Tag Archives: Pat DiNizio

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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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #5

You have to have brass balls to release a double album in an era when the record industry is imploding upon itself. But psych-garage popsters The Grip Weeds decided to go all in with Strange Change Machine, and from the critical and popular response, it’s clear that they made the right decision.

Blessed with multiple singers and songwriters, the Grip Weeds have enjoyed a long career at the forefront of the modern pop movement. The sound from brothers Kurt and Rick Reil (on drums and guitar) with bassist Kristen Pinell and guitarist Michael Kelly is exponential thanks to all of the band members being multi-instrumentalists, but I must single out Kurt’s powerhouse drumming – he should be mentioned alongside Clem Burke and other greats. Many bands are just individuals orbiting each other; The Grip Weeds are truly a four-headed organism.

Based upon the title alone it should come as no surprise that several of the tracks on Strange Change Machine will teleport you to groovier times. “Coming and Going” and “Twister” are Sgt. Pepper-ish while “Don’t You Believe It” and “Truth Is Hard To Take” deserve to be pumping full blast out of jukeboxes and radios. “Close To The Sun” (my favorite) features harmonies that lift you up within the song, while “Be Here Now” is delicate and mesmerizingly melodic.

Although this is not a derivative effort, an artist whose name did pop into my head was Todd Rundgren, mostly for the overall feel and the complexity of the arrangements (“Speed Of Life” and the title track could be slid into a Utopia mix with good results). Ironically the album includes a straight-ahead cover of “Hello It’s Me”, which although well performed seemed an odd choice for mid-album placement. It broke the mood for me; perhaps it would have been better as a hidden bonus track?

Video: “Speed Of Life

I was fortunate enough to see them play two months ago at Pat DiNizio’s annual Halloween Bash; their set was heavily laced with the new cuts. I am pleased to report that these songs are just as dynamic in a live setting, reinforcing my decision that this is one of the best albums of the year and probably their most consistent effort. At twenty-four tracks long it’s not perfect, but the hits vastly outweigh the misses. And for great music contained on one album, the ranking should answer your question.

The album is deep, and repeated listenings only bring out more nuances. This is also one of the best engineered and produced albums I have heard in a long time – the clarity and presence is in audio Technicolor on everything from a car stereo to a full system. I recommend setting aside 80 minutes with a good pair of headphones for maximum bliss…and then repeat as necessary.

Listen to clips on Amazon

The Grip Weeds on MySpace

Outstanding in their field.

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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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Having A Wild Weekend

A very fab foursome

No, not the Dave Clark Five movie. But even more fun.

Jumped in the car with my friend Bill and drove through Pennsyltucky to the wild plains of Northern New Jersey to visit pop bands in their natural habitat. Enjoyed Pat DiNizio’s Fifth Annual Halloween Party and Smithereens Fan Fest, which this year featured a long day of great music and all the food and drink you could ingest (which is a good thing, since you can’t get a beer in Jersey after midnight if your life depended on it!).

“It’s my fervent wish and desire to help you feel better for a few hours,” DiNizio said. “All of us need to get away from the six-foot plasma television, shut off our phones and start talking to each other with our breaths, smiles and laughing, and enjoy some rock ‘n’ roll music.”

Mission accomplished, sir.

I’ll tag the full magazine feature I’m writing when it posts online. For now let’s just say that I had more than my moneys’ worth by the time The Scotch Plainsmen (DiNizio fronting a band of eight wonderful musicians) finished playing their Beatles set, which was Let It Be in its entirety –  including dialogue from the movie and cuts from the sessions. Two other bands had already performed, and a wonderful steak and pasta dinner accompanied by open bar was in full swing. Had that been it, I would have been satisfied that the drive and expense was well worth it.

But then The Grip Weeds blasted an explosive set featuring their new album (and Best of 2010 contender) Strange Change Machine.

And then the inimitable Graham Parker – voice, guitar playing and wit all in top form – played a career-spanning yet eclectic set that brought the packed house to its feet.

And then The Smithereens – sounding fresh and vital – played a selction of their hits, a medley from their Tommy tribute album and a brand new song from the upcoming record before inviting Parker back onstage to recreate one of my favorite collaborative musical moments – “Behind The Wall of Sleep“. The evening was capped by a jam session with various group members jumping in and out.

Eight hours of great fun. Met one of the DJs from KFOG in San Francisco who was headed home to get his station manager to add a couple of these artists to their playlist. Ran into Reigning Sound organist Dave Amels who tipped me to the new project he and Greg Cartwright worked on, The Parting Gifts. And then Bill and I laughed our asses off all the way home listening to great comedy albums, none funnier than Jim Jefferies.

Pete Townsend was wrong. I’m glad I’m still here.

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NEW ALBUM! Smithereens: Tommy

More than Only A Memory

More than Only A Memory

I must preface the comments about the latest Smithereens homage by telling you that no, they haven’t abandoned the concept of original music. Matter of fact, there’s a new studio album due out later this year and reportedly the band is rehearsing the twelve tracks as I type this. (Really – call them and ask!).

But it’s a fair question to ask about a group whose most recent recorded output is the pure musical homage of Meet The Smithereens and B-Sides The Beatles (a very clever title…come on, say it out loud…). If you discount the Christmas album, the last true Smithereens album was released ten years ago – and that was after a five year hiatus.

Count me among those who are thrilled to hear The Smithereens record anything, so the fact that there is both a Tommy album now and a new original album later is twice the good news.

Forty years afterwards, it still sounds great

Forty years afterwards, it still sounds great

Because The Smithereens are a bonafide powerpop band that grew from the seeds of The Beatles, The Kinks and The Who, tackling Tommy is as symbiotic a pairing as their takes on the Fab Four.  While Pat DiNizio can’t replicate the sheer brute force of Roger Daltrey, who can? The lead vocals are solid, as expected, and most of the selected tracks here feature great harmonies, where the trio of Pat, guitarist Jim Babjak and drummer Dennis Diken pull off the Daltrey and Townshend parts exceptionally well.

There are no musical interpretations here – the thirteen tracks are performed in a straightforward manner but with an obvious familiarity and respect. I’m not certain why a tribute to the classic rock opera isn’t a complete libretto, but then again “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” and “Cousin Kevin” don’t lend themselves to powerpop as much as the fat chords of “Amazing Journey”, “I’m Free” and “Sensation”. They did pick a solid set of tracks, although I miss “1921”.

No press release comes without a dose of hyperbole, and this one claims that after a few listens you might never listen to any of The Who’s versions of Tommy the same way again. Well…that might be stretching it a bit. Forty years later, I still get goosebumps when the coda of “See Me Feel Me” kicks in. But I can promise you that this is no watery attempt to swing a few familiar songs your way for the ease of being recognisable. One listen to Diken’s muscular workout during the second half of “Amazing Journey” should be proof enough of that – I guarantee you, Keith Moon is tipping his top hat from God’s bar. (Or from a car submerged in God’s pool…)

Kudos to fellow Jersey boy Kurt Reil (The Grip Weeds) for tasty engineering and production, along with his work on keyboards; bass chores are handled by Severo Jornacion (Cockeyed Ghost, among others). And although I don’t have the full booklet yet, I must also give a shout-out to William Stout for the excellent cover art.

The Smithereens Play Tommy will be available May 5th from E1 Entertainment (formerly Koch Records).

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