Trying To Get To You

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bootleg Friday: The Faces, 1973

The Faces. June 4, 1973. Enjoy. I can't think of anything necessary to add.

Download: "Cindy Incidentally" 6/4/73, London, England
Download: "Angel" 6/4/73, London, England
Download: "I'd Rather Go Blind" 6/4/73, London, England
Download: "Jealous Guy" 6/4/73, London, England
Download: "You Wear It Well" 6/4/73, London, England
Download: "Maggie May" 6/4/73, London, England
Download: "Borstal Boys" 6/4/73, London, England
Download: "We'll Meet Again" 6/4/73, London, England

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Letter Of The Day

This is from a dear friend and former boss of mine who is now out of the music business. I found the second half of the letter rather moving and would like to share it with you.

I was listening to NPR on the drive home last night, as I usually do, and was surprised to hear Robert Christgau doing a review and was blown away for the featured selection. It was his pick for the best record of the year: Francophonic Vol.1 1963-1980- a collection of Congolese music that knocked me out. When I got home I fired up the P2P, and not finding it, bought it from Amazon as a download—great collection. It got me to thinking about Bob and all the articles over the years that I’ve read of his from the Village Voice and other print outlets and how my relationship with him has gone hot and cold. I have found him imperial and impervious, pompous and pedantic, passionate and boring. But I think the overarching quality of his writing, to me, has been that of being dull- it is ultimately academic and not proletarian except when he is fulfilling what I think is the primary purpose-being a conduit. One of the things (actually, in truth, the only thing) that I really loved about being in radio was having the opportunity to turn people on to music that excited me, thrilled me, made me ecstatic, brought me to tears-music that made me get up and dance around the room with unabashed joy. That was fun! And I was lucky to be able to do that during some very exciting times (very early 70s and mid 80s). That was also what made working in a record store a treat—I worked with some heavy vinyl junkies who really knew their shit and access to the store turntable was done through a Rota system. Nick Hornsby came close to it with “High Fidelty” but the ultimate “throw down” amongst the staff was how many copies you could sell of a record that you picked to play. So what's my point?

I found some blog writing of Christgau’s and again, his shit is so dry and dull and academic—he plays to the band (others of his ilk like the mook from The New Yorker with the kinda French sounding name-feh! [That would be Sasha Frere-Jones, ed.]) and NOT to the audience. Yet he’s at his best when he is “turning people on.” To me, I would think that is a primary function—and my further point is that you are at your best when you are writing about things that you are excited about…end of lecture.

The Franco record is an absolute gem. It gave me the same chills I got when I first heard Fela or Sunny Ade-who I got to meet once- I was the first DJ in America to play him and he was very gracious-I then introduced him to 20,000 people at an outdoor Summer gig in Chicago…one of those truly transcendental musical moments. He and his band were on fire and so was the audience.

I am getting old and am becoming frighteningly more and more aware of it and it really sucks. I am significantly closer to the end then I am from where I started and it triggers an old Buick 6 full of fear and loathing, that’s for sure. BUT, it never ceases to amaze how I can still find joy, comfort, inspiration and sustenance from music…and the passing of time and it’s attendant drama is soften by the knowledge that no matter what, I will always find what I need from my unending love affair with all things musical.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Two Masters

Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker, 1950.

And one more piece of Coleman circa 1958, for good measure. I always found his sound to be the sound of loneliness. But he always made it sound so goddamn romantic!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Treasure Trove Of Soul

The more I learn about soul, the more I realize how truly little I know. I was once again confronted with that fact when a friend sent me a link to Sir Shambling's Deep Soul Heaven, a treasure trove of lesser known soul artists and songs, with links a plenty to many obscure and great soul songs from the sixties up to 1980 . I'm looking at the list of artists that he's posted, and I've heard of barely any of them. This site is a gold mine.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Deeper Shade Of Soul's Top 40 Songs Of 2008

Compiling this list the top 40 songs of the year was an energizing experience - there was a lot of great music released this year. I'm not sure it was a great year for albums, but who listens to those anymore, anyway? Technology has, for all practical purposes, turned everyone into their own DJ and jukebox, and it's all about find the great songs amidst the torrents of music waiting to get into our hard drives, iPods and broadband connections. Attaching "good" or "bad" to such developments is pointless. It just is, and is getting more so.

With that being said, I am noticing a few things about this list:

1. Music is simultaneously more private and more shared than ever. I can find a group of rapid fans to discuss any artist I want - but the hope that that artist is going to broaden the culture at large, well, not so much. My little group has our music, your little group has yours, and maybe we'll read about each other on someone's blog. Fragmentation wins.

2. There's no hip-hop on it, which I ascribe far more to my own current lack of interest in the genre than anything I would be foolish enough to say about the music itself. Common thinks that Obama is going to change the music. I think he's kidding himself.

3. We're all indie, and if we're not, we will be soon. Once upon a time, this list would have been 95% major label artists. Ten years ago, it would have been 70% major label. In two years, it will most likely be 15% major label. There's no middle ground anymore in major label land. You're either pop, crossover...or you're a vanity project. That's not necessarily a permanent development, but it sure feels like it.

And with that, here we go...

1. Jackie Greene - “Animal”

Brilliantly arranged, written and sung, Jackie Greene's "Animal" has it all - smarts, soul and sex. Like a lot of artists post-industry collapse, he's going his own way, but where most give lip service to being empowered by the new paradigms, he truly is. Giving Up The Ghost, one of the best albums of the year, showed Greene hitting his stride, and beginning to deliver on his promise.

2. Adele - “Chasing Pavements”

A big sounding ballad that Diane Warren could have written (but thankfully didn’t), that hit me right where I lived. Estelle should keep her mouth shut about Adele until she can match her emotion. Of course, if she could match Adele's soul, she wouldn't need to pop off so much.

3. The Hold Steady - “Sequestered In Memphis”

I still don’t think the album is all that, although I liked it. But this song, passionate, incisive and swaggering, delivered on everything that’s been claimed for them.

4. Southside Johnny and La Bamba’s Big Band (w/Tom Waits) – “Walk Away”

The most playful track I heard all year. Two cult artists – one a tiny one, the other a big one, remind the few who are listening how much they have in common, and that life is a hell of a lot easier with a sense of humor.

5. Little Jackie - “The World Should Revolve Around Me”

Imani Coppola has found her stride - in admitting what a selfish pain in the ass she can be. She gets what it costs her, but she sure has a lot of fun with it.

6. Yeasayer – “Sunrise”

"Middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel" they dub themselves. I immediately heard the gospel, and if I wasn't completely converted, it had me in the pew, listening hard. (2007)

7. Lykke Li – “Let It Fall”

A couple of wrong turns and this could have been headed towards kitschy insufferablility, but she navigated the dangers well, and in risking looking foolish, she made some of the most powerful music made by anyone this year.

8. The Kills – “Black Balloon”

A song about reckoning and growing up. They got past their studied shallowness on this one.

9. Thao – “Bag of Hammers”

Like Mo Tucker fronting the house band a for children’s TV show. Delightful and irrepressible.

10. Santogold – “Say Aha”

Top 40 pop - for everyone below 14th Street.

11. Raphael Saadiq – “Sure Hope You Mean It”

Old school sounding, old school feeling - and old school pleasure.

12. Benjy Ferree – “Fear”

Post-modern soul that's part Dischord and part Dion, from my (so far) most anticipated album of 2009 (sorry Bruce).

13. The Rolling Stones (w/Buddy Guy) – “Champagne & Reefer”

Jagger gets taken to school by a ferocious Buddy Guy. Once again, the Stones show they are at their (passionate) best when they drop the hits and go home to the blues. Somewhere, Ian Stewart is listening to this and smiling.

14. Chris Pierce – “Beautiful Frustration”

Unsigned, he lit up a show at SXSW, which introduced me to him and this (should be) hit song.

15. Jamie Lidell – “Another Day”

The wanna-be soul man hits his mark on this churchy and joyous number.

Another Day - Jamie Lidell

16. Blue Giant – “Blue Sunshine”

17. Alejandro Escovedo – “Always A Friend”

The former punk comes back from a string of near misses and Hepatitis C, and lets it be known that great rock isn't dead yet. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

18. Duffy – “Warwick Avenue”

I’m not yet a believer that Miss Duffy is the real deal. But with a song as soaring as this one, she rendered the question moot, at least for a little while.

19. Ariel Abshire – “Exclamation Love”

You'll be hearing a lot more from her in 2009.

20. Eli “Paperboy” Reed & the True Loves – “(Am I Just) Fooling Myself”

A song and performance worthy of his studies. Late night desperation, grand passion and the all-too familiar knowledge of his own foolishness.

21. Bob Dylan – “Someday Baby”

I could have picked about ten songs from The Bootleg Series, Volume 8. I just happened to pick this one.

22. Sarabeth Tucek – “Nobody Cares”

Power-pop done 2008 style, with a healthy dollop of wisdom on the side.

Sarabeth Tucek's MySpace Page

23. Butch Walker – “Ponce De Lone Ave.”

For over a decade, since the first time their A&R person at Elektra played me the Marvelous Three, I’ve been somewhat immune to Walker’s charms. And as he’s grown from the record industry’s “Most Likely To Succeed” into a successful producer and songwriter, I still didn’t get it. This song may be changing that.

Ponce De Leon Ave - Butch Walker

24. The Killers – “Losing Touch”

The Duran Duran of our era made their second somewhat silly and overblown album in a row. (“Are we human/or are we dancer” is not this year’s “I’ve got soul/but I’m not a soldier.”) But “Losing Touch” shows they’ve got enough (accidental?) smarts and talent to keep a lot of people on the hook for at least one album more.

The Killers - Losing Touch - The Killers

25. The Kooks – “Sway”

For one song, at least, they had soul.

26. James Hunter – “Carina”

Could’ve been a Drifters song.

27. Drive-By Truckers – “The Righteous Path”

The sound of a fuck-up on his knees, praying for mercy from himself.

28. Leon Ware – “Blue Dress”

A piece of slinky early-80’s R&B that made me want to put a suit on, get in a convertible and take my girl for a ride.

29. MGMT – “Time To Pretend”

What it feels like after about two and a half drinks, beautiful women everywhere, and having just emerged from the bathroom after the first bump of what will be a long night-with no anticipated consequences.

It’s good to be young.

30. Late of the Pier – “Broken”

An almost straight up Gang Of Four rip that’s done so well, I fell in love with its shamelessness. I doubt we’ll ever hear from these guys again, but this was a great moment.

31. Al Green (w/Anthony Hamilton) – “You’ve Got The Love I Need”

Al, who told you that you needed anyone on your albums other than you? Don’t you know we just want to hear that voice? Regardless, this was one of the few songs on his new album that was worthy of your legacy.

32. Erykah Badu – “My People”

If you wanted to know where the spirit of Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On was in 2008, you had to hear this. She’s as pretentious as ever, and sometimes, equally powerful.

Erykah Badu - My People - Erykah Badu

33. My Morning Jacket – “I’m Amazed”

Note to My Morning Jacket fans: Instead of saying the next album they release is going to be the one that blows them up, say instead that the next one is going to be a stiff. The reverse psychology may work. Good little song, though.

34. Little Jackie – “The Stoop”

“I Wish,” 2008.

The Stoop (Explicit) - Little Jackie

35. Calexico – “The News About William”

Lushly and beautifully orchestrated, I could barely keep up with everything going on here. Indie-orchestral-pop. It’s beyond me, but damn if it didn’t remind me of The Basement Tapes.

The News About William - Calexico

36. Deastro – “The Shaded Forests”

I discovered this track on shuffle, while driving south on the New Jersey Turnpike. I turned up the volume. I sped up. It felt good.

37. Marching Band – “Makeup Artist”

A friend sent these guys to me, and when I saw that they’re a “Swedish Indie-Pop” act, I almost deleted the tracks out of pure exhaustion with “Swedish Indie-Pop.” But I’m glad I didn’t.

38. Death Cab For Cutie – “Cath…”

I’ve never really gotten these guys. But for one song, at least, they finally popped for me. Where they’ve always sounded foppish and fey to me, here they transformed into something gritty and substantive.

39. TV on the Radio – “Golden Age”

I respected Dear Science more than I enjoyed it. Except for this. The rhythm section says everything that I couldn’t understand in the lyrics.

40. The Gaslight Anthem – “Miles Davis & The Cool”

The ’59 Sound is getting some incredibly laudatory reviews. It’s a good record, not a great one, but this song is a bit more. Smarts meet soul and sparks fly.

30 Second Snippets Of New Springsteen

This weekend, Amazon UK posted 30 second sound clips of the upcoming Bruce Springsteen album, Working On A Dream. I'm of two minds after hearing the clips. One, I'm a little nervous, especially after two song releases that have not been what I would call thrilling. But secondly and more importantly, the clips don't really matter. I remember thinking, "Uh oh," when Amazon posted the 30 second snippets of the songs from Magic, and I ended up loving most of the songs on the album within one or two listens. Listen, enjoy (or not), and take it all with a major grain of salt.

Download: 30 second snippets of Springsteen's Working On A Dream

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bootleg Friday: Bruce Springsteen & Friends, 2000-2003

My favorite live rock and roll memories have come from Bruce Springsteen, and some of my favorite live Springsteen moments have come from the Christmas shows he did in the first half of this decade with the Max Weinberg 7 and assorted friends at Convention Hall in Asbury Park. Joyous, exuberant and soulful, filled with friends (various E Streeters, Southside Johnny) and special guests (Elvis Costello in 2001, Sam Moore in 2003), these shows have been celebrations of the Asbury Park sound, a soul/rock hybrid that at its best can leave you crying and shaking your ass simultaneously.

At the first Bruce Springsteen and Friends show on December 17, 2000, no one knew quite what to expect. What came was, if not shocking, a night of one "holy shit" moment after another: A country version of "Blue Christmas;" A killer, horn-led version of "Lucky Town;" Listen to the crowd explode when the horns play the intro to "The E Street Shuffle," and the screams of joy that emerge when Bruce plays the first notes of "Kitty's Back," not played since September, 1978. Little Steven and Bruce killed on the great "Until The Good Is Gone," from Steven's Men Without Women album. And then there was the debut of "My City Of Ruins," pre-9/11, which the audience fell in love with from the first chorus of "Rise up!"

In 2001, the crowd had a better idea of what would happen, so Bruce started bringing out more guests. Bruce Hornsby and Elvis Costello appeared at the show on December 8, 2001 and Hornsby plays some, uh, interesting accordion on a hilarious and great cover of Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing," led by Springsteen. And Elvis Costello does a touching acoustic version of "Alison," with Bruce on background vocals in the choruses, leading into "Tracks Of My Tears"/"Tears Of A Clown." Southside Johnny does a great mini-set, especially on the sublime Springsteen-penned 1977 ballad, "Love On The Wrong Side Of Town."

2003 was my favorite year for the holiday shows for one reason: Sam Moore. I went to the first night, and seeing Sam and Bruce play together was pure joy and ecstasy. "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" was astonishing; from the way that it was obvious that Sam still had it, and for Bruce's harmonies. Bruce debuted a beautiful cover of "(What's So Funny) 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding," that he would take out on the road for the Vote For Change tour the following fall. A great, great night.

Going to see Bruce in Asbury is akin to seeing Santa at the North Pole. These were joyous shows that brought the Christmas/holiday spirit like few things I've ever experienced. I hope Bruce and friends revive this tradition. It's a great one. If you're into the soul aspects of Springsteen, these shows are nirvana.

Download: "Blue Christmas" 12/17/00, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "Lucky Town" 12/17/00, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "The E Street Shuffle" 12/17/00, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "Kitty's Back" 12/17/00, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "Until The Good Is Gone" (Little Steven) 12/17/00, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "Merry Christmas Baby" 12/17/00, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" 12/17/00, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "My City Of Ruins" 12/17/00, Asbury Park, NJ

Download: "You Sexy Thing" 12/8/01, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "Intro" (Elvis Costello) 12/8/01, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "Alison" (Elvis Costello w/Bruce Springsteen) 12/8/01, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "Tracks Of My Tears"/"Tears Of A Clown" Elvis Costello w/Bruce Springsteen), 12/8/01, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "This Time It's For Real" (Southside Johnny) 12/8/01, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "Love On The Wrong Side Of Town" (Southside Johnny) 12/8/01, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "It's Been A Long Time" 12/8/01, (Southside Johnny) Asbury Park, NJ

Download: "Hold On, I'm Coming" (Sam Moore w/Bruce Springsteen) 12/8/03, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" (Sam Moore w/Bruce Springsteen) 12/8/03, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "I Don't Want To Go Home" (Southside Johnny) 12/8/03, Asbury Park, NJ
Download: "(What's So Funny) About Peace Love And Understanding" 12/8/03, Asbury Park,
Download: "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" 12/8/03, Asbury Park, NJ

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chuck Vs. Keith

"You Want To Get It Right...Let's Get It Right."

Bootleg Thursday: Nina Simone - December, 1977

I posted far too few "Bootleg Friday" pieces this year. So I'm going to try to make up for it this month. Enjoy.

It took me a long time to like Nina Simone. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her voice. I did. A lot. But I found her music sanctimonious, arrogant, and even humorless. She sounded so “above it all” to me. It was obviously soul music, but it was soul with an edge that made me uncomfortable, in possession of none of the “everybody join in, everyone's invited” spirit of Otis, Aretha or James.

But then I read about her life, and I got her anger. I read about how at her first piano recital at age ten, her parents were made to move out of their seats and to the back of the hall. (Simone wouldn’t play until her parents were moved back to their original seats.) I read about her emotional troubles (she was bi-polar for roughly forty years), her estrangement from the United States, and her fury at what happened to the Civil Rights Movement. It was in that context that I got her music – music that demands it be gotten on its own terms, and no one else’s. She created unreasonable music.

The following selections are from a legendary show in December, 1977. In exile from the U.S., Simone plays for a worshipful crowd, but does not give them any of her most popular songs (“Young, Gifted and Black,” “To Love Somebody,” “Mississippi Goddam”). It’s music filled with fire that still burns - with anger, resentment – and yes, laughter and love as well. And it's a fire that sounds dangerous to me, even thirty years later. But I think that Nina Simone would have liked that - because she was never interested in the established order of anything.

Download: "Balm In Gilead" 12/77
Download: "Balm In Gilead (reprise)" 12/77
Download: "Rich Girl" 12/77
Download: "Little Girl Blue" 12/77
Download: "The Other Woman" 12/77
Download: "Turning Point" 12/77
Download: "Pirate Jenny" 12/77
Download: "Pirate Jenny (reprise)" 12/77

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Candi Staton - "He Called Me Baby"

I'm testing a new file hosting service. Enjoy. This song is sublime.

Download: "He Called Me Baby"

James Hunter: The Hard Way

One album I missed this spring is James Hunter's The Hard Way, a delightful piece of late 50's - early 60's inspired soul. I've gotten into it recently (thanks to a personal reminder from Southside Johnny), and it's just one of those albums that makes it hard to repress a smile. Hunter is clearly a Sam Cooke fanatic, and much of the The Hard Way has a lightness to it that reminds me of some of Cooke's more pop feeling recordings. There's not a drop of pretension in this music - it's definitely worth your time. It just sounds good.

Download James Hunter at emusic
Download James Hunter at the Amazon MP3 store

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ariel Abshire's Exclamation Love

One of the most impressive debut albums I’ve heard this year is Ariel Abshire’s Exclamation Love. Abshire, a 17-year-old singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas, is in possession of a wonderful and versatile voice and a presence that demands your attention. The album is filled with excellent songs (more so on the first half) which bear repeat listens. Hearing her, you can hear echoes of pop, country, Texas soul and more – but it’s all of a piece and it’s all Abshire. This is truly a young artist to watch.

Ariel Abshire on MySpace
Buy Exclamation Love at the Amazon Mp3 Store

Monday, December 08, 2008

John Lennon, December 8, 1980 and Me

December 8, 1980 is, in retrospect, one of the most important days in my life.

It was a Monday. I was in the 5th grade at Solomon Schecter Day School in Cranford, NJ, and we had the day off for some reason. My Dad and I were living alone in Plainfield, New Jersey, but I was spending the long weekend at my Godfather’s tiny studio in Manhattan on W. 72nd Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenue, one avenue away from the Dakota, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived.

My Godfather, Vincent Cavallaro, was a painter, and it was he who introduced me to fine art and what it is to be an artist. He was a wonderful painter and sculptor – one of very few artists commissioned by NASA to depict the space program in the 60’s. He was never financially successful (although he made his living solely through his art, which counts him as wildly successful in my book); his best work came in the 50’s and 60’s, and it didn’t quite follow the fashion of Abstract Expressionism in the 50's and especially not the Pop Art that Warhol and Rauschenberg ushered in during the early 60’s. By 1980, he was almost seventy, and his fire was beginning to go out.

But Jimmy (his nickname, which was the only name I ever called him) was the grandfather I never had – and he spoiled me rotten. Pretty much anything I wanted, he’d get it for me. One day in the spring of 1980, Jimmy had bought me a new pair of roller skates and we went to Central Park to try them out. On our way back to his place, I saw a couple walk out the very scary looking (to my eyes) Dakota building on the corner of 72nd and Central Park West, into a waiting car. The man was signing autographs before he got into the car. “Who is that,” I asked Jimmy. “John Lennon,” he replied. Even at the age of nine going on ten, I knew that John Lennon was someone important, and that he had been in the Beatles, and they were important, even though I didn’t really know anything about them yet.

My Dad picked me up early in the evening on December 8th, and I was home by around seven. I was asleep by ten. The following morning, I awoke and got the paper for my Dad, opened it up, and saw the headline in the upper left section: John Lennon Dead. I read the article, fascinated, my adrenaline beginning to pump, thinking that this murder had happened someplace I had walked by countless times – that I had just been there the day before - I had seen this man before.

And then I turned on the radio (I listened to WPLJ in those days - it was a rock station then), and then I started to get the depth of what had happened, what John Lennon had meant to people, and who the Beatles really were. The radio played the saddest Beatles and John Lennon songs. (I recall hearing “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “A Day In The Life,” “Let It Be,” and “Imagine” more than almost anything else.) And in hearing the listeners call in, anguished and crying, their grief touched me and clued me in that something historic was happening.

I was transfixed by the story and the footage I saw on TV. I related to Sean losing his father violently, as I had lost my mom violently in a car accident about three and a half years previously. I heard about John Lennon losing his mom twice; once as a young boy when his parents split, and then as a teenager when she was hit by a car - and how embittered it made him as a young man. Of course, it resonated with me completely.

And then I made a discovery. Underneath the stereo, there was a cabinet full of (vinyl) albums. I thought they were all opera albums belonging to my Dad, but as I went through the collection, I saw them – Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper, the White Album and Let It Be. They had been left behind by my older brother and sister, and now they were mine.

I put on Revolver first, because I thought the cover looked cool. And from the first note of "Good Day Sunshine," (I put side two on first and yes, I know it's a Paul song) I was gone. I didn’t just listen to the music; I swallowed it whole, like air or water. By that Sunday, when there was a worldwide vigil for John, I had made tape recordings of all of those albums, and was playing them on my little Panasonic mono tape recorder, even taking the tape recorder into bed with me when I went to sleep at night. Yes, I felt the sadness of the moment – I related to that sadness all too well. But I heard the joy, pleasure and possibility in the Beatles, and I, thank God, related to that more. Like millions before me, I was now discovering the power of their music - and of rock and soul.

Within three months, I had every Beatles album and was fully obsessed with them. When I would see Jimmy, I would have him buy me books on the Beatles and rock n’ roll. And reading those books (Shout! by Philip Norman, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock And Roll, The Beatles by Hunter Davies, Lennon Remembers) led to names that I had might have heard before, but that I certainly hadn’t yet reckoned with: Elvis Presley, Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Smokey Robinson, Billy Preston, Motown, Stax and more, all of whom in the months and years to come would be more treasure for me discover. In the Time Magazine with Lennon on the cover following his death, it covered Bruce Springsteen and Miami Steve Van Zandt’s reaction to Lennon’s death the following night in Philadelphia, and that Lennon had been warmly admiring of “Hungry Heart,” which had just been released. That led to me buying The River in February, 1981. I was gone, again.

Who I am, who I’ve been and who I will ever be as a music lover, executive, participant, producer, writer, critic, A&R man, and advocate was, in part, birthed in the aftermath of that horrible event on December 8, 1980. My relationship with John Lennon’s music – from the sublime way he sang “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me,” to the anguished soul of Plastic Ono Band, is at the core of who I am. The soul of his music - romantic, cynical, hilarious, mocking, loving, angry, fun, questioning- is there with me always, as something to treasure, and a benchmark to aspire to. I’ve never stopped missing him and wishing I had had the opportunity to appreciate him while he was alive.

And I'm still pissed off he's gone.

Thoughts On Gabriel Roth And Daptone Records

Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine had a huge piece on Gabriel Roth and his Daptone Records label. I came away from reading the piece with an immense amount of respect for the amount of hard work Roth has put in to realize his vision – and a deeper understanding on why I don’t care much about the music he puts out.

Roth is a sonic fetishist, a purist, claiming that he “doesn’t like anything made after 1974.” And in his insistence on using vintage equipment, etc., he’s done a fine job of replicating the sounds of long lost soul and funk singles. But unfortunately, much of his music is only that – a replication. (Ironically, the exception to this is the Dap-Kings work with Amy Winehouse, but that was helmed by a producer who loves soul, but lives in the modern world - Mark Ronson.) In Sharon Jones especially, I hear nothing that makes her music resonate the way great soul does. Is it enjoyable as a sonic experience that approximates soul music? Sure. Does it do what soul really does at its best - raise your spirit, make you hope, dream and feel like you're dwelling in a world of possibility? Not on your life.

In fetishizing the sonics of soul, Roth has reversed the importance of the ingredients of soul – it’s not about a drum sound or a horn tone, it’s about a feeling, a feeling of emotional vulnerability and authenticity. (Roth thinks that it's about a feeling sonic authenticity first.) And when I listen to the music on Daptone Records, I get a cool vibe, the vibe of the hipster purist who has very impressively made his own way, but I don’t get the feeling, the feeling that James Brown once sang about – and that I look to music for, no matter what the genre.

Gabriel Roth may be a purist, but until he figures out that musical purity is a bore and a dead end, the music of Daptone Records will only be marginal, and only marginally enjoyable.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Bootleg Friday: Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia, 1972

This is inexcusably late of me, but losing Merl Saunders, organist extraordinaire, at the end of October was a loss I felt keenly. Saunders played with Jerry Garcia, Grateful Dead, B.B. King, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Hampton, Bonnie Raitt, Miles Davis and many more. His playing was warm, fluid and soulful – with an obvious debt to Jimmy Smith, with whom he studied.

But more importantly, Saunders had a spirit that lit up a room – his playing was immensely joyful, and if you were lucky enough to be in a room in which he was playing, it was almost impossible not to be swept up in the good feelings he conjured. Saying someone is “all about the music,” can occur as cliché, but in Merle’s case, it was the glorious truth.

Today’s Bootleg Friday consists of a few selections from a Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders show from San Francisco, early in 1972. It features great ensemble playing from both Saunders and Garcia, and it’s heavy on the soul, with some great, extended versions of Dylan, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye classics. Really wonderful stuff.

Download: “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” San Francisco, CA 2/6/72
Download: “Expressway To Your Heart” San Francisco, CA 2/6/72
Download: “When I Paint My Masterpiece” San Francisco, CA 2/6/72
Download: “I Was Made To Love Her” San Francisco, CA 2/6/72
Download: “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” San Francisco, CA 2/6/72

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Benjy Ferree: "Fear" and at Union Hall Tonight

I’ve been playing the new Benjy Ferree single, “Fear,” rather incessantly the past week or so. It’s a wonderful piece of art-damaged doo-wop, and it’s got me very excited for his upcoming release, Come Back to the Five and Dime Bobby Dee Bobby Dee, which will be out on February 3rd.

Ferree’s excellent first release on Domino, Leaving The Nest (released in November of 2006), revealed Ferree to be a post-modernist with a very old soul – the kind of guy who can speak fluently about both Wire’s Pink Flag, and Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music - perhaps in the same conversation.

“Fear” bodes very well for Come Back to the Five and Dime Bobby Dee Bobby Dee and Ferree is playing tonight at Union Hall in Brooklyn. I’ll be there.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bruce Springsteen: "My Lucky Day"

Back in the early 80’s, Bruce Springsteen began recording solo demos of his songs before trying them with the E Street Band. The reasoning? Well, besides it being too time consuming in the studio the way they were writing, recording and the deciding on which songs to use, Bruce saw a potential danger with working with the E Street Band: The band could sound so good, he realized, they could fool him into thinking he had a great song when he really didn’t. (The first result of the solo-demoing process that Springsteen implemented was Nebraska, which originally were the demos for an E Street Band album.)

I can’t help but be reminded of that while listening to “My Lucky Day,” the second released track from the upcoming Working on a Dream album, to be released in late January. The band sounds great, especially the rhythm section of Garry Tallent (who fires like the cylinders in a ‘61 Pontiac) and Max Weinberg, who careen wonderfully throughout the song. Charles Giordano finds some great spots to peek out with his organ and Roy Bittan’s piano continues to be a bedrock of the E Street Band’s sound. Bruce’s vocals (and Steve Van Zandt's backgrounds) are ebullient and there’s a lovely vibe throughout.

But the song itself is underwhelming, feeling like a rehash of other Springsteen songs, especially some of the underrated material from 1992’s Lucky Town, a poorly produced album filled with some excellent songs, with lyrics that sound like they were mixed in a blender. And rather than feeling gloriously unself-conscious, “My Lucky Day” just sounds slight, another nice ditty, but lacking depth, which Bruce’s best “pop” material (“Hungry Heart,” “Dancing In The Dark,” “Cover Me,” “Glory Days,” “Girls In Their Summer Clothes,”) has had in spades. If the point of these two song releases is to build excitement for the album, then I have to admit that so far, it's not working for me. The E Street Band sounds great, but "My Lucky Day" is not a match for their greatness.

Monday, November 24, 2008

New Springsteen Single: "Working On A Dream"

Bruce Springsteen's new single, "Working On A Dream," is the free download at iTunes today. It's a "nice" song - Bruce is in early 60's pop/Roy Orbison mode, and the song has a pretty lilt to it. It's a ditty, but it's a good one. There is no threat of it ever being considered one of the great Bruce Springsteen songs. My guess is that they released it as the single because it's "thematic" in some fashion, related to Obama's election (Bruce debuted the song at the last rally he played for Obama) and inauguration.

What's interesting about the song is that it once again shows what an utter anachronism Bruce is. He's always been somewhat of an anachronism - mining veins of early 60's rock, pop and soul that no one else even thinks about anymore. He would have been an incredible house writer for Atlantic Records in 1962.

I can't say that "Working On A Dream" is making me impatient to hear the new album, but it's a hell of a lot better than "Radio Nowhere," and I ended up loving Magic. So there.

Here's a quick ranking of Bruce's lead singles:

1. Born To Run (Born To Run, 1975)
2. Dancing In The Dark (Born In The U.S.A., 1984)
3. Brilliant Disguise (Tunnel Of Love, 1987)
4. Hungry Heart (The River, 1984)
5. Badlands (Darkness on the Edge Of Town, 1978)
6. The Rising (The Rising, 2002)
7. Better Days (Lucky Town, 1992)
6. Human Touch (Human Touch, 2002)
7. Blinded By The Light (Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ, 1973)
8. War (Live 1975-1985, 1986)
9. Working On A Dream (Working On A Dream, 2009)
10. The Ghost of Tom Joad (The Ghost of Tom Joad, 1995)
11. Radio Nowhere (Magic, 2007)

Note: The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle and Nebraska did not have official singles released in the United States. (A video of "Atlantic City" was released to MTV in the fall of 1982, but I'm not counting that.) And I am ashamed to admit that I have no idea what the lead single was for We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. I'm pretty sure it was "Pay Me My Money Down," but I'm not sure if ever had an official release other than to AAA radio.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

AC/DC At MSG 11/13/08

If you had asked rock aficionados back in the 70’s what bands they thought would endure from the era, very few, if any would have put AC/DC on the list. But 35 years later, their legacy is intact, more potent and impactful across more generations than probably anyone, including the band, ever thought possible.

AC/DC work within a strain of rock that has long since diminished within the genre – rock that is about the endless good time; the hedonistic pleasures of (mainly) sex, partying and rock n’ roll, without any consequences. And it was that ethos that was in full display last Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, and it was one celebrated by a crowd seemingly looking to shed any feeling of responsibility for one night, and to remember fondly when it seemed like they didn’t have any responsibilities at all.

Opening with “Rock N’ Roll Train,” from their new album Black Ice, the band played a curiously uneven set, with pacing and song selection that didn’t quite work. New songs were sprinkled throughout the show and typical of older bands whose best albums are behind them, they served more as bathroom breaks for the crowd (who needed them).

Cliff Johnson and Malcolm Young continue to hold down the fort on bass and rhythm guitar, but drummer Phil Rudd was lagging most of the night, his force seemingly on the wane, and it was a loss for the show. Lead singer Brian Johnson’s range has narrowed and while he longer seems threatening (if he ever did), he benignly conveys the friendly lecherousness that infuses AC/DC’s aura of incorrigibility.
But of course, it’s Angus Young that’s the incorrigible one. Stepping out in his schoolboy’s uniform (one worn by more than a few people in the audience), Young strutted around the stage and ripped off those Chuck Berry meets Pete Townshend power chords that have been AC/DC’s hallmark. But the show felt curiously rote – a hollowing ritual of a band with diminishing power.

It’s predictable that most of the attendees last week would disagree with this assessment. They came to rock, and outfitted with official AC/DC light up horns, they did. It’s only rock and roll, and they like it. I just like it a bit more when it’s not only rock and roll.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Happy Halloween From Mr. Springsteen

At 12:01am, I got an email in my inbox from Bruce saying, "Trick or Treat!" I went to the site, and saw this. It's great. I know it's not a "serious" song, but there are some pretty scary moments. And Bruce looks possessed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An Interview With Southside Johnny

Last Friday, before his show at the Nokia Theater, I interviewed Southside Johnny Lyon. We had a great discussion about the making of his fabulous new album, Grapefruit Moon, as well as Tom Waits, the soul revival, Scarlett Johannson, the 30th anniversary of his classic Hearts of Stone album and finding one's niche in the world.

Q: You’re known known for being a soul and rock based artist. But the feel and arrangements on Grapefruit Moon are much more big band – Billy May, Nelson Riddle, Sinatra-esque style arrangements which La Bamba did. Had you ever sung that kind of material before?

SSJ: I used to sing it with my parents. They were big fans of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and artists like that. So I used to sing along with Jimmy Rushing (vocalist for the Basie band). But never in a formal setting. But then La Bamba started doing some big band type arrangements years after we had made records together. And I would come up and sing a Billie Holiday song – songs that I really loved and had grown up listening to. And I always thought, “Jeez, I’d love to make a record like that, but who’s going to listen to that?” But then along comes Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart, and I thought, “Well they’re doing it, I’m not doing it.” But I wanted to do Tom Waits too. And then one day it just clicked, that those things would go well together. So I hadn’t formally done it, but I had stuck my toe in the water – I had sung with a big band. My father drove a cab in Asbury Park, and he would listen to jazz broadcasts at night. So in 1938, he was driving in Asbury, and they announced that that night’s show was going to be Count Basie and his Orchestra from Kansas City. He had read about them in Downbeat, but he had never heard them. So he pulled over and listened for an hour to this absolutely incredible music. And he was that enthusiastic about that music until the day he died – and as a kid, some of it rubbed off on me.

Q: Singing those songs in that style – was there a particular approach to phrasing that you had consciously or were you in the moment on it?

SSJ: It takes a little bit of thought and and La Bamba helped me with some things too. It’s different – there are things you do differently in soul, in rock, in blues - because the horns will interject. So you want to sing either with them, or around them. You really have to know the arrangement to do that. I was used to the melody line being the lead instrument and everything worked around that. I learned something that I already knew, but didn’t quite realize; the singer in those things, like Sinatra with the Basie Orchestra at the Sands, he sings with the band – the band doesn’t play off of him. I tried to incorporate some of that too. I also wanted the freedom to let loose, because that’s what I know best.

Q: Do you have a favorite Tom Waits album?

SSJ: The Heart of Saturday Night – but I like all of them. There’s something on every album, that makes you go, “Oh God…I’ll never write another song again." (Laughter) I heard stuff early on. Vin Scelsa was playing him really early on. Bruce was into him right away too, so I might have heard something from him as well. But it was really like, “Who is this guy? We really like him – he seems like he’s from the streets of New York or New Jersey, but he’s a California guy.”

Q: One thing I couldn’t help but think of while listening to the album is that you guys are flipsides of a very similar coin. You both have a strong background in 50’s and 60’s blues and R&B – but he comes from an obvious bohemian tradition, where I would assert that you – and Bruce and Steven for that matter – never really quite fit in anywhere quite the same way that Tom does.

SSJ: Well, I think – it’s that feeling of not being part of the mainstream. And it’s not a conscious decision to be that – we weren't deliberately trying to be cool or buck the mainstream. It’s like when you go to a dance when you’re in junior high and they’re playing songs you don’t like and everyone is dancing to, you go, “Why don’t I like this? What’s wrong with me?” Of course the beats were like that, and all the be-bop guys were like that until they made it through. It’s the same old story – you don’t have a niche that you fit into, so you kind of make your own. And Tom’s is a combination of that bohemian stuff…but he loves Howlin’ Wolf – and you can hear that in his voice.

It’s not outcast. It’s that your sensibility is not common and at first, you angst over it…and then you start to celebrate it, because you realize, you’re not alone in the world, because there are people you really admire – poets, writers, actors – who also have a different sensibility. Then you start to find out where it’s going to take you.

Q: Tom Waits has been covered by a lot artists. When you were first conceiving of the album, did you have a spirit or soul in mind that you wanted to bring to it – a thought of, “Here’s what I can bring to this material that no one else has brought before.”

SSJ: One of the reasons why I didn’t do it before – 10 to 15 years ago when I had a bunch of songs of Tom’s that I wanted to sing - was because I didn’t want to do them the way they were being done. I was thinking, “Who needs another one of that?” Then I was thinking about doing a big band record – Billie Holiday songs – and I was like, “That’s all been done before,” and then it dawned on me…”Why don’t we do the Tom Waits stuff in that format, and see if it works?” And right from the beginning, when La Bamba and I sat down, we were like, “This is it…this is going to work.”

Q: You did a duet with Tom on “Walk Away” which is extremely playful – it’s palpable when listening how much fun you guys seem to be having. Was it?

SSJ: Yeah…the whole track took about fifteen minutes. (Laughter) It’s very playful. I said, “Can we sing this instead of that,” and he was like, “Yeah, that’s fine,” and started changing things around a little bit. Which isn’t something you do with a writer like Tom Waits. But he was so open.

We were in this little studio in California – Tom brought his wife, and his dog – and it was so hippie. Vines growing everywhere…moss…incense burning…Indian blankets on the wall. It was like 1967 in there. But once we got in there- it was just so easy and natural, so it took no time at all. And then we went to lunch – which is how it should be.

Q: Has he expressed an opinion on the album?

SSJ: He really likes what he’s heard.

Q: You’ve been working on this album for a long time –

SSJ: Two and a half years. And it’s been an idea for over ten years.

Q: - and then this spring, Scarlet Johannson comes out with an album of Tom Waits songs. What were your thoughts when you heard about it?

SSJ: People came to me in panic! (Laughter) I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding!” (Laughter) I was really thinking that unless she was doing a big band version of these songs, there is no interlock – no competition. It’s not like we’re fighting for the same niche. People who like her are going to buy her thing and the guys who like big band stuff or are already fans of mine will buy my album. What – like there’s a Tom Waits fan who’s going to agonize over the choice between her record and ours? Please. It’s crazy.

Q: You’re known as a soul singer. And in the past two years, there’s been something of a soul renaissance – Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, James Hunter. Any thoughts about these artists? Does it please you?

SSJ: Yes, absolutely. It’s interesting to me that they’re using classic soul forms – I hear it in Duffy too. The forms of soul are so friendly to a singer – they really project the singer – so you have to have a good voice. I’m glad they’re doing it. The great thing for me is that they have good voices. James Hunter, Duffy, Amy Winehouse – they all have great voices. It’s good to hear that music. I feel like there's been a romanticism missing in a lot of Hip-hop and modern rock - it's angry and angsty - but that romantic spirit has been missing.

Q: You’ve never had a hit single or album –

SSJ: Thank you Jesus!

Q: - but here you are, 30 years later. How does that feel?

SSJ: I don’t reflect much, because I’ve always got something in front of me. This is a big gig for me – this is out of my comfort zone. I don’t reflect that “this should have happened” or “that should have happened,” because there’s always a future in front of me. There are times that I’ve wished I had a million dollars, but I’m glad I never got locked into anything – because hit records can do that to you. I remember when Lou Reed and Neil Young did a lot of different styles of things, and they took a lot of heat for it. I haven’t stepped out that far, but I’ve done some blues things, some acoustic things. I’d hate to have to do the same thing every night. And I don’t have to.

We were very lucky in the beginning in Asbury Park, because we were doing reggae, blues, soul, rock n’ roll…David Sancious and I used to go up and do Billie Holiday songs with just piano and voice. And they put up with it. So you got the idea that if you were honest about what you did, there’d be an audience for it. And I’ve never given that idea up.

Q: In Europe recently, you played
Hearts of Stone in its entirety. How was that for you?

SSJ: A straitjacket! (Laughter) In Asbury, it worked really well. But when we did it London, I was like, “I really don’t want to do this next song, I want to do something else,” but I couldn’t – I had to do the next song on Hearts of Stone. So from that moment on I was like, “I hate doing this!” (Laughter) But then we did it in Amsterdam and the audience was just so great, so it felt like freedom again. I don’t like the straitjacket of it, but if it pleases people, that’s ok too.

I’m still proud of that album. I’d love to remix it. Steven and I have talked about that. We were really under the gun on that record. We were beneath the radar so the record company wouldn’t stop us. We had already thrown out eight songs and the record company went through the roof – and our budget was so miniscule anyway. We weren’t supposed to sell records, so they didn’t want to spend any money. And I was on the road, and then I would come back and sing, then go back on the road…it was rough. But for it to come out and be accepted, then I felt vindicated. There are great songs on that record.

Q: I was thinking on my way to meet you that Steven’s character from the Sopranos, Silvio, wouldn’t know Tom Waits from a hole in the wall – but he’d really like this album.

SSJ: Yeah! (Laughter) They’d play this upstairs at the Bada Bing! If Silvio’s still around! (Laughter)