2016 in a nutshell: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, Abe Vigoda, Paul Kantner, Maurice White, George Martin, Keith Emerson, Prince, Lonnie Mack, Muhammad Ali, Gordie Howe, Anton Yelchin, My faith in the UK electorate, Kenny Baker, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, My faith in the American electorate, Leon Russell, Ron Glass, Andrew Sachs, Greg Lake, John Glenn, Carrie Fisher, and many others.
Interesting year for me to pick a top 10. My top three picks have flip-flopped many times in my mind, and the albums could not be more different. Played 'em all to death, but I think I've finally got it right. One album that's not on my list is Pink Floyd's ludicrously expensive The Early Years 1965-1972 box set. It's 11 CDs. 9 DVDs, 8 BluRays and 5 vinyl singles for the low-low price of $500 (ok, $470 on Amazon). I've heard some of it, and it's pretty amazing, but can't quite bring myself to shell out quite that much dough.
Enjoy the list.
Oh, and at least there was one set of voters who got something right: Electric Light Orchestra and Yes are finally in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, both more than 20 years after they were first eligible.
I was never a real Bowie fan - I liked the seventies hits, but never really dug deeper. Even without the digging, it was obvious that he was one of the giants and seeing various reactions in the media and from freinds on Facebook underscored how much of an impact he had on a lot of people's lives. Saw him live in 1990 on the "Sound + Vision" tour - partially because it was going to be a "greatest hits" tour (so I'd know the material), and partially because Adrian Belew and his band would be his backing band, and I'm big Belew fan. The show was tremendous, exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for.
So, I became one of those people. You know, the ones that get interested in an artist right after they pass away. Hearing about Bowie's death and seeing the reactions really did made me wonder what I'd missed out on. A friend (Phil Obbard) brought me up to speed on Bowie's classic period, starting me out with Hunky Dory and Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). That led to Station To Station, Low, and lastly the obvious The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. Yes, I get it now. So far, Station To Station and Ziggy Stardust are my favorites, but all of the albums impressed the heck out of me. So yes, I'll definitely be digging deeper into his catalog.
Like Warren Zevon, Bowie kept working despite his illness and recorded his his final album, ★, with his fanbase unaware of his health problems. I definitely respect Bowie as an artist and for his clear affection for his fans. So, yes, I'm a newbie, but I'll still miss him. Rock music needs artists like David Bowie to push boundaries. He'll be missed.
Out Of Time
25th Anniversary Edition
Back in 1991, I wrote:
R.E.M. has been getting more and more adventurous with each release, and it still works. Out Of Time is their most eclectic album yet, and it holds up nicely with their best work. This time out, Peter Buck plays more mandolin than lead guitar, and bassist Mike Mills plays lots of keyboard. They've thrown in a string section on several cuts, plus a guest rap from KRS-1 on "Radio Song". "Losing My Religion" (which by the way is a slang phrase for being at the end of one's tether) is a gorgeous, stirring song, and one of the best they've ever done. "Shiny Happy People" is a catchy pop song, and "Country Feedback" is a dramatic, feedback-laden ballad. "Belong" is arem out moody melody overcut with a Walkman™ tape of lead singer Michael Stipe reading some original prose. I don't know how, but R.E.M. keeps changing themselves, yet each time it still works.
Looking back, Out Of Time hasn't lost any of its luster. It was a gutsy career move then, and it still holds up very nicely today. The new 25th anniversary adds a ton of demos (some instrumental, some vocal). Given the lighter feel of the album, the demos are much closer to the final versions and they're fascinating listening. You also get a CD worth of songs from the "Mountain Stage" radio show performance. It's a good show - all acoustic, with a focus on songs from Out Of Time with a few older songs mixed in and a couple of covers - The Troggs' "Love is All Around" and The Flatlanders' "Dallas" (which featured Billy Bragg, Robyn Hitchcock, and Clive Gregson & Christine Collister). Definitely worth the upgrade.
tracks (Out Of Time): "Radio Song", "Losing My Religion", "Low", "Near Wild Heaven", "Endgame", "Shiny Happy People", "Belong", "Half A World Away", "Texarkana", "Country Feedback", "Me In Honey"
tracks (Out Of Time Demos): "Losing My Religion 1" [demo], "Near Wild Heaven 1" [demo], "Shiny Happy People 1" [demo], "Texarkana 1" [demo], "Untitled Demo 2", "Radio - Acoustic" [Radio Song 1 demo], "Near Wild Heaven 2" [demo], "Shiny Happy People 2" [demo], "Slow Sad Rocker" [Endgame demo], "Radio Band" [Radio Song 3 demo], "Losing My Religion 2" [demo], "Belong" [demo], "Blackbirds" [Half A World Away demo], "Texarkana" [demo], "Country Feedback" [demo], "Me On Keyboard" [Me In Honey demo], "Low" [demo], "40 Sec." [40 Second Song demo], "Fretless 1" [demo]
tracks (Live At Mountain Stage): "Introduction", "World Leader Pretend", "Radio Song", "Fall On Me", "Its The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)", "Half a World Away", "Belong", "Love Is All Around", "Losing My Religion", "Dallas" "Radio Song", "Disturbance At The Heron House", "Low", "Swan Swan H", "Pop Song 89"
tracks (Blu-ray content):
- Out of Time - Hi-Resolution Audio
- Out of Time - 5.1 Surround Sound
- Official videos for: "Radio Song", "Losing My Religion", "Low", "Near Wild Heaven", "Shiny Happy People", "Belong", "Half A World Away", and "Country Feedback"
- Time Piece
40th Anniversary Edition
Rush's breakthrough album, 2112, gets its second reissue in the last four years. The 2012 edition added a graphic novel version of the title track's lyrics along with a live version of "Overture / Temples Of Syrinx" and "A Passage To Bangkok" and a DVD with a surround sound mix of the album. This time around, the bonuses include Neil Peart's reading of the "solar federation" finale from "2112", live versions of "2112", "Something For Nothing", and the rarely performed "The Twilight Zone", along with a radio ad and a handful of covers. The covers are surprisingly good, with "Overture" as the standout. There's a DVD again, but instead of the surround version, you get rare footage of Rush on the All The World's A Stage Tour in Passaic in 1976. It's only a little over a half-hour long (Rush was opening for Foghat and Montrose at this show), and the footage is black-and-white and of so-so quality, but it's really, really cool to see.
If you're a fan of the album, definitely pick this up (but hang on to your 2012 version too).
tracks (2112): "2112", "A Passage To Bangkok", "The Twilight Zone", "Lessons", "Tears", "Something for Nothing"
tracks (bonus tracks): "Solar Federation", "Overture" - Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins and Nick Raskulinecz, "A Passage To Bangkok" - Billy Talent, "The Twilight Zone" - Steven Wilson, "Tears" - Alice In Chains, "Something For Nothing" - Jacob Moon, "2112" [live], "Something For Nothing" [live], "The Twilight Zone" [live], "2112 1976 Radio Ad"
- Live At Capitol Theatre 1976: "Bastille Day", "Anthem", "Lakeside Park", "2112", "Fly by Night", "In the Mood"
- "Overture" [Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins and Nick Raskulinecz]
- "A Passage To Bangkok: Behind the Scenes with Billy Talent"
- "2112 - 40 Years Closer: A Q&A with Alex Lifeson and Terry Brown"
Super Deluxe Edition
After years of legal wrangling between The Who and album producer Shel Talmy, the Who's classic debut finally got an official release in 2002 as a double CD of the album and various outtakes. Fourteen years later, My Generation gets the "super deluxe" treatment and the box set is essentially a summary of The Who in 1965. The box includes in mono and stereo, the band's first two singles ("I Can't Explain" and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", both with their b-sides), a slew of outtakes and alternate versions (many of which were not on the 2002 set), and a disc of some of Pete Townshend's early demos, including three previously unreleased/unbootlegged demos and a 1964 demo of "Sunrise" (the song would be released as part of the band's third album, The Who Sell Out, in 1967). And of course, you get a giant book, posters and other printed materials.
If you're only familiar with albums like Tommy and Who's Next, My Generation will be a bit of a surprise. "My Generation" and "The Kids Are Alright" are the commonly known songs, but the album includes gems like "A Legal Matter", "It's Not True", "The Good's Gone" (a real favorite of mine), and closes with a chaotic instrumental named for John Entwistle's nickname ("The Ox"). It's also got the then-obligatory covers - Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man" and two James Brown covers ("I Don't Mind" and "Please, Please, Please"). "I'm A Man" contains a dazzling instrumental break about a minute in that shows off Keith Moon's anarchic drumming and Pete Townshend's aggressive guitar. It wasn't on the original US release of the album (retitled The Who Sings My Generation), so it may come as a bit of a surprise. The album's style is very mixed. The James Brown covers sound dated, "My Generation" is timeless, and the rest of the Townshend originals are a bit poppier than you'd hear on later Who albums, but you can hear the beginnings of the band's sound.
Obviously a must-have for Who fanatics. If you've got the 2002 reissue and you're a more casual fan, you probably don't need quite this much. But it's a hell of a lot of fun to listen to!
tracks (The Original Mono Mixes): "Out In The Street", "I Don't Mind", "The Good's Gone", "La-La-La-Lies", "Much Too Much", "My Generation", "The Kids Are Alright", "Please, Please, Please", "It's Not True", "I'm A Man", "A Legal Matter", "The Ox"
tracks (The Stereo Mixes): "Out In The Street", "I Don't Mind", "The Good's Gone", "La-La-La-Lies", "Much Too Much", "My Generation", "The Kids Are Alright", "Please, Please, Please", "It's Not True", "I'm A Man", "A Legal Matter", "The Ox"
tracks (The Original Mono Mixes - Bonus Tracks): "I Can't Explain", "Bald Headed Woman", "Daddy Rolling Stone", "Leaving Here", "Lubie (Come Back Home)", "Shout and Shimmy", "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave", "Motoring", "Anytime You Want Me", "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", "Instant Party Mixture", "Circles", "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" [French EP Version], "Out In The Street" [alternate guitar break], "Out In The Street" [alternate early vocal], "I Don't Mind" [full length version], "The Good's Gone" [full length version], "My Generation" [alternate version], "I'm A Man" [version 2 - early vocal], "Daddy Rolling Stone" [alternate take], "Lubie (Come Back Home)" [alternate mix], "Shout And Shimmy" [alternate mix], "Circles [alternate mix]"
tracks (The Stereo Mixes - Bonus Tracks): "Out In The Street" [alternate take 1], "I Don't Mind" [full length version], "The Good's Gone" [full length version], "My Generation" [instrumental version], "The Kids Are Alright" [alternate take 1], "I Can't Explain", "Bald Headed Woman", "Daddy Rolling Stone", "Daddy Rolling Stone" [alternate version], "Leaving Here", "Lubie (Come Back Home)", "Shout and Shimmy", "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave", "Motoring", "Anytime You Want Me", "Instant Party Mixture", "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere", "Circles" [new mix], "Daddy Rolling Stone" [alternate take b - new mix], "Out In The Street" [alternate take two - new mix], "I'm A Man" [alternate version - new mix]
tracks (Primal Scoop - Pete Townshend's Demo Mixes): "My Generation" [demo 3], "My Generation" [demo 2], "The Girls I Could've Had" [demo], "It's Not True" [demo], "As Children We Grew" [demo], "A Legal Matter" [demo], "Sunrise" [demo], "Much Too Much" [demo], "My Own Love" [demo], "La-La-La-Lies" [demo], "The Good's Gone" [demo]
Face The Face
After releasing White City: A Novel in 1985, Pete Townshend gathered up the band from the album (including David Gilmour), dubbed them Deep End, and played three shows in 1985. Excerpts from the first show were released as Deep End Live! (the live cover of The English Beat's "Save It For Later" is from that album). That whole show was eventually released as Live: Brixton Academy '85 through Townshend's web site.
The band played one extra show in January of 1996 for the MIDEM convention in Cannes. That performance was shown on the German TV program Rockpalast. Face The Face includes a DVD of the complete show. The set is a little shorter than the Brixton show, but it's still a great performance. The CD has almost the full show ("I Put A Spell On You" was dropped, I assume, to get the show onto one CD).
These were great shows. The band sounds terrific and it's really cool to see a professionally filmed show. A must for a Townshend fan. And if you're a big Pink Floyd fan, Gilmour sounds great on here and gets a lead vocal on "Blue Light" (from Gilmour's 1984 album About Face).
tracks (DVD): "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Secondhand Love", "Give Blood", "Behind Blue Eyes", "After The Fire", "Slit Skirts", "Blue Light", "I Put A Spell On You", "Hiding Out", "The Sea Refuses No River", "Face The Face", "Pinball Wizard", "A Little Is Enough", "Rough Boys", "Night Train"
tracks (CD): "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Secondhand Love", "Give Blood", "Behind Blue Eyes", "After The Fire", "Slit Skirts", "Blue Light", "Hiding Out", "The Sea Refuses No River", "Face The Face", "Pinball Wizard", "A Little Is Enough", "Rough Boys", "Night Train"
Earth is both a live album and a concept album. As a live album, Earth is very good. Promise Of The Real provided a Crazy Horse‑ish vibe to the songs, and while the song selection focuses on The Monsanto Years as you'd expect, it's nice to hear older songs like "Country Home" and "Love And Only Love" mixed in. Left as is, this would be a really solid live album.
"We made a live record and every creature on the planet seemed to show up" - Neil Young on Facebook.
Therein lies the problem. To give Earth the feel of a concert for the whole planet, Neil has dubbed in sounds of animals, weather, and buzzing insects into the performance. These are not little between-track fillers - they are right on top of the performances on parts of the album. It's not constant, but it's frequent enough to be worth mentioning. On 2014's A Letter Home, Neil recorded a selection of covers using 1947 technology. The performances were pretty good, but they were completely overshadowed by the extremely lo-fi recording. It turned a potentially interesting album into something pretty unlistenable. Earth suffers from the same problem. A decent live album has been rendered unlistenable (to me, anyway) by the sound effects. Kind of a shame.
tracks: "Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)", "Seed Justice", "Country Home", "The Monsanto Years", "Western Hero", "Vampire Blues", "Hippie Dream", "After The Gold Rush", "Human Highway", "Big Box", "People Want To Hear About Love", "Wolf Moon", "Love And Only Love"
On (and off) The Road
In 1981, King Crimson leader Robert Fripp recruited his old bandmade drummer Bill Bruford, guitarist/singer Adrian Belew and bassist/Chapman Stick player Tony Levin to form a new band to be called "Discipline". By the end of the year, the name had been changed to King Crimson, but the new band's sound was a big departure from the previous edition of King Crimson, swapping progressive and heavy rock for shorter new wave-inspired pop songs (but with tricky time signatures and dazzling twin guitar work from Fripp and Belew).
The band recorded three studio albums: The debut, Discipline, is the best of the three with the knotty guitars and wordplay of "Elephant Talk", the lovely "Matte Kudasai" (Japanese for "please wait"), the hypnotic interlocked guitars of "Frame By Frame", and the rock-with-monologues of "Indiscipline" and "Thela Hun Ginjeet" (an anagram for "Heat In The Jungle"). The second album, Beat, follows a similar pattern, with the single "Heartbeat" being the 80's Crimson's best song. The instrumental "Sartori In Tangier" is another tricky instrumental that features terrific Chapman Stick work from Levin. The final album,Three Of A Perfect Pair is basically an album in two parts. The first half is made of Belew pop songs with the dance flavored "Sleepless" as the killer track here. The second half is more experimental with three instrumentals and the avant-garde "Dig Me".
On (and off) The Road collects those three albums, and adds outtakes, live albums and videos from the '81-'84 period of the band. At first, it's a little staggering. You get eleven CDs, three audio DVDs, two video DVDs and three BluRay discs (plus a nice book). But what it ends up being is the definitive collection of this specific era in King Crimson's varied career. I'm a fan of King Crimson in general, but for my taste, the '81-'84 lineup is their best. I think they were one of the very best bands of the 80's, and this box is very highly recommended.
tracks (Discipline - 2011 Stereo Mix): "Elephant Talk", "Frame By Frame", "Matte Kudasai", "Indiscipline", "Thela Hun Ginjeet", "The Sheltering Sky", "Discipline"
tracks (Discipline - bonus tracks): "A Selection Of Adrian's Vocal Loops", "The Sheltering Sky" [Alternate Mix], "Thela Hun Ginjeet" [Alternate Mix]
tracks (Live In Japan): "Discipline", "Thela Hun Ginjeet", "Red", "Matte Kudasai", "The Sheltering Sky", "Frame By Frame", "Manhattan", "Indiscipline", "Neal And Jack And Me", "Elephant Talk", "Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part II"
tracks (Beat - 2016 Stereo Mix): "Neal And Jack And Me", "Heartbeat", "Sartori In Tangier", "Waiting Man", "Neurotica", "Two Hands", "The Howler", "Requiem" [Extended Version]
tracks (Beat - bonus track): "Absent Lovers" [Instrumental]
tracks (Live At Alabamahalle): "Waiting Man", "Thela Hun Ginjeet", "Frame By Frame", "Matte Kudasai", "The Sheltering Sky", "Neal And Jack And Me", "Elephant Talk", "Indiscipline", "Heartbeat", "Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part II"
tracks (Fragmented): "San Francisco", "Tony Bass Riff", "Sequenced", "Steinberger Melody", "Fragmented", "Not One Of Those", "ZZZZs", "Reel 3 Jam", "Robert And Bill", "Say NO", "Robert's Ballad", "Heat In The Jungle", "Grace Jones", "Adrian Looped", "Yoli Yoli", "Adrian And Robert"
tracks (Three Of A Perfect Pair - 2016 Stereo Mix): "Three Of A Perfect Pair", "Model Man", "Sleepless", "Man With An Open Heart", "Nuages (That Which Passes, Passes Like Clouds)", "Industry", "Dig Me", "No Warning", "Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part III"
tracks (Three Of A Perfect Pair - bonus tracks): "The King Crimson Barber Shop", "Robert's Ballad", "Shidare Zakura", "Industrial Zone A", "Industrial Zone B", "Industrial Zone C"
tracks (Absent Lovers): "Entry Of The Crims", "Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part III", "Thela Hun Ginjeet", "Red", "Matte Kudasai", "Industry", "Dig Me", "Three Of A Perfect Pair", "Indiscipline", "Sartori In Tangier", "Frame By Frame", "Man With An Open Heart", "Waiting Man", "Sleepless", "Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part II", "Discipline", "Heartbeat", "Elephant Talk"
tracks (Are You Recording Gary?): "Are You Recording Gary?", "Discipline Redux", "Beat Redux", "Three Of A Perfect Pair Redux"
- Discipline: Surround Mix, Stereo Mix, 30th Anniversary Remaster, Additional Tracks, "The Terrifying Tale Of Thela Hun Ginjeet", Rough Mixes, Video from The Old Grey Whistle Test
- Beat: Surround Mix, Bonus Tracks, 30th Anniversary Remaster, Alternate Album, Video Content
- Three Of A Perfect Pair: Surround Mix, Bonus Tracks, 30th Anniversary Remaster, Video Content
- The Noise - Live In Frejus
- Three Of A Perfect Pair Live In Japan
- 1982 Concerts: Philadephia, Asbury Park, Cap D'Agde, Frejus, Europe, Alabamahalle [video]
- Discipline: Surround Mix, Stereo Mix, 30th Anniversary Remaster, Additional Tracks, "The Terrifying Tale Of Thela Hun Ginjeet", Rough Mixes, Video from The Old Grey Whistle Test, Moles Club, Frejus
- Beat: Surround Mix, Bonus Tracks, 30th Anniversary Remaster, Alternate Album, Video Content, Alabamahalle [video]
- Three Of A Perfect Pair: Surround Mix, Bonus Tracks, 30th Anniversary Remaster, Video Content, Absent Lovers [video], Three Of A Perfect Pair [video], Japan 1984 video
OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES
I loved American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, but lost track of the band after that. Reviews for ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré! didn't exactly inspire, so I ignored them. Read that Revolution Radio was a "back-to-form" album, so I gave it a try. Basically, it sounds like the logical progression from 21st Century Breakdown. There's no story here, but Green Day continues to vary their sound more so it's not all high-energy pop/punk like "Bang Bang". The opener "Somewhere New" and "Troubled Times" slow the tempo down a bit (which ends up being a nice change of pace) and "Still Breathing" uses a poppier version of the Pixies old formula of quiet verses and loud choruses. Yes, Green Day still has kind of a cartoony vibe around them, but this is really a very good album and definitely worth hearing.
tracks: "Somewhere Now", "Bang Bang", "Revolution Radio", "Say Goodbye", "Outlaws", "Bouncing Off The Wall", "Still Breathing", "Youngblood", "Too Dumb To Die", "Troubled Times", "Forever Now", "Ordinary World"
Concerto For Violin, Rock Band, And String Orchestra
Former R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills wrote the "Concerto For Violin, Rock Band, And String Orchestra" for his childhood friend, renowned violinist Robert McDuffie. McDuffie's violin is definitely the lead instrument, but the rock band (guitars, bass, drum and occasional piano) is a big part of the sound. The balance of the piece changes over it's run. For instance, the second movement, "On The Okeefenokee" skews more towards the classical instruments, and it's the prettiest part of the concerto. The third movement, "Sonny Side Up" switches the focus to the rock band (although the violin is still the lead). The fifth movement is a lovely arrangement of R.E.M.'s "Nightswimming" with McDuffie's violin replacing the vocal and Mills reprising his piano part. Overall, this is a terrific performance - there's a nice blend of rock band and strings. The result is much more balanced than, say, ELO was. This isn't a rock band with strings filling out the sound, it's much more unified. Definitely worth a listen.
NOTE: The other two pieces on the album: John Adams' "Road Movies" and Philip Glass' "Symphony No. 3" are conventional classical performances by McDuffie without Mills or the rock band.
YouTube: Official excerpts audio
Mills: Concerto for Violin, Rock Band And String Orchestra:
- Pour It Like You Mean It
- On The Okeefenokee
- Sonny Side Up
- Stardancer's Waltz
- You Can Go Home Again
- Relaxed Groove
- 40% Swing
The Monkees? Seriously? Yes.
The key to the original Monkees albums wasn't The Wrecking Crew (the studio musicians who performed the music), it was the songwriters used to craft the band's hits. Good Times! updates that formula by drafting in modern songwriters who "get" what the band should sound like. Along with a producer Adam Schlesinger (Fountains Of Wayne), songs are written by Andy Partridge (XTC), Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) and a cowrite from Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller. And yes, the Monkees do contribute one song each to the album, and they're the weakest ones on the album (not unexpectedly, I suppose).
The big highlight for me (and the song that made me check this album out) is Andy Partridge's "You Bring The Summer". It's a perfect little pop song that makes me think of the original Monkees crossed with XTC's alter-ego The Dukes Of Stratosphear. The album is so-so overall, but it's worth a listen to at least hear the highlights.
tracks: "Good Times", "You Bring The Summer", "She Makes Me Laugh", "Our Own World", "Gotta Give It Time", "Me & Magdalena", "Whatever's Right", "Love to Love", "Little Girl", "Birth Of An Accidental Hipster", "Wasn't Born To Follow", "I Know What I Know", "I Was There (And I'm Told I Had A Good Time)"
bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "Terrifying", "Me & Magdalena [version 2]"
The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 3
Like the first two volumes, The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 3 is a collection of fresh recordings of older Randy Newman songs, all performed solo at the piano. If you liked the first two volumes, you definitely need this one. If you're weren't aware of the series, I'd recommend Vol. 1 as the best of the series, but really, it comes down to which Newman songs you prefer. Vol. 3 starts out strong with songs like "Short People", "Burn On", "You've Got A Friend In Me" and "Guilty". For me, the album slows down in middle: "Davy The Fat Boy", "Red Bandana", "Old Man" and "Real Emotional Girl" aren't high on my favorites list. But overall, if you're a Newman fan, you definitely want this one too.
After I picked up Vol. 3, I learned that a 4 LP box set was coming out containing the three volumes plus five bonus tracks. The bonus tracks are on iTunes now, so if you've already bought the CDs there's at least one way you can pick up just those new tracks. If you're a big fan (and haven't already invested in the three CDs), you may want to just pick up the box set.
tracks: "Short People", "Mama Told Me Not To Come", "Love Story (You And Me)", "Burn On", "You've Got A Friend In Me", "Rollin'", "Guilty", "Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear", "Davy The Fat Boy", "Red Bandana", "Old Man", "Real Emotional Girl", "I Love To See You Smile", "I Love L.A.", "Bad News From Home", "I'll Be Home"
bonus tracks on the separate box set: "Feels Like Home", "A Wedding In Cherokee County", "Family Album: Homage To Alfred, Emil And Lionel Newman", "A Few Words In Defense Of My Country", "I'm Dreaming"
The good Reverend's first album in a decade or so is a nice overview of what he does best - a mix of comedy and Jerry Lee Lewis-fueled piano blues and rock with an occasional country twist. This time around, Rev. Billy's terrific piano is backed by a great blues band - The Nighthawks - who are a perfect fit. The album is a mix of new songs like the witty "Too Old" and "One Point Five", old favorites like "Rockin' Up To Gloryland" (originally on his small label debut from 1983), a solo piano version of "Mama Was a Deadhead" and the Rev's classic "Mennonite Surf Party", along with inspired cover choices like "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" and the subversively filthy "The Hand Of The Almighty" (a song Billy really should have written, but strangely didn't). It's great to have Rev. Billy back. Definitely check out the YouTube clips.
tracks: "Too Old", "Smokie Part 2", "One Point Five", "Mama Was A Deadhead", "Rockin' Up To Gloryland", "Your Last Goodbye", "Daddy Passed Away", "Breakup", "Who Dat? (The Rev's Theme)", "I'm A Senior", "Daddy Was A Sensitive Man", "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee", "Mennonite Surf Party", "The Hand Of The Almighty", "Reprise (Smokie Part 2.5)"
WOULDA-BEEN TOP TENS HAD I HEARD 'EM IN TIME ... aka ... "D'OH!"
Do you like the really long prog-rock epics like "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", "Close To The Edge" or the suite on side one of Misplaced Childhood? If so, you need to hear In Extremis. It's a terrific album of modern progressive rock. The two-man band (Sepand Samzadeh on guitar and Oscar Fuentes Bills on keyboards) are joined by prog heavyweights Tony Levin, Peter Banks, Rick Wakeman and Billy Sherwood. "The Man Who Died Two Times" has a rare lead vocal from former XTC bassist/songwriter/vocalist Colin Moulding.
In the tradition of classic prog, the album is essentially broken into suites. The first four songs are essentially one terrific extended piece. "The Man Who Died Two Times" follows, and it's a classic pop-prog single with a great lead vocal. "Waltz In E Minor" is as advertised - it's a short classical piece played by the Angel City Orchestra (who appear on other tracks as well). "Eggshell Man" is a longer standalone track with a nice keyboard solo from Rick Wakeman. "In Extremis" is a 6-part, 21-minute epic that moves through quiet and loud parts with long instrumental sections.
In Extremis is definitely old-school - it's not built for shuffling on an iPhone. It's a beginning-to-end listen, and an excellent one.
YouTube: "The Man Who Died Two Times"
tracks: "No Cause For Alarm", "In Utero", "Visionary", "Blackfoot", "The Man Who Died Two Times", "Waltz In E Minor", "Eggshell Man", "In Extremis"
THE TOP TEN FOR 2016
For me, ★ (pronounced "Blackstar") is my first foray into more current Bowie. Clearly recorded as a farewell, it's a challenging album that shows Bowie was willing to push boundaries right up to the end. The title track is a nearly 10-minute epic, but far more experimental than the 70's/80's Bowie that's been my introduction. The opening section isn't to my taste, but it moves into a genuinely lovely section in the middle and end. For me, the highlights are the dramatic and revealing "Lazarus" ("Look up here, I'm in heaven / I've got scars that can't be seen"), the lovely "Dollar Days" and the surprisingly Eighties-flavored "I Can't Give Everything Away". It's a daring finale to Bowie's career, and certainly worth a listen. But if you're a newbie like I was, don't start here. Try the albums I mention in the opening.
tracks: "★", "'Tis A Pity She Was A Whore", "Lazarus", "Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)", "Girl Loves Me", "Dollar Days", "I Can't Give Everything Away"
Smash The Clock
Ex-Jam bassist Bruce Foxton's current band, From The Jam, is a tribute band featuring Russell Hastings on guitar and suitably Paul Weller-ish lead vocals. Bruce Foxton's 2012 album, Back In The Room, was basically the band's debut album of original material (although credited to Bruce instead of the band). Smash The Clock is the band's second album (although still just billed to Bruce Foxton). The opener, "Now The Time Has Come", "Full Circle", "Smash The Clock" could pass for latter-day Jam songs, but the album isn't just a Jam pastiche. "Pictures & Diamonds" and "Louder" are soulful pop, "50 Yards Down Sandy Lane" is the elegant, string-driven closer. If you're a fan of the 80's Jam (like "Absolute Beginners" and The Gift), this is definitely worth a listen.
YouTube: "Now The Time Has Come"
tracks: "Now The Time Has Come", "Round & Round", "Pictures & Diamonds", "Louder", "Sunday Morning", "Full Circle", "Smash The Clock", "Back Street, Dead Street", "Writing On The Wall", "There Are Times (To Make Me Happy)", "Alright Now", "Running Away From You", "50 Yards Down Sandy Lane"
Despite the band being named after Siddhartha (with a nod to Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee), Syd Arthur's sound has is less sixties and more indie pop in a similar vein to The Shins. The vaguely Hendrix-y "Plane Crash In Kansas" and "No Peace" are my favorites, but there really isn't a bad song on here. "Into Eternity" adds a nice dramatic flare, and the closer "Apricity" adds in some slight electronic touches.
tracks: "Coal Mine", "Plane Crash In Kansas", "No Peace", "Sun Rays", "Into Eternity", "Rebel Lands", "Seraphim", "Portal", "Evolution", "Apricity"
Six years after their renunion album and tour, Mudcrutch returns for a second album. The country rock feel of the first album isn't quite as strong on 2, and like the debut, this will remind you a lot of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Mudcrutch is a little more democratic though: Every band member wrote at least one song and has at least one lead vocal. The opener, "Trailer", was originally a Heartbreakers song (it's the b-side of the "Don't Come Around Here No More" single), but it fits the Mudcrutch vibe perfectly. Tom Petty's "Dreams Of Flying" is my favorite on the album, although it sounds like a Heartbreakers single. Randall Marsh's "Beautiful World" is excellent and another highlight. Tom Leadon's "The Other Side Of The Mountain" adds in some banjo for the most country song on the album, but it's definitely more country-rock. Benmont Tench's "Welcome To Hell" and Mike Campbell's "Victim Of Circumstance" are rootsy rockers.
It's tempting to call 2 a great Tom Petty album, but the other band member's contributions make this one feel more like a band effort, instead of Petty with a different backing band. Excellent.
tracks: "Trailer", "Dreams Of Flying", "Beautiful Blue", "Beautiful World", "I Forgive It All", "The Other Side Of The Mountain", "Hope", "Welcome To Hell", "Save Your Water", "Victim Of Circumstance", "Hungry No More"
Back in 2010, I wrote about the last Teenage Fanclub album, Shadows:
Shadows falls into much the same pattern [as 2005's Man-Made]. It's been five years, TFC's sound is pretty much the same, and it's a great album. Early on in their career, Teenage Fanclub slowly evolved from a sloppy, grungy band into a pure pop band inspired heavily by Big Star. While it's true they've stopped evolving, they've settled into something pretty amazing. Looking forward to that 2015 album.
OK, so I was off by a year. But Here follows the same pattern as the three albums prior - twelve songs of exquisite chiming guitar pop with four songs written and sung by each of the band's three songwriters. Norman Blake's "I'm In Love" and "The Darkest Part Of The Night" are the big highlights of the album, athough Gerry Love's gentle "I Have Nothing More To Say" and rocking "Thin Air" are damn close and Raymond McGinley's "Hold On" is a gem as well.
Like AC/DC, Teenage Fanclub seems to have settled in to make essentially the same album over and over again. However, the songs are so good that it really doesn't matter. See you in 2021?
tracks: "I'm In Love", "Thin Air", "Hold On", "The Darkest Part Of The Night", "I Have Nothing More To Say", "I Was Beautiful When I Was Alive", "The First Sight", "Live In The Moment", "Steady State", "It's A Sign", "With You", "Connected To Life"
Patch The Sky
Though not credited as such, Patch The Sky is third album of what is basically the new "Bob Mould Band" (Bob Mould, Jason Narducy, and Jon Wurster). The album follows the formula of the first two (Silver Age and Beauty & Ruin) mixing Mould's classic punk-pop with the occasional acoustic song (like the killer opener "Voices In My Head"). The single, "Hold On" is a Sugar-flavored Mould classic: one of those songs that sound like it would be a massive hit in alternate universe. And of course, Bob and band roar on songs like "Losing Time". Sugar self-destructed way too early, but I think Bob's finally got his post-Hüskers band.
tracks: "Voices In My Head", "The End Of Things", "Hold On", "You Say You", "Losing Sleep", "Pray For Rain", "Lucifer And God", "Daddy's Favorite", "Hands Are Tied", "Black Confetti", "Losing Time", "Monument"
The Magnetic North
Prospect Of Skelmersdale
Prospect Of Skelmersdale is an album of hypnotic, atmospheric chamber pop with songs about the town of Skelmersdale, which had become the center of the UK transcendental movement by 1984 when Simon Tong's family moved there. The first proper song on the album "Pennylands" blends gorgeous pop, with great harmony singing and a lush arrangement and sets the tone for the album as a whole The album closes with a gorgeous cover of George Harrison's "Run Of The Mill" from his 1970 classic All Things Must Pass. Definitely a must hear, especially if you have a taste for elegant, lush pop.
tracks: "Jai Guru Dev", "Pennylands", "A Death In The Woods", "Sandy Lane", "Signs", "Little Jerusalem", "Remains Of Elmer", "Cergy-Pontoise", "Exit", "The Silver Birch", "Northway Southway", "Run Of The Mill"
Ouroboros is an album of dreamy (and occasionally folky) rock that feels like a lost pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd album. "In My Own Way" makes me think it could be an outtake from Meddle (or perhaps an alternate take on "Echoes"). Ouroboros does have a little heavier, rockier feel in places with Jim James adding some pleasantly grungy guitar to spice things up a bit. "Hey, No Pressure" provides the album with its heaviest moment, but it still fits the dreamy vibe of the album. Overall, Ouroboros is an album. Like I mentioned about In Extremis above, this is an album to listen to beginning to end. Superb.
tracks (Part One): "Homecoming", "Hey, No Pressure", "The Changing Man", "While It Still Beats"
tracks (Part Two): "In My Own Way", "Another Day", "A Murmuration Of Starlings", "Wouldn't It Make A Lovely Photograph"
Following the tour supporting the sprawling double-album Opposites in 2013 (my pick for album of the year), Biffy Clyro took a year off and singer/songwriter Simon Neil suffered through a severe case writer's block. Clearly, everything came back into place, because the followup album, Ellipsis is another stunner. It's not quite as eclectic as Opposites, but Ellipsis still offers plenty of variety. "Wolves Of Winter" and "Animal Style" are full blast rock with hooks to spare. "Friends And Enemies" and "Herex" effortly shift between loud and soft, and songs like the gentle "Re-Arrange" and the acoustic "Medicine" balance out the volume. And if you need and irresistbly catchy single (like "Pocket" from Opposites), give "Howl" a listen. Ellipsis is Biffy's second classic in a row.
Oh, and definitely go for the Deluxe Edition. "Don't, Won't, Can't" and "In The Name Of The Wee Man" aren't just throwaways. They're as good as anything on the main album.
tracks: "Wolves Of Winter", "Friends And Enemies", "Animal Style", "Re-Arrange", "Herex", "Medicine", "Flammable", "On A Bang", "Small Wishes", "Howl", "People"
bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition): "Don't, Won't, Can't", "In The Name Of The Wee Man"
case/lang/veirs is a new collaboration between k.d. lang, Neko Case and Laura Veirs, and it's a fantastic album. Laura Veirs seems to be the primary songwriter (the other two co-write some of the songs), so the album tends towards the folky pop of her albums. If you like harmony singing, you really need to hear this. The blending of their three voices is what sets the album apart, but the lead vocals are pretty stunning as well. "Blue Fires" and "Why Do We Fight" are torch songs that fit k.d. lang perfectly. Neko Case is terrific on the pop/rock of "Delerium" and the dramatic "Behind The Armory" and Laura Veirs shines on the poppy "Best Kept Secret" and the rocky closer "Georgia Stars". From what I've read this is a likely a one-off, but I really hope they do a sequel. This is a stunning album.
If you like the album, check out the live performance linked below from Oregon Public Broadcasting. It shows case/lang/veirs backed by a band playing the album in order. And it sounds great live.
tracks: "Atomic Number", "Honey And Smoke", "Song For Judee", "Blue Fires", "Delirium", "Greens Of June", "Behind The Armory", "Best Kept Secret", "1,000 Miles Away", "Supermoon", "I Want To Be Here", "Down I-5", "Why Do We Fight", "Georgia Stars"
PAST YEARS' BESTS
Just click on the album cover to see that year's review.