Tag Archives: Rolling Stone

T.G.I.F. – Ten 2010 Bridesmaids

Putting together a “best of” list is hard for me, because there’s so much out there to enjoy every year and many albums appeal to me in different ways. Lists are subjective, of course (despite what Rolling Stone may insist) and try as I might I can’t put six pounds of stuff into a five pound bag. So while I consider the Top Ten an honor, the near misses – Bridesmaids, as I’ve been calling them – are no slouches either.

To beat the tired drum again, anyone who is claiming that there is no great music being made simply isn’t trying hard enough to find it. I’m out there beating the bushes constantly and I can’t keep up with it; certainly even a cursory attempt to widen one’s horizons would be richly rewarded (there’s a bunch of links at right for starters). And as always I welcome the emails from readers that start “have you heard…” as they often open new doors for me as well.

So this week, in no particular order, let me present Ten 2010 Bridesmaids – albums that didn’t make the Top Ten but weren’t far off. When I post the full “best of” lists in January these will certainly be there, so give a listen and be rewarded! (Amazon links included – many on sale right now!)

And on this TGIF Friday I’m especially thankful.

01) Peter Wolf – Midnight Souveniers…Like fine wine, Wolf just gets better and better with age. A far cry from his kinetic J. Geils frontman image, Pete has quietly entered the small plateau of artists perpetuating organic, honest music for the ages. A musical archivist flexing his talents.

02) Smash Palace – 7…If the cover art’s nod to Revolver doesn’t tip you off, let me. Smash Palace is in the upper tier of powerpop bands with traces of Cheap Trick, The Beatles, Tom Petty and Badfinger in its mix but a fresh and original sound. Solid songwriting, incredible vocals, songs that are pure ear candy. Radio’s loss; your gain.

03) Paul Thorn – Pimps and Preachers…”If I could be a tear/rolling down your cheek/and died on your lips/my life would be complete”. Holy shit. I’m new to Thorn’s world, but this is a gritty brew of John Hiatt, Warren Zevon, Bob Seger and Alejandro Escovedo. I am on board now.

04) The Master Plan – Maximum Respect…You were so sure that you didn’t get a record from The Del Lords, The Fleshtones or The Dictators in 2010. Well, you were wrong! The collaborative side project is back for a second album and as you might expect, it kicks ass! If “BBQ” doesn’t get you hopping, you are a zombie.

05) Teenage Fanclub – Shadows…Back after a five-year break and sounding like it was a day. Fannies know what to expect, for the uninitiated, think a sophisticated pop blend of XTC, Big Star and some classic California sunny pop (Beach Boys, CSN). A little subdued for some, I prefer to call it atmospheric.

06) New Pornographers – Together…The phrase “greater than the sum of its parts” sets the bar very high when talking about this collaborative unit, but damned if I don’t find every one of their albums irresistible. Any band that can make whistling as cool as a snapping snare drum is okay by me.

07) Graham Parker – Imaginary Television…Another guy who just defies the calendar and continues to pump out great songs; he’s a better singer, songwriter and guitar player now than in his popular prime. Also be sure to pick up his live set with The Figgs.

08) Deadstring Brothers – Sao Paulo…Imagine the Gram Parsons / Keith Richards sessions in the Stones’ golden era were invaded by Ronnie Wood from The Faces. Wine flowed. Tape rolled. Absolute gospel – rock – country blues bliss.

09) The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever…Just missed…I thought the personnel change would impair their urgency and their passion but they are as good as ever. The first five songs are absolutely perfect and the album would be worth it if it ended there.

10) Nick Curran – Reform School Girl…I wasn’t a follower of Curran but damned if he isn’t channeling Little Richard, Phil Spector, Fats Domino, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The Sonics on this album. This is a party whittled down and stuffed in a jewel case; besides – how can you not buy an album with a title like this one?

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Rolling Stone, 43 Years Later

What a long strange trip it’s been.

The once indispensible music magazine – a hip, underground periodical brimming with the coolest in pop culture – has long since lost its relevance. Like a middle-aged man trying to elicit the wink of a teenage eye, Rolling Stone 2010 is just all kinds of wrong. And like its namesake, the no-longer Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World, it just keeps chugging along, scooping up whatever cash people are willing to give it and outliving the annual predictions of its demise.

But back in its Wonder Years, it was a formidable production. Its masthead boasted names like Hunter S. Thompson, Robert Christgau, Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus and Cameron Crowe just to name a few. Its cover was usually a prescient bulls-eye, a perfectly timed cultural statement. The news was newsworthy. The reviews had meat to them. There was a sense of validation for this rag-tag new movement a generation was absorbing. It was a time when young people truly thought they could change the world, and this was the diary that would document it.

But time is a bitch.

In fairness, most magazines don’t survive their first year. Rolling Stone just turned forty-three. To do that, some would say they have not so much reinvented themself as they have sold out. Over the years, controversial articles have been replaced by controversy – manipulation of review ratings, gossip and handshake marketing in place of news. Fashion coverage. Perfume cards. Star worship instead of beating the bushes to get a jump on the next big thing. A distinct lack of rock’n’roll – hell, a distinct lack of understanding of what rock’n’roll is. And those inane, insipid “100 Greatest” lists that will send even the calmest reader off the rooftop.

Jann Wenner, like the magazine, is just a rich guy playing favorites and exercising power. You don’t get into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame without his approval, although that seems to mean less every year. And the annual awards bestowed upon artists for the “hot this” and the “best that” are mere resume fodder that don’t carry the career-changing clout they once did.

That's not rock'n'roll, Jann.

I say all this with a caveat – were I on staff at Rolling Stone for the past several years I’d probably be neck-deep in the same myopic viewpoint and filled with a delusional sense of self-importance. I might occasionally admit to myself that the best years are in the rear-view but I’d probably believe that I could help turn it around with my opinions and my votes and my influence. There but for the grace of Jann go I.

But instead I’m just a guy who subscribed long after the magazine’s atomic half-life passed ingloriously, hoping that one day the spark would re-ignite and this longtime survivor would become relevant again. Every year or two I’d pony up that check even though I was more often stacking them in a pile unread…a far cry from the day when getting an issue in the mail meant stopping everything and reading it cover to cover. It kept getting cheaper and cheaper, almost a giveaway, and I kept renewing out of loyalty more than need.

And then one day I came to the harsh conclusion that even two years for $9.99 wasn’t worth it, and I cut the cord. Strangely, even after four decades, I didn’t feel a thing.

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The paper magazine might be thinner than Nicole Ritchie’s wrists, but the magic of Al Gore’s Internet has given Rolling Stone a new way to survive, and there are no stinky perfume cards. Feel free to wallow in it at the official website.

Nope - still not rock'n'roll.

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Blast From The Past – The BoDeans

The BoDeans released Mr. Sad Clown this year, and for all I know it fell on deaf ears like most of their work. But the fact that they’re still out there plugging and making great music after thirty years is a welcome piece of news.

I remember seeing them play a local club just after the crest of an early hit, and I thought we must have just missed a fire drill. Surely a band who even got plaudits from Rolling Stone and MTV could draw a decent crowd, but this one was so tiny that my friends and I barely outnumbered the band. No matter – they played a great set. Great bands always do.

As you can tell from this thirteen year old review of Blend, they were getting the same underwhelming response then that they are now. I’m not pretending they’re the second coming, but they are a good band that is well worth delving into if you’re looking for music that is atmospheric, straightforward, rocking, laid back, lyrical and guttural.

Yep, those are contradictions. Life is contradictions. Enjoy.

They’re still here, ten years later, creating solid, soulful records that should be making AAA radio programmers do cartwheels. So why is it that their only glimpse of the “big time” has come from the use of their song “Closer To Free” as the anthem from the television show Party Of Five? And unlike The Rembrandts, they can’t even maximize their opportunity – after all, the show is on FOX, not NBC.

No matter – despite lackluster sales, club tours and sporadic praise, Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann have forged ahead, mining the vein they know best. Somehow two vocalists who individually would be unspectacular twist their voices into a well-oiled and irresistible harmony; Llanas’ rasp smoothed out by Neuman’s silk. Think Everly Brothers with a Jason And The Scorchers edge, or a Springsteen lead with a Little Steven who can hang with him all the way through.

Blend incorporates New Orleans rhythms and instrumentation to fill out its sound. “Heart Of A Miracle” could have been plucked off a Willy DeVille record (speaking of under-appreciated artists), and “Red Roses” is that slow dance with a lover on a second floor balcony. When they rock, like “Count On Me”, it’s more akin to the sound of the Long Ryders or Mellencamp than 1-4-5 rock (again thanks to brushes and toms for a backbeat instead of the Big Drum Sound). Other standouts include “Hurt By Love” and “Hey Pretty Girl”, a song that Springsteen would have killed to record for The River.

Someone must like them – they still have a record deal in an age where record execs are preaching corporate liposuction. And they’re still making very good music, despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a radio format ready to embrace them. Fans will be pleased to have another release that stays true to the course. Those new to the BoDeans will find yet another quality band toiling in the shadows. Looks like a win-win situation.

The BoDeans website

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He Put The BOMP…

No statue? This will have to do.

No statue? This will have to do.

I’m often asked what makes Bomp different. One answer is that where most labels concentrate on a small roster, I’ve always preferred to give a lot of bands the chance to be heard…I guess I’d most like Bomp to be remembered as a label utterly dedicated to the people who care most about music: the fans and collectors.”

Five years ago we lost one of our greatest soldiers, Greg Shaw. Most pop music writers have read him if not been influenced by him; many saw an opportunity to take the leap from fan to participant because of his magazine and his labels. Shaw began by writing fan letters to magazines and was soon writing reviews for everyone from Rolling Stone to Creem.  Along the way his journey led to managing bands, working at major labels (assembling compilations, of course) and running a record shop, but legions of powerpop fans point to a 1978 issue of Bomp Magazine as the rallying cry that launched a movement.

“Punk had already had its day by 1978, when Bomp Magazine ran a cover story proposing Powerpop: a hybrid style with the power and guts of punk, but drawing on a pop song tradition with wider popular appeal. I had in mind bands like The Who and The Easybeats, (hell, even The Sex Pistols fit my definition!) but much to my chagrin, the term was snapped up by legions of limp, second-rate bands hoping the majors would see them as a safe alternative to punk. I took a lot of heat for starting the whole business…”

Bomp Powerpop cover

But he should also get credit for what did go right. Many great bands rose from the masses of skinny tie wannabes, and some (including Shoes, 20/20, Paul Collins, The Plimsouls, and The Romantics) started at Bomp before landing at major labels. Writers including Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Mike Saunders and R. Meltzer passed through his masthead. That Bomp didn’t become a haven for great bands like Sire Records is a shame, but Shaw was unwilling to compromise his vision just to play on a bigger stage.

In the ’80s retro-garage was bursting out thanks to bands like The Fuzztones, The Lyres and The Chesterfield Kings; Shaw’s Voxx label attracted a ton of groups. He launched a series of compilations called Pebbles (inspired by Nuggets) featuring some of the rarest original ’60s punk records from his personal collection. He picked up Iggy Pop’s first solo album, Kill City (“when nobody else would touch it”) and issued a series of Stooges outtakes under the title of The Iguana Chronicles. In the ’90s he aligned with Alive Naturalsound Records which brought great bands like Black Keys, Bloody Hollies and Soledad Brothers into the fold, and he continued to discover and nurture new bands that tweaked his antennae until his death from heart failure. He was only 55.

I think the essence of Greg Shaw can be found in this quote:

“I think it comes down to the fact that Bomp is an outgrowth of my love for music. Where many would view it as a marginal business that barely breaks even, I prefer to see it as a hobby that’s profitable enough to allow me to build my life around it.

Contemplating the impact Greg Shaw had upon the industry, it just makes me sadder when I think about politics and greed making charlatans wealthy and famous, while true visionaries are sometimes just cult heroes. But fame is cheap commodity and wealth dissipates. Legacy is the coin that matters, and Shaw’s legacy continues to inspire. 

The BOMP website

Tributes from other writers

The bookSaving The World One Record at a Time

The date of October 19th also claimed guitarist Glen Buxton of the original Alice Cooper Band, who died in 1997; he was only 49.

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Magnet (Magazine) – Opposites Don’t Attract

I used to really enjoy reading Magnet, one of the few magazines that really seemed to go out on a limb and find some new bands to trumpet. Their year-end take on important groups and albums – like any such list – was an enjoyable read, chuckles be damned, and I’d always scribble a name or two to follow up on.

But then I remember stopping whatever I was doing when Rolling Stone arrived in the mailbox so I could devour it cover to cover. Do that these days and you’ll get (1) paper cuts from the eleven free-floating subscription cards, (2) nausea from the perfume and cologne samples and (3) even more nausea from the words found buried between the fashion pages. But I digress…we’re talking Magnet today.

I get their teaser emails announcing what’s in the upcoming issue. Normally I glaze past the bullets without anything reaching out and catching my eye; another Sleater-Kinney feature or perhaps the newest adventures of the bass player who used to roadie for Walt Mink but now is producing six bands out of his Astrovan…I get it, he’s really, really indie. But today, I could not forgive the following:

The Beastie BoysPaul’s Boutique just turned 20. MAGNET re-examines one of the greatest pop albums of all time, right up there with Radiohead‘s OK Computer, the BeatlesRevolver and Bob Dylan‘s Blonde On Blonde.

Exfuckingscuse me, but what??

Unless this list of “greatest pop albums of all time” is on a one-page-a-day calendar, you do not mention The Beastie Boys in the same breath as The Beatles or Bob Dylan, ever. Ever! It’s not that I don’t find the Beasties entertaining; I wore the grooves out of “She’s On It” and I will always fight for my right to party. But Hey Ladies, get serious –  one of the greatest pop albums of all time? To paraphrase what  Joe Piscopo as Frank Sinatra would say…”I got pieces of albums like that in my stool!”

See? Not lyin'.

See? Not lyin'.

So how can I take their other offer seriously – the one where their “resident expert” will tell me which Replacements tracks I need and which I am wasting my time listening to? I don’t think so. So for God’s sake, Magnet… Let It Be. You Stink.

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