Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rewriting Music History--- The Truth (or Lie) Is In the Details.....

"I never really felt like Big Star was part of the Memphis music scene at all.  I just finished reading Robert Gordon's book It Came From Memphis and, quite frankly, that was the first I've ever known of most of the 'Memphis Music Scene'." -- ANDY HUMMEL,  Big Star, from a 2001 interview with Jason Gross for the Perfect Sound Forever website
It's taken 30 years, but we've finally reached a point where you can hardly throw a pop bottle at a major rock concert without hitting a Big Star fan.  And if the bottle's full, when they come to, they'll inevitably swear that hardly anyone knows about them (Big Star, that is).
It's interesting.  The growing fan base is enough to keep the band going even today, though the band has not really existed for years.  True, there is a Big Star living off of the name and a convoluted lineup consisting of the Biggest Star, Alex Chilton, and the core of the Posies.  And their jangly, hook-filled guitar sound does strike a note with the fan, but for those less enamored it's more akin to expecting Creedence Clearwater Revival and getting John Fogerty with a few studio musicians.  I mean, if that's what you want, fine, but it isn't Big Star.

What we really have is a case of the legend overtaking reality.  It's Martin Strothers all over again.  You know.  "What we have here is a failure to communicate?"  Cool Hand Luke?  Hello?  Is this mike on? 

The truth is that whereas Big Star is a minor supernova in today's rock world, during their actual existence, they were barely a lit fuse.  Yet somehow, the legend has given credence to no less than two books about 70s Memphis rock and a history of anything and everything Big Star by Brit Rob Jovanovic.  Not only that, but numerous Big Star CDs and 60s and 70s Memphis compilations line the shelves of music stores everywhere (that is, if you're lucky enough to know where one is anymore).  Hell, it practically takes a supercomputer to handle the Google responses to a Big Star/Chilton query on the Net.

So allow me to mouth the Big Question--- What the hell is going on?  And allow me to mouth the answer--- we are, once again, rewriting history.

The first time I noticed it was in the 70s.  Being a native Pacific Northwesterner, I cut my teeth on the armory and teen fair circuit of the 60s and music was as important to me as it was for most young kids of the day.  I say this only to explain that I knew the bands and the music and the scene and the fact is, it wasn't really close to what has been written. 

Let me guess.  I say Pacific Northwest and the first group that pops into your mind is The Sonics, right?  Maybe Paul Revere and the Raiders if you leaned away from the harder edge.  But they were only two cogs in the Northwest wheel.  We were inundated in bands of varying success and popularity, from The Daily Flash to Don & the Goodtimes to The Frantics to Mr. Lucky & the Gamblers to....  well, you get my drift.  So why is it that the vast majority of interest in the scene circles around The Sonics?  How is it that The Sonics can elbow reality out of the way?  The mere fact that it does is an example of rewritten history.

It is a simple matter of logic.  You start with A, move to B, then to C, then to D.  Now, A to B is a given, but the chances are progressively greater that the further along you move, say from A to D or A to G, the chance of solid logic (and reality) fades.

Big Star may be a good place to start when you think Memphis, but there was a lot more to it at the time than them.  Cargoe made the trek from Tulsa and beat Big Star from the Ardent gate, being the only Ardent act to chart on a national level.  Moloch rocked the houses and eventually morphed into Jim Dandy and Black Oak ArkansasThe Hot Dogs' tadpole studio sessions evolved into a live frog act. 

There were many others.  But they did not constitute a "scene."  They were all musicians not unlike those who permeated the Pacific Northwest, trying to play music and survive.  The cohesiveness was in the music and the survival, not in the banding together for a musical purpose.  The same for Seattle and grunge, and the Athens, Georgia movement of the late 70s and early 80s.  The same for all of rock music.  I mean, would there have been a British Invasion without The Beatles?  Would rock and roll have died without Elvis? Think about it.

The truth is that truth lies somewhere between the poles and always has. In music history, it is a matter of perception. The problem arises when we apply today's perception as reality. So be aware, all of you young musicologists out there.  When you step beyond the music, you take a chance of warping any future conception of the reality you know.  If you don't believe me, just ask Andy Hummel.  Of course, what does he know?  He was only there.

Note: This was written before Andy Hummel and Alex Chilton slipped off this mortal coil. Any references to them in the present were truth at that time. And no disrespect is intended toward any members of Big Star. I love those guys and listen to them still. But you have to admit, they are a great case in point.


Music is flowing fast and furious these days, maybe because of the impending Christmas season, maybe not.  Let me share a few of the more worthy albums passing through the player.....

DONNA HUGHES/Hellos Goodbyes & Butterflies---  Now I've heard of  Donna Hughes and have even heard her, but it took the name of producer J.D. Crowe to make me really listen.  What I'm listening to is some of the best vocal bluegrass available, I am sure, and what I would expect out of a Crowe-backed project.  Hughes lays out fifteen exceptional originals (one co-written with Keesy Timmer) which would have been worthy of any of my favorite bluegrass bands--- Seldom Scene, Hot Rize, and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver included.  The harmonies are beautifully done, the band tight as hell (the list of players is a who's who of musicians I would drive miles to see) and the production superb.  As for Hughes' vocals, all I can say is, I'm in love.

PAT ANDERSON/Magnolia Road---  Anderson contacted me a week or so ago and normally I would have brushed him off because, truth be told, I don't have time to listen to everything and won't write about the music I don't think is worthy, but he was kind enough to include a link to his MySpace page and I had a few minutes, so...  So I replied.  Review your album?  Sure thing, Pat.  Like he'll need my endorsement.  This guy is just enough country to have the semblance of twang but so good he transcends the genre.  He is rock and country and folk and has truth in his music.  And he has Will Kimbrough backing him up.  Kimbrough's Wings album is, to my ears, the best he's done in some time (and I thought the others were damn good) and, well, you can place Magnolia Road alongside it.  And believe me, that is a huge compliment to Anderson.  Huge.

GILEAH TAYLOR/What Kind of Fool & Crooked Line EPs---  I've been following Gileah since her initial album, The Golden Planes, caught me off-guard.  Her simple and almost minimalist approach  was at the time (2005) a breath of fresh air and her songs were pleasant if not downright inspiring.  A couple of years later, she teamed up with The Ghost Train and filled out the sound with full band and her unique touch.  These two EPs are a step beyond that or maybe a marriage of the two earlier albums.  With a wisp of breath, she lulls you into her world and with full band and choir she presents a majestic front for more inspiration.  In between, she does what I've loved from the first Gileah note--- plays and sings from the heart.                                  


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Segarini Effect... or Okay, I'll List 15, If I Have To.....

The people who know me are no longer surprised when I mention Bob Segarini.  He was one of those I-love-his-stuff-but-I'll-never-meet-him "rock stars" back when my revolving door girlfriends were leaving me because I could not pass a record store without a quick peek.  Okay, sometimes they may have turned into long peeks with a couple of over-nighters thrown in, but only a couple, I swear.  Anyway, Segarini has this column he writes for and I try not to miss any.  Like any writer, he can be hit or miss, but it is always an enjoyable read and some columns, like today's, he hits on all cylinders.  Today's subject?  Lists.

I don't know what it is about us these days, but we are a world of list-readers, if not list makers.  Throw Top Ten in any headline and people who don't even know how to read pick up on it.  David Letterman has made a living off of it (and I wish he would stop) and so-called experts have raked in a shitload of cash telling people what they did or didn't already know.  You want to get action on the Net?  Print a list of the Top 100 albums of all-time, post it and send the link to your friends (maybe post it on Facebook, too).  Wait a few minutes and watch the comments come rolling in.  Of course, they're usually not about your list.  It is about readers' perspective of your list.  It is like one of those parties I stopped going to when I worked in the record business--- the ones where everyone splits up into cliques and flaints their musical knowledge like it means something.  My favorites were always the buyers, possibly because I was one.  I swear to God, sometimes they stopped just short of unzipping pants and comparing sizes, in record terms.  I laugh when I think about four or five guys standing in a corner tossing around numbers like they were trade secrets.  "36555," one would say.  "Heart, Dog & Butterfly," would come anxious retorts.  "32817."  "Kansas!"  If it wasn't so pathetic, it would have been hilarious.  And guys, I have no idea if those were the original catalog numbers, so don't bother correcting me.  I printed them to make a point.

Anyway, Segarini's lists got me to thinking.  I have been known to print lists and, on occasion, point to an album as my pick for album of the year.  I think 2005's was Jess Pillmore's Reveal and 2006's might have been Greg Laswell's Through Toledo.  Both of those albums completely planted me on my keister and, like I said, sometimes I do it to make a point.

What caught my eye in today's column was a section headed Top 15 Artists I Would Like To See Succeed Big Time.  Now there is a list worth reading.  Not his.  Mine.  Kidding, Bob.  Yours is a treasure map waiting to be utillized.  Here it is:

Research Turtles
Harlan Pepper
Eagles of Death Metal
Courage My Love
Mike Robins
Rival Sons
BlackHeath Hounds
Ali Milner
Dave Borins
Justin Nozuka
Tom Wilson
Carlos Morgan

Of those fifteen, I have only really heard four--- Research Turtles (a solid personal favorite), Courage My Love (because I was afraid Segarini might pull the pop quiz on me and I didn't want to embarrass myself--- they turned out to be another class Segarini pick), Ali Milner (the first, I believe, in a string of topnotch artists I have found through Seg) and Dala (a duo I found all by myself and was so taken that I promote them whenever I get the chance).  Of the other eleven, I have dabbled into the music of a few.  The remaining I have yet to hear, but you can bet I will.  Segarini, you see, is a treasure hunter like myself.  I would be afraid to miss an artist he recommends for fear of missing something important.

Anyway, I thought I would put together fifteen of my own.  I know the guilt will be overwhelming because I will play hell to remember all of the deserving and, hell, keeping it to fifteen is akin to pissing into the wind, but what the hell--- here goes:

My Top 15 Artists I Want To See Succeed Big Time------

Research Turtles---  Yeah, I know, Segarini already copped them for himself, the bastard.  If we were putting together a football or baseball team, I would be pissed because these guys have the goods.  My buddies Stanley and Howie and Sam are on board, Nate likes them kinda but they are a bit too saccharine for his tastes (he prefers more raunch and punch with his breakfast), but he listened and didn't hate them.  If you want, you can get a free download of their album by clicking on their MySpace page...  The music?  I call it power pop, but Nate corrected me.  He calls it garage pop.  Tomato, tomato.....

The Beige---  Out of Vancouver BC.  These guys are all over the map regarding genre, but put together an album which really knocked my socks off.  I listened to it the other day and it happened again.  There are socks all over my listening room.  I wish I could tell you what their music is like, but right now words escape me.  It is very adventurous--- I can tell you that much.  If you're at all interested, here is a link to a review I wrote.....

Tom Mank & Sera Jane Smolen---  Dave Pyles at FAME asked if I would review Mank & Smolen's Where the Sun Meets the Blue for the FAME website.  I cannot thank him enough.  This is no folk duo.  Mank & Smolen are accomplished musicians and step way beyond the folk genre.  Not only that, but they surround themselves with some of the best supporting musicians I've had the pleasure to hear.  Here are two reviews I've written--- one for Where the Sun Meets the Blue, the other for their latest:  Paper Kisses.  I am presently trying to wrap up a short synopsis of their musical lives and will be posting that when it is completed.  Yeah, I think they are worth the effort.  And then some.

Kirsti Gholson--- I keep begging Kirsti to get a more up-to-date page up, but she is very busy and I understand the delay.  She released an album she calls her "demo" in 2000, but it is hardly a demo.  It is a pop gem.  Her voice and songwriting style is just off the beaten path enough to make her music comfortable yet on the edge.  How amazed was I when I saw Gholson listed as a contributor on Mank & Smolen's albums?  Pretty amazed.  She has been working on a new album for the past year.  Soon, Kirsti?

Ophelia Hope---  Speaking of on the edge, these guys are doing what no other artist I've yet heard are doing.  I'm not going to say any more.  Here is my review.  You're either going to love it or hate it.  I love it and can only dream of an American tour.  Based in Norway, but members are from Belgium, Norway, the UK and Australia.  Damn, I hope I got that right. 

Bright Giant---  These guys have a good following in the Midwest, but they're from Des Moines.  Hard to break out of Des Moines, but it can be done.  They're rockers in the vein of early Stones and Black Crowes.  They have a touch.  They put their guitars to my head and made me write this.  Those guys in the Midwest are cruel and heartless.

Old Californio---  I suppose you could call them country rockers, but they have a magic rock they rub on some songs and it catches my ear.  I fell in love with Westering Again in just a few listens.  Then Justin Smith, their drummer, sent me a 2006 album, unmastered, titled Along the Cosmic Grass.  I'm sold.  New album coming.  It's taking too long.....

Devon Sproule & Paul Curreri---  There may be two listed here, but I always think of them as one.  These guys have a large following in the UK but struggle for respect in the States.  I don't understand it.  Check out their latest albums (Sproule's Don't Hurry For Heaven and Curreri's California) and you'll hear what I mean.

Hymn For Her---   I've been following Maggi, Pierce & EJ for some years now.  Not long ago, Pierce and Maggie started their own side project they named Hymn For Her.  They load their songs with beautiful folk, manic and driving rock and everything in between.  MPE should have been huge.  Ditto H4H.  Their new album, Lucy & Wayne & The Amairican Stream, was recorded in their 16-foot Airstream trailer.  How cool is that?  I can't tell you how they did it (trade secret), but it sounds great.

The Minnows---   This Belfast band at first listen doesn't seem to be much out of the ordinary, but they have a way of sneaking up on you.  After hearing it a number of times while writing a review, I found that it had somehow become part of my genetic makeup almost.  I see they have a few more vids up on their MySpace page.  Just click on the name and enjoy.

The Weaver Twins---  These guys slay me.  Their videos are classic and their music--- well, let us just say that it's a bit out there.  Great, adventurous stuff, though.  I heartily suggest you start with Mounting the Scaffold and Girl In Dolorous Blue.  Waaaay up at the top of my all-time favorite songs list.  I'll make it easy for you.  Click on these for the vids:  Mounting the Scaffold...  Girl In Dolorous Blue...  Not even 500 views in two years?  Something is horribly wrong here!!!!!!  My words.....

Arborea--- If you haven't noticed, I have a thing for guy/girl duos.  I don't know why.  Well, in Arborea's case, it has to do with the eclectic handling of their songs.  Buck Curran is a class guitar player and wife Shanti has a voice which sometimes puts you in the etherworld.  Spacey, beautiful, haunting, ethereal all describe what they do.  They do it well.  Here are my words on their last album (new one now being prepared for release), House of Sticks...

Mist and Mast---  When I saw these guys at Sam Bond's Garage in Eugene, they started out fine, but by the third song were ear-bleeding loud.  Not their fault, though.  They had no idea.  They worked their way through a bunch of tunes--- an hour and a half's worth--- and that justified my long drive to see them.  Absolutely superb musicianship brought their music alive.  Better than the album (and I can seldom say that about anyone).  Came out of The Red Thread.  Again, my words...

Sweet Talk Radio---  Even if these guys had not placed two songs on one of my favorites TV shows (Haven), they would be at the top of my hope-you-make-it list.  Kathrin Shorr and Tim Burlingame have a symbiotic musical relationship that will get even better with time, and they are plenty good now!  You might want to check out the two songs from Haven, but their album is packed with outstanding stuff as well.

Kink Ador---  When my good friend Joe Lee sent me a link to these guys' website, I thought it would be just another better than average rock band because the really good ones come around all too seldom (though more often than you might think).  Kink Ador is one of the really good ones.  Three musicians who play like four or five, a feel for their music and a rhythm in their souls.  Unlike any band I've heard.  Again, more than likely you will love or hate them.  You know where I stand

Tomorrow, I will regret doing this.  I already have artists' name coursing through my brain and a growing sense of guilt.  Not towards the artists listed but towards the ones which should be.  There are plenty out there.  They work hard.  They play hard.  Their music is not always for them, you know.  Even when they virtually have to play out of a sense of urgency, they put their very essence on display.  Next time you say someone sucks, remember how it felt when people say that about you.  If you don't like it, move on.  A negative never helps anyone.

Seg, I thank you for the idea, but I'm going to kick your ass if I should see you anytime soon.  I have this intense flu coming on but didn't want to quit until this was finished.  I feel like crap.  I just hope this reads better than I'm feeling.

Friday, October 1, 2010

And the Hits Just Keep On Comin'.....

You think you're behind.  I think I forgot to turn in a book report my sophomore year in high school and I know I still have an incomplete on my college transcript.  And that's just the beginning!  My To-Do list for even just the past few weeks is a few miles long and the music is coming faster than I or anyone else can keep up with, so let's get to the music right away, okay?


I know most people will think me overdramatic in making statements like I am about to make, but the thrill I get from  discovering new music from old favorites is real.  Many of the artists I follow are not only good, they are creative and unique.  None moreso than Charlottesville's Devon Sproule, who this morning posted a video from her brand spanking new DVD, Live In London (link here).  She posted it on Facebook with a nod to Megan Huddleston, another talented Charlottesvillain who evidently wrote the song.  I laughed (it is about a lady who is pissed at her boyfriend/husband/lover and has the line, "You better sleep with one eye open...") and I reveled because it had a hillbilly jazz tone to it that caught me totally by surprise.  When they got to the break, Sproule strangled her guitar with minor chords and showed herself a part of a band and, well, I am a sucker for women who really know how to play.  Sproule, for those in the dark, has released a handful of albums and has a style all her own.  Her Don't Hurry For Heaven album is to my ears a stunner and contains what might very well be my pick for song of the year--- Sponji Reggae, which is not reggae at all but not not reggae, either.  Truth is, I haven't heard anything quite like it.  And it has the added advantage of being a duet with her ingenious husband, Paul Curreri, who is an incredible talent himself (his California album is still in heavy rotation at my house and has been for over a year).

I have been awaiting the new Old Californio album for the past few months and, after bugging publicity maven Kim Grant all that time, have been awarded a consolation prize of great worth to me.  Drummer Justin Smith just last week sent me a copy of a 2006 release titled Along the Cosmic Grass and I'm floored.  He sent a note to explain technicalities (There was no need, for I care about the music more than any audiophile qualities) and I hope he forgives me for printing it here:  "Here's 2006's Along the Cosmic Grass," he writes.  "I hope that it will suffice until Sundrunk Angels is released.  Keep in mind--- this is 100% a home recording.  Rich (Dembowski--- the songwriter/guitarist) and I mixed it and there is essentially no mastering."  Well, if they could have done a better job, I couldn't hear it.  The songs are just different enough to separate the 2006 OC from the 2009 OC, whose Westering Again easily worked its way into my subconscious.  Westering might be better recorded and might lean a tad more toward country roots (They are more rock than country--- you can read my review here), but Cosmic is plenty good enough.  The songs are fresh, the sound is good and OC fans could spend money on less and be happy.  I would like to see OC make it available at possibly the website level--- maybe a CD-R for a budget price.  If you are a sound fanatic, you aren't in to the music anyway, but if you know and love these guys (if you really hear them, you just might learn to), this is something to look for.  I know, Justin, I shouldn't be writing checks that you have to cash but it is, after all, about the music. Speaking of music, if you're ever in L.A. and want to find some, you might want to check out Grand Ole Echo, a worthy project of Ms. Grant.  Always good music.  And live!

Randy Burns just released a new album:  Hobos and Kings.  I received a copy a week ago and haven't listened yet (I have visitors from out of town and, well, I like to pick my times, you know?), but I will soon.  The reason I mention Randy is that I have been a fan since the early seventies when he was fronting the Sky Dog Band, a folk/country rock band of some distinction.  They were pretty much New York, Burns having cut his teeth on the old Phil Ochs-era, Bleeker & McDougal folk scene.  Burns has a great voice and when I heard Song For an Uncertain Lady, I was sold.  The album was/is classic and the song--- well, there is just nothing like it.  I still play it on occasion just to recapture that folk/psych vibe I hear all too seldom.  Anyway, you might want to check out the new album or any of the other CDs he has made available.  By the way, Song For an Uncertain Lady is on The Exit and Gaslight Years.  If you decide to scope it out, sample the other songs as well.  It is topnotch music from a golden era.  More on Hobos and Kings when I've had a chance to absorb the music.  Thank you, Randy!

Have you ever had an album smash every critical objection you might have to bits?  Well, that's what Shade's (now) outstanding debut Highway is doing to me.  I liked it but was not overwhelmed when I first heard it (here is my review), but time has a way of correcting your first impressions.   Numerous listenings have moved this to the top of personal favorites--- the albums I play when no one else is around so I can concentrate on the music.  I am enthralled by their use of background vocals and the honesty in their music. Don't be fooled.  This is good stuff!  Check out their video

I'll end this with really good news--- Jill Stevenson is finishing up a new album!  Jill blindsided me with two EPs last year--- The Jill Stevenson Band  and Where We're Not with Adam Widoff.  There is an understated quality to the songs she writes and the way she sings them which makes them way more than they are.  Actually, it makes them what they are--- damn impressive.  I've already put this at the top of my wish list.  Like I said, the hits just keep on comin' and as long as they do, life is good.