Tag Archives: Rykodisc

The Posies: Blood/Candy

Another 2010 Bridesmaid…very good, but missed the Top 25…

The Posies have been around so long and have broken up and reformed so often that it’s probably bad form to call Blood/Candy a comeback album. Isn’t that what we were supposed to call Every Kind of Light? But with their solo and Big Star efforts now put aside, Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer decided to revisit their oldest muse – each other – and reanimate a collaboration that has served them since they were teenagers. Camping out in the studio to live and breathe the music, the core of Blood/Candy was created in ten days and then tinkered with via various studios, diverse instrumentation and vocal collaborators (Kay Hanley, Hugh Cornwell).

The results, although not quite derivative, are that many of the songs have a familiarity that can’t be avoided when a band’s songwriters have such widespread collaborations. The structure of the fragmented “Licenses To Hide”, oddly enough, sounds like a Billy Joel epic from The Stranger, albeit sung by angels. And while it is not a well-known song, those who know The Odds’ “Love of Minds” will do a spit-take upon hearing the refrain and rhythm of “Cleopatra Street”.

Video: “For The Ashes

“For The Ashes” lets them frame the verses in Crosby/Nash harmonies before morphing into spacey falsettos, just as “Accidental Architecture” uses those same vocal icons to launch a wordy, jazzy melody into an infectious chorus. And staying on Nash point, the boys had to be listening to old Hollies records before penning the album’s best hook in “She’s Coming Down Again”. Likewise, Beach Boys fans will no doubt be struck by the vocal coda of “Enewetak”.

The songwriting is strong, and as one would expect, the vocals and harmonies are exquisite; both Stringfellow and Auer are in top form. There will be those who still point at Dear 23 or Frosting On The Beater as the apex of their career, but slotting this one in close proximity would not be a mistake. Whether or not this is a cohesive effort from a newly focused band or a collection of tracks assembled for the occasional statement, Blood/Candy is – as the title suggests – a showcase for both their delicate fragility and their powerful pop presence.

***

This review was originally printed in Bucketful of Brains.

The Posies on MySpace

Rykodisc

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Blast From The Past: Frank Zappa

I’m an unabashed Frank Zappa fan; I probably own more albums of his than of any other artist, a fact that owes as much to his prolific artistry as it does to my love of his music. And I certainly don’t suggest that anyone should skip over the majesty of his catalogue to settle for a greatest hits collection.

But I have to remind myself that it’s been over fifteen years since his passing and there’s a generation of listeners who probably have no first-hand observation of the man’s genius. Where does one start? Of course, I always will recommend that one start at the beginning and work forward to be richly rewarded by one great album after another.

But times are tough and money is tight. So if you’re looking to get a mere snapshot, one suggestion is a collection of songs that finds Frank flipping the audio bird at some not-so-sacred cows, entitled Have I Offended Someone. Rykodisc’s fifteen track CD was released posthumously in 1997. Here’s my review, originally published in May of that year…

Thankfully...yes, you have!

Thankfully...yes, you have!

To say that Zappa pushed the envelope would be an understatement. Before it was in vogue to do so, Frank thrilled audiences with theatrical rock shows in residence and issued concept albums. His perfectionist nature led him to discover, nurture, and support talented musicians like Lowell George, Steve Vai and Terry Bozzio. His music encompassed orchestral movements, rock, jazz, and featured everything from classical strings to funky horn sections. When label support would be unavailable (as it usually was from Warner Brothers) Zappa would finance his own tours, usually at a loss, to present his music in a form he felt it deserved. And politically he suffered no fools, as evidenced by his long time campaign against the PMRC and their proposed rating system – again, at his own expense and for the issue, not the glory.

During his 1988 tour – a phenomenal series of performances that has still not been fully documented – he made arrangements with the League Of Women Voters in each city to set up a booth to register voters. For all his idiosyncrasies (and truth be known, they were mostly perceived), Zappa was a brilliant and prolific musician and orator with a biting wit and a generous heart. He never told people what to think – he merely asked them to think for themselves.

Yet to many, Zappa was a man feeding toilet humor to the masses in place of music, a crass and disgusting artist who made fun of gays, blacks, Jews, Catholics…oh hell, everybody. Crass? Well…maybe. Zappa used his satire to pop the balloons of many targets, but never with hatred. What Frank did so well was to take matters like homophobia, racism, sexual prohibition and especially intellectual repression, and let them bask in their own hypocritical bright light.

Have I Offended Someone brings together most of the songs that got under the skin of the politically correct set, those who unfortunately missed the humor and sarcasm. Of course, you also have the closet hypocrites, too. (You can spot them in a second – they’re the ones who laughed at “Jewish Princess” but got pissed when “Catholic Girls” came out a couple of years later.) Zappa was offended too, but by phony televangelists, slimy record executives, two-faced politicians, drug-addled air heads, and especially apathetic whiners. But rather than sit back and complain – or worse, do nothing – Zappa stood up for what he believed in, in song, and in deed.

These witticisms were only a small fragment of a recording career which comprises hundreds of hours of music that spanned the full spectrum of music. But for those new to the Zappa world looking to get a clue to his satirical side, this is as good a place to start as any. Although each of the fifteen pieces on Offended is available in some form on previous releases, eight are remixed or reconstructed and two are previously unavailable live versions – “Tinsel Town Rebellion” and “Dumb All Over”, the latter featuring some stunning guitar work. Other highlights include the driving “Disco Boy” and the hilarious “We’re Turning Again”, Frank’s dead on shot at aging hippies: ‘Now I see ’em tightnin’ up their headbands / On the weekend and they get loaded when they came to town / They walk around in Greenwich Village buying posters they can hang up / In those smelly little secret black light bedrooms on Long Island / Singing JIMI COME BACK!…’

There are enough extras here to please even the Zappa completists, and Rykodisc has done their usual stellar job with sound quality and packaging. Fittingly, the cover art is from outlaw artist Ralph Steadman and the liner notes from ex-Fug honcho Ed Sanders, both of whom know something about artistic repression. Frank Zappa was the Curt Flood of rock and roll, the man who took one for the team and said out loud what many others did not have the courage to voice. When he took on the Senate Committee and the PMRC equipped with only wit, intellect and the Bill Of Rights, it was a slaughter. The suits never stood a chance.

Have I Offended Someone? God, I hope so.

And since Robert Novak has left this mortal coil…here’s Frank on Crossfire.

zappa moustache

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Tributes

I got a couple of emails from readers of yesterday’s post who were loving the Beatles cover comp and asking about tributes, since I’m on record as an obsessive fan of such efforts. On more than one occasion I’ve made my mixtape entry a covers collection (even pilfering a Replacements track title – I’LL BE YOU – for one of the more recent efforts) and I always love when I get them in return. (I’ll have to dig up that comp and post it here in the near future.)

I’ve found that the best ones are usually from independent projects on small labels where the scope will go outside the artist roster. By licensing tracks from other worthy bands that would appeal to the same audience as the internal ringers, the label is saying “we are putting the project first” rather than “this is a cheesey effort to get even the crappiest band on my roster some attention“. Frankly few of these get airplay anyway, so those weaker efforts just wind up in the band’s garage where they belong.

The major labels often blow it as well; too often their efforts wind up using big name artists that have no clue. Of course, with their overhead mapped against the unlikely hit potential, these are not frequent releases. But like the tiny labels trying to build around one good band with filler, the big boys have proven that they’re equally adept at creating a PLE (painful listening experience).

A list of the greatest tribute albums ever deserves more time and thought than I have to spare right now, but I do want to float out a couple of my favorites as well as clue you in to a little known collection assembled by a fellow blogger. These aren’t necessarily the five best, although my favorite tribute ever is included. 

Winner and still champion

Winner and still champion

SING HOLLIES IN REVERSE (eggBert): A majestic collection of power-pop artists including Bill Lloyd, Jon Brion, The Wondermints, Mitch Easter, Tommy Keene and Material Issue. Compiled by the late Greg Dwinnell, this was an all-hits no-misses effort where even the artwork and liner notes were first rate. Greg’s eggBert label also issued a wonderful Bee Gees tribute called MELODY FAIR that was almost as good.

Kovering the Klassics

Kovering the Klassics

THIS IS WHERE I BELONG (Rykodisc): Steve Forbert, Jonathan Richman, Bill Lloyd (the KING of tribute album appearances), Fastball, Fountains of Wayne, Cracker, Minus 5…a solid list of great commercial bands drawing from one of the Koolest Katalogues around. A little better than GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT, which was released around the same time, although “Ring The Bells” by The Model Rockets from the latter might be the best cut of all. (If you can find a copy of SHANGRI-LA on Communion Records, that’s also highly recommended! (Note – if you listen to the Amazon clips, realize that the matchup of artist and song is incorrect).

Whipped Gum and Other Delights

Whipped Gum and Other Delights

RIGHT TO CHEWS (Not Lame): For the bubblegum pop listener in all of us, Not Lame’s impeccable release was complied by John Borack (longtime reviewer and author of Shake Some Action) and features some of the best artists in the current power-pop scene.  Great takes on The 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express and Tommy Rowe by Michael Carpenter (genius) , Walter Clevenger (ditto), The Lolas and others. Not Lame has released several great tribute albums for artists as diverse as Gene Clark, Jeff Lynne/ELO and The Cars, among others; every one of them has several chestnuts worth roasting.

Bone Up on these great covers

Bone Up on these great covers

While you’re waiting foa any of the above to arrive in the mail, why not enjoy a great tribute mix right now? Angelo from Power Pop Criminals assembled these brilliant cover comps that are available as free downloads. And on that same page, the excellent rarity and out-of-print Bobby Fuller Four tribute OUR FAVORITE TEXAN.

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