Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Kasey Anderson’s Heart of a Dog Has Lyrical Bite

Kasey Anderson’s most recent album, Nowhere Nights was one of the best of 2010. The “nowhere nights” theme continues on his new one Heart of a Dog, except with the guitars turned all the way up, pretty much all the way through. Steve Earle is still the obvious comparison – if you’ve ever heard Earle play Nirvana, that comes closer to describing what this sounds like. It’s lyrical rock: Anderson still scours the fringes with a merciless eye for detail and an ear for a catchy, purist guitar hook. His monster band the Honkies includes Andrew KcKeag on lead guitar plus Eric Corson (of the Long Winters) on bass and former Posie Mike Musburger on some of the most effectively loud rock drums in recent memory.

These songs are dark. The album gets off to a great start with The Wrong Light, a big crunchy bluesmetal number that works a Born Under a Bad Sign vibe, thematically if not tunewise. “I got a handful of powder and a wicked grin, open your eyes and let the wrong light in,” Anderson entices in a leering stage whisper. It’s the first of several launching pads for some searing, bluesy lead work by McKeag, who delivers a mean late 70s Ron Wood impression with a slide on the cynical, Stonesy rocker Mercy. Building from an ominous piano intro to a big anthem, Exit Ghost is a grim, completely unromanticized girlfriend-lost-to-drugs story. Your Side of Town might be the predecessor to that one, a bitter kiss-off anthem:

You kept my pockets empty, I was keeping my eyes wide
You were dealing pride and envy, I got my other fix on the side

Another big, fast Stonesy tune, Sirens & Thunder is cynical, but with an unrepentant smirk: the time with that girl may have been crazy and ultimately it might have been hell, but some of the craziest parts were a lot of fun. Kasey Anderson’s Dream offers a considerably louder apocalyptic garage rock update on Bob Dylan’s Honest with You, namechecking Sharon Jones and staring straight into the future: “You want a brave new world, well that can be arranged – the ship’s still sinking but the captain’s changed.” The rest of the tracks include more doomed Dylanesque imagery in Revisionist History Blues; the crushing lucidity of a hangover unfolding in the slow, brooding For Anyone; some delicious organ and accordion work in another regretful ballad, My Blues, My Love; the fast, Springsteenish My Baby’s a Wrecking Ball, and a blazing backbeat cover of the 1983 English Beat frathouse anthem Save It for Later that blows away the original. Pop a Mickey’s Big Mouth and crank this.

March 11, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kenneth Bowser’s Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune Does Justice to a Legendary Cult Songwriter

For those who haven’t already discovered him, Phil Ochs was arguably the greatest rock songwriter of the 1960s. Ochs cut his teeth in the West Village folk movement in the early part of the decade alongside Bob Dylan, a friend in their early days who would become something of a competitor. A legendary party animal, rakishly handsome and considerably talented multi-instrumentalist proficient on guitar, clarinet and piano, Ochs grew from a wryly witty singer of stinging topical songs, to become one of the most devastatingly powerful lyricists in the history of rock. But where Dylan found rock and roll, Ochs followed his muse into classical before embarking somewhat frantically on a rock career most notable for his 1969 album Rehearsals for Retirement, probably the most resonant requiem ever written for the idealism of the 60s. With its cover image of Ochs’ tombstone, it left no doubt that it was also a somewhat early suicide note. Kenneth Bowser, producer of the acclaimed Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, has a poignant, insightful new documentary out, Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune, a rapidfire collage of period footage, brief snippets of live performances and interviews with colleagues and fans which traces Ochs’ career from his early coffehouse days to his 1975 suicide. It’s currently playing in New York at the IFC Center at Sixth Ave. and West Third St.

Singer Judy Henske, who comes across the most articulately of all of Ochs’ contemporaries, explains that he “made people nervous.” Ochs’ brother Michael (whose halfhearted decision to manage his brother springboarded a successful career as a music executive and archivist) and sister Sunny dredge up some cringe-inducing childhood anecdotes including a candid assessment of the mental illness that had plagued their father, and which their brother probably shared. His plunge into chronic alcoholism may have only exacerbated what seems to be a pretty clear-cut case of manic depression. Bowser follows the theory that Ochs saw himself as an archetypical everyman who took every attack on his fellow freedom fighters personally, and substantiates it well. Ochs is credited with changing Bobby Kennedy’s views on Vietnam on a flight from Washington, DC to New York by playing him his epic JFK requiem Crucifixion, and took Kennedy’s assassination, just a few months later, very hard. The police brutality against protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, followed by the Kent State murders left Ochs at a loss as to how to address them; a particularly crushing blow seems to have been the coldblooded assassination of his friend the Chilean folksinger Victor Jara by a CIA-sponsored death squad in 1972. There’s almost as much footage of Ochs toward the end of his career is there is for his early years, and it is heartbreaking. A brief recovery promoting a benefit concert for Chile, alongside Dylan – who otherwise is conspicuously absent here – is followed by some cruelly vivid homemade footage of Ochs in various inebriated states shortly before the end. While there are numerous contributions on Ochs’ legacy from the likes of Sean Penn and Billy Bragg, Bowser also smartly puts Ochs’ producers Jac Holzman and Larry Marks on screen, who along with A&M Records’ co-founder Jerry Moss offer considerable insight into Ochs’ legacy as someone who was something of an eminence grise before his time. Perhaps the most telling moment of all is when frequent Ochs collaborator and pianist Lincoln Mayorga, playing completely from memory, rips into the ragtime of Outside of a Small Circle of Friends, the uncharacteristically lighthearted 1967 song (and Dr. Demento staple) that remains, somewhat ironically, Ochs’ best-known composition. IFC showtimes are here.

January 11, 2011 Posted by | Film, folk music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 12/20/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #771:

Buddy & Julie Miller’s first album

The breakout album by these husband-and-wife Americana music veterans. She writes the songs and sings them; he plays them. Buddy Miller flew pretty much under the radar until he became Emmylou Harris’ lead guitarist in the 90s, and then the cat was out of the bag. With dazzling bluegrass speed matched to an eerie, sometimes macabre chromatic edge, Buddy Miller draws a lot of Richard Thompson comparisons, which is apt. It only makes sense that the duo and their band would open their first album together, from 2001, with a viscerally wounded, alienated version of Thompson’s Keep Your Distance. There’s also an almost unrecognizable, smartly reinvigorated version of the 1971 Dylan song Wallflower, along with a hardscrabble cover of Bruce “Utah” Phillips’ Rock Salt and Nails. The originals here run from wistful – the sad oldtimey waltz Forever Has Come to an End, That’s Just How She Cries and the unselfconsciously gorgeous, rustic Holding Up the Sky – to upbeat and oldschool, as with Little Darlin’ and The River’s Gonna Run. Miller reminds how good he is at ferocious electric rock on You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast. Julie’s vocals are understatedly plaintive and fetching; if you ever get the chance to see these two live, they put on a hell of a show. Here’s a random torrent.

December 20, 2010 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Excellent New Anthology of Dylan Original Mono Recordings Just Out

Studies have shown that a majority of listeners actually prefer the sound of an mp3 to higher-quality recording technology. Which on one level shouldn’t come as a surprise. Stereo never became popular on a mass scale until about 1970, and people listened on tinny transistor radios for a good ten years after that. Mp3s also mask the ineptitude of indie rock musicianship as well as the robotic cheesiness of the last decade’s worth of corporate pop. But for the dedicated minority who prefer the richness and warmth of vinyl, is there a market for an audiophile mp3? That’s what Sony is offering, in essence, on their new Bob Dylan compilation, The Best of the Original Mono Recordings. A listen through the album confirms the quality of the mixes. Many of the songs here are also available on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, a platinum album with pretty much zero collector value available for five bucks or less at just about any used vinyl store, and for serious audiophiles, that’s the way to go. But for those without a turntable, this is a remarkably successful facsimile. To sweeten the deal, there are some alternate takes here with revealing little touches that Dylan fanatics won’t be able to resist. Song to Woody showcases some surprisingly adept fingerpicking: hearing a 1963 Dylan sing about a world that “looks like it’s a-dying and it’s hardly been born” is a real eye-opener.

A solo acoustic take of Blowin’ in the Wind has some strikingly flinty vocals – he probably never sang it better than he does here; a solo version of Chimes of Freedom, with extra verses and a lot of alternate lyrics, is absolutely fascinating. Bruce Langhorne’s masterfully fingerpicked electric lead guitar highlights a beautiful alternate arrangement of Mr. Tambourine Man, and while nothing beats the warmth of the vinyl recording of the opening guitar chord of Like a Rolling Stone, this one’s awfully close.

These reissues also offer a vivid reminder of how brilliantly Tom Wilson and Bob Johnston mixed the electric Dylan. The balance of the instruments on the full-band cuts here stays impressively true to the fidelity of the originals; the few obvious sonic modifications, such as goosing the bass a bit on Tombstone Blues and I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, are welcome to the point where anyone hearing this for the first time might even prefer these versions.

Beyond the sonics, it goes without saying that so many of these tracks – album takes of The Times They Are A-Changing, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Positively 4th St. and I Want You – are genuine classics, songs that deserve every bit of their iconic status. And the rest of the cuts – Rainy Day Women, Just Like a Woman, and All Along the Watchtower – are solid choices to round out the album. Along with the previously unreleased Witmark Sessions collection – which we haven’t gotten around to here yet – this is a smart blend of archival research and sonic excellence. It’s up at itunes and all the usual places.

November 1, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/21/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #831:

The Wallflowers’ first album

While this list is devoted to brilliant obscurities, we also aim to include albums that are underrated, and this is a classic case. Jakob Dylan has always been a magnet for haters, not only because he writes so much like his famous dad, but because of the perception that his dad got him the record deal along with everything that came before and after. But his dad didn’t call up and ask us to put this album on this list: it earned this spot on its own merits. Fact of the matter is that the kid is a chip off the old block, in the best possible way: and not only is he a way better singer, he’s actually a very soulful one. And a sharp, sardonic lyricist, and a first-rate tunesmith…just like his dad. This one dates from 1992, when Jakob refused to answer interview questions about the old man, and seemed especially determined to avoid the inevitable comparisons: the weight of the family legacy seems to have spurred him to take his game to the highest level. The radio hit (the one thing that money bought here, in this case major label payola) was Shy of the Moon, which was sleepy on the album but really rocked out live. There’s also the seductively catchy, sly Sugarfoot; the vintage Springsteen-ish Sidewalk Annie; the individualist anthem Be Your Own Girl; the lyrical folk-rocker Asleep at the Wheel; the brooding, intense Another One in the Dark; the snide, scathingly epic Hollywood (a repudiation of any past that might come back to haunt him, it seems) and the absolutely vicious, towering Somebody Else’s Money. Behind him, the band play smart, edgy, blues and Americana-flavored rock, anchored by Ramee Jaffee’s fluid Hammond organ and Tobi Miller’s incisive lead guitar. Although the Wallflowers would do other good songs (the classic Sixth Avenue Heartache) and good albums (the vastly underrated Breach and Red Letter Days), they’d never string as many good ones together as they did here. Here’s a random torrent.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/25/10

Our daily best 666 songs of alltime countdown is almost done. And when it’s over we’ll start with the 1000 best albums. Sunday’s song is #4

Bob Dylan – Idiot Wind

Probably the most vengeful kiss-off song ever written. And as a good a candidate as any for best rock lyric ever:

You hurt the ones that I love best, and cover up the truth with lies
One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes
Blood on your saddle

Idiot wind, blowing through the flowers on your tomb
Blowing through the curtains in your room
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe

That’s Dylan on the organ by the way. It’s on Blood on the Tracks, from 1975. The link above is a live take from a year later.

July 25, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/30/10

Less than a month til our best 666 songs of alltime countdown reaches #1! Wednesday’s song is #29:

Bob Dylan – Tangled Up in Blue

Requiem for the hopes and dreams of the 60s disguised as a requiem for a relationship? Or vice versa?

All the people we used to know, they’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
I don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they do with their lives

From Blood on the Tracks, 1974.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/28/10

Every day for the next month, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #31:

Bob Dylan – Desolation Row

Righteously wrathful, snidely sarcastic, lyrically luscious anti-trendoid rant that does double duty as a passionate defense of true art battling with the other kind. So many killer phrases in this that it’s impossible to list them all. From Highway 61 Revisited, 1967.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/23/10

Every day, for a little more than a month, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #36:

Bob Dylan – Lily, Rosemary & the Jack of Hearts

Symbolically charged nine-minute epic, a murder mystery that ends on a bitter, cynical note like much of the rest of Blood on the Tracks. Reputedly Dylan played it live once and then gave up on it; New York rockers Mary Lee’s Corvette (whose live version of the complete Blood on the Tracks album is better than the original) managed to pull this one off several times: who knows when they might again.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/8/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Thursday’s song is #112:

Bob Dylan – When the Ship Comes In

Revenge has seldom sounded more sweet than it does here: “And they’ll piss themselves and squeal, when they know that it’s for real, the hour that the ship comes in.” From The Times They Are A-Changing, 1964 – why haven’t more bands covered this one?

April 7, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment