Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Liam Finn - 'This Place Is Killing Me'

The son of Crowded House/Split Enz member Neil Finn, Liam Finn is this decade's continuation of where Elliot Smith prematurely left off. While Liam's sound lacks the plagued despair of Smith, it's evident his music has been schooled with the same pop sensibilities. Full of stunning melodies, I'll Be Lightning is a treat.

Stream that album's 'This Place Is Killing Me' below:

Liam Finn - 'This Place Is Killing Me'

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Lenny Kravitz - 'If You Want It'

Lenny Kravitz returned earlier this month with a release of his eighth studio album, It Is Time for a Love Revolution. The album is a pretty typical Lenny-style record in that it is quite retro sounding; there is a good amount of guitar riffage threaded throughout the disc.

Overall, it's pretty solid.

You can stream the track 'If You Want It' below:

Lenny Kravitz - 'If You Want It'

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Musical Overview of Oscar Nominees

It's that time of the year again when the Academy Awards are on the tip of every critic's tongue. This Sunday's show marks Oscar's 80th birthday, and the ol' codger should be proud of several of the field's contenders.

My pick for the night's big winner goes to No Country for Old Men. The cast and screenplay of this morality play are impeccable and the cinematography is exceptional. The sound work is stark, subtle and unnervingly powerful. Javier Bardem's menacing portrayal of a serial killer already ranks up there with the best movie villains of all time. His character's Dutch boy haircut was even creepy enough to send the actor himself into a depression.

Paul Thomas Anderson's oil-soaked epic, There Will Be Blood, was another end of the year standout (notice how many of the nominees came out within the last 3 months?). The film is essentially one giant platform for Daniel Day-Lewis' masterful performance as a highly competitive, misanthropic oil prospector. Day-Lewis proves again that he is the man, and his work in this film is a coup de grâce to the Best Actor category.

I know what you're thinking: "What is all of this movie jibberish doing on a music blog?"

Well, did I mention that the score for There Will Be Blood was composed by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood? Maybe you forgot that Eddie Vedder recorded the original motion picture soundtrack for Into the Wild. Across the Universe tackled the Beatles' extensive catalog of tunes for its whole plot and accompanying soundtrack.

Overall, this year's Oscar bunch has had some strong soundtracks. And while most of them are not nominated for musical achievement awards, I have decided they still warrant a post.

To start with an actual Best Song nominee, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's duet "Falling Slowly" (from the movie Once) deserves the nod. The two songwriters, who are also co-stars of the film, deserve credit for the entire gem of a soundtrack. Hansard, previously known as the frontman to Irish band, The Frames, shares a genuine chemistry with Irglova in the heartfelt little film.

Next up is Juno, this year's only Best Film nominee with a sense of humor. Juno's spunky title character, played by Best Actress nominee Ellen Page, is a pregnant teen with a penchant for 70's glam rock and punk.

The film's fast-paced dialogue is full of quick retorts and conversations about music. At one point, Juno and her baby's soon-to-be adoptive father even have a conversation in which he plays her Sonic Youth's cover of The Carpenters' treasure, "Superstar."

Kimya Dawson, formerly of The Moldy Peaches, has several songs featured throughout the soundtrack. Page and co-star Michael Cera even duet on The Moldy Peaches' "Anyone Else But You."

Juno's cutesy anti-folk songs are balanced by classic rock from The Velvet Underground, Mott the Hoople, and The Kinks.

My favorite soundtrack moment has to be Barry Louis Polisar's "All I Want is You." Hearing the opening credits, I was instantly transported back to my childhood - a time when I listened to Polisar's 1977 album, My Brother Thinks He's a Banana & Other Provocative Songs for Children, like there was no tomorrow. I swear I still have that tape around here someplace...

Barry Louis Polisar - 'All I Want is You' (from the Juno Soundtrack)

And finally, I can't round out a comprehensive list without mentioning the stage-to-screen adaptation of Sweeney Todd, can I? Johnny Depp gets the Tim Burton treatment yet again in his role as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Depp and the rest of the cast rise to the occasion to pull off several fantastic vocal performances. But it is composer Stephen Sondheim who deserves the most credit for translating his own musical to work with the actors' vocal ranges. For your listening satisfaction, I'm including one of my favorite Sweeney Todd tracks, "Johanna," as performed by Jamie Campbell Bower, Johnny Depp and Laura Michelle Kelly.

Sweeney Todd OST - 'Johanna'

So, that's my take on the Oscars. What other films from the past year do you think deserve to be recognized for their soundtracks?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

American Idol Thoughts: Male Contestants

I just finished watching American Idol tonight, and I must say there is a ton of talent on the mens' side. (The women sing tomorrow). While it is hard to choose a favorite at this early stage, I'm leaning toward Jason Castro (guy with the Bob Marley hair) and Aussie Michael Johns. Incidentally, they were the final two to perform tonight.

I liked Castro's guitar work, as well as his modern interpretation of The Lovin' Spoonful. As for Johns, his deliberate but controlled sex appeal, combined with his Roadhouse Blues voice, make him a formidable contestant.

In any event, it's nice to see some legitimate rock (beyond Daughtry) begin to gain traction on this show. What do you folks think?

Kate Nash - 'Merry Happy'

Kate Nash is one those Myspace success stories. After releasing some material onto the News Corp. owned social networking site, rumor has it that Lily Allen placed Nash into her top eight friends list. This, of course, attracted massive interest from the rest of the world.

Nash does sound quite identical to Allen---a more petite version at least. But her vocal cadence also breeds sonic similarities to
Shakira and Mike Skinner at times too. And much like her contemporaries, Nash isn't as good of a vocalist as she is a storyteller. Her British accented narrations work its way through every song, emitting the pain, joy, and indifference of each track's protagonist.

You can stream 'Merry Happy' below:

Kate Nash - 'Merry Happy'

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Whigs - 'Already Young'

In this remarkable election year, it is only fitting that a band sharing its name with an extinct political party make such a grand entrance into 2008. Springing forth from Athens, Georgia, The Whigs do more than its fair share of carrying the torch of that town's rich musical tradition.

Evoking sounds of Green River Grunge, this band's material is certainly indicative of rock's current trend toward rollicking power anthems. Brash, but concise, many of The Whigs' songs effectively make its statements without falling into the exhausted cliche of shoe gazing and self-deprecation.

Stream one of my favorite songs off of the recently released Mission Control, entitled 'Already Young,' below:

The Whigs - 'Already Young'

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Caught On Tape: Pearl Jam - 'Do the Evolution'

Pearl Jam have always been known for going against the grain; for forging their own path in the music industry. The band boycotted Ticketmaster when the company held a monopoly over concert tickets and prices. When illegal concert recordings began to surface, the band took action by recording higher quality versions, called "Official Bootlegs," of every show - releasing more than 72 shows from their 2000 concert tour alone.

Pearl Jam have always done things the Pearl Jam way. So, it should come as no surprise that the band would push the envelope with their music videos as well.

In the decade between 1992's memorable 'Jeremy' and 2002's 'I am Mine' the band released only a single music video. That video was 'Do the Evolution' from the band's 1998 album Yield.

Ferociously apocalyptic, the video is a rollercoaster thru the harsh evolution of life on our planet. From the initial splitting of tiny cells to the barbaric and inescapably brutal nature of man, 'Do the Evolution' is nothing short of intense. The video speaks that for all of the intellectual and cultural advances that mankind has accomplished, our tendencies to revert back to violence are still ever present.

From racism, to warfare, to the environment, no other song/video seems to sum up the anger and concerns Pearl Jam have consistently addressed quite as well as this.

The visually powerful animation was directed by acclaimed comic-artists Todd McFarland (of Spawn) and Kevin Altieri (of Batman: the Animated Series). Much of the animation matches lyrically throughout the progression of the song.

Despite never being released as an official single, 'Do the Evolution' was Grammy-nominated for Best Hard Rock Performance and Best Music Video, Short Form.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The New Beatles-Themed Hotel

The Hard Day's Night Hotel recently opened in Liverpool. Undoubtedly, it is a Beatles lover's dream. There is a Lennon suite and a McCartney suite. Commissioned artwork by local artist Shannon adorns the interior of each room as well. The hotel, albeit expensive, looks to provide quite the vivid experience.

You can read more about this hip new lodge by clicking here.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Josiah Wordsworth - 'Silver Dollar Swagger'

For those of you who are comfortable with music that resides at the intersection of numerous genres, Josiah Wordsworth is your duo. Not quite jazz, not quite rock, not quite classical, JW's compositions occupy an intriguing space that redefines contemporary music.

Take a listen to 'Silver Dollar Swagger,' an epic journey that begins in prog-rock territory and ends in saloon country, below:

Josiah Wordsworth - 'Silver Dollar Swagger'

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

"We're having a vinyl revival"

Photo courtesy The Sydney Morning Herald

For those of you who found interest in my three-part vinyl articles, here is another news piece from The Sydney Morning Herald:

The appeal of LPs is not only nostalgic; it is also tactile and aesthetic. You lose sound quality and the romance of the object with downloads, say the store owners. Coveting a limited-edition green vinyl 12-inch of the Cure's song The Forest? (That's $80 at Revolve.) An original local pressing of INXS's Listen Like Thieves? ($16 at The Vintage Record.) The complete On The Corner sessions by Miles Davis in an embossed metal box? ($180 at Birdland.) To teenagers used to getting their music for free, the maths doesn't add up; but for fans the price is beside the point.

"I'm finding that kids are starting to come back into the shop thanks to bands like Wolfmother citing their influences as Led Zeppelin, or similar," Thomson says. "There's also been a bit of an '80s revival - Duran Duran, Adam and the Ants, the Eurythmics - kids are coming in and buying them on vinyl."

To read the entire article, click here.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Hangover Brunch with Jonah Ray

This has very little to do with music, but I thought it was fitting for a lazy (and possibly hungover) Sunday. Watch The Freeloader's Guide to Easy Living below:

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McDonald Covers Jackie Wilson

What better compliment to the latest Yacht Rock episode than this Michael McDonald cover? It's been "re-Michaeld" for your pleasure.

Stream the Jackie Wilson classic, '(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,' below:

Michael McDonald - 'Higher and Higher'

Friday, February 01, 2008

Concert Review: Velvet Revolver - January 28, 2008

The following is dedicated to Hank, The Lonely Note's concert reviewer. He had to back out on this show at the last minute, but was kind enough to pass on his tickets so that Ted and I could attend in his honor. Thanks Hank.

During their reign over the hard rock community in the early to mid-nineties, Guns N' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots were known for an ability to pack fans into stadiums and outdoor festivals. At that time, I would have never thought I'd have the chance to see either band perform in an intimate venue again. But here I am, more than a dozen years later, able to claim at least a variation of that dream.

On an unusually warm night in late January, I was able to see a group of legendary rock stars onstage together in front of an audience no larger than 2,500 people.

Velvet Revolver, a supergroup composed of ex-GNR bandmates and STP frontman Scott Weiland, have recently been performing a string of club shows to support their latest album, Libertad. On the 28th, the band made a tour stop at the Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines, Iowa and rocked the place with new singles and old favorites alike.

Without an opening act, and starting almost an hour behind schedule, 4/5 of the band took stage and hurtled into a cover of The Stooges' 'I Wanna Be Your Dog'. Bassist Duff McKagen took ahold of vocal duties.

The band transitioned into a blues solo from Slash, whose trademark frizzy hair and top hat were in full showing.
Finally, a bearded Weiland made his non-challant entrance during the last few bars. It would prove to be the flamboyant frontman's least flashy moment of the evening.

From there, the band would dive headfirst into a 7-song set of mutual material, which included 'Sucker Train Blues' and 'Superhuman' off their 2004 album, Contraband.

It wasn't until launching into a set of old material that the band's stage presence really took off. On the STP classics, 'Vasoline' and 'Interstate Love Song,' Weiland's body writhed and gyrated into familiarity. Slash brought out a double-neck guitar on the GNR staple, 'Patience.' Weiland's vocals were as strong as ever as he wailed out, "Whoa oh oh, I need you!" The crowd sang back every word.

Guitarist Dave Kushner took a moment to give a shout-out, saying, "My whole family still lives here in Des Moines, they're all standing right over there." He pointed over to a large group near the side of the venue.

With plenty of steam left, the band rocked out new singles like 'She Builds Quick Machines' and 'Get Out the Door' with ease. Weiland introduced the band's hit ballad, 'Fall to Pieces' as, "...the first song we ever wrote together. It's one of those songs we immediately bonded over... I've lived it, every word."

Following a supercharged 'Set Me Free,' the band picked up and left the stage. Letting the crowd stomp and chant for several minutes, the band then returned for a notable encore.

Slash re-emerged with a double-necked, 6- and 12-string guitar. With a cigarette poking out in front of his sunglasses, he eased into a classic rendition of Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here.' Kushner brought out an acoustic, and the rest of the band joined in. The crowd took over the vocals on every chorus. But the mood wouldn't stay this calm for long.

Next they tore into familiar GNR territory with a hard-hitting rendition of 'Mr. Brownstone.' Weiland commanded the stage with a megaphone in hand. He crawled on top of the speakers, struck fanciful poses, and rubbed up against the guitarists. Dancing feverishly behind the drum riser, he even contributed to Matt Sorum's drumming by bashing out a cymbal part.

From there the band jumped into the fierce grunge of 'Sex Type Thing.' The STP standard sprawled into a 10 minute epic as Weiland abandoned the stage in favor of a bar top. The singer crowdsurfed his way back to stagefront, where he stood suspended above the crowd for several minutes, speaking in a rambling soliquoy. Meanwhile, the band entertained themselves. Slash played the guitar behind his head.

Weiland peeled off his last sweat-soaked layer of clothing, a striped longsleeve shirt, like a snake shedding skin. Appropriately, the band ended the show with 'Slither.' McKagen and Kushner raced across stage, trading positons on top of the monitors. Kushner's fingers moved in a fury. Slash burned his way through a solo.

With a few waves of thanks, and plenty of drum sticks and guitar picks thrown to the audience, the show was over. Weiland rode piggyback off the stage. The lights came on and the audience dispersed.

Velvet Revolver had spent a fine two hours on stage that night. The wide smiles of faces throughout the crowd seemed to agree.

Set List:
I Wanna Be Your Dog (Stooges cover)
Let it Roll
She Move
Sucker Train Blues
Do it for the Kids
Big Machine
American Man
Vasoline (Stone Temple Pilots)
The Last Fight
Interstate Love Song (STP)
Patience (Guns N' Roses)
She Builds Quick Machines
Get Out the Door
Fall to Pieces
It's So Easy
Set Me Free
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
Mr. Brownstone (GNR)
Sex Type Thing (STP)