cool hand bak

Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Onward In My Journey

Check it, I'll be on the road for the next week or so. I'm driving to Denver to see the Master himself, Bob Dylan, in concert. Merle Haggard will be with him, I'm looking forward to seeing him too. I do apologize for taking such a long leave, but I can promise that I've got something extra-special up my sleeve for when I get back. In the meantime, here's the traditional poem...this time by Lew Welch.

[I Saw Myself]

I saw myself
a ring of bone
in the clear stream
of all of it

and vowed,
always to be open to it
that all of it
might flow through

and then heard
"ring of bone" where
ring is what a

bell does

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Asleep In Your Shadow

Hot off the heels of last year's excellent Summerland with Moore brother Thom, Nedelle Torrisi kicked off this year right with the February release of her second solo album, From The Lion's Mouth. Where Summerland accentuated the positively jazzy and cool possibilities of Nedelle's voice, From The Lion's Mouth is mostly sweetly-strummed acoustic guitar folk and lullabies for falling asleep under the shade of your favorite tree during the middle of the day.

For some reason, this solo record seems to have gotten a lot less pub than Summerland did. Hopefully that's not because there isn't a man's name above the title. I mean, sexism no longer exists in the music industry and the media that covers it, right? I wouldn't bet on it, but I like Nedelle and I love what she's up to (with Thom and on her own) and that's why I'm blowing my horn, hoping someone else reading this craves knowing lyrics and shiny, sharp hooks, regardless of the gender of the voice singing them.

From The Lion's Mouth was released by Kill Rock Stars, of all labels, who have generously made two mp3s available. Snooping around the internet, I also found an mp3 of what might just be the album's best song, "Oh No!", over at Of The Record, which is either an online music mag or a really fucking good blog. I've brought them all here, for your pleasure and convenience.

Nedelle - "Oh No!"

Nedelle - "Begin To Breathe"

Nedelle - "The Natural Night"

Visit Nedelle's website for more information or visit her KRS factsheet, which lists her upcoming tour dates with Fred Thomas (of the almost-too-awesome Saturday Looks Good To Me) and Deerhoof among others.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

To Make It All New

I should've known that when I made the provocative statement that "modern jazz has become increasingly less interesting" in my post on Wibutee I was going to be corrected by at least a few people who know a lot more about the subject than I do. One of the people that sent me a passionate recommendation in the wake of that post was my friend Marat, who took it upon herself to introduce me to the wonders of Junk Magic.

Let me explain. Junk Magic is the name of Mr. Craig Taborn's 2004 album. Junk Magic is Taborn's third record as a band-leader, his second for Thirsty Ear Recordings and his first to incorporate electronic elements. It's that last fact that's most important: to call this album "the most fully-realized union of jazz and electronics", as Thirsty Ear does on their website, is one hell of an understatement. Taborn's band for the album features Mat Maneri on viola, Aaron Stewart on tenor sax and David King on drums, with Taborn himself on keys. However, one of the main reasons Junk Magic works so well is that Taborn approaches the album as much from the vantage point of a producer as that of a musician, using samples, cut-ups and clicks in a way that's much more akin to pop and hip-hop than jazz. The editing, the way it all comes together without ever sounding contrived or forced, is but one of the many things that astounds.

Craig Taborn - "Bodies At Rest And In Motion"

This song features Stewart's best sax playing on the album, which is why this is one of the first songs that stood out to me. It starts off as a straightforward stroll, bluesy and melancholy, but the song eventually becomes a world unto itself, a poorly lit walk through an ominous forest, where the clicks are creatures that you just know are waiting for the right moment to strike. As you emerge from the woods, the gnashing teeth of those animals trail off and you're left with the safe and all too sane sound of your own footsteps. This is where Taborn earns the phrase "junk magic".

Craig Taborn - "Stalagmite"

This is the shit, right here. I'd say this is as close to electro as jazz gets, and I'm sure Peaches or Felix da Housecat would agree. In some futuristic movie yet to be made, this is what plays while the neighborhood playboy swaggers down the street. It's just over a minute, but it's here to convey the breadth of styles Taborn takes on with Junk Magic. It's no suprise that he does it so well considering that one of his jobs as a sideman was in Carl Craig's Innerzone Orchestra.

I was unable to find an official website for Taborn, but I did find this long and enlightening interview with Screwgun Records. If you enjoy these two songs, don't hesitate to pick up Junk Magic because the rest of the album is very nearly as good.

Although with this and Wibutee I'm quite set in the jazz department for some time (not discouraging recommendations though!), I am really looking forward to eventually exploring Taborn's earlier albums and albums he's played on.

Friday, March 18, 2005

An Unusual Groove

There's no doubt in my mind that if I had been born just a few years earlier I would've been a vinyl junkie, hopelessly addicted to hunting down the rarest of the rare. Alas, I'm a child of the digital age: the majority of my collection is CDs. I've moved six times in the last five years (including to Europe and back), I do a great deal of my listening while I'm driving and I can't imagine going for a walk without headphones (preferably plugged into something), so vinyl for me is entirely impractical. Luckily for people like me there are those who've dedicated time, energy and passion to rescuing forgotten gems from the obscurity of the great black vinyl mine. Some of them are bloggers, some DJs, but they all deserve respect and gratitude for making it possible to hear songs that, most of the time, are certainly worth hearing.

It was with this in mind that I picked up a "psychefunk rarities" compilation by Gareth Goddard. Under the pseudonym Cherrystones, Goddard released the perfectly-titled Hidden Charms last year to the inattention of most, but to the complete delight of me. Ranging from Ennio Morricone to The Shadows to the best Cher song you've never heard, Hidden Charms delivers almost an hour's worth of jewels, with the highlights popping out left and right like road signs on a late-night highway cruise. It's worth seeking out by anyone who has enjoyed the Nuggets or Pebbles discs or similar compilations of lost classics. Ultimately, the best compliment I can possibly pay to Goddard is to say I hope there's much more where it came from.

Here are the two Hidden Charms songs I think you most owe it to yourself to listen to:

Shocking Blue - "Hot Sand"

These track descriptions come directly from the liner notes, presumably written by Goddard himself:

A Dutch pop band with decided contemporary trend tendencies. Their big hit was ‘Venus’. This is the b-side, a tale of idyllic situations and supposed ideals, Tongue in cheek, with its sitars yearning for wisdom. Nirvana covered ‘Love Buzz’, another one of their better tunes early on in their career.
The Badboys - "Black Olives"

Back to the garage. This trio of (bad) boys were from Frederick, maryland. From 1966, this was the B-side of their only release. The other side, ‘Love’, is a more typical garage/punk affair.
The closest thing I can find it a Cherrystones website is this here, although it doesn't seem to have any information on Hidden Charms.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Looking For A Handout

It just goes to show, you never know where your next favorite song will turn up. When I was in Vancouver, B.C. a couple weeks ago, I stopped at Zulu Records to pick-up Sleater-Kinney tickets. By the door they had a few boxes of free CDs and, seeing as I'm curious, I peeked in. One of the few things I took was The Nein's self-titled EP from last year. I can't really say what made me take The Nein - I like their name, I like the artwork and they're on Sonic Unyon, that was basically enough. I'm glad I picked it up though, and in the next paragraph I'll tell you why.

Being a music fan, at least one who's still looking forward to something new, means being open, willfully exposing oneself to new things. Like any hunt or journey, there are risks involved and usually those who are willing to take those risks are the ones who end up the most fulfilled. Especially now that radio is useless, music fans are more resourceful and have to take greater chances to hear "the next". Granted, picking up a free CD at a record store isn't taking much of a chance, but it's an example: I went into The Nein not knowing what to expect, just being willing to give this band I'd never heard of before a chance, and I was rewarded handsomely. Of course, sometimes it goes the other way and one ends up listening to a sorry excuse for music, but to me that's part of the process too. I can't ever see myself getting to the point where I'm so cynical about new music, or so content to limit myself to hearing again what I already love, that I stop looking in free CD boxes, reading blogs and reviews, or listening to the recommendations of folks I trust. You see, I really will listen to anything once. What happens beyond that is anyone's guess.

Now, hopefully I haven't talked this up to such an extent that you're expecting something truly mind-blowing from The Nein. They're an interesting young band from North Carolina with a couple songs I really like, and their EP definitely left me wanting to hear more. Here are the two songs I dig:

The Nein - "Handout"

The Nein - "War Is On The Stereo"

As mentioned above, The Nein are on Sonic Unyon, a great Canadian record label that is also home to Tangiers, Andre Ethier, Damon & Naomi and Frank Black. They'll be releasing The Nein's first full-length, Wrath Of Circuits, on May 17th. In the meantime, visit their website for more information and tour dates.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Over The Bridge We Go...

Today I'd like to introduce what I hope to develop into a semi-regular feature. I'll be calling it Side-By-Side, and that's pretty self-explanatory: I'm going to take multiple recordings of the same song and put them up at the same time, side-by-side. If the mood strikes me I might try to write a little comparing the different versions, but for the most part I'm offering them simply because I myself often get a kick out of hearing different artists' takes on the same tune. During the course of my collecting I've come across many covers, as I'm sure most music fanatics have. Sometimes the difference is very subtle, other times it's so dramatic that it hardly seems like the same song, but very rarely is it any less than interesting. Occasionally covers even manage to provide insight into the essence and basic structure of the song, making the listener wiser simply for having heard it. Some covers are so bad they can actually enhance one's appreciation of the original, whereas others are so good they replace the original in the listener's heart and mind. Johnny Cash's cover of "In My Life" is a good example of the latter; sometimes I forget that The Beatles recorded it way back in the 60s. All of this is really to say I enjoy covers, and I hope you enjoy the ones I post.

So, for this inaugural edition of Side-By-Side, there is this:

The Velvet Underground - "New Age"

Tori Amos - "New Age"

Right off the bat I'll confess that I don't understand why Tori Amos' covers album, Strange Little Girls, was so totally trashed by critics when it was released in 2001. I'm not a card-carrying member of the Tori cult and having only ever heard Under The Pink and From The Choirgirl Hotel I don't have much to compare it to, but judging solely by the music I think she got a raw deal - perhaps because the album failed to live up to it's promise to fuse gender studies with pop songs. Without a doubt several of her covers are superfluous and the entire album is overproduced, but only "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" and "I'm Not In Love" are unpleasant. It definitely sounds good to hear Tom Waits' classic "Time" given a woman's touch, she does a good job with "Enjoy The Silence" and "I Don't Like Mondays" and I actually prefer her version of "Heart Of Gold" to the original, though I'm not much of a Neil Young fan in the first place. However, the album opener, her cover of "New Age" is the album's true gem. It's a good example of what I wrote above: her dramatic rewrite is so different from The Velvet Underground original that they could almost be completely different songs. They end up sharing only a few scattered lines and a chorus really, and barely that. Where The Velvet Underground's version is a snotty poke at a washed-up actress, Tori's version manages to capture the desperation and detachment of that same character in equal measure. I think it's quite an achievement on Ms. Amos' part; her rewrite is different enough in tone and lyric to represent the highest level of potential for cover songs. Ultimately they're both terrific and they fit well together, like two sides of the same sad coin.

As mentioned above, Tori Amos' cover of "New Age" is available on her Strange Little Girls album. The Velvet Underground original comes from their 1970 album Loaded, which is available on CD as a two-disc "fully-loaded" edition. Both should be readily available at most record stores.

P.S. I realize that there are some bloggers that dedicate themselves almost entirely to covers, and I certainly don't want to be stepping on their toes because I think that's awesome.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Save Sundays For Hip-Hop

It's been awhile since we've had any hip-hop at cool hand bak, and last week 50 Cent took it upon himself to give us something to talk about. Seemingly creating as much drama as possible to underscore the release of his sophomore album, The Massacre, 50 went on a particularly Makavelian spree through New York. Example one, in which 50 takes on anyone who's ever been in the same city as his enemies:

50 Cent - "Piggy Bank"

This is the track that started it all, even before it was released. Amidst all the buzz that it has caused, one could be forgiven for expecting something truly spectacular, but this is far from "Hit 'Em Up '05". Fat Joe gets it the worst with the song's one true brilliant diss, but 50 also takes shots as Jadakiss, Shyne, Nas and Kelis, yet somehow ignores his most vocal (and, perhaps, worthy) detractor, Joe Budden. I can barely call it battle-rap, but it definitely displays the charismatic arrogance and wit that Mr. How To Rob has always been known for. Out of all those called-out, Nas' response is rightfully the most anticipated, but it'll be interesting to see if Jadakiss can use this to finally catapult himself beyond "local" status and onto the national level. The fun doesn't stop there though. This was arguably the least brazen of 50's bold moves; example two, in which 50 instigates beef with a member of his own crew:

50 Cent - Hot 97 Interview

Here 50 "excommunicates" The Game from G-Unit, for disloyalty and disrespect. A number of remarkably harsh things are said, but the most fucked-up of all is 50's assertion that he makes more money off of The Game's debut album than The Game does himself. How's that for commentary on artists' rights in the music industry? Time will tell, but I think there's a good chance that this'll be what finally puts a chink in the Shady/Aftermath/G-Unit armor. It's difficult to imagine how Dr. Dre and Eminem will restore peace in their conglomerate without alienating either 50 or The Game and getting drawn into the beef themselves. With that in mind, here's what'll probably be the last song featuring the full G-Unit for some time:

G-Unit - "Hate It Or Love It [G-Unit Remix]"

In retrospect, it certainly seems as if The Game is issuing a warning of his own to 50 on his reworked verse for this remix. It's a shame too because both of these guys are probably better off together than apart. I'm just as much a fan of lyrical showdowns as the next person, but this has all the makings of something more dangerous than that. The bottom line is if it fuels what happens on wax that's cool, but here's hoping it doesn't go any further.

Let's end this on a more positive note. Here's a track from one of 50's targets that I've been enjoying lately. It's unreleased, and I think it comes from the Street's Disciple sessions. Why it didn't make it onto the album is beyond me.

Nas - "Talk Of New York"

Finally, while we're on the subject of mainstream hip-hop, if anyone has an mp3 of the "Drop It Like It's Hot" remix featuring the Jiggaman, can you put me up on it? Peace.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Been On The Job Too Long

Today's post is going to be a quick one, just to pay tribute to a departing member of Bob Dylan's excellent band. Larry joined Bob's band on March 31, 1997 on guitar in St. Johns, Newfoundland. Over the last seven and a half years he has, along with bassist Tony Garnier, been the backbone for Bob's ever-evolving Never-Ending tour. Larry's contributions as a brilliant multi-instrumentalist have been incalculable. Honestly, it would probably be easier to count the instruments Larry can't play, rather than the ones he can. More than anything, I personally will miss Larry's pedal steel playing when I next see Bob.

And not only has Larry been a joy to watch in concert, his various appearances on record have been outstanding, especially on Bob's deep, dark, truthful Love And Theft album from 2001. Besides Bob, Larry has turned up (as a musician or producer) on albums by artists as diverse as Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Paul Simon, Cyndi Lauper, Shawn Colvin, Lyle Lovett, Edie Brickell, Buddy Miller, Peter Wolf, Roseanne Cash and The Dixie Hummingbirds - and that's just in the last five years.

Shortly before the start of the latest leg of Bob's tour (set to begin Monday in Seattle!), Larry announced that he was moving on from the band. It appears that Larry made this decision in order to spend more time off the road and with his family and to dedicate more time to being a highly sought-after studio musician. However, one of the first things Larry did since becoming a former member of "Bob Dylan & His Band" was release his first solo album, an acoustic guitar workout called Rooftops. Larry had this to say about Rooftops:
I suppose the common thread running through most of this album (with the exception of the two originals and "House Carpenter") is that these are all tunes that I originally learned on the fiddle. Playing fiddle tunes on solo guitar is certainly nothing new, but when you consider all the hoedowns, reels, jigs, rags, airs, waltzes etc. out there, it's pretty rich territory to mine.
Here's the Rooftops song that Treasure Records generously made available for download:

Larry Campbell - "Camp Chase"

If you like "Camp Chase", kindly pick up Rooftops from Treasure Records, and definitely get Love And Theft, Bob's greatest latter-day masterpiece. You can stay up to date on Larry's adventures as a sideman by visiting his website, which is incredibly informative and run by folks who are genuine fans of his music.

UPDATE: In an effort to convey what an extraordinary musician Larry is I thought it relevant to point out that Bob Dylan felt the need to replace him with three (!) new band-members.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

In Praise Of The Openers

For my first post back from three Sleater-Kinney concerts in three different cities I thought I would write a little about each opening band, starting with The Joggers. The Joggers are from Portland, Oregon, which might be why S-K decided to bring them along. They opened Friday night's show at the Nightlight Lounge in Bellingham, Washington. I had never seen or even heard them before, but I had heard quite a bit about their kooky four-part harmonies, crazy surf-rock and chaotic sets. True to form, The Joggers were all over the place, wild and messy and unique. Their lead-singer, Murphy Kasiewicz, sounds like he's just giving speeches while the band does their thing, which includes drummer Jake Morris going nuts, standing up after every song and drumming on his head and body and bassist Darrell Bourque traipsing the stage in Chuck Berryesque duck-walks. Throw in the fact that their guest guitarist looks exactly like a bird (!) and you've got a band that's just flat-out fun to watch. Here's a song from their 2003 debut and sole album to date, Solid Guild:

The Joggers - "Hot Autism"

Unfortunately, seeing as I haven't actually ever heard Solid Guild - this song was brought to you by the kind folks at Insound - I can't say how representative it is of the overall album, but I can say that on the strength of their show I'll be picking up Solid Guild and would recommend you do too. You can get it from their website, at their "Church of Merch". Of course, you could buy it from Amazon or Insound too but, as their website says, "it wouldn't be as cheap or as nice".

Viva Voce opened Saturday's show at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, B.C., my first show in Canada! In fact, Viva Voce were largely responsible for me even going to the Vancouver show: I already knew I was seeing Sleater-Kinney twice and normally would've skipped the drive, but I've been digging Viva Voce's 2004 album The Heat Can Melt Your Brain and really wanted to see them - what better opportunity than opening for one of my favorite bands!

Let me say a little about Viva. Viva Voce is comprised of Anita and Kevin Robinson. The majority of their press seems to center around the fact that they're a married couple making music, which admittedly is fucking awesome. I first got into them with 2003's Lovers, Lead The Way!, and while The Heat isn't quite as good as that album it's still pretty fantastic. A few of my fellow bloggers have already come forward with praise for the not-very-well-known duo, and I'm happy to join that group because, frankly, I was planning to write a whole post on Viva before this show came along.

Their show was wonderful, just as I expected. Anita looks a hell of a lot better than Pete Townshend when she brandishes her double-neck guitar. If it weren't for the jeans and cute T-shirt ("It's not whether you win or lose, it's what you do with your dancing shoes.") you'd swear she was a rock-goddess from days gone by, and she plays it as well as she looks it. Kevin is great on drums and kazoo, but their music is really more than the sum of its parts. They were just as much fun live as on record, so if you've heard The Heat you should check their website for tour dates and if you haven't heard it you should get on it. Here's a couple songs to get you started:

Viva Voce - "Alive With Pleasure"

Viva Voce - "High Highs"

As their website points out, these songs, as well as the rest of The Heat Can Melt Your Brain were self-produced and recorded by Viva Voce at home. Amazing, eh? God bless home recording!

Which brings me to Sunday night's show at Evergreen State College, where Sarah Dougher opened. Some of you may remember my post about Sarah a few months back, when she opened for Edith Frost in Seattle. Whereas that night she played mostly intense, somber folky fare, on Sunday she smiled a lot more and played some upbeat stuff, including a few "disco" numbers with the help of a laptop (for the first time, I might add). On top of that, she brought a friend wearing a horse mask on-stage to exercise to the laptop jams. All of which is to say that it was a very different experience than the last time I saw her, but definitely no less enjoyable. It was interesting seeing her play Evergreen because she used to teach Latin there. I wish I had access to some of the songs she played Sunday, not to mention pictures of her horse, but alas these songs from her 1999 solo debut Day One will have to do:

Sarah Dougher - "Moving"

Sarah Dougher - "A Girl In New Orleans"

Sarah Dougher - "Hold The Bar"

Head to Sarah's website for her upcoming tour dates and information on each of her albums.

Of course, Sleater-Kinney were outstanding at every show. Carrie was in a better mood than perhaps I've ever seen her at the Bellingham show, which meant more kicks and jumps and also a broken guitar string during "One More Hour". I wonder how Corin felt about that? I was upstairs for the Vancouver (or "the Couv", as Carrie calls it) show, which was unusual for me because I've been very near the front (if not in the front row) every other time I've seen them. The new vantage point was fun though, not least of all because it made it much, much easier to hear Corin and Carrie's vocals. Also got to hear "Sympathy" that night, which is always a treat as it's one of my favorite songs. I'd been looking forward to their Evergreen show because Carrie and Corin both were students there, and I believe that's where they first formed Sleater-Kinney. I was able to get into the sound-check too, which was major for a fan like me. During the show all three of the ladies seemed excited to be playing Evergreen. Corin said a lot more than I've ever heard her say before. She told a few stories, one about Nirvana playing in her dorm when she was a student and one about hauling her amps across campus on a skateboard when she was still in Heavens To Betsy. At one point Carrie mentioned that she felt like she was in Seminar and Corin said "I hear what you're saying", a great knock on seminar styled communication. Corin also commented that she felt like she was in one of those nightmares where you're back on stage at the school you attended surrounded by professors and classmates, and Carrie chimed in with "At least we're not naked!"

They didn't play any of the songs I was crossing my fingers for, but the new material is so strong that I didn't much notice. Seriously, The Woods is going to be one hell of an album.

So, that was pretty much the most awesomest weekend I could've imagined. I hope everyone reading this also had a great weekend; in fact, if you saw any good shows, let's hear about it in the comments section.

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