Sunday, February 28, 2010

Random Memories

I spent 3 or 4 years (1968-1972) of my musical early days buying only singles - 45's. I had a whole stack of them, and sometimes they would scratch because i just put them on top of each other. "Ball of Confusion" (Temptations), "The Long and Winding Road" (Beatles), "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo," (Lobo), "Let's Stay Together" (Al Green) - music on the radio was so very diverse; a conglomeration of styles, beats and sounds. Don McClean's "American Pie" was so long that you had to flip the 45 over to hear the whole song. There was no "B" side of "American Pie" as there were on other singles. The great thing about singles was that, once you had it you could play it as many times as you wanted - you weren't forced to listen to hours of radio hoping it would come up again and be played in the rotation.
But one night at Sears, I had enough money to buy an album if I wanted, and I decided to get Elton John's - Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player. And it was this huge fold-out album, each page illustrating a particular song, including a unique photograph with corresponding lyrics - it was really a wonder! Plus, I thought that, apart from the 2 singles that I knew ("Daniel" and "Crocodile Rock") the rest of the album would be average at best. But I was wrong! The 2nd song on the album, "Teacher I Need You," (after "Daniel" the 1st song) was AMAZING. It's still one of my all-time favorite songs - fantastic production, a killer chorus, sweet harmonies - just a little miracle. I was so pleased that my 9th grade daughter thought it was great too - on a recent road trip she made me play it over and over again! Bernie Taupin's lyrics were a little dark and morbid for a 10 year old to handle (they got even darker on the next Elton John album, the classic "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"), but I don't think I bought more than 2 or 3 singles after that day.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Favorite albums of the decade: Rilo Kiley "Under the Blacklight"

Here is where I sort of take off my critic hat and put on my fan hat, although this album did get fantastic reviews by and large. And first of all, let me just say to any of my readers who over 40 yeard old - FOR SURE you need to buy this album immediately. It's the one of the best 70's albums ever made, and when you hear it you will know what I mean. Yet, it's fresh and not just some stupid "hey let's get retro" crap that many groups today impose upon us all. Rilo Kiley is led by former child actress Jenny Lewis who writes all but one song on the album. The lyrics can be a little bleak, but she was attempting to write about the dark underworld of L.A., and I appreciate her truthful, honest look at the subject. Great melodies, great rhythms, great singing, great playing, great production...great songs. I know that there are a few die hard Rilo Kiley fans who see this album as one big sell out, and I have empathy for you - I've been there before with my own favorite groups. Highlights include "Silver Lining" (sounding for all the world like "He Don't Love you Like I Love You for all you 40 and 50-somethings), "Dejalo," "The Angels Hung Around," and the title track. But there's not a bad song here - although "Moneymaker" may be a bit out of place for some. As far as ENJOYABLE albums from the past decade, I can only think of one other (Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Show Your Bones") that would rank higher. 9.0 out of 10

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Album Review: Joanna Newsom - "Have One on Me" (9.8 out of 10)

I fully expect there to be statues of her erected one day, with your kids and grandkids asking - "Were you alive to hear her cd's released?! What was that like?!" Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that Joanna Newsom is actually a real 28 year old American girl and not some alien transferred to us as a gift from the 15th century. But enough of my initial gushing.
My Cookeville peeps will be shocked at this review of Joanna Newsom's new cd, because I have always been a bit critical of her; before this newest release, she was certain to clear rooms and empty coffee shops were she to be played...I have seen it happen! That child-like voice and renaissance modus operendi were just too much - unusual and jarring. But something has happened to our chanteuse in the past couple of years apparently. Her voice sounds more bluesy, more mature - some intangible has taken place that allows for a wider audience to give her a listen. And "Have One on Me" is the music release of the century so far, although to label her as pop or rock or indie would be a mistake. She is world music in the purest sense.
Laura Nyro, Melanie, George Gershwin, Kate Bush, Sufjan Stevens....there really is no other artist to compare her with fairly. I would just try and define her as a musical artist with flowing melodies, sparse production (complete with a chamber orchestra on most songs which accompany her harp or piano playing), and word painting lyrics which will take many, many listens to begin to digest. This is timeless and enduring stuff. A meal; a feast. She honestly reminds me mostly of an early 20th century composer, say, a Satie, Elgar, Faure, Ravel; she just uses a different form. Most of her songs are simply a melody that she repeats over and over again with increasing embellishment. She's not a pop singer with a verse, chorus and a bridge. Most songs are like old Appalachian folk songs - compelling and haunting. Mournful, reflective elegies. My one slight concern (and I'm sure it's because I'm a mortal) is that most of the songs clock in at at least 6 minutes long. Could there have been better editing perhaps? Also, her voice....yes, it's more accessible and expressive, but I can see some folks not being to overcome it enough to embrace the songs as they should be. The highlights are "Baby Birch," "In California," "'81," "You and Me Bess," and the magnum opus "Good Intentions Paving Company" which, to me, is the song of the year, if not the century. The part from around 1:46- 2:26 is the stuff of legend. So I'm throwing it down: this is a classic, legendary cd and will endure the test of time - keeping in mind that this is not a pop/rock cd or review. Just a music review, so don't be surprised when you aren't able to dance to it. And, keeping in mind, that the full effect of "Have One on Me" won't happen unless you have the lyrics in front of you. Reading the Dickinson-like lyrics while you listen to the songs is the equivalent of putting on 3-D glasses at a movie designed for the 3-D glasses. It propells you into a different world; a world, I dare-say that has rarely existed in the history of music, for it is the perfect wedding of music and literature. She has created her very own art form. And I'm sure some dull-witted reviewers won't "get it" and punish it with a bad or average score, such as the PopMatters reviewer, who probably also thinks that Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective are the new Beatles, when neither are even a poor man's Wings. Do not listen to these false prophets. In 2110, "Have One on Me" will be regarded as a landmark in all of musical and artistic history. She would get a perfect score here, but I thought the title track just didn't go anywhere. Alas. (9.8 out of 10)

If I were any other artist, I would wait from now on to release my cd on any other week but Joanna's week. Everything else I heard was a massive disappointment, especially Shearwater's cd. Just awful. Also, Tegan and Sara's new video for their song "Alligator" is up and running on YouTube. Amazing. I'm still so bitter about critics not giving them their due, but whatever. It drove me to start this blog.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Favorite Songs 2008

Ok - these are the songs that I enjoyed the most in 2008...which was not as good of a year for music as 2006 or 2007, but still. 2009 was weaker still, but more on that later this week. I'm so looking forward to reviewing the new cd's on Tuesday, especially Joanna Newsome. Here are the best songs of 2008:

1. The Re-Arranger - Mates of State. (what a fantastic, fantastic cd. Glorious.)
2. White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes (I know it's not an original choice)
3. Sarah - Travis (The cd was a disappointment overall, but no one crafts a melody as well as Fran Healy.)
4. Divine - Sebastian Tellier
5. Soon We'll Be Found - Sia
6. Sing the Changes - The Fireman (I don't ever want to hear again that McCartney is washed up or irrelevant.)
7. Tender Meeting - Brooke Waggoner (I'm surprised I like this, but I can't help it)
8. Hot Lips - Pacific!
9. The Captive Mind - Helio Sequence
10. Hideaway - The Weepies
11. Hot N Cold - Katy Perry (So shoot me, ok? It's amazing)
12. Paper and Glue - Emma Pollock (maybe my favorite of the year?)
13. Through Your Eyes - Nina Kinert (So lovely)

Happy downloading/pirating! I hope a few of these put a smile on your face.

Friday, February 19, 2010

PJ Harvey - "Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea"

Released in late 2000, this cd displays everything you would want from a genius at his/her creative peak. Or, at least, their most accessible. Which isn't always the same thing, but in this case I tend to think it is. Polly Jean Harvey can play that guitar too! Jangly, riff-laden axe work here. And is there anyone that sings with the intensity as PJ Harvey - which is such a jarring shock once you've heard her soft-spoken, thoughtful, reflective, NORMAL, interviews! "I walk on concrete/ I walk on sand/ but I can't find/ a safe place to stand./ but I've got a pistol in my hand." Yikes!!! Highlights include "A Place Called Home," "The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore," and "Good Fortune." I think that, on her other releases, she just tinkers too much with experimentation and gets bogged down with just weird, gothic sounds and imagery that just many times leaves the listener saying "WTF?" But even Picasso's doodlings on a post card we would treasure, and so it is with PJ. I guess all I'm saying is that, if you're new to her, start here. It honestly doesn't get any better, and is most definitely in my top 10 cd's of 2000-2009. Excellent. 8.7 out of 10.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Eisley - "Room Noises" : Magic, Melody and Muse

Ok, so it's not the White Album. Or Rumours. Or Thriller. And I have so many other blog ideas and other long lost albums to review, that I'm not sure why I'm wasting early blog space on this 2005 cd debut release from Eisley. It's certainly not going to gain me any cool points to not only commend this cd but to out and out heap lavish praise on it! But here goes.

The cd is "Room Noises" and the group is Eisley, consisting of 3 sisters, a brother, and a cousin. Home-schooled Christian kids at that! And surely nothing good can come from Tyler, Texas. Oh, but you would be wrong. Now my disclaimer is this: I am a melody guy all the way. Well, for the most part. And there is a fine, fine line - always - between genius in pop music, and real crap. And sometimes it's just this magical dust that's somehow sprinkled on the album, as Bono once described ABBA's music as containing. Who knows where that magic, that dust comes from. Sometimes it's in the songs themselves. Sometimes it's in the production. Or the harmonies. Or the passion and sincerity and soul in the vocals. Plus, sometimes music fans tend to immediately disdain the catchy or the lovely in exchange for the ambient and experimental and never give accessible music like this a chance.
Do you realize how hard it is to make a great pop song or craft a great melody? And capture it in a transcendent way? It is a gift. And Eisley executes all of the above on Room Noises. It is magical. Haunting. Innocent. Other-wordly. Lovely. And it's not a sweet sugary snack - it is a meal in itself. The Dupree sisters craft wonderful songs here - a torrent of inspiration. Sibling harmony abounds, the playing is superb, and the lyrics are compelling - given the fact that you realize you aren't listening to a jaded, world-weary 28 year old, but rather girls that are un self-conscious enough to write about subject matters that resemble chapters in Alice In Wonderland. Peaches it ain't. And the real evidence that Room Noises is one unique and wonderful record unfortunately came on their 2007 2nd release "Combinations" which, though it is a good enough record, is Ichabod ("the glory has departed") by and large. New production team, major label putting perhaps subtle expectations on them, whatever - it comes nowhere near to capturing the magic of Room Noises. But that's another story for another time. The girls have had a rough past couple of years personally, but now all seems to be righted thankfully, and I anxiously await their new cd coming out in the Spring. Know Hope. Make it your guilty pleasure or whatever you need to do, but if you don't have this cd, I recommend it as highly as anything I have heard in the first decade of this century. 8.3 out of 10

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Like I said earlier, I have been listening intently to the radio since I was 4 years old, and starting buying stuff when I was 6 (1969). I would just get completely lost in the melody and other-worldliness of the production and sound and MAGIC of the songs. I remember that 45's (singles) were 65 cents, and I would scrape and steal loose change until I had enough to go to Kmart (among other places). Back then, whenever I heard a song that I loved, it seemed to me that I could never in a million years ever get tired of the song, and I waited the 2 or 3 hour hit cycle on the radio for the DJ to play it again. But I soon realized that even the best things in life can sour or grow old, and it made me sad when I started realizing that I was getting tired of a song or that it no longer moved me as it once did. The first 45 I ever bought was "ABC" by The Jackson Five (RIP Michael). I just couldn't imagine how people came up with such music, playing, emotion - genius! For some cracked-out reason, whenever my parents had dinner parties (which was frequent), they would keep the intercom radio system on in me and my brothers room, which most of the time wasn't such a problem. BUT...the sheer terror of hearing "Knights In White Satin," or "Major Tom" or "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" theme at 11 at night when you're all alone upstairs...not cool. At any rate, much more on my listening habits and music history another day. Which is the name of Paul McCartney's first single.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New Release Quick Reviews Feb. 16

Every Tuesday, dear readers, I will be giving my "first impression" reviews of new cd releases that I think I can contribute to. In other words, if it doesn't fit my genre "expertise" I will shut up! Hopefully we can come up with a few hidden gems every week.

1. Adam Green - "Minor Love" (7.5 out of 10) Ok, so I've never heard of Adam Green, but apparently he used to be in the Moldy Peaches. Who I also don't know much about. But I checked it out, because you never know, and what a pleasant surprise. Think poor man's Tom Waits. Or Lou Reed with a better voice. Stripped down, acoustic album, but with nice rhythms and intersting lyrics. "Buddy Bradley" is Zevon-esque. "I fought the lessons of grace for so long," he confesses. Good stuff. For my Cookeville peeps - think if Andrew Barnes made a solo cd. Overall, it's a bit hit or miss, but well worth checking out.

2. The Go Find - "Everybody Knows It's Gonna Happen Only Not Tonight." (7 out of 10) Sounds like a sermon title for a revival meeting. It's labeled as Belgian electronica, but it's not really. Think Teitur or Sondre Lerche with a keyboard and you've got it. If The Go Find played at a festival or something, you would say - "Hey that's pretty nice, pretty catchy," and you would chat a little more with your friend, and then if someone asked about them the next day you would say - "Hey yeah, they were pretty good."

3. Scanners - "Submarine" (7 out of 10) - Pretty good find here. Strokes-like with a female lead. A poppier, more accessible PJ Harvey while maintaining the punch and dark edge. This cd always holds your interest - I can't believe they aren't well known. I'd give them an even better grade, but I'm a tough grader. Waiting for Joanna next week.

4. Mumford and Sons - "Sigh No More" (4 out of 10) - I feel like I'm back in the days of the "British Invasion" in the sense that you had all these bands racing to the studios in the summer of '64, success formula in hand, hair growing shaggy, in the hopes of becoming famous or even making a buck. Fast-forward to 2010 : Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver, blah, blah, blah. Been there, done that. This is the "British" version! Listen to that beauty! That earnestness! That organic sound! I'm not buying it. Meet the new boss - same as the old boss. If you want to bake in 90 degree weather at Bonaroo listening to this - well, it's a free country. They sound like Dexy's Midnight Runners on a bender. If Kevin Rowland went to the bathroom for a minute.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Song Favorites 2006-2007

I know, I know - this is always a subjective list. But just know this, dear reader....the only songs that ever make it on here are the songs that made me shake my head in wonder. Also know this (and I need to get this out of the way) -I do indeed have a bias towards songs with a sweet I'll let the other critic out there deal with experimental, electronica, rap, etc. I'm a pop/rock guy at the end of the day. So with that disclaimer out of the way, here we go:

1. My Eyes - Travis
2. Vi Kommer at D Samtidigt - Sakert (Swedish. Pop the way it used to be.)
3. The Re-Arranger - Mates of State (Complete genius)
4. Little Polveir - Monkey Swallows the Universe (gets me every time. Unbelievable).
5. Silver Lining - Rilo Kiley (Sorry hardcore Rilo Kiley fans...but it's amazing).
6. Let's Get Out of This Country - Camera Obscura
7. Time Is Running Out - Muse
8. One Moment More - Mindy Smith (Can you listen and not cry?)
9. Heartbeat - Annie
10. In My Head - The Ballet
11. Sing Me Spanish Techno - The New Pornographers
12. Chicago - Sufjan Stevens (Come On Feel the Illinoise! - best cd of the last decade.)
13. Casmir Pulaski Day - Sufjan Stevens
14. Dark Matter - Andrew Bird
15.Paranoia in Bb Major - The Avett Brothers
16. Soul Meets Body - Death Cab For Cutie
17. One Day I slowly Floated Away - Eisley (When they were MAGIC. Here's hoping for 2010).
18. Paper and Glue - Emma Pollock
19. Hide and Seek - Imogen Heap (Stops a room full of people cold every time).
20. Paper Planes - MIA
21. Call It Off - Tegan and Sara
22. Gideon - My Morning Jacket
23. Hold On, Hold On - Neko Case
24. On the Radio - Regina Spektor
25. 2 Dollar Shoes - Rosie Thomas
26. Two - Ryan Adams
27. The Underdog - Spoon
28. Warrior - Yeah Yeah Yeah's (Best group of the last decade. 2000-2009)
29. Way Out - Yeah Yeah Yeah's (And..."Show Your Bones" the 2nd best cd of the decade. Is there a better front-person than Karen O?)
30. On the Table - A.C. Newman

I'm leaving out a lot, obviously. But, if you are someone who thinks that there isn't any fantastic music out there anymore, let this be a start! Most of these songs have YouTube clips, so you can listen to it that way initially.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


So...have you ever been driving down the road, and a song came on the radio that blew you away so much that you actully pulled off the road to listen to it finish? I still remember my equally music-loving brother Brooks calling me all excited from a 7-11 because he just heard this Rosanne Cash song called "Seven Year Ache." That has nothing to do with this post, but I thought I'd ask anyway.
I just wanted to give a shout-out to an old 1969 song that I just re-discovered by The Guess Who called "Laughing." It's just beautiful. Amazing. Coupled with one of the videos that they have of the song on YouTube, it's a snapshot of those crazy, sort of innocent/turbulent times. It was their 2nd hit, right after "No Time." Great vocal by Burton Cummings (just ask him!), great melody that puts chills down your spine, great engineering, and there's a riff that Randy Bachman (Bachman Turner Overdrive.."Takin Care of Business") throws in on the repeat of every chorus that, under the headphones especially, is the part of the song that you most look forward too. And want to repeat. Again. And again. I've known this song all my life, but it's a rare re-discovery for me because I haven't really listened to it since I was 8 or so, and it's probably The Guess Who's most neglected hit. I won't comment on the fact that they aren't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but since KISS isn't either, they shouldn't feel too bad. Stupid Hall of Fame.

Hello, Goodbye (2009/2010)

My first "real" post will be concerning my complete and utter dismay at the lack of "Best of 2009" lists that did NOT include Tegan and Sara's "Sainthood" cd. And I'm not even complaining about the lack of top-5 or top-10 lists that did not include them (although several did), but I'm talking about and calling out all those bloggers and critics that did not even include them in their top 20 or even top 50!!! Inexcusable and not even subjective. Fortunately, Tegan and Sara (who have improved steadily on every release over the years) have developed a substantial fan base and hopefully have moved beyond being crushed by neglect.
Thus far in 2010, I have been very underwhelmed. Spoon was good, but not great. The only cd I have heard that I can heartily recommend has been Laura Veirs' "July Flame." Which surprises me. I have always like Laura Veirs well enough...her music is melodic and nice. But I was never blown away by her stuff. Pleasant surprise. HEADS UP THOUGH MUSIC FANS: IF Joanna Newsome's TRIPLE cd (coming out February 23rd) is HALF as good as the 2 songs that have been pre-released ("'81" and "Good Intentions Paving Company"), then it will be an instant classic. In fact, "Good Intentions Paving Company" HAS to be the song of the decade for me so far. It's like Carole King meets Gershwin meets Kate Bush meets....who knows? Ah, Joanna. The harpist with the voice that could clear out a room on her first 2 releases. I've seen it happen. She's like this renaissance girl who was cryogenically frozen in 1430 and came back to life - child-like voice and all! She's perfect for a horror movie soundtrack in a strange least on her 1st 2 releases. Even as you enjoy its genius. she has, apparently, made "the leap" of genius, made her voice a little bluesier and mature, and...well, I just can't say enough about it. Sort of like "Bohemian Rhapsody" in its art and genius (and length!). Ok, I'm rambling now. Just go to YouTube, take a listen, and buy the cd on February 23rd.

Welcome Back My Friends...

Hello to all! I am a 47 year old guy who has been intently listening to music since 1966....and buying music not long afterwards. I've seen many trends come and go. The lead singer of The Knack died today (Doug Fieger), and that makes me feel old...but it also takes me right back to the Spring of '79 when "My Sharona" first came out and some people wore "Nuke the Knack" buttons on their shirts. Personally, I love the song!
The main reason I'm starting the blog, however, is hopefully not for narcissistic reasons, but as a music lover who not only wants to impart a little wisdom out there to a younger audience, but hopefully make some buying (or pirating) suggestions along the way to make your lives a little happier. Because there's nothing like the thrill of listening to music that moves you. Hopefully it's transcendent, hopefully it's technically well-done, but that doesn't always happen to be the case does it?
One word of caution: I have tended, traditionally, to be a music snob. And honestly, perhaps the biggest reason that I'm starting this blog, is because I just disagree so strongly with what most music critics today deem as good or even great. I can't handle it. So, these will be my thoughts and my tastes, but hopefully not always just a subjective exercise. I will try to be fair. In other words, many, many times over the years I haven't liked or enjoyed a certain group or singer, but still must acknowledge their greatness and their artistry. Much more later with some recent musical thoughts and 2009/2010 discoveries!