Friday, October 31, 2008

Springsteen's Halloween treat

Ol' Bruce has a nice holiday treat for ya. It's a free song download (and video) called "A Night With the Jersey Devil" from his official website. It's a good, raw blues-rock tune too with da Boss singing through a distorted filter to give it that ol' time feel. Guess that makes up for the holiday party he had to cancel so he wouldn't piough his neighbors...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sonny Rollins on the road

Alright, I admit I'm a bit of a Sonny Rollins nut. Is that such a bad thing? I mean, if you're gonna pick a living legend, he's more than sufficient I'd say. He still puts on a mean concert as he proved yet again at Summerstage a few months ago.

Road Shows Vol. 1 (on Emarcy), as it implies, is the first in a series of live albums that he's planning to release. Noted jazz scribe Gary Giddins is drooling over this first entry in the series and with golden versions of "Some Enchanted Evening" and "More Than You Know" included here, he's not just being respectful to the sax legend.

As a nice bonus, you can bop over (literally) to YouTube to see/hear a related video and hear Rollins talk about his career in a seven minute overview and interview. "The stakes are much higher (than practicing) when you're in front of an audience... everything is much more intense."

Monday, October 27, 2008 original UK pirate material

For the latest edition of the Wire magazine, I did this web exclusive about a great website called which posts broadcasts from UK pirate stations in the mid 80's which include prime, rare, early rap mixes, all there online waiting for you to peruse it.

"In this digital age when any dilettante can show off their music taste online, the whole idea of ‘pirate radio’ seems like a ridiculous 20th century anachronism. But for millions of people in the pre-Net era, these unlicensed stations were lifeblood, doling out vital music that mainstream terrestrial broadcasts ignored and snubbed."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Julian Berntzen- lovely retro pop

If Zombies, Ben Folds, Van Dyke Parks, Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney hold some sway over you then you're in good company with Julian Berntzen 'cause he loves 'em all too. This Norwegian singer lovely a bouncy sound, massed vocals and sweeping arrangements so if that kind of retro 60's pop sounds peechy to you, this is your guy. Listen to a few tunes from his MySpace page and you'll be hooked, or see his video for "Rocket Ship Love" or see his official site for more tunes. If that wasn't enough, he put together his own little rock opera while he was working as a camp counselor. And where do you find his new album? Amazon has it in MP3 form for a mere nine bucks. A good bargain for gorgeous pop like you thought they didn't make it anymore.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

George Clinton on George Clinton

For all you P-Funk fans (like me), this hilarious video from AOL Spinner has Clinton interviewing himself. It's weird, raunchy and psychedelic, just like GC himself.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Absentee- not lacking in songs

Admittedly, I have a weakness for indie bands that write brainy love songs and London-based Absentee is definitely one of them that can stand, sit or squat alongside Magnetic Fields and Mountain Goats (even if I think the former are a little overrated). Dan Michaelson (of Absentee) has a deep booming voice that gets compared sometimes to Fields' Stephin Merritt or Tom Waits but the real model is Kurt Wagner (Lambchop). I admit that sometimes this kind of singing (fruity if you're not in the mood) can be a gimmick but Michaelson makes the most of it with an ultray catchy bunch of tunes that dig into you and stay with you and it definitely helps to have Melinda Bronstein's voice to help sweeten the proceedings. Proof positive is their second album Victory Shorts (Memphis Industries), which features a Daniel Clowes-like cartoon cover (even though it was actually drawn by one of the band's guitarists).

There's also, conveniently enough, two videos out of the liveliest songs on the album, which you can enjoy here.

That's "Bitchstealer," done here as a newscast with correspondents.

"Boy, Did She Teach You Nothing" shows the band making mayhem in a library.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A box of Glass

Here's a feature I wrote for Blurt Magazine about the recent Philip Glass box. It's an impressive set of music but it ain't without its flaws too, plus it misses some of his CBS works (which is a plus and a minus too).

"In all, a very impressive batting average; how many modern composers, music less bands besides the Stones or the Beatles, could make a winning 10-CD box set from start to finish? If Glass has a few warty diversions in his oeuvre, so did the Bard and it didn't diminish his rep. The sum total of this box set is to show off his mastery of composition in several genres, and with that criterion, it does him proud and proves that he deserves the status as one of the classical world's leading lights in the last century and the one that we just began."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Best of NY- Village Voice

Another year, another Best of New York issue of the Village Voice. I was proud to participate with some entries this time. Here's all the nice things I found in NYC and blabbed about:

Best Way to Ring in the New Year with a Rock Legend
Patti Smith Group’s Bowery Ballroom NYE Shows

Best Art Organization Centered Around Recycling
Analogous Projects

Best Band-Initiated Package Shows that Avoid the Usual Promoter Crap

Best Non-Hetero Monthly Music Series
Queers, Beers & Rears

Best Way to See the Effects of Global Warming with Chalk Marks
High Waterline Project

Best Way to Look Fashionable and Recycle at the Same Time
AuH2O Boutique

Best Art Gallery Benefiting People with Disabilities
United Cerebral Palsy of New York City

Best Video Artist Based in a Bar
Donald O'Finn

Best Online DJ
David Byrne

Best Old-Timey Venue

Best Off-Off-Off-Broadway Musical Theater
Rev. Jen’s Really Cool Neighborhood

Best Way to Compensate for the Lack of Roots-Music Radio
Down Home Radio Show

Best Restaurant for Getting Pumped for a Show at the Garden
Kabooz’s Bar & Grille

Best Way to Live Like the Who’s Tommy (Though Without the Messiah Complex)
The NYC Pinball Association

Best Way for Women to find Non-Stereotyped Jobs
Non-Traditional Employment for Women

Best Way to Tag a Building Without Leaving a Mark
Graffiti Research Lab’s Laser Grafitti

Best Way to Teach Tots a Foreign Language
Bilingual Birdies

Best Way To Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth and Help Out a Girls’ Club
Sweet Things Bake Shop

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pablo Lamar embraces death

With a slate of depressing flat neo-realist films this time out, I was ready to give up on this year's edition of the New York Film Festival. Luckily, alongside the features, they also screen short films, one of which I raved about recently: Sam Taylor-Wood's Love You More.

There was another one recently that I found spectacularly minimal yet moving- Pablo Lamar's I Hear You Scream. The 11-minute film from the Paraguay director begins with a few minutes of the scene you see here in the photo above. There's no sound and it even seems that there's no movement until you look closely in the right corner and notice that a few leaves are shaking in the wind. It would seem maddening to watch this but because it's framed so beautifully, you're transfixed by it instead- the figure on the hill, the front of the house, the tree, the phone line above, the late/early day setting, everything in silhouette. What is the person doing in front, just standing there, we wonder.

Eventually, the sound comes in and we hear the wind blowing the leaves around and some crickets chirping away. Eventually, we hear some sort of choir (maybe children) singing. It's not quite mournful but not quite a celebration either. Later, in a what seems like an eternity, the figure finally walks up to the house and goes inside. Soon, a process comes out, again all in silhouette and seemingly silent, and we see that the people in the front are carrying something. It looks like a piece of furniture but soon we realize that the long box is in fact a coffin. They walk down the hill and off to the side, followed by other people and soon disappear.

Not long after, a figure walks out on the porch alone- we assume it's the same person who was standing in front alone. They sit on the small chair in front, staring off into the distance. Gradually, the whole scene darkens more as we slowly see less and less. It begins harder to make out the figure, the house, the tree or anything. We watch, wondering if we see anything at all. Then the scene goes pitch black and soon the sound is gone too.

In all, a brilliant, moving meditation on death that Bergman surely would have loved. Along with an appearance at the NYFF, the film was also noted at Cannes and won an award recently in Prague. And now you have to wonder what else Lamar will have to say in a longer format.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Creedence at Cosmo's- Fogerty's roots and ambitions

As you hopefully know, Fantasy is doing a 40th anniversary celebration of Creedence Clearwater Revival's catalog. The bonus tracks and better sound are obvious bait for collectors but for anyone who doesn't have these amazing albums in their collection or if you're looking for a good present for a music nut in your life, look no further. There is one particular album of theirs that I've always had a soft spot for.

When I worked as a camp counselor back in the mid 80's, I'd occasionally subject the kids to my record collection through my true old cassette player. One thing that was never far was a copy of Creedence's 1970 album Cosmo's Factory, which was always my favorite album of theirs (and one of my all-time faves, period). The reaction from the kids was instructive. A pretty brat thought that it was goofy. An African-American kid dug their version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." When another kid who was a metal fan heard "Up Around the Bend," he said "Hey, Hanoi Rocks does that song too!" (remember, this was the mid 80's). And with that, I heard proof positive of the power of the record and how it connected to people, even lil ones.

What impressed me most about the record wasn't just the nice simple fact that it paraded a series of winning songs from start to finish but also what it said about leader John Fogerty. Not only was he cheering on his own roots and past with sterling covers of "Grapevine" but also also Bo Diddley, Roy Orbison and Arthur Crudup's "My Baby Left Me" (which you can bet that JF heard from Elvis' great cover of the song) but also coming up with a really impressive batch of originals himself. It wasn't just gorgeous tunes like "Lookin' Out My Back Door," "Who'll Stop the Rain" and "Long As I Can See the Light" but also a roaring song like "Up Around the Bend," a haunting, mysterious tune like "Run Through The Jungle" (which one-up's "Bad Moon Rising" in terms of spooky atmosphere) and the driving R&B of "Travelin' Band" with its horns and blistering guitar solos.

If that wasn't enough, Cosmo was also a way for Fogerty to show off his ambitions, especially on the long songs. At 11:07, "Grapevine" was about 4-5 times the length of a usual Creedence song, much less a cover. What made it so impressive is that it didn't lag for a minute at that length. Listen to the version on 1976's Chronicle compilation and if you've ever heard the original before that, you feel cheated right away, longing for the extra drum breaks, guitar solos and verses that are missing.

As if to prove that he could master longer-format songs, Fogerty started the record off with a seven-minute-plus title, which happens to be my favorite song on the album. "Ramble Tamble" starts out with a blazing fast guitar riff before blasting off with the rest of the band. Fogerty details his list of troubles: mortgage (timely now, right?), roaches, bugs, garbage. Lest you think that he's just speaking in metaphors, before he complains about a tummy ache... "They're selling independence/Actors in the white house" (again, prescient).

But then the song breaks down. The pace slows as the guitar wail and a keyboard seems to plunk out a sad theme (almost in the same vein as "Layla" from the same year). Soon, the pace picks up and it sounds like something you'd hear from a prog-rock group- not Yes or ELP but maybe Hawkwind at least. "Is this Creedence?" you start to wonder.

And Fogerty has the answer for that not long after. He stops the song again and takes it back tot he shit-kicin' first part. At first listening, you've gotta be wondering 'what the hell was that about?' but I think that Fogerty is making an important musical point here. Maybe it's just me extrapolating too much but I've always heard that transition in the song as his way of saying that even though rock can and will get fancier and ambitious (as in the song's second part), it'll still come back to its roots eventually (as in the third part of the song). As such, he's providing his own little musical history of rock and even more brilliantly, he's doing it without having to rue through an extended lyric about this. For all his thoughtful commentary about rock, I've never heard Pete Townshend do that so well in a Who song.

Looking back at the album, it's also a similar far-reaching statement about music. The fact that Fogerty wanted to lay out his roots and his experiments together in the same place was a testament not only to his genius but also a brilliant blueprint of the music's possibilities. He'd already been going down this path on Creedence's previous album (1969's Willy and The Poor Boys) and would reach a bit of an over-ambitious climax of it on Pendulum (which came out later in 1970) but Cosmo is where you can find his spirit in full bloom.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Clint Eastwood's world of music

It's not often that fans get to sit around with actor/director/producer/icon Clint Eastwood and hear him jaw about his work but that opportunity came up on October 4th. The New Yorker Festival presented an interview with him done by long-time writer (and icon herself) Lillian Ross at the Director's Guild of America theater, just down the street from Carnegie Hall.

The first part was a series of past clips from some of his most well-known films including the initial gunfight/confrontation in A Fistful of Dollars, the "do you feel lucky punk" scene from Dirty Harry, a moving, dialog-less scene with Meryl Streep in Bridges of Madison County, an unnerving scene with Jessica Walter in Play Misty For Me, a heart-breaking scene with Angelina Jolie from the new film Changeling (which is also premiering at the New York Film Festival) and a pretty damn funny scene from the upcoming Gran Torino, where he plays a hardened old codger. Lest anyone think otherwise, Eastwood himself isn't a mean crank as he usually plays in his films but a very smart, witty guy. Nevertheless, he's still such a great actor that he can say volumes in a scene with the right look or stare and not utter a single word.

But me being a music nut, I was most interesting in... well, you know what. And he had a lot to say about the subject too. He spoke about his admiration for Art Tatum and Chopin, who he admits to copy many times in his scores. More about that- "I don't like music to overwhelm a movie but to provide an important undercurrent." He also spoke about Martin Scorsese's blues series which he was asked to do the piano episode and which he was all too glad to do since he knew where to find a lot of footage for it.

He even recalled Paint That Wagon, the Western-musical that's usually seen as an embarrassment, but which a few people (i.e. me) actually like. There he spoke of not only having to deny Lee Marvin libations but also his inability to keep up with him as such. Eastwood also said that as they filmed in Western Oregon, director Joshua Logan took the unusual step of recording the singing live while they were doing the scenes, which make it interesting to try not to tumble through the woods as they were walking around there.

(There was no mention of 1982's Honky Tonk Man where he plays a country singer)

As they sat and talked about his career, a grand piano and microphone sat at the other end of the stage. Since Eastwood was known for playing, it was obvious what would happen later. Sure enough, Ross got him to walk over there 2-3 times for a little demonstration. As you can see from Internet Movie Database, Eastwood has had a hand in his movie music going back to the early 80's. He explained that when he was in high school, even if you didn't happen to be the quarterback, girls would still swoon around the guy playing the piano. "So if you were a little retarded... wait, you're not supposed to say that... if you were a little slow, then this was a good way to make up for it" he explained, before laying some boogie woogie on us.

He played a bit from his score of Mystic River, explaining that he thought of the three main characters there as a triad so he tried to musically come up with that and expand on it. Later, he also did the love theme from Bridges of Madison County, which he also wrote. The one request he wouldn't take from Ross was "Misty." "Nobody can improve on Erroll Garner with that," he said (decide for yourself here).

When it came time for Q&A, the subject of music came up again. Q: would you consider doing a musical? He said that couldn't discount it and that he'd be up for doing another music bio like Bird but not one with an unhappy ending like that. Guess he's had too many of those already in his films.

Oh and for you film buffs, he's what he said were some of his all-time faves: Red River, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity and other 40's noir films. Tough to argue with a list like that...

(Special thanks to Reuben Cervera for the top photo)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Talkin' Dylan bootlegs

Seems that it's still a good time to be a Dylan fan. Not only is his label about to release another set of unreleased material but you don't even have to wait until next week to hear it. NPR is kindly putting the material online so you can stream both CD's right now from their website.

Not enough for you? Man, you're greedy... Well, you're in luck because Amazon is also offering up this nice, low-key video with Harry Dean Stanton for "Dreamin' of You."

His later-day catalog does deserve the treatment and not just his heralded trio of albums that he's put out in the last several years but also Oh Mercy and World Gone Wrong, not to mention some live cuts thrown in too. Not too many 60's figures have help up as well as he has and who have such an impressive stash of alternate/unreleased material.