Thursday, February 26, 2009

FROM THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR

Throughout their heyday in the sixties, the Beatles would tape a year end Christmas message that was issued on flexi disc to members of their fan club. This is an outtake from the session that produced their 1965 greeting.

I was in tears laughing when I first heard this, years ago, on a bootleg that I had acquired. The poster labeled this as a "Disturbing Beatle Message", though it was certainly never intended for public consumption.

Black humor coupled with a shared left-handed cigarette produces those deep laughs, where you think that you have suffered internal injuries. It is in that spirit (and state) that the following silliness ensued.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

JEFF BUCKLEY



Jeff Buckley came to my attention through a happy accident while channel surfing.

Fall 1994: Terry David Mulligan was conducting an interview with him on Much Music (remember when they actually aired music?). Seconds before flipping to another distraction, I heard Mulligan state that listening to Buckley's album evoked the same feelings as those stirred when he had first heard "Astral Weeks".

Please, continue...

Based on the experience of hearing just the title track as part of this segment, I raced out to find a copy of the CD, along with some beer. Even my wildest expectations were exceeded and for weeks it was in constant rotation. Convinced that this would be huge, I laid the disc on anyone who would listen as if it were a hot stock tip.

It wasn't

Unfazed by the lack of taste regularly displayed by the masses, it was heartening to know that this masterpiece was created in my timeline. This was music that aimed a bit higher, on par with the best of anything produced during the golden period of the sixties. High hopes were set for what he would follow it up with.

Sadly, the attention of a broader audience would only come through his passing.

Nothing increases demand for an artist's work more than word of their demise. Overnight, critical evaluations became eulogies for a young man who would not fulfill the promise that was so perfectly stated with his lone studio effort.

"Grace" is powered by operatic vocal gymnastics, epic arrangements tailored for a four-piece rock group and nerve. There is also a dark and foreboding undercurrent to the writing that is slightly unsettling, though it compels you to listen. This component is balanced by the exhilaration of hearing someone pull off the impossible at every turn. Genius in a flawless, musical high wire act.

Without any vulgar attempts to copy from their playbook, the spirit and creativity of Zeppelin at their most esoteric is felt, especially with "Mojo Pin", "Grace" and "The Last Goodbye". Three covers round out the set, with a version of "Hallelujah" that surpasses all interpretations. Any other attempts pale in comparison.

I have rarely been more inspired than the first time I listened to this album and it continues to amaze.

Much ink has been spilled in praise of this disc, with nary a drop wasted. What more could be said?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

SHEA STADIUM




This past week, a controlled demolition the likes of which has not been seen in New York for almost eight years, brought down the last section of an iconic venue. The pride of Flushing, NY, Shea Stadium opened for business in April 1964. Home of the Mets and Jets, it is best remembered as the site of the opening gig of the Beatles 1965 US tour that drew a record (for that time) crowd of over 55,000 people.

It is now a parking lot. Guess that people had enough with "remembering" William A. Shea.







Sunday, February 15, 2009

THE PRETENDERS



PRETENDERS

Guitar tone that leaps out of the speakers, solid songs with sympathetic backing and one ex music writer with soul. All are present and accounted for on "Pretenders". Another late 70's last stab at breathing life into rock that is consistently brilliant from the time "Precious" kicks down the door until "Mystery Achievement" fades into the west.

Chrissie Hynde asserts herself with a distinctive vocal delivery and an attitude that is demonstrated simply by crafting edgy, melodic music. There is none of the fatuous posing of latter day lightweights (Pink and Avril Lavigne) here.

I keep this record is in fairly constant rotation, as it remains fresh after so many years. "Up the Neck" packs an album's worth of ideas into one tune. Light distortion colors the dentist drill opening riff which then shifts gears into glorious sounding arpeggios before changing yet again. Effort is made to hold your attention.

Energetic punkish outings like "Tatooed Love Boys" and "Precious" sit comfortably next to radio ready fare like "Brass In Pocket" and "Kid" which is one of my favorites from this stellar set. There wouldn't be a crisis in the music business if artists were releasing consistent, top quality product.

Special mention goes to the three players who pooled their talents to sonically elevate these offerings. James Honeyman Scott's guitar textures are an indispensable part of the soundscape. He also co-wrote "Space Invader" and "Brass in Pocket". Pete Farndon and Martin Chambers anchored a muscular, yet flexible rhythm section. Sadly, both Scott and Farndon became drug casulaties in the early 80's. Their input would be missed after the second album.

Expert production from Chris Thomas sands off rough edges, yet maintains a feel that accentuates the strengths of this talented quartet.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS



Who is responsible for the much needed drop in the price of gas?

It's always the one that you least expect...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Saturday, February 07, 2009

GOMEZ



LIQUID SKIN

Allowing these songs to permeate your cerebellum would definitely be one of the nicest things that you could do for your brain. Gomez came out of the UK indie scene in the mid 90's with demos that inspired a bidding war to sign them. A co-worker was kind enough to loan me this CD when it was still a fresh item and I was instantly hooked.

Writing and playing here is first rate, while the production values have moved up a notch from the low-fi feel of their first disc (the also quite excellent "Bring It On"). Best of all, they make zero concessions to trendy noises or styles, while taking care not to venture into tuneless experimentation. Melodic fare mixes with unexpected 180 degree turns in arrangement ("Las Vegas Dealer") and having three vocalists ensures variety in pace and tone.

"Devil Will Ride" encompasses every facet of this multi-talented group, showcasing tight harmonies, tricky riffs and a surprise horn interlude that doesn't interrupt the flow of the song, despite a dead stop.



Don't buy into the bullshit tags that have been carelessly applied to "Liquid Skin". Psychedelic blues was a laughable example. They forge their own esoteric sound.

Lots of information is presented to the listener, so it may take a few spins to absorb all that is on offer. Exhilarating passages are expertly woven together with the best ideas refined and made stronger because they are fed into a communal pool of musicians reaching a bit higher.

It all works, leaving an impression of timelessness.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

BILL HICKS

This could be one of Dave Letterman's greatest gestures.

BEN FOLDS FIVE



THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF REINHOLD MESSNER

Commercial indifference buried this talented trio in the backyard, with an adventurous set of tunes left as their last official release. Proving again that the masses don't pay attention, Folds admitted that he took a bath on this financially and moved on to a solo career.

Ten years after the fact, most everything here stands up, brimming with melody (remember that?) and the type of risk taking that an increasingly narrow minded music industry has driven to a friendlier medium. You are here.

Avoiding the traps that makes most music so boring of late, this is loose limbed, energetic and intelligent stuff. "Narcolepsy" builds from a lone piano in the intro to incorporate Darren Jesse's splashy drum flourishes (reminiscent of Keith Moon), augmented by sweeping strings. Kicking in the door with an epic and witty statement, the pace then shifts down into 70's AM radio territory with "Don't Change Your Plans".



Virtuoso keyboards married to exceptional songs.

Those familiar with their previous two albums will find that arrangements have grown to incorporate strings and brass, though it doesn't detract from the personality of the players. All three sing and contribute distinctive instrumental passages, with the overdriven bass of Robert Sledge acting as lead guitar. Dry humor, an essential ingredient of some of their work, is muted here in favor of a more serious tone. On the disc's one disposable track ("Your Redneck Past") there is a sense of silliness which seems too far out of context to merit its inclusion here.

Everything else works quite well. "Army" is the cornerstone track, mixing wry slackerisms with a complimentary horn section that provides an adrenaline rush , pushing the song to the finish line with excitement.



This is a criminally overlooked album. Reuniting briefly to play "Reinhold Messner" in it's entirety last fall, everyone looked like they were having a hell of a lot of fun.

Monday, February 02, 2009

THE TALKING CAR



TRAFFIC SAFETY FILM (1969 remake of 1953 original)

"Hi, I'm Troy McClure! Today, I'll be teaching you the "dos" and "do not dos" of getting flattened in the street because you JUST DIDN'T LISTEN!!!!"

Nothing at all to do with music, except that the kid is played by Brian Forster who would later be the Partridge Family's second fake drummer. (They walled up the original Chris Partridge in a basement in the middle of nowhere for "talking back" to the director)

The year was 1973 and our primary school teacher screened this "fill-um" (that's how she pronounced it) to illustrate how easy it would be for us to be squished by an assortment of late 60's American cars driven by child killing maniacs. Note the evil judgement that rains down on the kid when he's put before the panel of three frightening automobiles.

A friend of the family at that time drove a '69 Plymouth Fury and I was convinced that his car was going to clear its throat and damn me to hell for not looking both ways before crossing the street.

Scariest part? The dog's excellent acting.


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