Monthly Archives: October 2014

FAREWELL TO THE LINEMAN Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell 3 by Robert Sebree copy

Ed. Note: Arriving in a select number of U.S. theaters last weekend was I’ll Be Me, a documentary about legendary singer-songwriter Glen Campbell that focuses on his 151-date farewell tour. As the filmmakers note, “What made this tour extraordinary was that Glen had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He was told to hang up his guitar and prepare for the inevitable. Instead, Glen and his wife went public with his diagnosis and announced that he and his family would set out on a “Goodbye Tour.” The film documents this amazing journey as he and his family attempt to navigate the wildly unpredictable nature of Glen’s progressing disease using love, laughter and music as their medicine of choice.” Meanwhile, a couple of years ago longtime BLURT contribution editor A.D. Amorosi was able to sit down with Campbell and talk about his career, his then-new album and the upcoming tour. We published the interview in issue #11 (Winter 2011). So we thought now would be an appropriate time to pay tribute to Campbell and the film by republishing the story. It’s one we remain deeply proud of here at BLURT, unquestionably one of the best we’ve ever had the pleasure to present.

BY A.D. AMOROSI

Memory fades. Sifting through images and ideas is no easy process, not for the young or old, not where the distant past and recent immediacy is concerned.

When Glen Campbell announced that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, that his new album, Ghost on the Canvas, would be his last and that his recent tour would put a cap on his long career, the desire to mourn – to treat him differently – kicked in. This was, after all, the golden boy of epically cosmopolitan country pop whose every ‘60s hit from Chris Gantry’s “Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife,” John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind” to the soaring subtlety of Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston,” the latter two reminiscent of Bogart’s phrase at the end of Maltese Falcon – “the stuff that dreams are made of” – became the soundtrack to my youth.

These sonic gems were only made bolder by knowing that Campbell – a masterful guitar picker – was a touring Beach Boy that nearly replaced Brian Wilson and had played on hits by Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, the Monkees and Elvis Presley, the latter a fellow country boy whom Campbell befriended. Campbell’s image, too, is burned into the collective retina as he had starred in the original version of the revenge western True Grit and his own network TV show The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.

Certainly he had his Rimbaud-esque season in Hell – the post ‘60s comedown of boozing, drugging, carousing (notoriously with firebrand country howler Tanya Tucker) and various arrests. Yet, Campbell had commercial hits into the ‘70s and ‘80s with “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Southern Nights,” “Sunflower” and “I Have You.” He kept the live fires burning with gigs in Branson, found God, a good woman Kimberly Woolen to whom he’s been married since 1982 with three kids who have their own Arcade Fire-y band (Instant People) currently backing Campbell on tour. This latter day joy – to say nothing of the potency of the deeply etched Ghost and its ruminatively ratcheting lyrics and still expressively clarion vocals – made Alzheimer’s an even more heinous verdict.

Look into Campbell’s eyes and despite the lines in his face (he’s 75) and his occasionally forgetful demeanor and you see a man not so much struggling with memory but more alive with the past then the present. This author isn’t trying to soften the blow or demystify the disease but seriously, I have a better grasp on what I did ten years ago then what I did ten minutes ago. Yet here they are, Glen and Kimberly sitting before me, frankly discussing the problem without letting it ruin their future.

Glen Campbell session Philadelphia, Pa 9-15-2011

Campbell, his producer Justin Raymond (who worked with the singer on his previous recording Meet Glen Campbell) and a crew of instrumentalists such as Dick Dale, Brian Setzer and Chris Isaak were already at work on the riveting Ghost when the diagnosis was announced. Suddenly the press made a big deal out of it, something that doesn’t affect the Campbells – as long as the disease doesn’t overshadow the work,

“No. it doesn’t bother me,” says Campbell with a slight cough. “I’m used to it by now. I leave it in God’s hands that it’s gonna be the way He wants.” His wife Kim follows that with an understanding of an audiences’ curiosity – how the disease works, how it affects her husband. “We understand,” she smiles. “But the music is just so good we hope they get to that message as well.”

Mention the contribution of songs from Paul Westerberg, Jakob Dylan and Robert Pollard along with self-penned tracks with Raymond (culled, interestingly enough, from the producer’s daily diaries of what the singer/guitarist said), and you’ve got quite a set of messages. As Campbell starts singing the new album’s title track in a strong burst of melody, he states. “I’m really not a songwriter so if I hear a song, I feel it and like it, I’ll do it. But I’ll make it the way I want to hear it.”

Part of this comes down to asking songwriters if he can turn negatives into positives (“but with their permission of course,” says the gentlemanly Campbell) and accommodating where Campbell’s heart is now. “She’ll be running around the mountain” just doesn’t sound right,” he laughs. “It ain’t the way the song goes. “She’ll be coming around the mountain,” is more like it.”

Campbell slowly and deliberately tells me how he takes songs one a at time and lets the good ones carry him away, the songs of other writers as well as the tunes presented by Raymond, a hands-on laid back producer who, during Meet Glen Campbell, started writing down what the singer said about life, confusion and happiness. “Julian wrote down the meaningful things that Glen would say about being baffled by what was going on in his head, as well as how life was good to him,” says Kim who recognized that Campbell’s memory was slipping during those 2008 recording sessions. “We’re so glad Julian got those meditations down and put those verses to music.”

“I need the ones I love more and more each day.”

“This is not the road I want for us.”

  Mention Campbell’s famed sense of perfection and he laughs. “Nah. I may sound like one,” he laughs. “But I want it be natural. If I get a song – a GOOD song – I just sing it the way I hear it in my head. If anybody else wanted to add whistles and bells and chains rattling that’s fine. Just not too much. I actually just do things as straight ahead as possible. You add the ifs, ands or buts.”

To that end, Ghost has the richly orchestrated jangle of Pet Sounds with a country twang.

Campbell knows he’s been blessed with great collaborators and productions, a powerful clear voice that was forever gifted with dynamic songs that suited his vocal range and challenged his playing skills.

“Things turned out pretty well,” says Campbell.

Glen Campbell session Philadelphia, Pa 9-15-2011

***

Pretty well indeed.

Blame, in part, his having come from a large all-singing all playing Arkansas family who took Glen to church regularly to express him self in song. Other than getting his first guitar at age four, a seminal moment for Campbell came when he nearly drowned at age three: his Army-bound brothers dragged him out of the water, pumped the water and did CPR on the young Glen. “That night back at the house while keeping time to the radio, I didn’t say anything. I just sang. Something had changed me.”

His distinct guitar playing, inspired by the likes of Barney Kessel and Django Reinhardt (“Django was my main influence”) gave him the confidence to form western swing bands and, by age twenty-one, head to Los Angeles where he quickly became a sought-after session musician. “I think I mainly got all that work because I was the only guy who could use a capo,” he laughs.

As he was just starting to make his session-man bones, he recorded a single for the Crest label. When I mention that 1961 track to him, “Turn Around Look at Me,” Campbell flashes a big smile. “Well I thought that was ‘it’ you know,” smiles Campbell who starts singing the lines “there is someone/walking behind me” so mellifluously, it’s as if he’s a kid in 1960 again. “Even then I did songs that I liked, never tunes that I didn’t care for. Otherwise it wouldn’t be satisfying.”

Campbell stops, leans into me and turns to his wife. “Excuse me, honey,” says Campbell who then turns from his wife and conspiratorially pulls me forward. His long fingers become a circle with another finger on his other hand barely peeking through the top. He’s made a tiny cock of it all.

“It’s like a guy going into a whorehouse with THIS little thing and the woman says, ‘Well who you going to satisfy with THAT?’ And he says, ‘ME.’ That old joke, that stupid analogy – that’s the best way of describing what I want to do: satisfy me.”

Campbell fast-forwards and says he did things he didn’t want to do: lousy albums, hell-raising backstage antics of cocaine, booze and sex. “I spent some time in Hell,” he smiles. “I got so high I could fart in a Martin box,” he starts slapping his knee. “I’m glad that’s over with – it was a stupid place. I drowned,” he starts to say, realizing that he told me that story before. Then again, perhaps he meant the psychic drowning that led to the rejuvenation of finding God and his wife. (He teases about meeting her on a blind date. “I thought she was blind,” he yuks, then quacks like Daffy Duck.)

Dipping backwards to his session career and “Turn Around,” he mentions how he stayed in the studio and played for the greats so that he stick close to home and make more money doing session work than he could promoting a struggling single on the road. The wrongs of the road remind him of Elvis Presley, an old friend whose “Viva Las Vegas” he played on. “He was a good man but I understood the peril his career had taken on. I didn’t have the luggage he had, that entourage he had to take care of. I should’ve kicked his ass from here to Japan to get some sense in him. His old friends from Memphis were just bringing young girls backstage and crap like that – distracting him.”

Campbell went on to work and play with the Beach Boys and was nearly the front man when Brian Wilson broke down and left in 1965 yet Campbell was more into doing his own music than joining a band (Capitol wound up signing Campbell on the basis of his strong showing with the Beach Boys). “Plus, you know, Mike Love was there. He’s talented, but,” Campbell scrunches his face.

The young Campbell continued to play on records by Frank (“Strangers in the Night”) and Dean (“Everybody Loves Somebody Sometimes”) guys a generation before him – the establishment – before the counter cultural hippie-dippie movement took hold. He was no hippie but he was a young cat. What was he thinking?

“They were the tops. If you heard their stuff up close and saw them on stage – they were incredible actually,” says Campbell of the Rat Pack titans. “There was no mistaking their voices or their presence.” Campbell was hanging on the musician side of everything, playing guitar by their side. .But he got wise watching those men that singing would get him farther.

Enter guys like Jimmy Webb and John Hartford, songwriters whose best work came through the conduit of Campbell’s rich voice. It was a blast according to Campbell, wonderful those melodies at his ready and those sorts of storytellers in his corner. “If you have guys like this in your corner, you better have your chute together or you won’t get down,” he laughs. In particular, Campbell has a warm long smile reserved for Webb’s longing literate lyrics and winnowing melodies. “My wife will tell you. I pray to the Lord and thank Him for letting me do those songs. When my dad heard those tunes he said “it’s a good thing we didn’t throw you back in the water.” (Kim reminds me how, famously that Webb used to pray, after hearing “Turn around Look at Me,” that Campbell would sing his songs)

Glen Campbell 1 by Robert Sebree copy

Though the Ghostly songs of Westerberg and Pollard aren’t quite the stuff of “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman” they are crucial, rare and deeply ruminative. They feel like the contemplative stuff of a finale. At 75 – anybody at 75 – the level of winding down that the Campbell’s plan on doing would seem essential and right. While Kim confides to me that she wishes they did more recording during the Branson days, she also mentions more tracks featuring Campbell and their kids, might be recorded at tour’s end. “We still have a few special tricks up our sleeves. Other than that, we’re happy to go to Hawaii, watch Glen golf and sit by the side as the kids start their career,” says Kim Campbell…

As for Glen Campbell, a singer and guitarist whose recent tour finds him in strong voice and ticklish guitar skills, he’s content to go out with an album as rich as Ghost on the Canvas. “I want to slow down – you know, it’s really about whatever she wants to do – but the record? You throw them out to the world and hope it comes back positive. I’m glad it turned out as well as it did. I have to listen to it, you know.”

Photos by Scott Weiner and Robert Sebree

SCARRED, BUT NOT NECESSARILY SMARTER: Michael Goldberg’s “True Love Scars”

True Love Scars book 8-5

In a compelling coming-of-age novel, rock journalist Goldberg charts his hippie-era protagonist’s progress one Dylan album and one fat doobie at a time.

BY FRED MILLS

In 1970 I was 15. It’s safe to say I didn’t have a clue. Well, I had been given some clues—plenty of ‘em, from the underground rock ‘n’ roll I’d absorbed for three or four years (the first record that genuinely blew my mind was the Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown,” and soon enough I’d be mesmerized by albums from Hendrix, Cream and Steppenwolf) to the countercultural missives of the day as transmitted by magazines like Time and Life and, eventually, Rolling Stone (my mom inexplicably sprung for a subscription to the latter, which rapidly supplanted Mad in my teenage imagination) to a chance neighborhood encounter one afternoon with three older hippie types who were jamming away on a primitive electric blues in a garage.

But a clue is only as good as how you use it to tackle a problem or solve a mystery. Back then I hadn’t yet figured how to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

That’s more or less the situation in which we find the protagonist of True Love Scars (Neumu Press, www.truelovescars.com). In the case of Michael Stein, it’s 1972 and he’s 19, but as the narrative dwells a good deal in the past—1965, and having his mind blown by Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”; 1969, and having his libido set ablaze by a sassy young hippie chick; 1971, and tacking up psychedelic posters on his college dormitory room—it’s safe to say that the dude spends the majority of the book feeling and acting clueless while trying to project an image of someone who’s got the answers already. Veteran rock journalist Michael Goldberg, of Addicted To Noise and Sonic Net fame, is clearly working through some personal demons in his debut novel, a kind of poetic-license memoir rendered in a vivid 1st person voice containing echoes of Holden Caulfield, Sal Paradise and Danny Sugerman (who of course was not a fictional person, being a member of the Doors inner circle, but certainly wrote with a definite ego swagger in his own memoir). And in a very real sense, True Love Scars contains echoes of my own voice, because in reading the book I felt some of my demons from that time being stirred up, including initial musical alliances with key albums/concerts, mixed feelings toward my relationship with my parents and friends and memories of my first few crushes (not to mention losing my virginity).

Indeed, Stein’s recollections chart an emotional arc as striking as I’ve seen a novel’s lead character experience, from naïve and tender to streetwise and hip to cynical and wounded, with Dylan lyrics seeming, to him, laden with meaning and Rolling Stones tunes, likewise, churning with prophecy. When he meets, for example, the girl he calls Sweet Sarah and they embark upon a doomed courtship, Dylan’s there as their guide and their muse. Later, though, following a breakup and a dark descent into teenage debauchery, Stein’s haunted by mental echoes of the ominous slide guitar riff powering the Stones’ “Sister Morphine.” Similar musical reference points from the time abound, as befits novelist Goldberg, who cut his teeth as a rock writer and came of age in that same era; it’s tempting to play the is-it-or-ain’t-it-autobiographical game with the book, since Goldberg has a temporal, geographical and personal backstory that mirrors, to a degree, Stein’s. (Stein’s nickname in the book is “Writerman,” which should tell you something.)

The frequent nods to albums and musicians and other cultural touchstones from the hippie era lend TLS an authenticity, and the dialogue spouted by Stein and his friends rings generally true as well. But it’s the personal travails at the heart of Goldberg’s book that makes it a compelling read. Anyone who lived through the countercultural upheavals (and even folks who didn’t) could probably craft a narrative full of credible time-specific name-, place- and event-dropping. But Stein’s saga is painfully real, a portrait of a sensitive young man who’s in the process of coming of age, a kid who has the potential to be a saint but all too frequently succumbs to his sinner side, with the inevitable collateral damage accruing in his wake. Not the least being Sweet Sarah, whom he describes as his idealized “Visions of Johanna” girl yet who he seems destined to damage. Other characters get used or nearly so by our hero—there’s a remarkably uncomfortable scene in which he comes close to sleeping with a 14-year old, which of course is statutory rape, only to come to his senses at the last moment—but he doesn’t emerge unscathed himself, like when the Generation Gap rears its inevitable head and he has a physical confrontation with his father, or when he tangles with a steely woman who proves to be his sexual match:

“I get out the doobies I got off Lord Jim, light one with the candle and take a mouthful of the harsh. Harper pulls my arm to her, and if how Harper’s fingers feel against my fingers were a sound, the sound is Nico when she sings ‘Femme Fatale.’ Harper licks the end of the joint, and that joint, seconds earlier in my mouth, between Harper’s lipstickpink lips, and she sucks at it, holds the smoke… I’m trippin’ on Harper’s face. She has black eyeliner, not a lot, but enough to make her Keane eyes extra spooky, and those eyes got hooks, hooks she’ll hook into me, hooks same as indelible ink, once you’re hooked, indelible, and good luck unhooking ‘em.

 “Some of the glowing ash falls on the paisley bedspread. Harper presses her palm down hard on the ash.

 “’Don’t burn yourself,’ I say.

 “’Why not?’ Harper says.”

Goldberg advises us that True Love Scars is the initial installment of his “Freak Scene Dream Trilogy,” full of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll plus the inevitable heartbreak and roadkill that comes with the whole package. “How the dream died and what there is left after,” he concludes. It’s worth noting that despite the timeframe outlined above, Stein/Writerman is actually narrating in retrospect from some as-yet-unspecified point in the near-present. So we know that despite the gradual sense of dread building up over the course of the book and present at its abrupt ending, he will manage to survive in some form and fashion despite whatever adventures—good, bad, ugly, tragic—will go down over the course of the next two volumes of the trilogy. I can’t wait to read ‘em.

***

I suggested previously that not only does the author seem to be exorcising demons, the memories he awakened in me were profound. In 1970 I was basically just waiting for something to happen to me. Happenstance arrived in the form of a sassy young hippie chick who moved to town and wormed her way into our small social clique of freaks and wannabes. Or more accurately, we entered her orbit because she was not the type to settle for anything less than being the center of attention (another friend would dub her “Queen Of the Underground,” from a line in the Stones’ “Dead Flowers”).

Sundry adventures and misadventures would follow for all of us, in the service of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. At the time it seemed like life itself was accelerating, we teens hurtling toward the future in a wave of anticipation and hedonism. Eventually the dream died for us, too, and we each had to face, on our own, what was left. Over the years I would hear from the hippie chick from time to time, although gradually the frequency of correspondence slowed and then petered out altogether.

One morning not long ago I got a call from a friend who informed me that the hippie chick had taken her own life. She’d been hospitalized at least once as a teenager for a suicide attempt and battled chronic depression for most of her adult life, but it always seemed to me that she’d managed to pull back. Obviously in the end, she hadn’t.

This review is dedicated to K.F., then, because True Love Scars’ Michael Stein’s story is her story just like it’s my story, about how we navigated (and sometimes failed to navigate…) the late sixties and early seventies while the world spun crazily around us. If you were present during that time frame—and even if you weren’t, because adolescence isn’t all that different no matter what era you find yourself in—it just might be your story, too.

More Michael Goldberg: www.daysofthecrazy-wild.com

 

THE SINGLES SCENE IX: Blurt’s Indie 45 Roundup

THE SINGLES SCENE IX - Blurt's Indie 45 Roundup

“You’ve come a long way baby”: while we rightfully applaud Title IX and all the advances that the fairer sex has made, when you’re talking the IX installment of our indie singles column, those six words are what come to mind…

BY TIM HINELY

You people have given me a new lease on life. Yes, YOU. I asked and you people spoke. You let me know you were tired, tired of all of the hype bands. Flaming Lips (saw ‘em in ’87), Arcade Fire (saw them when they were good), Miley Cyrus (who?). You said you wanted the real deal and that with my column, you got it. The folks with their Charles Dickens clothing riding tall bicycles while growing their beards and eating chutney, they can stay on the other side of the room. We’ll be over here living our lives (and playing records). Seem like a plan? [Yep! -Strategy Ed.]

 

chills 7

The Chills

“Molten Gold” b/w “Pink Frost” (9 out of 10 stars)

(Fire Records) www.firerecords.com

Ok, so I’m a little biased as I think Chills’ leader Martin Phillipps is one of the world’s greatest living songwriters (you know I’m right). He’s been laying low these past several years but with these new recordings and some recent gigs in the U) it seems like the volcano is ready to blow (in the best way possible). “Molten Gold” is a lovely, bouncy tune while the flip redoes one of the band’s greatest moments. As good as the original? Nah but still pretty damn good.

 

Close Lobstes

Close Lobsters

Kunstwerk in Spacetime EP (8)

(Shelflife) www.shelflife.com

Wait, the Close Lobsters are back? Oh hell yes! I loved this UK band back in the day (one of the original C86 bands) and here they are, back with two new songs, their first new ones since ’89.  The A-side, “Now Time”, is dreamy, even a bit spacey, but the magic continues. Meanwhile, the flip, “New York City in Space” is mid-tempo and janglier. All this and very thick, reddish vinyl. I’m all in. Shelflife’s winning streak continues.

 

Deniz Tek 45

Deniz Tek

“Crossroads” b/w “Oh Well” (9)

(Career) www.careerrecords.com

No, not that “Crossroads,” although l’il Robby Johnson would still approve; instead, it’s an original from the Radio Birdman geetarzan, and a smokin’ slab of straight up garage slop it be. But yes, that “Oh Well”—specifically, the hi-nrg raveup Pt. 1 of the Peter Green/Fleetwood Mac classic, and I’d reckon that it puts to shame pretty much every other version of you’ve heard over the years with the exception of the original. Pressed on lurid purple wax, and hats off to the Career label (co-helmed by Tek and his buddy Ron Sanchez, of Donovan’s Brain) for their subtle appropriation of the old Atlantic Records promo logo for their label art. (—Fred Mills)

ghetto ghouls 7

Ghetto Ghouls

“Plastic Violence” b/w “Things” (9)

(12XU) www.12xu.net

Look, everyone’s busy these day and no one has a lot of time. The Ghetto Ghouls understand that, which is why they offer up two short cuts on their latest 7”. “Plastic Violence” rumbles and grumbles for a few minutes (maybe) while “Things” has a drummer who’s breaking cymbals all over the place. I normally compare a band like this to a more famous band but I got nothin’: these guys are pretty damn unique.

gingerlys 7

Gingerlys

“Jumprope” +3 (8)

(Shelflife) www.shelf.ife.com

In this column am I reviewing either the fairest of pop of the most slogged-out, gut-bucket noise? Pretty much… but hey, it’s my column and I can do what I want. This fairly new NYC bunch might remind you initially of Pains of Being Pure at Heart which is fine by me. The songs are all “pure ear candy” (as President Obama said). If they were around in the 90’s they’d been the cream of the crop of indie pop and even now, in 2014, I’d say the same. Four songs, no filler.

 

Peter Buck 45

Peter Buck

Opium Drivel EP (8)

(Mississippi) www.mississippirecords.com

Following up his latest solo album (as well as last year’s Planet Of The Apes single, which we reviewed back in Dr. Hinely’s “Singles Scene VI” report), that-guy-who-useta-be-in-some-famous-band teams up, once again, with Scott McCaughey and several partners-in-crime for a 4-songer. Just the pounding Charlie Pickett & the Eggs cover alone (“If This Is Love…”) is worth the price of admission, but you also don’t wanna miss the fuzz-garagey “Portrait Of A Sorry Man” for the series of inside-joke lyrical bon mots (among them: “I’m sorry I invented indie rock… the whole thing started out so well, how was I to know?”). A pair of uncharacteristic acoustic aces on the flip, notably the strummy/jangly “Welcome to the Party,” join the aforementioned joker and king, giving Mr. Buck a pretty strong hand in this game. (—FM)

moles 7

The Moles

“Beauty Queen of Watts” b/w “Chills” (8)

(Fire Records) www.firerecords.com

First new Moles material in over two decades has Australian Richard Davies (though he’s been living in Massachusetts for several years now) joining forces with a band called Free Time (w/members of Real Estate and Scott & Charlene’s Wedding). The a-side is a 2-minute-plus gem, all pristine jangle, while the flip, “Chills,” is a tribute to legendary New Zealand band The Chills (see above) and is nearly as good. And a new album due out later this year. Huzzah!

 

scupper 7

Scupper!

“Scene of the Crime” +3 (9)

(Blue Cheese Toothpaste) www.scupper.bandcamp.com

This is Mr. Mike Janson who was formerly in Matador Records heroes the Lynnfield Pioneers. I thought he fell off the face of the earth. OK, so maybe he did, but he re-emerged in Brooklyn (where all indie rockers go to eat pie) and has this new terrific combo. “Scene of the Crime” spits n’ snarls (whistles, too) while “Barf in the Tube” upchucks enough melody for all of us. On the flip both “No Dime” and “Beehive” get to the finish line before you. Fans of Connections (or simply good music) will dig this.

 

Timmy Vulgar

Timmy Vulgar

Easter EP (6)

(Terror Trash Records) www.timmyvulgar.blogspot.com

Is that a drawing of Will Oldham on the cover? This is a few guys in the bedroom (Vulgar of Human Eye/Clone Defects/Timmy’s Organism fame), playing the banjo, drunk off their asses. No song titles, magic marker scrawl on the label (it just says Timmy 45). I tried to play the flip but no songs on there; great, so Timmy is fuckin’ with us! I know one thing from all of this, Timmy wants whiskey and well, I’ll bring him some damn whiskey—you crazy, I’m not saying no to that lunatic. Hiccup.

 

xetas 7

Xetas

“The Silence” b/w “The Knife” (8)

(12XU) www.12xu.net

There’s a couple of things you’ll learn from this record. The band is a trio from Austin, TX (and Little Steven thinks trios are worthless… dumbass) and no synthesizers were used in the making of the record—and I’ve gotta put another mouse trap out tonight ‘cos we’ve got them in the house. “The Silence” uses drill-bit guitar to drive the point home while “The Knife” reminded me of the best Marked Men songs. I’ll be waiting on the front steps of the 12XU office for their forthcoming LP (can someone bring me some saltines, please?)

Sellwoods 45

The Sellwoods

“Palm Reader” b/w “Devil’s Dagger” (7)

(self-released) www.facebook.com/TheSellwoods

Following up last year’s stylin’ EP, this Portland, OR, ‘60s garage-worshiping trio—Blind Baron, Viking and The Baroness on guitar, bass and drums respectively—goes all-instro for a change, serving up a pair of primal-gunk tunes so lunkheadedly perfect you’d swear the bandmembers were the unholy spawn of the Sonics, the Kingsmen and Link Wray. “Palm Reader” in particular is a sprawling melange of fuzz/tremolo and busted-cone bass, and that Keith Moon-worthy drumming isn’t necessarily gonna save anybody in the group from a life sentence breaking rocks. (—FM)

 

Freak Motif 45

Freak Motif

“Killin’ Me” b/w “Killin’ Me (instrumental)” (6)

(Kept) www.kept-records.com

The latest in Kept’s so-far-unblemished series of funk-centric wax finds eight-piece Canadian combo Freak Motif getting’ gritty with a slice of JB’s-inspired fonk, heavy on the trancelike groove while a blazing horn section takes everything to the bank. Or the bridge, if you insist. The instro version of “Killin’ Me” has swagger a-plenty, but when guest vocalist Lady C takes the mic on the A-side things get saucier and sexier by the bar. Hell yeah. (—FM)

***

Tim “45 Adapter” Hinely spins backwards when he reviews Australian records, but don’t let that throw you off balance. Check out his most excellent rock mag Dagger at www.daggerzine as well as his 8th installment of The Singles Scene (here at BLURT, or the 7th (here), the 6th (here) and the 5th (here).

 

PUNK PERSEVERANCE: The Smith Street Band

Smith Street 2

Weathering the vicissitudes of a never-ending touring/recording cycle, the Aussie rockers wound up delivering the album of their lives with Throw Me in the River.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Don’t be fooled by the innocuous moniker. Australia’s Smith Street Band may just be the best thing going in punk music right now. Through blistering, distorted guitars and the thunder of heavy drumming, Wil Wagner somehow manages to make his striking, often personal lyrics heard over the noise, like a modern day Joe Strummer forcing a message of defiance and perseverance in sweaty basements and crammed theaters.

The band may have held down the opening slot on a recent run of Frank Turner shows across continents, but they managed to convert his crowd about two songs in, night after night, city after city. They seem to be on a never-ending touring and recording cycle, having put out three full lengths and an EP since 2011, and are just about to turn in their latest album, Throw Me in the River, arguably their finest moment in the studio yet.

The record was produced by friend, labelmate and longtime DIY punk staple Jeff Rosenstock (best known for Bomb the Music Industry). It also marks their move from Asian Man Records to SideOneDummy.

Wagner spoke recently about the new record, writing on the road and future plans for world takeover.

BLURT: How did the move from Asian Man to SideOneDummy happen?

WIL WAGNER: Before we came to the States with Frank Turner we looked around for someone to put out our record and all wanted Asian Man to do it. I still remember the first time I saw an Asian Man logo on one of our records as one of the proudest moments of my life! Mike [Park, founder] at Asian Man always said they’ll put out our stuff but would be 100 percent supportive if someone bigger came along. He still helps us out with lots of stuff and we ended up being able to release two albums and an EP through them which I’m so happy about. Him and Bob who do everything there are two of the most fucking amazing people. But we ended up speaking to a few other labels for Throw Me in the River and we’re all totally enamored with SideOneDummy already because so many bands we love have done stuff with them and it was a pretty easy decision.

You worked with Jeff Rosenstock for this record. Did you know him from Asian Man?

We had actually toured with Jeff twice in Australia, once with his iPod and once with Bomb The Music Industry, and became really close over that time. We all really love his music, especially the way he creates soundscapes and layers instruments. He also has an amazing sense of melody. It wasn’t really that we wanted someone to “produce” the album, if Jeff hadn’t have been able to do it we probably wouldn’t have got anyone, but we just wanted Jeff and his ideas around while we wrote and he had a massive influence on the record.

He’s done some very cool things for DIY punk over the years. Did you guys ever talk about the current state of the punk and music industries or discuss philosophies?

Not really. We both have similar morals and ideas but those conversations tend to happen at three in the morning after a show rather than in the studio. We just spoke about music pretty much constantly, we spent five weeks living together first at a house in a tiny town called Forrest outside of Melbourne where we recorded and then at Miner Street Studios where we mixed the album and we were always just playing each other bands and talking about the songs we were making. We did lots of 10-12 hour days so when we were finally done it would just be dumb jokes and beers.

What was he like to work with compared to your other times in the studio?

Really amazing. I didn’t even really know what a producer was until we started working with Jeff, but now I want him to be there for everything we record. His ideas for the songs were fantastic and we were all super comfortable with each other after touring together so much. He also wrote lots of the strings, piano and harmonies on the record, he’s a fucking genius really!

I saw you guys tour with Frank Turner in the U.S. earlier this year and then you headed back home and toured some more. Was it tough to find time to write and record for this album?

I basically do all of my writing on the road now. I tend to just find myself a corner in the band room and scribble stuff down, try and record little bits and pieces as much as I can so I can work on stuff in the van and then do a bunch of demos when there’s an acoustic guitar around for everyone to listen to. Even for the next record I think I have 12 new demos to play the other guys on this tour and even if we can’t practice at least have the songs in our heads. We normally do our writing in big chunks before we record, like work on songs at rehearsals and sound checks then all bunker down for a few weeks and jam every day and finely tune everything.

There was a pretty strong theme of perseverance in last year’s Don’t Fuck with Our Dreams. Is there a general theme that runs through the songs on Throw Me in the River

It’s probably a bit more of a break up record than the last two and that theme runs pretty strong. I guess lots of stuff about missing people and being alone, a fair bit about touring. I think this album is maybe a bit more internal than the others if that makes sense? A bit less about partying and a bit more about self-reflection and watching yourself and other people change.

What’s next for the band?

We have just started a European tour with The Menzingers and the Holy Mess, then head to the states for Fest and a quick east coast run with Restorations, then back home for our Australian album launch tour with The Front Bottoms and Apologies, I Have None. We’re booking a long tour through February ‘til May-ish next year that will see us go pretty much everywhere as well.

IF IT WALKS LIKE A TRIB AND QUACKS LIKE A TRIB… The BLURT Tribute Albums Roundup Pt. 2

Zombies 2

It lives! Despite our best efforts to kill off that fetid, lurching creature known as the Tribute Album, it continues to thrive amid record company largesse and artistic indulgence. But why? And more importantly—how? Below, read our intrepid correspondent’s ongoing investigation into the phenomenon, but be forewarned: he may have already been infected by one of the undead’s bite and can’t be trusted. Meanwhile, go HERE to read Prof. Rosen’s first installment, published last December, in which he took a look at the then-current rash of Americana-themed tribs.

BY STEVEN ROSEN

One thing certain about 2014 – and any year, for that matter. It brings with it new tribute and covers albums, as sure as the changing seasons. So with this year already more than half finished, it’s time to look at some of the more notable to date. Let’s start out with a surprise…

***

Charlie Daniels

Other than his appearance playing fiddle in a Geico commercial a few years back, you’re probably hard-pressed to know what Charlie Daniels has been up to these past 30 years or so. To the extent you’ve thought about him at all, you’ve probably assumed he’s playing “The South’s Gonna Do It” ad nauseam at biker rallies.

So here’s the revelation. The Charlie Daniels Band’s Off the Grid: Doin’ It Dylan shows that Daniels is a great Dylan interpreter. More, this is exactly the kind of strong, rockin’, country-swing sound – with emphatic vocals that kick, bite and snarl with defiance – that Dylan himself has sought since he snapped out of his mid-life crisis and retooled his approach to making music in the early 1990s. And Daniels might just be better at it than Dylan!

The singer-violinist-guitarist goes way back with Dylan – he was a session bassist on Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait and New Morning.

Daniels is an expressively rough-voiced and forceful country singer of the kind that would seem to have disappeared with Johnny Paycheck. He also has a touch of Wolfman Jack gravitas. He’s soulful and fierce – no sentimentality – and fully engaged. He doesn’t drawl like “Like a Rolling Stone”-era Dylan.

But he can hold on to a syllable and shake it with meaning. And he sings with great clarity even while snarling.

He also has a fiery band that melds hard-edged country, bluegrass, and acoustic-oriented roots music in a way that younger Nashville punk acts like Jason & the Scorchers (who once covered “Absolutely Sweet Marie”) should envy. Country fiddle, played no-holds-barred like this, is as powerful as electric guitar.

Besides Daniels, there are Shannon Wickline on piano, Casey Wood on harmonium, Bruce Brown and Chris Wormer on all sorts of mostly acoustic stringed instruments (Brown also plays harmonica), Charlie Hayward on bass and Pat McDonald on percussion (including tambourine).

But the key here is that Daniels understands the songs he has selected and makes astute choices (although “The Mighty Quinn” isn’t up to the competition).

Daniels makes “Country Pie” – which on Nashville Skyline seemed awfully trivial – a spry, jaunty celebration of country music. And he sings “Just Like a Woman” and especially “I Shall Be Released” with sensitivity. But he’s at his best hurling, with world’s-about-to-end urgency, those amazingly memorable couplets on “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “Times They Are a Changin’” (which sounds fit and apt with fiddle) and especially “Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall.”

On the latter, after Brown’s foreboding harmonica intro, he instills the chilling lyric with the ominous anger that builds with witness-bearing authority. When his band members join in on high harmonies on “hard rain,” you look outside your window to see if the storm has started. And you realize how much this song – and Dylan — means to Daniels.

(The Charlie Daniels Band; Off the Grid: Doin’ It Dylan’; Blue Hat Records; www.bluehatrecords.com; 4 out of 5 stars.)

 

Dylan 80s

The tight focus and sense of purpose Daniels brings to Dylan are missing in Bob Dylan In the 80s: Volume One, which comes from Dave Matthews’ ATO Records. The novelist Jonathan Lethem wrote the liner notes, which make an eloquent case that Dylan’s material in his least-regarded decade is far better than he’s given credit for.

Fair point, but it’s tough to put all his 1980s work into one box – his gospel period (which actually started in 1979 with Slow Train Coming) is far different from his return to more accessible (for him) material with 1983’s Infidels. And after that, he seemed split between ambitious records (Empire Burlesque, Oh Mercy) and scattershot product.

In retrospect, some of his very best 1980s compositions were left off the albums they were intended for and only emerged later – “Blind Willie McTell” and “Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart” from Infidels; “Series of Dreams” and “Dignity” from Oh Mercy. So it’s a decade in which Dylan stayed busy but seemed confused.

And this project, too, seems confused. The 17-cut Volume One presumes a Volume Two is coming, but why not just do one record that covers 17 of his real high points from the 1980s? This has “Wiggle Wiggle,” for instance, a fun tune but hardly Item One in any case for establishing the greatness of Dylan in the 1980s. And there are only two songs from Infidels – a truly overlooked and underrated record.

The selection of mostly younger artists seems almost random – and many lack, to put it politely, a distinctive approach. It also has covers that are inferior to already existing ones available elsewhere.

For instance, “Series of Dreams” is one of Dylan’s most intense songs – simultaneously searing and chilling in its outside-looking-in exploration of the subconscious, Both his version, on which producer Daniel Lanois channels his own subconscious with a repeating “Then He Kissed Me” motif, and an existing cover by the British band Gallon Drunk are powerful. This album features a flat version by an unimpressive musical act named Yellowbird that has unexciting production and a diffident vocal.

Similarly, “Dark Eyes” from Dawn Landes and Bonnie “Prince” Billy (Will Oldham) is meant to be a duet, but it sounds like someone had to poke Oldham with a stick to get him to barely sing along. Glen Hansard, who too often skirts being grating with his “soulful” vocals, mostly stays in check on “Pressing On” but he can’t approach John Doe’s cover on the I’m Not There soundtrack. The light, airy version of “Death Is Not the End” by Carl Broemel is insubstantial when compared to Nick Cave’s previous take on the song.

So what works? It’s nice to hear Craig Finn’s mournfully recitative, grainy voice on “Sweetheart Like You” (but Dylan’s own gritty, funky version is better). Elvis Perkins’ “Congratulations” gives the song a contemporary edge without losing the poignancy, and Lucius strips the schlocky production of Dylan’s original “When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky” from Empire Burlesque. And there are some others that are all right.

Still, one leaves this album wondering what the point of it was.

(Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One; ATO Records; www.atorecords.com; 2 out of 5 stars.)

 

 

 

 Dylan 2

From Another World: A Tribute to Bob Dylan is a great idea and a pretty good album for about 30 minutes or so, until repetition sets in. Unfortunately, it lasts slightly more than an hour. Producer Alain Weber, a native of France who has been artistic director of Morocco’s Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, sought to have traditional artists from around the world interpret Dylan songs (usually in their native languages or as instrumentals.)

It gets off to an alluring start with Eliades Ochoa, the Cuban guitarist and singer, doing a slightly flamenco-styled version of “All Along the Watchtower.” It’s compelling, but you also notice something that will become a problem as the album goes on – at times, a song’s relationship to its source material seems tentative, especially given the language barrier.

How well the pairings work seems to depend on whether the choice of the artist makes some logical sense for the material. Thus, the version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” by Purna Das Baul & Bapi Das Baul, Indian religious men, work as both a Dylan cover and as a type of world music that could be called “Dylanesque” in its exploration of the mystical. The album’s liner notes make it unclear who is playing the single-string ektara (Purna Das Paul is singing), but it’s evocative.

On the other hand, the relevance of having Egypt’s Musicians of the Nile doing “Tangled Up in Blue” – with now-deceased Yussef Bakash singing and Mohammed Murad’s fiddle – is far less clear. Same with India’s Divana Ensemble on “Jokerman.”

There are some instrumentals that work as novelties, such as the Burmese Orchestra Saing Waing’s “I Want You” and the Macedonian Kocani Orkestar’s brass-band journey through “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” And sometimes the beauty of a voice, like Lhamo Dukpa of Bhutan on “With God on Our Side,” transcends a “relevancy” problem. But overall, the album would be better if it was shorter. Also, assuming the title comes from the lyrics of “Series of Dreams,” why wasn’t that covered?

(From Another World: A Tribute to Bob Dylan; Buda Musique; www.budamusique.com. 3 out of 5 stars)

 

Peter Gabriel

Turning from Dylan to other singer-songwriters who so far this year have merited tributes, it’s mostly men—including determinedly modernist rocker Peter Gabriel. He’s so serious about making his songs be intellectual in their lyrical purpose and sophisticatedly contemporary and international their arrangements that one forgets he does occasionally like to have fun with a tune like “Big Time” or “Sledgehammer.”

One also tends to forget just how sumptuously memorable his melodies can be when he’s focused. True, he doesn’t do much to remind people of that – since his commercial heyday in the 1980s he’s become slow to release new pop or rock material.

And I’ll Scratch Yours is the second part of a project that began in 2010 when, on Scratch My Back, he covered favorite songs by such artists as Lou Reed, Talking Heads, Radiohead, Bon Iver and Arcade Fire. This writer found it dolorously solemn.

But now he’s gotten most of the artists, Boomers and comparative newcomers, that he covered – save Radiohead, David Bowie and Neil Young – to interpret his solo songs. This was the intention of the project from the beginning and a few of this record’s selections date to 2010, although this disc came out early this year. Released on his own label, it is credited as being a Gabriel album.

There’s one stone masterpiece of revisionism. Lou Reed treats “Solsbury Hill” as droning, feedback-drenched industrial music with bang-on-a-can percussion and additional guitar from Mike Rathke. Yet it isn’t monotonous. His singing is impassioned, emotional even, in its dry, slow craggy way as he draws out key syllables like mid-1960s Dylan in his search for meaning. As he hits on “My heart was going boom boom boom” and “I’ve come to take you home,” it’s as if he’s found a personal release. He seems happy; he knows something we don’t.

On “Mercy Street,” Elbow lead singer Guy Garvey has a voice very similar to Gabriel’s in the way he lets a soothing sadness envelop a ballad like rolling fog. Joseph Arthur takes the percussive thwack out of “Shock the Monkey” and makes it a very effective, contemplative, airy, dirge-like tone poem.

Randy Newman’s “Big Time” is hilariously droll, especially when he proudly croons “My ass gets bigger,” and it’s nice to hear Paul Simon sing quietly to folk-like acoustic guitar (augmented by a subtle string arrangement) on “Biko.” It’s also nice to hear Simon sing a song whose lyrics are direct and to the point.

Some of the others are less successful – Arcade Fire’s “Games Without Frontiers” is inert and Stephin Merritt’s “Not One of Us” is too rigidly rhythmic and on the chorus his voice is altered to the point of sounding robotic. But overall, this is a quite nicely realized project.

(And I’ll Scratch Yours; Real World Records; www.realworldrecords.com. 3½ out of 5 stars)

 

 Alvin

Pre-rock blues/folk “elder” Big Bill Broonzy is a hallowed figure yet not all that familiar a one. But brothers Dave and Phil Alvin seem to be changing that. Their tour in support of Common Ground: The Songs of Big Bill Broonzy has been garnering the best reviews either has gotten in his long career. That’s not only because it’s the first album they’ve recorded together since they were both in the Blasters, but also because this project is a labor of love.

Twelve-year-old Phil turned on his (slightly) younger brother to Broonzy in the 1960s, and it’s been a lasting bond since then, whatever other musical differences have arisen. So it was a natural subject for them to turn to, after Phil survived a near-fatal illness, when making a record.

The songs chosen brim with blues wisdom – “Stuff They Call Money,” “Truckin’ Little Woman,” “Key to the Highway” and more. Phil’s voice, so influenced by jump-blues singers, still has that soaring, jet-propelled cri de coeur quality and his articulation is clear like oratory. And Dave, who let his guitar do his talking in the Blasters, has developed a gruff, deep and dusty baritone that’s right for the older, pre-World War II acoustic blues songs of Broonzy (who recorded well into the 1950s and did some electric-blues recordings). At times, as on “Key to the Highway,” he sounds like Johnny Cash.

The men sing together and separately on the twelve songs – sometimes in unison, sometimes trading lines or verses. Dave plays acoustic and National steel guitar and also some stinging, slashing, rigorously driving electric. Phil plays acoustic guitar and confident harmonica. They also have support on piano, bass and drums – really, this is a controlled but lively group album and songs like “Tomorrow” really rock.

As well as they get along here, and as satisfying as the results are, it’s hard to believe they won’t be doing more full albums together. If that’s so, Common Ground will not just serve as a tribute to the deserving Broonzy, but also to the wisdom of these two brothers reuniting on record for a full project.

(Common Ground –Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy; Yep Roc Records; www.yeprock.com. 4½ out of 5 stars.)

 

 jackson

Jackson Browne’s lyrics – at least for the songs he wrote and recorded in the 1970s – are going to remain eternally interesting for his unusual style. Take a line like this from “Running on Empty”:

“I look around for the friends I used to turn to to pull me through/Looking into their eyes I see them running too.”

 It seems so mundane, clumsy even, in its wordiness. And yet its central point is so striking, so unforgettable, so – well – generational in its ability to capture the fears and longing of an audience growing up with him.

He’s been his best interpreter – although Penny Nichols did a fine job on 2012’s Colors of the Sun – but it’s always worth hearing someone else’s version of one of his songs. There’s always the chance they’ll find new meaning, since his best songs seem to have so much of it to spare.

But there are some caveats. In the 1980s, he withdrew from the introspective, metaphoric lyrics and hypnotically meandering melodies that were his hallmark. Instead, after one Springsteenish bombastic-rock hit (“Boulevard”) and one slyly sexy one (“Somebody’s Baby”), he turned lyrically obtuse (“Lawyers in Love”) and then prosaically political.

It took him well into the 1990s to regain his focus – 2008’s Time the Conqueror has songs that stand with his 1970s peak, like “Live Nude Café.” But by that time he had lost a lot of his audience. People whose lives once depended on his songs couldn’t name a new one if their life depended on it.

My preference would be that the two-disc Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne only feature Browne songs of the last 35 years or so – we don’t really need another version of “These Days” (as here provided by Don Henley with Blind Pilot). This does have some recent ones, like Griffin House’s seductively rocking and sincere version of “Barricades of Heaven” and Bonnie Raitt’s boring pop-reggae version (with corny toasting by David Lindley) of “Everywhere I Go.”

But the majority of the material is from Browne’s 1970s output. It’s hard not to return to such a productive, seductive well. Jimmy LaFave, who came to renown with his Dylan interpretations and who is a co-producer of this album along with a co-owner of the label releasing it, lets “For Everyman” build majestically, ending with a fiddle-and-string flourish that turns it into a country-rock “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

LaFave and co-producer/label owner Kelcy Warren were able to get some top veterans for this project – Lyle Lovett (two songs, including “Rosie”), Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa (“Linda Paloma”), JD Souther (“Opening Farewell”), and more. All the above are good.

Especially unusual is Lucinda Williams’ uneasy, slightly anguished probing of “The Pretender,” as if she is forcing the song’s poetry to break free of Browne’s original recording (and pacing) and reveal itself anew to her. It might make you squirm with its deconstruction until you realize the daringness of her risk-taking. And voila, it works. But not so Indigo Girls’ “Fountain of Sorrow,” which is anything but closer to fine.

Several members of younger generations influenced by Browne get their chance, too, with his classic songs. Some do well (Sean and Sara Watkins on “Your Bright Baby Blues”), Bob Schneider on a spookily quiet and sad “Running on Empty”). Some are just average (Ben Harper’s “Jamaica Say You Will”).

Browne did write some pretty good up-tempo songs in the 1970s, and several are covered here – “Doctor My Eyes” by Paul Thorn and “Rock Me On the Water” by Keb’ Mo.’ Curiously, both of these fall flat. It may be because they don’t hold up as well as his more serene material; it may be because Thorn tries too hard and Keb’ Mo’s voice is less distinctive than his guitar work. (It would have been a kick if someone, maybe Jerry Lee Lewis, had covered “Redneck Friend.”)

It’s doubtful this project could have attracted the performers it did without Browne’s approval, so the selection probably means he believes these songs are his legacy. In that regard, for the most part, he has chosen wisely.

(Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne; Music Road Records; www.musicroadrecords.com. 3 stars out of five.)

 

 Harry

Even though the late Harry Nilsson developed a predilection for raw shouting, and some say ruined his voice screaming on “Many Rivers to Cross” for 1974’s Pussy Cats album, which he recorded with drinking buddy John Lennon and wackily has covers of both “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and Johnny Thunder’s (not Johnny Thunders’) 1963 dance hit “Loop De Loop,” he was best as a winsome, shy singer who seemed almost embarrassed to be writing about personal loneliness, sadness and insecurities while L.A. compatriots were writing about getting high, making love and enjoying the sunshine. He must have really been shy about it, too – he didn’t tour.

Even as his albums grew more extroverted and full of jokes and odd covers, he was capable as a writer of something shocking in its courageous confessional intimacy. Pussy Cats has maybe his best song, “Don’t Forget Me,” where he pleads, “When we’re older/And full of cancer/It doesn’t matter now/Come on, get happy.”

 So he’s not an easy candidate for a tribute – there’s such a dichotomy to his work. For the Love of Harry, which came out in1995 soon after his death, had an A-list of contributors (Randy Newman, Ringo Starr, Jimmy Webb, Aimee Mann, Brian Wilson) yet it struggled to be interesting over two discs.

This Is the Town: A Tribute to Nilsson Volume 1 must have struggled just to round up 20 contributors, much less A-listers, and some do little to prompt interest in either Nilsson or themselves. Listening to the off-key warbling of raga-rock band Church of Betty’s lead singer (who I assume is Chris Rael) at the end of “Without You” (which Badfinger’s Pete Ham and Tom Evans, rather than Nilsson, wrote) is no treat.

Similarly, part of the charm of Nilsson’s true rockers was that this was the same guy who wrote delicate tunes like “Without Her,” “Me and My Arrow” or “1941.” When Low Cut Connie does “Jump Into the Fire,” there’s no surprise – it sounds the way it should. On the other hand, Dawn Landes takes another one of Nilsson’s more rollicking tunes, “You’re Breaking My Heart,” and gives it a calming, almost-samba-like rhythm with an ever-so-slightly jazzy piano. Nilsson probably never imagined anyone could say “fuck you” as sweetly as Landes.

This Is the Town has its fair share of other successes, like Jenny O’s “1941.” And Mamie Minch, playing just the dobro and singing with an unusually deep resonance that makes it hard to guess her gender by just hearing her, does an interesting version of “Don’t Forget Me.”

But itsmajor problem is a common one for tribute albums – artists who aren’t particularly special (Yellowbirds, The Wiyos, Johnny Society) do nothing-particularly-special versions of relatively obscure songs (“Rainmaker,” Nobody Cares About the Railroad Anymore,” “Mr. Richland’s Favorite Song” (that last one sneaks in a snatch of “One.”) So it’s hard to care when listening to them.

(This Is the Town: A Tribute to Nilsson Volume 1; The Royal Potato Family; www.royalpotatofamily.com; 2½ stars out of five.)

 

Joseph

Joseph Arthur’s voice is naturally mournful – it’s low and grainy, slow getting out words as if contemplating every one, and full of a slightly-choked-backed regret and a pining for something better. He’s maybe not the natural choice to cover Lou Reed – who could be so taunting and dispassionate – but he is a natural choice to be paying respects to someone who has departed.

And Reed’s death last year did move him to pay those respects, first in a eulogy written for American Songwriter and then on the low-key tribute album Lou, which he produced and mixed as well as sang all the parts and played all the primarily acoustic instruments.

Almost all the songs are perfectly chosen, especially two from Reed’s tough-mindedly truthful Magic and Loss album (the title song and “Sword of Damocles”), which uncomfortably and uncompromisingly stares at death and disease with unsentimental poetry. Funny how when Reed confronted the treatment for cancer in this song, his audience turned away. Yet when he just as unflinchingly (and majestically) described the need for heroin, he created a song every bit as much a 1960s-rock classic as “Good Vibrations” or “All You Need Is Love.” Cancer vs. heroin?

Anyway, Arthur also does “Heroin,” proving that piano and acoustic guitar can drive the “rushing on my run” of a fix as well as John Cale’s electric viola did.

Arthur also revives “Wild Child” from Reed’s first solo album, a “New York characters” precursor to “Walk on the Wild Side” full of sharp, smart observations about early 1970s street life. Arthur opens with a stripped-down, hushed “Wild Side,” with piano the predominant instrument, that’s downright tender.

Of the 12 songs, only “NYC Man” comes off wanting – melodically, it’s a little too much of a calculated pop concession from Reed, and it doesn’t work well with Arthur’s intimate approach.

But Arthur makes lots of good artistic decisions otherwise. He double-tracks his voice on “Satellite of Love” and doesn’t alter the tempo, as Reed did, on the “I’ve been told/That you’ve been bold” bridge. On “Dirty Blvd.,” which uses piano for its rhythmic momentum, he layers his voice just on the chorus, giving it extra emphasis.

And his hushed, confessional whispering of “I want to play football for the coach” on the closing “Coney Island Baby” establishes the groundwork, the memory play, to allow him to reach for gorgeously frail high notes on the dreamy “glory of love” part. He captures the honesty and affirmation, and ultimately the transcendence, in this difficult but beatific song that is one of Reed’s best. It’s now also one of Arthur’s best – as is this true, loving tribute album.

(Joseph Arthur, Lou; Vanguard Records. www.vanguardrecords.com. 4 and ½ stars out of 5)

 

 

WONDER-FUL: Cory Branan

Cory_Branan_crop

The Nashville songwriter is a little bit country and a little bit blues — but he’s still got a lotta punk ‘tude, too.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It’s been a long hard slog for Corey Branan. After playing in bad metal bands as a kid – everything from hair metal to black metal – he saw the light… or rather heard it, in the form of John Prine and realized story-based songs backed by strong acoustic guitar was his true calling.

Spending years on the road, sharing stages with everyone from Gaslight Anthem to Jason Isbell, he turned in a couple of great records and a split that got little notice, before he finally stumbled on the right home for his 2012 record, Mutt. Bloodshot Records – the alt-country label that’s put out records for folks like Justin Townes Earle, Alejandro Escovedo and The Old 97s – seems a solid fit for a guy who draws everyone from country fans to punk rockers to his shows.

Living in Nashville now, where he recorded his latest, the remarkably stellar No-Hit Wonder, he was able to take advantage of some pretty talented buddies living nearby, coaxing folks like Isbell, Hold Steady’s Craig Finn and Steve Selvidge and legendary steel guitarist Robbie Turner, among others, into the studio.

Self-deprecating title aside, the record is a brilliant snapshot of one of the best songwriters working today, a worthy heir to the aforementioned Prine, as well as Kris Kristofferson and the Willie.

Branan spoke recently about the new record, the tug between his family and life on the road and writing that perfect song for his mom.

BLURT: I talked to you about three years ago, right around the time you had finished recording Mutt and were shopping it around. It looks like you landed at the right label.

CORY BRANAN: Yeah, it’s a pretty nice fit. I always wanted a label that had a following of people that really trusted the label and a label that trusts me. I just give them the record. They’re not like micromanaging me.

 It’s a nice home because it kind of the perfect blend of country, Americana and punk. Since you first started recording, there’s a lot of folks – Tim Barry, Chuck Ragan, Frank Turner – who are playing acoustic music that straddles those genres. You’ve toured with punks and country rockers. Are you finding your audiences changing much?

To me there’s never been much of a difference between the two. They’re both [punk and country] trying to say something with the least amount of bullshit. There’s a reason all The Clash fans like Johnny Cash. I just take work where I can get work, I’ve played guitar in hair metal bands and black metal bands, but I’ve never played in punk bands before.

       Over the years, I’ve just sort of gone where there was work and I’ve been lucky enough to fall in with some good guys like Chuck, Tim and a lot of those dudes. I’ve gotten a lot of support in that world and even with Dashboard Confessional and with indie rock and emo bands. I haven’t done as much work with the country and Americana world. I was born in Mississippi, raised in Memphis and live in Nashville, so you can’t wash that off. That’s kind of where I come from. People ask if I play country music and I say, well, I’m country, but I don’t write about trucks that much. I sort of leave the tag stuff to everybody else, because they sort of feel like toe tags to me.

 Nashville’s been home to you for a while, and it’s surprising to me how many different bands, form all kinds of genres, are flocking there now.

Nashville’s booming. You start off with it being a great place to live. It’s doing alright. It’s still a little splintered as to the different scenes; there’s not a whole lot of crossover with bands. But there really is a whole lot going on here.

 This new record, more than some of the earlier ones, seems to be a little more optimistic. You got married not too long ago and have a new child. Does that seep into what you’re writing?

Well, it’s funny you mention that. I was just talking to someone else and they said “You’re kind of a pessimist aren’t you?’ We’ll yeah, I’m a bit like Eeyore. But I gotta tell you, I’ve had a lot of bad things that happened these past few years with losing family members, but I also have so much preposterous happiness with my kids and my wife. It’s kind of messing with my world view; I’ve had such a string of good luck and happiness recently and that showed up on the record. There’s still that rub of being a lifer and doing this, being on the road is a stark contrast now that I have a family at home. Choosing to go out on the road is a heavier choice now. It has a lot of weigh to it.

Having kids, have you had to change the way you tour?

I’ve tried to time it a little smarter. My daughter is from a previous relationship, she’s in Tulsa, and my son is only six months old, so I try not to go out for two month stretches anymore. At the most, I try to get out for three weeks. Ideally, two weeks on and two weeks off is the best for me. Things are different a little bit with Skype; that kind of stuff helps a little bit.

You have a ton of guests on this record. Was that intentional or did it just happen to work out that these folks were around when it came time to record.

Well, both. You know, I’ve had guests on my past records, but now that I live in Nashville, I’ve been lucky enough through my touring to just have some rad buddies and lots of people that I’m fans of, I’ve just been lucky enough to fall in with. The good thing about Nashville is that they’re all right around the corner. I always planned to have Jason on, he’s a good friend. I try not to have too many guests, but for instance, on “Sour Mash,” I knew that I needed sort of a gruff vocal, but it needed to have a clarity to it, and Tim [Easton] was just right for that. I knew Caitlin Rose would be perfect on that country song. I’m just lucky enough to know some really rad folks.

What was it like to work with Robbie Turner?

Oh my God, man he was just a dude! The producer goes to church with him and said, “I’ll call up Robbie.” And I said, “Who’s Robbie?” “Robbie Turner.” He came in and I swear to God it was crazy. He opens up the case and takes out his steel guitar and it’s a Robbie Turner model. You know it’s going to be good when that happens. He listened to the song once, took a pass at it and it was perfect and then he said “Let’s try it again.” He did another pass in a different style and it was perfect. He ended up taking three passes, in three different styles, in real time, and each one was perfect. I’m like great, now I have option’s disorder. I bowed out and made the producer pick the part. They were all perfect.

How autobiographical is the song “Daddy Was a Skywriter?”

My dad was a jet mechanic and skywriter was just more of a metaphor. He was real Southern, real stoic and not a whole lot of words. He was much more of a speaking through actions kind of guy, so the idea of writing something in the sky and it disappearing seemed to fit.

It’s a great song.

My mother said she was going to put the chorus on the headstones for her and my father and I said, “Jesus, mom! Let me come up with something better. You have to stick around until I write something better about you and dad, to put on the gravestone.” I’ll make her live forever, I’ll just never write it.

I want to talk about one more song, the title track, “No Hit Wonder.” Can you talk a little bit about the story behind that one?

Sure, I started writing that around the time they were having this Folk Alliance thing in Memphis – which is actually where I met my wife – and the top three floors of the hotel, there was a different artist playing in every room, so you could go room to room and hear Brazilian folk music or Michelle Shocked and I was always astonished by this amazing talent that’s out there hustling and all the road dogs I know. And I’m in there too of course, I put my list of grievances in there.

The record comes out shortly and then you’re on the road all of August, September and half of October, so far.

Yeah, and looks like the rest of October, November and December are filling up now too.

 

Photo Credit: Nicole C. Kibert. Go to Branan’s Bloodshot page to view his current list of tour dates – he’ll also be hitting the road with Justin Townes Earle in early November.

 

21

 

IT WAS 30 YEARS AGO TODAY: A U2 Story

U2

What were YOU doing when the Irish rockers were touring behind The Unforgettable Fire? Here’s how a die-hard U2 fan (with more than just a little at stake…) found himself one night in the bowels of an arena, swapping slugs of red wine with Bono himself and ruminating upon the twin poles of fandom and stardom.

BY FRED MILLS

On October 1, 1984, U2 released their groundbreaking album The Unforgettable Fire. Almost exactly three decades later—this week, to be precise—U2 releases their Songs of Innocence album.And while it’s too early to say what the critical judgment will be—based on online commentary in the wake of that debatable move to offer it for free via iTunes a month ahead of the physical release, there probably won’t be a clear consensus—it’s a shoo-in to be a commercial smash and seems destined for multiple Grammy nominations. That latter notion is underscored by the rather cynical strategy on the part of the band’s label to slide a small handful of white label vinyl LPs to retail a few days before the deadline for Grammy consideration this year.

Having listened to it pretty steadily since the digital unveiling and then again this weekend when I got a copy of the two-CD deluxe edition, I suspect my own comments will be qualified but mostly favorable, particularly when comparing it to 2009’s atrocious No Line on the Horizon, which hold the unique position in my U2 collection of, er, well… not having a position at all in my U2 collection, as it’s the one U2 record I’ve never bothered to purchase. And I say this from a position of being a more than just interested observer: from 1983 through 1988 I edited and published a U2 fanzine called U2/USA, diligently expressing my sometimes—okay, frequent—over-the-top fandom with two equally enthusiastic writers and photographers and a host of contributors who’d been permanently bitten by the U2 bug. For me, it turned out to be not so permanent, as I became gradually disillusioned in the aftermath of the Rattle and Hum film, partly due to a nagging sense that U2 had outgrown its grassroots fanbase and partly due to a realization that said fanbase had expanded exponentially and things were steadily getting weirder. (Some of this I’ve documented previously, in particular the so-called “Miranda incident” in which I was privy to some of the same unpleasantness detailed in Vanity Fair’s 1999 expose The Miranda Obsession, by veteran journalist Bryan Burrough.)

U2USA 4b

But that would come later. In 1984, I was dealing with a pretty big obsession of my own, and that was U2. I wrote a lengthy, impassioned review of The Unforgettable Fire for the fourth issue of U2/USA, and then when the tour promoting the album hit the states in the spring of ’85, I immediately grabbed tickets for the magazine staff for the April concert in Hampton, VA, and I also requested backstage passes through the group’s management, aiming to take in the soundcheck and, with luck, conduct an interview with Bono.

On the morning of April 10 I arrived at the Hampton Coliseum, had coffee with the Coliseum manager in order to get his take—based on the number of people already in the parking lot and sitting on the sidewalk outside the venue—on what was shaping up to be a pretty sizable crowd. He seemed nonplused, although he did note that other bands in the recent past had posed problems: “Duran Duran and Van Halen were our worst shows, crowd-wise. Too rowdy, lots of alcohol you know.” Following that I met with U2’s Production Manager, Steve Iredale, who already knew about our fanzine and who soon steered me to the group’s manager Paul McGuinness and his assistant Ellen Darst. McGuinness in turn called Bono over and introduced us. Everyone was gracious towards me and seemed genuine interested in the ‘zine and what we were all about; recall that at this point in U2’s career the musicians were not megastars, as that wouldn’t come until The Joshua Tree era, so it was probably a no-brainer to treat with respect those folks who were actively helping to promote the group. I was handed a blue/white laminated “U2 Tour 85 The Unforgettable Fire – Backstage” pass and invited to hang around and watch the soundcheck if I wanted to. Later I learned that the pass wasn’t just for the Hampton show—it would get me backstage access for any dates on the entire tour.

U2 passes

***

From my original notes and report: U2’s soundcheck was fun, even a few surprises. I heard some unfamiliar riffs from the Edge that progressed into a casual version of “The Three Sunrises” and possibly some of “Love Comes Tumbling.” Adam danced around on the stage a bit, perhaps out of restlessness but I prefer to think he was just in a good mood because he also stepped up to the mic and sang. The band dutifully responded to the soundman when he requested them to do this or that: a bit of a capella from Bono; a quick bass run from Adam; give us one more cymbal crash please, Larry; let’s check out the sequencer intro for “Bad” and your “New Year’s Day” piano part, okay Edge? The Edge, in fact, seemed to play the part of conductor rather than Bono, with Adam and Larry cueing off his nods and looks. Which was a good thing, as there has to be some semblance of order in a live situation—who knows what Bono might do on any given night.

Later, after the check, Bono walked up and plopped down next to me on the instrument cases I’d been sitting on. “Are you doing okay?” was the first thing out of his mouth, and as he gargled lemon tea we chatted briefly about the ‘zine; he apologized for having to keep things short but his throat was in rough shape and he had to save it for the concert. Pledging to continue the conversation another time, he signed some record sleeves then politely excused himself and headed off for some much-needed pre-gig quiet time. I was able to get the records signed by the rest of the band, and then I settled in to watch the deluge.

At promptly 6:30 pm the doors opened and it was more of a stampede to be the first to get in the front row, if you can call it a “row” since the entire Coliseum was general admission and there were no actual seats on the floor. Later I’d observe some of those lucky first-arrivals become the first casualties of the evening when security would have to haul them over the metal mesh barrier in order to keep them from being crushed by their overly excited fellow concertgoers. There were tons of U2 teeshirts in evidence, some from previous tours and others just-purchased and hastily-donned. Programs and posters were waved in the air, cigarettes were smoked (yes, this was in the pre-no-smoking-in-public-buildings era), soft drinks guzzled, and emotions were steadily heightened. An hour and a half or so later opening act Lone Justice was finishing up its set and the U2/USA crew had found some seats a few rows off the main floor, waiting for the main event…

Setlist: 11 O’Clock Tick Tock, I Will Follow, Seconds, MLK, The Unforgettable Fire, Wire w/Give Me Some Truth, Sunday Bloody Sunday, The Cry, The Electric Co. / Amazing Grace (snippet), A Sort Of Homecoming, Bad w/Ruby Tuesday/Sympathy For The Devil, October, New Year’s Day, Pride (In The Name Of Love) // (encores) Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Gloria, 40

After the concert, the backstage scene was strangely calm—no mob of fans, other than about 30 kids outside at the loading dock, hoping for a sight of the band; no crazed groupies (well, almost: one tenacious young lass slipped past security and was immediately scouring the area for souvenirs, mutting something about needing to find “bits of Bono”); just the crew tearing down and starting the load-out process. U2, in fact, had already left, being exhausted and looking forward to a day off before heading to New Jersey for a three-night stand at the Meadowlands. En route back to the hotel, I stopped in the parking lot to look at the wares of a bootleg teeshirt vendor; I’m not normally a teeshirt junkie, and I’d already bought an official program (pictured below) but this one seemed apropos of the evening, as it read “U2 USA Tour.”

Tour program

 

***

April 29, Atlanta: Fresh from a four-day vacation in the Florida sun, U2 arrives at The Omni and prepares for soundcheck. I’d already picked up my ticket (and discovered it included an additional “work personnel” pass, although I wouldn’t need it since I already had the aforementioned laminate) so I’m wandering around when I bump into Larry and Edge; the former remembers me from Hampton, but Edge doesn’t until I mention the fanzine, at which point he grins broadly and tells me how much he likes it, adding “Hope to see you later tonight” in his unmistakable soft Irish voice as he ascends the steps to the stage.

There’s a lot of clowning around during the check. They do “The Three Sunrises” as well as an untitled funk-rockabilly number during which Bono does some impromptu off-the-wall scatsinging. Bono also walks slowly around the entire upper level of the arena stopping periodically to listen and making sure the sound is acceptable at all points. “Sounds very nice,” is his judgment, when he returns to the stage. Initially I’m sitting in the stands myself, but one of the crew comes over and politely informs me, “They’d prefer not to be observed.” Gesturing at some cases, he suggests I go sit over behind the stage. Members of opening act the Red Rockers join me to watch the rest of the soundcheck. When U2 is done Bono comes over to talk with me and RR drummer Jim Reilly and he pledges to finally get that interview done after the show.

Setlist: 11 O’Clock Tick Tock, I Will Follow, Seconds, Two Hearts Beat As One, MLK, The Unforgettable Fire, Wire, Sunday Bloody Sunday, The Cry, The Electric Co., A Sort Of Homecoming, Bad, October, New Year’s Day, Pride (In The Name Of Love) // (encores) Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Gloria, 40 [source: U2setlists.com]

The post-concert scene backstage at the Omni is the polar opposite of Hampton. There are tons of folks with day-of-show backstage passes stuck to their silk blouses and satin baseball jackets, and it seems like there is more per capita teased blonde ‘dos (for the females) and mustache-and-shag hair (the males) than any concert I’ve ever been at since the ‘70s. Atlanta is a music biz town—although not necessarily the most sophisticated one, I determine, after observing an excited girl thrusting a tour program in the direction of one of the Red Rockers only to be disappointed to learn that he’s not a member of U2.

U2 passes 2

Brown triangle

 

Security eventually begins herding people this way or that way depending on the type of access designated by their passes (VIP, Hospitality, Press, etc.). And I do mean herding: “All of you with the Brown Triangles must do down here and wait.” “No, you must go back around to the press area.” “Anybody without passes must leave the area immediately!” Me: “Where do I go?” Security, squinting at my laminate: “Uh, you can go wherever you want.” So I follow the Brown Triangles down the corridor past the dressing rooms and showers to a medium-sized room serving as the official Hospitality Room. It’s quite a layout of eats: two, count ‘em, 2 bowls of chips, one bowl of dip, one bowl of peanuts, one plate of sliced cheese. I grab a canned Pepsi and a handful of chips and go perch on a table in the far corner of the room, trying my best to look cool and detached. This isn’t the easiest thing to do when you’ve got crumbs of chips smeared around the edge of your mouth but I resolve to make the best of it.

After about 15 or 20 minutes of people talking amongst themselves and steadily eyeing the doors, Bono comes in, still wet from his shower, ready for a standard music biz town meet-and-greet. Initially, folks approach him tentatively, offering him flowers and candy and books (plus the de rigeur stuffed animal) and shyly asking for autographs. Then the more aggressive label-and-radio people take over, demanding kisses and hugs and posing for photos with him. I swear at least 10 different guys with shag haircuts and mustaches tell Bono that they were the first local DJ to play U2 in Atlanta or the first record company employee to push U2 product in the region. I think to myself that these folks will be saying the same thing in a few weeks to Elvis Costello and Ted Nugent when they play Atlanta.

But there are some genuine fans in there as well, including some old friends that Bono obviously recognizes and greets warmly. There’s also the guy who was lucky enough to be pulled onstage during U2’s set and play guitar during “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”; I talk to him some and learn that he’s also a friend of Irish fiddler Steve Wickham, who played on U2’s War album (and would go on to Waterboys fame). I also learn that Bono’s father was in attendance at the show, although I don’t know if he’s in the Hospitality Room with me. Eventually Edge and Adam show up (no Larry), as do the Red Rockers. Meanwhile, security and tour manager Dennis Sheehan are busy screening people who want in, including one guy with a briefcase full of albums whom I’d spotted earlier borrowing another person’s pass. Somehow he manages to slip in, but just as he’s about to corner Bono with the LPs, Sheehan rushes over, grabs him by the shoulder (“I warned you!”) and firmly escorts him out.

It’s fascinating to crowd watch in a situation like this. People behave differently in the presence of stars. One guy engages Edge in a conversation about guitars, and judging by the look on Edge’s face, the two are hitting it off nicely. Then there’s the girl who’s quite vocal about not being able to get the absent Larry’s autograph (later she will literally chase Bono down the hall and beg him to take her to the drummer). Small crowds form around Bono, then slowly break off to re-coagulate in the vicinity of Edge or Adam, as if they are drawing a psychic “celebrity fix” with each mini-encounter. The Red Rockers guys obviously understand their place in the pecking order and pretty much hang out with each other, with people occasionally drifting over to them; they seem to be getting a pretty even mix of actual fans who know their music and U2 nuts who are frustrated they can’t penetrate the aforementioned mini-crowds but are still determined to get some type celeb-fix. I admire the Rockers’ resilience as much as I admire U2’s patience.

At one point Bono looks up from a conversation and spots me a few people away from him, observing the scene. I smile and nod at him, and he offers, “You did make it back here. How are you feeling?” “Great, never better!” “That’s great—so hang on, we’ll talk in just a bit.”

In about ten minutes (by now it’s approaching midnight) Sheehan buttonholes Bono and informs him time’s up. Bono shakes a few last hands, then comes over to me, grabs me by the arm and says let’s go. We head out into the corridor—yes, a part of me is aware of the people staring at the back of my head and wondering who the hell is that asshole with Bono?—and over to a dressing room lounge. We plop down on stuffed sofas opposite one another and he reaches over for an open bottle of red wine. He takes a deep swig then passes the bottle over to me. The back of my mind dimly registers the fact that maybe I should try to figure out some way to keep it after we’re done as a souvenir.

“I’m really drained,” Bono says, sighing for emphasis, as I hand him back the bottle. “That was a good show.” Although I had the proverbial laundry list of questions I’d wanted to ask him for U2/USA, I sensed that our time might be limited (the group is headed back to Florida tonight where they’ll get ready for the final four shows of the North American leg of The Unforgettable Fire tour). So I instead opt to freestyle, first asking him who were all those people back there?

“I’ll tell you who they are. They’re people who work selling our records, salesmen, radio people. The sort of people who are just normally cogs in the machine, you know? And they use words like ‘product’ and ‘tonnage’ and ‘shifting units.’ I go in there, and they all bring their wives or girlfriends—that’s why there are so many in there—and I try to be, just who I am, you know; I try to show them that I am a fan of music. And I hope that when I leave the room, I leave a room of fans of music. Because a lot of people who are working in the music business started off that way! So I hope that they should continue the way they started.

“But some people are also old friends that I haven’t seen in a long time, too; people who were like, when we first came to Atlanta, working our record, going down to the radio stations and saying, ‘Why aren’t you playing this!’ So these people I like to single out.”

I point out that U2/USA gets letters from fans who bemoan the fact that they only get quick glimpses of the band before it jumps into limos and speeds away after shows. At that, Bono turns defensive, blurting, “It’s not true!” He takes another swallow of wine, hands me the bottle, and thinks about it for a moment, the frown on his face telling me that he’s bothered by the implication that there’s a clearly defined hierarchy of fans.

“I think I see,” he begins, choosing his words carefully. “Well, normally I meet people just about every soundcheck, just about every night when I leave the venue. Like today, I must have met about a hundred people in and around the venue. I was just hanging around opening doors, inviting people in and out. I meet people—I like to meet people like that! One on one, even if there’s 10 or 20 of them, I don’t mind, once they treat me one on one. But I will not, cannot be expected to, or… I don’t expect myself to stand there and be treated like a thing, you know, an object…”

Just an autograph signing machine…

Yeah. If there’s a hundred people and they’re trying to pull, um, bits off you, I know that in those hundred people there may be 25, or 75, that really have something to say to me, and want to say something, and I wanna say something back. But I can’t go out there and have all that, ‘cos somebody’s gonna get hurt and damaged. So at times like that we just have to drive back.”

When he mentions the part about “bits” I think back to Hampton, and the nutty girl wandering around backstage trying to find “bits of Bono” like she was going to spot a discarded boot or something. I draw the scene for Bono and he nods vigorously, as if I’ve confirmed what he was saying: “See, they’ve just got it wrong.” Per the other side of the equation, I hand him a folded piece of paper from a young girl who’d spotted my laminate and, having had no success convincing security to let her backstage to give the note to Bono, asked if I could deliver it for her. He unfolds the paper and scans it, smiling, clearly pleased. (“Yeah, I do get a lot of gifts from fans. It can be a bit much, but it’s nice.”) We talk a little more about how people act around celebrities, and how in particular the emotional investment music fans make tends to make things intensely personal for them. Noting how there was a major crush of fans at the stage barrier in Hampton that required security to hoist some of them over for their safety, he adds that it bothers him sometimes about the lengths to which fans will go to get close to their heroes.

“It’s a rare occasion, very rare [that people get hurt] at our concerts. [We have] security down front, either trained police or our guy, a policeman from the Boston police force who’s worked with all the groups. He comes in and briefs the security in every single hall. He tells them, ‘The people who come to see U2 play are paying your wages and our wages. Treat them as such.’ And there’s also no security people from any venue actually allowed on our stage. Only our own people. We’re very aware of all this and very concerned that everything is handled properly.”

One of the crew pokes a head into the dressing room to let him know it’s almost time to go. Bono nods then asks me how everyone at the ‘zine is doing—the previous December in Detroit my fellow editor had also done an interview with him—and tells me that he appreciates how we focus on the music itself and the social issues that the band raises. “I think one of the things we value most about U2,” he says with a knowing chuckle because it’s something he’s said a number of times in the past, “is that we never forget we’re just four people. Just four jerks! Like everyone else. So I like that side of the magazine… the music’s what’s important, not the musicians. And it’s all kept on an intelligent level, the comments, and the positive stuff.”

Bono offers me the wine bottle one last time, then he finishes it off and stands up. He gives me a sincere handshake and wishes me good luck with the ‘zine. As I wander back down the corridor, I’m thinking about how this is a man who, at one point in his life, was just another civilian—read: music fan—like me, just like the fans clustered outside at the loading dock hoping for a glimpse of the band. That he’s on the other side of the security barrier now, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that his perspective has also taken a 180. Here in Atlanta, in April of 1984, he’s a guy who remembers what it was like to be a fan and who apparently cares about the people who pay money to come see him perform.

On my way to the exits I somehow make a wrong turn and wind up in some kitchen area. There’s a tub of ice full of beers, so I glance around, grab one, then head towards the parking lot, feeling pretty cool.

***

Memories tend to be rose-tinted; for some of mine, I’m fortunate enough to have documented things in near-real time, so recreating the scenes outlined above was not only pretty easy, I had a transcript I could refer to. Literally recreating how I was feeling and what I was experiencing, however, can be tricky—and I’m not about to subject readers to that anyway! (As with most writers, some of the stuff I was spewing out 30 years ago, or at least the way I expressed myself at the time, is best left un-dredged. And there are probably stray copies of the fanzine still floating around anyway, awaiting your bemused perusal and/or my deep embarrassment.)

But the thing is, U2 in 1984-85, and by extension U2 fandom back then, was a markedly different beast. Think of all the foregoing, then, as a handful of snapshots from one particular, very personal, photo album. To my fellow fans: I’ve shown you mine—now it’s your turn.

U2USA 5

 Editorial postscript/addendum: I do realize, gentle BLURT readers, that the headline at the top of this page is slightly erroneous; the concerts discussed in the story were in April of 1985. But the album was released in the fall of ’84, and hey, “It was 29 ½ years ago today” as a title doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. So allow me that small concession to literary license. Yours in U2 fandom, FM

FACING FACTS: Holy Sons

Holy Sons - photo

On ambitious new album The Fact Facer, Brooklyn indie rocker Emil Amos does more than simply impress with his “druggy dirges and darker angels”—he thrills.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

Emil Amos began musical life as an outlier to the outlier-friendly ‘90s, and hasn’t yet joined the herd. Operating under the Holy Sons moniker for his solo material, Amos writes, performs and self-records druggy dirges – sometimes with Middle Eastern flourishes, occasionally in a jazzy vein — over which his sleepy vocals deliver brutally honest self-analyses.

Holy Sons’ narratives may plumb the darker angels of human frailty, obsolescence, paranoia, addiction and self-loathing, but there’s an undercurrent of humor – and just plain stubborn endurance — that lightens the mood just enough to keep you from wrapping the noose around your neck. (“Do you have a complication that I don’t need?” Amos deadpans on “I’m Healed” from 2006’s Decline of the West.)

Amos really does embrace the mantra “four-track therapy,” and his songs often feel they first took shape on a psychologist’s couch. But over the years Holy Sons has evolved from its rudimentary lo-fi roots into a more sophisticated musical outlet, much as like-minded artists Bill Callahan, Will Oldham or Raymond Raposa have done. (Amos has also worked with Om and Jandek and was a founding member of Grails and Lilacs & Champagne.)

The Fact Facer (Thrill Jockey) doesn’t alter the thematic equation; Amos still sees himself as a head case from the opener “Doomed Myself” on. The evidence resides in any random couplet picked from the new record: “Life could be a dream,” Amos sings on the song of the same name as guitar layers pile up and the tempo quickens, “so you can lie back and shuck, or wake up and scream, or rattle chains like me and limbo in between.”

Amos’ state of emotional limbo still defines the music; The Fact Facer’s songs, like most of their older cousins, linger comfortably in relaxed tempos and subtle arrangements. Where the new LP does differ from 2012’s Survivalist Tales! , for instance, is in the exaggerated use of effects —televangelists, insects and film stars drift like wandering ghosts through the LP. Those tape loops, along with rich layers of synth, feedback and incidental noise, coat everything in a gauzy, half-dreamt texture. The slick guitar lick at the center of “Transparent Powers” drifts in and out of focus like a narcotic buzz. Dreamy keys float over the deliberate beats and processed vocals on “Line Me Back Up” as the “years wash by.” The back end of “Selfish Thoughts,” whose Middle Eastern vibe recalls Amos’ instrumental rock Grails project, buries a droning guitar raga in a dust-storm of feedback.

The blended textures impress, but technique takes you only so far. Amos also delivers memorable melodies that provide solid foundation for the atmospherics to do their thing. The gorgeous piano-shaded number “All Too Free” recalls Callahan at his most melodic, “No Self Respect” ignites into an Oldham-like revival track from the Palace days, and the plodding giant-tempo of “Doomed Myself” has choruses beautiful enough to survive an onslaught of background noise worthy of Califone.

The bare-bones title track, which closes the LP, features Amos showing off his acoustic blues chops with some fine fret-work. The track harks back to Holy Sons early days, but now it’s the outlier – The Fact Facer is a nuanced, multi-leveled listen that stands with the best things Amos – and anyone covering similarly adventurous terrain — has done.

Photo Credit: Eliza Sohn. Holy Sons’ tour kicks off Nov. 7 in Northampton. Dates: http://www.thrilljockey.com/tour/

WON’T YOU PLEASE TAKE ME ALONG FOR A RIDE: A Marty Stuart Story

Marty bw

From the editor’s archives, a dip back to ’05: the Byrds, a Mule, a holiday celebration, and the power of the internet. Sometimes those dang rock critics can be useful.

BY FRED MILLS

Country music superstar, scholar, collector and archivist Marty Stuart is so obviously outgoing and gregarious that I have no doubt everyone he’s met over his long, luminous career, starting in the early ‘70s with Lester Flatt’s band, has a pretty colorful anecdote to relate. As you might imagine from the title here, I’ve got one too.

First things first: listening to his new (released: Sept. 30, Superlatone Records) 2-disc album Saturday Night / Sunday Morning with his band the Fabulous Superlatives, I’m not only knocked out by the pure, as in pure, country tones therein — the kind of stuff that real-life country artists made back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and which latterday emulators discovered and tried to emulate and/or pay tribute to in the ‘90s and ‘00s — I’m also struck by how reactionary the record sounds, within the contemporary context of ‘mersh Music Row country and mealy-mouthed post-alt.country wannabes. Without devolving into an actual review of the album, let me just say that you could do far worse than to add this to your collection and then spend the rest of your 2014 shopping sprees collecting Norwegian black metal, ‘cos there ain’t gonna be nothing else that even comes close to hitting your required roots-rock twang, gospel harmony, and alt-grass strum quota for the annum.

 A diversion: go HERE to listen to a hugely entertaining interview between Stuart and Teri Gross on a recent episode of her NPR program “Fresh Air.” You won’t learn all you need to know about Stuart, but it’ll work nicely as a primer if you aren’t intimately familiar with the dude.

Marty Stuart CD

***

On December 16, 2005, I wandered into Asheville (rhymes with Nashville) venue the Orange Peel, primed and pumped for that year’s Warren Haynes Christmas Jam pre-Jam, part of the annual Haynes Jam ritual; I faithfully attended every one of those events during the 10 years I lived in Asheville, from 2002 through 2011, and I was honored to be a member of the attending media for most of those years at the pre-Jam festivities held at the Peel the night before the official event at the Asheville Civic Center. (Important note: I faithfully purchased my Jam ticket each and every year as it was a benefit for the local Habitat For Humanity chapter, which I felt strongly about supporting.)

Marty Stuart was to be among the special guests for the ’05 Haynes Jam, and as these things tended to work out, he arrived a day early in order to participate in the pre-Jam. The evening unfolded on schedule, with friends and associates of Haynes, along with already scheduled Jam (proper) artists who were in town, getting up onstage at the Orange Peel for a kind of preview-and-icing-on-the-cake of the Jam (proper); the concert was also broadcast, as per tradition, over local public radio station WNCW-FM (Spindale, NC), and listeners were encouraged to make donations to Habitat. Pretty soon Stuart was up there with Haynes, members of Gov’t Mule, Widespread Panic and others, steaming through a ragged-but-right version of the Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman.”

Not long afterward, during a break in the festivities, I was backstage talking to Haynes as Stuart himself came wandering up. Warren introduced us, and I congratulated him on the Byrds song, long one of my favorites, and that if he heard anyone singing loud and out of tune from the audience during it, that was probably me. I added that I’d always loved the version from the Untitled album era, and that he’d hit some pretty mean guitar licks while performing it.

“I really appreciate that,” Stuart replied. “And since you mentioned Untitled, you might like to know that I was playing Clarence White’s old guitar during the song.”

Well, damn. Clarence is one of my heroes, I tell him. He was one of the giants. To which Stuart nods vigorously. “I picked that guitar up a few years ago. When I play it I can really feel something special.”

“But,” he continued, “I really screwed up the lyrics on that song. Just couldn’t remember ‘em off the top of my head. We’re thinking we might do it again [at the Jam] and I need to figure ‘em out so I don’t embarrass myself.”

I mentioned it would be easy enough to get the lyrics off the internet, and at that he quickly shot back, “You think you could print them out and get them to me in time for tomorrow night?”

That I could indeed do, Marty. I will be backstage and downstairs at the Jam tomorrow night and can bring ‘em with me. “Oh wow, if you could, I thank you in advance. Just come find me.” Stuart then turns to Haynes, nodding at me: “You can always count on a journalist when you need something like that.” This may be the first and last time a superstar musician has endorsed the career known as “rock critic,” considering the general legacy of tension that exists between artists and writers, but I’ll still take the endorsement.

Marty live

***

Saturday morning: log onto computer; find “Mr. Spaceman” lyrics; print out.

Saturday evening: head to the Asheville Civic Center for the 2005 Warren Haynes Christmas Jam; present my ticket plus backstage pass to Civic Center security; head downstairs to the artist area.

Sure enough, it’s not long before I spot Stuart wandering around, talking to folks and availing himself of the buffet. He spots me heading his way and turns in my direction, smiling. I smile back, produce the page of lyrics, and simply say “As promised.”

Stuart scans the paper, grinned a Cheshire Cat-worthy grin, then grabs my hand and pumps it hard. “Man, how can I thank you?” he says. “Well,” I reply, “How about signing this for me,” showing him my CD cover to his ’99 album The Pilgrim.”

He snatches it plus the Sharpie pen I’d smartly thought to bring from me and, as he inscribes the booklet, asks if I have his latest album Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota, which had come out about a month and a half earlier.“Listen,” he says, “c’mon over here with me to my tour bus so I can get you a copy of it.

***

So I’m walking through the bottom of the Asheville Civic Center, Marty Stuart’s arm around my shoulder, leading me to his tour bus, talking about how cool it is to be playing the Haynes Jam (“Everybody I know who’s played it says they had the best damn time of their lives!”), and then ushering me into the bus and sitting me down while he gets a copy of Badlands for me.

“You said you were a fan of Clarence last night—you wanna see his guitar?”

Holy shit. Here I am, sitting on Marty Stuart’s tour bus, and he’s handing me one of Clarence White’s guitars, and I’m somehow managing to form a “D” chord then a “G” chord then an “E” chord on it without shaking uncontrollably. Meanwhile, Marty Stuart is telling me about his guitar collection, and his country music memorabilia collection, and how awhile back he decided somebody had to start collecting all this stuff in one place and could be archived carefully so it didn’t all wind up in places like eBay and the Hard Rock Café. He shows me a few other guitars, although if he tells me they belonged to famous people, I don’t hear him because…

Holy shit. Here I am, holding Clarence White’s guitar and strumming chords on it in front of Marty Stuart.

Luckily I come down to Planet Earth before I take an interstellar piss in my pants, and I make some kind of semi-intelligent comments in Stuart’s direction. (Memo to music fans: this is where being a rock critic comes in handy. You can dredge up all manner of semi-intelligent music comments on command, even when you’re essentially speechless.)

Well, soon enough I am getting up and thanking Stuart for his autograph, the CD, and the hospitality, and descending down the stairs of the bus back into the bottom of the Asheville Civic Center and, it seems, to the real world. Stuart thanks me one last time for the “Mr. Spaceman” lyrics, then stays behind on the bus to stow the guitars away.

***

A couple of hours later, onstage for his Haynes Jam set, Stuart plays a tune or two then is joined by Haynes plus Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools on bass and Gov’t Mule’s Matt Abts and Danny Louis (on drums and keys). They do rousing versions of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” then as set-closer, you guessed it, “Mr. Spaceman.” Stuart nails the lyrics this time—no doubt having closely scanned a certain piece of paper before his set—and the Civic Center crowd roars its approval while singing along. As the song comes to its anthemic conclusion, Stuart steps to the edge of the stage to nod and wave a thank-you to the audience. (As it turns out, he’ll be back next year for the 2006 Jam, this time with his band The Fabulous Superlatives in tow.)

Me, I’m out there in that Civic Center crowd too, and while I’m in no way vain enough to think for one moment that he was up there waving at me, well… rock ‘n’ roll’s always been a little about dreaming and wish fulfillment, so….

Thanks, Marty. You are the real deal.

Marty Stuart autograph 2005

 

BACK TO MONO! The Beatles

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The Fab Four’s belated tribute to Phil Spector (memo to newbies: kidding!) exceeds expectations on multiple levels. As a certain Beatlesfan mused, what’s so great about stereo anyway?

BY GILLIAN G. GAAR

Oh, no — not another vinyl reissue of the Beatles in mono! Haven’t these albums been issued umpteen times on vinyl since the 1960s? And on CD at least twice, including the much-heralded 2009 CDs? Do we really need to have these records reissued again?

Well, yes, as it turns out. Last year’s vinyl reissues of these albums in stereo simply used the digital masters that were created for the 2009 CDs. But for these mono albums, the producers went back to the original analogue tapes, and were cut sans the use of any digital technology. When records were cut back in the ’60s, the poor quality of the standard record players most people used meant that sounds were sometimes compromised in making the transition from tape to vinyl; on the Beatles’ records, for example, the bass would be turned down, to keep the stylus from skipping. But now, due to the superior equipment available to play the albums on, you’re able to hear all kinds of things on these records that you probably missed before. Which means the hyperbole about these albums is right; it really is a different listening experience.

Like last year’s stereo set, you get ten albums: Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, and The Beatles (aka “The White Album”), plus a three album set with the single A- and B-sides that don’t appear on the albums, EP tracks, tracks from the Yellow Submarine film, and the original version of “Across the Universe,” which first appeared on a charity compilation. Neither Abbey Road nor Let It Be were released in mono, so they aren’t included.

I decided to listen to the albums chronologically. And the first thing I noticed when the needle went down on Please Please Me? The drums, snap snap snapping away, bursting out of the speakers with a newfound vibrancy; it certainly gave me a new appreciation for how good a drummer Ringo Starr actually is. Songs heavy on acoustic guitar sound positively gorgeous. You’d swear Paul McCartney was in the room with you when you listen to “Yesterday,” and songs like “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Julia,” and that rare take of “Across the Universe” are equally fab. And those luscious three-part harmonies on such songs as “This Boy,” “Nowhere Man,” and “Here, There and Everywhere” — ooh, they’ll make you swoon.

Mono fattens up the sound of a record — it’s music you can sink your teeth into. So of course rave ups like “Twist and Shout,” “Long Tall sally,” and “Helter Skelter” are going to sound great. What really surprised me was how hearing a song in wonderful, all encompassing mono makes even the Beatles’ lesser songs sound great — like “Hold Me Tight,” a McCartney rocker from With The Beatles notorious for its wobbly vocal (you can bet you’ll never hear it in any of McCartney’s live shows, no matter how Beatles-heavy the set lists are). Or suddenly realizing how engaging a song like “Thank You Girl” (as the B-side to “She Loves You,” it was always going to be overlooked) really is, and how “Slow Down” really roars as if the band’s once again hyped on speed as they in their pre-fame residencies in Hamburg, Germany.

And then you find yourself hearing all kinds of little things buried in previous mixes that you never knew were there. Starr plays maracas on the Beatles’ cover of “Devil in Her Heart” — who knew? And you can finally clearly hear those bongos Starr plays on “You’re Going to Lose That Girl.” There are plenty of other surprises on the mono albums too, given that not just different mixes, but different versions of songs appeared on mono and stereo editions of the same album. The backwards guitar noises in “Tomorrow Never Knows” appear in different places, as do the bird tweets in “Blackbird.” If you’ve studied these records religiously, hearing a familiar sound in an unexpected place can give you a real jolt.

And it’s the later era Beatles albums that sound especially good in mono, at least to my ears. “Eleanor Rigby” (Revolver) is almost frightening in its starkness (the restrained strings on “Yesterday” go positively Psycho on this track). The whole of Sgt. Pepper is surprisingly powerful. And The Beatles might just be the best Beatles album ever, capturing the band when they were at their most versatile: McCartney sounding sweet yet sad on his acoustic numbers (“I Will,” “Mother Nature’s Son”), but able to rock it up as well (“Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”); John Lennon sardonic and sarcastic (“The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” “Happiness is a Warm Gun”), agonized (“Yer Blues”), but still laid-back cool (“Revolution 1”); George Harrison finally unveiling a masterpiece (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”), and being alternately spiritual (“Long, Long, Long”) and silly (“Savoy Truffle”), and good ol’ earnest Starr, whose pleas verge on the edge of desperation (“Don’t Pass Me By”) but who’s still able to send you off to bed with a kiss (“Good Night”). Rock and roll, blues, heavy metal, folk, even musique concrete (on “Revolution 9”) — it’s all here. If you’re going to buy only one of these mono albums, pick this one.

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Or why don’t you just splurge on the box set, which comes with a nifty 108-page hardback book. Go on. You know you want to. Aren’t those vintage ’60s albums you have starting to wear out?

The quality of this box set is such that you may find yourself thinking — what’s so great about stereo, anyway?