Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hail to the Chief

It wasn't the State of the Union, but it sure felt like one and I sure liked hearing Obama speak just now. It's so nice to have someone in charge who appears to understand complex issues and can speak intelligently about them.

We now return to our regularly scheduled music blog...

Last week, I was at Ye Olde Thrift Store and thought I had posted new acquisitions to the Tally. But now I realize I only started writing them up and hadn’t finished. As usual, these are great deals, only $1.50 per:
The NIELDS - Gotta Get Over Greta (Razor & Tie)
This regional act keeps popping up in the area, and I’ve had the cassette version of this album hanging around in case I wanted to write about them. Kudos for the design department; this CD has cool, colorful graphics.
The WOMEN of WWII - Various Artists (Quality Audio/DSSP)
I found volume 1, 2 and 3 of this set and liked the variety of performers and song titles from a period I don’t know well, but want to learn more about (I owe it to my dad, the purple heart veteran). It says right here that these original recordings have been “meticulously restored” and, when I popped one in to listen at home, the songs did sound fine for their age - a little less than digital brilliance, but a nice audio version of “sepia tone” that makes me all nostalgic (miss you, Henry!) There are two addresses listed on the cases - one in Quebec and another in Plattsburgh, NY (a hotbed of musical innovation!). It was only when I looked up the compilation on amazon.com that I found out there’s a missing 4th volume - a new challenge for the crazy completist.
JUST PASSIN’ THRU - Various Artists (WHFS)
From 1996, the first volume of the popular series of in-studio live sets from the late, lamented local radio station. This one has Catherine Wheel, P.J. Harvey, Jeff Buckley (great version of “Last Goodbye”!) and Radiohead (“Street Spirit”). But I never have to hear Better Than Ezra’s “Good” or Jewel’s “Who Will Save Your Soul” again.
OASIS - (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (Epic)
I’m pretty sure I already have this somewhere, or maybe Post-College Girl has it in her collection, but when I saw those titles - “Champagne Supernova,” “Wonderwall” and “Roll With It,” and saw that the disc was in perfect condition, I figured that, for less than a cup of coffee, I would buy this copy and know exactly where it is!
The IDIOT’S GUIDE to CLASSICAL MUSIC - Various Artists (RCA Victor)
Another album that looks familiar, but I was suckered in by the concept - 99 tracks, snippets of well-known classical themes along with a handy chart to tell you where you might have heard it and where you can get the full work (on RCA, of course). For instance, Puccini’s “Turnadot-Nessun dorma” is cross-referenced to both “Witches of Eastwick” and a Delta Airlines/1990 World Cup commercial.

Year to Date O/CD Tally: 58

Monday, February 23, 2009

All Will Be Well

What a lovely thing came in the mail today - a hand-written card from Gabe Dixon, thanking me for naming his band's album (self-titled) one of the last year's Top Ten in my Village Voice Pazz & Jop ballot.

It's not often that anyone takes the time or makes the effort to write me about something I've had published (did his publicist, who knows me, give him my home address?) and even more surprising to hear from a major label (Fantasy) musician who no doubt has recording and touring issues to deal with, doesn't know me personally and yet bothers to reach out with a simple thanks. He's a Southern boy (the return address is Nashville, TN) and I think his mama raised him to be a gentleman.

The card he sent was marked from a company called coolpeoplecare.com, a neat little East Nashville group whose site says it makes cards to "communicate to the recipient that you hope their world is one that’s full of hope, peace, love, faith and a better tomorrow." They offer a limited sampling of other products "for your lifestyle of caring." I pass on the good vibes to you.

All of these shiny, happy feelings come to play as well in Dixon's album, which I played in the car when I went out today. I stand by my recommendation for the disc. If you like melodic, piano-based pop-rock in the classic mold of early Elton John and Billy Joel, with a playful (but not cynical) Ben Folds modern touch, check this guy out. "All Will Be Well," BTW, is one of the many optimistic songs on the CD, and couldn't we all use a bit of that sentiment these days?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Grab Some Free Tunes!

Just a quick heads-up, loyal readers (and how are both of you doing?)

amazon.com offers free and discount music downloads on a regular basis, and the ones up there today are pretty sweet.

There's a single track featuring David Byrne and Chuck D, among others, called
and a four-track sampler from Stax with a track from Isaac Hayes called "Buns O'Plenty" (worth it for the title alone).
and an especially generous 14-track collection
This is Daptone with a trio of tracks from Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, among others.

You have to use the amazon downloader, but it's free and easy to grab and works with iTunes or (if you insist) Windows Media Player.

You're welcome!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Feelin' Bjorky!

I’m back to pruning the bonsai again, meaning I’m looking to trim my music collection, which I do in a slow, determined (many might say obsessive) manner. Of course, all things are relative in the mathematics of the collector. After a few sessions of cross-checking the potential value of unwanted CDs on amazon.com, I took a bag with a few dozen discs to ye olde CD Cellar and, with about ten deemed not worth bothering about, I had $39 in store credit. Determined not to spend any of my own funds in these recessionary times, I put back the Legacy Edition of Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” (it was $20 and I figure I can find it again down the road) and was able to bring home a goodly bunch without spending a penny of my own money.

I was looking for, but couldn’t find, new releases by Animal Collective, Lily Allen, Franz Ferdinand, and an obscure Canadian band named Pilot Speed that Terry once heard on a Starbucks compilation. But I have the artists I usually check out - David Byrne, Elbow, Elvis Costello, et al. - looking for remixes and imports, and I hit paydirt with the Queen of Iceland.

There were so many Bjork CD singles, a good half-dozen at least. She’s a maddening artist to collect since she releases multiple versions of most singles and seems to record/release almost very concert and video she’s done. I’ve given up on getting everything and I’m perpetually challenged to remember which ones I have, so I let the pricing make up my mind. Most of the discs here were $3.oo and even a few of those were in funky condition, so I took this one
BJORK - Bachelorette CD single (PolyGram/One Little Indian)
which was only $2.oo and offers six tracks. Plus I liked the cover.

And now that I’m home, I’m glad to see that the other single that I was tempted by - “Violently Happy” - is tucked happily in the all-Bjork box.
READ: INTERPRETING BJORK - Various Artists (Hush Records)
More proof that online shopping will never replace browsing in a real music store. In all my Bjork-bound travels, I’d never heard of this tribute CD, from a small label in Portland. I’m not sure who/what READ is or how this 2003 compilation came to be. But when I saw that Ben Gibbard was featured on one track, and that the Decemberists were doing “Human Behavior,” I had to have it. The latter track isn’t world-shaking (perhaps I want too much!) and I know nothing about the other acts here, but it’s still a great exercise to hear songs I know and like so much put through a new filter.
And that brings us to
I had heard of this one before, as the Bjorkestra played in NoVa last year and were almost a Live! pic. Billed as “visionary pop meets cutting-edge jazz,” the big ensemble sometimes meanders off into the improv wild woods, but its strong female vocalist, Becca Stevens, keeps things grounded. There’s lots of live audio streaming available at the band’s web site so you can see if you like it, too.

GEORGE GERSHWIN - Gershwin Performs Gershwin (Music Masters)
($5.99) It’s subtitled “Rare Recordings: 1931-1935” and who can resist hearing a genius interpreting his own masterworks?
ROKIA TRAORE - Tchamantche (Nonesuch)
($1.99) Hubby heard this Malian woman on an NPR and asked me to keep an eye out for her album. When searching through the slim plastic cases and cardboard envelopes that indicate advances, I found it, though this album came out last year. First listen revealed a rich voice and fluid guitar, plus a Cassandra Wilson-like cover of “The Man I Love” (and that ties it back to Gershwin!).
M.C. YOGI - Vote for Hope (Ursa Minor)
($.99) Will I. Am got the major media attention, but this song was another great moment in the Obama musical march to victory. Wish this disc had the video, too.
DAN HICKS & The HOT LICKS - Tangled Tales (Surfdog)
($.99) A genuine advance, which comes out March 24. Hicks is playing at the State Theatre on April 11, so this single buck is an investment in my actual work as a possible preview. (IRS, take note!)
PROJECT JENNY, PROJECT JAN - The Colors EP (Might Records)
($.99) Another advance, this one out on April 14. I know nothing about the band, but I keep hearing about them - more from persistent PR mailings than actual press - so I’m curious.
RICHARD GOODE - Beethoven: The Complete Piano Concertos (Nonesuch)
Three discs at a great price ($2.99) so I can pretend to be cultured, made more attractive for coming in a plain plastic envelope that can hold four discs. I'm gonna re-house this set and use the casing as a lightweight travel case.
BEN KWELLER - Special Occasions (RCA DVD)
($1.00) “...the making of his highly anticipated album ON MY WAY” which “hits stores April 6, 2004.” And it was still sealed!
MUSIC FROM THE FILM - Playfully Abrasive (self-released)
This one was a freebie, four of them stacked up on the freebie table, near the concert fliers, stickers and other cheapie promo swag. I wasn’t entirely sure which was the name of the album and which was the band, but then there was a myspace reference to clear things up. The CD is printed with a photo of the inside of a Lysol green-tinged outhouse, so I have my worries about what lies within.
And since the word “film” came up anyway, I won’t tally, but will tell that I also picked up
The ROCKER (20th Century Fox DVD)
($11.99) Maybe it looks stupid, but I gotta trust Rainn WIlson to not entirely betray my trust. And, having written my own rock-themed comedy film (never produced, but always available to the interested reader) I’m just a sucker for rock and roll movies (also got 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE last week. Highly recommended).

YTD O/CD Tally:53

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday Service

Today I went to the church of my choice - a music venue. In this case, it was a local restaurant, The Tortilla Factory in Herndon, which generally hosts folk music on Thursday nights but was having a special event today, presented by The Truman Show (the name used by a dynamic older couple who present house concerts in their home). The informal music promoters had arranged for a visit by Tasmanian-turned-Nashvillian singer/songwriter Audrey Auld, and it was deemed too big a deal to do in their home.

I had written about the show for the Post and the promoters - and I! - were surprised to see such a good turnout in the Mexican restaurant's back room (capacity about 75, I’d guess) that people had to be turned away when they couldn’t allow any more chairs brought in. (I’ve attended plenty of shows that I’ve written about where the audience could be counted on four hands, so I won’t let the power of the press go to my head.)

The opening act was the duo of Eric Brace & Peter Cooper, the former an acquaintance from his days as writer for the Post, and as occasional subject matter for his well-regarded alt. country band, Last Train Home. Eric had sweetly sent a copy of his latest CD, ERIC BRACE & PETER COOPER - You Don’t Have to Like Them Both (Red Beet Records), a few weeks ago, so it was nice to be able to fold a mention therein to the piece.

The guys are fine players and harmonize beautifully. I am not the fiercest of folk fans, and the sports references whiz right past me, but they made for a good warm-up and a gracious quick conversation in the break. Alas, my bigass digital camera is giving me trouble these days, and most of the shots came out pure black. This is the best I can offer...

And then came Audrey Auld, whose CD arrived right after I finished writing, but thanks to a robust selection of music on her web site, I was good to go.
AUDREY AULD - Lost Men and Angry Girls (Reckless Records)

Auld’s not just a good tunesmith but a smart, funny woman with a charming Australian accent. I didn’t know her stuff well (the merchandise table behind me offered about a half-dozen CDs to show her strong catalog) but I was carried away by pretty much everything she did, from the funny stuff (a song about turning 40, another about living the poor life) to the wistful (“And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” Fred Eaglesmith’s spare but affecting “Alcohol and Pills”). She played her own guitar, but extra props to her sideman, Cole Bruce, who had a strong, bright yet bluesy touch on his guitar parts.

Her personal warmth came through again after the show when I introduced myself to her and she gave me a hug (as did Eric). You can question my journalistic distance, but I didn’t write anything about them that I won’t stand by. And I like hugs.

While we’re on Post-y stuff, here's an addition to the archives, a Change of Pace preview for an evening out at a local movie house, which was offering a "Princess Bride" Valentine’s event with a live comic and wine tasting along with the film screening.
(Hubby and I went to the movies for Valentine’s Day ourselves - “Coraline.” I highly recommend seeing it on the Big Screen, as the visuals are quite stunning. The story meanders in a way that would have traditional Three Act film students rip out their hair, but I think that’s ultimately a good thing, even if it also meant logic suspension on my part.)

A Whole Bunch of Good People Coming to Town:
COMPANY of THIEVES - Ordinary Riches (Wind-Up Records)
Chicago-based piano-pop trio made more interesting by the presence of singer Genevieve Schatz.
Appearing with
on Saturday, February 28th at the IOTA.
Beware - according to this San Francisco piano rock quintet’s press bio, vocalist Clayton Stroope has an awesome power that (according to something called DecoyMusic.com) “literally melts you away with his ability...” That means you will actually, really melt away if you hear him! (Look in the dictionary and learn.)

Also on the bill is Barcelona, a similarly melodic, but not always mellow, band from the Northwest. Or maybe not. In fact-checking where the band I think I’m talking about is from, I learn from Wikipedia that there is a local band that has the same name. All bets are off. I don’t know which one is playing this show. And if you try Googling combinations of the words “tour,” “band” and “Barcelona,” you’re still not going to get to the bottom of it.
BTW, Juana Molina’s set that same night, at the same venue, is actually a separate, early show.

TOM RUSH - What I Know (Appleseed Recordings)
Yep, he’s still got the urge for going...on the road, this time to support his first full-length recording in 30 years. At first listen, I'm pleasantly surprised to hear that his voice is as rich and warm as ever. At the Barns of Wolf Trap on Saturday, March 14th.
CARRIE NEWCOMER - The Geography of Light (Philo/Rounder)
I keep getting this Carrie confused with Carrie Underwood. But this one is not an American Idol and has more of an MOR/folk sound. And probably wouldn’t wear a barely-there dress to perform on the Grammies. This Carrie will be at the Birchmere on Saturday, March 7th.

My 'Don't Miss' Show:
The BIRD and The BEE - Rayguns Are Not Just The Future (Blue Note)
I loved this electronic/Tropicalia-tinged pop duo when I saw them in Philadelphia last year and am going to make their March 3rd date at the Wolf Trap Barns a key part of my birthday planning this year. Their publicist sent a zip file of the new album as an advance early in the new year, and a commercial copy came in the last two weeks, so I count it twice in the tally.
“Love Letter to Japan” is in my personal heavy singles rotation, producer/collaborator Greg Kurstin is riding high as knob-meister of the new Lily Allen album, and I’ve been playing Inara George’s solo 2004 CD, “All Rise,” to keep psyching myself for the show. By the Power of Three, this is the tipping point.

Looking back at my notes, I see that February 2 was a day with a nice handful of puffy envelopes. Here’s the Booty Haul for one particular day:
SPECK MOUNTAIN - Some Sweet Relief (Carrot Top)
KINKY - Barracuda (Kin Kon Records)
Also coming to town - opening for Modest Mouse (oh, yeah!) at the 930 on Friday, March 13th (hey, that’s two Friday the 13ths in a row! Not fair!)
CAZALS - What of the Future (The Hours/Fontana)
DAVID BROMBERG QUARTET - Live: New York City 1982 (Appleseed Recordings)
The Bromberg album I love and remember and still have on vinyl is “Reckless Abandon” from 1978, with the wonderful “What A Town.” Gonna go grab me that on iTunes...
ANGEL BAND - With Roots & Wings (Appleseed Recordings)
Bromberg is coming to the Birchmere on February 27, with the Angel Band opening and providing back-up for his set. (I think the publicist said Bromberg is married to one of the Angels.) Produced by ever-reliable Lloyd Maines.
I’ll be previewing Bromberg show but it’s the same night that those wild Philly boys of Marah will be at the IOTA. If I am to get myself out of the house, I’d be more prone to see the latter.

O/CD Tally to Date: 42

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Escaping Into Sound

I’m back in upstate New York.
While the reason for the trip is a tough one (rest in peace, Muriel), there’s a sense of family love all around and a life well lived (95 years of adventure!) to take away the sting.

As is my wont, I turn to music for happy distraction and stopped in at the local F.Y.E. (it used to be a Coconuts) to lose myself in browsing. And what I found was:
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - Working on a Dream (Columbia)
“Don’t you have a thing about Bruce Springsteen?” is a question I get from people I haven't seen in a while, especially when he has a new album or makes the news.
Yeah, there was a time when I followed the Boss religiously, had every album and single and remix and import, and wrote a paperback bio labor of love for Ballantine books. We had a serious thing going but around the time of “Ghost of Tom Joad,” we grew apart. I was in love with the fun-loving (but still so smart) gypsy rocker, not the somber Poet Laureate. I didn’t even buy “Magic” (the cover shot was so typical of downer Bruce) but simply copied a friend’s and even then after it had been out for months.
And now the new CD is getting mixed (at best) reviews and The New York Times reviewer said the Super Bowl halftime set was “unimaginative.”
WTF was he watching?! That was a great show, (even if Bruce dropped verses on some of the songs and the chorus was a bit of overkill) and I got some of those warm and fuzzy feelings back. He rocked the joint, and he looked damn fine doing it.
So, when I saw the deluxe edition of the new album for only $13.99 in the used section, (plus my 10% frequent buyer discount), I decided it was time to reconnect.
I had a chance to watch the DVD today and while it’s clear that Bruce still takes his work seriously, in the very first moments of the studio footage, he’s telling Max how he wants the drums to be sloppy, like they’re on the verge of falling apart. Is my shaggy Bruce back? During “Kingdom of Days,” he turns and gives the camera a sly smile like the guy I loved so well in the past.
I’m not a fan of the bandana headband or the little chin hair thing but it’s fun to watch Bruce direct the band and the song for Danny Federici features some footage of classic young Bruce. C’mon, Columbia. There have been so many live Springsteen DVD’s in these later years - let’s have one from the “Rosalita” era!

Also grabbed:
SEQUEL’S SIXTIES CHRISTMAS - Various Artists (Sequel Records)
This 30-track British holiday collection includes only a few names I recognize (Petula Clark, Morecambe & Wise) and tons I don’t (Wally Whyton?) but I couldn’t resist finding out what Joan Regan’s “Will Santa Come to My Shanty Town?” or Clinton Ford’s “Miss Hooligan’s Christmas Cake” sounds like. (About $2.50 with my discount.)

The WHO - Endless Wire (Universal Republic)
That same night, my brother, the super shopper, gave me the physical copy of this set which he got for an outrageously low 3 bucks online. The 3-disc set includes the titular (giggle) CD, with the mini-opera “Wire & Glass,” plus a bonus live CD and DVD recorded in Lyon, France in 2006.

Today (Saturday), was a day for exploring. We started with a visit to the Lake George Winter Carnival and got there just in time for the Outhouse Races, the kind of sophisticated entertainment that we don’t have enough of in the warmer climes down south.

After that, we had a coffee break at the non-chain java joint in the heart of the downtown Glens Falls, and then visited the book sale at the beautiful new Crandall Pubic Library. There wasn’t much to choose from in the CD collection - of the dozen or so on display, I was tempted by a Aaron Copeland compilation but it was scratched and in a blank, generic case and didn’t seem worth $2. (I did, however, get a beautiful illustrated copy of a Max Beerbohm novel and a DVD starring Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter).

Elsewhere, the library has a few racks of CDs for borrowing (we saw another big pile on the way out, so it seems they’ll be adding to the collection soon) and that’s always good for a browse. If I lived here, I could use my OCD for good by offering to help organize the collection - I found The Wedding Present’s “Bizarro” in the pop “B” section, and Elvis Costello split between the pop and rock areas (in the former case, it was the Bacharach collaboration, so I guess it could be argued for).
Having added the discs into my iTunes library, I’m counting these in the tally:
BRIAN ENO - Another Day on Earth (Opal)
I thought I had pretty much all the Eno albums of the early/mid era, but somehow I missed this one. When I popped it into the computer, iTunes listed it as “electronica” which seemed wrong at first, but the more I think about it, I can’t think of a better alternative.
JACKSON BROWNE - Saturate Before Using (Asylum)
I almost picked up Browne’s recent acoustic solo hits set, but then this one caught my eye. (I didn’t realize at the time that there was no limit to how many CDs you could borrow - “as many as you can carry” was what the librarian said when I asked). lt will be fun to revisit this album and having it in digital form, but l won’t ever give up my original burlap textured LP copy.
We borrowed this for my mom, who loves Buble, but I copied only the Sinatra songs. It seemed odd to have seven tracks by each artist, alternating on the same CD, so I looked up its origins online and discovered that DRG recorded Buble early in his career, but only had seven complete tracks in their vaults. So, since it appears they had rights to some Sinatra as well, they decided to do a different kind of mash-up.

And then we topped off the day with a return visit (for me, not Tom) to F.Y.E., who had kindly put a coupon for 40% off any used CD or DVD in the day’s mail. I immediately headed for the used box sets, and found:
MOODY BLUES - Time Traveller (Polydor)
Musical kismet! Earlier this week, I heard some MBs on the radio and was reminded of how much they meant to me back in the college dorm days (and that’s not enhanced perception talking). Here is pretty much all of the band’s best on five discs, with nice historical background, all for $18, thanks to the coupon and my frequent buyer’s card. Played a few tracks while hanging out with Mom - thought it would be something she wouldn’t mind hearing - and while the schmaltz is there, so are a lot of neat memories. When I return home, I will cross reference with all that old vinyl and lighten the load there.

and one more..
The BLACKJACKS - Midnight on the Floor (self-released)
I’ll toss this one in, since it gives me an excuse to post the Post preview for same.
I also wrote about the English Beat and Bad Manners show at the Birchmere but, for some reason, the Post’s online service never got around to putting it online where I could share it. That’s the first time it’s happened in over five years of writing for the paper, so you can image how it upsets my completist’s nature.

Year to Date O/CD Tally: 29