blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Still Flinging
5 Out Of 5 Stars

Essentially, this is the album that finally made punk safe for the masses. Led by a powerhouse trio, a wickedly juvenile sense of humor and, frankly, a killer set of songs, "Dookie" became a multi-platinum success and made overnight stars out of Green Day. They worked the basic best of the punk playbook with quick bursts of melody, propulsive drumming (Tre Cool may be one of the most underrated drummers of modern times) and vocals that were both young man snotty ("Longview") and mature beyond the format ("When I Come Around"), they managed to cover all the bases while holding a punk cachet.

Now that "Dookie" is 20 years old, there's a certain nostalgia for the Green Day of yore, before the politics and rock opera days. Billie Jo is still a wild eyed kid in the midst of all the rock dreams, so he can get away with lines like "when master.....'s lost it's thrill" and the oddball bad joke hidden at the tail end of "F.O.D.". And while they were kind of advanced for they're ages, it would still be another three albums before they'd try something as mature as "Good Riddance/Time Of Your Life."

So revel in the golden age of 1990's power punk, before the dam burst and every dyed hair band with a melody had a hit. Green Day got there first, with one of the best opening lines of a punk song ever in "Do you have the time, to listen to me whine" just before a buzzsaw guitar starts tearing the joint apart ("Longview"). They knew they were climbing over the backs of their forebears - the liner art screams Ramones circa "Rocket To Russia" - but little did they know how much farther they'd raise the bar.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
You hit me with a flower
5 Out Of 5 Stars

David Bowie and Mick Ronson must have really been fans of The Velvet Underground, because when Lou Reed's fledgling solo career needed a dynamite second album, the two of them stepped in and offered to produce. The glam-bomb that is "Transformer" became a bona-fide hit and delivered what is arguably the weirdest top 40 single of the 70's, "Walk On The Wild Side." Bowie and Ronson tarted up Reed with glammy arrangements that also flirt with cabaret while leaning heavily on atmospherics, which resulted in an enduring classic and one of the few times Reed made a conscious effort at recording a commercial album (albeit one that deals with drag queens, dealers, drug users and plenty of other denizens of NYC's darker regions).

"Holly came from Miami F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side"

You didn't hear much anything else like it on the AM radio, and nothing much like it since. Bowie and Ronson kept the production clean and "Walk On The Wild Side" had a slithering bassline that carried most of the song, topped by Reed's deadpan delivery. When he tries to really sing ("Goodnight Ladies"), it comes close to the Berlin trappings that he'd explore on his next album. Still, the songs are often smarter than a surface listen would give away, like the lovely "Perfect Day." It sounds like another nice day in the city until you understand that it's about wandering Central Park while higher than a kite.

That was Reed's greatest strength on "Transformer," that he could so easily couch lyrics that almost anyone else would run and hide from before committing them to an album. The flirtatious mixing around with sexual identity ("Make Up," "Walk") was probably just as much Bowie's Ziggy personae giving Reed a bit of a goosing, but it holds up really well. You also can't discount Ronson's contributions, as it's his fuzz-buzz guitar that drives "Vicious" for one instance.

The songs themselves have endured, too. "Satellite of Love" (complete with Bowie singing back-up) remains one of Reed's best, and stands as strong as "Walk On The Wild Side" and "Perfect Day." "Transformer" marked the launching pad commercially for Lou Reed, is as flawless a record as the 70's had to offer, and possibly the best outside album work Bowie has been involved in.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
The Tin Men Find Their Hearts
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Talk about a departure. "Random Access Memories" retros the old EDM sound of previous albums and plants its flag squarely in the heart of 70's disco. So much so that Giorgio Morodor and Nile Rodgers are here in the flesh. Modern popster Pharrell Williams and Julian Casablancas of The Strokes are on board for what is a pretty wild ride on the wayback machine. Turns out the Robots (as Pharrell kept calling Daft Punk as they racked up Grammy Awards) have a heartbeat that pulses to "Le Freak."

This is some sunny, happy poptunes. "Get Lucky" (featuring Rodgers and Pharrell) was one of the best summer jams this or any year, inescapably warm and funky. "Give Life Back To Music" rides the same kind of funkiness and uses the autotuned vocals that you'd probably expect from Daft Punk in the first place. Yet there are those cameos that reveal the true memories of the duo. "Giorgio By Morodor" has the legendary producer giving a brief biography of his creative life while Daft Punk recreates some old school Munich disco straight off of the "Midnight Express" soundtrack. (I'm of the mindset that this is one of the collabs that didn't quite work.)

But for pure seventies oddballishness, you get 70's syrup-meister Paul Williams on the crescendo-ing "Touch." Paul Who? You may ask? Williams is a 70+ songwriter who can count among his credits Barbra Streisand, Helen Reddy and Kermit the Frog among his clients. When Daft Punk went mining for that pure 70's sound that "Random Access Memories" obviously was looking for, the boys did their homework.

Pure DP fans will still find traces of their old heroes on "Memories." "Motherboard" is a strictly instrumental piece that jitters with some interesting drum lines. The "Contact" finale, a six and a half minute opus featuring DJ Falcon, uses found sound and newsbites to muse about UFO's and aliens among us. It's a rollicking space ride worthy of standing next to everything else on "Random Access Memories." Daft Punk may have done a massive shift for this album, but it's a satisfying one and may have made this their masterwork.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Life on the underside
5 Out Of 5 Stars

By taking all the romantic aspects out from the musical visions others may have had concerning New York City, the Velvet Underground upended the NY Art scene by recording an album about kinky sex, mad drug use, pimps and dealers and femme fatales. Andy Warhol attached himself to the band's skewed vision and began to shepherd them, bringing singer/model Nico along. In 1967, The Velvet Underground and Nico was released, and during the Summer Of Love, nobody really got it. But as the famous quote (accredited to Brian Eno) goes, the Velvet Underground may not have sold many albums, but everyone who bought a copy formed a band.

Nowadays, the album is heralded as a seminal piece of the rock and roll puzzle, and listening to it years later will surprise you as to just how well the album has held up. The center of attentions were singer/songwriter Lou Reed and multi-instrumentalist and art-music fan John Cale. They teased and tormented conventional pop structures while still delivering hooky songs (like "Sunday Morning" or the haunting "All Tomorrow's Parties") before Cale would whip out a viola and draw his bow across some squealing noise ("Black Angel's Death Song"). There's even the fact that Nico's voice had just a mysterious quality to it that added to her allure. When she emotes on "Femme Fatale" that you're just a clown, it drawls out as "clowan."

But what attracted the bulk of the attention (and still does to this day) was the way the band cavalierly treated the dark underbelly of sex and drugs. Reed's "Venus In Furs" explicitly describes the trappings of an SM ritual with a mistress who wants you to "kiss the boots of shiny leather." The fixation of drugs in "Waiting For My Man" and the actual rush of using in "Heroin." There is the push-pull of addiction in an unromantic light that is positively brutal in its almost journalistic qualities. The Beatles were singing about a day in the life, Reed was saying "heroin be the death of me."

It's that kind of non-romantic bluntness that makes the best material on "The Velvet Underground and Nico" so compelling. While the group (it should be added that Maurene Tucker was the first great female rock drummer) rode the pulse of primitive and proto-punk music, they'd lose Nico by the next album and find their way to even more abrasive topics on "White Light White Heat." All the VU albums that featured the line up of Cale, Reed, Tucker and bassist Doug Yule are essential listening, this is the first step off a very steep cliff. Even today, it can be a difficult listen, but it is one of those kind of albums that bent the musical direction of bands to follow.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
An excellent overview of an American Icon
5 Out Of 5 Stars

At 36 tracks across two discs, "The Essential Pete Seeger" pretty much invalidates other, older compilations and sum up his time on Columbia Records. While Seeger was still recording albums into his 80's, this takes the prime period of his recordings and spreads it out.

Pete Seeger was an icon for all the best reasons. Picking up a banjo and guitar to makes statements about the nature of the times took courage then as it does now (quick, name on popular artist who uses his recorded output for challenging statements...could you?) and even got him blacklisted. Songs like "Talking Union" or the anti-Vietnam protest "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy," he not only found himself surrounded by controversy but actively courting it. He was the rare artist to put his beliefs before his career, even as it threatened his livelihood and even though he would ultimately be vindicated.

You'll also find the songs that Pete wrote or adapted that became hits for others, such as "Turn Turn Turn" (The Byrds), "If I Had a Hammer" (Peter, Paul and Mary), and "Guantanamera" (Trini Lopez). With both the adaptations of "Guantanamera" and "Wimoweh," a strong argument can be made the Seeger was one of the earliest purveyors of what everyone now calls "World Music," as he had the forethought to include them in he live concerts (and are both here as live versions).

Even with those convictions, Pete Seeger also approached his music with a wit and sense of humor. "Little Boxes" is a stinging indictment of class conformity, yet it's actually a pretty funny song. Same with "Talking Union." But there's no escaping the anger that underscores "Which Side are You On?" What will remain his lasting legacy encompasses songs like these, but the gentle heart that could deliver a searing protest of war ("Where Have All The Flowers Gone") along side the civil rights anthem of peace in "We Shall Overcome."

I was fortunate enough to see Seeger live at the 50th Anniversary of The Newport Festival. Even at his advanced age, his body may have been frail but his voice was a force of nature. Like all his best work, he was the conduit for the music and the audience, leading call and response verses and choruses till the throngs of people that filled the field sang in unison. Even typing this now brings back chills. Few artists can lay claim to making culture bend in their direction, and Pete Seeger is such a man. While even two discs of music is incomplete (no "Good Night Irene"?) but this set is as easy an instant collection for a man whose greatness will remain an influence not just on artists still taking cues from him today, but those who will come along.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
From Billboard Magazine: (The picture is one I took at The Newport Folk Festival's 50th Anniversary.)

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, the banjo-picking troubadour who sang for migrant workers, college students and star-struck presidents in a career that introduced generations of Americans to their folk music heritage, died on Monday at the age of 94.

Seeger's grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson said his grandfather died at New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he'd been for six days. "He was chopping wood 10 days ago," he said.

Seeger - with his a lanky frame, banjo and full white beard - was an iconic figure in folk music. He performed with the great minstrel Woody Guthrie in his younger days and marched with Occupy Wall Street protesters in his 90s, leaning on two canes. He wrote or co-wrote "If I Had a Hammer," "Turn, Turn, Turn," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine." He lent his voice against Hitler and nuclear power. A cheerful warrior, he typically delivered his broadsides with an affable air and his banjo strapped on.

"Be wary of great leaders," he told The Associated Press two days after a 2011 Manhattan Occupy march. "Hope that there are many, many small leaders."

With The Weavers, a quartet organized in 1948, Seeger helped set the stage for a national folk revival. The group - Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman - churned out hit recordings of "Goodnight Irene," "Tzena, Tzena" and "On Top of Old Smokey."

Seeger also was credited with popularizing "We Shall Overcome," which he printed in his publication "People's Song," in 1948. He later said his only contribution to the anthem of the civil rights movement was changing the second word from "will" to "shall," which he said "opens up the mouth better."

"Every kid who ever sat around a campfire singing an old song is indebted in some way to Pete Seeger," Arlo Guthrie once said.

His musical career was always braided tightly with his political activism, in which he advocated for causes ranging from civil rights to the cleanup of his beloved Hudson River. Seeger said he left the Communist Party around 1950 and later renounced it. But the association dogged him for years.

He was kept off commercial television for more than a decade after tangling with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955. Repeatedly pressed by the committee to reveal whether he had sung for Communists, Seeger responded sharply: "I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American."

He was charged with contempt of Congress, but the sentence was overturned on appeal.

Seeger called the 1950s, years when he was denied broadcast exposure, the high point of his career. He was on the road touring college campuses, spreading the music he, Guthrie, Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter and others had created or preserved.

"The most important job I did was go from college to college to college to college, one after the other, usually small ones," he told The Associated Press in 2006. " ... And I showed the kids there's a lot of great music in this country they never played on the radio."

His scheduled return to commercial network television on the highly rated Smothers Brothers variety show in 1967 was hailed as a nail in the coffin of the blacklist. But CBS cut out his Vietnam protest song, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," and Seeger accused the network of censorship.

He finally got to sing it five months later in a stirring return appearance, although one station, in Detroit, cut the song's last stanza: "Now every time I read the papers/That old feelin' comes on/We're waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on."

Seeger's output included dozens of albums and single records for adults and children.

He also was the author or co-author of "American Favorite Ballads," "The Bells of Rhymney," "How to Play the Five-String Banjo," "Henscratches and Flyspecks," "The Incompleat Folksinger," "The Foolish Frog" and "Abiyoyo," "Carry It On," "Everybody Says Freedom" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."

He appeared in the movies "To Hear My Banjo Play" in 1946 and "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon" in 1970. A reunion concert of the original Weavers in 1980 was filmed as a documentary titled "Wasn't That a Time."

By the 1990s, no longer a party member but still styling himself a communist with a small C, Seeger was heaped with national honors.

Official Washington sang along - the audience must sing, was the rule at a Seeger concert - when it lionized him at the Kennedy Center in 1994. President Clinton hailed him as "an inconvenient artist who dared to sing things as he saw them."

Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as an early influence. Ten years later, Bruce Springsteen honored him with "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions," a rollicking reinterpretation of songs sung by Seeger. While pleased with the album, Seeger said he wished it was "more serious." A 2009 concert at Madison Square Garden to mark Seeger's 90th birthday featured Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder and Emmylou Harris among the performers.

Seeger was a 2014 Grammy Awards nominee in the Best Spoken Word category, which was won by Stephen Colbert.

Seeger's sometimes ambivalent relationship with rock was most famously on display when Dylan "went electric" at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

Witnesses say Seeger became furious backstage as the amped-up band played, though just how furious is debated. Seeger dismissed the legendary tale that he looked for an ax to cut Dylan's sound cable, and said his objection was not to the type of music but only that the guitar mix was so loud you couldn't hear Dylan's words.

Seeger maintained his reedy 6-foot-2 frame into old age, though he wore a hearing aid and conceded that his voice was pretty much shot. He relied on his audiences to make up for his diminished voice, feeding his listeners the lines and letting them sing out.

"I can't sing much," he said. "I used to sing high and low. Now I have a growl somewhere in between."

Nonetheless, in 1997 he won a Grammy for best traditional folk album, "Pete."

Seeger was born in New York City on May 3, 1919, into an artistic family whose roots traced to religious dissenters of colonial America. His mother, Constance, played violin and taught; his father, Charles, a musicologist, was a consultant to the Resettlement Administration, which gave artists work during the Depression. His uncle Alan Seeger, the poet, wrote "I Have a Rendezvous With Death."

Pete Seeger said he fell in love with folk music when he was 16, at a music festival in North Carolina in 1935. His half brother, Mike Seeger, and half sister, Peggy Seeger, also became noted performers.

He learned the five-string banjo, an instrument he rescued from obscurity and played the rest of his life in a long-necked version of his own design. On the skin of Seeger's banjo was the phrase, "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender" - a nod to his old pal Guthrie, who emblazoned his guitar with "This machine kills fascists."

Dropping out of Harvard in 1938 after two years as a disillusioned sociology major, he hit the road, picking up folk tunes as he hitchhiked or hopped freights.

"The sociology professor said, `Don't think that you can change the world. The only thing you can do is study it,'" Seeger said in October 2011.

In 1940, with Guthrie and others, he was part of the Almanac Singers and performed benefits for disaster relief and other causes.

He and Guthrie also toured migrant camps and union halls. He sang on overseas radio broadcasts for the Office of War Information early in World War II. In the Army, he spent 3 1/2 years in Special Services, entertaining soldiers in the South Pacific, and made corporal.

Pete and Toshi Seeger were married July 20, 1943. The couple built their cabin in Beacon after World War II and stayed on the high spot of land by the Hudson River for the rest of their lives together. The couple raised three children. Toshi Seeger died in July at age 91.

The Hudson River was a particular concern of Seeger. He took the sloop Clearwater, built by volunteers in 1969, up and down the Hudson, singing to raise money to clean the water and fight polluters.

He also offered his voice in opposition to racism and the death penalty. He got himself jailed for five days for blocking traffic in Albany in 1988 in support of Tawana Brawley, a black teenager whose claim of having been raped by white men was later discredited. He continued to take part in peace protests during the war in Iraq, and he continued to lend his name to causes.

"Can't prove a damn thing, but I look upon myself as old grandpa," Seeger told the AP in 2008 when asked to reflect on his legacy. "There's not dozens of people now doing what I try to do, not hundreds, but literally thousands. ... The idea of using music to try to get the world together is now all over the place."

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
This is a Public Service Announcement...With Guitars!
5 Out of 5 Stars

Way back when, some muckity muck in the CBS Records Promo Department had the brilliant idea to slap a sticker across covers of the new Clash double LP that read "The Only Band That Matters." Even if the rest of the artists on the CBS roster might have been wondering a hearty WTF were they, chopped liver moment, but in 1979, The Clash actually felt like they could be that band. The band that all the hopes and dreams of rock and roll prophets whispered about in dark rooms when they quietly mused to themselves that a savior would be born unto them, bearing loud electric guitars, politically savvy lyrics and swagger that would never end. In 1979, it really felt like The Clash just might be that band. Hence, the 5 stars for The Singles.

But we all know how those kind of dreams end up. When Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon kicked Mick Jones out of the band and recorded "Cut The Crap," the world suddenly gave a collective yawn, and the general consensus to "Cut The Crap" was somebody, please pull the plug. But from 1979 to 1985, The Clash charged forth with revolutionary single after single often attached to stunning albums. If you don't have "London Calling," stop reading this review and order it now. They may not have been the best singers or the most proficient musicians, but that didn't stop them from playing fast, loud and even early on, playing with reggae and other influences than their punk roots might suggest.

So while you get the fury of "Clash City Rockers," you have the single "White Man in Hammersmith Palais," backing up the guitar roar with a reggae tune...both from their ferocious debut. Even more incredible is just how fast The Clash got better at what they were doing. The big riff of "London Calling" was matched by the almost soulful "Train In Vain" (their US breakthrough single). They were also going deeper into other musical forms, soon cutting rap-influenced songs like "The Magnificent Seven" and "This Is Radio Clash." Even as bloated as "Sandinista" was, the singles "Hitsville UK" and the politically charged "The Call Up" could blow you over.

It's interesting that their final, absolute American breakout was arriving as the band was beginning to fracture; "Combat Rock" delivered the remarkable "Rock The Casbah" and the big guitar attack of "Should I Stay or Should I Go." The album cover itself had the band on train tracks, quite literally at a crossroads. But even after splintering, they still could pull one more ace out of "Cut The Crap," the lovely and ironic "This Is England." Then it was over, except for side projects (Big Audio Dynamite being the most successful). But for the 20 singles collected on this The Singles, the final song sums it up. These were "Groovy Times" indeed.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
The Red Sox, Shane Victorino and Bob Marley
5 Out Of 5 Stars

It was the World Series that drew me back to Bob Marley and The Wailers' "Legend." I hadn't pulled it out for awhile, but then Shane Victorino began using "Three Little Birds" as his walk-on music, and the Boston Crowd would boisterously sing "every little thing's gonna be all right." That was enough for me to put this in the car for a couple of weeks, and reminded me of just how great an anthology "Legend" is. It even surprised me in that I'd forgotten that "One Love" was squeezed into an episode of "Glee." If that doesn't sound of universal appreciation, I don't know what does.

It still boils down to the music. Marley championed reggae as a style that could be more than just the sound of Jamaica. In doing so, he became a global superstar, made even more iconic by his untimely death in 1981, a mere 36 years old. That makes "Legend" all the more amazing when you realize that these sixteen songs came out of a burst of activity that lasted from 1973 till his passing. It's an irresistible mix of songs that included songs that became international hits like "Buffalo Soldier," "Jammin'" and "One Love," among so many others. His music inspired many other artists to take songs and make them popular in other means, like "Jammin'" for Stevie Wonder, "I Shot The Sheriff" for Eric Clapton and "Waiting in Vain" for Annie Lennox, among others.

It's easy to listen to this and feed off the mellow vibes, but Marley was just as much an assertive political figure. "Get Up Stand Up" and "Redemption Song" were as forceful songs as anything from the 60's folk-protest years in America. Every song here is potently powerful, be they the "Songs of Freedom" "Redemption Song" calls for or the lovely "Stir It Up" (also transposed into an American hit by Johnny Nash). "Legend" is a CD that holds together as a single album, where every track matters and you'll not be wanting for any track to end so you can get to better ones. Thanks to the Red Sox for reminding me just why I enjoyed this album in the many years since I first listened to it in the 80's.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Lou Reed. March 2, 1942 - October 27, 2013
5 Out Of 5 Stars

There aren't too many figures in America Rock and Roll that have a footprint quite like Lou Reed's. From his start as part of Andy Warhol's factory band to his later status as a sort of NYC Poet Laureate, to even recording and album in cahoots with Metallica (not represented here, though), he is one of the USA's predominant rock icons. Or as he put it on one of his live albums, a Rock and Roll Animal. This "Essentials" set is a repackaging of "NYC Man," but still a great set if you don't already own that older package.

The tracklist is a varied set and covers most of his time with various incarnations and major labels (RCA, Arista and Warners). There are excellent liner notes courtesy of Lou himslef, describing the thought processes behind the songs. The sequencing is a bit odd, as the first song here is from "The Raven" (his adaptations of Edgar Alan Poe) and then ends on disc two with "Transformer's" "Pale Blue Eyes." Reed describes his concept for the sequencing as "the point of view which songs relate to each other in the best fashion." Because of the really sweet remastering job (mostly from 2003), many of the songs, even from the Velvets, slip into the others sounding as contemporary as ever. There's the basic rock of "Dirty Boulevard" to the atmospheric guitar the grinds through "Rocket Minuet," which Reed viewed as worthy of following each other. (Minuet" also featured his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson, on violin.) He could make any sound he wanted, and he did, without compromise.

I have my own personal favorites here, especially from the albums "Magic and Loss" and "New York," which in my opinion, were brilliant even if it took a few years for an audience to catch up to them. And while the Arista albums tended to get slagged, selections from the likes of "The Blue Mask" and "Legendary Hearts" are here and deserve a re-listen. Of course, there are the magical songs from "Transformer," including "Perfect Day." As a compilation, it's a great starter kit, although I'd recommend any of the albums mentioned here (and "The Velvet Underground and Nico") as perfect albums in their own right. "The Essential Lou Reed" is a terrific overview of one of Rock's greatest cantankerous characters, and the world is a slightly less interesting place because of his passing.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
DNA Splicing
4 Out Of 5 Stars

"Wise Up Ghost." In which two of the music world's encyclopedic nerds play with Costello's past and Questlove's concepts of pop and funk. Musically it is a fascinating record, with the two of them combining bits of Elvis' older tunes with deeply funked out basslines, boiling things to a rare essence; the songs that equal or surpass the originals.

For example, just as deep as the second song, sample lyrics from "Sweet Underground" and "Hurry Down Doomsday" are tangled together to create "Sugar Won't Work." Or how "Stick Out Your Tongue" rewrites "Pills and Soap," one of Costello's angriest protest songs. Which is something else to note about "Wise Up Ghost." The Roots place a lot of dark menace into songs that weren't as sinister as they were when they started out life.

Even the samples spin things around. The tinkling piano of "Satellite" tease "Tripwire" into a more spooky area, along with the subject matter. Questlove and Elvis don't just stick with the lyrical cut and pasting, songs are pulled into the sampler like "Satellite," as well as "Radio Silence" on the (bonus track version) "Can You Hear Me."

It's not like Elvis hasn't explored collaborations and re-visiting before. This comes closer to "The River In Reverse," with Allen Toussaint and the roaring Stax romp of "Get Happy" than other Costello works, while The Roots bring out the moments when Costello becomes more a sublime singer, even though there's more than a little menace to the demanding title track or "Stick Out Your Tongue." "Wise Up Ghost" may sound like a mismatch of talents, but The Roots make this album into one of Costello's most interesting in a long time.

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Richard Thompson's Best Live Album
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Recorded for the "Austin City Limits" program, "Live From Austin Texas" is Richard Thompson playing in a trio setting (drummer Michel Jerome, upright bassist Danny Thompson). Spare as that sounds, Thompson's muscular guitar cuts to the front of the line every time. Released in 2005 on the NewWest label, it boasts a clear sounding mix, a great selection of songs and Thompson is fine form.

You'll get songs that range back to "Shoot Out The Lights" to material from the then new "Mock Tudor." Some of the songs I kind of thought were lesser bits on previous albums, like "Al Bowlly's In Heaven" - terrific bass solo by Danny) - sound great in this context. Of the newer material, the ballad "Persuasion" (written by Split Enz's Tim Finn) and the ripping opener, "Cooksferry Queen" are stand outs. But my favorite is (and likely forever will be) the magnificent "1952 Vincent Black Lightning." It is one of the few songs that consider to be a flawless bit of writing and playing, and on "Live From Austin, Texas," it again fails to disappoint. The outstanding version of this song alone would rate the album three stars, and here it and his band give it due justice. Simply put, "Live From Austin, Texas" is the best of Richard Thompson's many live solo albums.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
When Thompson was on a roll
5 Out Of 5 Stars

In 1988, Capitol took a roll of the dice and signed Richard Thompson to an American record deal. Thompson had several brushes with success, and had skipped across several smaller labels, all while seeing that breakthrough always just seemingly out of reach. Someone at Hollywood and Vine must have seen this as an opportunity, and five studio albums ensued. With the promotional wheels of Capitol behind him, Thompson suddenly found his albums creeping into the top hundred, and the man himself on a serious creative roll. "Action Packed" is a superb collection that skims the cream from those albums and adds a new track.

Starting with "Amnesia" and going through "You? Me? Us?," Thompson was matched to producer Mitchell Froom, who seemed perfectly aligned towards Thompson's playing and songwriting. To his credit, Thompson embraced the style and finessed it, delivering some remarkable songs and his usual killer guitar playing. I challenge anyone to listen to "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and not come away with the opinion that it is simply one of the best folk songs ever written or to hear "I Feel Good" and miss it's cynical bite. Those are just a pair of the classic songs on "Action Packed," balancing semi-rock songs with tenderly played pieces like "Beeswing." His final Capitol disc, "Mock Tudor," produced by Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf, and still had Froom on keyboards

Thompson has always had a soft spot for writing about the down-trodden, and there are a few of those here, as well. "Mr. Rebound" describes the woe of a man who always seems to be the fall-back when the women of his dreams needs a fling with somebody new. Then's there's "Waltzing's For Dreamers," in it's stately 3/4 time as Thompson describes each of the three steps of breaking his heart. The bonus tracks are no slouches, either, when you consider that they are usually the stuff of B-sides. The softly seductive "Persuasion" (co-written by Split Enz' Tim Finn) is cast as a ballad featuring his son, Teddy. "Mr Rebound" and "Fully Qualified to Be Your Man" were unavailable on CD prior to "Action Packed" and were recorded for "Mock Tudor."

Thompson has been making brilliant songs for so many years that it's difficult to recommend single CD's without busting your wallet. But for a blazing period between 1988 and 1999, he ran a streak of strong albums, and "Action Packed" pulls that decade into an enjoyably listenable single CD experience.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Back to Sludge Metal
4 Out Of 5 Stars

After decades of waiting, 3/4's of the original Black Sabbath (including Ozzy) reunite for what has to be one of the most anticipated CD's of the year, the boomtastic "13." I can testify that it was worth the wait. Producer Rick Rubin told the band to go back to their early albums to get a feel for what he was expecting to produce, and the band took it to heart. This is metal so dense, it cuts like used crankshaft motor oil. It's that heavy.

If you're looking for speedy riff rocking, it's not here. This is the sound that created such anthemic dirges as "War Pigs" or "Sweet Leaf." There's even a touch of Ozzy the blasphemer as he raises the question "Is God Dead?" And they pound that riff into submission for over 8 minutes. Granted, Ozzy's voice is showing its weathering, but Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler still have the magic spooky touch. (Audioslave drummer Brad Wilk fills in for Bill Ward.) "End Of The Beginning" snakes a demented blues riff to kick the album off with a oozing pounce. Or there's "Dear Father," which tackles the subject of abuse.

The band has never been scared of heavier topics, which "Dear Father" and the anxiety provoking "Methademic" show. (Given Ozzy's recent trip to rehab, maybe even closer to home than known.) The band even throws a few touchstones from the old days in when "Zeitgeist" pays homage to "Planet Caravan." Even with that obvious reference, "13" pounds and stomps like the monsters Black Sabbath were at the peak of their powers. The sense of dread and thrill of doom still permeate the best of the songs here, and - despite their age - the band doesn't sound like they are pandering to their past or trying to stay current. "13" is every bit as tasty as "The Devil You Know" (by Heaven and Hell with Dio), just down tuned and packed with 50% more evil.

Worth the wait and better than anyone could have possibly expected at this point in their collective life, "13" is a triumphant comeback. "I ain't no hero to come and save you," Ozzy wails in "Peace of Mind." Well, actually guys, you are. Thanks for saving heavy metal for 2013.

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Paul McCartney Embraces his Legacy
5 Out Of 5 Stars

When Paul McCartney and The Beatles dissolved their partnerships, McCartney was bound and determined to go his own way. He made a few solo albums, like the masterpiece "Ram," but then decided he wanted a full fledged rock band behind him. Hence were Wings born. The corresponding Wings albums, like "At The Speed Of Sound" and "Venus and Mars" had McCartney insisting, over and over, that Wings was a band. To the point where Linda McCartney and Denny Laine were singing. The Beatles were dead and gone. Wings were here and now.

Until 1976 and the tour where McCartney shocked everyone. "Wings Over America," the then triple album, featured Wings and Paul digging into The Beatles' catalog, which also meant that he was performing some of these songs for the first time in their existence to a live audience. (As a reminder, The Beatles turned their back on touring in 1966.) The crowds, understandably, went nuts. With that kind of energy, Paul leans into "Lady Madonna," "Blackbird," "Yesterday" and a few others with an obvious glee; he may have been trying to erase his past before, but there's no way to deny he was reinvigorated to be on the road without dragging around the invisible elephant in the room.

It also shows off Wings as a more capable band than most critics gave them credit for. The opening "Venus and Mars/Rock Show" opens the concert with some serious electricity, and "Live and Let Die" rivals "Helter Skelter" for McCartney's all time rockingest tune. As an added feature, the song "Soily," which was a regular on McCartney tours, has never been released except for "Wings Over America." It's among the McCartney and Wings songs that take up the bulk of the album, with highlights being "Hi Hi Hi," "Band On The Run," and the single from the album, "Maybe I'm Amazed."

Now condensed to a double CD, the remastered sound is terrific. (I had the older CD, and a one on one comparison reveals a crisper sound, less muffled.) If you want to spend a couple extra bucks, the triple version contains an eight song bonus disc from San Fransisco's Cow Palace and adds "Let Me Roll It" and a differently arranged "Bluebird" as the main attractions. (Although the fade on "Picasso's Last Words" is annoying.) All together, this is one of the more important documents of Paul McCartney's recorded legacy, the moment in time where he let his past catch up with him and he didn't turn it away.


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All the Best, Remastered and Remembered
5 Out Of 5 Stars

What this "Best of Simon and Garfunkel" collection does is, simply, lay out all their amazing singles on one hour-plus CD. It outshines the original "Greatest Hits" by not overlapping songs and by having a much improved quality of sound. Sure, you've probably heard half (or more) of the songs in high rotation on classic pop radio stations, but hearing them in digital clarity really does - and I hate to use the cliche here - bring them back to life.

More than anything else, the best of these singles highlights the exquisite harmonies these men had together as well as spotlights the strengths of Paul Simon's and Art Garfunkel's singular voices. Garfunkel's young, angelic choirboy voice still elicits chills on "Bridge Over Troubled Water," while Simon's leads often show a potency that can be unexpectedly forceful ("Hazy Shade Of Winter"). Yet they are still at their best when the voices blend as they do so beautifully on "Scarborough Fair" or the 70's reunion hit "My Little Town."

The non-hits work in the collection's favor. Short of buying the complete collection box set, the pickings here are choice. "The Only Living Boy in New York," "Old Friends/Bookends" (the song they opened their concert with when I saw them a few years back) or the live version of "For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her" will please the curious who are looking for more than just the hits. Some of the songs are a bit goofy/dated ("At The Zoo" and "The 59th Street Bridge Song"), but they can be forgiven when something as magnificent as "The Boxer" or as joyous as "Cecelia" play. For the value per dollar, "The Best of Simon & Garfunkel" is as good as you're going to get.


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An Utter Sandblast of an Album
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The members of Nirvana were so caught off guard at the explosive success of "Nevermind" that it took them three years to record the follow-up. They were even quoted as saying they wanted to make an anti-nevermind to shed some of their fans who looked at the band (and in particular, Kurt Cobain) as movement leaders. "In Utero" was somewhat successful at that attempt, as it is possibly one of the loudest and most distorted albums recorded by a major rockstar band. Producer Steve Albini's original production was so harsh that the record company demanded a remix, which was done when the masters were turned over to REM producer Scott Litt, who remixed them under the title of "additional engineering."

But even he couldn't smooth out the roughest edges of "In Utero." The band got its initial wish as well. "In Utero" was selling on a slower pace than "Nevermind" was until Cobain decided addiction, success and depression were too much for him and he ended his own life. That act reignited the sales of "In Utero" and the whole Cobain as spokesman of a generation rage. His suicide still doesn't detract from the album's strengths and flaws. Cobain was a unique songwriter, in that his style of 'soft-loud-soft-screech' version of verse-chorus-verse altered songwriting for a whole generation of acts. And when he was on, he was stunning. There's no denying the power of "Heart Shaped Box" and "Dumb" or the depth of the haunting "All Apologies." Drummer Dave Grohl was the feistiest drummer in a long line of skinpounders, and bassist Kirst Novoselic held the bottom together in the midst of all the chaos.

At the same time, the album's flaws are glaring. The intentional dissonance can sometimes get in the way of the band (like on "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," which sounds like a slam against the record company's insistence on getting another "Smells Like Teen Spirit") or the crash and burn howling on "Scentless Apprentice." But when you consider that this was the kind of Stooges' "Raw Power" approach Nirvana was aiming for, it's pretty amazing that they got away with it. Also, given that the music was essentially Cobain's suicide note to the world, it cemented "In Utero" as a riveting punctuation point to the end of Nirvana's lifespan.


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In our hearts there is evil that wants out
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Engrossing. That's one of the few ways I can describe The Flaming Lips' psychedelic downer of "The Terror." Weaving synthesizers and electronic sounds back and forth into a soundscape that will not let you escape its trauma, this is an album that has an equal only in the likes of Pink Floyd or Radiohead's "Kid A." But where Radiohead broke their minimalism into separate songs, "The Terror" plays all the way through like a whole piece, and a black hole of a piece it is.

It's hard to believe the Flaming Lips have been around for almost 30 years and are still capable of surprising their devout audience. The fuzzy fun of "At War With The Mystics" or the space opera of "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots" were adventures that were often punctuated with oddball pop, but you'll find nothing like that on "The Terror." "Love is always something, something you should fear" is one of the first lines on the album, and things get even more despairing from there. Pain and unhappiness are the major themes of this bleak album, with death and anger at almost every corner.

Yet, despite that anger, the music never rises beyond anything but a meandering riff here and there (like on the ear snagging "You Lust") and lead Lip Wayne Coyne's falsetto repeating hypnotically sad choruses like "you're not alone, you are alone." "The Terror" is not an album for the seriously depressed, or someone looking for the dizzy bliss you'll find on other Flaming Lips CD's. It's a great headphone album, because of all the mixed texturing, but that only draws out the overall unhappiness of hearing a disembodied voice telling you "you will see how long it takes to die." Bordering on a masterpiece. "The Terror" is a depressant that, once you listen to it, you'll have a hard time escaping.


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Richard Thompson plugs in...sort of
4 Out Of 5 Stars

While I doubt anyone will be mistaken into thinking this is the new posthumous Jimi Hendrix album, Richard Thompson relays his guitar mastery on "Electric." And while Thompson has traded up to electric guitars for this album, it's often hard to tell because Thompson's style is so unique. Even when he's picking at a slightly higher volume that usual, hardly anyone can match his guitar prowess.

"Electric" also shows off Thompson's skills as a songwriter. "Stony Ground" is a Celtic stomper about messing with the wrong lady, but it's filled with tricky wordplay. "My Enemy" (maybe my favorite song on the album) describes a relationship where everything may have gone to hell, but "how I need my enemy" keeps him coming back. This song, like many others, features backing vocals by Siobahn Maher Kennedy who adds a haunting touch to this particular song.

The other woman to share a song is Alison Krauss on "The Snow Goose." She also haunts the song, but in a different kind of locational way. It's beautiful work. There's more to "Electric" than doomed men and difficult women. Thompson has always had a sense of humor, which comes across on "Good Things Happen To Bad People." In a better world, it would be a popular single, but in real life it's a clever song with a catchy chorus.

If you're a fan of Thompson's work up and down the gamut, you're going to love "Electric." If you're new to his work, this isn't a bad starting point.


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Shoe Tease
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Has it really been 35 years? "The Definitive Shoes Collection" takes 21 of their superb, melodic power pop songs and wraps them into one CD. The bulk of the disc comes from the trilogy of classic albums, "Present Tense," "Tongue Twister" and "Boomerang," then splits the difference among the remaining albums. Each track is one from the band's exquisitely layered harmonies, sugar buzz guitars and catchy melodies. You'll hear at least a dozen should've been hits, like the flawless "Summer Rain" and the heartfelt "Three Times."

Shoes were ahead of their time in 1980 when "Present Tense" first appeared and made me a fan. Time and admiration have caught up to the band, even allowing them the time to craft the excellent "Ignition" in 2012. ("Say It Like You Mean It" appears here from that CD.) What excites me more than anything is hearing all these songs newly remastered. It makes me hunger for reissues of the early albums - including the homemade "Black Vinyl Shoes" - for a new audience and old fans who snapped up the two-fers so many years ago. Until then, this set makes for an awesome primer for one of America's premier power pop rockers.


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I Always Thought That I'd See You Again
5 Out Of 5 Stars

Basically the pivot point for American Singer Songwriters, "Sweet Baby James" was James Taylor's ode to fallen friends, new babies and coming to terms with being an old man in a younger man's body. Set free from his brief tenure at Apple Records but still with producer Peter Asher, Asher allowed Taylor a much freer range of music making the second time around. Gone were the Beatles-esque flourishes that buried the songwriting on that debut, in were gentle pianos, strummed guitars, and Taylor's voice as the primary focus. Armed with a batch of intimate and personal lyrics, the album became an instant classic in 1970.

It's easy to hear why some 40 years on. The confessional "Fire and Rain" ties the suicide of a best friend and Taylor's own recovery from heroin addiction into a deeply moving song about loss and redemption (and makes the cover of "Oh Susannah" relevant). At the same time, the title track conjures images of winter on the prairie as a lullaby to a newborn nephew. The album's other big hit, "Country Road," was all about soul searching for a moment of transcendence and wondering if it could ever come.

There are plenty of other reasons to adore this album. "Steamroller" eventually morphed into "Steamroller Blues," the staple of Taylor's live shows and a slow-burner event then. "Blossom" was enough of a favorite that Taylor and Carole King (who plays piano on the album) revived it for their reunion tour. Each song has a magic to it that Taylor would capture again on "Mud Slide Slim" and many times through his career, but this was the album that introduced Taylor and his signature sound to the world. Much due for remastering, like the rest of Taylor's Warner Catalog.


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