Thursday, December 31, 2009

BEST OF THE 00's: LES CLAYPOOL


Lots of underground artists become part of a "scene" and end up getting signed to major labels. Often, they express surprise that the mainstream would be interested in them, and declare that they'd be doing the exact same thing that they're doing even if they didn't have major label support.

Most of the time, this is bullshit.

But it really was surprising when Primus were signed to the newly-revamped "alternative rock" friendly Interscope Records in the '90s. (The label started as the home of Marky Mark and Gerardo, before recasting itself as the home of Primus, Helmet, Nine Inch Nails, Rocket From The Crypt, The Reverend Horton Heat and other awesome bands).

By the end of the '90s, it appeared that Primus ran their course (for the time being), and the days that Les Claypool's really out-there music could get major label support were also over. In 2000, Primus went on indefinite hiatus (not before recording a cool cover of Black Sabbath's "N.I.B." feautring Ozzy Osbourne). And Les formed a new band, The Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, with former Primus and Sausage members, guitarist Todd Huth and drummer Jay Lane, along with a keyboard player named Jeff Chimenti, sax player Skerik and a guitarist called Eenor. It was a great band, and they didn't do Primus stuff, instead playing songs from the Sausage album and Les' '90s solo album, Highball With The Devil, as well as covers. Lots of covers. Live Frogs Set 1 included King Crimson's "Thela Hun Gingeet" and Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." Set 2 covered Floyd's Animals from start to finish.

After that, Les formed a "supergroup," with Trey Anastasio of Phish and Stewart Copeland of The Police. Oysterhead released one of my favorite albums of 2001, The Grand Pecking Order. I saw their tour, which was amazing, and I had the absolute privilege of interviewing the three of them together for VH1. After the tour, that was kind of it, although they did reunite for Bonnaroo a few years ago.

In 2002, Les released a proper solo album, Purple Onion, one of my favorites of that year.  Lyrically and musically, just a great album. The following year Primus reunited for some epic shows and a great EP, Animals Should Not Act Like People. And in 2004, Les had a new band, Col. Claypool's Bucket Of Bernie Brains, featuring former Primus drummer Brain (then in Guns N Roses), friend-of-Primus Buckethead (also in Guns N Roses at that time) and P-Funk keyboard god Bernie Worrell (Brain, Bucket and Bernie played together in another band called Praxis). I didn't like it as much as Oysterhead, but their album The Great Eyeball In The Sky was really cool.

In 2005, Les played mentor to sitar virtuoso/singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Gaby La La, producing her album, playing bass and percussion on it and going on tour as her bass player. He signed her to his label Prawn Song. Her debut, Be Careful What You Wish For isn't for everybody, but I really like it. Gaby later joined Les' Fancy Band as his sitar player.

I admit, I don't like some of Les' stuff from the second half of the decade as much, but man, the dude is amibitious. Other than music, he's produced a mockumentary film (Electric Apricot), written a novel (South Of The Pumphouse) and started his own line of wine Claypool Cellars Purple Pachyderm. I'm hoping for a Primus tour again. Or an Oysterhead tour. Or a C2B3 tour. Or the original Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. But really, I'm excited to see what he'll do next.

BEST OF THE 00s: CHUCK D


Yeah, this is my first hip-hop entry into my "Best of 00s" series, and it's not weezy, jeezy and I'll get to 'yeezy later on. It's Chuck D of Public Enemy, and like Chuck, I don't give a f*** what you think about it.

Why so defensive? Because even though I am not part of the hip-hop communtiy, I know how the genre tends to look at its legends.  Sit back, stay out of the way, don't comment on what's going on today. That ain't Chuck's way, and that's one of the many things I respect about the man. As he says in "Can You Hear Me Now" from the great 2007 album How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?, "At the age I am now, if I can't teach, I shouldn't even open up my mouth, begin to speak." If you want to know his critiques of hip-hop, read his Terrordome posts. Or even better, pick up How You Sell Soul, and PE's 2005 New Whirl Odor. It's pretty easy for today's hip-hop artists to write Chuck off as "old," "out of touch" or "irrelevant." Yeah, go on believing that. But it lets you off the hook way to easy. 

Back to the music, both of the albums I just mentioned have classic songs.  Yeah, I said "classic."  Are the albums as classic as It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back or Fear Of A Black Planet? I'll answer with another question: if The Clash stayed together, do you think they could have topped The Clash or London Calling? Right. PE has some songs that hold up to the older stuff: "MKLVFKWR" ("make love fuck war"), produced by Moby, is one of their greatest. I hope they work together again. "Harder Than You Think" is one of my favorite PE songs ever.

I guess have to mention Flavor Flav. Without Flav, Public Enemy wouldn't be the same, and he is totally irreplacable. I love listening to Flav's parts on the PE records, and yeah, I wish he didn't enter the reality tv circus ('nuff said). That said, it has got to be challenging for Chuck to be in the band with him for all these years, but they have kept it together.

Chuck D isn't gonna go quietly.  It wouldn't suit him. Even if he stopped making records tomorrow (which I hope doesn't happen), he would still be a force to be reckoned with. He can host TV and radio shows, or write. Black or white, he doesn't let you off the hook easily. I'm glad there's someone out there with the balls to do that.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

TOMORROW ON OUTQ: MORE OVERLOOKED ALBUMS OF THE '00S

For those of you who are new to No Expiration, every Wednesday morning I go on the SIRIUS XM channel OutQ on the show The Morning Jolt With Larry Flick. Tomorrow I will continue a theme a discussed a few weeks ago: great, overlooked albums from the past decade.


First is actually not one of my picks, but one from OutQ listener and No Expiration reader (and he leaves nice comments, flattery will get you somewhere around here) Mel Beavers II, who does his own blog, Pop Goes The Culture. He suggested Cyndi Lauper's 2008 album Bring Ya To The Brink. I definitely enjoy Cyndi -- She's So Unusual is a classic, and I had a great time interviewing her when I wrote her record label bio for her 2003 covers album At Last. Bring Ya To The Brink is a dance music album, which I think makes sense for her, as lots of her songs have been remixed for the dance floor. I downloaded a few songs, but some of them (I felt) could have been anyone, it sort of lost her disctintive identity. I did enjoy "Into The Nightlife." My favorite song on the album is a ballad called "Rain On Me."


Everyone who reads No Expiration knows what a huge Ben Harper fan I am. I discussed his latest album, White Lies For Dark Times on the show a few months back, and Larry nearly knocked me out of my seat by saying that he mixes up Ben Harper with Counting Crows (of all things!). But the album I am bringing in tomorrow is his 2004 collaboraton with legendary gospel group The Blind Boys Of Alabama, There Will Be A Light. After hearing this, he won't mix up Ben with Counting Crows anymore. This is probably my second favorite album of the decade, after Aimee Mann's Bachelor No. 2. This album just makes me feel great. Ben says that he is a "god-fearing agnostic," a great term.


It may be odd to refer to anything that Bruce Springsteen does as "underrated" (particularly the day after The Kennedy Center Honors aired on TV), and Bruce certainly doesn't need any extra acclaim from me. But I think that his 2006 album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, was unfairly ignored by many. I think they heard "Bruce Springsteen... Pete Seeger songs" and "tuned out" right there. I get that: he was coming off of a fairly dry album, Devils and Dust, and I guess people didn't like The Ghost Of Tom Joad either. But the fact is, We Shall Overcome is garage-rock, 1930s style. It's party music, if the party is in a barn with no electrity, and I mean that in the best possible way. I think it is one of the best things he's ever done.


Larry had a great time (and so did I) when he made fun of Fiona Apple when I bought her up a few weeks ago. I get it, she's a wreck. But I think her songwriting is redeemed when her songs are sung by other artists. Meet Bettye Lavette, who put out an incredible album in 2005, I've Got My Own Hell To Raise. Produced by the great Joe Henry, it's all covers of songs written by women, including Fiona's "Sleep To Dream."



I can't think of any artist who had such a huge career revival after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as Solomon Burke. After being inducted in 2001, he hooked up with Joe Henry (him again!) for an incredible comeback album, Don't Give Up On Me. Dylan, Waits and Costello were just some of the people who wrote songs for the album. It is really great. And he's done three great albums since then.


One of my favorite artists of all time is the late, great Chris Whitley. He is totally underrated, which is partially his own fault, because he seemed to sabotage his career more than once. But that's the way he was. However, if you're reading this, you only care about an artist's artistry, not their marketing acumen, so do yourself and get some Chris Whitley records. I'll do a post about him soon. The record I choose for tomorrow's show is Perfect Day, a covers album that is stunningly beautiful. I have it in my mind that he recorded the album in one day, but I may be remembering that wrong.


It may be tough to argue that George Harrison is underrated, but lots of people missed his final album, Brainwashed, released in 2002, a few months after his death. The song "Any Road" is one of my favorite George songs, I've talked about this one recently when I guested on The Catholic Channel 's Busted Halo Show. He has always had a unique way of looking at death and spirituality. I don't share his religious beliefs, but I'm moved by his songs about spirituality all the same.

I'm sure that we won't get to all of the albums that I've mentioned, and there's many more underrated albums that I didn't include. What are some that you think I missed?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

THE KENNEDY CENTER HONORS ON CBS


(photo from Backstreets)  I'm not a huge fan of award shows (and firmly believe that there are way too many of them) but I am also a sucker for a well done tribute. So I can't believe that I've never watched The Kennedy Center Honors before tonight. Many of my favorite artists (musical and otherwise) have been honored, including The Who, Morgan Freeman, Martin Scorsese, Smokey Robinson, Elton John, James Brown, Loretta Lynn, Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger, Paul Newman and Ray Charles, among others.

This year's event, honoring Robert DeNiro, Mel Brooks, jazz musican Dave Brubeck, opera singer Grace Bumbry and, of course, Bruce Springsteen, took place a few weeks ago, but aired tonight on CBS. The tributes were sincere, geniune, classy but not too stiff and deserved. Watching a montage of DeNiro's films was incredible, it really reminded you how great he is. I'm not as familiar with Mel Brooks' work, but I think I gotta rent some movies!  (I did love Young Frankenstein.) I also wasn't super familiar with Dave Brubeck, I gotta check him out also. And I'm not an opera fan at all, but I was blown away by Grace Bumbry's story: an African-American opera singer in the 1960s. Wow.

But the reason why I made sure I was parked in front of the screen tonight was Bruce. What a tribute: a hilarious and moving speech from Jon Stewart, and great performances by John Mellencamp, Ben Harper and Jennifer Nettles (from Sugarland), Melissa Etheridge and especially Eddie Vedder and also Sting. You can read a rundown of the show at Backstreets, as well as the essay that the great writer, E Street Radio host Dave Marsh wrote for the event program.

Monday, December 28, 2009

LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS: NEWBURY COMICS


I've written about Newbury Comics before. But I recently had an experience buying something from their website (they are New England based and I am from the Great State of New Jersey). One of their managers (Jennifer) helped me to find what I wanted. A fairly expensive purchase, it was also offered at a better price than anywhere else. It reminded me that I really should be supporting Newbury instead of big box retailers. I do enjoy the tactile experience of going to a store, and I can't do that with Newbury. But I also like the idea of a cool store run by actual people who care about what they are selling, and I'm going to be buying more from Newbury in the future. You should too.

Coincidentally, today I read a message from Newbury founder/boss Mike Dreese. You can read it here: you almost can't tell if it was meant for employees or customers, and I mean that in the best possible way.  It has a level of transparancy that makes you feel like you are a part of what they do, and because of that you feel invested in thier success.  At least that's the way *I* feel. Too often in the music industry - whether it is record labels, retail (which is mainly dead anyway) and the concert industry - you feel like you are buying something from a drug dealer - someone who doesn't care about you at all, they just want as much money as they can get, period. There aren't that many clubs, record labels, or stores that you feel invested in: you want them to succeed, so they'll be there next year.  That's a relationship, not just someone emptying your wallet. That's how I feel about Third Man Records, and it's how I feel about Newbury Comics.  It looks like they will be around for a long time, and here's hoping they will be.

BEST OF THE '00s: RADIOHEAD


OK, I'm with the critics on this one. There's some things that bug me about Radiohead: singer Thom Yorke's pretentiousness mainly. He whines too much, "we're not 'rock'" as if "rock" is a dirty word. He seems incapable of enjoying himself. To quote Larry Flick, Thom have a Yoo-Hoo. You make Michael Stipe look like Jim Carey.


And yet, the band's music is so adventurous I respect it, and some of it is so undeniably great. Kid A was really a daring album, I don't love all of it, but it definitely had some great moments. For all their "we're not a guitar band, we want to experiment, blah blah blah" songs like "Knives Out" and "Optimistic" would be great no matter what instrument you play it on.

I have to admit, I mainly slept on Amnesiac, and definitely didn't pay Hail To The Thief much mind.  I wanted to love Hail, as it was a direct attack on bush II, but the thing is, if you are going to make a rebellious record like that, you should make it accessible. Wouldn't it be cooler there was a huge anthem like "Just" or "Airbag" that bashed an evil administration?  A left field album that ultra-liberals stroke their chins to, it just doesn't have the same effect. If you're going to rage against the machine, as it were, then rage

Back to the music: In Rainbows is probably my favorite Radiohead album of the decade, and the music got sort of overshadowed by the delivery of it. Yeah, the announced it eight days before it came out, let fans choose thier own price, put it out on their own, etc. and that was all great. (I actually didn't think that they thought out their plan as well as, say, Trent Reznor did for the last few Nine Inch Nails records), but the fact is, it was a great record.

I'm curious to hear what Thom Yorke does next: I guess he may be working with Flea on a new project, which I think would be great for him.  But it will be interesting (in theory) to hear where Radiohead goes next.

More Best Of The '00s: Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Aimee Mann
Jeff Tweedy
David Johansen
Levon Helm
The Beatles
Jim James
U2
Steve Earle
Ben Harper
Alicia Keys
Norah Jones
Trent Reznor

RON DON'T GO: HAVE THE ROLLING STONES FIRED RON WOOD?


As you know, I don't write about rock star gossip, and it's been hard to avoid it in Ronnie Wood's case. The short version is he was in rehab (again), bailed, went to a bar, hooked up with a very young waitress, left his wife for her, and has seemingly been on a bender since then.

Without getting too into the details, England's Daily Mail is reporting that Mick Jagger may have had enough of Ronnie's nonsense and may fire him from The Rolling Stones. I think the Mail is a gossip publication, but they are reporting that Ronnie's wife Jo has always been like his caretaker, and without her he's out of control, and Mick doesn't want to deal with it (which is understandable). Realistically speaking, the Stones can't have many tours left in them, and probably just one. And I don't think Mick wants to stress through the tour wondering what is up with Ron. While I would never go and see the Stones if, say, Charlie Watts quit (as he was rumored to have done earlier this year), I could accept the Stones without Ronnie, although it would be a shame.

I wonder if this is why Rod Stewart has avoided reuniting with The Faces: at this point in his career, he probably doesn't want to deal with someone who doesn't work for him, especially if that person  is out of control.

I should stress, again, that The Daily Mail is (I believe) a very gossipy publication, but its no secret that Ron has been erratic lately, and if Mick wants to do a Stones tour in 2010, it's not hard to imagine that he'd be willing to cut Ronnie if he can't get his shit together. Ronnie missed out on some of the sessions for the last Stones album, A Bigger Bang, because of an earlier stint in rehab.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

BEST OF THE 00's: TRENT REZNOR


I remember reading an interview with Trent Reznor in about 2000 where he pointed out that Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile album debuted at #1 and falling sharply from that slot the following week was viewed as a failure, but Radiohead's Kid A doing pretty much the same was seen as an artistic triumph, because such an uncompromising album reached #1. He had a point. There's been a weird bias against Trent in the past decade, I think he's often been seen as "of the '90s" and given the fact that he had his commercial peak during that decade doesn't help the perception. And, as a fan, I'll admit that his '90s albums were always different than what came before: Pretty Hate Machine (actually released in 1989, but which became one of the most influential albums of the '90s), the Broken EP (1992) and of course 1994's The Downward Spiral. I don't think the albums that he has done since then have had the same "quantum leap" vibe to them, but they have always been really great. I think rock critics are more comfortable with the likes of Radiohead (and Animal Collective, and Pavement) than a more aggressive and ambitious band like Nine Inch Nails.

The first half of the decade was not too eventful for Trent, apparently he was battling demons on a number of fronts: drugs and a former manager. But in 2005, he returned with a really underrated album, With Teeth. The leadoff track, "All The Love In The World," actually sounded like it was heralding another totally new sound, but even though that wasn't the case, the album still had some classics, especially "The Hand That Feeds," which was one of the first glimpses of the anti-Bush direction Trent soon went in. Musically, Rick Rubin helped Trent out with the album (although he wasn't the producer) and Dave Grohl contributed live drums to lots of the songs.

In 2007, Year Zero was preceeded with an alternate reality game that Trent orchestrated with a technology company... and without the help of his record label.  At the point, started becoming as innovative as a buiness guy (for lack of a better term) as he was with his music. He knew that record labels as we knew them were circling the drain, he wasn't sorry to see them go, but he wasn't going down with them. He actually deserves the same credit that a Radiohead, or Aimee Mann or Jeff Tweedy deserve for creating their own path. Anyway, Year Zero was a great album, and may yet be developed into a TV show or film or something else.

In 2008, he started charting that course with Ghosts I-IV, a double album of all instrumentals. Not my favorite album, but super interesting how he did it. The pricing varied from free (you could download the first nine tracks, free of charge) to $350 for the most deluxe version (which sold out of its 2500 run in one day). Some felt that the Ghosts thing was a cop-out, since the lower sales for the album were a given, since instrumental albums don't generally sell that well anway. Later that year, he released another album, The Slip (this one a more "conventional" NIN album). Which was written, recorded and released within three weeks (and offered as a free download). The tour for the album was one of the most elaborate and intense (and poorly-attended - the upper level of the Izod Center was totally barren) that I have ever seen.

I was glad that Trent said that he would retire Nine Inch Nails this year. Trent has recently said on nin.com that there's some unreleased NIN music coming out in 2010, and some music that isn't Nine Inch Nails.  I think he has a lot of great music left in him, and I'm sure he will still perform NIN songs if he feels like it. But it seems like a great time for his next evolution, and I can't wait to see how that manifests itself.

More Best Of The '00s: Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Aimee Mann
Jeff Tweedy
David Johansen
Levon Helm
The Beatles
Jim James
U2
Steve Earle
Ben Harper
Alicia Keys
Norah Jones

VIC CHENUTT 1964 - 2009


Vic Chesnutt just passed away.  I'm not a huge follower, and I mainly knew his songs from the Sweet Relief tribute album that featured some artists that I really respect including Garbage, The Indigo Girls, Joe Henry (featuring his sister-in-law Madonna), R.E.M. and Smashing Pumpkins. It's sad that it went down this way: you can read an obit at The New York Times.

BEST OF THE '00s: NORAH JONES


Recently on The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick on SIRIUS XM's OutQ channel (the show No Expiration contributes to every Wednesday morning at 9 am ET), we were discussing Norah Jones' latest album, The Fall. Larry expressed some surprise that I am such a Norah Jones fan. Well, I am!

As I said to Larry, in this over caffinated, slutted-out world of pandering entertainment, I like Norah's calm approach. But more than that, she's making music that she likes. She isn't just making soft rock because it sells to old people. Her music is really subtle and beautiful, and she is inspired by the right people, Willie and Dolly and Brother Ray and Billie and Hank (I).

Her debut album, 2002's Come Away With Me, has sold over 20 million copies, but did it in the most organic way: people just liked the songs. Didn't matter if she wrote them (many of them, including "Don't Know Why," she didn't). But the way she sang them, it didn't matter. She was like 20 years old, but sang with an old soul, and did songs like "Cold, Cold Heart" convincingly at a time that most "country" singers barely knew who Hank Williams (I) was. If I had been a Grammy voter at the time, I don't know if I would have voted for Norah's album over, say, Bruce Springsteen's The Rising, but I ain't mad at her either. In the time after that album came out, she covered Pasty Cline, Waylon Jennings and Dolly Parton -- all convincingly -- and also collaborated with Andre 3000 on a song from OutKast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below album. She also collaborated with Willie Nelson, and they would go on to work with other many more times throughout the decade.

I remember interviewing her for VH1 on the day that the followup, 2004's Feels Like Home, came out. I can't imagine what kind of pressure that would be -- being 20-something and having to follow up a 20 million selling album. She seemed so chill, and we mainly talked about The Band (Garth Hudson and Levon Helm guested on the album). Then she invited me to her gig that night -- with The Little Willies, a country group made up by her and her backing band. She mentioned that the cover charge was like $5 or whatever. I couldn't believe it: she's responsible for promoting the followup to one of the biggest debuts in history, and she's playing in a cover band that night! But I think that's how she is: she enjoys the luxury that her success affords her, but doesn't let that success define her or dictate what she wants to do. As with Alicia Keys, I kind of felt like, "Well, if there has to be a twenty-something multi-milionaire, I don't mind it being her."

In 2005, Norah duetted with Ray Charles on what would be his final album, Genius Loves Company. The song was the album's first -- and main -- single, "Here We Go Again," which provided Brother Ray with his final classic song. It must have been amazing to have been part of that. After that, Norah became a pretty in-demand collaborator, working on albums by the Foo Fighters and Ryan Adams.

In 2006, she got to get away from being Norah Jones for a while by putting out an album with The Little Willies and touring (they opened for Ryan Adams, which probably helped to take some focus off of her). After that, was more collabos, with Bonnie Raitt, Peeping Tom (the project featuring Mike Patton of Faith No More) and a particularly lovely duet with Wyclef Jean, "Any Other Day." She's become quite the hip-hop hook singer - she's also worked with Talib Kweli and Q-Tip (see the video for their song, "Life Is Better," here). And even The Lonely Island, showing her oft-overlooked sense of humor. Speaking of which, there's also her "punk rock" band, El Madmo.  Not really punk rock per se, but actually a good guitar-oriented, fun, band: their self-titled album came out in 2008.  Of course, this year, she released The Fall, which is another great album.  It features her working with new musicians and trying new things, which is good for her.  And by the way, check out the bonus tracks on iTunes, which include covers of Johnny Cash's "Cry, Cry, Cry" and Wilco's "Jesus Etc."

Even with her forays into acting (she starred in Ang Lee's My Blueberry Nights) you never feel like she's sold out (whatever that means anymore). I think she's a great artist, and she will have a lot more to say in the coming decades.

More Best Of The '00s: Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Aimee Mann
Jeff Tweedy
David Johansen
Levon Helm
The Beatles
Jim James
U2
Steve Earle
Ben Harper
Alicia Keys

BEST OF THE '00S: ALICIA KEYS


Very few artists seemed able to balance artistry and commerce in the '00s the way Alicia Keys did. From her debut, 2001's Songs In A Minor, she hit the scene with a great confidence that you don't usually see in new artists. Fluent in hip-hop and R&B, she had no problem with citing her classical piano training. No problem with expressing her love for Tupac, Biggie and Jay-Z, while never afraid to call out hip-hop on its misogyny. She never seemed to feel any "guilt" about her fame and fortune, but also was really active in raising funds and awareness for causes that she believed in. Beautiful without getting slutted out to sell records.  Political without alienating fans with her politics. She even moved into acting without losing any artistic credibility. And like Bob Dylan said when Rolling Stone asked him why he name-dropped Alicia in his song "Thunder On The Mountain" from Modern Times, "There's nothing about that girl that I don't like." I kind of feel the same way.  She's put out some of the best music of the decade, and it's nice that it has been so well accepted: she is probably one of the biggest stars in the world at the moment.

Songs In A Minor was introduced to the public by no less than Oprah Winfrey... at the personal request of Clive Davis. A lot of people believed in Alicia, and not just in her potential to be a star, but that she was something special.  Her first single "Fallin'" showed that she was the rare contemporary R&B artist who had a sense of the history of the genre (maybe too much sense, since it liberally borrows from the string arrangement of James Brown's "It's A Man's Man's Man's World"). The song holds up with or without the strings though. "A Woman's Worth" was also classic - these are R&B songs that could have come from the '60s or '70s as easliy as the '00s. She also held her own with a cover of Prince's "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore." And, oh yeah, she was reverent of her influences, but didn't get intimidated by them, and didn't shy away from putting herself in the same continuity as them; witness the Prince cover, or her version of Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free" from the America: A Tribute To Heroes telethon after 9/11. Alicia had respect: she also had a six-time platinum debut that won her five Grammys.  A good start -- one which would paralyze lesser artists. Alicia kept her eyes on the prize and followed up with an even better album.

2003's The Diary Of Alicia Keys didn't sell as well: "only" about 4 million. She won three more Grammys for the album (and another one for a duet with Usher from his album). "You Don't Know My Name," "If I Was Your Woman" and "If I Ain't Got You" are modern day R&B classics, as was "Diary," which saw her collaborating with the reunited Tony! Toni! Tone!). "Dragon Days" and "Samsonite Man" were great album tracks - never released as singles or videos, but worthy of attention as much as the singles. She followed that with a good Unplugged - which would have been even better if scheduling conflicts didn't prevent her planned guests Bruce Springsteen and Keith Richards from appearing with her. She was going to do "NYC Serenade" with Bruce!

In 2005, she (unintentionally) outshone Bono on their cover of the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush duet "Don't Give Up." The song was an iTunes exclusive to raise funds for AIDS related charities in Africa, a cause that is close to both artist's hearts. (She's a founder of the Keep A Child Alive organization.) In 2007, she bought the house down at the Live Earth concerts when she joined Keith Urban for a cover of The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter." Some people don't like her "rock" voice, but I do.

In 2007, she made her film debut in Smokin' Aces (which also featured Common), and also released As I Am, another really good album. "No One" may be her best song yet. And of course, last year she dueted with Jack White on "Another Way To Die" from the James Bond flick of the same name (lots of people hated it, I love it). Just a few weeks ago, she released her latest album, The Element Of Freedom, which I am still digesting.

I've had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Keys, and she seems so down-to-earth and comfortable in her own skin. It's easy to react to someone in their early 20s who is already a multi-multi-millionaire with negativity, but I say that if there has to be a young person with that kind of dough, I'm glad it's her. Unlike a lot of artists in her position, she acts interested in you, not just her, and you get the impression that you are talking to an actual human, not a robot being controlled remotely by a marketing department. So, she's one of my "Best of the '00s" artists, and I kind of predict she'll make my "Best of the '10s" as well.

More Best Of The '00s: Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Aimee Mann
Jeff Tweedy
David Johansen
Levon Helm
The Beatles
Jim James
U2
Steve Earle
Ben Harper

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

*NEXT* WEEK ON OUTQ


Longtime No Expiration readers know that on Tuesday nights, I post the topic that I will be discussing the following morning on the SIRIUS XM show The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick on OutQ. Tomorrow, however I won't be on the show because Larry and co-host Keith Price are on vacation.  But next week, on December 30, we'll be back. I'll be continuing the same topic I discussed two weeks ago on December 9 - great overlooked albums of the '00s. I have a few albums in mind by Ray Davies, George Harrison and even Bruce Springsteen.  But one I will definitely cover will be Cyndi Lauper's Bring Ya To The Brink, as requested by OutQ listener and No Expiration reader Mel. I'm not that familiar with the record (I actually worked on the press campaign on her standards album, At Last, a few years earlier) so I'll have to check it out!

Then, in the first week of the new year, I'll return to the ever-popular divas topic, as there are new albums by Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys and Shakira to discuss. In the meantime, keep an eye out for more of my "Best Of The '00s" posts. There are several more on the way.  Who are your favorite artists of the decade?

STEVEN TYLER ENTERS REHAB


Rolling Stone reports that Steven Tyler just entered rehab for "painkillers." Last time I wrote about Aerosmith, the band members were questioning his sobriety, and also questioning whether he was still in the band, even after he joined The Joe Perry Project onstage at a New York show. He says in the statement, exclusive to RS, that rumors of him wanting to take a two year break from the band are false.  Earlier this week, Tyler left his management company (which is different than Aerosmith's management company) for a different firm. It seems like he is in freefall, and probably the last straw would be if he saw Aerosmith touring to celebrate their 40th anniversary with a different singer. Here's hoping rehab "takes" this time, and he rejoins the guys in 2010. Good luck Steven.

JOHNNY CASH - AMERICAN VI?


I read on Rolling Stone (who read it on Twenty-Four Bit) that Amazon is now listing an import version of Johnny Cash's American VI: Ain't No Grave, with a release date of February 23. A few years ago I interviewed John Carter Cash, Johnny's son, who said that there were probably two albums of material from the Rick Rubin sessions left. Twenty-Four Bit has the (possible) tracklist, of particular interest to me was "For The Good Times," a song written by Kris Kristofferson and covered by Al Green.

Other than Bob Dylan, who dissed Cash's American Recordings series in a recent Rolling Stone interview, I don't know anyone who doesn't like what Rick Rubin did with The Man In Black.  I love those albums, and look forward to hearing this one - maybe the last word on a great American artist.

RINGO AND PAUL'S NEW SONG


Ringo Starr's new album Y Not won't be out until next month, but you can get the first song, "Walk With You," featuring Paul McCartney, on iTunes now. They've played on each other's albums often over the years, and even performed with each other earlier this year, and couple of years before that at a tribute to George Harrison.

Y Not is the first time Ringo has produced himself (or anyone else, for that matter), I wonder what the dynamic was like for that. Paul taking orders from Ringo. This is a lovely song, you should really check it out. (And ditto for Paul's new song "I Want To Come Home" from the film Everybody's Fine.)

Whenever Ringo puts out an album, people roll out the red carpet because they love to be around him, he's a cool guy and a Beatle. They take a cursory listen to the album, and then forget it once he's out the door. And, fair enough, all of his albums aren't great.  On his last album, Liverpool 8, the very last song "R U Ready?" was also really good, and he has gems scattered throughout his recent solo career. But who knows, this album may be a creative rebirth for him (I heard rumors that Ben Harper & Relentless7 are the backing band on the album, but I don't know if that's true).

Monday, December 21, 2009

BEST OF THE '00s: BEN HARPER


Longtime readers of No Expiration know that I am a HUGE fan of Ben Harper. If you're new, you know that I veer towards more "vintage" artists. So let me throw down right here and now and say that Ben is one of the greatest artists of all time, in my opinion. A lot of today's artists who are a "big deal" wouldn't be as big of a deal if they surfaced in the '60s or '70s.  I'll say here that Ben would have been even bigger had he come up in those eras.

I have to admit, I've always been rooting for him. When I read about people seeing Bruce Springsteen at the Stone Pony or Bob Marley on his first U.S. tour, I wondered if I'd ever get to see a talent of that caliber before the general public got wise. In 1994, I was an intern at CMJ magazine, and I found an interesting-looking promo CD. I just liked the way it looked! It was four songs from Ben's classic debut, Welcome To The Cruel World, and it had "Don't Take That Attitude To Your Grave" and "Mama's Got A Girlfriend Now" and a two others. I was sold.  I bought the full CD and then went to see Ben perform at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey, opening for Alejandro Escovedo. I was blown away by Ben's set (Alejandro was great too). I became evangelical, buying extra copies of his CD and giving it to anyone who I thought had good taste in music. But that was the '90s, lets talk about the '00s.

Ben kicked off the decade with some great covers: The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" from the I Am Sam soundtrack, and The Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" and Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" -- both backed by the legendary Funk Brothers -- for the documentary film Standing In The Shadows Of Motown. What other contemporary artist would have the stones to even attempt those songs? He paid the highest tribute to the originals by being respectful while bringing his own persona to the song.

But Ben is no covers artist. In 2003 he returned with a classic album of his own, Diamonds On The Inside which featured one of his best songs, "With My Own Two Songs," a song that I believe people will be singing in a hundred years from now and beyond. The album was a culmination of everything he'd done at that point: reggae, blues, soul, rock and roll and even metal (if you don't believe me, go 15 seconds into "So High So Low").

The following year, he released the amazing collaboration with gospel legends The Blind Boys Of Alabma, There Will Be A Light, maybe my favorite or second favorite album of the decade. Such an amazing collaboration, I'm not a good enough writer to put this one into words. I'll say this: I've seen a lot of concerts in my life. I've seen a lot of Ben Harper concerts in my life. But Ben with the Blind Boys at the Apollo Theater in Harlem is one of the greatest performances I have ever seen.

I would imagine that that album must have been pretty difficult to follow up. The next album was 2006's double album Both Sides Of The Gun, which was sort of half a solo album and half with his incredible backing band, The Innocent Criminals, who I should have mentioned already. This album was even more diverse than Diamonds, and as usual, showed no compromise to the commercial music market (and that said, most of his music is totally accessible, as long as you don't require being pandered to). There are so many great songs to talk about here, but I'll go with "Better Way," another one that will be sung in an century, long after we are gone.

I'll pause here for a second to give props to his record label. I don't know if he has a good relationship with them, but it shocks me that a record label has stuck with a non-hit-single artist like Ben for so long. Maybe they hold him to a different standard than the rest of their roster, and they should.

In 2007, he returned with his second best album of the decade, Lifeline. This one was recorded with The Innocent Criminals right after a tour, and would be their last album for a while. It was a great one to say goodbye with.

This year, he made the really daring move of changing bands - on the Lifeline tour he got big enough to sell out two nights in a row at Radio City Music Hall. His label and management must have been thinking "finally!" So what does he do? Puts The Innocent Criminals on hiatus and gets together with a harder rocking combo, Relentless7 and starts playing bars. He knows what he's doing. I love both bands -- and I'm sure he does also. I'm sure he'll play with the Criminals in the future, just as Bruce doesn't always work with E Street and Neil Young doesn't always rock with Crazy Horse.

This post is getting a bit long, and I haven't even gone into his collaborations with Jack Johnson (who he helped to put on the map), Willie Nelson, Toots Hibbert, Stephen Marley, Bonnie Raitt, and Eddie Vedder. So I'll wrap it up here -- if you are looking to get into Ben, comment here and I'll get back to you, or just post a "beginner's guide to Ben Harper."


More Best Of The '00s: Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Aimee Mann
Jeff Tweedy
David Johansen
Levon Helm
The Beatles
Jim James
U2
Steve Earle

Sunday, December 20, 2009

BEST OF THE '00s: STEVE EARLE


Some may argue with me, but I feel that this past decade has been Steve Earle's best. Or at least, it holds up to the two prior decades.  The '80s featured Guitar Town, Exit 0 and Copperhead Road. The '90s saw him go to jail and emerge even stronger with I Feel Alright, El Corazon and a collaboration with bluegrass gruop The Del McCoury Band, The Mountain.

I guess it was during the '00s that I caught up to Steve Earle, but his great albums kept blowing my mind during this decade.  Transcendental Blues was a really solid album. But he really hit a new stride with 2002's Jerusalem. For me, that's when he hit his political stride, railing against the evils of the Bush administration in the post 9/11 world. Steve was always a bit rough-edged to fit in with the Nashville world, and when he came out of prision, he was very anti-death penalty, which probably made some people uncomfortable.  By the time this album came out, he was a million miles away from polite Nashville-baked country, but this album ensured that he would never be invited back... at least some country folks will acknowledge the influence of Willie, Cash or Kristofferson. But he practically got blacklisted and evicted for this one (and in fact moved to New York City soon after). But "Ashes To Ashes," "Amerika V. 6.0 (The Best That We Can Do)," and especially "John Walker's Blues" (in the song, he has the audacity to wonder how what would inspire a young American to go to the Middle East and fight against Americans). The album also had a great song that he wrote with Sheryl Crow ("Go Amanda") and a lovely duet with Emmylou Harris ("I Remember You").

He continued down that road on 2004's The Revolution Starts Now, which got him labelled a "commie" from all the right wing nuts. The title track, "Home To Houston," "Rich Man's War" as well as "Condi, Condi" (about Bush's super hot National Security Advisor turned Secretary Of State) and "F the CC" ensured the o'reillys of the world some great targets for a while.  Although it was very much of its time, it still sounds great today.

He changed direction with 2007's Washington Square Serenade, which saw him sort of ditching his longtime backing band The Dukes. He moved from Nasvhille to New York and was newly married to singer/songwriter Allison Moorer. I love this album, and it was one of my favorites of 2007. It was more about love and life than about politics, although it had a nice f*** you to Lou Dobbs in "City Of Immigrants."

Earlier this year, he released Townes, a tribute to his late mentor Townes Van Zandt.   I wanted to like it, but it didn't really do it for me. Still,  his other albums during the decade made him one of my quintessential '00s artists. He also did a great cover of "Reconsider Me" for the Warren Zevon tribute album, Enjoy Every Sandwich that you should check out. I also have to mention his great show Hardcore Troubadour on SIRIUS XM's Outlaw Country, it's a great show.  I also know he's acted on The Wire (but I don't have HBO so I've never seen it), written a book and a play. But for me, it's mostly about the music (and his radio show).  As Emmylou said once when I saw her introducing him in concert, "Steve Earle takes no shit." He's made a great career of that -- doing things his own way, he doesn't know any other way.  Those kinds of artists are few and far between, and I'm glad Steve is one of the ones who is still here.


More Best Of The '00s: Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Aimee Mann
Jeff Tweedy
David Johansen
Levon Helm
The Beatles
Jim James
U2

BEST OF THE '00s: U2


At the start of the '00s, U2 were in a weird place.  In the early '90s, they reinvented themselves in as radical a way as any other rock band ever had. Going from the Americana-influenced ernestness of Joshua Tree and Rattle & Hum, they returned as jaded techno-fuelled rock stars who didn't take much seriously with Achthung Baby. On paper, it would seen like a disaster, but as we all know, it worked incredibly well.  (For a pretty amazing analysis of the album, check out the 33 1/3 series book that features the album).

Some may argue that they took that approach too far on Zooropa and especially Pop. Actually, I felt that Pop was a bit misunderstood: the lyrical matter of the album is actually pretty heavy, it's just that they led with the single "Discotheque" and the tour was kind of a kitch-fest.  Moving in the millenium (everyone used to use that word all the time), they stripped down and went back to basics.

Actually, before they released their new album, they did a few new songs on the soundtrack to The Million Dollar Hotel, which was produced by Bono (and who did a few solo tracks on it). That film was a bit of a mess, and was Bono's first and last real foray as a filmmaker (unfortunately it didn't deter him from being involved in what may be Broadway's biggest ever flop, Spider-Man). The songs were stripped down and a good sign of where the band was going.

When they released All That You Can't Leave Behind in 2000, they were back. Four classic singles, "Beautiful Day," "Walk On," "Elevation" and "Stuck In A Moment That You Can't Get Out Of." Plus great album tracks like "Kite" and "In A Little While." It was a classic. When they hit the road, it was on a simple stage, with a heart-shaped track that went into the audience, allowing some fans to actually watch the show from inside the stage. After 9/11, they seemed to be one of the only bands, if not the only band, that mattered. Their performance of "Walk On" at the America: A Tribute To Heroes telethon was classic, and their halftime show at the Super Bowl that year was the best ever.

The follow-up, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, wasn't quite so powerful, but was still a great album, and "Vertigo" was an undeniably great single. And "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," which Bono wrote for his father, was one of their most emotional moments. There was another great tour, which was shot for the concert film U23D. That era also saw two cool U2 collaborations: they recorded an incredible version of their classic "One" with Mary J. Blige, and also with Green Day on a cover of punk rock band The Skids' "The Saints Are Coming" (which they performed at the New Orleans Saints' first game back in New Orleans aftre Katrina). They also did a great cover of John Lennon's Instant Karma for a Lennon tribute by the same name (a benefit for Amnesty International), a single released only in Ireland and featuring lots of Irish stars, "The Ballad Of Ronnie Drew." And they did a great Christmas single, a cover of Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas."

Their latest album, No Line On The Horizon, is good but not great - but the tour has been mindblowing. And U2 are one of the only bands -- if not the only band -- who I feel like can still crank out a classic after more than thirty years together.  I think they've been disappointed by their favorite bands, and they don't want to be the band that does that. On the other hand, as Neil Young sings in "Thrasher," "they had the best selection, they were poisoned by protection," and when you have multiple homes, millions in the band, etc., it's hard to grab that hunger that you sometimes need to create a classic. It's even harder when you are in a band (as opposed to a solo artist).

Some people have a problem with rock stars as activists: I don't. I respect Bono for being involved in the One campaign or Project (Red), or The Edge 's involvement in Music Rising. I think it is a logical extension of the music, and  I also think it fuels them in some way.  I mean, if all you do is make music and enjoy your millions, I don't know if you still have that fire. At least with U2, they have the audacity (of hope?) to try and make the world a better place through their music. Not many bands still do that - and not many bands still can.

More Best Of The '00s: Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Aimee Mann
Jeff Tweedy
David Johansen
Levon Helm
The Beatles
Jim James

"BORN AGAIN"-ERA BLACK SABBATH TOGETHER AGAIN?


In the past twelve or thirteen years, Black Sabbath reunited with their original lineup -- Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward -- for a number of tours and even a few new songs. They've also reunited with the second lineup -- Iommi, Butler, Ronnie James Dio and Vinny Appice. -- under the name Heaven & Hell. Those were the two best versions of the band.

But now the excellent official Sabbath website, Black Sabbath Online, says that a reunion of the Born Again lineup may be in the works.  Well, not quite, but Tony Iommi may be working with Sabbath's third singer, Ian Gillan (more well known as the singer of the classic lineup of Deep Purple). They cite the Swedish Deep Purple fan site, Highway Star. Gillan says that they may start up some new project together.  I'm sure it wouldn't be a Sabbath thing -- in fact, the Gillan version of Sabbath wasn't supposed to be "Black Sabbath," but the record label put pressure on Iommi to call it that (and also, the band featured Geezer Butler and, at first, Bill Ward).

I kind of remember the album from when it came out: I liked the song "Trashed."  But oddly, I got re-turned on to the album when I read the excellent 33 1/3 series book on Black Sabbath's Master Of Reality (an Ozzy-era album).  In that book (totally a work of fiction about how a boy's life was affected by the album, it had nothing to do with the actual making of the album), the narrator talked about how great Born Again was, so I bought it on iTunes. I think it is pretty powerful, not as good as the Ozzy-era stuff (or Gillan's best stuff with Purple), but still pretty powerful.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

RONNIE JAMES DIO - GET WELL SOON


I was sorry to hear that legendary heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio has been diagnosed with cancer. His wife and manager Wendy Dio recently posted to his website that he "aced" his first chemo treatments.

No Expiration readers know that my favorite version of Black Sabbath was the original with Ozzy Osbourne. But the second version with Dio (which now goes by the name Heaven & Hell) was great in their own right. Ronnie also sang in Ritchie Blackmore's post-Deep Purple band, Rainbow, and did some great songs there, espcially "The Man On The Silver Mountain," but also "Long Live Rock and Roll" and "Black Sheep Of The Family."

And, I can't front, the second concert I ever saw was Dio (the first was Rush), and I loved it.  I saw them a total of three times. I also give Ronnie tons of respect for having the good sense of humor to appear in Tenacious D's movie. Anyway, I hope he "slays this dragon," gets well soon and starts rocking again with Dio and Heaven & Hell.

PAUL MCCARTNEY AND U2 GET GOLDEN GLOBE NODS


Earlier this week, the semi-bogus but semi-legit movie awards, The Golden Globes, announced the nominees for this year's ceremony (although on the music tip, The Globes rightly awarded Bruce Springsteen's "The Wrestler" with a trophy last year, while The Oscars didn't even nominate him).

This year's Golden Globe nominees include a U2 song that I hadn't even heard of: "Winter," from the film Brothers.  Also on the ballot is Paul McCartney's "I Want To Come Home" from Everybody's Fine. And finally, a song written by O Brother music supervisor (and awesome producer) T-Bone Burnett and singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham, "The Weary Kind," from Crazy Heart. That song is performed in the film by the star, Jeff Bridges (aka "The Dude") who apparently plays a Kristofferson/Jennings type character. So far, I've heard U2's song which is nice but didn't knock me out, and Paul's song which I really do like. I haven't heard the Crazy Heart song, but I am definitely going to see that movie, and I can't wait.

In honor of U2 and Sir Paul being nominated, here's a video of them together from Live8, performing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

MADNESS AND THE SPECIALS TO TOUR?


Madness frontman Suggs told the UK's Daily Star that the elusive Jerry Dammers may actually re-join the reunited Specials next year. I think that the Star is kind of like the UK's version of the NY Post - that is to say, very gossipy and not super credible - but if they're right this is cool news.

Jerry Dammers is the keyboardist and songwriter and leader of The Specials, and has had beef with his former band and their intent to reunite with or without him. Hopefully, Suggs is right about this. A Specials/Madness tour would be a great time - I'm sure Suggs was referring to a UK/Europe tour, but I bet it would be a big hit at certain cities in the US.

JIMMY PAGE GETS ROAD ENVY


Jimmy Page tells Sky News that he has some new music ready, and that he wants to hit the road to perform in 2010. He, of course, wanted to tour as Led Zeppelin after the epic reunion concert from two years ago, but Robert Plant nixed the idea due to his tour with Alison Krauss (and he may not have wanted to do a Zep tour anyway). Now, John Paul Jones is preparing for a tour with his new band Them Crooked Vultures (with Foo Fighter Dave Grohl and Queen Of The Stone Age Josh Homme). Now Jimmy must be all, "I did that 'Zeppelin-legend-tours-with-younger-artists-thing' years ago when I toured with The Black Crowes as my band!"  Maybe he'll do something like that again.  I'm curious to see what form his music will take.  He's only dione one solo album (1988's Outrider), I wonder if this will be a solo thing like that or more of a collaboration.

THE LATEST FROM THE THIRD MAN V.I.P. CLUB


I've written about the Third Man Records V.I.P. club before: you pay $20 a month and get exclusive stuff and access to cool content on their website. I just got the latest package: it comes with a double live Raconteurs album on vinyl (2 LPs of course)The Raconteurs Live In London. Lots of great songs from both the band's albums and also a cover of the blues classic "Little Red Rooster."

Also included in the package is a White Stripes 7" with alternate takes of "Let's Shake Hands" and "Look Me Over Closely." And some kind of print that is a variation on The Dead Weather's Horehound album cover.

Being a member of this V.I.P. is definitely a luxury, but so far, they have made it pretty worth the money by sending lots of cool stuff out that you can't get anywhere else. 

BEST OF THE '00s: JIM JAMES


This one will surprise some of my friends, and it even surprises me. But when I was thinking of the artists who had a great decade, I definitely thought of My Morning Jacket. I remember reading about them in a British magazine.  Apparently the opened for Eyes Adrift (the short-lived band that featured Krist Novoselic) and Dave Grohl went to one of the shows, caught MMJ and really liked them. I picked up their album It Still Moves, and honestly, wasn't that impressed. But following thier career a bit, they are really ambitious and creative, and yet they don't mind writing a total pop song like "I'm Amazed." The way they embrace pop and more avant-garde type stuff reminds me of The Beatles a bit. I definitely really enjoyed thier last album, 2008's Evil Urges.

But frontman Jim James has done a lot of cool stuff outside of the band: he had a bit role in the Bob Dylan-based film I'm Not There, and did a cool version of "Goin' To Acapulco" (backed by Calexico) on the soundtrack. He also did an EP of Geroge Harrison covers (under the name "Yim Yames"). And, he is part of the indie-rock supergroup Monsters of Folk (with M. Ward and Bright Eyes members Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis). I'm not as big of a fan of Jim and My Morning Jacket as I am as the other artists who made my "Best Of The '00s" series, but I gotta give dude respect.

More Best Of The '00s: Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Aimee Mann
Jeff Tweedy
David Johansen
Levon Helm
The Beatles

BEST OF THE '00s: THE BEATLES


Yes, The Beatles. Yes, they broke up four decades ago. And yet, they had the best selling album of the decade, 1. It had no new songs on it, nothing new at all. What it did have was 27 of the greatest songs of all time, and gave a great jumping-on point for young fans (by the way, one thing that The Beatles - or their estate - didn't do, was to make their catalog available digitally.  The USB drive doesn't count, I'm talking a la carte).

The Beatles did Vegas, albeit in a much cooler way than some of their peers and idols. The Beatles Cirque du Soleil show, Love, was a huge hit. The Beatles-fuelled film Across The Universe, genuinely did introduce a whole new audience to the band.  I saw proof of that in my young barely teenage cousins who know lots of Beatles songs thanks to that film.

The Beatles Rock Band game will also turn on lots of younger kids (although I imagine that lots of copies of the game and its accessories have been purchased by adults). Oh yeah, the same day that was released, so was the remastered Beatles catalog, as well as two box sets - and the Fab Four sold 600,000 CDs in one week. All of this can be attributed to the power and timelessness of The Songs. Yes, they were well marketed back then, and are really well marketed now. But it's really The Songs.

Of course, not everything was great this decade: we lost The Quiet Beatle, George Harrison. All Things Must Pass. His final album, Brainwashed, produced by his fellow Traveling Wilbury Jeff Lynne and his son Dhani Harrison, is a great album and an awesome final statement. You should check it out. I didn't love Paul McCartney's music as much, but I love his mandolin-heavy song "Dance Tonight," and I also really enjoyed Ringo Starr's "R U Ready?"

Today I finally ordered The Beatles box set (in mono) from Newbury Comics, and I can't wait to hear it.  Few things can inspire such unabashed joy in so many as the music of The Beatlees. I don't care that it was created 40 years ago or more. It sounds just as fresh and just as relevant today.

More Best Of The '00s: Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Aimee Mann
Jeff Tweedy
David Johansen
Levon Helm

Friday, December 18, 2009

SO... THIS LADY GAGA GAL


A confession: before preparing for VH1's Top 40 Videos of 2009, I had never seen a Lady Gaga video.  I had seen some clips, but that was it. I'm not being a contrarian,  I really hadn't.  Of course I'd seen pictures, and I read her Rolling Stone cover story, which kind of impressed me. I say that with a bit of a caveat: I'm not quite as impressed with her as lots of othre people are. Yes, she plays piano and writes songs, but those songs, to me, are not much differnet than what I imagine the denizens of the "Jersey Shore" listen to. (And no, I haven't seen that show either. I live in New Jersey and went to college in Long Island, I think I've seen the story before.) Most of those artists have no persona nor any media savviness, and so they are forgotten about the moment they fall off of the charts. Gaga brings some of that Madonna and even Marilyn Manson self-marketing to the game. She's grabbed hold of our attention and she won't let go.  I actually watched an inteview with her, when I filmed her appearance on SIRIUS XM Hits 1 a few weeks ago. I thought it was interesting that she carries herself as both a pop superstar and at the same time, more "artsy" than you. But doens't come off as a bitch or a diva. She's actually very smart and very canny.

She also talks about "redefining the idea of what is beautiful." I don't think she really does that. If she plays down her Warholian wardrobe and dresses like a Jersey Shore girl, I bet all the guys down there would have no problem with her. Beth Ditto on the other hand, could maybe redefine the idea of what is beautiful. But I don't think the general public would buy into that.

Back in the '80s when Madonna released her first album, I remember her being really polarizing, and I didn't have a strong opinion of her either way, but I didn't think she would be around for long. That was based on the music, which was nice pop, but I didn't know much about her personality. By the time she released Like A Prayer, I realized she was kind of the real deal and would be around for just as long as she wants to be. Now she is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and I think she deserves that, she's more rock and roll than Leonard Cohen or The Eagles. I wonder if Gaga has a Like A Prayer in her though.

BEST OF '09: THE REVEREND HORTON HEAT


I was surprised by how much I love the new album by The Reverend Horton Heat, Laughin' & Cryin' with the Reverend Horton Heat. I am a huge fan of The Rev, and have been ever since my friend Ashmi took me to a show at Tramps back in 1994. I was blown away by the good reverend, and have been every time I've seen him since.

The albums haven't always been as good as the shows.  It's never that they are bad, it's just that they don't match the awesomeness of their first two, 1990's Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em and 1993's The Full Custom Gospel Sounds of The Reverend Horton Heat. This new album is the first time I've felt a new record holds up to those first two.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Rev, he's what they call "psychobilly." A mix of punk rock energy and rockabilly and country music.  It's music played with incredible skill on a very simple set up (fat electric guitar, upright bass, minimal drum kit). It's funny, but not a joke (and defiinitely not a novelty). This album has all of the best elements of the band. Great playing, it kicks ass and is funny. The lyrics might be The Rev's best ever (I realize it is confusing - I refer to both the fan, and the frontman [Jim Heath aka The Reverend Horton Heat] as "The Rev").

"Rural Point of View" takes aim at NPR-listening to, Whole-Foods-shopping-at blue staters, with lines like "you don't need a gun if you can call 911 and the cops are at your door in just a few" and "they want to take away my pick-up truck, but a small electric car would just get stuck, it won't haul a load of hay more than half a mile away, through the weeds and through the mud and through the muck." It just gives you something to think about without getting all Sarah Palin about it. It's funny the way he expresses his perspective. And there's lots of other funny songs, like "Ain't No Saguoro In Texas," "Death Metal Guys" and "Please Don't Take Baby To The Liquor Store," but the are funny like country songs, the best and most timeless ones. If you stopped buying The Rev's records a while ago (they all have a least a few good ones) pick this one up. And if you've never checked thier music out, this is as good a place to start as the early albums, and how many bands with a twenty year career can you say that about? (and thank you Ashmi, for taking me to my first Rev show).

Other Best of '09 albums: Bob Dylan's Together Through Life , The Cocktail Slippers' Saint Valentine's Day Massacre , Rancid's Let The Dominoes Fall, N.A.S.A.'s Spirit Of Apollo , Levon Helm's Electric Dirt , Buddy & Julie Miller's Written In Chalk, Ben Harper & Relentless7's White Lies For Dark Times, The Dead Weather's Horehound Muse's The Resistance.