Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Music and Misery #20-18

"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?" - Nick Hornby, High Fidelity (1995)

Back in January Forbes came out with a list of the 20 most "miserable" cities in the US (minimum population of 245,000), and came up with a "misery index" based on violent crime rates, unemployment, inflation, local sales tax, weather, local political corruption, and sucky sports teams. Some of the cities on the list have been miserable a long, long time, while others are somewhat debatable in their misery.

I've always had this thought that misery leads to good music. I can think of a few artists that created tremendous music while they were depressed or miserable, and then when they became happy, they really started to suck. For instance, Bob Dylan's 1975 classic Blood on the Tracks, which is one of my favorite albums of all time, was written while Dylan was going through a separation from his wife. Then look at Dylan's 80s output. Not so hot.

Since I have been pretty miserable lately, I thought I would run down the Forbes misery list and match the city with musicians who came out of or are currently living in that city, regardless if the artist is miserable or really fucking happy.

20. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
City of Brother Love. 5th largest city in the US with a metro area of 5.8 million people. 10.6% unemployment. Ranked 15th most violent city the US in 2009. $600-$800 million city budget deficit. 7% sales tax. Cold winters. Except for the 2008 World Series won by the Phillies, the city has not had a sports championship since 1983. And the fans are notoriously loyal, but surly - they boo freakin' Santa Claus!

I know that Philly has a tremendous hip-hop/rap scene. And jazz legend John Coltrane was born there. But I am going to focus on some punks that made my miserable teenage years a lot more bearable.

The Dead Milkmen - Life is Shit.mp3
Buy: Beelzebubba (1988)

19. Gary, Indiana
On the southern end of Lake Michigan, population around 100,000. (I guess there is a metro area to qualify it for this list, but I can't find its population. I always figured that Gary was practically a suburb of Chicago.) Unemployment rate of 15.5%. Was second in homicides per capital in 2008. 6% sales tax. $34 Million in city debts. Friggin cold winters with wind blowing off Lake Michigan, and lots of smog blowing in from Chicago and other industrial pollution in the summers. Do they follow Chicago sports? One word: Cubs. Or Notre Dame football? Miserable. At least there is the Colts to the south.

The only musician I can come up with from Gary is Michael Jackson, and the rest of the crazy Jackson family. I don't have any Michael Jackson or Jackson 5 mp3s at my disposal. And then there's that crappy "Gary, Indiana" song from The Music Man, which I had to play in high school.

Although this musician is from Virginia, here is a bad-ass song about hard times in Gary's state.

Scott Miller - Sin in Indiana.mp3
Buy: For Crying Out Loud (2009)

18. Youngstown, Ohio
Where you stop to pee on your road trip from Chicago to New York. 570,000 residents in the metro area (Youngstown has a metro area?). Trying to reinvent itself since the steel industry collapsed in the 1970s, and still working on it. 14.1% unemployment. 6.5% sales tax. Can't find much data on recent crime rates, but in the past it wasn't good. And according to Forbes, "Youngstown's favorite son, former Congressman Jim Traficant, is considering running for Congress again after serving seven years in prison on bribery, racketeering and tax evasion charges. Needless to say Youngstown ranks high on our corruption metric." Being close-ish to Cleveland, I'm assuming they cheer for such miserable teams as the Browns. Though the Cavaliers are a hell of a team, and Ohio State to the east isn't so bad either.

Holy crap! I just learned that Dave Grohl was born in Warren, OH, part of the famous Youngstown metropolitan area. Fuck yeah!

Foo Fighters - Good Grief.mp3
Buy: Foo Fighters (1995)

Here's a track from a compilation of songs about the history of America, complied in part by supreme court justice Janet Reno (no shit). Matthew Ryan (not from Youngstown) delivers a brilliantly bleak vocal performance in describing the misery of the post-World War II rust belt.

Matthew Ryan - Youngstown.mp3
Buy: Song of America (2007)

Edit: thanks to reader Tualla for telling me that the song "Youngstown" was originally written by Bruce Springsteen and is from The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March Feel Bad for You Comp

Another fine comp from our good buddies at
You can download this comp as a zipped file for one week only. Enjoy!

1. Gun Club - "Mother Of Earth"
Miami (1982)
Comments: No altcountry collection complete without this early classic.

2. Doug Sahm - "You Was For Real"
The Return Of Wayne Douglas (2000)

3. Johnny Cash - Donut Ad.mp3
From: Celebrity Commercials Of The 50s and 60's (196?, out of print)
Comments: Live radio donut shop commercial from JC.

4. Johnny Powers - "Long Blond Hair, Rose Red Lips"
Lost and Found Rockabilly (1957)
Comments: rockabilly gold ...

5. Swing Set - "When Your Heart Stops Working"
The Great Shakes EP (2008)
Comments: This is a simple little pop song from one of my favorite unknown EPs from 2008.

6. Porchsleeper - "Three Hours"
So Much More Than This (2008)
Comments: Here's a song that perfectly encapsulates what it must be like to be in a lower tier rock band, the kind of band that isn't quite big enough to be talked about on ACT, the kind of band that doesn't make you enough money to be your primary source of income etc. "Another four band bill/ full of wannabes that never will."

7. Pleasant Grove - "Calculated Approaches"
The Art of Leaving (2004)
Comments: Never hear them mentioned much on ACT, save for the Texas buddies.

8. Psychic Stunts - "Wind Up The Sound"
Panic In Motion (2010)

9. Waylon Jennings - "Six Strings Away"
Jewels (1968)

10. The Haynes Boys - "Hell On Earth"
Guardian Angel (1996)
Comments: Tim Easton's old band, and this is one of my fav tunes from it (though there's many)!

11. The Wheat Pool - Right Arm.mp3
Buy: Hauntario (2009)
Comments: This album is altcountry at its finest (IMHO).

12. Matthew Hornell and the Diamond Minds - Khaki Dodgers.mp3
Buy: Matthew Hornell and the Diamond Minds (2010)
Comments: Local act that just released their debut album. This song is about Matt's grandmother (who attended his CD release show!) and grandfather. Loaded with Newfoundland cultural references too.

13. Matthew Hornell and the Diamond Minds - "Goodbye For Now"
Matthew Hornell and the Diamond Minds (2010)
Comments: The closing tune from the album.

14. Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 - "Mais Que Nada"
Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 (1966)

15. Asskickers - "One Horse Town"
The Other Side Of Town (2001)

16. Sammy - "Neptune Ave. (Ortho Hi Rise)"
Tales Of Great Neck Glory (1996)

17. Sparklehorse - "Its Not So Hard"
Dreamt for Light Years in a Belly of a Mountain (2006)
Comments: RIP ML

18. Clutch - "Cypress Grove"
Blast Tyrant (2004)

19. J.Period and K'naan - It's Alright, Ma (J.Period Remix).mp3
FromThe Messengers (2009)
Download entire album here.

20. Great American Taxi - "New Madrid"
Reckless Habits (2010)

21. Elephant Micah - "Hidden River Run"
Mayor of Rocky Ripple (2010)
Comments: Classic Elephant Micah song. I can't get it our of my head. Love the instrumentation on this one, which includes drums, electric guitar, and I believe a mandolin (or possibly a banjo). Cool lyrics too.

22. Elephant Micah - Independent Hearts.mp3
Buy: Mayor of Rocky Ripple (2010)
Comments: I've never liked guitar solos, but EM includes a great one in this song. For a guy whose bread and butter is solemn melancholy, he can pen an awesome electric-guitar rocker seemingly whenever he wants to. Impressive diversity.

23. Beck - "Broken Heart (Skip Spence cover, feat. Jeff Tweedy, Feist and Jamie Lidell)"
Oar (Record Club) (2009)

24. Sparklehorse - Dark as a Dungeon (Johnny Cash/Merle Travis cover).mp3
From: Cash Covered (2004, out of print)

25. A.A. Bondy - I'm On Fire (Bruce Springsteen cover).mp3
American Hearts EP outtakes (2007, unreleased)

26. Mickey Newbury - "Mobile Blue"
Frisco Mabel Joy (1971)

Friday, March 19, 2010

JTE originals

I've been on a classic country kick since I saw Justin Townes Earle in concert two weeks ago. Here are the original tracks of the songs that he covered.

Mance Lipscomb - So Different Blues.mp3
Buy (e-music): Texas Blues Guitar (1994)
I can't find when this was originally recorded, but I am going to guess the early 1960s.

Lightnin' Hopkins - My Starter Won't Start This Morning.mp3
From: Lightnin'! (1967, out of print)

The Carter Family - Gold Watch and Chain.mp3
From: Gold Watch and Chain: Their Complete Victor Recordings - 1933-1934
(1998, out of print)

Buck Owens - Close Up the Honky Tonks.mp3
Buy: Together Again/My Heart Skips a Beat (1964, reissued 1995)

The Replacements - Can't Hardly Wait (alternate version).mp3
Buy: Pleased to Meet Me (1987, reissued 2008)
Yeah, yeah, I know this track isn't country, but too bad! The Replacements RULE!

Also, check out Justin Townes Earle on the Q (CBC Radio) podcast from March 8, 2010. He gives a really good interview, and plays "Poor Fool" with his band. The interview starts about 19-20 minutes into the podcast.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Alex Chilton 1950-2010

Total downer.

I would have never heard of Alex Chilton if it hadn't been for Paul Westerberg. Chilton and his band Big Star were a bit before my time, but when Westy said that "children by the million sing for Alex Chilton," I paid attention. No Alex Chilton = no Paul Westerberg = Rockstar Aimz.

Chilton passed away tonight (3/17) from an apparent heart attack, as reported in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

The best thing that I ever read about Alex Chilton was written by Chuck Prophet on Prophet's blog. I bet you got a little choked up by the end of it.

Big Star - When My Baby's Beside Me.mp3
Big Star - I'm in Love With a Girl.mp3
Buy: #1 Record/Radio City (1972/1974, reissued 2009)

Alex Chilton - Let Me Get Close to You.mp3
Buy: High Priest/Black List (1987/1990, reissued double album 2004)
The Replacements - Alex Chilton.mp3
Buy: Pleased to Meet Me (1987, reissued 2008)

St. Patty's Day

I have zero drops of Irish blood in me, so let's get drunk!

Dropkick Murphys - Kiss Me, I'm Shitfaced.mp3
Buy: Blackout (2003)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Concert Review: Justin Townes Earle with Joe Pug, March 1, The Horseshoe, Toronto

I saw Justin Townes Earle nearly a year ago at this same venue. I knew I was in for a great show, and fortunately so did other Torontonians, as there were two to three times as many people at this Monday night gig as compared to the Wednesday gig in April, 2009. And, this show contained different musicians; JTE brought along Josh Hedley on fiddle and Bryn Davies on upright bass, as opposed to Cory Younts on mandolin at the '09 gig.

JTE took the stage wearing rimless glasses, a light blue button-down shirt, a brown coat, and matching brown bow tie (a real bow tie, not the clip-on type most guys I know wear). The trio sounded wonderful, and played many of the songs from 2009's Midnight at the Movies at a slower pace than the recordings, such as "They Killed John Henry" and "Mama's Eyes." The fiddle sounded like a train screeching down the tracks during "Halfway to Jackson," and the fiddle filled in for the whistling part on "Know Right Now." JTE also played five new songs, and mentioned that he wanted to start recording them in May or June. I made up names for these songs (see below), but they all had the classic country style that we have come to expect from JTE.

In addition to great music, JTE also puts on quite a stage know. I think he thrives on entertaining an audience with his banter as much as he does with his music. He tells the stories behind his songs, whether he's talking about his mom's 'Hillbilly Intuition,' "The last thing you need when you get your ass kicked by the cops, is your ass kicked by your mama!" Or women, "I got a knack for writing songs that the ladies don't appreciate. So does my daddy." Or bitchy women, "Never fuck with a traveling singer/songwriter cause he'll air your shit all over the world."

As per previous shows, JTE acknowledged his country roots by playing covers of some classic songs by the Carter Family, Buck Owens, and Lightnin' Hopkins. And the catchiest cover of 2009, the Replacements "Can't Hardly Wait," which JTE dedicated to the late Chris "Spacewolf" Feinstein.

Minus the new songs, the set list was very similar to the April '09 show. After a year on the road, JTE has matured and perfected his craft. For this show I felt like he was trying less to prove himself, and more to simply entertain.

Set List
1. Poor Fool - Midnight at the Movies (2009)
2. The Killed John Henry - Midnight at the Movies
3. Halfway to Jackson - Midnight at the Movies
4. I Don't Care - Yuma (2007)
5. What Do You Do When You're Lonesome - The Good Life (2008)
6. Mama's Eyes - Midnight at the Movies
7. Boy Keep Movin' (?) - new song
8. What I Mean to You.mp3 - Buy: Midnight at the Movies (2009)
9. Someday I'll be Forgive for This - Midnight at the Movies
10. Nobody's Waiting On Me (?) - new song
11. I'll Keep Wondering (?) - new gospel-style song (JTE solo)
12. So Different Blues - Mance Lipscomb cover (JTE solo)
13. My Starter Won’t Start This Morning - Lightnin' Hopkins cover (JTE solo)
14. Hard Living - The Good Life
15. Ain't Glad I'm Leaving - The Good Life
16. Lone Pine Hill.mp3 - Buy: The Good Life (2008)
17. South Georgia Sugar Babe - The Good Life
18. Working for the MTA (?) - new song
19. Mama I'm Coming Home (?) - new song
20. Midnight at the Movies - Midnight at the Movies
21. Can't Hardly Wait - Midnight at the Movies, Replacements cover
22. Walk Out - Midnight at the Movies

23. Yuma - Yuma
24. Gold Watch and Chain - Carter Family cover
25. Close Up the Hony Tonks - Buck Owens cover

Joe Pug opened the show with a set of eight songs, mostly from his debut album Messenger. His set was split between Pug solo on acoustic guitar, and Pug with Andrew Harrison on pedal steel and electric guitar. He sounded wonderful, and his songwriting and style reminded me a bit of the late Vic Chestnutt. I purchased Messenger that night, so at the time I wasn't overly familiar with his music and I didn't catch all of the names of the songs that he performed, but he did do "The Door Was Always Open," "Speak Plainly Diana," and "Not So Sure." I wanted to get Pug to sign a CD for me, but he's a cute kid, and there were lots of young chicks in line to get their CDs signed/flirt with him, so I took a pass. But next time I hope to chat with him at bit.

Not So Sure.mp3
Buy: Messenger (2010)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mark Linkous 1962-2010

Damn, its already been a brutal year in indie music. First Vic Chestnutt's Christmas day death by apparent self-induced overdose of muscle relaxants. Then Jay Reatard's death on Jan. 13 by apparent accidental overdose of cocaine and alcohol. And last night I learned via Pitchfork that Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse took his own life.

This one hit me pretty hard. I saw Sparklehorse a few years ago, right around the time I started posting concert reviews on MySpace. Here is the set list from the February 23, 2007, show at the Mod Club in Toronto. Linkous had a troubled life, but he left a wonderful musical legacy.

1. Spirit Ditch - Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (1995)
2. Heart of Darkness - Vivadixie...
3. Apple Bed - It's a Wonderful Life (2001)
4. Hammering the Cramps - Vivadixie...
5. Don't Take My Sunshine Away - Buy: Dreamt For Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (2006)
6. Tears on Fresh Fruit - Vivadixie...
7. Return to Me - Dreamt For Light Years...
8. Saturday - Vivadixie...
9. Eyepennies - It's a Wonderful Life
10. It's Not So Hard - Dreamt For Light Years...
11. Knives of Summertime - Dreamt For Light Years...
12. Sad and Beautiful World - Vivadixie...
13. Pig - Good Morning Spider (1998)

14. Gold Day - Buy: It's a Wonderful Life (2001)

I'm sure this is all over the web today, but I don't care.
Wish You Were Here (featuring Thom Yorke).mp3
Buy: Lords of Dogtown soundtrack (2005)

Bonus! A few years ago some bands in the Los Angeles area put out a Sparklehorse tribute album. Here's a great one from Travel by Sea.
Travel by Sea - Return to Me.mp3
From: That Horse Yonder: The Songs of Sparklehorse (2007, out of print)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

OK Go: Update and New Video

About a month ago I posted a story about the band OK Go and how they were fighting with their label, EMI, about lettering bloggers and others embed their videos off of YouTube. Lead singer Damien Kulash even wrote an Op/Ed piece for the New York Times about how his band was between a rock and a hard place when it came to distributing their videos.

Now OK Go has released a second, "official," video for the song "This Too Shall Pass" off of their new album Of the Blue Color of the Sky. This video is embeddable, presumably because the making of the video was sponsored by State Farm Insurance. While I do find it a little weird that an insurance company is sponsoring the making of a music video from a relatively unknown band (maybe an executive's daughter is a huge fan or something?), the video itself is cool as hell!

The video is one giant Rube Goldberg machine. Geeks like me love shit like this. Geeks like me also read Wired, which had a nice write up on the making of the video. Basically, it took 55-60 people a month and a half to design and test the device. It takes roughly an hour to reset the entire thing. The finished video was filmed on a single shot, but it took more than 60 takes over two days to get right. Wired also shows four videos on the making of "Here is Goes Again," all of which can also be found on YouTube.

The video was released on March 1, and in the last four days it has had nearly 3 millions views (at least 10 by me).