Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tuning in(box)

Out of the Chicago area comes Overman, whose props-to-Darwin song "Evolution Rocks" has the endorsement of the National Science Teachers Association and has been used as a teaching supplement in classrooms. The song is somewhere near the They Might Be Giants ballpark, with a bit of an added-jam band feel. The band members share a five-bedroom farmhouse in Joliet, Illinois, and sound a bit zany, but this is fun music from start to finish.

Overman - Evolution Rocks
Overman - Princess

* * *

Maybe it's just the Canadian connection, but I hear a bit of Feist in Amanda Zelina. But given her soulful, moody vocals, it's a reasonable comparison. On her Web site, the 22-year old cites Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin and Tom Waits as influences. Zelina is prepping her debut album, Love Me Till I’m Me Again.

Amanda Zelina - Obsessed

* * *

Ryan Smith is a singer-songwriter from Columbus, Ohio, who blends acoustic guitar, piano and a laid-back, easy rhythm on songs that give the focus to his thought-provoking lyrics. Smith has a load of music available for free download at

Ryan Smith - Santa Cruz
Ryan Smith - Girl With The Glasses

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Hump Day Shuffle: 1998

1. Soul Coughing - White Girl (live) - Rolling single (limited edition bonus disc)
This live Soul Coughing set has the band at its absolute best - and just about to call it quits. No other song I know uses the word "discombobulated." Doughty and Co. should just go ahead and release this live set as some sort of 10th anniversary deluxe edition and create a whole new fandom.

2. Tricky Luz - Trace - Tricky Luz
I picked up this his four-song EP (on a CDR) from a local band I used to go see. My buddy Aaron played bass, and Tricky Luz had a pretty good run for a few years around the university area. The songwriting was top notch and the musicianship was way better than you'd expect from a college group that played mostly acoustic rock tunes. For more on the singer's current projects, go here.

3. Gillian Welch - Rock of Ages - Hell Among the Yearlings
Welch is an amazing talent and has somehow crafted an absolutely unique sound out of the most basic elements. David Rawlings guitar playing is always standout and Welch's voice has the perfect timelessness for her Americana lyrics, rooted in religion, family, tall tales and the endless restlessness of this country's youth.

4. Semisonic - DND - Feeling Strangely Fine
I'd have written Semisonic off completely as "Closing Time" saturated the radio in those days, except for my friend Courtney threw this song on a mix she made. Dan Wilson has an great sense of good pop music, and no matter how sick of his hit I am, I'll always like this bittersweet also-ran.

5. Portishead - Half Day Closing - Roseland NYC Live
My friend Jared brought this video over right after he bought it, and with the lights off and everybody staring silent and slightly on edge at the screen, you might of thought we were all gathered to watch a horror film. Such is the intensity of Portishead, captured live in all their spooky and mesmerizing glory.

6. Cake - Let Me Go - Prolonging The Magic
I remember this album hit late in the year, and was the Christmas break soundtrack around my old house on 8th Street. The crew gathered nightly, and for nearly two weeks we didn't bother to clear the beer bottles off the old coffee table. And we played Cake over and over, tying the nights together with the quirky confidence that was at the band's core. I've hardly listened to this album since (save "Mexico," which wound up on a couple mixes), but it all just rushes back.

7. Golden Smog - Keys - Weird Tales
The funky bassline and electric piano make this song seem a bit of out of place on this alt-country supergroup record. But why would a bunch of musicians get together for a project so clearly rooted in fun above all else and not try messing around a bit? A South Florida murder ballad, this tune represents exactly what's so great about the Golden Smog records - something you wouldn't expect to hear if you on any of these musicians' "regular" albums.

8. Pearl Jam - Off He Goes - Live On Two Legs
I saw Pearl Jam the summer of 1998 at Veterans' Memorial Collesium in Phoenix and it still ranks among the best shows I've seen. Nearly 30 songs stretching into almost three hours, and I couldn't have been higher on the band at the time. Those first five Pearl Jam albums yielded so many excellent songs that the band could pick and choose night by night and never fail to offer a great show. This No Code single gets some extra guitar licks and an even more passionate delivery from Eddie Vedder.

9. James - Destiny Calling - Best Of
One of two new singles on the Manchester band's 1998 hits collection, "Destiny Calling" has one of the greatest opening lines I've ever heard: "So we may be gorgeous, so we may be famous, come back when we're getting old." Tongue-in-cheek 1990s humor at its best. James closed an amazing decade long run of great singles with this one, almost a sly look back on the whole thing, with their trademark chiming guitar, strong rhythm and Tim Booth's soaring vocals.

10. Dan Bern - Cure For AIDS - Fifty Eggs
This album was in regular rotation around my friends for years - most for the brilliantly hilarious "Tiger Woods," but this song got plenty of attention too: "They day they found a cure for AIDS, everybody took one little pill and was OK." Bern's fantasy tale spins and spins as you might expect it to ("For three solid weeks everyone I met was nude"), but somehow never manages to lose an element of sweetness at its core.

Soul Coughing - White Girl (live)
Tricky Luz - Trace
Dan Bern - Cure For AIDS

New Felice Brothers tune

I was mesmerized a couple years back when I first heard The Felice Brothers, an upstate New York band that sounds like Dylan and The Band if they'd gotten together before Dylan went electric.

Theirs is a rowdy and ramshackle type of folk music, and though I can't help but wonder still what they hell the album title Tonight At The Arizona means, it was one of my top albums in 2007, particularly the spooky robber ballad "Hey Hey, Revolver," recorded in a converted chicken coop and prominently featuring a nearby lightning strike.

Then I heard "Frankie's Gun!" one of their earlier tracks that was subsequently re-released on last year's self-titled album. An accordion romp and easy sing-along, the song drives along an easy groove, but lyrically it's rooted in an unexpected double-cross that ends the partnership of two small-time hoods.

I saw the band play at the Outside Lands Festival last August in San Francisco and I'd see them again at the drop of a hat. They're a swinging and stomping band on stage, with a full-steam-ahead energy that makes their songs 10 times as big as they sound on record.

The band's new album, Yonder Is The Clock, is set for an April 7 release, on Team Love Records, and if this new preview track is any indication, The Felice Brothers are still in the middle of quite an ascension.

The Felice Brothers - Run Chicken Run
The Felice Brothers - Frankie's Gun!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bishop Allen @ Plush

Bishop Allen builds great, catchy pop music out of its most basic elements - up-tempo guitars (major key all the way), shiny harmonies and an incessant, head-nodding beat. Aside from an uncanny mastery of those basics, Bishop Allen makes its name with additional flourishes that set the band apart - marimba, xylophone, melodica and extra hints of percussion everywhere.

The band started its post-SXSW tour last night at Plush, its first trip to Tucson since July, with a new record in hand and plenty of buzz (from The New York Times, among others). Drawing fairly well for a post-Spring Break Sunday night, the band had a bouncy and enthusiastic crowd.

The band manages to spend most of its stage time creating the type of mood-lifting pop music that seems like its constantly soaring, with an all-singers-on-deck catchiness that sounds sweeter as it goes along.

Bishop Allen comes from the sunny, angst-free part of Williamsburg, marking their own territory with clever and catchy tunes and a jittery stage presence, with singer Justin Rice especially, as if he's a being wound up by the songs, or else shaking his legs to get help get them out.

"The Ancient Common Sense of Things," from the new Grrr... sounds a bit looser live, but the multi-vocal effect worked just as well. Other highlights were "Empire City," (from 2003's Charm School) one of the band's most straight-ahead rockers; "True Or False," sung by percussionist/marimba player Darbie Nowatka, who could easily take lead vocals for a whole album - Bishop Allen or her own; and the absolutely irrestible "Click, Click, Click, Click," which is good enough to make me forget about its all-too-easy commercial applications.

Bishop Allen - The Ancient Common Sense of Things (live)
Bishop Allen - Shanghied (live)

More Tour Dates:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Equinox

It's the first day of spring, the 'Cats are playing in their 25th consecutive NCAA tournament today, and it feels like the perfect day to just kick back and enjoy life.

And here's a perfect song for just that: Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers - Easy (live)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tuning in(box)

Dead Heart Bloom began in 2005 after the break-up of the D.C. band Phaser. The band's singer, keyboardist and bassist, Boris Skalsky, picked up the pieces to form Dead Heart Bloom, at first writing and recording by himself.

Dead Heart Boom began expanding in 2007 when Skalsky collaborated with guitarist Paul Wood, and now the band is a four-piece, with a rotating cast of guests.

The sound can be all over the map, from a mostly acoustic rock and folk blend, to the psychedelic pop of the Beatles, to an alternative rock mix of heavy, angular guitars.

In Chains, the latest in a three-EP series, was released March 10, and like all of the band's music, it is available to download for free.

Dead Heart Bloom - Flash In A Bottle
Dead Heart Bloom - Love Like Lies

* * *

Gladshot is the New York duo of Debbie Andrews and Mike Blaxill, who together make heart-on-the-sleeve indie rock, built around catchy, harmony-rich choruses. Produced by John Agnello, who has worked with The Hold Steady and Sonic Youth, the band's Burn Up And Shine was a late 2008 record that is just now starting to draw some more attention.

Gladshot - All I Want Is You
Gladshot - He Was Gone

* * *

Kingsbury is a Florida quartet that follows in the footsteps of bands like Low, with a subtle sense of how atmospherics play out in quieter, slower music. The band - Mark Freeman, TJ Burke, Samantha Christine, and Bruce Reed - have released two records, The Great Compromise and the new, follow-up EP Lie To Me, a dreamy yet powerful work that is available as a free download. In fact, the band has all of its music available for free download at, so check 'em out.

Kingsbury - Lie To Me
Kingsbury - Back In The Orange Grove

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Hump Day Shuffle: 1997

1. Wyclef Jean - Anything Can Happen - The Carnival
This album was huge with pretty much everybody I knew back in the day - I couldn't go to a party freshman year in college without hearing it. The Carnival was universal, and outstanding. "Anything Can Happen" should've been a single - it's one of the danciest tracks on the album.

2. Pavement - Stereo - Brighten The Corners
Another hot-hot-hot record from my early college days, this is Pavement at the height of the band's coolness. Like "Cut Your Hair," "Stereo" just about broke Pavement to a much larger mainstream audience, which in retrospect would've been monumentally weird. If the frat crowd would've grown tired of Dave Matthews and embraced Pavement it would've felt like the world was spinning out of control.

3. Bill Hicks - Bullies of the World - Arizona Bay
I'm one of countless people drawn into Bill Hicks through Tool's Ænima album, which dedicated the album to the late comedian, sampled Hicks' take on drugs and music and also used Arizona Bay as the basis for the title track. This rant about American is eerily prescient given the horrors of the Bush years. America as Jack Palance in Shane, a character which imdb calls the "archetypal Western villain."

4. Neko Case - High On Cruel - The Virginian
On this first record, Case is a drastically different singer and musician than on her excellent new album, Middle Cyclone. It's so twangy that it's a shock at first to listen again to this old stuff. This is roadhouse, barroom country, something that would be perfect in the soundtrack to the type of movie that would have Dwight Yoakam as a down-and-out, abusive husband. This would be early in the movie, a Friday night out in fresh Wranglers and cowboy hats, with the couple still in love, though the good times are fading away.

5. Bob Dylan - Dirt Road Blues - Time Out Of Mind
I don't think I could find a way to state the lasting significance this album has had in my life. The rennaissance that this was for Dylan is something that pushed me far deeper into his music. And the album itself is a bluesy and vivid masterpiece that is perhaps the one album, above all others I have, that transports me immediately out of the moment and into some sort of cinematic imaginative land, where the pictures and settings are always different, but the music of Time Out Of Mind always is always there, driving my thoughts. Oh, and this song would also fit very well into that "movie" I just mentioned on the Neko song.

6. Foo Fighters - Everlong (acoustic)
Years after the Unplugged craze, this stripped-down version of the Foos biggest hit nonetheless got huge. I can remember hearing it on the radio at least as often as the original single version. It's a great song to transition to the acoustic, with a melancholy that doesn't show up as well on the full band version.

7. The Refreshments - Buy American - The Bottle And Fresh Horses
One of the best bands ever pissed away by a record company, the Refreshments are country and rock in equal measure, and catchy as hell. This second album easily stands up to the best things Roger Clyne has done.

8. Bruce Springsteen - Who'll Stop The Rain - 85 - 75: The Outtakes
I picked up this bootleg double album at Disc Go Round in Madison a few years back, and it's up there with the Bob Dylan Witmark demos as the best bootleg I've ever heard. The sound quality is tremendous, pulled off the original soundboard master tapes and planned for the 1975-1985 box set. I can't believe they didn't use this CCR cover for the set. It's the full E Street glory given over wholesale, in proud homage, to a beautiful and profoundly important song.

9. Morphine - Empty Box - Like Swimming
Morphine had one of the best and most unique sounds of all time, let alone in alternative music. It's a low groove all the way, slow and smoky, with Mark Sandman's deep, deep croon and Dana Colley's baritone sax combining for a musical noir that sounds like a slow-dripping molasses. I was lucky to see them once, and saddened that Sandman died, barely two months before Morphone and Soul Coughing were set to play a double bill at Phoenix's Celebrity Theatre. I have no doubt that would've been one of the best shows of my life.

10. Yo La Tengo - Sugarcube - I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One
This is an all-time indie rock fuzzy classic. It's sweet and catchy, rock music boiled down to its most joyout elements. And the Mr. Show-ish video is priceless - one of the coolest things ever!

Foo Fighters - Everlong (acoustic)
Bruce Springsteen - Who'll Stop the Rain (live CCR cover)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tucson Festival of Books recap

I'm glad that this weekend's Tucson Festival of Books was the inaugural event, and not that I'd failed to pay attention an passed up such an awesome event in years passed.

Thousands of people (easy, maybe tens of thousands) hit the UA campus for book signings, panels, readings and shoulder rubbing with hundreds of authors, including plenty of locally affiliated ones and some big-time literary names. I played it safe and easy, hitting the two biggest names on the list: Elmore Leonard and Billy Collins, each of whom packed the 1,000+ seat ballroom to standing-room only. Here's a bit of what I jotted down:

• The first film version of Elmore Leonard's short story 3:10 to Yuma sparked a new bit of street slang in Cuba, where apparently the picture was a huge hit. So if you're ever on a dark street in Havana and you hear somebody talking about "Yuma," they mean "United States."

• Leonard's first non-Western, The Big Bounce, was "condemned by the legion of decency" at the time. Prior to publication, Leonard's agent, Swanny, told him, "Kid, I'm gonna make you rich," then proceeded to receive 84 rejection notices.

• Leonard's new book, Road Dogs, brings back the character of Jack Foley, who Leonard himself can't separate from George Clooney in his mind.

• Despite plenty of salty and rough language in his characters' dialogue, Leonard never "went all the way with obscenity" in his writing, because he'd think of his mother.

• He's always had trouble explaining his books, because he starts going into way too much detail and "can't just wing it."

• Leonard was writing Western short stories for pulp magazines when he started out, and he used Arizona Highways as an indispensible reference source. Then, on his first trip to Tucson, he saw the Catalina Mountains were nothing as he'd described them.

• An audience member asked why Leonard seemed to use Frank as a bad-guy name so much. Leonard: "I tried Frank as a good guy once. He wouldn't act right. I switched it to Jack and he wouldn't shut up."

• Q: Why are so many of your characters sleazeballs? A: "I like my characters. I think most of them are just dumb, and that's why they turn to crime."

• While he praised many of the film adaptations of his books and stories, particularly Tarantino's Jackie Brown (his Rum Punch), Leonard had nothing good to say about how the filmmakers changed Be Cool. "Cedric the Entertainer does not belong in one of my stories."

As packed and as entertaining as the Leonard segment was, Billy Collins turned out to be the day's highlight. A Collins reading is practically a stand-up act, with a strong element of humor existing in nearly every poem. He has a calm, measured and almost deadpan voice, a little bit like the Kevin Spacey narration in American Beauty.

• "You do find, as a writer, that long-dead poets begin to imitate you. This is known technically as anticipatory plagiarism."

• When using actions to describe quotations, stick to expected actions. Bad: "Help, I'm drowning," she implied, and "Screw you," he explained.

• "A little subject matter goes a long way in poetry."

• Collins on how to appreciate poetry that may not be as accessible as his: "If you read one poet for a while, you get to learn how hard you can press." That analytical pressure varies greatly from poet to poet, and it's a necessity in terms of really getting all you can out of a poet.

• Collins has always tried to ride a line between humor and seriousness. For example, when he reads On Turning 10, he can hear the laughter from the audience taper off in degrees as the poem slowly turns more serious.

• Silence is both the best and the worst reaction from an audience. Listening to the feedback is a way for the audience to reveal new things about the poem to even its author.

• Other favorites from Collins' reading: Litany, Forgetfulness, Monday and Tension.

Billy Collins - Forgetfulness
Billy Collins - Child Development
Billy Collins entire reading "The Best Cigarette"

Dylan - Together Through Life

Despite waking up and putting on my Marathon Dylan playlist (the master's longest album songs, eight of them, which clock in at nearly 90 minutes), I don't think I can really claim to have any real credit for conjuring the news that his new album now has a name, a face and a release date.

Together Through Life comes out April 28, and it's another "Jack Frost" production, extending this unbelievably strong late-career period for Dylan.

I don't think its any surprise or coincidence that this is his fourth straight album cover to feature black & white photography. The music sort of sounds black & white, with all the throwback Americana that implies. There's certainly nobody else around these days who's making records that sound like this 21st Century Bob Dylan.

In a conversation with Bill Flanagan that's posted online today, Bob talks about his love of old Chess and Sun records. It's not as memorable as the "thin, wild mercury" quote Bob gave about Blonde on Blonde, but I love his description of the sound of the old rock, country and R&B records that sort of inspired and encouraged him on this new one:
I like the mood of those records - the intensity. The sound is uncluttered. There’s power and suspense. The whole vibration feels like it could be coming from inside your mind. It’s alive. It’s right there. Kind of sticks in your head like a toothache.
The Dylan-as-chameleon notion has always been an interesting one in my mind. He's had so many twists and turns in his career, with so much excellent music at every phase, that he's left more entry places than any other musician. The variety is only exceeded by his consistency.

I can remember how thrilled I was when Time Out Of Mind came out, and how much it meant for me personally to have a Dylan classic for my listening era, my fandom. And this new one I'm sure will make four classic albums.

Dylan himself covers some of this same ground, recognizing that each album must necessarily continut to push the envelope, and that his fans stopped coming at him from any one main direction a long time ago:
I think we milked it all we could on that last record and then some. We squeezed the cow dry. All the Modern Times songs were written and performed in the widest range possible so they had a little bit of everything. These new songs have more of a romantic edge.
How so?
These songs don’t need to cover the same ground. The songs on Modern Times brought my repertoire up to date, and the light was directed in a certain way. You have to have somebody in mind as an audience otherwise there’s no point.

What do you mean by that?
There didn’t seem to be any general consensus among my listeners. Some people preferred my first period songs. Some, the second. Some, the Christian period. Some, the post Colombian. Some, the Pre-Raphaelite. Some people prefer my songs from the nineties. I see that my audience now doesn’t particular care what period the songs are from. They feel style and substance in a more visceral way and let it go at that. Images don’t hang anybody up. Like if there’s an astrologer with a criminal record in one of my songs it’s not going to make anybody wonder if the human race is doomed. Images are taken at face value and it kind of freed me up.
So Dylan keeps going, and his fans keep following. When I was 18, Time Out Of Mind became the first Dylan classic for my era, and Together Through Life will be the first Dylan album of my 30s. And, I suppose, so it goes.

Bob Dylan - Lily, Rosemary & the Jack of Hearts (outtake)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Odds & Ends

On March 24, Vangaurd Records will release a star-studded tribute album to the late Doug Sahm, the still-underappreciated long tall Texan who led the Sir Douglas Quintet and later joined with Freddie Fender, Augie Meyers and Flaco Jimenez to form the Texas Tornados.

I first heard Sahm on Uncle Tupelo's Anodyne, when he swapped verses with Jay Farrar on his "Give Back The Key To My Heart." A few years later, I picked up some Sir Douglas Quintet and really loved the half-hippie, half-country sound that Sahm had cooked up. Then I found out Dylan was a fan, and even played on Sahm's 1973 solo debut (they did Dylan's then-unreleased "Wallflower") and that sealed it for me.

"Keep Your Soul: A Tribute To Doug Sahm," features some outstanding artists, including Los Lobos, Alejandro Escovedo, the Gourds, Dave Alvin, Charlie Sexton and Sahm's former Texas Tornados partners. Head over to Vanguard Records for the full listing.

The Gourds - Nuevo Laredo (live Doug Sahm cover)
Jeff Tweedy - Give Back The Key To My Heart (live Doug Sahm cover)
Doug Sahm - To Ramona (live Bob Dylan cover)

* * *

I just stumbled onto The Hold Steady Taped Archive, a collection of shows dating back to 2005, with some earlier Lifter Puller stuff thrown in for good measure.

I've seen The Hold Steady four times, and they just blow me away. And with the band's live DVD, A Positive Rage, set for release April 7, this is the perfect time to dig into some great live tunes.

The archive has some great, and very recent, radio performances. Check out this one from Triple J radio in Australia.

The Hold Steady - History Lesson Part II (live Minutemen cover)

* * *

As they did on the I'm Not There Dylan tribute concert, Calexico played a huge role in this week's R.E.M. Tribute concert at Carnegie Hall. It's no surprise that Calexico has become the go-to band for backing pretty much anybody, especially in an all-star tribute setting.

As "special house band for the evening," Calexico got to join in with Keren Ann, Bob Mould, Rhett Miller, Jolie Holland and others.

None of the audio or video I've seen from Wednesday has been good quality at all, which is a shame, so hopefully some better recordings are forthcoming.

Check out R.E.M. with Patti Smith on "E-Bow The Letter":

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Neko Case - review and videos

My first review for the Tucson Weekly, on Neko Case's Middle Cyclone, is online now, so go check that out. Middle Cyclone debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard album charts, with 44,000 sold, certainly Case's best charting ever, and probably the best for Anti- as well. So, congrats.

And now for some video clips...
Neko, live on Leno:

Neko interview with Tavis Smiley:

Neko Case - Don't Forget Me (live, Chicago Public Radio)
Get the whole in-studio set, three songs plus interviews, as a zip file.
And Captain's Dead has some more live stuff...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Hump Day Shuffle: 1996

1. Pearl Jam - Habit - No Code
On their fourth album, Pearl Jam hadn't shown any signs of slowing, as far as I was concerned (and still am). This isn't necessarily a straight-up anti-drug song, but Vedder is obviously singing to someone who he thought would've been above the whole thing.

2. Wilco - Misunderstood - Being There
This is an intensely personal song for me, from my favorite band of my generation. Jeff Tweedy has always made this song about an explosion of passion, fighting to rise above the mundane and the shouldn't-be's. I caught Wilco on this tour and they brought the house down. It's still a song and an album I listen to all the damn time, definitely one of the best albums of the 1990s. This opening song sets an amazingly high bar, and Wilco meets it.

3. The Roots - Ital (The Universal Side) - Illadelph Halflife
I didn't know what this was at first, but it's Q-Tip's fault. I'm new to this album (1999's Things Fall Apart was my first Roots album), and the quest turn from Tribe's MC had me wondering how I had a hole that big in what I know of their work. But it says great things about the early days of The Roots that they not only snagged one of the best rappers of all time (at the height of his career, no less) and made him fit so seamlessly.

4. Dave Matthews Band - Two Step - Crash
This is more along the lines of where I was in 1996 - Dave Matthews headlined my first big, real concert, the H.O.R.D.E. Festival in Phoenix in 1996. It was July and 115 in the sun (probably why I don't really remember Rusted Root), but once the night began to cool and the music filled the sky, it was one hell of a time. I caught Dave Matthews once more, then lost interest precipitously as I found music that seemed to have a lot more to say for me. But this is one of his best, and though I can't say how many years it's been since I've listened to it, there's no denying that Matthews and his band could really turn out a great jam.

5. Alejandro Escovedo - Gravity/Falling Down Again/ Street Hassle - More Miles Than Money
This 12-minute medly closes Escovedo's 1998 live album (but was recorded in 1996, so shuffle says it belongs here) More Miles Than Money, which was part of several Alejandro albums I picked up in short order after hearing him sing backup on Whiskeytown's "Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight," from 1997's Strangers' Almanac. Every song he did captivated me, and it's been that way since. I've seen him a couple times and it's felt like being in the presence of a legend. I'm glad he's finally getting some due from more mainstream audiences. Thanks, Bruce.

6. Belle & Sebastian - The Stars of Track and Field - If You're Feeling Sinister
For the longest time, this was the only Belle & Sebastain song I liked at all, even the tiniest bit, and that's mostly because I love the notion of someone give a shout-out to the stars of track and field. And I just read the lyrics for the first time, so now I'm not sure what to think. But it's still a catchy and atmospheric song, and one I bet would've moved me more into the band's corner if I'd heard it then, instead of years later.

7. The Wallflowers - One Headlight - Bringing Down The Horse
Jakob Dylan's big break, and it's his eyes that are remembered the most. The truth is, this is a very good song on a good album, one that was certainly worth playing over and over in 1996. But I always liked "Sixth Avenue Heartache" so much more. Regardless, it was nice to see someone playing a lot of Hammond B3 in that era.

8. Johnny Cash - Rusty Cage - American II: Unchained
There's little to say about Rick Rubin's work with Johnny Cash, other than Thanks. That Nashville had little need for Cash for about two decades prior to this new collaboration is simply stunning. And what the American Recordings series produced was simple and stunning music. The series is marked by these unlikely and inspired choices for covers, and the stark black & white album cover images. Cash turns this Soundgarten screamer into one of his own, like so many others.

9. Modest Mouse - Space Travel Is Boring - This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About
Early, loose Modest Mouse was a confounding thing when I first heard it, but now this album is a comfortable and necessary sound, and I appreciate so much more how they continued to evolve along the way.

10. Soul Coughing - Super Bon Bon (Propellerheads Remix) - Super Bon Bon single
Ugh. The original song was so awesome, with its dominating, funky bass line and M. Doughty's scatty, beatnik rapping. A sorta drum-n-bass thing just doesn't work for me. So I'll just pretend the Irrestible Bliss album version came up. In November of 1996, six of us piled into The General's old Crown Vic for a drive to Tempe to catch Soul Coughing (and Geggy Tah opening!) at Gibson's. Much has been written about that epic journey, but for now I'll just say it was one of the coolest days of my life. Thanks ma-yan.

Wilco - Misunderstood (live)
Soul Coughing - Super Bon Bon (live)

Elvis Perkins in Dearland: Show Giveaway

Elvis Perkins in Dearland is headlining a fantastic triple bill March 16 at Club Congress (next Monday), and I have a couple pairs of passes to give away, courtesy of the folks at XL Recordings.

On Tuesday, March 3, Elvis Perkins In Dearland premiered their new self-titled album on Amie Street; the album only costs $8 and will help raise money for the Clearwater Foundation, Pete Seeger's charity that's focused on education, advocacy and celebration for the Hudson River Valley. Amie Street and Xl Recordings will each be donating $1 for every album downloaded (so $2 from every sale will go to the foundation). Go here to download and make a difference.

The album is less stark than Perkins debut, Ash Wednesday, which dealt with the emotional months after losing his mother in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Elvis Perkins In Dearland is a much more dynamic album, with far-flung instrumentation and a jaunty sound overall. It's rootsy and captivating, with "I Hear Your Voice In Dresden" using a thumping drum beat and walking bass line to build a celebratory pop chorus that recalls the Kinks. The album opener, "Shampoo," is a minor key tune that rides along an organ groove, with harmonic bursts and Perkins singing in a half-shout.

"Doomsday" opens with a stoic horn that turns upbeat as the drums and acoustic guitar kick in. It's a clever and tongue-in-cheek look at unrequited love. My brother pointed me to one line in particular: "And though you voted for that awful man, I would never refuse your hand, on Doomsday." He played that right after I put on Mose Allison's "Ever Since The World Ended," with its opening line finishing "I don't go out as much."

Also on the bill Monday are Delta Spirit, a soulful and sunny indie rock from San Diego, and Alela Diane, a Northern California singer-songwriter who draws comparisons to Joanna Newsome, but is more on the traditional folk end of the spectrum.

To win a pair of free passes to the show, simply leave a comment with your email address. Two winners will be selected at random on Friday, March 13.

Elvis Perkins in Dearland - Shampoo
Delta Spirit - Trash Can
Alela Diana - White As Diamonds

West By Southwest

This is the time of year when Tucson clubs join together to give SXSW-going bands a little extra gas money for the trip. The piggy-backing WXSW has been going for a few years now, and it's a fantastic idea for all involved.

Us Tucson music fans who don't feel like driving clear across Texas to have a confab with tens of thousands of hipsters and industry folks get to see one hell of a collection of bands right here, the clubs fill up otherwise quiet Sunday and Monday nights, and all of the bands involved get an extra gig along the way to tune up for their big performances and collect some much-needed cash for the journey.

The Tucson Weekly has a great rundown on all the bands, so check there for all you'll need to know. But with three venues and a total of seven days, the all-inclusive $15 pass is amazingly cheap.

I'm excited for a triple bill at Club Congress on Monday, March 16, of Alela Diane, Delta Spirit and Elvis Perkins in Dearland (stay tuned for more on that one); Great Northern at Plush March 17; Bishop Allen March 22 at Plush; and Monotonix March 25 @ Congress.

Bishop Allen - The Ancient Commonsense of Things
Monotonix - Body Language
Great Northern - Houses

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuning in(box)

I've been getting more and more submissions from bands, labels and publicists lately, and I thought that rather than continuing to write a big post on the rare things I immediately fall in love with and nothing on the rest, I'd start featuring more of the stuff that I like at first listen and don't necessarily get back to right away.

* * *
So I'll start off with a SXSW notice from Minty Fresh Records. First up is a new video from Ezra Furman and the Harpoons, for "Take Off Your Sunglasses," from their 2008 record Inside the Human Body:

Drew Andrews from the Album Leaf is playing with Furman in Austin, and taking a short tour of the Southwest on his way there. Andrews' solo debut, Only Mirrors, is lush pop music, layered with plenty of piano and soft guitar that builds to a sort of rainy-day melancholy

Ezra Furman and the Harpoons - We Should Fight
Drew Andrews - I Could Write A Book

* * *

Season To Season, the debut album from The Traditionist, aka singer and guitarist Joey Barro, is out today from Better Looking Records. His sound is a Bob Dylan and Van Morrison influenced take on indie rock, sounding a bit like the newer woodsy Sub Pop bands at times, and like the Carolina country-rock of early Whiskeytown at others.

The Traditionist - I Know My Ocean
The Traditionist - A Sleep Be Told
The Traditionist - Driftwood Doll

* * *

The Whiskey Go Gos, from Melbourne, combine hard-charging, raw rock 'n' roll with just enough of a sing-along component to stick in your head for a while. They remind me a bit New Zealand new-wavers The Clean. The band has some March dates in New York and Los Angeles in support of the new Proud Tales To Them Of Us album.

Whiskey Go Gos - Whiskey Rain
Whiskey Go Gos - Two Cent Girl

* * *
Swedish electro-pop duo The Deer Tracks have a new album, Aurora, out on Despotz Records. The music recalls a European version of The Postal Service, while the vocals are much more like fellow Swedes Peter, Bjorn and John.

The Deer Tracks - 127SexFyra

Quick recap

Not only did I have the whirlwind known as Shurlandez visiting this past week (OK, he's not so much of a whirlwind himself, but a Shurlandez visit inspires all of us other old-time Spotters into valiant action), but I had a bit of a car issue, and quite a bit of work.

But I did want to pause a bit and recap the live shows: Friday's Mudhouse Records showcase at Plush and Sunday's David Rovics show at Club Congress.

I think Mudhouse Records is on the verge of doing some great things for Tucson music. The label (founded and run by Jake Bergeron of the Deludes and Beta Sweat) has already put out the Sugarmama LP by Tom Walbank & The Ambassadors and they've just finished the vinyl pressing for Golden Boots' The Winter of Our Discotheque (Park the Van Records did handled the CD).

Coming up for Mudhouse are releases by the Fourkiller Flats, Chango Malo, and The Swim, which would make for one hell of a 2009.

So it's no surprise that Mudhouse collected Fourkiller Flats, Golden Boots & Tom Walbank for a excellent and versatile Friday night show.

The never-been-better Flats opened the show, putting together another teaser performance for their long-long-awaited new record. Their brand of gritty, twangy rock 'n' roll only gets better for me. The Fourkiller Flats are playing another show, at Che's Lounge on Saturday, for free as always.

Fresh off their new album release show with Bob Log III, Golden Boots sounded comfortable and relaxed, mixing their old and new in a tune-up for their trip to SXSW. Golden Boots will play the Rhythm Room in Phoenix on March 16, then they have four shows booked in Austin, including a Park The Van showcase with Dr. Dog and the Spinto Band. Then they'll spend April touring the East Coast (including Buffalo), Midwest and West Coast with Dr. Dog. Check here for tour dates, and don't miss out.

Tom Walbank closed out Friday night with his blistering harmonica solos and groovy Delta blues that sounds so perfect that you forget it's all coming from a British desert-dweller.

On Sunday, I caught an early acoustic show at Congress, arriving in time to watch Leila Lopez opening for David Rovics. I'd never seen a whole set from Lopez, who is an impressive acoustic guitar player as well as songwriter.

Rovics fits in somewhere along the spectrum of left-wing songwriters like Billy Bragg, Dan Bern, Steve Earle and Tom Morello. He's clever, passionate and dedicated, with rich and articulate songs that are history lessons as often as they are calls to arms. Stridently anti-commercial, Rovics gives away all of his music online, and bless him for it, because it's not as though sparsely attended gigs like Sunday's are earning him much to live on.

Fourkiller Flats - Never For Free
Golden Boots - Matters of the Heart
David Rovics - Minimum Wage Strike
David Rovics - New Orleans
David Rovics - I'm A Better Anarchist Than You

Thursday, March 05, 2009

New Dylan

New Dylan music is always a good thing, and if this latest record sounds anything like the "raw country tunes" and "seductive border-cafe feel" that David Fricke describes, then I'm even more thrilled. As of yet untitled, Dylan's 32nd studio album is scheduled to appear in late April.

Apparently the songs came out of a session he did to work on a song for "My Own Love Song," a movie starring Renée Zellweger and Forest Whitaker (strange pairing).

I think this album will close out the trilogy that started with Love & Theft and Modern Times, leaving Time Out Of Mind as sort of the loner record that it sounds like. A new tour can't be far off.

Bob Dylan - Workingman's Blues #2 (live in Tucson, 2007-07-24)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Outside Lands: Aug. 28-30

Last August, I flew out to San Francisco for the inaugural Outside Lands Festival, three days of great music in Golden Gate Park. And it looks like I'm going to have to do it again.

No bands have been announced at this point, but last year they brought in Radiohead, Tom Petty and Wilco as the headliners (I'm not acknowledging Jack Johnson as a headliner). Other great bands I caught were Broken Social Scene, Beck, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Cafe Tacvba, Bon Iver, M. Ward, Felice Brothers, Drive-by Truckers and the Cold War Kids. And I missed out on plenty of other great bands, making a tough choice on nearly every slot of the three days.

What's great about Outside Lands is the weather - overcast and slightly chilly beats hotter-than-hell in my book. The transportation, though, was a nightmare.

So now it's on the promoters to top themselves, and stand out among the other huge festivals out there. Coachella seems to be a bit lackluster compared to recent years, Bonnaroo seems to be more schizophrenic than ever, and Lollapalooza hasn't announced its lineup yet either.

I'm hoping for repeats from at least Wilco and Broken Social Scene, plus at least some of the following: Bruce Springsteen, Avett Brothers, Neko Case, Andrew Bird, TV On The Radio, Fleet Foxes...

And I hope to follow up Outside Lands this year with the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, which I missed last year due to job obligations. So, to all my S.F. festival going crew, get ready, because we're going to do it up right.

Radiohead - Weird Fishes / Arpeggi (live 2008-08-22, Outside Lands Festival)
Tom Petty - Runnin' Down A Dream (live 2008-08-23, Outside Lands Festival)

Monday, March 02, 2009

One year

I bought this sweet new Macbook a year ago today, and began building an entire music library nearly from the bottom up. I had a bit on an external hard drive hooked to my 5-year-old Gateway laptop, which was transferred over first thing.

Then I began the process of ripping several hundred CDs, including about 100 that I borrowed from my brother. Slowly and steadily I pushed through, and after a few months was mostly-but-not-quite done. I'm still stuck there, sick of the repetition of importing, with probably about another 50 or so burned discs left to go. I even had to put in a new optical drive after just a few months.

I deliberately went slowly so I could have the time to listen to much of what I was importing, especially the old favorites that had gathered a bit of dust. The process took me back to my early teens, rediscovering long-ago favorite albums. I got rid of a few that didn't hold up so well, but the majority of the CDs that stuck with me this long are keepers.

I've taken in plenty of tunes from friends as well, a process so easy and quick now with just an external hard drive. And I can stick everything I get from each person into one playlist, so even if I don't get to an album right away, I'll never forget who passed it along. And I save the playlists when I pass along tunes, so I never have to worry about looking like and idiot by giving somebody the same album twice.

So the iTunes library has now passed 300 gb and 50,000 songs, numbers which are certainly inflated by a lot of live shows (about 450 in all - about 50 shows apiece for Dylan and Springsteen, another 30 of Wilco/Jeff Tweedy) and and this new audiobook craze I've been on (I haven't listened to any of the audiobooks yet, but I'll have long drives in my future, right?).

One of the greatest features of iTunes is how it tracks everything, and I (if nobody else) find it fascinating to take a look back through my listening habits over the past year.

My iTunes library reports that I've listened to 7,854 songs, or a solid 52 gb, which is about all the music any normal person would ever need.

And as far as multiple listens, here's the breakdown:
• 2,161 songs with 3 or more plays
• 1,135 songs with 5 or more plays
• 403 songs with 10 or more plays
• 135 songs with 15 or more plays
• 44 songs with 20 or more plays

The top two songs have really stood out for me this entire year: "September" by Sumkid Majere tops out with 49 plays, while "Piles On The Floor" by my friends The Swim is a close second at 47 plays. "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver, "Man O' War" by Eric Bachmann and Gillian Welch's cover of Radiohead's "Black Star" round out the top 5. (Eric Bachmann and The Swim both have two songs in the top 10 most plays.)

There's no way to directly tell which albums are top played, but these three are definitely at the top: Every song on The Swim's Random Walk has 12 or more plays, every song on the Helio Sequence's Keep Your Eyes Ahead has 14 or more plays, and the Fleet Foxes' EP Sun Giant sits at 17 or more plays for every song. A handful of other records - mostly newer ones - have double digit play counts across the board.

I have dozens of old mixes, both ones I've made and ones I was given, recreated as playlists. I did the music for two weddings out of this library. I've given I try to keep all the files up to date with album art (or at least a good picture of the band for a bootleg), and record label and producer where it's applicable. It takes some time, but I can instantly call up every Rick Rubin produced song, or everything I have from Merge Records.

Sometimes it feels like I'm a curator as much as a music listener, but the building and organzing part is mostly over by now. I'll keep ripping CDs as I buy them, but that's never more than a few at a time. I've been a big lover of eMusic, so that's where I get most of my downloads - and for live music. And a well-organized library is a huge help for blogging. So these days, it's mostly just listening, or choosing just what to keep on the iPod. The music aquisition process will never quite be over, but I feel like the main job with the library is done. And it only took a year...

Sumkid - September
The Swim - Piles On The Floor
The Catfish Vegas top 13 songs of the past year (zip file)

What are your top played songs? And how many plays? Discuss in comments...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Waits meets Dylan?

I just ran across this Seth McFarlane short clip... it's saved by the ending, but isn't making fun of Dylan by suggesting you can't understand him about 45 years behind the time?

Courtesy of...

Following up on my last post about mixes, I thought I'd reiterate just how music travels in between friends, and into people's lives, and how those word-of-mouth recommendations, mixes and burned CDs mean everything.

I followed one of those Facebook memes last week - Think of 15 albums you can't live without - and I'll repost my response here, followed by who I credit for that particular band or album, and even if it was a radio or MTV thing, there's always some friend who pushes you further:

1. Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks - My dad
2. Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run - My dad and Adam
3. Wilco - Summerteeth - Adam
4. Soul Coughing - Ruby Vroom - Adam, Heinecke & Ted
5. Uncle Tupelo - Anodyne - Adam
6. Calexico - Feast of Wire - Trickier, but I think I can trace Calexico back to Scott & Tim
7. Social Distortion - White Light, White Heat, White Trash - Adam, McNey, Mitch
8. Steve Earle - Transcendental Blues - Adam, Hillary
9. Van Morrison - Astral Weeks - My dad
10. Tom Petty - Wildflowers - Tricky, but I'm guessing Adam
11. U2 - Achtung Baby - Hillary
12. Billy Bragg - Workers' Playtime - Adam (via Wilco)
13. X - Los Angeles - Justin
14. Crooked Fingers - Dignity & Shame - Heinecke
15. Tom Waits - Mule Variations - Tate

And since this list of favorite albums naturally skews to favorite artists, it reflects more the bands I got into in high school rather than later, and thus mostly leaves out the years from college on, when often it was even more clear how I was introduced to music.

From the beginning of the CD burner era (can it really be 10 years already?), the givers of music were always distinguised by their handwriting on the discs themselves. Some were elaborate in their sharpie usage, turning out multi-colored mini works of art in their own right. But I (and most everybody else) stuck to the simple artist & album.

And I've always really loved turning through a friend's book of CDs and seeing my own handwriting scattered throughout...

Anyway, point being that how I came to a band or an album has always influenced the listening experience, and being able to pinpoint individual friends throughout my music collection is an important aspect of that. So, thanks everybody.

Soul Coughing - Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago (live)
Billy Bragg - Waiting For the Great Leap Forwards (live 2004)
Tom Waits - Hold On (from 1999 Storytellers performance)