Thursday, February 26, 2009

Drinking Again

My blogger buddy Paul at Setting the Woods on Fire is conducting a poll on the ultimate drinking songs. One of the first songs to pop into my head is this track by the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. It is off of a 1980 Columbia records compilation called Aretha Sings the Blues. I have no idea where I picked up this CD, but I have had it for years. I must have bought it when I was a student because it still has a "Nice Price" sticker on it, meaning it must have been cheap.

On this compilation Aretha pours her heart and soul into songs about loneliness, heartache, lost and unrequited love, and opportunities missed. She channels her inner Billie Holiday and uses her massive vocal range to insert heartfelt emotion into every song. You will be blubbering into your bourbon by the end of this disc. Or, in Aretha's case, sobbing into your Seegram's.

Drinking Again.mp3
(according to my CD, this track was originally recorded in 1964)
Buy (for only $6.99!): Aretha Sings the Blues (1980)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Winter Blues

The end of February/beginning of March is time of year when everyone in Canada fights a terrible case of cabin fever and/or seasonal affective disorder. I've been so grumpy that I don't even want to blog, much less go to work, do my dishes, go the gym, etc. Here are a few tracks to help pull you (and me) through the rest of winter.

I remember this one from my parent's record collection:
The Mamas & the Papas - California Dreamin'.mp3
Buy: If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears (1966, reissued 1998)

For comparison:
American Music Club - California Dreamin'.mp3
From: San Francisco (1994, out of print)

Simon & Garfunkel - Hazy Shade of Winter.mp3
Buy: Bookends (1968, reissued 2001)

I have always liked this electric version:
The Bangles -Hazy Shade of Winter.mp3
Buy: Less Than Zero Soundtrack (1987)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Blitzen Trapper: Aimz vs. The Hipsters

Review: Blitzen Trapper, February 21, The Horseshoe, Toronto

Like most of the fans at last night's Blitzen Trapper show, I only learned of their music upon the release of 2008's Furr. I first listened to Furr on a train from Windsor to Toronto, Ontario, and I thought, "man, these dudes are hippies," and I got the urge to smoke a giant joint. I would describe their music as folk-rock, but they cross so many genres that its hard to put a label on them. Their music is similar to that of their fellow Portland, Oregon, residents, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. Furr is a good album, and it made many critic's 2008 best-of lists. I find that it drags a bit towards the end, with too many mellow folky tunes for my taste. Furr is their fourth album, and their second release from the Sub Pop label.

Three things surprised me at their sold out show at the Horseshoe last night. First, for the most part these guys are not the unshowered, hairy hippies that I thought they would be. Second, the sextet uses a huge range of instrumentation, including several keyboards and synthesizers, lots of percussion instruments, and even musical toys. Third, they really rocked their live show! The lead singer had a great vocal performance, and displayed his musical grace on the keyboards, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar. (Bear with me people, I don't know the band member's names.) He was complemented vocally by the harmonies of the drummer and the chatty, red-head multi-instrumentalist at the right of the stage. The Horseshoe was blazingly hot on this cold, snowy winter night, and the heat can bugger up vocal harmonies, so I really appreciated the singing much more so than I ever noticed on the record.

The band played many tracks from Furr, but also played a lot of tracks that I was unfamiliar with. The lead singer did a rousing acoustic version of the western classic "Cocaine Blues," much to the delight of the older folks in the crowd (like me). My favorite track from Furr, "Not Your Lover," was beautiful, with just piano and vocal harmony. The crowd went nuts when they player their title track. Overall, a great show by some very talented musicians.

I think they really nailed this song last night:
Black River Killer.mp3
Listen to the killer synth part, which the chatty, red-head multi-instrumentalist said they stole from Dr. Dre.
Buy: Furr (2008)

They have more downloads on their website, plus they have three live sessions available for free download on Daytrotter from 2007, February 2008, and September 2008.

Not to take away from Blitzen Trapper's performance, but I have had it with hipsters. I understand that Blitzen Trapper is an "it" band right now, but I am convinced that most of the people at the show last night were there just to be seen or to tell their friends that they were there. They only song anyone knew was "Furr," which is fine, but how about shutting the fuck up so the rest of us can hear the rest of the show? Chat, chat, chat, yell, yell, tip-over-because-you-are-wasted-on-Labatt 50 (the PBR of Canada), blah, blah, blah. Let's leave the Blackberries and iPhones in our pockets during the show, OK? There is no need to text your friends about which after-hours club to meet at during the performance. I actually heard once girl yell, "I don't know any of these songs! I only listen to the one song over and over again!" I nearly slapped her. Another good comment, "Oh my god it is so hot in here!" Yes, it was super hot, but it doesn't help that you are wearing a tweed jacket, a sweater vest, and a toque. I know I sound old and crotchety (tell me something I don't know), but please people, learn some concert etiquette or stay home!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Music vs. The Misery

What came first - the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?

People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands - literally thousands - of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don't know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they've been listening to the sad songs longer than they've been living the unhappy lives.
- Nick Hornby
Buy: High Fidelity: A Novel (1995)
The book takes place in London, England, and follows the life of Rob Fleming.
Buy: High Fidelity DVD (2000)
The movie takes place in Chicago, USA, and follows the life of Rob Gordon.
They are both great, but, an as American who once lived in Chicago and who has had a crush on John Cusack since Say Anything (1989), I like the movie better.

The Smiths - Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.mp3
Buy: Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)

Crazy Horse - I Don't Want To Talk About It.mp3
Buy: Crazy Horse (1971, reissued 1994)

Nazareth - Love Hurts.mp3
Buy: Hair of the Dog (1975, reissued 2008)

Bee Gees - How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.mp3
Buy: Trafalgar (1971, CD out of print, buy MP3s only)

Colin Hay - I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You.mp3
Buy: Transcendental Highway (1999)

Two Dollar Pistols - You Ruined Everything.mp3
Buy: You Ruined Everything (2002)

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Other Paisley

I love it when I get music recommendations from other continents. But its even better when someone from another country recommends an artist from your hometown. Just this week I had an 18-year-old from Brazil e-mail me a track from The Sadies. It made me laugh because The Sadies are my favorite Canadian band, and I love the fact that someone half my age in the southern hemisphere is digging their music as much as I do.

Also this week, a friend across the pond in the UK told me about Doug Paisley (MySpace), a Toronto country artist. At first I thought he was talking about Brad Paisley, of cheeseball Nashville new-country radio fame, and I said "no thank you." Fortunately, I was totally wrong about this comparison. Although they share a surname, the two Paisleys couldn't be more stylistically apart. Doug plays more of a classic singer/songwriter stripped down style of country music, and reminds me of a countrified Jim James (lead singer of My Morning Jacket), with obvious musical influences from Canadian icons Neil Young and Levon Helm.

He had his CD release party last night at the Dakota Tavern, but I am old and it was a school night, so I skipped it. Yeah, I know, I suck. I am hoping to catch more of him around the Toronto area very soon.

What About Us.mp3
Buy: Doug Paisley (2009)
Also available on eMusic and on No Quarter Records

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gary Louris & Mark Olson, Toronto

Review: Gary Louris & Mark Olson, February 4, The Mod Club, Toronto

When I go to a live show I usually bring up the average audience age. At the Mod Club last Wednesday, the exact opposite happened. Gary Louris (age 53) and Mark Olson (age 47) brought out an eclectic and well-worn crowd on the coldest night of 2009, and did not disappoint (-26C/-15F for those Minnesotans who happen to be reading). The Mod Club is an unusual place for an acoustic pseudo Jayhawks reunion, as it is a dance club on weekends. In fact, the last show I saw there was Sparklehorse in early 2007. For this show the dance floor was covered with about 100 folding chairs, and you had to be there at 8:00 when the doors opened to get one. I was loitering at a pub across the street, so I ended up standing in back. In the back I spotted a few members of The Sadies, who's most recent album was produced by Louris, as well as members of the Skydiggers.

Olson and Louris gave a great acoustic show, featuring many songs off of their new release Ready for the Flood. They also played many Jayhawks classics, much to the delight of the audience. Their trademark vocal harmonies where beautiful to listen to, and damn these boys can sing. But during the entire show, I felt like a little something was missing. By the end I realized that, as much as the acoustic show was wonderful to listen to, I really wanted to hear Olson and Louris play with a full band. Maybe this is part of me wanting to hear the Jayhawks play again, hearkening back to my days in Wisconsin where I actually heard Jayhawks music on the radio (remember the good old days when radio didn't suck?). But, according to a 2008 Onion A.V. Club interview with Louris, producer Rick Rubin still owns the Jayhawks name. Hopefully Rubin will release these guys from any subsequent contractual obligations and let them make music together again (after all, isn't Rubin busy ruining Columbia records?).

About halfway through the show Olson commented that they had to leave Toronto by 3:00 a.m., and he would "see you at the Tim Horton's." Turns out they had a date with David Letterman the next day. Letterman tapes his show in midtown Manhattan in the late afternoon/early evening, for airing that night. Louris and Olson really nailed their performance. Check it out:

Mark Olson & Gary Louris
- Turn Your Pretty Name Around.mp3
Buy: Ready For The Flood (2009)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Guest Review: Mark Olson & Gary Louris, Oslo, Dec. 6

Note: I am seeing Mark Olson & Gary Louris in concert tonight, and to get ready for the show I went back and re-read a killer review that my buddy Jan wrote after seeing them in Oslo, Norway, on Dec. 6, 2008. Since Jan rules, he gave me permission to repost it here. Enjoy!

Mark Olson & Gary Louris, John Dee, Oslo, December 6, 2008

I just got back from Oslo and a terrific concert at the John Dee! My brother Knut, our friend Dag and I drove in yesterday. Spinning Ready For The Flood most of the way. Dag got Knut and I into The Jayhawks back in 1999. He gave us Hollywood Town Hall, Tomorrow The Green Grass and Blue Earth. He got us into Joe Henry and Olson's Creekdippers stuff, and much, much more. Getting the chance to see Mark Olson and Gary Louris live with Dag is a dream come true. He is a true fan, and the nicest guy ever!

We got there early, I always try to be the first one in the door. So I can get a beer, and hang out in front of the stage. The show was sold out, and I talked to a bunch of nice people who was just as anxious as us for the show to start. The warm up act was good, Ingunn Ringvold aka Sailorine the new drummer chick who has toured with Mark since Salvation Blues played six songs or so, the highlight was a nice cover of the Creekdippers tune "Big Ol' Sign."

After Sailorine, Mark came out and tune up his guitar, then left. Gary came out wearing his typical sunglasses, black shirt and jeans and some killer looking cowboy boots, he tuned up and left too. After ten minutes they got back on stage and the crowd went apeshit! Man, we're talking a Jayhawks loving crowd here!

I was standing right in front of the stage, looking up at both Mark and Gary the whole time. They kicked off the set with "Pray For Me" followed by "Bicycle" (could be the best Louris song ever!!!), a glorious rendition of "Nothing Left To Borrowed" followed, the crowd sang along all the way. Then they did "Bloody Hands" from "Ready For The Flood", Gary introduced it and said, "This is a song we used to play back in Minnesota in the early days." Then came "Two Hearts," a goose bump moment for me. The harmonies sent shivers down my spine. Just amazing! Mark was sweating up a storm under the hot spot lights. Hell, he used to live in Joshua Tree?

Anyway, while he was asking for a towel to soak up some sweat Gary told us that they were going to play the first song they wrote when they got back together again. The song turned out to be "Say You'll Be Mine" from Olson's December's Child. I thought to myself, "fucking A!" and started singing along. Mark noticed me and when the line "dipped my honeycomb in a coffee can" came up, he looked me straight in the eyes, mounted the words along with me, grinned like a motherfucker, nodded at me and said, "That's right!" The guys next to me cheered and people applauded. It was just a little moment, but for me it was really special. I was singing that song in my room an hour or so before we drove to Oslo.

Mark and Gary played at least 25 songs. "Blue," "Doves and Stones," "Waiting for The Sun," "See Him on the Street," "Over My Shoulder," "Two Angels," "Clouds," "Settled Down Like Rain," "Sister Cry," "Saturday Morning on Sunday Street," "When The Wind Comes Up,".... "Bad Time" was an unlikely highlight for me, I like the song, but on the other hand I've never cared THAT much for it either. The live version kicked so much ass! Gary is one hell of a singer! The crowd swayed together and sang along. Gary dedicated "Chamberlain S.D" to anybody there from South Dakota. Gary played some kickass harmonica solos, and Mark looked like he was having a blast too.

After the show Mark and Gary signed records. We bought copies of their new tour EP, The Bicycle Sessions a 6 track EP featuring songs from Ready for the Flood recorded in Amsterdam with just Mark and Gary singing and playing. They only had 100 copies made. I'd brought my copy of My Own Jo Ellen and Mark signed it, and he thanked me for singing along. I thanked him for a great show and shook his hand. Gary signed the tour CD, and I said that I didn't bring my copy of Vagabonds because I thought he was going to sell it there, he said he'd sign it for me the next time, I thanked him for the show, and the up close two hour guitar lesson. He laughed, shook my hand and thanked me for coming out. Knut and Dag also shook hands and got their records signed. The four hour drive back home was spent marveling over what we'd witnessed. This is probably the best show I've ever been to. I gained a ton of respect for Gary Louris, and my love for Mark is even stronger (if that's possible). Mark has always been my favorite, but now they are pretty much equal in my book.

If you get a chance, go see them! Buy Ready For The Flood(released in North American on Jan. 27, '09), buy Vagabonds(2008), buy The Salvation Blues(2007).... dig out those old Jayhawks records. This is timeless music with heart and soul that I'll never get tired of. God bless Mark and Gary! Thanks for listening.

Mark Olson & Gary Louris - Bicycle.mp3
From: The Bicycle Sessions (2008 European Tour Limited Edition EP)

The Jayhawks - Waiting for the Sun.mp3
Buy: Hollywood Town Hall (1992, reissued 2006, out of stock at Amazon)

The Jayhawks - Blue.mp3
Buy: Tomorrow the Green Grass (1995, reissued 2002)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Every Day is Like Sunday

I read this in the Toronto Star this morning and it made me LOL.

"It will be worth it being dead just to get away from Victoria Beckham." -Morrissey

Oh no you di'int!

Morrissey - Every Day is Like Sunday.mp3
Buy: Viva Hate (1990)