Tag Archives: Not Lame

Blast From The Past: Liquor Giants

I guess writing about the closing of Not Lame sent me to the record racks for consolation. Grabbing a Liquor Giants disc is never a bad thing to do. Meaning to select Every Other Day At A Time, I accidentally grabbed the next disc in the rack, Something Special For The Kids. An audio Freudian slip? The latter disc was originally a series of hidden bonus tracks on some editions of EODAAT and was not released on its own until later that year.

When I wrote the review for TransAction Magazine in 1998, I couldn’t focus on the bonus tracks; it wasn’t a sure thing that they’d see the light of day. But it’s okay now! Hell, I love tributes and cover tunes, and Something Special For The Kids is loaded with them. Jeff Beck, The Move, The Turtles, Connie Francis (!), Dusty Springfield, Jeff Lynne…I’m sure they did it for fun and I’m glad they did.

And Every Other Day At A Time is no slouch either.

It’s almost Christmas! Go grab both of them.

Ward Dotson and company are at it again with perhaps their strongest effort to date.  Calling to mind The Byrds, The Plimsouls, Big Star, The Kinks and several other similar influences, their Replacements-like “sloppy but tight” sound worms its way into your heart very quickly.

Although “What’s The New Mofo” won’t get airplay (thanks to the well-enunciated long version of “mofo“), ringing guitars and heartfelt harmonies songs like “Dearest Darling” “Kentucky Lounge” and “Caroline” deserve serious air time. The promo copy includes eleven covers as bonus tracks (to be released as a separate disc later this year) and is capped by a tremendous cover of Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging”.

Everybody loves a clown

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R.I.P. Not Lame Recordings

The mark of quality

This is a very sad day for music lovers everywhere.

After more than fifteen years of bringing the best pop music bands from around the globe to the doorstep of pop music lovers, Bruce Brodeen has announced that he will close the doors, both real and virtual, at Not Lame Recordings. Both a label and a distributor, Not Lame was synonymous with powerpop music and its related archetypes, and the shop for any serious powerpop fan.

Video: Bruce’s closing message

I was first turned on to Not Lame by Gail McGear of The Poptarts who I knew from my Syracuse days. She was over the moon about discovering a company that seemed to have been designed just for her, featuring a treasure trove of powerpop bands both familiar and obscure. I quickly found that she was not exaggerating one bit, and like her, I told others that shared the same passion for music. What made it special was that the guy who ran it was as big of a pop geek as I was. His enthusiastic blurbs about the various bands communicated that same joy that their music did. The phrase extremely highly recommended became a permanent part of the lexicon.

I first met Bruce in person over a decade ago during a business trip to Colorado. We had a casual online relationship from emailing back and forth a few times, and getting together for a beer turned into a lengthy conversation about music and an invitation to tour Not Lame headquarters (translation – hanging out at his house for a little bit). If the wall to wall stacks of CDs didn’t tip you off, his energy and enthusiasm made it clear that here was a man who found the perfect situation. And for a long time, despite the hard work it was never work to Bruce – I knew he felt blessed to be in the position he was in.

From that day forward, Bruce and I were simpatico.

What started out as a simple paper catalogue morphed into a magazine-sized brochure and eventually a fully functional website with bios, sound clips and recommendations. I would have to type all night to list the bands I discovered through Bruce’s company, and I have had several musicians tell me over the years that the exposure they got from distributing through Not Lame not only made them more money but helped build a fanbase that enabled them to continue to tour and record. Not Lame released brand new music on its own label but also issued lost archives from classic regional bands and coordinated the cream of the powerpop stable for brilliant tribute albums. Their box sets were first-rate productions that rivalled the output from the major labels. Not Lame, although small in size, was a player.

Read about Not Lame’s history.

But as anyone who has a pulse knows, the music industry all but collapsed over the past decade, impacting small businesses even harder than the big conglomerates. Over the years there were many times where others would have pulled the plug and walked away. Piracy through high-speed disc copying and illegal downloads became both commonplace and easy to do. Tough economic times kept money in wallets – if there was any money to keep – and events that would bring attention to these bands scaled down. Competition arose, of course, and the ability for bands to host and facilitate their own transactions through social media and technological advances caused many to not see a need for a vendor in the relationship. All of these things led to dwindling sales and less frequent purchases. (I know this firsthand, as my own orders trickled to once, maybe twice, each year.)

But Bruce felt a loyalty to both his customers and the bands that were counting on him. A good businessman, Bruce is also a true die-hard fan of the music, and that emotional investment probably kept him in the game a lot longer than had he been a CEO reading a balance sheet with antipathy. So he made adjustments, moving away from expensive and risky label projects and focusing on distribution and community cultivation. But even through his best efforts, there just wasn’t enough of a consistent, dependable market to maintain the business, let alone grow it.

So now it is time to move on. Not Lame will close, but Bruce will channel his passion and business smarts into a new project. He’s already helped lauch the Rock and Roll Tribe, and you can click here to sign up for information about Pop Geek Heaven, and get ready to start that brand new journey in 2011. And as long as Bruce is involved, I know it will be a worthwhile adventure.

I’m all in.

Still time to place some final Not Lame orders

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New Album! Oranjuly

Oranjuly is the name for the one-man whirlwind named Brian King, whose obvious love of The Beach Boys, Jellyfish and other harmony-intensive pop bands bleeds through his music. Not certain if the choice of name combines his favorite fruit with his favorite month, but the band name isn’t important – the music under the banner is. And that’s what I’m touting tonight.

You want me to drop more names? Various songs recall Todd Rundgren, Badfinger, Weezer, Van Duren, Big Star and fill-in-your-pop-hero here. And of course, those Beach Boys. Listen to the keyboards and bass line of the opening track and tell me you don’t think of both “Good Vibrations” and “Wouldn’t It be Nice”, even though his track “Her Camera” sounds like neither. And when those a capella harmony vocals come in on the bridge? Holy crap.

My two favorite songs are the delicate “At Any Time” (think Bleu or Mike Viola) and the bouncy “I Could Break Your Heart” – especially that irresistable chorus couplet. But it’s deeper than earworm hooks; even with the pop-single lengths of three minutes plus, King flashes some instrumental chops, too. “Mrs. G” wraps up the coda with rollicking piano and tasty guitar leads, but even a stripped down song like “South Carolina” floats its hook over acoustic guitar and piano…and bass/drum support right out of the McCartney/Starr playbook.

I remember when a solo album meant just that – a talented performer was playing all the instruments and singing all the parts. King is very impressive here, filling the voids with strings and keyboards and horns and absolutely nailing the vocals. Very, very strong album – I’ll certainly remember this at year-end time. 

Check out the Oranjuly website.

Buy the album from Not Lame.

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Under The Radar: Dwight Twilley

In closing yesterday’s post about Dwight Twilley’s Kickstarter campaign for Green Blimp, I stated that despite the indifference of pop radio and the music industry in general, for veteran artists with a core following, every new album is another chance.

That led me to look back to what I wrote when Dwight’s last album of new material, 47 Moons, was released in 2005. Sure enough, I had the same tempered enthusiasm and cockeyed optimism. But I openly questioned the marketing and distribution plan for that album…and apparently rightfully so.

This time around, Twilley seems committed to a more conventional promotional campaign including radio station visits and shows in key markets (in addition to his viral online strategy). Hell, I don’t care what it takes – I just hope people get the opportunity to discover the album is out there and then listen to his music. Let the chips fall where they may at that point, which is all that an artist can really ask for.

Here’s my 2005 review of 47 Moons

I’ve been waiting years and several releases to be able to utter these words: DWIGHT TWILLEY IS BACK! I’ve enjoyed the past few collections and reissues and even the newer material, but somehow it was all a little bit lacking. Not anymore.

Twilley has long since abandoned the three-minute pop formula he used to dazzle us with. Songs now drift into the fifth minute with regularity, and the title track clocks in at close to seven. It’s as if he’s realized that the current radio sandbox doesn’t have room for him anyway, so why bother? Instead, he seems to have put his industry bitterness to the side and focused upon making some music from his heart. Great move Dwight: almost as good as making certain Bill Pitcock IV is a central part of the effort.

The results may not knock you out on a quick listen: there’s no “I’m On Fire” to be had here – but spin this two or three times and you cannot help but be won over. It’s not a perfect record; “To Wait Is To Waste” is bloated at six minutes long, an idea that never gets off the ground. And those in search of more electrifying material might want to skip through the midtempo “King Of The Mountain” or the synthetic “Chandra.” However, “Ice Captain” and the beautiful title track prove he can shine in that pace as well. Add five standout tracks that will captivate any classic Twilley fan – “Chance Of A Lifetime,” “Walkin’ On Water,” “Runaway With You,” “Better Watch Out” and the infectious “Jackie Naked In The Window” – and you can see why this record is destined for my Best of 2005 list next December.

Dwight Twilley has always had one of the great pop voices, and his harmonies with Phil Seymour still send chills up my spine. But even in the old days he could stack his own vocals with great results, and it’s great to hear him singing with passion again. And three cheers for Bill Pitcock, the little-known guitar whiz who added so much charm and texture to the classic Twilley catalogue. He’s in classic form bouncing notes off Twilley’s rockabilly-hiccup vocals in “Flippin” or playfully ripping off his own licks in “Runaway With You.” Still inventive on guitar and bass, still criminally unknown.

The real mystery to 47 Moons is the marketing and distribution. Digital Musicworks is a label dedicated to “distributing and promoting artists’ music exclusively through digital music stores.” That’s a nice credo, but an unproven business model for legacy artists who have a wider and older fanbase. Sure, there are those who will be happy to buy a track or even the album in a digital download format. But cutting out the physical market when the digital age is embryonic is a major, major mistake. And if you are, then why is it available as a standard CD on Amazon?

And if Amazon can sell it, why is it not yet available at online retailers like Not Lame who have supported his past efforts and cater to his audience, let alone independent record stores where his fans would likely shop? What kind of “promoting” and “distribution” is that? I had to scrounge to find a copy of the record and only knew about it because I periodically do a web-search for information about Twilley. I was also surprised to find a Christmas EP. If I’m struggling as a proactive fan, what about the casual audience who needs to be alerted? You’re a label with one of the brightest lights in power-pop history in your hands and you’re not making a big deal out of his new album?

This reminds me of a horror story from the past. Dwight Twilley’s career missed capitalizing on a meteoric start when his label (Shelter) couldn’t get Sincerely into stores despite massive airplay for the single (“I’m On Fire”) and a strong promotional buzz across the media landscape. By the time they finally did connect with the buying public, it was too late – the momentum was gone and so were the sales and dollars. I sure hope DMI isn’t about to make history repeat with the same colossal blunder.

Listen to clips of 47 Moons at Amazon

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Under The Radar: Icecream Hands

Although the band name is also a slang term for the aftermath of a self-pleasuring act, here the creamy goodness of Icecream Hands only refers to sweet music. As the title Memory Lane Traffic Jam implies, there’s a wealth of classic powerpop influences wedged together here. The band is okay with that as long as it’s a “B”Beatles, Beach Boys, Byrds, Big Star, etc.

I discovered the band around the time of this, their second album, four years after their debut. I was glad to see that these Aussie popsters recently fired up the bus again, releasing a new album in 2007 after a layoff of a few years. From their page:

After laying low for a few years, raising families and pursuing solo projects, the Icecream Hands have recently found a new home in the form of Melbourne label Dust Devil Music and have just released their fifth studio album – The Good China. With songs galore and a new spring in their step, their legion of fans worldwide can expect nothing more than an album full of glittering, guitar soaked, harmony laden rock’n roll jewels; fit to be worn by Australia’s regal kings of power pop.

Sounds good to me; that’s twice now that these guys slippedUnder The Radar. Here was my initial quick take on them from TransAction Magazine…

Formerly The Mad Turks, these Aussie popsters call to mind all the usual suspects like Shoes and Badfinger, but on their slower tunes like “Embarassment Head” and “Early Morning Frost” they are also reminiscent of more commercial pop fare like Semisonic and The Gin Blossoms. I much prefer them when they showcase their harmonies on rocking songs like “Here We Go Round Now” and “Supermarket Scene” where their Posies-like energy can really catch fire.

Those who have Bomp’s Pop On Top collection will recognize “Bye”, an excellent JellyfishQueen moment that is actually track thirteen but was inadvertently left off the liner notes (ironically it’s the best song on that disc by a mile). Three “real” bonus tracks round out a solid effort.

Icecream Hands website

Icecream Hands on MySpace

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Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

 

Prediction-wise, that is. But not happy about it. 

I had a bad feeling that America was going to reject Laurie Kilmartin and James Adomian after last week’s set, and unfortunately those were the first two severed. When Jonathan Thymius and Maronzio Vance came out (what is it with finishing the eliminations with a duo?) I felt sure I was three-for-three even though if I were voting I would have sent Vance packing along with Rachel Feinstein and Felipe Esparza

But somehow, despite a strange and awkward set, Thymius survived. Did America really want to punish Vance for blowing his punch line last week? Because I don’t get how they can dig deep enough to enjoy Thymius’ surreal act yet not see the charm in Adomian’s equally obtuse direction. And god knows what will happen next week, because Thymius had an even stranger set with a really weak close…although he did slip a teabagging reference past the censors. 

Teabagging the toilet water?

I do not understand the fascination with Rachel Feinstein as a stand-up comic. She’s very attractive and leggy and is comfortable on stage and does great voices…but there are no jokes! I agree with some bloggers who suggest a career in voice-over work; she could be a versatile player in the animated world as long as someone else is writing the material. All she did last night was another extended ethnic rant

Myq Kaplan continued to riff strong material (although familiar to anyone who has his album) and once again he tagged a prior comic’s set to good results. And Tommy Johnagin continues to kill, peppering punch lines and adding that little bit extra, like pointing out his sweat stain and mocking the judges. I thought Mike DeStefano was more miss than hit this time around, although the “does it clean shame” line was solid. 

Roy Wood Jr. continues to be consistently good – never great – but always enough to get a few laughs. And while I’m not a Felipe Esparza fan, this was probably his best set; the crowd loves him. I’m starting to believe that it’s going to come down to the ethnic comic and the comic who can’t avoid ethnic schtick. That would be sad, but we are talking about a show that crowned Dat Phan as the funniest comedian. 

The best parts of the show continue to be Craig Robinson’s one-liners coming in or out of commercials. The judges are back, but why? They don’t criticize anyone – everyone is great and their sets are solid? It’s insulting to watch. I enjoy Greg Giraldo’s quips and Andy Kindler is reason enough to watch the show. And I’ve seen Natasha Leggero be funny, but it’s yet to happen on this program. But the bigger issue is that America is voting and they aren’t judging anything anymore – so why the pretense? 

Not certain how many go home next week but I predict the next two voted home are Thymius and Kaplan. Sadly, America will get what it deserves

— 

"Sitting in the back of a car..."

R.I.P. bass player Andy Hummel, leaving only drummer Jody Stephens with us from the late great Big Star (no, I don’t count Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow). I don’t really have to make any special effort to pull a Big Star album out of the racks as they’ve been in rotation for…oh, almost forty years

Hummel had been battling cancer for the last two years. My friend (and Not Lame honcho) Bruce Brodeen posted that he had seen Andy at SXSW in March, where despite his illness he flew in from halfway across the world to participate in the tribute. Bruce said his playing was “a blessing“, and I guess if you’re going to strap in for a last gig that would not be a bad one to go out on. 

Blurt and EW announcements.

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New Album! The Shazam

Meteor? Or "meatier"?

Meteor? Or "meatier"?

The Shazam is back with their first studio album in several years!

Still mining the cave of The Who, The Move, Cheap Trick and similar crunchy power pop rockers, the speakers are rattling the moment the virtual needle drops on the opening cut “So Awesome”.

Fans of the band will no doubt be delighted by the sonic assault that is most of Meteor. I still think their self-titled debut and Godspeed The Shazam are their best work, but there are certainly moments here that shine brightly. Your mileage may vary. Read my full review at BLURT.

The Shazam

Sorta video for “So Awesome”

The Shazam website.

The Shazam on MySpace.

Not Lame Recordings.

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