Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Cranberries • No Need to Argue

Yes, that's right. There's no need to argue: The Cranberries are as bad as their name. For one thing, lead singer Dolores O'Riordan goes out of her way to sing every song as if she's yearning for something. Can someone yearn that much? And for what? Her caterwauling envelops the entire album, making the whole thing rather difficult to hear. It makes me want to pee. I mean, she spends so much time trying to uniquely sing every syllable, she's barely singing anything understandable at all. If you want to hear lyrics rendered as gibberish, you might as well go put on Cocteau Twins! At least they're good, and their lyrics aren't supposed to mean anything!

But, let's assume you can get past her voice (i.e., you like it). Musically, No Need to Argue is an amalgam of alternative rock styles (including nifty grunge-style guitar on "Zombie") that we've all heard at least one too many times. Now, I know that doesn't necessarily make it a bad album (hell, I liked Urge Overkill's Saturation). But it's basically the same album as their debut from last year, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? Maybe they're answering the question of their first album's title with No Need to Argue. But, as your mother probably told you any number of times, just because everybody's jumping off a cliff doesn't mean you have to, too.
(from The Rocket, Seattle, December 1994)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Record Store Day • April 17, 2010

In a few weeks a bunch of us geeks who still frequent record stores (as they used to be known) will flock to our local independently owned vinyl emporiums to attend Record Store Day. Started in 2007 as a "celebration of the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned stores in the USA," this annual promotion not only seeks to boost attendance, but is a great way to get some very cool, esoteric and rare releases that only come out for this celebration.

It's pretty tough to summarize the ultra-awesome releases that come out, but you can go to their website to see a list of what's coming out this year. It includes a live Hendrix vinyl EP, a John Lennon "Bag O' Singles," a sweet reissue of R.E.M.'s Chronic Town EP, and releases from Devo, Goldfrapp, Gorillaz, The Hold Steady, Joe Strummer, Joy Division, and a truckload more. And that's just for this year. Last year there was a Big Star 7" single featuring a song not on the box set, MC5 and Stooges singles with nice picture sleeves, and a whole lot more. Tons of record labels put out very limited editions just for this day (although sometimes there are copies available after the fact; it's first come, first served).

I hope you'll go support your favorite brick 'n' mortar shop on Saturday, April 17th. There's nothing better in the world than having great record stores in your hometown. Okay, maybe a few things, but very few!

Friday, March 26, 2010

New Releases Update • 3/26/10

Sylvain Sylvain's enjoyed a renaissance of late, ever since his beloved New York Dolls got back together at Morrissey's request. Though Arthur Kane didn't get to stick around, Syl is still rocking'. New York's A Go Go is a double CD released by Easy Action in the UK and covers his solo work from just after the Dolls called it quits back in the '70s to now. I mean, how can you pass on an anthology where the last song is "I Love a Little Pussy"? (Out now)

Public Image Limited was always a bit of a pill for me to swallow, but I've liked the idea of Johnny Rotten. Alife 2009: Live at Brixton Academy 2009 is a 23-track, 2CD live affair recorded last year after the band got back together. There is a third disc to this set, filled with photos of the band and a video interview with John Lydon. I am happy to inform that "Seattle" is not on this release… (Out now; Concert Live Records)

Jazz/blues pianist and propheceer Mose Allison has a brand new record coming out on Anti-. The Way of the World (released March 23) is the man's first recording in twelve years. Producer Joe Henry surrounds Mose with "young, vibrant players" on this CD release. So apparently a young man DOES have something in the world these days! And though Anti- is known for signing artists that break the typical rules of today's mainstream record biz…

I never would have come up with this: Roky Erickson has teamed up with Okkervil River for a new album, True Love Cast Out All Evil, out April 20. Though Erickson is a very interesting cat, I find Okkervil River to be quite boring. Perhaps this would be the album to change my mind? Well, I imagine the good folks at Anti- are hoping so.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Peter Gabriel • Scratch My Back (Special Edition)

I was hoping for something more, uh, upbeat when I heard about this. Then again, I should have expected that Peter Gabriel would never do a straight album of cover songs. Scratch My Back was born as an idea that Peter would cover some artists he was intrigued by, and these same artists would cover him. Supposedly there were no rules, at first, but eventually a few fell into place. The album of other artists covering Gabriel isn't done yet.

What I like about this is that it is so different... basically it's PG and the "London Scratch Orchestra," and the one rule that did make it, "no drums or guitars." There's piano, quartet or orchestra (depending on the arrangement), and Gabriel interpreting Coldplay, Radiohead, Paul Simon, Bowie, Talking Heads, Neil Young, etc. He doesn't pick the obvious songs to do, either, but goes for the ones that speak to him (according to his notes). "Heroes," for instance, is a stark version that comes off quite melancholy. In fact, the whole album has a very melancholy feel—just in time for spring! So, though there's no "Sledgehammer" or "Games Without Frontiers" here, there is some very moody, epic, beautiful music on Scratch My Back. Whether you like it is pretty much going to depend on how much you like the string quartet/modern classical music vibe that permeates the affair. I mean, I don't know if you've noticed, but Peter Gabriel and Philip Glass have the same initials. I'm just sayin'...

My friend loaned me his copy because he got the "Special Edition" through Gabriel's website, and it has a second disc with four more songs on it: three remixes of songs on the regular version, and a real nice cover of Ray Davies of The Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset." I'm not surprised it was relegated to the deluxe version; it's almost the only song that doesn't exactly get ya down!

Well, whatever, I like this but I know it's one of those albums that I will rarely play because, overall, it's not exactly my cuppa.
3/5 (Virgin/Realworld)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Madness • Absolutely, 7

Two more masterly remastered and expanded reissues from Madness, and once again, their new parent label Salvo does a fantastic job. Absolutely and 7 were the sophomore and junior (third) efforts from Camden Town's Nutty Boys, and instead of proving the rule that the second outing is usually nowhere near as good as the first, they disproved it by a landslide. (Quite possibly the worst mixed metaphor I've ever committed to paper... Oops, there I go again!)

Absolutely, released in late 1980, featured the singles "Baggy Trousers," "Embarrassment" (one of my top Madness tunes) and "The Return of the Los Palmas 7," and continued the band's chart reign. Bubbly, fun melodies were still to the fore, but beginning to get noticed was the melancholy subject matter. Sure, they didn't say directly that the girl got knocked up and made her family look bad in "Embarrassment," but that's clearly the story. "In the Rain," a different recording than the one that appeared prior as a B-side (though both are here), also isn't exactly chipper. Whatever—Madness still had it goin' on.

In 1981 they released 7, their third longplayer and another successful outing. More big singles here, including "Cardiac Arrest" and "Shut Up" (a lot like "Embarrassment" and another Marsh-certified goodie), kept Madness in the NME and other papers, and paved the way for eventual US success ("Our House" from the following album). They hadn't changed the formula yet, and since these two albums followed in such quick succession, nobody seemed to notice. Original label Stiff could barely keep up with these guys, nor could those of us over here who'd already discovered them despite little or no promotion from American label Sire.

Salvo's treatment of the band's catalog so far has been great... all the videos are on the corresponding CDs, bonus tracks are in abundance (Absolutely features seven bonus cuts plus a 21-song live show from London), the notes and photos of ephemera are also plentiful, and the mastering is superb. No qualms here at all! Can't wait to hear and see what they do with The Rise and Fall.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

NEWS: Universal to lower CD prices to boost sales

NEW YORK (Billboard) – Universal Music Group (UMG) is embarking on one of the most ambitious efforts yet to boost U.S. CD sales, with the test of a new pricing structure designed to sell most new releases by current artists at $10 or less at retail.

"We think it will really bring new life into the physical format," Universal Music Group Distribution chairman/CEO Jim Urie says.

Here at Skratchdisc we say: "Do they make you take an IQ test to work in the music industry?!"

(Story reported by Ed Christman, 3/19)

Floria Sigismondi • The Runaways (movie)

A great subject for a rock biopic, The Runaways were the all-girl rock band that spawned Joan Jett (and Lita Ford, if you remember her) and a whole generation of punks and riot grrrls. The Runaways, directed by Floria Sigismondi, is a pretty good distillation of their story, but it could have been way more exciting.

Since you can look up the real story on Wikipedia or All Music Guide, the short version is: Joan Jett meets rock svengali/freak Kim Fowley, eventually she finds Cherie Currie at a rock club, they recruit her for a band, she goes from goody-good to hot fuckin' tease, band gets signed, goes on the road, things fall apart, Cherie comes back to her messed up family life, Joan decides to keep rockin'.

Kristin Stewart, the seemingly stuck-up actress from the Twilight movies, plays Joan, while Dakota Fanning plays Cherie. Both woman do a pretty good job, but the real treat in this movie is Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley. Don't know how the real Fowley feels about it (I'm sure he didn't have any input), but Shannon's portrayal is about the only real edginess this movie has. The story itself is told with such point-A leads to point-B leads to point-C linearity, it's really sad that director Sigismondi wasn't a little more creative. I mean, what material! It could be done so much better: if you saw the Joe Meek biopic, Telstar (directed by Nick Moran in 2009 and barely released here in the USA), you know what I'm talking about. Both stories feature plenty of lurid rock 'n' roll anecdotes, and yet The Runaways feels like nothing more than a VH1 after school special. They should've gotten Quentin Tarantino or John Waters to do it. Now, someone get on with telling us the freakin' Kim Fowley story!
3/5 (Apparition Films)

Friday, March 19, 2010

New Releases Update • 3/19/10

March 23 sees an import reissue of Catherine Wheel's Ferment, their 1992 debut. Featuring their song "Black Metallic," this version also has the 30 Century Man EP tracks, the non-album single "Balloon" and a live fave, "Intravenous."

American indie faves Galaxie 500 have a hat trick of reissues out on March 30. Domino out of the UK is bringing out Today, On Fire and This Is Our Music, all with bonus radio sessions and live tracks. The releases are on CD, vinyl and via download.

A 2CD+DVD best of Doves lands on April 6. The Places Between. Sequenced by the band itself for their view of their first decade, it also features B-sides, rarities and unreleased tracks, plus their new single, "Andalucia." The DVD appears to be of the band's videos.

The Stooges
, recently inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame, have a Deluxe Edition of Raw Power coming out on April 13. First released in 1973. This time the CD will feature the original David Bowie mix (the current version is a remixed one), plus bonus outtakes and a '73 concert recorded in Atlanta.

Finally, The Apples In Stereo have brand new coming out in April. I'll be reviewing that next week.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton • R.I.P.

Thank you friends... children by the millions scream for Alex Chilton. Rest in peace Alex! ("Thank You Friends" by Big Star; video from YouTube.)

Camper Van Beethoven • Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart

NOTE: I am going to be posting some of the reviews I did "back in the day," most notably from my time at The Rocket, a Seattle music magazine (now defunct) and some other places I did reviews and articles for. At some point I will have a clever category name for these types of reviews. For now, just enjoy.

Here we have the fourth full-length recording from the Campers, and the best since their first. While this album is not as silly as Telephone Free Landslide Victory, the songs are still funny, and say something deeper than the pap that passes as pop these days.

Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart boasts a non-murky production, sparse enough to let the band's unique instrumentation take full advantage of the space it needs to breathe. "Eye of Fatima" is a mid-tempo Camper workout with all the right elements, and "Turquoise Jewelry" sports the already-legendary line "take off that jumpsuit/you look like Grace Slick."

Not a huge leap for Camper Van Beethoven, OBRS carries more of a punch than their previous releases, and won't leave them in the novelty song bargain bin—a place they might have ended up after such quintessential bids as "Where the Hell Is Bill?" and "Take the Skinheads Bowling." They're great songs, yeah, but so is just about everything on OBRS. It should be purchased immediately (to ensure freshness) before we get too far into summer, the season that was made for Camper Van Beethoven.
(from The Rocket, July 1988)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jimi Hendrix • "Valleys of Neptune" (7")

In advance of the same-named album of Jimi Hendrix's, the family at Experience Hendrix put out a single of "Valleys of Neptune". The A-side was recorded with Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell in '69, starting out with a "Wind Cries Mary" vibe but then moving to a poppy (for Hendrix) chorus. I like how Jimi's guitar playing mirrors what he's singing—or does his singing mirror what he's playing?—I think I just figured out that that's probably what I've always dug about the guy, just couldn't quite put my finger on it.

The B-side is just as cool! "Cat Talking to Me" is sung by Mitch and was recorded by him, Jimi and Noel Redding. Actually, recording began in 1967 and in 1987 producer Chas Chandler allowed the guys to come in and recut their parts for some project that apparently never got off the ground. Doesn't hamper it at all, thanks to Mitchell's cool guy vocal delivery, His-Awesomeness Producer Eddie Kramer's mix, and the fact that this is the fucking Jimi Hendrix Experience, man!

A picture sleeve with a watercolor Hendrix himself did houses the record,which has the customary US-style big hole (!), perfect for fanboys like me who truly believe that US-issued 7" singles SHOULD ALWAYS HAVE A BIG HOLE. Oh yeah, the B-side isn't on the CD or vinyl album so go get one before they're gone.
5/5 (Experience Hendrix/Legacy)

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Releases Update 3/15/10

On March 16 The White Stripes find themselves Under Great White Northern Lights, a movie (DVD and BluRay) and CD/LP release. Jack and Meg went to the Great White North in '07 to perform stuff from their Icky Thump album. Filmmaker Emmett Malloy came along and shot 16mm film, edited it down to 92 minutes, and then sat back and waited for the checks to come pouring in.

The audio fiends at Audio Fidelity have got their hands on The B-52's Cosmic Thing, and are releasing it on their 24-karat gold disc CD format. These guys do a damn fine job of mastering and releasing limited edition batches of superior-sounding discs. (March 16)

If you're looking for an interesting concept album, how about this: A 22-track song cycle about the life of former First Lady of the Phillipines, Imelda Marcos. That's right, David Byrne and Fatboy Slim have teamed up for Here Lies Love, which features guest vocals from Natalie Merchant, Tori Amos, Steve Earle and more. Apparently Ms. Marcos really enjoyed '70s disco clubs, so you can see where this is going… (April 6)

Finally, set aside May 17 for a major reissue of The Rolling Stones classic Exile on Main Street. Available in four different versions, including CD, 2CD, 2LP and Box Set, there's a reissue of this beauty for folks at every price point. Now if they'd only do one in a gold-plated metal street sign or something, then I know there'd be one suitable for Mick and Keith themselves. And knowing that they had the very best copies money could buy would let me sleep at night.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Jonathan Demme • Neil Young Trunk Show (movie)

Jonathan Demme tackles Neil Young again, this time at a pair of shows in Pennsylvania. The idea behind Neil Young Trunk Show was that NY would take his favorite instruments, place them around himself, and then decide by whim or kismet what to play. Surrounded by a very capable cadre of his favorite musicians, too, he plays guitar, piano and banjo on a handful of his greatest songs. Rarely heard classics like "Ambulance Blues" (from the brilliant On the Beach album), "Sad Movies," and a few others, plus full-band versions of "Cinnamon Girl" and "Like a Hurricane," where Young and cohorts Ralph Molina, Rick "The Bassplayer" Rosas, and Ben Keith do it until they're satisfied. A few of the songs last too long (even by Young's standards), but the cinematography allows you to see various angles of the action without being too obtrusive, and mitigates that gripe. On the other hand, one shot appears to have come from a fan's cellphone—very grainy and from way in the back—and adds the "I was there" brag that anyone who attended would want to claim.

I think Demme did a better job on this than on Heart of Gold (from 2006), though that may be because I prefer the uptempo rock tunes over the soul searching, solo acoustic numbers. This time you get a good mix of both, and at 83 minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome. Neil Young Trunk Show is playing for one week only, beginning March 19, in select cities (here in Seattle at the Varsity Theater in the U District). A complete list can be found at the official movie website.
3/5 (Shakey Pictures/Clinica Estetico) (photo below by Larry Cragg)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Various Artists • Urgh! A Music War

I'm pretty amazed that many of the bands on this live compilation album (culled from most of what made it to the film of the same name) are still recognized by people of my ilk: That is, new wave/punk rock nerds who still listen to this stuff! I'm also impressed that there were so many shades of new wave, punk, post-punk, whathaveyou, back in late 1981 when this came out. 'Cause it don't appear to be that way anymore!

Urgh! A Music War was released to movie theaters, and found its way (primarily) to midnight showings in the bigger cities. With performances by The Police, XTC, Wall of Voodoo, X, Devo, The Cramps, Oingo Boingo, Joan Jett, Gary Numan, The Go-Go's and MORE, it's pretty hard to go wrong with the movie or the vinyl. The 2-record set was released by A&M, and lucky for me I just found a super clean (probably never played) copy at a local store for only eight bucks. First thing I did was burn a CD for my buddy Steve who needed "Driven to Tears" by the Police, "Foolish I Know" by Jools Holland, and "Respectable Street" by XTC. Then I listened to the whole thing, and I remembered that this may be the second-best ever compilation of its kind.*

Now, if you gotta have the video, you CAN get it. Warner Bros. has it on DVD, and it's actually made to order. It's a cool thing because so many movies (musical and not) just sit there without a DVD release, even though there might be a video master collecting dust in some vault. Since a VHS copy of Urgh! costs an arm and a leg when you find one on Ebay, it's well worth the twenty-odd bucks to get your very own personal copy. I ordered one for myself after hearing this again; I saw the movie once at a local music venue as part of some festival (Bumbershoot?) back in college. I'll let you know the quality of the DVD once I get it. If only all "wars" were this entertaining.
4/5 (A&M) (*The first best is IRS Greatest Hits Vols. 2 & 3.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Buzzcocks • Another Music in a Different Kitchen, Love Bites, A Different Kind of Tension

If you're thinking you just saw a bunch of Buzzcocks reissues, you're right. These three, of the band's first three albums under their original lineup, were released in 2008 in the UK. Now they've gotten a US release via Mute and they are identical—and that is to say, they are humongous and contain just about every known Buzzcocks recording from the period known to man.

Another Music in a Different Kitchen was their first LP, out after debut single "Orgasm Addict." The album introduced everyone outside of Manchester to the sound of cranked electric guitars plying a precise, almost mechanical sound that was like a mix of Krautrock and punk rock. The band formed after seeing the Sex Pistols play their hometown—by the next Pistols gig, Buzzcocks were on the bill as local support. "Fast Cars" opens the LP, then flips by "Sixteen," "I Don't Mind," "Autonomy" (my fave here) and ends with the epic "Moving Away from the Pulsebeat," which revisits the opening cut (sort of). The singles are also included on disc 1, along with their first Peel Session. Disc 2 adds 14 demo recordings, and a recording of one of their first shows, at the Electric Circus from October '77. Liner notes are provided by journalist and one of their biggest fans, Jon Savage.

Next album was Love Bites, which continued in the same vein (not surprising, since it wasn't even a year later). Alongside the album's great cuts, like "Ever Fallen in Love" (later remade by Fine Young Cannibals) and "Nothing Left," two more singles are included ("Love You More" and "Promises"), plus tracks from three more Peel Sessions, 13 demos, and a recording of a show at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall.

By the time their third and greatest album, A Different Kind of Tension, came out in 1979, the band had loosened up some, but their basic sound was still that of a spring about to be sprung. It was also their last, in the band's first life, and one where their songs started to deal with subjects other than love and lies. Opening with "Paradise" but then moving through "Sitting Round at Home," "I Don't Know What to Do with My Life" and "Hollow Inside," you get the feeling that Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle and company are starting to question things about their sudden fame and the shapes their lives have taken. "I Believe" is the closer (not counting a short snippet called "Radio Nine"), and it's the perfect song to cap things off. Shelley runs through a litany of things that he believes in, and as he progresses he begins to rattle off the opposites of what he believes in. Pretty soon these things and their opposites collide into each other and the reality of the modern world knocks you on your ass. Beautiful. (The package features more singles, including the final Parts 1-3 45s, more demos, and a couple more Peel Sessions.)

If ever there was a major punk band who didn't get the kudos they deserve, it's Buzzcocks. While they weren't as good at rallying and razzing the press as the Pistols, Clash or Damned, they had a sound all their own and like another more famous band from the North, they were prolific as hell. Amazing reissues, these are, making the Product box set surplus as well as your Singles Going Steady album or CD (although you'll have to switch CDs many times to get the songs in the right order). Still, there are a few complaints. This is Marsh Gooch reviewing here, after all. First, the booklets are really thin, with great notes by Savage but hardly any of the trailblazing graphics that Malcolm Garrett did for all of the band's releases. Second, the band's debut release, Spiral Scratch, is missing in action. Very minor complaints! These US reissues are incredibly affordable, too, so why not treat yourself to a trio of tantalizing takes on modern rock by Manchester's fab four?
4/5 (Kitchen), 3/5 (Bites), 5/5 (Tension) (Mute US, EMI UK)

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Who • Greatest Hits

No one wants to accuse one of their own favorite bands of being sell outs, and we all know The Who already sold out in the '60s—at least figuratively—when they issued The Who Sell Out. But how to react to this scenario: 1) It is announced the band will play the Super Bowl. 2) Miraculously, as if on cue, The Who Greatest Hits is issued just before Christmas and barely six weeks before said bowl game. If that doesn't sound like a sell out then maybe I don't understand the term.

That being said, this compilation features 17 hits and 2 recent cuts included probably at Pete Townshend's insistence. I dunno whether this came out due to contractual obligation, band's suggestion (as in somebody needs to make rent), or just plain greed on both the label and the band's parts, but I'm gonna have to go with "C." You know there are some people in America who STILL DON'T HAVE ANY WHO, so they must be served—if forcefully—so they will. Of course, the band all these people saw on the Super Bowl wasn't the same band that cut the hits, although Zak Starkey is a pretty damn good drummer—though he's no Keith Moon—and Pino Palladino is just about the anti-Ox on bass, but none of that matters.

If you don't already have Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy, The Ultimate Collection, or any other best-of package, this is alright at one disc. Personally, I'm a big enough fan to have all of the studio albums (sadly, on CD and vinyl) and a few live ones, too. I just think this is not only an eminence front, it's a put-on.
3/5 (Geffen)

Friday, March 5, 2010

New Releases Update • 3/5/10

The Fleshtones' output for IRS Records in the early '80s is compiled by Australia's Raven Records as It's Super Rock Time! The IRS Years 1980-1985. None of this has been available on CD since Living Legends went out of print years ago, so you'll get 25 Fleshie favorites subjected to the typically tasty Raven treatment. (March 9, check here.)

Robyn Hitchcock has a new UK release, Propellor Time, out on March 22nd. The CD/LP is another attributed to him and his Venus 3, which includes Scott McCaughey (R.E.M., Young Fresh Fellows) and Bill Rieflin (R.E.M., Ministry) and Pete Buck (uhhh, R.E.M.). You can get this through Robyn's website.

Mute Records is reissuing a few of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' releases, including Tender Prey, The Good Son and Henry's Dream. These are out March 29th and available through Mute.

Finally, Rhino Handmade, the custom label that puts out incredibly rare and arcane releases in small batches, is putting out Jan & Dean's Carnival of Sound, a "psychedelic" surf album recorded by the guys over 40 years ago but never released. It's a 1-CD/2-LP deluxe set featuring both the mono and stereo mixes and is available in very small quantity from Rhino Handmade.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Johnny Cash • American VI: Ain't No Grave

I've been listening to Johnny Cash since I was a kid, when my stepdad paid me and my stepbrother a dollar apiece to transcribe the lyrics to the songs on Cash's Hot & Blue Guitar album. I don't know what drew me to the songs then, aside from the stories in them (and the challenge of understanding what this man was saying to us boys), but I learned how to play rudimentary versions of "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line" on my guitar. And I kept listening to Johnny throughout my life, even during his depressing '80s move to Mercury Records where they tried to make him appeal to the wide country audience. Aside from a few good versions of older songs, the pickings were pretty slim.

Rick Rubin has just finished the final chapter in Johnny's life, the last songs he sang before he left us. American VI: Ain't No Grave is a lot like all of the American recordings: typically sparse arrangements played by hot dog players with sympathetic ears and skilled fingers. Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench from the Heartbreakers are two of 'em, and what you get here are some lovely tunes sung by a man with that something in his withered but right voice. He does Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times," a Sheryl Crow tune called "Redemption Day," and eight others. I love listening to him sing, even in his old age, but I really wish the song choice was more imaginative. There's no "Hurt" here, that stroke of genius that Rubin put to Cash to sing on American IV, and I feel like this sixth volume was sort of scraping, if not the bottom, then the sides of the barrel for whatever was left. (I have no idea how much of this was recorded while Johnny was still alive, and what was added on after.) Don't get me wrong: Like I said above, I love his voice. I feel like I'm listening to my own grandpa handing me down some advice or something. It's just too bad the songs don't feel a little more personal.

Maybe what Rubin should have done with the last few volumes of the series is not tell us anything about 'em. Not who wrote the songs, not who played on them, where they were recorded, or anything. Just let the songs stand on their own and let guys like me sort it out for ourselves.
3/5 (American Recordings)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Traffic • Heaven Is in Your Mind

Back in 1967 a kid named Steve Winwood left the Spencer Davis Group to form a new band, Traffic. Their debut album, Heaven Is in Your Mind, was released to critical acclaim and was a definite psychedelic slice of wax. And its story is pretty wacked out, too.

Mr. Fantasy was it’s title in the UK, but when United Artists decided to put it out Stateside, they first renamed it, then added a couple of singles to it, added some snippets of another song in between tracks, and added another tune onto the end which was really an alternate version of one of the singles they had added to the album. Naturally, they had to change the album name again, and called it Heaven Is in Your Mind/Mr. Fantasy. Crikey, my head is spinning! Fast forward 40+ years later and the geniuses at Sundazed reissue it under its original title, in monaural (that’s mono to you kids), and keeps the original, US-modified track order.

Well, I can assure you, you are safe with this one. If it messes with your head, it’s only because the music on it is so amazing. I never thought I would say that about a Steve Winwood record! (Okay, I am a fan of “Gimme Some Lovin’”.) “Paper Sun” is a whimsical little tune, as is “Hole In My Shoe,” which was later covered by a pot-smokin’ Young One named Neil. Apparently the album features Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood, plus Dave Mason, who isn’t pictured on the back because he left the band before it was released, and these guys all play a plethora of instruments. I just can’t get over the fact that Winwood sang and wrote a bunch of these songs, especially when I think of all the AM radio, easy listenin’ crap he’s put out since Traffic cleared up. I mean, nearly every time I hear a Traffic song on Underground Garage I love it. (Same with J. Geils, pre-“Centerfold,” for that matter.) And though I haven’t heard “Berkshire Poppies” on the satellite radio, it’s a great little song, full of kooky instrumentation and goofy lyrics. Again: Winwood. Now that’s REALLY MESSING WITH MY HEAD.

But get over it, I shall. Heaven Is in Your Mind is a brilliant album. The mono vinyl is a 180 gram pressing, and it’s a beauty, love.
5/5 (Sundazed)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mickey Leigh (with Legs McNeil) • I Slept With Joey Ramone

This “family memoir,” penned by Joey Ramone’s brother and NY punk historian McNeil, is probably the best Ramones book out there, even if it does focus primarily on Mickey Leigh’s brother, Jeffrey Hyman. Since the main character of the book—as well as his father, his mother, and two other original bandmates—have passed away, it must be a lot easier to tell the story the way it really happened. And really, which Ramone does 95% of those interested in their story really want to know about? Joey. So who better to tell it than his brother?

I Slept With Joey Ramone is an odd title, but after the first twenty or so pages you find out why they named it that. (The brothers Hyman, like many young brothers, shared a bed as children. Sorry, nothing scandalous…) You find out a lot more, too. If you’ve read any of the other books, you know that Johnny Ramone was a dick, Dee Dee Ramone was an idiot, and the drummers after Tommy weren’t even considered full-fledged members. But what you get here is a lot of the family stuff from Joey’s childhood that really helps to explain the man he became, why he put up with the Ramones legacy for as long as he did (as well as the other members), and why being in a band with the guy—who was riddled with OCD issues, among others—was clearly no picnic either. In fact, if anything, Leigh pulls no punches and doesn’t seem to whitewash anything (except Johnny’s bigotry...ha!). You would have never gotten this much truth if the main man was still alive, let alone other family and band members. Yet Leigh’s storytelling is obviously not meant to harm—it’s meant to tell the story straightforwardly.

Like punk is to rock, I Slept With Joey Ramone comes at you with 1-2-3-4 immediacy. Nothing’s been “fixed in the mix” to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience, and no vocals have been pitch-corrected to spare the truth. When you consider that Leigh was right there as most of it happened, and his co-author Legs McNeil is the guy who co-penned the best book ever about US punk (Please Kill Me), you really can’t lose. In fact, you don’t come close.

5/5 (Touchstone Books)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Shane MacGowan & Friends • I Put a Spell on You

A charity single to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake (just as Chile suffers its own a few weeks later), this one is miles better than the usual "We Are the World" stuff. Strangely, this one is attributed to Shane MacGowan, one of The Pogues, and also one of the world's worst singers! (Alright, alright... I like The Pogues, but you know what I mean.) Well, he's the guy who put it all together (and his girlfriend Victoria Clarke), so it's to his credit.

Luckily, Shane's friends are here to help, and that includes Chrissie Hynde, Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Johnny Depp (?), Cait O'Riordan (former Pogue), and the perfectly suited to sing this Screamin' Jay Hawkins song, Nick Cave. Sure, it's not the CCR version of the song—still my favorite—but it's pretty good and it's a nice way to help. Thanks to my friend Alan for telling me about this.

Watch the video here.
Pre-order the digital download of the single here.
3/5 but 5/5 thanks to the charity angle! (