August 21, 2005

Jazz For You # John McLaughlin

Few tasks are more daunting than picking just ten of a great jazz artist's albums for a library collection. Each record adds in its own way to the appreciation of any artist. But in the case of guitarist John McLaughlin , choosing representative albums is made an even more difficult chore because so many of his records run at odd angles to each other. He seems to change styles so often that just keeping track can be a daunting task.This set of records spans thirty years and a huge variety of approaches. It's a fine place to start if you're curious about McLaughlin's many angles on improvised music.

1969 John McLaughlin, Extrapolation (Polydor 841598)

The guitarist's first efforts as a leader led to a classic recording which showcased the musician's European jazz roots in a modern jazz vein.

1970 Miles Davis, A Tribute To Jack Johnson (Columbia CK-47036)

McLaughlin exploded onto the jazz scene with his ferocious playing on Miles Davis' 1970 record. The Jazz-blues-funk power chords McLaughlin unleashes on this recording still deserve attention.

1970 John McLaughlin, My Goal's Beyond (Knitting Factory 3010)

It's hard to believe the same man that blew the fuses on Davis' album quieted down and produced the truly remarkable acoustic My Goal's Beyond.

1971 Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Inner Mounting Flame (Columbia/Legacy 65523)

The Mahavishnu Orchestra came next with its debut album, The Inner Mounting Flame, which rocked both the jazz and popular music worlds. This was McLaughlin's true coming out party.

1976 Shakti with John McLaughlin, Shakti (Sony International 9178)

Shakti introduced yet another John McLaughlin, a musician who had immersed himself into Indian music. This record presented a hybrid of jazz and far eastern modes that literally helped introduce the world music movement.

1978 John McLaughlin, Electric Guitarist (Columbia 46110)

This record is noteworthy for the disparate styles and guest stars it featured.

1981 John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, Paco DeLucia, Friday Night in San Francisco (Sony 65168)

The guitar trio's debut record was a live performance which revolutionized the way the acoustic guitar is viewed in the pop world. Its influence is still felt today.

1994 John McLaughlin, After the Rain (Verve 527467)

This organ trio with Joey DeFrancesco and Elvin Jones offered a significant showcase for McLaughlin to perform in a more straightahead jazz format. Many of these tunes are Coltrane compositions.

2000 John McLaughlin and The Heart of Things, Live In Paris (Verve 314 543 536-2)

The Heart of Things showed the world that fusion music could still be exciting, and that Mr. McLaughlin was still its King.

2001 Remember Shakti, Saturday Night in Bombay (Verve 014164)

Coming almost full circle, this Remember Shakti album references the excitement of the Guitar Trio from 20 years earlier, as well as McLaughlin's approach to world music and jazz. It exemplifies how the guitarist continues to strive to incorporate all of his musical knowledge into a fresh outlook.

Taken From All About Jazz : Building Your Jazz Library

Jazz For You # One Quiet Night - Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny by himself with an acoustic guitar -- for longtime fans it might not get any better. Always interested in blending jazz with folk and pop, the guitarist does just that, focusing heavily on the folk end of things on One Quiet Night.

Featuring a nice afterglow interpretation of Norah Jones' hit "Don't Know Why" and an unexpected reinterpretation of "Ferry Cross the Mersey" which turns the Gerry & the Pacemakers classic into a poignant lament, the album also showcases Metheny as a melodic pop composer. "Song for the Boys" sounds surprisingly like an instrumental take on early-'80s British pop à la the Smiths, while "Last Train Home" brilliantly mixes Metheny's knack for taking simple chord progressions and beautifully tweaking them with odd harmonies.

Perhaps a bit light for some straight-ahead jazz fans, listeners interested in thoughtful, folky, jazz-inflected ballads will find this rapturous.

Little Known Gems # Mock Tudor : R.Thompson

Few musical charms compare with those of Richard Thompson's better albums. Mock Tudor easily ranks amongst them, thanks in part to inventive producers Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf, who help strike a melodious balance between Thompson's genre-hopping instrumental subtleties and the gritty rave-ups that characterize his full-flail live shows.

Together again with Fairport drummer Dave Mattacks and bassist Danny Thompson (and with help on guitar and vocals from son Teddy), Thomspon is set free.
A literate songwriter and fearlessly talented guitarist, Richard Thompson is also a complete bust when it comes to romance. Or so Mock Tudor, which details love gone wrong from an early age to present, suggests over and over.

Fortunately, Thompson makes his troubles worth our concern, thanks to his mix of wounded perseverance ("Dry My Tears and Move On") and all-out bile (the vindictive but ultimately self-destructive "Hope You Like the New Me").Thompson views love as a kind of perceptual problem: How can you trust what's in front of your eyes when you've so often been deceived - and been a deceiver?

There's a delightful, modal minisolo on "Sibella"; "Uninhabited Man" finds the former student of Sufism holding down a Led Zep-ish Eastern groove; and every other song is a subtle, midtempo, sure-fire hit in an alternate universe. Lyrically, Thompson sticks to dark-side-of-the-street subject matter; the majority of the songs describe a relationship gone over the edge or about to (Elvis Costello is Thompson's only peer when it comes to charming, post-Dylan misanthropy in song).

Women are goddesses ("Cooksferry Queen"), a bad match ("Sibella," "Two-Faced Love"), evil temptresses ("Bathsheba Smiles," "Hard on Me"), and about to dump the protagonist any second now ("Crawl Back Under My Stone")--and that's just the first six songs! In "Cooksferry Queen" when Thompson sings, "People speak my name in whispers--what higher praise can there be," the singer-songwriter might well be describing himself.

Well Sample these words from closing track from the album 'Hope You like the new Me' you know what we talking about - apparently a dig at our commercialized music industry and piracy

I stole your style / Hope you don't mind/ I must try to be all I can be/It suits me more/ Than it ever suited you/ Hope you like the new me/I stole your laugh / So bright and breezy / It stops parties in mid-air/It makes me feel more devil-may-care/ Hope you like the new me

We all need friends to lean on / Any time, any place, anywhere / Feel free to lean on me/But please don't do it right now/ Yes I'm much too busy right now /I stole your walk / The one with purpose /That says there is no mountain I can't climb/It fools people all of the time/ Hope you like the new me

I stole your jokes / Just the good ones/ How the gang all laughed with glee/I also stole The way that you tell them /Hope you like the new me /To steal is to flatter / What a compliment to pay /All those things that I stole from you/Well I might give them back someday /Yes I really might someday

I stole your wife / Hope you don't mind / She was looking bored don't you think/I'll soon have her back in the pink /Stop by and see us for tea /I stole your soul /When you weren't looking/I reached inside and cut it free/It suits me more /Than it ever suited you/Hope you like the new me

Thompson’s simply profound way with words, backed here by hand-stitched phrasing that decorates every sweetly seeping and Celtically inclined note. How can something that must have hurt so bad sound so good?

The difficulty of recognizing the real thing, of course, has implications for the fate of the wryly titled Mock Tudor, as well -- implications that Richard Thompson will no doubt ignore as he goes on making spellbinding music for whoever cares to hear it.

Great Albums # Shoot Out The Lights : Richard & Linda Thompson

Richard & Linda Thompson's marriage was crumbling as they were recording Shoot Out the Lights in 1982, and many critics have read the album as a chronicle of the couple's divorce. In truth, most of the album's songs had been written two years earlier (when the Thompsons were getting along fine) for an abandoned project produced by Gerry Rafferty, and tales of busted relationships and domestic discord were always prominent in their songbook.

But there is a palpable tension to Shoot Out The Lights which gives songs like "Don't Renege On Our Love" and "Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed" an edgy bite different from the Thompsons' other albums together; there's a subtle, unmistakable undertow of anger and dread in this music that cuts straight down to the bone.

Joe Boyd's clean, uncluttered production was the ideal match for these songs and their Spartan arrangements, and Richard Thompson's wiry guitar work was remarkable, displaying a blazing technical skill that never interfered with his melodic sensibilities. Individually, all eight of the album's songs are striking (especially the sonic fireworks of the title cut, the beautiful drift of "Just The Motion," and the bitter reminiscence of "Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed"), and as a whole they were far more than the sum of their parts, a meditation on love and loss in which beauty, passion, and heady joy can still be found in defeat.

It's ironic that Richard & Linda Thompson enjoyed their breakthrough in the United States with the album that ended their career together, but Shoot Out The Lights found them rallying their strengths to the bitter end; it's often been cited as Richard Thompson's greatest work, and it's difficult for anyone to argue the point.

The Title Track :"Shoot Out the Lights"
Written as a reaction to the Russians' 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, "Shoot Out the Lights" was the title track of Richard and Linda Thompson's brilliant 1982 swan song. From the opening two chords, you can feel the disquieting tension that will haunt the next five-plus minutes. Though the song was originally inspired by the conflict in Afghanistan, it transformed into a menacing, cinematic character study of a murderer who stalks the nighttime city streets. Over his brooding, tremolo-affected guitar and Dave Mattacks' deliberate, martial drumming, Richard fires out image after ominous image, and like the protagonist in the song, never reveals too much. As dark and unsettling as the lyrical content, it's Richard's riveting guitar that pushes the song to the edge. His pair of solos are as gripping and fierce as one could expect, bending and shredding notes into shards of metal and threatening to lose control at any moment. It's hard to imagine anyone covering "Shoot Out the Lights" with the same impact as Richard ( Linda does not appear on this track). The song, as well as the performance and album, remains one of the crowning achievements in Richard Thompson's career.

Review by Brett Hartenbach Taken from All Music Group

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August 14, 2005

Great Albums # Aja : Steely Dan

Forget for a moment the album's surreal sonic perfection, its melodic and harmonic complexity - music so technically demanding its creators had to call in A-list session players to realize the sounds they heard in their heads but could not play, even on the instruments they had mastered. Concentrate instead on the profound sadness of Steely Dan's exquisitely arranged Aja.

Rock has always excelled at embodying adolescent ache. But it's rare when rock captures the complications of adult sorrows almost purely with its sound. Drummer Paul Humphrey's upstroke during the beginning of "Black Cow," the 1977 album's languid opener, is so hesitant, so world-weary that it barely catches up to the pulse he sets with his foot.

On the eight-minute title track, instruments layer onto a different drummer, adding chord on top of chord, harmony on top of harmony, until tom-toms and cymbals thunder, raging all that ornate aural architecture away.

Aja's extended tracks achieve their power through a dynamic dance: Mellow, stark passages (which drew a blueprint for "smooth jazz" radio) are offset by obsessively dense musicianship, stacks of notes that grasp at euphoria. Some of the era's hottest jazz instrumentalists - Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Tom Scott - soar through what's often on the surface utterly jubilant. "Peg," the album's biggest hit, is nearly disco, and "I Got the News" isn't far away.

The closing cut, "Josie," almost plays the celebration straight, though its backward-looking R&B keeps getting tripped up by restless rhythms. But there are so many unresolved chords, so much sweet dissonance, that the album's sleek virtuosity collapses against itself, leaving behind a loneliness rendered mostly oblique by Donald Fagen's heady wordplay. On "Deacon Blues," he cuts through his own cleverness to paint a picture of noir-shaded simplicity: "Drink Scotch whiskey all night long and die behind the wheel."

That's Aja: frustration and failure at the heart of the party.

Review by BARRY WALTERS from RS

August 11, 2005

Dark Side : 30 Fascinating Facts

1. Dark Side has sold approximately 34 million copies worldwide.

2. The album hit number one on the US charts for one week in 1973. David Gilmour had had a bet with manager Steve O'Rourke that the album wouldn't crack the US top 10.

3. In the UK the album made it to the number two spot. When it was re-mastered and re-released for the 20th anniversary in 1993 with special packaging it made it to number

4. In Belgium and France it was No. 1, No. 2 in Austria, No. 3 in Australia, and No. 4 in Holland; it was No. 5 in Spain, Finland and Germany but not at the same time, and made it to No. 8 in Brazil in August 1973.

5. The album is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for being on the charts longer than any other album in history, namely 591 consecutive weeks or 11.4 years in Billboard top 200! A total of approx 14 whole years (741 weeks) in and back in top 200, and a staggering 26 years in some Billboard chart or other.

6. SoundScan, the chart tabulators in the US, recently listed the top 200 selling albums of the year 2002. Dark Side was again on that list. It sold roughly 417,000 copies in the US last year, making it the 200th top selling album. It is by far the oldest album on the list.

7. The original title for the album was Eclipse (A Piece for Assorted Lunatics). The band were upset to find out that the progressive folk rock act Medicine Head had released an album with the title of "Dark Side of the Moon" as recently as 1972 on John Peel's Dandelion label. Since the release was less than successful sales-wise, the band decided go ahead with their plans.

8. The music and lyrics for the entire album were written during a seven week period in which the band were preparing for a tour in which they desperately wanted to premier new material.

9. Cue Cards with generic questions were written up by Roger and given to roadies, anyone at Abbey Road, doormen, and members of Wings including Paul and Linda McCartney. Approximately 20 questions were asked along the lines of, "Are you afraid of dying?". "When was the last time you were violent and were you in the right?", and "What does the phrase 'The Dark Side of the Moon' mean to you?". The most spontaneous answers to these questions appeared on the album. Paul and Linda didn't make the cut but Wings' guitarist Henry McColluch did providing the "I don't know I was really drunk at the time" response to the question regarding violent behaviour used at the fade out of Money.

10. The "stoned" laughter used in the background of Speak to Me and Brain Damage is from Peter Watts, a road manager for the Floyd pictured on the back of the Ummagumma sleeve. His daughter, Naomi Watts, is a famous actress that has appeared in several films and was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People by People Magazine in 2002. Sadly, Peter Watts died of a drug overdose in 1976.

11. Studio time would be typically interrupted for one of two reasons, either soccer or Monty Python television broadcasts. In fact, Pink Floyd were such Python fans that they used some of the money they made from the initial success of the album to help fund Monty Python's The Holy Grail film.

12. The album was recorded at Abbey Road on then state of the art 16-track equipment. Roger created the tape loops necessary to achieve the rhythmic chiming of the sound effects for Money. Due to the technology of the time, this meant physically cutting and mending bits of tape together in precise measurements using a ruler and feeding these manually into a tape machine for duplication.

13. The slide guitar heard on Breathe was a pedal steel that David Gilmour purchased in a pawnshop in Seattle back in 1968.

14. Alan Parsons recommended Claire Torry for vocal duties on The Great Gig in the Sky. At the time Torry was an EMI staff songwriter who wanted to branch into vocals. Torry was paid double the standard session wage at the time for this particular session since it was on a Sunday. At the time, she was very happy with what she received. No one could foresee the impact and longevity the resulting album would have.

15. Parsons received a Grammy as the record won the "Best Engineered Album" award.

16. Australian radio listeners voted the album the best album to have sex to in 1990.

17. The album marked the first time that Roger Waters wrote all of the lyrics. He has stated that he made a conscious effort to employ words that were very straightforward and easy to understand.

18. The album was first performed live at the Dome in Brighton, England on the 20th of January 1972. Due to a tape malfunction, the concert only made it as far as 'Money' that evening, but the band continued to perform the suite at almost every show after that date right up until a performance at Knebworth on the 5th of July 1975.

19. Hipgnosis studio suggested the album be issued as a gatefold with inserts of two posters, one for fans (photos of the band) and one for art (photo of pyramids), and two stickers, day and night, which refer to the touring aspect in the lyrics . All this was to be housed in a card box. EMI agreed to everything except the box. Hipgnosis provided the outer cover design, the prism against black, which referred to the band's inventive use of lights on stage, the triangularity symbolising mad ambition, and the cool graphic in answer to a request from Richard Wright for something less pictorial and more iconic.

20. The design of the inner spread of the gatefold, featuring the spectrum heartbeat, echoing the audio heartbeat at the beginning of the album, was an idea from Roger Waters.

21. Us and Them was originally written by Richard Wright in 1969 as an instrumental piano solo intended for use in Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point film which the band had been commissioned to score. The piece, then known as The Violent Sequence, was to be used over slow-motion scenes of student / police riots at UCLA. It was rejected for the film and resurrected for Dark Side after Waters penned the lyrics. Tapes exist of the band performing it as The Violent Sequence early in 1970.

22. The Great Gig in The Sky was originally known as The Mortality Sequence. It featured a similar piano introduction but no female vocals. Instead, taped readings from the Book of Ephesians, a recital of The Lord's Prayer, and a narrative from Malcolm Muggeridge, a controversial host of a religious program on the BBC, were used.

23. A rough version of Brain Damage was written around the time of Meddle and was actually known as "The Dark Side of the Moon".

24. The inspiration for Breathe was from a song Roger Waters had written and recorded in 1970 as part of the soundtrack for a film about human biology called "The Body". The opening lyric is the same in both songs. The original song was a protest of man's destruction of nature for profit, a theme that has appeared on more than a few Waters' compositions.

25. Although the band made a point of not releasing any singles in Great Britain for ten years after 1969's Point Me at The Sky failed to make an impression, two singles from the album were issued in the States. An edited version of Money was issued in May of '73 backed with Any Colour You Like. This peaked at number 13 on the Billboard Top 40. An edited Us and Them backed with Time ("severely" edited with the rotatoms spliced unnaturally onto the end of the song in place of the Breathe reprise) was also issued in February of '74. Despite heavy FM airplay, the track wasn't AM radio friendly enough and the record only made it to 101 on the chart.

26. The album has been released in various audiophile pressings and limited collector's editions including coloured vinyl editions. Colour completists would need to find a German pressing on white vinyl from 1977, both blue and clear vinyl versions from France also pressed in the late 70's, an Australian pink vinyl version (of the quad mix!) from 1988, and another white one from Holland also from 1977. In addition, there are two official picture discs of the vinyl version still circulating the collector's markets, one from the US on Capitol, and one from the UK only briefly available as part of a box set "The First XI" that was released in 1979 (only 1000 were made available to the public).

27. EMI organized a launch of the album for the press at the London Planetarium. An interesting choice since at this time the band was trying hard to shed their image as a space-rock band. The quadraphonic mix, supervised by Alan Parsons, was to be used for this reception but instead the band learned that the record would be played back in stereo and through an inferior sound system. Only Richard Wright showed up. Life size cardboard cut-outs of the other band members were used in their absence.

28. Pink Floyd were excited to be able to develop new material on the road but were horrified to learn of a bootleg album that was released of a complete performance of the piece recorded in February of 1972 at the Rainbow Theatre. The bootleg was issued a mere six weeks after the concert, about a full year prior to an official release. Professionally packaged, the unit reportedly sold in excess of 100,000 copies, many thinking it was the real thing.

29. Throughout the 1990's rumours persisted that the album was intended to be played back while watching The Wizard of Oz. Many similarities were depicted between the music, lyrics, and the film. The band have denied that the classic film made an impression on them while recording the album, but if you want to judge for yourself be sure to start the CD at the third roar of the MGM lion at the start of the film!

30. A little known fact about the album is that at the end of Eclipse, just as the final voice states that "there is no dark side of the moon really, as a matter of fact it's all dark", if you listen very closely, perhaps with your headphones on and the volume full blast (preferably with the new 5.1 SACD), you will hear an instrumental, muzak version of Ticket to Ride by the Beatles being played in the background. It was probably being played in the main offices of Abbey Road where the record was recorded and picked up by the microphones, perhaps while conducting the interview with Jerry Driscoll, the doorman at Abbey Road, which led to the response heard

August 09, 2005

Jerry Garcia : 10th Death Anniversary

On the ocassion of Jerry Garcia's 10th death anniversary .. heres a small note on the great man

Jerry Garcia was the lead guitarist, vocalist, and spokesman for the seminal '60s rock & roll band the Grateful Dead. Throughout his career, he led the Dead through numerous changes, becoming one of the most famous figures in the history of rock & roll. Simultaneously, Garcia pursued an eclectic array of side projects, ranging from the bluegrass group Old & in the Way to his folky solo recordings. Garcia stayed active as a member of the Grateful Dead and as a solo performer until his death in 1995.

Garcia learned to play guitar when he was 15 years old, originally playing folk and rock & roll. In 1959, when he was 17 years old, he spent a brief time in the army. When he left the military after a matter of months, he moved to Palo Alto, CA, where he met and became friends with Robert Hunter, who would later become his lyricist. Garcia bought a banjo in 1962 and began playing in local bluegrass bands. Within a few years, he was a member of Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, a popular local bluegrass and folk band whose membership also included Bob Weir and Pigpen. In 1965, this group evolved into the Warlocks, which would in turn become the Grateful Dead in 1966.

Over the course of the next five years, the Grateful Dead began building a reputation as a mesmerizing live act. During this time, Garcia guested with a number of bands, both in concert and in the studio; among the artists he appeared with are the New Riders of the Purple Sage (a band which he helped form), Jefferson Starship, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. In 1970, the Grateful Dead began to shift their music back toward their folk, country, and bluegrass roots with the albums Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. The following year, Garcia began a solo career with Hooteroll?, which was released on Douglas Records. For the next few years, Garcia recorded solo albums frequently, often with keyboardist Merl Saunders. In 1973, he was one of the founding members of the bluegrass supergroup Old & in the Way, which also featured David Grisman, Vassar Clements, and John Kahn.

Garcia's solo efforts slowed in the early '80s, as he battled heroin addiction and diabetes. After the Grateful Dead scored their first hit album in 1987 with In the Dark, Garcia pursued a number of solo projects, including several acoustic duet records with David Grisman and a handful of live tours and albums with the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band. For the first half of the '90s, Garcia concentrated on Grateful Dead tours and albums, as the band confirmed their status as one of the most popular concert acts in America. However, the guitarist slowly sank back into heroin addiction. Late in the summer of 1995, he entered Serenity Knolls, a drug rehabilitation facility in Forest Knolls, CA. While he was attempting to recover, Garcia died in his sleep of a heart attack on August 9, 1995. Several months after his death, the Grateful Dead announced their disbandment.

Jerry Garcia : August 1, 1942 - August 9, 1995

Adapted From AMG

August 06, 2005

Boss's Induction Speech On U2

Through The Door With Fists And Hearts First

Springsteen's induction speech of U2 (3/14/05) to the R & R Hall of Fame

Uno, dos, tres, catorce. That translates as one, two, three, fourteen. That is the correct math for a rock and roll band. For in art and love and rock and roll, the whole had better equal much more than the sum of its parts, or else you’re just rubbing two sticks together searching for fire.

A great rock band searches for the same kind of combustible force that fueled the expansion of the universe after the big bang. You want the earth to shake and spit fire, you want the sky to split apart and for God to pour out. It’s embarrassing to want so much and to expect so much from music, except sometimes it happens: the Sun Sessions, Highway 61, Sgt. Peppers, the Band, Robert Johnson, Exile on Main Street, Born to Run... whoops, I meant to leave that one out... uh... the Sex Pistols, Aretha Franklin, the Clash, James Brown; the proud and public enemies it takes a nation of millions to hold back. This is music meant to take on not only the powers that be but on a good day, the universe and God himself, if he was listening. It’s man’s accountability, and U2 belongs on this list.

It was the early ‘80s. I went with Pete Townshend, who always wanted to catch the first whiff of those about to unseat us, to a club in London. There they were: a young Bono (single-handedly pioneering the Irish mullet), the Edge (what kind of name was that?), Adam and Larry -- I was listening to the last band of whom I would be able to name all of its members. They had an exciting show and a big, beautiful sound. They lifted the roof. We met afterwards and they were nice young men. They were Irish. Irish. Now, this would play an enormous part in their success in the States. For what the English occasionally have the refined sensibilities to overcome, we Irish and Italians have no such problem. We come through the door fists and hearts first. U2, with the dark, chiming sound of heaven at their command which, of course, is the sound of unrequited love and longing—their greatest theme.

Their search for God intact, this was a band that wanted to lay claim to not only this world but had their eyes on the next one, too. Now, they’re a real band; each member plays a vital part. I believe they actually practice some form of democracy—toxic poison in a bands head. In Iraq, maybe. In rock, no. Yet, they survive.

They have harnessed the time bomb that exists in the heart of every great rock and roll band that usually explodes, as we see regularly from this stage. But they seemed to have innately understood the primary rule of rock band job security: “Hey, asshole, the other guy is more important than you think he is!” They are both a step forward and direct descendants of the great bands who believed rock music could shake things up in the world, dared to have faith in their audience, who believed if they played their best it would bring out the best in you.

They believed in pop stardom and the big time. Now this requires foolishness and a calculating mind. It also requires a deeply held faith in the work you’re doing and in its powers to transform. U2 hungered for it all and built a sound, and they wrote the songs that demanded it. They’re keepers of some of the most beautiful sonic architecture in rock and roll.

Now the band’s beautiful songwriting—“Pride (In The Name of Love),” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “One,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Beautiful Day”—reminds us of the stakes that the band always plays for. It’s an incredible songbook. In their music, you hear the spirituality as home and as quest. How do you find God unless he’s in your heart, in your desire, in your feet? I believe this is a big part of what’s kept their band together all of these years. See, bands get formed by accident, but they don’t survive by accident. It takes will, intent, a sense of shared purpose and a tolerance for your friends’ fallibilities and they of yours. And that only evens the odds. U2 has not only evened the odds but they’ve beaten them by continuing to do their finest work and remaining at the top of their game and the charts for 25 years. I feel a great affinity for these guys as people as well as musicians.

Well, there I was sitting down on the couch in my pajamas with my eldest son. He was watching TV. I was doing one of my favorite things: I was tallying up all the money I passed up in endorsements over the years and thinking of all the fun I could have had with it. Suddenly I hear “Uno, dos, tres, catorce!” I look up. But instead of the silhouettes of the hippie-wannabes bouncing around in the iPod commercial, I see my boys! Oh my God! They sold out! Now, what I know about the iPod is this: it is a device that plays music. Of course, their new song sounded great, my guys are doing great, but methinks I hear the footsteps of my old tape operator of Jimmy Iovine somewhere. Wily, smart.

Now, personally, I live an insanely expensive lifestyle that my wife barely tolerates. I burn money, and that calls for huge amounts of cash flow. But, I also have a ludicrous image of myself that keeps me from truly cashing in. You can see my problem. Woe is me. So the next morning, I call up Jon Landau (or as I refer to him, “the American Paul McGuinness”), and I say, “Did you see that iPod thing?” and he says, “Yes.” And he says, “And I hear they didn’t take any money.” And I said, “They didn’t take any money?” and he says, “No.” I said, “Smart, wily Irish guys. Anybody – anybody – can do an ad and take the money. But to do the ad and not take the money... that’s smart. That’s wily.” I say, “Jon, I want you to call up Bill Gates or whoever is behind this thing and float this: a red, white and blue iPod signed by Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen. Now remember, no matter how much money he offers, don’t take it!”

At any rate, after that evening for the next month or so, I hear emanating from my lovely 14-year-old son's room, day after day, down the hall calling out in a voice that has recently dropped very low: uno, dos, tres, catorce. The correct math for rock and roll. Thank you, boys

August 04, 2005

Biography # Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson stands at the crossroads of American music, much as a popular folk legend has it he once stood at Mississippi crossroads and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for guitar-playing prowess.

He became the first modern bluesman, linking the country blues of the Mississippi Delta with the city blues of the post-World War II era. Johnson was a songwriter of searing depth and a guitar player with a commanding ability that inspired no less an admirer than Keith Richard to exclaim, "When I first heard [him], I was hearing two guitars, and it took me a long time to realize he was actually doing it all by himself."

Born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, in 1911, Johnson was ill-suited for sharecropping and gravitated instead toward the itinerant life of the musician. He picked up the guitar in his teens and numbered among his tutors such esteemed blues figures as Charley Patton and Son House. During the Depression years of the early Thirties, Johnson lit out with his guitar and earned his keep as an entertainer - not only as a master of the blues but of the popular tunes and styles of the day.

His travels took him throughout the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas, where he performed at jook joints, country suppers and levee camps. He also saw the big cities, traveling with fellow bluesman Johnny Shines to perform in St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago and elsewhere. The entirety of his recorded output was cut in three days worth of sessions in November 1936 and two days in June 1937. His life came to a premature end when he was poisoned by the jealous husband of a woman he began seeing during a stint at the Three Forks juke joint in Greenwood, Mississippi. The poisoning occurred on the night of August 13, 1938, and Johnson died three nights later at the home of a friend.

Though he recorded only 29 songs in his brief career - 22 of which appeared on 78 rpm singles released on the Vocalion label, including his first and most popular, "Terraplane Blues" - Johnson nonetheless altered the course of American music. In the words of biographer Stephen C. LaVere, "Robert Johnson is the most influential bluesman of all time and the person most responsible for the shape popular music has taken in the last five decades." Such classics as "Cross Road Blues," "Love In Vain" and "Sweet Home Chicago" are the bedrock upon which modern blues and rock and roll were built.

In an eloquent testimonial included in the liner notes to the box set Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings (Columbia Records, 1990), disciple Clapton said, "Robert Johnson to me is the most important blues musician who ever lived....I have never found anything more deeply soulful than Robert Johnson. His music remains the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice."

News & interviews # Roger Waters

Floyd's bass man on the blues and the reunion at Live 8

God bless the global success that was Live 8 -- not least of all for reuniting acrimonious ex-bandmates Roger Waters and David Gilmour to perform Pink Floyd songs for the first time since 1981. "I was very happy -- I definitely felt warm and cuddly toward everyone in the band," says Waters, sipping white wine in his forty-ninth-floor midtown-Manhattan apartment. "I decided that if anything came up in rehearsals -- any difference of opinion -- I would just roll over. And I did." Not only has Waters -- the Floyd's chief songwriter during the band's Seventies heyday -- closed a bitter chapter in the history of the group, he has completed a full-on opera, Ca Ira, which he began in 1989. Ca Ira is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution; a CD comes out in September, and the concert debut is slated for November 17th in Rome. But with Pink Floyd on the minds of rock fans, Waters flatly denies talk of a future tour in the U.S., even for the reported $150 million payday. "I don't really need it," he says. "It would be a very hot ticket. That said, I didn't mind rolling over for one day, but I couldn't roll over for a whole fucking tour."

Growing up, what record changed your life?

Like everyone else in England, I listened to Radio Luxembourg, a pirate station. They played rock & roll, like Bill Haley and English acts with stupid invented names like Tommy Steele and Billy Fury. Seven or eight years later, the Beatles changed all that. In the meantime I fell in love with Lead Belly, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Art Blakey, Monk and Mingus. The blues is at the root of everything I do.

Did you sing in choir?

Before my voice broke, I used to sing treble in a combined choir.

Children's choirs surface in your opera, and in Pink Floyd.

My great friend Nick Griffiths -- who died this year -- was entirely responsible for recording the kids on "Another Brick in the Wall." The sound those kids make was brilliant, but we were 6,000 miles away, in Los Angeles. Last year some ambulance chaser desperately tried to find the kids -- I think there were about a dozen or so -- and ask them, "Why haven't you gotten any royalties? Why don't you sue Pink Floyd?" He found a few of them, and a couple said that singing on it was the best thing that's ever happened to them.

You were an architecture student. What venue looks the best from the stage?

Most of my career has been in sports arenas, and those are awful places. Those old theaters are really nice, like the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, where they recorded the Chuck Berry movie [Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll]. I've played there, and the weird-red-plush, slightly decaying vibe is really cool.

Do you have the handwritten lyrics to the Floyd classics?

I don't keep anything. No T-shirts or backstage passes -- I have nothing at all of my past. I've been divorced so many times and moved so often.... I think I've still got the drawing I did of "The Wall." It's just on a piece of legal pad -- a perspective view of an auditorium with a wall drawn across it, coming down through the seats. [Whispers] "Hey, what a great idea."

What other band would you have liked to play bass in?

What's always great is playing the blues.

Twelve-bar blues, straight up. Nothing better than that. When Eric [Clapton] was in my band, back in '85, we'd play the blues during soundcheck. In Pink Floyd I was being savaged -- because Dave [Gilmour] and Rick [Wright] were kind of insecure, they'd always try to attack me, saying I sang out of tune or I couldn't really play. I said something about that to Eric, and he said, "Are you fucking crazy? You're a great bass player." I went, "Oh, yeah, maybe I am." I would be totally happy to be standing at the back of a stage playing the blues hour after hour.... I enjoyed playing bass [at Live 8].

It looked like you were having the time of your life.

It was more fun than I can remember having with Pink Floyd twenty-five years ago. When we did The Wall, we'd have four Winnebagos parked in a circle, with all the doors facing away from the circle. It was really, really bad. Everybody was kind of jealous -- definitely Dave. He was so pissed off that I was writing everything and doing all the work. He wanted to be that person, but he wasn't. But at Live 8 everything was easy. I was there to enjoy myself.

How do you think Dave felt?

He did send me an e-mail afterward, saying, "Hi, Rog, I'm glad you made that phone call. It was fun, wasn't it?" So he obviously had fun.

Can you think of a better band name than Pink Floyd?

Brand name or band name? It's a great brand name. Dave and Rick did tours [as Pink Floyd] and made huge fortunes. I've seen videos of those tours. With all due respect, it was sort of muck.

I heard you've been working on a rock & roll record.

I've written a bunch of songs. When I discover what it's actually about, I'll finish it and put it out for better or worse. I just always seem so busy. I have a new woman in my life. I can't believe I'm fucking sixty-one years old, and my golf game is such shit.

I hear you're a pretty good pool player, though. What musician has been the toughest to beat?

There's no musician out there who could hold a candle to me at pool.

August 03, 2005

Great Albums # Automatic For the People : REM

Turning away from the sweet pop of Out of Time, R.E.M. created a haunting, melancholy masterpiece with Automatic for the People. At its core, the album is a collection of folk songs about aging, death, and loss, but the music has a grand, epic sweep provided by layers of lush strings, interweaving acoustic instruments, and shimmering keyboards.

Automatic for the People captures the group at a crossroads, as they moved from cult heroes to elder statesmen, and the album is a graceful transition into their new status. It is a reflective album, with frank discussions on mortality, but it is not a despairing record -- "Nightswimming," "Everybody Hurts," and "Sweetness Follows" have a comforting melancholy, while "Find the River" provides a positive sense of closure.

R.E.M. have never been as emotionally direct as they are on Automatic for the People, nor have they ever created music quite as rich and timeless, and while the record is not an easy listen, it is the most rewarding record in their oeuvre.

August 02, 2005

Great Albums # Devils& Dust : B Springsteen

Every decade or so, Bruce Springsteen releases a somber album of narrative songs, character sketches, and folk tunes -- records that play not like rock & roll, but rather as a collection of short stories. Nebraska, released in the fall of 1982 during the rise of Reagan's America, was the first of these, with the brooding The Ghost of Tom Joad following in 1995, in the thick of the Clinton administration but before the heady boom days of the late '90s.

At the midpoint of George W. Bush's administration, Springsteen released Devils & Dust, another collection of story songs that would seem on the surface to be a companion to Nebraska and Ghost, but in actuality is quite a different record than either.

While the characters that roam through Devils & Dust are similarly heartbroken, desperate, and downtrodden, they're far removed from the criminals and renegades of Nebraska, and the album doesn't have the political immediacy of Ghost's latter-day Woody Guthrie-styled tales -- themes that tied together those two albums.

Here, the songs and stories are loosely connected. Several are set in the West, some are despairing, some have signs of hope, a couple are even sweet and light. Springsteen's writing is similarly varied, occasionally hearkening back to the spare, dusty prose of Nebraska, but often it's densely composed, assured, and evocative, written as if the songs were meant to be read aloud, not sung.

But the key to Devils & Dust, and why it's his strongest record in a long time, is that the music is as vivid and varied as the words. Unlike the meditative, monochromatic The Ghost of Tom Joad, this has different shades of color, so somber epics like "The Hitter" or the sad, lonely "Reno" are balanced by the lighter "Long Time Comin'," "Maria's Bed," and "All I'm Thinkin' About," while the moodier "Black Cowboys" and "Devils & Dust" are enhanced by subtly cinematic productions.

It results in a record that's far removed in feel from the stark, haunting Nebraska, but on a song-for-song level, it's nearly as strong, since its stories linger in the imagination as long as the ones from that 1982 masterpiece (and they stick around longer than those from Ghost, as well). Devils & Dust is also concise and precisely constructed, two things the otherwise excellent 2002 comeback The Rising was not, and that sharp focus helps make this the leanest, artiest, and simply best Springsteen record in many years.

Review from AMG

Great Albums # Diamonds and Rust : Joan Baez

With the Vietnam War winding down, Joan Baez, who had devoted one side of her last album to her trip to Hanoi, delivered the kind of commercial album A&M Records must have wanted when it signed her three years earlier.

But she did it on her own terms, putting together a session band of contemporary jazz veterans like Larry Carlton, Wilton Felder, and Joe Sample, and mixing a wise selection from the work of current singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne and John Prine with pop covers of Stevie Wonder and the Allman Brothers Band, and an unusually high complement of her own writing.

A&M, no doubt recalling the success of her cover of the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," released her version of the Allmans' "Blue Sky" as a single, and it got halfway up the charts. But the real hit was the title track, a self-penned masterpiece on the singer's favorite subject, her relationship with Bob Dylan.

Outdoing the current crop of confessional singer/songwriters at soul baring, Baez sang to Dylan, reminiscing about her '60s love affair with him intensely, affectionately, and unsentimentally. It was her finest moment as a songwriter and one of her finest performances, period, and when A&M finally released it on 45, it made the Top 40, propelling the album to gold status.

But those who bought the disc for "Diamonds & Rust" also got to hear "Winds of the Old Days," in which Baez forgave Dylan for abandoning the protest movement, as well as the jazzy "Children and All That Jazz," a delightful song about motherhood, and the wordless vocals of "Dida," a duet with Joni Mitchell accompanied by Mitchell's backup band, Tom Scott and the L.A. Express. The cover songs were typically accomplished, making this the strongest album of Baez's post-folk career.

"Our breath comes out white clouds
Mingles and hangs in the air

Speaking strictly for me
We both could have died then and there
Now you're telling me You're not nostalgic
Then give me another word for it
You who are so good with words
And at keeping things vague
Because I need some of that vagueness now
It's all come back too clearly
Yes I loved you dearly
And if you're offering me diamonds and rust I've already paid"

Biography # Sandy Denny

She was an accomplished songwriter and a talented guitarist and pianist, but any discussion of the late Sandy Denny has to begin with her voice. It was quite an instrument - a pure, haunting sound. The ancient folk-songs she sang seemed to come naturally to it, as did the images of nature and seasons passing that filled her songwriting. "Late November" was one of her song titles, and there was something autumnal about her singing beneath the beauty, a bitter chill and a sense of things passing.This sense seems to have been always with her ; her best known song was called "Who Knows Where The Time Goes," and it was written when she was nineteen.

Before joining Fairport, Denny made a reputation in the British folk scene as part of the duo Sandy and Johnny, and, briefly, as the lead singer of the Strawbs. Fairport Convention established her as on of the brightest talents of British folk.

On leaving Fairport, she immediately formed her own band: Fotheringay, which featured guitarists Jerry Donahue and Trevor Lucas (later Denny's husband), bassist Pat Donaldson and drummer Gerry Conway.The group's one self-titled album is excellent, but the group disbanded within a year. As Donahue and Lucas went on to join Fairport Convention,

Denny struck out on a solo career, releasing two classic albums in short order. The North Star Grassmen and the Ravens and Sandy are as good as British folk-rock gets - Denny was at the top of her form as both singer and songwriter, and both albums benefit from some fine Richard Thompson guitar. Like an Old-Fashioned Waltz continues in this vein, and then Denny joined her husband in Fairport for one studio album (Rising For The Moon) and one live album (A Moveable Feast). Her final studio album, Rendezvous, didnt go down too well. In April 1978, Denny fell down a flight of stairs, and died days later of a cerebral hemorrage.

Her last concert on November 27, 1977 at the Royalty Theatre was later released as Gold Dust - Live At The Royalty. Further posthumous releases were the four cassettes and one CD, The Attic Tracks. Heyday is a collection of radio broadcasts. Live studio tracks recorded for the BBC from that time were later released on The BBC Sessions 1971-73.

Sandy Denny was insecure and often lacked belief in her own talent, but she is regarded as one of the UK's finest singer-songwriters and her work has grown in stature over the years. Her effortless, smooth vocal delivery still sets the standard for many of today's female folk-based singers.

Of those who knew her music best, Richard Thompson, with whom she collaborated for many years, was able to describer her best. "Sandy never showed off for the sake of it, it was all to the service of the song. I've not known a singer since with that much of a gift. She could incline to the obscure in her writing, but some of my all time favorite songs are hers, some of the best written since the war.


  1. Fotheringay (by Fotheringay), 1970
  2. The North Star Grassmen and the Ravens, 1971
  3. Sandy, 1972
  4. Like an Old-Fashioned Waltz, 1974
  5. Rendezvous, 1977
  6. The Original Sandy Denny (early recordings), 1978
  7. Who Knows Where The Time Goes (box set anthology), 1986
  8. Sandy Denny and the Strawbs (early recordings), 1991
  9. The Best of Sandy Denny, 1991
  10. The Attic Tracks, 1972-1984 (Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas), 1995
  11. Gold Dust - Live at the Royalty, 1998
  12. No More Sad Refrains - The Anthology, 2000
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Great Albums # Astral Weeks : Van Morrison

Astral Weeks was one of Van Morrison's first solo albums after he quit Them and it still stands as a great anomaly in his back catalogue. It's a staggering work, filled with a great, compassionate sorrow for the world that's cut with an ecstatic mysticism.

His lyrics are visionary and deeply sensual, garbled passages of word-sounds that convey more via their movement and phrasing than any straight reading ever could. His band are phenomenal, although rumours still persist that - due to the fact that Morrison couldn't be in the same room with any of them - they all overdubbed their parts later, the core of the songs being Morrison's solo guitar and vocal track. Either way, the arrangements are glorious.

There's a lightness of touch and a melodic freedom that's fairly jazzy, especially in guitarist Jay Berliner's quicksilver leads, an echo of his work with Mingus on The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady. The vibes, flute and soprano saxophone give the tracks an organic quality as they expand and contract like breath. The title track is a hallucinatory regression, via aerial views of heavy industry, visitations from dead bluesmen and resurrection through love, with Richard Davis' acoustic bass plotting little yelps of joy throughout. Still, Sweet Thing is the stand-out, with Morrison surrendered to love and vowing never to grow so old again. He was 23.

Review from AMG