Thursday, January 31, 2008


Today the online rumor mill began circulating some a pretty cool alleged Bonnaroo headliners: Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and The Kinks. While seemingly straying from it's jam band roots, it's still a pretty cool lineup.

Pearl Jam, who years ago vowed not to do festivals anymore, changed their mind last year for Lollapalooza, which is a different kind of festival. Where Bonnaroo is a three day camping trip (this year it is expanding to four days), at Lollapalooza, you show up that day, go home, and come back the next day (just like Austin City Limits - the same people organize both). Pearl Jam's Lollapalooza set got a lot of attention this past summer because the corporate sponsor, AT&T, who was webcasting the thing, censored Eddie Vedder's anti-bush improv. But the real deal was that their performance was incredible, even by their standards. You can actually download it on iTunes. Eddie Vedder always seems intent on having "indie cred," so I'm surprised to see them doing this festival instead of Coachella. But I'm sure lots of indie bands will be on the bill, as always.

I saw R.E.M. at Austin City Limits a few years ago. They were touring for a greatest hits album, and therefore not trying to ram too much new stuff into the set. They were amazing. Thing was, they played at the same time as Trey Anastasio, who pulled a larger crowd. So, I'd be curious to see how they fare at Bonnaroo. They also seem to be more of a Coachella type group.

The Kinks: wow, OK maybe it is happening. I also think they would make more sense at Coachella: they are about as un-hippy as a classic rock band could be, and all the indie bands of the past few years seem to adore them. In fact, it would probably make sense for them to do Coachella, and for Roger Waters to perform Dark Side Of The Moon at Bonnaroo. But, hey, I just hope they do some gigs and I get to see them.

I don't know that I'd go to Bonnaroo, but if these rumors are true, that's a damn cool lineup. I hear that the Coachella people are organizing a festival in New Jersey (I imagine it would be a non-camping festival) - hopefully they can book The Kinks and maybe Pearl Jam.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


As I wrote in a post last year, I first read about a series of Neil Young box sets when I was in college. And, well, that was a while ago. I know that the box set has been coming out "very soon" for a very long time. Basically, the story is, Neil is ready, or almost ready, and then he gets distracted by the new music that he's working on.

Of course, Neil has always complained about the sound quality of CDs, always maintaining that vinyl is far superior. I'd have to agree, although like everyone else, I have most of my music collection on CD (not to mention mp3, which is a inferior even to the CD). (although, oddly, Neil has been releasing hundreds of tracks from his annual Bridge School Benefit concerts - from himself as well as the many other performers who have played - as an mp3 only album).

Still, it was surprising today when Neil (who was at Sundance plugging the Crosby Stills Nash & Young documentary Deja Vu) to drop this little bomb to the Hollywood Reporter: that the box set will "definitely" come out this year... but not on CD. Only on DVD and Blu-Ray. I understand why he wants to do it - he feels like DVD and Blu-Ray are more accurate representations of music he recorded on analog, and CD just doesn't have the depth. But still, wow. I guess people who are tech-savvy and who have enough gear will be able to burn them to CD or convert them to mp3s.

At the great Neil Young fan site Thrashers Wheat, people were enraged, and it's easy to understand why. But still, far be it from me to second guess Young Neil. he doesn't have to answer to me. Yes I will buy the box set in whatever form makes sense (I guess DVD, as I don't have a blu-ray thing). And yes, I will try to get it on my iPod.

Monday, January 28, 2008


I really should stop writing about rumors that circulate online. But today music websites went crazy repeating a quote Jimmy Page made while promoting the Led Zeppelin collection Mothership while in Japan. He said that if the band were to tour, it would have to wait for the fall. “Robert Plant also had a parallel project running and he’s really busy with that project, certainly until September, so I can’t give you any news.” Of course, this is a reference to Robert's tour with Alison Krauss. Meanwhile, Plant was apparently at a Knicks game recently, and was interviewed at halftime. On a Zep tour, he said "You never know what is around the corner." But I don't think Zeppelin will be playing Bonnaroo (although I think Plant and Krauss are) or Austin City Limits or any other summer festival.


I know it's not supposed to be cool to like The Grammys (R) but they are one of the only awards ceremonies that I respect (even if their nominations drive me crazy sometimes). Full disclosure: I'm a member of the RIAA. There's a lot of criticism you can throw at the RIAA, but they do support keeping music in schools, trying to help out musicians who are having problems with drugs and alcohol, and there's other good things that they do as well.

I'm glad that the Screenwriters Guild isn't picketing the Grammys though. The music industry is having enough trouble, it could really use the bump that it gets from this show. No, I don't care if Beyonce sells another 100,000 records, but just getting people to go to... wherever they can go to to buy CDs, or to amazon or itunes, to me that's a good thing. I think artists are wise to give away their music when appropriate, but I don't think it should always be free. Of course the main reason why people initially felt so justified in taking music for free was the ludicrious prices that major labels charged for (and still charge for) music.

I thought last year's "My Grammy Moment" stunt, where a few singers competed for the chance to perform with Justin Timberlake was a bit gimmicky, but ultimately I thought it was a good idea. This year, young musicians will perform "The Pretender" with The Foo Fighters. The musicians will be part of an orchestra conducted by none other than Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones (who guested on the last Foo Fighters album, In Your Honor).

So, yes: Bruce Springsteen deserved more nominations than he got, but I'm still glad the show will go on.


So, despite Tom Petty saying that his pre-Heartbreakers band, Mudcrutch, would be touring this year, it turns out that a full-on Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers tour is on for this year. I guess he wanted to capitalize on the momentum the band will no doubt get when they rock the Super Bowl this weekend.

Better news still is that Steve Winwood will be the opening act. He's kicking off the year with a three-night stand at Madison Square Garden - the concerts aren't a co-headlining thing; rather, Clapton and Winwood will perform together. Hopefully Steve will join the Heartbreakers on stage during those shows. I know Tom is a Traffic fan: I've heard Traffic albums over the p.a. before his concerts.

And, by the way, for anyone who hasn't paid attention to Winwood for a while, he's no longer doing middle of the road adult contemporary stuff: his last album, About Time, was a great return to form and very Traffic-y. I'm looking forward to hearing his new one.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I'm really looking forward to The Rolling Stones' upcoming Martin Scorsese-directed documentary, Shine A Light. Scorsese, of course, also helmed The Band's The Last Waltz. I wonder if this film will be like that - their last hurrah. How much longer will they go on for?

Having seen them on their last tour, I can honestly say I was knocked out by how great they were. I'd love to see them one more time.

People always accuse them of being "about the money." No doubt, I'm sure they all enjoy being rich. But they have tons of money, when you see them play, you see how much they love it. Even Mick.

Sort of overshadowed in the Shine A Light hype is the DVD box set Biggest Bangs, with three full length concert recordings from their last tour. I read an ad calling it "The best Stones doc yet" or something like that. Like, "We know the Scorsese one hasn't come out yet, so000..." Of course, Gimme Shelter is really better, documentary-wise, anyway. But the performances are great, the extras are fun, particularly their collabs with Eddie Vedder, Bonnie Raitt and Dave Matthews. I wish they'd release those on CD, or at least digitally.

One thing I hope they don't do is sell the Rolling Stones Records catalog (basically Sticky Fingers and everyting since) as has been rumored. I think the guys should keep their masters.

Anyway, I'm looking foward to this flick and the soundtrack: it will include live collabs with Jack White, Christina Aguilera (who can sing) and Buddy Guy. But the band, performing at NYC's Beacon Theater, I'm sure were great regardless of who was on the guest list.


I've read in a few different places that a Jane's Addiction box set is in the works. I doubt that they have too much studio outtakes worthy of release (especially after the Kettle Whistle collection, which I kind of thought of as thier version of Led Zeppelin's Coda). But it would be great to hear full concert recordings. I never saw them in thier original incarnation. Every time they played my area, it just sold out so quickly. I'd love to hear some of thier jams from the first Lollapalooza tour.

I thought that their reunion album from a few years back, Strays, was a really good effort, even though it was greeted with indifference. It's like if Led Zeppelin or Rage Against The Machine did a new album - it's hard to imagine it having the same impact as one of thier albums from their prime. But it would be great to see them tour again, with Eric A. on bass (but I'd be glad to see them with any bassist). You listen to the first three Jane's albums, and then all the stuff they did after, and you really realize that the sum was greater than the individual parts (with all due respect to said parts).


Billboard's web site is reporting that Sony Legacy is putting out a huge Willie Nelson box set. It makes sense because they have all of Willie's Columbia and RCA stuff - but hopefully it will also include some of his more recent music for Island and Lost Highway. Some of his recent records - like It Will Always Be - are just excellent, and they tend to go underappreciated for some reason.

I'm interested to check this box set out - Sony Legacy does a great job with this stuff (full disclosure: I've done liner notes for them in the past). But I'm more looking forward to his new album, Moment Of Forever, which comes out next week. Although it was produced by mainstream country superstar Kenny Chesney, I imagine it will go ignored by Nashville (who also ignored Johnny Cash, not to mention Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, Steve Earle, etc.).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


That is, Robert Plant's tour with Alison Krauss. Of course, Led Zeppelin fans (at least those who don't care about any music post-1979) will be disappointed that this pushes off any Zep dates for a few months. But you've got to give the guy credit for turning down the big bucks to follow his artistic muse.

Their U.S. and U.K. dates are scheduled in April and May, though, which leaves the summer open for Zeppelin. Robert has been saying that he's going to do a solo album with Raising Sand producer T-Bone Burnett this year, and that he wants to do another album with Alison as well. I'll definitely go to the Robert/Alison show if they play my town. But I have to admit, I'd probably go to see Zeppelin if I had the chance. Maybe they could tour with Uncle Earl - the bluegrass band that John Paul Jones produced (and occasionally performs with).

See the dates at Pollstar.


John Legend has just released a live album exclusively at Target. This will be seen as overly corporate by some. But as Sonic Youth's members pointed out when they signed an exclusive deal with Starbucks, one giant corporation isn't any better or worse than any other.

John Legend is no dummy: I think he actually worked as a business consultant before he signed his record deal. As he said in a recent interview with Fast Company, he looks forward to a day when he can put out his music without the help of a traditional record label. And, of course, the labels aren't doing too well.

Business stuff aside, I saw John on his last tour, and I thought it was great. The live album seems to be a similar set - The Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," Sly & The Family Stone's "Dance To The Music" and a cover of "Where Is The Love" with opener Corinne Bailey Rae that I didn't love, plus most of the songs from his two albums.

Good move by John - I look forward to picking this one up.

P.S., John has a new song out: it was a digital release single called "Sun Comes Up" that came out in October. It's acoustic guitar based, I don't think it has any piano. Great song. I hope John has a new studio album due out this year.


In a recent interview with Artisan News, Mike Patton discussed Faith No More and didn't totally rule out a reunion! I know I've gotten a bit excited here about reunions by The Kinks and R.E.M., so I shouldn't even repeat this.

But Patton, an artist with a vision if ever there was one, and a guy who has absolutely no use for nostalgia, usually bristles at the idea. So the fact that he doesn't totally rule it out is cool. Although he does say "I wouldn't rule it out. I don't think we would need to reform the band, but maybe there's other things we can do together." But, what are they gonna do, get together and not perform Faith No More songs? Although, knowing how perverse Patton is, I could see that happening. He loves to mess with an audience. But that would just be cruel. Here's hoping this is the first step in a reunion.


I'm not a marketing executive, but it seems weird how major brands with lots of credibility with specific fanbases seem willing to compromise their brands.

Bonnaroo, which started as a very inclusive jam band festival, last year featured Tool and The White Stripes as headliners. The year before it was Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Radiohead. I remember years ago, the H.O.R.D.E festival did a similar thing. After years of having predominatly bands from the jam band scene with some other artists that sort of made sense, they did a tour that featured Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Primus, Beck, Ben Folds Five and a few other bands that didn't have a real connection to the scene. I myself loved that bill... but to fans, "H.O.R.D.E" didn't mean anything anymore.

Likewise, after catering to the "alternative rock" crowd, Lollapalooza went "off message" by having Metallica headline. I thought it was a great tour, but after that, "Lollapalooza" lost it's meaning. So, I don't understand how Coachella hasn't learned from that. This year, Jack Johnson and Roger Waters are two of the headliners. Waters, as he did last summer, will be performing Dark Side Of The Moon. I wonder how it will go. On one hand, I think people have good enough taste to be respectful of this masterpiece, even though it is one of the best selling albums of all time, and hardly "alternative" (although it's as creative as any album you'd care to mention). Also, Coachella often promts artists to do something for the "first" time - they were behind the Pixies, Stooges and Jesus & Mary Chain reunions, which led to full on tours. If they got Roger to do Dark Side for the first time, that'd be one thing. But he's been doing it on tour for well over a year.

Anyway, there seems to be less excitement about the festival's lineup than usual. But there are some pretty cool artists: other than Rog, there's The Verve (who recently reunited), The Breeders, Madness, The Raconteurs and... Dwight Yoakam.

Monday, January 21, 2008


There's lots of music oriented movies that I haven't seen yet, but I was glad that I caught Juno over the weekend. Lots of people are comparing it to Garden State, and the parallels are easy to see. Small, suburban story to an indie-rock soundtrack.

Weirdly, I'm more of a fan of indie flicks than of indie rock. There's just too many people involved in the creation of a film for it to be too slacker-ish. For me, indie movies are based on a story, and not about stars and celebrities (at least they should be). Juno featured a few "stars" (Jennifer Garner from Alias and Rainn Wilson from The Office), but it was really about the great young actress Ellen Page.

Ellen Page had the title role, a high school student who was a huge music fan. There was a great scene where this older guy was trying to turn her on to the music of his generation (late '80s and early '90s) and she calls him to give her assessment of the music he recommended. She called it "cute," much to his dismay. She pointed out that, after listening to The Stooges, almost everything seems quaint. I thought that was pretty funny (even though I probably liked a lot of the music he was recommending). Later on, in a more tense moment, she says, "Sonic Youth SUCKS! They're just noise!" Kind of a shocking moment, as they are sort of above criticism to many. I'm a fan as well - Washing Machine is actually my favorite but of course I love Daydream Nation and some of thier other albums - but it is true that lots of people feel that way about thier music.

The films music was done by Kimya Dawson, from a now-defunct indie rock band called Moldy Peaches. I don't think any song in the film was quite as important as, say, The Shins' "New Slang" was to Garden State. Maybe the song "Anyone Else But You," performed by Ellen Page and her co-star was as important, actually. My favorite songs in the movie were "Anyone Else But You," The Kinks' "A Well Respected Man," (and I'm all for anything that turns on younger people to The Kinks) and Buddy Holly's "Dearest" (which I wasn't really familiar with). I was suprised that of all the Mott The Hoople songs to use, they went with their one overplayed hit, "All The Young Dudes" (and does David Bowie really need the royalties? It would have been cooler to go with something written by Ian Hunter). Anyway, great example of a great combination of film and music.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Although I do check out other music blogs, I don't discover too many bands that way. So many blogs seem to be about discovering stuff first, instead of discovering the best new stuff. Little Steven, on the other hand, tirelessly searches for the best new rock and roll music. I always read his Billboard column, I occasionally visit his (very 1995-looking) website, and I often listen to his channel on SIRIUS Satellite Radio. His enthusiasm for great, new rock and roll bands is inspiring. I doubt he makes too much money from his ventures - I really think he does it for the love. So, here's a list of great songs from 2007 that I probably (or definitely) wouldn't have heard if it wasn't for Little Steven.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: "Weapon Of Choice" and "Lein On Your Dreams" OK, I knew about BRMC before this year, probably from reading about them, but I don't know that I would have paid much attention to the fact that they have a new album if not for the Underground Garage.

The Black Lips: "Stranger" These guys got some amount of hype from the mainstream press, but I heard them first on the Garage (I think). Listening to this song again makes me want to pick up more of their stuff.

The Contrast: "Perfect Disguise" Great British band that put out a bunch of records on Rainbow Quartz Records before Little Steven signed them to Wicked Cool.

The Shake: "She's My Girl" and "Oh No" These guys rock like it's England in 1965. Needless to say, a good thing.

The Grip Weeds: "Salad Days" Cool New Jersey band, one of the guys in the band worked on The Smithereens' latest. Another former Rainbow Quartz band.

Hell On Heels: "I'll Come Running" one of my favorites of this whole bunch. The name makes them sound like goofy hair metal, but when you hear them, you get it.

The Launderettes: "What Would Joan Jett Do?" Who doesn't ask themselves that, from time to time? A great band from Norway who I want to hear more from.

The Morlocks: "Teenage Head" Sort of a psychedelic punk band, you could imagine them on the soundtrack to a (Rob) zombie flick.

The Breakers DK: "Dance The Go-Go" More bands should promote dancing.

The Red Button: "Cruel Girl" Classic power pop. I read that one of the guys from the band, Seth Swirsky, is a songwriter by trade, and that he penned "Tell It To My Heart" for Taylor Dayne. I'd love to know if that's true.

Cheeseburger: "Tiger" Good tune. I may not have heard this on the Underground Garage, but I think I did.

There's a bunch of other bands that I still need to wirte about, including The Charms, The Len Price 3, The Chesterfield Kings, KO & The Knockouts and The Woggles... all bands that I would never have heard if it wasn't for The Underground Garage. The point is, even for someone like me, who isn't impressed with too much recent music, there's still a lot of fun stuff out there to check out. Despite my tendency to listen to older bands, rock and roll isn't a museum, it's an ongoing thing, as many of these bands prove.

GREAT SONGS FROM 2007 - part 4

The Afghan Whigs: "I'm A Soldier" Who would have thunk that these guys would even have a new song in 2007? But they agreed to get back together to record some tracks for their best-of. Too bad they didn't do any shows, they were a great band. They should have been huge, and yet, weren't. In the '90s, after all the "alternative" bands like Jane's Addiction, Nirvana, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, et al, got huge, it would have been great for these guys to have been next. Instead, "alternative radio" stuck with safer, bands that sounded like Jane's Addiction, Nirvana, et al. I remember reading an interview with frontman Greg Dulli where he talked abot not relating to indie rock bands, because most of them are guys who would go up to a girl they liked and be like, "Um, uh... like, I like you?" Dulli was influenced by great soul singers, who would be like "Baby yeah! Baby please! I NEED you!" etc. The timidness and lack of sexiness that infects most indie music didn't come into play with The Afghan Whigs. Anyway, I'm really looking forward to Greg's collaboration with former Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan, The Gutter Twins. It's one of the albums I'm looking forward to the most in 2008.

Mark Ronson: "Stop Me" I've written a bit about Mark Ronson, I've really liked his production on Amy Winehouse's Back To Black album, and his remix of Bob Dylan's "Most Likely You'll Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)." "Stop Me" is a Smiths cover from Ronson's solo album, Version. It features a singer named Daniel Merriweather. It's a great re-imagining of the song that also uses a bit of the Motown classic, "You Keep Me Hangin' On." Version was actually pretty cool: it had a really fun cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic" (a great song, in my opinion) that featured Ol' Dirty Bastard, an instrumental version of Coldplay's "God Put A Smile On Your Face" featuring the horn section from The Daptones (Sharon Jones' backing band who Ronson uses on most of his productions) and a cover of Radiohead's "Just" with the members of Phantom Planet.

Paul McCartney: "Dance Tonight" Of course you want a Paul McCartney album to be great, but the best you can really expect for is a few good songs. This is one of those songs. I think it's the first time Paul has played a mandolin on a record. It's just lighthearted and fun. When you consider how bitter/angry his latest album could have been, you gotta give the guy credit for kicking off the album with this song.

Randy Newman: "A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country" He released the lyrics to The New York Times as an opinion piece before releasing the song. I wish it had a happier ending.

R.E.M.: "#9 Dream" Like Green Day's "Working Class Hero," this is from the Instant Karma John Lennon tribute album. It had it's own excitement around it, as it featured the band's original drummer, Bill Berry. Too bad the rumors of Bill rejoining the band were untrue. Anyway, I'm really looking forward to the new R.E.M. album, due out this year.

U2: "Instant Karma" Also from Instant Karma. It's almost surprising that they hadn't recorded this before, it almost sounds like it was written for U2 somehow. I'm totally looking forward to U2's album, also due out this year. They're working with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, who of course worked with them on The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree.

Bono and Secret Machines: "I Am The Walrus" Not only did U2 cover a Lennon song, but Bono covered a Beatles song. This is from the film Across The Universe, which I also need to see.

GREAT SONGS FROM 2007 - part 3

Q-Tip : "Work It Out" Tip deserves a post of his own, actually, and I'll have to get to that. I've written about how much I like his former group, A Tribe Called Quest, and I just think he's one of the best MCs out there. I didn't love his solo debut, Amplified, although "Vivrant Thing" is a classic record. His next two albums were shelved by their respective record labels. Not one album shelved. Two. In a row. But here's hoping that his next one will come out in 2008 as planned. "Work It Out" is the lead single, and it's a great one. Will "the streets" think it's "hott." Who knows.

Black Eyed Peas featuring Q-Tip, Talib Kweli, Cee-Lo and John Legend: "Like That" Actually this came out in 2006, but I only heard it last year. BEP are about as criticially reviled as you can be in hip-hop without calling yourself "vanilla ice." I remember interviewing the editor of a high profile magazine in the hip-hop/R&B world, and when I asked about Black Eyed Peas performing at the Democratic National Convention, and did that mean anything for hip-hop, my interview subject got all Excorcist on me. Eyes changing color, a hot wind started blowing, levitation, etc. "THEY'RE NOT HIP-HOP!" What do you say to that? I liked BEP's albums when they were a backpacking "alternative" hip-hop group. Of course, they went "pop" when Fergie joined and they started collaborating with people like Justin Timberlake. I've liked some of thier songs from this era, but for sure not all of them. This one, though, is great. And if Q-Tip and Talib Kweli are on your album, does it matter whata magazine editor says?

The Hives: "Tick Tick Boom" The Hives kind of took things by storm in the U.S. in about 2002 when their single "Hate To Say I Told You So" was a hit. By their next album, people were over them. The truth is, they're a great garage band who don't care about trends. This is a great song, I have to listen to the album a bit more though.

Arctic Monkeys - "Brianstorm" It's pretty amazing how huge these guys are in thier native U.K. I don't consider them one of the best bands of all time, but I've enjoyed both of their albums so far. This is a cool song from their newest, Favourite Worst Nightmare.

Still more great 2007 songs to come.


I really can't say enough about what a great song Bruce Springsteen's "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" is (although I've written about it already).

If you love it also, you'll be interested that he's just released a digital EP, which includes a "winter remix" of the song by Magic producer Brendan O'Brien, a live recording of the song from the current tour, and the video which was directed by Mark Pellington, who also directed Bruce's "Lonesome Day" video. It's similar to that video - a gorgeously shot film of Bruce walking around what seems like Asbury Park, and there's footage of good looking girls of many ages, they don't look like models, it seems like that's just who was around that day. This EP doesn't shake the planet, but it's nice to have other variations on the song. The "winter remix" is so subtly different you barely notice it. I'd love to hear a Brian Wilson remix, or Phil Spector (if he wasn't otherwise occupied).

Of course, I heard about this first on Backstreets, the best Springsteen web site around (and I include Bruce's official site in that statement).


Here's another album I should have mentioned more prominently in my favorite albums of 2007 list. Levon Helm's Dirt Farmer came out toward the end of the year, and I checked it out based on the advice of a friend who has great taste in music.

Levon Helm used to be the leader of The Band in their early days, before songwriting and record making came into the picture, at which point, Robbie Robertson kind of took the reins. Robbie is a great guitarist, a great songwriter, producer and arranger. He had a lot to work with, as the members of the Band were all multi-instrumentalists, and the group featured three singers.

After The Band broke up, Robbie did really well - as the guy with most of the songwriting credits, he gets the most money (by far, something the other members have not been happy about). He's also produced film soundtracks and done a bunch of highly acclaimed solo albums that are way more slick than The Band's albums were. He was taken more seriously than the other guys, who tried to carry on without him. The "reunited" version of The Band featured Helm, Garth Hudson and the late Rick Danko, they toured a bit and did a few albums. They did a great version of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City," but I didn't like too much of thier output other than that.

Levon's suffered through some hard times: he recovered from throat cancer, endured the death of Rick Danko, and also had some money problems. I'm glad to see that things are turning up for him a bit: his "Midnight Ramble" shows at his home in Woodstock have been selling out, apparently, he's performing really well, and his voice has recovered.

Dirt Farmer, his first solo studio album in twenty-something years is great. If Robbie Robertson's solo albums (which I love) represent what The Band may have sounded like if they formed in 1989, I think Dirt Farmer sounds like... what they would sound like today, if they never released records, ignored the outside world, and stayed together all this time. It's a really soulful album. Welcome back, Levon.


I think it's cool that Ringo Starr seemed to recapture his love of making music back in the early '90s. He hadn't done an album since 1983, and hadn't done a good album in an even longer time. I imagine he cleaned up his act, and remembered how much he loved making music. In 1989 or so he went on his first ever post-Beatles tour, the first of many that he'd embark on with an "All-Starr Band." Everyone in these bands had hits of their own, and the concerts were kind of like a revue. Dr. John, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Billy Preston, John Entwistle, Jack Bruce and Sheila E. are among those to have played in these bands over the years.

After that tour, he started working on a new album, Time Takes Time. On that album, he started working with producer/multi-instrumentalist Mark Hudson, who would work on Ringo's next few albums, Vertical Man, Ringo Rama and Choose Love. Ringo's a smart guy: he knows where his bread is buttered, and that his albums aren't going to make him much dough. I believe he has made these records for the love of making music. He likes being a part of a band, and Hudson had used a core of musicians on most of these albums.

Ringo's latest album, Liverpool 8, just came out. (Oddly, he returned to Capitol Records after decades away from the label, just as Paul McCartney left the label after spending decades there.) Also, oddly, it seems to mark his split from Hudson: the credits read Produced by Ringo Starr and Mark Hudson/ Re-produced by Ringo Starr and David A. Stewart. (Stewart is the other half of The Eurythmics.)

Anyway, like his other recent albums, it's fun, if not earth-shaking. It's fun to listen to a guy like him, who was part of a band that wasn't just a band but a cultural phenomenon, who after all these years, just loves to sing and play the drums.

However, I'll call particular attention to the last song on the album, "R U Ready." I've been thinking about making a iPod mix of George Harrison songs about acceptance about the end of this life. Look through his solo songs, as well as the ones he wrote for The Beatles and The Traveling Wilburys. I might tack Ringo's "R U Ready" on the end of that, I think George would be OK with it. It's sweet. Not in the Napoleon Dynamite way, it's actually sweet. I know Ringo is really proud of all the albums he's done since Time Takes Time, but this might be his finest song since the '70s. (I also loved "Never Without You," an ode to George from Ringo Rama that featured an Eric Clapton guitar solo). Good job, Ringo!

GREAT SONGS FROM 2007 - part 2

Here's more songs I loved from 2007, not including tracks from my favorite albums of the year.

Green Day: "Working Class Hero" I was a bit disappointed with the Instant Karma John Lennon tribute that came out this year. Still, the proceeds went to Amnesty International, so at least a good cause benefited. Andyway, Green Day did a great job on "Working Class Hero," which features a short bit of Lennon's own version at the end of the song. I'll also give Green Day a shout out for their version of "The Simpsons Theme" from The Simpsons Movie.

Rush: "Far Cry" No secret that I'm a huge Rush fan. I didn't love thier new album, Snakes & Arrows, but I think this song is among their best. I know that back in the '70s, they were thought of as totally un-hip because (among other reasons) drummer/lyricist Neal Peart was very influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand whose writings were very pro-individualism and were not what you could call "altruistic." But after traveling across the country (Peart has crossed the country many times on his motorcycle trips, which he's written books about) he's gotten scared by the way religion and dogma has been influencing many (mostly republican) leaders, and the direction of our country, and the direction of the world. "Far Cry" addressed that in a global way, "It's a far cry from the world we thought we'd inherit/It's a far cry from the way we thought we'd share it" (which seems to be pretty un-Rayd-ish, but maybe he grew out of that). But he also personalizes things: "One day I feel like I'm on top of the world/and the next it's falling in on me/ I can get back on, I can get back on." It resonates with me.

Dropkick Murphys: "The State Of Massachusetts" I've always kind of known about this band from going to the Warped Tour back in the day, they were always part of that scene. I think I saw them once at the Fleadh Festival as well and liked them. And I think Dicky Barrett of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones told me that they were his favorite band ever. But they really got my attention last year with "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" from soundtrack to The Departed. But this song, "The State Of Massachusetts," is great, just a classic combination of punk rock and traditional Irish music that really "works." I'm going to have to start checking out their albums based on this one.

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals: "Ah Mary" This is the first I've heard of her, I don't really know how long she's been around for. I've heard that Bonnie Raitt is a fan. I enjoyed the rest of this album: I can see her being a real "people's" artist, the way Dave Matthews or Jack Johnson is.

Wyclef Jean and Norah Jones: "Any Other Day" I kind of mentioned this one when I was writing about Norah's album Not Too Late (which this doesn't appear on). It's on Wyclef's The Carnival II, which features all different collaborations with 'Clef. I like that Wyclef can get on stage with any hip-hop act and freestyle, or get on stage with a rock band, strap on a guitar and jam, or produce hits for everyone from Whitney Houston to Santana. Norah is such a great duet partner too, isn't she? Anyway, I didn't love the whole album, but it did have some great moments, including "Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill.)" I'm surprised to mention that song, because it features two guys who seem to be on every other hip-hop/pop single, Akon and Lil' Wayne. But what can I say, it's a great song.

Social Distortion: "Far Behind" This is one new track from Social D's Greatest Hits album. I don't think that they get enough credit, they are just super-consistent and great. Really, it's all about frontman Mike Ness, who is the only founding member left in the band. He also did some really underrated solo albums a few years back. Social D. fly under the radar these days, but still sell out almost all of their shows. They've earned the loyalty of their fans. I saw them last year, they killed it.

Ray Davies: "Morphine Song" I didn't love Ray's latest, Workingman's Cafe, as much as his last one, Other People's Lives. Still, this is a great song. I do hope that The Kinks do some shows this year, as long as they're in shape to do it. But I think Ray is better served doing solo albums, and not trying to recreate the magic of The Kinks in the studio.

I'm still not done: there are still songs by The Hives, The Arctic Monkeys, The Afghan Whigs, Mark Ronson, Q-Tip, Randy Newman, Paul McCartney and more to write about.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

GREAT SONGS FROM 2007 - part 1

So, I've already written about my favorite albums of 2007, but there are a lot of songs that I love that were one-offs, or just come from albums that didn't make my list (I don't get albums for free as much as I used to, and I can't buy everything!).

Kanye West, Nas, KRS-One and Rakim: "Classic (Better Than I've Ever Been)" This song was actually comissioned by Nike to celebrate their anniversary. But to me, it's about how age ain't nothin' but a number. I don't know what new MCs are considered hot, but I doubt many of them would hold a candle to KRS or Rakim. The original version of this song, by the way, was produced by Rick Rubin, and didn't feature Rakim. But the version I like is the remix, done by the legendary DJ Premier. I love Rick, but Premier killed it. Premier is one of the great producers ever, and hip-hop heads know it, but since he doesn't throw his name into every song he works on, and he doesn't show up in videos, he doesn't really get his due. But he was a member of Gang Starr, and also produced Rakim, KRS-One, Nas and lots of other great hip-hop artists. He expanded into pop recently by working on Christina Aguilera's album, cooking up some really cool tracks for that one.

Mick Jagger: "Too Many Cooks (Spoil The Soup)" I wrote about this one last year: it's a lost track from the '70s, was produced by John Lennon, and features Jack Bruce of Cream on bass. Kind of unfair to even rate anything from 2007 against a Jagger/Lennon collab. It's a great, funky song.

Rilo Kiley: "Silver Lining" I wrote a bit about this one also: great song. I've read some writers compare them to Fleetwood Mac, due to the fact that the singer has had a relationship with someone in the band? That doesn't sound as tangled as the Mac, it's more like No Doubt. Whatever, I really like this song, and I'm also digging the rest of the album, Under The Blacklight.

Prince - "F.U.N.K." This was a one-off single he released on iTunes. One of his funkiest, most rocking jams in years. I think it was a dis to his fansites. Prince also released a pretty good album, Planet Earth, which had at least two cool songs: "Guitar" and "Chelsea Rogers." Prince also gets points for his cover of "A Case Of You" from a Joni Mitchell tribute that came out in '07.

Patti Scialfa - "Town Called Heartbreak" From her latest, Play It As It Lays, her best yet. This song is so good, Bruce Springsteen added it to his sets on this tour (which he hadn't done with any of the songs on her previous two albums).

I've got more songs to write about - from Green Day, Rush, The Dropkick Murphys, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Wyclef Jean, Social Distortion, Ray Davies, The Hives, The Arctic Monkeys and more.


There are stories going around the internet that some tiny label has a tape of an early Beatles performance from 1962, from right after Ringo Starr joined the band. It's hard to imagine that Apple Records will ever allow this to come out, and even if does come out, how good could it possibly sound? Still, it's cool to think that maybe there will be some "new" Beatles music coming out. Other than the documentary film Let It Be, I don't see what they still have left to release.

But speaking of Ringo, I just got his latest album, Liverpool 8. I have to listen to it some more before writing about it.


Last year, I wrote about how it was a good year to be a Bob Dylan fan, between the I'm Not There film and soundtrack, The Other Side Of The Mirror DVD, and Mark Ronson's remix of "Most Likely You'll Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)."

This year is starting off pretty well: Rolling Stone reports that a compilation of Dylan's televised performances will be released (albeit as an import). The track list:

“Gotta Serve Somebody” (Saturday Night Live, 1979)
“I Believe In You” (Saturday Night Live, 1979)
“When You Gonna Wake Up” (Saturday Night Live, 1979)
“I’ll Remember You” (Farm Aid, 1985)
“Maggie’s Farm” (Farm Aid, 1985)
“Mr Tambourine Man” (with The Byrds, 1990)
“Masters Of War” (Grammy Awards, 1991)
“It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” (30th Anniversary Concert, 1992)
“My Back Pages” (30th Anniversary Concert, 1992)
“All Along The Watchtower” (Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, 1995)
“Seeing The Real You At Last” (Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, 1995)
“Highway 61 Revisited” (Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, 1995)

I guess we can be thankful that they're not including his Live Aid set with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood - it was awful. I was actually at the Concert For The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: his set was pretty great. Too bad they're not including "Forever Young," from his set - Bruce Springsteen joined him onstage for that song.


Not that I'm attending The Sundance Film Festival, but among the many great films that will be screened there are a couple of cool-sounding "rock" flicks.

"Bernard Shakey" (alias Neil Young) has directed a doc called Deja Vu, which documents Crosby Stills Nash & Young's summer 2006 tour, which was in support of Neil's Living With War album. It should be interesting, and not just because I'm a huge Neil fan. I went to that tour, and the reactions were really interesting. Where I can almost understand some conservative rock fans being surprised when, say, Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp make politically progressive statements (in other words, pointing out the obvious - that bush II/rove/cheney have done horrible damage to this country), I don't know how you could be surprised by CSNY's progressive views. And yet, people were offended by some of Neil's new songs. But I know that there have been a lot of Vietnam vets who are against this illegal war, and I think the film focuses on that.

Politics aside, I'd love to see some behind-the-scenes stuff about the band though. I know that they love each other, but they can't seem to get along for long periods. And I think that Stephen Stills in particular, isn't always comfortable with the more radical politics of the other three. Although his solo song, "Treetop Flyer," which he performed on the tour, is one of the best songs about a Vet. Also, I hope they put out a soundtrack - there haven't been any releases from any CSNY tour since they reunited in 1999. Then again, we've been waiting for a Neil box set since I was in college.

Then there's the upcoming U2 3D flick, smartly called U23D. That one is just supposed to bring the excitement of a U2 concert to the big screen, in a way that maybe Rattle & Hum didn't. (Personally, I think that the Rattle & Hum album, at least, is really underrated.) I look forward to catching that in IMAX. I've seen ever U2 tour since 1985, and other than on the Pop tour, they've never let me down. Their shows on their last tour were great.

There's also a Patti Smith documentary which should be interesting, and a doc on a sort of forgotten thrash metal band called Anvil. I was never interested in them back in the day (although I was and am a big fan of many of thier peers, Anvil just seemed goofy to me) the film could be interesting, because it documents their comeback attempt.

But I still have some current rock movies to catch up on: I'm Not There, the Joy Division doc Control and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.


I can't believe that I forgot to mention Chris Whitley & Jeff Lang's Disclocation Blues from my list of my favorite albums of 2007. Of course, it's weird that one of Chris' albums is on my "best of 2007" list, as he passed away in 2005. That aside, it was one of my favorite releases of the year, easily in my top ten. These were the last sesssions he ever recorded, and are among his greatest recordings ever. I have to admit, I'd never heard of Jeff Lang before this - he is an Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist, and clearly a good collaborator for Chris.

A lot of people don't know who Chris was, and that's sad. He was one of the great artists of our time, but never fit in with the mainstream, and was never able to get the hype needed to build a huge career. Not that it would have helped him - he died of lung cancer. But it would have been cool if more people knew about him.

I first heard of him in 1991 - I had tickets to see him open for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Then I saw a promo of his debut album, the CLASSIC Living With The Law at the record store, and I picked it up. I can safely say, without hyperbole, that I have rarely, if ever, been blown away like that by an artist upon first listen. He was great opening for Petty, even though most of the fans were indifferent at best. I saw him a number of times after that, in many different settings, and he was pretty hit or miss. One time I was at CBGB, at the bar, and I turn around and he's there talking to someone complaining that he wants to release much more music than his label (Sony) would allow him to. At some point, I just said hello, and said that I was a huge fan. He seemed a bit nervous, but was cool and thanked me for waiting for his next album.

I'm not a huge fan of that next album, 1995's Din Of Ecstacy. Less texture, more distortion, it just didn't work for me. And his career kind of lost any momentum that it had by then. His next album, 1997's Terra Incognita, was much better, but by then, people didn't care, his label certainly didn't, and they soon dropped him.

After that, he recorded for a bunch of indie labels, which probably suited him more than a major did. But, at least a few seemed like he was just putting out a quick record for cash (although that may not be true). Some, however, were great. I loved 2000's Perfect Day, an album of covers. I got to interview him around the release of the album, which was pretty cool - except that he looked, well, not too healthy. I don't think I'd ever seen anyone so thin in real life. But his eyes lit up when we were talking about the songs he'd covered, especially Bob Dylan's "Spanish Harlem Incident." He was talking about the last line, "I got to know babe, well would you surround me, so I can know if I am really real." He's like "That's ridiculous," meaning "ridiculously good."

The next year, he released another great album, Rocket House, on Dave Matthews' great label, ATO Records. It kind of a hybrid of his specific brand of blues with DJ-type funk/groove music, and was produced by Tony Mangurian, who worked with Luscious Jackson. I thought that that might be the one that brought Chris to more fans, but it wasn't to be. By the next album, he'd parted ways with ATO. A year or so later, I had the pleasure to interview Dave Matthews, and I talked to him (off camera) about Chris. It looked like it truly pained him that thier business relationship hadn't worked out. He was famously quoted as saying that he was more passionate about Chris' music than his own.

I'm glad I appreciated the guy's music while he walked the earth, and I'm glad that I got to see a number of great performances by him (among the not-so-great ones). Rest In Peace, Chris.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I always have the hardest time coming up with lists of the “best” song or album of the year, on account of how much stuff l enjoy listening to, and how to you compare say, Nine Inch Nails to Mavis Staples? I’ve spent a few nights agonizing over what order I put Ben Harper, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle. I figured, let’s just get on with it! That said, I have a list of some of my favorite records of the year in a rough order. After the list, I have explanations for each.
Ben HarperLifeline
Bruce SpringsteenMagic
Steve EarleWashington Square Serenade
The White StripesIcky Thump
Robert Plant/Alison KraussRaising Sand
John FogertyRevival
Public Enemy How Do You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?
Mavis StaplesWe’ll Never Turn Back
Alicia KeysAs I Am
I’m Not There soundtrack
RadioheadIn Rainbows
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings100 Days, 100 Nights
Nine Inch NailsYear Zero
PJ HarveyWhite Chalk
Norah JonesNot Too Late
Lucinda WilliamsWest
CommonFinding Forever
NasHip-Hop Is Dead
Foo FightersEchoes, Silence, Patience and Grace
Neil YoungChrome Dreams II
Joan OsborneBreakfast In Bed
Amy WinehouseBack To Black
Arcade FireNeon Funeral
The NightwatchmanOne Man Revolution

Ben Harper - Lifeline

I started No Expiration around the time Ben Harper released Lifeline and I postulated that it might be the “album of the year.” For me, it pretty much is. I’m sorry that Ben doesn’t seem to be the type of guy to make critics’ top ten lists. On the other hand, I don’t think that Lil Wayne or Panda Bear or Band Of Horses will be selling out Radio City Music Hall a decade into their careers. Ben is just not on the radar of the hipsters, but the people who love him, really love him. This is one of Ben’s best albums – and even his lesser albums are better than most other artist’s best. P.S. Ben also collaborated with The Skatalites on “Be My Guest” off of the Fats Domino tribute album, Goin’ Home, and it’s an incredible version. I’d love to see Ben and The Innocent Criminals tour with a horn section. Not in a Vegas way, but with a great reggae/ska horn section.

Bruce SpringsteenMagic

You often hear people saying that they “grow out of” certain artists. With Bruce, I think people “grow into” his music. I’ve been a fan for a long time, but some of his older songs that I used to dislike, like “Hungry Heart” or “Dancing In The Dark” resonate with me now that I’m about the same age Bruce was when he wrote them. That’s one incredible thing about his appeal. Another is how he manages to address his fans after all these years, in a way that few artists his age are able to. Sometimes, he’s not shooting for the mainstream, and he knows that an album doesn’t have mass appeal: The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Devils & Dust and We Shall Overcome are examples of that. But when he really wants to address America (the country, the people and the idea), he gets The E Street Band, and swings for the fences. With both The Rising and Magic, he really connected. Is Magic as good as Born To Run or Darkness On The Edge Of Town or Nebraska? Ask me in a decade or two, when I’ve had as much time with it. All I know is that it feels like a great album for today, and I imagine that I’ll be picking it up in ten and twenty years and still loving it.

Steve EarleWashington Square Serenade

I like when an album says something about an artist, other than “another year has passed, it’s time for a new album.” Steve Earle’s albums really tell you where he is in his life. It’s sort of a rock album, but it’s made without his longtime backing band The Dukes, because he moved to New York and they live in Nashville. And also, as he says, he “tested positive for ProTools,” allowing him to record in a more computerized way – which doesn’t take away from the soul of the album. Steve has claimed that this is a less political album, it still has “City Of Immigrants” and a big “f-you” to Lou Dobbs in the liner notes. But it’s about the fact that he’s in love – he recently married singer/songwriter Allison Moorer (whose great voice graces many of the songs). It even reflects the fact that he now has a great satellite radio show on SIRIUS (“Satellite Radio”) without pimping it too hard. I think it usually takes people a few years to get used to Steve Earle’s albums, but I loved this one the first time I heard it.

The White StripesIcky Thump
I don’t get why this album didn’t get more love. It’s great: “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)” is probably the best rock song of the year, and one of the best things Jack White has ever written. Maybe Jack White is a “victim” of the sort of Denzel Washington/Meryl Streep thing: when you’re just so consistently great, people just expect greatness every time. There’s never really a “hook” – or a “story” – to a White Stripes album. They’re not going to do the "important album," or a "big departure album," or a bad album that will necessitate a "comeback album." They just crank out great album after great album. Yes, I love this band, but I still have the ability to be critical: I didn’t love their concert at MSG this summer: I thought it was a bit self-indulgent. But their records are consistently awesome, and they seem to have handled success really well.

Robert Plant/Alison KraussRaising Sand
How odd that, after decades of (mostly) resisting the tempting call of Led Zeppelin nostalgia in order to be taken seriously as a solo artist and break free of Zep’s shadow, Robert Plant’s greatest post-Zeppelin work came in the year that he actually agreed to a full-on Led Zeppelin concert. This was an inspired collaboration, T-Bone Burnett was the perfect guy to produce, and I hope we’ll hear more from this duo (or trio) in the future. Yes, I’ll pay to see Zeppelin if they tour (especially after hearing how righteous their reunion concert was) but I really want to see Robert and Alison do their thing. P.S. It’s also worth mentioning that he didn’t just collaborate with Krauss and his Zep-mates this year: on the Fats Domino tribute, Goin’ Home, he also collaborated with The Soweto Gospel Choir on “Valley Of Tears,” and the Lil’ Band Of Gold on “It Keeps Rainin’,” and both of those are great collabs. Robert Plant was the man this year. Meanwhile, in 2006, Alison had a hit duet with Brad Paisley, and produced an album for Alan Jackson. Robert and Alison, stars in their own respective right, know how to collaborate.

John FogertyRevival
I was telling a friend about my favorite albums of the year, and he mentioned, “Wow, there’s a lot of septuagenarians on that list.” Well, what are you gonna do? There are so few contemporary rock singers who convey joy (“Don’t You Wish It Was True”) and rage (“I Can’t Take It No More”) like John Fogerty can. (I’d also point out that I’m older than Ben Harper and both White Stripes, and I think Alison Krauss is my age.) Anyway: I really try to avoid the “It’s his/her/their best album since…” statement making thing, but I do think this is his best album since his days in Creedence Clearwater Revival. It’s nice to see that he’s finally comfortable in his own skin, and he’s comfortable with his legacy. I’ve been lucky enough to interview John on a few occasions, and he often worried about sharing the artistic fate of his hero, Elvis Presley, and becoming a parody of himself. With albums like this (not to mention other semi-recent songs like “Déjà vu (All Over Again)” and “110 In The Shade) he really doesn’t need to worry about that.

Public Enemy How Do You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?
I recently wrote about the huge impact this album has had on me. Some people would look at me like I’m crazy for calling this the hip-hop album of the year, because Public Enemy are (a) “old” (b) not hot (c) don’t use current producers and required guest rappers. That’s the problem.

Mavis StaplesWe’ll Never Turn Back
I’ve always appreciated The Staple Singers – the family based group that Mavis got her start in. But in recent years, I’ve become a fan of her as a solo artist: I love the duet she did with Bob Dylan, an update of his song “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” from Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs Of Bob Dylan and her songs on the Joe Henry produced Meeting On Mission Street album which also featured soul singers like Billy Preston and Irma Thomas. Her new album, produced for the great Anti- label by Ry Cooder, is incredible. It’s just a rootsy gospel album, but it has such gravity to it. Maybe because she lived through the Civil Rights era. P.S. It’s interesting to note how much rock and roll music comes from gospel: this album has a bunch of songs that rock artists have covered, including “99 and a Half” (Creedence Clearwater Revival), “Eyes On The Prize” (Bruce Springsteen) and “Jesus Is On The Main Line” (Aerosmith, believe it or not).

Alicia KeysAs I Am
Alicia Keys has her priorities right. She wants to be absolutely huge, which is fine. But when she’s making her records, she wants them to be great. She doesn’t want to pander or follow trends, but she has no problem with success. I imagine that’s how Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were back in the day. She just keeps getting better. This was her third album, and I can’t wait to hear her fourth one. I’ve never had a chance to see her in concert (I really regret missing her tour with John Legend a few years back), but I hope to catch her in 2008. Also, her duet with Keith Urban on The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” at Live Earth gave the event one of it’s few transcendent moments, and she was one of the only under-30 artists who seemed to know how to play to a crowd that size.

I’m Not There soundtrack
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I haven’t seen this movie yet. And it’s almost unfair to compare an album of Dylan songs from the ‘60s through the ‘90s to music from 2007. But of course, an album of Dylan songs could suck in the wrong hands, and there are certainly are many artists here that are way out of their league. But The Hold Steady rock on “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window.” “The Man In The Long Black Coat” sounds like it was written for Mark Lanegan. And Calexico should consider hiring themselves out as a backing band to Willie Nelson and Roger McGuinn (they did a great job on a collaborative album with Iron & Wine, with whom they collaborate with here as well). And it was a cool bonus to hear Dylan’s version of the never (officially) released title track.

RadioheadIn Rainbows
I just wrote about this album. Good for them for taking advantage of the good will they’ve built up with their fans, doing things their way, and putting out an album that lived up to the hype.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings100 Days, 100 Nights
She’s 50-something and getting her first break. Good for her: it’s all about her talent, and her great band (who are also heard on productions by super-producer Mark Ronson – he did tracks on Amy Winehouse’s album, he has a cool solo album, and he did the Dylan “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” remix). Anyway, she is a really soulful singer, and this album is worth way more than it costs.

Nine Inch NailsYear Zero
I remember when Nine Inch Nails released the double album The Fragile in 1999, it had all this hype, it debuted at #1, but then fell off the charts, sold about a million copies and was seen as a flop. A few months later, in 2000, Radiohead released the very left-field Kid A, which surprisingly debuted at #1 and sold about a million copies, and was hailed as this huge victory for music. I feel like the same thing just happened in 2007. Although Trent Reznor released Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero on Interscope (famously, his last album for the label), he used the “Year Zero” alternate reality game – which his label had no involvement with, or probably even knowledge of – to get the word out. I don’t know why the album didn’t seem to have a big impact. Part of Trent’s “problem” may be that each of his first three albums were five star classics which were completely unique: Pretty Hate Machine brought a songcraft to industrial/electronic music that wasn’t really there before, Broken saw him using a heavy metal/punk band format filtered through electronic music and his tour de force, The Downward Spiral was almost Pink Floydian. Everything since then has seemed a bit like a variation on that theme. And lyrically, he’s always been the kind of angry, self-absorbed guy. What I like about Year Zero is that he’s looking outward a bit more. I hear he’s working on the followup/sequel and maybe a feature film version of it. I hope he lays off the film – if he doesn’t like the compromises of a major label, wait until he tries to make a movie.

PJ HarveyWhite Chalk
I’ve already written about this album. It bums me out to kind of hear her dissing her own Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea album, which is one of my favorites from her. But anyway, this a great and daring album. I’m glad I got to see one of her few concerts promoting the record. I think she’s already working on her next one with John Parish. They collaborated on the Dance Hall At Louse Point album in 1996.

The NightwatchmanOne Man Revolution
This is a good debut from Tom Morello’s alter-ego. I think it should have come with chord charts so that anyone could learn to play these songs. He was trying to add to the Woody Guthrie tradition. His songs weren’t as great as Woody’s, but it was a good try, there are good songs, and someone needs to be doing this. I’d love to see him work with Rage Against The Machine but keep doing this. By the way, where’s that solo album, Zach de la Rocha?
Norah JonesNot Too Late
People dis Norah because she is just so popular – and she’s popular with “regular” people, which (I guess) isn’t cool. So Cat Power, beware of crossing over too much: people are already hating on Feist! Anyway, I have always maintained that if Norah’s albums weren’t so well produced, she’s have more “cred.” On the other hand, when Dave Grohl, Wyclef, Talib Kweli, Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Mike Patton and Andre 3000 all want to work with you, I think that’s about enough “cred.” I doubt any of her albums will make the impact of her debut, but that’s fine, and I’m sure it’s fine with her. Not Too Late is excellent, but we expect that of her. P.S. Norah was also on the Fats Domino tribute Goin’ Home, and does a sweet version of “My Blue Heaven.” But I loved her collaboration with Wyclef Jean on his new album, Carnival II, “Any Other Day,” which is one of her best performances. (And his).

Lucinda WilliamsWest
I needed a break from Lucinda after seeing her in concert in the fall of 2007, so I haven’t listened to this album for a while. But it’s a great album: “Are You Alright” is touching, “Fancy Funeral” is hearbreaking but sweet, and “Unsuffer Me” is great (despite the fact that she wrecked it in concert and not in a good way). I’ll always love Lu’s music.

CommonFinding Forever
I think that this album debuted at #1, but didn’t seem to have a huge impact. I think Kanye West is the perfect producer for Common, and this album really works. Common is definitely one of the best MCs in the game, but I think if it wasn’t for his association with Kanye and his budding movie career, people would be “over” him. Which is too bad.

NasHip-Hop Is Dead
OK, technically this one is from 2006, but it came out in December. I’ve always been more into Nas than Jay-Z, but I give Jay credit for signing Nas to Def Jam. Nas (and Common) are two of the only MCs that I feel can sit on the same shelf as albums by Public Enemy, KRS-One, Eric B & Rakim, EPMD, early LL Cool J and the rest of the greats. Nas is also one of the only guys with the courage to really criticize hip-hop. People will say that he’s just doing it for the attention, which I don’t buy. Or they’ll say he’s “hating.” Which is like saying that someone who hates Bush is “unpatriotic.” It’s just that they have high expectations for something that they love.

Foo FightersEchoes, Silence, Patience and Grace
Although I complained about this album getting Grammy nominations that I felt should have gone to Bruce, it’s still a really good album. Plus, they really rocked Live Earth. Dave Grohl writes really catch songs, and he has pretty diverse influences – anything from Zeppelin and Sabbath to Bad Brains and Black Flag to Tom Petty surfaces in his music, but it always comes out sounding like the Foo Fighters. I love the song “Let It Die.”

Neil YoungChrome Dreams II
It was cool for Neil to return to the Freedom format of having an album that wasn’t in a specific style. And you have to give him credit for releasing an unreleased 20 year-old 18 and a half minute track as the album’s “lead single.” The rest of the album is newly recorded, but many of the songs have been around for a few decades. A really solid Neil album.

Joan OsborneBreakfast In Bed
I hate when writers refer to her as some kind of “We Love The ‘90s”/”Where Are They Now?” one hit wonder artist. It’s lazy and tasteless. She is one of the great singers of this era, period. She took a long time creating the follow-up to her breakout album, Relish, because she wanted to make something she was proud of. She just had the bad luck to do it at a weird time in the record industry. And so she fell off the pop culture radar. Anyway, she released Breakfast In Bed right on the heels of 2006’s Pretty Little Stranger, which was also really good. Breakfast has lots of covers, but so what, when Joan sings a song, it’s her song.

Amy WinehouseBack To Black
The hype is about to outweigh this album, but I do think that it deserves the attention. She’s a great singer, and the production on this album is fantastic. Let’s hope she gets to do another one.
Arcade FireNeon Funeral
I know this album topped a lot of lists. I like and respect this band, but I’m not as in love with them as their fans. Some of the songs sound like a very long crescendo to me. But I really dig “Keep The Car Running” and especially “Intervention.”
I'll wrap this up by saying that there were lots of great albums this year: I'll give honorable mentions to albums by Eddie Vedder, Levon Helm, Arctic Monkeys, Mark Ronson, The Beastie Boys, Tori Amos and Ozzy Osbourne. And the Fats Domino tribute album, Goin' Home.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Again... it doesn't pay to pay too much attention to rumors. Here's what Dave Davies said in a statement about the possibility of a Kinks reunion:

"To be honest, Ray and I haven't even spoken in over six months," he says. "So not only hasn't a tour been planned, it hasn't even been discussed. I am focused on my solo career right now and that's all I'm concerned with at the moment."

Although I can't imagine that he'd decide that he's too busy with his solo career if Ray Davies asked him about a Kinks reunion. Here's hoping...

Sunday, January 6, 2008


Where have I been? I haven't been able to decide exactly what are my favorite songs and albums of the year, and what order they go in. At the end of every year, I put this self-imposed pressure on myself to come up with my list of the best music from said year - mainly just to make a good iTunes mix (or before that, to make a few mix tapes). Now that I have *a blog*, I have a place to share my list.

But I'm still working on it. There are a few last minute entires. I already wrote about Public Enemy's album, but I just checked out new albums by Radiohead, (ex?)indie rockers Rilo Kiley and Levon Helm (the former drummer/singer/mandolin player from The Band).

I didn't download Radiohead's In Rainbows when it was offered on their website for the bargain price of "name your own price." This is kind of lame, but I felt it was too inconvienent to go to a new site, enter my info (I would have paid for it), and plus, I have the rest of their albums on CD, so I wanted this one also. Plus, CDs have better sound than mp3s and Radiohead is the type of band where this is important, plus they always have interesting album art. And I try to go to a store that sells CDs once a week if I can. Easier just to get the CD.

I have to say, putting aside the hype of the release - the fact that they announced that it was coming out ten days before it was released, you could name your own price, there was no record label involved, etc. - it is a really good record. Could many other artists pull off a release like this? Probably, but only pretty big bands. This record was actually worth the hype.
Levon Helm's record is also really good. A friend of mine who has great taste in music said it was his favorite album of the year, so I went to iTunes and "completed" the album (I had already bought a few tracks). It's like a great Band album, and probably better than some of their last ones (and better than both of the ones that they did after the reunited sans-Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel).

I also completed my Rilo Kiley album at iTunes. I was never super into them, but when I heard "Silver Lining" a few months ago, I was knocked out by what a great pop song it was, and then ditto for "Close Call." I hear that this album has pissed off their indie fans. Whatever: it's probably the best thing they ever did. Don't hate, appreciate.

I've also been rediscovering Norah Jones' latest, Not Too Late, which came out earlier this year. But I think I'm at my cut-off point for listening to 2007 albums. I want to have my list up this week, so be on the lookout!