Tag Archives: Brian Wilson

Happy Birthday, Brian Wilson

What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

I can add what a friend of mine said, because he succinctly captured the essence of wonder in a couple of short sentences.

For his son’s 20th birthday, Gary Frenay bought him tickets to see Brian Wilson on Brian’s 69th birthday, a concert in Ottawa, Canada. The band opened the show by having the audience sing “Happy Birthday” to Brian. Per Gary, “what followed was nearly three hours of music by an incredibly talented band, who lovingly supported their aging, but still – at times – quite youthful-sounding, leader. As in all of Brian’s shows over the last 9 years, the show is split into two parts. The first is a greatest hits set, with many rarities and album tracks throw in for the ever-faithful. Then after a break, the second set is his latest album in its entirety. In recent years, these have included Pet Sounds, Smile and That Lucky Old Sun

This tour, the album is Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin. While that isn’t my favorite of his recent releases, it really shone as a concert piece, especially with the addition of the string section throughout. Also, Brian was noticeably in better voice for the Gershwin set. Not sure if that’s a matter of warming up, or of the material being in a better range for him. Really sounded strong in the second set.”

You must understand that Gary is a huge fan of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney; his own songs have honed that perfect intersection of their two majestic bands – arguably the best Britain and America had to offer in the 60s. But as we all watch our musical heroes and icons age, we must stop and realize just how incredible it is to see what we’re seeing forty years after the magic. Especially when at some point we all hoped we’d die before we got old.
 
So in the midst of wonderment – let alone the priceless experience of sharing something like that with your child – Gary stopped to smell the roses.
 
Not sure if I’ll get the chance again to see him perform, but really, how amazing is it that he’s still out there, doing dates all over the world, at his age, and with his well-publicized troubled past?”
 
How true. Savor the moments, rock fans. Get off your ass and don’t take anything for granted. Get thee to a club or theatre and live the music.
 
Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…”
 

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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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Twenty Years Without Doc Pomus…

But not without his songs.

Timeless. Classic. Doc died twenty years ago today but his legacy is vibrant.

Still fresh now, and just the quality of the material can lift an average band onto a new level. Hell, just a cursory glance at Wikipedia lists “A Teenager in Love”; “Save The Last Dance For Me”; “Hushabye”; “This Magic Moment”; “Turn Me Loose”; “Sweets For My Sweet”; “Go Jimmy Go”; “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”; “Little Sister”; “Suspicion”; “Surrender”; “Viva Las Vegas”; “(Marie’s the Name of) His Latest Flame”…just a smattering of the hits he wrote with Mort Shuman, Phil Spector and others.

That would have sealed the deal right there. But later in his life he was collaborating with people like Dr. John and Willy DeVille, giving life to stories about people on the fringe – the loners, the night walkers, characters that would fill a film noir casting session.

I love tribute albums and Till The Night Is Gone is one of my favorites. Of course, when your songs are covered by Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Dion, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Solomon Burke, John Hiatt, Shawn Colvin, Aaron Neville, Lou Reed, The Band, B. B. King, Los Lobos and Rosanne Cash…it’s hard to make a bad album.

Doc lives on in my heart and mind. But mostly in my ears.



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Brian Wilson, Almost

We continue this weekend’s tribute to the yeoman work done by Angelo and crew at Power Pop Criminals with a tip of the cap to Pocket Symphonies To God, the Brian Wilsonesque collection of tunes that feature a whiff of Pet Sounds and/or Smile in their sound.

Once again we’re talking about the influence of Brian Wilson’s music in original songs from artists who obviously have a little sand in their music. One of the best examples of this concept I have ever heard is Pet Soul by Splitsville, a perfect marriage of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney. In real life those two giants were trying to one-up each other, and the Beatles and Beach Boys albums of that period served and volleyed. As you can tell by the name, Splitsville’s hybrid musical opus blended Pet Sounds and Rubber Soul; their brilliant “The Love Song of B. Douglas Wilson” is one of the tracks included here.

(Note: Pet Soul was a free four-track EP first distributed at Poptopia in the late 90’s; you can purchase The Complete Pet Soul and I highly recommend that you do!)

Your Wilsonesque journey will feature appearances by such wonderful artists as Dave Edmunds, Ken Stringfellow, The Wondermints, Jeffrey Foskett, The Paley Brothers, The Nines, Pugwash and The Squires of The Subterrain, household names to most powerpop fans. The music, like the artists, is eclectic and wonderful, and hopefully you will find a new favorite artist or two and support them by buying their music.

So just click here and you’re on your way to Wilsonesque magic!

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Under The Radar: Pseudonym

A rose by any other name is…well, whatever that other name is.

Paul Desjarlais understands the “sounds like” game, it’s a necessary tool to try to describe an aural experience with the written word. He describes his sound as a mix of Elvis Costello, David Bowie, XTC, Beatles, Big Star, Pixies, Matthew Sweet, Flaming Lips, mid-60’s top 40, late-60’s psychedelia, early 70’s pop, late-70’s punk rock…and Billy Joel.

I don’t know if it’s that widely accessible, but it is worth a listen. Here’s an old review…

Maybe Paul Desjarlais got tired of people butchering his last name, or maybe he’s a closet PIL fan. Regardless, Pseudonym’s Pig Tail World is an intriguing record full of certified indie pop and obtuse lyrics. “Accident Prone” won me over immediately with layers of great vocals and a huge hook; it wasn’t until I paid closer attention to the lyrics that I realized what a dark song it really is. Ditto “Kill Me In The Rain” (although John Gage wrote the words here, you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart from Paul’s lyrics).

Although he sometimes gets close to what one might consider a mainstream pop song, the lyrics usually give it away. Consider “Ray Gun”, which could fit easily on any Lets Active record, and even features one of the few guitar solos on the album. “Ice And Snow” is presented as sparse but bouncy pop, and later, as the hidden track, in a fuller, more Brian Wilson-ish version. “Crashing” is one of my favorites; I enjoy the way he slaps the words against the grain of the melody to challenge the song’s pulse, yet effortlessly draws it all together in the chorus before unfurling it again.

And he does play with you a little; “Half Eyes” is a seventy-nine second track recorded backwards, and “Broccoli Blues” cannot be taken seriously when “tennis shoes” and the song’s title anchor the rhyme of a verse. Recorded “in a living room, an attic and a basement“, Pig Tail World may not be for every casual listener but will bring great pleasure with those for a taste for something a little different.

Hear some clips from Pig Tail World at CD BABY

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New Album! Magic Kids

A breath of fresh air, yet from a time capsule.

The minute I heard sleigh bells on “Phone”, the opening cut from Memphis, I thought I had put the wrong disc in the player and wondered how the Phil Spector Christmas Album had gotten in the wrong jewel case. But before that thought even completed, I realized that this irresistible sunshine pop song was not one of those 60s holiday treats, but instead a blend of Brian Wilson, 60s AM radio and contemporary pop artists like Mike Viola and Mark Bacino.

And after Memphis dazzled me with a 1-2-3 peppering of bouncy pop nuggets, the Wilson DNA bleeds into a soul falsetto; the string-laden, handclap-propelled “Hideout”. “Summer” follows, and five songs into an eleven track album you’ve forgotten all about them paying tribute, and realize that Memphis simply used Wilson and Spector for a springboard. The arrangements are intricate, the melodies are infectious, and even when the lyrics might fall a little short, the vocals from Bennett Foster sell them anyway.

But if you do want that perfect mix of Phil and Brian, look no further than “Hey Boy”, complete with call-and-response vocals and…yes, those sleigh bells.

Video: “Hey Boy

I don’t know where these guys came from, nor do I know where they’re headed, but Memphis is certainly going to be on my list of the Best Albums of 2010. Summertime record my ass, this will be worthwhile any time you decide to reach for it.

Listen to clips at Amazon 

 
 

 

Made for summer, but good all year long.

 

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R.I.P. Solomon Burke

We lost Solomon Burke yesterday.

Although he had been making records since the 60s, he never reached that huge level of fame that many of his gospel-to-pop contemporaries like Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke did, perhaps because he never had a crossover Top 20 hit to spread the word. But he ruled the R&B charts when recording for Atlantic Records in the 60s, and his music has been covered by everyone from The Rolling Stones to The Blues Brothers . No wonder producer Jerry Wexler called him “the best soul singer of all time”.

Eight years ago, several of those major names who were influenced by his music collaborated and submitted songs for a comeback album with Joe Henry producing.  With Burke singing his own songs as well as tracks from Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Nick Lowe, Brian Wilson, Van Morrison and Elvis CostelloDon’t Give Up On Me took home the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Besides spreading the word to a whole new generation, it also woke up a lot of people who didn’t realize he had simply been cruising under their radar.

Burke was still actively touring the globe at seventy. He will be missed.

A message from his family from the website:

Early this morning, Sunday, October 10, 2010, the legendary King of Rock & Soul, Solomon Burke, our father, passed away due to natural causes. Solomon had just arrived at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands for a sold out show at Paradiso with Dutch band, De Dijk.  He was on his way to spread his message of love as he loved to do.

This is a time of great sorrow for our entire family.  We truly appreciate all of the support and well wishes from his friends and fans.  Although our hearts and lives will never be the same, his love, life and music will continue to live within us forever.  As our family grieves during this time of mourning, thank you for respecting our privacy.

Video: “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love”

Solomon Burke website

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