Sunday, August 31, 2008

Only In America

When a campaign uses a song, and the artist objects, isn't up to the writers to quell the campaign's use of the song. Obama used Brooks & Dunn's "Only In America" at the end of his Mile High speech. Kix Brooks (the short one who can't sing well and plays air guitar on stage) co-wrote the song, so you would think that he would've had the Obama camp stop using the song, which they've been using for months. I don't think Brooks is a Dem, let alone Dunn, but maybe he thinks the song belongs to all of America, regardless of party affiliation.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Convention Music

Although I have no intention of watching the Republican convention, I can tell you that the house band inside the Dems Convention was doing it Old School most of the week. It probably reached its peak on Wednesday when they were doing it Soul Train style to "Got To Be Real". Also, outside at Mile High Stadium "Born In The USA" was being used as a patriotic anthem, a la Lee Greenwood. Reagan didn't know what this song was about and tried to use it in 1984, so why did the Dems use it in 2008?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Summer Of None

No they don't make singles like they used to. Looking over my candidates for single of the year, I noticed that my singles list is really short. And yes I do listen to Top 40 radio every once in a while to hear what's on the charts. No, its just that singles aren't as memorable as they used to be. And with a million different formats to choose from, nobody can pinpoint one good single at any one time. Summer is key in establishing year-end winners, but this year only one summer song Kid Rock's "All Summer Long" stood out. And it wasn't even on Itunes. But Mr. Rock was kind of stupid because those that couldn't get it for 99 cents cribbed it for free. Including me. That doesn't make me happy because I wanted some of my 99 cents to go to the Zevon estate. But these are tough times.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Playlist for 8/28

Darrell Scott -Modern Hymns
Indigenous -Broken Lands
Jonas Brothers - Little Bit Longer
Irma Thomas - Simply Grand
Dedringers - Sweetheart of the Rodeo
Manhattans - Sweet Talking Soul
Mott the Hoople - Anthology

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Brian Wilson Looks In The Mirror

Brian Wilson's That Lucky Old Sun is as much about California's past as it is about Brian Wilson's past. If you're looking for songs about the Sunshine state that reference the seedier sides of Los Angeles or Southern California life than this isn't for you. But Brian Wilson was never about that anyway. Besides the best moments on this album are when he looks back with a clarity that's been missing in his solo work, save Smile. Van Dyke Parks' spoken interludes are meant to represent something more serious, but the Beach Boy era music, coupled with Wilson's optimistic yet at times heartbreaking lyrics make for his best solo album since his first.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Campaign Music

It's all gotten kind of ridiculous this year. Campaign music, that is. Jackson Browne suing McCain's camp for playing his "Running on Empty". When I hear campaign music I usually associate the act with the party. You got your Springsteen at Obama's and John Rich at McCain. The Democrats get the bigger names. The Republicans the lesser ones and more Country acts. Although its weird to hear Brooks & Dunn's "Only In America" at an Obama rally. Maybe their Independents. That's one way of not giving your audience something to be politically mad about.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Crowell's Slick Politicians

Yes, Rodney Crowell's Sex & Gasoline (Yep Roc) is good, but I have a quibble. Twice he on this album, on different songs, he uses the phrase "slick politicians". On his 2006 album, Outsider, he used the same phrase. That phrase must be dear to Crowell, who is by all I've read, a Democrat. So using that phrase instead of saying terrible President is easier on the Country conservatives that like Crowell's music. Of course, I could be reading into this all wrong, and "slick politician" is just a phrase that Crowell likes to say about all politicians. Like all of Crowell's albums this isn't a political album, and the most biting songs are about relationships. Still, for such a gifted wordsmith, the best cut on his album is a Dylan inspired track, you'd think he could come up with something more cutting.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Pervis Jackson of the Spinners, who died at age 70 this week, was one of the last great bass voices from the original Old School vocal groups. His "12:45" line from "Games People Play" ensures his induction in the Old School Hall of Fame. Speaking of which, among its many crimes and travesties, is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's continued exclusion of the Spinners. They've never even been nominated. How can they induct the Dells but not the Spinners?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Never Forget Mott

Any record company that wants to keep the underrated legacy of Mott The Hoople alive is alright with me. So, there's little for me to complain about on Old Records Never Die: Mott The Hoople/Ian Hunter Anthology, the first comp to include tracks from Ian Hunter's Mott and solo years. If you own Columbia's 2disc 1993 Mott Retrospective or Columbia's 2000 Ian Hunter solo 2fer than you won't need this, but the uninitiated will. You get their Atlantic, Columbia and Ian's solo stuff on a handy 2 disc set that goes all the way up to Hunter's 2007 release. My only complaint is the absence of "Hymn For The Dudes", but outside of that, this is essential. It's Mott, why wouldn't it be?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Playlist for 8/21

Sonny Landreth - From The Reach
Dr. Dog - Fate
Jamey Johnson - That Lonesome Song
Teddy Pendergrass - s/t reissue
Burial - Untrue
Walter Becker - Circus Money
Emmylou Harris - All I Intended To Be

Monday, August 18, 2008

Old School Journeymen

"Kiss and Say Goodbye" may be the last of the Old School soul songs to top both the R&B and Pop charts. Dave Marsh once said that, I believe, and its held true some 30 years after it charted. The Manhattans weren't thought of as top tier Soul group icons until that release. And truth be told, after it, they weren't recognized either. If you could name the greatest Old School vocal groups you think of the Spinners, Stylistics, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Temptations, but you never mention the Manhattans. In fact, even after a listen to the Sweet Talking Soul (Shout), I'm still not convinced that they belong on top, but I still rank them on the 2nd level with Tavares, the Dramatics and the Chi-Lites. That's no knock on them. The Manhattans are the like the Jeffrey Osborne of Soul vocal groups, good, reliable journeymen who had only a few crossover hits but a bunch of R&B charters.

Sweet Talking Soul covers 1963-1990, but it really doesn't get going until 1973 when they signed to Columbia. Their Columbia years are neatly summarized on one disc comps, but here things dig a little deeper. The first disc covers their pre-Columbia years and is the least satisfying. You got Motown and Isley knockoffs and the Manhattans are still searching for their sound. But at Columbia, and especially with the underrated Gerald Alston, they hit a stride.
I'm still not ready to give them top tier, and this 45 song set could be cut in half and been stronger. But the Manhattans deserve to be remembered for more than their 2 crossover's, even if those 2 still define their legacy.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hard Worn Out Country

"Between Jennings and Jones" sings Jamey Johnson on his 2nd major label album, and that's where you'll find him. Combining Jennings' concept albums of the mid-70's and Jones' The Battle, That Lonesome Song is a wearying look at Divorce and Country music, all of which Johnson is deep in. More a songwriter than singer, his deep baritone is lived in enough to pull off the album's best songs, the 6 minute "High Cost of Living" and the bitter "Mowin' Down The Roses". If this album were released on a small label, it would be on the Americana charts. Being on a major label, I fear, its going to get lost. There isn't anything resembling a hit single for today's mainstream radio stations. But this is hardcore Country that the major's rarely touch anymore.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

31st Anniversary

Underrated Elvis song that I just heard on the 31st anniversary of his death:
I Was The One 1956

Still Looking For Trouble

Another anniversary of Elvis Presley's death and I often wonder if there is anything left to write about him. But I always find something. For years I used to complain that 2 of the most underrated things about his legacy. One was his vocals and two was his post-Army material. I'm happy to say that as for his vocals that has been remedied in recent years. Most people now rank him as one of the greats on a par with Sinatra and Aretha. As for his post-Army years, the pre-Army fans will tell you that Elvis never did anything good when he got out of the Military. Heck, some will tell you he never did anything good when he left Sun Records. Sure, his 60's stuff was tame compared to the 50's. The movies didn't help and neither did Elvis' lack of enthusiasm. So, it came that in 1968 he was primed for a reintroduction to the American musical public that had moved on to the Beatles and more experimental sounds of Rock and Roll. Luckily the Colonel's idea of just doing a Christmas music only special was nixed for something that was a mix of Sun and 50's meets 60's Elvis. And frankly I was hooked from the opening shot of a tanned Elvis snarling at the camera, "You looking for Trouble". This was the King that we missed.

The Special was a success and the comeback complete. What it did for me was put an end to the lie that Elvis never did anything good in the 60's. The best part of the show was the sit-down or unplugged segment. Elvis ran through his big hits, but drew fire on the cover versions. And while his 69 Vegas concerts were the last time he showed much interest in his own hits, on this special he does a mini concert in the round that has him tearing up songs he would later blow off in boring medley's. In a way, the Special vanquished all the bad stuff Elvis had done previous.

On the 40th anniversary, Sony/BMG has released a 4 Disc monster of a CD box, Complete 68 Comeback Special. The original show, sit-downs, production numbers and mostly anything that was done for the show. There's also a box DVD of this that's essential. This is a big package and a lot of Elvis. The casual fan can do with just the single disc Soundtrack. But the more curious could find a way to shell out a few extra bucks for the rest.

By the way, as someone who has a ton of Elvis product, this is my 4th edition of the special. There was the Tiger Man CD which had his sit down shows, and Memories which was an expanded version of the Soundtrack and finally, a Follow That Dream release of Burbank 68 which had the stand up show and some rehearsal stuff.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Rhythm, Blues & Wexler

His love of Soul music (he coined the phrase "Rhythm & Blues" in a Billboard article) made Jerry Wexler's legend. His production on the various R&B acts of Atlantic made his legend. When talking of that label Wexler often gets second billing to Ahmet Ertegun. It's only right since Ertegun founded Atlantic. But Wexler's signings of various acts and his hand in the Producer's chair is on a par with Ahmet's. Did you know that Wexler also produced albums for Dylan, Willie and Dire Straits? When Ertegun died I said he was the last of the 50's Record men. Wexler's death at 91 brings an end to the last of the 50's Music men.

Indie vs. Mainstream Cover Albums

Why do small Indie acts who aren't household release better cover albums than big name ones. I'm listening to the smartly produced Darrell Scott- Modern Hymns (Appleseed) release and at the same time looking at the track listing for a future James Taylor cover album. The differences are striking. Taylor's album, outside of a stray Dixie Chick song, sticks to the well-known, while Scott's, outside of a oft-covered Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon song, veers to the oddity. Indie acts aren't under the same pressure to sell records as a Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow or any other act under Clive Davis' wing. So when those people (or even a Country act like Martina McBride) go the cover route, labels want familiarity and sells. Indie acts take more chances in their selections.
Darrell Scott makes his money having his songs covered by Nashville mainstream artists. But he's also a recording artist, and his covers album has good obscure tracks written by Gordon Lightfoot, Hoyt Axton and Guy Clark to name some names you'll never see on a mainstream acts' album.
While some people cringe when an artist does a cover album, I usually enjoy them. But I want some weird choices mixed in with the old warhorses. Scott seems to feel the same way.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Playlist for 8/14

Carrie Rodriquez - She Ain't Me
Conor Oberst
Randy Newman - Harps and Angels
Love Psychedlico - This Is
Mandi Perkins - Alice In No Man's Land

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How Much For Walter Becker?

If you like Steely Dan's Jazz phase (which includes everything they've done post Gaucho) then Walter Becker's Circus Money will sound familiar. This is Becker's 2nd solo, and first since 1994, but it sounds just like a Dan record, only without Fagen's vocals. So, while Becker can't sing, there's enough humor here to liven up a record that straddles Jazz/Reggae.

But my initial reaction when listening to the album is who would buy something like this? I looked for it used and couldn't find it listed below $8, not including shipping. Would you pay $11 for an album by Becker, or anyone else for that matter. Becker is a wealthy guy, I assume, so selling your album at full price in today's climate doesn't make sense. Should guys like Becker and Steve Miller (who's recorded a bunch of Blues songs but won't release them because he knows no one will buy them like in the old days) just go the Radiohead route. I would imagine that the sales figures are pretty low for Circus Money. That's not saying its not good or should be given to you for free. But niche solo stuff by people like Walter Becker would have a better chance of getting heard if he and his company lowered the price to $5 and below.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Caught In A Teen Dream

Teen Idols make great singles but not great albums. At least until the boy band era of the late 90's. The Backstreet Boys and N'Sync and Britney Spears didn't just make great singles but made albums that still hold up today. You couldn't say that about the teen idols of yesteryear. Can you name a good album by the Donny Osmond (maybe the Osmonds) or David Cassidy. But at least Shaun Cassidy dropped one good album, that's never been released on CD in the States. In fact outside of "Hey Deanie", one of the best teen idol songs ever was never a single, Cassidy's "Teen Dream." Capturing the joys of youth before adulthood its a great song.

Now, 10 years later Disney has resurrected the teen idol movement and its prize staples are Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. To me Cyrus is making good singles and her latest is a good album, but the Jonas Brothers are the ones on the verge of something bigger. When I heard that it was a combo of Cheap Trick and Power Pop, my ears perked. I like Cheap Trick but love Power Pop, and even if the Brothers don't know much about its history their songs do. Little Bit Longer straddles the obvious teen idol line. Songs about girls, maybe one about life, but they are too young to go any other route. But not too young. Ages 15, 18, 20 are not all teen idol ages. Fifteen maybe, but the other boys are gonna grow up fast. On this new album they still hew to the obvious subjects with tight Pop/Rock. How long will they last before they experiment? Will the kids follow? And will us adults follow?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Larger Than Life

No other Black musician was bigger than life in the first part of the 70's than Isaac Hayes, not even Barry White could match Hayes' over-the-top stage shows and persona. The bald head, the outrageous suits and the big chains around his neck. It often seemed that the image of Hayes in the 70's obscured his lasting contributions as a songwriter to the modern Soul. With partner David Porter, Hayes gave Sam & Dave their greatest moments. As a solo artist he experimented more, turning "Walk On By", "Never Can Say Goodbye" and "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" into something on the order of confessional Soul.
Oddly, it wasn't until the 90's that Hayes saw his career accomplishments reaping industry awards. In 2005 he and Porter were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 2001 he got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
He'll be known for Shaft, but check out Hot Buttered Soul for a better view.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Playing With Numbers

Bob Lefsetz in his Lefsetz Letter likes to make a big deal about how albums don't sell anymore, even by superstars. Of course he's right, but we all know that. He likes to rag on people like Madonna who release much hyped albums but can't get to a million. Even past sellers like Sheryl Crow and John Mellencamp can't get to a half million. Kid Rock only got over a million when his summertime song got released, sans Itunes, but with no help from those of us who went on P2P and got the song for free (you think I'm gonna pay $10 for one good song, Mr. Rock?).
My theory is that 500,000 is the new million and 250,000 the new 1/2 million. Sure some artists will get over the million off of one song or a big record company push (you got your Carrie Underwoods and Coldplays and Lil Waynes), but everyone else has struggled to get to Platinum. So when I see Sheryl Crow go over 300,000 with no hit single or Randy Travis (who hasn't had a hit record in years, anyway) get close to 50,000 with no Country airplay, I think those are good numbers. For them it's a letdown. But in today's climate record numbers are made to be looked upside down.

Friday, August 08, 2008


Just for the hell of it I googled Bootlegs to see what would come up, and sure enough there were enough options to fill a thousand CD-R's. The Internet age has made finding bootlegs easier than back in the day. In the late 80's and 90's the only info I could find on them were in Goldmine ads and a regular feature in ICE Magazine. For someone who loves a lot of artists and has a lot of music in my possession, you would think that I would be more interested in bootleg stuff of my faves. But most bootlegs are of live concerts or alternate takes. There have been some legendary ones like the Smile sessions, but I've never been persuaded to seek them out. Record companies and artists tried in vain to combat bootlegs. Remember when Pearl Jam put out a crap load of live discs? And now you have the ongoing Dylan bootleg series. And if you've bought box sets, there's always unreleased stuff on there that's already been bootlegged.

A friend of mine gave me a copy that he downloaded from a torrent site of Mark Knopfler's 7/28/08 concert from Philadelphia. That was only a week ago and already there's a copy of it online, which means the Internet is doing its duty for rabid fans. The sound quality is good, even though the vocals could be up in the mix better, but for a freebie, I'll add it to my collection.
I still have little interest in other bootlegs though. But just knowing that its just around the corner is what stealing music is like today.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Actors Who Sing

Billy Bob Thornton's Countrybilly tribute album named after his band, The Boxmasters, is best on the new songs and just okay on the covers. Thornton has that twisted Alt-Country Americana sense of humor going for him. What he doesn't have is a good voice. Here he does sound better than he did on his solo records. The Rockabilly meets Hillbilly 60's updated for the 00's makes him more passable than a rockin' Kris Kristofferson.
But while the album is a good throwback it got me thinking of actors who sing and whether I care if they are a better actor or singer. Thornton's bio says he was in bands long before he started acting, but that doesn't mean he should sing. He's a good songwriter, and the humorous ones save the Boxmasters. Actors who aren't normally thought of as singers usually get a bum rap from critics. Why can't they stick with what they do best? So, we do get one-hit wonder duds like Bruce Willis or Jack Wagner. Actually I don't care if they can or can't, just give me something good to spin. You'll like the Boxmasters if you like my description of it above, but you'll still think of Thornton as actor first and singer second.

Playlist for 8/7

Beach Boys - Surfin Safari/Surfin USA
Maria Muldaur - Yes We Can
Fleet Foxes
Portishead - Third
Los Campesinos - Hold On Now Youngster
John Hiatt - Same Old Man
Buddy Guy - Skin Deep
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III/Drought Is Over 2

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Big Man No Guts

Toby Keith likes to say he's a Southern Democrat, but we all know better. You see, like a lot of Nashville musicians who are Democrats, Keith doesn't have the balls to support a Democrat for President or Senator or whatever. He's playing to his base. And the majority of Country fans are Conservatives. At least that's they way its perceived. If Keith's hit days were over, he might have the balls to do what Merle Haggard has done and actually write something relevant about the state of the world. But he hides behind his audience, afraid to let those Southern Democrat leanings tilt him to go against the grain.
Toby Keith recently came out and threw a few disses at Barack Obama. This from a man who once wrote a song in support of lynching black people. All of this got me thinking if any Country act not named the Dixie Chicks would come out and support Obama. I mean, if John Rich of all people can write a campaign song for that Old Man who is also running, then all gloves are off. But I doubt that any Country act that's still courting Nashville radio will get on the same stage with Obama.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Randy Newman, Just In Time

35 minutes in 9 years. Thanks Randy Newman. But wait. If you take away the 2007 copyright and the remake of "Feels Like Home" from the Faust CD of 1995, then it's less than 30. So, when it comes to Pop music, Newman is no longer as prolific as he is with the Soundtracks. But we know what pays the bills, right? Harps and Angels couldn't have arrived at a better time. It's a reminder that no other artist has done or is doing what Newman continues to excel at. Skewering everyone. Now that Warren Zevon is dead, only Newman can do this stuff. Harps and Angels is short but to the point. Even if the best political song is a 2007 state of the union address, he at least has written a future standard with "Losing You". Much is being made that this is Newman's first album since W. took office. Even if it comes at the end of that sad era, it's still a great Newman album.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Is Singer-Songwriter a Bad Phrase

I wonder if Conor Oberst knows that Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Paul Simon all self-titled their debut album. That's what Oberst has done with his first solo album. At least by name, because we all know that Bright Eyes was as much him as Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor. But Conor Oberst is a surprise. Its best moments come when he's getting all 70's singer-songwriter on himself. The Mexican excursions are meant to give the album some oomph, but if singer-songwriter is not a bad phrase to you, than Conor Oberst will provide some memories.
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