Tag Archives: Big Star

T.G.I.F. – Ten For Matthew Sweet

To follow up on the announcement about Matthew Sweet’s new album Modern Art, I thought today’s TGIF would be a great time to give the under-appreciated popster a tip of the cap. It can’t be easy putting your heart and soul into being a pop craftsman and finding that despite some massive airplay early in your career, there aren’t any groundswell radio formats to celebrate the joyous jangle of a big hook and chorus. I’d like to think that had Matthew been around in the early 70s, he’d have had his singles on the charts alongside The Raspberries. But that didn’t work for Big Star, now did it?

But I’m glad he hasn’t given up the ghost, because we need all the Matthew Sweets we can get, larger than life. So this week’s TGIF is Ten For Matthew Sweet…and by the way, if you’ve never heard “Thunderstorm” from In Reverse, you are in for a real treat…

(01) – “We’re The Same

(02) – “Thunderstorm”

(03) – “You Don’t Love Me”

(04) – “Someone To Pull The Trigger”

(05) – “I’ve Been Waiting”

(06) – “Come To California”

(07) – “Girlfriend”

(08) – “Divine Intervention”

(09) – “Sick Of Myself”

(10) – “Evangeline”

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Blast From The Past: Wilco

Tangents are wonderful things…

While reading the Morgan Taylor interview the other day, I noticed that he’d opened a lot of shows for Wilco. That made me pull out Being There and Summerteeth; both those records sound perfect when Spring is trying to shake off the doldrums and give you a warm day or two. and despite my town setting its all time record for rain during the month of April, birds and buds and ants are telling me that little liar groundhog’s ruse is almost over.

In other words, my review of Summerteeth from 1999 in…

When asked about his plans for Wilco after Being There had caught people off guard, Jeff Tweedy hinted that the band would most likely take another unexpected turn and create “a twisted pop record“. Let it never be said that Tweedy is not a man of his word.

Once again self-produced by the band (Tweedy, Jay Bennett, John Stirratt and Ken Coomer), Summerteeth thrives on the juxtaposition of introspective, sometimes dense, lyrical wordplay fleshed out in a rainbow of musical style. There are several songs that will immediately strike the listener as upbeat, sing-along melodies, yet underneath lurk images of loneliness, confusion and unfulfilled dreams.

Video: “Candyfloss

Candyfloss” jumps out of the speakers with a bouncy, 60s pop calliope beat, yet Tweedy’s confessional says otherwise: “I’m the boy who looks excited/I’m the boy who’se gonna fall apart…I’m the boy who eats his heart out…” . Likewise, the opener, “Can’t Stand It” is a groove rocker but boasts a chorus that states “our dreams will never be answered again“.

Via Chicago” is one of the few that matches sonic pulse with lyrical imagery. Slow and deliberate, the opening line is as disturbing as the distorted, feedback-laden guitar solo that cradles the fade-out: “Dreamed about killing you again last night / and it felt all right to me…”. Then – just as your heart and brain are splattered across the floor – “ELT (Every Little Thing)” rockets out of the speakers like the hit single it should be, a cousin to Bowie’sHeroes” filtered through The Byrds. It’s another song of lost opportunity or maybe Fate’s warning, but which? Hopeful or hopeless? Tweedy’s deft pen leaves that open to your imagination, and depending upon your mood, it will be either.

Video: “ELT (Every Little Thing)

The title track, like “Candyfloss” and “ELT“, will no doubt pump out of radios all summer long. No matter that the subject is denial about the rut that his life has become; the infectious refrain will have you singing along with the “ooh-ahh” background vocals (with lilting keyboards and chirping birds, no less) and have you daydreaming as well. “My Darling” and the stark “We’re Just Friends” echo Big Star circa Sister Lovers with a little Brian Wilson harmony thrown in, while “You Wake Up Feeling Old” is ironically finger-snapping pop.

The band must have gathered up every instrument in the studio and then some – bells, bird chirps, penny whistles, shakers, flutes, horns and tympani are sparingly but creatively used throughout the record. And as he promised, Tweedy has stripped down the band and reconstructed its direction, a move that will probably alienate some diehard Uncle Tupelo purists (assuming they aren’t already pissed off) but should thrill anyone with an open mind and a respect for the art of songwriting. Summerteeth is funky, soulful, rocking, heartbreaking, pensive and explosive – in short, a masterpiece.

Wilcoworld

Listen to clips here

Roger that!

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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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Let’s Kickstart Kontiki!

The Holy Grail just came into view again.

Back in 1997, Robert Harrison, Whit Williams, George Reiff and Dana Myzer crafted Kontiki, possibly this generation’s Big Star album. You know…the one that didn’t sell well upon release but is revered by everyone who was lucky enough to grab it; a generation later everyone will claim to have owned a copy, only to lose it to an ex-wife or a klepto roomie.

Liars!

But now they don’t have to be. Harrison, on behalf of his band Cotton Mather, has just popped for a moderate goal on Kickstarter. He’s looking to raise $12,500 to create and market a deluxe two-disc edition, featuring a remastered original and a full disc of outtakes sure to thrill fans of the band. A diverse and rich blend of powerpop, rock and psych, Kontiki has often been compared to Beatle albums, usually Revolver, thanks to the uncanny vocal resemblance to John Lennon. But this is a deep, rich, original work that has only grown stronger in time. (You know…like Revolver?)

Video: “Password

Here’s Robert, from the project’s banner page:

 In 1997 my  band Cotton Mather recorded our second record, Kontiki,  on 4 track cassette and ADAT in an old house about 30 minutes outside of Austin. It was released in the US without much fanfare on a little label called Copper.  But when the record made its way to the UK a year later on the Rainbow Quartz label Kontiki was quite the hit with the press and music fans. 

Now Kontiki, the “lost classic” has been out of print for years.  I (Robert Harrison) have been busy readying a re-release of Kontiki which will include an entire second disc of bonus tracks. Not just a few out-takes but an entire discs worth of extras because when I dug back into the archives I found some real treasure… I do think there is something undeniably magical about Kontiki. It was a special moment in time we landed on back there. All of us from Cotton Mather would love more people to hear it. So let’s get Kontiki in the hands of the people and help Cotton Mather at long last shed the mantle of rock cult obscurity. 

The money we raise will pay for mixing an 11 track bonus CD (the first one will remain as it was), mastering, new artwork with extensive liner notes about the making of Kontiki and the history of Cotton Mather, manufacturing, publicity and if we go past the target a good ways- a vinyl pressing. Then of course if somebody goes for the grand prize….. look out!

Video: “She’s Only Cool

I know that anyone who has heard “My Before And After“, “She’s Only Cool“, “Vegetable Row“, “Password” and “Spin My Wheels” likely had their mind blown much like I did. Hell, even Oasis knew enough to pluck these guys out of Austin, Texas and get them onto stages in England. Musically, vocally, sonically…Kontiki is a first-rate classic.

I was resigned to the fact that I had their small but vital output to savor, but the thought of more Cotton Mather to enjoy has me jumping for joy. (Not literally…the needle will jump. But damned close!) So while you continue to enjoy the work of this group in their next bands (Future Clouds and Radar, Stockton, Farrah) let’s do the right thing for Cotton Mather, shall we?

Sign up for this project on Kickstarter. (The video is hilarious!)

Listen to clips on Amazon.

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The Posies: Blood/Candy

Another 2010 Bridesmaid…very good, but missed the Top 25…

The Posies have been around so long and have broken up and reformed so often that it’s probably bad form to call Blood/Candy a comeback album. Isn’t that what we were supposed to call Every Kind of Light? But with their solo and Big Star efforts now put aside, Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer decided to revisit their oldest muse – each other – and reanimate a collaboration that has served them since they were teenagers. Camping out in the studio to live and breathe the music, the core of Blood/Candy was created in ten days and then tinkered with via various studios, diverse instrumentation and vocal collaborators (Kay Hanley, Hugh Cornwell).

The results, although not quite derivative, are that many of the songs have a familiarity that can’t be avoided when a band’s songwriters have such widespread collaborations. The structure of the fragmented “Licenses To Hide”, oddly enough, sounds like a Billy Joel epic from The Stranger, albeit sung by angels. And while it is not a well-known song, those who know The Odds’ “Love of Minds” will do a spit-take upon hearing the refrain and rhythm of “Cleopatra Street”.

Video: “For The Ashes

“For The Ashes” lets them frame the verses in Crosby/Nash harmonies before morphing into spacey falsettos, just as “Accidental Architecture” uses those same vocal icons to launch a wordy, jazzy melody into an infectious chorus. And staying on Nash point, the boys had to be listening to old Hollies records before penning the album’s best hook in “She’s Coming Down Again”. Likewise, Beach Boys fans will no doubt be struck by the vocal coda of “Enewetak”.

The songwriting is strong, and as one would expect, the vocals and harmonies are exquisite; both Stringfellow and Auer are in top form. There will be those who still point at Dear 23 or Frosting On The Beater as the apex of their career, but slotting this one in close proximity would not be a mistake. Whether or not this is a cohesive effort from a newly focused band or a collection of tracks assembled for the occasional statement, Blood/Candy is – as the title suggests – a showcase for both their delicate fragility and their powerful pop presence.

***

This review was originally printed in Bucketful of Brains.

The Posies on MySpace

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T.G.I.F. – Ten 2010 Bridesmaids

Putting together a “best of” list is hard for me, because there’s so much out there to enjoy every year and many albums appeal to me in different ways. Lists are subjective, of course (despite what Rolling Stone may insist) and try as I might I can’t put six pounds of stuff into a five pound bag. So while I consider the Top Ten an honor, the near misses – Bridesmaids, as I’ve been calling them – are no slouches either.

To beat the tired drum again, anyone who is claiming that there is no great music being made simply isn’t trying hard enough to find it. I’m out there beating the bushes constantly and I can’t keep up with it; certainly even a cursory attempt to widen one’s horizons would be richly rewarded (there’s a bunch of links at right for starters). And as always I welcome the emails from readers that start “have you heard…” as they often open new doors for me as well.

So this week, in no particular order, let me present Ten 2010 Bridesmaids – albums that didn’t make the Top Ten but weren’t far off. When I post the full “best of” lists in January these will certainly be there, so give a listen and be rewarded! (Amazon links included – many on sale right now!)

And on this TGIF Friday I’m especially thankful.

01) Peter Wolf – Midnight Souveniers…Like fine wine, Wolf just gets better and better with age. A far cry from his kinetic J. Geils frontman image, Pete has quietly entered the small plateau of artists perpetuating organic, honest music for the ages. A musical archivist flexing his talents.

02) Smash Palace – 7…If the cover art’s nod to Revolver doesn’t tip you off, let me. Smash Palace is in the upper tier of powerpop bands with traces of Cheap Trick, The Beatles, Tom Petty and Badfinger in its mix but a fresh and original sound. Solid songwriting, incredible vocals, songs that are pure ear candy. Radio’s loss; your gain.

03) Paul Thorn – Pimps and Preachers…”If I could be a tear/rolling down your cheek/and died on your lips/my life would be complete”. Holy shit. I’m new to Thorn’s world, but this is a gritty brew of John Hiatt, Warren Zevon, Bob Seger and Alejandro Escovedo. I am on board now.

04) The Master Plan – Maximum Respect…You were so sure that you didn’t get a record from The Del Lords, The Fleshtones or The Dictators in 2010. Well, you were wrong! The collaborative side project is back for a second album and as you might expect, it kicks ass! If “BBQ” doesn’t get you hopping, you are a zombie.

05) Teenage Fanclub – Shadows…Back after a five-year break and sounding like it was a day. Fannies know what to expect, for the uninitiated, think a sophisticated pop blend of XTC, Big Star and some classic California sunny pop (Beach Boys, CSN). A little subdued for some, I prefer to call it atmospheric.

06) New Pornographers – Together…The phrase “greater than the sum of its parts” sets the bar very high when talking about this collaborative unit, but damned if I don’t find every one of their albums irresistible. Any band that can make whistling as cool as a snapping snare drum is okay by me.

07) Graham Parker – Imaginary Television…Another guy who just defies the calendar and continues to pump out great songs; he’s a better singer, songwriter and guitar player now than in his popular prime. Also be sure to pick up his live set with The Figgs.

08) Deadstring Brothers – Sao Paulo…Imagine the Gram Parsons / Keith Richards sessions in the Stones’ golden era were invaded by Ronnie Wood from The Faces. Wine flowed. Tape rolled. Absolute gospel – rock – country blues bliss.

09) The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever…Just missed…I thought the personnel change would impair their urgency and their passion but they are as good as ever. The first five songs are absolutely perfect and the album would be worth it if it ended there.

10) Nick Curran – Reform School Girl…I wasn’t a follower of Curran but damned if he isn’t channeling Little Richard, Phil Spector, Fats Domino, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The Sonics on this album. This is a party whittled down and stuffed in a jewel case; besides – how can you not buy an album with a title like this one?

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #8

If the overt visual homage to Jesus Of Cool didn’t tip you off that there’s some Nick Lowe influence here, one spin through this excellent debut disc will clearly prove that Edward O’Connell is a product of his influences. Had he Photoshopped Elvis Costello’s head on those shoulders instead of a paper bag, you’d have his two major ingredients clearly identified.

Pop guy influenced by Nick Lowe? Maybe that’s why I immediately thought of Walter Clevenger when I heard Our Little Secret. If like me you are pining for Clevenger to release another album, I implore you to grab this one, for it pushes all the same buttons (I bet you could play “With This Ring” to a Clevenger fan and fool him).

What separates O’Connell from most artists with melodic chops is strong lyrical songwriting. Gotta figure that a law student knows his way around a lexicon, and like Elvis Costello, there’s a lot going on in and between the lines. I was gobsmacked at just how good this album is wall-to-wall. The lyrical wordplay of “Acres of Diamonds”, “Happy Black” and “We Will Bury You” is at a level I would expect from a vet like John Hiatt. How could I never have even heard his name before when he drops this as his debut?

Jangly, chiming guitars. Massive hooks and choruses. Superior vocals. Organic warmth. A sound that recalls (in addition to the aforementioned geniuses) Tom Petty, The Byrds, Richard X. Heyman, Teenage Fanclub, Michael Carpenter and their ilk. As fulfilling on the tenth play as the first. Why he has a bag over his head like The Unknown Comic is beyond me; this is clearly a major pop release that deserves widespread attention.

Let’s not make this (ahem) Our Little Secret – spread the word far and wide. We just might have a major pop star on our hands.

Listen to clips at Amazon or CD BABY

Edward O’Connell website

Edward O’Connell on MySpace

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