Sunday, December 30, 2007

Top 10 Albums of 2007

Well, here it is...the obligatory Top 10 post from yet another music blog. Sure you've seen a few of these before, but what you haven't seen is the definitive Top 10.

Look no further.

After choosing our individual Top 10 lists, we scored the compilation the only way we know how: college football rankings style. In the end, we were happy with our results, which we humbly present to you now, starting with number(s) 10.

10. (tie) Mark Knopfler - Kill to Get Crimson

Bob Schneider and Ryan Adams should take note of Mark Knopfler’s career. You don’t have to get bored of your stuff and start doing crazy shit. Just enjoy playing music, invite new artists to collaborate with you from time to time (please note celtic vibe at play here, with accordions and fiddles joining the fun), and keep creating excellent music.

That’s what Van Morrison did. And it’s what Mark Knopfler does. He’s the consummate veteran of the music industry, and this is a polished, impressive album that he’s released in 2007. I’ve been a Knopfler fan since I was a Dire Straits fan, which was for a long as I can remember. The guy doesn’t miss.

Here we have a collection of tight stories benefiting from the impeccable performance Knopfler’s vocals and guitar give to every song they touch. I think this guy is a real genius in our midst that maybe we won’t fully recognize until he’s gone. By the way, Little Dynamite and Little Gun missed the ball on this one big time. But then again, they’ve never respected the history of Rock ‘n Roll.

P.S. The Eagles album is garbage.


10. (tie) Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

Earlier this year, when I first posted about this album, I think I said something along the lines of “I don’t want to listen to any more music, because nothing will be as good as the Arcade Fire.” I’ve since backed off that statement (I was probably drinking), which is not to say that this album isn't still fantastic. What I love most about Arcade Fire is the care that they seem to put into each song. Each note, each lyric seems to have been painstakingly poured over until it is just right. They show us that their music is important, their message is important; even if that message is often that the world is about to end.

In Neon Bible, Win Butler and gang fire away at the war-torn world that surrounds them. They do this through lyrics about the working-class man, the disillusioned man, and the soldier both here and abroad. Their songs on this album are mostly Springsteen-esque four-chord rock songs, delivered with Springsteen-esque passion. For me, the song of the album is “Ocean of Noise,” a beautiful tune in which Butler describes an “ocean of violence” that lies between so many of us. However, the listener is left with hope at the end, as trumpets and strings come to the forefront as Butler desperately sings “It’s time to work it out.” And hopefully, Butler finds that we can, and maybe their next effort won’t involve the word ending.

-Little G.

p.s. Here’s your stocking stuffer. I recently bought my mom an album by Joe Henry called Civilians. If I had listened to it before making this list, it would definitely be in my top ten. As my mom said “Some of the artists you listen to should take some lessons from Joe Henry.”

10. (tie) The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

Right from the get-go, this album reminds me why I love music so much. The first song, "Sleeping Lessons," takes you from a dreamlike state to a dancing and joyous rocktastic climax that makes you want more. And then they follow up with "Australia." Arguably the best song of 2007, this beautiful pop song solidifies this album as one of the year's best.

The Shins used to be that cool underground band you could throw out there to impress other indie-rock fans, but that all went away with the Garden State phenomenon. I was worried about how that would affect them going into this release, but I found it hasn't hurt them at all (except possibly in the critics' minds, who I think are a little pissed that people other than them now know who the hell the Shins are...see album reviews for WtNA for further evidence).

From every "la la la" to every guitar chord, this album is as synced up as James Mercer imagined when he wrote the entire CD. Tight pop music at its best, WtNA is exactly what I could have hoped for out of the Shins. Don't let Zach Braff down. They can still change your life.

-Little D

7. (tie) Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

I heard “The Underdog” on WFUV and knew right from that instant that I had to burn this album from one of my friends that actually paid the money to buy it. I knew (and still know) nothing about this group of Texan’s backcatalogue, but I may be heading out and actually spending my hard earned green on some of their earlier work. This album transformed me from a “burn the CD” to a “buy the CD” fan.

What I like about Spoon on this album is that they’re rock and roll, and poppy, and still maintain an indie rock edge. They’re the ideal band to represent me when I try to explain the type of music I’m into to a mainstream / soft rock / pop fan. Usually the conversation goes like this:
Other: “So, what kind of music are you in to?”
Me: “Oh, I like a lot of different stuff.”
Other: “Oh.”

Now, it can go a little more like this:
Other: “So, what kind of music are you in to?”
Me: “Oh, I like a lot of different stuff. Here, listen to ‘Don’t You Evah’ on my iPod.”
Other: “You’re pretty cool.”

Thanks Spoon.


7. (tie) Romantica - America

This album was a surprise hit for me. I listened to it one time through, thought it was fine, but thought that was about it. But then I listened to it more, and kept listening to it, until I realized that I really, really like this album. Coming to us from Belfast via Minneapolis, Romantica has commonly been compared to Mr. Adams and Wilco, and while this is true at times, these comparisons do not encapsulate their sound. “Ixcatan,” a somber, heart-breaking ballad about a murder in Mexico, sounds straight off a Mark Knopfler album. Lyrics like “Oh it’s gonna be cool, all the boys from school/And the girls from down the way” or “Between my daughter and my wife is where you’ll find me,” are positively Boss-like, a slice of Americana; even if lead man Ben Kyle is sometimes talking about Ireland.

The album has a few up-beat pop tunes to start the album, and while they’re very good, they’re quickly forgotten. Romantica’s strength is in the ballads that make up the bulk of the album, complete with lush strings, beautiful pedal steel, finger-picking, piano, and the aforementioned Americana lyrics. Romantica made the most beautiful album of the year and I think you should check it out.

-Little G

7. (tie) Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger

Ryan Adams gets his heartbroken a lot it seems. And if this is the case, I’m not happy about it, but damn does it make for some good music. Throughout his career, girls have been breaking his heart, stealing his records, and the English girls, in particular have just been so mean. He’s been waiting for them to come home, he’s been begging them not to let him go, and wondering why they always leave.

On Easy Tiger, none of this changes. In this tight, focused effort from Adams, failed relationships and loneliness are still the main themes. And he relays this heartache through beautiful lyrics and even more beautiful music. The top track on the album is “I Taught Myself How to Grow Old.” It’s one of Adams’ prettiest, saddest, and best written songs. A pedal-steel guitar weaves in and out as Adams sings “I taught myself how to grow/without any love…”, his lines punctuated by a lonely harmonica. I heard an interview by Ben Harper in which he said something along the lines of “You could go to therapy for 20 years, or you could just listen to this song every day.” Surrounding this gorgeous number are classic Adams pop/folk/alt/country tunes, along with some straight twangy tunes in “Pearls on a String” and “Tears of Gold.” A fantastic listen from front to back.

-Little G

6. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

In case you haven’t heard, they tried to make her go to rehab. She said “No.” Again and again, she said “No.” Yet, alas, in the end, she went to rehab. Does that make her a liar? Yes. Does it make her album any less impressive? Only marginally.

Look, this a sexy, old-school album that I ranked #2 on my list of best albums of 2007, and was relegated down to #6 because of the cowardly, front-running choices of Little Dynamite and Little Gun adding up in our scoring system. When I listen to this album I picture an anorexic-thin Winehouse, dripping wet (potentially just out a bubble bath…with scented candles…), wearing nothing but a burgundy hand towel, running her fingernails down a chalkboard – except that the noise created is a jazzy, sultry crooning with retro-instrumentation. Get in.

To sing its praises, this album is cohesive but varied. Amy invented the word “fuckery” (as far as I know, maybe it’s a common term in the UK). It has fantastic melodies, gripping themes, and did I mention she has a sexy voice? And did I just hear Jadakiss? Yes, yes, I did. This is the 1920s on 21st century designer drugs and fruit-flavored booze, with style, some dignity, a little less class and plenty of pizazz. Smooth, you ask? Smooth as a vodka tonic for lunch.


5. Bruce Springsteen - Magic

I hesitated to review this album since I already gave it a write up when it came out, but if there's one thing that I don't mind doing, it would be singing Bruce's praises. I was so anxious for this album to come out that I played Born to Run on repeat for about a week prior to its release date.

Even though Bruce lends us our blog's title, we are not completely biased towards his works (at least not like Rolling Stone is to Bob Dylan...I swear, Dylan could put out a 45 minute disc of himself snoring and Rolling Stone would give it five stars and proclaim all other music inferior -- in the same issue that they put Zac Efron on the cover...and he has been on the cover this year, fyi...). However, we do enjoy Bruce's efforts for a reason. It's not everyday that an artist can inspire multiple generations of men and women to fall in love with music again and again.

The king of American music, Bruce's latest release elicits scenes of late nights on the open highways out west, political corruption and turmoil, war veterans, and good old fashioned Americana fun with "Girls in Their Summer Clothes." I'm not sure if you can find a more rewarding storyteller in today's industry, although Bruce himself has acknowledged a few different proteges (hello...hello again). This apple pie wrapped in an American flag album provides die hard Springsteen fans with enough juice to satiate their appetites, but it also gives new listeners a chance to find out what they've been missing.

-Little D

4. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

I can't say enough about this album. I think I used up all my adjectives in the past three months since this album came out trying to describe it to people. Solidified by incredible studio work from a full band, Sam Beam once again comes through with a magnificent work of art. His voice is so soothing and soft that I've often wondered if I would be able to hear him in a normal conversation.

After becoming enthralled/slightly obsessed with their previous album, Our Endless Numbered Days, I was just a little excited to buy The Shepherd's Dog. Needless to say, I was blown away by the full, rich sound that greeted me. Acoustic guitars, subdued and varied percussion, singing slide guitar, violin, and organ music all came together at once to lift me up on a wave of bliss-filled happiness. If you can honestly listen to "Lovesong of the Buzzard" and not want to hug the nearest person by the end of it, I would submit that you have no soul.

If it weren't for the #2 album on this list, The Shepherd's Dog would have been my first choice for album of the year, hands down. Nothing else has come close to the beauty and emotion that this CD has accomplished. Hats off to Beam for his fantastic creation and I will be looking forward to whatever comes next for Iron & Wine.

-Little D

3. Feist - The Reminder

Leslie Feist, how I love you. Let me count the ways:

1) You have the single greatest voice in music today. Even though I would rather be serenaded to sleep every night by Norah Jones, her pipes have nothing on yours when it comes down to it.
2) You are absolutely awesome at guitar. I saw you live and you rocked out way harder than I ever thought you could. "Mushaboom" was everything I hoped it would be.
3) You are sexy as hell. Not in the I'm-a-tramp-in-a-thong hot or the pole-dancing-in-my-music-video hot, but just naturally I-am-really-cool-to-hang-out-with-and-I'll-probably-make-out-with-you hot. There's nothing better.
4) You like to dance. A lot. No, really, quite a bit. That's always a big plus in my book.
5) "It may be years until the day/My dreams will match up with my pay." I think you just summed up my life.

-Little D

2. The National - Boxer

In May of 2007 I bought an album called Alligator, by The National. It was incredible. Two days later, I bought their follow up, called Boxer. It was better. Now, it wasn’t better right away, but I had plenty of time to let it sink in on a 24-hour drive home from Texas to Michigan. Boxer is an album that needs that time to marinate. It’s filled with thoughtful, melodious guitar arrangements, catchy drum beats that move the songs along, and exquisite lyrics brought to you by front man Matt Beringer’s baritone; a baritone that leaves the lyrics lingering long after a song is complete. Lyrics that are able to turn the mundane into something celebrated, able to turn everyone’s small world into something greater.

The album starts with pretty, steady piano as Beringer comes in with the opening lines “Stay out, super late tonight/Pickin apples, making pies/Put a little something in our lemonade/Take it with us, we’re half awake, in our Fake Empire.” Soon a bass drum comes in, slightly off-beat, before syncing up with the piano just as the drums pick up tempo, then a fill, and onward with the song. From there on, the album lingers with a steady pace, no real rockers, no real downers, as Beringer weaves words describing “the un-magnificent lives of adults” throughout the album. However, the tales he tells of un-magnificent jobs, un-magnificent personalities, and un-magnificent meetings leave the listener wondering if this “Fake Empire” that Beringer describes, really is un-magnificent, or if it’s all you need.

-Little G

1. Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

Someone may ask you, “Why is the ocean blue?” Perhaps you’ll know to tell them it’s because the water reflects the blue of the sky. Yet if they then ask why the sky is blue, the only valid answer would be to perform “Edge of the World” on a wind instrument.

When Josh Ritter put out Animal Years, I thought he was a really great singer-songwriter and a lot less of a nancy than a lot of the artists Little Gun listens to. But when he put out The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, I started to wonder whether he was Siddhartha Gautama incarnate. This album really blew my socks off. It has the best of what was good about Dylan, Springsteen and The Beatles, yet even better because it is fresh, exciting and new.

I saw Ritter live touring for this album, and the guy is magnetic. He seems to genuinely enjoy performing his catalogue. And why not? This album alone is full of humor, sensitivity, energy, longing, confusion and expectation…sometimes all on the same song.

A lot has been said about this album by others as well as by me, so I won’t wax on for much longer. Essentially, this is an album that cuts a cross section into the human heart and examines all the emotions that reside therein. It does it all with energetic spirit. You are ultimately left just short of a classic catharsis, rather, your soul longs to again experience something so powerfully human – humor and pain and all. Who knows when an album will next be able to so completely fulfill this desire? For now, I am simply content to have such a deserving album top our list.


Others Receiving Votes:
Scott Matthews - Passing Stranger (6 pts.)
Radiohead - In Rainbows (5 pts)
Deadstring Brothers - Silver Mountain (5 pts.)
Fionn Regan - The End of History (5 pts.)
Okkervil River - The Stage Names (4 pts.)
A.A. Bondy - American Hearts (3 pts.)
The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism (3 pts.)
John Fogarty - Revival (2 pts.)
Bright Eyes - Cassadaga (2 pts.)
The Alternate Routes - Good and Reckless and True (1 pt.)

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Alternate Routes - Live at the Blender Theater at Gramercy, NYC 12/15/07

On a recent Saturday night, I was lucky enough to finally see The Alternate Routes live at the Blender Theater at Gramercy. On a weekend packed with Christmas parties and other events, I had just enough time to show up for their opening set before the Clarks came on afterwards.

Their debut album, Good and Reckless and True, came out last spring, but I didn't get into them until this summer. An album that is as solid as it is fun, GaRaT easily became one of my favoirte CDs this year. After missing a couple of shows earlier this year, I was excited to get to catch them in person for the first time.

To be totally honest, I didn't know what to expect live. Their album is very well produced and clean sounding, which made me wary of seeing them live. However, thier stage presence was incredible as they tore through their eight-song setlist. They played my three favorite tracks "Ordinary," "Aftermath," and "Time Is a Runaway" with precision, but the other songs are really what elevated their credibility in my book. A great song off their album, "Going Home with You" can get lost behind the other previously mentioned standouts. However, as the third song of the night, this was where the show switched gears. Guitarist Eric Donnelly stepped out and delivered a jaw dropping performance as he ripped through his notes and guitar strings (he popped one or two during this song) on some of the most ridiculous solos I've ever seen. With a scary amount of control, Donnelly was flying through notes faster than I could watch his fingers in one of the best live guitar performances you could imagine.

Vocalist Tim Warren also showcased his great voice, proving that his talent is not limited to the studio. His smooth and clear sound projected perfectly over the band's coordinated instrumentation. He also brought a fun-loving attitude to the group, introducing "My Old Lady, She Ain't Home, She Won't Cry, 'Cause She Don't Know" by explaining "everyone's got a song about cheating on your wife -- this one's ours."

Speaking of "My Old Lady...", this song was good enough to have closed out the show. They still had not played my favorite song, "Aftermath," but when they finished "My Old Lady...", I realized they could've walked off the stage then and I still would've been blown away -- it was that good. A hard, raking, foot stomping, call-and-answer song, "My Old Lady..." stole the show. Hopefully, it'll make their next album, which can't come soon enough for me.

If you get a chance, I highly recommend seeing them live; if you can't, go buy their CD and get to know these guys now. I guarantee it won't be long before everyone else does.

  1. Shelly
  2. Time Is a Runaway
  3. Going Home with You
  4. The Future's Nothing New
  5. Say What You Mean What You Say
  6. Ordinary
  7. My Old Lady, She Ain't Home, She Won't Cry, 'Cause She Don't Know
  8. Aftermath

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Johnny 5; Staying Alive

Since Little Dynamite responded to my challenge to post our top 5 favorite albums, I'll respond now with mine. The only difference here is that my Top 5 favorite also happen to be the 5 greatest albums of all time as well. Lucky for you, the reader, to be able to read about both my favorite and the greatest in one go.

First off - ground rules: No Greatest Hits. No live albums (although if somebody wanted to make the Live at Folsom Prison argument, I'd be listening).

Let's do this climactic order.
This album has it all. The killer title. The rocking lead track (title track). The pop hit (Fairy Tale of New York). The instrumental track that holds up (Metropolis). The soul stretching introspective-but-not-self-conscious track (The Broad Majestic Shannon). This is a near perfect album put together by an unstable group of musicians at their apex. In fact, it should be pointed out that the fact that this band even reached their full potential is incredible. When they could barely get Shane MacGowan on stage most nights, let alone on stage sober enough to remember the words to his own songs, how could they have held it together for long enough to write and record this is a mystery to me.

This album is punk. It's traditional Irish music. It's cheeky, irreverent, fun, calamitous, potent and ultimately cuts right to the core of human existence. It's impossible for me not to simply quote from the lyrics and hope that starts to shine some light on this work.

In "Fairytale of New York," the man courting the woman is accused near the end of the tune of taking her dreams away when he met her. How does he respond? "I kept them with me, babe. I put them with my own, can't make it all alone, I built my dreams around you." Exit air from room. In Shane's own words (and I know this isn't the first time I've quoted him on this) "Lovely song, I wish I could rememeber writing it."

This album is absolute genius. One more fly-by highlight is the greatest horse racing song of all time ("Thanks and praises, thanks to Jesus, I bet on A Bottle of Smoke / I went to hell and to the races to bet on A Bottle of Smoke / The day being clear the sky being bright, he came up on the left like a streak of light / Like a drunken fuck on a Saturday night, up came A Bottle of Smoke / Twenty-fucking-five to one, my gambling days are done / I bet on a horse called A Bottle of Smoke and my horse won"). I dare The Weepies to write a horse racing song.

Maybe you don't get this album if playing tin whistle isn't one of your hobbies, but I don't think that's the case.

4. Bruce Springsteen - Greetings From Asbury Park New Jersey

The first we hear from "the future of rock and roll." He starts us with "Blinded by the Light," a song best known for being butchered by the Manfred Mann Faggot Band. And after a few lines, we get it. Bruce is going to bring us to his little slice of America, and introduce us to the quirky personalities who somehow resonate as weightily as Conrad's Marlow and Hemingway's El Sordo. This album oozes it's so smooth. The energy skips out of the speakers and takes on size and weight as it fills the car, room, backyard, or wherever.

This album contains my favorite (read: the greatest) song of all time in "For You." This song is not-so-ostensively about a suicide, but even given the dire subject matter the indominable spirit of the album can not be subdued. The ultimate sense is of a sort of hope. You feel that there is a great big eager exciting world swirling around the tradgedy at hand, knocking at the door and threatening to enter and make all well again at any time. Ironically, perhaps, in this song the Boss postulates that his intended "did not need [his] urgency."

Maybe she didn't need it, but we do and always have. The best of Bruce is his urgent, honest, bright-eyed assessment of our world. This album is full of that best, at its best. These qualities are still apparent even in The Rising, The Seeger Sessions Band stuff, and Magic, which is why Bruce is still the greatest after all these years.

As a side note - this album contains the name of this blog, which I only hope is as youthful and exuberant as its namesake. There's nothing worse than a dispassionate, scientific exploration of music.

3. Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

I am going to continue to put my money where my mouth is on this album. Despite being just over 3 months old, this collection of songs has to be one of my 5 favorite of all time. I can't even tell you with what excitement and disbelief I found myself listening to the album for the first 500 times. It is a complete effort, and in fact it shares many of the same youthful and energetic qualities of the previous disc. I would also like to mention at this time that having 6+ words in the album title is NOT an element of my album choice discernment process, it's just a coincidence that IISFfGwG, GfAPNJ and THCoJR all happen to be similarly titularly verbose. Although I will say, all three are fairly arrogant titles (the current album being the most egregiously so) and that does tickle my fancy.

Anyway, there's not too much to say about this album in addition to the current buzz surrounding it. The lead track is brilliant, and "The Temptation of Adam," to use Little Gun's own words, is like "a five hundred page great American novel in 4 minutes and 12 seconds." I still think that the line "fusion is the broken heart that's lonely's only thought" may still one day prove to be scientifically accurate when the medicinal pendulum swings back toward the primacy of the 4 humours and leeching as a viable treatment for influenza.

I started to write that Josh Ritter brings us back to a simpler, more decent time with his music, but I caught myself. Rather, I believe he shows us what is simple, important, and true in the very world we're all caught up in. His phrases are clear and transparent yet do not lack the least in beauty. This album will stand up for a long time to come.

2. Martin Sexton - The American

"Freedom came my way that night
Just like a jet plane in and out of sight
I was hauling ass at a million miles an hour
Wondering how hard I'd hit.

Singing sweet Cherie, Cherie, Cherie,
Cherie, won't you dare to
Leave a message and your number please
Wrap them in a big red bow and then send them care of me

I've taken my chance on the wind
I'm packing up all my bags
Taking a mistake I gotta make
Then I'm glory bound."

If I ever have a band, I'm going to name at least two of my albums The American. It's the best album title I've ever seen. And this album is dynamite to boot. It's like a fucking Kerouac novel set to music and performed by an angel choir. The lyrics here almost outshine Martin's pipes. And that's saying something.

This album captures all the wonder and heartache of one forced by his own circumstance and weakness to flee to the comforting anonymity of The West. This is the only story worth telling in America. Every other story has been told thousands of years ago in China, India, Greece, Egypt and Italy. All we have as Americans is this one story. In "Glory Bound", "The American," "The Beast In Me," "Love Keep Us Together," and "Way I Am" Martin spins this very tale with effortless skill and fascinating variation. Perhaps he draws on his own experience. Perhaps he's the pro(an)tagonist of "Love Keep Us Together." Regardless, this album is THE truly American experience. This is why it will always be my second favorite album.

To bad Martin Sexton sucks now (see: 2007 release Seeds).

1. Van Morrison - Astral Weeks

If Martin Sexton has told the American story, George Ivan Morrison tells the human story. In 8 tracks. The best word for the album, I think, is magical. Mystical, maybe. The instrumentation is remarkable, varied, and unstable. Van Morrison himself brings the cohesiveness to each track with near constant repetition of lines. It's a deep, passionate and personal journey we are permitted to follow him down, and I feel almost embarassed to listen, as if I am prying into something that should be between a man and his god, and not to be shared with anyone who has $20 and an account.

I think that this album is uncoverable and without flaw. Every note, stammer, pause or otherwise seem to be simultaneously intentioned as well as improvised. The songs do not only tell of stories, the instruments do not merely play notes. The songs themselves become love, panic, change, rain, wine, sunlight and everything else that has ever or will ever exist. Describing this album is impossible. I'm done trying. Hopefully that was over-the-top enough.

- JtR

Friday, December 21, 2007

My 5 "Favorite" Albums

I know this is late. Even Lil' D late. But I promised I'd have this post out at some point and I've finally had enough Celebration Ales to complete my promise.

To refresh your memories, Jack the Rabbit challenged Little Gun and me to post our favorite 5 albums of all-time about a lifetime ago. Now to clarify, these aren't our most critically acclaimed albums, nor our highest rated albums. They are simply our 5 'favorite' albums in any context. I've had my albums in mind this whole time, but I'm just now getting around to posting, so here it goes.

5) Tracy Chapman - Tracy Chapman (cassette)

This album will always hold a special spot in my heart for reasons only I can know. While I was extremely tempted to put New Age artist Ray Lynch's 1984 cassette Deep Breakfast in this slot for similar reasons, Chapman's album is still one that I listen to today, beyond my childhood memories. Both albums bring me back to driving in my dad's car when I was really little: on our way to a 5:00 a.m. hockey practice, cross country to Colorado for a family vacation, or to pre-school, this album will always bring me back to the two of us in his old grey Audi driving in the early morning somewhere. And for that, Tracy Chapman will always have a hold on me.

4) Marc Cohn - Marc Cohn

Ok, ok. This probably seems like I'm doing a disservice for my credibility at this point, but I can't deny my true feelings. Originally, I had the Beatles' Abbey Road slated in this spot. It would have been a safe pick, and while probably my favorite critically acclaimed album, it didn't meet my requirements as a 'favorite' album quite like Cohn's did. This cassette-turned-CD (yes, about that time) was a staple in my upbringing. I had at one point resolved to sing "Walking in Memphis" at the all school talent show in 1992. Luckily, I ended up doing an MC Hammer dance routine with a bunch of other friends that never made it to stage.

This album is chock full of gems that I still enjoy listening to until this day. Besides the well known "Walking in Memphis," "Ghost Train" and "Saving the Best for Last" provide some substance to this standout CD. While Little Gun may tell you that my wedding song will be Chapman's "The Promise" due to my own rantings at one point in time, it's really Cohn's "Perfect Love" that strikes a chord whenever I hear it. Now I just need a fiance and Cohn or James Taylor to agree to play at my wedding. I'm sure it'll all work out...

3) Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run

I'll never forget the first time I "really" listened to this album. My family was in doing something somewhere, and I was left in our old Volvo wagon in the parking lot. This wasn't any old Volvo though -- it had a CD player. Our first CD player in a car (a 6-Disc changer in the back of the car), it was '96 and it was the only CD in the player. I begrudgingly put it on and was immediately enthralled. Now, as pointed out many times, I'm not one for lyrics, but I was hooked by the stories and the emotions exuded by this to-me-still-unknown artist (I was only 12 or 13 at the time). I couldn't get over the growls, the sax, and the wonderfully arranged music that blasted so vehemently throughout the speakers. To this day, I've never enjoyed a single CD in one sitting as much as I did that one fine day.

2) Dave Matthews Band - Under the Table and Dreaming

Without a doubt, this was my ultimate find. To this day, I've never felt so excited about finding a new artist more than I did when I bought this CD. I bought this CD during the summer between 4th and 5th grade and never stopped listening to it. Sometimes you buy an amazing album and you listen to it so many times you actually burn out (hello Vitalogy and River of Dreams), but this was not the case with UtTaD. To this day, I can listen to this CD straight through and recite every mumbled line, albeit incorrectly, and instrument's note without batting an eye. I always dreamed that I would someday be at a DMB concert and one of the members wouldn't show up, leaving me to go on stage and sing their instrument's part since I knew it so well. I'm still waiting...

1) Derek & the Dominoes - The Layla Sessions

Anther Volvo favorite, my Dad bought this for my Mom for her birthday after we got the car. He was so excited when we gave it to her, but I didn't know why. Needless to say, I can almost guarantee that I've never listened to one album more times than this one. If I could pinpoint perfection, this would most likely be it. With an all-star band collaborating so cohesively, it's a wonder that this work of art isn't always in the running for best all-time album. From the first call-to-arms guitar licks on "I Looked Away" to the soothingly soft "Thorn Tree in the Garden," this album has it all.

While Eric Clapton is lovingly referred to as "God" around the world, I think that he's beyond labels. There's no one like him out there -- never has been, never will be. That includes Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix if you can believe that. Clapton's true manifestation comes in the form of a plastic disc that can swallow you whole if you don't pay attention.

If I become a millionaire, the only extravagant thing I would actually purchase is Clapton's '56 axe "Blackie," sold not so recently for almost $1 million. I don't even play guitar, but just knowing I could pick that beast like on "Key to the Highway" would be enough for me.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Fun to the Power of 3

I go to Austin, TX for two reasons: 1) To see live music. 2) They have an enormous Whole Foods there. A couple of weekends ago I went to Austin for both these reasons. The live music that I was going to see was courtesy of the second annual Fun, Fun, Fun Fest, which is put on by some local folks, probably because they think that other music festival in Austin is a little too commercial.

Anyway, the festival takes place in Waterloo Park, just north of Ironworks Barbeque (which my girlfriend’s dad can tell you how to get to from Minneapolis, Minnesota). The park is quite small…think of your town’s town park and that is about what it is. For that reason, the festival was incredibly intimate, which I’ll talk more about later. The festival is set up with three stages, and as far as I could gather, the acts on these stages were split up into three categories: Stage 1 was dance/dj/mash-up music; Stage 2 was the indie rock stage (guess where I was); and Stage 3 was the punk stage. And when I say punk stage I don’t mean like the Blink 182 kind of punk, or the Clash’s brand of punk, but instead I mean black t-shirt, multiple piercings in uncomfortable looking places, screaming your head of type of punk. My friend Will ventured over to Stage 3 at one point and was visibly shaken when he came back. The best punk-band name by far was Angry Samoans. A distant second was Viva Hate. (actual band names)

Anyway, here’s who I saw at my nancy-pants indie-rock stage.

3:50-4:30 – White Denim
-First of all, sweet band name. Second of all, really exciting band live. Their lead singer had a permanent smile on his face, their drummer randomly yelped, and their bassist looked like he was 12 and was wearing a shirt that he probably wore when he was 12. Myspace describes their music as visual/grime/fusion, which, although I have no idea what that means, seems to be accurate. At the show they basically played minute and a half spurts of songs, seemingly no beginning or end, just a barrage of drums and guitars, and then once they hit something resembling a song, they would stop, talk to the crowd for a little bit, and then say something like “Okay, here’s crazy-sexy-rainbow.”

4:35-5:20 – Final Fantasy
-The crew I was with was all about Final Fantasy, but I personally thought he was kind of not that sweet. He basically just plays the Andrew Bird game, quite literally. He’s got a piano on stage, a violin, and a looping pedal. And while it was neat to see him thread some tunes together all on his own, I didn’t think the songs themselves were all that strong on the whole. Also, the name of his album is “He Poos Clouds,” which I can’t really respect.

5:25-6:25 – Okkervil River
-Okkervil River is really the whole reason I went to the Fun Cubed Fest. I bought their newest album, Stage Names, a couple of months ago, and I like it a lot. This band brings a lot of intensity with both their up-tempo numbers and their slower tracks. Thumping drum beats, catchy tunes, and they utilize the piano nicely. The intensity only intensifies (?) live, with lead-man Will Sheff flailing about in a suit that was too small for him. It was also the end of their tour, and Sheff looked like he could have keeled over at any moment. One fun fact I just found out about the band is that in their liner notes, the lyrics to their songs are written in paragraph form…take it for what you will. The top track is “Unless It’s Kicks.” Try listening to this song in your car and not punching your steering wheel when the drums finally kick in…honestly, try it.

6:30-7:30 – Of Montreal
-I don’t know much about this band…but I really liked what I heard. Sweet bass-line on almost every song…almost like some sort of alt/disco/pop. Half-way through the lead singer came out in some very revealingly chaps sort of garment…the guitarist was wearing large wings the whole show.

7:35- 8:35 – The New Pornographers
-I thought this band was good, not great, which I think seems to be the general consensus regarding the New Pornos. I think the main thing that I can’t get over with this band is that Neko Case is the CO-lead singer…and that “other guy” she sings with actually gets the bulk of the mic time. The whole time I’m just like, “shut-up and let Neko sing.” And, I don’t know, maybe their songs don’t fit Neko’s vocals as well…but if that’s the case, maybe they should just write folk/alt/country songs that are in Neko’s wheelhouse. I’m quite serious about this. You wouldn’t ask Michael Jordan to share more of his shots with Horace Grant…why is Neko sharing a mic. (author’s note: I realize the Michael Jordan/Neko Case comparison is overstating the case just a bit. And I’ve actually thought about this a great deal, and in the realm of folk/alt/country singers, Neko would be more like a Chris Mullins (still a dream-teamer) with Lucinda Williams being Scottie Pippen, Patty Griffin as Larry Bird, and EmmyLou as MJ. Sheryl Crow would probably be Cristian Laettner.)

8:40 – Girl Talk
-We actually left New Pornos early to get up fairly close for Girl Talk…and for good reason. For those unaware, Girl Talk is a dj that creates “mash-ups,” where he combines bits and pieces of different songs (i.e. Biggie rapping over Tiny Dancer) into some dope dance tracks. Before the show there were a bunch of people on stage connecting various wires and whatnot, and we were trying to guess which one of the guys was Girl Talk. Then this shaggy haired skinny guy with a hooded sweatshirt who we thought was a roadie came out and carefully unwrapped two computers and set them on a table on the stage. Then, he just said, “Hey, my name’s Greg and I’m gonna play some songs for you guys.” Then he went off stage for a little while, before some sort of intro music came on and he re-emerged, this time charged with energy, and he just started mashing up some tracks on his computers. The best part was that he invited as many people as could fit on to the stage and people were just going crazy…you couldn’t even see Greg/Girl Talk. The show was really something; unfortunately I had to leave early to go watch BC lose to Florida State.

On Day 2 I only got to see one show because I had to get back down to the border town I call home, but the show I got to see was The Cave Singers. Just about every review of the Cave Singers I’ve read refers to their music as this type of folky punk-rock, or punk-rock folk music. I would just say that it’s somewhat dark, somber folk-music. It’s a 3-man outfit, consisting of the finger-picking of guitarist Derek Fudesco and the unique voice of lead-man Pete Quirk, and the multi-instrumental percussion laid down by Marty Lund (including a washboard). It was a good show, albeit a little boring. I think there was about 20 people there since it was one of the first of the day. After the show we met Mr. Fudesco, who is quite tall.

We had to head out after that, unfortunately missing Ted Leo and Cat Power (playing separate shows…not together…although that would be neat), but still, the Fun Fun Fun Fest lived up to it’s name.

*Pictures and Links will have to come later because it's late and there is a cloud in the sky so my internet is going very slowly.
*Little D, you're so right on with Cold Roses. I would also like to say that "Now That You're Gone" is one of the most haunting beautiful songs Adams has every written.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Little Dynamite's Music Corner: Cold Roses revisited

Inspired. Focused. Tight.

These are the adjectives I would use to describe Ryan Adams’ 2005 double disc, Cold Roses. Not the traditional words one would think of when listing ways to asses a still-addicted Adams, this recording was something that signaled his permanent place in folk history for me. Alongside The Cardinals, Adams’ backing band and collaborators, he finds himself among nature and whatever utopian peace that can be found within a cloud of drug and alcohol induced euphoria.

I took a new listen to this album recently after reading Adams’ newest write-up in the uber-cool indie magazine Paste. Now I've listened to his most recent Easy Tiger many, many times already, so it was nice to delve back into his older collection to see where he came from, where he has been, through to what he has become. Much of the article was devoted to his relationship with The Cardinals, who I often took for granted or outright dismissed. However, it's clear that these guys have a special relationship with Adams that grounds the notoriously fickle artist.

I put this album on at work for a few days in a row and was pleasantly surprised that I still enjoyed it as much as I did. Songs such as "Meadowlake Street" and "Beautiful Sorta" seem to have taken on a new mood on my newest listen -- something that I've never heard in their original plays. When "Meadowlake Street" begins, it seems like any other Adams ballad in that it is a solo acoustic recording with a hauntingly soft vocal track. However, when the band breaks through, Adams' vocals become a frantic, almost pleading spectacle that looking back, highlights his growing paranoia in the real world.

Classics such as "Let It Ride," "Rosebud," and "Dance All Night" do not go unnoticed, but they stand out less now than they did way back when. Maybe it's just the circumstances, but as a whole, this album functions soundly, in stark contrast to his critically disastrous double disc, Love Is Hell.

While it's nice to see Adams supposedly kicking his habit, it's interesting to look back at his older stuff and see what his experiences have done to him. From "Easy Plateau(s)" and natural peace to today's contentedness, Adams seems to have achieved what he always wanted.

I just hope he isn't content with his music already.

Martin Sexton is the new Sonic Death Monkey

I know nothing about Martin Sexton. Ok, almost nothing. I know I love "Glory Bound" but who doesn't? On the repeated recommendations of Jack the Rabbit, I blindly bought tickets to see Martin Sexton at the Roseland Ballroom the other night. It's extremely rare that I go to a concert without a solid knowledge of the artist, but the last time I took JTR's advice on a new band, I ended up awed at the Wood Bros. with him, so I figured Sexton might come through.

Well, yes and no.

If I were to give the night one word, it would be inconsistent. It seemed like every time I started to feel one of his songs, I was pulled right back out by a weaker track. It was like watching a great movie that continually addressed the audience. Totally interrupting. I rarely talk at concerts but I found myself talking to my friend most of the night when things got boring.

That's a bad sign...out of the entire night however, my biggest complaint was the lighting. Yes, I know: who pays attention to the lighting at a concert? Which is exactly why that's a bad sign. It was so bad that I was constantly annoyed by it. Good lighting is like good editing in a film -- you should never notice it. I was angry that whoever was in charge of the spotlight couldn't hold it on Sexton while he moved 6 inches this way and that while he was solo for the first 3 or 4 songs of the night. What could they possibly be looking at? And then, when the rest of the band came on stage, the lighting genius decided to continually flash the horrifically bright audience lights at us throughout the night. If you don't know what I mean, these were two sets of 8 lights that are blindingly bright that will sometimes go up at fantastic concerts like U2 and Pearl Jam when the audience is supposed to participate. When used sparingly at certain times, the audience will responded with the necessary "Oooo" or "Ahhhh" as the song dictates.

But here, they were just flashed indiscriminately, offbeat, and at very inappropriate times. I was actually getting angry.

Now, on to the good parts of the night. Sexton's voice is amazing. It's rare to hear someone with the range he has, a la M. Ward or Feist. Yet he sings with such a smooth and enjoyable presence that it's almost contagious. The audience was one of the most supportive and fervent crowds that I've seen and I was pleased with the energy that was in the venue. Sexton does need to work on how and when to use this following, however. At one point, he asked the audience to clap along, but he made the most complicated clap-along I've ever seen in my life. Without drinking even one beer at the show, I spent the entire 2+ minutes trying to figure out his rhythm to no avail. Obviously, the audience fared much worse. Sing-a-longs proved similar in some instances which was embarrassing for the audience as much as it was for Sexton.

Alright, alright. Way too many negatives. It's easier to write of the negatives than to explain the positives but I'll do my best.

After a lackluster and reggae-esque "Glory Bound," (the entire reason I came to see him) I turned to my friend and apologized for the night. I said that I had no idea what to expect and that the last song was my last hope.

And then they went unplugged.

I rarely am surprised at live shows, but this was truly a great idea. Sexton pulled out his acoustic guitar and the rest of his band crowded with him around a single microphone. After explaining that they would perform the next few songs "unplugged" and that the audience needed to be quiet to enjoy it, they busted into a few amazing songs that brought the house down. Featuring Sexton on acoustic and the rest of the band on stand-up bass, percussion on a bar stool, and something that I-completely-forgot-the-name-of-but-that-sounded-like "harmonium," they basically saved the night. With an enjoyable performance of "Way I Am," they made way for a tremendous cover of "Folsom Prison Blues" that blew me away. I was jumping and singing right along with them, even with the "please be quiet" restrictions in effect.

I think this might be the last time I buy tickets for a Martin Sexton concert, but I do have to say that there were many times throughout the night where I was enthralled by the show. His enthusiasm was never doubted and his encore performance left a good taste in my mouth as I walked out of the Ballroom. Sexton played keyboard and sang his brains out, just like I knew he could, instead of dancing and gesturing around like Jack Black as he did the rest of the night. Literally, you could have substituted Black in for Sexton and never known the difference. Haircut, dance moves, voice, banter, you name it -- it was uncanny. See for yourself:

If I had any influence, I think Sexton could do an unbelievable cover of Animal Libertation Orchestra's "Maria." Just listen to his voice vs. ALO. Anyways, here's some video evidence as to how amazing the unplugged portion of the night was:

Way I Am:

Folsom Prison Blues:

And just in case you were looking, here are some samples to get you going:

Martin Sexton -
*Glory Bound.mp3

ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) -

Johnny Cash -
*Folsom Prison Blues.mp3