Thursday, February 1, 2018

Albums I Love: MIGHTY JOE MOON by Grant Lee Buffalo

To me, Grant Lee Buffalo's second album, Mighty Joe Moon, is the sound of rustic distortion. When I listen to it, I envision cabins, fireplaces, trees, couches, scotch, wood. I envision The Band if they hit the distortion pedal a a bit more and cranked up the amps.

This is a record, one of many, that I love but often forget I love. Musicially, it drifts from hard-edged guitar rock to wistful acoustic balladry. Many times in the same songs. Powerful vocals with soft and beautiful harmonies. It's filled with little touches that make me wish I could do it with my band. Like the harmony vocal in the pre-chorus of "Sing Along." It's a small touch, but it adds so much life and vibrancy to the song.

Small touches are what really make an album for me. Naturally, great songs are needed to be the foundation. But it's the little details, the small touches, the attention to detail, that give me the goosebumps. It can be a harmony vocal, it can be a guitar fill, it can be a couple notes on the piano. But when you put the right touch in the right place at the right time.

Listen to Mighty Joe Moon and you'll hear these all over the place. Grant-Lee Phillips is the main guy, but the secret weapon is bassist Paul Kimble and his production and mixing. I don't know the details, but I am suspecting he had a real hand in the craft here. He must have if he mixed it. It's almost a miracle how good it is.

There's the lyrics. They are beautiful. A simple song like "Last Days Of Tecumseh" is poetry set to music. A heartbreaking ballad like "Honey, Don't Think" warning a lover not to look too close because she might not like what she sees:

Something wrong in my stars
Could you look at my chart
Help me healing these scars?
Could you learn to read minds?
In the case of mine
Do you read in the dark?

Looking at the CD, I am reminded The Band comparison is not far off. They are pictured playing in what looks like a cabin. Rustic, almost exotic instruments. Grant-Lee Phillips wears a weird bear head for many photos. It doesn't appear to actually been recorded there; that's okay. They still capture the spirit about as well as they possibly could.

I saw Grant Lee Buffalo twice. First was opening for R.E.M. on their Monster tour. When Bill Berry had his aneyurism on stage, it was Joey Peters (GLB's drummer) who stepped in to finish the set. I saw them again when toured behind Jubilee, which was two records after MJM. The middle record, Copperopolis, was good but did not grab me like MJM. Jubilee comes close, though. Grant-Lee Phillips went on to do his own thing after that. I saw him at Iota shortly after that. His solo records have been spotty. That's not quite right. They're good but they don't have the magic that MJM caught. Maybe it's just tough to come out of that shadow. I admire MJM so much, maybe to the detriment of the others.

I know if you watched Gilmore Girls, then you have seen Grant-Lee Phillips.

Let's listen to one of the songs. Here's one of the prettiest songs on the record, "Mockingbirds." And one of the prettiest songs, period.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Power Pop Roundup

As my band approaches being ready to record our next album, I find myself dialing up more power-pop records than stoner rock records. Becoming a vinyl nerd means I sometimes miss out because the latter batch of bands revel is gorgeous vinyl, while the former bands tend to be digital and CDs only, with a couple exceptions here and there.

Spotify has been a good friend here, as I use the Similar Artist feature to lead me down the rabbit hole. I don't even remember what artist started it this time around, but here's some of the good jangly- guitar rock I have been digging lately.

Crash Through or Crash by Shake Some Action! Yes the exclamation point is in the band name. I like that. The album cover even hints at a Rickenbacker like mine. You can hear the chimey guitars right from the start. This is classic sounding, soaring power pop. The vocals remind me of Jagger in spots; second track "The Only Way Is Up" has a verse that says "Am I fast enough? Am I some slow enough?" on and on. What Stones song was that? "Miss You." Anyway, this is my favorite of the batch.

Melody Records by The Mylars. This is more modern sounding. Great vocals and great melodies.  And a pretty cool cover of The Cars' let's go. These guys are opening for Rick Springfield and that's a pretty cool comparison.  The vocals remind me a TON of some band I listened to in college. Wakeland comes to mind, but there is somebody else. These cats are really good. I'd love to open for them. I followed them on Instagram and they followed us back. I should hit them up.

Welcome Aboard: by The On and Ons. More of a retro 60s feel here. Sounds like a band that plays on Little Steven's Underground Garage that I would need to look up immediately so I didn't forget. Or if The Wonders kept going for a bit more than one record. They appear to be from Australia, so I probably won't ever see them. At least we have the internet!

Crybaby by Danny De La Matyr. I am never gonna completely remember this guys name. But that's alright, I'll buy the record and that will be fine. More chill than the others here. Rainy day power-pop. A bit more produced, like in the Jon Brion-vein. His voice reminds me of somebody too. Memory is failing.

Scenery For Dreamers by Daniel Wylie's Cosmic Rough Riders. And I thought my band name was a mouthful. Crunchy guitars over Americana-y vocals. Internet tells me these guys are taking a hiatus. That's too bad they are very cool.

Tear Your Minds Wide Open! by The Galileo 7. Another retro sounding outfit. They sound British. Yep Kent. I guess their name comes from a Star Trek episode so you have to add BAND when searching for them. Worth the effort.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Band of Gypsys

One of the Christmas presents that Jodi gave me this year was the Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys Live at the Fillmore East vinyl. I have the original Band of Gypsys but it is this document of their first show on December 31, 1969 that is really jaw-dropping.

You don't need me to tell you how good Jimi was. He was the personification of innovation. He feels like one of those guys who would have invented the electric guitar if it didn't already exist. His hands and his brain would simply know what to do.

It is a tragedy that he succumbed to fame's perils. The Band of Gypsys records show what direction he was going, where his muse was taking him. This record is very improvisational. He is also less a bandleader and more of another piece, fitting in with his bandmates. Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, which is a pretty damn good band.

It's interesting to hear on the first track Jimi making mistakes, trying to keep up. But when he hits it you can almost hear him say "There it is." Even Jimi didn't get everything right on the first try. And for much of this he is winging it with the other two guys. They hadn't rehearsed much. At the end of the set he mentions they will come back and do it right. Which makes it especially incredible.

The liner notes say these shows were not especially received. Over the course of several nights the band added more of the hits. 

He would be 75 if he had stayed alive. I don't claim to know where he would have gone with his talent. I don't think he'd have stopped. Music seemed ingrained in him. To remove it would be removing a limb. I don't think he would have been an oldies machine, that he would have become irrelevant in terms of creativity like The Rolling Stones. I can't see him playing "Foxey Lady" and "Purple Haze" 200 times year for 10 years. Maybe he would have. Man's got to eat. The mythos would be different with life. There'd be just Jimi Hendrix, not JIMI HENDRIX. The allure of what could have been never need rise from the tomb. The world would have been better with that music, with that life.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Back In The Saddle

I don't really like the concept of resolutions. Let's call them "resolutions" because they deserve the quote marks. You shouldn't need the act of hanging up a new calendar to find inspiration for making yourself better. It's a constant process. We are fluid entities, we shift and change. Some things are wired in but we as beings are capable of growing and changing and expanding. We don't need to be stuck in a rut.

One of these said "resolutions" is to write more. According to this blog, I last made that resolution at the start of 2016. It did not last long. Sigh. What a waste. OK, done with the looking back, let's look forward. I'm gonna stick to it this year. OK, I am really going to try to stick to it.

Another one is to see more rocknroll shows. That's a big one for me. I have wimped out farfarfar too many times over the years, missing great shows, letting opportunities slip by. That's another sigh, so let's not belabor it. For me, music is as important as air. If god wanted to fuck with me he would take my hearing away. My band has been trying to kill my hearing but I am fighting back these days with dreaded earplugs at rehearsal. Some of the time, at least. So, dear reader expect to see many more show reports here over the coming months. And if you don't you have my permission to call me a loser.

Other "resolutions" aren't quite musical related. Continue to eat sensibly. Go to the gym at least 4 times a week. Start doing yoga and meditation. That one can help with the creativity. I have anxiety but I have no reason for anxiety. I have a smart, funny, beautiful, and loving wife; I have a good job that has a positive impact on people's lives; I have a kick-ass band with three genuine friends. That should be another one, see friends more often. The anxiety I have is self-flaggelation and it fucking sucks. It isn't necessary. I think Trump has a part of doing it. That asshole is bringing my shakes and twitches back. Hell with him, he's not worth the additional characters.

So change is in the the air.

Why now...why today. I watched the new teaser video for Titus Andronicus' new album. And now I am listening to their masterpiece The Monitor. What a fucking record. I saw them when they toured behind it and it was rocknroll at it's most....well, rocknroll at it's most. Energy, passion, the catharsis you get when you just yell "fuck you!" I drifted away from them, saw them again a couple years later but the crowd was bigger and the energy at the back of the room is never like the front of the room. They'll be back in town in April and I will be there.

My advice is put a record on. Or a CD. Or if it's the only thing you got then put your earbuds in and listen to something you love. Something that breathes life into you. Something that makes you want to shake the pictures off the walls and hug whomever is standing next to you. Something that makes you forget about all the hate and all the anger and all the pain and all the fear we have in this country and all across the world. We all have one heart and one body (thanks, Call Me By Your Name). Don't fucking waste it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

GnR Rumors to Return

So Guns n Roses are "confirmed" to reunite at Coachella. I put "confirmed" in quotes because this is GnR so it's a crap shoot that it actually happens. I would bet it will, because there is a shitload of money at stake and even Axl has to appreciate that. But again maybe not.

I for one won't be going to Coachella to see this. Nor would I pay the astronomical price a ticket to the show would cost once they go on tour. Again, assuming they do. It's Axl and it's Slash and it's Duff, so that makes the reunion. Matt Sorum on drums is fine; it'd be nice to see Steven Adler, but for me Izzy Stradlin was the secret weapon in GnR. Gilbey Clarke is a good guitarist (his Pawnshop Guitars record is really good) but Izzy really brought that 70s Stones vibe to the band. GnR get lumped in with metal but they are not a metal band. They are a heavy rock band. They wanted to be the Rolling Stones. Izzy is so under-rated as a guitar player and song writer. He's doing his thing now and god bless him.

I got to see Guns n Roses in 1991 in Dallas at Starplex Amphitheater. This was right before the Illusion records came out. I don't remember much from the show except that Axl was late and water bottles and beer bottles were being thrown everywhere and girls were lifting their tops whenever the camera panning the crowd would show them on the big screens. To a 17 year old, it was awesome. Skid Row opened and they were adequate. When GnR hit the stage Axl said "If another bottle hits this stage we walk." Naturally three bottles landed at his feet but happily the band played on and it was a great show.

The thing about GnR is that with Appetite For Destruction they really sounded dangerous.  When the record came out I was listening to Iron Maiden and Metallica and Rush and Pink Floyd and Zeppelin. But GnR sounded so raw, crazy. My brother played me Appetite on tape and it was unlike anything I had heard. I was 13. Dangerous music. That opening riff to "Welcome to the Jungle". What is this?!? "You in the jungle, baby! Yur gonna diiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeee in the JUNGLE!!!" This sounded real and heavy.

Appetite still stands up today. Every song is great. "Pretty Tied Up" is the weakest track because it's lyrically dumb, but at least it fits the record. "Paradise City" might be my LEAST favorite track on that record, just because it's overplayed. "Mr Brownstone", "My Michelle", "Rocket Queen." FUCK! Those songs are just killer.

I'm not going to see them though. I wish I could have seen them in 87 or 88 but I saw them in 91 with Izzy and that is good enough for me. It won't be the same. Maybe it will be great. I was totally wrong about the Zeppelin Celebration Day reunion show. Maybe I will be wrong here. But GnR have a lot of baggage, and Axl just doesn't sound the same.  I hope it goes well for them, because I hope the people who do go and were too young to see them at the top have a great time. Plus I am old and cranky and am tired of big stadium shows.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Favorite Non-Heavy Records of 2015

Yesterday was the heavy records, meaning metal, stoner rock, doom,  psychedelic, etc etc. Today I am going to do the comparatively mellower stuff. So this will be power pop, indie rock, alt country and that sort of thing.

The way I cull these down to ten is by thinking "If I could only listen to ten from 2015, which would they be?" So with that as the basis I narrow it down. I'd rather have this than that, even though I really like that.

Again, no order to these. Scratch that. My #1 of the album actually isn't on the list, because it is my band Braddock Station Garrison's album: A Hint of Recognition. Shameless self promotion. In fact, unlike the other list, these are bands that I would love to open for. In fact, we have played with one of them before!

The Dark Beautiful Sun by William Duke: Jangle-pop goodness. Has a real Byrds' flavor, if they stuck to playing their poppy stuff. Opening track "The Golden Ring" has a tempo change in the middle that I swear I am going to steal.

1989 by Ryan Adams: Sure, it is his Taylor Swift cover album, but that doesn't stop it from being amazingly good. I have a lot of respect for Taylor Swift. This album shows that she is a good song-writer; a cover can be well done and interesting, but the song needs to be strong or the whole thing falls apart. Ryan just puts his stamp on each of the songs, and it works. When Taylor decides to record a stripped down record, Ryan Adams should be behind the board.

Laugh In The Dark by Tommy Keene: I took my guitar player Tom to see him at Iota and he was impressed. The song-writing is just a clinic. Every track, both old and new, was fantastic. Tommy's new record is more of the same. Just great power pop songs, perfectly written and executed. I tried desperately to get on the bill when he played Iota, but to no avail.

Parking Lot Regrets by The Silverites: Disclaimer, these guys are friends. But that doesn't stop them from making the list. Again, great melodic, smart power pop songs.  Out of all the bands we play with, they are the ones I hate to follow, because it is damn hard to be as good as they were. That said, I will play with them any time, any where.

Lessons From A Shooting Star by Rene Bo: I heard this guy on a Swedish power-pop podcast that my band was honored to be included on. The thing about power-pop is that when it's done well, it really affects me musically. It makes me want to pick up a guitar and play, and write, and borrow. HA! And hearing this makes me want to write songs.

Monterey Canyon by John McAteer and Gentleman Firesnakes: Disclaimer 2, John is a friend from high school. And if his band ever got out of Little Rock and played DC I would beg to play with them. This record has a bunch more keyboards on it; has a positive 80s vibe to it.  John has a very strong vocal style that works very well with the songs. And the songs, they are great!

Earthquakes & Tidal Waves by Dot Dash: Another local band that I think are just great. These guys have an edge to them more than the others, power-pop mixed with punk in a good way, not in a cheesy Green Day way. They were the other band on the bill with Tommy Keene I was desperate to get on to, to no avail.

Kintsugi by Death Cab For Cutie: Knowing that Ben Gibbard broke up with Zooey Deschanel, you can hear where that seeps into the songs.  When it was about to come out, I read interviews where he said this would be a different DCFC album and fans might not dig it. That is true, but if you don't like it, then you really aren't interested in seeing the band evolve. It's not a drastic evolution; it feels natural for them.

California Nights by Best Coast: This record I was most torn about putting on my list, because it is very simple lyrically.  One of the things I like about the other records is that they are all smart. Clever. That isn't happening here, and that is not meant to be a swipe at them. It is what it is. But the music and the melodies and the performances are fantastic. I keep coming back to this record because it's great to listen too.

The Traveler by Rhett Miller: This record was the last to make the list and had to fight it's way out of a very good crop. But Rhett always does great stuff. Another of his power-pop records he gets to make when not with the Old 97s. It's more of that and it's just plain good.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Favorite Heavy Records of 2015

Wow! Not a single post in 2015. That is sad. As my second resolution for 2016, I will write more often. Let's set a goal of at least once a week.

For my first entry of the year, I will list my favorite heavy records of 2015. I decided to break my list into two because a) it gives me an opportunity to write two lists; and b) while I think good music is good music, I am also somewhat nitpick when it comes to genres. So instead of going deep into Best Heavy Rock and Best Metal and Best Power-pop and Best Acoustic-Driven-Singer-Songwriter, I am just going to do heavy and not-heavy.

There's no order to these, except for alphabetical. Which I guess means there is an order. Just not favorite-like.

Purple by Baroness: After nearly killing themselves in a bus crash in the UK, Baroness returns (with a new rhythm section) for their latest LP. What I like about them is that they are an evolving band. They stick to their heavy roots, but they aren't afraid to branch out. This new one does that by incorporating synths alongside their heavy-riff-based muscle. That's a good thing, because it is used really well.

Meliora by Ghost: Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls return for more Dio-inspired pop-metal. The Satan-worhsiping schtick is still there, but it is so tongue-in-cheek you can't help but chuckle at it. That said the music and the melodies are fantastic. They are not going to "save metal" like some articles I read have suggested, but they are good trashy fun.

Innocence & Decadence by Graveyard: If I was ranking the records by which I liked best, this would probably be number 3 or 4. This is what I call heavy blues rock. It's one of the records I felt my friend Tom would like (and his record collection taps out after 1985...hahaha!) so he got it for Christmas. It has the classic rock sound of the 70s that I think never goes out of style, especially when it is done well.

The Book of Souls by Iron Maiden: Iron Maiden is one of the two dinosaur-bands (the other being Rush) that still make records that are not only worth listening to, but worth coming back to. This would have been #1 on my list. A triple LP (or double CD) and it is a masterpiece, which is really hard to do when you are 40 years into your career and have records like Piece of Mind and The Number of the Beast in your catalogue. This isn't the same old thing; they challenge themselves with long songs, short songs, classic Maiden sounding songs, and boundary pushing prog songs. This is a band that is still at the top of their game. Gave this to my friend Michael for Christmas and he loves it.

Mondo Drag by Mondo Drag: A late fine in 2015 and what a find. If I had discovered it earlier it would have been given as a gift to Tom. More heavy blues with organ work at the front end. Very Deep Purple-ish and that's a compliment. Really excited for their new record in 2016.

Love, Fear and the Time Machine by Riverside: The most progressive of the records here. They remind me of Dream Theater but without the pretension and the show-offy-ness. Or what Pink Floyd would sound like if they gave into their prog side. They are from Poland so that's another reason to like them. How many bands come from Poland!?! It's a bit long but it's worth the commitment.

High Country by The Sword: Austin isn't really known for heavy rock but here is The Sword. Like Baroness these guys are building on their heavy rock base, adding synthesizers to positive effect, no matter what their core fans might say.

Crooked Doors by Royal Thunder: More heavy blues rock, this time with lady on vocals. I like that. We'll get another in a moment. Lots of bands these days have a heavy sound amplified with a female singer and it is a great dynamic. This would be in my top 2 if I was ranking them in more detailed. Maybe I should explain more about heavy-blues-rock: guitar riffs with a fat rhythm section. Not really metal, but definitely close to that.

The Night Creeper by Uncle Acid: Here's an album that was initially a bit of a disappointment but is still in my list. Trick is these guys are such a good band and have such a great sound. Their records sound muddy, though, and that's probably why it took me a while to appreciate this record. That and the packaging, which was supposed to be special edition, sucks: there are fancy pictures and whatnot, but no slip case for it. WTF, Rise Above Records? Anyway, if you miss what Black Sabbath used to sound like, these guys will take good care of you.

Grief's Infernal Flower by Windhand: Pure sludge-stoner-doom metal, heavy and slow and fierce. Another female singer and one of the best around (Dorthia Cottrel...and her acoustic solo record this year is also great). This is another record that took a while for me to appreciate.

Later this weekend I will go through my favorite non-heavy records. That will be more alt-country and power poppy kind of stuff.