Saturday, September 26, 2009

Music Library: High Places, Highwaymen, Hindu Love Gods, Hoagy Carmichael, Hold Steady, Holly Cole, Holy Modal Rounders, Homosexuals, Hondells, Honeydogs, Hoodoo Gurus

The High Places - 03/07 - 09/07 (2008). This is a compilation of electronica singles that I picked up after reading a stellar Pitchfork review.  And I'm pretty much indifferent to this music.  I mean, I don't hate it, but I sure don't love it, either.  All of the songs are sing-songy vocals delivered in a sort of emotional deadpan over burbly analog keyboard sounds. Which just utterly fails to hold my interest.

The Highwaymen - Live Texas Radio + (1990).  This is not the Highwaymen you're thinking of, but an Americana-style Austin band that later changed their name to Loose Diamonds.  'Sokay.

Hindu Love Gods - "Raspberry Beret."  REM & Warren Zevon covering one of Prince's best songs. Unlike many of my friends, I'm not a big Zevon fan, but I sure like this.

Hoagy Carmichael - "Huggin' and Chalkin'."  I think there's better Hoagy Carmichael songs out there, but not in my collection.

The Hold Steady - Almost Killed Me (2004), Separation Sunday (2005), Boys And Girls In America (2006), and Stay Positive (2008).  Oh, but I love the Hold Steady, with their albums that sound like classic rock and their lyrics that are simultaneously about youth culture and huge philosophical problems.  And yes, they rock.  I've been struggling to find new things to say about them, but I have yet to come up with anything.  I'm not even sure that I can express why I prefer them to Bruce Springsteen, a clear antecedent.

Holly Cole - "Jersey Girl."  Speaking of Bruce Springsteen, I think his is the most notable cover of this Tom Waits song.  This one is rather Rickie Lee Jones-ish.

The Holy Modal Rounders - 1 and 2 (1964 and 1965) and Indian War Whoop (1967).  At first the HMR were Peter Stampfel and Steven Weber (who we heard a few weeks back with the Fugs), who recorded the first two albums (which are collected and re-sequenced into a single album here) together.  The HMR split up and then re-formed with playwright Sam Shepherd on drums and a couple of guys named Crabtree on piano and organ to make Indian War Whoop.  So, 1 and 2 sounds like a couple of guys playing half-remembered, half-made-up versions of the songs from Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music after listening to it a couple of times while on acid.  It's freakin' brilliant.  Indian War Whoop takes all of that craziness and adds a thick layer of psychedelia on top.   There's more HMR releases (and some from the Unholy Modal Rounders, a version of the band that contributed to Have Moicy!, an amazing collaboration that I think I have filed under Michael Hurley's name.

The Homosexuals - "Walk Before Imitate" and "Hearts In Exile."  An excellent little-known British post-punk band with a Wire-ish sense of concision.  I got these tracks from my pal Matt and intend to explore this music further.

The Hondells - "Little Honda."  I searched this out after hearing Yo La Tengo's cover on I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One.  This is a Brian Wilson/Mike Love song performed by one of the many producer-run fake bands in pop history (the studio band included Glen Campbell and Hal Blaine).

The Honeydogs - Seen A Ghost (1997).  A Minneapolis-based alt-country band with big Beatle-esque pop hearts, similar to the Old 97s in a lot of ways (or, more recently, Dr. Dog).  Their songs don't offend or anything, but they don't really stand out for me, either.

The Hoodoo Gurus - "Dig It Up," Blow Your Cool! (1987), and "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue (Live)."  The Hoodoo Gurus are (were?) a great Aussie guitar band with some top-notch songs.  I've owned copies of Stoneage Romeos (which contains "Dig It Up") and Mars Needs Guitars! a couple of times in my life.  Blow Your Cool! is a bit slicker and less jokey, but it contains the excellent song "What's My Scene?".  True story: when I saw the Replacements in 1987, "What's My Scene?" was one of the many songs they half-knew and attempted to cover.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Music Library: Henry Kaiser, Henry Rollins, Henry Threadgill, Herbie Hancock, Herman's Hermits, High Llamas, High On Fire

Henry Kaiser - "Annihilation in Allah" and Yo Miles! (with Wadada Leo Smith, 1998).  The first is a collaboration with Richard Thompson on a traditional song from the Middle East.  The second is a collaboration with Wadada Leo Smith on several of Miles Davis's excellent funk/Stockhausen/krautrock/jazz compositions from the 70s.  Not as good as the originals, maybe, but still quite a bit of fun.  Other musicians on the album include Elliot Sharp and John Medeski.

Henry Rollins - "My War."  From Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs To Benefit The West Memphis Three.  'Tain't no Black Flag, but it's for a good cause.

Henry Threadgill - "In the Ring."  From Spirit of Nuff... Nuff.  Great noodly free jazz.

Herbie Hancock - "Bring Down The Bird" and Directions In Music: Celebrating Miles Davis and John Coltrane (with Michael Brecker and Roy Hargrove, 2002).  The former is from the Blow Up soundtrack and provides the bassline that would later anchor Deee-Lite's "Groove Is In The Heart."  The latter is maybe a bit too reverent for my tastes. When Kaiser & Smith play Miles, they sound like they're breathing new life into the music.  That happens a bit here and there on this album, but mostly this comes across as a bit too stilted.

Herman's Hermits - "I'm Henry The VIII I Am." And they are.

The High Llamas - Cold And Bouncy (1998).  Aptly named!  Sean O'Hagan's post-Microdisney band plays music nakedly inspired by Brian Wilson with an electronica bent that seems one part tropicalia, one part Stereolab, and two parts Kraftwerk (which, I realize, isn't a huge stylistic leap from here to there, but there's different flavors about).  Anyway, this is a lovely album, but so derivative that I end up wanting to go listen to the influences more than the album itself.

High On Fire - Surrounded By Thieves (2002) and Blessed Black Wings (2005). Oh my, yes indeed.  HOF is fronted by Matt Pike, the former guitarist/singer for Sleep, which is among the greatest metal bands of all time. HOF is more upbeat than Sleep, but the sound is all seriously heavy stoner music, and the band combines breathtaking intensity with an amazing sense of song dynamics (plus some silly/creepy lyrics based on H.P. Lovecraft stories, which makes this uber-metal in many ways).  Highly recommended.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Music Library: Hannah Fury, Harmonia, Harry Partch, Harvey Mandel, Harvey Milk, Headstones, Heavenly, Hell On Wheels, Hella, Hellwood, Helmet, Henri's Notions

Hannah Fury - "Meathook."  No idea where this came from.  Probably part of a compilation tape that discompiled itself when the disk containing my music library went kaput in April 2007.  I salvaged all of the data, but many mixes were no longer mixed.  Anyway, she's a Kate Bush-y singer-songwriter, and I am not enamored of the music.

Harmonia - Deluxe (1975). A collaboration between guitarist Michael Rother of Neu! and the guys in Cluster (plus the drummer from Guru Guru on some tracks), Harmonia should be first-rate krautrock, but it's, well, not quite as good as the main project for any of these bands.  This isn't to say that this album is any less than beautiful and astonishing, because it is, at least here and there, but it's never quite sunk into my consciousness as much as the best (meaning: "my favorite") krautrock.

Harry Partch - Delusions of the Fury (1971) and 17 Lyrics of Li Po (1995). A unique composer, Partch heard sounds of such subtlety that he had to invent new instruments and a new musical notation to capture them.  These recordings feature two of his compositions.  Delusions of the Fury is an utterly delightful album, with many Partch-built instruments on display (conducter Danlee Mitchell had to teach each musician individually how to play Partch's creations) and Partch's stunningly emotional music throughout.  17 Lyrics of Li Po is a piece for "intoning voice and adapted viola" and is quite a bit more difficult for me to get through: although interesting in parts, it's mainly an intellectual exercise for me.

Harvey Mandel - "Tobacco (Live)."  Another mystery entry.  Mandel is a classic rock-era blues guitarist who apparently auditioned for the Stones when Mick Taylor left.  Of limited interest to me, but I can see where others might like this quite a bit more than I.

Harvey Milk - Courtesy And Good Will Towards Men (1995) and Life... The Best Game In Town (2008). Extremely creative sludgey art-metal with a singer trapped in perpetual need of a throat lozenge.  I have a hard time imagining how to recommend these albums to people ("say, wanna listen to some of the most depressing, heaviest, and most willfully uncommercial music ever recorded?"), but I think those who like this music will love the everlovin' crap out of it.  The band is a fairly recent discovery for me; I picked up Life last year on a friend's recommendation and Courtesy shortly thereafter from eMusic, but I held off of the other Harvey Milk albums on eMusic until these could sink in.  By the time I was ready for more, eMusic had quit offering the other albums.  Ah well.

The Headstones - "Fuck You."  Delivers on the promise of the title, for what that's worth.

Heavenly - "Hearts and Crosses."  Cheery indie-pop that generally means the lyrics are probably pretty dark, but I didn't listen that closely.

Hell on Wheels - "The Logical Song." Ugh.  I don't know why I have this Supertramp cover, nor why anyone felt it was necessary to cover Supertramp.

Hella - Total Bugs Bunny On Wild Bass (2003), The Devil Isn't Red (2004), and Acoustics (2006).  Spaz-rock with guitar and drums that wind around each other at breakneck speed.  Although Hella's music is rather surprising in its speed and precision, there's a bit of same-ness to the songs.  On Acoustics, they rerecorded some of their compositions on acoustic guitar and tambourine, and still sound more or less the same (if a bit more muted), which is a pretty persuasive argument that Hella's power is not about volume.

Hellwood - "Firewords Factory."  Only-okay 2006 alt-country song from an sub-supergroup (group?) with under-appreciated alt-country singer-songwriters Johnny Dowd and Jim White (not the Dirty Three drummer).

Helmet - Meantime (1992) and Betty (1994). I dunno, man.  For all the talk about Page Hamilton's credentials (Band of Susans! Glenn Branca! Casper Brötzmann!), this is some of the most convential-sounding metal in my collection.  It's not bad, mind you.  In fact, I like it quite a bit.  But it's not exactly tearing down genre boundaries the way that critics at the time seemed to think it was.

Henri's Notions - Don't Waste Your Wishes (1992). An early album from Tuscaloosa, AL's premier Irish music band with lovely covers of "That Lucky Old Sun" (which I think of as a Ray Charles song, although I think Dizzy Gillespie wrote it) and Richard Thompson's "Crazy Man Michael."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Music Library: GZA, Half Japanese, Handsome Boy Modeling School, Handsome Family, Hang Ups, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, Hank Williams

GZA - Liquid Swords (1995).  One of the best hip-hop albums in my meager collection, the GZA and the RZA (who produces) knock out hypnotic beats and rhymes about samurai culture, chess, and street crime.   Most, if not all, of the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan drop in to add lines to different songs.  The only stinker is "B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)," which wasn't produced by the RZA and fails to capture the menace and cleverness of the rest of the album.

Half Japanese - Half Gentlemen/Not Beasts (partial, 1980), "Thing With A Hook," Charmed Life (1988), "This Could Be The Night," "I Heard Her Call My Name," "T For Texas (Blue Yodel No. 1)."  Jad and David Fair's noisy punk experiment in primitivism, Half Japanese plays songs with a willful (given the talent pool in their sidemen) lack of skill but generally built around a coherent, sometimes touching, idea.  Not for everyone.  Not even for me, sometimes.

Handsome Boy Modeling School - "Has The World Gone Mad?"  From their apparently critically unloved sophomore album White People.  Sounds like I'd have to hear the first album and the rest of the second to hear this in appropriate context.  From here, it sounds like so-so hip-hop.

The Handsome Family - "Arlene" and Singing Bones (2003).  A band I admire more than love, the Handsome Family consists of Brett Sparks, who sings and plays guitar, and his wife Rennie, who plays bass and banjo and writes all of the songs.  "Arlene" is a barn-burner of a murder ballad, but Singing Bones seems more like a bunch of good ideas than good songs.  I haven't pursued any more albums mainly because of my tepid response to Singing Bones, which was one of their more highly rated albums when it came out.

The Hang Ups - Coming Through EP (1993), He's After Me (1993), So We Go (1996), and Second Story (1999).  None of these are full albums, but tracks from a compilation that I got a number of years ago.  The Hang Ups are a Minneapolis power-pop band that are less about the jangle and more about the broad hooks (less Big Star than Badfinger is what I'm trying to say).  And they're good at the power pop, if a bit forgettable when the music ends.

Hank Snow - "I've Been Everywhere."  Country music great who performed this song at an auctioneer's pace.  Wikipedia says he supported George Wallace's Presidential bid in the early 70s, so it's helpful to remember that they can't all be good guys.

Hank Thompson - "Jersey Bounce," "Wildwood Flower," and "Wild Side of Life/It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" (with Kitty Wells).  The greatest Western Swing artist who wasn't Bob Wills, Thompson's music has much of the same marriage of jazz and country, but it's also more song-oriented.  Goes without saying that these tracks are utterly delightful.

Hank Williams - Original Singles Collection... Plus (recorded 1942 - 1952, released 1992).  I'm not going to tell you anything about Hank Williams that you don't already know.  I hope.  It's this simple: if you like songs, you should have some Hank Williams in your collection.  This isn't complete, ignoring the Luke The Drifter songs (except for two) and the duets with his wife Audrey (except one), but the songs collected herein are uniformly excellent, some of the best ever written.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Music Library: Grizzly Bear, Growing, Guess Who, Guided By Voices, Guilherme Lamounier, Gun Club, Guns N' Roses, Guru Guru, Gutter Twins, Guv'ner, Guy Mitchell

Generally when I'm covering an artist I want to cover fairly comprehensively, I'd rather give them their own column, but I had some overflow before and aft. So, anyway:

Grizzly Bear - Horn of Plenty (2004), "Owner of a Lonely Heart," Yellow House (2006), and Friend EP (2007).  Beautiful and fragile psych-folk from the Brooklyn band.  Horn of Plenty is only so-so.  The Yes cover is from some outtakes recorded when Grizzly Bear was a one-man band. Yellow House is very pretty, although it rarely sticks with me.  My favorite things they've done are the versions of "Alligator" and "Little Brother" on the Friend EP, which is otherwise so-so at best.

Growing - Live at Floristree 26 January 2008. A three-song live EP available for free from eMusic.  Growing is an electronic band (a duo, I think) that plays krautrock-influenced instrumental music.  'Sokay.

The Guess Who - "When The Band Was Singin' (Shakin' All Over)." "Shakin' All Over" is a great song.  This one, eh.

Guided By Voices:

  • Devil Between My Toes and Sandbox (both 1987). The first two GBV albums have a lot of REM influence on their sleeves, but there's still quite a bit of goodness on display.  Best tracks on Devil: "Cyclops," "A Portrait Destroyed By Fire," and "Hey Hey Spaceman."  Best on Sandbox: "The Drinking Jim Crow" and "Long Distance Man."  I should mention that there's an EP that precedes these albums, but I don't have it.  I got these and some of the albums to follow as part of the Box boxset released in 1995, a gift from my brother and good friend Mike.  Thanks, y'all!

  • Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia (1989) and Same Place The Fly Got Smashed (1990). I've always had a hard time telling these albums apart.  Both sound like the great lo-fi GBV sound.  The latter is a concept album about a drunk who freezes to death or something like that, while the former has no overriding concept, but there's enough similarity on these albums that I can't really pick out the place that one ends and the next begins when I listen to them back-to-back. They were also from the Box box. Best songs on Nostalgia: "The Future Is In Eggs," "The Great Blake St. Canoe Race," and "Radio Show (Trust The Wizard)."  Best on Fly: "Pendulum," "Ambergris" (in which a single guitar string is de-tuned and re-tuned throughout the course of the song), and "How Loft Am I?"

  • Propeller (1992).  This is where the going gets great. Supposed to be the last GBV album as bandleader Robert Pollard put his rock dreams behind him to focus on being a grown-up, Propeller was a surprisingly popular album that brought GBV attention from a number of musicians and critics. Pollard's songcraft is better than ever, the band sounds great (and rocks like hell), and there's really no knocks against this album at all.  The way that it starts is also iconic: over a crowd chanting "G-B-V!," a bandmember asks: "Is anybody ready to rock?," only to have Pollard state, "This song does not rock."  But it does, oh my yes.  That's "Over The Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox," which is one of the best songs on the album.  Other highlights: "Weedking," "Quality of Armor," and "Exit Flagger."

  • Vampire On Titus and The Grand Hour EP (both 1993). With Propeller a surprise success, a barebones trio of GBV members recorded Vampire On Titus on the fly and re-released Propeller on the same disc as VOT (that's the copy I have). It's sloppier than Propeller, but still pretty good.  Best songs: "Expecting Brainchild," "World of Fun," and "Non-Absorbing."  The Grand Hour EP came out the same year, the first of many, many EPs with completely separate music released concurrently with major albums. Best songs are "Shocker in Gloomtown" and the spacey "Alien Lanes."

  • Bee Thousand, Get Out Of My Stations EP, Fast Japanese Spin Cycle EP, and I Am A Scientist EP (all 1994). Bee Thousand is utterly brilliant, a collection of sloppy fragments that somehow turn into songs - real songs, catchy and great songs.  I'll mention that Marc Woodworth's 33 1/3 book on this album is a great read.  I don't know if he updates his blog anymore, but here it is.  My favorites: "Tractor Rape Chain," "The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory," "Smothered In Hugs," "Gold Star For Robot Boy," "Kicker Of Elves," and "I Am A Scientist."  The three EPs are fairly diverse. None of the songs on Get Out Of My Stations really take me, but the live bonus tracks are fun.  Fast Japanese Spin Cycle has a couple of re-recordings of Vampire On Titus tracks that are far superior to the album versions.  And two of the three new songs on I Am A Scientist are great: "Do The Earth" and "Planet's Own Brand."

  • Alien Lanes and King Shit And The Golden Boys (both 1995).  Alien Lanes is my favorite GBV album.  I know most of the words on Bee Thousand, but I get a little tripped up on some of the acoustic tracks on the second side.  I know all of the words on Alien Lanes.  The album is an excercise in deconstructed songwriting, packing maximum rock & roll into minimalist settings, covering 28 tracks in 41 minutes.  Best tracks: hell, they're all great. Singling a few out seems cruel to the others.  King Shit And The Golden Boys is a collection of unreleased tracks from throughout the GBV career to 1995, released on the Box box. Many of the songs appear in part or whole elsewhere, under completely different names, but it's a pretty fun collection.

  • The Power of Suck, The Official Ironman Rally Song EP, and Under The Bushes Under The Stars (all 1996).  And here's where things started to collapse. The Power of Suck is a bootleg of tracks GBV recorded with Kim Deal and Steve Albini, intended to be a concept album about GBV's rise from obscurity.  But everything fell apart instead.  The recording process took a long time, and Pollard found himself having no fun, perhaps for the first time in his music career.  The band ended up back in a studio - a real, 24-track studio - where they recorded loud, powerful, studio-quality versions of some of the Suck songs and some new songs.  These 24-track songs plus a few cherry-picked from the Suck sessions became Under The Bushes Under The Stars, which is intermittently brilliant.  It was the last album with the classic GBV line-up that mostly included Pollard's friends from Dayton.  The EP is has three only-ok tracks along with one of Under The Bushes' best song.  Speaking of, my favorite tracks from Under The Bushes: "Official Ironman Rally Song," "No Sky," "Big Boring Wedding," and "Redmen And Their Wives."  In fact, the whole six-song run at the end is just breathtaking ("Big Boring Wedding" -> "It's Like Soul Man" -> "Drag Day" -> "Sheet Kickers" -> "Redman and Their Wives" -> "Take To The Sky"), and, from what I understand, Matador originally cut those songs from the album and then relented. Meaning that I am in favor of the the big GBV studio sound, I guess, and I am happy that Matador saw the light of reason on those songs.

  • Mag Earwhig! (1997), Do The Collapse (1999), and Hold On Hope EP (2000).  As much as I liked the big studio GBV sound on Under The Bushes, this is a whole new ball o' wax.   Pollard fired/split with most of the band, his buddies from Dayton who'd made all of those albums in the basement, and then hired Cobra Verde, the glam band, to basically be GBV.  When I first picked up Mag Earwhig!, I hated it so much.  It doesn't sound so bad now, but it's not as awe-inspiring as the earlier GBV.  Do The Collapse is an album with Ric Ocasek produced with a lot of poppy bells and whistles.  Again, I hated it when it came out and sorta like it now.  Hold On Hope is an EP with a bunch of pretty decent outtakes.

  • Isolation Drills (2001), Universal Truths And Cycles (2002), Earthquake Glue (2003) and Half Smiles Of The Decomposed (2004).  I was going to try to break these out, but I really can't.  They mostly sound alike.  Some great, great, great songs on each, but a lot of loud studio-quality guitars married to melodies that utterly fail to distinguish themselves from each other.  The best is Universal Truths and Cycles, mainly because it has a little more personality.  I should state that not a one of these is a bad album by any means, but they're just not that memorable.  And I'm a guy who found something to say about each different Fall albums through the 90s and 00s.

Guilherme Lamounier - Guilherme Lamounier (1973).  A Brazilian garage rocker with a great psychedelic feel.  Not quite as crazed as the tropicalia greats, but pretty decent, anyway.

The Gun Club - Fire of Love (1981).  Ridiculously great punk/blues/swamp/rockabilly album.  Like the Cramps, if the Cramps were more about psychodrama than blowing your mind.  Echoes of Hank Williams and Robert Johnson and, well, any incredibly talented roots musician who wrote songs that cut directly to the horror of breathing the air of this world and who burned through life as if it were a hand-rolled cigarette.  I understand that the second album, Miami, is as good, but I've never heard it.  So I'll be getting that sometime.

Guns N' Roses - Appetite For Destruction (1987).  Little-known Stones-y hard rock quintet...  Ah hell, it wasn't funny when Klosterman wrote about the Beatles for the AV Club as if they were obscurities, so I'm going to quit that right here.  Anyway, I listened to this a lot when I was a teenager, but it doesn't hold up that well all these years later.  The stand-out tracks are definitely still major pop events, but the less-great songs are much less great than I remember.

Guru Guru - Känguru (1972).  Second-tier krautrock, but first-rate music.

The Gutter Twins - Saturnalia (2008).  Two bands that lots of friends loved but never moved me: The Afghan Whigs and Screaming Trees.  Put them together and you have an album that doesn't do anything for me.

Guv'ner - Hard For Measy For You (1994) and In The Fishtank 2 (1997).  Skronky, fun indie-rock from NYC.  Bassist Pumpkin Wentzel (!!!) was a long-time friend of Pussy Galore's Julia Cafritz, who gave a demo tape to Thurston Moore.  I think I've mentioned that I'm a big fan of Konkurrent's Fishtank series, where they invite bands to make on-the-fly EPs at their studios.  At the beginning of the series, the EPs would feature only one band, but they later expanded the concept to include two bands that you usually wouldn't consider together (on that note, I see from their website that the first one in 3 years is out just this month, featuring Sparklehorse and Fennesz!).  Guv'ner did one of the early ones, an EP that features some great songs and great screw-around music.  I picked that up first and then went back to get the studio albums.  And Hard To Measy is pretty good, but the Fishtank EP is freakin' excellent.

Guy Mitchell - "Singing The Blues."  Awesome rockabilly track from 1956, anchored by an utterly charming whistled lead and a mandolin where the rhythm guitar would usually be.

Only one more G: The GZA's Liquid Swords.  But I'm not quite ready to review that album.  Tomorrow, definitely.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Music Library: Grant McLennan, Grateful Dead, Grayson & Whittier, Great Northern, Great Unwashed, Green On Red, Green Slime, Greenskeepers

Grant McLennan - Watershed (1991), Fireboy (1994), Horsebreaker Star (1995), and In Your Bright Ray (1997).  As I wrote last week when talking about The Go-Betweens, Grant McLennan was the poppier of the two songwriters.  As my pal Gary pointed out, the Go-Betweens showed how much they needed each other with their lackluster solo albums.  It's not that these are terrible albums.  Well, Watershed is kind of a terrible album. But there's not much going for them, either.  Fireboy has a pleasant enough acoustic feel.  Horsebreaker Star is about twice as long as it needs to be.  In Your Bright Ray is the best of these albums, but that doesn't make it a great album.  I feel bad about insulting the work of a guy whose work I admire and indeed love, but there isn't much on these to recommend to any but fans.  The best-of Intermission that came out a few years back probably has as much solo McLennan as even the more interested fans might need.

Grateful Dead - American Beauty (1970).  There was a time when I spent a lot of effort attending Grateful Dead shows.  I was pretty young, and I wanted to feel like I was a part of something larger.  But I never felt connected to the larger Deadhead community.  I realized - too slowly, but I was young! - that there was just as much selfishness in that group as there is any community created by human beings, although I will admit that I saw some rather amazing moments of selflessness, too.  Ah, but the music!  It was terrible.  The parking lots were great, though.  People of all ages would get together to jam on acoustic instruments, usually playing older folk songs, but too often someone would throw in an all-too-reverent Dead cover, as well.  Inside the stadium: unfocused noodling, overbusy drums, a weird wash of sound with all edges sandpapered off (I mean, Garcia's pedals were autowah, phaser, and mild distortion, right?  No edges).  Outside the stadium: human beings fucking around on strings and wood, sometimes actually sounding good.  I preferred the outside. But I'm not here to bury the Dead, but to praise this album: this one is the only Dead album I feel. Sure, the drums and guitars are still far too busy and the whole thing is strangely lacking in a bass register. But the songs are actually reaching towards greatness, and the simplicity is appealing.  Specifically: "Box of Rain," "Friend of the Devil," "Ripple," and "Attics of My Life": great songs.  Perennial fan-favorites "Sugar Magnolia" and "Truckin'?" Awful.  The rest, I'm kinda indifferent. I bought this long after I'd decided that I never would listen to the Dead again, spurred by an unexpected nostalgia. See, there's more to it.  My uncle gave me a copy when I was 13 or so, so I had quite an attachment to this album from an early age.  And then there was this show, Freaks and Geeks, which nobody but my wife and I watched at the time, but now is rightly considered a cult classic. I don't want to spoil anything about this show that went off the air 10 years ago in an unceremonious episode dump, but I will say that this album plays a large part in the series finale.  And I realized, as I watched it (that's right, I saw the series finale on TV in real time), that I sorta loved some of the songs on this album.  And I sorta hated some, too, but I loved the album, anyway. So here we are.

Grayson & Whittier - "Ommie Wise."  Speaking of old-timey folk music that would crop up in Grateful Dead parking lots, this is a version of a great old murder ballad in which (uh, spoiler?) poor little Ommie/Omie Wise is murdered at Adams' Spring.

Great Northern - "Home."  A free iTunes giveaway some years back.  I'd heard Great Northern on the KEXP live music podcast and this was the best song they played.  I should get around to checking out the rest of the album sometime.

The Great Unwashed - Collection (1992, recorded 1984 - 1988).  So The Clean first broke up in 1982 or so, and the brothers Scott (that's David and Hamish) got back together with one of the early Clean bassists and made some rather Clean-ish music as The Great Unwashed. Well, it's Clean-like, but it's also a little woollier than the Clean, which is mighty woolly indeed, and recalls Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd at times.  This album, simply titled Collection, gathers all of the Great Unwashed releases (an album and an EP).  It's fan-freakin'-tastic.  And man!  A new Clean album just came out this week.

Green On Red - Gas Food Lodging (1985).  Delightful early alt-country-ish post-punk album.  Chuck Prophet is on guitar for this one.

The Green Slime - "The Green Slime."  Soundtrack to an apparently-awful monster movie that I've never seen.  This song is fun garage rock, though.

Greenskeepers - "Lotion (Live)."  No idea where this came from.  A Ween-ish song based on Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.  This is a live version.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I'm mad as Glenn Beck and I'm not going to use grammar any

When faced with the terrifying prospect of a democratically-elected leader who has been blatantly encouraging the legislative body of this country to improve living conditions for millions of Americans who are not necessarily me at this very moment, I can no longer hold my tongue.  I hereby join the right-wing blogosphere, and will therefore no longer abide the tyranny of civilized debate, common sense, or grammar.

My first order of business is to report something that may not be based in fact, but has its roots in the higher truths of innuendo and outright slander.

Item 1: So you know how Comrade Czar Obama Binn Laden refuses to release his birth certificate and plan to steal all your privately-funded Medicare dollars and give them to illegal immigrants with names that real Americans can't pronounce?  Well, did you know this?  I heard that he once made a remark to a white woman of a sexual nature.

Item 2: So you know how those FACISTs Hairy Reed and Nanny-state Pelosy want to murder old white people with their death panels and stuff?   Well, did you know this?  I heard that when Obama speaks to white men, he doesn't always say "sir" to them.

Item 3: So you know how Obama is trying to turn America into a NAZI COMMUNIST CZARIST SOCIALIST HITLER-ISH STALINIST ISLAMIC TERRORIST-RUN ACORN-FRIENDLY state and it takes a real American hero like that guy who used to work for Strom Thurmond to bring some media attention to the levelheaded opposition by interrupting the President and calling him a liar during his address to Congress?  Well, did you know this?  Obama is secretly an outside agitator who came to this country just to stir up resentment among our own well-meaning minority populations.

In the meantime, please enjoy some images of my well-informed brethren at play.  Their side has silly people who protest using puppets and strongly-worded t-shirts, and those people rightly went to jail for daring to contradict God's Own President, our savior who kept the world safe for 8 long years (with only a few minor exceptions).  But on our side, the white people out there protesting are the base!  That's why we get to carry guns to events involving Satan's Favorite President, a guy who ran the whole country into the ground in only 8 months.  Because he's not one of us!  We just want our country back!  No mere election or public opinion poll should stand in our way of getting what we want!

Remember, only you can prevent this great nation becoming a confederacy of dunces.

I have awesome visitors

Just wanted to mention that John Fry, the engineer for Ardent Studios who recorded the first three Big Star albums, dropped by to comment about my Big Star review.  Yeah, that's freakin' awesome.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Music Library: Gosdin Brothers, Gothic Archies, Gopvernment Cheese, GP's, Graham Parker, Gram Parsons, Grand Champeen, Grandmaster Flash, Grandpaboy, Grant Green, Grant Hart

The Gosdin Brothers - Sounds of Goodbye (1968).  Vern Gosdin and his brother Rex, fresh off of their stint as Gene Clark's backing singers on his debut solo album, playing a mildly psychedelicized version of classic country with a bunch of Byrds (and soon-to-be Byrds) on deck.  Great album, though sadly out-of-print in the US.  There's some definite Louvin Brothers/Everly Brothers sympathetic harmonies on display here.

The Gothic Archies - The New Despair (1997) and "Smile, No One Cares How You Feel." Another Stephin Merrit project, this one a goth-bubblegum act. Not up to the pop standards of the Magnetic Fields, but the single, part of their soundtrack to the books of sometimes-collaborator Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), is fairly amusing.  Not as amusing as the band's name, of course, but what is?

Government Cheese - "Camping On Acid." Tommy Womack's excellent book The Cheese Chronicles should be mandatory reading for all you youngsters forming bands and taking them on the road.  This is a track from his band.  I wish I had more.  It's been a few years since I hunted down this song, and I'll bet that there's more of the GC material out there these days for those interested in it.

The GP's - Saturday Rolling Around (1991).  Actually a live show from 1981, this is the one-off band consisting of Richard Thompson, fellow Brit folkie Ralph McTell, and Thompson's frequent collaborators (and members of Fairport Convention) Dave Pegg and Dave Mattacks.  They play only a couple of originals, preferring to crank out versions of old folk and country songs ("Pretty Boy Floyd," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," "Steel Guitar Rag," "Together Again") and some great rock numbers ("Great Balls of Fire," "Going, Going, Gone," the Band version of "Don't Do It"). It's pretty fun and it should probably go without saying that Thompson is rip-roaring on his guitar.

Graham Parker - "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down" and Squeezing Out Sparks (1979). The version of George Jones's classic single has some swingin' brass on it and sounds nothing like the original.  The album is rightly hailed as a classic, a taut rock album with Parker's clever songs hitting on all cylinders. All except one, that is: "You Can't Be Too Strong," an anti-abortion screed that stops the album cold.  My pal Alan Shelton calls songs like this "speed bumps," and this is one of the most prominent speed bumps I can think of.  Al Shelton is more fun to talk about than Parker, anyway.  He had a great line about Rep. Wilson's outburst during Obama's speech the other night, remarking that Obama should have turned to Biden and Pelosi and said "Play fucking loud!"  Dylan jokes: they don't work on everyone, but they're peachy for some of us.

Gram Parsons - Cosmic American Music: The Rehearsal Tapes (recorded 1972), G.P. (1973), Live 1973, and Grievous Angel (1974).  So everyone knows the story of Gram Parsons by now, right?  Lived hard (well, for a trust fund boy who never had to work a day of his life), died young, left a confusingly partially-burnt corpse?  He turned the Byrds onto country music (Sweetheart of the Rodeo), created the Cosmic American music of the Flying Burrito Brothers (The Gilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe), and then hired Elvis' backing band for his solo albums.  Along the way, he discovered young Emmylou Harris, who accompanies him on most of these tracks.  For a trust fund baby with a serious drug problem and no evidence of any sort of moral grounding, Parsons was surprisingly serious about country music and how it could be married to rock tropes.  He could sing gospel songs with the best of them and he always sounded utterly sincere and moving while doing so.  He had the ache of suffering in his voice, and I'm not the only one who rightfully considers these albums among the best ever made.  The first one is for fans only, basically a practice tape of Gram teaching Emmylou the songs and the two working out their harmonies.  The live album is a whole lotta fun, if not up to the heights of th studio albums.  But the studio albums are as good as it gets.

Grand Champeen - Battle Cry For Help (2002). Replacements-y Austin band suffers by comparison when following Gram Parsons.  But they're pretty good under most circumstances.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five - "The Message." Like I'm going to knock this?

Grandpaboy - Grandpaboy EP (1997). Speaking of the Replacements, this is Paul Westerberg messing around in a home studio.  Just five songs, but they're not bad for solo Westerberg, while not approaching the awesomeness of vintage 'Mats, natch.  I'm pretty fond of both "Ain't Done Much" and "Lush and Green."

Grant Green - "Green With Envy." I'm surprised I don't have a whole Grant Green album.  I know there's more in my collection down in the compilations.  But Green is fantastic, one of the great guitarists of the jazz world.

Grant Hart - All of My Senses EP (1987), 2541 EP (1989), Intolerance (1989), and Live in Cambridge 31 July 2005. The poppier Hüsker Dü songwriter, Hart is a freakin' national treasure.  The EPs and studio album date from just after the breakup of Hüsker Dü and before Hart formed the Nova Mob.  The music is definitely influenced by the garage music of the 60s, but guided by Hart's indie-pop sensibility.  The live album is a bootleg I found online at one point, just Hart and an acoustic guitar playing tracks from all over his career (including "Diane," "Flexible Flyer," "Books About UFOs," and so on).  Great find!

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