Sunday, September 30, 2007

Talk About The Passion

A quick note (and shameless personal plug) for readers in our part of the world:

On Sunday, October 21, 2007, the Athens Historical Society will present “R.E.M. in Perspective: An Athens History.” The event will be held at 2:00 p.m. in the historic Seney-Stovall Chapel at 201 N. Milledge Avenue in Athens, Georgia. The program will feature two previously unscreened vintage videos of R.E.M. and two panel discussions. The featured videos include an R.E.M. practice session recorded at Wuxtry Records in Atlanta, prior to the release of their first record, and an early performance at the 688 Club in Atlanta.

Biographer Tony Fletcher, author of Remarks Remade: The Story of R.E.M., will open the session with his observations on Athens’ place in R.E.M.’s history. A follow-up panel will discuss R.E.M.’s Athens musical and artistic roots. Among the participants will be artist and filmmaker Jim Herbert, producer John Keane and Wuxtry owner Dan Wall. Oh, and unbelievably, yours truly. A second panel will examine R.E.M.’s social, civic, political, economic and preservation impact on Athens and beyond. Scheduled participants are former Athens mayor Gwen O’Looney, community activist Tim Johnson, and historic preservation advocate Smith Wilson.

I hope a few of you can make it out to the event. To put you in the mood, here's the 7" single on Hib-Tone Records, recorded in the summer of 1981, that started it all:

MP3: R.E.M. - "Radio Free Europe" (Hib-Tone single - A side)

MP3: R.E.M. - "Sitting Still" (Hib-Tone single - B side)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Prove It All Night

Diehard Bruce Springsteen fans probably already know that The Boss put the E Street Band through their paces at two open rehearsals at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park, NJ earlier this week, in advance of the massive world tour that starts in Hartford on October 2. (We're still waiting and praying for an Atlanta date in '08.) Tapes of those shows are now circulating, and while it's clear that the E Streeters have some rust to shake off (especially Clarence Clemons), there's also no denying the sheer thrill of hearing the band play together again, and you just know they're going to get nice and tight after a few dates. I'm not going to post an entire show, because only mediocre audience recordings are available (and TTT is all about the soundboard, baby), but here are the first two songs from the show just two nights ago, as Bruce & Co. open with their brand new single, then charge straight into a stone-cold classic from going on 30 years ago. Rust and all, it still brings a smile, and some goosebumps.

MP3: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band - "Radio Nowhere" (live in Asbury Park, Sept. 25, 2007)

MP3: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band - "Prove It All Night" (live in Asbury Park, Sept. 25, 2007)

Magic is out on October 2, and you can already stream the whole record here.

UPDATE: A. O. Scott profiles Bruce Springsteen and the Magic album in the New York Times.

Look Out, Kid!

A message from our good buddy Tim at Baby Got Books:

Go here to make a Dylan message of your own, "Subterranean"-style. The new Dylan best-of collection is out on October 1.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Radio Cure

Jango is a new webspace, currently in Beta testing, that allows users to set up, program and refine their own radio stations, by selecting favorite artists or genres, then share them with friends or other users. Songs stream in their entirety, the sound quality is nice, and once a user's preferences are established, the site even suggests other artists (s)he might like to try, a la Pandora. Jango is currently available on an invite-only basis, but they've given us access for the first 100 TTT readers who want to sign up (for free, of course) and give it a spin. Click here to get started, and let us know what you think in the comments. (The only major bug at this point is that the Jango player has a tendency to crash the Safari browser, so if you're a Mac user, you'll want to use Camino instead.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Classic Bootleg Series Vol. 20: Neil Young - Chrome Dreams

If you need to come back, come back strong, I always say.

First off, my sincere thanks to all of you who expressed sympathy and offered music after my recent burglary experience. I never dreamed that TTT readers would respond the way they did to my misfortune, and it is no exaggeration to say that I was profoundly touched by the reaction and encouragement. So thanks, a million times -- as we say down south, y'all are the best. And once I get my musical bearings, I may take a few of you, especially you Atlanta locals, up on your generous offers. Special thanks, too, to my good buddy Rich, who carried the torch admirably during my 3-week hiatus. Rich, I'm prepared to shoulder some extra weight for a while to make it up to you. Thank you for being patient.

Second -- and as I was just about to say when I was so rudely interrupted -- it's about time for some classic Neil Young. Neil's been in the news in recent weeks after announcing that he will release a new album, Chrome Dreams II, on October 23. "Chrome Dreams Two?" many of you may have asked. "When was there ever a Chrome Dreams One?" And the answer is, there wasn't, because Neil's original Chrome Dreams is one of those great lost albums, from the further reaches of rock history, that never saw the light of day, except to boot collectors. The detailed liner notes from this particular version (the "Rust Edition", which draws from the very best sources) tell the tale better than I ever could:

Neil Young was on a creative high in 1975. By the end of the summer, Zuma was finished, though still not released. Yet Neil carried on recording his new songs. Sometimes he recorded solo and sometimes with Crazy Horse.

Lots of these songs would remain unheard by the public until quite a while later, but by late '75, Neil had already written and recorded versions of such future classics as "Like A Hurricane", "Powderfinger", "Sedan Delivery", "Pocahontas" and "Ride By Llama". He carried on recording in 1976. More great songs were put down on tape, such as "Will To Love", "Stringman" and "Campaigner".

Some of us may feel that the Long May You Run album with Stephen Stills robbed us of the natural successor to Zuma, but Stills always suspected that Neil was holding back his best stuff for his solo album. That solo album was a work in progress throughout this period. Titles were reported in the press: Ride My Llama, In My Neighborhood, American Stars 'N' Bars, Chrome Dreams.

When American Stars 'N' Bars was released in 1977, Neil had scrapped most of the material he'd been recording since late '75, replacing much of it with a series of rough hewn cowboy songs. Fun stuff to be sure, but had Neil committed the latest in a series of difficult to explain career suicides? Who else, except maybe Bob Dylan, would sit on a stash of such quality songs and not let the public hear them?

Tracks 1 to 12 of this compilation are thought to be the unreleased Chrome Dreams album, readied for release weeks before Neil recorded those country hoedowns and rethought his strategy. Some of these song titles will be more than familiar to you, but the actual performances may surprise you.

"Powderfinger" is performed as an unadorned solo acoustic song. "Sedan Delivery", a second song destined for Rust Never Sleeps, is presented in its pre-punked-up arrangement and, in many people's opinion, sounds all the better for that. You'll also find the definitive "Stringman", a song not given an official airing until Neil's Unplugged set, heard here in a 1976 live performance enhanced by subtle yet beautiful studio vocal and guitar overdubs. "Hold Back The Tears" is another solo performance, longer and more ghostly than its later remake for American Stars 'N' Bars. "Pocahontas" is the same performance as the one that made Rust Never Sleeps, but in its original "naked mix". "Too Far Gone" wouldn't be officially released until the Freedom album in 1989, yet here's a version from 14 years earlier, with Poncho Sampedro adding a tasty mandolin part.

The other six songs from the album were released unchanged on the albums American Stars 'N' Bars, Comes A Time and Hawks And Doves, yet you may still be able to pick out slight differences in the mixes. "Homegrown", for one, would seem to have a little more fire in the guitars. Have a listen and see what you think.

We've also chosen a select batch of bonus cuts to give you a further taste of just how creative Neil was during this fertile period. If the version of "White Line" (here retitled "River Of Pride", maybe because Neil forgot to sing the actual "white line" lyric) didn't make the Chrome Dreams shortlist, then its continued circulation among collectors is something of a mystery. Maybe it was pressed onto acetate as a possible contender for Decade, which Neil was also preparing at this time. Whatever the truth, it's a stupendous version of the song, recorded in 1975 with a loose and joyful Crazy Horse. Neil's remake for Ragged Glory in 1990 may have been fine, but it doesn't quite capture the spirit of this earlier version. "Campaigner" did make Decade, but not before losing one of its verses. You can hear the full-length version here.

Three live cuts follow. "No One Seems To Know" is an aching piano ballad that Neil once described as Part 2 of "A Man Needs A Maid". It's first class, but remains unreleased. "Give Me Strength" dates from an earlier, ill-fated album called Homegrown (an album that would have also featured "Star Of Bethlehem", the oldest cut in this collection) and is another lost classic. "Peace Of Mind" is heard as an electric rock song played with the Horse, and very different from the version Neil released on Comes A Time. And, as a nod to Zuma, we close with Crosby Stills Nash & Young. "Human Highway" was recording during the Stills-Young sessions in 1976. The song was always meant to be a CSNY track, but Neil had run out of patience by the Comes A Time LP.

Now you can have a glimpse of what might have been, which, come to think of it, is also true of the whole collection.

- Jules Gray (May 20, 2004)


Front cover
Inside cover
Back insert

01 Pocahontas
02 Will To Love
03 Star Of Bethlehem
04 Like A Hurricane
05 Too Far Gone
06 Hold Back The Tears
07 Homegrown
08 Captain Kennedy
09 Stringman
10 Sedan Delivery
11 Powderfinger
12 Look Out For My Love

Bonus Tracks:

13 River Of Pride (a/k/a "White Line", Unreleased Studio Version, 27 NOV 75)
14 Campaigner (Unedited, Unreleased Studio Version, Summer 1976)
15 No One Seems To Know (Live, Tokyo, Japan, 10 Mar 76)
16 Give Me Strength (Live, Chicago, IL, 15 Nov 76)
17 Peace Of Mind (Live, Chicago, IL, 15 Nov 76)
18 Human Highway (CSNY, Unreleased Studio Version, April 76)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Truth In One Free Afternoon

On their fourth record, Challengers, The New Pornographers are all about dialing things back. That includes a fair amount of the exuberant energy that characterized their first three collections of ebullient, brilliantly-crafted pop music. In fact, Challengers is largely a muted, mellow affair, more ornate and orchestrated than its predecessors, but also far more rooted in emotion than in the simple, knee-jerk thrill of a killer chord change or soaring chorus.

But none of this is to say that Challengers isn't an excellent record. It is, in spades. On tracks like "My Rights Versus Yours" (previewed here back in June), "All The Old Showstoppers" and "Unguarded", head Pornographer Carl Newman continues to display his quirky mastery of the classic pop form, now and then employing his fine falsetto to terrific effect. And as never before, the contributions from second songwriter Dan Bejar, while steeped in his singular styles of wordplay and vocal phrasing, are every bit as accessible and catchy as Carl's songs -- in fact, his NYC travelogue "Myriad Harbor" features the most infectious, sing-along chorus on the record.

But of course, the Pornographers' not-so-secret weapon is the great Neko Case. Her harmonies elevate every song (especially Bejar's -- she truly is the Emmylou to his Gram) into special territory, providing the thread that gives the Pornographers some sort of signature "sound". And the two tracks on which she sings lead, the title track and "Go Places," are the absolute highlights of Challengers. The former, especially, is among the loveliest moments of Neko's career. It's Carl's tune, but once Neko wraps her exquisite voice around it, imbuing it with her unique brand of beautiful melancholy, she makes it completely her own. By the time she sings, "Whatever the mess you are, you're mine, okay?", I'm ready to run away with her (for about the 87th time).

And newest Pornographer Kathryn Calder (who also fronts the excellent Immaculate Machine) has an upfront, chill-bump moment of her own on the gorgeous, twice-repeated coda to "Adventures In Solitude". Any young female singer who can step up and impress in a band that also includes Neko has my immediate respect.

MP3: The New Pornographers - "All The Old Showstoppers" from Challengers

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Something Apropos I Don't Know

This is a confession. I am relatively new to Andrew Bird. While Frank can claim something closer to a personal relationship -- and Allen, another of our colleagues, is certainly on a backstage basis -- I (being the only contributer to this blog with a computer at the moment), until recently, only knew what I'd read about Andrew Bird, and own only his newest album, Armchair Apocrypha. That was remedied Thursday evening, when I caught up with Frank and Allen at Atlanta's Variety Playhouse for a full-on (sold out) Andrew Bird show. Thus, even though I feel least qualified to submit this post . . . here goes.

To paraphrase Prince and Sinead O'Conner, nothing really compares to Andrew Bird, and I am extremely glad (tired as I was after hanging out with Neil Finn the night before) that I made this show. Andrew Bird is actually something of a musical savant. A classically-trained violinist, he is even more impressive building the loops that create the illusion that he is backed by a small orchestra, switching as he does -- often on a dime -- between the violin and guitar. His music is otherworldly, although extremely sweet and surprisingly hooked-filled. Another aspect of his music that is somewhat unusual is his regularly featured whistling, which is on display far more often than even by Peter, Bjorn & John or Andy Griffith. The man can flat out whistle.

As a live act, Bird constructs layers of loops at the beginning of each song, and it is actually a thing of beauty to watch him launch them into action, traversing the stage to different microphones, pedals, and rotating speakers. In this respect, he is perhaps more craftsman than showman, but nonetheless endlessly entertaining. Most importantly, although his music is decidedly off the beaten path, it's not terribly challenging; its relatively accessible and terribly enjoyable. Added to that is a great voice that is equal parts David Byrne, Bryan Ferry, and Jeff Buckley. Not a bad combination.

Like growing up in Mississippi and having to see a hockey game live to appreciate its beauty, it really wasn't until I saw Andrew Bird live this week that I fully appreciated his incredible talent. Now I can't stop listening to Armchair Apocrypha, which, if you haven't heard by now, you simply must. And go see him live as soon as possible.

MP3: Andrew Bird - "Dark Matter" from Armchair Apocrypha

YouTube: Andrew Bird - "Plasticities" on the David Letterman Show

Friday, September 14, 2007

Don't Stop Now

Atlanta was fortunate enough on Wednesday evening to be graced with the genius of Neil Finn and the re-formed Crowded House. On a night that brought the old-timers (like me) out to the Tabernacle, Neil ("Full of Zeal") did not disappoint. Just when opening act Pete Yorn had me questioning why it is that I even like live music at all (with his thirty or so guitarists on stage, all playing the same thing and all, except maybe the Elvis Costello impersonator, apparently even more bored than I), Crowded House immediately reminded me of the joy of live music.

Neil Finn is simply one of the all-time greatest songwriters (if there is anyone better at turning a melody, his or her name is probably Lennon or McCartney) and performers, and the band was in excellent form. It being the last proper show on the tour (of sorts -- I believe they're playing the Austin City Limits festival today), Neil's voice was a little worn, but the crowd was able and more than willing to join in and help out on the vocals. Mr. Finn seemed to take no small measure of delight in this, repeatedly engaging the effusive crowd in impromptu sing-a-longs between songs, and taking the time to teach the backing vocals to his exuberant students before a couple of the numbers. Needless to say, it was a warm reception.

The set (plus two lengthy encores) featured highlights spanning the band's incredible career, along with a generous dose of songs from their excellent new record, Time On Earth. If you haven't picked this one up yet, add it to your list of things to do. It's a mature offering, almost somber in some places (perhaps not a surprising reaction to original drummer Paul Hester's 2005 suicide), and in many ways reminiscent of some of Finn's best solo work (e.g., "Don't Stop Now"), yet has a few instant classics ("She Called Up") that could easily have been featured on an early Crowded House release. In short, Time On Earth sounds less like a reunion record than a band hitting a new found stride. Don't dream it's over, indeed.

MP3: Crowded House - "She Called Up" from Time On Earth

(Expect the Classic Bootleg Series to resume next week!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I'm Becoming A Casual Business Man On Matters Of The Heart

First of all, I'm happy to report that Atlanta's finest were able to apprehend the miscreants who lifted Frank's belongings. (Update: See Frank's Comment). I haven't heard yet whether any of the goods were recovered, but one way or another, I expect that we should be getting an update from him before too much longer.

A lot of really good music came out yesterday, but before we fall all over ourselves in a mad rush of new posts here at TTT (kidding), I wanted to make sure that a recent favorite doesn't fall through the cracks.

Seattle's Minus The Bear seem typically to be grouped in with the standard indie fair, although their new record, Planet Of Ice, is pretty far removed from it. Technical precision, complex time signatures, synthesizers, a tendency to avoid common (verse - chorus - verse) song structures, seven and eight minute songs, contrapuntal guitars; all of these are arguably somewhat foreign to your typical indie band, yet perfectly at home on Planet Of Ice.

In fact, throw the head phones on and MTB just may take you back to your lost days of prog rock, a trip that is surprisingly refreshing. As the band encourages the listener to "Take a step back, man / Take a step back and turn yourself around" on "Ice Monster," I found myself perfectly willing to comply. It's hard not to get sucked right in on the opener "Burying Luck," which somehow bears kinship (at least to my ears) to some of the less pop tracks on Ghost In The Machine.

The aptly named Planet Of Ice presents a cold emotional landscape, in which relationships are bargained ("A piece of you for a piece of me / It's hard coded") and the most sensual songs ("White Mystery") are underscored by near robotically precise guitar playing and somewhat passionless, but more than proficient singing. It all adds up to a sound that is distinctly different from the music that is normally discussed on blogs like this, a difference that I have found fairly addictive. Just pack a heavy coat before you set out.

MP3: Minus The Bear - "Ice Monster" from Planet Of Ice

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Life In Music Is A Life Beautifully Spent

Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007)

Music lost one for the ages yesterday. I don't think folks come to TTT for updates from the world of opera, but I spent a few years at Ole Miss singing it, and still call myself something of a fan. In those days, singing tenor was almost like an athletic endeavor for me, and Pavarotti was like Michael Jordan. Not for nothing was he called The King of the High C's. Goodbye, Maestro.

MP3: Passengers - "Miss Sarajevo" from Original Soundtracks 1 (U2 and Luciano Pavarotti)

YouTube: Pavarotti - "Nessun Dorma" (Live in Paris) from Turandot (Puccini)

Monday, September 03, 2007

This Is Where The Summer Ends

I put the cover back on the grill this Labor Day evening and thought, well, that's it for summer. And even though the Atlanta temperatures are probably not going to play along any time soon, Labor Day for me pretty much heralds the end of the season. As much as I love autumn, I always hate to say goodbye to summer. Goodbye to swimming pools and beaches and hot, lazy days with nothing going on. Goodbye to white bucks and Seersucker suits (just kidding). Still, the turn of the season seems like an excellent opportunity to highlight a few records that I picked up over the course of the summer that, somehow or another, got a little lost in the shuffle initially, but later came to assert themselves with repeated listenings.

The Sea And Cake - Everybody. This record is butterfly-wing light and breezy, with interesting, gauzy guitar work and ethereal vocals that suggest a post-modern Mose Allison. At first listen, this record was just too delicate to stick, but it grew on me quickly, and became a "go to" album in short order. It comes highly recommended for convertables at sunset.

MP3: The Sea And Cake - "Up On Crutches" from Everybody

Ola Podrida - Ola Podrida. Another breezy stroll that should prove to be an equally good Autumnal soundtrack comes from Ola Podrida, which is essentially David Wingo, who has scored movies for indie-filmmaker David Gorden Green. This self-titled debut is a Southwestern acoustic treat that has also proved to be a grower that I've come back to time and time again this summer. The track included here, "Cindy," is a slow burner that is somewhat more intense than the rest of the record, and a definite highlight. Fans of M.Ward will be pleased with this album.

MP3: Ola Podrida - "Cindy" from Ola Podrida

Great Lake Swimmers - Ongiara. Last (for now), but certainly not least, is this record, which received a fair amount of attention in the blogosphere earlier this year, but for me was yet another grower that gained considerable strength over the course of the summer. This is a bit of gothic Americana with a softly lilting tenor and delicate, folkish background music not too far removed from Sufjan Stevens. Finger-picked guitars, accented with a gentle, stream-side banjo and minimalist percussion, cast a real spell that transports you to a simpler time. I recommend putting this on while sipping wine on a deck late at night while the rest of the family sleeps.

MP3: Great Lake Swimmers - "Changing Colours" from Ongiara.

Speaking of catching up, be sure and stop by Friend of TTT Pop Headwound and check out a plethora of MP3s that he's been meaning to post, but only now just getting around to. I know the feeling . . .