd recommend you see.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Iron Man 2, the more serious sequel to the surprise hit of 2008.

Sequels are always towing a thin line. They're often held up to the high standard of the original movies, and if the originals were successful, the bar is almost impossible to reach. Ultimately, you want to expand on the success of the first one, take what worked and improve on what didn't.

Iron Man 2 had a tall task at hand. The first movie revived Robert Downey, Jr.'s career, raised the bar for comic book movies in general, and took a mildly-popular comic book hero and turned him into a national icon.

The result? A success in my book. It expanded on Downey's Tony Stark character extremely well. We see how Stark has taken his new role as a superhero, and how it affects both his business and personal life, and the lives of those around him like Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle). We see the toll it takes on those who envy and despise him, like Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).

It provided much more action than the first, which is almost a given in any series. While maybe it wasn't as "smart" as the first, it didn't necessarily need to be. The first established the Stark/Iron Man character, along with Potts and Rhodes. It set the universe for Iron Man. It gave us a foundation to sit upon.

Iron Man 2 probably isn't better than the first, but it doesn't need to be. We all know this is at least a trilogy, maybe even a series. So IM2 just needed to move the series along without setting it back. Sequels are almost never glaringly better than the first -- the short list of sequels that stack up to or exceed their widely-acclaimed original is pretty much limited to The Godfather 2, The Empire Strikes Back, Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight; and all of those can be debated through the night.

IM2 succeeded in moving the series along, and preparing us for the next movie. It introduced new conflicts -- be they new enemies or personal conflict within Stark. It gave us a wider scope of the universe Iron Man lives in. And, as far as the Marvel movie universe goes, it definitely further moved us towards The Avengers.

In the end, we come back to the acting, particularly Downey and his transcendent portrayal of Tony Stark. The subtleties that Downey adds to the character are just perfect, he is by far the best cast of any superhero out there (Christian Bale's Batman/Bruce Wayne is also worth noting, but that damned Batman voice he does loses him points).

Add to that the superb surrounding cast of Paltrow, Cheadle (who was a solid replacement for Terrence Howard, although for some reason I just liked Howard more for the role), and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Fury's role was definitely more vital in this film, namely in moving along The Avengers storyline, but also in helping Stark with his internal strife.

Add in three excellent new additions, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko, and Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, and you have a ton to build on for future installments. Rockwell's portrayal of Hammer almost rivaled Downey's Stark, and really showed a lot of potential for becoming a superb antagonist in Iron Man's universe. Johansson wasn't vying for any Oscars, but she fulfilled the role she was cast for. It also helped a whole hell of a lot that every look on her face said either "I'm going to kick the shit out of you" or "I'm going to fuck your brains out." And Rourke served as a much better villian than Jeff Bridge's Obadiah Stane.

So, while the writing (and probably the directing) could have been better, the acting more than made up for it. It's a must see for fans of the series and comic book fans alike, and a pretty damn solid venture for those who want to see a good action flick.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Random Cool Shit: "Machete" Trailer

I'm pretty sure the above qualifies as a "guy thing" -- but really, who cares? That trailer exudes awesomeness on every level. I want.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Weekly List: Reasons the Blog Has Been Neglected

Look, we're sorry. We know we haven't been posting as much as we should. Now, we're not gonna sit here and make excuses. But you, our loyal and faithful reader, do deserve to know why we've been slacking.

T.D. and C.R. went to Austin for South by Southwest.

And T.D. wrote it about it here.

Blaine is a superhero, he has a busy schedule.

By day, he educates the youth of Alabama. By night, he's one of Tuscaloosa's finest rock & roll singers.


No explanation needed.

We're busy practicing to become pro 'rasslers.

Fear The Syndicate.

Government conspiracy.

When in doubt, blame The Man.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Play Them Songs: Drive-By Truckers -- The Big To-Do

Whenever you listen to a Drive-By Truckers record, there comes a point in the album when you can't help but reach over and crank the son of a bitch up. The boys (and girl) just can't help but unleash their inner-Skynyrd and play loud, rowdy Southern Rock (fitting, because in every album's liner notes Patterson Hood reminds listeners to "turn it up loud").

On their new album, The Big To-Do, they waste no time getting to that moment, cranking it up from the very beginning. And for the first four tracks, DBT doesn't let off the gas pedal. Patterson Hood delivers his steady, workmanlike tales of small-town, down-trodden life in songs like "The Fourth Night of My Drinking" and "Drag the Lake Charlie" -- the latter being a particularly hard rocker, and arguably the high point of the album.

Mike Cooley unfortunately only delivers three songs on this album, but what he lacks in quantity he damn sure makes up in quality, both as a songwriter and as a guitarist. "Birthday Boy" is vintage Cooley: straightforward rock & roll with incredible lyrics. "Get Downtown" is a swinging, up-tempo number that fits right along with Hood's "This Fucking Job" as DBT's take on the current economy.

The biggest disappointment isn't a weak track, but rather two they decided to include as bonus tracks on other mediums. If you buy your copy from iTunes, you get DBT's awesome cover of KISS's "Strutter." The vinyl version comes with "Girls Who Smoke" -- a song that was instantly my favorite when I heard them play it live.

Through and through, while not their best record, it's a solid effort from DBT. Shonna Tucker adds two decent tracks, and the band itself sounds as tight as they ever have. There may not be a timeless track that becomes your all-time favorite, but the album will get plenty of plays in your stereo (or on your iTunes, iPod, iPad, Zune, or whatever the hell it is you kids listen to your music on these days).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Play Them Songs: Shooter Jennings -- Black Ribbons

Shooter Jennings is an interesting guy. Of course, growing up on a tour bus as the son of country music legend Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, that’s no real surprise.

But Shooter’s latest effort, Black Ribbons, is just plain weird – even for a guy whose first band was self-described as “Guns N Roses meets Lynyrd Skynyrd.”

Just five years removed from his debut album, Put the O Back in Country, Jennings and his backing band The .357s transformed themselves into Hierophant for a rock concept album. The album is centered around a DJ defiantly playing Hierophant – the world’s most controversial band – on his last night on the airwaves before the government takes over his station.

The DJ, Will O’ The Wisp, is voiced by none-other than Stephen King (who has actually name-dropped Jennings in one of his stories). Wisp makes several appearances on the album on his “Last Light Radio” station, setting up songs and going on lengthy diatribes about the woes and evils of censorship and the downfall of freedom of expression in society. At one point he mentions the lack of music on his station, proclaiming that most of it is “processed bubble gum bullshit” and not worthy of airplay. At another point, Wisp recalls his early days as a DJ, mentioning his “Killing for peace is like fucking for chastity” button – which happens to be the image on the disc itself.

Wisp’s rants fit very well in hand with the odd, counterculture imagery of the CD and packing. The cover is a complex, occult-like drawing. The inside sleeve acts as a pop-up book of sorts. At first glance, the outside displays an American flag having been burnt at one end. Upon opening, four crows come out and surround the flag. When you flip it, there’s an extremely perplexing image of a man wearing a sheep-mask handing a little girl a present wrapped in black paper and black ribbons; and beaming from the man’s eyes to the little girl’s is the lyrics to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Inside, there stands a single desk with a lone microphone, emptied Styrofoam cup and turned-over chair inside of a dark forest where every tree has a black ribbon tied around it. And, aside from the aforementioned disc, you get a tarot card of a colored version of the cover art, with different messages on the back – luckily, mine reads “innocent.”

Between the art and Wisp’s rants, the album seems like it’d be better fit as a Bush-Era record, railing against the War on Terrorism and Patriot Act.

Musically, however, it actually works as a solid effort against the corporate-saturated radio of today. Jennings reasoned in one interview that “I think the whole thing is a metaphor for how hard it's been to get my voice heard.” So maybe it’s just Jennings expressing his outrage at modern-day country radio, pissed that Taylor Swift keeps winning awards for her “country” music. In reality, that’s no different than the tone of his first three albums, it’s just presented in a different form.

The songs are intricate but simple, bending genres while still presenting familiar tunes. There’s a song about lost love (“All of This Could Have Been Yours”), a song for his daughter (“God Bless Alabama”), and a song for his critics (“Fuck You, I’m Famous”). The music ranges from Nine Inch Nails-esque electronica to Pink Floyd – had they grown up in Memphis listening to Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. There are slow-rolling piano-led ballads that lead into guitar-heavy rockers. Alone, the songs wouldn’t work, and there really isn't a stand out track that will become your favorite; but paired with King’s Wisp character and his musings, the album as a whole is a successful foray into concept-creativity.

Diehard fans of Jennings and Outlaw Country probably won’t enjoy it, as it sounds nothing like Jennings’ previous three alt-country/Southern rock efforts. But it’s worth a listen for anyone willing to forget for a minute that this is Waylon’s boy, and just listen to an artist conveying his frustrations with trying to make his own name on today’s radio.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hear Them Songs: Druid City Arts Festival

Druid City Arts Festival, Tuscaloosa, AL, Saturday March 27, 2010

Who says you have to travel cross country to see a good festival? There's one right here in Tuscaloosa, this Saturday, March 27th. The first ever Druid City Arts Festival takes place, featuring a cavalcade of local artists and musicians for all to enjoy.

This event is a great chance to get out in the beautiful Spring weather (forecast of 72 degrees and mostly sunny) and support your local artists and see just how diverse and unique Tuscaloosa can really be.

The Festival takes place at the old CityFest Lot downtown, and it runs from 2-9 pm. Price of admission? FREE. The afternoon event is open to the public, and is all-ages. There will be a ton of featured visual artists, as well as a killer lineup of musicians, including Sparrow and the Ghost, Kate Taylor, The Hypsys, and Act of Congress.

Now cue the TV infomercial guy: "But wait, there's more!"

After the activities downtown, there are five different after-parties all around Tuscaloosa. Little Willie's, The Booth, Egan's, Innisfree, and Brown's Corner are all hosting DCAF after-parties, featuring great acts like Taylor Hollingsworth, Blaine Duncan & The Lookers, Callooh! Callay!, Baak Gwai, Ben Joseph and plently more. Best of all, one $5 wristband will get you into any of these bars.

For more information about the event and artists involved, including an exact schedule for the DCAF and all after-parties, click here and here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Random Cool Shit: The Bear

Thanks to Corey Hannah for the following video.

Nathan Pitts worked well on our self-titled album, showing up on time, helping with ideas when they were needed, and never griping about doing three or four takes of the same song. I asked Nathan to be on our album because I knew he was good at about anything he picked up to play, and I knew he played with taste.

Now his band, co-formed with his wife Amber Murray and called The Bear, seems to be gaining more and more attention. It is for rightful reason.

Check out a relaxed, cool performance of The Bear. They have recently added members to the group, and things are sounding superb. I am looking forward to recordings from them as well as shows. These are dedicated folks involved with The Bear, so hopefully sometime this year, we can expect one, if not both.

Hope you enjoy.

The Bear - "Can't Change Your Mind" live at Rivertown Coffee from Corey Hannah on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hear Them Songs: Black Willis Band with Twinside

Black Willis Band with Twinside -- Egan's, Tuscaloosa, AL, Sat. March 13, 2010

Normally a staple for at least one or two Egan's shows during football season, Black Willis Band are guys who rock with equal parts swagger and Southern rock. They play loud and in your face. I've never seen them when they didn't tear the place down. They have become especially gratifying with their switch of David Swatzell from bass to co-lead guitar.

This time, they bring with them a new band from our local Birmingham music scene: Twinside.

To my knowledge, Twinside has never played a show in Tuscaloosa, so it's a good reason for all of us to practice what we preach about local music: go see them, find out if we like them, then continue to support them if we do enjoy their show. Quite frankly, there's no better time to see them than at Egan's -- there's never a cover there, so you don't have to worry about that door charge. If it is of any interest to you, Twinside is fronted by a female singer/guitarist. It's nice to see ladies getting their rock n' roll out there, too.

See y'all there.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Coming Soon: Iron Man 2

I almost cannot express how excited I am for May 7th to roll around. Almost. I have been looking forward to Iron Man 2 since the credits rolled on the first one, and the Nick Fury scene after the credits only got me giddier.

I'm not exactly a comic book geek (I don't own any, save for a copy of the Watchmen collection), but I thoroughly enjoy the comic book universe. The culture fascinates me, really. You have these outlandish heroes and villains, with their huge battles and crazy adventures; but their stories are really commentaries on race, religion, politics and society in general.

And now, we have comic book movie adaptations that are actually good movies, and a well done comic book movie is almost the perfect movie theater experience. It takes you away from reality, throws a few jokes at you, gives you some cool special effects, and engrosses you in a good story. It's pure entertainment.

Now, not every comic book movie is good, but recently the ante has been upped, and some damn fine movies have been made. The reason for this, besides excellent writing, is studios have hit some home runs with their casting. Christopher Nolan's Batman series is the top dog overall, with Christian Bale portraying a solid Batman, with support from Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman and of course Heath Ledger's legendary turn as The Joker.

But the Iron Man series isn't far behind. Robert Downey, Jr. is amazing as Iron Man, specifically because he is a perfect Tony Stark. With support from Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges, the first movie was a certified hit, and would've been the talk of 2008 if not for The Dark Knight. Add in Samuel L. Jackson's cameo as Nick Fury, and the series has extreme potential to entertain for years to come.

Looking ahead to this spring's sequel, Downey is joined once again by Paltrow. Oscar nominee Don Cheadle replaces Howard, and they're joined by the revived Mickey Rourke, the beautiful Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell (and maybe Jackson makes another cameo...). Jon Favreau is directing once again, and director continuity in a series makes a big difference.

With that cast, and the success of the first movie, Iron Man 2 has a lot of promise. I know I'll be there on May 7th.