cool hand bak

Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Day I Went Away

I'm off to Bellingham for the first of three Sleater-Kinney shows. If these shows are anything like when I saw them a few months ago, I'm sure I'll get to hear lots of stuff from the new album, The Woods (out May 24th!), but I'm hoping they'll throw in a few classics too, such as "Was It A Lie?" and "It's Enough" - both of which I've never heard them do live before.

I figured I'd post a poem, since the last time I went away I did just that and I might as well make it a cool hand tradition. Here is a Denise Levertov poem titled "In Mind":

There's in my mind a woman
of innocence, unadorned but

fair-featured and smelling of
apples or grass. She wears

a utopian smock or shift, her hair
is light brown and smooth, and she

is kind and very clean without

but she has
no imagination

And there's a
turbulent moon-ridden girl

or old woman, or both,
dressed in opals and rags, feathers

and torn taffeta,
who knows strange songs

but she is not kind.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

We Like It Free

One of the things the mp3 blog community has been buzzing about of late (and with good reason, for once) is the release and subsequent free offering of The Impossible Shapes' Tum. Created in two weeks, Tum is the vinyl only "younger sister" to the contemporarily released Shapes album Horus.

Despite the fact that Tum is more than half-comprised of seemingly underdeveloped instrumentals, Secretly Canadian deserves all available praise for offering up this free download by a band as currently vital as The Impossible Shapes, which explains why I'm throwing my hat into the ring and writing about this already much-blogged event. Thank you for your generosity, Secretly Canadian; thanks, thanks and more thanks!

Hopefully I don't come off as an ungrateful scrooge by saying that of Tum's 17 songs only "Florida Silver Springs" and "Late Summer Sky" come close to reaching previous Impossible Shapes highs such as "What About The Other Side" and "You Are Not The Target" (from 2003's We Like It Wild) or "Always The Way" and "The Line So Flexible" (from Bless The Headless, also released in 2003). The fact is Tum is an album of quieter, simpler pleasures than either We Like It Wild or Bless The Headless, though it still reveals a band that seems genuinely excited (and un-cynical) about making music.

Here are my three favorite songs from Tum, including one instrumental that truly does work:

The Impossible Shapes - "Florida Silver Springs"

The Impossible Shapes - "Hornbeam"

The Impossible Shapes - "Late Summer Sky"

Tum is still available for download in its entirety from Secretly Canadian, but only until March 5. The Impossible Shapes' website has lots of other information and mp3s to download, not to mention a great design.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Get Hip Or Die!

It's not unusual for bands to attempt to recapture the spirit of rock in the 60s, but it is rare that a young band aims to genuinely recreate the authentic sounds of that iconic era. Hip Whips are an example of the latter: a band that comes dangerously close to sounding like a lost relic of the 60s, from their particular aesthetic and recording values all the way to their classic, organ-built foundation. Their ability to support a sound so indebted to what was going on 40 years ago, without residing entirely within the sickly realm of derivation, is due in large part to their incredibly gifted vocalist Markus Lindmark. In Lindmark, Hip Whips have a lead guy who is able to mix and mutate two of the very best vocalists of yesteryear with what seems like real ease: call him Mick Morrison or Van Jagger.

Hip Whips are, apparently, legendary in their homeland (Sweden, of course!) for chaotic live shows and for fighting with audiences and amongst themselves. They only have one album to their name, 2003's self-titled debut, which at less than half an hour's worth of music really ought to be considered an EP. Here are a couple songs from Hip Whips:

Hip Whips - "Stay With Me Forever"

This is the best thing Hip Whips have yet done: a fully realized, impassioned vocal from Lindmark combined with a fantastic organ performance that weaves and waves throughout the entire length of the song. The one area where Hip Whips regularly falter is songwriting, and this song is an example of that too. The melody is great, but an awful lot is asked of it; Lindmark is reduced to singing the same three or four lines of lyrics, teetering on the brink of annoying redundancy. Like a helicopter approaching a mountain in a Hollywood blockbuster, I happen to think that Hip Whips pull-up just in time, but I could see plenty of people getting the exact opposite impression. Redundancy, then, might be the operative word; one's ability to enjoy Hip Whips will probably coincide to a great extent with their ability to tolerate Hip Whips' retro flourishes. Personally, I love it: when something sounds this good, I try not to ask too many questions.

Hip Whips - "Pick Up Your Pain"

I guess this is where Hip Whips get spiritual, or philosophical, or disguisedly uplifting. Lindmark might not sound encouraging in the face of despair, but listen to what he's saying. Here the lyrical repetition and Lindmark's restrained vocal (for most of the song anyway) serve the song well, turning it into a soothing meditation of sorts.

Who knows what Hip Whips have been up to since the release of Hip Whips? The only website they seem to have is this Brass Button one, which isn't very informative. You can pick up Hip Whips from my favorite online store, Parasol, for cheap, and if you like that you can join me in hoping that the band gets it together for another album in the not-too-distant future.

UPDATE: Our prayers have been answered! Fine, my prayers. After spending a little more time at the Brass Button site, I noticed this tidbit of information scrolling near the bottom of the start page: "Hip Whips is in the studio finishing there new album. The firs single "Time Is On Its Way" will be released in the beginning of 2005 and the album is due to be released in March." The typos ain't mine, they're part of the quote.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Real Cool Handjob

There's not a lot I can say when it comes to Love Of Everything, although I've heard some interesting things about their album from last year, Handjob Community. What I can tell you is that Love Of Everything's steward and sole constant member is Bobby Burg, who's also a member of Make Believe and Joan Of Arc. I've never heard either of those bands, so I can't say how helpful a touchstone they are. Other than Burg, Love Of Everything consists of a different set of musicians on nearly every song, most of them being the borrowed band-members of Burg's more popular friends, including folks from Rainer Maria, The Race, The Owls, as well as the aforementioned Joan Of Arc and Make Believe.

The music Love Of Everything makes has been described almost unanimously as incredibly self-indulgent, with most of the reviews coming down on the unfavorable side of that term. Unfortunately, having only heard bits and pieces of Handjob Community myself I can't weigh in (very heavily), except to say that I have liked what I've heard. So, basically, this one goes into the explore-at-your-own-risk file. Of course, I wouldn't leave you without a couple songs to get started with:

Love Of Everything - "Proud Brave Nothing"

The picture for this post is actually Bobby Burg (second from right) surrounded by all the musicians that play on this particular song. This is the best of what I've heard so far. Burg's voice seems to be the thing that frustrated most critics, but it doesn't bother me one bit.

Love Of Everything - "I Love You Guys Fast [Clip]"

On Love Of Everything's website there are also these mp3's from their previous album and an EP:

Love Of Everything - "Mary My Wife"

Love Of Everything - "Strip To The Sky"

If you're feeling molto adventurous, Handjob Community is available from Redder Records.

Friday, February 11, 2005

You Might As Well Be My Baby

Some of you may be wondering where the hell I've been. I apologize for my overlong absence, but I assure you I had nothing but the best intentions: after seeing two shows by Tift Merritt last week, I wanted my first post back to be about that great experience. To that end, I was expecting audio and visuals from the shows from a friend, but they haven't arrived yet. I'm getting tired of not posting and I thought maybe someone else out there was getting tired of me not posting, so I decided to have my first post back be about something else. Hopefully the Tift post will happen in a few days or so. There, now that that's all off my chest, let's talk business.

Martha Wainwright's self-titled debut album will be released by Rounder Records this year, on April 12 to be exact. I'm really looking forward to it, especially since I've seen the gorgeous, minimalist artwork. Despite only having one Martha Wainwright EP, 2003's Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, I consider her a great singer (like a cross between Marianne Faithfull and Dolly Parton) and an even better songwriter.

Martha Wainwright & Dan Bern - "Baby Love"

This is so fucking sexy! It's the song that introduced me to Martha, and still my favorite of hers. It's actually from Dan Bern's 1999 double-album Smartie Mine, and it features Martha singing lead (on a song she wrote) with Dan backing her up vocally and on guitar. Martha and Dan's voices sound wonderful together (good enough to make me wish they had done (or will do) a whole album together), but it's the way she uses her voice to accentuate the lyrics that really does it for me. For example, the way she brings the heat (as in hotness) for the line "When you touch me, it ain't really baby love" then sings all baby-like on the line "We are not babies, I know that". Right, plus it's a just a well-written song, full of lines and ideas that make me laugh, like when she sings "Pretty uncool, my brother says". One place you can buy this is from Dan Bern's official website. Even though this is the first Dan Bern song I've posted, don't consider it the "cool hand" introduction to him since he's mostly in a supporting role on this song. Dan's one of my very favorite artists, so you'll be hearing plenty more of him around these parts. Eventually.

Here are three other songs from the aforementioned Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole. These are all courtesy of Martha's website:

Martha Wainwright - "BMFA"

Martha Wainwright - "How Soon"

Martha Wainwright - "I Will Internalize"

None of these are quite up to the standard set by "Baby Love", but that's more of a reflection on how good "Baby Love" is than a comment on the quality of these songs. "BMFA" continues Martha's, uh, unique sense of humor, which I'm hoping her debut will also showcase. Something about that voice singing those lines that gets a chuckle from me every time. "How Soon" is a kind of straightforward jazzy love song, written and first performed by Jack Owens but made famous by Sinatra. It's lyrically generic but not generic overall because it's not a generic voice singing it. "I Will Internalize" features another great vocal, leading me to believe that Ms. Wainwright can do just about anything with her smoky voice. It might be girl-angst, but it sounds better coming from her than, anybody.

Finally, here's a song I jacked from Amazon:

Martha Wainwright - "Lolita"

This is from her 1999 self-titled EP. Common Lolita stuff right? Wrong, Martha makes it sound more like a scary stalker-anthem than a come on.

Enjoy, let me know what you think, and keep a lookout for her upcoming debut or buy an EP or two from her website if you're feeling these songs.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

I Seen Something & You Seen It Too

I'll be in Seattle over the next two or three days, seeing a couple Tift Merritt shows and whatnot, but I didn't want to take off without leaving a parting gift.

I've been reading the poet Amiri Baraka (the artist formerly known as LeRoi Jones) a lot lately. His words always have a tremendous effect on me, which means I can't read him as often as I'd like, but lately I've felt up to the task.

I especially wanted to share a recording he made with The Roots a few years ago:

The Roots & Amiri Baraka - "Something In The Way Of Things (In Town)"

This is from their 2002 album Phrenology and is an incredible, incredible poem. Baraka has over 40 years of experience reading poetry, but that only partly explains why he has such an impact when he reads. Of course, The Roots back him up superbly.

Amiri Baraka - "In Walked Bud"

This is another recording of Baraka reading a poem. I took this off the internet, so I'm not sure when it comes from.

Amiri Baraka - "Wise Why's Y's [Video]"

This is a Real Player video of Baraka reading.

I also wanted to share a few of Baraka's written poems, because they're great and because I really want to incorporate my love for poetry into this blog. A lot of Baraka's poems can be found on the internet. His website is an excellent place to start looking. I hope you all enjoy the poems. I'll see you next week, if not Sunday.

Preface To A Twenty Volume Suicide Note

Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus...

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night I tiptoed up
To my daughter’s room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there...
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands

Monday In B-Flat

I can pray
all day
& God
wont come.

But if I call
The Devil
Be here
in a minute!

Wise I

WHYS (Nobody Knows
The Trouble I Seen)

If you ever find
yourself, some where
lost and surrounded
by enemies
who won’t let you
speak in your own language
who destroy your statues
& instruments, who ban
your omm bomm ba boom
then you are in trouble
deep trouble
they ban your
own boom ba boom
you in deep deep


probably take you several hundred years
to get out!

Walk On Water, Now Walk On Fire

The word timeless is another one of those lazy rock-lit favorites, one that is not only overused but, frequently, misused. Is it supposed to describe a song out of time or one that will stand the test of time? It's a good thing I'm on a personal quest to lay to rest all those words, only to resurrect them and use them correctly. Today's word is timeless, and luckily there's a band from Columbus, Ohio making music that fits both meanings of the word.

The Whiles have been said to sound like Gram Parsons (wait a minute!), Nick Drake (I can hear it), Belle and Sebastian (I guess), The Pernice Brothers (I wouldn't know) and The Smiths (what!?!). Nevermind that, The Whiles sound like The Whiles, and that's plenty different than anything else that came out last year and plenty good enough to still be worth listening to in 20 years time. You see, timeless.

Not every song, mind you; like every band they have their share of great, good and not-so-good moments. But if their next album can capitalize on their debut's strengths, they'll be well on their way to becoming as great as they ought to be. Observe said strengths:

The Whiles - "Ghost On The Hill"

If you're only going to download one of these songs, this better be it! I feel bad uploading this song when The Whiles and their label have already generously made several songs available online, but this is their best song and it's the song that inspired the whole timeless discussion. Honestly, would you be able to say when this was recorded if I hadn't already told you? I didn't think so. The only word for Joe Peppercorn's voice is beautiful, the lyrics are astonishingly good and, frankly, no one else is coming up with melodies like this these days. It is my sincerest prayer that The Whiles can come up with more songs like this on their sophomore album.

Here are a few more songs from Colors Of The Year:

The Whiles - "Lonely River"

The Whiles - "Lonesome Reply"

The Whiles - "Will You"

The Whiles - "Emily"

I really hope somebody reading this likes these songs (don't forget to let me know), and I hope that if you do you'll support The Whiles by purchasing their album from Anyway Records. I mean, they've been "in debt since 1991", and a label putting out music this good simply doesn't deserve such a fate.

You can learn more about The Whiles by visiting their website or reading this one-sheet. Or both, if you're feeling really adventurous.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The News Is Out...

Just as my last post anticipated, Bob Dylan will be hitting the road with Merle Haggard come March. That's great news, but there's even better news for those of us in the Northwest: the tour opens in Seattle with a three-night stay at the Paramount!

3.07.2005 Paramount Theatre - Seattle, WA
3.08.2005 Paramount Theatre - Seattle, WA
3.09.2005 Paramount Theatre - Seattle, WA
3.11.2005 University Of Portland, Chiles Center - Portland, OR
3.14.2005 Paramount Theatre - Oakland, CA
3.15.2005 Paramount Theatre - Oakland, CA
3.16.2005 Paramount Theatre - Oakland, CA
3.19.2005 Aladdin Theatre - Las Vegas, NV*
3.21.2005 Pantages Theatre - Los Angeles, CA
3.22.2005 Pantages Theatre - Los Angeles, CA
3.23.2005 Pantages Theatre - Los Angeles, CA
3.25.2005 Pantages Theatre - Los Angeles, CA
3.26.2005 Pantages Theatre - Los Angeles, CA
4.01.2005 Auditorium Theatre - Chicago, IL
4.02.2005 Auditorium Theatre - Chicago, IL
4.03.2005 Auditorium Theatre - Chicago, IL
4.05.2005 Auditorium Theatre - Chicago, IL
4.06.2005 Auditorium Theatre - Chicago, IL

The date with the asterisk next to it is the only one without Merle Haggard & The Strangers. All of the dates will also feature Amos Lee as an opening act. Bob doesn't usually like to take more than a day's rest between shows, so look for the gaps between dates (i.e. on either side of the Oakland shows and between LA and Chicago) to be filled.

I'm incredibly excited: it's been more than a year since my last Dylan show. Since the last time I saw him, he's put his guitar down (possibly because of back problems) and started playing keyboard on stage. He's also had some band changes, which I'm looking forward to hearing live and in person. For anyone who doesn't know, Bob's got one of the best bands in all the land, anchored by longtime bassist Tony Garnier and brilliant multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell. I don't have to remind you how important Dylan is to the history of rock, but I might have to tell you that he and his band still put on one hell of a show today, far removed from the senior-circuit and cash-cow retreads (I see you Macca, shaking that cash). In other words, if you've never seen the Master live, and if he's coming near you, do not miss the opportunity.

Hopefully this tour with Merle will result in some great duets, along the lines of Bob's duets with Willie Nelson on their tour of minor-league ballparks last year. For example:

Bob Dylan & Willie Nelson - "You Win Again [Live]"

Alright, so technically this song isn't from their ballpark tour. It's from a surprise appearance Bob made at a Willie Nelson concert at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles on May 5, 2004. However, it is exemplary of how great their voices sound together, especially on this old Hank Williams number, and I can imagine Bob and Merle's voices achieving a similar, lonesome blend.

Barring a duet, maybe these two legends will at least cover each other. I hear that Merle does a great version of Bob's latter-day masterpiece "Things Have Changed", and I know Bob favors a Haggard tune or two. Witness:

Bob Dylan - "Sing Me Back Home [Live]"

This song was written by Merle Haggard way, way back, first appearing by Merle on his 1968 album of the same name. That was a landmark album for Haggard, and "Sing Me Back Home" went all the way to number one on the Billboard country charts. This performance comes from Bob's appearance at Bonnaroo on June 11 of last year.

Keep checking in with Dylan's and Haggard's official websites for more tour dates and other information.

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