Friday, December 29, 2006
Eventually Brown's insane, angel dust-fueled behavior, and having to hear people tell me what a fucking genius he was over and over, made me lose interest in him.
What still amazes me, however, is how astoundingly good Brown's back-up musicians were, best evidenced, in my opinion, by the work of Fred Wesley and the JB's. They found a groove that was like the rhythm of the universe, and then they decorated it. Oh yeah, they swung like a motherfucker.
Fred Wesley and the JB's - These Are the JB's
Fred Wesley and the JB's - It's the JB's Monorail (Parts 1 & 1)
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Check it out.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
11. Lewis and Clarke - "Before It Breaks You"
10. Asobi Seksu - "Thursday"
9. Venice Is Sinking - "Pulaski Heights"
8. Camera Obscura - "Let's Get Out of the Country"
7. Sally Shapiro - "Anorak Christmas"
6. Hot Chip - "And I Was a Boy From School"
5. Jason Collett - "We All Lose One Another"
4. Fujiya and Miyagi - "Collarbone"
3. Daylight's For the Birds - "Worlds Away"
2. Lily Allen - "LDN"
1. Monsterbuck - "Arto Monaco"
Please note: These songs have all previously been posted on the web. All the same, I am only going to keep this list up for two weeks. Have a wonderful holiday!
Monday, December 18, 2006
In the early '80's I took a trip to Barbardos. The song "Jack" was playing in the airport when I arrived. I heard it in the taxi on the way to my hotel, I heard it at the bars on the beach, I heard it on the party boats. Every bar band in every club I went into played it at least once a set. It was all over the place, and everyone loved it. One of my lasting images of that trip is dancing drunkenly down a gangway on the Bajan Princess party boat in a line of tourists as this song blasted out of the boat's Radio Shack-speakers. It's ironic how much we all loved that song considering how anti-tourist it was.
Back then, one of the things that distinguished Barbados from other Caribbean islands was that all of the beaches were public, including the ones in front of the expensive resorts. There were rumors that the government was going to change that, and this song was a protest directed at Jack Dear, an attorney for the board of tourism .
Mighty Gabby - Jack
The great thing about calypso is its ability to camoflage - or at least soften - extremely subversive messages in its sunny, steel drum-based sound. "Jack" certainly illustrates that. So does Lily Allen's "LDN," if you want to check out a current example.
Lily Allen - LDN
Friday, December 15, 2006
The result is that my top album list (same goes for my top song list) for the year is a hodge podge of stuff, bouncing between genres and, I guess, somewhat shallow, in that I didn't spend too much time with any one album. But, looking over my Itunes playlists, these are the albums that stuck with me, in an order that seems to make sense:
27. Joanna Newsom - "Ys" - Pretentious overly-long songs. She sounds like she wants to be Joni Mitchell after she discovered Mingus. Van Dyke Parks' strings are so disconnected they sound like they are coming from the studio down the hall. And yet... all this words, and all those notes. As much as I want to hate it, and as easy as it is for me to find reasons to hate it, this shit is just so damn interesting. A year from now I will either blush with shame that I put it on this list or listen to it all the time. I really don't know.
26. Arctic Monkeys - "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" - The album survived the hype. I found that the band's thin angry tone and off the cuff lyrics made for really effective social commentary. Remember when rock was, by definition, angry? These guys get that.
25. Mylo - "Destroy Rock and Roll" - Some kid in Scotland creates an album on a Mac. I think it actually came out in Europe a couple of years ago but didn't make it to the States until this spring.
24. The Lucksmiths - "Warmer Corners "- I'm embarrassed I'd never heard of this band before. Satisfies the twee in me.
23. The Glaciers - "The Moonlight Never Misses An Appointment" - Associated with the Mendoza Line and Essex Green. One of the first bands I discovered on MySpace. Very melodical.
22. Hot Chip - "The Warning" - Spiky electronic music with a melodic sheen.
21. Paper Moon - "Broken Hearts Break Faster Every Day" - Lush melodic folk rock from the Canadian Midwest. I imagine them as a band very popular in Winnipeg, and pretty much unknown outside of that. Although they were nominated for some Canadian music award.
20. My Brightest Diamond - "Bring Me the Workhorse" - Sings back up for Sufjan Stevens. Don't hold that against her.
19. The Weepies - "Say I Am You" - Melodic folk rock from LA. Loved by "Grey's Anatomy." Don't hold that against them.
18.Feathers - "Feathers" - Oddball '60's throwback. Great album cover references the Incredible String Band. Songwriting credits are first name only. Hippies from Vermont. Jeez.
17. Islands - "Return to the Sea" - Pleasant
16. Beirut - "Gulag Orkestra" - Liked it. Then disliked it because of the hype. Now like it. Can't wait to hear what's next.
15. Essex Green - "Cannibal Sea" - Smart melodic folk pop from Williamsburg
14. Fujiya and Miyagi Not Japanese.
13. Final Fantasy "He Poos Clouds" Ethereal intel-pop. Unfortunate album name.
12. Camera Obscura "Let's Get Out of the Country" Brilliant pure pop from Scotland.
11. Dirty on Purpose - "Hallelujah Sirens" - Tough street smart multi-textured pop music. Nick Hornby would love this.
10. Album Leaf - "Into the Blue Again" - New band by the guy from Tristezza. Reminds me of "Music for 18 Musicians." Makes me feel like I'm floating on a cloud.
9. Lewis and Clarke - "WPRB Live" - Probably shouldn't be included in albums, because it was an EP. Amazing folk rock for 2006. Long songs, smart lyrics, interesting arrangements. Made me enjoy long songs again.
8. Daylight's For the Birds - "Trouble Everywhere" - Folk rock with a nasty edge.
7. Band of Horses - "Everywhere All the Time" - Solid
6. Hotel Lights - "Hotel Lights" - A guy I see every five years walked by me at a party. "What are you listening to?" he asked. "Lewis & Clarke," I said, "How about you?" "Hotel Lights, check 'em out."
5. Venice Is Sinking - "Sorry About the Flowers" - Bought this early in the year and it's never let me down
4. Asobi Seksu - "Citrus" - Phil Spector and Blondie recaptured. Best album art of the year. Even though is got an 8.4 in Pitchfork and was constantly blogged, it's the most under-appreciated pop album of the year.
3. Destroyer - "Destroyer's Rubies" - It keeps sounding better and better. A year from now I'll be sick of Number 1, but I'll still be listening to this
2. Espers - "II" - Lie back and enjoy it.
1. The Knife - "Silent Shout" - As soon as I heard it, I knew I was going to love it. It has a sense of familiarity combined with surprise that only the best music has.
The new auction has some built-in bidder limits designed to prevent fake bids. Auction ends December 21. Current price: $.99. The perfect Christmas present!
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
The test pressing was found at a garage sale in the Chelsea area of Manhattan a few years ago. The discoverer paid $.75 for it.
As much as I personally value the Velvets in general and this album in particular, I'm having trouble believing someone would actually pay $125,000 for it.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
I always felt "Elephant Mountain," the Youngbloods' second album, and the album on which "Sunrise" appeared, was tremendously underrated. It got some airplay when it came out in 1969, particularly the song "Darkness, Darkness," (later covered with typical knowingness and taste by Mott the Hoople on "Brain Capers) but in retrospect it seems to be much more sophisticated than a lot of the music in the post-Lovin Spoonful, post San Francisco stew to which prog FM radio consigned it. (It didn't help that the Youngbloods' follow-up, a live album called "Festival," was unlistenable.)
What I remember thinking about the album when it came out was that it had a lot of electric piano (tinkly, monotonic, pre-synthesizer electric piano) and I didn't like electric piano. Now I hear that sound and love it. A lot of neo-eloctronic folk stuff I'm listening to these days builds on a base of that kind of electric piano. (Check out the band called the Album Leaf.)
"Sunlight" is one of those songs that seems so familiar you're certain you've heard it a million times, but in fact that's not the case. You've NEVER heard it! (Well, maybe you've heard it a few times.) It reminds me of a slightly less-edgy Tim Harding song. Jesse Colin Young's jazzy vocal works very well against the pop melody of the chorus, and the arrangement is nicely understated and restrained.
Youngbloods - Sunlight
"Sunlight" is available on a Youngbloods greatest hits package at Amazon
Thursday, November 23, 2006
In this case, the sub-genre is something called Italo disco, which, it turns out, has been around since the early '80's.
Italo disco, as you can guess, was an outgrowth of regular disco. It's emergence coincided with the introduction of cheap synths and drum machines. It was greatly influenced by European disco producers like Frank Farian and the great Georgio Moroder.
What I love about the Italo disco of the early to mid '80's is the long slick melodic lines (ala ABBA and the Eurovision song contests - European pop has always seemed to favor melody bordering on bubblegum). There is also a hint of that French MOR trashiness I would hear in songs that European MTV used to play in the '90's. Finally, because the rhythms were defined by the drum machines, there is a slight up and downess to the beat that is less sophisticated but more rocklike than American disco of the '70s.
I was actually a fan of Italo disco without knowing it. Back in 1984, I worked on some off off Broadway one act plays directed and produced by a friend of mine and written by his wife. I was the stage manager, or production manager, or something like that, but more importantly, I also programmed the music. One of the plays, called "Slam," involved a couple of guys slam dancing at a club that, as I remember, was supposed to be a suburban CBGB's that had somehow degenerated into playing disco. The disco-ish music starts playing and one of the guys goes into a rant about disco. Somehow, they end up listening to Flipper ( I was so cool!) , and slam dancing their happy hearts out. But the record I chose to signify the club's descent into disco was a 12" single by a band called Club House that was a medley of Steely Dan's "Do It Again" and Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." (Same bass line, check it out.)
Club House - Do It Again/Billie Jean Medley
I discovered (or re-discovered) Italo disco when I read about a Swedish singer named Sally Shapiro and her producer, Johan Agebjorn. Ageborn is an electronic music composer and producer who discovered Italo disco when he was in school and never lost his affection for it. Shapiro is, apparently, a singer so shy no one is allowed in the studio when she is recording.
Her album, "Disco Romance," is out this month. Shapiro's voice is sweet but distinctive, and works perfectly with Agenborn's updated electronic disco tracks.
Sally Shapiro - By Your Side
There are a several more excellent free downloads on Sally Shapiro's website, including a cover of "Anorak Christmas," as well as some great posts by Agebjorn, including his "10 Favorite Drum Machine Sounds."
Find out more about Italo Disco at Euro Flash.
(Thanks to Big Stereo for introducing me to Shapiro and Agebjorn.)
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I like this song because it makes me think about Texas.
Dirty on Purpose - Marfa Lights
"Hallelujah Sirens" is available on emusic.com.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Ellen Willis turned me on to, among others, Big Star (long before they became critical faves) and Five Dollar Shoes, a band that created one of my top-five never-gonna-be-released-on-cd-unless-I-do-it lps.
At a time when most rock criticism seemed like it was written by ten year olds for ten year olds, Willis never patronized. She took the music seriously, she had good taste, and her writing was strong enough to stand alongside that of Pauline Kael, Roger Angell and John McPhee.
Friday, November 10, 2006
In September, 1971, I was a freshman at Windham College in Putney, VT. Not very happy, didn't really know anyone, was in the middle of a slow but painful break-up with my girlfriend.
One weekend, I got a call from my friend Michael, who worked for a company that supplied the sound equipment for most of the rock concerts that were produced in the New England area. He was coming to Windham to do the sound for a Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen concert and wanted to know if I would help him out. Which I was, of course, happy to do, since it meant I could hang oout backstage and act cool. (Even if it was a Commander Cody show, and I was definitely moving from a hippy, San Francisco/Allman Brothers thing to a Velvet Underground/Stooges/Alice Cooper thing.)
So Michael showed up Saturday afternoon in a big truck with the PA, and I met him and we unloaded the equipment into the student union, and then hung out while the Cody band sound checked. While that was going on, a slight wiry-haired guy wandered into the studen union with a battered guitar case and a little Fender VibraChamp amp. I asked Michael who that was and he said that it must be Tim Hardin, the opening act.
I had heard of Tim Hardin; I knew of him as a 2nd generation New York folkie, but I don't think I'd heard any of his songs. I knew he'd written "If I Were a Carpenter," which had been recorded by both Bobby Darin and Joan Baez. But I didn't know he also written "Reason to Believe," and "Misty Roses," and "How Can You Hang On to a Dream?" and "Black Sheep Boy" and "Lady Came from Baltimore" and "Red Balloon."
Hardin went and sat on a metal chair in the corner of the backstage space (which was just a curtained-off area to the side of the stage.) He kept his head down, didn't speak to anyone, just sat there. Even in the midst of the Commander Cody band's stoned vibe and hippy-commune antics, he remained completely isolated.
At the time I didn't know about Hardin's drug problems. I don't even know if he was high. All I remember thinking is that he was a very sad, lonely person. I remember being puzzled by that, because I thought of performers as incredibly cool and therefore incredibly lucky. But at the same time, I had had enough experience with both sadness and loneliness to feel a certain amount of empathy with him.
I don't really remember his performance, although I have the feeling it probably wasn't very good. (Turns out he suffered from stage fright.) It certainly didn't make me go out and buy a Tim Hardin album. But the image of him, isolated and miserable, haunted by demons I didn't know but could imagine, has stayed with me ever since.
It wasn't until 20 years later, when I bought a greatest hits compilation, and then a couple of years later a live album, that I began to appreciate his songwriting ability, and to make a connection between that small sad man sitting on a chair waiting to go play for an unappreciative audience and the performer who so profoundly expressed that sadness in his songs.
Tim Hardin's songs bridge the gap between folk music and its antecedents - blues and country - and American popular songwriting, with it's roots in jazz and European lieder. (It's no accident that the two most popular covers of "If I Were a Carpenter" were by the leading folksinger of the time - Joan Baez - and the 50's pop idol who most resembled a throwback to Frank Sinatra - Bobby Darin.) At the same time, they are entirely personal. Once you listen to his versions of his songs, it's impossible hear them as anything but Tim Hardin songs, no matter who sings them.
Tim Hardin - Misty Roses
Okkervil River released an album called "Black Sheep Boy" this year. The title song is a great cover of Tim Hardin's song.
Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
Tim Hardin last released an album in 1973. He died of a drug overdose in 1980.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Saturday, October 21, 2006
When I got to their house the first thing I heard was a deep, driving bass guitar tone coming from the garage.
"That's Robby's band," my sister said. I thought it was someone playing PIL's "Poptones" really loud. It sounded strange hearing that in this bucolic, tree-shrouded suburban neighborhood.
Robby Miller is my nephew. When I had last seen him, he was an 11-year old skate rat in Dayton, Ohio. Now he was a 17-year old singer, songwriter and guitarist in a band called Mister Loveless, with an incredibly sophisticated ability to express himself musically and impeccable tastes in influences. He and his bass player, Charlie Koliha, had immersed themselves in the sounds of 1979-1980 - Joy Division, Gang of Four, Echo and the Bunnymen, PIL.
It's very weird to meet your musical past 25 years later in your nephew's rock band. Weird but also great. All the stuff Robby and Charlie were listening to was stuff that I had listened to obsessively 25 years earlier, and still think of as some of the most exciting, profound music I've ever heard. (More so two years ago than now, I must admit. Hearing the Gang of Four in "Marie Antoinette" is a little like hearing "Lust for Life" in a cruise line commercial.)
Over the next year or so they continued to refine their sound. They also made a connection between post-punk and surf music, which seems obvious in hindsight but, to my knowledge hadn't been done since the Raybeats, the 70's New York no wave instrumental band.
It's great to have good taste. That will take you pretty far as a musician. But good taste alone doesn't make you great - it doesn't even give you the option of being great. Combining great taste with serious commitment to a vision does give you the option to be great. That's what I love about Mister Loveless. Everything about this band is life or death. The lyrics matter. The playing matters. The band's fans matter. I suppose you could make fun of that, but it's probably wiser to take them as seriously as they take their music.
Mister Loveless - Scatterplot.mp3
Mister Loveless' first album, "My Share of Losing," is available at the band's website: http://www.misterloveless.com/
You can check out other songs at their MySpace site:
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Andy Pratt was from Boston, Massachusetts. In 1973, he had a minor hit with a song called "Avenging Annie." In 1976, he released an album called "Resolutions." It was obvious that someone at his record company thought this was a chance to present him as a slick, mature entertainer. The album was produced by Arif Mardin, who had been responsible for some of Atlantic Records' most sophisticated recordings, from Aretha Franklin to the BeeGees. (In 2001, he produced Norah Jones' first album. And in Jones, unlike Pratt, he found an artist who could blossom commercially as a result of his sophisticated touch.)
The song "Resolution" was not a hit. I don't know if it was even released as a single. The album it came from got great reviews but didn't sell terribly well.
I bought the album when it came out - and took a lot of shit from my punk rock friends for that - but there was no question in my mind that it was great. It supports my theory that, lost in the rush of new musical forms erupting out of the '60's and '70's, were a bunch of great American songwriters who could compare favorably with the classic songwriters of the '30's and '40's - the Cole Porters and the Irving Berlins.
Andy Pratt - Resolution
Saturday, October 07, 2006
In the future, I will write more about Jon Dee Graham, a singer-songwriter and philosopher from Austin, Texas for whom I have a great deal of respect and affection. For now, I just want to post his celebration of the month of October.
Jon Dee Graham - October.mp3
Sunday, September 24, 2006
The song is a great post-Beatles pop song with slightly surreal lyrics and a reverby guitar tone.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
I first heard about Monsterbuck when they were mentioned in an article in Esquire that discussed the great music to be found on MySpace. I checked them out because of the fact that they were from Upper Jay, NY., since I grew up in the Adirondacks and I was frankly surprised that anyone would think that a band from up there could be any good. Plus, the article spoke of their songs' "gorgeous melodies," and I'm a sucker for gorgeous melodies.
Not only are the songs great, but there are a couple of fascinating back stories going on with this band.
One is that these guys are not your typical Williamsburg indie-pop types. They've been around. Chris Kowanko, the singer and songwriter, first came to New York City in the mid 80's, and actually put out a Lenny Kaye-produced solo album in 1991. From then until he settled in Upper Jay a couple of years ago, he moved arounf the country a lot. Probably had a lot of jobs. But he never stopped writing songs. He put out another fine solo album a couple of years ago, produced by Seattle's Steve Fisk. He moved to Upper Jay with his wife and daughter because the bass player from his New York days, Scott Renderer, and his brother Byron (who happened to be a drummer) had moved there and opened an furniture upholstery business. When Chris arrived, they started Monsterbuck.
I've always admired songwriter/musicians who didn't know when to quit. It's part of that romantic idea that the music is so important that you would starve, you would neglect your family, you would give up everything as long as you could keep playing music. Kowanko seems like one of those guys. And the fact that the music he and the Renederer brothers is creating now is so cool just makes it that much more amazing. And in a town like Upper Jay, with a population of a couple of hundred people.
The other interesting backstory concerning Monsterbuck also concerns Upper Jay's most famous resident, Arto Monaco, who, in the '50's and '60's, was kind of the Walt Disney of the Adirondacks. He designed and built amusement parks, including Storytown, Gaslight Village, and his pride and joy, the Land of Make Believe, which he built in his backyard in Upper Jay. All these places were familiar to any kid growing up in the Adirondacks. Land of Make Believe was perhaps the most truly amazing. It combined fairy tales, and cowboys and pirates and other kid-centric fantasies and made them all come to life, often interracting with each other in ways that, in the real world, would have made no sense. (A cowboy saloon next door to a medieval castle, next to a paddle wheeler docked on the "Mississippi River.")
The members of Monsterbuck have adopted Arto Monaco as a spiritual forebear. The name of their ep and first album-to-be is "Land of Make Believers." And one of their best songs is called is "Arto Monaco."
The Land of Make Believe was destroyed by a flood in 1979, but you can still see the shells of some of the buildings in Upper Jay, along the banks of the Ausable River. Arto Monaco died in 2003, but his spirit lives on in Monsterbuck's quirky, beautiful songs.
Monsterbuck's first ep, "Land of Make Believers," is available at http://www.monsterbuck66.com/.
The song "Arto Monaco" isn't on the ep but you can download it:
Monsterbuck - Arto Monaco.mp3
Saturday, September 16, 2006
It was a perfect combination of artists - Earle was his usual gruff but sensitive self, and Cash was folkie-sincere and obviously really intelligent.
Cash gave Earle some shit about showing up stoned at a concert 20 years ago, and Earle, now famously sober, seemed a little chagrined. He, in turn told a funny story about hanging out with Johnny Cash right after he got out of jail.
They sang a bunch of songs together and to be honest I wasn't crazy about either Earle's or Cash's later stuff, but "Seven Year Ache," "Guitar Town," and especially "Goodbye," were sensational, and reminded me of why I used to listen to both of them a lot, and go to see them any time they were in New York.
I'm sure CMT will rerun the episode - it's definitely worth checking out.
I posted this on MySpace a month ago. I'm reposting it here because I need to fill up space and also because it's really the first of my rock and roll experiences.
Monday, August 07, 2006
RIP Arthur Lee
Friday, September 15, 2006
I think the thing that I like best about the blogs I read, and the editors and writers of those blogs, is that they exhibit the same kind of passion for the music that the writers at Creem and Fusion and Crawdaddy and NY Rocker and Trouser Press, and other magazines from the 70's. And the passion that my friends and I had. We were in bands, we worked in record stores, we haunted other record stores, we'd sit around each other's stereos and play music at each other. Reading all these blogs was like being with my friends, talking about and listening to music.
I have a couple of goals for Be Hear Be Now. One is to pass along stuff I hear that I really like. Another is to offer a forum for friends of mine who care as much about music as I do, but may have different tastes or interests or simply a different point of view. And finally I hope to write a series of sketches that I'm calling my rock and roll autobiography. Over the years my love of music has caused me to run into one experience or another, in a Forrest Gump sort of way, that I think might be interesting to share. The first one is actually something I posted on MySpace last month after Arthur Lee died.