Monday, October 31, 2011


Matthew Sweet's new album Modern Art is, as I mention above, well titled.  It doesn't hit you immediately.  I wonder if it is a reaction to his two recent albums with Susanna Hoffs: 2006's Under The Covers Vol. 1 (covers of '60s classics) and 2009's Under The Covers Vol. 2 (the '70s). Those albums were packed with instantly recognizable songs filled with hooks.  Modern Art, on the other hand, is a bit more, well, abstract.

Matthew plays most of the instruments, with long time drummer Ric Menck accompanying him, and Dennis Taylor on lead guitar (he was a guitar tech for The Bangles: Matthew helped them on their latest album, Sweetheart Of The Sun).  It's kind of like the set up he used to record Girlfriend, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.  On his current tour, he is playing that entire album, and I guess the problem is, next to that album, I know I wouldn't want to hear too many songs from Modern Art. Still I'm a loyal fan of Matthew's, his music has meant the world to me over the years, and I'll give this one a few more listens.  


First off, I'll say that as a big fan of the True Blood series, I thought this past season (season 4) was bad.  Really bad.  Embarrassingly bad. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know I'm more likely to like things than to not like them.  And I'm much more likely to write about things that I like than things that I don't like.  But from the awful season premiere (when they went to fairy land, I thought that sleestaks were going to start running around) to the finale ("can you let us down, we're getting a bit crispy," Sookie breaking up with both vampire dudes in one of the cheesiest scenes I've ever sat through on any show), it was just bad. And taking Lafayette - one of the show's best characters, mainly because of his dislike/distrust of anything supernatural, and making him into a conduit for the ghost of an evil spirit... well, I guess it could have been a cool idea, but it came off corny as hell. 

Of course, this is not a TV blog, it's a music blog, and right now, as I'm giving out candy to trick or treaters, I'm listening to the latest installment of the True Blood compilation series. And as annoyed as I am at the show's producer Alan Ball, I have to give it up  -- again -- to music supervisor Gary Calamar. Last year, I wrote about the second CD in the series, and expressed serious admiration for True Blood's music team, and I still feel the same way. They come up with songs that fit the mood, regardless of era and genre (it's the same reason why I love the greatest radio station in the world, the Underground Garage).

The album has a number of new tracks, which I imagine were recorded specifically for the show. I don't know if you could say that being on True Blood is the adult equivalent of being on a Twilight soundtrack, but I guess it is comparable.  Regardless, there are some really great tracks here. The opener combines stuff I love with stuff I don't:  Karen Elson (whose debut, The Ghost Who Walks, was one of my favorite albums of 2010) covers Donovan (who I've never been a fan of) with "Season Of The Witch."  Karen's ex-, Jack White produces and Donovan himself sings on the track.

The late Gil Scott-Heron covered Robert Johnson's "Me and The Devil."  Obviously a classic, and Mr. Scott-Heron brought his own thing to it. I guess this is one of the last things he ever recorded. 

Hipsters must be melting over the union of Neko Case and Nick Cave covering The Zombies' "She's Not There." But they should, it's pretty great, and I remember thinking that as it aired over the credits of one of this season's episodes. 

PJ Harvey and Gordon Gano of The Violent Femmes' "Hittin' The Ground" is the title track from Gano's debut solo album from 2002. It's a really fun song, and PJ sounds like she's really getting her Patti Smith on. It's not a new song, but it's new to me, and probably is to a lot of other people.

And in a combo made in Americana heaven, Jakob Dylan and The Jayhawks' Gary Louris do "Gonna Be A Darkness," which they co-wrote.  There are so many good songs here!  A group called The Heavy cover Larua Nyro's "And When I Die," and there's a cool Blackroc song (Blackroc is The Black Keys in hip-hop mode) called "What You Do To Me."  Then, there's some older songs, like Slim Harpo's "Te Ni Nee Ni Nu," Massive Attack featuring Hope Sandoval "Paradise Circus," and Siouxie & The Banshees' "Spellbound."

Here's hoping that the next season of True Blood makes up for this one, but I know that the music will always be on point.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


My wife and I had a little Pearl Jam film festival this weekend, watching Eddie Vedder's Water On The Road concert film, and also Pearl Jam 20, the documentary about the band by Cameron Crowe. I thought Cameron, a long time fan of the band, did a good job. It was really interesting to see Eddie, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament and Mike McCready talking about their entire history. Well, almost.

I kept getting hung up on the fact that none of the band's ex-drummers were mentioned until well after an hour into the film. First, Mike mentioned "Jack," referring to Jack Irons, and a few minutes later, Mike went into an explanation of the former drummers (Irons, Dave Krusen, Dave Abbruzzese and even interim drummer Matt Chamberlin). It really bothered me that none of them were interviewed for the doc.  In contrast, in the recent Foo Fighters doc, the former members got to have their say, I felt that it hurt PJ20 that the drummers were almost an afterthought to the film (ironically, as Eddie Vedder at one point says that a drummer is a band's heart). Also, longtime keyboardist Boom Gaspar was the subject of a 5 minute extra, but there was no real explanation of why Vedder thought he should be in the band, or what the band thought of him joining.   I was also interested in hearing more about the conflict in the band, when Eddie was touring in a van trying to be a "D.I.Y." as possible while the rest of the band traveled together in a bus. Mike McCready asks "Was he embarrassed by us?"  I would have liked to have heard Eddie address that. There was definitely a time where he seemed to be chasing some weird indie-rock credibility that is kind of impossible for a band whose debut album sold ten million copies. It was obvious that it was creating tension with the rest of the band: especially as Jeff and Stone had been though so much with their former bands, Green River and Mother Love Bone.

At the core of the film is Stone's desire to run the band, and Eddie's increasing influence.  McCready insinuated that Stone wasn't totally into having Jeff in Pearl Jam, Stone admitted to thinking of it as his band until Eddie Vedder took over.  I imagine Stone calls the shots in Brad, but even in Brad, the singer Shawn Smith is kind of the main guy in the group. Stone has done a solo album - which was kind of ignored. I wonder how Stone made peace with the fact that he's better in a band, and a band needs a good frontman. Meanwhile, I would have liked to have heard more from Eddie about the importance of the other guys in the band, and how he interprets his influence in the group.

I realize that the band's manager Kelly Curtis was a co-producer, and the the goal of the film was to celebrate the band as it currently exists, not necessarily to be a comprehensive documentary, and Cameron Crowe is close with the band.  Maybe a documentary like Metallica's Some Kind Of Monster went a bit too deep and provided too much information, but I feel like PJ20 didn't go far enough.

I did enjoy the doc. I loved seeing Jeff at home in Montana, and Eddie's story about meeting Jack Irons for the first time:  Jack was playing in Joe Strummer's band, Eddie worked at the venue for a show where they met, Jack later introduced Eddie to Stone and Jeff.  While telling the story, Eddie is looking a picture of he and Strummer from that show, and he muses, "It all really comes down to this picture." Of course I loved where the band talked about Neil Young's influence on them, not just musically, but career wise.

I remember in the early days of the band, I found myself annoyed at Eddie Vedder for his indie obsession, which I felt came from (among other things) Kurt Cobain slamming the band in the press.  And while I've always loved Nirvana, Cobain's comments made me lose a bit of respect for him. It was fascinating to me that Stone admitted that Eddie's decisions sometimes didn't make sense to him at the time, and sometimes took a decade to make sense, but they were the right decisions.  And also that Cobain's comments kept the band on their "best behavior" and keeps doing so to this day.  I never thought of it that way.  Those were great moments the really added weight to the doc.

I really enjoyed that Stone talked about the fans' belief in the band keeping the band alive even when they weren't sure about themselves.  I never "moved on" from the band: I've been down since almost day one (I bought Ten the day it came out, because I loved the Temple Of The Dog album, which I bought because I was a Soundgarden fan, and to a lesser extent, Mother Love Bone). If my cheers, concert attendance, purchasing of their albums on release day, was a small part of the larger group of fans that never lost faith, I'm glad. I'm also glad that the band remain a relevant force to me to this day.  I can't wait for the next album, and yes, I'm willing to forgive the flaws in this documentary.


I just watched the live concert film from Eddie Vedder's first big solo tour, Water On The Road. I caught this tour, and it was amazing.  This film is a great snapshot of the tour, but it's more: there's great extra footage - backstage, at Eddie's home in Hawaii, scenes with fans - beautifully shot by directors Christoph Green and Brendan Canty. You might recognize Canty's name - he played drums in Fugazi. And he gets out from behind the camera to provide the most exciting part of the film: he gets on drums to back Eddie for a cover of "All Along The Watchtower" (it's actually in the bonus features).

But the entire film was great.  I think Eddie put a lot of thought into the presentation of the show, and it paid off.  Everything from the song selection to the stage set worked.  The setlist drew from the Into The Wild soundtrack, with Pearl Jam  tunes and Bob Dylan covers ("Watchtower," "Girl From The North Country," "Forever Young").  The set itself had a pretty cool look, with a sky blue background, a pair of wings, and towards the end of the show, Eddie and his guests Liam Finn and Sleater-Kinney alumni Corin Tucker are wearing lab coats and playing in dried ice during "Hard Sun."

My highlights included Eddie and Tucker, backstage, recording a cover of X's "Golden State," all the Into The Wild songs, Eddie at home doing Pearl Jam's new classic "Unthought Known" and the Dylan covers. I hope that Pearl Jam keep rocking for a long time, but I'm glad Eddie now has a parallel career that acknowledges PJ's legacy but isn't dependent on it. I feel that this film makes a good argument for that (and by the way, so did his last tour for Ukulele Songs, which I saw earlier this year).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Two weeks ago, I returned to SiriusXM OutQ's The Morning Jolt With Larry Flick after being on the disabled list for a while.  Last week, I had to miss it again (for scheduling reasons, not heath ones). Tomorrow I'm back, and I'm bringing the funk.

Well, maybe not funk by the strictest definition of funk purists. But all the music I'm bringing in will be funky.

First up, is the Red Hot Chili Peppers' new album, I'm With You. I wrote about it recently, and I wish I liked it more than I do. That said, it has some great moments, like "Monarchy Of Roses" and "Brendan's Death Song."  More importantly, the new lineup, featuring guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, does show a lot of potential.

Primus is one of my favorite bands, and I really dig their new album, Green Naugahyde, which I just wrote about.  "Tragedy's A'Comin'" is one of my favorite songs of the year.

Fishbone is one of the most underrated bands of the past few decades.  But I haven't enjoyed much of their new music since 1993's Give A Monkey A Brain... And He'll Swear He's The Center Of The Universe.  They've just released The Crazy Glue EP.  I like it.  I'm really looking forward to the documentary about the band, Everyday Sunshine. Anything that gets them to a wider audience is cool with me!

When it comes to Lenny Kravitz, I'm a singles guy.  I have his best-of, and I'm cool with that. But the songs I've heard from his new album, Black And White America (the title track and "Superlove") are pretty cool and very funky. I may have to check this one out a bit more.

I wrote about Trombone Shorty about a year ago, and now he's got a new album, For True. I recently filmed a performance by him at the SiriusXM studios, and he was great (see it here).

Sly Stone actually has a new album, but sadly, it's mostly his old hits re-recorded.  There's no point to doing that: they were perfect the first time, and frankly Sly doesn't sound as good as he used to. There's a good new original song though, "Plain Jane."

I think that a lot of today's funk music is done by DJs, not bands, and David Guetta is one of the biggest DJs. I produced this shoot at The Electric Zoo festival in 2009 and I kind of "got" it.  Although dance music isn't my thing as much as rock and roll, I get it.

I haven't written about Superheavy yet, but any band with Mick Jagger, A.R. Rahman, Damien Marley, Joss Stone and Dave Stewart is worth paying attention to. Also worth paying attention to is the Jay-Z/Kanye West album, Watch The Throne.  So, if time allows, we'll discuss all of these albums tomorrow on the show!


Well, it's probably not going to get any new fans, but for this long time devotee, Primus' Green Naugahyde is like hearing from an old friend for the first time in a long time. I bet Primus' dedicated legion of fans are with me on this one.

A year and a half ago, I wrote about how longtime drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander has left the band again, replaced by the guy he originally replaced in the band, Jay Lane (who had been playing in Furthur, along with Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh). A couple of readers expressed concern about the band without Herb. But when I saw them last summer, they were amazing. Jay was the perfect pick.

The new album is great.  The closest thing to a single on the album is "Tragedy's A'Comin'" It's quickly become one of my favorite Primus songs.  Recently, I've noticed that there's a sort of common morality in the lyrics that Les Claypool writes for Primus. But because of his sort of cartoony voice, and his offbeat sense of humor, people sometimes miss it. But when I hear a song like "The Antipop" or "Year Of The Parrot" or even the little ditty "Seas Of Cheese" it's about how you shouldn't conform to peer pressure if you're in high school or college.  Or to right wingers telling you it's unpatriotic to question the president (or, just a few years later, it's unpatriotic to not question the president). In "Tragedy's A'Comin'" Les sings that he "cannot step aside/No I cannot step aside there's no place to run and hide/No I cannot step aside damn my bastard pride."  It's a protest song for the millennium.  Protesting what?  Take your pick.  Top 40 radio. Lame spineless indie rock. Or the corporate  takeover of almost everything.

And other songs protest other things: "Last Salmon Man" decries the damage we've done to the salmon's environment: "The river water diverts to other places/to nurture Central Valley seeds/the northern water that sloshes desert fairways fulfill So-Cal golfer's needs." "Eternal Consumption Engine" is about how we spend more than we make, and just buy stuff that's made in China. And "Moron TV" is kind of like "The Antipop."

I listen to this album, and like my other favorite Primus albums, I feel like... I'm with ya, Les. And again, I bet a lot of other fans feel that way.  In some ways, they're everything I want from a band. I'm glad they're still doing it, and I can't wait to see their show, next time they come to town.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


I'd like to introduce a new series of posts that I'll be doing over the next few weeks.  "#20YRSAGO" will celebrate the amazing music that came out in 1991 (I may stretch it a bit to include 1990 and 1992 as well).

I started to think about this, with all the attention being paid to the 20th anniversary of Pearl Jam's Ten and Nirvana's Nevermind.  I remembered that The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Bloodsugarsexmagik came out the same day as Nevermind.  And then I started thinking about all the amazing music that came out around that time.

All of those albums blew my mind in 1991.  But Chris Whitley's debut, Living With The Law, had just as much of an impact on me.

I found out about him because I had tickets to see Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers on their Into The Great Wide Open tour, and Chris was the opening act. Usually, TP had well known artists opening for him.  I'd seen him use 'til Tuesday, The Replacements and Lenny Kravitz as openers.  But I'd never heard of this Chris Whitley guy. I saw Living With The Law, used, at a small record store, and I picked it up. I don't know that I've ever been so blown away by an artist upon first listen.

It was a dusty blues album, respectful of the past, but not bound to it. The guitar playing was great, but it was always in the service of the songs.  The songs were perfect.  And his voice was unlike anything I'd ever heard. A little like  (who I was also discovering during that same time period) but he had his own story to tell. One listen to this album and I was sold. No hype, no one telling me about him, it was all about the music and nothing but.

When he opened for Tom Petty at Nassau Coliseum, he was a bit out of his element.  He wasn't an arena guy.  I saw him headline a club in NYC a few months later, and he was incredible. I'd seen him many times after that, with different backing bands, and sometimes solo.  Sometimes he blew my mind, other times it was kind of disastrous. I had the privilege of interviewing him twice.  It was super exciting and sad at the same time. You could tell he was on a dangerous path.

I love lots of Chris' albums, but none of them match Living With The Law in my mind. I'm glad he was around long enough to make those albums.  But if he stopped after this one, he'd still be one of my favorite artists ever.


Tonight, I saw the Brad Pitt film Moneyball, which was excellent.  It was based on a true story about a guy named Billy Beane who was the general manager of the Oakland A's, and who worked with a young scout (played by Jonah Hill), and together, they changed the way baseball scouting and team building was done. This pertains to my blog because, although it wasn't discussed in the film, Billy Beane had posters of Joe Strummer and The Clash in his office.

I wonder if that was based on reality.  If so, it would make sense to me.  Beane didn't care about how he was perceived, he cared about... not just winning, but changing things.  It doesn't surprise me that a guy like that would be influenced by The Clash.  Not just their music, but their philosophy.  They weren't afraid to shake things up, and neither was Beane (at least as portrayed in this film).

Anyway, it was a great detail that added power to the film, at least for me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I just got Peter Gabriel's album, New Blood.  Like his last one, Scratch My Back, it's orchestral, with no guitars and no drums.  But where Scratch My Back featured him covering other artists, New Blood sees him reinterpreting his own music.  I really thought I would like Scratch before it came out, and I was really disappointed with it. So I've been managing my expectations for his new album, but I'm sorry to say, it still falls short. I don't mind orchestral records either. I just can't get into this, I don't know why.  And I like every one of his albums, from his first self-titled solo record though Up, and also Big Blue Ball. And of course his albums with Genesis. So, here's hoping that he gets away from orchestras on the next album, and gets bass monster Tony Levin back in the fold.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I can't wait to see the Cameron Crowe-directed Pearl Jam documentary, Pearl Jam 20. But until it comes out on DVD, I'm digging the soundtrack, which was complied by Mr. Crowe, who also wrote the liner notes.

This is really a collection for the hardcore fans, it's not for beginners (although the film may turn on some new people, from what I've heard about it).

It's mostly a collection of live performances and demos.  And considering that the band has released a live recording of every concert for the second half of their career, and released exhaustive extended editions of their first three albums, there's not a ton of stuff left that we haven't heard.  BUT!

There's still a lot of great stuff here.  Probably the highlight is their version of Mother Love Bone's "Crown Of Thorns" from their tenth anniversary show (which I have on the Pearl Jam's live recording of that concert). "Alive" from the Moore Theater in Seattle from 1990 isn't great quality sound, but it's one of their first shows, and it is worth listening to. "Black" from their legendary MTV Unplugged show is amazing (they need to release that as a CD already, although many fans - myself included - have that on an unauthorized bootleg, and the DVD came with the Ten Super Deluxe reissue). Their recent performance of "Just Breathe," accompanied by a string section, on Saturday Night Live was great (although it is very similar to the single version recorded at Austin City Limits that they've released).

My favorite parts included Temple Of The Dog's "Say Hello 2 Heaven" demo, the instrumental "Times Of Trouble" demo,  Jeff Ament's acoustic demo of "Nothing As It Seems," Matt Cameron's demo "Need To Know" (which later became "The Fixer") and most of all, their performance of Neil Young's "Walk With Me" (from Le Noise) from last year's Bridge School Benefit Concert, with Neil on guitar and vocals.

What I'm really looking forward to from Pearl Jam are their live bootlegs from their recent 20th anniversary festival.  And, of course, their next album. I'd say 20 years marks the halfway point for Pearl Jam, and there aren't many bands you can say that about.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


After years of figuring out who their next singer would be, Anthrax is back with Joey Belladonna on the mic. A couple of years ago, after they fired singer Dan Nelson (who they found on MySpace, they toured with him, supposedly recorded with him, but then fired him before releasing anything), they did a few gigs with Belladonna's replacement John Bush. At that time, I wrote a post saying that I was hoping John would rejoin the band permanently. That post has gotten a lot of traffic in recent months, so I guess other people were hoping the same. But anyway, against all odds, Joey Belladonna is back.  I've got to say, I wasn't sure how their new album together, Worship Music, would be.  It's actually really great. (Full disclosure: I got a complimentary copy of this album.)

Joey Belladonna sounds better than ever.  One of my problems with him has always been that he sounds like he should be singing for another band.  I felt that way even in high school, when they were one of my favorite bands.  Then, I read in an interview in (I think) East Coast Rocker, Joey said he prefers bands like Journey and Kansas to thrash metal.  Then it all made sense to me, and I was pissed that he was in a band that deserved a singer who was more committed to the music the band actually played. I was fine with it when Anthrax canned him (right after signing a million dollar deal with Elektra Records).  But Joey sounds cooler on this album.

The music sounds contemporary, but not in a way that is alienating to long time fans and it doesn't seem like they are pandering at all.  Which is why I think they're likely to get more young fans to pay attention. They're being themselves, and they come off like cool metal dudes with nothing to prove.

One of my favorite songs is "Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't" which offsets Joey's vocals with Scott Ian's.  I'm not saying that this album is better than the early Anthrax albums, but I wish they did more of that back in the day.  Another great song is "Judas Priest."  If any metal band deserves a tribute, it's Judas Priest (although I'd say Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Motorhead are deserving candidates as well), and it's nice that comes during Priest's farewell tour.

I remember reading that Anthrax approached Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Stone Sour to join the band.  I thought that would have been a weird choice, as he's already in two other bands (although I'd heard he tried out for Velvet Revolver).  I thought a better choice would have been Phil Anselmo (from Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual and some other bands). I really thought they should have brought John Bush back.  But I have to admit, there's a lot of nostalgic value around Joey, who sang during the band's glory days; their best albums featured Joey on the mic.  And, I have to admit, he sounds pretty great on Worship Music.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Martin Scorsese's George Harrison documentary, Living In The Material World, has been in the making for a long time. It was worth the wait.  The first half seemed like watching The Beatles Anthology documentary from a George-centric view, but there were some great scenes.  I'd never seen the footage of an older, wiser George in the '70s, watching video of The Beatles performing.  Also, there was a great story of John Lennon and George Harrison visiting Stu Sutcliffe's girlfriend Astrid (who was interviewed for the special) after Stu died.  She took some photos of them in the area where Stu did his paintings. I'd never seen those photos before, they were incredible.  The second half covered the Beatles breakup and the years after.  There was a lot about All Things Must Pass, and from there it concentrated more on his relationships with Monty Python's troupe, his friendship with Ravi Shankar, and his life at home.  Which is fine, I didn't like many of his albums between All Things Must Pass and Cloud 9. I wish the doc  talked more about Cloud 9, which was the album that introduced him as a solo artist to a younger generation (myself included).  I would have loved to see Jeff Lynne talk more about the making of that album... and also George's final record, Brainwashed.

I wish there was more Traveling Wilburys footage - pretty much everything here is the same footage included on the DVD that comes with the recent Traveling Wilburys collection that compiled both of their albums. And speaking of them, it would have been great if they got Bob Dylan in this doc (especially since Scorsese did a wonderful Dylan doc, No Direction Home).

But I really loved watching it. The interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were great.  It was cool to see Tom Petty talking about him, and the interviews with Olivia Harrison, Dhani Harrison, Eric Clapton added a lot to the picture of George.

If you missed it, I think it comes out on DVD (with extra footage) in six months, and it is still airing on HBO - if you want to see it, check out and search for George Harrison.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


A couple of months ago, I was driving a friend home in my car and playing the then-recently released Jimi Hendrix collection Valleys Of Neptune. I explained that it was a brand new release with (sort of) previously unreleased recordings.  He asked, "where do they keep finding this stuff?"  It's a good point -- for a guy whose career lasted about four years, there are a hell of a lot of Jimi Hendrix releases out there. And given the fact that in the past two decades, the catalog has resided at Warner Brothers, MCA, Universal and now Sony (with some live stuff licensed to Rykodisc, and the Band Of Gypsys album on Capitol), things can get confusing.

That said, the recently released Winterland box set is something you should have if you're interested in hearing some amazing live performances by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.  Recorded during a six show stand at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom in October of 1968, this was the Experience at the peak of their powers.  There's such swagger to their performance, Jimi sounds really into it, and it sounds as if he is not yet tired of playing any of these songs.  Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell are tight as hell. The band is incredible, and they all know it.  Playing distorted guitar at that point in time was still a relatively new thing, and it was probably even considered a political act, an act of liberation.  There's a lot of improvisation going on, and that was still probably relatively new in rock and roll and popular music.

The box set is 4 CDs. The first three feature full shows, and the fourth has spare tracks from some of the other shows, plus a cool interview with Jimi.  And you may wonder if you really need four more live versions of "Purple Haze."  You may, you may not.  But some of his songs that show up multiple times on the box - like "Are You Experienced?" and "Red House" have varying lengths at the different shows, and it's interesting to hear his different takes on the same song from one day to the next.  The "Are You Experienced?" versions are definite highlights here - on one, he has a flautist (Virgo Gonslaves from opening act The Buddy Miles Express) as he does on the album version. The other has no flute. "Little Wing" is amazing.  "Manic Depression" kicks ass, as does "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)."  The instrumental cover of Cream's "Sunshine Of Your Love"  is great, as is the cover of of Nordic rockers Hansson and Carlsson's "Tax Free."

For those of you who want a taste of this without having to go all in on a box set, there is a single CD version of this, but I'm a box set fan, and Sony Legacy (who provided me with a review copy) did a great job with this box, I would definitely have purchased it, and I recommend it highly.


First off: the reason why this is a partial review, and the reason why I barely posted anything in September, is because I was on the "disabled list." I'm out of the hospital, feeling better, but don't have the energy for a full show in a general admission venue. But I figured seeing some of the show was better than none.

Of course, that turned out to be true. Ben Harper, back with Relentless7, was rocking tonight. Ben and the 7 are better than ever.  The last time I saw them, it still felt like a new project.  Now, with two albums and a lot of touring behind them, they're a really tight unit.

They opened with "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" which was excellent, and then kicked into "Glory and Consequence" which went into a cover of Pearl Jam's "Jeremy." Much of the show (at least the part that I saw) was material from Ben's albums with The Innocent Criminals, which is a change from the last tour, where he played mostly new material, and only played a few older songs. But R7 did great takes on the older stuff like "Faded" and "Diamonds On The Inside."  But their own material was great too - "Don't Give Up On Me Now" and "Rock and Roll Is Free" from his excellent new album Give Til It's Gone, and "Number With No Name" from White Lies For Dark Times are even better live than on the record.  I left the show during a long version of "Lay There And Hate Me."  Apparently, after that, Charlie Sexton sat in with the band for a few songs, but if anyone was at the show and wants to tell me what I missed, please hit me in the comments section.  I wish I could have stayed for the whole thing.

As much as I'd love to see Ben back with The Innocent Criminals, I've got to say that he and R7 have turned into a really great band.  I hope Ben works with both bands in the future (and of course I'd love to see him do more with his other group, Fistful Of Mercy).

I'd love to have been able to have gotten better pictures from the show, but my requests to the publicist for a photo pass went unanswered- even though I paid for tickets, and it would have cost nothing.  But you can see the fine work of No Expiration's official photographer (aka my wife): check out her photos from recent concert by  Tom Morello, Steve Earle and The Drive-By Truckers.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Last month, I wrote about The Nightwatchman's solo(ish) acoustic(ish) concert at City Winery in New York City.  I've been listening to his two latest releases (The Union Town EP and World Wide Rebel Songs), both before that show and since.  I think that Tom Morello is finally coming into his own as a solo artist.

Saying that Tom has "come into his own" does sound a bit weird.  He's one of the most innovative and influential electric guitarists of the past two decades, and Rage Against The Machine was one of the best bands to come out of the amazing '90s Lollapalooza era. He "came into his own" a long time ago. Audioslave may not have quite reached Rage's heights, but had lots of incredible songs over their three album run.  And Street Sweeper Social Club has a lot of potential, and already have a fistful of great jams.

But when he started performing and recording songs as The Nighwatchman, he did so to prevent people from coming to see a "Tom Morello" show. He's more in the lane of artists like Springsteen and Earle than of Rage's peers.

When Tom did his first Nightwatchman album, One Man Revolution, in 2007, lots of the songs were pretty dry.  It reminded me a bit of Springsteen's The Ghost Of Tom Joad, which I know was a big influence on Mr. Morello. Both guys were really influenced by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.  The first few performances I ever saw by any artist were by Pete, and the thing about him is that, as political as he is, he wants you to sing along, and maybe have a good time while thinking about the world. Tom had one great sing-along on his first album, "The Road I Must Travel," but the rest of album wasn't as engaging (although there were definitely some great songs).  I felt like the album would appeal mainly to Tom's existing loyal fans, but I don't think that was his intent.

I think World Wide Rebel Songs actually may help him find a different audience, and may not just have him preaching to the converted.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think a lot of Faux News loyalists will start listening to Tom and have their minds opened.  I'm saying that his two latest release makes him a more credible solo artist, regardless of his prior discography.

My favorite Nightwatchman song ever is probably "Save The Hammer For The Man," a duet and co-write with the great Ben Harper. I'd love to see these guys do more together.  "World Wide Rebel Songs" is a great sing-along.  He gets his Tom Waits on on "Facing Mount Kenya."  And, here is maybe the best compliment  I could give him: when I listen to "Stray Bullets," I can hear the late, great Joe Strummer singing it.

The bonus track on the album is the title track to the EP, released a few months earlier, "Union Town." It's another of his best songs, and the first time he's really combined his Nightwatchman persona with his electric guitar wizardry.  He's said that playing an electric version of "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" on stage with Bruce Springsteen made him realize that he could combine the two.  But he's not always about the electric guitar on this EP: his rollicking version of "Solidarity Forever" is a piano and acoustic guitar driven tune. He takes out the electric for an incredible version of "Which Side Are You On?" and his "This Land Is Your Land" is the most rocking I've ever heard (and of course, includes the "banned" lyrics).    It closes with a solo live version of "Union Song" from One Man Revolution recorded at the Wisconsin protests earlier this year. The original version is pretty great, but this is the definitive one for me.

I imagine the next thing Tom will do will be a new Street Sweeper album, which I'm also looking forward to.  But I also think that The Nightwatchman will get more and more powerful in the years to come.  Given the state of the nation, I don't think Tom's running out of ideas, or great music, any time soon.


Gillian Welch recently released her first album in eight years, The Harrow & The Harvest. Or, I should say their last album. Even though Gillian's name is on the cover, it's Gillian and long-time partner and collaborator David Rawlings pictured on the cover, and they are the only two musicians on the album. This is Gillian's first album in eight years, although the two of them released an album under the name The David Rawlings Machine two years ago. All this background just makes the point that these two make an incredible team.

Even if you're not familiar with their music, when you hear them sing and play together, they sound so seamless, it's almost as if they have one voice.  No one else sounds quite like them.

The new album reminds me of their early stuff like Revival and Time (The Revelator). Very old-timey, very ominous.  Dark.  I remember when I first heard Gillian/David's music, I didn't know who wrote their songs, and I kind of thought they were doing old "traditional" songs. Nope, they write their songs, it's just that they sound that timeless.  That's how it is on this album also.

I like this album a lot, and I'm not the only one.  One of my favorite music writers, Syvie Simmons of Mojo Magazine gave the album a 5 stars "instant classic" review.  It's not an album that will get a lot of hype, but it's definitely rewarding (and hopefully will land in lots of critics "top albums" lists at the end of the year).