June 11, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

I had a hard weekend. But notably, there were some new releases and musical gems that made me happy, and I also (frickin finally) finished Bill Bryson’s dry and uproarious book about Britain, Notes From A Small Island. I enjoyed it so much that it almost feels wrong. I’m talking ’bout laughing (really, kinda chortling) out loud on every other page, plus really enjoying reading about places I’d visited in the UK that I hadn’t thought about in 5 years; places like this little gem, or here. I wrote a few thoughts about the book for Bruce’s Some Velvet Blog, part of a series on summer reads, and that’s up now.

Hollywood Bass Player
Josh Rouse

After releasing a charmingly laid-back EP with his Spanish novia, She’s Spanish, I’m American, Josh Rouse will be back in solo long form with a new album called Country Mouse City House (out July 31 on his own imprint Bedroom Classics). This track is toe-tappingly catchy with a fittingly strutty bass line — and for some reason it made me want to sing “My Life” by Billy Joel (aka the Bosom Buddies theme song) all weekend. If you preorder the new disc now, you also get a bonus CD with some cool demos and unreleased songs.

A Long Time Away
Howie Payne
Lead singer of the now-defunct Liverpool band The Stands, Howie Payne is set to release his first solo LP this year, and has posted 4 new tracks on his MySpace page for your streaming pleasure. What I’ve heard of The Stands has quite a bit more rollicking sound, hailing from the same scene as neighbors The Coral and The Zutons, but these new songs are precisely some of the aforementioned things that made me happy this weekend. They are a bit more wistful and shaded, with a bit of blowing-through-the-jasmine-in-my-mind reminiscence for me.

The National Side
This next tune from Minneapolis band Romantica is different but I like it a lot. A fellow Ryan Adams fan recommended this to me, saying it was a tune that “you absolutely must check out” and guaranteed that it would be one of my favorite songs of the summer. All I can liken it to would be — okay, so Evan Dando moves to North Carolina and finds a backing band of mariachi dudes to play with. Then there’s also some great “buh-bah-buh-dah-dah-dah…”s which you really just can’t go wrong with in most circumstances. I like it. It’s from their forthcoming album America, out on 2024 Records.

Kingston Advice (Clash cover)
Camper Van Beethoven
Since we’ve already established an abiding fondness on my part for the output of David Lowery, it should come as no surprise that this track is one of my favorites off the new Clash tribute album The Sandinista! Project (out last month on the Megaforce label). As with all tribute albums, there are some questionable stylistic choices amisdt the 36 tracks, but this band is one with the cred to believably cover The Clash in a trippy, inventive way. Maybe I could have done without the fife, but otherwise I dig this.

Pacific Gas & Electric
I am in love with the quirky weirdness of the new soundtrack from Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, full of hidden gems mostly from the ’60s and ’70s. I just got the soundtrack this weekend, and no surprises – we all know Quentin is a genius at this stuff. I’d love to hang out with Quentin and talk music someday. The man strikes me as borderline crazy, but he’s one of the best soundtrackers out there. This cut is a swampy electric blues harp romp, but the other songs on the album range from campy girl groups, atmospheric Italian film scores, the swagger of T. Rex, and the British Invasion sound of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. Fantastic off-kilter kitsch.

March 28, 2007

Sometime I wanna get you low: Cracker in Colorado Springs

Cracker don’t get no respect.

These guys are legend in my book, true godfathers of the alternative rock scene, and the show last night was only half-full at best. Given it was a Tuesday night, and given that this is Colorado Springs which is not exactly known for its swingin nightlife (that’s why we have Denver, and Boulder) — but they sounded fantastic, and gave it their all.

Criminally underappreciated, they easily were better than over half the bands I’ve seen at the Black Sheep, still sounding tight and unabashedly rocking, and the venue should have been full (if the kids knew what was good for them). Cracker is and always has been unique in the pantheon of alt-rock bands from the ’90s. They combine absolutely solid rock (as Lowery said between songs, “Hello. We’re Cracker. We make rock music.”) with an attitude of punk, and tones of country, Americana, and even folk. Plus they’ve definitely got some of the most delightfully tongue-in-cheek, intelligent lyrics of many of their contemporaries.

I walked up (late) to the club to hear the bitingly sarcastic lyrics of “Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now)” pounding through the glass-block windows (we are classssssy here) and that kicked the set off in fine style. Highlights of the show included the Camper Van Beethoven polka-punk classic “Take The Skinheads Bowling,” which is so much fun to sing along to. Camper Van Beethoven were a sort of legend in the area I grew up in (they are from Santa Cruz), and trivia fact: I just found out that David Immergluck from Counting Crows was a founding member.

VIDEO: Take The Skinheads Bowling

Bonus Camper Van Beethoven cover:
Take The Skinheads Bowling – Teenage Fanclub (re-upped)

As drummer Frank Funaro started cracking his sticks together in a slower, deliberate rhythm, within two beats I recognized “Low” – a truly fantastic song from the ’90s. Maybe because I am older and jaded now, but I never realized how suggestively nuanced some of the lyrics are:

Sometimes I wanna take you down
Sometime I wanna get you low
Brush the hair back from your eyes
Take you down
let the river flow
. . .
A million poppies gonna make me sleep
But just one rosie knows your name
The fruit is rusting on the vine
The fruit is calling from the trees

I particularly love those last two lines. The imagery is so vivid (fruit rusting? genius), and in my mind it reminds me of another video from the ’90s with fruit withering in fast-motion or falling off trees – was it a Nirvana video? Does anyone else know what I am thinking of? Maybe…NIN? Too many agricultural themes for me to keep straight (which really aren’t about agriculture at all).

Low – Cracker

Even though Lowery’s been singin that tune for the better part of 15 years, he puts his heart and soul into it, even though his eyes stay closed for most of the set. He occasionally would take a glance down at the crowd, coolly, inquisitively. He still looks the rocker part, with his skinny jeans (before they were cool again), his Sauconys, and his three-day bronze stubble — as he goes to town on the guitar with all he’s got. Still the same wonderfully gravelly voice, a distinct great in rock music.

Cracker co-founder/guitarist Johnny Hickman has recently relocated to Colorado, so I saw him in August 2005 with Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers up at the Gothic. He still reminds me of a Mellencamp/Springsteen hybrid, and still shreds the guitar with finesse and joy.

I stood there feeling remarkably and deeply happy during the whole set, dancing to the relentless rhythms (drummer is great, even though he looks like he just escaped San Quentin) and singing along where I could.

I couldn’t resist dashing off a text message during “Euro-Trash Girl” to my friend Shannon in California, who attended that first show ever with me 13 years ago next month at the San Jose State Event Center (Cracker & Counting Crows) asking “wanna crowd-surf?” All 8 minutes of that hidden track, going from folksy travelogue to downright rocker, still make for a great anthem for living the wild life in Europe. Maybe I should have used that in promotional efforts for study abroad back when I was working at Santa Clara U. Selling plasma in Amsterdam, sleeping in fountains in Athens, getting tattoos in Berlin on the palm of your hand. Right on.

Euro-Trash Girl – Cracker (fixed)
(My video here. Worth watching just for the drunk mime emoting of the lady on screen-right every time the lyric, “Yeah, I’ll search the world over” came up)

Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now) – Cracker

Mr. Wrong (live) – Cracker
(just listen to these lyrics, brash and wonderful)

The materials from their new album Greenland (2006, Cooking Vinyl) seamlessly melded alongside the old, sounding great. Some of it is a bit more wistful than previous tunes (although they did play “Take Me Down To The Infirmary” from Kerosene Hat and I forgot about the slow goodness in that).

They didn’t do this one last night, but it’s the leadoff track from the new album and I heartily enjoy it:

Where Have Those Days Gone (new) – Cracker
(wonderful California place references, clearly a native)

3/28 – Vail, CO – 8150
3/29 – Denver, CO – Twist & Shout in-store
3/29 – Denver, CO – Soiled Dove
3/30 – Denver, CO – Soiled Dove
3/31 – Ft. Collin’s – Hodi’s Half Note
4/25 – Hoboken, NJ – Maxwell’s (acoustic)
4/26 – Fall River, MA – Narrows PAC (acoustic)
4/27 – Hartford, CT – Webster Underground (acoustic)
4/28 – Allston, MA – Harper’s Ferry (acoustic)
5/4 – Birmingham, AL – Crawfish Boil
5/5 – Pensacola, FL – Flounder’s
5/17 – Robinsville, MS – Horseshoe Tunica Casino
5/20 – San Francisco, CA – Golden Gate Park (!!)
5/27 – Beverungen, Germany – OBS Festival
5/29 – Zurich, Switzerland – El Lokal
5/30 – Karlsruhe, Germany – Tollhause
5/31 – Vienna, Austria – Chelsea
6/8 – Chattanooga, TN – Riverbend Festival
6/21 – Albany, NY – Empire State Building
9/6 – Pioneertown, CA – Pappy & Harriet’s
9/7 – Pioneertown, CA – Pappy & Harriet’s
9/8 – Pioneertown, CA – Pappy & Harriet’s
9/15 – Deadwood, SD – Deadwood Jam

BONUS: Check a good live show from last summer in Madison, with some more tunes from their new album.

September 1, 2006

This Is Where I Belong: The Songs of Ray Davies and The Kinks

So if you find yourself out and about this weekend near a record store, and you are tempted to duck in and browse the bargain bin (as I am wont to do), here’s one of those great tribute CDs that you should definitely pick up:

This Is Where I Belong: Songs of Ray Davies and The Kinks (2002, Rykodisc) is an excellent little collection of covers by many artists that I enjoy. The variety of folks selected to contribute to this CD serve to illuminate the literate and consistently superb songwriting of Ray Davies, regardless of the musical lens you choose.

The great Pete Townshend is quoted as saying: “The Kinks were . . . quintessentially English. I always think that Ray Davies should one day be Poet Laureate. He invented a new kind of poetry and a new kind of language for Pop writing that influenced me from the very, very, very beginning.”

It’s a treat to read the liner notes, as they are written by Davies himself; join him as he talks about his recollections of each song, when it was written, who it was written for. He also muses on the artists covering the songs with interesting results (“I haven’t eaten a lambchop since 1975 but I really miss the mint sauce.”)

1. “Better Things” – Fountains Of Wayne
(Davies writes, “Who is Wayne, I wonder?”)
2. “Starstruck” – Steve Forbert
3. “Stop Your Sobbing” – Jonathan Richman

(a ha! In a recent interchange I had about Jonathan Richman, I knew I had seen his name somewhere very recently. This is spirited rendition from Jonathan; Davies shares, “I nearly produced The Modern Lovers years ago, but unfortunately our schedule did not allow it. I hope Jonathan Richman has forgiven me.”)
4. “No Return” – Bebel Gilberto
(an interesting flamenco-tinged interpretation; Davies writes, “‘No Return’ with Bebel Gilberto is quite ironic because I certainly wrote the song with her mother in mind to sing it.”)
5. “A Well Respected Man” – Josh Rouse
6. “Victoria” – Cracker
7. “Who’ll Be The Next In Line” – Queens Of The Stone Age
8. “Big Sky” – Matthew Sweet
9. “Art Lover” – Lambchop
10. “Picture Book” – Bill Lloyd & Tommy Womack
11. “Muswell Hillbilly” – Tom O’Brien
12. “Get Back In Line” – The Minus 5
13. “‘Til The End Of The Day” – Fastball
14. “This Is Where I Belong” – Ron Sexsmith

(Davies writes: “I did get a sneak preview of [this track] and hearing it helped me rediscover it for myself.”)
15. “Fancy” – Yo La Tengo
16. “Waterloo Sunset” – Ray Davies & Damon Albarn (of Blur)

The Yo La Tengo track is a completely new invention, the Josh Rouse tune has that sly smoothness to it that I love about him, and the Lambchop (needs no mint sauce) version of “Art Lover” is fuzzy and melodic and extremely enjoyable. Matthew Sweet turns in an expansive cover of “Big Sky,” and Cracker rocks on “Victoria,” a la their best Kerosene Hat-era material. Overall this is a solid, quality album (and highlights really the best of the tribute album genre — how adventurous and diverse it can be).

As Davies also says in the notes: “Some of you may be discovering these tracks for the first time. In a way, as I listen to it I will be re-discovering part of myself.”

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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