Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Music: Jack White – Love Interruption

Jack White is living the rock n roll dream, and I think he’d admit that all day long. My affinity for Jack has more to do with the man himself than his music because, in short, I think he’s a pretty cool guy, and from local ramblings about town, a very nice, humble one at that. (So I officially apologize for calling him a “goth dufus” basically to his face outside the Green Hills 16 Theater in 2006. In my defense, I didn’t realize it was him, but you shoulda seen what he had on…)

In our family, Karla is the big White Stripes fan, and I don’t want to say rabidly so, but she’s definitely willing to pet the dog that’s foaming at the mouth. I could tell you about the time she literally nearly died at one of their shows because she was too dedicated (stubborn) a fan to give up her stage-side status, but I pretty much just did, so…

As for me, I respect the White Stripes, but have for the most part been a passive participant in listening to their music whenever Karla picked up a new release and played it (repeatedly). Having said that, and especially after seeing them in a live setting, it’s amazing how big a two piece can be, especially one that approaches music from a minimalist standpoint. This is most evident on their last couple of albums, where the studio itself became a bit of a third member, with Get Behind Me Satan being the one I will put on myself when in a White Stripes mood.

Around the White Stripes’ schedule Jack has also managed to chalk up a slew of additional credits in various bands and production duties and even a bit of acting, most all receiving widespread acclaim, and certainly all further expanding the living legend that was and continues to be, Jack White. And again, in my family, his secondary groups are passive listens for us, with Karla leaning more towards The Raconteurs (whom I find a bit tedious) and me towards The Dead Weather (whom I also find a bit tedious).

But now, the pin up boy of DIY indie rock is about to come out with a solo album, Blunderbuss, and since I like the man himself more than the groups he fronts/backs, I couldn’t be more interested. In my opinion, a solo album frees up Jack to do and be whatever it is he wishes without the “confines” of whatever group he’s currently manning – which is saying something as all previously mentioned groups went pretty much wherever they wanted. And while all have that certain JW-esque sound, they were also broken down into little subgroups that were more blues or rock or goth or whatever.

So, anyway, Third Man has released the first single, Love Interruption, which has been doubtlessly zooming through the speakers of hip rockers ever since. I’ve gotten a chance to give it a few clicks (you know, as opposed to spins), and I really enjoy it. Musically it’s got a dark, Appalachian feel, and lyrically it’s a request of love to, in short, mess up the singer’s life, brutally. And, as always, I’m amazed by the fullness of Jack’s minimalist approach, as there is little more than acoustic guitar, keys and a (unknown) female co-vocal, and yet it fills up the room with eerie majesty.

It’s a powerful song, one that lingers in your head as more than a melody, but a sensation, disturbing but not unpleasantly so.

Naturally this gets my ears primed for the rest of the album, which in my mind could be more of the same or roam all over the place, but I have no doubts that wherever it goes, it’s bound to be cohesive, inspired and at the end of the day, enjoyable. And if not, Love Interruption is a heck of a single anyway.

Monday, January 30, 2012

In Defense of...Tim Buckley's Last Song for You

So, quite awhile back I was working on a post of final albums, which you can find here, and on there I talked about Tim Buckley’s last release, the near-universally panned (at least by critics), Look at the Fool.

That got me to thinking about his other much maligned album, Sefronia, and then other albums that are generally cast aside by critics and fans as either subpar or just flat out unworthy. So, I’m starting up a(nother) new series called In Defense of…, where I take another look at the Self Portraits of the musical greats and see if a more objective approach won’t shine a bit of merit on these (allegedly) slandered tracks, or if bad song writing, wrong production, lack of inspiration and/or what have you has just given us a clunker.


By 1973, Tim Buckley’s star was all but faded. Though he had released a series of critically lauded albums (Lorca, Starsailor, etc), they were so far away from the early successes of his folk-troubadour beginnings and meandering jazz follow-ups - and just far out in left field in general - that his initial audience was scared away and the one he picked up as a result, understandably small. Though in no way a return to form, 1972’s Greetings from L.A. was at least a step in a more generally accessible, ear friendly funk-rock direction, though by no means part of the “mainstream” of the times. And while these truly sleazy numbers (I can see Mick Jagger blushing) certainly garnered more critical praise, it still wasn’t the financial sweet spot Buckley (or perhaps his management) was hoping for.

With Sefronia, Buckley moved towards a less raunchy, more slickly produced version of blue-eyed soul. Generally, critics deride this album for being pedestrian and unoriginal. And ok, fine, it’s certainly not as gorgeously epic as Goodbye and Hello, or as mind warpingly out there as Starsailor, but for what it is, which is competent, even inspired white funk and balladry, Sefronia is satisfying on several levels, albeit perhaps superficial ones…and there’s nothing wrong with that.

First off, Buckley’s voice is as strong as ever, and we get a good taste of his vocal prowess, especially on Peanut Man, the Buckley original Honey Man and the ever classic, so how could it be wrong, Dolphins. And yes, there are several covers here, but again, a great song well played is always an inspiration, so who cares if it’s original to the performing artist? Ok, I do sometimes, but Buckley had already proven himself, so if he needed to beef up this album with a handful of covers, so be it…the songs remain the same.

That’s not to say that every song is gold, silver or even rusted tin, as I Know I’d Recognize Your Face, a duet with perhaps one of the female backing vocalists (honestly, no idea), is about as pointlessly boring as you can get, fine for a dentist’s office, but should in no way be part of the great Tim Buckley’s catalog. And while Quicksand and Stone in Love aren’t as bad, they’re also enjoyably forgettable, and do not hold up to the first half of the album.

However, after the latter, the two-part title track picks things up again nicely, harkening back to the bright eyed troubadour days of 1968 (thanks to co-lyricist Larry Beckett), for an ambitious mini epic that may not be as ultimately pleasing as Goodbye and Hello, but is a surprising yet fitting change of pace for Sefronia and a minor gem of Buckley’s output. Finish off the album with the spritely agreeable reworking of the staple Sally, Go ‘Round the Roses, and Sefronia, while at times unremarkable, is certainly enjoyable and easily more accessible than anything Buckley released after 1969’s Blue Afternoon.

And then you can jump back to my previous post for thoughts on Look at the Fool.

I suppose once Buckley had gone “out there,” it was hard for critics to allow him to come back, and it seems once an artist goes too far from convention (as I’ll touch on later with other folks), putting out something more standard and straightforward is just out of the question. Rubbish.

But fan reviews I’ve read confirm my belief that both these albums are wrongly bashed by critics of both then and now, and while they may not carry the wandering majesty of Buckley’s folk period, the mystical crooning of his jazzy era or the atonal, rhythmic barrage of his avant-garde stint, Sefronia and Look at the Fool are two highly enjoyable if obviously lesser outings from an artist who lived to push the boundaries of what was considered music, but was still at the core of himself, a performer. Approach these two as such, and you’ll enjoy them as well.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Music: Tomorrow, Today

Earlier in the month I posted something silly regarding the album cover for the up and coming Cranberries album, Roses, the first in over a decade. Yesterday the first song/video from that release, Tomorrow, was unleashed on the internet and I finally got a chance to give it a few plays today.

Right off the bat this is a Cranberries song, and I mean that in the best sense, because it’s peppy and jangly and Dolores O is “hoo-hooing” as clearly and sweetly as she ever did 15+ years ago. And, like most Cranberries songs, there’s a message here, but instead of it being an angry, preachy diatribe, it’s a positive, uplifting thought about living in the now, that fits along perfectly with the music.

Also, from a musician’s standpoint, it’s refreshing to hear actual chord changes in a Cranberries song, not them just bashing through the same 3-4 while the lovely Ms. O makes the changes vocally. And sure, that sold ‘em millions, but it got a bit tedious there towards the tail end of their latter output.

So, at the end of it all, this is a nice return, and a clean one, because (as I’ve said SO many times before) it seems as if Tomorrow was fun to make and that the band is truly enjoying the experience, and not getting bogged down in “what we’re all about.” What it’s all about is good music, and while Tomorrow doesn’t turn 90s alterno classics like Everybody Else is Doing It… and No Need to Argue on their ear, it certainly proves that Dolores and the boys still have some enjoyable magic at their disposal.

I look forward to the release of Roses, reteamed with the legendary Stephen Street, next month.

Friday, January 6, 2012

RIP - Bob Weston (but not THAT Bob Weston)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a pretty hefty fan of Fleetwood Mac, and especially champion their output between legendary founding guitarist Peter Green and the Buckingham-Nicks era that shot them into the pantheon of the rock n roll gods.

Sadly, this post nods to the passing of one of F'Mac’s revolving door of guitarists, Bob Weston, who played with the Bob Welch lead version of the band from 1972 to 1974. He played on two of the five albums during this time of the band’s existence, Penguin and Mystery to Me, both of which are arguably the lesser of the Welch era (no fault of Weston's), and yet still grossly underrated and overlooked in the saga of Fleetwood Mac.

Weston contributed as both vocalist (notably with Christine McVie on Penguin’s Did You Ever Love Me) and songwriter, but it was as a lead/slide guitarist that his abilities really shine, especially on tracks like Remember Me and Why. As the story goes, some dastardly doings in relations with Mick Fleetwood’s wife lead to his dismissal from the band, the subsequent turmoil of which caused Bob Welch to leave later in 1974, opening the door for Buckingham-Nicks and the worldwide glory that would ensue.

As with many of Fleetwood Mac’s guitarists from the earlier days, Weston’s career was at a much lower profile after leaving the band, and most all of his output is difficult to find these days. He did, however, put out a few solo albums and collaborated with such notable folks as Murray Head, Sandy Denny and even contributed to a record by Danny Kirwan (whom he had replaced in F'Mac). More recently he had revived his music career and was to be recording with ex-Stones guitarist Mick Taylor at the time of his untimely death from seemingly natural causes.

Like most of the post-Green, pre-Buckingham-Nicks years, Weston’s role is important in that he helped keep the band together during a highly transitional (though no less creative) period that saw more turmoil than not (though to be honest, F’Mac has always been a band rife with problems, which is part of their magic), as his considerable abilities helped hone the radio friendly sound that would move the remaining members from rather respected obscurity to household names. I’m sure he has a spot reserved for him in the jam line of rock heaven.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Hello and Happy New Year!

You know, I’d had big hopes for December. I was gonna post a series on XXXmas albums, managed one and fizzled. Why? Two kids. That’s why. Ok, other stuff too, but I’ll get to that at another time.

But it’s a new year and a new tank of motivation, so let’s see what we can do…

I’ve been toying with the idea of a soundtracks series for some time now. I’m not a huge fan of soundtracks and always find it funny that virtually every movie has at least one, even multiple album releases if there is a score, etc. I mean seriously, who is going to purchase The Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift soundtrack…assuming there is one, I’m not going to take the time to check.

But there’s money to be made there, and some soundtracks are pretty popular, even classics of an era. Saturday Night Fever was huge when I was a kid, and let’s not forget The Bodyguard soundtrack, one of the biggest album sellers not just of the 80s but ever, and then the rather sleeper hit of Muriel’s Wedding in the 90s. Of course all of those were less collections of various artists and almost proper albums by top artists of the time, namely the Bee Gees, Whitney Houston and Abba (though yes, the latter was all old material). Also, those were movies where music was a big focal point, not just background tracks setting the mood for whatever scene.

And with that in mind, while the soundtracks for productions like The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and West Side Story are some of the greatest of all time, those are also musicals, so it’s not quite the same category. Not to mention that, while I love all three of those, I’m very ill equipped to tackle a write up on any of them…though I will say that ¾ of The Sound of Music makes me cry like a ginger baby.

In addition, I won’t be delving into movie scores, because I’m again under qualified, and most of the time they’re pleasant but ultimately utilitarian. Some exceptions are The Cider House Rules by Rachel Portman (another that makes me cry) and most anything by Scottish composer Patrick Doyle, particularly Henry V, Sense and Sensibility, Gosford Park and Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire. Seriously, my boy is prolific and rocks (in a score sort of way).

Finally, as I stated a few months ago, Queen’s 1981 soundtrack for Flash Gordon is the greatest soundtrack of all time.

Ok, I feel myself beginning to meander here, so I’ll get to the point.

There are some soundtracks of songs by various artists working as incidental music throughout any given flick that for whatever reason are just great. I mean at the end of the day, a soundtrack of this kind is essentially a mix tape, and we all know how much fun those can be. So, without further ado, here are a handful that I really enjoy (and why), in no particular order.

Amelie (2001) – Ok, immediately I’ve gone off the various artists path, because most of music for this FAN-TAS-TIC French import from Jean-Pierre Jeunet is by the ridiculously gifted Yann Tiersen. Actually, this album works as a nice compilation of his first three albums, though there is some new material. Regardless, Tiersen’s music is emotive in a very childlike and yet not childish way. He expresses the joy and misery of love and life and loss in a bittersweet symphony (oh yes, I did) that absolutely makes you want to dance and collapse into tears all at once. In a word: Delightful

French Kiss (1995) – There was a time when Meg Ryan could, to me, virtually do no wrong. Throw in the ever-amazing Kevin Kline, and you’ve got a match made in romantic comedy heaven. And the soundtrack? A perfect backdrop for an escapade through the French countryside. I loved the movie enough to see it twice in the theater, but never really appreciated the soundtrack until I started dating Karla, who had a copy. I determined that if we were to split, I would keep this one. (I just told her that a couple of days ago and she did not laugh – that’s how awesome this soundtrack is.) Kicking off with Van Morrison’s Someone Like You (which flat knocks your socks off as only Van can), this collection is a great blend of World music (of which I’m usually not a huge fan) and old school standards, all weaving perfectly in and out of each other with a vibe that is both classy and cheesy, and simply a joy to listen to overall.

Pretty in Pink (1986) – Without a doubt one of the greatest movies of the 80s and the Brat Pack, Pretty in Pink spoke to and for Gen Xers (as did many John Hughes flicks of the era) in a way that no other movie has about any other generation group. Plus, the music is great. Ok, mostly. To be honest, if you were to lift the best songs from this one, Say Anything, Breakfast Club, etc, etc, you’d have one stellar compilation of the best the 80s had to offer. And to be fair, the soundtrack for Some Kind of Wonderful is way more punk than anything these others have going on. But, for my money, I always fall back to Pretty in Pink. Yes, there are some pleasant throwaways like Get to Know Ya and Round, Round, and some guilty pleasures like Wouldn’t It Be Good and Do Wot You Do (Sorry, INXS, not one of your brilliant moments), but you’ve also got some of the best music the 80s could muster, namely cuts from Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, the Smiths, OMD and of course the title track and inspiration for the movie, the Psychedelic Furs. Admittedly, even most of these essential songs are a bit dated sounding, but that’s part of the appeal. Even the point of it. Also, this was Karla’s first ever CD purchase…and we still have it.

A Life Less Ordinary (1997) – What a completely underrated film. Yes, I said film (a tag I don’t drop often). Karla and I tend to love underdog movies (see Joe Versus the Volcano as well), and not only is this Ewan McGregor/Cameron Diaz pair up quirky, love-fantasy fun, the soundtrack is out of this world. Again, as with French Kiss, a lot of this is music that I’m not a big fan of, but can enjoy in doses depending on the setting – and this collection is just right. Beck, Sneaker Pimps and Faithless offer some slinky, sexy fun alongside old school standards by Bobby Darin and Elvis Presley, as well as some personal favorites like REM and the Cardigans. As with any good mix tape, it’s all about the flow from song to song, mood to mood, and this one delivers in spades.

Monster’s Ball (2001) – And yet another instance, initially, of a non various artist soundtrack, and even a score. But man, what a score. Asche & Spencer create a dark, chilling soundscape for a movie that is certainly both in a very unsettling way. I’ve not seen it since the theater, but I picked up the soundtrack the next day and these twelve sparse, low key pieces are poignant and moving in their own right. I don’t know what else these guys have done, but I’d sure like to hear it. Also, tacked on at the end are four alt-country tunes that are some of the absolute best of the genre and in no way disrupt the mood created by the first portion of the album.

Moonlight Mile (2002) – A pretty much forgettable movie I enjoyed at the time but have never seen since. But the album is essentially a collection of some of the giants of the 70s: the Stones, Dylan, Bowie, T. Rex, Sly & the Family Stone, etc. Basically, it rocks. The one contemporary track is Love Will Come Through by Travis, Karla’s favorite band (man, Karla is all OVER this post), and the reason we picked this album up; and while it certainly sounds more, er, contemporary in comparison with its disc mates, it’s a fantastic song that fits in quite nicely. Of course later it ended up on their album 12 Memories, but that’s ok, ‘cos this soundtrack is a great set of songs to have going on no matter what the occasion. I should also note that the inclusion of Van Morrison’s I’ll Be Your Lover Too, a song so powerful I lack words to describe it, gave me cause to look beyond Gloria and Browned Eyed Girl and really explore the wonder of this truly gifted artist.

And that’s the cool thing about soundtracks of this kind (and mix tapes), is that you’re more likely to listen to and subsequently discover an artist you’d have otherwise ignored. So keep your ears open, kids.