Monday, October 30

Bob On Bob

I'm something of a Bob Dylan obsessive.

Let me rephrase that; I am a rather psychologically unbalanced Bob Dylan obsessive. In my own defense, I would like to point out that I am not a completist like I am with Robyn Hitchcock. For me, Dylan has a good dozen years, followed by nearly a quarter century of dreck (some rare exceptions, mind you - I like the throwaway silliness of the Traveling Wilburys), one solid album and then more dreck. But those good twelve years...

I've accumulated, through the internets and judicious use of the Google, more unreleased and live performances from that wondrous dozen years than anyone has any need for whatsoever. Alternate takes of tracks from Blonde On Blonde with The Band; radio performances on Studs Terkel's Wax Museum radio show; an unreleased live album, complete with the planned Columbia Record's cover picture; Further recordings made with the incredible session musicians that played on Nashville Skyline. All amazing, and in most cases, better than any of his released material.

I don't bring this up to brag - like I said, judicious use of Google will find the same sources and recordings. What this utterly unnecessary cornucopia of Dylanalia makes clear is that the axiom that Dylan was/is not the best interpreter of his material is a big load of bunkum. I will not argue that many artists have covered Bob's songs with great effect - from Area Code 615 (the very musicians who played on the aforementioned Nashville Skyline) with "Just Like A Woman", to Yo La Tengo with "I Threw It All Away." I love these covers, as well as many others. But Dylan, as evinced by both released performances and the plethora of bootlegs, continued to explore and recast his own work to great effect. A good example of this can be found on the officially released Biograph box set, and the blistering live version of "Isis." The crazy compulsion apparent in the lyrics is now matched with an arrangement that is all forward propulsion, a train careening off the tracks. Another fine example is from the now oft-mentioned Nashville Skyline, and the version of "Girl From The North Country", arranged for two voices and performed with Johnny Cash. The wistful lyrics are coupled with a slow dirge of an arrangement, making it a lamentation - the two singers do not respond to each other; here, Dylan and Cash sing from the same point of view, seemingly giving voice to a young man and his older self, with Dylan's voice encapsulating the longing of youth and Cash as the melancholy understanding of loss that comes with age. Of course, I could be off my rocker with that interpretation, but so be it.

I'll probably do a Dylan centered podcast one of these days, assuming I can trim down to under 30 minutes the "gems" I want to share. But until then, I want to share one great "Bob on Bob" re-visioning - an absolutely ripping version of "Shelter From The Storm", originally on Blood On The Tracks (speaking of which, a great bootleg exists of the original NY tracks Dylan cut for this - he felt them "incomplete" after listening, and redid many of the songs). From a solo acoustic performance to this barn-burning full band take:

Thursday, October 26

Podcast #4

Give a listen or the baby seal gets clubbed:

Tuesday, October 24

The Big Boss Scam

"Mr. Bruce Springsteen" (please say with pompous condescension - listen to Randy Newman's "My Life Is Good" in Podcast 1 for inspiration) - what is the deal? I was comfortable knowing he had reached irrelevance at the same time I had reached legal maturity. I had no problem with the Boss and the Piano Man going out as Grumpy Guses with their pissing and moaning "57 Channels (And We Didn't Start The Fire)" malarkey. But after September 11, Springsteen dragged his wrinkled carcass out to torture us with "The Rising", a song filled with such empty platitudes and overblown schlock as to make one long for the subtle bombast of "Born In The U.S.A."

That Springsteen re-sold the public his hackneyed "every-man/every-pain" persona is fine; he serves a purpose for some, even if it is one for which I have little use. What is killing me right now is Springsteen as alt-rock influence. That two current bands would so choose to ape the lord of logorrhea is more than a mind can bear. It is easy enough to discount The Killers (I just don't get what the Hot Fuss is about. Bad pun - deal), especially since they have the misfortune of not understanding how Springsteen got away with Born In The U.S.A.; it was the Reagan years, and the combination of cocaine and Aqua Net damaged many people's sense of taste. I'm afraid to find out if they penned an ode to the baseball of their youth - the hoary old McGwire/Sosa years - or if they have wet dreams of the Acela running along the Northeast Corridor. I'm also unimpressed by their acquisition of last year's costumes and spirit-gum mustaches from My Name Is Earl.

But another, more problematic Bruce-biter roams the land; the widely praised Craig Finn, lead singer/songwriter (I use both terms loosely) of The Hold Steady. Finn doesn't sing, per se, but speaks loud, emphatic tales of drifters and sinners, people with names like Shifty Montenegro and Sal Paradise (one of these I didn't make up). From the streets of Minneapolis to migrant communities of Ainu dockworkers in Gdansk, Finn spits and heaves epic montages of tortured souls who've lost at love and canasta, looking for a shot at redemption or at least another roll of the rigged dice in the crap-shoot of their dreams. Backed by a band who wants to meld E Street with The Replacements, but instead sound like Soul Asylum and The Beaver Brown Band, Finn has the audacity to rip whole cloth from Springsteen's back catalogue. You can try to say "Stuck Between Stations" or "Party Pit" aren't achingly like "For You" or "Rosalita", but no one likes a liar. If you like Born To Run, you've had 30 years to get it, and don't need this sad band. They should of at least had the decency to call the album The Wild, the Innocent & the Springsteen Ripoff.

Thursday, October 19

Podcast #3

Pardon my allergies and follow the link.

Wednesday, October 18

The Fall-uh

I had a big long post planned discussing my history with Mark E. Smith and The Fall. First exposure, impressions, lack of true familiarity despite fanatical friends, etc. However, I feel pretty crappy because fall (the season) has just been pummeling me into some sort of narcoleptic allergen state. My only recourse to dealing with the symptoms is to take fistfuls of antihistamines and decongestants, with the occasional dose of pain killers to alleviate the pounding caused by the pressure build up in my skull. So between benadryl naps and trying to get on with life, The Fall fell by the wayside.

The short version is this: never been a fan. Was overexposed in college to the early Fall material and never warmed to it. My biggest problem being the brittle sound - all treble from the guitar, all snare and cymbals, with Mr. Smith warbling like a tasered British Vinnie Barbarino way out in front of it all. Like much of the post-punk scene The Fall were not my cup of tea.

Being the musical elitist I am, I always felt a little remorseful that I didn't find a way to like, or even accept, this seminal music snob landmark. I didn't get it. So recently I felt determined to rectify the situation and settled in for multiple listens to the compilation 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong. The first dozen or so songs are what I remember, and I can't say I like them anymore than I did before. Next comes the mid-eighties material, and the emergence of Brix, the new Mrs. Smith. As a dowry Brix brings the E and A guitar strings and The Fall discover the 80 - 100Hz range.

Then a small glimmer of hope. I actually liked a song, "Cruiser's Creek," thus proving the oft-quoted (and hitherto doubted) statement that, "If you don't like The Fall, it's because you haven't heard the right song." This swings, a great little rockabilly ditty. I do feel I like it for the wrong reason, in that it reminds me of a Bily Childish song - assuming Billy ever did more than one take. The songs right around it on the compilation are also decent. I could listen to these without being appalled, though I still think the Kink's cover "Victoria" is the sad reach for popularity it appeared to be at the time.

Once Mark E. Smith discovers the Madchester sound this compilation goes South rather quickly. I should note that this was The Fall of my college years, which may explain why so many of my music snob friends talked about the recordings from a decade earlier. I found the nineties material veered between weak and hackneyed. Black marks go to "Masquerade", a song whose Casio stylings forced me to abandon it without finishing a first listen.

In closing, I still don't like The Fall. They are much more stylistically diverse than I knew, but the genre appropriations seem forced. Smith may love acid house, but he still wrote post-punk songs on top of the new rhythm. "Cruiser's Creek" I'll add to my collection. But the number of Fall fans remains at 50,000.

Thursday, October 12

Podcast #2

Venture over to podOmatic for more auditory shenanigans! It is time for podcast #2:

Wednesday, October 11


I always end up doubting myself (and the decisions I make) regarding blogs, blogging, and writing in general. Reading that Hitchcock post - it isn't very good. Part of it is rust - still got to clean the pipes out, get things flowing. Part is that it I find it both hard and somewhat pointless to evaluate or review a new release. Music is not something that is just part of my life - it is integral, a true soundtrack. I live with and inhabit music, or perhaps I should say music inhabits me. Whether purposely consumed or a product of unconscious osmosis, I seem to pick up things here and there from both the new and the old. Asides aside for a moment; much like a pair of shoes, I find it difficult to pass judgment on music until I have lived with it and kicked it about in different situations.

Reviews often strike me as the worst of all worlds. Combine facts of a press release or liner notes with snap judgements and a deadline (or at least, some perceived need for timeliness) and hope for the best. Some small number of these concoctions surprise in their level of insight or astuteness, but as the saying goes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and again. Most fall nearer the old(ish) chestnut (attributed to everyone from Martin Mull to Thelonious Monk to Elvis Costello), ""Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Of course, this makes it interesting in that modern dance could probably do a wonderful job with architecture, though writing about music still is a challenge. Mayhap Zappa was onto something when he said, "Rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk in order to provide articles for people who can't read." I certainly have moments where I can only nod in sympathy.

The short of this is that I don't like reviewing. In wishing to avoid the traps of the MadLib approach (ARTIST NAME has released their new album ALBUM NAME, which sounds like ANOTHER ARTIST NAME mixed with A THIRD ARTIST NAME. The standout tracks TRACK NAME and ANOTHER TRACK NAME evoke AN ARTIST NAME, leaving this reviewer AN ADJECTIVE.), I do things like "real time" impressions, or I write stories that are evocative of the feel of the album, or, best of all, I just give my opinion without placing a value judgment upon it. If I like it, I do my best to state why. If I dislike something, I'll try to do my best to explain the reasoning. I don't place much value on artistic intent - if you mean to paint an apple but it comes out looking like a pear, I don't see why I should care - I just judge the pear as a pear, you know? Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.

In summation, don't expect many reviews, at least in the traditional sense. I'm not happy with that Olé! Tarantula write up, which is a little too vague too often. I do have some things planned for the next few days, so stay tuned. Maybe another podcast? I got a hold of a long lost favorite, from the time of shoulder pads and big hair, when "Wicked awesome!" wasn't an exclamation only in daily use in Maine...

Thursday, October 5

St. Parallelogram

Robyn Hitchcock released his latest recording this week - Olé! Tarantula. As Hitchcock is sort of my one true obsession - I inevitably buy everything I can get my hands on (even buying an entirely slipshod bootleg compilation when I was on my honeymoon in Portugal, just for "The Ghost In You" and "Calvary Cross"), I was waiting for my excellent local record store to open on Tuesday. Hitchcock is an original; of course this means he rarely puts out a consistently excellent album, but among the dross there is always some melody or lyrical twist that carves a little notch in your brain, which snags a thought now and again and compels you to hear that song.

One of my problems with the path Hitchcock traveled in recent years has been the sublimation of his pop sensibilities. From the seventies with The Soft Boys through the Egyptians years to the nineties solo albums, he reveled in the Beatle-esque hook. But after his millennial stint with a reunited Soft Boys, he seemed to shut it down, releasing the soporific Luxor and the alt-country tinged Spooked (which has moments, but also real stinkers like "We're Gonna Live In The Trees"). Olé! Tarantula has reclaimed that past with a vengeance. But is it any good? The short answer is yes. The long answer is to bring back something I used to do - the real-time commentary, track by track.

"Adventure Rocket Ship" starts us off in harmony, minor-key build. Second guitarist is helping this track, allowing color to ply the spaces around the riff. Absolutely nonsensical lyrics, redeemed by the "You crash upon a star" harmonies. after two minutes, it approaches take-off, building, then - it ends.

The guitar figure (pardon, my terminology is ass, as is my understanding of 7ths
and Phrygian dominants etc.) that opens the next track "Underground Sun" is prototypical Hitchcock, a swirling Byrdsian loop. I swear I know this song - it is such a kissing cousin of earlier works (very Element of Light, without the eighties drums). Hey - that's old Egyptian Morris Windsor singing harmonies on these! No wonder it's familiar. Silly me!

It's cranking along. Oh no, saxophones! After Hitchcock slammed them after the Groovy Decay/Decoy debacle (Of course, he used them again shortly thereafter. Live and learn). "Museum of Sex" isn't new. I know this song from live recordings. Of course, the arrangement is different - I've never heard this outside of solo shows. Hand claps. I like hand claps. This sounds a great deal like the Jon Brion stuff from Jewels For Sophia. Clapping, saxophones, chu-chu-chung guitar. So far, no standouts. Solid.

Wonderful piano! "Belltown Ramble", a strange little travelogue - R.E.M., O.M.D. and Uzbek warlord Tamerlane. "pink rotating elephant/EXP" Seattle? Hitchcock has a great affinity for the area - plus the Minus 5 guys are Seattle-ites. Maybe Belltown is there. Hmm. A simple jangle-folk rock song, head bobber. This album seems such a reclamation of the range Hitchcock has rambled over the years. Tamerlane is back, sitting down for wine. There is a sense of resignation in amongst the whimsy. The past is still past, live with it.

The title track "Olé! Tarantula" is next. Sax and harmonica, small vocal choir - great riff! But why am I almost hearing Cracker? The space between Buck and Buck impersonator Johnny Hickman is small. I know this one as well from live sets. Check out - some great performances (a show at the Iron Horse springs to mind). Fun, silly sing along . An instant Hitchcock classic, spindly legs, eggs and all.

"(A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs" starts softly, though with a definite build to it. "You were riding in your car in San Francisco/But you're never gonna ride that way again" Good to hear Hitchcock playing with names - Briggs, Clint, Squint, Mel. This is a late Egyptians track in feel - it would make sense on Respect. A cross between "Driving Aloud (Radio Storm)" and "Dark Green Energy". It could be from any of the A&M albums. I've heard this before - it has to have been kicking around for like 5 years! This arrangement is sweet. Lovely, like soft rain.

Hmm. This next song is reaching - back, back, back - trying to emulate "Autumn Is Your Last Chance" from I Often Dream of Trains - and it can't get there. "Red Locust Frenzy" - better production values, but that wasn't the point on Trains. Bad synthesizer at the end. Disappointing.

Jangle pop, Hitchcock style! "I could be gauche but it's only a scosh 'cause it's love" What is a scosh? Is it a word, or did I mishear badly? Doesn't matter - pretty straightforward pop like the much maligned Perspex Island. But he didn't have lines like "I'm just a crab on a verdigris slab" on that album. "'Cause It's Love (Saint Parallelogram)" - more reclamation, courtesy of some musical help from unrepentantly literate popster Andy Partridge. Wouldn't Metallica have been better if their album was St. Parallelogram?

Not sure on "The Authority Box" verses - can't quite get the reference. the chorus/bridge "I call your name" is vintage Robyn -floating harmonies, rising to the limit of his voice. The verses have a squelchy feedback that almost reminds me of Julian Cope. That is a good thing. Whoa - "Fuck me baby/I'm a trolley bus!" I can't remember Hitchcock ever swearing in a song! He used to tell a story about a granny, who when asked by her grandson "What are grannies made of?" (you know, like girls are sugar & spice, etc) and granny answered, "Fuck-ass Rock and Roll!" in a deep, rumbling Exorcist voice. Nice climactic song.

Slow jangle, mid-tempo waltz-like beat. "N.Y. Doll" - about the late, lamented Arthur Kane. First person narrative, like a letter. "I was the pulse of it all/but there's always poison/ to drink alone or to/ share with friends /one in a million /people hit you like a window pane/ sincerely I remain/ Arthur Kane" I don't know if Hitchcock new the New York Doll's bassist, but the elegy is strong, touching. Much like "I Saw Nick Drake" from the outtakes collection A Star For Bram, Hitchcock here is reminiscing, touching something deep within himself.

His lifelong obsession with death and loss, and the understanding of life defined by these certainties, is very prevalent on this album. Whether through associated imagery (decay, scavengers like crabs and spiders, time and it's passing) or more lyrically direct in "N.Y. Doll" and "Briggs", his ruminations have weight. You could probably make the argument that his penchant for circular guitar motifs is also tied into that cycle of life. The fact is, for nearly thirty years, he has probed this fecund ground for his singular pop nuggets. Olé! Tarantula is another fine document of the richness of that soil.

Wednesday, October 4

Podcast #1

I thought it might be fun to try podcasting. I opened an account at PodOmatic; you can download it or click the play button there to hear it through the PodOmatic pop-up podcast player (say that last bit three times fast!)

So click the picture and go:

Monday, October 2

Alex's Music Geek Challenge (Revisited)

Alex is on a roll, sort of the anti-me, cranking out post after post of parental woe, musical experiences and today, the formerly over-gilded MR. T!

So it seems mere moments after my first real post he upped the ante with yet another Music Geek Survey. Even though I haven't posted much in between, I present The Great Music Survey Strikes Back!

Last Five Albums you bought/burned:

The Pogues reissues
AC/DC - many boots
Paul Simon - Still Crazy After All These Years
Bishop Allen - July EP
The Evens - The Evens

Five great albums that are not available on compact disc:

Charles Mingus - Mingus at Carnegie Hall. Mobile Fidelity put this in CD in the early nineties and I missed it. Now highly priced on the used market.
The Chills - Brave Words
The Feelies - the entire catalog, by thunder!
Robyn Hitchcock - Queen Elvis. A&M - no excuse not keeping his catalog in print, or licensing it to Rhino or something.
Secos & Molhados - 1st self-titled album. Available as an import, but Ney Matogrosso's band should be more easily found by all.

Albums you wish they'd re-master/re-release (w/ deluxe bonus tracks, expanded artwork -- the whole nine):

Robyn Hitchcock - Moss Elixir/Mossy Liquor. More people should hear Trilobite.
Charles Mingus - Mingus at Carnegie Hall. The whole concert please, thank you very much!
Butthole Surfers - Double Live. Get the MP3s. Harass them to clean it up and release in higher quality.
Ac/DC - High Voltage/T.N.T./Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. Give the U.S. the real, proper releases of these seminal albums. My crappy MP3s of "Love Song" and "R.I.P." should be in the dustbin.

Album you're looking for but have yet to find:

Captain Beefheart - Lick My Decals off, Baby

"Seminal, canonical" album that you've never owned/heard:

The Who - Who's Next/Tommy/Live at Leed's/Who Sells Out. I never went through a Who phase. I had the crappy Who's Greatest Hits on cassette and never liked it enough to want to hear more. I once dated a girl who was obsessed with Quadrophenia so I've heard that overblown monstrosity many more times then I wanted.

Album you love, but wouldn't want randomly lying around when your in-laws come over:

I don't particularly have one. My in-laws know well enough I like crazy, strange and horrible things. I guess if they found the old vinyl of Jesus Christ Superstar it might be interesting.

Five songs you never want/need to hear again:

"Two Princes" Spin Doctors
"Independent Women" Destiny's Child
"Nobody's Perfect" Madonna
"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" - U2
"Hey Jealousy" - Gin Blossoms

The dealbreaker album: if you spot this album in the person you're dating's collection, it's OVER!

Meatloaf - Bat Out Of Hell. See this piece from a few years back.

Do you own any albums autographed by the artist:

Inadvertently, yes. I bought Yes, Virginia and the record store gave me an insert signed by the Dresden Dolls. I had nothing to do with it. I've never been an autograph hound, and don't care much either way.

Unlistenable album you'd never part with:

Thus - The Hermeneutic Ubermenschen ... Sing! Former guitar duets by the one and only Neil Feather and his cohort John Berndt. Love Neil, love his instruments, but I don't particularly care for this recording. Love Revelation of An Anaplumb and cherish it more than I should.Favorite song in a genre you otherwise hate:

Garth Brooks - "Friends In Low Places". I detest modern country with it's fake twang and shiny veneer. It is perfectly symbolized by the headlight stickers that attach to the sheet metal on NASCAR vehicles. All surface, no substance, existing only as a slick cosmetic because people expect it.

Songs Played at Your Senior Prom:

I honestly don't remember. I assume a great about of hair metal ballads as it was spring '91 in NH. Probably any song with heaven in the title, like Warrant and Bryan Adams. I think the class song was "Bridge Over Troubled Waters", so that most likely got a spin.

First album you ever bought:

Men At Work - Business As Usual. I had, prior to this, purchased "The Tide Is High" 45 for my sister for her birthday.

Favorite Elton John song:

"Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters"

Favorite David Bowie song:

So hard - far too many I love far too much. Today - "What In The World"

Favorite Bob Dylan song:

Again, too many. "Isis"

Favorite Bruce Springsteen song:

"Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)"

Favorite Michael Jackson song:

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"

Album you'd leave on continuous play to torture your neighbors over the course of a long weekend with:

My neighbors are all over 500 feet away. Hmm - played louder than loud - how about Bill Cosby - Hooray For The Salvation Army Band!

Worst Cover song ever:

If I don't pick something off that Cosby record, how about Dylan doing "Big Yellow Taxi" on the not-on-cd Dylan album?

3 Albums owned by both your parents and yourself:

I now have my parent's record collection, so there are tons! But as far as albums they played/still play that I have my own copy, I'd say the Simon & Garfunkel albums, Mamas & Papas and The Kingston Trio.

3 Albums you'd wager are in the collection of everyone who might fill this out:

David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
The Beatles - Revolver
(Alex picked the big three. He made it up and then handicapped us all - though I don't own The Joshua Tree, and never have.)

3 Albums that SHOULD be in the collection of everyone who might fill this out:

The Pogues - If I Should Fall From Grace With God
Julian Cope - Peggy Suicide
Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique