Monthly Archives: December 2013

REVENGE OF THE WRITERS: Best and Worst of 2013


What stood out in the music world for 2013? The folks who work in the trenches here are gonna tell ya. Above: Jason Isbell.


 As part of our 2013 year-end wrap-up—go elsewhere on the BLURT site to view our Best Albums Of 2013, or go here to read our feature/interview with Artist Of The Year Jason Isbell—we summarily yield the podium to the staffers and contributors who detail their personal picks for 2013. The first section has the lists for the staff, while the second section has those submitted by some of the regular contributors. Guarantee: all dialogue reported verbatim.

Also check out our 2012 coverage:

 2012 In Review: Blurt’s Top 75 Albums

Revenge of the Writers: Best and Worst of 2012



 Top 10 New Releases

Avett Brothers – Magpie & the Dandelion (Universal)

Scott Miller — Big, Big World (F.A.Y. Recordings)

Harmed Brothers — Better Days (Fluff and Gravy)

Bill Mallonee – Beatitude (independent)

David Berkeley — The Fire in my Head (independent)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Southeastern (Southeastern Records)

Parson Red Heads — Orb Weaver (Fiesta Red)

Dawes — Stories Don’t End (HUB)

Kim Richey – Thorn In My Heart (Yep Roc)

Steep Canyon Rangers — Tell the Ones I Love (Rounder)

 Top 5 Archival/Reissues 

John Hiatt — Here to Stay – Best of 2000 – 2012 (New West)

Bob Dylan – Another Self Portrait (Sony/Legacy) (Note: Believe it or not, I liked Self Portrait

Yes — The Studio Albums 1969 – 1987 (Rhino)

The Animals — The Mickie Most Years and More (ABCKO)

Sly and the Family Stone — Higher (Epic/Legacy)

 Top 5 Music DVDs  

Rolling Stones — Sweet Summer Sun (Eagle Vision)

Bruce Springsteen — Springsteen & I (Eagle Vision)

Various — Love for Levon (StarVista/Time Life)

Various — Move Me Brightly, A Documentary Concert Film Celebrating Jerry Garcia’s 70th Birthday (Eagle Vision)

Eric Clapton Guitar Festival — Crossroads (Rhino)

 Top 5 Music Books 

Paul Kelly — “How To Make Gravy” (Penguin)

Marc Spitz — “Poseur, A Memoir of Downtown New York City in the ‘90s” (DaCapo)

David Berkeley — “140 Goats & A Guitar” (Strawman Books)

Howard Sounes — “A History of the 27 Club” (DaCapo)

Bill Carter and Judi Turner — “Get Carter” (Fines Creek)

 Top 5 Concerts I Attended

Telluride Bluegrass Festival — Telluride Colorado; several days in July

Americana Music Festival — Nashville Tennessee; several days in September

Bonnie Raitt — Hollywood FL, Hard Rock Live a the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino; November 30

Lauderdale Live — Fort Lauderdale;  December 8

Brian Wilson, Jeff Beck, Al Jardine, David Marks (warm-up gig) – Hollywood, FL, Hard Rock Live a the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, September 27

 Top 5 Films


The Great Gatsby


The Butler

Thor II

 Best Record Label: New West (The best in Americans!  Although Yep Roc, 429, Eagle and Bloodshot all deserve kudos as well)

Best Music-related Website: YouTube

In Memoriam: Most Lamented Death: Lou Reed

Best New Artist: Shovels & Rope

Worst New Artist: Miley Cyrus (Okay, she’s not new, but she did try to reinvent herself. Yechh)

Dumbest Band Name: Gloom Balloon — my, that sounds cheery — blow me up and then pop me!

Best Album Sleeve Art or Packaging: Bob Dylan — Another Self-Portrait

Why? Because the Bobster drew it himself and how often does the Bobster reveal anything of himself? Besides, the booklet is great — lots of cool photos and erudite commentary.

Hero of the Year: Jason Isbell — Proof that a good old boy from Alabama can be an eloquent populist hero every bit as vital as Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Tom Petty or any other heartland hero.

Asshole of the Year: The publicist who insists that CDs are on the verge of extinction and that downloads are the way of the future. Talk about a Gloom Balloon!

Best Hair or Facial Hair: Avett Brothers (most of the time — Jon Bon Jovi, move over — you’ve been usurped).

Sweetest Buns: That sweet and innocent blonde girl singer on “Nashville” — sorry, don’t know her name.

Nicest Package: ditto above.

2014 Release I Am Most Anticipating: Small Faces box set, Here Come from the Nice

Coolest Trend or Whatever: Sorry, not sure I detected one. Perhaps the ever-increasing populism of today’s music and the desire of artists to reach out and involve their fans.

Most Fucked Up or Annoying Trend or Whatever: Twerking

Wildcard: 50 Words (or less) From or About Me That You Won’t Read on LinkedIn:

I’m hopelessly addicted to music, and though I spend nearly every waking album outside my day job laboring in its service, I do so in order to acquire new discs, see free concerts free and interview my rock ‘n’ roll heroes. Yes, even at my age, music continues to define my life. Hankie please… (PS, I’m not on LinkedIn, so you read it here first!)

Favorite story or review I wrote for BLURT:


Ian McLagan — A dream fulfilled. A member of one two of my favorite bands of all time sharing his incredible backstory with yours truly. (Story coming in January at BLURT)

Tom Jones — Mr. Jones remains a truly a nice man and a humble guy, even despite his incredible trajectory and true life stories. He insists that he simply loves to sing, and although he’s now 70-something, he’s singing better than ever. His latest albums are the definitive proof. (feature, “The Triumphs And Challenges Of Being”)





Top 10 New Releases
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds- Push the Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd.)
Waxahatchee- Cerulean  Salt (Don Giovanni)
Kelley Stoltz- Double Exposure (Fat Possum)
Kinski- Cosy Moments (Kill Rock Stars)
William Tyler- Impossible Truth (Merge)
Lisa Germano- No Elephants (Badman)
Mikal Cronin- MCII (Merge)
Califone- Stitches (Dead Oceans)
Sam Amidon- Bright Sunny South (Anti-)
Savages- Silence Yourself (Domino)

 Top 5 Archival/Reissues
Come- 11:11 (Matador)
Venom P. Stinger- 1986-1991 (Drag City)
Various Artists- Afrobeat Airwaves 2: Return Trip to Ghana (Analog Africa)
Verlaines- Juvenalia and Hallelujah All the Way Home (Captured Tracks)
Various Artists-  Kill Yourself Dancing (Still Music)


2. The Savages ACL Blurt



 Top 10 New Releases

Jake Bugg – s/t (Mercury) / Shangri-La (Jake Bugg/Island)

Capsula – Solar Secrets (Krian)

Clutch – Earth Rocker (Weathermaker)

Coliseum – Sister Faith (Temporary Residence)

The Dexateens – Sunsphere (Cornelius Chapel)

Kylesa – Ultraviolet (Season of Mist)

Willie Nile – American Ride (Loud & Proud)

Savages – Silence Yourself (Matador)

Scorpion Child – s/t (Nuclear Blast)

Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders – 14th & Nowhere… (Rankoutsider)

Top 10 Archival/Reissues

Big Star – Nothing Can Hurt Me (Omnivore)

The Bottle Rockets – The Bottle Rockets/The Brooklyn Side (Bloodshot)

Roky Erickson – The Evil One, Don’t Slander Me and Gremlins Have Pictures (Light in the Attic)

Godflesh – Hymns (The End)

Horseback – A Plague of Knowing (Relapse)

Jellyfish – Radio Jellyfish (Omnivore)

Scott Morgan – Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust (Easy Action)

Nikki Sudden – The Boy From Nowhere, Who Fell Out of the Sky (Troubadour/Easy Action)

The Swimming Pool Q’s – The A&M Years (Bar/None)

Irma Thomas – In Between Tears (Alive Naturalsound)

 Top 10 Tracks/Singles

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Push the Sky Away”

Daft Punk – “Get Lucky”

Föllakzoid – “Trees”

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – “Chase the Feeling”

In Solitude – “Sister”

Jason Isbell – “Elephant”

Michael Monroe – “The Ballad of NYC”

Monster Magnet – “Mindless Ones”

Motörhead – “Do You Believe”

Steven Wilson – “Drive Home”






Top 10 New Releases

Kevin Morby/Harlem River (Woodsist)

Califone/Stitches (Dead Oceans)

Baptist Generals/Jackleg of the Devotional  (Sub Pop)

Parquet Courts/Light Up Gold (What’s Your Rupture?)

Bo White/Adornments (Kinnikinnik) (

Foxygen/We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (Jagjaguwar)

Lady/Lady (Truth & Soul)

Yellowbirds/Songs from the Vanished Frontier (Royal Potato Family)

Nick Cave/Push the Sky Away (Anti-)

Temperance League/Rock & Roll Dreams (Like, Wow!)

 Honorable Mention

Mount Kimbie/Cold Spring Fault Less Youth (Warp)

Bill Callahan/Dream River (Drag City)

Shannon Wright/In Film Sound  (Ernest Jenning)

The Sadies/Internal Sounds (Yep Roc)

Throwing Muses/Purgatory-Paradise (It Books)

Brokeback/Brokeback & the Black Rock (Thrill Jockey)

Eleanor Friedberger/Personal Record (Merge)

Ghost Wave/Ages (Flying Nun)

Water Liars/Wyoming (Fat Possum)

Holopaw/Academy Songs, Vol. 1 (Misra)

 Honorable Honorable Mention: Arp/More; Chance the Rapper/Acid Rap; Okkervil River/The Silver Gymnasium; Xiu Xiu/Nina; Josephine Foster/I’m a Dreamer; Yo La Tengo/Fade; Son Volt/Honky Tonk; Promised Land Sound/Promised Land Sound; Rogue Wave/Nightingale Floors; William Tyler/Behold the Spirit; Golden Gunn/Golden Gunn; Mikal Cronin/MCII; Shearwater/Fellow Travelers; Amor de Dias/The House at Sea; Barton Carroll/Avery County, I’m Bound to You; Howe Gelb/The Coincidentalist

 (Matt Berninger of The National)

Matt Berninger by Merrick Marquie



 Top 10 New Releases (in reverse order)

The National – Trouble Will Find Me (4AD). Brilliant record from a band that just keeps getting better and better.

My Bloody Valentine – MBV (MBV). So many years waiting for this, I do wish it was a ‘little’ better but certainly a stellar album and worthy of top ten and the wait.

Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day (Rhymes of an Hour). The surprise of the year. I was very skeptical of them making a record after all of these years and wow, back in 100% true form, brilliant and beautiful.

Brianna Lea Pruett – Gypsy Bells (Canyon). Placerville, CA singer/songwriter Brianna Lea Pruett releases her debut for Canyon Records, the oldest record label in the country. With her Native American Cherokee roots, it’s the perfect artist for them to expand their roster—and wow, what a great album Bri has made, very proud of this record.

Besnard Lakes – Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO (Jagjaguwar). The ‘new’ artist I discovered this year, and how the hell did I not listen to their records before this album? Friends had told me before to check these guys out: where have they been my whole life? Incredible. The record before this one is scarily even better.

Kenny Roby – Memories & Birds (Little Criminal/MRI). Six String Drag’s front man Roby breaks out to make a beautiful heartfelt album that just gets better with every listen. Six String Drag are going into the studio early next year as well; surely more people will discover this hidden gem in the process.

Paul McCartney – New (Hear Music). The surprise of the year part deux. I mean come on it’s McCartney, we know the dude can write some song, but WOW. What an amazing record. This is going out on a limb here but this is my favorite album he has done since Ram.  Second Favorite behind the Beatles, must have.

The Knife – Shaking The Habitual (Mute)
Perfect album to play in the store, two discs and lasts forever! So no having to go change the record.  This album takes you on a journey, in many different places and is beautiful throughout from top to bottom.

Chelsea Light Moving – Chelsea Light Moving (Matador). Since Sonic Youth is one of my all-time favorite bands, I don’t take their break-up lightly and do look at side- and now full-time new projects with excitement, but skepticism. I’ve always loved Thurston’s solo albums, but this is the best thing he has ever done outside Sonic Youth.

Jason Isbell – Southeastern (Southeastern). What can I say about this record? It’s just a masterpiece, plain and simple. Incredible songs. This year was a no brainer when Fred Mills and I picked BLURT’s Artist Of The Year. From the moment we heard this album we knew this was the choice, no debate, no discussion—it’s Isbell’s year and thank you from my ears for making this beautiful record. In the end, it’s about the songs and this delivers full steam.  Not even a halfway-okay song on the album: all are winners.

 Honorable Mention

Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw (Paradise of Bachelors)
Ana Calvi – One Breath (Domino)
Jim James – Regions of Light & Sound of God (ATO)
Savages – Silence Yourself (Matador)

Polvo – Siberia (Merge)
Tonk – Let’s Keep It Dark (Future Standards)
Johnny Marr – The Messenger (New Voodoo)
Yo La Tengo – Fade (Matador)
Love Language – Ruby Red (Merge)
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds  – Push The Sky Away (Bad Seed LTD)
Tommy Keene – Excitement At Your Feet (Second Motion)




 Top 10 New Releases

Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart (Interscope)

Dave Hause – Devour (Rise)

Two Cow Garage – The Death of the Self Preservation Society (Last Chance)

Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band – Promises to Deliver (Dead Broke)

The Smith Street band – Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams (Asian Man)

Joy of Painting – Tender Age (South Division)

Crazy & The Brains – Let Me Go (Baldy Longhair)

Banquets – Banquets (Black Numbers)

Bad Religion – True North (Epitaph)

The Avett Brothers – Magpie and the Dandelion (American)

 Top 5 Music Books 

Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris and the Renegades of Nashville by Michael Streissguth (It Books)

Mo’ Meta Blues: the World According to Questlove by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (Grand Central Publishing)

Nilsson: the Life of a Singer-Songwriter by Alyn Shipton (Oxford University Press)

27: A History of the 27 Club Through the Lives of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse by Howard Sounes (Da Capo Press)

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook (It Books)

 Best Record Label: Black Numbers

In Memoriam: Most Lamented Death: Lou Reed

Best New Artist: Banquets

Dumbest Band Name: Perfect Pussy

Asshole of the Year: (tie) Kanye West and Justin Bieber

2013 Release I Am Most Anticipating: Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Favorite story or review I wrote for BLURT: Big Country (interview: “Stay Alive”)

(Julia Holter)

Julia Holter



 Top 10 New Releases

Sam Baker – say grace (Sam Baker Music)

Kenny Roby – Memories & Birds (Little Criminal)

Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band – Take Me to the Land of Hell (Chimera Music)

Jason Isbell – Southeastern (Southeastern)

Julia Holter – Loud City Song (Domino)

Lonnie Holley – Keeping a Record of It (Dust-to-Digital)

Nick Cave – Push the Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd.)

Valerie June – Pushin’ Against a Stone (Concord)

Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light (Constellation)

Mavis Staples – One True Vine (Anti-)

 Top 5 Tracks/Singles

Charles Bradley (featuring the Budos Band) – Changes (Dunham)

Flamin’ Groovies – End of the World (self-released digitally)

Parquet Courts – Stoned and Starving (What’s Your Rupture?)

Clare Maguire – Half Hearted Love (self released)

 Paul McCartney – Early Days (Hear Music)

 Top 5 Archival/Reissues

Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (Columbia)

Various Artists – There’s a Dream I’ve Been Saving 1966-1971: Lee Hazlewood Industries (Light in the Attic)

Hackamore Brick – One Kiss Leads to Another (Real Gone Music)

Peter Walker – Has Anybody Seen Our Freedoms? (Delmore Recording Society)

Dave Van Ronk – Down in Washington Square (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)

 Top Music Books

I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp – Richard Hell

Anyone Who Had a Heart – Burt Bacharach

The Holy or the Broken – Alan Light

 Best Record Label: Anti-

Best Music-Related Website: Blurt Magazine Online for turning me on to great new albums by Kramer, the Distractions and the Sharp Things. [There will be an extra 50 bucks in your paycheck this week, Rosen. – Ed.]

In Memoriam: Most Lamented Death: Lou Reed

Best New Artist: Parquet Courts

Dumbest Band Name: Joanna Gruesome

Best Comeback: (tie) The Rascals and the Flamin’ Groovies

My Favorite Blurt Story in 2013: Hackamore Brick (interview, “Not So Thick As A Brick”)

Random Comment: If the Everly Brothers can garner three tribute albums in a year, they ought to reunite if they’re in a position to do so.

(The Replacements back in the day)

Replacements 1



[Blurt editorial contact: No spammin’!]

 Top 10 13 New Releases

Jason Isbell – Southeastern (Southeastern)

Those Darlins – Blur The Line (Oh Wow Dang)

Cut Copy – Free Your Mind (Loma Vista)

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd.)

Kenny Roby – Memories & Birds (MRI)

Charles Bradley – Victim Of Love (Dunham/Daptone)

Besnard Lakes – Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO (Jagjaguwar)

Temperance League – Rock ‘n’ Roll Dreams (Like Wow)

Tommy Keene – Excitement At Your Feet (Second Motion)

Frankie Rose – Herein Wild (Fat Possum)

Brother Dege – How to Kill A Horse (GolarWash Labs)

Wayne Shorter Quartet – Without A Net (Blue Note)

Kramer – The Brill Building (Tzadik, 1/8)

 Top 10 11 Tracks/Singles

Cut Copy – “Free Your Mind”

Those Darlins – “In the Wilderness”

Daft Punk – “Get Lucky”

Superchunk – “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” 7”

Disclosure – “When A Fire Starts to Burn”

Flamin’ Groovies – “End of the World”

Arcade Fire – “Reflektor” (12” dub mix)

Warpaint – “Biggy”

Peter Buck – “(You Must Fight to Live) On the Planet of the Apes” 7”

Thee Midnight Creep – “Get Messed Up!” (demo)

Avicii – “Wake Me Up”

 Top 10 14 Archival/Reissues

Seefeel – Quique LP (blue vinyl, Modern Classics/Light In The Attic)

The Birthday Party – Live 81-82 and Mutiny/The Bad Seed (Drastic Plastic/4AD)

The It*Men – Greatest Its (Stow House)

Holger Czukay – On the Way to the Peak Of Normal (Groenland)

The Clash – Sound System box (Sony Legacy)

Flaming Lips – The Flaming Lips 1984 EP (Lovely Sort Of Death)

Various Artists – There’s A Dream I’ve Been Saving 1966-1971 Lee Hazlewood Industries box (Light In the Attic)

Humble Pie – HPerformance Rockin’ the Fillmore: The Complete Recordings


Cosmic Psychos – Down On The Farm/Cosmic Psychos/Go The Hack (Goner)

Deviants – Ptooff! (Angel Air)

Various Artists – Cooler Than Ice: Arctic Records and the Rise of Philly Soul box (Jamie/Guyden)

Family – Once Upon a Time box (Snapper)

Damon – Song of a Gypsy (Now-Again)

Various Artists – Twin Cities Funk & Soul: Lost R&B Grooves From Minneapolis/St. Paul 1964-1979 (Secret Stash)

 Top 10 Music DVDs

Big Star – Nothing Can Hurt Me (Drew DiNicola, dir.)

Saint Etienne – A London Trilogy: The Films of Saint Etienne 2003-2007 (Paul Kelly, dir.)

Here’s Edie: The Edie Adams Television Collection (via MVD)

The Stooges & Special Guests – Tribute to Ron Asheton: Live from Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater April 19, 2011 (via MVD)

Various Artists – Released! The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998 box (prod. by Amnesty International, via Shout! Factory)

The Best of Fridays (via Shout! Factory)

Jimi Hendrix Experience – Here My Train A Comin’ (Bob Smeaton, dir.)

I Dream of Wires: Hardcore Edition (subtitle: exploring the history, demise and resurgence of the ultimate electronic music machine, the modular synthesizer) (Robert Fantinatto, dir.)

Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of the Independent Record Shop (Graham Jones, dir.)

Rolling Stones – Crossfire Hurricane (Brett Morgen, dir.)

 Top 10 Music Books

Democracy of Sound, by Alex Sayf Cummings (Oxford University Press)

Detroit Rock City, by Steve Miller (Da Capo Books)

VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave, by Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter and Martha Quinn, with Gavin Edwards (Atria Books)

The Art of British Rock: 50 Years of Rock Posters, Flyers and Handbills, by Mike Evans (Frances Lincoln Limited)

Punk: The Best of Punk Magazine, ed. by John Holmstrom and Bridget Hurd (It Books)

Recombo DNA: The Story of DEVO, by Kevin C. Smith (Jawbone)

Shell Shocked: My Life With the Turtles, Flo & Eddie and Frank Zappa etc…., by Howard Kaylan with Jeff Tamarkin (Backbeat)

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, by Peter Hook (Simon & Schuster)

Scorched Earth: A Jason & the Scorchers Scrapbook, By Rev. Keith A. Gordon (Excitable Press)

There Was A Time: Rock & Roll In The 1960’s In Charlotte, And North Carolina, by Jacob Berger and Daniel Coston (Fort Canoga Press)

 Top 10 11 Concerts I Attended

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Austin, TX, Stubbs, March 13

Jason Isbell – Raleigh, NC, Lincoln Theatre, July 2

Charles Bradley – Austin, TX, Moody Theatre (Daptone Soul Revue), March 14

Besnard Lakes – Austin, TX, Ginger Man Pub (Blurt Party). March 15

Suuns – Raleigh, NC, Schoolkids Records, Sept. 6

Spiritualized – Raleigh, NC, Hopscotch Music Festival, Sept. 7

Robert Plant / Bombino – Cary, NC, Koka Booth Amphitheater, July 20

Shoes – Austin, TX, Ginger Man Pub (Blurt Party), March 15

Temperance League, Raleigh, NC, Sadlack’s Patio, Oct. 4

Gross Ghost – Raleigh, NC, Schoolkids Records, Nov. 1

Gabriel Sullivan & Taraf de Tucson, Austin, TX, Speakeasy (Tucson Music Night), March 16

 Top  5 7 Films

Dear Mr. Watterson documentary (Joel Allen Schroeder, dir.)

Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron, dir.)

World’s End (Edgar Wright, dir.)

Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements (Gorman Bechard, dir.)

American Hustle (David O. Russell, dir.)

Mel Brooks: Make A Noise documentary (Robert Trachtenberg, dir.)

Room 237 (Rodney Ascher, dir.)

 Top 10 Music Videos

Hickoids – “Cool Arrow”

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Higgs Boson Blues”

Major Lazer – “Jet Blue Jet”

Bipolaroid – “Efflorescent Adolescent”

Temperance League – “(That, You Can) Count On”

The Ettes – “You Were There”

Bettie Serveert – Monagamous”

Jason Isbell – “Traveling Alone”

Brother JT – “Sweatpants”

Jon Langford reads “A Bloodshot Christmas”

 Best Record Label: Stones Throw

Best Music-related Website: Mashable (yeah, I know it’s actually a TECH site, but music sites have gotten progressively boring and redundant)

In Memoriam: Most Lamented Death: Lou Reed

Best New Artist: Savages

Worst New Artist: Chvrches

Dumbest Band Name: Chvrches (here’s a great article on the whole “weird/dumb” name phenom:

Best Album Sleeve Art or Packaging: Various Artists – There’s A Dream I’ve Been Saving 1966-1971 Lee Hazlewood Industries box (Light In the Attic). A stack o’ CDs lodged in an LP-sized hardbound book that also includes a slotted Lee H. business card AND a red vinyl flexidisc… this is pure art, on the level of classic Rhino productions. (And that Arctic Records box was pretty damn sweet, too.)

Worst Album Sleeve Art: David Bowie – The Next Day (Columbia). C’mon folks, this isn’t even classic Bowie postmodernism at work—to paraphrase Spinal Tap, there’s a fine line between clever and stupid. Or in this case, between ironic and lazy.

Hero of the Year: Nelson Mandela

Asshole of the Year: M.I.A.

Fave Internet Meme of 2012: the ongoing brilliance of Rickrolls (Rick Astley) extends to a new generation of bait-and-switch videos

Best Hair or Facial Hair: Jack White

Sweetest Buns: Nikki Kvarnes of Those Darlins

Nicest Package: Editorial Disclosure: I offered this category to the writers, thinking it would be a nice counterbalance to the “Sweetest Buns” category, above, given how “sweetest buns” could easily be perceived as sexist in the current—and, dare I say, ridiculously overheated—P.C. climate of mediaspeak. (Awhile back yours truly was accused of sexism by making a post that employed the standard rockspeak vernacular of “chicks” when referring to the fairer sex. Oops, I did it again.) Across the board, however, not a single contributor to our year-end lists picked up the correct ball and ran with it: they repeated or offered a variation on another above category, “Best Album Sleeve Art or Packaging,” and no one queried me on the presumed redundancy. So, I dumped all those spurious responses. Still, in the interest of closure, let’s clarify: Nicest Package, as in, er, that “package” you see healthily bundled in the front of Robert Plant’s pants in all those vintage Led Zeppelin video clips. And for 2013, I submit: Robert Plant, who toured the sheds this past summer and wowed all comers (including me and my 12-year old kid, both of us digging all the classic Zep tunes reworked with an African flair), and still demonstrated, front and center, that he still brings it, front and center, a million times more prominently than all you teeny-weenie Brooklyn hipster rockers. Sorry, indie rock chicks, you just don’t know what you’re missing. If you’d been around in the ‘70s you might’ve had a chance to play with the big boys, if you catch my drift.

2014 Release I Am Most Anticipating: Billy Sedlmayr – Charmed Life. As of this writing, self-released (fans who pledged to the Kickstarter campaign received their pre-release digital copies in late December), but so absolutely deserving of label patronage that I’m hoping someone at a label reads this. An Arizona legend and a mainstay of that state’s classic “desert rock” scene that spawned Sidewinders, Giant Sand, Naked Prey, etc., Billy Sed teams up here with next-gen icon Gabriel Sullivan for a tour de force of biting, purposeful psych, Latin-flecked folk and, yes, desert rock.

Coolest Trend or Whatever: The ongoing rise of streaming (Spotify, et al) as a means of accessing all music, any time, any place: it’s the ultimate sonic democratizer. And while it can’t possibly take the place of the real-world experience of shopping and hanging out at a brick-and-mortar record store, not everybody—including some of the BLURT writers—has the luxury of living in proximity to a record store or feels like ordering stuff from Amazon. When I was a kid, I would read about so many cool records that I had no chance of hearing: the first two Big Star albums are a perfect example. Those days are gone, luckily.

Most Fucked Up or Annoying Trend or Whatever: Year-end best-of music polls like this. Nobody is interested in reading what a bunch of navel-gazers has to say other than the navel-gazers themselves, or that peculiar breed of music geek who somehow feels that making a list empowers him with some vague kind of High Fidelity-esque cool that makes him stand out compared to his peers (I call this the “my dick is bigger than your dick” syndrome). Bah. I don’t bother any more—this year I didn’t even bother to send in my Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll, something I’ve been doing regularly for over a quarter-century—and I’ll let you in on a little secret: my list here that you are reading was actually generated by a small armada of RocCrit Bots!

Wildcard: 50 Words (or less) From or About Me That You Won’t Read on LinkedIn: That despite my so-called “status” as an “engage” music editor and writer, I feel no obligation whatsoever to respond to the scores of generic email pitches I receive at my in-box. I mean, would YOU answer 300 pieces of bulk mail-generated spam (with fake “personalized” salutations) each day?

Favorite story or review I wrote for BLURT: Though from my archives, given the unexpected Replacements reunion this year, it seemed more relevant than ever, and wholly worth dusting off, polishing up, and posting: “Bob’s Babysitter: A Replacements Story”

(Neko Case)

Neko Case2

Jason Gross

New York, NY

 Top 10 New Releases:

Fidlar – Fidlar (Mom+Pop)
Bad Religion – True North (Epitaph)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (Columbia)
Deerhunter – Monomania (4AD)
Stooshe – London With the Lights On (Warner Bros)
MacG – Freedom (no label)
Telekinesis – Dormarion (Merge)
Deltron 3030 – The Event II (Bulk Recordings)
Melt Yourself Down – Melt Yourself Down (The Leaf)
Burial Rival – Dealer (Hyperdub)

Top 10 Tracks/Singles

Twin Shadow “Old Love/New Love” (Rockstar Games)
Kastra “Eminem vs. Daniel Portman vs. Zeds Dead – Breathe In That Air (Kastra & Jon Fox Bootleg)” (no label)
Robin Thicke “Blurred Lines (Buffetlibre Remix)” (no label)
Ezra Furman “American Soil” (Bar/None)
Rudimental Featuring Emeli Sande and Nas “Free (Remix)” (Big Beat Records/Atlantic)
Big Sean Featuring Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica “Control” (no label)
Nonono “Pumpin’ Blood” (Warner Bros)
Cumulus “Hey Love” (Trans- Records)
Konshen “Gal a Bubble” (Major Lazer x Bro Safari x ETC! ETC! Remix)” (no label)
Hellsongs “Equality” (Tapete)

Top 10 Archival/Reissues 

Ella Fitzgerald – Best of BBC Vaults (Universal Music Group)
Various Artists – Scared To Get Happy- A Story of Indie Pop 1980-1989 (Cherry Red)
Grateful Dead – May 1977 (Grateful Dead)
Miles Davis Quintet – Live In Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol 2 (Legacy)
George Jones – The Complete United Artists Solo Singles (Omnivore)
Swamp Dogg – Total Destruction to Your Mind (Alive)
Shoes – Present Tense: Demos 1978-1979 (Numero Uno)
The Clean – Vehicle (Captured Tracks/Flying Nun)
Orchestre Poly-rythmo de Cotonou – Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Voodoo Funk (Analog Africa)
Various Artists – The Rough Guide To Latin Psychedelia (World Music Network)

Top 5 Music DVDs

Hear My Train A-Comin’
The Punk Singer
20 Feet from Stardom
AKA Doc Pomus
Big Star- Nothing Can Hurt Me

Top 5 Music Books

Questlove – Mo’ Meta Blues
Toure – I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon
Robert Gordon – Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion
Elaine Constantine – Northern Soul- An Illustrated History
Bob Stanley – Yeah Yeah Yeah- The Story of Modern Pop

Top 5 Concerts I Attended

Kanye West/A Tribe Called Quest – Madison Square Garden, NYC, November 2013
Lou Reed tribute show- Rodeo Bar, NYC, November 2013
Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto at Met Museum May 2013
Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Flaming Lips/The Darkness- Prospect Park, Brooklyn, May 2013
Clearwater Festival, Croton-On-Hudson, NY, June 2013

Top 5 Films

The World’s End
The Way Way Back
Dallas Buyer’s Club
12 Years A Slave
American Hustle

Top 5 Music Videos

William Tyler “A Portrait of Sarah”
Cookie Monster- “Me Want it”
Virgin Mobile ‘Retrain Your Brain’ featuring Wayne of Flaming Lips
Chris Hadfield “Space Oddity”
Graveola “Babulina’s Trip”

Best Record Label:

Tie: Slumberland and Kanine

Best Music-related Website: Perfect Sound Forever (sorry but I’m a self-booster)

In Memoriam: Most Lamented Death: Lou Reed

Best New Artist: Icona Pop

Worst New Artist: Avicii

Dumbest Band Name: Diarrhea Planet

Best Album Sleeve Art or Packaging & Why: Grateful Dead- May 1977 – even the mailer that they send it out in is beautiful!

Worst Album Sleeve Art & Why: Kanye West- Yeezus – meant to be an anti-art statement but just looked stupid and lazy (good album though)

Hero of the Year: Nelson Mandela

Asshole of the Year: Phil Robertson

Fave Internet Meme of 2012: Anything but Harlem Shake

Best Hair or Facial Hair: Omar Souleyman

Sweetest Buns

Mei Li Wah in Chinatown NYC- best roast pork buns!

2014 Release I Am Most Anticipating:

Another no-advance-notice CD release like Bowie or Beyoncé

Coolest Trend or Whatever: Artists continuing to use sites like Bandcamp to sell their albums or at least promote themselves

Most Fucked Up or Annoying Trend or Whatever: Music journalists finding it harder and harder to make a living

Wildcard: 50 Words (or less) From or About Me That You Won’t Read on LinkedIn: iPad keyboard apps might turn me into a new age artist!

Favorite story or review I wrote for BLURT

Erkin Koray (reviews)





 Top 10 New Releases

Jason Isbell – Southeastern (Southeastern)

Mikal Cronin – MCII (Merge)

Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle (Ribbon)

Yo La Tengo – Fade (Matador)

Waxahatchee – Cirulean Salt (Don Giovanni)

John Murry – The Graceless Age (Evangeline Recording)

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away (Bad Seeds Ltd.)

Superchunk – I Hate Music (Merge)

Neko Case – The Worse Things Get …(Anti-)

Savages – Silence Yourself (Matador)

Honorable mention:, Deerhunter – Monomania (4AD), The National – Trouble Will Find Me (4AD), Torres (Self-released), Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork (Matador), Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana (Carpark), Linda Thompson – Won’t Be Long Now (Pettifer Sounds), Valerie June – Pushin’ Against a Stone (Concord)

 Top 10 Archival/Reissues

Bob Dylan – Another Self Portrait (Legacy)

Grateful Dead – Sunshine Daydream: Veneta, Oregon 8/27/72 (Rhino)

The Band – Live at the Academy of Music 1971 (Universal)

The Clash – Sound System (Legacy)

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours Deluxe Edition (Rhino)

Neil Young – Live at the Cellar Door (Reprise)

Roky Erickson –The Evil One/Don’t Slander Me/Gremlins Have Pictures (Light in the Attic)

Nirvana – In Utero : 20th Anniversary Edition (Universal)

Duane Allman – Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective (Rounder)

The Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas (Merge)

 Best Songs

Neko Case – Nearly Midnight, Honolulu (Anti-)

Yo La Tengo – Ohm (Matador)

Chvrches – Recover  (Glassnote)

Prince – Screwdriver (Purple Music)

Jason Isbell – Cover Me Up (Southeastern)

The National – I Should Live in Salt (4AD)

Arcade Fire – Reflektor (Merge)

Mikal Cronin –Weight

Savages – She Will (Matador)

Vampire Weekend – Diane Young (XL)

 Best Concerts

Prince –March 16, La Zona Rosa, Austin, TX

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – March 13, Stubb’s, Austin, TX

Stevie Wonder – Sept. 28, Central Park, New York, NY (Global Citizen Festival)

The Roots/Parquet Courts – April 25, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY

Yo La Tengo – Dec. 13, The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY

Neko Case – Sept. 26, Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY

(Bob what’s-his-name)


 Ron Hart

Ringwood, NJ

 Top 10 New Releases

Kanye West Yeezus (Def Jam)
Daft Punk Random Access Memories (Columbia)
Chris Thile Bach: Sonatas and Partitas (Nonesuch)
Atoms for Peace AMOK (XL Recordings)
David Bowie The Next Day (Columbia)
Drake Nothing Was The Same (Young Money-Universal Republic)
Eminem The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (Shady-Aftermath)
Elvis Costello & The Roots Wise Up Ghost (Blue Note)
Darkside Psychic (Matador)
Bill Callahan Dream River (Drag City)

 Top 10 Archival/Reissues 

Bob Dylan Another Self Portrait (Legacy Recordings)

Roky Erickson and the Aliens The Evil One/Gremlins Have Pictures/Don’t Slander Me (Light in the Attic)

Duane Allman Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective (Rounder)

Sly and the Family Stone Higher! (Legacy Recordings)

Damon Songs for a Gypsy (Now-Again)

R.E.M. Green 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Rhino)

Elvis Presley Elvis at Stax (Legacy Recordings)

Fleetwood Mac Then Play On Expanded Edition (Rhino)

Four Tet Rounds (Domino)

Songs: Ohia Magnolia Electric Company: 10th Anniversary Edition (Secretly Canadian)

 Best Record Label: Drag City

Best Music-related Website:

In Memoriam: Most Lamented Death: Lou Reed

Best New Artist: Perfect Pussy

Dumbest Band Name: Foxygen

Hero of the Year: Daniel Bryan

Asshole of the Year: No comment (cough cough, Billboard).

Fave Internet Meme of 2013: Joffrey Bieber 

2014 Release I Am Most Anticipating: Beck’s Morning Phase

Coolest Trend or Whatever: Cassettes

Most Fucked Up or Annoying Trend or Whatever: cronyism in mainstream music journalism

Wildcard: 50 Words (or less) From or About Me That You Won’t Read on LinkedIn: I am watching professional wrestling again. If you don’t like it, learn to love it.

Favorite story or review I wrote for BLURT: The Men (interview, “Are We Not Men”)


Jordan Lawrence

Columbia, SC

 Top 10 New Releases

Mikal Cronin, MCII (Merge) Because I’m 17 again!

Chris Forsyth, (Paradise of Bachelors) Because it needs no more cowbell.

Arnold Dreyblatt & Megafaun, Appalachian Excitation (Northern Spy) Because it’s Arnold Dreyblatt AND Megafaun.

Hiss Golden Messenger, Haw (Paradise of Bachelors) Because believing is hard.

Mountains, Centralia (Thrill Jockey) Because form should follow function.

Inter Arma, Sky Burial (Relapse) Because metal should feel this infinite.

Body/Head, Coming Apart (Matador) Because Kim Gordon wins.

Joint D≠, Satan Is Real Again, Again, or: Feeling Good About Feeling Good About Bad Thoughts (Sorry State) Because it’s somehow better than last year’s Joint D≠ record.

Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels (Fool’s Gold) Because if El-P didn’t do it, get the fuck out of here.

The National, Trouble Will Find Me (4AD) Because I get drunk sometimes.


Michael Berick

Los Angeles, CA

 Top 10 New Releases

Jason Isbell – Southeastern (Southeastern)

Divided And United: Songs of the Civil War – Various Artists (ATO)

Dr. Dog – B Room (Anti)

Courtney Jaye – Love And Forgiveness (self-released)

The White Buffalo – Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways (Unison Music Group)

Slaid Cleaves – Still Fighting The War (Music Road)

Milk Carton Kids – The Ash & Clay (Anti)

Band of Heathens- Sunday Morning Record (BOH Records)

The Melodic – Effra Parade (Anti-)

Escondido – The Ghost of Escondido (Kill Canyon)

 Top 10 Archival/Reissues

Bottle Rockets – Bottle Rockets/The Brooklyn Side (Bloodshot)

Various Artists – The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume One (1917-1932)  (Revenant/Third Man

Waitresses – Just Desserts (Omnivore)

Townes Van Zandt – High, Low And in Between (Omnivore)

Bob Dylan – Another Self Portrait (Columbia)

Buck Owens – Buck ‘Em (The Music of Buck Owens 1955-1967(Omnivore)

Speed The Plough – The Plough & The Stars (Bar-None)

Swimming Pool Q’s – The A&M Years (Bar-None)

REM – Green (Rhino)

Hackamore Brick – One Kiss Leads To Another (Real Gone Music)

 Best new artist(s): The Melodic, Escondido and Milk Carton Kids

Best New Christmas Song: Nick Lowe- Christmas At The Airport


Tom Speed

Oxford, Miss.

 Top 10 New Releases

Valerie June: Pushin’ Against A Stone (Concord)

Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition: White Buffalo (Fat Possum)

Jason Isbell: Southeastern (Southeastern)

Jonathan Wilson: Fanfare (Downtown)

Kurt Vile: Wakin On A Pretty Daze (Matador)

Yo La Tengo: Fade (Matador)

Foxygen: We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (Jagjaguwar)

Water Liars: Wyoming (Fat Possum)

Blitzen Trapper: VII (Vagrant)

Shannon McNally: Small Town Talk (Sacred Sumac Music)

 Coolest Trend or Whatever: Crowdfunding

Top Reissue: Woody Guthrie: American Radical Patriot (Concord/Rounder)

Dumbest Band Name: Diarrhea Planet

Favorite Story I Wrote For Blurt: It was fun driving down to Taylor, Miss. to drink beers in an old cotton field with Jimbo Mathus. I even made it home with a souvenir—a 45 rpm record of “Chokin’ On A Lude” by his first band, Johnny Vomit & The Dry Heaves. (interview, “The Education of Captain Catfish”)




 Top 10 New Releases

Savages – Silence Yourself (Pop Noire/Matador)

Black on Black – Get on With It (self-released)

Tame Impala – Lonerism (Modular)

Grant Hart – The Argument (Domino)

Bad Religion – True North (Epitaph)

Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork (Matador)

Superchunk –  I Hate Music (Merge)

Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni Records)

The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law (Atlantic)

Many Moods of Dad – Consequence of Trying (You Are Already Dead)

Mudhoney – Vanishing Point (Sub Pop

 Best Soundtrack: CBGB- The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Best Music Related Documentary: Nothing Can Hurt Me: The Story of Big Star

Best show attended this year:  Bob Mould w/ The Pedaljets – Lawrence, KS, The Bottleneck

Favorite Interview I conducted this year for BLURT:  Gorman Bechard, director of Every Everything: The Life, Times and Music of Grant Hart and Color Me Obsessed (interview, “One Man’s Obsession”)

Best Things that happened to me this year: Running into Bob Mould in the lobby of my hotel the morning after his show in Lawrence, KS (super nice guy) and having my BLURT review of Every Everything: The Life, Music and Times of Grant Hart chosen for inclusion in the “Best Rock Writing of 2013 Anthology” from That Devil Music.

What I hope for in 2014: That Miley Cyrus stops making music, Kanye loses the ability to speak, an extensive world tour for The Cure that I can attend, to interview Dave Grohl, and that Morrissey finally learns to shut his trap.





 Top 10 New Releases

Willie Nile — American Ride  (Loud & Proud Records) The most recent album in this veteran New York artist’s late career resurgence, American Ride is one of his best. It finds Nile tackling rock and roll anthems (This is Our Time, If I Ever See the Light), lovely ballads (She’s Got My Heart), Tin Pan Alley (Sunrise in New York City) and a blistering cover of the Jim Carroll classic People Who Died. A great record from an inspiring guy.

 The Cliks — Black Tie Elevator  (Bandwidth Entertainment) The third proper studio outing from Lucas Silveira and company largely abandons the rock of the first two Cliks discs in favor of soul, reggae and blues — but it still sounds great!

 Starnes & Shah — Shilling for Dreamtown  (self released) The latest from these two NYC-area ladies is a fine album of folk/pop/rock that highlights their lovely harmonies. Listen to the song Gatling Girl once and you won’t be able to get it out of your head for a week.

 Reed Turner — Ghosts in the Attic  (self released) Impressive album from this Austin-based, country-influenced singer-songwriter. Highlights include the haunting title track and Killed That Girl (Cause She Was Killing Me). Who can’t relate to a sentiment like that??

 Paul McCartney — New (MPL/Hear Music) Not Macca’s best but a very good disc nonetheless… One that finds him equally at home rocking out or being sentimental and which proves that even in his 70s, he has no intentions of slowing down.

 Kanisha K. — self titled (Daddy Rocks)

We Are the Wilderness — Descending from Paramount (self released)

We Were Lovers — Pyramids (self released)

The Strokes — Comedown Machine (RCA)

Julia Weldon — Light is a Ghost (self released)

  Top 5 Archival/Reissues

The Clash — Sound System (Sony Legacy)

The Monroes — What Do All the People Know (Music Power)

The Waitresses — Just Desserts: The Complete Waitresses (Omnivore)

Fanny — self titled (Real Gone Music)

Boz Scaggs — The Essential Boz Scaggs (Sony Legacy) 

 Top Music Book: Boys Don’t Lie: A History of Shoes by Mary E. Donnelly

 In Memoriam: Most Lamented Death: Lou Reed “Something flickered for a minute… and then it vanished and was gone.”  RIP.

 Best New Artist: Julia Weldon

 Asshole of the Year: Chris Brown (for the second year in a row!)

 2014 Release I Am Most Anticipating: Mary Gauthier’s next studio album (which will be the follow-up to her brilliant 2010 release, The Foundling).

 Most Fucked Up or Annoying Trend: Record stores in NYC continue to close at an alarming rate due to a combination of soaring rents and more people downloading music instead of buying physical records and CDs. One of the latest casualties, Bleecker Bob’s, finally shut down in 2013. Bob’s was a legendary store which had been around since the 1970s and which I lived across the street from for 20 years. Though the clerks could be gruff at first, most of them were quite nice once you got to know them. And they had a great selection of vinyl that ranged from old jazz and soul to tons of punk, post-punk and New Wave gems.

Favorite story or review I wrote for BLURT: The Monroes (interview, “What Do They Know?)



Steve Wilson

Lawrence, KS

 Top 10 New Releases

Babyshambles, Sequel to the Prequel: Pete Doherty continues to toss off appealing tunes; the band has a brilliant nonchalance.

The Beatles, On Air: Live at the BBC, Vol. 2: Better than the first BBC collection, fresh 50 years later. George especially is a revelation, as guitarist and singer.

David Bowie, The Next Day: His best in more than 30 years and a competitor to some of his classics.

Danny Brown, Old: As zonked as Cody Chesnutt and just as human and soulful.

Eleanor Friedberger, Personal Record: Off-hand, synthetic, seductive songs that explore and reveal.

Laura Marling, Once I Was an Eagle: Remarkable young talent. She almost makes me re-evaluate my Joni Mitchell problem.

Oblivians, Desperation: Fourteen tunes in a half-hour and change. The Oblivians bring it all back home.

Sonny and the Sunsets, Antenna to the Afterworld: The boy next door with the surprising record collection, and his head in the clouds.

Those Darlins, Blur the Line: Insinuating with each listen Patti Smith, Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett and Loretta Lynn tossed like a salad.

King Khan & the Shrines, Idle No More: Rocking guitars, funky horns, shots of salvation.

Ezra Furman – Day of the Dog: Mangy Lou/Jonathan/Gordon descendant, mixes rock tropes with tics and flair.

 Favorite story or review I wrote for BLURT: King Khan (interview, “Spiritual Salvation”)


Steve Klinge

Wilmington, DE

Top 10 New Releases
Bombino – Nomad (Nonesuch)

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away (Anti)

Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe (Universal)

Iron & Wine, Ghost on Ghost (Nonesuch)

The National, Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)

Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold (2012 originally but 2013 rerelease) (What’s My Rupture?)

The Pastels, Slow Summits (Domino)

Rhye, Woman (Republic)

Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City (XL)

Yo La Tengo, Fade (Matador)




 TOP 10  (#1-10)

Palma Violets – 180 (Rough Trade)

Connections- Private Airplane  & Body Language (both on Anyway Records)

Crocodiles- Crimes of Passion (French Kiss)

Mikal Cronin-  MCII  (Merge)

The Proctors- Everlasting Light (Shelflife)

The Mantles- Long Enough to Leave (Slumberland)

Dick Diver- Calendar Days (Chapter Music)

Math and Physics Club- Our Hearts Beat Out Loud (Matinee)

Savages – Silence Yourself (Matador)

The Moondoggies- Adios, I’m a Ghost (Hardly Art)

 WAIT, HERE’S 10 MORE!  (#-11-20)

Anders & Kendall- Wild Chorus (9 Mile Records)

Beach Fossils- Clash the Truth (Captured Tracks)

Veronica Falls- Waiting for Something to Happen (Slumberland)

King Khan & the Shrines- Idle No More (Merge)

Joanna Gruesome, Weird Sister (Slumberland)

Yo La Tengo – Fade (Matador)

The Bongos- Phantom Train (Jem/ MVD)

Thalia Zedek- Via (Thrill Jockey)

Caitlin Rose- The Stand-In (ATO)

Arts & Leisure- Choose Your Adventure (Test Pattern)

  WAIT…….10 MORE!  (#21-30)

The Zoltars- Walking Through the Dark (CQ Records)

The Night Marchers- Allez Allez (Swami)

La Luz-  It’s Alive (Hardly Art)

Neko Case- The Worse Things Get…. (Anti)

Sex Tides- Flash Fuck (A Wicked Company)

Pat Todd and the Rank Outsiders – 14th and Nowhere (Rankoutsider Records)

The Brother Kite- Model Rocket (Claire)

Silver Screen- When You and I Were Very Young (Plastilina)

Sweet Talk- Pickup Lines (12XU)

The Crookes- Hold Fast (Modern Outsider )

 10 MORE THAT I LOVED AS WELL…. (#31-40)

Ski Lodge- Big Heart (Dovecote)

Estrangers- Season of 1000 Colors (self released )

Chris Forsyth- Solar Motel (Paradise of Bachelors)

Muuy Biien- This is What Your Mind Imagines (HHBTM)

Bye Bye Blackbirds- We Need the Rain (Self released)

Legs- Pass the Ringo (Loglady)

Autistic Youth- Nonage (Dirtnap)

Underground Lovers- Weekend (Rubber Records)

Barton Carroll- Avery County, I’m Bound to You (Skybucket)

Club 8- Above the City (Labrador)

Northern Portrait- Ta! (Matinee)


Azure Blue- Beyond the Dreams There’s Infinite Doubt (Matinee)

The Ocean Blue- Ultramarine (Korda/ Shelflife)

Cults- Static (Columbia)

Daniel Romano- Come Cry with Me (Normaltown Records)

Camera Obscura- Desire Lines (4AD)

Weekend- Jinx (Slumberland)

Pure Bathing Culture- Moon Tides (Partisan)

Superchunk- I Hate Music (Merge)

The Last- Danger (End Sounds)

Bubblegum Lemonade- Some Like it Pop (Matinee)


Honey LTD- The Complete LH1 Recordings (Light in the Attic)

The Three O’Clock – The Hidden World Revealed (Omnivore)

Beachwood Sparks- Desert Skies (Alive/ Total Energy)

Belle & Sebastian-  The Third Eye Centre (Matador)

Townes van Zandt- Sunshine Boy (Omnivore)

The Primitives- Everything’s Shining Bright; The Lazy Recordings- 1985-’87 (Cherry Red)

Rose Melberg- September (Lost Sound Tapes)

Alex Chilton- Electricity by Candlelight/ NTC 2/13/97(Bar None)

Tommy Keene- Excitement at Your Feet (Second Motion)

The Chills- Somewhere Beautiful (Fire)


The Clean- Vehicle (Captured Tracks)

The House of Love- s/t (Cherry Red)

We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It- Bostin Steve Austin (Cherry Red)

Dump- Superpowerless and I Can Hear Music (both on Morr Music)

The Primitives- Lovely (Cherry Red)

Come- 11:11 (Matador)

The Ventures- Walk, Don’t Run (el/ Cherry red)

New Bomb Turks- Destroy oh Boy! (Crypt vinyl reissue)

Tiny Tim- God Bless Tiny Tim  (Now Sounds/ Cherry Red)

The Mountain Goats- All Hail West Texas (Merge)

  MY 5 FAVORITE EP’s OF 2013

Males- Run Run Run/ Males Males Males (Fishrider)

Mascott (Cost/Amount (Kiam)

Wild Nothing- Empty Estate (Captured tracks)

Blue-Eyed Son- Shadows on the Sun (Eenie Meenie)

Drivin n’ Cryin- Songs from the Psychedelic Time Clock (New Records)

(Yo La Tengo)



Jason by Glen Rose

“You put in the work. You put in the hours.” That quote, in a nutshell, sums up why we have selected singer/songwriter/guitarist/rocker Jason Isbell as our 2013 Artist Of The Year, a designation that members of our staff actually sensed might be coming months ago, when his album Southeastern was initially released. Well, that kind of work ethic, and the fact that the record so clearly marks the man as one of America’s greatest songwriters currently operating, period. Below you’ll read a highly revealing interview with Isbell conducted by journalist and fellow musician Nick Zaino; following the main feature is a sidebar outlining the man’s discography to date. And elsewhere on the BLURT site you can read editor Fred Mills’ personal tribute to Isbell, with whom he has crossed paths numerous times over the years. —Ed.



 It is late July, and the crowd at Boston’s Sinclair club is singing along with every song Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit plays. Southeastern, Isbell’s fourth solo studio album, has been out for a little under a month, but it seems more like an album fans have treasured for years. Then, when the former Drive-By Truckers songwriter/guitarist straps on his acoustic guitar to play the beautifully heart-wrenching ballad “Cover Me Up,” the crowd gets silent. They are enraptured. 

 Something strange and wonderful happens when he gets to the second verse, one of the most personal and vulnerable lines on the album. He is singing of a self-destructive, alcohol-fueled incident, and pulling back from the brink, seemingly just in time. And when he gets to the words, “But I sobered up/And I swore off that stuff/Forever this time,” the audience cheers and applauds. There is a recognition of both the man and the song, an uncommonly strong connection between an artist and his audience.

 Southeastern is the kind of album artists produce maybe once in a career, if they’re lucky. Critics and fans alike have swooned over it. It’s his best effort to date as a songwriter, singer, and musician, and not coincidentally, he has watched his fanbase increase in its wake. He is no longer a Trucker gone solo, four studio albums removed from that experience. He is his own artist, and that makes him an easy pick for our Artist of the Year.  

 Isbell has been penning classics like “Outfit” and “Decoration Day” since his first album with the Drive-By Truckers in 2003, Decoration Day. But Southeastern is a step beyond. It taps a deep well of gratitude and pain, its stories both raw and complex. Isbell may be wearing his heart on his sleeve, but he has placed it there artfully. Vividly. There is an arc that starts with the first lines of “Cover Me Up”:

 A heart on the run/Keeps a hand on the gun/You can’t trust anyone

 to the final words of “Relatively Easy:”

 Here with you there’s always something to look forward to/My lonely heart beats relatively easy

 Isbell starts with a desperate longing for recovery and ends with a feeling of acceptance, and along the way, asks for an end to loneliness (“Traveling Alone”), describes a man killing what he loves (“Live Oak”), finds friends battling tragedy (“Elephant”), and shows a boy growing up quickly in response to the abuse of a friend (“Yvette”). For good measure, he also explores the “bad old days” of a rock and roll lifestyle he’s left behind (“Super 8”).

 Every song is touched with the clear ring of honesty, and reflects some recent, important changes in Isbell’s life. He has gotten sober, and he married Amanda Shires in February. Both released new CDs within a few months of each other—Southeastern dropped in June, and Shires’ Down Fell the Doves hit in August (go here to read our feature on Shires, by contributing editor Lee Zimmerman). It’s that honesty, Isbell notes, that sometimes makes these songs hard to sing. But it also makes it all the more necessary, and satisfying, that he does.

Blurt 14 Cover

BLURT: When you were in Boston, you said that it was good to see people singing along with songs from the new album instead just the ones you wrote when you were twenty-two. Had you not had that experience much before?

JASON ISBELL: I had, but not as much as I’ve had with this new record. Certainly not as immediately. I feel like we’ve really opened up to a new audience. There’s a lot of people I think who have been turned on to the music that I’m making that weren’t Drive-By Truckers fans. And I don’t know if that had happened until now, really. At least it hadn’t happened on the level where I could see it from the stage.

 Do you have a sense that Southeastern is a different kind of album from the others you’ve done so far?

I think it’s better. I think my goals have always been the same, just to try to write the best songs that I could and tell the best stories and record a period of time. And then not screw it up in the studio. Serve each song individually and try to record the song in a very natural and honest way. I just think that we’ve gotten better at it. And I think I’m better at writing, just because I’ve spent more time with it. And I also think that turning over some of the control to Dave Cobb for production duties was a good idea, because I’ve always, up until this record, I’ve always had some say in the production. And at this point, I didn’t.

 Did you want to do that to take that part of it off of your plate, to just concentrate on writing and playing?

No, I mean, because the writing was done. So I didn’t need more time to concentrate on that. And playing is easy, honestly. I wanted to do it so I wouldn’t continue to make the same record over and over.

 What goes through your mind when you hear a crowd cheer for a line like, “But I swore off that stuff/Forever this time?”

Oh, it’s great. Sometimes it’s hard to sing the one after it because you get moved by that, very much. You feel like people are rootin’ for you. And you also feel like people are connecting with the honesty of the line. There’s a lot of different ways to say, “I quit drinking.” And a lot of them aren’t very poetic, but it’s nice. For one thing, it’s an affirmation that you said that the right way. And also, it just feels nice to know that people want you to survive, you know? People want you to do well.

 Did you get tired of getting requests for songs like “Decoration Day” or “Outfit?”

No. I play them every night. I get tired of anybody who does something stupid. If there’s a guy there yelling “Outfit” from the first song to the last song, I get real tired of that real quick. Because that person’s an idiot. I don’t mind the song, I love playing those songs. Playing both of those songs at the Ryman the other night with both my parents there was a high point of my professional life.

 Are there any hard feelings with the Truckers? Somebody just reviewed a show and they said you took a bit of a dig at the DBTs and their quote-unquote heavily-bearded fans.

Oh, no, no! I don’t think that was a dig. I was probably referencing my own fans, as well. No, I don’t have any kind of hard feelings. Patterson [Hood] and I still talk a lot and I think we’re still good friends. And I saw [Mike] Cooley play a few months ago here in Nashville. Thought he was great. He and I don’t talk that much, but he doesn’t really talk that much in general. But I don’t have any kind of hard feelings toward them. I was a drunk, and some of them were at some point, but that’s their own decision to make. But it wasn’t a healthy environment, and creatively I think the combination of the three of us working together had run its course. And it just wasn’t going to work any longer. And personally, it was like a bomb had gone off on the bus and people needed to scatter. So I don’t feel any kind of resentment toward all that.

Jason Isbell live by Erika Goldring

 Are you getting fans now who only know you from the new album, do you think?

Yeah. Quite a few. It’s nice. If every album I do renders the material before it meaningless, that’s fine with me. It means I’m working in the right direction.

 You did also sarcastically took yourself to task at the Boston show for playing all that “downer” stuff, but people were into it. Is that something that you’ve always done that’s kind of carried over from the Truckers’ days? The sad songs that everybody celebrates?

Yeah. That’s just my nature. That’s the kind of stuff that I listen to and read and the kind of movies I enjoy. That’s my nature. It comes from a lot of different places. One of them, the first music that I ever paid any attention to was old country music and the blues. And I feel that idea of claiming that sadness and making something creative out of it is what really drew me to be a musician in the first place. That and the fact I got it naturally from my family.

 Are any of those songs difficult to play onstage? Is it strange to hear people cheering for “Live Oak” or “Elephant?”

Yeah. Some of them are very hard to sing onstage. If I feel like I’m doing it right and I’m in the place I should be in to sing those songs, sometimes it’s all I can do to get through them.

 Are there any ones in particular that are the toughest?

It’s different from night to night. I mean, I’ve had a hard time singing “Outfit” when my dad’s in the audience before, and sometimes “Cover Me Up” can be difficult. And “Elephant” has shaken me up a few times. “Dress Blues” has definitely shaken me up when some of Matthew Conley’s family has been in the audience. “Decoration Day” has been difficult when my mom’s family has been around. It’s a different one from show to show. I try really hard to remember the reason I wrote those songs when I’m singing them.

 Do people sometimes get a completely different idea about a song from what you intended?

I’m sure they do. And sometimes you hear that, you know? And I don’t correct them, because once I’ve written it and recorded it, it’s not really mine anymore. So yeah, I’m not going to tell somebody, no, this song’s not about you, or this song’s not about what you think. That would just be a terrible thing to do. Whatever they take from it, unless it incites them to go out and kill somebody or themselves, then I’m happy about that.

 “Elephant,” for example, to me, that song is just as much about the narrator as it is about the woman he’s singing about. They’re both laughing about what they used to be, but we know what’s wrong with her. What’s wrong with him?

Well, there’s certainly things in his past that aren’t clean and aren’t perfect. And really, I think the song, at its heart, is not really about death or about cancer, but it’s about friendship. To me, it’s about two people who have sort of met themselves after a whole lot of other things have happened to them individually.

 There is the one line, “If I’d fucked her before she got sick,” and I was listening to it in the car, and people were talking, and that line all of a sudden jumped out –

[laughs] Yeah. It does.

 Everybody in the car was like, “what is this song about?”

Yeah. “What just happened?” [laughs]

 Is there a whole world around some of these songs that you see that not directly attributed to it? Do you see these characters walking around in the place you’ve made for them, outside of the song?

Yeah. I think I’m kind of taking a picture, you know, of somebody who has a whole life, before and after the song documents it. And you know, I’ve always felt that in the music that I like. If you think about like, “Lights of Cheyenne,” the James McMurtry song. It’s from the perspective of [a] woman who’s being abused by a man who’s lazy and violent. You get a feeling that she’s dealt with this for a long time and whatever happens next is going to change things.

      And then “In Germany, Before the War,” the Randy Newman song. That one, while it’s not necessarily a short snippet of time that he’s giving, he’s giving more of an overview, but you still feel like there’s a lot of darkness and a lot of just terrible things that have happened to the individual he’s singing about that you don’t know. You just have to assume. I like that. I guess “slice of life” is what people would call it.

 There are two songs that are very much like that on this. While a lot of them have autobiographical elements, some read like short stories: “Live Oak” and “Yvette.” Are there any real-life underpinnings to those?

Yeah. There’s always some of that, you know? Not necessarily to the narrative, but to the concern. The concern in “Live Oak” is a personal concern. The fact that after you make a big change like I did when I quit drinking and got married, cleaned my act up and stuff, what parts are going to be left and what parts are going to be gone, and that can’t all be positive. So you wonder if the people around you are still going to want to be the people around you in the end and who you’re gonna lose and who you’re going to keep. And out of that, I created a narrative. And “Yvette” is very much the same way. It’s about a child, basically, who’s been abused by her father. I built a narrative out of that, out of people I knew who that’d happened to.    

 How does “Super 8” fit sort of tucked into an album like “Cover Me Up” and “Different Days” and “New South Wales?”

I don’t know if that’s for me to say, is it? I just wrote it and recorded it. I needed a rock song so I wrote it in about two hours before I went into the studio.

 It seems like a celebration of the life that, say, the narrator in “Cover Me Up” is trying to escape.

Yeah, I mean, it’s a rock and roll song and there’s always a little bit of that celebrating debauchery in a rock and roll song. I don’t disagree with that. But you know, there’s a lot to be celebrated. Sometimes bad decisions are the best ones. [laughs] They’re not for me right now. I don’t think they’ll be for me again. But at that point, yeah, I’m glad I did all that stupid shit.

 And I understand it’s way too early to ask this, but what do you do to follow a record like this?

You just write real hard. You just sit down and write real hard and you pay a lot attention to it and don’t get rid of your editors. There are people around you who will tell you a song is shit if it’s shit.

      And you put in the work. You put in the hours. There’s no magic to it. Just sit down and write. 

Jason Amanda

 HE LOVES HER TOO: Jason Isbell on his wife Amanda Shires

 There is no harmony without listening and connecting. So it’s a given that Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires have to be on the same page musically as collaborators and sometime tour-mates. But that musical connection is equally important for their marriage, according to Isbell. “It’s like what Roger Ebert said about movies,” he says. “You’re not gonna have a very happy relationship if you don’t enjoy the same movies. It’s the same way with music. She wouldn’t marry me if I had Steely Dan playing at the house all the time. And I like Steely Dan. But that’s one of those things I certainly don’t mind listening to in the headphones if I ever need to.”

 An initial bond over similar musical tastes became a friendship that turned into a marriage when the pair wed in February. Some of the material for both of their albums this year came from self-imposed writing time, something they had to do in order to finish the projects. “Probably three or four songs off of my record and three or four songs off of her record came out of those days,” says Isbell, “because we needed to write and we were spending so much time just hanging out and having fun that we decided to separate in the house and not reconvene until we each finished a song.”

 Meanwhile, the marriage only served to deepen their ability to communicate as musicians. “People just underestimate marriages now. Your whole world is different if you’re married to somebody. It’s a connection you have that’s different from any other musician that you’re playing with or anything like that. And it’s probably easier to speak musically in a lot of situations because you know each other so well.”

 Shires isn’t officially a member of Isbell’s band, and he says direct collaboration is the exception rather than the rule. “As much fun as it is to play music together, that’s completely separate from our marriage,” he says. But he loves getting the chance to be a sideman, and it’s even sweeter getting to support Shires. “It was nice for me to be able to do that with her. The few shows that I’ve done just being her guitar player have been really a lot of fun.” —NZ

  Jason Isbell band by Andy Tennille


Our Artist Of The Year’s career kicked into an immediate high gear when he was drafted into the Drive-By Truckers in 2001 for their A Southern Rock Opera tour, and by the time of his recording debut, on 2003’s Decoration Day, he was such an integral member that he contributed two of that album’s strongest songs, “Outfit” and the title track. The Dirty South (2004) and A Blessing and a Curse (2006) followed, each boasting several eventual Isbell setlist staples (notably “Goddam Lonely Love,” to this day a show-stopper).

Sirens of the Ditch (New West, 2007) Begun prior to his 2007 departure from the Truckers and featuring most of the band guesting, Isbell’s solo debut is rife with character studies and spare-yet-precise arranging. Impressive enough to prompt critical predictions of future greatness.

Live at Twist & Shout 11.16.07 (New West, 2008) A special 6-song Record Store Day limited edition release, this found Isbell now fronting a new band, The 400 Unit, and masterfully reworking three of his Truckers classics, two from Sirens and a low-key but emotional reading of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.”

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (Lightning Rod, 2009) Young Springsteen/Petty comparisons had started to crop up in reviews by now, and Isbell rose to the challenge with a muscular set that nevertheless contained plenty of folkish twang and burnished Southern soul coloring in his rich narratives.

Isbell Here We Rest album

Here We Rest (Lightning Rod, 2011) Isbell’s ongoing musical and lyrical evolution was profound here as he utilized an expanded palette for the former (in particular, his Muscle Shoals soul roots were on display) and a keen understanding of the human condition for the latter. In a review, this writer called it his Darkness On the Edge Of Town; I stand by that assertion.

Live From Alabama (Lightning Rod, 2012) Recorded over two nights on home turf and featuring a horn section on several tracks, it’s a definitive snapshot of Isbell and the 400 Unit at a pivotal point in time. Solo nuggets and Truckers gems comprise the tracklisting—plus a staggering encore of Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane.” Memo to fans: if you buy the vinyl, the download card rewards you with digital-only bonus tracks.

Southeastern + “Southeastern Official Bootleg” (Southeastern) If HWR was Isbell’s Darkness, this is his The River. Read our feature to learn more. Oh, and about that “bootleg” notation: fans smart enough to visit selected indie record stores a week or so prior to the album’s official June 11 release were able to purchase a numbered/limited-to-500-copies 180gm vinyl edition featuring old-school bootleg-style cover graphics. My copy is 64, in case you were wondering.

Isbell Southeastern LP

Tributes & Covers: Big Star’s “When My Baby’s Beside Me” (bonus track on “deluxe edition” of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit): A spot-on version that Isbell originally leaked out digitally via his MySpace page… Sing For Your Meat: A Tribute to Guided By Voices (No More Fake Labels, 2011): Isbell and his 400U boys are the odd men out here alongside such indie-rock icons as Lou Barlow, Blitzen Trapper, Elf Power and Flaming Lips, but “Everywhere With Helicopter” is an elegantly waltzing highlight… You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold (Plowboy, 2013): Understated and acoustic, with an accompanying violin, his “Johnny Reb, That’s Me” slots in nicely with fellow country-music aficionados Alejandro Escovedo, Pokey LaFarge and Jason Ringenberg…. High Cotton: A Tribute to Alabama (Lightning Rod, 2013): Continuing in the country vein is “Old Flame,” a remarkably poignant duet with John Paul White; other performers include Lucero, JD McPherson, and a talented young lady known to some as Amanda Shires—to others as Mrs. Jason Isbell.  —FRED MILLS

These articles originally appeared in issue #14 of BLURT. Photo credits: Glen Rose, Michael Wilson, Erika Goldring, Andy Tennille.


Tracy Shedd crop

The Tucson singer-songwriter makes her move to the East Coast, but not before recording a love letter to her old home.


 No percussion, no distortion, no pounding, no wailing, no fuzz.

Twenty years removed from her first high school band and 12 years after her first album for Teen-Beat Records, Tracy Shedd has moved from her slowcore/shoegaze foundation to record a fully acoustic album.

It’s a realm Shedd says she’s been drawn to for years, something fans have kept mentioning, and one that fits perfectly for her most personal collection of songs, Arizona, released last month on New Granada Records.

“My whole career, it seems like this is what people have been waiting for and it seemed like this was the right timing,” Shedd says. “People like being able to hear more of the voice and it seemed to be the next step for us.”

As a duo with guitarist (and husband) James Tritten, Shedd presents a collection of songs that sum up seven years living in Tucson, a distinctly different home than the Boston of her early career and Jacksonville, where she grew up. It’s no surprise that Arizona is a sparse yet intense album.

“The whole album, every song except for the covers, was written in Arizona. It’s about my time there, friendships, what I was going through that year. I laid myself out on the table. It’s a very personal album,” Shedd says. “After we recorded it – and I think a lot of artist feel this way – it’s like you’ve just given birth to something and this one felt like that even more. I felt stripped down. It was hard at first to listen. I laid a lot out on the album.”

Arizona is a candle flame of an album, mesmerizing, calming, each subtle variation casting its shadows on the listener. It’s an intimate listen, Shedd’s voice closer and clearer than ever, building a connection that draws closer as the album progresses.

The decision to go fully acoustic came after Shedd and Tritten toured the country in late 2011. Shedd’s bass player Andrew Wright was moving and her drummer Andrew Collberg was so busy with other projects, so the choice was a practical one at first, cutting touring costs and paring down songs into new arrangements.

“‘This is working, we’re getting a great response,” Shedd recalls thinking on the tour, relieved of any doubts she’d had. “I realized it doesn’t matter if I have a full band or if we’re playing acoustic, people love it the same. It gave me the courage. I just really embraced playing the classical.”

Mark Robinson, the former frontman of Unrest who put out three of Shedd’s records on his Teen-Beat label, came to a show in Rhode Island.

 “He’s seen me play a dozen times. I met him in Boston and he signed me there and he said it was the best show (of mine) he’d ever seen. I took that to heart. This is someone who’s seen me every step of the way,” she says.

Shedd began writing songs for an acoustic album in early 2012 and soon found she had new challenges to overcome as a songwriter.

“It was a different process for me. When I write a song, I sit down and write as it comes to me I don’t touch it. Maybe lyrically I’ll get in the studio and add a word or take something away, but I don’t mess around with the tempo or anything,” she says. “This was different for me. I felt like writing on acoustic complemented the songs. I would strip the song down. I’d write it and then just sit with it for days and tear it apart. I just kept reworking them. I think if I would have written it on an electric and then try to do them acoustically it wouldn’t have worked.”

Shedd and Tritten recorded Arizona in Craig Schumacher’s WaveLab Studio, cutting the songs in a quick three days while Neko Case had the studio booked at night.

“We were separated. Craig put me into the vocal booth and Jimmy went into the main room, but (Craig) faced us so we could see each other through the glass door. Everything was live. We had the vocal mic and then the two guitar mics and you could hear everything. They had to pay attention to what was outside too,” Shedd says.

Not only did Shedd and Tritten play unplugged, but they went without guitar picks. Shedd, who usually records vocals after the main tracks, stuck with the live takes, leaving overdubs to some minimal flourishes of Hammond organ, Mellotron and Fender Rhodes.

Arizona includes guest vocals from Ivan Howard (The Rosebuds), Denison Witmer, Naïm Amor and Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb, whose rough, dusty voice counterbalances Shedd’s sweet tones on the album’s closer, an out-of-left-field cover of Sonic Youth’s “Teenage Riot.”

“The Sonic Youth came out of nowhere. I had my guitar, drinking some wine, and started playing the chords and it just kind of happened. And then I thought of Howe and that he should sing with me,” Shedd says. “It was really neat to watch the way he recorded. He sat behind the board with his mic, not in a vocal booth. He was just so mellow about it.

Meanwhile, he’s texting with Steve Shelly telling him he’s doing a cover of one of his songs.”

Arizona’s second cover honors another of Shedd’s favorite bands, the Magnetic Fields. She’d been covering “Candy” for years and felt like this was the time to record it.

Arizona’s other highlights include “Ninety-Five to Ten,” a peppy remembrance of friends scattered around the country and the highways that connect them; heartfelt duets “Broken Arrows” (Howard) and “All the Little Things” (Amor) and “Million Pieces,” the album’s least-restrained tune, a rocker hiding in plain sight.

After the recording wrapped, Shedd says she struggled to come up with a title for the album. Now resettled in North Carolina, she says the album is so rooted in time and place that she simply had to name it after that land that created it.

“Nothing else measured up. This is about my life in Arizona,” she says.

Upcoming Concerts:
01.11.14 | Washington, DC | The Black Cat | w/ Howe Gelb
01.12.14 | Asheville, NC | The Grey Eagle | w/ Howe Gelb
01.13.14 | Athens, GA | Flicker Bar | w/ Wayfarer State, Mothers
01.14.14 | Decatur, GA | Eddie’s Attic | w/ Howe Gelb
01.15.14 | Carrboro, NC | Cat’s Cradle Back Room | w/ Howe Gelb

 Tracy Shedd art

AXE VICTIM: Rhys Chatham

Rhys Chatham by Matthieu Lemaire Courapied

The modern composer and electric guitar-music maestro talks about his imposing new album, his impressive legacy—and his deep appreciation for the creativity of others.


 Rhys Chatham looks like a badass. Staring into a webcam from his Paris study, the composer answers our Skype call with a cigarette clenched tightly in his mouth. Squinting meanly, he appears poised and alert, prepared to quash each and every question thrown his way. But this intimidating air diffuses as soon as he speaks. His tone is light, and his chuckles are frequent. He grins like a schoolboy when explaining complex theory and drums on his desk to demonstrate intricate polyrhythms. He can muster a mean gaze, but Chatham is really just a nice guy with a deep love for booming overtones.

 At 61, he’s the most famous proponent of music for massed guitars. His compositions utilize many guitarists — sometimes six, sometimes 100 — to create sounds that undulate and expand, filling the air and twisting the mind. His most famous piece, 1977’s deceptively named Guitar Trio, builds and bends simple E-chord riffs into a hypnotic assault. Witnessed live, its mutating recesses seem to distort both time and space.

 That piece, like many of his early works, was composed for six electric guitars, accompanied by a bassist and a drummer. It’s his most successful medium, but he abandoned it in 1986, choosing to move in new directions. He began to play trumpet, creating both elegant swells and gleeful abrasions. And he expanded his guitar vision, composing and performing pieces that include at least 100 six-strings.

 With the recently released Harmonie du soir, Chatham returns to writing for his “small lineup.” The title track amasses triumphant reverberations and agitates them with restless rhythms, like Guitar Trio if it made you want to get up and shake it. But the record also emphasizes the diversity of his long career. The second half, entitled Harmonie de Pontarlier: The Dream of Rhonabwy, lulls listeners with the fog from a 70-piece brass band. The digital and CD versions include a fierce revision of 1981’s “Drastic Classicism,” where snarling riffs (courtesy of David Daniell) grapple with Chatham’s shrieking trumpet.

 Blurt caught up with the vibrant pioneer to get his thoughts on his legacy and the new ideas he’s still thrilled to explore.


BLURT: The new album is named after one of the poems from Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal. Why did you choose it?

RHYS CHATHAM: I wanted to give it a French title because the piece was first performed in this wonderful, wonderful place called Palais de Tokyo, which is a museum of contemporary art here in Paris. It was just for the people who were in the museum. I was looking through my Baudelaire poetry book, and I came across it. In the original poem, it talks about a violin. I think I committed sacrilege by changing violin to guitar. In the liner notes, the poem is included, and I changed it from violin to guitar to keep it in character.

 When did you write the piece?

The piece was written in 2012. When I heard that we were going to do it, I was thinking about doing an older piece of mine called Die Donnergötter. It’s for six electric guitars, bass and drums. I said, ‘I can’t do Die Donnergötter for this. That’s an older piece. I have to do something new.’ I had been writing these pieces for 100 electric guitars or 200 electric guitars, and I thought it would be nice to go back to working with the quote-unquote ‘small’ number of guitars.

     Two summers ago, in the summer of 2011, I had tried writing a piece for it, and it really messed my head up because I found myself trying to do Die Donnergötter No. 2. It was putting me back into this ‘80s head. There’s nothing wrong with being in an ‘80s head, but usually when I do things, I want to do something new. So I put it down for a while, and I said, ‘OK, this time, I’m going to try to do something that’s for the year 2012.’ I was writing it under pressure because the performance was in a month, and I eventually got the job done. I had a really good time writing it.

 The rhythms feel a lot more dynamic than they were with your previous works for the six-guitar lineup. What pushed you in that direction?

I work quite a bit with polyrhythms, [like if] one section is playing in 5/4, and the other is in 6/4, and the other is in 7/4. They make these patterns that are relatively simple to play but sound complex. The cues are murder going from one to the next, but the fingering itself isn’t too hard. I wanted to try to do something like that with the smaller ensemble.

      You hear the sections quite plainly. You get this kind of stereo effect that we tried to simulate in the recording, but that certainly comes across in the live context. Just doing that, just having them pass this note around is so confusing for musicians. The first rehearsal for this kind of thing is so amusing.

Rhys with guitarists

 You’ve been utilizing large groups of guitars and other instruments for most of your career. What continues to intrigue you about that idea? Do you think you could ever exhaust the possibilities?

I think I’ll be working with that instrumentation the rest of my life.

      I started with three electric guitars. I had worked with Tony Conrad and Lamont Young and was this minimalist student and composer working in both of their groups. I was also a harpsichord tuner. So I was hearing overtones, and I wanted to do a piece with overtones. I found that with three electric guitars, then I upped the number to six, and I found out what that was like to deal with in terms of orchestration and sonority, especially with these newer tunings that I was working with.

      In the mid ‘80s, I had this idea that was a completely punk gesture: ‘Let’s put everyone in a small black room with a hundred guitars and call it Torture Box.’ I was going out with this choreographer named Carol Armitage at the time, and I told her about the idea. And she was like, ‘Ah Rhys, I bet you don’t even know 100 guitarists.’ I said, ‘I bet you I do!’ I made a list, and I came up with 80 that I knew personally. Carol gave me a break and came up with 20. She won the bet.

      I realized at that point that it was doable. But I didn’t feel ready in the mid-‘80s to write a piece for that number of guitars because I hadn’t finished my explorations with six electric guitars, bass and drums. I didn’t want to write a bullshit piece. I mean, let’s face it, if you get 100 electric guitars and play “Louie Louie,” it’s going to sound great.

      By 1989, I felt I was ready. I’d moved to France by that point, and I found this place in Leol called Larin. They commissioned the piece, and got all the guitarists together. One of the questions I asked, even in that first piece: ‘What is the sound of 100 guitars playing softly?’ There’s a beautiful sonority that happens with that. Of course, in that piece and the ones after it, there are moments that are thunderous. It would defeat the purpose to not have those moments. But you don’t want it all to be like that. You want to do a real exploration of what’s possible with this beautiful instrument.

 The new version of “Drastic Classicism” seems to reconnect with the punk aggression that inspired some of your early work. How did you end up reworking it?

There was a kind of violent energy happening back then. In New York in the punk scene, we had a terrible, terrible problem with crack during those years. The feeling of violence was visceral. At any moment, some crazed person could come behind you with a baseball bat, so there was this constant fear that I think got reflected in the music of the time.

      I couldn’t resist putting “Drastic Classicism” on this album. For contrast, if nothing else. My friend Carol Armitage, I wrote “Drastic Classicism” for her dance company. And just a couple of years ago, she did a revival of it. I had never seen her dance before because I was always playing, and they would put us onstage with the dancers. And the dancers were jumping all over us. I asked them, ‘Please don’t jump on my right arm. That’s the only thing you can do to mess me up. You can get on my shoulders, but leave my arms alone.’

      At first, I thought she was going to ask me to play it. She didn’t come out and say, ‘I don’t want old guys like you playing it.’ What she said was, ‘I’m not going to dance in it, and I’m hiring people that were the same age we were when we did it.’ So we got some wonderful musicians: Sarah Lipstate from Noveller played, and Steve Gunn was in it. Matt Mottel from Talibam! was playing one of the guitars. It was great, and I thought they did a really good job. [It made me want] to see what would happen if I did a new version.

 Three months ago in Durham, N.C., local musicians celebrated the third year of Triangle Rhysing, a massed-guitar project inspired by your work. Other groups, such as England’s Ex-Easter Island Head, are pursuing similar ends. How do you feel when you hear about things like that, knowing that your work set it in motion?

That just makes me so happy. It’s exactly what I hoped would happen. When whoever it was that wrote for the first conventional orchestral, if they said, ‘Well, I have a copyright on that instrumentation, so nobody else can do it,’ that would be pretty dumb. The same thing goes for anyone who likes the idea of working with these massed guitars.

      After I did it, the first person I heard do it was someone in my band, Glenn Branca. I heard his piece, and at first, I was shocked because I felt like I was getting ripped off. But then I listened to it, and as the set went on, I realized Glenn had his own voice. It’s actually a good thing. And it’s remained a good thing because now we both have the reputations we have, and we share audiences who either hate one of us and love the other or love us both or hate us both.

      For me, the more people who are doing it, the better. I just want to be amazed. With this Ex-Easter Island Head group, I found myself going, ‘Aw heck, why didn’t I think of doing that? That’s a great idea.’ That’s the whole point, that people use this instrument and make new music with it and do things that I would never think of doing.

 Rhys orchestra

Top Photo Credit: Matthieu Lemaire Courapied. Chatham performs in Israel this week, Dec. 19 and 20. Dates and info:


Kristin 1

Kristin Hersh resurrects the Throwing Muses name to return with an epic 32-song, 64-page music book.


As a founding member of the Throwing Muses, Kristin Hersh has spent her career on the outskirts of the music industry building a diehard following and anticipating changes in that industry before most.

In 1986, the Throwing Muses were the first American band signed to the British 4AD label, predating even the Pixies. And though the latter’s profile grew to legendary status, the Muses were arguably just as seminal an influence initially for the fertile 1990s independent music scene.

Throwing Muses 4ad era

Then, as though she had her ear to the tracks and knew what was coming down the line, Hersh created the ThrowingMusic label in 1996 with her husband/manager Billy O’Connell in order to have more control over the distribution of her own music. She was also one of the earliest artists to run a download subscription service. Ten years later, along with L7’s Donita Sparks, Hersh was ahead of the curve again in 2007 when the two co-founded, a non-profit dedicated to building a free and open-source platform for musicians and labels to use in distributing, promoting, and selling their music.

In 2010, Hersh released her latest solo album, Crooked, as a book—the first time any major recording artist had taken such a step, according to her publicity. This groundbreaking book contained full color artwork, lyrics, and an exclusive essay on each song…and that was just the tip of the digital iceberg.  Each copy also came with a gaggle of online content, including the full album, full recording streams for every track allowing for fan remixes, track-by-track audio commentary, exclusive video content, outtakes, and a forum enabling fans to interact with Hersh, ask questions, and participate in live web chats.

In the interim, Hersh kept the Throwing Muses a viable recording and touring entity, launched a solo career, maintained a power-trio side project with 50FootWave, wrote a children’s book and penned an autobiography, 2008’s Rat Girl, acclaimed for its candid honesty and humor.

And Hersh accomplished much of this without even being aware of it – literally. Until just recently, the 47-year-old singer/guitarist hasn’t been writing songs so much as hallucinating them into existence. Hersh had been misdiagnosed for years with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia because she heard voices as music, and couldn’t remember writing or performing songs at all.

“I actually have a songwriting personality that has nothing to do with the ‘me’ with a name, so I don’t remember writing any of my songs and I don’t remember performing them,” she says. “It’s creepy, and I would shake off the whole exercise if I could, but it’s the way I’ve lived since I was about 14.”

But a year ago Hersh got a new diagnosis — dissociative disorder — and began a new therapeutic cure: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, or EMDR. Patients relive traumatic memories using a bar of light and pulsing electrodes to physically alter the brain. Hersh says the treatment’s been difficult, but effective — her other personality held all her trauma and that’s where the music has come from. She recently performed solo shows in London without any of the debilitating stage fright that usually resulted in what she calls her “disappearing” into the musical personality.

Those emotional traumas still fuel the music on Purgatory/Paradise, the first original Throwing Muses songs in a decade. Together with fellow Muses David Narcizo and Bernard Georges, Hersh has released the music in the form of a book once again. Designed by drummer Narcizo, the 64-page book is a rich collage of lyrics, photographs, and compelling prose writing by Hersh. Every book comes with downloadable content featuring commentary, instrumentals, and the 32-song album (plus art) in multiple digital formats.

As for the music, the band sounds as sharp and barbed as ever. The tracks slither and wind between haunted acoustic vignettes and fractured song-shards of razor-guitar and percussion. Many clock in at 60 or 90 seconds, and a few recurring motifs give the LP a surprisingly brisk feel.  Hersh’s insomnia and anxiety have always fueled her songwriting’s tightly wound twists and gusts, which work best when contrasted with passages of calming or cathartic melodic beauty. There’s arguably more of that here than on any Muses LP since The Real Ramona.

Blurt caught up with Hersh in her Rhode Island digs — she lives there half the year and the other half in New Orleans — on a blustery day, where the band’s studio lies between Purgatory and Paradise streets. Kind, amicable, quick to laugh and whip-smart, Hersh discussed the Throwing Muses’ recording techniques, the new LP and its format, as well as her recent new diagnosis and treatment.

BLURT: Hi, Kristin – it sounds kind of blustery up there…

HERSH: Yeah, I just got a ‘weather alert’ on my phone to “get my old people inside.” If I had old people, I don’t think I’d keep them outside no matter what the weather was. National Weather Alert’s become an asshole, I guess.

 Isn’t that what we do with our old people anyway — just toss them outside when they start getting difficult?

 (Laughs.) Yeah, that’s right. When we lived out in the desert (Editor’s Note: Near Joshua Tree), there was this road called Old Woman Springs Road, and it was called that because it was where the Indians used to walk their old women out, as soon as they got useless, and they’d leave them out in the desert to die of exposure. The street name sounded so beautiful, like there’d be medicine women out by a creek or something; no, it was old ladies starving to death and burning to a crisp in the sun.

 Well, tell me about the genesis of the new Throwing Muses LP – which came first, the book or the music? Or were they entwined from the get-go?

 My last solo record I released as a book as well, just because I don’t like the idea of music being a little piece of plastic that nobody cares about — there was no CD, just a download code. The idea was divorcing something that I like to infuse with texture and substance from the little piece of plastic that none of us value anymore. So this was just the Muses’ version of that, which is of course much more realized and jam-packed. We had five years to make this, given that we’re listener-supported rather than on a record label — so a lot of what we do is erasing, editing. That’s because you have to feel out your chunk of granite and feel out what it wants to be. You don’t want to alienate anybody, you don’t want to end up with a product that’s stuck in time. So we do a lot of erasing. If they’d given us any more time we’d have erased the entire thing!

 What about the essays? Not a lot of musicians talk about what their lyrics might mean, or the genesis of individual songs.

 What you end up with is something that is full of holes, yet attractively so, I think. Yet after having written a book myself, I realize I’ve been speaking ‘music’ to people for many years and confusing the ones who don’t speak that language fluently. So when I spoke English to people it was interesting; they would respond instantly, and I didn’t really confuse anyone. So that’s what we were doing with the Muses record — not filling in the holes, but adding something next to them to help the listeners out a little bit. Dave’s visual elements seem to complement the currents in the music, they seem to reflect the visual elements in the essays. It all has to work together if you really stand by the idea that you are just giving something away, that you’re not attached to — you’re not going to hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s a tough balance for us. Our pet name for Purgatory/Paradise is Precious/Pretentious, we’re so stuck in what we do and we’re so old we don’t even care anymore. We don’t apologize anymore. We love what we do and we just did it in three different ways this time.

 Tell us about the title…

 We live on Aquidneck Island. This is where we make our records and the band is based – so it’s a beach that’s near our studio which is where we go to recharge, and it’s in between Purgatory and Paradise roads.

 Thirty-two songs is a lot of songs – you’re sure this is about erasing?

 Yeah, but we started with like a hundred. Also, I mostly meant production elements; you try things and then you question their value. And hopefully you don’t end up with a top-heavy production, but you’re still trying to fill the song. Really, the test is, do you have skeleton and viscera, but no make-up and maybe no skin? That’s ideal. Sometimes you don’t get something that can walk around when you do that, but I really like to not pretty things up. I like to have beautiful and ugly going on and not a lot of pretty.

  You really sound re-charged on this record – it’s like you never left…

 We didn’t. We just decided that if we were being asked to tone down our product by the recording industry then we were morally bound to no longer participate in that industry. But we remained a band — music doesn’t care about the music business, so we kept playing and recording and even touring. We released an anthology, but all the stuff we were working on was not going to be released and we felt that that was a tragedy — but not a reason to stop playing. So we haven’t really left, we just don’t like the industry very much. And now it’s falling on its face, which it should have done a long time ago.

 It’s a strange time for music and the business of music….

 It is. I like that music’s available in the ether, in as much as it offers a musical education to anyone. And it lets people become musically literate while bypassing genre and era, which is what marketing is all about — it’s good to be able to not participate that way as a listener, too. We always hated it, we knew we never belonged in it, but we didn’t know what else to do.

 Tell us then about CashMusic….

 I started that about eight years ago, when I became listener-supported. I reached out to fans and said ‘how ‘bout you become my record company?’ It’s become a non-profit that offers free software to artists and even labels. It’s a great little company. You can Google the essay that I launched Cash with, it’s about art versus commerce, and it explains what Cash set out to do.  It is kind of worth reading because the state of the business back then for me is what it is now for everyone.

 How has it changed for you today?

 We can play the big markets, New York, Portland, Seattle, L.A., Chicago, Washington, Boston – but ticket sales are down as much as CDs, a lot of people don’t know that – they think, ‘oh, well, you can’t just sit at home and make your money anymore, you got get out there and work it!’ You know what? Touring was always promotional, we never made any money touring and now it’s even worse because nobody shows up.

 As you were erasing things in the studio, how did the prose writing progress?

 The writing has to be sitting in the atmosphere of a song and just chatting. I really couldn’t do more than that, because the song says its piece. I could hang out with the song and tell a short story or write some prose poetry that the song brought about. But I don’t know how to explain the songs. I generally have no memory about having written them. But the short stories are like, ‘ah, this reminds me of…’

        I have a split personality, so I have no memory of writing my songs. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which was a misdiagnosis. I actually have a songwriting personality that has nothing to do with the ‘me’ with a name, so I don’t remember writing any of my songs and I don’t remember performing them. It’s creepy, and I would shake off the whole exercise if I could, but it’s the way I’ve lived since I was about 14.

 You’ve certainly had a love/hate relationship with music – maybe that’s too simplistic a way to put it, but….

 No, that’s a good way. That’ll work. It’s better now. I was treated for PTSD and it brought the two personalities together so I no longer suffer from anything like bipolar symptoms, and I don’t hallucinate the songs anymore. But this is a very recent development. I’ve made this record and the next few records that will be released — the next solos and the next 50FootWave — before the treatment, so I don’t really know what it’s like.

 What kind of treatment did you undergo?

 It’s called EMDR, a bar of light and pulsing electrodes that you hold and you relive traumatic memories as they are placed back in time in your perception. It actually alters your brain physically, and the changes continue long after the treatment. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s been hard. The whole thing has been hard. I didn’t like hearing songs, either, so I’ll be a healthier person now, but it’s been difficult. I’m not into freaky — I like normal, and kind, and this is sort of the opposite. But that’s what medicine is sometimes.  When I was treated for the PTSD, my bipolar symptoms went away, so that’s when the therapist recognized that I wasn’t bipolar. It was just a personality that has held all of my trauma, and that’s what the music was. I always thought it was songs, when it was just sort of another person I became. My drummer says, ‘yeah, I’ve known that for a long time.’ We took a walk by the ocean this morning and he told me that when we were 18 years old — ‘that you’re somebody else when we play and I can tell.’

      I suffered from debilitating stage fright that is now gone — I didn’t know that until I went to London last week and performed for the first time after this treatment. Because it was the ‘me’ with a name, who has nothing to do with music, that was so terrified. I’d be doing deals with God, ‘don’t make me go out there, I don’t know what to do!’ Because I didn’t know how to play, I didn’t know what was going to happen. But then as soon as I started to do a song…well, I call it disappearing. And I thought it was just intense focus, but it was the other personality who would just sort of take over when I was playing. That’s why when people would ask me what the songs are about, I’d say I have no idea — I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Journalists would quote my own lyrics at me and I didn’t know what they were saying. It should’ve freaked me out a little more, but you know, you don’t want to be freaked out. I’m really used to it, and Dave is used to it, and all the Muses are used to it. It makes me kind of sad, I suppose. I feel kind of grim about it. But I guess to lose stage fright and still have music, and to be a healthier person? That should’ve been my goal all along. I just didn’t know how to even hope for it.

 How long was the EMDR treatment?

 About a year. It was intense for about six months. It seemed to kind of just snowball though. The changes, they happen after the treatment, and continually. Every day you’re a different person. It’s good. I lived hung-over most of my life — I couldn’t even take an aspirin without having a hangover. I felt dirty all the time, I had to take four or five showers a day. Sometimes I couldn’t eat dinner because it would give me a hangover. I was poisoned by these traumas, because I carried them around. You’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to feel them, and then they go away. But instead this other personality just kept the traumas in me all the time. So I was full of pain and hurt and anger that I wasn’t even aware of. It was just poisoning me.

      So I feel clean now. I feel like, I don’t know, I don’t feel hung-over anymore.

 Hersh Photo Credit: Dina Douglass

Kristin 2







In which we take you from traditional finger picker John Fahey to death metal shredder J.J. Hrubovcak, from punk rats Bad Religion to Rat Packers Sinatra, Martin & Davis, from the duck dynastyers The Robertsons to the chipmunk clan Alvin & The Chipmunks… and much much more…


 From the 2012 Xmas report: “For the initial three years of BLURT’s tenure I purposely steered clear of assigning reviews of Christmas albums, thinking those to be more properly the mainstream domain of daily and weekly newspapers than a national publication. Given the glut of newly-released titles and freshly-reissued titles each year, such features are inevitable when December rolls around, so why add to the noise? Plus – personal disclosure – I had essentially gotten sick of both writing and reading them. Who cares about the latest pop sensation’s Auto-tuned spin on classic Yule fare, or yet another Americana artist heading out to the barn to twang up some ho-ho-hos with the local bluegrass band? I mean, by my way of thinking, the only holiday record you really need is A Charlie Brown Christmas… The fact that I previously spent a couple of decades working in shopping malls, where holiday music now starts getting piped in right after Halloween, may have influenced my Grinch-like attitude. But I digress.”

      Herewith, find the 2013 installment. Thanks to our contributors as well as the labels and publicists who submitted titles to us. We weren’t able to cover everything that got sent to us, but I think we’ve got a pretty solid lineup. If you haven’t already filled out your annual list of must-purchase Christmas albums, may this serve as your humble consumer guide. No promises for next year, though. Just ‘cos my tiny heart grew three sizes last year and continues to throb with holiday cheer this year is no guarantee I’ll be in a similar mood in 2014.


The Grinch (aka Fred Mills, BLURT Editor)

Xmas John Fahey

9 (out of 10) stars


Christmas Soli


      If on Christmas morning you’re forced to listen to the same hoary old hymns you’ve heard a billion times since you were born, then #Christmas Soli# is the way to go. [Hey, what’s wrong with hoary old hymns, Toland? —Trad. Ed.] Featuring cuts compiled from four of John Fahey’s holiday albums, Christmas Soli gives us familiar titles – “Joy to the World,” “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” etc. – but filtered through the late guitarist’s distinctive style. These are no radical reworkings, mind – the melodies remain perfectly intact. But Fahey immerses them in the intricacies of his fingerstyle, providing layers and countermelodies that make the songs richer.

      Listen to the way he uses harmonics to echo the melody of “The First Noel,” slides to punctuate “Silent Night, Holy Night,” bends to enliven “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” or complex fingerpicking to punch up “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman Fantasy” and that hoariest of hoaries, “Carol of the Bells” (on which Fahey is joined by Richard Ruskin). The three medleys – “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing/O, Come All Ye Faithful,” “Oh, Tannenbaum/Angels We Have Heard On High/Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly/We Wish You a Merry Christmas” – show Fahey’s holiday vision off to its greatest effect, as he ties the threads of one standard to another together so tightly it’s as if they were all written by the same individual. Fahey takes Christmas clichés and gives them a fresh coat of paint, using his considerable skill to remind us why these tunes are timeless.

      DOWNLOAD: “Carol of the Bells,” “Hark, the Herald Angles Sing/O, Come All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night, Holy Night” —MICHAEL TOLAND

Xmas Vince Guaraldi



A Charlie Brown Christmas


      For many children, Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack to the classic holiday special A Charlie Brown Christmas was their introduction to jazz. And 48 years after it first appeared on the shelf of your local Disc-O-Mat, the mustachioed maestro’s unforgettable collection of yuletide cool is still one of the most beloved Christmas albums of all time (I argue for top banana myself).

        The Fantasy label, via its current owner, the Concord Music Group, once again revisits this collection by refurbishing the Columbia Broadcasting Company-sponsored edition, mostly returning it to its originally intended format. (In 2006 there was an expanded Fantasy/Concord edition featuring four alternate takes, a deluxe booklet and limited edition artwork; this adds two Thanksgiving-special bonus tracks.) It is still a marvel to witness how Guaraldi not only took ownership of such Xmas chestnuts as “O Tannenbaum”, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and “The Christmas Song” but entered a few of his own into the holiday songbook as well in “Christmastime Is Here” and “Skating.”

        I’m still transported back to my Aunt Nickie and Uncle Al’s TV room huddled together with my cousins in front of their old Sony Trinitron set every time I hear it.

        DOWNLOAD: “Linus and Lucy,” “Christmastime Is Here,” “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” —RON HART

 Xmas Nick Lowe



Quality Street

(Yep Roc)

      Wherein one time pub rocker turned new wave insurgent turned country traditionalist, the inimitable Nick Lowe, now tries his hand at holiday standards of both an old and new order. As always, Lowe infuses a certain nod and a wink into each of these offerings, making this jolly setlist — humbly subtitled A Seasonal Selection For All The Family — a happy soiree to accompany either a supping of spiked eggnog or a sentimental gathering at home and hearth.


Indeed, there’s ample variety in these dozen songs, from rollicking rockabilly (“The North Pole Express”) to a cool croon (“Christmas Can’t Be Far Away,” “I Was Born In Bethlehem”) to light jazz (“Hooves On The Roof”) to rocked-up standard fare (an unlikely “Silent Night”). High humor adds some merriment to misfortune in “Christmas At The Airport” (“Don’t cook me any turkey/I found a burger and a beer”) and affirms the upbeat approach to Roy Wood’s sublime “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day,” Clearly, it’s a holiday extravaganza.

      DOWNLOAD: “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away,” “Silent Night,” “Christmas At The Airport” —LEE ZIMMERMAN




The Classic Christmas Album

(Columbia Legacy)

       The songs on this Classic Christmas Album actually come from three different Johnny Cash Christmas albums done nearly a decade apart – The Christmas Spirit in 1963, followed by the Johnny Cash Family Christmas in 1972 and Classic Christmas in 1980. Despite the many years separating these recordings – and the absence of any chronological order – this CD’s 16 selections of original and traditional Xmas tunes along with spoken word offerings hold together rather nicely. In fact, Cash’s wonderfully resonant recitations of “Christmas As I Knew It,” “The Christmas Spirit” and “The Christmas Guest” really separate this disc from standard holiday collections.

       Among the songs, the Family Christmas material tends to hold up the best, from the homespun charms of “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’” to his duet with June “Christmas With You.” The CD does suffer from some now-dated production choices, particularly the heavy use of syrupy, countrypolitan backing vocalists. “Joy To The World” and “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” (both from Cash’s 1980 album) are two overdone efforts that sound like they come from a generic TV show performances.

       Those looking for the gritty Cash of his early Sun Records days or his twilight success with Rick Rubin will be disappointed (and completists will mourn the lack of yuletide rarities), but the Christmas compilation successfully delivers an entertaining variety of holiday gifts from the Man in Black.

      DOWNLOAD: “Christmas As I Knew It,” “The Christmas Spirit” —MICHAEL BERICK




Christmas Songs


        This one is neither profane enough to be amusing, sacred enough to be stirring, or bizarre enough to be startling. It’s what you would expect, sad to say, with Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin singing faithfully, as best he can, Christmas carols, most of them of the most traditional sort. So: a revved-up “O Come All Ye Faithful.” a Ramones-y “White Christmas” (that’s the keeper), a martial “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and so forth. Nineteen minutes for eight Christmas songs plus an updated version of Bad Religion’s own “American Jesus.”

       Punk rock Christmas songs go back at least as far as the Dickies’ hyperspeed “Silent Night,” and at their best they can undermine holiday sentiment and / or bring a smile out their outlandishness. Bad Religion, unfortunately, accomplish neither of these: Brett Gurewitz’s buzzsaw guitars sound cool, but the blend of punk rock and carols turns out to be too predictable, so you know whether you need to hear this one even without hearing it.

       DOWNLOAD: “White Christmas,” “American Jesus”—STEVE KLINGE




Festivus 2


      Considering that Festivus 3 is so doggedly obscure in its talent selection—I’ve only heard of The Lilys, Dodgy, Piney Gir and Francis MacDonald (of Teenage Fan Club), out of 16 artists—the good news becomes how eminently listenable this collection is. The Lilys’ garage-stomp through “Good King Winceslas” is outrageously good fun, for example, with other left-field delights including Glam Chops’ theatrical rocker “Baby Jesus Was the First Glam Rocker,” Dennis Hopper Choppers’ spaghetti western take on “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” and the strummy jangle pop of Darling Boy’s “Thank God It’s Christmas.” Your appreciation for this mostly-alt-rock-tilting collection will hinge, of course, on how traditionally-minded you are; I’ll confess I tend to take a dim view towards too much modernization, musically speaking. But hey, there’s that whole thing about the heart growing three sizes…

      DOWNLOAD: Lilys’ “Good King Winceslas,” Glam Chops’ “Baby Jesus Was the first Glam Rocker,” Darling Boy’s “Thank God It’s Christmas” —FRED MILLS

Xmas Mindy Smith 


Snowed In
(Giant Leap Records/Razor & Tie)

      Mindy Smith taps ever so richly into tradition with the exquisite Snowed In, a five song EP that offers a trio of sentimental holiday ballads and two songs of her own origin. While a retuning of “Silent Night,” “What Child Is This” and “Auld Lang Syne” may not help bring newcomers into the fold, they do manage to convey Smith’s more sublime conceits and the right reverence that these songs deserve. For those reasons, Snowed In deserves consideration as a candidate for a favored holiday stand-by both now and in seasons to come. And, for those who might be unawares of her up until now, her two original offerings, “Tomorrow Is Christmas Day” and “Snowed In” just might boost her own star status as well. Suffice it to say, they ought to.

      DOWNLOAD: “Tomorrow Is Christmas Day,” “Snowed In” —LEE ZIMMERMAN


Holidays Rule
(Hear Music)

      A mixed bag, this one, ripe for cherry-picking for your personal holiday mixtape. Holidays Rule is less a coherent holiday listen than an eclectic grab-bag. So, at the start we get the over-stuffed pop of fun. (covering “Sleigh Ride”), the glossy quirks of the Shins (covering Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”), and McCartney himself, in Kisses On The Bottom crooner mode, with “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).”

        But Holidays Rule also has an indie thread (the Heartless Bastards, Calexico, Eleanor Friedberger, Holly Golightly), an Americana contingent (The Head and the Heart, the Civil Wars, Black Prairie with Sallie Ford), and outlier pairings (Irma Thomas with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Rufus Wainwright with Sharon Van Etten). The melancholy songs outnumber the festive ones, but it’s hard to imagine anyone not finding a few tracks to love.
        DOWNLOAD: Andrew Bird’s “Auld Lang Syne,” Irma Thomas with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band “May Ev’ry Day Be Christmas” —STEVE KLINGE




Comfort & Joy

(Analog Ghost)

      Comfort & Joy is released by the Analog Ghost label, and it features the likes of Mike Watt, the Dead Milkmen, Franklin Bruno, Wooden Wand, Pinback’s Rob Crow, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, Quasi, Ida and even Terry Riley, doing holiday classics old and new. According to the label it’s a limited edition (500 copies) on clear vinyl with silver/gold splatter, and “all proceeds from the album will go towards providing resources for homeless youth.”

      DOWNLOAD: Mike Watt’s “The First Noel,” Terry Riley’s “God Rest Ye,” The Music Tapes’ “Let It Snow” —FRED MILLS

Xmas She & Him



A Very She & Him Christmas


      You’re forgiven for assuming A Very She & Him Christmas (originally issued in 2011) would be the hipster equivalent of The Carpenters Christmas Album, a holiday staple for every Williamsburg and Bushwick apartment. Despite the fact that the “She” in She & Him is Zooey Deschanel, hipster chick personified, the album is surprisingly irony free, just an even dozen Christmas standards updated slightly with Deschanel’s charmingly quirky lilt backed by the always impressive M. Ward. Even the ukulele on The Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” sounds a bit alluring, rather than forced. The album is a holiday classic in waiting, even if you don’t own a single pair of skinny jeans and couldn’t grow a beard to save your life.

        DOWNLOAD: “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “Little Saint Nick” —JOHN B. MOORE




Now Christmas


      This two CD set, part of the long running “Now That’s What I Call…” series (though this release has eliminated the “That’s What I Call” part) is an odd mixture of traditional favorites and newer tracks that certainly aren’t traditional, while their status as a “favorite” is debatable. The idea of having such a wide range of tracks, spanning a period of 60 years, is for generating maximum appeal, of course. But Justin Bieber (performing the sentimental “Mistletoe”)? Seriously? And the John-and-Yoko classic “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” (a sentiment that’s sadly always timely) as performed by — Maroon? Not to mention such cringe-worthy entries as “My Grown Up Christmas List” (Kelly Clarkson) and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (Mannheim Steamroller).

      Ah, but that’s only four tracks out of 32, and the majority of this collection is classic stuff. The oldies: Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”; Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song”; Gene Autry’s “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” When the holidays started rocking: Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock”; Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”; The Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick.” Baby boomer nostalgia: “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late” (Alvin and the Chipmunks); “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

      Many of the tracks are holiday essentials you need to have in your Christmas collection. And it should also go down well at most family gatherings. Even though you might have to put up with listening to Mannheim Steamroller.

      DOWNLOAD: “Feliz Navidad” (Jose Feliciano); “The Little Drummer Boy” (Harry Simeone Chorale) —GILLIAN G. GAAR

 Xmas Death Metal



Death Metal Christmas: Hellish Renditions of Christmas Classics


      The title pretty much says it all: Death Metal Christmas does indeed put familiar carols through an extreme metal meatgrinder. An idea whose time has come? Hard to say, even after listening to this five-song EP. Journeyman death metalhead J.J. Hrubovcak takes times out from his day job as bassist for Hate Eternal to update a handful of hymns, keeping the melodies intact despite the layers of blast beats and distorted riffage.

      There’s apparently a storyline running through these cuts, something about Azrael the angel of death being born into the world of men and growing in influence on world powers behind the scenes. Thus “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” becomes “Unrest For Melancholy Men,” “We Three Kings” becomes “Earthen Kings,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” transforms into (yes) “O Come, O Come Azrael” and “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies” and “Greensleeves” become metallicized instrumentals heavier than anything the Trans-Siberian Orchestra would indulge in. Buy into the storyline or not (and it’s easy not to, given Mike Hrubovcak’s unintelligible roars), but there’s some serious musicianship behind these desecrations – the instrumentals are particularly impressive, if not exactly enjoyable. Which fairly describes the whole project – eyebrow raising, certainly, but not setting a new holiday tradition.

      DOWNLOAD: “Unrest For Melancholy Men,” “Nutracker: Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” —MICHAEL TOLAND




The Sounding Joy: Christmas Songs In & Out Of The Ruth Crawford Seeger Songbook


      Still on an extended break from folk-leaning indie band Ida, Mitchell started out with her own children’s label (which appropriately featured her own daughter) and later recorded for Smithsonian, where she’s now recorded this tribute to an extraordinary folk and classical composer (who also happened to be Pete Seeger’s step-mother).  Seeger arranged folk and children’s songs for the Library of Congress, creating an important treasure of music, including 1953’s American Folk Songs for Christmas.  It’s not hard to see how Mitchell drew inspiration from her and decided to use her work as the basis for this holiday album.

      Of special note is that the “friends” listed alongside her make up an amazing guest list, mostly drawn from her Woodstock neighbors including Natalie Merchant, Dan Zanes, NYC folkie legend Happy Traum, John Sebastian (Lovin’ Spoonfuls), His Name Is Alive’s Warn Defever, jazz pianist Marco Benevento and Bowie’s bassist Gail Ann Dorsey among others.

      Using minimal arrangements and making good use of her sweet voice, Mitchell makes a homey record that you’d expect to hear a bunch of friends singing at home on a cold winter evening or around a camp fire, not unlike some of the McGarrigle sisters’ early records.  As such, when she starts the album off with her daughter, a thumb piano and a flute, instead of sounding hokey, it sounds beautiful. Since Seeger’s (and Mitchell’s by extension) interest was the pre-pop-hit-parade holiday songs, you get carols and spirituals in the song selection but luckily without the dry sanctimoniousness that you’d fear- on “January, February,” you get a spiritual with a wonderful smoky bluesy/soulful feel , “Shine In the Morning” and “Baby Born Today” cross old-school country with bouncy marches, “Joy To the World” goes bluegrass at a calmer  pace, “Sing A Lamb” is a little gospel-blues stomp and “Great Big Stars” is a nod to Seeger’s classical background. 

      Things get so good that you’re a little let down by the second half when the proceedings get a little staid by comparison with simpler, samey folkie arrangements that are a little too reverential and some song selections that are a little obvious (“The First Noel,” “Silent Night”).  It’s a shame that Mitchell didn’t use the interesting mix of styles and arrangements she starts the record out with.  Still, even later on, the record has an undeniable charm and spirit to it, which puts it way far ahead of the usual holiday dreck that too many pop singers cart out at year’s end to cash in on the holiday.  Mitchell is a fine antidote to that sentiment and crafts a record that you could play at family Christmas gatherings- in the spirit of the record, they might even sing along too.

      DOWNLOAD: “Oh, Mary and the Baby, Sweet Lamb,” “January, February” —JASON GROSS




Christmas Harmonies


      Here we have a 2012 edition, complete with fresh sleeve art, of 2009’s 15-song Christmas Harmonies, which itself was a more-or-less expanded take on 1964’s The Beach Boys Christmas Album. As it has jewel box packaging, however, it’s not specifically part of this year’s Beach Boys back catalog reissue series (those titles came in mini-LP slipsleeves). Also worth noting for completists: also in the BB discography is the 26-track Christmas With the Beach Boys, 2004 reissue of 1998’s Ultimate Christmas, which added a handful of seasonal rarities and unreleased tunes.

        At any rate, while some fans maintain that the Beach Boys should be holiday perennials, the bulk of this material hasn’t aged all that well. Particularly cringe-worthy are big band Rat Pack-esque extravaganzas like “Frosty the Snowman” and “Blue Christmas,” both of which sound more aimed at the Guy Lombardo Singers set than surfing/hot-rodding youth. There are highlights bearing the Boys’ sonic signatures, including “Little Saint Nick” (it could’ve been a hit single from one of their first two LPs) and the Phil Spectorish “Merry Christmas Baby.” And to be fair, one uncharacteristic (for the band) rendering, “We Three Kings,” has a chorale, orchestral grandeur all its own. On balance, a so-so collection ripe for cherry-picking individual cuts.

      DOWNLOAD: “Little Saint Nick,” “We Three Kings” —FRED MILLS

Xmas Neil Diamond 



The Classic Christmas Album


     There have been a number of Diamond Xmas discs over the years; this one overlaps with all of them, so if you are a Diamond or holiday record fan, chances are you have most of the dozen songs here. As part of Legacy’s The Classic Christmas Album series this year, which includes Johnny Cash (reviewed above), Alabama, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Barbra Streisand, etc., it’s a clear standout. Particularly if you are a traditionalist, for Diamond has always had the perfect touch when it comes to approaching fireside mainstays like “O Holy Night,” “Silent Night,” “Joy To the World” and “Sleigh Ride.” He never veers into kitch (which is saying something when you’re Neil Diamond), and to his eternal credit, he manages to create more than his share of lump-in-throat moments. In short, you’re a goddam Grinch if you can’t listen to this record and not only enjoy it, but want to sing along.

      DOWNLOAD: “Sleigh Ride,” “O Come All You Faithful,” “O Holy Night”

Xmas Mad Men 



Mad Men Christmas

(Concord Music)

      What’s the best time of year to release an album of “music from and inspired by” a painfully dull TV show that features thoroughly unlikable, tragically self-absorbed characters (albeit dressed in snazzy clothes and inhabiting stunningly beautiful sets)? Christmas, of course, when frantic holiday shoppers buy stuff without giving their purchases a whole lot of thought. If they did, they’d realize that most of the music contained herein — like Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here” and Teresa Brewer’s “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” — is already included on another Christmas disc they own, one that’s probably sitting on their eggnog stained coffee tables.

      What’s left here after clearing away the well-trod Tony Bennett’s and Dean Martin’s — like RJD2’s subtle “Mad Men Theme Song” and Jessica Pare’s kitschy “Zou Bisou Bisou” — is intended to add some spice to the proceedings. But, alas, their trying-too-hard-to-be-cool vibe just plunges the collection into a deeper morass of phony bourgeois.

      Yeah, there’s a touch of brilliance about a completely superficial Christmas collection built around a completely superficial TV show. But, whoopee cushions are far cheaper and they’ll bring more applause at your Christmas party.

      DOWNLOAD: Dean Martin’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Johnny Mathis’ “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” —MICHAEL VERITY




Christmas With The Rat Pack


      Considering the high-powered, legendary talent assembled here, this is pretty disappointing. Culled mostly from ‘50s and ‘60s recordings and previously collected on a 2002 CD, the 16 songs here break down into three doses of Sammy, 6 shots from Dino and all of the rest from the chairman, with no duets or trios of them together.

        Frankie worries too much about flexing his voice, sounding too sanctimonious on his cuts, but Martin’s sweet, carefree “Let It Show” and “Silver Bells” nails the holiday cheer just right, while Sammy gets some of Dean’s spirit on a wonderfully jazzy take on “Jingle Bells.” It’s enough to make you pine for a whole album of Martin, which you can periodically find on “Christmas With Dino.”

        DOWNLOAD: Dean Martin “Let It Snow,” Sammy Davis Jr. “Jingle Bells” —JASON GROSS




Duck the Halls: a Robertson Family Christmas

(Capitol Nashville)

      From the unlikely cable TV reality hit show chronicling a Louisiana family business—led by patriarch Phil Robertson, who’s unfortunately made some ugly homophobic comments recently and has now been suspended from the show (the main body of this review was written prior to the controversy, FYI)—comes this holiday entry in the field of novelty albums.  While it’s long on redneck humor, luckily it’s not over-the-top tomfoolery like Homer and Jethro (which is hard to match) or the droll yucks of Jeff Foxworthy.  Like the show itself, the Robertson’s Xmas album is as funny and charming as you’d hope.  With producer Buddy Cannon (Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Reba McEntire) at the helm, the music has a professional touch without sounding glossy.

       Being a real family affair, as much of the clan that can fit on an album is utilized here.  Family biz CEO and son Willie kicks things off with the good timin’ honky tonk of “Ragin’ Cajun Christmas,” soon followed up in the same vein by Phil’s goofy, swinging number with Strait on “Christmas Cookies,” which sounds like something that Asleep at the Wheel should cover. Willie also provides another highlight with “Hairy Christmas” where they gather the family to watch Christmas specials, shop at Walmart and hand out shotguns as presents. But the real comic genius of the family here is Uncle Si with his knee-snapping recital of “The Night Before Christmas” and gruff take on “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch.”

      But after the hilarious title track, which is punctuated by duck calls (aka the family business itself), things get a little sappy with daughter in law Missy’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and her duet with hunk crooner Josh Turner on “Why I Love Christmas” which proves that she’s got a good set of pipes but is also a little too long on sentiment. Also jock grandson Reed’s “Camouflage and Christmas Lights” sounds too much like a bid to be a country star and the whole crew’s take on “Silent Night” is much too snoozy.  Still, the first half is worth hearing and replaying not only for fans of the show but also for anyone who could use a shot of glorious lowbrow fun and some ho-ho-ho in their holidays.

DOWNLOAD: “Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas,” “Christmas Cookies,” “Hairy Christmas”  —JASON  GROSS

 Xmas Big Bad Voodoo Daddy



It Feels Like Christmas Time

(Savoy Jazz)

      We’ll have to give ‘em this much: play this back-to-back with the aforementioned Rat Pack disc (or any one of several Sinatra holiday collections), and your Christmas soiree invitees won’t miss a sip of their martinis. Actually, we’ll have to give ‘em this much as well: this swingin’, finger snappin’ set of pep, perk and pop pulls off an admirable tightwire act by managing to sound freshly contemporary yet utterly traditional at the same time.

      For yours truly, that means it’s a keeper, even if I still cling to my old classics like a garter belt clings to a thigh. From the big band pump of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” and a Stax/Volt treatment of “Run Run Rudolph” to a Dixieland arrangement of “Frosty the Snowman” and a Latinized (mambo, at that) “Walking In A Winter Wonderland,” It Feels Like Christmas Time is an 11-song guilty pleasure. The raunchy, rollicking “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” would even have Boris Karloff nodding in approval.

      DOWNLOAD: “Run Run Rudolph,” “Walking In a Winter Wonderland,” “We Three Kings” —FRED MILLS




Tinsel and Lights


      Christmas, coming so soon after the shortest day of the calendar in the last month – an often cold and bitter month – of the year, is a holiday as steeped in quiet reflections of mortality as in happiness and joy. Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorn, continuing to establish her solo career as one of our most sensitive and mature pop-rock vocalists, brilliantly tackles that existential dichotomy in this lovely, sometimes-melancholy album consisting mostly of contemporary wintry songs by Joni Mitchell (“River”), Stephin Merritt (“Like a Snowman”), Green Gartside (“Snow in Sun”), Jack White (“In the Cold, Cold Night”), Sufjan Stevens (“Sister Winter”), and more. It’s a modern Christmas classic, one that will endure.

         DOWNLOAD: “River,” “Sister Winter” —STEVEN ROSEN




 The Classic Christmas Album


      This collection presents 16 tracks drawn from Cash’s The Christmas Spirit (1963), Johnny Cash Family Christmas (1972), and Classic Christmas (1980) albums. The songs are a mix of traditional carols and original material. Cash’s baritone is perfectly suited for the solemnity of “The Little Drummer Boy” (though the backing vocals sound a bit too chipper), and also brings a sweetness to “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day.”

      But it’s the original songs that prove to be the most irresistible. Who can resist “Christmas Time’s a Comin’,” “That Christmasy Feeling,” and “Christmas With You,” which Cash romps through with assorted Cash family members? Not coincidentally, all three tracks are from the Johnny Cash Family Christmas album; conversely, the Classic Christmas cuts suffer from too much instrumental backing.

      And if you can listen to the opening recitation “Christmas As I Knew It” without getting a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye, you’re made of sterner stuff than most of us.

      DOWNLOAD: “Christmas As I Knew It,” “Christmas Time’s a Comin’” —GILLIAN G. GAAR

 Xmas Chipmunks



Chipmunks Christmas


      Al-viiiiiin!!!! Okay, give it up for the Chipmunks – you know you wanna. If we’re talking perennials here, this certainly ranks alongside A Charlie Brown Christmas. Don’t scoff. Sure, it’s nowhere near as “listenable” on a repeat-spin basis as Vince Guaraldi’s holiday classic, and in truth, hearing “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” only once or twice a year is plenty for me. Novelty-tilting though it certainly is, Chipmunks Christmas has a certain timeless quality that can turn anyone into a kid again, if only for 2 ½ minutes. And that’s something that not even those ghastly latterday Chipmunks movies (Chipwrecked, anyone?) can take away.

        EMI and other labels have repackaged the Chipmunks frequently over the years – as a child, I owned the original 10-song vinyl LP – and this iteration boasts 18 squeaky, freaky tracks guaranteed to put an ironic smile on any hipster’s face while simultaneously making his or her significant other’s skin crawl. Such was the genius of Chipmunks creator Ross Bagdasarian Sr., who originally launched his anthropomorphic rodents in 1958 and took ‘em to the top of the charts, to the Grammys, and to the bank: for better or for worse, the Chipmunks had a little something for everyone, and still do.

        DOWNLOAD: “The Chipmunk Song”; other tracks at your own discretion (or risk) —FRED MILLS



Monster Magnet top

Once frontman Dave Wyndorf gets wound up, he doesn’t stop, so hop on board and enjoy the ride—from Monster Magnet’s lead guitar musical chairs and Wyndorf’s notion of what an album should be, to likeminded bands he admires and the origin story of their mascot/muse/monster the Bullgod.


 Monster Magnet seemed poised to take over the world in the 1990s. Armed with a refreshingly psychedelic hard rock sound and an aesthetic drawn from science fiction movies and Silver Age Marvel Comics, the New Jersey-based troop, led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Dave Wyndorf, boasted critically acclaimed LPs like Dopes to Infinity and Superjudge and genuine radio rock hits like “Negasonic Teenage Warhead” and “Space Lord,” the latter of which pushed its Powertrip album to gold status. Despite minor success and a huge influence on the ‘90s wave of stoner rock, the group could never quite crack the sky into the big time. Following the release of 2001’s brilliantly eclectic but commercially moribund God Says No, however, the Magnet lost its major label contract and seemed to disappear from the scene.

Except that it didn’t. Signing to Europe-based hard rock/metal labels SPV and Napalm, Monster Magnet continued to release solid records, leading up to this year’s Last Patrol, an album with sharper songwriting, production and playing than anything since God Says No. The band also concentrated its touring energies in the Olde Worlde, where audiences proved more receptive to its vision. Mounting its first U.S. tour in a decade behind the amazing new Last Patrol, Monster Magnet has proven itself not only still capable of greatness, but that, if anything, it’s stronger than ever.

 Not that there haven’t been a few changes along the way, of course. Diehard fans will immediately note the absence of six-string gunslinger Ed Mundell. “I had to ask him to quit,” admits Wyndorf. “He’s one of the guys who’d just hang around, [in moaning voice] ‘I don’t like this, I don’t wanna tour, I don’t like playin’ the same songs, I wanna do something else.’ Well, do it! ‘Well, muh…’ That kind of thing. And that happens to really talented people.”

 Long-serving second guitarist Phil Caivano stepped into the void. (Riotgod guitarist Garrett Sweeney has joined the band on tour to revive the two-guitar sound.) “The guitar star on this one is Phil. And Phil’s been a guitarist for Monster Magnet for over twelve years now. I had talked to him about this. Ed’s starting to flake out – he’s around, but who wants a poopy pants? ‘Hey, we’re goin’ to the studio!’ [in moaning voice] ‘When’s my time to play? What do you want me to play?’ And I’m like, ‘Phil, you and I gotta work on these leads. You’re gonna have to play this stuff. Because I need it from somewhere and I’m not getting it out of Ed.’ He played the bass on the record as well. He’s MVP here.

 “In a lot of ways I think it’s more suitable to what I figure Monster Magnet is, where there’s a lot more attention paid to a garage rock, nasty, less slick element to the playing. You know – excitement first technique. But excitement is a technique to me. I mean, dumbass lead parts that wear out their welcome because it’s just the same note but it sounds great because it’s buzzy and clangy? To me that’s an honest technique. You make a decision to not shred here. You make a decision just to make a statement with your sound or note, and Phil’s into that. We had a great time doing the leads.”

 The resulting record stands head-and-shoulders not only over most of the band’s recent catalog, but also over much of current pop and rock music. That’s because it’s an actual album, a collection of songs meant to stand together as a single listening experience, not just a couple of singles and a bunch of filler tunes thrown together on one disk – the trend in our download-dominated culture. “The pressure is on everyone to do that, too,” notes Wyndorf. “There are no gold stars coming from anyone for putting out great albums. There’s a lot of lip service paid to it, but the definitions have been changed for good and complete. All the jargon remains – ‘Here’s their album, blah, blah, blah’ – but what we’re really talking about is pressuring artists to have that song that’s gonna be downloaded. And then to have something that is a collection of songs to be sold as an album, in quotation marks, but not as a full event – not as a journey, the way that albums were once made. From around ‘65 to at least 1980 albums were that – they sold because they were more or less a journey, some of ‘em really experimental, but always looked at as literary in a sense. What’s chapter one, chapter two? That kinda thing – that’s gone right now.

 “I don’t think it’s that they don’t want to do it, but times are rough for musicians,” he continues. “There’s no money in music. The writing’s on the wall. ‘You wanna make money? Sell t-shirts. And that’s a terrible thing to put on an artist – make them a merchandiser? And I know it’s popular to think that way – Gene Simmons made it popular – but everybody knows that’s not cool. You want your musicians to be poets and think about music and the greater good of all of music and what it can do – not to count t-shirts. That’s just crazy.”

 The deluge of releases made possible by cheap digital recording technology hasn’t helped, of course – it’s an old complaint but still, even in 2013, a valid one. “[It’s] not so bad that it can’t be done, but what’s bad is that it’s like putting a snowstorm of interference in front of anything that’s good,” says Wyndorf. “It’s like the old pickin’ fly shit out of pepper, like ‘Whoa, where’s the good stuff?’ And the opinions are equally prevalent that the internet democracy has created a mass confusion, y’know?

 “But it’s not impossible to sort out. I would imagine that future generations will be able to get over the novelty of the internet and start to focus on what they want, what they expect, and make themselves known and be not as knee-jerk reactionaries to stuff like just headlines rather than content. Right now I just get the feeling, especially in the States, that people don’t react to actual facts – they react to someone’s opinion about a fact. ‘How dare they say that?’ ‘Well, you didn’t read the story, dude’” And that’s in politics and just in everything.

“That filtered down to the music and what people want from their music. Do they want some sort of poetic illumination? Do they want artist interpretation of how they feel, or do they really want something that’s gonna make them dance and maybe lyrically kind of jive up to what they’re thinking? It’s kind of like an old ‘50s kinda jukebox thing. ‘I wanna shake, rattle and roll; therefore, I’ll put on “Shake Rattle and Roll”.’ It was quite different 20, 30 years ago – people were actually listening to records going, ‘Man, is this gonna make me think? Am I gonna get something outta this?’ Even if it was bullshit, if it was thought-provoking it was well worth it.

 “I miss that in music. I miss bands that wrote ambiguous lyrics, but with a slant – made you think. Like trying to go see a cool movie, one that didn’t have a telegraphed ending – ‘What do you think that was?’ – and people would leave the movie theater and talk about it. And regardless of whether the thing was good or not it would provoke thought. I used to get that from music all the time. Now I don’t get it as much.”

 Then there’s the annoyance of the need by both industry and fans to fit any style of music into a rigidly defined box. “I play loud music so I get strapped with heavy metal all the time,” Wyndorf notes. “And I have to live in that godforsaken ghetto. We’re not a heavy metal band – never was. We’re a rock band – something that probably just doesn’t exist anymore. We’re not afraid to rock, so that lets us out of the indie crowd – you know, they’re very particular. All these little subgenres, their press and their people – they’re all very, very regimented of what they think is cool or not. Rendering them completely uncool, by the way (laughs). They’re like little fascists. ‘No! This is metal!’ So they put us over in metal, and that world…it’s not a bunch of free thinkers. They like things the way they are – they like it, they wanna grow old with that music. It’s like country & western – that’s their attitude. It’s closer to country & western than any other genre I’ve seen. Lorded over by these metal dudes who write magazines and now blogs, and those rules are adhered to by all these people. They really don’t want it to change that much. They talk about change – they talk about cutting edge and bad-ass and stuff – but it’s their version of it.

 “That’s the world that I live in, which is why I travel the rest of the world and don’t pay as much attention to America. Because the rest of the world still is younger at looking at rock & roll, if you can believe it. They still have a younger attitude of ‘What’s this? I wonder what this could be.’ They go into clubs in Europe all the time and basically their attitude is, ‘Well, sell me. Sell me with your live show. I’ll listen to your music.’ And the States is like, ‘Ugh, here I am. I wanna see a show. I wanna see what I wanna see. If they don’t do the hits, I’m gonna be really pissed off. But it’s not that bad because I’ll just check my messages and fuck around while they play.’ And then write it off as a good night or a bad night, not depending on whether the show is good – maybe a little bit – but whether they got laid. It’s just not as much about the music as it used to be.

 “That spooks the hell out of me. That’s why I’m like, ‘I don’t wanna go here.’ I want to have good memories about my country. I don’t wanna beat myself into the ground going ‘Oh, man, we played in Cincinnati and it was a couple of hair farmers and their…whoof.’”

Wyndorf 2

All that said, the rock underground has seen a resurgence of the music Wyndorf loves – in part due to inspiration from Monster Magnet itself, who, along with Kyuss, championed mindbending album-oriented rock when few others would. “It always struck me funny back then that more people weren’t doing it,” he notes bemusedly. “Because it’s such an appealing type of music to play. What I was thinking of back then, I was just in love with the bands I listened to when I was a kid, plus in love with a punk rock aesthetic which meant that it was OK to really like one hit wonder 60s bands, like the Seeds and the Music Machine and all that stuff. And it seemed to all be able to fit in with me.

 “It struck me funny that a lot of the bands didn’t get that after a certain point. In the beginning they did – in the ‘80s there was Loop, Spacemen 3… the Butthole Surfers were around. They all got it. And then I guess grunge took over. I always thought that stuff would get bigger. And it didn’t – it disappeared. It came out again after Magnet and Kyuss were doing records, and they called it stoner rock. OK, that’s cool. But it didn’t really go anywhere.

 “And now it’s back again. And I think that’s probably a YouTube/internet reference phenomena. Because all this resurgence in hard rock revisionist music, psychedelic revisionist, stoner rock – I really think it’s a musician’s revolution. It’s not a fan’s revolution. Musicians who are doing this – bands like Kadavar and Graveyard – they’re not doing that because the fans demanded it, you know? They weren’t aping Monster Magnet’s quote-unquote success with psychedelic music. They did it, I believe, because they’re finding all these old records. Very much the way I used to do when I was a kid, except it took years to amass that kind of collection. Now, a hungry musician who all of a sudden discovers the halcyon days of the early ‘70s and goes, “I wanna find out about this,” well, boom – in three days, they’ve got it all. And they apply it. Pretty cool in that respect.”

 Berlin-based power trio Kadavar in particular fires Wyndorf’s enthusiasm. “Well, they sound great! They sound authentic, you know? It doesn’t sound like some cheeseball reinvention of it. It sounds like they’re honestly having a good time. It’s personalized. It’s not like, ‘Uh, that’s a stoner rock sound’ – no, that sounds like that band Kadavar. And that’s what I love about them. Graveyard too has the same kind of thing. They sound like somebody.

 “What I like about ‘em is they’re picking spots from a very short amount of time. People will say, ‘Oh, that’s the way music used to be,’ but it was only really like that from around ‘69 to around ‘73. That was it. Music got less psychedelically hard rock and more hard rock and then metal right after that. I was there, I saw it, so nobody can tell me, ‘Well, that’s the way it used to be.’ That’s a short amount of time. But they’re picking a very specific angle on that, like jazz guys would pick a specific angle on, say, swing, and turn that into bebop. It’s muso shit – this is real musician stuff. I’d love to see how far it goes and how far regular fans want it or do they just want like modern bands like Alter Bridge or Avenged Sevenfold, which basically pump out rehashed Metallica stuff. I mean, I’m not gonna begrudge a guy’s career, but it’s not that exciting, y’know? It’s not exactly brain food.

 “But Kadavar is! Kadavar are honestly dreamy sounding – they really put you in a place. Very cool.”

Change is inevitable, of course, as the evolution of both the band and the musical universe easily prove. But one thing in Monster Magnet’s corner of the galaxy has remained the same: the growling, snorting, space-rocking bull that’s made an appearance on nearly every Magnet cover since the beginning. “The Bullgod!” enthuses Wyndorf. “He showed up really early on, ‘cuz I thought it was funny. When I did the first Monster Magnet single, the first ever release by Monster Magnet that wasn’t a cassette, I had been reading a couple of Barry Windsor-Smith Conans. One of the titles was “Wrath of the Bullgod.” There’s this fantastic cover by Barry Smith and there’s this bullgod coming out, and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’d fuckin’ rock! Wrath of the Bullgod!’

 “We actually named the band Wrath of the Bullgod for a while. Well, we had about a dozen names – every gig we’d have we’d change the name. And then I had this action figure of this bull – it was from the Masters of the Universe game or something. I took a picture of it on a psychedelic poster and it became the cover of the first Monster Magnet single, “Lizard Johnny” and “Freakshop USA.” It looked ridiculous, but it looked really, really homegrown. And I was like, ‘Well, there he is, that’s the Bullgod. He represents the pagan rock for Monster Magnet.’ And he just grew from there. Every time we had a record, it was ‘Oh, we got to put the Bullgod on there, huh?’

 “And he just grew and grew and he’s been around forever. He’s our mascot.”

 Monster Magnet 2

DOING HER OWN THING: Dot Wiggin of The Shaggs


In what is hands-down the year’s most unlikely musical comeback, the one-time/one-third of the seminal all-gal “outsider music” combo figures out how to strike a balance between sonic dreams and the realities of day-to-day life.




“You’re probably more glad about it than I am,” Dot Wiggin says at the end of a phone interview. She’s referring to Ready! Get! Go! her first solo album, and my excitement over the fact that she’s made her first new recording since her days with the Shaggs in the 1970s. After years of cult worship and occasional stories about the band’s unique existence, the front woman of the trio has resurfaced on Alternative Tentacles backed by a coterie of fans and family. They’ve taken a stack of unfinished lyrics and brought them to life in the spirit of the Shaggs, with slightly stronger arrangements.


It’s not that Wiggin isn’t appreciative of the attention. This New Hampshire mom, giving an interview while preparing dinner for her family, is just a bit overwhelmed. “When we found out about the following we had, and what’s happening today… it’s just kind of hard to wrap my head around,” says Wiggin, who technically is now Dot Semprini, though she goes by her maiden name on the new album.



The Shaggs, which consisted of Wiggin (guitar, vocals) and her sisters Helen (drums) and Betty (guitar, vocals), started playing music in 1968 and gained notoriety for their combination of innocent pop songs and their amateurish abilities on their instruments. Their Philosophy of the World album captured three sisters who sounded like they hadn’t figured out how to play their instruments or keep a steady tempo. And they hadn’t. But their father, Austin Wiggin, believed they were going to be successful so he took them into the studio, and got the album released on the small Third World label in 1969.


At the same time, the sisters had a weekly hometown gig, playing a dance at the Fremont Town Hall on Saturday nights. “There was basically nothing else out there for kids to do,” Wiggin recalls. “It wasn’t just teenagers or young adults. It was a family dance. We’d do polkas even though they weren’t really polkas. We’d just play them faster than normal so they could do a polka.


“Now looking back, I look at it like a babysitting service. Parents would drop the kids off for two or three hours and have free time, knowing [the kids] were safe, in good hands. And a police officer was there.”


In 1975, Mr. Wiggin passed away and the band broke up, thinking they had closed the book on that part of their life. Reflecting on the band, Wiggin has a realistic perspective. “It was fun. I enjoyed it. I wrote all the songs. I wrote all the music. I loved writing lyrics but looking back, I don’t think I knew enough about music to write music. There are probably some that would disagree with that.”


Two people that disagreed were Terry Adams and Tom Ardolino from the band NRBQ. After discovering the album at a radio station, they called Wiggin in 1979, saying they wanted to re-release the album on Red Rooster/Rounder. (Adams allegedly found the Wiggins’ harmonies similar to the work of free jazz musician Ornette Coleman.) After coming down to New Hampshire to visit her and her sisters, they also agreed to put on a set of unreleased songs, which became Shaggs Own Thing.


The reissues brought their ragged-but-right style to curious listeners beyond the Fremont city limits. Despite their primitive ways, the girls touched a lot of listeners. Jad Fair cited them as a major inspiration. The Shaggs were also showcased in Irwin Chusid’s book and CD compilation Songs in the Key of Z – The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. Frank Zappa made one of the most-quoted accolades to the Shaggs, calling them better than the Beatles. (An unironic tribute album titled Better than the Beatles was released in 2001.) Kurt Cobain also considered Philosophy of the World one of his favorite albums.


Wiggins is neither hurt by the criticisms of the band, nor does she believe the hype. “My opinion is everybody is entitled to their opinion. But my motto is, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say nothing at all. So I’m stuck between those two places,” she says, laughing a little. “’Best worst band ever’ – that doesn’t make any sense because you’re either the best or the worst, you’re really not both. You might be somewhere in the middle but it wouldn’t be called best worst band ever. So that’s my opinion. And ‘better than the Beatles’? Ah, I would say not.

“But I think [people are] most interested in the story of the Shaggs, at least to start with, than the music. But I could be wrong on that.”


The story of a driven stage dad and his daughters makes good fodder for a production and playwright Joy Gregory’s The Shaggs was staged in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York between 2004 and 2011. While Dot says parts of the story were fictionalized, she did enjoy seeing the production in New York. “It was weird sitting in the audience seeing someone portray your life,” she says. “But the actors did an excellent job. So it was pretty cool.”


When the group reunited and performed at NRBQ’s 30th anniversary show in 1999, they were approached by a filmmaker interested in taking their story to the big screen. At this time, there are no definite plans but Wiggin remains hopeful.


That reunion brought fans from as far as Japan to see the Shaggs, but the sisters never had any desire to do anything further. Wiggin, in fact, describes the practices for that show as “very hard. Betty and I rented two guitars and amps. And we practiced for about a week. We did 4 songs. We even improvised some other chords and made them easier,” she says.


Last year, a tribute to the Shaggs was staged in Fremont. Dot, Betty and sister Rachel (who later played bass in the band, but not on the albums), didn’t perform but they participated in a Q&A session. (Drummer Helen passed away in 2006.)  When asked if she still composed, Dot mentioned lyrics to unfinished songs. Jesse Krakow, who staged the event, eagerly volunteered to finish them for her, and she agreed to hand them over.


Using her a stack of lyrics, she assumed Krakow would want to record them by himself, but he had other ideas. “He called me back, he sent a couple [songs] to me and said, ‘Just one problem. Dot fans are going to want to hear Dot sing Dot’s songs,’” she says. “Well that wasn’t my plan. I’d take the royalty for the lyrics and they can take the royalty for the rest. But here we are.”


Krakow arranged recording sessions that happened, among other places, in Wiggin’s living room and on the stage of Fremont Town Hall, where the Shaggs used to play. In the liner notes to Ready! Get! Go he explains how the musicians tried to capture the feel of the original group: “Should we try and sound EXACTLY like The Shaggs? And is that even possible? We went round and round until Nick [Oddy, guitars] pointed out that we were good musicians who knew how to tune our instruments and play in time. Let’s not try to pretend like we don’t… Forced ineptitude is lame. However, we shouldn’t try to be perfect either. Mistakes are wonderful when they’re real.”


Ready! Get! Go! strikes that balance. Wiggin sings exclusively on the album, leaving the instruments to Krakow and his crew. Her voice retains the soft, gentle warble of the early days, though it seems to get extra momentum from the band on songs like “Speed Limit,” inspired by her real life propensity to be a wild driver. (It’s the source of the album’s title too.) The ballads — including the duet with her son Matthew Semprini, “Love at First Sight” — take liberties with tempo and pitch, but somehow they feel right, as does the cover of “The End of the World.” “Banana Bike,” which opens the album with a wall of twangy guitars, pays tribute not only to the bicycle seat of yore, but it also remembers someone who had one, her late sister Helen.


In her home in Epping, New Hampshire, Wiggin worked at a nursing home for 13 years and still maintains a day job. “I clean the town library about twice a week. The church I go to, I clean that about once a week,” she says. “Then, I clean two different houses every other week. Now I work part time at a day program, for young adults transitioning from high school to adulthood that have disabilities.”


At the time of the interview, Krakow had scheduled release shows in Brooklyn and Baltimore, and Wiggin was optimistic but concerned about life at home. One of her sons has special needs, and she also has two dogs that are near and dear to her. “One of them is diabetic and has three insulin shots a day,” she says of the pooches. “Usually he goes with me. I’m not sure if he’s going because I got a call yesterday from Jesse saying the hotels… charge $75 to $100 more [to accommodate a dog].  I said if the dog can’t go, I’m not going. I’ll pay extra for the dog but I’m not going to be able to go and do my best not knowing how my dog’s doing. If he wasn’t diabetic, it’d be a different story.” Despite these issues, she says she’ll probably tour “once in a while.”


As she talks about Ready! Get! Go!, she remarks, “I have to check to see what else is on there because I don’t remember which ones are on the new album.” It might seem like an odd statement for someone to not know their album’s running order — especially on their first record in over 40 years. But considering the work ethic she was once forced to endure — being pulled out of school to stay home and practice for hours — this relaxed pace seems just right for Wiggin. 


Dot Wiggin CD alternate

Dot Wiggin CD



Oops, we did it again….


 Yes indeed, the collectors, speculators and just plain music nerds lined up outside independent record stores across the land once again in anticipation of Record Store Day—this time, the second annual Black Friday edition, on Nov. 27. While it’s not as big as the RSD proper that happens each April, due to far fewer offerings from the labels and bands, it has still become a big deal, as evidenced by the lengths of those lines and the subsequent flocking to eBay among fans who didn’t arrive early enough to land copies of the records they wanted (not to mention among online gougers eager to take advantage of those fans). Go here if you want to read our report from RSD #6 (April 20 of this year), and below, see a small sampling of the goodies our staffers scooped up. —Ed.


 RSD Cheap Trick

 CHEAP TRICKThe Classic Albums 1977 – 1979 (Epic/Legacy, ??? copies)

      While Cheap Trick has finally joined the likes of Aerosmith, Journey, Night Ranger and others on that endless summer nostalgia lap of outdoor music sheds, we will always have their first four records as reminders of happier times, when the band began their journey as Power Pop Pioneers (though 2009’s Latest, was a pretty good album, so there may still be some life left in ‘em). Legacy has packaged all five records in a very cool box set, remastered in 2013 from the original analog tapes.  This set includes the only five Cheap Trick albums you will ever need to own: 

       Cheap Trick –  Their 1977 debut started off strong with “ELO Kiddies,” and had a few other highlights (most notably “He’s a Whore”), bit overall this decent debut  was more of a prelude of better things to come.

      In Color – Probably their best non-live album, this one boasts “Hello There,” “Clock Strikes Ten,” “I Want You to Want Me” and “Southern Girls” – all of which are show staples for the band to this day. By the way, this album came out in 1977. See that current rock bands? You don’t need to let years go by waiting for inspiration to strike. Get your ass in the studio (though it should be noted, pills and Cocaine probably had a lot to do with the bands prolific output during this period).

      Heaven Tonight – Originally out in 1978, boasting singer Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson on the album cover rocking two sweet, sweet late-‘70s hair dos – this one was almost as strong as In Color, introducing the world to Power Pop Xanadu in the form of album opener “Surrender” (“Your mommy’s alright/your daddy’s alright/they just seem a little weird!”). 

      (Live) At Budokan – The band’s paramount release. Some will try and tell you this live record – the album that brought the band to a much broader audience – is a bit overrated. They are lying; avoid them at all costs. Can 12,000 screaming Japanese fans really be wrong? Selling three million copies in the U.S., this is easily the band’s biggest album.

      Dream Police – Released in 1979, the title track is still one of the band’s best songs. There are a couple of other great tracks on here like “Voices” and “I’ll Be With You Tonight.” This is also the album that showed Kiss weren’t the only rock band to be seduced by that bitch Disco, with the dreadful nine-plus minute long rock/dance hybrid “Gonna Raise Hell.” —John B. Moore [Current eBay price as of this writing: $120-$179, although there is one dreamer/gouger trying to find a sucker who will pay $275]


U2 – “Ordinary Love” b/w “Breathe” (Mandela Version) 10” (Island, 10,000 copies)

      It’s a decent enough piano-powered ballad, one which has already spawned a number of wonderfully-rendered covers (check this one from “Finn M-K” at SoundCloud: Which, considering that U2 has been removing uploads of its original tune from the web at a furious pace; all you’ll find a YouTube is a snippet and a trailer for the Long Walk to Freedom Nelson Mandela biopic. But to be honest, the falsetto has never been the kindest vocal format for Bono; while he does muster the requisite sonics, the emotional payoff can be lacking. Here, he pushes his luck a bit, hitting those stratospheric notes a bit too often (the words “we can’t…” become a screech; Randy Jackson might charitably call him “pitchy”). Still, after a number of listens the tune does take on a certain dewy-eyed quality that, while marking it as “lesser” among the entire U2 canon, still suggests that it serves its stated purpose: to be an essential part of the Mandela film. The flipside, an updated “Breathe,” seems like a throwaway in the grand tradition of B-side throwaways (catch it while you can on YouTube:, acoustic with some subtle mix effects. But nothing special.

       Curiously, 10,000 copies of this 10-inch single were sucked into the Record Store Day black hole almost before anyone knew they were out there. Were there actually 10,000 shoppers lined up at indie record stores across the U.S., or, ahem, were a few boxes of those 10” goodies diverted to other locations? And what was up with all those thousands of completed eBay sales of the record—most of them in the $75 to $120 range—literally within the first hour of Black Friday’s opening gong? Bottom line: hold off fans, and don’t add to your PayPal accounts just yet. The prices have already plummeted and you can get it for around forty bucks if you hunt around.  —Fred Mills [Current eBay price: $40-$100]

 RSD Roy O

 ROY ORBISON – The Monument Vinyl Box 4LP (Sony/Legacy, ??? copies)
In preparation for a hurricane of reissues and rarities collections (e.g. the recently-released Last Concert), the operatic, angel-voiced, Tennessee gentleman’s earliest neo-symphonic albums come courtesy this four LP collection. With doomed romance the order of the day, Orbison’s vocals sweep through the drama of the familiar (“Only the Lonely”), and the rarely-considered (“Come Back to Me My Love”) like a ghost through his family’s manor. The haunted cosmopolitan country classicism remains aloft (and aloof, considering the cool wind of Orbison’s speaker-rattling tone) throughout Lonely and Blue (1961), Crying (1962) and In Dreams (1963), slowing down in particular on his sophomore Monument effort, its soul-stirring title track, and the cinematic “Love Hurts.” Along with the wall-of-sound woe that Orbison’s unleashed upon his dark-clouded ballads, his subtle bluesy snarl made the likes of “Dream Baby,” and “Oh, Pretty Woman” (the latter the title track to Monument’s missing LP) catty classics. This is the sound of heartbreak and lust sung in a fashion we’ll never hear again. —A.D. Amorosi [Current eBay price as of this writing: $140-$160]

 RSD Nick Cave

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – Live From KCRW 2LP (Bad Seed Ltd., 3000 copies)

        For my money, this is the primo release of the entire event this year as it joins the Cave discography as a bonafide standalone classic rather than an oddity, sidestep or collection of rarities. The band was on the Push The Sky Away tour, and unlike the incendiary show I caught back in March in Austin during SXSW, this was an intimate, stripped-down in-studio performance in front of just 180 lucky fans. The Push material is ably represented by the Miley Cyrus-namechecking, creepy-crawl through pop culture “Higgs Boson Blues,” the sexy-seamy “Mermaids” and the atmospheric title track (plus a couple others), and there’s a startling mini-trawl through Cave’s back pages, too, including stellar readings of “The Mercy Seat” and “Into My Arms.” The double album comes in a handsome gatefold sleeve, and in effect it also serves as a crucial coda to Push, an essential purchase—it will be coming out in an unlimited version soon—for fans of the earlier 2013 release. —Fred Mills [Current eBay price: $24-$39]

RSD Dylan

BOB DYLAN – Side Tracks 3LP (Columbia, 10,000 copies?)

    Likewise, Dylan’s entry this year also holds its own as a standalone entry for the discerning Bob collector, although unlike the Cave album it is the very definition of an odds ‘n’ sods release, comprising sundry rarities and B-sides (some of which already surfaced on the various Bootleg Series releases). The triple LP is in an eye-popping, mouth-watering tri-gatefold sleeve, suitable for cleaning a whole ounce of weed upon it, and it’s also pressed on heavyheavyheavy 200g vinyl as a numbered/limited edition (I couldn’t determine exactly how many copies were pressed, but since my copy is #04659, I’m guessing 10,000). Note that it also exists as a two-CD set in the recent Dylan albums box set and will be eventually available as a separate CD release. But the vinyl is as sweet as it comes. —Fred Mills [Current eBay price: $33-$54]


FLAMING LIPS – Peace Sword 12” EP (Warner Bros., ??? copies)

      While it would have been nice to also pick up that split Lips/Tame Impala EP and the Lips-curated Stone Roses tribute, copies of both were maddeningly elusive, and in the case of the split EP, priced prohibitively high. Neither were “official” RSD titles, as it turns out, and the band unintentionally aggravated some of the RSD organizers as well as the stores that might have stocked ‘em if they could have gotten their hands on ‘em. Still, Peace Sword, the band’s 6-song Enders Game nod, is a strong enough release to smooth over the ruffled feathers. It’s basically the Lips in classic dreamy/Proggy Pink Floyd mode (and thank God that it’s not the Lips in Heady Fwendz mode; the band’s 2012 RSD release is easily the least compelling title in their entire catalog). The brilliantly multihued gatefold sleeve also hearkens back to some of the Lips’ early releases—nice touch, lads. —Fred Mills [Current eBay price: $20-$30]


HARRY NILSSON – Rarities Collection (RCA/Legacy, ??? copies)

      Harry Nilsson’s rep has been all over the place. Praised in his prime (the ‘70s) by every member of The Beatles for his pop music chops and clever lyrics, by the ‘80s he was seen by many as just another middle-of-the-road has-been who provided background noise for adult contemporary radio station. The fact that the songs he was best known for were among the weakest in his cannon, did him no favors. – “Without You” (a cover), “Coconut” (the epitome of a novelty pop songs) and “One” (I have no defense of this one). But a curious thing happened over the past two decades. A whole new generation of musicians and music fans started to rediscover Nilsson’s impressive stockpile of pop songs and realized that, biased perceptions aside from their folks, he was actually a brilliant artist. Among those who started to sing his praise were Elliott Smith, Nick Lowe and Aimee Mann. When Legacy records re-released the massive 17 CD RCA Collection earlier this year, they also cobbled together a separate disc of rarities. That rarities set – consisting of 12-songs – is finally out on 180-gram, limited numbered vinyl. And while some of these demos and alternate tracks are better than others, almost all are impressive enough to have been earned the right to be rescued from obscurity and tossed on this record. And while “One” is still a pretty awful song, the version here is at least palatable. The other songs, however, are pretty great. This album is a must have for the completist and not a bad start for those whose only touchstone to Nilsson is a scratched up, warped copy of Nilsson Schmilsson. —John B. Moore [Current eBay price: $20-$30]

 RSD Mats

REPLACEMENTS All Shook Down (ORG Music, ??? copies)

        Heavily touted for being its first appearance on vinyl—it’s not a limited edition, just one of those “windowed” releases that allows indie stores to stock it before anyone else—and therefore highly coveted among vinyl geeks who have long wanted to replace their 1990 CDs, All Shook Down also has the distinction of being the worst ‘mats album. Now let me be clear: I am a Replacements fan from Day One, but let’s face it, since Don’t Tell A Soul is actually a Paul Westerberg solo album bearing the Replacements name, this one simply gets that “worst” designation by default. It has its moments, like “Merry Go Round” and maybe the title track, but overall it’s a flaccid, meandering affair, and it was eminently clear the band had run out of steam by this point. For completists and fanatics only. —Fred Mills [Current eBay price: $17-$26]

 PAUL SIMON – First solo three albums (Columbia/Legacy, 3000 copies each)

      Ever wonder who was the most pissed off guy in the ‘70s? My money is on Art Garfunkel. Simon & Garfunkel had just left the 60’s behind with a few Grammys and a number of stellar songs on their resume. After calling it quits, (rumor has it by Garfunkel, so he could embark on an acting career) Paul Simon took a year or two off and comes out with his amazing solo debut… meanwhile Garfunkel settles into his lifetime role as punch line to a slew of jokes for the next few decades, while sitting by the phone waiting for the occasional invitation from Simon for a reunion tour. Legacy has just turned over the first three (and with the exception of Graceland, the strongest) solo albums from Simon, remastered on 180 gram vinyl: 

      Paul Simon – This 1972 eponymous debut was crammed with soon-to-be classics like “Mother and Child Reunion,” “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” and “Duncan.” Not a bad start.

      There Goes Rhymin’ Simon – Dreadful title? You bet, but it still houses some of Simon’s greatest songs including “Something So Right,” “Love Me Like a Rock,” “St. Judy’s Comet,” and “Take Me to the Mardi Gras.”

      Still Crazy After All These Years – Not the best of the three, but still a great effort boasting “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Have a Good Time,” “My Little Town” and the beautiful title track. —John B. Moore [Current eBay price: $22-$29 each]

 RSD Isbell

JASON ISBELL & JOHN PAUL WHITE – “Old Flame” b/w BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA – “Christmas In Dixie” (Lightning Rod, 3000 copies)

      It’s easy to be conflicted about tribute albums; I generally detest ‘em, but still covet a song here or there if it’s by an old fave or re-recorded by a current fave. And this label’s High Cotton trib to one-time country superstars Alabama had its moments; although, sadly, it was not the Blind Boys’ flaccid holiday tune. But you need the Isbell & White track, as moving as the tears of a child and a poignant reminder of what once was and what might’ve been. The cloudy-clear vinyl only adds to its resonance. —Fred Mills [Current eBay price: $8-$14]


HARD WORKING AMERICANS Don’t Wanna Hurt Nobody (Melvin/Thirty Tigers, 2000 copies)

      Lord, Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack can sure pen downer anthems, and the joint-composed moonless-night soul of “I Don’t Have A Gun” is no exception. B-side wise, what would you say to a swampy, and timely, recitation through Gil Scott-Heron’s “Work For Peace”? The Muscle Shoals-esque vibe here courtesy the Hard Working Americans makes for an encouraging portent of good things to come on their early 2014 album. Oh, and here’s a true story: at our sister business Schoolkids Records (Raleigh, NC), this 45 sat in the Black Friday bins utterly untouched until I slapped hand-scrawled stickers on the front indicating that it featured the talents of Todd Snider, Duane Trucks, Chad Staehly, Neil Casal and Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools. 30 minutes later, they were gone, all the Widespread fans who’d passed on ‘em first go-round no doubt gritting their completist collector teeth in frustration. I bet those same folks didn’t bother reading this review, either. —Fred Mills [Current eBay price: $6-$8]

RSD Hendrix

JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE – “Fire” b/w “Foxey [sic] Lady” (Legacy, ??? copies)

      Beautiful pic sleeve and numbered edition notwithstanding, there’s just no getting around the fact that the recent Hendrix archival release Miami Pop Festival, though extremely well-recorded, is an altogether substandard performance. Jimi sounds to tired and out of it, both in his mumbling stage patter and rote renditions of his classic material, that he even seems to make the normally stalwart drummer Mitch Mitchell slow down and give up. But then, we don’t covet collectible/cool/limited records for the performances, now, do we? —Fred Mills [Current eBay price: $7-$18]

UNCLE TUPELO – “I Wanna Be Your Dog” b/w “Commotion” (Legacy, ??? copies)

      On the other hand, this platter, with its beautiful pic sleeve and its numbered edition status, just bursts with energy, inspiring both the muso and the collector geek in us all. You’ve heard the 1991 twanged-up version of the Stooges classic before, on 89-93: An Anthology, and it never fails to raise eyebrows. CCR’s “Commotion” will likely do the same, although the previously unreleased 1990 demo is obviously more in the band’s wheelhouse. Raise some hell, boys. —Fred Mills [Current eBay price: $8-$15]


PAISLEY UNDERGROUND, RESURRECTED: Bangles, Dream Syndicate, Three O’Clock & Rain Parade


 Paisley 2

An all-star gathering of the paisley tribes last weekend in San Francisco and L.A. yields a rock ‘n’ roll high school reunion—the kind you would die to attend, not avoid.


“Hi, I’m Vicki Peterson of the Bangs,” announces one of tonight’s (Dec. 5) performers over the pristine sound system of San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium. It’s the perfect insider’s intro to this scintillating evening that already feels more like a high school reunion than a rock show that’s reunited the bands from Los Angeles’ early ’80s, post-punk scene, the Paisley Underground. Only those who were there from the early days would have recognized “the Bangs” as the original name of the all-girl combo who would later hit the national charts as “the Bangles” with such national hits as “Walk Like An Egyptian” and “Eternal Flame.” “We are delighted to play alongside these great bands we worshipped: Rain Parade, the Dream Syndicate and the Three O’Clock,” adds Peterson.

 It was an idea I’d broached to many of tonight’s participants as the ’80s unfolded, and I was fortunate enough to interview them many times for such vital underground periodicals as London’s Bucketfull of Brains and The Bob from Philadelphia. I recall telling Pat Thomas, the man who founded San Francisco’s Paisley-friendly Heyday Records, that these four bands and others tarred with the same brush—True West, the Long Ryders, Green On Red, Game Theory, the 28th Day—should star in a poor man’s Woodstock some day to play together for one last, glorious weekend. Tonight is about as close as you could get, and it sounds even better tonight than it had in my feverish dreams.

 Created by uber-guitarist Matt Piucci, and the more sensitive fretboard tones of the Roback brothers, David and Steven, Rain Parade was the band I’d heard first from what Michael Quercio, frontman for the Three O’Clock, would soon dub “the Paisley Underground.” Wandering through San Francisco’s Tower Records in North Beach in 1981, I noticed a 45 single on the Llama label that featured a song called “What She’s Done To Your Mind.” A store clerk had taped a piece of cardboard to the record on which these words appeared: “Very psychedelic! Highly recommended!” That was enough for me. Spun the disc, loved its meandering, mind-bending sound and spent the rest of the decade traipsing after all the bands this little slab of PVC would help open the door for.

 The scene’s top dog for many, Rain Parade now features vintage members Piucci, Steven Roback and second guitarist John Thoman (sporting an Uncle Sam goatee), alongside three recent additions, drummer Gil Ray formerly of Game Theory, boatclub guitarist Mark Hanley and Sneetches bassist Alec Palao, take the stage with “This Can’t Be Today,” a twinkling gem from their debut album, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip.

 As well as a polite bow toward ’60s folk/psych heroes the Byrds and Pink Floyd, the songs immediately evoke memories of SF’s premier underground venue the I-Beam in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury. Take a deep breath and you can almost smell the acrid byproduct of clove cigarettes, an ’80s bad idea that might have nipped the tobacco epidemic in the bud all by itself if allowed to flourish.

 “Kaleidoscope” and “You Are My Friend” follow, flashing beacons from Rain Parade’s second longplayer, Explosions In The Glass Palace, whose cover depicts the perps sitting on the lawn in front of Golden Gate Park’s window-paned arboretum under fuchsia-pink skies. As it played out at venues as widespread as LA’s Club Lingerie, the Anti Club and Music Machine, as well as the Bay Area’s Old Waldorf, Berkeley Square and Wolfgang’s, the finale was usually the same hypnotic tune. “No Easy Way Down is a mesmerizing journey Piucci once described as “snake charmer music,” and a fittingly exotic climax to a fabulous set.

 A sweaty Piucci is ecstatic, afterwards. “Did you see me talking to (Bangles vocalist) Sue Hoffs?” he asks, grinning broadly. “I told her that song (‘What She’s Done To Your Mind’) was for her.”

 The Three O’Clock follows with Quercio on vocals and bass, Louis Gutierrez on guitar, an unidentified keyboardist and Danny Benair on drums. Their set tonight is utterly amazing, as fresh as a bag of bakery goods and as satisfying as an ice cold quart of milk. Anyone with half a brain could tell back in their prime that Benair was probably the best rock drummer ever, with a skill set that rivaled legendary studio/jazz percussionists like Shelly Manne.

 Quercio, looking like he’s aged about six months since then, still has the pipes to easily navigate the luscious melodies of his band’s best material with the ease of a limber young housecat. “Jet Fighter Plane” and “With A Cantaloupe Girlfriend” sound like they should have been AM radio smashes in their day. And the covers, my god, the covers! The Bee Gees’ “In My Own Time” is a pip, as is their eye-popping version of “Lucifer Sam,” shanghaied from Pink Floyd. “Sorry,” the tune they borrowed from the Easybeats, Australia’s version of the Beatles, shakes the Fillmore to its foundation, like similar workouts must have done back in this hall’s glory days five decades ago with appearances by Austin’s 13th Floor Elevators and San Jose’s Chocolate Watchband.

 And then came the return to the scene of the crime of none other than the Dream Syndicate led by Steve Wynn, the best talk-singer since the original purveyor of that risky art, the late Lou Reed.

 Back when I worked for the post office and could take an afternoon nap at home before punching out, I was snoozing on my couch with KSAN FM-radio blasting away when I was rudely awakened by what sounded like two locomotives colliding head-on in the night. I sat bolt upright as “Sure Thing” and “Some Kinda Itch” from the Dream Syndicate’s debut mini-album on the Down There label, washed over me like that corrosive goo Walter White used to dispose of corpses. It was Wynn’s ironclad rhythm guitar and psych-fretboard genius Karl Precoda doing battle as if the end of the world was about 20 minutes away in a radioactive cloud of feedback.

 Precoda and original Syndicate bassist Kendra Smith disappeared into the night long ago, but Wynn and skinsman Dennis Duck are back with Mark Walton on bass and Jason Victor on lead guitar to take the revived Syndicate along a slightly different path. Before long, Victor and Wynn are standing toe-to-toe trading blows like Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd of Television or True West’s Richard McGrath and Russ Tolman. Wynn’s successful solo career as leader of the Miracle Three has spurred him to upgrade his singing chops at the sacrifice of his talk-sing voice. So the early DS classics—”That’s What You Always Say,” “When You Smile,” “Tell Me When It’s Over”—veer off into other rooms with other voices. If Dylan can completely rewrite the melodies to his old stuff, why can’t Wynn do a little tinkering too?

 “John Coltrane Stereo Blues” is dedicated by Wynn to renowned Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cipollina. The dual set-closers still wield enough raw power “to raise the dead/And make the little girls talk out of their heads,” according to Mississippi guru Mose Allison. “The Days Of Wine And Roses” finds that same guy “out on the ledge again, threatening everything,” and the flickering “Halloween” must be one of the most sinister (and addictive) melodies ever put to wax.

 Below: some Three O’Clocks and some Bangles


Before you’ve had time to recover from the first three rounds of this heavyweight title fight, the Syndicate Of Sound’s timeless garage rock anthem “Little Girl,” (another talk-sing knockout), blares from the Fillmore’s PA, and the Bangles are off and running. Hoffs on vocals and guitar and the Peterson sisters, Vicki on guitar and vocals and Debbi on drums and vocals, begin to ply their trade with their jangling treatment of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade Of Winter.”

 It becomes clear, though nothing is mentioned from the stage, that all the performers tonight are playing their early material, circa 1982-85. Thus, the girls do not remove the Egyptian from his weatherproof sarcophagus tonight to point his hands angularly in different directions. They do, however, unzip an achingly beautiful version of Big Star’s “September Gurls,” as well as a hearty rundown of “Live” by fabled LA combo the Merry-Go-Round. The girls also cook up a savory segue from the Velvet Underground’s “Waitin’ For My Man” to the song Prince wrote for them, “Manic Monday,” back when the Purple One was one of the Bangles’ biggest boosters.

 The breathtaking encore, with all hands on deck, is the equivalent of a diabetic being manacled and forced to eat his way out of a See’s candy store.  Everyone does the Pete Seeger hootenanny thing to the strains of the Byrds’ ” I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” “Time Will Show The Wiser” from Fairport Convention, the Velvet Underground’s “There She Goes” and then closes shop with “For Pete’s Sake,” the song the Monkees used as the credits rolled on their 1966 TV show.

 Always the diplomat, Wynn would wax euphoric about the event three days later on his website: “it was nice to find everyone was still making great music, getting along so well and open to whatever it took to make a memorable evening.”

 After falling down onstage and breaking his glasses, Piucci chuckles ruefully after the repeat showing of the entire program the following night at LA’s Henry Fonda Theatre. “I’m getting too old for this shit! I’m 55 years old,” he says, half laughing, half groaning. He doesn’t really mean it. As the Flamin’ Groovies’ ace guitarist Cyril Jordan once put it: “If you’re still doing music when you turn 30, you’re in it for life.”

 The cream of the Paisley Underground is living proof what a good life that can be, especially when you’re among old friends.