29 June 2010
28 June 2010
"When I Paint My Masterpiece"
Original Dylan version found on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1971)
Steven Paul "Elliott" Smith often expressed an admiration for Bob Dylan. Asked about early musical influences, Smith commented: "Probably the Beatles, and then Dylan. My father taught me how to play 'Don't Think Twice, It's All Right.' I love Dylan's words, but even more than that, I love the fact that he loves words. That's my favorite thing with him. Sometimes we play 'When I Paint My Masterpiece' in concert." (He also played "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," dedicated to his father in some performances; and, in Minneapolis, Elliott played "Ballad of A Thin Man" in an October 1998 concert. )
"I like folk songs but it is a very defined genre and I think it's not really what I play," said Smith. "For me, the difference between folk and pop is that in folk there is a clear message in every song and there is usually a moral to the story. That's fine but it's not how I write. I like more 'impressionistic' things, word pastings. Pop is broader, more things can be in it together."
His simple take on "When I Paint My Masterpiece" above is from an impromptu performance at Boston's Newbury Comics on 5 October 1998.
Elliott Smith would appear on Saturday Night Live 12 days later. And despite having been nominated for an Academy Award and solid album successes Either/Or, XO and Figure 8, Smith - plagued by harrowing mental illness most of his life - would be dead less than five years later.
I remember receiving Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 for Christmas in 1971 on a new fangled format: cassette tape. Two LPs could fit on one compact cartridge! The player that I had was the equivalent of a cassette "Close 'N Play": an orange plastic contraption with one tin speaker, an exposed area to pop in the tape and a single pushdown bar to start or stop the music (yep - no rewind, forward or record, just the Neanderthal basics).
The new Dylan songs were the curiosity on Vol. 2. One of the new originals, "When I Paint My Masterpiece," immediately starts abruptly following applause from the 1963 Town Hall live recording of "Tomorrow Is A Long Time." The tune is another playful Dylan ramble, indirectly commenting on the pleasures and bothers of the road for a particular musician. It is one of two songs on the LP produced by the under-appreciated Leon Russell, who was starting to make his mark with both Joe Cocker (Mad Dogs & Englishmen) and as a solo artist (Leon Russell & The Shelter People).
Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "When I Paint My Masterpiece"
Other Cover Version: The Band, "When I Paint My Masterpiece" (Cahoots, 1971)
27 June 2010
TNOP has been keeping tabs on Berkeley, California's The Morning Benders for the past few months since the release of the band's second proper release, Big Echo. With the start of the European leg of their 2010 tour, our UK music correspondent Miles Gallagher brought to our attention a performance from The Morning Benders' 19 June concert at New York City's Governors Island: a cover of the Fleetwood Mac chestnut, "Dreams."
Our European and US readers should click here to check out remaining summer concert dates for The Morning Benders.
23 June 2010
Passion Pit - "Tonight Tonight"
20 June 2010
Riverside Theater, Milwaukee
[On occasion, our far-flung correspondents attend and review shows. Here's another installment.]
BY CONNOR O'BRIEN
Every few months, a band reaches the charts in a very unconventional way. They are not put on every Top 40 station payola style, they are not hyped by MTV by slyly putting their songs into boring parts of Jersey Shore, and they are not part of a YouTube sensation that got Usher’s attention. The group in question puts out material, to middling or good critical reviews, earns a loyal but relatively small fan base, and then their most popular (or pop-like) song inexplicably reaches the ears of the unwashed masses. This is the case with California based duo turned quintet MGMT. More than a year after their stellar debut album, Oracular Spectacular, came on the market, Billboard started to pay attention and all of a sudden everyone knew “Kids” and “Time to Pretend.” Shortly after, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser were featured in interviews in Rolling Stone. There would be no more banal “Best New Band” articles for MGMT. They were on every 13-63 year old’s iPod, and it seemed as if they were here to stay. And they are. But not in the way everyone thought.
In the 5000 seat Riverside Theater in Milwaukee this past Sunday, the crowd was paltry at first, but exponentially grew as showtime approached. The ones who got there early would be unfortunate enough to witness the set from Andrew and Ben’s openers, Australian fuzzy Pitchfork darlings Tame Impala. The band fell relatively flat live. Although the landscapes (I refuse to use the word soundscape without irony) sound expansive and challenging on their album Innerspeaker, the four piece failed to deliver. Granted, the crowd was filled with people who had paid $27.50 to hear three songs, but the group had very low energy. Even in high energy Cream and Stooges evoking songs like “Lucidity” and “Alter Ego”, the band failed to move more than two steps out of place. They failed at the main task of a supporting band: getting the crowd excited for the main act. The set was thoroughly boring. I wanted to like the opener so much, but unfortunately they were a letdown. Why they decided to only have one microphone on stage for a small library of songs that somewhat depend on harmony is beyond me. It also did not help (understatement) that their set consisted of the first two-thirds of their debut album. In order.
I was disheartened after this performance, and so was the rest of the crowd. Unenthusiastic and obligatory applause were the only bones thrown to the not-so-seasoned Aussies. The lead singer, looking like a Black Crowe turned San Franciscan, led his carbon copy hipsters off the stage in search of something to be happy about. I only say this because I didn’t see the band so much as smile during the show. Tame Impala put on the comforting cloak of a shoe gaze band, but the reality was that they were just intimidated by their first tour. Leaving on a low note, the crowd was left to marinate for a short 40 minutes until the boys they all came to see walked out on stage.
All looking considerably less mod than as of late, MGMT didn’t waste time getting in to their deceivingly complex work. The band was not manic or overenthusiastic, but it was evident that they were confident and very aware of how many people had nearly sold out the large venue to come see them perform. They dealt with this task by staying the relaxed yet still emotionally relatable and unpretentious. Their fame had split into many camps by this night, and they knew it. As evidenced by their music videos (see “Time to Pretend” transition to “It’s Working”), they have become less of a band that shook popular music out of its autotuned soulless hovel, and more of a group that still wants to stay relevant by changing themselves and see who comes along for the ride. Congratulations, their spring 2010 and latest release, opened to mixed reviews. Some writers complained that there were no blowout tracks akin to Oracular Spectacular’s “Kids” and “Electric Feel.” Congratulations, like the band as a whole, does not want to be defined by one or two pop savvy songs that were discovered by your friend Madison who says “They’re, like, the best songs ever.” Congratulations is an album that is great because all of the songs play a role in making the whole disc sound like it is cohesive - and more importantly an important part of modern music as art.
The band’s new attire and attitude for performing evidenced this new feeling. They played a show which had a set list that wasn’t totally churning out their most well known songs as the last part of the show so people couldn’t leave while they played new material. The set encompassed their whole, though relatively small, repertoire. This proved to be a small problem for MGMT because some of their music is, to put it harshly, crap. It’s pretty self indulgent to play two 14 minute songs in one show if you’re not Sigur Ros or Dave Matthews Band or some other group that gives itself excuses to have painfully long songs/chill jam sesh’s/noise layered on top of other noise. But these two lowlights seemed brief among the other great music. These other songs served to not only prove the point that these kids were here to stay, but also as a device to hide the lengthy ones. Perhaps they played both long-players because Milwaukee was the last stop on their current summer tour, or maybe they didn’t care to venture out by playing covers or presenting much new material that hadn’t been heard. There is also the possibility that the songs seemed bad to me because of the very fickle crowd. Usually at a concert like this one, people come to hear a few songs they’d listened to ad infinitum through the radio or crappy mix CD’s made for them, and then enjoy everything else because they’re too drunk to know better. This crowd was very different. When not playing either “Kids”, “Time to Pretend”, or “Electric Feel”, the crowd was at different levels of cognizance, ranging from catatonic to slightly interested. But let me tell you, when those three songs WERE played, it was one of the cooler live experiences I’ve seen in Milwaukee. The whole crowd sung every word, danced, and genuinely had a good time.
MGMT came into the set knowing their novelty had been used up, but no one in the crowd had seemed to care that they were still cranking out genuinely good music. They took a huge risk by changing their musical identity while still being newly discovered by 80% of the audience. This reviewer admires them for doing so, even if it did not translate perfectly to a live show. The musicians are tight and well acquainted with each other and the material, just enough that they could all put their personal flourishes on a genre that is sometimes knocked for simply being replayed for rote. The complex and very cool light and video show being played on separate 10 foot overlapping shapes was enough to keep the generators of frequent puffs of smoke from the pit entertained. At times, the screens simply flashed “M G M T” in light bulbs that could line the mirrors of an old time Hollywood dressing room. I liked this a lot more than when they played three different video feeds of hazard signs and frightened looking girls in a green filter. The bulbs really represent MGMT’s cool and calm stage presence among the glitz and hype emanating from all around.
Some may want MGMT to go back to playing synth heavy and The Hills friendly jams, but they benefit from their multilayered explorations into jazz and surf rock. Even if the crowd (specifically a particularly inebriated girl behind me singing the opening riff to” Kids” in between every song) doesn’t particularly want them to.
21 June 2010
Ever since our trip to Ireland to visit Celtic Ray last summer, TNOP has been dropping Mumford & Sons' name to all that would listen. While driving endless kilometers around the Emerald Isle, the band's new single "Little Lion Man" seemed to be eponymous on BBC Radio 1; but it was exciting every time the DJ spun the record. The debut album, Sigh No More, hit the UK charts in September 2009 and landed #1 in Eire and #7 UK.
Sigh No More hit in the US racks this past spring. Despite landing - and nailing - performance spots on both the David Letterman and Craig Ferguson shows, the CD has struggled to take hold in the States. But TNOP likes to think of it as a slow build, and once again we take the opportunity to recommend these unique London four-part harmony folk rockers to new ears.
La Blogotheque session #105: "The Banjolin Song/Awake My Soul"
Black Cab Sessions, Chapter Fifty-Seven: "Sister"
18 June 2010
17 June 2010
"Mama, You Been On My Mind"
Original Dylan version recorded during Bringing It All Back Home sessions (1965); studio recording first officially available on The Bootleg Series, Vols 1-3 (1991)
Jeffrey Scott Buckley was born in Anaheim, California in 1966, the only son of musicians Tim Buckley and Mary Guibert. Tim Buckley won critical notoriety for his folk albums in the 1960s, but died of a drug overdose in 1975. Young Jeff recounted that his sole encounter with his father was when he was eight years old.
Nevertheless, Jeff was surrounded by music as he grew up and was attracted to the guitar. After graduating high school, he formally trained for a year at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. For the ensuing decade, Buckley made a living as a side musician in the Los Angeles area, and then in New York City.
In 1991, Buckley took part in a tribute to his father at St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn. Singing a quartet of songs, he saw this opportunity as a way to honor his absentee father's memory.
Buckley then started to make a name for himself in small clubs in New York, particularly the Sin-e, where he became the house act, mostly performing covers of a diverse array of artists, including Van Morrison, The Smiths, Leonard Cohen, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He also began writing original songs with Gary Lucas.
Creating a buzz in the musical community, record execs started to court Buckley. In 1992, the singer-songwriter signed a three album deal with Columbia Records. The first, Live at Sin-e, was released in 1993. But it was the next long-player in August 1994, Grace, that became a critical smash.
Jeff Buckley tragically drowned in the Wolf River near Memphis, Tennessee on 29 May 1997. He had been living in the city, working on a new album.
In 2004, in honor of the tenth anniversary of Grace, Columbia released the "Legacy Edition," a two CD set including a number of covers. It is from this compilation that Buckley's version of Bob Dylan's "Mama, You Been On My Mind" is culled.
Dylan recorded this song during the Bringing It All Back Home sessions back in 1965, but the understated studio recording was not officially released on record until 1991 on The Bootleg Series (Vol. 1-3). It is classic Dylan, with a simple melody and chord structure that lends itself to interpretation by other artists.
Buckley, in particular, makes it his own. At times simulating Dylan's chords with his spare electric guitar, his fantastic voice embodies the lyrics. It is amazing how mature Dylan's poetry was at this early stage of his career; via Buckley, the words have emotional heft whether one envisions the narrator pining for his lost lover after a separation of one year or twenty.
In an interview with Now magazine back in 1998, Buckley's mother Mary Guibert concluded her talk with Kim Hughes as follows:
"And you know," she offers, her composure finally crumbling, "Even Bob Dylan, in an interview with a French magazine, named Jeff as one of the great songwriters of this decade." Guibert, for the first time, begins to weep. "I don't think you can find any higher praise than from the lips of that gentleman."
Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "Mama, You Been On My Mind"
Live Listening: Bob Dylan & Joan Baez with The Rolling Thunder Revue, "Mama, You Been On My Mind" (Live 1975)
Rod Stewart, "Mama, You Been On My Mind" (highly recommended) (Never A Dull Moment, 1972)
Johnny Cash, "Mama, You Been On My Mind" (Orange Blossom Special, 2002 reissue)
The Beatles, "Mama, You Been On My Mind" (George Harrison on lead; studio session 1969)
16 June 2010
"Ben Folds is writing songs at a time when nobody equates social change with music."
---Nick Hornby, Songbook (2002)
Writer (High Fidelity, About A Boy), screenwriter (An Education) and erst-while rock critic Nick Hornby has teamed up with singer-songwriter Ben Folds. On 28 September, Nonesuch Records will release Lonely Avenue on vinyl, CD and on-line, with music and vocals by Folds and lyrics by Hornby. According to the press release, the genesis of the project was a dinner between the two, which ultimately resulted in the formation of 12 tracks that make up the album.
Hornby first waxed wonderful about Folds - and in particular the Ben Folds Five tune "Smoke" - in his book 31 Songs (alternate title in the U.S.: Songbook):
"Ben Folds is, I think, a proper songwriter, although he doesn't seem to get much credit for it, possibly because rock critics are less impressed by sophisticated simplicity than by sub-Dylanesque obfuscation: his words wouldn't look so good written down, but he has range, an amused eye for lovestruck detail, and he makes jokes-but not in the choruses, crucially, because he knows that the best way to wreck a joke is to repeat it seven times in three minutes.
"'Smoke' is one of the cleverest, wisest songs about the slow death of a relationship that I know. Lots of people have assailed the thorny romantic topic of starting all over again, and the conclusion they usually come to is that it's going to be tough, but both practicable and desirable; the heartbreaking thing about Folds' song is that it manages to simultaneously convey both the narrator's desperation and the impossibility of a happy outcome."
While we wait for Lonely Avenue (which is also the name of a great Ray Charles song), let's revisit "Smoke," played by Ben Folds with the Western Australia Symphony Orchestra:
15 June 2010
The release of the report was greeted by loud cheers and applause by family members and their supporters gathering outside the Guildhall in Derry.
The inquiry concluded that several of the troops who provided testimony about the events lied to the inquiry and was particularly critical of one paratrooper regiment, which was deemed to have fired the 100 or so shots on the day.
Delivering the findings of the report, British prime minister David Cameron said it had found none of the casualties posed any threat to British troops. He told the House of Commons no warnings were given, and that some of the soldiers lost control.
“The Government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces," he said. "And for that, on behalf of the Government, indeed on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”
The report, completed over 12 years, investigated the mass killing of members of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association by members of the Parachute Regiment during a during a march in Derry on 30 January 30 1972.
The men killed on the day were Patrick Doherty (32), Hugh Gilmour (17), Jackie Duddy (17), John Young (17), Kevin McElhinney (17), Michael Kelly (17), Gerald Donaghey (17), William Nash (19), Michael McDaid (20), Jim Wray (22), William McKinney (27) and Bernard "Barney" McGuigan (41).
John Johnston (59), one of the first to be shot on the day, died from his injuries four months later.
The killings in Derry are widely recognized in retrospect as a major tripwire into the tragic era in Irish history known as "The Troubles," which have only started to subside in recent years due to the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement.
U2 provided rock and roll fans with a touchstone of this seminal event in Irish history with their song "Sunday Bloody Sunday," an anthem which came to symbolize a consistent plea for cessation of sectarian violence throughout the region.
14 June 2010
Here's the newest Gorillaz video, this one for "On Melancholy Hill," the second single from Plastic Beach. After escaping the pursuing Bruce Willis in the last episode ("Stylo"), the band discovers its island hideaway - and potentially the whereabouts of Russel Hobbs? Watch for cameos by various album collaborators.
11 June 2010
09 June 2010
Liam O Maonlai with The Swell Season
Original Dylan version found on Planet Waves (1974)
Thanks to our friend Bird, we discovered this little gem, recorded for Czech Republic television back in 2008. Marketa Irglova, a native of that Eastern European nation and half of The Swell Season with Glen Hansard, are joined by Liam O Maonlai, former lead singer of Hothouse Flowers.
It is O Maonlai who shines on this take of Dylan's "Forever Young," leading the melody both on piano and by building his voice verse by verse to the point of exuberance. Hansard keeps up on guitar and subtly compliments the end of each stanza with a gentle backing vocal; it is evident that these fellow Dubliners have played together on Grafton Street or in pubs before.
Irglova and Hansard look at each other a few times as if saying, "this is really something special." It is.
There are two versions of "Forever Young" on the 1974 release Planet Waves, bridging Sides One and Two. While the song is now a long-time Dylan standard, it did not make much of a ripple upon its release, and neither, surprisingly, did the album. This in and of itself was very curious, for the pairing with The Band - now stars in their own right - with old mentor Dylan , and a pending tour (memorialized on Before The Flood) should have been a home run. Maybe it was the malaise that was setting into the bloated rock world, only to be reinvigorated a couple years later by the punk movement. Maybe it was the odd fact that the LP label looked weird on the turntable (Dylan had defected to David Geffen's Asylum Records, after nearly fifteen years with titan Columbia Records). Or maybe it was the hodgepodge of song selection (Bill Wyman called it "a spare but twisted collection of songs").
In retrospect, "Forever Young" is the most enduring and strongest selection off Planet Waves. Its waltz melody perfectly accents the Psalm-like recitation of wishes that all parents have for their children. In one of the rare direct references to his songs, Dylan said: "I wrote it thinking about one of my boys and not trying to be too sentimental."
Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "Forever Young"
Live Listening & Viewing: Bob Dylan & The Band, "Forever Young" (The Last Waltz, 1975)
Alternate Take: Bob Dylan, "Forever Young" (Biograph, 1985)
Other Cover Versions:
Eddie Vedder, "Forever Young" (Boston, 2006)
Neil Young & The Grateful Dead, "Forever Young" (San Francisco, 1991)
08 June 2010
07 June 2010
UPDATE! Antiquiet reports that Prince took to the airwaves of Minneapolis' The Current and introduced a new single, "Hot Summer." The site captured the audio and you can listen to the song here.
TONIGHT, 7 June
The Tonight Show (NBC) - Hole
The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (CBS) - Eric Idle
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (NBC) - Kings of Convenience
Last Call with Carson Daly (NBC) - Mishka
TUESDAY, 8 June
The Tonight Show - Chris Rock; Sting
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon - Circa Survive
Last Call with Carson Daly - Surfer Blood
WEDNESDAY, 9 June
The Tonight Show - OK Go
Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC) - Massive Attack
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon - Phish
Last Call with Carson Daly - The Living Sisters
Tavis Smiley (PBS) - Melissa Etheridge
THURSDAY, 10 June
The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson - Damian Marley & Nas
FRIDAY, 11 June
The Late Show with David Letterman (CBS) - Robert Klein; Allison Moorer
Jimmy Kimmel Live - Miike Snow
Last Call with Carson Daly - Circa Survive
03 June 2010
Lie Ins - "This duo reminds me of the early days catching The Violent Femmes busking on street corners."
Tieranniesaur - "This playful rhythm bops along, perfect for driving on a summer day. Unpretentious, like the old Tom-Tom Club records."
I Heart The Monster Hero - "Gonzo electronica! I dare you not to groove to it."
Land Lovers - "Gentle ballad that takes a subtle left turn into Kinks-ville."
Pantone247 - "A beautiful pop breeze that brings to mind the days of The Dream Syndicate."
You can stream the entire Popical Island compilation for the next two weeks. On 18 June it will be available in digital and physical formats. A free, all-day celebration of the record release will be held at Whelans (upstairs) in Dublin on 19 June.
02 June 2010
"Shelter From The Storm"
Original Dylan version found on Blood On The Tracks (1975)
Although categorized as a jazz singer, it would probably be a mistake to pigeon-hole Jackson, Mississippi native Cassandra Wilson into one genre of music. Her records the past two decades have been adventuresome affairs, interpreting songs made famous from as varied artists as Hank Williams, Miles Davis, Jimmy Webb and Robert Johnson.
So it comes as no surprise that on her 2002 release Belly of the Sun, Wilson tried on Bob Dylan's "Shelter From The Storm" for size. The cover is marvelous; it has always struck me that this adaptation was influenced by the general feel and sound of Joni Mitchell's Hejira (1976). Wilson's vocal echoes Joni's cool, elegant approach and Mark Peterson's bass is a direct descendant of the unmistakable sound of Jaco Pastorius. Here, "Shelter From The Storm" seems to be sung by Wilson in the third person, as an observer of an allegoric tale; she's trying to make sense of the darkness surrounding her but senses that grace abounds in the unidentified "she" who promises "shelter from the storm."
Like so many Dylan songs, "Shelter From The Storm" has provoked strong opinions as to its meaning, which would no doubt both please and infuriate the author: religious metaphor, "safe ballad", parallel to the then on-going war in Southeast Asia, and (fail safe for the time) broken relationship are just some of the balloons floated out there for discussion. Since its original pressing on Blood On The Tracks in 1975, to me it has always been a fascinating hodgepodge of symbols illustrating moral ideals and religious principles. But that's just one person's aside.
What I find equally compelling is the adaptation of "Shelter From The Storm" to so many effective melodies. In addition to Wilson's version discussed above, there is a fascinating dirge by Scottish musician Steve Adey and a hopeful, warm take by Rodney Crowell and past Dylan collaborator Emmylou Harris. But the most indelible cover may be Dylan's own, memorialized on the otherwise mediocre Hard Rain. This live performance - more striking because it came within a year of Blood On The Tracks' release - is literally and figuratively electric, driven not only by Dylan's vocal but his guitar playing as well. As a teen who had not yet seen Dylan live, this dynamic take opened up the great world of the master's tinkering with rhythm and harmony. It's a great introduction for those who erroneously expect that a Dylan concert will simply be a night of album reproductions.
Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "Shelter From The Storm"
Live Listening & Viewing: Bob Dylan, "Shelter From The Storm" (Rolling Thunder Revue Tour, Fort Collins, Colorado, 1976; recording found on Hard Rain)
Alternate Take: Bob Dylan, "Shelter From The Storm" (Jerry Maguire Soundtrack, 1996)
Other Cover Versions:
Steve Adey, "Shelter From The Storm" (All Things Real, 2006)
Rodney Crowell with Emmylou Harris, "Shelter From The Storm" (The Outsider, 2005)