Wednesday, November 23, 2005

RIP John Studholme (Prag Vec)

Just received some sad news. John Studholme from the post-punk band Prag Vec had been fighting cancer for a while and according to singer Sue Gogan, he "had a relapse while recovering from the chemo. He caught pneumonia in the hospital and died on Monday."

Along with Gogan, Studholme had co-written many of the band's songs. At the time, he, Gogan and drummer Nick Cash had been working with Mute Records UK to put together a compilation/reissue of Prag Vec material, which has been long out of print. As far as I know, that's still happening and on track to come out some time in 2006. Having already heard a copy of the material, I think it'll provide a nice tribute to John.

For more info about the band, see the Prag Vec website.

JANUARY 2006: Correspondence from Lilli Studholme-Landau (John's daughter). "... although I was glad to see your appreciation of my dad's music, I was unhappy that you were so misinformed about his illness. There is no need for me to go into the details (they were significantly more complicated then you were lead to believe), but I would be grateful if you would amend your site so that it could read 'after a long illness' rather than the misinformation you have received."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

RIP Link Wray

Sad news about a guitar pioneer from a Spanish publication (translated into English): ""The guitarist Link Wray, considered one of the pioneers of the American rock in the decade of the years 50 and cult figure, passed away at the age of 76 in Copenhagen, where lived since two decades ago, reported today the newspaper 'Politiken'."

A few years ago, during a SXSW panel about lyrics, one of the songs played was "Rumble." It was argued that Wray's classic instrumental, specifically his distorted guitar sound has a lyricism and language of its own. After the song was played, writer Ed Ward noted that it wasn't the version that he and others knew and loved. The original he remembered (from 1957) had a blaring, almost obscene sound to it, that just plain frightened people. Such was the power of Wray's playing and a testament to how he changed the vocabulary of his instrument.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Ditty Bops- Live and shimmying

Sonically, they're an old-timey version of the Roches but Cali duo the Ditty Bops don't leave it at that. A tomboy (lesbian?) undercurrent and cartoonish ultra-violent videos are also part of their M.O. and good for them. They're not too cutesy about their conceit and they obviously have a lot of fun with what they do, which counts for a lot. Abbey is the health and nature nut (note the girls biking on the photo here) and Amanda's got the comedy and modelling background, both useful things in this biz. On a Conan O'Brien appearance, they dressed like dime-store flappers and looked great. God knows why Warner Bros. thought them bankable but bless 'em for signing them up.

After their 2004 debut comes this little 3-song EP featuring their nifty unplugged sound. The first song mentions bikes again and wonders "why can't white people sing the blues?" before mooning over lost love and the autumn. On the wistful "Gentle Sheep," they dream of staying up late and watching TV- you can tell that they're not modern adolescents though 'cause they don't mention Playstation. Pre-war standard "Sister Kate" (a pre-diva and jazz favorite) finishes things off, taken at comparitively break-neck speed, with time for piano and fiddle breaks though you miss the visuals where they obviously ham it up for a crowd.

Listen to the whole thing at Napster: Live EP

Friday, November 11, 2005

Pieta Brown gets down and dirty

Just in case you thought that women singer-songwriter are all dainty and demure, you need to hear Pieta Brown and her third album, In the Cool on Valley Records (listen to four songs at her My Space site). If "This Old Dress" sounds a little sentimental, it's also a hell of a sweet honky-tonk tune and a lot less weepy than most assembly-line Nashville music nowadays. On "Precious Game" and "In the Cool," she oozes downhome grit like many of her male counterparts couldn't if they tried. Forget about the bone-headed review in All Music Guide which claims that Brown sounds too lazy and uninterested in her music- she cares plenty. Her voice is sultry and expressive enough to make you sweaty.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Ohm sweet Ohm

Around the summer of 1999, I went through a pile of CD's with impressario Thomas Ziegler trying to figure out what were the primest pieces of mid-20th century electronic music we could come up with. Even though I would have liked to have even more artists included (Gyorgy Ligeti, Henri Pousseur, Olly Wilson, Mario Davidovsky, Gordon Mumma, Toshio Mayuzumi, Roger Reynolds, James Tenney, John Appleton to name a few) a 3-CD set seemed to be a nice introduction to the music. Ohm- The Early Gurus of Electronic Music was the result of intense negotiations with record companies, artists and publishers. When you put together a huge project like this with dozens of artists, you gradually realize that what you'd ideally like to see there and what's legally possible are sometimes two very different things. As a result, we had to decide on other pieces for Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pauline Oliveros but que sera... Getting to including Terry Riley, Steve Reich, La Monte Young and other favorites there (and getting to interview these people about their work) made all the headaches almost worth it- nowadays, I'd advice eager compilers that they need the patience of a saint to put together any kind of multi-artist release (unless their label has very deep pockets).

After all of that hard work, I was a little distressed to see that Ohm wasn't available for a while. Granted that the costs of keeping something like that in print ain't cheap but it's sad to see all that hard work become E-Bay fodder. So when Ellipsis Arts decided earlier this year that the box set should come back with a new edition including videos, it sounded like a great idea. I even momentarily forgot what a headache it is to gather material and clear the rights! It still is but I'm really happy with the end result. We were able to collect ballet pieces, cartoons, performances, abstract art creations, interviews and all manner of bizarre music videos. In the end, it's so gratifying to see the set out there again and now in an even more improved state. Hope you enjoy it.

By the way, the Off the Radar radio program in Georgia has a recent interview with me about Ohm where I actually come up with a few interesting thoughts about electronic music (my segment starts about 15 minutes in there), including decades-old battles between different factions, how this music come out of the lab and into the pop sphere, etc..

Monday, November 07, 2005

Richard Manuel's blues

Recorded live near his home base around Woodstock in fall of 1985, a few months before he hung himself in early 1986, Whispering Pines remains the closest thing that ex-Band singer/pianist Richard Manuel had to a solo album. Though he had participated in some Band reunions after their official break-up, he was sidelined by addiction and the rigours of touring. Even if you don't have much use for classic rock nowadays, remember that the Mekons dedicated an album to him shortly after his death.

Perhaps sensing that his end was near (compare Ian Curtis on Closer), he turned to the unfathomable sadness that's plummed from early Ray Charles in a group of covers that sound appropriate: "Georgia On My Mind," "You Don't Know Me" and "Hard Times" ("who knows better than I?"). Of course, Band songs make it here and just as a reminder, some of them came from his pen. Another worthwhile reminder is what a great pianist he was- just listen to his boogie-woogie rhapsody on "The Shape I'm In." The way his gruff voice cracks (a cornerstone of the Band's music) is heartbreaking too- just listen to the title track for proof of this. The setting for the show was mostly solo, with occasional help from his ex-bandmate (and also now departed) Rick Danko.

Though it's listed as coming out later this month, the album should be available now from Other Peoples' Music, a label that faithfully archives many Band solo projects.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

D.O.A.- War is still good for absolutely nothing

You gotta love Canadian punk legend Joey Shithead. He's kept the D.O.A. flame burning since the late 70's with their own Sudden Death Records. Sadly an avowed anti-dance music fan (the first DOA single was called "Disco Sucks"), he came up with an inspired idea in the early 80's. "One of the big trends on the radio was this ridiculous thing called "Stars on 45" (as in a 45 RPM disc). They would take a silly disco beat and put 30 second snippets of a famous band's hits on top of it. So you got great bands like the Beatles with a disco beat behind it and cornball shit like The Beach Boys with disco beats as well, ughhh!!! So that's where (manger Ken) Lester came up with the idea of putting a bunch of anti-war songs on a 12" 45 RPM vinyl disc, cool idea, it really worked." Which is all good and well except a reissue isn't gonna be on a little 7" vinyl disc anymore so the title War on 45 (now reissued on their own label) will have to stand for the hopefully long-gone "Stars" medley madness.

In addition to the cover of Edwin Starr's hit (which admittedly doesn't beat Springsteen's version much less the original), they also cover the Dils (who later mutated into the very under-rated alt-country band Rank & File) and reggae artist Rankin' Trevor, complete with dub explosions- the latter is admirable for reaching out but then punk & reggae already had close ties even by then (or just ask Rancid) and you have to wonder why Mr. S-head would shun other dance music so blithely. Drummer Chuck Biscuits was in no mood to skank though so he ran off to Black Flag instead.

To fill out the reissue, Mssr Shithead dug into the D.O.A. catalog for other singles, album tracks and demos, all on the anti-battle tip. To their credit, this other material fits in well, musically and thematically, including covers of Dylan's "Masters of War" (done with the rigtheous indignation that Zimmy surely had in mind), Fogerty's "Forunate Son" (admirable but no match for CCR) and Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" (greatly improved as a drunken sing-a-long). Even stronger than these blasts from the past is a Shithead original that ends things off- once only a demo, "No God, No War" has such sacreligious pearls of wisdom as this:

You got a life you wanna live
Don't give it for God
You got a life you wanna give
Don't give it for God
No God, no war

And while S-head's contention that an anti-war record is just as relevant then as now, he forgets all of the other blood-lettings in between that have ALWAYS made this relevant. But as a great sloganeer, he does repeat this bon mot equation from the WO4 back cover that will always hold true: