cool hand bak

Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.

Friday, April 29, 2005

In A Time Of Flourishing Beauty

Last Saturday's show was a quadruple bill, a veritable mini-festival, at Seattle's Behnke Center for Contemporary Performance, an art institution. Getting to the venue, which is packed away in a little corner on a hill in Queen Anne, was no problem, but finding a place to park was a real pain in the ass. All of the pay-to-park lots were full, the meters were all taken as usual and everywhere else was restricted for one reason or another. It ended up taking me over half an hour to find a spot about six blocks away, which was fine, except that it sent me to the show in not the best of spirits. Everything changed once I got inside, secured second row (dead center!) seats, studied the program and prepared myself for the first of four unique musical experiences. I was happy to be surrounded by people of every style and passion.

His royal hippiness, Devendra Banhart, took the stage first, along with his "brother" Noah Georgeson, (formerly?) of The Pleased. Astute Banhart listeners will immediately think of the song "Noah" off of Niño Rojo, the one about the cowboy that nobody knows. It seems Noah is one of the core musicians that Banhart called upon to play his next LP, his first with a full band. You can read all about that at the recent Pitchfork interview with Monsieur Banhart.

The two of them came with a cup of wine and a guitar apiece, sat down on a rug on the stage and began the festivities. With them seated and me in the second row, I could barely see them over the stage monitors. They played a set of mostly covers and new songs, interspersed with Devendra's storytelling. I'd be lying if I claimed to be a huge Banhart fan, so I could be mistaken, but I don't think he played anything from Rejoicing In The Hands or Niño Rojo, which meant no "This Beard Is For Siobhán" or "Will Is My Friend", my two favorite songs of his. He did play songs that'll probably end up on the next album, including one that might be called "Long Haired Child" that was a big hit with the audience. The covers were mostly not in English, so I can't really say what they were about, though he got quite into them. He was a lot more animated and bouncy than the Devendra in my mind, which was nice; it's always good to have one's expectations trounced.

Here are a couple songs Devendra Banhart songs to introduce you to his music, just in case you've been living under a rock for the last year and a half. "The Body Breaks" is from Rejoicing In The Hands and "Be Kind" is from Niño Rojo, and they are both standout tracks on their respective albums.

Devendra Banhart - "The Body Breaks"

Devendra Banhart - "Be Kind"

Devendra seems to have two websites, one at Young God Records and the other at XL Recordings.

Up next was William Basinski, the avant-garde auteur du jour. I've come across his name quite a bit in the past six months, but I've only listened to a few pieces here and there, which is to say I wasn't sure what to expect from a Basinski live performance. I knew the music wasn't going to be live, I knew there would probably be some sort of huge screen in the background playing an equally esoteric video, and I knew I was looking forward to the experience. Now, I have no idea what the titles are of the music I heard or the video I saw, beyond that they weren't part of the famous Disintegration Loops series. I apologize, I'm just not up on this stuff.

I can say a few words about my experience though. The music took me to a unique place, a place that was mostly new to me. I found myself sitting very still. It was a natural stillness, not the stillness we force ourselves into when we want to really pay attention. The images on the screen and music in the air worked together to give me something that I really appreciated, despite the fact that I know it's not something I need very much of to feel satiated. I was glad when Mr. Basinski walked out at the conclusion of his set; I wanted to see just who was causing me to feel what I was feeling.

As for the images, it was akin to cloud watching or Rorschach ink blot tests; I suppose I saw what I wanted to see. However, to make it more palatable to you, the reader, I'll share a poem I wrote during the intermission between Basinkski and CocoRosie's sets. For now it's called "Star Traffic":

Black dogs climb the waves
Until the waves are black

Stars are in the well
Until the well is filled with stars

Wires separate the city
They are fine and silver

You are wading out to sea
Until you are the sea

You’re caught inside a storm
Until you are the storm

Footsteps on the sky
Until the sky is trodden

Your reflection on the water
Is the water introspective?

You leave your body behind
Until your body is a shell

The clouds are made of fire
I hope it doesn’t rain

To provide a taste of Basinski's music, here is one of the tracks from The Disintegration Loops IV. Though keep in mind it's quite different from the piece I heard and saw.

William Basinski - "DLP 1.3"

For more information on William Basinski's work, visit his website.

If you had told me going into this show that I would enjoy William Basinski's set more than CocoRosie's, I probably would've laughed at you. I was one of the people who liked CocoRosie's debut album, La Maison De Mon Rêve, albeit with some major reservations. In fact, I wrote about the album and one of its best songs, "By Your Side", near the beginning of this blog. I wrote then that CocoRosie "fail interestingly" with that album, which I still believe. Their live performance, however, also failed and, worse, failed to be interesting.

I found myself not having a good time very early in their set. Too many things combined to provoke distaste: the probably-meant-to-be-ironic-but-really-just-lame Care Bare video playing on the aforementioned huge screen, the toy instruments that struck me as gimmicky rather than playful and the tape recordings that arbitrarily pervaded each song, adding nothing and distracting so much. It could just be me, I know, but the overall impression I was left with was that their music works a lot better on record than on stage.

Their set was not a complete travesty though: they did play "By Your Side", which remains my favorite song by them, Sierra sat down on the floor to play beautiful harp and they invited Antony on-stage for a very moving performance of a song from their next album, "Beautiful Boyz". The album is titled Noah's Ark, it's set to be released this September and, despite the fact that I didn't enjoy their set Saturday, I'm still very much looking forward to it.

Here is the song that their label, Touch & Go Records, has generously made available from La Maison De Mon Rêve:

CocoRosie - "Good Friday"

Visit their website for more information and such.

I have no problem admitting that the main reason I wanted to be at this show was Antony. His website describes him as "an utterly genderqueer musical sensation", which is certainly true, but he has entered my heart as a talented songwriter, blessed with a voice that I'm not even going to begin to try to describe. I had heard that he's also a special performer, and last Saturday I was able to see for myself.

For Saturday's performance, The Johnsons were comprised of Julia Kent, Rob Moose and Kevin Barker (of Currituck County). Antony's set began with Barker playing a couple of his own songs, one instrumental and one vocal, solo with acoustic guitar. I thought that they were nice enough, but I was anxiously waiting Antony's arrival. Maybe a part of me couldn't believe he would show, even though he had just been before my eyes at the end of CocoRosie's set. Finally, show he did, far stage right mostly hidden by a grand black piano. The picture above is pretty much the view I had of him the whole night, but he was still beautiful and his voice was still perfect.

His set was shorter than I would've liked, but then again I could've listened to that voice all night. He sang most of the best songs from this year's I Am A Bird Now (still one of the year's best albums), including "My Lady Story" and "For Today I Am A Boy". He sang "Cripple & The Starfish", which I was especially hoping for, despite the fact that it's from his self-titled 2000 debut. He invited CocoRosie back to sing Boy George's part in "You Are My Sister", then kept them on to sing their "Brazilian Sun". And then, as my inner music nerd hoped, he invited everyone back on-stage to sing what must've been an improvisational song. The song was "Water & Dust", so-called for containing only those three words as lyrics. He asked that everyone clap along, to lend structure to the song but also to participate in the true, joyous communality of these artists, all of whom seemed genuinely happy to be sharing the stage with one another. I never clap along at concerts, I feel goofy, but this was different - this was right. He even sang a gorgeous cover of Leonard Cohen's "The Guests", harmonizing with Kevin Barker for the wonderful chorus melody.

He didn't sing "Fistful Of Love", his masterpiece, but I wasn't disappointed. I know that I have been witness to something special when I find myself forgetting to breathe; instead of the natural breaths that I should take every few seconds, I realized I was drawing hearty, needful breaths every half minute. And then it was over. One by one the guests began to leave, the brokenhearted many and the openhearted few, back into the night, into the lonely color of the city, into reality, wherever they left it.

Here are two songs Antony sang on Saturday, the first from I Am A Bird Now and the second from Antony & The Johnsons.

Antony & The Johnsons - "For Today I Am A Boy"

Antony & The Johnsons - "Cripple & The Starfish"

Visit Antony & The Johnsons' website to better know this remarkable artist.

Extra super special bonus track:

Leonard Cohen - "The Guests"

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I'll Listen Long As I'm Able

I saw two great shows this past weekend. The first show was Over The Rhine, with Kim Taylor opening, on Friday at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland. I came close to seeing Sleater-Kinney there a few months ago, but I'm glad I didn't: it's this really tacky, faux log cabin hipster magnet. It's one of those places where the music (being performed downstairs) seems to be an afterthought, with the bar and restaurant the true attraction. Judging from their schedule they put on a lot of good shows, but I really wasn't feeling the overall atmosphere.

Luckily the ambience of the lounge in no way detracted from the music. Kim took the stage right on time, just her and her guitar. She played maybe five or six songs, and while I didn't enjoy all of them some were quite good and I liked her overall bluesy, confessional style. Plus she had a very charming stage presence, liberally interacting with the crowd and making jokes that were actually funny. She did this very endearing thing where she said she'd brought a trumpet player with her, and then she made these trumpet-sounding noises with her mouth. Look, you weren't there, it was funny dammit! The overall impression Ms. Taylor left me with was one of a sweet, coolly collected and down-to-earth simple gal, and I hope to hear more from her in the future. Here are a couple songs from her 2004 Extended Play EP, neither of which she played Friday night:

Kim Taylor - "Maggie"

Kim Taylor - "Telephone"

Here's another song available from Amazon, which means you'll probably have to sign in to download it. This one is from her 2002 full-length So Black, So Bright:

Kim Taylor - "Myself (Enough)"

You can visit CD Baby to preview more songs from So Black, So Bright, including my personal favorite "Birds And The Bees", and to purchase the album if you like. You can also visit Kim's website for more information and tour dates.

Over The Rhine took the stage shortly after Kim departed. This was my first time seeing them so I was pretty excited, having thoroughly enjoyed their Films For Radio and Ohio albums and just starting to get into this year's Drunkard's Prayer and their older material. I guess they weren't feeling the Doug Fir mood either, because they decided to set their own by lighting candles and bringing flowers out. Then they proceeded to play a great 18-song set (plus encore) with an interesting selection of songs culled from their many albums, which included some of my favorites ("Suitcase", "Long Lost Brother", "Anything At All" and "Born") as well as some great songs I didn't already know ("Jack's Valentine" and "All I Need Is Everything"). They played like a band that's incredibly comfortable with their music and their audience, which meant a lot of fun for both them and us.

Here's a few songs to introduce you to Over The Rhine, if you're not already familiar with them:

Over The Rhine - "Born"

Over The Rhine - "All I Need Is Everything"

As I mentioned above, "Born" and "All I Need Is Everything" were both played on Friday and they were both highlights of the show. They invited Kim Taylor back to the stage to play guitar and sing on these songs. They sounded really good live with the girls singing together, but they're great in these studio versions too. "Born" is from Drunkard's Prayer and "All I Need Is Everything" is from 1996's Good Dog Bad Dog, the home recordings, as opposed to the 2000 reissue of Good Dog Bad Dog on Back Porch Records.

Over The Rhine - "Show Me"

They unfortunately didn't play this Friday, but I decided to post it anyway. It's one of the standout songs on Ohio, which is my favorite album of theirs and the one I'd recommend a newcomer starting with.

Over The Rhine have one of the best designed sites I've seen and they offer a generous selection of free downloads from each album, plus a wealth of information for the uninitiated to explore. You can also purchase any of their albums directly from them, so be sure to stop by their website.

I'll post on the second show I saw this weekend tomorrow, or maybe the next day. We'll see...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

It's Going To Be Wild

The greatest band on Earth, maybe even in the universe, is getting dangerously close to releasing their seventh album, The Woods, on May 24th. I realize that, maybe, many of the people who are excited about this have already downloaded the entire album, but to my knowledge the first legal downloads were made available in the last couple days. Here be the goods:

Sleater-Kinney - "Entertain"

Sleater-Kinney - "Entertain [Video]" (For high speed.)

Sleater-Kinney - "Entertain [Video]" (For not-so-high speed.)

I've not listened to "Entertain" yet, watched the video, nor had any other exposure to The Woods beyond hearing some of the songs live. I want the album to be completely fresh and new to me when I pick it up the day of release. If anyone wants to comment on the song though, I'd love to hear what you have to say. I don't think you can really spoil a song the way you can a film or a book.

Besides that, S-K have completely redesigned their site with new photos, new T-shirt designs, a quiz, a page for Janet's mix-tapes (only one so far, but the girl's got taste!) and even a blog. They say they'll be posting to the blog regularly, but we'll see how long that lasts. As for the quiz, I took it of course and got a middling score; it's damn hard!

The band will be playing a few European dates over the next week, then they'll return to the Northwest, where I'll be seeing them in Seattle and Portland. After that they've got quite a tour scheduled, so catch them if you can. Their website, for more information.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Who Raised The Roof?

Someone really should have told me about Chuck Prophet. I mean, anybody making music this fucking outstanding doesn't deserve to fly under anybody's radar, least of all mine. His music is practically perfect for my particular tastes: well-crafted songs composed by a songwriter (in the truest sense of the word), sung by a country singer (at heart) but produced with an ear to what's going on in the rest of the musical world as well. Over the course of his 2004 near-masterpiece, Age Of Miracles, Prophet comes off as a less willfully eclectic (and therefore more enjoyable) Beck, living with one foot a little bit deeper in country music than Mr. Hansen would probably consider cool. Actually, he's kind of like the guy I posted on yesterday in the way he takes the arms and legs of different styles and comes up with his own hideously beautiful beast. I think his press sheet sums it up best: "...a world where Dr. Dre and Charlie Feathers would both feel comfortable." That's brilliant man, that's exactly right.

I picked up Age Of Miracles as an impulse buy (read: I liked the cover art) about a week or so ago and I have not been able to stop listening or wishing I was listening to it since. I guess I had heard Prophet's name before, but I'm taking the pat on the back for introducing myself to his music. Good job bak, you really outdid yourself this time! Now turn to the people at home and let them hear what all the fuss is about. Listen people, you need to hear these songs:

Chuck Prophet - "Age Of Miracles"

Chuck Prophet - "Pin A Rose On Me"

Chuck Prophet - "West Memphis Moon"

Age Of Miracles is good enough to be a greatest hits album, except for the little fact that none of the songs can honestly be called hits and it's more cohesive than most compilations. Actually, it's better than most people's greatest hits albums. "Age Of Miracles" and "Pin A Rose On Me" are two of the best songs on the album, but I would've liked to post "You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)" rather than "West Memphis Moon". "You Did" is a hell of a lot more fun and it features his best incorporation of samples and hip-hop elements, plus it's one of the songs on repeat in my head these days. Whatever, it doesn't matter, every song on the album is good and these are the songs that New West Records has kindly made available. Damn you New West, you really think I needed one more person's entire back catalogue to hunt down!?! Now how am I gonna eat this month?

Pay a visit to Chuck's website for more information and stuff, like tour dates. Man, I bet these songs are a blast live, but I don't think I can justify driving back to Denver for another show.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Pay The Fiddler Off 'Til I Come Back

Hows about a short post to get back into the swing of things? While we were waiting in line (God bless general admission!) to see Mr. Dylan in Denver, my buddy Leroy slipped out and down the street to a local independent record store. I believe it was actually called Independent Record Store. He returned bearing gifts. Well, one gift to be precise, but it's a gift that keeps on giving (pah-dum-shh!). What he bought me was Tom Waits' Big Time, one of the two remaining Waits albums I didn't own. Now all that's left is the soundtrack he did for Jim Jarmusch's Night On Earth.

I've been a fan of Mr. Waits since back in the day, long before it was the cool thing to be. Long, long before the hipsters got ahold of his Anti- records and began to champion him as the last genuine madman of music. It's a real pleasure to finally hear these songs that I've cherished in their studio versions in their nuttier and even more alive live versions. So, once again, thanks Leroy, you da man! I would say I owe you one, but I basically got you into Waits, so for all intents and purposes I suppose we're even.

Tom Waits - "Way Down In The Hole [Live]"

Tom Waits - "Train Song [Live]"

Tom Waits - "Clap Hands [Live]"

I love how theatrical Tom is live. Back in the late 80s, when he was signed to Island, the majority of his songs were perfect for this kind of treatment. Not another artist could pull it off. Must've been a joy to catch those shows. Unless you go even further back with Tom and his music than I do, Big Time is as close to live Waits as you're likely to get, so feast up! (Leroy, despite the fact that you warned me that this version of "Clap Hands" pales in comparison to the original (on Rain Dogs for you Philistines out there), I think it's an equally valid, equally enjoyable take on the song. Don't forget, my opinions are right.)

I mentioned a short post, so I'll wrap it up now. Listen to Tom folks, you can learn a lot from him. You don't want to end up like the soldier in the beginning of "Train Song", do you? The Anti- albums are great, but you gotta go back to the Asylum and Island albums too. For further enlightenment and more of Waits' wisdom, visit his official website. You'll thank yourself later on in life.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Best Of What's Around

At long last, here it is. Nearly two weeks ago I promised something special upon my return from Denver. Now, please allow me to introduce The Best Of What's Around, another post series that I hope to develop into an occasional feature. This feature will collect a CD's worth of great songs that I've picked up from fellow bloggers. It's basically a mixtape of what I consider the best of what other bloggers have introduced me to, the stuff that's really made itself at home in my world. At the same time, it's unlike a mixtape because I won't be selecting or organizing the tracks around any theme or concept; just one great song after another, from disparate genres and times. However, I did make a CD out of these songs and it sounds fucking incredible, so I do encourage you do the same if you're so inclined. It's certainly worth the effort.

So, without further ado, I present the first installment of The Best Of What's Around. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming size of this undertaking I have been reduced to using You Send It. It involves a little more clicking, but other than that it's basically the same. Enjoy!

Bob Martin - "Salisbury Beach"

Of all the songs I've been introduced to through the magic of music blogs thus far, Bob Martin's "Salisbury Beach" is without a doubt the one I'm most thankful for. The drums and shimmering guitar introduce a Dylanesque voice, but soon a more unique, genuine talent than just another Dylan derivative is revealed. On just this one song Martin distinguishes himself as a folk songwriter with few peers. The melody and pace of the song are impeccable. Martin's phrasing conveys so much, especially combined with such evocative lyrics. Listen to the way he sings "I might even get to play a song" or "Tryin' to think of who would loan you those plastic see-through shoes".

I was introduced to Bob Martin by Listen!, a self-described Alt-Americana blog that shares my love for artists such as Dan Bern, Songs: Ohia and Jolie Holland. He posted on Bob Martin way back on October 13, 2004, a post titled "The Other Bob". His second sentence is right on the money: "Bob Martin is one of those Folk singers that keep the Folk idiom alive while updating the subject matter and singing about today." "Salisbury Beach" is drawn from Martin's 1997 album The River Turns The Wheel. Visit his website for more information.

Anaïs Mitchell - "1984 [Live]"

Anaïs Mitchell's live version of her song "1984" grabbed me right away. It's a flawed but still great performance with all the energy and humor a young songwriter ought to trade in. Only a folk songwriter would so coolly spell out her distaste for the Patriot Act, as Mitchell does here. I laugh along with the audience every time she sings of turning her lover in. This live recording captures the all-too-rare occurrence of an artist saying something important and having fun at the same time. Extra props for fusing Prince and George Orwell.

This song is courtesy of Songs: Illinois, the host with the most. Songs: Illinois posts day after day, like a reporter sending back findings from his visits to the world of alt-country, folk and rock. To put it another way, I haven't come across another blog that can keep up with him, at least not while maintaining such a high level of quality across as broad a selection of artists. You see, I could easily make The Best Of What's Around just using songs I've picked up there. Limiting myself, I choose the one that has kept me coming back the longest. He's posted on Anaïs at least a couple times, this one comes from January 9 of this year. The studio version of "1984" appears on Mitchell's Hymns For The Exiled album from last year. Visit her website for more information and mp3s.

Amy Miles - "Kill To Know"

This song has attitude and swagger to spare. Amy Miles' voice is of the husky sort, a deep, bold instrument that she uses in what can only be called a sexy way, like a fun Melissa Etheridge. You gotta love that chorus and the rhythm that demands you get caught up in it.

I was introduced to this by Fingertips, a great blog that delivers three gems a week. He/she posted on Amy Miles the week of December 19-25 last year. Definitely read the post on it. Among other things, it has this great description: "Amy Miles writes down and dirty songs and sings them with an appealing sort of blase-ness." "Kill To Know" is from Amy's 2002 album Dirty Stay-Out. Visit her website for more information and mp3 clips for her new album, Noble Hatch.

Bette Bright & The Illuminations - "Soulful Dress"

This awesome song is the definition of sassy. Bette Bright, she formerly of Deaf School, turns in a classic new wave cover of Sugar Pie Desanto's "Soulful Dress". You can just imagine women terrified of losing their men after hearing this song; when Bette Bright sings "don't you girls go getting jealous when I round up all your fellas", she sounds like she means it.

I came across this through Fire Of lovE, a great blog that's all over the place but always on the mark. He/she posted on Bette Bright earlier this year on February 2, offering it side by side with the aforementioned Sugar Pie Desanto version. Bette Bright's version comes from her 1981 album Rhythm Breaks The Ice, which has probably never been released on CD. Likewise, there doesn't appear to be an official website for her. If you love it, hunt down the vinyl I guess.

Bunky - "Baba"

There comes a time in every musical correspondence when a line must be drawn, and when it comes to "Baba" that time for me is now. It's like this, if you ain't feeling "Baba", then I ain't feeling you. C'mon, who else could make the line "going bluh bluh bluh bluh bluh bluh bluh" sound like the most profound lyric ever written? What could be more fun than out of control horns fronted by what sounds like a shit-talking 12 year old? Unless you said nothing, you are wrong!

To be perfectly honest, I don't know anything about this band beyond this song. It was What's Knittin', Kitten? that introduced me to this, and going back and reading his February 24 post I discover that Bunky is a boy/girl group signed to Asthmatic Kitty. "Baba" is from this year's Born To Be A Motorcycle, which I know I'll be picking up on my next visit to a record store. Visit Bunky's website for more information and mp3s.

Kylie Minogue - "Red Blooded Woman [Whitey Mix]"

Midnight Movies - "Time Of Year"

Here's two from Spoilt Victorian Child, one of my heroes when it comes to this blogging shit. Speaking without hyperbole, I would've never started a music blog if it hadn't been for my discovery of, and subsequent deep respect for, SVC's blog. To give you a hint, this blog's recent posts have included John Coltrane, Rufus Wainwright, King Tubby & Augustus Pablo, Squarepusher, Big Star, The Kinks, Hood and Two Gallants. That kind of breadth is beautiful.

Given the broad range of almost uniformly great music that SVC covers, it's a wonder these two songs stood out to me. I've never been a Kylie fan; in fact, the only album of hers I've heard is last year's Body Language, and the only thing that really stood out on that was "Promises". But damn, I love Whitey's mix of "Red Blooded Woman". Just the repetition of the lines "girl wants to run with you" and "you'll never get to heaven if you're scared of getting high" seals it. Placing Kylie's voices and coos amidst such expanses of space makes her sound otherworldly and exciting. This was actually one of the first songs I ever downloaded from SVC, way back on November 18, 2004. This mix is from the Australian "Red Blooded Woman" single. Visit Kylie's website for information and whatnot.

I was glad when SVC posted on Midnight Movies on January 16. The constant comparisons to Stereolab had peaked my interest, but I wasn't willing to pick up the album without hearing any of it. SVC put up "Time Of Year", a contender for best song on the album, and I was hooked. I love the way the monster drums dissolve into guitar squeal at the beginning of the song, and Gena Olivier has a fantastic voice. "Time Of Year" is taken from Midnight Movies' self-titled debut. Visit their website to learn more about them.

Jay-Z & Nena - "99 Luft Problems"

This is my shit! What's the hardest city in America? Compton? The Bronx? That's the city I want to drive through with the roof down bumping this. They'll think it's alright at first (Jigga still gets respect in the hood, right?), then the chorus'll come in and who knows what'll happen. I just want to see their faces. This is easily my favorite mash-up: I'm not going to say it's better than the original, but it's definitely close. The beat suits Hov's voice so well and Nena plays off of it with pure chemisty, despite the fact that she probably has no idea this song exists.

I think this was originally available as a bonus track on the Jay-Zeezer album, but I came across it the morning of October 1, 2004 at Bedroom Dancing. Needless to say, life simply hasn't been the same since.

Eminem & Eye-Kyu - "313"

Despite the fact that I'm a huge Eminem fan, I've never sought out Infinite. I hear it's available on eBay and I'm interested in hearing it, but for some reason I've just never put the necessary effort into acquiring it. I had heard a few songs from it, but not this one until The Tofu Hut used it as part of his numbers series on December 16 of last year.

Since then I've listened to it a lot. Eye-Kyu, "the freshest whack emcee", opens the track well enough, but Em's verse shines with the hunger and humor that characterized much of his underground work. The tone of his voice is so dramatically different from the voice that became familiar the world over. It lends credence to the theory that, far from reverse-Sam Phillips scheming, Dre simply didn't realize Em was white upon first hearing him. If you could go back and listen to this track in 1996, not knowing everything you've learned about his Shadyness in the years since, you'd have no reason to assume he's white either. He's just a kid, but there's already a hint of the sheer talent and desire that have made him so unique. "Simple as ABCs, skip over the Ds and rock the microphone with ease", indeed. Visit Eminem's website for information.

Genevieve Waite - "Girls"

Virna Lindt - "Underwater Boy"

Here we have two from The International House Of Pussy, a blog that only features tracks from women. They're from posts two and five on this page, but there aren't any dates. My guess is I got these from IHOP back in October or November last year.

I had never heard of either of these ladies before, but I eventually plan on checking out more of their music now. IHOP provides interesting paragraph-long summaries on each, so I'll try not repeat much. Genevieve Waite's "Girls" is alive with pure camp pleasure, a stunning piece of pop. IHOP describes Waite's voice as "Olive Oyl meets Betty Boop with a dash of Little Nell". Don't laugh, he's (why does the blog name make me think it's a guy?) serious. Truest line: "Girls'll run around in your head 'til you wish you liked boys instead". "Girls" is from the 1974 album Romance Is On The Rise, Waite's only solo album, which was just reissued last year with bonus tracks by Chrome Dreams. Not surprisingly, there isn't a Genevieve Waite official website, but Chrome Dreams has more information on the album.

Virna Lindt's "Underwater Boy" is a slow, hypnotic dose of quiet dream pop. IHOP calls it "sexy spy side-kick melodrama". Her label, The Compact Organization, calls it a balance "between light and shade". I call it fantastic. Unfortunately, according to IHOP, the album that "Underwater Boy" comes from, 1983's Shiver, isn't easy to come by, at least not without spending upwards of $100. For more information, visit Virna's Compact page.

Spooky Tooth - "I Am The Walrus"

Spooky Tooth give "I Am The Walrus" the apocalyptic doomsday treatment the lyrics so richly deserve, abandoning the "coo-coo-cachoo"'s that have always annoyed me. It's bluesier and heavier than anything The Beatles ever did, with the possible exception of the version of "Helter Skelter" from Anthology 3. It has an instrumental section that just screams early-70s, but this band does it better, or maybe just in a more accessible way, than I'm used to hearing and Mike Harrison's voice sounds perfect out in front.

Tuwa's Shanty, one of the first blogs I ever discovered, posted this song on December 4, 2004 as part of a farewell post. He's only made a few posts since, but thankfully he's not gone completely. He points out the "expert textpert" part of this cover as particularly good, and I concur. This song first appeared on Spooky Tooth's fourth album, The Last Puff, from 1970. It's available on CD on several Spooky Tooth compilations. For more information, visit the official Spooky Tooth website.

Becky Stark - "Cadillac"

This is a soft-spoken song that says a lot more than is apparent on first listen. Becky Stark's tender vocal performance is nostalgia incarnate, equal parts wonder and yearning. This song has all the intimacy that something recorded in a friend's apartment ought to have. Bonus points for working in a mention of Ypsilanti.

Mystery & Misery turned me on to Ms. Stark. In recent months Mystery & Misery has become one of the blogs I visit most frequently; I love the layout, the succinct writing and the range of artists featured (today he posted on Elk City!). He posted this song and a few others on January 10. As far as I can tell, this song was only released in mp3 form online, not as part of an album or anything. Visit Mr. Hyde Records, her label's site, for more information, and this post on their message board in particular for more information on the recording of "Cadillac" and links to other songs.

Wanda Jackson - "Cool Love"

Is there anyone around anymore who doesn't know how awesome Wanda Jackson was in her early years? If so, this is a track for them. This song must've been really ahead of its time when it was released in 1960 on Wanda's second album, Rockin' With Wanda: she tells her man in no uncertain terms exactly what kind of love she needs, making "you're acting like a square" sound like the worst putdown imaginable. She was on fire back then, her voice so perfectly suited to the rockabilly material she was singing. Throw in handclaps and some excellent guitar and, man, you'll really have a ball.

Honey, Where You Been So Long? posted this song on February 11, shortly before the start of his amazing Stackolee week. (Congrats on that by the way, I've never seen anything like it!) Visit Wanda's website for more information. While you're there, consider picking up her latter-day classic, 2003's Heart Trouble.

Pharrell, Jay-Z & Snoop Dogg - "Drop It Like It's Hot [Remix]"

This one's a little different. It was You Sent in my comments on March 6 at my request by someone called wooo. That was my first time hearing it, but now I'm crazy for it. Pharrell sounds good ("how you say it? bueno") and Snoop doesn't annoy for once, but again Mr. S-Dizzot steals the shizzow. Devoting his entire verse to Snoopizms, Jay makes it sounds fresh again, a feat that was last accomplished by Em on "American Psycho" on the first D12 album. It still boggles the mind how Jigga can dismiss foes in a matter of lines, as he does R. Kelly here. I miss the original's chorus, but it's all good. I'm not gonna link to these artist's websites, you already know what they're about.

Magneta Lane - "Cheap Linguistics"

Magneta Lane - "Their Party Days"

These two Magneta Lane songs are courtesy of Teaching The Indie Kids To Dance Again. TTIKTDA, as I believe it's known, is not a blog I read frequently, mostly because I'm not an indie kid, but I was happy to find songs from this young band one of the days I did check in. Magneta Lane are a Canadian trio signed to Paper Bag Records. Lead-singer Lexi Valentine sounds a little too much like vintage Debbie Harry, but other than that they seem well on their way to whatever form of greatness they choose for themselves. Great hooks, great drumming and good guitar interplay, plus attitude and style. Yup, that's how it's done. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to a full-length.

TTIKTDA posted these songs on December 17 last year. "Their Party Days" is from the 2004 EP The Constant Lover, while TTIKTDA says "Cheap Linguistics" is from an upcoming 7". Visit Magneta Lane's website, or their page on Paper Bag Records.

Ronee Blakely - "Dues"

This song, "Dues", is from the soundtrack to Robert Altman's Nashville. I fucking hated that movie. I mean really, really detested it, so much so that I don't remember especially enjoying any of the music in the movie, which is what I was interested in it for in the first place. Nevertheless, when I picked this song up from The Sound & Fury Of Radio CRMW on January 12 I fell head over heels in love with it right away. Some of you may know Ronee from her stint as a background vocalist on Bob Dylan's Desire or from her solo albums. Here she's cast as a Countrypolitan singer in the vein of Tammy Wynette. Doesn't matter, this is a great song that's perfectly suited for her over-the-top vocal performance. In fact, it practically demands it. That chorus is to die for.

Radio CRMW seems to focus on music from the movies, but recent posts have included Neil Young, The Kinks, The White Stripes, Jimmy Smith and The Coasters, among others. Ronee Blakely doesn't seem to have a website officially devoted solely to her on the whole of the internet, for shame.

Nancy Sinatra - "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time"

Don't call it a comeback, call it Nancy Sinatra for now people. She updates herself with the help of Pulp's Jarvis Cocker on this song. Worth it alone just to hear her sing "some skinny bitch walks by in some hot pants". I came across this one thanks to fellow Olympian We're Here To Help You Thru Yr Changes, who posted it on January 23. That post, titled Clawing Back Towards Respectability, puts his signature humorous writing style on full display. The song itself is from Nancy's self-titled album from last year. Visit her website for more information.

Jadakiss - "Animal"

This one I can't attribute to any particular blog. I just know it's been floating around the internet in the aftermath of 50 Cent's sophomore album and I picked it up somewhere along the way. Jada holds no punches, hitting 50 everywhere at once, from his "collaborations" with Biggie to his residency in Connecticut to steriod use to his rap crooning to...I mean, you get the point. Funniest line: "This is a true fact: since when has it become cool to get shot and not shoot back (never!)". It's the lyrical beatdown 50 asked for, that's for sure. The only thing Jada might've done wrong is play all his cards too soon, but it'll be interesting to see where this goes from here. Once again, let's just hope it stays on wax. This isn't available on any album (yet), but you might be able to find it on a mixtape or two. Visit Jadakiss' website for more information on Jadakiss, probably not on "Animal".

Whew! There we go, I'm spent. It might take me a couple days to feel up to posting again. Let me know in the comments what you think and what you like.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

His Master's Voice Is Calling Me

Right, so unless yesterday's post didn't make it clear, I'm back from my Bob trip. I had a great time; you could say it was just what the doctor ordered. The drive to and from Denver was a blast. It amazes me how much I still enjoy just being out on the road listening to music, even after all those hours and miles. On the way there I took the more conservative route down through Oregon, across Idaho, Utah briefly and Wyoming and down to Denver. On the way back, I needed a change. I still went through Wyoming and Utah, but went North from Utah up through Butte and Missoula, Montana, through a different part of Idaho, through Spokane and the rest of Eastern Washington back to Olympia. I realize my driving habits are probably of no interest anyone except me, but I just spent all that time typing it out, so humor me.

Amos Lee and Merle Haggard & The Strangers were the opening acts each night. Amos Lee wasn't unpleasant, but I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to hear his stuff. Other than the fact that he's also on Blue Note, it's easy to see why he toured with Norah Jones: they're similarly non-descript and unengaging. Merle Haggard, on the other hand, was a pleasure to watch. He's a certifiable legend, someone whose music I grew up listening to (filtered through the beer-soaked vocal cords of my father) and have gone on to rediscover independently. I'm glad he and Bob toured together, because he's one of those artists I would've never sought out on my own, despite the fact that I love his studio albums. His sets were comprised almost entirely of his greatest hits from yesteryear (you know the ones, "Mama Tried", "I'm A Lonesome Fugitive", "Swinging Doors" and "Big City"), with the occasional recent song or cover ("That's The News" and "Unforgettable", for example) thrown in. He also played "Okie From Muskogee" and "The Fightin' Side Of Me", two songs which I would've expected him to move away from in light of this country's recent case of über-patriotism and his comments criticizing Bush. At the same time, I was glad to see he played them anyway, and along with "That's The News" no less; a true artist never does what the audience expects.

Now comes the difficult part. What the fuck of any interest could I possibly write about Bob Dylan? It's possible to analyze the most miniscule aspects of his two performances, comparing and contrasting them with shows 20, 30 or 40 years ago. It's possible to compare his current band to his last band, to the band before that and all the way back to The Band. It's possible to talk about his voice in terms of deterioration (both gradual and self-inflicted) and effort. It's possible to start talking about his set list right now and not stop for a week. Fortunately, none of that interests me. I can talk about my experience, the time I had, and my experience only. I thought they were two great shows, very engaging and exciting. After not seeing him for over two years, my anticipation level was through the roof. I got in line in front of the Fillmore with friends and freaks before noon each day and waited till doors at six to be in the second row, to see his facial expressions, to see him crouch over his keyboard, to see what words he chose to emphasize and to see the band play and interact. For my efforts, I got to hear several songs I've never heard live before, most notably "Desolation Row" (amazing!) , "Blind Willie McTell" and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues". "John Brown" is an old seemingly anti-war song of Bob's that I've never cared for, but I'll be damned if it wasn't the standout of the second night. Songs he plays nearly every night, like "Honest With Me" and "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum", sounded vibrant and fresh. It's like that with Bob. It's like what I said about Merle, Bob has never once given me what I expected. He seemed to be having a good time too. I got what I wanted.

I also enjoyed his new band for the most part, despite the fact that Larry Campbell's musicianship was missed. Stu Kimball was very good on lead guitar and Tony Garnier on bass was as fantastic as ever. A lot of people seem impressed by Donnie Herron's steel guitar playing, but I was actually more impressed with Denny Freeman's playing. New violinist Elana Fremerman was the only setback. When she and Bob weren't making eyes at each other (seriously, get a room you two!) she was exaggerating every stroke of her bow and making R. Kelly faces in an effort to mask her overall lack of skill. I make allowances for the fact that she's probably not very familiar with the material, but I did not like her playing, and her grins and grimaces were distracting. Still, that was a minor blemish on two night's worth of some of the best songs ever written played very well.

I haven't come across any recordings of the Denver shows yet, but I'd like to share some mp3s from the current tour of songs he played when I saw him. Keep in mind that these live recordings vary in sound quality.

Bob Dylan - "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) [Live]"

The version of this song I got the first night wasn't quite this good, but I was still very glad to hear it. This version comes from the first show of the current tour, March 7 in Seattle, Washington. It's a great recording and features more effortful singing from Bob than I heard at either Denver show. I love his voice on the "anything I might have tried" and "I'd run and hide" parts, and his harp sounds good. It also rollicks and rolls, showing what this band is capable of.

Bob Dylan - "Moonlight [Live]"

This recording is also from the first Seattle show. It's not quite as dramatic a rearrangement as the one I caught, but it still pales in comparison to the Love & Theft original. The band feels restrained a bit and I think that allows Bob's voice to really standout, which it does quite a bit here.

Bob Dylan - "This Wheel's On Fire [Live]"

This is from the second of three Oakland shows, the date being March 15. It's the lowest quality recording of these four, but it's still pretty good. Bob went centerstage with just a mic and a harmonica for this song in Denver, which he does on this recording too. It's not a song I've ever been especially fond of, but I enjoyed catching it live.

Bob Dylan - "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum [Live]"

A setlist staple that I didn't expect to enjoy as much as I did. This be from the third and last night in Seattle, March 9. In Denver this was one of the songs on which Elana's violin playing was most overbearing, but it doesn't sound quite so bad on this recording. The majority of my pleasure seeing this live came from just watching Bob's emphasis and hearing his phrasing on each line. I always think of it as a long and winding story-song, but it's actually the shortest of these four.

Bob's still out on the road, moving East. Visit his website for tour dates.

P.S. I've still got that something special I promised before I left, but I'm gonna save it for Monday. Gonna start the week off right, y' heard!

Friday, April 01, 2005

Caution: It's So Explosive!

A part of me believes that the world is not quite ready for The Return Of The Voice. By which I mean, of course, Mariah Carey's new album, The Emancipation Of Mimi. I mean, first there is the fact that MC has always been ahead of her time. Then one must consider that Mariah has been out of the spotlight for almost two years, hopefully spending most of it preparing the masterpiece that Emancipation surely will be. Plus, let's face it, not since Bob Dylan released his follow-up to Self Portrait has an artist of Mariah's magnitude had so much to prove. My point being, this is shaping up to be a comeback like no other. If the first single, "It's Like That", is any indication, Mariah is set to reclaim her spot both atop the charts and as the reigning diva in pop and R&B. Hear for yourself:

Mariah Carey - "It's Like That"

I was one of the first people on my block to bump this song. Mariah has always been an exceptional songwriter, but she very nearly outdoes herself here. Witness her brilliant use of metaphor: "Those chickens are ash and I'm lotion". Plus, rhyming party with Bacardi and tamale is brilliant, far ahead of most of the simple rhyming going on in most of today's pop music. Jermaine Dupri's spoken parts add an element of pathos and Fatman Scoop's Lil' Jonesque shouts really definitely pump me up, making this one of the best club anthems I've ever heard. On top of that, the throwback artwork is a nice touch.

Here are a few more songs from The Emancipation Of Mimi which show Mariah "The Voice" Carey returning to form:

Mariah Carey - "We Belong Together"

Mariah does ballads so well that sometimes they don't even have to be well-written, but when they are they're on a whole nother level. Case in point: "We Belong Together". It's noteworthy for its embrace and then deconstruction of the ballad form, which she accomplishes here through some very convincing use of rap. A lot of people forget that she was one of the first (and best, I might add) to merge pop and hip-hop. Also, fuck Dr. Laura, I've learned more about relationships from MC than basically anyone else. Her insight into the incredible multitude of emotions that come with heartbreak is unmatched. At the same time, she never leaves me without hope or inspiration. I often wonder, how does she do that?

Mariah Carey & Snoop Dogg - "Say Somethin'"

MC and Snoop Dogg have teamed up before and the results have always been nothing short of outstanding. They have a chemistry that is so pure and true, akin to duos from days gone by like Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty or John and Yoko. Throw production from The Neptunes into the mix and you've got a classic on your hands. It'll be interesting to see how this figures into Emancipation, which is a concept album.

Mariah Carey & Fat Joe - "It's Like That [Scott Storch Mix]"

I'm including this remix for those who've grown tired of "It's Like That", i.e. not me. It's not quite as good as the original, but it's nice to hear a different take on the song. I wish she had gotten someone else for the guest rap because, to these ears, Fat Joe just sounds too fat. Plus, the absence of Fatman Scoop limits my enjoyment. That certainly doesn't take anything away from Mariah's poetry though.

Be sure to visit Mariah Carey's official website for more information and, if you're lucky, more sneak previews leading up to the April 12th release (only 11 days away!) of The Emancipation Of Mimi.


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