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

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.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

All Time Top Ten - Damn You XPN!

As posted to the XPN discussion board regarding their quest to compile the 885 best songs of all time (picking 885 would be easier than compiling a top ten). Yikes.

This is way too hard, too many great songs you must ignore to pick ten. Oh, the humanity!
My list so far (will change before deadline):

Bob Dylan - Can't decide between Positively 4th Street or Tangled Up in Blue
Beatles - In My Life or Norweigian Wood or others (how do you pick one Bealtes song?)
Rolling Stones - Gimme Shelter or You Can't Always Get What You Want
Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road or Rosalita or New York City Serenade
Jackson Browne - For a Dancer or Sing My Songs to Me/For Everyman or The Load Out/Stay
Genesis - Dancing With the Moonlit Knight or Cinema Show
Yes - Close to the Edge or Yours is No Disgrace or America
Chris Rea - Fool (if you think it's over) or On the Beach
Average White Band - Work to Do or Pick Up the Pieces or If I Ever Lose This Heaven
Joni Mitchell - Urge for Going or Song for Sharon
Allman Brothers - In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
Stevie Wonder - Golden Lady or I Believe (when I fall in love with you it will be forever)
John Lennon - Imagine
Fleetwood Mac - Silver Springs (original b-side version)
The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again
Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms
Tom Waits & Crystal Gayle - Pickin' Up After You (from One From the Heart)
Dan Fogelberg - Part of the Plan
James Taylor - Fire and Rain or That's Why I'm Here
Joe Walsh - Rocky Mountain Way or I'll Tell the World
Dave Brubeck - Take Five
Steely Dan - Dr. Wu
Donald Fagen - The Goodbye Look
Led Zeppelin - Kashmir
Beach Boys - God Only Knows or In My Room or Surfer Girl
Once Blue - Stardust and Snow
Julia Fordham - Manhattan Skyline or Love or Foolish Thing or That's Life

...So you see the problem. Cheers.

Vote for your own all time top ten here: http://www.xpn.org/885_GSAT.php