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Brighten the Corners Reissued

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“Brighten the Corners: Nicene Creedence Edition” (Pavement)

Matador Records is re-issuing Brighten the Corners, Pavement’s penultimate album, with a second disc of goodies, and more.

Our latest edition of Buy Early Get Now is perennial favorite, Pavement’s classic album Brighten The Corners!

Buy Early Get Now and receive the 2 CD deluxe edition in an embossed and die-cut slipcase, with a 62-page perfect-bound book AND a stream of the album, two bonus tracks and a whole vinyl LP containing an unreleased live show. That’s right. A free LP if you Buy Early Get Now. The bonus live LP was recorded during the first Brighten tour and scheduled for release as OLE-324 in July 1998, but was then shelved… until now.

[From Matador Records ]

I assume this bonus LP will eventually be released in the future in other formats, but maybe not.1

Pavement is intertwined with my memories of the 1990s, they were by far my favorite contemporary band, eclipsing even the mighty Sonic Youth who had already started their decline by then. Pavement rewards multiple, concentrated listening, their lyrics were comprised of obtuse bits of American indie subculture, and whatever else was on our bookshelves. In my own iTunes rating scheme five songs are classics, 4 star songs that are always included on my iPod2.

Clicking around to read contemporary reviews of the album, stumbled on this gem from Pitchfork. I imagine the reviewer3 smoking a big bowl of something interesting, and then being unable to write anything coherent about an album he loved, but still typing something anyway on his laptop. Err, or something. I simply don’t know what you are implying.

Still shocking the music world with their wacky, off-kilter brand of music, Pavement come back hard in 1997 with Brighten The Corners. Having never released an album that was even remotely bad, Pavement continue to awe with songs like “Shady Lane” and “We are Underused.” Yeah, it’s a fact. Stephen Malkmus and company pretty much got it goin’ on.

When this disc opens with “Stereo,” you’re immediately compelled to grin. And grin you do. For the duration of the album. A natural high, the tracks roll on. “Transport is Arranged,” “Date With Ikea,” “Old to Begin.” Each one somehow ultimately more awesome than the last. Stuck in a joyous stupor, your only option is to go limp and let the music move you.

Luckily, the disc ends and after a few minutes of continued incapacitation and twitching, you’re able to move again. Best not put it on repeat.

Actually, Robert Christgau wasn’t much deeper in his rave:

Brighten the Corners [Matador, 1997]

Mature or die is the whole of the law. So of course there’s no longer much insurgency in their ill-mannered sounds, now deployed to serenade a self-sustaining subculture and celebrate a band’s collective success. Moderate tempos that once breathed psychedelic wooze turn reflective if not thoughtful as lyrics reference the material emoluments of middle-class life. Yet it’s still exciting, because it isn’t dragged under by the nagging disappointments that generally dull such music (and security). As convinced ironists, Pavement never expected anything else. Closure is a chimera–they’ll drink to that. Onetime insurgent Thelonious Monk–they’ll drink to him, too. A man known for his brilliant corners. A

At least neither reviewer4 uses the word, angular.

  1. Only available directly from Matador, not the Amazon link, btw []
  2. Stereo; Blue Hawaiian; We are Underused; Starlings of the Slipstream; and Fin, in case you were curious []
  3. Ryan Schreiber []
  4. nor myself, up until this point. Doh!! []

Written by Seth Anderson

November 10th, 2008 at 11:19 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Tears of Rage: Richard Manuel is Dead

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One of my most favorite songs ever is Tears of Rage from The Band‘s first album.

The opening track on 1968’s Music from Big Pink is one of the most perfect pop compositions ever. It is a perfectly atypical opening number and a perfect introduction to the intriguing style of The Band. It is also a depressing suggestion as to how much more perfect they could have been had Richard Manuel been able to keep himself from himself.

Co-written by Manuel and Bob Dylan, “Tears of Rage” is the painful lament of a betrayed parent. The first recorded version of the song is the Dylan-sung one that was released on The Basement Tapes. Dylan’s – usually extraordinary – ability to capture the essence of the song was utterly obliterated by Manuel’s on the official Big Pink reading. The extraordinary anguish in Manuel’s voice added exponentially to the already heartbreaking lyrics. The slower composition, Garth Hudson’s haunting organ, Robbie Robertson’s swirling guitar, the unparalleled rhythm of drummer Levon Helm and bassist Rick Danko (who also provides backup vocals), as well as Manuel’s own piano work combined for one of those very rare occasions in which Dylan was completely schooled on one of his own songs (ironically, Manuel does it again on the same album with his version of “I Shall be Released”).

Sadly, the mood of “Tears of Rage” was forebodingly symbolic of the pain and suffering that would eventually consume Richard Manuel – who hanged himself in 1986 after two decades of extreme substance abuse. Perhaps the rarest attribute of The Band was the deficiency of a definitive front-man. With three lead singers and all five members’ status as exceptional musicians, there was no member of The Band who was more important to its achievements than the other; but for the first five minutes of their first album, they seemed to revolve around one genius.

[Click to read more of Tears of Rage: Richard Manuel is Dead | Sound Affects | PopMatters]

Robbie Robertson’s greed re: publishing credits probably had some contribution to Manuel’s early death. Anyway, here’s a YouTubed searing live version from 1969.



On the topic of Robbie Robertson, and The Band, Levon Helm’s autobiography is a good, fun read. Highly recommended.

“This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band” (Levon Helm, Stephen Davis)

The Band, who backed Bob Dylan when he went electric in 1965 and then turned out a half-dozen albums of beautifully crafted, image-rich songs, is now regarded as one of the most influential rock groups of the ’60s. But while their music evoked a Southern mythology, only their Arkansawyer drummer, Levon Helm, was the genuine article. From the cotton fields to Woodstock, from seeing Sonny Boy Williamson and Elvis Presley to playing for President Clinton, This Wheel’s on Fire replays the tumultuous history of our times in Levon’s own unforgettable folksy drawl. This edition is expanded with a new afterword by the authors.

Music from Big Pink

Written by Seth Anderson

August 25th, 2008 at 11:47 am

Bukka White is Awesome

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“The Complete Bukka White” (Bukka White)

The voice of blues singer Bukka White is so evocative, whenever a song of his comes up on my iTunes rotation, I stop and listen1. A cloudy tenor, with resonating overtones. His guitar playing may or may not be excellent2, but I often find myself focusing on his voice. Such power, such emotion.

Uncle Dave Lewis writes a bit of Bukka White’s history at Allmusic:

Bukka White (true name: Booker T. Washington White) was born in Houston, Mississippi (not Houston, Texas) in 1906 (not any date between 1902-1905 or 1907-1909, as is variously reported). He got his initial start in music learning fiddle tunes from his father. Guitar instruction soon followed, but White’s grandmother objected to anyone playing “that Devil music” in the household; nonetheless, his father eventually bought him a guitar. When Bukka White was 14 he spent some time with an uncle in Clarksdale, Mississippi and passed himself off as a 21-year-old, using his guitar playing as a way to attract women. Somewhere along the line, White came in contact with Delta blues legend Charley Patton, who no doubt was able to give Bukka White instruction on how to improve his skills in both areas of endeavor. In addition to music, White pursued careers in sport, playing in Negro Leagues baseball and, for a time, taking up boxing.

In 1930 Bukka White met furniture salesman Ralph Limbo, who was also a talent scout for Victor. White traveled to Memphis where he made his first recordings, singing a mixture of blues and gospel material under the name of Washington White. Victor only saw fit to release four of the 14 songs Bukka White recorded that day. As the Depression set in, opportunity to record didn’t knock again for Bukka White until 1937, when Big Bill Broonzy asked him to come to Chicago and record for Lester Melrose. By this time, Bukka White had gotten into some trouble — he later claimed he and a friend had been “ambushed” by a man along a highway, and White shot the man in the thigh in self defense. While awaiting trial, White jumped bail and headed for Chicago, making two sides before being apprehended and sent back to Mississippi to do a three-year stretch at Parchman Farm. While he was serving time, White’s record “Shake ‘Em on Down” became a hit.

Bukka White proved a model prisoner, popular with inmates and prison guards alike and earning the nickname “Barrelhouse.” It was as “Washington Barrelhouse White” that White recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax at Parchman Farm in 1939. After earning his release in 1940, he returned to Chicago with 12 newly minted songs to record for Lester Melrose. These became the backbone of his lifelong repertoire, and the Melrose session today is regarded as the pinnacle of Bukka White’s achievements on record. Among the songs he recorded on that occasion were “Parchman Farm Blues” (not to be confused with “Parchman Farm” written by Mose Allison and covered by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Blue Cheer, among others), “Good Gin Blues,” “Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing,” “Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues,” and “Fixin’ to Die Blues,” all timeless classics of the Delta blues. Then, Bukka disappeared — not into the depths of some Mississippi Delta mystery, but into factory work in Memphis during World War II.

Bob Dylan recorded “Fixin’ to Die Blues” on his 1961 debut Columbia album, and at the time no one in the music business knew who Bukka White was — most figured a fellow who’d written a song like “Fixin’ to Die” had to be dead already. Two California-based blues enthusiasts, John Fahey and Ed Denson, were more skeptical about this assumption, and in 1963 addressed a letter to “Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi.” By chance, one of White’s relatives was working in the Post Office in Aberdeen, and forwarded the letter to White in Memphis.

[Click to read more history of allmusic Bukka White Biography ]




for some youTubery.
Additional tidbit: Led Zeppelin credited Bukka White on the BBC Sessions release of a 1971 13 minute version of Whole Lotta Love, along with several other blues magicians (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Bernard Besman, Bukka White, Arthur Crudup, Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman)
If you don’t own any Bukka White music: go for it.

“Shake ‘Em On Down” (Grammercy Records)

“Parchman Farm Blues” (Bukka White)

If your ears are sophisticated enough to listen to scratchy records, find his early material. As Eugene Chadbourne writes3:

The tracks in which White is accompanied by Washboard Sam are really fantastic, representing some of the best country blues one can find, rhythmically snappy and melodically clear. In terms of the musical styles that White employed, they are all here: The basis for every single song he ever recorded, if not the song itself, is included among these 14 tracks. “Where Can I Change My Clothes,” one of the best songs about prison, is included along with White’s unique version of “Parchman Farm.” The former song was one he re-recorded in the ’60s, releasing it under the latter title: Neither song is the same as the “Parchman Farm” blues standard that was later satirized by Mose Allison and obliterated by Blue Cheer. One of the great things about White’s style is his vocals. His pronunciation and accent are fascinating. Take the way he pronounces the title of “district attorney” in the song of the same name. As well, he could be the only blues singer to deliver the following couplet and make it sound like it actually rhymes: “Doctor, put that temperature gauge under my tongue/And tell me, all I need is my baby’s lovin’ arms.”

  1. especially Parchman Farm Blues []
  2. mostly I think it is, driving rhythms on a national steel guitar that compel a listener to dance, but I’ve never tried to emulate anything from his songbook, so I can’t say for certain anything specific about his technique, other than it appears to use a lot of open tuning []
  3. though, the publisher must have changed the cover, mine doesn’t have the same photograph as the one Chadbourne talks about []

Written by Seth Anderson

August 24th, 2008 at 11:44 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Hats Off for Roy Harper!

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“Jugula” (Roy Harper & Jimmy Page)

I did not realize that Roy Harper sang vocals on “Have a Cigar”.

Led Zeppelin wrote a song about him. He delivered lead vocals on Pink Floyd’s classic “Have a Cigar.” This Mortal Coil has covered him, Joanna Newsom and Kate Bush have collaborated with him, and his reach has touched uncounted bands since he emerged from London in the mid-’60s.

So it’s a wonder that it has taken this long for Roy Harper to land his moment in the reissue spotlight. But that moment is here nevertheless.

Koch Entertainment has teamed up with Harper’s own label Science Fiction to distribute the folk singer’s albums. The slate includes Stormcock, Harper’s 1971 four-song epic team-up with Jimmy Page, as well as Jugula, Flat Baroque and Berserk, The Green Man, The Dream Society, The Unknown Soldier, Death or Glory, the double-disc best-of Counter Culture and more. Fans of all of the aforementioned bands, as well as Nick Drake, freak folk, Devendra Banhart and onward, will find a kindred spirit with a rap sheet decades wide.

[From UK Legend Roy Harper Finally Crosses the Pond | Listening Post from Wired.com]

I have an import version of Counter Culture, and there is some good stuff contained therein. I’ll have to look for these reissues.

“Counter Culture” (Roy Harper)

“Stormcock” (Roy Harper)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 14th, 2008 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Waterboys Deluxe

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I owned this album on vinyl a gazillion years ago, and repurchased it recently on CD. What a great album. Nostalgia aside, reminds me of the best of Arcade Fire: talented multi-instrumentalists jamming to crescendos of passionate Celtic-inspired indie-rock with interesting lyrics. Actually, I like this album better than anything I’ve heard by the Arcade Fire1, probably because I heard the Waterboys first. Helps if you like Irish/Celtic music, or Van Morrison even, but that is not required for full enjoyment.

Fisherman’s Blues


The Waterboys were formed in London in 1981 and led by the singer/songwriter Mike Scott, the group’s only constant member – with the supporting musicians ever changing around him. 1988’s Fisherman’s Blues is the Waterboys’s 4th album for which the band were joined by traditional Irish players like fiddler Steve Wickham, drummer Dave Ruffy, keyboardist Guy Chambers and bassist Marco Weissman, resulting in a stripped-down, folky sound which was a marked step away from the “big music” he founded and pursued in previous albums. It has been called their ‘warmest and most rewarding record’. Complete with a bonus disc of previously unreleased tracks and packaged in a digipack with pvc slipcase – it follows on from the successful re-issues of the first 3 Waterboys’s albums ‘The Waterboys‘, ‘A Pagan Place‘ and ‘This Is The Sea2


Mike Scott had been pursuing his grandiose “big music” since he founded the Waterboys, so it came as a shock when he scaled back the group’s sound for the Irish and English folk of Fisherman’s Blues. Although the arena-rock influences have been toned down, Scott’s vision is no less sweeping or romantic, making even the simplest songs on Fisherman’s Blues feel like epics. Nevertheless, the album is the Waterboys’ warmest and most rewarding record, boasting a handful of fine songs (“And a Bang on the Ear,” the ominous “We Will Not Be Lovers,” “Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?,” and the title track), as well as a surprisingly successful cover of Van Morrison’s breathtaking “Sweet Thing.” Fisherman’s Blues was reissued in 2006 with a bonus disc containing fourteen outtakes, alternate versions and late-night studio jams.

You can hear a free track streamed at LastFM

I don’t remember where I read about the re-issue3, but I’m pleased to have rediscovered an old favorite. Check it out.

  1. and I may be crazy for making the comparison, but hey, these are my ears! []
  2. these are all worth owning too, but Fisherman’s Blues is the best place to start, imho []
  3. if I don’t blog something, fwoosh, there it goes from the rusty sieve of my memory []

Written by Seth Anderson

August 11th, 2008 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Paul Westerberg – 49:00 redux

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Stephen T. Erlewine downloaded Paul Westerberg’s new eccentric album, 49:00, too

Although there are enough full-blown songs to anchor this album, much of the music here wouldn’t make sense on a proper album as it floats in and out of focus, sometimes overlapping with an existing tune, sometimes offering just a tantalizing flash of melody or formative riff. But far from being a frustrating collection of unfinished home demos, 49:00 plays as a complete work, where the raggedness is part of the point — and its coarse four-track surfaces feel defiant in an age of computer recording. There’s undeniably an element of ragged rebellion in the rough-hewn creation of 49:00 but Westerberg has always sounded best when he’s on the fringe — and while this was delivered in a high-tech fashion, the album, with all its unfinished surfaces and frayed fragments, is old-fashioned college rock filled with fragile ballads, rude rock & roll, dead-end detours, and smart-ass jokes, like the classic rock oldies Westerberg flips through at the end of the album. Of all of Westerberg’s solo albums, 49:00 comes closest to recapturing the spirit of the Replacements but it doesn’t do so by doggedly re-creating the ‘Mats’ drunken mess; instead, Westerberg reconnects to the joyous, reckless sense of adventure that fueled his earliest work, and by doing so his scruffiness is once again endearing and hard to resist.

[From The Allmusic Blog » Paul Westerberg – 49:00]

Apparently, Amazon was the only online retailer that let Westerberg set the terms of download (49 minutes without track titles, breaks), and set his own price – 49¢. I got a chance to listen to the album finally, and I like it. You have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate the oddness of it, especially when two different songs are playing at the same time from different speakers, once you can open your ears to non-standard compositions, the album makes a certain amount of sense.

On the other hand, if you are just playing the album as background, it seems kind of half-assed. Usually only the extended re-release of classic albums contains such material as song sketches, and unfinished bits. A bit disconcerting to listen to song fragments of songs you’ve never heard before. Maybe I should put mine together, and release it on an album? What do you think, would you pay 49¢ to listen to nearly an hour of various bits of music I made?

Written by Seth Anderson

July 30th, 2008 at 10:03 am

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Netflixed: The Big Clock

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“The Big Clock (Universal Noir Collection)” (John Farrow)

Watched the Big Clock recently


Crime magazine publisher Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton) tries to pin the murder of his own mistress on the magazine’s editor, George Stroud (Ray Milland), when he discovers George coming out of the woman’s apartment. Things fall into place as all the signs increasingly point to George as the killer, making it that much easier for Earl to set up the editor to take the fall. Based on the novel by Kenneth Fearing.

[Netflix: The Big Clock]

An enjoyable little noir film. Nothing too groundbreaking, and clunky occasionally, but still fun. Seems like I wrote a longer review somewhere, but don’t remember where. Probably on twitter, which means it was only 140 characters long anyway.

This has been another edition of “Reviews That Should Have Been Longer, But…”

Written by Seth Anderson

July 22nd, 2008 at 8:13 am

Posted in Film,Suggestions

Tagged with ,

Rachid Taha Rocks

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“Rock el Casbah: The Best of Rachid Taha” (Rachid Taha)

Rachid Taha is great, too bad he didn’t see fit to include Chicago on his recent tour.

An old-school rock star headlined SummerStage in Central Park on Saturday afternoon. Grinning and unshaven, he strutted around the stage, sang in a knowing growl and cued his band for extended, hard-grooving versions of songs using fuzz-toned guitar riffs over a dance beat.

He wore a leather fedora, then switched to a red cowboy hat. He dumped a bottle of water onto audience members — redundant, since it was raining — and onto his own head. He twirled his microphone on its cord, joked about Ecstasy and cocaine and was less than reverent when handed a flag. For his encore the band vamped and chanted, “Get up, get up,” and the star declaimed, “My name is James Brown! My name is Marvin Gaye!” But his other songs were serious: reflections on exile and cultural strife.

The star was Rachid Taha, an Algerian now based in France. Mr. Taha is the most rock-influenced of Algerian rai singers, who mix Arabic and North African elements with Western ones; he has collaborated with British musicians including Brian Eno, Steve Hillage and Robert Plant. At SummerStage his songs dipped into hard rock, reggae, rumba-pop and Bo Diddley, but often they used Arabic-style beats defined by the hand drum called a darbuka, and Mr. Taha’s voice was answered by oud solos.

Rai’s blunt lyrics have made it both popular and persecuted in Algeria, while in France the music has become a voice for Arab-speaking immigrants. (Mr. Taha had a band in the 1980s called Carte de Séjour, or “residence permit.”) One of Mr. Taha’s hits, and an extended centerpiece at his SummerStage show, was “Ya Rayah” (“Party”), an old Algerian song about emigration and the longing for home, which began with an unmetered, tradition-tinged introduction before the beat kicked in.

Mr. Taha has just released a greatest-hits album in the United States, “Rachid Taha: The Definitive Collection (Wrasse), and he sang some of them, including “Rock el Casbah,” his precise Arabic translation of the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah,” a song about rock as banned but unstoppable music.

[From Music Review – Rachid Taha – Rachid Taha, the Algerian Rock Star, at SummerStage – Review – NYTimes.com]

We’ve raved about Mr. Taha previously

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric K. Arnold is also a fan:

Rachid Taha compares his music to a plate of couscous. Interviewed via translator from his home in France, the 49-year-old Algerian-born singer and global punk icon says he was happy to discover that “Frank Zappa had come to the same conclusion when he said, ‘How to describe my music? Difficult to explain if you’ve never tasted couscous.’ “

Known for playing a modified version of the oud called the mandolute, Taha says he represents a link “between Africa, the Orient and the West. In the same way as Omar Sharif is to cinema,” he adds wryly.

A career-spanning Taha retrospective, “Rock El Casbah: The Best Of,” was released in the United States this month, in time for a four-city tour (which brings him to San Francisco’s Stern Grove Festival July 13). Like couscous, the 15-song CD draws its flavor from many different elements. There’s the punk side, represented by his celebrated version of the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” and the rabble-rousing “Douce France.” Taha’s love of traditional folk music comes through on his covers of Farid El Atrache’s “Habina” and Dahmane El Harrachi’s “Ya Rayah.” A philosophical, existentialist aspect shows up in “Kelma” (“Thoughts”), and “Ida” (“If”). And “Menfi” – which translates to “The Exile” – addresses a prominent theme in Taha’s music, that of identity.

Specifically, the identity of being Algerian, Arabic and Muslim while living in a country that hasn’t always been friendly to immigrants. Coming to France from Algeria at a young age, he says, “I knew what to expect.”

Tradition plays a big role in Taha’s music. Yet he’s incorporated progressive elements into his style, paving the way for such later artists as Natascha Atlas and Cheb Mami. In his solo career, he’s worked extensively with producer Steve Hillage, who, in addition to adding electronic textures to Taha’s sound, “is a guitar-playing Peter O’ Toole,” he says. (Think “Lawrence of Arabia,” not “My Favorite Year.”)

[From Rachid Taha’s punk world music]

I probably already own most of the songs on the Greatest Hits package1, but I’ll probably still pick it up.

  1. I’m too lazy to check right now []

Written by Seth Anderson

July 7th, 2008 at 10:51 am

Posted in Music,Suggestions

Tagged with ,

Beck Abides

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“Modern Guilt” (Beck)

Beck has a hit and miss track record. Some of his albums were an intrinsic part of my soundtrack in those heady late 90s, Sea Change is a great change of pace, Mutations worked as a melancholy Tropicalia, but other releases are prosaic, disposable.

“It is a bit random, what ends up getting released and what stays in the can,” Beck, who is known by his first name, said in his ambling So-Cal drawl. “Some of it’s embarrassing, and some of it’s better than you thought. Some of it should be burned.”

He compared his unreleased songs to planes on a runway, some still waiting to take off and some that never will, and marveled at the many unexplored destinations where his muse might have led him. “There’s so many directions things could have gone,” he said.

The paths taken and not taken have brought him to another valedictory point in his mercurial career. On Tuesday, his 38th birthday, Beck will release “Modern Guilt,” his eighth major-label studio album. It is his first collaboration with Danger Mouse, the D.J. and producer who is half of the funk-rock group Gnarls Barkley, and his final release under the recording deal that began with Beck’s 1994 breakthrough, “Mellow Gold, ”which featured the ubiquitous novelty song “Loser.”

[From Music – In a Chaotic Industry, Beck Abides – NYTimes.com]

Chan Marshall aka Cat Power sings some backup vocals. Worth a second glance at least.

Written by Seth Anderson

July 6th, 2008 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Alison Krauss And Robert Plant, Together

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“Raising Sand” (Rounder)

Really wish I could have seen this tour of Robert Plant and Alison Kruass, sounds like it was great.

Both vocalists were in extraordinary voice — perhaps not a surprise given how distinctive and commanding they usually are. But they blended so well together, whether they were singing a tight, controlled Everly Brothers-style harmony in “Rich Woman,” the night’s opener, or letting loose during a soaring reimagining of Zeppelin’s “Black Country Woman” that seemed to rattle the bunker-like Roanoke Civic Center.


From beneath a cascading mane, the 59-year-old Mr. Plant was in a playful spirit throughout the evening, joking through song introductions and smiling and glancing out of the corner of a twinkling eye at the reserved Ms. Krauss, who did her best to avoid his distractions. Calling her “the most gifted musician I know,” he made it clear he relished the chance to perform at her side, all but laughing in joy after a song in which their vocals intertwined.

As for Ms. Krauss, who is 36 years old, her voice is so pure and potent that she can control a down-tempo number by holding a crystalline note and letting it build in volume, seemingly without effort. If the evening’s version of Tom Waits’s “Trampled Rose” was maudlin to the point of overbearing, Ms. Krauss wasn’t to blame. She sang it with disarming power.

Which isn’t to say that Mr. Plant was outclassed. The duo’s version of Doc Watson’s “Your Long Journey” was a lovely bluegrass prayer, and in “Killing the Blues” their voices formed a flawless two-part harmony. Despite an evening’s worth of resourcefulness and invention, the most magical moments were when the singers sang, together and without reservation.

[From Alison Krauss And Robert Plant, Together – WSJ.com]

Full access to story using this link

Written by Seth Anderson

June 16th, 2008 at 9:07 am

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Levon Helm is back

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“Dirt Farmer” (Levon Helm)

Levon Helm is cool; his voice is a public resource and a treasure. I wish I could have heard him perform, as I liked his recent album a lot.

What remains of that world-weary drawl is a bit frayed around the edges, but it remains a potent instrument, as evidenced by last year’s “Dirt Farmer” (Vanguard), Helm’s first solo album in 25 years. It contains rural blues and mountain-soul laments that he learned from his parents while growing up on a cotton farm in Helena, Ark., as well as more recent contributions from Buddy and Julie Miller and Steve Earle. It’s done up in low-key rustic colors that evoke Helm and the Band in their “Basement Tapes” glory with Bob Dylan. This is the sound of friends gathered in a room to make music of intense conviction at a relaxed pace, and it feels as comfortable as a well-worn flannel shirt, as heart-breaking as a death-bed kiss, as vibrant as a Saturday-night, moonshine-fueled hootenanny.

The cast of co-conspirators includes Larry Campbell, who has served ably as Dylan’s touring guitarist and now plays the role of Helm’s producer, guitarist and fiddle-player. Campbell’s wife, Teresa Williams, contributes sublime harmony vocals, alongside Helm’s daughter, Amy. But at the center of it all is Helm, who plays drums, mandolin and sings with gusto. He brings a wounded yowl to the Stanley Brothers’ “False Hearted Blues Lover,” a lonesome pathos to Earle’s “The Mountain.” These songs are reminders of a rural way of life that is fast fading, as are singers who actually lived through these experiences.

Helm is 68 and has been paying off his medical debts by playing regularly in his adopted hometown of Woodstock, in upstate New York (Helm doesn’t collect songwriting royalties on Band songs, because Robbie Robertson laid publishing claim to most of the band’s material, so he’s largely dependent on live performances for income). His Midnight Rambles in Woodstock, modeled after the traveling minstrel shows of his youth, have attracted the likes of Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Dr. John and Donald Fagen.

[From Turn It Up – A guided tour through the worlds of pop, rock and rap | Chicago Tribune | Blog]

Robbie Robertson screwed his bandmates out of royalties, as far as I can tell, and should be ashamed. The Band were excellent because they were a collaborative effort, not because Robbie Robertson was a genius. Helm wrote a marvelous book on the history of The Band, including the topic of publishing credits, if you haven’t read it, you should.

“This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band” (Levon Helm, Stephen Davis)

His voice doesn’t quite have the range that it used to soar to, but it still contains a lot of power. I don’t know enough about drumming to recognize if his drumming skills are still stellar, but some say his drumming is still good:

Helm survived a bout with throat cancer that was diagnosed in 1998, and his voice is noticeably more weathered than it once was, but in many respects the additional nooks and crannies suit this material beautifully; his interpretations of traditional rural folk songs like “Poor Old Dirt Farmer,” “Little Birds,” and “False Hearted Lover Blues” sound thoroughly authentic but with a bracing sense of force and commitment in Helm’s vocals, and if Steve Earle‘s “The Mountain” and Buddy & Julie Miller‘s “Wide River to Cross” aren’t venerable classics, they sound like they should be once Levon’s done with them. Though Helm adds a touch of boogie to “Got Me a Woman” and a jumped-up interpretation of the Carter Family‘s “Single Girl, Married Girl,” in this context they add some welcome spice to the stew, and Helm’s drumming remains superb. Dirt Farmer is a hard-edged but compassionate and full-hearted set of roots music from a master of the form, and it’s a welcome, inspiring return to form for Levon Helm after a long stretch of professional and personal setbacks.

Written by Seth Anderson

June 14th, 2008 at 9:12 pm

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Liege and Lief

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“Liege & Lief” (Fairport Convention)

Liege and Lief has long been a favorite of mine, dating back to the vinyl record era. Still probably in my top 20 favorite albums, if I made a list and checked it twice. Apparently, an “expanded” version is about to come out, with a second disc of crap that wasn’t good enough in 1969, but now will be used to lure suckers like me into repurchasing the album (for the third time!)

John Harris on the story of Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief:
In 1969, reeling from the shock of a tragic car crash, Fairport Convention recorded an album that would change British folk for ever. John Harris hears the story of Liege and Lief.
… The spark for Fairport taking this watershed turn was the Band’s 1968 album Music from Big Pink, the record that – along with Bob Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes bootleg – brought about a widespread musical volte-face, in which what remained of psychedelia was replaced by a new rootsiness. Among the rock aristocracy, its influence was evident in the Beatles’ ill-fated back-to-basics project Let It Be, the Rolling Stones’ purple patch that began with Beggars Banquet, and Eric Clapton’s decision to call time on Cream.

In Fairport’s case, it convinced them that their early dalliance with transatlantic influences was best forgotten. “Music from Big Pink showed us that Americana was more suited to Americans, and we needed to explore Britannicana, or whatever the equivalent of that was,” says Thompson. “They seemed to nail American roots styles so well, and blend them so seamlessly: country, R&B, blues. At that point, we thought, ‘We’ll never be that good at American music. We should be looking at something more homegrown.’”

Just as Big Pink evoked what the writer Greil Marcus later called “the old, weird America”, so Fairport resolved to connect themselves with an arcane, semi-mystical side of the UK’s history that pop culture had left untouched. Regular trips were made to Cecil Sharp House, the traditional music archive near Regent’s Park in north London, where Hutchings in particular spent hours spent sifting through lyrics and sheet music. “You could hear things as well: old tapes, and vinyl – and cylinder recordings, which people like Vaughan Williams and [composer and folk archivist] Percy Grainger made,” he says. “After that, it wasn’t difficult to believe in those songs and kind of live them.”

The result was music full of a drama that oozed from the traditional songs at the album’s core – the Scots ballad Tam Lin, the Victorian press-gang vignette The Deserter – into the smattering of originals. In terms of emotional power, Liege And Lief peaked with Matty Groves, a 17th-century murder ballad in which a female aristocrat goes to church and seduces the titular peasant lad, only to be informed on and find her outraged husband at the end of the bed. The hapless Groves is challenged to a duel that he promptly loses, and his corpse is joined by that of his lover. The song ends thus: “’A grave, a grave,’ Lord Darnell cried, ‘to put these lovers in/ But bury my lady at the top, for she was of noble kin.’” Christianity, sex, class and murder – not many groups, it was fair to say, did this kind of thing.

sort of the anti-Syd Barrett, in other words, though Pink Floyd wasn’t alone in recording twee tunes:

“There was a lot of airy-fairy, very whimsical stuff happening in the late 60s,” says Ashley Hutchings. “We never really felt part of that. When we made Liege and Lief, it was like Bergman was coming in to direct it. It was The Seventh Seal, not Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was magical, but the magic was elemental.”

More here, including Richard Thompson saying:

“I haven’t listened to it that much, but I kind of know it. I don’t actually need to rehearse it. I could sit down and play it today – I just remember the whole thing, for some reason. It’s just … locked in.”

Written by Seth Anderson

June 12th, 2008 at 11:01 am

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Bombay Funk Thrillers

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The Funk is So Rubber

“The Bombay Connection, Vol. 1: Funk From Bollywood Action Thrillers” (Various Artists)

The Bombay Connection showcases the sound of the Indian action film of the late 70s and early 80s. Under the influence of films like Shaft and Dirty Harry a new kind of though Indian action film came into being in 1970s India. To match the loud fights and fast chases Indian composers developed a exciting brand of Bollywood funk. Wah-wah guitars, congas and funky moogs were effortlessly blended with tablas, dhols and Indian melody lines. This album compiles 12 (sic) of the best, incredibly original Bollywood Funk grooves, painting scenes of frantic chases through back streets in Bombay, secret plots conceived in subterarian headquarters by fake-moustached vilains and sexy seductive dances by female spies. The 6 panel digipack comes with a colorful 32 page booklet containing well researched info and a wealth of pictures.

the booklet is cool too, full of stills from the Bollywood Thrillers we’ve never even heard of, and a plethora of details about each obscure track.

In this first volume, we dig into the funky, bell-bottomed sounds of Indian action film music form the 1970s and 1980s. We have selected 13 tracks from the golden era of Indian funk, almost all from films that failed at the box office in their time and that are therefore hardly remembered, even in India. … But all of these films – along with the obligatory family drama scenes, comedy sequences and love songs – contained violent and kinky scenes that satiated the public’s thirst for action and sex and set the stage for the exciting funk tunes presented here.

Fun stuff, especially since the music was apparently recorded live in one take, without over-dubs. An amazing feat, since the tunes often shift tempo abruptly, heading into new directions, presumedly to follow the action projected on the screen.

Update: a great album. I’ll have to look for Volume 2.

Written by Seth Anderson

June 7th, 2008 at 2:49 pm

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Jack Black Gets Rich Kid Blues

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“Consolers Of The Lonely” (Warner Brothers)

Somewhat over-written review of the new Raconteurs new album, yet I ordered a copy anyway. I thought a few of the songs on Broken Boy Soldiers are great (Intimate Secretary and Store Bought Bones especially).

At the very least, this bubbling blend of bizarro blues, rustic progressive rock, fractured pop and bludgeoning guitars is a finger in the eye to anyone that dared call the band a mere power-pop trifle, proof that the Raconteurs are a rock & roll band, but it’s not just the sound of the record that’s defiant. There’s the very nature of the album’s release, how it was announced to the world a week before its release when it then appeared in all format in all retail outfits simultaneously, there’s the obstinately olde-fashioned look of the artwork, how the group is decked out like minstrels at a turn-of-the century carnival, or at least out of Dylan’s Masked And Anonymous.

…And this is indeed concept in plural, how cult hero Terry Reid is used as a touchstone for the band’s progressive blues-rock via a blazing cover of “Rich Kid Blues,” or how there’s an evocation of the old weird America in all the albums rambling centerpieces or how half of the record fights against pop brevity, while all of it is a deathblow against the idea that the Raconteurs are power-pop sissies. Sometimes, the group hits against that notion with a bluesy bluster

[From The Allmusic Blog » Jack White Gets The Rich Kids Blues on The Raconteurs Consolers of the Lonely]

Glancing around, reviews seem to be mixed (too hasty seems to be a common refrain), but hey, music is ultimately disposable pleasure. Reusable pleasure, sure, but it t’aint changing the world. I’m happy that Jack White takes risks.

Update: like this album nearly as much as the first. Check it out.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 31st, 2008 at 8:57 am

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