Monthly Archives: April 2009

NEW ALBUM! Tommy Keene

 

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was...

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was...

Although far from a household name, Tommy Keene has been around for a long time and has a strong following in power-pop circles. He’s never had a hit record per se, but those who are knowledgeable about the indie and melodic rock scene are very familiar with the singer-singwriter’s catalogue; he’s been a critical favorite for almost thirty years. Not exceedingly prolific, there have been a couple of breaks in his career, but just as interestingly, a couple of kick-starts. (I really thought the Alias retrospective The Real Underground would have launched him into the stratosphere…maybe with a Warner Brothers or Columbia budget it might have).

He’s been on the cusp of stardom for so long he probably has an office there. Geffen Records tried to promote him as a pop hero in the post-New Wave era. He’s had credible players like Peter Buck, Jay Bennett and Robin Wilson helping out on albums where his strong originals are often accompanied by great cover songs like Lou Reed’s “Kill Your Sons” or “Tattoo” from The Who Sell Out. He’s partnered with Bob Pollard and hit the road as a lead guitarist (where he rocks considerably harder than on his own material) with Paul Westerberg and Velvet Crush. But despite often great critical acclaim, he’s managed to stay on the cult side of the popularity fence while far less talented artists landed on the front pages.

Tommy Keene live performing “Run Now

There are a lot of artists who haven’t hit a high note in their catalogue to touch “Places That Are Gone“, “Run Now” or “Back To Zero“, and while I don’t think he’s recaptured that majesty in a while himself, there’s a great body of work out there well worth exploring. I think at this stage of the game he’s just in it to please himself, which allows him to wallow in the areas he enjoys without concern for the headlines. It gives him a chance to dabble in artistic relationships he enjoys, do his own thing or pinch-hit with others, and every four years or so drop another project out there for the fans (while that group may not be massive, they are loyal). Sounds like a nice life to me.

You can read my review of In The Late Bright in Blurt Magazine.

Tour info, clips and tons more at Tommy Keene’s website.

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NEW ALBUM! Glen Tilbrook and the Fluffers

Not really fluff at all.

Not really fluff at all.

It’s been almost five years since the release of Glen Tilbrook released Transatlantic Ping Pong, which is about four more years than I like to wait for Tilbrook to drop an album. His new effort with The Fluffers is good but not great…but the parts I like are getting better with repeated listens.

Read my review of Pandemonium Ensues in BLURT Magazine.

Thought I'd squeeze this in as well...

Thought I'd squeeze this in as well...

Of course, any conversation about Glen Tilbrook pings back to Squeeze, and while I can’t say that his solo releases knock me silly the way that Argybargy or East Side Story did, he remains a strong writer and his voice is in pristine form. If you ever get the chance to see him live, do! He’s possibly even more entertaining as a solo act than with a band. Brilliant guitar player – watching him in a small club was a revelation – and funny as hell. And if you haven’t been lucky enough to see him, I highly recommend picking up One For The Road, a documentary about Glen criss-crossing the country on tour. 

one-for-the-road

Much more information is available at Glen’s official website.

And if you want to Squeeze in more listening, check here.

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Tributes

I got a couple of emails from readers of yesterday’s post who were loving the Beatles cover comp and asking about tributes, since I’m on record as an obsessive fan of such efforts. On more than one occasion I’ve made my mixtape entry a covers collection (even pilfering a Replacements track title – I’LL BE YOU – for one of the more recent efforts) and I always love when I get them in return. (I’ll have to dig up that comp and post it here in the near future.)

I’ve found that the best ones are usually from independent projects on small labels where the scope will go outside the artist roster. By licensing tracks from other worthy bands that would appeal to the same audience as the internal ringers, the label is saying “we are putting the project first” rather than “this is a cheesey effort to get even the crappiest band on my roster some attention“. Frankly few of these get airplay anyway, so those weaker efforts just wind up in the band’s garage where they belong.

The major labels often blow it as well; too often their efforts wind up using big name artists that have no clue. Of course, with their overhead mapped against the unlikely hit potential, these are not frequent releases. But like the tiny labels trying to build around one good band with filler, the big boys have proven that they’re equally adept at creating a PLE (painful listening experience).

A list of the greatest tribute albums ever deserves more time and thought than I have to spare right now, but I do want to float out a couple of my favorites as well as clue you in to a little known collection assembled by a fellow blogger. These aren’t necessarily the five best, although my favorite tribute ever is included. 

Winner and still champion

Winner and still champion

SING HOLLIES IN REVERSE (eggBert): A majestic collection of power-pop artists including Bill Lloyd, Jon Brion, The Wondermints, Mitch Easter, Tommy Keene and Material Issue. Compiled by the late Greg Dwinnell, this was an all-hits no-misses effort where even the artwork and liner notes were first rate. Greg’s eggBert label also issued a wonderful Bee Gees tribute called MELODY FAIR that was almost as good.

Kovering the Klassics

Kovering the Klassics

THIS IS WHERE I BELONG (Rykodisc): Steve Forbert, Jonathan Richman, Bill Lloyd (the KING of tribute album appearances), Fastball, Fountains of Wayne, Cracker, Minus 5…a solid list of great commercial bands drawing from one of the Koolest Katalogues around. A little better than GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT, which was released around the same time, although “Ring The Bells” by The Model Rockets from the latter might be the best cut of all. (If you can find a copy of SHANGRI-LA on Communion Records, that’s also highly recommended! (Note – if you listen to the Amazon clips, realize that the matchup of artist and song is incorrect).

Whipped Gum and Other Delights

Whipped Gum and Other Delights

RIGHT TO CHEWS (Not Lame): For the bubblegum pop listener in all of us, Not Lame’s impeccable release was complied by John Borack (longtime reviewer and author of Shake Some Action) and features some of the best artists in the current power-pop scene.  Great takes on The 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express and Tommy Rowe by Michael Carpenter (genius) , Walter Clevenger (ditto), The Lolas and others. Not Lame has released several great tribute albums for artists as diverse as Gene Clark, Jeff Lynne/ELO and The Cars, among others; every one of them has several chestnuts worth roasting.

Bone Up on these great covers

Bone Up on these great covers

While you’re waiting foa any of the above to arrive in the mail, why not enjoy a great tribute mix right now? Angelo from Power Pop Criminals assembled these brilliant cover comps that are available as free downloads. And on that same page, the excellent rarity and out-of-print Bobby Fuller Four tribute OUR FAVORITE TEXAN.

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COMPliments

I just got through another round of mixtape exchanges recently; this one (SOTT a/k/a Son Of Tape Tree) started out as a quarterly cassette swap years ago, but has recently been more of a semi-annual affair. Might have been fifteen or twenty people the first time around, this latest run was thirty-five…I think there are only two of us who have been participants in every round.

The music, as always, is eclectic and varied, but most of the entries feature artwork that has only gotten more majestic over the years. Being able to burn CDs in a few nanoseconds instead of forty minutes per cassette (at blinding double-speed!) has made the process effortless. For those of us who make these puppies with great care, it gives us more time to focus on the music. A great mix is like your personal radio station, great music but it needs to flow. That’s where most people blow it.

But I digress…which is my segue into today’s topic – online mixes. There are tons of sites posting old vinyl to CDR/MP3 (I have a couple of favorites in my Blogroll) and occasionally they will get creative enough to offer a personal collection of themed music. My two favorite genres are powerpop and garage, so I thought I’d give some props to a couple of sites that feature ones I am currently enjoying.

Crawling to the wreckage

Crawling to the wreckage

Three volumes of great power pop singles as well as some cool garage collections. I can’t print the name of the website here, but it rhymes with muck the fummies.

My buddy Angelo at Power Pop Criminals has made a ton of out-of-print pop vinyl available as MP3 rips, but he also has a knack (no pun intended) for making great Beatles tributes like this one and this other one. More to be found if you search. And he makes great powerpop comps, too.

Doesn’t matter how tuned you are to the garage scene, if you grab a garage comp, there are almost always bands you have never heard of. Some very cool garage comps can be downloaded here and  here.

"Mixdisc" just doesn't have the same ring to it...

"Mixdisc" doesn't have the same ring to it...

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Under The Radar: Thee Fine Lines

 

Perfecting the "two minute drill".

Perfecting the "two minute drill".

Led by the bespectacled Kearbey brothers, Thee Fine Lines‘ sophomore effort is…well…sophomoric in the best sense of the word. Drawing from the well of both The Kinks (the hooks on the poppier songs) and The Kingsmen (the overall sound), the fourteen tracks are in and out quicker than a high school lover. Ten of them clock in at 2:05 or shorter, so if you don’t like a song, it’s gone before you know it.

All in all, a fun disc (“Midnight’s Fine” is the lone clunker) if you can get past the extreme lo-fi production, but if you like Billy Childish or garage pop in general you probably don’t care about that anyway. I swear guitarist Justin didn’t touch the tone knobs during the entire recording session but at least he picked an appealing and trashy sound to live by. You can pick up  a copy of Set You Straight from Licorice Tree Records.

The band’s official MySpace page. You can also order product from their Wee Rock Records page.

Thee Fine Lines videos from Lemmons, Brooklyn and Charlottesville. Quality not the best, and the clips are understandably short, but you can tell they rock the house live. Maybe a live CD, guys?

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NEW ALBUM! The Coolest Songs In The World, Volume 8

Next one is "Number 9, Number 9..."

Next one is "Number 9, Number 9..."

Little Steven’s Underground Garage is in full swing, and along with the well-selected bands he has chosen to sign to his label, I always look forward to the “coolest songs” collections that are frequently issued. How great is it to get a quarterly mixtape from one of the most knowledgeable music fans on the planet? Those of you who listen to the Underground Garage radio show know about Steven’s long-time tradition of dubbing a current favorite track “the coolest song in the world this week“, so you can imagine the breadth and scope of the material eight volumes in and counting.

The latest release features old and new, with veterans like Pete Best and David Bowie sharing disc time with young pups like The Skybombers. There are also old vets in new surroundings, like Man Raze (who knew Steve Cook from The Sex Pistols and Def Leppard‘s Phil Collen have a band??).  Speedo – late of Rocket From The Crypt – rips through “Jump In The Fire” like a sore-throated Graham Parker. And if you think you recognize that organ playing on The Krayolas‘ cut, you’re right – that is Augie Meyers! Other standouts include tracks from The Broadway Calls and one of the most undearrated bands around, The Bleeding Hearts.

But this collection really belongs to the ladies. Anyone who’s a regular visitor to this site knows I’m all over Nicole Laurenne and The Love Me Nots, and Vibeke Saugestad‘s “Tonight” is irresistable girl-group Brill Building pop. And the 1-2 punch that opens the album is killer. Palmyra Delran‘s “Baby Should Have Known Better” will immediately send you to the racks looking for her EP (I bought one online as the disc was still spinning) and The Cute Lepers sound like The Clash via Joan Jett (not that it’s much of a stretch – the band is signed to Blackheart Records). Jen D’Angora (now there is a rock’n’roll name) and The Downbeat 5 light Tommy Boyce‘s “Dum Dum Ditty” on fire as the icing on the cake.

Little Steven’s mission is simple and straightforward – find great music, get it out there into the public ear, and hopefully get these bands some well-deserved attention (that hopefully translates into sales, gigs and the ability to sustain a career). Like always…game, set and match. Little Steven wins again.

All 8 volumes are available as physical CDs or digital downloads.

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Blast From The Past: Roger C. Reale

This, folks, is the Reale Deal.

This, folks, is the Reale Deal.

Everybody has an album that sits atop their list of “records that need to be on CD”. Mine is Radioactive by Roger C. Reale and Rue Morgue. One of the great perks of working in a record store was the ability to crack open an interesting looking record and see what it was all about. For example, I thought the song titles on Slug Line were as off-the-wall as the horrible picture of the artist on the front cover, and that album wound up changing my life. (Thanks, John Hiatt!). I also found Herman Brood’s Cha Cha mistakenly filed in the disco section, but I can’t blame the clerk for that when the cover looked like this. Another lifelong partnership between an artist and my ears.

I had that same gobsmacking wallop when I slapped Radioactive on the turntable, but sadly it would turn out to be a one shot deal. It did lead me to grab everything I could get my hands on from Big Sound Records, where Jon Tiven and Van Duren and Doc Cavalier and Ivan Julian and G.E. Smith held court, but those are stories for another day…especially since G.E. Smith’s In The World might be #2 on that “needs to be on CD” list. Roger C. Reale did guest on a lot of albums and reappeared last decade to record an EP with his friends The Reducers and then started a more traditional bluesy rock band called The Manchurians. But none of them were like this.

So if you’re going to make one album before sliding off the radar screen, why not spike the ball and run? Clocking in at less than twenty-five minutes (!), Reale and his crack band (popster Hilly Michaels on drums and G.E. Smith – yes, that one – on guitar) just torched their way through crunhing rock originals and a couple of killer covers. Reale’s voice was as low as his bass and was powerful enough to saddle up this sonic typhoon of a trio and take it for a spin. Every track was roll-down-the-windows, sing along at the top of your lungs rock’n’roll. No wasted notes, nothing fancy, just clever lyrics and gigantic hooks propelled by a truly melodic power trio.

“Stop and Go”, “Pain Killer” and “Please Believe Me” were pop enough to be hits, while “Madonna’s Last Stand”, “Kill Me” and “High Society” could power a muscle car down a highway by themselves. And the covers were fabulous – a druggy, droning take on The Troggs’  “I Can’t Control Myself” and the most kinetic, manic cover of Chuck Berry’s “Dear Dad” you will ever hear in your life. Because it is so long out of print and never was issued on CD…I can point you here so you can join me in celebrating this masterpiece of an album. (Kudos to Angelo, who has obviously had the same epiphany.)

Thirty-one years later and I still play the shit out of this record, it’s absolutely timeless. I will play this record until the day I die and then pack it for the trip to the great beyond.

Roger C. Reale, you flat out rock!

The official Manchurians MySpace site and their CD BABY page.

An outdated Manchurians site – track list info, a couple of MP3 links and links to purchase the CDs.

An outdated Reducers/Roger C Reale page with info about the EP and one MP3.

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