Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tired Pony: What if R.E.M. and Snow Patrol had a baby?

When I saw that there was a YouTube video that was REM meets Snow Patrol, I had to click on the link.  It led me to Tired Pony a supergroup if ever there was one, comprised of the lead singer of Snow Patrol, Gary Lightbody, fellow bandmate Iain Archer, REM's guitarist Peter Buck, uber producer Jacknife Lee, Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows (who's been playing with REM forever), and a bunch of other wickedly talented people.

Now, I know I should have kept expectations low.  While Reese's has shown us that putting two great things together can make an even better thing, other collaborations have been less successful (Ebony and Ivory, anyone?).  But from the first note, I realized that this was a dream grouping.  This is a band who cares about music.  Their music is lush, it's deep, it's evocative.  It's the musical equivalent of an all day spa visit followed by fifteen minutes with the Dalai Lama.  You just feel better having experienced it.
  
Their debut album is called "The Place We Ran From" and it's available here
Here are three videos to give you a taste for what's on the album.

Pieces

It's all there, the mystery, the sensuality, the lyrical beauty. Close your eyes, you'll feel like you're floating.

Dead American Writers

I cannot express how amazing it is to listen to this and realize it's like finding a missing puzzle piece.  This for me is the quintessential perfect music.  Part pop, part folk, part rock.  It's moody, sexy, chimerical.  I need to go find my old Snow Patrol CD and figure out why I paid it so little attention.

I am a Landslide


This song has a definite Neil Young sound to it.  Any country music fan who may have stumbled onto this post, and continued down this far, you've been rewarded.  For a group that is a conglomeration of an Irish and an American rock band, this song would fit in quite well in both the folk and country genres.  I have to admit it, I actually love a song with a prominent banjo in it.  That's how amazing this group is, they've brainwashed me.

Here's a link to their concert in London where they were joined by some special guests. Enjoy. http://www.ifc.com/news/2010/10/exclusive-premiere-tired-pony.php

New Music

I loved The Shins.  They fulfilled my number one requirement for a band -- they sounded a lot like R.E.M.  (See also The Feelies, Death Cab For Cutie, Guadalcanal Diary, 10,000 Maniacs, Counting Crows).  Even if you're not that familiar with the band, you probably have heard at least one of their songs, New Slang, which was featured in the movie Garden State. 


The lead singer of The Shins, James Mercer, recently collaborated with wunderkind music producer Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse to form the band Broken Bells.  It's a great pairing of the romantic and melodic with the more experimental and electronic. 

Here's their first single, The High Road, which came out late last year. It has the same moody, atmospheric sound of The Shins with the techno sound Danger Mouse is known for. Actually reminds me a little of the Flaming Lips.


Their new song is called Meyrin Fields. Here's a live version from a recent performance at the cozy Wiltern Theatre in lovely Los Angeles. While I'm not a huge fan of the Muse-ish high notes, I love the lush, moody sound.


My Chemical Romance has a new album coming out next month, Danger Days.  The first video they released is for the song Na Na Na. I tend to run hot and cold on this band.  I loved their second album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge but was lukewarm on the follow-up The Black Parade.  Some would say I'm missing the narrative power of the band's work to date, and that may be true. But I like this song whether or not I understand where it fits in their elaborate storyline.


Kings of Leon have become the new banner-holders for rock, the next new thing to save the genre from extinction. We could hang our hopes on a worse bunch of guys. I loved their last album and, thanks to their free streaming of their new one, Come Around Sundown, I think they have another great collection of songs for us.  While there may not be the huge Sex on Fire hit, the next album is very strong. Here's the video of their performing the song Radioactive on the Letterman show.


Finally, the Smashing Pumpkins have some new music out.  Jesus Needs A Hit is marginally catchy, a pretty lightweight pop song, nothing to get that excited about.  But I like this song, The Fellowship, which was featured on theVampire Diaries soundtrack. The Fellowship is a very traditional Pumpkins song, which I mean in the best way possible.  It has a great melody, very catchy, and Billy Corgan is in remarkably good voice.  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

R.E.M. -- Songs You Should Know

In honor of today's release of the DVD of R.E.M.'s performance on Austin City Limits, I've compiled a short list of my favorite, somewhat lesser-known, R.E.M. songs in chronological order from the early 80s to today.

(Carnival of Sorts) Boxcars
Sometimes it seems impossible to explain why one song just grabs you and doesn't let go some three decades later. There is nothing clearly revelatory about this song, it doesn't break new ground, except....there was something to the relentless, propulsive beat, the faintly muffled, often incomprehensible lyrics, the folky harmonies, and the lyrical, famously jangly Peter Buck guitar. I wish I understood music better to know what it is about the drumbeat in the "cages under cage" part at 2:01 that is so...cool.


Perfect Circle
One of the many things I love about R.E.M. is that their lyrics are vague enough to be open to your own interpretation, yet meaningful enough to engender strong reactions.  I don't know for a fact what the band intended this song to mean, but it is, for me, an intensely emotional song.  Perfect Circle is off of their first full length album, Murmur.   If you don't have it, click on the link and buy it.  Now.  Rolling Stone ranked it as one of the top 100 albums of the last 20 years and they're probably not as biased as I am.

I love the mood and tone of this song, the lilting melody.  The vision it creates of that perfect circle "of acquaintances and friends" is so romantic and warm and inviting.  The song has been attributed to the band's drummer, Bill Berry, who left the group suddenly in 1997 after suffering a life-threatening brain hemorrhage.  He probably wrote the music, while the confusing, seemingly random lyrics seem pure Stipe.

Harborcoat
"There's a splinter in your eye, it reads react" is probably my favorite song lyric not written by John Lennon. This from a band who as of yet didn't want their lyrics to be understood.  From the album, Reckoning, Harborcoat is the quintessential R.E.M. song -- layered guitars, fast percussion, the Southern feel in both the lyrics and the melody, and a counter-song sung as "harmony." I can't even begin to point out the little nuggets in the song. Just the "chh chh" sounds before the last chorus kill me.


Driver 8
This is simply a perfect song.  It almost defies description.  It certainly doesn't need me setting the stage or putting it in any context.  It's from the album Fables of the Reconstruction which is another of those rare albums that is as good today as it was when it came out and each song on it is a treasure.  This song is so atmospherically dense that you can feel yourself transported to the South from wherever you are.  The images the song evokes are so vivid, I can't tell you why every line sticks with me so many years after I first heard them - Powerlines have floaters so the airplanes won't get snagged.  He piloted this song in a plane like that one.  We can reach our destination, but we're still a ways away. 




Welcome to the Occupation
With Document, R.E.M.'s fifth album, they brought their political beliefs much more into the forefront. A band that at first did not seem to care whether people could understand their lyrics were now plaintively wailing "listen to me." The song takes the idea of a wall of sound and makes it a wall of Stipe. It's layer upon layer of his voice, all ranges, providing his own harmonies. Supported, as always, by the rough, solid bass and drum lines, counterbalanced by the almost lazy, fluid guitar. It was that mixture that made them hard to label, the drums and bass say rock, the vocals and the guitar are more folk yet together it was something different altogether.


Country Feedback
Such longing, such sadness. I had to include an extra version.  The top video is from the Bridge Schoo Benefit that Neil Young runs and he made a wonderful contribution to the song.  The second video is from REM's second MTV Unplugged show.  Stipe's voice, a little rough around the edges, a little weary, conveys such feelings of pain and loss. Everyone who's ever been in a failed relationship can relate to this song. This is also a good chance to give a nod toward Peter Buck, who gets so little attention for his guitar playing, and Mike Mills on the keyboard whose beautiful piano melody carries the song on the album.  And, parenthetically, how beautiful is Stipe? "It's crazy what you could have had." Yikes.



Ignoreland
The entire Automatic for the People album is a must-have for any music fan. But, in the interest of brevity, I'll only pick two songs from this amazing compilation. The first is an old fashioned rock song. Loud, angry, it has some of my favorite lyrics including the line "I know that this is vitriol, no solution, spleen-venting, but I feel better having screamed, don't you?" We all have felt that way, politically speaking, and though Stipe is coming from the Left while I hang out along the right side of the spectrum, I respect his right to complain.  Especially when he does it so powerfully.


Find the River
Hard to imagine these two songs share space on the same album, but that's what makes R.E.M. the greatest rock band ever. This song could not have more heart, more yearning, more hope if it was a Hallmark Channel movie of the week. Every instrument, including the most powerful one, Stipe's voice, serves this song to tell its story.  This is the definitive song for when you are about to embark on some life-changing endeavor.  The song sounds like a river, slow, gentle, flowing.  The line "I have got to leave to find my way" could not be any more poignant, or true. 


So Fast, So Numb
This one you have to hear on the album. It's on New Adventures in Hi Fi and it is simply one of the most amazing songs ever written.  His voice on the record is so pained, so raw, and the piano provides such comfort and support.  Unfortunately, this is one of the few songs of theirs that I do not like live all that much. There's too much shouting in the live version. I hate the way he sings "motel BOY." Yes, even Stipe is fallible (Stand, Underneath the Bunker, Shiny Happy People, the evidence is out there, people), but it is unfortunate that I can't find a live version that does justice to this song. On the album, it's a more delicate song. Click here for the original song.  The chorus is so beautiful, it's almost hidden in the over-the-top loudness of the live venue. At least at the end, when the instruments cut out, you get a sense of the real power of the song. It just grabs me so fast, so numb, that I can't even feel.


Electrolite
With Mike Mills' lovely piano playing backing Michael Stipe's singing and lines like "you might eclipse the moon tonight" it is somewhat of a love song, if only directed to Hollywood and the last century. Living in LA and knowing Stipe wrote it after living here and experiencing one of our earthquakes, makes it just a little bit more special to me.





Walk Unafraid
I love the vulnerability of the lyrics. This live version of the song from their album Up only amplifies how exposed he is as he opens up to us about his struggles in life. I'm reminded of the Hulk, as he tears open his clothes to release his pent-up rage.  Here he is willing to share with the listener the real person underneath the facade and encourage us to do the same. But, aside from the empowering lyrics, you have another example of R.E.M.'s subtle musical brilliance. That combination from earlier -- percussive and forceful, gentle and comforting -- is a hallmark of the R.E.M. sound. Celebrate the contradiction.


I'll Take the Rain
From the album Reveal, this is an anthemic song that I have tried not to love. It seems a little manipulative, but if it is, then I've fallen for it. I'm a sucker -- for his voice, for the piano, for the lyrics.  I love the way the song builds, it just keeps adding layers till the big finish, "as birds take wing, they sing through life, so why can't we?"


Crazy
And a little extra, out of order chronologically, is this song. My favorite cover of theirs.  It's by another Athens, Georgia based alternative rock band from the early, early 80s, Pylon.  I love how Peter Buck sounds like he's playing dueling guitars.  The guy is very underrated; maybe if he ever broke out in a sweat people would realize that he's pretty damn good.


If you don't own any of the albums from which these songs originate, the highlighted titles are links to buy them.  You'll be glad you did.

Back from vacation plus Survivor Nicaragua, Episode 5

I was gone for a while, two Survivors in reality TV time.  Long enough to visit Amsterdam which either isn't as decadent as it's portrayed or I didn't see enough of the city to appreciate its sinfulness or living in Los Angeles has tainted my perception of debauchery.  But it is a gorgeous city.  Canals and bridges and quaint houses and Gothic architecture and girls in windows and lots of Bob Marley posters and, just out of the city, real towering windmills.



I'm not much of a foodie.  Don't get me wrong, I love food, but I'm not that picky and I'm not much of a connoisseur (in fact, the most impressive thing about my food knowledge is that I can spell connoisseur without looking it up).  But they have some banging cheese in Amsterdam.  Their slogan should be go for the porn and pot, stay for the cheese.

In Survivor news, I missed episode 5 also known as "Don't be that guy."  There were three instances of "that guy" on that episode.  First, you had Marty basically egging on Mark Burnett to mess with his game plan by asserting that he can see many weeks ahead and has it in the bag.  You don't give the master manipulator of reality TV lines like "I can't imagine anything going wrong," without expecting that immediately something will go terribly wrong.  But wait, there's more.  Over on the young'uns camp, we have NaOnka who also tempts the Survivor gods by proclaiming that her solid group of five "are controlling this game right now."

They didn't give the producers an option.  Even if they hadn't planned on reshuffling the tribe, when anyone claims that everything is going there way, it is mandated by the laws of reality TV that there be a shake up.  Hence, the ol' tribal switcheroo.  What was that you said, Jeff?  Oh, yeah, "Drop your buffs."  I heard that a lot in Amsterdam.

May we now have a moment of silence for the Medallion of Power.  That's long enough.  It should go the way of Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch as another lame example of blatant, clawing TV show desperation -- something Survivor should never feel, or at least never demonstrate.  If the show should become so stale the powers that be need to breathe new life into it by introducing something so inartfully named, so clunky and distracting, please just pull the plug. 

With the newly assembled teams, it was Tyrone's turn to show that those who forget the reality TV show past are condemned to repeat it.  Being bossy, trying to be a leader among people for whom leader is both figuratively and probably literally a four letter word (okay, maybe a couple of the youngsters can spell, but nothing as complicated as connoisseur), is a guarantee that you will not be sitting on the bottom row for the reunion show.  All Tyrone had to do was ask himself whatever happened to that tall, athletic young man who was leading the young tribe early on.  Even if he couldn't recall Shannon's name (and honestly how many could) he should have remembered that there was a younger version of him on that tribe who was immediately run out of camp.

Here's a clip of Tyrone Davis the day after, discussing his Survivor experience.


Next time on Survivor...Dan wants to go home (Dan, we've all wanted that for weeks), Marty tries to have a conversation with Fabio (Fabio, turn away from the shiny objects, I'm trying to talk to you) and there's another twist. Cousin Oliver, is that you?

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Interview with Casey James, Part 2

I spoke with Casey during that transition phase from American Idol contestant to recording artist.  It was a time for him to relax, refresh and reconnect with his "old life" before venturing out to begin his new one.  I wanted to chronicle his hopes and expectations as he was heading off to the great unknown and so much of the interview focused on what he was hoping for in the coming year.  The second part of the interview, then, involves a lot of his musings on his CD.

Here's a little extra for readers of this blog:  Since I was the one giving the interview, I did take a little advantage to discuss with Casey my opinions about some of his AI performances.  In fairness, he did ask,which impressed me -- he was interested in knowing how his performances were received and I think that's another sign of just how seriously he takes music.  So I told him that I thought Power of Love was possibly the worst song ever written and a horrible choice for the show.  He disagreed. “I like that song, i love that song. I did like the cadence of that song and the rhythm, I think it’s a powerful song, a lot of people hate it. There you go, you don’t like it."

I also told him I wasn't that into Don't Stop and he thought I was a bit rough on that song as well, but admitted "I was so sick that day…it’s possible that’s what you were seeing.  I was literally deathly ill on that one. "  As for Blue Skies, he offered that he never would have volunteered to sing without his guitar but mentioned, as he has elsewhere, that he was a huge fan of Harry Connick, Jr. and Frank Sinatra and was happy to sing in that genre. In fact, he was disappointed that American Idol didn't require the contestants to sing more songs of different genres.
 
I went on to list Mrs. Robinson, I Don't Want to Be, and You'll Think of Me as my picks for his best (and most underrated, by the judges, anyway) performances.  He liked those as well, for the record.

One other extra, just for my loyal blog readers: when he mentioned that the air in LA had caused some of his illness, I disagreed and told him that the air in LA is just fine.  His voice almost went into falsetto as he came back with, "Are you kidding me???!!!"  But then he admitted that upon returning to my fair city, it felt like coming home.

Here's the link to the interview.  Enjoy.
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5905668/exclusive_interview_with_casey_james.html?cat=2

One of Casey's twitter fans made the following YouTube of the newly discovered pre-Idol song "She" which Casey and his mom Debra apparently performed on a local radio show.  Here it is.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bullying

Bullying has become a hot topic of late and, with all hot topics, it's likely to stay on the radar for another week or two and then be replaced by the next big thing.  We can't let that happen, because whether it's a front page story or not, bullying is a painful reality of life for many kids and its effect, from low self-esteem to suicide, is permanently damaging.

The stories that have brought this issue to the forefront recently have mostly involved gay teens targeted by classmates for scorn and ridicule for having the audacity to be themselves.  But bullying also affects kids who have committed other infractions against the norm by being too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too...something that one person or one group has decided is worthy of mocking.

We all remember how it was in middle and high school.  Blending in was the best approach unless you could excel in a socially accepted way such as sports or attractiveness.  Winning a poetry contest or being the best tuba player was not the ticket to acceptance.  And, no matter what you may think, humans are social creatures and want to be accepted.  We want to fit in and when it's pointed out to us that we don't, it's an enormous blow.  To be excluded from the group, to be singled out as on the outside, hits us at our very core. We want to belong, we need to belong.  Bullying tells us that we don't. We have failed in our most basic job as a human.

Is it any wonder why some kids see no way out other than suicide?  Kids in particular do not have the ability to see life in perspective.  There is today and tomorrow, but there is no years and years from now.  So telling them this too shall pass means nothing.  They are suffering right now and that's all they know and they want the suffering to end right now.  I'm not against the "it'll get better" campaign because it does send a good, true, and hopeful message.  But when you're in the throes of abuse, when you are afraid to fall asleep because the next day will just bring more of the same, hearing that some time off in the future things will change may not be enough.  You don't have that kind of time.  Tomorrow will not be better, you believe with all your aching heart.  So you stop the suffering now.

I am not going to lie to you and tell you I have the answer.  If I did, I wouldn't be writing this post, I'd be calling a national press conference to let everyone know.  I'm writing this instead because the stories I've read have broken my heart and knowing that there are so many more similar stories out there is impossible to take.  I want to believe we can all do something to change it.  They say the first step in combating a problem is recognizing it.  So putting the spotlight on bullying can help.  We can at least identify a problem we can all agree upon.

Whoever created the saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" was never bullied.  Words hurt, they cut to the bone.  You hear the same ones too often, you take them on as your identity.  When you are told too many times that you are "less than," you believe it.  Especially with a child's still developing brain, the messages received become imprinted until you don't have a choice. You are what the bullies say you are and each day you live they'll remind you of that.  Either live with the torment ringing in your ears, or find a way to end it.

Some might think that we're exaggerating childhood bullying.  Kids should toughen up, they'll say.  It's a rough world and we shouldn't coddle them.  They need to learn how to fight back be strong.  I'll give them a small quote from the mother of Eric Mohat, who shot himself after being victimized by bullying at school:  "They flicked his ear, they pushed him into lockers, they called him gay, fag. The bullies went up to him and said, 'Why don't you go home and shoot yourself? It's not like anyone would care.'"  It's not coddling to say no one should have to be treated that way. 

Students verbally abusing other students is wrong and the offense should be treated as if it were a serious physical attack.  Kids don't all have to get along, but they have to treat each other using the Golden Rule.  Yep, this atheist just mentioned religion.  And suggested it be taught in schools.  Each school should have a clear, no bullying policy.  Bullying should be spelled out -- verbally or physically attacking another for a perceived difference.  No hate speech should be permitted.  The bully should be suspended immediately from school, counseled on their violation, then returned under strict supervision.  Second offense, expulsion.  The bullied child should have their parents immediately notified, counseling offered, and requested accommodations fulfilled (transfer to another school, homeschooling).  Those who stand by while bullying is going on should be held accountable to the same extent as the bullies.  Criminal fines should be written into the law and levied against the parents after they have been notified of a first offense.

Now that the litigious side of me has had its say, let's look at what else we can do.  We can as parents try to raise loving, accepting, tolerant children.  That's not as hard as it seems since children do, to a large extent, model what they see and hear.  If you demonstrate the right way to treat people and show them what to do if someone is being treated unfairly, they will follow.  Next, treat your children well.  Seems simple enough, yet, sadly, not all parents do this.  Many bullies come from homes where they are bullied themselves and, in an old story, the abused becomes the abuser.  Stopping the cycle of abuse is crucial.  Raise your kids to be strong and confident.  If they see something wrong, we want them to have the fortitude and willingness to speak out about it.  Bullies are encouraged not only by people who agree with them, but by those who remain silent.  Keep the lines of communication open.  Let your children know they can tell you anything without repercussions.  Support them and believe them.  If they are having trouble with a bully, don't think "this is a great learning experience" or "they may be exaggerating" or "this will blow over."  What seems trivial to you as a grown up is monumental to a kid.  Remember how every little thing seemed so much bigger when you were so much smaller.

There's so much we can do and so much the schools can do and so much the politicians can do, yet it may never be enough.  And that is the saddest part of taking this on.  The suicide that brought this story into all of our hearts and minds, Tyler Clementi, was not a young child or someone stuck in high school hell.  He was a smart and talented college student at a large urban school with an active LGBT community who knew his whole life was ahead of him.  Yet the shocking invasion of his privacy and the ridicule and humiliation of having an intimate encounter publicly aired was too much even for him. 

Smalltown Boy
Bronski Beat

"Pushed around and kicked around
Always a lonely boy
You were the one
That they'd talk about around town
As they put you down

And as hard as they would try
They'd hurt to make you cry
But you never cried to them
Just to your soul
No you never cried to them
Just to your soul"



Jeremy
Pearl Jam

"Clearly I remember picking on the boy
seemed a harmless little f**k"

Lee DeWyze's First Post-American Idol Single -- Sweet Serendipity

From the low point in American Idol winner songs, the unfortunately titled, "Do I Make You Proud?" released by Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks, to the blink-and-you'll-miss-it release by last year's winner (quick, what's his name?  Nope, not Adam) Kris Allen, there have been some major misfires by the brain trust at Sony.  But upon first listen, newly-crowned Season 9 winner Lee DeWyze's first single does not suck.

In fact, it is unexpected and quite catchy.  Having suffered through Off Key Lee's pained attempts at finding the right notes on American Idol, my expectations were low.  I knew he had a good tone to his voice and that his rough-hewn vocals had shown a lot of promise at times throughout American Idol.  But, I expected a generic Creed song, faux rock, lots of pained anguish and schmaltz.

Instead, Lee's first single sounds like a Jason Mraz song.  Bouncy, peppy, upbeat -- none of the adjectives that usually spring to mind when you think of Gloomy Gus.  It's a brilliant idea.  Reinvent him and have him fill the niche of the light and breezy, grab a Mai Tai and chill, male pop singers.  There's no grunting and groaning, no sound like he's passing a kidney stone, just a happy little ditty.  I can't get the chorus out of my head and I've only heard it the one time. 

My only one complaint about the song is its title.  Sweet Serendipity??  Obviously, this was not vetted, run past any focus group, or researched in the slightest.  I think the only word in the English language less in use than "serendipity" is "kismet." Was Zippity Doo Dah also in the running?  Coincidink?  Faith and Begora!  I don't get it.

I googled serendipity and found it was the name of an NYC eatery that opened in 1954.  The last year that word was cool. 

Putting the awful title aside, here's a link to the song.  http://mjsbigblog.com/lee-dewyze-sweet-serendipity-single-debuts-on-ryan-seacrest-show.htm

What should be heartening to fans of American Idol and its contestants is that this song shows that the powers that be are not trying to just cash in on the AI brand but actually thinking about what type of record each contestant should put out to give them the best chance of success.  Let's hope this continues!

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Interview with Casey James

I had the opportunity to speak with Casey James a little over a week ago, as he was relaxing back in Ft. Worth.  Having chronicled much of his career in this blog and elsewhere, it was a conversation I had looked forward to.  Unfortunately, I was not able to finish the interview.  As you might imagine, this is a very busy time for Casey as he begins this new chapter in his life. It was nice to catch him in relative repose, with his dogs around him, just talking about music.

So, here's the link to part one.   There's more from that hour-and-a-half conversation for a part two, which I'll get out shortly.  I also hope I'll be getting another chance to talk with Casey after he settles into his new home away from home. In the meantime, here is Casey before he headed off to Nashville.

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5871082/exclusive_casey_james_interview_part.html?cat=2

And here's the picture his mom tweeted with the line up of guitars that are making the trip with him.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Imagine John Lennon at 70

Unfortunately, that is all we can do.  Wonder what the musical landscape and the world would look like if John Lennon were alive to celebrate his 70th birthday tomorrow.  Maybe I overstate his importance, maybe, like any true believer, I imbue him with almost supernatural powers.  But as we learned thirty years ago, Lennon was mortal, flesh and bones, not a deity, not a super hero, just a man with a gift that he shared with us for a short time.

I've had a hard time even looking back on Lennon over these now three decades.  It's as if the wound is still too raw to touch.  So I haven't read the most recent books or watched the most recent movies.  I find it easier not to think about him being gone.  But on milestones like this one, it's hard to ignore.  So, since words fail me when I try and talk about what Lennon meant to me, I'll resort to a bit of a cop out.  Here are some of my favorite songs of his.

I know others might list Imagine first and I'm sure they love the message in that uplifting song.  But not me.  I like the biting Lennon edge in this song much more. Yet, he still conveyed a positive message, no matter how pissed he might have been when he wrote the song.

"Why in the world are we here? Surely not to live in pain and fear."


Yoko Ono has polarized people since she first burst onto the international scene. But she inspired John and he loved her and that's good enough for me. This may seem like a simple song, musically, lyrically, but I think it's one of the most beautiful love songs ever written as much for its simplicity as the unbridled joy.

"My love will turn you on."


Lennon was the everyman, born of humble beginnings, raised not by his parents but by his strict aunt, in a working class neighborhood of Liverpool. He was too smart for his own good, too artsy, too talented. He didn't fit it. But he found others if not like him at least with whom he could share something. A yearning for something more. I don't know of any song that better expresses what it is to be human.

"they hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool"


I'm thrilled to add this video.  Lennon looking young, with that twinkle in his eye.  His vocals were amazing, gravelly, sexy, yet gentle. I don't know how he managed the duality, the sweet and dangerous, the innocent and the impish. He could have been a movie star, the camera loved him.

"How could she say to me, love will find a way?"


Lennon's love songs have that something extra. They're never sappy or cliche, they're just raw emotion. So even with the cutesy music (is that a clavichord?), it still feels so real.

"i know I'll often stop and think about them"


Of course, there's a flip side to love. And in this song, Lennon touches on the complex feelings that can come up in any relationship. There's a reason this has been covered by so many, it is such an emotional song with a very uncensored admission of wrongdoing. For a gender not known for being open about feelings, Lennon gave them a song to lay it all out there.

"I was swallowing my pain"


This one is really hard to watch. Autobiographical, and sadly ironic, the song expresses Lennon's contentment with his life outside of rock. Whether the picture of the Mr. Mom was accurate or not, the message of someone stepping out of the public eye and enjoying the simpler things rang true. The shocking fact that the minute he stepped back into "the game" he was taken down by an assassin's bullet makes this song so wrenching.

"surely you're not happy now, you're no longer playing the game"


I could go on forever. I hope people take tomorrow's anniversary as an excuse to look back at all his songs both during and post Beatles. There's so much there, it's hard to imagine someone so gifted walked the earth. And it's hard to imagine he never will again.  Imagine...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Introducing New Artist: Tamar Kaprelian

Living in LA means everyone you know is either in the entertainment industry or one degree of separation from it (we don't need all six out here). For some time my hair dresser has been telling me about her friend, whose name I would conveniently forget each visit much in the same way that my stylist has to look up my last name each and every time I go in there! But I was never curious enough to look up her friend or to write her name down.

Today she mentioned that her friend's album was finally released. Then she asked me if I was familiar with American Idol. Well, just a little. Apparently her friend was on a showcase with Lee DeWyze last week and my stylist did his hair. Small, small world. For the record, she thought Lee sounded good, a little like John Mayer.

After her telling me for the thousandth time how good her friend is, I decided to take a listen. And...she was right. This is her first single, New Day. Apparently it'll be showcased on The Hills (or already has been, I'm out of the loop as far as that show is concerned).



And in case you think her sound is all smoke and mirrors (hey, there are some wizards out there who manage to make Taylor Swift sound good on record), here's an acoustic version of the same song:


She does remind me a bit of Haley Williams from Paramore, but that's not a bad thing. I love her voice as well.

Here's Tamar in the video for Purified.


Her first album is Sinner or a Saint. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Survivor Nicaragua Episode 4 -- Bullying, not just for High School anymore

This was possibly one of the worst hours of TV ever.  On one tribe we have a girl who obsesses about a competitor's prosthetic leg and cannot stop from making disparaging comments about it.  On another tribe we have grown men who tear down another man, bring him to tears, force him to give in, and then kick him out.  Rather than letting him leave with his dignity, they took it first, then showed him the exit.

I don't know what went wrong with casting this year, but there are now two types of contestants on the show.  Boring and hateful.  Doesn't give you a lot to cheer for.

On the old tribe, Jimmy T was happy to have sent Jimmy Johnson out the door and was looking for a little respect.  But Marty was not having any of that.  It doesn't matter to him if Jimmy catches fish or helps around the camp or has his heart in the right place or wants the tribe to do well.  No.  He didn't like Jimmy and Jimmy isn't part of his masterplan, so he had to go.  Let's ignore the 180 pound elephant in the room -- Hi, Dan!  How're the knees?  Can't run in mud?  Guess what, all they have in Nicaragua apparently is mud.

Okay, fine, if they wanted to get rid of the healthier, stronger, more helpful, more agile guy in favor of someone who is funny and gets along with everyone, more power to them.  But DO NOT ask for concessions from the guy you're about to vote out, get them, then still vote him out.  DO NOT make him cry as he promises to be a good little soldier, and take a back seat, and otherwise humble himself in front of you., and then still vote him out.  Not cool.

This is how tribal council played out.  The BMOC, Marty, and his fellow challenger for homecoming king, Tyrone, ganged up on the outcast.  The uncool guy who said the wrong things, and acted the wrong way and who they didn't want in their clique.  They mocked him and humiliated him and forced him to abase himself on national television.  And we wonder where kids learn about bullying??

Also not cool, the Bully of the young tribe.  NaOnka.  She hates Kelly because she has an artificial leg.  In what twisted world view would that make any sense?  Oh, yeah, the Third Reich!  Well, congratulations NaOnka, you're in great company.  You have nothing against this girl other than the fact that she has overcome a birth defect with the help of technology.  You make Paris Hilton seem deep.

It's one thing to cast someone as a villain.  I get that, you need the tension,  you need to get the audience involved.  But allowing the program to become a showcase for the worst human traits is not entertainment.  It's a psychological study that is upsetting to watch.  I think I'll rewatch Glee.

Finding My True Religion -- R.E.M.

Every so often we all need to be reminded of what it really important. I'm not talking friends and family, if you're not aware of that you have a lot of introspection ahead of you. No, I'm talking about musically. My blog, it has come to my attention repeatedly, has been a little too focused with a burgeoning, incipient talent and not enough focused on the greatest rock and roll band in the history of the U.S. So, I'll try to make amends.

Last night, Glee spotlighted the R.E.M. song Losing My Religion. I applaud every effort to remind the U.S. audiences about this revolutionary band who defied labels and stereotypes and the rapidly changing taste of the public to make the best music out there for the past 25+ years. But having a lightweight with no emotional core sing that song was a bit of an insult as well. Yesterday I posted the original, and much lauded, video so you could hear the original vocals and see the glaring difference.

While surfing the web for my R.E.M. fix today, I found this at the Murmurs forum:
Losing My Religion demo (1990) by murmurs

I love hearing the creative process at work.

So, why R.E.M.?  What is it about them that makes them the best, most important band ever? And why were the experts on VH1, who slotted them at #71 below ABBA for crying out loud, so wrong?

Let's start with their unpredictability, category defying oeuvre.  Who else has the range of songs that they have?  Who else can move so effortlessly from country to folk to rock, taking on themes from love and family to politics and the world?  Who has found the worldwide acceptance and held it for so long by being so hard to define?

Here are some possibly lesser-known songs that will demonstrate how an R.E.M. song will sound like no one else, yet be totally different from another in their catalog:





...explain the change, the difference between...





To be continued...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

When Worlds Collide -- Glee takes on [Losing My] Religion

Today we look at what happens when one of my favorite TV shows takes on my favorite band.

This is the time of the week when I'd start raising my expectations about the upcoming Glee episode.  I love this show even when, like last week, I thought it aired a subpar episode.  There's something so gutsy and yet galling about this show.  It's one big infomercial for the upcoming Glee CD and yet it is so full of talent that you find it hard to fault them for the hard sell.  When the show's third back-up singing female Brittany (don't call me Britney) S. Pierce comes across with such powerful vocals as she did last week, and the second fiddle Mercedes has a voice that would cause people to throw flowers at her feet just for clearing her throat, you know the talent runs deep. 

But none of the female singers, no matter how good, can compete with Rachel.  I may find her grating and over-the-top, but her voice is heaven-sent.  Sit back and be wowed with how Rachel can out-Stresisand, Streisand with "Papa, can you hear me?" She can take on an icon and wipe the cafeteria floor with her. I don't know that there is a female vocalist out there who has such a perfect voice. 
Sadly, the vocal talent is a bit more shallow on the male side of the pool.  Artie is a decent faux rapper and Puck has such a raw sensuality that you forgive him his less than Groban-esque vocal power.  Mr. Shuster is a very good singer, but there's something creepy and needy about his character stealing the limelight from the kids.  Kurt is by far the best male singer, a perfect example of his crystal clear, impeccable vocals is in last night's heartfelt take on the Beatles' I Want to Hold Your Hand.   
http://www.hulu.com/watch/181761/glee-grilled-cheesus

Unfortunately, like Mercedes, Kurt is relegated to second fiddle on the show and his higher vocal range may limit the songs he gets.

That leaves the supposed lead male, Finn.  But his voice is as thin as Quinn's post-natal waist.  Giving him the task of covering R.E.M.'s seminal Losing My Religion on tonight's episode is like arming a lion tamer with a toothpick.   He is totally outmatched.  His phrasing, tone, even breath control are all off.  I think the song should sue for lack of support.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uQ6sKhjD5Q

Finn doesn't have the voice, he doesn't have the emotion, he doesn't have the finesse to take on what seems a simple tune but isn't. Just listen to the original if you want to hear how to sell a song.  I know it's not a fair comparison, there really is no one who can outsing Michael Stipe.  But sad, dopey puppy dog expressions do not compensate for a lackluster singing voice.

This wouldn't bother me so much if he were abusing some other song, but this is R.E.M.  This is not just any band and not just any song, it is the most important American band ever and it was the song that catapulted them into the national spotlight (just like in the song!).  You don't put a mustache on the Mona Lisa and you don't mar the musical perfection that is Michael Stipe.  Just listen to this --

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=if-UzXIQ5vw&feature=browch

Put Glee on mute and play that clip during Finn's song.  Then enjoy the rest of this episode which will no doubt be earning a few Emmys next year.  I don't know when I've laughed and cried as much in one hour period and felt as strongly connected to characters on a TV screen.  The writers wrote the believers and the skeptics so lovingly, so fairly, that there was no agenda to the show other than love.  Who says there's nothing good on television?

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Casey James Band

With the announcement that the Casey James Band was now listed on the BNA roster, questions have swirled about the band. Since it was formed in 2008, it has been a trio, lead by Casey on guitar and lead vocals, with his brother Billy Cole on bass and background vocals, and Jacy McCann playing drums. Their sound, according to BC, was the same type of hybrid music that Casey was known for as an American Idol contestant – a little blues, a little country, a little rock. But it wasn’t the band that went on American Idol, just its lead singer-guitarist. He was the one Sony Nashville signed to a record contract. Still, the name on the artist roster is not Casey James, but The Casey James Band.


So who will be in the Casey James Band?

There has been no information disseminated as to the composition of the band to date. Fans have wondered, will the group continue to be a trio? That seems highly unlikely.  While a trio is the perfect size for a blues band, Billy explained that the size of the band was more a function of not finding another reliable guitarist than anything else. So they don’t seem to be locked into a three-person format. But, whatever its size, will it include the same original members?

While there has been no formal announcement as to who will be part of the Casey James Band, it would be a surprise if BC were not standing next to his brother, bass in hand, as he was this past May at Casey's homecoming visit to the Keys Lounge.

Casey James and BC James at the Keys Lounge
Billy Cole has been playing with Casey since Casey picked up a guitar in his early teens and has been an integral part of Casey’s two previous eponymous bands. We also know, as I’ve learned from my many interviews with BC, that he, like his younger brother, is quite knowledgeable and passionate about music. 

Billy had picked up the bass before Casey even started playing guitar. He was about 17 at the time, Casey would have been 10 or so.  Billy had started out playing the guitar, but soon switched instruments.  Back then, nearly everyone BC knew was playing guitar -- family members and friends from school -- and it seemed to him that if he played bass he could play with everyone.

Because of their nearly seven-year age difference, for a while he “was waiting for Brother” to be old enough to start playing with him.  At first, they played with their mother, Debra "Bybee" James, playing mostly folk music.  Eventually, the two set out to form a band where they could play the type of music they wanted, "mostly blues, classic rock, some country," music with a harder edge. Finding a good drummer was hard, but keeping one proved even harder.

Eventually they found a drummer, Bryan Lepard, and they recorded a few songs under the name Casey James and Crossover. BC wrote or co-wrote about half the songs they recorded. Their sound was an amalgamation of Texas blues, rock and country, not surprising for a band of brothers whose two main musical influences growing up were bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan and country’s Merle Haggard.

Billy counts among his biggest influences on the bass Stevie Ray Vaughan’s bassist Tommy Shannon. “He played with everybody. He’s a bad man,” joked Billy. “That’s who I took my bass stylings after. “ Billy is also influence by bassists Noel Redding, from Hendrix’s band, and John Paul Jones of Led Zepplin. And he continues to be influenced by and learn from other bassists. “Recently, I’ve discovered, through Casey, Pino Palladino. He is like Tommy Shannon but way more technical. He played with John Mayer, he’s played with everybody. He has that James Jamerson feel, that old Motown sound - funky without having to do that slap and pop.”  I didn't know what "slap and pop" was, but BC is a patient tutor and talked me through a brief history of the various styles of bass playing. 

Since he and Casey were usually in a trio (first with Lepard, later with their current drummer McCann), BC studied the techniques used by Shannon and Redding who each played in a similar musical format. As BC explained it, “From them, I learned how to fill space.” In the rare occasion when they had an extra guitarist sit in, BC enjoyed getting to do something a little extra like John Paul Jones or the bassists in Lynyrd Skynyrd or Black Sabbath. “Doing leads on the bass, getting to cut loose. You’re not so bound to just carry the rhythm, you can do more” when there are more musicians playing together.

But keeping the rhythm, being solid, is what BC has done for Casey since they started playing together. I asked Billy if he’s ever been part of another band, and he said quite emphatically now. Billy has only ever wanted to play with his brother. “I don’t want to play with anyone else. There’s no one else on planet earth I want to play with. Basically, I just had to wait for him. Being a bass player, I’ve had lots of offers for jobs, but I didn’t want to play with anyone else.”

In one of our first conversations, BC explained his role as Casey’s bassist. “My whole point in being is to provide Casey with a bigger launching pad in order to make him sound better. To fill as much of the back space as I can.” Then, he added a line that has stuck with me ever since as reflective of their strong bond both as bandmates and as brothers, “That’s why I’m sucking air here.”