Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chunga's Revenge (1970)

If not a hurry-up job to get something on the market, for whatever reason, this at least is some kind of transitional job. Resembling its predecessor Weasels Ripped My Flesh more than Frank Zappa's first official solo, Hot Rats, but neither so much like any of the Mothers albums from the '60s. Which is to say it's something of a pastiche but without much effort to tie the pieces together. So take it in the pieces offered: Zappa's fine guitar showcase on "Transylvania Boogie," the introduction of Flo & Eddie to the Mothers family, a brief nod to Zappa the nuanced composer on the brief "Twenty Small Cigars," the usual lame jokes about groupies and the rock 'n' roll life, snorts, belches, and hey, that's my old friend Peter getting one in off rhythm on the live section of "The Nancy and Mary Music," recorded at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with audience participation. Good going, Peter!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Going Native (1994)

This very strange novel by Stephen Wright—hollow at its core, infinitely detailed at its edges—attacks with a strategy as baffling as it is compulsively readable. The main character stalks the action in a series of perfunctory cameos, flickeringly, almost not there at all, his name, even his appearance, constantly changing. He is on his way out of each scene even at it opens, yet each section is developed with the studious attention of observing the petals of a flower open in the summer sunshine of a brilliant day in July: the usual suburban America, vicious annals of true crime, tawdry sex of a certain stink, street drugs, dark rooms, sensational movie rentals, lonely truck drivers, sleeping under bridges, hitchhiking at the crack of dawn, rundown motels of course (you could have predicted that), mixed-up kids, grungy cops and doughnut jokes, screenplays in progress, depressed women, always the TV on, shades of gray and streaks of yellow. Don't pay any attention to the comparisons with On the Road. This is way beyond Jack Kerouac.

In case it's not at the library.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

TV Eye Live 1977 (1978)

The story on this is that Iggy the Pop, at or nearing the peak of his post-LA/heroin comeback, released this as a throwaway to get out of a contract with RCA. With eight tracks from three midwestern venues on his 1977 travels, the whole thing clocking in at less than 40 minutes, it's routinely derided as possessed of less than bootleg quality. So caveat emptor and all that. Me, I think it's a bracing tonic and welcome sidebar to the Bowie-ized songsmithery of the first two RCA albums, also from 1977, The Idiot and Lust for Life. Heaven knows, I think they are both very fine albums, certainly among his best; unlike Raw Power, Bowie's input is purely beneficial. But they are missing the crucial elements of Iggy the Stooge, sludge driven slayer of planets, whose rhythm sections and guitars bludgeon all in their path. That's what you find here. Play very loud. (Or find actual bootlegs from his travels that year and do exactly the same. Word is that some have "better sound.")

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Them (1965)

Anyone who might think that Van Morrison is more an artifact and purveyor of '70s post-folk singer/songwriter gentle on my mind fare (not that there's anything wrong with that) is referred directly to this mid-'60s debut of his Belfast band. "Gloria" alone, an instant standard for garage bands worldwide, should answer any further questions, but the yowling kick of the rest is all the way up to that classic and not to be missed. Comparable to early Bruce Springsteen and much of Patti Smith (both clearly influenced by Morrison and Them) in its full-on, breathtaking immersion in tumbling blasts of language—Bob Dylan is somewhat restrained by comparison—the poetry is accompanied by a bluesy band as raw as the scrapes on knees and elbows after a spill from a bicycle. They rock very hard and so does Van Morrison.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sandinista! (1980)

Well, the Clash. For five years, from 1977 to 1982, they arguably had all of rock culture by the throat. They blew up and they were huge—then, more or less, they just blew away. With Joe Strummer dead now nearly five years I miss them and all they represented even more than I did 20 years ago. Sometimes it seems all we're left with is a lot of arguments about the relative merits of priceless treasure. That can be seen, for example, in the range of opinion about which of their albums is best. Most people probably say London Calling. A significant portion of fans claim the original, 1977 U.K. self-titled release as the landmark. I have even seen people stump for Give 'em Enough Rope and Combat Rock (and don't forget Black Market Clash). I am here to tell you that this is the one, understanding I'm in the minority, where conventional wisdom tends to deem it little more than an interesting failure. But this is only a failure when you consider the handful or so of weak songs, most of them found on the third vinyl LP of the original release, and forget about the best. The epic riches found here and only here are not matched anywhere else in all of their catalog: "The Magnificent Seven," "Hitsville UK," "Rebel Waltz," "Somebody Got Murdered," "Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)," "Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)," "Police On My Back," "Washington Bullets," "Charlie Don't Surf." This is amazing stuff. But, to be fair, I'm going to call for an end to these kinds of lists and judgments. When it comes to the Clash, the best idea is to collect them all. (P.S. Lists and judgments to continue immediately following this post.)

Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story (1982)

The basic word on this—as a perusal of practically any edition's blurbs will attest—is "Best Rock Bio Evah." I think the Boston Phoenix may have actually got closer to the heart of the matter: "To call Hellfire the best book written about a rock 'n' roller is to miss the point.... Hellfire is a rock 'n' roll event." I'm not here to argue with anyone about this—no one can deny that this is a remarkable book, a marriage made in ... some place fantastic ... between its subject Jerry Lee Lewis and biographer Nick Tosches. In general, not enough is understood about the religious convictions of some of the key figures in that first wave of rock 'n' roll and their beliefs in the basics of sin and redemption: thinking here specifically of Elvis, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis, the subject at hand, who once famously (or maybe not so famously) shut down a recording of "Great Balls of Fire" to argue the metaphysics, epistemology, and orthodoxy of the song with producer Sam Phillips. "How can the Devil save souls?" Lewis cried at one point. Tosches, a painstaking fact chaser, probably doesn't have the problems associated with this conflict, but he understands it. He understands the sources of those beliefs, and most importantly, he understands the language in which they are expressed. His book will make you laugh out loud at them. It will also chill you to your core.

In case it's not at the library.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Blank Generation (1977)

"Love Comes in Spurts" Welcome to 1977. While most partisans may claim Never Mind the Bollocks as the year's signature album (or, another crowd, The Clash), for me this is it and nothing else comes close. Containing just about the totality of Richard Hell (nee Meyers) songs—certainly the majority of what mattered, shortly before he teetered off into heroin-induced irrelevance—this thing explodes with energy and the kind of shrapnel that stays in your head for good, marking the ground zero of punk-rock. It hardly matters that such unpunk exercises as a bizarre, sludgy eight-minute workout ("Another World") and none other than a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover ("Walking on the Water") occur here. What does matter is Richard Hell's words and his sensibility and, even more and too often overlooked, the amazing guitar playing of Robert Quine, a lawyer who went on to become a New York City session man nonpareil, chipping in brilliant work with Lydia Lunch, Material, Lou Reed, Marianne Faithfull, on and on. Everything you need to know about this album and its moment is scrawled across Hell's chest on the original vinyl LP cover: "You make me _______."


Visit ..::THE-ROADHOUSE®::..
Another hard disk adequacy warning and this time I really, really mean it. This blog aggregates postings found via search of mostly classic rock, including generous portions of bootlegs and boxes. One of the specialties is discographies (or big sections of one) in a single download, and/or giant lists of links devoted to a single artist (sometimes a single artist) in one post—currently on the front page are Tom Petty, UFO, the Allman Brothers, and Yes. That front page is huge and deep too—and dates back only two days. Really, it's almost too much, not the least bit organized, and often overwhelming. But if you have the stamina, you can wander for hours and days here.

See more great music blogs.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Rumours (1977)

It's 30 years later and this album still resides comfortably in the top 20 list of all-time album sellers, reason enough for many (in fairness, myself included with some cases, e.g., Celine Dion, Dirty Dancing, Alanis Morissette, Boston, Garth Brooks, Boyz II Men, etc., etc.) to dismiss it. But this is the primary vault of Fleetwood Mac hits—"Go Your Own Way," "Dreams," "Don't Stop," "You Make Loving Fun"—and if you don't like at least one of them, well, all right. This is also where Lindsey Buckingham's pop production smarts/sensibility, not to mention an impressively squealing guitar in the sundry breaks, really start to step out. Stevie Nicks contributes another knockout punch in "Dreams." And that rhythm section is still kicking ass all over London and southern California. All respect to lovers of Brit blues, but comparing this to Peter Green's projects is like comparing Saturday Night Fever to Odessa, or Nevermind to Bleach. Things change; sales happen. It doesn't necessarily mean it's for the worse. I know what you say.

More information in comments.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782)

My introduction to this came via the Glenn Close/John Malkovich Hollywood vehicle of 1988, which I enjoyed. (I understand the Milos Forman-directed version that came out a year later, Valmont, is even better, but I haven't seen it.) But only recently did I read the novel they were based on, by 18th-century France one hit wonder Choderlos de Laclos, having turned it up at a garage sale. I'm never too excited by 18th-century European novels, even less so when I discovered the epistolary nature of this one—a bunch of letters written to one another by (in my expectation) a cast of overdressed, funny talking, wooden figure characters. Once into it, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the brisk and canny plotting and by the pithy, elegant language (1961 translation by P.W.K. Stone). By the time I was halfway in I was convinced it had to be an elaborate hoax published closer to 1982 than 1782. It is heartless, sexy, unpleasant, sweeping, gorgeous, and as believable as it is deeply cynical about human nature. The Publisher's Note, Editor's Preface, and scattered footnotes throughout provide meta-meditations on the "veracity" of the unfolding events and are probably what made me think it belongs more properly to postmodern Western civ than pre-Revolutionary France. More fool me. This is a good one.

In case it's not at the library.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fleetwood Mac (1975)

Peter Gabriel named his first four solo albums Peter Gabriel. Royal Trux named their first and third albums Royal Trux. So if this is the second Fleetwood Mac album named Fleetwood Mac (the first, in the era of Peter Green, was their first; this one is their 10th or so) it's not as if that isn't without precedent. Self-title also turned out to be perhaps more appropriate than anyone would have guessed, as it ushered in the era of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who arguably overhauled the band more than any other pair of players passing through, and brought the world more or less a whole new Fleetwood Mac. This is a stone goodie, bearing some of their best-known, and best, hits: "Over My Head," "Say You Love Me," and the redoubtable "Rhiannon," one of the greatest of all '70s pop songs and which heralded the unmistakable sound—often repeated, rarely matched—of the gauzy Stevie Nicks. Not to mention "Warm Ways," a Bob Welchesque throwback by Christine McVie (my favorite Fleetwood Mac—who is yours?). Oh, and the rhythm section is solid too.

(Special thanks to RE-UPPED!)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Back at the Chicken Shack (1960)

Admittedly, most of the stuff I post here I am long familiar with, and it is old. This is a slightly different case—old, but relatively new to me. In fact, there are large swaths of jazz unknown to me. This, from Blue Note, with Smith playing Hammond B-3 organ, Kenny Burrell guitar, and Stanley Turrentine tenor sax, is a whole new kind of all-day jazz to me—the kind that doesn't focus practically exclusively on saxophone and/or Miles Davis. It's a pure delight, warm and deceptively laidback and full of nice moments and little surprises. As for once again offering old music, I can only repeat a version of what Bob Dylan said once on his radio show. I don't have anything against new music, but there's a lot more old music than new. P.S. I want that dog on the cover.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Imperial Bedroom (1982)

At which point all agreement about Elvis Costello came to an end. Those inclined to label him with figures they perceived that he intended to ape (Buddy Holly for My Aim Is True, Bob Dylan for This Year's Model, so on and so forth) claimed Cole Porter, George Gershwin, even no less than all of Tin Pin Alley for this. Dean Robert Christgau flew in the face of the consensus of the time that this was not only good, but great, pooh-poohing that it "shores up my impression that he can be precious lyrically, vocally, and musically, and gnomic for no reason at all--in short, pretentious." Well, the rest of us liked it pretty well, although I admit this was the beginning of Elvis Costello albums that required, at least for me, a certain attitude and approach of practically reverent study. Typically, little makes sense for the first several listens, then various melodies, lyrical phrases, breaks and other kicks begin to emerge and cohere, until finally, 15 or so listens in, the gorgeous wide-screen tapestry is evident in all its splendor. For me, this experience has been fairly consistent across most of the body of his work that followed, which puts even the work I most enthusiastically endorse squarely in the camp of music I am most suspicious of – the kind you "have to listen to a few times" before their genius discloses. In other words, self-fulfilling prophecy. Even so, that's my thumb pointing straight to heaven on this one.

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

Perhaps one of the more interesting and telling points about the critical reception of William Faulkner is the wide variation and lack of consensus found in assessing any single "masterpiece"—this one gets the nod frequently, perhaps even most, but close behind it are Absalom, Absalom!; As I Lay Dying; and Light in August, not to mention the rest of the oeuvre, including a fat tome of stories, all well worth looking into. But this remains my favorite, in spite of all the effort and patience required to make it through the first of the four sections, the one that develops the "tale told by an idiot" part of the Shakespeare quote that engendered the title. As opaque as it generally is, it contains information essential to what follows, as the inevitable second reading of the whole really proves. In the sections that follow I find inspired sources and foreshadowings of J.D. Salinger, Jim Thompson, and Cormac McCarthy, respectively. Sure, it's all a bit melodramatic (strike that "bit"), but Faulkner plunges joyfully in language, meaning, and mood like a dog in a lake on a hot summer day; the pleasures and associations unfold and unfold and unfold.

In case it's not at the library.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Get Happy!! (1980)

"Love for Tender" With this semi-alleged (and semi-denied) gesture of quasi-apology, exhaustion in Elvis Costello from the furious pace of the previous two or three years was arguably beginning to show. That was evidenced most painfully by the unduly famous 1979 encounter in a Columbus, Ohio, bar between Costello, on the one hand, and Bonnie Bramlett and Stephen Stills on the other. In the conversation, Costello reportedly referred to James Brown and Ray Charles with a nasty name that starts with "N." Bramlett and Stills ran to the press with it. Me, I never doubted that Elvis meant it only as a blow-off gesture to two sorry figures of the '60s on the downslope of their careers incapable of understanding punk-rock and all that it engendered. He was probably tired and didn't feel like talking to them. They probably didn't get the hint. So goes my take. Unfortunately the rock establishment of the time—who held Bramlett and Stills in higher esteem than Costello (looking at you, Rolling Stone)—went ahead and set the whole thing up as a public cage match between hippies and punks, too busy expressing their disdain for one another to see how much they have in common. They should have brought in Allen Ginsberg to fight for the beats and been done with it. The damage was severe. Three years later and beyond Costello, no racist, was still apologizing for it. He's probably still apologizing for it even today. This album was part and parcel of all that, intentionally or otherwise, with its many paeans to Motown, Stax, and all points soul. It's also one of his best albums, as rich and generous as anything he had released yet. Go ahead and live with it for a month or two. You won't regret.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

motel de moka

Visit motel de moka
As Herr K. of Totally Fuzzy once expressed it, sometimes nothing but the hand-picked, well-chosen single mp3 audio track will do. When that is the case, this site is worth making your first stop. Contributors, from a staff of a dozen or so, offer (as the spirit moves) a mix of a dozen or so tracks, each of which may be downloaded individually. Selections typically run toward the ambient, lengthy, and/or dance-inflected, but very nice pop and even oldies offerings show up as well. Tracks available for a limited time.

See more great music blogs.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Armed Forces (1979)

Oh, I just don't know where to begin. With this, Elvis Costello's third release in less than a year and a half, each one equally fully packed and with barely a shred of filler, the dimensions of his talent were starting to come clear. On vinyl, either side constituted a complete experience, and—not to go all cliché on you—it was like taking a roller coaster ride that followed each set of sudden dips, turns, and shrieks with, not a braking cruise back to the starting point, but another climb to greater heights. He pulled rabbits out of hats and then he pulled hats out of rabbits. Depths of reference peeled back to reveal more depths of reference, and repeated listening was rewarded with sustained and increasing pleasure. This could get to be a daily habit that lasted weeks, even months. He wasn't Buddy Holly. He wasn't Bob Dylan. Lord knows he wasn't ABBA. But he could have been all of them, parading around inside the skin of a wonky nebbish. It was impossible to guess how he was doing it. Best just to shut up and listen.

Monday, October 01, 2007

This Year's Model (1978)

You hear a lot of talk about sophomore curses, but Elvis Costello (& the Attractions) blew that to smithereens with this stunning follow-up to his promising debut, My Aim Is True. Every move of brash confidence is made good (for example, the titles; it was, and this is). It's tempting to make the comparison with Neil Young re: Crazy Horse and the Attractions. Herr Costello is simply better with his house band as the ferocious attack here first amply demonstrated. But this also exhibited songwriting chops on the first step of a stairway to heaven that would last at least another four years—and, arguably, more than ten. He lived and breathed rock 'n' roll history (the musical references to the Stones, Bob Dylan, and many more come fast and furious here), he was genuinely pissed off (about everything), and by all evidence he never slept. Just cranked out one knotty, brilliant number after the next. Get on board. This is where the fun starts.