Monday, December 31, 2012


It is probably no surprise that Jack White's debut solo album, Blunderbuss, placed so high on my Best of 2012 list.

Why did he finally do a solo record?  I think that this is his "divorce" album. I don't generally look too deeply into lives of artists, but this one was hard to miss:  Jack and Karen Elson sent out invitations to their 6 anniversary/divorce party.  So while it seems amicable, I'd imagine that every divorce has it's pain and that pain comes out in this album (which Elson provides backing vocals on, by the way).

Although he's the spotlight of every project he works on, I think he sees his bandmates as peers and friends.  I think that this time around, he'd rather just hire musicians, and not explain the songs.

Jack White being Jack White, his story is that he'd set up a session at Third Man Studios with The RZA; RZA didn't show up, and Jack started bashing out songs with the musicians that he hired.  But these songs don't sound like they were just cranked out on the spot.

The tour was really interesting:  he had an all-male band, and an all-female band, and each morning he'd announce who would get to play.  It's amazing that he still can manage to have some weird mystique to what he's doing, all these years after he started.  And that he'd go to such far lengths to bother to do so.  It was fun to hear him play White Stripes songs again (although a full band didn't seem to make up for Meg White missing), and cool to hear different takes on his Raconteurs and Dead Weather songs.

Anyway, the album is a classic: pretty much every song works.  A lot of them sound like they could maybe fit into his other bands.  "Hypocritical Kiss" and "Sixteen Saltines" remind me of The White Stripes for sure. I would love to hear Alison Mosshart singing "Freedom At 21."   "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy" reminds me of The Raconteurs.  But they still have a fresh, different sound.  In the 2010's, I don't know any other artists who are this consistent, and this interesting.


In March, I predicted that the Mark Lanegan Band's Blues Funeral would be one of my top 10 albums of 2012.  I was right.

It's interesting that Chris Cornell tried to combine his sound with electronic music by working with Timbaland on his Scream album, and it didn't really work.  But Lanegan worked with Alain Johannes on this album, and made a hybrid of Lanegan's dusty blues and electronic music that works really well.

Johannes (a former member of Eleven) has worked with Cornell before, it's too bad that they didn't go in this direction.

Lanegan isn't thought of as a "blues" artist per se, and he doesn't roll in Clapton circles.  But when I hear him sing, it just brings to mind scenes of dusty, lonely, scary places.  I hear the blues in his voice.  And this album makes the blues sound fresh, current and even futuristic.  I don't know many other records you could say that about.  If I were a film director (or musical director of a film), I'd be mining this album big time, and asking Lanegan and Johannes for more.

It's interesting that Lanegan chose to call this a "Mark Lanegan Band" album.  The "Band" is completed by drummer Jack Irons. A newly minted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (as a member of The Red Hot Chili Peppers) and a newly minted member of The Wallflowers, he didn't really get to promote the album with Lanegan.  But hopefully this particular group of musicians will work together again.


One of the first big releases of 2012 was a 4 CD Bob Dylan tribute Chimes Of Freedom put out by Amnesty International.  It had legends (Elvis Costello, Joe Perry and Pete Townshend) younger acts (Band Of Skulls, Gaslight Anthem) and pop stars (Ke$ha, Miley Cyrus).  It was a great tribute and showed the man's far reaching influence.

But as if to remind us of his continued relevance and greatness, a few months later Bob released his latest album, Tempest. It's not a huge departure from what he's done lately:  he takes a lot of influence from pre-rock and roll Americana (a lot of the music that he used to play on his satellite radio show Theme Time Radio Hour), adding his distinct lyrical touch.

I don't love Tempest as much as his last album -- Together Through Life was my favorite album of 2009. Still, its another incredible addition to his untouchable cannon of songs.

I love the first single "Duquesne Whistle" (which, like all of Together Through Life, featured lyrics co-written with The Grateful Dead's lyricist Robert Hunter). The video kind of set the scene for the album, which turns out to be kind of violent.

My favorite song on the album is "Pay In Blood" ("... but not my own!").   There are other songs haunted by death.  The title track is about the Titanic, and even references James Cameron's famous movie.  And "Roll On John" is about John Lennon.  In the very Chess bluesy "Early Roman Kings" he says "I ain't afraid to make love to a bitch or a hag."

It's kind of shocking that this guy who is seventy-something, doing his thirty-something-est album, still has so much edginess to him.  But as he says in the aforementioned song, "I ain't dead yet/My bell still rings/I keep my fingers crossed/like the early Roman kings."  No doubt!

Other than the above video and one very contentious Rolling Stone cover story, he didn't promote the album too much, which is too bad.  On the other hand, it's fine and very Bob.  I guess the deal is, if you're a fan you have it already, and if you're not, it's probably not a good starting place for you.  But there's not a clunker here, the album is great from start to finish.

One other thing I have to mention: David Hildago of Los Lobos, who played on Together Through Life and Christmas In The Heart, joins Dylan again on this album.  He definitely adds a vibe to the album, and I hope Bob uses him again in the future.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

BEST OF 2012 - #5 - DR. JOHN - "LOCKED DOWN"

Dr. John's Locked Down is one of the few albums that I got around to writing about this year. That's because I was so excited about it, and I still am.  It's a great album.

Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys (a favorite of mine:  their album El Camino was my #4 album of 2011 even though it came out at the very end of the year, and Brothers was my #7 album of 2010) did a great job producing. I don't think this was a case of a hot artist just slapping his name on an album by a vet.  I feel like he had a vision for this album, and I would bet he was happy with the results.

The choice to keep Dr. John on electric keyboards (he doesn't play any grand piano) was an inspired one, it sort of prevented the album from being a waltz through traditional New Orleans roots.  It doesn't sound like a clapton-esque blues tribute at a fancy museum.  More like you turned around a corner you never turned down before, and ended up in a bar you never knew existed, but may have heard of.  It gave it the creepy vibe of the Doctor's early albums, where he created a very cool mix (or "gumbo") of New Orleans music with rock and roll.

On the other hand, the album ends with two really tender songs. "My Children, My Angels" is a song Dr. John wrote at Auerbach's insistence.  As the title insinuates, it's about his kids. And then "God's Sure Good."  I think that without those songs, the album could have been too much of a throwback of Dr. John trying to be his old "Night Tripper" character.  Too many songs like the last two would have made the album too grandfather-y.  So, putting the two sides together balanced each other out.

I'm not a huge Dr. John expert, but I think this is one of the best albums he's made.  Certainly the best from the past few decades.  He obviously brought his A-game to the collaboration, and here's hoping they work together again.


Only one artist made my best of lists in 2011 and 2012 and that's Gary Clark Jr., one of the most exciting new artists in music today.  Last year his Bright Lights EP was my #5 album of of the year, and this year Blak And Blu is my #6.

Yeah, Gary Clark Jr. is a great blues guitarist, and there are other great blues guitarists out there. Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Bonamassa, Jonny Lang.  But I think Gary will have a lot of appeal outside of blues circles, and outside of guitar player circles.  This year I saw him at Metallica's Orion Festival (Kirk Hammett introduced him from the stage) and at Jay-Z's Made In America Festival (Jay-Z and Beyonce watched him from the side of the stage).

So clearly, the man goes beyond the blues scene.  That's clear in the song "The Life" which could be a current R&B hit. "Ain't Messin' 'Round" could have been a hit in the '80s (it seems like an odd choice to lead off his major label full length debut) and then there's stuff that guitar fans can really sink their teeth into: full band versions of "Things Are Changin'" and "When My Train Pulls In" (acoustic versions were on The Bright Lights EP) and great songs like "Numb" (my favorite) and "Travis County."

People compare him to Hendrix (and he does in fact throw in a bit of "Third Stone From The Sun" on the album, but the way he reminds me of Hendrix isn't simply that he's a great guitar player that mixes blues with something psychedelic, it's the fact that he can go from genre to genre.  If Jimi started out today, I think he'd still be a killer guitar player, but he'd want to be able to do contemporary R&B; he'd want to be able to work in all different styles.  I think that that's what we're going to see from Gary Clark Jr. in the years to come, and that's why he's exciting.  And he'll always be rooted in the blues.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


I think that Norah Jones' Little Broken Hearts is one of the most "slept-on" albums of 2012.

I loved her collaborations with Danger Mouse on the Rome project last year, and I thought it was cool that they decided to do a full Norah album together.

It's an interesting choice for her; when she started out, she was kind of the torch-bearer for more traditional music when she debuted with Come Away With Me in 2002, covering standards and Hank Williams and Bob Dylan. Of course there was her Grammy winning collaboration with Ray Charles on his final album, and she's worked with Willie Nelson a number of times.

On the other hand, she's collaborated with younger artists including Ryan Adams, Q-Tip, the Foo Fighters and Talib Kweli.

Anyway, you look at the album cover and you realize that this isn't really the same Norah.  Image-wise,  musically and lyrically, its an evolution.  To me, the standout track on the album is "Miriam." It's a deceptively gentle sounding song in which Norah sings to a woman who had a fling with her man. Check out the video.

Even if they play Norah's early songs in Pottery Barn... don't mess with her!

The first single, "Happy Pills," is funkier than most of what she'd done in the past.  When I listen to this album, it sounds like (a) someone who has been hurt and is writing about the sad and painful experience and (b) someone who has gotten a bit tired of her image, and maybe the way she is perceived.  I give Norah a lot of credit for this album, but more importantly, I think it's a really good album.

It's worth mentioning that she also did a great roots music album this year with The Little Willies, a band she is a member of. For The Good Times is great also, but Little Broken Hearts is what caught my attention this year.


In her cover of Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down The Line" (one of the highlights of Slipstream), Bonnie Raitt sings "You've been as constant as the northern star," which could actually describe her work.  She's never let us down.

In the late '80s when she experienced her very incredible "comeback" starting with Nick Of Time, she actually got more popular than she ever had been before. I think she was great in the '70s, but with Nick Of Time, she really found her voice: she's a great blues interpreter, but she's not a blues pioneer.  What she is a pioneer in, is singing about what middle-age is like.  In many ways, that's a lot harder, so few people have been able to do it.

She doesn't always write her songs, but Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro and Glenn Close don't always write their lines either: they just make you believe them.  That's what Bonnie does so well.  Also, she can smoke nearly anyone on guitar. I remember watching a Rolling Stones DVD where Bonnie joined them on stage for "Shine A Light," but she was only singing, not playing guitar.  I thought that might have been because Keith and Ron didn't want to get blown off of their own stage.  I mean, can you imagine them having Clapton come on stage to sing a song but not play guitar?

Anyway, on Slipstream, Bonnie uses the more stripped down sound she's used since her Don Was trilogy of albums (all of which had a bit more of the "adult contemporary" sound of the late '80s/early '90s). And she picks some great songs.  "Right Down The Line" is amazing.  A '70s soft-rock classic, when you listen to Bonnie singing it, it gets heavier.  The video actually adds to it.  It shows couples that seem to have been together for a long time - and without making a big deal of it, some of those couples are same sex.  It's one of the lovliest videos you'll see.  Check it out:

But Bonnie's record isn't just about one song.  I also love the fact that she covered not one, but two songs from one of my favorite Dylan albums, 1997's Time Out Of Mind.  She does haunting versions of   "Million Miles" and "Standing In The Doorway."  There's also a song written by Loundon Wainwright (father of Rufus) called "You Can't Fail Me Now."  I never heard his version, but I can't believe it would cut like hers.

One of Bonnie's songwriting contributions to the album is "Down To You," which is pretty rocking and has a cool swagger to it.  And I guess that's how life is: there's heartbreak, but there's also long relationships that last (i.e. "Right Down The Line"). There's aging and there's sadness and there's still swagger. Bonnie seems to always be able to capture all of that.  Not in a rock-star mythologizing way -- or even a blue singer mythologizing way -- but in a way that real people actually experience.  That's why I think she resonates so much.  And of course, because of her gorgeous voice, her badass guitar playing and her impeccable song selection.  All of that is present on Slipstream.  This isn't a record that got too much attention in the mainstream, and that's a shame.  If I had my way, this would have been nominated for a ton of Grammys, not just the Americana one.


I'll just start this one out by saying that Patterson Hood is the most underrated songwriter out there right now, and also one of the best.

Of course, I'm a huge fan of his band The Drive-By Truckers.  Their album Go-Go Boots was my favorite album of 2010, and I named them one of my favorite artists of the '00s.

At first, I was not sure why Patterson didn't use these songs for a DBT record, especially since most of the Truckers are on the album (even singer/songwriter Mike Cooley contributes banjo).

There's so much heartbreak in the songs, and while I usually don't require real-world context to enjoy a record, sometimes I'm interested.  I generally don't follow the lives of the artists I love, just their music.  But I can't deny that, say, knowing a bit about Dylan's life makes Desire a bit heavier than it would be without that knowledge.  And I felt a genuine concern for Hood when listening to the record.  I hoped his marriage, and his life, was doing ok.  It's none of my business, but still.

So, I checked out the "bio" for the album on his website. He always writes pretty frankly on Facebook, I figured he'd provide some background.  And he did: the songs  on the album were written as part of a novel he was working on and hasn't finished, but was based on a terrible period in his life. Well, I was sorry he went through what he went through, but I'm glad it's not what he's going through now.

He starts out the album cinematically, as he often does with DBT.  In "12:01," the line "2:45, I know she's at home sleeping as I open number five," is devastating.  That's some Springsteen/Nebraska level scene setting.

But the song that really gets me is "Come Back Little Star," which features female vocals courtesy of Kelly Hogan. There's a stripped down acoustic version online without Hogan online, but for me, it doesn't cut as deep without the female vocal.  When he sings "Baby don't go: come back little star and take me with you in the night" with her, it just hurts.  I imagine the two voices singing to each other, wanting to make it work, reserved to the fact that it isn't going to work.  It kind of hurts listening to it.

I always think that his DBT songs are very personal, but this album is even more personal, so I guess that's another reason why it would be a solo record.  Still, I imagine the guys in the band might be bummed on one hand that some of these aren't on a DBT record (even if the guys from the band play on the album), and on the other hand, they're probably not going to play these songs live because they are not strictly DBT songs.  Still, they seem so heavy and so heartfelt, they seem like they deserve more than "side-project" status.

But anyway, I know that the Truckers will ride again in 2013, albeit in different form than the last time I saw them: bassist/singer Shonna Tucker and guitarist John Neff are no longer with the band. It kind of makes you wonder if that opens the door for guitarist/singer/songwriter Jason Isbell to rejoin, as there is not only a spot for a guitarist, but his ex-wife is no longer in the group (although I doubt it).  But however they move on, they're gonna move on, and any band with Hood and Cooley (and their great drummer Brad Morgan, and their great keyboardist Jay Gonzalez, both of whom play on Patterson's record) is a band I want to see.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I'm definitely a big fan of Big Boi.  Ever since I started listening to OutKast (I was turned on to them when Stone Gossard played one of their songs on a Pearl Jam radio show).  He's a really interesting and underrated MC. But more than that, he has an interesting musical sensibility.  I think in OutKast, Andre 3000 got most of the credit for that. But if you listen to Big's two albums (Sir Luscious Leftfoot was one of my favorites of 2010).

His new one, Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors, came out late in the year and made me shuffle my year end list a bit.  I'm not mad, it's a great album.

There's some cool funky party jams, which I guess we'll always expect from him. I like "In The A" (which features T.I. and Ludacris) and also the new wave-y jam "Mama Told Me" with Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child. "Apple Of My Eye" is also a very strange, and very cool song. Then there's also a song called "Thom Pettie" that name drops "Free Fallin'."

But the ones that stand out to me are "She Hates Me" and "Tremendous Damage," which are both pretty revealing.  "She Hates Me" seems to be about his marriage.  When he says "Forgive me if I raise my voice, I won't raise my hand/But one thing I will do baby is raise my lil' man." What a line.

"Tremendous Damage" is about his father, a Vietnam vet, who passed away recently.  Not your average subject matter for a hip-hop song.  That's why I like Big Boi, and why (to me) he stand out above the pack of MCs.  Musically, he always looks for something a bit funkier and more creative, and lyrically he goes to different places.

Like everyone else, I hope that Andre 3000 wises up and agrees to an OutKast reunion.  But if that doesn't happen, Big Boi's second act is turning out to be a very strong one.


One of the best shows I've seen this year was X and The Reverend Horton Heat at Irving Plaza last week.  It was an inspired double bill. On one hand, it was totally off the radar; the tour didn't get too much attention in the press.  On the other hand, who gives a s***, people with good taste in music were there. Both bands were incredible.

The Reverend Horton Heat played first so let's start with them.  It's no secret that I'm a huge fan.  Their last album Laughin' And Cryin' was one of my favorites of 2009. I go and see them in concert any chance I get. They have never let me down, and they didn't this time either.

These days they do this funny thing where they start the show by doing one song from each album in chronological order.  I guess it's a good way to make sure they hit every record. They have no bad ones: my favorites are their first two or three and then their latest, but I like them all. Anyway, the Rev is such a killer guitar player, Jimbo is an amazing slap bass player. at one point, they switched instruments for "Johnny B. Goode," and it turns out that the Rev can play bass and Jimbo can wail on guitar.

The band are tight as hell, they're fun, they're funny, but they're not a joke.  I will go and see them each and every time I have the opportunity to do so.  It's interesting that the same night that they played, Dinosaur Jr. played at a different club in town, in a show that got a lot more hype.  I know that a lot of people respect that band, but I could never get into them.  The Reverend Horton Heat is just a lot more fun. And I think the Rev is a better guitar player than J. Mascis.  At the least, he's less self-indulgent.

I've wanted to see X in concert forever, and finally got my chance over the summer, when I saw them at Jay-Z's "Made In America" festival of all places. They pulled a small crowd, but it was a loyal crowd.  Everyone in front of that stage knew what was up: X is the real deal. After all these years, they're still the real deal. Not everyone will get it, and that's just the way it is.  They had the true punk rock ethic: they played to us as if their lives depended on it.

The show at Irving was a different vibe: it was mostly their crowd. They played like their lives depended on it even more than they had at Made In America. "Your Phone's Off The Hook, But You're Not," "Sex And Dying In High Society," "In This House That I Call Home," "We're Desperate," "Adult Books," "Los Angeles" "Nausea," "Johnny Hit And Run Paulene," and their cover of The Doors' "Soul Kitchen" sound as urgent as ever.  I would imagine that when these songs were new, they made 75% of commercially successful rock music sound silly.  Today, its a reminder of how important music should be.  Today, they're a reminder of how great music is supposed to be, how much it should mean.

Actually I was thinking that thought throughout the show, before Exene told us (as if we didn't know) "These aren't just songs, we're not 'entertainers!' Do you ever actually listen to the words? Pull out your cable, throw out your television, don't be 'sheep-le!'"

Another thought I had:  if this was the last rock concert I'd ever see, it would be a good one.  Most people don't know who X is. Most of the hipsters in town were at a show across town (Dinosaur Jr. was playing that night also). But sometimes "the unheard music" is also the best music.

(all photos by Maria Ives)

Monday, December 10, 2012


RNDM's show was interesting on many levels. For one, I hadn’t really heard much of the band’s music. Generally I will listen to a group a lot the week I’m getting ready to see them perform. But the week of the show was the week after Sandy, and I had no power in my house, and hadn’t had the chance to upload their music to my iPod.

Actually, I think I only had one single; the album came out that week, but I was preoccupied and was living by flashlight;  going to iTunes wasn’t really on my mind. So it was the rare experience of going to see an artist whose music I was almost completely unfamiliar with.  Of course that happens at festivals or with opening acts, but I can't think of many times where I went to a show to see a band and really didn't know much of their music.

I should mention that I did buy their album at the show – I’ve listened to it often and I like it a lot. I thought RNDM was really great. They often wear masks in their press shots; I almost wish they kept them on, because people should hear them on their own terms. For better or worse, something that Jeff Ament is involved in will always be filed under “Pearl Jam side project.” There are benefits to that, to be sure, but I think this band can find its own audience, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a subset of the Ten Club (I think Brad has found a following like that as well).

 Anyway, the truth is, a band’s audience is often focused on the lead singer. And RNDM singer/guitarist Joseph Arthur has his own audience already. I’m familiar with his song “In The Sun,” and I am a big fan of his other band, Fistful Of Mercy. He’s a great singer and songwriter, I think he’s one or two hits away from playing places like Radio City Music Hall. I can’t say enough about drummer Richard Stuverud. He’s a wild man, and his joy at playing is infectious. He and Jeff have a tight bond: they’ve played together in Three Fish and Tres Mtns (who I hope we haven’t seen the last of) before RNDM. He’s a powerful drummer, the show kicks ass because of him. And Jeff? Well, it’s his band, but he seems to enjoy keeping it democratic. Everyone knows what’s on the back of his baseball card.  

Still, when you see RNDM on stage, in their photos and in their videos, you can see that he enjoys having a visual element that simply wouldn’t be welcome in his other band. He gets his Primus and Beastie Boys on, giving the band a strong visual identity; they even all have the same haircut (watch them sit under the scissors in the video for "Modern Times"). So, anyway, without knowing really much of the music at all (although they did one song that mashed up The Clash’s “The Magnificent Seven” with something else), I though it was great. I know that Pearl Jam are taking about a year off so Matt Cameron can return to Soundgarden (who I also will be writing about soon), I wonder if we’ll see any more RNDM in 2013. Not that Jeff asked what *I* would like to see him do. But I’d love to see a “magnificent four” tour – with Jeff, Richard, Joseph and Dug Pinnick, where they played RNDM and Tres Mtns songs. Hell, bring Joseph’s other bandmates – Ben Harper and Dhani Harrison of Fistful, along with their violinist Jessy Greene – and just call it “Magnificent Seven.” And this time, play the whole song!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


I’ve been really M.I.A. from personal blogging.  As I’ve mentioned before, that’s partially because I now write about music every day at my job at CBS Local.  A lot of the shows that I go to, I review for CBS. Sometimes it’s a local site like CBS New York or CBS Philly. Other times, it goes to a number of radio station websites, including WCBS-FM in New York, WXRT in Chicago, WNCX in Cleveland and WZLX in Boston. My work has even appeared on hip-hop sites like Atlanta's V103, country sites like US99 in Chicago and top 40 sites like 923Now in New York.   

If you follow me on Twitter (and why don’t you?), I generally post links to my stories, which also include some of the interviews that I’ve done, news stories, and (occasionally) lists. 

I’m going to start posting links to them here more often, with my own personal take.  Kind of like the director’s take on a BluRay disc of a film.

I’m hoping to get back to doing more record reviews here, as that is something that I don’t do for CBS. Of course, I have to start thinking about my favorite albums of 2013!

And I’ll also do some concert reviews especially for here.  My interests will always extend way past what is appropriate for the wide world of CBS.

Sorry I’ve been gone for so long, but I’m back.