Monthly Archives: March 2011

Opening Day!

It’s a NATIONAL HOLIDAY!

Play Hookey! Play Ball!

(Tonight it’s boxscores! But tomorrow we salute the April Fool...)

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Under The Radar: Sugarbuzz

Most band names don’t communicate the sound of the band. Sugarbuzz does.

Sugarbuzz was a late 90s collaboration between Brian Leach and Brian Reed (they even had a third Brian – Brian Krumm – add some lead guitar parts). Leach has a solo album called The Sunrise Nearly Killed Me, which is among many powerpop fans’ favorites, but frankly after fifteen plus years I’m getting the Leach/Sugarbuzz timeline confused. But I like all his stuff – in his normal vocal range he has a sweet pop voice but slides into a sandy rasp in the upper register. Still don’t know much about Reed.

Submerged is a really solid effort that is heavy on the powerpop but winds in other elements for a nice mix. Occasionally they will recall other bands but Leach’s vocal adds a quality to the mix that gives them a unique sound. Not a lot of power in the powerpop…more of a perfect album for a Sunday morning drive.

“Overthrown” is one of my favorites, strongly recalling T.Rex, while the guitar and chord structure of “Lost Sensation” and “A World Away” recalls Jellyfish (especially the staccato strings and guitar solo). and I hate to use the word “beats” when talking about music, but “Born Again” sounds like the percussion was played by a guy on a street corner with an inverted plastic paint bucket. “The House That Never Sleeps” uses some subtle wah-wah and background string-bending to produce an infectious spacy sound; “Long Hot Summer” takes that ambling psychedelic approach to a point where you almost feel the exhaustion he’s singing about. I really like “On Some Other Day” where Leach (or Krumm?) goes all Joe Walsh for a couple of minutes.

I always lump Leach in with Matthew Sweet and artists from Champaign, Illinois (Velvet Crush, Adam Schmitt) probably because all this came out in the late 90s, although he and Reed really don’t sound that much like them. But if you are a fan of the aforementioned bands, I think you’ll like Sugarbuzz a lot. And like many pop albums that never made a big splash, an enterprising fan could get this for a song.

A few clips on MySpace

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Lights Out for Lights Out

FX, why do you do this to me?

You promote a series heavily and I watch it and get invested in its characters, and then you kill it. FX announced that it has cancelled the freshman boxing drama Lights Out, only two episodes away from the end of the first season (a new episode airs tonight). Bad ratings? I guess the judges’ cards will show that Patrick “Lights Out” Leary lost on points.

The cast has been almost uniformly excellent, featuring a breakout performance from Holt McCallany and strong support from Stacy Keach, Pablo Schreiber, Catherine McCormack and Billy Brown (as conflicted champ “Death Row” Reynolds). Reg E. Cathey (like Schreiber, an alum of The Wire) dazzles as Don King inspired promoter Barry Word, and guest roles have been showcases for powerful actors like Bill Irwin, Eamonn Walker and the great David Morse. Sure, the teenage girls are a bit annoying, but isn’t that also realistic?

If there was a weak point, perhaps it was the strong focus upon Leary’s drive to get another shot at the title, a plot element that has been accelerated to at such a rapid pace that we are almost upon it after eleven episodes. I don’t know if they planned to have the fight take place by the end of the season or planned to make the fight the centerpiece of the next season – I guess I’ll find out in a week – but after he either wins or loses, it would appear that the momentum would shift. Of course, if you don’t have a strong and fast pace you’ll get cancelled for that, too.

Unlike Terriers, which suffered from a ridiculous marketing campaign, people knew exactly what they were tuning in for. It’s just sad that there are so many more people who want to watch celebretards cat fight or try to dance.

Welcome to America, 2011.

At least FX picked up Justified and Louie for second seasons. Here’s hoping they don’t screw that up.

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Ramblerin’ Gamblerin’ Man

It’s never a bad day to pimp Ben Vaughn.

Fourteen years ago this Friday, I felt the same way. Lots of people were going the indie route and recording in their home studio. Not many were doing it in their car. (Recording, I mean…I’m sure lots of people were “doing it” in a car. Some things never change.)

Here we go, from April Fools’ Day in 1997, and I was most certainly not pulling anyone’s leg. Still not. Get your Vaughn on.

If it sounds good in a car, why not record it in a car?” – Ben Vaughn, 1996

Probably the only people not shocked to hear that Ben Vaughn recorded his new CD inside his 1965 Rambler American (“the Fender Telecaster of cars“, says Ben) are his fans; they know that Ben is capable of just about anything. So what to do after less accessible side projects like Cubist Blues (recorded with Alex Chilton and Alan Vega) and the pairing with Kim Fowley? Vaughn uses his zaniest concept to date to create his best record since Dressed In Black.

Two songs are co-written with Bill Lloyd, and they’re both killer. The opening track “7 Days Without Love” rocks, complete with feet slapping on the car’s floorboard. “Boomerang” combines Vaughn’s megaphone-induced vocal with an instrumental punch straight out of the Sir Douglas Quintet. (I’d believe they were actually on the track but I know he couldn’t have fit them in the car). “Rock is Dead” is an example of Vaughn’s wit, an ode to the future when there’s “a blank space on your TV/where the music channel used to be” and “abandoned tour buses scattered across the hills“.

Outside of the sitar solo on “Levitation”, the stripped-down arrangements force Vaughn’s songs to be judged on their own merits. One listen to a simple melody like “Song For You” and those who are not Ben fans may be quickly converted. A Vaughn album is always a mix of surf, pop, country, rockabilly and anything else he can get his hands on. Rambler 65 is no different, with pop oddities like “Perpetual Motion Machine” (suggesting his work for TV’s “Third Rock From The Sun“) countered with bluesy wisps like “Beautiful Self Destruction”. An actual Rambler ad is even tossed in just to keep you honest.

Vaughn claims he was able to record the record in six afternoons because “everything was a first take because I just wanted to get the hell out of the car!” Cramming a small mixing board, effects pedals, a turntable, mikes and a reel-to-reel inside a car with the windows rolled up is about as intimate as you can get. And while recording in a car has other drawbacks besides leg room, Vaughn made the best of them. With airplanes flying overhead every so often, he finally gave up avoiding them and included one as the intro to “The Only Way To Fly”. Typical Vaughn, using whatever is necessary to deliver the goods, and it works.

And yes, there’s an engine solo

Ramblerin' Gamblerin' Man?

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Still Alive And Well

Every so often I Google just to see if he’s still out there, rockin’.

He was in the 60s.

He was in the 70s.

He was in the 80s.

He was in the 90s.

He was in the 00’s.

And he was just in Germany doing it again.

Still alive and well.

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Big Star Third, Revisited

SONGS/PERFORMERS

1.  “Kizza Me”                     MATT MCMICHAELS (from Mayflies USA)
2.  “O Dana”                        IRA KAPLAN  (Yo La Tengo)   
3.  “For You”                        JODY STEPHENS (Big Star)
4.  “Nighttime”                     NORMAN BLAKE (Teenage Fanclub)
5.  “Jesus Christ”                MIKE MILLS (R.E.M.)  
6.  “Take Care”                    IRA KAPLAN    (Yo La Tengo)                                
7.  “Big Black Car”               MATTHEW SWEET
8.  “Stroke It, Noel”              NORMAN BLAKE  (Teenage Fanclub)
9.  “Blue Moon”                    JODY STEPHENS  (Big Star)
10. “Femme Fatale”            SINGER NOT CONFIRMED
11. “Downs”                        VARIOUS  
12. “Dream Lover”              TIFT MERRITT  
13. “Holocaust”                    DJANGO HASKINS (The Old Ceremony”     
14. “You Can’t Have Me”     TIFT MERRITT
15. “Kanga Roo”                 MICHAEL STIPE  (R.E.M.)
16. “Thank You, Friends”    VARIOUS

Plus a rich encore list featuring the above plus Brett Harris and Fan Modine…

Um…do I really need to add more? Go, whydoncha?

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T.G.I.F. – Ten From Roxy Music

I do enjoy documentaries, especially music documentaries, and I guess there are more people out there because they keep making them. More Than This isn’t a great expose about Roxy Music, and even the uninitiated won’t learn much (Roxy diehards looking for insight might be bored senseless). But it does capture and present the band as pioneers, successful in an age when so many others tried to be original and failed miserably. The program combines interview clips, partial songs and a career overview that sometimes blazes by touchstone moments (Siren is given about a nanosecond).

Although the running time is short, I did enjoy listening to comments from band members past and present; all show a great sense of pride in their accomplishments, and I came away with a new respect for Brian Eno as a person as well as a musician. Bryan Ferry was appropriately pensive, Phil Manzanera funny, Andy Mackay resolute and Paul Thompson straightforward and blue-collar honest. Additional voices like Siouxsie Sioux, John Taylor and Sex Pistol axeman Steve Jones (‘we wuz awwl Rawk-zee fanz“) echo what we already knew, but testimonials are always fun. (And no, Sioux and Jones did not mention Bill Grundy’s name…)

But it was enjoyable to watch and listen to, and my first reaction was to pull their catalogue off the shelf and wallow in it. And if that’s the emotion that resulted, maybe it’s a pretty decent film after all. It’s certainly reasonably priced and I think well worth a purchase and a spin. God, what a great band.

So for this week’s TGIF I offer you Ten From Roxy Music. Enjoy!

(01) – “Do The Strand” (live in France – w/fireworks!)

(02) – “Avalon

(03) – “Remake/Remodel” (live at Musikladen)

(04) – “Love Is The Drug

(05) – “Mother of Pearl” (live in Sweden 1976)

(06) – “Dance Away” (extended Bob Clearmountain mix)

(07) – “Virginia Plain” (live at The Apollo)

(08) – “Both Ends Burning” (eyepatch version!)

(09) – “Oh Yeah

(10) – “Over You” (original single version)

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