Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Top Ten of 2004

It still seems a bit early to be finalizing such a list, but this is xpn's world and we just live in it, so here goes:

  1. Julia Fordham – That’s Life (Vanguard) It’s rare when an album achieves the quality of Concrete Love (2002), with songwriting, performance and production excellence. It’s rarer still when the next album is essentially a continuation of the same session with another batch of superb songs, perfectly executed, a true gift.
  2. Nellie McKay – Get Away From Me (Columbia) After almost overlooking this record when I first received an advance copy in late 2003 (the first listen didn’t register), it ultimately took control of my car player like no other release in recent memory. A witty, wise, wordy, and tuneful debut; that she was just seventeen (you know what I mean) when this was written and recorded makes it all the more remarkable.
  3. k.d. lang – Hymns of the 49th Parallel (Nonesuch) Lang’s enormous talent is put to best use in this tribute to Canadian songwriters. Every track is a gem, and the title is completely justified, and not just for “Hallelujah.”
  4. Ron Isley & Burt Bacharach – Here I Am: Ron Isley Sings Burt Bacharach (Dreamworks) Going way beyond a simple rehash of the Bacharach-David catalog, this project displays a dynamic partnership between Ronald Isley and Burt Bacharach who makes a strong case for his being a musical renaissance man with his multiple roles of songwriter, arranger, producer, conductor, and musician, and who would’ve ever thought that Tonio K would resurface as a lyricist in the Hal David role. This disc provides a listening experience that I find totally cathartic.
  5. Keane – Hopes and Fears (Interscope) Anthemic Brit-pop lives, and is rarely done better than what this three man band (voice, keyboards, drums) puts down on their debut release. They seem like really nice kids too.
  6. Johnny A – Get Inside (Favored Nations) I could totally listen to this amazing guitarist play anything, and this new record serves up a great batch of new tunes. The original material is great, but he shows such a wealth of range and musical knowledge when playing live, I almost want him to do more cover songs.
  7. Chris Botti – When I Fall In Love (Columbia) I didn’t think Botti could better his rock album, Night Sessions (2001), but here he completely abandons the rock for a set of standards and has produced one of the best chill-out records ever. As 2004 ends, his appearances on daytime television, especially Oprah are launching sales of this disc into the stratosphere, much to the delight of his label.
  8. Rebecca Martin – People Behave Like Ballads (MaxJazz) Together with the Isley and Botti records, this disc provided a soothing office soundtrack all year long offering a nice counterpoint to the work environment. Almost reminiscent of the melodic mellow jazz style of Once Blue, but decidedly more jazz and less pop, this album has a wealth of understated melodic pleasures that are only revealed gradually over time with repeat listening.
  9. Holly Palmer – I Confess (Bombshell) A great third album, maybe even better than her soon to finally be released excellent second album Tender Hooks (2000). Being dropped twice in a career by essentially the same label (different regimes), both times with completed albums in the can and promo copies distributed might cause a lesser artist to hang it up. Holly responded by forming her own label and is now doing her best work ever.
  10. Jonatha Brooke – Back in the Circus (Bad Dog) The title refers to her move back to New York City, however her music seems to have gained more from her 2003 tour of Germany as opening act for the Hooters. That experience inspired her first ever cover songs, the new originals are some of her best songwriting ever and Eric Bazilian’s participation is a big plus, all of which add up to this being her most enjoyable album to date.


Just Missed the List: My top three were easy, they fell into place one-two-three. The next seven were way more difficult, as the following six albums struck me as equally worthy of being top ten material and it was painful to leave them out. I could very easily have picked an all-female top ten this year; last year my top ten only included two female artists (Dido and Roseanne Cash).

  • Kasey Chambers – Wayward Angel
  • Jem – Finally Woken
  • Norah Jones – Feels Like Home
  • Eleni Mandell – Afternoon
  • Sia – Colour the Small One (Import)
  • Zero 7 – When It Falls

More Great Records: 2004 was an excellent year, with many more great records by Gabriela Anders, The Blue Nile, J.J. Cale, The Cardigans, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello, Cowboy Junkies, Crosby & Nash, The Damnwells, Tina Dico, Five for Fighting, John Fogerty, Gov’t Mule, Daryl Hall, Hall & Oates, Juliana Hatfield, Mark Knopfler, Leo Kottke, Allison Moorer, Alex Parks, Queen Latifah, Sarah Randle, Chris Rea, Garrison Starr, Martina Topley-Bird, and The Trash Can Sinatras.


Monday, November 22, 2004

24 Hours in NYC w/Dave, Holly & Soraya

Holly Palmer and Emm Gryner brought their mini tour of the Northeast to New York City on Saturday night at the Fez, and after warmup shows at The Point in Bryn Mawr, PA on Thursday and at The Call in Providence, R.I. on Friday where Holly played opening act to audiences who knew little of her material, the Fez show was a homecoming of sorts where Holly headlined and gave what may have been her best performance ever. I'll leave it to Dave Curtis to cover the details in a review he plans to write for Holly's website, which I will also post here as soon as it's done.

The pressure was on me to record the show on Holly's behalf, as arranged by Dave, Holly, and her manager. Having never done this before (at least in a professional capacity), I quickly realized what I should have brought (more sturdy tripod, headphones, flashlight), however in spite of the limitations, I managed to record a beautiful looking video using brother Paul's Hi-8 Sony Handicam, and we also got a perfect recording of the board feed using my CD recorder. The next move will be to join the board audio with the video on the computer as soon as I determine what studio software to use. We also have the same quality video and audio recordings of Emm Gryner's opening set. Paul also did a nice video shoot of Holly's show at the Point, with excellent quality sound recorded by the microphones in the camera, which I rush produced to DVD and audio CD packages which were much appreciated by Holly and Dave.

On Sunday, Dave & I attended Latino Expo at the Marriott Marquis Hotel on Times Square, to see Columbian-American singer songwriter Soraya perform. I consider myself extremely lucky that Dave happened to notice Soraya's first album back in 1996 and bring it to my attention because it is unlikely that I would have found it otherwise. Her first two albums in both Spanish and English language versions are pure singer-songwriter brilliance, and her latest album also approaches that same level of excellence. After the first album, the English versions have not even been released here; the second album was released in English only in Japan, and we just learned yesterday that an English language version of her latest was released in Canada; Soraya's manager generously offered to send copies.

With small U.S. sales, most likely none outside the Latin music community, and no U.S. appearances that we've ever been aware of, this is an artist that I never expected to have an opportunity to see perform, which is why this was a rare Sunday where music trumped football on my priority list. It was even more of a happy surprise to be able to meet Soraya before the event, arranged by her manager due to Dave's position at Sony. The conversation was great and went way beyond the typical pleasantries of the average meet & greet.

After about a half hour of tedious welcoming remarks by various New York City politicians and a patience-testing recruitment presentation by Walden University (an online college), Soraya took the stage with her acoustic guitar to sing "Casi" from her latest album Soraya (2003), for which she won the Latin Grammy Award for Best Singer-Songwriter Album. In addition to being a talented musician, singer, and songwriter, she has recently undertaken to work to further breast cancer awareness as a result of her three year bout with the disease. She's traveled throughout the U.S. , Central and South America speaking on the topic in her capacity as spokesperson for livingwithit.org, an online resource for women dealing with breast cancer, sponsored by Aventis Oncology.

During the next two hours while she did a breakout session on breast cancer, Dave and I went back to the hotel to check out and get the video camera which I used to record her 3pm set of three or four songs which included "Casi" again and the wonderful single "De Repente" ("Suddenly") from her first album En Esta Noche (On Nights Like This). Despite some audience jostling of the tripod, the video came out looking great with excellent audience sound recorded by the camera; thanks again to Paul. Judging by the crowd who wanted Soraya to autograph her CD single provided free at the Expo by Aventis, it's safe to assume that she won a number of new fans with this performance. After a quick visit to yet another great New York Thai restaurant, Pongsri (near 48th & 8th), we hit the road, dropping Dave off and getting home in time to watch the Eagles on tape delay, improve their record to 9-1. It may sound like I've seen one too many beer commercials, but I can honestly say that it doesn't get any better than this.


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Phil Roy - Tower Records, Philadelphia, 11/16/04

David Dye brought the World Cafe to Tower Records in Philadelphia tonight to celebrate the retail release of Live at the World Cafe, Vol. 17 - Three Flights Up. For live music, he enlisted Phil Roy, a native Philadelphian singer-songwriter, best known for his song "Hope in a Hopeless World" which has been recorded by Paul Young, Pops Staples, and Widespread Panic who recorded it thinking it was a Pops Staples composition, according to Roy. Roy played acoustic guitar and sang, accompanied by John Lilly of the Hooters (the Philadelphia band, not the restaurant) on lead acoustic guitar and fellow Philly-local Ben Arnold on keyboards, who also played on Roy's original recording of "Hope in a Hopeless World."

After starting with a new tune ("Willow") to be included on his forthcoming CD, his set consisted of his best known songs, "Hope in a Hopeless World" which featured a blazing acoustic guitar solo by Lilly, "Undeniably Human," "Amazing," and "Melt" which Roy credited, along with WXPN for being responsible for his somewhat recent marriage and relocation from New York back to Philadelphia although he did not elaborate on exactly how the song or the radio station contributed to this assumedly happy state of affairs. Roy described following the recent WXPN 885 song countdown from the recording studio in Chicago where he was working on his new record, and being pleasantly surprised to see "Melt" included in the 885 greatest songs of all time. After the set, Roy and Dye signed copies of the World Cafe CD which was just released to retail today. Dye seemed pleased with the turnout, and I took the opportunity to thank him for the great interview he did with k.d. lang recently on the World Cafe.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

It's That Time of Year Again, WXPN's Top Fifty Albums of 2004

Being it's now less than two weeks till Thanksgiving, I guess we can give xpn some slack in starting their drive for listeners to submit top ten lists for 2004 so early. As a year with some great new music, this will be both easy and hard; easy in that my one, two and three are locked in, hard in that there are easily thirty-nine great records all seemingly worthy of one of the seven remaining spots on the list. Even narrowing it down, there are still about fifteen that are strongly resisting elimination - I may have to give them all another spin or two. To get in the spirit, and partially because it was finally just posted this week to the Rambles website, here is my review again of the Julia Fordham CD, That's Life, which has a lock as my number one. http://www.rambles.net/fordham_life04.html

Here's my Rambles review (pre-blog) of Nellie McKay's Get Away From Me which is residing happily in my number two slot. http://www.rambles.net/mckay_getaway04.html

Anyone who's read the previous entries here for the past few months will find no surprise in my number three selection, k.d. lang's excellent Hymns of the 49th Parallel.

After that it gets bloody, with the following CDs from 2004 all seeming worthy of top ten designation, each in and of itself. I will find a way to whittle it down between now and xpn's deadline for submission. Here now is the rest of my best of, in alphabetical order.

  • Johnny A - Get Inside
  • Gabriela Anders - Eclectica
  • The Blue Nile - High
  • Jonatha Brooke - Back in the Circus
  • J.J. Cale - To Tulsa and Back
  • Cardigans - Long Gone Before Daylight
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter - Between Here & Gone
  • Kasey Chambers - Wayward Angel
  • Ray Charles - Genius Loves Company
  • Elvis Costell0 - The Delivery Man
  • Cowboy Junkies - One Soul Now
  • David Crosby & Graham Nash - Crosby-Nash
  • Damnwells - Bastards of the Beat
  • Tina Dico - Far
  • Five for Fighting - The Battle for Everything
  • John Fogerty - Dejuvu All Over Again
  • Gov't Mule - Deja Voodoo
  • Daryl Hall - Can't Stop Dreaming
  • Daryl Hall & John Oates - Our Kind of Soul
  • Juliana Hatfield - In Exile Deo
  • Ron Isley & Burt Bacharach - Isley Meets Bacharach
  • Jem - Finally Woken
  • Norah Jones - Feels Like Home
  • Keane - Hopes and Fears
  • Mark Knopfler - Shangri-La
  • Leo Kottke - Try and Stop Me
  • Queen Latifah - The Dana Owens Album
  • Eleni Mandell - Afternoon
  • Rebecca Martin - People Behave Like Ballads
  • Allison Moorer - The Duel
  • Holly Palmer - I Confess
  • Alex Parks - Introduction (Import)
  • Sarah Randle - The Sparrow (Import)
  • Chris Rea - The Blue Jukebox (Import)
  • Sia - Colour the Small One (Import)
  • Garrison Starr - Airstreams & Satellites
  • Martina Topley-Bird - Quixotic (Import)/Anything (Domestic)
  • Trashcan Sinatras - Weightlifting
  • Zero 7 - When It Falls

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Wawa: Great Coffee, Great Muzak

Not only does Wawa sell the best coffee on the planet, not only does Wawa sell the best diet iced tea on the planet, not only are they open 24 hours/day with many convenient locations in the mid Atlantic states, not only do their locations with gasoline sell it at the lowest possible price, but now Wawa officially has the best muzak I've ever encountered. Up till now I've occasionally felt sort of stupid for enjoying the baby boomer oldies that play over the sound system in every Wawa store, but today while I was pouring my late afternoon cup of steaming java, I realized that I was hearing Valerie Carter's version of Ooh Child (the old Five Stairsteps hit) from her Wild Child album (1978), one of the best and most overlooked albums ever. This album was my holy grail to find on CD for many years until I finally found a Japanese pressing at an affordable price in Montreal some years ago. Way to go Wawa.

Wawa Website: http://www.wawa.com/
A Talk With Valerie Carter: http://www.james-taylor.com/features/carter/
A

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Eleni Mandell & Shivaree - The Point, 10/27/04

Eleni Mandell did another superb set at The Point in Bryn Mawr, PA on Wednesday night, opening for Shivaree. It was her second time here in the last few months, both times as opening act; it's time they booked her to headline. In any case, the small but appreciative audience was treated to a nice sampling of her five albums, concentrating on her latest, the excellent Afternoon. Mandell played acoustic guitar and sang, accompanied only by an upright bass. On the Tom Waits cover it was just bass, voice and finger snaps - just awesome.

Iowa City
Look Out Below
American Boy (dedicated to John Kerry)
Just a Dream
Afternoon
Dreamboat
The One That Got Away (Incredible version of the Tom Waits song, holding glass of wine)
It's Raining (Allen Toussaint)
Maybe, Yes
He Lied

It was the last night of this tour, and Mandell had no problem selling out the last of the CDs she brought, leaving none to carry back to L.A. Unbeknownst to most everyone in attendance at this show (including me), Tom Waits turns out to be a common denominator between Eleni Mandell and Shivaree. Early on in her career, Mandell became friends with and was mentored by L.A. hipster Chuck E. Weiss (subject of Rickie Lee Jones' "Chuck E's in Love") who introduced her to his friend and her big influence, Tom Waits. Shivaree's connection to Waits starts with keyboardist Danny McGough, who toured with Waits prior to forming Shivaree.

McGough and guitarist Duke McVinnie, representing two thirds of Shivaree were not present for this show. As explained by lead singer Ambrosia Parsley, the pair were busy with other projects in the aftermath of a four year period of record company problems and finally recording their next album which is due out soon. Performing with a four piece backup group including a drummer who had only been with the band for about ninety minutes at showtime, Parsley offered up an appealing mix of rock, folk, jazz, and 40's style pop.

I'm not sure whether it was the songs or the between song comments that were more appealing, but Parsley does have a way with a story, starting with the unlikely premise of a funny story about her brother getting cancer, then regaling the audience with a tale of getting locked outside her brother's house at night, in her underwear, with a pit bull in heat. This epic was spread out in installments between several songs. Another story dealt with her grandmother stabbing her grandfather before being smothered to death by him.

Parsley hardly needed the Lisa Loeb glasses to accomplish quirky, but the sound was good, the band played well, and the songs were enjoyable. The only flaw in the set was that the band failed to "learn" the one song anybody would know by Shivaree, the WXPN favorite "Goodnight Moon" which was also used to great effect by Quentin Tarantino during the Kill Bill, Vol. 2 credits. The lame promise that they would learn it before coming back for two more Point shows later this month didn't hold much water for the somewhat disappointed audience. Breach, an EP they sold at the show for $5.00 contains two good sounding tracks from the forthcoming full length CD, Who's Got Trouble, as well as three additional tracks not on the album.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Joe Sample - World Cafe Live, 10/22/04 & WXPN Studio Tour

It was a good thing that this show was not advertised as a solo piano performance because I might not have flipped for the $30 ticket price, in which case we would have missed one of the most unique and special musical experiences ever. As it turned out, this was a rare oppotunity to hear a true jazz master render a virtuosic recital of the history of American music on piano. Sample's musical knowlege and experience is truly encyclopedic. You can enjoy this musical history lesson yourself on Sample's latest release, Soul Shadows from which he played everything save for the title track (which is the only vocal on the record). In concert, each tune was prefaced with an explanation of its significance, including detailed descriptions of the places and times from which these compositions originated. To perform this material, Sample channels the players of the time to let you hear these songs as they would have been heard back then. All of the songs were great to hear but some were truly astounding; I thought I knew "The Entertainer," but you've never really heard Scott Joplin's signature tune until you hear Sample play it with all the soulfulness of the players who performed it back in the early part of the 20th century in the backwater towns of Louisiana.

Sample gives similarly authentic renderings of many classics from the American songbook, such as Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'," Al Jolson's "Avalon," Duke Ellington's "I Got it Bad and That Ain't Good," Jellyroll Morton's "Shreveport Stomp," and the Gershwins' "I Got Rhythm," and "Embraceable You." Other than the title track, the only other Sample original on the record is "Spellbound" which in solo piano treatment allows the listener to fully appreciate the simple beauty of the melody. It was great after the show to meet Sample, shake his hand, and thank him for all the great music over the years.

Before the show we took the member tour of the new WXPN studios and I must say that the folks who work on this station who already had the greatest jobs in the world, now must think that they've died and gone to radio heaven. This complex of offices and studios not only has beautiful design and construction but the studio equipment lends new meaning to the idea of state of the art. It's a testament to the commitment of the station's listeners and sponsors that they were able to raise the kind of money it took to build this ultimate radio station. The World Cafe Live venue, now just three weeks old, christened its new menu this night, keeping some of the fussier cuisine but adding a few more down to earth items, like the deliciously spicy hot Cuban pulled pork sandwich that I enjoyed as part of the comp dinner that the venue offered to make up for the muffed meal on opening night. Although the service was still a little bumpy, they'll likely work it all out before long. Bruce Warren said numerous times before the WXPN move that "this place will knock your socks off." I'd say that's an understatement.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Tina Dico & Teitur, Joe's Pub, NYC, 10/12/04

Zero 7 already had a wealth of vocal talent on their 2001 album, Simple Things, rotating Mozeez, Sophie Barker and Sia Furler into the lead vocal slot like so many ace pitchers in a championship starting rotation. As such, they hardly needed another singer, and yet when they recorded this year's release, When It Falls, they could not resist adding a fourth vocalist in the person of Tina Dico. When Dave & I saw Zero 7 play New York's Irving Plaza back in May, all four vocalists were amazing, as was the instrumental excellence of the group led by Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker who bring so much more to the table than would be suggested by the characterization that they are merely a British version of Air.

In addition to her prodigious vocal talent, Dico's knockout good looks are totally consistent with her Danish origin. I'd travel to hear any of these fine vocalists work solo; Sia's got a great solo album but so far only Dico has done solo gigs stateside, playing several times over the last few months at the Livingroom, with October dates at Joe's Pub and the following night as part of CMJ at the Fez. I had no sooner secured what I was told were the last two tickets for the Joe's Pub show than Dave learned of a mandatory p.r. event for Sony artist Celine Dion to promote the Anne Geddes' book, Miracle: A Celebration of New Life, scheduled at the same time as the show; Bev wound up the beneficiary of Dave's scheduling snafu.

Performing solo with acoustic guitar, Dico's voice is every bit as strong and powerful as it is when accompanied by the full sound of Zero 7. It was only a minor disadvantage not to have heard her mini-album Far, prior to the show, but she only did two songs from it, "Break of Day" and "Warm Sand." She followed these with two songs not on the album, "Room With a View" which is about moving to London, and "Use Me." She closed with a beautiful solo version of her Zero 7 song "Home" which she co-wrote with the band.

Although she's been quoted as saying that performing solo is much scarier than playing for large audiences with Zero 7, she seemed totally self-assured and in control of her performance, even borrowing Teitur's guitar mid set for its sound. Dico's been compared to Joni Mitchell, and while her songwriting is occasionally excellent, she's got a long way to go before such comparisons are warranted, however you can hear a slight vocal resemblance when Dico's voice soars into the upper register. This girl's got great pipes and between Zero 7 and her solo career, I think we can expect great things from Tina Dico.

Dico seemed additionally pleased to be opening the show for her friend from Denmark, Teitur. Although it may seem somewhat presumptuous for an unknown to bill himself by one name, Teitur Lassen is a twenty-five year old singer songwriter who looks kind of like Beck without the suit and sounds sort of like a mellower Nils Lofgren. I did pick up Teitur's debut album Poetry & Aeroplanes a few months ago and found it to be a pleasant listen although it didn't otherwise dent my consciousness on first or second listen.

With two backup musicians, mostly playing upright bass and drums, the three switched instruments often, including a couple of turns on harmonium by Teitur who also acquitted himself well on acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards. He had a friendly and engaging storytelling style between songs, including accounts of travelling in a tour bus that previously belonged to Willie Nelson, mentioning that he and his band mates like to take turns sitting next to Dico on the bus (so cute). He also mentioned being in New York during the blackout of 8/14/03 as a lead in to "Sleeping With the Light On." His fourteen song set included most if not all of the album, plus a few additional tunes including a mellow yet sort of edgy minor key version of "Great Balls of Fire" to close his set.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Guess I Touched a Nerve (Fear and Loathing on the Melodica Bulletin Board)

Well, I guess it had to happen sooner or later, I've been flamed. My post "Why Only Germany Gets to Hear the Hooters" resulted in this seemingly over-reacting response.

Message: 1
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 2004 20:19:08 -0400
From: Name Omitted at Writer's Request
Subject: A COMPLETE OUTRAGE!!!!!

Personally, - I really don't think that Rob or Eric should have to address anyone about their personal financial business - especially on the internet. Where does anyone on this list come off asking that Rob & Eric should have to answer questions about how much they get paid for shows. That is a completely out of line question. Back when I did bookings for my friend Blake's band - If you asked me how much we got for a show and were someone just off the street (fan or not) and even slightly pushed about it I would tell you to "kiss me $#+". Bottom line. You did far worse that quoting a source without permission - you made a completely baseless statement that comes from an outright biased disgruntled source with no confirmation of any of the facts. DAN RATHER!!!! This all goes back to that pressure and desperation from some of you that you are putting on this band and it is really sad........Sorry but that is how I feel. Leave it alone and be cool. Keep all this up and they might just not play anywhere around here ever again. I can't believe that you would pull a Dan Rather and print something here that you have no valid proof of other that what some knucklehead at U of Penn would tell you. The person that told you all this stuff - is this someone that has been hounding Cornerstone for the last couple of years and is mad because they don't want to deal with him and quoted him a super high price to get him to leave them alone.??? Who cares whether they're committed to the music. What does that even mean? They are committed to their art; their craft which means that they play music (and do it for a living). It also means moving on with your craft and moving on in life and trying different things. Come on - Rob & Eric are like 50 years old each with families / children - the whole 9 yards. What do you want from them. It's an outrage (I feel like Johnnie Cochran here..) that you would ask that they explain their financial activities out in the open. Some of you out there still feel that this band (who hasn't had a new studio album outin 12 years) owes you something. Take some time and think about it......This is really negative attitude kickin from some people here..................Be Cool...That's my story and I'm stickin' to it...........

**********************************************************************

I should note here that after my original post, I received a private email from another member of the bulletin board suggesting that I send my question directly to the band members and provided their email addresses. I thought this was a good idea and so I did send a note to Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman. I never did hear back from them personally, but one or both of their emails apparently went directly to Cornerstone Management who replied within the hour with a fairly lengthy response that they specifically requested not be posted to the bulletin board. Although Cornerstone stated that the dollar figure I had quoted was incorrect and made the case that the economics of live performance are more complicated than it would seem to an outsider, they said nothing to dispute the notion that a high price is the reason for no local gigs.

After further consideration of being flamed and of the discussion that ensued, I posted this final thought on the matter.

From: "William Kates" <wkates@hotmail.com>
To: <Melodica@yahoogroups.com>
Sent: Saturday, October 30, 2004 11:54 PM
Subject: Why Only Germany Gets to Hear the Hooters

I sincerely apologize to anyone who took offense to my last post. If not for the strong and loyal support of their Philadelphia area fans in the early years, there might not have been a CBS contract, MTV airplay, and the resulting international distribution that allowed them to develop the large German and European audiences that made the last two summers' reunion tours possible. In light of two summer tours overseas with no local shows, I think the local audience has cause to feel abandoned, without being called crybabies and worse. I'm not asking to know anything about the group's finances, however it's been mentioned on this board more than once that the band would like to play locally but the economics will not allow it. I do regret mentioning the unverified dollar figure, but regardless of the exact amount, what I heard is totally consistent with the previous posts here on this board. I'm well aware of the potentially complex economics of mounting a tour, but as someone who has seen many a great club show, I'm sure the guys know that they don't need tractor trailer loads of sound and lighting equipment to play live - there are probably a dozen or more local venues where the band could just bring their instruments and play, and I can't believe it would not be profitable to all concerned. As a long time fan of these musicians and their music I wish them only the best, I don't wish to invade anyone's privacy and I certainly never meant to offend anyone, but I also don't think it's in any way out of line to want to know why only Germany gets to hear the Hooters.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Putting the Fat in the Fire on the Hooters Discussion Board

For the past two summers (2003 and 2004) the Hooters have reunited to play a tour of Germany where apparently they still enjoy superstar status and as such have enough drawing power to make such a tour highly profitable. Unfortunately, even with the long history of local support they've gotten from fans in their hometown of Philadelphia, they have been unwilling to play any dates here either at the beginning or end of either German tour. Eric Bazilian has been quoted on the message board as saying that the band really does want to play in Philly but that due to the high cost of venues and promoters and so forth that it has been "economically unfeasible." The first summer it was somewhat amusing to read the accolades posting to the message board from the German fans, and it was likewise interesting to hear Jonatha Brooke discuss her experience as opening act for the 2003 tour. By summer 2004 however, the accounts of the two and a half hour shows where they played "everything" became more annoying than enjoyable to read, especially in light of their seeming snub of their hometown. Eric's appearance at Jonatha's opening show at the new World Cafe Live venue inspired me to raise this question with someone at WXPN who would know, and what I learned was somewhat disheartening and formed the basis for this post to the Hooters discussion board.

From: "William Kates" <wkates@hotmail.com>
To: <Melodica@yahoogroups.com>
Sent: Wednesday, October 27, 2004 10:37 AM
Subject: Why Only Germany Gets to Hear the Hooters

I don't want to quote a source without permission, but I have it on good authority that WXPN (the U of P radio station) has made many attempts to book the Hooters to play in Philadelphia over the last few years, and even though Eric and Rob are both Penn alumni and members of the station, the major stumbling block seems to be an incredibly high price asked by the Hooters' management. I'm told that the price was somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000.00 for their (brief) reunion performance at Pierre Robert's WMMR Anniversary concert at the Spectrum a few years ago. As someone who clings to the notion that the Hooters were (are) committed to the music at least as much as to the commerce, and as someone who knows that the many Cabaret shows back in the day could not have generated that kind of money but certainly seemed to compensate with a great musical experience for both audience and band, I totally don't understand this state of affairs. I would really like to hear Eric and Rob address this issue specifically, if anyone on this board has access to direct this question their way. Cheers (I think). - William Kates

k.d. lang - World Cafe Interview & Performance, 9/10/04

I was just listening back to this radio appearance and although I usually think that there's too much interview and not enough live performance on the World Cafe segments, in this case the interview is fascinating (and there's no shortage of music either, it's a nice long segment). You can hear her starting out with some stock answers, almost word for word the same as on her NPR Morning Edition appearance, but when she discusses her motivation to interpret on her last two records rather than to write, and also when she discusses her experience with Tony Bennett, her answers are so honest and insightful that it's almost revelatory, as compared with the usual promo tour interviews which nine times out of ten come right out of the p.r. playbook. David Dye does a nice job eliciting this conversation then getting out of the way to let her talk. Her last two records are so good that it makes me want to go back and discover (or rediscover) her earlier work. If any readers would like to hear this, drop me an email and I'll send you a CD with both the World Cafe and NPR broadcasts.

k.d. lang's website: http://www.kdlang.com/

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

A Tale of Two Documentaries and a Teen Comedy: Fahrenheit 9/11, Supersize Me, & Saved! (All 2004)

Perhaps if I had seen Fahrenheit 9/11 when it was first released to theaters, I would have found it to be more earth-shattering, but having read and heard all the reviews, accolades, fact checking nitpicks and so forth, watching the DVD on the small screen turned out to be somewhat anticlimactic. For reference, I must state that I strongly believe that George W. Bush has proved in his four years in office, to be one of the worst presidents ever, as bad as Richard Nixon, if not more so. What he has done to damage the environment, the economy, every social program you could name, and turning the surplus back into all-time record deficit would be bad enough in and of itself, but his actions in response to 9/11 have hurt our standing in the world, encouraged more terrorism, and as a result have left us less secure as a result with a very uncertain future. The degree to which he has looted the U.S. treasury and mortgaged the future of our children and grandchildren to pour untold sums of money into the coffers of companies owned by his cronies in an invasion and occupation of a country that was likely unneccesary, is enough to make any patriotic American's blood boil.

The factual material presented in this movie would be totally damning and maddening without any editorial spin; it hardly needs the Michael Moore hard sell. My initial reaction was that Moore's narration seems to overstate the case and was not only not necessary, but served to undercut the impact of the factual material, making it seem more like propaganda. However, after further review, and considering that even now at this late date the papers are calling the presidential race a "dead heat" it would seem that the American public is way more stupid than we ever imagined possible, and I resign myself to the thought that Moore's sledgehammer approach is not only appropriate but absolutely necessary. So, at the risk of being called a flip-flopper, I must give Fahrenheit 9/11 thumbs up, without reservation. I still maintain that the Cannes Film Festival prize was due more to the politics than to the quality of the moviemaking, statements to the contrary at the time by the festival jury notwithstanding. Other recent documentaries have seemed to me to be much more well made movies, including The Endurance, Crumb, American Splendor, Woodstock, and the movie I will describe next.

While on one level, the subject matter of Supersize Me would seem irrelevant in comparison to the life and death issues of Fahrenheit 9/11, the sad fact is that the majority of Americans are probably more interested in hearing about fast food than about Bush's failed presidency. Which is not to denigrate the fine work of writer/director Morgan Spurlock. Supersize Me deals with the obescity epidemic in America, the issue of what and how we eat and the health implications, how we educate and protect our kids (or not), and some of the business and cultural impact of McDonalds in a film that is constantly interesting, informative, and entertaining. The writing and onscreen presentation by Spurlock are first rate.

Even though the fast deterioration of Spurlock's health caused by his three meal a day regimen of McDonalds food shocked his doctors, Spurlock almost understates his case, allowing you too to be shocked without having your reaction spoon fed to you. Although some stomach-turning scenes give the movie a bit of an edge, Spurlock's story is delivered with plenty of humor and pathos, and a more than fair and balanced presentation, giving plenty of screen time to the denizens and proponents of McDonalds food without being overly judgemental. The interviews are skillfully produced by Spurlock to humanize those who appear; his vegan chef girlfriend provides just the right amount of emotional grounding and reality check without falling into obvious anti-fast food cliche.

Unlike many DVDs, the bonus material included with Supersize Me is all essential viewing, especially a lengthy interview with Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser who for some reason was unavailable to be in the film. The killer extra is a piece called "The Smoking Fry" in which about eight McDonalds menu items are placed in bell jars to decompose and the results are both funny and disturbing. Supersize Me is one of the best documentaries I've seen and well deserving of the awards it won at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Saved! provided a nice humorous antidote to all the documentary heaviosity. Written and directed by Brian Dannelly, Saved! establishes a comedic tone that makes fun of religious hypocrisy without specifically making fun of religion, which is not an easy tightrope to walk, especially for a first time director. The cast is wonderful, especially Jena Malone as the lead character who begins her senior year of high school with the discovery that she is pregnant from a failed attempt to "cure" her boyfriend from being gay (with Jesus' approval, of course).

Singer and actress Mandy Moore shows some range in a portrayal of a less than endearing character who serves as the poster girl for hypocrisy and intolerance in the name of religion. Eva Amurri is funny as the only Jewish student at the Christian school. Macaulay Culkin's performance even manages to overcome the somewhat disturbing onscreen image of a deep voiced older guy with the face of the kid from Home Alone. Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) also does a nice job as the son of the preacherman. The music used throughout is enjoyable, especially Mandy Moore's version of "God Only Knows" that accompanies both the opening and closing credits. For some unknown reason, a soundtrack album seems not to have been released. Saved! is good spirited fun and you don't have to be religious or a teenager to enjoy it.

Friday, October 08, 2004

WXPN's 885 Song Countdown - The Final Tally or Welcome to Brucetown

It's hard to remember when a week of radio was this much fun to listen to, and WXPN deserves a lot of credit for coming up with this deceptively simple concept and then playing all 885 songs. The simultaneous discussion on the WXPN bulletin board only served to amplify the excitement that grew day by day as the songs counted down. There were many great moments, including yesterday when both "Supper's Ready" by Genesis and "Close to the Edge" by Yes were aired in their full album side entirety. That the Yes masterwork was followed by a great Stevie Wonder tune was one more unexpected pleasure that resulted from this programming. Even though WXPN added server capacity to accommodate 4,000 listeners online, the demand overwhelmed the station's website during the final day of the countdown, and the site is still down as of 11:15pm. When it comes back online, I'll update this entry with the vital statistics, final top ten, and I'll list how my top ten selections did.

Springsteen still apparently owns this town as not one but two songs from the classic Born to Run album made the final top ten, with "Born to Run" at #6 and "Thunder Road" coming in at #1. As it played, I too rolled down my car windows to let the wind blow back what's left of my hair, and thought about the fact that this is truly the quintessential Springsteen tune, which is probably why it was also the Springsteen song on my list. The WXPN site came back online Sunday, so here's the top twenty-five:
  1. Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road
  2. John Lennon – Imagine
  3. Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone
  4. The Beatles – In My Life
  5. Rolling Stones – Sympathy For The Devil
  6. Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run
  7. Van Morrison – Into The Mystic
  8. The Beatles – A Day In The Life
  9. The Beatles – Hey Jude
  10. U2 – One
  11. Bob Dylan – Tangled Up In Blue
  12. The Beatles – Let It Be
  13. Marvin Gaye – What's Going On
  14. Led Zeppelin – Stairway To Heaven
  15. Joni Mitchell – A Case Of You
  16. Derek And The Dominos – Layla
  17. The Band – The Weight
  18. Jimi Hendrix – All Along The Watch Tower
  19. Van Morrison – Moondance
  20. The Rolling Stones – Satisfaction
  21. Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes
  22. Bruce Springsteen – Rosalita
  23. Bob Marley – No Woman No Cry
  24. Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter
  25. The Who – Won't Get Fooled Again

I was initially amazed that only one female artist, Joni Mitchell, was represented in the top twenty five, and she's also the only female artist on the list below of artists with the most songs on the list. But then I checked my own top ten and she's the only female artist on it (hmmm). Five out of my ten placed on the 885, two in the top five. I'm kind of surprised that my Creedence and Del Amitri songs didn't place. Amazingly, there was only one Creedence song in the whole 885 ("Fortunate Son" #367). Here's my top ten and where they placed.

  1. Beatles - In My Life (#4)
  2. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Green River
  3. Yes - Close to the Edge (#271)
  4. Genesis - The Cinema Show
  5. Jackson Browne - For a Dancer (#207)
  6. Joni Mitchell - Urge for Going (#438)
  7. Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road (#1)
  8. Chris Rea - Fool (If You Think It's Over)
  9. Del Amitri - Always the Last to Know
  10. Average White Band - Work to Do

Some of the more industrious bulletin board participants (or those with too much time on their hands) kept us stoked with constant statistical updates, at least until the xpn site crashed. Here's the ten artists with the most songs in the 885:

  1. The Beatles - 48 Songs
  2. Bob Dylan - 33 Songs
  3. Bruce Springsteen - 27 Songs
  4. Rolling Stones - 26 Songs
  5. Grateful Dead - 20 Songs
  6. Joni Mitchell - 19 Songs
  7. Led Zeppelin - 19 Songs
  8. U2 - 18 Songs
  9. Neil Young - 16 Songs
  10. Van Morrison - 14 Songs

Here's the top ten Beatles songs, as they placed in the 885:

  1. Imagine (John Lennon, #2)
  2. In My Life (#4)
  3. A Day In The Life (#8)
  4. Hey Jude (#9)
  5. Let It Be (#12)
  6. Blackbird (#39)
  7. Here Comes The Sun (#40)
  8. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (#46)
  9. Yesterday (#48)
  10. Across The Universe (#64)
  11. Norwegian Wood (#67)

You can analyze the results in as much detail as you want with this nice database, courtesy of Claire & Michael Smith from their family website: http://www.smithnj.net/885counts.asp

You can see the entire list of the 885 songs on the WXPN site: http://www.xpn.org/885_GSAT.php

Here's the WXPN bulletin board: http://xpnonline.org/bb/viewforum.php?f=44

Thanks, xpn. Nice job.


Enjoy Every Sandwich - The Songs of Warren Zevon (Artemis, 2004)

This tribute disc which is scheduled for October 19th release, looks just great on paper (and the Jill Sobule song is even good). Check out the tracklist, courtesy of the Artemis website.

"Searching For A Heart" - Don Henley
"Werewolves of London" - Adam Sandler
"Reconsider Me" - Steve Earle
"Poor Poor Pitiful Me" - Jackson Browne with Bonnie Raitt
"My Ride's Here" (live) - Bruce Springsteen
"Lawyers, Guns, and Money" - Wallflowers
"Studebaker" - Jordan Zevon
"The Wind" - Billy Bob Thornton
"Splendid Isolation" - Pete Yorn
"Mutineer" (live) - Bob Dylan
"Monkey Wash Donkey Rinse" - David Lindley and Ry Cooder
"Don't Let Us Get Sick" - Jill Sobule
"Ain't That Pretty At All" - Pixies
"Keep Me In Your Heart" - Jorge Calderon/ Jennifer Warnes
"Keep Me In Your Heart" (strings only) - arranged by Van Dyke Parks

Website: http://www.artemisrecords.com/newsarticle.aspx?id=165

Rebecca Martin & Jill Sobule - World Cafe Live, 10/04/04

Having travelled to New York City's Livingroom many times to see Rebecca Martin, I couldn't pass an opportunity to see her play here in Philadelphia, at the new World Cafe Live on only it's third night open. Even though I had no interest in the headliner, it seemed worth the $20 ticket just for the opening set. Rebecca Martin as a member of Once Blue was responsible (with Jesse Harris) for one of my favorite albums of all time. In her solo career, she has turned away from the melodic pop music that Once Blue was so good at, and instead she has explored a form of introspective jazz music with vocals that is always a pleasure to listen to. What the music lacks in rhythm and melody, it makes up with tonal shadings and Rebecca's always appealing voice; I could listen to her sing the phone book.

Her last album, Middlehope consisted of mostly standards with two Jesse Harris compositions, one of which ("One Flight Down") became more familiar when Norah Jones later included it on her album. Rebecca's new album People Behave Like Ballads, the source for most of the tunes she performed during her half hour set, may be her best effort yet as a solo artist, with its all original jazz vocal pieces. Her excellent backup musicians for this show were Ben Monder on electric guitar and Larry Grenadier on acoustic bass. The new songs sounded great live, especially with Monder's ultra mellow electric guitar work. Her set also included a previously obscure Once Blue song "Out in the Rain" which was originally recorded for the second Once Blue album that was never released; the recent Japanese remaster of Once Blue includes those nine unreleased songs as bonus tracks. She ended with a brand new song, "You're Older." It is remarkable that music like this that is seemingly long on integrity and short on commercial potential can still find a place in the scheme of things, and I always consider it a privilege to be able to partake in it.

I find very few songs as annoying as the two Jill Sobule songs that I was familiar with going into this show: her best known song "I Kissed a Girl" which according to Jenn was written more as an attention getter than as an expression of sexual preference, and "Cinnamon Park" from her current album which is inexplicably getting heavy rotation play on WXPN with its piano riff lifted directly from Chicago's "Saturday in the Park". Despite my initial misgivings, and maybe partially because I was seated at a table with a family of three who were big fans of Sobule, I couldn't bring myself to walk out after Rebecca Martin's set, so I stayed to check out her act instead of rushing home for Monday Night Football.

I'm reluctant to admit it (even to myself) but dressed in a dumpy brown dress with a short skirt that displayed her somewhat scary looking legs with mid-calf suede boots, Sobule's spunky energy and ability to connect with her audience gradually wore down my resistance, and I found myself actually finding aspects of her performance to enjoy. She may be the only rock artist or singer-songwriter I've ever seen do "Sunrise Sunset" but as "the only Jewish girl at St. Mary's Academy" I guess it made sense; Condoleezza Rice also attended the same school according to Sobule.

Her best song was the Warren Zevon composition "Don't Let Us Get Sick" which she recorded for a forthcoming Zevon tribute disc, due October 19th on Artemis Records. She explained that Zevon wrote this song before he found out about his own illness. For "Big Shoes" she invited someone from the audience with a cell-speaker-phone to come onstage to call her (Sobule's) mom to do an answer verse over the phone into the mike as part of the performance of the song; a cute touch. "Cinnamon Park" on solo acoustic guitar without the Chicago riff was less gimmicky and was actually one of her better tunes. It struck me about this point in the show that Sobule reminds me a little of Cyndi Lauper only with a somewhat less engaging personality and less scary hair; their accents may give away some background in common.

For her encore, she explained that "I Kissed a Girl" had given her some unwelcome baggage but that she had recently come to grips with it to the point that she enjoys playing it again, and she then proceeded to unplug her guitar and walk out onto the dinner tables to sing it with no mike and no amplification. She finished the encore set with a nice version of "All the Young Dudes" and finally plugged back in for "When My Ship Comes In." I still wouldn't count myself as a Jill Sobule fan, but her set was better than expected, and I know a lot more about this artist than I did before so I'll put this night in the time well spent column.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

WXPN's All Time Greatest Songs Countdown

The countdown of the 885 all time greatest songs as selected by the listeners' top ten lists (with staff and music industry votes "weighted") began on Monday October 2nd to celebrate WXPN's move to their new facility. The countdown goes from 6am to 11pm daily and will run through Friday October 8th. The selections are as arbitrary and variously good and bad as any given person's top ten list multiplied by about 4,000 entries. The best thing about it is that it allows WXPN to go off format and play some tunes you would never normally hear. It's almost surprising (but not really) that there is such a predominance of Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones, Dylan, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, Beatles, and Springsteen on the list. If the survey data was fudged at all to allow the Tom Waits and Springsteen versions of "Jersey Girl" to follow each other at #685 and #684, it was a nice touch, at least from a programming standpoint. I didn't hear Jethro Tull's "Thick as a Brick" at #568 but I wonder if they played the entire album. When was the last time anyone played "The End" by the Doors on the radio, or Al Stewart's "The Roads to Moscow." I have my doubts that anyone in their right mind put "Speeding Motorcyle" by Daniel Johnston with Yo La Tengo on their all time top ten, but there it was at #856. Before playing Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" the afternoon host opened the mike and said "I'm sorry for this." Great radio. You can follow the list here http://www.xpn.org/885_GSAT.php. When the countdown is finished, I'll post an entry listing how my top ten selections did.

Jonatha Brooke, World Cafe Live, 10/02/04

World Cafe Live is a new music venue located in WXPN's beautiful new building at 30th & Walnut Streets in Philadelphia. Given the degree to which her career has crossed paths with WXPN, it was more than appropriate that Jonatha Brooke got the call to open the new venue headlining the opening night shows. The deco era Hajoca Building was gutted and remodeled completely as the new home of WXPN and World Cafe Live, which is a separate entity from the radio station, a for-profit company owned by Hal Real that is a tenant, sharing the building and licensing the World Cafe name, hopefully to the mutual benefit of both. I haven't had the pleasure of a tour of the WXPN portion of the building, but from what one can see from the public areas, the building looks just great. The Walnut Street entrance brings you into the top floor which has a public lobby with a merchandise and ticket selling desk, and "Upstairs Live", a restaurant/bar where music theoretically is performed continuously with "almost never a cover charge." They were only seating customers who planned to order dinner so we didn't spend any time there on opening night.

The middle level and lower level lobby walls were adorned with some nicely done photography of music artists. The middle floor provides entrance to the balcony level of the World Cafe Live music venue. The lower level lobby provides the main entrance to the venue with lobby windows also looking into one of the WXPN studios where it looks like the World Cafe radio show will tape its live performance segments. The World Cafe Live venue itself is spectacular. A large stage runs the length of the room which has a very high ceiling, a main floor that is set with tables for dinner at the early shows and can be converted to auditorium style seating or general admission for later shows. Just behind the tables on the floor level is the bar area, with more tables just slightly overlooking the floor - from about stage height. Elevated very high above is the balcony level, with the ceiling above that looking like what you might find in a television studio. Multi-millions were spent in the construction and outfitting of this world class venue and it looks it, with lots of wood, state of the art lighting, great acoustics, and a superb sound system engineered by Clair Brothers. I walked around to check the view from various locations and it's no cliche to say that there is not a bad seat in the house.

The only fly in the opening night ointment was a sequence of events that overwhelmed the kitchen and caused many dinner orders to go unfilled. The sound check ran late which caused the doors to open about thirty minutes late, which caused the room to fill all at once with most folks seemingly wanting to try the food. To compound the problem, the computer ordering system went down causing a total nightmare in the kitchen. We did get to sample some excellent rolls which seemed to be from Le Bus. The food as described on the menu seems a bit fussy and pricey; not something you would necessarily want to have if you came here often.

Fortunately, there was no such problem with the music presentation which is really the most important aspect. Eric Hutchinson opened the show with a somewhat humorous solo acoustic set which was enjoyably brief. Jonatha Brooke did a great set with full band, playing most of the songs you would want to hear, concentrating on her latest two releases. Early in the set, she brought out Eric Bazilian of the Hooters to guest on her song "Better After All" which Eric had co-produced and played on for her latest album, Back in the Circus. Eric sang and killed on lead guitar. Jonatha talked about opening for the Hooters on their German tour in the summer of 2003, how much fun it was, and how the Hooters would bring her out every night to help sing their big encore song. She then invited Bazilian to stay onstage and they sang together "One of Us " which he wrote for Joan Osborne, whose version is also the theme song of the tv series Joan of Arcadia. The crowd loved every minute of it.

Brooke's set was enjoyable start to finish and included two of the three cover songs from the latest album; she sounded great on "God Only Knows" and the Alan Parsons song "Eye in the Sky" was a good encore choice. Earlier this year at her album release performance at Borders, she explained that while the Hooters seem to still have superstar status in Germany, she was a total unknown and when opening their concerts she wanted to do some songs that the audience would know so she put the aforementioned cover tunes (plus James Taylor's "Fire and Rain") into her set. With the exception of the food, World Cafe Live exceeded all expectations. If the ticket prices are reasonable, I will likely be a frequent customer.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Keane - Tower Records, Philadelphia, 9/27/04

Keane did an in-store performance at Tower last night and I am even more impressed by their musicality than I was when I first heard the record. I had no clue that all that music is produced by a trio of keyboardist, drummer and vocalist; no bass, no guitar. The keyboard player takes care of the bass with his left hand, the melody with his right. The vocalist is such a strong singer that his melodic vocals carry every song and play off the melodic keyboard work perfectly. After their four or five song set, they signed CDs, and all three seemed totally polite, friendly and British. My only miscalculation was in not getting a ticket to their TLA show last night which was sold out.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Music for a Week at the Beach

In my top ten discussion below I touched on the fact that Chris Rea's On the Beach and King of the Beach still sound great in the car on a beach trek. Although I brought a good pile of discs to listen to in the rental apartment, we didn't get to very many because most of the time was spent listening to WWFM, the classical station that broadcasts from Mercer County Community College in Trenton, NJ. No, the signal doesn't reach all the way down to the shore, but WWFM has an extensive network of repeater stations, including one located right in Cape May. I'll freely admit that my interest in listening to classical music comes and goes, but I always do enjoy it, especially the chamber music as played on original instruments as produced by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music. My range has increased over the years to the point that I'll even enjoy vocal classics sometimes, except for operatic sopranos. WWFM plays the most enjoyable mix of classics I've heard in a long time, with lots of chamber music and almost none of the popular classical warhorses and nothing ponderous. Here's where you can find WWFM, and if you don't live in any of the areas with a signal you can always listen live on your computer. http://www.wwfm.org/

WWFM - 89.1 FM, Trenton, NJ
WWNJ - 91.1 FM, Toms River, NJ
WWCJ - 89.1 FM, Cape may, NJ
WWPJ - 89.5 FM, Pen Argyl, PA
W224AU - 92.7 FM, Allentown, PA
W226AA - 93.1 FM, Easton, PA
W230AA - 93.9 FM, Atlantic City, NJ
W245AC - 96.9 FM, Harmony Twp, NJ
W289AA - 105.7 FM, Lebanon Twp, NJ
W300AD - 107.9 FM, Philadelphia, PA
W300AC - 107.9 FM, Chatsworth, NJ
K201AZ - 88.1 FM, Carbondale, CO

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Kasey Chambers - Wayward Angel (WB, 2004)

On first listen I am totally knocked out by the sound and production quality of Kasey Chambers' third album, Wayward Angel. This should really have come as no surprise, being her first two albums also featured great sound and production by her brother Nash, but even still from the first note on this CD, the instruments virtually leap from the speakers with the most amazing recording quality imaginable. The mix is spacious as well, allowing all players room to breathe and to be heard. The guitars both acoustic and electric are muscular, well textured, and exquisitely played.

You might expect great production from a famous name producer, but Nash Chambers shares the same childhood backstory as Kasey, with the family spending a good portion of their childhood living in the Australian outback, then getting started in the music business with a family band consisting of parents Bill & Diane Chambers and kids, Kasey and Nash. The All Music Guide describes the Dead Ringer Band as "performers of quality country music, released seven CDs and collectively earned two ARIA's (Australian Grammys) and seven Gold Guitars at the annual Australian Country Music awards in Tamworth. Kasey was the face of the new generation in Australian country." Nash's work on his sister's three albums puts him in the same league as any of the all time great record producers you could name.

It remains to be seen if the quality of the songwriting on these fourteen new originals penned by Kasey measures up to her previous work. Her voice, being somewhat an acquired taste may be the only limiting factor in this astounding mix. However, based on the excellence of the first two records, I've come to really enjoy her singing, and I have high hopes that these new songs will resonate like those on The Captain (2000) and Barricades & Brickwalls (2002).

Friday, September 17, 2004

Julia Fordham - That's Life (Vanguard, 2004)

Julia Fordham is totally in the zone. Two years ago Concrete Love was remarkable in that it represented the second masterpiece of her career, following her earlier gem Porcelain by more than a dozen years. The better an album is, the greater the odds that the follow-up will disappoint, thus it was hard to approach her new album without some trepidation. Happily, such worries proved needless because That's Life makes it two in a row, continuing the magic of Concrete Love with a set of ten wonderful new originals.

All eight Julia Fordham albums are special but what elevates these three is the consistent combination of memorable melodies, compelling lyrics (usually about love), her unique vocal ability, and perfectly conceived and executed production. The latest two albums reflect the fine work of producer Larry Klein who not only has a firm grip on how to make these songs sound their best, but selected a stellar combination of studio talent with many of the same players from Concrete Love back for That's Life. Billy Preston is back on Hammond organ, Dean Parks returns on guitar, Vinnie Colaiuta plays drums and Klein doubles on bass. Jeff Young contributed background vocals and some additional keyboards.

"Sugar" picks right up where Concrete Love left off, totally "groove-ilicious" as Julia describes the sound. Just as "Love" started the last album with a sensual jolt, you'll never think of sugar in quite the same way after hearing this. Young co-wrote and played Hammond organ on "Jacob's Ladder" which adds some tasty horns to the soulful mix. David Ricketts (David & David) co-wrote "Perfect Me" and did the string arrangement which nicely complements Fordham's classic melody defined mostly by her lovely voice and Parks' baritone acoustic guitar.

Preston's Hammond organ propels "Jump" in a style that is so perfectly suited to this song and voice that it's scary. "Downhill Sunday" begins with the spare sound of just piano and vocal, and a lyrical device that at first seems simplistic but is coupled with a melody so well developed that it makes the song unstoppable. For "Walking on the Water," Fordham's voice combines with organ, bass and drums to fire up another great soul groove with more horns, too. The groove continues unabated on "Connecting," another treatise on love, emotion and sensuality that starts with a smoldering guitar (or maybe a keyboard).

"That's Life," co-written by Gary Clark (Danny Wilson) stands out, even in a field of excellent songs and it's immediately clear why this song gave the album its title. The gorgeous melody sets up great lyrics that use the movie metaphor to best advantage, "Welcome to my movie, I have cast myself as fabulous and lonely, roll the reel to the end, will the good guy come back for the girl again?" After a few listens, you'll have a hard time keeping the chorus from getting stuck in your head, "and I get no points for being right, and you lose ten, for giving up the fight, but that's life, my script says we belong together, forever."

"I'm Sorry But…" has another classic Fordham melody, and a power level similar to the song "Concrete Love." The album closes with "Guilty," a soft and beautiful song with a totally infectious melody. The only possible knock on this album is the relatively short forty-one minute running time which is actually the same length as a typical vinyl album, only when compared to the capacity of a CD does it seem short. The cohesiveness of this collection and the uniform excellence of the songs is reason enough to accept the artistic vision as given; some lengthy CDs could benefit from a little self-editing.

What really makes this music great is that once you become familiar with the songs they ingrain on your consciousness and sound better and better with each successive listen. Concrete Love is still sounding awesome two years down and That's Life can't help but do likewise. It's sad that Vanguard has been seemingly unable to expose this music to a wider audience than Julia's existing fan base. Music this good needs to be heard and it's a crime that these albums are almost flying under the radar. Norah Jones' recent success has tapped into a huge segment of the population not usually considered to be record buyers; I should think that these last two Fordham albums would appeal to a significant portion of that audience if they only knew. That's Life may well be the best album that anyone releases this year.

Website: http://www.juliafordham.com/home.php

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

Ten years in the making, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow brings computer generated imagery to new levels of artistic achievement. It's equal parts Indiana Jones and James Bond, reborn in an art deco noir fantasy. Looking exactly like a vintage deco postcard come to life, the muted colors reminiscent of tinted black and white, director and writer Kerry Conran's artistic vision is the real triumph of this movie.

The plot is decent, although I think it may require another viewing to sort out whether this is simply innocent storytelling or intentional camp aimed at the Rocky Horror crowd; at times it cuts both ways. Basically, it's a detective/adventure story set in the 1930's with Jules Verne style futuristic science fiction elements. New York's deco archtecture is a perfect fit, especially the opening scene of the Hindenberg III docking at the top of the Empire State Building, followed by a movie theater scene in which Radio City Music Hall never looked better. You'll love it when the aircraft squadrons dive into the ocean and continue underwater.

Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow are excellent in the lead roles, and in a development that gives new hope to dead actors everywhere (and maybe a chill to those still living), the long deceased Lawrence Olivier appears in holographic form as Dr. Totenkopf, the mad scientist at the center of the story. Angelina Jolie's lips might require their own category come Oscar time. Totally acted in front of a blue screen, everything you see in the movie other than the live actors was created in a computer. The endless list of companies who worked on the digital graphics looks more like the IBM annual report than movie credits. Ed Shearmur's period adventure style orchestral score works well, not unlike John Williams' Star Wars and Indiana Jones work.

Ultimately the acting and the story are good but they are secondary to the visual art which is stunning. While this will likely be a big seller on DVD and will indubitably look great on your new high definition screen, this movie does what movies do best, taking you somewhere you could never really go, and as such this needs to be seen on the big screen. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow uses the newest cutting edge technology to produce good old fashioned fun.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Julia Fordham - Tin Angel, Philadelphia, 9/11/04

Given a choice, I think I would always automatically prefer to hear any artist perform with full band as opposed to solo acoustic, but having seen Julia with band at Joe's Pub, seeing her "acoustic" performance at Philadelphia's Tin Angel on Saturday night was completely amazing in its own way. Accompanied only by Mark Goldenberg on mellow electric guitar, Julia performed a set that was stunning in its intensity. Goldenberg's guitar backing on many of the songs veered toward the sort of jazz style that characterized the new jazz song that she's doing as the encore this tour. Julia reminisced about the "Philly Clickers" from the show at the same venue two years ago, and she also invited the same saxophone guy from two years ago to come up and play again on two songs. Here's the setlist:

Falling Forward
Girlfriend (sung with emotion like it was written yesterday)
Connecting
Downhill Sunday (incredibly intense)
Concrete Love (talked about India.Arie guesting on new live DVD)
Porcelain (with new ending section, Julia sounding almost like India.Arie)
Sugar (with Mark & Julia singing the backup vocals together)
That's Life (great guitar arrangement)
Perfect Me
Love (intense)
Wake Up With You (with story about putting the vinyl 12" dance version on at the wrong speed)
Manhattan Skyline (In honor of it being 9/11, w/Rob Stone guesting on sax)
Something Right (also w/Rob Stone)
Happy Ever After
Stay (one of Julia's favorite songs)
Holiday (the new jazz song, beautiful)

Again one of the planned encore songs (in this case, Jump) got bumped because of venue time constraints. I can't really say that either show was better than the other, but I will say that both shows were awesome and even though the setlists were similar, the two shows couldn't have been more different. What an incredible talent she has. It is a total privelege, honor, and pleasure to be able to experience these shows. Thanks again to Lori Leve and Dave Curtis.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Julia Fordham - Joe's Pub, New York City, 9/07/04

This quick run-down of the show was posted on the Julia discussion board, That's Life.

Julia was brilliant Tuesday night at Joe's Pub in NYC with full band, Mark Goldenberg on guitar, Jennifer Condos on bass, Kevin McKeever on keyboards and Mauricio "Fritz" Lewack on drums. It seemed like the majority of the audience stuck around backstage after, and it was indeed a pleasure to meet Julia's mum, dad, sister Claire, her awesome manager Lori Leve, and her excellent band. Julia was glowing in an orange top with a black flowing floor-length skirt. She credited the New York water for giving her "perfect hair" which it most certainly was, and threated to move east because of it. I'll post again after tonight's Philadelphia show which is acoustic with just Julia and Mark. Here's the set list (Perfect Me had to be scratched from the encore due to time considerations - Joe's Pub had to clear for the next event).

Falling Forward
Connecting
Downhill Sunday
Concrete Love
Porcelain (with intense finish)
Sugar (with awesome guitar solo by Mark, and backing vocals by Mark & Jennifer)
Jump
That's Life
Love
Wake Up With You (with story about her top ten dance hit)
Manhattan Skyline
Happy Ever After (w/Mark & Jennifer on backing vocals)
Stay
Holiday

The encore song Holiday was another new jazz tune, Julia talked again about doing a jazz album, saying that after having done eight records in sixteen years as a singer-songwriter that it was time to try something different. Holiday was a beautiful song with just her voice and Goldenberg's mellow jazzy electric guitar - a real treat to hear. Being that her two CD Vanguard contract is up, Dave brought fellow Sony exec Mark Offenberg to the show in hopes of sparking interest in a potential Sony signing, at least for the jazz record.

Monday, September 06, 2004

All Time Top Ten - The Final Cut

Thanks WXPN - First, a giant thank you to Bruce Warren and everyone at WXPN for a truly great promotion. This all time top ten business has focused their radio community on the music like never before and it's a thing of beauty. As the XPN hosts consider this subject on air, many songs are being played that wouldn't normally fit the playlist which is another giant plus. So, on to my list.

The Top Ten - After compiling a list of at least a hundred songs that could each totally qualify for my all time top ten, actually choosing ten seemed somewhat arbitrary. I could throw darts at my list and randomly pick ten and the list would be every bit as valid as any other means of choosing. WXPN's assignment was to come up with a list of your all time top ten favorite songs. So, the only way I could think to logically narrow it down to ten was to follow my own musical history. At any point in time I have a number of artists that are favorites, but usually there is one primary favorite at any given time. There has been some overlap of course, and certainly there are many other artists who have been and still are favorites, so, with many painful omissions, and in largely chronological order of obsession, here's my top ten:

1. Beatles - In My Life
2. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Green River
3. Yes - Close to the Edge
4. Genesis - The Cinema Show
5. Jackson Browne - For a Dancer
6. Joni Mitchell - Urge for Going
7. Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road
8. Chris Rea - Fool (If You Think It's Over)
9. Del Amitri - Always the Last to Know
10. Average White Band - Work to Do

The top ten considerations:

1. The Beatles - Virtually any song the Beatles did could qualify for my all time top ten. Within that, the Lennon tunes edge out the others in terms of songwriting quality for me, and the period from A Hard Day's Night (1964) through Rubber Soul (1965) would be my ultimate favorite, but they're all great. It's still hard to imagine that all this great music was created in only six years, 1963 through 1969, just amazing. I have a theory that 1970-75 was an especially creative period in popular music, primarily for the reason that the Beatles did so much during their short career, and progressed so much, not staying in any one place musically for long, that all other musicians at the time were inspired to new heights of greatness by the Beatles, and by the fact that the Beatles broke up in 1970. The next five entries in my top ten are prime examples, to which you could easily add the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead, Chicago, Santana, Blood Sweat & Tears and many more who excelled during this great time for music. It didn't hurt that I was in college during these years, working on both college and commercial radio, experiencing this musical renaissance from a great vantage point.

2. Creedence - Like the Beatles, J.C. Fogerty had an amazingly fertile creative period from 1968 through 1972 and you could pretty much drop the needle on any Creedence album from that period except the final one (Mardi Gras in which the other members got an equal share of songwriting and vocals) and hit a song worthy of the all time top ten. "Green River" pretty much defined their musical identity (bayou rock), although they did so much more. By contrast, Fogerty's new political song "Dejavu All Over Again" seems lame, not only because the title and chorus are a trite baseball cliche, but more so because once you've written a protest song like "Who'll Stop the Rain", it must be damn hard to follow yourself - no wonder he takes so many years to make records these days.

3. Yes - Another band with an incredibly creative and productive period that lasted from 1969 when they recorded their first album until 1974 when they released their sixth, Tales From Topographic Oceans (which separated the true Yes fans from the top forty crowd who jumped onto the bandwagon due to "All Good People" and "Roundabout"). Again, just about any track off any of these six amazing records would do for my all time top ten, but it all seemed to come together better than ever on Close to the Edge, with the title track taking an entire vinyl album side.

4. Genesis - A lot of fans thought that Genesis would be over when Peter Gabriel left the band in 1975, but in retrospect, it seems while all the members inspired each other to greatness, the one member whose progressive musical influence proved to be indispensible was guitarist Steve Hackett and when he left in 1978 Genesis only then seemed to lose their creative spark. Here again, just about any track from their 2nd album Trespass (1970) through their 7th studio album, Wind and Wuthering (1976) would qualify for my all time top ten. Selling England by the Pound was especially hard to pick one from, being it's another perfect record, but "The Cinema Show" is 11:06 of pure Genesis magic. It was a close call between this and "Watcher of the Skies" or "Supper's Ready" from Foxtrot (1972); it was all so good.

5. Jackson Browne - Right from his first album Saturate Before Using (1972) through Hold Out (1980) Browne's songwriting excellence was only matched by great production on his records, and his growing confidence as a singer. I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, but just about any track from any of these six albums could be on my all time top ten. "For a Dancer" was from the third album Late for the Sky and one of the first to really knock me out with songwriting. I'll never forget seeing him start this song at the Murat Theater in Indianapolis in 1974, and stop the song about thrty seconds in to tell someone to be quiet because "this is about a friend of mine who died." He then started the song again, and never was a song about loss both so painful and joyous at the same time. It was a close call between this and "Sing My Songs to Me/For Everyman" off the second album, and "The Load Out/Stay" from the fifth album Running On Empty which was was groundbreaking at the time for being a record of new material recorded live on the road with all the songs being about the road. In "The Load Out" when Browne sings "'Cause when that morning sun comes beating down, You're going to wake up in your town, But we'll be scheduled to appear, A thousand miles away from here" I still get chills as they segue into "Stay".

6. Joni Mitchell - Here's another artist almost impossible to pick from. I haven't followed her down the recent road of orchestral redo's of her classic songs, but just about everything else over the years would be candidates for my all time top ten. Final contenders that were really hard to exclude would be "You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio)" perhaps the ultimate radio song, and "Song for Sharon" maybe the ultimate song about marriage. "Trouble Child/Twisted" and everything else from Court and Spark was also hard to leave out. "Urge for Going" is the quintessential song about the change of seasons and amazingly it was only available as the b-side of the single "You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio)" released in 1972, until it was finally collected on the Hits CD in 1996.

7. Bruce Springsteen - Anything from the first album Greetings from Asbury Park (1973) through Tunnel of Love (1987) would qualify for my list without even thinking about it. Another impossible task, to pick just one Springsteen song, with so many great ones having to be ignored. My ultimate favorite Bruce is the Wild, Innocent/Born to Run/River period, with the jazzier band that included David Sancious really being his best. Born to Run however was unquestionably a perfect record, and "Thunder Road" pretty much encapsulated everything that was great about Springsteen in a 4:49 roller coaster ride of a song. I can't even list the other contenders, other than "New York City Serenade", "Rosalita", "Jungleland" and "Born to Run" because there would be way too many.

8. Chris Rea - My college friend Dave (who's now an exec at Sony Records) and I both detected something special in Chris Rea when "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" hit the adult contemporary airwaves here in the U.S. in 1978, but for a number of reasons, not the least of which was his total aversion to promoting his music in the U.S. after a bad first record company experience, it wasn't until Dave picked up an import copy of On the Beach (1986) that we realized how great an artist Rea had become. The excellence continued for about four more albums through 1993's God's Great Banana Skin (most not released in the U.S.). There have been moments on the more recent records, but for the last decade or so, he's been recycling for the most part. I must say that 2000's King of the Beach is a very enjoyable retread, and together with On the Beach, made a real nice combination in my car player for a late summer week at the beach. It was a tough call between "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" and "On the Beach" but his first hit was an especially enjoyable highlight of his re-done greatest hits collection New Light Through Old Windows (1988) so it won out by one or two grains of sand.

9. Del Amitri - Songwriting, singing, guitar work, production all come together on every Del Amitri record. This Glaswegian band has fallen on hard times of late, with their last album Can You Do Me Good (2002) caught in U.S. Mercury Records limbo and never released here. While maybe not their best work, it would be hard to compete with the perfection that they achieved on their second, third, and fourth albums. The fourth, Twisted (1995) will be on my all time top ten albums list if WXPN ever decides to torture us in the future with that permutation. However, I dipped back to 1992's Change Everything for "Always the Last to Know", a prime example of how this band could do everything right - the perfect rock song, with clever lyrics to boot. Del Amitri is currently on hiatus; Justin Currie's current project, The Uncle Devil Show won a U.S. release on Compass Records.

10. Average White Band - If there were more spots on the top ten, I'd include something from each of my current favorite quartet of Scottish artists, however to cut it down to ten, Del Amitri and AWB are going to have to represent for Texas and Dougie MacLean who I just didn't have room for. AWB's first career lasted from their debut as the opening act at Eric Clapton's famous Rainbow Theater Concert in 1973 through 1982 when they disbanded and parted ways permanently with Hamish Stuart who left at that time to join Paul McCartney's Wings. They made a fairly big dent in the American consiousness in 1974 with the release of their AWB album, commonly known as their "White Album" which contained the signature single "Pick Up the Pieces". My top ten selection, "Work to Do" is a superb cover of the Isley Brothers tune, also from that same album. AWB reformed in 1989 with original members Alan Gorrie (their leader) and Onnie McIntyre who joined together with Fred Vigdor on sax and Elliot Lewis who performed valiantly in the thankless position of filling the Hamish Stuart slot. Lewis was more recently replaced by the also multi-talented Klyde Jones. I must thank my brother Paul for the push to reconnect with AWB several years ago at a gig they played at Maddie's in Malvern. It was immediately evident that these guys are currently working at the top of their form, better now than they have ever been. I've been seeing them play at every opportunity since, which fortunately in the Philadelphia area means several times per year; every time they play they seem to just get better and better.

The Painful Omissions - I actually had to force myself to stop, I could have gone on and on picking songs indefinitely if I had the time. So here are the ones that were very hard to leave out. The only criteria here is that each of these tunes could just as well be on my all time top ten. Impossible to rank, I'm listing them in alphabetical order by artist.

Allman Brothers – In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World
Brian Auger's Oblivion Express – Happiness is Just Around the Bend
Beach Boys – God Only Knows (also In My Room, Don't Worry Baby, California Saga)
GeorgeBenson – Breezin' (also This Masquerade)
Karla Bonoff – Wild Heart of the Young (also Someone to Lay Down Beside Me)
Greg Brown – 'Cept You and Me Babe
Dave Brubeck – Take Five
Valerie Carter – Ooh Child (also A Stone's Throw Away, Crazy)
Kasey Chambers – The Captain
Ray Charles – Hit the Road Jack (also I Can't Stop Lovin' You, Georgia On My Mind)
Chicago – Make Me Smile (also Beginnings, Dialogue Pts. 1 & 2)
Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song (also Love)
Shawn Colvin – Shotgun Down the Avalanche
Elvis Costello – Every Day I Write the Book (also anything from Painted From Memory)
Crash Test Dummies – Superman's Song
Crosby Stills & Nash – Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Dido – Hunter (also White Flag, Don't Leave Home, Thank You)
Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms (also Money for Nothing, Sultans of Swing)
Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces
Bob Dylan – Positively 4th Street (also Tangled Up in Blue)
Eagles – Take It Easy (also Desperado, Hotel California)
ELP – The Barbarian (also Take a Pebble, Pictures at an Exhibition)
Fagen Donald – The Goodbye Look
Fairport Convention – Tam Lin
Fleetwood Mac – Silver Springs (original b-side version, also Beautiful Child)
Dan Fogelberg – Part of the Plan
Julia Fordham – Manhattan Skyline (also Lock & Key, Genius, Love, Foolish Thing, That's Life)
Peter Frampton – I Believe When I Fall In Love With You It Will Be Forever
Aretha Franklin – Respect (also A Natural Woman)
Peter Gabriel – Biko (also Family Snapshot, Don't Give Up)
Marvin Gaye – What's Goin' On
Steve Goodman – A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request (also City of New Orleans)
Grand Funk – I'm Your Captain (also Inside Lookin' Out)
Grateful Dead – Uncle John's Band (also Help On the Way/Slipknot/Franklin's Tower)
Vince Guaraldi Trio – Christmas Time Is Here (also Linus and Lucy)
Hall & Oates – She's Gone
George Harrison – All Things Must Pass (also My Sweet Lord)
It's a Beautiful Day – White Bird
James Gang – Funk #49
Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (also Daniel, Skyline Pigeon)
B.B. King – The Thrill is Gone
Carole King – It's Too Late (also Up on the Roof, You've Got a Friend)
Led Zeppelin РKashmir (also Ramble On, Dazed and Confused, and though a clich̩, Stairway)
John Lennon – Imagine (also Happy Xmas War Is Over)
Madonna – This Used to Be My Playground
Mamas & Papas – California Dreamin'
Aimee Mann – 4th of July (also everything else from Whatever & I'm With Stupid)
Paul McCartney – Band On the Run (also Maybe I'm Amazed, Tug of War)
Nellie McKay – Really (also David, The Dog Song, It's a Pose, Be Nice to Me)
Loreena McKennit – The Lady of Shallot
Scott Merritt – Burning Train (also the rest of the Violet and Black album)
Jo Dee Messina – Bye Bye (also Heads California Tails Carolina)
Moody Blues – Nights in White Satin (album version w/poem)
Van Morrison – Moondance (also Inarticulate Speech of the Heart)
O'Jays – Backstabbers
Once Blue – Stardust and Snow
Alan Parsons Project – Time
Bonnie Raitt – Since I Fell For You
Otis Redding – (Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay
Renaissance – I Think of You (also Mother Russia, Carpet of the Sun)
Barry Reynolds – I Scare Myself
Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter (also You Can't Always Get What You Want, Can't You Hear Me Knockin')
Boz Scaggs – Somebody Loan Me a Dime
Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water (also I am a Rock, My Little Town)
Paul Simon – American Tune
Spirit – Nature's Way
Steeleye Span – Allison Gross
Steely Dan – Dr. Wu
Al Stewart – Year of the Cat
Sting – Little Wing (w/Hiram Bullock on guitar, also They Dance Alone, Englishman in NY)
James Taylor – That's Why I'm Here (also Secret of Life, Fire & Rain, Your Smiling Face)
Texas – Everyday Now (also I Don't Want a Lover, Say What You Want)
Tanita Tikaram – Twist in My Sobriety
Tower of Power – You're Still a Young Man (also What is Hip)
Pete Townshend – Pure & Easy
Tom Waits & Crystal Gayle – Pickin' Up After You (from One From the Heart)
Joe Walsh – Turn to Stone (also I'll Tell the World)
Who – Won't Get Fooled Again (also Baba O'Reilly)
Stevie Wonder – Golden Lady (also Love's In Need of Love Today, Creepin')
Neil Young – Down By the River

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Fleetwood Mac - Live in Boston (Warner Brothers, 2004)

I semi-reluctantly picked this up based on Lindsay Buckingham's rejoining the current incarnation, ignoring I suppose their potential irrelevance, finally being won over by the lure of a two DVD plus one CD set for $19.99. At less than half the price of a concert ticket these days, this would be a deal just for the complete two hour PBS Soundstage concert on DVD, the audio CD highlights disc is like a free bonus. Although I have nothing against Christine McVie and have liked some of her contributions, her absence from this current reunion really allows Lindsay Buckingham's guitar to dominate, and being that I always felt he was the true musical genius of Fleetwood Mac, the result for me is an absolutely stellar performance.

For most of this concert, Fleetwood Mac is a quartet, with Buckingham on guitar, backed by the always solid rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie on drums and bass respectively, and Stevie Nicks on vocals. Other backup musicians and vocalists appear onstage from time to time, but this is truly a guitar extravaganza like I never would have expected from Fleetwood Mac; Buckingham just shines on both electric and acoustic guitars, he just kills on "I'm So Afraid" for example.

Stevie Nicks may not be quite the young babe she was in the 70's (who of us is, anyway), but she's also no longer annoying like in the 80's, the result being this band now seems to live up to the potential that was suggested when Buckingham-Nicks joined. Two of my all time favorite Mac tunes are here, the classic b-side "Silver Springs" and the similar "Beautiful Child" both of which start with a spare but infectious melody which builds in intensity as the song progresses. Nicks and Buckingham supposedly have buried the hatchet, so I guess we can take the sentiment at face value when Nicks credits Buckingham for teaching her to play the guitar on which she wrote "Landslide" which she says she wrote about him (then they play it). Even though this tune has been widely covered, their original version is still definitive.

Most of the hits are represented here along with a half dozen tracks from the latest CD Say You Will. The sound throughout is superbly recorded, the video production provides an excellent letterboxed widescreen picture, well photographed but not intrusively edited. I found this concert to be a surprisingly enjoyable treat well worth the price of admission.

Pet Sounds Revisited (4/12/04)

Charlie saved this email from last April and suggested I might want to put it up on the blog, so here goes, blasphemy and all.


From: William Kates
To: Charlie Ricci
Subject: Pet Sounds
Date: Mon, 12 Apr 2004

This may be sacrilege, but on this weekend's road trip to Earlham, I had the chance to reassess Pet Sounds. After spending what seemed like hours reading the copious liner note descriptions, then listening to the CD, I can honestly say that this is one of the most over-rated albums of all time. I can buy that Rubber Soul may have motivated Brian Wilson to record Pet Sounds, but I have a bit more trouble believing Paul McCartney when he says that Pet Sounds inspired the Beatles to record Sgt. Pepper.

Yes, Brian Wilson was (is) the tortured genius, yes he extracted more sonic capability from the studio than the technology would normally have yielded at the time, yes his lyrics developed a greater maturity level than Fun Fun Fun or Surfin' USA. Given all that, the problem with Pet Sounds is that once you get past the singles that begin and end each side of the record, the rest of the songs don't quite make it, musically speaking. They're gorgeously sung and recorded, but the songs are weak ideas that either should have been developed further or edited out.

Part of what made the Beatles great is that Lennon, McCartney (even Harrison and Starr to a point) and George Martin all had to get their ideas past each other which unquestionably inspired each to greater heights than they could have achieved on their own (their solo stuff proves this); the great Springsteen records had Bruce relating to band and producer more as equals than later in his career (who would have the balls now to tell Bruce that one of his songs is weak). You can see case after case of major artists whose work gets lame when they eliminate the creative tension by producing themselves and I'm making the case that Pet Sounds is the first major example of this syndrome.

Except for Capitol insisting that Sloop John B be added to Pet Sounds because it was the hit single at the time, Brian was pretty much left to his own devices to create Pet Sounds on his own - he hired a publicist to help him polish the lyrics and when the rest of the group returned from touring he taught them their parts for the recording, but it was all him; in fact the Caroline No single was released under the name Brian Wilson rather than the Beach Boys. If you collected all the great Brian Wilson tracks off all the Beach Boys records you absolutely have a case that he is one of the greatest pop songsters who ever lived, but to call Pet Sounds a "perfect album"? Hardly.

This was Charlie's response:

From: Charlie Ricci
To: William Kates
Subject: Pet Sounds
Date: Tue, 13 Apr 2004

Was I surprised to hear you say what you did! Of course you know I completely disagree with you! Even though The Beatles are my all time favorites I think Pet Sounds is even better than Sgt. Pepper. I think lyrically Pet Sounds is top of the line. According to the biography Heroes & Villains Tony Asher, who got the co-composing credit with Brian, wrote most of the actual lyrics for Pet Sounds.

Did you know that NONE of the Beach Boys, including Brian, played any instruments on the album. Brian recorded most of it while the Beach Boys were touring in Japan. When they got home & Brian played the tapes for MIke Love he was furious. He told Brian he was screwing up. Carl loved it though. You right about the vocals. "Caroline No" has Brian doing all of the vocals himself. That's why it was released as a single under his own name. You're also right about input from other people. All the rest of the band did was add vocals.