Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mason Jennings - Gramercy Theater, NYC 4/21/07

If you need a reason as to why you're here
you don't need to look farther than me... - Mason Jennings
Truer words could not have been used to describe Saturday night at the Gramercy Theater here in NYC. Mason Jennings played a solid set of old classics and new favorites in front of a lively crowd that was as excited to see him as I was (which is saying something...). After some solo songs, drummer Peter Leggett (replacing Brian Mcleod, who left to play for Minneapolis rapper Atmosphere) and new bassist Arabella Kaufman (replacing the recently departed Chris Morrisey) entered the stage and backed up Mason for most of the night.

I hadn't seen Mason live since last summer when I went with my brothers for a homecoming show back in Minneapolis at the Orpheum. While Saturday night's performance wasn't as incredible as the Minneapolis show, Mason still had plenty of energy and enthusiasm as he jammed through such highlights as "Butterfly," "Crown," "The Light, Pt. 2," and "Jackson Square."

Mason played a few songs that I hadn't heard before: "Fighter Girl" and "Sacred Place." I just found out that they were released on a special If You Need a Reason - EP that I must have missed. I really liked "Fighter Girl," with its tender lyrics and soothing tones that only Mason can provide.

The concert really picked up with "Be Here Now," as the first three heavy notes almost signaled a change in tempo for the night. I was stoked when he wailed on his harp for "Crown," lending credence to his Dylan comparisons.

I'm not sure why this is, but there are a couple of songs that Mason has put out that come across vastly different in person. The first song that I noticed this with was "Godless" from his self-titled debut album. I always skipped this track when I first bought it back in '99 because it was so angry and harsh, totally unconnected to the rest of the cd. However, the first time I saw Mason live, this was the best song of the show. I was moved deep down inside as he screamed, inciting a jolt of adrenaline and pure exhilaration. Now, "Godless" is one of my favorite songs to listen to either live or on cd. The same goes with "Some Say I'm Not." He played this at the Minneapolis concert this summer and I loved it. Both were great last night as usual, especially with "Godless" to end the first set on such a high note.

After a solo "Adrian" (my favorite Mason tune...) in the encore, he finished the night with a new song he's been working on called "Born to Be a Soldier-Boy" that sounded plenty good to my ears.

  1. Ballad for My One True Love
  2. Nothing
  3. Fighter Girl
  4. Be Here Now
  5. Butterfly
  6. Crown
  7. Where the Sun Has Been
  8. The Mountain
  9. Sacred Place
  10. The Light, Pt. 2
  11. Sorry Signs on Cash Machines
  12. If You Ain't Got Love
  13. California
  14. Jackson Square
  15. If You Need a Reason
  16. Some Say I'm Not
  17. Godless
  1. Jesus, Are You Real?
  2. Adrian
  3. Born to Be a Soldier-Boy (*new*)
Per usual, it was an excellent show from one of my all-time favorites. Head on over to Mason's MySpace page for "Be Here Now," "If You Need a Reason" (steadily climbing up my top Mason tracks list), "Fighter Girl," and "Big Sur."

So for all of you who couldn't make it out last night, here's one of Mason's legendary home shows in Minneapolis back in 2004 (at the State Theatre).

Mason Jennings - Live at the Historic State Theater (2/13/04):
  1. Intro
  2. Let the Train Blow the Whistle
  3. No More Auction Block
  4. The Light
  5. Drinking As Religion
  6. Ulysses
  7. Empire Builder
  8. The Light, Pt. 2
  9. Butterfly
  10. Bullet
  11. Lemon Grove Avenue
  12. Ballad For My One True Love
  13. Nobody's Fault But Mine
  14. The Mountain
  15. Angeles
  16. The Flood
  17. Adrian
  18. Southern Cross
  19. Killer's Creek
  20. Keepin' It Real
  21. Crown
  22. Ballad of Paul and Sheila
  23. In Your City
  24. Sorry Signs on Cash Machines
  25. Summer Dress
  26. Fourteen Pictures
  27. Duluth
  28. California, Pt. 2
  29. Darkness Between the Fireflies

Opener side note:
A sister vocalist duo, The Pierces, (Catherine was once engaged to Albert Hammond, Jr. of the Strokes...) opened the show and while their syncronized dancing and seemingly scripted banter was unnecessary, they were actually pretty good. I've been on a female vocalist kick lately (Feist, Cat Power, Norah Jones, Tristan Prettyman...) and this was right up my alley for an opener. Their band kicked some ass and the Pierces' sultry voices sounded tempting throughout the whole set, especially "Sticks and Stones." It also didn't hurt they were both knockouts, but that's beside the point...kind of. Check out some samples here for a quick taste of their style...

Monday, April 16, 2007

BBQ Albums 101

Summer is approaching, kind of. To be prepared for summer you only need 4 things.

1) Flip flops
2) A blender
3) directions to a place that sells rum (this place will probably also sell beer)
4) BBQ CDs, or at least a BBQ Mix on your Dell DJ

Ok, I'll give you a moment to get over the fact that I don't have an iPod. [Pause]. I also don't use iTunes, but rather MusicMatch Jukebox. [Double Pause]. Cool, let's move on.

A BBQ CD is an album which can be comfortably played in an outdoor summer setting during the day while everyone is drinking pina coladas and playing wiffle ball. Ideally, a BBQ CD should have content appropriate for all ages and should not have any tracks that you need to race over to the CD player (or Dell DJ) to skip. Finally, in this era of mix CDs and mix playlists, I would also classify a CD as a BBQ album if the majority of the songs could be put on a BBQ Mix.

Throughout the summer I will try to point our readers (both of them) in the direction of new albums coming out which should be purchased for just these BBQ situations. (One important disclaimer: it is not essential that and grilling is done to enjoy a BBQ CD, but it is preferred).

First, I'll establish a scale to rank a BBQ CDs quality as a BBQ CD.

5 Pina Coladas
Sublime - 40 oz to Freedom
Billy Joel - Innocent Man

0 Pina Coladas
Jackson Browne - Everyman

So, all albums will be ranked on a 0 to 5 scale with those albums setting the parameters for quality (or lack thereof in the case of Jackson Browne).

Without further ado: BBQ Album #1 of 2007

John Butler Trio's Grand National

I picked up this CD the other day after hearing Groovin' Slowly on WFUV, Fordham University's radio voice - the only radio station in metro NYC that I will listen to. I don't know anything about John Butler Trio's earlier work, but this CD is a pretty fun jammy ride full of tons of catchy hooks and hippy peaceful vibe (and occasional protest). They may be from Africa too, which adds to their cred. No need to get into unnecessary analysis - these tracks are just for fun. The only real downside is that it sometimes gets into some unfocused jamming.

Stick these in your first summer mix:

Groovin' Slowly - surprisingly trance-inducing.

Used to Get High - used to?? really John Butler?? used to...

Overall - a solid 3.5 Pina Coladas. Happy Boozing.

Little Dynamite's Music Corner - Brett Dennen

Ever wonder what would happen if Tracy Chapman and Ben Harper had a kid? Well you can quit wondering because Brett Dennen is the answer. His androgynous, bluesy voice is about as comforting as you can find in music today, filling each song with a warm blanket of lyrics and soul. His most recent release, 2006's So Much More, is a powerful follow up to his fantastic self-titled debut album. On So Much More, Dennen stays true to his mellow but happy-go-lucky style as he drifts in and out of songs of subdued guitar and soft drums; a Jack Johnson-esque sound that Dennen truly makes his own.

I first heard of Dennen on a recent trip to visit my brother out in Denver. As we drove into the mountains to ski for the weekend, "Ain't No Reason" came on one of the mix cds, which caught my ear immediately. So Much More was my cd of choice at work this week and I couldn't get enough of his sound. From the baby-making tunes of "There Is So Much More" and "I Asked When" to the it's-good-to-be-alive sounds of "Darlin' Do Not Fear," "When You Feel It," and "Someday," Dennen covers your insides with a wide range of emotion that is sweeter than my grandmother's blueberry pancakes. Well, maybe not that sweet...

Just to give you a taste of the goodness that is Brett Dennen, here are a couple of sample tracks from So Much More. But make sure to visit Dennen's MySpace page for 2 streaming tracks from each of Brett Dennen and So Much More: "Blessed" is the defining track off Brett Dennen and "Desert Sunrise" is a perfect song for drinking lemonade on the porch on a quiet afternoon. "Ain't No Reason" and "She's Mine" will give you a good idea for the feel of So Much More. So without further ado, here are my two favorite tracks off the album.

Brett Dennen -
*There Is So Much More.mp3

Brett Dennen -

What more can I say to convince you? Drop whatever you are doing and go buy So Much More. Seriously. Now.

God do I love Feist...

Once I get my hands on her new CD, I'll post what I'm guessing will be a praise-filled review, but in the meantime, here's the fantastic new video "1234." One take? Amazing.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Arcade Fire follow up

To piggyback on Little Gun's great post, I thought I would post both of Arcade Fire's performances on Saturday Night Live. Here's "Intervention" and "Keep the Car Running."

Arcade Fire -
*Intervention (live on SNL 2/24/07).mp3

Arcade Fire -
*Keep the Car Running (live on SNL 2/24/07).mp3

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Arcade Fire-worthy of the praise

The other day I was reading Paste magazine (a fantastic magazine…whole post on it coming) and something caught my eye as I was reading the article on Arcade Fire’s new album Neon Bible. “Even though their fierce, straining songs have little in common with Coldplay, last year Chris Martin dubbed Arcade Fire ‘the greatest band in history.’” The greatest band in history? Now, I’ve heard rash overstatements in the past (Little Dynamite, a native Minnesotan, once said that former T-Wolves guard Sam Cassell had the greatest mid-range jump shot in the history of the game…Sam Cassell), but I figured I should at least give Mr. Martin the benefit of the doubt and give this band a listen. And I found that while they may not be the greatest band in history, Mr. Martin may be on to something.

I first listened to three thirty second samples of songs from Neon Bible on itunes…and then immediately Bought Music. And after one full listen, I'm wondering if it's too soon to make a pick for album of the year. The album is a masterpiece from front to back. The influences on these songs are clear, but at the same time it’s like nothing I’ve heard before. Songs like “Keep the Car Running,” “Intervention,” or “Antichrist Television Blues,” are Springsteenish at their base, but their real beauty comes from impassioned lyrics delving into themes of religion, war, friendships, family, and love, combined with an absolute ‘ocean of noise’ on each track (“Ocean of Noise,” appropriately is a track on the album). This immaculate mixture of sounds in particular is what makes the album so special. At the end of “Ocean of Noise,” strings, piano, and horns flow effortlessly into one another, none overwhelming the other. The Paste article talks about husband and wife team and band leaders Win Butler and Regine Chassagne laboring over every last note and every last sound on each track, and this is evident in the finished product.

This album has beautiful melodies, powerful sound, and meaningful lyrics delivered by a passionate singer in Win Butler. Stand-out tracks for me are the aforementioned, with specific mention again of “Ocean of Noise” (I was doing schoolwork while listening to this song and actually had to stop what I was doing to listen…now that’s a good song). The “Well and the Lighthouse” is another hot spot, featuring a very 80s guitar riff, beautiful lyrical timing, and a slightly Bowieish delivery (I’m a big fan of naming artists and putting “ish” on the end), before a tempo-change and string accompaniment to bring it home.

I guess I’m most impressed by the way in which it seems that Arcade Fire didn’t settle on this album; every track seems to have been worked over to perfection, lyrically and musically…the anti-run of the mill album. Now I don’t know much, but what I do know is that I have a $29 of a $40 itunes gift certificate waiting for me in my itunes account and I don’t know what to buy because I don’t think anything will compare to the last album I bought; guess what it was.

(Post-Script: Problem solved…I just bought Funeral, Arcade Fire’s very successful fist album. Most reviews I’ve read claim that while Neon Bible is a great album, it does not match up to Funeral, considered by almost all as a masterpiece. Maybe it's just because Neon Bible popped my Arcade Fire cherry first, but I might even give it the upper hand to the stellar first album. Just do yourself a favor and pick up both if you haven’t already.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bad News, America

Martin Sexton made a run-of-the-mill album. This is disappointing for a couple of reasons. I'll get to these in a minute. First, here's the deal.

Seeds, Martin Sexton's first studio effort in a few years (not including Christmas tune album Camp Holiday), came out a week ago. Fourteen tracks, a fat Martin Sexton making a groovy face on the album cover, and a hilarious picture of a Madonna statue holding a 'For Sale' sign in the liner notes. That's what you'll get for your 15 odd bucks at Best Buy.

Let's get to the meat of it. Every musical artist has their 'sound.' There's no need to explain this - nor would it be easy to put into words. Think about it this way: an artist's 'sound' is how you would describe their music, and is generally the style that their most popular songs are cast in. Cool. The problem is that every artist can fall back on their 'sound' and put out what I like to call the Run-Of-The-Mill Album. This is every Goo Goo Dolls, Bob Seger and Jackson Browne album. This sort of album does not delve into the songwriting themes that a songwriter has yet to examine, nor does it explore further musical possibilities.

No use in dwelling on the theory. The point is that Martin Sexton kicked back on his phenomenal vocal range and rambling, bluesey guitar feel to spit out fourteen tracks that highlight everything we already know about him. The guy's got pipes, and he puts together a good song - one that you want to roll down the window, turn on the A/C and scream down the highways outside of Santa Fe while jamming to. WE ALREADY HAVE THESE SONGS - we didn't neeeed any more.

There are two reasons that this is disappointing for, mainly. First, Martin Sexton is a force of nature to see live. If you haven't seen him, you are missing out on an experience that has no equivalent. I've seen U2 (twice), Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Bob Schneider, The Roots and however many more great "live" shows, and nothing can even come close to being in the presence of this man singing. So, a new album was a great opportunity to add to the live repertoire, and we didn't get any standouts here. I'll still pay $100 to see him any day of the week (that was the tag on the last show I saw him at) but the value didn't increase much with Seeds.

Secondly, his album The American is one of the 5 best studio albums of all time. His voice is a crisp and clear and perfect as ever, and the songs explore, poignantly, the only theme that an American musician should explore: the west and the American dream. And the polar forces of love, home and security competing with that deep desire to roam everywhere under the big sky.

That being said: I'd like to propose a challenge to Little Dynamite and Little Gun to post their 5 favorite albums of all time. Favorite. I'll add my other four in a later post.

In closing, I'm going to play doctor and diagnose Martin. Frankly, I think he's too happy. He's successful and married to the woman he loves. He looks fat and content on the cover, and the first track's title, Happy, tips us off beyond doubt. He's just not hungry; he can't write a song like Love Keep Us Together anymore. The days of "my car battery's dead again, so I've got my head dead set against it" may be over. Here's hoping he bounces back sometime.

A Few Unrelated Thoughts:
- Can we start a fund to help Little Gun afford getting internet at his house? Or do they just not have internet in the Rio Grande valley?

- When can we get Ryan Adams to cover this little gem? He releases everything he records, so it can't be that hard...
(this song is totally awesome - I am 100% sure I may be the only person in the world who thinks this and I don't care)

- Corona Light sucks, so does Corona, but when you gotta post, you gotta post.

Jack the Rabbit, over and out.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Little Dynamite's Music Corner - Cat Power

So to motivate myself to write more often, I'm going to post at least once a week a short blurb on an album I'm listening to randomly at the time. It could be old, it could be new, but it'll give me something to rant about and you something to read/sample. Deal?

I'll kick off the debut with Cat Power's The Greatest, an album I've been listening to on repeat at work for the last couple of weeks. I just got back from vacation and I realized there's something about Chan Marshall's voice that always makes me feel like I'm on vacation. Her soothing tones and wide range keep me floating as I listen to her chilled out lyrics. The accompanying piano and soft drums are all that she needs as she rasps, growls, and whispers her way through the recording, save for a little bit of horn here and there.

I know "The Greatest" is the lead single and all, but "Willie" is the song that steals the CD for me. Marshall just grabs me inside when she says Willie and her voice quivers ever so slightly at about the 1:14 mark. The sad horn in the background complements the soul of the song from beginning to end. Beautiful.

Check out "Lived in Bars" as the sleeper on this CD, but here's a streaming sample of "The Greatest."

And a free sample of "Willie":
Cat Power -