Posts filed under “Friday Night Jazz”
I just learned that one of my favorite bands, R.E.M., is coming up on the 25th anniversary of their breakout album, Lifes Rich Pageant. It is getting the full Expanded & Remastered treatment, according to Paste.
The band‘s groundbreaking fourth album, Lifes Rich Pageant re-release date is July 12, the album’s 25th anniversary. A special 2-disc edition will feature a digitally remastered version of the original album plus 19 previously unreleased demo recordings.
The album recorded by vocalist Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry was R.E.M.’s first Gold record, reaching #21 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. It included the hit singles Fall On Me and Superman.
I was a huge R.E.M. fan in grad school, and their first few albums were enormously powerful and influential on me personally. It was one of the first examples a younger me realized you could go on your own path and still be successful.
Most of you young’uns probably are familiar with the band’s later bigger commercial hits — “Losing My Religion, Shiny Happy People, Everybody Hurts, Stand, etc.” That stuff is all good for what it is — better than most of the pop on the radio at the same time, anyway.
You may not realize that R.E.M. was the original alternative rock band. Their first album, 1983′s Murmur, transformed the post-punk, underground college-rock era into brand new genre: What you take for granted as alternative rock was essentially created out of whole cloth by R.E.M. way back then. Its oin my top, 100 list.
For those of you who only know their latter, shiny happy, pop stuff, delve into this seminal, influential band’s best work — these 4 albums; Genius that way lay.
A little context: In 1983, the US Stock market had just awoken from a 16 year slumber. Reagan was President, polyester had not yet gone away. The movie Saturday Night Fever was still relatively fresh in people’s minds, and there was plenty of Disco on the air, along with Journey, Boston, and Foreigner. It was a simple, if uglier time.
Along comes R.E.M., from of all places Athens, GA. Murmur broke boundaries, and literally created a new musical genre. The sound lay somewhere between the jangling guitar work of ’60s bands (Beatles, Byrds), with a drive that was not unlike later bands (Clash, Elvis Costello).
The original versions of Murmur and Reckoning are $7.97. (About time the music industry started to price discs dynamically, especially on artists’ back catalogues). They are probably a decade too late, and have already lost a generation of CD buyers.
R.E.M. was overtly political. Their songs were barbed attacks on the status quo, hidden beneath hauntingly beautiful melodies, arcane lyrical language, driving drumbeats, jangly guitars, and
mumbled vocals. It was a completely idiosyncratic approach, but it worked well.
What stood out most of all were their collections of
songs, alternatively beautiful and compelling. Dramatic structures, majestic melodies, lush vocal harmonies and somewhat archaic language combined for a unique sound.
The band became a critical darling, and sold increasingly well. Each subsequent album sharpened the band’s focus, and saw their writing become increasingly layered and complex, culminating in the tight, driving rock of Document. This was the album that catapulted R.E.M. from college radio favorites to mainstream stardom — and with good cause, too. It also marked their critical (but not their commercial) peak.
A WSJ piece noted the commercial decline:
“It has been a long, slow fade for a band that came to be known both as one of the founders of alternative rock and one of the genre’s most bankable names. Its 1996 contract turned out to be the high-water mark of a five-year frenzy of wildly expensive superstar contracts across the music industry, whipped up by interlabel bidding wars and CD sales’ seemingly boundless potential for growth. Most of these deals, such as Sony Music’s $60 million contract with Michael Jackson in 1991, and Virgin’s $70 million 1996 pact with his sister Janet, proved overly optimistic about the commercial prospects of artists who were past their prime.”
That sound about right. None of these artists have since achieved any level of their former commercial — or critical — success.
Must Own Albums:
• Murmur (1983)
• Reckoning (1984)
• Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
• Document (1987)
Hey, its a special Saturday night edition of Friday Night Jazz! I mentioned Vaughn Trapp’s terrific first release, Amerika, back in 2006. I loved the rich, Beatles-like melodies and topical lyrics.(Hear it at Yahoo Music; review here). Now, Vaughn Trapp has released a new album called “Songs Of The Great Depression.” You can stream it…Read More
Its that time: We present our annual “Different Kind of Music List” for 2010; If you missed prior versions, then here’s the deal with what makes this list different: There are lots of Best of Lists out there, but most of them aren’t relevant to real people, i.e. adults (a group I have only recently…Read More
I went to a delightfully quirky pop/jazz show last night — Rickie Lee Jones at Westbury, NYCB Theatre (12/09/10).
I say quirky because of The Duchess of Coolsville’s music is genre bending — bluesy, boozey, laid back, smokey, jazz pop songs of great beauty and delicacy, held improbably together by that distinctively different voice of hers. She sports a vocal range that careens from 10 year old girl to scat impresario to deep, powerful blues singer.
Jones has had a surprising run of hit singles, despite her eclectic jazz style. 1979′s “Chuck E.’s in Love,” hit #4 on the Billboard charts (Young Blood” was the other single from the first album, Rickie Lee Jones); Her next album, Pirates spawned 3 hit singles: “A Lucky Guy,” “Pirates (So Long Lonely Avenue),” and “Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking.” Later singles include “The Real End” (1984), “Satellites” (1989), and “Old Enough” (2009)
Her music is lovely and complex, and they were performed loosely by a 7 piece ensemble. At the show I went to, Jones got her best known pop tune, Chuck E’s in Love, out of the way quickly, playing it first, then settled down to an evening of outstanding (albeit somewhat sedate) music. Alternating between an acoustic guitar and a grand piano, she proceeded to play the best of her first two albums (Rickie Lee Jones, and Pirates) practically in sequence.
If you like female jazz vocalists flavored with a dollop of pop, these first two discs are gems. I own nearly RLJ’s full catalog. I was pleasantly surprised by her most recent outing, Balm in Gilead.
Last night, I recall hearing: Chuck E’s In Love, On Saturday Afternoons In 1963, Night Train, Young Blood, Easy Money, The Last Chance Texaco, Danny’s All-Star Joint, Coolsville, Weasel And The White Boys Cool, Company, After Hours, We Belong Together, Living It Up, Skeletons, Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking, Pirates (so long lonely avenue), A Lucky Guy, Traces of the Western Slopes, The Returns.
I would love to get the actual concert set list . . .
The official Rickie Lee Jones Website
Videos – including a few from last night’s show — are after the jump
I have no idea how a magazine subscription to Rolling Stone started coming to the house — probably a freebie associated with something else I bought on Amazon. (It goes straight to the bathroom magazine rack).
The cover this month has Keith Richards on the cover, discussing his new autobiography, Life.
Last weekend, I started thumbing through the excerpt . . . and I was completely engrossed, reading until my legs fell asleep. I immediately ordered it in hardcover.
I can’t wait to read it . . .
“It’s funny, gossipy, profane and moving and by the time you finish it you feel like you’re friends with Keith Richards.”
Interview with Richards on NPR Radio and on CBS TV after the jump.
David Fricke, Rolling Stone: “One of the greatest rock memoirs ever….The title of Richards’ book is a simple, accurate description on the contents: the 66-year-old guitarist’s highs, lows and death-defying excesses, from birth to now, vividly related in his natural pirate-hipster cadence and syntax….Life is ultimately two stories: one of music, misbehaviour and survival; the other a fond, perplexed, sometimes outraged telling of Richards’ life with Jagger, including their battles over control and the destiny of their band.”
Here’s from NYT review:
“For legions of Rolling Stones fans, Keith Richards is not only the heart and soul of the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band, he’s also the very avatar of rebellion: the desperado, the buccaneer, the poète maudit, the soul survivor and main offender, the torn and frayed outlaw, and the coolest dude on the planet, named both No. 1 on the rock stars most-likely-to-die list and the one life form (besides the cockroach) capable of surviving nuclear war.
Halfway through his electrifying new memoir, “Life,” Keith Richards writes about the consequences of fame: the nearly complete loss of privacy and the weirdness of being mythologized by fans as a sort of folk-hero renegade.
“I can’t untie the threads of how much I played up to the part that was written for me,” he says. “I mean the skull ring and the broken tooth and the kohl. Is it half and half? I think in a way your persona, your image, as it used to be known, is like a ball and chain. People think I’m still a goddamn junkie. It’s 30 years since I gave up the dope! Image is like a long shadow. Even when the sun goes down, you can see it.”
By turns earnest and wicked, sweet and sarcastic and unsparing, Mr. Richards, now 66, writes with uncommon candor and immediacy. He’s decided that he’s going to tell it as he remembers it, and helped along with notebooks, letters and a diary he once kept, he remembers almost everything. He gives us an indelible, time-capsule feel for the madness that was life on the road with the Stones in the years before and after Altamont; harrowing accounts of his many close shaves and narrow escapes (from the police, prison time, drug hell); and a heap of sharp-edged snapshots of friends and colleagues — most notably, his longtime musical partner and sometime bête noire, Mick Jagger.”
Rolling Stone Photos
Life By Keith Richards with James Fox
Illustrated. 564 pages. Little, Brown & Company.
Keith Richards Website
The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards Looks Back At ‘Life’
NPR, A October 25, 2010
I saw the original Pink Floyd The Wall concert at Nassau Coliseum back in 1980. Floyd played something like 8 shows between Nassau Coliseum and Los Angeles. I always assumed that The Wall would show its age over time, and surprisingly, that isn’t really the case. What was an quasi-autobiographical discussion of a single person’s…Read More
Two months ago, I asked a simple question: What are the 5 best unknown, unheard Rock albums ?
The question generated 100s of comments overnight; anyone looking to discover some great new music is advised to sift thru the laundry list of suggestions.
As promised, I am going to share my list this evening. Before my reveal, a quick note about those qualifiers: In order to make this exercise have some resonance, we had to limit the musical universe:
-Rock/Pop was the standard idiom. Jazz, Classical, World, Folk Hip Hop and Electronica are so diverse and have so many back waters and eddies, huge swaths of it seem unknown (I say that as a serious Jazz fan).
-Modern era (1985 to 2010) We could have gone further back in time, but that ran the risk of simply being unknown due to age, versus true obscurity. (We saw examples of that in comments).
-I kept it to 5 for simple reasons of focus (and crowd control).
There are lots great bands that have relatively unheard great albums, but have a major hit single. These are usually so well known that they didn’t qualify. Examples include the Fountains of Wayne album Welcome Interstate Managers — “Stacy’s Mom” was a huge hit, but the rest of the album was overlooked; so to with Dada‘s debut disc Puzzle — they had a giant single in “Dizz Knee Land,” the rest of the album was just as strong, but overlooked. I had a hard time omitting a few Reggae discs, like One Tree or Yell Fire!. Jazz albums that could qualify as Pop are fine — think Jamie Cullum‘s breakout album Twentysomething, but it was too popular to not qualify.
Indeed, figuring out was too popular or too unknown was the biggest challenge. Few people ever heard of my first choice, but the last disc on the list is very well known — it just sold poorly and was heard even less.
In 2005, I wrote: Roman Candle’s debut is a joyful assortment of finely crafted pop tunes. If FM Radio didn’t suck, this is the sort of music you would be hearing on it right now. Finely crafted lyrics mated to delightful melodies delivered by a tight power pop five-some in a surprisingly slick production.
Like nearly all the discs on this list, this one is really good from start to finish.
Why didn’t you ever hear of these guys? Roman Candle hails from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and signed with an independent label. No payola, no Clearchannel — and no radio play.
Note: This was released under a new label as “The Wee Hours Review” but its mostly the same disc.
How to describe the well crafted, heartfelt songs on this album? Start with infectious melodies, slide reflective lyrics over that, mix in a little effervescent joy. The tunes range from melancholy ballads to joyous rock to pop perfection.
The band has 3 outstanding albums, but After the Party is my absolute favorite. I cannot figure out why the song “Drunk Is Better Than Dead” was not a huge radio smash (but as noted earlier, radio sucks).
This is a spectacular album, released as Steve McQueen in the UK, where it is well known. In the US, this Thomas Dolby-produced album is mostly unknown, hardly heard. And that is a shame, as it is a tour de force of song writing chops, clever lyrics, and brilliant music.
I don’t even know where to begin describing this. Paddy McAloon’s songwriting has been compared to Brian Wilson, and justly so. Each heart rending song of love and loss is harrowing, gorgeous, lovely. The lyrics are sly, full of wry irony. They grab you, and refuse to let go.
On the song Appetite:
Here she is with two small problems
And the best part of the blame
Wishing she could call him heartache
But it’s not a boy’s name
On Horsin’ Around, a song about unfaithfulness:
It’s me again; Your worthless friend (or foe)
I somehow let that lovely creature down
Horsin’ around, horsin’ around
Some things we check and double check (and lose)
I guess I let that little vow get lost
Forgettin’ the cost, forgettin’ the cost
On the song He’ll Have To Go, these lyrics always stood out:
Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let’s pretend that we’re together all alone
I’ll tell the man to turn the jukebox way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you
He’ll have to go (go, go go)
Every song is a brilliant combination of musical arrangement, melody, and lyrical genius. I cannot listen to this disc without thinking about loves lost in college, grad school and beyond.
Note: Faron, The opening song, is atypical of the rest of the disc. I always start with the 2nd song, Bonnie, and play it straight through, ending with Faron.
The Philosopher Kings mix soulful tunes with rock, jazz and R&B. Gerald Eaton’s distinctive vocals fit the original lyrics/Some people have called this disc urban jazz, I prefer to think of as an amalgam of pop, rock, soul, fink, layered with jazz instrumentation. Call it smoky vocal jazz with a rock sensibility.
Its wildly original, and every song on the album packs a punch.
The album earned the group a Juno Award nomination for Best R&B/Soul Recording of the Year.
• Freedy Johnston This Perfect World: Johnston’s gravelly soprano voice is perfectly suited to his bittersweet lyrics of heartbreak and loneliness. The music belies the lyrical angst, with bouncy chords and jangling guitars serving as the backdrop for exquisite melodies.
Johnston is known for the craftsmanship of his songs, and has been described as a “songwriter’s songwriter; In 1994, Rolling Stone named him “songwriter of the year”. A reviewer “Marries perfectly realized power-pop sensibility to skilled, literary writing chops” — and I see nothing to disagree with there.
This Album never broke into the Billboard charts, and the song Bad Reputation was a minor hit. Why this wasn’t a monster is beyond me: Every song is a perfectly crafted, radio friendly, little story.
I thought the band’s debut disc, The Magic Numbers, was the best new rock and roll release of 2005. I was astonished to learn the CD sold a mere 44,000 copies in the US. That’s astonishing to me, considering what a great CD it is.
The band is an amalgam of all sorts of oddities, but
the entire assemblage works surprisingly well. Two pairs of brother/sister teams (from Trinidad/New York/London), best described as “an unfashionable blend of soft country pop with Fifties and Sixties inflections.”
What I liked about it was the strong mix of rock and roll, summery guitars, laid over skiffle and country pop structures. It is spare and at the same time complex, flavored with an inflection of a1960s guitar band. Somehow, it all sounds very modern, via classic rock instruments — simply guitar bass drums — no synth. The songs are jangly, melodic and hook laden; the writing is outstanding. Lyrics and vocals reveal a tender vulnerability. I found the album very addictive — with each listen, you want to hear more . . .
OK, so my top 5 slipped to 6 – but I couldn’t leave out the last disc.
Runners Up after the jump . . .
“(Do The) Push and Pull (Part 1)” is a 1970 single by Rufus Thomas. This was the only number-one song for Thomas — Billboard Best Selling Soul Singles chart for two weeks in February 1971 — who hit the R&B chart in 1953.
Thomas also found some success with the Do The Funky Chicken, and Walking The Dog.
Recently, Stax came out with a new album, Stax Number Ones (which Amazon sells for $7.97). I was surprised that this Rufus Thomas single was not in the prior Stax collection. Its a perfect groove for getting ready to go out on a rainy Friday night:
(Do the) Push and Pull (Part 1) Rufus Thomas, Stax Number Ones
Lyrics, live performance, and full video after the jump . . .
I had an interesting discussion with a music buddy about some of the least popular, best discs of the past few decades. The challenge: Name 5 outstanding Rock and Roll albums that 90% of the music buying/downloading public are unfamiliar with. 3 rules: 1. Rock and Roll (including Pop)! No jazz, classical or world music…Read More
I mentioned the 40th anniversary of the remastered version of Exile on Main Street a few weeks ago. Lately, I have been listening to an awesome selection of Rolling Stone Cover albums. Having heard these songs over the course of 4 decades, a little freshening up can go a long way. These 4 albums present…Read More