This is where we’re at with Top 10 Lists: we don’t need another “Desert Island Classic” list of the Top 10 Best Rock Albums and no one really cares what my favorite instrumental albums or Top 10 Live Albums are, but I wrote those lists anyway (and can I interest you in my Top Albums of 2013?).
Why not get even more random and silly with it: how ’bout the Top 10 Consecutive 3-Album Runs… or even the Top 10 Best Album Covers That Match the Best Albums from 2011?
So, as a casual jazz fan on a recent Miles Davis kick (and a father of two young boys), it popped in my head that there’s some good jazz album titles that sound like children’s books. And, just to teach about counting (or set a bad example of such), this Top 10 Jazz Albums (That Sound Like Children’s Book Titles) list contains 12 items!
- Miles Davis – Milestones
- Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out
- Stanley Clarke – School Days
- Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil
- Wynton Marsalis – Big Train
- Chick Corea – Children’s Songs
- Pat Metheny – Imaginary Day
- John Coltrane – My Favorite Things
- Herbie Hancock – Dis Is Da Drum
- Ornette Coleman – Soapsuds, Soapsuds
- Modern Jazz Quartet – Patterns
- Charlie Parker – Ornithology (Okay, so maybe this one woulda been called Big Book of Birds or whatever…)
Just stare at that chart in all its trivial rock’n’roll glory.
As arbitrary as the chosen musicians and their corresponding “salaries” might be, and countless arguments can be made about who’s missing and who’s under/overpriced, I’m still fascinated by this! [We could make 5 or 10 different salary charts based on this same concept, but as you can see, @MattNorlander made this one,
so credit to him and send him any of your complaints.]
A few things are keeping me from making a final decision on a line up. Should I just try to make the salary work under the $25 cap, or also consider how the styles/playing fits together? Just like in sports, perhaps more so, chemistry can be as important as talent. But, this is fantasy. I think it’s safe to assume we are getting each of these guys at their peak, and not current (and in some cases, dead) state. Is it a requirement of this pointless fictional game to spend the full $25? What about getting credit/points for spending less?
My day is shot.
One inherent flaw is the idea of strictly defining the guitarists as either “Lead” or “Rhythm” guitarists. Sure, guys like Keith Richards and Neil Young are more known for riffage than shredding, but that’s not all they can do. Jimmy Page is listed as Rhythm but I’m pretty sure he’s capable of playing Lead. On the flipside, the top Lead Guitarist is Jimi Hendrix, but he’s more than capable of playing a Rhythm role as well. Same for George Harrison (listed as the cheapest “Lead” option, perhaps because we often think of him as a peaceful strum-along type).
So that leads (LEADS, see what I did there?) to more questions: should I pick 2 very versatile guitarists so they each fill both rhythm and lead duties? Or go for a more defined rhythm-lead combo? We’ll play with some lineup options later, but thought it should be noted that the guitar slots are tougher to define than Drums or Bass.
“Frontman” seems easily defined, but there’s some basic flaws with that slot too. Are women eligible? (In fact, there are no women anywhere on this chart, so that’s another general complaint to be launched elsewhere on behalf of Janis Joplin, Kim Gordon, Chrissie Hynde, and Ann & Nancy Wilson.) And are we judging/choosing our Frontman on vocal abilities alone or does stage presence play into it? Again, chemistry comes into play, how will a given Frontman’s voice sound with a given supergroup of musicians? If you choose some hard-rockin metal-leaning musicians, then Axl Rose might be a better choice than, say, Bono or Mick Jagger. But I’d trust Bono and Jagger to actually show up to the gigs and perform on time, and in general I don’t think I’d want Axl Rose in any band I was putting together.
Between the years of 1982 – 1988 my favorite band on the planet–by a wide margin–was Judas Priest. I was borderline obsessed and consider them my first true musical love. My bedroom walls were covered with 6′ posters, wall tapestries, and cut out photos from the likes of Creem and Hit Parader of my leather-clad heroes. When my parents bought me my first Walkman the first tape I threw in was Priest’s underrated debut album Rocka Rolla and I listened to it 10,000 times if I listened to it once.
During this time period you would hard pressed to find a heavy metal band bigger than Judas Priest (maybe Iron Maiden, but that is an argument I choose to not partake in since I had it about 1639 times in 8th grade with my Maiden-loving cohorts. I’ll admit this though: Maiden had way better album covers). They had some radio-friendly singles (“Breaking The Law”, “Living After Midnight”, and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”) and pretty much sold out 20,000 seat arenas all over America (I should also note here that Priest was able to achieve this success without ever being considered “sell outs” and continually sustaining respect among their peers, including being one of the few metal bands asked to perform at Live Aid. They had a plethora of metal street cred stocked up in their well).
On June 6, 1986 I became one of those 20,000 fans and attended my first concert ever at the Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey: Judas Priest with opener…Krokus (a band that had absolutely zero shot of “blowing” anyone off the stage but themselves). I knew every note of every song they played. I sang along to every anthemic chorus The Metal God sang, and I pumped my 13-year old fists in the devil horn \m/ for 2+ hours. I didn’t want the show to end. It was heavy metal ecstasy up to an including the guy in the row in front of us asking me if I had a rolling paper (I had no idea what a rolling paper was at the time. I just wanted to hear “Victim Of Changes“–which they didn’t play but did at a later show I saw).
Over the next few years I would see Priest only three more times during this peak period of their career. As I aged, my musical tastes expanded and Priest slowly fell out of my repertoire. I always maintained a respect for the band, it’s just that over time, some of their music didn’t age too well and some of their later albums didn’t have the direction and cohesiveness of their previous works. They seemed more like a band trying to fit in with the modern trends (Turbo) vs. creating them (British Steel). Turbo was a synth-laced pop metal album (which some fans, to this day, will never forgive them for). Ram It Down (the last album I actually bought of theirs) seemed like it had the band heading back in the right direction, but it’s trashy, speed-metalesque songs just didn’t sound like…Judas Priest. I mean, it had the fast guitar solos, the insane operatic metal screams, and the “metal” lyrics. It simply didn’t sound like the Priest we were used to but a Priest that was trying to keep up with new up-and-comers like Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, and Pantera (all heavily influenced by, as Phil Anselmo calls em, Judas Fuckin’ Priest!).
I watch way too much TV. Anyone within earshot of me on a daily basis probably thinks that I spend all of my free time watching television shows and then recapping them with friends and co-workers. To some degree this is true. I believe we are (still) in “The Golden Age Of Television” (a term I did not make up but one that critics generally refer to as anything that’s been put on TV since The Sopranos first aired. If you ask me, it started with HBO’s Oz, but I won’t rock the boat on this one). I have nothing against non-TV watchers, I just want you to know that you are missing out on some quality programming these days.
With the rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Go, iTunes, etc. binge watching has replaced good old fashion week-to-week anticipation. Cliffhanger ended the last episode? Don’t want to wait a week (or a year) to see who killed off your favorite character? Simply click the “Next Episode” button and binge away. Netflix even goes as far as releasing every episode of its shows seasons at once. Anticipation be damned!
Online recaps are as abundant as Starbucks and McDonald’s. Noted publications/sites from The New Yorker to Rolling Stone run endless stories, interviews, recaps, discussions, and podcasts about popular television series. The most recent season debut of The Walking Dead drew over 16 million viewers (to put that into perspective, there are around 300 million people in the US. 16+ million of them are watching a show about zombies). I am one of those 16 million viewers and I watch–and have watched–a ton of television series in my day (mostly dramas). Way too much some would say.
You might be very apprehensive when it comes to deciding which series to watch first–since there are so many good choices out there. Even if you missed the initial run of The West Wing you can easily binge through all its seasons online. But should you watch that or catch up on Mad Men? Is True Blood worth diving into? How many seasons behind am I? You hear “everyone” talking about how great these shows are and you’re kinda interested in them but don’t know where to start. I equate it with how I feel when I walk into a really good music store (yes, some do still exist!): I am overwhelmed with having to narrow down my choices in order make a selection. When I sift through 80 Zappa records trying to figure out which one to buy, how do I know which one to begin with?
So lucky for you (I think?) I am here to write you a list of what I feel are excellent television series that you should watch. This is not a list of the “best shows ever” in some arbitrary order (I mean, how could I say The Wire is better than The Sopranos or vice-versa? I can’t!). I am purposefully not putting numbers in here because I cannot rank them in terms of greatness.
The following list contains my personal favorites when it comes to great television. I hope that if there is a series on this list you have not watched–or have been tempted to watch–that my brief explanation(s) of the show(s) might intrigue you enough to get started. (Note: I did my best to not include any spoilers.)
I consider myself a big Frank Zappa fan. Yet, just by looking over his discography, I realized that I am not that big a Frank Zappa fan. He has over 60 albums produced, hundreds of live shows recorded and released, tv performances, movies, etc. I would need three lifetimes of isolated listening just to digest (and understand) even half of his catalog.
So when I recently bought tickets to see Zappa Plays Zappa at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, I went into it fully realizing that I probably wouldn’t know half the songs they were going to play. So I cheated in order to tease myself: I went online and checked out some previous set lists from this tour and wouldn’t you know it, more than half of the songs in the list were ones I had never heard (I find it necessary to put a disclaimer in here right now because I know how crazy some Zappaheads can get: I am a Zappa fan, but not a fanatic. My preference when it comes to Zappa are more inline with his “serious” works vs. the “satire”, “improv”, and “humor” he often implemented into his music and shows. While I fully appreciate that aspect of his songwriting genius, I simply prefer(ed) to listen to him wail on the guitar while the Greatest Back-Up Band(s)-To-Ever-Walk-The-Face-Of-The-Earth went bat shit crazy behind him. Therefor, I am aware that my knowledge of his discography is limited yet still deeper than casual.)
I went to see a Zappa cover band a few years back (I won’t mention their name) and left after five songs. Not because they weren’t good (cause let’s face it, just being able to play one Zappa song–any Zappa song–makes you a pretty damn good musician in my book), but because it just wasn’t anywhere close to the real thing. It lacked authenticity. Dweezil Zappa heads up Zappa Plays Zappa, and Dweezil is as close to Frank as we as fans are ever going to get. It’s like watching Jason Bonham play drums: even if his last name wasn’t Bonham we’d still be impressed with his playing nonetheless. It just helps to alleviate any apprehension we have towards listening by saying to ourselves, “well, at least it’s his son playing!” While some children-of-famous-musicians go out of their way to avoid the shadows of their parents, Dweezil has embraced his legendary father’s music. Frank’s shadow is simply too long to avoid.
Right off the bat I knew the band would be good. How could they not be? I just wasn’t prepared for how good. Let’s start with Dweezil. Obviously we know the dude can play guitar (Franks Gibson SG to be exact). But come on, man, when did he get this good? (probably 20 years ago, I just wasn’t paying attention). I am rarely into the fast, shredding-type players (I appreciate Vai, Satriani, et al, but to me, it’s just dudes playing fast for other dudes to impress them with how fast they can play, dude.), but Dweezil inherited his father’s Coltrane-esque phrasing and sense of the musical moment. His guitar sounded sweet, he played it sweet, and he did his father’s music much justice. I thought during one of Dweezil’s (many) guitar solos, “Frank would be impressed.”
I’ve always said that you can take 8 bars of a Zappa song and any other band would make an entire song out of it. Within each song is basically 4-8 movements. The amount of concentration and memory it must take to perform a set of his music is mind-boggling. As a musician, when you watch other musicians that are this good, it makes you either want to quit playing altogether…or practice more. I won’t list each member of the band here (drummer, keyboard, bass, two multi-instrumentalists/vocalists) because you don’t need to hear about how great each of them were individually. They were absolutely amazing in every sense.
The highlight of the show was an improvisational moment when Dweezil called up a young girl from the audience who couldn’t have been older than 7. He asked her, “do you play any instruments?” to which she replied, “the flute.” Dweezil proceeded to put his guitar around her shoulder and stand behind her as he helped her “play” it. The audience roared. He turned the distortion to ten, cranked out some AC/DC-type rocker riff and the band picked up behind them. This little girl was jamming onstage with the band and we, the audience, ate it up. It was classic Zappa showmanship. Once she was done–and the standing ovation died down–he asked her, “so…still want to play the flute?” You think that girl doesn’t grow up to join a band??? Let’s hope.
There were so many insane musical moments throughout the show that it’s hard to point out any one. It’s such a profound experience when you witness such great musicianship in a live setting. I have always known that Zappa’s music is not everyone’s cup of tea. It can be complicated and confusing to the average listener. The odd rhythms and weird instrumentation (and even weirder, often hilariously satirical lyrics) assured he would never have a #1 hit. Parts rarely repeat themselves. Shit, time signatures rarely repeat themselves. It’s not “easy listening” by any account. Dweezil and his band did a fantastic job of keeping the musical visions of Frank alive, and judging by the near sold out crowd and numerous standing ovations, there are still plenty of people out there that appreciate the Zappa catalog. As hard as that is to imagine, it gives me hope knowing that some music fans still want to be challenged by the artists they listen to.
I am right-handed. I throw a ball right-handed, when I used to actually use a pen and paper I wrote right-handed, I kick right-handed, punch right-handed, and play drums right-handed. But I play guitar left-handed. It’s odd, I know. When I was 13 years old and just beginning my excursion into learning the instrument the most common advice I received from other players was “practice” and “learn how to play right-handed.” I did the first, never bothered with the second.
At the time I didn’t understand why anyone would actually care if I played lefty or righty. Now I realize why: do you know how hard it is to find a left-handed guitar and/or accessory options? They are out there, of course, and I have obviously been able to purchase quite a few in my day. But walk into most any music store and you will undoubtedly see dozens upon dozens of guitars, 97% of which are right-handed (you might find a few lefties in the mix; usually shitty, low-level Strat and Les Paul knock-offs). You would think, considering some of the all-time great players have been left-handed, we wouldn’t be so ‘discriminated’ against. Is it wrong that I find some pleasurable ironic humor in situations where right-handed players are in my midst without their guitars and they can’t play mine because it’s “backwards”? Call it cosmic payback, musician karma, whatever. Come on, I can at least pick up a righty and throw together some chords. Probably because I have spent my entire playing life surrounded by you backward-ass right-handed players.
Which leads me to the reason I am even writing this post: to celebrate the influence that some of rock and rolls lefties have brought us. I bring you, what I feel is, a list of some of the most-influential guitar players of all time. And guess what? They are all lefties!
Last night the wife and I went to a local music/dinner club called The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. It’s a great venue with a great reputation that books acts ranging from jazz greats to blues masters to Americana roots rock. You walk in, grab a seat at a communal table, order over-priced but decent dinner fare, and watch the artists perform to a room full of attentive spectators. It’s a music club for people who don’t mind sitting down while watching music. It offers you the ability to enjoy an artist without the distractions that come with most rock clubs.
That is why I was somewhat amazed last night on a few levels. We went to see the legendary (and way too under-appreciated) Stanley Clarke. If you don’t know who he is, well, go find out. Before the show I knew of Stanley Clarke, “heard of him” but never actually listened to any of his music knowingly. He’s done work on movie soundtracks, played with some of the all-time jazz greats, and is generally well-regarded in the musical community. He’s a bass player that transcends classification. A true “artist” of his craft. Funk, jazz, blues, rock, hip-hop, salsa, etc. etc. etc. Stanley Clarke has played it and played it better than 99.99% of anyone else that ever has.
What amazed me first and foremost during the show was his scaled-down band: Stanley on bass, a drummer, and a piano player. I thought, “Ok, this is going to be ‘good’ but probably end up repetitive and boring as the set goes on. I mean, how much can you do with a trio like that?” Of course I was wrong (it’s happened before and depending on whom you ask the numbers vary). The drummer was 19 and the piano player (from the Republic of Georgia) was 17! Let me say that again: 17! (As of this posting Stanley Clarke is 62).
I think it’s pretty wise for an old-timer like Clarke to select young, extremely talented musicians to surround him. They brought an exuberance that helped keep the set fresh and improvisational. They were both spectacular at their respective instruments. The drummer’s arms on some of his solos looked like humming birds wings and the piano player played with a passion and soul you seldom find in someone so young. They both received more than one standing ovation.
I’m still an album guy. Not necessarily vinyl, but Albums with a capital A to mean a body of work consisting of a group of songs. I’m mostly a digital consumer of music, on MP3 and yes I still sometimes rock CD’s in the car.
It seems nowadays we talk more about how we listen to our music, instead of the actual music itself. We flash badges on social media to signify that we’re with Pandora or Spotify, we subscribe to iTunes or (in my case) Amazon MP3. We see flashy commercials for $200 headphones and share playlists between our phones and auto-post our current listening pleasures on Facebook and Twitter. And I guess it’s assumed most people are listening to their awesome playlists of trending tracks, on random of course.
But I still listen to full albums. I never throw a bunch of songs by different artists into a queue, I listen to each “album” straight through. I’m not saying it’s any better and I’m not here to rant on how things have changed. But lost among the technology discussions and the hand wringing over digital rights and the business of music and the allegedly dying Music Business… let’s remember the actual music. And, for me, The Music comes not in the form of the Hottest Track of The Summer or Latest Trending Single.
When I talk about The Music, I want to talk about albums. The Best Albums of 2013, in fact, according to me and based on what I liked listening to the most. Here are my Top 20 Albums of 2013:
20. Atoms For Peace – AMOK
Flea’s famous funk sounds a bit buried among the Thom Yorke/Nigel Godrich production that mostly sounds like a continuation of Yorke’s first solo album. But the subtle rhythms by not just Flea but percussionists Joey Waronker and Mauro Refoscodo reveal themselves through repeated listening. It might be a better Tide-You-Over-Til-The-Next-Radiohead album than the last the Radiohead album was.
19. Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw
Catchy folk recommended for fans of Dawes and/or Dr. Dog.
18. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
Was never really into NIN when they first peaked, but have grown to dig on some recent Trent Reznor projects. And surprisingly this new one is quite “accessible” (which is what critics say when they want to let you know it isn’t just noise… there are actual hummable songs and hooks here).
17. David Bowie – The Next Day
I was never a massive Bowie enthusiast. A casual fan. The best-of’s and hits collections were enough for me. I respected him but admit I was never well versed in the depth of what’s considered all of the best albums. I actually don’t think much about David Bowie. But then with little notice he came back out of left field and what was assumed to be a likely quiet retirement and graceful aging if health permitted. And the album was a rockin’ and infectious gem or a record that I was kinda addicted to listening to for several weeks there. Even if you’re just a little Bowie-curious, definitely worth checking out The Next Day.
16. Inspectah Deck w/ 7L & Esoteric – Czarface
7L & Esoteric have a knack for pumping out modern-day “90s Hip-Hop Classics” if you know what I mean. Their basic production value and overall aesthetic is a direct descendant of the Guru & DJ Premier pairing that gave Gang Starr it’s mass appeal. The catchy beats come in waves as the smilies and metaphors surf atop them effortlessly. On 2013’s Czarface, they’re joined by Inspectah Deck a microphone master and unsung hero from the Wu-Tang Clan to inject even more energy into mix.
15. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push Away the Sky
On Push Away the Sky we get mellow and creepy Nick. And somehow it’s every bit as effective, affecting, and addictive as rocking and creepy Nick was on Dig Lazarus Dig!
14. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
At times gimmicky and pastiche, these robot dudes really do know how to make some great-sounding music. Niles Rodgers incomparable guitar work is the MVP here, even if after a while the whole funky 70s vibe does eventually lose some of it’s luster. But beyond the “Get Lucky” sheen there’s a variety of tracks here, including some spoken word by Giorgio Moroder, with the subtle standout being “Instant Crush” featuring a lead vocal by Julian Casablancas of The Strokes. Daft Punk may never pull off those helmets, but somehow they managed to pull off making the robots sound human and the humans sound like robots. And you can dance to it.
13. Black Sabbath – 13
OK if they couldn’t work things out with original drummer Bill Ward, at least they got former Rage Against the Machine beatmaster Brad Wilk to crush these classic-sounding riffs. Considering what a debacle a comeback album like this could have been, it’s a downright enjoyable and rockin’ return to form (of sorts). And yes of course I switched them around so they’d be #13 on this list. \m/
12. Leif Vollebekk – North Americana
Oh, look: It’s this year’s “Haunting, sparse acoustic production meets Dylanesque phrasing” album. And it’s a good one.
11. Avett Brothers – Magpie and the Dandelion
Tremendous live band, and on record they remain sad but true. It’s such bummer music, but you believe every word and the harmonies are so good that you have to keep listening.
10. Clutch – Earth Rocker
If you know Clutch, you know they are the best relatively unknown hard rock band in America. If you’ve never heard of Clutch, you need to get with the program. And this new effort is as good as any place to start. Maybe I’m blinded by the shiny newness of the crunching riffs, but Earth Rocker might every bit as good as previous Clutch classics like Robot Hive Exodus, the self-titled album from 1995, or whatever you think is the Best Clutch Album. By the way, these guys wont just rock your face off, they’re also underrated songwriters. Dig in.
9. Vampire Weekend – Vampires of the City
That rare breed of “critics darlings” who actually live up the hype. Incredibly well-crafted album that may have marketed as a new sound actually succeeds by combining the best features of their first two albums. Cinematic and precise, and somehow still fun.
8. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
Stunning singer/songwriter strips it down, with sensational results. If you think you hate country music, think about checking out this (and every) Jason Isbell album. Short on twang, but long on songs.
7. The Roots & Elvis Costello – Wise Up Ghost
It’s weird. It’s like people are stalking the weird thoughts in my head. Not even that, cuz I never dreamed of putting the Roots and Elvis Costello. But I’ve loved them both very much for a very long time. And yet even I found word of their collaboration to be odd. But hot damn if this isn’t a great set that finds E.C. In his usual whine, but the songwriting and the rich tapestry of grooves of Questlove and the band make this one of the most enjoyable records from Elvis in a while. And, along with their Wake Up! Collab with John Legend in 2011, it’s yet another funky notch in the belt of the Legendary Roots Crew.
6. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
I don’t throw them on here lightly. What I mean is this isn’t a “career” award or anything like that. Their new album is GOOD. Really good. Not that the last two were bad, but they were okay/good. Like at the time we knew they were sorta Pearl-Jam-By-Numbers generic “good” but we convinced ourselves they were actual Good. But Lightning Bolt is Good. Really good. Pearl Jam good.
5. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Apologies to Jay-Z and his buddy Kanye, but as far as megastar rappers who can still put out a great album and rip the mic to shreds to the point that he’s murdering the English language… Eminem sits atop the throne. His more famous counterparts might have bigger social media strategies and yachts and famous wives, but hip-hop has always been mostly about LYRICS. Jay-Z is an iconic rapper but he no longer has anything to say. Kanye’s always been a good producer and still makes incredibly interesting music (the beats and backing tracks) but he’s never been a good rapper. On The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Eminem proves that he still has plenty to say and the astounding verbal dexterity and unparalleled flow with which to do it. Instead of boring us with stories of champagne and caviar, Marshall Mathers doesn’t mind showing us he’s still hungry.
4. Killer Mike & EL-P – Run the Jewels
Probably my favorite hip-hop album of the year. While El-P has a reputation as a space-age futuristic producer (and he is that), he also drops some seriously old-school beats and bangers that rival the best producers in the game. And oh by the way, on this set he harnesses his frenetic flow on the mic and more than holds his own next to his buddy Killer Mike, who again brings his hard rhymes and booming vocal style. This logical progression from last year’s R.A.P. Music album (credited to Killer Mike, and produced by EL-P) find the pair once again proving the “Hip-Hop Is Dead” doubters dead wrong.
3. Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork
This might be the most perfect record of the year. Josh Homme has picked up his axe and this time he’s brought Dave Grohl’s thunderdrums along on a bunch of the songs, and even Elton John (!) shows up. Perfectly crafted rock’n’roll music, Like Clockwork is a timeless classic. [Speaking of Sir Elton, this seems like a good place to throw an Honorable Mention to John's fine new album The Diving Board.]
2. Jonathan Wilson – Fanfare
Oh, I shoulda made this album #1. Perhaps my favorite album of the year in that this record makes me want to use the word exquisite. It makes me think of words like beautiful and even meticulous. For such an organic and classic analog sound, it’s still so pristine… in the way that poets probably once wrote of pure art. (I guess. I’ve never read much poetry.) It’s the kind of album that demands and deserves a lot of attention. On Fanfare, singer/songwriter and underrated guitar whiz Jonathan Wilson reminds us of his extraordinary gifts as a producer. He was the man behind the boards for well-received albums in recent years by Dawes, Father John Misty, and Roy Harper… and now working for himself he allows his amazing songs to blossom beyond the Laurel Canyon laid back jam vibe and constructs an Album with a capital A. That deep shit that makes guys like me write this stuff singing their praises. His guitar tone. The deep sound he captures off the grand piano. His gift of voice. OK, I need to stop. Just know that this guy is making some very special music.
1. Portugal The Man – Evil Friends
For many years I stopped writing about music. Writing as a “Music Critic” for the student paper throughout high school and college had eventually turned me off for the obvious and predictable reasons. Why are we trying to describe music? Who are we to decide what’s “good” when music is so subjective? And then when albums like Evil Friends would come out from bands like Portugual The Man, I would try to rewrite some form of disclaimer about how it’s silly for us to try to explain what something sounds like. I cant tell you who or what Portugal The Man sounds like. (In fact, their real name is Portugal. The Man, with that period in the middle. Probably just to piss off people like me who write about music. Everyone hates music critics.) But I can tell you that this album is awesome. It might seem a little weird at first, but it’s a grower.
I won’t tell you how to listen to it… or on what platform… just listen. You wont be able to stop.
As I enter TrampStamp Record’s downtown New York City office building I am immediately greeted by a man named Bruno. Bruno is well dressed, in his early 30’s, slender, and fit. He’s wearing a $3000 Armani suit. Black. He is wearing Ray Ban aviators inside the building. A little wire is dangling off his ear and down the side of his neck. He leans his head to his left and speaks to his shoulder.
“Ok.” he says to his shoulder.
One awkward elevator ride later I am sitting in the waiting room of a posh multi-million office decorated with hallways of gold records, photos of famous musicians, and one fantastic gold plated door that leads to the office of the man who made all of it possible. That man is none other than the legendary Mick Longstein.
Bruno leads me in.
“How you doin?” Mr. Longstein asks.
“I’m good, how are you Mr. Longstein?”
“Please, please. Call me Mick. This ain’t no Wall Street bank aight?”
Moments later, after some small talk and the usual pleasantries I am finally able to get to the reason I am here: to interview a master of the arts.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did TrampStamp Records get its start?
Mick Longstein: When I was about 18 years old a few of my associates and myself took over a little night club in Brooklyn. Well, once we had it up and runnin’ we need somethin’ to, you know, draw the people from the neighborhood in to start spending their hard earned cash..with us. I had a cousin who started a little rock and roll/do wop outfit, The Dick Ritchie Valens Quartet, so we booked ‘em to play 7 nights a week, 6 shows a night. Well, a few years later and we got all this cash flowing through the club but, you know, we ain’t gonna play Uncle Sam any of that cut. So we started a, umm, a subsidiary. Yea. That’s it. And we figured, hey, let’s expand our empire into this music business. So we started TrampStamp Records.
Let me get this straight, so TrampStamp Records was originally a front? A place to launder your cash?
ML: Hey buddy, who said anythin’ about laundering money huh? I got no fuckin’ clue what you mean by that. Next question!
Ok. Who was the first artist you signed?
ML: Let me think about that one, cause, you know, my memory ain’t too good no more. You know, it was Blue Lou Boyd & The Chesterfields.
Who had the big hit “Am I Lying?”
ML: Yea, that was a big hit for sure. We made our first million off a that one. I bought my first wife a mink coat with those proceeds.
Grantland has posted a “Battle for the Best Song of the Millennium,” formatted as a tournament bracket of course, culling 64 songs for all of us to vote on. I’m still an album guy, so “singles” and playlists are not really my thing. I can admit to being just old enough that I haven’t heard of a good chunk of the songs they picked, and that’s okay, I’m not in tune with all The Big Hits or whatever moves the radio dial these days.
I’m less concerned about what made Grantland’s list than what was snubbed: 3 of the songs that I would probably pick if I had to pick just the 5-10 best songs of the millennium, “Seven Nation Army” (The White Stripes), “Crazy” (Gnarls Barkley), and “Welcome to Jamrock” (Damian Marley). I’m sure narrowing the last 13 or so years down to 64 potential “Best” songs was a daunting task. So much so that they’ve already posted a reaction to the reaction: 20+ more songs they acknowledge shoulda-coulda made the list. Only “Seven Nation Army” made their “songs that just missed the cut” list, “Crazy” and “Jamrock” were snubbed there too.
From Grantland’s Mark Lisanti:
Not to pull back the curtain on our selection process… but “Seven Nation Army” bit the dust because of the dreaded “marching band penalty.” You know: If you can play it at midfield with tubas and French horns and socially awkward people in hats that have that weird strap that hangs down below the nose, it can’t possibly be a good song. It’s a Jock Jam. It’s halftime entertainment.
That’s sound reasoning if you want to vote against it once the tournament starts, but there’s 64 (SIXTY-FOUR!) slots… how do you not include this song ?
“Two and a half years!”
I am sitting with Gringo Starr, former drummer for Jackie & The Treehorns as he sips an espresso, noshes on a fish taco, and tells me his story.
“Two and a half years I spent in that gulag. Because of him.”
The “him” Gringo is referring to is known simply as Jackie. While many have written about him, few actually know the man.
‘Shady, elusive, arrogant, slutty’ are some of the words Mr. Starr uses when describing Jackie. Then he pauses in quiet contemplation and continues.
“But he’s also a genius.”
In what he now calls his “previous life” Gringo Starr was the drummer for Jackie & The Treehorns. A world-renowned rock group with an enigmatic frontman. While on tour in Russia with the group, Starr was arrested for indecent exposure after being caught receiving oral sex in an alley from a fan. He was sentenced to three years in a Russian gulag. While reports vary and rumors have swirled around the music industry and State Department for years, Gringo claims that only he and Jackie know what actually occurred that night.
“It’s simple. He left me. I was backstage with this super hot Ukrainian chick–cause Jackie always had hot international chicks around–and we were getting down. Well, she was going down I mean. Next thing I know, I’m skinning goats for Siberian farmers in the dead cold of a Russian winter.”
The story goes that while Gringo was encouraged by Jackie to partake in his post-show activities, once in the act, Jackie instructed his tour entourage to leave the venue, essentially deserting Gringo in an unknown land which led to his eventual arrest and incarceration.
“I mean, if he wanted me out of the band, he could’ve gone about it another way. That was kinda harsh, no? I hadn’t even finished yet!” says Gringo while inhaling a filterless Camel cigarette.
He continues, “Remember that scene in Almost Famous where the tour bus leaves the rest stop and Jason Lee’s character chases it screaming, ‘oh, it’s okay, it’s easy to leave me. I’m only the lead singer!!!”, well, that is what I felt like. Then I realized, shit, I’m only the drummer!”
“The Russian incident…it was tragic.” says Heshel Treehorn, Jackie’s long time manager.
“But it paved the way for Jackie’s amazing concept album The Russian Incident. It’s a story of one man’s struggles to cope with being a stranger in a strange land. But it’s kind of like Gringo’s sperm that night: it never got released.”
Jackie himself has refused to comment on the incident leaving his fans and the media with only speculation about what really happened that night.
“I’ve called, emailed, faxed, tweeted, and facebook-friended the U.S. State Department about this and they won’t return my calls.” says über Jackie fan Clarice of the band Clarice & The Lotion Baskets.
“I even put in a formal freedom of information request, but they keep telling me they have no ‘Jackie’ in their records. How is that even possible? Who doesn’t know Jackie?”
Gringo and Clarice will soon get a chance to tell their sides of the story in the upcoming Worthy Bros. documentary The Jackie Movie, which is scheduled for a Fall 2013 release.
“I am looking forward to exposing Jackie to the world for whom he really is.” says Gringo.
An interesting choice of words considering his history.
One of my earliest childhood memories was not of learning to ride a bike or my first day of school or the first time I walked into a professional baseball park. It involved something much less childlike in nature. It was my discovery of Black Sabbath. In particular, the opening notes of the song “Iron Man.”
My brothers and I shared one of those every-school-had-one old school tape recorders. It was the portable audio device of its time. Built-in tape deck, built-in speaker, a little handle to carry it around with. The original boom box. One day, in it, I discovered one of my brothers tapes. Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. I had no clue who this band was, what they sounded like, or why my brother even owned the tape. I brought it into my room, sat it down on the floor, put myself next to it, and hit the play button.
I AM IRON MAN!
Holy fuckin shit I was floored! I mean, my mind was literally blown. I wish I had a photo of the expression on my face when I first heard Ozzy’s techo-fuzzed voice. I immediately rewound the tape and listened again.
I AM IRON MAN!
Repeat 13,736 times.
I had never heard anything like it before in my life, and my life was forever changed by it. I couldn’t care less about the rest of the song. That fuckin’ intro was so amazing to my adolescent mind. It’s still amazing to my adult mind. What does that say about my mind?
I guess it’s sadly fitting that Jason Molina would turn into a ghost before he reached the horizon.
He was a severely underrated and sadly under-appreciated musician and writer who recently died at the age of 39. Even if you’ve never heard of the late singer/songwriter known for his bands Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co, please visit the Steam Engine music blog to read our farewell transmission remembering Jason Molina by clicking here.
It certainly wasn’t my first old-guy moment. It probably won’t be the worst one I’ll ever have; in fact, it wasn’t so much an old-guy moment as it was a case of pop-culture shock.
On my way home from work on a recent Friday, I stopped into a nearby location of the regional pizza franchise PizzaBoli’s to pick up a couple pies I’d phoned in. The young girl at the counter, dead-eyed and slightly confused, says, “What does your shirt mean? I don’t get it.”
“What’s that mean? I don’t get it.”
“It’s the band, THE WHO.”
And she’s saying “Oh I never heard of them” while I was already babbling on about how “it’s kinda hard to see the lettering… or… were you confused by the arrow as if it was supposed to be pointing up at me like Who is this guy?” Like I was trying to let her off the hook for not noticing what it said or something and then I realized that she really had never heard of The Who and probably thought I had on some random shirt of my friend’s band or some other “Never Hearduvums” and so I just had to ask….
“Wait, you’ve never heard of The Who?”
I figured, okay she’s pretty young and so I turned to her PizzaBoli’s Teammate, I wish I’d gotten his name, he was a mousey lookin’ fella, very short reddish hair with a tightly trimmed matching mustache, let’s call him Chet. He certainly wasn’t as old me, but at first glance he had to be at least 30ish, but even if he was only 25 I figured it would balance out the possibly 16-year-old cashier. So I asked him…
“You’ve heard of the The Who, right?” Now I’m kinda point-framing the iconic logo as I leaned over the counter so he could see it. “The classic rock band? The Who?” I asked, certain that he was about to give me the “Oh yea, The Who. What about ‘em?”
But he just shook his head sheepishly. “No, sorry…”
“You’ve never heard of THE WHO?”
“I’m really not much of a music guy.”
After a dumbfounded pause, I somehow managed to keep my composure. “Okay, fair enough… uh, you’ve heard of The Beatles, right?”
“Of course, The Who aren’t quite The Beatles, but I just thought you’d…”
…and I just trailed off. I knew I couldn’t go all DFENS on ‘em like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, though a part of my brain wanted to. And I’m not even that much of a Who fan!
It’s not like I was wearing my Replacements shirt; The Who aren’t exactly something obscure, I mean I got the shirt at fucking Target! And it’s also a pretty iconic logo. I wasn’t asking them to sing or name songs. I could understand the young girl, but the other dude… They did play the Super Bowl a few years ago, they show up at every 121212 Sandy Relief 911 Concert for NY type event, awards shows, wherever they can get out there and have Roger Daltrey show us his Ken-doll plastic, oddly buff orange chest while Pete Townshend does 20,000 windmill moves to the point of self-parody…. Like ‘em or not, and I realize they aren’t quite as well-known as the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, but….. WHO THE FUCK HAS NEVER HEARD OF THE WHO?
Meanwhile, The Who aren’t even from my generation, pardon the pun. I was born in 1970, after the Beatles broke up, and month before Jimi Hendrix died (yet somehow I’ve heard of them). Told ya this wasn’t really an old-guy incident. Seriously, this isn’t about me being too old. You can stay on my lawn. If I was 70 and some kids never heard of Frank Sinatra, I would just assume they’re too young… but this felt different. It was just odd… it was actually quite shocking on some level.
I love The Who. I’ve often considered writing something about them, and it sucks that it had to happen like this. Even though I was always much more partial to John Bonham and Mitch Mitchell, drummer Keith Moon was an absolute monster. I actually think Tommy and Quadrophenia are a bit bloated and could be intimidating for most listeners. Go crank up Who’s Next and picture feeling that kind of rock’n’roll power putting that record on for the first time way back in 1971. Those intros to “Baba O’Reilly” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” musta blown people’s minds back then!
Anyway, I wish I’d stayed to check if they’d heard of Hendrix, the Stones, Zeppelin and a couple of others. Maybe next time, because I do like PizzaBoli’s, who I’ve now mentioned by name three times in hopes of getting free pizza when this article goes viral.
So I walk out with my pizzas, and echoing through the shopping center is the familiar sound of the Rolling Stones (in the case, the song “Shattered,”) blasting from a speaker outside the Radio Shack. Yes, the Radio Shack. With Mick Jagger imploring me to look at him, he’s in tatters, I’m not even sure what planet I’m on. The economy’s been in the toilet for like 6 years and somehow Radio Shack is still in business selling little fuses and plugs and batteries and bullshit that nobody needs and I just met two people who never heard of The Who.
Considering the Flaming Lips never sound like they are in, or of, the real world, there are times on their new album when the “music” sounds like alarms going off and welders working in machine shops.
The oscillating fans drop their front cages and fall crashing down to grind their blades into the carpet when singer and Flaming Lips mastermind Wayne Coyne starts singing “ooooh… aaahhhh….” I’m not sure I heard any lyrics. These aren’t so much songs as they are fleeting droning dreams, or perhaps nightmares given the album title of The Terror.
None of this is surprising, given the Flaming Lips history of at-times brilliant albums that are also sometimes too weird for their own good. These Lips have always moved faster than our brains. So I was giving The Terror another listen… and at one point wondered “is this still the intro?” and so I clicked over to check and I was 24 minutes in.
Occasional correspondent and BumsLogic contributor Darryl Walter went to the Stones concert in L.A. so you wouldn’t have to. Here’s his review:
“Who would spend that much money for a bunch of old aging rock stars?”
“They haven’t put out anything of value in decades.”
“Mick and Keith hate each other.”
I heard these and other comments about the 2013 Rolling Stones “50 & Counting” tour but when I found out that I would be in Los Angeles on business, I knew I wanted to see this show. After all, they are the undisputed “World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band. No other band, NO OTHER BAND, has been rocking out for half a century.
One of the things that make the Stones special is the riffs, Keith Richards has created some of the most notable riffs in music, it only takes a few seconds of hearing the first chords of “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Satisfaction,” or “Brown Sugar” and you know what is coming.
Before the concert started, the UCLA Bruins Marching Band performed “Satisfaction” while marching and grooving on the floor of the Staples Center. A video montage that contained clips and quotes from fans throughout the years preceded the Marching Bruins.
The show opened with “Get of My Cloud” and then the band tore into “The Last Time.” Mick thanked the Los Angeles crowd and acknowledged the backlash for the high-priced tickets by asking if it is really just Beverly Hills, Brentwood, and parts of Santa Monica that were at the show.
Mick and backup singer Lisa Fischer went to school on “Gimme Shelter,” followed by special guest Gwen Stefani coming out for a duet on “Wild Horses. Gwen probably should have stayed in Orange County rather than embarrass herself trying to follow the powerful vocal prowess that Lisa Fischer had just displayed on “Shelter.”
I have always tried to live by the motto that music is not a competition. As a fellow musician once said to me, “it’s not like there is only one record contract out there.” Battle of the Bands and the like were never appealing to me. Why spend your efforts trying to “beat” another band? It creates the opposite of a music “community.”
However, musical challenges are another story. Recently, a friend sent me a link to a record he had just recorded. But it wasn’t your regular ole recording. Well, it was a recording, an album actually, but this album was produced for something called The RPM Challenge via NPR Music. The gist was this: you had one month–February 2013 (28 days)–to write and record a record of all new music.
My friend (whom I must disclose I played in a band–The Black Hand–with a few years back) goes under the moniker of Existian and he recorded a “concept/tribute” album about his recently deceased and beloved dog Molly. It’s a sad and beautiful album at the same time.
With song titles such as “Sweet Molly (I Still Love You)”, “Molly”, “Molly, My Dear”, and “You’re Not There Anymore”, you understand the head space this album will put you in. Anyone that has ever owned and lost a pet knows the heartbreak it can bring. While the world has heard thousands–if not millions–of songs written about love lost between humans, I don’t think the loss of a pet ever touched the sketch pads of Roger Waters or Pete Townsend for a potential concept album idea. Lucky for us, Existian beat them to it.
The record starts with a few retrospective, delicate acoustic numbers before kicking into second gear with folk rocker “Molly, My Dear”, one of the few tracks that contains drums and bass. Next up, “You’re Not There Anymore”, contains psychedelically panned distorted vocals and PJ Harvey-esque guitar lines. “Fort Belvoir, VA” spins tales of Existian and Molly’s time together and acts as the albums clap-along campfire tribute. The instrumental “Molly vs. Maynard” is a mid tempo, organ-laced rocker that sequences into the sad tale of Molly’s last moments in “Through The Glass”, where Existian speaks of seeing her sad face through the window and whispering his last words to her. The album closes with “Stay”, a downbeat, final declaration of love and apologies to the fallen canine.
Molly lives on in the heart and mind of Existian and his record explores the various emotions that come with loving and losing a pet. It’s a dramatic homage that takes the listener down many paths but always maintains an uplifting outlook. It’s not so much about the loss of Molly as it is remembering their good times together. The songs celebrate her life instead of agonizing over her end.
Listen and download the album below:
Human curiosity is…curious. I, for one, find myself becoming more and more interested in the methods by which people engage with their music. In the past, purchasing music was somewhat of a ritual: You heard about your favorite artists upcoming album, you saved your money for it, waited for it’s release date, went to your local record store, and bought a physical package that contained the music. Now, one can download and be listening to Michael Jackson’s entire discography within a matter of minutes and share it between multiple devices in an instant. As Det. Thomas ‘Herc’ Hauk once said, “Isn’t technology the bomb?”
Recently, while I was riding the metro into work, I looked around at the various co-zombies on my train. Most everyone was connected to some sort of mobile device and most everyone had headphones on. I wondered: what are all these people listening to? I suppose as a musician myself I am curious about people’s listening habits. That same morning I came into the office and randomly asked some co-workers what song they just finished listening to.
By DARRYL WALTER
Another Super Bowl is upon us. Another year that the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, and Houston Texans won’t reach the Mt. Everest of professional sports. While Detroit and Houston fans can cry in their beer that they have yet to be in a Roman numeral football game, at least those cities have celebrated other sports championships over the last 47 years.
In Cleveland, where you can take the boy out of Cleveland but you can’t take the Cleveland out of the boy, generations of fans have yet to see a championship parade. Sure we got close in the 97 World Series and let’s not talk about The Drive or The Fumble (I was at both games*), but enough is enough. I want to know what it’s like to win a championship. No city with three major league sports teams has gone this long without a championship.
Which brings us back to Super Bowl XLVII. This year we have the Baltimore Ravens vs. the San Francisco 49ers. No Cleveland sports fan with any sense of dignity can root for the Ravens. People in Charm City can complain that the Colts were taken from under them, but two wrongs really piss me off.
It just pains me that the Ravens have been so successful since their arrival. One of my favorite players, Ozzie Newsome has done a wonderful job as General Manager. (I was at Newsome’s first game when he scored a touchdown on an end-around.) To make matters worse, my adopted state of Maryland, where I have lived in for the past 20 years, bent over backwards to build a stadium for them. Hell, I’ll never buy an instant lottery ticket in Maryland since that money goes to pay for the stadium. (Disclosure: I did finally step into that purple stadium two years ago to see U2.)
Blame it on the San Francisco Giants. What does the San Francisco Giants have to do with this discussion about the Super Bowl? Easy, it goes against one of my rules: you can’t root for a team where the city already won a championship in another sport in the same year (call it hostility since I don’t know what it’s like to win just one championship in a year). The Giants just won the 2012 World Series, so, sorry Colin Kaepernick, I can’t root for you.
So what am I going to do Sunday? Well, I can tell you I will have a few beers and not pay too much attention to commercials that cost more than the GNP of some small countries. I will likely play some squares so I have something to root for each quarter, and if push comes to shove, and I really need to root for a team, I will be cheering for the team coached by Harbaugh. Okay, it is the team coached by Jim Harbaugh. Because there is no way in hell I will root for those Ravens stolen from my beloved Cleveland.
*Worth Hoarding: “Below is a picture of the vendors license that my friend and I got the week of the Browns-Broncos game in Cleveland. We got vendor licenses and they gave us hats and aprons to sell food. When we got into the stadium, we tossed the stuff in the garbage in a bathroom and found 2 seats in the 80,000 seat stadium. They only had something like 86 no shows that day so we were pretty lucky to find seats. The ticket stub is from the Browns – Broncos game (The Fumble) the following year in Denver. Another friend had met these girls in Europe the summer before and we went out to visit them at Steamboat Springs. We came back into Denver that Saturday night and bought tickets for the game from a scalpers Sunday morning.” –DW