Archive for the ‘dvd’ Category

Ask Me Some Questions: The Graham Parker Interview, Part 4

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Continued from Part Three

Bill Kopp: As much as I love your songwriting, two of my favorite tunes of yours have always been “Hold Back the Night” and “I Want You Back,” both soul/r&b covers. How did you discover that sort of music when you were young, and – since it has clearly influenced your style – what do you think it was and is about that kind of music that connected with you on an emotional level?

Graham Parker: None of that was a stretch in England in the 70s. After The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, there was a sort of subculture of soul, ska and Motown. And a sort of mod look, but more like skinheads. We looked like skinheads, but without the violence. Well [chuckles], sometimes, but not always.

And the culture was going to the clubs and listening to that music. Even going to see The Skatalites in the suburbs of England! I saw them, for goodness’ sake, in a provincial town, a nowheresville. These people would tour ’round here. [In the 60s] Otis Redding would play at a big scene about five miles from me. I was probably about fourteen [circa 1964-5]. Maybe sixteen. And in those days, we knew about things by seeing posters. And if you didn’t go out in a car that week, you wouldn’t see a poster. And you’d miss Otis Redding, playing down the road!

It wasn’t a stretch for us to be into that kind of music. It was a semi-underground thing; the charts were still much more pop music. But it was really something that got into my blood at that age. And then you get out of that and into the psychedelic era, then the blues era – Peter Green and Chicken Shack – I went through all that and forgot about soul music.

By the time I got to my early 20s, I might hear “I Want you Back” on the radio. And I realized, “That’s never gonna die.” Whereas a lot of this progressive rock, it’s dead in the water, y’know? So my entire attitude changed once again. I rediscovered that music, and I suddenly had a plan, as it were, or a direction to reinstate soul music into the culture. But to do it in an English way, of course. Like the Rolling Stones had done blues in an English way. And the Beatles did “Please Mr. Postman” and stuff like that.

BK: It’s part of the proud tradition of British artists serving up American music to Americans, filtering it though a British sensibility.

GP: Right. There was really nothing original about what I was doing. I was just doing it in my way, and it sounded like me. And it was extremely aggressive. We were also doing “You Can’t Hurry Love.” It’s on the [1976] Live at Marble Arch record, I think. Which at the time, 1976-76, was radical. The audience would see us doing that, and they would think we were doing bad pop music. They didn’t understand, because it wasn’t progressive, and there weren’t big lead guitar solos. But we took soul music and beefed it up into hard rock’n'roll style. But as I say, it wasn’t any more original than what The Beatles or Stones or Chris Farlowe were doing.

I was writing songs that were very soul influenced, but with more intellectual lyrics. But it wasn’t slavish, like the Alabama Shakes, which is basically a very good slavish copy. I wasn’t doing that, ever.

BK: A good bit of the film focuses on the events leading up to and including the making of Three Chords Good. What abut the experience of making that record was the same as the old days, and what was different?

GP: It was much different because we didn’t have a producer. It was me and my engineer/co-producer Dave Cook, saying, “We’re doing it. No way are we looking for some outside producer; it’s not going to happen.” And the band went along with it. Everybody in the studio was very glad of that. We know what we’re doing now; all that mystique about a great producer, that’s gone. It’s rubbish. What you need is an engineer who knows what he’s doing. And I had the experience to know what my songs are about. You don’t need someone walking in who’s heard them twice and thinks they know what they are! They never did; it was really getting in the way.

It was better. Everyone could relax and come up with their own ideas. And nobody had to listen to another guy who they’d barely met. Because [producers] always want to put their ten cents in. They’re being paid to do that.

BK: All the upcoming dates listed on your site are in the UK or western Europe. Do you have any plans to tour the states, or is that even feasible?

GP: Because we did it twice – and we did all of my markets in the States, and let’s face it: I have a limited amount of markets – there are only so many markets that make it feasible for a six-piece band and crew to come through without going broke.

It just seemed to happen. We did four dates in England; Shepherd’s Bush was sold out months in advance. To a certain extent, the response was even better than in America. In America, we’d just fill out a 1000-seat venue in New York for the last few dates. In England, we’d fill out a 2000-seater months in advance. So basically, I go where I’m in demand. And as soon as my agent saw that – him and the promoter – they went out thick as thieves and said, “Let’s do some more!” And I kind of got bowled along with it. Now we’ve got all this stuff lined up, including Europe, and I don’t really know how much I want to do this all year’ round. And – to talk in hard terms – I don’t think I can strain my market. And to tour America again that soon with The Rumour, I think that this year is out as far as the U.S. Is concerned. I’ve got other markets, like Scandinavia and Spain, that I have not toured in a long time. They want me to go other there solo, or any way possible. But how much life there is in this dog, I don’t know. I really take it bit by bit.

BK: Two Chords Good was released more than a year and a half ago. And while the bootleg box set is a recent release, what are your plans as far as recording releases for the future?

GP: Well, the lot of us are meeting in London, and we’re doing a record in about a week’s time. How about that? [chuckles]

BK: Fantastic!

GP: You may be the first to know that.

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Ask Me Some Questions: The Graham Parker Interview, Part 3

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Continued from Part Two

Bill Kopp: As the new Ask Me No Questions documentary points out, you parted ways with The Rumour after The Up Escalator (1980), but with the exception of Another Grey Area (1982), you pretty much continued to work with guitarist Brinsley Schwarz on many of your recordings. What was it about him that led you to keep using him but not the other guys in The Rumour?

Graham Parker: I’ve never really been able to answer that questions, really. Actually it was him and Andrew [Bodnar] on the bass as well. They continued on quite a lot of stuff. If you think of The Mona Lisa’s Sister [1988] – which was quite a radical record for me, production-wise – I had gotten fed up with all these 80s-sounding producers, and wanted something with as few instruments as possible. I had never really done that, and I pulled off something quite different, I think. Brinsley and Andrew were part of that, and they were on the road with me. So we did quite a lot together.

But I don’t really know the answer; it just seemed to fall into place without me thinking about it. Brinsley is a foil for me; he can take off the rough edges a bit. Martin [Belmont], as a guitarist, is sort of rough-edged. He’s a brilliant guitarist, and he actually played some incredible guitar on Howling Wind. That’s a lot of him playing the lead on songs like “Don’t Ask Me Questions.” Much more than people think. But he’s got that incredible intensity: Martin cannot lay back. Brinsley adds a dimension that real counts against what I do. So it seemed normal and natural to me; I don’t know how it happened, but I just started talking to Brinsley, and I said,”I want you to help me with The Mona Lisa’s Sister.” He was also on Steady Nerves [1985].

Also, some of the guitarists I was finding myself working with via producers like Jack Douglas on Another Grey Area, I didn’t think they were quite right for me. I didn’t think they had enough individuality in their playing; Brinsley has great individuality. So he has both of those things: a style that can smooth of some of my edges, making a very nice balance, and also individuality as a player. But it’s only now looking back and analyzing it that I can see why I did it.

BK: You mentioned about the 80s sound on some of the records. For me, the only one that really has what I’d consider “dated” production is the one that has “Break Them Down” on it…

GP: Steady Nerves, yeah. That was around the time I was saying, “Oh, I should be my own producer.” But I didn’t really have the guts to do it completely. So I got this guy Bill Whitman, who had engineered the She’s So Unusual album by Cyndi Lauper. And if you think of the sound of that, it personifies the 80s. Not that it wasn’t good; it was very good. He had done that record, and he was in that mode. There was no shaking him out of that. And I went along with it, because it was what you did then. You made an absolutely enormous drum sound, and all the instrument had a load of reverb on them. Everything was drenched in that sound. And that one’s definitely a culprit.

And that’s why I went radically against it with The Mona Lisa’s Sister. I really wanted to do the opposite. Although, if you listen to “Start a Fire” now, you could very well say, “That sounds very 80s.” The difference is, there’s one acoustic guitar doing the rhythm on a sort of disco beat song. Which is sort of unusual; that song is on a lot of alternative [compilation] records. But on that record, I stopped at four instruments: “We’re not gonna double the guitars.” That’s what you did on 80s records; if I played a rhythm guitar on Steady Nerves, the producer would say, “Double it.” So then you’d play what you did again, and they’d copy it. Because it made everything “bigger.” But in hindsight, it made everything smaller, in a strange kind of way. It squashed it with lots of treatment, lots of reverb. And that kind of production really canceled out the rock’n'roll element. It did so very effectively. And we were all guilty of that. We were searching for a bigger sound, but what we were getting was a louder sound. So it was very good to make The Mona Lisa’s Sister, and even better to make Struck by Lightning [1991]. By then, everything was much more grassroots again. There are a couple of tracks on that one that are overdone with production, but mostly, it’s back to the roots.

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Ask Me Some Questions: The Graham Parker Interview, Part 2

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: In the new documentary film Don’t Ask Me Questions, you come off very authentically as a sensitive, soft-spoken individual. But back in the 80s, like many people, I think, I was convinced of your reputation as an angry, sort of perhaps even confrontational artist. How and why do you think that reputation developed?

Graham Parker: Well [laughs], there’s some brilliant stuff from Bruce Springsteen on that, about my material. He said that there was always this “caustic sound.” And that’s true. Because when I started, I’d had pretty much zero experience. I’d written these songs, and was totally green to the whole process. And I found myself instantly with a record deal. I had found the right people, like David Robinson, who managed me and then got all those great musicians behind me. And once that had happened, there was a record deal. Out of the blue, really.

So my style was already very aggressive. That just seemed to be the way I was writing and singing at that point in my life, in my early twenties leading up to 1975 when we started. I developed that style of singing, and I didn’t really know anything else.

It’s still there in my vocals, but it’s softened a lot. Because I enjoy actually singing now. I think it’s much more suitable for the kind of songs I write, and probably would have been more suitable in the first place. But there again, hindsight et cetera.

You can’t help but hear it: “This guy is really pissed off!” And [laughs] I did it on love songs as well. It was a style; I just wanted to be harder and louder and nastier. Remember, in that part of the 70s, there wasn’t any punk rock or any of that, and I wanted to sort of change what was going on. And somehow I found this extremely aggressive vocal style, and stuck to it.

So it’s understandable that people have that impression. And that’s okay.

BK: You’re know for your heartfelt lyrics; A Graham Parker song is never a simple moon-june love ditty. But many of those deeply heartfelt songs – especially from the period during which you worked with The Rumour – were written by a man in his 20s. When you sing those now, do the lyrics still resonate with you, or do you feel that since you’re singing the words of a man less than half your age that they sentiments are somehow alien or even naïve?

GP: Ah, that’s an interesting point. It doesn’t strike me that they’re out-of-date. It doesn’t strike me that way at all. Because obviously – with or without The Rumour – I do play those songs from my early-early career. There’s a few periods where I might be doing shows where I’m really concentrating on a newer period, but there’s always old ones. Especially from Howling Wind; they seem fairly universal to me.

There are some songs where I think, “Nah, I don’t really want to do that.” They’re not quite right; they don’t quite sit right for me, now. But for the most part, I don’t listen to them and think, “I don’t understand this.” I know what I was thinking. They all make sense. Some of them I wouldn’t write now, but there’s nothing alien to me there.

BK: There’s a belief among some that conflict, turmoil and distress are somehow essential ingredients for artists to create enduring works. And while I’d say that that “Mercury Poisoning” is one of my favorite of your tracks, I’m not sure I buy the argument that – if you’ll pardon the horrible metaphor – you have to have sand in the oyster to get the pearl. What do you think?

GP: “Mercury Poisoning,” for instance, is a joke. When an artist starts complaining about his record company in his songs, you should start worrying. It’s not a good sign; it’s a sign of running out of ideas.

My manager was much angrier than me, and he told me to write an entire album of hate-songs. That’s literally how it came about! I wrote one, and said, “I’ve said it all in this song, Dave. That’s enough. Okay?” So I stopped there, thankfully, and wrote [the songs for] Squeezing Out Sparks. A much better idea, really; let’s face it.

People never, ever seem to get it. But the first album had songs like “Between You and Me” on it. And “Gypsy Blood,” though that’s a song I don’t like now; it’s a sort of maudlin, romantic song. But they don’t remember that, and so they think that “Mercury Poisoning” sums it all up. “New York Shuffle” is another one. And that’s really a very, very small part of what I do. But again, I would even do a love song back in the 70s as if I were trying to hurt somebody. And it took a long time for me to temper that with some actual singing.

To be continued…

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Ask Me Some Questions: The Graham Parker Interview, Part 1

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Once pegged as one of rock’s angry young men, these days Graham Parker is neither angry nor young. And while his profile these last few decades has been lower than in his commercial heyday (1976 to the mid 80s, and even then only a modest commercial success), Parker has continued to release a remarkably consistent string of albums that are true to the virtues he’s long championed. As he sang on his (best) album, 1979′s Squeezing Out Sparks, “Passion is No Ordinary Word.” But it’s a word that aptly sums up Parker and his music. As he told an NME interviewer in 1979, “All I want to do is send a shiver up people’s spines.”

Bursting on the scene in the late 70s, Parker thrilled critics but confounded the marketplace; was he a punk? Was he part of the then-nascent UK pub-rock scene? Was he part of rock’s heartfelt old guard (Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Phil Lynott)? Or was he – as the odd passerby still sometimes asks him – Gram Parsons?

A new documentary film, Don’t Ask Me Questions attempts to answer these and other burning questions. And it does so with the full and enthusiastic cooperation of Parker, who – surprisingly to those taken in by his angry persona – happily fields queries, reggaefied song titles be damned. Luckier still for me, he is happy to answer my questions as well.

Bill Kopp: When you were first approached about the film Don’t Ask Me Questions, what was you reaction? Were you skeptical? Suspicious? Enthusiastic?

Graham Parker: It was in the late 90s that I met them. I was doing a gig; I remember it specifically. It was something for the Long Island Brewing Company. I don’t know why I remember that, because there’s a lot of gaps in my memory! But that’s when (director/producer) Michael Gramaglia and his brother approached me. They had done the Ramones film, End of the Century. And I said, “Well, that’s a story: The Ramones.” It’s sort of Shakespearean, y’know. I said, “You won’t get much material from me. It’s boring, really.” But they didn’t really believe that.

It took a couple of years. I’d just put them off, really. I told them, “I just don’t think there’s the material there. I don’t think it’s worth it.” It would be a lot of trouble for something that would just be…a flop. I didn’t have any confidence in it.

In 2001, I had this short story book, Cod Fishing on Valium published. And I thought that was quite an exciting thing, that I’d got St. Martin’s Press behind it, and a literary agent who loved it. It was going very well, and then I did a little tour promoting the book, reading bits of it. And playing songs specifically written for the stories, which is a very gutsy, unusual sort of thing to do. I did about eight to ten gigs like that, mostly in the Northeast.

I called them up and said, “Why don’t you do a film about this?” And of course then I had opened the door. Once you open the door, all bets are off. So from then it just kept going. So every year, a few times, Michael might film a bit of me, come to a studio, do an interview. So now he’s got tons of footage of stuff that didn’t make it [into the finished film].

It just went on like that. That’s why it took so long. Filmmaking can take many, many years. And it was really finished…until I went and dropped the bomb. I’d done it: I’d re-formed The Rumour. And I was going to be in this Jud Apatow film [This is 40]. The documentary was finished; we’d already had a screening in New York. Three of The Rumour came, and we had all these [Kickstarter] donors. And suddenly I dumped this [reunion project which culminated in the release of 2011's Three Chords Good] on them, and so it wasn’t finished at all.

But then [Gramaglia] had the finish he wanted; he had always wanted something dramatic. And I had been telling him, “It’s not gonna happen.” I don’t work on plans; I work more on whims, really. But we got a more satisfying finish for the film.

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Preview: The Graham Parker Interview

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

I first discovered the music of Graham Parker in the early-early 80s, in the finale year of my high school career. This was before MTV; if I recall correctly – this was a looong time ago – I learned of him via his association with other British acts I enjoyed. People like Nick Lowe (who produced Parker’s Stick to Me album) and so forth. At the time, I didn’t know enough about pop music history to understand how Parker fit into the musical mosaic; later I’d appreciate this his music draws upon American soul and r&b as much as rock, and was part of the proud tradition of deeply personal and powerful singer/songwriters (see also: Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison and Thin Lizzy‘s Phil Lynott) but even then I had the feeling that he was well apart from the punk/new wave scene.

I grabbed up his albums whenever I found them; I even snagged a copy of The Pink Parker, the 1977 EP that contained Graham Parker and The Rumour‘s thrilling cover of The Trammps‘ “Hold Back the Night.” But once the vinyl era ended, I began to lose contact with Parker’s music. Live! Alone in America was the last Parker album (cassette, actually) I heard for many years.

Recently I discovered that he’s remained active, and that I well should have continued to pay attention. He reunited with his old band The Rumour in 2012 for a well-received album called Three Chords Good. And the fire still burns brightly for Parker and his mates.

The other big bit of news is the release – this week, in fact – of the long-gestating documentary film Don’t Ask Me Questions. It’s an incisive look at Parker and his music, from the beginning ’til now. Available on DVD and download, it’s a highly enjoyable and well-paced look at Parker, and of course the music is stellar.

I was even more thrilled to have scored an interview with Graham. I spoke to him last weekend, and am rush-releasing the resulting feature for release next week. In the meantime, I highly recommend Don’t Ask Me Questions. Keep an eye out for my Parker interview, right here, middle of next week (around April 16).

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Hundred-word Reviews: Deluxe Packages

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Each of these is a multi-disc set collecting archival (and sometimes previously-unreleased) music, but other than that, there’s little to connect these releases in any stylistic fashion: Celtic soul, proto-funk/pop, hard rock, comedy spoken word, and psychedelic post-punk. All have been sitting on my desk awaiting review for far too long. So, here ya go.

Van Morrison – Moondance (Expanded Edition)
Moondance was released in 1970, and several tracks – “Crazy Love,” “Caravan,” “Into the Mystic” and the title track ( a de rigueur dance-band number) – have since assumed “standard” status. And that kind of over-saturation can result in people forgetting just how good the album really was/is (see also: Led Zeppelin’s fourth LP). A new 2CD set appends eleven outtakes – all previously unissued – to the album. The outtakes add to the listener’s understanding of the album as an organic whole, and there’s even a 4CD version (with more unreleased goodies) available as well.


Various – Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound
The Diminutive Purple One didn’t spring forth fully formed; the Minneapolis scene had long been a breeding ground for all kinds of r&b talent. And while most never broke out in any major way (Morris Day being a notable exception), they left behind a cache of music. Those crate-digging folks at Numero Group have unearthed the best of these and compiled them in three formats (2CD w/book, 4CD w/book, MP3). It’s really more of a book with a soundtrack than the reverse; at 144pp, one can delve deeply into the history of African-American modern r&b out of the Twin Cities.


Deep Purple – Now What!? (Gold Edition)
You can be forgiven for initially looking upon this release with skepticism. After all, Deep Purple’s high water mark came in the very early 1970s. Like so many hard rock bands of their ilk, they floundered creatively (and commercially) in the 1980s and beyond, releasing little of note and becoming somewhat faceless. So it’s some great surprise to learn that the group (comprised mostly of prime-era members) has roared back with their best album in decades. Now What!? sounds and feels like the Deep Purple of old, and a bonus disc of live tapes show that it’s not sessioner trickery.


The First Family – 50th Anniversary Edition
The early 1960s was a golden era for the comedy LP; releases from Bob Newhart, Allan Sherman and others enjoyed success in the marketplace. While those vintage LPs make for quite the dated, quaint listen today, they’re fun nonetheless. The First Family capitalized on craze for all things Camelot, when the public couldn’t get enough of the Kennedy clan. A followup album (cut five months later) got much less notice, and when JFK was killed in November of that year, most people quietly shelved the first LP. Both are gathered together with some bonus material for this 2CD anniversary set.


Red Temple Spirits – s/t
This package has an extremely high “boutique” quotient; how else to describe a set that places CDs in what look like embossed, wax-paper sleeves, encased in a gold-toned envelope? This is one set that won’t fit on your CD shelf, nor will it stand alone like some box set. And the music – post-punk from the late 1980s – isn’t the sort of pretty, filigreed stuff you’d expect to get this kind of treatment. It will appeal to fans of Public Image Limited; though RTS was California-based, vocalist William Faircloth added a veddy British vibe to the goth-rock proceedings.

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Hundred-word Reviews: DVDs

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Reviewing DVDs takes more time than albums, since when previewing them, I can’t do much else than sit there and watch. So it takes me awhile to get to DVDs. Thanks to the recent snowpocalypse/snowmageddon/your choice of silly weather epithet, I’ve had some time to curl up in front of the TV with a nice scotch and a critical mindset. So here you go.

Lou Reed Tribute (3DVD)
This is actually a repackaging of three titles already available. The Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy & Lou is reviewed here. The Velvet Underground Under Review is a very good overview of both the band’s career arc and its influence. It is marred only by dreadfully monotone narration, quite unusual for a title from the usually reliable Sexy Intellectual. And Punk Revolution: NYC Part One is also lively and informative. It fails only in its deceptive characterization of Debbie Harry as a newcomer to music; one guesses her stint in art-folk band Wind in the Willows didn’t fit the punk narrative.

Song of the South: Duane Allman & the Rise of The Allman Brothers Band
Though unfortunately named after a controversial Disney film – one guesses the British producers are unaware of this – it is nonetheless an excellent look at Duane Allman and his music. Remarkably, it includes music clips form his early project that are not found on the sprawling, essential Skydog CD compilation. The film – via commentaries from authorities including the always-sharp Mark Segal-Kemp – points out how The Allmans effectively beat The Grateful Dead at their own game for awhile there. This DVD is one of the best of its kind, from an outfit that gets better with each release.

Here’s Edie: The Edie Adams Television Collection (4DVD)
This is a real gem, viewed from several viewpoints. It showcases the talents of an all-around female entertainer, hosting her own TV show, at a time when such a thing was unusual, to say the least. But for me, its greatest value is as a video time capsule of American mass popular culture on the eve of The Beatles‘ conquest of our shores. An early skit with Dick Shawn pokes fun at hip culture in a way that makes you embarrassed for both of them, but it accurately reflects how things were. The included commercials only heighten the entertainment value.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
While not a perfect film – a few areas of the band’s history are left curiously unexamined, and the Ken Burns video effect is a tired visual device – this documentary film remains essential viewing. Dubbed “the definitive story of the greatest band that never made it,” from where I’m standing that’s no hyperbole. Paired with an excellent soundtrack, this film tells the story better than one might expect, owing to the fact that there’s surprisingly little documentation on the band. I cried several times when I first saw this film; the music is moving, and so is this DVD.

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Best of 2013: DVDs

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Yesterday I did a quick round-up of notable album reissues from 2013. Today it’s DVDs. Click on the titles for a full review (except as noted).

Brian Wilson, Songwriter 1969-1982
Those British folks at Sexy Intellectual have only improved since they began their worth series of in-depth critical looks at the bodies of work of important musical artists. This volume – second in a series – covers the Beach Boys founder’s work through a difficult period, shining a light on what’s important, and not shying away from calling out the not-great stuff.

Paul Williams Still Alive
A charming film that recounts one man’s quest to track down the figure who was once an ubiquitous fixture on TV and radio. Using a “familiar whatever-happened-to” approach, but telling the story from a most personal angle make this story even more appealing than it would otherwise be. Yes, the title gives away a bit of the surprise, but other surprises remain in store for viewers.

Going Underground
Paul McCartney has always been hipper than his detractors have suggested; he simply hasn’t felt the need to make a lot of bones about it. This documentary does, and does so in a convincing way. Sir Macca’s not in the video, but those who are make it well worth viewing; it gets into the more outré and forward-looking musical artists of the era.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
I saw this film in the theatre, and recently got the DVD (which includes bonus materials). That review is still to come, but here’s a preview: it’s fabulous. The long-overlooked Memphis band finally get their due. In the meantime, here’s a review of the soundtrack album (also fantastic).

Good Ol’ Freda
Speaking of getting one’s belated due, the head of the Beatles official fan club, Freda Kelly, finally tells her story. And she does so on her terms. I have tentative plans to interview Freda ahead of her appearance at the 2014 Fest for Beatles Fans, so stay tuned.

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DVD Review: Good Ol’ Freda

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

I can’t heap enough praise upon this delightful little film. A quick backstory: from the very early Cavern days, and through the fractious early 1970s Apple era, Liverpudlian Freda Kelly was in close orbit of The Beatles. First (and for its entire existence) as head of their official fan club, then as Brian Epstein‘s secretary at NEMS, and then at Apple, Kelly was one of the group’s inner circle. This film takes a look at her whirlwind life and career for a decade beginning around 1963.

Why, you might well ask, are you just now hearing about Kelly? The answer has everything to do with her reluctance to speak on the record about those days, and about her basic humanity and decency. True, she earns an entry in Bill Harry‘s Beatles Encyclopedia, but until this film, she’s never discussed her days with The Beatles.

Kelly has loads of stories to tell, no doubt, but now in her late 60s, she’s not willing to tell the juiciest of them. “That’s personal,” she smiles mischievously when asked if she ever dated any of “the boys.” What she is wiling to share, however, are personal reminiscences on topics about which even the hardest of hardcore Beatlemaniacs know precious little. She tells us what it was like working for Epstein (temper tantrums), seeing the Beatles in their pre-fame Cavern days (more than 180 shows, by her count), and –most fascinatingly – personal memories of the Beatles’ parents. Seems Kelly was especially close with Ringo Starr‘s mum and George Harrison‘s parents, all of whom understandably considered (and treated) her as one of the family.

A few other members of the Beatles’ circle comment onscreen – members of The Fourmost, press secretary Tony Barrow, Paul McCartney’s stepmother and a handful of others – but it’s mostly Kelly’s show. Beatle fans will recognize many (but not all!) of the photos shown onscreen, but they may only realize for the first time who the demurely smiling girl in the pictures is. It’s good ol’ Freda Kelly, on hand during filming of Magical Mystery Tour, at press galas and premieres, and so forth.

Throughout it all, Kelly kept a grounded approach to her dealings with the most famous band in the world. She was extraordinarily successful at her job for two reasons. First, she knew John Lennon, Paul, George, Ringo (and even Pete Best) as human beings rather than international music and culture icons: Paul often gave her rides home, and she made weekly tea time visits to Ringo’s mum’s home. Second, she was in fact a fan of them and their music, so she never took a scoffing, superior attitude toward mail requests for snatches of George’s hair, Paul’s shirt, or Ringo’s pillowcase. Perhaps most surprising of and charming of all is her insistence upon authenticity: no machine-signed autographs went out from our Freda. Her humanity is on constant display, and viewers of a sentimental bent should not be surprised if they find their eyes a bit wet during the DVD’s hour and a half run time.

Loyal perhaps to a fault, Freda Kelly passed up numerous opportunities to profit (intangibly, monetarily or otherwise) from her close Beatles association. All she has today are her memories and a small treasure trove (four boxes’ worth) of old photos and Beatles Monthly back issues. Those she shares with viewers in this warm and intimate portrait. For anyone whose interest in The Beatles extends beyond the music itself, Good Ol’ Freda is absolutely essential viewing.

New Albums from Asheville Locals Pierce Edens, Drunken Prayer

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Today is my birthday. My 50th, in fact. So I’m kinda taking the day off. But still have something to share: recently I penned a news item/feature for Asheville’s altweekly Mountain Xpress, covering a new CD and DVD release by local artist Pierce Edens. So with the print edition’s two-week embargo now ended, here’s a slightly edited version of that story, plus an additional sidebar I wrote. — bk.


Perhaps it’s paradoxical to suggest that the best way to capture a rough and tumble, unvarnished musical performance is through use of high definition cameras, but that was exactly the approach taken on Pierce Edens and the Dirty Work‘s upcoming LIVE. “We got to make something like the live show that you can also take home when the lights go down,” says Edens. Two Asheville events in November – an advance screening and release party –  celebrated the release of the new DVD and its companion audio CD. Recorded over two nights in front of an appreciative audience at The Lexington Avenue Brewery in Downtown Asheville, LIVE presents the rootsy Edens and his band at their best.

That best really is tough to pin down: Allmusic.com classifies Edens alternately as folk-rock and psychedelic/ garage. But his music can just easily – and accurately – be tagged with the singer/songwriter label; he’s a gritty troubadour who takes what he needs from each style, blending and bending it to suit the needs of his songs.

Raised on a steady diet of mountain music, Edens discovered punk in his teens; his original story-songs are a compelling synthesis of both styles. The mysterious and ominous strains of “Jailhouse” that kick off the show display all of Edens’ best qualities: raspy, hoary vocals coupled with muscular backing that has all the power of rock’n'roll while hewing mostly to the Americana side of the tracks. Stinging slide guitar leavens the acoustic underpinning of many of the tunes.

The careening, high-speed romp of “Pretty” is reminiscent of Elvis Presley‘s “Mystery Train” by way of Johnny Cash, imbued with the smoky barroom aesthetic of Tom Waits. Elsewhere, the searing bluesy ballad of “Good Man” shows the stylistic range of the group, with Matt Smith‘s extended lead guitar break featuring sheets of feedback that recall Neil Young at his most metallic.

A longtime fixture of the music scene, Edens has previously released two discs under his own name: 2004′s Four Songs EP and a full-length self-titled album in 2012. The latter was fan-financed via a Kickstarter program which raised 130% of the set goal within 45 days.

Concurrent with his solo work, Edens launched The Dirty Work, featuring Smith on electric guitar and pedal steel, Jesse James Hongisto on bass fiddle, drummer Dane Rand, and Jim Aaron on harmonica. The group has released a pair of studio albums, 2006′s Party Dress and Long Days Above Ground in 2009. For the performances that made up the LIVE CD and DVD, they were joined by saxophonist Jacob Rodriguez and Justin Ray on trumpet.

The LIVE set draws from all four previous releases, recasting some of Edens’ simpler arrangements in a full band style. The close-in, intimate ambience of The LAB’s stone-walled backroom music space, coupled with deft (and hi-def) multiple camera production gives the concert DVD the perfect balance of high-end and down-and-dirty. Pierce Edens says that recording allowed for a display of “the difference between a studio album and live music; this was a chance to get back into the stomping, sweaty grind that our live show can be…including that element of chaos that makes live music so special.” The LIVE CD contains thirteen tracks from the Winter 2012 shows; the DVD adds special features and solo performances of Edens originals “Queen of Hearts” and “Train Tracks.”

Produced by local media production company Sound Lab Studios, the LIVE DVD will be released nationally on December 10. But a pair of events celebrating the release gave fans in WNC two chances to preview what’s in store. On Thursday November 21, the DVD got an advance screening at the Fine Arts Theater downtown. And the next night (Friday the 22nd) Pierce Edens and the Dirty Work performed a release party at The Isis Music Hall in West Asheville.


Drunken Prayer — House of Morgan
Like many esteemed musicians before him – Declan MacManus springs immediately to mind – Morgan Geer (formerly of Asheville’s fondly-remembered The Unholy Trio) plys his musical trade using a nom de musc; in his case, it’s Drunken Prayer. The Portland/Asheville artist – who argues convincingly that he’s “not trying to be neo or alt or Americana but let out a howl informed by living life and soaking up American music from slave tunes to psychedelia to street parades” – released his third album, House of Morgan this month.

This time employing a more stripped-down approach than was used on 2012′s Into the Missionfield, Geer cut House of Morgan at home on a vintage cassette four-track (with some assist from computer software). But despite the bare-bones approach – Geer plays and sings all the sounds on the record – the sonic thread that runs through his earlier efforts remains unbroken. Listeners will hear strains of soul, funk, garage, blues, and roadhouse country. But they’re all deftly woven together by Geer’s unique sensibility. House of Morgan is out November 19 on Portland-based Fluff and Gravy Records.

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