Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Amos Lee

(Blue Note, 2005)

by Jim McCoy

Highlights: Colors; Arms of a Woman; Love in the Lies; Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight; Seen It All Before

Though a relative newcomer on the singer/songwriter scene, Amos Lee has already logged time opening for the likes of Norah Jones and rock's Dali Lama, Robert Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan). After a few listens to his self-titled debut, one is able to understand how Lee was able to fall into their company. Far from a three-chord acoustic guitar strummer with little to say, Lee effortlessly manages to drop just enough blusey 7th chords and jazz voicings into his blues and gospel-tinged compositions to make the songs sound more sophisticated without being pretentious or straying too far from the song’s core. Since Lee tends to fingerpick rather than strum, the material breathes and the competent musicians in the backing band (including the aforementioned Norah Jones on several tracks) are able to weave in an out to compliment, rather than overpower, the song. Tasteful use of the backing instruments - some of which lend themselves to overindulgence in lesser hands - serves to create a modern sound despite the use of such retro instruments such as a Wurlitzer and a Hammond B3.

The best representation of the disc's sound is found on the third track, Arms of a Woman. Lee works his clear but edgy voice to great effect over his soft acoustic guitar arpeggiations, the band complimenting with a confident bass, soft Wurlitzer and brush-stroked drums over which Adam Levy lays down authentic, clean and lyrical electric blues guitar lines. Colors is a smoothly constructed (and delivered) ballad that certainly could have continued beyond its length of 2:40 without sounding tired or repetitive, with the other instruments again complimenting Lee’s voice and guitar perfectly.

There is much to like about Amos Lee's debut. The songs are well-crafted, the melodies accessible and the backing musicians are excellent. Lee is possessed of a capable voice with good range and his lyrics manage to steer clear of the usual clich├ęs. If anything, one sometimes wishes that the songs were even longer upon listening.

The Good, The Bad and The Downright Ugly

Umphrey's McGee and North Mississippi Allstars at Bowrey Ballroom
By: David Schultz

For almost a decade, Umphrey's McGee has cultivated a grass roots following borne from favorable word-of-mouth about the strength of their live shows. The band's seemingly endless tour brought them to New York's Irving Plaza for a pair of weekend performances. Overlapping with Umphrey's, the North Mississippi Allstars, led by guitar wizard Luther Dickinson, took over the lower east side's Bowery Ballroom for a two night run of their own. Far from being the difference between north and south, the two shows were further distinguished by the competency of the bands involved: where the Allstars have comfortably found their sound and work hard at excelling at their blues-based southern sound, Umphrey's attempts to be a jack of all trades, mastering quite few.

Umphrey's exudes an overly earnest attitude on stage. However, the sincerity doesn't originate from their appreciation of the fans nor their joy for the music they're playing; rather Umphrey's radiates a natural genuineness over how great they imagine themselves to be. If they finessed this, honing the irony inherent with such an attitude, they could easily become the jamband version of KISS. Unfortunately, the irony appears completely inadvertent. Nattily dressed in collared shirts and jeans, Umphrey's displays a confident demeanor on stage, all while indulging themselves with every song. Their young and rabid fan base, which has expertly mastered the backwards baseball hat look, does not seem to mind and make no effort to conceal their uninhibited joy at being at an Umphrey's show. Compared to some fans reaction to the band's rendition of "The Bottom Half," lottery winners seem subdued.

Umphrey's love of the synthesized sounds of the eighties comes through in their music in an offbeat manner. Where the Killers distill the best out of that genre, Umphrey's gravitates towards the worst. The band takes their leads from their two guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss with keyboardist Andy Cummins contributing heavily towards their groove. Drummer Kris Myers adeptly and admirably gives a sturdy backbone to this incredibly schizophrenic band, which will go from heavy prog-rock to electronica to heavy metal to easy-going guitar melodies, sometimes all during the same song. On one hand they should be applauded for bringing different elements to their music, but a lot of the different genres they mix together don’t blend well together and come across as forced. Umphrey's succeeds most when they stay with the laid-back guitar-heavy sound that mark their best songs. This night, the group hit their stride best when they focused on loose guitar based rock like their second set opener "All In Time." When they veer into techno-jumbles like "Robot World" or grind out heavy metal 80's metal like "Nopener," they cross the line between experimental and antagonistic. In other hands, Umphrey' cover of "Wild Side," could be campy fun but they tackled the tune with a curious sincerity that removed all guilty pleasure to be obtained from the Crue "classic." Similarly misplaced, their flirtation with reggae yielded unto them the same rewards as Al Capone's vault.

That all being said, Umphrey's fans eat their live shows up, savoring each solo and song like they were being served crack covered corn flakes. The shame of the matter is that Umphrey's McGee is an incredibly tight band that exuberantly encourages each other while demonstrating a solid familiarity with their long time band mates. Oftentimes, Bayliss and Cinninger will get in each other's face adding a little confrontational energy to the mix. Unlike Phish, a band that pushed each other in unfamiliar directions, stretching and expanding their skills, Umphrey's lead each other down familiar roads and into comfortable territory, reveling in their grandeur all the while.

Umphrey's indulge themselves onstage, offering fare that borders on the ridiculous. Launching the show on a humorous note, the band hit the stage to the strains of the legendary Vince DiCola’s training montage music from Rocky IV, running the joke thin when they let the song play too long. Completely beating the horse dead, they repeated the stunt for the second set. Another first set misfire involved the introduction of Ugochi, a Chicago-area female singer, as if her appearance would inspire the same awe as an Aretha Franklin appearance to sing lead on the Bill Withers tune "Ain't No Sunshine." Umphrey's seemed flat throughout the smoky, torch song and the selection, which sounded outside of her natural range, seemed a poor match for Ugochi as well

Riding that fine line between clever and stupid: the encore drifted into Spinal Tap territory. 80's icon Huey Lewis joined the band for the second time in as many nights for a cover of The Band's "The Weight." The unlikely combination of Lewis and Umphrey's was not without precedent, the two having collaborated at the 2005 Jammy Awards ceremony this past April. Although joining together on the Band classic just months ago, Lewis appeared to have forgotten the words and he made no effort to conceal his cribbing of lyrics, holding them out in front of him while he sang. Backing the square hipster, Umphrey's seemed content and in the right groove, graciously allowing Lewis space for a couple harmonica solos. Embarrassingly, Lewis conducted an impromptu huddle with Cinninger, Bayliss and bassist Ryan Stasik, where Lewis seemed to teach the Umphrey's boys how to play a blues progression on his harmonica. The sight of Lewis, a better musician than his reputation would lead you to believe, instructing a relatively established band on the basics of the blues scored high on the unintentional comedy scale. To Umphrey's credit, they picked up on the tune quickly enough, ably backing Lewis through a blues tune they were obviously unfamiliar with.

With the crowd progressing towards the door and the house lights lit, Umphrey's felt the need to return to the stage for a second encore, despite the absence of the prodding that should normally accompany such an act. Conveying undeserved hubris, the band blasted the annoying strains of the Notre Dame fight song through the loudspeakers before concluding the evening with an extended version of "Hurt Bird Bath."

In contrast, the North Mississippi Allstars' Friday night performance at the Bowery Ballroom, also the second of two, showed a band confidently finding their sound. Possessing ten times the talent and a tenth of the ego as Umphrey's McGee, bespectacled guitarist Luther Dickinson lent his considerable guitar skills to the Allstars 21st century brand of old-style southern blues. The Allstars, comprised of Luther, his brother and drummer Cody and professional wrestling sized bassist Chris Chew, impressively moved from New Orleans-style zydeco to swamp rock to gospel-tinged blues. Although Luther Dickinson remains the band's draw, each of the Allstars is given time fronting the band. Cody came from behind the drums to lead the band on the electric washboard masterpiece "Psychedelic Sex Machine," and made the most bizarre of instruments seem revolutionary. Playfully waving and winking to the crowd, Chew brings a contagious sense of fun to the show and his vocals on the night's "Turn On Your Lovelight" themed encore bordered on the exhortations of a Southern preacher. Despite bouncing between genres like their Notre Dame jamband brethren, the Allstars exhibited more cohesiveness and a more defined sense of purpose.

The NMA excel when Luther leads the band. From the first riffs of the opening medley of "Shimmy She Wobble" and "Station Blues," through their set closing medley of R.L. Burnside's "Po Black Maddie" and "Skinny Woman," the trio raises their game when Luther lays down tight but free-flowing guitar solos over Cody's whip crack drumming and Chew's laid-back, funky bass. Their Burnside medley, already the highlight of any NMA show, must be dearer to them since Burnside's passing and should become their "Free Bird."

After seeing the Allstars live, you can't help but think that this exceptional trio will get even better with time. The same cannot be said for Umphrey's McGee, who have been around for years and seem quite satisfied with the level of their performance. Without the willingness to adapt or hone their sound into something coherent, Umphrey's chances of rising above the grass-roots level of success they've achieved seem extraordinarily unlikely. As for the Allstars, like Luther sings on "Station Blues," they should be "sitting on top of the world."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


[A banner day for the major labels...]

Warner Music Group Acknowledges Problems; Agrees to Reform Business Practices

[NY]Attorney General Eliot Spitzer today announced the second settlement in the music industry's "pay-for-play" probe.

Warner Music Group Corp., the third largest record company in the United States, has agreed to abandon the industry-wide practice of providing radio stations and their employees with financial incentives and promotional items in exchange for "airplay" for Warner's recordings.

Such payoffs violate state and federal law.

"Warner is the second major player in the music industry to come forward and acknowledge that these practices are wrong," Spitzer said. "Unfortunately, other companies continue to engage in them. I applaud Warner's decision to halt this conduct, cooperate fully with my office, and adopt new business practices."

This is the second settlement stemming from Spitzer's payola investigation, where he has uncovered a rampant industry practice of record labels offering streams of financial inducements to radio stations and their employees to obtain airplay for the recordings by Warner's artists.

The financial benefits provided in exchange for airplay, also known as "payola," took several forms:

• Direct bribes to radio programmers, including airfare, electronics, tickets to premier sporting events and concerts;

• Payments to radio stations to cover operational expenses;

• Radio contest giveaways for stations' listening audiences, including flyaways, concert tickets, iPods, gift certificates and gift cards;

• Hiring independent promoters to act as conduits for illegal payments to radio stations;

• Purchasing "spin programs" to artificially increase the airplay of particular recordings.

The Assurance of Discontinuance summarizing the Attorney General's findings alleges that the illegal payoffs for airplay were designed to manipulate record charts, generate consumer interest in records and increase sales.

Under the Assurance, Warner, building on guidelines it issued earlier this year in response to the AG's investigation, has agreed to stop making payoffs in return for airplay and to make full disclosure of all items of value provided to radio stations.

The company has also issued a statement acknowledging its improper conduct and pledging to abide by a higher standard.

In addition, the company has agreed to provide $5 million for distribution by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to New York State not-for-profit entities in a manner that will inure to the benefit of the residents of the State of New York by funding programs aimed at music education and appreciation.

Last summer, Spitzer entered into a similar settlement with SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT.

Texas AG sues Sony over CD protection flap

Hidden technology allegedly makes computers vulnerable to viruses and hacking. (Another brilliant PR move by the industry)

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today sued SONY BMG Music Entertainment as the first state in the nation to bring legal action against SONY for illegal "spyware." The suit is also the first filed under the state's spyware law of 2005. It alleges the company surreptitiously installed the spyware on millions of compact music discs (CDs) that consumers inserted into their computers when they play the CDs, which can compromise the systems.

The Attorney General's lawsuit alleges the New York-based company violated a new Texas law protecting consumers from the hidden spyware. The company accomplished this by using new technology on certain music CDs to install files onto consumers' computers that hide other files installed by SONY. This secret "cloaking" component is installed without the knowledge of consumers and can cause their computers to become vulnerable to computer viruses and other forms of attack.

"SONY has engaged in a technological version of cloak and dagger deceit against consumers by hiding secret files on their computers," said Attorney General Abbott. "Consumers who purchased a SONY CD thought they were buying music. Instead, they received spyware that can damage a computer, subject it to viruses and expose the consumer to possible identity crime."

SONY insists on its Web site that it has recalled all affected CDs. However, Attorney General's investigators were able to purchase numerous titles at Austin retail stores as recently as Sunday evening.

According to SONY's Web site, the company recently distributed millions of CDs across the nation on 52 CDs by various artists. These CDs contained embedded files used for copy protection – or XCP technology. The files prompt consumers to enter into a user agreement to install SONY’s audio player. By opting into the agreement, which Sony represents is the only way a consumer can listen to these CDs on a computer, the consumer is unaware that SONY secretly installs files into the computer's Microsoft Windows folders. Consumers are unable to detect and remove these files.

SONY BMG claims on its Web site that this XCP technology merely prevents unlimited copying, is otherwise passive and does not gather personal information about a computer user. However, the Attorney General's investigation into this technology revealed that it remains hidden and active at all times after installation, even when SONY's media player is inactive, prompting concerns about its true purpose.

The Attorney General's lawsuit also alleges that a phantom file is installed to conceal the XCP files from the user, thus making it difficult for the user to remove the files from his or her computer.

Moreover, recent news accounts allege that newly created viruses that exploit this phantom file have been spreading. A user unfamiliar with installation – and removal –of this technology may be vulnerable to new security risks and possibly identity theft.

Because of alleged violations of the Consumer Protection Against Computer Spyware Act of 2005, the Attorney General is seeking civil penalties of $100,000 for each violation of the law, attorneys' fees and investigative costs.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sorcery and Sexuality Abound to Fuel This Goblet of Fire

By Evan Ferstenfeld

Lurking within the interior of the unfortunately-named Hogwarts Wizard Academy, an opponent rages a war that the school's students are entirely defenseless against. Spells have been launched with the strength of one hundred piping-hot Pop Tarts, to little or no effect against its total ravaging of Harry Potter's fourth-year magician classmates. Is this new diabolical villain a murky acquaintance of back-from-the-grave Lord Voldemort, a bad guy so evil he makes the newly-sympathetic Darth Vader seem like a chocolate-coated Keebler Elf cookie? Is it a plague spreading like wildfire through the school's eons-old plumbing fixtures, already infested with slippery Slytherin snakeskin? Or is just the way Hermione Granger has been filling out more and more of her magician’s cloak the last two years and seductively scribbling notes to Ron and Harry in their Dark Arts classes?

Like it or not, the enemy that nearly swallows Harry's entire class of magical misfits whole are the hormones clinging to the walls and nearly every object within Fire's framework. Themes that have been quietly bandied around the three previous cinematic affairs, such as ego-driven ambition and sexuality, finally run amok upon Goblet of Fire's proceedings with the intensity of a flamethrower wielded in a city made out of fireworks. Suffering from nary a spell of senioritis, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire strides into cineplexes this week with the confidence of a four-letter Quidditch champion, shedding unneeded pounds and emotional baggage in the off-season in order to put on a dazzling, action-packed showcase for adults who still feel like children and actual children alike.

After the supreme lankiness of Stone, the sophomore nervousness of Secrets, and the brooding, ethereal nature of Azkaban, Fire is all about chopping the heads off of problems that have bubbled to a teen’s surface rather than painfully rumbling below. Directed by a man who is best known for such television puffballs as Death of a Dog and attempting to give a voice to the perpetually hoarse Julia Roberts vehicle Mona Lisa Smile, Mike Newell successfully digs his own visual trench somewhere between the cuddly kiddie mushiness of Stone and Secret's Chris Columbus, and the poetic, avant-garde re-imagining of Azkaban's Alfonso Cuaro. Even more pleasantly surprising, Newell and screenwriter Steven Kloves fling open the window and free the previous film's admirable but lonely bell tower existence with Goblet, heightening the multicultural aspect and global feel of its Non-Muggle community to an obsessive-compulsive, Star Wars attention of finer details, all without making the movie’s blood run cold.

Fire pits four combatants from various schools of sorcery against one another in three oddball but challenging trials, presumably to see who will make the highlight reel on The Wide World of Wizardry, and maybe even score a few endorsement deals. Like this magical version of the Toughman competition, Goblet of Fire has three main thrusts to its speed-read re-telling of the book's broader storyline. The Triathlon and final showdown segments provide the series with some of its most thrilling moments, spaced out with a prom date sequence guaranteed to make you re-live every high school insecurity one thought they had resolved since doing away with Oxy zit pads. The movie becomes the cheese-o-rific equivalent of a John Hughes film at points, right down to nerd in the corner of the gymnasium staring longingly at the prom queen, knowing HE'S really the guy for her.

Considering its material was culled from a book nearly the size of the first three Potter adventures combined, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire works magical wonders packing its battle royales, rapidly forming story and overtly emphasized thematics into the time allotted. While the snickering smart-alecks and awkward antagonists inhabiting the film's universe feel even more alive and realistic than in Harry films of yore, casualties from the book occur with the disappearance of nearly every colorful side story, along with a rushed timeline which makes the film feel as if its events have been whittled down to two weeks instead of two semesters. But with characters, a central journey and a film franchise itself that seems to be coming into its own with each successive installment, this Goblet of Fire continues brightly blazing a path Azkaban's mixture of childlike discovery and grown-up intensity wisely improved the series with.

Grade: A-
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 167 Mins.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Johnny Cash tops list of greatest music comebacks

Don't Call It A Comeback – Even If It Is Appropriate
By: David Schultz

Just over a year ago, the Boston Red Sox impossibly overcame a 3-0 deficit by winning four straight games against the New York Yankees, completing the most improbable comeback in the history of sports. New Yorkers were on the happier end of a comeback this year, as late October saw Cream reuniting after a 38 year absence for a three night stand at Madison Square Garden. To honor the tradition of the extraordinary comeback, Earvolution presents the top 10 unpredictable, unlikely, implausible comebacks in music history.

10. Velvet Underground (1993)

In 1968, shortly after the release of their second album White Light, White Heat, John Cale walked away from the Velvet Underground, effectively ending the power struggles between himself and Lou Reed over the musical direction of the seminal band. In the 25 years that followed, Cale and Reed stubbornly refused to acknowledge each other's contributions to one of the most influential bands in rock history. When Andy Warhol died in 1988, Cale and Reed found common ground to work upon and recorded Songs For Drella, a tribute to their friend and mentor. Their renewed ability to work together laid the groundwork for the 1993 reformation of the original Velvet Underground with bassist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker. Sadly, the comeback lasted no longer then a few European shows. While most bands save the crowd favorites for the encores, the reunited Velvet Underground inverted the traditional scenario, using the encore slot to debut a new song "Coyote." Coming to bitter disagreements over the production of the band, Reed and Cale’s egos once again consumed their ability to work together. Just as quickly as they came back, the Velvet Underground disappeared.

The VU comeback is an example of the "Hell Freezes Over" comeback. As named and evidenced by The Eagles, this occurs when band members are able to put aside the differences that have kept them apart for years and reunite with a common purpose. Depending on the motivations of the band, that purpose may or may not include the desire to make obscene amounts of money.

9. Pink Floyd @ Live 8 (2005)

The animosity between Roger Waters and his former Pink Floyd band mates grew so great that Waters took David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Nick Wright to court to prevent them from touring and recording as Pink Floyd. Waters lost the suit resulting in two competing tours that begged the question of "Which one's Pink?" But yesterday's litigation can be resolved as tomorrow's reunion. Finding time during the preparations for this summer's worldwide Live 8 concerts, the ever-persuasive Bob Geldof convinced the most successful lineup of Pink Floyd to make an eagerly awaited and desired comeback. Unlike most "Hell Freezes Over" comebacks, Waters one-off set with Pink Floyd at the free Hyde Park show fell more in line with the event's message of compassion and brotherhood than the usual money-making motivations underlying most classic rock comebacks. Though all smiles on stage, Gilmour's seemingly forced smiles while sharing the stage with his former tormentor showed that while the hatchet may have buried, the grave may be shallow.

8. Gang Of Four (2005)

The Gang of Four's anti-establishment, anti-materialistic, proto-punk rock provided a perfect contrast to the overproduced stereo creations of the late seventies. Peaking with their second album, 1980s Entertainment, the Gang of Four burned bright, but burned quickly. Time has been kind to the Gang Of Four's reputation, cited as an influence by numerous bands the GO4 legend has grown to mythic proportions over the last two decades. Surprisingly, the stridently anti-materialistic rockers all managed to find success in the corporate world after leaving the band. Drummer Hugo Burnham founded his own management company, bassist Dave Allen found a career in digital audio services and lead singer Jon King became CEO of a corporate event management company. The surprising fact about a GO4 comeback is that all of the members left successful day jobs to return to their first love which made them little money the first time around. In 2005, the original lineup returned to the studio and rather than cut a series of new tracks, simply re-recorded the old. While unclear whether this makes a sly ironic comment on the unoriginality of new music or simply illustrates the band's newfound bourgeois laziness, the incredible success of the quartet's 2005 comeback leaves no such ambiguity.

7. Fleetwood Mac (1997)

A human resources manager's nightmare, the Rumours era lineup of Fleetwood Mac flagrantly flaunted the absence of a non-fraternization policy amongst rock bands. With Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks progressing through the death throes of their relationship and John and Christine McVie's marriage dissolving, the band channeled their angst into the music and produced one of the defining albums of the seventies. By the time Buckingham left the band in 1987, relationships had mended but without the sexual tension and Fleetwood Mac's magic had long expired. However, it didn't stop them from recording well into the 90s. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Rumours (and to make gobs and gobs of cash), Buckingham and Nick rejoined the McVies and steadfast drummer Mick Fleetwood for an MTV reunion that paved the way for a successful US tour. The 1997 comeback didn't yield much new music, however, it did solidify Fleetwood Mac's position as one of the most successful bands of the baby boomer generation.

Fleetwood Mac's comeback typifies the "Return From Obscurity" comeback which could be best summed up by L.L. Cool J's quip "don't call it a comeback, I been here for years." L.L.'s quote bears much truth. The artist usually hadn't gone anywhere, the audiences just didn't care.

6. Loretta Lynn (2004)

Outside of country music circles, Loretta Lynn's career peaked in 1980 when Sissy Spacek won an Oscar for her portrayal of her in Coal Miner's Daughter. Even those in the know about country music would concede that her best music came during the sixties and seventies. Lynn's career would likely have remained stagnant were it not for Jack White and his contributions to her 2004 album Van Lear Rose. Bringing his own modern perspective to the mix, White produced, arranged and lent his voice to the outstanding "Portland, Oregon," bringing Lynn one of her greatest commercial and critical successes while resurrecting her career in the process. White Stripes fanatics and curious listeners received a pleasant surprise as the combination of White and Lynn produced either the most revved-up county album or the most countrified rock album in years. The bizarre sight of Lynn and White accepting their well-deserved Grammy award for Best Country Album provided the coup-de-grace for her "Return From Obscurity" comeback.

5. Roy Orbison (1987)

Roy Orbison had his greatest success in the early sixties. By the mid-eighties, Orbison's considerable influence could still be felt but his career remained at a standstill. However, a strange combination of events reinvigorated Orbison's career and regenerated interest in his considerable accomplishments. In 1986, against Orbison's wishes, David Lynch had Dean Stockwell creepily lip-synch the haunting "In Dreams" into a worklight in one of the films most memorable scenes. After seeing the movie, Orbison and Lynch produced a video to promote the film that gave Orbison his first exposure on MTV. Soon thereafter, Orbison joined up with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne to form The Traveling Wilburys, giving him the biggest mainstream exposure he'd enjoyed in decades. With his Wilbury mates lending a hand, Orbison recorded his final album Mystery Girl. Although released posthumously, Mystery Girl contributed to Orbison's "Return From Obscurity," allowing him to enjoy a deserved career renaissance before his death.

4. Meat Loaf (1993)

The mid-seventies saw Meat Loaf atop the rock world, riding the unparalleled success of his debut album Bat Out Of Hell. By the mid-eighties, with such spectacular flops as Midnight At The Lost And Found and Blind Before I Stop, Meat Loaf was well on his way to starring in his own Behind The Music special, that is if he could have found his way off of the “Where Are They Now” list. Though he remained a solid concert draw in England, in America Meat Loaf could only fill college gyms in cities where he once sold out arenas. Greeted with slight derision, Meat Loaf’s announced reunion with Jim Steinman on the creation of Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell barely registered outside of his loyal fans. That is, until he released it. The first single, "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" marked a return to the operatic, Broadway style songs that marked his earlier success and became Meat Loaf's first number one hit. Meat Loaf persevered for 16 years between the two Bat Out Of Hells, survived becoming a rock and roll punch line and avoided the label of one hit wonder.

Meat Loaf's comeback exemplifies the "Return To Credibility" comeback. This occurs when the artist avoids a spot in The Surreal Life house and rescues his career from becoming a joke. The best example of which came in 1989, when . . .

3. Donny Osmond (1989)

From 1975 through 1978, Donny Osmond and his sister Marie co-hosted the Donny & Marie Show, a show that ultimately came to singularly represent the absurdity and ridiculousness of the seventies style variety show. Once cancelled, Donny Osmond lost all credibility as a musical artist and his career was left in shambles. Osmond attempted a move to the Broadway stage; only to have his initial effort, Little Johnny Jones, close immediately after opening. By the late eighties, a Donny Osmond album had just as much chance of being a success as a Kevin Federline rap album. To no one's surprise, Osmond's 1988 self-titled album, his first in over 12 years, received absolutely no fanfare upon its release and went absolutely nowhere. However, radio stations started playing its lead single "Soldier Of Love," smartly withholding the identity of the artist. Only when the song had become a certifiable hit was it announced that the singer was in fact Donny Osmond. Osmond's renewed popularity lasted for about a year but during that time, Osmond's comeback gave music historians something to write about other than his dreadful variety show.

2. Nick Drake (2001)

Between 1969 and 1972, Nick Drake recorded three sparse emotional albums reminiscent of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. Possessing little commercial appeal, Drake's albums were released to little acclaim and even scarcer sales. Over the next two decades, if Drake had any following at all, it could best be termed a cult following. In 2000, Volkswagen produced a beautifully riveting commercial featuring two couples more interested in driving under the stars than attending a party. Drake's "Pink Moon" provided the soundtrack for the commercial, which transcended mere advertising. Charmed and transfixed viewers sought out Drake's 1972 album Pink Moon, vaulting it back onto the charts with surprisingly brisk sales. Drake's implausible comeback is even more remarkable as Drake died more than 25 years before it occurred, having committed suicide in 1974. The sad lyrics that may have foretold his death provided a gorgeous, if not long overdue, epitaph to his unfortunately brief career.

Drake's "Return From The Dead" comeback is the toughest one of them all. It involves a career resuscitation of such proportion that it recalls Lazarus emerging from the grave to once again walk amongst the living.

1. Johnny Cash (2000)

Johnny Cash's improbable comeback involved much more than a reinventing of his persona. It quite literally involved a rise from his deathbed. In 1997, Johnny Cash was diagnosed with a Parkinson's syndrome-like debilitating degenerative nerve disorder. For the next three years, news of his deteriorating health brought on a death watch complete with tributes honoring the country legend and his musical legacy. However, news of Cash's impending death was exaggerated. Learning that his condition was misdiagnosed and consequently mistreated, Cash made a resurrection apropos to his lyrics. Returning to the studio under the watchful auspices of Rick Rubin, Cash emerged with a number of haunting and inspired recordings, including sparse but emotional covers of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," U2's "One" and Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt." Cash's almost literal return from the dead culminated with numerous MTV Video Award nominations for "Hurt." Just before his death, Cash remarkably saw the greatest success of his career since the late sixties.

Earvolution New Music Showcase

Some of the brightest talents in indie singer-songwriter genre will perform Sunday, November 27th at the New Music Showcase.

For more information on the performers, check out their websites:

7pm - The Sharp Things (Bar/None Records)

8pm - Justin Jones

9pm - Kierstin Gray

10pm - Adam Mugavero

11pm - Rebecca Hart

12pm - Like So

Thursday, November 17, 2005

World Leader Pretend

For those in the Philly area, you should check out the World Leader Pretend show tonight at the World Cafe Live - its free!

You can hear some sounds from their new record for Warner Brothers and view an interview with the band here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

John Lennon's killer explains why

Ireland Online is reporting that Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon in 1980 in New York City, basically did it to "cement his identity in the eyes of the world." What a shame. Imagine if...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Phueling A Phrenzy: Trey Anastasio Hits Roseland

By: David Schultz

Concert reviews very rarely offer practical advice. Save for occasional moments during a U2 show, rock concerts seldom provide a fertile environment for obtaining answers to life's mysteries. However, Trey Anastasio's Tuesday night show at New York's Roseland Ballroom served as a Petrie dish for a clever observer to detect whether the date you brought to see Trey might be "the One." Consider this to be the litmus test for discerning the solution to one of life's more difficult dilemmas: at the conclusion of Anastasio's acoustic bridge between his two sets, ask your lady friend what she thinks of the show so far. Should the response include any type of overly enthusiastic appreciation for the show, consider proposing. If in order to pose the question to her, you have to interrupt her from talking to one of her friends on her cell phone, a call that obviously couldn't wait until the show finished, and overhear her say "I'm at a show by some Phish guy," consider the prospects dim. If she blatantly feigns illness and wants to leave, usher her to the door and wish her a nice life. Consider this the musical equivalent of Chazz Palminteri's advice to C in A Bronx Tale and Earvolution's contribution to greater harmony and happiness amongst true music aficionados.

Anastasio's practice of shunning the traditional set break began this past summer. Preferring to let the band rest, Trey foregoes a short respite, opting instead to entertain the crowd with acoustic readings of songs from the Phish catalogue. This night, the acoustic set included the latter-day "Pebbles and Marbles," the old-school "Sample In A Jar," and Phish's oft-played Rolling Stones cover of "Loving Cup." In addition to affording Anastasio an opportunity to relax with intimately familiar material, the acoustic break also provided a lull from the locomotive pacing of the first set.

Those expecting to see Trey play a two hour set of Phish tunes with the 70 Volt Parade substituting for the absent members of the band will be sorely disappointed. Unlike a Ratdog or Phil Lesh & Friends show, Anastasio refuses to use his prior band’s major accomplishments as a crutch and falls back on the more popular selections of the Phish catalogue as infrequently as Jerry Garcia fell back on the Grateful Dead's while touring with his eponymous band. Phish's free-spirited live shows, which were closer in nature to Frank Zappa than to any of the other jambands that preceded them, succeeded on the strength of the band's communal spirit. No such shared vision exists with Trey’s current project: Trey’s backing band, the 70 Volt Parade, take their cues and direction from their leader. The musical direction may be different, but the joyous results produced on stage have remained the same.

When not bouncing energetically in place, Anastasio blows through solo after solo, coming across as a younger, funkier more amiable version of Eric Clapton. Focusing primarily on material from his solo career, Anastasio preserves Phish's spirit of exploring every possibility of a song. Although most of Trey's solo songs start awkwardly, they gel quickly and close with intense fury. Longtime concert gems like "Night Speaks To A Woman" and "Simple Twist Up Dave" as well as the Round Room Phish era "46 Days" enraptured an audience yearning for Anastasio to let loose and unleash a whole new set of guitar licks. The only misfire of the evening came during the Layla-like finish to "Wherever You Find It" as the band never seemed to get find their comfort level with one of the newer songs from Shine, Anastasio's most recent solo effort.

Phish provided Anastasio with ample room to explore the arena space, however, he was never able to jam as hard and to the extent that he does during his solo performances. Feeling the passion with which Trey played at the Roseland Ballroom, it's easy to question whether the fabled Vermont foursome held Trey back from accomplishing greater things. Before the seed of such a notion could germinate, the encore eliminated any such doubts.

For the first encore, Page McConnell appeared on stage with Trey, marking their first joint appearance on stage since Phish's last performances in August 2004. With Anastasio on acoustic guitar and McConnell on keyboards, the two countered the rambunctious reaction caused by Page's appearance with a quiet, sweet encore of Phish songs consisting of "Strange Design," "Waves" and "Waste." Phish devotees incessantly shushed a restless minority during the pair’s charming, engaging set. However, the show didn’t end on a quiet note. McConnell rejoined Anastasio for a second encore along with the 70 Volt Parade and yet another guest keyboardist, John Medeski. The unassuming Medeski and McConnell skillfully traded riffs with Anastasio on "First Tube," closing the show with an energetic finale.

Listening to Trey and Page rekindle their musical flame erased any qualms about Phish restraining Anastasio. Playing alongside McConnell, Anastasio displayed a different side of his multifaceted musical personality. Trey's solo performances allow him to freely explore his pure rock guitarist side. Rather than hold back Trey, or any other member of the band for that matter, Phish allowed each of them to stretch beyond comfortable limits and develop and explore diverse facets of their musical personas. Prior to the encore, Anastasio smilingly looked over at McConnell and joked with the audience that they were seeing the debut of Halfway There. If Gordon, Fishman and McConnell have as much left in the tank as Anastasio, Phish may still have more to offer than a legacy of impressive bootleg concerts.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Chicken Little Has Heart but Ends Up Being a Big Turkey

by Evan Ferstenfeld.

From a board meeting teeming with cynical cash-cow merchandising executives, to the pairing of actors whose only chemistry together is their projected worldwide grosses, some films are born into this world unloved or fraught with other outcomes in mind. Like an unwanted child from a mother paid by credit card for an evening of her "company," these movies are despised by those who desire more out of their movie-going experience than buying its super-caffeinated soft drink tie-in. Robots and Madagascar are two recent examples of films that wear platform sneakers to ensure they talk down to their audience of all ages, while encouraging them to check their intelligence and wallet at the door so that they may rummage through both.

While some features are made to be hated, sometimes a films swaggers along that, upon first glance, radiates the charm, brains and excitement of a movie that you'd like to spend more time digging through its layers, getting to know on a personal level. Chicken Little, the latest in a line of computer animated features not emanating from Pixar’s wondrous digital workshop (Toy Story, The Incredibles), is a film that adults will take their children to and attempt to muster up their enthusiasm for once the theater's exit lights spring forth and their children are screaming with glee. Shunning the current animated rage of front-loading its story with as many sexual innuendos and adult wisecracks as it can hold before the eight-years-olds get wise to the situation, Chicken Little delivers a simpler menu of softball cutesiness and Looney Toons-inspired zaniness aimed primarily at the lil' seat squirmers.

Offering an impressive easy-on-the-iris 3D version in selected theaters, Chicken Little is ably directed by Mark Dindal, otherwise known as the man that officially confirmed the end of Disney's hand-drawn empire with 2000's disposable The Emperor's New Groove. Multi-talented actor and director Zach Braff (Scrubs and Garden State, respectively) takes extra large gulps of helium to voice the title character, a plucky young clucker whose pre-pubescent troubles include glasses that could melt an iceberg, as well as a father (Garry Marshall) whose confidence and trust in his young offspring has been fouled up by public disdain of his boy's usefulness and sanity. Incinerating the usual A-List of big-name-but-not-always-best-choice-for-voice acting giants, Little casts an entire fleet of under-the-radar B+ talent (Braff, Steve Zahn, Fred Willard, Amy Sedaris) that delivers many unexpectedly buoyant performances.

While containing enough good will and exuberance to power the Northern Lights for another millennia, Chicken Little unfortunately shows some shades of its ugly duckling side by which parts it tosses its ball of energy around on. The voice actors strive to pick every last crumb out of their character's cookie jars, all in a valiant attempt to distract you from realizing Little's barnyard participants are the very definition of stock. The script that is being squeaked as heartily as possible feels held back and begging to be released from its leash, as a soundtrack of rejected Shrek themes, amusing-but-toothless humor and zany-but-tame sight gags neuter the experience for people older than their amount of fingers. Also, the well-intentioned but unconvincing theme of good communication and support between family members is hammered into the back of audience's heads with a force that could make faces cave in.

Like director Dindal's previous New Groove, Chicken Little is eager to please attitude and undeniable vigor to lightly tickle funny bones makes it a hard target to throw harsh stares at. However, even with alien spacecraft taking apart the sky like stage crew striking scenery after a Broadway show's final performance, Little learns very little from New Groove's mistakes of playing it safe and extending past child's play. But since you probably enjoyed more of what made A Bug's Life hilariously and stylistically unique than the little tykes did, isn't about time you took the kiddies to a cartoon that let them think they're smarter than you, because they're laughing for the first time at jokes you've seen used since you were eight years old?

Grade: For Kids: B
For Adults: C
Rating: G
Running Time: 77 Mins.

always searching for new talent

Earvolution's own Evan Ferstenfeld gets up close and personal with a blossoming singer-songwriter performing live in Times Square...that really is a nice guitar.

Guster hits the road for a break from the studio

Guster is taking a break from recording their forthcoming April 2006 release, tentatively titled "Ganging Up on the Sun," to hit the road.

Guster consists of Ryan Miller (guitar, vocals), Adam Gardner (guitar, vocals), Brian Rosenworcel (percussion), and now Joe Pisapia (guitar, bass, keyboards) who have built a fanatical fan base with constant touring and consistently solid albums.

"We've tried hard to make a connection to our fans," ventures Rosenworcel. "And in turn, they're loyal enough to let us experiment, but in the end it's still the four of us." "We focus on feelings and moods," concludes Gardner. "It's a way to keep the interaction between ourselves and our audience as open as possible. We like to keep things honest, because we're just not very good at faking it."

Guster Tour Dates w/ Matt Pond PA:

Nov. 8th @ State Theatre Ithaca, NY
Nov. 10th @ Alumni Hall, Fairfield U. Fairfield, CT
Nov. 11th @ Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom Hampton Beach, NH SOLD OUT
Nov. 12th @ Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel Providence, RI SOLD OUT
Nov 14th @ Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA
Nov. 15th & 16th @ Higher Ground South Burlington, VT
Nov. 18th & 19th @ Nokia Theatre Times Sq. New York, NY SOLD OUT
Nov. 20th @ Villanova University Villanova, PA

Friday, November 04, 2005

Broken Social Scene: United and Ready To Make You Head Bang to Art Rock

By Evan Ferstenfeld

If there's anything that can be grudgingly agreed upon by red and blue states alike after a marathon of Michael Moore movies, it might be that Canada seems to be a pretty keen place to live indeed. After all, the "little country that could" boasts ample examples of unlocked doors and unterrified citizens, a national sport that does not try to re-enact a Roman battlefield siege every Monday night, babbling streams flowing with the freshest of ginger ales, and a medical system where having your spleen replaced will not cost you a literal arm and a leg extra. In a land that has relegated many of America's most pressing social open sores to mere kindergarten scissor cuts, it is no wonder that our wacky neighbors to the North might also be pointing a stiff maple leaf in the right direction for taking rock music to a better place.

Instead of continually slashing music program funding, Canada has sanctioned several federal programs to foster musicians through their band's formative and gawky years, making Canada one of the few governments around the world that has actually paid to make sure its music doesn't suck. Of Canada's many talented musical confections, The Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene have arguably emerged as the two most arty but still huggable noise makers in Pabst country. While The Arcade Fire dabble in David Bowie textures and wondrously update styles of eras past, Broken Social Scene harness the power of an orchestral free-for-all approach, sounding like the Polyphonic Spree thrown out of an airplane on an overcast day.

The peaceful, hip-but-not-glib gathering of people at BSS's sold-out October 24th performance in Philadelphia's Theatre of the Living Arts started out quite calmly for a band which continues to edge further into instrumental overload with every new note that escapes from them. On a stage smaller than a third-grade spelling bee platform, BSS quickly dispatched its four guitarists, two drummers, keyboardist, and other assorted sonic twiddlers, finding anywhere to stand within the two square feet each member had been allotted. Bobbing their heads in unison like a bunch of rock'n'roll Rockettes, Broken Social Scene waded into the first song of the evening by playing their latest single "Major Label Debut," a brilliant electro-country ditty that proves upscaling your band's recording studios and war-torn drum kits doesn't always facilitate cashing in your band's soul. The song is as good example as any to see Broken Social Scene's predictably unpredictable stylings: start with a simple guitar hook that immediately grinds itself into your mind's rhythm section, and then steadily adding a jigsaw puzzle-esque arrangement of scattered soundwaves, sounding like a musical magnet clinging on to more and more objects as the power is increased.

In the studio, BSS has sometimes struggled with the problem of being a tad overzealous in how tall they've stacked their wall of sound, overwhelming the simple ingredients of what made the tunes so special to begin with. Not being able to create the musical equivalent of an elephant stampede live proved to be Broken's best ally, as each sweet layer of mounting instrumental mayhem strung together at the TLA held back the force of the previous one just enough to swiftly weave into one another. Highlights from the non-stop noise fest included "A Better Day," a raucous sonic step-child to the Beatles' "A Day in the Life," which had several Social members drop whatever they were playing to quickly form a row of trumpets, blasting the audience with the force of a Civil War firing line; the hypnotic beats and strums of the political "Cause = Time;" "KC Accidental" giving the propulsive jolt of a runaway train that jumps the tracks only to sprout wings and fly away.

A band with this many sounds vying for the listener's attention needs some human voices calling out amongst the cacophony. Leslie Feist, who doubled as the opening act with her own alt-country entry Feist, stamped her wonderfully elegant touch on the haunting "Anthems For a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl," conjuring up an intensity all her own as the song becomes soaked in yearning violin strings and delicate banjo plucks. New gal on the Scene Amy Millan took center stage with Leslie asking the audience to give "Bandwitched" its vocal backbone, effectively morphing the crowd’s sound into what can best be described as a school of excited orca whales. Co-founder and ringleader Kevin Drew took the role of the laid-back father who exerts just enough musical authority to keep everyone in line, engaging in some slightly foggy banter with the audience before dousing them with the punk-rock fuzz opera "Almost Crimes." Perhaps the biggest sonic surprise of the night was when Kevin informed the crowd that this was his band's sixth gig in as many nights, a statement that cleared up any frustration with the band's lethargic stage presence that evening.

Before the rousing encore, Kevin opened up the floor to his concert-going delegates for any questions, and issued several shout-outs to the City of Brotherly Love through an off-kilter ode to the Phillies, our plentiful cheese steak supply, and his sincere fondness for the Flyers, thereby opening himself up for a barrage of Canadian hockey-related taunting. Luckily, no one took the bait.

BSS capped its fantastic showing at the TLA with an instrumental from its overlooked and underrated B-Sides and rarities package Bee Hives. As each piece of the band gunned itself towards the final expected sonic trajectory, the song violently halted nearly all extraneous tinkering, exposing a pounding military drum march and a few guitar surges following its lead. It was as if Broken Social Scene had suddenly spotted its enemies across the horizon (Disturbed, Nickelodeon rock stars, any rapper with a "Lil'" moniker before their name) and decided to charge them head-on, despite being ridiculously outnumbered and victory a near impossibility. But oh man, what a racket they will make going down against them.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!