Jul 092012

The first new album by the classic dB’s lineup, Fall Off the Sky, has been available for the last few week for streaming audio at Rolling Stone among other outlets. I keep putting off listening to it, even though I have a deep love for the band’s first 2 albums and everything they seemed to stand for, even though I always hope that they will miraculously recapture what they—and I—once had. Care to listen along with me? I will listen, and I will report my initial impressions. Feel free to do likewise, or if you’re like Townsman Oats and have somehow possessed a copy months before Chris Stamey completed his file naming and filing of mix stems, add your comments as you feel fit.

Since Stamey first left the band, Gene Holder shifted from bass to guitar, and all the wrong people started getting into the band just as their albums were going downhill, I’ve been nothing but disappointed with most releases I’ve heard by anything approaching The dB’s (ie, anything going by that name or anything involving both Stamey and Peter Holsapple). I like some of Stamey’s early solo albums and the one Holsapple solo album I’m aware of, but I share Mr. Moderator‘s dread of the Stamey-Holsapple duo album Mavericks and its use of the 128-string guitar. Will a newly reconstituted dB’s, with all its pieces in their rightful place, allow these guys to pick up even remotely where they left off after Repercussions? We shall see…or hear, in this case. My thoughts follow.

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Mar 072012

The opening synth squeaks and electronic handclaps of “We Take Care of Our Own,” the kick-off single from Bruce Springsteen‘s Wrecking Ball album, makes me wonder if Bruce and His E Street Band have been hi-jacked by Modern English. The mix further ups the play for a “contemporary” sound with tepid use of early ’90s-style vocal echo gently nudging along The Boss’ opening lines. Springsteen and His occasional repetitive synth riff songs (eg, “Born in the USA”) are strange birds in the catalog, but the repetition allows the “visionary” furor of His lyrics a chance to develop into something admirable—if you can get through the bombast of the songs’ opening minutes. I feel that’s the case with the new single.

So much about the song’s arrangement screams OUT OF TOUCH, but you know what? Ever since I saw the song performed at the start of the GRAMMYS, minus some of the cheesy studio trimmings and plus all the spirit provided by a brigade of trim, exuberant, middle-aged musicians I forgave the song’s sins; I forgave Springsteen’s never-ending efforts at encompassing humanity’s slim, profound hope in the face of epic struggle. In fact, as I find myself doing once a decade or so with Springsteen and as I did that night watching the opening of the GRAMMYS, I embraced his never-ending quest of painting humanity in an admirable light. Someone’s gotta do the job he does. It’s worthy work in a world full of shallow, hateful ploys for notoriety—and you can tap your foot to it.

Modern-day Springsteen records and TV appearances make me want to get in shape: exercise, eat healthy, buy some new jeans. They make me feel like sending the kids off to my parents’ house so I can get in some quality time with the wife. They make me want to do something useful for society, like hammer some nails into studs or whatever at a Habitat for Humanity site. When the E Street Band backs up Bruce’s “whoas” on “Wrecking Ball” with their own exhortations I want to go on Facebook and look up that girl from North Jersey I had a crush on freshman year. But what are the odds I’d find her? She had a common Anglo name, and beside, she’s probably married now.

After a run of disposable John Mellencamp hoedown-style songs involving, I believe, musicians from The Seger Sessions and more recently outdated ’90s touches like samples of “authentic” African American field hollers and whatnot, a song called “Land of Hope and Dreams” caught my ear. It features, I presume, one of Clarence Clemons‘ last recorded sax solos, which I found surprisingly moving. The album’s Rock ‘n Roll Iwo Jima moment coalesces on this song, with the band’s stately, manly majesty; the folksy stringed instruments of add-on E Streeters; and an implied robed choir leaning in toward their gritty leader. At times like this Bruce should run for President.

Then, just as I’m ready to pull the lever and vote Boss the album closes with “We Are Alive.” The cornball optimism, unanimity, and sense of purpose go overboard as a twangy Hollywood Western movie  guitar-and-whistling intro kicks in. Springsteen’s sense of “we” has expanded well beyond the romantic, personal or tribal notion of the word in his earlier works. I rarely felt part of his original “we,” but I knew who they were. When he sang in the first person plural—”baby we were born to run”—”we” referred to the song’s narrator and his girl, or the narrator and his social scene or community, any extension of his hometown. Over the years Springsteen’s community, or perhaps perceived constituency, has grown to encompass the entire United States. The fact that Bruce tries to bring all of us, all of our concerns and hopes and dreams under one big tent is often admirable, sometimes inspiring, but ultimately suffocating. It’s one thing to find myself standing next to a Candy or a Spanish Johnny now and then, but quite another to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the hard-bitten, anonymous masses waiting for deliverance from the Ballad of Tom Joad set with an encore of “Rosalita.”

Feb 092012

Has anyone caught the Cameron Crowe-directed documentary on the Elton John–Leon Russell collaboration that premiered on HBO last week?

I am an unabashed big fan of Leon Russell. I think his early ‘70s albums were as good as it gets. (An early RTH thread on best string of albums probably didn’t mention Leon Russell, Shelter People, Asylum Choir II, and Carney but should have.)

I always liked Elton John’s early hits and had his first two albums. He’s also an artist that I have grown to like more and more as time passes. Back about a half-dozen years ago I bought all the early albums when they had the reissues cheap at the BMG club and was pleasantly surprised by just how much I liked them.

So, not unsurprisingly, I greatly looked forward to The Union, the Elton-Leon collaboration that came out in late 2010. And if it wasn’t as great as I wished it might have been, it was a lot better than I feared it might be – and that’s not as much damning with faint praise as it sounds.

I greatly enjoyed this documentary. It’s really Elton’s show but then so was the collaboration. The backstory, for those who need it, is that Russell was a great inspiration and hero for Elton way back when. They hadn’t been in contact for decades and somewhere along the way Elton became aware of Russell’s circumstances—Russell’s apparently pretty much broke, playing small clubs, health issues—and Elton wanted to get him the recognition he (John) feels he (Russell) deserves.

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Dec 152011

In revisiting past record reviews I’ve had published on Wilco albums through the years only one failed to capture my attention for more than a few minutes, my least favorite Wilco album, Sky Blue Sky. I’ve got to give it to the band for their consistency. I’ll leave it to you to give it to me for my own. Following is a review of Yankee Foxtrot Hotel that appeared on a now long-defunct music blog that’s better left forgotten.

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Dec 082011

Although I’ve never been a full-blown fan of the band, I’ve made a habit of keeping up with each new Wilco release, buying about two thirds of their albums over the years. The band’s latest album, The Whole Love, has been in my rotation the last month.  It’s my favorite album by them since Summerteeth. That doesn’t mean I like it without reservations and anxieties that a man my age should not experience over a rock ‘n roll album. But I do, and you know I will share.

In the coming days I will revisit some of the band’s earlier releases, pulling out my original reviews at the time of their release. I hope you find the development in my views on the band enlightening, but let’s start in the present tense…after the jump

Nov 032011

From the Sky Down, the new U2 documentary, covers the band’s early ’90s rebirth from massively popular, if slightly derided, Irish cowboy-mystics to massively popular, if slightly begrudgingly respected (by those few, like yours truly, who’d spent the latter half of the ’80s deriding them), international multimedia mavens. Although short on details for the non-fanboy (eg, band members often talk off-camera with no identifying text or image, leaving someone like myself to try to put a face to similar-sounding voices), the film is a heartwarming celebration of rock ‘n roll band brotherhood and the creative process.

In the first 40 minutes of From the Sky Down the band members take themselves to task for pretty much everything my band of rock ‘n roll brothers and I took them down for during the height of The Joshua Tree through Rattle and Hum era: the overly serious, sepia-toned band photos and the perception of rock imperialism and latent expertise concerning American roots music. About the only things they don’t excoriate themselves for during the late-’80s are the loosely tied ponytails and sleeveless shirts with vests. If you’re into that sort of thing, DVR this bad boy and wait until the family’s in bed!

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Oct 132011

Rough draft?

One of the hazards with any of KingEd‘s Insta-Reviews is the chance that his gut feelings on a new release will not hold over time. Although Rock Town Hall stands behind even the most bile-filled reviews of our self-appointed King of New Music Reviews, we reserve the right—and believe we owe it to our readers—to occaisionally revisit one of his pieces, such as his recent review of Nick Lowe‘s latest album, and offer consumers a more balanced, clear-headed review that will better reflect the refined tastes of our readers and advertisers. In that spirit, I have taken the past week to let Nick Lowe’s The Old Magic sink in over repeated listens.  I hope my review will stand as an alternate point of view for consumers’ consideration.

Nick Lowe, The Old Magic

Rock Town Hall: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Up to this point, Nick Lowe’s “mature” solo career has been an incidental affair, something that has surfaced in the interludes between public radio interviews and photo shoots. His previous releases — 1998’s Dig My Mood, 2001’s The Convincer, and 2007’s At My Age — were earnest, respectable efforts that offered their fair share of pleasures but did not establish a distinct or significant new musical identity for Lowe apart from his Jesus of Cool persona. The Old Magic finds Lowe taking a giant step — not away from the shadow of his Rockpile-era works but beyond what that understandably history-bound artist has been able to achieve on record in recent times.

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