Sunday, June 22, 2008

George Carlin RIP

Sadly, George Carlin died today. Enough can’t be said about George Carlin’s importance not only to comedy but to American society as well based on his firm belief and dedication to free speech.

I actually met George Carlin a few years ago when he performed at the State Theatre in Ithaca, where I worked at the time. He was very cool, friendly, and unassuming. And of course extremely funny!

So George, thanks for the laughs and thanks for pushing the envelope.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Time Warp Wednesday: Lou Reed's New York

I bought Lou Reed’s New York on cassette on my senior high school class trip to NYC. I guess at the time I thought it was really cool to buy this record in its namesake city. That aside, New York was my Lou Reed gateway. And what a gateway it was. In the liner notes, Lou Reed asks that the album be listened to as though it were a book or a movie. It has been hailed as one of the best albums of the 1980s by Rolling Stone magazine.

Having been released in 1989, as the album approaches its 20th anniversary, the music still holds. For me, “Halloween Parade” is one of the albums best tracks—an incredibly moving and sadly still relevant—song about AIDS. “Dirty Boulevard” and “Romeo and Juliette” are also standout tracks on an album full of great songs.

For me, New York was really a major musical touch point because—like every artist’s gateway album should be—it connected me to more vital music beyond the individual CD.

Dirty Boulevard Live with David Bowie


Romeo and Juliette Live

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Album Review: Scarlett Johansson's Anywhere I Lay My Head

I can’t help but think that much of the criticism Scarlett Johansson has received for releasing Anywhere I Lay My Head comes from the fact that she is, well, Scarlett Johansson and not some beloved indie musician. Beyond that, the fact she dared to touch Tom Waits’ tunes is considered by some to be beyond the pale. This is of course entirely unfair.

The album kicks off with the instrumental, “Fawn.” This opener gives the band a chance to really show its stuff. And great stuff it is. The band is made up of members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Celebration, and TV On The Radio. It is most importantly produced by Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio, whose sonic pallet really is present on Anywhere I Lay My Head. The other key is Scarlett Johansson’s voice. To me, it is really soulful and beautiful.

The combination of vocal, band, and production is what allows these songs by Tom Waits be reinterpreted in such a great way. “Falling Down,” the first single, is just so powerful. So when Scarlett Johansson sings, “I have come 500 miles / Just to see a halo,” it is just so fervid. And in the end, this is what music should do.

Check out a live version of “Falling Down.”

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

VH1 Classics: The Good, The Bad, and the Speedo

So I flew to San Diego today for business. During the long flight from NY to CA, I mostly listened to my iPod. But since I was flying Jet Blue, I had access to DirecTV during the flight. I set the TV to VH1 Classics and watched videos to my own sound track. In my totally unscientific survey I have made a little chart comparing the good to the bad. It’s totally subjective, of course. If you like some of my bads, I apologize.

Good

Mexican Radio by Wall of Voodoo
Never Say Never by Romeo Void
When the Doves Cry by Prince

The Bad

Rod Stewart in Tight Pants in the Video for Infatuation
Those 80s Colors
Blazers with T-Shirts
Cher in a thong outfit thing with her tattooed a**
While Snake and a woman writhing around on a car
And the ultimate BAD: Rick James in a Speedo (Yikes!)

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Time Warp Wednesday: There’s One In Every Car or The Soundtrack to Repo Man

I have seen the film Repo Man innumerable times—but not perhaps in 20 or more years. It really is a great movie, especially when you are an emerging punk rock 14 year old. I even sported the single dangly cross earring look for a time. So while my taste in films and fashion may have changed (perhaps for the better?), I still dig this soundtrack. What a killer collection of bands and songs: Iggy Pop, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, Fear, and Suicidal Tendencies. These were really the huge punk bands of the 80s and there they are all on one great little soundtrack (which I will listen to) to a great little film (which I likely will neither watch again nor sport the single dangly cross earring look [for which I bet my wife will be very grateful]).

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Monday, June 9, 2008

2007 Redux

So June being the 6th month of the year, I started thinking about what albums from 2007 I was still really digging and listening to frequently. Listening to Brandi Carlile’s The Story was what got me thinking about this. What a great record that is! So what others?

Wilco, Sky Blue Sky

The Shins, Wincing the Night Away

The Good, The Bad & the Queen, The Good, The Bad & The Queen

Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

Arcade Fire, Neon Bible

The National, The Boxer

Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger

Brandi Carlile, The Story

And what are you still listening to from 2007? Here are a couple of the standout tracks from this list.



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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Album Review: Fire Songs From The Watson Twins

Most people know The Watson Twins—Chandra and Leigh—from their playing with Jenny Lewis on the album Rabbit Fur Coat. And the sisters work on that record really helped make it special. So it is very exciting to have the follow up to their self-released debut EP, Southern Manners, scheduled for release on June 24. Their first full-length album, Fire Songs, is a beautiful collection of originals and one cover. It is being released by Vanguard Records, home to Levon Helm, Nellie McKay, and Doc Watson.

Sonically The Watson Twins exist in the alt-county/folk/indie sphere. While this is well-traveled terrain, Chandra and Leigh definitely have their own sound and approach that lets them stand out in the crowd. Certainly the excellent songwriting featured on the record does not hurt. Tunes such as “Bar Woman Blues” and “Dig A Little Deeper” explore a world mixed with struggle and hope, sadness and joy.

The Twin’s version of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” is so very lovely and does what the best covers do: pay homage to the original, but still take the song in a new and compelling direction. The sister’s version transforms the song from the joy of the present to the melancholy of memory.

A major element contributing to the strength of Fire Songs is the warmth and immediacy of the sound that can be attributed to the use of analog instead of digital recording. Producing the album this way allows the sister’s singing and harmonies to sound really natural. In addition, this technique really highlights the sound and the interplay between the vocals, band, and the melody. But in the end, all production aside, The Watson Twins are wonderful singers who write powerful tunes—and that’s what makes Fire Songs so great.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Time Warp Wednesday: What’s Your Favorite Color?

Living Color. With the opening guitar in “Cult of Personality,” Living Color burst into the national spotlight when Vivid was released in 1988. The record went to number 6 on the Billboard 200. What a great album. Vernon Reid, a founder of the Black Rock Coalition and one totally amazing guitar player, founded the band in 1983. Corey Glover was the great vocalist. Doug Wimbish on Bass and Will Calhoun on drums were the rhythm section powerful enough to work with Reid’s fireworks. They fused many genres: metal, funk, jazz, and punk. Perhaps they smashed them together, making them into more than the parts? Living Color went on to release Time’s Up in 1990 and Stain in 1993, before splitting while working on their fourth album. Fortunately, Living Color reunited in 2000, releasing CollideĆøscope in 2003. The band plans to release a new album later in 2008. Check out some live versions of songs from Vivid below.



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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Just Like Heaven

A week ago, I received an early copy of Fire Songs, the forthcoming Watson Twins album (It is due out June 24. Check back soon for my review.) There is a spectacular cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" on the album. It was one of those songs that I couldn't wait to share with my wife. Wanting her to like it as much as I did. Finally on Saturday while driving the whole family to celebrate our daughter's first birthday (Happy Birthday Miss T!) I played it for her. And, happily my wife dug it too.

Stream it here.

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