Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hunted, cheated, battered and bleeding. What did I ever do to you?

I sometimes wonder if my personal preference for an artist's past body of work makes me put a more favorable spin on their latter day sins.

I should hope not. And I don't think it's so -- I mean, I'll always look at any new Paul McCartney album with a harshly critical eye, and while I don't think We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is the worst thing Modest Mouse ever did, the addition of Johnny Marr didn't really make me a fan. I'd prefer another Electronic album, but... whatever. I can also be tough on Ocean Colour Scene, but as I've said before... hardcore OCS fans are allowed to be...

But I raise this theoretical question because it seems like I really found myself in a minority when John Squire released his first solo album, Time Changes Everything in 2002 and I said I liked it. Six years later, I still like it. I don't think it's the greatest thing ever and is hardly a patch on the Stone Roses' debut, but... I also still seem to be the only guy besides the dude who put together the John Squire Unofficial website that will admit to digging it.

Sure, the argument is there that I could be an apologist -- you ask me what the greatest guitar solo ever is, and I'll say, "I don't know, but John Squire played it" and then refer you to the toss up between the solo in "She Bangs the Drums" and the extended outro of "Waterfall." I'm not a big guitar solo dude. I like melody and harmony, but those two pieces of fretwork always blow me away. Probably because they sound more like someone figured out how to play a sunny day on a guitar instead of just taking a few bars to showoff.

But even though I also love Second Coming, I'm aware of its faults. And Squire's coke problem was probably as much a reason for the Roses demise as Brown's preference for years-long marijuana-fuelled chill out sessions. And the way Squire left the band was kind of uncool. And the Seahorses were pretty grossly overindulgent with too few tunes to back up the bravado.

But can we really write off Time Changes Everything because of Squire's voice? I think not, and in this blog's proud tradition of reevaluating albums that were hardly given a first chance, today we put Squire's solo debut back on the talking point.

John Squire
Time Changes Everything
North Country, 2002

01. Joe Louis
02. I Miss You
03. Shine a Little Light
04. Time Changes Everything
05. Welcome to the Valley
06. 15 Days
07. Transatlantic Near Death Experience
08. All I Really Want
09. Strange Feeling
10. Sophia

Before we get into the oft-unfulfilling guts of the album, let's travel back in time to early 2002 for a second, shall we? Sentimentality for Madchester is at an all time high thanks to the hot new British film "24 Hour Party People" which follows the story of Tony Wilson and Factory Records, introduces a whole new generation to Joy Division, New Order and the Happy Mondays and even proves to get a strong cult following in America, where British cinema that ISN'T "Trainspotting" or "The Full Monty" usually falls flat.

In England, Stone Roses sentimentality is running high as every "best albums" poll that a British music-related magazine can (and do... too often) run is putting the Roses eponymous debut in the Top 3 of all time, if not at #1 (which is where it often places). The likes of Mojo and Q are running retrospectives on the Roses rise and demise, asking the where are they now questions of John Squire and Reni and asking louder than ever about a reunion possibility.

Mani, of course, is earning his keep as Primal Scream's bassist, and Ian Brown -- the dude everyone had pegged to fall on his face after the Roses breakup in 1996 -- is off the back of Music of the Spheres, which has produced yet ANOTHER hit single for arguably the most famous frontman that really never could sing, "F.E.A.R."

But aside from a halfhearted attempt to get back into music, Reni (the one Rose that really could sing... and also drum like no one before or since) continues to be MIA.

And Squire? Well... everyone expected the world of Squire. Leaving the Roses by fax, starting a new band that was an anagram for HE HATES ROSES, picking a busker off the street to be his new band's lead singer and... f*cking that all up entirely, karmic "just desserts" seemed to be the way most fans felt about the Seahorses floundering attempt at Britpop superstardom.

After that, Squire was rumored to be part of a band with products of the most recent Verve breakup, Simon Jones and Simon Tong, but that never fleshed out, and although putting ads out for musicians for a new project in the NME, Squire seemed to disappear into that territory that his former drummer inhabited.

So when the Roses revisionism started to hit its fever pitch and John Squire comes out with his first solo album, featuring -- mind you -- a Pollack-ed cow skull on the cover, lyrical allusions to his former band and former singer and a voice that was his and not some dude pulled from in front of a megastore, there was fair reason to be excited. And Squire played up to it.

Just one thing -- no one had ever heard him sing.

Imagine Bob Dylan doing a John Lennon impression with laryngitis... and you start to get the idea. It's not William Hung-off key crap, it's just also, not wholly pleasurable. It's an acquired taste and the fact that you can find as many people that disavow any Dylan music because of his voice alone as you will Dylan worshippers didn't work in his favor.

And it makes for a jarring first listen. It's almost kind of tragic, really. I remember returning to my dorm room sophomore year at Marquette to see the album had arrived, excitedly running up to my room, pronouncing to my roommate Steve that the new John Squire had arrived (Steve didn't have a f*cking clue who I was talking about) and turning the volume WAY up.

And at first, there's no reason not to throw your fist in the air. The tumbling intro of "Joe Louis" is some kind of rock and roll euphoria that even made Steve pull his attention away from his computer for a few seconds and go, "Oh, this is cool." Then the vocals kicked in and Steve got a look on his face not too far from the one Tom Hanks made in "Big" the first time he tried caviar.

As non-vocally prejudiced as anyone can claim to be, the fact of the matter is that it's hard to look past Squire's vocals. They're high in the mix and they're undoubtedly distracting from the great musical backdrop that's being painted behind them. So if you don't like them or can't grow to tolerate them, it will be a breaking point for you. Many, of course, would find it ironic that Squire cited Ian Brown's never-really-there-yet-still-diminishing vocal ability as a cheif reason for faxing the Roses his resignation.

But like caviar, Squire's voice can prove to be an acquired taste, and if you're able to, then the album gets interesting. An olive branch is held out to Ian Brown very cautiously in "I Miss You" and Squire knew exactly what he was doing by using the lyrics to "Fools Gold" as his jumping off point for "15 Days." The problem is that neither song is anywhere near as good as anything the Roses did.

Since most journalists were quickest to cite those songs and start speculation of impending reunion, people can be forgiven for skipping right over to those two, being unimpressed and promptly heading down to CD Exchange.

But six years on, "Shine a Little Light" still knocks me over the way it did the first time I listened to it with wide-eyed wonderment. Listen not only to the vivid, one-great-line-after-another lyric, but the electric guitar that weaves throughout. The "Through the long nights that followed..." bridge with it's doubled guitar/"doo doo doo" backing vocal is as good a musical concoction as ANYTHING he'd done and his simple, straightforward delivery really worked for his singing voice. If there's one reason to give the album another spin, it's this song, since it was befuddlingly never put out as a single.

Elsewhere, "All I Really Want" and "Sophia" are earnest love songs that might border on being trite, but get away on good faith, if not a bit of charm. The title track and "Strange Feeling" also have their intriguing bits, but they never really percolate to a level that will hold your attention. And despite a cool title, "Transatlantic Near Death Experience" really offers nothing more.

As a first solo album, it was underwhelming -- even I, a Squire fan will admit that. But it has a lot more moments peppered throughout than it was ever given credit for, and probably ever will be. His 2004 follow-up, Marshall's House was a lot better as a whole, but coupling a pompous idea (basing every song off an Edward Hopper painting) with another LP full of THAT voice didn't appeal to even the most die hard Roses fans and since then, Squire's focused full time on painting.

It's too bad, really. Not only because we've lost that guitar, but also because in spite of not having the best pipes ever to come out of Manchester, he's always had formidable songwriting chops. Listen to "Joe Louis." I mean, really. Take it in. It's actually a pretty great f*cking song.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Throw my troubles out the door, I don't need them anymore.

Bob Dylan UnderCover
Case 5, Ann Peebles

Ann Peebles - Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You

This Dylan cover is pulled from a 2005 "experimental" soul album that was supposed to be called Meeting on Mission Street, but when Hurricane Katrina hit the coast that August, it was revised as a benefit album and released under the title I Believe To My Soul: Sessions 01. More sessions were promised, but they have yet to materialize.

Still, if the album was a one-off deal, it's a hell of a find. The idea was to record a soul album in the classic sense -- live band, straight up performances -- no fancy computerized enhancements or synthesized parts, and leading up the session band would be five soul legends: Allen Toussaint, Ann Peebles, Billy Preston, Irma Thomas and Mavis Staples. Each artist gets a few tracks to themselves, but Toussaint actually acts as bandleader and plays piano on each cut. Recorded over just five days in June 2005, the results are absolutely stunning.

Peebles contributed an original and this cover, which ol' Bob originally put on his 1969 country-tinged album, Nashville Skyline. Dylan's original is certainly pleasant enough -- with Bob affecting his voice from the trademark wheeze to something of a bit more rounder, if also more comical country twang sound and his backing band thumping out a nice little musical backdrop.

But Peebles and Co. turn this thing into a solid little soul groove -- tapping right into the song's passionate core and riding it out for the duration of the tune. If Bob's version says, "Gee golly, it'll be nice to crash with you tonight," Ann's version says, "I've waited for this night my whole life." She doesn't say it with any undue vocal gymnastics (a la Mariah Carey) or unnecessary flash -- she just gives a simple enough delivery of a stellar little set of lyrics.

Easily one of my all time favorite Dylan covers.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

You know I would if I only could.

Continuing on with Ronnie Lane month here (which is nearing its close already), I thought I'd offer up a rare little gem from 1976.

Bicentennial celebrations and massive Wings tour weren't the only things transpiring on planet Earth in '76 -- for it was also the year that the Small Faces decided to try and get back together, based on the rerelease and success of their 1968 single "Itchycoo Park." Though the reunion produced two rather crappy promo videos featuring Marriott, Lane, McLagan and Jones of 1976 miming to the stuff they'd created eight years prior, Lane decided to walk shortly thereafter, and the other three drafted in Jimmy McColloch and Rick Wills and released two new albums as the Small Faces... kind of blasphemous, but there you go.

Despite the snub to his mates, Lane held no bars about injecting some Small Faces material into his shows with Slim Chance, and even took up the Small Faces first #1 hit, "All or Nothing." Kind of a big deal, because it was a Marriott-led track and few people are able to tap the amount of soul he could put into a vocal. Ronnie, of course, was a fine vocalist, but certainly nothing of Marriott's stature -- it's actually why Rod Stewart got drafted into the Faces, but Ronnie delivers a rather affecting vocal here.

Ronnie Lane - All or Nothing (live)

And here are the Small Faces performing the original on the Morecambe and Wise show in 1966. Always funny to think that Marriott got this song passed the prudish BBC censorship board -- the song is really just saying "Look, if we don't have sex, I'm outta here." But of course, it's said much nicer.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Sadness is a barnacle clinging to your bright boat.

Well I'm very excited because tonight I will be seeing the Kids in the Hall live for the first time.

They came through Milwaukee when I first started my time at Marquette, and my roommate Tom and I always lamented our decision not to attend that show (college finances are always so fickle), not only because we missed seeing one of our very favorite comedic troupes, but also because it's not like the Kids in the Hall reunite and tour that frequently.

Thankfully, they're offering Madison two performances tonight.

What better way to spend a Friday on this blog, then, by perusing some of the Kids' finest musical moments... Bruce McColloch always seemed to have the most musical leanings, so he features pretty heavily here, but that's not to say he's my favorite.

That's Kevin. But if you ask me tomorrow it might be Mark. Or Scott. Or Bruce. Or maybe even Dave...

"The Daves I Know"
How cool were Tom & I in college? We once spent an entire shift on our Facilities Services job singing this and analyzing why it was so funny, e.g. "Did you see Dave Foley in there at the end?" Yes of course we did. We'd both watched it a million times...

"The Terrier Song"
"Bass solo!"

"Ode to the Bass Player"
Proof that Kevin McDonald really can make anything hysterical just by being involved.

"A Thousand Dollars"
The first time I saw this, I laughed for about three straight hours.

"Off Swingin'"
Something about the way "Hey! Man! This is the best looking man in the world!" is delivered makes this arguably the funniest thing in the world. And the song is REALLY great.

Okay, compose yourselves...

For today's MP3 download, I think it's only appropriate that we use Death Lurks, um... radical change of direction... when their lead singer Grivo got all hopped up on Gleemonex...

Death Lurks - Happiness Pie
From the Brain Candy soundtrack.

And hey, why not add the video? "Ba ba ba ba ba ba!"

The Kids talking about one of their more popular fans, Kurt Cobain...


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Where I've been and where I'm going.

In honor of Ronnie Lane (and for the first time this month) let's take a look at a Ronnie song that's not a tribute version.

An exact history of "Only You" is not known -- although its first emergence during the sessions with Pete Townshend for the fantastic Rough Mix album would suggest that it was probably written sometime in 1976 or 1977 as it had not made any of his three solo albums from 1973 to 1976 and certainly was a strong enough song to compete with the stuff that had.

Then again, it's a song of a completely different style than the heavy folk leanings of Anymore for Anymore, Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance and One For the Road. While swiping the title of the Platters' 1955 hit, Lane also wrote a song based heavily on the primitive R&B leanings on the era -- a song, basically, that wouldn't have sounded out of place as a slow number at the Enchantment Under the Sea school dance or something.

Running with the thought that it was composed in 1976 or 1977 makes analyzing the song all the more interesting. Though none of Lane's solo albums were able to generate any income for their author, Lane never minded too much as he was so engrossed in his gypsy lifestyle with his wife Kate on a Welsh farm that the bothers of both finances and and the corporate side of the music business was the last thing Ronnie wanted anything to do with.

But try as people might to remain salt of the Earth and unfettered by money and possessions, the fact is we all need a bit of dosh to get through the days eventually. Despite the fantasy, Ronnie was quite aware that he wasn't a born farmer and the only means of income he could rely on were based on his musical abilities. Thus an ill-conceived Small Faces reunion to try and snag a few thousand pounds on the resurgence of "Itchycoo Park" was bought into and then quickly aborted, and Ronnie realized he still had to find something to make ends meet.

Thankfully, he had friends like Pete Townshend interested in making financially viable records. Unfortunately, Pete wasn't interested in writing together and splitting publishing, so while Rough Mix is a great balance of Townshend and Lane originals, the whole spirit of camaraderie and collaboration has a question mark over it. Although Glyn Johns called the album the best thing he'd ever worked on, audiences didn't embrace it in any big way and another Lane album met with critical success, but commercially... well, not so much.

Within two years, Lane would lose the farm and his wife, fall into the dregs of multiple sclerosis and curse his luck for a few years until making one more go at music -- if only in the performing circuit -- around Texas in the 1980s.

All that in mind, it might be overly romantic to think of "Only You" as a longing sigh for the past -- not only musically but also lyrically in terms of health, wealth and women. On the surface, sure, it's just a break up song, but standing alongside the rest of Lane's catalogue, the "c'est la vie" attitude that spills over on most of his other recordings is conspicuously absent on "Only You." Thankfully, the beauty isn't.

As previously stated, Ronnie made a go with the song during the Rough Mix sessions, which Pete Townshend finally got around to putting out with the remastered version of the album he put out in 2006. It absolutely floors me that this never made the album. It's just as solid as anything the two of them actually put on the album, and while vocally there are some shortcomings (obviously this was just a first pass or guide vocal), there's also still a hell of a lot of soul pouring out of Ronnie's passing attempt. AND LISTEN TO THAT ORGAN!

Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane - Only You

But the song was canned, which left it as a viable candidate for Ronnie's final solo album proper, 1980's See Me. Ronnie rerecorded the song for the album, taking away the muscle that the organ and thick bassline provided on the Rough Mix version in exchange for an airy, retro feel, complete with 1950s-style backing vocals, and for the first and only (time) I believe, Lane himself actually on drums. The intro's a little off, but listening to it, Ronnie's not too bad a drummer. Mel Collins also adds a beautiful bit of saxophone to proceedings.

Ronnie Lane - Only You

I think I prefer the Rough Mix outtake, but the version that ended up on See Me is not without its charms. Your thoughts?


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How many men have stood like I am?

Is it unfair to ask aged legends to lend their talents to a track and expect a masterpiece?

I think it is unfair to expect anything, really, but I hate how seldom it is that pairings that sound brilliant actually end up brilliant. I think the ultimate case to be made for this is Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney's "duet" on Wilson's 2004 album Gettin' In Over My Head, "A Friend Like You." They didn't even write the song together, and if you haven't heard it yet... here's my summation. A somewhat cool music backdrop with Brian Wilson singing lyrics that sound like they were plucked from a children's book and Paul McCartney adding "A friend like you! A friend like you!" like the good-good-cheerio British friend we all need in our lives. Considering you got the minds of "God Only Knows" and "For No One" merging, I don't think it's out of line to hope for more.

Now there's this kind of unspoken thing about criticizing Brian Wilson -- all the dude's been through with drugs and advantageous headshrinkers, but he did complete SMiLE, and yeah, the bulk of it was written back in 1967, but... if he's going to be putting out stuff of that caliber today, I don't think we can so easily pardon a dud like Gettin' Over My Head.

I don't think anyone expects another Pet Sounds out of Brian, but there is a train of thought that reasons that whatever chemical alterations have transpired in the last 40-odd years, it's still the same brain in that cranium.

Maybe that's what Richard Ashcroft was thinking when he asked Brian to lend his talents to "Nature is the Law," the closing track on his 2002 album, Human Conditions. The pairing of Ashcroft, who kind of predicated his solo work with the Verve's Urban Hymns and went for more layered vocal and symphonic textures on albums thereafter, with Brian Wilson seemed like a brilliant idea...

Richard Ashcroft - Nature is the Law
And there's the result. Now it's not bad, but I wonder if even Richard was thinking, "All Brian f*cking Wilson gives me is a lot of layered 'Ah-ah-ahhhs'?" Granted, Richard didn't give him a lot to work with. While Ashcroft's the kind of guy that can compose symphonies over two or three chords, Wilson's a little more complicated. Have you ever seen the chord figures and changes in "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times"? So part of me thinks that while Richard might've been going "This is it?" Brian might've also come in, heard the song, and said the same damn thing himself. Obviously they both try to make it sound epic, but it's funny how when you try hard to make something sound epic, it sounds more like you're trying to make it epic than it actually does epic. Anyway, I guess the lesson is, don't hand off any old doodle to Brian Wilson and expect a Mona Lisa. However much you think you should.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

There is only one thing in this world that I can't understand -- that's a girl.

Well the due dates on monthly bills are quickly approaching, which means April will soon be over (though lord knows I'll stretch this week as long as possible to make those payments), and we must get to the last of our monthly series, the Fantastic 45's.

Today we look at a 7-incher from my favorite year in Rock and Roll history, 1966, and one of the greatest bands in Rock and Roll history, the Rolling Stones.

If you look at most of the British Invasion groups of the 1960s, it's kind of uncanny how all of them seemed to hit a real stride in '66 -- the Beatles with Revolver and the "Paperback Writer"/Rain" single, the Stones with Aftermath, the Kinks with Face to Face and the "Dead End Street"/"Big Black Smoke" single, the Small Faces with both "All or Nothing" and "My Mind's Eye"... it goes on and on. Even on these shores, the Beach Boys did Pet Sounds, Wilson Pickett's The Exciting Wilson Pickett came out, Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." It was really R&B's last resolute stand before LSD and psychedelia overtook everything. Not to say there wasn't any of it going on in 1966 -- it just wasn't all encompassing like it would be a year later.

It was also an era in which British bands especially perfected the art of standalone singles to compliment equally fantastic albums, and American labels continually f*cked with tracklistings of albums in ploys to sell the most albums. To this day, Beatle enthusiasts from both sides of the Atlantic will argue which version of Rubber Soul is better or if Magical Mystery Tour is a better album than it is an EP, and Stones purists can argue if the US inclusion of "Paint It Black" makes Aftermath stronger or compromises its integrity.

Me being a purist (and Anglophile), I tend to veer toward the UK versions of albums because of the whole "as nature intended" thing, but in 1966 London Records (ironically) released the US version of the Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown" with "Sad Day" on the flip as opposed to "As Tears Go By" and simultaneously screwed UK fans for years (they wouldn't hear it until the "No Stone Unturned" compilation was released in the 1970s) and gave US fans a rare gem not to be had anywhere else.

The Fantastic 45's

The Rolling Stones
"19th Nervous Breakdown" b/w "Sad Day"
London, 1966

The Rolling Stones - 19th Nervous Breakdown
Instrumentally this song's got things going for it that are as well-known as anything in the Stones' super popular canon. Brian Jones' Bo Diddley-aping riff, Bill Wyman's large bass (especially at the end) and all the blues tenets that had shot the Stones to mega popularity just one year prior. But compared to "Satisfaction," "The Last Time," "Get Off My Cloud" and much of the Aftermath album, I've always found this song to be kind of just okay. It's not bad by any means, and it plays right into the AWESOME "You know what? No, f*ck YOU" sentiments Mick Jagger was aiming at women at the time (see also: "Stupid Girl" and "Under My Thumb"), but while it's all well and good, it charges me up, but it doesn't bowl me over.

The Rolling Stones - Sad Day
Now this song does bowl me over. In fact, if I really think about it, this might be in my all time Top 5 Stones songs. It sounds like it was written and recorded very quickly without much rehearsal -- listen to how clumsy Charlie's drum fills sound -- there's no proper middle section and it quickly became an afterthought for the Stones themselves, but for all that works against it, LISTEN TO IT! The electric piano! The acoustic piano (played by producer du jour Jack Nitzsche)! What really draws you in is Mick's impassioned vocal -- it's easy to forget now how good of a singer Mick once was due to all the posing and "talk singing" nowadays, but you listen to Stones records from 1964-1966 especially and you hear some serious vocal work. Then listen to how brilliant the lyrics are -- the singer has a premonition that his relationship's about to end, only to find that it actually has (in his morning mail of all places) and then is utterly confounded that HE ended up being the one to get the shaft, as he'd been trying to make his escape earlier, but stuck around because of his lady's screaming protests. "There is only one thing in this world that I can't understand -- that's a girl." Amen, dude.

Both songs can now be found (on both sides of the Atlantic) on The London Years.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

There's wheat in the field and water in the stream and salt in the mine and an aching in me.

Continuing on with Ronnie Lane-related festivities 'round these parts, I got a couple more tributes for you lovely readers.

Today's come from Ocean Colour Scene (who also appeared at that 2004 tribute gig, although I've yet to track down recordings of their performance -- which I would quite like as apparently Steve Cradock to the lead vocal for one of Ronnie's most lovely tunes, "Done This One Before." Got a lead? Drop me a line).

When the 1990s ended, OCS star kind of tumbled with the decade back in the motherland, and though they still command an undying love from a pretty solid legion of devotees, it's worth resigning yourself to the fact that they're never going to make an album as good as Moseley Shoals or Marchin' Already (or even One From the Modern) again -- some things go with youth, you know? Not that it matters much on this side of the Atlantic, as apart from Anglophiles like you and me, they never meant a thing here anyway.

But it doesn't mean their entirely worthy of this backward looking derision (usually saved for the likes of Kula Shaker) from the British music press of "Look at that poser-Mod stuff. Can you believe we once liked that?!" It's not like they're the Osmonds, for f*ck's sake.

Sure, at the time, it went part and parcel with the Britpop trip -- oooh Mods! Cool! Okay, let's have a bit of that! So they palled around with Paul Weller, jammed on a few Small Faces tunes and really kind of brought a new generation (myself included) to the music of the Small Faces, who's respect was long-since (and still is) overdue.

OCS recorded versions of Ronnie's most lead vocal with the Small Faces, "Song of a Baker" for a 1997 tribute album that never got a proper launch and also recorded a version of "The Poacher" with Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher (more info in last week's post) that also was aborted. Thankfully, they got into a groove of playing the songs out quite a bit, and even for BBC mics, so when the OCS BBC Sessions were released last year, we finally got to hear some really nice, clean-non bootlegged versions of OCS paying debt to ol' Plonk.

Ocean Colour Scene - The Poacher
I actually like this version quite a lot, as Simon doesn't overreach in trying to recreate Ronnie's original vocal on the song. I always wonder why everyone does this song, though. Sure, it's a great song, but Ronnie did so many better songs during his solo years. I know in the 1990s, those records were hard to track down, but surely real fans had the wherewithal to unearth them? Ah well, this works.

Ocean Colour Scene - Song of a Baker
It's interesting when hearing this (and even the Small Faces' original) that Steve Marriott ended up leaving the group to pursue something more "heavy." Sure, this isn't "Rockin' the Fillmore" type stuff, but it's also a far cry from the "Sha La La La Lee" stuff, too... This version includes the help of long-time Small Faces collaborator PP Arnold.

Here are the Small Faces doing it originally...

And here's OCS doing it with Paul Weller adding his best one-handed Mac impression to the fold.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

In a rattletrap of pity I'm gonna spend my evening.

So, long-time readers of "Ain't Superstitious, But..." will know that I usually don't post things about new or upcoming releases, because of my annual "15 of the Best" roundup that comes in December -- don't want to threat reposting songs (gasp!).

But every once in awhile there's reason to write about what's coming up and get excited, and as the evil Rolling Stone (it's not a good magazine, it's not a good website, it's not even a good blog) has done it's "Here's what you can get excited about this summer" writeup of upcoming releases, it's time to refine it down to what really matters.

Usually I'm excited about over-the-seas releases which always kind of suck for Anglophiles on the west end of the Atlantic, because usually our precious little Brits don't have as expansive a following on these shores, and what's released Monday in England might not find it's way to an American shop til November. Although when it does, it'll usually carry three or four bonus tracks these days. Still...

Anyway, Brit-based releases I am looking forward to...

*The Last Shadow Puppets' Age of the Understatement hits American shelves on May 6. Not so much a supergroup as no one really knows the Rascals' (that is, not the Rascals of "Groovin'" fame), but their frontman Miles Kane teamed up with "besht mate" Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys for a set of tunes that, judging by what's already been falling out, should be typically lyrical and awfully pleasant sounding. Here's a little acoustic read through of "My Mistakes Were Made For You":

*Paul Weller returns with a double album (a dangerous rock and roll cliche by any standards), 22 Dreams, which gets a UK release of June 2. I'm super psyched about that, cos I'll be in Germany on June 2, so even if no US release is scheduled, I still should be arriving back on US shores with it in hand. Maybe I'll be nice and share a bit of it. Apparently contains workings with Noel and Gem out of Oasis as well as Graham Coxon out of Blur ("Black River," which already appeared last year as a B-side of "This Old Town" for those of you paying attention). I admit I scratch my head when I hear "acoustic" and "psychedelia" thrown together, but... it's Weller, right? Who am I to ignore it? Here he is performing "Cold Moments," which will be on the album, in Amsterdam last year.

*Noel and Liam Gallagher's older brother Paul let it slip a few weeks ago that Oasis' new one (which still has Zak Starkey in tow, awesomely) will be out the second week of August. Those albums have a tendency of getting pushed back 8 months or so, though...

And while that's a good trio to look forward to, I'm actually really excited of what'll be coming out of Texas here soon...

*Austin's resident statesman Alejandro Escovedo returns with Real Animal in June, a collection of songs written with Chuck Prophet that apparently tell the story of his long and winding career that's seen him live in the Chelsea Hotel at the same time as Sid and Nancy, be part of the "worst punk band in the world," the Nuns, do time in the ranks of Rank and File and the True Believers and, of course, write songs on his own good enough to make No Depression magazine call him the artist of the decade four years before the decade was even over. Still on Milwaukee's Back Porch label, intentions seem to be high for this record. Escovedo's signed with Bruce Springsteen's management, which led to Al taking the stage with Bruce in Houston a couple weeks ago and leading the E Street Band through leadoff single, "Always a Friend." And while I shudder at the thought of a zillion Springsteen fans now going "Yeah, man, this Alejandro guy's not too bad," this makes this the coolest thing Bruce Springsteen's done since his High Fidelity cameo.

*Old 97's Blame it On Gravity hits May 13 and is being ridiculously built up by Rhett, Murry, Ken and Philip as the best thing since 1997's Too Far To Care. I saw Rhett in Milwaukee last September, where he performed "My Two Feet" a song in which he wrote the verses and took one of Murry's old choruses and voila... This song alone sounds worth the price of admission. Here's a decent quality audience recording made at SXSW last month... seriously, what a chorus.

And after two Rhett Miller solo albums and countless little gems on Old 97's records, Murry Hammond finally takes the spotlight for himself on Monday with I Don't Know Where I'm Going, But I'm On My Way. 97's fans that have loved songs like "In the Satellite Rides a Star," "Valentine" and "Old Familiar Steam" know this album has been FAR too long coming, but thank the lord that wait's finally over.

Murry Hammond - Lost At Sea
Isn't it just... wonderfully pleasant?


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I got a message for you so-called men out there.

It's time for the April installment of that fantastic new series, "Mixed Messages"!!!!

Mixed Messages

Who's confusing us? Little Milton
What about? Fidelity

Ever since hearing Little Milton's 1966 single "More and More" for the first time last year, I've become quantifiably obsessed with the celebrated but still considerably underrated blues guitarist. During the 1960s, he spent most of his time aboard the Chess subsidiary label of Checker, but as the 1960s turned to the 1970s, Milton stepped up into soul's big leagues and signed to Stax.

While Little Milton did have a hand in writing a number of his singles, he (as most blues artists do) also took an avid interest in covering things that befell his ears and piqued his interest -- inasmuch as he thought he could "Little Milton"ize a song and make it really work.

His debut on Stax came with the 45, "If That Ain't a Reason (For Your Woman To Leave You)" -- a song he didn't write, but even though only charting at #41, still proved to have the most success with -- which wagged an antagonistic finger at "you so-called men out there" that mess around on the old ladies at home. Perhaps most humorously, those that go so far as to give their mistress their wife's nightgown in her absence, so that they feel all the more at home. Ooh. How sexy and exotic... Given previous work (which has been posted here) like "More and More" and "You Colored My Blues Bright," the impression one would get, then, is that Milton Campbell is a man of principal, and an old romantic through and through, who believes love is a commitment you get in for the long haul.

Ah, but what's a bluesman to do with just one muse? Especially on the Stax label. One just needs to peruse titles of other songs he did in the 1970s -- "Woman Across the River," "Let Me Back In" -- that maybe Little Milton wasn't the tried and true homebody he'd painted himself to be elsewhere.

It was really the 1975 single "If You Talk In Your Sleep" (another cover) that quelched any remaining thoughts of true love and faithfulness in the home life. In it, Milton actually plays the part of one of the "so-called men" he tsked tsked in "If That Ain't a Reason," and implores his girl on the side to not mention his name if she should happen to talk in her sleep while sleeping next to the husband (and also includes the creed "love is so much sweeter when it's borrowed"). Niiice.

Granted, neither songs were Campbell originals, just songs he thought he could do a good job with (and, in both cases, he certainly did), but for those lonely souls that look to songs and lyrics for guidance, what kind of conflicted path would Little Milton lead you down?

Pro-fidelity: Little Milton - If That Ain't a Reason (For Your Woman To Leave You)
Anti-fidelity: Little Milton - If You Talk in Your Sleep

So what does Little Milton want?
Depends on the era, really. True lovers, take heart to the Checker stuff. Playas, keep the Stax stuff on rotation, the best of which can be found on the fantastic The Very Best of Little Milton collection.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

I've no use for a broken heart.

So much up and done in April already that it would seem I've forgotten my promise to pay tribute to this blog's patron saint, Ronnie Lane.

But I haven't.

Obviously I'm not going on as full-fledged as last year, when we reviewed Plonk's solo discography album by album, included his debut solo single as that month's Fantastic 45 and saw any number of Ronnie covers in mp3 or video form come and go, but hey... he's always deserving to be celebrated, and today we got a few more of those fabulous covers.

Today's come from the Ronnie Lane Memorial Gig that was held in London in 2004 -- while I've long hoped that it would produce a DVD and CD set to equal that of the Steve Marriott memorial held in 2001, this wish has yet to be fulfilled, though an increasing number of bootlegs are finding their way out.

I'm wondering if there were "personality" issues with the Lane tribute -- Mac was suspiciously absent from the gig, which seems quite a slight as he's been Ronnie's biggest booster for a long time now. I remember at the time he'd left a rather cutting message on his website that said never mind the London gig, he paid tribute to Ronnie every gig he played. Whether it was an intentional or accidental snub, the world may never know, but he missed out on a hell of a party that included Kenney Jones, Pete Townshend, Ronnie Wood, Ocean Colour Scene and Paul Weller -- not to mention Ronnie's 1970s band Slim Chance back in full gear.

Today we'll take a look at the songs the Wella fella did for the show, managing to bring it to an appropriate climax as he did three years prior with Noel Gallagher and Mac at the Marriott tribute.

Weller: "What f*cking note is Woody trying to hit exactly?"

Paul Weller - The Poacher
Weller and his OCS buddies have been doing this song for awhile now -- the planned but never completed 1997 tribute EP to Ronnie that was supposed to feature OCS, Weller and Noel never materialized and the Small Faces tribute also leaked out, but never really got the proper lift off it deserved (although I've heard it and was quite underwhelmed...) Anyway, this is familiar stomping ground for Paul Weller and he does quite a nice job and sounds beautifully accentuated with Slim Chance playing behind him.

Paul Weller (w/Sam Brown) - Spiritual Babe
I rather like this, because I *think* the only template Weller had to work from with learning this song is Ronnie's Live in Austin compilation, released four years after his passing. Ronnie did do a proper demo recording of this song when he first relocated to Houston for MS treatment in the early 1980s, but that recording has never found its way out (though Jo Rae DiMenno, Ronnie's longtime caretaker in Texas, told me in December she'd heard it and 'THAT was the way it was supposed to sound, slow, brooding, sexy...") The version that appeared on Live in Austin was a bit more like slinky country, but Weller and Slim Chance to a faithful read through of it here and Weller sounds quite affecting on it. Joe Brown's daughter Sam offers some vocal support, but if you wanna hear a bit more of how it was supposed to originally sound, check out Mac's version on his Ronnie Lane tribute, Spiritual Boy.

Paul Weller (w/Sam Brown & Ronnie Wood) - Ooh La La
It's pleasant, but this song is impossible to cover. It's easy to play and everyone who's ever picked up a guitar should learn it, but the Faces' 1973 original just can't be topped. Not even Ronnie Wood can sing it properly anymore. But Weller makes a commendable pass and it's nice to have Woody chugging it out the guitar line next to him.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

In the end, you know, we're all gonna die.

What better way to rebuild one's credibility than with the Friday Five?

Fun as it was, the two straight days of New Kids-ness had me feeling more than a little impure and with that in mind, we turn to one of my favorite monthly series.

This month we're taking a look at something we've done before on these parts, albeit in rather piecemeal takes -- rock star's offspring.

And I'm not talking about the Liv Tylers, Stella McCartneys and Ione Skyes of the world that get to find their own fame in other fields, but still get mileage on dad's name (although Ione didn't really cash in on Dad's name, but you do know she's Donovan's daughter, right?) -- I'm talking about the kids that have that easy in to follow in pop's footsteps. Record contracts never come easier, and try as they might to forge their own identity, the fact of the matter is that "_____'s son" is never going to be taken out of any kind of write-up.

Some are able to forge ahead fine -- lord knows Albert Hammond Jr. found the right kind of group/genre to dive into to avoid constant comparison to his father and while Zak Starkey may always here "Son of Ringo" as a suffix, he's at least proved himself a bit more versatile with the sticks than arguably the world's most famous drummer.

But for others, the shadow Dad cast is just a bit too long to escape. In some cases it's fair, in others it isn't, but today we'll look at five sons that at least tried.

The Friday Five
In the name of the father...

Ben Taylor - Tower For Fools (Just in Time To Fall Down)
Besides the name, the other constant albatross hanging around stars' kids' necks is the "really sounds like dad" bit. With James Taylor as a father and Carly Simon as a mother, Ben Taylor becoming a musician seemed more of an inevitability than a likelihood, but the vocal stylings are almost eerily similar to dear old dad's. My friend Kiki (a big James fan, by the way) showed me this track a few years ago, and it blew me away. It appeared on the little known Green Dragon Name a Fox album, and maybe there was too much working against him to forge his own identity and make a hit out of this song, but if so, it's our loss. Great song, and now you don't have to live without it.

Chris Stills - Razorblades
I became a big fan of Stephen's (that's the "S" in CSN ((and sometimes Y)), folks) son after seeing him open for Paul Weller in Boston back in 2003. At the gig, I didn't register that he was anyone's son -- "Stills" seems a common enough name, I even dig the Canadian band that goes by it -- so I had the chance to become a fan right off the bat on the music alone, which was nice. In 2004 or 2005, Rolling Stone did a big issue on rock stars' kids, which featured Chris and since then it seems he's been hard to track down. Spent a lot of time over in France (from where Mama hailed) and put out a self-titled album over there that I think has made its way over here by now. The one album he did release domestically, 1998's 100 Year Thing was phenomenal (and even produced by Glyn Johns' son Ethan), but it never made a dent either. Oh well. This is one of my favorite cuts from it.

Jeff Buckley - Night Flight (live)
I debated putting Jeff on here because he certainly made his own name for himself, but he lived through his short life doing everything he could to escape comparison (happy to help here posthumously, Jeff...), and didn't help comparisons by dying at approximately the same age as dad, either. Jeff's voice wasn't as syrupy as Tim's, but it was every bit as elastic and versatile. The fact that his 1994 album Grace became the template for pretty much every band college kids dig now means there's likely not much you haven't heard from him, but as I thought it'd be too obvious to post "Last Goodbye" or "Lover, You Should've Come Over," I opted on this cut from the Legacy Edition of Live at Sin-e, a laid back solitary stab at the Led Zeppelin tune that carries all sorts of coolness.

Julian Lennon - Believe
Julian's timing killed him. Had dad been alive when "Too Late For Goodbyes" was a hit, things might've been different, but that was four years after the world lost one of the f*cking Beatles for Christ's sake. Then comes a child that's not only the spitting image but also possesses similar windpipes. Julian still deals with issues on how good of a father John was, and while the 1984 album Valotte was going to be huge anyway, everything he put out after got less acclaim. By the time Photograph Smile hit in 1999, only the most diehard Julian/Beatle-obsessive fans cared, which was kind of a shame. Cos it's the only album where he sounds truly comfortable with his voice and talent. And this amazing little track wasn't even chosen as a single.

Liam Finn - Gather To the Chapel
I've only recently gotten into Neil's boy and again the "sounds like Dad" thing comes ringing through, even if Liam's Grizzly Adams-style beard ensures there will be no "spitting image" mutterances to be heard. Liam's been at it for awhile musically, and while his former band Betchadupa got a decent following down under, now the rest of the world is starting to take notice of his new solo album, I'll Be Lightning. To me it sounds like a CD of outtakes from Neil's One Nil sessions, but as I love that album and Liam's also inherited the knack for a good hook, this one goes down just as nicely. This is my favorite cut from the album, and the only one that made me sit up and go "Oh, alright, he IS quite good" on first listen.

Have a good weekend, all.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

We met a lot of people. And gir-ir-ir-ir-irls.

So I did get an e-mail from one reader yesterday who suggested it was rather unfair that despite giving the New Kids on the Block plenty of writing space, I didn't include a song, even though the Stone Temple Pilots got an airing.

I know I said yesterday it would be fun to revisit parts of the New Kids' catalogue and try to figure out what in God's name I was thinking at seven and eight years of age, but I'll be honest with you, the thought really terrified me.

And Toby Keith thought he was patriotic. The Stars and Stripes, a "Drugs Suck" t-shirt, "This One's For the Children" AND "Proceeds donated to United Cerebral Palsy" all on one sleeve. Good Christ. Any sweeter and you'd get diabetes. This is why we won Desert Storm, folks.

I hadn't listened to a New Kids song since I was eight or nine, and as I mentioned yesterday, even at that highly impressionable age, I was still able to weed out "Hangin' Tough" as stupid and "This One's For the Children" as a bit of easy pandering. After my father's force-fed diet of Beatles, Beatles, Beatles, my whole attitude on music changed and for the last 16 years, I've been pretty happy with the bands and songs I've come across since. Why go that far back?

Because it's in style to talk about all our retro hangups? Hey, I'll discuss the odd "Saved By the Bell" or "Full House" episode with you happily, and I'll even start one of those "Hey, remember slap bracelets?" type conversations, but listening to the New Kids again? Who does that? You never even hear those songs at college parties when they're playing all that cheesy late 80s/early 90s pap. We have a karaoke bar in town where people drunkenly (and more than happily) leave their inhibitions at the door. I've been there many a time. I've heard some terrible stuff. But no one dares to do a New Kids song. It's like this unspoken fear... maybe they really WERE that bad?

But that e-mail I got last night was like a challenge. Could I face that horrible five-headed ghost from my past again? I decided I could, and illegally downloaded (damn right I'll admit THAT) their Greatest Hits album.

I couldn't stomach more than three songs. Seriously. I didn't even make it to the second chorus of "The Right Stuff." The feeling was akin to... I don't even know. It's like when you get caught watching porn as a teenager, I guess. Just this horrible, shameful, shameful feeling. "I LIKED this? No... Well I was only a kid... No... that's no f*cking excuse."

But a challenge is a challenge, and here's where I eternally threaten this blog's established credibility by revisiting three New Kids songs I liked as a kid.


New Kids on the Block - Step By Step
What I remember without listening: This was always the quintessential New Kids track for me. I think I was still just a shade too young when "Hangin' Tough" and "The Right Stuff" were popular -- the difference between Kindergarten and First Grade is seismic, after all -- and this song and album exploded when my family moved to Texas in 1990. I just remember hearing it everywhere... It was like the Macarena or "Livin' La Vida Loca" or something. I actually had the cassette single too -- my Aunt Carla bought it for me. I think I ritualistically destroyed it when I was 11 or 12.

Thoughts upon listening again: Jesus Christ. Did they actually pay for studio time? Cos this sounds like one synthesized track laid on another. From a pop songwriting perspective, I suppose it's not so bad, I still remember the chorus verbatim, but I forgot how they tried to blend this whole "Boston tough kids" image with these really pansy-ass 14-year-old valentine sentiments. Listen to how they shout "STEP!" with authority, and the "Step one/two/three/four/five" breakdown is still all kinds of ridiculous. Especially step one, with Danny (did he ever sing lead on anything else?) doing that "We can have lots of fun!" sounding more like the old guy in the car by the playground that your mother always warned you to stay the hell away from. Jordan's whispered "Yes I do, girl..." toward the end is also heinous.

Added hilarity: The video -- especially Donnie's awesome toughness split between riding a motorcycle and eating an apple.

New Kids on the Block - Tonight
What I remember without listening: This was like the last hugely popular New Kids song, right? There was this special on them when I lived in Houston and they debuted the video on it, and you know, you had to watch, because how could you show your face in Mrs. Cline's class the next day if you didn't? I remember thinking the bridge was catchy, though. Not the "I guess it's a brand new day after all" line so much, but the melody of the "See the girls with the curls in their ha-ai-ai-ir" I liked. I know, I know, shut up.

Thoughts upon listening again: I can't stop laughing. This song is f*cking horrible. It was released on Columbia Records, for Christ's sakes! They had Kula Shaker! They had BOB DYLAN! Someone thought THESE lyrics were acceptible to put out on a single? All they do in the first verse is name check all their previous hits! I mean I can see how it'd be like a good "live" song, 'cos all it does is talk about how crazy their shows were, but goddamn. "Remember when we travelled round the world? We met a lot of people, and gir-ir-ir-ir-irls." Are girls not people? Or are they just trying to make it clear how not super gay they are? But I suppose the most classic bit is that little "Sounds good... Hey fellas! Let's do it! Here we go!" wind up like something incredible is gonna happen, and all you get is "La la la la la la tonight." Oh THANK YOU. Amazing.

Added hilarity: The video - especially the intro with little Joey greeting Donnie (again on the motorcycle, because he's super bad), with "What's up D?... It is kinda crazy, yo!"

New Kids on the Block - Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time?
What I remember without listening: I don't think I knew they covered this song. Then I do a little research and find out it was on their first album, which my neighbor, Jamie McSwain, had on cassette in Texas. She was a total loon, and I remember her playing that tape all the time, and it was all stupid slow songs, and I thought slow songs were for sh*t back then, so I never got into it. But see, I never heard the Delfonics' original til just a few years ago (sorry, I was really late seeing "Jackie Brown"), but I did see Hall & Oates in Milwaukee in 2001, and they did it. Now this was before I heard the Delfonics' original and I remember thinking "Where the hell do I know this song from?" And I just realized last night. Jamie's room. Ugh.

Thoughts upon listening again: I asked a friend last night who lived in Boston whether there was any sort of rivalry between Boston and Philadelphia. She said no. I'm amazed this didn't start a f*cking 1000 years' war.

Now that you have all this fresh in your mind again, you can truly ask yourself. Is it worth seeing grown men reduce themselves to this again? You probably felt a tad uneasy listening/watching to these songs and videos. You'll probably feel a lot better leaving your door open next time you watch Sex Goddesses From Outer Space VII. Sorry.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I was a superman, but looks are deceiving.

More bands are getting on that reunion bandwagon of late, and while the Stone Roses and Morrissey and Johnny Marr have yet to mend their bridges, the latest groups to throw their hats into the old ring are interesting.

First, New Kids on the Block... well, what can you say? The "Hangin' Tough" crew was a phenomenon when I was in first and second grade and forming my first opinions of music. My opinions, of course, being heavily informed by cute girls in my class like Chanel Laugen who could never know how I truly felt about her for fear of that goddamned "K-I-S-S-I-N-G" song ringing out through the classroom and my name being included in that proverbial tree-sitting... And the ever-present cootie threat.

Anyway, to win those damned females' approval I brought myself around to thinking some of the New Kids' stuff was halfway decent ("Step By Step" was damn catchy as I recall, but it might be time for a long overdue review... might actually make a great post), but I remember even being 8 years old and thinking "Hangin' Tough" was stupid and "This One's For the Children" was tacky.

Thankfully, my father -- who was probably encouraged that I was taking an avid interest in girls, but undoubtedly concerned that I also seemed to be taking an avid interest in their interests -- shook the boy band thing off me by making me listen to an unending dosage of Beatles records and cassettes. Soon I was not only one of the only 8-year olds in Texas that knew the words to "Sexy Sadie," but also knew it was about the Maharishi. Never really been the same since...

The New Kids' return is comparable to the Spice Girls' although that said, that makes it 10 years' too late and likely to fizzle after the first three or four shows remind Jordan, Jonathan, Joey, Danny and Donnie (impressive, eh?) that sentimentality doesn't run THAT high for the New Kids. But the comedic factor of watching them try to do "Please Don't Go Girl" should be pretty high, so there's that to look forward to.

And please tell me they've still got this garb. And that mousse...

The other latest reunion is that of the Stone Temple Pilots, who I never had much interest in during their heyday (too busy obsessing with Oasis... to this day, actually), but would once in awhile hear a rather nice tune from on the old MTV. Since I never had more than a passing interest in a single here and there, it'd be unfair for me to comment or critique, but I always figured the band itself was a little good and Scott Weiland was always just a tad of a poser -- except on the druggie front. I think that was all real.

Anyway, I always could tolerate the likes of "Interstate Love Song" and "Big Bang Baby" at junior high dances (come to think of it, they played good stuff at junior high dances... it always got too "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" at high school dances, didn't it?) , but the stuff I've heard from this day and age's neo-supergroup Velvet Revolver has been so incredibly unmemorable that it's only furthered my opinion of Scott Weiland as a great pretender in the pantheon of rock and roll frontman.

But my general opinion of him aside, I always thought "Sour Girl" was a good track. Well, I did when it was popular in 1999. I'll be honest. I hadn't heard it since it came off rotation, and when I heard about the reunion, I went scouring for that one STP song I really liked (completely had forgotten how it went), but heard it again and was like "Yeah, still a good song."

When posteuring fails, try blue knit hats.

Stone Temple Pilots - Sour Girl
I know singling out this cut from 1999's No. 4 is probably the equivalent of somebody coming up to me and going "That 'Wonderwall' song that Oasis did... that was always kind of cool" and having me do everything in my power not to roll my eyes or implore a listening of "Slide Away," but... I'll make a deal. You STP fans don't roll your eyes when I mention this, "Interstate Love Song" and "Big Bang Baby," and I won't roll my eyes when you mention "Wonderwall," "Champagne Supernova" and "Don't Look Back in Anger." Capiche?


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

It's an epidemic -- there's nothing logically logical, logical, logical.

I've done a "all praise Joe Strummer" post before, but I think it's safe to say it's never too bad to call up Joe again.

The Clash were amazing, it's not worth getting that in depth about -- in fact, they're one of the few bands along with the Beatles that simply can't be disputed. They weren't ever as consistent as the Fabs of course, but funnily enough, I've found a lot more people in the past few years that like to say how much they don't like the Beatles (which still boggles my mind). Hardly anyone has a negative thing to say about the Clash.

There's something that's literally awesome and inspiring to listen to Joe -- even the stuff he did after the Clash disbanded. Whenever he wrote or sang, he put his heart and soul into what he was singing, even if it wasn't the greatest song ever to befall your ears, or completely lacked a cohesive hook.

But, then again, when it was part of one of the greatest songs you could ever hear, it almost makes you want to cry with joy. Check out this performance of "Johnny Appleseed" on David Letterman from 2001, and see if something inside you doesn't get remotely stirred up:

Strummer also contibuted a brilliant tune to a 1998 episode of South Park called "It's a Rockin' World." The song, which aired in the great "Chef Aid" episode, only was featured for about 3 seconds in the episode, but thankfully Matt and Trey actually put out a Chef Aid album which featured the entire brilliant cut and Strummer fronting a band that included Benmont Tench, Flea and Tom Morello...

Joe Strummer & Friends - It's a Rockin' World
"That is my ultimate! I have reached the top, now I can coast! I was a cartoon on South Park. Yes! Me and Isaac Hayes, buddy. The rest of you guys, lick your hearts out! You'll never make that rarified plateau. Give up now!"
--Joe Strummer, CDNow, 1999


Monday, April 07, 2008

Forgetting to give back.

25 years on this Earth, and I've learned a few things, but one continually surprises me.

Breaking up (even under remarkably agreeable circumstances) never gets any easier/sucks any less.

Le sigh.

George Harrison - Isn't It a Pity
All Things Must Pass. But why don't you have it already?


Friday, April 04, 2008

The women are weeping.

And I am too.

Despite getting a domestic release on Cooking Vinyl Records, and some well received reviews stateside, Kula Shaker's mighty return album Strangefolk hasn't yet merited even the smallest US tour for the boys and still leaves me kicking myself for discovering the band just months after they broke up in 1999 (which was, consequently, just months after they'd played the Metro in Chicago. Son of a...)

The good news (or at least the good scuttlebutt) is that Crispian, Alonza, Paul and Harry are coming off the European and Japanese gig circuits (lucky bastards) to start focusing on album #4, which is always going to be sweet music to my ears I'm sure, and might yet merit a US tour. Seriously... just a small one... I'm prepared to fly to New York if I have to... come on...

Anyhow, anyhow... since it's Friday and I've been kind of an absentee blogger this week, I thought I'd give you a good dose of Kula that not only Americans were left dropping import fees for, but so were Europeans.

Prior to the Japanese release of Strangefolk last year, Kula Shaker put out the "Freedom Lovin' People" EP as, obviously, something handy to have at merchandise stands for the Fuji Rock Festival.

The EP kind of worked as a "Double A-side" single for the George W. Bush-baiting "Great Dictator (of the Free World)" and another of the album's little rockers, "Super CB Operator," but it also contained 3 B-sides that only those lucky Japanese folk had to pay easy money for.

Kula Shaker - Big Bad Wolf
Crispian's really been on a Bush-hating slant since 2003 when he was with the Kula-break-interim-band, the (fantastic) Jeevas, which had a fun little county and western tinged number called "How Much Do You Suck?" This obviously continued into the Kula reformation with "Great Dictator," the anti-war "Die For Love," and the Katrina-musing "Hurricane Season." This cut continues that "bite me, Dubya" sentiment, although lyrically it's a little clumsier than his other stabs. It's a shame, 'cos it's a cracking backing track and maybe with a little more time (or a little less focus on our president) this could've been whittled into something a bit more accessible and "303"-esque, but c'est la vie. Who can write songs about getting stoned and driving to Glastonbury forever, anyway?

Kula Shaker - Out on the Highway (acoustic)
Obviously, Strangefolk's lead cut is a band favorite, as they've not only taken every opportunity to play it live, but also in any acoustic setting any TV, radio or internet station could give them. By now, I'm a little tired of hearing this song (and I like the electric version better anyway), but the whole "If you had the world at your feet..." bit is still marvellous.

Kula Shaker - Some Good Reason
The best thing about Kula Shaker's return is that it's given some spotlight to Alonza's work, if only in B-side form for now. I've said many a time on this blog that I think Crispian is one of the best pop songwriters of all time with a natural ear for a good hook and more-than-capable proclivity to turn a good lyric (although, they are better when they're not overtly political, there, guy...), but all along he had a great foil. It's no surprise -- I'm sure Alonza had a hand in writing many of Kula Shaker's 1990s material, but to get to hear him come to the mic and sing his own song is a lot more refreshing and suprising than I thought it'd be. This 1960s pastiche is actually the EP's finest moment.

I only post the video here because I do with every "ComBlete" feature I do, but this video is really a load of bollocks. Seriously. I could've done something better. And I wouldn't have even charged... that much... At least the "Second Sight" video was WAAAY better.

I reccomend you check out this cool acoustic performance instead.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

If ye cannot bring good news, then don't bring any.

It's this blog's time of the month again.

Time for "Vs.," that is...

I realized about 10 seconds after I uploaded today's tracks that I could've just saved this for another part of my "Bob Dylan Undercover" series, but eh... lord knows there are enough Dylan covers to keep that going for awhile, and anyway, Bob Dylan doesn't get in the ring enough anyway.

Today we pit him up against five guys you may or may not want to meet in a bar (depending on the kind of night you're having), the Faces!

Dylan's 1967 John Wesley Harding album was as much of "return to form" album as you were ever going to get from Dylan (especially in the 1960s), where he decided to veer away from the electric tendencies that had guided his previous three albums and return to an acoustic based set of songs -- all with a stripped, somewhat country feel to them (no doubt influenced by his trips to Nashville), although the songs still remained rather oblique, despite the fact that he was making a conscious effort to put less words in them.

The album was the first breeding ground of "All Along the Watchtower" which Jimi Hendrix would take to new heights not too long thereafter, and it also provided a tune called "The Wicked Messenger" that the newly formed Faces found themselves trying to wrap their little British hands around.

Although Steve Marriott had left to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, the remaining three Small Faces decided to band together and soon found themselves employing the talent of Jeff Beck Group castoffs Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart. Stewart wanted to be in the band, but a bit unsure of whether or not that would happen (he met with strong resistance from Ronnie Lane and Ian McLagan at first, who were uninterested in yet another prima donna lead singer), he decided to pursue solo interests too.

He got a solo deal and the Faces decided they'd have him in too. Well, great... until Rod's solo work started to overtake that of the Faces...

But that was much later anyway.

While Dylan material was stomping ground for pretty much any band in the 1960s and forever thereafter, it's always interested me that the Faces took it on -- for one, despite some folkier leanings in the Small Faces ("Become Like You"), they tended to show more interest in the likes of Tim Hardin (covering songs like "Red Balloon" or "If I Were a Carpenter"). But at heart, even in their more psychedelic years, the Small Faces were an R&B based group, seemingly uninterested in the leanings of folk songs or trying to spread messages. They'd much prefer writing a song based on a drug-related in joke (Hello, "Here Comes the Nice").

The Faces dropped the psychedelia but took on the R&B with more of a glam leaning, but material was sparse in their early days as Lane, having lost his songwriting partner in Marriott was learning to find his own feet as a writer, and Stewart and Wood didn't come in with a dearth of material either. Unsurprising then, that their first album together, 1970's First Step (erroneously billed on the album cover as "Small Faces") is a bit of a hodgepodge of uninspired-to-fair originals, covers and instrumental jams. Dylan's "Wicked Messenger" kicks off proceedings.

While Dylan had made it a standard folky, 2-minute little tale, the Faces doubled its length, let Mac take lead on organ and turned it into a thundering R&B tinged number. Its neither artist's finest hour, but nor is it either's worst. I think I prefer the Faces' version just because of the muscle, but at the end of the day, I'd still rather listen to "You're So Rude" or "Stay With Me." And Dylan? I'd rather listen to "She Belongs To Me."

What about you?

Bob Dylan vs. Faces
"The Wicked Messenger"

Bob Dylan - The Wicked Messenger

Faces - Wicked Messenger

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Whom can I run to?

So here's why I didn't post yesterday.

It would've had to do with opening day, probably would've included a gem of a baseball quote like Bill Veeck's ("Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can't get you off."), and would've reinstated my love and hope this year for the Cubbies. And a song about believing, not losing faith, keep on keeping on, etc.

In essence, the same thing I did last year.

But what happened last year? The Cubs lost their opening day game. So I thought maybe to right the ship I'd not tempt fate this year, and I'll tell you, until Bob Howry gave up a lead off double in the top of the 10th inning to goddamned Craig Counsell, I thought my little plan was working marvellously.

Ah well. Still 161 more games...

Anyway, we're fresh into April now -- and today would've been Ronnie Lane's 62nd birthday. I Ronnie Lane'd all you readers nearly to death throughout April 2007, so I won't go as hard and heavy this year, but rest assured there will be definitely be some Ronnie-related gems peppered throughout the posts this month.

In the meantime, I have a chance to truly enjoy one of my favorite April-related songs, despite the fact that I'm not in Paris.

Ella Fitzgerald - April in Paris
Ella recorded a few versions of this song throughout her career (and in the 1950s alone), but this version is far and away the best. A lot of crooners have taken their own stabs at this song, but for me, this is the ultimate and it kind of reinstates how amazing Ella was. She had a sweet voice that could really beguile you -- when you listen to Ella, you just kind of melt away. When you listen to Billie Holliday or Nina Simone, there's a whole "this means business" vibe. But Ella, forget about it. All the cares just disappear.

Here's a pretty cool video of her doing the song live in the Netherlands back in 1957 to boot: