Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Well, today the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the artists on this year's ballot.  If I were a voter, of course I'd be writing in KISS on my ballot, as they were passed over again.  That said, there are some cool artists on the ballot as it stands, and I'd have a hard time voting for just five.  But if I was a voter, I'd go with:

The Beastie Boys: no other band has jumped from style to style like them and done it all well.  Hardcore punk, hip-hop, hard rock and instrumental funk.  Add in one of the funniest phony phone calls of all time, and the fact that they introduced a generation to the plight of Tibet and the concept of non-violent protests, these guys absolutely deserve to get in.  I just hope that they do... and that Adam Yauch is healthy enough to perform at the ceremony.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers: When they started out in the '80s, I doubt many people would have expected this band to last twenty five years, or to be able to age so well.  I love their early albums with drummer Jack Irons and the late guitarist Hillel Slovak, but they really came into their own when drummer Chad Smith and guitarist John Frusciante joined for Mother's Milk.  Of course, the followup, Bloodsugarsexmagik, is a classic, as is lots of the band's second era with Frusciante (Californication is one of the best comeback albums ever). I imagine Anthony Keidis, Flea, Iron, Slovak, Smith and Frusciante will be included if the band is inducted.  I wonder if they'll include Dave Navarro and current guitarist Josh Klinghoffer.

Eric B & Rakim: I was impressed to see them included on the ballot (while being disappointed that LL Cool J, on the ballot in the past but as of yet not inducted, wasn't included). Ask any MC who knows what he's talking about: Rakim is one of the greatest of all time, if not the greatest.  I don't know if their influence on rock and roll is as obvious as that of LL, Run-DMC or Public Enemy (who are not eligible until next year).  But a lot of rock artists were listening to hip-hop during the golden era of the late '80s and early '90s, and if you were listening to hip-hop at that point, you were definitely listening to this incredible duo.  I wonder if they'll perform together if inducted.  Rakim has been doing their music in concert, but is never that cool when talking about Eric B.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: Every few years there's someone who comes along and kicks everyone's ass and reminds them what rock and roll is about. That's what Joan Jett did in the '80s.  She can do gigs with indie punk bands, then do the county fair with Meat Loaf or someone, and then tour with a metal band. She's respected by everyone and rightfully so.  I would vote for her if only for her song "Bad Reputation," it's just righteous.  I should also mention that she's a great music fan, and anyone who heard her former radio show on The Underground Garage would agree.  I wish she still did that show.

The Cure: as long as there as moody kids into weird dark music, there will be a place for The Cure.  They have a pretty incredible body of work, and they really developed over time.  I mean to go from "10:15 Saturday Night" to "Fascination Street" to "Just Like Heaven," that's a lot of ground and they don't really get credit for their diversity.  I wonder which members would be inducted (other than Robert Smith, of course).

I'd have a hard time not voting for The Faces/The Small Faces.  I love The Faces, they are one of the greatest pure rock and roll bands ever.  I always thought that they deserved to be inducted more than Rod Stewart did for his solo career. I think his best vocal performances were with them. I have to confess though, I don't really know much about their precursor, The Small Faces.

I'd also like to see Guns N Roses inducted. Like anyone else who was alive in 1987, Appetite For Destruction rocked my world, and they deserve to get in just for that album. And of course, who wouldn't want to see who shows up for their induction? They shouldn't get in before KISS though.

Heart is a great group, I don't know if I'd vote for them, but I certainly wouldn't object to it if they got in. I wonder which members (other than Ann and Nancy Wilson) would be included? Ann Wilson is one of the great classic rock singers.  Freddie King is a great blues guitarist, a huge influence on Clapton (as well as Beck and SRV). Definitely wouldn't object to his induction, I'm not a huge expert on the guy beyond "Hideaway." Rufus with Chaka Khan is a cool funk group, but I wouldn't vote for them. The Spinners were a great Philly soul group, I wouldn't object to them either. I've discussed Donna Summer as a Hall of Famer with Larry Flick: I don't mind a disco diva being in the Hall of Fame, especially because I think "I Feel Love" is pretty radical and badass.  But if disco is going to be represented, I'd lean more towards voting for Chic (not on the ballot this year). I think War is actually a really underrated group, I'd like to see them get in at some point. The two artists on the ballot I would object to: Donovan (I just can't take his music, its way too hippie for me) and Laura Nyro (great songwriter, but not a rock and roller).  

Thursday, September 22, 2011


There's a lot of nostalgia around '90s music these days. Pearl Jam is celebrating their 20th anniversary via a documentary film directed by Cameron Crowe, the accompanying book and soundtrack and their recent two day festival.  Nirvana, meanwhile, are releasing various versions of the 20th anniversary edition of their breakthrough album, Nevermind.

I always thought that the sort of clash between the bands was silly, and never felt the need to choose between them.  That said, when Kurt Cobain complained about Pearl Jam being "corporate rock" in Rolling Stone (the issue where he wore the "corporate magazines still suck" t-shirt on the cover), I found that a bit annoying. Sure, Ten was slick sounding... but so was Nevermind. (And Geffen had Andy Wallace remix the album after they turned down producer Butch Vig's original mix... which will be available in the super-deluxe version of the reissue).

Nirvana was more abrasive, and Pearl Jam was more inclusive. Nevermind kicked down doors and changed music overnight, Pearl Jam took a bit longer to find their audience (despite the fact that their music is more accessible).  Nirvana was always more credible, Pearl Jam easier to make fun of.  I never cared about any of that.

Nirvana left behind a pretty untouchable -- but small -- body of work. Three albums, lots of singles and B-sides, and great live shows (I never saw them in concert). Kurt Cobain is in the "27" club with Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison and (I guess) Winehouse. We never saw him get old, Nirvana never fell off, it's all perfectly preserved in our memories, and I guess there's something about that that people romanticize.

As a 40-something, I have a much greater appreciation for what Pearl Jam has done. They've stuck it out. They're not pretending to be 20-somethings, they're not pretending to be anything they're not. They're grown men and they write songs from that perspective.  Has everything they've ever done lived up to the promise of Ten, Vs. and Vitalogy?  No. But that's how life is: everything doesn't always come out great, but you keep going. And you hit upon some brilliant moments during the ride.

That's kind of what Rob Sheffield wrote about today on Rolling Stone, when discussing R.E.M.'s breakup.  He said "People love to complain that R.E.M. should have broken up when Bill Berry quit in 1997, to preserve their legacy in a pristine state. Except this misses the fundamental point of R.E.M., which is that rock and roll is something you do, something that's part of your real sloppy life, rather than a fleeting phase. They decided not to be a 'go out in a blaze of glory' band like The Smiths or Husker Du, and they also decided not to be a 'blaze gloriously and then kinda fade out so everybody assumes you broke up even though maybe you officially didn't' kind of band, like Echo and the Bunnymen or The Jesus and Mary Chain. They decided to be a 'run it into the ground' band, plowing ahead whether they had the wind at their backs or not."  I disagree with Mr. Sheffield a bit, as I loved R.E.M.'s 2008 album Accelerate, but generally speaking, the wind has not been at their backs since Bill left.

The wind hasn't always been at Pearl Jam's backs either, and at points, it seemed to be blowing directly at them. I'm glad they stuck it out, and keep sticking it out. It would have been easy to call it a day: none of these guys need the money at this point. And I would admit that not all of their albums seem as inspired as their early ones.  But parts of Backspacer mean as much to me as anything they've ever done. "The Fixer" is like my mantra.  "Unthought Known," "Just Breathe" and "Amongst The Waves" move me as much as anything they've done before.  I'm glad they stuck around long enough to make that album, and I can't wait to hear what the next one is like.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Chop Love Carry Fire is the new project led by Jeremy Toback, the former bass player in a band that I really dig, Brad. Jeremy also has done a couple of cool solo albums (I particularly enjoy an early solo song of his, "California Phase").  The group also features drummer Butch Norton, who I've seen as a part of Lucinda Williams' band.

The group's self-titled EP is out now, and it has definitely grown on me.  Jeremy's voice, funny enough, reminds me a bit of that of his former bandmate, Stone Gossard. But I feel like Jeremy works harder as a singer, and it pays off.  His thing isn't necessarily to be a perfect singer, but to get passion across, and he does that really well.  He has a sincerity that reminds me of Neil Young's voice at times.   The music on the album doesn't remind me much of Brad, it's got a bit more crunch, and the bass is more front and center than guitar. At times it reminds me of Scary Monsters-era Bowie combined with a bit of Zeppelin stomp. It's cool stuff, and I look forward to hearing more from this project (although I'd also love to see Jeremy back with Brad).

Get a taste of the band for yourself, though: check out their video for "Want Nothing" here.


I just picked up a copy of the deluxe reissue of the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack.  It's well worth the money, especially if you didn't get it the first time.

It's the rare soundtrack that stands apart from the film, even though the film is an absolute classic.  I'd liken it to Saturday Night Fever in that it really introduced a genre of music to the general public.  SNF introduced disco, and O Brother kind of re-introduced bluegrass and mountain music to America and the world.  Both movies were huge (I barely remember SNF, but O Brother is one of my favorite films ever, I enjoy it more every time I see it) but still the soundtracks stand as their own creations.

I'd also argue that O Brother introduced some great talent to larger audiences, namely Gillian Welch.  Alison Krauss was doing quite well before the film, but I think a lot of people discovered her through the album. And without a doubt, Ralph Stanley really benefitted from the exposure he got from his haunting version of "O Death." And as producer T-Bone Burnett says in the liner notes, people who didn't have houses were now able to afford houses.  That's an amazing thing.  Another great story in the liner notes is about James Carter, who leads a group of convicts in a field recording of "Po' Lazarus," from 1959, which is used at the beginning of the film. After the soundtrack went to #1, he was tracked down: out of jail for decades, he didn't remember recording that song, but now he gets performance royalty checks from one of the best selling soundtracks of all time. "So a movie about these prisoners on a prison work farm down South recording a song and having it become a hit song unbeknownst to them, started off with a song recorded by a prisoner on a prison work farm which became a bit hit unbeknownst to him."

This is all the context of the film and the soundtrack.  But how is the expanded reissue?  Well, it adds some songs from the film that didn't make the original version, as well as a couple of songs that weren't used in the film. Many are different versions of songs from the film: "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" (by Colin Linden, in addition to Chris Thomas King's from the original soundtrack), "I'll Fly Away" (by The Kossoy Sisters with Erik Darling, complimenting the Krauss/Welch version), and another haunting field recording, Ed Lewis and other prisoners singing "Tom Devil," recorded by Alan Lomax the same day he recorded "Po' Lazarus."

I'm not sure the album necessarily needed an expanded edition, but I found the other versions of the songs a welcome addition to an album that I've listened to many times.


By now, everyone has heard the news that R.E.M. have decided to split up.  They announced it on their website, with comments from all three members, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills.

Of course, lots of people are bummed out. So am I, but I think they did the right thing, it felt like it was time.  I think the band has been off-balance ever since drummer Bill Berry after New Adventures In Hi-Fi in 1997.  They've had some great moments, notably "The Great Beyond" from the Man In The Moon soundtrack, "Bad Day" from their In Time best of.  I loved their 2008 album, Accelerate, which I felt showed more focus than anything they'd done since Berry was in the band. I think that would have been a good way to bow out.  Unfortunately, I was so ambivalent about this year's Collapse Into Now, I could barely review it.

I've had the opportunity to interview the trio of Stipe, Buck and Mills twice.  My take is that they are still friends, but the relationship is strained, mainly by the divergent paths that their lives have taken. Mind you, each interview was a a half hour, I didn't spend time with the guys.  But that's my take - and also, I've read tons of interviews with them also.  Buck always struck me at being annoyed at having to "promote" music, and Stipe seemed like he wasn't as into guitar-based rock music (albeit some of the strangest guitar based rock music) as he was in the '80s and early '90s.  And that's fine.  You've changed, I've changed, and so have these guys.  Actually, I think Mike Mills would be happy making records and touring forever.

I recently wrote about a very different band, Black Sabbath, and why I didn't mind that the rumors that they were getting back together weren't true. Because, as George Harrison said, "All things must pass."  The idea that three or four guys who got together in their teens or twenties could keep something like a rock band going for decades is kind of weird, when you think about it.  And when you consider that R.E.M. have always been pretty forward thinking, cynical of the status quo, it is surprising that they've been together as long as they have.

Part of Stipe's statement on the website was quoting "a wise man" who said "the skill in attending a party is knowing when it's time to leave." He's right. So I'm happy to thank them for the music and wave goodbye.  Thanks for making the party WAY more interesting than it would have been without you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I read that Flea had been listening to a lot of Rolling Stones records while working on the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album, I'm With You (and Rolling Stone's review cited this fact also).  I would think that this was equal parts musical inspiration and "how did they do it?"

In other words: Mick and Keith have pretty much led the band since they took over the reigns from Brian Jones. But losing Jones was still a big deal, a big transition, for the band. After that, losing Mick Taylor was a big deal too.  But of course, The Rolling Stones have endured a number of key member changes.  So the question for the Red Hot Chili Peppers is: is new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer their Ron Wood -- the guy born to be a member of the group -- or is he their next Dave Navarro (i.e. guy who just isn't the right fit)?

(By the way, NO disrespect to Navarro, the album he did with RHCP, One Hot Minute, had some good songs, but it didn't quite work).

I've been listening to this album for a while, and I'm still having a hard time deciding.  I think it's a stronger album than say, One Hot Minute, but I'm not sure how many songs people will want to hear from this album when the Peppers are on tour in two or three years from now.  "Monarchy Of Roses" is a great opener, and would have been a way better first single than "The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie" which just sounds too much like past Chili ballads.  I do think Josh Klinghoffer fits in pretty well.  He's definitely different from John Frusciante - he's less guitar hero guy and more about textures (which is kind of what he added as an extra touring member of the band a few years ago).

A ballad that sounds different from prior mellow tunes is "Brendan's Death Song," about a late friend of the band.  I think it's pretty powerful, Anthony Kiedis sounds like he's haunted by memories of people he's lost. It's not mellow depression, but real sadness, and it's soulful.  I also like the more upbeat, piano-driven "Happiness Loves Company."  Frusciante added keyboards to the mix, but he was definitely a guitar guy first.  I get the feeling that Josh Klinghoffer is ok playing anything, as long as it fits the song.

I guess I just wish that the songs here were more memorable.  I'm surprised that some of these got past Rick Rubin, who usually won't let a band hit the studio until the songs are tight enough.

But the Chili Peppers is one of my favorite bands ever, and I'm loyal.  I'll look at I'm With You as Josh Klinghoffer's Mother's Milk - his intro to the group, and hopefully they have something like a Bloodsugarsexmagik or Californication left in them... or at least another By The Way. For now, I'm looking forward to seeing this version of the band live, and seeing how the new songs hold up to the classics in concert.  I think maybe the band would have benefitted from actually doing some shows with Josh before making the record.

Friday, September 2, 2011


I'd seen the great Tom Morello in concert a number of times - with Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave and Street Sweeper Social Club.  But this was my first real Nightwatchman show (other than a brief appearance at Pete Seeger's 90th birthday concert).  At that show, Tom and Bruce Springsteen did an acoustic duet of "The Ghost Of Tom Joad," a song that Rage surprised people with when they covered it in the '90s.  These days, it makes a lot more sense. Tom's dedication to sticking up for the less fortunate, and his outrage at the evils of society is similar to Bruce's (he's even more "left" than Bruce, I think).  But performing as The Nightwatchman, Tom makes a compelling case as a guy with two different and legit musical personas.  One - the guitar shredder from Rage and Street Sweeper, and, two, The Nightwatchman either solo or backed by a band. The Nightwatchman is something he can always do, whether or not he is with a band. Or whether or not he has electricity.

There's a bit of a misperception about Tom doing The Nightwatchman.  Because his debut album, 2007's One Man Revolution was a bit sparse and dry, people probably think his shows will be slow and boring.  I think on some level, even Tom realized that he could be playing to bigger audiences by, well, having a bit more fun.  If you listen to "The Iron Wheel" (a duet with Shooter Jennings) from his second album, 2008's The Fabled City, it's a great sing-along tune. Some of Woody Guthrie's songs were fun, I think Tom caught on to that.  I think his earlier tours were like Bruce's first solo acoustic tour for The Ghost Of Tom Joad. I saw that show twice: it was good, but demanding, and it felt like fun was not allowed. You can pull that off if you're, like Leonard Cohen or something. But Woody, Pete Seeger, even Steve Earle, they have fun at their shows.  I think Tom realized this. This tour was more like Bruce's Devils and Dust tour: he realized that it's ok to do serious solo acoustic shows and still have a good time. Everyone walked out of the show with a smile on their face, but also charged up.

So last night's show was a solo acoustic deal, but he was joined by Carl Restivo from his backing band (Carl is also in Street Sweeper Social Club).  It was an incredibly powerful show.  Like Bruce, Tom lets the audience know when to be quiet, and those moments provided some of the most powerful moments of the night. One was "Battle Hymns," which he dedicated to Iraq Veterans Against the War (learn more about them here). He also did a version of Pink Floyd's "When The Tigers Broke Free" from The Wall (about how the main character's father died in the war), updating the lyrics for 2011.  

But those songs had greater weight, because, as Tom put it, he brought the "heavy metal thunder" on many other songs.  "Save The Hammer For The Man" from his new album, World Wide Rebel Songs, was incredible (the original is a duet with the great Ben Harper, Carl did his best to sing Ben's part, and he did so ably).  "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" was mindblowing - Tom switching to an electric in the middle of the song to melt faces.  Maybe the most rockin song was "This Land Is Your Land." Tom added the "censored" lyrics, which make it much more radical (see the lyrics and a historic performance of that song by Seeger and Springsteen here). He had the whole room jumping - explaining that everyone HAD to jump, as his show was "an irony free zone" even though it was in New York City.  You can see a bootleggy video of the performance here.  It's obvious he has taken notes from Springsteen, but he's clearly doing his own thing.  He finished up by inviting the audience on stage for "World Wide Rebel Songs," instructing one woman in the audience to film the show for YouTube, and demanding that the rest of us stop tweeting and filming and live in the moment.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the after-party (and this is a good place to mention that I got complimentary tickets, in the interest of full disclosure).  I met some nice folks from Tom's management team, and even introduced my wife - who took these excellent photos, and who is a public school teacher and a proud union woman - to Tom.  She got to thank him for his support.  It was a great moment.

One moment that I wish he had was "The Iron Wheel," one of The Nightwatchman's greatest songs.  Shooter Jennings was there, I couldn't believe they didn't perform together! Maybe next time.

On a final note, I'll mention that I got to chat with Mr. Morello the day before - I filmed him for SiriusXM's E Street Radio.  We discussed a recent quote of his from Rolling Stone magazine, where he said that he's the last man in America who thinks Bob Dylan sold out by going electric. So, I'm here to say that Tom has at least one stance that I totally disagree with.  "Hurricane" is way better with a band than it would be without, and ditto for "Lovesick." That's just off the top of my head. But anyway, thank you Tom for a great show, hope to see you again soon. (Tom will be on E Street Radio on September 5 and 6, for listings and rebroadcast times, go here).