Friday, August 31, 2007

Weclome Back, My Cheeky Little Monkeys

I’m sitting on the back porch at the upstate NY Lake House (again!) and mom is playing some old time shift VHS tapes of the delightful Craig Ferguson, whose post-Letterman talk show keeps me up way too late on weeknights. This old episode from July features a performance by Army of Me, the D.C- based indie rockers whom I’ve been fond of since back in the days when they were called Cactus Patch. My mother is impressed to hear that leader Vince hugs me when we meet around town, but she says “he’s no Tony Bennett” when they sing a song from the new CD, “Citizen.” It's not my favorite song from the CD (that's “Perfect”) and Vince’s voice doesn’t soar here as it usually does, but I’m proud to see them get the exposure.

Which reminds me – “Perfect” appears on my Summer ’07 mix, so I’m gonna list the full playlist here as an example – to anyone who cares – of what rocks my socks, musically:

Chelsea Dagger – The FRATELLIS*
Underdog – SPOON
Numbers with Wings – BONGOS
(Cooking Vinyl reissue)
Someone to Love – FOUNTAINS of WAYNE
Dashboard – MODEST MOUSE
Impossible Germany – WILCO
Green Eggs and Ham – DYLAN HEARS A WHO
Perfect – ARMY of ME
Young Folks – PETER, BJORN & JOHN
A Case of You – PRINCE
Going to a Town – RUFUS WAINWRIGHT
Munich – EDITORS
Girls Who Play Guitars – MAXIMO PARK

“He’s so cute!” my mother is still gushing over Craig Ferguson – and I agree.

• Speaking of The Fratellis, I never put up shots that I took when I saw them, last time through upstate NY, when they appeared at the Albany Empire Plaza (home of The Egg theatre). They were good, but not quite great, and I think they missed an opportunity to get the crowd fully going with the singalong vibe they promise on record. Later, while driving home, I heard a broadcast from another outdoor festival, when one of the DJs commented that the sunny outdoor setting can undercut bands who need the sweaty club atmosphere – “no roof, no rock” is how he put it. I think that may be the Fratellis’ issue.

The Lemonheads were also on the bill, but it appears that Evan Dando's day has passed. His hair left more of an impression than his songs...

And now back to the O/CD tally:
1. MINNIE DRIVER – Seastories (Zoe Records)
“Take Russell Crowe and Keanu Reeve’s Dogstar – please!” The editor cut the Rodney Dangerfield homage out of the Post preview I wrote for Driver’s appearance at the Birchmere recently, but the point was, she is a credible actor-turned-rocker (pop department) – and I’m not just saying that because I would love her to star in the movie I wrote about a suburban mom/former punk icon who is lured back into the bizniz by her guitar-god-wannabe teenage son. Also features Ryan Adams and Liz Phair (the CD, not my movie, though I’d be happy to have them contribute, too).

2. JENNY OWEN YOUNGS – Batten the Hatches (Nettwerk)
I interviewed Jenny Owen Youngs for a Post preview and – since I had to scribble my quote notes, having no recorder with me in my NYC hotel room – the phone conversation had a slight lag to it, as if we were speaking over a bad cell connection (which was also happening). But she’s a smart, funny young woman who really bonds with her audience...

and her CD is much more interesting than a featured track called “Fuck Was I” (as in what the…was I thinking?”) would lead you to believe it would be. And her ability to take songs from other genres and turn them into pretty folk rock is uncanny. On the CD, she does it to “Hot in Herre,” with some comic effect, at the concert she did it to Death Cab’s “The District Sleeps Tonight” – with gorgeous harmonies added by her support band.

A gracious, generous performer (“you’re money’s no good here!” she told me when I went to pay for some buttons, stickers and a nifty ipod skin from her merch table; tho’ I insisted she take cash for the autographed CD), she did a hootenanny encore with openers Jeremy Fisher – who is also quite amusing on stage, more so than his moody CD photos infer - and Sanders Bohike (obviously a popular guy, but I missed his set).

And here's a shot of Jeremy Fisher (who had two nights on Ferguson's show, BTW):

Other recent Post Previews:
P.M. Dawn
Planet Arlington World Music Festival
The Pietasters
Rocco DeLuca & the Burden, The Midway State and The Last Goodnight
Slapsticon film festival

Brother Shamus

And back to the O/CD Project:
3. VARIOUS ARTISTS – Sowing the Seeds: The 10th Anniversary (Appleseed Recordings)
The record label was founded by former consumer advocate lawyer Jim Musselman 10 years ago, and so became home to the likes of Pete Seeger, Donovan, and David Bromberg. This 2-CD, 37-track album offers “sociopolitically relevant songs” from the roster and nine exclusive tracks - including the first recorded collaboration between Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen.
Out September 11th,
4. VARIOUS ARTISTS - Give Us Your Poor (Appleseed)
Another anniversary release, this compilation offers 17 exclusive tracks and the second recorded collaboration between Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen (maybe the latter is making up for the fact that his “Seeger Sessions” release didn’t actually include any songs that the former wrote) as well as songs from Jon Bon Jovi, Bonnie Raitt and many others.
Out September 25th

My Own Cash Money:
4. ART BRUT – Bang Bang Rock & Roll (emusic download)
The band’s second full-length, “It’s a Bit Complicated,” came out recently but when I went looking for it on emusic, I was distracted by the desire to get the first one, with the wonderful track, “My Little Brother.” A good sense of humor is a rare thing in rock, so let’s hear it for the Brut.
The band will open locally for the Hold Steady at the 930 Club on Novemeber 20th. Great double bill!
5. The SHARP THINGS - Foxes and Hounds (emusic download)
This one was another emusic purchase, made in preparation to see the band perform at the IOTA earlier this month…
6. The SHARP THINGS – A Moveable Feast (Bar-None Records)
…and this one I bought at the show, wanting the 10-piece band to make a little more scratch than the club could offer on a night of limited attendence. The sound is big, the emotion strong and lead singer Perry Serpa is a Real Deal Good Guy in the bizniz, better known as a PR pro from the Good Cop group.

From the last visit to the CD trade-in store:
7. The NARRATOR – Such Triumph (Flameshovel)
I don’t think this is the most recent release, but it was only $3.99 and I had just read about them in CMJ, piquing my interest.
8. KEITH URBAN – Be Here (Capitol)
I’ve been curious about this guy since seeing him on a James Tayor tribute concert show, and then he sealed the deal with a great set at the Live Earth event. Better guitar rock – and sexier – than Bon Jovi.
9. VARIOUS ARTISTS – This is Music (Uncut Magazine)
10. VARIOUS ARTISTS – Swatch Together (George V/Stefano Cecchi Records)
11. WES TUCKER – Tradition (self-released?)
It was only a buck and he was on the short list (ultimately didn’t make it) for a Post preview so I thought I’d get it just for the research value.
12. CHRIS GARNEAU – Music for Tourists (Absolutely Kosher Records)
While I wasn’t overwhelmed by his set opening for Joan as Police Woman,

I thought his quiet piano ballads might play better in studio versions – and again it was only a buck. Listened to the album last night and, while it made for lovely background music for my computer noodling, the songs tended to blur into a new age wash. I suspect there are one or two songs that would hold up on a “Morning Becomes Eclectic” style mix – if you don’t fall asleep looking for them.
13. VARIOUS ARTISTS – This Is Next (Vice Records)
With a line-up including Cold War Kids, Ted Leo, and the Shins, this seemed like some kind of promo label sampler and – even though I had half the songs already – for $4 it was a no-effort-needed ready mix for the car. When I saw it on sale at Target later for more than double that price, I felt I had scored a deal.

Coming to Town:
14. VHS OR BETA – Bring On the Comets (Astralwerks)
Act quickly - They play the Rock N Roll Hotel tomorrow night (September 1st).
15. ROCK PLAZA CENTRAL – Are We Not Horses (Yep Roc)
Playing the Black Cat on September 5th.
16. KIM RICHEY – Chinese Boxes (Vanguard)
Playing at the IOTA September 23rd.
17. JOHNNY IRION – Ex Tempore (Rte 8 Records)
Playing September 25th at Jammin Java.
18. YOU AM I – Convicts (Yep Roc)
Oops, I think this show has come and gone.

YTD Total:682

Fun with Press Releases:
I’ve been getting e-press releases from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment even though my days writing for VIDEO magazine are long gone. I scan them for reminders of things I might want to rent and to enjoy such writing as this, from the MGM Midnight Movies Double Feature collection…

Yeah, I Hate When That Happens Dept:
“Bat People” (1974) – After being bitten by a bat in a cave, a doctor undergoes an accelerating transformation into a man-bat creature, which ruins his vacation and causes considerable distress for his wife.

The Great Lost ‘Friends’ Episode?:
Gorilla At Large (1954) – At the sinister carnival, The Garden of Evil, the main attraction is Goliath, Barker Joey Matthews is about to enter the gorilla act when a man is found bead of a broken neck. Was is Goliath or someone wearing Joey’s gorilla suit?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bat Attack! and other fun

Last night, a bat got into our summer vacation house and despite our best efforts to guide it outside (turn on all the lights so that the blackness outside the open door beckons), the poor thing kept circling the living room until it seemed exhausted and roosted (is that the word?) in the rafters. Armed with a plastic colander and a Jeff Buckley poster big enough to slide beneath it, creating a portable case for the poor little guy (or gal), I trapped the bat and took it outside, tossing it to freedom.
It was the most exhilarating half-hour of the vacation so far.

A quick hit on the O/CD project.
During my time in NYC, I had a visit with the fine folks at Shore Fire media, who sent me home filled with pizza and good conversation and a bag full of new music:
This album was sent to me in a generic advance form earlier this year, and I liked it a lot. I wanted to see the full commercial edition, festooned as it is with grand decorative flourishes that reflect the baroque, multi-instrumental power pop of the music within. Flaming Lips fans, take note.
2.VARIOUS ARTISTS – A Tribute to Joni Mitchell (Nonesuch)
Confession – I bought a copy of this when it first came out, but there was a small pile of sleek advances in slim cases and, since the PR guy told me that they were no longer active on this case, I took one as an extra for the car.
3. CHUCK PROPHET – Soap and Water (Yep Roc)
Coming to the IOTA in November.
4. SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK – Experience…101 (Appleseed Recordings)
5. PIETA BROWN – Remember the Sun (One Little Indian)
Don’t know anything about her, but the cover looked interesting and I respect the label.
6. ANI DiFRANCO – CANON (Righteous Babe)
She’s a class act, a no-backing-down feminist and D.I.Y.-er who speaks out about the political mess we’re in, all while creating strong, emotional tunes. This is a double-disc retrospective, pulled from 18 (!!!) previous albums and I was faced with the choice of an advance or a finished version. I like advances for their cool quotient, but I guessed right in taking the official release. It’s got a booklet full of info and pics and what I thought was just a piece of cardboard to strengthen the cardboard digi-pack and turned out to be a stencil of the Righteous Babe dove logo. How cool is that?
Out September 11th.
7. The AVETT BROTHERS – Introduce Emotionalism (Ramseur Records)
8. BRANDI SHEARER – Close to Dark (Amoeba Records)
After growing up in rural Oregon, she played in clubs in Hungary, then returned to San Francisco, where she settled and recorded her debut CD, produced by Larry Klein (Madeleine Peyroux, Joni Mitchell). Gave a first listen to this in the car on the drive upstate and found it likeable in a Norah Jones-crossed with- Regina Spektor kind of way.
9. OVER The RHINE – The Trumpet Child (Great Speckled Dog/Red Eye)
Notable personalities in folk, rock and blues are named as political figures on the country ballad
"If A Song Could Be President”
Founding Fathers: Lightnin' Hopkins and Patsy Cline
Foreign Ambassador: Emmylou Harris
Senator: Neil Young (even though he's Canadian)
Head of FBI: John Prine
News Anchor: Steve Earle
Out August 21st.
10. NICK LOWE – At My Age (Yep Roc)
I had a generic advance of this CD and wanted to see the finished edition. The front cover – a retro ‘50’s cocktail lounge caricature of the mightly Lowe – is a real charmer, as is the material within and the man who sings it.
11.JEREMY FISHER – Back Porch Spirituals (Thumbuster Music)
12. JEREMY FISHER – Goodbye Blue Monday (Wind-Up Records)
Actually, one of these came in a package delivered to the hotel while I was in NYC. Fisher will be previewed – along with Jenny Owen Youngs – in my next Post preview.
13. JEFF BUCKLEY – Hallelujah/I Know It’s Over (Columbia)
Just before I left the Shore Fire offices, I was presented with this groovy bonus by Maggie, who was taken by my tale of hearing Jeff perform in his very first public appearance at St. Anne’s Church in Brooklyn, at a tribute to his dad, Tim. She said it was from her “shrine,” a collection of recent promo items in conjunction (she had limited copies so I was quite touched) with the “So Real” JB set. She also gave me a cool in-store poster, but this item was really
gor-gee-ous - a 7” lush blue vinyl single. Sweeeet!

YTD O/CD Tally: 664

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Great Time in the Big City, Part One

Now that I'm ensconced on the back porch of the summer house (mom's) in the Adirondacks, the hustle bustle - and tornado! - of our time in New York City seems far, far away.

But it was a lovely time, full of music and high-energy fun, Beard Papa cream puffs, street theatre and such pleasures that only my dear Big Apple has to offer.

Tuesday night, thanks to Chris@girlie, I was able to see Joan as Police Woman at the Bowery Ballroom.
I arrived toward the end of opening act Chris Garneau's set, which was just as well since his quiet-to-the-point-of-ponderous songs were easy on the ears but not exactly riveting. The instrumentation included two women who played cellos and did nifty finger-snaps on one tune.

While I was snapping pics, there was a huge crash right in front of me - one of the folding chairs (the Ballroom had actually arranged floor seating for the night) had collapsed, sending its male occupant smashing to the floor. He was okay, but the venue asked everyone to vacate the chairs during intermission and went back to standing room for Joan as Police Woman's set.

That was fine with me, offering a better chance to get stageside for JaPW's set. And it was a fine show, adding more muscle and power to the songs that sometimes float by on CD. Joan Wasser is an engaging woman full of sweet, easy smiles and a gracious demeanor, quivering with emotion during the bittersweet ballads that make up much of her catalog, feisty when it counts in the more driving numbers. I especially loved her anti-Bush comments and the great version of "Are You Not Furious?"

Her support band - a drummer who also provided the male vocal parts and a way cool, quietly sexy female bassist - was ace.

One final note - Joan has bitchin' shoes...

And back to our regularly scheduled O/CD tally...
I am way behind, so some of these are very old, and I need to lock myself in a room and do some serious catch-up listening.

PEP (Puffy Envelope Promo) Squad
1. The MISSION U.K. – God is a Bullet (Cooking Vinyl)
2. The BONGOS – Drums Along the Hudson (Cooking Vinyl)
Timely reissue of a favorite band from Back in the Day, Jersey boys who ruled the Hoboken scene for a while. "Numbers with Wings" is now on my Summer '07 mix.
3. DIGITALISM – Idealism (Astralwerks)
4. VARIOUS ARTISTS – We All Love Ella (Verve)
5. MR. SMOLIN - The Crumbling Empire of White People (Nomenclature Records)
6. PORCUPINE TREE – Fear of a Blank Planet (Roadrunner)
Coming to the State Theatre in October, I believe.
7. CHRIS LETCHER – Frieze (2Feet/Sheer)
South African songwriter/filmmaker
8. SCOTT MILLER and the COMMONWEALTH – Reconstruction (Sugar Hill)
9. PRIESTBIRD – In Your Time (Kemado Records)
10. CAROLE KING – Love Makes the World deluxe edition (Rockingale)
As much as I love the songs she wrote during the classic Brill Building period, and the music she made during the great singer/somgwriter era, the stuff she's doing now makes me feel old. A little too heavy on the nostalgia tip, with a side of hippy-dippy.
11. SHAKES – Sister Self Doubt EP (IAmSound)
A second copy of the disc.
12. TRUCKEE BROTHERS – Double Happiness (Populuxe)
13. TWO DOLLAR PISTOLS – Here Tomorrow Gone Today (???)
14. HAYSEED DIXIE – Weapons of Grass Destruction (Cooking Vinyl)

YTD Total: 651