Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bob Dylan's Top-Five Songs Beginning with "E"

1. “Every Grain of Sand” (1981). Unquestionably the fullest verbal flowering of Dylan’s Vineyard Fellowship Bible studies, the lyrics would be perfect if not for the flawed subject-verb agreement in the second line and the penultimate line of the sixth verse, which Dylan himself has been known to tamper with onstage. But I’ve always thought the song as a whole needed something a little more than four chords and the truth--not Steve Douglas’s soothingly ebbing sax, which it already has, but a maybe a faster or at least a more syncopated rhythm, anything to keep Dylan’s meditations from seeming so meditative. Still, it’s always helpful under any circumstances to be reminded that if you gaze into temptation’s angry flame, it gazes also into you.

2. “Everything Is Broken” (1989). Thank heaven for this song and its fellow upbeat rocker “Political World,” without which Oh Mercy’s meditations would’ve seemed too meditative as well. And it made for a rousing set-opener for a time in the early nineties, especially when both Ian Wallace and Winston Watson thwacking away. I’m partial to the line about “broken pipes” just now, as I’m still paying on a plumber bill. But usually I’m partial to the couplet that goes “Every time you leave and go off someplace, / Things fall to pieces in my face,” which swerves the song from the socio-political to the privately emotional almost as deftly as Joni Mitchell’s last-verse admission in “Big Yellow Taxi” that it’s really being left by her man and not DDT or paved parking lots that make her blue.

3. “Emotionally Yours” (1985). When Empire Burlesque was released, some people found this headlong plunge into learn-to-slow-dance romance too much to take. And in some ways it is: the synthesized horns, the Arthur Baker-shellacked production, the piling on of sweetheart clichés, the shortness of breath that forces Dylan to break his last “emotionally” into two words. But coming from a man who’d once written, “Love is all there is / It makes the world go ’round” and who’d once said, “The world is full of non-supporters and backbiters … [b]ut it’s also full of people who love you,” this song or at least one like it shouldn’t have been all that surprising (especially since one like it, “I‘ll Remember You,” occurred overdisc). Not too much to take no matter how you slice it: Mike Campbell’s movingly lovely guitar solo--and the radically transformed version that the O’Jays took to the R&B top ten the year during the last year of Dylan and Carolyn Dennis’s marriage.

4. “Eternal Circle” (1963). Slight but funny, and a rare instance of Dylan practicing the art of self-mockery for self-mockery’s sake. If the performer-smitten girl in the coffee-house crowd couldn’t wait through seven minutes of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” or the other “long” songs Dylan was performing at the time before bolting for greener pastures, imagine how nuts “Highlands” would’ve made her thirty-four years later.

5. “Enough Is Enough” (1984). If Dylan had written and performed more than five songs starting with E, this song would not be among the top five. But he didn’t, so it is. Not that it’s bad--in fact, it sounds a lot like the version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talkin’” that Dylan performed with members of the Cruzados on the David Letterman show a few months before debuting this song on the Real Live tour, so much so that for years I thought "Enough Is Enough" was “just” some old blues standard. And given Dylan’s history of love and theft, maybe it is.

(Bob Dylan's Top-Five Songs Beginning with "D":

Friday, July 30, 2010

Bob Dylan's Top-Five Songs Beginning with "D"

1. “Desolation Row” (1965). Simultaneously hilarious and sad in that off-the-cuff surrealistic way that came so easily to Dylan once he realized he was younger than that now. And unlike the slightly longer “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” he’d record one year later, this song’s images--thanks in no small part to Charlie McCoy’s acoustic-guitar filigrees--flow as naturally together as a river to the sea, and wherever those rivers go, you want to be. As with “Ballad of a Thin Man,” drugs might accelerate one’s access to exactly what, or at least where, Dylan thinks Desolation Row is, but they’re not necessary because the song itself is drugs enough. Besides, the best lines make more sense when received out from under the influence: “Everybody is making love / Or else expecting rain” is a pretty accurate description of the human condition. Eventually you discover that Dylan, by loading representatives of practically every category of mankind (real and imagined) into his ark, is telling us that Desolation Row is everything or at least everywhere--a perpetual dark-night-of-the-soul 3 A.M. And unlike “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” (and the dark night of the soul), when “Desolation Row” is over, you wish it weren’t.

2. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” (1963). The twenty-two-year-old Dylan delivers this restless farewell so succinctly that he sounds almost happy to be leaving his woman-child lover or at least convinced that she’s to blame. But a bounder who was really happy to be saying goodbye would write something along the lines of “This woman’s so crazy, I swear I ain't gonna touch another one for years,” not “Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say / To try and make me change my mind and stay.” And no cad who genuinely believed it was the woman-child’s fault would spend so much time trying to convince himself of it, especially with transparently insufficient arguments. “I give her my heart,” he sings, “but she wanted my soul.” Surely, Dylan must have known that when you fall in love, you fall in love heart and soul, the way a fool would do gladly. What he probably really didn’t want to give her was his money. As the oft-married (and oft-divorced) Harlan Howard once said, “The next time I feel like getting married, I’m just gonna find me a woman I don’t like and buy her a house.”

3. “Dignity” (1989). Interesting trait to write a song about. Most songwriters stick to variations on faith, hope, love, and getting’ rich or dyin’ tryin’. Not Dylan, though, for whom dignity clearly has nothing in common with either pride (cf. “Foot of Pride”) or grace (cf. "Saving Grace") and certainly not conceit (“Disease of Conceit”). Those you can find everywhere. Dignity, on the other hand, can’t be found anywhere--not in a cotton field, not at a murder scene, not in the pockets of chance, not at Mary Lou’s wedding, not in all F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books, and certainly not in yourself (or you’d never go searching high and low for it in the first place). So there’s really no need to hurry. Which is probably why the song, paced by Willie Green’s loping drums, doesn’t.

4. “Dear Landlord” (1968). Landlords--you can’t live with ’em and you can’t live without ’em. They punch your cigarette, strap you to a tree without roots, intrude when you’re in the darkness, and utter idle words with a reprobate mind. And that’s just what’s good about them. Judging from the defeated tone in his yearningly mournful vocal, Dylan seems to know as much. Or as he would later write, “Sometimes I think this whole world / Is one big prison yard / Some of us are prisoners / The rest of us are guards.” And later yet: Why our “hearts must have the courage for the changing” of the latter.

5. “Dirt Road Blues” (1997). One of the few songs on Time Out of Mind that you don’t have to be recovering from a hellish breakup to feel in your bones. It helps, of course, to have looked for the sunny side of love after rolling through the rain and hail and to have run away and hidden after not having found your “baby,” but no more so than to have prayed for salvation in a one-room country shack, put up barriers to keep yourself away from everyone, or sung in your chains like the sea. Anyway, what helps the most is the junkyard racket that Daniel Lanois got from his band of merry noisemakers and the way he made it echo like a hell storm.

(Top-Five Bob Dylan Songs Beginning with "C":

Bob Dylan's Top-Five Songs Beginning with "C"

1. “Changing of the Guards” (1978). In retrospect, this is a Jesus song. Not as much a Jesus song as “Señor” (about which more when I get to the S songs), but there he is--the Good Shepherd himself--right in the first verse, grieving away over the desperate as he is wont to do. Then he goes away for a few verses, leaving it to various mysterious, Tarot-derived archetypes to carry the story. Or maybe the stories. As with so many Dylan songs, each verse seems like a retelling of the one before it from a completely different perspective, changing it in small but significant ways, creating a cumulative Rashomon-like effect not unlike that undoubtedly created by the reflections of reflections seen in the “palace of mirrors” referred to in Verse Six. Also in Verse Six: “The empty rooms where her memory is protected / Where the angels’ voices whisper to the souls of previous times”--lines every bit the evocative equivalent of “The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face.” Jesus or somebody like him comes back in Verse Nine, promising the arrival of “peace,” “tranquility,” and “splendor” on “wheels of fire” straight out of Ezekiel and at least one of which, one suspects, will be rolling down the road and exploding before long. Yet none of these images would matter a whit if Alan Pasqua’s lonesome grinding-organ cries and Steve Douglas’s golden saxophones weren’t shadowing and-or illuminating them with the intimacy of a precious angel under the sun.

2. “Clothes Line Saga” (1967). My, but this song is useful: It’s amazing how much trouble you can avoid simply by adopting “Sometime, not all the time” and “Some of ’em, not all of ’em” as your default responses to uncomfortable questions. Like that favorite of wives and girlfriends: “Do you love me?” “Sometime, not all the time.” Or the one personnel managers always ask job applicants: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” “Some of ’em, not all of ’em.” Honestly, I’d be sad and blue if not for this song. Essentially, it’s Theater of the Absurd starring Flannery O‘Connor‘s “good country people.” Only they’ve been stripped of all outrageousness and left with nothing but their mind-numbingly mundane smugness--and possibly transplanted to New England, where elliptical Robert Frost-speak such as “What do you care?” and “Well, just because” is the lingua franca. For years the Roches performed this song in clubs to occasional titters and polite applause, and in 2001 Suzzy and Maggie Roche enshrined it on the Dylan tribute album A Nod to Bob. Seven years later, Joe Biden fulfilled the prophecies of the second verse.

3. “Can You Please Crawl out Your Window?” (1965). It’s hard to feed a bunch of your previous lyrics into a centrifuge and make the resulting mélange sound sexy, but Dylan came close on this once-obscure single, and Transvision Vamp came closer still when they covered it (and called it “Please Crawl out Your Window”) thirty-one years later. But poets who know it and hope they don’t blow it sometimes hit the verbal bull’s-eye even when they’re not aiming. Proof that Dylan is no exception: “religion of the little tin women,” “if he needs a third eye he just grows it,” “I’m sure that he has no intentions / Of looking your way, unless it’s to say / That he needs you to test his inventions.” On an unrelated note, just how was the woman whom Dylan was addressing intending to crawl out her window if he had to tell her to use her arms and legs? Head first?

4. “Caribbean Wind” (1981). Dylan was right to leave this off Shot of Love. Its length (5:54), relentlessly epiphanic lyrics, and heavily breathing background singers would’ve taken the focus off “Every Grain of Sand,” which God obviously intended as that album’s pick to click. Also, “Caribbean Wind”’s buoyant melody and bright instrumentation would’ve clashed with the rest of the album’s ragged spontaneity. By the time Dylan recorded this song in 1981, he’d been working on it for two years--he introduced it as a “new” song during his first gospel tour--and by his own admission he kept trying to get both its words and its sound right in the studio. He apparently gave up on the sound, but he kept working on the words: The eventually published lyrics differ from the ones he sang on the version that surfaced on Biograph, and not all of the differences are improvements. In the Biograph version, the men bathing in perfume “practiced the hoax of free speech”; in the published version they “celebrated free speech.” And the former beats the latter (unless, as some people think, Dylan’s singing “hopes” instead of “hoax,” in which case there’s not much difference between what he recorded and what he published). Two lines that haven’t changed: “She said, ‘I know what you’re thinking, but there ain’t a thing / You can do about it, so let us just agree to agree.’” I had a woman say that to me once. Everything about her was bringing me misery.

5. “Cat’s in the Well” (1990). As those who keep up with his set lists know, Dylan occasionally opens shows with this sprightly fractured nursery rhyme. And as those familiar with the unfractured original--“Ding Dong Bell”--know, the line Dylan altered is “Pussy’s in the well.” In a way, it’s too bad he changed it; hearing feminists shout “Judas!” at his concerts would bring back fond memories. But change it he did, and from that point he was off and running, twisting toddler talk into apocalyptic visions of everything from world-wide slaughter and barns full of bull to anxiety-related hair loss and someone named “Back-Alley Sally” who’s “doing the American Jump.” I’m not sure what the American Jump is, but if Back-Alley Sally is related to the title character of Rudy Sooter’s old ditty “Up the Alley with Sally,” I have a pretty good guess. (Hint: It’s not exclusively American, and it doesn’t involve jumping. Usually.) Dylan ends it like a bedtime prayer (“Goodnight, my love, may the Lord have mercy on us all”), but all I can say to anyone who can sleep after absorbing this song’s litany of horrors is “Good luck."

(Bob Dylan's Top-Five Songs Beginning with "B":

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bob Dylan's Top-Five Songs Beginning with "A"

1. “Absolutely Sweet Marie” (1966). Smokin’ organ riffs and Dylan’s wildest harmonica wailing spur the music into a gallop. But the best verbal moment is the couplet “Well, anybody can be just like me, obviously, / but then, now again, not too many can be like you, fortunately,” which are also the only lines that Jason & the Scorchers changed (for the worse) in their otherwise definitive cow-punk rendition. (George Harrison’s at the Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration was just so much Concert for Bangladesh by comparison.) Many an honest outlaw prefers the line “But to live outside the law you must be honest” (come to think of it, Jason & the Scorchers changed that line too--by adding “darlin’”), but that's just the old honor-among-thieves theme expressed in different words, which is maybe how Dylan later ended up on a Sopranos soundtrack.

2. “All Along the Watchtower” (1968). The best verse is the second one, in which Dylan kicks the penny-ante, Godot-lite existential despair so prevalent in 1968 to the curb then revisits his honesty-among-outlaws theme by putting “So let us not talk falsely now” in the mouth of the Thief. But would anyone consider this initially acoustic, three-verse sketch of a song a classic if Jimi Hendrix hadn’t plugged it in and dropped it into the cultural bathwater, thus inspiring Dylan himself to electrify it on the ’74 tour and forever after that (except on MTV Unplugged), eventually making it the song he would perform in concert more than any other? Maybe not. But Hendrix did plug it in.

3. “All I Really Want to Do” (1964). Dylan’s funniest song up to and maybe including The Basement Tapes and the Traveling Wilburys. Obviously Dylan found it amusing too, as he couldn’t get through the cockamamie rhymes with a straight face. Usually, one only laughs at his own jokes when they first pop into his head and catch him by surprise, so I’m guessing Dylan hadn’t written it too long before the tapes got rolling. (I know that one of the world’s several thousand Dylan books has probably already detailed the circumstances of this song’s composition, but I quit reading Dylan books after my 136th.) And you have to love the yodeling, as effective a slap in the face of protest-folk’s grimness as the Going Electric would be one year later. But, speaking as someone who used to have in-laws and who therefore now refuses to have anything to do with women whose parents are still alive, I sing along to “I don’t want to meet your kin” with not only relish but ketchup and mustard too.

4. “All over You” (1963). Dylan’s second-funniest song up to and maybe including The Basement Tapes and the Traveling Wilburys. And speaking of the Wilburys, the third verse (“Well, you cut me like a jigsaw puzzle / You made me to a walkin’ wreck / Then you pushed my heart through my backbone / Then you knocked off my head from my neck”--a verse missing from the live Town Hall version) would’ve fit in very nicely with that bunch of woman-bedeviled funsters’ misogynistic jokes.

5. “All the Tired Horses” (1970). Yeah, it’s a few syllables too long for haiku. And Dylan doesn’t sing on it. And it’s from his “worst” album. But Self Portrait is not Dylan’s worst album. It's simply 180 degrees away from what his audience wanted from him after the mellow and mellower twofer of John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline. (As a fan, I’d like to say he hasn’t made his worst album yet, but that would be to deny the existence of Knocked Out Loaded and Down in the Groove.) And Delores Edgin, Hilda Harris, Carol Montgomery, June Page, Albertine Robinson, and Maretha Stewart--who do sing on the song--not only floated their voices into a soothing glow evocative of sunsets on a lonesome prairie horizon but, by repeating the song’s only two lines for three minutes and twelve seconds, also softened up a generation of rock-and-roll fans for Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

(Bob Dylan's Top-Ten 21st-Century Love Couplets:

Beach Boys: Mike Love into TM? Who Knew? (2010)

A July 26 story in Billboard reports that the Beach Boys--at least the ones who are still alive--might reunite for a free show in 2011 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their first single.

Then again, says the story, they might not.

Call me prescient, but I'd already guessed as much. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb right now and say that the Beach Boys might or might not reunite and play a free concert every day for the rest of their lives.

But the best part of the story is this paragraph: "[Mike] Love says he himself has recorded '18 to 20 songs that I have yet to come out with,' including tunes inspired by his experiences with Transcendental Meditation and the Maharashi Mahesh Yogi and a song entitled 'Pisces Brothers,' which Love describes as 'a reminiscence about George Harrison.'"

Please, Mike, release those eighteen-to-twenty songs while they're hot!

(Full story:

Little Willie G.: Make Up for the Lost Time (2000)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

Little Willie G.
Make Up for the Lost Time

The lost time referred to in this album’s title is the thirty-plus years since Willie Garcia last hit pay dirt with “Whittier Blvd.” and a handful of other garage-era nuggets as the lead singer of the East-L.A. combo Thee Midnighters. And against all odds he not only makes up for the lost time, he makes a down payment on his musical future. With Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo manning the console, Garcia and his richly expressive lounge band make the sort of suave, soul album that the world’s several-hundred-thousand Aaron Neville fans can surely relate to. As for young-George Clinton fans, they’ll relate to the inspired cover of “(I Wanna) Testify.” Rating: Four-and-a-half cha-cha’s out of five.

The Moody Blues to Poco: Five One-Line Reviews (2003)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

The Moody Blues: A Night at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Deluxe Edition (Threshold/Polydor). The hits generated more momentum on this album’s old non-deluxe single-disc version, which excised the mushy non-hits that are now included.

New York Dolls: The Best of New York Dolls: 20th Century Masters, the Millennium Collection (Mercury). The one to own if you’re going to own more than New York Dolls but less than New York Dolls and In Too Much Too Soon.

NorthernBlues Gospel Allstars: Saved! (NorthernBlues). Ace demos for an as-yet-unrecorded album of gospel standards and some that might be.

A Perfect Circle: Thirteenth Step (Virgin America). The cover sticker proclaims the presence of ex-Smashing Pumpkin James Iha; the booklet reveals the absence of Iha at the time of the recording.

Poco: Running Horse (Drifter’s Church). Surprisingly little in the way of horsefeathers for an album that had me thinking “Jayhawks” until my wife said “Eagles.”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bill Kirchen: Putting the "Bam" in "Bambino" (2007)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

Bill Kirchen
Chelsea’s Cafe
2857 Perkins Road
Baton Rouge
Saturday, March 10, 2007

Blue Moon Saloon
Sunday, March 11, 2007

People called Babe Ruth the “Sultan of Swat” and the “Colossus of Clout” because he cranked out home runs.

People call Bill Kirchen the “King of Dieselbilly” and the “Titan of the Telecaster” because he has been cranking out home-run-sized guitar riffs for nearly forty years.

Kirchen earned his monikers during his long-running membership in Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. He maintains his monikers today with his own bands and by moonlighting with musicians who--only because life is unfair--are more famous than he is.

You can’t see Ruth anymore, but you can see Kirchen--twice, in fact: this Saturday at Chelsea’s Café in Baton Rouge and this Sunday at the Blue Moon Saloon. Here are six reasons that you should ...

1. Kirchen will be performing material from his new album, The Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods (Proper), an album blessed with the playing and background singing of Kirchen’s longtime pal, the great Nick Lowe. What, one wonders, brought the King of Dieselbilly and the “Jesus of Cool” together? “About twenty-five years ago, I had a band called the Moonlighters,” says Kirchen, “and we made a record with Nick producing. That’s really how I got to know him. After that I played on [Lowe’s] Party of One and The Impossible Bird, and then he took that band--Impossible Birds--on the road. And, with the addition of [keyboardist] Austin DeLone, the Impossible Birds are who’s on my record."

2. Among the songs from his new album that Kirchen might perform are Shorty Long’s “Devil with a Blue Dress” and Arthur Alexander’s “If It’s Really Got to Be This Way,” the latest additions to the Kirchen Canon of Killer Covers. “I actually covered [Bob Dylan’s] ‘When the Ship Comes In’ for this record,” he says, “but it ended on the cutting-room floor. I don’t know why I think I have any business covering Dylan songs. I guess they’re so good that they stand up under rough treatment. But some songs, when they’re done, they’re done, you know? You don’t even want to touch them. I mean, I’m a big Dan Penn fan, but I’m not going to cover ‘Do Right Woman.’ And I’m probably not going to record any Elvis Presley songs. The world doesn’t need me singing ‘I Got Stung.’”

3. Elvis Costello thinks so highly of Kirchen and his band that he enlisted them for his 2006 appearance at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco. “He asked for our advice as to what songs to play,” says Kirchen, “so I picked a bunch of country stuff I wanted to hear him do. He also named the band Elvis Costello and the Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods and let me sing the album’s title song onstage.”

4. Kirchen plays a really cool vintage Telecaster. “Yeah,” he says, “it’s an oldie. It was on the cover of Vintage Guitar this year. They say it’s from ’54, but I got it in the late ’60s, and I put all the wear on it. It was virtually pristine when I got it--much as I was!”

5. Kirchen attended high school in Michigan with Iggy Pop. “I didn’t really hang with him,” Kirchen recalls, “but I was in a band with him: the Ann Arbor High School Concert Band. He played drums and I played trombone.” (It’s too bad that Kirchen became a Lost Planet Airman instead of a Stooge--a trombone might’ve made “We Will Fall” almost bearable.)

6. Kirchen climaxes his shows with an eight-minute version of “Hot Rod Lincoln” (his biggest Commander Cody hit) that’s really just an excuse for him to detour into a high-impact medley of classic electric-guitar hooks beginning with Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” ending with Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” and including along the way riffs from Duane Eddy, Roy Orbison, Johnny Rivers, Marty Robbins, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Bob Wills, Flatt and Scruggs, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Link Wray, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Freddy King, B.B. King, Albert King, Ben E. King, Elvis Presley (“the King!”), Deep Purple, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and the Sex Pistols, to name just twenty-six.

And although he’s been playing the medley for years, Kirchen has never been pulled over for exceeding the copyright limit.

“Maybe the sections are legally short-enough that it’s O.K.,” muses Kirchen. “I really just timed it to try to get the hook in. And sometimes the number of times I play each hook just has to do with ‘How long do we have?’ ‘Are people intoxicated enough that they need to hear the riff from ’Satisfaction’ three times to recognize it?’”

Mardi Gras: The Language of New Orleans Volume 7 (2003)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

Mardi Gras: The Language of New Orleans Volume 7
(Louisiana Red Hot)

That Louisiana Red Hot has assembled yet another collection of second-line rhythms o’erlaid with the sort of singing and musicianship that’s made New Orleans an R&B Mecca isn’t news. What is, is that LRH has done so without so much as one cross-licensed classic track or big name. The oldest recording dates from ’94, the newest from 2002, and although I’d heard of Smoky Greenwell, Bag of Donuts, Sammy Ridgely, and the Rebirth Brass Band, I couldn’t have hummed you anything by them till now. Actually I still can’t: As with so much second-line, this genre exists to help the good times roll, functioning even at its funkiest like an exotic strain of background music. The exception is Drew Young’s “Mardi Gras Morning,” a happy but hardly giddy rock and roll shuffle that’s no one’s idea of background music (Iguanas music maybe) and probably has less to do with Young’s years spent in New Orleans than with his current status as a struggling musician in that Mecca of foreground music, New York City. Rating: Three-and-a-half big apples out of five.

Giant Sand: Chore of Enchantment (2000)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

Giant Sand
Chore of Enchantment
(Thrill Jockey)

Like the two rock stars he sings like--Neil Young and Lou Reed--Howe Gelb is not above making the catchy seem weird or the weird seem catchy. The problem is that, as with so many others who traffic in catchy weirdness, the weirdness occasionally takes over. Gelb’s most off-putting characteristic this time concerns volume--to understand the whisper-sung words, one often has to get really close to the same speakers from which the really loud parts eventually screech with no warning. True, one could read the lyric booklet, but one’s not supposed to have to, and, frankly, even then matters remain murky. Also true: An hour of Gelb’s murk beats Lou Reed’s last sixteen years of clarity. Rating: Three-and-a-half prickly pears out of five.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tom Jones: Praise & Blame (2010)

To quote Chrissie Hynde, it must be Christmas time.

First, Nina Hagen--as harrowingly frightening a space cadet as has ever been coughed forth by a black-hole--makes an honest-to-God (no pun intended) gospel album.

And now Tom Jones.

Yep, that Tom Jones, the Vegas stalwart most famous for his tight pants, chest hair, and panty-bestrewn mic stands.

Actually, it’s not the first time a Sin City heartthrob has put his hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water. In 2003, Englebert Humperdinck released Always Hear the Harmony: The Gospel Sessions.

It wasn’t very good.

Jones’ Praise & Blame (Lost Highway), however, is.

For the most part.

And the stud is seventy!

And he doesn’t dye his hair!

And Englebert Humperdinck does!

But before continuing to praise Praise & Blame, let's get the blame out of the way. Jones’s voice was never on a par with that of his fellow Vegas attraction, Elvis Presley. And the fact that Jones’s versions of “Didn’t It Rain,” “Don’t Knock,” and “Burning Hell” are characterized by roadhouse-rockabilly arrangements reminiscent of Presley’s “I Got a Feeling in My Body” (the Dennis Linde-penned gospel barn-burner that showed up on 1979’s Our Memories Of Elvis Vol. 2) only makes the contrast more apparent.

More blame: Jones doesn’t sing as well as Bob Dylan (whose “What Good Am I?” opens the album), Billy Joe Shaver (“If I Give My Soul”), Mahalia Jackson (“Didn’t It Rain”), or Blind Willie Johnson (“Nobody’s Fault but Mine”) either. His voice is too stentorian, belting where a caress or a love tap would do. But thus has he always been. And anyway his not singing as well as Prince didn’t hurt (much) the version of “Kiss” that he recorded with the Art of Noise in 1988.

Back to the praise: Jones does at least as much with his vocal instrument as Nina Hagen does with hers. Both are limited, but both, when brought to a boil by gospel fervor, can provide the spark it takes to get a fire going. I mean, that’s how it is with God’s love.

You want to pass it on.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah. I had a friend in high school named Emily. She was madly in love with Tom Jones, even though he was old enough to be her not-so-great grandfather when she drove ninety miles to see him (on a school night no less) in concert in 1978. She somehow got backstage and not only met her Welsh idol but also got a photo of him signing the white dress she had worn to the show. I know because she proudly showed the photo around. (And I’m pretty sure she deserved to wear white if you know what I mean. A seventeen-year-old’s boldly declaring her love for Tom Jones in 1978--when all the hip chicks were slavering over John Travolta circa Saturday Night Fever and Grease--was akin to wearing a chastity belt.) I thought she was, you know, a little weird. But she was also nice--and pretty when she wore contacts instead of black-rimmed librarian glasses. And on some level I made a mental note that if Tom Jones was good enough for Emily, he was good enough for me

Now he's giving me that old-time religion.

Which, come to think of it--seeing as how the name of one of his biggest hits was “Delilah”--was only inevitable.

Next in the series: Wayne Newton!

You read it here first.

(More on Praise and Blame:

(Nina Hagen:

Bob Dylan's Top-10 21st-Century Love Couplets

1. “Feel like falling in love with the first woman I meet
Putting her in a wheelbarrow and wheeling her down the street” (“Things Have Changed”)

2. “I need somethin’ strong to distract my mind
I’m gonna look at you ’til my eyes go blind” (“Mississippi”)

3. “The wedding bells are ringing and the choir is beginning to sing
What looks good in the day, at night is another thing” (“Summer Days”)

4. “Got a hopped-up Mustang Ford
Jump into the wagon, love, throw your panties on the board” (“High Water [for Charlie Patton]”)

5. “Well, there’s preachers in the pulpits and babies in the cribs
I’m longin’ for that sweet fat that sticks to your ribs” (“Cry a While”)

6. “I got troubles so hard, I just can't stand the strain
Some young lazy slut has charmed away my brains” (“Rollin’ and Tumblin’”)

7. “I'm flat-out spent, this woman she been drivin' me to tears
This woman so crazy, I swear I ain't gonna touch another one for years” (“Rollin’ and Tumblin’”)

8. “She been cooking all day and it's gonna take me all night
I can't eat all that stuff in a single bite” (“Nettie Moore”)

9. “One of these days, I'll end up on the run
I'm pretty sure she'll make me kill someone” (“My Wife’s Home Town”)

10. “Some of you women you really know your stuff
But your clothes are all torn and your language is a little too rough” (“Shake Shake Mama")

Bonus Love Couplet: “I been to St. Herman's church and I've said my religious vows
I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows” (“Thunder on the Mountain")

(More Dylan:
Time Out of Mind:
I Shall Be Unreleased:
It's Alright, Ma, I'm Only Plagiarizing:
Tell Tale Signs:
The Shot of Love Incident:
Live 1966: Royal Albert Hall:
The Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3:

Holy Barbarians: Cream (1996)

(As published in B-Side ... )

Holy Barbarian

When last seen, Ian Astbury was leading a rapidly dwindling Cult cult into a psychedelic, heavy-metal wilderness from which he didn't seem likely to return any time soon. But miracles do happen, and if Cream, the debut outing from Astbury's new cult, Holy Barbarian, doesn't find Astbury completely back in touch with his roots, it still has moments of such down-and-dirty T. Rexiness that you'd swear the spirit of Marc Bolan had finally found a body suitable for possession. Chief among these moments is “Space Junkie,” a raunchy slice of sci-fi glam that owes as much to the Davids Johansen and Bowie as to Bolan. And there are others: the title cut, for instance, in which Astbury and his guitarist Patrick Sugg sing like all the young dudes, and “You Are There,” in which Astbury borrows the melody of “Like a Hurricane” for the chorus, swipes a line from Abba's “Does Your Mother Know” for the bridge, and makes some pretty awful lyrics tolerable for at least half of the song's five minutes. Alas, pretty awful lyrics have long been the bane of Astbury's songs, and “Bodhisattva” and “Opium” hit new lows with a thud. Don't be surprised, however, if this really takes off in non-English-speaking lands.

The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration (2003)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration

Anyone who’s ever been put off by the Marsalis machine because of its grandeur, size, or seemingly effortless efficiency will find in this filial pow-wow just enough spontaneity and music for music’s sake (as opposed to culture’s sake or Sony Records’ sake) to enjoy the good time that was obviously had by all. Wynton speaks, but only for twenty-nine seconds, and anyway it’s Harry Connick, Jr.’s fifty-six-second spoken bit that’ll have you turning up the volume. Stanley Crouch, who not only doesn’t speak but also doesn’t contribute liner notes, may not even have been in attendance. The “Supreme Spiritual Being,” on the other hand, to whom the liner notes attribute guidance and blessings, almost certainly was: Making “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” work for eight minutes without evoking Oklahoma! is some trick. Rating: Four broad ways out of five.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Nina Gordon: Tonight and the Rest of My Life (2000)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

Nina Gordon
Tonight and the Rest of My Life
(Warner Bros.)

This album by the former Veruca Salt frontgrrrl has been dismissed by no less a critic than the Village Voice’s Robert Christgau as a “Belinda Carlisle move,” and I acknowledge the similarities (leader of all-girl group goes solo, gets poppy). What I object to is the dismissiveness. Just as Carlisle sounded more exhilaratingly unfettered on her own than with the Go Go’s, Gordon sounds happy to be out from under the obligation to be surly, grungy, and worthy of the parental-warning sticker. The hooks are among the most insinuating and least obvious of the season, the lyrics a rewarding mixture of confession and nonsense, and the glammy, Bob Rock-produced alterna-pop sound the perfect foil for Gordon’s bright, yearning voice. Rating: Four-and-a-half Willie Wonka’s out of five.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Juliana Hatfield: Miss Quoted (1993)

(As published in B-Side ... )

By celebrity standards, Juliana Hatfield’s inclusion of her mailing address on the sleeve of her 1992 Hey Babe album seemed like an uncommonly openhearted gesture. And for lots of the people who bought the album--teenaged guys especially--it was an invitation too openhearted to pass up.

So they’ve written her--and written her and written her. Not that Hatfield doesn’t appreciate their interest, but she has begun to wonder whether maybe their interest stems from something other than the Real Her.

“People think that my personality can be reduced to what’s in the songs on Hey Babe,” she says. “It’s not true. But people don’t realize that.”

Neither, apparently, do most music journalists, who, Hatfield maintains, consistently misrepresent her. And when they do so in such diverse and high-profile publications as GQ, Details, Interview, Sassy, and the Village Voice, the misrepresentations can become downright burdensome.

“My personality doesn’t come across in any of those stories,” insists the ex-Blake Baby of the many Hey Babe-centric articles that ran last year. “And I get misquoted all the time. It’s really crazy.”

She has two specific examples at the ready.

“There’s one example recently where I was talking about eating disorders, and I was talking about how I used to like to starve myself sometimes. And then I said, ‘But I never lost huge amounts of weight.’ You know, it wasn’t bad. And then in the article it says I lost huge amounts of weight.”

Her other example appeared in Interview and went like this:

(Interview) “When you’ve been obsessed about guys, has it been really painful?”
(Hatfield) “Yeah. That’s why I like telling the bastards so with my songs.”

“I never said anything like that,” says Hatfield. “Maybe their tape recorders didn’t pick up what I did say. Maybe their editors told them that they had to paint a certain picture of me. I don’t know.

“It used to upset me a lot, but now I take the attitude that it’s fine because you can’t describe a person or music in words anyway.”

Performers, of course, often find themselves puzzled by their public images, but Hatfield’s case
of mistaken identity seems more extreme. Her music, for instance, while promoted as “alternative,” defies easy categorization. And when you get down to a close examination of what she’s actually singing, the task of figuring her out becomes downright labyrinthine.

A case in point is her new album, Become What You Are (Mammoth/Atlantic), which has just hit the stores (and which, incidentally, does not include her mailing address). Credited officially to the Juliana Hatfield Three (Hatfield on guitar; Dean Fisher, bass; Todd Philips, drums), the album is a distillation of punk, sixties pop, and metal as heard from across an emotionally turbulent ocean by someone to whom it had never occurred that they might be separate.
Then there’s Hatfield’s distinctively crystalline voice. Whether cutting through power chords or hovering above them, it possesses a childlike quality that only enhances the complexity of her often structurally centrifugal lyrics.

The song “My Sister,” for example--in just three minutes and twenty-two seconds--develops from a gripe (“I hate my sister / She’s such a bitch”) into a plaintive admission of loss (“I miss my sister / Why’d she go?”), all within the context of Hatfield’s mysterious admission that she has never had a sister at all.

She does, however, have a brother.

“He says that the first time he heard me play it live it brought tears to his eyes,” she recalls with the satisfaction of someone who once listed moving people to tears as one of her goals. “It has the same effect on me, and I don’t even know what I was writing about. I made up the character in it.”

She credits such indirection in part to the intense interest in her private life generated by the explicitly confessional songs on Hey Babe, songs that many heard as pages from her diary whether they were autobiographically accurate or not.

“It made me write differently,” she explains. “It made me not want to write any kinds of love songs.”

But not writing love songs has posed challenges of its own. Take Become What You Are’s opening track, “Supermodel,” for instance, a song that sounds unusually superficial coming from Hatfield in that it trots out anti-glamour clichés to portray models as objectified victims instead of self-determining agents in the power game.

“I’m worried about the reaction I’m going to get to that song,” she says, “because I don’t think I articulated what I really wanted to say. It’s supposed to be a song about the public’s perception of models. I’m questioning that and trying to empathize with the model and know how she really feels.”

And Hatfield has a right: She has done some modeling herself.

She did not, however, enjoy it.

“I just felt really dirty,” she says. “I hated it. I wanted to cry at the end of the day.”


“People putting their hands all over you and pushing your body around and treating you like a piece of meat and just having to stand in one place for a long time,” she answers. “It’s uncomfortable.”

It's also, according to Hatfield, at least a little twisted. “It’s the public who exalts women for looking beautiful. And that’s fine. I mean, I love looking at beautiful girls and beautiful men. I’m just saying it’s such a weird nineties thing how people know all the models’ names when all they do is--be beautiful.”

“Supermodel,” she says, is “just talking about how fucked up that is that that’s one of the highest-paying jobs that a woman can aspire to.”

Still, her previous bad modeling experiences notwithstanding, she admits she might find a way to enjoy the job herself if she had to.

“I think I would,” she says. “I mean, to get paid so much money for doing nothing--with your brain.”

But only for awhile.

“I can imagine that after a few years of getting paid for being beautiful I’d be fucked up in the head,” she says. “What happens when you start getting wrinkles? Up until then you’ve been basing your worth on your looks. I think that’s all screwed up. Nobody cares about an over-the-hill model.”

The same, she says, does not go for over-the-hill rockers. “Neil Young’s still making great music, and it’s got nothing to do with the way he looks.”

She can say that again. But she doesn't. Instead, Hatfield lists Young at the top of her list of the performers whose songs she’d cover if she were ever to record an all-covers album. “I’d do a Neil Young song or two--or three,” she laughs. “And I want to maybe record that Leslie Gore song, ‘You Don’t Own Me,’ someday.”

And maybe something by Wilson Phillips, a group whom Hatfield confessed to liking last year and in so doing alarmed rock’s Hip Police.

“People think I’m a freak when I say that,” she says, “but it’s totally sincere. I like their music. They’re better singers than I am. I love the lush harmonies--all those different parts--and some of the songs are really good."

She has no desire, however, to meet the trio. “I’ve read interviews with them, and they sound like--weirdos.”

Some people think Hatfield is a weirdo because, at twenty-five, she’s still a virgin and doesn’t mind saying so. She’ll even say, “Yeah, me too,” if you tell her that you think the death of virginity has been greatly exaggerated.

But she denies that “I Got No Idols” from Become What You Are addresses the issue, even though it goes, “I don’t like to be touched / You might think we all need that stuff / But I don’t think about it much.” That song, according to Hatfield, is really “about how you should separate the art from the artist and leave the artist alone and not hold her responsible for everything because a lot of times the art is better than the artist.”

Her fans might be surprised to learn that she would also like to separate herself from Hey Babe..”

“It makes me want to cringe,” she said recently. “It just sounds sappy.” It doesn’t, but her attitude toward helps explain why its romantic brightness has been replaced on Become What You Are with a sound that’s darker and more ominous--sometimes subtly (as in the gently claustrophobic “Feelin’ Massachusetts”) and sometimes not so subtly (as in the Gena Rowlands-inspired “Mabel,” the rape-revenge fantasy “A Dame with a Rod,” and the self-explanatory “Addicted”).

Do not assume, however, that the album will cast a shadow over the Hatfield Three’s next project because it might not.

“I’m not letting myself write any songs for awhile,” she says. “I want the next record to have a distinctly different feeling, so I’m not going to write songs until I’m closer to recording it.

“I hope there’ll be a big change.”

The Midnight Special: Clap for the Wolfman! (2007)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

Recently, after years of resisting everything from the Veg-O-Matic and the Ginsu knife to the LitterMaid self-cleaning cat box and Girls Gone Wild, I called a 1-800 number and lost my infomercial virginity to The Midnight Special: The Legendary Performances (Guthy-Renker Entertainment).

The Midnight Special was the NBC rock-and-roll show that kept me and other juvenile delinquents of my generation off the streets from 1 to 2:30 A.M. every Friday night/Saturday morning. There were no VHS recorders or TiVos in those days, so if you wanted to watch your favorite pop stars performing live on TV, you had to be home.

And I’m glad I’ve taken the 1-800 bait. Faced with receiving two DVDs (average length: seventy-nine minutes) every four-to-six weeks or getting the whole shebang at once for forty dollars less, I opted for the latter and have been barreling down Memory Lane ever since the package arrived.

And, of course, if I’d ordered the Girls Gone Wild DVDs, I’d be barreling down Mammary Lane. But I didn’t. No, really.

The best thing about The Midnight Special was that most of its acts, including such notorious lip-synchers as the Bay City Rollers and ELO, performed live, and, then as now, seeing an act play “for real” was a confirmation of its mastery (Steely Dan doing “Reelin’ in the Years,” Edgar Winter doing “Frankenstein,” the Spinners doing “The Rubberband Man,” Manfred Mann’s Earth Band doing “Blinded by the Light”) or at least its competence. And sometimes simply laying eyes on the likes of the youthful Debbie Harry, Marilyn McCoo, Donna Summer, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Stevie Nicks, Maria Muldaur, Linda Ronstadt, Yvonne Elliman, or Olivia Newton-John made staying up worth it.

On the other hand, seeing a performer could also sour you on him for life. If in my indiscriminate adolescence I was ever on the fence about Barry Manilow or Journey, having to look at the former for the duration of “Could It Be Magic” or the latter’s Steve Perry for the duration of “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” is still enough to keep me at nose length (theirs) from their catalogues.

But despite the comedy inherent in nine DVDs’ worth of badly aging fashion (inspection of Billy Preston’s 1973 afro would grind twenty-first-century airport security to a halt), poignancy is the keynote of this collection. It’s sad, after all, seeing many stars who are now light years away from their youthful primes rocking away as if the good times would never end.

And it’s sadder still to see those who’ve since died: thirteen solo artists and at least seven death-ravaged bands out of the one hundred-plus acts--and Wolfman Jack, the deservingly legendary disc-jockey immortalized in American Graffiti who MC-ed the series for its entire decade-long run.

Now more than ever, I’m gonna dig him ’til the day I die.

Masked and Anonymous: Music from the Original Motion Picture (2003)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

Masked and Anonymous: Music from the Original Motion Picture
(Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax)

By no means is this soundtrack as consistently enjoyable a Dylan-covers album as Coulson, Dean, McGuiness, Flint’s Lo and Behold (1972, and in print), but it comes nearer the mark than Gotta Serve Somebody from earlier this year, in part because it contains four new performances by Dylan himself, the least predictable of which is “Dixie,” the Civil War-era minstrel classic that grows more politically incorrect with each passing day. There is, alas, esthetic incorrectness as well, most notably the Magokoro Brothers singing “My Back Pages” in Japanese and Articolo 31 rapping “Like a Rolling Stone” in Italian. (I was hoping for “Ugliest Girl in the World” in Tagalog myself.) Furthermore, the bigger-name performances are more interesting than definitive. One cut, however, stands out, and it’s not even in the film: the Dixie Hummingbirds’ “City of Gold,” a luminous gospel number that Dylan performed during his 1981 tour but that’s gone unreleased in any version 'til now. Rating: Three properties of Jesus out of five.

Help: A Charity Project for the Children of Bosnia (1995)

(As published in Kamikaze ... )

Help: A Charity Project for the Children of Bosnia
(Go! Discs/London)

Various-artists charity albums are a dime a dozen, and only two in the history of the tradition--The Concert for Bangla Desh (1971) and We Are the World (1985)--have made more than a scratch on the surface of the indifference they were meant to demolish. And since both of those saw the millions they raised go astray due to financial mismanagement and-or naiveté--well, let's just say genuine do-gooders would be well advised to find a more effective means of doing good than buying CDs.

But the fact that Help: A Charity Project for the Children of Bosnia probably won't improve the lives of Bosnian children much doesn't mean you shouldn't buy it for its music, which, song for song, makes for a pretty solid sampler of contemporary Brit-pop. Oasis featuring Johnny Depp on guitar leads off with a George-Michael-ish ditty called "Fade Away," Paul Weller, Oasis's Noel Gallagher, and Paul McCartney conclude with "Come Together," and in between, such flavors of the month as the Boo Radleys, Stone Roses and Blur take turns performing tracks of intermittent hummability recorded especially for this project and therefore unavailable anywhere else.

The highlights occur when Sinead O'Connor recreates "Ode to Billy Joe" as a New Age folk song, Manic Street Preachers attempt "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," and the One World Orchestra transform Elmer Bernstein's The Magnificent Seven theme into a hip-hop flavored novelty called "The Magnificent." None of these twenty tracks, obviously, have much to do with charity, children, or Bosnia, and the lone actual protest song, Robert Wyatt's "Shipbuilding" as performed by (the London) Suede, concerns the Falkland crisis of a decade-or-so ago. But if only as a reminder of what used to make K-Tel and Ronco collections so much fun, Help deserves to have a few bucks dropped into its hat.

Macy Gray: On How Life Is (2000)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

Macy Gray
On How Life Is

The style? A surprisingly subtle blend of old (jazz-inflected singing, soul-inflected R&B) and new (computer-generated programming and sampling) The breakout track? “I Try,” a song constructed along the lines of Tina Turner’s minor 1987 hit, “Break Every Rule,” and good for it. The weltanschauung? That raunchy, impersonal sex conquers all (“Caligula,” “Sex-O-Matic Venus Freak”). Further proof: In “Still” she sticks with her abusive, no-account boyfriend for the sex and drugs, and in “I’ve Committed Murder” she murders her boyfriend’s (female) boss, cleans out the safe, escapes (with him) to Jamaica, and concludes, “As far as regrets, I don’t have any / Would you?” Rating: Two Future-Mrs.-O.J. Simpson Awards out of five.

Massive Attack: 100th Window (2003)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

Massive Attack
100th Window

Forget Horace Andy, Sinéad O’Connor, and Robert Del Naja. It’s the dub-heavy bass beats and eerie samples over which they whisper-sing ominously and-or ethereally that are this album’s real reason for being. That Del Naja and Neil Davidge generated their own samples this time no doubt required them to travel deep into their own inner cosmoses and shape their desired sounds from whatever primordial ooze they found there. And judging from this album’s deep, dark, Eastern-influenced soundscapes, Naja and Davidge probably went ooze hunting right after a séance aimed at contacting the tormented soul of some long-forgotten pharaoh. Rating: Three-and-a-half toots uncommon out of five.

Charlie Daniels: The Long-Haired Country Boy Comes Home (1997)

(As published in WORLD ... )

The time when shaggy-dog stories could translate into hit records has probably passed for good, but many people who remember the good ol' days agree that two of the best shaggy-dog hits ever--"Uneasy Rider" and "The Devil Went Down to Georgia"--belong to a genuine good ol' boy: Charlie Daniels.

And since many Christians are good ol' boys (and girls) themselves, they were more than happy to extend an open-arms welcome to Daniels when, in 1994, he released The Door (Sparrow), an album so full of gospel witness that the Gospel Music Association gave it a Dove Award for "Country Album of the Year."

He followed it in 1996 with Steel Witness (Sparrow), an album that recently received a Grammy nomination and that spawned the Christian-radio chart-topper "Somebody Was Prayin' for Me." Until recently, in fact, "Somebody Was Prayin' for Me" occupied a high-profile position in the Charlie Daniels Band's typical concert set, right between "The Orange Blossom Special" and "Long-Haired Country Boy."

Such a juxtaposition, however, has caused some of Daniels' fans to wonder whether, instead of a gospel message, he may not actually be sending a mixed one. "Long-Haired Country Boy," after all, although a signature Charlie Daniels tune from way back, falls considerably short of endorsing family values: "People say I'm no good and crazy as a loon / 'cause I get stoned in the mornin', get drunk in the afternoon."

"Well, I'm not proud of songs like that," the former long-haired country boy told WORLD, "and some of those songs I don't do any more. But with some I've simply changed the lyrics.

“We recorded 'Long-Haired Country Boy' back when I was a much younger man, and although it had some alcohol and marijuana mentions in it, it was kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing to me at the time. It was not taken all that seriously. But nowadays everything is taken very seriously, and I did quit doing the song. But I kept getting requests for it, so I modified the lyric to 'I get up in the morning, I get down in the afternoon,' and I'm fixin' to record it again."

In response to questions about what caused him to begin making gospel music after more than twenty albums and twenty years as a high-profile country-rocker, Daniels tells a low-profile story. "I've been a believer all my life. I was raised in a believing family. There was a time when I didn't know anybody who didn't believe in God. But for many years I did get away from walking the walk."

He describes his return as "a gradual coming back." "It was not a Damascus Road experience by any means. It was more like, 'Charlie, you know you're not doing the right thing here. Start cleaning up your act a little bit'--or a whole lot, actually."

He laughs. "You know, it's not as if one day I just all of a sudden got blinded by the light or something. I knew about the light all the time."

In a refreshing change from the "celebrity-Christian" norm, Daniels takes such "civilian-Christian" duties as considering the effect his music has on others--especially youth--seriously. "I think a lot of young people say that they give their life to Jesus but don't really understand what they're doing. I know I had the misconception that I had to be good enough, that if I committed a sin, my salvation was off ," he laughs. "Sometimes I feel that--especially with very young people, children--we need to explain that we all sin and that forgiveness is there for us, that we serve a forgiving, loving God, not one who's hiding behind a tree with a baseball bat ready to pop us."

He also takes such "civilian-Christian" duties as church attendance seriously (his "home church" is in Nashville) and finds the idea that the commotion caused by fame exempts the famous from fellowship to be "just a lame excuse." "A lot of times, on the road, the real reason that you don't want to go to church is that you stayed up till two and just don't feel like getting up," he chuckles. "There are all kinds of excuses you can come up with, but being too famous is not one of them.

“I'm not Michael Jackson. If I go somewhere and they recognize me, that's fine."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hüsker Dü: Zen Arcade (1985)

(As published in the West Virginia University Daily Athenaeum ... )

Johnny wasn't sure how to tell his girlfriend Sue that he had faced up to the Hard Facts of Life again and that now he had to wear ripped T-shirts and maybe even get a mohawk. After all, the last time he had faced up to those Facts and burned his Billy Joel records, she nearly divorced him.

Well, not exactly divorced, but you know how serious kids are these days, what with soap operas and MTV and all.

He'd put off telling her for almost a week. But he could delay no longer. So he went to the phone and began to dial. Then he stopped, realizing that he'd forgotten to put a record on the stereo before making the call. What a klutz he was being! He'd been using records playing in the background as subliminal telephone suggestions ever since the time he was playing The Wall while his mother phoned the principal to say that, yes, Johnny really was sick.

The tactic was foolproof.

What should he play? He flipped through his records, only to realize that nothing quite suited the moment. Zappa's Sheik Yerbouti, which Johnny had used when he told Sue that he wouldn't be caught dead at the Junior Prom, was outdated. Zeppelin's "Black Dog," which Johnny had used to clue Sue in as to which pet-store puppy he wanted for his birthday, was irrelevant.

He flopped down in front of the TV to soak his troubled brain in The Flintstones, when what should pop onto the screen but an ad for Husker Du, "the memory game." "Hüsker Dü!" cried Johnny. "That's it!"

He ran as fast as he could to his record crate. Honeydrippers, Hoodoo Gurus--ah, Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade, the Sgt. Pepper of hardcore, the Never Mind the Bollocks of the eighties. This was just what he needed.

He put on Side Four and began to dial. As Sue picked up the receiver and cooed, "Hello," "Turn on the News" tore through Johnny's speakers.

"Hello?" she repeated, able only to hear a distorted wall of feedback and frenzied drumming on the other end. "Hello?"

"SUE," Johnny shouted, "IT'S ME, JOHNNY! HOW YA DOIN'?"

"Johnny, what's wrong? I can barely hear you. What's all that noise in the background? Johnny?"


"Johnny," she interrupted, "is this gonna be about sex? 'Cause if it is, I don't wanna hear it."


"Johnny," she interrupted again, "if you don't turn off that noise and stop shouting at me, I'm going to hang up right now and never speak to you again."



"I'LL CALL YA BACK!" As he slammed down the phone, "Reoccurring Dreams" came on.

What had gone wrong? Never in his life had music or his shrewd sense of timing (not to mention his understanding of women) let him down so badly.

He picked up the album cover and carefully analyzed its crude graphics, searching for some sign of overlooked irony that might explain why his plan had backfired.

Suddenly, it hit him. He ran to the turntable, scratched the needle off in the middle of a grisly bass line, and put on Side One's "Never Talk to You Again."

Revelation: Hardcore band uses acoustic guitars and not only audible but even clear singing to tell anonymous girlfriend to, 'ow you say, hitch ride on slow boat to China? Well...

Where had he heard that before? The Velvet Underground? Buffalo Springfield, Yea, even perhaps Merle Haggard? Was this fair? Johnny didn't know.

He put Zen Arcade away and grabbed the Carpenters' Singles 1974-1978, placing the needle on "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft," his favorite.

He closed his eyes and began to dial. "This time," he thought, "I'm gonna do it right...."

(More from my college daze:;

Sammy Hagar: Ten 13 (2000)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

Sammy Hagar
Ten 13
(Cabo Wabo/Beyond)

If Van Halen had released this album two years ago instead of the Gary Cherone debacle that it did, Eddie, Alex, and Michael would still be ruling whatever’s left of the hard-rock roost instead of living down the fact that they preferred booting Hagar to exploiting his vulgar but thoroughly market-tested commercial knack. None of this album’s lyrics will convince anyone that it was Hagar and not David Lee Roth who was the real brains behind VH’s brawn. But all of it rocks. And almost every song sounds like the kind of thing that the band who sold us “Why Can’t This Be Love” could’ve taken to the top. Rating: Three-and-a-half monsters of rock out of five.

John Mayer: Heavier Things (2003)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

John Mayer
Heavier Things

The soft-spoken, too-precious introspection persists, but with airy electronics where the acoustic guitar used to be, the burden gets shifted from the words to the hooks, which, thank heaven exist, and which could be ersatz Seal when they’re not ersatz Sting. And although only Seal or Sting fans will likely find these songs “heavier,” “Something’s Missing” and “New Deep” aren’t bad as existentialism for beginners goes. And “Daughters” (gently) pulls the wings off “Butterfly Kisses.” Rating: Three-and-a-half pussycats in the cradle out of five.

Jimi Hendrix: The Jimi Hendrix Experience (2000)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

Jimi Hendrix
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
(MCA/Experience Hendrix)

A generation or two from now, teenagers seeking access to the Hendrix myth won’t care that these four discs worth of rare alternate versions both studio and live aren’t the “official” ones. First, these versions often sound like the official ones. Second, when they don’t, they still sound pretty good. Even the ones that began as low-fi bootlegs have been digitally refurbished to help justify the sixty-dollar price tag. Everything you’d expect is here (“Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Foxey Lady,” “Voodoo Child [Slight Return],” “Electric Ladyland”) in one incarnation or another, as are songs you might not expect (“Gloria,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club”). In fact, on the evidence contained herein, tomorrow’s teenagers might conclude, not entirely erroneously, that Hendrix was a better interpreter than he was a composer. They might also conclude that Hendrix had a sense of humor: At the beginning of the live “Purple Haze,” he really does say, “’Scuse me while I kiss that guy.” Rating: Four-and-a-half cries of love out of five.

Time and Love: The Music of Laura Nyro (1997)

(As published in New Zealand's Real Groove ... )

Time and Love: The Music of Laura Nyro
(Astor Place)

Having never met anyone who owns a Laura Nyro album and having only owned one myself (a promo of 1984's Mother's Spiritual that I traded in after listening to it once), my familiarity with the recently croaked songstress comes courtesy of the hit versions of her best-known compositions: "And When I Die" by Blood, Sweat and Tears, "Eli's Comin'" by Three Dog Night, "Wedding Bell Blues," "Stoned Soul Picnic," and "Save the Country" by the Fifth Dimension, and "Stoney End" by whoever had a hit with that. So I'm always surprised to discover that some people, instead of regarding her as the female Jimmy Webb and letting it go at that, actually worship her. Writes Peter Gallway, this album's producer, in the liner notes: "Her concerts were religious experiences. Laura gowned, surrounded by roses, alone in purple light at the grand piano. Her style, her holiness, her reclusivity, her high standards"--what, she wouldn't date the boys that chew?--"became the stuff of legend"; Roseanne Cash: "Laura Nyro is a part of the template from which my own musical and Feminine [sic] consciousness was printed"; Beth Nielsen Chapman: "Laura Nyro's songs have always touched me deeply" (if it were Madonna talking, I might be jealous of Laura Nyro's songs); Jonatha Brooke: "I wasn't familiar with Laura Nyro's music--I'm not sure how I missed out." Hey! Who invited this heretic? Anyway, the good stuff is Phoebe Snow doing "Time and Love," the Roches doing "Wedding Bell Blues," Beth Nielsen Chapman doing "Stoney End," and Dana Bryant doing a Tricky-like "Woman's Blues." Everything else here is girls being girls, with all the amorphous, Tori Amos-like ooze that girls being girls implies. And Jane Siberry, who couldn't decide which one to do, does a medley of four. Talk about ominous implications for future tribute albums!