Sunday, April 27, 2008

Let the sunshine in

On the request of Mike Doughty, here's his new video for "Fort Hood," a bittersweet tune that touches on war and lost youth and is definitely among the strongest tracks on his new Golden Delicious album.

Read the rationale behind the video on Doughty's blog.

Find some live tracks from Doughty previously at Catfish Vegas Presents...

Mike Doughty - Madeline and Nine (live Plush, 2005-09-27)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

That's Tucson for you

Tonight I caught the truly amazing Howe Gelb, along with perhaps 50 other music fans who managed to actually hear about the last-minute show.

It's a laid back town and I guess our legends are the same. Howe is prepping for a tour with the Canadian singer-songwriter Kate Maki, whose album On High he produced and released on his OW OM record label.

Sure the show was just announced yesterday, and the duo did play another venue on Thursday, but I was surprised at the relative low turnout. For damn sake folks, it was free! And it's not as if Howe plays every weekend in town - it's more like two or three times a year any more. In all likelihood, though, it was just simply a bonus - Howe said they were heading out on tour in the morning and hadn't really gotten to practice... so why not invite all a few dozen friends?

As usual, Howe was a meandering and quirky performer, but undeniably captivating as he drew his own brand of noise out of the classic Gibson you see in the photo. He can turn on a dime from spoken-word folk to Neil Young style rave-up quicker than anybody, including Young, and throw in curveballs that I haven't come close to figuring out after seeing him about a dozen times by now.

One song, perhaps titled "Sawdust and Chandeliers," was either a new song or a 21st century talking blues improvised right on site. Howe himself said sometimes they make up songs in rehearsal, just so they can at least play them once. But regardless, it's an absolute gem, about a dude who's probably somewhere in the neighborhood of Howe's age, staring in the mirror at skin sagging from the cheekbones and all sorts of other places it shouldn't sag from.

Howe kept it short, saying it was a school night and that he had no wisdom to impart as he left the stage. It was officially billed (as it was) as an Arizona Amp and Alternator show, with Giant Sand's Danish bassist Thøger Lund and Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara filling out the band.

Kate Maki, not so much an opener as a singer who started off the night with the band before yielding to Howe, is understated but a talented guitarist with a country-folk vibe. An article from her native Ottawa describes the fortuitous pairing as "one of the most resilient and consistently inventive American artists of the last two decades" lending his talents to a similarly tantalizingly performer who's on the fringes in all the good ways.

Trust me, Maki is an iPod commercial from breaking as big as Feist.

Giant Sand - Shiver (live, Club Congress 2005-09-02) - Find the whole show at
Howe Gelb - Chore of Enchantment (The Rock Opera Years) - From an incredible KXCI compilation also at
Kate Maki - Highway

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

For Guy Toronto

A good friend of mine moved to Vienna a few months ago and has been learning German, playing squash with all sorts of foreign people and generally growing a moustache.

In the latest of his occasional messages back to the mainland, as an aside to a discussion of how his cat is bored with the new surroundings, mentioned that the Pavement song "Here" is "so good."

Knowing that he's also a big Richard Buckner fan, I was immediately struck by the notion to send him the Bucker cover version of "Here" that I have.

Then, fair reader, my mind took another giant leap and I thought that I just might as well post it for everybody.

Richard Buckner - Here (live Pavement cover)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Danny Federici, R.I.P.

When I posted earlier this week about the musicians guesting with the E Street Band, I made no mention of Danny Federici's appearance at the Indianapolis show. I knew he'd had cancer and wasn't performing, but I didn't see any significance in what would ultimately be his final performance.

Federici was a brother - blood brother - to Springsteen as much as anybody was. Their 40-year musical partnership and friendship is at the heart of Bruce's sad message announcing Danny's death. (Read the New York Times obituary and a tribute at the Asbury Park Press.)

I was lucky enough to catch the E Street reunion tour twice in 1999 and 2000, and another performance two years later on the Rising tour. And through countless live recordings, what's always stood out to me about the E Street live performances is the fact that you can hear everyone. The wall of sound of the records is separated and you can distinctly tell what each musician is adding to the mix. And on organ and accordion, Danny gave those songs the life they needed, as did every member of the E Street Band.

Here's his final performance, March 20, guesting on probably the Boss' most bittersweet song ever, "Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" which sails on that accordion's light and enigmatic melody:

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band - Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) (live 1980)

Record Store Day!

I'll be the first to admit that I don't get down to browse the stacks at Zia quite as much as I used to do, so the timing of Record Store Day is a good reminder for me of all that is good and holy about the record store.

I've certainly embraced the digital music realm and there's no question that downloading is an incredibly option. Not only that, it has changed how I approach the record store. I have to be more focused, have a list in mind of things to look for and zero in on a few albums or bands I've been looking for. Aimless wandering isn't quite the same as in the olden days of a couple years ago.

I used to take a couple hours or more from time to time and run straight through the alphabet, from A to Z, then the same through country, jazz and blues and hip-hop. That wasn't every-trip behavior, but there is no way to ensure you won't leave some treasure behind in the store unless you go through everything.

I'm in the midst of the slow and excruciating process of ripping all my music from CDs onto a monster hard drive. I'd say I'm well past "tip of the iceberg," but still a ways short of claiming to have ripped anywhere near a majority of the collection.

Anyway, I got the idea last night when I was thinking about this Record Store Day to set up a playlist of all the CDs I've purchased used from Zia Records. I've bought maybe a couple dozen used CDs from other places (my precious few trips to Amoeba Records in S.F. & Berkeley, now-defunct stores like Zips and CD Depot, Hastings for a short while and a few from Stinkweeds when it used to be in Tempe) but the vast majority of of my record shopping has been at Zia.

The playlist stands at 102 CDs now and that's sure to more than double, possibly triple or even more. And that's going strictly by those little yellow stickers on the spine. I used to pull those off for some reason, so there are a number of albums that will slip through the cracks of my search.

Now that's going back over probably 12 or 13 years (dating to my first Zia trips, when a visit to a real record store was one of the central components of a road trip to Phoenix) but I think that really underscores just how important good independent record stores have been to me - and just how much I've contributed to their well-being (or perhaps survival might be the better term now).

I've certainly bought plenty of new CDs (very rarely at the Best Buy type stores, a few dozen from my BMG and Columbia House days, but again mostly from Zia) but it's the used stock that has formed the core of my collection and really the core of my experience with music - discovering, devouring and all in all falling in love with all types and styles.

For a good number of years I've operated on the theory that no matter what albums you want - obscure, new, import, local, classics - you will eventually find them used on the Zia racks, so long as you are patient and diligent. And I'd reckon that's proven true about nine times out of 10.

Who knows why people sell or exchange music? I've gotten rid of very few albums, mostly just those ill-advised MTV-influenced back in junior high, the ones that would be the root of lifelong embarrassment (Paula Abdul's Spellbound, anybody?). There are CDs stuck on my homemade shelves (which are really quite an impressive achievement for what couldn't possibly be considered anything more than meager carpenter skills - thanks Dad) that I'll almost certainly never listen to again. But those are such a distinct minority (countable on one hand?) that I've never really bothered to purge the collection after a certain point. Besides, is there a record store on Earth that will ever buy back another copy of Hootie's Cracked Rear View? In some ways those purchases are just artifacts, proof that somewhere along the line all music fans made some choices that didn't really pan out.

While I'm actively engaged in a process that will end up with the vast majority of my (1000?) CDs taking a permanent, untouched place upon the shelf, I still don't think in any way the CD is yet dead, and much less so the record store. That's coming from a hopeful perspective to be sure, but there are plenty of reasons to think there's a lot of life left in the commercial trade of physical music specimens. First is the used CD market, which I've already described as a thriving and robust one and for the buyer and incredible option. A whole CD, liner notes and all, for $7 or $8 or $9 is a hell of a deal over low-quality or even acceptable quality digital files for $9.99 or more. (Now there are drawbacks to used CDs, chiefly that the artist doesn't get any cut, but it's that cyclical trade that is the lifeblood of a lot of remaining brick & mortar record stores, so I think the trade-off works.)

Add in the resurgence in vinyl sales and the record store as community meeting place or cultural square devoted to music lovers and I think it's a survivable equation. Big box stores may see dwindling reasons to stock music as more people move to digital, but record store customers have never been the same folks who seek out their James Blunt at Wal-Mart. Real music fans are the ones with stacks of CDs spilling over everywhere, an iPod or two, a hard drive with dozens and dozens (if not hundreds - I'm passed 153 and plenty more to go) of gigs of tunes. They're the ones who download bootlegs and stuff they never thought they'd actually see in physical form. And they're the ones who still can't get by without a regular trip to their record store.

I decided a few years back to get any brand-new albums from one of my favorites at Zia, the day it came out, unless the band was touring through Tucson soon enough and I could buy the new record at the show. So while my record store trips have declined some since the pre-Napster peak, the expenditures have remained pretty steady.

I'm off in a bit for Record Store Day at Zia, to see Chango Malo perform and hopefully walk out with a few used CDS. And I'll be back, over and over and over again.

Chango Malo - Dufrane Larue

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


This is a simple, cool service that will no doubt become ubiquitous in no time (am I late on the trend? is it already passe?): Muxtape.

It's a super-simple mixtape site where you can load up your own tunes for easy share in almost lickity-split time and check out a world of others.

C'mon down and give mine a try:

(Give props in the comments - using the metric system if at all possible - and shout out your own muxtapes!)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bruce and Friends

In what has all the feel of one hell of a victory lap, Bruce Springsteen has had some absolutely fantastic special guests on this leg of the E Street Band's Magic tour.

And what I like best is the fact that aside from the obvious (and gag-inducing) guest spot for fellow Jersey rat Jon Bon Jovi, Springsteen has drawn out some less-likely guests, with fantastic results.

The unquestionable influence of Springsteen (and I'm guessing Dylan and Iggy Pop, probably in that order) is perhaps the only thing that really ties together the likes of Alejandro Escovedo - No Depression's artist of the 90s - and Tom Morello - who thankfully hasn't lost his revolutionary spirit since joining Audioslave.

These tremendous guest performers and the outstandingly variable set lists seem to be well on their way to defining yet another chapter in the history of Springsteen's live performances.

Alejandro Escovedo - "Always a Friend," from Escovedo's upcoming Real Animal record:

Tom Morello
- "The Ghost of Tom Joad," which features the two trading verses before Morello turns in a guitar solo that absolutely demolishes the song:

Find more videos from Springsteen's Magic Tour on YouTube and BruceSpringsteen.Net.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mr. Punk & Folk

Billy Bragg is near the top of my list for bands or artists I desperately need to see live - and soon. I jumped on board - as I'm sure many Bragg fans did - after hearing the Mermaid Avenue album. First was Worker's Playtime on a recommendation, then Back to Basics and anything I could find after that. By the time Mermaid Avenue Two was released, I was fully a Billy Bragg fan.

So now that Billy has a new album - Mr. Love & Justice - coming out later this month, it's time to revisit some old favorites in preparation. Say what you will about the "One Man Clash" comparisons, or the overly political songwriting, but in my mind he's impossible to pigeonhole.

Bragg is a stunningly engaging and captivating songwriter and musical figure and the fact that he is so explicit in tying together the folk of Woody Guthrie and the punk of the Clash as part of the same continuum of working-class music is enough to make him a legend.

He's more than earned elder-statesman status now and sometimes that can shy people away from new records, but I'm definitely going to pick up Mr. Love & Justice on April 22. Anti- is a label that can really do no wrong for established musicians, so I have no doubt it will be a strong record. For a British lefty folk musician who came of age in Thatcher's England, I'm dying to see what insights he can have at the tail end of Bush's America.

Love and justice are themes of Bragg's music through the ages, so I'm hesitant to think the title implies too much about the current times, but I'm far more excited about this record than I was for Enland, Half-English in 2002 or any of the spate of re-releases the last few years.

For proof that his passion as a performer is as strong as ever, check out his updated and reinvigorated Lead Belly cover, "The Bush War Blues" as well as a lyrically updated version.

And as far as some of the classics go, look no further than Catfish Vegas to dig out two great millennial versions of reupdated Bragg classics, as well as a solo version of one of his Woody Guthrie tunes.

Billy Bragg - She Came Along To Me (Live Hamburg, 2000)
Billy Bragg - Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards (Live Barbican, 2004)
Billy Bragg - The Saturday Boy (Live KEXP, 2006)

Check out this live performance of another early classic - "A New England" - with Kate Nash:

And if you've still got some energy, there's plenty of Billy Bragg on YouTube and over at

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"They've got too much to lose by printing the truth"

This is 40 years old. And the interview subject just won a Pulitzer Prize. He's kinduv a dick in the interview. But he has valid points to make about the media that ring true today.

I'd love to see some celebrity today have such antagonism to the system. Are there any respectable folks left out there?

Find some more cool Dylan interview footage here.

I'd like to see some indie rocker turn a bunch of clueless press folks upside-down. Of course, no indie rocker is Bob Dylan, the voice of his generation. It's hard to imagine facing up to someone from my generation really mattering on a large scale. Will there be another universally recognized artist ever? Dylan is a crucial part of the America That Turned From Black & White To Color.

Seriously -- there are good points to be made here. Every historical figure you've seen in black & white film as well as color really had something going. Nowadays there isn't such an easy way to indicate someone has been a crucial part of any change.

Want a trip? Check out this next clip, where someone took some Dylan footage from more than 10 years past those press conferences and overlaid it with music from another 20 years later in his career. What can you possibly say that that sort of relevance and longevity?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ruby Vroom: The Musical

This didn't even remotely pass the smell test. It was just too ludicrous and I'd already been reminded of April Fool's Day by the Gmail Custom Time joke. But what an inspired ruse! The creativity is stunning and all the pieces tie together so nicely.

I can't say much else for an introduction and it's a joke best taken whole, so without further ado, here's the email that popped into my inbox this morning from Mike Doughty's HQ:
This summer, Mike Doughty makes his Broadway debut with Ruby Vroom: The Musical, a stage adaptation of the first Soul Coughing album, with book by Tim Rice and choreography by Twyla Tharp.

Ruby Vroom: The Musical tells the story of Ruby (Scarlett Johansson), a transgendered youth growing up in 1970s Chicago. After a botched, self-administered sex change operation, Ruby enters a series of ill-fated love affairs, all set to the musical backdrop of her caustic avant-punk trio, The 5% Nation. Convinced that one of her lovers is Satan, she travels from Chicago to Kansas, Detroit and eventually Los Angeles, where she is sidetracked by drugs, mad kidnapping plots and the tawdry allure of the Hollywood lifestyle. And just when she is about to succumb to bitterness, an older woman, Janine (Patti LuPone), enters her life and changes everything.

Press previews for Ruby Vroom: The Musical will begin in late June at the St. James Theater on West 44th St., with a public opening in mid-July. Says Mike, currently on tour with his band, "I am immensely excited about the opportunity to work with the fabulous Ms. LuPone. She is the bucket of shoes in my foyer."

For ticket information, see

That would be the strangest musical of all time, by far, no doubt. I'm sure it would net Scarlett a Tony, though.

??? I can almost see the resemblance...

Mason Brothers - The Sun, the Moon & the Sea

This self-released debut record from Richmond, Va. duo James and Christian Mason opens with a beautiful melancholy, driven by carefully fingerpicked guitar notes and verses that draw on battles, ghosts and journeys, all rooted in a lonely sadness. Then comes the soaring chorus, with a breezy harmony to counter the downtrodden imagery:

"If you wait for the sunshine, you might wait for a while
If you hate this feeling, you can hold on to me until it dies
May you rise"

The Sun, the Moon & the Sea is cinematic folk music, rich and deliberately crafted, with guitars and voices woven tightly together. It's something a visionary movie director would do well to notice - think Noah Baumbach in a slightly better mood than he's brought to his last couple films.

The songs are whispery at times, recalling Iron & Wine or perhaps Simon & Garfunkel. The brothers themselves cite Nick Drake among their influences and that's the most accurate parallel. Think also a folkier Elliott Smith, most like the songs on the posthumous New Moon album, or sometimes the less poppy songs of the Pernice Brothers.

The brothers split song-writing credits, with most of the lyrics written by James, who in 2003 released the stark Carnival Sky. The lyrics deal often with mystery and an elemental sort of imagery, run through by ghosts and angels, rain and fire, the night sky and the sunrise, and often things breaking or sinking or crumbling. And the music and vocals fit. Added together there's a power in this collection that reveals itself along the way rather than immediately. The songs are mellow but not slight, and they're weightier than they seem at first.

The arrangements are rooted in acoustic guitars, with spare percussion at most. The songs are most compelling when they're rounded out by organ or mandolin or steel or electric guitar touches.

"In The Canyon" has a bounce that's unique to the album as both the countriest and most strummed song. It still retains the intricacy of the picked guitars and closely tied harmonies, but also brings bit more swagger than most of the other songs. The electric guitar and organ are more pronounced and even without drums it's got a more rhythmic feel. Another stride or two in that direction looks likely for the Mason Brothers, who play live with a six-piece band that will record their follow-up record.

The Sun, the Moon & the Sea is a tremendous debut, stretching 10 songs to 38 minutes, recorded completely analog at Brink Studios in Centreville, Va. and produced by Mike Reina, who also contributes organ and vocals on a few tracks. The Mason Brothers could easily stick to pretty balladry, but there are enough elements in the record to suggest they have a greater versatility that could lead them a number of directions. Just think about the path of Elliott Smith, who found his salvation in the poppier styles that he drew from the Beatles. Or Nick Drake, whose songs had an airy, atmospheric quality, sounding more like night-time than the afternoon or dusk of the Mason Brothers. Or the SoCal songwriters who breezed into country styles. Most intriguing might be the Iron & Wine or M. Ward routes of hooking up with eclectic collaborators who can flesh out their spacious and captivating songs.

Mason Brothers - In The Canyon
Mason Brothers - Round And Round

Hear and buy the record at MySpace or the band's Web site: