Thursday, February 28, 2008

What's Playing | Willie Nelson - Moment of Forever

by Steve Pick

There’s probably not much less worthwhile an endeavor than trying to categorize Willie Nelson. By this stage in his nearly fifty-year career, the man has pretty much taken to doing whatever the heck he feels like, releasing in short order a reggae record, a Nashville songwriter homage, a roots rock Ryan Adams album, an old friends-get-together-and-sing-for-each-other album, and this hodgepodge of Texas singer/songwriter and contemporary Country trends. And, with the notable exception of most of the reggae record, all of it has been great.

I mean great with a capitol G. The first time I played Moment of Forever, I must confess I wasn’t able to pay attention to it, but a couple days driving around town with it in the CD player has convinced me Willie is still at the top of not only his game, but any game anybody wants to play with him. Sure, you can imagine him tackling the title track, a lovely contemplative ballad from Kris Kristofferson, or the stoned bluesy Guy Clark song, “Worry B Gone,” or even Randy Newman’s elegiac and newly relevant “Louisiana 1927,” and pretty much giving you exactly what you’ve always turned to Willie for. In love, in humor, in pathos, Willie can always live up to expectations.

But, who the heck expects him to be hanging with the likes of Kenny Chesney or Big Kenny (of Big and Rich), and making them sound like worthy partners? Given the rock instrumentation of today’s country sound, and some genuinely good songs from Kenny, some guy named David J. Matthews, and especially Nelson himself, Willie comes up with unexpected treasures, too. It’s that relaxed approach he brings to the songs, that ambling up to the lyrics and the tunes that makes it seem as though he’s just chatting at the back-yard fence even as he’s elegantly working the nuances of every word and every note.

I could name highlights – “Gravedigger” by Matthews is an astounding meditation on life and death and the importance of remembering every person who ever lived; Nelson’s own “Always Now” sounds like wisdom from the ancients; “The Bob Song” by Big Kenny simultaneously cracks me up, makes me want to waltz, and offers up some off-handed philosophical remarks about letting each be his own; and Nelson’s “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore” completely negates its title by cracking me up every time I hear it.

But, it’s not an album of simply highlights, not even when he covers Dylan’s “You Gotta Serve Somebody,” an obvious connection between a great song interpreter and a song that always benefits from interpretation. It’s an album of connections, of mixing traditions with the world of today’s music in ways that nobody could have seen coming. Look, I don’t know much of anything about Big and Rich or Kenny Chesney, but they clearly know a bit about Willie Nelson, and that makes them at least worthy of my respect. Because Willie Nelson just keeps on absorbing the whole of American music, and if there are styles he hasn’t mastered yet, I fully expect he’ll get there sooner or later.

Here's a lovely live solo version of "Always Now":

You can, of course, buy the CD or the LP from us here.

Buddy Miles Plays No More

We were saddened to hear of the passing of drummer Buddy Miles, who traversed the rock, soul, and jazz worlds back in the late 60s and early 70s, and sporadically since. Read the full story from the Los Angeles Times.

And check out this very well-written appreciation from a blog called The Corner that we will definitely be reading more often.

And finally, a legendary performance from the old TV series, "Playboy After Dark."

Of course, we've got Buddy Miles stuff for sale right here.

Mark Your Calendar, Come and Rock

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Play It Back, Teo

by Joe Schwab

The death of legendary producer Teo Macero on the 19th passed with little notice except for a nice obit in Wednesday’s New York Times.

Teo’s influence on music, particularly jazz in the second half of the 20th century was beyond reproach. His production work at Columbia records is what will be most remembered. His resume at Columbia looks like an Amazon list of the jazz records you must own in your lifetime. These include Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, Miles Davis and Gil Evans’ Sketches of Spain and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. He was one of the few Jazz producers who started as a musician. His solo recordings for Savoy and Columbia as well as his work in Charles Mingus’ band helped pave the way for the “Third Stream” movement of the 50’s which blended into the avant garde revolution of the 60’s.

Teo’s finest hour was his work with Miles Davis on classics like Bitches Brew, A Tribute to Jack Johnson, In a Silent Way, Get Up With It and On The Corner. By this time Miles would have various musicians brought into the studio to jam on vamps in a hypnotic combination of Arnold Schoenberg’s atonality and Sly & the Family Stones' hard driving funk. It was Teo that crafted and sculpted these sessions into masterpieces that have been influencing Jazz musicians to this day.

All these sessions have been well documented in the Columbia Legacy box sets. Though Teo felt that unreleased recordings were not meant to be heard (he detested these box sets), we were able to discover the importance of Teo’s influence and why these recording were a collaboration of importance much like the pairing of Miles Davis and Gil Evans. Below is an excerpt from an upcoming documentary on the life of Macero as he discusses working on the Bitches Brew sessions:

You can buy Teo here.

I Guess There Is Depression

by Steve Pick

Well, this is sad news. No Depression, the bi-monthly magazine devoted to alt-country, whatever that is (or more precisely, to American roots-based music of a wide variety of styles and influences) will cease publication with the May-June 2008 issue. I'm bummed out not only because I wrote record reviews for them and always hoped to land a feature one day, but because it was one of the only American magazines that was seriously aimed at the adult music fan.

No Depression was never a magazine looking for the latest trends. Even when it was founded based on enthusiasm for Uncle Tupelo and the bands that sprung in their wake, it was always firmly aware of the historical connections between what had happened before and what was happening now. And, over the years, with a band of truly talented feature writers and associate editors egging them on, Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock continued to push the boundaries of what could be covered in this magazine. The only constants were a love for the history of American music and a desire to spread the word about the people who kept the roots alive and growing.

The new issue of No Depression has just hit the stands, and there will be one more. Get out there and buy these, and visit the website, which will continue with some form of the standards set by the print edition.

For further thoughts from an excellent writer who's been with No Depression for a long time, read Roy Kasten's take on the demise here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What's Playing | Sleater-Kinney - All Hands on the Bad One

By Jen Eide

When I got home from work last night and was making dinner, I wondered what I would blog about next. While pondering just what exactly it is that makes the powdered cheese in my macaroni packet that weird, almost neon orange color, I realized that I could write about albums that have the same color in their cover art! So here we go:

Forget all that "women in rock" junk that plagued this phase of S-K's career, and that most critics had a lukewarm response to AHOTBO. This is one of the masterworks in their catalog, almost like the Stones' Exile on Mainstreet or the Clash's London Calling in terms of importance. Like London Calling, it makes a statement while still remaining musical. "Youth Decay" is one of the most intense, incendiary songs you'll ever hear, "The Professional" demonstrates guitarist Carrie Brownstein's newfound mastery of special effects, and the "The Swimmer" is a haunting departure from their usual songwriting--much in the way "Silver" was for the Pixies. The textural interplay between Tucker and Brownstein's guitars and vocals are still here, but this album exudes a loose funky feel absent on previous works. And it's the last album where it sounds like they're still having fun.

We have AHOTBO on a big slab of vinyl (and some other S-K titles) here.

Now, if you happen to know what makes my mac & cheese that particular shade of orange, or know of another album cover has that color in its cover art, please leave me a comment so I have something to write about next time. Thanks. Enjoy the video.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Close Look: Johnny Griffin - The Congregation

by Steve Pick

I thought it might be fun to write whatever I think while listening to the 1957 album by Johnny Griffin, The Congregation. It’s the kind of rock solid jazz record that never gets enough attention. Not a world-changer, just a damn good record, as are so many Blue Note releases.

“The Congregation”: Who the heck is Kenny Dennis? The drummer plays like he’s in a classic strip club on the head of this churchy tune (kinda built on “Down By the Riverside,” methinks), and then subtly starts swinging hard as Griffin flies into the chorus. Sonny Clark’s piano supports, as he does as well as anybody at Blue Note back in 1957, when this was recorded, and Griffin’s muscular tone wrestles with the changes, slapping them with long, lean notes and short jabs of punctuated syncopation. Clark’s solo is full of open spaces and occasional bursts of dissonance. About halfway through, he changes his melodic mind, and joins with bassist Paul Chambers to walk his way through the chords. Of course, Clark gets to skip nimbly around the path from time to time. Chambers takes one of his patented melodic solos, with that full-bodied tone that made him one of the first calls on the jazz recording scene back in those days (and got him a job with Miles). Griffin comes back in way on the edges of the chords, then swings his way back towards the head.

“Latin Quarter”: A little bit of that cha-cha beat, as Griffin elegantly presents the melody in the head, then kicks into high gear for the chorus. Dennis doesn’t stick to the Latin feel past the first few bars, as he and Chambers lock into a hard swinging groove, with deft cymbal and hi-hat play. The further in he gets, Griffin is really feeling this one, bursting out strings of notes until jumping to a conclusion, when Clark takes over the ideas he was developing. Man, every time I hear Sonny Clark, I marvel at the delicious feel he brings to the piano, the deft comping underneath his spritely solos, and his ability to bring every idea to a perfectly logical conclusion. Chambers comes in for a solo that’s the opposite in feel to his spot on the first cut, a quieter, less intense, but no less rich development of the tune. Griffin gets to rip loose on a final chorus where the breaths are few and the notes are many before we get that Latin feel to return, and then he takes a powerful coda all by himself.

“I’m Glad There Is You”: Here comes a standard ballad, pure meat for Griffin’s hard blowing ways. Right from the start, he’s embellishing the tune, making sure we can hear it but letting us know he’s got a lot more on his mind than just playing something this familiar. He rises from the head into a high-end and richly syncopated tune which comments on the original with delicious irony. He may be glad there is you, but he’s making sure you know who’s in charge here. Once stated, Clark comes in for a slowly dancing statement of his own, one which seems much more wedded to the idea of being in love and on equal footing. A couple choruses, though, and Griffin pushes his way back to the front, though Clark’s comping is almost implying a secondary melody at this point. Chambers isn’t holding back, running a string of bass notes against the flurry from Griffin on top before the return to the head, and a ritard to a lovely, gracious short coda.

“Main Spring”: One of two Griffin originals on the album, it’s the kind of thing I could hear Jimmy Smith running loose with. But no organ here, just Griffin blowing hard riffs over Clark’s blocky comping, Chambers’ quiet walking, and Dennis’ loose swinging. It’s a blues, but that’s not the first thing you notice. Griffin’s solo goes for a lower register than on other songs here, and he does some neat shifts in rhythmic emphasis that do indeed make it seem as if he’s unwinding a taut spring. Now it’s going one way, now another, but he’s never out of control. Clark wants to play, too, and he approaches every 12 bars from a different rhythmic angle himself. Again, he leaves so much space in his playing, even when he double times it. Chambers decides to bow his solo, always an odd choice on a blues, but he starts sawing away into an alternately frenetic and stately feel. Then we get back to the head again, and Griffin sounds determined to remind us of why the tune mattered in the first place, while Clark seems determined to kick it into high gear again. It’s Griffin’s album, so of course it ends quickly.

“It’s You Or No One”: Another standard, played in double time. The head is over quickly, and Griffin’s real interest takes over, soaring over those juicy chord changes with fat melodic inventions and rhythmic variations. Short solo, and then Clark runs through the patterns, a furious and delightful set of ideas. Another bowed solo from Chambers, and it’s great to hear him playfully throw in rests at unexpected spots, then run through a series of triplets. Here comes the trading of fours between Griffin and Dennis, and oddly, Dennis sounds a little more inspired than the leader here. Once Griffin gets back to blowing, though, he’s firmly in control again, and those chords lead him back to a restatement of the theme.

“I Remember You”: The album ended with that last cut, but this is a CD, so we get a bonus. Clark states the thematic introduction, though Griffin hogs the melody for himself, as Dennis works that hi-hat to within an inch of its life. These chords are juicy, too, and when the solo starts, Griffin is on fire, climbing up and down the register, leaving long rests before a burst of staccato notes and then a syncopated treatise on possibilities. From there, Chambers picks up the bow again, and roughs out his own take on what Griffin has laid down. Clark’s piano is again sterling, and sticks to the same patterns as Griffin established. Then we get the one and only drum solo on the disc, and Dennis does a great job of generating highly melodic rhythmic heat. And then, it’s back to the theme, and the 37 minutes with Johnny Griffin’s quartet are over. Who’s ready to start again?

How about instead we watch this cool 1964 video of Griffin blowing the heck out of "A Night in Tunisia"?

Oh, and if you want to get your own copy of The Congregation, click here.

Art Schools Spawn Rock Stars

By Jen Eide

Do you ever wonder what the musical landscape would be like if the members of certain bands had made different college career choices? Sonic Youth, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or our favorite newcomers MGMT may never have existed. What is it about art schools in particular that seem to launch the careers of aspiring rock bands? Is it the sheer number of creative people being thrown together in a small space? Whatever sparks their formation, the aspiring artists turned musicians who succeed are probably living a much better (though less stable) existence than had they gone on to be graphic designers or performance artists. At least they have a better story to tell their grandchildren.

The Rhode Island School of Design is notable for spawning not one but two legendary bands, the Talking Heads and—more recently—indie darlings Les Savy Fav. Les Savy Fav was formed in 1995 at RISD, they later they relocated to Brooklyn and became well known throughout the music scene for their intensity and for singer Tim Harrington’s unusual stage antics. They have a dedicated but small following that continues to grow as the word spreads. They seem to have influenced other musicians as well—you can hear the genesis of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitar sound (if not style) in Les Savy Fav’s music.

These two bands really have nothing in common aside from their formation at RISD, but these pair of videos are both live performances which feature the use of costume or clothing prominently. Plus, I can continue on with my 1980’s music video binge on YouTube!

Les Savy Fav performs “Patty Lee” on Conan O’Brien. The vocal on this performance is really raw compared to the version on last year's excellent Let's Stay Friends.

Talking Heads “Girlfriend Is Better” from the concert film “Stop Making Sense.” I love this period of the Talking Heads career--David Byrne's stiff, academic delivery is grounded by the unstoppable funk of keyboardist Bernie Worrell. View their catalog here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Another Eight Hours of Euclid Music

by Darren Snow

Okay, now I’m gonna take a turn at writing a little review of every disc that gets played on Euclid’s sound system throughout the day. I may or may not make any selections myself, as I’m up in the office and nowhere near the stereo controls. Mr. Pick is at the wheel for the first couple of hours.

Van Morrison, “Wavelength,” Polydor Records.
This is a record I’d never investigated before, as it’s not usually listed among his classics, and it was from a year that was as un-Van-Morrison as any year’s ever been: 1978. Van’s trademark mystically-tinged Celtic folk-soul wasn’t getting much ink during this peak era for disco, punk, and glossy AOR, but he kept on keepin’ on with nary a change in formula—unless you count the wispy synth squiggles that pop up here and there, and even they have a pretty good excuse for existing: Van’s singing about the excitement of pulling in distant radio transmissions, and the squelchy noises are illustrative. I’ve always liked the “glamour shot” on the cover too, in which “the Man” is looking particularly manly. Because, when he’s left to his own devices, his album photos haven’t always presented him as the coolest cat on Earth. I mean, c’mon, have you seen the back cover of "A Sense of Wonder", where he looks like Zorro?

Chick Corea & Gary Burton, “Crystal Silence,” ECM Records.
Yep, the original one, arriving in our Used bin just as Steve was expressing an interest in hearing it. He finds it “lighter” than the sequel, and it’s mighty light, all right. You can’t get into too much trouble with a piano and a vibraphone, and this is excellent music to float away on. Though it’s obviously carefully constructed, it can be a little hard to pay very close attention to, as there’s not a lot of textural variance and the slightest distraction can push it into the background--but it’s a perfect soundtrack for watching snow fall.

MGMT, “Oracular Spectacular,” Columbia Records
[Obviously, Jack has arrived!] It’s great that Sony has remembered how to sign and promote the kind of alternative music (for lack of a better term) that’s not aimed at the barbed-wire-tattoo-on-the-bicep crowd. They really had it goin’ on in the ‘80s (Midnight Oil, Fishbone, Romeo Void, etc.), and lost it so badly in the ‘90s that I was totally shocked when they signed Modest Mouse. They’ve been on a slowly-accelerating roll ever since, and these melodic eccentrics are their first coup of the new year. They flirt with dance-rock on the punchiest tracks (“Time to Pretend,” “Kids,” “Electric Feel,”) but also use their synths as filigree or faux strings when they’re striking a cheeky ‘70s pomp-rock pose. No two songs sound anything alike, but the slightly scratchy vocals tie everything together. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if Dave Fridmann will even consider producing a band whose singer doesn’t sound at all like Wayne Coyne.

Kristin Hersh, “Learn to Sing like a Star,” Yep Roc Records
The weather has made this a slow business day, so someone’s taking the opportunity to vacuum downstairs. This means I can barely hear the stereo, but that’s OK—I know this album pretty well. Kristin used to purvey loud electric rock in Throwing Muses (I think her gifts were best displayed on The Real Ramona), but the largely acoustic direction her solo career has taken is a very compatible setting for the nicely-worn grain of her voice. This album’s pretty agreeable throughout, the standout being “Vertigo”—which has the same haunting quality as her sorta-hit “Your Ghost” (but minus Michael Stipe).

Ozzy Osbourne, “Diary of a Madman,” Epic Records
I always forget which songs are on this one and which are on its predecessor, Blizzard of Ozz. It hardly matters, except that on this one you don’t get to cackle “Eye! Eye! Eye!” along with Ozzy because it doesn’t have “Crazy Train.” It does have the one about getting high, though, and the one about how you can’t kill rock ‘n’ roll: it probably wasn’t the Ozz himself (after all, he later attempted to write a kick-ass song about Perry Mason, for god’s sake), but someone on his marketing team was a freakin’ genius. Bless his heart, Ozzy occupies the exact intersection between the British definition of “geezer” and the American. And the funny thing is that Geezer was one of the other guys in Black Sabbath.

Baby Dayliner, “Critics Pass Away,” Brassland Records
Jack and I are happy to have a used copy of this in stock at last, because—since none of our distributors carried it—we could never stock it as a new CD. Now if I could only describe it! It’s basically synth-pop—informed by the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s incarnations of the genre—infused with hip-hop production flourishes and nice acoustic
-guitar accents. This, put together with Dayliner’s unschooled, deadpan croon, makes the record sound a little like Timbaland producing Heaven 17. Only sexier.

Band of Horses, “Cease to Begin,” Sub Pop Records
Oh, good. I haven’t heard this one enough; it’s the band’s second album, and the first one didn’t sink in until I’d heard it several times. I automatically think of these guys as kinda brooding, but it’s dawning on me that I need to disregard the dark, austere cover art and the fact that their first hit was called “The Funeral”—these guys are making some buoyant, bursting-with-life music. Clean, melodic, boyish vocals—not unlike latter-day Nada Surf—are draped over all kinds of attractive arrangements: The lead single and first track, “Is There a Ghost,” is three minutes’ worth of surging guitars, infectious enthusiasm, and only three repeated lines of lyrics, while subsequent tracks approach shaggy, Crazy Horse-style lurch, sea-chantey lilt, and the head-bobbing pop of the Beach Boys’ less-introspective ‘70s output. Sweet stuff.

Pretenders, “Pretenders II,” Sire Records
I cannot think of a single cringeworthy moment on the Pretenders’ incredible debut, but boy, there are plenty on the follow-up. Fortunately, the original lineup—heard here for the last time before the Reaper intervened—was so strong and tight that the sheer kickassitude of the music nearly makes up for the doofiness of the lyrics in, for instance, “Bad Boys Get Spanked” and “Jealous Dogs.” Of course, Chrissie Hynde still delivered a few flawless gems this time around, including the classic singles “Talk of the Town” and “Message of Love”—and, as a bonus, the current CD edition of this album comes with a bonus disc of live tracks, demos, etc.—so Pretenders II is still worth having. As are the first album—one of the greatest rock records ever made, say I--and the third album. After that, while recognizing the occasional brilliant latter-day Pretenders single, I cannot be held responsible for what you step in.

Hot Chip, “Made in the Dark,” Astralwerks Records
I grew to love these UK synth-poppers’ last album, and this one’s growing on me too. As on their previous outing, they don’t present their most melodic stuff right at the start—they wear down your resistance with a couple of club stompers before sidling up to you on the sofa, batting their lashes and offering their most beguiling tunes and creative grooves. The title tune enters blue-eyed soul territory…Another number starts with garagey guitars before settling into an Erasure-esque trot…Yet another is kind of a “Sexual Healing” for nerds. I’m just free-associating here as the record plays on…Hey, this is new since last time: The singer’s voice has gained a wee bit of George Harrison tremor, of all things. Damn, this just might be as good as The Warning. Well, we can’t say they didn’t warn us!

The Makers, “Strangest Parade,” Sub Pop
There is some flamin’ wild-ass guitar on this disc, along with some passionate, slightly strangulated vocals, and before I knew what it was, I assumed it was a product of the 1970s. I’m pretty sure that was the intended effect, but I couldn’t name any specific reference points. The whole punk-by-default, beautiful-loser thing exemplified (as far as I can tell) by Johnny Thunders kinda passed me by, and this hearty 2002 pastiche seems to be rooted somewhere between that era and—oh, I don’t know—Goats Head Soup? This is one of those bands so determined to express its love for rock ‘n’ roll through imitation—if not of a particular band, at least of an era—that it neglects to establish its own legacy. I’m not complaining, though: I loved the Stray Cats, for instance. What they did for the late ‘50s, the Makers seem to be doing for the late ‘70s.

And that’s eight hours of music at Euclid. Sounds like a pretty cool place, doesn’t it?

Belinda Carlisle Was My Elvis Presley

By Jen Eide

Even though the writer’s strike is over, there’s not much to watch right now, save the new episodes of Medium on Monday nights and Tina Fey’s upcoming appearance this weekend on Saturday Night Live. I love what Fey said in her acceptance speech for the Screen Actors Guild Award: “Thank you so much for considering me an actor.”

I’ve been wasting a lot of time on YouTube lately and realized how much I love those early videos that aired on MTV which had no budget, no plot, and were quite likely shot on film. I can’t imagine anyone in this day and age releasing performance footage interspersed with girls driving through LA in a car and then dancing in a fountain, but it was a lot of fun to watch in the early 1980’s video for the Go-Go’s "Our Lips Are Sealed." I also stumbled across the two videos from the Go-Go’s 1984 release Talk Show (apparently now out of print, though the good stuff is still available on any of their Greatest Hits packages). Here’s the video for the first single, "Head Over Heels."

Three great things about this song:
*Belinda Carlisle really delivers on the vocal.
*Kathy Valentine’s rock solid bass guitar break just before they head into the chorus.
*The best use of a handclap ever.

Three things they probably regret about this video:
*Belinda and Jane’s matching Flashdance style sweatshirts.
*Charlotte Caffey’s, well, quite atrocious mall hair made much, much worse by the accompanying eye makeup.
*Drummer Gina Schock’s shirt. I know it was the 80’s and all, but damn, even Goodwill wouldn’t put that thing out on the floor.

This is the video for the second single, "Turn To You."

I don’t remember ever seeing this video when it was released--I am quite sure the cross dressing would have caught my attention. Belinda sure looks cute with a pompadour and wearing a suit, plus you may notice Rob Lowe—as the prom date—underneath all that makeup.

Ultimately, the main reason for posting these videos may have been so that you would have an excuse to ask Steve about the time in the early 80’s when he was backstage interviewing the Go-Go’s and they threatened to tie him up and take him to Chicago with them. Dude, you could have been in one of their raunchy tour bus videos and be reliving it from time to time on VH1!

What's Playing | MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

by Jack Probst

Formed in 2002 by two art school students, MGMT* have evolved into a clever beast that can spit out pop gems from its many heads. Yeah… like the mythical hydra, minus the pop gems. They’ve toured with Of Montreal, so you know they’ve got Kevin Barnes behind them. The first 5 tracks that make up side A of “Oracular Spectacular” are pure indie pop gold. The whole thing was produced by Dave Fridmann, known best for his work with The Flaming Lips. He knows exactly what sound MGMT is going for. The synths are pumped up, the vocals are trippy, and the beats are, as the kids say, “off da hook.”

The greatest track on the album is, without a doubt, “Kids”. It’s a powerful song about the innocence of childhood, and how growing up can make you forget it. Yeah, it’s dance music, but it runs deeper than that. It’s all in the lyrics, with lines like “the water is warm/ but it’s sending me shivers” and “control yourself/take only what you need from it” are powerful. “Electric Feel” has the funk bass line down, and falsetto vocals all the way. “The Handshake” starts off with echoes and vibrations, and then builds to the magical chorus that ends entirely too soon.

This is my first favorite album of 2008 and MGMT are going to be crafting albums like this for a long time.

* It was confirmed to me yesterday by a label rep that it is, in fact, said “MGMT” and not “management”.

Want it? We've got it here on either LP or CD.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Day in the Musical Life

by Steve Pick

I work in eight-hour shifts here at Euclid Records, and we listen to a lot of music during that time. I thought it would be fun and educational to jot down a few thoughts about the records that play during a typical day at the store. (Technically, it was less typical than usual, as Jack left early, and I worked by myself tonight, and Neil and I tend to share many musical enthusiasms. In other words, I only disliked one CD played all day.)

Nick Lowe, “Jesus of Cool,” Yep Roc Records. The long-awaited reissue of Nick Lowe’s classic first album (originally released in England under this title, and in America as “Pure Pop For Now People”) has finally occurred. It’s got every cut on both the English and American versions of the record – there were significant differences, including a blistering live version of “Heart of the City” on the English instead of the studio on the American, and the same words, different rhythm and chorus of “Shake’n’Pop” in England and “They Called it Rock” in America). I was surprised to find out that I really and truly prefer the original American album as I learned it from about 100 plays back in 1978 and 1979. But, if I bother to learn how to program a CD player, I can recreate that, and I have to admit the remastering is a million times better than either my old LP or the CD versions of any of these songs I’ve heard.

Holy Fuck, “LP,” XI Recordings. I’m not saying this to hurt Jack’s feelings, but sometimes he plays records I don’t like. This is one of those times. If you’ve ever wondered what Public Image, Ltd. might have sounded like if “Metal Box” had been recorded with synthesizers and sequencers and no vocals, here’s your answer. It’s all dubby and trippy, yeah, but not really an experience with much of a musical point.

Charles Mingus, “Pre-Bird,” Verve Records. What? A Mingus disc with Booker Ervin, Eric Dolphy, Jimmy Knepper and Yusef Lateef I’ve never heard before? It’s called “Pre-Bird” because the songs were written before bebop revolutionized jazz, but even when covering Ellington (“Take the A Train,” “Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me”), Mingus and company don’t sound pre-modern here. These are spirited tunes (even the heavy vocal downers, which have some complexly brilliant arrangements), and every soloist is masterful. The compositions are less dense perhaps than, say, “Mingus Ah Um” material, but the playing soars.

Liam Finn, “I’ll Be Lightning,” Yep Roc Records. Neil Finn’s son carries on the elegant melodic tradition of his father, and a bit of the wacked out rocker tradition of his uncle Tim Finn, and he seems to have inherited a bit of the Beatles melancholy tradition of the late Elliott Smith as well. I was engaged by the lightly pluckish melody of “Better to Be” the first time I heard it, and since Jack and I have each played this album at least two or three times a week. Now, I’m loving more and more Finn’s tunesmithery, and his knack for simple, acoustic guitar-based arrangements which incorporate keyboards, strings, and bass and drums.

The Kinks, “Present a Soap Opera,” Rhino Records. Back in the 70s, Ray Davies got the idea (probably because it paid off so well for Pete Townshend and the Who, not to mention Andrew Lloyd Weber with “Jesus Christ Superstar”) to put together large conceptual pieces roughly akin to rock operas. This was the second of three, none of which I’d ever paid attention to in my life. That mid-70s period was a blank in my Kinks education until I heard “Everybody’s a Star (Starmaker)” in a TV commercial the other night. (I never remember the products, but I’m always glad to hear good songs.) Wow! It’s a classic Kinks song, even to the point of using the “You’ve Really Got Me” chords in yet another configuration. Then, along comes a used copy to the store, and I’m realizing that, despite the dialogue and occasional Broadway-styled conventions, this is chock full of great Ray Davies songs, and some of Dave Davies’ loveliest, most organic guitar lines ever.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, “Raising Sand,” Rounder Records. I didn’t actually hear this, as Neil played it while I was at lunch, but hey, June 19, at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, and at a bunch of other places around the country in March and June.

Jim Lauderdale & the Dream Players, “Honey Songs,” Yep Roc. That’s one heck of a dream Jim had, as he assembled legendary guitarist James Burton, E-Street Band bassist Garry Tallent, Flying Burito Band steel player Al Perkins, session stalwart pianist Glen D. Hardin, and drummer for the stars Ron Tutt to back up yet another collection of magnificent country songs from the most under-rated major talent of the last twenty years. And, if you notice there are a lot of Yep Roc releases played in our store, it’s because Neil and I like so damn many of the records that label puts out.

Aretha Franklin, “30 Greatest Hits,” Rhino Records. Here’s a record store secret you probably didn’t know. If you walk into the store, and you hear a classic artist’s greatest hits album, especially one that hasn’t just been issued, the odds are really good that the clerk is busy as all get out. Say there’s a customer in front of you with a return, a customer on the phone wanting to place a mail order rather than do it on the computer he’s telling me he’s using right then, and several other customers running around looking like they could check out any minute. Factor in that the other clerks have gone home, and I’m the only one left, and the last CD ended, and I hate silence in a record store. That’s when I grab something entirely familiar yet never tiresome, like say the best songs from the greatest female soul singer of all time. (Don't panic if you click on the link and it says "Definitive Soul"; that's the album title in our database, but it says "30 Greatest Hits" on the front cover.)

Chick Corea & Gary Burton, “The New Crystal Silence,” Concord Records. I’m lost here, trying to tell you how beautiful this record is. I’ve never heard the original “Crystal Silence,” an oversight on my part I need to rectify. I know little about Corea and Burton in general, other than that I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard from them, except when Corea was mired in fusion that didn’t work as well as the earliest stuff he did. I can tell you that the first disc, with the pianist and vibraphonist accompanied by a symphony orchestra, is awesome in the original sense of the word, as in majestic, inspired, maybe even a little frightening in its power. And that I will be playing this a lot and for a long time to come.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More Jobim Duets: Jobim Meets the Crooners

by Joe Schwab

I’m not a big fan of Andy Williams; I always found his choice of songs, arrangements and TV show to be a bit lacking. But this clip shows off his the beautiful tenor and makes you long for more of the same. This is from the old Andy Williams show (Does anyone remember the bear?) I’m assuming from 1968-69. Here’s Girl From Ipanema followed by a stunning version of Ela √© Carioca.

Frank Sinatra did two records with Tom Jobim in the 60’s, the first one being arguably the finest recording of Sinatra’s career. Frank said it was the hardest recording session he ever did. Having been groomed as a band singer, Sinatra never had to sing this softly, but he pulled it off magnificently. Here are two videos from “A Man and His Music” special circa 1969, first a medley from the first record followed by another reading of Girl from Ipanema.

What's Playing | Mike Doughty - Golden Delicious

By Jack Probst

After the band Soul Coughing broke up back in ’99, front man Mike Doughty spent a few years out on the road with his guitar, bringing his self-proclaimed “small rock” around the country. After self-releasing an album and an EP, Doughty hit the studio with Dan Wilson of Semisonic to record Haughty Melodic, which consisted of songs tested out on tour. While it was wonderful to hear these songs fleshed out, the album lacked the raw sound of his infamous live shows.

On his new album Golden Delicious, Doughty pulls out a list of brand new tracks, with the exception of the first single, “27 Jennifers”. (It was originally featured on the Rockity Roll EP.) This fuller sound can be directly attributed to his new touring band, which played on the entire album. They really understand the whole groove that Doughty travels on. It’s amazing that he found such talented players just by posting a want ad up on the internet. The smooth sounds of John Kirby on the electronic piano compliment this path that Mike is currently navigating.

On opening track “Fort Hood”, which takes a shot at the war, Doughty proclaims you should “blast Young Jeezy with your friends in a parking lot.” Expect more clever Doughty lyrics on songs like “I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep on Dancing” and “I Wrote a Song About Your Car”. There’s even a bit of a throw back to the Soul Coughing sound on the track “More Bacon Than the Pan Can Handle”. The best track on the album is “Wednesday (No Se Apoye)”, a quiet little ditty that let’s you hear the deep sweetness of his voice.

Mike Doughty’s Band will be appearing live at the Gargoyle on March 27th. Be sure to check out all things Doughty at his website, which has a link to his frequently updated blog.

Here's a cool video of "Girl in the Blue Dress," just to show you what I'm talking about.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

We Love Links! Happy Valentine's Day

by Steve Pick

We're trying hard not to link to Carrie Brownstein's fabulous Monitor Mix blog on the NPR website every time she updates it, but this Valentine's Day mix-tape advice is freakin' hilarious, and downright helpful.

Some of us have been known to refer to the dB's as "the Beatles of the 80's," but even we acknowledge the primacy of the originators in that statement. Anyway, Peter Holsapple, one of the two great songwriters in the dB's, has a wonderful blog, and this entry on the influence of the Beatles on all that has come since is a great read.

There are just entirely too many cool things to see and do at the blog run by the fine folks at the Kill Rock Stars label. Whether it's the trailer from the upcoming Indiana Jones movie, or a video clip from the Go-Go's that you haven't seen in 25 years, or actual discussion about new and upcoming releases on the label itself, this is a fun, fun place to visit every day.

Maria Schneider is a name I've heard before, but I knew nothing at all about her until I read this wonderfully evocative piece by the excellent writer at Quiet Bubble.

Aw, what the heck, let's watch a video of her:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What's Playing | Magnetic Fields - Distortion

The staff here at Euclid Records has radically varied tastes in music, so it’s an event like the planets have aligned or something when we all like the same album. We all love the new Magnetic Fields album, so we thought we’d take a group approach to writing this review.

With a sound that is dense, dark and layered with guitar feedback, Stephin Merritt was able to fulfill his ambition of outdoing the Jesus and Mary Chain in the studio. Here’s what we have to say about some of the tracks:

Stephin Merritt likes to challenge himself as a songwriter, so it didn’t seem odd that he’d use the structure of a Gregorian Chant for the intro of Too Drunk To Dream, but the thing that jars you out of complacency is the frequent use of the word “shitfaced.” The rest of the song sounds a lot like this—you’re at a party, drunk, dizzy and about to pass out on the couch. The last thing you remember as the room spins and your eyes open and close is seeing debauched party goers forming a can-can line and dancing around the apartment, occasionally spilling drinks while performing high kicks. – Jen Eide

The sound of this record is modeled after Psychocandy, the first Jesus & Mary Chain record, and it completely captures the distant, amateurish approach to drums that they used, not to mention the especially nasty, overtone-filled feedback that made the first Ramones album sound like it was a Roy Thomas Baker production or something. But, of course, Merritt isn’t an amateur, and he knows all the songwriting tricks that his idols of Broadway taught him. So, even on a three-chord psycho instrumental rave-up like “Three-Way,” there’s a heck of a lot of purely musical stuff going on in the mix. Piano chords, echoed guitar melodies, and of course the chants of “Three-Way” thrown in at random intervals. Sex as ironic early 60s party signifier! What a concept.

The rest of the album could have been done as a typical Magnetic Fields album, because Merritt’s songs are clever, funny, pointed, and melodically rich as they ever have been. But, I’m glad they went with the J&M Chain idea, because it adds an edge to this music that was missing even on a masterpiece like 69 Love Songs. Sure, “The Nun’s Litany” would catch my ear with a strummed acoustic guitar and Shirley Simms’ typical matter-of-fact vocal approach to lyrics about being a topless waitress so she could make her mother cry. But, throw in the feedback, the dirge drums, and the overdriven keyboards, and you’ve got something that reveals new layers of information every time you hear it.

Oh, and I think I remember Jen at a party at my place many years ago forming a can-can line and dancing around the apartment, and if she didn’t spill drinks or perform high kicks, she did indeed demonstrate her ability to do the splits, thus sending all the salsa flying into the wall, leaving a stain that looked very much as if somebody had been shot directly into my wall. And that was before anybody had ever even heard “Too Drunk to Dream.” – Steve Pick

I have to start my section of the review by saying while I enjoy the Jesus and Mary Chain, I honestly don’t know their catalogue enough to really make a comparison. Seems like most everyone else has got that covered for me. Am I showing my age?

Stephin Merritt has used the titles for his last few Magnetic Field records to let you know exactly what you’re in for. Calling this one “Distortion” is more than fitting. Running through every track is a great crackle and constant feedback. (Refer to the 69 Love Songs track “Yeah! Oh Yeah!” as an example.) But like most Magnetic Fields’ songs, there is plenty of structure throughout. There’s no need to worry Merritt is taking an experimental noise rock route. This record is full of his sweet love songs and completely depressing, but clever break up songs. The standout track for me is “Please Stop Dancing,” a downer of a tune about trying to get someone out of your head. The lyrics may crush your heart, but the beat will keep your feet moving. “I’ll Dream Alone” has Merritt beautifully belting out a ballad to show he’s still got that voice. For all you decaying out there, “Zombie Boy” is a catchy little tune that would make the undead from the “Thriller” video do their moves. Overall, this is the best thing to come out of Stephin Merritt since 69 Love Songs. – Jack Probst

I’ll admit I never got much of a buzz from the Velvet Underground’s distinctive drone until bands like the Modern Lovers and the Vulgar Boatmen recontextualized the basic sound for simple folk like myself who have never been flayed by a transvestite, or even harbored fantasies of such things. Recontextualized into songs about driving around, having crushes, and waiting for the phone to ring, those mock-Velvets grooves suddenly sounded like real life to less-nihilistic music lovers far from the Lower East Side. And in a similar vein, I gotta say I get more of a kick from the Magnetic Fields’ Psychocandy pastiche than I ever did from the genuine article. The Reid brothers’ odes to smack and unspecific gloom ‘n’ doom never struck a chord with me personally, but Stephin Merritt’s songs of boozin’ and sardonic regret are something I can understand! Having couched dozens of his misanthropic ditties in twinky synth-pop and/or rinky-dink Tin Pan Alley throwback arrangements, Merritt reserves the right to try wrapping a few tunes in a sonic toxic cloud more reflective of his usually-sour state of mind. He might eventually worry that he threw away or at least trivialized some of his best songs by wrapping this cactus cloak around his caustic croak--but, for the fans, Distortion is a welcome departure in a prolific career full of surprises. In a couple of years, when he’s put out about half a dozen more records, we’ll remember this one fondly as “the fuzzy one.” –Darren Snow

And, of course, you can buy this and other fine Magnetic Fields albums right here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What's Playing | Forro in the Dark - Bonfires of Sao Joao

by Jen Eide

Forro In The Dark take their name from forro, a northeast Brazilian dance music, and they’ve gained quite a following in the clubs of New York. These musicians are mostly Brazilian expatriates with the notable exception of guitarist Smokey Hormel who is known for his work with Tom Waits and Beck. So as you can imagine, the music here is not completely true to form, which is not a criticism—there’s a nice blend of oddball guitar and Brazilian rhythms. World music enthusiast David Byrne sings on two tracks which add to the album’s experimental feel. In addition, the tracks that Bebel Gilberto and Miho Hatori contribute are gorgeous, and the instrumentals are freewheeling romps. Hatori (formerly of Cibo Matto) and Hormel previously collaborated on two EPs in a similar downtown NY/Brazilian style under the name "Smokey & Miho." Fans of Smokey & Miho will enjoy Forro in the Dark.

Check out their MySpace page for mp3’s and enjoy the video for Asa Branca featuring David Byrne.

I Saw Richard Thompson at the Pageant Last Night

by Steve Pick

She’s married to Harry Shearer. I can only imagine the dinner-table conversations in that house. Or, my God! The parties they must throw. You almost have to study up on bons mots for a month before you’d go to their house.

What am I talking about? You thought you were reading a review of Richard Thompson’s performance Monday night at the Pageant, and indeed you are. It’s just that my head was turned by one Judith Owen, one of two co-stars Richard brought in tow for this year’s edition of “1000 Years of Popular Music.” And, looking her up on the interweb this morning, I find out she’s married to one of the funniest guys in the world, Harry Shearer.

Thompson hadn’t done the “1000 Years” show in a while, and never in St. Louis before. Still, I’d heard the album he released via his website, and knew the general schtick. Take medieval troubadour ballads, Italian love songs, a bit of early opera, some boat working songs, Music Hall, 20th Century classic pop, and rock’n’roll, and broadly speaking cover the entire history of music that people have loved.

Hey, I loved it when he did it all himself, but bringing Owen and Debra Dobkin along for the ride was an inspired idea. For one thing, it enabled a three-part madrigal from the 16th century to send shivers up and down my spine. Holy cow, I could have sat there for an entire night of that sort of thing.

But, there was so much more history to cover. Richard’s rendition of “Shenandoah” was exquisite, and the music hall number the three did was plenty of fun. I’d tell you more about the first set, but I don’t know the names of any of the material. Suffice it to say that Owen conjured up memories of the days when Richard sang with Linda, but threw in a wider range of stylistic ability than even that wonderful partnership.

Further evidence came in the second set, when her versions of “Night and Day” and “Cry Me a River” wound up being among the evening’s greatest moments. Not to be outdone, though, Richard took the lead on a scintillating “Friday On My Mind,” and the final encore of three early Beatles songs (ending with “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and I can’t believe I can’t remember the first two). Here was rock’n’roll exhilaration, done with acoustic guitar, half a drum kit, and three maniacal vocalists falling in love with the music all over again.

Please, please, please tell me this year’s shows will be released on CD, because there were only a few repeats from the original version, and the role of Owen (who also played keyboards) and Dobkin (who sang wonderfully and played all the percussion) needs to be documented.

Plenty of options to buy Richard Thompson for your collection. I recommend each and every one of these. And, if you were as entranced by Judith Owen as I was, you can pick up these, too.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Stop the Presses: Jazz Record Wins Grammy Award

by Steve Pick

Heck no, I didn’t watch the Grammys. I turned them on a couple times. Once I was pretty happy to see Morris Day and the Time doing their classic “Jungle Love,” but it quickly morphed into a really silly theatrical presentation of Rihanna singing “Umbrella.” Do they not see that while the Time were making fun of stardom, they weren’t taking the songs literally, and having dancers running around in jungle outfits? I noticed Day slinked off the stage, almost in shame. I changed the channel.

Another time there was a treacly version of “Let It Be” sung by some guy walking around channeling Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz,” with that big-eyed look of awe and wonder, as a whole bunch of tarted-up dancers wandered around behind him. Back to the hockey game on the other channel I sped.

Then there was Fergie singing with John Legend at the piano. The song was kinda nice, but she wasn’t comfortable with the notes – no, really, she couldn’t sing ‘em right – and rhythmically, she didn’t have much verve. So, by that time, the hockey game was over, and I switched to LeBron James scoring a million points in a route over whatever team Allen Iverson is on, before I suddenly remembered Lucy was trying to tell Ricky that she was having a baby. When Desi Arnaz sang “We’re Having a Baby, My Baby and Me,” it was the most musically interesting moment of the night.

Anyway, I forgot all about the Grammys until this morning, when I see in the paper that Herbie Hancock actually snared the Album of the Year award over the heavily favored Kanye West and Amy Winehouse albums. There is apparently some surprise about this, mostly because nobody ever believes jazz records deserve such recognition, and even more so because despite my telling everybody who asked for the last bunch of months that “River” is a great record, nobody seems to have actually listened to it but me.

Herbie Hancock takes the songs of Joni Mitchell and re-imagines them, sometimes with vocalists – Tina Turner simmers on a cool take of “Edith and the Kingpin,”, Brazilian singer Luciana Souza twists “Amelia,” and Leonard Cohen majestically recites “The Jungle Line” – and sometimes without – Hancock and long-time cohort Wayne Shorter both shine brightest on a stunning take of “Both Sides Now.” Two songs not associated with Mitchell – Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” and Shorter’s classic “Neffertiti,” are thrown in just for variety, and they’re absolutely great.

I had short-listed “River” in my top 40 or so records of 2007, (as I had with Amy Winehouse’s “Back in Black,”), so I wasn’t at all surprised that it could survive the political machinations that lead to Grammy Awards. I’m just glad that this might get the record to a whole lot of fresh ears, who will find a heck of a lot of musical delights they otherwise would never have heard.

Get your copy now!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

What's Playing | John Coltrane - Best of the Bethlehem Sessions

by Steve Pick

I remember the first time I heard John Coltrane as vividly as I can remember anything that ever happened to me. It was like the first kiss, the first taste of white chocolate, the first date with my wife, the first time I saw a hockey game, the first time I saw snow fall, all rolled into one.

The album was “Jupiter Variations,” one of the final recordings Trane ever made. While listening to this duet between Coltrane’s riotous saxophone and Rashied Ali’s furious drumming, I believe to this day I saw God fly out of the speakers. No music before or since has ever shaken me to the core the way that record did, as I had absolutely no preparation for it when it happened.

Since then, I quickly found out that not all Coltrane was that frenetic, but that virtually all Coltrane was that inspired. Once he kicked heroin back in early 1957, Trane was on a constant quest to blow the universe apart with his horn, to create something which matched the majesty of nature itself every time he played. (Funny thing about that - heroin is such a drug of negation, while Trane's music was so undeniably and consistently affirmative.) Whether sticking like glue to the chord changes, or floating across the modal space, or flying outside any structure previously known to jazz, Coltrane was always searching for the new expression, and always finding it with exquisite precision.

So, I’m listening tonight to this album, “The Best of the Bethlehem Sessions,” which came out about six years ago. It cobbles together tracks from late 1957, when Trane was sitting in on sessions with Art Blakey, or with a coterie of Downbeat Poll Winners. Coherent, this thing ain’t – when it switches from the taut arrangements of Blakey, either for big band or six-piece group, to the loose jam sessions on standards of the all-star stuff, you feel like you’ve jumped to another musical planet.

But, Trane himself (and to a lesser extent, Donald Byrd) is as great as ever here. I’m particulary entranced by his fiery solo on his own composition “Pristine.” It sounds like thousands of notes crammed into a tight space, rapid-fire collisions of sound that never leaves the harmony behind, but which doesn’t allow for emptiness. There are two takes here, but the issued one is far superior.

It’s way cool to hear Trane play with the push of Art Blakey behind him. Whether leading the big band on a ballad like “The Kiss of No Return,” or playing in tandem with Byrd on the boppish “Tippin’,” Coltrane sounds absolutely simpatico with the hard-nosed drummer swinging like the genius he was. In fact, something tells me that a small part of Blakey might have been thinking of these sessions when he hired Wayne Shorter a couple years later. There is a similar vibe when Trane plays with Blakey as Shorter conjured up.

Everything here has been issued before on other Bethlehem albums, but I wasn’t all that familiar with it, and it’s nice to hear some Coltrane I hadn’t encountered before.

There are no videos of Trane with Blakey, that I can find, so I figured we'd throw up one of Miles Davis with Coltrane playing "So What." Why not?

You know you need some new Coltrane yourself, right? Here are your options.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Be-Bop Squirrels

The success of Alvin and the Chipmunks in the late 1950's spawned numerous imitation recording groups, including the Grasshoppers and the Nutty Squirrels. While the Grasshoppers never made it to animated form, the cartoon version of the Nutty Squirrels actually wound up beating the Chipmunks to TV by a year.

The story of the Nutty Squirrels began when jazzman Don Elliott and TV composer Alexander "Sascha" Burland (who wrote the original theme for TV's What's My Line?), amused by the Chipmunks concept, joined together to record an album in the guise of a hip group of Chipmunk sound-alike rodents. Like Ross Bagdasarian (aka David Seville), they recorded their normal singing voices at 16 RPM, then played them back at 33-1/3 RPM--giving that unique Chipmunk-sound to the hip scat-singing style that Elliott had perfected during his solo work in the early 1950's. Backing Elliott and Burland's altered vocals were some of the best New York session men of the late 1950s, including Cannonball Adderley on sax, Bobby Jaspar on flute, and Sam Most on clarinet. The Nutty Squirrels were quickly signed by the new Hanover-Signature label, owned in part by comedian Steve Allen and producer Bob Thiele. Unfortunately the masters to the album were lost in transit when Allen moved to Los Angeles in the 1960's. A cut from that first album, "Uh-Oh Part 2," made it to number 14 in the Hit Parade for the week of December 28, 1959, almost exactly one year after "The Chipmunk Song" made the same list.

Thanks to the fine Toon Tracker for the information.

We have one title in stock - vinyl only.

What's Playing | The Symptoms - Always Heed the Symptoms: "Live" in '78

by Steve Pick

In 1978, there just weren’t any bar bands like the Symptoms. If you went out to have drinks and hear a live band, you were going to get a technically proficient and likely soulless rendition of the latest hits on rock radio – Journey, Nugent, Kansas, REO, that sort of thing. There may be an original song or two thrown in the set, but these were going to sound exactly like the covers, only without the familiarity.

Fifties and sixties rock’n’roll was considered beyond pass√©. All the general public knew about that stuff was learned from either the comedic stylings of Sha Na Na or the occasional mention on “Happy Days.” The Symptoms, however, loved those old records. They loved Chuck Berry, the Kingsmen, Johnny Otis, the Isley Brothers, Bobby Freeman, just to name a few. And, they taught a generation of people just barely beginning to understand that the New Wave of the late 70s was related much more to these progenitors than to the contemporary sounds being played in every other club in town.

New Wave was the connection between the Symptoms classic old rock’n’roll and its younger audience. Because, in addition to covering songs like “Matchbox” by Carl Perkins or “Hungry” by Paul Revere and the Raiders, this five-piece band from Springfield, MO had its ears to the ground, and performed “(I’d Go the) Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric or “Less Than Zero” by Elvis Costello when these songs were brand spanking new.

The Symptoms recorded one LP, the impossibly rare “Don’t Blame the Symptoms,” before singer Jim Wunderle left, and the remaining members regrouped as the Skeletons and/or the Morells. Almeron Records has done a fine job unearthing live recordings of the latter two incarnations, but this new album captures the band on two shows at the late lamented Mississippi Nights back in October, 1978 (when that club was brand-spanking new, too.) And, the recording quality is actually slightly better than the muddy live album they released back in the day.

There was a time when it seemed New Wave was merely a corrective, a way to get rock’n’roll back on the path it had wandered from somewhere in the early 70s. The Symptoms understood that rock’n’roll was meant to be fun, to be energetic, to be danceable above all. While the Skeletons and the Morells would go on to make even better variations on these themes, the Symptoms captured the zeitgeist of 1978, when putting Nick Lowe songs next to early Bob Seger next to the Bobby Fuller Four was the height of audacity and rebellion, and seemed to point to the future.

They were a bar band as we now understand it, but as was completely unknown when they came along at the time. And they were a great bar band, with an incredible selection of songs played and sung with precision and abandon at the same time. This record should make you feel young, whether you were there at the time or not. Because the music is so vibrant, so full of life.

And, of course we have it for sale right here at our website.

Oh, and if you want to see what we have by the Morells, it's here. Or the Skeletons, here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The People Are Talking - You Should Be Reading These Links

by Steve Pick

She's not writing everyday, as she promised, but Carrie Brownstein, formerly of the rock band Sleater-Kinney, has a really good blog over at the NPR website. For somebody who's not really a specialist on football, American dreams and aspirations, or classic rock, she nails the Super Bowl and its halftime show with particularly acute insights. Check out her comparison of Springsteen the street preacher vs. Petty the street sweeper.

Jane Dark's Sugarhigh! is an eclectic culture blog - we're still reeling from the only trenchant analysis of the TV series "Gossip Girl" she wrote up about six weeks ago - and when she writes about music, it is with the most open ears and the most cogent observations on what's coming out of the speakers and where in the cultural context these sounds belong. So, while we don't agree with every rave she gives, her look-back at the just finished year is absolutely essential music writing. Spread over several posts, everything she wrote in January is guaranteed to make you think hard about music, and likely make you want to hear something you hadn't noticed.

At Euclid Records, we sell these cute little books in the 33 1/3 series, all extended essays on single LPs by writers who invest a lot more thought into individual albums than most of us have done. One of the latest entries in the series, one which we don't have in the store yet, is by Carl Wilson (not the one from the Beach Boys who died ten years ago) on the subect of Celine Dion's "Let's Talk About Love." The subtitle is "Journey to the End of Taste" and Wilson sets out to figure out what it is so many people like about a record that so many critics and other cultural gate-keepers automatically dismiss. Sounds fascinating to me, and the comments by the Utopian TurtleTop on his blog (scroll down if you see a lot of blank green space - something about his layout makes that happen) offer plenty of interesting responses. There is much to be learned about music that transcends our cultural biases.

Charles Hughes is constantly bringing up records I haven't heard over at the Living In Stereo blog he shares with David Cantwell. I don't know anything about Josh Turner, but there's a lot of both pro and con on him here, not only on the music. Quite a lot of interesting thoughts on the subject of race in American history and contemporary life.

Tom & Elis

by Joe Schwab

In 1974 Elis Regina, Brazil’s foremost singer flew to Los Angeles to record with the Godfather of Bossa Nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim. What transpired was quintessential Bossa Nova. The recording of the album was documented for Brazilian television. Below is a scene from that film as Tom and Elis record the centerpiece to the record, "Aguas De Marco (The Waters Of March)". The interplay and playfulness of this recording makes it possibly the most famous duet of its kind.

Of course, we've got a whole heck of a lot of choices for you to buy:

Tom and Elis catalogue

Antonio Carlos Jobim catalogue

Elis Regina catalogue

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Jazz Tourist: 3 Men and a Flute

by Darren Snow

The poor flute. It’s the instrument high-school band directors foist upon girls who really want to play the saxophone or drums instead. It was the anthropomorphized object of desire in Sid and Marty Krofft’s nightmarishly dorky “H.R. Pufnstuf.” And it’s never been particularly hip in rock circles: Known most widely as the primary gimmick in Jethro Tull’s curiously pissy sheep-trader rock, it also adds an incongruously genteel veneer to the Marshall Tucker Band’s Southern pastorals—but when I think of the flute in a rock context, the first thing that comes to mind is the devilishly cod-Latin solo the dude in Firefall taunts his girlfriend with in “Strange Way,” right after he gives her shit for having an anxiety attack in the middle of the night. (Same guy who wrote “Just Remember I Love You,” actually. Look up both sets of lyrics sometime, just for kicks!)

What kind of respect does the flute get in jazz circles?

I can’t help but suspect that it’s tolerated at best. While Roland Kirk, Sam Rivers, and Eric Dolphy all counted the flute among their featured instruments, it was hardly the primary axe for any of these decorated post-bop vets. Miles Davis dismissed flute jazz as “kid stuff,” and while Hubert Laws and Bobbi Humphrey have their fans, many consider their music to be fluffy, fusion-y, “not-quite-real” jazz. Oh, and Herbie Mann? Long before I heard his music (he had a disco hit called “Superman;” so much for jazz-snob cred), I was mildly disturbed by the sleeve of Push Push, which was omnipresent at my local library when I was a kid. No one ever checked it out, possibly fearing that it was the beginning of an unpromising new genre: Ron Jeremy Jazz.

The instrument’s dubious reputation was not foremost in my mind when I started trawling through Euclid’s jazz section for good, nourishing—but not too out-there—instrumental music, but I was still surprised to discover how much I was enjoying the flute when it did make an appearance. Here are three CDs—presently available in our used bin at press time—that made me stand up, look into the mirror, and face it: I like flute jazz. Some of it.

Fathead first impressed me by contributing some of the sauciest tidbits to Don Braden’s underrated “BBQ-jazz” dalliance, Organic, and the first albums on which I heard him as leader are these two early-‘80s Muse sessions (originally Resurgence! and Still Hard Times) reissued in ’97 by Joel Dorn’s label as a twofer. They marked a return to more substantial stuff after a few mushy, programmed pop-jazz missteps, and the alto/tenor man’s first “serious” jazz dates to feature the most recent additions to his arsenal: soprano sax and flute. From the earlier session, “Mama Lou” features composer Newman on the latter instrument, shadowed by trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and guitarist Ted Dunbar on a melody of feline grace and playfulness; drummer Louis Hayes leads the ensemble on a strut through Central Park in spring. The flute-watcher’s highlight from the second session is a bluesy walk through “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” paced by Walter Booker’s burly bass and abetted by a soulful alto solo from Hank Crawford. Other standouts—sans flute—include a beautiful, elegiac “Everything Must Change” (in which Cedar Walton’s electric piano—really the only thing that dates the session in the least—actually suits the mood perfectly) and the loping “Still Hard Times,” whose breezy vibe belies the titular complaint. All in all, the disc is a wonderful two-for-the-price-of-one document of a versatile veteran rediscovering his soul-jazz mojo at a tough time in jazz when many around him were drifting into yacht-rock waters in search of the adult-contemporary dollar.

Cobbled together from three early-1956 sessions with almost no sidemen in common, this disc finds its best moments when the alto/tenor/clarinet/flute man reveals his showbiz roots: An eight-piece combo is featured on a sweet, sentimental “Ruby” that takes him back to his WWII dance-band days, and the smartly cooking “Cycle” opens the album with the kind of hot-cha! verve that would have made it an ideal theme for a late-night talk show of a decade or two later. One of only three pieces breaking the four-minute mark, Buddy’s own “Cheryl Ann” (on which he sticks to sax) is another lovely ballad, this one essayed by a quartet including Ernie Freeman and Barney Kessel. Buddy’s not rewriting any rules here—that wasn’t his line of work—but Man of Many Parts is an excellent showcase for a slightly old-fashioned pro gifted with an infectious enthusiasm.

I initially picked up this entry in the Jazz in Paris series—split between two separate mid-‘50s sessions sharing no participants--because the occupants of the piano stool intrigued me: Bob Dorough (on the Banks sessions) and Blossom Dearie (with onetime paramour Jaspar) are both well known as distinctive singers and songwriters, but on these sessions they’re just tinklin’. I was drawn more strongly to the four Jaspar cuts than to Banks’ eight due to the sweet, intimate sound of his session: Christian Garros’ brushed, unusually close-miked batterie almost sounds like an overamped, primitive drum machine at times, cuddled up cheek-by-jowl next to Jaspar’s whispery flute in a mix that might be considered claustrophobic if it didn’t suit the material so well: Teeny-tiny renditions of “Old Devil Moon” and “There Will Never Be Another You”—both under two and a half minutes long—seem to gain something from the cuddly, toyboxy sound-field. I wish I could think of something to say about the Banks session, but now we’re getting into an issue almost as thorny as my affection for jazz flute: the fact that jazz guitar almost always bores me to tears.

Something to work on, I guess.