Monthly Archives: January 2010

No Love for The Grammys

The slogan for this year is “We’re All Fans”.

No…we’re not.

Frankly, I don’t give a shit anymore. After too many episodes of lame nominees, seasoned veterans nominated for “Best New Artist” (because the mass media finally caught on) and the same album winning awards in multiple years, I’m throwing in the towel.

Fuck the Grammy Awards. I’m not watching and I don’t care who wins. It’s a sham and a waste of my time.

Like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS is just an organization with a lot of money bestowing honors with a lot of behind-the-scenes machinations influencing the result. I have my own awards show and my own hall of fame, and both are firmly housed in my heart and head, where good decisions belong.

But as a public service for those who do enjoy the show, here’s the link to the nominees. The same link will no doubt list the winners after the fact. Have fun.

Now please excuse me while I play Peacock Swagger by Plasticsoul, which no one will mention during the telecast. It’s head and shoulders better than anything you’re going to hear from that Grammy stage tonight.

I've got your Award winners and Hall of Fame right here

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Blast From The Past: Best of British

 

When a musician is in demand as much as Ian “Mac” McLagan, you don’t seek him out as much as you find yourself encountering him at every turn. While viewing the DVD from the recent James McMurtry release, there he was at stage left manning the keyboard and rocking the house in an Amsterdam club. Not a day later while channel-surfing I came across Hal Ashby‘s 1983 film Let’s Spend The Night Together, the documentary capturing the Rolling Stones 1981 tour. Sure enough, there was Mac again, pounding the piano with the same energy and skill he continues to bless us with today. 

In 35 years, McLagan has seen it all—lunatic egos, shape-shifting musical styles, more money than one could count and eras where you couldn’t give a great song away. Yet by all accounts, his survival is as attributable to his amiable nature as it is to his stellar chops. He’s the kind of chap you could imagine sitting at the pub with on a rainy afternoon, pints in hand, sharing a laugh and a tale. 

A decade after writing those words, I got the chance to do just that, twice. Mac is a charming and amiable fellow without a wisp of ego, and having a pint or two while listening to his stories was as much fun as I imagined it would be. And telling him a joke that caused him to double over in laughter is a memory that will forever bring a smile to my face. 

So with that serendipitous chain of events in mind, I pulled out my copy of Best of British and gave it a spin this morning. I also pulled up that old review… 

Ian McLagan’s third solo record has been a long time coming—almost 20 years, to be exact. His previous platters, Troublemaker (1979) and Bump In The Night (1981), are a mixture of rock, boogie-woogie and bluesy soul. I’m happy to say that Best Of British picks up right where he left off, and with timeless music like his, the dates don’t mean a damned thing. 

Read the full Best of British review from PopMatters

Mac’s website 

macspages 

Mac's tales - a brilliant read!

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T.G.I.F. – Top Ten Albums of 2009

Someone always disagrees

As you may or may not know, scrambling to assemble a Top Ten list of the year for anything is a pain in the ass, since many times eligible films and albums don’t come out until December. For that reason (let’s put procrastination aside for a moment) my deadline has always been Super Bowl Sunday, which use to be sometime in January. This year the Gods of Sport have decided to move the game back into February, probably to pretend its part of the Winter Olympics. And with all the wonderful decisions they have been making, who are we to question the brilliance of network television executives? 

But each year the deadline for the Village Voice gets earlier. So while I am still filtering through decisions on the lower end of the top forty, the Top Ten is cut in stone. (The full list will be available after the Super Bowl.)

I’ve already posted reviews for some of these albums, others will be forthcoming (some are not yet published in the respective magazines they were submitted to). So without further ado, I hereby announce my choices for the Top Ten Albums of 2009: 

  

One : Love and Curses (The Reigning Sound) 

Two: Lions in the Street (Lions in the Street) 

Three: National Champions (Olympic Ass Kicking Team) 

Four: 1372 Overton Park (Lucero) 

Five: Learning Love (Bobby Emmett) 

Six: More Like Me (Webb Wilder) 

Seven: Tinted Windows (Tinted Windows) 

Eight: Little White Lies (Fastball) 

Nine: Spills and Thrills (John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives) 

Ten: House To House (Tripwires) 

 

Link to my Village Voice Pazz & Jop ballot

My centricity rating, or how far off center my choices are. (Very

*** 

R.I.P. – the Greta Garbo of authors, J.D.Salinger 

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New Album! Joe Grushecky

 

When Joe Grushecky first came pumping out of my car radio, two things immediately caught my attention. First, here was a real blue-collar rocker with a soulful sound and a band that played straight from the heart, and the songs were exciting. And second…was this really being played on the radio in Syracuse, New York in 1979? 

I guess you could say Bruce Springsteen had most recently kicked the door down, although local rockers like The Works and Joe Whiting had been stirring up the same kind of bar room fury on local stages for years. Like the mythical Eddie and The Cruisers, these bands had been lighting up shot-and-beer joints night after night, piling into vans and crisscrossing the East Coast. It wasn’t easy; you had to pull and keep a crowd on a Tuesday and Wednesday night because the weekend money just wasn’t quite enough to get you by. And like Eddie and that mythical band, what drove you and kept you alive was the camaraderie with your band mates and an unbending faith that if you kept punching over and over and over again, one day it would be worth it. 

In Pittsburgh, that band was Joe Grushecky and the Iron City Houserockers, and that day did come, albeit temporarily. A documentary about Joe and his career was released in 2007 called A Good Life: The Joe Grushecky Story and is now available on DVD. While the film is interesting and heartfelt, the real treasure in the package is a bonus live CD from a 1985 hometown show, featuring friend and fan Bruce Springsteen

While not quite a rags-to-riches story, we learn how the band followed the usual path of becoming the big fish in the small pond, friends in a rock ‘n’ roll brotherhood with huge dreams. How “Heroes are Hard to Find” caught the ear of Cleveland International’s Steve Popovich, who believed in Joe and financed some sessions that led to the first album getting released. How the lengthy process of working the record one town and one AOR station at a time led to five-star reviews for Have A Good Time But Get Out Alive and what looked like the start of a lifelong ride at the top…only to be derailed by a changing industry, an imploding label (MCA) and a few poor and impatient personal decisions. 

Read the rest of my review at PopMatters 

Joe’s website

The Grushecky/Houserockers Wikipedia page

“Pumping Iron”  and “Little Queenie” (live in 1988) 

“Have A Good Time But Get Out Alive” (live in 2005) 

Steel Rocking

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Blast From The Past – The World’s Best Power Pop

“The oasis of pop for many an Internet surfer, the Not Lame Recording Company is a clearing house for power pop bands of all shapes and sizes – reissued classics and the best new hopefuls from around the world. Label head Bruce Brodeen is a pop fan first and foremost, and his passion for the genre has helped his business grow from a dream into a necessary conduit for many of the lesser known bands to connect with their potential audience.”

I wrote those words thirteen years ago when reviewing Not Lame’s first sampler for Consumable Online. It’s out of print now – a used copy is going for a hefty price on Amazon. Check out this list of artists (in bold); many were just breaking through in 1997 and have become favorites of the genre:

Plastic Moon Rain (Moptops) / Exit To Stay (DT’S) / It’s A Shame (This Perfect Day) / Just Another Day (Twenty Cent Crush) / Love You Like A King (Walter Clevenger) / Brenda Revisited (Martin Luther Lennon) / Colours (The Rooks) / Easy On The Eye (Kenny Howes) / Waking From A Dream (Micah Gilbert) / Miss July (Brad Jones) / What Goes Around (Barely Pink) / Go (Willie Wisely) / Yes Yes Hey Hey (Wunderband) / Today Will Be Yesterday (Big Hello) / Waterfall (Heavy Into Jeff) / Almost Something There (The Beatifics) / Wave To Ride (The Living Daylights) / Throw Me Down (Cool Blue Halo) / Try Not To Care (DGS Younger) / Nervous Man (Stellaluna) / So Low (Dead Flowers) / Take Me Or Leave Me (Time Bomb Symphony).

My money was on Stellaluna, a North Carolina band that got some help from Jamie Hoover of The Spongetones. They didn’t become a household name, but popularity has never had anything to do with quality. Read my full review of the Not Lame sampler here.

Bruce and Not Lame are still going strong; besides being a primary distributor for pop and rock bands, his label continues to release first-rate albums on their own imprint. Beyond their own artist roster, their tribute albums and box set anthologies are labors of love that have quickly become collectors items. Visit them here.

Bruce is Very Highly Recommended

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Under The Radar: Franklin Bruno

Looks like we got us a reader...

 

Lo-fi. Indie. Minimalist. Sparse. DIY. 

No, no, no.you’re thinking Elephant 6 or Lou Barlow or Elliot Smith. Let me try again. 

Pensive. Ironic. Wry. Subtle. Original. 

Ahh, now we have it. Franklin Bruno is a witty writer whose stripped down songs toss the focus onto his sterling wordplay where it belongs. You will have to sail some obtuse melodies and offbeat vocals on occasion, but it’s a journey worth taking.** 

As you know, I sometimes hit the music library and pull out a title that’s either a great old memory, a lesser-known artist, or sometimes both. And then I write a new essay and perhaps link to an old one and suggest you give a listen. Often times I’m pretty clear about what happened to the artist since then; often they’re pretty well known or perhaps joined a different group that attained success. 

But sometimes I have no idea. Such is the case with Franklin Bruno, who at the time I felt drew small comparisons to witty songwriters like Randy Newman, Martin Mull and Loudon Wainwright III. So after a listen to Kiss Without Makeup I was curious to find out. 

Looks like he continued to release more music on Absolute Kosher. There’s another album that came out not long afterwards and a collection of songs from over the next decade. 

And I guess my Elvis Costello reference in my original review bore some merit. Bruno wrote about Armed Forces for the 33 1/3 (Thirty-Three and a Third) book series. According to these Amazon reviews, it’s much like his music you either like it or you don’t. 

He’s a fellow music scribe, working for the Village Voice and Salon, among others. (Since we underpaid hooligans don’t have union meetings or annual conventions, it’s not always a given that our paths cross.) 

He went on to get his doctorate from UCLA and he is (or was) the visiting Professor of Philosophy at Bard College? Sweet job, although I know he must be freezing hs ass off walking across the quad with that wind whipping off the Hudson. Perhaps someday they will show prospective students some of his work as they tour the campus. (When I made the rounds I was baited with projects by Chevy Chase and Donald Fagen.) 

So Franklin Bruno has continued firmly down the path of arts and academia, which is a good thing. I’ll have to circle back and check out some of the music I missed, and I recommend that you at least give Kiss Without Makeup a try. 

** Continue reading that decade old review at PopMatters

His page at Absolute Kosher.

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Another John and Paul

 

Not that John and Paul. 

John Wicks and Paul Collins fronted two of the best power pop bands of their era in The Records and The Beat. Now, thirty years later, they’ve been hitting the stage together from clubs to theatres to living rooms bringing the gospel of pop to the masses. 

Wicks and Collins have continued to record since their heyday and between them they represent a traveling encyclopedia of classic hits. “All Over The World”, “Hearts in Her Eyes”, “Rock and Roll Girl”, “Walking Out On Love”, “Starry Eyes”, “Don’t Wait Up For Me”, “Teenarama”, “Different Kind of Girl”…the list goes on and on. Both men had success with prior bands (Wicks with a short tenure in Kursaal Flyers and Collins with The Nerves) but in the late 70s they both found greater success by creating music that echoed The Beatles, The Raspberries, Badfinger and The Byrds

Now for a special treat – a recent live performance is available through two of their biggest proponents on the Internet. Power Pop Overdose and Power Pop Criminals (or as I prefer to call them, PPO and PPC) are sharing the hosting duties for this great recording, Live At McCabe’s from August 23rd, 2009. It’s a free download authorized by the artists, people! 

And if that’s not enough to get your skinny tie out of the closet, did I mention that Peter Case joins in? 

Hopefully many of you got the chance to see them live during their Living Room Tour last year. If not, this is one hell of a consolation prize. Kudos to Curty and Angelo  for providing the links and artwork and to John and Paul for generously making this recording available through them. 

Part One: Power Pop Criminals 

Part Two: Power Pop Overdose 

Even better news – there’s a 2010 House Concert Tour being planned. Check out their website for details. 

Here’s a quick audio overview

The Kids Are The Same

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