Thursday, October 17, 2013

Save The Last Documentary For Me



A/K/A Doc Pomus

Doc Pomus was a profoundly influential and inspiring figure in the history of popular music both for his prodigious output as a songwriter and for the remarkable success he enjoyed in spite of a physical handicap that dogged him for his entire adult life.


Born Jerome Felder in 1925 and stricken with polio at a very young age, Pomus was captivated by the Blues music he heard on the radio as a kid growing up in Brooklyn. At age 17 he started hanging around Jazz clubs in Greenwich Village. To avoid being ejected from a club he wasn’t legally allowed to be in, the inexperienced but starry-eyed teen claimed to be a Blues singer waiting for his turn on the bandstand. The impromptu performance that followed opened up a whole new world to him and he returned to the club every night for months, in spite of the long arduous commute he was forced to endure on crutches. All this was on the sly, and as his popularity grew the young man changed his name so that his mother wouldn’t see “JEROME FELDER” on the club’s marquee.


The newly christened Doc Pomus went on to cut over 50 sides in a 14-year career as a Blues singer before was approached by Ahmet Ertegun to write songs for Atlantic Records. Otis Blackwell brought Pomus and songwriting partner Mort Schuman to Hill and Range publishers where they cranked out countless hits for the Drifters, Dion & The Belmonts, Big Joe Turner, the Coasters and dozens more. From their Brill Building office the prolific Pomus and Schuman spun numerous numbers for Elvis Presley’s string of film soundtracks. Indeed, a complete list of Pomus-penned hits from the early ‘60s would include some of the most familiar songs of the era, including “Save The Last Dance For Me”, “Viva Las Vegas” and “This Magic Moment”.  About Doc’s song “Teenager In Love”, Bob Dylan once said, “All you need to know is in that song.”


Featuring the voice of Lou Reed reading from Doc’s personal journals, A/K/A Doc Pomus is a long-overdue documentary on this songwriting legend. The film opened earlier this month in Los Angeles and New York.




 


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Been A Long Time #1"




This is the first track on my new album. With lyrics based on real events, the song is both a celebration of what it's like to be on the road with Sparrow Bellows and a warning to anyone who plans to travel with them.








BEEN A LONG TIME #1


Pile in the van: Me, B and Sam
Not gonna make it too far
Sam at the wheel, B on the phone of course
I play a little guitar
Been a long time
Since we did something like that

Pulled into Pittsburgh, started a fire
Barely got out with our lives
On into Jersey where it starts to get fuzzy
Exiles on the Lower East Side
Been a long time
We should go do that again

From the Cumberland River on through Tuscaloosa
To the lot lizards of Lake Charles
Knock on your door at a quarter to four
Welcome to the Dirty South
Been a long time
Wish we were back there right now

Well even mistakes are bigger in Texas
Got high as a mountain but fell
All I remember about Oklahoma:
I was hungover as Hell
Been a long time
Since I was sick on the roadside like that

New Orleans is not the place to get sober
Or even to slow down at all
Wish I could tell you how we got to Chicago
Legend has it we had a ball
Been a long time
I don’t rightly recall

The 17th Level of Weirdness was conquered
With the wall up against our backs
Husbands and lawmen emerge empty handed
From the shit storm that covered our tracks
Been a long time
But I don’t think that I’ll forget that
Been a long time
But I don’t think that I’ll forget that



 
Download my new album
SUNDOWNING
on Amazon for $5.99:










Wednesday, March 6, 2013

TOMAHAWK Oddfellows

 


When we first met Mike Patton in 1989, he was the sulking, skulking 20-year old lead singer for Faith No More. After the band broke up in 1998, Patton seemed to be on a quest to take his vision of heavy music as far from the mainstream as possible. It’s impressive to think that having tasted the big time at such a young age, a post-Faith No More Patton turned his back on fame and fortune and ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction. That’s a courageous move for an artist of any age and particularly impressive for a guy who was still in his twenties when FNM disbanded. Since then Patton has launched numerous noisy endeavors including but not limited to Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, and Tomahawk, as well as a number of projects with the great avant garde jazz punk pioneer John Zorn.

Things seem to have come full circle for Patton. He’s freely pursued his mercurial muse down every path that struck his fancy over the past decade or so. Meanwhile the music industry has gone through changes that have, among other things, gradually bestowed a sort-of new anonymity upon Patton, leaving him free once again to push the boundaries of hard rock and heavy metal in relative obscurity, unencumbered by the demands of the marketplace or corporate record labels.

Tomahawk recently re-formed to record Oddfellows, the band’s first full-length release since 2007. Patton and crew are masters of the creepy crawlies, crafting here something akin to a heavy metal funhouse soundtrack. Oddfellows is rife with sinister drones and ominous riffage, and Patton’s deep voice is spastic elastic, what a zombie Jim Carrey might sound like fronting a band. Brutal riffage abounds, but there’s also some nice detours that stray from any kind of typical heavy metal fare. In particular, “The Quiet Few” features a psychedelic smear of swirling guitars similar to what Kevin Shields does with My Bloody Valentine.

Ironically – now 20 years on from Faith No More’s heyday - much of the material on Oddfellows isn’t too far from that band’s classic formula: Clever bastards playing brainy metal for other clever bastards. There’s some evil sounding shit here. A great record to play on Halloween. And for many of us stubborn middle aged hard rockers, road dawg rivet heads for life, every day is Halloween.





Here's a promo clip for a song from the new album called "Stone Letter":

 

MARNIE STERN The Chronicles Of Marnia

 



Marnie Stern juxtaposes heavy guitar chops and pounding polyrhythms with vocals akin to a high nasally schoolyard taunt and the result is great, grating, provocative, serious and funny. Her music is often dark and foreboding in tone, with layers of guitars angrily cascading down from the heavens like a swarm of killer bees. Rumbling like underground thunder, Stern’s new drummer Kid Millions shakes the foundations and rattles the windows with the brutal precision of a military airstrike.

I am loathe to join the chorus of those who compare Stern’s guitar playing to Eddie Van Halen. With her copious use of the hammer-on technique famously associated with Eddie, she’s bound to be hounded by such comparisons for the rest of her career. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Any musician who says they wouldn’t want to be considered in the same league as EVH is a lying fool. But the fact is that there is much more to her sound and songs and guitar prowess than finger-tapping. Her records always sound huge, thanks largely to her mastery of overdubbing complimentary yet contrasting guitar parts. And while the lady’s high-pitched vocals may grate on the nerves of some listeners, they’re an integral ingredient in her overall sound and they bring another level of intrigue and contrast to the mix. Listening to Marnie Stern can be a disorienting experience and some may find they are not up to the challenge. When I first heard her self-titled LP from 2010 it confused and amused the hell outta me. Still does.

While your ear is eagerly trying to focus on and decipher all that wild shit she’s doing on the guitar, Miss Marnie’s paper-thin caterwauling demands your attention in a way that might drive you nuts at first. To say nothing of the consistently great drumming on all her tracks, which often sound like two drum kits being pushed down a metal staircase.

Her stuff always makes me laugh. But I know what I’m really laughing at is my own inability to fully grasp what she’s doing. Nine songs out of ten go sailing over my head while my monkey brain reels and flails and gropes in vain for the understanding that I hope eludes me forever. It is oddly satisfying to feel simultaneously impressed and perplexed by these sounds.

Like Marnie Stern’s music, it is a singular sensation that defies comparison.




The Chronicles Of Marnia comes out March 19, 2013.

The album is streaming here on NPR’s website:
http://www.npr.org/2013/02/26/172991662/first-listen-marnie-stern-the-chronicles-of-marnia






 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Black Country Communion : AFTERGLOW



Frank Zappa called it “putting the eyebrows” on a musical performance: When an artist adds unique touches here and there, tweaks the arrangement to make unexpected turns, or otherwise adds some special flair to a performance that makes the overall sound more expressive and memorable. Black Country Communion is a hard rock supergroup whose sound is far more than the sum of its collective chops and they put the “eyebrows” on every track on Afterglow, their fantastic third album. Whoever it was that said “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” hasn’t heard Black Country Communion. Their pedigree alone qualifies them for some kind of exalted status.

Originally assembled by producer Kevin Shirley after arranging a spontaneous jam between guitar virtuoso Joe Bonamassa and singing bassist Glenn Hughes, this roaring quartet is rounded out by Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian and drummer Jason Bonham. Ironically it is the guitar world’s excitement over relative newcomer Joe Bonamassa that draws overdue attention to rock veteran Hughes, who’s now enjoying the largest measure of success he’s ever seen over the course of a career that began before Bonamassa was even born. Countless musical trends have come and gone since Glenn Hughes first appeared on the Rock scene serving shadowy stints with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, but the heavy blues rock sound of the 70s endures. It is Hughes’ meaty screech that leads the charge on this album of blazing big rock riffs that guitarist Bonamassa compares to the sound of a jet engine.

From the opening strains of “Big Train” all the way through to the album-closer “Crawl”, there’s a slew of mountainous guitar squalls here. Drummer Jason Bonham has been involved in numerous musical projects over the years, but it’s with Black Country Communion where he best serves his legendary father’s legacy of sledgehammer subtleties.

Perhaps it’s no accident that BCC’s closest musical kin is Deep Purple. And one assumes Zeppelin comparisons are inevitable with a Bonham on the drum kit. But it’s the sinister symmetry of growling guitar and clever keyboard colors that fuel this massive motor. Sherinian’s gurgling organ simmers under Bonamassa’s hot lava guitar sludge in “Common Man”. Most likely it is an unintentional irony at play here when Hughes sings about being “better off alone” in the lyrics of a phenomenal ensemble piece that features soaring solos from each member of the group before leaping off into a muscular blues groove heavy on clavinet reminiscent of Zep’s “Trampled Underfoot”. Metallic and melodic, Afterglow is an album that demands to be played at high volume.

2012 should have been a break out year for BCC but instead it devolved into an extended season of bickering and the band’s future now looks cloudy. A big homecoming concert in Hughes’ and Bonham’s black country hometown of Wolverhampton was threatened by Bonnamassa’s refusal to honor the gig when the guitarist chose to turn his focus instead to his solo career. Squabbling between Hughes and Bonnamassa played out in the pages and websites of the rock press. Big egos beget big misunderstandings. But if the singer and guitarist can come to terms, Black Country Communion still has a chance to resume its trajectory as modern day saviors of the classic rock sound. Stay tuned and stay hopeful.



Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Favorite Albums of 2012

 
 
In no particular order...
 
 
 
 
#1
Dr. Dog – Be The Void
Gutbucket Pop. Lo-fi shimmer. All killer, no filler. Of the many stellar tracks, here’s a live version of a clear highlight, the infectious “Do The Trick”:

 
 
 



#2
ZZTop – La Futura
The long-awaited collaboration with producer Rick Rubin. A return to form & former glories. Firing on all pistons.
 
 
 

#3
Donald Fagen – Sunken Condos
Crystalline Jazz Rock for Steely Dan fans.

 
 
 
 
#4
Between The Buried And Me – Parallax II
Progressive Metal at its finest.

 
 
 
 
#5
Royal Thunder – CVI
Imagine Joan Jett singing for Black Sabbath…
Great howling vocals over ominous Metal groove sludge
with a few epic tracks that stretch beyond the 9-minute mark.
I love heavy rock that sounds like it’s straight outta 1974.

 
 
 
 
#6
Bad Brains – Into The Future
D.C. Rasta Punk legends alive and well.
 
 
 
 



#7
Bob Dylan - Tempest
He’s always brilliant. Very relieved to hear this strong effort, especially after his last record which I thought was kind of a piece of crap.

 
 
 
 
#8
Chris Smither – Hundred Dollar Valentine
Brilliant songwriter, great growly voice, and Delta Blues guitar chops unparalleled.
 
 
 
 
 
#9
Felice Brothers – God Bless You Amigo
My favorite band, lead by one of this era’s best songwriters, singer-guitarist Ian Felice.
Here they strip it back to acoustic hootenanny looseness and shine.
Includes my #1 favorite song of 2012 “The Mating Of The Doves”.

This was a download-only release, available here:
http://thefelicebrothers.myshopify.com/products/gbya

See my other writings about the Felice Brothers elsewhere on this blog:

 
 
 
 


#10
Jon Cleary – Occapella
New Orleans funk tribute to the songs of Allen Toussaint
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

#s 11 & 12
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill & Americana
Garage rock dinosaurs effortlessly crushing it as ever.
 
Americana can be heard in its entirety here:
 
Neil released his autobiography this year too!

I promise you won't regret it if you take the time to submerge yourself in this epic Neil Young & Crazy Horse studio jam session that stretches over 35 minutes:
 
 
 
 
 

 
#13
Van Halen – A Different Kind Of Truth
Their first studio album with David Lee Roth in 28 years explodes with as much humor and fire as anything from the band’s “classic” era. A much better album than many thought they were capable of. Some tracks date as far back as the band’s early days playing small clubs and poolside parties in the 70s. Criminally overlooked and underrated all year long, including being snubbed by the Grammys.

 


***

 
Worthy of mention:
 
 
 
 

 
Phish – Live at Riverbend Cincinnati, OH June 22, 2012 (live concert download release)
Phish – Live at Long Beach Arena Long Beach, CA August 15, 2012 (live concert download release)

 
 
 
 
 

Frank Zappa – numerous archival releases finally being made available via CD & download


 


Iggy Pop – Apres’
Iggy gave away free download of his new LP of French ballads, cover songs & Jazz standards when his label refused to release it.





Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Between The Buried And Me "The Parallax II: Future Sequence"



I love Heavy Metal. But the misguided wizardry of Prog Metal doesn’t always work for me. In many cases it is little more than a sort of enlightened wankery. Just because you can cram all those speedy little gnat-notes into every measure doesn’t necessarily mean you should. And that’s really always been the case with a lot of Speed Metal’s spin offs. Prog Metal walks an especially thin line, trying to balance the advanced musicianship of Progressive Rock with Heavy Metal’s pounding rhythms and crushing volume.

I can’t resist the irony of a band that wants to insert their Heavy Concept into your thoughts with hopes that you’ll bang your head while you contemplate it. And I’m always pleasantly surprised when I hear a Prog Metal band pull off something that is equal parts headbanging intensity and cerebral storytelling. It’s an elusive, risky and caustic combination, but Between The Buried And Me have captured lightning in a bottle with their brilliant new CD release, The Parallax II: Future Sequence.

The spacey synth intro of “Autumn” segues smoothly into the 10-minute horror show rollercoaster “Extremophile Elite”, its brutal riffage twisting and turning through bizarre time changes, slippery guitar solos weaving and coiling over machine gun drumming, the obligatory Cookie Monster vocals growling indecipherably over top of it all until the whole undulating cacophony gives way to an unexpected interlude comprised of loopy xylophone, bouncing tuba, and a ghostly string quartet before the wicked Metal storm whips up again for five more minutes of ear bludgeoning. Obviously this stuff ain’t for everybody. But this track alone is a remarkably ambitious musical feat.

The album is maddening, hilarious and terrifyingly over the top with its unpredictable arrangements and individual performances of ferocious conviction. Occasionally the album’s maniacal menace subsides into mellow interludes, like the grind and pound of “Lay Your Ghosts To Rest” that suddenly slows to a sinister crawling waltz. It is these wildly fluctuating dynamic shifts that make the record rumble and roar like a Heavy Metal funhouse.

While the stark contrast of piano interludes, melodic vocals and spoken word segues grease the narrative momentum, there remains throughout the record an ever-present threat that the deafening growl of thunder can and will erupt again with explosive orchestral flourishes of violent intensity. Some of the more unusual segments are comical in their placement, content and duration, sounding at times like the spirit of Frank Zappa trying to burst through the frayed and crusty denim of Napalm Death.


Release date: October 9, 2012.


Here’s a promo clip of “Telos” from the new album: