1/28/2013

Pride and Joy: SRV's Debut 30 Years Later

Accepting an invitation for some free studio time from Jackson Browne, the unsigned Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble (Chris Layton, drums; Tommy Shannon, drums) drove out to California in the fall of '82 to lay down their magic on tape for the first time ever. And while it was to become an important moment in rock history it surely didn't feel that way to the band at the time.

“We didn’t go out there to make a record. We just played our songs three times through, live. To us, we were just making some tapes because a cool guy said he’d give us his studio. We didn’t even bring tape. We recorded over used tape. There are old Jackson Browne songs under Texas Flood”, Layton recently told the New York Times, while reminiscing on the three decades passed since the album's debut.

A stark contrast to the mainstream pop music riding the charts and the airwaves at the time, Texas Flood, the trio's debut, was a critically-acclaimed, Gold-selling, Top 40 album that announced the arrival of a new major talent, a blazing bluesman whose love of both Hendrix and Howlin' Wolf was readily apparent. This week Epic Records will release a 30th anniversary edition, which includes a never before released October '83 King Biscuit Flower Hour concert recorded in Philly. (A vinyl box set with all 4 of the band's albums will be released later this year.)

As for the minimal amount of posthumous releases for an artist of SRV's stature, Layton is more than happy with the approach. 

“I meet young kids all the time who say, ‘My dad just turned me on to your records six months ago’. Part of me thinks it’s the same old thing, a record we made 30 years ago. But I want a new generation to hear it. To me, it’s not an effort to sell the same record to someone who’s bought it three times before. I want to sell it to the kid that’s never heard us.”

1/19/2013

Marketing Over Music. Again.

Recently the folks at HypeBot published a "lightly edited and condensed transcript" of what we feel is a quite hyperbolic and misleading interview they conducted with Jack Conte, one half of You Tube sensations Pomplamoose, in which Conte explains the band's success in terms more useful to folks interested in designing apps, selling soap or the distribution of some random assembly line product. Music? Hmm...probably not.

Then again, if you feel comfortable adopting one of their key mantras, which is that you should be "trying a million things until something works", more commonly and vulgarly known as 'throw shit on the wall until it sticks', then your ideas about creativity might actually align with theirs, particularly, "if it's not a hit, switch".

So, the folksinger thing not panning out? Try metal. Or give electronica a whirl. How 'bout jazz? Dancefloor diva, perhaps? Ugh. By the way, speaking of the triumph of style over substance...

To put it mildly, Lady GaGa has never been a saint of our devotion 'round these parts. But we probably won't be knocking her anymore. After all, we live in a world in which a talented, piano-playing, singer/songwriter has to wear a meat dress and play the 'shock value' card to get both the industry and the masses to notice her, so who's fault is that?

1/14/2013

5 Essential XTC Albums

A short while ago, the folks at esteemed British music mag Mojo picked XTC as the focus of their monthly "How to Buy..." feature, in which they list 10 of an artist's albums in order of desirability and recommend which of the aforementioned artist's records to avoid. Always on point with their opinions and suggestions, on this occasion they scored a rare miss. This is what it should've looked like had they chosen 5 albums, of course. XTC For Dummies? A quick fix? Essentials, regardless.


5. Live at the BBC 1 [Windsong-1992]
Because XTC were only a touring act for a quarter of their 20+ years as a band and their live shows were so highly regarded, the hard-to-find 1980 Live at the BBC 1 concert is an important, worthwhile addition to any XTC collection. Which is why this rare document of the band’s mesmerizing live show is listed here in lieu of a worthy studio album like, say, Apple Venus Vol.1 [Cooking Vinyl-1999].


4. Drums and Wires [Virgin-1979]
With ├╝ber 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”.


3. Black Sea [Virgin-1980]
The ‘80s would bring 3 classic albums from XTC and so 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 Terry Chambers for his always inventive but rockin’ playing—and coincided with Partridge and Moulding being on a songwriting roll. Not a bad tune in the bunch on a record 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.


2. Oranges & Lemons [Virgin-1989]
This 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.



1. Skylarking [Virgin-1986]
Mostly recorded at his Woodstock, NY facilities and sequenced and arranged as a song cycle by the great Todd RundgrenSkylarking 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.)

1/07/2013

Neil Young's Lost Gem

While preparing and researching for a commissioned piece on Neil Young's 45th anniversary as a solo artist, we came across 1973's Time Fades Away [Reprise] which, thanks to the prompt and able assistance of "5" contributor Greg Caz, we were able to review for the aforementioned piece.

A live album recorded, with one exception, between February and April of 1973, consisting of brand new material enthusiastically received by those present--a development one is unable to discern from Joe Jackson's Big World [A&M-1986], another live album of new material which purposely eschewed crowd noise/reaction--Time Fades Away is quite the rarity: a critically well-received, Top 25 album that sold more than 2 million copies, and features 2 superstars (David Crosby and Graham Nash), yet remains unreleased on CD despite no legal obstacles to impede it. (No songs from the album appear on Young's triple album retrospective Decade [Reprise-1977] either.)

But this being Neil Young you know something screwy is going on: Time Fades Away has gone unreleased in any digital format allegedly due to Young's bad memories of the tour on which the album's songs were performed. Yup, that's it. No biggie, tho, since this album has been amply bootlegged over the years, so it's not like Young's hardcore fans have been missing out, although they have been urging Young to officially release it. (It's actually quite good.)

Maybe there's a 30th anniversary version in the works. Yeah, ole Shakey is gonna re-release an album he hates and which, due to the way it was recorded, has to be mixed all over again before it can be properly remastered. Yeah. Wait--was that a pig gliding alongside the side of that skyscraper?

Coming Attractions

For the most part we don't have much beef with sequels and remakes but when it gets to the point that you have to question whether anything original AND worthwhile is being pitched, let alone approved in Hollywood...

Coming soon to a theatre near you:

The Fast and the Furious 6, Grown Ups 2, and The Hangover 3. But it's not all pointless, unnecessary sequels. Oh, no:  Jurassic Park, The Little Mermaid, and the Star Wars flicks Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith will be released in 3D. Enjoy!