Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I Can't Go On, I'll Go On

Ever wonder about when a band you love abandons a tried and true sound to move on to something new -- like say, Radiohead ditching The Bends to make OK Computer, or U2 shaking off The Joshua Tree for Achtung Baby -- and whether the old sound is fair game for new bands to appropriate? Sometimes, as much as you like the new sound, would it be so bad if some upstarts picked up where the established act left off?

Although Wilco [Sorry Frank -- this can't be a Tweedy-free zone just yet] has been the product of an evolution the every twist and turn of which I have deeply and thoroughly enjoyed, I confess that there are times that I wouldn't mind an extra dose of that Summerteeth sound. Which is why the major label debut by Southern California's The Broken West pretty much had me at hello. Now maybe that's not a fair comparison -- there certainly are plenty of classic references in their sound to make the point, e.g., The Kinks, Big Star, George Harrison -- but the first time that I put on I Can't Go On, I'll Go On, it was like hearing the lost outtakes of Summerteeth, which is a compliment that I do not make lightly.

In my Of Montreal post, I talked about records that are growers -- records that sort of reveal themselves to you over time. I Can't Go On, conversely, is one of that immediately satisfies. This is an indie band with a pure and organic power pop sound and the perfect studio gloss. At once fresh and readily familiar, this sunny record is imminently hummable, all jangly guitars and sweet harmonies. My only complaint is that Atlanta is conspicuously absent from their upcoming concert schedule. Oh well, I'll be listening to this record for a while anyway.

Listen to "Down In The Valley"and "Hale Sunrise." Do yourself a favor and pick this one up next time you're at Criminal Records.

Quick update on the Po-lice. They are at least reuniting long enough to play at the Grammys this year. Ok, Stewart try not to piss Sting off and maybe we'll get a summer tour out of this.

Sunken Treasure

As mentioned here a time or two, I've seen Jeff Tweedy play two solo acoustic shows in the past 12 days. I've been to so many Wilco shows over the years that I've lost count -- 20? 25? -- but these were my first times seeing Jeff perform solo and in person. (The DVDs of Sunken Treasure and I Am Trying To Break Your Heart don't count.) And all I can say about it, really, is that it was something very special on both occasions. But then, what else is there to say?

Simply put, Jeff Tweedy is my favorite songwriter of the past 15 years. I found him overshadowed by Jay Farrar in Uncle Tupelo, and since 1994 have followed him and Wilco (and Golden Smog, and Loose Fur, and the Mermaid Avenue project) from record to record, and show to show (sometimes literally), with a devotion and enthusiasm that, over that period at least, I haven't managed to summon for any other artist. In a sense, the solo shows have reminded me why that is. People can and do admire Wilco for a lot of reasons -- the fact that they've endured so many line-up changes over the years; the way they constantly strive to grow and evolve and never do the same thing twice; the bravery with which they've engaged in all sorts of experimentation, adding challenging, even confrontational sonic elements to music that a great many of their fanbase still expects, fundamentally, to be Americana; and the creative integrity and resolve with which they stood up to their former label when it reacted to the most perfect thing they had ever delivered (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) with, well, let's just call it less than rapturous enthusiasm, and insisted that the record be released either as-is or not at all.

But what struck me most at The Tabernacle last night, and in Nashville 12 days ago, is that it's the songs and the voice of Jeff Tweedy that lie at the heart of what makes Wilco, in my opinion, a great band, the best American band today, maybe the best band working right now, period. Take away the avant garde production techniques that have characterized Wilco's more recent work, remove the contributions of the other, uniformly extraordinary musicians that now comprise the band -- hell, even ditch the electronic amplification altogether (as Jeff did twice last night) -- and all you have left up there on the stage is a guy with a guitar, playing his heart out, singing one astonishing song after another, and doing it as if his life depended on it, as if he literally has no other choice but to do this thing that he's doing. Thankfully for him, and for us, I don't know of a soul who does it any better.

Watch: Sunken Treasure DVD trailer

MP3: Jeff Tweedy - "Please Tell My Brother" (live at Harper College, Palatine, IL, March 5, 1999)

MP3: Jeff Tweedy - "She's a Jar" (live at The Vic, Chicago, January 2003)

MP3: Jeff Tweedy - "One By One" (live at Mandell Hall, University of Chicago, February 25, 2006)

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Long Cut

As those of us in Atlanta look forward to Jeff Tweedy's solo show tonight at The Tabernacle, word from the Wilco camp is that his show in Charlottesville, VA will be webcast live at 9:00 on Wednesday night, with a stream of the recording likely to be posted later. Log in to the Roadcase at the Wilco site to listen in.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

We Want Our Film To Be Beautiful, Not Realistic

Ok. I'll Bite. We are a blog. Of Montreal is currently the most blogged band, generating a healthy dose of that blog buzz that makes all these bands you've never heard of before (and in many cases, since) the it thing, at least on the internet.

When I first started hearing said buzz about Of Montreal, I naturally assumed that they were just another of those 15-member indie Canadian bands that are regularly swirling in the self-feeding hype of the fan boy blogosphere. In my mind, the small frenzy just reeked of Broken Social Scene, which I actually very much enjoy, but almost never listen to, unless I am reminded to do so by someone like Chromewaves or some other trusted hub on the music blogwheel. The arrival at this assumption was enough for me to decide to wait until I heard something a little more noteworthy, like back when Arcade Fire came out of nowhere and had my idols U2 and Bowie falling all over themselves to be associated therewith. That buzzed reached a fortissimo crescendo before I checked in and realized that, yeah, I should Believe The Hype.

We're still a little early in the Of Montreal hype period, but the endorsement of TTT's only regular comment poster (where are you people? I know you're out there), DJ Cayenne, was enough to give me reason to look further into it. Of Montreal's new record, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? was released last week, after streaming for a period of time for free on the internet. And you know what? It's pretty damn good.

Now, I arrive at this conclusion, not after one or even two listens. This record is the epitome of a "grower." You know, one of those records that sounds slightly foreign at first listen, maybe even a little off-putting, but one that, through repeated listenings, causes your neurological pathways somehow to be altered just enough for you to "get it." So, after multiple listenings to this oddly titled little record, I not only "get it," I in fact dig it. Add to that epiphany the realization that these aren't a bunch of indie Canucks (not that's there's anything wrong with that) but a home-grown band based right here in Georgia, over in Athens, The Home of Many Things That Are Cool.

Ok. So I dig in a little more and learn that this new record is something of a departure for Of Montreal, which, as associates of the Athens collective Elephant 6, had purportedly been, until Hissing Fauna, sort of your garden variety indie band. I learn that, on this record, they somewhat unexpectedly transform themselves into veritable gods of new wave funkaliciousness (sp?) that totally rocks the house. And guess what? It does.

Hissing Fauna almost reads like a concept album, starting out as a really funky indie record -- like a dance version of The New Pornographers, with a fun new wave vibe. This progresses along satisfyingly enough until the record's centerpiece, "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal," a hysterically (and I don't mean that in the "humorous" sense) dark drone in which our protagonist angrily vents for nearly twelve minutes to an ex-lover who has obviously ripped his heart out, possibly worse.

The second half of the album sounds like sexual rebound music, perhaps unhealthy for our hero, but damn funky -- in a somewhat nerdy, white boy kind of way -- for the rest of us. It's music that's bound to sound good coming out of a convertable in the summer time, even though we're heading into the worst of winter. In way, that's kind of the point, it seems to me.

Check out this example of the album's pure funk, evocative of none other than The Purple One himself, in "Laberynthian Pomp." Just keep in mind that there's a lot of angst under the surface of these good times. This is a record that will fit nicely on your shelf between LCD Soundsystem and The Postal Service. Also, don't miss the album's great closer, "We Were Born The Mutants Again With Leafling."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Can't Hardly Wait

To start the weekend, enjoy tracks from some hugely-anticipated records that are headed our way soon:

ANDREW BIRD - "Heretics", from Armchair Apocrypha, out on March 20

LUCINDA WILLIAMS - "Words," from West, out on February 13

BRIGHT EYES - "Tourist Trap," from the Four Winds EP, out on March 6 (followed by a full-length record, Cassadaga, on April 10)

NORAH JONES - Stream her new record, Not Too Late, out on January 30, in its entirety (Quicktime or Windows Media)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I Slept And I Dreamed Of A Time Long Ago

Exciting news on the movie front: Currently garnering major raves at the Sundance Film Festival is Julian Temple's (director of the Sex Pistols biopic The Filth and the Fury) new documentary on the life of Joe Strummer, the coolest Mother Effer ever to walk this planet. The movie is entitled The Future Is Unwritten.

Temple, who was a close friend of Strummer's, reportedly chronicles the life of the man before, during, and after his time in The Clash (the greatest rock band of all time), including his time in the band that he fronted right up until his untimely death in 2002 -- the ridiculously overlooked Mescaleros. According to the Sundance website:

"Filmmaker Julien Temple chronicles the transformation of a self described 'mouthy little git,' born John Mellor, into an antiestablishment icon known to the world as Joe Strummer. In his latest documentary, Temple uncovers the myth behind the front man of the seminal punk band the Clash.

"Through previously unearthed interviews with Strummer himself and recollections of those who knew him best, Temple reveals a complex man who used his music as a bullhorn for his conscience--as well as a means to educate others about the injustices of the world. The film includes live concert footage spanning Strummer's career and tapes of his BBC radio program, all of which provide a fitting soundtrack to his distinctive and storied existence.

"The performance footage would be fascinating on its own, but Temple probes beyond Strummer's mystique to reveal a person with his own flaws who could sometimes be idealistic to a fault. Temple has created a thoughtful and poignant portrait of a man many think they knew. Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten provides a rare glimpse into the man behind the legend of 'punk rock warlord.'"

Could anything be more exciting than that? Hell no! FoxNews is reporting (I know Frank, bear with me) that IFC films is interested in the movie, so keep your fingers crossed that it makes it to the big screen.

For old time's sake, check out the following:

The Clash: "Capitol Radio Two" from the 1979 Cost of Living EP
The Clash: "Straight to Hell" (Live) from From Here To Eternity
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros: "Shaktar Donesk" Live at St. Ann's Warehouse, Brooklyn, April 2002
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros: "White Riot" Live at St. Ann's Warehouse, Brooklyn, April 2002 (Thanks to Berkeley Place)

In unrelated news, the rumors appear to be true: According to Billboard, the Police are preparing to reunite and tour this summer, their first outing since the 1983 Synchronicity tour. I saw that show in Biloxi, and it remains on my all time list. Here's hoping Sting still has it in him after all his tantric activities and lute diversions. Whatever -- I'll be in line for those tickets.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"Listen To This, It'll Change Your Life"

At least 6 months later than planned, weighted with over-the-top anticipation from their larger, post-Garden State fanbase, and in the wake of a poor-quality rip that leaked onto the Internet last fall, the new record from The Shins, Wincing The Night Away, was finally released yesterday. So, does it live up to all the hand-wringing? In large part, you bet it does. While not as immediately and uniformly engaging as either Oh, Inverted World or Chutes Too Narrow, this record is another heaping dose of the winsome, beautiful folk-pop that inspired Natalie Portman's cinematic alter ego to utter that now-famous line.

The difference is that much of this record requires you to work just a bit harder as a listener in order to uncover the many pleasures it has to offer. The production is more dense -- in fact, almost fussed-over in places, which is not surprising given the immense pressure these guys were under to deliver something undeniably awesome -- and some of the songs reveal the full measure of their charms only after several spins. Opening track "Sleeping Lessons," for one, rides a looping keyboard figure and highly distorted James Mercer vocal for over 2 minutes before finally exploding into straight up guitar-pop bliss. There's also the matter of Mercer's lyrics, which are as oblique here as ever, and in places downright impenetrable. (Half the time, I have absolutely no clue what he's singing about.) But when the melodies are as intoxicatingly close-to-perfect as they are on first single "Phantom Limb," "Sea Legs" (which sounds to me like a long-lost Smiths track), "Girl Sailor" (previewed here last week) or -- best of all -- "Australia," and delivered in Mercer's lovely, swooping voice, it hardly seems to matter. With The Shins, it's usually the music that conveys the emotion, while Mercer's lyrics, as one reviewer aptly put it this week, "do a great job saying 'I love you' or 'I miss you' without stooping to actually say either."

It's not their masterpiece, and top-to-bottom it's probably not even quite as wonderful as Chutes Too Narrow, but this is another strong outing from The Shins, containing some of their finest and most interesting work. In other words, well worth the wait.

BONUS: The Shins - "Phantom Limb" (now a free download from Sub Pop)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Don't Dream It's Over

You could have smacked me with a 2x4 after I read this morning that one of my favorite bands of the late 80s and early 90s, Australia's Crowded House, has reunited, is recruiting a new drummer (to replace the wonderful Paul Hester, who tragically committed suicide 2 years ago), and will mount a world tour in 2007. An April 29 date at the Coachella Festival in Indio, California is already confirmed, and presumably a slate of shows across the U.S. will follow. Neil Finn, who for a decade powered the band with his sublimely crafted pop songwriting and elegant voice, has enjoyed a fair amount of solo success since they disbanded in 1996 -- not to mention living on an estate in New Zealand and collecting royalties on "Don't Dream It's Over", "Something So Strong", "Better Be Home Soon", "Weather with You" and all of those other amazing tunes -- and has insisted ever since that a Crowded House reunion would simply never, ever happen. Ironically, it seems that it was Hester's untimely death that rattled his resolve and forced him to re-think the issue. And then change his mind. Un-freakin'-believable. I hope we an Atlanta date soon.

(And I guess Farewell To The World, the recording of Crowded House's "final" show at the Sydney Opera House in November of 1996 that was released only a week ago, was titled a bit prematurely.)

BONUS: "Into Temptation," my favorite song from my favorite Crowded House record, 1988's Temple of Low Men.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Speaking With The Angel

Some people are just damn good at what they do. Canadian Ron Sexsmith is one of those people. Easily one of the most gifted songwriters in music today, he is neither flashy nor associated with any identifiable trend. Unfortunately, he's also not especially well-known in America. The flip-side of his lack of massive popularity, however, is a sort of indie credibility that places him alongside some of the more cutting edge artists going. Thing is, there's not a cutting edge within a hundred miles of Ron Sexsmith. Instead, his trade is classically beautiful folk-pop, and he plies it well, mining Paul McCartney territory with ease and precision. Since his self-titled debut in 1995, he's issued record after record of sweetly melancholic gems, without ever falling into treacly sentimentality.

Ron Sexsmith's show Saturday night at Smith's Olde Bar showcased many of the highlights of his impressively consistent body of work, from "Secret Heart," a cut from his first record (and most recently covered by Feist) to several songs from his great new record, Time Being, which I only just picked up. Although he joked about just having recovered from a case of laryngitis, his voice was still as warm and buttery as ever, and his band was tight and workmanlike in its approach. No one in the band made any attempt to hog the spotlight, including Ron himself. It was readily apparent that the spotlight was always exactly where it belonged -- on the songs. Never mind that stylistically, no Ron Sexsmith song is ever drastically different from any other one. The point is that they are all very, very good. Highlights of his set included "Gold in Them Hills," from Cobblestone Runway, "Hard Bargain," from Retriever, and "I Think We're Lost" from Time Being, along with the aforementioned "Secret Heart."

Now Ron doesn't exactly cut one of the most handsome figures in pop music, but the number of devoted female fans in the audience is a testament to his ability to touch the heart with songs that generally tend to focus on the affairs thereof. In short, whether you're moved by musical craftmanship or lyrics that pull on the heartstrings, his is music that can move you. I recommend picking up one of his records to give to someone for Valentine's Day. Everybody will win.

Check out the video for "All In Good Time" from Time Being.

Journey Through The Past

Of the many hundreds of bootleg recordings that I've amassed over the years, Neil Young's solo acoustic shows from 1971 are up there with my very favorites. Neil was at the absolute peak of his powers in this period, 24 years old, fresh off the release of After The Gold Rush and, from the sound of things, well into one of the most prolific bursts of songwriting brilliance that any artist has ever enjoyed. You can't help but shake your head in amazement as Neil apologetically introduces one "new" song after another to his unfamiliar audiences, many of them -- "Old Man," "The Needle And The Damage Done," "Out On The Weekend," "Journey Through The Past" and "Heart of Gold" among them -- destined for classic status. The genius of Harvest, which set the bar for every singer-songwriter to follow, was at hand.

So I was thrilled to see the news this week that perhaps the most legendary of these shows -- two sold-out sets that Neil played at Massey Hall in Toronto on January 19, 1971 -- will be officially released by Reprise on March 13, the second release in the Archives Performance Series that kicked off with last year's Neil Young & Crazy Horse Live at the Fillmore East, March 6 & 7, 1970.

The extraordinary Massey Hall performance has circulated in the bootleg community for 36 years, most frequently as Going Back To Canada, in excellent (if a bit hissy) sound, but the thought of hearing an official release, sourced from the master tapes and no doubt gorgeously remastered under Neil's supervision (because that's the only way he rolls), is enough to set my heart aflutter. Listen to "Old Man" from the bootleg and see for yourself -- to all but a relatively few collectors, this is long-lost treasure. Look for it, as simply Neil Young Live at Massey Hall, in March.

The other gem of the '71 Neil Young solo recordings is his set at the BBC Television studios in London on February 23, which was recently rebroadcast in the UK in full digital quality, to the delight of bootleg traders everywhere. Here's a clip of "Don't Let It Bring You Down" from that performance:

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sky-Blue Sky

The spankin' new Wilco record will be released on May 15, and is entitled Sky-Blue Sky. How do I know this? Because Jeff Tweedy himself told me last night, that's how. (Okay, he told me and several hundred other people from the stage at a solo show in Nashville, but let's not quibble.) This is big, previously unreported news -- I might have had the first That Truncheon Thing scoop, but word travels awfully fast in the Wilco fan community, and I had to sleep a few hours and then drive back to Atlanta in order to write this post.

More on the Tweedy show in Nashville later. In fact, I see him again here on the 29th, and I may just wait and post about both shows together. When time permits tonight, I'll also throw up a live version of one of the songs that is expected to be on the new Wilco record, so check back here. Jeff and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche (who opened then sat in for the encore) performed the title song, "Sky-Blue Sky," last night, and it was really nice. I'm excited, can you tell?

UPDATE 1: Wilco - "Impossible Germany" (live on 7.16.06 at the Pines Theatre in Florence, MA)

UPDATE 2: We didn't scoop everyone with this news, but at least we scooped Pitchfork.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Never Mind The Buzzcocks

It has occurred to me that a music blog with a name like That Truncheon Thing would do well to generate some discussion every now and again on good ol' punk rock. True enough, modern references to punk rock serve little purpose other than to piss off real fans of the genre. Whose idea was it to start calling Blink-182 and their progeny "punk"? Such blasphemy is reminiscent of how hair bands stole the term "heavy metal" from Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. I mean, can Warrant's "Cherry Pie" and "Kashmir" really be placed in the same category? Sigh. I digress.

Of course, there have been signs of life from the real punk rock world all along. Social Distortion and Rancid are a couple of great examples. Another great example, and representing seriously old school punk rock, is Manchester's Buzzcocks, who are currently celebrating their 30th anniversary, a few breakups, reformations, and lineup changes aside. 2006 saw the release of their eighth studio album of three chord adrenaline inducers, entitled Flat-Pack Philosophy. Believe it or not, Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle, now considerably long in the tooth, haven't lost a step. The songs on Flat-Pack are sharp, crisp, and would not be out of place on the band's outstanding collection of 7" releases, Singles Going Steady. If you don't believe me, check out "Wish I'd Never Loved You" from the new record.

Going stateside, another punk (or perhaps more accurately, "post-punk") band of yore that has weathered the years nicely is Boston's Mission of Burma. MOB just lasted from 1978 to 1983 the first go round, setting the stage for noisy bands like Nirvana and Sonic Youth before they bowed out. The band reunited for a series of shows in 2002 and, in 2004, released their first album in over twenty years, ONoffON. In 2006, MOB released the fantastic The Obliterati, which established that MOB is no nostalgia act, but vital, modern day noise merchants. Check out "2wice" to hear what I'm talking about.

Finally, lest I give the appearance that true punk rock can only be accomplished by the grand masters, I was very pleased to learn last year that the kids are, in fact, alright. Nashville's Be Your Own Pet, a band of teenage friends, burst onto the scene playing punk rock the way it's meant to be played: by smashing it to pieces. Their self-titled debut is old school search and destroy, and lead singer Jemina Pearl will remind you of, then make you forget all about, Karen O. I actually injured myself listening to this record on my iPod, so be careful. Currently streaming on the band's web site is the song "Bicycle Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle", which features the immortal line "Have fun, but be safe with it / Just kidding! F*** s*** up!!!" (Oh yeah, parental discretion is advised).

The following BYOP video of the same song is also attached for your perusal:

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Million Miles Away

My high school buddy Frank Reiss has owned and operated A Cappella Books, the wonderful indie book store in Atlanta's Little 5 Points neighborhood, for going on 18 years. More recently, Frank has also founded a little publishing company, Everthemore Books, that specializes (thus far) in books about music. He first re-printed beautiful paperback editions of two music titles that (for reasons I can't begin to understand) had been out-of-print for a number of years, Paul Hemphill's The Nashville Sound and Rodger Lyle Brown's Party Out Of Bounds: The B-52s, R.E.M. and The Kids Who Rocked Athens, Georgia. Both of these books are highly recommended, and when the Hemphill book was published in 1970, the Chicago Sun-Times called it “the best book ever written about country music.”

This week, Everthemore -- under a new imprint called For Now -- releases its first original title, As Far As You Can Get Without A Passport, the initial volume of memoirs by singer-songwriter Peter Case. If you're not familiar with Case, he was a huge figure in the West Coast music scene in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, and a founding member of two influential bands, punk outfit The Nerves (their "Hangin' On The Telephone" was later and more famously covered by Blondie) and power-popsters The Plimsouls (who hit big with the classic "A Million Miles Away" in 1983). He's since toured and recorded as a solo artist, with a smaller but devoted following, and for much of the last 30 years has basically lived the life of a folk troubadour.

Case is also, as this book makes clear, one hell of a prose writer. I attended a preview event at A Cappella in the fall of last year and was blown away by the excerpt he read that night, a vivid, richly detailed and frequently moving account of his early days as a "busking" sidewalk musician in San Francisco. He's had a fascinating life, has encountered lots of real-life characters along the way (both famous and obscure), and is a genuinely gifted storyteller.

You can pick up copies of any of these books at the A Cappella store in L5P or at the Everthemore page on its website. If you're smart, you'll do just that.

Monday, January 15, 2007

And The Crooked Places Will Be Made Straight . . .

Some things are more important than music:

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Letting Go

Revered by critics and a devoted cadre of fans, Will Oldham -- who records primary under the moniker Bonnie "Prince" Billy -- is an artist that I have more appreciated than actually enjoyed over the years. His distinct brand of quiet, pastoral, almost gothic Americana, lyrically gorgeous, beautifully arranged and sweetly sung, has produced some truly lovely songs, but in larger doses has at times made me long for a little more variation of tempo and mood. Since the holidays, though, Oldham's most recent record, The Letting Go, has been in heavy rotation at my house. It was released late in 2006, and I didn't even hear it until I was chastised by more than a few friends for leaving it off my year-end list of favorite records. To those folks I will readily say, I stand corrected. Not only is this a consistently beautiful record, with some exquisite tunes, but several tracks are far more muscular and impassioned than I thought Oldham was capable of, with electric guitars, sweeping string arrangements and some powerful backing vocals (if that term even does them justice) from Dawn McCarthy of Faun Fables. Check out the record's centerpiece, "Cursed Sleep," to see what I'm talking about.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Won One Too Many Fights

Just can't wait for The Shins' Wincing The Night Away to be released on the 23rd? Well, I'm not going to post any tracks from the record, which leaked months ago -- we don't need Sub Pop on our asses in our first week of existence -- but here's a little preview that shouldn't get us into any hot water: Shins lead singer and songwriter James Mercer, from a solo acoustic performance in October of 2004, doing a song that circulated then as "Won One Too Many Fights," but appears on the new record as "Girl Sailor." It's a typically sweet and elegant Mercer tune, even stripped down like this. Imagine it fleshed out by the band and beautifully produced, and you have a sense of what you can expect in 10 days.

Friday, January 12, 2007

There's A Stain On My Notebook Where Your Coffee Cup Was

I caught a solo show by Glenn Tilbrook at the tiny Five Spot here in Atlanta last night, and as usual, it was tremendous. Glenn's shows are consistently brilliant, to use his favorite adjective, and the crowd last night was treated to the usual parade of classic tunes, more recent favorites, and a blistering cover of "Voodoo Child," complete with behind-the-head guitar pyrotechnics (and on an acoustic!).

It's astonishing, though, that so giant a talent, and so significant a figure in pop music over the past 25 years, is playing such tiny venues these days. During his tenure with Squeeze, from the very late 70s to the mid 90s, Glenn was a master of the gorgeous and unconventional melody, and along with lyricist Chris Difford, he more or less established the template for the perfect modern pop song. In fact, if you stop and look back at that body of work ("Up The Junction", "Goodbye Girl", "Pulling Mussels From The Shell", "Tempted", "Is That Love?", "Picadilly," "Black Coffee in Bed", "Hourglass," "King George Street", and on and on), not to mention the two excellent solo records he's released since 2001, you have to realize that only a handful of writers -- with names like Costello, Partridge, Westerberg and Mann -- have amassed comparable catalogs of indisputably great and memorable songs. As if that weren't enough, the guy has one of the sweetest and most dextrous singing voices in the history of rock and roll (which, at age 49, is not diminished one bit), and is a criminally overlooked virtuoso on the guitar.

So why is this guy not packing bigger venues, when lesser artists do it with ease? I guess for the same reason Squeeze was never as huge as crap bands like Duran Duran.

Here are some favorite Glenn Tilbrook moments, which I hope will inspire some of you to buy your favorite old Squeeze album on CD, get out and see Glenn when he comes to your town and/or check out the wonderful work he's done more recently:

> "Another Nail For My Heart" - The Squeeze classic from 1979's Argybargy, and a prime example of the early Difford-Tilbrook formula: impossibly catchy melody, lyrics any heartbroken punter can relate to, and a guitar solo by Glenn that comes off so effortlessly that you scarcely notice how intricate it is.

> "From A Whisper To A Scream" - Glenn's ripping duet with Elvis Costello, from Trust in 1981. The story is that Elvis had a horrible cold during the Trust sessions, asked his mate Glenn to cut a guide vocal for this track, and then couldn't bear to take him off. It isn't hard to hear why. Elvis returned the favor the following year by producing the record that I consider Squeeze's masterpiece, East Side Story.

> "Parallel World" - From The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook, Glenn's solo debut in 2001, which showed the world that he didn't need his old partner to write a gorgeous pop song.

Also, One For The Road, a documentary of Glenn's solo U.S. tour in 2001 -- featuring a now-infamous incident at the Atlanta show, which I attended, when Glenn led the entire audience out of the theatre, paraded us about 6 blocks up the street, and finished the show in an audience member's living room -- finally got a U.S. release on DVD last year. Netflix it now.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I Walk Across The Rooftops

I can hardly contain my disappointment in learning today that The Blue Nile have canceled their February 13 show at The Variety Playhouse in Atlanta. This Scottish band, which I (perhaps correctly) thought I would never in a million years have the opportunity to see, has put out some of the most beautifully impressionistic songs in the history of pop music -- albeit at a clip of about one record every seven years or so.

I know that Roxy Music's Avalon was once voted the sexiest record of all time, but either of this band's first two records, A Walk Across The Rooftops or Hats, could have easily taken that title. Both records are impossibly lush and sparse at the same time. Lead singer Paul Buchanan has always been able to turn a lyric that is at once narratively simplistic and deeply emotionally evocative, set against a slow euro-esque electronic beat and dense orchestration. The Variety Playhouse show, which would've been the first stop on their tour of the U.S., would've made a great pre-Valentine's night out. I still don't know the official reason, but I suspect I may have been the only person in town to buy tickets. Dang.

While I may have been one of the few of the people in town excited about that show, there are other Blue Nile fans out there. Two notable ones are Nashville songwriter/musicians Matthew Ryan and Neil Hubbard, whose collaboration in the side project Strays Don't Sleep, was born of a common love of The Blue Nile. I have to say that when I read that somewhere, I immediately got in line to pick up the Strays' self-titled debut. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed in this record, which is another completely unheralded gem of 2006. I admit that I don't know enough about these guys in their individual incarnations (I'm planning on changing that), but I do know that, as the Strays, they have seemingly effortlessly produced a quiet, American version of that 4 a.m. sound that The Blue Nile are so great at. Do yourself a favor and check out the Strays, best served at a low volume, in the small hours, when you're alone or with someone you wanna be with.

In the meantime, listen to "A Walk Across The Rooftops" (live in Manchester, September 13, 1991) by The Blue Nile and "Love Don't Owe You Anything" by Strays Don't Sleep.

And from YouTube, here's the Strays' "For Blue Skies":

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Do You Know How To Spell Audaciously?

For my money, one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated artists in the last twenty years is Lloyd Cole. I have never understood how it is that he's not a universally beloved artist, but in this era of record companies whose only interest is in the bottom line, perhaps this is to be expected. Nevertheless, Lloyd's cadre of fans remain a devoted lot, and these days, that devotion is requited via regular postings on his blog (which recently included almost daily updates on the technical details of making his most recent record). And I suppose that there are other benefits to his mysterious lack of celebrity -- seeing him perform several years ago with The Negatives upstairs at Smith's Olde Bar, and getting to hang out downstairs with him for a bit afterwards, is a memory that I will always cherish. Nowadays, however, I get the feeling that too many people who were aware of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions' spectacular Rattlesnakes, for whatever reason haven't kept kept up with his solid solo career. Now is a good time to remedy that.

In keeping with this theme, my vote for the Best, But Generally Ignored, Record of 2006 is Lloyd Cole's Antidepressant, which represents something of a return to pop from 2004's more folk-oriented Music In A Foreign Language. If you last listened to Lloyd in his Commotion days, you should know that he's aged well. The aughts find him less brooding and more contemplative, and Antidepressant is a readily-accessible picture of middle-aged resignation, with great melodies and the gorgeous guitar work of fellow former Commotion Neil Clark.

To hear what I'm talking about, take a walk with the junkies and the millionaires in the "NYC Sunshine."

If you're but a youngster or otherwise have no idea what this post about, go back in time and check out the '80s video for "Rattlesnakes" from the Commotions' debut album of the same name.

YouTube Classic Clips

There's been a lot of hype recently (including an end-of-year Time cover story) about the extent to which YouTube has revolutionized the sharing of video clips, and that's true enough. Still, it seems like most folks use the site to post home videos, see a Saturday Night Live skit or Colbert Report segment they missed, or just watch a couple of guys dropping Mentos into bottles of Diet Coke. The thing that excites me the most, though, is that YouTube has become a vast and immediately accessible repository of some of the most fantastic musical performances ever caught on film. No, it's not DVD-quality footage -- okay, sometimes the quality is downright lousy -- but the breadth and diversity of clips that have been posted there is something else. A lot of people, with a lot of old VHS tapes lying around, have turned YouTube into a music lover's treasure trove. [Note to self: Make trolling YouTube for classic performances a semi-regular feature here?] Here's the tip of the proverbial iceberg:

Ever seen The Beatles deliver probably the best version of "Revolution" ever, on the David Frost Show on September 4, 1968?

(And some people say they couldn't hack it live towards the end. Yeah, right.)

Or the blistering "Down By The River" that CSNY performed on David Steinberg's The Music Scene show on September 22, 1969?

And of course, how can I not post a clip of The Clash, performing the song that gives this blog it's name, at Le Palace in Paris on February 27, 1980:

It just doesn't get much better than that.

Cross Bones Style

As a treat for readers on their first visit to the site, I was going to post a copy of the amazing November 9 Cat Power show from Berlin that was broadcast in Europe and started circulating among online traders this week. But damned if Jennings at rbally didn't beat me to it. So go visit his terrific blog and grab it there. Chan's in beautiful form, with The Memphis Rhythm Band, and it's a nice FM recording.

UPDATE: I see rbally has taken the show down after receiving a complaint from Matador Records. We have the same policy here, so unfortunately, we can't post the show either. If you're a BitTorrent trader, a lossless version of the show is still up at Dime-A-Dozen, although you'll need to be a registered member, or know someone who is.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Miles Standish Proud

What better subject for the "first real post" than to congratulate local legends R.E.M. and their manager (and my friend and mentor) Bertis Downs on the band's induction this morning into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, and in their first year of eligibility no less. The boys from Athens join Patti Smith, Van Halen, The Ronettes and Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five in the Hall's Class of '07. To be eligible for induction, this year's class had to release their first single no later than 1981. Although it's hard to believe as I type this, R.E.M. released their debut single, "Radio Free Europe" b/w "Sitting Still," on the local Hib-Tone label in July of 1981. I was 17, and still have my copy. (The photo above was taken about 4 months later, on November 17, at Merlyn's in Madison, Wisconsin.) Since I only recently posted a full-blown gush about how much they've meant to me for the past 26 years, I'll refrain from further hero-worship. But congrats, fellas.

In honor of the occasion, here's "Radio Free Europe" recorded live at Tyrone's in Athens on May 12, 1981.

Check . . . One, Two . . . Is This On?

Well, after 4 years of doing a year-end "favorite records" list for friends, clients and music biz contacts (first an e-mail, then an e-mail with cover artwork, then an e-mail with a link to a compilation CD, then a one-off blog that took way too long to pull together all at once), someone finally suggested that I just start a full-time blog and write about my favorite music as and when I hear it and am actively thinking about it. A fine idea, I thought, but not something I would want, or probably have the time, to undertake alone. Luckily, my buddy Rich has excellent taste, is passionate and thoughtful about music, is almost as much of a geek about it as I am, and was game to be my partner and give this is go. As time passes, we may invite other folks to contribute as well. Our plan is to post as often as we can, and in addition to reviewing new records and classic reissues as we hear them, also talk about live shows we've seen or hope to see, link to certain music news items of interest, and generally use this as an outlet for our respective obsessions.

So welcome, all, to That Truncheon Thing. If you're interested in music even a little bit, we hope you'll bookmark us, visit often, leave comments, alert us to things we may have missed and basically make us part of your regular music info routine. Let's get to it.