Back-to-Basics Culture for the Fall

jamey-johnsonAs I told my friend since I first hit the Burning Man playa, my brain was and remains on fire. I mean that in the most creative way possible, too. In any event, I need to get some jams together before my trip to L.A. in a few weeks. Thankfully I am constantly tipped to some great road music and movies and literature. Stoked to share some of that said artistry. Jamey Johnson: The Guitar Song (Mercury) - Hands down, the coolest, most audacious country outlaw outta Nashville since Waylon. And he's got the look, voice, sound, and songwriting chops in spades. You better if you're gonna release a double CD -- Black Album/White Album -- with nary a clunker in the lot. Album of the year, so far, and that's including my rock and soul CDs. You can bet Waylon and Johnny are smiling down on ol' Jamey! Endless Boogie: Full House Head (No Quarter) - Heavy duty, twin boogie rockin' guitars lay it on thick, chunky and loud with more wah-wahs and fat riffs than Humble Pie, Canned Heat, and The Groundhogs combined. Badass and brilliant. My favorite rawk CD of the late summer and early fall. Max's Kansas City: Art, Glamour, Rock and Roll (Abrams Image) - Before Studio 54, CBGB's, and the 70s/80s East Village scene, there was a joint owned by Mickey Ruskin on 17th & Park that was the hang for sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and food! From 1966 to the early 80s, this was the intersection of all things underground NYC culture. Andy Warhol would hold court with his creative minions. Chuck Close might rub elbows with John Waters, while Iggy Pop and David Bowie might be chatting up Jackie Curtis or Wayne County. In the tiny club upstairs bands like the Velvet Underground, Bob Marley, The Ramones, New York Dolls, Bruce Springsteen, Tim Buckley, Waylon Jennings, Captain Beefheart, Devo, et al., would share their music. Edited by Chelsea art gallery owner Steven Kasher with tons of photos from folks like Bob Gruen, Billy Name, Anton Perich, et al., plus ruminations by Lou Reed, Danny Fields, Lenny Kaye, Steve Watson, this pictorial homage perfectly captures the club's zeitgeist in a hard cover coffee table book. Masters of Reality: Pine/Cross Dover (Mascot) - Remember them? The Chris Goss-led band are back! A little more refined in the songwriting department but not any less ambitious or hard-rockin' heavy. They get my props just 'cuz Ginger Baker was their drummer on their essential 1993 sophomore release Sunrise on the Sufferbus. P/C D is no less impressive. status-factoryRon English's Status Factory: Opera Art Gallery, 382 W. Broadway, NYC - The surrealist Popaganda painter continues to push buttons with wit, expert artistic execution, and keen social observance. His latest show serves up New York's all-too-hip retail boutique culture as an art "boutique" dedicated solely to his work. Whether it's a new limited edition vinyl toy (I own many of them) or Guernica-inspired wall murals, Mr. English continues to be one of the few sane voices for our generation. Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (Legacy) - 40 years on and Miles' jazz-rock magnus opus gets updated yet again, and sounds more dynamic and fresher that when it was first released. This remains the future sound of jazz. Miles may have boasted that it only takes "one note" to set the tone, but his band was on fire; he and producer Teo Macero used the studio as an additional instrument, cutting and splicing tracks together to shape the songs. Few have tried to top it, and with good reason, as few have been able to surpass these delectable and heady grooves. John Legend & The Roots: Wake Up! (Epic) John Legend is my favorite contemporary neo-soul crooner. He's deep and thoughtful. Add the tenacious hip-hop/R&B chops of The Roots and it's a win-win. Tackling some extraordinary covers done originally by some extraordinary folks way before him is no easy feat. His take on Bill Wither's "I Can't Write Left Handed" is one devastatingly psychedelic soul jam worth the price of the CD alone. stereolab-not-musicStereolab: Not Music (Drag City) - They're back and the music universe is a better place for their infectious electronica-pop ear candy. Their retro-forward leanings defy classification. The songs on their 12th effort percolate and bubble and gurgle and make you nod your head, tap your feet, and most of all smile. I don't know who's cutting their deals, but Eagle Vision has certainly captured the market on classic rock DVD and Blu-ray releases. Three must-haves recently landed on my desk and I couldn't be more stoked. I never had the pleasure of seeing the Stones in their heyday, but their legendary 1972 "Exile on Main Street" tour produced the recently restored and remastered Ladies & Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones. Most critics agree that this one of the finest Stones' concerts ever captured on film. The criminally under-appreciated, young and stoic Mick Taylor bending quasi-country licks on his Les Paul on "Dead Flowers" is revelatory. What happened to Roxy Music you ask? As soon as I cued up The Story of Roxy Music DVD I was reminded how influential and groundbreaking Bryan Ferry and his art-rock comrades were in the canon of early '70s rock music. And that Eno recognized that he and Bryan couldn't coexist in the same outfit, graciously opting out to pursue his own creative muse. For your pleasure and sirens and everything. And speaking of muses, Jim Morrison was the Lizard King poet that shared his shaman experiences while creating one of the most enduring musical legacy with L.A.-based quartet The Doors. Tom DiClio's riveting documentary The Doors: When You're Strange, narrated by Johnny Depp, unlocks some of the mystery and prose and expands on their lasting legacy even more. This 90-minute documentary weaves in previously unseen footage including Jim's experimental film "HWY" and "Feast of Friends," The Doors' 1968 concert. circe-link-calkidCirce Link: California Kid (Blackwings) - Some music exists in a vacuum defying time and place and any expiration date. Not sure why, but this is one such CD. I reluctantly played it and could not take it off. This L.A.-based artist/musician has an undeniable charm. Her vocals are just quirky and pretty enough to engage, even if the occasional song lapses into familiar Americana territory Eastbound & Down (HBO series) - One of the funniest freakin' TV shows ever. Danny McBride's character, Kenny Powers, a washed up baseball pitcher, is part John Rocker (a real MLB relief pitcher with a redneck 'tude) meets Archie Bunker with Andrew "Dice" Clay's potty mouth. Says and does everything most guys only daydream about. Season two opens with our lovable loser hiding out in Mexico dissing everyone and everything while running his cock fighting biz. Can't wait see how he self destructs this season. Chuck Palahniuk: Pygmy (Doubleday book) - Picked up Chuck's 10th novel on my way to Burning Man and was blown away. Hilarious, teen angst-riddled perspective of indoctrinated Easterner hell-bent on bringing down all imperialistic Americans. He and his covert foreign exchange students have been programmed their entire young lives to launch the catastrophic "project havoc" attack on American soil in the heartland of America. If you have teenagers, you'll like totally relate. Neil_Young_Le_NoiseNeil Young: Le Noise (Reprise) - One of rock music's must enduring legends makes few false moves. After his recent forays into so-so acousticville, Neil has decided to rawk some distortion again. This outing he's got a Gretsch White Falcon, producer Daniel Lanois, no band, and no overdubs! Few guitarists handle that ambition with more relish than when Mr. Young decides it's time to drop some electric napalm on his fans. Check out his new YouTube Channel. Dead Heart Bloom: Strange Waves (KEI) - This is one of the better young bands to cross my desk in many a blue moon. I'm a sucker for some of these gorgeous piano-driven ballads that Boris Skalsky and Paul Wood have offered us. The center piece is "Fall," a so very elegant, McCartney-like pop rock ballad that sweeps you away on its Wings. Robert Plant: Band of Joy (Rounder) - The former Led Zep rock lion will not go quietly into the night. His latest offering mines the same vein he explored with Alison Krauss on Raising Sand. Very understated and low key mid-tempo ballads, this CD features co-producer, roots-rock guitar legend Buddy Miller and singer Patti Griffin. Even features two covers from one of my favorite indie alt bands Low. But for me, he really shines on Townes Van Zandt's folk tune "Harm's Swift Way." Zenith (Surla Films) - Sick of the same old tired and rehashed sci-fi cliches? This wonderfully gritty, thinking man's existential thriller is just what the doctor ordered! The dual story line is primarily a conspiracy tale that follows a father (present day) and son (40 years in the future) looking for the answers to questions that remain just out of reach. What is Zenith? And who is in charge? More importantly, the film asks the all-important question, "what is one's legacy?" (Check out trailer below!) Eric Clapton: The 1960's Review (Sexy Intellectual DVD) - If you're a fan of Eric, then this unofficial bio doc is an exhaustive yet perfect way to spend two hours, covering Eric's formative years in The Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, and Blind Faith, when he was hailed as the "god" of the electric guitar. Band mates and journalists wax poetic about his maturity and discovery of his blues-rock guitar prowess. Bad Cop: Harvest The Beast (ROIR) - Like an alt-garage version of The Jam, this young Nashville-based outfit has the 'tude and tunes to handle such lofty platitudes. The ten tracks on their debut are tight and muscular. "Daylight" wouldn't sound out of place on True Blood, hand claps and all. grinderman-2Grinderman: Grinderman 2 (Anti) - Nick Cave decided he needed to get his punk ethos back -- think The Birthday Party -- working in a stripped down quartet -- himself, Martyn Casey, Warren Ellis, Jim Scalvunos -- a few years ago and dropped Grinderman on everyone. No piano-driven ballads or sweeping strings, just gut-punching guitar noise and Cave's twisted poetry. All ragged and visceral and urgent and delicious. His latest nine-song effort is no less impressive, though the songs are given a sliver more polish by producer Nick Launay. The Derek Trucks Band: Roadsongs (Columbia) - As many a regular reader of my blogs knows, Derek is the man. For my money, there is no better guitarist on the planet. His approach, tone, chops, and improvisation skills are extraordinary. Certainly there are "faster" and more charismatic guitarists, but few are as fluid and diverse. And with 16 years leading his crack sextet, he never fails to ignite them and vice versa. Mike Mattison has such slippery, sultry soulful vocals and one of the most under-appreciated singers on the planet. He never strains, never pushed his instrument too far out. Sits right in the pocket. "Afro Blue" is stellar; really percolates as a live track. The last two tracks, "Get Out My Life Woman / Who Knows" and Derek & The Dominoes "Anyday," just crush. If you have not taken the time to see Derek and his band live, you are truly missing an exceptional evening of music. This CD has not been off my player or off repeat on my iPhone. It is that good. Maybe his best CD yet, and certainly my favorite live CD of the past few years. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Mojo (Reprise) - And speaking of jam bands.... So damn refreshing to hear the Heartbreakers stretch out and take risks on new, unknown tunes, especially for such a group of veteran FM pop fodder dudes. The musicianship and interplay between Mr. Petty, lead guitarist Mike Campbell, and keyboardist Benmont Tench is telepathic, and the songs stay with you long after the last lingering notes have faded. kristen-scott-thomasI'd be remiss if I didn't mention two new movies on my radar that neatly capture middle-age angst from the male and female perspective. Neither should be missed, especially if you're middle-aged and you've fantasized about scratching that passion itch. Michael Douglas turns in an Oscar-worthy performance as the despicable womanizing Manhattan-based Ben Kalmen in Solitary Man (Anchor Bay). On the flip side, in the French import Leaving (Metrodome), Kristin Scott Thomas is a bored housewife with her predictable and pedestrian French suburban family. The fluid and lithe actress cranks up her insatiable sex jones with a more-than-willing ex-con Spanish laborer. Quite convincing, even if practical sense is flung far off screen. But that's the way lust goes. Stay tuned for part two of my culture picks in the coming months. peace, Dusty burning-man-dustyMr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs, and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.