Friday, March 26, 2010

We Get Out - Joseph Arthur

Why am I not a better, or at least more frequent, blogger? Let's blame "Old Dog, New Tricks" syndrome. I'm so used to writing Real Journalism Stories - beginning, middle, end, with pauses for researching, transcribing and fact-checking (not that there's anything wrong with that!) that I lose sight of the nature of blogging itself. Just Do It. Say what you're thinking and get out. Instead, I get caught up in all the things I've meant to mention - recent shows, new additions for the O/CD Tally, etc. - that I freeze.

In an effort to break that cycle, I will interrupt myself and proceed to photos of Joseph Arthur, who played at Jammin Java last night.

I didn't see the whole show, as I was there waiting for a call from Grad Girl to pick her up at a nearby Metro station. But what I saw before the taxi whistle blew was good stuff. Arthur records his shows as they happen and sells them - along with an unusual array of merch, like art books and hand-printed shirts - after each show. On stage, he's surrounded by instruments, electronics and art supplies. He sings and plays, and sometimes sets up a loop so that he can sing while he paints (!) or performs spoken word pieces.

It could all be insufferably arty, but he has a laconic sense of humor that takes the edge off.
Since I wasn't going to be there for the end of this show, I picked up a discounted copy ($10 vs. $20) of a previous night from this tour, March 5 at NYC's City Winery. In the brief time I spent listening on the ride home, he did a cool cover of Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey," which makes sense given that (I was told) he was once signed to the Real World label by PG himself.

Arthur's been around a long time, and I've heard good things about him, but our paths hadn't crossed before. The lovely Mei, who tweets as @JamnJavaDoorGal, is a big JA fan and told me I needed to see him live, so thanks to her for the tip (and for letting me in!) The club really is a great place for live music but you don't have to take my work for it. The new City Paper, Best of DC 2010 edition, lists the venue twice in its reader polls - as runner-up for Best Music Venue (the venerable 930 Club was top dog) and as Best Place to See Local Music.

A brief, but fine, night out.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sloppy Shopping (but I wasn't drunk)

This post has nothing to do with Saint Patrick's Day, but I wanted to wish you a good, green day anyway.
This is about “pruning the bonsai,” or you could also say “culling the herd.” That’s me, facing the ever-growing music library lately and figuring out what stays and what goes. These days, it’s less about the music than the packaging. I still love physical CDs and, when bands go the extra mile to make the case interesting and/or fill the booklet with nice photos and background info, I’m much more likely to want to get – and save – the actual disc.
But now that I’m getting so many new albums as digital zip files with just an album cover to go with them (and those who don’t even include the artwork, shame on you), I’m learning to let go – a bit. And since I like the occasional shopping spree on other people’s money, I’ve taken to moving a larger number of CDs to an external hard drive and “recycling” the no-longer-needed discs at my local trade-in store.
[With that resolution, a brief warning: I moved a crapload of my holiday CDs to a dedicated hard drive in the weeks leading up to Christmas. While it made the compilation of the annual “Cool Yule” mix much easier, I also lost a lot of files when said hard drive – a purchased new Western Digital – crashed. Luckily, I had burned duplicates of my most favorite discs, so I generally lost only lesser selections. But Be Warned!]
So, yesterday I brought a bag of CDs and about a dozen LPs to my local trade joint (after checking on to see if any of them were worth big bucks, of course). It appears that the rest of the world is doing similar CD purges as well. Everything in the two bags netted me a grand total of $16 store credit. The cashier dude told me that all my carefully selected offal was probably going into the clearance section ($1.99 each, 10 for $15.99) and therefore earned only about 50 cents per. I might have argued the point – I bet there were five or six things there that will be sold at $5 to $8 a shot and, in future, I think I’m gonna stockpile the LPs to make a boxload sale down the line – but it’s not worth the hassle. And besides, he gave me an ever better deal on the clearance items – 10 for $9.
More than that, I was there with a friend and not in my usual Record Geek mode. I was pretty sloppy in my perusal of the clearance racks. Between busily chatting with my pal and being a little self-conscious about my usually obsessive browsing, I didn’t do my needle-in-haystack search for all the cardboard and slimline cases that often mean advance/promo discs. Instead, I just grabbed anything that looked interesting. And then, having gotten close to the magic number of 10 (when the $1.99 discs become 10/$16), I simply carried them all to the checkout without a careful process of re-examination/elimination.
And that’s how I wound up with two Rod Stewart CDs!
ROD STEWART – Every One a Winner (n/a)
The simple B&W text cover, neatly printed, led me to believe this was some kind of promo, but only after getting it to the car and checking did I realize it’s a home(well)made CD-R! Well, kudos to the person who did such a nice job. The 16 tracks here are pretty much all winners; the only track I don’t recognize is “Stone Cold Sober.”
ROD STEWART – Human (Atlantic)
Now I fear this is the same album I seriously trashed in a review for e! when it first came out. I didn’t recognize it in its commercial case, as I had worked from a generic advance. I think it was from Rod’s “I don’t really give a toss; I just need some cash” period.
I’m a sucker for British music mag compilations. This one has bands I’ve heard about – Noisettes, Bat for Lashes, Rumble Strips, Young Knives and a whole bunch I haven’t. Since the comp is from three years ago, I guess those others never broke through to the USA.
The SMITHEREENS – Downtown Train (The Right Stuff)
A five-track EP said to be the 2nd “single” from an album called “One Step Up, Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen.” Not a big Smithereens fan myself, but I like to hear reinterpretations of good songs, even if there’s only one other artist here (Greg Kihn) that I recognize. And it’s sealed, which means it could be a good resale item (just found it listed on a British site for $13 American).
HOPE of the STATES – Left (Sony/BMG)
A 2006 imported dual-disc (DVD material on flipside of the CD) from a great British band I saw many CMJ festivals ago, but they never seemed to catch on here.
JOE HENRY – Fuse (Mammoth)
Saw him just last week at the Wolf Trap Barns, care of a friend who’s a big fan and gave me a ticket for my birthday, earlier this month (thanks!). Though Henry’s songs tend to blur together after a bit – mature/melancholy ruminations on live and love, in minor keys with great, Tom Waits-ian arrangements – there was one song he performed that I was hoping to find, adding to the trio of albums I already have of his. Confession – I couldn’t read the tiny (really!) print on the CD, but didn’t recognize the cover, so I took a chance. Turns out I have this already, in a slimline advance with a different cover. Now, which one do I get dump?
EMMA POLLACK – Watch the Fireworks (4AD)
Promotional copy of the 9/11/07 release which always makes me think of Grad Girl (there’s only 3 letters difference in their full names). On first listen, I think I like it, too!
HEAR IT NOW: The SOUND of the ’60’s (Columbia)
The usual suspects from the Columbia Records hippie/folk/rock roster – Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, Donovan, etc. Probably the only track I don’t have is “Time Has Come Today” by The Chambers Brothers,
LIAM FINN – I’ll Be Lightning (Yep Roc)
He comes from good stock, and it was in one of those cardboard letterpress digipacks.
[Careful counters will note that there are only 9 CDs here. The tenth was one for my friend – a remastered version of Mile Davis’ “Kind of Blue.” Given its position in the racks alongside a number of titles I had brought in the last time, there’s a very good chance she just bought my traded-in duplicate! She also scored a copy of Wilco’s “Sky Blue Sky” for a mere $1.99, so that shows you just how low the prices can go these days for stuff that isn’t Big Name/Recent Release.]

I wound up giving some money back to the store, as I also grabbed a pair of CDs at full(er) price:
The KILLERS – Live from the Royal Albert Hall (Island)
Grad Girl wrote Killers on her list of CDs she wanted, but wasn’t specific and, since we already own the first album (two great singles and some above-average filler) but I haven’t much cared for their releases since (“Are we human? Or are we dancer?” What the hell does that mean?), I went for the best deal – this CD/DVD set for $11.99. And I will watch the live DVD to see if the band has improved over time; on the tour I saw for the first album, Keane (of all people!) blew them away.
STEVE FORBERT – The Best of (Epic/Legacy)
I knew he was coming to Jammin’ Java soon, so a $5.99 greatest hits might well replace my vinyl copy of his first LP and prepare me for the show, as in help me decide whether I even want to go. And now I see that he’s playing this Friday (March 19) and it’s an early show, so I need to make up my mind soon.

YTD O/CD Tally:61

Friday, March 12, 2010

Happy Weekend!

Yes, I know I've been bad, but I was also sick in bed much of last weekend, so be kind.
Anyhoo, in a bid to get something up here and re-establish my presence, here come some recent links (have you subscribed yet? c'mon, save us both some time and make me some pennies!):

Another story about my favorite young singer/songwriter, Andrew Belle.
ANDREW BELLE – Live At Hotel Cafe, March 3, 2010

ANDREW BELLE - Live at Rockit!
The first CD is one that Andrew sent out via email to those on his email list. The second was sent to me in a zip file by his manager when I was writing the story. It's also being given away on Belle's site with orders of his new CD, "The Ladder."
In early February, I wrote about OK Go and their fun live video for a song that they were also giving away for free. And then, within a few short weeks, they came up with a wild new clip that I couldn't resist writing about, too. If you haven't seen the band's contraption-laden video for "This Too Shall Pass," catch it here and now. I mentioned the new album,
OK GO – Of the Blue Colour of the Sky before, when I got it in digital download form, but the publicist followed through with the actual disc so, as the band itself would put it, "here it goes again."
Late February brought with it a new Johnny Cash album and the Man in Black's birthday, so that brought this story and accompanying digital zip file.
JOHNNY CASH – American Recordings VI: Ain’t No Grave
Wilco gave away free downloads of two fine 2009 concerts in an effort to raise funds for Haitian earthquake relief, so I wrote about that, too. I made my donation, so now I can listen, guilt-free, to:
WILCO – Live in Brooklyn
WILCO - Live in London

All of which brings the
YTD O/CD Tally to a tidy 50

There's a positive frenzy of downloading lately; almost every day I get a few single tracks and a full-length CD or two, so prepare for the digital odometer to spin mightily when I finally get around to that.