Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Eddie Vedder: Music for the Motion Picture Into the Wild

Written by El Conquistadorko

When it comes to writing music to accompany a dour film about an overprivileged kid who rejects materialism and wanders the vacant expanses of America only to die, starving and freezing, in the Alaska Wilderness, it's hard to think of a better match than Eddie Vedder. The Pearl Jam front man wrote and performed all the songs but two on the new Into the Wild soundtrack, a pensive mix of electrified ballads and solo acoustic instrumentals with earnest titles like “Setting Forth,” “Far Behind,” “Society,” and “End of the Road.”

If you haven't seen the movie or read the fantastic, similarly-titled Jon Krakauer book, the film concerns the misadventures of Chris McCandless, an east coast child of quarreling rich parents who like his hero Leo Tolstoy (one of McCandless' few possessions was a vintage copy of War and Peace) gives up all his worldly possessions and dedicates his life to a peripatetic search for isolation and harmony with nature. He even changes his name to Supertramp. Having read the book and reviews of the film—although not having seen the movie itself—it appears that Sean Penn has taken McCandless far more seriously than Krakauer (a veteran mountaineer) did.

In trailers for the film, Penn shows Supertramp kayaking alone down the Grand Canyon rapids of the Colorado River, a rip-roaring good time, except it never happened. In fact, McCandless never had a kayak, he had a canoe, and he didn't run the rapids, he put in south of the canyon and tried to paddle from the Colorado River to the Sea of Cortez, which turned out to be impossible and ended, as Krakauer noted, in a pointless disaster that didn't bode well for his future trip to Alaska.

Anyways, the music is solid stuff and if you're a fan of Vedder then it's a good buy. Just don't waste your time reading the pretentious lyrics, which are helpfully included in the CD, along with stills from the movie. If you have half a brain, or if you know anything about the real Chris McCandless, Vedder's attempt to turn a misguided kid's purposeless death in an abandoned school bus 30 miles from the nearest road — probably from eating poisonous berries because he intentionally didn't bring enough food with him — will only piss you off.

Here, in the song “Far Behind,” is a typical example of Vedder's poetic hagiography, which rhymes. “Empty Pockets will/ allow a greater sense of wealth/ Why contain yourself/ Like any other/ Book on the shelf?” But that's subtle wordsmithery compared Jerry Hannan's lyrics of “Society,” by far the most direct and outright silly song on the soundtrack. “It's a mystery to me/ We have a Greed/ With which we have agreed/ And you think you have to/ Want more than you need/ Until you have it all/ You won't be Free.”

Yikes, those lyrics sound like the kind of crap that works if you were a singer for a straight edge punk band 25 years ago and then, only because the music was so angry and you were yelling so loud about society to a bunch of slamdancing morons that nobody could understand you anyway.

By the way, what song could possibly be more appropriate for this movie than Temple of the Dog's 1992 single “Hunger Strike,” which featured Vedder on backing vocals? “I don't mind stealing bread/ From the mouths of decadence/ But I cant feed on the powerless/ When my cups already overfilled/ But it's on the table/ The fire is cooking/ And they're farming babies/ While the slaves are working/ The blood is on the table/ And their mouths are choking/ But I'm growing hungry.”

It's hard to blame Vedder. He had a job to do. The problem is that the best song on the album, “Tuolumne,” is the best song precisely because it has no lyrics, just Vedder plucking away at a guitar, the kind of tune you could imagine a kid like McCandless playing as he camped out in the desert or sat in that abandoned bus in Alaska waiting for death.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dwight Yoakam: Dwight Sings Buck

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Dwight Sings Buck
is more than a tribute album. It’s a salute to country music pioneer and innovator, Buck Owens. Performed by Dwight Yoakam who is the best modern representative and torchbearer of Buck’s signature style known as the Bakersfield sound. What Buck began Dwight has taken and pushed forward, adding his personal touch to the sound making it something all his own. What better way to salute his hero than to record an entire CD of Buck’s popular songs that Dwight likes most.

The Bakersfield sound is an edgy, electrified/twangy guitar-led rockabilly approach to honky-tonk style country. Buck and Merle Haggard are seen as its founding fathers, although Merle has the rockin’ rebel attitude. His brand of the Bakersfield sound leans more towards straightforward honky tonk. Buck, the first star from Bakersfield, brought this edge to country music in the 1960s at a time when the music from Nashville was over-produced and string-laden. From early on Buck’s influence could be heard, especially in the new country sounds being made by a younger generation with names like Gram Parsons and Willie Nelson at the head of the pack.

Skip to the 1980s and another generation at the reins, fusing another element to the sound, giving it new life and sparking the flame a new. With Dwight Yoakam out front the Bakersfield sound would be blended with a punk attitude and even more rockabilly thunder. In the mid ‘50s Buck did record a few rockabilly sides under the alias Corky Jones; yeah, needless to say they went nowhere but do live in the hearts of fans. Dwight took it all up a notch and delivered to the world what I like to call “revved-up hillbilly music,” drawing heavily from his boyhood heroes Buck and Merle. Shaking the scene around with his debut album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. and eventually teaming with Buck on a remake of “Streets Of Bakersfield.”

Taking another step forward, Dwight has reworked his favorite Buck tunes and puts his stamp on the songs he respects. His band is sharp and brings their own revved-up sound to Buck classics such as “My Heart Skips A Beat,” “Down On The Corner Of Love,” “Love’s Gonna Live Here” and the mega-hit “Act Naturally.” With Dwight the sound is kicked up by a solid and more pronounced rhythm section, drums hit harder and the bass plucks louder. In his hands the sound has a sharper edge and has never been as tough.

“Under Your Spell Again” comes off like a Duane Eddy surf tune with its electric bass over the originals doghouse bass. Losing none of the attitude and only adding to the toughness of the song. Dwight tackles “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got A Heartache)” with the same energy and makes the Buck-penned tune a Dwight rocker. He gives the same treatment to “Think Of Me” and “Foolin’ Around,” letting his twang-filled voice and his band loose to spread havoc on the honky-tonk hardwood floor. Dwight also shines on ballads, pleading his love on the songs “Cryin’ Time” and “Together Again,” where the tempo slows and the piano gently rolls along while the steel guitar cries its pain right along side Dwight’s vocals.

No matter what he decides to sing from Buck, or anyone else, Dwight does a fine job and carries the torch with style that remains all his own while pulling from the past, looking toward the future, and expanding the road first trod upon by other country music pathfinders and trailblazers.

Pearl Jam: Immagine In Cornice

Written by Fumo Verde

In 2006 Pearl Jam played five cities in Italy, and Danny Clinch caught it on film. This isn’t just a live concert that was filmed but rather a recorded journal of the band’s tour. More than a backstage pass, you are in the audience, backstage, above stage, on stage, out in line, in the pouring rain waiting to get in. Clinch puts the whole picture in the frame of his cameras and has created something magical. Plus the music is awesome; it’s Pearl Jam.

Over a dozen tracks come to life as Clinch goes from super-8 to HD, bringing much more intensity to an already politically charged band. The music is great as always. “Life Wasted,” “Porch,” and “Better Man” are just a few gems that PJ pulls out. What really blew me away was the band’s capacity to feed off of the energy the crowd exuded and then to give right back to them with twice the amount of force. Whether it’s a guitar solo by McCready, a drum jam by Cameron, or Vedder soulfully waning poetically, one can see the exchange that takes place. On the bonus track “Yellow Ledbetter” the melody alone brings out the tears. The pure emotion of the crowd could be felt as they tried to sing along with Vedder, who re-worded the song and started singing about ending the war in Iraq. When the crowd understood, the cheers poured out. Just seeing this gave me the goose bumps.

The music isn’t the only thing that Clinch got. Like I said, this is better than a backstage pass. Clinch was with the band at all times and this gave him the opportunity to let the fans see what the band is like when they are not being a band. In between each track, we find out a little more what the guys are like when they aren’t under the spotlight. One of my favorite little segments is when McCready is greeted at the hotel entrance by fans. He signs everybody’s autograph book or what have you, takes pictures with fans who want one, all the while he explains he used to be one of these fans. He talks about hiding under the bus of Def Leppard and spooking the drummer. This is a great look into the life of someone who is just a regular guy in a very famous and well-loved band, yet he too has heroes. I also loved Vedder taking us to his favorite place to go after a sound check. “The only difference between a four-track and an eight-track is four more knobs.”

It’s the music, it’s the moments between the music, and it’s the energy that’s traded between the two that makes Immagine in Cornice one of my top picks for the year. Even the packing of this disc is great. It comes with a photo album attached to the box.

Like Cameron Crowe following Led Zeppelin, Clinch has made something more than just a live concert video. He created a portrait of a band by letting the music, the musicians, and the fans paint the picture. He was the master who put it in the frame. And what a fine job he did. Thank you, Pearl Jam, and thank you, Danny Clinch, a fantastic piece of art by such talented artists.