Friday, December 11, 2009

King Crimson - In The Court Of The Crimson King and Red 40th anniversary editions

King Crimson occupies an interesting place in rock history. They have no hits, very little legacy of mind-blowing live shows and little penetration of the general public’s consciousness, yet, like The Velvet Underground or The Thirteenth Floor Elevators they are shrouded in mystery and the reputation of being one of the great bands that people “in the know” know about. The truth is somewhat more complex than that. King Crimson was not and are still not a flash in the pan or part of some arcane drug-related movement. More similar to Frank Zappa, they have had a long, prolific career that has been marked by supreme musicianship and the unwavering professional seriousness of leader Robert Fripp. Fripp is one of the great auteur nuts of rock music. He is the only member who has been in every iteration of King Crimson and it has been his precision, psych, buzzsaw guitar playing and angular, heady compositional style that have been their consistent features. For the 40th anniversary of this important band, Fripp has enlisted Porcupine Tree mainman Steve Wilson and embarked upon creating the definitive versions of his landmark albums. Appropriately enough they have begun with the first, and most beloved Crimson album In The Court Of The Crimson King from 1969 and their 1974 masterpiece Red which marked the end of the first major era of King Crimson.

Aside from having one of the most recognizable and iconic album covers in rock history Court is possibly the quintessential “Art-Rock” statement. Jazzy, experimental and often startlingly noisy it is miles ahead of its time and sounds willfully avant by even today’s standards. It hearkens back to a time when musicians were trying to stretch the limits of popular music to include all their interests and emotions and move away from formulaic love songs. Unlike so many bands, King Crimson succeeded in creating a one-of-a-kind work of art that is as satisfying musically and conceptually now as it was then.

Red represents a much different King Crimson and a much different musical approach. The original Crimson line-up with Greg Lake, Ian McDonald and Michael Giles had been replaced by extraordinary drummer Bill Bruford and prog-rock legend to be John Wetton on bass and vocals and the album shines with intricate songwriting and powerful musical arrangements that bring together the best of jazz and rock. This is what FM radio was all about in the early 70’s and songs like “Fallen Angel,” “One More Red Nightmare” and “Starless” are the kind of onanistic science fiction fodder that completely lit my imagination at 15.

The real point of this review however, is not how great these two albums are, but how amazing these new editions of the albums sound. Each one is housed in a slipcase that holds a CD with the original album remixed in a definitive fashion and then a handful of bonus tracks. The second disc is a DVD that contains multiple versions of each album in all kinds of souped up audio quality with surround versions and alternate takes galore. They also each contain pieces of video that show the band at the appropriate time. I have been following the progress of sound and especially 5.1 and high-fidelity versions and I must proclaim these releases the ultimate in audiophile satisfaction. The clarity and detail is breathtaking and to hear the delicacy of “I Talk To The Wind” or the crushing finale of “Fallen Angel” in full surround, ear-bleeding mode was pretty damn exciting. In direct opposition to the movement toward more and more condensed music and storage capability trumping sound quality, these releases stick a finger in the face of the iPod and say “you wanna hear what music can really sound like?”

For those who are completely mad there is the awe-inspiring import version of In The Court Of The Crimson King which stretches the package to 5 CDs and a DVD and adds rare promo versions, alternates, different mixes of the album and two live shows from 1969. It might seem like overkill, but I can’t say I was less than riveted the entire time I listened to it. It is one of the most original and haunting albums in rock history and actually deserves this kind of treatment.
Paul Epstein

Neil Young - Dreamin’ Man Live ‘92

A couple of years ago when Neil played at the Wells Fargo Theatre downtown I got to go back stage and talk to him for a minute. We talked about the archive series and I asked him what else they were going to do. He said “next is ‘Over The Rainbow.’” I asked him if he meant the Rainbow Theatre in London on the Tonight’s The Night tour. He smiled and said yes. That tour is largely unheard in the public, and in collecting circles it is the most sought after stuff of all – kind of a holy grail search for the heart of Neil. On that tour he regularly performed drunk and went on long rambling raps in the middle of the song “Tonight’s The Night.” Some versions would last 45 minutes and some nights he would play the song three times in the same set. There are really no high quality versions of these shows out there so I was quite excited for the prospect. Then the next release to come out was The Canterbury House and it was so good that I forgot about the Rainbow release. Then “Dreamin’ Man” got announced and I thought; “what happened to the Rainbow? So, I went into this release with a somewhat bad attitude. When I got a copy I put it on and was almost immediately transported. It is one of those things that Neil and only a few other performers I have seen can do; completely engross the audience as a solo act. Very hard to do. From the first note of this CD it is clear Neil is playing these songs (the entire Harvest Moon album before it was out) with an uncommon urgency. He is in beautiful voice and his solid, accompaniment is wondrous in its simplicity and natural perfection. He is what every dorm-room wannabe wants ta be. Like the earlier Massey Hall release the effect is transcendent. The concert ends (Dreamin’ Man is actually taken from a series of concerts) and you realize you have shared an intimate experience, not just listened to a record. The material stands up pretty well too. Harvest Moon is sort of the sequel to the classic Harvest and it showcases the loving, homebody Neil as opposed to the tortured rock warrior. His love songs resonate in the heart as profoundly as his electric guitar playing stings in the ears. This is another bullseye for the archive series.

Paul Epstein

Thursday, December 10, 2009

One Hundred Eleven and Counting

OK, so by now you know that Deutsche Grammophon is 111 years old. That's pretty old, even for a record company. And to help celebrate, the fine folks over at DG have put together a wee 6-CD collection of highlights and gems from the last century.

The earliest recording on this lovely set is a Meyerbeer aria sung by the opera titan Enrico Caruso in 1907. That's a little like having a box set called “45 years of the Rolling Stones” and not including anything until Sticky Fingers, isn't it? Or perhaps I'm the only person who wants to hear tragically Lo-Fi 19th century opera recordings. Or perhaps that's the earliest thing they could find. Still, that's a minor gripe as this set is pretty impressive by any standards.

The tracks are offered up here alphabetically, by performer - from Abbado to Zimerman, taking in legends like Bohm, Domingo, Furtwangler, Heifetz, Karajan, Oistrakh, Rostropovich and Segovia along the way. Because of this there is no flow or theme on the discs but rather a continuously shifting mood that never gets boring.

I recognized much of the music on this set but there were nice surprises also - the wonderful “Boogie Woogie Etude” by Morton Gould sounds exactly like the title, and Golijov's "Ayre," sung by Dawn Upshaw (with the the Andalucian Dogs!) is fabulous too. The fact that such an array of composers is represented here (not just Bach and Beethoven) turns this collection into a treasure trove of discoveries. My only regret is that the pioneering work of Kagel, Stockhausen, Nono and Maderna (which DG thankfully supported in the 60s and 70s) is only marginally represented here. Perhaps we'll get an Avant-garde box set next year, guys?

The appeal of DG goes beyond music. Like the wildly different labels Blue Note and 4AD, the presentation and feel of the records was part of the package. DG is a design icon with an instantly recognizable brand and aesthetic; perhaps the first label to achieve that. So, good on ya, chaps! Thanks for the music and here's to another 111.

- Ben Sumner

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Cranberries Gothic Theatre 12.1.2009

The Cranberries
Gothic Theatre

For the first time in 7 years, the original members of the Cranberries have reunited, and stopped by the Gothic to play an amazing set this last Tuesday.

When the night started out, I honestly didn't know what to expect. The crowd that showed up was a mix of contrasting archetypes. For the most part, it was a bunch of people who don't get out very often, and were obviously used to assigned seating at the Pepsi Center. Once we found a place to stand and enjoy the show, a lady behind us (who looked like a miniature Enya with bright red lipstick), who was leaning on the rail when we got there, got up and passively nudged us with her purse. After several ignored nudges, she finally asked us if we'd planned on staying there all night, because now she couldn't see. We offered to switch her places, as we were taller, but she acted as if she were afraid of us and declined our offer. This is, for the most part, the kind of people that were in the crowd. The same people that made flashes of cameras and iPhones light the house up like wildfire! It was as if no one understood their devices well enough to turn off the flash for a performance. It was ridiculous enough to get some people histerically laughing, including myself. However, there were some livelier, happier people sprinkled among us, and most everyone warmed up towards the end of the night anyway. Even the group of 40-something year-old wallflowers that decided to stand around unmoving the whole night, blocking the crowd with their huge hair seemed to lighten up by the time the Cranberries were in the middle of their set.

Griffin House was the opener. I honestly have nothing slightly positive to say about this guy. I wish I had shown up later and missed this guys performance, which was a cheesey, obvious and overstated attempt at a niche market to make the white man's burden fade away by lyrically stating that no one is really white. He seems a lot like a marketer with a guitar, singing something that is more similar to contrived Hollywood Country, then something that should be before a Cranberries performance. I'm admittedly no music expert, and I realize he respectably has fans, but it's my personal opinion that Griffin House seems less of an artist and more of a trust-funder with a marketing degree and a guitar.

Now on to the good part of the show; the whole reason we were all there; the Cranberries. What an amazing performance! Their sound was full of energy and the same old dark melodic pop with a Celtic twist. Dolores O'Riordan's vocals were just as good, if not better live than recorded. The 38 year-old mother of two bounced and danced on stage with energy that, at times, put the crowd to shame. While she kept most of her talking to a minimum, she modestly still announced the title to every song before performing it, as if she needed to. Her stage presence was so positive and on key that it seemed to make the whole place change for the better. Noel & Mike Hogan (Guitar & Bass) and Fergal Lawler (Drums) were, as to be expected, just as awesome. Fergal, Noel and Mike drew out great ending renditions to “Dreaming my Dreams” and “I Still Do.” They catered to the crowd well and performed a ton of their classics like “Free to Decide,” “Linger,” and, of course, “Zombie.” Seeing these guys perform all of their hits live for the first time is comparable to having fresh Cranberry juice for the first time, instead of from concentrate. While they have been around for almost 19 years, the Cranberries have not gone bad. They remain fresh, full of energy, and maintain their amazing, inspiring sound. They are set to release an album of live recordings in 2010, and I can't wait to get more of what I got from them at the Gothic that night!

-Chris Berstler

Friday, December 4, 2009

Grateful Dead - Road Trips Vol. 3 No. 1 12-28-79

This is the second full show from this run of New Year's shows to be officially released. Not quite the powerhouse that the other show is, this one still has many highlights to recommend it. Starting with a completely soaring “Sugaree” the band is clearly psyched. Other first set highlights include a hypnotic “Row Jimmy” and a beautiful version of the rare “High Time.” The fireworks really start in the second set where a “Terrapin” for the ages gives way to a “Playin’ In The Band” for the ages - spacey and exploratory, they don’t rush it at all. The bonus disc also has a remarkable sequence of songs with “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire On The Mountain” slipping seductively into a letter perfect “Let It Grow.” This period of The Dead is characterized by the high-energy addition of keyboardist/vocalist Brent Mydland and the large amounts of time the band was putting into rehearsing with him. They play with a speedy precision that they would never recapture again. In particular, the three guitarists are playing with chattering intensity and seemed more tuned into each other than at any time since the late 60’s. It is not long, languorous jams but bright, to the point virtuosity that drives this show - exhilarating.

Paul Epstein

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Cost Of Convenience

Yesterday being a holiday, and my house being filled with people (14 people, representing 4 generations) I was forced to ponder some heavy stuff. It always happens that way, when all the trappings of “normal” and “traditional” surround me my mind goes to other places. This time, as I was spending the entire day in food preparation I started to think about what change our society has undergone in terms of food gathering and consumption. Somewhere in the mid-20th century we became a society that stopped making food and started having it prepared for us. We become more and more used to the concept of “Fast Food” and as a result more than one generation of Americans has had their health destroyed. Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and the calamitous results of factory farming on our environment have changed the world for the worse. Of course, when one starts examining this problem, it becomes clear that the race for convenience has affected all parts of our life. Television, while offering the most convenient form of information gathering and entertainment by bringing it right to us, has had a ruinous effect on our ability to focus on anything important whatsoever. It seems like a never-ending parade of pernicious influence, over-hyped bad news (mainly the morbid killing and sexual abuse of children), and inaccurate weather predictions designed to keep us inflamed and at perpetual orange alert - whatever the hell that is. Now, of course the Internet has made TV seem like child’s play. With no regulations or editorial oversight, it truly is the Wild West of misinformation, pornography and advertising. This is truly a golden age for an ideological vacuum.

Obviously, my mind had to turn to music and how the convenience factor has affected it. The 500-pound gorilla in the room was the five-ounce Ipod staring at me from my dresser. I purchased it a few months ago because I started to really feel bad about the little toxic pellets I was planting in the earth every time I threw out another set of batteries from my Discman. I loved my portable CD player for exercising and traveling, but those batteries were making me feel guilty. So I broke down and bought the Ipod, loaded up all my mix CDs that I use for exercising and went running. As promised, the Ipod is an incredible storage device that organizes or un-organizes your collection with minimal fuss and maximal speed. It didn’t skip, and best of all the battery could be recharged very easily and the charge lasts for a good long time. So where’s the big butt you say? It was there from the first second I opened the package. Steve Jobs is an evil genius. He designed the thing to be completely useless without the interface of the internet. It reinvents the hapless consumer’s way of thinking completely, by subverting the need for all physical manifestations of the art itself. There is the little silver box and that is all. It is the fast food of music. It is the ultimate of convenience, and the ability to do it is so simple a child can master it in seconds, and the tools are all free. Wow, I’m blown away by the clarity of Jobs’ vision of how to rethink everything. Is it comparable to other forms of music? Most of the people I deal with here at Twist and Shout actually care about music as art. The individual parts that make it up are important to them, specifically the integrity of the artistic vision and the quality of the sound. Artistically, the cover art becomes unimportant and the playing order is also irrelevant. Most disturbing to me, the sound SUCKS. I’m sorry, I’ve heard this that and the other guy tell me this that and the other thing, but I have to trust my own senses on this one. I have spent the better portion of my life listening to and thinking about music and I know the difference between good and bad sound. The IPOD produces a shrill, compressed, annoying chirp whether you play it through the ubiquitous white headphones or dock it to your stereo, and under no circumstances does it compare to the quality of sound one achieves through a well-produced CD or certainly an LP. These are major changes and compromises for the consumer to make, and yet millions have made the leap pretty quickly. The aforementioned news media is constantly writing the obituary of the music industry, and yet 80 percent of music sold is still sold the old-fashioned way. It is the public perception that has been altered. People are being sold a bill of goods and, lemmings that we are, are buying right in to it. The very real fact is that with each leap of convenience we collectively take there is often a demonstrable diminution of objective quality. Fast food is less healthy than home cooking, no matter what the executives from McDonalds say.

My younger relatives and employees assure me this is classic “old-fart” behavior; railing against the newfangled in the face of modern innovation, but I would like to return to my initial point, and that is that in each step we take towards becoming a culture of convenience, we lose something. There are always movements to recognize the loss, and regain some of the value - think of the slow food movement, story-telling societies, or the interest in knitting. Initially the practitioners of the old ways are considered “ologists” or “ophiles,” and as time continues to move forward they become crackpots and weirdos - the guy who still wears a straw hat and suspenders. I guess this is inevitable, but I know for myself, popular culture is the reverse barometer of those things that are actually of value, and those that will give me comfort and meaning in my daily existence. I, for one am not willing to trade convenience for the finer things in life. Now please, another piece of that homemade pecan pie.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Candy Beats 2

Gothic Theatre
Triad Dragons & Floorbangers

While massive raves and underground parties always have their appeal, I've always dug the smaller, concert-esque electronic shows too and Candy Beats 2 proved to be one of the better ones this year.

All the openers did their thing without a hitch and sounded great. The crowd started to gather around and start bouncing when John Debo hit the stage. It was hard not to bob your head and get lost in his great electro-house set. He dropped some good bass, and was great at getting the crowd fired up for the next set.

I have to say, Rank1 exceeded my expectations greatly! I was expecting something more along the lines of progressive trance from these Netherlands superstars, but was delighted with an amazing, hard hitting electro-house set that made everyone in the place bounce and move! Their set was bass heavy in the appropriate places, and also touched on their personal style by being classy and thoughtful in their breakdowns and build ups. As to be expected with most Djs, the live set is almost always different then their recorded pieces, giving the artist a sense of artistic depth. If this is the case with Rank1, then their artistic depth is much deeper than a lot electro-music artists. I look forward to having them back.

Filo & Peri never disappoint! The crowd was screaming before these guys were even on stage, because they knew what they were in for. Their energy and attitude were so positive and excellent as always and they blew the house up. Their set was such hard hitting electro house, that it bordered on being hard dance, and reminded me of Anne Savage's sets, but with more pop and funk influence. The go-go girls at this point were actually enjoying their jobs and did a great job getting the crowd hyped up. Filo & Peri were awesome, as to be expected, these guys make great headliners.

Despite their success with massives and nightclubs, it's great to see that Triad Dragons has not lost the ability to throw great small shows for people who want to hear the music, and not deal with crazy lines or terrible security. The lighting, the sound and the stage design were all amazing for such a show as well! This show was absolutely fun, and if you dig this type of music and weren't there, you missed out. Can't wait for CB3!

Chris Berstler.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Beatles in Mono

To be totally honest, I have not spent that much time with the newly remastered Beatles albums in MONO, until recently. When they first came in I listened to them all once through and filed them before they got damaged in any way (ah, the life of a collector). Also, I have been so enthralled with the stereo versions that I haven’t been able to get them out of my player. But now that we have another batch of the Mono box for sale I decided to really listen to them carefully. It has been an ear-opening experience. The early albums sound the way I like to remember - bright, loud little pop punches in the eye. It’s just like they are coming out of the one speaker in your car on your way to school in 1964. They really get revelatory as the years pass. Revolver and Rubber Soul are tapestries of guitar sounds - Rubber Soul lush with acoustic instruments and sculpted three part harmonies, Revolver abuzz with wiry electric guitar sounds. When we reach Sgt. Pepper, the point that The Beatles really started reaching for the stars, the Mono version is startling. The album is like a sonic tower, with the vocals teetering at the top-right in your face, and then all those baroque flourishes and layers of sound and effects are glued ornamentally to the sides like some crazy, cosmic X-mas tree. It is a completely different feel than listening to the stereo version. There are also differences in the mix itself. For instance, between “Within You Without You” and “When I’m Sixty-Four” there is a bit of Lennon audio horseplay that is either not on the stereo mix, or is buried in there so deeply I never noticed it before. Again, at the end of “Good Morning Good Morning” where the chicken miraculously becomes a guitar, there is a completely different mix that effectively neuters that little chicken. And that, ultimately is the point, these are tiny details that would be laughable to the average music fan, but to the diehard Beatles fan, this is the stuff of heaven - minutia of the smallest order. It gives one the ability to dig deep into the catalog that has inspired our love of music and come up with something new and unheard. What more could you ask for?
Paul Epstein

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

GWAR November 11th, 2009 - Gothic Theatre

GWAR has been kicking ass, saving earth, and spewing gallons of extra terrestrial bodily fluids on metal heads nightly for over 25 years now! Their 25th anniversary tour stopped by Denver's Gothic Theatre on the 11th of November to a crowd eager to have alien juices stain their clothes and to see Oderus Urungus literally rock out with his cock out.

The two opening acts were the Red Chord and Job for a Cowboy. The Red Chord started the night out pretty decently with great cookie monster vocals (Guy Kozowyk), a good accompanying bass and tons of drums. However, the crowd really started to act up when Job for a Cowboy started their set. Their sound was more refined, heavier, and the guitar (Ravi Bhadriraju) and vocals (Jonny Davy) were clear, fast and had a sense of mystery, without losing their great metal edge. They were a great choice to get the crowd bouncing around and to get the moshers warmed up for GWAR.

While the openers did their thing, the crowd was able to buy a $20 program, and use that as a backstage pass to meet GWAR. This was one part of the band's 25th anniversary program called “Meat and Beat,” which also included a $1 raffle for Oderus' mask.

GWAR kicked so much ass! They played a mix of old and new, but most of their set was from their newest studio album, Lust in Space. While I'm sure many people wanted to hear older stuff, it didn't matter because it rocked just as hard. By the last quarter of their performance President Obama was nice enough to come out on stage and personally thank GWAR for repeatedly saving the earth from other sexual alien threats. He was shortly thereafter decapitated by a gigantic alien robot and after splattering the crowd with gobs of blood and frantically running around, casually walked off stage. The robot was dismembered in an epic battle that ended with Oderus raping an alien baby with a sword and spraying the crowd with its bile. The Gothic was covered in plastic, and filled wall to wall with fans dressed in white when GWAR took stage; but when GWAR left the Gothic was covered in alien blood, bile and gore, and the fans were red, green, brown and had a lot of new bruises, but all were smiling or laughing.

Once you see them live, it's immediately clear why GWAR has been such a big name in metal for over 25 years, and I hope they get 25 more! Happy 25th GWAR!!!

-Chris Berstler

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tom Waits - Glitter and Doom Live

Take a moment to ponder Tom Waits' career. From his beginnings as a cult star performing an almost burlesque interpretation of modern beat poetry, he has slowly and ineffably moved to a consistently more artful, personal and modern sound, all the while refining (with the help of his writing partner, Wife, Kathleen Brennan) his songwriting away from tales of a drunken carny-like existence on the edges of hipster society to the thoughtful insights of a dedicated and caring family man and artist. His music is groundbreaking on so many levels. He is one of the few artists I can think of whose work not only defies time and categorization, but continues to define the forward movement of modern sound. He is alone in his previous accomplishments and equally alone in his ability to invent the future. I have not met an artist, musician or generally cool person who doesn’t like Tom Waits. At the same time, I have met very few non-music nuts who even know who he is. He has not penetrated modern consciousness except as a catalyst or seed for others to grow from, offering up a model for the artistic ideal. Because of this, new releases by Waits are greeted with an increasing fervor by those in the know. One can always be assured an unexpected and gratifying experience.

His latest is sure to be no exception. The musical soundscape is stunning throughout this document of Waits’ latest tour which focused almost exclusively on his last four or five releases. Shifting from sly jazzy shuffles to industrial skrapes and explosions and back again at the drop of a hat, the sonic ground beneath Waits’ feet never gathers moss. Much of the sound is seemingly new. How in this wide wide world of copycats and sampling does someone come up with something that sounds like it has never been done before? Partially by using found instruments and an array of electronic vocal treatments, but also by shrugging off the conventional strictures of all popular music and just creating. Lots of artists “just create” freely in what has been called The Avant Garde, unfortunately most of it comes out sounding like cacophonous shit instead of the poetry of Tom Waits.

Vocally, Waits has taken what might have been thought of as a liability-his gargling with barbed-wire and rat poison rasp of a voice- and turned it into the most interesting part of the show. He inhabits several distinctive personae during the course of a performance, alternately barking like some deranged street corner preacher, to roaring like an electronic beast from a Orwellian nightmare, to the pained croon of some injured beast in the distance. Each is also matched by a physical manifestation. I saw Waits early in his career when his act basically consisted of him sitting at the piano and winning the audience over with the strength of his imagery. Somewhere along the line, he developed into an unbelievably physical performer, presenting an onstage demeanor that falls between circus barker and Tourette’s victim. A Tom Waits concert is unlike any other experience, and it is one of the few generally interesting and exciting shows left to see.

As a bonus this album comes with a second disc called “Tom Tales” that will be instantly recognizable and welcomed by anyone who has seen Waits perform. Between songs he tends to launch into dissertations and rambling speeches about the things that occupy his mind. Often little known facts from the back pages of obscure referentiania, these observations are always entertaining, and sometimes quite enlightening. It is another facet of the man, the artist, the enigma: Tom Waits. -- Paul Epstein

Jerry Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins- Let It Rock

With the possible exception of his work with David Grisman, this first iteration of The Jerry Garcia Band was totally unique because it is the only time he had a musical foil who matched his own peerless skill; That person was Nicky Hopkins. Garcia, like all stars, tended to play with people less accomplished than himself. This is not by design, but rather the natural reality that few were as good as him. In Nicky Hopkins he found another world-class player with whom to share the burden of soloing. Hopkins proved to be a short-lived (less than a year in the band) but potent dueling partner for Garcia. The shows Jerry did with Nicky Hopkins don’t sound like any other in his career due to the slow, baroque deliberateness of Hopkins’ playing. On each song Garcia generously opens the door widely for Hopkins to solo. Like Garcia’s own playing, Hopkins shows a wealth of influences and stylistic ability that at times is hilariously anglophile in comparison with Jerry’s more Americana leanings. The result is a concert where the musician’s sheer enjoyment of each other’s playing is clearly audible. For his part, Garcia is in fine voice, singing sweet and high on songs like “It’s Too Late,” a gorgeous “I’ll Take A Melody” and an extended “Ain’t No Use.” The highlight is the 19 minute version of The Rolling Stones' “Let’s Spend The Night Together” that takes a bunch of detours before landing and giving way to Hopkins' signature song “Edward The Mad Shirt Grinder” which he originally recorded as a member of Quicksilver Messenger Service. As Garcia plays a slide guitar part that is totally unlike his usual style, one can hear not only why this pairing was so interesting, but why it was doomed as well. There just wasn’t enough room for two stars of such definitive yet divergent styles of playing. -- Paul Epstein

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Doors - Live In New York

Through their reissue company “Bright Midnight” The Doors have been pretty aggressive about releasing concert recordings. Many of them have come from the 1970 tour, which was recorded in its entirety for the album that would eventually be released as Absolutely Live. In the last few years they have released three or four of the shows from this tour in their seperately, and what it has revealed about this most misunderstood of bands is that they were both unpredictable, and capable of reaching the highest heights in concert. Each show on the tour is very different from the others and the greatness of the show was usually determined by Jim Morrison’s general level of sobriety. His drunkenness did not guarantee either a great or a terrible show, it just guaranteed that the focus of the show would be Jim’s state of mind. Like some Rock and Roll Rorschach , the Doors reflected the times and the seething angst of their audience on a nightly basis. Sometimes it was brilliant, sometimes drunken foolery, but it was always interesting. On this 6 CD release the four shows the Doors played at The Felt Forum in NYC are presented in their entirety. Each night feels very different as the band runs through various covers- “Little Red Rooster,” ‘Money,” “Crawling King Snake,” “Back Door Man” and even “Gloria” and mix it with their artiest material-“The End,” When The Music’s Over,” Celebaration Of The Lizard,” “Ship Of Fools” etc. and present the audience with something memorable every night. If you are already a Doors fan this will be a most welcome batch of new experiences, and if you are not, you may find yourself understanding why Rock concerts used to be considered scary, revolutionary experiences.
Paul Epstein

Molina and Johnson - Molina and Johnson

Two indie superstars (Magnolia Electric Co. and Songs:Ohia) join forces to prove the adage that the sum is greater than the individual parts. Both of these gentlemen have proven themselves to be superb songwriters, singers and makers of memorable albums. Most recently, Magnolia Electric Company’s Josephine has turned a lot of heads and ears towards Jason Molina’s skewed and specific view of American music. Molina & Johnson is a mixture of both of these artists’ strengths, presenting a slightly weirder setting for Molina’s touching songs and beautiful voice, and lightening up Johnson’s avant tendencies and more eccentric singing style. Musically things remain pretty spare and stripped down allowing plenty of room to reflect on the lyrical content and heartfelt performances. It is clear that these guys have a great deal of respect for each other’s work, precisely because they give each other so much sonic room, and embellish each other’s songs with such care and precision. There is no musical show-offery here, just two guys sharing their best and letting the tape roll. The result is a wonderful album of folky, artsy compositions that is sure to please fans of either of these talented men.

Paul Epstein

Nirvana - Bleach

History has been weird to Nirvana. At the time there seemed to be universal consensus that this was one of the great rock bands, but since, and maybe because of Kurt Cobain’s senseless, violent death there has been a lot of rewriting and denying history. Hopefully, the release of this special 20th Anniversary edition of Bleach (is it possible?) will settle the argument. Bleach shows Nirvana in the formative, explosive, pre-superstardom years, when they were clawing their way to the top with such other local contemporaries as Mudhoney and Tad. Cobain was not yet writing with the melodic sophistication he would find on Nevermind, and Jack Endino’s sludgy production creates a very different effect than Butch Vig would get with his crystalline rock perfection but the raw substance of Cobain’s greatness is right there to be heard. Songs like “Blew,” Negative Creep,” “Love Buzz” and the brilliant “About A Girl” show what a powerful songwriter Cobain was, and would become. The greatest strength of the band at this early stage was their rock and roll power. They could punish the audience with their three man attack like nobody’s business, and if you want proof, listen to the twelve song live show that is included in this edition of the album. Obviously playing to a local, partisan crowd the band just rockets out of the gates delivering one slab of hard rock after another and leaving the audience and the modern listener screaming for more. Nirvana was capable of an almost nuclear fury in concert and this show offers ample evidence of that fact. The fat booklet included with this release does not waste any time with wordy explanations of the times or the band, it just has a bunch of photos that show a group of kids - not grown-up men, just kids, living the rock dream. It is touching. Hopefully this excellent package will trigger a reassessment of Nirvana and they will once again be understood as the defining group of their era.

Paul Epstein

Friday, October 23, 2009

OOIOO - Armonico Hewa

What if you could open your mouth and instead of words in a sentence all the sounds of modern life would come pouring out in a torrent of brilliant ideas? It would sound like OOIOO. This all female band from Japan has gone about making one astounding record after another for the last decade or so, and Armonico Hewa is no exception. Led by former Boredoms drummer Yoshimi (P-We) it is almost impossible to describe OOIOO’s music. It is largely based on improvisation, but always maintains a consistent groove or feel that gives the songs consistency. It is not chaos, in fact it is often quite beautiful. The only way to describe it is to compare it to other bands. It is equal parts trance drum guitar workouts similar to Can, squealy/skronky sound collages like early Sonic Youth and ultra modern Japano-syntho sheen like Cornelius, with a little of Yoko Ono’s understanding of the Avant Garde thrown in for good measure. Of course it doesn’t really resemble any of these, because it is its own unique flower. If you like modern music that challenges your expectations yet consistently rewards with unforgettably melodic experimentation, you owe yourself a visit to the rare world of OOIOO.

--Paul Epstein

Leonard Cohen - At The Isle Of Wight 1970

This past year has seen Mr. Cohen return to the stage after a long absence in order to heal the financial wounds caused by an unscrupulous manager, and caused a minor sensation by proving himself not only the consummate songwriter we fans have always known him to be, but also showing that he is one of the great performers left of his generation. A more unlikely rock star there has never been. Cohen is a poet as much as a singer/songwriter, and his shows are always peppered with spoken word interludes. His manner of addressing the audience is also an act of poetry; he is calming, thought provoking and unforgettable - a true gentleman. This release, which contains both the entire concert on CD and a DVD documentary of the event by filmmaker Murray Lerner, is like manna from heaven for Cohen fans - really. The audio portion is exciting to have; it is a concert of Cohen in his prime, focusing largely on his first two albums with a hand-selected band that is just perfect for the occasion. Acoustic guitars, soft keyboards, female backing vocals and Charlie Daniels (yes, that Charlie Daniels) on bass and fiddle supplying beautifully sympathetic backing to Cohen’s somber yet expressive intoning. The real treasure here is the DVD however. Director Murray Lerner is now responsible for four of the best movies about the classic era of rock (Festival, The Who At The Isle of Wight, Message To Love and now this Leonard Cohen film). He seems to have had a knack for being at the right place and capturing the underlying emotional subtext of events. For instance, in Festival, he really gets to the core of the controversy about Dylan going electric, and there exists no better footage of The Who in their prime than that in Lerner’s movie.

In the Cohen film, the back-story is that the festival itself was something of a battleground. Throughout the five days of the festival a large portion of the 600,000 people present were crashing gates, protesting “the man,” booing artists off stage, starting fires, and generally making an English spectacle of themselves. There are interviews included with Kris Kristofferson (who was booed off stage) and Joan Baez, who discuss what a bummer the proceedings were. This is all in contrast to the miracle that was Leonard Cohen’s set. Coming on stage at 4 a.m. on the final night he literally mesmerized the audience with his hypnotic, beatific presence and beautiful music. Watching him work his magic over this toughest of audiences is really quite extraordinary. It is truly through the power of his personality and the greatness of his art that he wins them over. It was the only point in the weekend where the crowd actually shut up and appreciated the music. This film is an essential piece of the puzzle to both understanding the mixed bag that was the festival scene in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but also it offers some of the most compelling evidence of Leonard Cohen’s lasting greatness.

--Paul Epstein

Me'Shell Ndegeocello at Boulder Theater

Meshell Ndegeocello played to an eager crowd at the Boulder Theater on October 21st. This beautiful old school venue bustled as the openers Sonneblume rocked out. Sonneblume is a local band that provided a good contrast to the bass-playing diva; they rocked pretty heavy with a lot of distorted electric guitar flourishes. But they did share a common thread in that the lead vocalist was also a female bass player. Ndegeocello’s set was a serious hit to the senses. Her band was comprised of some serious players that are all on her latest album Devil’s Halo. The new album ventures forth, just like her music always does, into new planes and new dimensions. Ndegeocello is known as one of the all time top R&B bass players (of either gender), an experimental pioneer mixing genres to always create something new. But there has been little mainstream acknowledgment of the super creative spirit who lies behind the music. With Devil’s Halo she has branched into some extremely straightforward rock/pop territory but her sensual soul tendencies are all still as vibrant as ever. The album contains heavy lyrics that give you goose bumps like “I hope you all die young,” but within her songs and within the serious vibe you get a transcendent feeling through the truth that she lays down. Don’t let this album or this artist pass you by.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

These guys are on my wife's list. You know, that list married couples have of theoretical celebrity get-out-of-jail-free one night stands? All married couples have these lists and I'm pretty sure Bret and Jemaine are on my wife's list. Obviously she likes pale nerdy foreign guys because after all, she married me. Actually these boys are so adorable they might be on my list too right in between Jenny Agutter and Naomi Watts. I digress.

We all fell in love with Flight of the Conchords when their (probably award winning) programme (sic) appeared on HBO. The show and accompanying songs were charming, quirky and of course, very funny. They were also very musically savvy, with spot-on homages/parodies of French pop, Marvin Gaye, Kraftwerk and white boy rap in general, taking things to another level. They were intoxicating. And now, they're back with more.

The soundtrack to season 2 is called I Told You I Was Freaky and really, this is more of the same from the lads. We aren't treated to a Plastic Ono Band-esque peeling of the onion here but a continuation of the vulnerable, lovable, side-splitting stuff from season 1. But isn't that what we wanted?

FOTC are at their best when they are in faux-seduction mode (like “Ladies of the World” from season 1), and here we have several romantic beauties - “We're Both in Love With a Sexy Lady," "You Don't Have to Be a Prostitute" and the fab title track. Probable Pet Shop Boys take-off “Fashion Is Danger” is a winner and I'm fairly sure that "Sugalumps" is about nuts. My “jam” (sic) on the set is "Too Many Dicks (On the Dance Floor)," a close-to-genius ode to poor male/female ratio in the clubs. Gorgeous.

Overall, this is another terrific album which you need to own if you're a fan. If you're not a fan, then watch the show (it's on DVD), become a fan and then buy the album. Seriously, these guys are the best thing out there since they canceled Yacht Rock on channel 101.

--Ben Sumner

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bob Dylan-Christmas In The Heart

This was initially a difficult review for me. Every prejudice, preconceived notion and bad feeling about the commercialism of Christmas and the patent absurdity of Dylan doing a Christmas album prevented me from thinking about it clearly. Now, after listening to it three or four times I’m starting to have an inkling about what the man is up to. Similar to the albums of traditional folksongs he has done (“Good As I Been To You” and “World Gone Wrong”) he has embraced the genre of Christmas songs as the folkloric Americana that they are. When he put out versions of songs like “Froggy Went-a Courtin” I had to question why the greatest songwriter of his generation felt compelled to do such a thing. After living with it for a while, and living with the all-encompassing rootsiness of his last few albums, and reading his illuminating autobiography, I began to understand that all the things that influenced him were equal in his mind. All the things that have made him who he is are of similar weightiness in his appreciation of what makes up his own art. I have certainly noticed this with my own taste. Things from my childhood are given the same value in my heart (if not my head). For instance, I have children’s albums that I adore with the same fervor as I do The Beatles first albums because to my untrained palette they were equal-it was all just songs I liked to sing. No understanding of production value, or poetic intent or any of that shit -- just B.I.N.G.O. and bingo was his name-o.

Now, I am not suggesting that Dylan has no critical faculties left, and that all songs are the same to him. I am suggesting that he has made the intellectual decision that Christmas music is part of the American experience, and was part of his experience growing up and well, why not? With that said, how is it? It’s pretty interesting. Similar to his last few albums, Dylan has blurred the lines between corny nostalgia and humble reverence. He certainly gets that these songs (“Here Comes Santa Claus,” Winter Wonderland” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” etc.) are as hackneyed as a Lawrence Welk TV special, but they also have a sincere resonance for most Americans who are honest with themselves. If “I'll Be Home For Christmas” doesn’t choke you up at some level, you might want to check your pulse. If not for the sentimentality expressed in the lyrics and melody, than for the realization that our own lives never have and never will resemble the homespun edifice that our society has built up around the idea of Christmas. Suicides increase around Christmas every year because the thing we really have in common on that day is that our lives are not what the songs say they should be. So, whether you are a Christmas true-believer, or a sad Christmas non-believer, the stuff of the holiday-songs, images, foods, family gatherings-are a real part of all of our emotional lives. Dylan’s take on it is to embrace the sounds of his own experience and the result is a production and performance style that sounds like a lost session of the “Firestone Presents Family Christmas Songs” series that so many Americans are familiar with. Until he opens his mouth that is: and then it is the raunchin’ phlegmy wheeze we know as Dylan’s modern voice. There is a moment of disbelief, then hilarity, then a little more hilarity, and then it settles in to a kind of hallucinogenic mash-up of old world sounds and other-worldly vocalizations. It is almost like listening to a Salvation Army band playing down the block, but right below your window is some toothless geezer singing along with them. They float up together like so many wisps of smoke to your window and then, in spite of the incongruities and just plain weirdness of it all, you find yourself transported to some sacred, private place where you are alone with your hopes and failures-all on Christmas morning. Christmas In The Heart is a strange, complicated, piece of the Dylan canon. It is hard to fully grasp what he is doing, but the feeling it leaves you with ultimately is bittersweet poignance.
Paul Epstein

Friday, October 9, 2009

Paperbird - Live at Twist and Shout

Is it the bad state of our economy that has brought about the resurgence of depression era music? Perhaps we have all needed a little blues, mixed with gospel to express the hardships of our own times. Paperbird performed for the second time at Twist and Shout on June 26th 2009. This local band has made a quick rise to national recognition with the pleasant sounds of an old folk band from the 40’s. Three wonderful female voices singing with a warm honey harmony make this band soft and sweet. The lilting banjo, accompanied by trombone with wild spurts of harmonica, give this band a distinctive sound. They will make you feel giddy with all of the wonderful raw energy. You get the feeling for the performance in our large space filled with lots of adoring fans. Many of these beautiful songs have a sad bluesy undertone, like many old folk tunes. These young people have old souls and make you feel like you are listening to sounds captured on a gramophone. You can hear the jovial mood as they tell jokes and play favorites like “Blue Sparks”. Playing all the right chords with the perfect amount of tension building each song makes your heart flutter just a little. I think this will be known as a local masterpiece because it has all the auditory delights of a good recording. Recorded at our store by our friends at the Helmet Room and mixed at Absinthe Studios it gave this live performance a clean and crisp sound. With a patchwork cover done by Esme Patterson herself it adds that personal charm that just encapsulates what Paperbird is all about.

Gov’t Mule - By A Thread (Released October 27th)

Warren Haynes' place in modern music is secure through the prodigious and tasteful hired-gun services he has offered The Allman Brothers Band and The Dead as well as his own substantial body of work as the leader of Gov’t Mule and as a solo artist. His pedigree as a live guitar hero and soulful singer of rare ability are only brought into question when one considers his history of less than satisfying albums. Most of his albums have fallen short either by failing to capture the fire of his live performance, or by being over-produced and not sounding like the real Warren. By A Thread remedies this problem when Haynes brings to the table the strongest, ballsiest album of guitar-driven blues-rock of his career. Beginning with the contribution of new bass player Jorgen Carlsson, the music is propelled by a fat, meaty tone, and the heaviest bottom end since the days when original bass player Allen Woody shook the plaster off every ceiling of every club across the country. The band performs like fist in glove throughout, but, as always, the real star of the show is Warren’s impeccable guitar soloing and honey and ash voice. On the first track, “Broke Down On The Brazos” he leads a guitar duet with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons that will immediately make you prick up your ears. Following is “Steppin’ Lightly” which ends with some truly great soloing. Next up is the traditional “Railroad Boy” which he takes into the stratosphere with a boiling arrangement that showcases keyboard player Danny Louis and drumming powerhouse Matt Abts’ supreme chops. Each selection shows great care in both the arranging and execution as the Mule offers up the strongest album of their career. Every song is a killer, with the highlight possibly being the mid-album barn-burner “Any Open Window” which sounds like a classic track from some long lost Led Zeppelin album and features Warren playing the shit out of that sunburst guitar. It will make you stand up and cheer. In fact this entire album will make you rejoice that Gov’t Mule has finally produced the album that should solidify their reputation as one of the best bands out there today.
Paul Epstein

Richmond Fontaine-plays We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River-14 songs written around and about the Pacific Northwest

Aside from having the longest title in the history of popular music, the title also gives you some early warning about how poetic this group is. Each of their songs is like the great American novel in five minutes or less. Poignant, knowing details mix with an ineffable eye for the realities of the human heart-so hard to describe, but when done correctly, they stay with you forever. Musically they mix Wilco’s strong delivery and dead-on sense of melody and Calexico’s exotic take on modern rock through a prism of country tradition (thanks in large part to Paul Brainard’s evocative pedal steel and trumpet work.) The overall theme of the album is loss, lonliness and yearning for an unsure past-best expressed in the title track which describes beautifully how things that were once comforting can become emotionally empty with the events of one night. This is an album (and a band) that will stay with you long after you’ve counted the millionth sheep on some sleepless night.
Paul Epstein

Kris Kristofferson - Closer To The Bone

Kris Kristofferson occupies a completely unique place in popular music. He wrote classics (“Sunday Morning Comin’ Down” and Me and Bobby Mcgee” to name just two big examples), he has made several great albums (The Silver Tongued Devil and I is one fine example) and he has squandered the love of his fans by not making albums at all, or by making crappy movies. A couple of years ago, he seemed to wake up to this fact, and started to produce good music again. His new album is the most substantive release he has unleashed in years, playing on all his strengths as a poet, a cultural icon and a singer of rare emotion. Like Johnny Cash or Tom Waits, Kristofferson’s voice is an acquired taste; rough, shaky and just barely hanging on to the tune. That said, once you have made the leap and embraced that craggy piece of driftwood, it is a Mount Rushmore type of love - it becomes one of the most expressive and true compasses your emotional boat uses to navigate the byways of life. On this album he addresses the loss of dear friend singer/songwriter Stephen Bruton on several songs, the love of family (“From Here To Forever” and “Holy Woman”), the travails of fame (“Sister Sinead”) and offers up the kind of personal insight that so few writer’s can pull off convincingly. When he is doing it well, Kristofferson writes songs that go straight to the true heart of the human condition and make some sense of it with words and feelings we can all relate to.
Paul Epstein

Friday, October 2, 2009

Patty Loveless - Mountain Soul II

Rather than view modern Country music as a creepy commercialized excuse for bad videos and depersonalized stadium tours, Patty Loveless is one of those artists who recognizes the priceless legacy she has been entrusted with. Country music is truly an American commodity. It is uniquely of this country, but it’s rich roots are easily traced to Blues, Irish and many other musical traditions. On Mountain Soul II Loveless surrounds herself with the cream of Country, Folk and Bluegrass players (Vince Gill, Del McCoury Band, Mike Auldridge, Rob Ickes, etc) and takes on a program of well-known standards as well as a few more personal selections to stunning result. Loveless is possessed of one of the great voices in modern music. She is a master of all the twang and pathos traditional country demands, but like her peer Emmylou Harris she also has a gift that defies categorization. On ballads like “Prisoner’s Tears” or the chilling duet with Vince Gill and Rebecca Lynn Howard “Friends In Gloryland/ Children Of Abraham,” she sends chills, while on traditional uptempo numbers like Harlan Howards’ “Busted” or the McCoury family aided “Working On A Building,” she is back-porch relaxed and injects just the right notes of reverence and fun into her performances. Mountain Soul is exactly the right term for what Loveless accomplishes on the excellent album.

Paul Epstein

Frank Fairfield

Frank Fairfield is a man displaced in time. When one looks at his new CD (released on Tompkins Square Records) one sees a black and white photo of a guy in an old-fahioned suit with his banjo, guitar and fiddle at the ready. It could have been taken in the 20’s, or it could have been taken yesterday. This is appropriate, as he is a modern man playing music written and performed in the style of the 20’s and 30’s. It is without pretense or overt artifice that he renders this music, and it is in the craftsman-like seriousness of its original practitioners that he performs. His performances are so authentic that you will really find yourself staring at the picture of Fairfield over and over and saying, “This guy HAS to be old, he can’t be contemporary.” On a track like “The Blackberry Blossoms” he plays fiddle and sings while keeping the rhythm by stomping his foot. There is nothing else. How, in 2009, could a release like this come out? The answer is simple: as the world turns more rapidly toward instantaneous absorption and homogenization of all things artistic and regional, it is novel and comforting to hear something that sounds like it belongs someplace and sometime other than right now. This is deep-rooted music played with clarity and reverence not an over-produced product tie-in meant to last just today. If you like real songs about actual people played in the way they were first played with no modernization or concession to commercial demands, Frank Fairfield is your guy. I can’t get enough of it myself.

Paul Epstein

The Avett Brothers- I and Love and You

Breaking down one of the most over and mis-used phrases in the English language and turning it into a distillation of its parts and examining it from all angles is an appropriate exercise for this great American band. The Avett Brothers have, over the course of about a half-dozen albums, built a reputation for breaking down the basics of popular music-songwriting, performing and recording and making them all unpredictable and potentially explosive parts of their particular alchemy. As songwriters they have become more and more adept at writing sly, tender assessments of the modern condition that cause you to scratch your heads in acknowledgement and marvel at their poetic phrasing. Their recordings have been maddeningly inconsistent traditionally, but with I and Love and You they have found their production muse in the mysterious Rick Rubin, who, as he has done for many other artists, seems to have found the perfect formula for The Avett Brothers. It is obvious to outsiders, he keeps his eye on the songwriting and vocals and otherwise keeps it simple. He doesn’t let them get weird or too low-fi, but facilitates their best-produced group of songs presented in basic gem-like roots-rock settings. In many ways it hearkens back to what was great about The Band on their first couple of albums-Robbie Robertson wrote great songs that were presented in deceptively simple arrangements. It was the craft of songwriting, not the art of album making - a fine but important distinction. As producers and studio engineers become better and better at making anyone “sound” good, it is an increasing trick to allow great musicians to just sound as good as they are. Seeing the Avett’s live is very much like watching a kid play with matches near a gas pump - it is a giddy excitement as you wait for the explosion, and when it does come it is as thrilling to watch the orange ball of flame as it is disconcerting to feel the heat on your face. That is the way it is with most great live bands - you are as excited by their music as you are scared by their intensity. Finally, the Avetts have translated this phenomenon to album.

Paul Epstein

Friday, September 25, 2009

Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - Between My Head and the Sky

I think it is fair to say no person in the history of popular music has taken more shit than Yoko Ono. I am here to say it has been totally unfair in my view. And guess what? I don’t have to say it- her startling new album says it loud and clear. Artsy as fuck, noisy as hell, and full of brainy, modern music she kicks back against the pricks by not giving an inch (that’s four curse words in one paragraph). This album is not a huge departure from her other recent work; in other words it is informed by dance beats and incorporates lots of avant tape loop sound effects. It is thoroughly modern and utterly hypnotic. If you are among those who feel that "she broke up the Beatles, and all she does is moan anyway" then stay away- this tiger has not changed her stripes. Ono is totally uncompromising in her artistic vision. Just as she made recordings with John Cage and Ornette Coleman before the Beatles even existed, she surrounds herself with the cream of American and Japanese avant musicians and sounds completely relevant, and way ahead of the curve all at the same time. This is perfect music to listen to in an oxygen bar in Tokyo 50 years from now. It would fit in perfectly in Ridley Scott's chilling Blade Runner city-scape. Listen to it if you don't care what anyone else thinks about your taste.
Paul Epstein

Manassas - Pieces

When I saw this was coming out I was worried that it might be just a cash-in best-of masquerading as something special. Well, it is something special. Pieces is a collection of all the little bits of Manassas that somehow never made it onto the two records they did release in their short, legendary career. Riding high on Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's incredible success and the platinum sales of his first two solo albums, Stephen Stills was looking for a less pressurized outlet for his prodigious talent. He found it in former Byrd/Burrito Brother Chris Hillman who acted as a non-threatening yang to his fiery yin. Forging a sound that would be predictor of all country-rock to follow, they beautifully melded Country, Rock, Latin and Soul into great vehicles for Stills' vocals and songwriting. There are songs that were left off their groundbreaking first album, "Witching Hour" and "Like A Fox" (with a vocal by Bonnie Raitt), a bunch of songs left off their second album (which might have changed the way it was received), some loose studio jamming (the instrumental "Tan Sola Y Triste" or Stills' fun "Sugar Babe",) a few gorgeous Stills solo rarities ("My Love Is A Gentle Thing," "Word Game" and "I Am My Brother,") and most significantly a session from the birth of Manassas, when Burrito Brothers including fiddle master Byron Berline run through a series of classic bluegrass songs that totally shows off another side of Stills. To hear them barnstorming their way through tunes like "Uncle Pen" and "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and loud loud music)" is really an eye-opening joy. This is sort of the Holy Grail of great 70’s rock. It may not be as amazing as their debut, but there is lots of very substantive stuff to dig into here.
Paul Epstein

Monsters Of Folk

Oh the dreaded supergroup. How many of the sums did not live up to the promise of the parts? It is often the case that what seems like a good idea on paper, just doesn’t come together in practice. These Monsters Of Folk put the lie to that notion and dish up one of the tastiest albums of the year. Each of the principles: Jim James Of My Morning Jacket, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes and M.Ward brings what makes them unique as individual performers to the party but at the same time the songs all sound like collaborations. Opening with Jim James’ falsetto, the band doesn’t sound like a group of guys backing each other, they really sound like they all participated and gave it their all. The real sign of success to me is that after a song or two, I stopped trying to figure out who did what or wrote which, it was just a pleasure to listen to such a beautifully crafted album. And craft is exactly what it is. The sound of songs like "Whole Lot Of Losin'" (M.Ward vocal) or "The Right Place" (Jim with a country twang in his voice) "Losin' To Head" (Jim with a straight ahead vocal this time) or Conor Obersts' magnificent "Map Of The World" is most reminiscent of the more pastoral inclinations of the Beach Boys or The Beatles.
Stylistically, they live up to the billing and, for the most part keep things pretty acoustic. Of course with the sonic genius of Mike Mogis on board there are sweeps and swoops and squeals here and there. The album closer shows them all off perfectly. It is beautiful and melodic with Jim's voice in his perfect range, and everyone fully engaged in making it soar with musical invention. This really is an exhilarating record.
Paul Epstein

Pearl Jam- Backspacer

Making this available to independent stores was a really good first step in my loving this album, but ultimately it is strictly for artistic reasons that I recommend it. After a long period of casting about with a torrent of live releases and best of's, the band refocused a couple of years ago when Eddie Vedder seemed to have a songwriting epihany on the soundtrack to Into The Wild. This success was followed by their most overtly political and musically satisfying album in years, Pearl Jam and now the band drops what could be their best album ever, Backspacer. Brendan O’Brien again proves to be the perfect producer, showing all the band’s muscular strengths in full bloom - the guitarists have never sounded better or more in control of their sound - and rhythm section of Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron (talk about having some serious shoes to fill and exceeding everyone's expectations) sound world class. In fact the entire album reminds me of hearing a Who album from the 70's for the first time, you just want to soak it up over and over. Every song is strong, but I'll pick out a few highlights: "Johnny Guitar" has a great hook and it encompasses all of Eddie’s best vocal tricks. It is followed by one of his best and most tender ballads, "Just Breathe", which extols the virtue of holding those you love close by and recognizing what you have in them. It is in the category of the stuff he did for Into The Wild. "Unthought Known" is classic Pearl Jam, creating a slow boil that showcases the band's control and Eddie's rough-hewn vocals. Amazingly, he has developed an even more expressive and character-filled voice than he had in the early days. "Supersonic" sounds like an obvious single with a mid-song backward guitar breakdown and a propulsive groove that screams hit. There are two more great ballads on the album, "Speed of Sound" which has Vedder reflecting on his own career and success and takes the audience successfully into his mind to answer that burning question "what would it be like to be Eddie Vedder?" and the album closer “The End” again sees the singer in a reflective mood, exposing his insecurities. That, after all, has always been Pearl Jam’s greatest strength; like their heroes Neil Young or Pete Townshend they put up a good front as the heroic rock star, but we keep coming back to them because we can also see that they are flawed, needy humans just like us.
Paul Epstein

Friday, September 18, 2009


Even though it was a rainy and cold Saturday, I still had to see the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s headline at Monolith. I got there a little late in the day, hoping the sky would clear up, but it was such a great line-up I had to stick it out when the weather didn't cooperate. I caught M. Ward’s soulful singing, MF Doom’s amazing Hip-hop show, Girl Talk's fun mash-up of eighties tunes & dance music that had tons of people on stage dancing, and Of Montréal put on such a great visual display that we were dancing and grooving to the beat despite the fact it was getting cold. The Yeah Yeahs Yeah’s played to a thinning crowd, but those hearty enough to stay til the end had a blast!

Sunday the weather was so much better and the people watching was in full force, just as much fun as Saturday, but without the chilly breeze. It turned into a beautiful day filled with lots of familiar faces, and Monolith was a great place to not only connect with the people I knew but also a fun place to meet new people. I caught the Dandy Warhol’s spacey set, The Thermals rocked me, Glitch Mob put the beeps and clicks out there like none other, and Passion Pit was slammed with hipsters and put on a high-energy show. Method Man and Redman brought us back to old school hip-hop days with a reminiscent homage to the 80s and 90s. Phoenix was moved to the main stage which was much more appropriate seeing that they are the next big thing with their great fusion of pop and euro rock. Chromeo pumped the bass to a big crowd of dancing folks. Then the evening ended with another great headliner Mars Volta, who simply rocked the asses off the crowd. All in all I had a great time at this festival and look forward to seeing who the line up will be for 2010! - Natasha

Where’s The Heart?

Growing up, my understanding of “The Great Depression” was extremely diffuse. I heard my parents and grandparents tell me about proud men selling apples on street corners in a vain attempt to provide for their families. I heard vague tales of businessmen jumping off rooftops because they lost it all on Wall Street. I had images in my mind, largely created by Hollywood, of the common man (Henry Fonda) struggling through the dust to find dignity and work. But it remained abstract to me. The last year has brought the concept into focus. No longer a bunch of random images or movie-fueled feelings, I have seen a lot of people I personally know and care about lose jobs or lose all their money. It’s hard to get your arms around the enormity of it all. Car dealerships going out of business overnight, neighbor’s houses quietly going up for sale and, unfortunately not selling. The chain of consequences leaves the ether and starts to become very concrete. I talk to everyone, and it is the same in all businesses (liquor and guns might be the two exceptions). Everyone feels that the public is kind of hanging back, waiting either for a “happy days are here again” moment, or for the other shoe to drop. I think it won’t happen that way. Instead I believe it will slowly creep back to a new understanding of “normal” and that old cliché “no matter where you go, there you are” will work its magic. I feel it already. Our business has changed, but through the changes we have made, and because of the public’s enduring love of, and need for music, we will continue to do what we do.

So, what can we, as individuals, do to move the process along? I have found that one of the most meaningful things I can do as a business owner and a private citizen is to hone my understanding of place. Living in Colorado, we are always confronted with stunning natural beauty, ideal weather, and a cultural scene that is the envy of any other state. I try to never forget what a great place I call home. But I also try to make sure my dollars and efforts go to helping the state as well. It may be old news to some, but the forces of corporate greed do not have our best interests in mind. I just read in the The Denver Post that a new Wal-Mart is opening in the charming little town of Elizabeth. I love Elizabeth. I drive down there a couple of times a year to see my dentist. It’s worth it to me to drive an hour to get that little hit of small town charm. In the article it said many small businesspeople in the area were worried that this opening would affect their livelihoods. They are right to do so. It will. Not only will it take customers out of their stores, but more importantly it will take the money spent there out of the community as well.

With that in mind, I try to focus all my purchases locally. Some things are very hard to accomplish. Buying gas for your car or some grocery staples are almost impossible to do locally, yet the awareness is growing in me, and I think in others. The more I keep my money here, the more I feel like I might be helping out that neighbor who is losing their house, or encouraging another local business owner to rehire a few employees, so they can pay their rent, and their landlord can then go to a local restaurant and have a meal, and then they can buy some more locally grown peaches, and so it goes. These small acts add up to big changes. In answer to the question posed in the title: HOME, that’s where the heart is. – Paul Epstein (aka Sporkmeister)

**For more reasons to shop local, and to search a local business directory, go here

Friday, September 11, 2009

Living Artists, part deux

You know, this Michael Jackson thing got us to thinking. Why don’t we ever pay tribute to our heroes when they are alive? I mean, why do these great people have to die before we wax poetic about them? Well, here’s your chance. Pick an living artist that you love and answer the following questions about them.

Joel Boyles – T&S staff
Artist: Beck Hansen

1) How did you get turned on to this artist?
MTV aired the "Loser" video.

2) What was the first record you got by this artist?
CD? The "Loser" CD single. LP? "It's All In Your Mind" 7" (rare transparent brown vinyl!)

3) Have you seen the artist live? What was the best show?
Yes- 3 or 4 times. Favorite was when The Flaming Lips opened for Beck, then were his touring band! I love the Lips too so it was a wonderful concept and performance! I believe Beck covered "Do You Realize?" and the Lips did "Cold Brains"! Magical.

5) Have you ever met this artist?  What would you tell them if you were to have dinner with them?
Never have. Beck became popular quickly and thus the security was always a problem. I would tell him how tingly his voice makes me, whilst gazing into his eyes... no I would ask him to make me a one of a kind fingerpainting to go with my A Western Harvest Field by Moonlight 10" that should have come with the fingerpainting but did not! I didn't return it since the place didn't have another one. It has bothered me ever since. Also I would suggest another slow and low album.

6) What makes this artist different than others?
Originality! Beck always took a different approach to lyrics and song writing. He also did things his own way professionally: When he signed to Geffen, he made sure his contract let him release albums through different labels as well (One Foot in the Grave & Stereopathetic Soulmanure released in 1994 with Mellow Gold) a real 1st in the music industry.

5) Why do you think this artist strikes a chord with you? This is a question about you, not the artist.
I like originality and seek it out in music. Loser was like nothing else out there and I strive to be the same (by not being 'the same').

Alan Hague - guitar, vocals for Prayers For Atheists
Artist: Operation Ivy

1) How did you get turned on to this artist?
When my friends and I were first getting into punk rock and obsessively looking into as many punk bands as we possibly could, Operation Ivy was one of the first names we discovered.

2) What was the first record you got by this artist?
The Energy album on cassette, which also had the Hectic EP and a couple compilation tracks on it.  Cost me $3!

3) Have you seen the artist live? What was the best show?
Never.  : (

5) Have you ever met this artist?  What would you tell them if you
were to have dinner with them?
In my nerdiest punk rock dreams.  If I could have dinner with them, I would tell them how much I respect that they broke up at the height of their popularity, due to worries of being commodified by the music industry.  I'd also ask Matt Freeman if he's actually a wizard or a demi-god, because he can play so fast!

6) What makes this artist different than others?
That I drastically improved my vocabulary by paying attention to the lyrics; that they combined punk and ska in a way that wasn't forced or goofy; and that their songs are all effortlessly anthemic.

5) Why do you think this artist strikes a chord with you? This is a question about you, not the artist.
They were openly intelligent and compassionate.  They made apathy and stupidity sound not only uncool, but also dangerous.  They cast a critical eye to the world and suggested that we can all make a positive change, if we so desire.  Hearing that message, as a young and impressionable 12 year-old, was definitely a formative experience for me and has shaped my outlook ever since.

B. Dolan – Recording Artist, Strange Famous Records
Bruce Springsteen.  Say word.  I'm takin it there.

1) How did you get turned on to this artist?
I was turned on to Bruce Springsteen twice in life.  First when I was about 10, by my Uncle Jack.  That's not a metaphor for Jack Daniels.  I really have an uncle named Jack.  And anyhow I didn't meet Jack Daniels til I was 12.

The second time I found the Boss was almost 20 years later, on tour with Buck 65.  He hipped me to the Nebraska album, which I'd never really heard, and I fell instantly in love with it.   These days it's never far from my side, and I might even rank it among the greatest albums ever made.

2) What was the first record you got by this artist?
Uncle Jack gave me a dubbed copy of a concert recording that I've never been able to track down since.  I used to fast forward through almost all of it, occasionally stopping to listen to the audience lose their minds when "Born in the U.S.A." happened.  Come to think of it this may have been the first real recording of a concert I ever had.  I used to lay in bed with headphones and imagine being onstage.  All the girls I had crushes on from school were in the crowd.  Aye.
Anyhow, I would fast forward through almost all of this tape except for "Born in the U.S.A." and "The River," and the latter was the song I really wanted to hear.  I used to just rewind that song and play it over and over until I fell asleep.  Even at 10 it crushed me.  Without having any real adult experiences, I understood what that song was about on some level.

3) Have you seen the artist live? What was the best show?
I've never seen Springsteen live, but I do highly recommend the DVD of his VH1 Storytellers performance.  My favorite Springsteen is acoustic, and the Storytellers performance offers some really great insight into Springsteen's songwriting process.  I can say that I've learned things from that DVD that I've applied directly to the music I'm making now, and that it's made me a better songwriter for sure.  

For real. Check this DVD out.  

5) Have you ever met this artist?  What would you tell them if you
were to have dinner with them?
Nah.  I met Huey Lewis recently though.  Unrelated.

I dunno man.  I feel like me and Bruce wouldn't need to say anything.  We'd just sit at the end of the bar and watch the 40 year old woman sway to the jukebox.  Every once in awhile we'd look up from our beers at each other and go "Yep."

6) What makes this artist different than others?
For me, Springsteen epitomizes a certain kind of American experience better than anyone else.  If you're interested in music about white blue collar life then I don't think anyone is fucking with him.  At best, he understands and communicates the poetry of that world without ever mucking it up or making it overwrought.  

There's obvious overlap with people like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, but I feel like those two are taking the mundane to somewhere else a lot of the time.  Many of the go-to Johnny Cash songs are taking that same experience and turning it into something mythic or archetypal, and a lot of the go-to Dylan songs are dazzling me with language and living very much in the mind, if that makes sense.

Not to take anything away from Cash and Dylan, but  I think Springsteen has this very zen way of just leaving it all be, by comparison.  I'm generalizing a lot here, but I think that's the distinction, for me.

"Seen a man standin' over a dead dog
lyin' by the highway in a ditch
He's lookin' down kinda puzzled
pokin' that dog with a stick
Got his car door flung open
he's standin' out on highway 31
Like if he stood there long enough
that dog'd get up and run"

-Bruce Springsteen, "Reason to Believe"

5) Why do you think this artist strikes a chord with you? This is a
question about you, not the artist.
Well, as I've said, I think Springsteen is the poet of a certain  blue collar generation, and my parents and their friends fit squarely into that.  Uncle Jack still swears by The Boss and The Stones, and still works in the same warehouse he's been working in for 20 years with my father.  

So, Springsteen is forever tied to nostalgia and sentimental feelings about the place I come from, in that way.  It's music that reminds me of the adults I grew up around, that coincidentally might as well be about the adults I grew up around.  

Also, what makes the songs last for me is the lack of romance or re-imagining.  Nothing is being smoothed over in these songs.  Springsteen gets the simple beauty of that life but he also gets the brutal, soul-emptying sadness. That sadness is something so fundamental I understood it when I was 10 years old, and it's truer now than it ever was.

"Those memories come back to haunt me 

They haunt me like a curse

Is a dream a lie if it don't come true

Or is it something worse?"

-Bruce Springsteen, "The River"

Tell em Boss.