Sunday, November 29, 2009

Well, that high tide's risin'. Mama, don't you make a sound. (or, Break-dancing in Brixton, Crooning in Prague, and Dark Eyes in Philly)

While some might look to Dylan's appearance at Woodstock '94 as the critical juncture where he started to really care about being a performance artist again after phoning it in for some years, I would point to the Spring '95 European tour as the real beginning of the solid multi-year run of high-quality Dylan tours that continued on into early 2002. Of course, Dylan has been on the Never-Ending Tour (NET) from 1988 until now (through 2009). Here is Bob out front struttin', crooner-style, for "Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood)", the song that opened the show a majority of nights in 1995 and was played live in concert for the first time ever by Dylan only a few weeks before this performance on the last day of March of 1995 at the Brixton Academy.

That's Winston Watson bashing the skins, Bucky Baxter adding some high, lonesome sound on the pedal steel, Tony Garnier on bass, and J.J. Jackson on lead guitar. Later in this show, during the encores, Elvis Costello came out and played guitar and sang on "I Shall Be Released" and "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35", while Chrissie Hynde and Carole King provided backup vocals on those two songs as well.

Here is some Engelbert Humperdinck-level crooning, this time from Prague in mid-March of 1995 on "License to Kill":

Bobby D. kicking out the vocal jams, mofo!

Of course, 1995 ends with some fabulous duets with Patti Smith during the "Paradise Lost" mini-tour in December. Here they are in Philly:

1995. A very good year for Dylan concerts and bootlegs.
2010. Would be a very good year for another Dylan/Patti Smith tour!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Think I Might Have Mentioned That Before

This is another "Best of the Decade" tease posting.  The Hold Steady are a standout band from the 2000s and will be well represented on my upcoming list of top albums for the last 10 years.  They are also a great live band!  Go see them if they come to your town...

Craig Finn and The Hold Steady kicking out the jams, mofo!

NPR is kind enough to provide some annotated lyrics for this song so you don't need to spend hours flipping through the Bible and reading cereal boxes all by yourself.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving thankfulness: the new Robyn Hitchcock "Dream of Trains" DVD rocks

We here at "Jams, Mofo" are thankful for the new "I Often Dream of Trains in New York" concert film that was just released on DVD.  Robyn Hitchcock has placed numerous albums on our "Best of the 90s" list and our "Best of the 80s list" and is rumored to have placed a couple as well on the soon-to-be-released "Best of the 00s" list...

While Jonathan Demme captured Robyn performing in a NYC storefront some years back, this concert film is directed by John Edginton (who also directed the recent Syd Barrett documentary and the "Sex, Food, Death... and Insects" documentary on Robyn in 2007).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

TV on the Radio, Indeed (or TV on the Radio on the TV in 2006)

I am still pluggin' away on the “Best of the Decade” list. To tide us over, here is a link to one of the decade's best TV performances by one of the decade’s best bands.

TVotR kicking out the jams, mofo!

Monday, November 23, 2009

My "Best Albums of 2009" List

I had expected to be done with my "Best Albums of the 2000s" list before I finished my "Best Albums of 2009" list, but that isn't the way that it worked out. It might be another couple of weeks before the decade list is ready as I don't really have much free time these days. While this is the 2009 list as it stands now, I fully expect that it will change to some extent in the months ahead as I hear about and read about other albums from this year that I haven't listened to as of yet (or even yet know about). This is particularly true for jazz and world/global music albums that I might not have heard over the course of the year. In addition, there will be a smattering of releases that come out these next 5 weeks that might be worthy of inclusion as well. Although, this time of the year is typically a lull for new album releases so that isn't too likely.

Let me know what else I need to hear!

Top 11 (rank-ordered):
1. Super Furry Animals – Dark Days/Light Years [“it was a big fucking mountain”]

2. Levon Helm – Electric Dirt [rise again, Levon, rise again]

3. Future of the Left – Travels with Myself and Another [You need FotL more than FotL needs you!]

4. Scott H. Biram – Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever [He is: still drunk, still crazy, and still blue]

5. PJ Harvey and John Parish – A Woman A Man Walked By [Don't stop believing; hold on to that feeling]

6. Dinosaur Jr. – Farm [Can a return of Mascis and the boys help to lead indie/college/alternative rock music out of Wussville and Clevereffectsfield?]

7. Medeski, Martin, & Wood – Radiolarians II [Both innovative and a return to form at the same time]

8. Drive-By Truckers – A Fine Print [B-sides and “throwaways” compilation takes a medal]

9. Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3 – Goodnight Oslo [polka-dotted shirt required; insects & food optional]

10. White Denim – Fits [hard not to be influenced by their incredible live shows]

11. The Dave Rawlings Machine – A Friend of a Friend [now with a 60%/40%::David/Gillian ratio]

Honorable Mention (alphabetically-ordered)
• Dave Alvin – Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women
• Amadou & Mariam – Welcome to Mali
• Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid
• BLK JKS – After Robots
• Danny Barnes –  Pizza Box
• Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Beware
• Built to Spill – There is no Enemy
• Guy Clark -- Somedays the Songs Write You
• Leonard Cohen – Live in London
• Elvis Costello -- Secret, Profane & Sugarcane
• Cracker – Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey
• The Dead Weather – Horehound
• John Doe & the Sadies – Country Club
• Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
• Bob Dylan – Christmas in the Heart
• Justin Townes Earle – Midnight at the Movies
• Steve Earle – Townes
• The Felice Brothers – Yonder is the Clock
• The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
• The Flatlanders – Hills and Valleys
• Garage a Trois – Power Patriot
• Patterson Hood – Murdering Oscar (and Other Love Songs)
• Japandroids – Post-Nothing
• Kris Kristofferson – Closer to the Bone
• The Mars Volta – Octahedron
• Buddy & Julie Miller – Written in Chalk
• The Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come
• Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel - Willie & the Wheel
• Charlie Parr – Roustabout
• Robert Pollard – Elephant Jokes
• Jay Reatard – Watch Me Fall
• Son Volt – American Central Dust
• Sonic Youth – The Eternal
• Tom Waits - Glitter and Doom Live
• Yo la Tengo – Popular Songs

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sorry Laurie, I was wrong [or, Where have you gone Lou Reed? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.]

[We must also hold Ed Koch accountable for this video as it was his municipal government that issued the permits to authorize the blocking of traffic for the filming.]

I know that many people—including me—have the tendency to say that when Lou Reed hooked up with Laurie Anderson many years back, they might have found success as a couple, but they undercut each other’s musical creativity (or actually reinforced negative creative elements for each of them—see Lou’s “The Raven” and Laurie’s “Life on a String” to see how low those undercuts could go).

That said, I am not here to pass judgment on whether the tradeoff was worth it for each of them (awwww, look at the way they stare at each other!) even if the artistic devolution could be proven in a musical court, but I do wonder now if this assessment is completely wrong. Maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is: how was it that Lou was able to deliver 2.5 masterful albums over the course of a four-year period (1989’s “New York” , 1990’s “Songs for Drella” with John Cale, and some of the first half of 1992’s “Magic and Loss”)? Because, I think it can be argued, these are the only worthwhile albums he has done between 1982’s “The Blue Mask” and today [sorry, I just don’t think the closest contender “New Sensations” and the rest of “Magic and Loss” hold up very well]. So, in nearly 28 years, we really only have four-year period track record of success, nested within an overwhelmingly dry period just short of three decades. I guess what I am saying is that I am withdrawing, effective Nov. 22, 2009, my “Blame Laurie” comments from the last many years and will be calling a spade a spade from now on and holding Lou accountable for his own output (or lack thereof). I am still working on my explanation for why the 1989—1992 period was a fertile one for Lou in the studio, but I think the key reasons will revolve around the return of Mo Tucker and John Cale as collaborators during that timeframe, or maybe something to do with Louis Farrakhan. One final thing: I saw Lou Reed in 1996 at the Warfield in San Francisco on his “Twilight Reeling” tour and in 2000 at the Orpheum in Minneapolis on his “Ecstasy” tour and had a great time at both shows. But let’s be honest, I did not clap as loudly on "Egg Cream", “Hang on to Your Emotions”, and “Future Farmers of America” as I did for “Sweet Jane”, “Vicious", and “Satellite of Love”. Though, I must note, the overall level of audience clapping at the Warfield for "Sex with Your Parents (Motherfucker) Part II" was quite loud.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

You know, just the usual Bright Eyes/Neil Young & Crazy Horse medley that everyone is doing

The new (and first) album by the Dave Rawlings Machine, "A Friend of a Friend", came out this past Tuesday and has been getting great reviews. I have had a chance to listen to it a few times over the course of the week and I must say I am impressed. David Rawlings and Gillian Welch have been performing as a duo for the better part of 15 years now, and this is their latest album contribution. Rawlings gets top billing for the first time and sings lead on the songs, but with a significant helping of Welch on all of the tracks. Rawlings played a key role in all of Gillian's albums and she plays a vital role in this album as well. The medley track above is "Method Acting" by Bright Eyes --> "Cortez the Killer" by Neil Young. Great stuff! Rawlings is a fantastic guitar player. I do hope we also get a "Queen Jane Approximately" in Omaha next month when they play a show at The Waiting Room, though a "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" would be keen as well.

Friday, November 20, 2009

2 X 2 Table of Rock

Today's WSJ has a moderately interesting article that asks the question: where do we place Tom Petty in the rock canon? What was particularly interesting about the article, however, was the graphic which attempts to provide the conventional wisdom about a number of classic rock artists and places them relative to each other on a X axis of relative lack of coolness to coolness, and a Y axis of how hard do they rock (or not rock). What placements do we find to be mistaken? Either in terms of our own view or in terms of what we believe the conventional wisdom to be?  For me, I would start with James Taylor.  Seriously?  Does anyone find him to be cool?  I don't know where in the blue area he goes, but does anyone really rate James Taylor as "cooler" than Tom Waits?  Seriously?  I mean, that makes me laugh out loud.  Other questions spring to mind:  Do Bob Seger and ZZ Top rock that hard?  Shouldn't the Eagles be deeper in the blue zone?  Could we have it such that Jimmy Buffet and Waits aren't so close together as that makes me very uncomfortable?  Is Neil Young really slightly cooler than Dylan, and both really are behind Nick Cave? Is Neil Diamond in Billy Joel territory? Ahhh, Carlos, you used to be up and to the right by quite a bit until about, what, 10 years ago when you sold your soul and never looked back?

Days Up and Down They Come; Like Rain on a Conga Drum; Forget Most, Remember Some; But Don't Turn None Away

As summer turns to fall and fall turns to early winter, every year I start listening to Townes van Zandt records again. Yet, because the songs of Townes can be so brutal in their phrasing, imagery, and observations, it is best to listen to his albums in moderation. While I would firmly suggest that he was one of the very best American songwriters of the late 20th century, there are times that I cannot listen to him as his words cut too close to the bone. "To Live is to Fly" appeared orginally as the first song on Side B of "High, Low and in Between" which was released in 1972. Townes is able to capture in 3 minutes and 15 seconds the struggle to answer a crucial question that we all will eventually ask about life: how do we value the drudgery, the joy, and the pain in the march of our lives and how do we respond?

"We all got holes to fill.
Those holes are all that's real
Some fall on you like a storm
Sometimes you dig your own

The choice is yours to make
The time is yours to take
Some dive into the sea
Some toil upon the stone

Well, to live's to fly, both low and high
So shake the dust off of your wings
And the sleep out of your eye
Shake the dust off of your wings
And the tears out of your eye"

There have been a number of good cover versions of this song in the nearly 13 years since Townes left this mortal coil. In particular:

*Guy Clark on the tribute collection "Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt" (2001)and also on his "Old Friends" (2006) collection
*Peter Rowan & Tony Rice on their "Quartet" album (2006)
*Steve Earle on his "Townes" tribute album (2009)

And from nearly 18 years ago:
*Cowboy Junkies on their "Black Eyed Man" album (1992) [Which they recorded after getting off the road with Townes when he opened for the Junkies on most of the dates on their 1990 U.S./Canada tour]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chop, Chop, Chop: Time to make some hard decisions about S-K

Another group that I have had fun listening to these last few months as I have revisited albums for the purpose of "research" on my "best of the 2000s" list is Sleater-Kinney. "The Woods" will rank very well but other albums might not make the cut. My goal of a top 100 has expanded to a top 150, but even this new larger cap is still wreaking havoc and forcing me chop, chop, chop the list down to size as the long shortlist still has over 225 albums on it.

Chicken! (Scott H. Biram gets added to the schedule)

Austin-based Scott H. Biram is one of my very favorite artists from the latter part of the 2000s. His dirty guitar playing and great songwriting put him near the head of the "dirty blues" or "deep blues" revival of the last few years. I am extraordinarily excited about going to see him live in San Marcos, TX on the day after Xmas. This show and the Gourds show will almost make up for the fact that we are going to miss a 2-night stand by Jerry Jeff Walker at Gruene Hall by a couple of days. Boo hoo.

Future of the Left left me hanging

I have wanted to catch Future of the Left concert as I unfortunately never made it to a Mclusky show. That said, FotL canceled their gig last week and it looks like I won't being seeing them anytime soon. Bummer. I won’t hold a grudge, however, and their “Travels with Myself and Another” will be highly ranked on my “Best of 2009” album list when it is completed.

Two more Ferlin platters in the house!

Thanks to the fortuitous timing of our visit to Madison, WI a few weeks back, I got to hit the presale with the areas’s vinyl geeks at the St. Vinnie’s annual record sale. I was able to double my Ferlin Husky record collection by picking up a couple of pristine albums from the late 50s and early 60s. “Wings of a Dove” went to #1 for Ferlin in the fall of 1960 and was written by Bob Ferguson (who also wrote the hit “The Carroll County Incident”).

Polly Jean will make the cut (likely twice)

Over the last couple of months I have been slowly but surely constructing my “Best of the 00s” album list. While it is still a ways from being complete, I have enjoyed the process of my focused effort to listen to albums from throughout the decade—some of which I had not listened to in a while. Because I listen to music all day at work and I spin records and play music morning and night around the house, I have been able to revisit many of these albums. And fortunately, I have been able to listen to a bunch while sitting on the living room floor and building Lego castles with my 21-month old son. It is quite likely that a couple of Polly Jean’s records will garner spots on this decade’s list, I listened to her a lot in the 1990s as well and revisited that output of albums during these last many months. “Dry”, “Rid of Me”, and "To Bring You My Love" have aged well. This version of “50 ft Queenie” is from her 1998 “Black Sessions” recordings.

Doug Sahm has been playing in the great gig in the sky for 10 years

I had been on a Doug Sahm kick of sorts lately even before I realized that we were approaching the 10 year anniversary of his untimely death in 1999. A visit from a high school friend helped me to fill out my collection of his music and I had been working my way through the stages of his career over the last many weeks. I was fortunate enough to see the Texas Tornados in San Antonio in 1992 but I didn’t really realize at the time what a super supergroup I was seeing. While Flaco Jimenez and Augie Meyers are still kicking and playing, Sahm and Freddie Fender have departed for the great gig in the sky.

White Denim likes to rock the party

This is some footage from the White Denim show at the High Noon Saloon in Madison, WI that I caught a couple of weeks back. The dude that shot the video got yelled at by the band later in the show to stop filming (and he did). White Denim is from Austin, TX and they put on one of my favorite live performances of recent memory. Pickup "Fits" (2009) on vinyl or CD or download and go see them live in your town if you get the chance. Black Keys meets John Spencer Blues Explosion meets Sonic Youth meets Cream meets newer math rock... Yes!

Late period Mavis Staples stands out (and she did it without Rick Rubin)

While the video is a compilation of '60s civil rights era footage and quite powerful, the music is from Mavis's 2007 Ry Cooder-produced album "We'll Never Turn Back" on Anti of civil rights songs. Her 2004 release "Have a Little Faith" on Alligator is also outstanding.

Dutch Indo-rock footnote

It is perhaps hard to recognize it now nearly 50 years later, but these guys were very much ahead of the time in their application of what would become the classic rockabilly sound. It is uncanny how much it resembles acts from the rockabilly revival from the 70s and 80s. If they had been in California instead of (literally) the Netherlands, our contemporary music textbooks might read a bit different.

Bard goes there [embedding disabled so you have to click the link]

While the album seems to be quite polarizing--look at the bimodal distribution of 1* and 5* reviews on amazon--the first video from the Dylan Xmas album will probably please all viewers. It makes me wishfully dream of a future Dylan & Brave Combo collaboration. Or maybe Dylan & Gogol Bordello? Dylan & Los Super 7? Some of Dylan's recent work has such a strong Border Radio sound and vibe, and the "Here Comes Santa" cut on the new album is no exception. Rock on Bobby.

Welcome to my blog where we kick out the jams, mofo!*

MC5 was such an important band that I can't really say anything new about them that hasn't been said. I have seen Patti Smith in concert a few times and at her show at First Avenue in about 2000 she told a nice story about the late, great Fred "Sonic" Smith and then delievered a blistering cover version of "My Generation". Trivia note: The son of Patti and Sonic is married to Meg White, drummer for the White Stripes.

*Note: Some of the initial 20 or so posts might be out of order as many of them were composed before I activated this blog.