Monday, April 30, 2007

RIP Slava

Russian cellist/dissident Mstislav 'Slava' Rostropovich died on April 27th. Newsday ran a very good obituary for him but there's also a some wonderful clips on YouTube of his work. The 1962 performance above is my personal favorite but I also recommend this beautiful Bach cello suite from his later years.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Prohibited Beatz- DJ culture documentary

From DJ/film-maker Julie Covello comes a excellent doc from 2002, which she describes as:

".... a 34" documentary about master drummer Jojo Mayer, his Prohibited Beatz party, and the wrath of the New York City cabaret laws known as the "no dancing" laws... The original film was professionally mixed and has excellent sound quality, if you would like to be on the mailing list for screenings, or if you want to discuss the film, please email me at"

More info is at

You can watch PB at YouTube through the links below

Prohibited Beatz 1

Prohibited Beatz 2

Prohibited Beatz 3

Prohibited Beatz 4

Prohibited Beatz 5

Monday, April 23, 2007

Patti Smith's classic rock jukebox

If I told you that Patti Smith had a covers album (Twelve) featuring her versions of Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced," Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble" and Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," once you got past your disbelief, how scared would you be?

I happen to love her and I'd actually go out on a limb to say that her last album (Trampin') is her best record after her debut. Plus, seeing her live is something that is compulsory to do more than once. It's not just that she's got Lenny Kaye and JD still in the band but just that she's such a presence on stage.

But even the great ones make mistakes now and then. There's nothing wrong with her toasting some of her favorite tunes- hell, it's been done plenty of times by other rockers like John Lennon, Elvis Costello, Guns N' Roses (which is still their last album so far). Even Patti herself has hitched herself to some interesting choices in the past like "You Light Up My Life" (which she genuinely loves as a tune) and Prince's "When Doves Cry."

But here, the element of surprise is definitely missing. She's a classic rock fan and though that's something I consider myself too, it would have been nice to see more less-obvious choices. She does OK by Neil Young/CSNY ("Helpless"), the Stones ("Gimme Shelter") and the Doors ("Soul Kitchen") but with doing covers, the trick is to put your distinctive stamp on the songs and make them your own. That she really doesn't do here, sad to sad and when it's an alternate version that doesn't teach you anything or make you reconsider the song, it becomes kind of useless. As for Hendrix, Simon and the Airplane, her versions just don't pan out at all and even sound kind of embarrassing. The most off-beat and interesting selections are Stevie Wonder ("Pastime Paradise") and Tears for Fears ("Everybody Wants to Rule the World") but for the former, I'd rather hear Coolio rap over it and for the later, I'll take the original in a second.

But there is one masterful stroke buried on this otherwise unfortunate album. On paper (or on your screen), you'd think that the choice of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" isn't just obvious but also totally misguided. But you'd be wrong. Wisely, Patti doesn't attack it as a rock/grunge anthem but reconsiders it as an eerie folk song, which Cobain himself wouldn't or couldn't do on Nirvana's MTV Unplugged show. By taking it at a slower, calmer pace, we're forced to hear the words and savor how creepy and yet somewhat knowing they are. And just because she's unplugged, that doesn't mean that she and her band can't build up to a climax and get unhinged at the end. You just get the feeling that Kurt would have been proud not just to hear her cover the tune but also the way she sinks her teeth into it.

If only she did the same thing on the record of the album... Still, it isn't nearly as horrible (or funny) as Golden Throats.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip- the new popist commandments

Every now and then, a great song comes along that just flattens you and makes you say "WOW!" It will render most of what you've been listening to otherwise recently as useless and a waste of your time. You wonder why anyone hasn't done this song before or done it this way. It just comes out of nowhere and you're not the same after it.

That's how I felt when I heard "Thou Shalt Always Kill" by Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip. I had heard something like it from the first album by the Streets, another delightfully mouthy British wordsmith who wasn't so much rapping at times as letting words flow and launch out even more naturally. I also heard it on Lazyboy's wonderfully hilarious "Underwear Goes Inside the Pants," which is like several great stand-up routines strung together. Also, some of LCD Soundsystem's great tracks (when they get both the words and music just right like "North American Scum") are canny, funny mixes of indie and dance critique. But Le Sac and Pip are on to something even bolder.

Starting out with a marching drum machine beat and a percussion swish that sounds like someone hyperventilating, Le Sac makes makes the song fell like as a solid dance track right out of the gate. Then Pip (who in the video looks like a cross between Rick Rubin, ZZ Top and Matisyahu) comes in after about 20 seconds, making his first of many proclamations, including "thou shalt not worship any pop idols," a theme he keeps coming back to.

Following along the Old Testament commandments, Pip ticks off a bunch of no-no's including not taking the names of Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, Desmond Dekker, Jimi Hendrix or Syd Barrett in vain. He scolds people who label anyone over 30 playing with a kid as a "pedophile" ("some people are just nice"). He also scolds anyone who reads NME or "stops liking a band 'cause they're popular" (which makes him a popist, right?). Then in a rare bit of rhyming, he demands that we shouldn't judge books by their cover or judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover. He demands that you give up Coke and Nestle. "Thou shalt not use poetry, music or art to get into girl's pants," he preaches, advising that we use it to get into their minds instead. Leaving the mike after you've recited your pretentious poetry or returning to a bar 'cause you saw a nice-looking girl there (who you'll never talk to anyway) is out too. In the background, a crazed bell loop (or doorbell gone mad) gets louder and louder as he rants on.

And then Pip gets to the REALLY good part. As he laws down the law, he makes it a point not to poke fun at music icons per se but to poke fun at anyone who blindly idolizes them (told you he was a popist). "Thou shalt not put musicians or recording artists on ridiculous pedestals, no matter how great they are or were!" And then he goes off to name the culprits or rather the false idols:

The Beatles, were just a band!
Led Zeppelin- just a band!
The Beach Boys- just a band!
Sex Pistols- just a band!
The Clash- just a band!
Crass- just a band!
Minor Threat- just a band!
The Cure, were just a band!
The Smiths- just a band!
Nirvana- just a band!
The Pixies- just a band!
Oasis- just a band!
Radiohead- just a band!
Bloc Party- just a band!
The Arctic Monkeys- just a band!
The next big thing- just a band!

(Note in the video how he tosses away their albums one by one, imitating Dylan's video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Also note that his targets are classic rock and indie rock.)

He then goes after the fourth estate for favoring deaths in English vs. non-English countries. Guns, bitches and bling? They were never part of the four elements (and never will be). When he says "thou shalt not make repetitive generic music" four times in a row, he's made his point well. Sayings like "pimp my ride" or replying "hey!" to the shout of "ho! is out too. Furthermore, "when I say 'hip,' thou shall not say 'hop.'"

Briefly, he loses his place but then he comes back as the music gets louder and louder, threatening to drown him out. Shaking it like a Polaroid? Forbidden. Wishing your girlfriend was a freak like me? No way. His last words of advice are "thou shalt always think for yourselves" and "thou shalt always kill."

I leave out a lot here that he manages to cram into three minutes- i.e. spelling "phoenix" or a shout-out to Stephen Fry. But the force and his conviction are enough to make you believe in whatever he says, even if it doesn't make sense or you don't understand the reference or wonder why he brought up whatever he did.

Even though Pip is on for only three minutes, it feels like a lifetime. That's what a great song can convey to you. It can even make you start and spot a song dozens of times so you can retype the lyrics into a blog until your hands are ready to fall off.

If I whetted your appetite enough, the single and video are available from the Lex label.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Jesse Malin- bar band dreamer

It took me a while to figure out why we music scribes love the Hold Steady so much but it finally occurred to me while I was thinking up some Pazz and Jop comments.

"Why is the Hold Steady a constant critical favorite? Because Craig Finn is wordy and nerdy- he can't stop blabbing about music. In other words, he's one of us."

I mean, how else do you explain that they get so much more love than Jesse Malin, who's basically doing the same thing? Both he and HS mythologize the working class world as Springsteen has for decades. The big difference is that HS honcho Finn is more whip-smart than Malin and self-referential, which again makes him a natural to be a scribe-hero.

I didn't take Malin seriously until recently anyway. I thought that his early 90's rock band D Generation were the perfect example why there wasn't a respectable NYC music scene during that decade. Even when he went solo in the new millennium, I thought that his down-and-out beautiful-loser stance was shtick that I couldn't take seriously so I shelved his first album (2003's The Fine Art of Self-Destruction) and pretty much ignored the follow-up (2004's This Heat). After parting company with maverick label Artemis, I wasn't exactly dying to hear what he had up his sleeve now but mainly because a few writers I know and respect did see something in him, I decided that I should at least give his latest a listen.

I was so shocked at how good the recent Glitter in the Gutter (Adeline Records) is that I actually wondered if there was another artist named Jesse Malin out there. It turned out it was the same guy and I was going to have to swallow a bunch of my prejudices in a hurry.

Though he still peddles the noble-loser myth around, now he just sounds so forthright and confident and just plain hooky that I started to believe not just in his songs but also in Malin himself. When Springsteen himself appears, it's one of the those soggy ballads that the Boss can't help indulging in sometimes and the Replacements cover ("Bastards of Young") should have been an easy score for Malin but instead he turns it into an ironic, deflated dirge that doesn't quite work.

Just about everything else on the record works though, sounding like the kind of ironically cheery anthems about sad folks that Springsteen chronicles (or chronicled) so well. The defiant "Don't Let Them Take You Down" starts things off, followed by "In the Modern World" which sounds like the great heartland hit that John Mellancamp can't write anymore, followed by the Diddley-rhythm of the happy-go-lucky "Tomorrow Tonight." After the Boss song, Malin rights himself with the ringing guitars and pounding beats of "Prisoners of Paradise" (which includes a "My Sharona" rip and recovers well from its silly title). "Black Haired Girl" has Dylan's son (the guy from the Wallflowers) on backing vocals and quotes "River Deep Mountain High" and "American Pie" and brings back fond memories of "Brown Eyed Girl"- does this guy know his history or what? "Love Streams" sounds like folkie version of a Motown song and has this as its printed lyrics: "Doo doo doo etc.." And so it goes, leaving one to wonder "what the hell is there not to love about this guy?"

So, I was dead wrong about him. Malin's made a great record and I'm looking forward to seeing him live. I don't smoke but I'll hold up a lighter when he plays tunes from Glitter and I swear I won't be yelling for "Free Bird," much less the Boss.

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