Monthly Archives: March 2012

Should Millionaire Rock Stars Sing About the Country’s Economic Woes?

During a recent visit to Chicago, some friends and I got into a debate over Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball.  One friend argued that the album’s theme of economic disparity felt fake due to Springsteen’s status as a multi-millionaire: “He hasn’t been close to struggling since The River.”

True, Bruce Springsteen is one of the world’s most famous rock stars and The Wrecking Ball Tour is sure to be one of the top grossing tours of the the year.  There probably is some truth that Springsteen hasn’t struggled with money since The River which was recorded over 30 years ago.  But those struggles stayed with him, and will always be a part of his songwriting.  As he pointed out to Jon Stewart in a recent issue of Rolling Stone: “We talk, we write, and even as late in the day as I am, we experience so much through the formative years of our life. That never goes away.”  Jay-Z says something similar in his book Decoded: “If you get that into your head that somehow you’re exceptional, then you’ve created some distance between where you are and where you’re from…”

While Springsteen is far removed from the struggles that form the basis of Occupy Wall Street, he has sung about these struggles before.  The songs that form Darkness on the Edge of Town and Nebraska deal with these issues. Because he is now finically secure, does that mean he should drop these songs from his set-list and stick to songs that conform to his current life-style?  What would a Bruce Springsteen who sings about sipping wine out of a chalice sound like?  There would be cries of selling-out, for sure.  At this point in his career, Springsteen has a certain image to up-keep and no matter what you think of his political views, if he sang about how great his life in his mansion was, that would seem more hollow.

I know several Springsteen fans that love him and respect him, but find his views a bit questionable.  But to them, he still makes great rock and roll and still go see him every time he comes to town.  In the same vein, you could argue that The Sex Pistols’ ancharchistic view of the world is a bit simplistic, but Nevermind the Bollocks remains one of the greatest albums ever recorded.

Personal lives and art do not, and should not have to line-up exactly.  According to James Joyce, In a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in order to be a true artist, the  “artist prolongs and broods himself as the center of an epical event…the narrative is no longer personal.”

According to Joyce then, Springsteen is actually closer to true artistic integrity of the economic issues by being removed from the narrative he is referring to.  Perspectives in a particular song do not have to take one’s own experiences into account in order to them to work.  Mick Jagger is certainly not the Devil (though some have argued that point) but “Sympathy for the Devil” is an engaging portrait of the Prince of Darkness.  Are we really to believe that he (Jagger) “rolled a tank and held a general’s rank while the Blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank”?   Similarly, Johnny Cash never murdered anyone but that doesn’t make his proclamation that he “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” any less chilling.

Springsteen’s themes on Wrecking Ball might not be to one’s particular taste.  But because Springsteen is a millionaire doesn’t make it any less authentic.  He (Springsteen) is not the “Jack of All Trades” who “will mow your lawn, clean the leaves from your drain”.  But for many listeners, they will identify with themselves in the song.

If “economic issues” trump everything in art, therein lies a problem.  If we, as listeners start to dictate what an artist should be talking about in a particular song or album, then we start to go a slippery slope.  It could start with economic issues, but where does it stop?  In a way, it becomes a form of imposed censorship on the artist.  And any form of censorship on art isn’t good for anybody.

New Music: “Never Played the Bass” (Video) – Nabiha

Nabiha’s mix of neo-soul and pop is quite infectious.  Also, any song that uses horns gets automatic points in my book.  On “Never Played the Bass”, the Danish-African singer is both fun-loving and commanding.  This is definitely an artist to keep an eye on.

Smash Palace to Release “Do It Again” on April 24

(Release Courtesy of Publicity By Design)
“Living It Lonely” First Single 
Album Release Show Announced
“Smash Palace, a powerpop/rock band with a 28-year pedigree still has the spirit and exuberance necessary for this tough-to-pull-off style.” – USA Today
With their eighth CD, “Do It Again,” Smash Palace delivers the perfect soundtrack for the Spring and Summer of 2012. The ten rock n roll tracks represent the signature Butler brothers sound – 60’s jangle rock, 70’s rock swagger, 80’s power pop and 90’s Brit rock – but rolled into a contemporary 2012 style of its own. Imagine that you are listening to ten of your favorite songs even though you haven’t heard any of them before! Welcome to “Do It Again.”
Stephen and Brian Butler were first discovered by Hilly Kristal at NYC’s original punk club, CBGB’s. Later, as “Quincy,” they were signed to Columbia Records, and then were reborn as Smash Palace and moved to Epic Records.
“Do It Again” will be Smash Palace’s fourth release for Zip Records, and will be released on April 24, 2012. After playing a show at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, label head Art Herman rediscovered the band and immediately signed Smash Palace to his San Francisco-based indie label.
“…a swath of British invasion verve, an effortless blend moving with a catchy rock swagger that’s infectiousness enough to require Cipro.”
 – Philadelphia Weekly
“The lion’s share of the credit goes to the Butler brothers’ razor sharp songwriting skills, particularly their ability to meld soaring pop melodies to clever lyrics.
– Amplifier Magazine
Smash Palace will play an album-release show on Sunday, April 29th at The Ritz Theater, as well as several other east-coast area shows (below).
More dates to follow.

April 29th, Sunday night – The Ritz Theater in Haddon Twp NJ
Smash Palace CD release show

May 18th, Friday night – The Record Collector in Bordentown NJ

 June 8th, Friday night – The Sellersville Theater, Sellersville Pa

July 7th, Saturday night – The World Cafe Live, Phila. Pa.


New Music: “Dark Days” – Cygnets (Review)

Cygnets’ second album Dark Days sounds as if the band were listening to a whole lot of Depeche Mode, Joy Division, and The Smiths.  Tightly controlled drum-beats, throbbing bass-lines and synthesizer hooks are a way of life all across Dark Days.

Just like the songs of their heroes, Dark Days is full of songs of despair and dread.  Even the titles alone give a sense of self-impending doom: “Leave the Prophets Where They Lie”, “We Will Become Enemies”, “Dread City”.   It only takes lead singer Logan Turner four tracks in to cry out to Judas, the ultimate character of betrayal and remorse.    Later on “Dark Romantic” – in a clear nod to “Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” – Turner  wonders: “If they tear us apart, what will bring us together?”  In the next line, he not only answers it but is intent on taking his love with him by stating, “together we’ll know failure.”

Unlike a lot of bands that use The Smiths and Joy Division as a template, Cygnets actually make you believe the sadness and despair within the songs, which is no easy feat.


Check out the band here:

New Music: “Plans” – Cowgill (Free MP3)

Cowgill’s “Plans” ends gloriously with a mixture of Spanish-style guitar picking and a jazz piano over Paul Cowgill’s wistful vocals.  “We got just a cause,” He repeats as the drums, piano and guitar wrap around him.  If you like the Shins or the Decemberists, give a listen to Cowgill.

Cowgill will unveil “Side One” of their debut full-length, Planted in May 2012.

Check out “Plans” here.

Song of the Week: “Song to Woody” – Bob Dylan

(For some reason this version with George Harrison is the only one I could find.)

Since today is the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s first album, Bob Dylan it only seems only appropriate to use “Song to Woody” as the Song of the Week.  There have been lots of songs written about, or inspired by Woody Guthrie, but Dylan’s simple song ranks among the best.  I’ve always loved the fact that one of Dylan’s firsts songs was to his hero. Sure you could make a case that he was copying Guthrie’s style, but few musical tributes are as good as this.

10 Songs About Drinking For St. Patrick’s Day

I was going to post this earlier, but I thought it might be better to put up right before Saint Patrick’s Day.

“Streams of Whiskey” – The Pogues

The Pogues have tons of songs about drinking, but this one might be the best.  At all of the Pogues show I went to in the past few years, they almost always opened with this song and it set the pace for the rest of night.  Nothing gets a crowd going better than hundreds of people shouting in unison: “When the world is too dark and I need the light inside of me, I’ll walk into a bar, and drink fifteen pints of beer!”

“Whiskey in the Jar” – Thin Lizzy

A friend of mine once suggested that this version of “Whiskey in the Jar” might be the greatest musical moment to ever come out of Ireland.  That statement may be a bit of hyperbole, but it’s still the best rock and roll version of this traditional Irish song.   There’a also some pretty great guitar playing too.

“Drinking Wine Spo-Dee -O-Dee” – Jerry Lee Lewis

A great song about drinking without a care in the world.  This raucous version is typical Jerry Lee Lewis – pounding piano, a great rockabilly beat complete with a a cocky attitude.  The best line: “drinking that mess is pure delight, when getting drunk they sing sloppy all night.”

“Roadhouse Blues” – The Doors

I’ve never really been a fan of The Doors, but this “Roadhouse Blues” always sounds great in a bar.  The bluesy swagger and the line about drinking beer in the morningmakes them seem like the outlaws Jim Morrison wanted them to be.  Another great sing-a-long as well.

“The Piano’s Been Drinking (Not Me)” – Tom Waits

Much of the jazz-inspired Small Change explores Waits’ drinking problem and not all of it is is pretty, at least in terms of lyrical content.  “The Piano’s Been Drinking (Not Me)”, however manages to turn a sticky situation into a rather whimsical and funny tale by comparing the waitress to a Geiger counter and complaining that the telephone is out of cigarettes.

“Who Are You” – The Who

“Who Are You” is a re-telling of Pete Townshend’s drunken encounter with The Sex Pistols.  One can only imagine what this conversation sounded like considering the Sex Pistols anarchic visions and Townshend’s musing on rock and roll.  At the beginning of the song, he wakes up in a doorway where a police man tells him, “you can go and sleep at home tonight if you can get up and walk away.”

“N***** in Paris” – Jay-Z & Kanye West

Without a doubt the best song off of Jay-Z and Kanye’s collaboration Watch The Throne.  Like many Jay-Z songs, he raps about his past-life, but this type he isn’t just bragging about how far he’s come or his business ventures.  “If you escaped like I escaped,” Jay muses, “you’d be in Paris getting fucked up too.”

“Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around the World” – U2

“Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around the World” is one of the lighter songs off of U2’s Achtung Baby.  The music is soft and never weighty, but Bono’s lyrics perfectly sum up the feeling of a bad hang-over: “sun-rise like a nosebleed, your head hurts and you can’t breathe.”

“Gin and Juice” – Snoop Dogg

Any list about drinking songs can’t be complete without this Snoop Dogg classic.  Like many Snoop Dogg songs, the beat is laid-back (ha!) and Snoop even gives a shout out to his favorite brand of Gin (Seagrams).  The Gourds famously covered this song (though some people still believe it’s Phish) and turn the rap-song into a Bluegrass boogie.

“Drinking Again” – Frank Sinatra

What’s a list of drinking songs without the inclusion of Frank Sinatra?  True, this isn’t a celebratory drinking song.  But many can relate to the idea of drinking to drown out their sorrows and few capture that feeling as good as Sinatra.

New Music: “Acid Girls” – Pets With Pets

Pets With Pets’ second single from Saturday Aquatic Pixie Acid, “Acid Girls” is even stranger than their first single “Pixie Child” (check it out here).  Over some dark and sinister guitar strumming, “Acid Girls” conjures up the coldness of Joy Division.  There’s also some weird noises and effects throughout the song reminiscent of Pearl Jam’s “Whale Song”.

Check out “Acid Girls”

Pets with Pets is currently making their first rounds at SXSW, and will be playing New York’s Bell House on Sunday, March 25 as part of the Aussie BBQ.

New Music: “Gliss” – I Am Oak

A while back, I posted “Gills” from the Dutch folk-experimental outfit I Am Oak.  The second single, “Gliss” from I Am Oak’s sophomore LP, Oasem is a string-laden ballad perfect for late nights.  Singer Thijs Kuijken’s distant, but deep voice adds extra weight to the already emotional tune.

Check out “Gliss” from I Am Oak 

I Am Oak will be performing at SXSW on Friday, March 16 at the Dutch Impact/Filter Party at 3 PM, followed by a 9 PM show at St. David’s Bethell Hall.


Album of the Week: “Music From Big Pink” – The Band

If I’m going to be perfectly honest, I have to admit that it took me years to fully appreciate The Band.  My older brother, I’m sure will be wondering what the hell is wrong with me.  The Band were always one of those artists who I knew I should (and to some extent) needed to like.  After all, I couldn’t possibly be such a Bob Dylan fan if I didn’t “get” The Band, could I?

My older brother and my friend spent numerous nights at the local bar discussing how great Big Pink was.  It seemed to be their favorite past-time.  Even if they hadn’t seen each other in months, The Band always seemed to be common ground for them.  Time ceased to exist.  In some instances, the conversations were akin to musical Olympics: which one of them could reveal a nugget of information the other did not know?  I sat by the way-side, drinking my beer listening in (mostly) silence.

The Band eluded me for several years after that. I never told my brother that I didn’t have Big Pink, for fear of some kind of retribution.  I’m guessing that he just assumed that I had it. I finally got around to buying it not too long after I finished graduate.  It was beginning to get warm, and I felt the need for a “summer” album.  For whatever reason, Big Pink caught my eye and I decided it was finally time to go ahead and take the plunge.

When I popped the CD in, I finally understood what my brother and my friend had been raving about for all these years.  Any other band would have put the aching “Tears of Rage” at the beginning of an album.  It’s brutal and exhausting, and the type of song usually found at the end of an album where there is a big emotional pay-off.  By sticking “Tears of Rage” at the beginning, The Band already declared that their style of music was going to be different than everybody else’s and weren’t just breaking the normal rules but ignoring them all together.  Many other bands were turning up their amps at the time, but The Band presented a flip-side to that.

It’s been said that The Band represented a “rebellion against the rebellion”.   Even a look at the photographs from that era present a group that looks more like Civil War-era generals than rock stars.  The laid-back style that permeated much of Music From Big Pink came more from the hills of Appalachia than a Chuck Berry inspired riff.  But there were other influences as well: “Caledonia Mission” and “Chest Fever” contained Motown and soul elements.  By combining these musical styles and others, Music From Big Pink is not tied to any particular era, and ironically (considering all but one member were Canadian) makes them perhaps America’s most “American” sounding band.

Sometimes I wish I had listened to Music From Big Pink more when I was younger.  But perhaps I wasn’t ready for it.  It totally make sense now.  And if my brother and my friend ever talk about it again, I won’t have to sit and stare blankly.  Though I’m sure I’d still lose at the trivial knowledge.