Missing Col. Bruce Hampton

Comments Off on Missing Col. Bruce Hampton

”Without a warning you broke my heart, takin’ it baby, tore it apart, and you left me standin’ in the dark.”

I dreamed about Col. Bruce Hampton for years before we ever met in person. The man had a way of making a profound impression, etching himself into one’s consciousness so swiftly and surely that the world felt slightly altered after each encounter. And he could produce this effect from a distance. Case in point, the first time I saw the Aquarium Rescue Unit on the 1992 H.O.R.D.E. Tour, all robes and detuned instruments shaped and shattered by a Southern shaman with a grin that spoke of deep, fierce knowledge most of us weren’t privy to and never would be. That face, that man, lived on in my subconscious for a decade before I came to be face to face with him backstage at a festival.

“You’ve been in my head for years,” were the first words I spoke. Hampton smiled and said, “I get that a lot.” I asked if it would be okay if I told him about a recurring dream that starred him. He said, “I’d be offended if you didn’t tell me.” The dream opens late night at a massive music festival like a Woodstock or Bonnaroo, and into a main stage crowd appears Col. Bruce, stark naked and riding a unicorn. He hops off, points at his ride, and exclaims in a prophetic roar, “It’s real.” The dream always ends right there.

Bruce’s eyes widened slightly, he shook my hand, and said, “I believe we’re going to be friends,” and then proceeded to guess my birthday down to the year and day along with a fairly insightful astrological map of the time of my arrival. It was a freaky circus trick Col. Bruce pulled with a lot of people, especially when he first met them, and his batting average was eerie enough that one wondered where he was getting his info on complete strangers. More of that deep knowledge one supposes.

Hampton’s willingness to engage, to peel back layers, to find the connecting sinew and creaking disunity of things was ever-present, a warm current one could swim in as long as time and one’s constitution allowed. To have his ear, to feel his attention, and bask in the way his jittery-brilliant mind zoomed history, music, and the universe into freshly angled focus was a gift. It might only be a minute or two or it might be hours but it never felt anything less than special to be in Col. Bruce’s presence, and I’m certain this feeling is shared by nearly everyone fortunate enough to meet him and even more so those who shared a friendship or creative relationship, even if at times it could be maddening to follow the thread of his roaming imagination and always-askew perspective.

A friend who also knew Hampton remarked this morning that his sudden death last night after collapsing at the end of his 70th Birthday Celebration concert was the “most Col. Bruce way to go out.” Making music, surrounded by many of his closest pals and allies, a theatre packed with loving, adoring fans, and then shuffling off to the great by & by. It’s goddamn poetic in a sad but not tragic way. It’s the kind of bold punctuation a grand, expressly strange life like Hampton lived should have. For a man more subdued than many might expect it’s a touch extravagant but utterly unintentional, an accident with reverberating significance, which befits the Colonel’s philosophy.

Thing is he’s not gone. Not really. Not where we can’t feel him and act on what he stirs in us. Like the space dust from the Big Bang, Col. Bruce Hampton was a catalyst for evolution, a mischievous spark with a killer moustache that turned kindling into a blaze. A quick perusal of the musicians who view him as a sonic sensei alone tells the truth of his enzymatic energy but there are also the countless lives like mine he touched in some way and helped shift towards a better, bolder path.

Virtually everyone who met him, everyone who counted him a friend, has a Col. Bruce story or maybe a hundred. I’ll share one of my own as a hopeful blow against the darkness of a world without Bruce in it in the hope it triggers your own remembrances to share – endless curious tales to further embiggen a well-deserved mythology.

For three years running I got to spend extended time with the Colonel on Jam Cruise. I was covering the floating festival for JamBase and had to write up the previous day early the next morning to be posted online. From the first day I sat on the pool deck, bleary from my long night of amped up merrymaking, Bruce would join me. I never asked him but he just showed up that first morning. He called our table we always sat at our office, and we’d receive visitors and talk about our adventures, politics, mathematics or whatever seemed right in the moment. The whole time I’d peck away at my reports but haltingly, happily drawn in by the ceaseless array of folks who wanted a minute with Hampton. They weren’t there to see me and that was fine because my perch gave me a front row seat for all Col. Bruce imparted to others – sly advice on a musical bridge, relationship advice, helpful insights from old gods, tales from his rich years on earth (and there were always a bunch you’d never heard before like the time he impersonated Howlin’ Wolf with a particularly gullible public radio DJ).

It was during these morning writing-chat sessions that I started calling him “Cosmic Bluesman,” a descriptor he seemed to like. His take on the blues made think he’d learned on the banks of rivers in Asgard rather than Mississippi despite all his licks and moans being legit as hell. He just seemed tapped into a tributary only he knew how to find. In telling him this I started quoting the “Wondrous Boat Ride” speech from Willie Wonka And The Chocolate Factory and he stopped me to ask, “Do you know the whole speech?” I told him I did and he said it would come in handy later. As with many things Bruce said, I had no idea what he meant but trusted he was right.

Two nights later he was the ringleader for the Jam Room, where musicians take over a ship’s bar and roam where they like for as long as the vibe is strong. Late in the proceedings, sunrise not far off, during a heavy, blues-basted jam that had me drifting hard with my eyes closed right next to the stage, I felt a hand rouse me and opened my eyes to find Bruce inches from my face.

“Time for you to take us on that boat ride.”

Let’s be clear, I’m the guy skulking in the shadows taking notes about what people do onstage. I have almost zero urge to even be on a stage unless it’s to get a close up view of the players from the soundboard. Col. Bruce was well aware of my performance phobia but saying no to him was very hard and always felt like the wrong move despite how awkward or out-of-norm what he was asking me to do. So, I took the mic in hand and delivered my best rendition of Gene Wilder’s nautical monologue.

“There’s no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going. There’s no knowing where we’re rowing or which way the river’s flowing.”

Instead of being a fearful, out of body/watching yourself do something experience it turned into a rite of incarnation, a realization I could do this thing if I willed it and trusted in the people around me. It was maybe two minutes in the material world but the impact of him calling me up, calling something within me out into the light, was special in bolstering, lingering ways. He had this way of seeing parts of others that even they’d missed in all their introspection and striving. He’d reach out with that mighty palm at the end of his mind – a phrase from Wallace Stevens I was delighted to introduce him to (one was always delighted to bring Bruce a shiny thing he’d not encountered before) – and pull these hitherto unknown elements out of us. And if I close my eyes, I can still feel him reaching out, pulling us towards people and places we’d never find without him. We honor him and his life by continuing to let him shake us up in the best of ways.

”Turn on your love light let it shine on me. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

Missing Prince

Comments Off on Missing Prince

”Sometimes it snows in April. Sometimes I feel so bad. Sometimes I wish that life was never-ending but all good things they say never last. And love isn’t love until it’s passed.”

Prince_DirtyMind

Sometimes a good shock to the system is the best way to meet someone, a chance encounter that twirls your wig so thoroughly that you see everything from fresh angles afterwards. The day I met Prince is etched in memory’s scrapbook alongside an image that will never fade – my fantastically out and proud high school mate Nigel stepping from his bedroom dressed in a perfect recreation of Prince’s ensemble from the Dirty Mind album cover. Not many and certainly not many high school freshmen could rock that look with confidence or flair but Nigel was certainly not everyone.

An ever-vibrant splash of color, Nigel was British and only recently dragged to California by his tech worker parents, and rather than shrink from the world as a stranger, marked instantly by his accent and apparent-to-everyone gayness (one was reminded of post-Gleemonex Scott Thompson in Brain Candy), he owned who he was. He was the first true super-freak in a long line of dearly cherished running partners that wore capes and went on adventures when everyone else put on a suit and punched the clock. And Nigel took Prince as his inspiration.

That afternoon when my pal wanted to show me his Halloween costume marked the beginning of a lifelong love affair with Prince and his music. As we smoked the joints I’d pilfered from my stoner uncle, Nigel played me Prince’s entire catalog to date. A year later, thanks to heavy rotation on MTV, the world would know Prince because of irresistible singles like “Little Red Corvette” and “1999” but on this sunny day, dancing lasciviously with my ghost pale, thigh-high wearing chum to Controversy’s “Jack U Off” and Dirty Mind’s “Head,” this young man raised hardcore Roman Catholic being tossed about by puberty found himself a kindred spirit and guiding light.

Prince_WhenDoves

”Everybody keeps tryin’ 2 break my heart/ Everybody except 4 me/ I just want a chance 2 play the part/ The part of someone truly free.”

Prince’s boldness and utter acceptance of variety and contradiction combined with his staggering talents and off-the-charts charisma opened my eyes to vistas I simply hadn’t imagined. That’s how the music meant for us, the music that finds us, especially in moments we really need to be found, seen and shown that how we feel, how we think isn’t nearly so alien or solitary as we imagine. Through his platform heel strutting apostle Nigel, Prince delivered just the motherfuckin’ word I needed. And I feel comfortable in conjecturing that this scene with myriad variations has played out over thousands and thousands of lives in the years since Prince first told us he feels for us and might even love us, his music and presence, his stride upon this earth and the quivers it issued, made many of my generation and beyond feel less alone, less afraid, sparking us to engage with what we felt and thought without filter, an example and a soundtrack for embracing ourselves and one another, hatred and ignorance the only real shadows in a widescreen, multihued conception of the universe and our place in it.

Prince’s sexual liberation theology was equal measures carnal and spiritual, God wholly present between warm, spread thighs, the Holy Ghost gliding in our breathy sighs as a lover traced their way to our core. If one truly imbibes Prince then even a single kiss can be permeated with depth and meaning. And sometimes it isn’t and straight ballin’ is the order of the day. The fiercely different poles of Prince’s thinking are both his struggle and the broader wrestling match of seeking higher calling and answering worldly appetites, flesh and spirit converging and clashing, neither ever truly dominant. Prince allowed us to eavesdrop on his internal conversation in ways that illuminated our own personal mind-body-soul chatter. A prophet is “a person regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God,” and Prince neatly fits this definition if one allows that God put the desire for both sex and spiritual fulfillment in us. At a base level, both are about connection and erasing borders, and Prince helped show one this commonality during the rise of New American Puritanism in the Reagan 80s – all the braver and bolder when glimpsed through history’s lens.

Prince_BlackSweat

”I don’t want 2 take my clothes off/ But I do/ I don’t want 2 turn nobody on/ Less it’s u/ I don’t want 2 dance/ But this is a groove.”

All this is heady shit and one can easily deep dive down the religion rabbit hole with Prince, but the way he shared his thoughts with us was so consistently groovy, so easy to like, that it makes little difference if one traveled hand in hand with his vision. As the man himself would say, “Just shut up and dance!” Wise words and if Prince’s music doesn’t move you then I wonder about your potential for fun ‘n’ joy. For sure, I’d never fuck you because I know you’d be sorry in the sack. Bypass all thinking and just let his sounds work ya and you will feel better, energy permeating your limbs and a new, nifty glow shining behind your eyes. The way music flowed through him was a total pleasure to behold, no pause between a thought and it’s deft, saucy execution, everything happening in stunning real time, the man a centering, captivating conduit for one great musical idea after another. Watch clips of him with other pros and even seasoned vets were often taken aback at his grace and prowess in virtually any setting.

Much of these thoughts are from an aerial view in the days since Prince’s died on April 21st. Stepping close to his death is more painful than I’d have imagined it could be. There’s an intimacy we allow certain artists we’d never permit with almost anyone else, access to us at our most vulnerable and exposed, their songs and presence sitting with us as tears stream down and twirling us in moments of triumph and delight. It’s a relationship where we need hide nothing, and in revealing ourselves so thoroughly we establish something beyond what the artists themselves could intend or develop on their own. I think this is why the death of someone like Prince sends out the grief ripples it has. We’ve lost a valued confidant and wise companion who had given us words and melodies that have sustained and enlivened our days.

Prince_AfroNotes

”Sometimes I wanna die and come back as one of your tears.”

Prince was closer to my heart than most of my blood relations, and if that strikes you as harsh or disproportionate then it’s safe to say that music and the blessed people who make it hold a different place in your life than mine. He was there for me when most of my family and many friends were not, and that counts for a lot just in practical terms of hours spent together and the way those minutes remain in my memory. Fan seems too small a word but I would never be presumptuous or delusional enough to say Prince was my friend. There’s more than mere admiration or enjoyment to the connection. This can be art’s power in our lives, the way a novel, film or album can reach across time and space and snap us to attention, the moment so present we can taste it, the contact lingering, an influence that seeps into our choices and POV in ways too complex to parse. Only a handful of artists will ever permeate my life the way Prince has and it’s going to take some serious time before a world without Prince makes sense to me. I know I’m not alone in these feelings, and it is Prince himself that helped show me my tribe, my community was so much larger and so much more delicious and exciting than 15-year-old Dennis could have conceived. Thank you for it all, your Purple Mounted Majesty. To say you will be missed is the grossest of understatements.

The Beatles Go To 11: Tim Carbone's Picks

Comments Off on The Beatles Go To 11: Tim Carbone

The Impound is asking our favorite musicians to pick their eleven favorite Beatles songs in an effort to offer Fab-u-lous insights in our shared love of the greatest rock band of all-time. The latest entry comes from Tim Carbone, a musician DI has no problem describing as ridiculously talented and not a little magic. When Tim is firing on all cylinders – which is most of the time – he not only shines in his own right but works as an inspired catalyst to his fellow players. Put another way, Carbone makes music richer, better and a number of other positive adjectives. The Railroad Earth violinist was one of the first people DI thought of for this series and we’re happy to present a slice of his fertile, wisdom-rich mind.

Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone’s 11 Favorite Beatles Songs

Tim Carbone by Suzy Perler

Tim Carbone by Suzy Perler

When Dennis asked me to do this I knew it would be hard. As an “uber fan” it seems almost impossible to pick eleven favorite Beatles songs. It might actually be easier to pick my eleven least favorite and then all the rest would be my favorite. I have decided not to put them in order of preference but instead I will put them in chronological order.

I have a very typical “reason why I became a musician” story, especially for a musician my age. I decided I was going to be a musician when I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th, 1964. I come from a musical family. My parents met while my mom was in a dance band playing at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC for dancers being instructed by my dad. Two of my older brothers were in bands and some of my earliest memories include my brothers and their friends singing “doo wop” on my front porch. But when The Beatles broke into “All My Loving” that night in 1964, my fate was sealed. I turned to my mom and said, “That’s what I want to do!” And so my first choice for my eleven favorite Beatles songs is where it all started…

[Chronological Order]

All My Loving Beatles_Carbone_AllMyLoving

A Paul tune all the way. Concise, crisp with a really strong vocal that bordered on a rasp. I loved it from the first downbeat. Ringo rocking back and forth and George stomping his foot, I was transfixed! Of course, seeing hundreds of girls go berserk may have had a bit to do with it. Ironically, the song would be playing on the sound system in the emergency room when John Lennon was pronounced dead at Roosevelt Hospital on December 8th, 1980, another date that changed my life. (LISTEN)

I’m A Loser

John in his “Dylan” period. John explained, “Part of me thinks I’m a loser and part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.” The record was recorded after coming back from touring America. The album title seems to sum up the time period and so do the album photos. Pretty dark compared to their previous work.

Beatles_Carbone_Loser

Geek alert! Just a word on the recording of these early albums: In England at this time the vast majority of the record buying public owned and listened to records recorded in mono. Record players that played stereo recordings were expensive and beyond the means of most post-war Brits. As a result the stereo mixes were treated almost as an afterthought. The songs were recorded to 2 and 4 tracks with drums almost always bounced (mixed down) to one track. That meant, most of the time, the drums were either going to be in the left or right channel – makes for an unbalanced listen. More importantly, the only mixes that The Beatles themselves had their hands on were the mono mixes. When they released the mono box-set some years ago I purchased them and it was almost like hearing the songs for the first time. It was remarkable! I’ll be geeking out along the way here so sorry to those who I will inevitably bore. (LISTEN)

I’ll Follow The Sun

Do you have a song you love that immediately puts you in the same mood you were put in the first time you heard it? “I’ll Follow The Sun” is such a song for me. There’s something about the “walking down the street” groove and the pitter patter drum beat that makes me happy-sad every time – a Paul song with a simple form. John and Paul double the short verses with Paul singing the single line verse alone. The bridge is classic with Lennon singing a descending harmony that also gives the song its happy-sad feeling. Love, love this song. (LISTEN)

Norwegian Wood

One of Lennon’s great songs, a thinly veiled reference to an affair he was having. Unusual for a number reasons, it was in 3/4 time, not too common for a rock band, and it also featured the first appearance of the sitar on a Beatles song, perhaps the first ever on a rock record. Paul helped on the middle eight. (LISTEN)

In My Life Beatles_Carbone_InMyLife

When I hear this song my mind rewinds the movie reel of my life and I relive the times and memories with the people I’ve loved and lost. As I get older the list of people this song conjures up to me keeps growing. A powerful song can do that, transport you. It sounds like a collaboration – middle eight has Paul written all over it. The solo sounds like a harpsichord but is actually a piano piece written and played by George Martin and recorded at half speed, thereby sped up on playback making it an octave higher. (LISTEN)

She Said, She Said

Beatles_Carbone_SheSaid

A total Lennon song. In fact, Paul doesn’t even play on it. That’s George playing the bass. A very trippy track. It was included in many of my psychedelic soundtracks. “I know what it’s like to be dead.” The story goes that Peter Fonda spit out the line describing a near-death experience he had whilst tripping with John, George and Ringo. It wasn’t the only or last LSD inspired bit of Lennon writing. I love the jangling, semi-distorted guitar figures and the circular drumming. (LISTEN)

Got To Get You Into My Life

This is a highly underrated Paul song. The horns! Close miked, compressed and right in your face! The vocal is so amazing, especially the ad libs at the end. The outro on the mono version is completely different then the stereo version we’re so used to hearing. It goes on about 10 or 15 seconds longer with the trumpet and Paul’s vocal wailing away. (LISTEN)

Good Morning, Good Morning Beatles_Carbone_GoodMorning

An underrated Lennon classic. More overly compressed horns courtesy of Sound Incorporated. I love this song mostly because I’ve always thought the guitar solo was the most ripping on any Beatles record. I played air guitar in front of the mirror in my bedroom when I was a kid a thousand times to it. It wasn’t until I started recording and producing records and studying how these recordings were made that I found out that the guitar solo was performed by Paul! (LISTEN)

Within You Without You

One of the few songs featuring just one Beatle. In this case George. The lyrics are my essential philosophy in life. They are the simple pieces of the puzzle. Thank you, George, for introducing me to this way of life and the music of India that has so moved me and influenced my music and way of thinking. (LISTEN)

Revolution #1

Beatles_Carbone_Revolution

I had the [White Album poster up in my room for two years. I stared at it for clues. Paul, upper left corner. Paul is dead. He blew his mind out in a car. There it was! Turn me on, dead man,, turn me on, dead man. They had practically ceased being a band. They were recording their separate songs many times separately, occasionally on the same day in different parts of Abbey Road. Even their long time engineer Geoff Emerick bailed on them. Ken Scott engineered most of the record. Me and my friends had had it with the Vietnam War, school, parents… Fuck it all! This song was the soundtrack of my life then. The geek point in this song is that the incredibly distorted guitar was achieved by plugging the electric guitar directly into the Redd mixing desk and cascading one overdriven pre-amp into another. Rip your head off guitar tone achieved! (LISTEN)

Something

Beatles_Carbone_Something

The first A-Side single for George and what a beauty! My second favorite guitar solo on a Beatles record. It has a tonally uplifting bridge thanks to the modulation from C major to A major, then back. Going to A minor (the relative minor) would have been more conventional. “You’re asking me will my love grow?” A major baby. It makes the song feel like it’s growing. After the discord of the White Album and the disaster that was Let It Be, Abbey Road brought the team back together. Geoff Emerick and George Martin were both back and The Beatles finished their career as a band on a very high note indeed. (LISTEN)

Like I said, all (or most) of The Beatles songs are my favorite and I could write about them all. These are but a small portion of them, the ones that most shaped me as a musician and a person. Thanks, Dennis, for letting me share my thoughts on these songs!

Dirty Impound’s 25 Favorite Albums of 2013

2 Replies

Top25_Intro In a year where many musicians chased modernity and way too many rock bands strived to be dance bands, Dirty Impound finds itself more in love than ever with bread ‘n’ butter rock ‘n’ roll, a sound largely neglected by most critical organs – especially if it was self-released or put out on a smaller indie label, who generally shrink from anything that smacks of classic rock if it’s not by a brand name like Pearl Jam, Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen. Rather than reinvent the wheel a lot of DI’s 2013 picks reminded us what a sweet invention the wheel is and showed how it can roll splendidly in the right hands. Through sturdy, largely flash-free musicianship, strong but unobtrusive production, and most importantly GREAT FUCKING SONGS, these artists sculpted albums that skirted the single-focused, consciously ephemeral zeitgeist that plagues music today, particularly the mainstream lifestyle accessory widget factory. Each of these albums is a life-affirming reminder of what long-form thinking, dedication to craft, undisguised passion, emotional intuitiveness, a dash of daring, and no small measure of natural talent can produce.

Now, on with the show…

Dirty Impound’s 25 Favorite Albums of 2013

[Presented In Alphabetical Order]

Akron/Family: Sub Verses

Top25_Akron Like yoga for the mind and ears, the sixth studio outing from this ever-evolving trio resonates in the listener’s meat and bones, alternately thunderous and delicate in its deep vibrations but always unmistakably human. There’s something primordial and ancient to the forces Akak stir and mold, a sound both psychedelic and caveman basic infused with laughter and tears, yearning and abiding satisfaction, music that draws one closer to both the divine and the terrestrial with strokes bold and subtle. As unique and potent a band as this age has produced.

The Bye Bye Blackbirds: We Need The Rain

Top25_ByeBye Give the Big Star nostalgia a rest and grok this superb Oakland descendent. Melding finger-snapping, sock hop inspiring moves with growling, ringing guitars, pleasing, radio-ready vocals, and one terrific tune after another, the Blackbirds raise the spirit of Jesus of Cool-era Nick Lowe and In Color period Cheap Trick on this fiercely catchy, smartly carved collection. [original review]

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds: Push The Sky Away

Top25_NickCave 30 years into an experiment that began with the thoughtful molestation of the blues, Kurt Weill and punk, Nick Cave and his trusty Bad Seeds are still bloody intriguing. Where the previous two releases, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (2008) and Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus (2004), were tinged with wildness, as extrovert and blissfully flailing as anything in the group’s catalog, Push The Sky Away is a lovely, subtle exercise in restraint. There is tension and sway but little explicit release, and always the luxurious, gutter-wise language of Sir Nick, his Devil’s molasses voice caressing the undulating moans of his men as they drive pop culture into a mountain of eternal truths.

Ceramic Dog: Your Turn

Top25_CeramicDog The clang and closeness of big city streets and contemporary hustle bustle careens around this musically bumptious power trio led by guitarist extraordinaire Marc Ribot (Elvis Costello, John Zorn, Tom Waits). Ceramic Dog renovates the noisy freedom of vintage CBGB’s and uses it to excavate truth and nicely dented vibrancy today. “Those searching for rigorously applied formal constraints may have to wait. Ceramic Dogs just wanna have fun,” says Marc Ribot. “If you listen closely, you can hear the rage, hope, disappointment, ritual excess, love and anarchy that were in our personal and collective airspace during [the making of this album].” [original review]

Clutch: Earth Rocker

Top25_Clutch Utter pummeling brilliance. Earth Rocker is rock shorn of its excesses and conceits, a creature of ropey muscle, Adamantium bones and snarling, smart things to say. Moving into their third decade together, the quartet is sharper, tougher and more engaging than ever, crafting an album that makes the competition seem lazy and sleepy by comparison. Yes, there’s a nod to the blues, which they’ve exhibited a sweet tooth for on other recent albums, but the accelerator is mostly pressed through the floorboard as Maryland’s finest confirm their spot atop hard rock mountain. (DI Interview with Clutch)

Cold Satellite: Cavalcade

Top25_ColdSatellite Gutbucket true and gorgeously rowdy, the second offering from Cold Satellite reminds us rock need not be polite to be heady or overtly arty/experimental to break new ground. Swinging on riffs vintage Rolling Stones or Faces would have been proud to stumble into, Jeffrey Foucault and his gifted collaborators swing on the poetry of Lisa Olstein, and the results are intelligently saucy and subtly intoxicating – a work deeply simpatico with tying one on OR having a quality think. (DI Interview with Jeffrey Foucault)

The Del-Lords: Elvis Club

Top25_DelLords Two guitars, bass and drums. Earthy, streetwise-dappled voices raised in resistant fortitude. Crushingly good songs. Poppin’, hefty production that lets the music come through clean and clear. The return to the studio for this beloved 80s cult band testifies to things getting better with age. It’s not complicated stuff but these guys just do it better than most other bands. One of DI’s favorite driving records in 2013 – a real top-down, glad-to-be-alive vibe that’s perfect for devouring distance and shedding troubles along the white lines. (DI Interview with The Del-Lords)

Dolly Varden: For A While

Top25_DollyVarden The Impound’s favorite Chicago rock outfit – Clem Snide/Eef Barzelay being a close second – delivered a beautiful, richly melodic, wonderfully sung, all-around well put together song cycle about memory, history, and how lucky we are even if we don’t know it. Most bands don’t knock out their most off-handedly excellent album 20 years into a career but that’s just what Dolly Varden has done. If you dig folks like Aimee Mann, Badfinger and other top-shelf pop-touched rock then this should be your gateway into one of the finest American bands around. If nothing else, take a focused listen to the track below (especially if you’re a musician – this will resonate with you), which never fails to choke DI up. (DI Interview with Dolly Varden’s Steve Dawson)

Endless Boogie: Long Island

Top25_EndlessBoogie This NYC gang oozes all the undisguised carnality and lick-you-all-over lustiness that the vast majority of rock ‘n’ roll today simply can’t muster. Long Island walks with giants like Blue Cheer and 70s Stones but in ways more subterranean, more crazed-blues inflected than their ancestors. Everything is just the right amounts of sloppy and tight, the whole affair careening with stoned gravity that curls around one and leaves one flushed, moist, grinning and enjoyably off-kilter. (original review) (Endless Boogie is playing a Union Pool Residency in NYC this January)

Hiss Golden Messenger: Haw

Top25_Hiss Beginning with a dance through forked-tongues that cries – simply, directly and prayerfully – “Oh, Lord, be happy,” HGM’s latest salvo finds the fullest, richest distillation of their soulful, pastoral flavors to date. Already kin to Roy Harper, Michael Hurley and Bonnie Prince Billy/Palace, with this album Hiss Golden Messenger – built around the core Mike Taylor and Scott Hirsch – has carved out their identity, that intangible thing that makes them who they are and not just an assemblage of influences and prescribed formulas. Death, life, rebirth, God and Man (in the big sense) stroll Haw’s corridors but with a delicacy and verisimilitude that makes them breathe in ways that palpably inform and uplift us children of the dust. DI’s Favorite Workingman’s Hymnal of 2013. (original review)

Jason Isbell: Southeastern

Top25_Isbell You’re either not paying attention or have terrible taste in music if you don’t include Isbell’s latest in your list of 2013’s finest releases. From the first staggeringly perfect song on through one fantastic number after another – each delivered with the feeling and refined touch that would make ol’ Charlie Rich smile – Southeastern is as fabulous a singer-songwriter album as anything Kris Kristofferson, John Prine or Townes Van Zandt generated at their best. The heart and human failings are examined with tenderness and clear-eyed truthfulness, and each setting – from bare light bulb intimacy to beer hall ready bravura – suits each song to a tee. Again and again one is inspired to say aloud, “Jeezus, this guy is really fucking good.” Still giving DI shivers after dozens of spins. (original review)

Jerry Joseph: Self-Titled

Top25_JerryJoseph The way one can truly tell the true merit and measure of a singer-songwriter is when they step into the spotlight with just a guitar, their voice and a tune to share. If it flies in this raw setting then one knows they’ve experienced something real, something of quality descended from troubadours, traveling showmen and deskbound Brill Building scribes. For all the albums he’s made and many forms he’s taken Jerry Joseph has never been so wonderfully exposed as he is on Self-Titled. With the volume down and electricity low, Joseph picks out some of the sturdiest, most gorgeously crafted bits of his vast songbook and lays them at our feet with little fanfare. The effect is tenderizing and thought provoking like weather that steals one’s words and sends their thoughts skywards and backwards in time and ultimately interior to face the feelings Joseph’s crosscut voice, wicked picking and ever-insightful, culturally savvy, wonder chasing, despair shattering music stir up. Self-Titled shares the spirit of Tim Bluhm’s California Way, John Martyn’s Solid Air and Eef Barzelay’s Bitter Honey – works that understand a few things about how people operate and gives that knowledge tuneful, transformative elegance.

(Jerry Joseph begins a solo acoustic tour in support of this fab album in January. Check out tour dates here.)

Nathan Moore: Hippy Fiasco Rides Again

Top25_NathanMoore A trickster, a blue jean Buddha, a prestidigitator, a new millennial vaudevillian, a grifter for love. Nathan Moore is all these things but above all he’s one of this generation’s finest singer-songwriters. Few others in his field have etched such distinctive, individual character or bravely gone where the musical currents have carried their feet with little thought to the consequences of surrendering to the fates. Interesting bits stick to Moore, his nature that of spiritual/cosmic Velcro, and Hippy Fiasco Rides Again finds him positively enrobed by cool contributions from players both well-established and amateur – PLAY is essential to the Moore zeitgeist. Yet, this doesn’t feel ramshackle in the slightest. The album has a flow and feel that’s quietly hypnotic, a beckoning wind that teases one to wander and wonder. “Plain As Day,” “Do You Believe In Ghosts?” and “Rollaway Bed” rank amongst his best tunes and they’re hardly lonely here. Nathan Moore is a bard for our troubled times and he’s given us another nourishing Baedecker to stuff in our satchel. (original review)

The Mother Hips: Behind Beyond

Top25_MotherHips If you’re not listening to The Mother Hips then you’re missing out on one of the great American rock bands of our time – and they ably hold their own against the pantheon that came before them, too. Each studio album has shown evolution and metamorphosis. The conversation is never the same twice, so it’s always wise to put one’s expectations out with the trash when it comes to the Hips. But the leap they’ve taken on Behind Beyond hums with future possibilities, their youthful jam tendencies finding deadly solid footing in the fab songs of today with an air of wisdom-touched maturity permeating the proceedings. This is rock for adults crafted by adults. (original review)

Willie Nile: American Ride

Top25_WillieNile Critics have been quick to heap praise on Springsteen’s recent studio work but for DI it’s been hard to swallow some of the populist sentiments and workingman attitude of a guy who’s been a millionaire for decades. True populism comes from the streets and it involves the lived-in ache of struggling to pay bills and find places where one’s voice can be heard. Willie Nile’s American Ride is just the sort of streetwise, struggling-to-make-it joint the ol’ U.S. of A desperately needs right now. There is the clang of bottom up hope born of an inner revolution that finds its fire and purpose in song and hard-won community. Nile has made some great records but this one takes the cake, the culmination of a career duking it out with all the right targets, a man of the people offering us anthems to carry us through our working weeks and workaday woes. (original review)

The Orange Peels: Sun Moon

Top25_OrangePeels If the Impound were the Sultans of Radio we’d make this Bay Area under-appreciated gem the benchmark for airplay. Beautifully crafted, lovingly sung, and pared of any fat or distractions, the songs on Sun Moon skip and sigh in ways that make life more fun, more full of feeling, more better. A wistful shimmer gleams in parts but not in a naval gazing, journal entry way. It’s just the bittersweet tang of being alive and the world having its way with us. If you’re a fan of pre-disco Bee Gees, prime Badfinger, or the quality jangle of Slumberland Records then you need to spend some quality time with The Orange Peels. (original review)

Powder Mill: Land of the Free

Top25_PowderMill “You can smell it from the road,” is the inscription that adorns the website of this criminally under-sung Missouri outfit, and there is a whiff of the real coming off them. These guys are comfortably in the lineage of forward thinking Southern rockers like the Drive-By Truckers and The Dexateens, where the concerns of daily life and the colorful characters that surround us even in the tiniest of towns find vibrant, totally rockin’ form in their music. Land of the Free is the best damn long-player yet from a band that’s consistently better with each passing year, their heart and soul growing steadily stronger and surer with each season. The liner notes, penned by yours truly, call them the true sons of Ronnie Van Zant who’ve made a record that “strives to drag Jesus from the dark side of town, eager to bring the good word to every battered, struggling soul living on the ragged, shadowy edge.” Powerful stuff but also utterly relatable to anyone living paycheck to paycheck and wondering if this is all there is to life.

Red Fang: Whales and Leeches

Top25_RedFang Album number three confirms this Portland quartet as the best thing to hit hard rock/metal since Mastodon. Sharply carved and progressive thinking, Whales and Leeches adds quality complications, little touches that show they’re thinking harder, playing harder, and trying to cram as much good stuff as they can into their music. Produced by The Decemberists’ Chris Funk, who also helmed the band’s previous album Murder The Mountains, this works both blasted hellaciously loud and as a bong-rip, headphone experience. And no stupid Cookie Monster with strep throat vocals because this band has two good singers and lyrics worth hearing and puzzling over – and trust us, nothing unlocks readily in the Fang catalog despite the visceral force they muster. Taken together, especially given the tremendous live versions surfacing on the current tour, Whales and Leeches offers loads of reasons to be excited about heavy music and this band’s future in it. Churn it up, motherfuckers!

The Steepwater Band: Live & Humble

Top25_Steepwater Slow and steady wins the race. It’s an overused cliché but it truly suits Chicago’s The Steepwater Band. Since the late 90s, they’ve steadfastly forged resoundingly solid music from the indestructible raw elements of the blues, classic rock, real country and other flavors. Like kindred spirits The North Mississippi Allstars, pre-Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac and Marc Ford, The Steepwater Band takes the past and gets it to shimmy in ways that make one stare and lick their lips. Live & Humble is a perfect primer in the best of their rich songbook and a showcase for all the roadhouse earned chops and flair the group has to offer. Again and again here, these guys go for it, presenting the core of the songs and then pushing them into the red in all the right ways. The good news is after you’ve been smilingly flattened by this live set you can get intimate with their ace studio work as the band stretches into fresh rounds of national touring in 2014.

The Stone Foxes: Small Fires

Top25_StoneFoxes Spend just a few minutes with San Francisco’s The Stone Foxes and one is struck by two things – how freakin’ nice they are AND the unmistakable passion they possess for real deal rock ‘n’ roll. That ardor and their instinctive capacity to deliver it in gut-punch, boot-scootin’ ways was evident on the Foxes’ first two albums and it sparks up regularly on Small Fires but the lads have chosen to consciously add greater depth to their rock stew. The conflict obsessed times we live in are held up to the light and examined in interesting ways on this album, and the takeaway is a need for greater compassion, greater awareness of others, and a commitment to love as hard as one can. It’s inspiring without being preachy, which suits these testifying young dudes to a tee. (DI Questionnaire with The Stone Foxes)

Tea Leaf Green: In The Wake

Top25_TeaLeaf An album that affirms that rock ‘n’ roll can be truly artful. Repeat spins reveal this SF quintet is perhaps the American answer to Crowded House in their fighting prime, sharing that great band’s intelligence, chops, top-flight songwriting, appealing, varied vocals, and enlivening attention to detail. In The Wake is a song cycle about what we go through and what we do once we’ve arrived on the other side. While such subject matter can weigh a record down, this is so playful, engaged and finely assembled that one exits feeling refreshed and a touch closer to truth with a capital “T”. (original review)

Truth & Salvage Co.: Pick Me Up

Top25_TruthSalvage This sing-a-long ready, heartwarming, real as rough road, sweet as a sunrise album reminds one how paltry mainstream music has become. In another era, these guys would already have a spate of Number One hits under their belts because this is Everyman (and Everywoman, too – this band really loves the ladies and they love ‘em right back) music that harks back to peak-era Doobie Brothers and Eagles. When so much of today’s music seeks obscurity and obfuscation in order to differentiate itself, Pick Me Up rustles up tune after tune that reaches out a hand to every damn person in earshot, gives them a lil’ spin, and sends them off with a smile. Like a lot of classic radio fare that once defined 70s AM radio, the directness and openness of Truth & Salvage Co. elevates one’s mood in ways that transcend logic – this just FEELS so dang good. (DI Interview with Truth & Salvage Co.)

Typhoon: White Lighter

Top25_Typhoon This is the kind of album that leaves one shaken up no matter how many times one listens to it. But it isn’t the devastation of despair that dominates White Lighter but hope clawing for the surface, gulping air and tunneling through all the wounds, history and rough stuff that stands between one and a life of connection, understanding and believable hope. And the music is so, so, so bloody exciting. Typhoon makes me feel like there are still new things to be done in rock even as they hold down all the necessary fundamentals. The instrumentation choices, the arrangements, and the weird curves that work against expectation add up to something hefty that also doesn’t feel like work for the listener. The voluminous (and in DI’s opinion undeserved) praise heaped on Arcade Fire for their emotional density and musical depth really belongs with Typhoon. The band’s driving force Kyle Morton says, “The record is a collection of seminal life moments, in more or less chronological order, glimpsed backwards in the pale light of certain death, brought to life by a remarkable group of people who hold as I do that the work is somehow important.” Intention is important and when combined with talent and bravery of this order it really does produce music that’s important – a tool for the living as they stretch over life’s abyss.

Chris Velan: The Long Goodbye

Top25_ChrisVelan As exposed and brave as Joni Mitchell’s Blue or Elliott Smith’s Either/Or, the latest offering from Canadian songsmith Chris Velan tackles the tough but all too common experience of really, really loving someone and realizing you’re not the one for them. Where most of us crawl away to hide in the shadows, Velan took his guitar and notebook to scribble down some wisdom and helpful reflection from within the worst of times. To love and not be loved in return – at least not on the same level – is a pain worse than most blades or bullets can produce. But there is a balm in music that directly addresses the confusion, the lingering I-want-the-best-for-you ache, and undeniable hurt and sadness at knowing that despite one’s best efforts there’s no way to chisel one’s self into something other than what they are. The Long Goodbye is a succinct, beautifully drawn work that may well help folks move on from such hurts and hampering history. (DI Interview with Truth & Salvage Co.)

White Denim: Corsicana Lemonade

Top25_WhiteDenim If there’s a more exciting guitar rock band emerging today then DI hasn’t encountered them. Long full of fascinating riffs and thought provoking verses, White Denim more fully embraces the Boston/Journey-esque classic rock animal lurking inside them on Corsicana Lemonade, an album that verily screams for oversized vintage Klimt speakers or a booming stereo in a cherry 70s El Camino. Oh, the music is as brainy and early Steely Dan-like as ever but it’s got more red meat in its teeth this time out. More bluntly, this is primo inducement to hip grind and fist pump that also doesn’t make one feel dumber or cheapened in the way it stirs these impulses.

Bubbling Under
Adam Ant: Adam Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter
Bad Religion: True North
Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers: self-titled
Barton Carroll: Avery County, I’m Bound To You
The Dirtbombs: Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey!
Dr. Dog: B-Room
Dumpstaphunk: Dirty Word
Futurebirds: Baba Yaga
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion: Wassaic Way
Robyn Hitchcock: Love From London
Leroy Justice: Above The Weather
Kenny Roby: Memories & Birds
Chris Stamey: Lovesick Blues
Tracorum: Tricked
This Town Needs Guns (TTNG): 13.0.0.0.0

The Beatles Go To 11: Jeff Massey's Picks

2 Replies

The Impound is asking our favorite musicians to pick their eleven favorite Beatles songs in an effort to offer Fab-u-lous insights in our shared love of the greatest rock band of all-time. The latest entry comes from Jeff Massey, guitarist-singer-songwriter with one of DI’s fave-o-rite working rock bands, Chicago’s The Steepwater Band, who just get ALL the fundamentals right and rock with such obvious sincerity and natural capacity for the genre it brings a tear to our eye. If you ain’t familiar with ‘em then it’s time you get on it!

The Steepwater Band’s Jeff Massey’s 11 Favorite Beatles Songs

[No Stated Order]

I, Me, Mine

Beatles_I_Me_Mine

This song is one of Harrison’s finest moments. What a perfect combination of a sorrowful waltz mixed up with straight bluesy rock n roll. The contrast between the mood of the verse and the chorus is such an amazing flow of effortless songwriting. Melancholy blended into an uplifting frenzy of a jam!

Lyrically it stands timeless as an ode to people who are completely unconscious from what life is about. Without love and sharing you really never see any light At least that’s what I hear in the message. Yet another wonderful aspect of the Beatles is the room they leave for interpretation of a lyric.

The killer guitar tones don’t hurt the song any either. I know there has always been question as to what George played and what Paul played. Unless I’m mistaken Paul played some of the key guitar parts including the solos on the early material, but I’m guessing by this point in time this is George laying it down. (LISTEN)

Dear Prudence

Beatles_DearPrudence

Lennon’s mournful vocal is almost too much to take in if I’m in a fragile listening mood. This song is the epitome of intensity. It cuts through an emotional bone like butter. Dark folk music which, like George’s “I, Me, Mine,” shifts between sorrow and joy both musically and lyrically.

I love the way the intro descends into a hypnotic drone that sucks the listener in for the remainder of the song. It’s that haunting pulse of repetition that makes this song so mesmerizing.

No other vocalist can be as haunting as Lennon at times. Lennon is a master of imagery who easily switches from yearning to commanding with the flick of a switch.

The chaotic crescendo rises perfectly into a drumming frenzy and melody overload!

The Beatles are such a powerful influence on everything musically that came after. I hear everything from Pink Floyd to Wilco in this song. Where would be without The Beatles! (LISTEN)

Michelle

Beatles_Michelle

Only McCartney can turn such a sappy lyric into a joyful journey of the heart. A wizard of bass melody, or perhaps a tone cut guitar, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference with Paul.

My struggle over which is my favorite Beatle will never cease, they are all four beyond a standard talent in their own right, but to me McCartney is the master of melody and range. The shift between French and English lyrics only adds to the mystique and feeling of sitting in a café somewhere in Southern France as young Paul serenades his love. The simple lyric compliments the music and the melody wrapping it all up in a beautiful piece of sophisticated ambient genius. One of my favorite Beatles songs. (LISTEN)

Octopus’s Garden

Beatles_Octopus

Just when you thought a particular Beatles record might be getting too serious, well, here comes Ringo!

Man, I love Ringo! I hate when Beatles fans rag on Ringo. The average music listener might not understand what a great talent someone like Ringo Starr really is. It’s that backbeat that makes all that great early material swing! No need for a bunch of pointless drum noodling – it’s that beat man!

Not to mention he played with three other guys who are just a bit more talented than the average bear, so grabbing attention from the others isn’t so easy. Again like George and the guitar, there are a few rumors floating around in the cosmos about Paul handling drums on certain songs, but ya still got to have some Ringo on board!

Anyway, “Octopus’s Garden” is such a creative little twist on country twang music. The nursery rhyme quality is hard not to sing along to. Once again another Beatles rumor that good ol’ Bob Dylan wrote these words for Mr. Starkey. Who knows? Rumors aside I had to give the man props on at least one Beatles cut. Go Ringo ! (LISTEN)

I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

Beatles_IWantYou

Geoff Emerick wrote an amazing book titled Here There and Everywhere about the many Beatles sessions he worked on as an engineer including Abbey Road. This is probably what I’m basing all the previously mentioned rumors on. I remember him discussing in the book how Lennon fought with the others about this particular ending. The short abrupt closed door really catches the listener off guard, and isn’t that part of the great collective genius that is the Beatles: The unexpected musical turns that keeps the listening journey exciting and unknown.

The Beatles are masters of the blues among many other musical styles, and this song is a radical interpretation of minor blues. You can hear this influence in things like Zep’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You” as one example. The Beatles undeniably influence just about everyone who came after and this song in particular is beyond innovative.

Like many of the aforementioned songs it shifts between minor blues, jazz swing, and builds into yet another hypnotic powerhouse riff before that ever so surprising door slams shut. Lennon is a master of tension Songs of this nature stick with me when I pick up a guitar. I have a tendency to drift towards that minor key vibe a lot, and songs like “I Want You” are uncontrollably etched in my musical subconscious
As Nigel Tufnel says, ‘’D minor: the saddest of all keys.’’ (LISTEN)

Tomorrow Never Knows

Beatles_TomorrowNever

If any song is going to capture color with sounds it’s “Tomorrow Never Knows.” I can’t help but to ‘’see’’ the melody! A circle of swirling colors dance through my brain and drift into unknown consciousness even without any influence of chemical substance. Yes!

It’s rock’ ‘n roll hypnosis, which one might consider the birth of psychedelic music, the worldly influence of rhythm and beat unknown to rock music before this track emerged. I love music that sounds like it comes from another planet, music that stands timeless and mysterious even after it’s heard for so many years.

Also if I’m not mistaken this might be one of the earliest attempts at drum looping, which is such a standard and abused necessity in popular music of today.

I can’t help feeling so otherworldly and surreal when I’m listening to this song. It’s a complete escape from reality and that is why I love it so much. This song demands your attention. Nothing against “Twist and Shout” but it’s amazing that they developed into a songwriting machine that could manipulate music into something so new for the time and so everlasting against the test of time itself. (LISTEN)

Blackbird

Beatles_Blackbird

Paul’s tale of a slave gone free is to me one of the most heartfelt and powerful songs of all time. Not to mention it’s rewarding to play on the guitar with such a rich combination of chord and melody. It strikes me for some reason as a song Paul might have written very quickly and spontaneously. It has that shot of inspiration to the sound that cannot be forced.

This composition always stands out among the so many amazing Beatles compositions. I’m lucky enough to have witnessed Paul perform this in Chicago a few years back and it was really an incredible thing to see and hear. (LISTEN)

A Day In The Life

Beatles_Day

The same intensity that I spoke of with “Dear Prudence” but recorded a bit earlier in the Beatles career for the groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper’s record. Probably the most haunting Lennon melody ever.

I’m realizing as I make this list that I lean towards the darker, surreal aspect of the Beatles catalog when I speak of my favorites.

What a perfect blend of McCartney/Lennon with Paul’s lighthearted lyric about waking up and grabbing the day! I especially love the line, ‘’Dragged a comb across my head’’. The ending had to be another Lennon idea. Epic!

Lennon was the guy that frustrated George Martin the most because he would explain his musical ideas in such an abstract manner. He would say things in the studio like, ‘’I want the song to sound green with a touch of the moon!” (I made that up but I’m guessing he would say something to that effect). Paul on the other hand would say something like, ‘’ I need a clarinet to come in on the sixth measure and the tambourine should fade towards the end of the first bridge.’’ (again, I made this up but Paul seemed more practical). Obviously, the two genius minds could come together to create masterpieces such as “A Day In The Life.” (LISTEN)

Get Back

Beatles_GetBack

Ah yes, the bluesy record with Phil Spector’s over the top production. Unless of course you prefer the version that was released with Spector’s handy work basically removed.

It’s well documented that The Beatles were not in the best of relations during this period but this track would indicate otherwise. Having a special guest like Billy Preston come in for a session seemed to put The Beatles on their best behavior according to Paul.

Besides leaning towards the surreal aspect of their music, my favorite thing is when they hit the blues-based numbers. Preston’s now legendary workout with the Fender Rhodes piano on this song is enough to suck me in and get the ol’ foot tapping. And as with every Beatles song, the vocals are strong and infectious! (LISTEN)

Eight Days A Week

Beatles_Eight

It took me awhile to appreciate the earlier work as opposed to the latter but when I hear it these days it is really groundbreaking in its own way. What a masterful work of simple chord changes and melody and the always incredible vocal range that was so prevalent throughout the Beatles work. This is just rocking!

One thing that gets under my skin is when musicians of today call The Beatles a boy band comparing them to today’s bad thrown together corporate boy singing groups. The naïve ignorance of such a statement should be obvious when hearing compositions such as “Eight Days A Week.” The vocal performance alone is a testament to the talent involved in the work. As a vocalist if you ever try singing the early material you might find an even greater appreciation for the strength of Paul and John’s vocals. (LISTEN)

Something

Beatles_Something

This is one of my favorite George compositions – a heartfelt lyrical statement amidst that swirling Leslie speaker inspired guitar. I love the bridge in this song and the way it elevates to an even higher musical place only to land into one of my favorite George guitar solos ever! Simple and melodic guitar playing like George is known for.

I even like Elvis-esque borderline corny lounge version and, of course, McCartney still does this live on the ukulele as an ode to he and Georges love for that particular instrument. It’s common Beatles fan knowledge that George was all about busting out the ukulele around the house to entertain band mates and guests.
I don’t what else I can say accept when George sings a ‘’love’’ song it takes on a deeper meaning and feel than most other performers could ever achieve. (LISTEN)

Of Southern Harmonies and Musical Companions

1 Reply

One of the Impound’s All-Time Favorite Albums turned 21 this week, and we felt it was only right to buy it a drink and reflect on The Black Crowes’ astounding sophomore joint.

SHMC_Cover

The Black Crowes have never been fashionable, a fact resoundingly obvious in 1992 as the band unveiled its second album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, on May 12. Surrounded on a still fairly vibrant FM-radio and an increasingly dominant MTV by Nirvana, Def Leppard, Stone Temple Pilots, and Damn Yankees, the Crowes fit in with no other popular contemporaries, and looking at the album’s sepia-toned cover, one gets the sense they knew they walked alone. This is a gang captured in some clapboard trash heap shithole, dark-eyed and staring down all comers with a look that says, “You wanna go? Try us and see how that turns out.” These were probably the first guys to tell a father they shouldn’t let their daughter go out with them, and then, immediately following that admission, drive around to the back of the house to pick up the teen dream with a man-hungry grin crawling out of the bathroom window. The vintage-y clothes on most of the band suggest another time, perhaps a missed local sensation from the late 60s, but drummer Steve Gorman throws a monkey wrench into that theory with his short cropped hair and Reservoir Dogs suit, a succinct reminder that this is a modern band.

It’s a fine small move in the face of the endless nostalgia act labels thrown at the band since the second their 1990 debut Shake Your Money Maker dropped out of the sky to kick up the ghost of Otis Redding and throw a lifeline back to the days when folks knew that rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ was inextricably tied to bumpin’ naughty bits and raising hell. All the endless Stones, Faces, etc. comparisons were never on the money since the Crowes were torchbearers not imitators; a young, ambitious group that lit their flame with Jerry Lee’s great flaming balls, guys nakedly and wildly in love with the idea of rock and its ability to enrich lives, starting with their own. Despite the dismissal of self-anointed “Dean of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau and other music press, Shake Your Money Maker went on to sell a million copies its first year and another two million over time. Critics be damned, the sticky, visceral and appealingly misbehaved vibe of the Crowes connected with the people, who the band met in droves during near-constant touring the next two years.

SHAMC Inside Cover

SHAMC Inside Cover

But beyond being a really good time with some killer tunes about girl trouble (and troubled girls) with some of the best singing and riff work rock had seen in a spell, the initial phase of the Crowes didn’t prepare one for the sense of righteous cause that emanates from Southern Harmony. Perhaps sick of the comparisons and false assumptions, the band positively pulverizes their debut in record time, crackling to life like some massive, unruly machine as the guitars sizzle in the opening moments of “Sting Me” and then moving headlong through tunes alternately harder and more tender, and all of them sharper and denser than anything on Money Maker. The album raises a freak flag, inviting one into the valley of discovery, the roads strewn with the rotten fruit of quick fame and all the vermin it draws close. Nothing less than salvation was at stake, and the Crowes already knew that money can’t buy that.

No rock act prior to Southern Harmony sounds quite like this band, and it’s such a massively impactful presence that many since have used it as a template in their own attempts to find a band identity. The mixture of tough, fat free musical settings and juggernaut vocal attack is intoxicating, a force that envelops and leaves one in a heap, sweaty and slightly dazed, taken and tosseled by sure hands. As the album’s title suggests, this is a hedonistic house of worship, not quite pagan because God is in the mix but way more profane than sacred in any traditional sense. This feels holy, at least to anyone that worships at rock’s wide, welcoming altar, and one hardly wants for a better high priest than Chris Robinson.

Promo Shot - 1992

Promo Still – 1992

While the whole band was fun and fascinating to watch, the sheer physicality and underlying attitude of the music reflected in their archetypically perfect rock bodies and faces, there is no denying that the lightning rod in this bunch is Chris. Even before the album hit, there was the bare bones here’s-some-fucking-rock-n-roll-take-it-or-leave-it video for “Remedy”. Fuck Austin Powers, women instantly wanted to be with this guy and men just as swiftly wished they had the mojo Robinson was swinging ‘round. If you’re not drawn to Chris watching this video then you’re probably not that into rock because there it is twirling, thrusting and sliding in a way that’d raise wood from a long dead Elvis Presley. And for anyone in 1992 that felt like they’d missed out on rock’s heyday, for anyone not ready to enthusiastically suckle Nirvana’s nihilism, for anyone hungry for music that made them feel alive and awake, well, it was apparent the flock was being called up to the mountain.

The boldness and unabashed majesty of many pieces on Southern Harmony implies the band were fully aware they were offering something bigger than another record. It would have been much easier to cover another 60s hit and actively play to the sensibilities of PR stooges and label suits. And it’s always risky business starting a church, even one as pro-pot and free love hailing as the Crowes’ version. One makes themselves a target when they don’t fall in line and play to the standards of the day. But, across Southern Harmony’s ten tracks there can be no doubting the faith The Black Crowes have in rock’s headier potential, in its capacity to engender soul and provide sustenance, and their conviction possessed – and still possesses to this day – the power to make believers of the open-hearted and free-wheeling.

Remedy Single

Remedy Single

What amazes me is how the potency of this Musical Companion has never diminished for me – and I’m surely not alone based on the small army of Amoricans that swear by this album the way many do the Good Book. Despite the hundreds and hundreds of spins I’ve given Southern Harmony it still thrills me multiple times each rollicking trek I make from “Sting Me” to the Babylon blasting coda of their cover of Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell.” I spin and dance and shake my fists, fired up by “No Speak No Slave” or suddenly contemplative visiting the dregs of old loves during “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye.” Every tick and turnaround has the feel of muscle memory, as if I had made this music, the sense of personal ownership and importance much more profound for me with this album than almost any other. This is the way of it with things we hold sacred – a far more subjective thing than organized religion might suggest.

I know that “if my rhythm ever falls out of time” that this song cycle will set me right. I know when heaven, peace and understanding seem distant or downright impossible that I’ll find understanding and real fucking streetwise wisdom inside these grooves – not the platitudes of ancient prophets but something visceral I feel in the pit of me. At a point in my life where I’d rejected my Catholic upbringing and was being pressured into a disastrous first marriage, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion found me and gave me hope and fuel for a rocky road, one of those beautiful surprises that has helped sustain me even as it entertained me to a hellacious degree.

Thorn Single

Thorn Single

It is a work that endures, continuing to provide the unbreakable spine of the Crowes’ live shows and inform countless lives despite being more than two decades old. A factoid sometimes trotted out about Southern Harmony is its release occurred 20 years to the day after the Rolling Stones’ long-canonized Exile On Main Street, as if the two are spiritual twins or something of the sort. Frankly, I’d say that the Crowes put out the better record and one far bolder than the Stones’ offering, which arrived when they were already a well-established, world famous brand with virtually nothing to lose by rediscovering and slightly reinventing the blues. Oh, I surely love Exile but it took the Stones awhile to reach that raw, live wire place and the Crowes did it on their second album AND in a well oiled recording industry climate that leaned on them hard not to go so thoroughly their own way. The album was indeed a commercial success but it marks the real beginning of the band’s journey into what can only be called “Black Crowes Music,” a sound sincere, strong and utterly unconcerned about what the flavor of the day, month or year might be. It is the rock upon which a house of faith was built, and the sturdiness and wisdom of the decision shows in the continued authenticity, originality and potency of The Black Crowes today.

The Beatles Go To 11: Dave Brogan's Picks

Comments Off on The Beatles Go To 11: Dave Brogan’s Picks

The Impound is asking our favorite musicians to pick their eleven favorite Beatles songs in an effort to offer Fab-u-lous insights in our shared love of the greatest rock band of all-time. This second installment comes from Dave Brogan, drum pro and pop-rock maestro of SF’s ALO. Here’s what Dave – a man who knows the wheres and what-fors of a good rock ditty – had to say about his choices.

Beatles_Brogan_CantBuy

1) “Can’t Buy Me Love” (A Hard Day’s Night)

I love the way John and Paul sing this- in unison and LOUDLY! This song is the confectionary equivalent of a sugary wad of bubble gum wrapped around a street-scored Dexedrine pill – an edgy remnant from their teen days slogging it out in Hamburg rock clubs high on speed and banging strippers. (LISTEN)

2) “Drive My Car” (Rubber Soul)

Foundationally, the song is just guitar doubling an incredibly funky, melodic bass line. As a drummer I very much appreciate Ringo’s stamp on pop-rock drumming, but instrumentally it’s always Paul’s bass parts that consistently blow my mind. If you “soloed” that track on a mixing board- taken alone – it’s a masterpiece. “Beep-Beep, Beep-Beep, YEAH!” (LISTEN)

Beatles_Brogan_WeCan

3) “We Can Work It Out” (Rubber Soul)

This is one of those songs that often creep around my thoughts. Anyone experiencing conflict has felt this sentiment before: “Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.” Perhaps only a fraction of listeners catch that the perspective of the verses is very one-sided: “Try to see it my way.” Paul is certainly not trying to see it “their way” in this one. It’s an ultimatum. A foreshadowing of things to come? (LISTEN)

4) “Girl” (Rubber Soul)

For me, deep enjoyment of The Beatles starts with Rubber Soul. It’s the launch off for everything to come and the beginning of their revolutionary pop careers – all-night studio hacking sessions that saw the transformation of John from edgy punk rocker into a hallucinatory lord of darkness. These lyrics are REAL. And then the heavy inhalation in the chorus – visionary! (LISTEN)

5) “Paperback Writer” (Single Release, 1966)

Beatles_Brogan_Paperback

Anything I could ever write would only detract from the total overwhelming masterpiece that is this recording. It just has to be listened to and enjoyed. This track exists in the mystical realm of pure beauty, heroic journeys and the musings of gods and can only truly be reflected upon in poetry or, possibly, dance.

Interesting fact: the history of modern recording has been marked by moments of wonderful intersections between art and technology, and “Paperback Writer” is one example. EMI had recently developed a high-level disc cutter that allowed the bass level to be jacked up in the mix (before that high-volume low end would make the cutting needle skip) and this was the first track ever cut on that machine. What better way to demo the new cutter than with a genius Paul McCartney track!

Some of my other favorite details: What is up with the mondo delay on the vocals right before the chorus? I also love the super-slammed compression on the drums, also made possible by gear specifically designed for Abbey Road. This is The Beatles starting to explore the edges of sonic extremes. “Paperback Writer” is a milestone in modern recording and still an amazing song! (LISTEN)

6) “Tomorrow Never Knows” (Revolver)

Beatles_Brogan_Tomorrow

I never realized what an impact LSD had in the 60s on the London music scene until I read Andy Summers’ (guitarist for The Police) autobiography. Everyone was doing it and getting into Eastern mysticism, freaking out and whatnot. The Beatles released Rubber Soul in December 1965 and four months later – FOUR! – John started working on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” a huge departure from the band’s previous work. WTF?

This is the beginning of psychedelia in recorded music. The Grateful Dead had yet to make an album and the Velvet Underground were just beginning to play at Andy Warhol’s factory. Frank Zappa’s Freak Out! wouldn’t come out until mid-year, and he wasn’t even on acid! One connection between Freak Out! and this song is the influence of Musique Concrete, the technique devised in the 50s and 60s by art music composers of cutting and splicing tape to create otherworldly sounds and tape loops, which could play a set of sounds over and over endlessly.

John, George and Ringo first dropped acid with Peter Fonda and The Byrds in L.A. in August of ’65 (according to Peter Fonda). Reportedly, Paul refused, George freaked out and Ringo played pool with the wrong side of a cue stick. But John wrote “Tomorrow Never Knows.” John was the strongest Beatle.

His instruction to producer George Martin on this track: “I want to sound as if I’m the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountain top.” This is at a time when most bands still clocked into the studio at 8 am, clocked out at 4 pm, and never once walked into the control room.

Most likely it was the first instance of running vocals through a Leslie speaker, first use of tape loops on a “pop” recording, and definitely the first time a pop singer ever told a producer he wanted to sound like the Dalai Lama and wasn’t committed for it. (LISTEN)

7) “Taxman” (Revolver)

Beatles_Brogan_Taxman

The emergence of George as a songwriter in the band. George is my favorite Beatle. I admire his struggle for acceptance. The guitar playing on this song is as f-ing sick as it gets. The solos are like being attacked with a Dremmel tool. Ringo and Paul are locked-the-hell in so hard. That’s what I like about great rock rhythm sections: they lock-in somewhere outside of, and beyond perfection. They’re all trying to sound R&B, but it’s the synthesis of their failing that that makes it perfect. (LISTEN)

8) “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” (Sgt. Pepper)

I don’t often listen to Sgt. Pepper, but when I do, I listen to the reprise. Stay funky my drummer friends. (LISTEN)

9) “Two of Us” / “Don’t Let Me Down” (Let It Be)

Beatles_Brogan_DontLetMe

Eleven songs to choose as my favorites are not enough, so now I’m cheating by combining songs. But it’s okay because I like both of these tunes from Let It Be for the same reason – stylistically they strongly hint at what’s to come from Paul’s (“Two of Us”) and John’s (“Don’t Let Me Down”) solo careers. For Paul, it’s the humble, homemade vibe, and for John, the emotional primal scream. I love both of those guy’s solo careers, a lot.

I’ve always thought that the title of this album was so sad given that the band was on their way to dissolution, especially when you consider that the project was originally called Get Back and Paul wanted to make a film and play live again and try to regain what once was. Instead, it ended up as an exercise in acceptance – Let It Be. Or as many people say today: it is what it is. (LISTEN)/(LISTEN)

10) “Come Together” (Abbey Road)

Beatles_Brogan_ComeTogether

Thank God it didn’t end with old, depressing Let It Be. No, it ended with the band reuniting with George Martin for one last artistic triumph! The guys were getting along like never before. Paul’s not trying to force the situation. Let It Be is over. The old Beatles chemistry is back – they finally Got Back! – but the product wasn’t a “throwback.” Abbey Road is, at turns, tight, artsy, stylistic, whimsical and moody.

By the way, it wasn’t Let It Be that poisoned The Beatles. It was that damned, nihilistic and totally misnamed White Album – notice, I didn’t pick any songs from it. Also note, Let It Be was recorded mostly before, but released after, Abbey Road.

“Come Together” is just super stylie, dark, sexy art rock. This is the total Yoko-fication of John, and I love it. Is there a more vibey, badass song in existence? No. All the little textural episodes are so genius. Bass riff and tom fill intro – 4 bars. Then a heavy floor tom beat with the verse – punch lines are just vocal and bass drum. Bare power chords on the chorus – out of nowhere? Uh, ok. This song is deconstructionist when academic dudes were still dreaming up post-modernism. (LISTEN)

11) “Something” (Abbey Road)

Beatles_Brogan_Something

The total arrival of George. I love a late bloomer. Not that he didn’t write many great songs over the course of their years but songs like “Something?” Not quite. This is one of the best Beatles songs ever and has had as much staying power over the decades as anything the other guys wrote. Reportedly, it’s Frank Sinatra’s favorite song of all time.

What I dig about the lyrics is sometimes the best way to express true love is to not mention it at all, but mention something about it that you could never experience without its presence.

I just wish it wasn’t followed by “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Ugh. Vibe killer. From one of the deepest love songs right into Saturday morning cartoons. Someone must have resisted and someone insisted. That’s the kind of stuff that breaks up bands. (LISTEN)

Up next, Dirty Impound’s Head Water Buffalo offers up his Beatles picks, which include three cuts from the White Album. Take that, drummer boy!

Missing Roger Ebert

Comments Off on Missing Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

One day after the news that Roger Ebert had succumbed to death after a long battle with cancer, it’s starting to sink in what we’ve lost in the passing of this amazing man. While this is ostensibly a rock music site, anyone writing or talking about art in 2013 is doing so in a P.E. (Post Ebert) era, and personally Ebert was one of the first voices speaking about art that snagged my attention and ultimately my own passions to explore, comment and otherwise get entangled with music, film, etc. Some of my fondest television memories are of watching Siskel & Ebert spar on PBS, and while the takeaway for too many cultural critics today is the thumb gimmick, it was their all-in engagement with film AND how they threw the net very, very wide to connect politics, literature, sports, and a whole quietly semiotic slew that fascinated me, even long before I learned what “semiotic” meant or how the interdisciplinary approach to cultural thinking could enliven and enlighten in such profound ways. What attracted me to Ebert as a kid was his energy and the sense that he meant what he said no matter where it might take him or who it might ruffle or delight – which is about as punk rock an attitude as any offered by Keith Morris, Johnny Rotten, et al. He made me excited about something I already loved on an intuitive level – film – while simultaneously showing me through his example that what happened on the screen was only part of the full story.

By high school, I was devouring his books, his words a succulent feast filled with ideas I needed to scout around for answers to, if only to see if I agreed or disagreed with his point. And this is a crucial difference between Ebert and most folks who call themselves critics: He wanted you to talk back to him, to defend your position with real thinking, to challenge his notions, and he was always ready to be surprised out of his current stance – again a marked difference to most commenting on art today who too often go in with the answers to their questions already penciled in or a review half-written before the thing is taken in for what it is not what they think it is. Strong of will and opinion, Ebert was formidable and cantankerous. I loved, especially as I began to write for my high school paper and onward through my college weekly and countless other nickel & dime employments I’ve had with my pen, that there was nothing academic or “learned” about him. He was of the people, a town crier from the hoi polloi with more brains than most of us and quite likely more heart and soul, too.

Ebert_UltraVixens

He took each film, each book, each idea as it came, open armed and only pushing it away if he really deemed it lacking, hurtful, lazy, consciously stupid, etc. His reasons for disliking a work were generally legitimate, but he did so without a lot of obvious malice. He wasn’t out to destroy the creators the way say wrongly beloved Lester Bangs did. Ebert had high standards but also a tremendous love of low culture that deflated any notions of him being a stern, authoritative scold. He adored b-movies and cult cinema, and one of the things that endears him most to me is he wrote not one but two movies for Russ Meyer. And while Beyond The Valley of the Dolls is the one most folks cite, it’s 1979’s goofily surreal sexploitation joint Beneathe The Valley of the Ultra-Vixens that reveals what a keen satirical edge and spot-on black humor Ebert possessed as well as a healthy appreciation of mega-boobed smut. More sincerely, it’s another complicated facet to a man who seemed to embrace humanity in total, trying to understand what drives us, what hurts us, what scares us and what makes us laugh and tumble down into one another. In fact, it is hard to escape one’s humanity and one’s connection to the human condition in the larger sense reading Ebert’s work or listening to him talk about the world we live in as seen through art’s lens.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

It’s not overstating things to say the man had a massive influence on my life and my choice of what to do with it. I often describe myself as a writer who has chosen to make music his focus and inspiration rather than a “music critic” or even “music journalist,” and the distinction is crucial – at least to me. I rarely if ever think of myself as a critic since I’m more interested in digging my mind and fingers into what excites me, what feels worthwhile, what moves me in some way. Using the work of others as one’s springboard in their own craft is a strange business. It calls into question whether one is “creating” anything at all. Ebert’s example and unflagging determination to be part of a great, bold, universal conversation about who we are and what stories we tell about that has been and always will be inspirational.

Few people who’ve done anything like what Ebert did with his life have so richly lived up to Oscar Wilde’s notion of The Critic As Artist. He was never afraid to be an obvious fan, shirking the notion of being an all-knowing objective POV, and he enthusiastically championed artists he felt deserved his muscle and powerful push – two huge examples I’ve tried to follow with all my heart. His refusal to parse high and low culture and to treat each work as its own thing and judge its own merits (or faults) as they come is at the core of what we’re doing at Dirty Impound. Just because everyone knows the names Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty or Radiohead doesn’t mean that a new artist just putting out their first single, album, etc is any less worthy of our consideration OR any less deserving of praise when their talents, imagination, etc. warrant it. Ebert taught me that art is a level playing field and that hierarchies are for people who don’t like to be challenged or pushed out of their comfort zone.

This is a thank you note that comes too late, as they so often do. It’s my hope that what I’ve tried to do with my writing since the very beginning honors the man just a bit, and I promise to further honor him by carrying on his legacy in spirit here at the Impound in the years to come.