Popless Week Five: The Biz
After 17 years of professional music-reviewing, Noel Murray is taking the year off from all new music, and instead revisiting his record collection in alphabetical order, to take stock of what he's amassed, and consider whether he still needs it all.
"Trip" by Big Kenny
After I graduated college in 1992, I moved back to Nashville and started freelancing, and even after I moved away again–to Charlottesville, VA in 1995, then Arkansas in 1999–I kept on covering the Nashville music scene for a few different publications. In '99, I wrote about two local acts that had been signed to Disney's Hollywood Records: the indie-pop outfit Rich Creamy Paint and the wildly bombastic rocker Big Kenny. I enjoyed talking with Big Kenny–real name Kenny Alphin–and when he called me a year later to talk about his new band, luvjOi, I wrote another story about how he was overcoming the problems he'd had with Hollywood. A year later, Alphin called me again, to pitch a story about he and his collaborator John Rich's weekly country-rock showcases with a bunch of friends they'd dubbed "the MuzikMafia," but I told him that my editor probably wouldn't go for a third feature on the same local artist. And thus I missed one of the biggest Nashville music stories of the '00s: the emergence of Alphin's most successful band, Big & Rich, and their protégée, Gretchen Wilson.
As I've mentioned before in Popless, living and working in Nashville can give a music writer a different perspective on what "quality" is. In the average local music scene, alt-weekly writers keep an eye out for struggling young bands doing something unique with minimal money (and sometimes minimal talent). But when I was covering it, the Nashville music scene was the kind of place where the most amazing local bands could play to crowds of dozens and break up within a year, while musicians and songwriters with scant creativity (but legitimate craft) could make comfortable livings doing session work and toiling in the major-label songwriting mills. And, if they were lucky, they'd land one of those choice "development deals," and get paid to work on their act and do showcases, which local music writers were obliged to cover. These musicians didn't get all the ink because they were the best in town; but because they were being heralded as such by their own management, and because we in the press had "gone native."
It's important to note that none of these money-making Nashville artists were "sellouts," per se. They were careerists, who'd rather earn their living making music in any capacity–even if it meant recording the songs and working with the producers and wearing the clothes that their label bosses order them to–than wait tables and follow their own vision. They were good, hard-working folks, and after I'd covered Nashville for a while, I eventually started to see the world through their eyes, and to champion the best of a mediocre lot.
The Fox network, of all places, gave a fairly on-target sketch of what Nashville is like in two of its fall '07 shows: the short-lived "reality" soap Nashville, which followed a group of young singer-songwriters trying to break into the business, and The Next Great American Band, which boiled down to a clash between two Tennessee acts who'd been making music professionally (and skillfully) for years, with some major label horror stories to show for it. Both series gave a sense of how the industry works, and how artists can make names for themselves long before they have any actual fans.
All of this speaks to how mercurial the act of making music is. The acts who make the biggest impact are usually the ones who have enough business acumen to get noticed in the first place, while retaining enough fortitude to keep some essential control over the direction of their careers. It's a tough game to play, and it's hard not to have at least a little respect for the ones who play it well–even when their music comes out sounding like it has a barcode stamped over the chorus.
Pieces Of The Puzzle
Years Of Operation 1996-2004
Fits Between Olivia Tremor Control and Pavement
Personal Correspondence One of the great not-quites of the recent rock era, Beulah suffered from bad timing, personality conflicts, and an association with a sound–the sprawling DIY orchestrations of The Elephant 6 Recording Company–that often muddied up what could've been some simple, well-crafted guitar-pop songs. I'd be tempted to argue that Beulah peaked on their debut, Handsome Western States, which had an appealing, energetic lo-fi buzz. But there are so many great songs on the three albums that followed–songs far more accomplished than anything on the debut–that it would be callous to dismiss the band's progression. In their own way, Beulah gave the whole indie-rock concept a good name, showing how it was malleable enough to contain more elaborate ideas and approaches. Listening to their discography again this week, I realized I love Beulah a lot more than I'd remembered.
Enduring presence? People may think that Beulah broke up too soon, but Yoko is one of those elusive "third acts" in American life, cogently completing a thought begun with the band's early DIY experiments, then complicated by their more elaborate middle LPs. Their work reads like a novel, and I hope people continue to pick it up.
"I've Been Broken (I've Been Fixed)" by Beulah
Big Audio Dynamite
Years Of Operation 1984-98
Fits Between The Clash and Sigue Sigue Sputnik
Personal Correspondence I think it's fair to say that Joe Strummer was the poet of The Clash, but Mick Jones brought the pop sense, and his subsequent work with Big Audio Dynamite both exploited modern sounds and added his own distinct voice. Even though B.A.D. often sounded like they were providing readymade music for the opening credits of every Hollywood action-comedy from 1986 to 1988, a closer listen reveals that Jones was actually cutting up commercial sounds, and examining them from different angles. (Just listen to "Rush," an improbable hit single given its freewheeling pastiche.) The best B.A.D. songs capture the sound and mood of their times, with just a hint of artistic abstraction. At the least, Jones stayed credible enough that Strummer remained friends with him–they still collaborated occasionally post-Clash. As a side note, I should add that I pull for Jones a little because when I interviewed him a couple of years ago, he was such a gentleman.
Enduring presence? The title and cover of the out-of-print compilation Super Hits looks cheap, but its 10 songs are very well-chosen, and make the case for Jones post-Clash brilliance. Every single track is essential. (But if you can't find Super Hits used somewhere, Planet BAD will do.)
"Rush" by Big Audio Dynamite
Years Of Operation 1982-87
Fits Between Killing Joke and Skinny Puppy
Personal Correspondence When I was a cheeky college punk, I had a penchant for wearing "rude" T-shirts, like my Lemonheads' Hate Your Friends shirt, my Peter Bagge Hate comics shirt, and my Big Black Songs About Fucking shirt (which I only dared to wear at concerts). I liked that album a lot too. Big Black hit a sweet spot for me between semi-melodic punk and the friendly side of industrial music. A lot of rage and anger, but accessible, with a great guitar sound–like a pre-Henry Rollins Black Flag song, set to hard synthesized beats.
Enduring presence? Whatever Steve Albini's other offenses in this world, Big Black will always be okay by me. In fact, they may the reason I always had trouble getting fully into Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor takes everything so seriously, while Albini has a more aloof, bratty presence that appeals to me more. Here's some irony though: Albini once named a Big Black CD compilation The Rich Man's 8-Track, mocking the new technology as a yuppie affectation, and yet now CD players are cheap and accessible, while only collectors with money buy vinyl and maintain turntables.
"L Dopa" by Big Black
Years Of Operation 1979-84
Fits Between Minutemen and Trouble Funk
Personal Correspondence Ah, Big Boys. The missing link between Wire, Pylon, Gang Of Four, Fishbone, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Style Council, Black Flag, and dozens of other strains of American and British art-punk. What made Big Boys so likable was their down-to-earth, Austin-born accessibility. They weren't "brainy" per se, and never pushy. They shared the "anyone can do this" spirit of the Minutemen, which to me means they understood the early '80s punk movement better than scenesters who complained about "sell-outs" and "poseurs." They were like everyone's favorite local band–never breaking big, but putting on great shows and displaying a lot of ambition given their resources.
Enduring presence? It's worth noting that the Big Boys made X's list of bands who should be on the radio in the song "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts," off More Fun In The New World. (The others: Minutemen, Flesh Eaters, DOA, and Black Flag.) I don't think I can call Big Boys a "great forgotten American band." They were exceptionally talented minor leaguers who went about as far as they should've been expected to go. But I cotton to their version of hardcore punk, which has too friendly a face to be strictly "hardcore."
"Nervous" by Big Boys
Years Of Operation 1981-2000
Fits Between U2 and Slade
Personal Correspondence Big Country was one of the first bands that I could consider "mine." At the time I was getting most of my music from my older brother, who was coming home from college with tapes of The Smiths and Echo & The Bunnymen and the like, as well as from a beloved English teacher, who was taping me his hippie-era favorites. But I bought The Crossing on my own, and my brother borrowed it from me. (Of course later I had to borrow his copies of Wonderland, Steeltown and The Seer, but so it goes I also started the X-Men and New Teen Titans collections that he eventually took over.) I'm kind of a freak for memorable guitar sounds and solos, and Big Country's mountainous roar remains one of the most distinctive in rock history. One of their stumbling blocks, career-wise, was that they released too many similar-sounding singles in the early going, all exploring their "stirring martial music" side without showing their full range. Not that they were an especially rangy band, but still check out "Angle Park," an early B-side later included on Wonderland, and a very different kind of song from the likes of "Fields Of Fire" and "Where The Rose Is Sown." It's reminiscent of The Skids, the band Stuart Adamson was in before Big Country, in that it combines "big music" rock with arid post-punk. An effective hybrid, and hard to pin down. I never really got into the albums after The Seer, though one of my female friends in college had a foxy, way-out-of-my-league roommate who was a Big Country fan, and she often stood up for Peace In Our Time. (She reminded me of a Bret Easton Ellis character: rich, lissome, possibly hooked on drugs, always with a boyfriend driving in on the weekends to sweep her away and excellent taste in music.) Note: Even though I love The Crossing, I've found in recent years that I prefer nearly every one of its songs in the live versions found on Big Country's King Biscuit Flower Hour CD, which I don't think is in print anymore.
Enduring presence? Those first three Big Country albums (plus the Wonderland EP) are really terrific, and underrated I think, perhaps because of the band's unfortunate decision to name themselves after their first big hit, which made them look like a novelty act. (The bagpipe-sounding guitars probably didn't help either.) But hey, "In A Big Country" is still a walloping single, and Big Country is one of those bands that's fun to sing along with, since poor dead Adamson had a voice that's a blast to imitate in the privacy of one's shower or car.
"Angle Park" by Big Country
Years Of Operation 1971-74 (let us not speak of the reunion tours and albums)
Fits Between The Byrds and Badfinger
Personal Correspondence My Big Star story: I was aware of Big Star from hearing them name-dropped by Paul Westerberg, as well as from Alex Chilton's mid-'80s solo albums, but the first time I actually heard the band was in an Athens, GA record store when I was a freshman at UGA. The clerks were playing the #1 Record/Radio City 2-for-1 CD on the store's stereo, and I walked in on "Watch The Sunrise," a few minutes before it gave way to "O My Soul." I immediately went up to the counter to ask what was playing, and after the clerks told me, I asked if they had a copy for sale, which prompted one of them to roll his eyes and say that he couldn't wait to get rid of the store's copy. (That's hardcore hipsterism, when you express jaded disgust for an album that you own and are playing at the time.) I wore that CD out, marveling at how all the songs on #1 Record sounded like familiar classic rock hits, even though I'd never heard any of them on the radio before, and getting entranced by the rawer material on Radio City, especially songs like "O My Soul," "Life Is White," "Daisy Glaze" and "Way Out West," all of which sound like they're teetering on the brink of collapse, held together by the occasional instrumental fill. Less than a year later, I found a cassette copy of Third/Sister Lovers in a cutout bin, and learned what rock music really sounds like when it's falling apart. I grew so used to the sequencing of that cassette–which begins with the somewhat-embarrassing-to-me-but-still-awesome song "Stroke It Noel"–that I had a hard time at first accepting the "real" running order on the 1992 CD reissue. "Kizza Me" and "Thank You Friends" still seem too upbeat to open an album so frequently harrowing. (I also realized that I knew more Big Star songs than I thought, since the third album's "You Can't Have Me" was covered by Game Theory, and "Kangaroo" and "Holocaust" were done by This Mortal Coil.) I also find that as time goes on, I'm rarely depressed enough to enjoy Third, and frankly I miss the sparkling guitars of the first two Big Star albums, which were largely replaced by baroque strings. Still, songs like "For You" and "Big Black Car" can still stop me cold, and make me want to take the rest of the day off.
Enduring presence? The mediocre reunion material has dimmed Big Star somewhat, but legendary is legendary. I also love Chris Bell's very #1 Record-ish solo album, which I'll write about in a couple of weeks.
"Way Out West" by Big Star
Years Of Operation 1983-present (solo)
Fits Between Big Star and Marshall Crenshaw
Personal Correspondence There are a lot of parallels between Bill Lloyd's career and Kenny Alphin's, in that Lloyd was also a product of the Nashville songwriter mills, who pushed aside his rock-oriented solo career in order to pursue success in a country duo with his primary writing partner. The difference is that Lloyd's pre-country work–collected in demo form on the priceless Feeling The Elephant–outstrips Alphin's to such a degree that it hurts a little that he left it behind for so long. Also, Foster's country career–as half of Foster & Lloyd with Radney Foster–was never as stratospheric as Big & Rich's, although the duo did have a string of hits in the late '80s. Whatever Lloyd's career compromises though, he's always going to be okay by me, for two reasons: One, when I met him backstage at the Country Music Awards in 1988, and told him how much I liked Feeling The Elephant, he couldn't have been more gracious, and he actually took a few minutes to talk with me about music. Second, when I started my career freelancing for the Nashville Scene, he took the time to pass along a note through a mutual acquaintance about how much he liked my work. Class goes a long way in this business.
Enduring presence? The term "buried gem" gets thrown around so much by critics–myself included–that it doesn't always have the impact it should, but still, I'm telling you, Lloyd's Feeling The Elephant is a real buried gem: a bright, appealingly varied power-pop album that shows what a superior craftsmen can do when he believes in his material. Not to knock The dBs or Let's Active, two very good bands who mined a similar vein with a lot of success, but Feeling The Elephant is the album that both those bands were trying to make for the first half of the '80s.
"This Very Second" by Bill Lloyd
Years Of Operation 1982-present (solo)
Fits Between Phil Ochs and The Clash
Personal Correspondence I don't know that people who come to Billy Bragg's music now, cold, will ever be able to appreciate the context in which he became a cult favorite in the mid- to late '80s. It was a real "you had to be there" moment. Bragg was very much a part of the resurgent British pop scene, but he was one of the few artists there–or anywhere–to mix politics in with his acid-tinged love songs, which made him seem more vital and relevant that he probably actually was. But at the same time, his early records are still as tuneful and engaging as ever, and it's hard to overstate how exciting a Billy Bragg live show was back around 1988. In the thick of the Reagan/Bush era, Bragg's concerts were part political rally, part stand-up comedy act, and part revival meeting. Given the politics of the Cold War, it was fairly bold of Bragg to come out as a full-bore socialist although that word had a different meaning in the UK than it did in the US at the time. I'll never forget reading a calendar listing in Atlanta's Creative Loafing in which the writer, a Bragg-hater, grumbled, "If he's so into socialism, why aren't his concerts free?" which kind of missed the point. Bragg could misapprehend too, though. In my cache of VHS tapes, I have a documentary about his swings through West Virginia and Kentucky to organize American coal miners, and he never seemed to get that in the US, "the workers" tend not to be liberals, per se. The miners were interested when he talked about higher wages and health care, but tuned out all the other lefty stuff. Still, that was always part of Bragg's appeal: his essential "Englishness." When he makes references to "double history" and "council care" in his songs, he gratifies my inner anglophile. Final Bragg note: The Back To Basics CD was the first CD I ever bought, and I got it before I even had a CD player, because it was too good a deal to pass up.
Enduring presence? The problem with even Bragg's terrific first three albums (and two EPs) is that the political songs sound too naïve and simplistic, while the love songs sound a little pathetic (and even misogynistic). The longer his career stretched on, the more his approach to writing seemed to become along the lines of, "This is my song about AIDS," and "This is my song about health care reform." But just as Bragg believed in a kind of superstring theory of politics, where gay rights and collective bargaining are all bound together, so he believed in a superstring theory of pop, where Woody Guthrie and Morrissey carry equal weight. And that's a viewpoint I heartily endorse. It's what makes his early work still so invigorating from a musical standpoint, even when the lyrics make me cringe.
"This Guitar Says Sorry" by Billy Bragg
Years Of Operation 1971-present (solo)
Fits Between Elton John and The Four Seasons
Personal Correspondence Billy Joel takes a lot of guff for his defensive attitude and the heavy-handedness of songs like "We Didn't Start The Fire," but he's a very sophisticated pop songwriter in a lot of ways, and not just musically speaking. He's written some concise, gorgeous ballads ("Summer, Highland Falls," "Rosalinda's Eyes," "Vienna") and some brisk, jaunty rock songs ("Everybody Loves You Know," "Don't Ask Me Why," "Sleeping With The Television On"), but even his on-the-nose anthems can be fairly profound. "Allentown" may take too broad an approach to the subject of factory closures, but the line "the restlessness was handed down" really gets to the core of why and how things change. He's a schlockmeister with vision. Fun fact #1: I once doctored my cassette copy of The Nylon Curtain to get rid of the word "fucking" in the song "Laura," since I knew my parents were likely to borrow the tape. Fun fact #2: I can't hear "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" without thinking of a SPY magazine article that compared Billy Joel lyrics with the misfortunes of his actual life, and ended with the prediction "Heart attack-ack-ack?"
Enduring presence? Ultimately I think Joel's reputation has been harmed by the perception that he's a hustler, doing whatever it takes to get on the charts. He tried prog early in his career, jumped on the Springsteen bandwagon with Streetlife Serenade and Turnstiles, and finally found his sweet spot with the pillowy rock of acts like Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac. But while Joel's albums are filler-heavy, his hits are, by and large, justly beloved; and his back catalog contains plenty of oddities like "Zanzibar" and "Big Man On Mulberry Street" that accomplish the '70s "well-made album" goal of giving listeners a little atmospheric experience, in stereo. I confess: I'm always going to have a weakness for Billy Joel.
"Sleeping With The Television On" by Billy Joel
Years Of Operation 1993-present (solo)
Fits Between Shirley Bassey and Venus Hum
Personal Correspondence When you say about an artist, "I'm not really a fan," usually that means you don't like them. But that's not always the case. I wouldn't call myself "a Björk fan" (or is that Bjørk?), but I'm not opposed to her music in any way. I like it, I just never listen to it. I've connected strongly with her work exactly twice: when the first Sugarcubes album came out, and when she starred in and scored Dancer In The Dark. Beyond that, I'd call myself a distant admirer–not hostile, not indifferent, but also not fully engaged.
Enduring presence? Björk is far from the only musician to use ambient noise and found percussion to make pretty music, but she's had success with it in ways that more avant-garde musicians could scarcely imagine. That said, I think part of my reluctance to embrace Björk is that the more ambitious she gets, the further she drifts from the kind of catchy pop music I prefer. (Her songs lately are all slow-building foreplay, no climax.) I lack the evaluative skills to judge an album like Vespertine against musicians who've been devoted to experimental music their whole lives. Will the totality of her career be judged as a success, or will she be seen as a superior pop artist who got too self-indulgent? I'll leave that for the fans to answer.
Years Of Operation 1979-1986
Fits Between Ramones and The Stooges
Personal Correspondence Can I be a Black Flag fan if I've never listened to any Henry Rollins-era recordings aside from Damaged? Let me take it further: Can I be a Black Flag fan if I didn't buy Damaged until two years ago? Don't get me wrong: I've been listening to Black Flag since I was 16, but only via Everything Went Black and The First Four Years, both of which I wore out on cassette. The reviews I read back then of the post-'84 Rollins material–which used words like "slow," "metallic," "jammy," and "spoken-word"–didn't entice me, and I've never responded positively to aggressive personalities like Rollins'. Next year I do plan to catch up with the rest of the Black Flag catalog, which I believe is available on eMusic, but I'm not expecting those records to affect my belief that those early Black Flag recordings represent the hardcore punk concept at its purest: stripped-down, brash songs that speak to what it's like to be a misfit teen, angry at authority and craving beer. The polemical edge that makes a lot of hardcore off-putting is largely absent from early Black Flag. Their only agenda was to rock you into submission. (Plus that Greg Ginn can play his guitar real good.)
Enduring presence? Those early Black Flag singles are about as essential as rock gets.
"No Values" by Black Flag
From the fringes of my collection, a few songs (some great, some not-so) to share .
Bettie Serveert, "Tom Boy" I keep waiting for someone to create a Nuggets for '90s indie-rock, collecting singles like "Tom Boy." I still remember picking this 7" up at my local record store back when buying the latest single from the likes of Tsunami and Unrest and Superchunk was an integral part of being a music geek. "Tom Boy" was a step above the usual indie-murk–a jangly, multi-faceted rock song that seemed to portend great things for these Dutchfolk. But while they've had a handful of good songs on every one of their albums since, they've never matched this introduction.
"Tom Boy" by Bettie Serveert
Bibio, "Marram" I don't know where the hell this song came from, but I like the way it adds layer after layer, building from noodling acoustica to something more like jazz fusion. Did I ditch the rest of this album, or is this song from an anthology? It's all the Bibio I've got, but I'm starting to think I should pursue more.
"Marram" by Bibio
Big & Rich, "Big Time" As much as admire John Rich and Kenny Alphin's agenda of uplift, I can't ignore the strong overtones of cynicism and opportunism that weighs down their music. Each one of their songs sounds like it could be supported by a PowerPoint presentation, with pie charts breaking down their core demos. Still, this kind of machine-tooled, target-marketed music has its charms, in the same way that a fresh bag of Doritos is often more satisfying than it should be.
"Big Time" by Big & Rich
Bikeride, "The Letter Dropper" Bikeride's a perfect example of a band that was ahead of its time but not necessarily in a good way, in that there were a lot of bands who came after them who did the whole "indie-pop Bacharach/Wilson" thing much better. I discovered them on a Parasol compilation and bought their debut album, which isn't bad–it contains the happy little number below, for example–but all their records are ultimately too rinky-dink. They aren't as effortlessly awesome as the artists they steal from, and certainly don't build on their influences the way a band like Beulah does.
"The Letter Dropper" by Bikeride
Bikini Kill, "Rebel Girl" Is it a step forward that a gyno-centric movement like Riot Grrrl no longer exists, or is it further proof that women are too often marginalized or ignored in rock 'n' roll? Or can the decline of DIY girl-punk be laid at the feet of The Donnas, who made the genre look too cheap and easy? While you ponder all that, enjoy this ferocious Bikini Kill song, which also belongs on some future indie-rock version of Nuggets. (Something else to think about: What makes this song "feminine?")
"Rebel Girl" by Bikini Kill
Bill Johnson, "All American Boy" Ah, the grand tradition of songs about writing songs, and songs about becoming a star. They work especially well in the country genre, where it really does seem feasible to pick up a guitar and ascend the charts in the space of an afternoon. This track is from a compilation called Should've Been Hits, so I'm assuming it's fairly obscure. Let's remedy that right now.
"All American Boy" by Bill Johnson
Bill Monroe, "A Voice From On High" My dad was a big bluegrass fan and actually hosted a radio show for a time called "Bluegrass, New Grass & Old-Time Mountain Music" though he was mainly interested in the "new grass" part of that line-up. I didn't really grow up surrounded by Bill Monroe and traditional bluegrass; it was more The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I wish my dad had lived long enough for me to have asked him about some of his formative musical influences, and why he liked country and bluegrass so much, and what he thought of Bill Monroe. When you're younger, these aspects of your parents' lives are just part of the atmosphere that surrounds you, and you don't think to ask about it, anymore than you'd ask where oxygen comes from. So I chase my father's ghost through songs like this ethereal Monroe classic, trying to follow the path he took, to understand him a little better.
"A Voice From On High" by Bill Monroe
Bill Purcell, "Our Winter Love" This is what I guess is called "dinner music," designed to be inoffensive, so as not to disturb people while they're eating dinner. It's essentially featureless, which is not an easy trick for a piece of music to finesse. By a strange quirk, this song came up four times in a row while I was driving this week, and I listened to it in full all four times. It took me until the third time to realize what was happening, and after that, I just figured, "Oh, what the hell."
"Our Winter Love" by Bill Purcell
Billy Bob Thornton, "Fast Hearts" I've kept a lot of Billy Bob Thornton songs on my hard drive over the years, mostly to play for people as proof that my job isn't always about listening to great music all day long. It's nice to be able to get rid of most of them, but I've got to keep a couple around, just as a benchmark for how bad music can be.
"Fast Hearts" by Billy Bob Thornton
Billy Bremner, "Loud Music In Cars" This song doesn't rise to the level of "Roadrunner"–the best song ever about drivin' and rockin'–but it's a terrific little Stiff single, ripe for rediscovery.
"Loud Music In Cars" by Billy Bremner
Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, "Trains & Boats & Planes" Classic pop singles like this are so much a part of the cultural atmosphere that its sometimes hard to single out their virtues. Here, I'd point to the walking bass and the unexpected traces of Calypso, adding a note of the exotic to a familiar topic.
"Trains & Boats & Planes" by Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas
Billy Preston & Syreeta, "With You I'm Born Again" This song was all over the radio when I was like 9 or 10 years old, and I don't think I ever noticed how much it was unlike the usual Top 40 fare of the time–Barbra Streisand aside. It's more like musical theater than pop. It's quite lovely, actually.
"With You I'm Born Again" by Billy Preston & Syreeta
The Black Keys, "All Hands Against His Own" It's just The Black Keys' bad luck that they emerged around the same time as another, much more compelling two-piece blues band with a similar name–though to be honest, I doubt that the Keys were ever going to be massively popular even without the spectre of The White Stripes overshadowing them. After all, neither of them are the first to try this stripped-down two-piece concept. (Top of my head: The Spinanes, House Of Freaks, Chickasaw Mudd Puppies.) That said, The Black Keys do the whole outdoor-fest-ready electric blues stomp thing very well, and my heart sank a little this week when I realized that I'm going to have to wait to hear their new album, which is due out in a couple of months. (I can't wait to find out what three to four songs from it I'll be salvaging for my increasingly awesome "Best Of The Black Keys" iPod playlist.) In the meantime, I'll enjoy one of my favorite Keys songs, a rhythmic number with a wonderful progression, from choogle to cascading alt-rock to swamp-spook. Good solo, too.
"All Hands Against His Own" by The Black Keys
Black Moth Super Rainbow, "All The Friends You Can Eat" I'm not sure why this contemporary avant-noise band appeals to me so much more than others in the same genre. Probably because beneath the fuzz and echo, there's some cohesive songwriting and winsome melodies. I should've put Dandelion Gum on my best-of list last year, but I kind of forgot it. Anyway, I predict a wider breakout for BMSR with their next album, whenever it drops.
"All The Friends You Can Eat" by Black Moth Super Rainbow
Listened to, unremarked upon: Betty Davis, Betty Wright, Beverly Frankie & The Butlers, Big Bill Broonzy,
Big Blue Hearts, Big Boi, Big D & The Kids Table, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, The Bigger Lovers, Bill Allen, Bill Callahan, Bill Deal & The Rhondels, Bill Frisell, Bill Haley & The Comets, Bill Justis & His Orchestra, Bill Kirchen, Bill Mallonee, Bill Moss, Bill Nettles, Bill Parker & His Motherscratchers, Bill Simmons, Bill Withers, Billie Holiday, Billy "The Kid" Emerson, Billy Dean, Billy Don Burns, Billy Joe Shaver, Billy May, Billy Murray, Billy Oskay, Billy Paul, Bing Crosby, The Binghmaton Crosbys, The Birds, Birds & Batteries, bis, Bitter Bitter Weeks, Bizzart, Björn Olsson, The Black Aces Of Soul And The Eyes Of Ebony, The Black Angels, Black Box Recorder, Black Dice, The Black Heart Procession, Black Lipstick, Black Mountain, Black Nasa, The Black On White Affair, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Black Sabbath, The Black Seeds, Blackout Beach and Blacktop Mourning.
Next week: From Blackalicious to Brad Meldhau plus a few words on whether they really "don't make 'em like they used to."