12/13/2010

2010: The Year In Review (sort of)

We've been pretty disconnected from the world of pop culture this year, so this wrap up is an abridged version of what we would normally put together at this time. So, we won't be going into much deep analysis and, for the most part, just list faves from the past 12 months. Enjoy!


FAVORITE ALBUM
The Holy Fuck Latin [Young Turks]

Kick ass instrumental electronica/dance played on rock-approved instrumentation. Closest thing to a classic we've heard in a while. More, please.


Runner up:
Flying Lotus Cosmogramma [Warp]

Adventurous batch of avant garde, mostly instrumental hip hop with a touch of jazz (think Prefuse 73 but further out there). Stellar.


Notable Mentions:
Deerhunter Halcyon Digest [4AD]
Girls Album [True Panther/Matador]
Jason Moran Ten [Blue Note]
Sufjan Stevens The Age of Adz [Asthmatic Kitty]
Surfer Blood Astro Coast [Kanine]
Wavves King of the Beach [Fat Possum]

We would've enjoyed Halcyon Digest more were it not for the deliberate lo-fi production--same with the Girls record--but the songwriting is solid, for the most part; jazz pianist Moran and his trio never disappoint--Ten is no exception; The Age of Adz is an inviting and interesting electronic departure--but not a surprising one--for Stevens; Astro Coast and King of the Beach both have their fuzzy, rockin' moments of pleasure.


FAVORITE SINGLE

Those Dancing Days "Fuckarias" [Wichita]

Described as Debbie Harry fronting The Attractions, the rockin' Swedish all-female quintet--who named themselves after a Led Zeppelin song--will release their sophomore album, Daydreams and Nightmares in March 2011, but the opening salvo is no joke. (Free download here.) Oh, and kudos to the killer drummer; that chick can really play. Damn!


FAVORITE REISSUE
Weezer Death to False Metal [DGC]

The best thing Weezer's done since the self-titled "green album" [DGC-2001] is not an inspired bunch of new tunes designed to give us faith in future Weezer releases but a mere spring cleaning exercise; a collection of outtakes spanning the band's entire major label career that never made the light of day for whatever reason. However, Death to False Metal is Weezer on a roll: a 10-track, half-hour joyride for anyone who's ever enjoyed their particular brand of punk pop/power pop. Ya got more like these, Rivers?

Oh, and the folks at Pitchfork don't like it, so you know it's got to be good. heh, heh


WEIRDEST PAIRING
The Roots and Joanna Newsome

The woman with the most irritating voice in popular music teamed up with the Philadelphia groove machine on "Right On" from their album How I Got Over [Def Jam]. Thankfully, it wasn't the disaster it had the potential of becoming. Props to The Roots for actually making it work.


FAVORITE TV SHOW
The Big C [Showtime]

The always delightful--and yummy--Laura Linney stars as Cathy,
a middle-aged suburban Minnesota school teacher/housewife with terminal skin cancer, trying to make sense of her illness and how to spend her final days. And yes, it's a comedy but a tasteful one.
Also stars Oliver Platt as Cathy's clueless, impulsive, immature, but well-meaning and supportive husband. No, he's not a stock character. The Big C is so much better than that. By far.


Runner up:
HBO's The Ricky Gervais Show, the animated version of the hilarious, world famous podcast featuring The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant and the incomparable Karl Pilkington.


MOST HEADSCRATCHING DEVELOPMENT

Lady GaGa makes the Time 100 list

Sure, currently she may be one of the world's most popular artists, but influential? How exactly was that measured? Are there scores of artists copying her incredibly derivative music? Have we missed a rash of artists wearing birdcages on their heads? Maybe the folks that have been mesmerized by this amalgam of Carmen Miranda, early Madonna and Dale Bozzio, are so caught up in her bad performance art and empty tunes that they can't think straight. But Time magazine? Really?


GOODBYE
Soca king Arrow; Mr. Fast 'n' Bulbous himself, Captain Beefheart; Michael Been of The Call and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club; R&B vocalist Solomon Burke; Mr. Alex Chilton; Peter Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Coil, and the legendary graphic design firm Hipgnosis; singer, actor, and breakfast icon Jimmy Dean; Ronnie James Dio; Mike "Ace" Evans, bassist for '60s mod rockers The Action; The Knack frontman Doug Fieger; star of concert stage and screen Eddie Fisher; Pauly Fuemana of OMC (“How Bizarre”); vocalist/producer Harvey Fuqua; R&B vocalist Al Goodman (Ray, Goodman & Brown); Guru of seminal rap duo Gang Starr, and the Jazzmatazz project; '80s teen heartthrob Corey Haim; Bobby Hebb, singer-songwriter of “Sunny” fame; Mr. Dennis Hopper; the incomparable Lena Horne; original Big Star bassist Andy Hummel; reggae icon Gregory Isaacs; The Action vocalist Reg King; Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs; T Lavitz, keyboardist for The Dixie Dregs; jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln; Mark Linkous, the brains behind Sparklehorse; legendary rock photographer Jim Marshall; folk singer Kate McGarrigle; the one and only Malcolm McLaren; Sugar Minott; jazz saxophonist James Moody; singer/songwriter/guitarist Wil Owsley; the great Teddy Pendergrass; Pete Quaife, original bassist for The Kinks; garage rocker Jay Reatard; the Argentine Elvis, Sandro; P-Funk guitarist Gary Shider; Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele; Ari Up of The Slits; Tony West of The Searchers; Robert Wilson of The Gap Band; Tom "T-Bone" Wolk, 30-year bassist/collaborator with pop icons Hall & Oates.

This Bird Should Fly Again


RYAN ADAMS & THE CARDINALS
III/IV

[Lost Highway-2010]

Ah, Murphy’s Law: we knew the moment we'd post our year-end wrap up there would be an album we'd overlooked; or one released at the last minute that would rock our world but consequently not make our list of faves. This one happens to be the latter. Damn you, Ryan Adams and your Cardinals!

Considering these 22 tunes(!) are from the sessions that begat Easy Tiger [Lost Highway-2007] it’s quite baffling they’ve been shelved for the last few years, unless this was somehow tied to Adams' decision to quit the Cardinals, or the plan all along was to eventually release them at a later date. Then again, knowing as we do how prolific Adams is, and how it must be analogous to having root canal surgery for him not to share his songs with an adoring public, we shouldn't be too surprised to see them finally surface. (Lest we forget, Adams released 11 studio albums during the past decade. Yes, eleven.)

As for the current double platter itself, if you are of the faction that enjoys Adams’ alt-country leanings but have more of a hankering for his rock and roll exploits—namely, um, Rock n Roll [Lost Highway-2003] and Cardinology [Lost Highway-2008]—then Santa has just left you an early Christmas present. The head Cardinal and his mates are in full-on rock mode here and despite the common quality control pitfalls of a double album, Adams amply succeeds in putting together a batch of rockin’ tunes that may not reach the greatest of heights but do coalesce into a consistent album; arguably one of his best.

It seems utterly lame to label this double album as ‘all killer, no filler’--close enough, actually--but that’s what happens when a ridiculously good record comes your way. And III/IV does not let up. If this is truly the last we've heard from the Cardinals, their final bow has been quite the farewell.

Highlights: Plenty, but “Wasteland”, “Ultraviolet Light”, “Happy Birthday”, “No”, “Numbers” (is that the Mrs. doing harmonies, Ryan?), “Star Wars”, “My Favorite Song”, “P.S.”, and "Death and Rats" all stand out.

12/10/2010

Are We The Only Ones Who Think...

...there would be very little fuss over his musical endeavors if he didn't just happen to be Steve Martin? It's not like he's some banjo virtuoso or anything.

What We're Listening To

BRENDAN BENSON Lapalco [Star Time]
DEERHUNTER Halcyon Digest [4AD]
FLYING LOTUS Cosmogramma [Warp]
NOVA (unreleased demos 2002)
YES Tales from Topographic Oceans [Atlantic]

What are YOU listening to?

12/05/2010

From The Big Easy to Brooklyn

RED HOT + NEW ORLEANS
Brooklyn Academy of Music
12/3/2010

We’ve been carrying on a personal boycott of the Brooklyn Academy of Music—you too, Brooklyn Brewery—once we learned of their support of the nefarious Atlantic Yards project, with its usage of eminent domain for public displacement and private development.
We clearly acknowledge that our stance will make less of an impact than that of a mosquito bite, but our disgust was enough to renounce what little allegiance we may have had with the Kings County cultural institution. More importantly, you should always be able to withhold your money and support to whomever and whenever you desire, right?

Thankfully, no money changed hands when we were invited by our old friend Mr. K—who got free tickets issued specifically for him—to see the first night of Red Hot + New Orleans featuring Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Ivan Neville, Kermit Ruffins, and musical director Troy Andrews aka Trombone Shorty.

The welcoming sight of large silver beads decorating BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House gave way to a night of various NOLA sounds and talents, some of which blew the roof off the joint while a few left a bit to be desired. Dr. John and Irma Thomas’ respective performances were every bit as magical as one could’ve expected, if a tad brief.
Ivan Neville, who played keyboards throughout the evening, honored his family legacy with a rousing rendition of The Meters’ “Fire on the Bayou”; R&B singer Ledisi was a marvel to behold, wowing the audience with her killer vocal gymnastics and a fiery version of her tune “Knockin’”.

On the other hand, vocalist Marc Broussard was on the bland side, and Kermit Ruffins, who opened the show, was off key on both trumpet and voice, the latter glaringly so when he dueted with the aforementioned Ledisi on “What a Wonderful World”. That bad. Seriously.

If the star of the evening was the music of NOLA, Trombone Shorty was the spotlight. Along with his band Orleans Avenue, the 24 year old was nothing less than a seasoned pro, not only pulling together all these diverse musical strands in a fluid and coherent manner but showing off his monstrous talent and stage presence during his own portion of the show. Damn!

And yeah, they all came out on stage for the final encore: What else? “When The Saints Go Marching In”. But it wasn’t hokey. Kinda cool, actually.

11/27/2010

Jimi Lives!

James Marshall Hendrix left us 40 years ago this past September. November 27th would've been Jimi's 68th birthday, so we'd like to pay tribute to a timeless master by posting a few of his iconic tunes and personal favorites of ours. Enjoy!





11/12/2010

New Releases: Weezer


WEEZER
Death to False Metal

[DGC-2010]

The good news: You can forget about the long-awaited, deluxe reissue of the band's controversial sophomore album--a critical and commercial disappointment upon release in 1996, the shockingly pedestrian Pinkerton has got to be one of the most overrated albums ever--or their last few lackluster long-players, Death to False Metal is the best thing Weezer's done since the self-titled "green album" [DGC-2001]. Yup, that good.

The bad news: it's not an inspired bunch of new tunes designed to give us faith in future Weezer releases but a mere spring cleaning exercise; a collection of outtakes spanning the band's entire major label career that never made the light of day for whatever reason. However, that being the extent of the negative, we'll take it: Death to False Metal is Weezer on a roll; a 10-track, half-hour joyride for anyone who's ever enjoyed their particular brand of punk pop/power pop. Ya got more like these, Rivers?

Oh, and the folks at Pitchfork don't like it, so you know it's got to be good. heh, heh

Highlights: "Turning Up the Radio", with a hooky chorus the size of a house; the jaunty '60s flavored pop of "I'm A Robot"; the unapologetic grunge of "Everyone" and "Trampoline".

9/21/2010

The Kids Are Alright

Crusty old farts that we are, we’ll routinely bitch about how music was better way back when. Generally speaking, we’re right most of the time. (heh heh) But we’ve been thinking about one area where we might not be: tween/teen/teenybopper tunes. (Yes, the alliteration was on purpose.) We're not gonna get deep into it at this point—that’s what discussions are for—but we will readily choose any of the current crop: The Jonas Brothers, Taylor Swift, Teddy Geiger, Drake Bell, etc. over the biggest names of the '80s: New Kids on the Block, Menudo, Debbie Gibson, Tiffany etc. without reservation and, in fact, with extreme prejudice. Seriously.

As a matter of fact, even while not liking a particular newbie's music, we've found redeeming aspects to their music and firmly believe they are, for the most part, artists catering to a particular age group whereas the latter were simply pop product put out there to simply bilk teenage girls and not much more. Not that the new jacks aren't viewed as human cash registers, as well; we just feel there's a little more going on. After all, in their respective catalogs, none of these current kids has anything as ludicrously awful as NKOTB's "Funky, Funky Xmas".

We rest our case. What say you?

9/07/2010

Mr. Jones' Favorite TV Theme Songs

In October 1989, TVT Records released Pretty Hate Machine, the debut album by Nine Inch Nails, who at the time, were the only artist signed to their label. But TVT stood for Tee Vee Tunes, and they'd made their money by taking full advantage of Gen-X's childhood nostalgia jones during late '80s/early '90s, releasing CD comps full of theme songs from back in the day. In the spirit of that blast from the past, here's our list, in alphabetical order by TV show:

1. All in the Family
The lyrical content is full of losers (Herbert Hoover, the LaSalle car) and right-wing dogma (“welfare state”) but it’s still a fun tune.

2. Batman
One of the most universally recognized tunes and, in the right hands, pretty rockin’.

3. The Greatest American Hero
Cheesy as all get out and the textbook definition of a guilty pleasure but we're suckers for the chord changes in the “Who could it be?” section.

4. Green Acres
Pure, silly fun.

5. The Andy Griffith Show
A nice tune that just won’t go away.

6. Hung
“I’ll Be Your Man”: The Black Keys in the house!

7. I Dream of Jeannie
8. I Love Lucy
These two shows elevated the theme song to an art form. Each tune still as awesome half a century later. Props to both for having a sweet groove, as well.

9. M*A*S*H*
Liked the original but really got into this one (“Suicide is Painless”) when we heard it covered by the late, great pianist/composer Bill Evans and his trio on a 1980 posthumous release.

10. Mr. Ed
(See number 4.)

11. The Odd Couple
12. Sanford and Son
In the same class as #s 7 and 8 and very near and dear to our heart, the theme to Oscar and Felix’s adventures (written by Neil Hefti, who also wrote the Batman theme) captures that late ‘60s/early ‘70s vibe. Meanwhile, if Quincy Jones were to be remembered only for “The Streetbeater” aka the Sanford and Son theme song, he should be mighty proud.

13. Sesame Street
From its original bubblegum incarnation to covers ranging from salsa to metal, this one is still awesome.

14. The Simpsons
During the ‘80s and ‘90s shows mostly went for the jingle approach (if you changed the lyrics to, say, to the Cheers, Family Ties, or Who’s The Boss? themes to plug furniture or Campbell’s soup back then, no one would’ve noticed). The Simpsons went for the old school approach and for better or for worse adopted the tune that will immortalize Danny Elfman.

15. Welcome Back, Kotter
Brooklyn! The hijinks of Kaplan, Travolta and co. have long faded from our interest, but this tune by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian still makes us smile.

9/04/2010

So, if you wanna be a rock and roll star…or The Gospel According to Bob

Blogger, piracy apologist, former major label executive, and all-around curmudgeon Bob Lefsetz, is at it again. This time, he's got the formula for rock 'n' roll stardom. Oh, yeah. Lefsetz is high on the mountain top. (You have to scroll down a bit past his ususal rant to reach the promised land.) But, is he right? What say you?

1. Know that people are looking for music. They’re inured to listening online and on the go. More people are listening to more music than ever before.

2. Know that the money is not in music. The money is in tech, on Wall Street. It’s not about theft of recordings, it’s a change in society. Music doesn’t drive it. There’s more money in sports. You’ve got to play because you love it.

3. It takes longer than ever to truly make it. The old wave insta-stardom the major labels specialize in… Those acts never survived the hype in the eighties and nineties, why should they now? Overexposed, they’re thrown on the scrapheap in just a few years.

4. Practice makes perfect. Just because you can make music, put it up on iTunes and YouTube and…doesn’t mean anybody should listen to it, that anybody should care. Marketing means less than ever before. Hell, if you truly want to make it as a musician, you’re better off cutting the Internet cord and practicing and gigging for five years before you put your music online, where people will find it. But traction will be slow. And you might not get rich. Are you willing to sign up for this route?

5. Don’t listen to anybody with a toehold in today’s music firmament unless they’re in the live business. Everybody else is caught up in the tsunami of change and just wants you to keep the old paradigm going. They’re clueless. They’re royalty still living in the castle trying to fend off a public that’s been maligned and is joyous in tearing down old institutions by ignoring them. Yes, that’s how the impact of Top Forty wonders has declined. The public is ignoring them.

6. If you’re a fan, don’t believe anything you read in the mainstream media. Trust your friends. If you find something good, continue to tell your friends. Protest high prices. Support your favorite acts. What the old guard doesn’t understand is this is instinct, to only buy what you can afford and only promote what you like. They’ve been living beyond their means selling crap so long the whites of their eyes are brown and they’ll say anything to maintain their lifestyles. That’s not about music, but money. But now you only get money if you make it about the music.

8/27/2010

Fits of Ecstasy


[The Dukes of Swindon, l-r: Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, Dave Gregory.]

XTC
White Music [Virgin-1978]
Go 2 [Virgin-1978]
Drums and Wires [Virgin-1979]
Black Sea [Virgin-1980]
English Settlement [Virgin-1982]
Mummer [Virgin-1983]
The Big Express [Virgin-1984]
Skylarking [Virgin-1986]
Oranges & Lemons [Virgin-1989]
Nonsuch [Virgin-1992]
Apple Venus Volume 1 [Cooking Vinyl-1999]
Wasp Star: Apple Venus Volume 2 [Cooking Vinyl-2000]

It’s been 10 years since the release of the last XTC studio album—the band officially broke up in 2006 after half a decade of inactivity—so we’ve decided to look back on one of the more influential British acts you may not be familiar with. Throughout a dozen studio albums—not counting the recordings of their psychedelic alter ego The Dukes of Stratosphear—the Swindon-based group transcended their new wave beginnings to become purveyors of elaborate, sophisticated Beatles/Beach Boys styled pop, earning them major praise from such disparate artists as Blur, Peter Gabriel, Jellyfish, and Primus.

Originally a quartet, the lineup on XTC’s debut and sophomore efforts (main songwriters Andy Partridge - vocals/guitar and Colin Moulding - vocals/bass; Barry Andrews - keyboards, and Terry Chambers - drums) made a couple of herky-jerky, ska tinged, punk-influenced, Farfisa organ-inflected new wave discs of their time and place. White Music is the better of the two, exhibiting flashes of their future brilliance in “This Is Pop?” and “Statue of Liberty”. Go 2 does not fare as well yet has its moments, albeit, fleeting ones at that.

With über talented new guitarist/keyboardist Dave Gregory replacing the departed Barry Andrews, and Ultravox/Siouxie and the Banshees producer Steve Lillywhite ringleading the sessions, XTC blended the best aspects of their first two albums—namely the art-y new wave and pop sensibilities—on Drums and Wires, an impressive leap forward littered with great songs ("Helicopter", "When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty", "Ten Feet Tall", the often-covered "Scissor Man") and anchored by two stellar Colin Moulding compositions: “Life Begins at the Hop” and their first bonafide hit, “Making Plans for Nigel”.

The ‘80s would bring 3 classic albums from XTC and they started off the new decade in full swing and not wasting any time. Lillywhite returned to produce an album which is not only a timeless collection of songs but is considered by many to be the band’s best. Although Black Sea was not that dissimilar from their previous release, it packed more of a sonic wallop—much props to drummer Chambers for his always inventive but rockin’ playing—and coincided with Partridge and Moulding being on a songwriting roll. Not a bad tune in a bunch that includes the singles “Respectable Street”, “Generals and Majors”, “Towers of London” and “Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)”. If you are unfamiliar with XTC this is undoubtedly where you should start.

The band broke their annual release schedule with a double vinyl album, English Settlement, in 1982. Hugh Padgham, who’d produced The Police’s Ghost in the Machine [A&M-1981] and Synchronicity [A&M-1983]—and was Lillywhite’s engineer on the 3 previous XTC albums—was behind the boards this time and the results, once again, were top notch: singles “Senses Working Overtime” (one of their very best and a UK Top 10 hit) and “Ball and Chain”, as well as the two tracks that close out the album, “English Roundabout” and “Snowman”, are the highlights.

Despite his rank as the band’s leader Andy Partridge had always been an unwilling front man. And when a mental breakdown (due to his debilitating stage fright) ended XTC’s career as a touring band after only 9 shows on the English Settlement tour, it began a new chapter in the band’s career. Unfortunately, it meant the end of the band’s classic lineup with the departure of drummer Terry Chambers, who contributed to a few tracks on the newly studio-bound group’s next album.

No wonder Chambers left: the resulting album, Mummer, is a lackluster, same-sounding acoustic-based album that has little besides Moulding’s “Wonderland” to show for it. Without a doubt, not the most auspicious beginning for the new incarnation of XTC. On their next album, The Big Express, they tried to recapture some of that Black Sea magic, but unfortunately the songwriting just wasn’t there. “Wake Up”, “This World Over”, and “I Remember the Sun” are the best of the batch. But another XTC classic was just around the corner.

Mostly recorded at his Woodstock, NY facilities and sequenced and arranged as a song cycle by the great Todd Rundgren, Skylarking is arguably XTC’s finest moment. Lush sounding and chock full of wonderful tunes ("Summer's Cauldron", lead single "Grass", "That's Really Super, Supergirl", "Ballet for a Rainy Day", "1000 Umbrellas", "Earn Enough for Us", "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul", "Dying", "Sacrificial Bonfire"), Skylarking is widely regarded as one of the top albums of the 1980s and for damn good reason. By the way, b-side “Dear God” was added to the album when it became an unexpected college radio hit in the US, also reaching no. 15 on the Billboard Rock Album Tracks chart. “Mermaid Smiled” was later jettisoned from subsequent pressings of the album to make room for XTC’s newest US hit. (Both are included on the 2001 remaster.)

Following Chamber’s departure in 1982, XTC hired a different drummer on each album. Mr. Mister and future King Crimson sticksman—as well as avowed XTC fan—Pat Mastelotto was chosen for Oranges & Lemons, a big sounding and even more lush and psychedelic record than its predecessor, courtesy of first time producer Paul Fox.

The double album—possibly named after a line in Skylarking’s “Ballet for a Rainy Day”—is also the band’s most varied effort: stadium rock (“The Loving”), power pop (“The Mayor of Simpleton”), orchestrated ballads (“Chalkhills and Children”), touches of African highlife and other influences (“Merely a Man”, “Poor Skeleton Steps Out”, “Across this Antheap”) all inhabit Oranges & Lemons, alongside XTC’s classic songwriting (“King for a Day”, “Cynical Days”, “Pink Thing”). Far-reaching but mostly on-point, Oranges & Lemons—along with Black Sea, and Skylarking—is one of XTC’s crowning achievements.

(To promote the album, Partridge, Moulding and Gregory embarked on a two-week radio tour of the US, culminating with a live studio audience performance in Toronto for some 200 fans. They also performed “King for a Day” on TV’s Late Night with David Letterman, in June of 1989. These were XTC’s first performances in front of an audience since the short-lived English Settlement tour seven years prior.)

Was Nonsuch recorded by the alt-rock/college radio Steely Dan? Not quite, but they come close on this rather antiseptic production by the late Gus Dudgeon, best known for his work on most of Elton John’s records of the 1970s. A bit too polished and lacking in warmth, Nonsuch has some decent tunes (“My Bird Performs”, “The Smartest Monkeys”, “Rook”, “That Wave”, aborted single “Wrapped in Grey”) but suffers from the occasionally artless obtuse lyric (the aforementioned “The Smartest Monkeys” and “Books are Burning”) and a sonic sheen more akin to Dire StraitsBrothers in Arms [Warner Bros-1985] than what they’d accustomed us to in the past.

After a protracted battle with their label, Virgin Records, that saw the band go “on strike” and not release any music for more than half a decade, Partridge decided XTC’s next two albums should be a mostly acoustic, orchestral disc and a rock-oriented record, respectively.

Vehemently opposed was guitarist/keyboardist/arranger Dave Gregory, who preferred culling the best tracks for a single, and presumably more high-quality, effort. Unfortunately, the mounting tension led to Gregory’s departure during the recording of Apple Venus Volume 1, effectively ending his 20 year tenure with the band and robbing XTC’s music of a gifted sonic craftsman, whose contributions to the band’s work are immeasurable.

Partridge’s dual album plans for XTC came to fruition first in 1999 and a year later with Wasp Star: Apple Venus Vol.2. Both albums include a few gems (“I’d Like That”, “Easter Theatre”, “Harvest Festival”, “The Last Balloon”; and “You and the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful”, “Church of Women”, respectively) but Vol.2 is the significantly weaker of the two, and one can’t help but think Mr. Gregory was right in wanting both combined into one album. (We’ve made our own track listing, of course.) Gregory is definitely missed here; the absence of his instrumental and arranging skills--and the rather pedestrian material included--render Vol.2 closer to Partridge's demos than an XTC album, proper sonic fidelity aside.

In 2006, with Colin Moulding stating his disinterest in continuing to make music and unhappy with the band’s internal business dealings, XTC called it quits.


Where are they now?

Andy Partridge writes and records for TV, film, and other artists, as well as busying himself with various solo projects released on his own Ape Records label. Colin Moulding is said to have recently spoken about recording a solo album of his own, despite his previous statements regarding a lack of desire to make music. Dave Gregory is an in-demand session guitarist who not too long ago patched up his differences with Partridge and may be collaborating with his old bandmate. Barry Andrews co-founded Shreikback in 1981 and of late has collaborated with Partridge in a trio called Moonstrance. Shortly after leaving XTC, Terry Chambers moved with his wife to her native Australia where he was briefly the drummer for the band Dragon. He is no longer involved in the music business.

Aside from the above studio albums and their respective reissues there is a veritable treasure trove of compilations, box sets, demo collections, and rarities issued by Virgin, Cooking Vinyl, and the band’s own Idea Records, respectively. (Partridge has released many of his XTC demos via the Fuzzy Warbles series on Ape.) Of note, due to XTC’s relatively brief stint as a live act, is the hard-to-find 1980 Live at the BBC 1 [Windsong-1992], a worthwhile addition to any XTC collection and a rare document of the band’s mesmerizing live show.

7/26/2010

New York State of Song

We were baited by an old friend to come up with a list of songs about New York, with the caveat that they could not contain the name of our fair city in the title. However, our list is one of songs about and inspired by NYC—no, this is not some Hollywood bullshit—as well as tunes that evoke what the city is all about.

Off the top of our heads, here are ten, in alphabetical order by artist:

1. Beastie Boys
"So Whatcha Want?"

Check Your Head
[Capitol-1992]
Yeah, they can be insufferable at times—not to mention they are the patron saints of today's hipsters—but we have yet to go or host a party where this song does not make a welcome appearance at some point.

2. Freeloader
"6 Train"

Cantina Claqueur
[JSS-2005]
Scott Sinclair is a charismatic, literate, good ole boy and ladies man; he’s also a talented songwriter/guitarist who wrote this beautiful ode to his adoptive hometown.

3. Joe Jackson
"Right and Wrong"

Big World
[A&M-1986]
A cool tune written during his years as a New Yorker. Bonus point for mentioning NY baseball.

4. Billy Joel
"Big Shot"

52nd St
[Columbia-1979]
Love him, loathe him or ridicule him, Joel’s done for NYC what Springsteen did for Jersey. He's also written a couple of cool tunes about life in the city. This is one of ‘em. It rocks, too.

5. Marcy Playground
"Sex and Candy"

(self-titled album)
[Capitol-1996]
Always reminds us of the Lower East Side during the ‘90s and one of the few rock songs that oozed carnality during the so-called grunge years.

6. Nada Surf
"Blizzard of '77"

Let Go
[Barsuk-2003]
Brooklyn band reminisces about a typical NY winter occurrence and nails it. Sweet.

7. NaS
"Memory Lane (Sittin in Da Park)"

Illmatic
[Columbia-1994]
Queens in da house! Love this one…

8. Lou Reed
"Dirty Blvd."

New York

[Sire-1989]
The man who, in his songs, captured the dark side of the city like no other.

9. Talking Heads
"Mr. Jones"

Naked
[Fly/Sire-1988]
A taste of the city’s Latin vibe courtesy of this quintessential NY band. Also, our unofficial theme song. heh heh.

10. Suzanne Vega
"In the Eye"

Solitude Standing
[A&M-1987]
Before we moved to Brooklyn in the mid ‘90s Manhattan ruled our world. This song has always sounded to us like late ‘80s, downtown Manhattan at night, particularly that air of possibility and of, hopefully, good things to come.

Bonus:
Ryan Adams
"New York, New York"

Gold
[Lost Highway-2001]
Because he was cocky enough to title it after the Sinatra classic; because it’s a sweet song that will always remind us of the immediate post-Sept. 11th days. But above of all because of a refrain which comes across as one of the most poignant declarations of love ever dedicated to this city we’ve ever heard. “I still love you New York.” Yeah…

7/20/2010

Happy Birthday

Is today the most rock and roll of birthdays?

Among those celebrating are: legendary guitarist Carlos Santana (63); Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook (54); former Soundgarden/Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell (46); Pearl Jam founder/guitarist Stone Gossard (44); and hip-hop royalty Kool G Rap (42); all on July 20th.

7/19/2010

Time Capsule: Bellybutton


JELLYFISH
Bellybutton
[Charisma-1990]

Running a mere seconds under the 40-minute mark, Bellybutton, the debut album from San Francisco’s Jellyfish, is a brilliantly crafted record also known for introducing power pop fans to the likes of Jason Falkner and Roger Manning Jr., as well as their frequent collaborator (and these days, noted producer and film composer) Mr. Jon Brion.

Founded by lead-singing, stand-up drummer Andy Sturmer, and keyboardist Manning—both talented songwriters and multi-instrumentalists—the band flirted with mainstream success but disbanded soon after touring behind their sophomore album Spilt Milk [Charisma-1993]. But on their debut, the beloved '90s cult band showed off their ample melodic and instrumental gifts; their high-level songcraft to be discussed and pored over by power pop geeks for years to come.

The folks at the Trouser Press Record Guide are not easily impressed, but that didn't stop them from calling Bellybuttona pleasant—occasionally wonderfulpastiche of pop icons from the Beatles to Squeeze via 10cc, the Beach Boys and Badfinger.”
Sounds about right.

Highlights: “That Is Why”, arguably their finest moment; “The King is Half Undressed”, “She Still Loves Him”, “All I Want Is Everything”, “Baby’s Coming Back”, “Calling Sarah”.





An Open Question: Why So Long Between Albums?

A recurring topic that has once again has raised its pointy little head ‘round these parts is the length of time required for artists to release albums. Or more to the point, why it takes so long for them to do so these days.

It seems that, as the technology that makes it possible to record music and the methods of distribution become more widespread, the span between albums is quite pronounced, especially when compared to artists of the past.

Back in the day, because of how the business was run or whatever, artists released albums at a rapid pace. Just think: all of Jimi Hendrix's output was recorded between 1967-1970. Yup, three years. And in that same length of time—without touring, of course—The Beatles' discography, not counting Yellow Submarine, spans 5 studio albums from Sgt. Pepper's to Let it Be. (One of them a double album, even.) Hell, Cream released 4 studio albums in 15 months! (Yeah, there's some live tracks on there, but still...) In the three years it takes many contemporary artists to put together an album, artists of the past could build their legacies. What was going on? Pardon our ignorance, but we’re asking with all sincerity.

It wasn't just in the '60s and early-to mid '70s, though: The Police made 5 studio albums in the 5 years they were a recording act; Van Halen's "Diamond Dave era" consists of 6 albums in as many years. And while both of these acts toured their asses off, they were still able to release this much music anyway. How come?

Were they super prolific or are more current artists beholden to different circumstances? Is it a different mindset? Big money slowed them down? Has the music by major artists gone the focus group/production by committee route? Why does it take so long? Weezer released "The Green Album" and Maladroit within 364 days of each other and that was a bigger deal than the music itself.

Ideally, established artists need to continually put their work out there, as long as they believe in it. Let the chips fall where they may. If per chance it doesn't really pan out, you can always get back to work and resume where you left off. Artists need to be creating as steadily as possible. Simple as that. Perhaps marketing, or some variation thereof, has taken over a big chunk of the process. Or in certain instances, creatively speaking, the spark isn’t there. However, as much as we may not be thrilled to listen to another lukewarm release by anybody, we certainly don't advocate waiting for inspiration to strike and hoping it gives you your (next) masterpiece. That's just dangerous. What if that phenomenal work you waited to put out there turns out to be not that great AND is poorly received by the public? What does that do to an artist's confidence?

So, again, why does it take so long? Any ideas?

7/10/2010

Does Hetfield Owe Napster a Belated Apology? (theft is theft, after all)

Like Led Zeppelin before them, Metallica are influential hard rockers who ruled their respective eras...and engaged in alleged plagiarism.

The Bay Area quartet has been accused of quite a few unlawful musical approriations including their most famous song, "Enter Sandman", ever since it was released as the lead single from the band's self-titled 1991 album. It turns out another California band, Excel, has a similar sounding track, "Tapping Into the Emotional Void", on their album The Joke's On You [Rotten-1989].

While the likes of Megadeth leader and former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine acknowledge that James Hetfield and co. purloined parts of Excel's song for "Enter Sandman", Metallica have never been formally accused of plagiarism in a court of law.

But how 'bout the court of public opinion? That's where you come in...courtesy of the folks at Cracked:



So, what say you?

7/06/2010

Musicians and the Internet Magic Bullet Theory

There is never a shortage of purveyors of scams of the get-rich-quick-and-easy variety out there, preying on the gullible and desperate. And in a bad economy, they multiply like horny rabbits in captivity. Music artists are the focus of a particular variation on this theme, which has now adopted a 21st century façade: forget the record labels, the internet will make you a star and we'll show you how.

The more shameless of this lot of charlatans will sell you a treatise on achieving fame and fortune via the World Wide Web that boils down to such previously unheard of advice: Write good songs; have a nice website; join all the social networking sites, etc. Yes, of course we’re being snarky. But if, say, you bought a book on how to succeed in business and its main guidance and counsel was Work hard; don’t spend more than you make; save money, etc you’d probably report the authors to the local Better Business Bureau—after you smashed the damn thing against the wall—right?

We’re gonna give some of these folks the benefit of the doubt and assume there are those who are either truly ignorant about how things work co-existing with fiends who know better but try to pull the wool over people's eyes for personal gain.

And then you have the likes of David Byrne.

Remember how not too long ago the former Talking Head was raving about how EVERYONE should follow Radiohead's pay-what-you-want model for their In Rainbows album, only to have Thom Yorke himself explain to him that because of the British band's stature they were in a unique position to pull it off. A veteran of the music biz like Byrne should know better and not need Yorke to explain that to him. This is the kinda nonsense that furthers even more the internet single bullet theory: a cure for all obscurity and lack of exposure woes. "Hey, if David Byrne says so..."

Ugh.

So, has the internet truly changed the nature of the music business? Mostly yes, but...

You see, on the one hand, it’s true that today’s artists have a myriad of easily accessible online tools and infrastructure readily available to them. It’s also true these bring potential access to millions of would-be fans via the internet without the need for a record company to siphon off revenue. (Or conversely, fund your project.) And that, is a beautiful, revolutionary thing. But, sadly, one big factor hasn't changed: people still have to find out about you somehow. The internet hasn’t altered that part of the equation in a way that can be distilled into an easily adaptable formula for those who see it as a magical tool that can open up untold doors almost at will. Actually, in certain aspects, it may have made things more difficult for the career-aspiring artist.

In the pre-internet days you had so-called industry “gatekeepers”. And to reach them to get your record reviewed and/or get the necessary exposure was quite difficult. Truthfully, outside of a select few artists, this was nearly impossible to obtain. Now there is a motherlode of websites that write and/or talk about music, which an artist can easily contact and submit to. Who doesn’t like more options? But the public now has more choices as well. (You truly have competition now: there's a whole lot more recording artists than ever before out there vying for the public's attention.) And while it may have been practically a fantasy for an unknown, unsigned artist to get their record reviewed by, say, Rolling Stone, they now have to reach dozens of, if not more, music sites/blogs to garner the exposure they might need.

What if these folks are too busy to review and spread the good word about your lowly mp3s, anyway? You still need internet presence, so how ‘bout taking out some ads? But if you don't have the cash to spend on gaining internet presence—ads ain't free—or happen to go "viral", then what?

Ah, yes…going “viral”. What's the deal with those people that the internet has made, arguably, household names overnight? Well, "I posted my video/mp3 online and in a week I had 20,000 fans" is not that dissimilar to "I bought a $1 lottery ticket at 7-11 and now I'm rich". Yet, this aberration is used, more often than not, as a standard bearer or at least as an example to follow when it comes to online traffic for music artists.

(Interestingly, two scenarios on opposite ends of the artist development spectrum, that were commonplace during the pre-internet days of the music business, still occur on a regular basis: touring acts establishing and expanding their fanbase; and recording artists that have never played a live gig setting up shop and launching careers, regardless. Hmm...)

So if, arguably, chance is as much if not more of an influential factor than ever before in getting your music discovered, what is the true value of the internet? Well, it's undeniably a monster tool for people who already have access to a dedicated fanbase and are being sought out by a significant amount of people. What no one has a concrete, solid answer for is the question of how you get there. (And if one more smart-ass brings up Write good songs; have a nice website; join all the social networking sites, etc. as a sure-fire silver bullet to success, we’re gonna end up doing hard time and writing these blog posts from Sing-Sing.)

Bottom line: having a Facebook/Twitter/MySpace page—and videos on YouTube—is like placing your music in every Tower Records store a decade ago; it don’t mean squat how much internet presence you might have if people don’t know you exist. And how do you create awareness without bundles of cash and/or luck? (If we knew, we'd be rich—and not writing these long-ass rants, for sure.)

Try contacting those who have had any measure of success on their own in this day and age and see if you can pick their brain a bit. Ask friends how they hear about new music and what they are looking for when seeking out new artists and tunes. If you perform live, find out what will tilt club owners/bookers your way when they check out artists online and what, if anything, their patrons tell them about bands they come across on the intertubes. That's a start.

And yeah, by all means, see if you can come across some decent, rational, sensible articles and books that address the issue. But stay away from anyone who believes or tells you that simply uploading your stuff is a magic bullet. Don't let the con men tell you otherwise, let alone charge you while they do it.

7/03/2010

Colon and Blades: Fania's Dynamic Duo


WILLIE COLON presents RUBEN BLADES

Metiendo Mano!
[Fania-1977]


WILLIE COLON and RUBEN BLADES
Siembra
[Fania-1978]

Here’s a trivia question fans of Latin music the world over all know the answer to: what happened when NY-based Fania Records’ Panamanian-born, Harvard-educated, former mailroom clerk (Ruben Blades) teamed up with the label’s resident bad boy prodigy from The Bronx (Willie Colon)? Two of salsa’s all-time classic albums were born, one of which is considered, arguably, the genre’s finest moment.

Preceded by Colon's much lauded The Good, The Bad, The Ugly [Fania-1975]--featuring Blades and the departing Hector Lavoe--Metiendo Mano! has been eclipsed over the years by both its predecessor and the monster album that followed. But not only is the record a worthy document of salsa's golden era, it establishes Blades' rep as a crooner who could also narrate meditations on the downtrodden and those on the margins of society, as well as such controversial topics as colonialism and racism, both convincingly and with grace. Latin dance music didn't really tackle socio-political subject matter before, but much like born again Christian salseros Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, Blades and Colon made sure the message never got in the way of the groove.


Metiendo Mano! is regarded by many as not only a solid precursor to bigger things to come, but a salsa classic; one that plays "lean and mean, and thus light on its feet, like a welterweight boxer." How apropos. Some of the highlights include "Segun el Color", "Plantacion Adentro", "La Mora", and our personal fave "Pablo Pueblo", which in the mid '90s became the unofficial theme song to Blades' unsuccessful bid for the presidency of his native Panama.


Metiendo Mano! had its fair share of covers--5 of the 9 tracks to be exact--but Siembra, with one lone exception, was penned entirely by Blades and remains his most impressive batch of tunes. Kicking off with "Plastico", a blunt attack on empty consumerism and racial/class-related prejudice, capped off with a rallying cry for Latin American unity, the album is undoubtedly a reflection of the harsh times in which it was created. However, Siembra is rarely heavy-handed in its approach, as evidenced by the inclusion of a tender love song such as "Dime", with its joyous and infectious swing, one of the album's definitive moments. (Much props to Colon for his killer arrangements throughout.) It also happens to be home to "Pedro Navaja", a re-imagining of "Mack the Knife" as a tragic Lower East Side slice of life; it is Siembra's best known track and one of the great anthems of modern Spanish-language music.
A landmark recording universally beloved in Latin America more than 30 years after its release, Siembra is both the best-selling salsa album of all time--hovering, purportedly, in the 25 million copies range--and considered to be "one of the indisputable masterpieces of 1970s New York salsa". There are those who believe it's the salsa masterpiece. We're not inclined to disagree.

6/30/2010

RIP: Pete Quaife

Pete Quaife, original bassist for The Kinks, died on June 23rd in Denmark of kidney failure. Featured on such classic tracks as "You Really Got Me", "All Day and All of the Night", "Tired of Waiting for You", "Sunny Afternoon" and "Waterloo Sunset", Quaife was in the band from their 1963 formation to his departure in 1969.

After becoming a respected graphic artist following his tenure in The Kinks, Quaife once joined them onstage for a 1981 concert in Canada and was present for the band's 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He was 66 years old.

6/25/2010

A Baker's Dozen: Mr. Jones' Fave Singles of the '00s

Yeah, we listed our fave singles of the decade in our '00s recap,
but decided to man up and choose the top dogs. (Also, a bit of free time helped bring this list to fruition.) So, 6 months later, here they are:


13. Outkast - “Hey Ya!” (2003)

Flaming Lips channeling Prince? Whatever. "Shake it like a Polaroid picture", indeed.

12. Pearl Jam - “The Fixer” (2009)
A late-period anthemic single by a veteran band seemingly having fun for the first time. Yes, it rocks.

11. U2 - "Beautiful Day" (2000)
A breath of fresh air at the tail end of the boy band/nü metal onslaught of the late '90s. Whew!

10. Audioslave - "Cochise" (2002)
The first—and biggest—rock supergroup of the first decade of the 21st century didn't always gel, but when they did...



9. Freelance Hellraiser - "A Stroke of Genius" (2001)
The pun in this mash-up's title arrogantly but aptly nails it. Hats off to anyone who can make us like a song featuring two artists we do not care for. Brilliant.

8. Queens of the Stone Age - "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" (2000)
Before QOTSA's ZZ Top influence lost its subtlety, the band could effortlessly blend menace with melody. Wish they'd revisit that.

7. Zwan - "Honestly" (2003)
A delight for those of us who missed the classic Smashing Pumpkins sound. And like #4, it gets extra points for featuring the lovely Paz Lenchantin on bass.

6. The Raconteurs - “Steady, As She Goes” (2006)
"Find yourself a girl and settle down / live a simple life in a quiet town..." Never before did straightforward advice sound so good.



5. JLS - "Maco Jones" (2003)
Everything metal is supposed to be: a riff-heavy, hard-stomping slab of in-your-face rudeness and controversy.

4. A Perfect Circle - “Judith” (2000)
As stated before, we don't share the sentiment of the lyrics one bit, but find the song and the David Fincher-directed clip, equally intoxicating.

3. Norah Jones - "Don't Know Why" (2002)
Yeah, the not-really-jazz album which contains it has since surpassed Kind of Blue as the biggest selling jazz record of all time, but this song is indeed a most beautiful thing.

2. Weezer - “Keep Fishin” (2002)
Simply put, three minutes and five seconds of pure ear-candy bliss, with a fantastic nostalgia-ride of a video clip to match.



1. Death Cab for Cutie - "The Sound of Settling" (2003)
Short, sweet and imbued with a joyous vibe not frequently heard in their catalog.

6/22/2010

A Wizard, A True Star


TODD RUNDGREN
Runt
[Ampex-1970]
The Ballad of Todd Rundgren [Bearsville-1971]
Something/Anything? [Bearsville-1972]
A Wizard, A True Star [Bearsville-1973]
Todd [Bearsville-1974]
Initiation [Bearsville-1975]
Faithful [Bearsville-1976]
Hermit of Mink Hollow [Bearsville-1978]
Back to the Bars [Bearsville-1978]
Healing [Bearsville-1981]
The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect [Bearsville-1983]
A Cappella [Warner Bros-1985]
Nearly Human [Warner Bros-1985]
2nd Wind [Warner Bros-1991]
No World Order [Rhino/Forward-1993]
The Individualist [Digital Entertainment-1995]
Up Against It [Pony Canyon-1997]
With a Twist [Guardian-1997]
One Long Year [Artemis-2000]
Liars [Sanctuary-2004]
Arena [Hi-Fi-2008]

Since he formally began his music career with [The] Nazz in 1966, Todd Rundgren has been one of the hardest-working artists in rock and roll. Considered a genius and visionary by those permanently impressed by the monumental talent of this songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer--his many clients include Badfinger, Cheap Trick, Grand Funk, Hall & Oates, Meat Loaf, The New York Dolls, The Psychedelic Furs, Patti Smith, The Tubes, XTC--Rundgren has, however, been a bit erratic through the years: records of brilliant, prodigious genius occupy space in his catalog alongside incomprehensible, baffling, and in some cases, downright mediocre ones. Of his dozens of albums as an artist we have chosen to focus on those which bear his name and left his work with Utopia and the aforementioned Nazz, respectively, for another time.

The first 3
discs, strongly influenced by legendary songwriter Carole King, are probably the best known by casual listeners and cemented his reputation as a master of pop craft. Runt is a very promising start, in which then 22 year old Rundgren clearly shows he can hang with the big boys. He also managed to reach the Top 20 with "We Gotta Get You A Woman." In their review of the album, Rolling Stone ranked The Ballad of Todd Rundgren as "the best album Paul McCartney never made". And while that description is a tad hyperbolic it's no less thrilling a record and even better than the debut. "Bleeding" and "Chain Letter" are the mark of an accomplished guitarist and rocker, while "Wailing Wall" is a beautiful piano ballad that is among the best ever written by the man.

If you've listened to FM radio sometime in the last 40 years you are surely familiar with the biggest hit off Something/Anything?, the unforgettable rock/soul classic "Hello, It's Me". But the album to which it belongs is itself considered the top artistic and commercial achievement of Mr. Rundgren's career, ranging from power pop ("I Saw The Light") and soul ballads ("Dust in the Wind"), to pseudo show tunes ("Song of the Viking"), hard rock ("Black Maria") and everything in between. Originally released as a double album on vinyl and later re-released on 2 CDs, Rundgren played every note and sang each word over three sides, while Side 4 is a pseudo operetta involving a number of stellar musicians, including brothers Randy and Michael Brecker on trumpet and saxophone, respectively; famed guitarist Rick Derringer, and John Siomos of Frampton Comes Alive! fame, on drums. Something/Anything? is a dazzling tour de force, highly influential, and one of the crowning achievements of '70s popular music.

However, right on the verge of superstardom, Rundgren changed course and released A Wizard, A True Star, a dense, experimental, futuristic, synth-dominated album indeed, but one that still retained his gift for melody, as "International Feel", "Tic Tic Tic It Wears Off ", "Sometimes I Don't Know How To Feel", "Does Anybody Love You?", "I Don't Want to Tie You Down" and "Just One Victory" can attest to. It is notable, moreover, for its influence on artists like The Flaming Lips, Hot Chip, and MGMT.

Some 11 months later, and turning further away from his brand of pop, Rundgren released the baffling double album
Todd, confusing many of his followers and causing a conflict with his label Bearsville, which did not understand the decidedly uncommercial direction in which their golden boy was now heading.

For his sixth album, Rundgren--who by this time was under the strong influence of British prog rockers Yes--decided to ride the prog wave and got members of Utopia to accompany him on the adventure known as Initiation. Swayed by new influences ("Treatise On Fire" consists of 4 parts and lasts a total of 30 minutes) and bearing a strong spiritual motif in its lyrics, the album is the starting point for the music he would make with Utopia for more than a decade.

The first half of Faithful is almost identical reinterpretations of songs by The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, and The Yardbirds released around 1966, the year
Rundgren launched his career. While impressive in theory, the execution leaves much to be desired, as there is very little of his own stamp throughout. The second half, however, is comprised of his own songs, including "Love of the Common Man", "Cliché" and "(The Verb) To Love".

In 1978, following the breakup of a long romantic relationship, Rundgren returned to the pop of his first three albums, with The Hermit of Mink Hollow turning out to be one of his very best. This is where the monumental "Can We Still Be Friends?" resides. At the end of the year, with his label clamoring for a best-of package, Rundgren agrees somewhat: Back to the Bars is a double live album that includes many of his great songs recorded over 3 different shows.

The last two albums for Bearsville, Healing and The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect, could not be more different: the former is somewhat experimental, but slightly subdued and imbued with a prominent spiritual sensibility; the latter, a grab bag/clearing house of sorts, which is home to arguably the man's second best known song: the insufferable "Bang on the Drum All Day". (The
Healing re-issue includes the non-album single "Time Heals", its video among the first to air on MTV.)

Rejected by Bearsville but released by Warner Brothers, A Capella is exactly what its title describes: Rundgren created an entire album using only his voice. An impressive demonstration of his undeniable talent, no doubt, but not much else there. Recorded live in the studio with a full band, on Nearly Human he returned to the soul music he'd always loved and occasionally explored, yielding a positive response from both fans and critics alike. 2nd Wind, the last of his 3 albums for Warner Brothers, was recorded in the same way as the previous one, but failed to garner the same type of reaction from either camp.

It seems ironic that an acclaimed producer could release albums of questionable, demo-sounding fidelity as Rundgren has in recent years. But even sadder still, is the equally lackluster songwriting. Worth taking into account are two exceptions: With a Twist, a collection of many Rundgren favorites ("I Saw The Light", "Hello, It's Me", "Can We Still Be Friends?"), a Marvin Gaye cover ("I Want You") and a better version of "Influenza" (originally on The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect), convincingly recast as lounge tunes ("Hello, It's Me" is reworked to sound closer to the original, inferior Nazz version); and Liars, a solid electronica record whose highlights include "Future" and "Past", among others.

6/21/2010


JOHNNY PACHECO
El Maestro
[Fania-1975]


In 1963, producer/musician Johnny Pacheco founded the legendary Fania label in New York City, not only becoming one of the pioneering forces behind the emergence of salsa, but also irrevocably altering the Afro-Cuban musical landscape forever. Regarded by many as the Latino equivalent to Motown, Fania gave us, among many, many others, the likes of Ruben Blades, Willie Colon, Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe, and of course The Fania All-Stars. (The latter's Live at Yankee Stadium was included in the list of recordings preserved in the United States National Recording Registry.) As it took hold of the burgeoning salsa scene, the label's music became an inescapable part of the fabric of Latino New York for decades and established deep roots all over the Spanish-speaking world.

The Dominican-born, New York-reared Pacheco always had a keen eye for discovering and nurturing talent, so when it came time to assemble a solid lineup for his own records, it was practically a given that the level of musicianship would be off the charts. On El Maestro his fluid and enticing arrangements, the incomparable voice of Hector Casanova, and Papo Lucca's tasty piano grooves and licks, are just a few of the elements that make this album a timeless classic. As the kids say, this is the shit. Go buy it. Now.

Highlights: "Las Muchachas", "El Chivo", "Préstame los Guantes", "Yo Quiero Una Mujer", "Yo No Parlevu France".

6/11/2010


OASIS
Time Flies...1994-2009

[Big Brother/Sony]


Say what you will about Oasis, but the Manchester quintet went out on top. Granted, when their demise came about, after 15 years of scandals, sackings and spectacular sibling rivalry--pardon the alliteration--they were not the once heralded Brit pop saviors of the mid-to late '90s; a band whose 1996 appearance at Knebworth was the fastest selling ticket in British concert history. Yet, this group of veterans still retained a numerous, loyal international fan base and their swansong was actually one of the finest albums in their catalog.

Promoted as a celebration of that decade and a half of music making, the 2-CD set Time Flies includes every one of Oasis' UK singles, plus US hit "Champagne Supernova", 27 tracks in all. Great, right? Not quite. We could bitch about the lack of a chronological order but that's a highly subjective matter and we've got bigger fish to fry here. Namely, the absence of important pieces of the musical puzzle that was the band's output.

One of the things that made Oasis great was not how good their best songs were but how many outstanding ones there happened to be. And a sizable portion of those were throwaway b-sides and album tracks. So many in fact, that when The Masterplan collection was released to remedy that situation in 1998, it's appearance as a single disc was deemed a disappointment by those who argued that appreciation of Noel Gallagher's prolific output was shortchanged by not making it a two disc set. That feeling has returned.

Unfortunately, none of those brilliant b-sides and album tracks are to be found here. So if you are looking for a sprawling recap of the Oasis catalog, this is not the place. (The deluxe edition of Time Flies doesn't help in that regard, although it does include an extra CD with a London concert from the summer of 2009, and a DVD with every single one of the band's video clips.) However, as an entry level document for experiencing the magic the Gallagher brothers and assorted co-horts frequently made, Time Flies is a more than apt introduction. But one can't help feel like this is a missed opportunity to properly tell the story of a band that put their Beatles fixations to good use, and along the way helped bring back guitar-based pop music to the top of the British charts. It's not enough, some might say.

Track listing:

Disc 1

1. Supersonic
2. Roll With It
3. Live Forever
4. Wonderwall
5. Stop Crying Your Heart Out
6. Cigarettes & Alcohol
7. Songbird
8. Don't Look Back In Anger
9. The Hindu Times
10. Stand By Me
11. Lord Don't Slow Me Down
12. Shakermaker
13. All Around The World

Disc 2

1. Champagne Supernova
2. Some Might Say
3. The Importance of Being Idle
4. D'You Know What I Mean?
5. Lyla
6. Let There Be Love
7. Go Let It Out
8. Who Feels Love?
9. Little By Little
10. The Shock Of The Lightning
11. She Is Love
12. Whatever
13. I'm Outta Time
14. Falling Down