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.