Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best Albums of 2008

Music lives inside all of us and it’s terribly personal. You would be safer telling someone they have an ugly child instead of expressing your disdain for one of their favorite artists. One person’s trash is another treasure and there is often no rhyme or reason why we love certain songs and throw a cold shoulder at others.

It’s December and it’s that time of year again when we sharpen our pencils and attempt to break down the best in the year’s music. Many of my friends are forgoing Best Album lists in lieu of singles, which isn’t a bad idea but I still love the idea of an album and how it can tell you a thematic story. I will begin the list of singles for a future post.

I believe the following collections of songs below are cinematic in their scope revealing widescreen stories and harmonies that are best served in 45-minute installments. Now, as I look over my list, I’m surprised to see very mainstream titles. I listened to a lot of music in the last year and while certain songs and artists may have awoken an interest, their overall albums didn’t impress. What you will read below are albums that I listened to regularly and without interruption (for the most part) over the course of 2008. I paid no attention to what’s cool or hip, I merely broke down a few albums ( yes, I still call them albums) that spoke to my soul continually over the last twelve months. I can only hope that one of you find a couple treasures in the list below.

Fall Out Boy - Folie à Deux

I tried not to like this at first. The Chicago EMO band expands their boundaries on their least personal, but most daring record to date. Say what you want to about Fall Out Boy, but being this good isn’t easy and there’s a reason they stand atop the EMO mountain with their power-pop hooks and memorable ringers that should not be confined to any genre. Look no further than the soulful and sprinting “(Coffee’s For Closers)” with a wondrous guest vocal by Elvis Costello who surprisingly melds perfectly with their brand of ebullient power pop; that in itself speaks volumes.What the hell happened to Rock and Roll?

"I Don't Care"

The Rolling Stones - Shine A Light

After decades of releasing a slew of good (but not great) live albums (Stripped aside) the band delivers a document of why they are still the baddest and best rock band on the planet. The soundtrack to the Martin Scorsese film shines a light (pun intended) on old warhorses that still sound vital (“Jumpin’ Jack Flash”), a few forgotten gems (“Faraway Eyes” & “She Was Hot”) and a few unearthed gems with distinguished guests (“Champagne and Reefer” with Buddy Guy & “Loving Cup” with Jack White). Listening to this band in an intimate setting made me recognize just how damn good these guys are at what they do. Bands half of their age don’t sound this good.

"Promotional Trailer for Shine a Light"

The Fireman (Paul McCartney)-Electric Arguments

McCartney’s two previous Fireman recordings did not utilize his vocals, but this one finds McCartney pushing his boundaries like never before. Beneath Youth’s electrical tones is that voice that changed a generation. For an experimental record, this one oozes gorgeous melodies and beats that find harmony together. Macca should have released this under his own name as it deserves to be hear by many more than have heard it to date.

"Sing the Changes"


Showcasing a voice that could bring men and women to their knees pleading for mercy, Duffy doesn’t just deliver on arguably the single of the year, “Mercy”, but on the entire ten-song affair. Her voice crawls under your skin and won’t leave until you’ve given it at least a dozen chances. Evoking nostalgic soul, rock and blues, Duffy has created a record that will continue to grow for years to come and I have a feeling future releases will equally impress leaving us all begging for “Mercy”.


R.E.M. – Accelerate

What happens when rock writers and critics cry wolf one too many times? Ever since 1994’s Monster every R.E.M. record has been deemed a “return to form” and while the last fifteen years have had its share of highlights from R.E.M., all of their albums have had a alienating feeling where they are attempting to be something they are not. On Accelerate’s raucous opening of “Living Well Is the Best Revenge”, its immediately evident the monster is reborn. Over a brief and roaring 36-minutes, R.E.M. proves to be a lean and mean fighting machine as they wail back with vengeance. Accelerate is everything a R.E.M. record should be; rocking, revealing and resounding. It’s a shame that so many writers overshot the so-called return to form over the last fifteen-years and sadly most fans have heard this story one too many times and opted out of what truly is R.E.M.’s best post Automatic record. Instead of trying to be different for the sake of being different or forcing what they thought was their classic sound, they looked inward, became spontaneous and made a truly classic R.E.M record.

"Accellerate Album Preview"

The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound

Perhaps it was Chuck Berry who first successfully combined these disparate elements in a rock'n'roll song. He's been followed by the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bruce Springsteen, Social Distortion and the Hold Steady. Add the Gaslight Anthem to that distinctive list.

I'm just one of thousands who have fallen hard for the band this year. I was actually disappointed when I first heard "The '59 Sound" on commercial radio. I selfishly wanted the band to myself for a while; I'm angry that I hadn't discovered them a year or two ago. The New Jersey-based quartet is clearly the breakout rock act of 2008.

How could I resist "Miles Davis & the Cool"? In addition to the explicit reference of the title, the song alludes to Otis Redding, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello. The '59Sound is loaded with similarly memorable anthems.

"The '59 Sound"

The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

The Hold Steady’ are a band I only really got into with the success of their last album ‘Boys and Girls in America’ which was a fantastic showcase of their talents and great gateway that led me into more of their older stuff which is also fantastic. ‘Stay Positive’ their newest full length echoes the classic rock and roll sound of their earlier work but manages to stay fresh with some subtle and not so subtle changes, all in all it’s a fantastic album.

"Sequestered in Memphis" Live

Monday, December 29, 2008

Make Your Own Bacon

The holidays have been a crazy time but hopefully you and I are back in some sort of routine. I was traveling most of December so it has been difficult to update on a regular basis. It was great to get back home and spend the holidays with the family.

A quieter Christmas this year made everyone apprciate the holidays more, I think.

Anyway, I came across this over the break. Alton Brown has a recipe called Scrap Iron Chef's Bacon.

He made a cold smoker out of three book lockers/gym lockers, flexible tubing used for venting a dryer, a fan from an old computer connected to a battery, some alumimun foil, a cast iron skillet and some wood chips for smoke. He used a Polder digital thermometer to make sure the temperature was monitored. He advised not let the temp in the smoking chamber rise above 80 degrees. He is the MacGyver of food.

If you've never watched an Alton Brown episode of Good Eats, check it out some time on Food Network.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Rubber Soul Sessions

1: Run For Your Life - take 1 (Studio Sessions+A Day In The Life)
2: Run For Your Life - take 5 (from me you you+Arrive Without Aging)
3: This Bird Has Flown (Norwegian Wood) - take 1 (TMODM+More Masters)
4: Day Tripper - take 1 (Studio Sessions)
5: Day Tripper - take 2 (Studio Sessions)
6: Day Tripper - take 3 (Studio Sessions)
7: In My Life - take 3 organ overdub (from me to you)
8: We Can Work It Out - take 1 (Studio Sessions)
9: We Can Work It Out - take 2 (SS +Arrive Without Aging)
10: This Bird Has Flown (Norwegian Wood) - take 2 (Turn Me On Dead Man)
11: Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) - take 4 (URT 2 + More Masters)
12: In My Life - take 3 piano overdub, original speed (created from As It Happened, Baby!)
13: In My Life - take 3 piano overdub (As It Happened, Baby!)
14: Nowhere Man - take 3 (remixed from Yellow Submarine DVD)
15: I’m Looking Through You - take 1 (Ultra Rare Trax vol. 1)
16: We Can Work It Out - take 2 + overdubs (Studio Sessions)
17: 12 Bar Original - take 1 (Turn Me On Dead Man)
18: 12 Bar Original - take 2 (TMODM + Arrive Without Aging)
19: 12 Bar Original - rehearsal (Arrive Without Aging)
20: I’m Looking Through You - take 4 (Another Sessions Plus)
21: Girl - take 2 - instrumental monitor mix (Miscellaneous Tracks)
22: Think For Yourself - studio session (Miscellaneous Tracks 2005)

Alternate mixes:
23: This Bird Has Flown (Norwegian Wood) - take 1 (Another Sessions Plus)
24: Day Tripper - take 3 (As It Happened, Baby!)
25: In My Life - complete, with alternate solo (RS mono + from me to you)
26: I’m Looking Through You - take 1 (Anthology 2)
27: I’m Looking Through You - take 1 (Abbey Road Video Show)


Friday, December 12, 2008


Call me a little slow, but I just this morning heard (on CNN, of all places – not my usual source for music news) that Pearl Jam is planning on re-releasing their classic debut album, Ten, next year.

I verified the info with Pearl Jam’s Website, and also learned the re-release will contain a host of goodies to accompany the remastered disk: Among other items, you’ll get a DVD of a previously unreleased 1992 MTV Unplugged performance; an LP of the band’s 1992 “Drop in the Park” concert; and a replica of Pearl Jam’s three-song demo cassette with Eddie Vedder’s original vocal dubs. Pretty cool, huh?

The package will be issued in four expanded editions and will go on sale March 24, 2009. You can pre-order now if you’re a member of the Ten Club. The reissue of Ten serves as the launch of a planned two-year catalogue re-release campaign leading up to the band’s 20th anniversary in 2011.

Some Ten trivia, which you probably already know if you’re any sort of fan: Pearl Jam's original name was taken from the professional basketball player Mookie Blaylock. It was changed after the band signed to Epic Records, as record executives were concerned about intellectual property and naming rights following Blaylock's inking of an endorsement deal with Nike. In commemoration of the band's original name, the band titled its first album Ten after Blaylock's jersey number.

For tonight’s music, I pulled a few tracks from a recording of the Nov. 30, 1993, show at the Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas, Nev. In keeping with the theme of the Ten re-release, I’m just posting the tracks from that album. I’ve had this recording forever, so I’m not sure of the source. Nonetheless, the sound is really good. And you’ve gotta check this version of “Black.” Incredible.

Even Flow.mp3

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Billy Joel: Long Island University 1977

This is a fine Billy Joel concert, performance and sound quality-wise. You really get a feeling of comfort and appreciation in the venue and from the audience. The text file that came with the source recording claims it may be a preFM recording, which is certainly the most probable suggestion, henceforth, I listed it as such.
There is a wealth of low end on this recording, which is typical of a preFM source. Unfortunately, it is a little distracting and buries the vocals and other mid-high frequency elements somewhat. I have drastically altered the low-mid range frequency response of the recording and re-balanced the channels which were not in sync with each other. The recording now sounds bright and clear and ultimately, in my opinion, better. This one is for even the casual Billy Joel fan like myself, enjoy!

1. Miami 2017
2. Somewhere Along the Line
3. Summer, Highland Falls
4. Piano Man
5. Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
6. James
7. Angry Young Man
8. New York State of Mind
9. Traveling Prayer
10. Traveling Prayer cont.
11. Just the Way You Are
12. The Entertainer
13. You Are My Home

Disc 2
1. Root Beer Rag
2. She's Got A Way
3. The Ballad Of Billy The Kid
4. I’ve Loved These Days
5. Captain Jack
6. Worse Comes to Worse
7. Ain’t No Crime
8. Say Goodbye to Hollywood
9. Weekend Song
10. Souvenir

TOTAL RUNTIME: 1hr 44mins 9 secs


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Chinese Democracy

It’s a brave blogger who’s gonna post anything from 'Chinese Democracy'.

Or a stupid one.

But being neither of those things myself, I’m afraid you’re not going to find any Guns N Roses here. I couldn’t however let the release of Axl’s magnum opus pass without a few words.

So how do you sum up an album 17 years in the making? With so much expectation, and so many stories around it’s creation, is it even possible to listen to this record with an open mind? And how do you go about overcoming your assumptions and preconceptions? Well, how about we don’t? How about we just attack them head on, full in the face?!

‘Chinese Democracy’ is everything you’d expect it to be. It’s overblown. Overlong. Faintly ridiculous. Desperately bombastic. Pompous. The work of an ego running riot. And there’s so much going on here, you can almost hear the money pouring through the studio as guitar solo upon guitar solo chunders past you. Some sounding so incidental to what is happening in the rest of the song, it sounds like someone’s in the next room masterbating furiously on their Fender. But above all, ‘Chinese Democracy’ is epic in every single positive and negative sense of the word. Yet despite all that, or maybe even because of it, it’s also actually pretty good.

But lets not kid ourselves here. It’s not worth a 17 year wait. No record is. No band is. But the strange thing is, you can almost hear 17 years worth of recording in there. Such are the influences and sounds, you could probably take an accurate guess at which songs were written and recorded when. In fact because of that, it kind of hangs together like a greatest hits compilation. Albeit unreleased, unheard hits. I haven’t read enough about each song’s creation but it kind of feels like Axl picked a couple of tracks from about five different versions of the record and stapled them together.

Opening tracks ‘Chinese Democracy’ and ‘Shackler’s Revenge’ have a Marilyn Manson industrial rock type feel to them. With added guitar noodling. Third track ‘Better’ is a mid paced rocker that sounds like classic Guns N Roses that gets a bit heavy before going back to mid paced again. With added guitar twiddling. From there, we take in rock balladeering, trip hop beats, sweeping strings, thundering rockers, slow proggy numbers and a Martin Lurther King speech that rather crudely and a tad worryingly seems to be compared with the record's gestation. Oh and yep, you guessed it, more and more added guitar wankery. All overseen by so many versions of Axl’s voice that at times the record starts to feel a bit like that scene in the last Pirates Of the Caribbean film where there are a never ending supply of Depps, all seemingly the real one. His voice flicking between squealing yelp to weathered harbinger of rock and every variation in between. Occasionally at the same time.

But the most telling track for me is ‘Sorry’. A song which could equally be about a spurned lover as it could be the media, the fans, his ex bandmates or even Axl himself. A mini rock opera that is both grandiose and surprisingly touching. It is one of the many parts of this record that suggest Axl may have actually spent 17 years on this record, not because his ego exploded, but because he truly wanted to craft an amazing record. His obsession may have soured but his intentions were admirable. That he hasn’t been wholly successful, is neither here nor there. In reality’ ‘Chinese Democracy’ may not be as good as it should be, but it’s a better record than it has any right to be. With added guitar solos.

Video: Bruce Springsteen - “My Lucky Day”

Just when I am about to close the book on Bruce, he pulls a song together like this. It's very difficult to argue about how good this is. There’s been a somewhat steady stream of info coming in lately about the upcoming Bruce Springsteen record, Working On A Dream. While we have to wait until the beginning of next year for the physical release, we can enjoy the video above of “My Lucky Day.” Additionally, the title track, “Working On A Dream,” is currently available for purchase on iTunes. My rant from yesterday has subsided.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bruce Springsteen Officially "Jumps The Shark" With His NFL Partnership

Bruce Springsteen fans are shuddering in their shoes today as the world premiere of his latest single, "Working On A Dream" was premiered during Sunday Night Football and well, it may have been Bruce's ultimate "Jump The Shark" moment. There have been numerous moments in the past where we all thought Springsteen's holier than thou legacy was tarnished, but this is where the question is no longer a question but a fact. The song is a clichéd song that sounds as if it was written by a five-year old. One friend wrote to me and said it sounded like a Bon Jovi tune and I felt the person was off base, because I can't think of anything Bon Jovi has recently done that is as cringe inducing as this ("Bells of Freedom" comes to mind, but at least I give the Bon man credit for at least trying to be genuine). Even though I am sure Springsteen is optimistic of the change in the White House, I largely feel he missed the boat here. Regardless of change, the world is failing and at its feet in ways no one has seen before. In a time where unemployment is rampant, I need more than someone to tell me they're "working on a dream", I need them to tell me that the world is one messed up place I need my artists to bleed with me; I need them to tell me that there's a reason to believe and that it ain't no sin to be alive.

I have seen Bruce Springsteen in concert more than any other performer and his career is storied, but as the years go on, I am starting to feel as if he no longer has his hand on the pulse of the nation. This is a man performing at multi-thousand dollar fund raisers for big-whigs and the cost of these shows are an impossible ticket for his average fan (the average price with service fee's is over $80). There was a time where Springsteen understood his fans and their struggles. I no longer feel as of he does. In truth, with rare exceptions, most of Springsteen's work for the last fifteen-years has come from a distant third-person perspective. While he embodied a third-person storytelling early in his career, I always felt that those stories and struggles were coming from first hand experiences. How many hardships can a man have who makes around $100-million per tour? The less he reveals about himself, the less interesting his music gets. The last time he laid it all on the time was on the much misunderstood Lucky Town from 1992 and since then, only in certain songs has he really let us inside. I'm all for penning an optimistic and cheery tune, but in a world where there is mass confusion and chaos, this is the best Springsteen can come up with?

For years, Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh has ridiculed bands that went down these routes and deemed them as "sell-outs", ditto Springsteen's manager Jon Landau. They embody a holier than thou attitude and how they could be willing to allow their golden child to stoop to these levels. They have often maligned other acts that do such things and none of them have been as embarrassing as this one. It's hard to believe that Springsteen is actually co-opting his art with the NFL. This is something he has spent decades trying to avoid, but apparently he no longer can. In late 2005, Springsteen re-upped with Sony for a $100-million contract, a deal which brought a large amount of head-scratching throughout the industry. He hasn't had an album sell more than four-million copies in the last twenty-years (and it was a Greatest Hits disc). When U2 and Prince did the Super Bowl, it was entirely about the music. In U2's case, it was about healing in a post 9/11 world. I sat there and watch the Irish Band evoke pure passion, emotion and empathy through the television set. A near impossible feat considering their mega-status but they pulled it off. Bruce is co-opting his image, his music and his latest release with the NFL. This is something I would expect out of Bon Jovi (who is a self-proclaimed football fan), not Bruce Springsteen. This most likely is coming at the urging of Sony whom he sold his soul to. His last record, Magic only managed to shift two-million copies worldwide. Not an impressive number at all. The music industries rules have changed and instead of coming up with inventive new ways to market his music, Springsteen and his management have taken the easy way out by partnering with the NFL. This is a sad state of affairs for an artist who once stood for the little man and was against using his music on a poorly edited football reel. Apparently the multi-millions in his bank account have blinded him. How much success and money does one man need? Shouldn't the music be enough?

My only question is - can an appearance on American Idol be next?

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