Saturday, June 16, 2007

(some of) The Week That Was…

On Wednesday, I was working all day on my upcoming Post previews. The Fairfax Extra will be getting a three-act CD release party featuring Virginia-based performers:
1. PAUL CURRERI – The Velvet Rut (City Savage)
2. DEVON SPROULE – Keep Your Silver Shined (City Salvage)
This one’s my favorite of the three – she has a lovely voice – kinda Rickie Lee Jones – and a folk/jazz style that’s sweet but not too.
3. DREW GIBSON – Letterbox (Cragmont)

Alexandria/Arlington, meantime, will hear about a free concert by a local favorite, Jennifer Cutting’s Ocean Orchestra, an 8-piece ensemble that plays with a Celtic lilt. Cutting used to be in another favorite local group, Brit-style folk/rock revivalists, The New St. George. Among the members of her new band, some of whom were in the old band, they have over 60 “Wammies” (local area music awards).

And it was a good day lots of puffy envelopes, though I don’t know much about most the artists here, the obvious exception being:
4. BILLY BOB THORNTON – Beautiful Door (New Door Records/Ume)
Includes “Always Countin’” – a song about Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, which will, no doubt, go on my mix CD for sentimental reasons. And Graham Nash sings harmony of three tracks.
Out July 24th
5. ALINA SIMONE – Placelessness (54 40 or Fight)
Out August 21st
Ukranian girl moves to Boston suburb, then to Austin and records with spare guitar, minimum drums and cello. Her voice hearkens back to one of our “back in the day” favorites – Deborah Iyall of Romeo Void – with smatterings of modern Bjork-ittude, but you can’t dance to the songs and the whole affair gets kinda drony.
6. ART IN MANILA - Set the Woods on Fire (Saddle Creek)
CD sticker says it comes out August 28th; press sheet says August 7th. You’ll have to guess when you can pick up this new work by former Azure Ray member Orenda Fink, who formed a new band from the “cream of the crop of her touring crew.”
7. ARIZONA – Fameseeker and the Mono (self-released)
Compared to Deerhoof and Grizzly Bear, this originally NYC-based band is now hunkered down in North Carolina, working on the full-length follow-up to this pleasing 7-song introduction.
Out September 11th
8. ANGEL and the LOVE MONGERS – The Humanist Queen (Rocksnob)
“Have you ever wondered what it might sound like if Jeff Buckley had met John Lennon and they had formed a band with the members of the Cure?” Those are mighty lofty aspirations this PR sheet is tossing about and, though the album is pleasant, I don't hear them. Co-produced and mixed by the (once) legendary (where’s he been?) Mitch Easter.
Out September 4th
9. ANGELA LANSBURY – Legends of Broadway (Masterworks)
This one I ordered ($6.99) through the mymusic auto subscription service. It’s a compilation of all her big Broadway tunes, many of them Sondheim classics, and a reminder of how much of Broadway music has suffered in recent years due to Webber-ization.

Took some bags of unwanted household items to the local thrift store and scored two adorable “Where the Wild Things Are” mini-stuffed toys. In the CD section, some classical collector seems to have recently dumped dozens of well-kept albums, but I held back, having many of my own that I haven’t yet absorbed. (One day, when I am housebound by illness or a rash of bad weather, I am going to give myself an education on all that collected jazz and classical). So, I picked out just a few:
10.GORECKI – Symphony No. 3, et al. (NAXOS)
Still sealed, and marked as a $7.99 Borders purchase – a gift, perhaps, that its recipient didn’t want?
11. GRIEG – Piano Music Vol. 10 (NAXOS)
Terry loves solo piano pieces.
12 .CLAUDE BOLLING & JEAN-PIERRE RAMPAL - Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio
Two guys listed as the performers, two sidemen given credit on the back cover, but it’s an album of trios. No wonder I don’t understand classic music.
This is pop-lite classical, to be sure. The series was a mainstay of Sunday afternoon college dorm hangs, back when we were trying to prove that we had Taste by dipping into non-rock genres. If it wasn’t a discount pressing of Carmina Burana or Chuck Mangione, it was these brunchy classical jazz albums. Second time around, it’s all rather lightweight and yuppified (as I said to Terry, “this is jazz that doesn’t smoke”) but it’s kinda like a happy, friendly dog that you like despite its slurpy eagerness to please.
And for the family singalong:
13. POCAHANTAS – original soundtrack (Walt Disney)
Alan Menken writes catchy melodies, but Stephen Schwartz is not half the lyricist Howard Ashman (R.I.P.) was. “Just Around the River Bend” may be the only real keeper here.

More of my own cash money:
14 .VARIOUS ARTISTS – Sound Response (Warner)
In the clearance bin ($3.78) at Target. Live tracks collected to benefit New Orleans relief. Great cause but not much here to get excited about. I’ll burn off copies of tracks by Green Day, Cold Play, Radiohead, Ben Folds maybe Jason Mraz and Annie Stela but the other half includes stuff I never have to hear again from James Blunt, Staind and other haunters of modern radio.
15. FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE – Traffic and Weather (Virgin)
Actually, I’ve had this one in the house for a long time, since maybe only a week or so after its release. FOW is a band that I buy whenever they have a new album but this one slipped by without my knowing it was coming. At first listen, I worried that it was less clever than prior CDs but the more I listen, the more I’m sucked into their (seemingly) simple (but not!) genius with three-minute pop gems. The title track is a favorite, and “I-95” is, of course, the perfect soundtrack for those drives between DC and NYC.

Other recent promo deliveries:
16. DEBBIE HARRY – Necessary Evil (10th Street Entertainment)
Out August 7th
Most of the tracks here, on first listen, don’t do justice to Harry’s iconic stature and unique voice. But she’s earned the right to another go-round, so I’ll revisit, reconsider, retype (if necessary).
17. PIETASTERS – All Day (Indication Records)
DC underground ska legends, though I confess I don’t know the scene very well. Here’s the pitch- “skankin’ punk rhythms and raucous vocal rumblings slowed down and sticky thick with the sounds of early Motown and Jamaican soul.” Nicely put!
18. A BAND OF BEES – Octopus (Astralwerks)
Back home (Isle of Wight), they’re known just as the Bees, and have a buzz (couldn’t resist) for mixing funk, psychedelia and Northern soul among other styles. This one has harmony-heavy folk bits, too. Reminds me of the happy guys of Gomez.
19. BLACK BEFORE RED – Belgrave to Kings Circle (I Eat Records)
The kind of happy discovery that makes doing what I do such a nice paying hobby (no, it’s not a job). An Austin-based band that combines some fine influences. You might swear you were hearing the Shins, Paul McCartney, the Kinks – that kind of catchy, melodic pop. Terry says they sound too imitative. I say it’s a great start for a young band.

We Report, You Decide.
Listen for yourself and see if you like this:
20. ARKS – The International (Highwheel Records)
Arks is a band from Chicago. PR says the CD a “jumpy, jittery, frenetic post-punk whopper in the vein of Gang of Four,” and says they formed in 2002, in the back room of a Chicago Ukrainian Village apartment (another Ukranian!)
Whattaya think of "Stator/Asymptote"?
Out August 14th.

O/CD YTD Total: 255

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Bit O' Everything (photos, mp3s, blahblahblah)

The past weekend’s happy musical surprise – I stopped at the Tyson’s Corner Borders to browse the music racks (not quite Tower Records, but it’s got integrity) and to look for a copy of NME (the new issue has a free red vinyl White Stripes single!, but they’re still selling last week’s) while waiting for Grace to finish her Japanese lesson. Lo and behold, the store is preparing for an afternoon performance/signing by Judith Owen, a fine singer/songwriter (and wife of the brilliant Harry Shearer) who is in town for a show Sunday night at the IOTA. I’m bummed to realize that I can’t stay for the actual mini-set, but delighted to hear the sounds of an electric piano soundcheck. Lucky me, Owen arrived more than an hour early, so I got to say hello again, having met her briefly after a show last year at Jammin Java.

I didn’t expect her to remember me, but she recalled how much she enjoyed that performance and is warm and gracious and seemingly happy to have a genuine fan appear during the pre-show. We chat about her area appearances (she’s taping an NPR interview as well), her trading of musical favors with Richard Thompson (they appear on each other’s most recent CDs) and I am inspired anew to make an effort to revisit the IOTA. (I was there just a few days ago, which we’ll get to in a moment). I picked up the new CD and get it autographed, no jaded critic I. Which brings us to:

My Own Cash Money
1.JUDITH OWEN – Happy This Way (Courgette)
Besides Thompson, Owen’s guests include Julia Fordham, Ian Shaw and Cassandra Wilson, which should give the uninitiated a hint at the classy, jazzy, mature material she’s doing. Piano-based pop with a nod to the great American songbook of love and longing. My one reservation on this CD is that there are fewer up-tempo songs and there isn’t a clear indication of how wryly funny this woman can be.

Precisely why I still love browsing a real music outlet – I didn’t know anything about this release. It was in the 2 for $22 section, and I was sorely tempted to bundle it with an older Rilo Kiley selection, but I had the Owen purchase, too, so I used my handy emailed coupon that took 20% off list price. Listening in the car, I discover it’s grander and orchestral, less self-consciously bizarre than the usual Sigur Ros. Nice stuff.

Got home from meeting the lovely Ms. O and found the new
3. RICHARD THOMPSON – Sweet Warrior (Shout! Factory)
Owen is indeed, as she mentioned, “all over it,” providing harmony vocals on nine of the 14 tracks. She’s not on “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me,” the anti-war track that’s getting a lot of well-deserved attention, but she does get to sing “shame, shame on you, you Bad Monkey” from the song of the same naughty simian name.
Also from the promo peeps:
4. The WILDBIRDS – S/T (Universal Republic)
The press kit says the CD will be called “Golden Daze” when it comes out on August 14th, but the advance generic CD has the band name and title as one and the same. The lyricist/vocalist/rhythm guitarist frontman cites Cheap Trick, Humble Pie and Tom Petty (with the Heartbreakers) as influences, and the band will be touring with Jesse Malin this summer, so the claims of straight-ahead rock seem truthful.
5. SIPPY CUPS –Electric Storyland (Snacker Disc)
The packaging is so packed with colorful cartoons that it becomes its own trip-toy, but the music is aimed at the young and drug-free - I think. Titles like “Little House of Jello” and “Drinking from the Sky” could be hallucinogenic, and the group’s live repertoire includes cover tunes from the Beatles, Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd and the Ramones (not, we assume, “Beat on the Brat”). Coming to play at Jammin Java on July 13th.

Anyway, listening to the Owen CD reminds me how much I like her style, so I get my musical gal pal Sally to agree to a night out and we head for the IOTA on Sunday night. Alas, most of the region has stayed home to watch the “Sopranos” finale (sounds like they got screwed), a fact that Owen makes a running joke throughout her nonetheless impassioned set for the 30 or so patrons. She talks more than I remembered, but it’s funny, knowing and moving, as are the songs. (Funny applies to her covers of “Smoke on the Water” and “Eye of the Tiger.”)

At Borders, I mentioned that I’d like to bring my camera, to which she replies, “yes – and take all the pictures you want!” The (small) trouble is, her songs are so quiet and the mood so vulnerable that every “CLICK!” screams out, so I limit myself mostly to the patter moments.

Opening act is

6. EREN CANNATA – Blame It On the City (Brown Dog Records)
One of the first students enrolled in NYU's Clive Davis Department of recorded music, he’s also the son of Billy Joel’s saxophone player Richie Cannata and has a bit if a rep as a swoon-inducer of the young ladies. I think he’s got a cuddly, Jack Black look – and I’m charmed by the fact that he plays barefoot. Nothing in his set called out to me with a “gotta-hear-that-again” urgency, but when I chatted with him afterwards, and he gave me a free download card, his eager roadie-type asked urgently, “Would you like to buy an album? It would really help us out.” For $10, I did. Support your touring artists and all that.

It’s been a good week for welcome surprises in the mailbox. All sort of stuff that I was glad to get:
7. The POLYPHONICE SPREE – The Fragile Army (TVT)
I doubt if anything from this group will recapture the magic of that debut with its joyous, big ensemble optimism, and I’m a little sad to see the choir robes traded for military-style uniforms, but there’s still an upbeat bigness to the sound, and a touch of Devo-esque electronica, as if some helpful robots joined the gang.
Out June 19th
8. MIKE ERRICO – All In (Tallboy 7)
Brother to a Broadway star (Melissa), helper on Leslie Gore’s recent comeback CD, editor at, Errico wears many hats, including being a singer/songwriter on his own material. You could play tracks from this one between the latest by Maroon 5 and John Mayer and not drop a beat.
Out June 11th
9. The ALIENS – Astronomy for Dogs (Astralwerks)
Former Beta Band-ians present more smiling, slightly twisted beats.
10. VARIOUS ARTISTS – CMJ Presents…Phase Five NZ Music (NZ On Air)
Not sure how I got on this mailing list (signed something at last year’s CMJ maybe?) but delighted to get a cute little puffy envelope covered in stickers, stamps and official stuff to show that it came from overseas. Inside, a cardboard sleeve with CD/video material from New Zealand, including Tin Finn, Die! Die! Die! and a “Flying Nun Box Set Bonus” (the label, silly, not the TV show).

Recent Post Previews:
Celebrate Fairfax festival, featuring Smash Mouth, Eddie from Ohio and a cast of dozens.
Great Lake Swimmers, Eleni Mandell at IOTA
Saw the show and greatly enjoyed both acts, though I’ll admit that GLS has even more power when you sit in a dark room and let the CD wash over you. In pushing the material forward, appropriately in a live situation, a bit of the gossamer magic is lost.
Here’s lead singer/songwriter Tony Dekker…

And Eleni Mandell…

Why I Prefer to Read about Metal Rather Than Listen to It.
From a PR mailing with the subject line: “Watain’s stench of death lingers in America” –
“ might not smell the animal carcasses and foul bloodstench from the stage, but surely still a testament to the band's superior blackened war tactics…
Interviews via email are ongoing... the filth must be spread.

Sharing the Love – as in free MP3s!
Thanks for hanging in there. Here’s your cookies…

For fans of indie chamber pop, some selections from
LOST IN THE TREES , the name used by Ari Picker, of The b-Sides and The Never, for his solo project, with quiet melodicism, the occasional spurt of baroque goth, and elaborate orchestral arrangements.
The instrumental ”I’ve Always Loved the Fall”
comes from the EP “Time Taunts Me.”
From the same EP, here’s “Tall Trees” – with a touch of tango!
And finally, the previously unreleased
“Walk Around the Lake”
, which Picker gave to a compilation for Esopus Magazine, dedicated to art, poetry, essays, pop culture and music.

LOVE AS LAUGHTER have been on tour supporting Modest Mouse and posted a free download of their song “Coconut Flakes”, recorded live in Toronto.

Louis Schefano, leader of late-90s bedroom pop-makers, Regia, has returned with an EP, Freak Show Revenge under the simple moniker, LOUIS. As recently as last year, tracks from Regia’s 1999 release, The Art of Navigation (spinART), have been re-recorded by Saddle Creek recording artist, Maria Taylor. Superphonic Records will release the five-song EP, but here’s one track, ”My Own Good”.

In The (Trivial) News:
The US Air Guitar Championships kicked off their 14-city tour last weekend in DC. According to the press release, these musical mime kings have an actual tour bus that pulls an empty equipment trailer. I’m still not sure whether that’s funny or stupid.

Visit Close Personal Friend on MySpace! And if you see me listed as a bisexual swinger who doesn’t want kids (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I suppose), please refresh your page! I was totally mis-profiled for about three minutes on the day I attempted to update my profile (some AOL-Mac-MySpace glitch) and am now happily back to being a straight, married, proud mother of two.

O/CD YTD: 235

Monday, June 04, 2007

Phantom CD Store Syndrome

Medical people speak of "phantom limb syndrome," in which people who have lost a limb still feel it or move to use it after it's gone. I mean no disrespect to those who have suffered such a horrific injury when I say that I have a vague inkling of it - in recent weeks, while driving around doing errands in various neighborhoods in and around northern Virginia/D.C., I've been near the sites of many now-gone Tower Records stores. Each time, I've made a quick mental note to stop in and browse the racks. Then the sad realization hits that they are no more.

I think of the old-skool pleasure of walking into a genuine music store - not a Best Buy or Target hits-heavy secion of a big box outlet - and I worry that those days are numbered. Thankfully, I still have the lovely little local CD trade-in store where I turn my unwanted discs into wanted ones (and sometimes get enough cash to buy lunch on the way home). But that's like visiting a funky deli, and sometimes you'd like the full inventory of a supermarket.

I know, I know - it's not a pain that's gonna kill me (or make me stronger, either); just life in the modern world.

Anyway, at the last visit to said small music emporium, I scored thusly:
1. PANIC! AT THE DISCO - A Fever You Can't Sweat Out deluxe edition (Fueled by Ramen)
I'm a sucker for creative packaging. Back in the fun days of writing promo and ad copy for Elektra Records, the then-pres of the label, Hale Milgrim, was a devotee of innovative ways to promote and box new albums for maximum impact. I do love when artists make the package something special, tho' I can't afford to buy them all. This still-sealed copy of the Panic! CD set came with a mini-poster, an eye-covering carnival mask, a set of B&W band boy photos, a set of colorized tarot-style lyric cards, a spinning wheel optical toy, a mini tour program, bonus DVD and blank diary book, all in a weathered looking cigar box with flocked interior. Grace (I pretend I bought it for her, but I couldn't resist at $20 to see all the goodies myself!) was smitten by it. Listening to the album again on the ride home, I give the band credit for trying. It's not their fault that success made the songs ubiquitously annoying for a while there. Heard again now, some are quite clever, in fact. Or maybe I'm just blinded by the toys?
2. R.E.M. – R.E.M. in the Attic: Alternative Recordings 1985-89 (I.R.S.)
A reminder of how much I loved this band Back In the Day. Maybe it was just a record label cash-in, collecting alternate tracks, live bits and B-sides, but it was a fine season for the Athens boys and fun to recollect now in a CD that must have slipped through the cracks when it first came out.
Cool $1.99 Clearance:
3. SIGUR ROS – Baba/TiKi/DiDo
Starts out quiet and gentle, almost childlike. And then gets noisy and a little weird. Why am I not surprised?
4. The REAL TUESDAY WELD – Lucifer (Six Degrees)
Just the day before , I heard a great song on "Morning Becomes Eclectic," a little ditty with a jaunty Noel Coward air, entitled "The Day Before You Came." I looked it up on emusic and was able to pick it up from a Six Degrees label compilation. I considerd it a sign that I should try a full CD.
5. VARIOUS ARTISTS – Music Is Love: 15 Tracks that Changed the World (Mojo Magazine)
Unusual cover tunes: Robyn Hitchcock doing "Like a Rolling Stone," the Dream Syndicate's version of "Cinnamon Girl," Big Star's take on "Femme Fatale" and a whole bunch of stuff I can't tell about yet.
6. HOLLY RAMOS – Racehorse (Ford to City: Drop Dead Records)
Sometimes you can score new release advances in the clearance bin, especially ones that come in cardboard or generic jewel boxes. This woman is coming to town to open for Jesse Malin, so I grabbed it as a way to preview.
7. CAROLINE RHEA – What Is It That You Can’t Face? (self-released?)
A funny female is a good friend to have.
8.MORCHEEBA - Big Calm (Sire)
Actually, I picked this one up at the thrift store for $1.50, but forgot to include it before.

Some of the new stuff sent recently:
9. ROCKNOCEROS – Dark Side of the Moon Bounce (self-released)
Clever kid rock from a lovely local trio.
10. ELDAR – Re-Imagination (Masterworks Jazz)
I put the CD on after a long morning of mom taxi-ing and promptly fell asleep. And that may not be a bad thing.
11. ARMY OF ME – Citizen (Doghouse)
More local boys making good. Back when these guys were known as Cactus Patch, they were barely out of their teens. Now they've grown into cool hipsters (but no attitude, thanks!) who take a modern swing at classic rock sounds. The CD's first song, called "Perfect," is just about that - a sweet slice of pop/rock heaven. l hope these nice guys can finish first.
12. VARIOUS ARTISTS - Anchored in Love: A Tribute to June Carter Cash (DualTone Records)
A duplicate, the full jewel-box edition of an advance I got earlier.

We Get Out:
Anyone who knows me well or has read more than a few of these bloggings will know that I adore Elvis Costello, so getting tix - and a photo pass! - to see his show last month at the intimate (for him) 930 Club was a thrill and then some. The heartbreak moment came and went quickly - my Big and Important Looking digital camera totally screwed with my head and didn't get a single usable shot. Hell, except for a few of the blank stage before Elvis came out, there weren't any shots that weren't near-solid black! For an oh-so-brief two songs, I was five feet away from my hero, torn between trying to get the %$#@ing camera to work and just basking in his presence as he raced through "Working Week" and "Shabby Doll." Having to leave the pit was hard, but I couldn't pretend anymore. My camera was kaput (at least until I read the damn manual and figured out what I had done wrong). Luckily, I couldn't dwell on this failure for long, since Elvis is celebrating his 30th year in the biz by revisiting his classic early output. Over the course of two hours, a good 85% of the material was from the sterling albums up to and including my favorite, "Imperial Bedroom," so I was in new wave/post-punk/whatever-we-called-it-then hog heaven.

On a trip late last month to NYC, I had the chance to see the British band Fields at Mercury Lounge, a sweet little rock spot that lets you get up close and personal. After a pair of drunk dudes played with my (smaller, cheaper) digital camera to get a shot of Shari and me, I turned the lens to the stage and took these...

The band has a jumpy (in a good way) guitarist/vocalist..

...and a foxy female keyboardist/vocalist...

and with the drummer, other guitarist and bassist, they make a much bigger noise than their studio work would suggest.

YTD: 225