Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jane Siberry - "When I Was a Boy" (LP Review)

I first learned of Jane Siberry from the "Until the End of the World" soundtrack, which was released in 1991 and featured the exquisite duet with k.d. lang,"Calling All Angels". Two years later, it appeared on Siberry's LP, "When I Was a Boy". But as good as "Calling All Angels" is, it isn't even close to being the best song on this LP. This is an extraordinary, complex and mature LP. It is not quite perfect, but even the flaws are admirable: experiments and directions that just don't quite work. She sings beautifully, but has spoken word parts that remind me of Laurie Anderson. Ultimately, this LP delivers intelligent, unpretentious art-pop for adults.

The first five songs on the LP are the strongest and form a perfect sequence, covering multiple genres while retaining a sensual, spiritual feel: "Temple", "Calling All Angels", "Love is Everything", "Sail Across the Water", "All the Candles in the World". "Temple" and "Sail Across the Water" are produced by Brian Eno and are thus the strongest tracks on the LP. "Temple" and "All the Candles in the World" experiment with a dance / electronica beat, but do so without pandering.

Unfortunately, the flow is interrupted with "Sweet Incarnadine", which is the only song to skip on the entire LP. Things pick back up with "An Angel Stepped Down (And Slowly Looked Around)", but unfortunately that is the last excellent song on the LP. The remaining songs aren't bad ("The Vigil (The Sea)" is pretty good), but they fail to sustain the excellence of tracks 1-5 & 7. The LP closes with a "Harmony Version" of "Love is Everything", but the difference between the two versions is slight (and the non-harmony version is more intimate).

Speaking of different versions, there are apparently many different versions of "Temple". The discography is incomplete, but there is a 5" promo CD lists three different versions ("Single Mix", "Alternate Single Mix", "Body and Soul Radio Remix", in addition to the LP version), and searching on the web uncovers references to an "Ambient", "Sanctuary", and "Orinoco" mixes. It is not clear if this adds up to 7 different versions or 4, but more importantly what's the point in all the different versions? Once Brian Eno has produced your song, everyone else can just go home because you're not going to do better than his version. I don't know which version is used in the video linked below, but it is greatly inferior to the stripped down, hard-hitting LP version.

Fortunately, you can download the entire LP, including the good version of "Temple", from Siberry's website. In 2006, she changed her name to Issa, sold nearly all of her possessions, and released her back catalog as MP3s. In 2009, she changed her name back but has retained the free downloads. You have to respect that, and now you have no reason to not listen to this LP.

Standout songs: "Temple" (not the good LP version!), "Calling All Angels" (live solo, studio w/o k.d. lang), "Love is Everything" (excerpt, live with band, live solo), "Sail Across the Water", "All the Candles in the World" (also not the good LP version), "An Angel Stepped Down (And Slowly Looked Around)".

Skip 'em songs: "Sweet Incarnadine".

Final score: 9/10. If Eno had stuck around for a few more tracks, this would have been an easy 10/10.

Bonus Link #1: Additional videos are on her YouTube channel, sheebatv.

Bonus Link #2: "Calling All Angels" sung by the cast of "Six Feet Under".

Bonus Link #3: "Love is Everything" cover by k.d. lang.

Bonus Link #4: Did you catch the nod to The Beatles "The End" at ~2:37 in "An Angel Stepped Down (And Slowly Looked Around)"?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Freddie Scott - "(You) Got What I Need" (the song remains the same)

Here is an gem of a song that you probably won't recognize until you play it... Freddie Scott was a song writer turned performer that had a few hits in the 1960s, but never became really famous. In 1968, he released the single "(You) Got What I Need" on Shout Records (no, it's not Motown even though it sounds like it).

You probably recognize the song because Biz Markie built an entirely new song based on the the piano riff and 1/2 of the chorus of YGWIN for his 1989 single "Just A Friend". Some dismiss Biz as novelty rap, but I think he is hilarious and if he's good enough to guest for the Beasties, he's good enough for me ("The Biz vs. The Nuge"). Adam Green & Lissy Trullie must agree, since they did a loose cover of "Just A Friend", screwing around in what looks to be a back stage dressing room. They get most of the words right.

If Biz never borrowed from "(You) Got What I Need", the only place you would have heard it would be on the mix LP "Product Placement" from DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist, where they sandwich it between Kool & The Gang's "N.T." and James & Bobby Purify's "I'm Your Puppet" (~6:39 -- 8:33 in the studio version of "Part 1", starting at 8:34 in this live version, but it is cut off right as the song breaks).

Freddie Scott: YouTube

Biz Markie: YouTube (bonus link: the "literal" version of the video)

Adam Green & Lissy Trullie: YouTube

Perfume Tree - "A Lifetime Away" (LP Review)

Perfume Tree might be the best defunct band you've never heard of. Formed by three Vancouver-area radio DJs and active during most of the 1990s, Perfume Tree compiled a significant discography that went criminally unnoticed, by both the radio and the critics as well. The former is not surprising, but I'm not sure how the critics so completely missed out on this band either (e.g., reviews only one LP from their discography, and completely whiffs on that review, giving it 3/5 stars).

Their third full-length LP, 1995's "A Lifetime Away" is probably the strongest LP in their canon. Whereas their first first two LPs were focused on a more organic sound, and their fourth and final LP as Perfume Tree was decidedly more focused on electronica. And while there are no bad releases from Perfume Tree, "A Lifetime Away" finds the perfect balance in their shifting musical influences.

Trying to describe their sound is difficult and frustrating, in part because their sound transcends music. By that I mean the sound is so mesmerizing and so unlike anything else, I actually forget that I'm listening to music. Off the top of my head, only The Orb's "Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld" also has that effect on me. Labels like dub, trip hop and downtempo come close, but fail to really capture the sound. The allmusic review quotes another review comparing them to Bjork, but that is simply wrong; I don't dislike Bjork, but she only wishes she could make music this beautiful. I'd suggest that Perfume Tree is somewhere between Portishead, My Bloody Valentine, and Cocteau Twins.

The strength of the band (and the source of the Cocteau Twins comparison) is Jane Tilley's ethereal vocals. Pete Lutwyche is responsible for the beats, which are great, but never really overpower the more atmospheric aspects of the songs (and thus separating Perfume Tree from most of the trip hop artists on a label like Mo' Wax, for example). Bruce Turpin (samples & mix) rounds out the band.

The LP has a wide variety of sounds: "Virgin" & "See Me Smile" have a driving, organic beat, "Contact" has the distorted guitar that suggests the MBV influence, "Never Pass This Way Again" is nearly ambient, and "The Nightmirror" & "Crystal Tips" have a soundtrack quality to them. But my favorite song on this LP is the closing track "Late Light", with a strong beat and focus on Jane's vocals.

"A Lifetime Away" was originally released on the tiny label of Zulu Records in 1995, but was then re-released in 1996 on the only slightly larger (and ironically named) World Domination Recordings, making them label mates with Seattle's Sky Cries Mary, who are similar in aesthetic if not quite sound. Since it was released on World Domination it is not too hard to find, but the earlier releases on Zulu are difficult to find: if you see a copy of one, pick it up. (I actually had to email the band ca. 1998 for their help to replace lost CDs, but that's a story for another time...)

Perfume Tree eventually morphed into Veloce, who released one LP and then the various members seemed to drop out of the music business. There is a Perfume Tree myspace page, as well as a historical page hosted at Minimum Records (a label the band members started), but little information otherwise. also has a nice, simple summary page for the band.

In a perfect world, Perfume Tree would have received the recognition they deserved. I'll eventually make my way through the rest of their catalog, but "A Lifetime Away" is their strongest release and a good place to start.

Standout songs: "Virgin", "So Far Away" "See Me Smile", "Contact", "Never Pass This Way Again", "The Nightmirror", "August", "Crystal Tips", "Late Light".

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 10/10.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Weezer - "Weezer" (LP Review)

Weezer's eponymous third LP (generally referred to as "the green LP" to differentiate it from 1994's self-titled debut, "the blue LP") was released in 2001, after a long-term hiatus and shuffling of band members following the release of "Pinkerton" in 1996. As I stated in my review, "Pinkerton" is a solid LP but suffers from being slightly self-indulgent, incomplete and sometimes too smart for its own good. The green LP addresses those flaws and recaptures the magic and humor of the blue LP.

Simply put, this LP is a veritable textbook on how to write & execute power pop; few people write hooks as well as Weezer's front man Rivers Cuomo, who is arguable the GenX equivalent of Brian Wilson, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Paul Simon, et al. Three songs were released as singles from this LP ("Hash Pipe", "Island in the Sun", "Photograph"), but just about any of the ten songs could have been chosen.

The LP length, the humor, the song style & craftsmanship, even their "Flying W" logo: it is all reminiscent of Van Halen's first four LPs, updated of course with a nerdy, hipster, GenX attitude & sense of irony. And I mean that in the best possible way.

In contrast with "Pinkerton", the green LP features the return of producer Ric Ocasek (who also produced the blue LP), and Ric knows a good deal about catchy tunes as well. And whereas "Pinkerton" was modeled after "Madam Butterfly", there is no pretentious concept for this LP. The songs also don't overstay their welcome: the longest is 3:50, and the entire LP clocks in at less than 30 minutes. And while half an hour is might be a little short for an LP, the advent of the compact disc and its generous 74-80 minutes of storage led many bands & producers at the time to forget how to cull weak tracks. Sometimes less is more.

Standout tracks: Would it be cheating to say "all"? If forced to pick only some, I'd go with: "Hash Pipe", "Island in the Sun" (Spike Jonze version), "Photograph", "Don't Let Go", "Knock Down Drag Out", "Simple Pages", "O Girlfriend".

Skip 'em tracks: none.

Final score: 9/10. Two things keep it from 10/10: its modest length (could we have found more track, perhaps like the blue LP's "Say It Ain't So"?), and the blue LP's shadow of perfection.

Bonus Links: Several of bonus tracks & B-sides from the same sessions: "Oh Lisa", "Always", "Starlight", "Brightening Day", "I Do", "The Christmas Song". None are bad, but not including them was probably the right choice (yes, I realize that contradicts my nitpick above).

2011-10-09 edit: Mikey Welsh, who played bass on just this Weezer LP, died Saturday October 8.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tony Carey - A Fine Fine Day (forgotten song)

I first mentioned Tony Carey as the keyboardist for Rainbow Mk II (1976-1977; see my review of "On Stage"). Although his tenure with Rainbow was brief, he was (and still is) quite prolific as a solo artist, recording as Tony Carey and Planet P Project (among others). He scored a few minor hits along the way (e.g., "I Won't Be Home Tonight" and "Why Me?"), but never really turned the corner.

My favorite song of his is "A Fine Fine Day" from his 1984 LP "Some Tough City". I like songs with stories, and this one tells the story of Uncle Sonny's return from prison. The lyrics are ambiguous about how the reunion turns out, but the video and 7" cover art leave no doubt about Sonny's fate. I remember this one getting some airplay on MTV (and maybe radio) when it came out. My favorite work of his is still with Rainbow, but this song isn't bad and you might remember it from 25+ (!) years ago.

A Fine Fine Day: official video, lip sync version from Solid Gold.

Bonus Link: The YouTube channel "pinkwrld" is devoted entirely to TC/PPP videos.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Steve Hillage - Rainbow Dome Musick (LP Review)

I first became aware of Steve Hillage by listening to and reading about Alex Patterson / The Orb, specifically their 1991 ambient house masterpiece "Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld", which remains one of my favorite LPs of all time.

There is no way in this review I can cover the expansive career of guitarist Steve Hillage, an early (and again current) member of the space rock band Gong, which in its long run has ties to nearly every alternative UK musician. His partner, Miquette Giraudy, has been with him for most of his career, including time in Gong as well as side projects like System 7. In fact, although "Rainbow Dome Musick" is billed as just Steve Hillage, it is actually Hillage & Giraudy.

The 1979 LP features just two songs (albeit at 20+ minutes each): "Garden of Paradise" and "Four Ever Rainbow", the former written by Giraudy and the latter by Hillage. What separates this LP from its 1970s ambient / space rock contemporaries is that holds up well over time. It is very much an atmospheric, lush, swirling soundscape, but it is not cloying, repetitive, or modish. I have a slight preference for "Garden of Paradise", probably because it has a brighter, fuller sound that is closer to the songs by The Orb that I first heard. I want to say "Four Ever Rainbow" sounds more like "deep space", even though I'm not sure what that means.

There is a reason these two songs sound similar to songs by The Orb: if you check the liner notes of "Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld", you'll see that Hillage & Giraudy co-wrote & performed on "Supernova at the End of the Universe" and "Backside of the Moon". In particular, there is a strong affinity between "Backside of the Moon" and "Garden of Paradise". The Orb adds a rhythm, vocal samples, and other 1990s updates, but the essence of the songs remain similar (see also Hillage & Giraudy's work in System 7).

Although not entirely fair to the "Rainbow Dome Musick", due to my order of discovery I can't help but consider it in the context of post-"Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld". The LP still stands up well, but their work with The Orb did take it to the next level.

Standout songs: Garden of Paradise, Four Ever Rainbow.

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 8/10.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

DJ Shadow - "Def Surrounds Us" (LP Review)

Since 2010 is nearly over, so I suppose I should review something actually released in 2010...

The latest DJ Shadow single "Def Surrounds Us" / "I've Been Trying" was released in September 2010 in both digital and 12" formats (an interesting mix of new & old school). I was fortunate to get a official, free download (the window has now closed), and I've been listening to the two tracks and have been conflicted about them.

First, although it is only two tracks, none of the flaws that made "The Outsider" such a terrible LP are present. Whereas "The Outsider" found Shadow exploring hyphy (but adding nothing new), the song "Def Surrounds Us" finds Shadow revisiting the well established genre of drum and bass as well as the relatively new genre of dubsteb (it was actually a tweet from Shadow that turned me on to dubsteb).

But like his flirtation with hyphy before, it is not clear that he's adding something new. As far as drums and bass, I don't hear anything that Plug (aka Luke Vibert) didn't do in the mid-90s (cf. "Drum 'n' Bass for Papa"). As for dubstep, Shadow's work is better than Skream (cf. "Midnight Request Line") but not as good as Burial (cf. "Southern Comfort"). The excellent vocal samples are unique to Shadow, but that's not enough to carry the song. The song does get more interesting from ~ 3:00-6:00, but I would have been more impressed if this had come out before "Drum 'n' Bass for Papa" (1996).

"I've Been Trying" is a totally different song, a slow, bluesy vocal track that sounds like an out take from "The Outsider" (cf. "Broken Levee Blues"). A nice contrast to the first song, but not necessarily a standout.

I'm trying to be optimistic... When the "You Can't Go Home Again" single came out in 2002, I didn't really know what to make of it. But it made more sense in the context of the following LP "The Private Press", and honestly that LP made a lot more sense only after the Japanese-only remix LP "The Private Repress". Ultimately, this single sounds like a vast improvement over "The Outsider", but as I said in that review, I liked it better when DJ Shadow invented genres instead of just participating in them.

Standoutsongs: "Def Surrounds Us", "I've Been Trying"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 5/10. I thought about a 6/10, but honestly that would be giving him a pass just because he's DJ Shadow.

Chris Bell - "I Am the Cosmos" (LP Review)

Being huge fanboys, Johan, Lee, and I have had numerous discussions about Big Star, who rank with The Velvet Underground with respects to significant influence in the musical community without the corresponding commercial success (Johan even features Big Star in his technical presentations to illustrate the difference between importance and popularity).

The two main creative forces behind Big Star were Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, who were roughly comparable in their roles to McCartney & Lennon, respectively. And while the three Big Star LPs generally receive nearly perfect marks by most critics, I have to break with Lee, Johan, and other critics and confess I enjoy Chris Bell's "I Am the Cosmos" more than any of the Big Star LPs.

That is not to say that "I Am the Cosmos" is not a flawed LP; it is really just a collection of singles and demos that was posthumously assembled & released by Rykodisc in 1992. Prior to this, the only official solo Chris Bell release was the 1978 7" "I Am the Cosmos" (on the tiny label Car Records), right before Bell's death in an automobile accident. Prior to 1992, the unreleased Chris Bell recordings had acquired a mythic reputation, similar to "Smile", "Chrome Dreams", and other lost LPs.

Because it is a compilation the quality is variable, featuring a mix of artists (including appearances by Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens from Big Star), different studios, etc. The best tracks are sublime & achingly beautiful: the title track "I Am the Cosmos" (two different versions are featured) and its original b-side "You and Your Sister" (three different versions), "Speed of Sound", "Though I Know She Lies"; even spiritual: "Look Up", "There Was A Light". The weaker songs try to emulate Big Star-style, uptempo rockers (e.g., "Make A Scene", "I Got Kinda Lost", "Fight at the Table"), and on these songs the absence of Alex Chilton is noticeable. The slower, more introspective songs work best here. Perhaps the best way to describe them is to say the LP cover art perfectly captures their essence.

Since only bassist Andy Hummel fails to make an appearance, perhaps "I Am the Cosmos" should be considered the fourth Big Star LP. And if so, I would consider it to be the best Big Star LP. I don't understand how these songs could go unreleased for so long, but at least they're available now.

Standout tracks: "I Am the Cosmos", "You and Your Sister", "Speed of Sound", "Though I Know She Lies", "Look Up", "There Was A Light"

Skip 'em tracks: "Get Away", "Make A Scene", "I Got Kinda Lost", "Fight at the Table"

Final score: 9/10.

Bonus Links: YouTube is awash with amateur covers of Chris Bell songs. Here are some of the more well-known versions:

"I Am the Cosmos": This Mortal Coil, The Posies, Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson

"You and Your Sister": This Mortal Coil

P.S. No, I'm not ignoring the role of This Mortal Coil and Big Star / Chris Bell. I'll get to it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Ramones - Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio? (forgotten song)

"This is rock 'n' roll radio. C'mon let's rock 'n' roll with the Ramones." You're not a Ramones fan if that phrase doesn't make you start pounding out a beat...

The first single from the 1980 LP "End of the Century", I remember this video getting some rotation on MTV but I don't recall much, if any, airplay on the radio (most stations seem to think the Ramones recorded only one song).

"End of the Century" was recorded with Phil Spector as producer. This change in sound alienated some fans, and the sessions were exhausting if not outright dangerous. I realize Spector is a murderer and a complete nut job, but I'd be lying if I said I did not love his Wall of Sound -- even with the Ramones, and even with The Beatles.

Some things that not a lot of people realize about the Ramones:

1. They set the template for punk, not the Pistols.

2. They were a reaction to the perceived excesses of 60s psychedelic rock, 70s prog rock, disco, etc. No fusion jams and no Tolkien lyrics.

3. They were heavily influenced by the sounds of late 50s and early 60s, including girl groups, The Beach Boys, etc. Sure, they played louder and faster than the originals, but they were basically pop songs.

"Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" made explicit all of their influences, most of which predate me so links are provided:
Rock 'n, rock 'n' roll radio Let's go
Rock 'n, rock 'n' roll radio Let's go
Rock 'n, rock 'n' roll radio Let's go
Rock 'n, rock 'n' roll radio Let's go

Do you remember Hullabaloo,
Upbeat, Shindig! and Ed Sullivan too?
Do you remember rock 'n' roll radio?
Do you remember rock 'n' roll radio?

Do you remember Murray the K,
Alan Freed, and High Energy?*
It's the end, the end of the 70s
It's the end, the end of the century

Do you remember lying in bed
With your covers pulled up over your head?
Radio playin' so no one can see
We need change, we need it fast
Before rock's just part of the past
'Cause lately it all sounds the same to me
Whoa whoa, oh oh

Will you remember Jerry Lee,
John Lennon, T. Rex and Ol' Moulty?
It's the end, the end of the 70s
It's the end, the end of the century

You won't find a better, more loving tribute to the era.

Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio: studio version; live version (for those who prefer their Ramones Spector-less).

"This is rock 'n' roll radio. Stay tuned for more rock 'n' roll."

Bonus link: 7" B-side "I Want You Around"

* = Presumably "High Energy" was a radio program of the 50s/60s. Link suggestions are appreciated.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Dead Milkmen - "Punk Rock Girl" (forgotten song)

For Danette's birthday: "Punk Rock Girl"... the single from The Dead Milkmen's 1988 LP "Beelzebubba". You'd be hard pressed to find a band more consistently clever and funny than The Dead Milkmen. The song and video form a wry, 1980's time capsule that celebrates and vilifies, as appropriate, the cool part of town vs. mall culture, Mojo Nixon, Poison, Sonny Bono, The Beach Boys (who neither wrote nor performed "California Dreamin'"), Minnie Pearl, and music video lip syncing (0:40 -- 0:47). In addition, it features an accordion and the world's worst guitar solo (1:37 - 1:53) -- what more could you ask for?

I didn't know Danette in 1988, but if I had, I'm sure I would have said:
Punk rock girl
You look so wild
Punk rock girl
Let's have a child
We'll name her Minnie Pearl
Just you and me
Eat fudge banana swirl
Just you and me
We'll travel round the world
Just you and me
Punk rock girl
Punk Rock Girl: YouTube.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bob Marley and the Wailers - "Redemption Song" (the song remains the same)

In the mid- to late-80s it was de riguer for every high school bedroom or college dorm room to have a Bob Marley and The Wailers poster (the image used on the LP "Legend"); you couldn't be alternative without it. So I'll consider the background on Marley as read since there's nothing I can add to it.

"Redemption Song" is the last song on 1980's "Uprising", the final studio LP from Bob Marley and The Wailers. With the possible exception of "No Woman No Cry", "Redemption Song" is probably my favorite BMATW song. The 7" version of "Redemption Song" had both the acoustic version (from "Uprising") as well as "band version" with The Wailers.

There are dozens of covers of "Redemption Song"; I won't even try to list them all. When Joe Strummer covered it on his 2003 LP "Streetcore", there was only one way to improve on it: a duet with Joe Strummer and Johnny Cash, from the 2003 posthumously released box set "Unearthed". Once again, you have to hand it to Rick Rubin for putting this together (see also: my review of "God's Gonna Cut You Down"). Honestly, does it get any better than Joe Stummer & Johnny Cash covering a Bob Marley song?

Bob Marley (acoustic solo): YouTube. This is closest to the version you're used to.

Bob Marley and The Wailers: YouTube.

Joe Strummer: YouTube.

Johnny Cash & Joe Strummer: YouTube.

(This is an obvious companion to my review for "Streetcore", but I felt it deserved its own entry.)

Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Streetcore" (LP Review)

I have to confess that I knew little about Joe Strummer's career after The Clash until I saw the documentary "Let's Rock Again!". Despite the somewhat silly title, it is a quite good description of the modest circumstance of Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros on tour promoting their second LP, 2001's "Global A Go-Go". Sometime after seeing LRA, I also saw the documentary "Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten". Apparently I'm not the only one that wasn't clear what he had been up to: even refers to the period between The Clash and The Mescaleros as "The Wilderness Years".

I liked what I heard in those documentaries, so I bought "Streetcore", which was posthumously released in 2003. I'm trying to review this LP without both the nostalgia regarding Strummer's untimely death in 2002, and my own continuing appreciation for The Clash, whom (much like Joy Division) I understand and appreciate far more now than "back in the day".

So with every attempt to be objective, I can honestly say this is an excellent LP. Not just a collection of excellent songs, what I appreciate most is this LP sounds exactly like what an LP by a 50 year-old Joe Strummer should sound like. I'll try to describe what that means, and we'll see if Lee agrees with me...

Strummer was in his mid-20s when the seminal double LP "London Calling" was recorded, and its sound captures the righteous indignation of a young punk. On "Streetcore", Strummer doesn't try to sound like the angry, street preacher of his youth and The Mescaleros don't try to be "the only band that matters". On the other hand, the fire is still there: he's still angry and he hasn't given up the fight, but he's tempered with age, experience, wisdom, and perspective. He doesn't deny his origins either; for example, the song "Burnin' Streets" slyly incorporates the lyrics "London is burning", but without the urgency of The Clash song "London's Burning". In summary, "Streetcore" gives us a version of Joe Strummer that is like aged leather.

This LP was assembled after Strummer's death, so there is a mixture of producers (e.g., Rick Rubin is the producer of the cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song"), and the song "Midnight Jam" was unfinished when Strummer died so instead of vocals it features samples of Strummer's BBC radio show. As a result, "Midnight Jam" sounds a bit like "Death is a Star" from "Combat Rock". And as the name The Mescaleros suggests, there is a definite Tex-Mex sound on some songs, esp. "Coma Girl", "Get Down Moses" and "Long Shadow". They're mostly known for their world music influences, but it sounds more like punk-influenced rockabilly to me. The only song that doesn't work for me is "Arms Aloft".

It is tempting to rate this more highly than it deserves because it is Strummer's last LP. However, even if he was alive and still recording, this would still be an important LP that serves as a blueprint for aging rockers yearning to remain relevant. It reminds me of the scenes in "Let's Rock Again!" where Strummer is promoting his upcoming concert, talking to people on the boardwalk and then later to a DJ at a local radio station. He seems to take it all in stride, but the viewer is left to think "dude, you're talking to Joe F'n Strummer, and you don't even realize it..." It is unfortunate that this LP is not more well-known.

Standout songs: "Coma Girl", "Get Down Moses", "Long Shadow", "Ramshackle Day Parade", "Redemption Song", "All in a Day", "Midnight Jam", "Silver and Gold".

Skip 'em songs: "Arms Aloft".

Final score: 9/10.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Cribs - "I'm A Realist" (LP Review)

This is an odd sort of EP from The Cribs: I think it only exists for the public in digital form, although I've found some evidence on ebay that it also exists (under a different cover) as a promo-only 4 track EP (the entry seems to support this theory as well).

In my quest to acquire the back catalog of The Cribs (see my other reviews), I tried to find a CD version of this EP. Failing in that, I broke down and bought it on iTunes, which I have to confess is very unsatisfying. Yes, I understand that I'm something of a fossil by continuing to buy hard-copy formats of music, but 1) the collector in me isn't satisfied if there isn't a physical manifestation, and 2) my professional interests in digital preservation make me more optimistic about the long-term viability of CDs over my iTunes library.

Should you buy this EP online? Or hunt up a promo version on ebay? The short answer is "yes". It is mostly a collection of songs that have appeared in other releases, but some of them have been difficult to get and/or have only been in 7" vinyl. And if you're a hard-core collector, then promo-only releases are gems in your collection (for example, I'm proud to have a copy of DJ Shadow's "One to Grow On" promo-only LP).

The title track is the final single from 2007's "Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever" LP. It's not a bad song, but it certainly wasn't a standout track from the LP. This EP also contains a remix of "I'm A Realist" from The Postal Service, which I believe is the only track on this EP you can't find elsewhere. I'm a big fan of Jimmy Taborello (1/2 of TPS; see also my review of "Dumb Luck"), and while I really like the idea of a TPS remix of a song by The Cribs, I can't say it works that well. It is "interesting", and it sounds exactly like what a TPS remix should sound like, and while I'm happy to have it as a collector I don't really play it all that often.

However, the other two tracks on the EP I play all the time. "Don't You Wanna Be Relevant" and "Kind Words From the Broken Hearted" first appeared as a 7" non-LP single in 2007 after the release of MNWNW. "Don't You Wanna Be Relevant" is a blistering continuation of their previous songs like "Hey Scenesters" and "Mirror Kissers"; conventional wisdom says The Pigeon Detectives are the target of the band's wrath in this song. No one can do sneer and snarky like The Cribs.

"Kind Words From the Broken Hearted" would sound at home on either of their first LPs. This is in part because it was produced by Edwyn Collins (who also produced "The New Fellas") after his recovery from illness. There should be a law that requires Collins to produce every LP by The Cribs -- they simply don't miss when they get together.

The digital-only version closes with a video for "Our Bovine Public" from MNWMW. Not new material, but an excellent song and the video draws heavily from the DVD set "Live At The Brudenell Social Club".

Standout songs: "Don't You Wanna Be Relevant" (live version), "Kind Words From the Broken Hearted" (live version), "Our Bovine Public" (live version, Jools Holland).

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 8/10, on the strength of "DYWBR" and "KWFTBH" and being the last release of the pre-Johnny Marr era.

Bonus Links: "I'm A Realist" (live version on Jools Holland; live version w/ Johnny Marr), "I'm A Realist (The Postal Service Remix)" -- these aren't good enough to be "standout", but they're not really "skip 'em" either.

Bonus Links #2: The B-side of the original 7" of "I'm A Realist" featured a cover of "Bastards of Young" by The Replacements: cover by The Cribs, original by The Replacements.

Bonus Links #3: Wichita Recordings has the official video for "Don't You Wanna Be Relevant", but the audio volume is very low. It's a great video, but you'll need to really crank your volume.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Persuaders - "Some Guys Have All The Luck" (the song remains the same)

If there is an award for most cover versions of song that never gets played on the radio, "Some Guys Have All The Luck" would win hands down. My first recollection of this song is from the Rod Stewart video on MTV. Although the video received a fair amount of play for a short while and was a single from his 1984 LP "Camouflage", I don't recall on it on any of the local radio stations. It has the dorky, casio-keyboard sound that I absolutely hated (esp. since I was in my metal phase), but I still kind of liked this song. I was sort of surprised that I liked it, especially considering that Stewart failed to make interesting music after 1981's LP "Tonight I'm Yours" (edit: once again, Danette has accused of being too generous; she says Rod Stewart ceased being interesting ca. 1977). I didn't realize at the time the song was a cover and that was probably the reason why I liked the song despite the modish production.

I can't quite remember when I discovered the Robert Palmer version. At first, I thought it was Palmer covering Stewart, but later I learned that Palmer's version came out in 1982 on "Maybe It's Live". It still has an early 80's sound, and there's actually a video for this version, but it is 1) bizarre and 2) NSFW. I'm not sure why in 1982 you would make a video that you know can't play on MTV. Furthermore, he really only borrows part of the chorus from the original -- it is almost more of a remix than a cover.

After doing a little poking around on the Web, I learned SGHATL is actually a 1969 single from the R&B group The Persuaders. It was a top 40 hit for them then, but I don't recall ever hearing it on an oldies channel. Knowing that Robert Palmer based a lot of his material on R&B covers (and to a lesser extent, Rod Stewart as well), this made sense. And their version is quite good, even if it sounds modish as well.

A little more poking around on the web and I found that Derrick Harriot release a reggae / proto-dance hall version in 1974; this version is quite good too. Maxi Priest released another reggae version in 1987, but this one doesn't do much for me.

Saving the best for last, I uncovered on YouTube a "live in the tour bus" recording by Camera Obscura (whom you may recall from my glowing review of "Let's Get Out of This Country") which is, as far as I know, not available on any of their official releases. No disrespect intended to original writer Jeff Fortgang, or Robert Palmer, but Tracyanne Campbell is always going to trump the others in my book.

The Persuaders: YouTube.

Derrick Harriot: YouTube.

Robert Palmer: Dailymotion, TOTP version.

Rod Stewart: Dailymotion.

Maxi Priest: YouTube.

Camera Obscura: YouTube.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Liz Phair - "Liz Phair" (LP Review)

Danette has accused me of being too generous in my reviews, but I think I'm just reviewing my favorite stuff first. But just to be fair, I'll review something that's really, really bad: Liz Phair's fourth LP, 2003's self-titled "Liz Phair".

OK, so that's cheating a bit -- everyone knows this is a terrible LP. Liz Phair hit the scene in 1993 with "Exile in Guyville" and it was a critical blockbuster. Everybody loved Liz: the sexy, brash, irreverent, pottymouthed girl-next-door. The critics loved her so much, in fact, they could never quite forgive her for not continually re-releasing "Exile in Guyville". The analogy to M. Night Shyamalan is obvious.

But in 2003, she hit rock bottom. Eager to trade in her indie cred for something more tangible (she warned us, see: 1998's "Shitloads of Money"), she enlisted the production team The Matrix and strived to write more commercial songs. Not coincidentally, "Liz Phair" was the first LP to not feature re-recorded songs from her early Girly Sound demo tapes. The result is that she ended up imitating her imitators -- she became a 36 year-old Avril Lavigne. She simultaneously failed to gain significant cross over success and yet still managed to alienate her indie fan base. Where her earlier LPs were clever/funny/shocking, "Liz Phair" is stale/calculating/hollow. As David St. Hubbins tells us: "It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever."

The result was scathing reviews that were more clever than the LP itself: the NY Times called it "Liz Phair's Exile in Avril-ville" and Pitchfork Media gave it a 0.0. Ouch. On a 10 point scale, that's like going to 11 the bad way. I tried to think of my own witticism for this review, but the best I could come up with was a couple of Spinal Tap retreads. If she mailed it in, so will I.

I will say that I actually like the songs "Extraordinary" and "Why Can't I?". And I'm further ashamed to say those are two of the four songs that she co-wrote with The Matrix. Since The Matrix only contributed to four songs, two of which I actually like, I have to conclude that Liz bears most of the blame for this LP, where the other 12 songs vary between "bland" and "awful". I could call them out one by one, but what's the point? The less said about them the better. Finally, the video for "Why Can't I?" is terribly clever -- a must see, slightly anachronistic homage to CD jukeboxes and 1960s-era cover art.

Standout songs: "Extraordinary" (different version, from the movie "Raising Helen"), "Why Can't I?"

Skip 'em songs: all of the others. really.

Final score: 3/10. Tough love.

Weird Bonus Link: A video (from that appears to be an apology for the LP, conflating The Matrix production team and the film The Matrix. Maybe it seemed funny on paper, but it just makes things worse.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Honeymoon Suite - "New Girl Now" (forgotten song)

So when is the last time you heard this one? I recall "New Girl Now" getting a small amount of radio airplay when it came out in 1984, but I can't recall it having a video on MTV. It was the first single from the self-titled LP by the Canadian band Honeymoon Suite.

Even though it came out in 1984, the sound is late 70s / early 80s new wave. Perhaps they were destined to be just a one hit wonder (at least in the US), or perhaps they were simply eclipsed by the emerging college / alternative sound.

YouTube: "New Girl Now".

Friday, July 16, 2010

Joy Division - "Atmosphere" (the song remains the same)

"Atmosphere" might be Joy Division's best song, arguably even better than the popular "Love Will Tear Us Apart". The latter still gets airplay, but I don't recall ever hearing the former on the radio. JD fans know, of course, but the casual listener has probably never heard "Atmosphere".

A non-LP single, it was first released in 1980 as the A-side on a very limited release 7" "Licht Und Blindheit" and then later the same year as a double A-side 12" single: with the UK version having "Atmosphere" as the A-side and the US version having "She's Lost Control" as the A-side. Of course, most of us have it on 1988's compilation LP "Substance".

In many ways, "Atmosphere" sounds unlike any of their other songs. While still sounding desolate, it does not have the typical menacing, frenetic JD sound. As the name suggests, it has a soundtrack quality to it: slow, majestic, sprawling. The video evokes the same feelings, but I have to admit the hooded figures running through desert remind me of Jawas. I don't think that was JD's intent, but they can't claim prior art since the song came out three years after Star Wars.

The slowcore band "Codeine" does an excellent cover of "Atmosphere" which can be found on the tribute LP "A Means To An End - The Music Of Joy Division". Although I'll eventually review the LP, here's a spoiler alert: there are only a few gems on it, but Codeine's version is amazing. First, the slowcore sound allows Codeine to out-desolate JD: true to their name "Codeine", they have the Black Sabbath, slow-doom sound but without the distortion pedals. Second, although "Atmosphere" is best recognized for Stephen Morris's innovative drumming, the percussion is almost entirely removed in the Codeine version. I can only imagine the conversation went like this:

Q: "How do we honor the trademark drum work on this track?"
A: "We don't even try."
Q: "What do we do instead?"
A: "Play it even slower."
Q: "Do you feel sleepy too?"
A: "Yes."

Third, as if the above weren't enough, they slightly changed the lyrics. According to Shadowplay, in JD's version the third verse is:
People like you find it easy
Naked to see - walking on air
Hunting by the rivers
Through the streets, every corner
Abandoned too soon
Set down with due care
Don't walk away - in silence
Don't walk away
Codeine's version is:
People like you have it easy
Face like the sun - walking on air
Haunted by your face, every street, every corner
Abandoned too soon
Don't walk away - in silence
Don't walk away - in silence
Although I hesitate to go against Ian Curtis, I really think the Codeine version is better. I suppose it could have been a lyrical variation from Curtis himself, but the Shadowplay site would presumably mention if that were true. Codeine's changes to the song both expand and honor the original.

Peter Murphy (formerly of Bauhaus) and Trent Reznor (of NiN) also did a cover of "Atmosphere" on the "2006 Radio Sessions". And while I love the idea of a Murhpy & Reznor cover version, it is a pretty straight forward interpretation. More JD covers is a good thing, but their version doesn't push like Codeine's.

Joy Division: "Atmosphere"
Codeine: "Atmosphere"
Peter Murphy & Trent Reznor: "Atmosphere"

Bonus links:
"Dead Souls" (B-side of "Licht Und Blindheit" 7") (live version)
"She's Lost Control" (Alternate A-side of 12")

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Black Sabbath - "Vol. 4" (LP Review)

This review goes out to Butch @ Squealer Music. Butch and I share an interest in drone & doom music and he's turned me on to some cool bands like Earth, Sunn O))) and Deathprod. I plan to review LPs by those artists later, but first I thought I'd start with our mutual interest in the progenitor of doom, Black Sabbath.

Unlike most metal bands from my youth, I can honestly say that I enjoy Sabbath nearly as much now as I did then. And who doesn't, really? People who do not count themselves as fans probably sing along to songs like "Paranoid", "Iron Man" or maybe even "War Pigs". Ozzy-era Sabbath has a popular music legacy that is larger than most casual fans might imagine.

Having said that, Sabbath is probably best well-known for their great songs, not necessarily their great albums. For every "Paranoid"-quality song on an LP, there seemed to be something like "Planet Caravan". OK, so "Planet Caravan" is kind of cool in its own way, but check your iTunes play count and tell me how it rates compared to other Sabbath songs. Be honest.

Butch and I discussed our favorite Sabbath LPs one time, and while I think he went with "Master of Reality", I have to say their greatest LP is 1972's "Vol. 4". It has fewer hit songs (I'm not sure any get current radio airplay), but it is arguably the strongest start-to-finish LP they released (at least in the Ozzy era). I could make an argument for 1973's "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", but the inclusion of keyboardist Rick Wakeman made for interesting songs, but ones that rawked less.

I'm not entirely sure why the songs from Vol. 4 don't get airplay on the classic rock stations: standouts like "Wheels of Confusion", "Tomorrow's Dream", "Supernaut", and "Under the Sun" are upbeat, have killer riffs and are very heavy. It might be that none of these songs have sing-along choruses like "Paranoid" and "Iron Man". For example, you can probably sing along with the guitar riff of "Supernaut" (which is at least as good as "Paranoid") better than you can remember and sing along with the lyrics ("I want to reach out and touch the sky / something something something / something something something..." -- there's actually no chorus).

Come to think of it, "Changes" is pretty much is the only song that you can sing along too. I also consider it the weakest song on the LP. It is not really bad, and you do have to give them credit (blame?) for basically inventing the metal power ballad genre, but it clearly not as enjoyable as the other songs. I'm ambivalent about the cocaine-themed "Snowblind", its neither bad nor good. The only truly skippable song is "FX"; 1:44 of electronics noodling which I guess seemed cool at the time.

"Laguna Sunrise" is the "pretty" instrumental Sabbath has on nearly every LP that serves as a vehicle to demonstrate Tony Iommi's guitar virtuosity. "St. Vitus Dance" is a nice example of Sabbath doing "hippie metal" -- it even has acoustic guitar in parts.

Another thing I like about this LP are the medleys: "Wheels of Confusion" leads into "The Straightener" and "Wheels of Confusion" interpolates "Every Day Comes and Goes" -- sort of a metal version of "A Day in the Life". The song writing and arrangement is at Sabbath's zenith here. This is the last LP where the drugs amplified their creativity instead of hurting it.

So despite the limited radio / single impact, I think this is their finest LP. They had recorded better individual songs before and after this, but as a collection of songs this is their high water mark.

Standout songs: "Wheels of Confusion / The Straightener", "Tomorrow's Dream", "Supernaut", "Cornucopia", "St. Vitus Dance", "Laguna Sunrise", "Under the Sun / Every Day Comes and Goes".

Skip 'em songs: "FX", "Changes".

Final score: 9/10. "FX" and "Changes" keep this from being 10/10.

2010-06-18 Edit: Butch insisted I include this link for "Snowblind". I'm surprised at how many high-quality, 1970s concert videos you can find on YouTube.

2012-07-05 Edit: The entire LP on YouTube.  

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Beat - "Save it for Later" (forgotten song)

Continuing my tradition of interpreting contemporary artists through the lens of 1980s alternative / college radio... I've seen Vampire Weekend on SNL twice (2010: "Cousins", "Giving Up the Gun", 2008: "A-Punk" and "M79") and The Colbert Report once (2010: "Holiday"). I kind of like them because, and I don't mean this as a left-handed compliment, they remind me of The English Beat. Well, they were just known as the "The Beat" in the UK, but they were the "The English Beat" in the US to avoid collision with Paul Collin's (formerly of The Nerves) band "The Beat".

The Beat were a late 70s / early 80s ska band on the 2 Tone record label in the UK, the same label that gave us The Specials, Madness, and other staples of early MTV. The Beat recorded three LPs and then disbanded, with former members going on to form the mid- to late-80s MTV staples General Public and Fine Young Cannibals. I didn't really care for either of those bands but The Beat had several good singles, and they've all but disappeared from radio.

The most popular in the US was "Save it for Later", a single off their 1982 LP "Special Beat Service" which received a good amount of MTV exposure, although I'd have to say that 1980's single "Mirror in the Bathroom" (from their debut LP, "I Just Can't Stop It") is a better song (more ska, less pop). I've chosen to feature "Save it for Later" since it is the one that is closest to the Vampire Weekend sound. If Vampire Weekend would just add horns and maybe some toasting and they'd be right at home on 2 Tone, circa 1980. And that's not too bad...

"Save it for Later": YouTube.

Bonus Link (as per the double A-side single image above) : "Mirror in the Bathroom": YouTube.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Rainbow - "On Stage" (LP Review)

So I've been wondering how to commemorate the passing of Ronnie James Dio... Anyone who knew me in high school remembers that I was a huge fan. I believe it was Chris Miller that gave me a tape of "Holy Diver" right after it came out in 1983, and from there I slowly worked my way backwards through Dio's canon: Black Sabbath, Rainbow, then Elf. That was back in the pre-Web days when working out a discography took a lot of research (time and $) in the record store. I was proud that I had eventually collected all of his LPs on vinyl, including the Elf LPs which, truth be told, aren't very good.

By college I had mostly outgrown my fascination with the D&D / fantasy / metal genre, of which RJD was a central figure, but he'll always be nostalgically significant and I was saddened by his passing. But which LP to review for F-Measure? "Holy Diver" and "Heaven and Hell" are obvious choices -- too obvious, IMO. The same argument could also be made for "Mob Rules", which is at least as good as the latter two but often overlooked.

But perhaps the most important to me was "On Stage", the mostly forgotten 1977 live double LP from Rainbow. For one, I really love Ritchie Blackmore's guitar playing: fluid, effortless, expressive. I'm a Deep Purple fan as well, but Blackmore seems more comfortable here than any of his previous or later LPs. The rest of the lineup features Rainbow at the their finest: Cozy Powell (drums), Tony Carey (keyboards), and Jimmy Bain (bass). Dio would work with most of these people again in later lineups (Dio/Sabbath/Rainbow/Purple/Whitesnake all regularly swapped members from LP to LP), but this lineup, the same as on "Rainbow Rising", is Rainbow's strongest.

The second reason this is a good LP to revisit is that Dio's latter fantasy themes are only partially developed here. Sure, songs like "Kill the King", "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" and "Man On the Silver Mountain" hint at the thematic direction for the rest of his career, but imagery is not quite as over the top here. Granted, I liked the fantasy themes 25+ years ago (cf. my review of "Queensryche"), but they seem silly now. At the time, I thought Blackmore's presence reined in some of the fantasy imagery, but ironically Blackmore's project of the last 10+ years, Blackmore's Night, is 100 times worse in its Spinal Tap cliches.

The LP itself features some of the excesses of 1970's live LPs: lots of patter with audience, long songs featuring extended solos of every kind, etc. Blame Frampton, the Grateful Dead, or maybe even Deep Purple: there was a template for live LPs at the time, and extended fusion jams is what you got. For some songs, it doesn't work: the medley of "Man on the Silver Mountain / Blues / Starstruck" would be stronger as two separate songs and without the "Blues" interlude.

On the other hand, the extended jams work in the case of "Mistreated" (a cover from "Burn" by Deep Purple, Mk. III), "Still I'm Sad" (a cover off the "Having a Rave Up" LP by The Yardbirds) and "Catch The Rainbow". The latter song is really the jewel of the entire LP; a 15:36 long workout of soft-loud-soft-loud-soft. Dio, Blackmore and Powell are all in exceptional form on this song. Occupying the entire side two of the vinyl, I used to listen to this song on maximum volume more times than I can remember. The soft->loud transition from ~8:15-9:40 remains one of my favorite musical passages. Listening to this version of "Catch the Rainbow" is an investment for me and is something that can't be done casually.

I've recently discovered that in 1990 Polydor reissued "Live in Germany" which appears to be recorded from the same tour as "On Stage", but perhaps without some of the editing required to fit "On Stage" to vinyl. I haven't brought myself to purchase this LP yet -- revisiting new/old RJD recordings isn't something I've been especially eager to do, "The Last in Line" was the last LP of his I really enjoyed even though I bought a few after that. Perhaps "Live In Germany" is actually a better LP, but I'm choosing to remember RJD with "On Stage" and in particular "Catch the Rainbow".

Standout songs: "Catch the Rainbow", "Mistreated", "Kill the King", "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves", "Still I'm Sad".

Skip 'em songs: "Man on the Silver Mountain / Blues / Starstruck" (or at least the "Blues" portion of this track; the link here is nicely just MOTSM).

Final score: 9/10. I've tried to adjust for the nostalgia factor, but it should be apparent from the above that is not easily done.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Johnny Cash - "God's Gonna Cut You Down" (the song remains the same)

Both Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin had Hall of Fame careers even if they had never hooked up for Cash's American Recordings series. But they did, and the result was nothing short of amazing...

On the surface, Cash & Rubin would seem to be an unlikely pairing: Cash is a born-again Christian from Arkansas and Tennessee who is best known for singing gospel, folk and country; and Rubin is a Jew from Long Island who is best known for producing hip hop and metal bands and founding the seminal record label Def Jam Recordings (with Russell Simmons in 1984).

On further inspection, it is a perfect match: Sun Records was the Def Jam / Def American of its time and Cash certainly lived (invented?) the rock and roll lifestyle. Furthermore, Rubin is renowned for his powerful, stripped-down, spare production style that gets the most out of the artist; and Cash's career had been foundering, in part because the major labels were overproducing his records and trying to make him into something he was not. Cash and Rubin released their first record in 1994, American Recordings, and that was the beginning of a critically and commercially successful string of LPs each of which consisted of originals, re-recording of Cash's early songs, covers and standards.

Released as a single from 2006's posthumously released "American V: A Hundred Highways", "God's Gonna Cut You Down" is Cash's version of the traditional song generally credited as "Run On". The song has been recorded by many different artists and although it is a homily about abandoning sinful ways, it is generally presented as an up-tempo and joyful song -- a New Testament reading, if you will.

Not so with Cash and Rubin -- you could say they give an Old Testament presentation: dark, booming and vengeful. Changing the title from "Run On" captures the shift of emphasis -- "God's Gonna Cut You Down" was always in the lyrics, but it never seemed to be the main point of the song. Now it is, and the song sounds like the wrath of God.

You might (barely) recognize the song from Moby's 1999 LP "Play", where it was titled "Run On" and sampled a 1947 recording by Bill Landford & The Landfordaires (then titled "Run On for a Long Time"). I must have heard this song dozens of times before I even realized they were singing the lyrics "God will cut you down". This song is a typical example of Moby's gift for recontextualizing early recordings (folk, blues, etc.) in an electronica format.

Another notable version is from the Blind Boys of Alabama, from their 2001 LP "Spirit of the Century". This is a more conventional gospel arrangement, probably closer to Moby's source recording from Landford.

There are countless other recordings of this song but this should give a good sampling of the various versions. And as good as these other versions are, Cash and Rubin have pretty much closed the book on this song -- no one else is going to come close.

Johnny Cash: "God's Gonna Cut You Down"

Moby: "Run On", "Run On" (live acoustic version)

Bill Landford & The Landfordaires: "Run On for a Long Time"

Blind Boys of Alabama: "Run On"

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kate Bush - "Hounds of Love" (the song remains the same)

Let's do one more Kate Bush cover song...

"Hounds of Love" is the third single released from Kate's 1985 LP "Hounds of Love" (the single came out in 1986). An ode to the fear of commitment, it is a great song but it took me a while to discover this in part because of the mid-1980s production techniques that worked well enough on "Running Up That Hill" don't really make the song "Hounds of Love" stand out.

It wasn't until a few years ago when Johan turned me onto The Futureheads and their 2004 self-titled LP where they do an excellent cover of "Hounds of Love" that I really appreciated the original. The Futureheads transform it from an art/prog rock song and strip it down to just a simple, new wave rock song. While busy channeling The Knack, The Futureheads speed up the tempo, replace the keyboards with guitars, and completely embrace the background vocals that otherwise sound a little awkward on Kate's version. And if that's not a solid formula for how to improve a rock song, then I don't know what is...

Kate Bush: studio version, TOTP version

The Futureheads: studio version, official video, live version, unplugged/live version