Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Johnny Cash - At Folsom Prison (LP, 1968)

Only Johnny Cash could walk into a prison, say hello, and proceed to sing a song about how bad it sucks to be in that prison.

I listened to this record when I was a kid (my parents had a copy), and I think for a while I thought Cash was in prison, which was why they had to go there and record his show. I guess you can't blame a five year old kid for not understanding why anyone would go play a show at a prison. But, that's just what Cash did, and he ended up turning out one of his most important records ever.

I'm no Johnny Cash expert, but if you ever need proof of the man's genius, it's certainly within the 16 songs on this record. All the flaws are here (along with some overdubs, I think), and he's still infallible. Cash's voice is, as always, the star of the show, but the songs he plays here are an appropriate mix of dread and danger, love and loss. Lots of talk of judges and death. Some songs with a clamoring band, some with just Cash and his guitar.

This record will always be known for "Folsom Prison Blues," but that's not the only reason this record is considered so monumental. "Cocaine Blues" is a classic, and when Cash sings the "I can't forget the day I shot that bad bitch down" line and the inmates cheer, it's both amusing and creepy. Good combo. "The Long Black Veil" and "Send A Picture of Mother" are both sad and slow, just Johnny and his guitar, probably managing to bring some inmates to tears. And, "Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog" and "Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart" bring on some laughter and lighten the mood.

Cash does some duets with his wife Rose, which are nice enough, and the album closes with "Greystone Chapel," a hopeful song written by an inmate at the prison. Pretty sweet move.

This is another one of those records that I may not listen to more than about once a year, but it's always a nice one to come back to.

"Cocaine Blues"

Monday, September 29, 2008

Johnny Cash - Greatest Hits, Volume 1 (LP, 1967)

My father was in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and his aircraft carrier was stationed near various ports during his tour of duty. As he tells it, the crew was allowed the entire bottom floor of the ship to store any and all goods they could purchase while on shore leave in Hong Kong. Apparently stuff was dirt cheap there, as he picked up a huge cabinet stereo (complete with turntable and reel-to-reel player), a couple pairs of Pioneer headphones, and a large stack of records.

I wasn't born yet when all this happened, but a lot of these were the records I grew up with. They're very strange, printed on regular paper and loosely wrapped, inside and out, in a saran wrap type plastic. Here's one like it on eBay. At this point, I'm fairly confident these are nothing more than cheap bootlegs. I still have a few of 'em, this LP being one of the ones I held onto. It was released by ChungHwa Records, and while the recording doesn't sound too shaky, it's not great.

This is early Johnny Cash, some of his more basic country stuff. "I Walk The Line," "Ring of Fire," "Five Feet High and Rising." Classic Johnny Cash; not something I listen to all that often.

The thing that's great about these LPs from Hong Kong is they're rife with spelling errors. In their attempt to translate the English, it constantly got butchered. This one's not too bad (I've got some gems on some later records), but the label does show a few major flaws: the title is "Johnny Cach's Greatest Hit's" and track two is "I Walk the Lingt."

Wait till I get to one where they try to print the lyrics.

"Five Feet High and Rising"

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Stallion Alert! - Greg Hawkes

I think it's safe to say Greg Hawkes achieved Stallion status with this photo alone. But he did so much more.

There are a handful of groups who have a clear leader, usually the sole songwriter, and often the lead vocalist. Sometimes there is a member of that group who, though not often appropriately recognized as such, is the right-hand man of that leader and adds considerably to the distinct sound of the group. David Byrne had Jerry Harrison, Black Francis had Joey Santiago, and Ric Ocasek had Greg Hawkes.

It's hard to hear it now because the things Hawkes was doing sound a bit less remarkable thirty years later, but in 1978, there weren't a lot of guys who really knew their way around a synthesizer. Watching Hawkes in any early Cars footage, it's clear the dude's rig was bigger and badder than most of the tinkerers out there. And he knew how to play it.

He anchored some of the group's biggest hits (it's a beautiful moment when that Moogy thing kicks in during the second verse of "Good Times Roll"), but also managed to push the envelope on songs that were wonderfully not radio-ready. He goes crazy on Panorama, having a huge hand in some of the Cars' most creative and bold music.

When you're writing songs that are straightforward, yet complex enough to leave room for some textural fiddling in the background, you've got to have a guy who's not afraid to try some weird shit, while also knowing exactly what he's doing. Greg Hawkes was that guy; the curious little wild card in The Cars that made them a much better band than they would have been without him.

For that (and for the white suspenders), he is nothing short of a stallion.

Here he is playing "You Might Think" on the ukulele.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Cars - Door to Door (LP, 1987)

This record isn't nearly as bad as some people might lead you to believe. More than anything, it's just one of those albums that is remembered as a half-important afterthought because the band broke up a few months after it came out. So, if the group doesn't sound too enthused, that would probably explain it.

But, about half of the songs here are pretty good. The first side starts with "Leave or Stay," apparently an old song they re-recorded for this record. You can tell, and that's not a bad thing. It's vintage Ocasek: chugging guitar and a nicely chopped delivery. "You Are the Girl" was the song meant to be the big single, and they lay the radio-friendliness on pretty thick. It's not a bad track, but the chorus and background vocals are reminiscent of some of the weaker aspects of their previous record. (I should mention that Ocasek produced this one himself, the only Cars album on which he would do so.)

Benjamin Orr takes over lead vocals on "Double Trouble," a screechy guitar number that just oozes 1987. Easily one of the worst songs the group ever recorded. It's followed by "Fine Line," a smooth and slow ballad that features a strong melody, but it goes on about a minute too long. "Everything You Say" finds Orr coming back with the vocals, leading the way on the quick poppy number that sounds strangely like Tom Petty in the verse, but breaks out in the chorus. Not bad. "Ta Ta Wayo Wayo" is another old song they re-recorded for this record, and it sounds a lot like the first cut. Fast, short, thick with the guitar; it's not unlikeable.

Side two starts with "Strap Me In," another song that reeks of all the shit we thought was cool in 1987. The chorus is just a mess, a big group chorus followed by some brutal wanking. Another Cars song I'd like to forget. "Coming Up You" is another Orr-sung number, and another song that sounds very '87, but this time it's a good thing. It's a simple pop number, but the synths are employed perfectly. Not a mind-blower, but a good little song.

"Wound Up On You" is like "You Are the Girl" but slower and not as good. Thankfully, the record ends strong with "Go Away" and the title track. "Go Away" is Orr's last album track with the Cars as a lead vocalist, and it's the best song on this record. The mix of synths and guitar is there, and that's really where the Cars are at their best. Orr makes this song even better, getting deep (in tone) with the verses and bringing it back up for the sweet chorus. "Door to Door" is the band's punkest song since "Candy-O," and just a bizarre (but great) song to end their career with. Machine gun drums, a great hook, and when it's all over, a door slams (literally; there's a sound effect) and The Cars are no more.

"You Are the Girl" & "Double Trouble" live in 1987

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Cars - Heartbeat City (LP, 1984)

After using the same producer (Roy Thomas Baker) for their first four records, The Cars decided to mix it up on this one, bringing in one Robert "Mutt" Lange. Commercially, it clearly worked; this was their best-selling record since their debut, and if you remember 1984 at all, you remember how ubiquitous Ocasek's face was on MTV. So, this must be a really great record, right? Well...

This is a much more polished Cars. Any trace of Hawke's squeaky synth sound is gone, replaced by much more ear-friendly piano or airy woodwind emulations, and even those are often tucked in the background. The harder edges of the guitars are pared down as well, making the song a lot less punchy. If you're familiar with Def Leppard's Hysteria record, which Lange would produce a few years later, you'll have no trouble hearing the same influence here. The opening little vocal harmony that kicks off "Hello Again," the opening track on this LP, sounds a lot like the prelude to "Pour Some Sugar On Me." That's not a good thing.

The song itself has all the structural elements of a great Cars song, but it's almost too well done. The background vocals are so spot-on they sound fake. "Looking for Love" finds Ocasek hamming it up with the vocals, and the song ends up being soft and corny. I've always liked "Magic." It's just a fun and catchy song that doesn't aspire to be much else. Nothing wrong with that. And we all remember Ocasek walking on water in the video. That shit is mind blowing to an eight year old.

I'll give Lange credit for one thing: "Drive" is a song that benefits from this smoothed-over treatment. Benjamin Orr sounds great, the song builds intricately, and if they were setting out to make a song that was tailor-made for radio play, they did it. The background vocals are lame, but whatever. The first side ends with "Stranger Eyes," a fairly boring song that sounds like Hawkes being forcefully restrained from playing what he wants. What is that, a fucking muted flute? And the chorus is brutal. Pretty weak.

The second side opens with "You Might Think," a song that literally dominated MTV in 1984, thanks to its campy (or cutting edge, if you want to play it that way) video that showed Ocasek's unexpected ability to play a convincing fly and pour water out of his face door. I've always thought this song has a great chorus. "It's Not the Night" is a half-assed rocker that at least contains the sweet line "It's not the night for crazy eyes." That might be its only redeeming quality. "Why Can't I Have You" is equally watered down (seriously, Hawkes must have been so tired of whatever that piccolo sounding thing is), another love song that seems like it might be leading to something but never does.

Things pick up a bit with "I Refuse," another song that sounds like vintage Cars, but has some of its life sucked out of it with the terrible use of those backing vocals. But Ocasek's vocal verses are pretty sweet. The record wraps up with "Hearbeat City" (which is curiously listed as "Jacki" on the lyric sheet), one of the better songs on the record. Again, it's a little too smoothed over, but the background harmonies are pushed back far enough as to not be terribly annoying.

So, clearly this isn't my favorite Cars record. But, a watered down Cars record is still better than a lot of stuff. So I'll stop whining.

"It's Not the Night"

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Cars - Shake It Up (LP, 1981)

After the enjoyable but less palatable detour of Panorama, we find Ocasek and the boys returning to form, while not losing any of the edge of their last two records. Nevermind the terrible cover.

They get right into it, starting strong with two radio-ready singles, "Since You're Gone" and the title track. "Since You're Gone" is morose but catchy, a great song to set the tone of the record. "Shake It Up" is, as we all know, a timeless dance song that will be played at ironic 80's parties till the end of time. It should be, it's a great pop song.

If you're like me, you can't help but relate the third track, "I'm Not the One," to the scene in Billy Madison where he's opening his valentines. It's a sincere song, but I can no longer take it seriously. That's OK. The first side rounds out with "Victim of Love," a fine enough cut that sounds a little plain coming after the previous three, and "Cruiser," the resident heavy rocker on the record.

The second side is where this record really opens up with the synths. Greg Hawkes is the secret machine behind this band, and he goes fucking nuts on the last half of this record. "A Dream Away" is a straight up awesome song, finding Ocasek adopting a vocal style that mixes with the airy synths perfectly, bordering on talky and robotic. It's bizarrely sweet. "This Could Be Love" hammers the darker side of the keyboards, hard. The fact that Hawkes got a co-writing credit on the song is no surprise. He's dominating the sound.

"Think It Over" starts with a weird amalgam of electronic percussion, but eventually morphs into a poppier guitar tune that mirrors the sound of the title track. Of course, the end of this song bleeds into the beginning of the last track, "Maybe Baby." (At this point they're just doing that little trick out of obligation; it doesn't flow right at all.) It's a strong closer, with Ocasek taking over vocals from Benjamin Orr, who sang the previous two songs.

So, there's only nine songs on this one, but they're good ones. There's a good mix of the stuff The Cars do best. If you want the hooks, hit the first side. If you want some tremendous '81-era synth rock, flip it to side two.

"Shake It Up/Since You're Gone"

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Cars - Panorama (LP, 1980)

The Cars barreled into the 80's with an album that wonderfully veered off the path of their previous two. While I admittedly get off a little on enjoying albums that are critically panned, it's not the sole reason I think this an underrated gem. While the songs are certainly less immediately catchy than their predecessors, it's clear they're intentionally so. I'm not sure if it was his conscious intent, but Ocasek seems thrilled to challenge his fan base with this one. I can respect that. Plus, when you're dropping a full LP every year, who's going to complain if it's a bit of a curveball?

The modified approach is evident from the beginning: the opening title track is almost six minutes long, the first Cars song to journey into the five minute realm. It does feel a bit long, but the song doesn't drag. A great opener. "Touch and Go" follows, the only song resembling a single on the whole record. It's a good one as well, a song that takes its sweet time getting to the chorus (it's almost five minutes long), but making it worth it when it does.

The remainder of side one keeps with the semi-morose pop, working in some of the weirdest lyrics in the Cars catalog: "I want to float like Euripides/ All visions intact/ I'm alright with Fellini fiends/ Tripping over the track," Ocasek sings on "Gimme Some Slack." Simplicity's out the window, and it's pretty cool to witness. The first side ends with "Getting Through," a short, raucous number that finds Ocasek yelping out the closest thing to a scream that he can muster. It sounds really out of place on a Cars record, but it's jarring in a good way.

The second side takes on a variety of moods. Ocasek takes the pop road on "Misfit Kid," the only song on this record that sounds like a typical Cars song. Wouldn't have been out of place on either of the previous two. Benjamin Orr takes over vocal duties for the next three tracks. "Down Boys" is a kiss-off riff-rocker that is saved by some bizarre synths that invade the background. In typical Cars fashion, the end of that song bleeds into "You Wear Those Eyes," a straight-up weird ballad in which Orr talk-sings and borders on creepy. Nice. "Running to You" rides a basic riff in the verse but comes through with a harmony-heavy chorus that works. Orr's unidentifiable fake accent is in full effect.

The album closes with "Up and Down," a stomping number that hits the drums hard and gets fuzzy with the guitars. Ocasek sings lead on this one, taking advantage of the juxtaposition of the mellow chorus and making the song really work.

In the end, this is one of those great records that you wouldn't recommend to someone who had never heard the band before, but I think anyone who got a real kick out of the odder stuff on Candy-O wouldn't have any trouble slipping right into this one.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Cars - Candy-O (LP, 1979)

If I haven't mentioned it already, though I'm sure I have, it should be known that I'm a big fan of sophomore albums.

The Cars blew up big with their debut a year before this one, so it makes me even happier that this record is not as hit-filled. It's still a great record; it's just noticeably more restrained than their debut, focusing even harder on simple melodies and a standard pop format. It makes for some great songs, though this one takes a while to get revved up.

It kicks off with "Let's Go," which we all know and love. Just further proof that Ric Ocasek was one of the few people in the 80's with an ongoing knack for writing almost perfect pop songs. Benjamin Orr sings lead on the first three songs, keeping it smooth and, unfortunately, a bit shallow. "Since I Held You" and "It's All I Can Do" are solid songs, but they're more good than great. Ocasek finally shows up on "Double Life," which gets more ambitious with the lyrics but keeps the arrangement simple.

Things really get going with "Shoo Be Doo," a song that sounds nothing like its title. The electronic madness beginning bleeds in from the end of "Shoo Be Doo" and finds Ocasek sing-talking over a dense, computerized beat. It grows slowly, finally cutting off unexpectedly when "Candy-O" kicks in. This is the best song on this record. The main riff is way heavier than anything The Cars had tackled to this point, and it changes the vibe of this album immediately. This is another one that Orr took lead vocal duties on, half-droning and mirroring the feel of the music perfectly. Don't let the photo of him seductively sucking on a lollipop from the back cover fool you: he means business.

The second side keeps the rock going, with "Nightspots" mixing guitars and electronics into some more heavy but calculated mishmash. "You Can't Hold On Too Long" and "Lust for Kicks" feature Orr and Ocasek, respectively, bringing the sparse pop sound, working some melodies that mostly work. The guitars come back big on "Got A Lot On My Head," and continue on with "Dangerous Type," which was apparently never released as a single, though it should have been. A great song to end on.

Worth mentioning: The Melvins cover "Candy-O" on their Ozma LP. And it's pretty sweet.


Monday, September 22, 2008

The Cars - The Cars (LP, 1978)

When you talk about groups coming out the gate strong with a solid debut effort, you have to talk about this record.

The Cars are up there with Talking Heads as one of the most important New Wave bands that came out of the late 70's/early 80's. When it comes to substance, I think David Byrne's got Ric Ocasek beat, but if you're talking about commercial appeal, Ocasek would easily be declared the winner. The Cars' worst records were merely a little weird, while their best ones play like greatest hits compilations. This is one of the good ones. Check the first three songs on the first side: "Good Times Roll," "My Best Friend's Girl," and "Just What I Needed." Not a bad beginning to a music career, eh?

Throw in "You're All I've Got Tonight," "Bye Bye Love" (you may not recognize the title, but I bet you've heard it), and "Moving in Stereo," and you've got the makings of a classic. That only leaves three other songs, and they're not half-bad, either. I've always liked "I'm In Touch With Your World." It's one of those Cars songs that is a little darker than the radio hits, just to let you know they're not all fluff. "Don't Cha Stop" is as poppy as it sounds like it would be, just a little three-minute romp. "All Mixed Up" is the oddball, with a uncharacteristic acoustic intro that bleeds in from the end of "Stereo." A little medieval sounding for me, but it's a sensible closer.

I was in the dark for a long time about the extent of bassist Benjamin Orr's duties as a lead vocalist. Sure, we've all seen the "Drive" video, but I thought for the longest time that was just a one-off. As usual, I'm an idiot. I'm beginning to be able to tell he and Ric's voices apart, but I'm still not great at it. Orr sings lead on four tracks here: "Just What I Needed" and the final three songs on side two. When you watch old live footage of the group, it's clear Ocasek is not much of a stage presence. Whether that had anything to do with Orr taking on lead vocals, I don't know. But, dude can sing, and he was the resident ass-shaker/semi-androgynous pretty boy in the group, so he worked well as a frontman.

They released a deluxe edition of this record about a decade ago, with a full disc of demo versions and unreleased tracks that didn't make the cut. My aunt bought it, had no use for the bonus disc, and let me have it. It's pretty sweet. The songs definitely benefited from some studio polish, but Ocasek's ear for pop melodies is extremely apparent. I'm still not sure that guy gets enough credit.

"Moving in Stereo"

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Captain Beefheart - The Spotlight Kid (LP, 1972)

I had plans of becoming a Captain Beefheart fan, but this remains his only LP I own (not counting Bongo Fury, his 1975 collaboration with Frank Zappa). And I like this record. I just haven't gotten around to picking up any of his other stuff.

From what I understand, this is one of Beefheart's more accessible albums, and therefore probably one of the least favorite of his die-hard fans. So, maybe that explains why I find it quite enjoyable.

If you weren't listening closely, you'd mistake this stuff for early Tom Waits. Beefheart's vocals are raspy but mostly melodic, and the lyrics are semi-nonsensical poetry, something that he's quite good at. I feel strange really breaking this record down without proper knowledge of the records that bookend it, but hey, I watched a Beefheart documentary on YouTube six months ago, so I'm not completely clueless, right? No, I am. But I think this record was Beefheart's attempt at going mainstream after becoming frustrated with his career path.

It's still not very commercial, though some of the songs feature some easy to handle progressions without branching out too much. However, tracks like "Alice in Blunderland" and "There Ain't No Santa Claus on the Evenin' Stage" keep it nice and weird. In the end, it's more about Beefheart's voice and lyrics than the music on this one. He may not be for everyone, but most of the time, it's just odd enough to work.

Ah, the early 70's. When a guy like this was considered a viable enough option to be given a major label record deal.

He remains on my list of artists of which I need to own more records by.

"I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby"

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cappadonna - The Yin and the Yang (2xLP, 2001)

Some red flags for me when it comes to hip hop records:

- An intro where it's just the dude talking, explaining to you what you're about to hear, what you can expect, and what to prepare yourself for. "This album right here..." Rarely a good sign.

- A sophomore album that took three years and only has ten songs.

- Songs titled "Shake Dat."

- The words "featuring Jermaine Dupri and Da Brat."

Hard to say what happened to Cappa between The Pillage and this one. I do know this: if the Wu guys have had one proven weakness, it's believing their own hype. It usually leads to delusional hubris, a diminished view of the RZA's role in their career, and the egregious misconception that they're continuing to change the game when they're cranking out songs called "Love is the Message."

After his debut, I was ready to go to the wall for Don-Don, but come on. Da fucking Brat raps on this. RZA's nowhere to be found. The beats have fallen off. And who the hell is Jammie (sic) Sommers?

Ghost, Rae, Killah Priest, Timbo King, and Shyheim try to save it, and there's some moments, but in the end, this is Cappadonna's Tical 0.

That'll make sense to some of you.

"Super Model"

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cappadonna - The Pillage (2xLP, 1998)

People started turning their back on Wu-Tang before they actually started showing chinks in their armor. If you ever want proof of how finicky (and basically dumb) the general public is, take a listen to Wu-Tang Forever. This was the album where most folks began to sour on the Clan and their affiliates. Meanwhile, it's fucking genius. But, when the hype fizzled quickly after its release, the rest of the Wu were forced, once again, to prove themselves.

Cappadonna, barely an "official" member of the Wu by the time Forever was released, had featured prominently on Ghostface's Ironman and Raekwon's magnum opus Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.... It was clear he could hold his own. But, waiting to put out his debut in the wake of Wu-Tang Forever's perceived backlash might have hurt his chances for solo stardom. I was so happy to hear this record and realize commercial potential was never his goal. This is an unapologetic and sharply smart hip hop record, one of the last truly great Wu-affiliated releases. And, of course, nobody really gave a shit.

No skits, no bullshit. This is front-to-back rapping, with Cappa's unique style finally able to sprawl out over full tracks instead of being constrained to the 24 bar verses which were clearly not enough for him. (We all remember "Winter Warz," don't we?) Turns out, while he might not be the most traditional songwriter, he's got a way of putting a track together. "Slang Editorial" is not only a sweet song title, it's a sweet song, and a great one to open with. He lays the ground work, keeping the words packed tight over a great beat. And it goes from there.

I could talk about every song on this one, but I don't have the time. But, I'll tell you why this one works as an album: there's plenty of guest spots, but they're divided up well, they're all Wu guys (some more loosely related than others), and none of them suck. Also, the record manages to get better as it goes along. This thing's not front-loaded. "Everything is Everything," which features one of the most nonsensical hooks ever (and that's saying a lot for a guy who hangs with Ghostface), is one of my favorite songs, and it's buried near the end.

Maybe this record is more popular than I realize. I know "Run" made it onto a few soundtracks, and I'm assuming "Dart Throwing" got some play that summer. (If it didn't, there is truly no justice in the world.) But, I know when the bro and I went to see Cappadonna some years back in downtown Portland, it wasn't a packed house. He's got an interesting style of speak. Maybe it didn't work for some people. It worked for me. I had a dub of this in my car for three years and it never stopped working for me. If you ever hear him singing on "Young Hearts," you'll understand the appeal.

"Slang Editorial"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Calhouns - Made in the Dirdy South (CD, 2002)

Cool Breeze (or Freddy Calhoun, as he's known on this disc) claims he invented the term "Dirty South." It's a shame that he leans on this as his claim to fame, because he's a better rapper than 90% of the jokers you'd normally associate with the term.

After his standout verse on "Slump" from Outkast's Aquemini, I was sure dude was headed for the big time. He ended up getting knocked around and only releasing an edited version of his debut, East Point's Greatest Hit. It featured the near-brilliant "Watch for the Hook," but he didn't seem to show any long-term prospects, as he failed to show up on another Outkast album.

He teams up with a couple guys calling themselves Pauly and Lucky Calhoun for this, a decent but flawed attempt at proving who really runs the dirty dirty. (Isn't that the point of all these Dirty South records?) Breeze out-raps everybody on the tracks he's on, and the ones he sits out seem pretty vacant. The positive side: this record could be a lot worse. Organized Noize provide some solid beats, and all the other production is alright as well. As usual, there's too many skits (the intro is an exercise in tedium) and some embarrassingly dumbed-down tracks like "9 Months," but that's to be expected. In the end, there's actually way more good than bad. Just not a ton of great. But, much better than that budget cover art would indicate.

The wild card: DJ Hurricane, formerly of Beastie Boys, guesting with a verse on "Owe Me." And, if you were wondering, yes, Slimm Calhoun makes an appearance. Both in the group photo on the back, and with a smooth verse on "Some People."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Slimm Calhoun - The Skinny (CD, 2001)

After Outkast put out Stankonia, it was becoming clear they could do no wrong. I was ready to follow Big Boi and Andre to Jonestown, that's for sure. So, when they announced they were starting their own label (the short-lived Aquemini Records) and Slimm "Cutta" Calhoun was going to be their first artist to release an album, I was ready.

Calhoun had kicked a solid verse on "Gangsta Shit" from Stankonia, but other than that, not much was known about the dude. Seems like he might have been poking around in the background of some Outkast videos, but never really struck me as the "star" type. Then I heard "It's OK."

When it comes to songs that should have been immense radio hits (especially during the summer, especially with a guest spot from Andre) but weren't, this one always comes to mind for me. ("In Da Wind" by Trick Daddy is the other one that I just can't believe wasn't the new hip hop anthem for the oughts. Proof positive that most people are hopped up on idiocy.) The hook is undeniable, the beat is immediately catchy; it's just a perfect hip hop single. I picked up the 12" before the record dropped, and was blown away. If this was any indication of what the rest of the record had in store, this thing was going to be huge.

Turns out "It's OK" was the best song. And why it was tucked in the middle of this record at track 8, I'll never know. But, this is by no means a bad album. I almost feel bad for the dude. With Outkast's stamp of approval but no chance of dropping an album as memorable as Stankonia, he was sort of fucked. And when Big Boi, Andre, and Killer Mike rap next to him, they make it clear that he's close to being demoted back to the minors (he eventually was).

With songs like "All Da Hustlers" and "On Tha Grind," Slimm shows that his imagination has already reached its limits on his debut. And some of the beats sound like they probably weren't good enough to make it onto any of the 'Kast shit, so they ended up here. Plus, at over an hour long, this one goes on a few songs too long. But, "Dirt Work" features Big Boi showing once again he's one of the best rappers alive, and "Red Clay," the opener, is an ode to the South that comes off as smarter than 90% of the hackneyed attempts out there.

"It's OK" was just too good. He came out early, dropped it big, and had nowhere to go but down. Damn.

"It's OK"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

David Byrne - Songs from the Broadway Production of "The Catherine Wheel" (LP, 1981)

I am a Talking Heads fan. A big one.

That is why I own this record. It's been a really long time since I slapped this one on the ol' turntable. I remember liking it, and as I'm listening to it now, it's coming back to me a bit. Brian Eno had a hand in the making of this one, so that should tell you something about it's abstract tendencies. They are there, and if you're into that sort of thing, this is a semiprecious gold mine.

Byrne was arguably near his creative peak during this period, having just released Remain In Light with Talking Heads, and his much celebrated first solo record, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (another one with Eno). I don't know why I never picked that one up.

Anyway, I don't have a lot to say about this one. The highlights for me are "Big Business" and "What A Day That Was," because they ended up being performed by Talking Heads in the Stop Making Sense film. "What A Day That Was" is a much more sparse version on this one, and it's actually pretty cool to hear it sheared down to the minimal groove and some odd percussion. Great lyrics. As usual.

It's pretty sad that this is the only David Byrne solo album in my collection. I think I might have a copy of Uh-Oh on cassette, but still, pretty sad. One more thing to add to my list...

"My Big Hands (Fall Through The Cracks)"

Monday, September 15, 2008

Butthole Surfers - Widowermaker! EP (LP, 1989)

This is the only Butthole Surfers record I own. Things will probably remain that way. They've always been a bit much for me. Maybe I'm just too much of a stern traditionalist. I have always liked the idea of the Buttholes, but when it comes down to it, sitting through some of their songs has proven to be a chore. Needless to say, I have yet to pick up my copy of Rembrandt Pussyhorse. I may someday, because I would like to own a record with that title.

For now, I'll have to settle for my old cassette copy of Bongwater's The Power of Pussy. Oh, Ann Magnuson in 1990...but I digress.

There's only four songs on this meanie, so let's break 'em down the best I can:

"Helicopter" - The longest of the four, and it takes up the entire first side of this 12" 45rpm EP. It's a noisy jam, filled with the requisite madness, and not terribly unlikable. At almost seven minutes, that's saying something. Gibby Haynes' vocals are about half the reason this band is good, and he proves that here.

"Bong Song" - In case you were wondering, yes, they do a breakdown in the middle of the song to pause for some bong-hit-taking sound effects, complete with dude coughing out the hit. Pretty dumb. The rest of the song is out of tune and nutty, with Gibby ranting rhythmically, possibly through a bullhorn.

"The Colored F.B.I. Guy" - And, we get to the reason why I own this record. Completely out of place on this EP and absolutely brilliant, I have never understood why this song wasn't more popular. It even sounds radio friendly to me, but what do I know. You can hear it playing briefly during a scene in the film Slacker, but I've never seen it given any exposure elsewhere. Reserved and melodic, it seems to be the antithesis of the commonly accepted Butthole sound. It also lets you know that they're capable of being really, really, good. But then there's...

"Booze, Tobacco, Dope, Pussy, Cars" - And just that quickly, they're back to the madness. It sounds like they revved their drum machine to the breaking point and just went with it. The title is the chorus. I've always assumed it's ironic. If not, god help us all.

And, that's it. I think the whole thing's about 15 minutes long. I have always wished "The Colored F.B.I. Guy" was about two minutes longer, but you can't win 'em all. And, you know, maybe King Coffey wanted to keep it short.

"The Colored F.B.I. Guy" (Not sure if it's era-specific and it's live, but it's all I could find. And, "1401" is apparently an alternate title for the song.)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Busdriver - Fear of a Black Tangent (LP, 2005)

I don't remember where I first read about Busdriver. I do know the article intrigued me, and I put him in my mental list of artists to check for when scrounging through the used CD bins. I lucked out a few weeks later and came up on this one. It was a good move.

The term "abstract hip hop" is tossed around far too much, and while this CD certainly qualifies, it doesn't fit the typical definition. It's not self-indulgent, glitchy, slow, or trying too hard to be smart. It's almost nerdy, sometimes strangely poppy, and mostly just really interesting.

I don't have a lot to say about it because it's a fairly recent purchase, but I've been listening to this in my car more than anything else I've picked up recently. The beats are dense, his style switches on almost every song, and dude's got lyrics for days. Though a lot of them seem like nonsense, it's way more fun than Aesop Rock.

I've realized I have a pretty low tolerance for "abstract hip hop," but I don't have a problem bumping this one all the way through. That's saying something.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Burning Brides - Fall of the Plastic Empire (CD, 2002)

I saw Burning Brides on some late night talk show in 2002, performing "Arctic Snow." I must have been in rock mode, because for some reason, the song struck me. Don't get me wrong, it's a good song, but not the kind of full-bore rock that I usually glom onto. I must have made it to the record store before the feeling wore off (and before I forgot their name), because one discount priced, hole-punched promo copy later, I was the proud owner of this, the major label re-release of their debut album.

I haven't listened to this in a few years, but I did give it nice run back in '02-'03. There was a short period where I was really into this and the Von Bondies. They're almost interchangeable soundwise. It's garage rock for the kids who don't know who the MC5 are. With songs good enough to keep dolts like me mostly interested. Burning Brides may have had a hot lady bass player, too. Might've sweetened the deal.

A few things I do know: the band name and the album title are a little much, and certainly stand out amongst my piles of apathetic indie rock. Fall of the Plastic Empire sounds more like a scrapped Marilyn Manson title to me. And songs like "Blood on the Highway" and "Stabbed in the Back of the Heart" aren't helping their cause.

But, if I find myself in rock mode, I know it's there. I guess that's why I kept it. That, and because I still like "Arctic Snow" more than I want to admit.

"Arctic Snow"

Friday, September 12, 2008

Built to Spill - Keep It Like A Secret (LP, CD 1999)

Man, I listened to this record a lot. I picked this one up when it came out and proceeded to, from what I recall, drive everyone around me crazy with it. Eh, it seemed like most people liked it as much as I did, so maybe they weren't too annoyed. As I said: eh.

Either way, I played the shit out of it. I was listening to my LP of this over the last few days, and remembered that my copy must have been flawed or something; it's always played with these terrible pops during the silence between "Center of the Universe" and "Bad Light." I listened to this record so much, that when I first heard it on CD, it didn't sound right to me without those pops leading the song in. Isn't that a great story? No, no it's not. But you get the point. I liked it.

I still do, though I don't often go back to the well for this one, but that can be said for a lot of albums I really like. This is a good one to put on when I want to hear something I know I'll enjoy but don't feel like concentrating on. It's one of those comfortable records.

So yes, the songs are good. There's only ten, and aside from the last cut, they're all kept in a reliable pop format, which is where I think BTS really shine. "The Plan" is a great opener, a song that builds right from the beginning and features some great guitar parts that don't go off the handle and get wanky. "Center of the Universe" is a little mathematical sounding, but I still dig it. "Carry the Zero" is a straight up great dreamy-ish pop number.

Honestly, I think I like all the songs except for the one that everyone kept writing about (and was it a single?), "You Were Right." I don't get why everyone thought Martsch reciting lyrics from old songs was so brilliant. I get it, it's some sort of cheeky homage. I guess I don't get why it was picked out of this record, when songs like "Else" make it sound instantly juvenile. Fill me in if I'm missing something.

If you're looking for a place to start with Built to Spill, I think it's gotta be There's Nothing Wrong With Love or this one. Nice short songs, plenty of hooks, and some great lyrics. And the wank is controlled.

That is key.

"Carry the Zero"

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Built to Spill - There's Nothing Wrong With Love (LP, 1994)

So, I talked a little about this record in the previous post. This is the one. This is what made me realize the simple truth about Built to Spill: they are a great, great band.

I read an interview with Doug Martsch a long time ago (I'm not going to even bother looking for it, so you'll have to trust me) where he said, and I'm paraphrasing, that after this album's release and the subsequent fanfare, he knew this would be the last Built To Spill album he could write with the possibility of no one really paying attention. (I think he was being asked about his plans for the follow-up LP.) Everything shifted after this one. And you can tell, because when you look at their entire discography, this album probably seems the most free. It's minimally produced, the songs are all fairly succinct, and it's so spot-on with its matter-of-factness that it seems easy. It's not. That is why this record rules.

Songs like "Big Dipper" and "Car" seem like they should have been written a hundred times before this, but they weren't. They work that well. You hear them for the first time, and you don't feel like "Oh, I've heard this before," it's more like "Why am I just hearing this now?" Or at least that was my reaction. When Martsch says "I want to see movies of my dreams," he rasps it out with a real conviction, a high-pitched sincerity that takes those high school poetry-ish lines and makes them not the least bit contrived.

It's usually not even an issue; most of his lyrics are just like the music: oddly distinct, completely unexpected, somehow making perfect sense in the context of everything surrounding them. "The Source" contains some of my favorite lines, quickly spat over a short break in the guitars:

"When you see a documentary and know the outcome
And that it's fucked
You still hope Hitler will blow up
And that Kennedy will duck"

I have no idea what this song is about. But the first time I heard that Kennedy line, I had no choice but to be a fan of this band. I think more than that though, if I really consider it, I'm a fan of this record. I was a bit late to the game with this one, so I was still bumping it well into the late 90's. It served me so well, I almost completely missed out on the next one.

I bought this LP probably a decade ago, and it's easily one of my more well-worn newer records, thanks in part to lots of late nights listening to "Distopian Dream Girl." Which, if you've never tried, I highly recommend. It's a front runner for the "Best Song With the Worst Title" award I'm thinking about giving out.

Anyway, you get the idea: if you don't own this album, don't make eye contact with me.

"Distopian Dream Girl"

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Built to Spill - Ultimate Alternative Wavers (CD, 1993)

The appeal of Built to Spill is often hard to pinpoint, and even more often, frustrating to embrace. For a while, I was convinced they were poised to save music. Then Doug Martsch stubbed out his cigarette, took one last look at the floor, rolled his eyes back, and soloed for so fucking long I got tired of waiting for them to do it. I was eventually forced to realize they have no interest in being that band. It's not really their deal. Fair enough.

This is their first record, which I've always liked, but I think that's partly due to the fact that it wasn't the first record of theirs I actually heard. I'm pretty sure I heard their first two albums in reverse order. Anywho. BTS was a bit of a latecomer to the NW rock scene, so once the buzz started, we (my brother and I) were ready to resist. "Hey, cool name!," we'd say sarcastically. "Hey, fuck those guys!," we'd say with mock-seriousness that was mostly real, completely uninformed seriousness. Yes, it's tough being this cool.

It was even tougher deriding the group after we actually heard them. (Remember: always listen to the band, at least for a second, to confirm that they actually do suck. At least check out a photo. Sometimes that tells you all you need to know.) They were good. Really good. My brother heard 'em first, told me to tuck my tail between my legs, and gave me a tape. Yowsa. Anyway, it wasn't this album. It was the next one. But, I heard this one shortly after that. This, being the debut, is really good, but it's also one of those the-sound's-not-totally-fleshed-out-yet records. Though it's really close.

That being said, some of the songs are just perfect. "Three Years Ago Today" is a fuzzed-out beauty, a song that, maybe more than any other one on this album, is directly representative of where their sound was headed. Just an incredible song. I always loved that they have a song on here called "Built to Spill." I was just thinking about how I love bands that do that. Of course, I was thinking about Bad Company. Another one of my dirty little secrets.

The wanking starts on this one, too, and that's my only real beef with it. "Nowhere Nothin' Fuckup" and "Hazy" are both pretty good songs, but maybe a few minutes too long. It gets egregious on "Built Too Long Parts 1, 2, & 3," but at least they yuk it up with the title. And, it's the last track, so it's easy to avoid it if need be.

Overall: the start of something good.

"Three Years Ago Today"

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Buck 65 - This Right Here Is Buck 65 (CD, 2004)

I'm not sure that I get Buck 65.

I feel like I should; I've read some great stuff about him, and it's supposedly the sort of hip hop that I like. But, this is the only Buck album I own, and I find it, for the most part, incredibly tedious.

I bought this under the impression that it was a collection of older songs, a collection meant to introduce the listener to the man's work. Turns out it's reworked versions of songs he had recorded previous to this release. So, without having heard the original versions of the songs, I feel completely clueless.

In all fairness, I probably haven't given this CD a fair shot. I've only listened to it a handful of times, but I haven't even begun to warm up to it. I don't skip the songs when they come through the shuffle on the iPod, but seriously. I just don't get it. The beats are pretty sweet, but dude just keeps it raspy and slow like he's narrating a movie. It's a chore.

Somebody tell me why I'm supposed to like this. Because I'm stumped.

Although I do like this video:


Monday, September 8, 2008

Bronski Beat - The Age of Consent (LP, 1984)

In case that big pink triangle in the middle of the album cover didn't tip you off, Bronski Beat is gay. Like really gay.

If you missed the pink triangle on the front, there's one on the back. And if you missed that, don't worry: the first song ("Why?") is about making out with a dude. So, they weren't in the business of hiding their sexuality. That's pretty gutsy, considering this was 1984, and also considering the title they chose for this, their debut LP. Apparently they took some shit for it. But, good for them. Like I said: gutsy.

The inner sleeve of this record contains the ages of consent for "lawful homosexual relationships between men" in various countries, along with the number for the National Gay Task Force. So, yes, they've made their agenda clear. And they make it even more clear in during the course of the 10 songs on this LP.

While the music is synthy pop, the songs are at times incredibly serious, taking on gay bashing, war, drugs, and religion. But, there's also songs like "Heatwave," which is just a fabulous gay party anthem, and "Need A Man Blues," which is pretty self-explanatory.

This record (and the band, for that matter) is probably best remembered for "Smalltown Boy," a catchy tune about a kid running away from home because nobody accepts his homosexuality. It's one of those weird songs that is both terribly tragic and super catchy, and if you're not paying attention, a fun little dance number. I have a feeling this was constantly a problem for the Beat. They're opening up about a serious societal woe and kids are swinging their hips with a spoon up their nose.

Been there!

In all honesty, it's a great song. And this record is well worth the dollar you will have to pay for it.

"Smalltown Boy"

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Breeders - Last Splash (CD, 1993)

This CD came out a few weeks before my senior year of high school. I remember the first time I heard it, and being floored that it was the same band who I had heard doing "Safari" a year before. While that song was sonically leaps and bounds ahead of Pod, it didn't prepare me for this one. I still don't know what it was, but The Breeders went from "Kim Deal's other band" to MTV heroes overnight. And they deserved it. This album is that good.

The Pixies had broken up, and judging from even the first ten seconds of this record, Kim had been putting all her time into this thing. When the aptly titled "New Year" starts, something fires up, and Kim half-cries "We have..." and then the whole fucking thing crashes in, and it's really something. By the point where it goes to double time and the song really takes off, you struggle to figure out what's going on, where the hell this all came from, and then it's over. Then "Cannonball" comes in and then it happens all over again.

This album will always be linked with "Cannonball" (and so will the Breeders, unfortunately), but it's really selling the whole of this record short. While "Cannonball" is, at the end of the day, a great little song, I'd take "No Aloha" or "Divine Hammer" over its click-clackiness every time. Same with "Do You Love Me Now?", a song that surely graced countless teenage mix tapes in the mid-90's.

I think part of me loves this record because I still equate it with a simpler time in my life, but it's also not my fault that that simpler time happened to be a time when some really important records were being made. While an album like this was probably considered a "minor" hit in 1993, that was partly because there was so much other great stuff happening. That a band like The Breeders could have a radio/MTV hit with a bizarre song like "Cannonball" actually gives me pride in my generation. That's a weird thing to say, and it makes me sound old.

Whatever. This album is 15 years old and it still sounds fantastic.

"Divine Hammer"

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Breeders - Pod (CD, 1990)

You get the vibe The Breeders started out with little aspiration, that maybe it was not much more than a way to pass the time, so it's actually quite remarkable they're as good as they are. Looking at Kim Deal in the Pixies, you wouldn't really peg her as someone with the ability to write some really great songs. Sure, "Gigantic" has always been a fan favorite, but she had a way of coming across as ditzy and unfocused.

The Breeders' music is the exact opposite. While it's fun and a bit noisy in parts, you can tell it's all deliberate, and that's what's great about it. This records has the feel of a side project, as there are multiple drummers and the sound quality is scattershot. Also, covering a Beatles song and placing it as the third track is a gutsy move. In my mind, it compromises a bit of legitimacy, in both the song they chose, and where they chose to put it. Maybe that's over-thinking it, but what the hey.

This album's really short, so maybe they needed to fill some time. Either way, the songs that are Kim Deal originals here are really good, though, for me, it took some time to adjust to the lo-fi-ness of it all. Her vocals are buried on a lot of the tracks, and rather than sounding like part of the music, she often just sounds really far away. It's tough to get past that, but if you can, the songs are fun. And, like I said, they're short, which is a good call for some of them. But, songs like "Hellbound" could be a minute longer and it wouldn't bother me.

Deal's lyrics are interesting, and it's too bad that some of them are rendered unintelligible here. They really work on songs like "When I Was A Painter," which is pretty basic all-around, but nonetheless a song that gleefully reeks of everything that was great about early 90's alt rock.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Break Bread - Break Bread EP (CD, 2004)

I'm not sure that Break Bread is even an official group, but I guess for the purposes of this EP they are. Six of the big names from the Peanuts & Corn fam (Gruf, mcenroe, Pip Skid, Yy, John Smith, and DJ Hunnicutt) get down on five tracks here. The songs are long and filled to the brim with straight rapping. Makes for a solid listen.

That it's good is not surprising, but it might be a little frustrating because it'll leave you wanting more. The EP is always a tough sell for me if it's not to be followed quickly with a full-length. That's nothing against this record, just five-song releases in general. They often reek of laziness or uncontrollable eagerness to get something out there. Not sure what the deal was on this one.

These guys are an acquired taste (especially Gruf), but once you get the feel for 'em, it's easy to handle. John Smith has the tendency to get a little ruffneck, but if you don't take it too seriously, it's not a problem. I haven't had this CD for very long, so I unfortunately can't get too specific with any of the tracks.

You may be able to listen to some of 'em here.

On a side note, this is my 100th entry. Yowsa. We're up to the Br's. By my rough calculations, this should all be over in about four years.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Braid - Frame & Canvas (LP, 1998)

I hate the word "emo."

But, I own some music that often gets lumped under that label. This is one of 'em. I really wish I knew this record better. I've had it for at least eight years, and during the first year I had it, I remember listening to it quite a bit. Listening to it now, it's not really coming back to me.

This record was a gift. My friend Dave "Two Beers" Parker came to Portland from the Bay Area to visit me in 2000, and while we were discussing our mutual admiration of The Promise Ring, he asked me if I had ever listened to Braid. I said no. What about Hey Mercedes? Nope. He was determined to fix that. We hit Jackpot Records, and I ended up walking out of there with a copy of this, courtesy of the man they sometimes call "Dos Cervezas."

Apparently this is a fairly influential record. To me, it always sounded like a band who couldn't decide if they wanted to be Fugazi or Superchunk. In the end, their t-shirts may have been too black for me.

"The New Nathan Detroits"

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

David Bowie - The Singles 1969-1993 (2xCD, 1993)

Confession: I don't like David Bowie nearly as much as I am supposed to.

Sure, I'll tell you I like his music. Ten years ago I would have told you I loved his music. I was lying then, and I'm mostly lying now. I do have legitimate fondness for a few of his songs, but when it comes down to it, I never put his music on by choice. I know for a fact I used to have Changes on CD; and I'm sure I used to have Aladdin Sane and David Live on LP. I don't anymore. And I just noticed that. I bet I traded or sold them years ago. And it's rare that I trade in records.

I bought Aladdin Sane at a weird thrift/record shop in Eugene in or around 1995, and although I tried my best to like it, I just never got into it. It looked good on my shelf, but it was all show. I even went to see David Bowie live about four years ago. The tickets were free. It was a fine show, but when it was over, I was ready to leave. But I'm sure I told plenty of people that I went to it. That's my sad existence. That's my cross to bear.

My initial infatuation with Bowie rests in a sad, terribly cliched high school party happening that, at the time, seemed mind blowing. In actuality, I'm an idiot. I was at a get-together when I was probably 17, and somehow ended up with a group of people in some guy's car, passing around the doobage. We were out in the country, and the kid who was having the party lived on some big piece of land. It was a clear night, and after we got horrendously stoned, our driver turned the lights out on the car and drove, very slowly, through a field that slanted upward and directly towards the moon. He blasted "Space Oddity" and we bounced over the divots in the dirt, staring at the sky and "freaking out, man." I knew the song before this, but bro, I had never really heard it. I shit you not. This is how high and dumb I was.

Turned out, after I came down from the effects of the reefer, Bowie was only so-so. I kept trying to recapture the magic/idiocy of that night, but it never happened. I've had this collection for probably 15 years, and I bet I've never even listened to the second disc. "Loving the Alien"? What the hell is that?

But, I will say this. He has some great songs, and while I may not be a huge fan of some of them, I've always been able to respect his place in the annals of rock. However, I've long since given up hope of being a true Bowie fan. I'm more of a Marc Bolan man. We'll get to that.

"John, I'm Only Dancing"

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Blur - Think Tank (Special Edition) (CD, 2003)

I could have sworn I had a Blondie record. If you're out there and you have my Parallel Lines LP, you can keep it. I never really listened to it anyway.

This is the only Blur album I own. I really like this CD, and I like pretty much everything I've heard by the band. I just haven't ever taken the time to get into their stuff. I loved "There's No Other Way" when I was in high school, and I'm sure that was the first song I heard of theirs. Still a great song. Still never picked up Leisure. I think it's too late. I had a boner for Madchester-ish bands for a short time in the early 90's. That was my window. Blur missed it.

Yet, at some point in 2003, Blur dropped this CD, I heard a bit of it, I dug their "hot new sound," and I ended up with it. Pretty sure it was a gift (that would explain the "special edition," which is basically a little red bound book), but it was a gift I certainly asked for and welcomed with open arms. This is the last Blur album, and it definitely doesn't sound like their other releases, though, like I said, I'm not the authority on those. It's a lot of electronic mish-mash, with melodies playing the other big part in the songs.

The biggest reason I love this CD is track two: "Out of Time." It's made its way onto many a mixtape and found itself always on my iPod. To me, it feels a bit like Blur trying to sound like Radiohead (it's almost excessively intricate with stuff that is tucked way in the back of the mix), but it's far from a copycat track or a simple emulation of a style. Damon Albarn's vocals are eerie but not downtrodden, and the melody is just a killer. The lyrics keep it simple, but I'm not sure it would even matter what he's singing. Just a great, great song.

It's followed by "Crazy Beat," which is more like "Song 2" style Blur than anything else on the album. Fun times. There's some other tracks like this, more dance-y than pensive, but its the slower ones that seem more effective to me. "Caravan" is an odd one, and it gets a bit tedious in parts, but once it falls into the chorus, it's a great little song. A lot of the record seems to be alluding to a 1984-type scenario, and I think we've all heard enough of that. But I suppose there are worse things to focus on.

I guess I should probably listen to Gorillaz at some point. Eh, that sounds like a whole big thing.

"Out of Time" Live on Letterman

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Black Crowes - Amorica (LP, 1994)

In November of 1994, I was a freshman in college, living in Eugene, Oregon, and smoking way too much grass.

That should explain a lot about why I own this record.

Why I kept it is another story. I am not a big Black Crowes fan. I don't mind them, and I'm while I'm admittedly a fan of this album, after trying to take it farther than that, I failed. I waited too long. If it was going to happen, it was going to happen 13 or 14 years ago. It didn't take, and all I'm left with is this. I don't even remember where I bought this. It's pressed on white vinyl, it's a great looking record, apparently a collector's item now, but I know I didn't pay more than ten bucks for it at the time. And I remember it being sealed...it's not going to come to me.

Anyway, back to 1994. I had friends who lived in a dorm, and I used to go over there all the time. They had other friends, we hung out, did what 18 year old kids did. What they did a lot of was take bong hits and listen to this album. I initially scoffed at the idea of the Black Crowes being any good, but after hearing this record repeatedly for a few months, it grew on me. I finally gave in one night, drunkenly confessing my admiration for the album. It was a big step for me.

I eventually came upon a used copy on cassette (it was the mid-90's and I was poor) and it spent some time in my car stereo for a while. My little crush on this record grew. I don't really know what I'm talking about, but for some reason, this album always seemed WAY better than any other Black Crowes album. It's like it's almost a different band. But, that may have been the three-foot-tall blown glass bong talking. I know that was part of it, but I listen to this record now and I can easily remember why I liked it. It's the songs. They're great. I think it might be that simple.

I picked up the follow-up to this one and didn't like it all. My expectations were way too high, the record wasn't that good, and it soured me. So, like I said, that was the end of that. I was always told I should pick up the one that came before this one, but you know, eh. That seemed like a lot of work. It wouldn't leave me as much time to be annoyingly fickle.

Now for an uneducated blanket statement: "Wiser Time" is the best Black Crowes song ever. It's the best song on this record, and a song that I've never gotten sick of. It would also top of my list of "best songs to drive to when you're flying down the freeway in a state you've never been to before that is arid and desolate."

Now there's a playlist to get started on.

"Wiser Time"