Tag Archives: Alex Chilton

New Album! Hans Rotenberry and Brad Jones

New to you, anyway – it came out last Fall.

But what has hit the street is the new issue of Bucketful of Brains, the great UK pop mag that has defied the odds and the decline of print journalism. Still going strong, still published on schedule, and still a place I’m proud to hang my keyboard each issue. Click here to find out more.

That’s where you’ll find my review of Mountain Jack, the album from Hans Rotenberry and Brad Jones. Any powerpop fan hearing those two names would instantly get excited; Hans has led the great band Shazam for years and Brad Jones is one of the great pop producers of our time as well as a solid artist in his own right. And while the collaboration might sound different than you would expect, it hits many of the right buttons.

Here’s my review…

Video: “A Likely Lad

Having produced four of the Shazam albums, Brad Jones knows every feint and jab that Hans Rotenberry has in his repertoire. So the pairing of bandleader and producer sounds much like you’d expect, a collaboration that draws heavily upon chunky rhythms, clever (but sometimes obtuse) lyrics and tight harmonies – not to mention song structure that draws heavily upon The Move and early Todd Rundgren. It’s a welcome return for Brad Jones, the powerpop producer who dropped the brilliant Gilt Flake on us many years ago and then dropped back out of sight like a February groundhog.

Those expecting the amp-cranking sound that the Shazam is famous for might be taken aback by the predominantly acoustic format, let alone songs like “Froggie Mountain Shakedown”. But the Americana-cum-powerpop formula suits the pair well; it’s loose and fun, and there’s enough cowbell to balance out the mouth harp. With “Count On Me”, “Likely Lad” and “It Would Not Be Uncool” they have three hit singles at my house, and hell, “Greef” is an Exile on Main Street doppelgänger as much as “Back To Bristol” recalls Alex Chilton. Take the plunge.

Mountain Jack at 50ft Records

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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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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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New Album! Ray Davies

And while the world continues to wait for a new Kinks album…

See My Friends is the latest effort from Ray Davies, a duets album of sort featuring guest artists from across the musical landscape. Even as a fan of tribute albums I must admit that I dread these affairs, for recording with the honored artist usually results in one of two things – deferring to the honoree or an awkward mix of styles…and sometimes both. Although not scheduled for release in America until April, wily Kinks fans know the album is currently one click away at Amazon UK.

The album lurches off to an unfortunate start with “Better Things”, a normally irresistible tune punctured by the growling Bruce Springsteen; if anything it proves how much better a vocalist Ray Davies is by comparison. Bon Jovi fares no better, with a turgid bar band version of “Celluloid Heroes” minus the panache, and Metallica fails to add anything to “You Really Got Me” that Van Halen didn’t already do a quarter century ago…and better. Billy Corgan’s version of “Destroyer” is as lame and irrelevant as he is. Jackson Browne and Lucinda Williams (the latter backed by The 88) are fine but unremarkable, but it is poignant to hear the late, great Alex Chilton (a longtime Kinks fan) cover “Til The End of The Day”

While the veteran rockers mostly disappoint, those from the current era fare better, although mostly sticking to safe arrangements. Gary Lightbody, lead singer of Snow Patrol, is a natural complement to Ray’s warble, sounding fragile and exhausted on “Tired Of Waiting”. Spoon is a wise match for the title track and craft an arrangement that fits their style well. And while sticking to her normal voice Paloma Faith is dynamic during “Lola”, although switching to Minnie Mouse falsetto during harmonies is jarring. And I like Amy MacDonald’s contribution on “Dead End Street” but the mood is ruined by the small talk between she and Ray at the end – whose brilliant idea was that?

The clear standout on the album is Mumford & Sons; their organic performance brings new life to “Days” and “This Time Tomorrow” and the medley is brilliantly executed. I would love to hear Ray take on the entire Muswell Hillbillies album with them. And since there doesn’t seem to be a Kinks reunion in the works – on record or live – I hope he pursues a collaboration like that before it’s too late.

Video: Ray Davies with Mumford & Sons

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Big Star For A Big Cause

 

(Thanks to my buddy Ray Paul for forwarding this info…)

Channeling Chilton

The City Winery in New York City is presenting a night of remembrance and celebration this Wednesday, July 28th, as former members of the Box Tops, Big Star, plus Alex’s longtime friends and other collaborators come together to celebrate the man and the legend that is Alex Chilton.Part proceeds of the evening will benefit families and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon Disaster through the Gulf Restoration Network.

Artists so far confirmed include:  Yo La Tengo, Marshall Crenshaw, Jody Stephens, Jon Auer, Doug Garrison, Rene Coman, Alan Vega, Jon Spencer (of the Blues Explosion), Fran Kowalski, Chris Stamey, Lesa Aldridge (Elizabeth Hoehn), Jay Proctor (of Jay & the Techniques), Bill Cunningham, Gary Talley, Terry Manning, Evan Dando, Jesse Malin, Danny Kroha (of The Gories).

Check the City Winery website for updates as more artists are confirmed.

Take Me Home And Make Me Like It

December Boys got it bad. RIP, my friend.

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R.I.P. Tommy Hoehn

This is turning into a depressing weekend.

I was so startled by the loss of Pete Quaife yesterday that I didn’t even realize it was Friday and therefore time for my weekly TGIF feature. By the time it dawned on me, I didn’t really care to go back and rectify the oversight; I spent a few hours last night reading tributes and thoughts from other Kinks fans who were also saddened by his passing.

Now just a day later, more bad news. Memphis takes another kick in the nuts with the loss of Tommy Hoehn who died late Thursday night. You might not recognize his name right off the bat, but he was an integral part of the powerpop scene in Memphis and a contemporary of Big Star and other Ardent Studios artists who were plowing a different field than corporate radio in the 1970s.

Memphis is still reeling from the loss of Alex Chilton in March; now this. Besides the obvious thoughts and prayers to friends and family, my heart goes out to John Fry, Jody Stephens, Van Duren and other musicians and associates who knew and worked with Tommy for so many years.

Back in the day, it was Creem Magazine that first tipped me to Big Star and I wanted to gobble up as much of that type of music as I could find. During that expedition I discovered Losing You To Sleep, Tommy’s second album. It was on London Records and sure, with his beard and opened white shirt, he looked more like J. D. Souther or Andrew Gold than your typical powerpopper. But “Hey Polarity” and the title song knocked me out, and another track (“She Might Look My Way”) was a Chilton co-write. 

Hoehn had his hand in the jelly jar for Sister Lovers and also did some work with The Scruffs, but he slid to the melodic Paul McCartney and Emitt Rhodes side of the fence more than he did the crunchy sound of The Raspberries or Badfinger. Reportedly his musical hero was Todd Rundgren, but listening to his beautiful melodies and delicate style, you realize that his doppelgänger might have been his friend from Big Star,  Chris Bell.

Coincidentally, another album I picked up at that time was Are You Serious by Van Duren; Van would later record with Tommy as the Hoehn-Duren Band during the powerpop rebirth of the 90s,  releasing Hailstone Holiday and Blue OrangeNothing disappears on the Internet, so I can give you this link from an eleven year old blog post that sums up how they got back together after years apart. (Van has a new album out, but more about that very soon.)

The anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death is sucking all the oxygen out of the atmosphere this weekend and no doubt both Quaife and Hoehn are getting lost in the shuffle. Maybe that’s par for the course, since both were underrated and undervalued in the commercial scheme of things. But for those of us who get it, these are sad and painful goodbyes to people who have contributed far more to the music of our lives than Jacko ever could.

R.I.P., Tommy. Ironically, we’re losing you to sleep.

Scott Homewood’s 2007 essay on Tommy from Lost In The Grooves

Amy Nyman’s 2007 blog post about that Memphis scene.

Ardent Studios

***

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Another Alex Chilton Tribute

A week ago Saturday, Adam Marsland’s Chaos Band performed an Alex Chilton tribute show at a club in Marina del Rey and were astute enough to have some cameras rolling.

Marsland, one of the most seasoned DIY tour rats of the past decade plus, has always been a fan of whipping out some great cover songs (he’s been known to take the stage in a variation of Stump The Band, which always produces some eclectic choices). And a few years back he issued an excellent album of Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson songs – live – called Long Promised Road.

Absolutely one of my wish I was there moments, but I’m on the Wrong Coast. And if you also were unable to attend, fear not – enjoy Adam, Evie Sands, Kurt Medlin and Teresa Cowles pay homage to the late, great Alex Chilton via You Tube…

Video: “Soul Deep

Here’s what’s available to enjoy so far; more songs might be forthcoming.

The Ballad of El Goodo (Adam and Evie co-lead)
Soul Deep (Evie lead)
Give Me Another Chance (Teresa lead)
Thirteen
When My Baby’s Beside Me
You Get What You Deserve
September Gurls
Kizza Me
Alex Chilton (Replacements cover)
Jesus Christ
The Worst Thing (That I Ever Did) 

Although that last title is an original, Adam refers to it as an Alex-influenced song. Close enough for me. Here is the link to the video tribute page .

The first post-mortem tribute happened at SXSW, of course, in place of the originally scheduled Big Star show. And just this past weekend another was held at The Living Room in NYC; dozens of others sprang up everywhere as musicians felt the need to tip their musical caps to one of their era’s defining artists. And although essays from famous musicians are turning up in newspapers and magazines as well, praising Alex Chilton is nothing new.

Alex won’t be forgotten because his songs won’t be forgotten. Simple as that.

And yes, it *rocks*.

Hurry up! There were less than five hundred copies made in this limited release of Adam’s newest album, Hello Cleveland. And if you never picked up Go West,  I behoove you to do that as well. All of Adam’s albums can be purchased at the usual outlets or through his website merchandise page.

Adam on MySpace

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