30 November 2009

Ultimate Singles Jukebox [Slot 106]

Family Affair
b/w "Luv 'N Haight"
Sly & The Family Stone
Released 6 November 1971
Epic 5-10805
Written & Produced by Sly Stone

San Francisco Bay Area native Sly Stone (born Sylvester Stewart) took the music world by storm in the late 60's along with his interracial band, emphasizing a message of hope and empowerment with hit songs like "Stand!," "Dance To The Music" and "Everyday People." But by the end of the decade, the full-bodied sound of the group took a sudden turn that would foreshadow what would eventually be recognized as Sly's most influential work.

"Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" was still a communal work by the band, featuring traded vocals by Sly, his sister Rose, his brother Freddie and bassist Larry Graham. The heavy funk sound (which clearly would influence Miles Davis and George Clinton, among others)featured the soon to be popular slap bass style of Graham, the horns of Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson, and was anchored by the dependable drummer Greg Errico. But the lyrics bordered on bitter, with Sly tweaking his listeners for supposedly demanding a recycling of the band's positive message and for not letting him "be myself." It shot to number one on the pop and soul charts in February 1970.

And then Sly and The Family Stone went dark for close to two years. Sly moved to Los Angeles, fell into copious drug use, and disassociated himself with the majority of the band. Clive Davis of Epic Records released "Greatest Hits" as a result of the dearth of product. Although the collection was a big seller (there is no doubt it is one of the finest of the genre), the lack of new music also started to draw loud whispers in the press, wondering whether this was the premature end of one of the finer talents in rock.

But by the end of 1971, Sly had personally delivered the master tapes of a new album to Davis, produced at The Record Plant studios in L.A. There's A Riot Goin' On (a title supposedly in answer to Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On) was released on 20 November 1971. The lead single was shipped to radio stations two weeks earlier: "Family Affair." While the lyrics are a measured study of the difficulties that commonly exist within families, the sound and production were a stark departure not only for Sly, but rock itself.

"Family Affair" is motored by a drum machine track and Sly's bass. The production is murky, supposedly the result of Sly's constant overdubbing in the studio. (Whether intentional or not, The Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street, released six months later, would adopt this same muddy mix rendering many of the vocals undecipherable.) The only member of The Family Stone that contributes to the song is sister Rose, who provides the title's refrain while Sly digs into the low register of his voice, contrary to his then-familiar gospel style. The instrumental lead is carried by the Fender Rhodes played by Billy Preston, with the wah-wah guitar of Bobby Womack weaving in and out of the song.

The result is strangely affecting, its slow funk always inducing the listener to want to shuffle across the room. Sly thought "Family Affair" wasn't strong enough to merit single status, but his management and Epic Records convinced him otherwise. It would become the biggest selling 45 of his career, spending three weeks at number one on the pop charts and five weeks at the top of the R&B listings.

There's A Riot Goin' On would prove to be another gold album for Sly & The Family Stone. Despite mixed reviews upon release, it would also eventually be recognized by critics as one of the most influential records of all time. Unfortunately, Sly Stone would only continue his precipitous decline, eventually all but disappearing from the music scene, another casualty of personal foibles. Rock and roll still misses him.


Listen to "Family Affair."

25 November 2009

This Date In Rock History: 25 November

On this date in 1976, The Band played its last concert as an original quintet. Now famously known as "The Last Waltz" (original concert poster pictured above), the show took place at Bill Graham's Winterland Ballroom, an old ice skating rink located in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood. Immortalized in the Martin Scorsese documentary, The Band was joined by a Who's Who of the music world at the time.

Just in time for the 33rd anniversary and holiday listening, Wolfgang's Vault is streaming the entire, four hour show unedited for the first time! (Note: Listening is free, but you must register simply with e-mail address and password.) So, as Van The Man says, turn up your radio.

SET LIST (Links are to video performances from the film)
Shape I'm In
Life Is A Carnival
This Wheel's On Fire
W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
Georgia On My Mind
King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
Stage Fright
Rag Mama Rag
Intro/Who Do You Love (with Ronnie Hawkins)
Such A Night (With Dr. John)
Down South In New Orleans (with Dr. John)
Mystery Train (with Paul Butterfield)
Caledonia (with Muddy Waters)
All Our Past Times (with Eric Clapton)
Further On Up The Road (with Eric Clapton)
Four Strong Winds (with Neil Young)
Shadows and Light (with Joni Mitchell)
Furry Sings The Blues (with Joni Mitchell)
Dry Your Eyes (with Neil Diamond)
Tura Lura Lural (with Van Morrison)
Acadian Driftwood (with Joni Mitchell and Neil Young)
Genetic Method
Chest Fever
The Last Waltz Suite: Evangeline
Baby, Let Me Follow You Down (with Bob Dylan)
Hazel (with Bob Dylan)
I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met (with Bob Dylan)
Baby, Let Me Follow You Down (reprise) (with Bob Dylan)
Instrumental Jam #1
Instrumental Jam #2
The Band: Rick Danko - bass, fiddle, vocals; Levon Helm - drums, mandolin, vocals; Garth Hudson - organ, piano, accordion, synthesizers, soprano saxophone, violin; Richard Manuel - piano, organ, drums, clavinet, dobro, vocals; Robbie Robertson - guitar, piano, vocals

Horn Section: Richard Cooper - trumpet, flugelhorn; James Gordon - flute, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Jerry Hay - trumpet, flugelhorn; Howard Johnson - tuba, baritone saxophone, flugelhorn, bass clarinet; Charlie Keagle - clarinet, flute, saxophone; Tom Malone - trombone, euphonium, alto flute

22 November 2009

In Search of News

The talented but troubled music critic Robert Palmer was recently profiled in the New York Times. His estranged daughter has produced a documentary of her late father's travels in search of the muse and writer Anthony DeCurtis has edited a compilation of Palmer's essays.

The Guardian reviews the London Jazz Festival, headlined by the saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins. Even if you are not a jazz fan, treat yourself to Rollins' virtuosity by listening to the Rolling Stones' "Waiting On A Friend."

Paste picks the ten best movie soundtracks of the decade.

Speaking of the cinema, the end of the year means the push for the Oscars is about to begin. Potential soundtrack entries are no exception. Stereogum provides streaming audio of U2's "Winter" from Jim Sheridan's upcoming film Brothers as well as a couple of tunes by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis featured in the adaption of the Cormac McCarthy novel The Road.

The so-called "Never Ending Tour" of Bob Dylan wrapped up its latest chapter with multiple nights in, fittingly enough, New York City. TNOP thought the review from Roger Catlin at the Hartford Courant was interesting, particularly his discussion of the atmosphere created during Dylan's set and the words devoted to his under appreciated opening act, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Dion DiMucci.

And happy birthday to Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and Tom-Tom Club fame. Celebrate by dancing without inhibition to "Genius of Love."

21 November 2009

My Back Pages

Cornflakes With John Lennon
and Other Tales From A Rock 'N Roll Life
by Robert Hilburn
Rodale, 280 pages

For a musical genre that has only been in cultural focus for about 50 years, rock 'n roll has produced some notable books, from definitive biographies (Peter Guralnick's dual volume on Elvis, Last Train To Memphis and Careless Love) to rock as relevant sociology (Mystery Train by Greil Marcus) to collections of the advent of rock criticism (Lester Bangs' Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung). And while first person accounts of "rock as it happened" are becoming increasingly less rare, especially as the survivors reach their golden years, witnesses of a more dispassionate kind do not come along as often.

Enter Robert Hilburn, the chief music critic for the Los Angeles Times for over thirty years. Though certainly a fluid writer, one would expect Cornflakes With John Lennon to predictably be a compilation of his best columns and features published over the years. Instead, we are rewarded with a touching memoir of not only his unique relationships with the likes of Bob Dylan, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen, as well as Lennon, but the author's personal chronology of a life that parallels the birth of rock 'n roll to the present.

As a young boy growing up in the deep south, Hilburn recalls the wonderful sounds of Hank Williams and black blues artists that filled the air via the phonograph and radio. The family then moves to Southern California, and we get a first person account of attending the movie Blackboard Jungle, with teens literally dancing in the aisles to "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley and His Comets during the opening credits. Something different was in the air, and Hilburn found it one day listening to XERB, a powerful AM radio station broadcasting across the border in Mexico: the Big Bang of Rock, Elvis Presley. Although over the years he would pursue personal audiences with "The King" to no avail, and write sadly of his declining years, Hilburn's enduring love of the artist would create his thesis for Cornflakes: "What linked Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash and Ray Charles, the Beatles and Bob Dylan was the old-fashioned American notion that each individual can make a difference, whether you are a truck driver from Memphis or a blind piano player from southwest Georgia. Rock 'n roll is the promise of a better day, and the best artists spread that message with an almost missionary zeal. I've always believed in that liberating message, which is probably why I respond most to artists who fight to keep the promise alive."

Because of his long familiarity with - and love of- country music, Hilburn works his way into the Times, first as a stringer, then as a full-time reporter. His big break comes as the only writer accompanying Johnny Cash for his now legendary performance at Folsom Prison in 1968. An early acquaintanceship with Kris Kristofferson leads to a famous interlude with Janis Joplin, and Hilburn convinces his editors that features on rock should be regular items in the newspaper.

The author straddles a fine line through the years between journalistic objectivity and championing the "next big thing." Just as Robert Shelton trumpeted the arrival of a young folk singer named Dylan in 1961 in the New York Times, Hilburn's excitement with the initial U.S. shows at L.A.'s Troubadour club of Elton John propels the singer-songwriter's career.

The memoir takes off from there and we are treated to a travelogue of Hilburn's favorites: John Prine, Randy Newman, Springsteen, U2 and Kurt Cobain. And while these artists make for more than interesting reading, the most gripping passages involve his various encounters with the post-Beatles John Lennon and post-motorcycle accident Bob Dylan.

We get a front row seat at Lennon's "lost weekend," the months in L.A. he spent usually in the besotted company of Harry Nilsson and producer Phil Spector (himself the subject of frightening and sad reminiscence of Hilburn). Their mutual love for Elvis will prove to be the glue that cements the relationship between newspaperman and artist, and gives us the sweet story behind the book's title: Lennon's habit of treating himself to corn flakes doused in real cream, staples rarely available in the rationed Liverpool of his youth. Hilburn spends significant time with Lennon during the genesis and recording of Double Fantasy. And sadly, he is the first writer to spend time with Ono in the initial hours following Lennon's murder.

Dylan, predictably, is a tougher get. Hilburn's initial approaches during the huge "comeback" tour with The Band in the early 70's are met with the famous Dylan indifference, bordering on mockery. But the author plows ahead, and with an open mind is granted the first audience with the singer after his immersion into Christian thought and beliefs. Hilburn clearly recognized the epic shadow that Dylan continued to cast on popular music despite the gyrations of popular opinion. And his faith in Dylan's missionary zeal with varying musical genres is rewarded with Dylan's renaissance in the 90's and into the 00's. Ironically, perhaps the most fascinating section of Cornflakes turns out to be the reprinting of an extended article Hilburn penned for the Times a couple of years ago in which Dylan talks for the first time at length about the songwriting process.

While Cornflakes sometimes devolves into cloying speech (patting himself on the back for supposedly changing Bono's early stage presence or providing Dylan with a set list of favorites for a concert in Israel), Hilburn keeps his eye on the initial premise and continues to hope (against hope?) for a next generation of rock saviors, casting his ballot for present day performers Jack White and Conor Oberst.

But it is his continued passion as a fan and his ability to bring the humanity of the famous to the written page that serve this memoir best.

Ultimate Singles Jukebox [Slot 105]

You Get What You Give
b/w "To Think I Thought"
New Radicals
MCA Records
Released 10 November 1998
Produced by Gregg Alexander
Written by Gregg Alexander & Rick Nowels

In the annals of rock history, there have been plenty of memorable "one hit wonders." And although the term must gall many musicians - particularly those who have made the profession their life's work - if you were in that position wouldn't it be great if your particular song had been praised by artists as noted and varied as The Edge, Ice-T and Joni Mitchell?

In 1997, Michigan native Gregg Alexander (nee Gregory Aiuto) had two ignored solo records in the rear view mirror and was busking in Central Park in New York City. But somehow he configured New Radicals, meant to be a revolving door band with no permanent members save for long-time collaborator (and former child TV star) Danielle Brisebois, and landed a one album deal with MCA Records. Using the $600,000 advance, the band cut the long player Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too, which went on to sell over a million copies.

The trigger for that avalanche of sales was the lead single, "You Get What You Give." It is a rousing youth anthem questioning authority and calling out celebrity excess (the lyrics name Beck, Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson). While the song did create controversy in that regard, the reason for its success was clearly its irresistible rhythm. Anchored by a distorted piano, driving electric guitar and steady drum beat, Alexander screams the classic "1, 2, 3, 4" downbeat and delivers a passionate, call-to-arms vocal, reassuring the listener that even When the night is falling/And you cannot find the light/If you feel your dream is dying/Hold tight/You've got the music in you.

Over ten years later, when "You Get What You Give" comes on the radio, the listener is still moved to turn the volume up to the higher ranges, because as long as there's one dance left, the world is going to pull through. Indeed, U2's The Edge, when asked in 2006 to identify which song he was most jealous of, indicated "Oh. Easy. . . I would love to have written that. Great Music, great energy." And no less the poet laureate of TNOP, Miss Joni Mitchell, selected the song to her eclectic list in the Artist's Choice CD series, citing "You Get What You Give" as "rising from the swamp of 'McMusic' like a flower of hope."

The band configured by Gregg Alexander were scheduled to begin a world tour in May 1999, but instead New Radicals were disbanded without much explanation. Alexander would resurface on the music scene in 2003, authoring "The Game of Love," a Grammy award winning song recorded by Santana and Michelle Branch.


The original video of New Radicals' "You Get What You Give" can be viewed here.

20 November 2009

Albums You Must Own (#4 of a series)

Aja (ABC 1977)

See the TNOP review of Steely Dan's performance live of this album below.

Read the original Rolling Stone review of the record from the December 1, 1977 issue.

From the "Classic Albums" video series, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, as well as some of the studio musicians (including Wayne Shorter, Michael McDonald, Denny Dias, Larry Carlton, Rick Marotta and Bernard Purdie), discuss in detail the recording of a number of tracks from Aja:

19 November 2009

The Live Vault: Steely Dan


13 November 2009
Riverside Theater, Milwaukee

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

Since their reformation under the name Steely Dan in 1993, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen have had a modest career renaissance in the rock world. The Dan, notorious for its aversion to touring, finally returned after a long hiatus to the road that year and have been mainstays on the arena circuit since then. In addition, the band produced the multiple Grammy winning Two Against Nature (2000) and Everything Must Go (2003). In between, they were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The latest fad on the economy challenged concert trail is to play "classic" albums from beginning to end. On its "Rent Party '09 Tour" Steely Dan has been playing multiple nights in separate U.S. cities, spotlighting three records consecutively released by Becker and Fagen from 1976 through 1979: The Royal Scam; its biggest seller, Aja; and Gaucho.

After a brief introductory interlude by the four piece horn section, drummer, guitarist, bass player, keyboardist and three female background singers, the famous cover of Aja was produced, its LP removed and plopped on an old turntable. And to the familiar bass line of "Black Cow," out strode Becker with his custom electric guitar and Fagen parking himself behind his Fender Rhodes. And so the high wire act began for these two: performing one of the most meticulously produced albums live, with the challenge of replicating enough of the familiar sounds while not sounding rote. To ardent followers of Becker and Fagen, the superior musicianship of the players on the stage was immediately evident. The twist on the first tune turns out to be a baritone, rather than soprano, sax solo. But "Black Cow" still hits you right between the eyes with it smooth groove just as it did so many years ago as the opening salvo of the LP.

The title track follows, and it is a tour de force for the free form guitars of Becker and John Harrington. The famous sax solo is decidedly different, with good reason. Aja featured the incomparable Wayne Shorter, at the height of his Weather Report days. Here, the soprano player politely nods to the Shorter sound, then wisely takes his own route. But it is the drumming of Keith Carlyle at the tail end of the tune that lathers up the crowd.

"Deacon Blues" is then tackled - out of LP sequence - and Fagen, in good voice, plays slightly with the phrasing of the lyrics, to fine effect. By now it is clear that the game plan is to put personal stamps on solos with respectful nods to the originals.

The musicianship on "Peg" is once again top-notch: the ripping guitar solo of Harrington, the brass subbing on the bottom for the album's keyboard. But the female chorus cannot make up for the male refrain made famous by Michael McDonald. It makes us wish we had attended the last tour when McDonald opened for and then joined The Dan on stage for the numbers he has lent his voice to.

Fagen then fires up an extended coda on the Rhodes which leads into "Home At Last," the Odyssey tale of Becker/Fagen's transfer from New York to Los Angeles. While it is played a half-step slower, allowing the lead vocal a more conversational tone to the lyrics, it maintains the "Purdie Shuffle" beat. Becker finally comes out of the shadows and plays his familiar, crystal clean notes. A muted trumpet replaces the melodica. (We see the unique instrument sitting on top of Fagen's keyboard; when will it make its initial appearance?)

"I Got The News," a jaunty cut from Aja which should set the house on fire, wilts. Fagen, who has never been known for his strong voice, struggles with the higher register needed to deliver the song.

The closing track of the album tribute is the FM staple "Josie." The funky shuffle shows Becker at his most engaged since the beginning of the concert, his guitar turned way up in the mix. And as the song reaches its climax, Fagen leaps up from his piano bench, arms raised in a mad jazz professor pose towards his band mates, urging them on to the close.

In addition to the ever-present sunglasses (and the Ray Charles-like swaying at the keyboard), Fagen reveals in the now brighter spotlight his gold/silver lame shoes. He seems to sense some relief on behalf of all his fellow musicians with the conclusion of Aja. And he tells the sold-out crowd: "We've got some time to fill." He grabs the Yamaha harmonium and starts to scat. Suddenly, the familiar melody of "Time Out Of Mind" is heard and the tight rhythm section of Carlyle and bassist Freddie Washington allows Becker and Fagen to play off against each other for the first time of the night.

The rumbling intro of "Black Friday" comes next. Blues and gospel organ riffs effectively reflect the apocalyptic mood of the lyrics. And suddenly you wish the whole of Katy Lied was on the playlist tonight, too.

While there seems to be two throwaways in the mix tonight ("Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More" and "Godwhacker"), all is forgiven with the back-to-back selections of "Babylon Sisters" and "Hey Nineteen." At his present age, Fagen can play the satyr even more effectively while the background singers "shake it."

Fagen departs the stage. Becker introduces the band and the females take the lead on "Dirty Work" and a fine cover of The Supremes "Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart."

The concert reaches fever pitch in Steely Dan's closing numbers by pulling out its ace musical card: John Harrington on lead. Fagen has returned with a new sense of vocal purpose, shining on "Don't Take Me Alive." Harrington plays the guitar lines true to this hard rocking gem from The Royal Scam. The ante is upped on the R&B rich "Show Biz Kids," The Dan's wonderful take on the dichotomy of economic strata that still rings true in today's society. Fagen and the choir sing the famous refrain twice to make sure the absurdity of the celebrity world is evident: Show business kids/Making movies of themselves/You know they don't give a ****/About anybody else. The crew kills "My Old School" and a wonderful "Kid Charlemagne" completes the set, carrying a slight, funky reggae beat underneath Harrington's lively guitar - he wisely stays away from the famous Larry Carlton solo and blazes his own trail here. [Ed. note: Watch Harrington put his stamp on "Kid Charlemagne" here.]

Returning to a thundering ovation, the obligatory "Reelin' In The Years" serves as the encore: "the original version," as Fagen puts it. And Harrington carries the mail one last time, a guitar slinger ready to draw with the best of 'em in the town square.

"Black Cow"
"Deacon Blues"
"Home At Last"
"I Got The News"
"Time Out Of Mind"
"Black Friday"
"Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More" (Becker on lead)
"Babylon Sisters"
"Hey Nineteen"
"Show Biz Kids"
"Dirty Work" (Choir on lead)
"Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart" (Supremes cover) (Choir on lead)
"Don't Take Me Alive"
"My Old School"
"Kid Charlemagne"
(Encore) "Reelin' In The Years"

The People Speak

The People Speak, a documentary based on Howard Zinn's 1980 work A People's History of the United States, will premiere on The History Channel on December 13. Zinn, Chris Moore, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin co-produced the film, which they indicate "celebrates democracy, based on the lives and experiences of ordinary Americans who, through their words and actions, changed the course of history, from the founding of this country to the civil rights movement and beyond."

Just as exciting is the accompanying soundtrack, to be released on December 8 on Hip-O Records. Zinn's book is considered a progressive classic (it has sold over two million copies) and an impressive roster of artists has contributed live performances reflecting uniquely American grass roots sentiment, from Bob Dylan's take on hero Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi" to Lupe Fiasco's "American Terrorist."

Track listing:
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN -- The Ghost Of Tom Joad
EDDIE VEDDER -- Masters Of War
PINK -- Dear Mr. President
LUPE FIASCO -- American Terrorist
JACKSON BROWNE -- The Drums Of War
JOHN LEGEND -- What's Going On
TAJ MAHAL -- Blues With A Feeling
ALLISON MOORER -- Brother Can You Spare A Dime
RICH ROBINSON -- Only A Pawn In Their Game

Listen to Woody Guthrie sing "Do Re Mi," recorded in 1939.

17 November 2009

(RED) Holiday CD

Here's an idea to ignite your holiday spirit and feed your rock 'n roll jones at the same time. Starting today, spend $15 at your local Starbucks and receive a four-song CD of unique tunes (preview here) that will benefit the (RED) Global Fund and the Fight Against AIDS in Africa. The tracks include:
  1. Playing For Change, "All You Need Is Love" - a reggaefied version of The Beatles anthem tinged with some Cajun flavor.
  2. U2, "I Believe In Father Christmas" - the Dubliners' take on the Emerson, Lake & Palmer holiday tune. Author Greg Lake is impressed, by the way.
  3. Dave Matthews Band, "You & Me (Acoustic)"
  4. John Legend, "(RED)Emption Song" - cover of the Bob Marley classic.

Staying Up To Watch The News With Everyone

NME reports that on December 14 Damon Gough a/k/a Badly Drawn Boy will release Is There Nothing We Can Do, his first long-player since 2006. In the meantime, revisit the video for his song "You Were Right."

The lineup of acts for the
MusicCares event in Los Angeles honoring Neil Young is pretty impressive. Emmylou Harris, Dave Matthews, Jackson Browne, Wilco, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Ozomatli are among many set to perform on January 29 in a salute to Neil's art and philanthropy.

Carbon/Silicon is offering a free mp3 download of its latest album, Carbon Bubble.

According to blues blogger Reverend Keith A. Gordon, Copiah County, Mississippi is intent on raising $250,000 in order to restore the birthplace of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson. While much of his life - and death - have been shrouded in mystery, apparently no one argues that Johnson was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi on May 8, 1911 in his stepfather's home. But we can be assured that generations to come will still be arguing about the location of "the crossroads."

Yusef Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, had a wide range of opinion directed at him at his O2 Arena concert in Dublin the other night. TNOP recommends a viewing of Harold and Maude to make everyone feel better.

Don Letts, John Savage and the founder of Rough Trade records takes The Guardian on an interactive and podcast tour of punk landmarks in London's Notting Hill neighborhood.

Pop & Hiss reviews last night's Ray Davies concert in L.A. Not surprisingly, he impressed the critic as well as the crowd.

Florence & The Machine's debut effort Lungs has been appearing on many early "Best of 2009" album lists. Spinner reports that on November 30 it will be reissued as a four-disc set, including not only the studio CD, but live performances, covers and remixes.

This Date In Rock History: 17 November

Happy birthday to film director Martin Scorsese. But rock 'n roll, you ask? Absolutely: check out the ever-present soundtrack running in the background of Goodfellas and Casino. More importantly, Scorsese (shown with The Band's Robbie Robertson, above) has turned out to be one of the more influential figures in rock documentaries. He was a young camera operator and editor on Woodstock. He chronicled The Band's swan song with an incomparable guest list at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom back in November 1976, resulting in The Last Waltz. In recent years, Scorsese has tackled the rise of Bob Dylan in No Direction Home as well as the career of The Rolling Stones in Shine A Light. A bio-pic on Frank Sinatra and a documentary on George Harrison are now in the works.

13 November 2009

(Ain't That) Good News

Ben Ratliff of the New York Times reports that a treasure trove of recordings from past Newport Jazz Festival performances are being prepared for on-line access at Wolfgang's Vault: "the archives include many, many tapes: 1,000 to 1,200 individual performances, dating at least to 1955, the festival’s second year, and continuing to the end of the century. It is not a complete audio record — certain years contain only a small number of performances, or are missing completely — but it is a major one nonetheless." 1959 concerts from Count Basie & His Orchestra, Dakota Staton and The Jazz Messengers are available now at the site.

The entertaining Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros are featured in the latest of the "Tiny Desk Concert" series at All Songs Considered.

Jim DeRogatis blogs about the upcoming 12th Annual Jeff Buckley Tribute, to take place on November 17 & 18 at Uncommon Ground in Chicago. Good luck getting tickets.

Rolling Stone has put together 40 musical moments from the 40 year history of the groundbreaking PBS/Children's Television Workshop series Sesame Street. Make sure to catch the videos of Johnny Cash ("Nasty Dan") and Stevie Wonder ("Superstition").

Wes Anderson's new animated film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, opens in theaters today. Spinner provides us with ten unique moments in Anderson's past films that are punctuated memorably with music.

The Guardian profiles the Northern Irish band Ash. One of Celtic Ray's favorites, he suggests that you listen to "Kung Fu" to kick start your weekend.

Ray also reports that Solas played a rousing show in Denver this past week to a sold-out crowd.

The reinvigorated Crawdaddy! Magazine profiles Alex Chilton's output from 1976 to 1981.

12 November 2009

This Date In Rock History: 12 November

Well. Hello, Mr. Soul. Happy Birthday to Ol' Shakey himself, Neil Young. Long may he run.

11 November 2009

Albums You Must Own (#3 of a series)

The Seldom Seen Kid (Fiction 2008)

Unknown to even some of the more serious music fans in America, Elbow is a five-man group hailing from Manchester, England that has been recording albums since 2001 (and performing together under different names prior to that, stretching back to the early 90's). Perhaps it is because the band has floated around to various record labels and not received a proper public relations push in the States. With the release of The Seldom Seen Kid in 2008 and the resulting awards and accolades that followed, Elbow's under-the-radar days are probably numbered. This past summer, the Mancunian lads opened for Coldplay on their tour of the US and Europe; played the main stage at Oxegen in Ireland; opened for U2 at Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 fans; and headlined the Bestival on the Isle of Wight.

Elbow debuted in 2001 with the release of Asleep In The Back and became darlings of some of the indie press. [Note the inclusion of this effort on many "best of" albums lists over the past ten years that are end-of-the-decade vogue at the moment.] Drawing inspiration from Pink Floyd and Radiohead, the band was nominated for the Mercury Prize and garnered a Brit Awards nomination. But many of those same critics would bite back with luke-warm reviews of the two CDs that would follow: Cast of Thousands (2003) and Leaders of the Free World (2005). Specifically, writers were now defining Elbow as mope-rock artists and lesser cousins of fellow British bands Coldplay and Keane.

But in retrospect, these two records were solid, necessary building blocks that helped define Elbow's own distinctive voice found on The Seldom Seen Kid. While readily admitting admiration for U2 and Radiohead, lead singer and lyricist Guy Garvey embraces the album concept, inviting listeners to experience the band's work in a linear progression. Drawing emotion not only from its words but its lush orchestration, the opening cut "Starlings" is a template of sonic landscape that invites the listener to stick around for more. "The Bones of You" follows, and the nods to "The Seldom Seen Kid" - the nickname given to the recently deceased mate of the band, Bryan Glancy - and reveries of Five years ago/And sleeping through the day. Next up is the gorgeous, spare "Mirrorball," a tale of newly found love in which Garvey sings We took the town to town last night/We kissed like we invented it!

The mood abruptly changes, and Elbow shows it can write a hook with the best of their contemporaries. "Grounds For Divorce" lays a Led Zeppelin cum The Bends-era Radiohead sledgehammer guitar on the ears that compels you to get out of your seat. Is it a raucous wake for The Seldom Seen Kid? A reminder of bitter memories around every corner of their home town Manchester? Both?

The Seldom Seen Kid glides along and continues to flex its musical confidence, varying from the bawdy bossa nova of "An Audience With The Pope" to "The Fix," a Brecht-infused duet with guest Richard Hawley.

The twin centerpieces of the record are emotional bookends on each side of the spectrum: "The Loneliness of A Tower Crane Driver" and "One Day Like This." The former is a brooding, heart-breaking melody with murky, but thought provoking lyrical images about the dangers of success. "One Day Like This" is Elbow's swing at creating a crowd anthem, and it hits solidly on all counts, right down to the choral ending that throws a ray of hope amidst The Seldom Seen Kid's otherwise somber tone: So throw those curtains wide!/One day like this a year'd see me right.

Overall, it's a stunning record from a band that has the goods to deliver in the future.


Read the BBC story about Elbow being awarded The Mercury Prize for Best British Album of 2008 for The Seldom Seen Kid.

Watch the video of "Grounds For Divorce."

Performance of "One Day Like This" with the BBC Concert Orchestra and Chantage choir.

09 November 2009

This Date In Rock History: 9 November

On this date in 1967, the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine was published in San Francisco, California. Founded by Jann S. Wenner (who remains publisher to this day) and music critic Ralph J. Gleason, while clearly aimed at the burgeoning counterculture, Rolling Stone (named after a Muddy Waters song, not Dylan's classic or a hybrid of a certain famous rock group) sought to distinguish itself from the underground press that had bubbled-up in so many U.S. cities at the time. In the first edition - which sported a cover photo of John Lennon on the set of the movie "How I Won The War" - Wenner wrote that the publication "is not just about the music, but about the things and attitudes that music embraces." Over the years, the physical style of Rolling Stone evolved from folded newspaper tabloid to stapled newsprint magazine to glossy bound edition. It is certainly the godfather of modern music criticism and has spawned a number of noted rock journalists, including Greil Marcus, Cameron Crowe, Jon Landau, Ben Fong-Torres and David Fricke. In addition, contributions from authors like Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, as well as the photographs of Annie Leibovitz, have famously graced its pages.

Happy birthday, RS. But TNOP still misses the lengthy album reviews.

Ultimate Singles Jukebox [Slot 104]

Green River
b/w "Commotion"
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Fantasy Records 522
Released 3 August 1969
Produced by John Fogerty
Written by John Fogerty

Four working class boys from the San Francisco suburb of El Ceritto certainly bucked the musical trends of their region - much less the rest of the rock and roll scene - back in 1969. Their native California was awash in psychedelia. But the band - John Fogerty, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford (later joined by John's older brother, Tom) - now known as Creedence Clearwater Revival, was steeped in American music roots and had honed their unique sound on live stages for the better part of eight years.

CCR had made some rumblings in 1968 on FM underground radio with a remake of rockabilly singer Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q," its album version stringing out to over eight minutes. A resultant single of the song (the "A" and "B" sides splitting up the tune) garnered strong air play in the Bay Area and on Chicago's powerful AM station, WLS. During this period, lead writer, singer and guitarist John Fogerty was serving a hitch in the Army reserves.

In January 1969, with the band once again at full strength, CCR broke through with its first hit single culled from the new album Bayou Country. It was the now ubiquitous "Proud Mary," which reached #2 on the Billboard chart. Bob Dylan called the song, an amalgamation of rock, blues and gospel, his favorite song of the year. (In 1971, Ike & Tina Turner would turn the song into a hit a second time with their memorable version.) Only a couple of months later, the band claimed the #2 spot once again with "Bad Moon Rising."

Two weeks before playing at the famous Woodstock Festival, CCR released its third album, Green River. The title track was selected as the next single, and, once again, raced up the chart to the runner-up position. Its distinctive opening riff and resultant guitar solos are akin to Chuck Berry, but with muscle. Fogerty later described this influence as borne from his listening incessantly to Duane Eddy instrumentals, allowing a "white guy to play blues in a pop way."

The lyrics paint an idyllic picture of home, real or imagined: Love to kick my feet way down the shallow water/Shoo fly, dragon fly, get back to your mother/Pick up a flat rock, skip it across Green River. As the opening track to the album, the closing lines of "Green River" hint at an ominous tone that will hang over the next seven tracks, but nevertheless remind our narrator of a protective oasis: Old Cody Junior took me over/Said, you're gonna find the world is smolderin'/An' if you get lost, come on home to Green River.

CCR flamed out in 1972 in a now-famous contractual dispute between John Fogerty and Fantasy Records that would last 30 years. But in 1969 alone the band had three top ten albums and four hit singles (all within the top three on the charts). The group has sold over 26 million records and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. It is possibly because of their commercial success and John Fogerty's unforgettable hooks that CCR is not mentioned as often as The Band as the standard bearers of Americana or "roots rock."


Watch John Fogerty and John Mellencamp stomp through a thrilling "Green River" from their joint tour in 1995.

Doctor, Doctor Give Me The News

Grizzly Bear appeared on Chicago Public Radio's Sound Opinions show this past weekend. An interview and live performance of the band from The House of Blues is archived at the show's web site.

It's a thin line between love and hate. But Ray Davies and Chrissie Hynde have recorded a duet together called "Postcard From London," due to be released on 7 December.

The Pixies kicked off a nine-city tour in L.A. the other night, featuring Doolittle from front to back. Pop & Hiss reviews the opening show. And here's the video link to their appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien from Friday, performing "Here Comes Your Man."

The Denver Post reports that even in front of a small crowd at the Bluebird Theater, Art Brut still delivers. Accessible punk may not be in the vogue, but do yourself a favor and go out and buy the band's excellent Bang Bang Rock & Roll.

Antonio D'Ambrosio writes movingly in Salon about Johnny Cash's lonesome crusade on behalf of Native Americans, and how it affected The Man In Black's often rocky relationship with the music industry.

The Chicago Sun-Times profiles Paul Shaffer on the occasion of the publishing of his memoir on the music biz. And to think he could have been George Costanza instead of Dave's band leader extraordinaire. . .

Treat yourself to A Takeaway Show by up-and-coming Brooklyn-based White Rabbits, with Venice Beach as a backdrop.

According to Spinner, Monsters of Folk gave more than its money's worth in New York the other night. The set list stretched to 40 (count 'em!) songs.

Let the awards season begin. North African collective Tinariwen has claimed the 2009 Uncut Music Award for Imidiwan: Companions. All the other finalists were from the United States. Get a taste of Tinariwen's sound by taking a look at the video for "Lulla," one of the tracks culled from the album.

02 November 2009

The Mighty Hammond B3

A recent article in The Guardian by David McNamee on the Hammond organ made us nostalgic for the sound of the model B3, which was produced by the Hammond Organ Company from 1954 to 1974. Its influence on jazz, gospel and rock 'n roll is an indelible mark, and so TNOP got to thinking about the famous sound authored by some of our favorite B3 players and some tunes that prominently feature the instrument.

Interestingly enough, we were informed by TNOP friend (and fine keyboardist in his own right) Dave Buettner that the distinctive sound of the B3 is aided by a rotating speaker cabinet that replaces the Hammond manufactured speaker. The swapped out piece came to be known as the Leslie speaker (after its inventor, Donald Leslie). The Leslie created a characteristic sound due to the constantly changing pitch shifts created by moving sound sources; rotating the speaker at different speeds creates different sounds in conjunction with the pre-set keys of the Hammond.

But from a rock 'n roll perspective, credit has to be given to the true godfather of the instrument, Jimmy Smith (pictured above). Although a master jazz musician, his influence is directly cited by most players of the B3, or is clearly evident in most of the songs listed below [with featured organist in brackets]. Go seek them out and make yourself a B3 mixtape:

Jimmy Smith, "The Sermon"
Deep Purple, "Hush" [Jon Lord]
Spencer Davis Group, "Gimme Some Lovin'" [Stevie Winwood]
Frank Sinatra, "That's Life" [Ronnie Barron]
The Allman Brothers Band, "Dreams" [Gregg Allman]
Procol Harem, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" [Gary Brooker]
Booker T. & The M.G.'s, "Green Onions" and "Time Is Tight" [Booker T. Jones]
Billy Preston, "Outa-Space"
The Small Faces, "Itchycoo Park" [Ian McLagen]
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, "Kitty's Back" and "Hungry Heart" [Danny Federici]
Led Zeppelin, "Your Time Is Gonna Come" [John Paul Jones]
Brian Auger's Oblivion Express, "Happiness Is Just Around The Bend" [Brian Auger]

Watch the master, Jimmy Smith, in action performing "The Sermon" in 1964.