cool hand bak

Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

I Can't Talk Now, I'm Not Alone

In a couple hours I'll leave for my road trip to New Mexico, which means that this is effectively my last post of 2004. I'd like to close the year with something truly special, so today I'll be posting my most listened to song of 2004. Not from 2004, of 2004.

Bruce Springsteen has always been an artist that I respect more than I enjoy. At one point or another I've heard all of his albums, except The River, and while the craft and passion in his music is undeniable, none of his songs have ever spoken to me on that level that I require before I can feel a genuine connection with an artist. There was never a Springsteen song that I could champion, that I could call my favorite.

That changed dramatically the first time I heard "Hearts Of Stone", from his Tracks box set. This song floored me and I remember singing it over and over that day. The lyrics say so little but express so much, the singing is Springsteen's voice at it's most nuanced, the melody is breathtaking and Clarence Clemons' saxophone moves me like very few things in music ever have. Keeping in mind that it's actually just a guide version for Southside Johnny & the Asbury Dukes makes it all the more incredible. Frankly, it makes me wish more of Springsteen's songs were guide versions.

Bruce Springsteen - "Hearts Of Stone"

There you have it. I'll be seeing you in a couple weeks. Or should I say next year.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

I Know It's Out Of Love

Have you ever had that experience where after hearing a song for the first time you immediately want to hear it again...and again and again? Last night this happened to me. I listened to Antony & the Johnsons' "Fistful Of Love" at least 20 times in a row.

"Fistful Of Love" is the first song I've ever heard of theirs. It's the lead single from their forthcoming album I Am A Bird Now (due February 1 on Secretly Canadian), but it also appears on their recent The Lake EP. On the strength of "Fistful Of Love" I Am A Bird Now has instantly become one of the albums I'm most anticipating in 2005. What makes it so special? Well, first Antony's voice is an evocative cross between Bryan Ferry and Otis Redding, but purer than that suggests. Secondly, the horns, arrangement and vocal performance are straight from Elvis' old playbook, circa From Elvis In Memphis. Throw in a spoken introduction and guitar from Lou Reed and you have one of the top three songs of 2004.

I could easily write pages about "Fistful Of Love", and as you've probably already realized I'm no paragon of brevity. I feel like saying something completely over the top like "This is beauty incarnate!", but for once I'm going restrain myself.

Antony & The Johnsons - "Fistful Of Love"

If you end up enjoying this song half as much as I do, stop by Antony & the Johnsons' website to learn more about this fascinating group.

Look Out, Matador!

"My favourite record of the last ten years and possibly my life" is how John Peel famously described Laura Cantrell's debut album Not The Tremblin' Kind. "It's country, and I don't know why I like it," he continued. I had just begun blogging when Mr. Peel passed away earlier this year and, having not spent much time in the United Kingdom, I never listened to his radio show, but just the fact that he was one of the few to play Laura Cantrell's music is enough to make him a legend in my book.

Since Tremblin' Kind was released in 2000, Laura has had one other album, 2002's When The Roses Bloom Again. To my ears, it was even better than Tremblin' Kind. Since then I have been waiting with bated breath for Laura's next move, as I'm sure all of Laura's fans have - all 15 of us! Despite her touring with Elvis Costello ("If Kitty Wells made ‘Rubber Soul’ it would sound like Laura Cantrell," he said) and a 2004 reissue of her 1996 EP The Hello Recordings, it's been a long wait. Once again, I get to be the bearer of good news: Laura Cantrell has signed to Matador Records. A press release this past Wednesday also announced her still untitled follow-up to Roses, which is scheduled for a late spring release.

For those of you who've never heard of Laura, allow me to briefly recount her story, which is really one of the most fascinating bios around. Laura's parents were both attorneys in Nashville. Her great, great aunt was a songcatcher and she absorbed a lot of country music growing up. Later, she was a tour-guide at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Keeping music mainly on the side, Laura worked at a Wall Street investment firm, eventually ending up with the unwieldy title of Vice President of the Banc of America Securities Equity Research Department. Lord knows what she did there. As her music career began to take off it became increasingly at odds with her day job until, thankfully, she resigned in the spring of 2003 to concentrate fully on her music. It's true - Oprah Magazine documented it in a section on "women who followed their passions". All of this and Laura continues to host "Radio Thrift Shop" every Saturday for WFMU. See, isn't that an interesting background?

I'd like to mention that Laura has one of the most sincere and deceptively emotive voices in contemporary country music. By that I mean, her voice sounds so simple and yet, before you know it, it has not only worked it's way under you skin, it's broken your heart with it's tune. To prove a point, here's the title track from When The Roses Bloom Again and Laura's excellent version of Bruce Brakefield's "Rain Boy", which was broadcast live on Peel Acres in May 2003:

Laura Cantrell - "When The Roses Bloom Again"

Laura Cantrell - "Rain Boy"

Laura's website has many other fantastic mp3s to download, including a beautiful cover of Elvis Costello's "Indoor Fireworks", as well as links to "Radio Thrift Shop" Real Audio streams. Matador Records proudly displays their recent signing of Laura on their front page, with a link to the press release I cited.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

All I Want With My Life

Usually the criticism "willfully eclectic" doesn't mean much to me: what's wrong with being all over the place? But listening to CocoRosie's debut album, La Maison De Mon Rêve, from earlier this year, I can almost understand. CocoRosie take on so many styles and ideas, from old-time blues and folk to twisted torch songs and trip-hop, that they set themselves up to fail. Their sound and approach are admirable, but their blatant lack of an ear for knowing what works and what doesn't is frustrating. The end result is an album that I really want to like, but one whose unfocused wanderings make it impossible for me to warm up to all but a few songs. And yet, saying that CocoRosie fail isn't telling the whole story; they fail interestingly.

The song I'm posting from La Maison is one that does work, decidedly so. It starts off creaking and hammering, then the beat appears almost before you realize it, then the first, childish voice and finally another voice, seemingly unaware of the first but feeding off of it all the same. The backing of the song is interesting, but it isn't what makes the song. It's basically trip-hop, though more compelling and eccentric than most of that tired genre. What makes this song is those voices: the way they float above the track, the way they circle each other, and, most importantly, the way they simulataneously sound like they don't belong to this song and sound completely at home over the beat's blips and blurts. The lyrics could be R&B fare, albeit weird R&B, but not when sung with the Casady sisters' voices. Hear for yourself:

CocoRosie - "By Your Side"

Visit Touch & Go Records for more information about CocoRosie or to buy La Maison. CocoRosie also have their own website, but it doesn't appear to be working.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Best News Of All-Time

Visited Tift Merritt's site this morning and discovered new tour dates, which I'll post here for your convenience.

1.19.2005 Continental Club - Houston, TX*
1.20.2005 Sons of Herman Hall - Dallas, TX*
1.21.2005 Stubb's Bar-B-Q - Austin, TX*
1.22.2005 Stubb's Bar-B-Q - Austin, TX*
1.25.2005 Paramount - Santa Fe, NM*
1.26.2005 Plush - Tucson, AZ*
1.28.2005 Troubador - West Hollywood, CA*
1.29.2005 Slim's - San Francisco, CA*
2.01.2005 WOW Hall - Eugene, OR*
2.02.2005 Doug Fir Lounge - Portland, OR*
2.03.2005 Tractor Tavern - Seattle, WA*
2.04.2005 Tractor Tavern - Seattle, WA
2.05.2005 Richard's On Richards - Vancouver, BC*
2.08.2005 Liquid Joe's - Salt Lake City, UT*
2.09.2005 Larimer Lounge - Denver, CO*
2.11.2005 Blueberry Hill - St. Louis, MO*
2.12.2005 Mercy Lounge - Nashville, TN*
4.30.2005 Columbia-Greene Community College - Hudson, NY^

Dates with an * next to them will be with Tres Chicas and the date with a ^ next to it will be with Sarah Lee Guthrie. Tres Chicas is that excellent supergroup featuring Tonya Lamm (Hazeldine), Caitlin Cary (Whiskeytown) and Lynn Blakey (Glory Fountain). Sarah Lee Guthrie is Woody Guthrie's grand-daughter. I've never heard her music, but I hear it's pretty good.

I'm so excited I just can't hide it! More savvy visitors to this site will remember that I've already written about Tift once after a few of her shows back in November. Suffice to say, you should not miss her if she's coming within a hundred miles of you.

I would take this opportunity to congraulate Tift on her Grammy nomination, but considering that those awards are a complete joke I'd rather not validate them at all. So, how about this: Tift, congratulations on being so unbelievably awesome!

Stop by her website for more information and to hear song samples.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Haloscan Added

I've updated to comments by Haloscan, which means that you can leave a comment without being a member of Blogger.

So, hopefully, I'll start getting more comments. Or something like that.

If Only I Was A Star

Another Sleater-Kinney related post today. This one's about a song called "Oh Carrie Brownstein" and it's by The Short Happy Life. The Short Happy Life is actually just Jerry Fels. Not much to say about this song, it's a bit of novelty to me and that's why I'm posting it. I'll let Jerry introduce it:

"Oh Carrie Brownstein" is the one I always play that goes "Oh Carrie Carrie blah blah blah", but I bet you didn't know that it's really about the time Carrie Brownstein from Sleater-Kinney and I walked past each other at The Middle East in Cambridge but didn't recognize each other (I didn't realize she was so short, and she only knows me by my handwriting and by the subsequent restraining order she put on me).

The Short Happy Life - "Oh Carrie Brownstein"

So it's a short, almost catchy stalker-anthem. Personally, I would have written it for Corin Tucker (I ♥ Corin), but it's not my song.

"Oh Carrie Brownstein" was released on The Album Is Also Called The Short Happy Life (not funny!), which came out on Nobody's Favorite Records. As far as I can tell Jerry doesn't have a website, but there is this.

P.S. I almost forgot to observe that today marks my blog's one month-iversary. Yay me! Wow woopy doo. One month down...

Friday, December 10, 2004

Über-Post, Part II

Alright, part two of Saturday's quadruple bill at the Graceland. The third artist of the night was Sarah Dougher. My involvement with Sarah's music is a bit of a tangled web. First came Sleater-Kinney's music, which I absolutely treasure. In the last couple years they have become not only my current favorite band, but one of my favorite bands of all-time. After one exhausts the entire Sleater-Kinney catalog, it's only natural that they begin to look at Corin, Carrie and Janet's various side-projects. Seeing as Corin's voice is the most thrilling aspect of Sleater-Kinney's music to me, it makes sense that I would begin my extra-Sleater-Kinney exploration with Cadallaca. And so, like a good fanatic, I hunted down and came to love 1998's Introducing Cadallaca, on which Corin, Sarah and Sts (from the Lookers) break out the Farfisa and have more fun than should be humanly possible. Then came Cadallaca's 2000 EP, Out West. After that, finally, I began to explore Sarah's solo music. She has released three full-length albums, the latest being 2001's The Bluff.

Sarah's set was short and spare: just her warm voice and acoustic guitar. Her music is nakedly emotional and very intense. Her songs are so obviously honest and thoughtful that it's possible for one to feel uncomfortable, like a voyeur...especially when standing right in front of her. A song she introduced as being about writing, for instance, felt like as much of a struggle as her songs about lost love. Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because the bare instrumentation made her music seem uninviting, many people used this part of the show as a bar or bathroom break. Not me; it's true that her songs are more accessible on her albums, but there was still much to enjoy about her set.

Anyway, here's a great song from the previously mentioned The Bluff:

Sarah Dougher - "Must Believe"

Visit Sarah's website for more information.

Finally, after midnight, the person most people came to see took the stage. I've already written about Edith Frost once during the short life of this blog and it's complete luck that Edith gets to be the first person written about twice.

Her set was outstanding. Cherry-picking from across her entire catalogue, Edith put on a terrific show. She opened up with two solo acoustic numbers, then invited Jason and Ryan of Manishevitz back up to play drums and bass respectively. There was a drunk girl near the front of the stage that kept flirting with Edith ("You have a lovely voice!") and Edith handled it like a pro ("I'm sure you do too.") Then Nate, also from Manishevitz, came up to work wonders with his flute. "Exploiting the openers", she called it. After Nate left, Manishevitz's lead guitarist Via came up. It was really cool to watch 3/5 of Manishevitz, who earlier in the night had played a variation of glam-rock so well, turn around and expertly execute country-rock.

Drunk girl observed of the small crowd, "We're the luckiest 20 people in Seattle", to which Edith replied, "Yeah, what the hell?" Throughout her long set, which seemed to fly by, she was charming and casual, swigging from a beer between every song. At one point drunk girl said she thought Edith would have been a Rolling Rock drinker and Edith quipped "I'm not a connoisseur". "I drink whatever they give me," she continued, and then invited drunk girl to buy the band a round of Rolling Rock. Sure enough, after the next song, drunk girl's boyfriend returned with four beers for Edith and the band.

So, here's one of Edith's finest songs, which she played last Saturday night. It's from Wonder Wonder, released in 2001:

Edith Frost - "Cars And Parties"

Visit Edith's blog for tour dates and whatnot, that way next time she's in your town you can help give her the audience she deserves.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Über-Post, Part I

My apologies for my three day absence, it's been a busy beginning to the week for me.

On Saturday I saw a great quadruple bill at the Graceland in Seattle. It was my first time there and I liked it a lot: it's got one of those great wooden floors that vibrates with the rumble of the music, which for some unknown reason really makes me happy during shows. Go figure.

Up first was Graham Travis. I did some research on him the day before the show just to get an idea of what to expect. I found an interview and review of his debut album, Why Don't You Know Me Yet?, from Delusions of Adequacy. They place him in the company of Bens Folds, Kweller and Lee and also pegged him as a Beatles devotee, not surprising considering that he practices straightforward power-pop. He played a short set with four "friends" who really seemed to enjoy making music together. They actually reminded me of the New Radicals more than anyone else, which probably horrifies most people but was fine with me. Here's what I consider the catchiest song from his debut:

Graham Travis - "Tripped You Up"

I had a brief conversation with Graham after his set because a friend of mine wanted to buy his CD. He's a genuinely nice, easy-going guy so I wish him success with his sophomore album, which he said he'll begin recording early next year. Visit his website for more information.

Up next was Manishevitz, a band that I've been fond of for some time. I first became interested in them due to comparisons to Roxy Music, one of my all-time favorite bands. Upon discovering Manishevitz's music, via their albums Rollover and City Life, I was not disappointed. Their only real similarities to Roxy are their prominent use of horns (Nate Lepine on sax and flute) and lead singer Adam Busch's Bryan Ferryesque sassy croon; beyond that they are a young band with a lot of ideas and their own original voice. Sadly, almost nobody has heard of them. Describing their set requires me to employ oft-misused rock-lit jargon, such as "blistering", "non-stop" and "stellar". To me, the hallmark of a great band has always been one that I enjoy as much during their instrumental passages as I do during vocals. It's a very short list: Roxy Music, Sleater-Kinney, Radiohead, T. Rex, Creedence and maybe the Stones. Manishevitz definitely had this going on Saturday. I found myself completely absorbed by their sound and 100% engaged by their long instrumental breakdowns. Thanks largely to the fact that I was literally one of three or four people on the main floor in front of the stage, I let loose and danced my ass off. If anyone at the Graceland has found my ass, please get in touch!

I doubt anything off of either of their albums, as good as they are, can do their live show justice, but here is the opening track from their 2003 album City Life:

Manishevitz - "Beretta"

All three of Manishevitz's full-length albums have been released by Jagjaguwar, a great label that Simon Joyner, Julie Doiron, Oneida and Richard Youngs also call home. Please visit Manishevitz's Website to learn more about this great band.

Stay tuned for part two of this post, which will be about the second half of the quadruple bill.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

On A Night Like This

I wasn't going to post tonight, but then Bob Dylan turned up on 60 Minutes and the Simpsons! I've known for nearly a week that Bob was going to give his first television interview in nearly 20 years to 60 Minutes tonight, so I made plans to watch it at a neighbor's since I don't have a TV set. Then I find out that the Simpsons also has Bob Dylan on their show (for the first time!), also giving an interview. Coincidence? One has to wonder.

As for the 60 Minutes interview, Dylan was as cryptic, vague and fascinating as ever. The interview was basically a tie-in for his autobiography, Chronicles; the questions were pretty poor and he looked and sounded uncomfortable as usual, but somehow his charisma and raw personality still managed to shine through.

You can read the interview, basically word for word, at this link: Bob Dylan's 60 Minutes Interview

Thanks to Hippycat for the visual.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

All Eyez On Nas

With the absence of a proper Jay-Z album and a (relatively) disappointing show from Eminem on Encore, the onus is on Nas to deliver on behalf of the current Holy Trinity of mainstream hip-hop. Whoever delivered this news to Nas must've stressed quantity, as Nas dropped his double-album Street's Disciple on Tuesday. Of course, it's easily the most anticipated release of the 4th quarter.

Double-albums have a special place in hip-hop: you might be a confirmed superstar, but you haven't really made it in today's world if you haven't dropped your double-album. Thus Nas follows in the footsteps of Pac, Biggie, Jigga, Master P (WTF?) and Outkast. And considering that we're talking about double-CDs, these albums are longer than All Things Must Pass.

It should go without saying, then, that Nas does his fair share of stumbling. But, Street's Disciple is remarkably consistent, in the sense that there isn't much range between it's best and worst tracks. The flip-side of this is that the peaks are few and far between. Granted, I've only listened to it a few times through (it's almost 90 minutes long!), but so far the real highlight is the second single, which I present to you now:

Nas with Olu Dara - "Bridging The Gap"

What I find exhilarating about "Bridging The Gap" is that it really does attempt to bridge the gap, not just between the blues and hip-hop but also between two generations that seem to understand each other less and less. This makes "Bridging The Gap" not only the best song on Street's Disciple, but one of the best songs this year.

Nas' Website

Friday, December 03, 2004

You Need To Stay In School

Dropping the Killah from his name, signing to Def Jam and returning from a more than two year absence, Ghostface got real soulful (take that Kanye!) on The Pretty Toney Album. Acclaim was nearly unanimous (Metacritic has it at an 81), and with good reason: despite the fact that uncleared samples kept some great songs off the album, Ghost delivers beautifully.

Unfortunately, not enough people heard more than the radio songs ("Tush" and "Run", featuring Missy and Jadakiss respectively) and therefore never discovered the true gems scattered amongst Pretty Toney's 18 tracks. That's where I come in, to share one of said gems with you:

Ghostface - "Holla"

I love the way Ghost brilliantly freaks the Delfonics' "La La (Means I Love You)" for this song, keeping so much of it but turing the chorus into "Holla, holla, holla, if you want to". As if you have a choice, it's irresistible. And that's how the album goes: the Emotions here, Freddie Scott there, Billy Stewart over there and too many R&B divas to name, side by side with Ghost's many varied flows and insanely quotable lyrics. Cop this!

Ghostface's Website

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Nothin' But A Painful Case

Today I'm posting another of my favorite songs from this year. In fact, almost everything I've posted so far has been from 2004. It's kind of a year-end ritual for me to go through the highlights of the year and come up with "best of" lists and compilations.

The name of this band is Two Gallants. Two Gallants is two kids (really, they're both 21 years old) from good ol' San Francisco. They released their debut, The Throes, in May to a flurry of stupefied critics and Dylan comparisons. As has always been true with Dylan comparisons, they're mostly unwarranted: it's to the point that any young'n who takes on traditional styles of music with an unconventional voice, acoustic instruments and a lyrical bite has Bob's name bandied their way. And that's as unfair to Dylan as it is flattering to the band. Regardless, the music Two Gallants make is actually very good. I would call them a little on the underdeveloped side still, but their update of the blues fares better than what I've heard from similar duos, such as the Black Keys and the White Stripes.

The song I'm posting from The Throes is called "Crow Jane". It's a traditional song that dates back to Skip James and has been covered by the likes of Etta Baker, Nick Cave and Reverend Gary Davis. Two Gallants turn in an unequivocally gorgeous read of the song, such that it's easily the highlight of The Throes. Adam Stephens' vocal performance is a revelation, especially when it comes to phrasing. Here's hoping you enjoy it as much as I do.

Two Gallants - "Crow Jane"

You can visit Two Gallants' Website to see if their fairly extensive tour is coming near you and to watch a live video of "Crow Jane".

We Got Syndication!

Yes, this morning I woke up, did my usual scan of the MP3 Blogs Aggregator and saw my shit linked to on the sidebar. Hell yes, I'm happy!

Now if only I can start getting some regular comments...

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