Saturday, July 30, 2005
This has been a banner week, musically, with two of the best albums of the year so far dropping into my player. Tina Dico's In the Red is threatening not to relinquish the player anytime soon as it's been spinning almost continuously since Wednesday. Thanks again to Dave for acquiring two copies of this from Tina's manager; so far it has only seen release in Dico's native Denmark.
Dico's previous work available here has been limited to Far, a six song ep released in 2004, and Zero 7's second album, When It Falls, also 2004, which she joined as the fourth vocalist in a band already awash in vocal talent. In Denmark where her name is correctly spelled Dickow, she's also got two previous solo albums including her debut Fuel (2001), and the ambient acoustic Notes (2003) for which she won the Danish Grammy award.
Based on her work with Zero 7, her ep, and her occasional solo acoustic performances last year, expectations for a proper solo album were high but happily, In the Red turns out to be everything one might have hoped, and more. Dico goes deep, lyrically speaking, right out of the gate on the first two tracks. "Losing" which opens the album sounding like it could be a candidate for the next Zero 7 record, varies from soft and moody to complex and intense, showing a nice compositional range. Dico's vocals are superbly sung and recorded, offering a lush texture of vocal sound that is a delight for the ear.
All of the same can be said for track number two, "Nobody's Man" except that the softer sections sound a little more moody on this one, but when the intensity kicks in, the guitar lead seems to smolder and threaten to catch fire, nicely mirroring the lyrical progression of the song. Considering everything that Dico brings to the table, it's hard to imagine a guy as messed up as the subject of "Nobody's Man." She's already parked one in the bleachers and we're only two cuts into the record.
Great songwriting, singing, and production are in evidence throughout In the Red; "Give In" is another standout. The title track "In the Red" continues the impressive musical and lyrical range as well as more delightful vocal work. "Room With a View" is one of the most simple, direct, and heartfelt love songs you're likely to run across; not one for the jaded.
"Warm Sand" is the only song from Far that appears on In the Red, but it's a completely new and different version of this great song. We can only hope that some American label gives this album proper distribution in the U.S. (if my startup label were ready to go now, I can only imagine the possibilities).
Tina's English website.
Tina's Danish website.
.Dickow or Dico, it just doesn't get any better than this.
Dropping unexpectedly straight out of left field and right onto my list of the year's best albums thus far is this new set from Joe Cocker (thanks to Dave and Ellen for the tip). Now Cocker's career has certainly had its moments over the years but the last time I can remember specifically setting out to buy a Joe Cocker album, it had songs on it like "Delta Lady" and "With a Little Help From My Friends" and the year was 1969. I know I'm not the only one who tends to think of Cocker more in terms of John Belushi's spastic Woodstock impression (peformed onstage while Cocker sang on SNL) than Cocker's real talent as a vocalist.
Thirty-six years later, Heart & Soul finds Cocker at the top of his vocal form, in total control of the gruffness factor, dispensing it when needed to best effect. Not only does Cocker prove that he's most definitely still got it as a singer, but somehow he became the recipient of one of the best jobs of album production I've heard in many a day. Producer Jeffrey C.J. Vanston's prior career credits as a session keyboard player give no hint of the amazing work he's apparently capable of as a producer and arranger. The recording quality is superb, you could demo your sound system with this disc. Cocker's treatment of the material is just right, showing a vocal range that is still surprising even though we're well familiar with his voice after all these years.
The selection of musicians for these sessions is the next amazing thing about Heart & Soul. Hire a guitarist of Mike Landau's caliber to play a session and you're assured of a high quality result, at least in the guitar department. Bring two or even three such guitarists to a session and you've got an embarassment of riches. Vanston and Cocker are the beneficiaries on these sessions of the talents of, get this, Mike Landau, Dean Parks, Jeff Beck, Shane Fontayne, Steve Lukather, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, and Eric Clapton. Some tracks use three and even four of the above on the same song.
On Heart & Soul, Cocker abandons his historical penchant for mixing well known cover tunes with previously unknown compositions, and here offers an album of strictly well known standards of recent vintage. The song selection may seem a little safe, but there's no denying that these tunes are all great, and they are given the best possible arrangement and performance both instrumentally and vocally. Between Cocker's incredibly soulful vocal, and the inspired addition of Jerry Goodman's violin solo, I think you'll not hear a better version of U2's "One" which leads off the record. Cocker seems to have a deep well of soulfulness which he brings to bear on tracks like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," the Aretha Franklin classic "Chain of Fools," and Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You."
John Lennon & Paul McCartney's solo material has not been covered anywhere near as often as their Beatles tunes have, but Cocker takes Paul's "Maybe I'm Amazed" to new heights with stellar guitar work by Landau, Parks, Fontayne and Lukather. Cocker also acquits himself quite well on the more difficult Lennon solo song, "Jealous Guy," with Landau on the left, Parks on the right, and Lee Sklar on bass. Producer Vanston performed all the music on a couple of the tracks, R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" and the James Taylor standard "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight."
Chris Botti shows up to add his trumpet to the Madonna hit "Love Don't Live Here Anymore." Lieber & Stoller are represented twice with nice verisons of "I (Who Have Nothing)" and "I Keep Forgetting." The Robert Palmer classic "Every Kinda People" sounds equally good. The U.S. release of Heart & Soul also adds a bonus track, a live version of "One" recorded October 30, 2004 during "Night of the Proms 2004" in Antwerp, Belgium, performed with Il Novecento conducted by Robert Groslot, with additional musicians on traditional rock instruments including John Miles on keyboards and Laurie Wisefield on guitar (anyone remember Wishbone Ash?). Now sixty years old, Joe Cocker has never sounded better and has never released a better record than Heart and Soul.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Last year's 885 greatest songs of all time was so much fun, it seems that xpn is turning the 885 survey and countdown into an annual affair. This time it's the 885 greatest albums of all time. Details with staff and artist top ten lists can all be found at the xpn website.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
.Howie Day (fan posted photo)
Despite an unfortunate choice of hairstyle, Howie Day and his band sounded great tonight at Town Hall in NYC, headlining an all-Sony/BMG show (thanks to Dave once again for the invite). Unlike the rest of the audience who knew every song at first note and could sing along when needed, I had only just heard Howie Day for the first time on the way to New York, checking out his latest, Stop All the World Now (2004). It's in singer-songwriter territory, but a little more lush with instrumentation than someone like John Mayer with whom he apparently shares a large following among teenage girls.
The band was excellent and had the benefit of a good mix and a good sound system. Day was in good voice and good spirits as well, seemingly impressed that the New York crowd was friendlier than advertised. A little too friendly as it turned out when a fan either too enthusiastic or intoxicated or both, attempted to join Howie on stage. Day responded to the fan's initial shout out with "I remember my first beer." The stage lighting was effective when it wasn't blinding the audience, which it was about twenty-five percent of the time.
.Howie Day (website photo)
Anna Nalick opened, promoting her debut album, Wreck of the Day (2005), offering a set that skewed more toward hard rock than one might expect based on the record. The band members were all good, especially the guitarist who showed some style during the album's title track with some nice pedal steel. The single, "Breathe (2am)" also benefitted by more acoustic instrumentation; generally the louder material seemed more like rock by the numbers. Nalick's stage presence seemed naturally exuberant, and her like minded fans, also primarily teenage girls, seemed equally thrilled to see her and many lined up in the lobby after her set to meet her and get their cds autographed.
This twenty year old Californian wrote all of the songs on her debut album and was signed by Sony immediately after recording her demos with the assistance of two members of Blind Melon. There's some interesting and catchy material here (I dare you to listen to "Breathe (2am)" several times without it getting under your skin) and lots of future potential.
.Anna Nalick at the Canal Room back in May (fan posted photo)
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Falcon Ridge Folk Festival
After several months of flip-flopping, a number of conflicting schedule priorities caused me to skip Falcon Ridge this year, but not without a good deal of second thought; and not a day went by this weekend that I didn't pause for a moment to think about what would be happening just then at the festival. Even if the performer list didn't quite pack the punch it did last year, that in and of itself would not have held me back.
The prospect of spending four days on a hillside of a beautiful farm near the New York-Massachussets border doing nothing but listening to music, catching up on some reading (but not too much sleep as memory serves) is enough to warrant attendance no matter the exact lineup. For the record though, I would not have missed sets by any of the following from this year's festival (in order of appearance on the main stage):
- Chris Smither
- Acoustic Hot Tuna
- Emerging Artist Showcase - What a great way to spend a Friday afternoon (even when it rains) and even better when you discover some great new artist.
- Jesse Colin Young
- Vance Gilbert
- Meg Hutchinson
- Lowen & Navarro
- Eliza Gilkyson
- Nerissa & Katryna Nields
- The Kennedys
Kind of a surprise not to see Greg Brown on this list this year, he's the unofficial "governor" of Falcon Ridge. I'm already looking forward to 2006.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
Shelby Lynne's Suit Yourself Tour stopped at Philadelphia's North Star Bar on Saturday July 16th. In the course of nine albums over a sixteen year career that includes any number of musical styles (not to mention hairdos), Shelby Lynne has finally found just the right mix of music on which to exercise her prodigious talent, and the ideal band of musicians to play it.
Shelby produced the aptly titled Suit Yourself, herself, recording in intimate surroundings, achieving a cohesive set of tunes that are loose yet tight, relaxed yet intense, soulful, bluesy, rocking, and sensitive. In making the music that she personally wanted to do, Lynne has been re-energized creatively and come up with what may be her best record yet. Her touring band proved even better than on record, with the addition of guitarist Ben Peeler who excelled on every song. As on the record, Bryan Owings held down the drum kit, and Brian "Brain" Harrison played bass and served as Shelby's primary musical collaborator. In recognition of the special musical chemistry that this band has achieved, Shelby at one point commented the she has a lot more music to make with these guys in the future.
Based on years of press coverage, I wasn't quite sure going in whether to expect more attitude or music from Shelby. And while there were moments when her famous personality was in evidence, I was totally unprepared for the musical depth of her performance. This set was so good that there were times when it felt like a real privilege just to be in the room. The modesty might have seemed fake when she asked "why anyone would want to take my picture," but the reaction was totally real when she missed something several times during one song and she dropped a string of f-bombs with matching gestures. This girl is deeply committed to the music and the strong emotional component only adds to the power of her performance.
The weather was as hot as the music, and the North Star was packed for Shelby. In addition to vocals, she played both acoustic and electric guitar. Each of her last four albums, the Grammy winning I Am Shelby Lynne, Love Shelby, Identity Crisis, and Suit Yourself were all represented in the set. Requests for Telephone went unanswered, although she was fairly talkative throughout the set, telling about the songs, the recording, and the musicians. She talked about playing Johnny Cash's mother in an upcoming movie to intro "Johnny Met June." "10 Rocks" rocked like a gospel revival; "I'm Alive" and "Gotta Get Back" were crowd pleasing highlights as well.
Her excellent band was in perfect synch with her and with the material, but the guitar work by Ben Peeler really was really something special. If he wasn't peeling off beautiful electric leads, he was setting the mood with an incredibly expressive pedal steel. I'm hoping this band stays together as Shelby suggested to record the next album and maybe do some live recording. Peeler's contributions to every song cannot be overstated.
Raul Midon opened the show with a very appealing set of tunes from his current release State of Mind. Midon seems to be channelling Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder as he sings, plays acoustic guitar and mouth trumpet - a seemingly unique talent involving the trumpet blowing mechanics only with no instrument - it sounded pretty much like a trumpet. Unlike the typical opening act, Midon quickly established a warm and friendly rapport with the audience, most of whom had likely never heard him before.
He told interesting and humorous anecdotes about feeling awed to be recording his album with legendary producer Arif Mardin, about being blind, and about approaching Stevie Wonder with a request for him to appear on State of Mind (he does). I was so impressed by Midon's performance that I picked up both the album and a live ep, Limited Live Edition, that he was selling at the show (ep also available at CD Baby).
..Shelby & Brain
..Ben Peeler & Brian Harrison ("Brain")
Thursday, July 14, 2005
................John Hawkes & Miranda July
One part Garden State and two parts Ghost World, this refreshingly unguarded first film by performance artist Miranda July not only won awards at every major film festival including Cannes and Sundance, but has been getting universally good reviews. Even after viewing the trailer in advance of tonight's WXPN sponsored screening, I couldn't tell exactly what it was about. There is a good reason for this, as the film is not so much a traditional linear story; it's more like a glimpse into a moment in the lives of some slightly flawed, occasionally damaged, and basically unusual characters whose efforts to fight the basic entropy of life and find some basis for happiness is chronicled by July's unobtrusive camera.
The first thing you notice about these characters is that they don't say or do any of the things that you expect movie characters to do. As in Zach Braff's Garden State, July in her multiple filmmaking roles, seems to have been able to bring her story to the screen with her uniquely personal point of view and sense of humor intact. The next unusual thing about the characters in this movie is that although a good number of them are kids, the movie doesn't treat them as movie kids, it treats them as people, complete with awakening sexual interests that are presented by July in a humorous, nonjudgmental manner that is totally unexpected.
There are several parallels with Ghost World. First and most obvious are the two young teenage girls who are both amused and repulsed by the attentions of an older male neighbor. There is also a humorous subplot about art, in this case July's character is a video artist endeavoring to get an exhibit into the local museum of modern art. Then there is the developing romantic interest between the two lead characters, artist and elder-cab driver Christine (July) and shoe salesman and recent divorcee Richard (John Hawkes). The relationships in Me and You and Everyone We Know are as fragile as the characters, and no one in this film seems quite sure of what to do next. July has an appealing capacity to allow her characters to zig just when you expect them to zag.
Richard's two sons from his failed first marriage, ages 7 and 14, are especially well cast. The seven year old, with some assistance from his older brother, engages in some hilarious internet sex chat with a concept that might reflect an actual seven year old's frame of reference. There's another well drawn neighbor character in the form of a young girl of about ten or eleven who is assembling a semi-secret hope chest of household items to form her dowry in the old time European tradition, as she calls it. The music on the soundtrack is as unusual as the characters, and similarly goes where you'd least expect. When you've seen one car crash or explosion too many at the multiplex this summer, check out this quiet, amusing, and poignant little movie.
Sunday, July 10, 2005
After detailed anyalysis of yesterday's rebroadcast of the Live 8 concerts on VH-1 and MTV, I can safely conclude two things: (1) MTV only utilized 75% of this rare chance for a do-over to redeem their abominable coverage of the live event, and (2) I've been way too consumed by all this, as you'll soon see. MTV billed yesterday's rebroadcast as "complete sets, uncut with no commercials" which was only partially true. Yes, the ten hours of music were presented commercial free, and yes, many of the sets were run uncut, but many sets were edited or not shown at all, while some sets ran twice.
In the most inexplicable programming decision since the original genius concept that people would care more about hearing the MTV veejays than the music, MTV ran many of the rebroadcast sets on both VH-1 and MTV. VH-1 aired the rebroadcast from 10am to 3pm and then it switched over to MTV from 3pm to 8pm. Both five hour shows were begun with a solemn speech by MTV News (MTV "News"?) announcer John Norris, who referred to the Live 8 event as "one of the most extraordinary events in the history of pop music and political and social activism." If only the folks in charge of programming these channels would listen to their own content.
He went on to describe the day as consisting of over 150 artists performing in 10 concerts on 5 continents. With all of that live concert performance to draw from, and only ten hours of airtime available to present the music, MTV wasted a good two and a half hours by running the same sets duplicated on both VH-1 MTV by the following artists:
What did they leave out in order to make room for two and a half hours of duplication?
The following sets were incomplete:
Dido w/Yousou N'Dour (2 of 3 songs left out)
Annie Lennox (2 of 4 songs left out)
The Who (1st song joined in progress)
Will Smith (1 of 4 songs left out)
Dave Matthews Band (1 of 4 songs left out)
Maroon 5 (1 of 4 songs left out)
Rob Thomas (1 of 4 songs left out)
Stevie Wonder (3 of 7 songs left out)
The following should absolutely have been included but were not:
Sarah McLachlan w/Josh Groban (Philadelphia)
Brian Wilson (Berlin)
Roxy Music (Berlin)
Neil Young (Toronto)
With some more of that two and a half hours, we might have seen some of these artists who also were not included:
Def Leppard (Philadelphia)
Craig David (2 Sets in Paris)
The Cure (Paris)
Andrea Bocelli (Paris)
Tina Arena (Paris)
Youssou N'Dour (his Paris set after appearing earlier in London with Dido)
Chris DeBurgh (Berlin)
Faith Hill (Rome)
Tim McGraw (Rome)
Bruce Cockburn (Toronto)
Bachman Cummings Band (Toronto)
Deep Purple (Toronto)
Gordon Lightfoot (Toronto)
Jann Arden (Toronto)
Tom Cochrane (Toronto)
The Tragically Hip (Toronto)
Two and a half hours wasted out of ten hours available is 25% which is how I arrived at the above conclusion that MTV only redeemed themselves 75%. With all this great music to pick from, the choices would be difficult for any music person and I can't fathom how someone made the call to waste that much time with duplication.
Despite the glaring omissions, there was plenty to be happy about with the rebroadcast. First and foremost is the complete set by the reunited Pink Floyd.
It remains to be seen whether any bridges were really rebuilt after years of bad blood, but they sounded as great as they ever did on their four songs, David Gilmour's guitar work especially. We probably shouldn't read too much into this, especially with all the pre-concert reports that they still weren't speaking, even during the preparations, but Roger Waters, who was the absent member all these years described the reunion as "emotional" during the set, and we actually saw a group embrace at the end.
The U2 and Coldplay sets were nice to see complete. Will Smith was clearly getting the love from his hometown Philly crowd, it's mystifying why the one song by him they left out was "Summertime" the classic summer hit loaded with references to various Philadelphia locations. Bon Jovi may be bordering on self-parody these days, but the Philadelphia crowd was not above indulging a little 80's nostalgia. Annie Lennox sounded great, as did Keane. Madonna still seems to be the queen of pop on both sides of the Atlantic, Mariah Carey notwithstanding. Joss Stone was super soulful on her two songs. I'm not that familiar with Audioslave, but their lead guitarist was impressive and their set made me want to check them out.
The lead singer of Green Day looked kind of scary, and I could do without Velvet Revolver, Black Eyed Peas, Dave Matthews Band, R.E.M., Linkin Park & Jay-Z, Good Charlotte, and Robbie Williams (does he have even a fraction of his British following over here?). Obviously the goal in assembling an artist mix for an event like this is to hit as many constituencies as possible and they did a pretty good job of that with Live 8, even if the bill seemed to lean a little heavily on superstars who've had that title by their name for more than a couple of decades. You'd never know from the MTV broadcast that there were several country artists on the bill in Philadelphia and in Rome.
Sting was dead on with his songs selected for their lyrical context, starting with ""Message in a Bottle" followed by "Driven to Tears" and finally "Every Breath You Take" with customized lyrics relative to the G8 Summit ("we'll be watching you"). The final three sets from London, The Who, Pink Floyd, and Paul McCartney ended the day quite nicely (this combination would have been equally welcome thirty years ago). Too bad they couldn't find the time to air Stevie Wonder's complete set that closed the Philadelphia show.
It's been announced that EMI has purchased the DVD rights and that we will see a Live 8 DVD by November (at least we won't have to wait 19 years like with Live Aid). It remains to be seen what will be included, although I've heard that different versions will be produced for different countries. I guess it's foolish to hope for a complete set of every performance from every concert, but I'd buy it.
Saturday, July 09, 2005
If you enjoy reading it, please check out Paste. Each issue is packed with articles, interviews, reviews, and ads for music that more often than not coincides with the WXPN playlist. If you subscribe, you also get an excellent sampler CD bound into every issue with twenty plus tracks from the new albums discussed in the magazine. In the past year they've recently added a DVD which is also bound into each issue that contains relevant music videos, more music tracks, clips from TV and movies, and the occasional short film. At $4.00 per issue for a two year subscription, it's a great deal. Thanks to Andy Whitman for a great piece of writing and thanks to Paste for permission to reprint it here.
Listening To Old Voices
Steve Goodman - The Lovin' of the Game
by Andy Whitman
It’s late February. Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training a week ago. Opening day is a little more than a month away. It’s that time of year when Midwestern Americans, weary of winter’s onslaught, dream of sun-drenched summer days, the crack of the bat, the commingled smells of newly oiled leather gloves and stale popcorn and freshly mowed grass, the sounds of vendors hawking peanuts and ice-cold beer in the stands. Anything and everything is possible. The Chicago Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series in 97 years, are still undefeated. And Steve Goodman, a terrific singer and even better songwriter who lived for the Chicago Cubs and died far too young, still might one day receive the critical and popular acclaim he deserves. You never know.
Diagnosed with leukemia when he was 21 years old, Steve Goodman spent his entire recording career with a death sentence hanging over his head. In one of life’s ironic jokes, he recorded his first album in 1969, the year the Cubs blew a nine-game late summer lead to the New York Mets, and his last album in 1984, the year the Cubs lost to the San Diego Padres in the National League championship series. Chiefly through Goodman’s song “The Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” the fortunes of the man and the baseball team will forever be linked. The Cubs never made it to baseball’s Promised Land; Steve Goodman never made it beyond a small but dedicated cult following. You can view it as futility if you like; certainly Cubs fans know the feeling all too well. Or you can view it the way Steve Goodman did in one of his earliest recorded songs:
All the good times going by, got to have ourselves a few.
Where I’m going has no end, what I’m seeking has no name.
No, the treasure’s not the takin’, it’s the lovin’ of the game.
For Steve Goodman, the game could not be contained by a season or a stadium. Nor could it be defined by a single genre or stunted by a death sentence. His eponymous first album, released during the year of the Amazin’ Mets and the Chokin’ Cubs, was a folk-rock classic. It was highlighted by “City of New Orleans,” a future hit for Arlo Guthrie and now a folk-music staple, a song Kris Kristofferson and John Prine have called “the best damn train song ever written.” I can’t argue with them.
Throughout his career Steve Goodman confounded listeners and critics by tossing musical changeups and curveballs into the mix. Pegged as a sensitive singer/songwriter folkie, Goodman turned around and wrote hilarious parodies of country music (the David Allan Coe-popularized “You Never Even Call Me By My Name,” which skewers every cliché ever lassoed to a two-step shuffle), covered jazz standards from the ’30s, and enlisted stalwart bluegrass mandolin picker Jethro Burns to be his musical foil. Pegged as a serious, literary writer, he thumbed his nose at pretension by concisely summarizing the plot of Moby Dick as a twelve-bar blues. Also pegged as a musical comedian, he turned around and wrote songs full of regret and sorrow—“My Old Man,” a wry, wistful remembrance of his late father, “The Ballad of Penny Evans,” a bitter, angry denunciation written from the point of view of a Vietnam War widow. And always he wrote about his beloved Chicago, firing broadsides at the notorious Lincoln Park Towing Company, simultaneously eulogizing and sending up longtime mayor Richard Daley, echoing the prayers and doubts of millions of Cubs fans worldwide.
By the early ’80s the leukemia was well advanced. The albums were numbered, and so were the days themselves. The cover of Artistic Hair showed a beaming Steve Goodman in front of a barbershop—bald as a cueball from his chemotherapy treatments. Then, finally, Affordable Art, which featured “The Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.” It can break your heart if you’re a Cubs fan. Or a Steve Goodman fan. But it will also make you smile. That was Steve Goodman, too:
Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League
All too soon he was gone.
A 1997 tribute concert featuring Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett, Iris DeMent, Emmylou Harris and John Prine—Steve’s buddy and regular performing partner—belatedly brought recognition to Goodman’s talent and his musical legacy. Commenting on Frank Sinatra’s song “My Kind of Town,” Chicago humorist and concert emcee Studs Terkel put it in perspective. “What the hell does Sinatra know about Chicago?” Terkel growled. “Steve Goodman is Chicago’s true musical laureate.”
Steve was scheduled to sing the National Anthem at Wrigley Field for the first game of the 1984 National League playoffs, but he succumbed to leukemia on September 20, 1984. He was 36 years old. Four days later the Chicago Cubs clinched the National League East pennant. It was their first playoff appearance since 1945, three years before Steve Goodman was born.
Ed: Steve Goodman’s ashes now are buried beneath home plate at Wrigley Field, home of his beloved Chicago Cubs.
Friday, July 08, 2005
Having never paid much attention to Coldplay previously, I sort of liked "Yellow" but never heard enough of A Rush of Blood to the Head to know it. So why X&Y now? Beyond the hype and media hubbub that surrounded its release, and beyond the $8.99 sale price, it was really Keane that brought me to the Coldplay tent; almost every review of Keane's excellent 2004 debut referenced Coldplay, but I think Keane has already surpassed Coldplay with a facility for writing hook-laden melodies. And with all due respect to Chris Martin, Tom Chaplin of Keane has a falsetto that soars like virtually no one since Jon Anderson's stratospheric vocals defined the sound of Yes.
Much has already been made of Coldplay pumping up the guitar on this record in an attempt to power the album into grand statement territory. I can hear that, but I can also sense that Jon Buckland's guitar ability runs much deeper than the repeating note style that seems to be employed here in an attempt to outdo U2. So, let's review: not quite as melodic as Keane, falsetto not in league with Keane or Yes but used judiciously to best effect here, guitar work is good but sometimes seems to play down to the U2 level. Despite all that, on first listen X&Y sounds great, definitely a disc I'll come back to.
In the classic position (as the titles are grouped on the back of the cd) of what would be side two, track one on a vinyl record, the single "Speed of Sound" encapsulates everything that's great about this album. It starts with Coldplay's signature sound of voice and piano, then the bass, drums, and guitar all are elevated to equal stature making this a true group effort. It may not hook to the extent of "Somewhere Only We Know" but it makes for a great summer soundtrack single.
You could do a lot worse than to listen to Coldplay's X&Y, the Sunday New York Times article by Jon Pareles notwithstanding. To knock this based on the lyrical content somewhat misses the point. Coldplay may have been shooting for an unqualified grand statement, but on first listen the lyrics don't seem to matter so much one way or the other (do we really need to take so seriously lyrics written by someone who named his daughter "Apple"?) but as a grand sonic statement X&Y totally succeeds. Thumbs up.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
It's not much of a stretch to imagine the execs at Sony BMG reviewing sales figures for John Mayer (through the roof) and ringing up the folks at Aware with a directive to go find the next John Mayer. It's doubtful though that the majors are signing artists at high school talent shows, much less in the wilds of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. After listening to Before I Speak it was somewhat of a shock to learn that this fully realized, full length major label debut cd was released this past April while Kyle Riabko was still finishing his senior year of high school in Saskatoon.
Riabko wrote all the songs, played most of the instruments and even co-produced the record which features a guest appearance by Robert Randolph. There's also a great sounding duet with Liz Phair, "Chemistry" and while the song is quite obviously about a relationship, he might just as well have been thinking about that fifth period science class when he wrote this. Word is that Riabko's junior year saw him touring with Mayer, Buddy Guy and Maroon 5 as well as recording this album.
As far as being the next John Mayer, Riabko's certainly got the look, but more importantly he's got the same triple threat ability to sing, play guitar (also bass and other instruments too), and write appealing songs. On a several of the songs, Riabko played all the instruments himself. The music on Before I Speak skews toward blue-eyed soul which sets him apart somewhat from his mentor. It remains to be seen if these songs will click with the mass audience that way that Mayer's have.
However, with well written songs, well sung, well played, and expertly produced, this is a most impressive debut, easily leaving Amos Lee's latest Blue Note full length in the dust. Somewhere in Philly, Mutlu must be saying "why not me." With a voice which sounds at least a generation older than his age, Riabko may be Canada's answer to Joss Stone, however the potential suggested by the quality of this debut suggests that Riabko may soon surpass all the artists to whom he is being compared.
Monday, July 04, 2005
- Swing Out Sister – Where Our Love Grows (Shanachie) I've enjoyed this band's work for the past eighteen years, however the opportunity to finally see them live this year has given this, their latest release, a lock on my number one spot. Corinne Drewery has got the same sort of vocal gift that Karen Carpenter did, however Swing Out Sister does much better music; no knock on the Carpenters, but this is the real deal.
- Tanita Tikaram – Sentimental (Naive) After a seven year absence I had almost given up on Tanita and the release of this album in the U.K. caught me by happy surprise just a few weeks ago. I've only had the chance to hear it through a few times, but it is a fine piece of work with an uncluttered, and intitmate production style that suits her voice perfectly. The songwriting is consistent with the quality that we've come to expect based on her previous six albums. This is a highly welcome return.
- Ivy – In the Clear (Nettwerk) This dropped into my consciousness out of left field primarily due to seeing them at WXPN's Free at Noon Concert earlier this year. The live performance left me lukewarm, but their new album which I picked up at the show is so appealing that it keeps resurfacing in my player. The music comes from a rather unique location where Swing Out Sister, Air, and Abba meet. You'd never connect this band with Fountains of Wayne by either the sound or the songs, so Adam Schlessinger's membership in Ivy makes it all the more enigmatic.......................................
- Marc Broussard – Carencro (Island) This album is way better than the one song that WXPN played would suggest (he also performed "Home" on all the late night talk shows) . This album was a pleasant surprise from beginning to end with blues based rock and soul, great songwriting, performance and production. This guy's a talent.
- Jane Monheit – Taking a Chance on Love (Sony Classical) Sometimes I think I'm not old enough to listen to music like this, it seems so, well, adult. But I keep coming back to this excellent album, her fourth and her major label debut. Pop singers doing standards are a dime a dozen but rarely do you find work of this quality. Monheit's command of the material allows her to freely draw from a deep well of both jazz and pop sensibilities which truly makes this record something special.
I'm only listing five now so as to leave room for ten at year's end. As a rule I never consider live albums or greatest hits collections for the top ten (where do these rules come from anyway), but if I did, the following would have knocked numbers 3, 4, and 5 off the list above.
- Swing Out Sister - Live in Tokyo (Self-released) Recently recorded, this excellent live set is a close approximation to the show I just saw when they came through Philadelphia for the first time ever. You can only order this directly from the band via their website, and I'm given to understand that co-leader Andy Connell will personally pack and post the cd to you when you order it. This gets my highest recommendation.
- Dido Live (BMG) Expect a review of this fine dvd/cd package here soon. The dvd perfectly captures Dido's complete 2004 live concert set from Brixton Academy in London, pretty much exactly as I remember it from last year's show at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. Superb production and sound, great band, intense performance, great lighting, basically everything you could want in a live concert from this great British singer songwriter.
- Average White Band - Greatest & Latest (Liquid 8) Updating the similar best of album they self-released last year for sale during the Rock & Soul Revue tour, this official release adds two new tracks including the “Nu Jazz Mix” of “Work To Do,” which was inspired by the jazz guitar noodlings of newest member Klyde Jones amusing himself on the tour bus and inspiring the rest of the band in the process. This collection spans the last sixteen years representing the current incarnation of AWB, covers their last four albums and is loaded with rare and live tracks, and guest appearances by Chaka Khan, Daryl Hall, Alex Ligertwood and Ronnie Laws. For the official release, Liquid 8 added a bonus dvd with a nice documentary. Essential.
And, while we're on the subject, here are just a few more releases from 2005 that seem worthy of mention in this context.
- Al Green - Everything's OK (Blue Note) The Rev. Al Green is such a talent that I doubt he could ever make a bad record, and new Al Green albums are always cause for celebration. This is his second Blue Note release, following 2003's I Can't Stop with basically the same players and producer. That these two records are widely considered to represent Green's "secular comeback" ignores 1995's excellent Your Heart's In Good Hands which may be the best of the three...................
- Van Morrison - Magic Time (Geffen) Switching from Blue Note to Geffen for this latest release, Morrison continues to do what he does so well, writing and singing in a style that has evolved over the last thirty years or so that freely incorporates jazz, blues, and the occasional standard into a mix that is decidedly his own. The title here is apt.
- Joss Stone - Mind Body & Soul (S-Curve) Yes, I know this came out in 2004, but it was released in the latter part of the year and it didn't really grab me until 2005. I so didn't like her debut cd that I sold it on eBay not long after acquiring it, but this one is vastly improved with great songwriting, and impeccable performance and production. It's hard to believe that such a soulful voice could be posessed by a teenager........................
- Tegan & Sara - So Jealous (Vapor) This rocks with a bouncy and appealing charm that makes the record hard to resist. This Canadian duo has seemingly left folk-rock behind on this, their third album. A fun listen.
Sunday, July 03, 2005
And this was as good as the coverage got, which is an indication of how offensively and outrageously ill-conceived the broadcast format was. After cutting in and out of Stevie Wonder's finale in Philadelphia which was happening at the same time as Paul McCartney's finale in London, neither one getting nearly the airtime it deserved, it seemed like MTV threw up their hands and gave up by cutting to more veejay chatter, pre-taped documentary features and commercials. And while they might have used their two cable channels to offer twice as much music, they wasted this potential by simulcasting the same lame program on both channels.
Many of the great artists who appeared never even got any face time on MTV, including the Philadelphia duet of Sarah McLachlan and Josh Groban, Def Leppard, Annie Lennox, UB40, Sheryl Crow, A-ha, Brian Wilson, CSN, Roxy Music, Bruce Cockburn, Bachman/Cummings Band, Deep Purple, Gordon Lightfoot, Jann Arden, Neil Young (did he even play in Toronto as scheduled?), Tegan & Sara, Tim McGraw, and Peter Gabriel just to name a few. Those who were shown, were done more of a disservice by the fragmented MTV coverage.
As limited as it was, the two hour ABC-TV prime time special at least had the good sense to show uninterrupted songs with no host, and only occasional celebrity introductions of the songs. There was more intact music in the two hour ABC program than aired in the entire eight hour MTV/VH-1 broadcast. That one of the largest live concert events ever was subject to the worst broadcast coverage ever is incredibly frustrating. We're left with the streaming video on AOL.com as the only worthwhile coverage source. Although the technology of the online stream is nowhere near the picture quality of television or dvd, the picture does look good in the three inch window on your computer screen. I guess we'll just have to settle for that until such time as a dvd is released, if ever (and would most likely only contain highlights).
Fortunately, AOL.com is said to be streaming the unedited feeds from all six cities that they broadcast yesterday, free on demand, for the next six weeks. Time to look into software for recording the video stream, at least for the sake of a few key artists. Musically, with all the artists performing in all the cities around the world, the possibilities for greatness were many, but you'd never have known it from the sad excuse for "coverage" on MTV and VH-1.
Saturday, July 02, 2005
Sir Paul McCartney with U2, London, 9:00am
U2 w/Paul sounded great opening the show with "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," complete with animated Sgt. Pepper cover backdrop video, and a horn section dressed in the Sgt. Pepper uniforms. Nice touch. Had to run out between 9-10am, hope to catch the rest of this set and Coldplay later on the repeat.
Elton John, London, 10:00am
The bitch was never so, back, as it were. He'll be headlining the Philadelphia 4th of July concert in two days at the site of today's Philadelphia Live 8 show in front of the Art Museum.
Dido, London, 10:20am
Bob Geldof introduced Bill Gates (yikes) who introduced Dido, who opened with a nice version of "White Flag," then she brought out Yousou N'Dour to sing with her on "Thank You" and Neneh Cherry's "Seven Seconds." Great stuff.
Brian Wilson, Berlin, 1:10pm
"Heroes & Villains, God Only Knows, Wouldn't It Be Nice, Good Vibrations, Fun Fun Fun." God bless Brian Wilson.
Bruce Cockburn, Toronto, 1:36pm
Opened with "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," also played a nice version of "Waiting for a Miracle." I think I missed a song in between, hope to catch a replay sometime.
A-ha, Berlin, 2:35pm
Who knew these guys were even still together. They sound great, even played "Take On Me" (how could they not).
Deep Purple, Toronto, 3:00pm
Again, who knew these guys were still a band. They sound great too, even if they look a little scary as old guys with long hair. Flipping the dial, Dave Matthews is on right now in Philly, the Killers are onstage in London, and it's getting dark in Rome. There have been a lot of interesting artists local to their countries who have been very cool to check out on the worldcast.
Joss Stone, London, 3:15pm
Glad I jumped back to London in time to catch Joss Stone with a superb backup band. The sound over aol.com is amazingly good and the picture is even better than you would expect from a computer video stream. No hope I guess for these sets getting any broadcast airtime, maybe they'll release a dvd one day. "I Had a Dream Last Night" was nice and slow and soulful. The guitarist actually has a guitar with the guitar body cut into the shape of Africa, like the Live Aid/Live 8 logos (yikes). She's ending her set with "Some Kind of Wonderful." What a voice - is she still sixteen? seventeen? Hard to believe.
Philly is seeing replays from other cities on the video screens, including Tim McGraw singing "Live Like You Were Dying" from Berlin. An African group I don't know is playing now in Toronto. It's dark in Rome as an Italian group is sounding really good on the stage there. The light is fading in Berlin and the crowd seems to be too, judging from the aeriel view. I'd really like to get a replay of all the sets in their entirety - some of these artists who are unknown outside their home country really sound great. Too bad the feeds from Paris and Rome don't give an overlay with the group's name. The Scissor Sisters just took the stage in London; I'll freely admit I don't get them. More later.
Linkin Park with Jay-Z now rocking Philly, not exactly my cup of tea. It's dark in Berlin, not sure who's on but they sound pretty good. Scissor Sisters just ended in London. It's twilight now in Paris, there's a French band playing, crowd seems to be thinning there too. Toronto between sets, everywhere seems to have gotten great weather today. Rome is going strong into the night with an Italian artist. Heading toward 4:00pm, Velvet Revolver's up next in London, time to go sweep the patio. Just patched the wireless laptop computer into the stereo in time to hear Sting in London on the outdoor speakers, 4:30pm. Will have to catch Bryan Ferry later on the repeat; he's on simultaenously in Berlin.
Mariah Carey took the stage in London at 5:00pm much to the seeming delight of the crowd there. Meanwhile an interesting duo is singing classical style in Paris, sounding really good. A band I can't identify is playing in Toronto. Sarah McLachlan is now playing in Philly - hope I can catch her full set on the replay. Meanwhile a great sounding band with a female lead singer is playing Rome, got to find out who they are, 4:45pm. I wouldn't count myself as a fan of Maroon 5 but they're sounding pretty good right now in Philly, 5:10pm. Robbie Williams is playing in London, an Italian guy is singing in Rome, Paris is between sets, a group I don't know is on in Berlin, and another group I can't identify is playing in Toronto at 5:17pm.
The Who, London, 5:40pm
Townshend seems to be wearing his age a little better than Daltry, but neither of them look as scary as Deep Purple. "Who Are You" was never my idea of a great Who song, but they still sounded great on "Won't Get Fooled Again." Scanning the cities, Paris and Berlin are between sets, Jann Arden is playing in Toronto, Rob Thomas is in Philadelphia and an Italian guy is singing in Rome.
Pink Floyd, London, 6:05pm
Word is that Roger Waters has not performed with the other three guys in twenty-four years, talk about a falling out. MTV actually went live for Floyd, only bailing during the last (and best) song of the set which consisted of "Breathe," "Money," "Wish You Were Here," and "Comfortably Numb." Gilmour looked kind of steely but man did he cut some great lead guitar and the Floyd sounded as great as they ever did. If they really patched things up and took this on the road, yeah, but did they really...
Stevie Wonder, Philadelphia, & Paul McCartney, London, 6:30pm
The Philadelphia and London finales happened simultaneously which apparently short circuited whatever was left of the brains calling the shots for the MTV "coverage" as neither set received a proper airing, even with the miracle of tape delay. Thanks to AOL.com once again for providing unedited access to all the music. McCartney had a great pool of talent to bring back on stage for the finale, including a surprise duet with George Michael on "Drive My Car." The all star reading of part two of "Hey Jude" seemed kind of rote by this point, but hey you can't end a big charity concert without the obligatory all star finale.
The Philadelphia rumor mill had been in high gear all week regarding possible suprise appearances for the finale with speculation including everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Michael Jackson. The speculation hit fever pitch Saturday morning when an xpn announcer repeated rumors that Bob Dylan and/or the Rolling Stones might show up. None of that materialized, however Stevie Wonder did a superb set to close the show in Philadelphia, and although the available star power was somewhat less than in London, Wonder utilized several of the artists on the Philadelphia bill to join him on various songs. One can only hope that one day they'll release a dvd with complete sets, although that's hardly likely.