Monday, January 31, 2011

WANDA JACKSON: THE PARTY AIN'T OVER... sure ain't!  Wanda Jackson's new album The Party Ain't Over is another great new album... 2011 is quite rocking so far!

I've been talking about this album for a while, ever since I heard that the album was being produced by Jack White for his label Third Man Records.

People will probably compare this album to Loretta Lynn's classic 2004 album, Van Lear Rose, also produced by Jack, and there are some parallels.  In both cases, he used his considerable starpower and cred to back a legendary woman who wasn't getting much mainstream attention. But they are very different artists: Jack felt that Loretta was one of the great, and under-appreciated, songwriters, and he used Van Lear Rose to prove it.

Wanda Jackson is totally different.  When you hear her today, she still sounds radical.  Like, you hear her voice, and wonder what ever gave her the idea that she could be a singer! So imagine how badass she must have sounded back in 1954 when she first hit the music scene. It was probably as abrasive and shocking as Johnny Rotten or Chuck D. She's in her 70s, and of course her voice doesn't sound quite so abrasive anymore, but still has an edge. And Jack White put together a band and found material that plays to her strengths as a singer. The songs, including Johnny Kidd & The Pirates' "Shakin' All Over," Bob Dylan's "Thunder On The Mountain," Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good" and the traditional "Dust On The Bible" work perfectly.  I don't think that the album is a classic on the level of Van Lear Rose, but it is a great album, and hopefully it will get some Wanda some new fans.

I also have to mention "The Third Man Records House Band," who are great: they include Ashley Monroe, who has worked with Jack White in The Raconteurs, Olivia Jean of The Black Belles (she also played in Karen Elson's band), Rich Gilbert from Frank Black's band, and drummer Joey Waronker who plays in R.E.M., among other folks. Great band!

Sunday, January 30, 2011


I've been listening a lot to Social Distortion's latest album, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes lately. But to have a look at their earliest days, I just watched the documentary, Another State Of Mind," shot on the band's 1982 U.S. tour with Youth Brigade (whose Shawn Stern organized the tour).

You want to talk "hard core?"  Try putting 11 punks into an old school bus with 90,000+ miles on it and driving around the circumference of the United States. But it was an interesting documentary for sure.

I wasn't part of that scene - or even aware of it. At that time, I was in junior high school, just discovering music through older friends and, of course, MTV. I don't know that I would have been part of that scene even if I was aware of it: I really liked aggressive music, but I definitely wasn't as angry as lots of the kids in this doc.

In some ways, the film was a downer: you watch the guys on the bus realize that their ideals of "unity" sort of disappear when there's no money and no food. On the other hand, you can see the commitment of some of the guys, mainly Mike Ness. Some of the film is pretty prophetic.  At one point, the other guys in Social D complain about Mike's drinking and his response is, "I've been playing these songs for three years! I know them like I know my mother, I can get as drunk as I want!"  That attitude would later get him into trouble.  Later on, the other three guys leave the tour to return to L.A.: that's where the money is, they don't see the purpose in playing places where people don't know them.  Mike Ness stays, but ends up leaving also: he realizes that at that point, he can't play without a band. But he does say that they can leave, "I'm keeping the name, and I'm still playing these songs!" Which is exactly what he's done.

Also of great interest is the footage of the Washington, D.C. part of the tour, when they bands stayed at The Dischord House, HQ of Ian MacKaye and Minor Threat. Even back then, Ian was a straight edge, and promoted that lifestyle. You could see the bands respected each other, but no way would a Social D and Minor Threat tour on a bus have worked out!

Major props to the filmmakers Peter Stuart and Adam Small for having the presence of mind to document this tour - back then, in the pre-digital age, making a doc like this must have been incredibly difficult, but their commitment to it was on par with Ness and MacKaye's commitment to their art.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


In late December, I posted my top ten albums of 2010; the list was topped by The Drive-By Truckers' The Big To-Do. Immediately afterwards, I started thinking about some other albums that I really enjoyed this year, so I started a brief series called "Tied for #11." I've done a bunch of posts, starting with one about Buddy Guy's Living Proof.  Here is another handful of albums that I enjoyed a lot.

Outkast's Big Boi finally released his debut this year: Sir Lucious Left Foot...The Son Of Chico Dusty.  It's too bad that it didn't get the attention that it deserved. Both by the press and even by Def Jam, who helped Boi to get the album from Jive (the label that OutKast record for).  "Shutterbug" is one of the hottest singles of the year. I think that, like Black Thought of The Roots, Big Boi is one of the best MCs in hip-hop, but doesn't get the attention of, say, Lil Wayne or T.I.

Ray LaMontagne's God Willing and The Creek Don't Rise is a really great album. It's a gorgeous album, but because Ray doesn't really do much promotion, you don't hear much about it. I think it will benefit from being nominated for a few Grammys (including "Beg Steal or Borrow" which is up for Song Of The Year). Hopefully he will perform at the ceremony.

Mumford & Sons was probably my favorite new discovery of 2010. Their Sigh No More album reminded me of Springsteens' Seeger Sessions Band, and I mean that as a high compliment. The fact that a band so removed from any recent trend, either in the mainstream pop world or the "indie rock" world has become so popular is, frankly, amazing to me and it gives me hope. I haven't seen them live, but I have filmed a studio performance by the band (see it here) and I really dug it.

I've often felt that Sheryl Crow doesn't get the credit she deserves, and that's never been more true than on her current album, 100 Miles From Memphis. I guess in a way, I can understand people paying a bit less attention to her - her last two albums weren't as strong as her first few. But this album is a great comeback, and should have done really well. But if you liked her earlier music, I urge you to check this one out.

Like The Drive-By Truckers, Reckless Kelly is a band who I discovered thanks to the SiriusXM channel Outlaw Country. (And this is where I offer the full disclosure that I work for SiriusXM, but I was a SIRIUS subscriber before I worked there.) Somewhere In Time is an album of songs by someone named Pinto Beckett. Without knowing much about him, or the band, I really dug it. I have to make it a point to get more music by both of them in the '11.

New Jersey's own Gaslight Anthem got a decent amount of press for their album American Slang, and deservedly so. They're a really good band, and they have the double edged approval of Bruce Springsteen (good because of the obvious extra exposure, bad because you can't do interviews without talking about him). They come from the punk rock underground, but they sound is really accessible. Hopefully people won't be scared of them because of their appearance. I'd love to see them get huge. In 2010 they headlined Radio City Music Hall, so maybe they're on their way.

One last album I'll mention is Johnny Cash's final recordings: American VI: Ain't No Grave. It sounds like he is aware that this is "it" for him, and it adds a poignancy to the songs . I have always been a big fan of the American Recordings series, I think Rick Rubin did a great job on all of them, this one included.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Last year "The Big 4" of thrash metal - Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax - played their first concert together in Europe.  Of course, metal fans have been hoping that the tour would come to the U.S. Based on this image that was posted on Metallica's website today, it's going to happen.

Coincidentally enough, I watched parts of the Big 4 DVD yesterday.  I wanted to see the documentary about how members of the different bands got together to play Diamondhead's "Am I Evil?" during Metallica's set. Just the idea of Metallica playing with Dave Mustaine is cool enough, but the other members of Megadeth and Anthrax being onstage was really cool (the Slayer dudes didn't jam, other than their drummer). Most of the doc was kind of dull, but there were great scenes, like watching Tom Araya and Kerry King interact with some really intense Slayer fans.  The Slayer and Metallica performances were typically intense and awesome.  I was actually most curious to watch Anthrax's, since I have never seen them with Joey Belladonna since he quit the band for the first time. I never really thought he fit in, even back in the day: I thought he was a bit more of a Journey type guy than a thrash metaller. The Anthrax set was pretty good - and when they went from "Indians" to Black Sabbath's "Heaven and Hell" (as a tribute to Ronnie James Dio) Joey did a great job. But seeing him sing alongside Hetfield and Mustaine on "Am I Evil?" he just seemed a bit out of place.

That said, I can't wait to see this tour this summer!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


When I was in college, Frank Zappa played a concert at Nassau Coliseum.  I remember reading that he covered "Stairway To Heaven" note for note... until Page's face-melting guitar solo, when a horn section popped up on stage and played a horn arrangement of said solo. I remember thinking that the show would have been a bit over my head, but I wished I'd gone.

I still wish I'd gone to that show. It would have been over my head, but I would have got lots of it.

Back then, I didn't own any Zappa albums.  Now, I have a few, and I have a great admiration for the man and his music, even if I don't always like his music.

Right now I'm watching a live DVD recorded in 1981, (which I received in the mail, gratis, that's my full disclosure) The Torture Never Stops. Kind of the same deal.  Very, very muso type stuff. I'm sure all the musicians were some of the best at their instruments. The band includes Steve Vai, before he came to fame as David Lee Roth's guitar player, later joining Johnny Rotten in P.I.L. and then David Coverdale in Whitesnake. I wonder what it's like, playing in Whitesnake, after spending time in Zappa's band.

I generally don't go for too much cynicism, but Zappa was so intelligent, and so on point. Songs like "Dumb All Over" and "Heavenly Bank Account" (during which Frank yelled "Tax the churches!  Tax the businesses owned by the churches!") are pretty timeless. He goes after all kinds of sacred cows, from the church, to dead rock stars, to living untouchables like Dylan. I just think he encouraged people to think for themselves, not to take anything for granted, and to not take anything as gospel.  Another quote from the DVD that comes to mind is, "Remember, there's a big difference between kneeling down and bending over!"

Looking back on that Nassau Coliseum show that I missed, I'm amazed at the fact that a guy as odd, outsider-y, and subversive as Frank Zappa could play such a large venue. I wonder who was at that show, and I wonder how many of them are leaders today.  They couldn't really be followers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


For those of you who are new to No Expiration, every Wednesday morning, I am a guest contributor to the SiriusXM OutQ show The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick (co-hosted by Keith Price). Every week I talk about music and this week, I've got some great stuff to discuss.  I usually go on at at 9 am ET, but tomorrow I'll be on at 9:25, I'm being pre-empted for Miss America, believe it or not. Larry was nice enough to invite me to sit in on that, but I'm more than twice her age, so I'll pass!

First off is the new Social Distortion album, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes. Mike Ness makes you wait a long time inbetween albums, but in my mind, it's worth it. I've never felt let down, by either Social D's albums or his solo records. However long it takes him to make them is fine with me.

Gregg Allman's first solo album in over 15 years, Low Country Blues, is also worth the wait. Very different from an Allman Brothers Band album, the record sees him teaming up with "Him Again," the great producer T-Bone Burnett. They make an amazing team, and they've produced an excellent album. I love it.

I've been a Cake fan since 1994: I remember seeing them at The Mercury Lounge in NYC in maybe 1994 or 1995. I had no idea that they'd get as big as they did, but I think they have that... thing ... that makes a band become a "cult" band. They have a career and most of the country don't even know who they are. It's a beautiful thing. They don't have anything to do with trends, they totally do their own thing, and I really admire them. But I'm a fan because of their great songs. I didn't love their last album, but the new one, Showroom Of Compassion, is growing on me, and I'm told it's the #1 album in the country this week!

The Jayhawks are a great "Americana" band, and they are reissuing what are arguably their two best albums, 1992's Hollywood Town Hall and 1995's Tomorrow The Green Grass this week. The latter has "Blue," which is a perfect song if there ever was one. These guys should have been bigger than they were. The band has recently reunited with their principal singer/songwriters Marc Olson and Gary Louris, and have a new album coming out this year. But both of these reissues are really worth your time and money, especially if you don't have them yet (but the bonus tracks make it worth it, even if you do).

Finally, this week Pearl Jam release their second live album, Live On Ten Legs. Although given the fact that they've released "official bootlegs" of pretty much every concert they've done for the past decade, I don't really see the point - it would have been cooler if they put all their rare covers or one-off guest spots on the album. I don't really need more versions of "Jeremy" and "Rearviewmirror" as much as I like those songs.  I have like 20 official bootlegs!  It does have one very cool rarity: a cover of the Public Image Ltd song "Public Image." Which I bought on iTunes. But if you don't have any live Pearl Jam stuff, you're missing out, and this would be a great place to start.


2011 is starting out great, musically, there's already been two albums that I love: the new Social D album, and also Gregg Allman's latest solo effort, Low Country Blues.

Some may ask what the point of a Gregg Allman solo album is. Years ago, I got it: Gregg and Allmans guitarist/singer Dickey Betts famously didn't get along, so I figured when he did his last solo album, 1997's Searching For Simplicity, it was to do an album without having to deal with Betts. But these days, he seems to get along well with all his bandmates.

But here's the real deal: despite being the namesake and the main voice of one of the quintessential "jam bands," he's not really into that scene! He is a blues and soul guy, and blues and soul songs are generally between two and a half and five minutes long. The jazz influence of the late '60s, which entailed lots of improvisation and musical exploration, led to long jams and songs that broke the ten minute barrier. My understanding is that isn't really his thing, it was more Betts, his brother Duane and the other guys in the band. But it's become what The Allman Brothers Band are known for, and he's OK with that. But when he goes off on his own, he is more song oriented, and not as "jammy." The problem I sometimes have with his solo music is that it's a bit too laid back (and he even released a solo album called Laid Back!).

For his new album, he teamed up with T-Bone Burnett, or as I sometimes call him, "Him Again!" I say that with great respect and admiration though, in recent years he's produced good and great albums by Elton John and Leon Russell, Ryan Bingham, John Mellencamp, Robert Randolph, Willie Nelson, Jakob Dylan, Elvis Costello, B.B. King, the Crazy Heart soundtrack, and of course the Robert Plant & Alison Krauss album. Burnett definitely has a sound, it's a rustic, down-home kind of thing. And it totally suits Gregg. He's singing blues the way they were meant to be sung, not a supper-club version or a psychedelic super-extended version of it (not that there's anything wrong with either of those). Burnett gets some of the best vocal performances out of the guy in decades.  Save for one original, co-written by Gregg with Brother Warren Haynes, it's all covers, but doesn't come off like some novelty project. It's really tight: he uses some of Burnett's regular musicians, plus Doyle Bramhall on guitar and Dr. John on piano.  It just works.  It is the most innovative thing I've heard? No.  But it is a great blues and soul singer, singing great blues and soul. It's not some old guy hitting the studio because it's "time" for a new album, it's a legend who just rediscovered a fire in him, and he's letting it out. I predict it will be one of my favorite albums of the year. Even if you don't like The Allmans (I am a huge fan by the way) I think you may enjoy it.


Musically speaking, 2011 is off to a rocking start.  I've been looking forward to the release of Social Distortion's new album, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes which came out today. Although my copy didn't come in the mail, I've listened to it a bunch of times, via an incredibly smart promotion Social D did on their website. They put up the entire album for streaming, and for every 100,000 streams, they'd lower the price of the CD $1, with the price starting at $12.99.  Now the price is $8.99. (Each song counts as a single stream.)

But enough about that, the album is amazing. Mike Ness isn't the most prolific artist: the last Social D. album (the very underrated Sex, Love and Rock N Roll came out in 2004), but I think that's because he doesn't just want to crank out albums. When he's got enough songs, then he goes into the studio to do an album, and this time he was definitely ready. Sonically, he's pretty consistent, but there's a new element to some of the songs on the album: female backing singers. It definitely works, and gives some songs more of a Stonesy feel (even a Skynyrd-y feel, but I think Ness would kick my ass for saying that).

Some of the songs I've already heard: "Machine Gun Blues" has been out on iTunes, and I heard "Bakersfield" (one of the highlights of the album) and their cover of Hank Williams' "Alone And Foresaken" when they played Roseland a few months ago. Maybe my favorite is "California (Hustle and Flow)," which makes great use of the backing singers.  But really, the album is great start to finish.  It's kind of a shame that the media won't pay much attention. But then again, Social D have always been outsiders - a true "alternative" if you will - and they sell out shows all over the place without a huge marketing campaign. So while the media fawns over the next bloodless indie rock band, put your hard earned $7.99 towards this album.  If you love heart, soul and rock and roll, you'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Tomorrow night I make my first guest appearance on SiriusXM's Catholic Channel in two months. Longtime readers of No Expiration know that usually, every month or so, I am a guest of Father Dave Dwyer on his Busted Halo Show.

Tomorrow night, I'm going to talk about Mavis Staples.  Her album, You Are Not Alone, was my second favorite album of 2010, and over the past few years, I've become a big fan of the woman.

Unlike the other artists I've discussed on Busted Halo in the past, Mavis doesn't always write her own songs, but her voice is so incredible that she brings a kind of ownership to them anyway.  Some of the songs I suggested for tomorrow night are traditional gospel, and she adds her own lyrics to them.

I was planning on talking about Mavis on my next visit to the show - but after seeing the President's speech tonight, I felt that it gives some of Mavis' songs a bit more weight, and I'll discuss that too. It's such a great thing about music, how it can adapt to your needs sometimes.  When I talked about You Are Not Alone on The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick a few months ago, it was also pre-planned... and then just happened to be after Tyler Clementi too his own life. The song felt like it was written for him, and I wished he could have heard it. But tonight, during the President's incredible speech, it felt like the right song for tonight also (as did The Staple Singers' "Respect Yourself").

Saturday, January 8, 2011


I can say that Corinne Bailey Rae's The Sea is the album on my list of favorites of 2010 that I will probably listen to the least. It's not because it's bad, it's because it's devastatingly beautiful. I talked about this album a while back, the album was inspired by the accidental OD-related death of Rae's husband. It's an unimaginable tragedy.  But she's a songwriter, and I guess that's what songwriters do.

I know that the song "I Would Like To Call It Beauty" was inspired by a phone conversation with her husband's brother, I imagine the song represents a positive way of dealing with a pain that I (thankfully) can't identify with. But the song that I love the most is "I'd Do It All Again." I mean, the title kind of says it all, what a sentiment.

I had the real privilege to film Ms. Rae with her band when they came to the SiriusXM studios in 2010. I was a fan, but it was hard to be in the room with her as she sang those devastating songs. Here's one of the more upbeat ones, it's called "The Blackest Lily." It struck me that she must have had to answer the same questions about such a difficult thing over and over (such is the way the album promotional cycle goes, you do many similar interviews and end up answering the same questions a number of times).  And despite this, she seemed to just have a great attitude, a great vibe. The Sea is a surprisingly optimistic album, I just hope her next one finds a bit more joy.

Friday, January 7, 2011


This one may be a surprise to some readers, but I have to admit that Eminem's much-heralded comeback album, Recovery, is one of the best albums of the year. After Eminem came back after a long break with a sub-par album Relapse in 2009, I think people thought he was losing relevance. But Recovery was pretty incredible. The first single "Not Afraid" was like a self-help song that didn't come off as soft, and the other big single, "Love The Way You Lie," with Rihanna, about domestic violence, cut really deep. But on other songs like "Cold Wind Blows," he's as harsh as he ever was. I've never been a huge Eminem fan, but I've always respected his talent, and I have to appreciate how great this album is.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

M.I.A. - MAYA - TIE FOR #11

In 2010, it seemed like lots of people talked about M.I.A., but not as many people played the music from her Maya album. She's getting a bit like Kanye - she says lots of crap in the press that potentially distracts from her music.  And that's too bad: she's a consistently interesting artist.  She actually is an "alternative": not "alternative" in the marketing sense, but someone who really does her own thing.

Which isn't to say that she can't write great hit songs: I thought that "XXXO" was going to be her breakthrough hit, it's like a classic '80s new wave single. On the other hand, she can be incredibly abrasive, as she was on "Born Free" (the video got a lot more attention than the actual song).

Her music used to appeal mainly to hipsters.  A lot of that kind of music comes off as either insincere or bloodless, and M.I.A. is neither of those.  But she has such charisma, she ignores genre boundaries, and she isn't afraid to be confrontational.  I think with a few more anthemic songs, she could be like a Jane's Addiction for a new generation.  Just my opinion!  I really dug the Maya album and I'm looking forward to hear what she does next.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


There's not a lot of gospel music in my collection, but when I find something (or someone) I like, I really like it (or them).  My second favorite album of 2010 was Mavis Staples' You Are Not Alone, and another album that almost made my top 10 was Patty Griffin's Downtown Church.

Patty actually is already in my top 10, as she sings on Robert Plant's Band Of Joy album (and she's also in his touring band). And like Band Of Joy, Downtown Church was produced by the great Buddy Miller.

Like Buddy, Patty is part of the sort of "parallel" Nashville scene (I don't really want to use the "a-word"). Artists like Lucinda, Emmylou, Earle and Miller, who are surely country and yet are ignored by the country music establishment. This album is more gospel based than most of her albums, and in fact was recorded in a church in downtown Nashville.

There are a few guests here: both Millers (Buddy and his equally talented wife, Julie Miller),  Emmylou Harris and Shawn Colvin all pitch in, but it's Patty's show.   It's a combination of originals and covers, including Hank Williams' "House Of Gold" (which Willie Nelson also covered on his new album, Country Music), and traditional songs like "Death's Got A Warrant" and "If I Had My Way." Yes, these songs have been done before.  But to my ears, they haven't been overdone, and in fact, I think that Patty does a service by keeping them alive for a new audience to hear. Beyond that, she makes them her own.  She has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard, she can sing the phone book and I'd probably like it. But singing these incredible songs of faith and love... it actually is "divine."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


For those of you who are new to No Expiration, every Wednesday morning at 9 am ET(ish) I am a guest on SiriusXM OutQ's The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick.  I talk about music, unsurprisingly.  This week, I'm talking about new music - mostly artists who are not well known in America. (I may wash it down with  songs from upcoming albums by The Drive-By Truckers, R.E.M., Social Distortion and DJ Shadow).

Rumer is a singer in the vein of Karen Carpenter. She has a very soft voice - Burt Bacharach is a fan, and I think he wrote some songs for her. It's not really my thing, but I have enjoyed some of her songs, including "Slow" and "Aretha." She's pretty popular in the UK, and I could see her doing pretty well here, a la Adele and Duffy.

John Grant is an American artist who no one in America has heard of! Or few people anyway. But his debut solo album (he used to be in a band called The Czars), Queen Of Denmark, was Mojo magazine's #1 album of the year! He also sounds a bit like The Carpenters, but also Cat Stevens or other '70s soft rockers. But his music is pretty painful. He has a song called "Jesus Hates Faggots" which describes what it was like for him, growing up gay in the midwest. I don't know if his music would appeal to me, but I'm interested to hear what he sings about - he has something to say, no doubt about it.

Warpaint is a sort of psychedelic rock band who used to include current Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. Former Chilis guitarist John Frusciante has worked with the band in the past as well - he mixed and mastered their debut EP, Exquisite Corpse. I read about them in Mojo as well, and I dig them so far.

I guess I'm in a real '70s mode: Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (the most well known artist on my list for this week) are definitely '70s kids. They may not be old enough to remember the '70s, but their music is definitely very '70s: they remind me a lot of Heart in the '70s (a point that was hammered home when Ann and Nancy Wilson joined Grace Potter & The Nocturnals onstage at VH1 Divas last month). Their new self titled album has a bit more glammy and less hippy of a vibe.

The Duke and The King are another very '70s-ish band.  Led by Simon Felice, formerly of the The Felice Brothers, they are a bit funkier than that band. They're another American act that you can't really find in America: I couldn't find their songs on iTunes, but I did find "Shaky" on a CD that came with an issue of the British music magazine Uncut.

Thee Spivs remind me of a lot of '70s British punk rock bands. Their songs are short and tight, so it's no surprise that I dig them. Their album is called Taped Up.

We may talk about some other new bands, but this is a handful of artists that I figure lots of people aren't familiar with yet.  Hope you hear something you enjoy!


John Mellencamp put out a great album in 2010, and I feel like it didn't get enough attention.  In a way, I can see why.  He's been pretty prolific over the past decade, and although I'm a big fan, I haven't enjoyed all of his recent stuff. The last album that I loved - and I really loved it - was 2003's Trouble No More. One of my favorite songs by John, though, was "Walk Tall," a
collaboration with Babyface from John's 2004 best-of, Words and Music.

But No Better Than This is 180 degrees different from "Walk Tall." Produced by T-Bone ("Him Again") Burnett - the second record in a row they worked together on - it was recorded in mono on reel-to-reel tape in a few places with lots of mojo: the Sun Records studio, a church basement and in the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where Robert Johnson recorded. Those locales set the bar pretty high, and while it isn't going to change the world the way Johnson's sides, or the records made at Sun did, it lives up to high expectations.

In recent years, Mellencamp has become sort of a "greatest hits" guy live, so I don't know if his audience really goes for the ride with him when he plays newer material (the way, say, Springsteen's audience does). It would be a shame if they didn't: the songs here are really great and are among some of his best.

Monday, January 3, 2011


One album that I felt was really overlooked and underrated in 2010 was the latest from Willie Nelson, Country Music. Produced by T-Bone ("Him Again") Burnett, The name of the album may seem odd or obvious, as Willie is kind of synonymous with country music, but he often makes excursions into other genres: in 2009, he released an album of standards (American Classic) and Texas swing (Willie & The Wheel, a collaboration with Asleep At The Wheel, which I loved). So, in one regard, it's a return to classic country music.

But the title can also double as a reminder to Nashville that this is country music. The Nashville establishment respects Willie, but don't ever support his new music (the same is true for Merle, it was true for Cash and Waylon during the last few decades of their lifetimes).

Actually, "country music" may be a bit deceptive, unless you consider the roots of the genre, which were tied to gospel music. The album features some old gospel numbers like "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down" (coincidentally, former Burnett client Robert Plant covered it on his latest album, Band Of Joy), "Satisfied Mind," and Hank Williams' "House Of Gold."  Other country classics include Merle Travis' "Dark As A Dungeon," Doc Watson's "Freight Train Boogie" and "You Done Me Wrong," written by Ray Price and George Jones. The album isn't some gimmicky marketing project though, it is a collection of well-chosen songs that Willie takes and makes his own.

Willie Nelson is so prolific it can be hard to keep up with all of the albums that he puts out (I am a huge fan of his more recent music).  This album isn't a stretch into different waters for him, as (you could argue) his forays into standards, blues, children's music or  reggae have been.  (Let's forget that reggae album ever happened, actually.) This is a master artist picking songs that are classics but not overplayed, and he actually brings new life to all of them.  Highly recommended.


The latest solo album by Jakob Dylan, Women and Country, was another album that I really enjoyed from 2010. Reuniting with T-Bone ("Him Again") Burnett - who produced The Wallflowers classic Bringing Down The Horse - Dylan went for a more "full" sound than on his solo debut, Seeing Things (produced by Rick "Him Again" Rubin).

Most of the album has a quiet and laid back sound, but there is one notable exception, "Lend A Hand" which has a Tom Waits goes to New Orleans type marching band sound. It's my favorite song on the album, and one of my favorite songs of the year. Other highlights on the album include "Nothing But The Whole Wide World" and "Everybody's Hurting."

It's a bummer that the press seems to have lost interest in Jakob Dylan, and seem to regard him as a '90s artist who is past his prime.  I don't want to make any comparisons to any other artists, but I think that he'll be making great music for the rest of this decade and well beyond that. Don't sleep on this album just because the press has been.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Another of my favorite albums of 2010 that barely missed my top 10 is Fistful Of Mercy's debut As I Call You Down. Fistful Or Mercy is a new band that includes Ben Harper, Joseph Arthur and Dhani Harrison.

No Expiration readers know that I'm a huge fan of Ben's, I'm less familiar with Arthur and Harrison (who leads a band called thenewno2).

I liked the album as soon as I heard it. But seeing them perform live made me appreciate them more. I had the good fortune to film them in the SiriusXM studios (see the video here), and a few weeks later, I saw them perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. That was when I realized that this is a great band, and not just a side project.  The songs that I initially favored from the album, "Father's Son," "Fistful Of Mercy," "Restore Me" and "Things Go 'Round" were even better.  But the album's closer, which closed the show as well, "With Whom You Belong." The song alone could keep these guys together.  It's hard to imagine any of these guys playing the song on their own, and it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't want to play it again.  It was that good live.  They actually unplugged their guitars, and played the song from the front of the stage - in other words, that song was performed without any amplification. It was really powerful and it was in that moment that I knew that these guys will definitely play together again in the future (that said, I'm looking forward to Ben's new album with Relentless7 which comes out this year, and I really look forward to him getting back together with The Innocent Criminals at some point in the future).


Merle Haggard's latest, I Am What I Am, is another album from 2010 that I really enjoyed but just missed making my top 10.

I remember talking about this album on The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick, and Larry saying that he preferred this album to the Johnny Cash American series.  I was like, "what?" I love that series.  But he felt that this album was less forced, and I have to concede that that's true. No big name producers, no bold faced collaborators, no attention grabbing covers.

It's a great title for the album: Hag isn't trying to appeal to new audiences on it, but hopefully some younger people may happen upon the album and want to hear more from him.  Starting with "I've Seen It Go Away," Hag's observations of the way culture has changed (or declined) over his lifetime. That kind of unflinching honesty is all over the album, and it's not just negative.  "We're Falling In Love Again" is lovely.

Interesting that I'm writing this just days after seeing the televised broadcast of the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors, where Merle was honored along with Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey and other cultural icons were celebrated for their contributions to American culture.  Hag could have retired decades ago and still deserved this honor.  But it's amazing that he is still putting out great albums; his story isn't over. In fact, he says as much in this recent Rolling Stone interview.  He talks about doing an album with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson (Hag and Willie, along with Ray Price, released an album, Last Of The Breed, in 2007).  He also decries the right wing attacks on our President, a nice touch from the guy who wrote "Okie From Muskogee."

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I recently wrote about The Drive-By Truckers' roof raising 12/30/10 gig at The Brooklyn Bowl. But now I want to write about the venue itself.  I've never done a venue review in my years of writing No Expiration, but as marketing guru Seth Godin says, "surprise and delight" is a great way to get people to spread the word of whatever it is that you're selling.

I wasn't psyched to have to trek to Brooklyn to see the DBTs. But I'm a huge fan, I've never seen them before, and the Brooklyn Bowl show was their only appearance that I was able to attend (I've missed them several times since becoming a fan) so I figured I'd suck it up and go. I'm from New Jersey, and to me, Brooklyn can be a bit hard to navigate. That said, I've had some great times recently in Brooklyn: over the summer I went to see Faith No More and Primus at the waterfront in Brooklyn, and also Dead Weather at  The Prospect Park Bandshell. But in the aftermath of the blizzard, I knew Brooklyn would be more difficult to get around than usual.  I probably would have been able to park for free in the street (I actually parked in Manhattan near my office, and took the M to the G train there, the L to the E train back). I didn't notice any parking garages or lots nearby.

Once I got into the venue, I was, in fact, surprised and delighted.  It just looks cool, sort of like if The Reverend Horton Heat designed a bowling alley.  The people who work there are friendly. The menu goes way beyond the usual bar stuff: I had a french bread pizza for dinner followed by a vanilla shake which was really good.

I had an extra ticket and sold it outside the venue for cover price: $20. The woman I sold it to didn't know who was playing, and didn't really seem concerned: she was just trying to get in to go bowling. It turns out that it costs the same to bowl as to see the show: obviously that sort of limits what artists will play there, but I don't think they're looking for the biggest chart toppers. It's a really fun vibe: you can watch the band while you're bowling (they have 16 lanes, they rent shoes and sell socks), or you can just hang out on the dance floor. The entire place is adorned with video screens that are constantly showing interesting stuff (the ones on the dance floor are turned off when the band plays, but I was wondering if the ones over the lanes are distracting to bowlers).  I spent my time waiting for the band watching BBC's Planet Earth series.

Throughout the night, I was amazed by the place's attention to detail (something that not many rock clubs seem to worry much about, they really don't have to).  They way everything looked, the videos playing on the screens, the food.  Even the men's room was nice (so I'll assume the ladies room is also nice).  I will always go to concerts at Roseland, Irving Plaza and the Starland Ballroom, because they book bands that I like.  But I don't look forward to going specifically to those venues.  On the other hand, I'm looking for reasons to go back to Brooklyn Bowl.  So I may end up at one of Questlove's Thursday night DJ gigs ("The Bowl Train") or upcoming gigs by The Funky Meters: either seem to be great music to bowl by, and will be well worth the trip to Brooklyn.


Some of the members of Dead Weather are already included in my Top 10 of 2010 list, as musicians on Karen Elson's debut album, The Ghost Who Walks.  But I can't forget how rocking their own album, Sea Of Cowards, was. I didn't expect them to do a new album so soon: I figured drummer/singer Jack White would do another White Stripes or Raconteurs album before coming back to Dead Weather. I loved Dead Weather's first album, Horehound, which came out last year, but I wondered if it was a project or a band. It's a band.

The new album benefits from time spent on the road, they sound even tighter now than they did before. And having caught them live over the summer, I'll say that they're one of the best live bands around, even better than The White Stripes.  Jack White clearly leads the ship, but singer Allison Mosshart is really the star of the group. She's one of the best frontpeople I've ever seen.  I have downloaded some songs with her other band, The Kills, but I have to pick up some full albums.

Bassist Jack Lawrence is now back with his original band, The Greenhornes, so I guess we won't hear from Dead Weather (or The Raconteurs) any time soon, but I look forward to hearing more from them in the future. I know Jack White is working on the Wanda Jackson album that comes out soon, and Dean Fertita has just put out a solo effort (that Brendan Benson contributed to), called Hello = Fire (read about it in this Billboard interview), and will work on the new Queens Of The Stone Age album this year.  But I definitely hope to hear more Dead Weather in the future.


Late last year, I named my top 10 albums of 2010 (#1 was The Drive-By Truckers' The Big To-Do) but right after that, I decided that there were a lot of albums that didn't make my top 10 that were "tied for #11) starting with Buddy Guy's Living Proof.

Another "tied for #11" is Solomon Burke's swansong, Nothing's Impossible. Sadly, Solomon passed away last year. This wasn't just his final album, it was also the final album by producer Willie Mitchell, who produced most of Al Green's most beloved albums.  I thought Mitchell was a great choice to produce Solomon, and apparently they had wanted to work together for a few years. Mitchell died shortly before the album was actually released, Burke soon after, and it's a great last page in the books of both men.

I'm a big fan of Solomon Burke, and not just his '60s era stuff: he was one of my favorite artists of the '00s. I loved his four albums from that decade: Don't Give Up On Me (produced by Joe Henry),  Make Due With What You Got (produced by Don Was), Nashville (produced by Buddy Miller) and Like A Fire (produced by Steve Jordan). Nothing's Impossible holds up well to those great albums, ending an incredible career on a long, high note.

Nothing's Impossible isn't gimmicky or forced, doesn't feature guest stars or big collaborations. It's just amazing soul music, the result of a summit of two giants. The one attention-grabbing cover is Anne Murray's "You Needed Me." I never liked the song, but Burke puts it in a new light, although it's a bit corny, he sells it. But the part of the album that stops me in my tracks every time is the last song, chillingly titled "I'm Leavin'."  It's not predicting his passing - it's about a breakup - but still, he sings so movingly, it's a lovely wave goodbye to the fans he's left behind.

Here's a lovely op-ed about Solomon from someone who worked with him on some of his last albums, Shawn Amos.