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April 07, 2006

Bob Dylan at the Supper Club

dylan supper club

Here's another CD that was provided to me by my friend Andrew. It's the weekend, I'm going up to LA, and I'm feeling lazy, so I'll just relay to you what he told me without checking it's authenticity. This is evidently a show that Dylan recorded that was supposed to an MTV Unplugged. However, the suits, as they tend to do, wanted a show more packed with the hits. So he recorded a new show, that was released as the underwhelming official MTV Unplugged album and DVD. Thus, the discerning baby boomers who bought the MTV Unplugged album got their much needed new versions of "The Times They Are-A Changin'" and "All Along The Watchtower" but never got a chance to hear rockin' live performances of tradtional fare such as "Ragged and Dirty" or "Jack A Roe" or hear "Tight Connection to My Heart" stripped of its generic 80s production values and realize what a great song was buried somewhere within the Empire Burlesque album. So download, and realize that even before Dylan's Time Out Of Mind comeback, he was still "back." We just didn't know it yet because we were too busy not listening to the MTV Unplugged album.

MP3s:

1. Ragged And Dirty
2. Lay Lady Lay
3. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
4. Queen Jane Approximately
5. Jack-A-Roe
6. One Too Many Mornings
7. I Want You
8. Ring Them Bells
9. My Back Pages
10. Forever Young
11. Tight Connection To My Heart
12. Weeping Willow
13. Delia

Bob Dylan homepage (On tour soon!) and Bob's Boots, and excellent Dylan bootleg resource.

April 06, 2006

A Starting Point for the Burgeoning Grateful Dead Fan

Steal Your Face

Making a decision to "get into" the Grateful Dead is one of the more daunting tasks a music fan can undertake. This is the case for several different reasons. First of all there's the whole associated culture, which contains many repellent aspects, among them fashion, dancing and use of the word "heady." Also, many fans of traditional rock and roll, used to the 3 to 5 minute song length comfort zone, find it harder to embrace the improvisational (read: longer) nature of the music. Finally, the sheer volume of live Grateful Dead material available makes finding appealing recordings an odds against crap shoot that discourages many likely fans. It's also worth mentioning that for as legendary and as popular as they are, they're never mentioned in the discussions of greatest bands of all time by those with the power to make those declarations. This is probably the reason that I had at least two Eric Clapton CDs in my collection before any Grateful Dead.

Dancing Bears
Don't let these guys keep you from listening to this band


All of the above at one point in time applied to me, but through a gradual process, I've learned to love the Dead. The culture thing was the easiest for me to overcome. Fifteen years ago, when the Dead were still touring, it might have been necessary to interact with the stereotypical hippies at concerts, or while seeking out the best bootlegs. The internet has put an end to this era, with many high quality recordings (both recording and performance quality) available for free on line, at the Internet Live Music Archive among other sources. Secondly, like many people who assume they know what the Grateful Dead's music sounds like prior to listening to it, it is quite dissimilar to the other "jam bands" you may have already heard and loathed. They played just as many covers of traditional and classic rock tunes as they did their own originals. Big River, El Paso, Dancin' In The Streets all our songs that you've heard other artists sing that turn up in Dead sets frequently enough for you to forget the original recorded version. And the original material is outstanding on its own. The songs are classics, with very few veering off into pointless, artsy, yawn-inducing territory, (but beware of anything called Feedback, Space, Drums or Dark Star.)

As far as the question of where to begin is concerned, I'll point you in the right direction. Begin like I did, with the "Cornell Show", that took place on May 8th, 1977. Sort of like the Europe '72 cd, it contains a great mix of great quality versions of everything that makes a Grateful Dead concert what it is. It has defining Dead staples that never appeared on a studio album such as "Estimated Prophet" and "Jack Straw." It also has it's share of covers of traditional and Americana songs, as well as some of the Dead's finest songs that you've heard on Classic Rock radio, like St. Stephen and Scarlet Begonias. As good as the studio version of St. Stephen you've heard on Skeletons in the Closet may be, there's nothing quite like hearing the song performed ferociously live, leading into little jam called "Not Fade Away" before erupting back out of the chaos that song descends into for one last triumphant chorus. Try fitting all that into one "Seven Song Super Set."

Download this show and just let it come up occasionally on shuffle. It'l work its way into your soul.

MP3s below:

1. Minglewood Blues
2. Loser
3. El Paso
4. They Love Each Other
5. Jack Straw
6. Deal
7. Lazy Lightning -> Supplication
8. Brown Eyed Woman
9. Mama Tried
10. Row Jimmy
11. Dancin' In The Streets
12. Take A Step Back/Tuning
13. Scarlet Begonias -> Fire On The Mountain
14. Estimated Prophet
15. Tuning/Dead Air
16. Saint Stephen
17. Not Fade Away
18. Saint Stephen
19. Morning Dew
20. Saturday Night

April 04, 2006

The Beat of Soweto Proves to Indeed Be Indestructible

Soweto

Everyone should have a friend with musical tastes like my friend Andrew. By no means is his collection or tastes all encompassing, nor would I feel right calling it random. I think it would be right to call it unconstrained by era, fidelity or language. Through various phases, he has cajoled me into listening to reggae, The Grateful Dead, and hissy, tinny recordings of musicians from six decades ago. Some of it has stuck, namely the Dead, some of the genres of reggae were not so lucky (thank god.) But seeing that he has sent me cds, occasionaly just identified by a single word, is always an interesting experience. When seven or so albums turned up the other day, I knew that something worth writing about would come of it.

Indeed it has. The CD labeled "Soweto" has turned out to be The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, a compilation of South African artists that was released in the mid 80s. According to Andrew, this CD is "What Paul Simon wishes that Graceland had sounded like." Heavy words. I'm a big fan of Paul Simon, and don't think Graceland bashing is territory to enter into lightly. However, I was aware that Simon's usage of South African musicians on a good number of the tracks for the 1987 album was controversial at the time. Since I was six when the album came out, I was oblivious to the controversy, and only vaguely aware that I liked the song about the guy called Al. I don't care to learn about the controversy, nor do I think i would be the one to definitively explain it. If Paul Simon exploited the explosive political climate in South Africa in 1987 to generate publicity for his record, this "hype" has been forgotten by now as the record has proven that it stands the test of time on its own musical merits.

What does sort of irk me is this sentence from the Amazon.com description of The Indestructible Beat of Soweto.


Before Paul Simon, Sting, and Peter Gabriel started their explorations and exploitations of African music, this stunning set of music was already out there showing the world how it was done in South Africa's townships.

Now when you lump Paul Simon in with that "illustrious" crowd, it sort of makes you do a re-evaluation of things. Both of these guys have used South African sounds? Sting of I Used To Be Cool Once fame? The same Peter Gabriel last seen trying to get the entire Olympic village to never listen to "Imagine" again? Are there people out there, snarky people who probably call the album "Dis-Graceland" (like they were the first one to think of that), who think of Paul Simon as one of those types of musicians?

graceland.jpg
Graceland - Still OK by me


My musical taste is not very subject to revisionist history. As a big Graceland fan, hearing The Indestructible Beat of Soweto compilation makes me feel a bit like I did when I learned that Dr. Dre had pretty much lifted all of the music for "Ain't Nuthin' But A G Thang" directly out of someone elses song. It's disappointing at first, but then I feel glad that I didn't know the music was lifted from somewhere before I heard the derivative work. Had I heard the original first, I might never have been able to appreciate the derivative/homage work, and then I would be deprived of the memories and associations I had with that work. And who knows if I would have been open to listening to these African musicians singing in a strange language, making wierd vocal inflections, and using bizarre instruments to create a joyous mix of acapella, bluegrass and zydeco had not Paul Simon eased me into it when I was six years old?

Mahlathini
Mahlathini

Well the answer to that is probably that I would have still appreciated the music on the Soweto compilation. It's about as infectious good time sunny day music as you can get. The instantly recognizable harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo are of course represented on this compilation, but you also get a wide more variety of artists that you've never heard of. Standing out instantly is the unique "Groaning" voice of Mahlathini. Deep, gravelly and unlike many things you've heard before, this guy sounds like he would be the kind of guy that would sing part of a song and retreat to the side of the stage, but you'd be unable to take your eyes off him for fear that you'd miss him do something awesome. You've also got the fiddle playing of Moses Mchunu, which wouldn't sound out of place on a Cajun Zydeco record. I had always assumed that Simon incorporated disparate elements of South African music and Creole on his record. Now I realize that this South African sound just had many more elements to it than just what you could identify as South African on the surface. Also standing out is Johnson Mkhalali's Joyce No. 2, incorporating squeezebox, bass and stacatto guitar all so familiar sounding that even the most ardent Simon supporters couldn't help but feel that he pulled a fast one on them.

This album is far from under the radar. It was evidently named Album of the Year by the Village Voice in 1987, but I would be surprised if it had sold 1/50th the copies that Graceland had. Well now is your chance to check it out for yourself. I don't see how you could lose with this baby. If you like the music of Graceland, you'll love this album. If you're a hipster who wants to bemoan Graceland's obvious accomplishments in favor of something more esoteric at parties, this is perfect. If your tastes fall somewhere in the middle, in that foreign realm that we simply call "fans of good music," you win as well. Highly recommended.

Buy it at Amazon: The Indestructible Beat of Soweto

MP3 samples: I Have Made Up My Mind - Mahlathini, Nezintombi & Zomgoashiyo
Joyce No. 2 - Johnson Mkhalali

April 03, 2006

Video of New Bruce Springsteen Song "John Henry"

<bruce-seeger.jpg


Over at the amazon.com product page for Bruce Springsteen's new album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, you can watch a video of him recording the song "John Henry" with a full band playing hoedown style. Included are a string section, banjo, accordian and washboard guy. Sounds pretty awesome, much cooler than the dour Devils and Dust. People sometimes forget that protest music can be fun. Having a lovable old codger with a washboard strapped to his chest delivering your message makes it much more palatable to people, kind of like a guy in a clown suit that gives poison candy to your children in the park.

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions comes out on April 25th

The Vines are Still a Band

When I was in 8th grade, I somehow obtained a copy of Rolling Stone that had the band Belly on its cover. I was confused. This was at the height of my devotion to WHFS and DC101, but I had never heard of these guys. Who was this band? What had they done to warrant this sort of publicity? Where did they go from here? Is there a song out there by Belly that I would instantly recognize, but am just not aware that it is Belly?

the vines Rolling Stone
An Embarassing Magazine Cover


I still don't know the answers to any of these questions, but I have gotten more experienced with Rolling Stone, and realize that they are far from perfect in terms of the horses they occasionally back. Strange articles, like the Belly cover story, do have a tendency to stick with me though. So when I saw a review of The Vines new album "Vision Valley" today, I remembered a few more inexplicable articles I had read about the band four years ago, which still read as some of the most ridiculous hype gone awry in recent music journalism. First off is the above Rolling Stone cover story, proclaiming "Rock is Back!" Four years after the fact, I still remembered that this article talked mainly about how many bong hits the singer took. The funny thing is is that the cover also mentions a few other bands. The Hives haven't been heard from in a while but at least their albums rock and are catchy. Those other two bands did pretty well for themselves as well. I wonder why Rolling Stone picked The Vines to write about, especially with the insightful level of detail provided into the singers musical inspiration:

"He watches a lot of TV on the bus, but he doesn't remember much when it's over. He plays a lot of Tony Hawk video games. He identifies with Shaggy from Scooby-Doo because he used to have a dog. Trying to think of a film that made an impression on him, he ponders in silence before coming up with David Spade's Joe Dirt. "

The David Spade reference is quite telling. Compared to the other bands they were lumped in with in every story, The Vines are easily the Spade or even the Schneider of their class of SNL vets. But the whole hyping The Vines thing wasn't just Rolling Stone taking an alternative stance, hoping to be recognized as visionary geniuses, like the woman in your office pool who picked Monmouth to win it all.

vines guy


A critic for Slate.com wrote a piece that I still don't understand the point of. First of all, he lumps in The Doves with The Hives, Strokes, Vines and White Stripes, because of the monosyllabic "The" name, ignoring the fact that the White Stripes had already proven this "unifying factor" pointless and inaccurate. Secondly, he keeps referring to the groups as "The Vowel Bands." I didn't understand why when I read it my junior year of college and I still don't understand it. Most of the band names end with E, is that why he calls them that? Is it because there are five bands, so they are the A, E, I, O and U of the rock world? The guy then proceeds to go on to write the kind of article where the points he makes to convince you that that Vines are better than the Strokes and White Stripes all sound like very negative things about the band:


"The most naive-sounding and overtly commercial of this year's unusually diligent crop of top new bands"

"He sounded like a cat stuck in a tree, and then he tried and failed to play his guitar behind his back."

"Highly Evolved is actually a pretty good facsimile of an old-fashioned classic rock 'n' roll album"

"A rousing teen anthem that mirrors the emotion of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" without any of the wit"

I have to figure that both of these articles were written in the same "long shot bet" style as the average music blog who tosses out dozens of recommendations hoping that one will stick and they will get credit for being the first to talk about the band. Either that or editors didn't want to write another yet story about more deserving bands like The Strokes and the White Stripes. Without the compelling "Vowel Bands" backstory to nab them magazine covers, most of us heard The Vines last song "Ride" as the soundtrack to some commercial, I think it may have been for a cell phone company. I don't imagine too many more of us will hear anything off of this new album, unless that new movie "The Benchwarmers" staring everyone's 8th and 9th favorite SNL cast members from 1994 features them on the soundtrack.

The Vines Myspace site where you can hear a few new songs.

The whole albums is streamable at AOL Music

The Black Rider Playing in LA

The Black Rider

Well it looks like the Bob Dylan Musical "The Times They Are A-Changin'" closed in San Diego on March 19th. There is a lengthy, lengthy article in the Union Tribune detailing the many changes that the production has gone through during its run in San Diego. Since I never saw the play I just sort of skipped through the article until I saw something about the hopeful demise of its Broadway bound plans, which are evidently still on. It intends to open in New York this winter, and we can only wish it the best as it heads East, towards the city where Dylan came of age as a musician and hopefully towards the critical savaging it deserves.

And as the biggest musical theatre event of San Diego's year comes to a close, Los Angeles gets ready to open up a far more exciting, far more dignified production of their own. Tom Waits' "The Black Rider" opens at the Ahmanson Theatre on April 22nd. The Black Rider has always proven a difficult album for me to get into. Though Waits would later release albums such as Alice and Blood Money, both based on musicals he participated in, they remained at their heart Tom Waits solo albums. I believe the collaborative nature of the music on the Black Rider album, and the songs themselves, (lyrics penned by William S. Burroughs) makes it far less accessible than either of those two works. However, it does seem like the kind of production that would make for an ideal theatre experience, especially when you take a look at some of the cool looking sets that they have cooked up. They look sort of Tim Burton-y, and since I was convinced that Burton was thinking of Tom Waits when he constructed the "New Arrival" number in The Corpse Bride, it is appropriate that the similar ideals the two share might turn up elsewhere. I'm very excited to get a chance to see it live, and finally get a chance to experience The Black Rider the way it was meant to be seen.

In short, if you wanted to ask someone to lay out what the basic difference is between LA and San Diego, you could say this: LA puts on a show which sold out in London, Sydney and San Francisco, based on the works of an artist who rarely performs live, thereby ensuring that when anything of his does have a chance to reach his devoted fans, you can be damn sure it is worth your time. San Diego gets a musical where the greatest song ever recorded was illustrated for its audience by having giant fake boulders rolll across the stage.

MP3s: The Black Rider (Live excerpt)
Tom Waits - The Black Rider (Studio)
Video: William S Burroughs reading Crossroads (Real Player)

Alta Voz - Overlooked No Longer

altavoz-1.jpg

For some reason, I skipped over Alta Voz when summarizing the CityBeat's Local Music issue last week. Well actually I know the reason, it's because there was a Death Cab for Cutie comparison in the first sentence. But looking back, it compares it to the effect-less era of Death Cab for Cutie, which I've never actually heard, and it follows it up with a solid Bends-era Radiohead comparison. So it's probably worth venturing a listen towards, especially since they are playing the Casbah for the first time tonight as part of the Rookie Card Telethon/Bakesale/Rummage Sale/Comeback Show, which sounds like a pretty entertaining affair, featuring several other bands, breakdancers, burlesque, and free cd's with your paid admission, which is only $5.

The CityBeat review described the sound as "desperately sullen" which I guess is pretty accurate. I don't know how much the Bends-era Radiohead comment I agree with. People seem to forget that The Bends wasn't just some mopey record. Songs like "The Bends" actualy reached hieghts of rocking that few bands have made sound as authentic within recent memory. I prefer my tunes to have a big more energy, more of that awesome three note guitar solo from the end of "The Bends", but if there's one particular time and place to show off just how much you rock, it sounds like it would have to be the Casbah tonight.

Alta Voz Myspace site

MP3s:

Double Our Efforts
Twilight In The Colosseum
Smile Like A Minus Sign
The Cutting Shape Of Fate

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