Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Catfish in flight

I'm just hours away from jettin' off to visit Mr. Chair, Ms. Lippy and various other folks in the wonderful city of Stumptown U.S.A. You might wonder why someone would leave 75 degrees and beautiful sunshine for 57 and drizzly rain, but that slides right on past the point. This is a damn well-earned vacation and it'll be lived up to the fullest.
Wednesday we'll go catch Son Volt, who have a pretty damn outstanding new album. For years and years I was neutral on the Uncle Tupelo split, giving equal props to the first two albums from both Tweedy and Farrar. I even caught Son Volt on the Wide Swing Tremolo tour and still think Medicine Hat is one of the best Dylan songs that Dylan never wrote (lyrics here).
But then came Summerteeth and I finally had a preference for Wilco over Son Volt.
Still, I've followed everything Farrar has done and dig the new tunes. The show should be something special, definitely.
Little else is planned out ahead of time for Portland, but I'll get to visit an old friend I grew up with and haven't seen in 10 years. I 'spose myspace can be a good thing from time to time if it brings folks out of the woodwork.
So here's to a decent week for everybody and though I'm not promising, perhaps I'll get a bug up my nose to send an update from the Northwest.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Catfish goes a-shufflin'

This is a gimmick I see all over the Web, so I’ll steal it for mine own purposes. I’ll take my iPod, set it to random, and then chat about what pops up. Should be fun. But first, I ought to note that the gizmo in question is filled with downloads and new purchases, not remotely indicative of the entire collection, but absolutely what I’ve been listening to most lately.
I’ll run y’all through 13 tunes, since that’s my favorite number. (Note: I did skip one song, but it was “Monster” by Band of Horses, and they’re already represented in the shuffle, so I elected to just continue along.)

Band of Horses - Our Swords
“Everything All the Time” is an amazing album, my favorite from the past year. This tune isn’t quite among my handful of favorites from the album, but that’s just because it’s such a strong collection of songs.
“Count on us all stepping on our own toes
Count on us all falling on our own swords tonight.”

Wilco - Is That the Thanks I Get - Live on Late Night with Conan O’Brien
Tweedy’s solo version on the Live in the Northwest DVD is the only one officially released, but I dig this whole band version. To bad it isn’t listed among the tracks on the new Sky Blue Sky album, it would fit right in. On another live show I have, Tweedy says it’s a tune he wrote for Solomon Burke to sing on the the Don’t Give Up On Me album and I’d love to hear that. It’s a soul groove, with a hooky sing-along chorus and chocked full of guitars, piano and organ fills, that definitely points in the direction Tweedy is going with his latest songwriting. I hope a full band version shows up on some EP or single or soundtrack or something soon.

Mike Doughty - St. Louise is Listening - The Gambler EP
It’s an iTunes exclusive EP, with Doughty trotting St. Louise out of the Soul Coughing back catalog. It’s one of the only SC tunes he’s kept playing, along with True Dreams of Wichita, my all-time favorite Doughty tune, and Janine, which still sounds mysterious.
The EP is a fun experiment in covers, from the unlikely Kenny Rogers’ hit “The Gambler” to the more properly aligned “King of Carrot Flowers” from Neutral Milk Hotel and “Strange Powers” from the Magnetic Fields.

Arcade Fire - (Antichrist Television Blues) - Neon Bible
This new album is amazing and I gotta say this is the first track that has really grabbed me. It’ll surely end up on the next mix I throw together. I never once thought of any Springsteen comparisons before this song, but it comes through to me so clearly. Imagine a reincarnation of the skinny, bearded and knit-cap wearing Bohemian Bruce, long before Born to Run, and you’ve pretty much got it. It’s that early Circus Bruce, the overly wordy worshipper of Dylan and teenage nights. And that’s just the sound. I haven’t really honed in on the lyrics yet - the song clocks well past five minutes and there isn’t really a chorus or even an instrumental break. This is a song to get to love slowly and surely.

Gin Blossoms - Hey Jealousy (Live) - New Miserable Experience reissue
It’s absolutely one of the most overlooked albums of the 1990s. This version comes from the two-disc reissue. The Gin Blossoms then had hit on their own brand of perfect guitar rock, both punky and jangly, as if the Replacements grew up in the desert. And it’s not a comparison I make lightly either. Had Doug Hopkins not been kicked out of the band and killed himself, the Gin Blossoms would be a hell of a lot more than nostalgia concerts right now, they’d have a catalog full of pent-up anger and profound sorrow.

Rainer - Last Fair Deal - Live at the Sound Factory
Tucson’s late blues master, a foreign-born, Chicago-bred slide player, Rainer Ptacek is amazing. Here he turns out the best version of this Robert Johnson standard I’ve ever heard. Seriously, go check out this entire show, April 8, 1986, an astoundingly clear recording available for free and legally at the live music archive:
http://www.archive.org/details/rainer1986-04-08.flac16. It’s a two-part show, acoustic and electric, part of an old KXCI series.

Billy Bragg - Greetings to the New Brunette - The Peel Sessions
A solo radio performance of one of Bragg’s first great love songs, it’s got one of my favorite lines of his: “Celebrating my love for you with a pint of beer and a new tattoo.” Like in most of Bragg’s love songs, the sentiment is fairly simple, but the relationship seems much more complex. Few writers can capture it in quite the same way, the conflict of basic desires and the much more complicated underlying reality that emerges whenever two people lay eyes on each other.

The Swim - Let’s Get Unknown - We’re Green
The fact that they’re good friends from Prescott aside, I’d recommend this band to anyone who digs the Shins, A.C. Newman or Band of Horses. Caleb and Colton sing great together and the guitar interplay is fantastic. Check them at myspace.com/yeahtheswim.

The Format - Matches (live) - Live on the World Cafe
This is a somber, acoustic performance by a band that’s typically one of the most unapologetically poppy around. The Dog Problems album from last year is damned OK, but I prefer the earlier Interventions and Lullabys and even their first EP.

Audrey Hepburn - Moon River - From Breakfast at Tiffany's
I had a couple of stretches my freshman and sophomore years when I’d watch lots of Audrey Hepburn movies, courtesy of Tony, and like anyone else paying attention fell in love with her screen presence. She’s a sweet singer (if not the best) and this subtle version to me is the gold standard.

Rilo Kiley - Portions for Foxes - Live on the Current
This stripped-down radio performance of the centerpiece to the band’s More Adventurous album (their best) shows how great of a singer Jenny Lewis can be. On the album, she screams the lyric “Come here!” but in this version it’s just a whisper, turning the song’s tone from feisty to vulnerable. The repeated “bad news” chorus loses a bit of steam, but I’m always a fan of hearing songs performed in different styles, whether it’s a cover or a reimagined original.

Alejandro Escovedo - Arizona - The Boxing Mirror
This legend’s latest album wastes no time screwing around before punching you in the gut. “Have another drink on me, I’ve been empty since Arizona,” he sings in the opening line. Surrounded by disoriented, wailing electric guitars, the song talks about his collapse on stage of hepatitis a few years ago, in Phoenix, I think, though I’ve also heard it was Tucson. The Por Vida tribute album collected some amazing performances of his songs.
I caught him live a couple years back and he was as powerful as he was versatile. This album catches both and on its way to becoming my favorite of his. I can’t wait for his return to Tucson, Cinco de Mayo at the Rialto, with Drive-by Truckers. Be there.

Dan Bern - Breathe - Breathe
The folk singer’s latest is another well-produced (I’d say over-produced, but I like all the little touches just too much to use that negative term) rock album. I don’t think the album in general quite has the songs of New American Language, but this title track is definitely among his best ever. The song has the post-Bush reelection Bern starting out cynical and weary (“There's nothing innocent about a newborn babe / That a few years here can't cure”), only to turn things around with the “Stop what you’re doing and breathe” chorus.