Friday, August 29, 2008

School Days

Today marks the end of the first week of school for The Artist and The Engineer (the Little Boss starts next week). So in honor of the boys I have put up a new Mixwit volume of tunes about school--or at least mention school. Surely I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of school tunes (although let me just say that since it was the beginning of the year I didn't put that Alice Cooper tune in the mix), so let me know what tunes you think should be added (and if Mixwit has it, I will add it).

Heh, heh, heh . . . .hey!

Just yesterday I asked someone what kind of music they like to listen to (just for the record, it was very telling) and of course I am over 20 and I did start this blog. So I am feeling duly chastised. Of course you shouldn’t be laughing either.

(hat tip to IndieMuse)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Random (sometimes second) Thoughts on Music from the Road

Thanks to a recent purchasing binge and a great big ole stack of discs that Wobs dropped on me right before vacation, there was quite a bit of new music listening--or I should say listening to music that was new to me and some of it was actually new. So here are a few random thoughts on those discs (although truth be told I didn't get to all of them--I mean really you have to know that someone who goes to the same place for vacation each summer isn't in all that an experimental mood when he hits the road for a summer break!).
  • John Mayer Okay, so I already wrote about On Any Given Thursday and some of you pointed out that all the entertainment/gossip reporting about JM might get in the way of appreciating his music--and indeed it did seem that for the two weeks after I picked up the disc, I saw pictures of this in every mag rack I passed (do I get points for not naming names and posting a picture in a shameless attempt to drive traffic to my site?). Now I am sure that there are hipsters out there who will be just too cool for this album given his pop status (since all things pop are, well, not hip), but I am going to stick by this pick, although I am not sure it means I am going to go out and buy a bunch of his studio albums.
  • Fleet Foxes This one was on my list to get from the first review I read and after hearing the cut "Mykonos" which leads off the Mixwit comp over there on the right (although it is from an earlier EP and not on this first full album). Critics have pretty universally talked-up this album and as I noted earlier, the comparisons to CSN abound. But I gotta say, I am not quite there. It is a decent first album--decent. There is some fine singing and wonderful harmonies (sometimes more Beach Boys than CSN) and the lead, Robin Pecknold, has a really strong voice. But as an album--despite having listened to it a lot (and noting Neats' eyeroll each time) I just haven't been as impressed as some. The songs weren't consistently strong, the mix seemed a bit foggy to me somehow, and it didn't make me want to play it until the grooves were gone. I could see checking out another effort from them as they clearly have lots of talent, but this would get one of those 3 and 1/2 out of 5 ratings for me making one wonder if it was more 4 or more 3. I will let you be the judge.
  • Loose Fur Stripped down Wilco credited with leading to a line-up change and new sound for Wilco heading into their fourth album. Any Wilco fan is going to dig this album, Born Again in the USA, but the question for me is if and where to start dipping into the Jim O'Rourke discography--the solo one, although feel free to educate me on his Sonic Youth stint as well. You can check out Loose Fur's "The Ruling Class" on the Mixwit comp as well.
  • The Walkmen Okay so Wobs laid two of their discs on me, Bows and Arrows (which made me think of some amped up version of U2) and A Hundred Miles Off which I immediately liked more. I confess to not having listened to either carefully enough to comment critically, although I can't quite tell if they are one of those bands that are just a bit too something for me, or if I am eventually going to really like. I recently read a review of their new album You and Me over at Pitchfork where they noted: "You & Me isn't as hard or immediate as the band's earlier records, but that's not a complaint; its sound is coy, and invites you to spend time with it." Perhaps that will be the way with these guys for me.
  • Bon Iver Lastly, as this seems to be going on, I never came back to Bon Iver after my first mention of this album and my hopes that it would be as strong as "Skinny Love" which is the first tune I heard--it is. I am not sure how to describe this meditative and yet edgy disc. The guitar sound (and work in many cases) is quite unique--the singing and lyrics are intriguing and the overall songs are wonderful (and yes it does somehow sound composed by a guy in a cabin in winter). Many have commented on the strength of this album, so I won't go on, but here is one observation that might not have shown up anywhere and that is about how many of the songs end. They seem to come undone, to disassemble--as if the song is so constructed, so tightly constructed, that he just can't hold it together and it all falls apart in some clanky chaos--and somehow that fits just perfectly with this album for me.
Okay, so that is enough for now--meant to comment on the new Beck, but I think I will leave that for another post. And just a heads up--the nights are beginning to have that autumnal feeling to them, so you can imagine to see a slight shift into more posts about jazz here. It will be interesting to see how genre specific folks are in their listening habits!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Summertime Sunday

Sunday often means a day of listening to WPFW, a great jazz-oriented community radio station here in DC. The Sunday line-up is killer (in fact it is the whole reason I am a member and I suspect others are as well). It starts with Tom Cole and his show "G-Strings" focused on guitar and other string-driven jazz--perfect for a Sunday morning paper and a cup of coffee. It is followed by "Sunday Kind of Love" hosted by Miyuki Williams who tends to focus on vocals, particularly women vocalists. Then you get "Guy's Groove" with Guy Middleton in the afternoon with a great mix of bop and R&B. And finally, there is "Sound of Surprise" with Larry Applebaum who spins lots of new releases and reissues.

I find the whole day perfectly timed--particularly for a cool fall or winter Sunday--or even a warm summer day when you are trying to get the basement refinished (like today). I would definitely suggest you check it out if you are in town or hanging around your computer on a Sunday (link to the main page over in the right hand column).

I was particularly glad that I tuned in today as when I did I immediately noticed that they were playing a bunch of Eva Cassidy. It soon became clear that the reason was that a new collection of previously unreleased tunes were being released today on a new disc entitled Somewhere. For those who don't know Eva's music and her story, she passed in 1996 at only age 33, but left a serious imprint on the music scene with her amazing vocals.

My first experience with her music was on a beautiful November morning driving home from a meeting in downtown DC about 6 years ago. As I drove north on 16th Ave., her rendition of "Autumn Leaves" from Live at Blues Alley came on. It didn't hurt that the sun was slanting through the trees lining the street and colored leaves were floating gently to the ground. Needless to say, that album was quickly added to my collection and I would recommend it to anyone--great live music that ranges from Irving Berlin to Curtis Mayfield to Sting to Al Green with a tight band.

Miyuki had the new disc in the studio along with Eva's parents who were there for an interview. The samples were all solid--but I particularly found the arrangement of "Summertime" both wonderful to listen to and heartbreaking as I imagined her folks listening to these lyrics. The arrangement was caught on Live @ Pearls (a bootleg as far as I know) and is used here on this YouTube contribution--I recommend closing your eyes and listening.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Accessorizing the Room

Okay, so we have added a new feature to add to your Tuning Room experience--hopefully you have noticed the throwback graphic over on the right. I will probably be also adding some mp3s here and there as well, but thought Mixwit provided a nice way to share a set of music (with some limitations) that you can click on, listen to and browse, while on the site. My actual profile over at MW is here and that shows the playlist for that particular mix and will show all mixes in the future when there is more than one. Let me know what you think of that option and if you have other suggestions for sharing tunes. Hopefully the RIAA won't shut this one down too!

(hat tip to Lisa B. for the lead on streaming possibilities)

Three to Consider: Additional Input Requested

The August edition of UNCUT has its usual plethora of suggestions to consider. Three that got pretty rave reviews are all tempting, but thought I would see what you all had to say about these before I went out bin sorting. And I should mention that I haven’t listened to everything I have that is new or borrowed and I wouldn’t want to violate the “no more buying until all recent additions have been digested” now would I? Right.

Okay, so here are three to consider.

The Hold Steady’s new release, Stay Positive (which isn’t all that new now), has been getting positive reviews all over the place, but Allan Jones is ecstatic: “If it was their intention with this record to, among other things, leave the listener speechless, they’ve done a good job. I’ve been listening to it virtually non-stop for the last few weeks, and I’m still trying to find the right words to describe Stay Positive [snip].” Now I have none of their albums so this would be a first and I am not sure I am in the mood for a rockin’ album right now, but this review and the Q&A with front man Craig Finn makes seriously consider dipping my toe in this pond.

Next up is Randy Newman’s new release, Harps and Angels which is his first offering in ten years—not counting all the soundtracks and arranging he is doing . . .and I am not discounting that work at all (who am I, The Academy?) since he did the soundtrack for what is probably my favorite movie of all time. It has been a while since I have actively listened to his stuff, but here again UNCUT has a provocative way of promoting this latest effort: “In the event, Harps & Angels provokes approximately equal parts gratitude that Newman got around to it, and vexation that he doesn’t do this sort of thing more often. Exactly 40 years since his eponymous solo debut, it’s both awesome and faintly depressing how few compete in his league.”

Finally, someone I know virtually nothing about, Micah P Hinson, but his new effort Micah P Hinson and the Red Empire Orchestra sounds, um, interesting: “But the real beauty of this wholly engaging record is the contrast between Hinson’s dry basso profundo and the (almost) euphoric banks of strings that swell behind banjos and acoustic guitars. The chamber music-noir of “I Keep Havin’ These Dreams” sounds like a despondent relative of “Eleanor Rigby”, while “We Won’t Have To Be Lonesome” has the ‘60s sweep of a Spectoresque teen ballad. . . . Rich in its moods, this could well be Hinson’s best yet.”

Shop or stop?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Running on Empty?

I am sure TR readers continue to check in for updates on presidential campaign tunes, so let me oblige with an update on John McCain's travails with musical artists (which you surely all know about already). Mr. Mellencamp may have requested that Johnny Mac stop using his tunes, but Jackson Browne is actually suing The Maverick's campaign for using "Running on Empty" in a campaign ad.

Unfortunately (from this perspective) his campaign may be running on empty (or less "fuel") but is doing it more effectively than Barack's full-tank-campaign--yes, I know this is a long-distance race and not a sprint.

But seriously, isn't it time for everyone to suggest a new (pissed-off?) soundtrack for the Dems? I know (sans Lisa B) you all have refrained from weighing in on campaign music, but c'mon! What tunes are needs to turn this thing around?

Update: For more interesting campaign music discussion read David Issacson's wonderings about what happens when you have a Rage Against the Machine concert across the river from the Republican National Convention.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When Wednesday Is Monday

Well, we are back from two glorious weeks of vacation up on Lake Michigan which involved cold waters. tons of sun, building in the sand, grilling, Michigan wine (don't laugh they are getting it down), family, late night cards, and an amazing lack of stress. Got some music listening in which I will write about soon, although not a lot of new stuff as our annual beach vacation tends to be about listening to waves and talking with family more than anything.

Tomorrow is back to the coal mine which I have been gleefully ignoring--including email, which might be the best vacation gift of all. As a matter of fact, it was pretty much a screen free trip all around and I am not looking forward to the e-deluge that awaits me.

So tomorrow is Wednesday, but it is in fact, my Monday. So here is a little Elvis to usher in my "week".

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Carefree Highway

So tomorrow I leave to join the family and head north through the Michigan pines up to the shores of the big lake for a week of cool weather, fresh water, sand, fresh air, calming breezes, fresh fish, and hopefully another collection of summer vacation memories. But first I leave you with a confession: I love Gordon Lightfoot’s music. There, I said it—and I am proud of it.

Now I don’t want to pigeonhole any TR readers, but I am going to take a wild guess that most of you who stop by don’t have much Gordon in your collection and might not share my affection for his music. Don’t worry—say anything you want. This attachment is too deep to shake. But why? Ah, that is the interesting question. Two words: big brother.

See, here is the deal. Growing up I, like so many kids, just wanted to be like my oldest sibling (I loved my older sister too--and Little Sis, but I wanted to be my older brother). He was (and is) a real music lover, although in a somewhat more mellow vein than I ended up going. But Gordon was definitely one part of his collection that I heard plenty off and absorbed as an adolescent.

This was further deepened when my brother learned to play guitar and played different music with his friends including, yup, Gordon. So there I am a teenager—what to do. Learn to play guitar, right? And what could be cooler than getting to play guitar with your older brother and friends and what shall we play among other things? Yup, Gordon.

Now add to all this big brother adoration the fact that we grew up in Michigan—you know right across the lake from Ontario where you know who is from. So much of the music is about terrain not so different from what I am experiencing growing up. And yes, I even love The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald—you would too if you vacationed in Paradise, MI which is on Whitefish Bay and you saw what Lake Superior looks like when it is dangerously rocking!

So this all sounds like excuses, but they are not. They are all wonderful memories of growing up. And to this day, cool fall weather, or a cool rainy day (or even when I yearn for that weather) leads me to throw in some Gordon. And of course heading up into the pines of northern Michigan really makes me want to hear Gordon (Neats will tell you that there is a specific moment when Gordon is appropriate on the drive north).

Now beyond that, let me also say that I think Gordon’s music is more than just nostalgia for me, but that he is an artist worth listening to some—not all of it, but much of it. You can go back to older albums like If You Could Read My Mind which includes the first recording of “Me and Bobby McGee”—yup first one to record that—along with his own classics. Or look to his mid-career stuff which I like so much because it was what I listened to the most growing up. Check out Endless Wire, Summertime Dream or Dream Street Rose. Or check out the next set of albums including Shadows, Salute or Waiting For You.

I am still working on how I want to add music files, so for now here are a few links to some Gordon tunes over at the Tubes (no endorsement of the images here, they are just the studio versions of the songs that I am offering up as there just isn't a good selection of live video out there).

So I head up north with plenty of Gord’s Gold in my CD pack. We will see you on the other side in a couple of weeks. I hope to return to some interesting suggestions about campaign songs (see post below).

Monday, August 4, 2008

Nothing Says "Vote For Me" Like . . .

I already noted John Mellencamp's request of the McCain campaign regarding their use of his tunes on the campaign trail. Now it appears that someone has stepped in to fill the void and provide "The Maverick" with his own custom rally tune.

So let's open up the blog lines here and see what people think about campaign tunes. Best campaign tunes from the past? If you could pick a campaign tune for Obama or McCain (or your candidate), what would it be?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Any Given Thursday: First Impressions

So today after dropping of Neats & Boys at the airport so they could get a head start on vacation (much lamenting about to occur over at my other place*), I consoled myself predictably at the music store. I found much of what I was looking for with the exception of Jayhawks--at least those recommended by you dear readers; however, the music that has been giving the Thiels a workout today has been something I wasn't planning on picking up: John Mayer's 2003 live album, Any Given Thursday.

Now I know you all are going to get tired of hearing me mention that I am catching up on much music (why the hell did he think he could start a music blog anyway?), but Mayer is another artist who I have been meaning to explore, but haven't. So this is my first. Why this one? Not sure--it seemed to pick me more than I picked it--great title, liked the idea of hearing how he performed and just total randomness.

First impression: this is going to get a lot of listen to, particularly since I am going to be in a car a lot soon, driving long distances and this just says great road album to me--not to mention The Engineer is always down with some guitar tunes as he chills out in the back of the van while The Artist and The Boss yap it up mid-van.

I, of course, immediately went and checked out what others had to say and read about mixed reviews as critics seemed caught between Mayer's rising pop star image and his clearly growing guitar prowess. Whatever. The music and performance are both solid and fun--both/and rather than either/or. This is a live album that makes you wish you were there even with the screaming adoration.

But I am new here and know you won't steer me wrong. So let's hear what you all think. Thoughts on this disc vs. other offerings, other discs to pursue, or am I just too easily entertained and uncritical?

*The other place is invite only, so friends and family who want to keep up with the Brothers K just need to let me know.