Music Review

ANNIVERSARIES: Earl Hooker Died 40 Years Ago

2-bugs-roachrEarl Hooker: Two Bugs and a Roach (Arhoolie) Earl Hooker ought to be more famous than he is, but between shyness about his vocal abilities and dying at just 41 years of age, this guitar whiz's public profile remained low. His fellow musicians knew how good a player he was, though; Hooker played on records by Muddy Waters (whose "You Shook Me" was overdubbed atop Hooker's instrumental "Blue Guitar") and Junior Wells, among others. He was especially admired for his slide playing, but using standard tuning, he was able to easily switch from slide to picking.

The Updated Cabaret of Barb Jungr

barb_jungrBarb Jungr: The Men I Love: The New American Songbook (NAIM) Odd how the "Great American Songbook" only covers about 50 years (roughly 1915-65). Part of that comes from simple snobbery, but part is that an uptempo swing version of a rock song too often comes off like a lame joke or cheap irony. British cabaret singer Barb Jungr, who's been making intriguingly programmed albums for 15 years, avoids that problem here through judicious song selection and a stylistic tendency to stick to ballads.

Refinement in Unlikely Places

emmanuel-and-fearEmanuel and the Fear 4th April 2010 Dulcimer, Manchester, England Easter Sunday, the time of nails and wood, and the singular emptiness of a Sabbath Bank Holiday stretches ahead, a hollow prediction rung true. An email informs that a band, Emanuel and the Fear, will be playing Dulcimer, a minute's walk away. There's eleven of them, a mini orchestra, so things will be a little cramped on the venue's tiny stage. As they've come from New York, and the other alternatives are of the four walls at home variety, it really is the best offer of a quiet day.

From Box Top to Big Star

alex-chiltonAlex Chilton 1950-2010 Great influence in the creative lives of others isn't always the result of major commercial success. Alex Chilton tasted both, but his true legacy isn't rooted in his moments of '60s teenybop chart placements with the Box Tops, best known for "The Letter," and later "Neon Rainbow," but in his three albums with the band he followed them with, Big Star. Their records sold poorly, despite reaping excellent reviews, but fell into the right hands, heads, and ears -- The Replacements, Teenage Fanclub, and R.E.M., to name but three. They continue to reap much-deserved plaudits and respect, and their "September Gurls" provided The Bangles with one of their finest moments and Chilton with an early pension plan.

The King's Killer Thriller Trial: A Preview

conrad-murrayThis April, in what many predict will be the most watched criminal proceeding since O.J. Simpson's, Dr. Conrad Murray will be tried for involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. Meanwhile, the California Medical Board is filing a motion to revoke the cardiologist's medical license. Thirty years ago, Dr. George Nichopolous, was tried on the same charges in the death of Jackson's father-in-law, Elvis Presley. The Tennessee Medical Board also moved to pull his license. Nichopolous was acquitted of manslaughter charges, and the board suspended him for three months.

Bands to Watch: Parenthetical Girls

Parenthetical-Girls-Privilege Parenthetical Girls sound like Colin Meloy if he grew up with the Elephant 6 collective. After 2008's ambitious orchestral opus Entanglements, the band is set to release their new album, Privilege, on their own Slender Means Society label, distributing the tracks in the form of five EPs to be released sequentially over the next fifteen months. The first offering, Privilege Pt. I: On Deaths and Endearments, will be released in extremely limited 12" on February 23. Leading up to that day, videos for all tracks will be made available. The lead single, "Evelyn McHale," acts as a Parenthetical Girls manifesto.

The Ten Cleverest Pop Songs of the '00s

Fiery_FurnacesThough the first decade of the new millennium produced, as always, plenty of dreadful and thus unintentionally funny music, it is high time to honor musicians at the opposite end of the ha-ha spectrum: performers demonstrating a rapier wit, a sharp tongue, or an oddball perspective that overturns settled notions about the world. The list that follows pays particular tribute to the smart-asses of the world, those quick with a quip, a lip-curling sneer, or a jab at celebrities, in the spirit of Van Halen's 1980s-era "Hot for Teacher," in which a smarmy David Lee Roth retorts, "I don't FEEL tardy!"

Janis: Born to the Blues

janis-joplin-nudeJanis Lyn Joplin would have turned 67 years old today.

Her classmate in Port Arthur, Texas recalled that as a little girl the future Queen of the Blues, "had been cute, then all of a sudden she got ugly. Her total self-respect took a broadside."

Janis's parents -- Seth, a Texaco engineer, and Dorothy, a college registrar -- knew this all too well. Their eldest daughter had seemed happy in her early years, then in high school, "She just changed totally, overnight," recalled Dorothy.

Wounded by her classmates' mockery, Janis became a fighter, a foul-mouth, and a hell-raiser.

Best Rock, Electronic, & Folk Albums of the 2000s, Pt. 3

Death_Cab_Transatlanticism(Steve, you've outdone yourself with this exhaustive, yet informative list. I trust our readers have enjoyed it as much as I.)

51. Death Cab for Cutie: Transatlanticism (Barsuk, 2003)

Ben Gibbard's twee voice delivers some of the most poignant lyrics in indie-rock (though after this album, the band inevitably made the leap to the majors and has been on Atlantic ever since). All of Death Cab's albums are wonderful, but this one's where their production values and songwriting intersected with the zeitgeist for maximum impact.

Vampire Weekend: Contra

Vampire_Weekend_ContraVampire Weekend: Contra (Beggars Group/Rough Trade) On Vampire Weekend's second album, gone is the occasional pseudo-intellectualism of Ezra Koenig's lyrics, replaced with a literary style reminiscent of J.D. Salinger. Musically, the album is a departure from and an expansion of their previous effort. The production values are much better than their self-titled debut, and the risks they take in terms of instrumentation are much greater.