Archive for the ‘punk’ Category

Book Review: The Clash — The Only Band That Mattered

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

One of the exciting – and at the same time exceedingly frustrating – qualities of modern media is the disappearance of what we might call the gatekeeper. Time was, if you wanted to establish a platform for musical criticism (say, not unlike this blog), you had to go through channels. Those channels included editors and/or publishers who – the story went – would make sure that you possessed some level of skill. The idea was quality control: not just any clown could have a soapbox of his or her own. And it worked. But in the process, the variety of voices was undeniably muted. In practice, the arrangement meant that someone with all the necessary skills, but perhaps having a contrarian, unpopular, and/or heterodox point of view might not be given the means to express him/herself.

Of course the internet has changed that. Anyone with a blog can have a platform, and they can shout their thoughts from the rooftops (in a manner of speaking). The inevitable result of this death of the gatekeeper, however, is that quality control is a thing of the past. If someone makes an unfounded assertion, not only is it archived forever, but – assuming they understand a bit about how search engines work – it’s indexed nearly immediately by Google.

Because of all these new realities, and even though I am most certainly one who benefits from this no-gatekeepers set of circumstances – I still prefer the printed word. Books (and to a lesser extent, magazines) are created, for the most part, with many or most of the old safeguards in place. As such, all other things being the same (in theory at least), printed matter enjoys a higher level of quality control.

And the best example at hand of quality control in musical historical analysis/criticism is a new book, The Clash: The Only Band That Mattered, by Sean Egan. At first glance, at just over 200 pages, Egan’s book might seem to be a slim volume. But because of Egan’s deep understanding of his subject, and his keen, concise analysis, The Clash: The Only Band That Mattered is an important work.

I don’t employ that phrase lightly. Egan’s analysis is so much more than a song-by-song review of The Clash‘s corpus. In a sense it is just that, but what the author does here is to contextualize every song, every EP, every album with not only a full appreciation for who and what The Clash were and what they represented, but Egan contextualizes it all like few other writers could.

Relatively speaking, England is a small country. And while for a very, very long time the sun never set on the British Empire, by the post World War II period, the once mighty Great Britain had fallen on hard times. And while many writers have explored the socioeconomic situations that helped give rise to punk in the 1970s, Egan delves into the topic with the keen insight of a sociologist (which I believe he is not). Egan explores the tension between Britain’s welfare state and the unchecked power of trade unions, and the resulting all-but-stalemate situation in 70s England. And against this richly-woven tapestry of context, his history and analysis of The Clash affords the reader a much, much, much deeper understanding of the band and their music.

Egan is the truest of Clash fans, too, but this fact requires a bit of explaining here. A true fan is the sort who takes the time to understand and appreciate an artist’s work, but s/he is also one who doesn’t blindly applaud and accept everything the artist does. For example, a true Beatles fan is likely to concede (for example) that the group’s reading of “Mr Moonlight” is pretty dreadful; that “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” is a mildly entertaining throwaway; that for all its avant-garde bonafides “Revolution 9” remains somewhat unlistenable. And at the same time he or she can still assert that The Beatles are the greatest group of all time.

So it is with Sean Egan and The Clash. The author argues again and again as to the worth of much of The Clash’s music (including many tracks known only to the hardest of hardcore fans), but he is no Clash apologist. He dismisses much of the band’s work as slight, a good deal of it as shallow and opportunistic bandwagon jumping, and some of it as just plain forgettable. As a result of his clear-eyed approach to the band – and with all assertions backed up with plenty of here’s-why-I-say-that detail – his praising of The Clash’s best work is rendered all that much more powerful.

A central theme of The Clash: The Only Band That Mattered is that very early on, Joe Strummer and his bandmates effectively painted themselves into a corner. By staking out nominally pro-proletariat positions (but often quite poorly-thought-out ones), the group limited the directions in which their subsequent lyrical content might go. Their youthful, generally well-meaning pronouncements became difficult to live up to as they became rock stars. The result would be some quite uneven albums. Egan also explores the complicated inner dynamics of the band, including the reasons for Terry Chimes‘ (aka Tory Crimes) departure from the band; his return after Nicky (Topper) Headon was sacked, and – most significantly – the split between Strummer and Mick Jones that resulted in the de facto end of the group. (But even then, Egan goes on to point out a few redeeming qualities about the universally maligned post-Jones, Clash-in-name-only Cut the Crap LP.) Egan concedes early on that Paul Simonon was no great shakes as a bassist, going so far as to point out that on Clash albums, his parts were often played by others. But then the author highlights tracks on which Simonon’s bass work is exemplary and even the best thing about certain Clash cuts.

As rock history/analysis tomes go, The Clash: The Only Band That Mattered is essential reading. For those who don’t especially appreciate The Clash but who would like a better understanding of the society and economy of Margaret Thatcher-era Britain, the book is equally highly recommended.

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DVD Review: The Complete Truth About De-evolution

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Beginning in the 1970s, DEVO established themselves as among the most effective artists using using the creative tool of video in the musical idiom. Contrasting starkly with the the myth-making and glamor of most other music videos, the work of DEVO is deeply unsettling and provocative. Twenty DEVO music video clips (plus some relevant extras) have been compiled on The Complete Truth About De-evolution.

DEVO’s philosophical sensibility is shot through all of the band’s video work. The concept of de-evolution as used by the group (and from whence comes their name) holds as its central concept the idea that humankind is no longer evolving in a forward direction; instead, we’re on the decline. DEVO has always been as much an art installation as a band; in keeping with the punk aesthetic (the band’s first video clip debuted in 1976) the band employed a DIY musical aesthetic that eschewed virtuosity in favor of a harsh, brittle, discordant and often deceptively simplistic sound. That approach would have certainly been part of the appeal to fellow musical outsider Brian Eno; he produced their first album.

Most of the video clips as collected on The Complete Truth About De-evolution are low-budget affairs; even when the band hit it big and had a Warner Brothers-financed budget, their more costly videos still had an intentionally homegrown look about them. Though professionally executed, the stop-motion sections of “Love Without Anger” (oddly enough, a staple of early 80s MTV) are reminiscent of the crude animation found on early DEVO clips.

And what all of the group’s videos share is that world view that concedes – no, celebrates, really – the idea that everything is shit, that we’re headed for the dustbin of history. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in what may well be DEVO’s finest video clip, the one made to support the song “Beautiful World.” Thick with irony (or sarcasm; your choice), the video displays police beatings, KKK rallies, and atomic detonations, all providing a visual backdrop for lyrics that (on the surface, at least) express what a “sweet romantic place” the world is. With DEVO, satire is always a central element, or at least a tool that’s kept handy.

The early clips – that is, the ones that predate MTV’s summer 1981 launch – have gotten much less exposure, though some of them surfaced on the USA cable network’s night time music-centric program Night Flight. Still, most casual viewers won’t have known that these clips (such as “DEVO Corporate Anthem” and “Jocko Homo”) even exist. And while they’re very different from later, more commercially-oriented material like the tres bizarre “Whip It” video, the band’s bent approach is consistent through all of the clips.

And as seems to be true with most any established band one would care to name, the later songs (“Theme From Doctor Detroit,” for example) don’t measure up to earlier efforts; but with DEVO the quality of the videos never flags. Certainly not “easy viewing” in the manner of easy listening, DEVO music video clips are thought-provoking, entertaining in their own awkward way, and always exceedingly strange. For those qualities along, The Complete Truth About De-evolution is worth viewing. For fans of the band – and/or aficionados of the strange – this DVD is a must-own.

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DVD Review: Looking for Johnny

Monday, January 5th, 2015

One of the less appealing qualities of music culture –both in rock and jazz, at least – is a tendency toward romanticizing certain fallen characters. While there’s no denying the massive contributions of such figures as Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley, in death they have assumed oversize reputations that their lives and musical output don’t always justify.

And some figures are lionized in a fashion wholly outsized relative to their deserved stature. Though he’s considered by many a “legend,” the Sex Pistols‘ second bassist Sid Vicious could barely play his instrument, as a singer he wasn’t real great, and as a composer…he simply wasn’t. But it’s part of the punk ethos that he was still somehow great.

That punk mythologizing extends to Johnny Thunders (neé Genzale), but at least in his case – in relative terms – it’s somewhat deserving. Thunders wasn’t a technically gifted guitarist, but he did what he did quite well. What he did was filter Keith Richards-style playing and riffage through a New York punk sensibility, bringing a sharp-edged sound to his work, first with The New York Dolls, then as a solo artist, with The Heartbreakers (no relation to Tom Petty) and briefly with MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer in Gang War.

The title of a new documentary film, Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders, would suggest an attempt to make Thunders into a legend, assuming interested parties aren’t already convinced he is one. But in reality, the film takes a reasonably objective look at the man and his work. Looking for Johnny relies to a great deal upon actual audiovisual footage of Thunders (onstage and in interviews) to construct a history that avoids becoming a hagiography. The film never shies away from highlighting Thunders’ serious and seemingly nonstop problems with substance abuse, and avoids romanticizing the drug use into some sort of creative fuel for his art. And it deals relatively straightforwardly and unapologetically with his failings as a human, a spouse, and a band member.

Through interviews with those who knew him well (or as well as anyone could know him), Looking for Johnny attempts to fill in the blanks in the man’s history, to ask and answer the important and too-infrequently asked questions. A few figures, however, are most conspicuous in their absence: New York Dolls lead singer/frontman David Johansen appears nowhere in the film, save in live onstage archival footage.

The so-called mystery surrounding Thunders’ 1991 death in New Orleans is given ample screen time. True or not, the filmmakers want viewers to at least consider the possibility that his death came about at least in part due to his leukemia. The thing is, dead is dead, and avoiding the more lurid rumors surrounding his death in favor of a we’re-not-sure-how point of view doesn’t change the fact that Thunders died at the age of 38.

The filmmaking style is unadorned and largely free of cliché. There are a good number of live and studio performances cut into the film, balancing nicely with the chat. And the no-narrator approach works well, letting the onscreen characters (including Lenny Kaye and Bob Gruen) tell the story from their points of view. Perhaps oddly, all three of Thunders’ managers — Marty Thau, Leee Black Childers and Malcolm McLaren – are now, like Thunders himself, deceased. Thau and Childers died in 2014, so their sessions for Spanish filmmaker Danny Garcia remain among their final onscreen appearances.

Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders is an unpolished, low-budget affair, and it looks like one, but somehow that’s a fitting manner in which to chronicle the life, music and death of a punk icon. Or, if you prefer, a legend.

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Best of 2014: New Music, Part 1

Monday, December 29th, 2014

In my blog posts of last week, I surveyed some of my 2014 favorites: music-related books; DVDs; concerts; and interviews. For these last few days of the year, I’ll wrap up with a look at my favorite music of 2014, specifically new and reissued titles. Today, it’s four of my eight favorite albums of new music released in 2014.

Night Beats – Sonic Bloom
I make no apologies for the retro-mindedness that pervades my favorite new music. I’m one of those who believes that the mid-sixties gave popular music (rock in particular) its best material. And I daresay the members of Night Beats agree; everything about Sonic Bloom screams 1966. But that doesn’t mean one needs to be a garage-punk aficionado to dig them. When reaching for a modern corollary, I tend to think of Night Beats’ music as a more tuneful rethink of the sort of thing Black Angels (another favorite) create.

Jimbo Mathus – Dark Night of the Soul
I was never any sort of fan of Squirrel Nut Zippers, so I didn’t approach the solo music of Jimbo Mathus with anticipation of finding much I’d dig. But what I discovered – first on his blue vinyl EP, then onstage in and person at the 2013 Americana Fest, then on Dark Night of the Soul – was the work of a man who appreciated, understood and (most importantly) synthesized various American musical forms, creating something very much his own. Mathus’ wide-screen style suggests a more rock-minded version of The Band, with hints of Alex Chilton‘s wild devil-may-care abandon. You can hardly beat that.

The Last – Danger
Middle-aged guys playing thrashy punk? Yeah, that happens. This high-speed rock owes a debt to The Minutemen and the stop-on-a-dime pyrotechnics of Fugazi and Hüsker Dü. But piano in the mix? Didn’t see that coming. And combo organ, and vocal harmonies? Hey, that’s unexpected. Taken as a whole, their early Kinks-like presentation suggests a group that has assimilated all the best of what’s edgy and exciting about rock’n'roll. Like all the albums on this list, highly recommended.

The Paul & John – Inner Sunset
There’s always room in my collection for what I call “pop.” My definition differs from the widely understood one in that I focus more on guitar-based music with a classic songwriterly approach. And I can think of few better exemplars of the style than this duo featuring Paul Myers (also a fine author and clever Twitter user) and John Moremen (also a hotshot guitarist who’s worked with the Mystery Lawn stable of artists, Half Japanese and many others). If you like acts such as XTC and Marshall Crenshaw, you’ll swoon when you hear cuts like “Everything Comes Together.” Me, I get shivers. An outstanding LP start to finish.

Stay tuned for more of Musoscribe’s best new music of 2014.

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November Hundred-word Reviews, Part 2

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Once again, it’s time for a run of hundred-word reviews. My inbox has been overflowing of late, and even after removing the material that I deem not worth my time (nor yours), I’m left with far too many discs to cover in my customary manner (500-800 word reviews). So herewith are twenty-five –count ‘em, twenty-five – brief, to-the-point reviews. The second set of five reviews looks at music from the 1980s: three reissues and two compilations.


Scruffy the Cat – The Good Goodbye
The music scene of the 1980s featured a handful of inventive, talented acts that bridged the gap between powerpop and what would come to be known as Americana (or “alt.”). The Long Ryders were at the rocking end of that continuum; Scruffy the Cat worked at the gentler, more melodic end. This collection of previously-unreleased material covers sessions that bookended the band’s career: a set of demos and live-in-the-studio material from 1984-5, and an Ardent (Memphis) session from 1989. You’ll either dig the group’s raggedy vocals or you won’t, but there’s no denying that they fit the music. Good stuff.


Game Theory – Blaze of Glory
Apparently, I’m not alone in having completely missed Game Theory when they were around. Though the group’s off-kilter brand of 80s powerpop certainly appeals to me now, there’s a modest, aw-shucks feel to most of the songs on the ironically-titled 1982 Blaze of Glory, crossing skinny-tie new wave aesthetics with quirky songs. Their debut album (like most of their subsequent output) has long been out of print; this Omnivore reissue adds a wealth of bonus material and the liner notes feature contributions from former members (leader Scott Miller passed away in 2013). Oh, and they remind me of Let’s Active.


The Dream Academy – The Morning Lasted All Day
Two CDs packed with 24 tracks might seem excessive for a retrospective on a group that scored a total of two hit singles (the lovely “Life in a Northern Town” from 1985, and a 1986 tune you probably don’t recall). They only released three albums. But their shimmering chamber-pop – championed by no less a light than Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour – has worn quite well. The band’s original raison d’être was to create songs using unconventional (for rock) instrumentation. “The Edge of Forever” may not have charted, but it’s the best thing the band did, arguably superior to “Life.”


X – Under the Big Black Sun
By 1983, X hadn’t yet achieved a level of success that would translate into record sales. So they signed with Elektra and enlisted the production skills of The Doors‘ keyboardist Ray Manzarek. Manzarek may have seemed an odd choice: he wasn’t known as a producer, and his old band’s sound had little in common with the aesthetic of X. But it worked. Under the Big Black Sun presented the Johnny-and-June-styled vocal harmonies of John Doe and Exene Cervenka, along with the insistent punk drumming of DJ Bonebrake and Billy Zoom‘s wild-eyed rockabilly guitar. This reissue features five bonus tracks.


X – More Fun in the New World
By the time (1983) of this, their fourth LP, X had achieved some fame. Again working with Manzarek behind the boards, the band crafted a set of songs that sought to capture the excitement of their live show (the package’s reliance on live concert shots makes that goal more explicit). Overall, More Fun boasts a slightly more polished approach; the drums sound a bit “bigger,” and the whole affair feels a bit more radio-ready. Four demo tracks from the period (in remixed form) are appended to the original album’s thirteen songs. Still essential, as is Under the Big Black Sun.

15 more capsule reviews to come.

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Album Review: The Last — Danger

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

This one had me fooled. At least until I put the CD in the player. Skimming the press kit, I came way with the impression that The Last would somehow fit into the L.A. hardcore punk scene, the milieu that gave us The Germs and likeminded acts.

But what I found instead was far more interesting. Harmonies, power chords and keyboards (of cheesy 60s organ variety) were in the mix along with plenty of power chording. The Last draw on all kinds of influences: “Unreal Love” subtly hints at “Walk, Don’t Run,”  and in other places the group sounds like a giddy cross between Offspring and Redd Kross. They can sing sweetly when they want to (hint: not too often) but other times one of the brothers — not sure which — sounds a lot like The PlimsoulsPeter Case.

The punk elements are there, most notably in the rhythm section: Bill Stevenson’s rat-a-tat-tat drumming style and Karl Alvarez’ assured bass work are forceful and propulsive. But a pair of brothers (Joe Nolte on guitar and vocals, and Mike Nolte on keys and vocals) have that sibling harmony thing happening, even when they’re sneering.

Danger is the band’s first release in some seventeen years, and while it’s nominally a punk album, it’s far too tuneful and upbeat to wear that label comfortably. Several of the songs even kick of with chiming, Rickenbacker-styled guitar work, though it generally gives way quickly to power riffage. “I Don’t Know What to Say” sounds like what might happen if Gerry and the Pacemakers went punk. Or something. “She Knows Just What to Do” feels a bit like The Smithereens. Other listeners may hear echoes of the Buzzcocks, Magazine or very early XTC.

Note:For some reason, the songs on my CD don’t seem to sync up in any meaningful way to the track listing. So I may have misidentified song titles. But whatever they’re called, they’re great songs, played with gusto. Recommended, and short-listed for potential inclusion in my Best of 2014. And it’s only May!

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Festival Review: Big Ears 2014, Day 2 (Part 2)

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

After getting (respectively) a headache and a power nap, my sweetheart and I headed back to the Tennessee Theatre, remarking all the while how well-thought-out Big Ears 2014 is as a whole. The four primary venues all lay in a straight line in downtown, the farthest apart being no more than about six blocks. And while the lack of crowds might not have exactly been part of the game plan for the organizers, it sure made things nice for those of us who were attending. No lines, no jostling…just music and good vibes.

Wordless Music Orchestra
I wasn’t altogether sure what to expect from this outfit. The festival guide described it as performances of film music, mostly by Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead), and mostly from a handful of critically well-received films, There Will Be Blood and Norwegian Wood among them.

Greenwood himself wouldn’t figure into this particular performance (that would come on Sunday), and what concertgoers got instead was a smallish ensemble mostly made up of violinists (with some celli, some basses), seated in rows facing each other. The sight of a projection screen above the musicians led me to anticipate scenes from these films flashing by whilst the players ran through the scores, but that was not to be. Instead, the screen merely indicated the name of each piece, its composer, and the film from which it came (if it was a film piece; some weren’t).

Overall, it was a bit monochromatic. The musicians were all fine; excellent, probably. But the music was less varied than I might have hoped, and a good portion of it was melancholy, sometimes almost dreary. The Greenwood pieces were the best; some of the other pieces bordered on the unpleasant. As a way to spent an hour on a Saturday afternoon, it was worthwhile, but the excitement quotient was largely nonexistent.

Steve Reich’s Drumming
Another case of the putative marquee name not being part of the performance, this one was nonetheless a stunning showcase. Featuring a pair of ensembles called So Percussion and nief-norf Project, this concert was one nonstop piece of percussive music. The work started from nearly nothing – one person hitting some small tuned drums – and built to a climax. Then it ebbed, flowed, swelled and receded. Players were added. Players sat down. The music never stopped, and the audience was held in thrall.

Occasionally vocalists were added to the mix; while the piece was totally scored, it had an organic, seemingly improvised feel to it. The vocalists, for example, seemed to seek out the patterns and melodies as opposed to merely react to them. A recognizable pattern would emerge, and then as soon as a listener such as myself started to groove on it, it would disappear into the percussive maelstrom. I’d never seen nor heard anything like Drumming before (and no, the drum circles here in Asheville don’t compare), and felt honored and awed to be in the presence of such an amazing performance.

Television
It was quite a temporal shift, then, to remain in our seats when the next act came out. New wave / no wave/ punk heroes Television took the stage at the Tennessee Theatre. With three-fourths of the classic lineup – guitarist/vocalist Tom Verlaine, drummer Billy Ficca and bassist Fred Smith – the band was joined by longtime Verlaine associate Jimmy Rip (guitarist Richard Lloyd left the band amicably in 2007).

Television have long held an odd place in rock history; they’re often (rightly or wrongly) lumped in with the late 70s NYC scene that included The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads and the like. But with two stellar lead guitarists (there’s rarely any “rhythm guitar” in Television songs) the group came on more like the era’s answer to Thin Lizzy. Or something.

Guitar heroics without all the histrionics and posing: that was a big part of what made Television great then, and it’s what brought the house down this night. Rip is an ace player, and did a great job of both satisfying those who wanted to hear the songs done the way Lloyd woulda done ‘em and making sure that people knew he’s his own man with plenty to say in his own playing.

The songs were long, but never meandering; the guitar dialogue between Verlaine and Rip was electric, and Ficca and Smith provided a thrilling yet rock-solid foundation for the guitarists. The group even pulled out a new song that will hopefully show up on a new Television album…some day.

Stay tuned for more Big Ears 2014 coverage.

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Hundred-word Reviews: Reissues

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Those CDs continue to pile up here at Musoscribe World Headquarters. And even after I cull the unsolicited or semi-solicited ones that don’t make the cut for coverage, I still end up with more music than I can possibly cover in the depth of detail I’d like (and that they deserve). So occasionally – and more often of late – I schedule a group of hundred-word capsule reviews in which I endeavor to hit the high points. All of these are worth your time. Toady’s batch are all reissues of older releases, several of which are somewhat rare.


Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys – Albion Doo-Wah
This little-known outfit was initially championed by no less a luminary than Jimi Hendrix, who produced their debut album. This, their second, was no more successful in the marketplace, but it remains an interesting listen. From the opening track, “Riff Raff” onward, the band leans in a city-headed-country rock direction, with the results sounding like some cross between The New York Rock and Roll Ensemble and The Band. Some of the truly deep-fried tracks like “Turkish Taffy” are only partially successful, but the genre hybridization of “Boonville Massacre” still sounds delightfully fresh and appealing forty years later.


Mason Williams – The Mason Williams Ear Show
Like the above title, this is the second of two Real Gone Music reissues by a mostly (and unjustly) forgotten artist. Released a mere nine months after The Mason Williams Phonograph Record, this album very much continues in a similar musical vein (how could it not?). For many artists, such a rush-release schedule wold result in an album full of half-baked, tossed-off tunes, but it would appear that Williams was a prolific composer of quality material. Like the last record, this one is full of eclectic mainstream pop Americana (though in its formal sense rather than its 21st century one).


Surf Punks – Locals Only
Neither the best nor the worst of its kind, this album is a reasonably successful amalgam of comedy rock and surf music. The titles tell you the story: “No Fat Chicks,” “Born to Surf,” “Spoiled Brats from Malibu.” It’s fun enough, and with the principals’ connection to Captain and Tennille (drummer/composer/producer) Dennis Dragon is the brother of “Captain” Daryl Dragon) one can be all but certain that there’s a commercial appeal to these bratty tracks. And there is; it’s more revved-up garage rock (with party trappings) than anything approaching punk. A welcome dose of 80s nostalgia.


The Alabama Stare Troupers – Road Show
A curio from the anything-goes early 1970s. An all-star (sic) lineup takes to the road – presaging Bob Dylan‘s Rolling Thunder Revue – and one show is documented as a tour souvenir. Don Nix (his Living by the Days was also reissued) rounded up country bluesman Furry Lewis and vocalist Jeanie Green plus assorted musicians and a choir. The result 2LP didn’t sell like hotcakes. But Furry Lewis – who gets half of the first CD – is in fine form, and the full-band tracks – sounding very much like The Band with a choir – are soulful and enjoyable.


The Lords of the New Church – Is Nothing Sacred?
Give this CD five seconds of your time, and you’ll say “1983.” But “Dance With Me” – the most well-known track from the Gothic rock band led by former Dead Boys singer/guitarist Stiv Bators – still sounds great. Sure, it’s more than a little reminiscent of Duran Duran, The Church and Billy Idol, but this foursome – with punk veterans from The Damned, Sham 69 and The Barracudas – earned their punk/new wave cred honestly. Two other Lords studio albums – their 1982 debut (their best) and 1984′s The Method to Our Madness – have also gotten reissue.

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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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Clearing the Backlog: Ten Micro-reviews

Friday, December 6th, 2013

As the end of 2013 closes in, I look at my inbox and see a massive stack of CDs. Best as I try, I don’t always follow a first-in/first-out policy with regard to covering releases I find worthy. And while my occasional capsule reviews do help reduce the pile of CD on my desk, today I realize that more drastic measure are necessary. Each of the following albums deserves more space than I’m about to give, but waiting until I have time and space would likely mean that some never get covered at all. So instead, I give you some exceedingly brief (50-word) reviews, with the additional comment applicable to all: these are worth hearing. All feature new music for 2013.

Pete Anderson – Birds Above Guitarland
Loping electrified blues with feeling. Tasty electric guitar licks (hints of c&w among the blooze) with soulful, greasy backing by a crack team, compete with horn section and Wurlitzer electric piano (almost always a good thing). Anderson can sing, too. Delaney and Bonnie‘s daughter Bekka Bramlett guests on one track.

Nathan Angelo – Out of the Blue
Neo-soul, Motown revival…whatever you care to label it, the funky sounds of Angelo’s debut are fetching indeed. Album opener “Get Back” (not the Beatles classic) is perhaps little more than a rewrite of The Jackson 5ive‘s “I Want You Back,” but it’s still fun. For fans of Mayer Hawthorne.

Chris Biesterfeldt – Urban Mandolin
I’m all in favor of outside-the-box musical approaches. And I believe this one certainly qualifies: a jazz trio led by a mandolin player. He charges his way through reinventions from among the best – Charlie Parker bebop, the soul-jazz of Jimmy Smith, the fusion of Chick Corea, even Frank Zappa.

The Bottle Kids – Such a Thrill
This isn’t a “they,” it’s “him.” Eric Blakely is the latest in a long line of powerpop do-it-all auteurs, and he knows his way around a Beatlesque hook. Harmonies meet guitar crunch and the result is as good as the genre gets. He sounds like a “them.”

Hickoids – Hairy Chafin’ Ape Suit
The title has nothing to do with Harry Chapin (the king of maudlin), thank goodness. Instead, this is a comedy-leaning meat’n'potatoes rock album. Jeff Smith roars while the band spits out licks behind him. The production is on the homespun side, but that fits the loose vibe of the music.

The Nomads – Solna (Loaded Deluxe Edition)
Who would have ever predicted that in the 21st century, uncompromising punk rock would be made by middle aged guys? Guys from Sweden, no less, the land of ABBA. Anyone who digs no-bullshit rock (see: Smithereens, Sex Pistols) will get a charge out of this. It’s also available on vinyl.

Third of Never – Downrising
Arena-sized riff rockage with soaring harmonies and fret buzz, but without all the trappings of strutting rock-star poseurs. Kurt Reil (The Grip Weeds) does this outfit as a side project. Kindred spirits Dennis Diken (Smithereens) and John “Rabbit” Bundrick (The ‘Oo) guest, but it’s great at its core anyway.

Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders – 14th & Nowhere
Familiar chord progressions delivered in a spirited, barroom-brawl country-rock style. Fifteen songs, zero bullshit. Sample/representative song title: “Small Town Rock Ain’t Dead.” Guitars, guitars and more guitars (and hardly any keyboards). Earle Mankey pops up on banjo(!) Infectious and fun, this will delight fans of Jason & the Scorchers.

Vegas With Randolph – Rings Around the Sun
In reviewing their last album (Above the Blue) I made comparisons to Fountains of Wayne; this time out VWR have asserted a bit more of their own identity. It’s still catchy, intelligent and slightly adventurous powerpop, with a slightly harder edge. Maybe the Seattle recording studio helped conjure that vibe.

Steve Weinstein – Last Free Man
Reading the press kit I learned that Weinstein is both a philosopher and physicist, and that the album includes protests against our modern surveillance society. None of which I found especially appetizing propositions, so I was surprised to find a tuneful, friendly album in an earnest, heartland Tom Petty mode.

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