Tag Archives: Loudon Wainwright III

Yep Roc Sale!

Yep Roc is one of my favorite labels – an eclectic bland of Americana, folk and pop artists who get promoted with care. It’s not your typical stable, and those who toil behind the scenes must love working there.

So when Yep Roc throws down a sale like this one, I pay attention. Now through August 1st, you can get over 80 CD’s for just $5 each and more than 20 LP’s for only $10 while supplies last.

Artists include Nick Lowe, Marah, John Doe, The Sadies, Todd Snider, The Baseball Project, Ian Hunter, Loudon Wainwright III, Paul Weller, Robbie Fulks, The Apples In Stereo, The Fleshtones…come on, do I really have to list everyone?

Click here and load up!

Yes, they come with covers...

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Todd Snider Is An Alright Guy

There are few things better than going out to a club to see a live show that winds up dazzling you, but one of them is doing that with a group of long-time friends. So yeah, last night I was blessed.

I’ve been a fan of Todd Snider ever since I first heard the hilarious “Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues“, an epic comic ramble that simultaneously took a good-natured swipe at Seattle’s overrated music scene and announced the arrival of this master storyteller and musician. But I’ve never had the opportunity to see him weave his magic in person until last night, when he not only held the crowd at the German House Theatre in the palm of his hand, he occasionally slipped us into his pocket. I swear at one point he juggled us, too. Stuffed with a cross-section of his catalogue, the set list was at once immensely satisfying (every song a gem) and mildly frustrating (couldn’t I hear about two dozen of the others?).

After enduring a stupefying opening act that can only be described as a folkie channeling Tony Clifton, Todd Snider shuffled onto the stage to the theme from Sanford And Son. Barefoot – his moonshine hat tipped in honor of the crowd – Snider took control from the first note and didn’t let go. No light show, no staging – hell, I don’t think he even switched guitars – Snider won the crowd over with a combination of charm, humor and songwriting chops that can stand toe-to-toe with anyone. It would not be sacrilegious to drop the names of some of the masters because even Steve Goodman, John Prine and Loudon Wainwright III would have been on their feet last evening.

This quote from Jerry Jeff Walker probably says it best: “He has found a way to take his feelings and observations and turn them into songs that can get an audience…he won’t quit til he gets the audience and he always gets the audience.”

Damn right. The songs were magnificent, the stories he told to set up the songs were incredible, and even the faux chicken dance he would occasionally pull out to return the crowd’s favor was perfection. I could have listened to his songs all night, even if he never told a story. I could have listened to him tell stories all night even if he never played a note. I don’t know which one he’s more skilled at, but I’m thankful he hasn’t made up his mind yet.

And the funny thing was despite the spontaneous standing ovations, despite the singalongs and the shout-outs and the requests, I think Snider might have had an even better time last night than we did. I guess when you struggle for a while and then find your zone and know it, it’s magical. Imagine the reward of creating art and seeing people walking past flash and fashion and lowest common denominator entertainment to show up at your door. Todd Snider reaps that reward every night.

I didn’t know my town had it in ’em. I guess they’re alright guys, too.

Go get Todd Snider Live: The Storyteller and Near Truths and Hotel Rooms right now, that will give you a sniff of what to expect. And then don’t miss this genius when he comes your way. Hell, get in your car and go find him.

Todd Snider’s website

Eighteen Minutes

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New Album! Smash Fashion

Glam punk powerpop alert!

I’ll admit it – I love everything about glam powerpop. The fat guitar chords, the thrashing drums, the foot-stomping beat and the huge hooks are the antithesis of subtle, but there’s a time and place for everything. I love Loudon Wainwright III but I don’t bounce down the street blasting “Your Mother And I” out of the car stereo, windows down, rear-view mirror shaking from the pulse of the woofers. Nope, that’s what glam and powerpop is for.

I missed Smash Fashion’s 2003 release (and have since made up for it) and almost did the same thing with 2010’s Don’t Pet The Sweaty Things. (Thank god for late night “sounds like” tangents on Amazon and CD Baby!) I wasn’t sure what to expect from a group photo that had one guy thrusting a Flying V guitar neck at me while sporting an eyepatch, but at the risk of hearing an album full of Dr. Hook covers I dove in.

Video: “She Goes Down

Like most powerpop bands, you can play spot the influence. For example:

  • Baby Dancer” and “Blonde Raccoon” are so reminiscent of Dwight Twilley I had to check the credits
  • Hard On Love” is as KISS-like as its title
  • Confessions of a Opium Eater” is the bastard child of “Auf Weidersehen
  • Proper Way To Eat A Muffin” is T.Rex incarnate
  • Sad Sweet Sick and Beautiful” has Mick Ronson’s fingerprints all over it 
  • All Systems Go” is like a mashup of Matthew Sweet and “If I Needed Someone
  • Mott The Hoople, The Sweet, Cheap Trick…and so on.

The title track is as close as you’ll get to a glitter ballad. There are also a couple of covers – the muscle pop rendition of Abba’sDoes Your Mother Know” is really good but “Benny And The Jets” was probably better left alone. Still, this impressive collection of glammy chestnuts is well worth getting and playing loud. These guys know exactly what they’re doing, and they sound like they’re having a blast in the process.

Life is short, stop taking it so seriously. Blast this mofo out a window.

Smash Fashion’s website and MySpace page

Listen/buy at CD BABY.

Smash Fashiion - worth the trip.

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Werewolves of London Again

 

Dum-dum…dum-dum…dum-dum-dum-dum. 

Eight notes. Eight notes that were so laughingly simple that the creators almost didn’t make it into a song, let alone release it, and yet thirty years later it’s the signature song for one of the greatest songwriters of the last quarter century and an instant crowd motivating anthem. 

And someone who has never touched a keyboard can figure out how to play the melody in…ohh…thirty seconds. And someone who has ony heard the song once – once – instantly remembers it for life. 

And if that doesn’t define a hit record, catching lightning in a bottle, not only grabbing the brass ring but sticking your head in it and yelling ah-whooooo at the top of your lungs? Well…then nothing does. 

The late great Warren Zevon wrote far better songs, and I’m sure there were nights where playing “Werewolves of London” and having it get the biggest cheer was not unlike Loudon Wainwright III having to pull “Dead Skunk” out of the bag for twenty years until he had enough of a genuine cult following to risk leaving it by the wayside. 

Not that the song wasn’t filled with charm and wit. Who else would toss off alliteration like “little old lady got mutilated late last night” as an aside just for those who would appreciate the skill? But as I heard the song today for what probably was the billionth time, that wasn’t what I yelled out of the car window at the top of my lungs. 

Nope. I yelled “ah whooooo, Werewolves of London….ah whoooooo

Of course, the master did it best. God damn, I miss you, Warren Zevon

Hearing this song today made me realize how it still knocks me out and no matter what I’m doing, it makes me stop and pay attention. This Friday’s TGIF will feature ten other songs that make you snap out of a coma and start singing along…if not engage in significantly worse behavior. 

Yeah, I mean you

His hair was perfect...

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Under The Radar: Franklin Bruno

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Lo-fi. Indie. Minimalist. Sparse. DIY. 

No, no, no.you’re thinking Elephant 6 or Lou Barlow or Elliot Smith. Let me try again. 

Pensive. Ironic. Wry. Subtle. Original. 

Ahh, now we have it. Franklin Bruno is a witty writer whose stripped down songs toss the focus onto his sterling wordplay where it belongs. You will have to sail some obtuse melodies and offbeat vocals on occasion, but it’s a journey worth taking.** 

As you know, I sometimes hit the music library and pull out a title that’s either a great old memory, a lesser-known artist, or sometimes both. And then I write a new essay and perhaps link to an old one and suggest you give a listen. Often times I’m pretty clear about what happened to the artist since then; often they’re pretty well known or perhaps joined a different group that attained success. 

But sometimes I have no idea. Such is the case with Franklin Bruno, who at the time I felt drew small comparisons to witty songwriters like Randy Newman, Martin Mull and Loudon Wainwright III. So after a listen to Kiss Without Makeup I was curious to find out. 

Looks like he continued to release more music on Absolute Kosher. There’s another album that came out not long afterwards and a collection of songs from over the next decade. 

And I guess my Elvis Costello reference in my original review bore some merit. Bruno wrote about Armed Forces for the 33 1/3 (Thirty-Three and a Third) book series. According to these Amazon reviews, it’s much like his music you either like it or you don’t. 

He’s a fellow music scribe, working for the Village Voice and Salon, among others. (Since we underpaid hooligans don’t have union meetings or annual conventions, it’s not always a given that our paths cross.) 

He went on to get his doctorate from UCLA and he is (or was) the visiting Professor of Philosophy at Bard College? Sweet job, although I know he must be freezing hs ass off walking across the quad with that wind whipping off the Hudson. Perhaps someday they will show prospective students some of his work as they tour the campus. (When I made the rounds I was baited with projects by Chevy Chase and Donald Fagen.) 

So Franklin Bruno has continued firmly down the path of arts and academia, which is a good thing. I’ll have to circle back and check out some of the music I missed, and I recommend that you at least give Kiss Without Makeup a try. 

** Continue reading that decade old review at PopMatters

His page at Absolute Kosher.

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Blast From The Past: LW3

That’s right, babies, Martha and Rufus have a dad. (In fact, Rufus was a tit man).

There are many stellar records in Loudon Wainwright‘s career, most are (sadly) radio-proof cult items among the converted. But he’s still hitting the mark as he enters his fifth decade of recording and performing; his energy and wit remain sharp and incisive as ever.

Here’s something I wrote eleven years ago for Consumable Online, when Little Ship came out. Not much has changed since then; new songs, same skill.

Don't bring an oar to a diesel fight

Don't bring an oar to a diesel fight

Sometimes I wish every record came with a lyric sheet, because many people flat out mumble and it would be nice to know what they are really singing.  Then there are times when I’m glad they don’t, because it makes me listen to the words as they’re being sung and spoken. I’d never turn to the last page of a novel to see the ending, and I like to savor the words of a good song in much the same way. Which is just my longwinded way of saying that master songwriter and storyteller Loudon Wainwright III makes me laugh, sing along, think and get choked up along with him, and it’s better when I don’t know what’s coming next. Like the whistling solo on the island flavored title track. Oops…..

As a vocalist, Wainwright has gotten much better over the years. His phrasing on delicate songs like “Four Mirrors” and “Primrose Hill” is just one example of the difference between a good singer and a pedestrian vocalist. Radio will no doubt try to feature louder, uptempo songs like “Mr. Ambivalent” or “I Can’t Stand Myself”, and they are very good songs. But where his louder, faster songs tend to be nudge and wink stories, it’s his softer, slower moments that let him weave his magic better. Besides the poignant “Primrose Hill”, other strong moments include “The Birthday Present II” and Shawn Colvin’s duet vocal on “Our Own War”.

Wainwright is a certified wise ass and one of the best live performers you will ever see. At his shows, crowds laugh uproariously and sing along in unison, but when he pulls out one of his pensive, dysfunctional family themed gems (and he has a truckload), the crowd is quiet with equal parts interest and awe. It’s hard to recapture those two polarities on a studio record, but alongside the cock-strut of “Breakfast In Bed” you have a song like “OGM” (outgoing message), where Loudon picks a lone guitar as he sings. It’s a beautiful but sad song, the  low self esteem yin to the unbridled frustration yang of The Replacements’ “Answering Machine”.

Maybe my favorite moment is the hysterical “Being A Dad”. As usual, the record is littered with great lyrics, but this one is wall-to-wall great (“it’s as hard as it looks/you gotta read ’em dumb books/and you end up despising Walt Disney”). The over-the-top performance comes complete with chanting chorus, and then right when he has you laughing your ass off, he slips in the somber, final couplet  (“Being a Dad can make you feel sad / Like you’re the insignificant other / Yeah right from the start they break your heart / In the end every kid wants his mother…”)

For a funny guy, it’s obvious that he has had family issues wear some of the tread off his tires over the years, but as usual, his catharsis is our gain.  Loudon fans will be thrilled, and those willing to sit and give this an hour of their time to Little Ship will realize why those in the know stopped talking about “Dead Skunk” a long time ago.

lw3

Don’t just take my word for it.

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