Monday, October 31, 2011

Elvis Costello and...Elmo! Happy Haloween

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Folkie Heaven: Slaid Cleaves and Red Horse, featuring Eliza Gilkyson, John Gorka and Lucy Kaplansky

Joel and I went to a pair of shows this week. On Wednesday, we went to the Tin Angel to see one of our favorites, Slaid Cleaves. He's out playing behind his new live album, "Sorrow and Smoke."

Then Sunday evening, we went to World cafe to see Red Horse, a trio comprised of John Gorka, Eliza Gilkyson and Lucy Kaplansky. While I was familair with John and Eliza's work, I was not so versed in Lucy's. Came away a new fan, with a handful of CD's. Enjoy the pictures.








Friday, October 28, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Flaming Lips "Hit To Death in The Future Head"

Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Landing somewhere in the middle of The Flaming Lips' catalog is "Hit To Death In The Future Head," which has long felt like a transitional album in their continual chameleon-like career. The shift seems to be in a move away from the acidic psychedelia into psychedelic Beach Boys. Kinda like goodbye Sonic Youth, hello Beatles' White Album. This most easily found as the lazy roll of "The Sun" or the peppier, undeniably catchy "Gingerale Afternoon." Wayne Coyne is also exploring the possibilities of his singing voice; this is the first Lips CD where his singing really shines all they way through.

It may be also worth noting that "Hit" was the last Lips album to feature guitarist Jonathan Donahue and drummer Nathan Roberts were aboard. Donahue contributes plenty of guitar freakouts, like on "Frogs" and "The Magician Versus The Headache," along with all the whacked out sounds mixed into the CD's half-hour "bonus" track of cacophony. (Shades of 1997's Zaireeka, anyone?) There are plenty of epic moments to be found here, but the follow-up album was the powerful "Transmissions From The Satellite Heart," the Lips' artistic and commercial breakthrough. As such, "Hit" is a cool listen, but not the place to start of you want to discover why Flaming Lips can be such a magic band.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Queen "Queen II - 40th Anniversary Edition"

Ascending to the throne
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The difference between Queen and Queen II is really nothing short of amazing. While the first album was a pretty auspicious debut from a nervy prog-rock band, the second album comes off as a band thoroughly settled into its own personality and letting every idea flow free to the recording studio tapeheads. While not completely rid of seventies prog-cliches, this semi-conceptualized album set Queen apart from the pack.

Queen split the original album into a white and black half, with the white half dealing with the regal issues ("Procession" "White Queen As It Began") and the black being the harder rocking ("Ogre Battle" "March of The Black Queen"). You also get a clearer picture of the band's blueprint for extravagance (the really heavy vocal arrangements) along with Brian May's unique guitar sound. Freddie Mercury is already pushing the classical/theatrical piano playing to the front of the band, and once again, Mercury, May and drummer Roger Taylor vary the lead vocal chores.

Still, Queen II had yet to buck the Medieval themes (castles, ogres and - heh heh - fairy fellers put in their appearance all), but the band's assertive musicianship made this a solid album. An interesting thing about this album is that it had no real `hit' songs or Queen classics, but it - in my opinion - was the Queen album that had the best song-flow overall. The following Sheer Heart Attack would finally break Queen in the USA with a hit single, but "Queen II" was Queen's proclamation that they were prepped and ready for world domination.

Also in the amazing dept is the remastering. The intro to "White Queen" is enough to give you chills in its newer, cleaner form, a hugs step up from the 1991 issue. The bonus tracks are also beginning to get interesting, as the band built its catalog, the songs were getting more complex and their live show was gelling into the extravagance they'd soon be notorious for.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: "The Best of Times," An All-star Texas Tribute to Sara Hickman

When I See You Down, 
I Wanna Pick You Up
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Regular readers of my reviews or blog probably already know that Sara Hickman is not only one of my favorite singer songwriters, but someone I feel is also a friend and an inspiration. I've seen her perform multiple times, she even thanked me on her second album. Naturally, I'm predisposed to just about anything she gets together. "The Best of Times," an all-star Texas Tribute to her songs and a charity project for the Theater Action Project (a Texas educational charity for children in the performing arts), was something I just had to have. It's even better than I expected.

While the album is a double disc mash-up of styles and artists, Sara's immense skill as a writer now can be seem as something that crosses all styles. Several of the musicians/performers are ones you'll recognize if you're not necessarily a follower of all things Lone Star, like Shawn Colvin, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, Darden Smith, Brave Combo or Charlie Sexton, and some that deserve more, like the soulful treatment Ray Von Foster gives to "Give It Every Little Thing You've Got" and the same with LZ Love's version of "I Couldn't Help Myself" (which may have been Sara's closest thing to a hit.

I'll admit to my personal favorites at this point, which are Edie Brickell's version of "Shadowboxing," The Flatlanders' "Comfort's Sigh," "Under The Sycamore Tree" by Robert Earl Keen and the title song jointly performed by Trish Murphy and Charlie Sexton. But no matter how hard anyone tries, they all have to stand aside to Willie Nelson. Willie takes what has always been my absolute favorite Sara love song, "Simply," and turns it into classic Willie. If there was justice to be had in this world, his new version of "Simply" would be topping the country charts, giving Willie a third, fourth or maybe fifth career resurrection, and make "Simply" the wedding standard it has always deserved to be. Yes, Willie's version really is that magnificent.

In my estimation, so is Sara. This album came about because Sara was named "State Musician of Texas," an honor previously bestowed on the likes of Willie and Lyle Lovett. She is using her time with this title to help raise awareness of the need for arts in the Texas educational system, and 100% of the proceeds of this album are going to the aforementioned TAP charity. It's all star music from some all star Texans, performing the music of a woman who - in my eyes anyway - has always been a star. "The Best of Times" should be your gateway into some of Sara's best albums. Please support this effort.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Nsync "Greatest Hits"

The Boys in The Band
3 Out Of 5 Stars

As the other half of the 90's Boy Band mania, NSYNC battle with the Backstreet Boys for most unavoidable presence on the radio. For three albums plus a holiday release, NSYNC at one point sold the most albums ever in a first week of release ("No Strings Attached") and ultimately gave us the lone solo star from the 90's boy band movement in Justin Timberlake. This collection culls 12 songs from their 3 studio albums, one of them remixed ("Girlfriend"). And like most family-safe pop, the formula is standard. Whitebread Hip-Hop along with heavily harmonized ballads. They'd also add a little Latin Flair ("Girlfriend" and "Thinking of You").

Like so many constructed bands, they also counted on a slew of super-producers Max Martin, The Neptunes, and more, although Timberlake soon bagan exerting his desire for writing and producing (on "Celebrity"). JC Chesez was also writing, but it was getting obvious who the breakout was soon going to be (the cover of "Celebrity" had the rest of the band walking behind Timberlake). Granted, this is fluffy stuff, but at its best, like the driving "Bye Bye Bye" or the jittery "Pop," Nsync is peanut butter of the ears. Probably most effective is when they took one more shot at maturity when they teamed up with Gloria Estefan for the title song in the film, "Music of My Heart."

Timberlake bolted after the third studio album, other former Mousekateer singer JC Chasez attempted a solo career but has not done much, Lance Bass came out of the closet, Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick are trying their hands at acting. Other than Timberlake, you probably have not heard much about the rest of the team.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Tori Amos "Night Of Hunters"

Oh my goodness, Tori has become Kate Bush
4 Out Of 5 Stars

When listening to Tori Amos' new album, "Night of Hunters," it is helpful to remember that Tori was a conservatory trained musician. And she's always loved to conceptualize her music; starting with "Boys For Pele" in 1996. So it shouldn't come as a suprise that when the classical recording label Deutsche Grammophon offered her a commission to write a song cycle based on classical works, she jumped at it. "Night Of Hunters," which chronicles a woman dealing with the end of a relationship, is an excellent summation of Tori's talents as both musician and composer.

Back when I first received a copy of "Y Kant Tori Read," I remember telling friends I thought Tori was going to be the American Kate Bush. "Little Earthquakes" solidified that opinion for me, but I never thought Tori went all the way into Kate's musical extravagance until this album. Much of "Hunter" recalls Bush's "Aerial," especially the "Sky Full of Honey" suite that is that album's second disc. Filled with lush romantic orchestration and Tori's usual literate lyrics, "Hunter" contains emotional tensions that Tori last explored on "Scarlett's Walk" in 2002.

In the same vein as "Scarlett's Walk" and its themes of a journey through womanhood, "Hunter" takes a particular moment of womanhood and tries to dissect it. As well as a difficult one. Tori needed a foil to try and help her character deal with the loss of love and image, for which we are introduced to her daughter Natasha as "Annabelle The Fox." But what "Hunter" does not do is bow to pop conventions. This is strictly a classical record and there aren't nods to hip-hop (as they did on "Abnormally Attracted to Sin's" opener, "Give") or standard pop instrumentation.

Indeed, only "Cactus Practice" or "Carry" contain what one would conventionally call a 'hook,' and when Tori and her daughter trade lines on "Job's Coffin," you might be slightly tempted to attempt singing along. But to return to my earlier Kate Bush analogy, "Night Of Hunters" is not an easy listen as much as it is an unfolding one. It's also a strong return to the Tori that amazed us 20 years ago on "Little Earthquakes."

Thanks to Amazon reviewer T.Fisher: here are the sources for Tori's songs on "Night Of The Hunter."

1. Shattering Sea (Alkan: Song of the Madwoman on the Sea-Shore, Prelude op. 31 no. 8)
2. SnowBlind (Granados: AƱoranza - from 6 Pieces on Spanish Folksongs)
3. Battle of Trees (Satie: Gnossienne no. 1)
4. Fearlessness (Granados: Orientale from 12 Spanish Dances)
5. Cactus Practice (Chopin: Nocturne op. 9 no. 1)
6. Star Whisperer (Schubert: Andantino from Piano Sonata in A major D 959)
7. Job's Coffin (Inspired by the next song, Nautical Twilight)
8. Nautical Twilight (Mendelssohn: Venetian Boat Song from Songs Without Words op. 30)
9. Your Ghost (Schumann: Theme and Variations in E flat major WoO 24 from Ghost Variations)
10. Edge of the Moon (Bach: Siciliano from Flute Sonata BWV 1031)
11. The Chase (Mussorgsky: The Old Castle from Pictures at an Exhibition)
12. Night of Hunters (Scarlatti: Sonata in F minor, K.466 and the Gregorian Chant "Salva Regina")
13. Seven Sisters (Bach: Prelude in C minor)
14. Carry (Debussy: The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, from Preludes I)