Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Own Cash Money: Culture Vulture

I don’t like to see retailers go out of business. I still get a pang in my heart whenever I pass by either of the two local shopping centers that once held Tower Records stores. Still, I like a bargain as much as the next person (probably more), so I make a point of checking out any media outlets that put up those black, red and yellow “everything must go” signs.

Happily, Borders Books isn’t closing all of its stores and there’s only one here in Northern Virginia that’s going under, the Tysons location, which is not one I frequented often. The Borders on Route 7 in Sterling is my preference and I was just there before Valentine’s Day, picking up a copy of SUN KIL MOON’s “Admiral Fell Promises” (1) as a present for Hubby.

Compared to the pitiful music section at my local Best Buy, and the hit-skewed shelves at Target, Borders is one of the few stores in my area that can actually offer a chance to browse, find more obscure titles and maybe make some discoveries. The trick, though, is that the chain’s prices are higher than most other options. In today’s look-see, the deal was 20% off list price so most CDs, ticketed at $14.99 and up, were no real deal.  I’ll be back when the discount gets to 30%, but there was one rack of discount CDs – most $10 and under – that made for a good treasure hunt. That’s where I found:
THREE DOG NIGHT – Icon (Geffen)
Twelve tracks, and I could sing almost every one from memory. Some personal favorites – “Liar,” “Eli’s Coming,” “One” and “Mama Told Me (Not to Come).” 3DN may not have written their own stuff but they knew how to choose ‘em and how to make ‘em sound good. That said, the packaging is a total snooze – just one group shot on the back cover – so I will rip the tracks and send the disc on its way. (2)
It’s not that Patti Smith can do no wrong. Sometimes her stuff is over-the-top, indulgent and pretentious. But she’s Patti GD Smith (!) and she's earned the right to do as she wishes. And when she hits the nail on the head, as on “Dancing Barefoot” here, she’s the goddess. I have this on vinyl, as I do a few of her LPs, but I’m willing to swap analog for digital at a cost of under $5 and with two bonus tracks. (3)

The magazine racks were 40% off, so it was time to catch up with the latest issue of Uncut, the British magazine that mounts a CD on each issue. The February issue offers NEW MUSIC FOR A NEW YEAR, with Wanda Jackson, The Low Anthem, Old 97’s, Joan As Police Woman, and a bunch of artists I don't know - yet. (4)

A week or so ago, I picked up another of the British publications with CD's attached:
HARVEST REVISTED – Various Artists
From Mojo, a collection on which you have a grab bag of contemporary artists covering the Neil Young classic. I don’t know most of the names here – Doug Paisley, Jane Weaver, Neville Skelly – but have heard of Phosphorescent and Villagers, and saw Smoke Fairies open for Laura Marling last year. On first listen, I enjoyed hearing the songs again after a long time, but my main response was to want to go back and hear Neil Young sing the material. Tracks like “Old Man” and “Alabama” have enough inner strength to hold up under new interpretation, but only Young can sing the lyrics to songs like “A Man Needs a Maid” and make them not sound silly. (5)

On the way home from Borders, I stopped for groceries and popped into the Blockbuster in the same shipping center. It, too, is going out of business and, cruising through the $5.99 previously viewed DVDs, I kept saying to myself, “yeah, but I can get it on Netflix” and thus reinforced why the store is doomed. And yet, I grabbed a dirt cheap ($1.00!) copy of an HBO film starring Grad Girl’s favorite actor and, next to the cashier, found a cardboard display with CDs going for half off. And thus, I found (for $6.25):
TWILIGHT: NEW MOON – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Atlantic)
I’ve read one book, seen one movie (on video), so you can’t call me a Twi-hard. But this soundtrack contains previously unreleased (as far as I know) recordings by Death Cab, Thom Yorke, The Killers, Bon Iver & St, Vincent, Grizzly Bear…like tuning in to a cool radio station (another dying breed. Sigh). The jewel case has a series of scratches across the front cover – has Jacob been here? (6)

Catching up on some other recent purchases, back at ye olde CD Cellar, I traded in a bag of no longer wanted physical discs and brought home just a few new acquisitions:
 CIAO MY SHINING STAR: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy – Various Artists (Shout! Factory)
As one half of the Miracle Legion, Mark Mulcahy was responsible for one of my favorite albums of 1989, “Mr. And Mr. Ray,” a little known, and therefore highly underrated classic of early alternative pop (Michael Stipe was a big fan and touted them at the time). When Mulchay’s wife died a few years back, a group of musician friends like Thom Yorke, The National, Dinosaur Jr., Juliana Hatfield and others recorded this tribute album to help him out financially and no doubt, emotionally. At the time of its release (2009), I got this album as a generic-sleeve advance, and wanted to have it in the permanent collection in its full packaging. ($1.99) (7)
DEAD CAN DANCE – Spiritchaser (4AD)
I keep buying DCD albums in hopes of getting more tracks like “The Carnival is Over,” which I discovered on a late-night chill compilation and fell in love with because of Brendan Perry’s beautiful, sonorous voice. But this is the second album of theirs I’ve bought and been disappointed by (the other was “Serpent’s Egg”), being dominated by a middle eastern chorus. ($3.99)
I need to go back further into the band’s catalog and find “Into the Labyrinth.” (On, it appears to be out-of-print, with new copies starting at $30 and used at $13.) (8)
I couldn’t resist – a CD and a DVD, both in nicely designed gate-fold sleeves in a slipcase with a photobook. ($3.99) (9)

If you don’t know about the “Pop Deal of the Day,” head over to the Columbia Records sales site that offers one sweet offer each weekday, usually a box set at greatly reduced prices, sometimes special deluxe editions that would be very hard to track down in these days of no damn record stores!
Though almost every day is a temptation, I have so far stayed sober and purchased just two:
LOUIS ARMSTRONG – The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (Columbia/Legacy

Billed as “The definitive box set celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the legendary jazz innovator,” this was a steal at $18 - a box set of 89 songs on 4 CDs, remastered, with hardbound book. And speaking of Satchmo, our family had a strange and wonderful experience recently. One of hubby’s elderly uncles passed away and, being a WWII veteran, his graveside service featured a flag-folding ceremony and a live rendition of taps. In an email exchange with the young man who played the funereal trumpet, he mentioned that one of Louis Armstrong’s surviving relatives gave the soldier a trumpet mouthpiece that had been used by the Great One and told him to use it at military services. So Uncle Ed went to a better place with Satchmo helping him along. How cool is that? (10)
BROADWAY: The AMERICAN MUSICAL – Various Artists (Columbia Broadway Masterworks/Legacy)
This one was $24 for 5 CDs, over 100 songs from classics like “My Fair Lady,” “West Side Story,” “Cabaret” and tons more from the Great White Way. When I was growing up in Queens, NY, my mom and brother and I used to go to the theatre about once a month, or more, sitting in the cheap seats and taking advantage of any student discounts we could get in on. Columbia Records was the go-to label for all the original cast albums and I still have a ton on vinyl. Until such time as I can properly transfer them for digital use, this will be a great holdover  and, if I choose to rip/burn the set, a good gift idea for the family. (11)

Wait! There's two more...
ARETHA FRANKLIN – Greatest Hits 1980-1995 (Arista)
“Freeway of Love,” “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” “Who’s Zooming Who” and a bunch of tracks I confess I don’t know at all. Since I got this one for just $1.50 at the Thrift Store, I can’t raise a real stink, but the 1985 hit duet with Annie Lennox, “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves,” is not included, so I guess RCA was being dickish about letting it go. (12)

BRIGHT EYES - The People's Key (Saddle Creek)
I have a monthly subscription to, which offers digital downloads at about half the price of iTunes and came thisclose to buying the new Bright Eyes album there, for $5.99. Glad I hesitated, 'cause I found the physical CD for just $7.99 at Target, and Conor Oberst is a guy who knows packaging. After all, he and his little indie label once hand-glued individual mirrors to the covers of "Fevers and Mirrors" in its initial pressing. This one is a die-cut, fold out cover with a booklet of photos.

And so, O/CD Tally: 37

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Battle is Over.

Why has it taken me so long to racap the last night of the Jammin’ Java Mid-Atlantic Band Battle, which took place this past Friday? There’s some of my usual inertia, no doubt (rare and happy are the writers who welcome and honor deadlines) and maybe it's because it’s always so much fun that I’m sorry when I have to admit it’s over.  The club is always such a fun place to hang, but to have a free tab for food and drink (that’s our “pay”), a comfy seat with a clear view of the stage, the chance to hear fine local music, chat with area friends and promote the CPF cause of world domination…that’s a great night out!

The judging part can be hard, though. Not in the sense of it being a labor but in that it can be very difficult to choose just one favorite band. The four acts that competed in the finals were of wildly varied styles, but each earned its place on the bill by winning a previous night of competition. So, unlike the preliminary nights I’d judged, I knew there wouldn’t be a stinker in the bunch. As I said to some of the musicians I chatted with, sometimes the scoring (we rate on a set of criteria including songwriting, musicianship, style and audience response) makes me think of a swimming meet. It can come down to fractional differences that determine the winner.

Here’s how the night played out...
First up was Light Speed Rescue, a band of young players whose hip-hop/rock blend was as potent as the first night I saw them.
Despite having the unenviable opening slot, the guys gave it all they had, and the lead singer even wound up stripping to the waist in the final song. It's the kind of gesture that can seem over-the-top, but it didn't feel contrived at all, and the guy was buff, so all good.
Second to the stage was the Chris Collat Band, an older bunch of cats whose veteran status came through loud and clear in tight jams.
 Last time I saw the CCB play, they reminded me of Dave Matthews Band. This night, the songs made me think of Hootie and the Blowfish, but that's a double-edged sword (as huge as Hootie was, I never got it).
Delta Rae was next, another totally pro outfit whose choice of soundcheck song (Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind") hinted at the strong melodic nature of their originals. Here's one of the two female vocalists with Nate Ihara, the Hardest Working Man in Local Showbiz, who hosted the event yet again. (BTW, Nate's band, We Were Kings, are playing with Delta Rae on March 10 at the IOTA. See you there.)

With four-part harmonies and a bit of southern soul, these North Carolina siblings and friends became the band to beat.
And here's where the joys (and pains) of judging really come in. The last act of the night, The Silver Liners, won the one preliminary Battle that I didn't judge, and so was the one band on this night that I hadn't seen before. What a great surprise! As one of the club staff told me afterward, "they really brought it."

The band came roaring out of the gate with a garage pop song called "Hot Mess" and proceeded to rip through eight tunes in their half-hour set, all of them crackling with guitar-fueled hooks.
 Though they didn't need extra help, the Silver Liners brought on a friend, rapper Dom-O, onstage for one number.
A highlight of the set, "Better Than Your Boyfriend," became my new favorite track, the kind of sharp, angular pop that Franz Ferdinand made safe for radio. I was delighted to see it listed on the six-track demo EP that the band handed out after the show. (O/CD Tally: 24)

Like I said, it was a tough call to choose just one winner. When the scoresheets were taken away to be tallied, I was as eager as the audience to find out which band would win the cash, equipment, studio time and future headlining show. (The judges don't talk about their scoring; it's all secret ballots.) As it turned out, Delta Rae took the top honors and, though I felt bad for the other guys, I'm sure you'll be hearing from all of them again - especially here, as I look forward to writing about their future shows. When the music's good, nobody's a loser. (Does Hallmark do a line of cards for musicians?)

Hey, look what I found....(I can't remove the second Silver Liners link; sorry) local music!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Once More Into the (Judging) Breach

Tonight, I'll be back at the judges table at Jammin' Java for the final round of the fourth Mid-Atlantic Band Battle and since our resident "dreamboat" host, Nate Ihara, is very good at mentioning the web site in his judge introductions, I felt I'd better put up something new to let y'all know that, yes, indeed, CPF is open for action. I've actually been pretty busy with another web project that will be going online in the next few weeks, but I can say no more at the moment.

For now though, here are two recent things that have gone interwebal in the recent past. The first is a new outlet, Citystream DC, which is very much like Citysearch DC, not only in nominal similarity but in how it's looking to cover the same local content. And it has the same editor as well. Much like my weekly concert roundup for the 'search, I am giving the 'stream a listing of upcoming shows, this time in a thingy we're calling The Next Ten Days...

Meanwhile, back at examiner-land, I posted a photo gallery from an intimate promo show given by R&B star Raphael Saadiq...

Since I opened my last posting with a gripe about getting caught in the awful snowstorm-induced "carmeggedon" of a few weeks ago, I feel obliged to mention that today was an absolutely Bee-Yoo-Tee-Ful day. I know that spring isn't yet here to stay, but it was certainly lovely to get outside and feel some sun.

That's all for now. It's off to the Battle. If you've come here on Nate's recommendation, I hope it will be the start of a nice relationship and yes, I will post photos from the event ASAP.