Thursday, December 27, 2007

Be Hear Be Now Top 15 Albums - 2007

A few months ago, Stephen King, who I respect in the same way I respect Nick Hornby, as a writer whose work I like who also has a pretty good critical perspective on popular culture, wrote a piece for Entertainment Weekly about coolness, and who was cool and who wasn't, specifically in terms of pop artists. (Find it here.)
It was actually surprisingly curmudgeonly and, in my opinion almost as off-base as Sasha Frere Jones' article about how indie music has disconnected itself from black music.
However, it gave me permission to use coolness to define my best-of-2007 list, so here goes, the coolest records of 2007 as per moi.
1. Okkervill River The Stage Names
Okkervil River has plenty of indy cred -obscure lyrics, wandering melodies - but at their heart they are a very powerful rock band.
Okkervil River - Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe
Okkervil River - John Allyn Smith Sails

2. Sorcerer White Magic
I think this is my favorite discovery of the year. Sorcerer is Daniel Saxon Judd, a musician/producer from Oakland, CA. Sorcerer is his vehicle to present his odd combination of laid back California yacht rock and disco. It shouldn't work, but, of course, it does.
The Sorcerer - Hawaiian Island

3. Jens Lekman Night Falls Over Kortedala
Swedish guy from Gothenberg, the Austin of Europe. Many people compare him to Jonathan Richmond, which is definitely not cool. But since all those people are wrong he is still cool. Charming lyrics (at least they seem to be, maybe it's the Swedish accent), surrounded by astute samples from all over the musical map. Like a great storyteller, he lays out conflicts and then subtly but inexorably increases the emotional pressure.
Jens Lekman - Postcard to Nina

4. Silent League Of Stars and Other Somebodies
Their MySpace site proudly proclaims, "Soft rock is not a guilty pleasure."
Silent League - Before You Started

5. Of Montreal Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer
Mixing '70's and '80's soul with George Bataille.
Of Montreal - A Sentence of Sorts in Kingsvonger

6. Lewis and Clarke Blasts of Holy Birth
I believe Lou Rogai may be the best songwriter in America.
Lewis and Clarke - Blasts of Holy Birth

7. Panda Bear Person Pitch
Complicated, layered pop music.
Panda Bear - Comfy In Nautica

8. M.I.A. Kala
Her second album, even stronger than her first. This time next year she is the Next Shakira.
M.I.A. - Paper Planes

9. Chromatics Night Drive
Post modern neo-disco? The next cool sub-genre.
Chromatics - Night Drive

10. Feist The Reminder
At this point she is too popular to be a cult figure, but too smart to be mainstream. Okay, she's already been on "The Today Show" twice. I guess that makes her mainstream. That only adds to her subversive coolness.
Feist - 1234

11. The National Boxer
Supposedly inspired by Jonathan Ames' The Extra Man.
The National - Fake Empire

12. The Dreamers - Day For Night
Representing all the Swedish pop music I listened to this year.
The Dreamers - Michael

13. Paul Duncan Above the Trees
I don't know much about this guy, except that his songs are shiny bright acoustic gems.
Paul Duncan - Red Eagle

14. The Heart Strings Try Fly Blue Sky
I found this band on MySpace, under their cover band name Hot Air Balloonists. I blogged about a song of theirs. Their manager sent me their record when it came out a few months ago. I really like it.
Heart Strings - Pedalo

15. National Lights The Dead Will Walk, Dear
A concept album about dying. More fun the Lou Reed's Magic and Loss.
National Lights - Better For It, Kid

Honorable Mentions: Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga; Dan Deacon Spiderman of the Rings; The Field Over the Ice; Iron and Wine The Sheperd's Dog; Richard Hawley Lady's Bridge; Taken by Trees Open Field; Ulrich Schnauss Goodbye; Mono in VCF Mono in VCF; Arcade Fire Neon Bible; Great Lakes Swimmers Ongiara.

Friday, December 21, 2007

All I Want Is You - Juno Soundtrack

I recently saw Juno, the Jason Reitman film written by Diablo Cody, about a smart 16-year old (played by Ellen Page) who gets pregnant and decides to have the baby and then give it up for adoption.
I highly recommend the film - it's funny and thoughtful and knowing. Not the least of its highlights is the soundtrack, which is a mixture of cool oldies and new singer/songwriter stuff. One of the things I particularly appreciated was that the producers weren't afraid to play whole songs and make them the center of attention.
As if to underscore the fact that Juno is basically a child, the song that plays over the opening credits is "All I Want Is You," by kiddie music star Barry Louis Polisar.
I've been playing this song over and over ever since I saw the movie. I'm sure I'll get sick of it soon enough - it's that kind of song - but for now it's my Christmas hit.
Barry Louis Polisar - All I Want Is You
Purchase the soundtrack on Itunes - it's not yet available from Amazon or in stores.

Monday, December 17, 2007

New Mix by Sorcerer

Sorcerer, aka Daniel Judd, the master producer/dj/musician from Oakland responsible for White Magic, my Number 2 album of the year, has posted a link to a cool mix he recently created. Very very highly recommended.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Great Songs and Great Songwriting #3 - Jon Dee Graham ESCAPE FROM MONSTER ISLAND

I got to know Jon Dee Graham after I moved to Austin in 1997. At the time, he was in the process of transforming himself from a respected guitarist who had toured and recorded with people like Kelly Willis, John Doe and Simon Bonney, to a singer of his own songs. It was not an easy transformation. Austin, for all its musical greatness, has a tendency to pigeonhole people and then fight like hell to keep them there.
Consequently, there were a lot of nights when Jon Dee and his buddy and musical compere, Mik Hardwick, played to a crowd of five or ten. That crowd often included me. I don't think you have to be a genius to recognize Graham's talent, but for some reason many people in Austin didn't seem to get him at first.
That started to change after he did a Sunday night broadcast on one of the local Austin radio stations. Matt Eskey, the owner of Freedom Records, heard a tape of the show and asked him to make a record. Gave him a bunch of money (Not!) and said, go make a record and bring me the master and I'll put it out. So Jon Dee took a notebook full of songs and a couple of guitars, went into a local studio with Hardwick, a group of musicians he had met over the years, and Austin's producer du jour. That producer left after a week for greener pastures (or what he perceived to be a better offer) and Jon Dee, Hardwick and engineer Andy Taub ended up producing the album themselves. I hung around a little during the recording sessions, and watched as Jon Dee, Mike and Andy slowly built the album (sometimes, it seemed, with glue and rusty nails and wood they found out behind the studio.)
By the time the album came out, in June or July, 1997, I had moved to Los Angeles, so I experienced Austin's "discovery" of Jon Dee and his talent second hand, through the pages of the Austin Chronicle.
After Jon Dee finished recording, he mixed and mastered the album. He and Matt Eskey started taking it around to radio stations. I remember very clearly speaking to Jon Dee one night after he had met with the program director of the most influential radio stations in Austin. This was a good guy, a guy with taste, a guy who had been a friend of Jon Dee's for years. He listened to the record and pronounced it "not radio-ready."
It may not have been radio-ready, but sometime after that Andy Langer wrote a cover story about Jon Dee for the Austin Chronicle, and, Austin being Austin, that was enough to create a tidal wave of interest in "Escape."
Not that it was undeserved. Escape from Monster Island is a brilliant album.
Many of the songs - the ones most moving to me - dealt with his touring- and divorce-enforced separations from his then-five year old son, Roy. But there were also songs that explored spirituality, and songs about relationships and friendships and breakups and tragedies. Not too many happy songs . (There were a couple later on - a great song called "Big Sweet Life," a song called "October," which I posted last year.) Throughout all of Jon Dee's songs, on Escape from Monster Island and on his later albums, there is a sense of sadness and regret but mostly, a willingness to explore the dark places most of us are just as happy to stay away from.
Ten years of listening, and the album still moves me, and makes me uncomfortable and makes me nod my head in recognition.
Jon Dee Graham - $100 Bill
Jon Dee Graham - Faithless
Jon Dee Graham - Kings

My current favorite lyric (from "Kings"):
Havin' a child
Takes the paint right off a man
Man, man oh man.
Out in the wild
The beasts do the best they can
To stand, stand, stand stand

You can purchase Escape From Monster Island, as well as the new documentary about Graham, called Swept Away, at the Texas Music Roundup.
Get more info about Jon Dee at his website.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

DJ Johan Agebjorn

Johan Agebjorn, the Swedish composer, producer and dj, has released a tremendous new mix, made up mainly of songs by female singers, including one by the great Sally Shapiro, who's album, Disco Romance, he produced and mostly wrote.
I have blogged about both Johan and Sally Shapiro several times in the past year, because I think they are two of the most talented artists I have come across in a long time.
Here is the track list for the "Pig Radio Mix:"
1. Mylène Farmer - L'Ame-Stram-Gam (1999)
2. Sophie Rimheden feat. Annika Holmberg - Can You Save Me? (Mont Ventoux Remix) (2005)
3. Cloetta Paris - I Miss You Someone (2007)
4. Sally Shapiro - I Know (2006)
5. Souvenir - Allô allô (Johan Agebjörn remix) (2007)
6. Ercola feat. Annie - Follow Me (Original Club Mix) (2007)
7. Mikado - Romance (1983)
8. Ingela Renliden - Dockans Man (1967)

Johan Agebjorn and Sally Shapiro - Pig Radio Cast

Sally Shapiro's album, Disco Romance, has just been released in the USA, wuth several cuts not on the European release. It's available via Amazon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Heart Strings/Jens Lekman

Last year, while browsing around on MySpace, I came across the website of an English band called the Hot Air Balloonists. Their site featured a great song called "Cosmos," which I posted here. One of this blog's readers did a little research and found out that the Hot Air Balloonists was actually the alter ego of a band called the Heart Strings.
Several weeks ago, the Heart Strings' manager, Paul Devaney, sent me a promo copy of the band's first album, entitled try fly blue sky.
The album lives up to all the expectations created by "Cosmos." It is gorgeous pop music, reminiscent of everyone from Badfinger to the McCoys to the great (unknown) '70's pop band the Movies, yet utterly original and definitely grounded in the 21st century.
The Heart Strings - Nina and Her Very Long Hair
try fly blue sky is currently available for download only. You can get it at Itunes.
The similarity in song titles is as good excuse as any to post something from the wonderful new Jens Lekman album, Night Falls Over Kortedala, one of the best albums of the year.
I won't say anything about "A Postcard to Nina." Just listen.
Jens Lekman - A Postcard to Nina
Night Falls Over Kortedala is available from Amazon.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

San Francisco Sound

As part of their Nuggets series, Rhino Records has just released Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970, a four-cd box set that features songs by Bay Area pre-hippy garage bands as well as some post-1967 bands like the Great Society, Janis Joplin and Santana.
This is not a set I will be buying. After a brief infatuation with San Francisco music as an adolescent, when I happily bought into the myth of a rock music-led revolution, I got the hippy ethos out of my system when I made a post-high school pilgrimage to Mecca and found not peace and love but street criminals, speed freaks and bad LSD.
However, the release of the set is a good excuse to post a couple of songs by two San Francisco bands I actually like a lot.
The first is "Don't Talk to Strangers," by the Beau Brummels, a song actually featured on the Rhino set. Written by the band's guitarist, Ron Elliott, "Don't Talk to Strangers" is grounded in Byrds-like folk rock but morphs into a powerhouse garage rock masterpice during the chorus. The song is driven by the vocals of Sal Valentino, one of the best American rock singers of the 1960's. And it doesn't hurt that it was produced by the premier San Francisco music producer at the time, Sylvester Stewart, who would later change his name to Sly Stone.
The second song is "It's a Beautiful Day Today," by Moby Grape, from their 1969 album, 1969. Moby Grape was as badly over-marketed and overhyped as Boston's Ultimate Spinach, but they had ten times the talent. Unfortunately, Columbia Records was so anxious to ride the wave of the "San Francisco Sound," that they ruined whatever chance the Grape had for commercial success. The record company did brilliant things like simultaneously releasing five singles from the debut album, and of course, all of them tanked, including the still-amazing "Omaha."
By the time 1969 came out, Moby Grape had been forgotten by everyone from the record company to the public. That's too bad, because the album was a brilliant example of WestCoast down tempo folk rock.
"It's a Beautiful Day Today" has always been a favorite song of mine. I've never been sure if the band really means what they are singing or if the song's true meaning is more accurately reflected in the incredibly melancholy melody, emphasized beautifully by the lonesome whistle bridge in the middle of the song.

The Beau Brummels - Don't Talk to Strangers
Moby Grape - It's a Beautiful Day Today

"Don't Talk to Strangers" is featured on several Beau Brummels greatest hits albums, available on Amazon. Check out the Sal Valentino/Beau Brummels website.
"It's a Beautiful Day Today" is available on 1969, which is being reissued in an expanded version next month, and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Scandinavian Pop

I don't think there is any geographic area putting out as much interesting music right now as Scandinavia, more particularly Sweden and most particularly, the city of Gothenburg, where every resident must be in a band and have a MySpace site.
Most of the music is melodic pop with roots in the Indie pop of 1980's England. (Some call it twee - one blog referred to current Swedish pop music as "Swee.")
But even in that context, many artists are finding ways to either subvert the genre or totally modernize it. (The two most striking examples are Sally Shapiro and her producer, Johann Agebjorn, and the post modern crooner, Jens Lekman, who's album Night Falls Over Kortedela, has been alternating with the latest Okkervil River album as my favorite of 2007.)
Scandinavian pop is like music porn. Once you start listening, you can't stop. I find myself at my computer, late at night, the lights off, everyone else asleep, with headphones on, frantically clicking from one MySpace site to another, listening to snippet after snippet of brilliant pop music from one band from Gothelberg after another.
Here are songs from two of the (at the moment) more obscure of the many amazing bands that make up the population of that city.

The Dreamers - All Across This City

Boat Club - Warmer Climes

Boat Cub on MySpace. The Dreamers on MySpace.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Feelies

Was there ever a time when the Velvet Underground was unappreciated? Of course. Certainly during the period when they actually existed. I'm sure that, outside New York, Los Angeles and Boston, they were booed as much, if not more, than they were applauded. I personally remember having to lock the door of the dj booth in college when I played "Sister Ray," because the program director wanted to come in and turn it off.
But somewhere along the line, the boos turned into cheers, Lou Reed had a hit single, a million bands claimed the Velvets as an influence, a box set came out, and finally, I think, they even made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
If you are pining for a band to love who suffers from the same lack of appreciation as the Velvets suffered for so long, may I suggest the Feelies, a band from the same fertile new wave crescent of Northern New Jersey that produced the Bongoes and the Individuals, but with a much more lasting impact.
There is a reason that I led this piece with the Velvet Underground. The Feelies unabashedly borrowed the rhythm guitar style of the Velvet's "What Goes On," (not they were alone - check out many of Brian Eno's tracks on Another Green World) combined it with great Television double leads and Beatle-esque harmonies (not to mention exquisite tastes in covers ) and created a new pop sound that was loved by the bands who got into clubs for free to hear them but not by the record companies or the masses who were meant to buy the four albums they put in their lifetime.
Part of the problem was that the Feelies never seemed that interested in being a band, much less rock stars. They were like a college student who would finish one year of school and then drop out for two or three or five. They put out their first record Crazy Rhythm, on Stiff Records in 1980, but they had already been together since 1976. (I actually met them in 1977 at Terry Ork's loft, when they played percussion for my band Jack Ruby, when we were auditioning for Ork.)
They then broke up, but got back together to put out The Good Earth (my favorite of their records) in 1986. That is probably the record that should have made them stars. It was accessible and warm and full of hummable melodies and intricate pop arrangements. But it did not make them stars.
It only took two years for the Feelies to put out their next album, Only Life, the album which makes clear their debt to the Velvet Underground by actually covering "What Goes On."
Finally, three years later they put out their last album, Time for a Witness, at which point Bill Million, one of the two writer/singer/guitarists, moved to Florida, neglecting to mention to the rest of the band that he was leaving.
As I said, I knew the Feelies slightly back in the late '70's. They were part of the very vibrant post punk scene that coalesced around Maxwell's in New Jersey. But I wasn't a huge fan of Crazy Rhythms, and I lost track of them after that. (Honestly, I lost track of most music for the next eight or ten years.)
When I finally rediscovered them, it was too late to appreciate them in the flesh. However it's still possible to appreciate them on their records, which sound as fresh today as they did when they were released. Some reviewer called them the first alt/indie band, and if you want to talk about powerful rhythms, strong melodies built into the vocal harmonies and the guitar parts, and obscure, hard-to-decipher lyrics - then I would agree. But what I always come back to is the rhythm. I said earlier that they co-opted the Velvet's rhythm from "What Goes On," but really the Velvets smartly stole that rhythm from Bo Diddley and that rhythm is part of the original dna of rock n roll.
The Feelies - The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness (from Crazy Rhythms)
The Feelies - On the Roof (from The Good Earth)
The Feelies - Higher Ground (from Only Life)
The Feelies - Waiting (from Time for a Witness)
The Velvet Underground - What Goes On (Closet Mix)
The Feelies - What Goes On

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Great Songs and Great Songwriting #2 (Story Songs)

I am not a huge fan of story songs. Actually, let me rephrase that: I've never found the fact that a song is a story song a reason in and of itself to love the song. I know there is a tradition in American folk music that has certainly shown itself in pop ("Honey"), soul ("Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," Slick Rick's "Children's Story") and country (a million examples, everything from "Ode to Billie Joe" to "Goodbye Earl"). And many of those songs are great. But they aren't necessarily my cup of tea. (I am partial to Dennis Linde's "Goodbye Earl.")
But I'm posting the two story songs below not only because they build suspense like good old fashioned short stories, but their twisted endings reflect a cynicism and bitterness on the part of the writers that I find very attractive.
John Hiatt - Tennessee Plates
Robert Earl Keen - The Road Goes On Forever

Friday, September 14, 2007

Rock's Backpages

Rock's Backpages is an English website that republishes English and American music criticism from the rock era, dating back to the mid-60's and continuing into the present. It has managed to collect over 10,000 articles from most of the rock press - everything from the major magazines, like Rolling Stone, Spin, Creem, NME and Melody Maker - to more obscure but equally influential magzines like Zig Zag, Fusion, Trouser Press, New York Rocker (my fave) and No Depression. It features pieces by literally thousands of writers, from early mainstream media rock critics like the NY Times' Mike Jahn, to hall of famers like Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Greg Shaw and Nick Kent, to obscure geniuses like John Mendelssohn, to passers-through like Chrissie Hynde, Kim Fowley and Nick Hornby. It costs a few bucks a year and it's is totally worth it. I've been subscribing for five or six years. Every Monday I get an email with a list of 10-20 new articles they have added to their database. They are extremely well-organized and articles are accessible by artist name, genre, writer or magazine. Please check it out.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Great Songs and Great Songwriting #1

I've always been fascinated by songs, and what makes one song great and another not so hot. There is so much that goes into a great song. Obviously, you have to have both a memorable melody and meaningful lyrics. And the song has to be constructed in such a way as to please and surprise the listener over and over again.
Great songwriting is a craft as well as an art. I love that place where the craft and the art meet.
This is the first in a series of posts in which I hope to explore different facets of songwriting and also post some examples of what I consider great songs. And eventually, come to some conclusions about exactly what elements go into a great song.
The first song I'm posting was written and performed by Michelle Shocked, on her 1992 album, Arkansas Traveller. Ironically, I chose it not because it illustrates any particular premise about songwriting. It's just a song I find myself listening to a lot. And aside from the catchy melody and propulsive pace of the song, the reason I love it as much as I do may have more to do with the fact that it's structurally a travelogue about Los Angeles circa 1988 (a few years before I moved there) and therefore personally interesting.
Michelle Shocked - Come a Long Way

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Nu-Soft Rock

Looking for something easy to listen to on your way to work, something that won't insult your intelligence or threaten your musical integrity? Check out the Silent League, a celestial-sounding pop band founded by Justin Russo, formerly a member of Mercury Rev, whose MySpace page proudly proclaims, "Soft rock is not a guilty pleasure."
Incorporating influences from artists as disparate as Bowie and Bread, (not to mention amazing Richard Carpenter-like horn arrangements) Silent League's album, Of Stars and Other Somebodies, (available here) will make you forget, at least for a moment, the rush hour traffic, the crowded subways and the horribly petty humiliations of your pathetic existence.
The Silent League - Out of Reach
Silent League will be at Mercury Lounge in Manhattan on September 28, and at Luna Lounge in Brooklyn on September 29. Another great nu-soft band, Maps, is also on both bills.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Two New Discoveries

Besides the Okkervil River album, there are two other artists I have discovered recently that I've been enjoying a lot.
One is a guy I discovered on Pitchfork, named Christian Kiefer, who lives in Northern California and is a fiction writer as well as a musician and songwriter.
Kiefer has put out several albums that are stylistically all over the map, from avant-noise to blues to folk. His new album, Dogs and Donkeys, (available here) is what I would have called alt-country ten years ago. (It actually reminds me of one of my favorite albums of all time, Son Volt's Trace.)
The album features guest appearances by Nels Cline (currently in Wilco), the legendary Garth Hudson and Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker from Low.
Here is the first track on the album:
Christian Kiefer - Pretty White Clouds

The other artist I'm really enjoying right now is a DJ from Oakland, CA, called the Sorcerer. (Real name, Daniel Judd.) He has a new album out called White Magic, on Tirk Records, available here.
It's a lovely
West Coast example of neo-disco, one of my favorite genres at the moment. (See my post on Sally Shapiro a few months ago.)
The Sorcerer - Hawaiian Island
There is also a great Prins Thomas remix of "Surfing at Midnight," from the same album, floating around the blogosphere.

Okkervil River - The Stage Names

Okkervil River, from Austin, Texas, and led by singer/writer Will Sheff, just released their fifth album, The Stage Names, and it may be the best album I've heard all year. The album careens between genuinely driving rock and roll songs and indie ballads that border on prettiness. The lyrics are as dense and full of puns and tricks as early Elvis Costello. (Case in point: The song "Plus One," with lyrics like, "No one wants to hear about your 97th tear," and, "You would probably die before you shot up nine miles high..." You get the point.)
The music is complex and layered without ever sounding processed or artificial. The playing is self-assured and the arrangements are consistently surprising.
The album has totally passed the listen-all-the-way-to-work-without-switching-to-shuffle test. Here is the opening track from the album, kindly provided by Jagjaguwar.
Okkervil River - Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe

Find out more about Okkervil River here.
Order The Stage Names from Emusic.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Best Velvet Underground Cover EVER!

Detroit, featuring vocalist Mitch Ryder, released their self-titled debut album on Paramount Records in 1972. Besides Ryder, the star of the album was guitarist Steve Hunter, who had played on a couple of Alice Cooper records and would go on to ((fleeting) fame as one of the guitarists who, along with Dick Wagner, gave Lou Reed's Berlin and the live Rock & Roll Animal their signature sounds. (Many people believe Rock & Roll Animal is the best live rock album of all time. I wouldn't go that far but, having attended the concert at which it was recorded, I will say it kicked ass.)
At the time of Detroit's release, the Velvet Underground's impact on rock music was still pretty much under the radar. David Bowie was performing live versions of "White Light White Heat" and "I'm Waiting for the Man" and Mott the Hoople covered "Sweet Jane," on the Bowie-produced All the Young Dudes, but at that point there was very little mainstream acknowledgement of their influence. (Of course, that would change drastically over the next couple of years as punk took hold and the cliche that the Velvets never sold a lot of records but everyone who bought one started a band came true.)
Listening to Detroit's version of "Rock and Roll" it's as if Grand Funk or Foghat or Dust had decided that this was their chance to define rock music circa 1972. It's a big hunk of Michigan metal that perfectly captures everything that was great- and execrable - about mainstream, pre-punk blues-based hard rock.
Detroit - Rock 'n' Roll

Monday, August 13, 2007

Harry Potter and the Smiths

My friend David Lee told me that he had spent the weekend reading the latest (and final) Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, while listening to the Smiths. And even though there are (obviously) no overt references to the Smiths in any of the Harry Potter novels, it makes a lot of sense to me that you could make a connection between the two. After all, even though the Potter novels are fantasy, they are as steeped in English-ness as Twinings Breakfast Tea, fitting very comfortably in the literary genre of the English schoolboy novel. And is there any band in the last 25 years who has so clearly been "English" as the Smiths?
Also, at least according to what I know about author JK Rowling (which is not that much, I admit) she is the right age, with the right kind of sensitive/rebellious college student mentality, to have listened to a lot of Smiths music in the '80's. And while there are no explicit Smith references in the novels, they are infused with the sense of romantic tragedy and outrage that defines the Smiths.
The Smiths - The Boy With the Thorn in His Side
The Smiths - There Is a Light That Never Goes Out

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Lee Hazlewood

Lee Hazelwood, who had been battling renal cancer for some time, passed away last Saturday, at the age of 78 . I posted a piece about him last January, and I am reposting it below, along with an mp3 of the song, "Summer Wine."

In today's (January 28) New York Times Arts and Leisure section, there is an interesting and entertaining interview with Lee Hazlewood, the songwriter and performer best known for writing many of Nancy Sinatra's hits, including "These Boots Are Made For Walking," "Some Velvet Morning" and "Summer Wine." Hazlewood, who recently released a new album called Cake or Death, has incurable renal cancer.
Hazlewood has been a hero of mine since I was a kid, because "Summer Wine" was the first song I had ever heard where the references to sex were so blatant and explicit that even I recognized them for what they were: blatant and explicit references to sex. (Lee: "She saw my silver spurs and said let's pass the time/And I will give to you some summer wine." Nancy: "Take off your silver spurs and help me pass the time/And I will give to you more summer wine.")
In the early 90's, young musicians began to realize that Hazlewood was more than just a kitschy artifact of the pop '60's. (He had been recording and releasing idiosyncratic albums in his adopted homeland, Sweden, throughout the last three decades, but very little of that material got heard in America.) Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth got a record company to release several of his albums in America. A bunch of artists recorded Hazlewood's songs on a tribute album called Total Lee!
Hazlewood's songs have held up incredibly well, because, even though the songs were supreme examples of '60's pop, there was always something weirdly off-the-wall going on. Like Scott Walker, Lee Hazlewood is now generally recognized as an overlooked artist who was way ahead of his time. It is unfortunate that it is only now, as he wrestles with cancer, that he is getting the kind of recognition he deserves.

Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood - Summer Wine

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Best of the First Half of 2007

I started working on this list over a month ago, but got sidetracked by the birth of my son Conner.
I wouldn't have said that the first six months of the year had been that great musically - nothing stood out in my mind as singularly mind-blowing. The trumpeted albums - by Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Of Montreal, Feist, Voxtrot - were all good, but nothing jumped out of the pack and marked itself as classic.
However, when I began to put together a rough list of my favorite tracks, I was surprised to find that I was almost overwhelmed with the amount of material I wanted to include - and the high level of enjoyment I got when I played the songs one after another. And frankly, I had a tough time editing the list down to the 36 songs with which I ended up.
Here, then, in no particular order, except that the segues work, is my list (album titles in parentheses):
Feist - One Two Three Four (The Reminder)
Los Campesinos! We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives (We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives)
Twilight Sad - That Summer at Home, I Had Become the Invisible Boy (Fourteen Summers, Fifteen Winters)
Of Montreal - A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger (Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?)
The Clientele - Here Comes the Phantom (God Save the Clientele)
Lucky Soul - Add Your Light to Mine, Baby (The Great Unwanted)
Math and Physics Club - Darling, Please Come Home (Math and Physics Club)
Kuryakin - Take My Hand (Unreleased Demo)
Pelle Carleberg - Pamplona (In a Nutshell)
California Snow Story - Begin Again (Close to the Ocean)
Panda Bear - Comfy in Nautica (Person Pitch)
Lewis and Clarke - Blasts of Holy Birth (Blasts of Holy Birth)
Great Lake Swimmers - Rocky Spine (Ongiara)
Magic Arm - Outdoor Games (Outdoor Games)
Miracle Fortress - Beach Baby (Five Roses)
The National Lights - Better For It, Kid (The Dead Will Walk, Dear)
Paul Duncan - Red Eagle (Above the Trees)
Nobody and the Mystic Chords of Memory - The Seed (Tree Colored See)
Hot Air Balloonists - Cosmos (Demo)
Scott Simons - Umbrella (Unreleased)
All Systems Ghost - Misty's Reflection (Virtues of Sleep demo)
Le Futur Pompiste - Sunflower (Your Stories and Your Thoughts)
Au Revoir Simone - Sad Song (The Bird of Music)
The Twin Atlas - Take Your Own Advice (Magic Car Wash)
Ulrich Schnauss - Never Be the Same (Goodbye)
LCD Soundsystem - Someone Great (Sound of Silver)
The Charade - My Song to You (A Real Life Drama)
The Mary Onettes - Pleasure Songs (The Mary Onettes)
Explosions in the Sky - Welsome, Ghosts (All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone)
The National - Fake Empire (Boxer)
The Field - Over the Ice (From Here We Go Sublime)
Alsace Lorraine - As We Fight (Dark One)
I Am Robot and Proud - The Catch (The Catch and Spring Summer Autumn Winter)
Patty Griffin - Up to the Mountain - MLK Song (Children Running Through)
The Postmarks - Goodbye (The Postmarks)
Many of these songs have already been posted on Be Hear Be Now. I've posted several more here. I strongly recommend that you buy these artists' albums.

My New Sloop

I have to be honest, I've never been a huge fan of the Beach Boys. But this understated remix of "Sloop John B," by my friend David Mester, really brings into focus how brilliantly they used harmonies to create a Phil Spector-like wall of sound.
By the way, Mester is not only a talented musician and mixer. He is also, among other things, the voice of the "Goat" in certain Aflac commercials.
David - My New Sloop

Thursday, July 19, 2007


1995 was a year of many changes for me, mainly because, for the first time in many years, I found myself living alone.
One result was that I spent a lot of time not only listening to music, but seriously exploring music and artists I wasn't previously aware of.
I'm posting songs by three of those artists here:
Grant McLennan, who passed away last year, was one of the co-leaders of the great Australian band the Go-Betweens. Horsebreaker, A True Star was his third solo album. The songs are jangly 12-string pop, very Byrds-like, but with offbeat melodies and lyrics that are either brilliantly surreal or really dumb.Rickard Buckner was (and is) a singer/songwriter from Phoenix, AZ. I first got interested in him because that summer, coinciding with the release of his first album, Bloomed, he was performing a lot at a club on East 9th Street called, Sine, and I would stick my head in the door on the way home from work. Even though I never stayed for a whole set (it was too hard to find a place to sit) I was mesmerized by his high lonesome voice and disjointed melodies. His songs remind me of a romanticized version of Denis Johnson's book, Jesus' Son. Like, maybe the songs Fuckhead would write after he got out of rehab.The reason I was living alone in 1995 was because in January of that year, my wife and I separated. I moved into a furnished studio in the East 40's. On the weekends I would drive out to Amagansett on the East End of Long Island, to stay at the house we had rented a few months earlier, when we first started having problems, in the hope that getting out of the city would help us patch things up. It didn't, we separated, and my wife wanted nothing to do with the house. So every weekend I would pick up the car we still shared and make the three and a half hour drive out to the Hamptons.
My soundtrack for many of those trips was Robert Earl Keene's Gringo Honeymoon. Even though the lyrics didn't necessarily speak to my particular situation, the sense of sweet melancholy in the songs, particularly the title song, refracted through the cocoon of darkness in which I was enveloped the minute I hit the highway, was a perfect mirror for my feelings and provided me with hours of comfort on those long drives.

Grant McLennan -Ice in Heaven
Richard Buckner - Gauzy Dress in the Sun
Robert Earl Keen - Gringo Honeymoon

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Clientele - God Save the Clientele

When I first heard to the Clientele's latest album, God Save the Clientele, a few months ago, my thought was that they were plundering genres like the Pirates of the Caribbean, particularly late '60's Beatle-inspired American pop music, best exemplified by the Monkees, but certainly echoed by bands like Tommy James and the Shondells, the Turtles, Harpers Bazaar and the Cyrkle.
But the more I listened to the album, the more I appreciated it - not only for the skill the band demonstrated in producing classic pop music, but also for the genuinely clever lyrics, memorable melodies and complex arrangements.
I've come around to the point that I consider it one of my favorite albums of the moment.
Here's a song that would have been a certain Number 1 in 1968.
The Clientele - Here Comes the Phantom

Just for kicks, here's a Jayhawks song from their 2000 album, Smile. That was the album that lost them their alt-country fan base without winning them any pop music fans. However, I believe this song was used in a Ralph Lauren commercial.
The Jayhawks - Smile

Both God Save the Clientele and Smile are available via Amazon.

Friday, July 06, 2007

J Pop Offshoots

I recently spent a brief period obsessed with J Pop, that genre of Japanese pop music that is the result of Japanese assimilation/interpretation of American and European pop music. My obsession has wained simply because I found most of the music pretty boring.
Ultimately, I did discover a couple of artists I find extremely intriguing.
Color Filter probably does not qualify as J Pop - they seem too serious. But since I discovered them on a Japanese label website (Happiness Records) that featured several J Pop performers, I'm going to call them neo-j pop. Color Filter is led by nuclear physicist/multi instrumentalist Ryuji Tsuneyoshi. Vocals are by Yuki Nishimura. They have just released a new album in Japan called Blueberry. (Doesn't seem to be an American release scheduled, although their earlier albums were released on Darla.)
I am posting a track from their last album, called Silent Way.

Color Filter - Strange Day

Find out more about Color Filter at their website.
Purchase Silent Way at Pointy Records.

I found Sucrette via MySpace, and I don't know much about them (everything is in Japanese). I do know they have a fascinating take on French yeh-yeh pop. This song is from their new album, C'est Si Bon.

Sucrette - Sweet Magic

Check out Sucrette on MySpace
Purchase C'est Si Bon at Amazon Japan

Check out the Itunes Podcast called the JPopcast Show with DJ San Fran & Christine Miguel to hear more J Pop than you'll ever need.
I continue to be fascinated with J Pop's utterly uncritical embrace of other genres of pop music, so, if anyone has any J Pop suggestions for me, please email them. I'm very interested in learning more.

Middle of the road crap or rock classics?

In the early 90's I wasn't listenng to a lot of music, and what I was listening to was all over the map. A little bit of country, a little bit of shoegaze (even though I didn't know that was what it was called) a little bit of whatever was popular on MTV or on WNEW-FM, the New York progressive rock dinosaur radio station.
For me, it was a time of relearning how to listen to music, after a long period of not listening to much music at all.
The three songs I'm posting here are songs I listened to a lot during that period, and which I don't think I've listened to in over ten years. I'm posting them because I'm curious if they hold up.
When the Gin Blossoms released their first album, New Miserable Experience, it seemed like they could be the reincarnation of either Big Star or the Raspberries. Then the band fired their alcoholic guitar player, Doug Hopkins, (he later committed suicide) and they were never able to repeat the magic.
Del Amitri was a Scottish band, in some ways maybe a distant relative of Teenage Fanclub in their ability to come up with memorable melodies, but without the Fanclub's originality or willingness to take a risk.
Hothouse Flowers was another Scottish band. I liked the bigness, the anthem-like quality of their songs. I put "Isn't It Amazing" on a lot of mix tapes, because of its spiritual theme.
Gin Blossoms - Hey Jealousy
Del Amitri - Be My Downfall
Hothouse Flowers - Isn't It Amazing?
So, crap or classic? I can't tell. Each of these songs meant a great deal to me at a particular moment in my life, and I can't separate the songs from the emotional connections I still have with them. The one thing I will say is, none of them are as bad as Hootie and the Blowfish.

Here's a bonus:
Freedy Johnston - Bad Reputation

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Few Summer Songs

I'm not going to get involved in any stupid arguments about what defines a summer song.
But here are a couple of older summer songs and and two that I've been playing recently. I know they're summer songs because they have the word "summer" in the title. (Check out the cool pop culture reference in the Johnny Rivers song.)
Johnny Rivers - Summer Rain
The Undertones - Here Comes the Summer
The Shermans - Summer In Your Heart
Lucky Soul - One Kiss Don't Make a Summer

The Undertones and The Johnny Rivers Anthology are both available at
The Shermans' Casual cd is available from Shelflife Records.
Lucky Soul's Add Your Light to Mine, Baby is available from

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lewis & Clarke's Blasts of Holy Birth etc.

Lewis & Clarke's new album Blasts of Holy Birth (about which I posted before it's release) is out now, on La Societe Expeditionaire. I recommend it highly.
As I have discussed before, Lewis & Clarke is the musical vehicle for the singer and writer named Lou Rogai, from Pennsylvania.
I have thought a lot about what makes his music so attractive to me, and last week, as I was walking home from work with the title song playing in my Ipod headphones, I realized that what I like best about the music is the fact that it swings. I hate that word, because it so directly references a type of music that I don't have any particular affinity for, but I figured out a long time ago that my love of music is very strongly related to my belief that there is a definite rhythm to the universe, and that if we can lock into that rhythm and live within it, it's like swimming with the current, and we can live harmoniously. And of course, if we fight the rhythm, as if we were trying to swim against the current, we are going to be exhausted, anxious and discontent.
I have found this applies to everything from physical activities like running to things a simple and basic as breathing. And, of course, it very much applies to music.
The sense of swing begins, superficially, in the rhythm section. Bass and drums. I can't explain technically what makes some musicians swing and others not swing, although I think there may be something about being just the slightest bit ahead of the beat. I do know that Charlie Watts could play the phone book and it would swing. And I remember seeing James McMurtrey at Mercury Lounge back in the 90's and thinking that he was very lucky that he had an Austin rhythm section backing him up, because without it his songs (at least in the arrangements he was then playing) would have been interminable.
However, I think there is a deeper kind of swing, which I hesitate to even try to define. It's one of those "I don't know what it is, but I know it when I hear (feel) it" things. I think there are musicians - artists - who innately and unconsciously swing. (For some reason, my paradigm for this is Duke Ellington. My image of being swingingly in sync is Duke Ellington in a tuxedo, conducting an orchestra as he floats down the river.)
Lewis and Clarke, and Lou Rogai, embody that type of swing.
What's interesting about Lewis and Clarke's music is the fact that there is something meditative - a melodic droning, a relaxed drawing out - that occurs simultaneously with its swing-ness. When I first noticed this, I thought that the two were antithetical, and that it didn't make sense that they were occurring at the same time. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to fit, in as much as one of the goals of meditation is to find that place in oneself where one is in sync with the universe.
So, in affect, the music is acting as a prod to help us find that place of harmony within ourselves, at the same time that it actually reflects that harmony.
Lewis and Clarke - Bare Bones and Branches (Live on WPRB)

All of Lewis and Clarke's albums are available at the Lewis and Clarke website.
Lewis and Clarke will be performing at a Ballroom Party to Benefit Common Ground
Friday June 15th at the Prince George Ballroom

15 East 27th St (btw. 5th & Madison)
Manhattan, NY
$20.00 (3 Free Beers with every Ticket Purchase [21+])
For more info, go here.

Welcome to the World, Conner Kirkpatrick Hall

Guy Clark - Come from the Heart
White Stripes - Hardest Button to Button

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Philip Rambow - Fallen

There isn't much to say about "Fallen." It's a great song by a singer/songwriter who never did anything else as interesting or exciting. You could call "Fallen" a one hit wonder, except it wasn't even a hit.
For a couple of months back in 1979, I played this song more often then all the other records I owned combined. And since I found it online last week, I've been playing it just as relentlessly. (One of the things I have found out about my music listening is that I still love everything that I loved at one time or another. But in addition, I now love a lot of things I didn't like at all at one time or another.)

Philp Rambow - Fallen

You can download the (now out-of-print) album from which "Fallen" is taken - Shooting Gallery - at a great sharity blog call Power Pop Criminals.

Marie et les Garcons - Re-Bop

Over the last couple of weeks I've been incredibly fortunate to find digital versions of several songs/albums that have been on my digital wish list for years.
First and foremost is the Beckies' album, about which I've already posted.
But there are a couple of other things I've found recently, and I'm happy to be able to write about them and offer them up as MP3's.
Marie et les Garcons was a French post-punk group. When I discovered the 12" of "Re-Bop" (in 1978 or '79)) I was working at Bleeker Bob's record store, and I brought it home only because it was on Ze Records and because John Cale produced it. At the time I was in a band called W-2, and we had just replaced out bass player, Shelby, with a guy who I remember only as William. "Re-Bop," which was disco punk overlayed with a thin veneer of Euro-pop, had a lot of elements that I thought were similar the things we were doing in W-2, and I wanted this guy William to listen and learn. So I loaned him the 12" (along with Jack Johnson and some obscure disco records). A week or so later, in the van on the way back from a disastrous gig in Philadelphia, W-2 broke up, and for whater reasons - mostly having to do with my own drug-addled lack of responsibility - I never saw William again, and I never got the records back. And I never replaced "Re-Bop." Every couple of years I would wake up singing the chorus, and that would make me heartsick. I made a couple of half-hearted attempts to locate another copy of the song, with no luck. It wasn't like the song had been a hit and was going to show up on Greatest Hits of the '70's. Finally, last week, I discovered it online.
Happily, it holds up extremely well.
Marie et Les Garcons - Re Bop

Believe it or not, Marie et les Garcons are still around; at least they have a MySpace site.

Ze Records deserves at least a post of its own, if not a whole book. In its heyday, it was one of the most innovative record companies in the world. Everyone from Lydia Lunch to Arto Lindsay released records on that label and none of them were boring.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Couple of Things I Found on MySpace

I've never had much to do with MySpace in terms of interacting with friends, but I've been a big fan of it as a source of music since I joined last spring. The first band I sent a Friend Request to was My Morning Jacket (don't ask me why). Soon after that, I learned about Lily Allen and I've been using MySpace to discover and keep up with music and musicians I like ever since.
In the past few days I have come across a couple of bands I would love to recommend:
My Cloud Mireya is from New York City and is made up of Claudia Deheza (ex- ON!AIR!LIBRARY!) and Guillermo S. Herren (Prefuse 73, Savath y Savalas, Piano Overlord, Zanzo plus the defunct Delarosa+Asora.) I don't know much else about them. I discovered them when I was checking out the "Top Friends" of a band I have been listening to for awhile called Daylight's for the Birds.
A Cloud Mireya - Wasted Time
A Cloud Mireya's album, Singular, is available from Insound.
My Cloud Mireya's MySpace site.

Le Futur Pompiste is from Finland. They were "Top Friends" of the Dreamers, a band I highly recommend and intend to post about more extensively in the near future.
Le Futur Pompiste - Seeds
Le Futur Pompiste's record, Your Stories and Your Thoughts, is available from Siesta Records.
Check out Le Futur Pompiste on Myspace.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Now that's what I call music.

Luomo - Let You Know

Buy Paper Tigers here.

Luomo website

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Great Pop Masterpiece

The legend of Michael Brown is pretty familiar to pop music geeks of a certain age. He was a precocious 16-year old music student in 1966 when he formed the Left Banke and wrote, arranged and recorded "Walk Away Renee" and "Pretty Ballerina." Both of those songs were hits, and it seemed like the Left Banke, and Michael Brown, were on their way.
But to those to whom much is given, much trouble is also given, and Brown, never comfortable on stage, and perhaps (unfairly) feeling the band could not keep up with him, soon split, and a year or so later, ended up producing and writing songs for a band called Montage. That didn't work out and the band broke up after making one album. (Despite the fact that it is probably the weakest album with which Brown was ever associated, his signature is unmistakeable.)
A couple of years later, Brown hooked up with a singer/bass player named Ian Lloyd and formed a band called the Stories, who were, in many ways the third point in the pop triangle of Big Star and the Raspberries. But while the Raspberries and the Stories shared an obvious debt to the Beach Boys, the Stories were strongly piano-based while the Raspberries and Big Star were all about ringing guitar chords. And even though all three bands relied on strong melodies and soaring harmonies, the Stories' music was much more firmlyy rooted in Brown's classical training and a love of a frenetic, almost Glenn Gould-like bed of keyboards.
The Stories released two albums in which Brown participated, but then he and Lloyd fought and Brown split again. Shortly afterward, the Stories actually had a hit, with Hot Chocolate's "Brother Louie," but one listen to that song and it's obvious that Brown had nothing to do with it.
Brown dropped off the map for a few years, and then resurfaced with a band called the Beckies, from St. Louis. I don't know how he found those guys. On paper, it was an unlikely match: young fresh faced innocents from the Midwest teaming up with a by-now battle scarred, paranoid New York music veteran.
However - a big however - the album they released in 1976 (called The Beckies) is, in my mind, a POP MASTERPIECE. Maybe THE pop masterpice.
Now, I may be alone in thinking this. Certainly no one has thought enough of it to reissue it on CD. Even when I first purchased it, in the summer of 1976, I found it in a cut out bin for $1.99 in a second hand record store on 12th Street and Broadway in NYC. But the fact that I remember so clearly the circumstances of the purchase says a lot about how important the album has been for me.
I have been listening to this record off and on for 31 years now, and it still sounds as fresh to me as the first day I heard it.
It's a sneaky record, I will admit. It's easy to hear it as a bland '70's pop/rock JoJo Gunne/Crabby Appleton wannabe (especially considering that it came out at a time when so much interesting and edgier stuff was going on musically in New York City.). But listen closely: the subtleties of Brown's writing, arranging and producing soon become obvious. The stops and starts, the bed of keyboards, the string arrangements, the counterpoint in the harmonies, the classical echoes in the solos, are all musical themes Brown had explored before, (albeit never as as successfully.)
The Beckies was the last album Michael Brown worked on. I have no idea what has happened to him. There is a fan website that has downloads of radio interviews with him in 2003, but I haven't listened. As a rock and roll romantic, I don't want anything messing with my image of Brown as the Villonesque artist manque. He is that great tragic figure, the musical genius who could never find a home. I would say that it's a shame, and I can't even begin to imagine what he would have created if he could have harnessed the demons that seem to have kept him from staying active. At the same time, I have to say that the Beckies album is a glorious way to end a career.

The Stories - Darling
The Stories - Please, Please

The Beckies - River Bayou
The Beckies - On the Morning That She Came
The Beckies - Fran

(Check out Gooder'n Bad Vinyl, a sharity blog featuring a great selection of out-of-print vinyl downloads.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Voxtrot, from Austin, Texas, has released three EPs in the last year and a half, each one more subtly original than the last. In the process, the band built a huge international fan base. (They sold out a week's worth of shows in New York City in no time last fall.)
Consequently, there was a lot of curiosity about what their first full length album (called Voxtrot, and released this week on Playlouder / Beggars Group Records) would sound like. (And quite a lot of pressure to be as good as, if not better than their three EPs, without repeating themselves.)
As the review in the New York Times on Monday said, no need to worry. Voxtrot has outdone themselves in every way. The production, by Victor Van Vugt, fleshes out their sound, adding instrumentation and weight without sacrificing the focus on the songwriting. The performances, by lead singer and songwriter Ramesh Srivastava, Jason Chronis, Mitch Calvert, Matt Simon, and Jared Van Fleet are original and self assured. The songs themselves are idiosyncratic pop gems, echoing everything from early Paul McCartney to XTC to fellow-Austinite Britt Daniels. And yet, there is never any doubt that it is Ramesh who is writing these songs. Melodic without being cloying, lyrically intensive without being pretentious or verbose, they are serious without taking themselves too seriously.
Voxtrot - Kid Gloves
Purchase Voxtrot at
Voxtrot MySpace.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Miracle Fortress

Miracle Fortress, the brain child of Montreal musician Graham Van Pelt, is streaming their new album on their MySpace site, and it's worth putting up with the crappy MySpace music player to experience it.
The album, Five Roses, will be released next week on Secret City Records, and can be ordered here.
Check it out, it really is brilliant.
PS: I posted a song from the album a couple of weeks ago, and you can still download it.

The National Lights

The National Lights, from Richmond, Virginia, have released an album called The Dead Will Walk, Dear, on BloodShake Records, and it's lovely (in a full moon shining through the pine trees in a lonely forest in Kentucky sort of way.) I have found myself listening to it a lot lately - in the car, on my way to work, on my computer at work. One song flows into another so seamlessy that the album seems to be over in the space of time one song usually takes.
Everything works: the 21st-century folk arrangements, the self-assured production by Chris Kiehne Jr., the background vocals by Sonya Cotton.
What I love best is the way the warm, accessible melodies by group leader Jacob Thomas Berns very sneakily suck you in, and then you slowly become aware that most of Berns' songs are about death and dying. The Dead Will Walk, Dear is an album that wraps itself around you. It's only later that you realize you are being warmed by a shroud.
I am hesitant to post a single song, because, as I said, one of the album's strengths is its cohesiveness. It really should be heard in its entirety. But what the hell, here is the first track.
National Lights - Better For It, Kid
Order the album here.
Learn more about the band here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


In the May 14 issue of The New Yorker there is an article about guitar maker Ken Parker by Burkhard Bilger that should be fof interest to anyone who either plays guitar or has tried to play it. Or, for that matter, anyone who has surfed Ebay fantasizing about vintage Gibsons, Martins and Fenders. Among the things I learned was that building a guitar is like building a cathedral - you are always balancing the practical need for support and the aesthetically-driven desire for pure tonal beauty. I also learned that you will never get rich making guitars by hand. Your descendants might, but you probably won't.
In honor of guitar makers and players everywhere, I am posting a song about guitar strings by Guy Clark, a pretty fair luthier in his own right.
Guy Clark - Black Diamond Strings
(The song has an interesting verse about Rodney Crowell and his father, JW, and mother, Causette.)

Listen to audio clips from Burkhard Bilger and Ken Parker

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

(I Am) Superman

The other day, my wife, Sara, and I were discussing REM, and she mentioned how much she loved the song "I Am Superman." I was happy to be able to point out to her that REM's version was in fact a cover of the original, which was the b-side of the only hit by a '60's pop/bubblegum LA group called The Clique, whose hit, "Sugar On Sunday," was written and originally recorded by the greatest of the pop/bubblegum LA groups, Tommy James and the Shondells. Oh, what a wonderfully tangled web we weave.

The Clique - (I Am) Superman
REM - (I Am) Superman

The Clique - Sugar On Sunday
Tommy James and the Shondells - Sugar On Sunday

Special thanks to my son Walker for finding the Clique cd in our apartment when I was convinced I had put it in storage.