Friday, December 19, 2008
A Rush show just isn’t about the band playing music while the rest of us cheering; it is an interactive, emotional jam session where the band feeds off the energy of the crowd and the crowd feeds off the energy the band is pouring back out. The characters that appear on screen, played by the band and some times other celebrities, help act as a comic release while enabling the band to still tell the story during breaks in the music.
“Limelight” opens the DVD and what a smart song to start off with. Using some of the Bard’s words to craft a story about what it is like to be up on stage and how it relates to the everyday life we all lead. “Digital Man” is another song I don’t hear enough on the radio, so hearing it live is always a Scooby Snack in my opinion. Of course, “Freewill” is my mantra and the band playing this song in the beginning really got me revved up early.
One of my favorites songs off Snakes & Arrows is “The Main Monkey Business.” I remember seeing them play it and I’m stoked they kept it in the rotation for the European Tour. This is the same way I feel about “The Way the Wind Blows,” another good song from the album. Classic Rush hits “Tom Sawyer” and “The Spirit of the Radio” are also here along with “A Passage to Bangkok,” and the concert closer, the instrumental “YYZ;” both songs will bring true fans to their feet for an amazing finish.
The last disc features songs added on the U.S. tour that weren’t played in Holland. They include “Ghost of a Chance,” “2112/ The Temples of Syrinx,” “The Trees” (another favorite of mine), and of course, one of the best Rush songs ever, “Red Barchetta.”
The extras include outtakes from the videos made for the big screen behind the band. In these outtakes it is funny to watch the band laugh at themselves as each tries to act out these characters they have created.
All in all this is a great pack to give to a Rush fan or anyone who enjoys watching live concerts on DVD. As for me, it brings that warm summer night in at Irvine Meadows (now called Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre although not by me) back to the front of my mind where myself, El Bicho, Fantasma el Rey, my buddies Nicky B., and his brothers along with my old buddies Angel Eyes and the Fogg, heard great tunes by an awesome band while puffing on California’s finest. Good times, good music, and good friends; this DVD will always keep these thoughts in my mind.
Down The Tracks: The Music That Influenced Led Zeppelin is an awesome 93-minute look at what drove and inspired Jimmy Page and Robert Plant to make music of their own. American bluesmen, 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, and British skiffle were the base of the heavy-hitting rock icons and this DVD documentary explores these roots. Down The Tracks digs further and follows those roots to the beginnings of American blues and the effects of rock ‘n’ roll on British music. The DVD also makes its way back to the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and the occult ramblings of an evil Brit whose name emerged again in the 1960s after being buried since the 1930s.
Down The Tracks starts with a quick introduction of how Page and Plant came together. Page was looking for a lead singer for a band he was looking to form; the two got together bringing with them a handful of records, which ranged from blues and rockabilly to local skiffle bands. When they sat down to listen and discuss, they discovered they had much in common, including the direction they hoped to take the new band. And that’s where the DVD pretty much leaves the journey of Led Zeppelin only mentioning that they went straight to large venues and on to bigger things. Not much history on the band, just how the following musicians, writers, and occult figures would affect their lives and drive them to deliver “blues on steroids” to arenas full of people.
The first hour of the DVD is about the blues. Many knowledgeable blues and rock historians lend their voice to tell the tale of how the blues rose from the Mississippi Delta jumped to Memphis then amped-up in Chicago. We get the stories of Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, and how they learned from and rivaled one another. Patton the loud growling-voiced showmen, who spun, flipped, rode, and played his guitar behind his back years before T-Bone Walker and way before a kid named Hendrix was born. Johnson was the mystery man who became so good so quick that folks began to believe he sold his soul to the devil. Son House, the living link between the two, who played with both, was the only one left alive by the 1940s to pass the torch to a new breed of bluesmen and be able to reap the rewards and witness the ‘60s blues revival; a revival spearheaded by young Brits.
Down The Tracks heads north to the automobile plants and the driving sound that McKinley Morganfield and Chester Burnett, better known as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf brought with them from the south and forged into electric thunder. That thunder would send shockwaves across the ocean and turn teenage guitar players into blues axe-men. Youngsters all over England would send away for these vinyl gems and spend hours trying to figure out the chords and beats. From here the world gets Zeppelin tunes like “How Many More Years,” “The Lemon Song,” “When The Levee Breaks,” and so many others.
Rock ‘n’ roll also hit the kingdom hard, especially the sound of Elvis (Presley), Scotty (Moore) and Bill (Black) from Sun Records. Not that Zeppelin played much rockabilly but it was from that hybrid sound that Page wanted to pick guitar chords and Plant wanted to wail (Think “Rock And Roll” and “Out On The Tiles”). 1950s rock ‘n’ roll was huge in England but with electric instruments hard to come by the poor Brits made due with acoustic guitars and tea-chest bass fiddles, launching a skiffle revival. Skiffle is pretty much jug-band music with jazz, folk, and country leanings; it’s rock ‘n’ roll without the power. When these kats discovered American blues in the early ‘60s, it all came together for them and their brand of rock ‘n’ roll was born and hit our shores; we called it the British Invasion when it was really American music returning in a slightly modified form.
Zeppelin added to the mix Plant’s awe of Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings books and Page’s fascination with Aleister Crowley and his teachings of sexual magic and drug use, along with their combined interest in Celtic lore. These particular inspirations become apparent not only on album art but in longer tunes that are more smoked-filled and “enhanced” by other substances. These themes blended well with the influence of British folkies, like Davey Graham, who came out of the skiffle scene and explored other native folk sounds from around the world. It’s here with the different guitar tuning and instrumentation where Zeppelin starts to expanded their sound, showing that their creativity and influences rang far and wide, from which we get “Stairway To Heaven,” “The Battle Of Evermore,” and “Kashmir.” The links between Zeppelin and the British folk sound is made clear on this DVD.
And that is what makes this disc interesting, not only for the fact that we get to look at the roots of Zeppelin but that the DVD shows and interviews as many of these people and influences as possible. Down The Tracks is more than men talking while the camera zooms in on still photos. The DVD takes you to the places, fields and plantations where these blues men spent their formative southern years, and uses as much footage as they can of the artists mentioned. We get to see Muddy, The Wolf, Son House, Bob Brozman who recreates the sound of Charley Patton, Davey Graham, and many, many more. The DVD slows at times but the overall knowledge within it is worth the price not only for Zeppelin and blues fans but music lovers in general. Even if you only watch the first half on the blues, you’ll be moved to go out and find music by those men or go back through your own collection, as I have done, to further trace the roots of Led Zeppelin and refresh the knowledge passed to me by my father, a true blues fan.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Rod Stewart has been making records in one form or another since 1968. His latest effort, The Definitive Rod Stewart plays like a field trip through American pop music over the last 40 years. From the late ‘60s British blues-pop invasion, to the pop ballads of the 1970s, as well as an inevitable turn at disco and ‘80s synth pop, before finally settling comfortably into adult contemporary in the ‘90s and recent years, it is all covered in this collection including 31 of “The Bod’s” biggest hits, as well as a bonus DVD of 14 music videos.
The tracks run chronologically, starting, fittingly, with “Maggie May,” with the first ten tracks or so covering Stewart’s work up through the mid 1970s. Classics such as “You Wear It Well,” “The Killing of Georgie (Part 1 and 2),” and “You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim),” as well as “Stay With Me” from his early work with The Faces, showcase Stewart’s undeniable, folk-inspired storytelling and songwriting abilities, as well as that trademark rasp that along with the hair, the pants and the schnoz helped solidify him as a ‘70s pop icon.
Next, Stewart took the next logical step and did what any and every pop star with a record on the horizon did in the late ‘70s: he went disco and he did it quite well. Same strong songwriting, same signature rasp, just a different sound to back it all up. “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” was a huge hit and paved the way for Stewart’s foray into 1980s pop. With the eerie and often forgotten “Passion” from 1980 and 1981’s synth-driven anthem “Young Turks” we are treated to the start of an era of Stewart’s career that is vastly underrated and equally unappreciated. Songs such as the latter two, as well as hits like “Baby Jane,” and mid ‘80s super hits, “Infatuation” and “Some Guys Have All The Luck,” are often tossed aside, or worse, laughed off as ‘80s/bad Stewart, which is simply not true. Hopefully, their inclusion in this collection will help to finally clear that up. Let me just say that this era, “Young Turks” in particular, was the sole reason I took this assignment.
The collection rounds out with Stewart settling comfortably into the adult contemporary realm, starting with 1988’s “Forever Young” and rounding it all out with a healthy dose of critically received cover tunes, thanks in part to a hugely successful appearance on MTV Unplugged in 1993. Included here is an assortment of Stewart’s various covers, including two cuts from the aforementioned special.
The Definitive Rod Stewart also comes with a DVD of music videos. While “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” is probably the most memorable inclusion (I know it is the first video [promo] that I ever saw of his), what’s most notable, here, is the decision to go with some lesser-known hits (some of which aren’t even included on the CDs) for the video portion of this collection. They forwent obvious choices like “Maggie May” and “Tonight’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright),” both of which can be easily spotted on VH-1 Classics, and instead opted for the likes of “The Killing of Georgie (Part 1 & 2),” “Hot Legs,” and “Ain’t Love a Bitch.” All in all, the 14 tracks included on the DVD represent a nice cross-section of the man’s work in music video.
Overall, The Definitive Rod Stewart serves as the perfect snippet of a career that has lasted for 40-plus years. It covers all the bases and goes just deep enough in what it has to offer, without the hefty price tag of an overwhelming, all-encompassing box set. It is an ideal collection for both die-hard and fair-weather Rod Stewart fans.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Merle Haggard is a true country outlaw and with the Legendary Performances DVD we get fifteen classic tunes spanning 1968-83. In just under an hour we get a good look at what drove his popularity and made this former inmate a country music star. The Hag, as he’s known to many, has a straightforward style and simplicity to his music that everyday working folk can relate to. Hag sang about his first-hand experiences in life, love and troubling hard times. The outsider and outlaw posses a calm charm that helps convey his message through his voice and distinct sound, a sound that he would become known for and would be labeled the Bakersfield sound.
Merle Haggard was born in Bakersfield, California in 1937 and spent his early years in and out of detention centers, finally ending with a spell in San Quentin’s solitary confinement. While in prison he cherished visits by performers such as Johnny Cash and clung to his guitar and the music he loved. Bob Wills and Hank Williams were who he admired most and though young Merle’s music had nothing to with the rockin’ styling of other youths of the mid to late 1950s (though he had no problems with the young southern gents that birthed a hybrid sound of their own). Determined to change his life, Merle worked hard to gain his parole and never return, only looking back in song.
Mixing Wills’ western swing with Hank’s straight country, Merle began to write his life and thoughts in lyrics and began to sing at night around town while digging ditches during the day. By 1963 he was on a local record label and two years later his records appeared on the Capitol label. With The Strangers, a new recording and touring band that added more drive to Merle’s sound and along with label mate Buck Owens, they forged a new sound, one that would be named after the town whose streets they both had survived: Bakersfield. The rest as they say is history and plays out in Merle and The Strangers’ music.
The DVD gives a good look at Merle at the height of his fame. Beginning in ’68 with appearances on local music showcases such as Country Music Holiday, Country Carnival and The Porter Wagner Show, we have a Merle that looks a bit uncomfortable in front of the camera and corny sets. Leaving off in 1983 singing at the Country Music Association (CMA nowadays = Country My Ass) and a Johnny Cash Christmas special. The song selection is a perfect display of the themes that put Merle on the map, being the outsider, boozing over a lost love, and fierce pride in what he believes and who he is. Featuring hits like “Branded Man,” “Mama Tried,” “I Take A Lot Of Pride In What I Am,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Swinging Doors,” “I Started Loving You Again,” “The Fighting Side Of Me,” “Okie From Muskogee” and “Workin’ Man Blues.”
“Mama Tried” is the story of a hell raising “one and only rebel child from a family meek and mild” that “turns 21 in prison” even though Mama tried to steer him straight. “Branded Man” is easily the tale of what happened after the rebel child was granted parole and wants to set things right and get his life back on track. “A branded man out in the cold” is the perfect example an outsider’s looking in; further reflected upon in “Pride In What I Am.” “Pride” follows the life of a homeless man as he wanders the hobo jungles and streets of Chicago while looking back on life. More classic Merle and the outlook of the loner.
“Swinging Doors,” “The Bottle Let Me Down” and “Loving You Again” are Merle’s thinking, drinking, and dreaming songs. Sad tunes that reveal a softer side of the outlaw filled with pain in his heart over the girl who left or that he left behind. He gets close to forgetting her but his friend the bottle lets him down, lets her memory creep back in, and he starts loving her again. The missing side of the outlaw heart is the loving song about hard times, struggle, and the love for family that drives a man to do his best to provide for them, “If We Make It Through December.”
“Working Man Blues” stands on its own and is here worked out in a rocking jam complete with yakety sax and pumping piano, yet Merle manages to keep the pace jazzy and rather than rock ‘n’ roll. Ever since I was a teenage “pin monkey” working for peanuts at the local bowling alley, the song has had a place in my mind. The song took stronger hold and meaning as the years passed and I learned what it is to give up much for the good of family. You drink a little beer on the weekends, think about bumming around, but go back to doing what’s right and providing for your loved ones.
“Fighting Side” and “Okie” might just be Merle’s biggest hits that came at a time when the nation was colliding into each other and sides were being chosen across the nation. Merle hits hard with these tunes, which are really just extensions of his pride songs. He gives his point of view strong and solid but manages not to go over the edge, seeming to say “I get what you’re saying but don’t cotton to it. So you stay on that side and we’ll get along fine;” Seems simply enough, “I’ll stand my ground; you stand yours.” “Okie” on the other hand is a tune that I could just never take seriously seeing as how Merle never did too much either. It was kind of a joke and came about as the band passed said town one day while touring. Merle thought about the troubles on college campuses and wondered about life, hippies, and dope use in small-town Muskogee, Oklahoma and it all rolled from there.
Legendary Performances - Merle Haggard is truly that and in bonus features we get to see an older Merle, comfortable with the camera and joking with the crowd at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. We even get firsthand knowledge of the man’s life in an interview filmed with his life Leona in their big ol’ touring bus. Entertaining and well done, I find this disc easily added to the list of “best things to come across my desk this year.” So go get it, fan or not, it’s a good look at a living country legend and true outlaw.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
How would you like to spend a Halloween night funkin’ out with one of the P-Funk originators? With this DVD you can. Parliament Funkadelic played a freaky October 31st show in Houston’s Summit Arena. Dressed in outfits ranging from super-shaggy Mexican sombreros to folks wearing diapers with freaky mask/glasses combos, this show is a pageant for the eyes as well as cornucopia for the ears. If you can dig the tunes of yesteryear that are the hooks in today’s rap and house jams, then The Mothership Connection is a DVD you will love.
Putting on a very unique theatrical performance which features music as the prime star, the Parliament Funkadelic connects to its audience through sound, light, stage antics, and pure energy. Be it songs like “Gamin’ On Ya!” with its hard brass choir or a the old standard “Swing Down Sweet Chariot” which has a thumping beat that drives the chorus of vocals, while lead vocalists prepare all for the landing of the Mothership. Sparks fly and colored smoke engulfs the stage as a small spacecraft arrives letting loose Dr. Funkenstein himself to sing about (who else?) “Dr. Funkenstein.”
The show itself opens with a telling of how the Funk came into creation with a large single eye sitting atop a pyramid acting as if it is the one telling the story. The stage is totally in the dark until the performers take the stage, and then the electrifying colors of the outfits worn by the band come to life as the extreme stage lighting rips through the darkness. Light, sound, and audience explode as one, while guitars zoom notes out like rocket launchers and cymbals crash like falling plates. This energy juices up the crowd for a fun-filled funktastic time.
For those who love the funk but don’t know if they could handle a whole show of Funkadelic rhythms and vibes, then this DVD gives you the chance see what the funk is all about. In the mid ’70s “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” was climbing up the R&B chart and mainstream America (white America) finally comprehended what the funk sound was and they were starting to like it. This show was one of those rare moments in music history where a band tore through the boundaries of music and race and opened up new worlds to all peoples. With its rocking funk sound and crazy cast of characters interplaying with each other and the audience, The Mothership Connection is a DVD not to be missed.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Written by Fantasma el Rey
Nearly sixty years have gone by since the world lost Hank Williams Sr. yet his haunting voice and music continue to tug at our souls and pull us into the dark night of his own, expressed in his songs and the way he delivered them. Time Life has finally put out The Unreleased Recordings of Hank Williams. These recordings, drawn from remaining acetates cut in 1951 for his fifteen-minute radio show sponsored by Mother’s Best Flour on WSM Nashville, were to air while he was on the road touring and unable to make the 7:15am start time Monday through Friday. These 54 offerings of Hank’s heart show a different side of the man and allow us to see a bit further into his tragically short life.
His career was truly meteoric; he came on fast and burned out quick. A star of The Grand Ole Opry, the first “rock star” some say, he was on top of the country music world in 1951 and his future looked to be even brighter as he began to tackle the pop charts. By this time Hank had already had hit records with “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Cold, Cold Heart” while bigger hits would follow in the remaining two years of his life. Those last two years would yield the tunes folks remember most, “Hey, Good Looking,” “Jambalaya (On The Bayou),” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” to name a few but here we have Hank in 1951 just as his music’s popularity rises and his personnel life falls apart all by the age of twenty nine.
His wife Audrey would soon leave him due to his out-of-control, binge drinking brought on by his exhausting touring schedule which called for him to be back in Nashville every Saturday night to perform live on the Opry, which eventually kicked him out too. Hank’s longtime back pain would also become increasingly unbearable, forcing a long postponed operation. No doubt made worse by the back brace he had to wear while touring and traveling in an overcrowded automobile. Some of that pain shows on these recordings at times ever so slightly. But as with his studio recordings he left his music behind for us to enjoy as much as he did and to bring joy to our hearts and relieve our pain as he did through music and singing.
Hank Williams’ sound covers a lot of ground, pulling from hillbilly, western swing, bluegrass and gospel. His voice is the perfect vehicle to put it all together and carry it forth to the masses. His vocals are a bit constricted to squeeze out a few lines but for the better part of his recordings, especially on this set, his warm baritone stands out conveying the darkness and sorrow he hid well yet let show in his vocal delivery and songwriting. Guitar solos are minimal (although he does allow it to take off a time or two), the upright bass fiddle plunks and plucks steadily as fiddles sway, and the steel guitar fills in the sound of weeping sorrow all with Hank leading the way with his acoustic pickin’ and strummin’.
The three-disc set contains some real gems as we not only get to hear a few of Hank’s hits, but tunes he had been playing for years that touched his heart. He turns the page way back for “On Top Of Old Smokey” to the way his grandmother taught him, slow and plaintive, not up-tempo as was the recent version. His baritone shines here as the boys fall in behind him and stop you in your tracks. Many spirituals and gospel tunes (“The Pale Horse And His Rider,” “The Prodigal Son,” and “The Old Country Church”) make an appearance as to be expected as it’s the music that these men grew up with and knew their listeners did too. Hank, who was not very fond of cowboy tunes, even manages to turn Bob Nolan’s sagebrush saga, “Cool Water,” into a very spiritual-sounding number, making it all his own and providing a new take on an old favorite.
Hank treats his audience to many popular tunes such as “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” “When The Saints Go Marching In,” and “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.” A song or two of his studio work has traces of what will become rock ‘n’ roll. Listen to the lyrics again to “Hey, Good Looking;” you got hot rods, soda, and dancing dates. He’s only a few steps away from truly being the granddaddy of rockabilly. Check out “Cherokee Boogie,” “California Zephyr” and “a little masterpiece of nonsense,” as Hank introduces it, titled “Mind Your Own Business” with its added edgy verse about getting knocked around by the missus.
Hank and the boys are loose and playful on these live recordings while making only the slightest flubs, but that’s all good as it adds to the entire feel of the live show. As long as sponsors are mentioned, no one swears, and the station gets no complaints, everything is gravy. For all his sadness Hank manages to laugh and cut up even mentioning his baby boy “Bocephus” and the song he wrote for him “There’s Nothing Sweeter Than My Baby.” It’s also good to hear Hank’s speaking voice throughout the box set. It further drives home why people grew to love him so much. Again, despite his sadness, he has a warmth to his voice that carries over into his music and it is made clear in these recording aimed which were straight at the everyday working folks.
Hank Williams - The Unreleased Recordings continues the fine work done by the people at Time Life. Here, the song selection and order flow well and keep a good pace. The fact that it isn’t another best-of adds to the listening experience. While the 40-page booklet is filled with photos and informative liner notes by the very knowledgeable Colin Escott, it isn’t over done and reads well, providing enough info on Hank’s life to set the stage for the music. A good boxed set overall; it’s one of the best, if not the best, offers to come my way this year, and to think I nearly passed it up.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Written by Fumo Verde
If you can catch Austin City Limits, then do so for you may get a chance to see something like this. The band from Georgia plays an amazing show on a Halloween Night in 2000. This DVD will be a special one for the hardcore fans, for it features the late, great Michael Houser.
From what I’ve been told and have read, a Panic show is never the same nor do they play each song the same way, ever. Vic Chesnutt’s “Let’s Get Down to Business” starts out the show and gets everybody in the mood. This is followed by a Panic favorite “Ain’t Life Grand.” John Bell’s gruff voice fits Houser’s lyrics like a glove as the tempo quickens, such as life itself. “Space Wrangler” follows it, starting out with a Texas swing groove as the tale of child growing up is told. The beat of the tune turns into more of a rock jam for a bit then falls back into that tumbleweed groove it was showing in the beginning. Panic is known for doing this, taking the music and letting the tune find itself while the band comes along for the journey.
One of my favorites on this DVD was “Climb to Safety” with its energized guitar riffs. The bongo collaboration along with the drums gives this song a groove that had me tapping my feet. Add lyrics such as these: “Time will surely mold you/ into something you don’t like/ Get you runnin’ like a rabbit/ stick your finger in the dyke,” and I have found a new favorite song. This DVD also contains songs like “Casa Del Grillo,” J.J Cale’s “Travelin’ Light,” “Bear’s Gone Fishin’,” and “Porch Song.” This DVD contains eleven songs from a band that has no fear about trying new types of musical genres, even when they are on stage.
For someone who has only heard a few albums and would love to see Panic live, this is the closest I’ve come yet, and each time I hear them, I love their music more. My thanks to Austin City Limits for being one of the best live musical shows around that is still “Made in America,” and thanks from bringing us one of the most talented bands around, Widespread Panic.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
One of the most notable jazz trios of the ‘60s was the Oscar Peterson Trio. Elegance and professionalism accompany a friendship felt on stage. Peterson is one of jazz’s beloved artists and this DVD, Live in ’63, ’64, & ‘65, gives some insight as to why. Jazz Icons does it once again with a remarkable DVD that highlights three shows in the countries of Sweden, Denmark, and Finland where the weather might be cold, but the reception for the Peterson Trio was more than warm.
The first show was held in Stockholm, Sweden in April 1963. The film is clean and you can see the beads of sweat upon Peterson’s brow, though his work at the piano may seem effortless. He is playing passionately along with bassist and good friend Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen. Both Brown and Thigpen are accomplished musicians themselves and it shows in the solos they play. The show starts off with “Reunion Blues” and as Peterson tickles the ivories Brown and Thigpen keep the beat, letting Peterson release his emotions. Yet, Peterson is also one for “ripping it up” like Rahsaan Roland Kirk or even Sonny Rollins. He plays it smoothly with a calmness that carries through his music. For the second set “Satin Doll” trumpeter Roy Eldridge steps in for a bit and gives the song soul. Both “But Not for Me” and “If Ain’t Necessarily So” are crowd-pleasers although the audience is never shown. “Chicago (That Toddling Town)” finishes off the set with Peterson playing hard on the keys while Brown and Thigpen feed off the energy Peterson is pumping out.
Holbaek, Denmark is where the second show takes place. In a little nightclub on May 2, 1964 Peterson and his band played to a full house in the round. Smoke fills the air as the lights beam down on the band. “On Green Dolphin Street” is on the set list and as I hear it, the song has a totally different feel to it than when played by Kirk or Rollins. Peterson’s version is slower and since the piano is the main player, the song has simpler feel to it. Peterson’s hands glide across the ivories as letting the notes take the crowd on a fantastic journey. His big intro opens the song with a whirlwind feel as Thigpen uses the cymbals adding an orchestral feel. The three men are positioned pretty close to each other making the group more intimate. By looking at one another, they can read each other and prepare for the changes, but you can also read the friendship they share with one another also, by the smirks and smiles each throws off. “Bags’ Groove” is the third song featured at this gig, and here is where Brown shows us what a bass player can do. He plays his stand-up with a passion most bass players wouldn’t reveal. Thigpen and Peterson get into his groove and the whole song makes the crowd go crazy when it’s over.
The third and final show is at the Cultural House in Helsinki, Finland played on March 23, 1965. The set list includes “Yours Is My Heart Alone,” “Mack The Knife,” and “Blues For Smedley.” Peterson opens with “Yours Is My Heart Alone” playing it at a much quicker tempo. This jolts Brown and Thigpen as they happily jump into his groove. The band is on a stage in front of the audience. Clark Terry comes out to play flugelhorn on “Mack The Knife” giving this jam its brass edge. He also plays trumpet on the next tune “Blues for Smedley,” adding that sweet brass pitch which has the crowd clapping for more. “Misty” and “Mumbles” round off the songs at the Cultural House and the crowd is screaming for more.
You can’t beat the DVDs that Jazz Icons brings to the table, and this one has to be one of my favorites so far. Again the liner notes are actually a small booklet giving the listener a background not usually talked about. A DVD like this is an open door to the history and magic that was the jazz scene in the ‘60s. For any lover of jazz this is a great disc and should be picked up as soon as possible.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
I had no idea who Rahsaan Roland Kirk was and was curious as to why in the photo on the DVD cover this kat looked as if he had a whole brass band hanging around his neck. Well, it because he almost does. Kirk is one of those rare and talented individuals who mastered the art of playing a multitude of instruments, some he even created on his own.
This DVD showcases Kirk in three outstanding performances. Live in ‘63 & ‘67 starts out in Belgium and though it was recorded in the fall of 1963 for “Jazz Pour Tous,” it wasn’t broadcast until December of 1964. Kirk played within a quartet (and I call it that because I’m only counting bodies; if I were to count instruments, I would say that Kirk brought his orchestra) featuring bass player Guy Pendersen, drummer Daniel Humair, and Swiss- born pianist Georg Gruntz. The music seems to flow continuously with short, sharp quick edits from one band member to the next, highlighting the interaction between musicians.
Now, not only can Kirk play many instruments, he can play up to three at once. He isn’t the first artist to do this, but he is one of the masters. This kat hit every note with the sharpness of a samurai sword. It didn’t matter if he was playing his flute in “Yesterdays” or all three saxophones in “Three for the Festival” because his notes were right on and screaming. “Moon Song,” “Lover,” and “Milestones” ae also included in this set, which came on strong and ended in style.
The second of these three shows was my favorite. It was recorded for Rolando, a Dutch jazz show that took its name from one of Kirk’s compositions. The setting was a small smoky club in Amersfoort, Netherlands in October of 1963 giving the segment the feel of a live gig. You can see the patrons behind drummer Humair as the show opens from an upper balcony. Throughout the session, the video would cut to audience members during certain segments of solos or the whole band in a big full throttle jam, like in “Bag’s Groove” and “Three for the Festival.” The quartet is the same from the Belgium show and we can see why. Kirk feels comfortable these men in support. “Lover Man” and “There Will Never Be Another You” are also in this set. Once again Kirk impresses his listeners by his playing abilities.
The third show comes from the Kongsberg Jazz Festival in Norway during the summer of 1967, the Summer of Love. Here a different group backs Kirk: Ron Burton on piano, Alex Riel drums and Niels Henning Orsted-Pedersen on bass. The band is placed in front of the audience per the norm, and the camera work isn’t of the best quality, but the music is fantastic. Kirk picked “Blues for Alice,” a Charlie Parker song, to open up with and blew the crowd away. His soulful blasts of notes blended with the rhythm, giving way to a sweet jam that Bird himself would have loved.
Live in ‘63 & ‘67 showcases Kirk who has a sound all his own. A master musician who not only plays many instruments, some at the same time, but plays them all incredibly well. Oh, and did I mention that he is also blind? This man should be a hero to any young, up-and-coming jazz artists for what he has accomplished and how he took the jazz in his mind and transferred it to our ears. This is one of those finds that will catch your attention and open you up into a new sound of what jazz can be.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Ice-T is truly a household name today with his acting spots in movies and on television, not to mention his role as icon of rap music and street toughness. Live In Montreux turns back the clock to 1995 when Ice-T had two major music projects burning bright. He had his established rap career and his fledgling and very controversial heavy metal band Body Count which made headline new with its “Cop Killer” ditty. On this two-disc DVD set we get to see Ice-T in full effect as a rap hustler spitting fire and Ice as he runs down a list of some of his best-known rap tunes.
Ice-T has a sound all his own, being able to deliver his lyrics with an aggressive attack while DJ Evil E drops mellow, funky beats behind him. It’s a combination that works well and has become Ice-T’s distinct style. Ice can move and command a crowd with the best of them getting in the audience’s face at points and calling them on their lack of enthusiasm. All the while he gets his words and his point across demanding to be heard without having to say, “hey, motherfuckers, look at me.” And the word “motherfucker” is one of his often-used favorites.
The Montreux set consists of many tunes off the Power album, which has been a favorite of mine for years. Yes, the under-aged Fantasma learned a lot from the New Jersey-born, Los Angeles-bred, former gang member/ pimp/street hustler and U.S. Army soldier turned rap-world icon. I learned the art of commanding your curse words and how to use them best in certain situations. Ice-T runs through such “Power” tunes as “High Rollers,” “I’m Your Pusher,” the title track, and the always fun “Girls L.G.B.N.A.F.” “High Rollers” and “Pusher” find Evil E laying down solid beats filled with funky guitar, bass, and horns sampled from ‘60s and ‘70s funk/soul classic such as Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” and “Theme From Superfly.” And if you don’t know what “Girls L.G.B.N.A.F.” means, I’m not going to tell you. You’ve go to hear for yourself.
Other songs performed include tales of street life like his first hit “6 N The Morning” and “Peel Their Caps Back,” a violent tune about retaliation and its pointlessness as well as the autobiographical “I Ain’t New Ta This” and “That’s How I’m Living.” “Living” is a true autobiography in rhyme as Ice sets to lyrics and beats the story of his birth, upbringing, street life, military stint, and finally his climb to the top of the rap ladder.
Interesting in Ice-T’s live show is a thing he likes to call “Virtual Reality,” a bit in the show where “one minute you’re watching, the next you’re part of it.” Here Ice brings up four lads and gives them a chance to rock the mic and get the crowd moving. If they can’t, well Ice throws them back into the mob. A couple of kats do all right but the “winner” winds up making an ass out of himself and somewhat pissing off Ice and gets tossed back into the crowd.
Ice also calls on the ladies to come up and shake their “thang.” Hilarious for the fact that Ice and crew bust a move with the “bitches” before confessing that they all suck and need to get the hell off the stage. Ice then closes the set with a medley of his best-known tunes, “Original Gangster;” “New Jack Hustler” from the film New Jack City which he had a part in; and Colors, the title track from the movie of the same name.
Amusing and entertaining indeed. For seventy minutes Ice-T has the crowd in the palm of his hand and closes the show with a hint at the second half of his set: a performance with his rock/metal unit Body Count. But alas, my fiends, it is not to be as there is no performance on this disc by said unit. What makes the letdown complete is disc two’s “bonus footage” of Body Count in action. “Dis” two is packed with home movies of B.C. on stage filmed from backstage with shitty sound and bumpy shots, rounded out by behind-the-scenes home movies of Ice and B.C. making music videos for B.C. songs and messing around at Ice’s pad shooting hoops.
I was pissed at this point. The majority of the bonus footage would have been interesting if we had been shown the B.C. half of the Montreux show. Instead we get bad footage of a B.C. set from somewhere around 2003. Seriously, what the fuck is this about? Is a Body Count set coming soon with Ice-T bonus footage? I’d love to have the second half of the Ice-T set with Body Count. The Body Count live DVD should have the extras given here and this should be a single disc release. So other than disc two’s letdown Ice-T’s Live In Montreux is a good single disc by a rap master at the height of his game. Fans of all ages will enjoy seeing Ice-T perform and raise hell.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Written by Puño Estupendo
James Bond films are among my favorites. I consider myself more than a casual fan but not maniacal when it comes to the adventures of Mr. Bond on the screen. Among many highlights of these films are the opening credit sequences. At their best you get amazingly stylish visuals involving the silhouettes of naked women (which felt like I was getting away with seeing something naughty when I was a kid) matched up with fantastic theme songs. At their worst, wannabe visuals and a throwaway song.
The Best Of Bond...James Bond collects these themes and, by default, also gives you an overview on the good, the bad, and the more forgettable entries in the Bond franchise. Depending on which camp you fall into as far as who your favorite representation is, Connery or Moore, you're probably going to have a warm spot for some songs and not others. I'm a Connery man myself, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the Roger Moore films had some of the best theme songs in the series, including "Nobody Does It Better" by Carly Simon and Sir Paul's "Live and Let Die." Listening to this CD from start to finish encapsulates the entire history of Bond flicks and audibly tells you where the stinker ones are.
Just like the films with Sean Connery, the tracks get off to a great start. Stylish and of a time where the spy game seemed to be more romantic and grand in movies, the John Barry Orchestra slides in with the "James Bond Theme," using horns as lead instruments and not just the over-the-top accentuations they've gone on to become in movie scores. This sets up a great run of tracks with "From Russia With Love" to "You Only Live Twice." These songs are the template for all Bond themes, whether they know it or not. Even the newest themes still try to throw in nods to the arrangements and styles of the songs from back then. Call it an homage or a modern interpretation, there's a certain romanticism in the classic tracks that cast a huge shadow over any newer stuff.
Mirroring the films themselves, the themes start waning when the movies do. It's a noticeable decline right where Roger Moore hung it up and Timothy Dalton came on board. Moore's last film has Duran Duran's "View To A Kill" and Dalton gets A-Ha's "The Living Daylights." Ever heard an A-Ha song other than "Take On Me"? Exactly. Your ears are letting you know the franchise is slowing down right there. "Goldeneye" reflects the change from Dalton to Brosnan, better but not necessarily as good as past glories. Prefacing the last change in the role, Madonna's "Die Another Day" is a pretty sad entry in this context. It's like a last gasp, it's an all right dance song for clubs, but a fairly sad statement as a James Bond theme.
With the reinvention of the films with Casino Royale and bringing Daniel Craig on in the lead, the theme song "You Know My Name" by Soundgarden/Audioslave singer Chris Cornell reflects "Goldeneye." It's better, not the best, but it's going back in a better direction. With the internet leak of Jack White's theme for the upcoming Quantum Of Solace being even better, it kind of amazes me why they're not holding off on this CD for a minute so they can include his duet with Alicia Keys as the final track. All in all though, this is a great collection of wonderful themes, and really made me enjoy being a fan of these films.
Editor's Note: The review copy only had the music on it.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Written by Fumo VerdeOnce again Jazz Icons brings us another master of the sax, alto this time, with Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. This DVD contains two shows which only scratches the surface of the talent of this man. Adderlly didn’t come from the so-called “jazz cities” such as New York, Chicago, or St. Louis; his roots are planted in the southern state of Florida, where he honed his talents with brother Nat. As Rollins is to the tenor, Cannonball is to the alto and the spirit Adderley sure comes alive in these recordings.
Adderly plays with his sextet that includes such great musicians as a Sam Jones on bass, Yuesf Lateef on tenor sax, flute, and oboe. Brother Nat is also there on cornet along with Louis Hayes on drums and Joe Zawinul on piano. Adding these three instruments definitely gives a full body sound to what the sextet are looking for. Adderley knows how to use this fullness too. Be it big band, swing, or bebop, Adderley keeps it fresh and moving.
First show out of the box was in Lugano, Switzerland on March 24, 1963. The film looks old, like from a Jackie Gleason show but once the music starts the old-looking film just adds flavor to the project at hand. “Jessica’s Day” by Quincy Jones, originally named “Jessica’s Birthday,” opens up the show and it had me bopping about as I read through the 24-page booklet with liner notes and pictures. This show also includes “Dizzy’s Business,” “Trouble in Mind,” “Bohemia After Dark,” “Work Song,” and “Unit 7,” and of course, one of Cannonball’s most recognized tunes, “Jive Samba.” Let me not forget “Angel Eyes” where Lateef puts down his sax and picks up the flute. Coming off of a big booming jam like “Jessica’s Day”, “Angel Eyes” draws down the tempo, giving the show a softer side. “Jive Samba” follows it with its Latin flavor and quick tempo; the Swiss crowd gets into the rhythm.
The second show is in a studio, giving it that polished feel. It was in Baden-Baden, West Germany, March 22, 1963 and contained the same sextet from the former show. Adderley tells the German host while being questioned between sets that with the addition of Yuesf Lateef don’t just make them a sextet, because of the many instruments Lateef can play. They open with “Jessica’s Day” and play it with a ferocity. This is followed by “Brother John,” which starts out slow and soothing but picks up the tempo, giving Cannonball the chance to let his sax wail and weep. They close with “Jive Samba” ending the night on an up-rhythm drive. The brilliance of talent of which Adderly has brought together makes this DVD a rare treasure to unearth.
One thing I have to say or Jazz Icons, they sure know how to keep alive the great musicians of a time where most only remember the Rock ‘n’ Roll songs of the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Cannonball Adderley – Live in ‘63 is a must-own for any jazz enthusiast or lover of music. Adderley is one of jazz’s most influential players and his music will be around for years to come, starting with this DVD here.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Written by Fumo Verde
I’ve always liked Sonny Rollins so when I had the chance to Live in ’65 & ’68 I was all over it. As much as I like jazz I always feel that I don’t know enough. Pictures on album covers and bios on the Internet shed some light on the artist and how they act and react to their own tunes, but seeing them live or even on DVD as it is here, truly opens the portal between the musician and their music.
This DVD contains two shows both recorded in Denmark, the first at Tivoli Halls, Copenhagen on October 31, 1965. Rollins appears with Alan Dawson on drums and Denmark’s own Niels-Henning Orsted Pendersen on bass. “There Will Never Be Another You” is the opening number and the camera enters from behind Rollins and Dawson. This jam plays for a while and as I was reading the extensive liner notes, 23 pages worth, I learned there were three microphones set up, one in the center, then one to the left side of the stage and one on the right. Rollins likes to travel when he plays and moves about the stage walking each note to its destination. “St. Thomas” is the second jam, one of my favorites and one of Rollins’ most recognized. To me it has a carefree happy beat to it which lends my mind to daydreams of warm Caribbean seas and white sandy beaches.
I found it interesting to watch as Rollins move about the stage, his face relaxed and eyes closed, as if he was dreaming up each note before he played it. “Olea/Sonny Moon for Two” follows and then flows into “Darn That Dream.” I sat and read the liner notes while listening and if it weren’t for the crowd clapping, I wouldn’t have noticed the change in songs because I was so into the groove. This show finished out with Rollins’ tribute to his idol Lester Young. Rollins says “this song has a simple melody but it’s profound. There is so much room to do whatever you want but still come back to the melody. So it’s the abstract and the normal altogether.” Abstract it is and Rollins plays it beautifully along with Dawson and Pendersen. Did I mention that Sonny likes to move around the stage? During this jam, he actually is behind the drums and bass out of the range of the microphones, still playing; I wish I could hear what was being played.
The second show is recorded in a studio with no audience but there’s a mood lighting to help inspire the now quartet. This session was done at Radio-Television Studio 1, Copenhagen, Denmark in September of 1968. Pendersen is still on bass, and this young man plays with some of the most fluid movements I’ve seen on a stand-up bass. On the piano is the classically trained Kenny Drew and this time on drums is Albert “Tootie” Heath. The lighting makes Rollins’ sax shine and glisten like it was neon sign flashing in the night.
They open with “On Green Dolphin Street” a sweet song by Mr. Davis and Rollins and his quartet play it well as his sax calls out the note giving way to the sound of the piano and bass. “St. Thomas” is played again and this version I felt had a fullness to it because the piano gave it more of a tropical feel. There were only three tracks recorded for this session and the final one was “Four.” Here’s a song with the bebop beat and Rollins blowing out the notes like a freight train; the whole band jumps in making you feel as if you were some jazz joint in Chicago or Kansas City. This jam had me bouncing around the room as I got into the groove again.
For some folks, watching a DVD like this maybe boring, but for me and for Jazz enthusiasts alike DVDs like Sonny Rollins - Live in ‘65 & ‘68 are a real treasure. If I ever get the chance to see Rollins live I would do so, but for now this DVD will be good enough. Anyone who loves jazz and knows the talent of Sonny Rollins will totally dig these sessions.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Written by Fantasma el Rey
Hank Williams III hits hard and delivers his sixth CD with force and a loud ‘n proud rebel yell. The thirteen tracks on Damn Right Rebel Proud explore a bit more of Hank III’s dark side in a mix of his brand of traditional outlaw country and his flair for metal and punk. At times he’s viciously proud and at others H III expresses remorse for the life he embraced and the torch he willingly bares. With his head held high H III kicks out his jams and looks to please his core audience, which is divided between country stompers, mosh-pit rompers, and us psychos that dig both and get what H III is putting down.
Like other modern outlaws, H III opens the disc with a back fist flung at Nashville and particularly the Grand Ole Opry. “The Grand Ole Opry (Ain’t So Grand)” is a right cross of a song that deals with the fact that The Opry was not only hesitant to take in Waylon, Hank Jr., Johnny Cash, and Johnny Paycheck but that they still haven’t reinstated Hank Sr. after he was booted out back in the 1952. H III swings his country as he always has with a steady drum shuffle, solid stand-up bass, twangy guitars, weeping steel guitar, and racing fiddles with banjo and mandolin thrown in here and there for good measure.
Sticking to this formula are tunes with titles such as “Wild & Free,” “Me And My Friends,” and “Six Pack Of Beer.” Each paints a picture reflective of its title and “Six Pack” has the band setting the woods on fire as they burn through the song at such a speed you’d think they were being chased by the “revenooer man.” “Wild & Free” and “Me And My Friends” are anthems for being messed-up, good friends with bad company, and living “damn right and rebel proud” lifestyles, which they embrace to the fullest.
“I Wish I Knew,” “Candidate For Suicide,” and “Stoned & Alone” are fine examples of H III trying to work out his demons in song. It’s not that he doesn’t love his life; he’s just a man who knows he could do better but chooses not to. It’s a theme that many of us know well and can relate to, like it or not. “I Wish I Knew” is H III’s longing love song to a long-gone sweetheart he was wrongly mean to and has recently realized she was the best of him.
“Candidate” delves into the true inner demons of a family known for epic battles with such forces. Busted up, beaten down, anti social, and cursed, H III ponders the thought of having no more emotions and no longer hurting when he’s “riding in that hearse.” And an important note about “Candidate” is that not once does H III say that he “is” going to take his life or that the listener should; he’s simply asking himself the same questions that many of us have asked ourselves in quite, low moments. “Stoned & Alone” pretty much explains itself as H III tells of drinking alone and recalling his past of loss and misery as he drifts through the haze of being in the title’s stated condition.
“H8 Line,” “Long Hauls & Close Calls,” “3 Shades Of Black,” and “P.F.F.” are the hybrid songs that make “Damn Right Rebel Proud” stand apart from previous H III outings. The four tunes vary in theme and degree of hardcore metal/punk. He, more than anything, lets loose a darker atmosphere here than anyplace before on his straight country albums. “Long Hauls” is the jewel that showcases this blend best. H III’s vocals are sunken, distorted, and at times delivered with a shriek while the instrumentation picks up speed and cuts with a sharp metal edge. The bass slaps out of control and synchs with the drums in a train-from-hell beat and rhythm right out of the Johnny Cash songbook.
“P.F.F.” is a ten-minute romp through the hell that is H III’s daily life which apparently consist of fighting and f#*$ing. The song is dedicated to punk legend G.G. Allin who was actually in a band or two whose gothic psychobilly sound is the closest comparison to what H III has done with these four tunes. “P.F.F.” is played in three acts and switches gears to slow halfway into the fracas to give a different perspective on the familiar lyrics.
“3 Shades Of Black” finds H III alone on the instruments and vocals as he reworks “Ghost Riders In The Sky” to fit the darkness and shadows that surround and fill his music and life. A modern, dark masterpiece in the “things that go bump in the night” vein. A tune just in time for the Halloween holiday and us creepy sorts who dig this stuff the most.
Closing the CD and bringing Damn Right Rebel Proud full circle is “Working Man,” a duet with its writer Bob Wayne. It is a tough song about men working hard at rough jobs to support their families. Much like Merle Haggard’s tune of similar name, “Working Man” growls with the struggles of the working man to deal with taxes, bosses, inflation, a drink or two at day’s end as well as a child or two to support along with a wife. Those are truly the struggles and hard fight of the working man and a hell of a way for H III to close one hell of CD.
I’ve been a fan of Hank Williams III since his first recording hit the street and he never lets me down, always putting out music he knows his fans will like and now he’s gone a step beyond and combines the elements that make his live shows unique. He plays half straight country and half hard rocking, loud as thunder, fast as lightning punk. As always when you mix the two you get psychobilly, and on Damn Right Rebel Proud H III has turned out some good southern psycho. Well done, Hank!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Written by Fumo Verde
I kept hearing of this band, Tea Leaf Green, and those who know me said this was a band that I needed to hear. After six months, I was stoked to finally get a chance to listen some of this music, which people say reminds them of the Grateful Dead and the music from back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Raise Up the Tent holds true to what I’ve been told. Their weaving tales of honest adventures with amazing melodies re-opens my feelings of getting back on the open road and touring this great country of ours. This CD will definitely be in the mix when El Bicho and I hit the road again.
Since I drive a dirty black pick-up truck, the first track I hit up was “I’ve Got a Truck” and it soon became the song that I played first each time I started the disc. “I’ve got a truck with a trailer to haul/ and heart that can only be true/ I’ve scorned the love of a rich man’s daughter/ all for the love of you.” The guitar work on this track gives it a rock ‘n’ roll style of drive. The drums anchor the song while the slide guitar work touches on the blues, giving it a southern drawl, like a beautiful girl from Tennessee. This simple yet clear-cut song made me a TLG fan within the first few seconds, and the rest of Raise Up the Tent followed suit.
“Stick to the Shallows” opens with that similar slide guitar work in, but this song slows it down a bit as if we’re drifting along the mighty Mississippi. Genuine feelings come through in the lyrics. The tale reminded me of “Wharf Rat” by the Dead, not because it is a long jam, but the story of foreboding and warning reminds that life isn’t always filled with happy endings. It also reminds us to hold on to hope. As do the lyrics in “Keeping the Faith,” in which TLG lets us know no matter what keep the faith in whatever you believe in. “Slept Through Sunday” is another “keep the faith” song that has almost a gospel rock twang to it. Mixed in are bits of the blues and dramatic classical guitar solo that launches you into the heavens. “Slept Through Sunday/ found Jesus last Saturday night…” Great words blended with incredible musicianship gives this song a wonderful fun spirit with a lot of soul.
From the first song to last, Raise Up the Tent has held true to what all my friends have told me. Tea Leaf Green has that Dead sound in the vocals while the melodies redefine what bluegrass and Americana can sound like with solid melodies and riffs built around lyrics sincere and based on life. I hope this band will be around for a long time.
As I finish this review I’m listing to “Don’t Curse at the Night” because as they say “You can’t win that fight…” Okay, now this is my new favorite song off this CD. Pleasantly surprised and waiting to see Tea Leaf Green live; they can raise up a tent in my town anytime and I will pay to see them.
Monday, October 13, 2008
“He Heard, She Heard” features a Generation-X man and a Generation-Y woman providing their perspectives on important albums from their times. Selections will have had an impact either critically, commercially, or else personally.
Liz Phair and I are fellow Gen-Xers, born a few weeks and a few hundred miles apart. We were both 26 when Exile in Guyville was released in 1993. It became all the rage with critics, hitting #1 on the polls by both the Village Voice and Spin magazine. It was slightly notorious for her frank use of language and claimed to be a song-by-song response to The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., though I could never make the connections. The wide-ranging sound of indie pop/rock music had to be an oasis for females as grunge and hip hop, mainly fronted by males, dominated the airwaves. Phair wasn’t treading new ground as the Riot Grrrl movement and artists like Tori Amos before her had already begun opening doors, but she boldly busted right in with a double-album debut that screamed to be heard. The album fell out of print and is being re-released in honor of its 15th anniversary as part of her new recording deal with Dave Matthews’ ATO label, allowing me to opportunity to revisit it.
What I really enjoy about the album is how Phair puts her honest, raw emotions on display. Right away we hear in “6’1” that she loves her life “And hated you.” In Dance of the Seven Veils” she wants her fellow out of the business so bad she repeatedly threatens him with violence and death. Even with that opening, it’s still shocking to hear her explain “I ask because I'm a cunt in spring.” No matter how many times I hear it I always pause and wonder if I heard her right.
The opening lyrics on “Canary” wound be playful and sexy elsewhere. “I jump when you circle the cherry/ I sing like a good canary/ I come when called/ I come, that's all.” However the stark piano and Liz’ melancholy vocals reveal the real story taking place underneath, assuring no surprise when the chorus of “Send it up on fire/ Death before dawn” hits the listener.
“Fuck and Run” is an amazing story. It starts with the narrator waking up in a guy’s arms, repeating mistakes as she looks for a boyfriend, “The kind of guy who makes love cause he's in it.” It’s something many can identify with when looking for a relationship, but who find themselves repeating the bad patterns, like the title, as they grasp what they deny is out of reach. It’s been a long time running for the narrator who first declares this has been going on since she was 17, only to later correct the record and state this has been going on since she was 12, which is an extra punch in the gut.
“Mesmerizing” hits like a slap in the face when she declares “You said things I wouldn't say” but she reveals a universal to all in a relationship. “I wanna be mesmerizing too/…mesmerizing to you” because you want to be everything to the other person, including their sexual desire. “Flower” has Liz providing two different lines of vocals, one repeating the same verse, over odd guitar noises as she explicitly details what she wants to do in terms rarely heard in a song from either gender.
But women aren’t completely innocent as the next track “Girls! Girls! Girls” finds the narrator making it clear “I take full advantage/ Of every man I meet/ I get away almost every day/ with what the girls call…murder.” Here, Liz shows the human tendency to take for granted what we have while trying to get what we want. Then when we get it, we sometimes learn too late it wasn’t what we needed. “Johnny Sunshine” left the narrator with nothing, and in “Divorce Song” the couple continually hurt each other.
The music by Liz Phair and Brad Wood, both who produced the album, is fantastic. The sounds and moods change throughout, always keeping the music fresh and alive.
Included in this Deluxe Edition are three unreleased tracks from the recording sessions and a DVD featuring the documentary that Liz made about the album. She interviews people involved the album’s creation and release as well as peers from the Chicago music scene, but the most intriguing are the women who embraced the album when it came out who talk about what it meant to them.
When Liz Phair’s album Exile in Guyville was released, I was young. Too young to date, I don’t even think the word “sex” was a part of my vocabulary. Originally released in 1993, I have heard that this album changed the way that solo female vocalists were portrayed, giving them a voice that was not always so pretty. Recently re-released with all original songs, B-sides, and an extra DVD, Exile in Guyville is now an album that I can listen to and understand. At first, it seems dated but it grows into a necessary addition to anyone’s collection of music that appreciates the sounds, the importance and influence of early nineties music.
Exile in Guyville plays like diary entries, each song is a small tribute to different men and situations that she had found herself in. It is a simple pop-punk rock album driven by her straightforward, yet relatable lyrics and simple vocal patterns.
The first song on the album, 6’1”, sets the tone for the entire record. With a simple three-piece band, Phair strums the electric guitar and sings in a way that is not really angry, or too passionate about it, but more regretfully retrospective about the whole thing. As though she is pissed off to even be singing these things.
“Dance of the Seven Veils” has Phair singing about being a “real cunt in spring.” She is harsh, to the point and makes no apologies for it. The song then begs the question of why the relationship is not working.
“Fuck and Run” is angry from the title. But the song is a sad tale of the miserable events that happen when you break up with someone, but continue to see him after the relationship.
“Divorce Song” is a great song dedicated to those women that have tried to be friends with their lovers. Very simply, she is taking all of her mistakes and putting them to simple guitar strumming. Making a very affective call to women.
“Mesmerizing” would have to be my favorite song on the record. Here there is an amazing guitar line that beats home the words “I want to be mesmerizing to you.” The song is desperate and the music is a perfect accompaniment as the guitar lick repeats over and over.
Phair is known for her choice of language, it being brutally honest about all things feminine. But really, I took to her vulnerability and insecurity that comes across when all the instruments drop away and it is just her and her guitar. Today many women pick up their acoustic and begin strumming away about their problems, but Phair is different. There is nothing acoustic or folk about this. There is no pretty filter over her voice. She doesn’t strum her guitar gently. This is raw, selfish, and intense. It is hard at first to get into. But for anyone that enjoys simple punk rock songs and female singers, they will like this.
I may have been too young when Exile in Guyville first came out, but that does not mean I do not appreciate what it did for female artists today and understand the importance it has in music. This is an album that you must be in the mood for, but if you are feeling it, it’s perfect.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Old Crow Medicine Show pushes forward with their third release Tennessee Pusher and from what I can tell their sound remains unchanged, which is a good thing. OCMS as their known have a great sound that has roots in country, blues, and folk; blend it all together and that’s what made early rock ‘n’ roll, people. And that’s the attitude these boys who met in New York and are now based out of Nashville have. Stomping at times with a rockabilly drive and pace while at others they slow and channel an Eagles/Bob Dylan style, mix in some Hank Williams and quiet country baritone vocals, and a good, true roots sound you have.
OCMS kicks open the barn door with “Alabama High-Test” a stomping rockabilly run combining Chuck Berry music (“Too Much Monkey Business”) and Bob Dylan-framed lyrical delivery (“Subterranean Homesick Blues”). “65 south bound/ cruising with a half pound/blue lights spinning round/ better put the hammer down.” OCMS looks at the vices and addictions of the modern hillbilly through an old black-and-white lens as the tune comes across like an ol’ country tune about the downside of drinking and fast living of a bootleg runner. Guitars twang, the stand-up bass plunks heavy, drums shuffle, something called a guitjo strums happily (I’m guessing a guitar-banjo hybrid? Sounds like a banjo to me, so…) and the slide guitar wails just the way they should at this sped-up pace giving us a tune to play over and over again before moving on to the rest of the CD.
“Highway Halo” sees the boys in an Eagles/Wallflowers (yeah, Dylan’s kid’s band) mood, a solid slow rocker with a traveling “Lost Highway” nod. Traveling and wandering the highway jungles down hobo roads as the harmonica moans through out, conjuring the spirit of Dylan and Hank standing at the dusty fork in the road of life.
“The Greatest Hustler Of All” slows further as OCMS looks west to campfires, stolen hearts, and the “hustling queen” who “stands about four-foot-nine.” The guitjo and guitar pick slow and low while the harmonica slowly weeps its sorrow at the theft of one’s heart. “Methamphetamine” continues this pace as the band runs down the list of horrors brought about by the use of meth. OCMS makes these types of songs and references work where other bands have failed because the delivery of the words used drive home a point in the phrasing and use with other lyrics. Listen for yourself to see what I mean.
“Next Go ‘Round” and “Motel In Memphis” are songs that make you think in two different ways. “Next Go ‘Round” is a slow country tune that pulls at my memory the way Glen Campbell’s version of “These Days” does. Reflection and looking back at a botched past and the fact that “in this life you don’t get no second chances.” Simple yes, but set up with the right tone and feel speaks volumes. “Motel In Memphis” is a haunting track that bends your ear to the events of “a martyred man” at a Memphis motel with strong lyrics about it being more than a man that died that day.
The titled track, “Tennessee Pusher” is one that can be looked at a few different ways and from a couple of different angles. Is it about the drug, the pusher, or a forsaken love or all of thee above, and how they twist, turn, and intertwine as they head for disaster? The lyrics are printed on the CD booklet and I still wonder, a tip of the hat to a fine writing style.
The rest of the thirteen total tracks work well and are very enjoyable. OCMS has many prominent influences from those mentioned above to Johnny Cash and Gram Parsons. I’m not sure that I’ll spin the whole album over and over again but the tunes I dig most you can bet will make my frequent playlist and burn their lyrics into my mind and memory. If you don’t believe me, hit up Old Crow Medicine Show on their Myspace page to hear some of the songs on Tennessee Pusher in full, the first single off the album “Caroline” is available as is “Next Go ‘Round.”
Written by Fantasma el Rey
From the third wave of the Jazz Icons series Lionel Hampton: Live In ’58 is a jumpin’, jivin’ romp through some of the best jazz/swing by one of the best ever. By 1958 you might expect Hamp to be outdated as rock ‘n’ roll had been ripping the scene apart for just about five years but he brings his “A” game and puts on a hell of a show. Hamp leads his band with the fire and fury of a young man. Even though he is fifty, he shows that you’re never too old to swing. And Hamp would do just that, well into his later years he was still “Flying Home” with the same pace that he drove in his prime.
Recorded in Belgium, Live In ‘58 opens with “The High And The Mighty” already in progress, a slow tune that has him tapping the vibes and giving a hint of his genius. According to trumpet player Art Hoyle, Hamp would never open a show with a number like that. So combined with the fact that Hamp and company usually put on a show that would last a couple of hours (here we get fifty-eight minutes), we’re left to believe that the filmed portion of the show was only half or part of the whole. Also missing is “Flying Home,” a crowd favorite and Hamp’s biggest hit. Oh well, any footage is worth having of this musical great in action.
Hamp moves over to the piano for “Hamp’s Piano Blues” and picks up the pace as his band does the same. Things star to really jump as Hamp sits next to his regular piano man, Oscar Denard, to trade runs on the black and whites. Both display fine skill tickling the ivories but with the spotlight on Hamp we see that he has fingers like Olympic sprinters, dashing to and fro as they skip along the 88 keys. We get good solos from the sax and trumpet before Hamp heads back to the vibes with a bit of scatting and moves us into “The History Of Jazz.”
“The History Of Jazz” puts the clarinet, trumpet, and trombone up front to wail throughout. The opening is a sleepy tune that sounds a bit like “Stormy Weather” and brings the feel of a New Orleans street scene circa late 1800s/early 1900s. The “History” continues with “Hot Club Blues,” a mid-tempo blues that goes out to the hot club of Belgium and mixes traditional with modern jazz, featuring Cornelius “Pinocchio” James on vocals. “Pinocchio” has a good jazz/blues voice in the same style as Billy Eckstein but not as powerful as “Big” Joe Turner.
As “History” advances, Hamp kicks up the pace and sends us to the Dixieland Swing era with “I Found A New Baby” (which breaks down to “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing’) and begins to tear the joint down. The bass thumps hard as the drums and horns heat to a boil before Billy Mackel jumps up and swings his guitar like a zoot suiter swings a chain. Solos move from drums to sax and back to Hamp before they move on to a view of jazz to come in a “thing we call ‘The Big Chase.’”
The band continues to romp, stomp, jump, and fly as they rework Dexter Gordon’s “The Chase” complete with a sax solo that rivals the highs of Sputnik. This tune jams right up to the point where Hamp gets back on vibes and moves into “Brussels Sprouts” which is more of the same at a slightly slower pace. Hamp also makes mention of a song they played earlier that was not caught on film written by “a mad Monk.”
“Sticks Ahoy” is where Hamp shines on his tom-tom, brighter than the lighthouse at Alexandria. He performs like a circus attraction as he spins, flips, juggles, and bounces sticks off one another and the drum skin before catching the sticks behind his back. The band whips into frenzy as Hamp brings it all together sending the act to its climax and rounding out the show with a jamming run on the vibes in a piece named after his wife “Gladys.”
And that’s Lionel Hampton: Live In ’58 from Belgium. Moving with fury from just about the start and never letting up until the curtain drops is the way every show went if you believe the people who where there when it all happened.
The DVD was filmed by a fledgling TV crew and it shows in the bad cuts and odd close-ups but none of that matters as the music takes over and you get lost in the overall vibe of the show. The DVD also comes with an informative 24-page booklet containing reflections from various band members including Quincy Jones. The general history of Hamp and breakdown of the show with added facts and info, such as the titles for most of these songs were made up on the spot, make viewing more enjoyable. The booklet and DVD case are packed with photos of band members and magazine articles that featured Hamp and his boys.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Monsters Are Waiting’s new E.P. Ones And Zeros is surely not a zero in any way or on any scale. Their second major release is one that showcases a more mature sound with lead vocalist Annalee Fery at the front and driven by Andrew Clark on the bass, guitar, and organ. With six tracks and just under thirty minutes to work with Ones And Zeros is as powerful and playable as any full-length effort could have been. If anything, it leaves you wanting more.
The opening track, “Crazy Love,” picks up right where their last L.P. left off, finding the overall sound remaining unchanged. The bass is thick; guitars still jangle out catchy chords as the drums remain heavy and solid while the organ floats in and out, making itself known at key moments. The lyrics carry forward with their look at love, loneliness, sadness, and the state of mind these feelings bring with a splash of the bitters. The backing vocals are strong on “Crazy Love” giving a nod to girl groups of the ‘60s and add to the appeal of the track.
“Don’t Lie,” “It’s Endless,” and the title track keep the groove alive. “Don’t Lie” is bursting with solid drumbeats and ‘80s alternative/ Britpop guitar work again pulled from such inspiration as New Order, The Cure, and The Smiths. “Ones And Zeros” has this catchy ‘80s Britpop dance mix down perfectly; New Order bass, Smiths guitar, plunking Cure keys and a Siouxsie and Banshees atmosphere (think “Spellbound”). Not that I’m saying that Annalee sounds like Siouxsie but the attitude and vibe are there. It all comes together to make the song as enjoyable as anything those big boys and girls could have cast out.
Drawing from another ‘80s Manchester source Monsters Are Waiting do a fine cover of The Stone Roses’ “I Wanna Be Adored.” I heard them do this tune live and thought they did a fine job then and am glad they put it down for this release. It fits the whole sound and feel of the band perfectly as Annalee repeats, “I wanna, wanna be adored, adored” a few times, it’s trancelike with her sweet lulling voice. If you didn’t know the song, one could easily mistake it for an original. Annalee and company have done a fine job with the CD version of a live staple.
Closing the E.P. is “Steal The Sun,” which grooves on for six minutes as everything is on display again as the organ pumps in a ‘60s Tex Mex/girl group fashion. Annalee sounds like a sweet girl singing of naïve happy things but she really plans on taking, waking, and hating you. That’s why she’s stealing your sunshine, jackass. You somehow broke this girl’s heart and she is quietly going to get back at you. Annalee chants “love” and sings “I like you, I do/ I miss you tenderly” but she turns “in the whirlwind” and meets you after darkness to face you. An interesting song that makes you think as one can interpret the lyrics in a number of ways: jilted lover, outsider with “Just My Imagination” syndrome, or who knows what else. A great tune that moves and doesn’t seem like six minutes as you listen to the lyrics and try to figure out where they come from.
The change in the band lays in the mood and the less erratic vocal delivery of Annalee. While sticking to their alt-‘80s dance/Britpop grooves, the songs move well and the instrumentation seems tighter and more defined. Annalee keeps her vocals quiet, sweet, plaintive and moving. Missing are her high-pitched squeals and tailing off rants. On “Crazy Love” you can hear some of these vocal runs buried at the very end of the track. Annalee still soars off at times with her bitter sweetness and “Ahh-ahhs” but in its reserved form it adds to the emotion of the song and pushes them to a level higher than the first album.
Ones And Zeros is a good CD and makes me ask the question “Will a full-length outing follow soon after?” Time will tell but in the meantime I’ll have to gather a crew and head out to see Monsters are Waiting when they hit the local live spots.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Written by Fumo Verde
All right, so I just got Pass It Around from Donavon Frankenreiter. The first song I hit up was the title track, an easy groove that relaxes the mind and definitely makes you want to pass one around, but since I’m here alone, I use a bong. A little slack guitar adds the flavor of the Islands as the words lace the vibe which most surfers have, “Do what’s right for you and I’ll do what’s right for me, and just pass it around.” This song is more of a statement than a story, and one that I completely endorse, and though it is the title of this CD, it was the ninth track on the disc. This man isn’t trying to offend anyone he’s just trying to live Aloha.
It’s followed up with the final track, “Come Together.” For those of you who hate the old hippie, peace and love, tree-hugging stuff, this may not be a song for you. The dream, and I’m a realist, of everybody being cool with each other and no more wars, well, the feeling is still strong with Donavon and all I can say is, at least someone’s making the effort.
After debating about god again which did not make it to this page, I decided to start at the beginning of the disc, “Life, Love and Laughter.” My feet started tapping and I found myself bouncing about in my chair. Up beat and very happy, puts you one of those places that make you want to call up a few friends and have a shindig. Why not, with the following track it’s easy to do. A slow ‘70s disco love beat that flows like the smiles of summer on the faces of pretty girls at the beach. You’ll be busting out the bellbottoms as the funky groove hustles in. This song, “Too Much Water,” will be the next tune I’ll be singing to myself as I bebop around.
“Come With Me” is Donavon speaking truth. This is his love song and if you want to love a man like this, you have to go with him across the sea, searching for waves and good times. This is what makes him who he is and what he is going to do for in life, so follow if you want, but just remember he’s “like a stone just skipping across the sea.” Love songs like this are as simple and true as the people who sing them. The tune starts with some light strumming and plucking. His gentle, gruff voice calls out, “I cant go back/ wont do any good/ gotta live my life/ like I the way I said I would,/ gonna find myself/ in sun-filled trees/ gonna live my life/ on every breeze.”
If you want a little darker taste, then “Your Heart” proves that even Donavon has bad days. The beginning sounds like a Mariachi band is about to play, but as the song goes on I could swear I hear a hook from the song “Low Rider” by War, but slower. Wow, can low riders go any slower? As the Mariachi enters again, I picture surfing images from south of the border, with warm water, warm weather, and even warmer women. There’s even room for bongo drums on this disc and, kidz, I do love sound the bongo drums
If you have the wave-rider mindset, than this CD has your name all over it. Like Jack Johnson mixed with Jimmy Buffett? Than you have Donavon. Simple, as in down to earth and genuine, is the best way to describe Pass It Around. Good grooves with honest lyrics relating and reflecting the man who is Donavon Frankenreiter. Pick this up and pass it around.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Roy Harper and Jimmy Page unite for the second time on Jugula, a futuristic science fiction project with Harper at the helm. Page turns in some fine guitar mastery but don’t expect anything as hard rocking as his Zeppelin work. Harper runs the gamut on this album from rock to folk while displaying his lyrical and vocal talents; he even gives his son Nick a shot at showing off his guitar skills, making it a family outing. It’s a ride that I took with little knowledge of what to expect, only knowing of Harper as the guy who’s in the title of Zeppelin’s “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper” but I’m glad I took the disc off of El Bicho’s desk.
The whole album has an Orwellian tinge of warning and despair, which I dig in general. I enjoy these kinds of outings packed with interesting lyrics and driven by guitars, acoustic or electric, and both are covered here with great detail and ease by two of rock’s best. Track one is an Orwell-inspired tune, “Nineteen Forty-Eightish.” Yeah, it’s a bit in reverse but you get the idea. Harper bends his voice around the words he sings and Page’s guitar madness, adding to the whole sound and feel of the tune. Harper at times hits an odd high-pitched tone and sometime warbles but on the other hand he can be very smooth and almost operatic, lending depth to his tale of a dark future as he pours out lines such as “Welcome to my nightmare/ I’m the Father, Son, and Whole Polluted System.” Not only a look to the “future” but a sideways glance at the current world and times, then (1985, when the album was originally released) and now.
“Bad Speech” is Harper doing a quick spoken-word piece putting forth a bit of his philosophy in his own poetic way. “Hope” is a drumbeat-laden track with more good guitar work and Harper’s vocal magic and deep haunting lyrics, such as “When you look at me/ from your own century/ I may seem to be strange archeology” and “When I caught you there in tomorrow’s mirror.” All the while the guitar hits strange licks, space-odyssey keyboard trip, and other percussive instruments soar and swirl in the background, heightening the hopeful sense of flight and falling.
“Hangman,” “Elizabeth,” and “Frozen Moment” continue on the set path Harper has chosen for his tip o’ the hat to science fiction writers the world o’er. “Hangman” is the nightmare tale of a man standing on the gallows pole about to swing and “be murdered in cold blood” and when you read deeper into the lyrics, you’ll see the tune reveals more than the simple story of an execution.
“Elizabeth” is the most hard rocking this CD gets while not straying from the rest of the odd little ditties and really only taking off in intervals. Page gets to bend some notes and make his axe weep as well on this one before it ends on an odd keyboard bass, wind-chimes note. “Frozen Moment” is a quite reflective piece with its “looking back through my dreams” theme.
“Twentieth Century Man” is almost a “Hope” reprise as it has much of the same instrumentation and overall vibe but it works well as a sort of bookend to the whole science-fiction affair. The closing track, “Advertisement (Another Intentional Suicide),” is filled with odd humor. Harper sings of his member “squirting the loo” with sounds of the pub playing in the background, and on the rocking chorus he informs the listener “I’m Really Stoned.” For a twist this number has a pop feel to it much like radio hits of the day, in a stretch (and I may catch hell for this one) Harper pulls off a “Beatles meets Huey Lewis” sound which truly is oddly interesting as is the whole damn recording.
Roy Harper and Jimmy Page’s work on Jugula may be a hard pill to swallow at first but if you can make it all the way through to the very end past the laughing girl and yakking man (complete with ground splash sounds) you may find the same amused interest that I did and you may enjoy the spinning of this CD. You may also dig the lyrics the way Fantasma has or you may not like it or even hate the thing but that is for you to decide. All I know is one of these days I have to head over to Fumo’s place and listen to this one again.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Meet Glen Campbell, ladies and gents, a well-loved and respected country music artist whose career has spanned over fifty years and seventy albums. Along the way Campbell has racked up many country/pop hits that have stood the test of time and are still spun on jukeboxes today, like “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” These heartfelt songs of love and everyday working life are what have made him the beloved icon he is today. With his latest effort he has handpicked some of the best rock hits of past years and has left his warm, slightly melancholy impression on them.
The 72-year-old Campbell chose ten mid-tempo rock tunes and with his calm voice and accomplished guitar picking has interrupted them in a way that is definitely his own. Although that doesn’t mean that these ten tracks are completely re-worked just “Campbell-fied.” If you know his tunes, mentioned above, then you have the basic blueprint for this CD. There are some surprising choices but they all lend themselves well to Campbell’s style.
The disk opens with Travis’ “Sing,” which is a wonderful tune that sets the tone for the rest of the CD. Campbell’s version is almost a complete cover and not a remake. What I mean is that the song remains the same, no pun intended, as the original. The instrumentation is nearly exact; Campbell’s vocals are close as well. Tom Petty’s “Walls” and “Angel Dream” get the same sort of treatment: “Walls” has the same sweeping sound in its string section and a good, solid beat, as “Angel Dream” strikes a chord with its galloping drums and banjo-picking.
Campbell covers some major modern hits as well with U2’s “All I Want Is You” and Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life).” Both songs come across as more country sounding as “Good Riddance” adds more instruments, but too little has changed to make them truly stand out as Johnny Cash did with his American Recordings (specifically “Rusty Cage” and “Hurt”), shaking the originals into something different. The same can be said of The Replacements’ “Sadly Beautiful,” Jackson Browne’s “These Days” and John Lennon’s “Grow Old With Me.”
Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” strays from the original as Campbell’s version is not as electric guitar noisy and his vocals shine through, adding warmth to the song. “Jesus” by The Velvet Underground is the most tweaked tune on the album. It has a more spiritual feel to it as the bells and strings make it stand far from the Velvets version, giving a true country feeling as opposed to a New York City street vibe. Not that I think Lou Reed has no faith but knowing Campbell as a country boy makes it less of a satire and more an honest plea for direction.
Meet Glen Campbell is a very enjoyable CD and one I will listen to many times over, “These Days” has had the biggest effect on me and I can’t get it out of my head. Glen Campbell puts all his effort and love into these songs and it shows, yet as far as being a groundbreaking album it falls short. It is nowhere near the horror/comedy of Pat Boone doing heavy metal covers, but don’t expect Cash on American Records either. It is all Glen Campbell though, all his feeling, all his love and experience put into songs that fit very well into his repertoire, and some even sound tailor-made for him. Keep your ears open for the single “Good Riddance” on the radio, Glen’s first in many, many years.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Written by Fantasma el Rey
As System Of A Down takes a break and we all await their comeback album we have three separate projects from the four men who propelled System to hold us over. System front man Serj Tankian has his solo career, bassist Shovo Odadjian has his side band, Achozen, and guitarist Daron Malakian and drummer John Dolmayan have pushed forth with Scars On Broadway. As Serj’s solo work has him holding his roots and expanding upon them so has Scars On Broadway expanded and grown in many ways from seeds planted by System.
Scars On Broadway self-titled CD opens with “Serious” and sets the pace and tone of the album. The fifteen songs are fast and hover around the three-minute mark, hitting your ears and attacking your brain with a ferocity that will make your head spin. In what seems like no time at all, track four (“Stoner Hate”) is up and you’re still on your ass thinking what the hell has happened? Darin has said his piece and gone before you can turn the lyrics over in your mind but that’s perfectly fine because it forces you to play the songs over and over again, sorting all you’ve heard.
What sets Scars apart from System is heard right from the start as Malakian swings his metal-edged axe with a rock ‘n’ roll twist through every song. Relaxing, bending notes, and going a bit mellow on tunes like “Insane,” “Whoring Streets,” and “Babylon” while letting lose and running wild on romps like “Exploding/Reloading.” With Dolmayan behind him delivering a solid battery, the faster tracks give a running feel with repeated, sped-up chord progressions, flashy solo runs, and quick stops; Dolmayan follows Malakian closely laying down shuffling beats of thunder as well as jazz time skips.
Malakian’s vocals have matured as his songwriting skills have grown and his guitar playing expanded. This mature voice is best displayed on “Cute Machines,” where his vocals are damn near popish. At first you may think it’s a guest vocalist but he reassures us that it’s him as he raises his voice, unleashing that trademark high-pitched scream then into his wonderful soaring wail. His songwriting growth is evident in the fact that he wrote the entire album, music, and lyrics without the usual hand of Serj on either. Daron’s lyrics remain fresh, edgy, political, and concerned for the world around him while the music contains a more electronic vibe using not only keyboards but also organs and melotrons. Daron also handles the duties for all these instruments except of course the drums.
Every sound and influence works well, producing many odd gems such as “Chemicals” with its Alice In Wonderland chorus and nod to the electric weirdness of Devo. “Kill Each Other/ Live Forever” tips its hat towards latter-day Beatles songs while “3005” has a weeping, country guitar. Then there’s the funky darkness of “Enemy” that really mixes things together, opening with funky guitar licks and bass lines then moving into an almost southern rock mood and back to a steady drum driven dance beat. “Universe” keeps the funk feel as Malakian delivers his lines like a futuristic Bob Dylan and Dolmayan stomps out his rumble drums at a machine guns pace.
Scars On Broadway pull from all sorts of music fields and if you listen you can hear most of them as Malakian and Dolmayan look the direction of not only heavy metal, funk and punk heroes but ‘60s icons. It seems like it wouldn’t work but it does, and you can hear it all from Slayer-esque guitars to Arthur Lee and Love-like lyrics dealing with frustration and a world in chaos. Scars blends them well and comes out with something familiar yet completely unique, dark, moody, and intelligent. I can’t wait to hear what the sound of System’s next disk will be like with its members exploring and expanding their musical knowledge and wisdom.
Written by Tío Esqueleto
Disco is not dead. Just because a bunch of stoner (yet somehow aggressive) rockers from Chicago blew up a pile of Bee-Gees/K.C. and The Sunshine Band/Gloria Gaynor records in 1979, doesn’t necessarily make it so. Disco simply went into hiding after that. It went on vacation to Europe, spent some time hiding out in the warehouses and lofts of NYC, and in the bedrooms, house parties, and high schools of Detroit, until it eventually emerged stronger than ever, ironically and all too fittingly, right back in Chicago, a place it has called home (“House”) ever since.
Jump to 2008, Hercules And Love Affair is a collaborative effort headed by New York DJ/producer Andrew Butler, with Antony (of Antony and The Johnsons), Kim Ann Foxman, and Nomi, lending vocals and guidance along the way. This self-titled first album celebrates all things dance music, and is a travelogue through disco’s rarely chronicled, underground sabbatical.
A few tracks worth mentioning are, first off and rather appropriately, “Hercules Theme,” a sexy Donna Summer-inspired ditty, doused with sweat, laden with frantic, funky brass and dripping with intensity. The music evokes images of the sexy dancing poppies from The Wiz (you have your imagination and I have mine!), while the lyrics are a simple, repeated chant detailing the recent accolades of the would-be demi-god it was penned for.
Next, Nomi shines on “You Belong,” a love letter of sorts to Detroit’s Inner City, an outfit founded by Detroit techno pioneer Kevin Saunderson in the mid ‘80s. Insert this track anywhere in their seminal 1989 album, Paradise, and one would be hard pressed to pick out the imposter.
Songs like “Blind,” the album’s first single, and “Raise Me Up” are post cards from disco’s European vacation, in particular its prolonged stops in Italy and Germany throughout the early to mid 1980s where the music relied a bit less on the organic, and a bit more on the electronic with sequencers taking center stage, setting it apart from its American counterparts at the time. Classics such as “Magnifique” and the Italo classic, “Come On Closer” by Pineapples instantly come to mind. Throw in Antony’s vocals, which here are less his usual contempoarary Boy George croon and more like accompaniment to classic Giorgio Moroder, and the picture is complete. Had I not heard of Antony and The Johnsons first, I would have assumed this Antony was an underground God, graciously lending his voice, getting one more go-around at a hit 12”. Honestly, and I’ll say it again, all I could think was Pineapples’ “Come on Closer.”
Now would be a good time to say that while I may rely heavily on comparison and “sounds like,” by no means is it all throw back and regurgitation. It is more respect and homage then it is anything else, and, still, there is plenty of youth and originality offered here, as well. Tracks like “Iris” with vocals provided by Kim Ann Foxman and “Easy” are a nice reminder of the ‘new’ on display here, as well as the aforementioned influence and ode. The domestic CD release includes two additional tracks from 2007’s stand-alone 12”, “Classic” b/w “Roar.” Here are the two reasons why so many of us have been waiting patiently for this full-length album to finally arrive.
Hercules And Love Affair is masterfully produced by Butler and Tim Goldsworthy, cofounder (along with James Murphy) of DFA Records, making them yet another platinum addition to the DFA family. A perfect fit.
This album triumphs as a travelogue from disco’s lesser-known past, filling you in on what you missed. If you are one of the many people who naively assumed that disco died with all those smoldering “Disco Duck” records on the south side of Chicago back in 1979, you were wrong.