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Preview: No Expiration - a blog about timeless music

No Expiration - a blog about timeless music



"Almost Absolutely None Of The Hottest New Music Since 2007" News and opinions about the best music ever - the new albums, tours and reissues by the greatest rock, hip-hop, country, blues and reggae artists. With some newer artists thrown in, because the



Updated: 2018-03-06T10:31:04.362-05:00

 



20 YEARS GONE: PJ HARVEY'S "TO BRING YOU MY LOVE"

2015-03-01T08:28:58.397-05:00

When PJ Harvey released To Bring You My Love in 1995 -- 20 years ago this week, actually -- it blew minds. PJ's first two albums, 1992's Dry and 1993's Rid Of Me, were classics, but were really different from album #3. PJ never really seemed to care about what was "in" -- happily, she does not worry about the "zeitgeist" -- but her first two albums fit in with the low-fi indie punk sound that was really dominating college rock/"alternative" music in the early '90s. She produced Dry on her own, and Steve Albini "recorded" Rid Of Me, and both were very raw and brutal.When it was first released, To Bring You My Love reminded me a bit of U2's Achtung Baby on a few levels. Like that album, it is completely different from what came before it. And like that album, you can sit and listen and try and figure out how the sounds you are hearing are being made. Are they from "live" instruments, or something else? Both albums are also a complete cycle of songs. And both were made the with help of the man named Flood. (I think that both artists were managed by Paul McGuinness at the time, so that may not be surprising.)How different was To Bring You My Love from Rid of Me? Well, "50 Ft Queenie" was from Rid of Me. allowfullscreen="" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="https://ytimg.googleusercontent.com/vi/jKLiU7Hq93w/0.jpg" frameborder="0" height="266" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/jKLiU7Hq93w?feature=player_embedded" width="320">To Bring You My Love introduced itself with "Down By The Water." allowfullscreen="" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="https://ytimg.googleusercontent.com/vi/lbq4G1TjKYg/0.jpg" frameborder="0" height="266" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/lbq4G1TjKYg?feature=player_embedded" width="320">The sound is different, the look is different, everything has changed. PJ Harvey is a great guitar player, but she wasn't playing guitar here; that didn't fit in to the character she'd designed for herself, sort of a furious torch singer. Whereas she used to look like she shopped at thrift shops like many other underground rockers of the '90s, now she was wearing silk dresses and looking pretty glam.I thought, and still think, it is that it was a classic blues record. I don't know who else felt that way. It was 1995, and blues was it's own niche. Blues in 1995 was Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Clapton, et al. I'm sure that few of the people listening to blues music in '95 were checking out PJ Harvey. But I feel like this album captured the haunting essence of the blues, and brought it to a new place, in a way that few other artists have been able to do since the '60s.And don't get me wrong, I am always happy for artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Gary Clark Jr. who have a real reverence for the original blues, and play it pretty straight (albeit with much more distortion on their guitars) make a big splash and turn younger fans onto the blues. I think it's important and awesome to preserve it in something resembling it's original form(s).But the thing that excited me about PJ's album -- one of the things that excited me -- was that this sounded like a haunted blues album, something Muddy Waters may have done before Chess, maybe something Howlin' Wolf would have done once upon a time. More than that, it reminds me of Robert Johnson, far more than (with all due respect) the Eric Claptons of the world do. There's a lot of heartbreak, death and revenge on this album. The guitar solos aren't the point here. It's the creepy, intimidating vibe. It's not an R&B version of the blues, it's not joyous. It's about a sorrow that will never go away.The album came out at the right time. Back then, everyone was trying to be on top of whatever the new, cool new artist was, and PJ was actually having her (cough) zeitgeist moment. Everyone knew who she was, there was a lot of anticipation for her album, and the first single, "Down By The  Water," ended up being a hit, relatively speaking, getting on MTV and I think even on the radio. For some reason, it shocked me that there was a P[...]



BEYONCE, KANYE, BECK AND THE PROBLEM WITH THE GRAMMYS

2015-02-09T09:14:53.998-05:00

So last night, Kanye West got crazy again, once again complaining quite publicly that Beyonce didn't win something that he felt that she should have won: the GRAMMY for Album of the Year. It's really to write off anything he says, because, let's face it, he can be a  bit of cry baby when things don't go his way.But when it comes to Beyonce, there's lots of people looking out for her, and they're generally pretty vocal about it.One of the most well thought out defenses of her came back in December: a friend of mine and former colleague wrote a bit about Beyonce being snubbed by the GRAMMYs... when the nominations were first announced.Beyonce was nominated in "only" one of the major categories, Album of the Year, but not Song or Record. My first instinct was: big deal. She's nominated for what is arguably the biggest award of the show, it felt churlish that anyone would complain that she isn't nominated in enough of the major categories. It felt like something from straight out of the spot-on SNL "Beygency" skit.But then I considered that Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" -- a novelty song, albeit one with a good message -- was nominated for Song and Record, and that felt a bit weird. Why would that be nominated in any categories that Beyonce's "Pretty Hurts" or "Flawless" wasn't nominated in?I'll be clear here. I'm not a huge Beyonce fan: I listened to her album because I am a voting NARAS member and I wanted to know what I was voting for (or against). I doubt I'll ever listen to Beyonce in one sitting again. But there's no doubt that this album was more than just an album, it was an event. An event that you could almost call the 2013/2014 equivalent of a Thriller or Tapestry. At least Jagged Little Pill! All of those albums won Album of the Year, and they were all albums that cranked out hit after hit for a year or more. From the moment Beyonce dropped the album, with no warning, in late 2013, through late last year, Beyonce kept churning out single after single in a way that doesn't seem possible anymore. This is, after all, an era of ageism (and , let's face it, she's not in her 20s anymore, sorry Beygency!) and it's also an age where the culture has the attention span of a moth. People are all about the album until the album comes out, and then it's on to the next thing.Beyonce was ingrained in popular culture in 2014: it added a new slang term to the lexicon ("Surfbordt"), and a new catch-phrase ("I woke up like this"). For good measure, it even gave Beyonce a new nickname ("'Yonce"). She even used a remix of "Flawless" to address that elevator incident. The songs weren't just pop hits. "Pretty Hurts" was about the pressures of womanhood (and a bit heavier than "All About That Bass"), where she showed some rare insecurity. In "Partition" she showed that she actually has desires beyond just money and fame. And then there was "XO" and "Jealous" and "Flawless" and the "Flawless" remix and then "7/11." There was no album that came close to making the impact of Beyonce this year.A colleague of mine produced a mini-doc about the year in Beyonce; she wanted it to be five minutes max; it goes on for over ten. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Xop71VQC7qY" width="560">It was just Beyonce's year, period.I generally gravitate to stuff that I consider more "left field." I like to go who I perceive to be the underdog, and I'd personally have an easy time voting against Beyonce, given some other choices. Like, if St. Vincent's album had been nominated, I would have been all about it. Despite the disparity in popularity levels, I could justify voting for such an extraordinary album over a sales juggernaut by a superstar, even if most people have never heard of St. Vincent.I love Beck's Morning Phase, I listened to it yesterday actually. But if you're gonna vote against Beyonce, you really have to be able to justify that choice, and I couldn't do it with Beck, even though I'm likely to listen to that album for years to come. It[...]



25 YEARS AGO TOMORROW: I SAW VOIVOD, SOUNDGARDEN AND FAITH NO MORE AT THE "NEW" RITZ

2015-01-18T21:04:22.933-05:00

It was an amazing show. I can't find my ticket stub (when I do, I'll replace this image with mine). But wow: it was $14.50.This was around the time I started going to club shows as opposed to arena and theater concerts. I'd already seen Living Colour with de la soul (the first hip-hop act I'd ever seen live) at the "New" Ritz a few months earlier. That show is permanently etched in memory, and so is this one.Where Living Colour had a lot of hype out of the gate - in large part because of Mick Jagger's involvement in the debut album, and their pretty commercial sound got them radio play pretty much out of the gate - this was a bit different. Voivod was a well-established band in the underground thrash metal community, but didn't have anywhere close to the mainstream recognition of bands like Slayer or Anthrax or even Suicidal Tendencies or Exodus. And despite the fact that they had a video on Headbanger's Ball (a cover of an early Syd Barrett-era, they weren't a band who people outside of the thrash metal community were aware of. I'd been familiar with them thanks to WSOU in New Jersey, which is where I discovered most metal bands that I enjoyed back then (including Metallica and Anthrax). But it was interesting that Soundgarden and Faith No More were opening for them, as neither band ever seemed to want to be classified as "metal."Faith No More was the opening band, although within a few months, they'd eclipse both of the other bands, popularity-wise. I had their then-new album, The Real Thing, which was their first with frontman Mike Patton. Like Living Colour, they had really clean production, but they were seriously weird. Each guy seemed like he was in a different band: guitarist Jim Martin was definitely the metalhead. Keyboardist Roddy Boddum, for some reason reminded me of someone from a progressive rock band (years later, I'd hear his "other" band, Imperial Teen, and realize he was kind of a power pop guy, something that didn't seem to influence FNM at all). Drummer Mike "Puffy" Bordin was brutal, he seemed like he could be in an industrial band. Bassist Billy Gould was funky as hell and reminded me a bit of Flea sometimes, and Patton was more than a little Anthony Kiedis-like, although he was a better singer (and a better rapper). He was clearly the focal point of the band: the audience loved him, and he seemed to hate them, which made them love him more. (This didn't work as well when FNM opened for Metallica and Guns N Roses a few years later.)So, they were a bit like the Chili Peppers, but this was 1990 and the Chili Peppers weren't at all popular. FNM released The Real Thing a month before the Chili Peppers released Mother's Milk, so it wasn't like they were jumping on some huge trend. And let's be honest: when you listen to a song like "Falling To Pieces," it's a lot more commercial than anything RHCP had done at that point. I'm listening to The Real Thing as I write this, and it's hard to imagine that it seemed so groundbreaking at the time, but it did. It was an exciting time for music: it felt like different kinds of music were combining in strange and cool new ways, and Faith No More (like Living Colour and Jane's Addiction, two of my favorite bands at that time) really embodied it. They weren't as orthodox about metal as the metal bands that I loved (Iron Maiden and Judas Priest) or the aforementioned thrash bands. They definitely didn't love the hair metal bands (and neither did I). This mirrored the way I felt about music. I still loved the same metal bands I always had loved, but it wasn't all I wanted to listen to. And I definitely didn't have much time for hair metal, and FNM didn't seem to either. They seemed to be a midway point between metal and "alternative" music that I was getting into, now that I was in college (notably the Cure).Soundgarden were killer. This is notable, because I saw them many times after that, and they were rarely even good in concert, until after they reunited in the '00s. In 1990 they had something to prov[...]



TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2014

2015-01-01T18:51:03.179-05:00

I started this blog seven years ago. I remember the impetus: I was reading some other blog's year end wrap up and they were discussing the Raconteurs. It was something like, "Remember when 'Steady As She Goes' came out and we couldn't stop talking about it? And then by the time the album, Broken Boy Soldiers came out, we didn't care anymore?"Obviously, there were seismic changes in music and media for years at that point, and the world was still digesting them. File sharing was old news, blogs were starting to rule but social media hadn't yet exploded. But things were changing fast.When I read that bit about the Raconteurs, though, something struck me: at no point did this blog say that that "Steady As She Goes" wasn't a good song. Or that Broken Boy Soldiers wasn't a good album. It was just that they were tired of talking about it. They were tired of an album before they'd heard any of it other than the single... which they admitted was great. I realized that this was an entirely new era, and one that moved really fast... and didn't have much of an attention span. Music reporting would be more about the next shiny new thing than about something that was truly great but didn't pander to specific markets, or to the news cycle.So I started No Expiration as a sort of remedy to all the other blogs that seemed more interested in talking about music (generally in a way that I felt was mostly about snark and often ageist) than in listening to music. I hate to use the word "hipster" (does anyone actually self-identify as being a hipster?) but it's useful here because everyone knows what it means. I wanted a non-hipster blog. I could still talk about Kanye West or Arctic Monkeys or M.I.A. because they make music that I love and that I think will endure for decades. But I definitely wouldn't be limited to that. I wrote - un-ironically and without caveat - about Rush, Phil Collins, Public Enemy, Primus, Norah Jones, Rancid or other artists that the press no longer found attractive, or artists who they never liked. It turns out that a lot of people like those artists.Speaking of artists that people like, there's been a lot of talk about "poptimism" this year; it's like a reaction to "rockism" which, I guess, is the stance that rock bands are the greatest thing ever, that it's important to usually write the songs that you sing, and blah blah blah. "Poptimism" is all about how pop music should be taken seriously as an art form (and there seems to be an inherent defense mechanism there that comes off as, cough, anti-rockist and anti-anyone over 35). It's kind of a reaction to the old guard of music criticism - Rolling Stone, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the New York Times of the world. I guess it's healthy in a way: why buy into what an older generation decides is important or relevant or great.My take is: I like a little bit of both schools of thought. Yes, some pop music deserves to be taken seriously, and some rock music does too. Do I think that Katy Perry or Justin Bieber deserve the respect that, say, Bruce Springsteen gets? I do not. That said, if Katy's "Friday Night" is playing at a Bar Mitzvah, I'll dance to that s*** in a second and not feel weird about it at all.Listen to what you like. Try not to think of what liking it says about you. If you like pop music, like it. Own it. If you like classic rock bands who are not trendy at the moment - let's say, Bad Company, Bob Seger or the J. Geils Band - wave that flag. If you love the "alternative rock" bands of the '90s who seem a bit out of step today, who cares: you love some of the greatest music of all time, don't worry if you're not moved by the Dirty Projectors or whoever. Also: you shouldn't feel guilty about so-called guilty pleasures.  (That said, I have some guilty pleasures, not that I'm losing sleep over them: Yo La Tengo's "From a Motel 6," Sebadoh's "Ocean" and Pavement's "Summer Babe" to name a few.)Well, that's my state of the union. Here's my top albums of the[...]



TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2013 (GUARANTEED VAMPIRE WEEKEND-FREE!)

2014-01-01T10:51:25.194-05:00

Yes, it's been a really long time since I've been here, updating No Expiration. I'm going to try to return more often in 2014.  You can read a lot of my stuff here at Radio.com, the site I work for (along with a number of websites for CBS owned classic rock, classic hits and Jack stations, along with Chicago's WXRT).I'm planning on sharing my take on upcoming music events including the GRAMMYs and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as well as links to some of my interviews, videos and features.  But for now, I'm  returning with my take on the best albums of the year. Regarding the headline, I don't really have anything against Vampire Weekend, I am not that familiar with their music (although the few times I've heard their music, it hasn't really kept my attention). I think that they are a "zeitgeist" band - a band who, through a confluence of fans, critical acclaim and an intangible "x factor," are a band who everyone who works in music is expected to pay attention to, and expected to like. That's fine. I definitely like some artists who fall into that category. Anyway, I've been having a hard time coming up with an actual order for my favorite albums of the year. In recent years, I've had a handful of albums that rose to the top. In 2007, it was Ben Harper, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Mavis Staples and Robert Plant/Alison Krauss. In 2008, the Foxboro Hot Tubs. In 2009, Bob Dylan, the Cocktail Slippers, Rancid and Levon Helm. 2010, it was the Drive-By Truckers and Mavis Staples. 2011: Social Distortion and Foo Fighters. And last year, Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball. This year, I have a number of albums that I've enjoyed, but no clear favorites. But I'll try to put them in some sort of order here. So, let's start already!1. Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite - Get Up! Two generations of blues artists come together. The easiest thing in the world would have been to make this a covers album. Instead, Ben (and the guys from his current band) wrote a bunch of songs that should be blues standards in the years to come. I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing them when their album came out, and that was a huge thrill. Shortly after that, I saw them playing a show at Irving Plaza (way too small of a venue for them) and it was mind-blowingly great. Check out my review, with my wife's amazing photos, here. Anyway, I'm curious to see what Ben does next: I'd love to see him reunite with his old band, the Innocent Criminals, in 2014.2. Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks This was one that I thought was really overlooked by music critics. But I realize that a white, angry guy forever connected to the '90s who looks like he could totally kick your ass isn't who critics get behind these days.  But whatever. This album was really innovative. Of course, Trent has to compete with his past, which definitely looms large. Pretty Hate Machine, Broken and The Downward Spiral were all game changers. I don't know that he has another earth shaking record in him like that again. And he isn't that guy anymore: he's married, he has kids, has greyhounds. And yet, I think he's still haunted by every artist who ever disappointed him: he doesn't want to get soft, get boring or sell out. And he doesn't. Not only was this a great album, but he supported it with a great tour: first he did the festival circuit (they pretty much blew everyone away, including Mrs. Carter, at Made In America) and then revamped the band, put together a new stage show and raised the game once again on his headlining tour. Check out my review of that, and (again) my wife's amazing photos, here. I should also mention that his album with How To Destroy Angels was great, and their concerts were amazing too. I can't wait to see what Trent does next.3. Kanye West - Yeezus Ok, I'm with the critics on this one. And yes, I know he's a douche. I've already written about my first (and only) encounter with him, you can read about [...]



THE GRAMMYS: MY TAKE

2013-02-09T15:02:30.900-05:00

I love talking about the GRAMMYS; I've written about it often on my blog, talked about it on the radio, and covered the show for VH1 and, this year I'll be covering for Radio.com.  As longtime readers also know, I'm a voter. Except this year, I'm not - I forgot to pay my dues.  Duh! Normally I keep my votes a secret - I know NARAS frowns upon anyone sharing their votes. But since I'm not voting this year, I figured I'd share what my ballot would have looked like (and why). Enjoy, because I'm never forgetting to pay my dues EVER AGAIN.Record Of The YearBlack Keys - "Lonely Boy"Kelly Clarkson - "Stronger"fun. - "We Are Young"Goyte + Kimbra - "Somebody That I Used To Know"Frank Ocean - "Thinkin' 'Bout You"Taylor Swift - "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"Really tough category. The Black Keys are my favorite artist in this category, and I love the way their whole El Camino album sounds. Is a stripped down garage rock sound the work of a great producer?  Well, to be minimal is a production choice, and in their case, it's the right one. I also love Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger" - straight up, great pop song. fun. I don't buy into them as much, and I actually think their song "Some Nights" is a better song and a better sounding song than "We Are Young," so that gets eliminated. "Somebody That I Used To Know" is an incredible production. It's like a Peter Gabriel song, it's amazing.  Taylor's song is great, too, and the production made it her biggest hit yet.  Just when you thought she couldn't get any bigger, she got bigger, mostly because of the production on this song.My Vote: Frank Ocean Like I said, minimalism is a choice, and in the case of this song, it really brought out the heart, and the hurt, in this song.  I don't buy into Frank Ocean the way everyone else does - I think his Channel Orange is a bit overrated - but "Thinkin' 'Bout You" is probably the best song of the year (and I can't believe it wasn't nominated in that category). Album Of The Year Black Keys - El Caminofun. - Some NightsMumford & Sons - BabelFrank Ocean - Channel Orange Jack White - Blunderbuss First off, I produced a series of "Inside The Album Of The Year" video packages around these albums. See them all here, or follow the above links. Secondly,  Bruce Springsteen got ripped off. This isn't as egregious as 2007, when Bruce's Magic wasn't nominated, but lesser albums by Vince Gill and Herbie Hancock were.  All of these albums figured heavily into the conversation about pop music this year.  fun. was a huge band this year, but they feel more like a singles band than an album band. As I mentioned, I don't think Frank Ocean's album is a classic, but I'm in the minority there. And I didn't think Mumford & Sons' album held up to the first one.  But whatever.  For me, it breaks down to the Jack White/Black Keys rivalry. Blunderbuss  was my second favorite album of the year, after Bruce's Wrecking Ball. El Camino was my 4th favorite album of 2011 (it came out in December of that year).My Vote: El Camino by a teeny, tiny margin. It just felt like it was The Black Keys' year.Song Of The YearEd Sheeran - "The A Team"Miguel - "Adorn"Carly Rae Jepsen - "Call Me Maybe"Kelly Clarkson - "Stronger"fun. - "We Are Young"Weak category. Frank Ocean's "Thinkin' 'Bout You" should be here, as should Bruce's "We Take Care Of Our Own." I'd easily eliminate Sheeran for being kind of boring, and ditto for fun.. "Call Me Maybe" was kind of the biggest song of the year, but sort of in a novelty way.  I love the version she did with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots.My Vote: I really like "Stronger," but I think I'd go with "Adorn."Best New ArtistAlabama Shakesfun.The LumineersHunter HayesFrank OceanThere's some good choices here, but if there was a write-in choice, I'd go with Gary Clark Jr. who really is the best new artist.  I also think Michael [...]



NEW: NORAH JONES REMIXES EP

2013-01-27T07:11:10.587-05:00

Norah Jones is continuing to get her hipster on.  I'm not mad!  She has a new EP of remixes from last year's Little Broken Hearts album, which was my 7th favorite album of the year.

Dave Sitek from TV On The Radio remixed "Good Morning," "She's 22," "Take It Back" and "After The Fall."  I think he did a great job on them.

Jose Padilla, a dance music DJ who has been playing Ibiza since 1975 (!) according to his bio had really cool takes on "Say Goodbye" and "Travelin' On."

But Peter, Bjorn & John - probably most well known for the whistling song hit "Young Folks" - did a really upbeat take on Norah's darkest song, "Miriam."  It makes it kind of sinister - instead of being "holy s***" while listening to the lyrics, you're dancing and having fun while listening to Norah singing about taking revenge on the woman who stole her man (and did it in Norah's house!).

I don't think that this EP has gotten too much hype - and really, neither did the album. Which is too bad, the album was great, and this is a really cool remixes EP.





CATCHING UP: A(NOTHER) PRIMUS REVIEW

2013-01-27T06:51:11.381-05:00

photo credit: Maria Ives 2012 was a great year for me, for many reasons. You can look around at my recent "Catching Up" posts of the shows I attended (there are more to come).  And - bonus! - I got to see Primus twice! Once in the spring and then again in the fall. The fall show was a bit different because they started using 3D effects and quadrophonic sound, for a truly psychedelic experience.  Read my professional review of of the show on KROQ's website.Just like with movies, 3D doesn't always work for me. Sometimes it adds to the experience, other times it just seems gimmicky.  Some of the effects in this show worked better than others.  But I have to give Primus credit for putting a lot of effort, and a lot of money, into creating an experience.  As for the musical performance, it was spectacular.  To me, they combine the best elements of the alternative/heavy rock scene of the '90s with the very best elements of improvisational rock (aka the jam band scene).  They stretch their songs out, but they don't get too long or too boring.  At this point, I think that the band's current lineup - Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde and Jay Lane - is the best lineup they've had."Ler" / photo credit: Maria IvesThe Pig Mask / photo credit: Maria Ivesphoto credit: Maria Ives Anyway, I took photos the last time I saw them, but this time I had a pro shooting, so enjoy all of these photos Primus fans.  And if you steal them, give her credit at least and link back to my blog!Drummer Jay Lane and Les Claypool are a great rhythm section. Photo credit: Maria Iveson the dobro bass/ Photo credit: Maria Ivesphoto credit: Maria Ives[...]



CATCHING UP: THE AFGHAN WHIGS CONCERT REVIEW

2013-01-26T22:29:36.399-05:00

(image)
photo credit: Maria Ives 
I guess it was just a matter of time before Greg Dulli decided to reunite with the Afghan Whigs for a tour.  I don't know what went into the decision to reunite the band, but I'm glad they did it.  They were one of the best bands during the '90s.  The rock critic types seemed to really like them, MTV gave them a good shot, but they never seemed to catch on in a big way.  Radio wouldn't play them for some reason. And I'd read that Dulli could be his own worst enemy.

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photo credit: Maria Ives 
I've enjoyed Dulli's work with The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins.  But nothing touches the Afghan Whigs.  When I saw them back in the day, I thought Dulli was Springsteen-esque. So I'm glad to report that he's just as great today, and so were the rest of the band.  It was an amazing show, and I hope the tour wasn't just a one-off.  But even if it was, I'm glad I got the chance to see them one more time.
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photo credit: Maria Ives





CATCHING UP: ROGER WATERS CONCERT REVIEW

2013-01-04T21:51:03.416-05:00

Seeing Roger Waters at Yankee Stadium this summer was incredible. It was the exact same Wall show that I saw in 2010, it was just bigger.

I wasn't reviewing the show for work, we didn't have a photo pass (unfortunately) and we bought our tickets, which were expensive and totally worth it.

I found the show even more moving the second time around, especially during "Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)," where young children were break dancing on stage wearing shirts that read "FEAR BUILDS WALLS." I think the meaning of the album, to Roger, has changed since he wrote it during his days in Pink Floyd.

It was obviously a very personal album when he wrote it. But now, I think it takes on a more global message.  He paints in broad strokes - during "Mother" when he sings "Mother, should I trust the government?" the answer is scrawled on the wall: "No Fucking Way."  That's an easy way to get cheers (especially from the formerly mulleted classic rock crowd who may watch a bit too much Fox... but then again, I would probably have enjoyed that line a bit more during the bu$h era). Still, the performance seems to not emphasize his unsuccessful relationships with his exquisite wife and mother, and more on the effect that war has had on him (and many others, making it an album that seems less about himself and more about the rest of the world).

Still, I walked away from the show elated at the incredible production I'd just witnessed.  And also moved. Still moved after thirty years, by this incredibly powerful and durable work of art.



CATCHING UP: NORAH JONES CONCERT REVIEW

2013-01-04T21:30:44.862-05:00

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photo credit: Maria Ives
So, it was a bit weird to go to see Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper one night, and Norah Jones the next. But that's how we (my talented photographer wife and I) roll. I reviewed both shows for CBS New York.

Norah's Little Broken Hearts was one of my favorite albums of 2011, but I was curious how it would come off live, since it's a Danger Mouse production,  which often incorporates a lot of studio elements. No problem: it was great, and Norah showed a lot of confidence in her new music and her band, playing 10 of the 12 songs.

I give her a lot of credit for not being trapped by the success of her incredibly successful debut, Come Away With Me. She doesn't spend the night at the grand piano (in fact, she barely plays it at all, sticking with electric piano or guitar), and just plays a few songs from the album. Well, I think she always knew that she wasn't likely to match the sales of that record no matter what, and she hasn't let the album "own" her career. Anyway, obviously she's gone through some stuff lately, and that's what she's singing about.

The band did a great cover of The Grateful Dead's "It Must Have Been The Roses," and I hope she releases that at some point.  The only disappointment of the show, for me, was that her Little Willies bandmate Jim Campilongo opened the show and they didn't play together.  I really dug the Little Willies' album from last year, For The Good Times, and would have loved to heard a song (or three) from it.  But I can't complain too much - Norah sang what she wanted to sing, and she was awesome.



CATCHING UP: IRON MAIDEN/ALICE COOPER CONCERT REVIEW

2013-01-04T21:10:13.621-05:00

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photo credit: Maria Ives
Here's another really fun show that I reviewed over the summer: Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper at Jones Beach. It had been years since I've seen Maiden in concert.  On this tour, they seemed to concentrate on the first Bruce Dickinson era: from 1982's Number Of The Beast through 1992's Fear Of The Dark, and there was definitely an emphasis on 1988's Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son.  

They were awesome. As I mention in my review, Dickinson does not seem to have aged.  And the other guys look a bit more like old metal guys, but they play with serious ferocity.  Guitarist Jannick Gers doesn't seem to fit in with the band at all.  Dickinson brought him into the band in the '90s after he'd played on Bruce's solo debut. Adrian Smith quit and Gers replaced him. Years later, Bruce quit, and a few years later, Smith joined his solo band. Then they both rejoined Maiden, and the band opted to keep Gers, giving them three guitarists.  Not totally necessary, but I guess it's cool that they didn't just ditch the guy. Still, he really looks more like he's in Poison or something. But the sound is what's important, and Maiden still sound brutal. If you love Maiden and go to see them, you definitely won't be disappointed.  Steve Harris is still one of the best bass players in metal. 

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photo credit: Maria Ives
Also, as mentioned in the review, we didn't get there early enough to catch Alice Cooper, which was a huge bummer.  When you have a photo pass, you have to get to the show early so they can escort you to the front of the stage.  Our ride from my office in midtown to Long Island took more than 2 1/2 hours.  Hence, no Alice photos.  We hung out outside during his performance, but he sounded incredible, and I hope to go see him soon. 



CATCHING UP: SANTANA/ALLMAN BROTHERS CONCERT REVIEW

2013-01-03T22:17:02.477-05:00

photo credit: Maria Ives I'm trying to bring my blog up to speed, and I'm going to post links to some concerts that I reviewed over the past few months, with extra bonus photos and my more personal takes on the shows.Over the summer, I saw the Allman Brothers Band/Santana tour, which was pretty great. My review for work is here. This was a true co-headlining tour, with the band's switching the order each night. The night before I went, the Allmans played last, and apparently, Gregg Allman didn't sound great. The night I went, Gregg was still a bit rough, but I thought it was a really good show... if not as transcendent as the one I'd seen earlier in the year, when they opened their annual string of shows at New York City's Beacon Theatre. The band really is powered by their incredible guitar team of Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks.  They blow my mind every time.I hadn't seen Santana for a really long time.  I like his new singers, but I'd love to see him reunite with original singer/keyboardist Gregg Rolie (and Gregg told me he'd be into it). Still, his current band is great, and he gives them all space to solo and contribute; I thought it was a cool show. The highlight was when Derek and Warren joined them, although the jam went too far into Dead-like jam-band territory after a while. Still, I really liked the show, and am getting ready to see the Allmans once again when they play the Beacon again this year.photo credit: Maria Ivesphoto credit: Maria Ives [...]



MY FAVORITE SONGS OF 2012 (OR, THIS IS WHERE I MENTION FRANK OCEAN)

2013-01-02T21:05:37.865-05:00

Over the past few days, I've posted about some of my favorite albums of the year. But there were a lot of great songs that weren't on any of them, so I'm gonna do one more quick list. Ready?  Here we go:Frank Ocean - "Thinkin' 'Bout You": I kind of feel like I have to justify why Ocean wasn't on my top albums of the year.  So here it is:  I really wanted to like his album. A vote for him seemed to equal a vote for a world where being gay is no big deal. I'm all about it. But I just don't love the album, it doesn't keep my interest at all.  And that said, "Thinkin' 'Bout You" might be the best song I heard all year. It's so moving, it gets me every time.  Just based on this song, I'll pick up his next album.  The guy is clearly talented as hell.Solange - "Losing You": My boss turned me on to this song, and he's a tough crowd, so I checked it out. What an amazing song.  If it's possible for her to get out of her sister's shadow, this is the song that should be able to do it.  M.I.A. - "Bad Girlz": Unfortunately, the headlines M.I.A. made in 2012 were all about her little moment of  giving the finger to the camera at the Super Bowl. It was dumb and goofy.  But at least she put out a great song, and the video for this was pretty cool too.Santigold - "Disparate Youth": She's always interesting. This song is a bit more "new-wave-y" than her prior songs.  It actually reminds me of New Order for some reason. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood - "Let's Go Let's Go Let's Go": I'm not very familiar with Chris Robinson's solo stuff, although I have certainly enjoyed his music with The Black Crowes. But wow, what a great song, it sounds like something that would have been on a Sam Cooke record or a very early Motown single.Ryan Shaw - "Morning Noon And Night": Actually, I need to check out his album.  I heard his song in Starbucks, Shazam-ed it, and downloaded it.  It's one of the best things I've heard all year and also kind of Sam Cooke-ian.Leonard Cohen - "Going Home": I can't really get into entire Leonard Cohen albums, but I do love some of his songs, and this one is a classic.Willie Nelson - "Just Breathe": I liked Willie's album, Heroes, but not enough to include it in my top albums of 2012.  But this Pearl Jam cover was incredible.The Beach Boys - "That's Why God Made The Radio" I'm fascinated that it even got made. And I love the fact that there's no acknowledgement of anything current.  This is a 100% authentic Brian Wilson creation.Van Halen - "Stay Frosty": This was also an unlikely, and solid, reunion.  David Lee Roth had lots of great lines, Ed Van Halen sounds inspired and Alex and Wolfgang are solid. This song is the highlight, and actually can stand up next to some of their earlier stuff. The Rolling Stones - "Doom And Gloom"/"One More Shot": Basically, they kicked everyone's ass with these songs.  Led Zeppelin - "Good Times Bad Times (live)": I could have picked any song from Celebration Day, really.  But this is the first song on the album and the excitement is tangible.  I have to do a separate post about this album, I can't believe how great it is. Aerosmith - "Oh Yeah": I wish I liked their album, Music From Another Dimension, more than I do.  We had to wait so long for it! But "Oh Yeah," which Joe Perry wrote, is 100% classic Aerosmith. Paul McCartney/Dave Grohl/Krist Novoselic/Pat Smear - "Cut Me Some Slack": Rocking.  The Wallflowers featuring Mick Jones - "Reboot The Mission": Basically a Clash tribute.  In the best way. Joey Ramone - "New York City": It holds up to the greatest Ramones songs.  I love it. Gaslight Anthem - "45[...]



BEST OF 2012 - TIE FOR #11

2013-01-01T18:21:48.394-05:00

There were a lot of great albums that came out this year, and I'm not going to write an entry about each one that barely missed the top 10, but here's a roundup of what other records I liked in 2012. Bettye LaVette - Thankful N' Thoughtful: I've enjoyed everything she's done since her amazing 2005 comeback I've Got My Own Hell To Raise, which I thought was one of the most underrated albums of the '00s. Her label, Anti- Records, gives her room to make great records, and she's done it again.  There's lots of great songs here, including Dylan's "Everything Is Broken," The Black Keys' "I'm Not The One" and Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy."Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again: I talked and wrote about him early in 2012, and I was really looking forward to this record.  It doesn't disappoint, although I would say that it could use a few more upbeat songs.  Like Gary Clark Jr, the Grammys totally slept on Michael Kiwanuka.Jamey Johnson - Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran: Jamey's last album, The Guitar Song, was my third favorite album of 2010.  This one didn't hit me quite as hard, but it's a bummer that it didn't get much attention in the press. Maybe because it's a tribute, and because it's all duets (Alison Krauss, Elvis Costello, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson are all on the album).  But it's a really cool album, and has made me want to pick up a Hank Cochran collection.ZZ Top - La Futura: Why didn't they work with Rick Rubin before this? It's a really really great album, easily their best since Eliminator.  The first single, "I Gotsta Get Paid" is a sort of cover of a obscure '90s hip-hop tune by DJ DMD (I'd never heard of him).  It doesn't come off gimmicky at all.  And it sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the album.  It's such a shame that this didn't get too much lip service this year.Green Day - Uno, Dos y Tre: Essentially a triple album released in three parts.  There's a little bit of fat, but not much.  This kind of has everything they do from punk rock raveups to over the top Broadway-like productions to ballads.Soundgarden - King Animal: A really great comeback/reunion album... but not quite as good as their pre-breakup material.  Still, there are some amazing songs here, like "Non-State Actor" and "Taree."  But the best might be the weirdest:  "Rowing," which sounds like something that may have been born, oddly enough, in Chris Cornell's ill-fated collaboration with Timbaland on Scream: the song is built around a loop of Chris singing, and a very funky bassline by Ben Shepherd. It's actually become one of my favorite Soundgarden songs ever.Alabama Shakes - Boys And Girls: They got a lot of buzz this year (and, I'm glad to say, a nomination for Best New Artist at the Grammys)... it's good to see a rock band getting that kind of hype, and these guys deserve it.  I like their album, I don't love it, but wow they have lots of potential.  And they were rockin' when they opened for Jack White earlier this year.The xx - Coexist: a cool album to chill out to. I was turned on to it by a colleague from work. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...: A lot of people put this high up in their year-end countdowns.  I liked it, but didn't love it.  Her last album, Extraordinary Machine, was probably my favorite album of 2005, and I thought it was one of the most underrated albums of the '00s.[...]



BEST OF 2012 - #1 - BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN "WRECKING BALL"

2013-01-01T08:44:57.584-05:00

I wrote about Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball when it was released.  I wondered if it would be seen as the classic that The Rising is;  I still wonder about that. I think it will be. The album seems inspired by the financial crisis, and what so many Americans are going through. That's part of the album's story. Of course, there's also context: Bruce did a lot of campaigning for President Obama the first time around. Like many Americans, he probably felt that there were going to be huge changes in the country after the election.  "Hope And Change" was a powerful slogan, and may have given people super high expectations. And while The President accomplished a lot, it still felt like a lot of things didn't change: no one was prosecuted in the financial crisis.  More time and money was spent on trying to figure out if Lance Armstrong did steroids or not. Stuff like that made it feel like Bush was still president. That thought seems to haunt this album.I think those are the kinds of things that inspired the album, but it's not what the album is about, per se.  I believe Springsteeen was trying to write a modern folk album.  Not the way he did on Devils And Dust or The Ghost Of Tom Joad, by playing quietly, but by writing songs that are easy to get into and sing along to.  This is more like a modern version of his Seeger Sessions album. This isn't chin-stroking folk, but fist pumping folk.   He not only used rock instruments to record these songs, but also had some even more modern touches, like loops and samples, and on "Rocky Ground," a guest MC rapping a verse. I've listened to this album a lot since it's release, and I've seen Bruce in concert twice on this tour (in April and in September). I've decided that I think Wrecking Ball is a classic: "We Take Care Of Our Own" is amazing.  But I also love "Death To My Hometown," "Shackled And Drawn," "Easy Money," "This Depression" and "We Are Alive; they are all amazing songs.  There's also the previously released songs:  I actually don't love the title track, but it's grown on me, as has "Land Of Hope And Dreams," a song that I never felt really "worked" but is also starting to grow on me.  But one of the bonus tracks, "American Land," is one of his top 25 songs in my mind.I was surprised and pleased to see that Rolling Stone agreed with me, and named it their number 1 album of the year as well. I'm just sorry that the Grammy Awards only gave him three nominations, and none in the major categories.  But this album is bigger than awards and polls.  I don't know how Darkness On The Edge Of Town did with the critics or at the Grammys and it doesn't really matter anymore.[...]



BEST OF 2012 - #2 - JACK WHITE "BLUNDERBUSS"

2012-12-31T07:32:34.922-05:00

It is probably no surprise that Jack White's debut solo album, Blunderbuss, placed so high on my Best of 2012 list.

Why did he finally do a solo record?  I think that this is his "divorce" album. I don't generally look too deeply into lives of artists, but this one was hard to miss:  Jack and Karen Elson sent out invitations to their 6 anniversary/divorce party.  So while it seems amicable, I'd imagine that every divorce has it's pain and that pain comes out in this album (which Elson provides backing vocals on, by the way).

Although he's the spotlight of every project he works on, I think he sees his bandmates as peers and friends.  I think that this time around, he'd rather just hire musicians, and not explain the songs.

Jack White being Jack White, his story is that he'd set up a session at Third Man Studios with The RZA; RZA didn't show up, and Jack started bashing out songs with the musicians that he hired.  But these songs don't sound like they were just cranked out on the spot.

The tour was really interesting:  he had an all-male band, and an all-female band, and each morning he'd announce who would get to play.  It's amazing that he still can manage to have some weird mystique to what he's doing, all these years after he started.  And that he'd go to such far lengths to bother to do so.  It was fun to hear him play White Stripes songs again (although a full band didn't seem to make up for Meg White missing), and cool to hear different takes on his Raconteurs and Dead Weather songs.

Anyway, the album is a classic: pretty much every song works.  A lot of them sound like they could maybe fit into his other bands.  "Hypocritical Kiss" and "Sixteen Saltines" remind me of The White Stripes for sure. I would love to hear Alison Mosshart singing "Freedom At 21."   "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy" reminds me of The Raconteurs.  But they still have a fresh, different sound.  In the 2010's, I don't know any other artists who are this consistent, and this interesting.



BEST OF 2012 - #3 - MARK LANEGAN BAND "BLUES FUNERAL"

2012-12-31T07:11:51.827-05:00

In March, I predicted that the Mark Lanegan Band's Blues Funeral would be one of my top 10 albums of 2012.  I was right.

It's interesting that Chris Cornell tried to combine his sound with electronic music by working with Timbaland on his Scream album, and it didn't really work.  But Lanegan worked with Alain Johannes on this album, and made a hybrid of Lanegan's dusty blues and electronic music that works really well.

Johannes (a former member of Eleven) has worked with Cornell before, it's too bad that they didn't go in this direction.

Lanegan isn't thought of as a "blues" artist per se, and he doesn't roll in Clapton circles.  But when I hear him sing, it just brings to mind scenes of dusty, lonely, scary places.  I hear the blues in his voice.  And this album makes the blues sound fresh, current and even futuristic.  I don't know many other records you could say that about.  If I were a film director (or musical director of a film), I'd be mining this album big time, and asking Lanegan and Johannes for more.

It's interesting that Lanegan chose to call this a "Mark Lanegan Band" album.  The "Band" is completed by drummer Jack Irons. A newly minted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (as a member of The Red Hot Chili Peppers) and a newly minted member of The Wallflowers, he didn't really get to promote the album with Lanegan.  But hopefully this particular group of musicians will work together again.



BEST OF 2012 - #4 - BOB DYLAN "TEMPEST"

2012-12-31T06:58:40.389-05:00

One of the first big releases of 2012 was a 4 CD Bob Dylan tribute Chimes Of Freedom put out by Amnesty International.  It had legends (Elvis Costello, Joe Perry and Pete Townshend) younger acts (Band Of Skulls, Gaslight Anthem) and pop stars (Ke$ha, Miley Cyrus).  It was a great tribute and showed the man's far reaching influence.

But as if to remind us of his continued relevance and greatness, a few months later Bob released his latest album, Tempest. It's not a huge departure from what he's done lately:  he takes a lot of influence from pre-rock and roll Americana (a lot of the music that he used to play on his satellite radio show Theme Time Radio Hour), adding his distinct lyrical touch.

I don't love Tempest as much as his last album -- Together Through Life was my favorite album of 2009. Still, its another incredible addition to his untouchable cannon of songs.

I love the first single "Duquesne Whistle" (which, like all of Together Through Life, featured lyrics co-written with The Grateful Dead's lyricist Robert Hunter). The video kind of set the scene for the album, which turns out to be kind of violent.

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My favorite song on the album is "Pay In Blood" ("... but not my own!").   There are other songs haunted by death.  The title track is about the Titanic, and even references James Cameron's famous movie.  And "Roll On John" is about John Lennon.  In the very Chess bluesy "Early Roman Kings" he says "I ain't afraid to make love to a bitch or a hag."

It's kind of shocking that this guy who is seventy-something, doing his thirty-something-est album, still has so much edginess to him.  But as he says in the aforementioned song, "I ain't dead yet/My bell still rings/I keep my fingers crossed/like the early Roman kings."  No doubt!

Other than the above video and one very contentious Rolling Stone cover story, he didn't promote the album too much, which is too bad.  On the other hand, it's fine and very Bob.  I guess the deal is, if you're a fan you have it already, and if you're not, it's probably not a good starting place for you.  But there's not a clunker here, the album is great from start to finish.

One other thing I have to mention: David Hildago of Los Lobos, who played on Together Through Life and Christmas In The Heart, joins Dylan again on this album.  He definitely adds a vibe to the album, and I hope Bob uses him again in the future.



BEST OF 2012 - #5 - DR. JOHN - "LOCKED DOWN"

2012-12-30T13:38:54.917-05:00

Dr. John's Locked Down is one of the few albums that I got around to writing about this year. That's because I was so excited about it, and I still am.  It's a great album.

Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys (a favorite of mine:  their album El Camino was my #4 album of 2011 even though it came out at the very end of the year, and Brothers was my #7 album of 2010) did a great job producing. I don't think this was a case of a hot artist just slapping his name on an album by a vet.  I feel like he had a vision for this album, and I would bet he was happy with the results.

The choice to keep Dr. John on electric keyboards (he doesn't play any grand piano) was an inspired one, it sort of prevented the album from being a waltz through traditional New Orleans roots.  It doesn't sound like a clapton-esque blues tribute at a fancy museum.  More like you turned around a corner you never turned down before, and ended up in a bar you never knew existed, but may have heard of.  It gave it the creepy vibe of the Doctor's early albums, where he created a very cool mix (or "gumbo") of New Orleans music with rock and roll.

On the other hand, the album ends with two really tender songs. "My Children, My Angels" is a song Dr. John wrote at Auerbach's insistence.  As the title insinuates, it's about his kids. And then "God's Sure Good."  I think that without those songs, the album could have been too much of a throwback of Dr. John trying to be his old "Night Tripper" character.  Too many songs like the last two would have made the album too grandfather-y.  So, putting the two sides together balanced each other out.

I'm not a huge Dr. John expert, but I think this is one of the best albums he's made.  Certainly the best from the past few decades.  He obviously brought his A-game to the collaboration, and here's hoping they work together again.



BEST OF 2012 - #6 - GARY CLARK JR. "BLAK AND BLU"

2012-12-30T13:19:17.270-05:00

Only one artist made my best of lists in 2011 and 2012 and that's Gary Clark Jr., one of the most exciting new artists in music today.  Last year his Bright Lights EP was my #5 album of of the year, and this year Blak And Blu is my #6.

Yeah, Gary Clark Jr. is a great blues guitarist, and there are other great blues guitarists out there. Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Bonamassa, Jonny Lang.  But I think Gary will have a lot of appeal outside of blues circles, and outside of guitar player circles.  This year I saw him at Metallica's Orion Festival (Kirk Hammett introduced him from the stage) and at Jay-Z's Made In America Festival (Jay-Z and Beyonce watched him from the side of the stage).

So clearly, the man goes beyond the blues scene.  That's clear in the song "The Life" which could be a current R&B hit. "Ain't Messin' 'Round" could have been a hit in the '80s (it seems like an odd choice to lead off his major label full length debut) and then there's stuff that guitar fans can really sink their teeth into: full band versions of "Things Are Changin'" and "When My Train Pulls In" (acoustic versions were on The Bright Lights EP) and great songs like "Numb" (my favorite) and "Travis County."

People compare him to Hendrix (and he does in fact throw in a bit of "Third Stone From The Sun" on the album, but the way he reminds me of Hendrix isn't simply that he's a great guitar player that mixes blues with something psychedelic, it's the fact that he can go from genre to genre.  If Jimi started out today, I think he'd still be a killer guitar player, but he'd want to be able to do contemporary R&B; he'd want to be able to work in all different styles.  I think that that's what we're going to see from Gary Clark Jr. in the years to come, and that's why he's exciting.  And he'll always be rooted in the blues.



BEST OF 2012 - #7 - NORAH JONES "LITTLE BROKEN HEARTS"

2012-12-29T15:21:29.800-05:00

I think that Norah Jones' Little Broken Hearts is one of the most "slept-on" albums of 2012.

I loved her collaborations with Danger Mouse on the Rome project last year, and I thought it was cool that they decided to do a full Norah album together.

It's an interesting choice for her; when she started out, she was kind of the torch-bearer for more traditional music when she debuted with Come Away With Me in 2002, covering standards and Hank Williams and Bob Dylan. Of course there was her Grammy winning collaboration with Ray Charles on his final album, and she's worked with Willie Nelson a number of times.

On the other hand, she's collaborated with younger artists including Ryan Adams, Q-Tip, the Foo Fighters and Talib Kweli.

Anyway, you look at the album cover and you realize that this isn't really the same Norah.  Image-wise,  musically and lyrically, its an evolution.  To me, the standout track on the album is "Miriam." It's a deceptively gentle sounding song in which Norah sings to a woman who had a fling with her man. Check out the video.

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Even if they play Norah's early songs in Pottery Barn... don't mess with her!

The first single, "Happy Pills," is funkier than most of what she'd done in the past.  When I listen to this album, it sounds like (a) someone who has been hurt and is writing about the sad and painful experience and (b) someone who has gotten a bit tired of her image, and maybe the way she is perceived.  I give Norah a lot of credit for this album, but more importantly, I think it's a really good album.

It's worth mentioning that she also did a great roots music album this year with The Little Willies, a band she is a member of. For The Good Times is great also, but Little Broken Hearts is what caught my attention this year.



BEST OF 2012 - #8 - BONNIE RAITT "SLIPSTREAM"

2012-12-29T08:09:04.820-05:00

In her cover of Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down The Line" (one of the highlights of Slipstream), Bonnie Raitt sings "You've been as constant as the northern star," which could actually describe her work.  She's never let us down. In the late '80s when she experienced her very incredible "comeback" starting with Nick Of Time, she actually got more popular than she ever had been before. I think she was great in the '70s, but with Nick Of Time, she really found her voice: she's a great blues interpreter, but she's not a blues pioneer.  What she is a pioneer in, is singing about what middle-age is like.  In many ways, that's a lot harder, so few people have been able to do it. She doesn't always write her songs, but Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro and Glenn Close don't always write their lines either: they just make you believe them.  That's what Bonnie does so well.  Also, she can smoke nearly anyone on guitar. I remember watching a Rolling Stones DVD where Bonnie joined them on stage for "Shine A Light," but she was only singing, not playing guitar.  I thought that might have been because Keith and Ron didn't want to get blown off of their own stage.  I mean, can you imagine them having Clapton come on stage to sing a song but not play guitar? Anyway, on Slipstream, Bonnie uses the more stripped down sound she's used since her Don Was trilogy of albums (all of which had a bit more of the "adult contemporary" sound of the late '80s/early '90s). And she picks some great songs.  "Right Down The Line" is amazing.  A '70s soft-rock classic, when you listen to Bonnie singing it, it gets heavier.  The video actually adds to it.  It shows couples that seem to have been together for a long time - and without making a big deal of it, some of those couples are same sex.  It's one of the lovliest videos you'll see.  Check it out:But Bonnie's record isn't just about one song.  I also love the fact that she covered not one, but two songs from one of my favorite Dylan albums, 1997's Time Out Of Mind.  She does haunting versions of   "Million Miles" and "Standing In The Doorway."  There's also a song written by Loundon Wainwright (father of Rufus) called "You Can't Fail Me Now."  I never heard his version, but I can't believe it would cut like hers. One of Bonnie's songwriting contributions to the album is "Down To You," which is pretty rocking and has a cool swagger to it.  And I guess that's how life is: there's heartbreak, but there's also long relationships that last (i.e. "Right Down The Line"). There's aging and there's sadness and there's still swagger. Bonnie seems to always be able to capture all of that.  Not in a rock-star mythologizing way -- or even a blue singer mythologizing way -- but in a way that real people actually experience.  That's why I think she resonates so much.  And of course, because of her gorgeous voice, her badass guitar playing and her impeccable song selection.  All of that is present on Slipstream.  This isn't a record that got too much attention in the mainstream, and that's a shame.  If I had my way, this would have been nominated for a ton of Grammys, not just the Americana one. [...]



BEST OF 2012 - #9 - PATTERSON HOOD "HEAT LIGHTNING RUMBLES IN THE DISTANCE"

2012-12-29T07:35:48.700-05:00

I'll just start this one out by saying that Patterson Hood is the most underrated songwriter out there right now, and also one of the best.Of course, I'm a huge fan of his band The Drive-By Truckers.  Their album Go-Go Boots was my favorite album of 2010, and I named them one of my favorite artists of the '00s.At first, I was not sure why Patterson didn't use these songs for a DBT record, especially since most of the Truckers are on the album (even singer/songwriter Mike Cooley contributes banjo).There's so much heartbreak in the songs, and while I usually don't require real-world context to enjoy a record, sometimes I'm interested.  I generally don't follow the lives of the artists I love, just their music.  But I can't deny that, say, knowing a bit about Dylan's life makes Desire a bit heavier than it would be without that knowledge.  And I felt a genuine concern for Hood when listening to the record.  I hoped his marriage, and his life, was doing ok.  It's none of my business, but still.So, I checked out the "bio" for the album on his website. He always writes pretty frankly on Facebook, I figured he'd provide some background.  And he did: the songs  on the album were written as part of a novel he was working on and hasn't finished, but was based on a terrible period in his life. Well, I was sorry he went through what he went through, but I'm glad it's not what he's going through now.He starts out the album cinematically, as he often does with DBT.  In "12:01," the line "2:45, I know she's at home sleeping as I open number five," is devastating.  That's some Springsteen/Nebraska level scene setting.But the song that really gets me is "Come Back Little Star," which features female vocals courtesy of Kelly Hogan. There's a stripped down acoustic version online without Hogan online, but for me, it doesn't cut as deep without the female vocal.  When he sings "Baby don't go: come back little star and take me with you in the night" with her, it just hurts.  I imagine the two voices singing to each other, wanting to make it work, reserved to the fact that it isn't going to work.  It kind of hurts listening to it. I always think that his DBT songs are very personal, but this album is even more personal, so I guess that's another reason why it would be a solo record.  Still, I imagine the guys in the band might be bummed on one hand that some of these aren't on a DBT record (even if the guys from the band play on the album), and on the other hand, they're probably not going to play these songs live because they are not strictly DBT songs.  Still, they seem so heavy and so heartfelt, they seem like they deserve more than "side-project" status. But anyway, I know that the Truckers will ride again in 2013, albeit in different form than the last time I saw them: bassist/singer Shonna Tucker and guitarist John Neff are no longer with the band. It kind of makes you wonder if that opens the door for guitarist/singer/songwriter Jason Isbell to rejoin, as there is not only a spot for a guitarist, but his ex-wife is no longer in the group (although I doubt it).  But however they move on, they're gonna move on, and any band with Hood and Cooley (and their great drummer Brad Morgan, and their great keyboardist Jay Gonzalez, both of whom play on Patterson's record) is a band I want to see.[...]



BEST OF 2012 - #10 - BIG BOI "VICIOUS LIES AND DANGEROUS RUMORS"

2012-12-27T23:03:08.736-05:00

I'm definitely a big fan of Big Boi.  Ever since I started listening to OutKast (I was turned on to them when Stone Gossard played one of their songs on a Pearl Jam radio show).  He's a really interesting and underrated MC. But more than that, he has an interesting musical sensibility.  I think in OutKast, Andre 3000 got most of the credit for that. But if you listen to Big's two albums (Sir Luscious Leftfoot was one of my favorites of 2010).

His new one, Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors, came out late in the year and made me shuffle my year end list a bit.  I'm not mad, it's a great album.

There's some cool funky party jams, which I guess we'll always expect from him. I like "In The A" (which features T.I. and Ludacris) and also the new wave-y jam "Mama Told Me" with Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child. "Apple Of My Eye" is also a very strange, and very cool song. Then there's also a song called "Thom Pettie" that name drops "Free Fallin'."

But the ones that stand out to me are "She Hates Me" and "Tremendous Damage," which are both pretty revealing.  "She Hates Me" seems to be about his marriage.  When he says "Forgive me if I raise my voice, I won't raise my hand/But one thing I will do baby is raise my lil' man." What a line.

"Tremendous Damage" is about his father, a Vietnam vet, who passed away recently.  Not your average subject matter for a hip-hop song.  That's why I like Big Boi, and why (to me) he stand out above the pack of MCs.  Musically, he always looks for something a bit funkier and more creative, and lyrically he goes to different places.

Like everyone else, I hope that Andre 3000 wises up and agrees to an OutKast reunion.  But if that doesn't happen, Big Boi's second act is turning out to be a very strong one.