Saturday, July 31, 2010

American Idol News Update 7/30

While there was no news coming out of the tour on Friday, there was quite a bit of news about the future of the show that brought us everyone from William Hung to Carrie Underwood. Apparently, only "Yo, dawg" Randy Jackson will be returning to the judges' panel. While his silly behavior last year (booing Simon is pretty puerile) was a distraction and his sudden deafness to "pitchiness" whenever Lee sang confounding, he was the only judge to recognize and appreciate Casey's mad guitar skills. As I said when I filled out the survey that American Idol ran After that debacle of a season last year -- if they kept anyone it should be Randy.

But what of the new judges? To quote a line from Tom Hanks in Big, "I don't get it." JLo seems Paula-sweet without the Paula-crazy, so that's good. But I wonder if she's too visible a star not to be a distraction. Steven Tyler? I suppose he'd be helpful to the next Adam Lambert or Siobhan Magnus - who better to assess the quality of their screaming? He's had an entire career built on hurting my ears. And I do look forward to his style suggestions -- when in doubt, add more scarves.

But here I'm still focused on Season 9 because no matter how many problems it had, no matter how much bad rap it's received, it introduced me and you to Casey James and I will always be thankful to it for that.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Kara Dioguardi Ousted from American Idol

Oh, how I've waited to hear this news.  Kara Dioguardi, who single-handedly insulted an entire species of cat with her antics, will not be returning to wreak havoc on another group of performers who are naive enough to think they'll be judged on talent.  Fired, canned, given the old heave-ho, given her walking papers, axed, however you put it, she's gone. Her soapbox for self-promotion has mercifully come to an end -- and American Idol fans rejoice.

Some will say, shouldn't you thank Kara? Without her fighting for Casey James, he never would have moved on from Denver to the international spotlight he currently occupies.  Not necessarily.  She could have accomplished the same thing without lasciviously ogling him, without objectifying him, and without creating a season-long narrative that was all about her.  She could have stood up to Simon's dismissive comment that it "doesn't matter" that Casey is a good singer.  Instead, she turned it from audition to casting couch.

Let's bookend Kara's treatment of Casey -- from the hungry looks and flustered response in Denver and in Hollywood to her glee in dissecting his choice of Mrs. Robinson.  She insulted his talent, his drive, his long years of hard work and instead tried to turn him into her personal plaything.  No man could have behaved that way toward a female contestant and it was offensive that she was not only allowed to do it, but her "crush" became a significant story line for the entire season.  The fact that we're still talking and writing about Kara's behavior around Casey shows just how much she took the focus away from him and put it on herself.

So, no, I won't be thanking Kara anytime soon.  Do let the door hit you on the way out, Kara.  You won't be missed.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ellen Degeneres Leaves American Idol Judges' Panel

When word came out that former American Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe would be returning to helm the show, rumors started spreading that he would perform a major ship cleaning (as it were) especially in the area of the judges' panel.  Obviously, with the departure of Simon Cowell, at least one spot had to be filled.  But the question was whether the other three would continue on.

That question has been answered at least for the newest member of the panel, when Ellen DeGeneres announced today that she would not be returning to the show.  She released the following statement regarding her departure:

“A couple months ago, I let FOX and the American Idol producers know that this didn’t feel like the right fit for me.  I told them I wouldn’t leave them in a bind and that I would hold off on doing anything until they were able to figure out where they wanted to take the panel next. It was a difficult decision to make, but my work schedule became more than I bargained for.

"I also realized this season that while I love discovering, supporting and nurturing young talent, it was hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings. I loved the experience working on Idol and I am very grateful for the year I had, I am a huge fan of the show and will continue to be.”
I find her sudden concern about her "work schedule" to be a red herring.  In May, when Casey came on her show after he had been eliminated, she said to him, "I'm glad that I'm a part of this (meaning American Idol) now because when I go out to the audition rounds this year -- for the first time I'll be doing that -- I want to put more people like you in.  I want to put more musicians and more different styles and people that normally wouldn't be seen on that show."  Nothing changed between then and now in her schedule, unlike Ryan she hasn't added two or three more jobs onto her existing two. 

I think her other reason may be the more accurate explanation for her change of heart -- this was not a good fit for her.  Ellen is primarily two things -- a comic and a music fan.  Neither of those qualities came out this year.  Her humor often distracted and detracted from the performance she was supposed to critique.  Most of the time she offered either weak praise or noncomittal platittudes.  She never -- as they might have said to a contestant -- found her voice. I find it ironic that the person who told Casey twice that he was stiff seemed herself so uncomfortable in her role behind the judges' desk.

The problem with Ellen was the same problem all the judges had -- they thought the show was about them.  They ignored every dictionary definition of what a judge is supposed to be -- someone who offers a dispassionate, fair, and reasoned opinion after due consideration. Instead, this year in particular was a three ring circus whether it was the Kara the Cougar storyline or what fruit a contestant was or the endless repetition about how someone could never live up to early promise.  Why did it matter whether Kara could figure out what kind of a performer someone wanted to be or whether she liked someone's outfit?   I've wanted to say this all year -- it isn't Song Choice Idol. Just critique the damn perfomance.

None of these offerings from the judges rose to the level of a thoughtful evaluation.   Instead they made the show about them and made the contestants mere afterthoughts.  Ellen leaving is a move in the right direction, but the heart of the problem lies elsewhere.  When we hear the announcement that Kara has decided to leave for "personal reasons," we'll know that Idol has a chance of reclaiming its old groove.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My Pick for Song of the Day -- In the Sun

In the Sun is an amazingly beautiful song written by Joseph Arthur.  Tender, haunting, soulful -- the kind of song that makes you feel something every time you hear it.  No wonder it's been used in a zillion different TV shows and was recorded to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Here's a version ofthe song recorded as a promo for the Glastonbury Festival in 2000. Guess who else played at that Festival that year? SOTD artist #6, David Gray. Coincidence? I think not.

I am particularly drawn to this video because in it Arthur holds a passing resemblance to John Lennon. His vocals are not perfect, but they fit the song.

My favorite version is the cover by Michael Stipe, but I can't find a video clip for that, so this will have to do.  It's a duet featuring Stipe  and some other guy who is married to some gorgeous Hollywood actress (whose mother played Hawkeye's love interest on one episode of MASH).

Stipe's crystalline voice, so nuanced and evocative, combined with those gentle, aching lyrics, makes a great song even better.  I remember at the time being so in love with this song I bought every single version, including this one with the more vocally-challenged Chris Martin:

Maybe because I heard Stipe's cover first, I wasn't as impressed with Arthur's more laconic singing style. He's a gifted (albeit tortured) songwriter and like so many great writers, he was not blessed with an easy-to-listen-to voice.  But this version, performed live on Letterman, is exquisite:

Article: Who Says I Don't Like Country Music?

Well, actually, it is usually I who say that. For some reason, when I think of country music I tend to think of novelty songs like Achy Breaky Heart or Thank God I'm a Country Boy. Long on twang, short on complexity. Silly, formulaic and riddled with fiddles. It's a disdain that has been festering for decades. I was from the rock era, I'm from Los Angeles -- I could not possibly like country music.

As I would take long drives with my more musically open-minded husband, he would stop the radio on some Merle Haggard or George Jones song and I would have some sort of physical and psychological breakdown after two bars -- the steel guitars, banjos, fiddles, the way they stretch out "you" into two long syllables (yee-ooh), It was torture. I could not get past the fact that this was a genre of music I was not genetically or culturally predisposed to listen to.

So then I fell down the Casey James rabbit hole two months ago and started following this singer-guitarist from Texas. That was weird enough, but then I noticed that some of my favorite performances of his had a definite country sound to them. Obviously, there was Don't and You'll Think of Me, but even his take on the Lennon classic Jealous Guy and his reworking of Mrs. Robinson would fit quite nicely on one of those country stations I had so consistently avoided.

Was he converting me, or was he unearthing something long buried? Well, as I surfed YouTube recently, I discovered that I hadn't always felt this way about country music. I found the first two videos below, covers by my favorite band (REM) of two old Jimmy Webb tunes.  This in turn reminded me that, growing up, one of my favorite singers was Glen Campbell.  A country singer.  Galveston, Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix -- all layered, textured songs with heart and depth.  Click on the preceding links to hear the original.

Suddenly, it all came back to me. I owned two albums by Tony Joe White (of Polk Salad Annie fame -- now who doesn't like novelty songs?). I might have had a Johnny Cash album. I was afraid to dig any deeper. Did I have a Charley Pride album gathering dust in the garage? Possibly. I'm afraid to check.

I think I parted company with country music around the time Glen Campbell went from those seminal songs to the tacky Rhinestone Cowboy.  Seventies rock music was so experimental and vivid and eclectic, I turned my back on country.  Maybe it's time to turn back?

So here are three videos of a not-country band doing country, or quasi-country, music. The first two are from rough rehearsal videos. The third is a countrified version of one of their own songs. They reminded me that I used to like country music -- and may again. A good melody is a good melody, if a lyric resonates it does't matter if it does so with a little twang.  No more skipping the country stations, you never know what you might miss.


Wichita Lineman

Driver 8

Friday, July 16, 2010

Article: When Politics and Art Collide

There is a website called and it lists, among other things, the top 25 liberal musicians. Sadly for me, my favorite band, REM, is there along with other bands I enjoy. I've been thinking about this conundrum for some time -- what if your political beliefs are radically different from your favorite artist? Do you reject them or just agree to disagree? Do you support them with your dollars -- buying their CDs, going to their concerts, seeing their movies, watching their TV shows? Am I a hypocrite if I do, or am I acknowledging that disagreements do not have to break down all bonds?

This is an issue I've struggled with, being a Republican who leans towards liberal artists. My favorite TV show was MASH, for heaven's sake, one of the most politically left-leaning shows ever.  I had originally considered naming this blog after one of REM's song lyrics, instead it's named after a play by Lanford Wilson, who, based on his writings, I can only assume would disagree with me about most issues. It's confounding for me that the artists with whom I connect on one level, I am at odds with on so many others. 

So what to do? In the past twenty-five years I've gone to too many REM concerts to count and have had to put up with anti-Bush Sr., pro-Clinton, pro-Gore, pro-Kerry, and rampant anti-Bush Jr. orations in the middle of most of them. I've sang along to Ignoreland, realizing it was an attack on the Reagan and Bush administrations. I've listened to Michael Stipe lambaste the Republican nominees for president for over a quarter of a century, even two years ago threatening to leave the country if McCain won.

I'm sure over the decades, some percentage of all the money I've spent on REM has gone to support some candidate I oppose or some cause I don't believe in. I've indirectly furthered the Democratic agenda by supporting one of their most staunch allies, one of their most fervent banner-carriers. Yet boycotting them because of differences of political opinion seems un-American to me. They have a right to their wrong opinion and they have a right to express it.

It is a two-way street -- they have a right to speak, and we have a right to respond. But what shape should that response take?  While I have the choice whether or not to support them by buying their music or attending their concerts, I don't believe that I am necessarily obligated to make my decision solely based on politics.  In some cases, I can enjoy and appreciate the messenger and not the message.  I can embrace the artist detached from their extra-curricular activities.

On the flipside, I've wondered, would these artists be shocked, horrified or just bemused to discover that some of their fans may be -- gasp -- Republicans?  Conservatives, even?

I was actually heartened to see Stipe say that there was no inconsistency in his mind behind a "right-winger" liking the music of a liberal group, addressing the rumor that Tory leader David Cameron and former Bush ally Tony Blair were fans of REM. He dismissed as silly the idea that a liberal artist should be displeased to discover they had conservative fans.  I was glad to hear that.

But others realize that with taking a political stand comes a risk and may not be able to be separated by their fans. Death Cab for Cutie's frontman Benjamin Gibbard told back in 2004, "I think art and politics are directly related to each other, and people that deny the cross-influence are kidding themselves. So I can understand why people tend to be annoyed by people like ourselves getting up and taking a political stand."

Similarly, REM's Mike Mills said during the pro-Kerry 2004 Vote for Change tour, "We may alienate some fans over this. I don't like that - I prefer to have music stand apart from political feelings. But this is so important, it's worth it. If I piss a few people off, good."

Now, I was surprised to see liberal artists worry about taking liberal positions. To my knowledge, the only recent artists who risked anything by their liberal stance were the Dixie Chicks and that was because country music is thought to be more of a Red State thing. Usually, being a liberal artist is redundant and not likely to inflame any negative passions.

So where does that leave the conflicted fan? In my case, REM's music means more to me than anything this side of the original liberal-musician, John Lennon. So do I sacrifice my love of their songs, or Lennon's, because of jarring political disagreements? How far would they have to go for their politicizing to outweigh their music? I'm not sure, but I know they haven't gone too far yet to turn me away.

The one example of an artist that did go too far was one of the members of System of a Down, whose anti-semitic, anti-Israel spewings at a 2005 concert were so hate-filled I could not separate the message from the messenger.  The concert T-shirt was tossed in the trash can, the CDs never listened to again, the songs switched off from the car stereo.  To me there is a bright line. I can support artists with whom I disagree about issues, but not those who come from a place of hatred.

"Take away their money and you take away their power" is the motto of the website, and I know that there is some truth to that.  I do worry about financially supporting those who want to take the country in a direction I'm opposed to. And I worry about giving too much power and voice to those who argue against what I believe to be best for the country. But, I respect their right to express themselves and wouldn't want to live in a country where that right would be denied.

By the same token, it is sad that Republicans in Hollywood -- yes there are some, they just for the most part, keep a really low profile -- fear retribution were they to come out of their political closet. 

Philosophically, extremist liberals are my political enemies and, to them, I'm the enemy as well. But isn't it a part of the Christian belief system to love your enemy?  Even though I'm not a Christian, it's something I've been willing to do -- at least when it comes to artists I love.

My Pick for Song of the Day: Starsailor - Tell Me it's Not Over

All the PlansHailed in 2001 as "Britain's best new band," Starsailor is not a household name in the U.S.  Originally signed to EMI, they were supposed to be the next big British import -- but that never materialized.  Instead, they've had a stop-start trajectory in the U.S.  Their first album,Love is Here, did well, but their second album hit a bump.  It was supposed to be produced by the legendary, and at the time not incarcerated, Phil Spector but they clashed and the band moved on in search of another producer.  Their sophomore effort was not a success and their next album similarly faded quickly.  They switched from EMI to Virgin and collaborated with Stones' guitarist Ron Woods for the 2009 release All the Plans. 

I found them quite by accident, switching channels one day, and heard the song Tell Me It's Not Over from their most recent album  Where had they been hiding, how had I not heard of them?   A little Radiohead, but not as gloomy.  Love lead singer James Walsh's voice, he has a little break in it when he sings.  Very sweet, very touching.  Hard to imagine Noel Gallagher calling him a ... well let's just say it wasn't a nice word unless you're a rooster. 

From their first album, Love is Here:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Artist of the Day -- by request -- Oasis

Ah, the brothers Gallagher. They formed in 1991 and burst onto the international scene with their first, very successful, CD in 1994.  How much sturm und drang have the two boys from Manchester wrought on an unsuspecting pop music world since then?  One is a tormented lyricist who crafts lush melodies, the other a troubled soul who seems to be the only one to bring his brother's songs fully to life.  Separately, neither might have risen to prominence, united they exemplify the hoary old saying -- they make beautiful music together.

Unlike some of the artists I may write about, this artist of the day is a request  -- from CJFan_Audrey.  And they are hardly an unknown quantity.  But I do love Oasis and am thrilled to have an excuse to write about them.  So instead of discussing the band, I want to highlight two of my favorite songs of theirs.

The first is Live Forever from the album Definitely, Maybe.  If ever there were an Oasis song that emphasized how Liam's vocals are that extra something that elevates his brother Noel's lyrics to new heights, this is the song.  How Liam drags out every vowel.  Maaaaaybeeeee, I don't really want to knooooooow, how your garden groooooows, cuz I just want to flyyyyyyyy. He is selling every word like Sinatra used to.  He is telling a story.

And what a story.  As written by someone just in their twenties, it has an awareness and maturity that belies both the era and genre of music.  Who else was writing uplifting, hopeful songs in the early 90s?  It's such an optimistic, if a tad unrealistic, song.  Liam sings "Maybe I will never be, all the things that I want to be, now is not the time to cry, now's the time to find out why."  His brother's words -- the chorus of the song -- sung ethereally, "You and I are gonna live forever."  Is that youthful naivete or a brash promise?

The story goes that after Noel wrote this song, he presented it to his brother who liked it enough to invite him to join his band.  This song was later used to secure them a record deal.  According to the record executive who signed them hearing that song "was probably the single greatest moment I've ever experienced with them."

That's not hard to imagine.  Even though after this they went on to record (What's the Story) Morning Glory with classics such as Wonderwall and Champagne Supernova Live Forever is in a class by itself.

The official video is cluttered with quick shots of dearly departed rock legends -- Lennon, Hendrix, Morrison, Cobain and others.  Are Oasis a bunch of punks putting themselves in that category after just one album?   Or is this a nod to the timeless, eternal nature of music and art?

Almost as an afterthought you notice not just the lyrics and the vocals, but the musicianship in the song.  It starts with a jolt, the drums grabbing your attention with a tribal beat.   I love the guitar in the middle; it's so uplifting, almost giddy.  By the end the instruments almost take over and bury the vocals.  Liam barely tries, he's probably never worked up a sweat on stage.  He brings the concept of phoning it in to new lows...and yet, can you imagine anyone else singing this?

The other song I wanted to spotlight is Cast No Shadow from their hugely successful sophomore effort. I love the live video -- watching Liam on stage tickles me for some reason.  Why he insists on the microphone being always just a little too high.  Why the incongruous posture, arms pulled back as if about to take a leisurely stroll, not perform on stage before thousands of screaming fans.  Meanwhile, his neck is strained to the breaking point, so he can reach the mike.  Odd.

It is the marriage between heart-wrenching lyrics and sweet melody that make the song so powerful.
Bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say
Chained to all the places that he never wished to stay
Bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say
As he faced the sun he cast no shadow
Well, he sounds like a happy bloke!  

The song, so rueful and melancholy, doesn't leave you with hope or resolution.  He disappears...fades away, unnoticed.  How could someone seemingly so capable of expressing himself in song, still feel so mute that he had to write this?  Why did Noel not believe in himself?  Or is it the curse of great artists to be plagued by self doubt?

On that cheerful note, enjoy the song:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My pick for Artist of the Day -- Natalie Merchant

In the absence of any other suggestion, I planned today to write about Natalie Merchant. She was the lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs in the 1990s and has been a solo artist since having some success but by no means as well known as the boustier-wearing, pants-eschewing current pop princesses of today. So imagine my surprise when I saw that Spinner was also taking on Ms. Merchant today. Kismet, coincidence or providence? Maybe we just like good singers.

Natalie Merchant has a unique sound. It’s both husky and ethereal, sweet and tough. You’ll never confuse her with another singer. I’ve been a fan since her old band’s CD In My Tribe. I love her propensity for taking words as suggestions, to be sung as she chooses, certainly not as Merriam-Webster would have wanted. She picks and chooses among consonants to sing, the sound of the word as sung meaning so much more than the sound of the actual word. It’s as if her songs have three parts: the music, the lyrics, and how she decides to phrase and interpret those lyrics.

On stage she was both quirky and sexy. She can command a stage with just her voice, no grand theatrics and no embellishments. That first successful album had so many great songs, Don’t Talk, Like the Weather, What’s the Matter Here? The next album, Blind Man’s Zoo, had Trouble Me and Eat For Two.

That the same person could write this:

and this:

shows amazing range and depth. The first, a buoyant take on depression, the second, a desperate plaint of an unwed, teen mom.

Yet my favorite song of hers is from her post-Maniacs period. It always gets to me, in a good way. It’s so joyous and hopeful, empowering and anthemic.

With love, with patience, and with faith…she’ll make her way.

This live version starts slowly, with just her voice, a piano, and the chorus.  Then the song starts, and it's impossible not to smile by the end.  It's called Wonder:

Friday, July 9, 2010

Article: No More Labels -- Just Music

As I try to figure out how my musical taste led me here, to liking songs from bands and singers I'd never heard of like Arc Angels and Ian Moore, I decided to go back further than the 80s and trace my own musical history.  In the 70s, I used to listen to Cream and Traffic.  Now, of course, at the time I thought of them as rock groups, plain and simple.  I didn't hyphenate or add a descriptor.  Maybe that came later in music, when the pigeon-holing and labeling took over.  It used to be that music was either stuff you liked, or stuff you didn't like, and the genre was less important.

Because as I listen to Traffic again today, I realize that I was listening to (gasp!) jazz and blues when all I thought I was getting was British rock.  Take a listen to The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, one of my favorite songs of my younger days.  So intricate, so layered, so emotive.  Now, some forty years later, we call it Prog rock and that's probably an apt label.  It was so progressive it sounds timeless.  Yet it is so musically rich, you can tell it didn't come out the last few years.

I also loved Cream -- again not realizing just what you would call what I was listening to.  Shhh, it's blues-rock.  I had no idea back then who Eric Clapton was or what had influenced him, I just new he was unreal on the guitar.  Supernatural.  Monster Guitar Man -- impervious to the laws of motion.  He actually believed his fingers could be in multiple places at the same time.  And Jack Bruce?  Listen to that bass line -- it's sick. 

So a shout out to Casey James for opening my eyes and ears.  I will from here on out not judge a musical genre by its title, but will give it a fair listen.  Back in the day, before we compartmentalized everything, music was just music.  The Texan with the crossover appeal is bringing that concept back.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Article: Where I'm Coming From Musically Speaking

How I became such a huge fan of a blues guitarist who sings with a slight country twang (Casey James from American Idol) is a mystery to me.  My musical taste traditionally runs the gamut from A-B.  It's alternative rock, rock, and 70's folk-rock.  Not much in the way of diversity.  I don't own a Stevie Ray Vaughan or B.B. King CD, I have nothing on my Zune from Keith Urban or Shania Twain.  I did once own a kd lang album, but it was never uploaded to my MP3 player, so I'm not sure it counts. 

If you want to know about the musical taste of the person whose blog you've been reading, I like R.E.M.  They are up here (my arm is fully extended, I'm typing one-handed).  Every other band is down here (about at my waist).  I am excluding The Beatles, the ones without whom no music would matter, from this ranking.  If you're interested in knowing what my favorite Beatles' songs are, it just so happens that I posted about that very topic here.

My obsession with R.E.M. started in 1985.  I was first introduced to them by my now-husband and after seeing them in concert the first time I was -- confused.  What's with the weird lead singer?  I called him a poor man's Joe Cocker.  I admit, I didn't get them at first.  But once I started listening to their songs, I was transformed.  Nothing can make me feel what I feel when I hear Michael Stipe's voice.  That's just the way it is.  But that's not to say I haven't been moved to great heights of emotions by other songs, other singers.  Why some hit me and others don't is not something that can be scientifically explained. Music is not rational or logical, it's all about how it makes you feel.

At various times, I will write about a song or an artist who did that for me -- really  made me feel something.  Had an impact, left a mark.  That's the great thing about music, what other art form can do that for you?  I don't think anything else can transport you in place and time and make you feel something completely different like music can.  So, now you know that the person who's been writing all these posts about some Texas singer/guitarist really cares about music.  And whether you agree with my taste, I hope you can appreciate that music matters to me.

I'll be posting the occasional videos, like these below, from some of my other favorite artists and bands. Maybe you'll find some you like here, maybe you'll discover something new.  Or you can just skip to the next Casey James post, that's absolutely fine too.

The Replacements

Answering Machine

I cannot tell you how much I loved The Replacements.  They were the ultimate underachievers.  Paul Westerberg wrote the most haunting lyrics, like in this song above -- then would follow it up with a stupid song about being told to put out his cigarette on an airplane (Waitress in the Sky).  I was watching the movie Adventureland last night and it was set in 1987, so to establish the time frame (and to relate to the wayward young adults in the movie) the movie was bookended by two Replacements' songs -- Bastards of Young and Unsatisfied.

Here's a live version of Bastards of Young. Sorry the sound is not great. 

I failed at YouTube Searching 101 and was unable to find a Replacements' version of Unsatisfied.  Here's Paul Westerberg playing it post-Mats:

It's impossible to name my favorite Replacements' song.  Alex Chilton is the most radio-friendly of their songs and possibly the best introduction to the band.  There is no video for the song, a YouTube search offered just the album track with a picture of the album cover.  Very high tech.  But what they lacked in MTV-ready productions, they more than made up for in honest music.  And this is the schizophrenic band at their most joyous.  A perfect 3:13 of bouncy percussion, fuzzy background guitars, rapid-fire guitar solos, and raw-boned vocals.  How prophetic that Westerberg would give it the chorus "I'm in love, with that song."  I am indeed.

The Feelies

Higher Ground

The jangly-guitars of this New Jersey band of course immediately attracted this R.E.M. fan (for whom they are listed as an influence), but they stood apart as focusing more on their instruments and less on the vocals.  Intricate, overlapping guitar solos, layers of sound, urgency and vibrancy -- almost sounds like the same ingredients for blues music.  But this is pure rock, the kind of music that saved the 80s from the synthesizer-heavy new wave bands or the pop stars that owned the charts. 

If you're a fan of guitar playing, take a listen here, a live version of the song Slipping Into Something from a very recent concert.  For a band that formed when Ford was president, it's amazing how they can still sound so good.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Article: American Idol Tour in Trouble?

With tepid sales and a decided lack of buzz, it looks like the 51-city tour may be in for an overhaul. This is not surprising. Ratings for the show were down this year and reviewers have questioned the dynamism and star power of the contestants.  There was something fundamentally wrong with the premise of American Idol -- the judges rip the contestants to shreds week after week, then the producers ask you to fork up money to go see them live.

But after just two nights of shows, it is clear that there is talent on the stage. The real problem is that the titular headliners are not exciting enough to draw in the crowds. Crystal is very talented but her style is best suited for more intimate venues. Other, more established singers in her genre are also not packing them in.

Lee is fairly indistinguishable from other Nickleback/Creed gravely voiced singers and has zero presence on stage. His performances thus far have been entertaining karaoke, but not electric. He may impress his existing fans, but there's nothing there to bring in new ones.

That brings me to what AI should do fix the show. Three words -- more Casey James. He has what it takes to get a crowd going. To excite people to come to a show, to put on such a sizzling performance that word of mouth quickly spreads.

They should ignore their own mandate that the number of songs be tied to how you place and instead tweak the show to spotlight the strongest performer. Let Casey do what he does -- get people excited about music.
Let him take his rightful place as the star of the show. He's already been stealing it, let's make it official.