Friday, May 29, 2009

Cover Me Impressed: Part 1

It takes guts to cover a song. Imagine the gall, for example, of someone like Aerosmith covering the Beatles. Oh, it happened? My God. Anyway, from time to time I will highlight a cover that, in my opinion, meets or even exceeds the original.

I got into Daniel Johnston back in the '80s when the only format you could get him on was a very homemade-looking cassette. Ironically, Johnston has covered the Beatles many times with, admittedly, mixed results. So, please, no hate mail.

Many of Johnston's songs are pure genius and transcend the outsider-art label. This is especially true on 'Hi, How Are You?' A few have covered 'Walking the Cow', including a pretty good one by fIREHOSE, but the best version I have heard is from the Chicago band Office. It was posted on the group's Web site in 2007. As far as I know, it's not so easy to find now. Office does the two pivotal things in a good cover. They make it their own while still paying homage to the original. I especially like the Johnston sample at the beginning. Enjoy the cover and the original below.

Daniel Johnston - Walking the Cow (mp3)
Office - Walking the Cow (mp3)

I'm Partial to His Abracadabra

Filming has begun on 'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll', an Ian Dury biopic starring Andy Serkis as Dury (Gollum from 'The Lord of the Rings' flicks), Ray Winstone ("Gal" from 'Sexy Beast') as his father and -- ooh-la-la -- Olivia Williams (Rosemary Cross from 'Rushmore'). Moving on, Dury was a hero of mine in my youth, and his story of surviving polio and living with a handicap as he helped lead the punk revolution should make quite a movie. I first heard his music on the soundtrack for the film 'That Summer' when I was 13 years old. Never mind that I still have not seen the movie to this day. This is the best soundtrack I have ever owned, and it is the pivotal work that started my love for music out of the mainstream. It's deserving of a blog entry on its own in the next week or two.

'New Boots and Panties!!' is the first record of Dury's I ever bought (owned over the years in three formats), and it is still my favorite. 'Blackmail Man' might be the hardest song I have ever heard. Upon her first few listens, my wife wondered why Dury had something against a black mailman. That's still a smile. Here's one from that great record.

Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Plaistow Patricia (mp3)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Jayhawks Are Circling

It's good to be a Jayhawks fan right now. For the first time in more than a decade, Mark Olson and Gary Louris reunited to tour and record. New West released 'Ready for the Flood' in January, and I thought it was at least as good as those early Jayhawks albums. And let's not forget that one-off show with the 'Tomorrow the Green Grass'-era lineup in Spain last summer. Now comes word there will be an anthology, reissues and a DVD.

For those of you who don't have the band's catalog, 'Music From the North Country' is going to be a great place to start. It will be released as a single-disc anthology with much of the band's best work. A deluxe edition with a second CD of rare and unreleased tracks, as well as a DVD of music videos and live performances, will have superfans giddy. Mark your calendars for July 7.

There's more. Sony/Legacy plans to reissue the band's entire catalog from 'Hollywood Town Hall' through Rainy Day Music'. Between the five albums, there will be 30 bonus tracks.

This is just talk, but the band's first record (known as 'Bunkhouse' because of the local label it was on) may actually see the light of day. There have been rumors of this for years, but Olson and Louris are even saying the Lost Highway-owned album could hit the shelves. With all of this going on, will the band reunite for a new record? Word of more reunion shows is a good sign. Here are a few of my favorite Jayhawks songs to keep you company while we wait for these releases. Enjoy.

The Jayhawks - Waiting for the Sun (mp4)
The Jayhawks - Blue (mp4)
The Jayhawks - The Man Who Loved Life (mp4)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jay Bennett Blues

Today is a sad day as I write about Jay Bennett for the second time in a week. The former Wilco whiz passed away over the weekend in his Urbana, Ill., home. He was only 45.

As I said then, I think he was a much bigger part of Wilco's best years then the disciples of Jeff Tweedy will ever admit. Let's never forget Bennett's contributons on 'Summer Teeth' and his production values on 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.' I am not as familiar with his most recent solo work, but I really liked his first record with Edward Burch. Here are a couple of my favorites from 'The Palace at 4am (Part 1)'. Wilco die-hards will recognize 'Shakin Sugar' as a rerecorded 'Foxtrot' outtake called 'Alone'. You can download Bennett's latest, 'Whatever I Did I Apologize', absolutely free at Rock Proper. I'm giving it a listen right now. Rest in peace.

Jay Bennett & Edward Burch - Shakin Sugar (mp4)
Jay Bennett & Edward Burch - Puzzle Heart (mp4)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Summer Songs

While you're eating your steamin' weenies this Memorial Day weekend, take a minute to remember why we have this holiday. Then take another minute to remember your favorite summer songs. Here are my Top 10. My apologies to Sly & The Family Stone, Flaming Lips and dozens of others I considered for this list. Until next week...

1. The Camp North Star Kids Chorus - Are You Ready For the Summer? (edit) (mp3)
2. Chamber Strings - Make It Through the Summer
3. Chad & Jeremy - A Summer Song
4. The Beach Boys - All Summer Long
5. The Go-Go's - Vacation
6. Elvis Costello - The Other Side of Summer
7. Lindsey Buckingham - Holiday Road
8. Jad Fair & Daniel Johnston - Summertime (mp3)
9. Frank Sinatra - Summer Wind
10. The Undertones - Here Comes the Summer

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New-Release Tuesday

Yeah, I know it's not Tuesday, but this is my first week blogging and there are some kinks to work out, OK? The plan forthwith is to have an entry on Tuesdays discussing what "officially" came out that day. It will be releases I think are interesting (good or bad). Sometimes I'll just mention a record is out. Sometimes I'll give a full-blown review. Some weeks there might not be anything that catches my fancy, and I'll just skip the whole thing.

Before I delve into this week's picks, I have to ask: Are you old enough to remember how exciting new-release Tuesdays used to be? Pre-Internet and file sharing, Tuesdays were the day to hit the record store. I can recall the giddiness of picking up everything from 'The Queen Is Dead' (Apple Tree Records, Normal, Illinois) to 'Trompe Le Monde' (Chicago Compact Disc, Evanston, Illinois) on the day it came out. Heck, even when I worked at a record store in the early '90s we used to stay open on Monday nights until after midnight to hawk the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana. Talk about ancient history.

Truth is, I miss the relevance of new-release Tuesday, but the primary outcome was always getting my hands on the music first. Now most of us get the music weeks before the official release date, and I still get awfully excited when I snag a new song or record online. Now on with this week's new releases:

Au Revoir Simone's 'Still Night, Still Light' is this week's best of the bunch. The Brooklyn trio still reminds me a bit of Julee Cruise. Airy synths and drum machines seem to be swirling through wind chimes, and the angst-ridden vocals are beautiful. I don't feel like there is any one song here as strong as the previously released "Fallen Snow", but this is the strongest overall record these gals have put out so far. Pee Wee would be proud.

Ex-Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker has put out his second solo work, 'Further Complications'. I love Pulp's 'Different Class' (who didn't?), but it is the only Cocker work that I think is strong from beginning to end. Sorry, mate. Many bloggers, including the respected Aquarium Drunkard, think 'Further Complications' is his best work. It's early, but so far it hasn't grabbed me.

The blogosphere has had the hots for Passion Pit for quite a while now. Thus, I want to hate them. Alas, I cannot. I'm a popster and don't usually fall for this brand of dance indie. I'm the unhip white guy whose back is glued to the wall when Saint Etienne is on the stereo. If you looked closely, I swear Passion Pit made my big toe go up and down for a brief moment. It must be good. Finally, you can pick up 'Manners', their full-length debut. I feel like this one came out years ago.

Au Revoir Simone - All or Nothing (mp3)
Jarvis Cocker - Angela (mp3)
Passion Pit - Make Light (mp3)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Not Quite Extinct

It seemed a bit odd a few years ago when J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph reformed the original lineup of Dinosaur Jr. and hit the road. Perhaps it was time to cash in with aging alt-rock fans that, obviously, couldn't see Nirvana. Reissuing the classic catalog seemed to reinforce the idea this was a shakedown.

But then in 2007, surprisingly, the trio went into the studio and came out with an inspired work called 'Beyond'. These guys weren't fossils after all. Well, they've done it again... with even better results. 'Farm' comes out June 23 on Jagjaguwar, and it is no nostalgia trip. So far, stateside tour dates are limited to Cali and New York. I hope they eventually roam more of the earth. Here's a song from the new one, and you can download (for free) "I Want You to Know" from the label's site linked above.

Dinosaur Jr. - Over It (mp3)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Here Come the Hawks

I have jumped on the Chicago Blackhawks bandwagon in a big way. There are three reasons I love watching them that have nothing to do with how awesome they have been on the ice this season. In fact, all three reasons are about music.

1. Opera singer Jim Cornelison has become the regular belter of the National Anthem, and he whips the crowd into a frenzy as the 20,500 fans cheer on top of their lungs during the entire song. It sends chills and intimidates the hell out of the opposition. This is truly one of the greatest traditions in sports. This clip can't do the spectacle justice, but you'll get the idea.

2. Even though the band's latest didn't quite live up to the hype, The Fratellis album 'Costello Music' was one of my favorites from 2006, and "Chelsea Dagger" has gone on to become one of the best party songs of the decade. Most of you know this one from the popular Amstel Light commercial, but Hawks fans know this one because it blares through the United Center after the good guys score a goal. "Duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh..."

3. Nothing warms the cockles of my heart quite like an old '60s fight song, and the Hawks have one of the best. It sounds particularly good right now as they take on the Original 6 rival Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals. There is plenty of room on this bandwagon. Listen to these gems and commit to the Indian.

The Fratellis - Chelsea Dagger (mp3)
Here Come the Hawks (mp3)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wilco (the lawsuit)

How about that for a cover? At least they aren't taking a stab at "My Humps." This should be a fab time for Jeff Tweedy and the boys. Wilco (the album) comes out June 30, and the band is about to hit the road to support it. There is a dark cloud, however, brought on by former Wilco multi-instrumentalist and producer Jay Bennett.

Bennett is suing Tweedy for breach of contract and unpaid royalties, including $50k in damages stemming from his role in the documentary 'I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.' Frankly, as a fan, I don't care about any of that. If Bennett is owed anything, he should get it. End of story. Bennett's role in (arguably) Wilco's best records is evident. If you have seen the film, however, you no doubt agree Bennett and Tweedy would have had a tough time working together after 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.' So, what has that meant to the music?

I imagine die-hard fans won't agree, but Wilco lost much with Bennett's departure. Based on subsequent years of sold-out shows and commercially successful records, it's easy to refute this. I'll give you that. I have enjoyed several songs since 'Foxtrot,' but they are usually the quieter, more piano-driven ones like "Hummingbird." Truth is, I rarely dust off 'Sky Blue Sky' or 'A Ghost is Born.' I listened to 'Summer Teeth' twice in the past week. Yes, Mr. Bennett, you are missed by some Wilco fans.

As with the last two records, I'm ever hopeful this is the one that brings me back in the Wilco fold. And how cool is this? For a limited time you can stream the whole album at the band's site. As a bonus, here is a song from the new one. Feist is sharing vocals with Tweedy on "You and I."

Wilco - You and I (mp3)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hmm... Two-Step or Pogo?

With only a three-song EP under their western belt buckles, Rocky Top residents Those Darlins were the talk of this year's SXSW.

Well, these gritty gals are finally taking pre-orders for the trio's full-length debut, and I fully expect it to be on scores of year-end lists. So, y'all treat your ears to some indie twang when it's released come mid-June. In the meantime, catch 'em on tour with The Features and listen to the very catchy "Wild One".

Those Darlins - Wild One (mp3)