Tag Archives: Wilco

TGIF – Ten Returning Rockers

Rock and Roll will never die…

Yep, it’s that time of year – the pools aren’t even closed yet but the stores have Halloween decorations in the aisles and the ballsy ones even have a few Santa items prepped for display. And in the music industry, where old habits die hard, labels jockey to get product in position for Christmas. If they can market it in September, break it in October and take credit for it in November, history shows that you’ll be wrapping it up in pretty paper in December.

So while the theatres were filled with aliens and vampires and dinosaurs all summer, so too will the virtual record shelves in the fall. So this week’s TGIF announces Ten Returning Rockers who have product – their word for music, not mine – ready to roll.

Roll. They got it half right, anyway.

(01) – WilcoThe Whole Love

(02) – BlondiePanic of Girls

(03) – Ryan AdamsAshes & Fire

(04) – Tom WaitsBad As Me

(05) – Sly StoneI’m Back

(06) – The JayhawksMockingbird Time

(07) – Daryl HallLaughing Down Crying

(08) – The BanglesSweetheart of The Sun

(09) – Lindsey BuckinghamSeeds We Sow

(10) – Nick LoweThe Old Magic

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This Wheel’s On Fire

Ironic that on a holiday celebrating American independence, I would be mesmerized by a book about a band that was four parts Canadian and one part deep Arkansas. (Sounds like the proportions of the cocktail I had in hand). But despite the lopsided genealogy, The Band might remain the quintessential American music group of the last fifty years. Inspiring the Americana and alternative country movements as deeply as anyone, they were and are a beacon of inspiration to everyone from Wilco to Mumford and Sons.

A few weeks back I bumped into an old friend, and Jamie and I were discussing books we were reading. When he mentioned This Wheel’s On Fire, I was certain that I had read it before, but his enthusiasm (and my love of the subject matter) caused me to dig out a copy. Sure enough, I had started the book at one point, but life or travel or whatever must have gotten in the way. Either that or my memory is much worse than I think it is.

Back in college, Lou, Dige and Cass used to commandeer the corner table in the campus pub and hold court. Clevelanders, they were inseparable but gregarious members of the theatre collective I was also a part of, and it was not unusual for all of us to huddle away in the corner and try to drain the keg while telling jokes and stories and singing songs. Way too much testosterone for Glee, but a similar fearless spirit to break into song, and for the Cleveland crew The Band was king, whether they were singing along with the jukebox or in spite of it. Sure, there were other songs (“You Know My Name” was a particular drunken favorite, Beatle fans) but there was a special passion when “Up on Cripple Creek” was howled, not sung, with coyote-like yodels accentuating the chorus.

The early catalogue got the workout – “King Harvest”, “The Weight”, “Shape I’m In”, and of course “Look Out Cleveland”. Their energy brought the band to life for me at a time when I was more focused on The Stones and The Kinks, and to this day I can’t listen to the band without thinking of the three of them. We lost Dige last year, Cass was lost to us in other ways many years ago, and although Lou and I wound up settling ten miles apart all these years later, it’s maybe one call a year. Life is not a carnival, believe it or not.

This Wheel’s On Fire, Levon Helm’s wonderful book about how The Band got together and was pulled apart, is simply one of the best books one could ever read about the life of a musician. It’s a story of friendship and betrayal, of grinding out a path and doggedly following it to the rewards and the disasters, and how one man’s passion to make music despite any obstacles helped forge one of the greatest bands of the rock era. Helm writes with an honest ease, fair but uncompromising, and I came away from the story with a deep respect for the man (and the urge to pull out every Band record I own, as well as a guitar).

Written in 1993, with an afterword from 2000, it’s really a timeless story. Starting out backing the electric Ronnie Hawkins, encounters with Bob Dylan, how a hanger-on named Robbie Robertson eventually wormed into the group and eventually positioned himself as leader, and later, executioner. While Robertson does come off like a heel at the end – “it’s just business” – Helm does spend most of the book acknowledging his prodigious talent and leadership. Rick Danko was the solid supporter, Richard Manuel the fragile casualty, Garth Hudson the rock upon which this church was built. Together they forged a new element, a whole greater than the sum.

I need not prattle on about the quality of the music; The Band is timeless. So is this great book. If you haven’t read it, do so immediately.

Thanks, Jamie…what next?

Band of Brothers

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Blast From The Past: Wilco

Tangents are wonderful things…

While reading the Morgan Taylor interview the other day, I noticed that he’d opened a lot of shows for Wilco. That made me pull out Being There and Summerteeth; both those records sound perfect when Spring is trying to shake off the doldrums and give you a warm day or two. and despite my town setting its all time record for rain during the month of April, birds and buds and ants are telling me that little liar groundhog’s ruse is almost over.

In other words, my review of Summerteeth from 1999 in…

When asked about his plans for Wilco after Being There had caught people off guard, Jeff Tweedy hinted that the band would most likely take another unexpected turn and create “a twisted pop record“. Let it never be said that Tweedy is not a man of his word.

Once again self-produced by the band (Tweedy, Jay Bennett, John Stirratt and Ken Coomer), Summerteeth thrives on the juxtaposition of introspective, sometimes dense, lyrical wordplay fleshed out in a rainbow of musical style. There are several songs that will immediately strike the listener as upbeat, sing-along melodies, yet underneath lurk images of loneliness, confusion and unfulfilled dreams.

Video: “Candyfloss

Candyfloss” jumps out of the speakers with a bouncy, 60s pop calliope beat, yet Tweedy’s confessional says otherwise: “I’m the boy who looks excited/I’m the boy who’se gonna fall apart…I’m the boy who eats his heart out…” . Likewise, the opener, “Can’t Stand It” is a groove rocker but boasts a chorus that states “our dreams will never be answered again“.

Via Chicago” is one of the few that matches sonic pulse with lyrical imagery. Slow and deliberate, the opening line is as disturbing as the distorted, feedback-laden guitar solo that cradles the fade-out: “Dreamed about killing you again last night / and it felt all right to me…”. Then – just as your heart and brain are splattered across the floor – “ELT (Every Little Thing)” rockets out of the speakers like the hit single it should be, a cousin to Bowie’sHeroes” filtered through The Byrds. It’s another song of lost opportunity or maybe Fate’s warning, but which? Hopeful or hopeless? Tweedy’s deft pen leaves that open to your imagination, and depending upon your mood, it will be either.

Video: “ELT (Every Little Thing)

The title track, like “Candyfloss” and “ELT“, will no doubt pump out of radios all summer long. No matter that the subject is denial about the rut that his life has become; the infectious refrain will have you singing along with the “ooh-ahh” background vocals (with lilting keyboards and chirping birds, no less) and have you daydreaming as well. “My Darling” and the stark “We’re Just Friends” echo Big Star circa Sister Lovers with a little Brian Wilson harmony thrown in, while “You Wake Up Feeling Old” is ironically finger-snapping pop.

The band must have gathered up every instrument in the studio and then some – bells, bird chirps, penny whistles, shakers, flutes, horns and tympani are sparingly but creatively used throughout the record. And as he promised, Tweedy has stripped down the band and reconstructed its direction, a move that will probably alienate some diehard Uncle Tupelo purists (assuming they aren’t already pissed off) but should thrill anyone with an open mind and a respect for the art of songwriting. Summerteeth is funky, soulful, rocking, heartbreaking, pensive and explosive – in short, a masterpiece.

Wilcoworld

Listen to clips here

Roger that!

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #9

Normally when a band gives itself four stars, it’s unwarranted. Not this time.

Craig Fox, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler might have been on hiatus from The Greenhornes, but they’ve been actively peppering your album collection as members of The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs or backing up Loretta Lynn with Jack White on Van Lear Rose. You can have the Animal Collective; I’ll take Brendan Benson, Jack White and the collaborative Venn diagram between Cincinnati and Detroit that’s released some of the most vibrant music of the decade.

Their marriage of 60s blues rock and garage pop is revered in the same circles that bow to The Lyres, The Chesterfield Kings and a serious chunk of the Underground Garage playlist. Basically anyone with a solid rock’n’roll pulse.

Video: “I’ve Been Down”

Eight years after their last album release, the boys are (finally) back in town, and Four Stars kicks ass from jump street. While “Saying Goodbye” blends the early Who (right down to the Keith Moon drum fills) and The Kinks, the standout is the organ-drenched “Better Off Without It”. My immediate first impression, oddly, was Wilco circa Being There; a pure garage-pop-psychedelia-blues hybrid that makes me turn up the volume and hit the replay button again and again and again. And my god…Craig Fox’s voice?

Easily one of the best songs of the year – listen for yourself!

Yet another example of the great music sailing under most people’s radar. If you’re not already hooked into these guys, catch up now and stay focused.

The Greenhornes website

The Greenhornes on MySpace

Jack White’s Third Man Records

Lost a few people over the past week; Hall of Famer Bob Feller, Captain Beefheart and Blake Edwards. And yesterday, sadly, Steve Landesberg lost his battle with cancer. I recently paid tribute to the man on his birthday, but like just about everyone, I had no idea that he fudged his age until today.

So a belated 76th birthday, Steve, not a 65th. RIP regardless.

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Blast From The Past: Whiskeytown

When the insurgent roots music movement started to take hold – call it alt-country, No Depression or Y’Alternative music – a flood of bands that tied back to Gram Parsons, Neil Young and classic country artists from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash started to milk a serious buzz. Near the front of the pack was a loosely raucous band from Raleigh, North Carolina called Whiskeytown, and their lead martyr singer and songwriter Ryan Adams.

A skilled and interesting collaborative band (with Caitlin Cary, Phil Wandscher, Eric “Skillet” Gilmore and Mike Daly), Whiskeytown released its debut Faithless Street, which bowled over critics and landed them a major label deal. By the time the second album Stranger’s Almanac was released, the group was known for its self-destructive tendencies as much as its musical brilliance, the lion’s share of that squarely on the head of Adams. Reading interviews at the time I realized that I was watching someone emulating Keith Richards; I just didn’t know how much of it was by accident.

Thankfully, I was wrong about Adams in a multitude of ways. He didn’t drink himself into an early grave, even when the band imploded in 2000. In fact, he was so prolific between 2000 and 2005 (eight releases!) that the plaudits became even more gargantuan. Like some of his heroes and influences, he juggled both popular acclaim and commercial success, and it looked like he was a step away from releasing that album or song that would place his name on everyone’s lips (or perhaps spontaneously combust).

Having juggled the solo image and with his more traditional band The Cardinals, he opted for the latter and released two more albums over the next five years. Like contemporaries and heroes Wilco, he’s prone to experiment with styles and now has left them to form a rock trio. I haven’t even heard Orion, his newest record; I’m not certain I want to hear Ryan Adams doing metal (even if he did get his start in a punk band). But there’s no denying the early classics, and I hope he still has a few tricks like that left in his worn out sachel.

Here’s my short shot review of Strangers Almanac from 1997:

+++

Ryan Adams is a hell of a songwriter for a guy in his early twenties, but I’d get the suicide watch started right now. Desperation set to music works both ways, and Adams mines the vein like the forefathers he so drunkenly pretends he isn’t influenced by (perhaps his own line sums it up best – “I can’t stand to be under your wing”). When he’s more uptempo he wears his Paul Westerberg on his sleeve (“Yesterday’s News”) and other times a Neil Young ghost will rear its head (“Turn Around”).

But he’s also savvy enough to diversify the instrumentation. Fiddle and horns alternately pick a song up (“Sixteen Days”) and take it out at the knees (the pained and haunting “Everything I Do”). One of the most powerful and depressing records of 1997, and I mean those both as compliments.

Listen to clips from Strangers Almanac

Whiskeytown page at Lost Highway Records


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In Praise of Crowded House

Last night I sauntered off to the North Coast of America (read: lakeside in Buffalo, New York) to see Crowded House play for he ridiculously exorbitant price of $10. They put on an incredible show; the set featured several cuts from the brand new album Intriguer and just about every song from the career arc that I wanted to hear (if there was a glaring exception, perhaps it was  “Mean To Me”). Funny how you take for granted that a band has so many great songs and then you still catch yourself saying “oh yeah…and THAT one!”.

The crowd was decent sized but not overwhelming; I suspect many acts draw far more on a downtown Friday evening and I found myself wondering why the park wasn’t so cramped that people were being squeezed off the land into the lake. Then I remembered that Crowded House‘s peak of popularity was in the mid-80s…when eMpTV still played music videos.

The band might be tighter than ever, usually a 4-piece (Mark Hart is amazing – I swear he played nine instruments – although a fifth guy popped in on occasion as well (probably the guitar tech…or an unemployed Tim?).  Kudos to the production staff as the sound and mix were pristine. Finn was in great humor, weaving lyrics about local color (including the monstrous highway overpass over his left shoulder) and looking natty in his white dinner jacket. The set and encore lasted short of two hours, and the always poignant “Better Be Home Soon” signalled it was time to do just that.

I’ll have a write-up on the new CD and DVD soon, but in the meantime here’s the label blurb.

Following up on their 2007 release Time On Earth – their first studio recording in 14 years – Crowded House returns with Intriguer. Produced by Jim Scott (Wilco), this all-new recording brings together singer/guitarist and chief songwriter Neil Finn with original Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour and keyboardist/guitarist Mark Hart. Says Finn: “Intriguer is exotic in parts, traditional in origin. It may just be the best thing we’ve done.”

The opener was (I am not making up this name) Lawrence Arabia. The first song was poor in an indie-jamband pretentious kind of way but then the rest of the set was phenomenal. Watching a tall thin man rock a pair of tight red gym shorts was a little off-putting (he did ask if his milky thighs were offending anyone) but the band is anything but. The cheeky song titles are matched by appealing music that runs the table, frankly. It appears they are on tour with Crowded House for the summer, and since they’re from Christchurch I suggest you take advantage!

Crowded House official website

Lawrence Arabia MySpace site

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New Album! D.Rogers

On his third album, Melbourne singer/songwriter D. Rogers offers up 14 short pop songs that are predominantly delicate melodies lovingly executed. Tapping a large pool of regional musicians, Rogers sparingly accessorizes his melodies with horns, strings, and handclaps.

Most tracks barely exceed the two minute mark, if that. His voice is appealing and the production is pristine, and although there are no songs you’ll nominate as anthems, it flows beautifully.

Listen to some clips at CD BABY

Read my review on PopMatters where I note the DNA of several popular touchstones, from Neil Finn and Crowded House to Beatles Paul, George and Ringo.

D. Rogers website

D. Rogers on MySpace

Popboomerang Records website

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