31 January 2011

Tribute (In Memoriam): Charlie Louvin

The Louvin Brothers, Charlie and Ira ... One of the great close-harmony brother acts. The sound of Ira's mandolin and Chet Atkins' guitar, making the best music this side of heaven, even when singing about Satan. These songs on death, sin, and despair resonate with raw power and start beauty. . .
----Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour ("The Devil" episode)

Charlie Louvin was haunted by a voice in his head for over 40 years. Charlie said every time he sang a song originally recorded with his brother Ira, he would subconsciously step away from the microphone out of deference for his sibling's response. In 2007, Charlie told Paste that "Anytime and every time I sing a song, I can hear his part, even though he's not there. I ain't never found nobody who can duplicate Ira's part. A lot of people imitate him, but no one can sing a harmony like he could."

Born Charles Elzer Loudermilk in Henager, Alabama in 1927, Charlie was one of seven children raised on a cotton and potato farm. The family had a collection of 78s that they would listen to in the evenings after returning from the fields. Charlie and big brother Ira (by three years) particularly were drawn to the records of the Delmar Brothers and the Monroe Brothers. Like so many singers, they honed their voices in church; the boys attended Baptist services regularly, and the fire-and-brimstone from that pulpit would be reflected in the Loudermilk brothers' professional careers.

Charlie and Ira changed their stage name in 1947 to The Louvin Brothers. Signed as a gospel act, the two were determined to crack the secular market. And indeed they did. Between 1952 and 1963 they had a string of Top 10 country singles on the Capitol label, including "When I Stop Dreaming," "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby," "You're Running Wild" and "Cash On The Barrel Head." Their harmonies - Ira's tenor on top, Charlie's baritone filling out the bottom - were almost seamless.

Here's Ira on mandolin and Charlie on guitar from 1961 doing "I Can't Keep You In Love With Me":

The partnership ended in 1963, when Ira's drinking, womanizing and temper wore his little brother out. In a cruel irony, Ira was killed in a car crash by a drunk driver in Missouri on June 20, 1965. "Do I miss him?" Charlie asked tersely to the Paste interviewer after his brother had been dead for almost 42 years. "Of course I miss him. How would you like to do without your brother, your wife or one of your children? If something happened to them, you'd miss them."

Most serious music followers have probably never listened to The Louvin Brothers. But when they do, their first reaction is usually "they sound like The Everly Brothers with a country bent." And one cannot underestimate the influence The Louvin Brothers had on the progeny that followed: from Don & Phil Everly to Lennon & McCartney to Simon & Garfunkel to Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris to Roger McGuinn & Chris Hillman.

Listen to Emmylou harmonize with Charlie and Vern Gosdin back in the 1980s on "Love & Wealth":

In 2003, the list of singers who signed up for the tribute album Livin', Lovin', Losin': Songs of The Louvin Brothers included this staggering cast: Johnny Cash, Allsion Krauss, Harris, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton and James Taylor. And his 2007 album Charlie Louvin featured guest turns by Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy, George Jones, Tift Meritt, Tom T. Hall, Marty Stewart and Will Oldham.

Charlie Louvin died after a bout with pancreatic cancer last Wednesday at the age of 83. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Betty, and three sons.

A fitting tribute is this performance of "My Baby's Gone" at Royal Albert Hall on 18 June 2009 by Nick Lowe and Ron Sexsmith (tip of the cap to reader Al for the great video find):

Fleet Foxes Leak Single, Album Art & First Tour Dates

The big news sweeping the music blogoshere today is the announcement of the start of Fleet Foxes' upcoming tour and the leaking of the first single from their upcoming Sub Pop album. The song is "Helplessness Blues," the title track to the LP, whose release date has been announced as 3 May 2011.

You can take a peek at the album art here.

You can view the tour dates announced here; tickets for these selected shows go on sale tomorrow, 1 February.

"Helplessness Blues" starts off in traditional Celtic fashion -- it reminds us of The Clancy Brothers -- until it takes a little bit of a tempo turn into the familiar three-part harmony made popular in the rock world 40 years ago by Crosby, Stills & Nash. Check it out for yourself below:

Fleet Foxes - "Helplessness Blues"

28 January 2011

The Return of Robbie Robertson

The Band's Robbie Robertson has announced that he will release his first solo effort in 13 years on 5 April. How To Become Clairvoyant will feature three tunes he penned with Eric Clapton as well as guest appearances by Trent Reznor, Tom Morello, Steve Winwood, Robert Randolph and Taylor Goldsmith (of current TNOP fave band Dawes).

"The boys helped me out," Robertson told Rolling Stone. "I think I've written some really good songs, and ... it turned out quite extraordinary." He adds that the album explores addiction, 60s idealism and "rock and roll's early reputation as the devil's music".

Two tracks are particularly interesting. "This Is Where I Get Off" recounts the end of Robertson's affiliation as lead guitarist and chief songwriter with The Band upon the conclusion of The Last Waltz project. The second can be sampled below: "When The Night Was Young" is a quiet, soulful melody complimented by Scottish singer Angela McCluskey and anchored by Martin Pradler's piano; subtle allusions to The Band's apprenticeship in the American South and its wide-eyed introduction to New York with Bob Dylan are evident.

Here's the track listing:
1. Straight Down The Line
2. When The Night Was Young
3. He Don't Live Here No More
4. The Right Mistake
5. This Is Where I Get Off
6. Fear of Falling
7. She's Not Mine
8. Madame X
9. Axman
10. Won't Be Back
11. How To Become Clairvoyant
12. Tango For Django

27 January 2011

Your Weekly Dylan Cover [#29]

Steve Earle & The Dukes
"It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry"
Original Dylan version found on Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

[Ed. note: Regular readers of this blog know that Bob Dylan is affectionately referred to as the "Patron Saint" of TNOP. After a brief hiatus, we resume our weekly feature in which we sift through the thousands of cover versions of Dylan songs and provide you with our favorites, as well as a quick memory of our first exposure to the original.]

If Steve Earle was going to cover a Dylan song from Highway 61 Revisited, one would guess it would be "Outlaw Blues." After all, the Texas singer-songwriter led a notorious life there for awhile, careening from bouts with substance abuse and serial marriage (eight times at the altar so far).

This take on Dylan's "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry" is taken from 1996, when Earle was on the comeback trail after running off the tracks. in the preceding four years, Earle had been convicted of illegal drug and firearms possession, resulting in a stint in jail. But the incarceration allowed him to kick his habit.

Earle's rollicking performance of the song, with his crack backing band The Dukes, was recorded at Tennessee's Cold Creek Correctional Facility on 25 June 1996 as part of a court order. The concert was preserved on film (titled To Hell and Back) and shown in an edited form on MTV.

Here, "It Takes A Train" is given the up-tempo treatment, a powerful blues anchored by pile driving drummer Custer and the furious guitar of David Steele perfectly complimenting Earle's huffing harp and growling vocal, emphasizing the lonesome wail of the lyrics.

It's always been one of our top five Dylan songs and Earle does it great justice. The style is akin to the alternative take recorded during the Highway 61 sessions known as "Phantom Engineer" (with four lines of alternate lyrics) - which was revealed officially on The Bootleg Series: Vol. 1 -3.

The ultimate studio version would be a slower, lonesome blues, to be echoed famously six years later on stage at Madison Square Garden during Dylan's set at The Concert For Bangla Desh. The vocal is definitely nodding to the R&B style. Rhythmically, Dylan introduces the song with a lazy acoustic guitar riff, followed on its heels by Bobby Gregg's shuffling drums. But the star here are the keyboards of Paul Griffin: a two-beat boogie-woogie played on a tack piano (literally an altered ordinary piano in which tacks or nails are strategically placed on the hammers in order to come in contact with the strings, thereby creating a more tinny, distinctive sound).

The lyrics are few, for a Dylan composition, but the words create some stunning imagery. It is a notable achievement in Mr. Zimmerman's vast canon.

24 January 2011

Music On TV This Week


The Late Show with David Letterman (CBS) - The Walkmen
Conan (TBS) - Iron & Wine
The Tonight Show (NBC) - Lizz Wright
Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC) - The Script
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (NBC) - Local Natives
Last Call with Carson Daly (NBC) - Menomena
Lopez Tonight (TBS) - Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

TUESDAY, 25 January
Conan - Wanda Jackson
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon - Iron & Wine
Last Call with Carson Daly - Broken Bells
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central) - James Franco

WEDNESDAY, 26 January
Conan - Motorhead
The Tonight Show (NBC) - Amos Lee
Jimmy Kimmel Live - Cold War Kids
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon - Two Door Cinema Club
The Ellen DeGeneres Show (Syndicated) - One eskimO

THURSDAY, 27 January
The Late Show with David Letterman - Robert DeNiro; Dustin Hoffman
Conan - The Ghost of A Saber Tooth Tiger
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon - Neon Trees
Last Call with Carson Daly - Fitz & The Tantrums

FRIDAY, 28 January
The Late Show with David Letterman - Gregg Allman
Last Call with Carson Daly - Tift Merritt; Matt & Kim
The Ellen DeGeneres Show - Amos Lee

23 January 2011

Pick To Click: The Japanese Popstars feat. Lisa Hannigan - "Song For Lisa" "

As regular readers are aware, our Irish correspondent Celtic Ray is always looking for the next big thing on the Emerald Isle. This week he turns us all on to Derry, Northern Ireland electronic trio The Japanese Popstars, who have been a popular house DJ act since 2008. Now Declan McLaughlin, Gary Curran and Gareth Donoghue are on the eve of releasing their third release, Contolling Your Allegiance, due in March on Virgin/EMI. While Ray notes that there will be guest appearances by Green Velvet and Jon Spencer, "Song For Lisa" with songstress Lisa Hannigan really caught his ear. Try it for yourself below.

The Japanese Popstars - Song For Lisa ft Lisa Hannigan (Unreleased)

Bono & Glen Hansard Honor Sargent Shriver

Sargent Shriver, architect of the Peace Corps and, with his late wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver, creator of the Special Olympics, was eulogized at a funeral mass in suburban Washington D.C. yesterday by many family members and dignitaries. What struck us as particularly touching and apt for a life well lived was the singing of two Dubliners - Bono, accompanied by Glen Hansard - of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis.

21 January 2011

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Lineup Announced

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has announced its 2011 line-up, and it is loaded with heavyweight acts. Among those TNOP would target to see: Wilco, Arcade Fire, John Mellencamp, John Legend & The Roots, Sonny Rollins, Robert Plant & The Band of Joy, Lupe Fiasco, Mumford & Sons, Jeff Beck, Jesse Winchester, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, The Avett Brothers, The Decemberists, Gregg Allman Band, Ahmad Jamal, Lucinda Williams and Ricky Scaggs.

The Festival takes place over the course of two weekends, 29 April - 1 May and 5 May - 8 May. You can view the individual days' acts by clicking here.

Tickets for the Festival, which takes place at the Fair Grounds Race Course, are on sale. A limited number of discount ticket packages including tickets to each day of a particular weekend of the Festival will be offered. Ticket packages purchased for all three days of the first weekend (April 29, 30 & May 1) will be $120 ($40 per day), while second weekend packages purchased for all four festival days (May 5, 6, 7, & 8) will be $160 ($40 per day). (Tickets included in each package are day-specific.) Advance single day Jazz Fest tickets are only $45; the gate price is $60. Children’s tickets (ages 2 - 10) are still only $5 and are available at the gate only. Single day tickets to Jazz Fest are on sale by specific weekend, with each ticket valid for a single day’s attendance.

Tickets are available at the Festival's website.

17 January 2011

This Day In Rock History: 17 January

The happiest of birthdays to Stephen Fain "Steve" Earle, born this date in 1955. The Texan singer-songwriter continues to be prolific in a number of areas of the arts as a musician, actor (The Wire and Treme) and playwright.

If you haven't had the pleasure of delving into Earle's music, TNOP suggests you start with these superlative albums: Guitar Town (1986); I Feel Alright (1996); and Transcendental Blues (2000). You'll hear a full spectrum of influences from rockabilly to Celtic to honky tonk to folk.

In celebration, here's a vintage Earle performance from 1996:

Happy Brithday

Common - "A Dream"

Dion - "Abraham, Martin & John" [The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, 1968]

U2 - "Pride (In The Name of Love)"

Patty Griffin - "Up To The Mountain (MLK Song)"

UB40 - "King" [Live at Rockpalast 1981]

Stevie Wonder - "Happy Birthday"

10 January 2011

New Iron & Wine: "Half Moon"

Sam Beam and crew showed up on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last week, performing a couple songs from the new LP Kiss Each Other Clean. Here's one of them, a song that feels like it has dropped gently from the sky and settled inside Levon Helm's barn in upstate New York: "Half Moon." Gorgeous.

06 January 2011

TNOP's Best Albums of 2010

2010 Windmill Lane Album of the Year:
Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid

This 23-year old Kansas City native studied musical theater in New York before reversing course and heading down to Atlanta to make her musical bones. Monae was "discovered" there by Outkast's Big Boi and then introduced to Sean Combs, who ended up producing her debut, the stunning The ArchAndroid. Setting aside the attempt at a linear science fiction theme, everything else works. Monae genre-hops with ease, producing some of the most groove-tastic numbers since Stevie Wonder's heyday of the 1970s. Not a note wasted, the album is a repeated listening pleasure from beginning to end. What's more, she backed it up with a mesmerizing stage presence while on tour as an opening act for Of Montreal this year. In short, A Star Is Born.

KEY TRACKS: "Locked Inside"; "Tightrope"; "Come Alive (War of the Roses)"

LIVE: Monae performs "Tightrope" live on The Late Show with David Letterman (April 2010).

FURTHER READING: Greg Kot interviews Janelle Monae (March 2010).


2 The National - High Violet

This was the year that this quirky band broke through into the mainstream, thanks to this superlative effort. The National tell compelling stories that are drenched in Heartland Americana. They get better with each studio album. The songs range from lost Flannery O'Connor-like short stories set to a brooding melodies to pastoral feelings to fuzzed out metal guitars.

KEY TRACKS: "Bloodbuzz, Ohio"; "Conversation 16"

LIVE: "Terrible Love" (Brooklyn Academy of Music, 15 May 2010)

FURTHER READING: "The National Agenda" by Nicholas Dawidoff (New York Times Magazine, 23 April 2010)


3 Villagers - Becoming A Jackal

Wee Irishman Conor J O'Brien uses the moniker Villagers. This set of engrossing tales challenge the listener in the best Dylanesque tradition: Clever social commentary? The yin and yang of an individual's daily struggle to fit in this world? The unsure journey of a romantic relationship? All of the above? Whatever the interpretation, the songs confirm that this artist is a wordsmith with the goods to endure in the music business.

KEY TRACKS: "Becoming A Jackal"; "Ship of Promises"; "Home"

FURTHER READING: Allison Stewart of Click Track interviews Conor J O'Brien (18 June 2010)


4 Local Natives - Gorilla Manor

This year's champs of intricate harmonies are the L.A. group Local Natives, following in the footsteps of the past two years' champs, Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear. But the twist of this quintet is their fascinating give and take with the drumming of Matt Frazier. Impressively accomplished at such a young age, this band is on the come.

KEY TRACKS: "Airplanes"; 'Sun Hands"

INTERVIEW & PERFORMANCE: The World Cafe (30 June 2010)


5 Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

In which the Canadian indie darlings swing for the fences . . . and hit a triple. The concept as a whole is interesting, a series of middle class John Updike-type tales of how life can be complex even away from the grittiness of an urban environment. While that theme starts breathing heavy by the end of this 16 track opus, it's definitely built for arenas from a musical standpoint. The Suburbs nods to everyone from Bruce Springsteen to The Cars. And Win Butler and Regine Chassagne are not afraid to rock the boat and actually stand up for their politics, which is refreshing in the present world of rock.

KEY TRACKS: "Ready To Start"; "Sprawl II"; "Month of May"

LIVE: The band performs "Ready To Start" at Madison Square Garden (5 August 2010)

FURTHER READING: Win Butler talks to (23 November 2010)


6 Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More

Ever since our trip to Ireland in the summer of 2009, we've been recommending these unique four-part harmony English folk rockers to anyone who will listen. And apparently many started to listen, due to the solid debut Sigh No More and a triumphant sold-out US tour this past year. But it doesn't work just for the harmonies: their booming sound and imagery hits the listener equally firm with repeated spins.

KEY TRACKS: "Little Lion Man"; "The Cave"; "White Blank Page"

LIVE: Mumford & Sons sing "The Cave" on Jools Holland Later (4 May 2010)

FURTHER READING: Laura Barton writes in The Guardian about the band (11 February 2010)


7 Bruce Springsteen - The Promise

Outtakes of Springsteen's Darkness On The Edge Of Town sessions, recorded back in 1977 and 1978. The Boss & The E Street Band had famously been away from the recording studio for almost three years due to a managerial dispute. But then Springsteen came to The Record Plant in New York City with a wealth of material, and this 21 (22?) track archive stands as a great double LP addition to his wonderful catalog. The majority of the record could be peeled off and titled Born To Run 2.0. And boy is that a good thing: we hear all of Springsteen's glorious influences sprinkled throughout the album (Phil Spector, Memphis soul) as well as the songs that could have cozily fit next to Darkness' track listing.

KEY TRACKS: "Gotta Get That Feeling"; "It's A Shame"'; "Because The Night"; "Talk To Me"; "The Promise"

VIEWING: Bruce Springsteen talks about The Promise

LIVE: Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes joined by Bruce Springsteen on "Talk To Me" (8 December 2003)


8 Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

Damon Albarn puts together his loose collective once again for the first time in five years in the guise of illustrated characters created by Jamie Hewlett. While there may not be numbers as groove-laden as "Feel Good, Inc." or "Dare" (from 2005's effort Demon Days), Plastic Beach finds Albern continuing to push pop music forward. The album includes fantastic takes from vets Bobby Womack, Mos Def and Lou Reed. Oh, and a solid rhythm section in two vets from the English music scene: Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. Like most worthy albums, Plastic Beach takes a few listens to digest and enjoy. Take the time to do so.

KEY TRACKS: "Stylo"; "On Melancholy Hill"; "Some Kind of Nature"

LIVE: "On Melancholy Hill" at Glastonbury 2010

FURTHER READING: Albern & Hewlett talk to The Fader (30 April 2010)


9 LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening

LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy is no young pup to the music scene. When the first cut ("Drunk Girls") was leaked from This Is Happening we were fooled into thinking his first LP in three years might be a rave filled dancefest. Wrong. Really wrong. The album marks a giant step forward, with Berlin-era Bowie haunting many of its tracks. Let's hope this isn't Murphy's last go-round; he obviously still has plenty to say.

KEY TRACKS: "All I Want"; "Dance Yrslf Clean"; "I Can Change"

LIVE: LCD Soundsystem performs "Pow Pow" at the Fox Theater in Pomona, California (5 June 2010)

FURTHER LISTENING: James Murphy talks with Greg Kot and Jim DeRogotis on Sound Opinions (3 December 2010)


10 The Black Keys - Brothers

After years of toiling in and slogging across the country to small clubs, the Akron duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney hit it big commercially. Seemingly in the background every time you view a commercial on TV (we're not against making a buck, but boys . . . a jewelry store?) or hear a bumper on sports talk radio, it cannot be denied that Brothers strikes gold once again to our ears. They went into the studio with Danger Mouse for the sole purpose of coming up with a radio friendly single that would not belie their blues roots and damned if they didn't do so: "Tighten Up" is one of the best songs of 2010. The remainder of the record is loose and playful, drawing on influences from Junior Kimbrough to Credence Clearwater Revivial. We dare you to try to turn it off while driving.

KEY TRACKS: "Tighten Up"; "Everlasting Light"' "Howlin' For You"; "Next Girl"

LIVE: "Howlin' For You" (Saturday Night Live, 8 January 2011)

FURTHER READING: Esquire profiles The Black Keys (17 May 2010)


11 Los Lobos - Tin Can Trust

The Band From East L. A. shows once again that it cannot make a bad album. Mostly a bluesy affair, but not above the occasional fiery aside that Los Lobos is noted for when armed with electric guitars.

KEY TRACKS: "Burn It Down"; "Tin Can Trust"; "27 Spanishes"


12 Richard Thompson - Dream Attic

From our review of Thompson's live show back in November, which included a performance in full of Dream Attic: "Any guitar solo by Thompson is never an exercise in naval-gazing. Indeed, the crowd has witnessed one of the best ever at his instrument, who is still contributing vital music over 40 years after bursting on the music scene."

KEY TRACKS: "If Love Whispers Your Name"; "Big Sun Falling In The River"; "The Money Shuffle"


13 Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - I Learned The Hard Way

Miss Jones continues her progression into one of the true greats in the soul genre, helped in no small way by her crack nine-piece Brooklyn band. Not to mention one of the more dynamic live shows you'll ever see.

KEY TRACKS: "I Learned The Hard Way"; "Better Things"; "Money"


14 Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can

This 20 year old songwriting wunderkind broke through the noise of mediocrity with this effecting sophomore effort, evoking a young Joni Mitchell.

KEY TRACKS: "Rambling Man"; "Goodbye England"; "Devil's Spoke"


15 Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone

The grand dame of gospel and soul returns to the spotlight in this Jeff Tweedy produced disc. Mavis sings some of her father's songs and also takes on with great success John Fogerty, Randy Newman, Allen Touissant and Little Milton. She's a national treasure.

KEY TRACKS: "You Are Not Alone"; "Wrote A Song For Everyone"; "Downward Road"; "Losing You"


16 New Irish Collective - Popical Island

One of the best kept secrets of the year. This interesting batch of songs was gathered by an Irish collective of Dublin indie bands. The 15 tracks run the gamut of musical styles and tastes.

KEY TRACKS: Lie Ins - "Vegetarian Girls"; Tieranniesaur - "Sketch!"; I Heart The Monster Hero - "Car #9 (Nintendo Mix)"; Land Lovers - "Is Nowhere Far Away Any More?"; Pantone247 - "Maybe Tonight"


17 Cee-Lo Green - The Lady Killer

Further proof of the resurgence and vitality of soul music. Cee-Lo's obviously got the goods and delivers on this jukebox crammed album. Speaking of which, why wasn't "Georgia" included?

KEY TRACKS: "F*** You"; "Bright Lights Bigger City"; "Love Gun"


18 Elton John & Leon Russell - The Union

One of the pleasant surprises of the year. Elton John teams up with one of his idols, the very underrated Leon Russell, to make an album which reinvigorates Captain Fantastic, who until recently has been on rock icon cruise control. And the choice to have T-Bone Burnett produce didn't hurt, either.

KEY TRACKS: "If It Wasn't For Bad"; "I Should Have Sent Roses"; "Hey Ahab"


19 Spoon - Transferrence

Lost in the shuffle because it was released at the beginning of the year, the Austin minimalist rockers went back to basics on this, their seventh studio long-player. More stripped down than Spoon's last two efforts (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Gimme Fiction), Transferrence still pays attention to the basics of rock 'n roll: swagger and great hooks.

KEY TRACKS: "Who Makes Your Money"; "Written In Reverse"; "Got Nuffin"


20 The Cast of Cheers - Chariot

Irish correspondent Celtic Ray turned us on to this 33-minute blast of post-punk glory that's not above nicking groups as diverse as The Beatles and Foals. You can still download the album for free by going to The Cast of Cheers' bandcamp site.

KEY TRACKS: "Goose"; "Derp"


BEST REISSUE: The Rolling Stones - Exile On Main St.

BEST OFFICIAL ISSUING OF A BOOTLEG: Bob Dylan - The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9)

BEST TRIBUTE ALBUM: Dirty Hearts & Broken Windows: Songs of John Prine

REGRETS, WE'VE HAD A COUPLE (Albums that made the list in 2009, but should have been ranked higher): Passion Pit - Manners; Dawes - North Hills

BOY, DID WE MISS THE BOAT (Album that should have made the 2009 list, but didn't): Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Up From Below

2009 Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
2008 Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

Rock 'n Film: "Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune"

Phil Ochs may be a singer-songwriter that you have heard of, but probably a performer that you have never heard. An artist with serious left political leanings, Ochs came to the forefront of the folk movement in the early 1960s, heralded in the same class of Greenwich Village scene stars as Joan Baez, Peter, Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton. Ochs famously declared himself "the best" until he heard Dylan and revised his statement to "second best."

Preferring the term "topical singer" as opposed to "protest singer," Ochs was best known for his compositions "Too Many Martyrs," "Draft Dodger Rag" and particularly "I Ain't Marching Anymore." He appeared at countless political rallies not only in the United States but in South America and Africa supporting civil rights, labor and anti-war movements. He was at the center of a couple of seminal events: the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 which turned into what was eventually described by an independent commission as a "police riot"; and the "Free John Sinclair" rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1971, notable for the first public appearance and performance of John Lennon since he left The Beatles (looking back, it is likely John & Yoko lifted their "War Is Over! [If You Want It]" campaign from Ochs' song "The War Is Over" in which he tells listeners to just unilaterally declare the war in Vietnam to be finished).

These topics and events, as well as Ochs' personal struggles with mental illness and alcohol, are mined by director Ken Bowser in the new documentary Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune, which opened in New York City last night. Selected cities will see screenings in the coming months. In addition to archival footage, the film is interspersed with commentary from Ochs' immediate family as well as Billy Bragg, Pete Seeger, Sean Penn, Christopher Hitchens, Ed Sanders, Baez and others.

You can view the movie trailer here.

05 January 2011

Miles Gallagher's Favorite Dozen For 2010

[This happy new year's post comes to us from TNOP's UK music correspondent Miles Gallagher.]

here are the dozen from 2010 ranked most played to least played - just click on the song title to listen!

if nothing else don't miss the video for number 11 ( unfortunately, as far as i can tell its available on video only )

conversation 16 - the national - high violet

2 loving cup (alternate take) - the rolling stones - exile on main street (deluxe version, remastered)

3 rill rill - sleigh bells - treats

4 congratulations - mgmt - flash delirium

5 bang pop - free energy - stuck on nothing

6 melancholy hill - gorillaz - plastic beach

7 sprawl ii - arcade fire - the suburbs

8 surprise - family of the year - songbook

9 down by the water - the decemberists - the king is dead

10 jamie, my intentions are bass - !!! - strange weather, isn't it

11 martian bossa nova - shorty rodgers - frankly jazz ( video only )

12 dance floor stalker - flying lotus - reset

Tribute (In Memoriam): Gerry Rafferty

It is worth a short column to celebrate Gerry Rafferty's contribution to pop music. The Scottish singer/songwriter died after a long bout with alcoholism yesterday at the age of of 63. If it hadn't been for the perpetual presence of two songs on oldies radio for the past 30 years, Rafferty may have vanished without much notice.

But those two songs!

A solo effort, "Baker Street" (from 1978's five million selling LP City To City), is a soft rock classic, blending an unforgettable sax groove with a searing guitar solo and the pitch-perfect vocal of Rafferty.

The crowning achievement, though, is the continuing jukebox wonder of "Stuck In The Middle With You." Written with partner Joe Egan and recorded under the group name Stealers Wheel, the tune topped the US and UK charts in 1972. Produced by legendary songwriters Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, 'Stuck In The Middle" is an irresistible three and a half minutes of pop heaven. Anchored by Rafferty's emotional lead slyly sneering at the industry that is ironically making him money, the song is powered by a funky bass line and George Harrison-like slide guitar.

Turn it up. Pick a partner. Or just dance along in your chair. It's great stuff.

04 January 2011

Secret Sisters & Jack White Cover Johnny Cash

Laura and Lydia Rogers, sisters hailing from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, go by the name The Secret Sisters. Their first full-length eponymous LP was released in 2010. Executive Produced by Americana major domo T-Bone Burnett, the album was recorded in Nashville. You can get a great feel for their gospel and bluegrass roots by listening to a recent interview and performance for The World Cafe here.

The Secret Sisters also ended up at Jack White's Third Man Studios, stepping out of their usual comfort zone to record a scorching version of Johnny Cash's "Big River." Listen and enjoy below.

The Secret Sisters feat. Jack White: "Big River"