Friday, July 29, 2005

Frank Black: Honeycomb

Frank Black

by Morgan Clendaniel

The man performing on the new Frank Black album, Honeycomb, is not the Frank Black of the Pixies, nor is it the Frank Black of the Catholics. There are no screams, so screeching guitars, no polyglot non-sequiters. Black, at least for a few brief moments, seems to have suspended almost every aspect of his previous musical ventures as he recorded Honeycomb over four days in Nashville. Backed by a group of legendary session men, including Reggie Young and Spooner Oldham, Black lays down laid-back country soul that is nearly flawless from beginning to end.

The first six songs on Honeycomb are nearly perfect. Many albums pack a strong opening punch, but with Honeycomb, the hits keep on coming and coming. It's a thrilling run that begins slowly and mournfully with "Selkie Song," which, naturally, is a song about failed love with for a seal-woman. Some things about Black, apparently will never change, as surrealism and sea themes abound (though, oddly enough, Black did not write the song about talking shrimp). The brilliant opening sextet includes a cover of the classic "Dark End of the Street," which was written by Honeycomb engineer Dan Penn. The first few times through, it's awkward to hear Black's voice quaver through the memorable tune. But, the delivery gets better with each listening, and the bridge's "they're gonna find us" is delivered with a overwhelming sense of desperation and longing.

The music on Honeycomb sounds almost as if it was coming from the past. The smooth sounds of these experienced musicians shows that some people still understand that you can play passionately without playing loudly. It's something Black clearly knew during his Pixies days, but it may be that these grizzled vets helped him understand it even better. To be sure, the album has some fat around the middle, but none of the filler that one finds on the typical album these days. Other highlights include "My Life is In Storage" and "Strange Goodbye," a touching take on the standard country duet which features Black and his ex-wife singing bitter sweetly about their divorce.

From top to bottom, this is one of the best records of the year. Though it's easy to get annoyed at the embarrassment of riches of people like Black, who toss of records like this in four days, it's best to ignore that feeling. Instead, be content in knowing that a man who already helped revitalize rock and roll has turned around and shown that he will not be sequestered to the reunion tour circuit forever; he still has a lot left to do in music, and an incredible amount of talent to do it with.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Peace Love and Understanding: In The Heart of Brooklyn

At roughly 4:15, Umphrey's McGee, the Indiana based jamband took the stage at the Prospect Park Bandshell as part of the 2005 Big Summer Classic. The crowd, which was baking in the late afternoon sun, greeted the band by producing numerous beach balls and took great delight in batting them about while the band started to groove. The largest, a globelike green beach ball, made its way towards the sound booth and came to rest in an empty row. A squat bald overweight man came over and grabs the ball but rather than send it back amongst the crowd calmly pierces it with his lit cigarette. Fans O the Jamband: Welcome to Brooklyn!!

The Big Summer Classic is this year's top touring jamband festival. Finding its roots in Monterey and Woodstock, the Summer Classic's proper progenitor is the H.O.R.D.E. festivals of the mid nineties. Following the success of Perry Farrell's Lollapalooza concerts, John Popper and Blues Traveler created Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere. Gathering their musical comrades like The Spin Doctors, Widespread Panic and the Samples, the H.O.R.D.E. festival toured the country spreading good vibes everywhere.

Jamband festivals have maintained their link to their 60's ancestors by fostering social awareness and political activism. War protestors, environmental activists and marijuana decriminalization supporters gather with the purpose of rallying their brethren to support their cause and using the momentum to achieve social change. The politics and beliefs of the crowd were usually echoed back to them by the musicians on stage creating one big communal atmosphere of peace and love. It is in this respect that the Big Summer Classic separates itself. Despite an unpopular ongoing war in Iraq, Michael Franti was the only one to even mention it much less denounce it. The 2005 jamband crowd doesn't seem to want to their groove disturbed by the outside world.

That is not to say that there weren't some relics of the old hippie festivals. Concert goers were encouraged to proceed through the "Karma Wash" in which Karma technicians would ward off the bad vibes from your person through their proficient use of feathers and goodwill. Relix magazine had a prominent presence with spontaneous drum circles erupting between sets by their tent. Most entertaining were the twenty foot high inflatable Sumo wrestlers, the symbols of the tour, that towered over the back of the park grounds. Although there was a good smattering of tie dye, the clothing of choice of today's concert-goer seems to be a simple T and shorts.

Oh yes, there was also some music -- a lot of good music. With the sun beating down on the stage, the early arriving fans fell into two groups: those crushing up against the stage to get as close to the band as possible and those laying back on the lawn in the shade with a beer. As the concert progressed and the sun set, more and more people abandoned the lawn to the get closer to the music.

San Francisco based New Monsoon opened the show to an enthusiastic response. Possibly owing to its brevity, the band's 4 song set, heavy on percussion and middle Eastern rhythms, was the tightest of the day. Amidst band staples Blast and Daddy Long Legs, the band covered Pink Floyd's Echoes in its near 18 minute entirety, creatively employing a balloon and the sides of their drums to achieve the spacey interlude.

Umphrey's braved the mean spirited beach ball popping troglodyte but still played an underwhelming set. Distracting everyone from the music, the band marred their set by bringing out a horde of dancing girls in ill fitting bikinis and fishnet stockings to writhe around arythmically and unsexily.

Michael Franti and Spearhead attempted to enlighten as well as entertain. The Umphrey dancing girls were put to better use as they paraded throughout the crowd with placards containing aphorisms from the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Alice Walker, Ghandi, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Spearhead's set also contributed the only mention of the Iraqi war with Franti exhorting "Bush War 1, Bush War 2, Got a war for me and a war for you" during Everyone Deserves Music's We Don't Stop.

Musically, Spearhead brought the crowd to their feet with reggae infused socially aware songs like Yes I Will and Yell Fire. String Cheese Incident's Michael Kang joined the band halfway through the set, notably contributing his violin to a rousing version of Everlast's What I Got. In a stranger accompaniment, a large muscular gent with black militant shades joined the band -- for a flower arrangement solo, which didn't last long enough as it seemed there were some lilies to add to the mix.

Playing barefoot, Keller Williams brought his unique blend of acoustic guitar mastery and backing audio loops. Onstage, Williams is an overgrown child having fun with all his various bells, whistles and theremin. Like a talented and funnier version of Carrottop, he brings the instruments out at random intervals and adds them to the backing loop. The one drawback to the loops is that it is difficult to tell when Williams is playing and when you are listening to a recording.

Williams uses his technical and musical acumen to great effect and his "one-man band" is truly unique and something to see live. Quite likely, someone will eventually outdo Williams at his own game and gain a larger audience with a similar act. Hopefully, they will have the humility to acknowledge Williams as the progenitor of this inventive mix of man and machine. Until that time though, there is noone else doing this better

His set included his normal batch of eclectic originals as well as covers of Gin and Juice, Candyman and Fly Like An Eagle. The set also contained another standard of the jamband festival -- the seamless transition with the next act. As Williams wound his set down, he was progressively joined by members of the Yonder Mountain String Band. With the whole String Band finally on stage for the Steve Miller closer, Williams finished up, waved goodbye and without stopping the YMSB took off with an hour of their brand of bluegrass and country. The collaborations between the bands continued as String Cheese's Bill Nershi joined the band for last third of their set.

With the sun set, the show was closed by the undisputed headliner of the Classic, String Cheese Incident. While most of the Brooklyn crowd came to see the Cheese, a theory supported by the multitude of enraptured spasmodic arhytymic dancers, they failed to enthrall the entire crowd. String Cheese's studio sound is grounded in bluegrass but onstage their sound is reminiscent of Graceland era Paul Simon fused with an inspired jamheavy Miami Sound Machine with the whole conglomeration seeking Harry Belafonte's approval to use calypso.

This night, the band made some odd choices. In the musical equivalent of sitting LeBron James in the 4th quarter of a close game, Michael Kang, an amazing and inventive violin player, played mandolin and guitar for most of the set. The band was also ill-equipped to tackle their cover of Stevie Wonder's I Wish. Missteps aside, String Cheese does have moments where they command attention and did so during the closing tunes One Step Closer and Search. Frustratingly, the frequency of those moments pales in comparison to their predecessors like the Grateful Dead and Phish.

Bringing back members from Umphrey's McGee and Spearhead, SCI appropriately ended the show with an encore of the Beastie Boys No Sleep Till Brooklyn. Michael Franti came onstage mid song for a little free style before being joined by dancing trees who helped lead the crowd in a chant for MORE - TREES -- IN -- BROOKLYN!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Langhorne Slim: "When the Sun's Gone Down"

By: Paul Dobry

Langhorne Slim: "When the Sun's Gone Down"
Narnack Records (2005)

The best may be to come, but in the meantime get out of your rocker and dance.

In my experience, falling in love with a record can happen two ways. The first is if the record scratches a particular itch, something you may have not known was there until it was relieved. For example I never knew that I had been looking for the blend of Simon & Garfunkel with Donovan, infused with childhood daydreaming ala Le Petit Prince that I found when I first heard Belle & Sebastian. The second is to be
completely blind sided by something you never knew could exist. Think back to the first time you heard Björk.

As with any Venn diagram, however, there exists that rare overlapping of circles. Tom Waits remains the best example, to date, of this mysterious duality. The
awe of discovery, mixed with the feeling of coming home. I was born late enough that I could ration myself a fresh Wait's album whenever I saw fit, and was ready for my next dose. I may have to be a bit more patient with Langhorne Slim. When the Sun's Gone Down is the Pennsylvanian-cum-Brooklynite's first label supported full length. I'm already prepared to compare it to Closing Time. The promise of this record intimates the possibility of Rain Dogs-esque, melt your grey matter work somewhere in the distance.

I became aware of Slim with his self released mish mash Slim Picken's and was already chomping at the bit when Narnack Records brought him on board for The
Electric Loveletter
EP. On the first two releases Slim picks and strums anxious American roots, frenzied to rush old storytelling styles through the decades and
back in people's consciousness. He seems satisfied enough with this crash course (given as much for himself as anyone else) to slow it down a bit and get to playing songs. The sound is fuller and richer, with perfectly placed instrumentation. While earlier tracks had no sense of depth. Straying from just a voice and guitar meant maybe adding a harmonica. When the Sun's Gone Down, however can balance a broader ensemble. Even with vox, guitar, slide guitar and drums a track like I Ain't Proud is subtle and restrained. And a reworking of the Ep's I Will and album closer I Love to Dance are raucous and bombastic, without just tacking on instruments in the background.

While the approach is more thoughtful and tactfully executed Slim can not escape the sound of a frenzied love-stricken blues man. And this is the real beauty of the record. Slim's voice provides the desperate strained, guttural howl to invoke 30's era born-under-a-bad-sign bluesmen. While an unabashed joy; that rises from his dusty brown boots, though every fiber of his ill fitting 3 piece suit and out
the top of his pork pie hat, makes you get on your feet and grab that sweet lil' mama you've been eyeing all night and dance until she breaks her curfew.

Payola Shocker, not a shock

Elliot Spitzer, the Attorney General of New York, has uncovered blatant evidence of pay for play by Sony Records. "Our investigation shows that, contrary to listener expectations that songs are selected for airplay based on artistic merit and popularity, air time is often determined by undisclosed payoffs to radio stations and their employees," Spitzer said. "This agreement is a model for breaking the pervasive influence of bribes in the industry."

The evidence involves payments for air time for songs by Jennifer Lopez, Good Charlotte and others. Memos released to the press had some key quotes from Sony staff:

"Please be advised that in this week's Jennifer Lopez Top 40 Spin Increase of 236 we bought 63 spins at a cost of $3,600."

"Please be advised that in this week's Good Charlotte Top 40 Spin Increase of 61 we bought approximately 250 spins at a cost of $17K..."

After receiving tips from industry insiders, Spitzer's office conducted a year-long investigation and determined that SONY BMG and its record labels had offered a series of inducements to radio stations and their employees to obtain airplay for the recordings by the company's artists.

The inducements for airplay, also known as "payola," took several forms:

• Outright bribes to radio programmers, including expensive vacation packages, electronics and other valuable items;

• Contest giveaways for stations' listening audiences;

• Payments to radio stations to cover operational expenses;

• Retention of middlemen, known as independent promoters, as conduits for illegal payments to radio stations;

• Payments for "spin programs," airplay under the guise of advertising.

E-mail correspondence obtained during the investigation shows that company executives were well aware of the payoffs and made sure that the company got sufficient airplay to justify these expenditures.

In discussing a bribe given to a radio programmer in Buffalo, one promotion executive at SONY BMG's Epic Records wrote to a colleague at Epic:

"Two weeks ago, it cost us over 4000.00 to get Franz [Ferdinand] on WKSE. That is what the four trips to Miami and hotel cost . . . At the end of the day, [David] Universal added GC [Good Charlotte] and Gretchen Wilson and hit Alex up for another grand and they settled for $750.00. So almost $5000.00 in two weeks for overnight airplay. He told me that Tommy really wanted him to do it so he cut the deal."

Another Epic employee who was trying to promote the group Audioslave to a Clear Channel programmer asked in an email:

"WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO GET AUDIOSLAVE ON WKSS THIS WEEK?!!? Whatever you can dream up, I can make it happen."

A promotion employee unhappy with the times assigned for spins of the song "I Drove All Night" by Celine Dion wrote this internal email:


The investigation revealed that SONY BMG employees took steps to conceal many of the payments to individuals and radio stations, by using fictitious "contest winners" to document the transactions and make it appear as though the payments and gifts were going to radio listeners instead of station employees.

Don Henley, a member of the Eagles and founding member of the Recording Artists' Coalition said: "Attorney General Eliot Spitzer should be commended for successfully addressing the pay-for-play problem. There is no question that payola hurts recording artists. RAC is grateful to him and his staff for exposing the magnitude of the payola problem and for getting a major label to agree to change the way it does business. We look forward to other record labels agreeing to similar reforms."

Good luck with that Don!

Anyone listening to the God-awful state of pop radio had to suspect many songs getting airplay had to be there for reasons other than merit. There are just too many good artists out there who don't get airplay to think they just haven't been discovered yet. The fact is there's little chance of talented artists getting on the radio without a payment to someone. Thus, we've had a silly state of affairs on radio for a long time. That partially explains the rise of popular music blogs and podcasts. Indeed, those new media outlets will likely continue to gain market share as radio isn't likely to change all its ways.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Alanis Morissette TV blitz for Jagged Little Pill 2

Seen and heard a lot about Alanis Morissette lately? The reason is that her exclusive deal with Starbucks to sell the new Jagged Little Pill Acoustic cd has expired and while Starbucks will continue to sell the disc, it hits other retail outlets tomorrow. With that release we'll see even more Alanis.

The supposed former infatuation junkie will appear tonight on The Tonight Show (Monday, July 25) and will play on Jimmy Kimmel Live this Wednesday (July 27). Alanis will also hit PBS' Tavis Smiley Show for a performance (airdate TBA).

The folks pushing the Alanis machine these days say that "Jagged Little Pill Acoustic gave Alanis the opportunity to 're-interpret the songs in ways that have developed in [her] touring and acoustic shows over the past ten years.'"

Of course, its also an opportunity for her and her label to sell millions more copies of these reworked songs that broke so many sales records during the original run.

Coldplay X & Why?

by David Schultz

Since their debut in 2000, Coldplay has created an interesting little musical niche for themselves. Without alienating the mainstream MTV/Clear Channel audience, they have earned a modicum of rock credibility and can apocryphally be considered rockers in the same vein as Pink Floyd. Rather than turn to the Dark Side though, Coldplay has other goals. Making no secret of their desire to be bigger than U2, the English quartet has taken a curious approach towards surpassing their Irish superiors. On their first two albums, Parachutes and A Rush Of Blood To The Head, Coldplay established a distinct sound centered around Chris Martin's simple piano melodies and wispy ethereal lyrics whose earnest sincerity rescued them from the realm of whiney drivel.

The star of this show is clearly Chris Martin, who you may have heard is married to a famous actress and named his baby girl after a popular snacking fruit. (I tell you this as I fear the Martin-Paltrows may not be receiving enough publicity, which would surely be troubling). While Martin doesn't exhibit the technical proficiency of Billy Preston or Steve Winwood, this is not necessarily a negative within the context of Coldplay's repertoire. One need listen no further than the 2002 hit Clocks to grasp that the beauty of Coldplay's songs comes from their simplicity. Unfortunately, for their third album, Coldplay strays too far from the formula that works for them.

On X&Y, the songs are cryptically designated into two groups, the X's and the Y's in what appears to be an archaic reference to the sides of an LP. A better designation should have been to mark as X's those spots that bear Coldplay's distinct originality and the Y's for those that make you wonder why this sounds like an ill-conceived U2 imitation.

Fans looking for the bands mix of pleasant melodies with orchestral Beatle-ish arrangements that rely more on Martin's music than his voice will not be disappointed. The signature keyboards on the first single, Speed Of Sound, as well as X&Y, Swallowed By The Sea and Talk make them worthy additions to the Coldplay catalogue. However, when Jonny Buckland attempts the same trick on lead guitar, the songs suffer. On White Shadows and Square One, Buckland attempts to mimic Martin on guitar with little success. The same piercing guitar sound that works for U2 fails for Coldplay because the band simply lacks an edge. (Pun completely intended).

The dirgelike Kingdom Come is a valiant effort to close the album out on a solemn note, a la All You Can't Leave Behind's Grace, however Martin does not possess the vocal range to give the song the warmth and emotion it needs.

Even though X & Y contains one too many songs that sound like U2 B-sides, (e.g. Twisting Logic, Low), it would be grossly unfair to characterize the album as a pale imitation of U2. The songs that play to Coldplay's strengths are quite enjoyable and show that Coldplay has the potential to live up to their hype. Keep in mind though, this is not an album whose charms are immediately apparent. Perhaps Martin's hypnotic keyboards require time to burrow into the subconscious before they can truly be appreciated. Like a wine that opens up when its had a chance to breathe, it is with repeated listens that the album's subtleties are revealed. Unless Chris Martin erases world hunger, Coldplay has little chance of becoming the next U2 and should stop creating music in that mold. However, if they stick to the music that is uniquely theirs, there is a good chance that come 2015, some young band with a lead keyboardist married to Mary Kate or Ashley Olsen may proclaim that they want to be the next Coldplay.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Ani DiFranco Sidelined by Tendonitis

Ani DiFranco will take a year long break from touring after her July 31 show in Floyd, Va. DiFranco suffers from tendonitis in her wrists and hands, a condition she hoped would improve during a three-month break from touring earlier this year.

A spokesperson for the artist stated, "If she were to continue to perform at this time, she would risk permanent nerve damage to her hands."

The west coast leg of DiFranco's tour was to begin in Boise on August 30. Refunds for the cancelled dates will be provided.

As for what she'll do in the meantime, a post on her site says:
Although the Little Folksinger will be off the road, naturally she will not be quiet. Several new recording projects with longtime friends are in the works, along with a new album from Ani anticipated for 2006. She will also still participate as a featured speaker in the New Yorker Festival on September 24 in New York City.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

KCRW to Podcast Morning Becomes Eclectic

Starting today, Southern California's KCRW will offer podcasts of live sessions performed by guests on Morning Becomes Eclectic, hosted by Nick Harcourt. The show features independent and unsigned artists from a wide range of genres. Today's inaugural 40-minute podcast includes a live performance and an interview with LA's Goldspot.

The podcasts will be available for two weeks on's podcast page and the iTunes 4.9 podcast section.

Morning Becomes Eclectic airs weekdays from 9 AM to Noon PT and is also available as a live stream and on demand at

Worst Cover Songs of All-Time

Since the Earvolution staff put together their list of best cover songs, I thought I might as well get them to list the worst ones. No objective criteria here, but most of these songs either want to make the reviewer turn the dial or cringe when its an otherwise good artist making a mistake. Here goes:

Me (Jeff Davidson):

Zwan - Don't Let Me Down, Beatles.

Of course, most Zwan songs were pretty bad so its no suprise their cover of this great tune didn't cut the mustard either.

Limp Bizkit - Behind Blue Eyes, The Who

I'll be honest - I just don't like Fred Durst. I tried to like him back in the early days, but I just can't and therefore turn the channel anytime this overplayed song comes on.

Sheryl Crow - Sweet Child 'O Mine, GNR

I like Sheryl, but this one just doesn't cut it. As crazy as old Axl is these days, he rocked this tune and Sheryl's sweet voice just doesn't do it justice.

Lori Kozlowski:

Perhaps the worst in recent history that I have heard is:
Uncle Kracker's cover of "Drift Away."

The original by Dobie Gray, or even the cover by the Doobie Brothers is so much better. Gray's voice is soulful. And Uncle Kracker, well... Every time, I hear the cover on the radio, it gets the automatic channel change from me.

Jim McCoy:

Dancin' in the Streets
Original Artist: Martha and The Vandellas (Released as single, 1964)
Cover Artist: Grateful Dead Terrapin Station (1977)

The original locked up the 40th spot in Rolling Stones' "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time." The cover is scorned by both Deadheads and classic rock lovers alike. As one might expect, the Dead managed to play outstanding versions of the song outside the confines of the recording studio. Check out Dick's Picks Volume 3 for a tasty version that features lengthy, focused and hypnotic leads by Garcia during a year in which the band was atop its game.

The First Cut is the Deepest
Original Artist: Cat Stevens New Masters (1967)
Cover Artist: Sheryl Crow One Tree Hill Soundtrack (2005)

Although casual music lovers tend to attribute the song to Rod Stewart based on his 1976 studio recording of the tune, the track was actually penned by Cat Stevens and first recorded by female soul vocalist P.P. Arnold in 1967. (Arnold's album was actually released before Stevens' New Masters.) The website lists six artists besides Crow who have covered the tune. If only it could have remained at six. Crow takes a well-written, introspective song and successfully turns it into a pop nightmare. Thanks, Sheryl.

Crimson & Clover
Original Artist: Tommy James and the Shondells Crimson & Clover (1969)
Cover Artist: Joan Jett & The Blackhearts I Love Rock 'n Roll (1982)

The haunting, tremolo-laced 1969 original seems like an odd choice for treatment by Joan Jett, until one discovers that the Shondells' keyboard player worked with Joan Jett since the beginning of her solo career. Distorted guitars substitute for the original instrumentation, destroying the very vibe that makes the Tommy James original so appealing. This, however, did not stop Ms. Jett’s version from reaching the Top Ten. The original peaked at Number One.

Paul Dobry:

Madonna "American Pie" (Don Mclean)

Before Madge was British she felt justified in taking on this slice of Americana. While crappy canned beats may have started in America ,hearing any reference to a Chevy over top of them gives you that orange juice after you brushed your teeth feeling.

Rufus Wainwright "Hallelujah" (Leonard Cohen)

This cringe inducer almost ruined "Shrek" for me. Not only is this a feeble cover of Buckley's cover, but Wainwright abandons the poetic license meant for the rhyme. He sings "... how to shoot somebody that out drew you." rather than "... that out drew ya." Making the title seem out of place.

The Scissor Sisters "Comfortably Numb" (Pink Floyd)

You have to really hate a song to cover it the way The Scissor Sisters cover "Comfortably Numb." The song is just recognizable enough to infuriate any one who has ever heard a guitar. A disco beats and trill vocals have no place, well anywhere really but giving that treatment to such a well crafted classic rock standard constitutes fightin' words. A bad Gap ad waiting to happen.

The Presidents of the United States of America,
"Video Killed the Radiostar" (The Buggles)

This cover isn't even good enough to warrant biting witty criticism, so instead you get puns. Man this cover is so bad these guys should be impeached. They should be
called the Commanders in Grief. I hope they get assassinated (okay that one isn't so much a pun as just a statement.)

George Thorogood "One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer" (John Lee Hooker)

Thorogood has built a pretty successful career on ruining good Country and Blues
songs with corporate rock gloss. He turns this down-on-you-luck story of heartbreak into a chant for balding men reuniting with their old "frat bros."

Phil Collins "Tomorrow Never Knows" (The Beatles)

It's real easy to poke fun at Phil Collins. Some may think he is an unfairly easy target. I happen to love Phil Collins, and air drum with my entire soul to "In
the Air Tonight." It's sad that this cover is forced onto the same album as such a schlocky masterpiece. It's like Hinduism stripped of soul and mysticism.

Limp Bizkit "Behind Blue Eyes" (The Who)

It's actually quite a nice understated song that speaks of a quiet desperation that is universally identifiable. So, please stop yelling Mr. Durst.

Christopher O'Riley "True Love Waits: Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead"

I couldn't decide which reworking on this album a hated the most, so I chose the whole muzaky thing. A lot of overzealous Radiohead fans convinced me to buy this (being an overzealous Radiohead fan myself I took the bait.) Trouble is I hate elevator music. This is the perfect record for the office of a dentist who is trying to assert his hipness without offending anyone.

Marilyn Manson "Suicide is Painless" (Michael Altman/ Johnny Mandell)

The original is introspective, fits in perfectly with the film M*A*S*H and given its
context in the film works on at least 12 different levels (it's melancholy, it's macabre, it's hilarious etc.) Manson's cover fits in with Blair Witch 2: Book
of Shadows because dreadful shite that should have never been made loves company. When subjected to this cover one may view suicide as sweet relief rather than
merely painless.

Beck and Emmylou Harris "Sin City" (The Flying Burrito Brothers)

This one may not be as overtly bad as some of the others, but it just hurts so much more. Beck, Emmylou and The Burrito Brothers are all brilliant writers and performers that are capable of and deserve so much better. The songs falls on its
face as it is stripped of all emotion. Did L. Ron Hubbard put him up to this one?

Rob Dunne:

Satisfaction - Britney Spears covering Rolling stones - how dare she!?!

Sittin' on the Dock - Michael Bolton covering Otis Redding - how f-ing dare he!?!

Heroes - Oasis covering David Bowie - sounds like a weak tribute band covering Oasis trying to play Bowie. Abysmal.

What's Goin On? - Bono and Chris Martin covering Marvin Gaye - they just don't have Marvin's pain.

Mrs. Robinson - Lemonheads covering Simon and Garfunkel - sounds like a bunch of college shitheads arsing around with their new electric guitars.

Morgan Clendaniel:

Dixie Chicks with Sheryl Crow covering Bob Dylan's "Mississippi"

It's hard to even enumerate everything that's wrong with this. There is the insipid fiddle riff that's been added. There is the peppy tempo added to what is, essentially, a very sad song. There is the odd mimicking of early Dylan vocal style, even though that's not the voice that was recorded with. And most importantly, there is the idea that the Dixie Chicks seem to think they can do this song justice just because it's called "Mississippi" and because they are, ostesenibly, country musicians. Atrocious.

David Schultz:

All Along The Watchtower – Dave Matthews Band covering Bob Dylan

This plodding cover tune has become a staple of every Dave Matthews performance, often as the closing tune. In a misguided effort to duplicate Dylan's restrained fury, the DMB version is simply dreary and weighed down with by the band's own sense of self importance. Oh yes, the fact that Jimi Hendrix' laid the blueprint for the perfect way to play the song doesn't help.

Heroes – The Wallflowers covering David Bowie

In a bizarre decision, Heroes, a song inspired by an East German tryst David Bowie observed by the Berlin Wall, was selected to be the signature piece for a Godzilla remake. The Wallflowers, who were in their heyday at the time, unfortunately signed on to record a cover of Bowie's signature piece. Devoid of the passion that the song deserves, the Wallflowers created an unemotional recitation that simply falls flat.

Live And Let Die – Guns & Roses covering Paul McCartney & Wings

Guns & Roses possessed a relatively good track record when choosing songs to cover as evidenced by their relatively restrained version of Knockin' On Heaven's Door. However, on Live and Let Die, the band's bombastic approach is too heavy-handed and Axl's screeching is distracting.

Time Will Tell – The Black Crowes covering Bob Marley

The Black Crowes may be many things, but a reggae band is not one of them. Making the odd choice to close their Southern Harmony & Music Companion with a Marley tune, the Crowes attempt a straight cover without bothering to learn a reggae beat. It ends an otherwise solid album on the flattest of notes.

I Shall Be Released – The Band covering Bob Dylan

It is time to finally discuss the elephant in the room by pointing out that Richard Manuel destroys this song with his cracking wheezing voice. Rather than play the song in a key in which he can sing, the Band chooses one that makes it sound like Manuel is having an asthma attack. Instead of an anthem of peace, the Band created the musical equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard.

[JD note: There's a solid live version of I Shall Be Released on the U2 "Covering Them" bootleg when Bob joined the lads onstage in LA back in 1987. He also sat in for Knockin' on Heaven's Door, also on that same disc.]

Ripple – Janes Addiction covering the Grateful Dead

Perry Farrell added a host of effects and distortion in a wrongheaded effort to create a trippy version of the Dead classic. The result was a muddled, confused mess. This is a road that no one should travel.

I Got You Babe – UB40 & Chrissy Hynde covering Sonny & Cher

The original version was essentially a novelty tune that worked because Cher was three times the size of Sonny Bono. It neither needed re-recording nor a reggae beat, yet that didn't stop UB40 from enlisting Hynde in this doomed venture. Even more disturbing, the logistics don't work out – Cher had Sonny, Chrissy Hynde has what, the entire band?

The Raven - Lou Reed covering Edgar Allen Poe

Lou's genius takes him many places where the rest of us wouldn't go. Other times it leads him in directions best left unexplored. Reed's profane interpretation / adaptation of The Raven ignores Poe's inventive and intricate wordplay and the result is an angry, vindictive, directionless poem recited over a lackluster guitar beat.

Candle In The Wind (Lady Di version) -- Elton John covering Elton John

No one can blame Elton John for taking his wonderfully poignant ode to Marilyn Monroe and regurgitating it with different lyrics for his friend Lady Di. However, we can all blame Bernie Taupin for taking part in this venture. Surely, he should have known better. When John Lennon died, the pair came up with Empty Garden. Had the well run that dry that needed to infringe on their own copyrights? Where the original has poetry, the Lady Di version sounds like a plagiarized assignment for 10th grade English class.

Nutrocker - Emerson Lake & Palmer covering Tchaikovsky

Not wanting to reserve their pretentiousness to solely classical music, ELP thought they could cover ballet as well. Their ill-advised marriage of synthesizers and the Nutcracker Suite fails to conjure visions of sugar plum fairies. Rather, it raises images of the apocalypse and how if it came before the end of the song, it might not be a bad thing.

Boris: Akuma No Uta

by Laura Brennan
Southern Lord’s three-piece Japanese baby, Boris, recently unleashed their third full length. Imagine if Acid Mothers Temple and Mad3 were to fuck each others brains out on a crazy mescalin trip while listening to the Melvins’ Bullhead. This is Akuma no Uta.

The first track, “Introduction,” begins with long and droning sounds that are much less boring than many bands trying to do the Melvins, Earth, Sunno)) "thing." Then “Ibitsu,” bursts forth with a loud garage-esque explosion of squealing guitar. Both “Ibitsu” and “Furi” are high energy late-60s early-70s heavy rock fury with a sound as deep as the influential punk rock legends, The Stooges.
On the other hand, “Naki Kyoku,” starts with a very slow and warm, almost dream sequence sound. After an intense build up, it hits with a driving deep dark fuzzy guitar line that makes you wanna close your eyes and ride out the rest of this masterpiece of a song. The build up continues to rise up to the velocity of the rest of the album. The pair up of deep psychedelic influences with thick garage guitar underscored by the emphasis of the power of pure noise produces a sick sound.

Throughout the album, you can hear the chemistry between Atsuo's drums and Takeshi's double neck electric bass-guitar (yeah, that’s right). Wata, a metal geisha of doom, cuts through their solid foundation with her riff-tastic froth. She is the real six-string samurai. This band is obviously magic, Japanese and good at everything.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Sharp Things

By Lori Kozlowski

On a Thursday afternoon, Earvolution sat down with The Sharp Things' lead singer/songwriter Perry Serpa. The orchestral New York-based band has been around for years, but has evolved from something once strictly rock-and-roll to a more musically inclusive sound. So inclusive that the band at any given time has 12 or more members, all playing an array of instruments ranging from guitars to violins, cellos, and trumpets.

Beyond the uniqueness of this chamber-pop ensemble, Serpa's songwriting is both thoughtful and though-provoking. Filled with hundreds of colorful images (Ferris wheel lights, flannel pajamas, bottles of bourbon, and silken kimonos), his songs allow you to go to your own places of love or pain and pull out your most memorable moments of both.

Songs like "Silver Anniversary," "Homeless," and "She Left with the Sun," recount personal tokens of Serpa's past.

At a little place called The Talking Stick in Santa Monica, CA, Serpa was true to the coffeehouse's name sake, chatting at length about the band's history and where they are headed. Sitting on a floor of colored pillows and Persian rugs, Serpa had this to say about his band and their new CD Foxes & Hounds:

LK: Tell me about the name of the band and how that came about.

PS: Actually, I think it was a name before it was a band. I had this song, I think it was more like a couplet from a song...something like "and my mother hid the sharp things." A song that I wrote a long time ago - over a decade ago.

LK: What about the band's inception?

PS: [In 1992/1993] the earliest idea for the band was that it would be a pop rock band. But, God, it became a totally different animal.

LK: How many people are in the band now?

PS: Active members. I think it comes to 12. But then we have satellite members and past members, which amounts to about 15 or 16 people.

LK: How does that work? Do satellite members just drop in and play the songs?

PS: Yeah, people just play to the songs. Whatever the songs need. [For instance] we had a keyboard player and she came in so I could make love to the mike. She played at the piano and I just stood at the mike. So I can have that versatility.

LK: How are you able to coordinate with this many band members?

PS: It's really hard. I try not to stress too much about it. I don't rule with an iron fist or anything. And that kind of makes people want to stay. A lot of times for my purposes, I just really need the core band to rehearse and then we get closer to a date, I'll pull everyone into it. A lot of it is just time management and playing with a group of people who are hard workers.

LK: So how would you say your new CD Foxes & Hounds is different from Here Comes the Sharp Things?

PS: It's different. I mean there's still this thread of kind of a grandiose melancholy that runs through both of them. I would say that Foxes & Hounds has a little bit more confidence to it, which makes sense. It's much like having children. With Here Comes the Sharp Things, we were fearful; we didn't know what we were doing. We didn't know how to feed this kid. We didn't know how to take care of this thing, and how it was going to come together.

By the time we recorded a lot of the songs and got to mixing the record, we realized we had kind of a sound and we were going somewhere with this. I wanted to let things evolve very naturally, so by the time we got to this record, it was very clear about four or five songs naturally didn't work with the rest of the others and that was really exciting to just see this all come together.

The songs on Foxes and Hounds are also a lot younger with the exception of "She Left With the Sun," which was written back in 1996.

LK: What about your lyrics, where does some of that songwriting come from?

PS: Several experiences, relationships, several relationships pushed together, or just things that I see.

It's like trying to be an author, rather than being a slave to the music alone. I endeavor to speak to you through it. To say something.

LK: Tell me the story behind the song "There Will Be Violins."

PS: Back in the late 80s I was in this rock band in New York, and I was having a hard time with it. There was a lot of substance abuse, there was a lot of ego troubles and stuff like that. And I really wanted something to come of it because there I was in my early 20s and I wanted to be a rock star. And I was going through a lot of other changes. And my mom had gone to see this fortune teller, like a card reader.

And she said, 'oh you know you should go see Jerry. He told me some things you wouldn't believe.' So I went to go see Jerry and one of the things that he told me during the course of my reading was that. He said: This musical thing you're involved in right now, it is not going to go very far because most of you are your own worst enemies. Those guys you're playing with have a lot of problems. But I see violins in your future. I see something really coming together with the violins. When you have the violins, it's going to be much, much better. It'll be much more complete for you artistically.

And at the time, I was all about the guitars, so I was like "Fuck the violins, man, that's for wimps," you know. People, at the time, were not using violins in their music. It wasn't en vogue to do that, you know.

But then there I was seven years later with violinists, cellists, French horn players and all this stuff. And definitely The Sharp Things has been the most fulfilling musical experience for me ever. And for a lot of the other people involved in the band.

The Sharp Things often play popular New York venues such as the Bowery Ballroom, Tonic, and Joe's Pub.

This Saturday, July 23, the band performs a free show at the prestigious World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. For details about other upcoming shows, visit

Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party early favorites for Mercury Prize

The Kaiser Chiefs and Bloc Party lead the list of nominees for the prestigious Mercury Prize. The award is intended to honor the top artists in the UK music scene and is often, but not always, a harbinger of long-term success.

This year's group of artists also includes Coldplay ("X&Y"), Bloc Party ("Silent Alarm"), Antony and the Johnsons ("I Am a Bird Now"), Maximo Park ("A Certain Trigger"), M.I.A. ("Arular"), Hard-Fi ("Stars of CCTV") and the Magic Numbers ("Magic Numbers").

Past winners include Franz Ferdinand (who won last year), PJ Harvey, Dizzee Rascal, Ms. Dynamite, Badly Drawn Boy, Gomez, Suede, M People, Portishead, Roni Size/Reprasent, Tavin Singh, Pulp and Primal Scream (who took home the inaugural prize in 1992). The award ceremony is set for September 6th.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Columbia House settles FTC charges

Columbia House settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it violated federal law by calling existing or past subscribers of its home entertainment clubs after the subscribers had placed their telephone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, and after the subscribers had made specific requests to the company that they not be called. Columbia House will pay a $300,000 civil penalty and is barred from making illegal telemarketing calls in the future.

According to the FTC, from October 2003 through March 2004, Columbia House placed tens of thousands of calls to former members whose phone numbers were registered on the National Registry, after the company no longer had an established business relationship with those members as defined by the law. The FTC's complaint further alleged that, since December 1995, Columbia House violated the company-specific do not call provision of the TSR by calling consumers who had previously asked that they not be called. The FTC's complaint stated that although the company had implemented procedures to attempt to prevent future calls to such consumers, those procedures had proven ineffective in preventing the alleged calls.

Best Rock Cover Songs of All Time

Since its the "Summer of Lists" on the web, I had the Earvolution writers sit down and make a list of their favorite cover songs by popular artists.

David Schultz summed up the task this way:

The secret to a good cover song is to not imitate or replicate the original. Whenever an artist attempts that, the result is usually a tepid copy of an already established tune. A good cover song comes from using the original as a framework and investing it with that singer's set of unique strengths. The goal should be to interpret and re-invent, not slavishly reproduce.

Here are a few of mine (Jeff Davidson):

U2: Springsteen's, My Hometown. Recorded live in Dublin at Croke Park in June of 1985. The song appears on a bootleg of covers by U2 I was lucky enough to find some years ago at a record store on South Street in Philadelphia. There's a very nice version of "Help" on there and if you listen very carefully to the version of "Stand by Me" recorded in 1987 at Philly's JFK stadium you can here me in the crowd. Ok, so you can't here me, but I was one of the 100,000+ there that night when Bruce came out on stage and Bono uttered the now infamous "is he a local boy or something?" as the crowd went nuts when the Boss walked out.

Bonnie Raitt: Talking Heads, Burnin' Down the House. Bonnie gets it done on a great two-disc live set called "Road Tested" and has a killer version of this song. As a bonus, there's a nice cover of Angel From Montgomery as well with Jackson Browne, Bruce Hornsby (vocals & accordion), Bryan Adams and Kim Wilson joining in.

Johnny Cash "Hurt" (Trent Reznor) Cash's rendition is haunting and the video of Cash's stoic rendition really brings home the song's emotion. Its one of the best videos of all time.

Jim McCoy:

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye
Original Artist: Soft Cell Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (1981)
Cover Artist: David Gray White Ladder (2001)

The music of synth-pop 80's band Soft Cell and popular Welsh singer-songwriter David Gray has absolutely nothing in common- save for this song, which appears as the last track on Gray's White Ladder. Gray masterfully subs acoustic guitars for the grating synth and musical soulmate Clune adds tasteful brush-stroked drumming and background vocals in place of the hollow, sterile drums and sixteenth note bass drone of the Soft Cell original. Gray understands the point of recording a cover track: he truly makes the song his own. The airy, mellow arrangement seamlessly fits into the rest of the album rather than serving as a space-filling afterthought. The only indication that this song is not another of Gray's own soulful acoustic offerings is the fact that the lyrics were not included in the CD booklet. Ironically, the song that enabled Soft Cell’s international rise to fame - Tainted Love - is also a cover. It was first recorded in 1964 by Gloria Jones, who later became a back-up singer for T-Rex.

Waiting for a Miracle
Original Artist: Bruce Cockburn Waiting for a Miracle (1987)
Cover Artist: Jerry Garcia Band Live (1991)

Canadian Music Hall of Fame member Bruce Cockburn (pronounced 'Coburn') was reportedly pleased when Garcia decided to cover this gem from one of the singer-songwriter's 20-plus studio releases. The Garcia Band's arrangement- including the bass line- remains faithful to the original, but is augmented by Garcia’s soulful, scratchy voice and brilliant guitar soloing. The song remains a favorite among Garcia's numerous devotees. Cockburn himself has also been covered by Jimmy Buffet and the Barenaked Ladies, among numerous others.

Crazy Love
Original Artist: Van Morrison Moondance (1970)
Cover Artist: Aaron Neville Phenomenon: Music from the Motion Picture (1996)

This 1996 track from the movie staring John Travolta proves that the enigmatic Van Morrison was a man filled with soul. Neville's voice floats effortlessly over this arrangement, which uses different instrumentation but retains the same feel as the classic song from a classic album. Robbie Robertson of The Band fame adds a nice guitar solo as the tune begins to fade. The rest of the soundtrack contains a few other notable works: Eric Clapton's Change the World, Taj Mahal's Corrina and an offering by J.J. Cale, to whom Clapton is indebted for some of his early solo hits (Cocaine, After Midnight).

The Maker
Original Artist: Daniel Lanois Acadie (1989)
Cover Artist: Dave Matthews Band Live in Chicago 12.19.98 (2001)

Despite the heavy criticism launched by his detractors, Dave Matthews and his band demonstrate that they not only enjoy good music in their off-stage time, but that also know how to play it well and make it their own (All Along the Watchtower notwithstanding). Matthews' vocal delivery is spot on and the tune moves and grooves while somehow managing to maintain the laid-back vibe of the original, which is built around the bass line. Victor Wooten guests on bass. The Maker was also covered by the Jerry Garcia Band on several occasions.

Last Caress
Original Artist: Misfits Beware (1980)
Cover Artist: Metallica Garage Days Re-Revisited: The $5.98 EP (1987)

Metallica's cover, which appeared on an EP released following the hiring of new bassist Jason Newsted, contains a faithful rendition of the original tune in which Glen Danzig spouts out such timeless lyrics as, "I've got something to say/ I raped your mother today." Metallica gives a double-shot on their EP, as Last Caress segues into a rendition of the Misfits' Green Hell.

Heather Huff:

Jimi Hendrix, "All Along the Watchtower" (Dylan) Dylan's original is a minimalist, three-chord acoustic folk song with apocalyptic lyrics. Hendrix gave new life to the song by matching the lyrics with urgent, fire and brimstone guitar solos. Rumor is Hendrix heard "All Along the Watchtower" on the radio and went into the studio the same day to record his own version. He took this song to another level, yet he stayed true to it's essence.

Tom Waits, "Sea of Love" (Phil Phillips)

Simply Sublime. Tom Waits, with one of the most expressive voices of our time, took a popular love song and gave it an authenticity no one else (The Honeydrippers, Robert Plant, Cat Power) could quite muster.

Flying Burrito Brothers, "Wild Horses" (Rolling Stones)

The cover that came a year before the original. Keith Richards once said that he and Gram Parsons played so much together that they "osmosed." Whatever you call it, Parson's influence on Stones classics such as this one and "Honky Tonk Women," are obvious. The FBB version doesn't stray too much from the original, but it is a tad more country and Parson's voice is, I dare say, more engaging.

Ryan Adams, "Wonderwall" (Oasis)

Drawing from his endless pit of emotion, Ryan Adams took a sad song and made it sadder. It took some nerve to cover an Oasis song, but he made this one his own. Even Noel "every-other-musician-is-a-wanker" Gallagher agrees, so much so that he now covers the Ryan Adams version.

Pet Shop Boys, "You Were Always On My Mind" (Elvis)

The Pet Shop Boys completely transform the feeling of this song and it's not just with the addition of a disco beat. The refrain, "you were always on my mind" switches to, "you were always in my house," replacing the theme of love to one of resentment.

Pixies, "Head On" (Jesus and Mary Chain)

This sped up version of the Jesus and Mary Chain classic is a fairly straightforward cover of a great song. Frank Black's spunk and the band's energy give it more of a punk rock feel.

Blue Cheer, "Summertime Blues" (Eddie Cochran)

Blue Cheer is one of the hardest and sadly most over-looked bands of the late 60’s. Their version of "Summertime Blues," leaves little of the original, save the lyrics. They scrap the shuffle beat in favor of screeching guitar lines that would pave the way for heavy metal.

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, "Somewhere over the rainbow" (Judy Garland)

You can't possibly listen to this song without smiling. A gently strummed ukulele accompanies Kamakawiwo'ole's sweet voice.

Rob Dunne:

Don't Let Me Down - Stereophonics covering Beatles - Kelly Jones' voice is pitch perfect - great version.

Hit Me Baby - Travis covering Britney Spears - starts out funny and then gets scary when you realize it's a great tune.

Mission Impossible Theme - Larry Mullen, Jr. & Adam Clayton covering Lalo Schifrin - kick ass rendition from the bass/drum powerhouse duo.

Everlasting Love - U2 covering Robert Knight - I just love this version , the acoustic guitar is perfect.

I am the Walrus - Oasis covering Beatles - Liam Gallagher's voice on this is brilliant.

Bittersweet Symphony - Coldplay & Richard Ashcroft covering The Verve - live at the Live 8 show, this was fantastic.

Exit Music (For a Film) - Christopher O'Riley covering Radiohead - beautiful on the piano.

Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley covering Leonard Cohen - powerful version.

Paul Dobry:

Cat Power "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (The Rolling Stones)

Chan Marshall strips down this raucous Stone's hit on her aptly titled "Covers Record". The album is rife with beautiful reworkings from Nina Simone, The
Velvet Underground, David Bowie and others. On this one she omits the chorus entirely and adds a slowed melancholy that lends all new meaning to lyrics like
"Can't you see, I'm on a losing streak?"

Jeff Buckley "Hallelujah" (Leonard Cohen)

No one has made a cover this much their own since Hendrix made people think Dylan was covering him. Buckley's voice is more haunting than on any of his own tunes. His voice soars to hit notes that Cohen couldn't quite reach, giving the song life that Cohen surely intended but couldn't achieve.

Nirvana "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" (Leadbelly)

Sometimes there is a reason that certain "too young to die" rock stars get props they do. As overrated as Kurt Cobain may be, I don't think anyone else could come this close the the burning desperation evident in this Leadbelly song. No one can top Mr. Leadbetter's working class, done against, bad luck moan, but Cobain pulls out all the stops to get damn close.

Radiohead "Nobody Does it Better" (Carly Simon)

Thom Yorke introduces this live cover as "the sexiest song that was ever written." The perfect execution of this tune makes one think that Carly Simon wrote the
it as a preemptive response to the cover.

Stevie Wonder "We Can Work it Out" (The Beatles)

Stevie takes this flawless little love song and sings it to the whole world. The approach take the message of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?" and makes it

Flying Burrito Brothers "Do Right Woman" (Chips Moman/Dan Penn)

Leave it to Gram Parsons to make a soul song sound as if it were intended for slide guitars and cowboy harmonies. It reminds us the shared goals of R&B and Country that spawned Rock & Roll.

Joe Cocker "With A Little Help From My Friends"

It's damn near impossible to cover a Beatles song and may it arguable preferable to the original. Cocker provides the perfect soundtrack to the Super 8 footage
of Kevin Arnold at the beginning of The Wonder Years 8. Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) "I Love How You Love Me" (Phil Spector) Jeff Mangum sings this one like he means it, and probably does. The tone is more befitting of Phil Spector's genius vs. nut job passion than Frankie Valli's easy listening, inoffensive

Deodato "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (Richard Strauss)

Never has classical sounded so funky. Deodato's addition of spacey sound effects and a mean bass line would make even HAL start bobbing his head.

Uncle Tupelo "Effigy" (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

These guys paved the way for what would eventually become Alt-Country. By adding a little punk rock to The Carter Family, The Flying Burrito Brothers etc. they reminded us that Country was Punk all along. The pounding guitars and drums on this one are perfectly juxtaposed with minimalist breakdowns and twangy harmonies.

Morgan Clendaniel:

Uncle Tupelo covering the Carter Family's "No Depression"
It's pretty indicative of lots of things about America at the end of the 20th century that it made sense for Uncle Tupelo to take the Carter Family’s song about the Great Depression and make it about being depressed. It also gave a name to an entire musical movement. It's also really good.

Los Lobos covering the Eagle's "Hotel California"
The original version is long, plodding and filled with lyrics that don't make any sense. So why not listen to a better version that is long, fast, and still filled with words that don’t make sense?

The Clash covering Lee "Scratch" Perry and Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves"

Brimming with tension about to boil over, the Clash add anger and volume to an already good song. From the falsetto backing vocals to the ire in the vocals, this version is brilliant in every way. It’s a brilliant distillation of the mood during punk’s beginnings on the street on London.

William Shatner covering Pulp's "Common People."

Many (especially Pulp fans) despise this cover, and with good reason. But if you can’t take joy in the sneer in Shatner’s voice as he spits “you’ll never fail like common people,” then you are certainly not cynical enough.

David Schultz:

Respect – Aretha Franklin covering Otis Redding

After hearing Aretha's revamped version of Respect, Otis Redding knew exactly what had happened, declaring "that girl done stole my song." Improving on the original in every way, Aretha created a feminist statement while cementing her reputation as the Queen of Soul. No cover song has been as intimately associated with its singer as Respect and Aretha. Without question, the best cover song ever.

Hey Joe – Willy Deville ostensibly covering Jimi Hendrix

The Hendrix version of Hey Joe is a cover itself but it is the seminal version of the song and any version that followed must out of necessity be compared to it. While most artists covering Hey Joe try to put their spin on the signature guitar riffs, Deville goes in another direction – he employs a Mariachi band. Replete with horns and a Tijuana beat, Deville’s version works on a different level from all of the other versions.

Gloria – Patti Smith covering Them

On her debut album, Horses, Patti Smith turned the Van Morrison sing-along into a growling punk anthem. Smith's super-cool poetry backed by Lenny Kaye's thundering guitar robbed the song of all its innocence. This is definitely not the stereotypical sing-along version.

With A Little Help From My Friends – Joe Cocker covering The Beatles

The only chance you may have of one upping the Beatles is to cover a Ringo tune. Cocker transformed the Beatles family friendly song into an anthem of the Woodstock generation and ultimately the coolest TV theme ever. The Cocker rendition is one of the better examples of adapting another artist's song to your strengths.

Proud Mary – Ike & Tina Turner covering Creedence Clearwater Revival

Tina Turner brought an abundance of energy to this laidback CCR tune and turned it into her signature song. Replacing the "choogle" with rhythm and blues, Ike & Tina assured that this song will be a classic in multiple genres of music. John Fogerty's impetus to once again play his Creedence songs came from Bob Dylan telling him that if he didn't, the world would remember Proud Mary as a Tina Turner song.

Hotel California – The Gipsy Kings covering The Eagles

This is the Spanish version of Hotel California that the world was clamoring for. The Gipsy Kings retain the iconic intro to the song but on Flamenco guitar it is only slightly familiar. It is only when the "dark desert highway" is in an unfamiliar language that you realize what you are listening to.

. . . Baby One More Time – Travis covering Britney Spears

Britney Spears is a wonder of the music industry's marketing "genius." One of the main reasons for her success though is that she has been given well crafted songs to work with. Travis proves that point here with an acoustic rendition of her debut tune that leaves you marveling at what lies underneath the lavish studio overproduction of Britney's throwaway pop.

Sweet Leaf – Galactic covering Black Sabbath

Who knew that Black Sabbath tunes were just jazzy classics waiting to bust forth. Utilizing their superb horn section, Galactic brings the funk out of this heavy metal standard. Danceable Sabbath? What's next, an adult contemporary version of Crazy Train – oh wait, never mind.

Try A Little Tenderness – Andrew Strong/The Commitments covering Otis Redding

As proven by the numerous horrendous renditions of the song, Try A Little Tenderness is a difficult one to sing well. The song’s structure exponentially magnifies the weakness of any singer and the artist who tries it risks being exposed. For decades Otis Redding was the only one who could sing it – until Alan Parker made The Commitments. Andrew Strong, who was only 16 at the time, nails the song. In fact, that’s the secret to the movie: the tragedy of the band's failure was that they were SO GOOD they could play Try A Little Tenderness.

Gin and Juice -- The Gourds covering Snoop Dogg

Rap has always borrowed heavily from rock, country and soul but this time the roles are reversed. The Gourds, a group of bluegrass musicians, tear into this Snoop classic with abandon. With its banjos, steel guitars and country twang, this is the definitive hillbilly rap song.

Alex Padalka:

Sex Pistols doing Frank Sinatra's I Did It My Way

This is a funeral song at heart, and these guys would desecrate each other's graves for kicks, so it becomes impossible to listen to one without remembering the other with a pleasant smile, no?

Scissor Sisters doing Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb

Scissor Sisters did what Pink Floyd would have done if they were part of a generation of white people who learned rhythm thanks to house music and then heard some disco, possibly switched up the drugs a bit, but not too much. Those that take offense, beware - search your sense of humor.

Nirvana doing Lead Belly's Where Did You Sleep Last Night

If only this was a hip hop sample - we would have all known to go search the record bin for the original. Alas, it never sounded weird for Cobain to sing something like "in the pines, in the pines, where the sun don't ever shine" - the words, archaic on someone else, fit him perfectly, so it took some of us less attentive ones years to finally experience Lead Belly. Both made music instead of merely playing it.

Johnny Cash doing Depeche Mode's Personal Jesus

With his covers album, Johnny Cash reminded us that he was still paying attention. Making over Personal Jesus, however, meant taking apart the biggest euro-pop hit of all time and revealing the dark brooding drunk American troubadour behind everything that is rock n' roll.

Monday, July 18, 2005


by David Schultz

Webster Hall, one of the hipper night clubs in New York City, in their effort to expand their audience beyond the denizens of the dance floor, played host to a unique mix of the old and the new when John Hiatt shared his stage with the North Mississippi Allstars. The unique choice of venue was apropos to the unique mix present on stage. Where else to showcase a musician's-musician like Hiatt backed by one of the South's up and coming bands but at one of New York's larger night clubs?

The pairing of Indiana's Hiatt and Mississippi's Allstars is not as random as it may appear. Hiatt's new album Master of Disaster, was produced by legendary Memphis producer Jim Dickinson who enlisted his sons Luther and Cody, members of the Allstars, to contribute their talents to the album. The NMA, whose membership varies and grows with each performance, often rising to as many as a dozen members, were present this night in their core configuration with guitar wizard Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson on drums and Chris Chew on bass.

Seated along the front of the stage, Luther, with a phalanx of guitars, and the Allstars opened the show with a brief acoustic set. With Cody abandoning the drums for a guitar and Chew comfortably resting his ample bulk in a chair that resembled a love seat, the Allstars played a tight set highlighted by their set closer, an extended rendition of Po Black Maddie.

For all the musicianship brought to the stage by Chew and the Dickinson's, they were equaled by John Hiatt. Hiatt, a veteran performer, brings a strong presence to the stage and is as comfortable alone with a piano as he is fronting a band with guitar in hand. Although the set list was exclusively Hiatt's, this was definitely a collaborative performance with the Allstars receiving equal billing on the marquee. Luther Dickinson, who will occasionally lend his considerable slide guitar talents to bands like moe. and Robert Randolph, was given ample opportunity to solo and added a spark that is oftentimes missing from Hiatt's recorded material.

This is a tour in support of a new release and Hiatt devoted a good portion of the show to delivering his pleasant but pedestrian new tunes. One notable exception was Ain't Ever Goin' Back where Hiatt and Dickinson greatly improved on the studio version by transforming the countrified song about moving past a bad relationship into a fierce blues anthem.

Despite the new album, Hiatt's back catalogue was not neglected. The Allstars, with their fresher ears and younger attitude, greatly improved Hiatt standards like Riding With The King, Cry Love and especially the show closing Slow Turning. The band greedily dove into Hiatt's more upbeat songs, clearly enjoying the slinky The Tiki Bar Is Open and relishing in the bouncy Memphis In The Meantime, but on the slower ones were left without much to do.

For the entirety of his 2 hour set, Hiatt was loose and clearly enjoying himself. He is keenly aware of his status as an aging rocker and finds humor in the added girth and lack of hipness inherent with his graceful aging. Before closing the show with Bring The Family's Thing Called Love, he thanked Bonnie Raitt, who had a much more successful run with the song, for putting his kids through college

Before closing the show with an extended Slow Turning, Hiatt returned to the stage alone for his encore staple Have A Little Faith In Me. Accompanying himself on the electric piano, Hiatt showed that he didn't need the younger rockers behind him to captivate and enthrall his audience.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Social Security not going bankrupt says Rock the Vote

We've heard lots of horror stories about social security going broke or disappearing. There's no question that the failure to lock up the surplus before giving it away to major tax breaks has put the system in jeopardy. But, Hans Reimer, Executive Director of Rock the Vote says social security is not as doomed as some claim:

Despite what you have been told, Social Security is not "going bankrupt" or "broke," and it will never disappear. Social Security will most likely need more money in the future in order to pay all the benefits that are promised. Nevertheless, Social Security is in much better shape than most people realize. Even without changes, Social Security can pay larger benefits to future retirees (today's young workers) than seniors get today.

Reimer further says the actual statistics show that with no changes no benefits will drop until 2040. And, even then its a relatively slight drop. But, with some reform well short of President Bush's privatization plan, Reimer says Social Security should be around for theforeseeablee future:

Since current workers pay the benefits for current recipients, the only way that the program would disappear is if there were no workers paying into it. Clearly that is never going to happen. While there is indeed a decline in the number of workers paying into the fund relative to beneficiaries, there are still enough workers paying in to Social Security to fund larger benefits than people receive today.

Consider a worker who is 22 today and retires at 67 in 2050. With no changes, Social Security would provide her with a benefit of approximately $18,000 per year. If she were to live twenty years in retirement - a likely prospect - she would collect more than $360,000 from Social Security, in today's dollars, without changes to Social Security.

The deadly bombings in London and the failure to shut down Al Queada have taken domestic issues out of the U.S. spotlight. But, I have no doubt we'll hear more on this important issue as the 2006 election season approaches.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Son Volt: Okemah and the Melody of Riot

by Morgan Clendaniel

It's been a long time since the last Son Volt album. So long, in fact, it's difficult to even find their previous three albums in stores. But with the new record, Okemah and the Melody of Riot, Jay Farrar presents an entirely reconstituted Son Volt, and some of the strongest songwriting he has done in years, either in Son Volt, or as a solo artist.

As a lyricist, Farrar has become more and more obtuse as time has gone by. He has moved from the more cohesive lyrics he wrote earlier in his career, to dense impressionistic songs. But the words are not, for the most part, incomprehensible. Rather, they form evocative pictures, mostly of Farrar's impression of a downtrodden world that is slowly crumbling. Farrar's voice can, for some, take some warming up to. Its droning quality, however, fits perfectly into the images that his songs create; a sort of rusted-out American reality where his weary, cracking voice is the best way to sing about anything.

For Son Volt, the roots sounds are still there from the bands' early days as part of the alt-country movement's vanguard. But, with the new line-up there is a lot more emphasis on the "alt." All but two of the songs on Okemah are propelled by loud guitars that range from shimmering to brash and crunching, including some excellent solos by Farrar and new guitarist Brad Rice. It's a loud record, and Farrar seems to be releasing a lot pent up anger about the state of affairs, including some aimed at President Bush - "Jet Pilot" is one of the more creative jabs at W that music has seen. And, on the one-two punch of "6 String Belief" and "Gramophone," Farrar indicts the sad state of modern music, while at the same time turning out two of the album's best songs.

It's really not fair, at this point, to continue using Uncle Tupelo as a barometer of either Farrar or Jeff Tweedy's solo success. Let's just say this: Farrar has made an album with as much volume, and as much anger, as any Tupelo record. There are no snippets of "found sound" or studio tricks here. But, let's also note that Son Volt and Wilco are a lot closer in attitude and style than either Farrar or Tweedy would like to admit. But maybe now it's time for Farrar's music to get a closer look, after a near-decade of Wilco-madness. And with Okemah and the Melody of Riot, Son Volt should reclaim some of the spotlight that unjustly dwindled in recent years.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Cowboy Junkies speak out about new anti-war cd

The Cowboy Junkies have long been one of my favorite bands. So, I was thrilled last year when I got to interview bassist Alan Anton. Now, I'm equally thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Michael Timmins, who along with Alan and siblings Margo and Peter, round out the line-up of this multi-platinum group of indie legends. The topic of conversation focuses on their latest effort "21st Century Blues" which is described as "an album that is as passionately, intelligently and eloquently anti-war in its intent as anything rock music has come up with in 50 years of trying."

We all saw what happened when certain artists like the Dixie Chicks spoke out about the Iraq war - instant backlash, and in some cases were shunned by corporate radio. The Junkies have never been a radio darling, so the airplay backlash is really not a threat. But, still its a risk these days for artists to speak out. The Junkies are not only speaking out, they have recorded what is probably the most poignant anti-war/anti-violence disc in years. They went out and licensed some great songs from John Lennon, Richie Havens, U2 and others and have added a couple originals to create "21st Century Blues.".

What was the impetus for this cd? Why now?

The album kind of came about by chance. We were interested in doing a recording project that wasn't necessarily geared towards our original songs (we had released an album of original material, One Soul Now, in June 2004), but we also wanted a context for the project. We had written December Skies and This World Dreams Of during the One Soul Now sessions and we had been performing Isn't It A Pity on the road throughout 2004 and we realized that there was a certain commonality in the themes of those three songs. The Iraq war and our species renewed vigor in turning to violence at the first sign of any difference in world/societal/cultural views (whether it be the Western powers lobbing cruise missiles in to city centers or Islamic fundamentalists flying planes into buildings) was definitely playing on our collective consciences. Also, the topic of conversation with people that we were meeting in our travels around the world seem to always be turning to this renewed (or maybe it was just hitting closer to home) bloodlust. So the idea of doing an album about violence, greed, war, fear and loss made a lot of sense. It seems kind of feeble in the face of such huge problems, but we felt the least that we could do was to try and communicate a desire for peace. Kind of like throwing a Chuck Berry disc into a space-time capsule and hoping that the aliens who discover it will understand.

Some critics have said that the art community overall was fairly silent in response to the Iraq war and the questions surrounding it. Do you agree that there really hasn't been a major musical tide of protests songs like we saw in the 60s and 70s in response to Vietnam?

There has certainly been a lot of artists speaking out about the war, but maybe not as many as there were in response to Vietnam. But, unfortunately, it is still early. There will be plenty of time for protest in the coming years (albeit it might be a little too late at that point). I also think that one of the reasons for that lack of protest is that there is so much confusion and mis-information and emotion mixed up in the issue. The tie in to 9/11 (no matter how misguided) is hard to shake. Our purpose for putting out this album was not so much as an anti-Iraq War statement, but more as an anti-violence statement (a large umbrella, which the Iraq War would neatly fit under).

Are you worried about any kind of backlash in the US, like that received by the Dixie Chicks when they spoke out against the Iraq war?

Not really. Our general audience is generally pretty liberal and at the very least it is fairly open minded. I would like to think that someone who is truly in to our music would also be open to the notion of freedom of speech and even engaging us in a dialogue (at a concert or through our website) if their views happened to be different than ours. In any case, what kind of backlash could there be? Do you think that KROK might not play us on the radio?

Fair point.What's the view from the ground in Canada as far as popular support for the Iraq war?

From the very outset Canadians as a general population and as a government have been against the invasion. I was very proud of how our prime-minister handled the situation. It hasn't been an easy stance for us. We are inextricably entwined with the USA (personally, politically, historically, economically, name it, we are tied together) so to many people this lack of support for our friends to the South felt a lot like abandonment and, to some, treachery. But stronger than those feelings was our innate sense that the invasion was, if not, morally then, at the very least, strategically wrong.

How did you go about picking the songs for the cd?

Once we came up with the concept for the album we all started to pitch song ideas to each other. They all had to fit the loose theme of violence, war, greed, loss. We narrowed that list down to about 16 songs, worked on 13 and then chose 11 for the final CD.

Was choosing the song "One" as the closing song on the cd any attempt to remind listeners of some themes conveyed on "One Soul Now"? And, is there any significance to placing that song last?

One Soul Now was definitely a statement about the need to come together (as is the song "One"), but that theme was dealt with through a series of songs that examined personal dilemma. Early 21st Century Blues is a much more explicit statement even though the statement is made mostly using the words of others. I think our ages and situations in life (we are all in our forties and have children that we are consumed with) has naturally lead us to look at life from a very different and changing perspective over the past several years and therefore over the past few albums. But that is the way that we have always approached our music, it has always been a reflection of where we are as people.

The song is definitely placed last for a reason, because lyrically it is a beautiful punctuation mark (whether it is a period, question mark or exclamation mark is debatable) on the themes that are explored throughout the album.

One of the originals on the cd is December Skies, tell us a little about the inspiration behind that song. That song has a line: "Time to kill our children and sing about it" - that could cause some "stir" - to what are you referring to there?

December Skies was written in November 2002. The build up to the war with Iraq was under way and although the invasion wouldn't happen for another four or five months it was pretty obvious that was where we were headed. At the time I was reading The Wars by Timothy Findley (I highly recommend it) and I came across the following passage:

"I was afraid I was going to scream," she said. She gestured back at the church with its sermon in progress. "I do not understand. I don't. I won't. I can't. Why is this happening to us? What does it mean - to kill your children? Kill them and then...go in there and sing about it! What does that mean?" She wept - but angrily.

It was such a simple idea, but, probably due to the tension in the air, the passage really struck me. It is a stark and brutal idea: the celebration of war, so endemic in our society, is akin to celebrating the killing of our children. So I wrote the song with that context in mind. After I wrote it, I realized that there were many more layers to the song and idea. One was the futility of being in a band and merely singing songs of protest in the face of such violence, while others must actually endure watching their children go off and die. The other layer was a bit more subtle. The title of the song refers to the rising of the Star of Bethlehem in the December sky. The Star of Bethlehem heralded the coming of Jesus and his message of peace and love and good will toward our fellow man (a message that seems to be completely lost in these times). But it also struck me that, according to Christians, Jesus was sent by his Father to die for our sins. Another father sending his child off to die for what he perceives is the greater good. . . and, man, do we ever sing about that one.

I think it's also important to realize that this killing of our children and singing about it is not the sole preserve of "our side." We've all seen the Palestinian mothers standing proudly in front of flags while holding pictures of their newly martyred suicide-bomber sons. And the endless parade of home videos with Al Qaeda leaders celebrating the acts of the newest martyrs to the cause. There seems to be more than enough insanity to go around.

All fair points, indeed. A quick question about the cd. I noticed that Jeff Bird contributes on this cd as an additional musician. Jeff dates all the way back to contributing on the Trinity Session. How did you come to start working with Jeff and how many Junkies cds has he been on?

We started to scout around for players when we were planning the recording session that was to become The Trinity Session. We wanted a fiddle player and a friend put us on to Jeff. We were to later find out that fiddle was his least favourite instrument, but he seemed to be able to make music come out of anything else we put in his hands or inserted in his mouth. He’s a great player, a beautiful person and nice and quiet on the road. In other words, a perfect sideman. I think he has made an appearance on every Junkies CD since Trinity.

So, he's like the fifth Junkie! The band spends a fair amount of time on the road and you're nearing the end of the current set of tour dates, will you be adding more?

We are trying to not spend too much time on the road this year. We might add a few dates scattered throughout the year and there is always the possibility of a trip to Europe if the right situation arises. But we really want to get back in to the studio and begin working on our next album.

Sounds good Michael, meanwhile we'll enjoy this one.

You can listen to all the tracks from 21st Century Blues on the Cowboy Junkies' official website.

Twenty Most Underrated Rock Albums

by David Schultz

In sitting down to compile this list, I had to first figure out what exactly constitutes an underrated album. It doesn't seem like it would simply be a great record that didn't sell well. In that case, the Velvet Underground's entire catalogue would be considered underrated but given the near unanimous critical approval those albums receive, they can't truly be considered underrated. Conversely, it also doesn't seem that it would be a poorly reviewed record that sold millions. I don't think under any set of criteria the Titanic soundtrack or any Spice Girls album could or should be called underrated. After much thought, the definition became simple: an underrated album is a record that discerning musical fans should have in their collection but for some reason the majority of them don’t.

So, in no particular order, here are the 20 most underrated albums:

George Harrison: All Things Must Pass (1970)

In the aftermath of the Beatles, John Lennon had classic albums like Imagine and Plastic Ono Band, Paul McCartney had Wings and Band On The Run and Ringo had . . . well, Ringo had Barbara Bach. The silent Beatle's solo career, like his stint in the most famously analyzed and studied of bands, was dwarfed by the attention paid to Lennon & McCartney. However, that is not to say that George does not deserve mention with his more acclaimed band mates. Harrison's first true solo effort is unquestionably his most triumphant. The three album set showcases the musical chops that weren't able to fully flourish with the Beatles. The record's success comes from its combination of White Album era songs like All Things Must Pass, fresher material like What Is Life and Wah Wah, Dylan covers and collaborations like I'd Have You Anytime and If Not For You and My Sweet Lord's inadvertently borrowed melody. It is the third album of the set though that is the icing on this cake. Foreshadowing the jamband scene by a good decade or two, the album's finale consists of George and the band, which consisted of Eric Clapton and Dave Mason on guitar, Billy Preston and Bobby Whitlock on keyboards and Ringo on drums, working out puzzlingly named extended grooves like I Remember Jeep and Thanks For The Pepperoni. An underrated album by the most underrated Beatle.

Pete Townshend: White City – A Novel (1985)

If this was a Who album instead of a Townshend solo album, it would rest comfortably with the classic rock mainstays of anyone's collection. Like most conscientious rockers in the late eighties, Townshend was against Apartheid and chose to combat it as only he could -- with his sarcastic wit and killer guitar licks. Using the structure that worked so brilliantly on Quadrophenia and Tommy, Townshend tells yet another story of alienation and oppression, this time set in a segregated county that is a thinly veiled South Africa. Townshend's voice is a perfect fit for the restrained fury of White City Fighting and Brilliant Blues. However, it lacks the power necessary to push other tracks like Give Blood and Secondhand Love into the pantheon of true arena rockers. Fortunately, Townshend knows that people aren't buying his albums to hear him sing and the album is peppered with his signature guitar. True Townshend junkies will not be disappointed with the album's last track Come To Mama. An added bonus: since the mid-eighties was a fertile period for rap, Pete unabashedly gives it a shot on Face The Face. White City pulls of the difficult task of possessing a sense of importance without becoming pretentious and it is without doubt, the most complete album of Townshend's solo career.

SideBar: The Most Underrated Concept Albums: There is always a bit of a stigma attached to the concept album. Oftentimes, it is not undeserved. Usually, the artist has come up with some idea that he feels is so important and so monumental that one song will not do the idea justice, hence the concept must be spread throughout the entire album. In this attempt, the limitations of the artist as a songwriter and/or musician are laid bare for all to see. As Styx taught us with Kilroy Was Here, there is nothing funnier or more embarrassing than an earnestly put forth concept album that defies logic and reason. Fortunately, Green Day's American Idiot revived interest in the concept album by conjuring up images of Quadrophenia and demonstrating that a wonderful work of art can be created when the concept is carried out successfully.

The top 5 underrated concept albums (again in no particular order: 1) The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway – Genesis (1974); 2) Joe's Garage – Frank Zappa (1979); 3) Southern Rock Opera – Drive By Truckers (2001); 4) White City – Pete Townshend; 5) Jethro Tull – A Passion Play.

Big Head Todd & The Monsters: Midnight Radio (1990)

Big Head Todd's true debut album should have made them superstars. With half of the tracks recorded live on stage and the other half recorded in basements and living rooms throughout their hometown of Boulder, Colorado, the band successfully channeled their laid back sound, which is reminiscent of John Hiatt at his finest, into their most intimate record. The resulting album is the perfect soundtrack for a late night summer drive on a wide open road with the convertible top down. The first 2/3 of the album presents the band in their finest element, rolling through amiable, jangling tunes like City On Fire, The Leaving Song and Dinner With Ivan. In subtle contrast, the album closes with a trio of achingly contemplative songs, Monument In Green, Ann Arbor Grandfather and Elvis, that showcase Todd Park Mohr's ability to captivate an audience with simply a guitar and naked emotion. The standout track on the album is undoubtedly Bittersweet. Even 15 years later, the intro to this song will make a live crowd explode and the brilliantly restrained guitar solo Mohr unleashes near the close of the song is quite possibly one of the more underrated solos in rock. Where some bands follow their astounding debut album into oblivion, this album shows why Big Head Todd is still recording and touring 15 years later.

Goo Goo Dolls: Hold Me Up (1991)

Before the Goo Goo Dolls began one of the most horrific descents into mediocrity and morphed into the sappy lite-rock charade of a rock band they are today, they were one of the best garage bands on the planet. I kid you not. Though it may be hard to believe now, this trio from Buffalo, New York used to be favorably compared to the Replacements. Spin magazine paid this album the highest compliment it could think of when it called Hold Me Up the album for the pathetic loser in all of us. Quite frankly, there is no better album to get you through an ugly break-up than this one. The album consists of mostly of three minute songs with Johnny Rzeznik's thrashing guitar dominating throughout. Knowing that the Goo Goo Dolls were capable of "fuck you" lyrics like Two Days In February's "I know you're living way out west/don't get me wrong I'm not impressed/ with you/ no more," three chord sonic assaults for the defeated like Laughing, There You Are and Just The Way You Are (absolutely no relation to the Billy Joel song) and kick-ass covers of the Plimsouls Million Miles Away and Prince's Never Take The Place Of Your Man, makes their MTV friendly, mopey soft rock like Isis and Name that much more maddening. Given what they became, Hold Me Up may go down as the most underrated album ever.

Stone Roses: Stone Roses (1989)

This was the album that brought the Manchester sound to the forefront of musical culture. Although bands like The Soup Dragons, Jesus Jones and Inspiral Carpets tried, none got it better than the Stone Roses. Starting with a fundamental base of psychedelia, the Roses mixed it with danceable funk (Fools Gold), cascading guitar riffs (Waterfall) or flat out U2 like pomposity (I Am The Resurrection). Immediately following Waterfall, the band reverses the audio track and creates a new song, Don’t Stop, over the reversed loop. The album also possesses a wicked sense of humor, calm soothing melodies come complete with some of the most frightening and threatening of lyrics. On Shoot You Down, Ian Brown, with the emotional range of a serial killer, gleefully describes that he'd "love to do it and you know you always had it coming." One of the album's highlights, an adaptation of Simon & Carbuncle’s Scarborough Fair that transforms the innocent ditty into an ominous ode to assassinating Queen Elizabeth. Oh yes, they could also play it straight (I Want to Be Adored). Sadly, this album is the only worthy testament to the greatness of The Stone Roses. Shortly after its release, the band became involved in numerous lawsuits that frustrated the release of their follow-up album for close to 5 years. By the time the pompously named Second Coming was released, the magic was gone. Indicative of the group’s importance, without the Roses at the forefront, the Manchester movement withered and died. Unlike the albums of their Manchester brethren, the Roses debut album holds up years later and deserves proper recognition.

Richard Thompson: Rumor and Sigh (1991)

Richard Thompson is one of those musicians that have been around forever and you've probably heard his name mentioned once or twice before but can never seem to recall why you recognize the name. Thompson was a founding member of the Fairport Convention and left the band with his wife Linda in 1971. Richard & Linda Thompson recorded a pair of wonderful albums, Shoot Out The Lights and I Want To See Bright Lights Tonight, which would be on this list but for the fact that the two albums are critical darlings. Without the angst and turmoil provided by his ex-wife, Thompson's solo career never skyrocketed. However, the karmic forces aligned when he recorded Rumor & Sigh. His songwriting, always sharp, is at its best here. There is swagger on Feel So Good, British charm on God Loves A Drunk and wizened confusion on Grey Walls and Read About Love. The album's masterpiece is the bizarrely romantic love story of James and Red Molly that centers on a 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. I defy anyone to listen to Thompson’s delivery of James' final words to Molly and not feel a chill down their spine as he gives her one last kiss and dies, but gives her his Vincent to ride.

Traveling Wilburys: Volume 1 (1988)

In 1988, George Harrison started work on a new album with producer Jeff Lynne in Bob Dylan's garage. Over the course of the recording sessions, neighbors Tom Petty and Roy Orbison drifted over and common interests being what they were, they all started recording together. Adopting pseudonyms and declaring themselves all Wilbury brothers, they recorded an album that brought out the best in all of them. The Wilbury songs expressed fragility (Handle With Care), reflection (End Of The Line) and a sense of humor (the Springsteen "homage" Tweeter & The Monkey Man). The alter-egos seemed to give the Wilburys, especially Dylan, the freedom to relax and the songs possess a freewheeling sense of fun often missing in their "real-life" recordings. The spontaneous feeling prevails throughout the album, which is also notable for being one of Roy Orbison's last recordings before his death. Given the star power here, it is amazing that the Wilburys aren't a staple of what's left of classic rock radio.

SideBar: The Most Underrated Benefit Show: Farm Aid 1985. At some point during his unintelligible set closing the Live Aid show in Philadelphia, Bob Dylan told the crowd that he thought it would be nice if we gave a million dollars or two to the American farmers to help pay off the mortgages on their farms. As might have been expected, this pissed off Bob Geldof to no extent. However, it caused John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson and Neil Young to coordinate Farm Aid, the first major follow-up to Live Aid. Taking place on September 22, 1985 in Champaign, Illinois, without heavy promotion and without even a major TV deal, (the fledgling Nashville Network had no penetration back then), Farm Aid boasted a pretty serious line-up. In addition to the founding musicians, Billy Joel, Tom Petty and Lou Reed appeared as did the major country musicians of the time including Alabama, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and the Charlie Daniels Band. Of course, Bob Dylan lent a hand and more satisfyingly played a relatively coherent set. Don Henley, who was huge at the time following the release of Building The Perfect Beast, closed the show with a set that eschewed Eagle classics and featured The Boys of Summer and Sunset Grill. Most noteworthy from the show was Van Halen's first public performance with new lead singer Sammy Hagar. Unfortunately, the conclusion of their set was only seen and heard by the live crowd as radio and TV abruptly cut away when Hagar uttered a curse word from the stage. Hagar did however, leave both breasts covered.

Allman Brothers Band: Back Where It All Begins (1994)

After a seven year hiatus, the ABB reformed in 1989 with Warren Haynes and Allan Woody joining Gregg Allman, Dicky Betts and the rest. Back Where It All Begins is the last studio album of this version of the band as Haynes and Woody left soon thereafter to devote their time to their side project, Gov't Mule. Without doubt, this album ranks with the strongest of post-Duane, ABB studio albums. Most notably, the album contains the first appearance of the Warren Haynes classic Soulshine, which if recorded in a different era would be one of the rock classics of all time. Gregg Allman invests it with the withered soul that illustrates the magic that occurs when a song and singer are perfectly matched. There are also the instrumental heavy Southern rock jams that the Allmans are known for. The title track and Sailing Across The Devil's Sea are not only highlights of the album but mark the high point of the Allman Brothers version 2.0. Given that the Allmans back catalog is filled with some extraordinarily groundbreaking recordings, Back Where It All Begins, coming as it did in the nineties, is unfairly overlooked

Robert Randolph & The Family Band: Live at the Wetlands (2002)

This album has the potential to come off this list at some point in time as Randolph has the potential to be one of the saviors of rock and roll. Not only does this record capture one of the final performances at the Wetlands, the jamband Mecca of New York City, it also captures one of the most exciting musicians of the 21st century in the relatively fledgling stages of his development. Robert Randolph has been accurately described as the Jimi Hendrix of the pedal steel guitar and this Live at the Wetlands is proof that the comparison is far from gratuitous. Wetlands features long extended jams that give the band, especially Randolph, the opportunity to show off their chops. Ted's Jam breathlessly kick starts the album, building up to crescendos usually found in a band's encore rather than their opener. The band's gospel origins are evident in the soulful Pressing My Way and the rollicking Tears Of Joy, but they come front and center on the penultimate I Don't Know What You Come To Do. With a chorus right out of revival meeting, Randolph with the persuasion of Baptist minister, declares that that he's come to clap his hands and stomp his feet and the crowd is right there with him. This album, capturing Randolph in his infancy, could be his Beatles in Hamburg – so it may not be underrated for long.

Ted Hawkins: The Next Hundred Years (1994)

Ted Hawkins spent the majority of his life as an obscure but talented singer and guitar player. Although he had a bit of a break in the late 60's, his career evaporated in a haze of heroin and multiple stints in jail. By the early 90's, Hawkins had become one of the many street musicians that populate Venice Beach, California. Remarkably, Hawkins became one of the most popular buskers with people coming from miles around and waiting hours to hear him play. Michael Penn (a/k/a Mr. Aimee Mann) was one of those people and in 1993 he persuaded executives from Geffen Records to get Hawkins off the street and into the studio. Hawkins finally relented and the resulting album, The Next Hundred Years, is astounding. Primarily accompanying himself on guitar, Hawkins invests original songs like The Good And The Bad and Big Things and covers of There Stands The Glass and Biloxi with an aged and knowing voice. With the exception of some strings added post production, this album is purely Hawkins and his guitar – and it is absolutely fantastic. Upon its release in late 1994, the album received extraordinary reviews but relatively little airplay. With his guitar in tow, Hawkins went around the country doing radio interviews and studio performances, mainly on free form radio and miraculously, the album slowly started to sell. Tragically, within weeks of the albums release, Hawkins died and he never got to enjoy the well deserved adulation he received for his wonderful album.

Dread Zeppelin: Un - Led - Ed (1990)

As the name would imply, Dread Zeppelin was a band that played nothing but reggae versions of Led Zeppelin songs. Interesting concept, eh? Oh yes, their lead singer was an Elvis impersonator named Tortelvis. Long before studio technicians were mashing up songs, Dread Zeppelin was mashing up genres in an acid fueled blender with tongue firmly in musical cheek. However, the joke carries through the entire album – and carries well. In the past decade there have been reggae homages to Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead, but none show the same reverence for their subject as Dread Zeppelin. From the introductory Black Dog, which includes a nice segue into Hound Dog, through a version of Your Time Is Gonna Come that stands comparison to the original to the closing drum beat of Moby Dick, the album stands on its own as a "reggae" classic and not as a one-off joke. Given the bizarre concept, Un-Led-Ed is an easy album to overlook and underrate.

Jimmy Cliff: The Harder They Come (1973)

Reggae 101 involves the purchase of Bob Marley's Legend, listening too it numerous times, getting a brightly colored Marley T-shirt and then declaring that Jah Love, you are a fan of reggae. The upper level course in reggae involves the soundtrack to The Harder They Come. Although the lions share of acclaim for reggae's widespread success rightly goes to Marley, it is Jimmy's The Harder They Come that first brought reggae music to the forefront of the collective musical consciousness. The 1972 film, which is reggae's Citizen Kane, was primarily responsible for introducing reggae to the U.S. and tilled the soil for the release of Marley's debut album, Catch A Fire. In addition to The Harder They Come, the soundtrack has other classics like Many Rivers To Cross and Sitting In Limbo. The album contains Toots & The Maytals brilliant renditions of Pressure Drop and Sweet & Dandy as well as Desmond Dekker's take on Shanty Town. Even though the Rivers Of Babylon in this collection isn't sung by Cliff, the Melodians do it justice. Sadly, there seems to be room for only one legend leaving Jimmy Cliff to remain reggae's unsung hero.

Pink Floyd: Meddle & Animals (1971/1977)

Meddle and Animals get grouped together in one selection as they are the most underrated albums of a group whose ubiquitous catalog can be found in just about everyone's CD collection. Pink Floyd are played on classic rock radio with the same frequency as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Who. However, if your only exposure to Floyd came from the radio, you wouldn't be faulted if you thought Pink Floyd's entire career consisted of Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall. With Meddle, the band introduced the trippy aural psychedelic sound that would soon become the band's trademark. The songs vary considerably: menacing guitars on One Of These Days, airy flowing riffs on Fearless and San Tropez and standard blues on Seamus, an ode to an old hound. Foreshadowing Dark Side by at least two years, the album closes with the 18 minute-plus opus Echoes that ranks with the greatest Floyd has to offer. In 1977, two years after Wish You Were Here, Floyd's returned to the realm of long extended tracks with Animals. The band's paeans to Dogs, Pigs and Sheep marked Floyd's last true trip to the psychedelic realm they are renowned for. Are these albums truly underrated? Well, the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll omits discussion of Meddle and unfairly relegates Animal's significance to the inclusion of inflatable pigs in their stage show.

Tin Machine: Tin Machine (1989)

This is the one album that would be impossible to overrate. It didn't sell well and was reviled by practically every music critic. Critics hated his album – not just disliked it, but hated it – like it kidnapped their mother or killed their dog – or both. For those who don't remember, in 1989 David Bowie renounced his solo career and formed a band with guitarist Reeves Gabriel and Soupy Sales' two kids. The eponymously titled album that followed was a dark, gloomy and downbeat affair. After releasing a handful of chirpy and insubstantial records in the 80's, (Let's Dance, Blue Jean) the heavy guitars was a drastic change for Bowie. Bowie fans should always be prepared to expect the unexpected from the thin white Duke, but no one seemed willing to accept Bowie as part of a band, especially this band. But here's the thing, looking back on this album, the simple fact is it wasn't that bad - in fact, I will stand alone on the island and proclaim that it was actually pretty damn good. In the 70's Bowie had an edge to him that vanished sometime in the 80's. Save for a misguided cover of Lennon's Working Class Hero, which was a grand idea but somewhat failed in its execution, this album gave Bowie the roughest non-glam edge he'd had in his career. Underappreciated in its time, it deserves a better legacy.

Sting: Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985)

This album is the actual point where Sting moves from post-punk god to adult contemporary mainstay. Disconcertingly, he did it with style. Moving 180 degrees from the Police, Sting did so in daring fashion by gathering a band of accomplished jazz musicians that included keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, drummer Omar Hakim and saxophonist Branford Marsalis, long before Jay Leno "discovered" him. The songs on Blue Turtles are a bit heavier than the breezier fluff Sting has churned out over the past 20 years but they work and are eminently listenable due to the expert musicianship involved. Plus, you can't hate a song like Shadows In The Rain that starts with a howling "Woke up in my clothes again this morning/Don't know exactly where I've been." It is easy to diminish Sting's solo legacy as the car commercial fodder but his first foray into jazz fusion worked extraordinarily well. Good trivia note here as well, Eddy Grant, of Electric Avenue fame, contributes conga drums to Consider Me Gone.

Van Morrison: A Night In San Francisco (1994)

A night at a Van Morrison show nowadays is a risky proposition. For usually $70-$80, Van will make you show up early, cut off beer service when he takes the stage and most nights, play for just over an hour. Even worse, he will consciously omit any of his hits and force the audience to sit through plodding versions of sub-par recent compositions or covers from the 30s. However, that wasn't always the case. A Night In San Francisco captures everything that is great about Van Morrison. Without being a "play the hits" show (for that listen to It's Too Late To Stop Now), Van shows why he is "the Man." With a band that is likely more at home than a jazz club than an arena hall, Morrison rolls through a couple of his classics but also ventures into the slipstream with long extended versions of songs that move from James Brown and Sly & The Family Stone soul classics through blues staples like Stormy Monday and Good Morning Little Schoolgirl and even includes a hip rendition of My Funny Valentine. Without question, this is the best Van Morrison album in the past 25 years.

The Kinks: One For The Road (1980)

If this list was created in the mid-eighties, there is no way this album would be included as it was the biggest live album of that time. Well, with the exception of Frampton Comes Alive. Capturing the Kinks in the heyday of their live performances, it is the rare live album that provides the hits along with other lesser known favorites without ever hitting a down note. In between definitive and iconic versions of Lola and Celluloid Heroes there are raucous readings of Low Budget, Superman and National Health. Even more amazing, Ray and Dave Davies get through the entire album without once attempting to physically assault each other. The Kinks are often overlooked in any discussion of the British Invasion, which is a shame. Although the CD version is an edited version, it is still a worthy reminder of why the Kinks were the Prince of the Punks.

Elton John: 11-17-70 (1971)

It may be hard to believe nowadays, but Elton John was once the biggest rock and roll star in the world and at the time it was well deserved. This album, which shows why Elton deserved such status, comes from a November 17, 1970 concert that took place at a recording studio in New York and was broadcast live on WABC-FM. Although released after Tumbleweed Connection, it was recorded beforehand and contains rough but amazing versions of Burn Down The Mission and Amoreena. From the moment, he bangs out the intro to Bad Side Of The Moon to start the show, it is evident this is not your parents' Elton John. As an added treat, Elton breezes through a honky-tonk rendition of the Stone's Honky Tonk Woman and manages to slide in and out of the Beatles' Get Back. This is an Elton John that most don't remember existed, stripped of the flamboyant costumes and snarky anti-paparazzi behavior, Elton was truly one of the great rock pianists of all time.

Blues Brothers: Briefcase Full of Blues (1978)

If you want to know what keeps this album out of the comedy discount bin, just check out the picture of the band that comes with the album. When Dan Akyroyd and John Belushi created their labor of love to blues and soul music, they gathered musicians that would lend credibility to the effort. In Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Matt Murphy. Lou Marini, Bones Malone you have some of the musicians that created the Stax/Volt sound that defined the music the Blues Brothers revered. Recorded live before a surprised audience who came to see Steve Martin at the Universal Ampitheater, the album succeeds because Akyroyd and Belushi were serious about this effort, willing to walk off of Saturday Night Live when the two projects conflicted. Letting the music take the forefront, Briefcase Full of Blues revived interest in classics like Soul Man, B Movie Boxcar Blues and Hey Bartender. Even though Belushi delved deep into the Jake Blues persona, his comedic timing couldn't be contained on I Don't Know, a hidden classic from this album. The movie with soundtrack that came afterwards are worthy ventures in their own rights but never would have occurred if this album was not rock solid. John Belushi and Dan Akyroyd will long be remembered for their comedic roles, but this album should not be overlooked as part of their rich legacy.

Body Count: Body Count (1992)

This album never had a chance. With in weeks of its release, the controversy over its last track, Cop Killer, overshadowed any honest rational consideration of its musical merits. The album didn't charter any new musical territory, that accolade goes to Living Colour, but it did blend rap with heavy metal long before Kid Rock discovered the recipe. Plus, Body Count did it with a harder grittier edge. Originating as a side project, Ice-T rapping in front of a heavy metal band was something new and unique. Before the controversy broke, Body Count had been touring the country as part of the original Lollapalooza to some acclaim. There Goes The Neighborhood and Body Count – it was a song, the band, the album – created funky metal right about the same time Rage Against The Machine was ready to break. References to police shootings aside, the album possesses a sense of humor with its sly take on black culture working its way into white America's as well as Ice-T's touching ode to his Evil Dick.

If this list causes any of you to go out and purchase, download or acquire in any manner whatsoever even one of the albums listed above and you enjoy it, then I can only inappropriately quote Bob Geldof when I say "don't tell me this doesn't work, don't let anybody tell you this doesn't work."

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!