Monday, February 27, 2006

Chaos & Creation At Abbey Road

Blind faith led me to what PBS boldly entitled Great Performances. Abbey Road's Studio #2 is where we find Paul McCartney leading us through a decidedly mixed bag of new and old tunes and at times, downright embarrassing moments. I'll start with the highs...
Surprisingly, the songs that came across the best are a batch of new songs from his latest album titled Chaos And Creation In The Backyard. All given a very straight forward approach, "Friends To Go", "How Kind Of You", "Jenny Wren", and "English Tea" are a lovely collection of songs that showcase Paul's nature melodic sense and at times some interesting introspective lyrics. Backyard is actually a very nice album. It's been compared to his first solo effort McCartney, but to me it has more the flavor of some of his simpler White Album tracks. I highly recommend it.
Other highlights include an acoustic rendition of a pre-Beatles penned song called "In Spite Of All The Danger". He tells a nice story about how he, John, and George(along with friends Duff and Colin) each donated a pound a piece to the cause and went down to a local recording studio to record it. Leaving with disc in hand, the idea was for them each to hold on to the 45 single briefly and then pass it on to the next band member after a weeks time. Paul explains how the three of them each did as was agreed and that Duff then held on to it for the next 23 years. Quite funny. He also does sweet acoustic versions of "Blackbird", "20 Flight Rock", and "One After 909". His voice has held up remarkably well but there are moments that it shows its wear and tear from the years(his new wife, Heather, has said in interviews that Paul & Linda smoked pot every day they were married and that she forced him give it up before they wed).

Now the low points...

Paul then proceeds to re-tell a bunch of tired old stories that even the least informed Beatles fan has heard a million times over without adding so much as a hint of additional insight to previous versions. Do we really need to hear the "Love Me Do" harmonica story or how he impressed John by remembering all the lyrics to "20 Flight Rock" upon their first meeting, again? Several times he makes bad jokes thinking he's being clever or holds for laughter/applause and it just doesn't come. And I wanna puke every time I see him give that wink of the eye while cocking his head and flashing that toothy grin that seems to say, "I WROTE this! Aren't I clever?". Uuuuggghh.
They should throw him back in a Japanese prison for his dreadful performances of "Heartbreak Hotel" and white-boy soul re-telling of "Lady Madonna". There are also half-baked renditions of "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Blue Suede Shoes" that surely have their original composers rolling over in their graves. But worst of all is the amount of time he spends laying down individual tracks for an atrocious "Band On The Run" remake in which he accompanies himself on wine glasses and Mellotron! Yuck.
I take that back, the lowest points of the show are when he seemingly makes up two songs on the spot. One is a Las Vegas lounge singers ode to Abbey Road. The other is a heap of tripe that ends the show that I can't even begin to explain its meaning or purpose. As hard as it was to watch, it's was equally enjoyable to see a superstar of his magnitude fall flat on his face on national television....once again. He's got a history of making these hit and miss television specials designed to promote his latest release. I've got several of them on bootleg DVD's spanning the decades and each time he succeeds in making just as much great music as he does crappy stuff. Let's hear it for consistency!
The audience is filled with a highly unenthusiastic lot and a first row generously peppered with what appears to be middle aged record executives bobbing their chicken heads out of synch while simultaneously doing the "white man's overbite" along to some John Denver beat still stuck in their head from 1977.
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Friday, February 24, 2006

Bob Dylan: Austin, TX 2/24/02

"Along came Brady in his 'lectric car."

"Does anybody know anything about cars?" That was the question I posed to my car load of friends who were joining me on a journey to see Bob Dylan in Austin as it stalled out before we even got out of the city limits. I heard them all sigh, knowing that they thought this was not a good sign. However, we did make it to Hollywood, TX(my term of endearment for Austin) and were rewarded with the show of a lifetime.

"Sugar baby get on down the road..."

Arriving at our hosts house(Matt & Mo) we all began our festivities in earnest. Many things were consumed by all in celebration of our good fortune. I had scored some mighty fine seats for my friend Jason and I and we had high expectations for the evening. Not 2 days before we had seen Dylan perform at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo in the Astrodome from what seemed like a mile away and knew that it could only get better with our floor seats. A whole slew of friends would be in attendance including Tamarie, Dewitt, Matt & Mo, Tony & Emily, along with Emily's mother. The energy was potent but we tried to keep our cool as the hours slowly ticked away. With knowledge that this was the final show of the Spring 2002 Tour and that Bob would be performing at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles just three days later gave us even higher hopes for that evenings show.

"I'll be your baby tonight."

Arriving at the UT Erwin Center we all went our separate ways with Jason and I heading to the best seats of the bunch. I don't recall waiting long for Bob to take the stage. And when he did, he never looked back. Starting off with a short acoustic set, we knew he meant business when the second song of the night was "Boots of Spanish Leather". And with a powerful one two punch, Bob and band then socked it to us with a blistering "It's Alright, Ma". I must have blacked out shortly thereafter, because the rest of the show was like some beautiful dream. And when they finally got to the meat of the show and delivered "Lay, Lady, Lay", "High Water", "Visions of Johanna", "One Too Many Mornings", and "Tangled Up In Blue" in succession I was floating on cloud 9.

"How does it feel?"

You see, for the last 20 years I been chasing the dragon so to speak. I've been searching for that elusive "magical" musical performance that is so sublime and so perfect that I could finally say that I had been to the mountain top. That one performance where everything falls in to place. Where the artist builds the cosmic puzzle, piece by piece before your very eyes. And I'm proud to say, this was one of those times. I guess I've been pretty lucky too. For I have been witness to several moments where the "X Factor" has been in play(Grateful Dead 12.28.91, White Stripes & Flaming Lips 12.31.03). But having chased Dylan for so many years(this was year 12) it was made all the sweeter by its vintage.

" might as well keep goin' now."

As the show came to a close after a massive 20 song set, Jason and I must have looked like two deer caught in the high beams of an approaching eighteen wheeler. We had been to the peak of Mt. Sinai together and lived to see another day. It was indeed glorious, beautiful, inspiring, and all the other delicious adjectives you can think of to describe it. As we stood there at our seats for a few moments, not quite believing what it was we had just seen, Jason captured the moment perfectly. He said, "That's the first Dylan show I've seen where I can walk out and say I'm full."


"....blowin' in the wind"

As we walked out in to the cool evening air, we caught up with Tamarie, Tony, Emily, her mom, and Dewitt. We all agreed we had seen a tremendous performance and as if a knowing wink from the Gods, Dewitt presented me with a poster from the evenings performance. Life is sweet, ain't it? And like little kids coming down from a sugar high, Tamarie and I giggled our way to sleep that night at Matt & Mo's.

"You ain't got no brains no how."

Driving home to Houston the following evening, our brains were still smoking from the show we'd seen 24 hrs before and so were we. And in a brilliant moment of insanity, Jason purchased a cassette copy of Foreigner's "4" at a truck stop and we listened to it all the way back home.

"Jukebox hero! Stars in his eyes!"
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It's been 4 long years to the day since that glorious outting and I'd like to dedicate this entry to the loving memory of Steve Barnett who was with us at the Dylan Rodeo performance and passed away just a few months later much too early in life. Here's to you, old pal.

iPod Song of the Day: Nirvana covering the KISS classic "Do You Love Me" from the ultra rare Australian import Hard To Believe
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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Vinyl Vault: Emmylou Harris "Luxury Liner"

I'm still unpacking things from the non-hurricane we had several months back and this little beauty was the first thing that caught my eye. And what a treat it is. This is Emmylou slowly separating herself from singing partner Gram Parson with baby steps(2 tracks are penned by Parsons). Harris and her Hot Band are here to show that traditional country music could stand side by side with modern rock and create something as true and long lasting. She shows her forward motion by recording songs by outsider artists(Susanna Clark's "I'll Be Your San Antone Rose", Rodney Crowell's "You're Supposed To Be Feeling Good") and placing them in juxtaposition with country benchmarks(A.P. Carter's "Hello Stranger", Ira & Charlie Louvin's "When I Stop Dreaming").
Each side kicks off with upbeat, hip shaking tunes that are pure western swing. The title track has a wonderful "surf" tone to its lead guitar that would make Dick Dale proud. While side B begins with a splendid rendition of Chuck Berry's "C'est La Vie" that is said to have "blown away" Mr. Goode.
But just as soon as you've swallowed these quick paced foot stomping nuggets, Harris gets down to business in a flash. The remaining tunes are full of sweet pining and longing remorse. Her voice is so effortless and magical that you can't help but be seduced by its pixie-like tone. When not accompanying herself on vocal harmonies, she's joined by the likes of Dolly Parton, Rodney Crowell, Nicolette Larson and Fayssoux Starling(I LOVE that name!).
Only once does she push her vocal chords to the raspy side, but to great effect. During a particularly poignant moment in the Parsons penned "She", Harris roars out the phrase "Oh, Hallelujah!" with such gusto it creates a chilling goose bump moment that sounds as if Bonnie Tyler herself has stepped up to the mike just for that brief moment. While the lyrics, "Didn't mind if she wasn't very pretty/For deep inside his heart he knew/She was the only one/Oh, but she sure could sing/My, my she sure could sing." are enough to break the heart of even the cruelest man.
The crowning jewel to the collection is the first ever recorded cover version of Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho & Lefty". I'm sure you've heard Willie & Waylon's version a million times and this version is every bit as breathtaking and powerful(if not, more so) than the one they would record a few years later. To hear Harris relive the story of these two scroungy nair-do-wells is a ear filling delight indeed. Do yourself a favor and search this one out. You won't be disappointed.
The album is Emmylou in one of her finest(among many) shining moments and truly reveals her to be a progressive pioneer in modern country music.
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iPod Song of the Day: "Carless Soul" from Daniel Johnston's self titled album
This is a live performance done acapella before a handful of listeners that is as truthful and heartbreaking as they come, folks. It's sure to bring a tear to your eye as Daniel struggles to complete the song with his voice cracking from emotion. A riveting, earth-shattering performance done by memory in front of a New York City audience. Here's the mp3.
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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

** Symphony EP CD

This Houston based stringed quartet ain't your mama's wedding playin', pastel wearin', garden variety outfit. These four ladies are true originals in every sense of the word. They write all their own music and do it while decked out in black leather boots. I've had their latest EP in regular rotation for a few weeks now and I'm ready to throw in my two cents. The first few listenings were through my regular cd player and receiver and I wasn't too thrilled with the overall feeling. However, since I've been playing it through my 5 channel dvd/cd player, I've been quite impressed. Here's the lowdown...

Something She Said: Very dark. This is pure death metal. Lots of heavy handed cello with winds of violins and viola swirling and dancing around your head like little devils at play. Laughing as they prod you in your soft spots with little to no mercy. It brings to mind some silent black & white footage I saw somewhere of little demons tormenting a drunken man as he wandered through the streets lost. This could easily be on the soundtrack for "A Nightmare Before Christmas" or "The Corpse Bride". The instruments come together at the end creating a ever building crescendo of fire that climb higher and higher up the walls of your ears.

Hell Hound: Having not paid much attention to the actual names of the pieces, I didn't see this one as foreboding as the name would suggest. The first few notes of the cello seem to send out a long bellow of a cry that appear to be a warning for the see-saw ride that follows. I picture long flowing Irish landscapes with this one. Emerald fields as far as the eye can see. Up and down. Up and down. The violins stair step ever upward until finally releasing allowing the listener to tumble down the hill end over end. About half way through it becomes more middle eastern/Arabic in flavor.

Napoleon's Grudge: The most light hearted piece in the collection, this is pure cat and mouse. At first, the viola and cello play the part of the cat and the violins the mouse. About a minute in to the work(my favorite part), the tiny gray mouse sneaks in on his tip toes to get his cheesy poof. With his prize in hand, he does a funny little jig around for a bit only to arouse the cat from its slumber. With that, the instruments seem to reverse roles and the chase is on! But, like all good Tom & Jerry cartoons, the final few bars reveal the two to be life long pals. As the screens closes in around them, we see the two shake hands and give a knowing wink to the audience. YAY!

These gals play all over town in a variety of different settings. Do yourself a favor and visit their website, buy some merchandise, and go see 'em live. You won't regret it. They're gonna be bigger than Elvis someday soon. I don't wanna piss the girls off by posting a whole song, so I've made a little snippet of the"sneaking gray mouse" section from "Napoleon's Grudge"
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iPod Song Of The Day: "I Believe In You" from Neil Young's Decade
"Now that you've made yourself love me, do you think I could change it in a day?"

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Soft Bulletin & Yoshimi 5.1

You may think you've heard these albums before but until you've experienced the 5.1 mixes of both, you've heard NOTHING! These are not merely recordings, these are sonic wonders. Futuristic landscapes constructed in three dimension with instruments and voices as their bricks and mortar. As vivid as any Monet. More intricate than a Serat. These brilliantly produced waves of ear candy put the Flaming Lips and producer David Fridmann so far ahead of anything that's been released by a recording artist in the last 3 decades, it's hard to imagine anyone catching them. Or even a glimpse in their rearview mirror, for that matter. Perhaps, if proper care is given to any Pink Floyd or psychedelic-era Beatles album, I might just eat my words. But until then, I have to believe these to be the equivalent of a rock 'n roll revolution. Not since Sgt. Pepper's was unleashed or the deep vinyl grooves of Wish You Were Here cut has psychedelic pop received such a life renewing shot in the arm. These are not the abstract, sometimes obtuse, noise- rock sounds that the band cut its teeth on in the early nineties. These are crisp, delightful cuts that express emotion in a palatable, mind-tingling manner. When Coyne sings the phrase, "Feeling yourself disintegrate.", you actually believe that are dissolving in a solution distilled from acid-tinged quarter notes. And what a heavenly feeling it is. In a stroke of genius, Warner Brothers has not only given us the dvd-a, but also include the cd version in the same package, insuring you a bellyful by the end.(I've chosen not to discuss the major "fuck-ups" that accompanied BOTH releases). These are the real deal, folks. More words would be futile. Sprint ,don't run, to get these.