Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

This US ex-pat is spending American Thanksgiving Day in Canada. I usually spend it with family in the US, but due to a family emergency it was not possible this year. At least I am still skipping out on work. Whoo-hooo! I wish I was a better cook though. Sigh. At least I still get to watch football! Oh wait, the Lions are playing. Never mind. Maybe I'll do some laundry.

Old 97's - Lonely Holiday (live).mp3
Buy: Alive & Wired (2005)
I posted the album version from Fight Songs a few weeks ago. Great song from a wicked live album.

Mary Gauthier - Thanksgiving.mp3
Buy: Between Daylight and Dark (2007)
Damn, I hate it when I have to visit momma in prison on Thanksgiving Day.

James McMurtry - Holiday.mp3
Buy: Childish Things (2005)
The third verse of this song describes my family perfectly. I saw McMurty in early 2007 and he did the last verse of this song a capella. The last verse is about a soldier going overseas, presumably to Iraq. You could have heard a pin drop. Amazing performance. Do yourself a favor and pick up this album.

Eric Rhame - Thanksgiving Day.mp3
Buy: Timber and Steel (2008)
Eric Rhame is an indie folk singer from Duluth, Minnesota. This song has everything you want on Thanksgiving - football, drunk uncles, and not a lot of leftovers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

For the Sake of the Song

I'm on a Townes Van Zandt bender today. Though he never had a hit in his 30+ year musical career, he was hugely influential many to country and folk artists. In fact, several artists had hits with songs written by him, including Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Emmylou Harris, who all had country hits by covering "Pancho and Lefty." Even Bob Dylan, who has no shortage of original material to choose from, has been known to cover Van Zandt songs while on tour. Speaking of Bobby D., a great quote from Steve Earle:

"[Townes Van Zandt is] the best songwriter in the whole world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that."

I have a feeling that Bob would agree. And then make Earle clean his coffee table and get the hell out of his house.

For The Sake Of The Song.mp3
Flyin' Shoes.mp3
Rex's Blues.mp3
From: Rear View Mirror (1993, out of print)

Monday, November 24, 2008

How I Find New Music

My previous post and subsequent discussion on how I am clueless about the band Muse led to the question of how I discover new music. There are four primary ways in which I learn about new artists/bands and new releases (roughly in order of importance).

1) Message Boards
I post and lurk on a few alt country themed message boards. I have been really into alt country styles of music for the last five years or so, but the genre is very loosely defined and often blurs into indie rock, Americana, singer/songwriter, folk, blues, and other genres. For example, Iron & Wine can be easily defined as alt country, folk, indie, singer/songwriter. Are the Drive-By Truckers alt country or rock? The answer is Yes.

A few of my favorite bands that I have discovered this way: Band of Horses, Chris Knight, Damien Jurado, Drag the River, The Fox Hunt, Jackie Green, Matthew Ryan, My Morning Jacket, Richmond Fontaine, Sparklehorse, Two Cow Garage, and many, many more.

Matthew Ryan
- Drunk And Disappointed.mp3
Buy: Matthew Ryan Vs. Silver State (2008)

Two Cow Garage - Come Back to Shelby.mp3
Buy: III (2007)
Not sure what the deal with Amazon is, but their track listing for III is all buggered up. You are probably better off buying this record from eMuisc, iTunes, or directly from Suburban Home Records.

2) Word of Mouth
Is there anything better than when friend recommends a kick ass band to you? When someone knows your taste in music, its awesome when they find something that they think you would really like. This is how I discovered Caroline Herring, Chris Mills, James McMurtry, Josh Ritter, Justin Townes Earle, The Mountain Goats, The Sadies, Todd Snider, and many others.

Chris Mills - Such A Beautiful Thing.mp3
Buy: Living in the Aftermath (2008)

Justin Townes Earle - Ain't Glad I'm Leavin'.mp3
Buy: The Good Life (2008)

3) Podcasts
I regularly listen to podcasts from KEXP, CBC Radio 2, and NPR All Songs Considered. I have found tons of great music this way, mostly from KEXP. KEXP is a public, user-supported (no commercials) radio station out of Seattle, that has a huge world-wide internet following. Unfortunately I do not get to listen to their live streaming as often as I would like to as I am not usually at my desk at work for more than 15-20 min at a time, but their podcast series is outstanding. Artists I have found through all three of these sources include Amy Milan, Basia Bulat, Beirut, Danny Michel, Devotchka, Ted Leo, Voxtrot, and many others.

I blame/thank KEXP for my two largest band obsessions over the last three years. I heard both of the below tracks on their "Song of the Day" podcast series and was so blown away that I immediately went out and bought their entire catalogs (which at the time was not that large), and I continue to be a hugely devoted follower.

The Hold Steady - Stevie Nix.mp3
Buy: Separation Sunday (2005)

Okkervil River - The President's Dead.mp3
Buy: Single (2006), available on iTunes & eMusic.

4) Other Music Blogs
Blogs are usually the last place I find new music. I mainly read music blogs for their concert and album reviews, or to learn about an older artist (see my links list). My favorite indie rock blog is Chromewaves because he blogs about everything alternative going on in the city of Toronto, including the occasional art and film review. Nine Bullets is my favorite alt country blog, while Setting the Woods on Fire does a masterful job of teaching readers about classic country music and other forgotten goodies.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

2005: the downfall of my car, alternative radio, and Spin

Last night I was cleaning my room and I came across a pile of Spin magazines. I compulsively save music magazines with the thought that I am going to read them two to three years down the road to see if the music prognosticators were right about who is the next big thing (they are usually wrong). What actually happens is that I get annoyed by all of this paper clogging my tiny apartment and toss the entire stack into the recycling bin. I pulled out the issue on the very bottom of the pile, January 2006, featuring The Killers on the cover. As I paged through the section "The Year in Music 2005," I realized something very striking. 2005 was the last year I listened to local alternative radio. And this is mostly because 2005 was the last year I had a car. My 1993 Mercury Tracer (aka "Speed Tracer") died and was laid to rest near Renfrew, Ontario, during an ill-fated road trip to Bryson, Quebec. This gem of American auto engineering did not have a CD player, and I was way too lazy to dig out tapes, so I nearly always listened to the local alternative rock station, 102.1 The Edge (we can debate later as to whether this station is really "alternative").

According to Spin, these were the top singles of 2005:
1. "Feel Good Inc.," The Gorillaz
2. "Sugar, We're Goin Down," Fall Out Boy
3. "1 Thing," Amerie
4. "Still Tippin," Mike Jones feat. Slim Thug and Paul Wall
5. "Gold Digger," Kayne West
6. "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People," The Legendary KO (uh, this didn't make it north of the border, much less on mainstream Canadian radio)
7. "Since U Been Gone," Kelly Clarkson
8. "Welcome to the Jamrock," Damien Marley
9. "Do You Want To," Franz Ferdinand
10. "Hollaback Girl," Gwen Stefani
11. "Mr. Brightside," The Killers
12. "Gasolina," Daddy Yankee
13. "Lose Control," Missy Elliott feat. Ciara and Fat Man Scoop
14. "Helena," My Chemical Romance
15. "Formed a Band," Art Brut
16. "There it Go! (The Whistle Song)," Juelz Santana
17. "The Importance of Being Idle," Oasis
18. "Random," Lady Sovereign
19. "Banquet," Bloc Party
20. "Wake Me Up When September Ends," Green Day

I will admit to having all of these tracks except 3, 4, 6, 8, 13, 16 & 18 in my MP3 collection, and I enjoyed myself while dancing to most of these songs. At one point I did try to listen to Amerie and Lady Sovereign, but I'm not a big hip-hop fan and couldn't get into them.

After doing a quick and probably very inaccurate internet search on the top Alternative or "Modern Rock" singles of 2006 and 2007, I realize I have no clue who many these bands are, much less being able to hum along to one of their singles. AFI? Bedouin Soundclash? Yellowcard? Stabilo? Of course I recognize the Coldplays and Pearl Jams and the Red Hot Chili Peppers of the group, but seriously, who the fuck is Muse? Plain White T's? Sick Puppies? I am sure that some of these bands put out great poppy alternative tracks in 2006-7, but I really have no clue what they sound like.

Possibly not coincidentally, shortly after my car died I ended my relationship with Spin. In early 2006 Spin was sold to a new publisher, their editor-in-chief of five years was fired, and Chuck Klosterman stopped reporting and writing essays for the magazine. The June 2006 issue featured freakin' Beyonce. And this is an alternative music magazine? Rolling Stone penis envy all the way. The worst is that I payed extra to have that crap shipped to Canada. My subscription did not run out until early 2008, and by that time I had actually stopped reading it altogether, although the late-2007/early-2008 issues are still in a pile on my bedroom floor. I next attempted to subscribe to Harp, which went out of business after I got my first issue (I never even got billed for it).

In the future when/if I get another car, it will undoubtedly have a CD player and/or an MP3 player outlet, so I can't imagine that I will go back to listening to alternative radio. Its a shame too. My first exposure to alternative rock was listening to bands such as The Replacements, The Cure, and The Dead Milkmen on college radio in central Wisconsin. I'm sure there a tons of great rock and pop songs on the radio right now. Unfortunately, I am not going to hear them.

Fall Out Boy - Sugar, We're Going Down.mp3
Buy: From Under the Cork Tree (2005)

The Killers
- Mr. Brightside.mp3
Buy: Hot Fuss (2004)

My Chemical Romance - Helena.mp3
Buy: Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (2004)

The Speed Tracer on a camping trip in 2002

Friday, November 21, 2008

You Can't Live This Way

Drag the River is an alt country band from Fort Collins, Colorado, that has been putting out albums for over eight years. Unfortunately for me, I just discovered them this year. Their latest release, You Can't Live This Way, is quickly becoming one of my top albums of 2008. Here are a few tracks that I particularly enjoy.

Death of the Life of the Party.mp3
Buy: You Can't Live This Way (2008)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

More Massive Nights

My favorite Toronto music blogger says in one sentence what I couldn't do in several pages. Frank from Chromewaves:
"Whereas The Hold Steady embody the spirit of giddy youth and the mistakes and mishaps that come with it, the Drive-By Truckers are about life and experience and being worn down by it all, yet still standing up."
He also took some sweet photos.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stuck Between Rockstars

Concert Review: The Hold Steady and the Drive-By Truckers, "Rock and Roll Means Well" tour, November 11, 2008, The Phoenix, Toronto

Bad haircuts. Geeky glasses. Horrible fashion sense. Am I describing myself or the rock band, The Hold Steady? The answer is "Yes" (except for keyboardist Franz Nicolay - that dude is stylin'!). But don't ever accuse the dorks (or their nerdy fans) of not bringing the rock.

I have to admit that when I found out that two of the best live bands that I had ever seen were touring together, I peed my pants a little in excitement. The Hold Steady and the Drive-By Truckers are touring together this fall on the "Rock and Roll Means Well" tour, the line taken out of the Trucker's song "Marry Me." The two bands are alternating headline acts, with The Hold Steady opening in Toronto at the Phoenix Concert Hall.

They kicked open their set with "Stuck Between Stations" from their epic 2006 album Boys and Girls in America, and rocked many tracks off of their latest release Stay Positive. In addition, they played many songs from their older albums, much to my delight. The only mild "down" point in the show was the song "Milkcrate Mosh," and not that it didn't rock, but that song was never released in North America so not a lot of the people in the crowd knew it.

Lead-singer/lead-dork Craig Finn bounced around the stage and gesticulated wildly, with a goofy grin on his face, and wailed on his rhythm guitar imprinted with a Minnesota Twins logo. He and his fellow band members rehydrated with Budweiser between songs, and guitarist Tad Kubler (who went to the same high school that my mother attended), kicked some smokin' guitar solos. A crowd sing-along broke out during the quasi-ballad, "Lord I'm Discouraged," and while Nicolay played the accordion, Kubler went back to the power ballads of 1985 and pulled out the double neck guitar for his solo.

THS finished their hour and 15 min set with "Slapped Actress," and got the crowd to sing along to the a capella ending. My ears were only partially bleeding, and only half of my faced had melted off, so I was still ready for more rock (and more beer).

The Hold Steady
1. Stuck Between Stations - Boys and Girls in America (2006)
2. Sequestered in Memphis - Stay Positive (2008)
3. Navy Sheets - Stay Positive
4. Banging Camp - Separation Sunday (2005)
5. The Swish - Almost Killed Me (2004)
6. Magazines - Stay Positive
7. Girls Like Status - Aqua Teen Hunger Force Soundtrack (2007)
8. Same Kooks - Boys and Girls in America
9. Joke About Jamaica - Stay Positive
10. Stay Positive - Stay Positive
11. Milkcrate Mosh - extended Australian version of Almost Killed Me (2004)
I can't find this track - help a sister out??? And why are there never Canadian extended versions???
12. Chips Ahoy - Boys and Girls in America
13. Constructive Summer - Stay Positive
14. Lord, I'm Discouraged - Stay Positive
15. Multitude of Casualties - Separation Sunday
16. Most People are DJs - Almost Killed Me
17. Slapped Actress - Stay Positive

Most People are DJs.mp3
Buy: Almost Killed Me (2004)

Banging Camp.mp3

Buy: Separation Sunday (2005)

I can't think of a good way to review the Drive-By Truckers show other than to do a song-by-song commentary. My thoughts/observations are in dark blue italics.

Drive-By Truckers
1. Where the Devil Don't Stay - The Dirty South (2004)
2. Lookout Mountain - The Dirty South
Whoa! That one-two knockout punch! Now that's how you open a show!!! Wicked guitar solos by Mike Cooley and John Neff.

3. The Company I Keep - Pizza Deliverance (1999)
An extended version of a song that I hadn't heard the other three times I have seen the Truckers live. Awesome.

4. Gravity's Gone - A Blessing and a Curse (2006)
Another sweet Neff solo.

5. Why Henry Drinks - Gangstabilly (1998)
The crowd gets kind of restless here. Singer Patterson Hood commented that they had not done this song live in a long time, and I don't think that many in the audience knew it. Plus, its sort of a mellow song, which made it seem to drag after the previous rock tracks.

6. Sinkhole - Decoration Day (2003)
Fuck Yeah! I love this song! Neff adds some cool texture to the song with the pedal steel.

7. A Ghost to Most - Brighter Than Creation's Dark (2008)
8. The Righteous Path - Brighter Than Creation's Dark
9. I'm Sorry Houston - Brighter Than Creation's Dark
A trio of goodies by all three singers off of the new album. Bassist Shonna Tucker sounds a lot more vocally confident that she did when I saw them back in March.

10. Love Like This - Pizza Deliverance
WOW! I haven't heard this song in ages. The sadness in Cooley's voice is breaking my heart!

11. The Living Bubba - Gangstabilly
Its about this point where I notice people leaving. WTF? I assume that the people leaving are all hipsters that are there just to see THS. Fuck you hipsters! Your loss!

12. Women Without Whiskey - Southern Rock Opera (2001)
This is the first DBT track that I had even heard. I just love this song. And, its the first time I have heard it live.

13. Heathens - Decoration Day
14. 3 Dimes Down - Brighter Than Creation's Dark
Another killer Cooley guitar solo. After this song Cooley lights up a smoke and takes a swig from the Jack Daniels bottle before passing it off to Tucker. Is there anyone cooler or more bad-ass than Mike Cooley? Seriously.

15. Home Field Advantage - Brighter Than Creation's Dark
This song opens with a face-melting drum solo from Brad "Easy B" Morgan. Tucker goes down to the front row and slaps hands with the crowd, to which Hood says, "Shonna! What's gottin' into you tonight!?!"

16. Ronnie and Neil - Southern Rock Opera
What a sweet song to play in Neil Young country.

17. Hell No, I Ain't Happy - Decoration Day
Another kick-ass Neff guitar solo.

Encore (And an unusually long wait. Maybe Cooley had to run out to buy more smokes.)
Craig Finn joins in to sing along during the encore. Holy shit is he loaded, and spilling beer everywhere! Ha ha ha! He may be the worst white-boy dancer in the history of white-boy dancing, but he has such a silly smile on his face the entire time so who cares! He takes turns swigging JD and Jameson Irish Whiskey with the Truckers.

18. Marry Me - Decoration Day
Ah, the signature song of the tour.

19. Let There Be Rock - Southern Rock Opera
Cooley is playing guitar with a lit cigarette in his right hand. Now that is talent.

20. People Who Died - Alabama Ass Whuppin' (1999)
Hood hands his guitar to Finn, and proceeds to freak out on stage. Head banging, writhing on the floor, yelling at the top of his lungs. Now this is rock and roll!!!!!! Whoooo-hoooo! Possibly the best closing song of all time. And Neff ensures that my ears are fully bleeding and that my face is totally melted off. Awesome.

I hope to regain my hearing and facial structure by sometime next week.

Why Henry Drinks.mp3

Buy: Gangstabilly (1998)

The Company I Keep.mp3
Buy: Pizza Deliverance (1999)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rock and Roll Means Well

"Rock and roll means well, but it can't help tellin' young boys lies."
- Mike "The Stroker Ace" Cooley, "Marry Me"

Man oh man am I excited about this show tonight. The Drive-By Truckers and The Hold Steady, two of the best live acts going today, in one show! A concert made in Aimz heaven!

Check out a preview of the show and an interview with The Hold Steady's Craig Finn in today's Toronto Star.

Drive-By Truckers - Marry Me.mp3
Buy: Decoration Day (2003)

The Hold Steady - Sequestered in Memphis.mp3
Buy: Stay Positive (2008)

Monday, November 10, 2008

When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose

Note: I was traveling for business last week and could not post do to a crap internet connection at the downtown Marriott in Kansas City. Booo-urns. This should have been posted on Thurs., Nov. 6.

I was feeling all smug about the fact that I found out that Barack Obama had secured enough electoral votes to be the next president of the United States of America from Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, and not some knob like Wolf Blitzer, when my buddy Jackattack one-upped me.
You guys found out from CNN, Jon Stewart, etc. I got you all beat: Bob Dylan told me. I went to his show in MPLS tonight. Bob and the band left after their first set and when they returned he informed the crowd that Obama had won the electoral vote. Then he played "Like a Rolling Stone," "Blowin' in the Wind," and the concert was over. As we spilled out from the auditorium onto a big courtyard at the U. of Minnesota a rally was already underway, complete with chants, drum circles, giggling, screaming, and cellphone photos galore. It was really something. The sense of just...overwhelming joy was so palpable you could almost taste it. And Dylan was pretty good too
Like a Rolling Stone (live version).mp3
Blowin' in the Wind (live version).mp3
Buy: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (The Bootleg Series Vol. 7) (2005)

Rockin' in the Free World

Note: I was traveling for business last week and could not post do to a crap internet connection at the downtown Marriott in Kansas City. Booo-urns. This should have been posted on Wed., Nov. 5.

"I didn't vote for him, but I wish him well."
- Overheard at Kansas City International Airport

Neil Young - Rockin' in the Free World (live acoustic).mp3
Buy: Freedom (1989)

It was a great day to be an American on Nov. 5, 2008. As I cruised through the Toronto airport, the election was all everyone was talking about, especially the Canadians. And most of the people that I met, such as the gentleman in the above quote, were, for the first time in a long time, genuinely hopeful about the future. Even my father's distant cousins in Germany e-mailed him to congratulate him on the president-elect.

"Rockin' in the Free World" is one of my favorite Neil Young songs. It was written in the context of the 1980's Regan/Bush I American, but I think it still rings pretty true today. The song is very incendiary, but with a hint of hopefulness. The US has lots of problems, and those problems are not going to go away with a new president. There is a ton of work to be done.

Got a man of the people, says keep hope alive,
Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive.
Keep on rockin' in the Free World!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I'm Old

"What a drag it is getting old." - Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

The Rolling Stones
- Mothers Little Helper.mp3
Originally from Flowers(1967)

"Hope I die before I get old." - Pete Townshend

The Who - My Generation.mp3
Originally from The Who Sings My Generation(1966)

"Hope I die before I turn into Pete Townshend." - Kurt Cobain, quote from his journal.

Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit.mp3
Buy: Nevermind (1991), Journals (2003)