Friday, November 21, 2008

Music Library: Bill Evans, Bill Frisell, Bill Hicks, Bill Laswell, Bill Lloyd, Bill Monroe, Arthur Lee, Belle & Sebastian


Arthur Lee - Vindicator and Black Beauty. In which Arthur Lee leaves the Psychedelic Ranger persona behind and attempts to become Arthur Lee, Black Rock God. He even succeeds on some tracks. Black Beauty is a bootleg including sessions for the unreleased album of the same name plus a handful of Lee's pre-Love tracks.

Belle & Sebastian - Push Barman To Open Old Wounds. This is a collection of tracks from B&S's many, many EPs. I already had all the songs on the first disc, so I bought the second disc only from eMusic. I like the songs on this better than some of its contemporary B&S music, at least in the listen or two I've had.

And onward, through the library:

Bill Evans Trio - Everybody Digs Bill Evans. Without investigating Mr. Evans' references, I am convinced that the assertion on this album is true. He's played on so many of my favorite jazz albums that I'm surprised that this is the only album I have that's credited to the man.

Bill Frisell - Nashville. Country music for people who listen to NPR and hate rednecks. NOTE: not actually country. Kinda dull, too.

Bill Hicks - a few random bits plus Philosophy: The Best of Bill Hicks. Comedy albums are not my forte. I like them more in theory than practice. Take the work of Mr. Hicks: he cracks me up, but a goodly chunk of stand-up humor is surprise, and repetition kills surprise, as you know. The diminishing returns means that I bought this and listened to it a couple of times, and I laugh at it when it's been a while since the last time I listened to it, but that's about it.

Bill Laswell - Dub Meltdown, Sacred System - Nagual Site, Radioaxiom: A Dub Transmission, and Asana OHM Shanti. Laswell's an interesting guy. I like his bands, Material and Last Exit. I like his restless experimentalism. This stuff, though, bores me senseless. Take the first album, Dub Meltdown. I really like Lee "Scratch" Perry and King Tubby and other dub pioneers, but Laswell's take on dub sounds like it was fun to record, and there's a bunch of talent in the room (Jah Wobble & Bernie Worrell, among many others), but they can't translate the fun they're having to the listener. Maybe it's just this listener being cranky. I mean, it's not without any merit; I could see maybe working out to this music. But with Perry & Tubby, not to mention most anything on the Trojan Dub boxes, you can feel your senses reeling when you listen as if you had been partaking of their crazy-making drugs of choice. With Laswell, it's all brain, no weed. Sacred System is a similar attempt to explore a different culture, in this case Indian music. Radioaxiom is an attempt to drive me insane with dull, go-nowhere music. Asana etc. actually did drive me insane and I'm currently writing this from the Austin State Mental Hospital. Much of this will be deleted.

Bill Lloyd - "The Lottery Song." Cover of a Harry Nilsson track, I think. I like Bill Lloyd, who has a power-pop heart, although he mostly plays country-oriented music.

Bill Monroe - The Essential Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys (1945-1949) and The Essential Bill Monroe and the Monroe Brothers. What can one man say about Bill Monroe? Especially when trying to talk about two near-identically named collections that feature entirely different tracks. Well, they're both essential.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

You're Always Cancelling My Favorite Things

Just wanted to mention that Pushing Daisies, which like all creative and unorthodox shows is apparently due for imminent cancellation, is the best network TV show since Friday Night Lights. People who care about quality TV are always wringing hands and complaining about the poor decisions of network executives and the viewing public. I join them in their hand-wringing, because the fact that this show could be cancelled while a unredeemable turd like Heroes remains on the air is just more proof that network TV has no idea how to market and sustain brilliant television. No one has mentioned the option of Pushing Daisies jumping to cable, but I wish a channel like Sci-Fi would pick it up.

Last night's episode was about the lead character Ned's feelings of abandonment by his father. He has just discovered that his father also abandoned his younger twin half-brothers, which, in typical Pushing Daisies tragic-wackiness, happened during a magic show. Their father enters the magic box, disappears, and refuses to reappear. The magician, played by Fred Willard (beloved of all), semi-adopts them, cantankerous wit hiding his real affection. Like all Pushing Daisies episodes, this is a procedural, so Willard soon turns up dead. Suspects include the geek, played by Mr. Show alumni Paul F. Tompkins, and his bitter assistant, played by The State alumni Kerri Kenney-Silver. The B-plot has Stephen Root (who is, delightfully, growing more and more psycho in each episode where he appears) visiting Ned's lady-love Chuck's aunts (one of whom is actually her mother) searching for a watch that he apparently needs to uncover some treasure that he, Chuck's father, and Ned's father all buried while involved in a UN peacekeeping mission. Still keeping up? The surprisingly emotional conclusion of the episode involved Olive getting Aunt Lilly, who is Chuck's real mom, to open up about how she feels about Chuck, while wearing a wire and earpiece so that Chuck can listen in and ask questions from the car outside. Chuck is supposed to be dead, of course.

In summation: some of the best guest-stars in tv history, the most convoluted-yet-fun stories in tv history, the most eye-popping set and costume design in tv history, and one of the weirdest amalgams of styles - detective procedural, fairy tale, and screwball comedy - going into each incredibly well-written episode. I wish someone at the network would take the time to try to promote the show: show the first season again, maybe, or get the actors onto talk shows. It's weird, yes, but it's delightfully weird. Unique. Beautiful. Touching. Meaningful. Worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

For a good time...

Courtesy of my brother.

Screengrab: Five Character Actors Who Took The Lead

New post up at the Screengrab on Warren Oates, Forest Whitaker, Richard Farnsworth, Takashi Shimura, and Klaus Kinski.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Music Library: BIG!: Big Beat, Big Black, Big Boys, Big Mama Thornton, Big Maybelle, Big Star

Everything's BIG in this post!

The Big Beat - Cross Our Hearts and Demos. My Canuck friend John T sent me these. Pretty decent Everly-ish Americana.

Big Black - "Kerosene" and Songs About Fucking. Phil Freeman used to say something like "every time Steve Albini touches a guitar, he should cut Andy Gill of Gang of Four a royalty check." It's true. Also true: I don't love Big Black as much as I used to.

The Big Boys - The Fat Elvis and The Skinny Elvis. The funky lords of Austin hardcore.

Big Mama Thornton - "Little Red Rooster" and "Hound Dog." Man, this lady could sing. Stop the presses!

Big Maybelle - The Complete OKeh Sessions 1952-1955. One of Mrs. Obscurity's favorite albums, Big Maybelle was a blues & soul shouter with a lot of proto-feminist swagger.

Big Star:

  • #1 Record: It's amazing, all of the different elements that make this one of the best guitar-pop albums of all time. There's Memphis soul, Gram Parsons-like cosmic american music, healthy doses of the Beatles and Kinks in the hooks, and a love of Brit-folk in the acoustic material. I could do without "The India Song," which is the only one on the album that dates the material. Otherwise, it could have been released last week. Killer, killer, killer stuff.
  • Ardent Studio Sessions 1972-73: Rough mixes of tracks from #1 Record and Radio City. Interesting as a bootleg document, but there's nothing on here close to the studio releases.
  • Radio City: Perfection. My old friend John Smith (now in the Dexateens!) once pointed out that there's only one song on the album ("Mod Lang") that fades out rather than coming to a complete stop. This album is like the pyramids: there's no mortar, but you couldn't slide a piece of paper between the stones.
  • Third/Sister Lovers: A different kind of perfection. Radio City is what happens when you shoot for the stars and reach them. Third/Sister Lovers is what happens when you fall down the stairs and accidentally invent a new art movement. This would be on my short list of music to send into space so that aliens will know what humanity is capable of.
  • Big Star Live: Alex Chilton's crazy guitar skills & vocals are on prominent display in this radio broadcast for a Long Island radio station from 1974-ish.
  • Columbia: Live at Missouri University: This is a weird one. Organizers for a music festival in Missouri asked Chilton, almost on a dare, if he'd be willing to re-form Big Star in 1993. He surprised everyone by saying yes. He and drummer Jody Stephens recruited a couple of the Posies and have been playing off-and-on ever since. They've even recorded an album, which we'll get to in a minute.
  • Nobody Can Dance: This is a little out of order. This album has some rehearsal tapes and a show from the early 70s in Memphis. The title comes from an announcement partway through, where people are told that dancing in this park is illegal. This is indicative of Chilton's luck at the time.
  • In Space: An album from 2005 that never should have been released under the Big Star name. It sounds like a lot of Alex Chilton's more recent efforts, which is to say "unengaged." I know Chilton doesn't seem to give a shit about Big Star these days. That's his perogative, but this is the sound of an artist spitting on his best work. Yuck.

Friday, November 07, 2008

John Leonard, RIP

I've written about John Leonard in this blog a number of times, almost always negatively. His stints as the head of the book review sections in The Nation and Harper's were marked by opinions that often struck me as infuriatingly wrongheaded. I couldn't believe that this guy - with whom, clearly, I shared a lot of interests - could always see down as up, day as night, black as white, right as wrong.

Yet I always came back for more. Leonard was wrong, but he was fascinatingly wrong. He was brilliantly wrong. He was inspiringly wrong. I loved to disagree with him, and what's more, I think he loved being a guy who wrote criticism that made his opponents bring their A-game.

John Leonard died yesterday at 69, which is too young. I feel for his family, who surely wish they had more time with him. His son, Andrew, is the columnist who writes How The World Works for Salon, one of my favorite reads. I'm sorry for Andrew today, and I'm sorry for everyone who knew and loved him.

Phil Nugent has a typically razor-sharp appreciation of Leonard's life at his blog. I don't have Phil's chops and depth of pop culture knowledge, but I'm also going to miss John Leonard. I'm going to miss disagreeing with him.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Back from L.A.!

Great reading, great experience. Scott Plagenhoef talked about Belle & Sebastian's aesthetic and the changing face of music fandom with the advent of the Internet and the access it provides. I showed Richard & Linda Thompson pictures, some courtesy of Blair Helsing, a new Internet pal who drums in the San Francisco jazz combo Echo Beach Band, and some graphic depictions of Dante's Inferno, while I read from the book. Kim Cooper read parts of her narrative about Neutral Milk Hotel and showed an artist's rendition of the lyrics to "Holland, 1945". We had a pleasant Q&A with the audience and signed some books. I had a number of great friends who showed, plus my brother flew down from the Bay Area. All in all, a wonderful experience. Thanks, Hammer Museum!

Also want to mention that it's 33 1/3 pitch time! Get your pitch together.

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From Here To Obscurity, founded ca. 2003, population 1. The management wishes to emphasize that no promises vis-a-vis your entertainment have been guaranteed and for all intents and purposes, intimations of enlightenment fall under the legal definition of entertainment. No refunds shall be given nor will requests be honored. Although some may ask, we have no intention of beginning again.

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