Monday, January 31, 2011


I think I just might have heard the greatest love song ever -- It Makes No Difference. A few times each year, I go through this phase where I re-discover an artist or band I've not heard in a long time, and I put that music in constant rotation. This time, it's The Band. I've always been interested in Americana music, and listening to the music of The Band is as American as you can get. What sparked off my current obsession was of course The Last Waltz, which is still and will always be the greatest concert film of all time (get the amazing blu-ray version). And then I heard The Band (their second album). While Music From The Big Pink was a spectacular debut, this one is far superior, and I'll be damned if The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down isn't the best song about the South ever written and performed. Here are some stuff from their albums' liner notes which I think best explains the band and their unique and organic art:

The Band were singularly unique in the annals of North American music. As an ensemble they played with a second sight born out of years spent on the road, backing up Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan and trying to establish a career on their own as Levon and The Hawks and eventually The Band. In Robbie Robertson they had a writer and guitarist of unparalleled gifts who was able to tap into the wellsprings of American mythology and folklore. In keyboardist/accordionist/saxophonist Garth Hudson they had a consummate tone painter and one of the most masterful musicians ever to play in a rock & roll band. In pianist Richard Manuel, bassist Rick Danko and drummer Levon Helm they had three vocalists possessed of disparate temperaments and timbres who complemented each other brilliantly while being capable of passionately conveying any emotion imaginable. At their best they sounded like five strong, independent, secure individuals who had a bond as a community that benefit from their individuality. Collectively, they summoned up an aesthetic that embraced the gamut of American roots musics from ragtime to shape note singing; from country to gospel; from blues to early rock & roll. The resulting music was as timeless and fresh as ground spring water.
- Rob Bowman, August, 2000

And to leave you with something to ponder on:

The Last Waltz is an eloquent toast to the glories of American rock & roll, especially those artists in the 1960s who took rock from it primitive foundations to a studier, more flexible form of musical and sociological expression. Without intending it, Robbie Robertson & Martin Scorsese had captured the end not just of The Band but of an entire rock & roll era.
- David Fricke, New York City

PS: Recommended reading about The Band can be found in Greil Marcus' excellent book Mystery Train.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes - Social Distortion

At this time of writing, I have not yet listened to Social D's entire catalog, so I'm basing my review mainly on my listening to their singles and their 1996 punk rock classic White Light White Heat White Trash. It's been years since they've released new stuff. My expectations were riding high on this one.

I've always liked the idea of an album opening with an instrumental song. Road Zombie is simply kick-ass; everything you wanted from a Social D song. Then you go into the next song, and the first thing that comes to your mind is "Black Crowes!". But after listening several times, you realise that it sounds like one of those cheesy feel-good Kid Rock hits. California (Hustle & Flow) has got a soul vibe going, with the female back-up singers, a first for the band. Much better is the second last song, Can't Take It With You; sounds like something Chris Robinson could sing.

Songs like Gimme The Sweet Lowdown, Diamond In The Rough and Far Side Of Nowhere move into Green Day territory -- not that there's anything wrong with that, it just takes a little getting used to the new direction. They also have a gift for effectively covering songs of other genres and making them their own (i.e. Ring Of Fire and Under My Thumb and Mike's own solo albums). This current take of Hank William's haunting Alone & Forsaken is the Social D we all know, so is their first single Machine Gun Blues.

While the album may not be punk enough for my taste, I think it's still a pretty solid effort from the band. The redeeming factor here is Mike Ness' singing voice, that signature nasal snarl. He sings like he's been through a lot. He makes even the poppier songs on this record sound real smooth. Other than that, great album cover and great album title.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Robert Zimmerman

aka Bob fucking Dylan. Coming to town on Apr 15. Still can't believe it! I was prepared to fly down under (yet again) to Fremantle that particular weekend for his show. But now that I don't' have to spend a thousand bucks, I can save up for Roger Waters' rumored Australian tour later this year.

The man turns 70 in May, and has been touring non-stop since the '80s, hence the Never-ending Tour. From the looks of it, he'll probably do it until he passes. But it ain't gonna be so soon. Cause he just signed a six-book deal with a major publisher, two of which will be the long awaited Chronicles. Bout fucking time, Bob. It's also time for me to get that Mono recordings boxset.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pearl Jam - Live On Ten Legs Review

If you don't already know, this release marks the start of year-long 'festivities', celebrating Pearl Jam's 20th year as a band. It's actually a sequel to their first compilation Live On Two Legs over a decade ago, so you won't find any of those songs here. It's also the perfect introduction into the live aspect of Pearl Jam, and unlike the bootlegs, it's something the casual fan can easily get into.

The songs here are mostly the singles; so nothing new for us 10 clubbers. But what's great about this is that it's meant to be listened to in its entirety. The pacing and sequencing of the tracks are just right, so much so that it feels like a PJ concert, just compressed into 75mins. Bootleg collectors probably own versions of all these songs from the past few tours, but the sound here is nothing like the boots'. Effort has been made to brush up and mix the sound properly. And it's stellar and crisp for the most part. For example, you can now hear the background vocals on Got Some.

Now for the songs. Arms Aloft kicks off the set. This Joe Strummer cover was debuted in Europe last summer. PJ has a knack for choosing the right songs to cover. It's an uplifting tune, but also sad, knowing that the man is no longer with us. Versions of World Wide Suicide, Animal, State Of Love And Trust, I Am Mine and Rearview Mirror aren't the definitive ones, based on my listening to the many boots over the years. But they're good enough to make even a non-fan sit up and pay attention. Nothing As It Seems is one I could do without; totally not a fan of this song. Still it's worth listening to once in a while for Mike 'face-melting' McCready. On the other hand, Unthought Known kills every time.

In Hiding is one of those songs I'm glad didn't become a hit single, though it could've easily have. I just feel that it's 'my song' and mine only. Wanna hear the best In Hiding? 10/30/09 at the Philadelphia Spectrum. Like Jeff Ament said in a recent interview, it's perhaps the greatest Stone/Eddie collaboration. This particular Just Breathe has strings on it, and though it's very stripped down for PJ, it's still difficult to play. It's a tight version, the best I've heard so far; but there's a certain rawness that comes with it. You can count on the band to give you that, something very few live acts achieve; that 'unpolishedness'.

Public Image is the one that I'll listen to regularly now. Eddie adopting the singing mannerisms of John Lyndon; wicked. They were meant to cover this. After the rousing Porch and Alive, the set concludes as always with Yellow Ledbetter. Still as moving as ever, but filled with hope. And by the end of this album, you've supposed to feel emotionally exhausted, and fulfilled.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pearl Jam - Live On Ten Legs Promo

Intentionally cheesy promo for the upcoming live compilation. Narrated by none other than EV. Who knew he got a great sense of humor?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

III/IV - Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

From now on, every new Ryan Adams release can be considered an 'event' for me. His music with the cardinals was what got me into the whole alternative-country scene. This is not a new album per say; the songs were actually recorded back in '06. Those sessions would also result in 2007's Easy Tiger. Volumes III and IV are supposed to be a follow-up to Cold Roses. However, these newly released batch of songs can't hold a candle to that 2005 classic. And they don't sound like those Easy Tiger stuff either. If anything, they sound more Rock N Roll, an album which I particularly enjoyed. But it ain't as good as Rock N Roll, though many will disagree with me. So those looking for a more country rock sound may be disappointed. So rock songs aplenty here, but none in the same vein as the likes of Halloweenhead and Magick (you'll have to forgive me with all the comparing).

Having said that, III/IV is just a good record, nothing more. It's also the first Ryan Adams record not to floor me immediately. About half the songs are slightly above mediocre at best. Despite it being a concept record, I think it's his most unfocused one, though there are standout tracks scattered throughout. Numbers is one; what starts as a punk song moves into ultra mellow country territory and then back into punk. And songs like Wasteland, Gracie and the little duet with Norah Jones on Typecast bring me right back to Easy Tiger and Cardinology. How I miss those days. The album concludes with the somewhat weird Kill The Lights. Listen to it for the nice Grateful Dead style jam. At the end of the day, I won't find myself revisiting the whole album much. Give me Cold Roses any day.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pearl Jam 20

From the Ten Club:

2011 will be a yearlong celebration of Pearl Jam’s twenty-year history. The anniversary festivities kick off in a few weeks with the release of Live on Ten Legs.

A hint of what more to expect in the months ahead:

- A spring reissue of Vs. and Vitalogy in new, deluxe formats;

- The release of Cameron Crowe’s film,
Pearl Jam Twenty, along with an accompanying book and soundtrack album;

- A 20th anniversary destination weekend bash sometime in late summer;

- Plus a number of special events and new, unexpected releases!

Well, I can't really go to the mystery summer bash in the States as much as I wanna, but I'm sure as hell excited for Crowe's new film. He's a great journalist and gifted filmmaker who has a wonderful ear for music in his films. I hope this film will make the masses sit up and really listen to Pearl Jam. Finally I foresee the inevitable release of their '09 Philly stand. Blu-ray maybe?