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Archive for the ‘The Byrds’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: NEIL YOUNG-Harvest (1971).

I like loud rocking songs and I dislike most country.  So really I shouldn’t like Neil Young’s Harvest (at least compared to his more rocking albums).

But Neil is Neil and while I would never say he can do no wrong (he definitely can), I give him the benefit of the doubt.  And on this album he delivers.  Plus, it’s really not a country album at all.

I think what I particularly like about Harvest is the looseness of it, which I see signified primarily by Neil’s harmonica which is never off, but which is never perfect either.  Plus, and I’m sure this has a lot to do with it–I’ve heard these songs a lot and they have really sunk in.

“Out on the Weekend” is the opening track and it was one of the songs I knew least well–which is odd certainly for an opening song.  There’s slide guitar and harmonica.  But it’s followed by “Harvest,” which is so simple and so notable–bass, a gentle acoustic guitar and basically a snare drum play that simple up and down melody as Neil sings “dream up, dream up, let me fill your cup with the promise of a man.”  It’s those steel guitar lines that seems to fade in from nowhere that really rather make the song.

“A Man Needs a Maid” is one of those weird songs that is so odd to me–the song is literally about him getting a maid (but much more): “keep my house clean fix my meals and go away.”  Neil sounds like he is singing from a mile away as he plays the melody on the piano.  And then after the first verse all kind of orchestration fills in–bells and strings and the song gets really really big.  By the time the song comes around again, the chorus is swallowed by the strings and bells.  It feels much longer than its 4 minutes.  I sort of hate it but kind of like its oddness at the same time.

And then comes the wonder that is “Heart of Gold,” another simple melody with soft bass notes and that harmonica.  Incredibly catchy and undeniably great.

Harvest is more of a folk album with slide guitar (and orchestration), but a song like “Ready for the Country” certainly leans toward country (or is it mocking country?).  It’s got a good beat and is kind of fun, with a lighthearted joshing about the country.

“Old Man” is a another slow classic.  When the harmony vocals come in later in the song it’s really wonderful.  I never knew that James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt sang backing vocals on this song and that that’s Taylor on the banjo.  “There’s a World” is a ponderous song from the get go–almost as if it left off from “Maid,” with strings and kettle drums.  After a verse a harp swipes away the song and plays a delicate melody which is just as quickly wiped away as this song which seems so big comes to a rather quick ending–only 3 minutes in total.

“Alabama” introduces a fuzzy electric guitar with what seems like it should be a classic riff but which …isn’t.  It doesn’t quite resolve into anything and the chorus is almost satisfying–it starts really big with a chorus of “Alabama!” but it also doesn’t exactly resolve into anything.  I think I keep thinking it’s other songs, and yet it is distinctly its own.

“Needle and Damage Done” is just great.  A terrific riff and a poignant song simple and brief (2 minutes!) but really powerful.

“Words (Between the Lines of Age)” is nearly 7 minutes it’s the longest by far on the record.  It builds slowly with a big chorus.   There’s a great instrumental section with a nice piano melody.  The song ends with a very Neil Young guitar solo as well.  Pretty great stuff.

I’m not gushing about the album only because it is a classic and all classics have flaws.  But I could listen to this any day, even “Man Needs a Maid.”

[READ: July 1, 2016] Harvest

I have often thought I should read this series.  Of course, the last time I thought about it, there were 50-some books in the series and that seemed like way too many.  Well as of June 2017, there are 120 books in the series, which is an insane series to jump into.  But at work, four of the books came across my desk and if that’s not an invitation to read something, I don’t now what is.  So I’ve decided to read these four and we’ll see if that leads to more.

This story gives a lot of history of Neil himself and a lot of context of the albums surrounding this one.

Inglis starts by talking about how when Harvest Moon came out in 1992, it was a call-back to Harvest and it was highly regarded, even though Harvest itself wasn’t at the time.  Even Neil himself seemed to recoil from the unexpected success of Harvest by playing every kind of music but folk/country for decades.

In fact, Harvest was panned when it came out–described as superficial and without meaning.  It was deemed pleasant rather than passionate.  It also worked to define Neil Young as a melancholy songwriter full of catchy tunes, smiling with prairie straw n his mouth.  Meanwhile other fans dismiss this picture entirely, preferring the gritty songwriter from Tonight’s the Night. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 12, 2017] Groovy Movies

I had never been to The Black Box before. It is a smaller club inside the already small club Underground Arts (the main room is cordoned off).  The setting is intimate and cozy with couches and a tiny bar.

When I got there, there were seven people waiting for the show to start.

I felt bad about that.  I love a show to be not too crowded, but that was uncomfortably empty.

Groovy Movies, a Philly band, came out and did their opening set.  And they were terrific.  Dressed all in white, they played the greatest not-exactly-Beatles music I’ve ever heard. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: March 2017] The Organist

organistAfter really enjoying The Organist in 2015, the season ended and I hadn’t heard that there were going to be anymore.  So I stopped looking for them.  And then the other day I got an email reminding me about recent episodes.  Well, sure enough there had been an entire season last year and they were already part way through this year’s season.

So I’m playing some catch up here.  But they are timeless, so it’s okay.

Each cast has a section in brackets–this text comes from the Organist’s own site.  The rest is my own commentary.

The Organist is a free podcast from KCRW & McSweeney’s.  As of this writing, they are up to episode 82. (more…)

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CoverStory-KadirNelson-ADayattheBeach3-879x1200-1467305948SOUNDTRACK: LYDIA LOVELESS-Tiny Desk Concert #369 (July 1, 2014).

lovelssI want Lydia Loveless to be a punk singer–Her name is like a combination of Lydia Lunch and a last name that conjures up an asskicking punk.

But not the country singer that Loveless is (even if she is ass-kicking herself). Loveless is a new breed of alt-country which is pretty explicit with noticeably rocking guitar solos.  But her voice is so twangy it’s hard to not call it country (and in fact it’s a bit too much for me to take sometimes).

“Head” features this rather memorable chorus “Don’t stop getting undressed /Don’t stop giving me head.”  It seems especially surprising since Loveless looks like she’s about 12 (she was 23 at the time of this recording).  The buzzy solo is lengthy and more or less runs throughout the song.  Although at some point when Loveless takes her own solo the whole sound seems to fade out and get a little anemic.

Her band is fun with her bassist being very tall and having very long hair playing a very tall upright bass.  And then there’s another guy playing guitar and lap steel.

“Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” has a title that begs for an awesome song.  It’s not an epic masterpiece or anything.  In fact its closer to a pop song, The slide guitar and Loveless’ heavy accent on the chorus place it firmly in the country camp.

“Mile High” has a fun folk riff.  It sounds a lot like The Byrds and the chorus is super catchy.  If I could get her to sing less twangy I would love this song much like I love the punk country of X, or at least the Knitters.

[READ: December 29, 2010] “Who are All These Trump Supporters”

[This essay in the New Yorker also came under the heading “Trump Days.”]

So the title of the essay is a question I myself have been asking as I watch the hatred and vitriol bubble over during the convention.

If there was anyone I wanted to write this piece it would be George Saunders and he is actually the only reason I read it in the first place (I plan to read all of his contributions to the New Yorker eventually, but I’m glad to have read this one when it was timely–I hope it will be utterly irrelevant by the time I get to the rest of his works).  He self identifies as a liberal (although he was a conservative who loved Ayn Rand way back in the Reagan era).  He is a thoughtful and not prone to anger–a perfect foil for the crowd.  And he’s got a great way with words.

So great in fact that I’m just going to be quoting him a lot.  I could have pulled more excellent quotes from the essay, but really you should read the whole thing. (more…)

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carrieSOUNDTRACK: CATE LE BON-Tiny Desk Concert #337 (February 18, 2014).

cateCate Le Bon has a very interesting style of singing–it reminds me of Grace Slick in her enunciation, but also like someone whose speaking accent is very strong and is somewhat masked by her singing (like the way she sings “reason” as “ree-sun” as opposed to “reezun”).

The blurb explains that her “phrasing is completely tied to her Welsh dialect — in fact, her first record was in Welsh…. The enunciation is completely tied to the loneliness and the questioning.”

 For this concert it is just her and her fellow guitarist H. Hawkline (both wearing super cozy sweaters).  They share the guitar licks very nicely–it’s not always clear who is playing what–with her sometimes finishing his lines (I believe).

“Are You With Me Now?” has a very catchy chorus (with an “ah ha ha ha ha” part that makes it sound like an olde English ballad).

“No God” plays with very simple guitar lines (chords played very high on the neck of her guitar and a simple accompanying riff).  Hawkline plays keys (and sings some great falsetto backing vocals) to flesh out this song.  Everything is so clean you can hear each note from the guitar and her voice.

“Duke” opens with some interesting slightly off sounding from Cate while Hawkline plays a simple chord pattern (his fingers are enormous, by the way).  Hawkline’s falsetto is almost as engaging as the vocal lines that match the guitar line which Cate plays.  And when she says “I’ll see you here” in that unexpected pronunciation, it’s totally captivating.

I like Le Bon a lot and want to hear what she wounds like on record.

[READ: May 18, 2016] Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

After finishing Bob Boilen’s book and thinking about how I don’t really love music-based books, I immediately read Carrie Brownstein’s book.  Carrie Brownstein is one of the two guitarists in Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag.  She is also one of the leads (writer and actor) on Portlandia.  And she wrote for NPR for a while, too.  Basically, Carrie is the shit.

One thing I took away from this book is that I’ve read a few musician memoirs (Mötley Crüe and Marilyn Manson to name a few) and this is the first one I’ve read that was filled with so much sadness.  Not “I was stoned and regret sleeping with that person with an STD sadness,” but like, real family problems and even a dead pet.  And, as Carrie herself jokes, her stories of being on tour and ending up in the hospital are not based on drugs or other debauchery, but on anxiety and even worse, shingles.

The beginning of the book starts in 2006, around the initial break up (hiatus) of Sleater-Kinney.  Carrie is in pain–emotional and physical–and she can’t take much more.  She starts punching herself hard in the face. (more…)

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6SOUNDTRACK: YES-Yes (1969).

yesThis past weekend bassist and founding member of Yes died.  Up until about six weeks ago he was supposed to tour with Yes this summer.

It was surprising and sad news.  I was a huge Yes fan in college, and of course I love all things prog. But I started to lose patience with Yes since they had such a revolving door policy it wasn’t even clear is the people in the band even were part of the band (although Squire has played on every Yes album).  I hadn’t listened to anything new from them since the 1990s, and I was genuinely shocked to see how much new material they had released since then (about ten).

So here’s a bunch of their albums that I own.  I’m not going to pretend I don’t know their peak period stuff, so I’m looking at their first two albums with the hindsight of the 70s masterpieces.

Their debut album (look how 1969 that cover is) opens with a Chris Squire penned song called “Beyond and Before.”  Loud (and high) bass notes announce that this might just be a Yes album, even the vocal harmonies suggest Yes, and yet once the verse begins, it is a much more psychedelic version of Yes. The music feels very Summer of Love. And while Squire’s bass does come out from time to time, after that initial flurry it kind of settles down a bit. The song itself is quite good, as long as you’re not expecting classic Yes.

I feel the biggest sound difference is Anderson’s vocals which, while still powerful have a more gentle/sensitive feel (not too far off from his more famous style later on, but slightly mellower perhaps).

Next come s very jazzy cover of The Byrds’ “I See You” (a song I don’t really know, but the lyric “the cave of your hair” is pretty awesome.   This version is 7 minutes long with an extended jazzy solo from Peter Banks and suitable jazzy percussion from Bill Bruford. Tony Kaye on keyboards also features prominently.  The end is quite loud for such a hippie offering.

“Yesterday and Today” is a piano & vocal performance. It’s very delicate.  “Looking Around” has very heavy keyboard opening. The bass sounds like Squire but this is a very keyboard heavy song.  “Harold Land” opens with a kind of church organ and singing, but then the Yes sound comes in (you can almost hear the band forming). It feels, again very synthy, but certainly heading in the direction of Yes.

“Every Little Thing is a Beatles cover (! two covers on the debut album).  It begins with much chaos—noisy drumming, bass rumblings and keyboard noodling. The song is 5 minutes and the intro is almost 2 minutes. The big bass and drum really makes the song rock and the keyboards build some real drama into the track.

“Sweetness” is indeed a sweet slow track with a lot of acoustic guitars and soft keyboards.  It has a great descending chorus vocal line. If this were rerecorded and made a bit more modern sounding I think it could be a hit (well, maybe update the lyrics a bit too).

“Survival” is probably the most enduring track on the record. It opens with some great fuzzy bass and some actual catchy riffs. The opening vocals sound more like what latter-day Yes would sound like (subtle distinction, yes but it’s there). The chorus is very catchy and it’s a fun romp right until the end.  It’s a good send off, with a promise of better things.

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here:

Chris Squire-bass
John Anderson-vocals
Bill Bruford-drums
Tony Kaye-keyboards
Peter Banks-guitar

[READ: February 16, 2014] The ElseWhere Chronicles Book Six

I ended my review of the last book by saying “now I’m hooked.”  But in the year since I read the last book I lost all the momentum of the series (since I’d read the first five in quick succession).  Which is a shame since the book was every bit as exciting as the rest, but I wasn’t quite as into it as I wanted to be.

Since Ilvanna died in the last book I should have been more upset about it and been more excited at the prospect of her return in this one, but I’d forgotten about it all.

As for the rest of the story, Theo, Max and Rebecca meet up with an old man who seems to know the secrets of the Other World.  He convinces Theo and Max to capture a creature who can take them to the Other World.

Meanwhile, in the Other World we see that the spirit of Rebecca is held be a mean looking guy known as the Master of Shadows.

At last the Master of Shadows meets the old man and Rebecca meets her double–a creature which he has created from a photo of Rebecca–he just needs her soul to complete the creation.  The final battle is pretty epic with swirling shadows all over the place and Rebecca’s grandfather pleading with her to destroy her doppelganger.

Meanwhile Theo and Max find Ilvanna who may or may not be dangerous, but she seems to want to help them.

This was the final book of series two of the series.  And the cliffhanger shows that the boys have found Dolean and the two Rebeccas have emerged–to what end?

The story was certainly exciting, but I recommend reading the whole second series together to really maximize the impact.

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june2SOUNDTRACK: THE BLACK ANGELS-Indigo Meadow (2013).

indigoThere’s another round of bands with Black in their name.  I had heard good things about this particular “black” band so I decided to get Indigo Meadow, their 4th album.  And while the album cover hints at the type of music (retro psychedelia), I was unprepared for the insane retro feel of this album.

The guitars are fuzzy, the keyboards are straight out of the 70s, there’s a middle eastern vibe and the vocals even sound of that era (a little tinny, a little fuzzy).  The music is a little heavier perhaps than the music of the era (well, except for Black Sabbath, of course)–louder, faster drums, newer guitar noises, things that make it sound new, not just like a lost relic

There’s something minor key and ecstatic about the way the title track builds and builds.  It’s an auspicious opening to the album.  It’s slightly off kilter but ever so catchy.

“Evil Things” has a big old heavy metal riff, but it throws in some different items–a slow soaring chorus and a big old Doors’ keyboard solo (over the top of that heavy metal riff) which creates an interesting mix of sounds.  “Don’t Play with Guns” has a slightly different sound, with a sixties pop chorus (under that psychedelic fuzz of their guitars).  The delicate keyboard opening of “Holland” quickly morphs in to a more retro keyboard sound with more echoed vocals.  It is one of the longer songs on the album at 4 minutes (So despite this album being psychedelic, the songs are all pretty short, emphasizing their pop roots).

Like “The Day” which is only 2 and a half minutes.  “Love Me Forever” has a very Byrds-ian feel, but with a far heavier chorus.  “Always Maybe” has an exotic sounding guitar riff and “Broken Soldier” has a really chorus (for a pretty dark song).

“Twisted Light” alternates between that retro keyboard and a buzzy guitar riff.  And the harmonies reinforce that era’s feel.  “You’re Mine” even sounds like it might be a cover (that chorus is a perfect example of psychedelic pop).  The final song plays with the set up somewhat by having the first two minutes build quietly before the big fuzzy guitars propel the song to the end.

So yes, the album is not original (although it is, since they take a style and aren’t afraid to tweak it) and it does not deviate from the style very much.  But it’s done so well.  And f you enjoy psychedelic pop (with a bit of heavy metal sprinkled on top), this i s an album that you will enjoy.  It’s 45 minutes of fuzzy pop fun.

[READ: August 17, 2014] “Ba Ba Baboon”

This is a story of deception, dishonesty and dogs.  It is told in third person and as we begin, we see that there are two people hiding in a pantry.  It turns out that the protagonist, Brooks, and his sister, Mary, are the ones hiding.  And they are hiding in someone else’s home.  We learn that whoever they are hiding from may have left.  But before we learn why they are in the closet, we learn a bit about Brooks.

He had an “accident” some time ago which did damage to his brain.  Someone smashed the left side of his head with a brick and took his car and wallet.  His memory isn’t what it used to be, but his “old self” likes to make jokes at his own expense (like singing “If I Only Had a Brain”).  And he is also rather different–he can’t tolerate smoke anymore even though he used to be a smoker, he can’t wear any dark clothes and he is intolerant of creases in his pants.  And, worst of all for Mary is that Brooks used to be the one who looked out for her–her big strong older brother, and now it is her turn to look after him.

So why has she gotten him trapped in a closet?  Mary says “we’ve been in here for an hour.  I don’t see the dogs.”  It turns out that on the other side of the flimsy door are two of the biggest dogs they have ever seen.  These are vicious guard dogs who can be turned of with a safe word, which Mary thinks is “Baba Beluga” or something like that. But that clearly isn’t it. The dogs and the house belong to Wynn, a “friend” of Mary’s.  (more…)

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