Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rock Of Ages

Rock Of Ages is up there with the very best live records of that era: The Stones' Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out, The Allman Brothers' Live At Fillmore East and The Who's Live At Leeds. It was during the Cahoots period that The Band recorded these concerts in New York. It's safe to say most of the live versions of the songs present on the two discs (the 2000 remaster) are superior to their studio counterparts, with the exception of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Not better or worse; it's just different. Here it's been slowed down significantly, which makes it much more somber; you can hear the sadness and anguish in Levon Helm's voice as he sings. And without skipping a beat, the band goes right into Across The Great Divide, a superbly executed tune that contains not a lot of words but says more about America than most folk songs of that time do. Oh the genius of Robbie Robertson's songwriting. And I love love love the horn arrangements too. Also I wanna mention the majestic Stage Fright; never have I believed Rick Danko so much as in this particular performance.

The Weight, obviously one of their best-known songs, is given a new life on this live record. I actually felt like I was listening to it for the first time. It's always thrilling to hear Rick, Richard Manuel and Levon harmonizing the last verse together. And of course not forgetting the other important man who made this group great, Garth Hudson. He paints a wide musical canvas on the long intro to Chest Fever (The Genetic Method), but it's not some self-indulgent playing. The album ends proper with a rousing cover of (I Don't Wanna To) Hang Up My Rock & Roll Shoes. It's important to note that it was also the horns that made these performances ultra-special -- songs like King Harvest, Caledonia Mission, The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show, Unfaithful Servant and obviously Life Is A Carnival. Reading the liner notes, I realized that The Band's friendship with New Orleans' Allen Toussaint started during this period; he would help arrange the horns again at their farewell show in '76 - The Last Waltz.

The second disc, also consisting of songs from the four-show run in New York, is just as good. I'm glad The Rumor was included inside because it's simply a phenomenal song. And Bob Dylan 'guest stars' with his old friends, singing those tunes he penned, but those that had significance for The Band. He puts a more ferocious spin to When I Paint My Masterpiece. Last but not least, it's always fun to hear Like A Rolling Stone. But given this particular context, it was an emotional performance; the first time Dylan and The Band (or The Hawks) would play it since his ground-breaking tour of '66. Again, a totally different animal. Rock Of Ages was the Band at their peak.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Angles - The Strokes

I totally agree with David Fricke's 4-star review in Rolling Stone, when he said Angles is The Strokes' best album since their game-changing debut Is This It?. It's actually refreshing to hear the band return to their roots after that overly-ambitious First Impressions Of Earth five years ago. This brilliant new record is anchored by what I think are two of the best songs on it; the opening reggae-flavored catchiness of Machu Picchu and the indescribably awesome closer that is Life Is Simple In The Moonlight. Meanwhile songs like Under Cover Of Darkness and Taken For A Fool go back to the classic sound of the first two albums, and Gratisfaction has a great classic 70's rock feel to it. Most of the time I can't understand what Julian Casablancas is singing about, but that's ok. You're So Right I don't really get; too much electronics and almost Radiohead-sounding. I'm not a fan of the synth-pop, but I quite enjoy the song Games. And is it just me or does Metabolism sound like a bloody Muse song? Still overall, Angles has certainly lived up to its hype.

Rolling Stone Poll: Ten Best Albums Of The '80s

I've always been a sucker for polls.

1. Joshua Tree - U2
2. Appetite For Destruction - Guns 'N Roses
3. Thriller - Michael Jackson
4. Born In The U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen
5. Purple Rain - Prince
6. Back In Black - AC/DC
7. The Queen Is Dead - The Smiths
8. London Calling - The Clash
9. Disintegration - The Cure
10. Master Of Puppets - Metallica

Click here for the link...

UPDATE: This is the list compiled by the RS staff, which IMO is more thought-out and 'accurate'.

1. London Calling - The Clash
2. Purple Rain - Prince & The Revolution
3. The Joshua Tree - U2
4. Remain In Light - Talking Heads
5. Graceland - Paul Simon
6. Born In The U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen
7. Thriller - Michael Jackson
8. Murmur - R.E.M.
9. Shoot Out The Lights - Richard & Linda Thompson
10. Tracy Chapman - Tracy Chapman

Click here for the entire 'top 100' list...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New Eddie Vedder Album & Concert Film

The Vs/Vitalogy boxset is still a week away from release and there are more exciting news from 10c! Fittingly titled Ukulele Songs, Eddie's second solo record will be released on May 31st. Also out on that day will be a live concert film, Water On The Road, containing performances from his solo shows in Washington D.C. (Aug '08). There's no word yet on whether this will get a blu-ray release, but I really hope it does.

Ukulele Songs:
1. Can't Keep
2. Sleeping by Myself
3. Without You
4. More Than You Know
5. Goodbye
6. Broken Heart
7. Satellite
8. Longing to Belong
9. Hey Fahkah
10. You're True
11. Light Today
12. Sleepless Nights (featuring Glen Hansard)
13. Once in Awhile
14. Waving Palms
15. Tonight You Belong to Me (featuring Cat Power)
16. Dream a Little Dream

Water On The Road:
1. The Canyon
2. Sometimes
3. Trouble
4. Around the Bend
5. Girl From the North Country
6. Guaranteed
7. Setting Forth
8. Far Behind
9. No Ceiling
10. Rise
11. Golden State
12. Society
13. Forever Young
14. Ed Piano (Instrumental)
15. I’m Open
16. Man of the Hour
17. Driftin’
18. No More
19. You’re True
20. Ukulele Interlude (Instrumental)
21. Unthought Known
22. Arc
23. Hard Sun
24. The Canyon (reprise)

P.S. On some band news, Pearl Jam will heading back into the studio next month to rehearse new demos. And announcement of the highly anticipated 20th Anniversary Bash should be around the corner!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rolling Stone Poll: Top 10 Songwriters Of All Time

No surprise here.

1. Bob Dylan
2. John Lennon / Paul McCartney
3. John Lennon
4. Bruce Springsteen
5. Paul McCartney
6. Neil Young
7. Mick Jagger / Keith Richards
8. Paul Simon
9. Joni Mitchell
10. Elton John / Bernie Taupin

Click for the link...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bright Examples

Here's a duo you have probably never heard of -- Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion. The husband and wife team has just released their sophomore collaborative album. It's been almost six years since their stunning debut, Exploration -- back then it was one of my first gateway albums into the world of Americana music. And yes, Sarah Lee is the daughter of Arlo Guthrie, who is the son of Woody. If it weren't for the wonders of, I probably wouldn't have known about this new release.

This album is slightly different from their first one in that they take their Californian country/folk sound and explore it further with other musical styles. You can tell right away from the first song that they're headed in another direction. There's an almost dream-like psychedelic quality to Ahead Of Myself, and a soothing chorus line that surprises you. They also add a nice pop touch to Never Far From My Heart, somehow reminding me of Big Star's first album. And Speed Of Light has a great '60s rock vibe, with the distinctive drumming and the jangly guitars.

My current favorite is Target On Your Heart, an example of the perfect three and a half minute pop tune. I won't comment on the rest of the songs except to say they're simply great, in the good ol' fashion sense. For me the highlights are when Sarah and Johnny's harmonize together, influenced by the likes of The Everly Brothers and Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris. And while the singing is wonderful, you're not once distracted from the musicianship of the fine backing band; Cardinals guitarist and photographer Neal Casal also appears here. Living in an age where the world has gone to shit, I just feel that this kind of music is a godsend.

To read more about this album, click here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Longing To Belong

A brand new song from Eddie Vedder's upcoming solo ukulele album has made its way online! Eddie is currently on tour down under.

Click here to listen.


The greatest comedy on television since Frasier. I'm just sayin'.

UPDATE: NBC just renewed Community for its 3rd season. Also got picked up were The Office and Parks & Recreation.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Oh My Heart

I was so looking forward to seeing The National perform tomorrow night. But they had to cancel the Asian tour because of the tragedy that struck Japan last Friday; they were due to play Tokyo later this week (The Gaslight Anthem also canceled their Japanese gigs). In hindsight it was probably a good decision to do so. Obviously everyone's hearts are pretty heavy at the moment. And now whenever I listen to R.E.M.'s Oh My Heart, it always reminds me of those surreal images of the destruction of a civilization I witnessed on the news.

I came home to a city half-erased
I came home to face
What we faced
This place needs me here to start
This place is the beat of my heart

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Promise Revisited....& Redelivered

So somebody explain to me how this is not a bad move from management and why the fuck they are doing this!!!



Columbia Records will release Bruce Springsteen's "The Promise: The Making of Darkness On The Edge of Town" documentary on DVD and Blu-Ray May 3. The award-winning film will be accompanied by the bonus features "Songs From the Promise," a five-song concert event filmed in Asbury Park, NJ, and "A Conversation With His Fans," an intimate question-and-answer session.

"The Promise: The Making of Darkness On The Edge of Town" was directed by Grammy- and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Thom Zimny. The film premiered on HBO and received a rapturous critical response around the world, including as an official selection, Toronto International Film Festival, The BFI London Film Festival, and The International Rome Film Festival. The Los Angeles Times gave 'The Promise' five stars, while Variety called it "thrilling--a vivid portrait."

The ninety-minute documentary combines never-before-seen footage of Springsteen and the E Street Band shot between 1976 and 1978—including home rehearsals and studio sessions—with new interviews with Springsteen, E Street Band members, manager Jon Landau, former-manager Mike Appel, and others closely involved in the making of the record.

The film was also included in the 2010 box set 'The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story,' which Rolling Stone called "extraordinary [and] fascinating" and The Washington Post described as "a revelation."

"Songs From The Promise" was filmed before an audience of approximately sixty fans in December, 2010, in Asbury Park, NJ's historic carousel house. For this one-time concert event, Springsteen and members of the E Street Band lineup—Clarence Clemons, Stevie Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, Roy Bittan, and Gary Tallent—were joined by keyboardist Charles Giordano, a full horn section—Ed Manion, Barry Danielian, Curt Ramm, Clark Gayton and Stan Harrison—and special guest David Lindley, who played violin during the original recording sessions. Directed and edited by Zimny and mixed by Emmy-winner Bob Clearmountain, the concert features the only live E Street Band performances of four tracks from 'The Promise' plus "Blue Christmas."

"Songs From The Promise" Tracklist:
1. "Racing in the Street ('78)
2. "Gotta Get That Feeling"
3. "Ain't Good Enough For You"
4. "The Promise"
5, "Blue Christmas"

Hosted by music critic and Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh, "A Conversation With His Fans" is an intimate, 22-minute question-and-answer session featuring Springsteen at his most candid. Before a small audience in the studios of Sirius XM's E Street Radio channel, Springsteen discusses the writing and recording of 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' and the decision to release the extensive collection of songs that didn't make the record. "We worked hard on the music that we didn't put out," Springsteen tells one fan. "The nice thing about it is it's still there, it hasn't gone anywhere--and I think we're at a point where it's nice to have the stuff sufficiently see the light of day." Questions are intercut with highlights from the 'The Promise' box set, including the Paramount Theater concert and rare archival footage from 1978.

-Official Press Release (courtesy of Shore Fire)

P.S. Still a little part of me wants to get this.

Rolling Stone Poll: Greatest Live Acts Of All Time

As someone commented on RS's Facebook page: Bruce Springsteen first, and then everybody else form a line. And I'm glad to see Pearl Jam got into the list. IMO, they're a close second behind Bruce and then followed by the Stones (saw 'em in '03, but would love to see them again if they tour). And I still have yet to go for a Who gig, and though we'll probably never get to see Pink Floyd again, I'll settle for Roger Waters, hopefully later this year down under if he comes. As for Grateful Dead, I can probably die happy if I can get to a Furthur gig next year in the States!

1) Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
2) The Rolling Stones
3) The Who
4) Pink Floyd
5) Led Zeppelin
6) U2
7) Queen
8) Pearl Jam
9) The Grateful Dead
10) Kiss

Click for the link...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Go-Go Boots

Is there anything the Drive-By Truckers do that's not kick-ass? Thankfully the answer is no. I recently purchased their concept classic Southern Rock Opera, also psyching myself up for this. They've effectively created their own unique brand of country soul music. The new Go-Go Boots could be considered a sequel to the fabulous The Big To-Do, which was released around this time last year (also my introduction to the band). Compared to their previous record, this one is more toned-down in volume, more slow-burning and much more gritty. If The Big To-Do was the first side of The River, then Go-Go Boots is the second side.

Patterson Hood sings on most of the tunes here, and his songwriting is as top-notch as ever. Mike Cooley does the acoustic country stuff, which is still good but nothing much to shout about; definitely not his best work. While the tone of this record is pretty bleak, I realized that there are three more upbeat songs spread evenly throughout: the opening I Do Believe, the middle Everybody Needs Somebody To Love (stunning Eddie Hinton cover in classic DBT rawness) and the closer Mercy Buckets. So the album actually ends on a positive note; "I'll be your saving grace", as Hood proclaims before letting his guitar do the rest of the talking. Meanwhile bassist Shonna Tucker does her own soulful rendition of Where's Eddie?, one of my favs, and her self-penned Dancin' Ricky. Gotta love her (Motown-like) voice.

Other highlights include The Thanksgiving Filter, the awesomely titled Assholes, and Used To Be A Cop, which is unique in a sense that it is anchored by a dance-like beat (think back to The Black Crowes' I Ain't Hiding from two years ago), and there's a dark Springsteen Darkness/Nebraska vibe to the words. And the title track, driven by killer blues slide is another stunning American tale of violence and lust. For me, this album has beaten Radiohead's for best album of the year yet. Now here's hoping for a tour down under so I can finally see 'em live!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bob Dylan's Mono Recordings

The beautiful thing about listening to all these recordings is there are no distractions at all, provided of course you give the time and attention to them. You are forced to sit and listen. And this is especially apparent in the first four albums. You can feel as if the 21 year old Dylan is really in the room with you, playing for you. Thus the mono versions of these acoustic songs are definitely superior to the stereo ones (as previously the guitar and vocal tracks were separated on both sides, which always makes my skin crawl). And because of this, the music comes at you full force. The only issue is that the overall sound may come across as a bit harsh when listened to on the hi-fi system, especially with when you hear the harmonica.

As for the other four rock albums, I was surprised how powerful the singularity of the monophonic sound was. And because they're remastered, they sound much richer than their stereo counterparts (which were previously too thin and dull). Of course I'm not saying that mono is always better in general. It has its pros and cons too; take those '09 Beatles recordings for example -- to really experience them, one must listen to both versions (and there's A LOT of difference between them). Stereo plays with the idea of separated instruments on the left and right channels, but sometimes too much of separation isn't a good thing; you're sorta attuned to concentrate your ears on one channel instead. As a result you sometimes lose that sense of chaos found in the best rock & roll music. There's some unexplainable mystical element found in these mono recordings. You are hearing them the way it was meant to be heard. The best sounding album I think is John Weasly Harding.

The box set is accompanied by a booklet containing new liner notes written by Greil Marcus. Fantastic read as usual. He explains the current importance of mono and also gives some interesting background about the 'sound' situation back in the '60s. This is obviously a must-get for all Dylan fans.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Going Out In Style

What the hell is Celtic punk? Well listen to any Dropkick Murphys song and you'll know. Irish music -- bagpipes and flutes, mixed in with punk rock. The first time I heard of them was in Martin Scorsese's The Departed back in '06, which played their song Shipping Up To Boston. Back then I hadn't heard punk music done that way before.

Here on Going Out In Style, expect high-energy catchy tunes; and if you don't have the sudden urge to pump your fists into the air and stomp your foot down hard, you're probably not human! This album is also perfect for chugging beer to. The band always sings about and celebrate the working class people, the underdogs, the downtrodden. Here they dedicate these new batch of songs to a decorated war hero. The music is ferocious and relentless, calling along for you to live life to the fullest. Oh yeah and the Boss also helps sing some lines to the traditional Peg O' My Heart.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Blessed - Lucinda Williams

If you don't already know, Lucinda Williams is one of the most sincere and honest American songwriters around. She's got a hell of a unique voice and she sings with so much conviction and truth you wanna believe every one of her words. Her latest Blessed is a much more focused album than 2008's Little Honey. This time she moves away from her usual songs about bad break-ups and unrequited love and tackles other stuff she normally doesn't do; both light and heavy.

The album opens with mid-tempo rocker Buttercup, which has a similar rhythm to her classic Change The Locks. It's one of those great 'good riddance' relationship songs of hers that sorta makes you feel good 'bout yourself. And in contrast, the following laid-back I Don't Know How You're Livin' has her lamenting the absence of a past love. She also sings about suicide in Seeing Black, as she relentlessly probes hard-hitting questions to the 'victim' (in this case Vic Chesnutt), accompanied by a blistering guitar solo from Elvis Costello; seriously I didn't know he could play that well. Another guest musician is Matthew Sweet, who helps contributes vocals on some songs, including the gorgeous Copenhagen, in which she describes a friend's death in the most poetic way possible.

Soldier's Song is well-written as it is devastating; Lucinda alternates verses between a soldier's traumatic experience on the battlefield and his wife and child living peacefully at home. The title song, Blessed, is one of my favorite cuts. With only two basic chords throughout, it starts out slow and mellow and then rises into a rousing alt-country rocker. The lyrics are real thought-provoking too, giving the listener a new perspective towards people usually shunned by society. Another great song is Convince Me, which has a nice R&B/Soul flavor to it.

Musically, you can expect more or less the same from Lucinda, especially if you're familiar with West and Essence. The deluxe edition includes a second disc of kitchen demos of all the songs in the same sequence; perfect for listening to alone in the dark with a glass of wine. I think those pictures of people from all different walks of life found in the album best explains its whole theme. It's been done before, but still relays a very powerful message through its simplicity. Blessed is highly recommended for anyone who likes their albums covering a whole range of emotions.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Collapse Into Now - R.E.M.

Having owned and listened extensively to all of R.E.M.'s studio records over the past five years, it's safe to say they're the most consistent band of their generation, in terms of musical output. Even lesser critically acclaimed albums like Up and Around The Sun I don't ever consider weak. On a side note, check out last year's re-release of the very underrated Fables Of The Reconstruction. No matter whether it's going for something new or returning to form, you can always count on the band to deliver the goods. Having said that, Collapse Into Now is their best work since New Adventures In Hi-Fi.

Mostly recorded in the famous Hansa Studios in which David Bowie's 'Berlin trilogy' came from, Collapse Into Now is a move away from the sound of 2008's Accelerate (Jacknife Lee's production is superb here). A bit similar in tone to Out Of Time and Automatic For The People, here you have slower introspective ballads mixed in with up-tempo rockers, and stuff in between. Discoverer opens the album with Peter Buck's hooky Rickenbacker riff ("Byrds-esque"). And then Michael Stipe's singing hits you like a ton of bricks. I love the way he phrases his words here; it's become his signature style.

One of the highlights is It Happened Today, uplifting and joyful and inspiring. They just have a knack for crafting the most basic chord progressions into incredible catchy melodies and hooks. It's good to hear the mandolin again. If you listen closely, you can hear Eddie Vedder's distinctive howling in the background. And don't you just love it when Mike Mills sings too? Mine Smell Like Honey is also damn infectious, made as if it's meant for you to listen over and over again. The other fast songs like All The Best and Alligator (featuring some cool female vocals from Peaches circa '70s Patti Smith) is classic R.E.M.. The slower mid-tempo songs like Walk It Back and Everyday Is Yours To Win don't really do anything for me; they sound a bit forced. But Uberlin (and I can't emphasize how very fucking amazing this song is) and the New Orleans tribute Oh My Heart are excellent, the latter being a follow-up to a song called Houston from the previous album ("The storm didn't kill me, the government changed"). And if you're a Neil Young fan, you'll know that the Marlon Brando track is inspired by Pocahontas.

The last song Blue happens to be one of the best R.E.M. closers ever; a close cousin to Country Feedback. On first listen it sounds like one of those songs that takes getting used to, but I loved it immediately. When Patti Smith's voice enters, it's like the voice of God (think back to E-Bow The Letter), and Stipe's avant-garde narration is equally spine-chilling. And before you know it, it segues back into the opening melody of Discoverer, as if urging you to 'seize the day'. Overall, this is a great album that brings me back to the golden age, when R.E.M. were one of the biggest bands in the world. It's a pity they won't be touring behind this though.