Monthly Archives: February 2010

Airplane Crash

Toasters? Or just plain toast?

Jefferson Airplane was an intriguing band, capable of dynamic music, political boldness and spectacular performances, thanks to a combination of members who both illuminated each other’s strengths and compensated for each other’s gaps. Paul Kantner’s songs  could be calls to arms or mythic space oddities, but either way the fluid bass playing of Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen’s ethereal guitar added another dimension to his vision. There were usually multiple musical odysseys taking place within the same song, and when they were on, they were on

Although not the original lead singer, Grace Slick was the point person for the most popular edition of the group. Beautiful and powerful, she was mesmerizing to watch and a siren on record, not to mention incredibly alluring to a young boy coming of age. San Francisco was exploding and I was on the wrong coastline, but I could start to imagine to what it was like anytime I heard her voice. 

(I will always remember approaching the department store record counter and telling the clerk I want “Somebody To Love“. The girl leaned over the counter and looked me straight in the eye. “Me too“, she cooed. As she laughed and walked away to get the record for me, I tried to close my mouth, which had been left hanging open to match the deer-in-the-headlights look in my eyes. Someday I would have ten snappy comebacks for that flirtatious taunt, but that day I was pre-teen toast.) 

But I digress… 

 

Soon enough, the 60’s would stumble to a yang and yin conclusion with Woodstock and Altamont, two large festivals where the Airplane would make an appearance. The latter was a disaster of epic proportions (and a subject for another time) but Woodstock was magnificent. A series of albums called The Woodstock Experience have been released pairing an artist’s studio album with their live – and often unreleased – sets from the Festival. For Jefferson Airplane fans, this is a godsend and an example of the band at the height of its powers. 

Unfortunately, just a few years later, it would all fall apart. Anyone who doubted the unraveling of the band or the total abandonment of their principles need only listen once to Thirty Seconds Over Winterland

If you want to know what was going on with Jefferson Airplane when they took the stage for their final concert in 1972, consider the cover art that was used for this live document. Seven toasters, unplugged, flying in formation despite displaying clocks with different times. Or, if you will, seven burnt-out musicians doing their best to keep up appearances despite having completely separate agendas. This band had once—along with the Grateful Dead—spearheaded the psychedelic rock movement and the San Francisco music scene with dynamic live performances and a catalogue of material that was both populist and intricate. Now there were basically three factions under one roof vying for control. 

Read the full review at PopMatters

Backatcha, babe.

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New Album! The Hot Rats

So...what are the other two Supergrassians doing?

I love tribute albums more than I should, and when a band tosses a well placed cover into their set or onto their own album it can often be a real treat. And while playing the song straight can be reverential, adding your own flavor to the stew can often be far more rewarding. On Turn Ons we get both from The Hot Rats. While that latter name may call to mind one of Frank Zappa‘s greatest albums, it is also what two famous UK pop stars call their fun side project. 

Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey of Supergrass have teamed up with producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck, Travis) for an album of well-chosen covers of some of their favorite artists including The Kinks, Squeeze, The Doors, Gang of Four, Elvis Costello and David Bowie among others. While some of the songs (i.e. the Lou Reed stomper “I Can’t Stand It”) are made for the stripped down thumping, you will be amazed at how they approached songs by The Sex Pistols and The Beastie Boys

Despite the limited instrumentation, the versatility on the album separates The Hot Rats from the pack of bands flailing to surf the wake of The White Stripes. Simplicity merely repeated gets monotonous, but The Hot Rats wisely employed Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich to add his brush to their canvas, and the result is an exciting and surprising collaboration. At its core it’s brimming with the exuberance and fearlessness of a garage band, and with twelve tracks in just over half an hour, one is left wanting more

Read my full review in Blurt Online.

And yes - grab this too!

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T.G.I.F. – Ten More Anniversaries

 

It’s not that I wanted to repeat last week’s model of ten famous birthdays that fall on the same day, but damned if February 26th wasn’t a key date for a lot of entertainers and artists who made an impact upon me. Just more credence for the MDC Theory (Memorial Day Conceptions) I proposed last Friday. (I determined that my birth was the result of a St. Patrick’s Day party that got a little crazy.) 

And it’s not all birthdays either – February 26th is also the day we lost a couple of favorites, including one of the best and most influential comedians of all time. So here are ten anniversaries, in chronological order; celebrate their contributions today. 

Seven birthdays...

Tex Avery, 1908 – One of the top animators, voice actors and cartoon directors of all time. He could be a legend just for creating Daffy Duck but in fact was involved in hundreds of cartoons and characters for Walter Lantz studios and the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series, whose ribald humor I appreciate more as an adult than I did as a child. 

Jackie Gleason, 1916 – Maybe we just take some people for granted, especially when they make it look effortless. Gleason was a television pioneer; his eponymous variety show and The Honeymooners are seminal influences in the medium (the Honeymooners concept even spawning a more long-running animated version in The Flinstones). But his turns in The Hustler and Requiem For A Heavyweight show that he was no slouch as a dramatic actor either. 

Video: The Great One 

Fats Domino, 1928 – The congenial, portly piano player continues to inspire blues players and rockers alike with his trademark style. “Blueberry Hill”, “Ain’t That A Shame”, “I’m Walkin” – the list is endless. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me until the 80’s to realize that Fats was why Chubby Checker chose his stage name. We almost lost the legend in Hurricane Katrina but he’s 82 today. 

Godfrey Cambridge, 1933 – Cambridge was a very intelligent man; he earned a full scholarship to medical school but dropped out to pursue an entertainment career.  He was a staple on talk shows in the 60’s and 70’s with a smooth and smart style like fellow comic Bill Cosby (but talked about black and white issues with a more sarcastic edge). He died early; sadly his albums are out of print and he is known to many only for his acting in films such as Watermelon Man and Cotton Comes To Harlem

Johnny Cash, 1932 – Nothing much need be said about The Man In Black that you don’t already know, his recorded legacy is essential listening. But you might not have seen that the last album in the American series has just been released entitled Ain’t No Grave

Listen to sample clips from Ain’t No Grave 

Chuck Wepner, 1939 – The Bayonne Bleeder. Watching Muhammad Ali fight in his prime was like watching Mike Tyson; odds were the challenger wasn’t going to last long. Wepner was given no chance by the pundits but took everything Ali threw at him for fifteen rounds, even flattening the champ in the ninth round. This fight inspired Sylvester Stallone to create Rocky

Mitch Ryder, 1945 – I’ve certainly written plenty about my fondness for Mitch Ryder, and although the link shows you just how prolific he continues to be, it’s not the same as hearing the music. The newest album (misnamed on the AMG entry) is Detroit Ain’t Dead Yet, his first American release since 1983, and an autobiography is scheduled for release this Summer. 

...and three fond farewells.

We remember those lost on this day, including… 

Buddy Miles, 2008 – Most famous for his work with Jimi Hendrix in Band of Gypsys and his hit “Them Changes”, Miles was also a player with Wilson Pickett, a member of The Electric Flag, and leader of his own group The Buddy Miles Express, featuring a hot-shot guitarist named Jim McCarty

Video: Buddy Miles 

Lawrence Tierney, 2002 – Quintessential tough guy for whom it was no act; his real-life boozing and brawling cost him an A-list career. Quentin Tarantino, for all his quirks, has a knack for putting an actor past his prime in a plum role and Tierney will forever be remembered for his turn in Reservoir Dogs as the curmudgeonly caper mastermind Joe Cabot

Bill Hicks, 1994 – I’ve expounded upon Bill Hicks at great length; he’s one of the most important comics in the history of the art form. Although his death at 33 meant an abrupt end to his career, he left us an incredible body of work and continues to inspire comedians to hold a mirror up to society and tell the truth

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40 Years On: Hall and Oates

They met forty-three years ago in a Philly club and they’re still making music together today. Arguably the biggest musical act in the world for a few years, they didn’t have to resort to giving themselves a pompous nickname; they let the charts do the talking. And while they might be flying a little lower and slower these days, Daryl Hall and John Oates have a hell of a legacy.

I’m not the typical Hall and Oates fan. While there was no denying their bouncy dance-pop hits of the early 80’s, I have a fondness for the more organic songs they started out with, like “Sara Smile”, “She’s Gone” and “When The Morning Comes”. I also have a soft spot for some of the more rocking songs that didn’t make big waves; “You Must Be Good For Something” and “Don’t Blame It On Love” being two of my favorites.

Some mistakenly see them as lightweights who got lucky by hitting their stride just as MTV was getting started (in fairness it did seem like their videos aired hourly. But their origins were Philly soul (well documented in the box set) and they ran the table from folk to rock to dance pop with equal success. When they were at the apex of their fame, they cut a great live album with Temptations David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks at the Apollo Theatre, where years before Hall occasionally worked as a backstage gofer.

They attracted excellent studio musicians, especially hot guitarists like Robert Fripp, Todd Rundgren and Rick Nielsen to pinch-hit on the sessions ; the list of their sidemen is a rock’n’roll All Star team. But the music really came alive thanks to a rock-solid touring band featuring future SNL bandleader G.E. Smith on guitar. (For those unfamiliar with Smith I highly recommend finding a copy of his first solo album In The World, a vastly underrated guitar pop/rock gem unlike anything else he has recorded.)

But on to the box set…

While not strictly chronological, the four CDs in this set do loosely follow Hall and Oates’s career path from a studio album perspective. Each CD finishes up with live recordings whose material matches up to the era, even if the date of the recording does not. It’s an interesting choice, perhaps to encourage the listener to take the journey rather than centering on the “live disc” or the one with most of the big hits. It’s also interesting to see how their organic sound formed and then was heavily influenced by producers Arif Mardin and David Foster before the duo felt comfortable enough to take the reins themselves.

Their studio and touring bands were always peppered with first-rate players, and early confidante Tommy Mottola (aka “Gino the Manager”, later the president of CBS and Sony) brilliantly moved them from a solid but struggling pop band to arguably the most popular recording artist of their time. Unlike some who sat back and took success for granted, Hall and Oates were savvy enough to learn how to thrive and survive in a fickle industry.

Read the rest of my review at PopMatters

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Good Night, Rose.

For two girls in Boston and one in Syracuse.

Oh, why you look so sad?
Tears are in your eyes
Come on and come to me now
Don’t be ashamed to cry
Let me see you through
’cause I’ve seen the dark side too
When the night falls on you
You don’t know what to do
Nothing you confess
Could make me love you less

I’ll stand by you
I’ll stand by you
Won’t let nobody hurt you
I’ll stand by you

So if you’re mad, get mad
Don’t hold it all inside
Come on and talk to me now
Hey, what you got to hide?
I get angry too
Well I’m a lot like you
When you’re standing at the crossroads
And don’t know which path to choose
Let me come along
’cause even if you’re wrong

I’ll stand by you
I’ll stand by you
Won’t let nobody hurt you
I’ll stand by you
Take me in, into your darkest hour
And I’ll never desert you
I’ll stand by you

And when…
When the night falls on you, baby
You’re feeling all alone
You won’t be on your own

I’ll stand by you
I’ll stand by you
Won’t let nobody hurt you

I’ll stand by you
Take me in, into your darkest hour
And I’ll never desert you
I’ll stand by you
I’ll stand by you
Won’t let nobody hurt you
I’ll stand by you
Won’t let nobody hurt you
I’ll stand by you

(Hynde/Kelly/Steinberg)

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Happy Birthday, Johnny Winter

 

When you consider all the auspicious starts to legendary recording careers, it’s tough to top a pair of albino brothers playing blues in a black club in Texas. 

John Dawson Winter turned 66 today, and thankfully he’s still around to celebrate the moment. There have been several times during his career when I didn’t think he’d last the week, but although a bit frail, he’s still out there delivering his unique style of blues and rock. 

My first encounter was the legendary Johnny Winter And concert where he and Rick Derringer squared off like it was a (friendly) duel to the death. I’ve waxed poetic about that concert tour and the live album that captures it;  still one of the five best live albums in rock history. 

His tone and slide technique is strong and powerful. Combined with his trademark growling vocals, his versions of Rolling Stones songs were arguably better than the originals. “Silver Train” became his the minute he recorded it, and you’re not likely to find a more incendiary version of “Jumping Jack Flash” than Winter’s. 

Have Cape, Will Sling.

Before he went back to the blues he released some killer rock albums for Columbia in the 70’s including a covers project with brother Edgar, I have many fond memories of blasting those sides over and over. Unfortunately, his abuse issues resurfaced, and I soon witnessed an attempted performance so bad that it has gone down in local history as “the bottle throwing show”. I truly believed that night if the crowd didn’t kill him – and they would have, if they caught him – the needle would. 

But he survived that night and his addiction. He soon came back to his roots, recording many acclaimed blues albums into the 80’s and 90’s, avoiding the cape-and-fanfare rock’n’roll that brought him to a wide audience. One got the feeling he was almost being penitent, putting aside less important music for something deeper and more spiritual. Recently Winter has released a well-received series of authorized live bootlegs, and last year’s Live Through The 70’s (a DVD of early performances) is an absolute treasure. Now we finally have the long lost Woodstock recordings as well. What a career!

He’s frail enough that he must sit while playing, but he’s playing. If you have never seen this masterful guitarist, you must. Albert Collins, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Winter…there’s just something special about Texas blues. Happy Birthday, Johnny. 

Johnny Winter website and wiki

Discography at the All Music Guide 

 

** 

And a cake for you too, Captain America.

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Under The Radar: Northey Valenzuela

 

Yeah, I go on mental tangents. 

The Olympics are on television, and the games are being held in Vancouver, which is where The Odds hail from. So out come the Odds albums, almost subliminally, and as I play them loud and long, I remember again what a great band they are and how criminal it is that the U.S. market just hasn’t caught up to them yet. 

But if the Odds albums are below their radar, imagine how stealth this 2005 pairing of Craig Northey and Jesse Valenzuela was. Any fan of the Odds and Gin Blossoms didn’t need to hear a note in advance. But even with the success of the Gin Blossoms in the States, radio programmers remained a tough sell for this type of music. 

But as usual, their loss, not ours. Northey is one of the best songwriters around, and Valenzuela is no slouch either. Their collaboration followed the premise that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts;  it played to their strengths and beyond. Meaning that while they brought the best out in each other, they pushed themselves as well. 

Northey Valenzuela is a joyous album chock full of hooks, melodies and charm with strong lyrics and inspired vocals and harmonies. If you haven’t grabbed this little chestnut, I implore you to do so immediately

Here’s my original review from Cosmik Debris

 

Northey, the soul of Canada’s Odds, and Valenzuela, the heart of the Gin Blossoms, combine for a pop platter that meets both players on common ground. Backed by criminally under-known musicians like axeman Colin James, bassist Doug Elliott and drummer Pat Seward (the latter two the formidable rhythm section of those late great Odds), Craig and Jesse make knocking out catchy songs seem effortless. Both musicians endured the demise of strong bands in an unforgiving industry, then spent time collaborating and touring with others before quietly releasing solo projects. Apparently they share a mutual love for Booker T & The MGs and blue eyed soul, for this new project is dripping with aural honey.  

Where Valenzuela’s songs tend to be familiar sounding (“See Through Heart” and “Hurting On The Outside” are both reminiscent of Tom Petty, for example), Northey is more likely to challenge with minor keys and introspective lyrics. “Something Good” (a nicer take than the Colin James version) is beautifully soulful, as is “Let It Go” – major kudos to Simon Kendall’s supportive organ playing on both. But they complement each other well vocally and musically. 

They’re funky – “Halfway To Happy” sounds like a kissing cousin to John Hiatt’s “Riding With The King”. And they can rock, churning up “Slow Goodbye” and exhuming the 70s era Ron Wood on the fiery “Borrowing Trouble”.  And if you are a fellow Odds fan, you’ll have a big smile on your face. “Not A Lot Goin’ On” sounds like the great lost outtake; everything from the intelligent lyrics to the counterpoint background vocals (think “Someone Who’s Cool”) is right on the mark. 

Northey Valenzuela has cut a great record that needs a wider audience. Gee, how about US distribution for starters?  

The Odd Blossoms

There has been plenty of activity since this collaboration came out, of course. The Odds reformed with a new guitarist to replace Steven Drake and released the excellent Cheerleader while Northey has been involved with television projects like Corner Gas and the brand new Kids In The Hall series. Valenzuela and The Gin Blossoms have reformed, released a live album in 2009 and have a new studio album slated for release this year. 

Sometimes opportunity produces magic. Here’s proof.

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