Tag Archives: Elvis Costello

T.G.I.F. – Ten More For Jimmy Mac

Had I not already had tickets and an entourage headed to Buffalo to see Elvis Costello – a magical show, by the way – I would have made a (Johnny) bee line to Detroit to catch the album release party for Jim McCarty. The legendary guitarist (Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Cactus, The Rockets, The Hell Drivers) was hosting a star-studded show at Callahan’s, the Mecca I drove ten hours to for my last Detroit pilgrimage.

McCarty is often asked to jump onstage with bands who come through the area, and this latest album features collaborations with Duke Robillard, Jimmy Thackery, Johnny A, John Nemeth, Jason Ricci, The Millionaires and long-time partner in crime, Johnny “Bee” Badanjek. My friend Kevin thinks we should sell our houses and move to Auburn Hills. Not his worst idea.

I couldn’t be at this show. But thanks to Al Gore’s Internet, I was able to enjoy the magic after the fact. So too, now, can you as this week’s TGIF features Ten More For Jimmy Mac. If this doesn’t convince you that Jim McCarty is one of the greatest guitarists in rock’n’roll history…you are Tommy.

(01) – Prisoner of Love

(02) – Tell Me What’s The Reason

(03) – Loan Me A Dime

(04) – Knock On Wood

(05) – Good Morning Little Schoolgirl

Buy Jim McCarty and Friends at Amazon

(06) – Black Night

(07) – Goin’ Down

(08) – Oh, Well

(09) – LaGrange

(10) – Can’t You See

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Elvis (Costello) Is King

As I walk through
this wicked world
searching for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself
is all hope gone?
Is there only pain and hatred and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside, there’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny about peace love and understanding?

Nick Lowe wrote it, and in the 1970s, to boot. But it’s Elvis’ song. And it should be our goddamned National Anthem.

My friend Bill has seen Elvis Costello live about twenty times over the years. After witnessing his three-hour performance at Rochester’s Jazz Festival (yes, I know…) earlier this month, he proclaimed it the finest show he had ever seen Elvis perform…ever. I do not take comments like that from Bill lightly; he’s not prone to hyperbole.

I missed that show; by the time I was available to get seats there were a few nosebleeders left for $95 (plus Ticketbastard charges), and $250 seemed a bit steep. Fortunately I discovered that two short weeks later he was performing in a beautiful outdoor setting at the Buffalo Harbor…for ten dollars. That’s like time-travel prices, folks! It’s also a magnificent place to see a show; I saw Crowded House there last summer.

There were two openers as the sun set over the water. A game Mark Norris and the Backpeddlers did their best and sported some catchy songs, albeit monitor troubles were likely the cause of some flat vocals. Then Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers came on – great band instrumentally, great concept and even very entertaining on occasion…like when lead singer Shilpa didn’t howl like a banshee impaled on a fiery pole.

With curfew, I knew Elvis now had only two hours, not three. But damned if he didn’t hit the stage en fuegofive straight classics without a breath between them – and wrung every second of time for all it was worth without so much as a momentary lapse of energy. I wish every young band who think they are the shit could watch and learn how to create, sustain and leverage momentum. This was a master class.

The band was phenomenal. Consider that had Bruce Thomas not left the fold for personal reasons, this was the same quartet that changed lives thirty-five years ago. But Davey Faragher – veteran of Cracker, John Hiatt and others – has been the perfect foil for Elvis both musically and vocally for years. And while the other two might not sit atop people’s lists of best drummer and best keyboard player, I cannot think of anyone else manning those chairs better.

Pete Thomas is still a dynamo of hands and feet, as steadily adept and pulsating as he was when The Attractions were at their peak. Unassuming but rock solid, he and Faragher are telepathic.

And Steve Nieve – is that the greatest rock’n’roll name ever? Not only was his mad scientist act on banks of keyboards as good as ever, but I have never seen anyone play a theremin with such impeccable pitch and control.

Elvis is no spring chicken, but someone forgot to tell him. His vocals were superb, whether artfully crooning “Shipbuilding” or spitting out the fast paced venom of “Mystery Dance” and “Radio Radio“. He paced the stage restlessly, played guitar god whenever the Gibsons were strapped around his neck, and damned if he didn’t do a little dancing, too.

The set list tilted heavily to the early years, but some of the obvious crowd-pleasers (“Oliver’s Army”, “No Action“) were skipped in favor of deeper dives like “Green Shirt” and “Clubland“. He even threw in spirited covers of  “Heart Of The City” and “Substitute” pleasing the old guard among us.

He did finally pull out “Alison“, and as couples hugged and swayed and the crowd sang along I couldn’t help wondering if he felt compelled to play it just because it was such a touchstone. But as he headed for the home stretch, the band’s volume ebbed and flowed as he stepped to the microphone and started to weave in other artist’s lyrics as if they were simply bonus verses. Hank Williams. Jimi Hendrix. Smokey Robinson. Not covering the songs, mind you – weaving them into his own melody and chord changes, and each fit like hand in glove. With dignity and subtlety the man was giving a goddamned rock history lesson from the pulpit, and we were renewed in our faith.

And as he wailed about infidelity to draw the song to its conclusion, and thousands of people already on their feet tried to stand even taller in appreciation, he lit off the cherrybomb that has become his signature song, and we were all one explosive beacon in one of rock’s finest moments.

So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony, sweet harmony?

Right here, Elvis. Forever and always.

Elvis Costello

The Buffalo set list will eventually be here.

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MusiCares: Neil Young

Got to see the video of the show tonight, and I feel bad being disappointed, but that’s the truth.

Let’s start by separating the wheat from the chaff – MusiCares  is a first-rate organization, and I have nothing but respect for any artists that donate their time to help raise funds for charity. During his acceptance speech as Person of the Year, Young stated that it was the biggest crowd to date. I believe Barbara Streisand topped the total this year – it’s for charity, that’s a good thing, people! Neil’s philanthropy is well-known, and between his recorded legacy and his charitable efforts, I’m frankly surprised it took that long to honor him with the award.

But since the DVD was being heavily marketed during the broadcast, all bets are off. The performances are what they were, and that is – sad to say – particularly uninspired. With a wealth of amazing material to choose from, sometimes it was a bad match of artist and song, sometimes just an underwhelming performance. And surprisingly, two of the most banal came from a pair of legendary artists. Jackson Browne and James Taylor breezed through their songs as if they did not comprehend the lyrical content. Taylor, in particular, was innocuous despite the support of an all-star chorus of background singers.

People my age will remember the double take they did when Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle, USMC) first opened his mouth and sang. I get the same feeling when Josh Groban’s voice comes out of Josh Groban’s head. Technically, a great voice, but eerily mismatched to the material for my tastes. And while it’s always nice to see Elton John perform – and I’m really thankful that he is making Leon Russell relevant again, I wish he shared more of “Helpless” with Neko Case and Sheryl Crow, who were reduced to background vocals (and phenomenal eye candy).

 Many of the other performers – Lady Antebellum, John Mellencamp, Elvis Costello, CSN – were good, not great, while others (Dave Matthews, Dierks Bentley) were immediate fast-forward moments. What did work wonders were John Fogerty (with Keith Urban) bashing out “Rockin’ In The Free World” and Wilco’s amazing rendition of “Broken Arrow“, an absolute jaw-dropper. Kudos also to Ben Harper’s rousing “Ohio“, a song he seemed totally invested in that one would think he was a Kent State alumni (no – I’m not checking).

If you pick up this DVD, your money (or some portion thereof) will go to a good cause, and there are a couple of strong performances worthy of multiple repeats. I’m just saying that you, too, are being charitable… to some of the performers if you skip over their tracks.

Get yer Neil on here.

Wilco hit the bulls-eye with "Broken Arrow"

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Solo Saviors

I love to have my ass kicked by a great rock band as well as the next guy. But I can also appreciate that a true songwriter and performer can be just as incredible with just a piano or guitar in a solo show. Maybe it’s the economic necessity, maybe it’s the desire to retain total control, maybe both. But more and more artists are hitting the road acoustically, and usually in an intimate enough setting where the artist-audience connection is truly electric.

Some started out this way, of course, and the bands came later. But many of them discovered their innate ability to command the stage with stories and humor as well as the gift of their songwriting. I’ve been fortunate enough to see magic over the years.

And yes, it was seeing Todd Snider on Thursday night that prompted this week’s TGIF, so here are Ten Solo Saviors – artists playing in your small club – or maybe even your living room – who you should be making a pilgrimage to see. Have a safe and happy weekend…

(01) – Todd Snider

(02) – Graham Parker

(03) – Nick Lowe

(04) – Pat DiNizio

(05) – Peter Case

(06) – Elvis Costello

(07) – Ray Davies

(08) – Ian Hunter

(09) – Todd Rundgren

(10) – Ian McLagan

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New Album! Rob Skane

Well, new as of last September, anyway. I only have two ears.

Rob Skane, an upstate New York pop songwriter, has assembled a really nice acoustic based collection of three-minute pop songs. Weaving your way through you will probably draw the conclusion that Rob is a fan of Paul Westerberg (“Army of Individuality”), Elvis Costello (“You Preach Peace” – A/B that puppy with “Radio Radio”), Graham Parker (“Ballad of a Small Man”), Paul Collins (“I Waited”) and Nick Lowe (“In My Room”). The whole album has that loose, casual feel of  Marshall Crenshaw. Hell, that’s all from the good end of my record collection.

Ironically released on LoFi Records, Skane’s songs are primarily fueled by chunky acoustic guitar, simple but infectious melodies and choruses. His lead vocals, while not stellar, are well-suited to the songs; if you can appreciate Jesse Malin, Jonathan Richman, Eytan Mirsky, Michael Shelley or Ben Vaughn this is right up your alley. There are no explosive moments; guitar solos are brief, playing is tight without being flashy.

Video: “I Waited

While many of the songs are three chord wonders and can be a bit repetitive (especially the first two), most of them really grew on me.  (With one exception – I have no idea what’s going on with the hidden track, but if the purpose is to remind you to get up and take the CD out of the player, mission accomplished.) It would be almost impossible to hear “Girl Next Door” or  “I Waited” and not drum on the dashboard, and “You Preach Peace” deserves much wider airplay.

Give Phantom Power Trip a listen; I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Visit the Rob Skane website.

Buy at CD Baby or Amazon.

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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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T.G.I.F. – Ten Absent Artists

I hope they're not lost...

As I’m going back and revisiting the year, I’m reminded once again of those artists I hoped to hear from who didn’t pop up and release an album. Some of them might just be in the normal development cycle, but for others it’s an unusual gap between efforts. I know they won’t all go on forever, but there are many who are still creating at a high level and I selfishly want more from them. I am the customer, after all, and rumor has it that I’m always right.

It’s not too much to ask, is it? Jason and The Scorchers reformed and released an absolute gemDwight Twilley came out with a brand new album this year after a half-decade of vault outtakes. Robert Klein has a new comedy release scheduled for January. I’m not going all Tinkerbell on you here, but things can happen. (Clapping hands is optional.)

So here are Ten Absent Artists – I hope each of them read this and kick it into high gear. I promise to be appreciative of the effort, and I’m hopeful that my anticipation will be replaced by a huge smile.

01) Walter Clevenger – He’s been more centered on his production work than recording. Maybe he’s busy, maybe it’s the frustration of releasing wonderful albums that failed to launch him into the mainstream. But I wish he’d keep punching that wall until it falls. Stop breaking my Paper Heart.

02) Tonio K – A repeat submission, I’m sure, and I know he’s out there because his work shows up on other people’s albums. I wish he’d just saddle up and form a band – Nashville, LA, whatever – and record his own material again. Don’t that make you want to jump right up and start to dance?

03) Fountains of Wayne – There have been a few collaborations with others, from songwriting for Russell Brand to the apparently one-off Tinted Windows project. We need your pop genius, now. Don’t give up.

04) Joe Jackson – You came out in that same “angry man” wave as Graham Parker, Elvis Costello and John Hiatt. Guess who is the only one not releasing new material? Pretty soon now, you know you’re gonna make a comeback.

05) Richard Belzer – you might think this is an odd choice, but Belz was a great stand up comic long before he made a living playing Detective John Munch. Call me a rooster on acid, but i think since he’s been popping up on celebrity roasts, he might have an album in the can.

Waiting to be rocked.

06) The Montgomery Cliffs – Man, I miss this band so bad. Great songs, great presence, big sound and a killer sense of humor. That band, she was good! Hope they reunite or Joey Salvia will have to continue to play for Republicans.

07) Artful Dodger – A lot of pop bands have reunited in the past few years, some for the cash, some out of curiosity, some purely out of the respect for their music and their fans. Artful Dodger never got the credit they deserved the first time around, and their 2006 show in Cleveland proved they still had it. Will bands who copped their style be jealous? I say there’s honor among the thieves.

08) The Faces Rod is back to spewing out collections of pop standards, but Ron, Mac and Kenney hooked up with Glen Matlock and Mick Hucknall to play a series of shows and apparently not only have more dates in 2011 but some new material to record. Rod passed, so let him go!  Seize the day, mates! And this time stay with me.

09) Love NutAndy Bopp moved from Love Nut to Myracle Brah to solo and collaborative efforts, but the pure pop power of Baltimucho needs to be revived. You could just change anything that you want, ’cause that’s alright.

10) The Kinks – Yes, I know there’s another Ray Davies album on the way. Yes, I know he and Dave have sibling issues. I hoped Pete Quaife‘s passing would have woken them up to how tentative life is, since Ray’s bullet hole didn’t do it. Come on, boys…give the people what they want.

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