29 October 2009

What's In The Daily News?

TNOP will tell you what's in the daily news . . .

Muzzle of Bees devotes its occasional feature called "5 Albums" to the Laurel Canyon, California band Dawes. Interesting and spirited choices, including influences Randy Newman, Art Blakey, Paul Simon and Donny Hathaway. After a few enjoyable listens to their debut album North Hills, The Night Owl has no problems with the list, but would add Neil Young and The Band to it.

"Trust: Photographs of Jim Marshall" has been published by Omnibus Press. See a sneak preview of the rock photographer's work at the Rolling Stone web site.

Paste runs an excerpt from Robert Hilburn's new book, Cornflakes With John Lennon.

Amy Linden weighs in on the 25 years of hip-hop on the Def Jam record label. [Minor aside: Horrors! Apparently Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin didn't like Heavy D.]

Bob Dylan starts a three night stand at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom tonight.

The Times of London speaks to the surviving Bee Gees about their long - and varied - career.

And how about this for a concert line-up? The Flaming Lips, Phoenix and Pete Yorn. 11 December at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. Ticket details here.

Cover Me

BBC6 Music and The Guardian are reporting that Peter Gabriel will release his first album in seven years in Spring 2010. The intriguing project is labelled Scratch My Back, a work composer John Metcalfe describes as a "song swap with some of the world's most legendary artists." Metcalfe confirms that he worked on orchestral arrangements of other artists' tunes, and that the record, produced by Bob Ezrin, will include full orchestra or more minimalist chamber treatments, sans guitars, drums and world instruments. Rumors abound on whether the selections will include participation of the songwriters themselves.

For now, this leaked track list - though by no means confirmed by Gabriel's representatives - will whet your appetite:

1. "Heroes" (David Bowie)
2. "Street Spirit" (Radiohead)
3. "The Book of Love" (Magnetic Fields)
4. "Flume" (Bon Iver)
5. "My Body Is a Cage" (Arcade Fire)
6. "Listening Wind" (Talking Heads)
7. "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" (Randy Newman)
8. "Apr├Ęs Moi" (Regina Spektor or Eartha Kitt)
9. "Waterloo Sunset" (The Kinks)
10. "The Boy in the Bubble" (Paul Simon)
11. "The Power of the Heart" (Lou Reed)
12. "Philadelphia" (Neil Young)
13. "Mirrorball" (Elbow)

This Date In Rock History: 29 October

On this date in 1971, lead guitarist Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers Band died in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia. He was 24 years old.

At the time of his death, "Skydog," as he was known to friends, was considered the preeminent rock guitarist of his day, along with Eric Clapton. Less than a year earlier, Allman had collaborated with Clapton under the band name Derek & The Dominoes to record Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Indeed, the man who is said to have introduced the two, producer Tom Dowd, said of their musicianship: “There had to be some sort of telepathy going on because I’ve never seen spontaneous inspiration happen at that rate and level. One of them would play something, and the other reacted instantaneously. Never once did either of them have to say, ‘Could you play that again, please?’ It was like two hands in a glove. And they got tremendously off on playing with each other.”

But it was with his brother Gregg, bassist Barry Oakley, guitarist Dickey Betts and dual drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks that Duane made his mark on the rock music world. At the time of his death, The Allman Brothers Band, formed in 1969, was at its peak, having toured almost non-stop for two years, culminating in the release of what critics have come to recognize as one of the best live albums ever, At Fillmore East.

The band carried on under the same name after Duane's death, and produced some fine work, notably Eat A Peach (which contains final contributions from Duane) and Brothers and Sisters. Although only some original members remain, The Allman Brothers Band still records occasionally and continues to tour, with a highlight the now-annual multi-night stand at The Beacon Theater in New York City every March.

It should be noted that Duane's influential slide and lead guitar is evident on a number of other great recordings. As a primary session guitarist at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, he lent his distinctive style and sound to records by Aretha Franklin ("The Weight"), King Curtis, Wilson Pickett ("Hey Jude") and Boz Scaggs (the seminal track "Loan Me A Dime"). Still in print is the double-album Duane Allman: An Anthology, which is highly recommended.
Additional link: Read Jon Landau's original report in Rolling Stone of Duane Allman's death here.

28 October 2009

Busking On The Radio

The good folks at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee will be simulcasting The Swell Season concert set for this Sunday night, 1 November. The sold out show at The Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee is scheduled to begin at 8.00pm CST.
The band also makes an appearance this Thursday night (29 October) on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

26 October 2009

More News From Nowhere

In years past, Jon Pareles of The New York Times has all but christened bands like The Arcade Fire, The Black Kids and Friendly Fires as the next big thing to arise out of the five days of over 1,000 bands performing in Manhattan and Brooklyn at the 29th annual CMJ Music Marathon. This year, no clear cut favorite, although the Antlers, Surfer Blood and Cymbals Eat Guitars get special mention. The Village Voice has extensive coverage as well of the entire festival.

Uncut Magazine has gotten the jump on the "best of" lists that will be ubiquitous before long. Pared down from 25 choices, an interesting group of judges has come up with a shortlist of:
  • Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion
  • Bob Dylan, Together Through Life
  • Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca
  • Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest
  • Kings of Leon, Only By The Night
  • The Low Anthem, Oh My God Charlie Darwin
  • Tinariwen, Imidiwan: Companions
  • Wilco, Wilco (The Album)
The Los Angeles Times reviews the Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard show from the other night at Largo. The duo performed songs from the new soundtrack to the documentary movie "One Fast Move and I'm Gone," based on Jack Kerouac's novel "Big Sur."
UPDATE! NPR broadcasts the Farrar/Gibbard Washington, DC show from the 9:30 Club on Tuesday night, October 27, beginning at 9.00pm EDT. (If you miss it, live shows are usually posted for further listening as well at All Songs Considered.)

The Times of London has posted a lengthy excerpt from David Simon's book on why he created the phenomenal TV series The Wire. We know this item isn't strictly about music, but the writing of the show was like listening to a symphony.

And finally, TNOP knows when it is up against superior forces. Sometime rock critic, novelist and screenwriter Nick Hornby reveals 16,326 songs on his iPod. And counting, we suppose (the smart ass).

Ultimate Singles Jukebox [Slot 103]

b/w "Jack Rabbit" and "Whenever You're Ready (We'll Go Steady Again)"
Elton John
DJM/MCA Records 502
Released 16 July 1973
Produced by Gus Dudgeon
Written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin

Because of the omnipresent spotlight on his personal foibles instead of musical talent over the past 20 years, it is sometimes hard to recall that in 1973 a short of stature, chubby, balding young man born Reginald Kenneth Dwight was on the verge of becoming the biggest pop star in the world.

And the first single off of the enormously successful double LP Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was seen by some as an almost radical departure for Elton John and his songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin. But really, "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" was a metaphoric break from the studio shackles and an incorporation of the incendiary live shows that would fill baseball stadiums.

By the time of the recording of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, John was solidly poised to conquer. For the past four, solid albums (Tumbleweed Connection; Madman Across The Water; Honky Chateau; and Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only The Piano Player), he and Taupin were backed by a crack group of musicians that had honed their skills not only in the recording studio but on the road as well. Drummer Nigel Olssen, bassist Dee Murray and pianist John had the gig down cold, and now had recently brought in the ace guitarist Davey Johnstone to further heat things up.

And it is Johnstone who lends the famous intro riff to "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" that is still recognizable to almost any listener, given the song long became a radio staple. Murray's bass then steps in at fever pitch, menacingly loud in the mix. And as always, Olssen carries the mail. Taupin immediately provides the swagger for John's opening lines of the vocal: It's Saturday night/Have you seen my mates?/Tell me when the boys get here/It's seven o'clock/And I wanna rock/Gotta get a belly full of beer. The lyricist said later that he wanted to tell a simple tale of teenage rebellion in his days growing up in Lincolnshire, but with an American rock 'n roll edge to it.

And Elton is up to the musical task. While one is not really sure if the words serve as a nod to The Wild One (I'll tell the sounds that I really like/Are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike) or American Grafitti (My sister looks cute/In her braces and boots), with this bashing rhythm, who cares? By the time the joyous refrain of Saturday Night! kicks in with 1:30 still to go in this five minute opus, Elton starts his killer piano duet with Johnstone, and damned if the guy with the sequined outfits and outrageous glasses is channeling Jerry Lee Lewis, standing and pounding on the 88s for dear life.

Yep, all for the glory of rock 'n roll. Turn it up. Again and again.

Watch Elton John and Band perform "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" in Central Park, New York 1980.

"Spectacle: Elvis Costello with. . ." To Return

The unique music interview show hosted by Elvis Costello, "Spectacle: Elvis Costello with. . .," is to return for a second season on The Sundance Channel. Paste reports that the premiere is set for December 9. The program is devoted to delving into the influences of artists and the craft of instrument playing and song writing, making it a music geek's dream. Reportedly, guests set to appear this go-round include Bruce Springsteen, Neko Case, The Edge & Bono, Lyle Lovett and Ray LaMontagne. The official Spectacle web site still has a backlog of video shorts from the first season. [DVD box set of the first season is coming to Canada on November 10, but no announcement yet on release for US and UK.] Make sure you check out the Smokey Robinson clip on how he first met Barry Gordy.

And speaking of Smokey Bill, the man Bob Dylan once famously dubbed "America's greatest living poet" will be delivering the keynote address at next March's SXSW Festival in Austin.

23 October 2009

Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce!

Not among the 96,000 fans set to fill the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California this Sunday night to watch the last American stop on U2's 360 Tour? No worries. The band has announced that the entire concert will be streamed live starting at 8.30pm local (i.e. Pacific) time on the U2 website and on YouTube. Two full replays will follow as well at both sites.

22 October 2009

15 Minutes of Fame Update

The New York Times Magazine recently tried to figure out how the algorithm works that drives internet radio service Pandora. We here at TNOP are satisfied with the simple fact that it is pretty cool.

Historically one of the more vocal champions of hip-hop, Sasha Frere-Jones declares in the October 26 issue of The New Yorker that 2009 marks its demise as a musical genre, in no small part due to the pop leanings of Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3. No comment as of yet from Nas, who out-Nostradamused Frere-Jones back in 2006.

The photographic exhibition "Who Shot Rock & Roll" opens October 30 and runs through January 31 at the Brooklyn Museum.

Last weekend, TNOP had the pleasure of taking in the "Andy Warhol: The Last Decade" exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The focus is on the final years of the artist's work, but there is also a special presentation of its in-house Warhol collection as well as monitors continuously looping the famous screen tests of Lou Reed, Nico, Dennis Hopper and others who hung out at The Factory in the 1960s.

The Fader runs a feature on French rock band Phoenix. (We're still digging the album they put out this year, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.) And catch the group performing live on "Sound Opinions" this weekend.

The Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones power trio, awkwardly dubbed Them Crooked Vultures, have announced the track listing of their self-titled album to be released on November 16. They will also play a handful of dates in the UK in December.

Albums You Must Own (#2 of a series)

Pleased To Meet Me (Sire 1987)

A raucous bar band clearly influenced by the punk music scene, Minneapolis' The Replacements formed in 1980. A demo tape given to a local record store owner with dreams of starting his own record company led to the group's first record a year later on now legendary indie label Twin/Tone, Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash. Two other LPs and an EP followed. Most notable of these may have been 1983's Let It Be, which commonly lands on "Best Albums of the 1980's" lists, which famously earned an "A+" from persnickety rock critic Robert Christgau, then writing in The Village Voice.

No doubt: Let It Be is a great record, mixing the punk sensibilities with the newly developing songwriting maturity of the linchpin of The Replacements: singer and guitarist Paul Westerberg. The bookend tracks of the album will always be rock highlights: "I Will Dare," an aggressive, urgent mandolin-driven (courtesy of R.E.M.'s Peter Buck) rockabilly number, and "Answering Machine," a turn-it-up-to-11 solo guitar and voice song that encapsulates the uneasy transition of Westerberg from notorious stage presence to promising author.

With predictable indignation from some fans, The Replacements signed with Warner Brothers subsidiary Sire and released 1985's solid effort Tim, produced by Tommy Ramone. Subsequently, founding member and guitarist Bob Stinson left the band either because he disagreed with Westerberg's new musical path or had let alcohol abuse get the best of him.

But the next professional decision proved to be artistically brilliant: going to Memphis to record with the accomplished Jim Dickinson. Throughout his career as a musician, Dickinson would play with such rock Illuminati as Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. In 1987, his producing credits had included the critically acclaimed Third/Sister Lovers by Big Star.

The result of the sessions at Ardent Studios was Pleased To Meet Me, a diverse collection of songs marrying the profound with the profane of The Replacements. The juxtaposition of the business and the fans is illustrated aptly by the record's cover (above).

The 11 tracks clock in just shy of 33 minutes, an ode to the old LP format. And there isn't a misfire among them. The first words out of Westerberg's mouth in the nasty Stones-ish opener "I.O.U." are: Get me out of this stinkin' fresh air/Ninety days in the electric chair. And as if to reinforce the "no surrender" vibe, it is followed by the immediate bombast of "Alex Chilton," a tribute to the mysterious Memphis-bred lead singer of The Box Tops and the aforementioned Big Star. But wait; is our boy Paul stretching his creative legs? Indeed he is, artfully melding the soul and pop of Chilton's unique sound underneath the chugging heavy lead guitar line. Reinforcing the cult-like mystery of the man in music circles, Westerberg inquires: Children by the million/Sing for Alex Chilton when he comes around/Saying I'm in love/What's that song?/I'm in love with that song - and going as far as to personally profess I never travel far/Without a little big star. It's a performance that will serve to be one of the highlights of The Replacements' career.

The fun-house clatter coupled with Sex Pistols ethos of "I Don't Know" follows, directly addressing the indie vs. sell-out question (One foot in the door/The other foot in the gutter/The sweet smell that you adore/Yeah, I think I'd rather smother). The almost bipolar life on the road is embodied in the first full exhale on the album in the slow, jazzy vibe of "Nightclub Jitters." The clever pacing, both musically and lyrically, of Pleased To Meet Me closes out Side One with the first person mental disintegration of a young man on "The Ledge."

The flip side of the 33rpm jangles forward, but barely. The singer dismisses out of hand a hope for absolution because The words I thought I brought/Are now out of the question/Never mind. Is it, indeed, All over but the shouting/Just a waste of time? Maybe. Westerberg then laments the loss of a particular love in "Valentine," but at least cares enough to look back and rhapsodize about the experience.

Then it's back to basics for The 'Mats. Or at least bellying up to the bar to numb all the heartache the listener has been enduring for the past few tracks. "Shooting Dirty Pool" and "Red Red Wine" give us the buzz-y feedback feeling of the time-honored rock virtues of drinking and raising hell.

The album then reaches its apex with two tales of frustrating attempts to achieve meaningful human connection. But at least the narrators are actively struggling and not just throwing in the towel as in the previous album tales of lonesome mid-air tumbles or emptying the last change out of one's pocket. A gentle blues anchored by a meandering acoustic guitar melody, "Skyway," defines wintertime in Minneapolis for anyone familiar with the pedestrian labyrinths above the streets. The final track is an out-and-out triumph: "Can't Hardly Wait," which would serve as a springboard to a more confident songwriting path for Westerberg (but unfortunately - and maybe unfairly - not a more lucrative career, both in future Replacements and solo work). Producer Dickinson pulls out all the stops here: Chilton sits in on guitar and the Memphis Horns lend a firm bottom leading to the song's bridge. Purposely ambiguous (will the character ever find what he is looking for?), "Can't Hardly Wait" finds Westerberg waxing truly poetic (I'll write you a letter tomorrow/Tonight I can't hold a pen/Someone's got a stamp that I can borrow/I promise I won't blow the address again) as well as brilliantly wry (Jesus rides beside me/He never buys any smokes), and eventually soars even further with the aid of . . . a string section. The perfect production fade-out leaves you wanting more.

As a listener, you've gone lyrically from I.O.U. nothing to I can hardly wait. Are these characters using Westerberg's voice in rock purgatory suddenly seeing a glimmer of light? Or are they stuck in a parallel universe? You yearn to know the answer, so you have no choice: you turn the record over, and start the journey all over again.

Additional links:

David Fricke's original review of the album in Rolling Stone, July 2, 1987.

Reviews of the 2008 Rhino reissues of four albums by The Replacements, including 9.3 rating for Pleased To Meet Me, in Pitchfork.

21 October 2009

All The World Over (Some News)

One of TNOP's favorite American bands, Wilco, just finished a two-night stand in their hometown of Chicago. The band's Boswell, Chicago Tribune writer (and Marquette University grad) Greg Kot, critiqued the first show at the UIC Pavillion. And Paste reports that the band will go into the recording studio in January to sow the seeds of a new album.

"The Complete Monterey Pop Festival" was recently released on Blu-Ray format. Audiophile Audition thinks it's terrific.

Little Steven Van Zandt, President Grant's Secret Service men Jim West and Artemus Gordon, AND the evil Dr. Miguelito Loveless? Yup, Little Steven's Underground Garage celebrates one of the great TV series, Wild Wild West, in this weekend's episode. Check local radio listings, tune in Sirius 25, XM 59 or catch up with the archive at the show's groovy website.

Steve Ferguson, guitarist and co-founder of NRBQ, passed away at age 60.

Beach House and Grizzly Bear played the Palladium in LA on Tuesday night. Margaret Wappler reviews the show in her Pop & Hiss blog, which includes video from the performance.

NPR is giving us a sneak stream of the upcoming R.E.M. Live At The Olympia two album set of (count 'em) 39 songs, recorded in 2007 during a five night stand in Paris.

Here's a treat: Harper Simon covering Nick Drake's "From The Morning." (And yes, he's the famous "child of my first marriage" mentioned in "Graceland.")

And finally, Happy Birthday to Eddie Brigati, purveyor with Felix Caviliere of some of the most beautiful blue-eyed soul ever produced. Watch this performance of "Good Lovin'" by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Young Rascals and chair dance.

20 October 2009

Rock Monuments - Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin

Not far from the South Bank of the River Liffey in the Docklands section of Dublin, Republic of Ireland is a block of buildings chock full of graffiti tags located on a small street named Windmill Lane. [Our own TNOP correspondent Celtic Ray is seen strolling the area above.] A two-story building, now boarded up, was in fact the site of many great moments in rock 'n roll.

Windmill Lane Studios was opened in 1978 by Brian Masterson, who designated himself as company director and head engineer. Traditional Irish music and film scores (performed by as many as an 80-piece orchestra) were recorded initially at the facility. Even though the Irish rock scene had started to bloom around this time, groups like Thin Lizzy, The Boomtown Rats and The Undertones all went overseas to record their records.

Then came producer Steve Lillywhite and his production in 1980 of U2's first album, Boy: "We recorded at a place called Windmill Lane in Dublin. It was great for traditional Irish music but no Irish rock band had recorded there. . .So the studio crew were very surprised when I decided I wanted to record the drums out in the hallway by the receptionist, as there was this wonderful clattery sound I wanted to get. But that meant we couldn't record until the evening, because this girl was sat answering the phones all day. . .It was all pretty slapdash, But funnily enough, it's not unlike how the band still records."

U2 would go on to record October as well as the seminal War with Lillywhite at Windmill Lane. Portions of The Unforgettable Fire and one of the best selling albums of all-time, The Joshua Tree, helmed by producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, were also recorded in studio two.

The studios expanded in the 1980s and until its closing in 2006, Windmill Lane hosted a number of rock's luminaries, including R.E.M., Van Morrison (Back On Top), The Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello (Spike), Kate Bush (Hounds of Love) and The Waterboys (Fisherman's Blues).

After moving to a new facility in Ringsend, Dublin (and retaining the same name), the boarded up Windmill Lane studio became a place for an on-going fan homage to U2. In addition to our original photos above, you can check out these shots as well.

Texas Redux

The twelfth full length album from Lyle Lovett, Natural Forces, arrives in stores and on the web today, October 20. [His label, Curb/Lost Highway, reports that Amazon is selling via its mp3 store for $3.99 - supposedly this date only.] Shallow Nation gives us the track listing and video of a couple of recent performances of the new material on the UK's "Later with Jools Holland."

The record features four original Lovett compositions. The remaining tracks are songs written by Texas tune smiths like Townes Van Zandt, Vince Bell, Eric Taylor and Robert Earl Keen. In that sense, it is a bit of a successor to Lovett's wonderful 1998 double-disc, Step Inside This House.

Lyle Lovett and His Large Band are out on tour for the remainder of October and into November. Dates can be found here.

19 October 2009

First, This News

John Fogerty talks to USA Today about making his long-gestating The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again. While the first 1973 Blue Ridge effort was a strictly solo affair, this time the CCR veteran uses a crack back-up band to interpret a unique set of covers. And Bruce Springsteen stops by to sing Don Everly harmonies to Fogerty's Phil-like lead on "When Will I Be Loved."

Muzzle of Bees links to a worthy Dylan cover to add to our - and your - collection: Andrew Bird's take on Desire's "Oh Sister," accompanied by the talented St. Vincent. Somewhere Bobby D and Emmylou Harris are nodding with approval.

UK harmony masters The Magic Numbers report that they are completing a new album, due for release in the spring. In the meantime, they are out on a short tour through England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and invite you to download a new song for listening pleasure. The brother and sister act also pass along that they've recently collaborated with Mali's Amadou & Miriam as well, available via iTunes.

Nate Chinen's cover story profiles Wilco guitar whiz Nels Cline in the latest issue of The Jazz Times.

WXRT's (Spin and) Marty Lenertz has a review of the Rodrigo y Gabriella show last Friday night in Chicago. The dynamic acoustic guitar duo's latest, 11:11, will probably make a number of year-end "best of" lists.

The Los Angeles Times ran a previously unpublished story by Kurt Vonnegut in yesterday's editions, entitled "Look At The Birdie."

And so it goes.

15 October 2009

Good Morning Here's The News

. . .and most of it is good. . .

Mojo rates the 10 Best Rock Guitars Ever! With some cool videos of noted guitar heroes Neil Young, Peter Green, Duane Allman, Mick Ronson, Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page playing their favorite instrument to boot. What's #1? Let's just say a kid from little Waukesha, Wisconsin came up with this cool idea one day. . .

On its continued ramp up to the 25th anniversary, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame releases the 8-DVD set "Rock Hall Live." It ain't cheap - $120 for the box. Joel Francis reviews and weighs in whether its worth the tab.

Tom Waits is releasing a double-live set from his 2008 US and European tour entitled Glitter And Doom Live. His web site offers a free download of six songs, but darned if we didn't have a time and a half zipping 'em. Maybe you'll have better luck.

So much for our report the other day about Thom Yorke and Radiohead swearing off long-players. Now Ed O'Brien tells NME that "WE WILL BE MAKING AN ALBUM" (his caps, not ours). Go on lads, get in the studio, then.

Finally, we keep meaning to lead you to the Fresh Air interview Terry Gross did with Mick Jones (yes, The Clash's Mick Jones) and Tony James (ex-Generation X), now known together as Carbon/Silicon. So click here and enjoy over the noon hour or the weekend.

14 October 2009

Ultimate Singles Jukebox [Slot 102]

b/w "It's Just A Matter Of Time"
Bill Withers
Sussex/A&M Records 241
Released 1972
Produced by Bill Withers
Written by Bill Withers

By the time William Harrison "Bill" Withers Jr began recording for Sussex Records in 1971, he was already 33 years old. Hailing from a dot on the map called Slab Fork, West Virginia, Withers had already served a nine year hitch in the Navy and worked as an assembler in several different Los Angeles area companies, including Douglas Aircraft Corporation. In 1970, his demo tape was heard by an executive at Sussex and he was offered a record contract.

In 1971, Withers burst on to the music scene with the Booker T. Jones (of Booker T. & The MG's fame) produced album Just As I Am. "Ain't No Sunshine" was the breakout hit, reaching #3 on the Hot 100. It subsequently was awarded the Grammy for Best R&B Song of the Year. "Grandma's Hands," a sweet ode to Withers' own grandmother, also made some noise on the charts.

By 1972, Withers had convinced band members from the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band ("Express Yourself") to tour with him: drummer James Gadson, guitarist Benorce Blackmon, keyboardist Ray Jackson and bassist Melvin Dunlap. Along with percussionist Bobbye Hall, this group would be the musical cornerstone for Withers' best studio album: Still Bill, released in the summer of 1972. The biggest hit of Withers' career came from these sessions: "Lean On Me," which shot to #1 the week of July 8, 1972. But a second song from Still Bill, riding one of the funkiest grooves to hit the airwaves, would rise as high as #2 and tag Withers as a man to be reckoned with in a star-studded popular music field of the time (for example, Stevie Wonder was just starting to hit his solo stride at this point).

The Withers penned "Use Me" grabs the listener immediately with an irresistable keyboard hook and syncopated beat. The lyrics are grabbers - we don't particularly know who's done who wrong: "It's true you really do abuse me/You get me in a crowd of high-class people/And then you act real rude to me. . ./I wanna spread the news/That if it feels this good being used/You just keep on using me/Until you've used me up."

For the most part "Use Me" has remained a staple on radio. The band used on Still Bill later recorded a live set at Carnegie Hall that holds up particularly well. Withers eventually left Sussex and signed with Columbia, where he cut four albums. He then concentrated on collaborations with the likes of Grover Washington Jr (scoring the hit "Just The Two Of Us") and The Crusaders. But Withers then faded away from the music scene. In 1988, a ten year old song, "Lovely Day," was remixed and became a hit in the UK. He resurfaced briefly again in 2004, but only as a writer, contributing two tunes to the Jimmy Buffet release "License To Chill."

Bill Withers has not recorded any new music in almost 25 years, despite constant rumors of a lot of unused material and invitations from some of the more note-worthy producers in the business to collaborate. A documentary, also entitled Still Bill, was produced and screened in limited release this past summer. A DVD release date has yet to be announced.

Be sure to check out this video of Bill Withers and his band performing (at a slightly slower tempo) "Use Me," probably taken from English television's The Old Grey Whistle Stop back in 1972. The guitar work of Benorce Blackmon is particularly enthralling.

13 October 2009

This Date In Rock History: 13 October

Congratulations! Seems like you've done it again. . .

Happy Birthday to Paul Simon, Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, Kennedy Center Honoree and first recipient of the Gershwin Prize For Popular Song. And one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the rock era. Still producing vital new music at 68 (check out 2006's Surprise, his adventurous collaboration with Brian Eno), Simon will be headlining the first night of the 25th anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concerts on October 29, along with Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band - and apparently even boyhood chum Art Garfunkel. An anniversary special featuring the concerts and preproduced material will be aired on HBO on November 29 at 8pm ET/PT.

If you need introduction, or a reminder, of how prolific a run he has had as a solo artist, play these four albums straight through: Paul Simon; There Goes Rhymin' Simon; Still Crazy After All These Years; and the groundbreaking Graceland. Nary a word nor a note wasted.

Enjoy this performance of "Graceland" from Simon's great tour of 1987.

12 October 2009

Oh Boy! The News Today

Thanks much to our friend Ryan for linking us at Muzzle of Bees. Bookmark and visit his site daily to stay ahead of the curve on up and coming artists, along with mp3 downloads, videos and concert dates.

The Decemberists have released an animated video for "The Rake's Song," a very likable tune from their latest The Hazards of Love.

The new iPhone app Concert Vault allows you to access the huge collection of live performances that are available on line at Wolfgang's Vault. And it's free.

One of our favorite American bands, Spoon, just announced a New Year's Eve show at The Riverside in Milwaukee. The Austin outfit is preparing their sixth studio release, the EP Got Nuffin. The single of the same name has been out for a couple of months and still sounds fresh.

The Flaming Lips first album in three years, Embryonic, comes out tomorrow (Tuesday) and Paste Magazine reports that they will perform for the last time in 2009 in Los Angeles Wednesday night at the Nike/Ricardo Montalban (we kid you not) Theater in Hollywood. Good luck scoring tickets.

TNOP patron saint Bob Dylan keeps finding ways to stay in the news. First, the Christmas album arrives in stores October 13. Now it is reported that a never released song from the 1965 Bringing It All Back Home sessions titled "California" will be released on (again, we kid you not) NCIS: The Official Soundtrack Album - Volume 2 from CBS Records on November 3.

Be sure to check out the video reminiscences of LA Times rock critic Robert Hilburn on Dylan, John Lennon, Bono, Kurt Cobain, Bruce Springsteen, Janis Joplin and Michael Jackson. It's part of the media push behind his recently published memoir Corn Flakes With John Lennon. Watch for our review of the book in future weeks to come.

Pitchfork embedded the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack yesterday, including the songs from Thom Yorke, Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver & St. Vincent and Lykke Li. Unfortunately, the audio was quickly taken down. Album release set for October 20 on Chop Shop/Atlantic. Set list:
01 Death Cab for Cutie: "Meet Me on the Equinox"
02 Band of Skulls: "Friends"
03 Thom Yorke: "Hearing Damage"
04 Lykke Li: "Possibility"
05 The Killers: "A White Demon Love Song"
06 Anya Marina: "Satellite Heart"
07 Muse: "I Belong to You (New Moon Remix)"
08 Bon Iver and St. Vincent: "Rosyln"
09 Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: "Done All Wrong"
10 Hurricane Bells: "Monsters"
11 Sea Wolf: "The Violet Hour"
12 OK Go: "Shooting the Moon"
13 Grizzly Bear: "Slow Life" [ft. Beach House's Victoria Legrand]
14 Editors: "No Sound But the Wind"
15 Alexandre Desplat: "New Moon (The Meadow)"

They'll meet 'neath that giant Exxon sign...

The official closing of Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey occurred last night. No, the Jets or the Giants didn't play football. It was the Heart Stoppin', Pants Droppin', House Rockin', Brain Shockin', Earthquakin', Booty Shakin', Viagra Takin', History Makin', Love Makin', Sexifyin', Electrifyin', Legendary. . .E Street Band! doing the honors over a five night stand over at the former swamps in Jersey.

Bruce Springsteen opened each show with "(Bring On Your) Wrecking Ball," a new song penned for the occasion. (A video performance is streaming at The Boss' website.) The Boss and the E Streeters have performed at the venue 24 times since 1984, the year Born In The USA shot into the rock stratosphere. Appropriately, that album was played sequentially from Side 1 through the end of Side 2 at three of the five closing concerts. (Born To Run occupied that slot the other two.) But that work was only part of an epic 31 song marathon, highlighted on the front end by "Spirit In The Night" and ending with a frenzy of figurative roof-raisers: "Born To Run"; the Stax/Eddie Floyd classic "Raise Your Hand"; the aptly chosen first #1 chart-topper of The Rolling Stones, "The Last Time"; rockabilly nugget "Seven Nights To Rock"; the Celtic-fused stomper "American Land"; and the much-loved, seldom performed "Kitty's Back."

With Springsteen calling "last dance," the band turned out the lights of Giants Stadium with Tom Waits' "Jersey Girl."

One week after celebrating his 60th birthday, The Boss and his bandmates continue to make their case as the greatest live act in the history of rock 'n roll.

11 October 2009

Celtic Ray

[Note to Readers: On occasion, Celtic Ray sends TNOP a note from County Clare, weighing in on various aspects of the Irish music scene.]

Dia dhuit! TNOP Readers,

County Kildare's Bell X1 have had an eventful 2009, releasing their fourth record, Blue Lights On The Runway (YepRoc). It contains one of our favorite singles of the year, the Talking Heads-infused "The Great Defector." The single reached #3 on the Irish charts and can be downloaded for free at Or enjoy a live performance earlier this year from Dublin here. Bell x1 also opened for U2 at their first tour date this summer at Croke Park.

The aforementioned local heroes Paul "Bono Vox" Hewson, Dave "The Edge" Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr have come a long way from originally recording on Windmill Lane in the Docklands area of Dublin. Embracing "biggest band in the world" status yet once more, the boys are lugging a 170 ton, 360-degree stage around the world which requires transport assistance of 120 trucks. A recent lengthy cover story in Rolling Stone follows the latest exploits of U2 on the road. While the critics were all over the map in their reviews of No Line On The Horizon, the raves are everywhere for the live show (Jon Pareles in the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune rock critic Greg Kot are good examples).

Meanwhile, word has come that erstwhile head man of The Frames, Glen Hansard, has reteamed with Marketa Irglova for another record as The Swell Season. NPR Music reports the tentative track listing and also provides us with a performance of some of the new material, to be released under the title Strict Joy, out on October 27.

Finally, if you are looking for some enduring entertainment, give a (re)viewing to the fine indie film Waking Ned Devine, if only for the opening shots of The Isle of Man and musical background from "Fisherman's Blues" by The Waterboys.


09 October 2009

The Live Vault: Portugal. The Man

9 October 2009
Turner Hall, Milwaukee

[Note to our readers: On occasion, our far flung correspondents review concerts. Here's one.]

Uniquely named Portland-based band Portugal. The Man took the stage last night before a very enthusiastic, young audience at Milwaukee's Turner Hall and played with ferocity, skill and heart. The group has been touring on the heels of this summer's release, The Satanic Satanists, starting in the Northeast US in mid-September and winding their way east through the end of October, before headlining the remainder of the year in Europe. But it was the band's note-worthy set at this summer's Lollapalooza in Grant Park, Chicago that had sustained buzz about the band in the Midwest and created curiosity for this reviewer.

This still-young band is in search of its own sound and as a listener they seem to tantalizingly close, especially when leaning on the songs of Satanic and its immediate 2008 long-player, Censored Colors. Portugal. The Man faces the familiar quandary in pop music: Do you stay the indie darlings and carve a small niche among a select group of listeners or try to expand your sonic landscape and slip into more of the (to some, dreaded) mainstream? That push and pull was evident in their sometimes uneven, but always dedicated performance last night.

Of course, in order to make such a leap, your band better have the chops. Such is the case with Portugal. The Man. The set was dominated by singer John Baldwin Gourley and the ringing sound of his over sized Gretsch guitar. Looking like a cross between Cream-era Clapton and a shaggy Duane Allman, the mustachioed Gourley switches to the upper register with seeming ease from his God-given tenor, and coaxes emotion from playing skilled chords to match. Boyhood pal Zachary Scott Carothers is a strong presence, confronting the audience head on as a counter to Gourley's odd sideways - albeit center - position on stage. His driving bass and complimentary vocals serve as a vital bottom to this group, wedded to the ever present gaze and beat of drummer Jason Sechrist. Depending on the song structure, Ryan Neighbors' keyboards alternate between providing fills and sharing "lead" with Gourley on some choruses.

The band's influences seem myriad, both obvious and subtle: T. Rex ("And I"), the trippiness of My Morning Jacket, David Bowie (covering the Ziggy Stardust era "Moonage Daydream"), the power chords of original Santana and (!) Harry Nilsson's "One." And they even threw in a snippet of an MGMT song.

The point in bringing out these references is to emphasize that Portugal. The Man appear to love music (cue the elusive interview of Russell in Almost Famous). And it shows in their confidence in playing the new material, particularly "People Say" and "Lovers In Love." Admiringly, the band gives no quarter when they play, always seemingly in attack mode.

And there's also the rub. As a relatively new headliner, Portugal. The Man needs to learn to construct a set of music that will eventually lead to a crescendo with its live audience. But given its talent, I'll be in the audience again next time expecting that area, too, has progressed.

The one vexing question is why doesn't this infective live energy translate onto the Satanic disc like it did with Colors? One can only chalk it up to muddied production. But, alas, there is saving grace: do yourself a favor and order the Deluxe Edition of the CD, which mirror every track with an acoustic version, letting the songs and the band shine in natural light.


Portugal. The Man's new release The Satanic Satanists is out now on Equal Vision Records.
An acoustic version of "People Say" from Vimeo is linked here.

Ultimate Singles Jukebox [Slot 101]

b/w "Dr. Feelgood"
Aretha Franklin
Atlantic Records, 1967
Produced by Jerry Wexler & Arif Mardin
Written by Otis Redding

Before she was rightly dubbed "The Queen of Soul," Aretha Franklin more than paid her dues in the musical trenches. The daughter of a popular preacher in Detroit, Michigan, Franklin first came to the gospel forefront when she was 14 years old, singing in her father's church. It was through the Detroit Baptist choir that Aretha came into contact with the greatest gospel singers of the day: Mahalia Jackson, R. H. Harris and Marion Williams. But there were two gospel kingpins that influenced her the most: Sam Cooke and Clara Ward. Much like Dylan breaking from the folk scene, Cooke had busted loose from religious music, blazing a trail of commercial success and triumphing in the secular music world, a feat Franklin would one day realize herself. And while Clara Ward never "crossed over," Aretha modeled her pinpoint style in the recording studio to make records so pristine that they defied the "gut bucket" imprint of Atlantic Records and sounded more like they were produced at Motown over on West Grand Boulevard in native city.

Franklin had toiled away at Columbia Records for six years without making much of a splash in the popular music scene. But Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic saw something different in her and put Aretha in the hands of now legendary producer Jerry Wexler, a man who had worked with Ray Charles, Big Joe Turner and Otis Redding and was a major reason that R&B had came to the forefront of American popular music. So what was his idea for recording this woman with the towering voice but no hits? Put her in a studio in late 1966, originally in Muscle Shoals, Alabama with a band of mostly white musicians who had already played some of the hardest rocking soul hits of the day. They would be eventually transported to New York City to record one of the most seminal recordings in popular music history.

The song in question was written by Redding and originally released as a 45 over a year earlier on August 15, 1965 (Volt 128). Listening to the single now, it is a dynamic performance punctuated by the pleading insistence of the Memphis Horns and the unforgettable rhythm bottom of Al Jackson on drums and Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass. Like most records by Redding, the feeling transferred to the listener is deeply emotional. It was a decent hit for Otis, rising as high as #4 on the R&B chart and #15 in the Hot 100.

But then, in a quote attributed to Redding in a conversation with Wexler, "that little girl done stole my song." According to Dave Marsh in The Heart of Rock & Soul, Aretha and her sister Carolyn apparently were fiddling with "Respect" in the studio when they "began pulling threads of tempo and phrasing together in a way that suggested putting them on tape." One of the most important differences in Aretha's version is the presence of a bridge; in Otis' original there is none. Speculation is that Franklin and Wexler lifted their idea for that portion of the song from Sam & Dave's "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby."

Observers say there have been few more precise tacticians in the recording studio than Aretha Franklin. She did not waste takes; rather, she came in the studio having done her homework. "Respect" is one of those examples that perfectly corrals Aretha's powerful voice, criticized by some for being too over-the-map in a concert setting. (For what it's worth, I think this complaint is overblown; it just shines the spotlight on how great so many of her records were, especially those under Wexler's tutelage.)

One of the session men on "Respect," Charlie Chalmers (one of the saxophonists), recently provided an eye-witness account of the session recording environment:

NEIL CONAN: Well, set the scene for us. The record was recorded Valentine's Day, 1967.

Mr. CHALMERS: Yes. And we recorded that at Atlantic recording studio in New York. And we were in the middle of finishing up an album on Aretha, and that was one of the songs in it of course. And it was a history in the making no doubt.

CONAN: And when it was being made, did people look around at each other and say, oh, my gosh, this is important.

Mr. CHALMERS: Yes. After the record was finished, which are about five minutes on the playback after we recorded it, because back then, we recorded everything, just about everything live, because the technology was not what it is today. And so, one of the second thing that was done after the track and the vocal was done, which Aretha sang and played piano, at the same time, did her main vocal right on the spot with the rhythm section and the horns. Those were not over dubbed. And - but she and her sister, Carol, did the back-up vocals right after the record was complete. And that afternoon, everyone was just really freaking out over what a groove it was. And it was just a natural. There was no doubt about that.

"Respect" hits you immediately in the solar plexus. Every time. Even after 40 years. A crack horn section of Floyd Newman, Chalmers, Wayne Jackson and the incomparable King Curtis provide the intro with Chips Moman's guitar. Aretha enters: this is no longer the plaintive coaxing of Otis' lyrics. This woman singing is insistent that she definitely has what the man wants and demands proper respect in return. One of the revelations on close listening is the underlying driving piano of Franklin herself, a vastly underrated musician in this regard. The call and answer, gospel style, between the lead and the background singers demands that the listener PAY ATTENTION. As Marsh astutely observed, "there's not a 'Hey Baby!' or 'Mis-tuh' that's accidental." As if this filling the air weren't thrilling enough, smack in the middle comes one of the most sublime sax solos ever recorded by King Curtis. It deservedly hit #1 on both the R&B and Pop charts in 1967.

Some say it is the most perfect 2 minutes and 26 seconds ever transferred to wax, and The Night Owl finds it hard to refute that opinion. "Respect" belongs on the Mount Rushmore of popular music and rightfully takes its place in the poll position of our Ultimate Singles Jukebox.

Other links:
Aretha performs "Respect" live in 1967
The New York Times review of Jerry Wexler's memoir (1993)

This Date In Rock History: 9 October

On this date in 1940, John Winston Lennon is born to Julia Stanley and Alfred Lennon at Oxford Street Maternity Hospital in Liverpool, England. Would have been 69 today, had he not gone away. A working class hero is something to be.

So all you people in the cheaper seats clap your hands for Mr. Lennon, MBE in honor of his birthday. And the rest of you, just rattle your jewelry.

08 October 2009

Bobby D Covered (Again)

You'll find that we here at TNOP are obsessed with most anything Dylan, and covers of his songs are high on the list. So it was with great pleasure that we discovered that jazz man extraordinaire Dr. Ben Sidran announced on his website that Dylan Different will be released by Bonsai Music via iTunes and CD Baby on November 16. Even better, we've got a taste of his take on Highway 61 Revisited on video. Cool as expected from the sometime UW-Madison music professor and past collaborator with Boz Scaggs, Mose Allison, Steve Miller and Van Morrison.

Track listing:
Everything Is Broken
Highway 61 Revisited
Tangled Up In Blue
Gotta Serve Somebody
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
Ballad of a Thin Man
Maggie's Farm
Knockin' On Heaven's Door
Subterranean Homesick Blues
On The Road Again
All I Really Want To Do
Blowin' in the Wind

[Now if it was only easier to buy Sidran's old classic The Doctor Is In. The grooves on my LP are just about worn out. Suffice to say on that album his band includes Larry Carlton, Richard Davis, Phil Upchurch, Blue Mitchell and John Guerin. It's a safe bet this title will come up on the ALBUMS YOU MUST OWN list in the near future.]

Albums You Must Own (#1 of a series)

Rough Mix (MCA 1977)

Admittedly, I came to this album late, more than three years after its original release in September 1977. Maybe it was because the intervening period was filled with the urgent sounds of The Clash, Talking Heads and Elvis Costello. Don't get me wrong: I was an avowed fan of The Who, and in fact their leader, Pete Townshend, had answered critics labelling them "dinosaurs" in the age of punk and disco with the powerful Who Are You in 1978. But a side project with a lesser-known member of The Faces? This record had maybe merited a small ad in the back of Rolling Stone and it didn't even garner much air play on the few free-form FM stations left on the dial.

So when my roommate came through the door with an excited look on his face proclaiming he had picked up a great LP while trolling the local record store cum head shop, I nodded and waited for him to drop the needle. . .and. . .

BAM! Roaring out of the gate comes Townshend's stinging guitar on "My Baby Gives It Away," a light-hearted take on, well, favors in a low-rent apartment setting. But then there is an immediate right-turn to Lane's "Nowhere To Run," highlighted by Peter Hope-Evans gorgeous harmonica. And so the yin and yang of Rough Mix begins; and it dawns on you maybe that's the meaning of the album's title.

Lane's contributions are measurable, and at times magnificent. In retrospect, there is a tinge of sadness to the whole project given it was around this time that he was diagnosed with MS. (Lane would live with the illness for 2o years before finally succumbing to its devastation.) The native of East End London was apparently keen on merging rock with Irish ballads and Scottish and British folk music. Indeed, "Annie" and its dirge-like quality juxtaposed with the stomping "Catmelody" (with the unmistakable back-beat of none other than Charlie Watts) could both fit at a traditional Irish wake, with a mourner holding a tumbler of Jameson's in one hand and a pint of Guinness in the other.

Townshend counter-punches with "Misunderstood," a Dylanesque update of "My Generation" that rides an odd, but irresistible, beat cushioned by guitar, harmonica, cowbell and drums. In understated fashion, he wills you to listen to the sneering lyrics: Just wanna to be misunderstood/Wanna be feared in my neighborhood/Just wanna be a moody man/Say things that nobody can understand. And "Keep Me Turning" - a confusing tale that nonetheless evokes true emotion via a great vocal - gives us some of the most fluid guitar work of Townshend's career.

But the spiritual and musical highlight of this recorded gem has to be "Heart To Hang Onto." With Lane singing the verses and Townshend answering with the chorus, the musical interplay of Townshend's guitar, John "Rabbit" Bundrick's mellotron and John Entwhistle's brass arrangement cuts to the quick of the listener. [Townshend resurrected the tune not long after Lane's death with the wise choice of Eddie Vedder as co-vocalist. See a performance of "Heart To Hang Onto" from a 1999 David Letterman show here.]

The ultimate goal in art is to make one feel the innate emotion of the work, a point addressed by rock critic Dave Marsh in his original review of Rough Mix: "The glory of this album and of the work of Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane throughout their careers is that art and the deepest spiritual aspiration are completely intertwined. Often, of course, that makes for a rough mix, and a rougher life. But it's worth the turbulence, for it touches closer to the heart of the rock & roll experience than almost anything I know." TNOP bows in agreement.

07 October 2009

This Date In Rock History: 7 October

Happy 41st birthday, Thom Yorke. The New York Times reports that this past weekend the Radiohead frontman was at the Orpheum Theatre in LA with a new band, including Flea on bass, long-time producer Nigel Goodrich on keys and guitar, session man Joey Warnoker on drums and Mario Refosco adding percussion. The group - yet unnamed - played Yorke's solo record The Eraser in its entirety as well as a series of new tunes. Clips like this one abound over on YouTube. And no, Radiohead is not breaking up. But Thom insists no more albums.

I Got The News

Welcome to TNOP. Click by on a regular basis for a unique perspective on progression of popular music, running the gamut from the 1950s to the present. We'll round up news from various sites so you won't have to as well as provide original content for you to enjoy, including rotating departments:
Podcasts will be added eventually to compliment the various sections of the blog.

So . . . in the words of Founding Father Chuck Berry: Let It Rock.