Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Hearts and Flowers and CDs - A Valentine to (Mostly) Free Music

Today is Saturday, February 19th and there was no music in the mail.
No Fed Ex on the weekend.
Ah, but it was a fairly good week before that.
How do I love getting new CDs? Let me count the ways...

Friday, February 18:
1. LITTLE BARRIE - We Are Little Barrie (Artemis)
Generic CD case advance, follow-up to a previously-sent sampler. Aha! There is one track on the 7-song sampler- "Mud Sticks" - that does not appear on the 13-track full-length, unless its title was changed. This demands investigation, Watson.
(out May 17)
2. KATHLEEN EDWARDS - Back to Me (Zoe/Rounder)
Official version of an album I've gotten previously as both a sampler and a generically packaged advance.
This is the sign of a publicity push.
(out March 1)

also in Friday's mail:
a check from the Village Voice, for my blurb quote in the Pazz & Jop Poll.
I got $10.
That's why I don't feel guilty getting all the free CDs.
What I make writing about music is not gonna put the kids through college.

Thursday, February 17:
3. AMOS LEE - S/T (EMI/Blue Note)
One of those happy little surprises that I might never have asked for, but liked muchly upon hearing. Still getting over a bout of strep throat (can I get the sympathy vote, please?), I was looking for a mellow CD for the mid-afternoon recuperation lie-down, and this one fit the bill beautifully. Lee cites Bill Withers, Neil Young, James Taylor and John Prine as influences, and the songs here make a nice blend of those voices. He's best when he's crooning in a gentle, soulful way; on the one attempt to get louder and funkier, "Love in the Lies," his voice is overwhelmed by the arrangement which, elsewhere are dead-on lovely. And speaking of lovely, Norah Jones guests on couple of tracks.

Wednesday, February 16:
4. BREAKING BENJAMIN - We Are Not Alone (Hollywood)
Not my type of music, but I'll always say a kind word for this band since two members of same, hanging out at Reston Town Center the day of the HFS Nutcraker concert, were nice to my daughter and a friend when they asked for autographs. As compared to Benji and Joel of Good Charlotte, who blew off a group of about 10 girls who spied them in a nearby restuarant. That night, when Joel gave his usual speech on stage about how much the band's fans mean to them, it rang very hollow.
5. THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS - Here Come the ABC's (Disney/DVD)
I have always been a fan of the two Johns, even before they came as uninvited (but most welcome) guests to a 20-something birthday party of mine in Brooklyn (back before they were stars) and brought me a cigar-box hat with a tiny camera attached to it. I doubt they remember me now, and I hardly remember them at the party (still have the hat, tho) and have enjoyed numerous concerts and countless CDs since.

Tuesday, February 15:
6. KINGS OF LEON - Aha Shake Heartbreak (RCA)
I thought the debut CD was downright catchy, Terry got hooked on the "Holy Roller Novacaine" EP, and now we're totally psyched to see the band for the first time next weekend at the 930 Club. I asked a publicist for an advance of the CD (out Feb. 22) so I could get familiar with the new songs before the show. On first, admittedly superficial, listen, I still think they're damn catchy but Terry, who's been paying much greater attention, thinks that I'm going to sour on them once I really tune into the lyrics. "They're redneck alpha males," he keeps warning me. "Yeah," I answer with rock-critic pomposity, "but there's a post-modern irony to that stance."

Monday, February 14:
I bought it again. It was on sale, it was the expanded edition (two discs, with four new tracks) and Gracie loves them. So do I. The band's performance at the HFS Nutcracker concert was a highlight of the event, maybe of the year. Besides, the advance copy I got long ago had no liner notes. I voted this album in my Top Ten for the VV poll and I vote with my consumer dollar!
8. ROD STEWART - Stardust: The Great American Songbook Volume III (J Records)
My mom requested this one, so I bought it to share with her, on sale, with bonus DVD: "AOL Music presents Rod Stewart In Concert." Not bad for $9.00.
9. THE GRASCALS - S/T (Rounder)
I requested a copy of this CD last fall, when the band was opening for Dolly Parton, and I wrote about the show. Wish they had told me then that the CD wasn't due out until February 2005. I wouldn't have felt dissed when it didn't come. (Adding to the dis, I couldn't get tix to the show, even tho' I wrote Dolly a glowing preview.)

And others:

10. BARENAKED LADIES - Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits 1991-2001 (Reprise)
Belated Christmas gift to Emma from her uncle. I didn't come up to speed with BNL until four albums into their career. Silly me. Delighfully silly them. Witty songwriters, good musicians and great live, they also have some soul underneath the smirk. "Pinch Me" is a Desert Island single, one of my all-time favorite songs, a wonderful evocation of ruminative summer days.

11. UNWRITTEN LAW - Here's to the Mourning (Lava)
Not an album I would think twice about, but when I was driving with Gracie and listening to Carson Daily's countdown on the radio (something else I wouldn't do without her influence), this band was Catch of the Week, "Save Me (Wake Up Call)" was this week's free iTunes download, and Grace said "I love this song." I was expecting something harsh, but it wasn't half bad. I - meaning she - will no doubt hear more from this band in future and we'll pass it on.

12. LUNASA - The Kinnitty Sessions (Compass)
Celtic music makes me feel good. Not that treacly "Danny Boy" stuff, mind you; but the ballsy, spit-at-the-devil pub music that defies everything that may go wrong in a good, god-fearing person's life. Dance your sorrows away music. Like this.

Duplicate copy of advance sent previously in simple plastic sleeve. Didn't impress on first listen, but the band is coming to town next week at my favorite local joint, Jammin' Java, and the live rep is so good, I may just check 'em out.

Tower Records online purchase:
14. MANDY MOORE - Coverage (Epic)
A teen pop star with taste! Appears in the movie "Saved," keeps her clothes on and acknowledges the songwriting craft of XTC, Todd Rundrgen, Mike Scott, and John Hiatt. Bet she doesn't lip-synch, either!
15. RAZORLIGHT - Up All Night (Universal)
Tower online sometimes offers cool extras with its purchases - free T-shirts, posters, buttons, even autographed copies of new stuff. Saw this band on Letterman and was impressed. CD came with a bonus 7" vinyl single.

Traded in some books at the used book store and got:
16. JON STEWART and THE CAST OF THE DAILY SHOW - America: The Audiobook (Time Warner AudioBooks)
I'm happily married, but if Jon Stewart crooked his finger, I'd be there. And Steve Colbert has shown up in my dreams. Smart men with a sense of humor; it doesn't get better than that!

And, finally, another desperate attempt to play catch-up:

17. THE BLUE VAN - The Art of Rolling (TVT Records)
18. ALANA DAVIS - Surrender Dorothy (Tigress Records)
19. SNOW MACHINE - S/T (Daemon)
20. PARCHMAN FARM - S/T (Jackpine)
21. JACK LOGAN and the MONDAY NIGHT RECORDERS - Nature's Assembly Line (Orangetwin Records)
22. FOXYMORONS - Hesitation Eyes (Heatstroke Records)
23. VARIOUS ARTISTS - Raise the Roof: A Retrospective Live from the Barns of Wolf Trap (Wolf Trap Foundation)
24. MAN ON EARTH - Disposable Sounds for the Fickle Mind (Forward Thinking Music)
25 GRAHAM COXON - Happiness in Magazines (Astralwerks)
26. DEANA CARTER - The Story of My Life (Vanguard)
(out March 8th)
27. SAGE FRANCIS - A Healthy Distrust (Epitaph)
28. RAT CAT HOGAN - We're Bicoastal (Skyrocki Records)
29. RHONDA VINCENT and THE RAGE - Ragin' Live (Rounder)
30. LILY HOLBROOK - Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt (EMI)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Not Complaining, Honest!

at least not about the free music.

As the second month of my commitment to chronicle Every New CD That Comes Into The House takes root, it seems I'm already (hopelessly?) behind. And, as my mother used to scold her whining child, "may that be the worst thing you ever have to complain about."

So, I'm not complaining, but explaining - I'm going to revert to simply listing some CDs. While I really do intend to check out every album, at least four or five songs, at least once, not every one elicits a cogent reponse on first listen. Unless something really grabs me or really ticks me off, the blog could become a string of "it's nice....maybe it'll grow on me..." Blah. Though some music can be decoded quickly and filed away for better or worse, the real keepers need to grow on you.

Therefore, for now, we'll move to a simple, chronolocial, day-by-day listing.
If I have something to say, I'll add it on.

Eventually, I'll get the hang of this - and maybe even figure out why I'm doing it.

Thursday, Feb. 10
Thrift stores are so much fun, especially for the obsessive music collector. It's all I can do to stop myself from buying up dozens of LPs. My local thrift store - where I dump all the outdated clothes, toys and CD samples that no one else wants - usually has a great selection - obscure titles in good shape, perhaps with ebay resale-ability. But I held back, giving in only for:
1. PRINCE - Batman soundtrack (1989, Warner Bros.)
On vinyl! Sure, I have the CD, and a special "Batman in a Can" version, too. But the music is so good, the cover graphic is one of the best logos ever, and I can tell myself that one day someone on ebay will quintuple my 50 cent investment.
2. IT BITES - Eat Me in Saint Louis (1987, Geffen Records)
On cassette! I still have a working cassette player (and a working turntable. There's even an 8-track player I could use if I hooked up all the wires). And this cassette has a great song, "Calling All the Heroes" that I don't have in any other form. 50 cents for a song - cheaper than iTunes! Terrible band name, though. Also terrible album title.
3. DAVID SEDARIS - Live at Carnegie Hall (Time Warner Audio Books)
One day I'd like to write some memoir-ish essays, and I'd like to think I would have a small touch of that sly, Sedarisian style - without the homosexual references (not that there's anything wrong with that!). But as good as reading him is, hearing him is even better - sweeter still at $1.50.

4. JOHN DOE - Forever Hasn't Happened Yet (Yep Roc)
The man demands respect. And he's coming to town. I don't have to interview people to write the Post previews, but I'll try to talk to John Doe, 'cause he's a hero.
5. THE IGUANAS - Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart (Yep Roc)
A duplicate, sent in the same package as Doe. probably because the publicist is so happy with the preview I wrote of the band's appearance at the Barns of Wolf Trap. (photos and links to come)
6. SHURMAN JUBILEE - S/T (Vanguard)
"With musical influences that range from Tom Petty to the Clash to Willie Nelson, REM and on to AC/DC..." If they had lived up to that introduction, I'd be a happy clam indeed. Instead, I hear them as more of a twangy Counting Crows and, while I like Adam Duritz and Co, just fine, I don't need a southern rock variation on the theme. (Out April 12)
7. SUEDE - Live at Scullers Jazz Club (DVD)
Not the fey British smoothies, but a chanteuse based in the Mid-Atlantic region who successfully won a lawsuit against the guys across the pond, who had to tour America as the "U.K. Suede" to avoid confusion. Pitching a show at the Birchmere on March 5th.

Wednesday. Feb. 9
8. DES ARK - Loose Lips Sink Ships (Bifocal Media)
A man and a woman and a loosey-goosey collection of material that sounds less like songs than linked sketches of songs. No, this duo is not the Fiery Furnaces, but a little more raw. After all, they were produced by Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis. Not sure I would count this 8-track release as a "full-length" as the bio says, nor do I get the comparisons to PJ Harvey.

Tuesday, Feb.8
iTunes purchase:
9. POSTAL SERVICE - We Will Become Silhouettes
If I could walk down to a local music store and buy this 4-track EP in "hard copy" version, I would. I still like the look and feel of actual jewel cases (prefer digi-packs, actually) and will read the liner notes and credits an all that arcane info. Call me old school. Emma (the 19-year-old college freshman) and I argue over who told who first about Postal Service. It's a nice thing to debate. But I got to Wilco and Magnetic Fields first, so there!

Monday, Feb. 7
10. JESSE MALIN - The Heat (Artemis)
I wrote up a brief interview/preview with Jesse about a year ago. I enjoyed talking with/listening to him then and the same goes now, with this new album (actually, from last year, but he's on tour and the publicist is "reservicing," as they say). A pal of Ryan Adams' and possessor of a similar rock-with-country-accents style, Jesse has none of the ex-Whiskeytown man's diva baggage. He makes music, he makes it well, and he's coming to town this weekend, so maybe I can finally see him live.
11. THE EXIES - Head for the Door (Virgin)
Here's the full version of an album I received in simple cardboard sleeve edition last year. I liked the band's first album fine, but the second left me cold. And the tiebreaker goes to....I'll let you know when I finally listen. In the meantime, this press mailing came with actual swag! - a one-inch wide "exies" button. That's what passes for press bribery these days. But I'll take it - I've a corkboard packed with rock buttons, and the more the merrier!
12. BLACKFIELD - eponymous (Koch)
Coming to town - IOTA.
13. LIANNA - From Here (Sweet Petunia Music)
14.THE ARTS AND SCIENCES - Hopeful Monsters (Daemon)
Cute cover, good first impression. More later.
15. THE RARE BACHARACH: 53 Elusive Songs and Versions, 1956-1978 (Raven)
At first, I thought this was a bootleg, but there's a credit in the comprehensive liner notes to EMI Music, Australia. This 2-disc set was sent to me by an associate, GA, who trades me imported CDs for press kits I don't want. It's recycling at its best and, after I send him my want lists (usually compiled from the weekly emailings of Collectors Shop import specialists and/or scannings of the British music mags), I never know what's in a GA puffy bag when it arrives. But it's always something cool that I asked for. This one isn't quite what I imagined from its Collectors Shop summary - most of these song titles are alien to me, but the artist list - Little Peggy March, Richard Chamberlain (!!), Gene Pitney, Maxine Brown, the Hollies with Peter Sellers (doing the theme from "After the Fox"!!) and Mavis Staples - promises a few fun discoveries.
One gripe, though - as a person who loves words, and thus lyrics, I'm tired of Hal David getting the short end of the tribute stick. His words literally make the music sing, but he rarely gets above-title credit in the seeminlgy endless stream of Bacharach hosannas. Same - and even more so - for Bernie Taupin. I've long been of the belief that Elton John has two songs - his slow one and his fast one - and it's Taupin's lyrics that give the songs their real hooks.

Saturday, Feb. 5:
16. DOWNTOWN - S/T (Coup De Grace)
As much as I love the word "eponymous," it looks popmous when repeated frequently, so we'll move to the simpler appellation (another good word!) "S/T," as in self-titled.

Friday, Feb. 4:
17. VANILLA FUDGE - Then and Now (Fuel 2000)
I sent a note to the publicist (she handles a band I previewed recently) and said I'd like to hear it. Yes, I requested Vanilla Fudge! The band hit its peak (rather rapidly and fell just as quickly) as I was coming of age on Long Island (I still get the accent when I'm excited) and that big, dumb, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" wicked-style version of "You Keep Me Hanging On" was all over the FM radio of my impressionable youth. Alas, these are re-recordings of the original "classics," which is a bummer ("Take Me For a Little While" was a personal favorite unrequited love song). There's a pretty funny version of an 'N Sync tune ("Tearin' Up My Heart") and a really funny version of one from the Backstreet Boys ("I Want It That Way"). Which proves that you can drench just about anything in Fudge and, though it'll be fun for a moment, you'll feel VERY guilty afterwards.
18. SOUL REBELS - Rebelution (Barn Burner Music)
As with the Fudge, I asked a PR person to send this, based on a description in an emailed press release.
19. DERVISH - Spirit (Compass Records)

Thursday, Feb. 3:
19. CHELY WRIGHT - The Metopolitan Hotel (Dualtone Music)
While I loved the premise of the song, "Back of the Bottom Drawer" - the place where she keeps her mementos of previous loves gone awry (custom-made sentiment for a pack-rat like me), I'm not a fan of country drawlin' like Chely's, and the lines about losing her virginity ("so I gave in/Yeah, we went too far/in his daddy's car") had me giggling. Then followed "I Got Him Ready for You," in which our lady takes credit for taming the beast ("I fell like I did all the fixin' him up/But you moved into our house of love"). The capper was "The Bumper of My S.U.V., " a Blue State-baiter of a song in which some liberal bitch gives Chely the finger 'cause of her Marine sticker and she goes all Red State righteous. Anger begats anger and nobody wins and I need to find my Zen self again.

20. 3 DOORS DOWN - Seventeen Days (Republic/Universal)
21. BEENIE MAN - King of the Dancehall (Virgin)

That's eight days in my music week.
And the hits just keep on coming...I hope.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Proverbial Pig in Poo...

...that’s me, surrounded by new music.

Today (2/2)
1. BOSSA NOVA LOUNGE (Madacy Special Markets)
This one may not even count. It was included in a men’s grooming gift set I picked up from the clearance table at Borders. Twelve tracks, 48 minutes of generic lounge music. Total Teflon. In one ear, out the other, and into the bye-bye box.

2. MOJO magzine with free CD, BLUE CHRISTMAS
Why Borders was selling this January issue a week after I bought February’s is beyond me, but the CD, “15 tracks of Faith, Hope and Seasonal Misery,” featuring unusual seasonal tunes by Flaming Lips. Rufus Wainwright, Marvin Gaye (“Purple Snowflakes”??), the Staple Singers and others, will be a boon to next year’s annual “Cool Yule” compilation, in which yours truly attempts to provide every CPF household with a unique 80-minute mix of merrixmasment.

3. SOUND TRIBE SECTOR NINE (STS9) – Artifact (1320 Records)
Why did I have this group lumped in with the jam bands? The sound here is much more laid-back, experimental, vaguely electronic chill, but none of that dreaded new age aftertaste. STS9 also gets big props for a simple, but stylish press kit and a lovely CD package – letterpress digi-pack and a booklet of engaging illustrations and photography. Sweet!

4. FAIRMONT – Hell is Other People (Reinforcement/Renfield Records)
New Jersey-based band coming to DC later this month (DC9, Feb. 22). The group has an interesting track record, including dates (in a prior incarnation called Percey Prep) with the Strokes, Nada Surf and Ted Leo. The band’s third independently-released CD is a concept album, loosely based on Sartre’s “No Exit.” Not as gloomy as you might fear, thanks to strumming guitars and harmony vocals in the self-described “dark indie pop.”

Tuesday, 2/1:
5. CONNECT WITH MEDITATION (Genius Entertainment)
Oh, Target! Now you’ve installed those few bins of impulse shopaholic enabling known as the $1 Spot, and I’ll buy all sorts of crap I wouldn’t dream of purchasing otherwise. And this week you put CDs in there! You know my deepest secrets, dear Target. And what’s worse, this 30-minute disc of quiet sounds is not bad at all. I can only do about a half-hour of yoga before I get restless anyway (so far to go before I achieve enlightment…) I’ve heard worse (much worse) ethereal meanderings from Yanni, so Namaste to you. There’s maybe a half-dozen albums in this series, but I can resist. I think.

6. THE GOLDEN REPUBLIC – eponymous (Astralwerks)
Good driving music, as I discovered in the car to and from the movies (“Finding Neverland” – tearful charm and hot Mr. Depp). A solid guitar rock base with flecks of danceable new wave. Best first impression: “Robots,” with Cake-like spoken verses and the Gary Numan chorus: “They make robots to do what you do.”

7. AMY RAY – Prom (Daemon)
One half of the Indigo Girls (the one I would have a thing for if I were gay), Amy’s got her own label and, far from being a vanity project, she releases worthwhile albums from other cool chicks in her estrogenically punky southern sphere. I bet she’s good and angry these days, what with Dubya back in charge. And I bet that means some righteously good rock. Will get back to you on this one. (out April 12)

8. HITCH soundtrack (Sony Music Soundtraxx)
Am I the only person getting tired of Will Smith? No denying the guy’s got talent, but he can’t make up his mind if he’s a Kickass Action Playa or Mr. Nice Family Comedy Man. This soundtrack, from the latter school, sounds like what I bet the movie is: a safe collection of the Tried and True (“Love Train,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “You Can Get It If You really Want”), some pleasant but not radical reworkings of the T&T (“Now That We’ve Found Love,” “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”), and just a few “new” elements that will amuse the date night crowd, but spark no lasting emotion for the next day.

9. EL PUS – Hoodlum Rock (Vol. 1: The Bogard) (Virgin)
Actually, a second copy of this CD arrived today (I don’t know why), which tipped my hand to listen. And from the title to the Parental Advisory, and the back cover shot of tough-looking hip-hoppers, I would never have imagined that this would appeal to me. But the beats are instantly infectious and the tone is clever and playful, not boastful and aggressive. “Thing Thing” is downright uplifting, albeit with attitude. Is this really “crunk music – with amps and guitars,” as the bio says? Never thought of myself as the crunkin’ type.

And from the Still-Full Box of Music Obtained in the Recent Past:

10. JOHNNY MADDOX & HIS DIXIE BOYS – Dixieland Blues (Crazy Otto, reissue from Dot Records)
The kind of thing I don’t get called on to review but value nonetheless (thanks, Josh!). First off, you’ve gotta love a company called Crazy Otto Records, esp. when it’s “committed to the preservation and recirculation of nostalgic, ragtime and early American jazz and blues music. ” This particular title is being reissued for the first time on CD come April, but it dates back to when I was still crawling. According to his bio, Maddox’s all-piano record, "The Crazy Otto Medley,” became the first ragtime record to sell more than a million copies and, as the first artist of Dot Records, his success helped launch the label that launched some major 50’s artists. Includes some nifty computer enhancements - audio commentary from Maddox, who’s obviously a font of info about the Good Old Days, and a video that shows his amazing piano fingers flying. You also get to read about cool cats with great names, like Matty Matlock (clarinet), Mannie Klien (trumpet), Moe Schneider (trombone), Nappy LaMare (banjo), and Nick Fatool (drums).

11. LACKAWANNA BLUES soundtrack (Vanguard)
Half-way between Maddox and Hitch, this disc features new recordings (Mos Def, Blind Boys of Alabama, Macy Gray et al) and catalog tracks. For me, the action is in the oldies, like Little Jimmy Scott, Big Joe Turner, J.J. Jackson, and Etta Baker. But the new stuff ain’t half bad and has direct relevance to the film (unlike the product-pushing rosters on most film collections). In the HBO movie, set in Lackawanna, New York, during the 50’s and 60’s, Mos Def plays a bandleader at a local club, so his songs and those of Robert Bradley, playing a blind blues singer, actually mean something to the story.

Thanks for listening in with me...