Apr 062016
As good as it gets?

As good as it gets?

My 18-year-old son was telling me last week about his recent mission to spend entire days listening to the complete catalogs of artists who have interested him. One day, through Spotify, he listened to every Creedence Clearwater Revival album in order. He dedicated another day to Lynyrd Skynyrd. His growing interest in rootsy music has led him to investigate a genre I’ve never come to terms with: Country music.

“You know what’s the best driving station on the radio?” he asked me, to kick off this conversation.


“92.5, the Country station.”

“Really?” I tried to hide my concern over imagining my usually hip, somewhat snobbish son as a budding Bro-Country guy, clutching a Solo cup in the parking lot.

“Yeah,” he said, “the thing I’m realizing about Country music is that although not much of it is great, not much of it sucks.”

This is the kind of insight that has led me to lay the plans for one day turning over the “family business” of rock snobbery to my boys!

What musical wisdom has come from the mouths of your babes in recent months?

Dec 212008

In the tiny high school that Andyr and I attended, there was a guy name Chris who was 1 year ahead of us. Chris emerged, around 1979, as our high school’s primo rock hero. Word had been getting around that the loner with the long, stringy blond hair and army jacket was an amazing guitarist. A handful of those much cooler than Andyr and I had already seen his Southern Rock-style band play a party. As his band’s upcoming school assembly concert approached, the word on the street was universal.

“Amazing!” said the guy in our school who could play the unaccompanied guitar solo in Led Zeppelin‘s “Heartbreaker.”

“Amazing!” said the other guy in our school who could play the unaccompanied guitar solo in Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker.”

“Amazing!” said the guy who played flute and styled his Look after that of Ian Anderson.

“Amazing!” said the big asshole in Chris’ grade who could drum a little and who was beloved by the cool kids for god knows what reason.

“Amazing!” said the hippie girl I’d occasionally realize I had a little crush on.
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Jun 082008

The new Mudcrutch album is not the album they would have made in the early ’70s if they had not broken up, but it’s fun to think about it as if it were. Despite its appearance in the celebration of California Day, I’d like to think of it more as a Florida Day kind of album, with a distinct period vibe.

All that makes this album unique is disguised by the choice of the first single off the album, “Scare Easy”. Probably chosen so as not to scare off any of Tom Petty’s fans, this track sounds like it could have been on any of his albums from the last 30 years. As Ed mentioned, it has the “won’t back down” stance, and a very familiar chugging rhythm. It’s not a bad track at all. Au contraire, as they say in Florida. It’s just that it’s not representative of the album as a whole.

Petty’s Byrds influence was apparent from the very first, and it’s there on this album as well. But here we have the Gram Parsons and Clarence White versions of the band to thank, rather than the Feel a Whole Lot Better Byrds. Mudcrutch even covers “Lover of the Bayou” here, a McGuinn/Jacques Levy song from the Byrds’ Untitled album. And with Mike Campbell and Tom Leadon on guitars here, there’s a hell of a lot of guitar picking going on, and the sound often invokes Clarence White’s Telecaster.

However much we think of the Byrds as a California band, most of its members were not from the area. Only Crosby and Hillman were natives. McGuinn was from Chicago, and Gene Clark was from Missouri. And you know where Gram Parsons was from? Florida. He may have felt that Joshua Tree was his spiritual home, but he grew up in Winter Haven, Florida (and also Waycross Georgia). Parsons is definitely a presence on this album, and there are some his quasi-shitkicker style songs here. They also cover the trucker anthem “Six Days on the Road”, which the Burritos also covered.

Lots of people played that one back in the day. I think I first heard it from Taj Mahal. And this album opens with “Shady Grove”, one of those folk songs that was knocked around by lots of bands. It’s on one of those Garcia/Grisman collaborations, but the version here is probably most influenced by the one that was done by the edition of Quicksilver Messenger Service that featured Nicky Hopkins. Very ’70s. I read in an interview that Mudcrutch actually used to play this one way back when.

“This Is a Good Street”

This album also reminds me that, when Mudcrutch first went out west, they were signed to Denny Cordell’s Shelter Records, and if I remember correctly Petty and the Heartbreakers did some time in Shelter’s Oklahoma studio. Here and there – mostly “This Is a Good Street” and “The Wrong Thing to Do” – this reminds me strongly of another Shelter artist, Dwight Twilley. The same mixture of twang and British beat, but with strikingly different idiosyncratic lead singers.

“Bootleg Flyer”

Another thing that might surprise you if you were expecting a Heartbreakers album instead of a period piece is the jamminess. As I said before there’s a lot of guitar playing, and on the 9:28 long “Crystal River” there’s a LOT of guitar playing – solos with space echo, wah-wah pedal, even phasing. It’s one of those dreamy extended workouts like “Mountain Dew” or “Mountain Jam”. Remember that in the world of the original Mudcrutch, the Allmans would have been a major presence, and there’s even a nod to them on this album’s “Bootleg Flyer”, a dual-guitar lead passage that’s so obvious it will make you smile.

In general the playing here is great. I’m sure Petty is glad he gave up the bass for the rhythm guitar/frontman role, but I bet he’s having a blast playing bass like he used to. Benmont Tench does his thing of never calling attention to himself, but when you do pay attention to what he’s doing you realize how great he is. If you were worried about whether drummer Randall Marsh, who doesn’t have much on his resume besides Code Blue (an L.A. band he was in with former Motel Dean Chamberlain and Gary Tibbs of the Vibrators/Roxy Music), don’t. He sounds fine. Sometimes you recognize Mike Campbell’s licks, but in general you can’t tell if he’s playing or if Tom Leadon is.

The reason Mudcrutch headed to L.A. in the first place was that Tom’s big brother Bernie was doing so well with the Eagles, perhaps the stereotypical L.A. band, none of whose members were actually from L.A. Beside Leadon, Meisner was from Nebraska, Henley Texas, and Frey Michigan, but I guess that’s one of the truisms about L.A., that no one is from there. (And here’s a bit of trivia I found when fact checking that last bit: according to Wikipedia, Frey, in his pre-alpha douche days, played on RTH icon Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”.)

So I’m not saying anyone will mistake the Mudcrutch album for a Marshall Tucker Band album, and I’m not even saying that Petty is exploring his southern roots on this album. But maybe the sounds here crystallize the southern basis of Petty’s music that was there all along.

Mar 282008

I dodged a bullet recently after having applied some of my tough love to the latest platter from The Raconteurs. Maybe you heard. A handful of Jack White’s biggest fans jumped me in a cubicle, took a red pencil to my draft – marking Roman at each instance of boldfaced text. “It’s my editor’s idea of a parody of a gossip column!” I pleaded, but that wouldn’t stop them. They called me names then shoved their iPods in my face, making me recite all the happening artists’ names as they scrolled down their menus. One guy even had the nerve to gun for my job! Damn college kid! I began to regret having spent so much of my Raconteurs review citing obscure bands like Boston and Foreigner. “Shoot,” I thought to myself, “is it hipster pride that makes me look beyond the obvious and informative Terry Reid reference I could have made while expressing my thoughts on ‘Rich Kid Blues’?”

Instead of harping on the difficulties of that experience, I decided to take away the one clear positive from the Phawker Mailbag: My readers care, my readers really care! A lot of responsibility comes with being a rock critic. One of my reviews could sink the career of an established, multimedia artist. One of my reviews could change the course of a college kid’s illegal downloading habits. And with that responsibility, I realized, comes a high ceiling of growth. If I get really good at this reviewing job, I might be able to work my way up to reviewing Pearl Jam‘s next concert tour. I might even land my dream job of writing a regular television or blog review column for a major metropolitan newspaper–or a glossy, weekly entertainment mag!

It’s with this new perspective, that I pledge to write a more fair-balanced and intellectual review of the latest CD from gutsy, often ironic roots rockers Drive-By Truckers, entitled Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. Recorded during and after the band’s acoustic Dirt Underneath Tour, the album is said to feature a more stripped down, country-based sound not heard since their sophomore release, Pizza Deliverance. Following twists and turns the band has been through since the release of the ambitious, breakthrough, double-album Southern Rock opera, The Southern Rock Opera–a virtual rock ‘n roll Vicksburg Campaign–it’s only right that the band would seek shelter in the values of their Muscle Shoals forefathers. Let’s have a listen!
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Nov 142007

Townswoman Citizen Mom sends us the following review of the new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers collection, Running Down a Dream.

The booklet included in the four-disc DVD set of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down a Dream, calls them “America’s truest rock band,” and after some consideration and more than seven hours of watching and listening last weekend, I am not inclined to disagree.

Though it’s worth noting that, whether ironically or accidentally on purpose, the very best moment in the whole package comes near the very end of Peter Bogdanovich‘s superb documentary, as the band winds down a one-off, one-take version of Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway”.

“Isn’t that a great fuckin’ song? It’s just a great fuckin’ song!” Petty exclaims, giddy like he’s just hearing it for the first time. If you plow through the entire four-hour movie, plus the two-hour 30th anniversary concert DVD, plus the hour-or-so long bonus soundtrack cd, you’re pretty much guaranteed a handful of those moments. Go back and listen to “Here Comes My Girl” or “The Waiting”, and thank the Rock Gods for rhythm guitar and men who fall in love.
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Jun 052007

Townsman Rick sent in the following piece.

On Tuesday, June 28, 2005, at 9:00 in the morning, I was in the Family Court, in the J. Joseph Garrahy Building to finalize and formalize the dissolution of my marriage. On Tuesday, June 28, 2005, at 9:00 in the evening, I was about halfway through a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at the Ryan Center, in Kingston, RI. These two activities may seem to contradict each other, but they’re also more similar than might originally appear.

Despite what I fervently hoped and believed as a child, Family Court is not a tribunal in front of which you could haul your parents when they continued to make you eat overcooked, mushy peas. It’s where divorces are perhaps not made but confirmed, and where the jealousies and betrayals that drive a couple apart are taken out for (hopefully) one last swing, this time with the force of law behind them. The single most important factor in the development of a human being is the time spent with his or her parents, and Family Court is where it is determined how much time your child will not spend with you.

As such, the J. Joseph Garrahy Building is a dingy place for dingy affairs to be conducted, with cinder-block walls and 1970s-era brown tile floors. For all its faults, it gives a look of dour impartiality, which is what you need to feel most when you’re in there.

The Ryan Center is another cinder-block palace that could just as well be set in Kokomo, Indiana, or Las Cruces, New Mexico. Maybe if your building has to play host to Ludacris, the Rhode Island Business Expo, and the Royal Lippizzaner Stallions, this is exactly the kind of drabness it needs. Like the Garrahy Building, it provides an impassive background for strong, loud emotions to be expressed.

Both proceedings began with an introduction of the person or persons we’ve all come to see – whether they be trumpeted as The Honorable (Name Withheld) or The Legends of Southern Rock – and their entrance to a crowd of people all of whom had risen to their feet.

I was brought to the witness stand, and in keeping with the laws of the state I was asked the question asked at all court proceedings – whether I solemnly swore or affirmed to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I replied, perhaps somewhat ironically given the circumstances, “I do.” Current Skynyrd frontman Johnny Van Zant asked the crowd at the Ryan Center the question asked at all rock proceedings, “How you doing tonight Rhode Island?” The crowd responded, “RAWR.” I detected no irony.
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