Monthly Archives: July 2012

“The Rising” Turns 10

Sorry I didn’t get around to this, but yesterday marked the 10th Anniversary of Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising.  The Rising as an album is significant for a lot of reasons. For Bruce Springsteen it marked the beginning of a late career renaissance that has continued through to this year’s Wrecking Ball.  For audiences, it helped heal the wounds of many who had been directly or indirectly affected by the horrors of 9/11.

For me, The Rising seems to be one of the last “true” albums. All of the songs fit a specific mood, and are woven together with a singular idea in mind. Though many individual songs make their point, they work much better together.  The darkness of “My City of Ruins” and “You’re Missing” is contrasted with the light-hearted (but still serious) “Mary’s Place” and “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin).”  Great art is able to conjure up feelings that we never knew had. It inspires and offers consolation and that’s exactly what The Rising did.

For a lengthier look at The Rising, check out another post I wrote on it a while back.

Song of the Week: “Save It For Later” – The English Beat

 

 

A friend of mine has this theory that one of the best ways to discover music you’ve never heard, is to figure out your favorite artists’ influences. Chances are if you like one particular artist, you’ll probably be attracted to the musicians that inspired them. That’s exactly what happened to me in the case of The English Beat’s “Save It For Later”.

I probably would have never heard of the song if it weren’t for Pearl Jam. It’s a song that they occasionally tag at the end of “Betterman” – one of their biggest hits and most well-known songs. Even though I like “Betterman”, it’s a song that I wouldn’t care if it wasn’t played a concert. I could probably think of about a dozen songs I would rather hear at a Pearl Jam show than “Better Man”.  I tend to skip the song whenever I listen to one of their official bootlegs (of which I own many).  By adding “Save It For Later” to the end of the song, it becomes something special. It’s an event – an occurrence reserved for special occasions. In many ways, it redeems the song live for me and gives a concert war-horse new meaning.

After hearing Pearl Jam’s version “Save it For Later”, I decided to check out the original. Strangely, the song felt familiar, and reminded me of the new-wave artists that my sister used to play on the stereo when I was a kid. Its ska beat and melodic chorus instantly grabbed me. Before I knew it, I soon found myself checking out more artists similar to The English Beat.

For a long time, I never really paid to attention to the song’s lyrics. It seemed to be casual sex and drugs – nothing too out of the ordinary for a rock song. These topics aren’t something that fit naturally into a Pearl Jam song. I kept wondering why Vedder would choose to tag  “Save It For Later” at the the end of a song that tells the tale of an wife who refuses to leave her abusive husband. After a little bit of research, I discovered that Pete Townshend used to cover the song frequently during his solo shows. It’s been well-documented that Vedder might be the world’s biggest (and certainly most famous) Who fan. But it was probably Townshend’s insight into the song that got Vedder’s attention.

According to Pearl Jam fan-site Five Horizons, Townshend offered a lengthy introduction to the song:

“But the other thing that’s bigger in that song, I think that’s so interesting, what I realized the other day, is that what it’s also about is the decision to have children, remember that song, by Bob Dylan—the fear of bringing children into the world, ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’? When you have kids, you gotta try to take that whole responsibility—follow your biological urges, by all means—as if there’s any hope of not doing that, you know … but try to make sure that there’s a place for them to be in the future.”

Leave it to Pete Townshend (one of rock’s true intellectuals) to look through the surface of a song and see something entirely different. After reading that, I certainly couldn’t listen to “Save It For Later” the same way.  Townshend and Vedder’s interpretation of the song changes the meaning of the song, and for the better.

So thank you Pete and Eddie, for introducing me to such a great song and rekindling my love for New Wave.

 

 

 

 

New Music: “Turn My Way” – Shane Gamble

 

 

A few years ago, when I started doing artist interviews, one of the first people I interviewed was Shane Gamble. I’ve known him for a while, since he’s a friend of my older brother. Shane was kind enough to let me interview him, and was also gracious enough to let me write the biography for his web-site. He also played me some tracks he was working on which would eventually end up forthcoming release Shane Gamble due out September 18.

That being said, I can say without hesitation or bias that “Turn My Way” the first single from Shane Gamble is the kind of song that if there were justice in the world, would get played a lot on the radio. Starting off with a country-tinged slow-burn, its chorus erupts into full-blown rock complete with a nifty guitar solo. Do yourself a favor and check out Gamble’s “Turn My Way”.

 

Happy Birthday, Mick Jagger

Happy birthday to rock and roll’s greatest frontman who turns 69 today. In honor of Sir Mick’s birthday, take a look back at some other posts I’ve written about Jagger and the boys:

The Rolling Stones at 50

Song of the Week: “Waiting on a Friend”

Mick Jagger’s Top 10 Vocal Performances

 

Also, tell me what’s your favorite Stones song?

Song of the Week: “Streets of Baltimore” – Gram Parsons

 

 

As a young kid, Baltimore always seemed to be the center of the universe. Having grown up an hour away, it was the “first real” city I ever visited. DC was just as close, but its skyline seemed pale in comparison to Baltimore’s in the eyes of my young self. DC may have had the museums and tourist attractions, but Baltimore was where you went to watch baseball games and eat some crabs.  It was also where three of my older siblings went to college, so that only added to its appeal.

I always knew I wanted to live there at some point, and when I finally moved there about six years ago, my love for it only grew. Some friends have often teased about my affinity for Baltimore. Sure, it has its problems, but despite its depiction on The Wire (which I love), it’s actually a pretty awesome place to live.

As such, Gram Parsons’ cover of “Streets of Baltimore” has sort of become an unofficial anthem for me. The music however, sounds nothing like the streets of Baltimore – in fact its laid-back country sound seems to fit the countryside of Tennessee where the narrator comes from.

The song tells the story of a young couple who move to Baltimore, much to the chagrin of the man. Despite his reservation, he does it because he loves her. Eventually, he realizes that she loves the bright lights more than she loved him, and the two go their separate ways.

In some ways, the song might seem like an odd choice as an unofficial anthem for my love of the city. After all, the narrator’s love leaves him for the bright lights and big city life. However, to friends and others who don’t live in Baltimore, I’ve spent quite a bit of time defending the city. It’s not the center of the universe that it was a kid. Though there’s a lot of cool music in the city, most of the big acts bypass it in favor on DC. And outside of its rapid fan-base, the Baltimore Ravens seem to be one of the most hated/feared teams in the NFL It’s certainly not a perfect city, and I’m well aware of it. Above everything else, its my city and as the song says, “I kind of like the streets of Baltimore.”

 

The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” iTunes LP: What’s Missing

 

Yesterday, iTunes released a new Beatles’ digital LP entitled Tomorrow Never Knows.  It’s designed as a way to show those who may not know – that the Beatles could actually rock. I’m all for introducing new audiences to the Beatles, but it still comes off as a cheap grab since it contains nothing new!  The only original content is a nice introduction by Dave Grohl (who despite my feelings about his band is increasingly becoming one of the coolest and nicest dudes in rock) and nods from other musicians such as Arcade Fire and Linkin Park.

Apple (I’m speaking to both companies now) missed a big opportunity here.  It could have been the perfect moment to release the legendary “Carnival of Light”.  With the exception of The Basement Tapes, it’s probably the most famous unreleased music from a recording artist.  Could you imagine the excitement that would have occurred if Tomorrow Never Knows appeared suddenly (like it did) with the inclusion of “Carnival of Light?”

As for the song selection, I actually wrote a similar blog post back in February. You can check the track-list of the new LP versus mine. I know which one I like more.

And for even more Beatles’ fun check out my essay on “Tomorrow Never Knows”.

 

Exclusive Interview with The Bolts’ Matt Champagne

Southern California’s explosive modern rock-pop act, The Bolts, are set to release back-to-back seasonal EP’s kicking off with the release of aptly titled Fall 2012 EP on September 21. The classic yet contemporary quintet comprised of bassist and vocalist, Addam Farmer; guitarist and vocalist Heath Farmer; keyboardist and vocalist, Austin Farmer; guitarist and vocalist, Ryan Kilpatrick; and drummer Matt Champagne, is influenced by artists like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Queen, The Clash, The Killers, The Strokes, My Chemical Romance and Modest Mouse

 

 You guys definitely have a unique sound. It’s almost like a cross between 70s hard-rock and the Beach Boys.  Has it been difficult to merge these two different elements together when playing live?

We only write & play the music we love so it hasn’t been that hard combining pop & rock elements together for the live show or album. There has been a few times where reworking harmonies to fit the style of the song was necessary, but that’s all a normal part of The Bolts writing process. 

 

LA has spawned a ton of different bands over the years – particularly in hard-rock and pop.  Obviously those influences come through in the music.  What particular groups where you guys attracted to?

 

We really like the new Foster The People record a lot. I think that they have some cool Beach Boys  / Brian Wilson influences in their music that The Bolts also love & respect when writing a song. We also love the style of songwriting that The Killers & Muse have to offer, we would love to tour with those guys soon!

 

The Bolts’ music seems to embrace that pretty heavily with the crunching riffs and loud drums, but many younger bands seem to shy away from arena-rock style shows and music.  Why do you think that is, and what makes you guys want to go out and just straight-up let loose?

 

Good question! Personally, I think its very easy for our culture / generation to go to a local music shop, buy a guitar, auto-tune some vocals, and throw up a pop song within a few hours. But we believe in quality music that takes skill & time to create, but is still simple enough to sing along with when you’re listening to it on the radio. I think that easy access to creating music is a beautiful thing, but a lot of the times musicians are catering to our culture with trendy styles of music that will soon become “old” or “out of style”. We want to break that mold in the music scene & simply create good lasting music!

 

How do you decide who sings which parts?  Is it part of the songwriting process or do you decide it later in studio?

 

Its actually a mixture of both. There are times when Heath would write a song but Addam ends up singing it or vice-versa. Most of our writing process is done with humming a melody line over a songs chord progression we are jamming on. The 4 guys usually take turns at singing the melody and making up random filler words. Once we start to smile & feel that the right emotion is there we know who is gonna sing lead on that song. A lot lot of bands throw away good songs because it doesn’t fit their lead singers style or range, but for us we just bounce the song to a different lead vocalist in our band rather than trashing it.

 

You guys have a pretty busy few months ahead: two EPs coming out a full-length due in the spring.  What’s been your favorite part so far?

I think our favorite part of what we do is always gonna be the live show. The hype of the internet, interviews, tv placement & so on is all great, but at the end of the day playing your music you wrote during a certain time in your life to an audience is just the best feeling of accomplishment. Whether our lyrics are on paper or recorded digitally at a studio in LA, theres nothing like seeing the translation between our fans connecting with us through social network sites & singing along or feeling the music with us at a live show. 

 

www.theboltsmusic.com

Facebook.com/thebolts

Album of the Week: “Hot Fuss” – The Killers

The Killers’ Hot Fuss remains one of the defining moments of alternative rock in the mid-2000s. The garage-rock revival seemed to be waning, and the indie-rock explosion was just around the corner. Hot Fuss provided a gap between these two musical movements with its 1980s dance influenced rock. At the time of its release, it would have been hard to predict that Hot Fuss would be one of the most influential albums of the decade. Many indie-rock bands owe a huge debt to The Killers’ debut. There’s a fair chance that dance-oriented alternative artists such as Matt & Kim, Passion Pit, Mates of State among others wouldn’t have achieved as much exposure without the success of Hot Fuss.

Even though the album in parts sounds fun, it’s actually a pretty twisted collection of songs. Obsession, death, heartbreak, murder, jealously, infidelity fill the album. Over 45 minutes, Brandon Flowers isn’t just pissed off, he’s ready to take action against those that have done him wrong whether it’s the girlfriend who may or may not be cheating on him with another woman, the wrestling star who he had a crush on in high school, or the girl he takes to The Midnight Show.

“On Andy, You’re A Star”, Flowers admits to his would-be male lover, that he’s a “star in nobody’s world but mine.” To me, that line is probably the key line in the entire album. No matter the subject in Hot Fuss’ songs, Flowers seems to think that the world revolves around him and that no one could possibly understand. This internal mind-fuck that Flowers has drives his actions. It fuels the rage in “Mr. Brightside”.  A kiss isn’t just a kiss in Flowers’ mind. It’s cause for some drastic measures.

Though Hot Fuss isn’t a concept album per se, its songs seem to loosely tell a narrative that works backwards. The album ends with “Everything Will Be Alright” where Flowers seems to be consoling himself over a heartbreak and begins with “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” where he murders Jenny on a promenade “out in the rain” without a hint of remorse. In between, Flowers seem to be looking for anyone who will pay attention to him, and he won’t take “no” for an answer.  “If the answer, is no, can I change your mind?” He asks on “Change Your Mind.”  This isn’t a request from a guy who just wants to take a girl out on a date.  In fact, he’s downright creepy, especially when he observes that “you got a short skirt, I wanna look up, look up, look up.”

The album’s centerpiece “All These Things I’ve Done” on the surface seem would seem to be the song where Flowers offers a bit of remorse. But instead, it’s the turning point. “I want a meaning from the back of my hand,” He declares. From there on back, Hot Fuss get even messier: “Somebody Told Me,” “Mr. Brightside” and “Jenny was a Friend of Mine” are all songs where Flowers finally cracks.  On the latter, when Flowers is pulled in by the cops for Jenny’s murder, he points out that there was no motive: just that she was his friend.

Luckily for Flowers the band mostly covers up his neurotic and creepy dispositions. Synthesizers and keyboards are everywhere and practically drive songs such as “On Top” and “Somebody Told Me”.  But it’s really the human elements that stick out.  Mark Stoermer’s slap bass on “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” explodes from the speakers, while Dave Keuning’s delayed guitar riff on “Mr. Brightside” is instantly recognizable.

If there’s a problem with Hot Fuss, it’s that ever since then The Killers have struggled with trying to find a suitable follow-up.  Sam’s Town and Day and Age aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but the band (and perhaps Flowers especially) over stretched themselves in scope. The only ambitions that are found on Hot Fuss are the ones inside Flowers’ head – and that’s what makes the album such a compelling listen.

 

The Rolling Stones at 50

Today (July 12) marks the 50th anniversary of The Rolling Stones’ first official gig at the Marquee Club in London. There’s no doubt that 50 years of playing music is a huge achievement. While many performers in recent years have already reached that particular milestone, the Rolling Stones are the first band to reach it, without ever breaking up.  Though they’ve gone through many different line-ups and changes – indeed only Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are the only original members still in the band – the Stones have continued on because for them music isn’t just a passion: it’s a way of life. As Keith Richards states in his memoir Life: “I’m doing this for me.”

To those who suggest that they should have hung it up a long time ago, I’ve often wondered what would you expect them to do? Their heroes B.B. King and Chuck Berry are still performing regularly in their 80s. They’ve never gotten any flak for it.  Maybe that’s because they don’t play venues on such a large scale like the Stones.  But since the beginning, the Stones have been re-writing the book on popular music, and they’re still doing it by continuing on. Perhaps one of the reasons they’ve received some criticism for this, is because no big rock and roll band has done it before. The performances from their 2006 concert film Shine a Light aren’t as wild their hey-day, but it proved that the Stones could still outplay almost anybody. Their last studio album, A Bigger Bang is actually very good, and found the band actually sounding like the Rolling Stones of old, rather than just trying to be the Rolling Stones of old. And yes, there is a distinct difference.

Since about 1965 onwards, the Rolling Stones have make a stake for the ultimate rock and roll band. And I’m not just talking about the drugs, the decadence and women. No single guitarist has written as many classic riffs as Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger practically invented what it meant to be a frontman. Few bands have tackled so many various musical styles – country, blues, reggae, soul, gospel and disco among others – and not only have it sound authentic to its original source, but also make it their own with such consistently. Not even the Beatles (who are still superior overall in different ways) could make that claim.

Unfortunately, only being 30 I was never able to hear their “classic” songs on the radio when they new. As such it’s hard for me to imagine what hearing “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” or “Brown Sugar” sounded like in their infancy.  Still, despite the fact that the Rolling Stones and their songs have existed for what seems like forever, there’s not much that can beat them. These songs have stood the test of time, and still sound fresh and exciting. And no matter what anybody says Mick and Keith are still the ultimate in cool.

Personally, I wouldn’t want the Stones to get reflective in their old age. As Pete Townshend said famously while inducting the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: “Don’t grow old gracefully…it would never suit you.”

 

 

The Kennedys To Release New Album “Closer Than You Know” on August 21

Veteran New York duo Maura and Pete Kennedy are set to release their 12th album, Closer Than You Know on August 21. Over their illustrious two decade career, the Kennedys have tackled power-pop, acoustic songwriting and a Byrds-inspired jangle.  Esteemed musicians Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith and the Byrd’s Roger Mcguinn have touted their praise for The Kennedys. (Not bad, right?)

On Closer Than You Know, The Kennedys have expanded their repertoire drawing inspiration from legendary songwriter Burt Bacharach and his longtime lyrical partner Hal David.  Closer Than You Know is sure to be a welcome addition to the band’s vast catalogue.

If they’re good enough for Roger McGuinn, that should say it all.