Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nine B-Ninet-Nite-No B

I love it when my MP3 player is smarter than I am. After listening to a new podcast from our friend Autopsy IV at Nine Bullets, my MP3 player ran a sweet Old 97's alphabetical run for my listening pleasure.

Track One: Nine Bullets Podcast
If you like kick-ass rock/country music and a belligerent host, you will love this podcast.

Track Two: Nineteen.mp3
Buy: Fight Songs (1999)

Track Three: Niteclub.mp3
Buy: Too Far to Care (1997)

Track Four: No Baby I.mp3
Buy: Blame It On Gravity (2008)

Monday, March 30, 2009

RIP England Dan

Last week while I was on my old-school U2 bender, I received the unfortunate news that Dan Seals, also known as England Dan of the 70s duo England Dan and John Ford Coley, passed away at the age of 61 from complications from lymphoma. I am an unabashed fan of his 70s light rock material, but I was not aware of his extensive country music career. He had several top ten country hits in the 1980s, including a run of nine straight number 1 songs. From Yahoo News on March 26:
Dan Seals, who was England Dan in the pop duo England Dan and John Ford Coley and later had a successful country career, has died of complications from cancer. He was 61.

Longtime manager Tony Gottlieb said Seals, diagnosed with lymphoma two years ago, died Wednesday night at his daughter's home in Nashville.

With England Dan and John Ford Coley, Seals had hits including "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight" and "Nights Are Forever," both in 1976. His country hits in the '80s and '90s included "Bop," "You Still Move Me," "Love on Arrival," and a duet with Marie Osmond, "Meet Me in Montana."

"I've loved to play and sing from the moment I knew what it was," he told The Associated Press in 1992.

Seals, who is survived by his wife, four children and seven grandchildren, was in hospice care when he died.

"He was very positive," said Gottlieb, Seals' manager for about 30 years. "He participated in several clinical trials to assist with research on this type of lymphoma."

Gottlieb said a major misconception about Seals is that he was a pop singer who came to country music. In reality, he said, Seals grew up singing country music and crossed into pop.

"He was raised in a very rural part of West Texas. His father was an amateur country singer, and he used to play with his dad. They were Hank Williams, Grand Ole Opry people. He was much more of a country singer than a pop singer."

Seals' older brother, Jimmy, was the Seals in Seals & Crofts, who recorded the hits "Summer Breeze" and "Diamond Girl" in the 1970s.

Until Dan Seals got sick, the brothers were working as a duo, Seals & Seals. They performed some shows and were recording an album but never finished it. The songs they did complete, about eight in all, will be released.

"In the last two years he only did like three shows," Gottlieb said. "He just didn't have the energy."

Seals, whose father was a pipefitter, was born in McCamey, Texas, and grew up in Iraan, Texas, and Dallas.

His well-crafted songs tended to be insightful and graphic with lofty themes. In 1989, his music video for the song "Rage On" addressed a topic rare in country music: an interracial relationship. It showed angry youths smashing the windows of the car of a young man dating a girl of a different race. One boy hurled a beer bottle at the girl's father. The song itself was about small town values.

"When we record songs, we take chances," Seals said at the time. "We feel we are on the cutting edge of what we can do."
I unfortunately don't own any of Dan Seals country tracks, a problem that I will fix ASAP, but here are two tracks from his 70s heyday. RIP Mr. Seals.

Nights are Forever Without You.mp3
I'd Really Love to See You Tonight.mp3
Buy: Nights Are Forever (1976, reissued 2005)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Unforgettable Fire

For their fourth studio album, everyone, especially U2's label Island Records, expected U2 to make War Part II. But the band wasn't into it. They did not want to make another heavy, riff-laden rock album. They wanted to be a bit more experimental and, as bassist Adam Clayton famously stated, "arty." They did not re-hire Steve Lillywhite, who had produced their first three albums, but instead asked Brian Eno to produce the album. The Edge was especially keen on Eno's work with the Talking Heads and David Bowie. Eno insisted on bringing along his engineer, Canadian Daniel Lanois, much to the chagrin of the Island Records brass.

According to The Ongoing History of New Music transcripts, Eno and Lanois got the band to loosen up a bit, and got the rhythm section to play in a more "funky" style. Eno even helped Bono in his lyric writing using free-association word techniques, including flash cards. This lead to lyrics that were much more open to interpretation, and were less preachy than the lyrics from War. Eno and Lanois subsequently became partners with the band, producing The Joshua Tree (1987), Achtung Baby (1991), parts of Zooropa (1993), All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000), some of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004), and No Line on the Horizon (2009). Eno and Lanois also share songwriting credits with U2 on many tracks.

The Unforgettable Fire was release in October, 1984. The album's name came from an exhibit at the Chicago Peace Museum on the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The band saw this exhibit while on tour in 1983, and thought it would make a cool album title. The first single, "Pride (In the Name of Love)" became U2's first song to crack the US Top 40 charts, peaking at number two. Interestingly, Chrissy Hynde of Pretenders fame sings backup on this track, but she is credited as Christine Herr as she was married to Jim Kerr of Simple Minds at the time. "Pride" remains a staple at U2's live shows.

I first heard the song "Bad" when I borrowed The Unforgettable Fire CD from the public library in 1985 or so. The song made my 13-year-old head swoon. It wasn't until years later that I learned the song is about about heroin addiction. Bono's vocal performance is unreal. I remember being at a house party in college, where everyone was drunk as hell, and I looked into a bedroom where some dude was sitting by himself singing along to "Bad" at the top of his lungs. I should have walked in and kissed that guy. 25 years later, this song is still my favorite U2 track.

The track "4th of July" is an ambient instrumental and is classic Brian Eno. Eno heard Clayton strumming his bass, so he started recording. Soon The Edge spontaneously joined in. Neither new they were being recorded. Eno added some background features, and the song was done. It has never been played live.

4th of July.mp3
Buy: The Unforgettable Fire (1984)

Bonus: in 1998 U2 released The Best 1980-1990, along with a limited edition bonus disc of B-sides. I wanted to post a few of the B-sides from The Unforgettable Fire here, but I never ripped the CD. I am moving to a new apartment next week, and the CD is packed away, so stay tuned!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Under a Blood Red Sky

People who weren't won over by U2's February, 1983, studio release, War, only had to see the band perform live to become a fan. U2 was quickly earning the reputation as a blistering live act, and Bono was turning into one of the most charismatic front men in pop music. Although War was selling relatively well, the band wanted to prove its reputation as a formidable live act by releasing a live album and video. On June 5, 1983, they filmed and recorded a concert at Red Rocks, an outdoor amphitheatre just west of Denver, Colorado.

Seventeen tracks from the show were recorded, while only 12 of those tracks were released on the original video entitled Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky, the title being taken from a lyric in the song "New Years Day."

Instead of making a professionally directed video, footage from this concert was used for the video for "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and was put into heavy rotation on MTV. My 10-year-old brain thought that this video was the coolest thing I had ever seen. The pillars of fire coming up from the amphitheatre, the background covered in drizzly mist, smoke/stream coming off of the stage, all looked especially amazing in the aerial shots. In the close-up shots of Bono and The Edge you can see their breath in the 35F/2C degree weather. Then Bono marches out military-style with his giant white flag, placing it in the audience and telling them "hold it up, let it fly," leading them in a chant of "no more!" and finally then kneeling down at the end of the song, panting and sweating, totally spent, the consummate rock warrior victorious in battle. Wow. "The man" won't let me embed the video, but you can watch it on YouTube.

Buy: Live at Red Rocks [DVD, Remastered] (2008)
The original video was released on VHS in November 1983. The video was remastered onto DVD in 2008 with all 17 original tracks plus director Gavin Taylor's commentary.

The accompanying album, Live Under a Blood Red Sky, would be U2's first live album of eight (to date), although their second live album, Hasta la Vista Baby!, was not released until 2000, some 17 years later. While Live Under a Blood Red Sky would appear to be the companion album to Live at Red Rocks, it actually only contains two tracks from the Red Rocks set. It appears that the record company, Island Records, intentionally mislead consumers by putting similar cover art, and giving it a nearly identical name, as the video release. The eight tracks are edited together with audience applause from a mixture of shows from Red Rocks, Boston, and St. Goarshausen, (West) Germany, all part of the 1983 War tour.

Its not to say that the music from this album is not fantastic. It is a wonderful snapshot of a hungry, up-and-coming band, ready to make it big, huge. The song "11 O'Clock Tick Tock" was previously unreleased in North America. It is the fourth single U2 recorded, and pre-dates the Boy album by a few months. It was produced by Martin Hannett, who helped develop Joy Division, and was only released as a seven inch single in Ireland and the UK. The track '"40"' is the final track from the War album, and closed every show on the War tour. Bono wrote this track very rapidly, and based the lyrics on Psalm 40. The Edge and Adam Clayton would exchange their bass and guitar for live versions of this song, including the one posted here. The "Sunday Bloody Sunday" version on this album is from the St. Goarshausen gig, but damn, it would be nice to have the Red Rocks version on CD.

11 O'Clock Tick Tock (Live From Boston).mp3
"40" (Live From St. Goarshausen).mp3
Buy: Live Under a Blood Red Sky (1983, reissued 2008)

Or, buy both the DVD and CD together!

Buy: Under a Blood Red Sky - Deluxe Edition CD/DVD (2008)

Thursday, March 26, 2009


1982-1983: Ronnie Reagan is president of the US, Maggie Thatcher is prime minister of the UK, Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov is general secretary of the communist party of the Soviet Union. The second Cold War is in full swing, and the media is feeding the public's fear of nuclear war. The Lech Wałęsa-lead Solidarity movement was recently crushed by the Polish communist party, and Poland is under martial law. The USSR continues its attack on Afghanistan. The UK is at war in the southern hemisphere over the Falkland Islands. Unemployment in the US is over 10%, and the Reagan administration is ignoring the burgeoning AIDS crisis. Inflation and unemployment are also high in the UK. And in Ireland, the Provisional Irish Republican Army and other breakaway groups are continuing paramilitary efforts to oust British rule from Northern Ireland.

Pop music in the early 80s seemed to be ignoring world events. The top pop bands in the US and UK were Duran Duran, Culture Club, and Michael Jackson, all making catchy, harmless pop tunes that seemed to clash with what was going on the in world. The best selling single in the US in 1982 was Olivia Newton-John's "Physical," and in the UK it was "Come on Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners. And then in early 1983 four young lads from Ireland went in the opposite musical direction of their contemporaries and released War, which knocked Michael Jackson's Thriller off of the top spot in the UK charts.

U2's War was not only their breakthrough album in terms of sales, but also the start of their political activism which would remain paramount to the band throughout their career. The first track, the now classic "Sunday Bloody Sunday," describes the narrator's disbelief in the events of the 1972 Bloody Sunday incident in Northern Ireland in which 27 unarmed protesters were shot by British Troops. The song starts with Larry Mullen's militaristic drum march followed by The Edge's now famous repeating guitar riff. The lyrics were originally written by The Edge with some reworking by Bono. Between the verses and chorus you can hear a shrill electric violin scratching, adding to the intensity of the song. The violinist is Steve Wickham, who approached The Edge at a bus stop and asked if they needed a fiddle on their album. The song ends with the line, "to claim the victory Jesus won," which is Bono's attempt to contrast Bloody Sunday with the hope that Christians find through the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. To this day "Sunday Bloody Sunday" reminds a prominent and important protest song.

Sunday Bloody Sunday.mp3

War was also my first exposure to U2. As a ten year old in central Wisconsin in the spring-summer of 1983, I was blown away by the video for "New Years Day," the third track on the album. I can see my big brown eyes, agape at the television, saying "who is this?" to myself. Fortunately, as my meager allowance did not budget for CD purchases, the Oshkosh Public Library had CDs for loan and I picked up War and Live Under a Blood Red Sky and quickly dubbed them. For me what really drives this song is Adam Clayton's exploding baseline. According to Allmusic.com, Bono wrote this song with the Polish Solidarity movement in mind. This song was the first major hit for U2, peaking at 10 on the UK charts, and two on the US mainstream charts (based on radio airplay), and remains a staple of U2's live set. Although my imagination has the boys riding horseback through snowy Ireland, the video was actually shot in Sweden.

I wanted to embed the "New Years Day" video here, but Universal Music Group has requested that YouTube disable the embedding link. Bastards. Watch the video here.

The second track "Seconds" features The Edge on lead vocals for the first two verses, and another killer baseline by Mr. Clayton. This song is about fear of nuclear proliferation, and the second Cold War. About three quarters through the song you can hear a sample of "I wanna be an Air Force Ranger" from the movie Soldier Girls, a US documentary about women in the military.


And it wouldn't be a U2 album without a grandiose love song. "Two Hearts Beat As One" was the second single released from War (after "New Years Day"), and peaked at number 18 in the UK and 12 in the US, largely due to its disco-infused beat which made it a great track for dance clubs.

Two Hearts Beat As One.mp3

Damn, there are so many great songs on this album, and its sounds just as good today as it did in 1983.

Buy: War (1983, reissued 2008)

Incidentally, the angry little dude on the War album cover is the same lad from the Boy album cover (and the Best of 1980-1990 album cover). Peter Rowen is the younger brother of Bono's friend Guggi , and was eight years old at the time of the War photo shoot. He also appears in the "Two Hearts Beat As One" video. Rowen is now a successful photographer in Dublin. Read a 2006 interview where he talks about his childhood album cover fame. Apparently the band paid the child in candy bars. Cheap bastards.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


"Even the awkwardly posed cover shot, a frozen moment of bad fashion in a watery wasteland (shot in the Dublin docklands, where U2 have been based even since), suggested a group ill at ease with their identity, completely out of sync with the angular coolness of their UK contemporaries. And yet, as the needle settled into the groove, the sheer sonic force of the music exploding from the speakers proved so wild and strange and dramatic it maintained the band's career momentum almost despite themselves."
- Neil McCormick, Daily Telegram columnist/pop music critic.
Quoted from the October 2008 reissue liner notes.

U2 quickly followed-up Boy with their 1981 release October. The album almost didn't happen. First, several of the band members were having a hard time reconciling rock stardom with their Christian upbringings and beliefs. In fact, The Edge quit the band citing God as his priority, only to rejoin a week later. Second, the band had to prepare this album while on the road supporting Boy. In March of 1981 after a show in Portland, Oregon, Bono's notebook was stolen by some girls who came back stage to flirt with the band. A year's worth of lyrics were gone, and Bono only had 12 weeks to reorganize his thoughts before they were slated to start recording. When they went into the recording studio in June 1981, they only had two songs prepared. Producer Steve Lillywhite, who also produced Boy, was not amused, and told the band to gets its act together pronto.

The resulting album is overtly religious and spiritual, and Bono's lyrics are scattered and disjointed. However, the music is also raw and powerful, what you would expect from a band recording on pure emotion. The recording sessions reaffirmed the band's believe in music as a positive force. And you can hear The Edge really start to find his electric guitar style with the use of lots of reverb and melody, which would become a lot more pronounced in future recordings (especially The Joshua Tree).

Although October was generally not well received, especially in the US, the single "Fire" became U2's first Top 40 hit in the UK, peaking at number 35. Also, listen to the bleak but beautiful piano melody played by the Edge in the track "October."

Incidentally, Bono did recover his stolen notebook, only 23 years later. A woman in Tacoma, Washington, found it in 1981 stashed in the attic of a house she was renting. She did not realize that it was stolen, and did not know how to get in touch with the band, so she held on to it until 2004 when a friend helped her contact U2's management to return the goods. Hopefully Bono gave her some tickets to their show.

Buy: October (1981, reissued 2008)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Old School U2

I was driving home from my curling league on Sunday night and I caught part of a radio show called The Ongoing History of New Music. The show is broadcast on 102.1 The Edge in Toronto, and is produced by The Edge program director Alan Cross. The web site says that show is broadcast on Sundays at 9 a.m., and Mondays at 11 p.m., but I caught an episode on Sunday at 9:00 pm, so I am confused. You used to be able to listen to these episodes on-demand, but "the man" (i.e. someone in the music industry) won't let this happen anymore due to some legal licensing agreements (I shake my fist at "the man"). You can still listen to the episodes during their live broadcasts streaming from The Edge web site (click the "Listen Live" button on the upper middle panel), or you can read the transcripts off of the Ongoing History website.

ANYWAY...the episode I caught on Sunday night was a repeat from 2006 called "U2 a Secret History Part 2," and, as usual, the episode was really interesting. The part I heard was about how producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno contributed, and continue to contribute, to U2's sound and style. Lanois is an expert in rhythms, while Eno initially helped Bono with his song writing. To this day, Lanois and Eno continue to get co-songwriting credits along with the rest of the band. The very first song they worked out became the classic "Pride (In the Name of Love)" from the 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire.

All of this got me really craving old school U2, the stuff I listened to when I was a teenager. My first U2 experience was the album War released in 1983, and I distinctly remember seeing the video for "New Years Day" on MTV, with the band riding all over snow-covered Ireland on horses while carrying white flags.

So I headed out to the record store today to see if I could find the U2 albums of my youth, the cassettes lost long ago, and to my surprise they were all reissued in 2008. And on sale for $8 (Canadian) each! Whoo-Hooo! For the rest of the week I am going to post about pre-Joshua Tree U2.

U2 released their first studio album Boy in 1980, when I was 8 years old, and the band members were 19 and 20 years old. The track "I Will Follow" was a minor hit on US college radio, peaking at 20 on the modern rock charts. Boy was certified Platinum in the US (one million plus copies sold) in 1995, largely due to the popularity of U2's later material. The album was produced by Steve Lillywhite, who also produced records for Siouxsie and the Banshees and XTC. You can really hear the British new wave and post-punk styles in many of Boy's tracks, as well as some David Bowie influences. Not to mention, some foreshadowing of really great things to come.

I Will Follow.mp3
Stories for the Boys.mp3
A Day Without Me.mp3
Buy: Boy (1980, reissued 2008)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March Feel Bad For You Comp

The Alt Country Tab monthly comp. Enjoy!

Feel Bad For You March 2009
1. Doug Sahm & The Texas Mavericks - Hillbilly Soul and a Rockabilly Mind.mp3
From: Who Are These Masked Men? (1986, out of print)
Available on eMusic.

2. "Strange Days"
JJ Cale - Roll On (2009)

3. "Little Red Corvette"
Prince - 1999 (1983)

4. "Stroker Ace"
Lovage - Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By (2001)

5. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Propinquity.mp3
Buy: Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy (1970, reissued 2003)

6. "Georgia"
Charlie Daniels Band - Fire on the Mountain (1974)

7. "Happy Man"
Seasick Steve - I Started Out With Nothing and I Still Got Most Of It Left (2008)

8. "Plastic Rosary (Winter 1970)"
Will Quinlan & The Diviners - Navasota (2008)

9. Erin McDermott & the Dixie Red Delights - PBR.mp3
Buy (eMusic): Bear Hoot (2008)
Also free downloads on the website.

10. Rusty Romance - Truck Drivers Wedding.mp3
Buy: Roots N' Roll (2009)

11. "Got No Chains"
The Walkabouts - Sub Pop 200 (1988)

12. "Time With You"

13. "Cigarettes and Wine"
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (2009)

14. The Band - Ophelia.mp3
From: The Best of the Band (1976, reissued 1990, now out of print)

15. "The Cobra And The Man-Whore"
Cobra Skulls - Sitting Army (2007)

16. "Can't Hardly Wait"
Justin Townes Earle - Midnight At The Movies (2009)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Windfall of Lemons

Life kicked my proverbial ass last week. I had all of these great blogs posts planned about Canadian Music Week, and St. Patty's day, and other a bunch of other things, but aw, fuck it. Blogs can wait until I get my miserable life straightened out. As my main man Jay Farrar says, "Let the wind take your troubles away." When life stops handing me lemons I'll get back to some clever blog posts.

Son Volt - Windfall.mp3
Buy (MP3 download only): Trace (1995)

OK, seriously, what the fuck. The Trace CD is not in stock at Amazon. Trace is arguably one of the best Americana/Country albums of all time. Get your shit together Amazon! And if you, gentle reader, don't own this album, get off your ass and get to your local record store pronto!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Canadian Music Week

Happy Canada Music Week! The conference/festival for all things in Canadian music, or something. I have to admit that I am not down with what the cool kids are listening to, and that I do not know a lot of the artists that are playing this week. If you want a more comprehensive coverage of CMW, check out Chromewaves.

Tonight one of the stalwarts of Canadian music takes the stage. Many people my age remember first hearing about Sloan as a Halifax bar band in the early 90s. Ten studio albums later, they remain one of the top bands in Canada, and one of the best power pop bands anywhere. They are probably going on stage right about now at the Mod Club.

I Hate My Generation.mp3
From: Twice Removed (1994)

Losing California.mp3

Buy: Between the Bridges (1999)
US: discontinued; Canada: Maple Music

If It Feels Good Do It.mp3
Buy: Pretty Together (2001)
US: discontinued; Canada: Maple Music

I'm Not a Kid Anymore.mp3
Buy: Parallel Play (2008)
US: Amazon.com; Canada: Maple Music

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Long Distance Dedication

Dear Aimz -

My best friend Mani lives in Washington DC. Her 36th birthday was last weekend. In honor of this occasion, she threw herself a huge 1980s-themed party. You know the 80s - big hair, jelly bracelets, Nutra Sweet, Valley Girls, trading arms for hostages, ketchup as a vegetable, and other fun things. Anyway, as a birthday present I put together three CDs of 1980s MP3s. 181 tracks covering 1980s pop, hip-hop, and, of course, hair metal. Over 800 mega bytes of music goodness (or badness, depending on how you look at it)! I sent them by Canada Post on Monday, March 2, and paid $20.85 to guarantee that the CDs would arrive by Friday, March 6, in time for the party on Saturday night. As of today, Tuesday, March 10, the CDs have not arrived! Aimz, I am devastated that Mani couldn't hear "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" at her birthday party. Can you please post some 80s tunes to heal my broken heart, and to wish Mani a very happy 36th birthday? Except for songs by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince - those songs really sucked ass.


Purple Raining in Toronto

Dear Purple Rain,

I would be delighted to post some 80s tunes. And I will make sure to post at least one track that the PMRC and Tipper Gore would disapprove of. But I refuse to post "Walk the Dinosaur" cause that sucked ass too. Its a fine line between 80s music that is so bad that its good, and 80s nostalgia that is just fucking awful.

Whitesnake - Here I Go Again.mp3 (1987)
Holy shit, these guys are still recording and touring! MySpace.

Salt-N-Pepa - Push It.mp3 (1986)
Salt (Cheryl James Wray) makes gospel records. See a great interview about her current life on the BET website. Pepa (Sandy Denton) still preforms, acts, and recently published a book about her life. DJ Spinderalla (Diedra Roper) co-hosts a syndicated radio show about old-school hip-hop called The Back Spin.

Erasure - Chains of Love.mp3 (1988)
Andy Bell and Vince Clarke are marketing a best-of Erasure three disc set called "Total Pop." MySpace.

Thompson Twins - If You Were Here.mp3 (1983)
The trio split up in 1989. Singers Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie, married, had kids, and divorced. Currie is an artist in London, and Bailey is a producer and artist in France.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cigarettes and Wine

Review: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, February 4, The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto

After getting off to a rocky start Wednesday night, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit knocked out some serious rock and blues at their show at the Horseshoe, the only Canadian stop on their current tour. Isbell commented that they barely made the show due to trouble crossing the Canadian border, which was, according to Isbell, "mostly my fault." I can picture Isbell and his southern drawl lipping off to a surly Canadian customs agent, but seriously customs, why do you always give bands such a hard time?

It appeared to me that the band got little, if any, sound check before launching into "Seven-Mile Island" from their new self-titled release. But after a few chunky notes, the band quickly found its groove. They played seven or eight tracks from their new release, interspersed with favorites from their 2007 debut, Sirens of the Ditch, plus many Isbell-penned tracks from his time spent with the Drive-By Truckers.

Many in the audience were there specially to hear the songs from Isbell's Truckers era, and they were not disappointed. There was an audible gasp from the crowd when the band hit the first chord of "Danko/Manuel," a song about Rick Danko and Richard Manuel of the massively influential Canadian group, The Band. Man, what a great song. At the end of the song Isbell commented that he was trying to play his guitar in the style of his favorite Canadian musician, and no, he was not talking about Alex Lifeson.

Isbell and his band closed with a ten-minute extended jam of "Decoration Day," which followed a rousing cover of the Rolling Stone's "Sway." I rushed back to buy the new CD along with dozens of other people. I'm pretty sure that Isbell and the 400 Unit converted a few Truckers fans that night. Too much of a good thing kicks ass!

Set List (not really in order, plus four or five other tracks from their new self-titled album who's names I did not know)
Seven-Mile Island - self titled (2009)
Try - Sirens of the Ditch (2007)
Chicago Promenade - Sirens of the Ditch
Goddamn Lonely Love - The Dirty South (2004)
Psycho Killer (Talking Heads cover)
Outfit - Decoration Day (2003)
Cigarettes and Wine - self titled
Grown - Sirens of the Ditch
Danko/Manuel - The Dirty South
Never Gonna Change - The Dirty South
Soldiers Get Strange - self titled
The Assassin (Patterson Hood cover)

Sway (Rolling Stones cover)
Decoration Day - Decoration Day

Seven-Mile Island.mp3
Cigarettes and Wine.mp3
Buy: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (2009)

Deer Tick opened the show, but I skipped it to watch Lost. And the damn Lost episode wasn't even that good. I suck. So then I felt bad for skipping the opening act and I bought Deer Tick's 2007 self-released album War Elephant, which was reissued in 2008 by Partisan Records. Providence, Rhode Island, native John McCauley originally wrote all of the songs and played all of the instruments on this album. The band is rounded out by Andrew Tobiassen on vocals and guitar, and brothers Chris and Dennis Ryan on bass and drums, respectively.

Dirty Dishes.mp3
Buy: War Elephant (2008)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dress Blues

I'm headed out tonight to see Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Alabama born and raised, Isbell got his musical break as songwriter/guitarist of the Drive-By Truckers, and wrote some of the Truckers best songs from that time period. His songs appeared on Decoration Day (2003), The Dirty South (2004), and A Blessing and a Curse (2006). In 2007 he set out on his own and released a great album, Sirens of the Ditch. I caught him and his band at the El Mocambo in the summer of 2007, and met him after the show. He's a really nice dude, and loved interacting with his fans. And his show rocked! His new, self-titled album came out on Feb 17. I haven't heard much of it, but my first impression is that it is more rocking, and less bluesy than the 2007 release. I'm really looking forward to seeing him again.

A few Isbell-penned Truckers songs:
Decoration Day.mp3
Buy: Decoration Day (2003)

Buy: The Dirty South (2004)

Easy on Yourself.mp3
Buy: A Blessing and a Curse (2006)

Dress Blues (bootleg).mp3
I saw him do this track with the Truckers in late 2006, and it blew me away. I don't know where this boot is from - I got it off of the Truckers message boards years ago. The song also appears on Sirens.
Hurricanes and Hand Grenades.mp3
Buy: Sirens Of The Ditch (2007)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Seven Years in Canada

On this date in the year of our lord 2002, I crossed the US/Canada border from Port Huron, Michigan, to Sarnia, Ontario, and filed my papers to legally work in the Great White North. Of course our good friends at Canadian Customs and Immigration listed me as a man, and I did not notice the error until I started my job on March 4, but that was a minor detail.

About this time, what I like to refer to as the "The" bands were supposedly going to "save" rock and roll, as if it needed saving. Bands such as The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Hives, and The Vines, were all heading a new revival in garage rock, and hearing their albums from this time period always reminds me of moving to Canada.

I first remember hearing Detroit's The White Stripes "Fell in Love with a Girl" on the local alternative station while driving around the west side of Toronto, completely lost. I was like, "Whao! (a la Keanu Reeves in The Matrix) Who is this?" Love at first listen. A few days later I saw their magnificent Lego video on Much Music.

The White Stripes subsequently released three more albums (six in total), and each album brought them more mainstream radio success. All of their albums are great, but White Blood Cells remains my favorite.

Fell in Love with a Girl.mp3
Buy: White Blood Cells (2001)

The first concert I went to in Toronto was The Vines at the Opera House. I won the tickets and their debut CD Highly Evolved from a contest at Eye Weekly. I attended the show with my friend Kathleen, and Chicago's OK Go opened. The boys from Sydney, Australia, put on a crazy show and trashed the stage, which made me yawn. I was not impressed. But I did listen to the heck out of Highly Evolved. Lead singer Craig Nicholl's was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome shortly after this tour, but after Nicholl's sought treatment the band regrouped as a trio and put out three more albums. The subsequent albums had little commercial success in North America, but their 2004 single "Ride" has been featured in numerous advertisements for products such as iPods and Nissans.

Get Free.mp3
Buy: Highly Evolved (2002)
(Sorry the bitrate is crap. I cannot find the original CD and this is the only copy I have!)

When I first moved to Toronto I had a terrible commute on the streetcar from Etobicoke to downtown Toronto. I passed the time listening to CDs on my discman, and listened to a lot of The Hives debut, Veni Vidi Vicious. These boys hail from Sweden, have bizzaro stag names, and always dress in black and white matching outfits. I have never had the chance to see them live, but I hear that they put on a great show. They have released three albums, most recently The Black and White Album, and are about to embark on a US tour. All three of their releases are solid.

Hate to Say I Told You So.mp3
Buy: Veni Vidi Vicious (2000)

The Hives and The Vines appeared together at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. This video kills me. Watch the poser audience pretend to care. You know they are all just there to see that dreamy Justin Timberlake. Howlin' Pele Almqvist of The Hives is hysterical, and much like the show I saw in Toronto, Craig Nicholls of The Vines tries to trash the place. Too funny.

My buddy the She-dog and I gawked and drooled at the 2002 Rolling Stone issue that featured The Strokes. These boys from New York were hot, in an unshowered, greasy kind of way. They and their music also got an enormous amount of hype in the press, especially in the UK, and they were crowned the new "saviors" of rock and roll practically before their album was released. Their debut album Is This It is amazing, one of my favorites of this decade. And, of all of these groups, The Strokes had the most success in terms of album sales (3.5 million units sold as of 2007). Their two follow-up albums were not nearly as commercially successful, but did get some alternative radio play. Guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr., put out two decent albums in 2007 and 2008, and other band members have also done/are doing solo projects.

Last Nite.mp3
Buy: Is This It (2001)