Music Review

Roll Over, Chuck Berry! RIP...

When I was seven-years old I had a Kool-Aid stand and with my profits bought my very first album -- The Beatles' Second Album. I remember walking the several blocks to the Acme store and praying that they still had a copy in the album rack. They did. I couldn't wait to get home and play it on my portable record player. I carefully placed the needle on the very first track on side one of that magnificent album and... my life would forever be devoted to music in some shape or form. On that beloved album, the very first track was my favorite song -- "Roll Over Beethoven" -- by one Mr. Chuck Berry. At the time, I had no idea who wrote the song nor much cared. It was all about The Beatles. But as almost everyone knows, Chuck Berry wrote and recorded it years earlier. And it would take me several years and thousands of hours of listening to rock music later to understand how important Chuck Berry was to the genre. In fact, I would better understand his place in music history from the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead. And it would be decades later until I actually would meet him in person. But what a meeting. Read more »

Vinyl of the Week: Beauty Pill - Describes Things As They Are

Remember the first time you heard a band that didn't cop to anyone else's style or music vibe before? I can namecheck Patti Smith and the Talking Heads as bands that made that immediate impact on my ears and brain. Couldn't shake them out of my brain. Well, it's happened again. Heard a song on random shuffle on a Spotify playlist and bam!... I was hooked. Beauty Pill's tune "Afrikaner Barista" got lodged in my cranium and simply couldn't shake it loose. Nor did I want to. So I tracked down the publicist, begged for the album that the song was released on, sadly to no avail, and bought the album anyway. Read more »

Steve's Favorite New Jazz Albums of 2016

Okay, it's time for me to stop trying to listen to more 2016 albums and just wrap up this list. In the past I would split my jazz list into a new releases part dedicated to current recordings and a historical part combining first releases of archival material with reissues. This year I'm skipping reissues, partly because some projects were so gargantuan that little guys like me weren't serviced with them, partly because the vinyl renaissance means everything is being reissued at once, and partly because so much stuff is just rehashing the same material in new packaging, with or without a gimmick or a little additional material added. So first releases of archival material are lumped in here. Maybe that's not entirely fair to the current guys, but on the other hand I don't include many archival items on my list. Read more »

Tania Stavreva: Rhythmic Movement

Though I am usually turned off by women musicians who tend to dress way too sexy for their roles, particularly in the classical world, I do tend, in the long run, to judge them by their ability as players. I really prefer not to have to see this underdressed ideal of womanhood because I don’t understand why it’s necessary or what it could possibly have to do with the music presented, or for that matter, their possible talent. Are they perhaps trying to sell their SEX as part of the package as an extra enticement, in case their abilities fail them?

But every now and then while listening to one of these people, trying my best not to be distracted by this seeming “shortcoming,” I am overwhelmed nonetheless by their talent. Such is the case with Tania Stavreva, who, despite her sexy luxuriating atop the piano on the jacket of her debut CD, Rhythmic Movement, proves to be a formidable and accomplished pianist/composer. Read more »

Album of the Week: U.K. - U.K.

R.I.P., Mr. John Wetton, you provided many of the songs for the soundtrack of my youth with your bass playing, and vocals, in Roxy Music, King Crimson, Uriah Heap, Asia, and your debut album with the quartet U.K. embedded above. For me you reached the zenith of your artistic expression with said progressive rock super band. From 1977 until 1980, you, keyboardist/electric violinist Eddie Jobson (Curved Air, Roxy Music, Frank Zappa), guitarist Allan Holdsworth (Soft Machine, Tempest, The New Tony Williams Lifetime, Gong) through 1978, and drummer Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson, tour drummer for Genesis), who was later replaced by drummer Terry Bozzio (formerly of Frank Zappa's band). There is some tremendous Youtube footage of the reformed U,K, with Wetton, Eddie Jobson and Terry Bozzio from their 2012 world tour. No doubt King Crimson, circa 1972 - 1974, boasting guitar maestro Robert Fripp, Wetton, violinist/keyboardist David Cross and drummer Bill Bruford was a highly dynamic and impressive lineup as well. (Hey, Mr. Holdsworth was no slouch on six strings.) Listening back to U.K.'s debut prog masterpiece, it's easy to hear how from the ashes of this formidable project Asia was born. And while that was not my cup of tea, I respected Mr. Wetton's deserving success. Thank you for sharing your joy of music with the world. We hail you!

Steve's Favorite Rock/Pop/Folk/R&B/Electronic Albums of 2016

This is where I'm supposed to summarize the past year, find some overaching theme or thread running through my choices, spot trends, or something along those lines. Instead it's just another mea culpa for my continuing and accelerating estrangement from mainstream pop music. Don't mind me, I'm just a grumpy old fart. But these twenty new albums made me less grumpy. Read more »

R.I.P. GREG TROOPER

I'm certain many of you don't know that the New Jersey-born, Brooklyn-based Greg Trooper passed away yesterday after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer, two days after his 61st birthday. Greg was one of those effortless singer-songwriters who other singer-songwriters cherished. And other well-known singer-songwriters actually covered his material, including Steve Earle ("Little Sister"), Billy Bragg ("Everywhere"), Vince Gill ("We Won't Dance"), etc. Never a huge star or mainstream name, his music resonated with us because he was so damn good at his craft, and he wrote amazing tunes. I once told a fellow musician that if I ever wrote and recorded a song as good as "Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas)," I would have reached the pinnacle of my craft. His voice was soothing, his delivery even, his lyrics vivid and inviting; he had it all. And, he would better himself time and time again; 13 albums of memorable music. Just a few years ago, he wrote another song I would have given my eyeteeth for -- "They Call Me Hank". RIP, Mr. Trooper. I believe your songs will resonate long after the embers of all of us have faded into the ether.

We won't dance no more
We won't shine out on the floor
We won't sway the band won't play
We won't dance...

GLAM

Consumer culture sucks the content out of every subculture it touches. All except Glam, which returns every ten years or so altered by time but with its central message of theatricalized otherness unchanged. Glam pop and fashion were in all the magazines both for teenyboppers and young mums. It was commercial, not very musically challenging, and seemed to have arrived already fully absorbed. But British glam (glam of the '70s as opposed to American glam of the '80s, otherwise known as "hair metal") was highly critical of the counterculture. Read more »

Vinyl of the Week: Frank Zappa - Hot Rats!

With vinyl being a hot music commodity and back in vogue, it would seem inevitable that one of the music giants of the vinyl era would get remastered and re-released. Frank Zappa remains one of the those musical geniuses where his impact was missed by a deservedly larger fanbase while he roamed planet Earth. With a must-see documentary -- Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words (Sony Pictures Classic) -- currently in theaters and on demand, hopefully some of his genius will be discovered by a new generation of fans. Certainly the above-titled masterpiece Hot Rats, reissued by Zappa Records in August on 180gram vinyl cut directly from the original analog master tapes by Bernie Grundman, remains one of his cornerstone releases in his immense and musically varied catalog.  Read more »

Video of the Month: Peaches - "How You Like My Cut"

Peaches is audacious but cool, her music is sexy but dangerous. She likes to push hard against the boundaries of conventional dance music. Her latest track -- "Hou You Like My Cut" from her album RUB -- finds her back on a fierce groove with provocative lyrics, slammin' beats, and some savage dancing from dancer/choreographer Miss Eisa Jocson. The dance is based on the exotic dances performed by men in the Philippines known as "Macho Dancer." And the video was directed by Peaches. Lady Power time!

American Gothic!

GOTH

America has a taste for cultural collapse and rebirth, whether in the religious right's mythos of the Rapture or in the left's fascination with nuclear extermination or the cataclysmic results of the effects of global warming as in say, Cormack McCarthy's The Road. This is the mulch that Goth grows best in. American Gothic, the subculture of the doomed. Read more »

Musings on New Romantic on the New Frontier

Of all the youth subcultures New Romantic is the most arbitrary. It began in the London night club Blitz in 1979. It was a predominantly gay club that played a mixture of electronic pop and disco. The attitude of the patrons was that unlike punk it was important that you did 'something'. Such as write poems, write songs or (because of the proximity of the pre-eminent Fashion College; St Martin's) design clothes. At some point in the year the theatrical costumier (who supplied all the theatres in London) Charles Fox had the crashdown sale of it's long history. Consequently that week Blitz patrons came dressed in a mix of retro styles that spanned a thousand years. Chain mail, doublet and hose, ruffs and uniforms loyal to every flag. In one night New Romantic was born. Read more »

Sharon Jones R.I.P. (May 4, 1956 - November 18, 2016)

As widely noted, 2016 has been a year of painful loss in music. This month has been particularly bad: Canadian bard Leonard Cohen, jazz hipster Mose Allison, "Drift Away" songwriter Mentor Williams, Boston Symphony Orchestra cellist Jules Eskin, music publishing icon/musical polymath Milt Okun, Country singer-songwriter Holly Dunn, music historian/Norton Records co-founder Billy Miller, the uncategorizable Leon Russell, hot-shot bassist Victor Bailey, guitarist Al Caiola, classical pianist and conductor Zoltan Kocsis, Black Crowes keyboardist Eddie Harsch, French electronica producer Jean-Jacques Perrey, Sri Lankan violinist W. D. Amaradeva, classic pop singer Kay Starr, jazz bassist Bob Cranshaw, beloved Los Angeles music journalist/proto-punk musician Don Waller, and Irish singer-songwriter Bap Kennedy. Bad news practically every day. Read more »

Song of the Week: Stephen Stills - "Look Each Other In The Eye"

Stephen Stills has always been a masterful songwriter. From his tremendous early days in the Buffalo Springfield and CSN/CSNY and Manasas to his extraordinary solo output, he's canon of rock and folk-rock work is quite impressive. So it should come as no surpirse that his latest tune -- "Look Each Other In The Eye” -- should be excellent. And excellent it is! This timely pre-election song by Mr. Stills boasts a rhythmic Latin salsa lilt with simple but biting lyrics as infectious as anything he's ever released. "Look at what you started now..."

Big Box Set of Lou Reed's 1972-86 Albums a Must-Own

Lou Reed: The RCA & Arista Album Collection (Sony Legacy)

In a nutshell: If you are a Lou Reed fan, you should get this seventeen-CD box set regardless of how much of its contents you already own. Everything has been remastered; I compared the sound on six albums I have earlier CDs of (I did not compare the new CDs to my old vinyl, as that's apples and oranges), and on five the sound is greatly improved, more focused and with greater clarity; The Bells in particular has its murky sound fixed but retains its darkness. The exception is Take No Prisoners; it may be, given the circumstances under which this concert was recorded, that there wasn't much to work with there, but the sound is just as good as before. Throw in a very nice book -- not booklet; this thing's hardbound and roughly 11"x12" -- with co-producer Hal Willner's reminiscences, a wealth of historic Reed interview excerpts, and lots of photos and press clippings -- and it's even more attractive. Read more »

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