Monday, November 30, 2009

Bombadil Offers Sincere Correspondence, New Video...

The good folks from North Carolina's Bombadil have been very generous to this music blogger from the start. I have received both of their full-length albums early, free, and thoughtfully personalized. Just last week, I was also sent a postcard featuring Oto The Bear (above) from the guys wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving. Thanks, and right back at you Brian, Daniel, and James.

Be sure to get yourself a hard copy of the band's latest, Tarpits & Canyonlands. It is adorned with some amazing album art - including Oto - by Robbi Behr - check it out here.

Bombadil just unleashed their first ever music video. Set to 'So Many Ways To Die,' the flick features classic (public domain) footage of the various ways people have come close to dying. But just as their music is brave and uplifting, the video reveals that the only way to truly live is to push yourself to your own limits.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"there's no good place in town, but I feel alright..."

Deer Tick - Houston, TX
buy Born on Flag Day (2009)

Saw Deer Tick tonight in Houston.
No cameras allowed.
They opened.
They rocked.
Buy this album. (and this EP... in a couple days)

"she said it's all gonna end, and it might as well be my fault"

Matchbox 20 - 3 AM
buy Yourself Or Someone Like You (1996)

It never gets old... especially hanging out with the people you went through 1996 with.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday One-Hitter, Vol. 3......

I'm a Hank Williams fan.... who isn't?? I may not have mentioned anything about the crooner here before, but for any fan of country music, it kinda goes without saying. I've also never tried to amass any kind of complete recordings collection of Hank's - I grab a track when I come across one and buy a random CD when I find it. So for that reason, I'm not afraid to admit I first heard today's One-Hitter when it was featured as the theme song for a short-run HBO animated series.

Hank Williams - I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive
buy Hank Williams - 40 Greatest Hits

Now you're lookin' at a man that's gettin' kinda mad
I had lots of luck, but it's all been bad

No matter how I struggle and strive

I'll never get out of this world alive

My fishin' pole's broke
, the creek is full of sand
My woman run away with another man

No matter how I struggle and strive

I'll never get out of this world alive

My distant uncle passed away and left me quite a batch

And I was livin' high until the fatal day

A lawyer proved I wasn't borned, I was only hatched

Everything's against me and it's got me down

If I jumped in the river, I would probably drown
No matter how I struggle and strive

I'll never get out of this world alive

These shabby shoes I'm wearin' all the time is full of holes and nails
And brother, if I stepped on a worn-out dime

I bet a nickel I could tell you if it was heads or tails

I'm not gonna worry wrinkles in my brow

'Cause nothin's ever gonna be all right no how

No matter how I struggle and strive

I'll never get out of this world alive
'I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive' was ironically the last single to be released before the legend's death in January of 1953. That year, the song reached #1 on Billboard's Country Singles Chart. The song was meant to be humorous, and while it is, to this day it remains one of Hank's best-written songs. The simplicity in both lyrics and melody, combined with a classic-country guitar and fiddle riff are a perfect example of the ease that Hank was able to deliver and sell his craft. His natural yodel and use of backwoods vernacular (see below) play on this theme of simplicity, creating what could be considered the quintessential country song. Despite his never-ending run of bad luck, Hank is able to exude an air of positivity throughout the song.

During my Tennessee road trip earlier this year for The Big Surprise Tour, we stopped off at the County Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. As expected, Hank Williams was prominently featured. But to my excitement, the museum was running a complete Williams Family exhibit, spanning from Hank, Sr.'s childhood through to Hank III's current endeavors. After brushing up on my Hank knowledge, I made a personal vow to feature more Hank-related content on this blog. I used to defer to Setting The Woods On Fire for all things Hank and classic country, but as Paul retired from blogging back in May, I might just have get back to more country roots writing over here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

These United States RAD New Video!!

Yo! Peep this!

These United States - The Important Thing
buy Everything Touches Everything (2009)

New Deer Tick EP - December 1st

Deer Tick announced last week that they have a NEW EP ready for release. More Fuel For The Fire will be available exclusively through iTunes December 1st. Read the CMJ story here. The EP will feature 3 new tracks and a live cut of 'Straight Into A Storm' from Born On Flag Day - the band's sophomore album - released only a few short months ago.

I will be attending Deer Tick's show in Houston this weekend to get an early preview of these new tunes. The boys are opening for Neko Case at Warehouse Live. I also plan on catching Slaid Cleaves Friday night at McGonigel's Mucky Duck. If you're ever in the Houston area - check their schedule. Truly one the best places to see live music.

Both of these artists had 2009 releases and have yet another chance to impress me before I finalize my end-of-year lists. And I'm proud to announce that this year, my list will be part of something much bigger than simply this blog. The Bird List will compile chosen albums from more than 30 Americana/Alt-Country/whathaveyou blogs to create the ultimate Best Albums of 2009 master-list. Special thanks to Matt from A Truer Sound for including me in this effort. I'm excited to see how this turns out in its inaugural run.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday One-Hitter: John Allyn Smith Sails

For our second edition of Thursday One-Hitter, we employ the Austin-based indie-rockers Okkervil River. I've been a big fan of theirs since I found 2007's The Stage Names and subsequently discovered the band's earlier material. Last year, Okkervil River released The Stand-Ins, the follow-up and stylistic sequel to their 2007 disc.

The final track on The Stage Names made a huge impact on me from the first time I heard it - and more every time since. What begins as a twisted retelling of a suicide ends in a cascading sing-along tribute to none other than The Beach Boys... sort of.

Okkervil River - John Allyn Smith Sails
buy The Stage Names (2007)

By the second verse, dear friends
My head will burst, my life will end
So, I'd like to start this one off by saying "live and love"

I was young and at home in bed
And I was hanging on the words some poem said
In '31, I was impressionable, I was upsettable
I tried to make my breathing stop and my heart beat slow
So when my mom and John came in, I would be cold

From a bridge on Washington Avenue, the year of 1972
Broke my bones and skull and it was memorable
It was half a second in, I was halfway down
Do you think I wanted to turn back around and teach a class
Where you kiss the ass that I've exposed to you?
And at the funeral, the University
Cried at three poems they'd present in place of a broken me

I was breaking in a case of suds
At the Brass Rail, a fall-down drunk with his tongue torn out
And his balls removed
And I knew that my last lines were gone while stupidly I lingered on
Oh, but wise men know when it's time to go
And so I should too

And so I fly into the brightest winter sun
Of this frozen town, I'm stripped down to move on
My friends, I'm gone

Well, I hear my father fall
And I hear my mother call
And I hear the others all whispering, "come home"
I'm sorry to go, I loved you all so
But this is the worst trip I've ever been on

So hoist up the John B. sail
See how the main sail sets
I've folded my heart in my hand and I wanna go home
With a book in my hand

In the way I had planned
Well, this is the worst trip I've ever been on

Hoist up the John B. sail
See how the main sail sets
I'm full in my heart and my head and I wanna go home
With a book in each hand
In the way I had planned
I feel so broke up
I wanna go home

It's always a dangerous move to reference the fact that you're singing a song in your lyrics, but the way in which Will Sheff begins his in-character biographical tale of late poet John Berryman sets the tone for a dangerously brave song. As John Berryman (born John Allyn Smith, Jr.), Sheff warns upfront that he will not live through the song, hell... not even verse two.

There's no need to give you guys a Berryman bio here; Sheff does that pretty well in the song. But as a youngster, the poet witnessed his father commit suicide, only to do the same later in life - in much more dramatic fashion. In '72, after struggling through alcoholism and depression, Berryman lept to his death from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis. Sheff is undoubtedly schooled in the literary works of Berryman, alluding to his writing style and even borrowing a couple direct lines from his poems.

While doing a little research for this post, I quickly realized I'm in no way schooled enough in poetry and/or psychology to decode the thousands of underlying connections that Sheff has provided in this song. This person did quite the job, though.

While you may recognize the second half of the song as a Beach Boys cover, the surfing songsters were actually the ones doing the covering. Some form of the traditional maritime song (as Hoist up the John B sails, etc) has existed since before the surfboard was around. But Sheff's choice to break into 'Sloop John B' for the coda was a well-devised plan. The sixth stanza marks the beginning of the covered lyrics. They begin with another allusion to Berryman's troubled childhood, "hear[ing his] father fall." Not only is the transition seamless in melody, but more Berryman references are found in the traditional lyrics: "full in my heart and my head" is apparently taken verbatim from one of his poems. And don't think that choosing a song referencing a boat named the John B. was any sort of accident, either.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ryan Adams: Love Is Hell

My last official post in the Ryan Adams Spotlight (since filled in with Viva la Vinyls and an Evolution of Song) was way back in March. In my Rock N Roll review, I mentioned that Love Is Hell was supposed to be the follow up to Demolition but was rejected (or rather put on the back-burner) by Lost Highway. Ryan subsequently recorded Rock N Roll to assuage his label, who released the blistering disc in November of 2003. And as reciprocation, Lost Highway also quietly released Love is Hell, Pt 1 the same day. The remainder of the selection of songs that would eventually become the complete collection were released as Love Is Hell, Pt 2 a month later in December of 2003. It wasn't until May of '04 that the label felt it necessary to re-issue the collection as one complete set.

Ryan says LIH is "a lot like Heartbreaker, but better and more severe." I can get on board with the latter. "It's complex and it's damaged, a genuine, freaked-out, psychedelic wall of soundscape, and I think for subject matter it can't be beat." As far as subject matter goes - and while we're making Heartbreaker comparisons - it's much more personal in content than his debut. He also says its "me totally being me. It was the record I needed to make." But if Ryan has ever been accused of being the sad-bastard type of singer/songwriter, then LIH is him at his sad-bastardest.

The album isn't his strongest, either looking forward or back, but it may just contain some of his strongest and most underrated songs. The sad part is, none of these come until the latter part of the album (or Pt. 2, if you prefer the EPs). This may be the reason that the album never became a fan favorite or was ever referred to as one of his better albums. If I were a casual listener, I would have a hard time making it to Side 2 before giving up on the album. It begins with the weakest album-opener in his repertoire, 'Politcal Scientist'. 'Afraid Not Scared' follows only to bore me further, going so far as to slightly annoy me with its repetitious, droll lines. Each of the 5 or so opening tracks can be considered a microcosm for the entire album itself: sure, there are some good (even great) parts, but on the whole, the depressing, metallic feel of it all overwhelms.

Attention must be payed to track 5, his impassioned version of the Gallagher Brothers' 'Wonderwall,' and the only cover song Ryan has put on a full release. For that reason, it may have seemed like a strange choice, but the sentiment he extracts from the song in his version is completely in line with the rest of the disc - and that's the magic of a carefully chosen cover. Ryan brings the tune down to a creeping tempo, keeps the reverb to a haunting level, and completely sells it as something born from himself.

I feel like Love Is Hell doesn't quite get started until the 2:38 mark of 'Shadowlands' when the voice effect is removed, the string section picks up, and the first glimpse of optimism is injected into the album. It is at this part, with an inspiring electric lead riff, I find myself for the first time interested in what Ryan has to say. The acoustic lead into the hopeful melody of 'World War 24' continues this trend and begins the transition into the Love Is Hell that I've grown to love. Although 'Avalanche' slows things down for a bit, I think it's the strongest song up to this point in the record. It shows Ryan singing in a more natural voice and also opening up lyrically. Each of the songs leading up to it have been somewhat veiled in metaphor, but - aside from the blatant metaphor of the title - 'Avalanche' is pure and honest.

If necessary, I could scrap Love Is Hell, Pt 1 forever and be just as satisfied with the second disc as I am with it in its entirety. Aside from another slightly weak opener with 'My Blue Manhattan,' the remaining seven songs that make up EP2 and sides 3&4 of the vinyl are what make Love Is Hell a great album. In 'Please Do Not Let Me Go,' he speaks of a girl that was "sweet enough to sing, oblivious to melody." That's a quality Ryan and his subject don't share - at least not with this album. While the music and lyrics aren't his best, Love Is Hell holds some of his most inventive melodies. The strongest of which comes in the plaintive yet powerful 'I See Monsters.' The song has seen a live maturation into a more electric ballad the likes of 'What Sin' but retains its acoustic intimacy each time he repeats the title line. This song may be the sole stand-out track from the album.

The jaunty 'English Girls' lightens up an otherwise darkened album with a shout out to his British love at the time, Leona Naess, in which he somehow manages to make the words "you meant everything" more powerful than another famous string of three words. To finish the album, Ryan turns the blues knob up to 11 and summons the Purple Rain gods for a slow-building tune with a smoldering electric solo. 'Hotel Chelsea Nights' is a perfect, albeit ill-fitting end to album that is similarly disjunct, strangely-timed, yet somehow just right.


I mentioned the various incarnations and formats that Love Is Hell was released upon. With each version, save the already cramped double disc 10" vinyl, Ryan supplied bonus tracks. As always with these review posts, I suggest you get a hold of the album on your own but will supply you with these harder-to-find extra songs.

Love Is Hell, Pt 1 UK Bonus Tracks:
Caterwaul (w/ Leona Naess on Vocals)

Love Is Hell, Pt 2 UK Bonus Tracks:
Fuck The Universe (aka Faker)
Twice As Bad As Love

The info was hard to track down, but apparently Love Is Hell was released in 2007 in Japan and came with a complete bonus disc. It included the above tracks as well as the following (previously unreleased) songs. Some of these had appeared on a bootleg collection known as Black Clouds. These extra tracks are much more modest recordings and far more listenable than the first two from each disc above.

My Father's Son
Gimme Sunshine
Black Clouds

Purchase Love Is Hell:
[Full CD/MP3] [Pt 1 CD/MP3] [Pt 2 CD/MP3]
[Japanese Bonus Version]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday One-Hitter.....

Although I already have a feature post that highlights just one track - One Liners - sometimes I feel a bit constrained because I tend to base those picks on my photography first. For that reason, I'm implementing a new weekly (hopefully) post that features one track that strikes me particularly right that week. It will focus more on songwriting/lyrics than most of my posts and, if at all possible, I'll try to offer some interesting notes about the song/artist.

And because today is Thursday... I give you your first Thursday One-Hitter:

Patty Griffin - Moses

buy Living With Ghosts (1996)

Diamonds. Roses. I need Moses
To cross this sea of loneliness, part this red river of pain
I don't necessarily buy any key to the future or happiness
But I need a little place in the sun sometimes, or I think I will die

Everywhere is somewhere and nowhere is near

Everybody got somebody with their wine and their beer
So I'm just this tragic figure in the corner over here
With an empty apartment and a best friend who is a queer

Everytime I see him he smiles
And he tells me how well he's walking these miles
But he never, ever asks a single thing about me
If I die, he'd hear about it eventually
Diamonds. Roses. I need Moses
To cross this sea of loneliness, part this red river of pain

Everywhere is somewhere and nowhere is near
Everybody got somebody with their wine and their beer
So I'm just this tragic figure in the corner over here
Go home to an empty apartment and call a best friend who is a queer

Diamonds. Roses. I need Moses
To cross this sea of loneliness, part this red river of pain
To cross this sea of loneliness, part this red river of pain
To cross this sea of loneliness, part this red river of pain
At its inception, Living With Ghosts, Patty's 1996 debut, was a hauntingly beautiful recording - simply Patty and her guitar. When her label wasn't quite satisfied with the studio production treatment it got, Patty suggested that A&M Records release the sparse original demo. That decision payed off. The world was therefore introduced to Patty Griffin the right way: bare, unfiltered, and consequently far more evocative than had her songs been shrouded by a full band.

That minimalist treatment was essential in making 'Moses' the power ballad that it is. The lyrics are edgy enough to keep this one from being covered by radio queens. Patty sings about the usual personal struggles: pain, loneliness, and happiness (or lack thereof), but it's the way in which she delivers her words that stops you in your tracks. I would go so far as to say that this is the most emotion I've ever heard someone express in song. In just over three minutes, Patty takes you on the rollercoaster ride that her heart is obviously well-accustomed to at this point.

If the level of overall emotion in her vocals were tracked on a scale of 1-10, Patty begins 'Moses' at a healthy 6. She desperately calls for Moses to help her "cross this sea loneliness, part this red river of pain." In verse 2, Patty falls to her lowest, a "tragic figure" questioning her solitary living and even her choice of friends. We follow Patty as she reveals her love interest and his blatant lack of interest in her. Dripping with spite, she sings, "if I die he'd hear about it eventually." But as Patty repeats the opening lines, all hell breaks loose. She busts out of that 1-10 scale to somewhere near 14 as a few stirring Oh's trail the verse. Once more through the refrain, she manages to gently lay the song back down, allowing the listener to catch his breath and realize the power of the song he just heard.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Prisencolinensinainciusol... Oll Raight!!

This may just be the strangest music ever posted on this site, but damn if doesn't groove!

Adriano Celentano - Prisencolinensinainciusol

If you wondering what it is you're hearing, you're not alone. It's gibberish. Gibberish posing as English, set to a funky 70's disco beat. Adriano Celentano is an Italian entertainment renaissance man who wrote the tune in 1972 as a bit of commentary on the lack of communication in the world. Prisencolinensinainciusol is said to mean Universal Love.

I found the video and although I had no clue what I was watching... I couldn't stop watching. It's dangerously infectious with an old-school, Dylan-esque vibe that pulls from just about every genre of music. If you check out some of the comments on the various versions posted on YouTube, you'll see that a lot of folks felt the same. The song is also said to be one of the earliest precursors of rap music. Just more proof of the overwhelming power of music to transcend all language and culture barriers.