Known Johnson

November 22, 2006

Overlooked Alternatives: The Beatles, Sufjan Stevens, John Wesley Harding, Tom Waits

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 5:33 am

So here we are, two days before Thanksgiving . . . it’s basically the end of the new-release year as we know it. A few things will trickle out here and there for the next month or so, but for all intents and purposes, the real meaty goods are done after this week. The labels have saved up their big guns for this week – the Beatles’ Love (see below,) U2’s third best-of album, etc. – because they know these are all things that people can buy in a fit of desperation for those hard-to-buy-for friends and relatives to make sure there’s just enough stuff or at least something under the tree on Christmas morning. In other words, this is my way of saying that Overlooked Alternatives will be taking a little break for a while until the new releases start to pick up again, most likely in mid-January. You may see a short piece or two if I spy anything interesting in coming weeks, but I’m just saying “don’t expect anything.” I believe King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp is attributed to saying this, and I don’t know if it’s originally his, but I like it and often say it from him when I mention it – “Expectation is a prison.” I’ve gotten good at applying that to music, at least, but it’s probably a good idea to try and apply it to life, in general.

The Beatles – Love: My usual disclaimer: not in the slightest overlooked or alternative, but I just felt like mentioning it. Sir George Martin and his son Giles compiled this remix or mash-up, whatever you want to call it, of Beatles classics, for the Las Vegas stage show of the album’s name. It’s not your daddy’s Beatles, that’s for sure – purists are throwing a fit this, perhaps the most controversial release in their catalog (and we all thought the Yellow Submarine Songtrack was controversial? Psshaw! That was nothing!)

I won’t say much here about how I feel because I will probably have a review coming in the next few days or so, but I will say this: if you don’t have a surround-sound system and don’t plan on getting one, don’t spend your money on the more expensive set with the DVD-audio disc because that’s all that’s on there. If you’re adventurous and don’t think the original Beatles material is untouchable, you might have something real enjoyable to dig into here.
Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas (Box Set): I know what you’re thinking, if you know Stevens: “More?” We just got a second album of Illinois-related material out of the guy this summer, after last summer’s Illinois, and here he is, back with a freakin’ box set?! Settle down – this isn’t brand new material. Sufjan has been creating Christmas-themed EPs for family and friends for a few years now and has finally decided to cull it all together because they’ve been floating around the internet as crappy mp3s. He’s made it worthwhile – the box includes a 42 page book with an essay by “acclaimed American novelist Ricky Moody,” a couple more essays, a sticker, chord charts, and other dorky fun crap like that. And a cheap price tag under $20 or so. In other words, if you like Sufjan, he’s done everything he could to make this an intriguing package so you’ll give up your naughty illicit mp3s. Make Santa happy, give him a reason not to put coal in your stocking this year.

John Wesley Harding – A Bloody Show (DVD): I’ve seen him called the British Elvis Costello and it makes sense – he’s an incredibly literate-sounding songwriter, peppering his songs with witty observations that would do the original Angry Young Man proud. Unfortunately, I honestly have very little to report on this DVD as there’s not much info out there to be found – it was shot at Bumbershoot in 2005 and it’s “with friends.” But I wanted to point it out because I like the guy’s music and I know there are others out there who do too.

Tom Waits – Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, & Bastards (Box Set): This is enticing: a three-disc set of rarities of all types from Waits’ long and varied career. Waits did one better than simply throwing together whatever ramshackle, haphazard rarities he had – if he didn’t like whatever shape they were in, he rerecorded the songs so they would best represent the material. Maybe some fans may have wanted to hear the originals, but those who simply want to hear the songs will probably be in for a real treat – rather than having to dig through hours of wavering audio quality, the set should flow like regular albums, made all the better because the discs are broken up with a rough style guide. The set’s already garnering rave reviews as not only a great box but one of Waits’ best outings – how many boxes of rarities do you read that about?



  1. Glad to see there’s other JWH fans out there! I’ve been listening to him since I first heard a subversive Armed Forces Radio DJ play “The Devil In Me” back in 1990. The Costello comparison is undeniable, but I hear a lot of Billy Bragg and Nick Lowe in his music too. If you ever get a chance to see him in concert, do so. He’s enormously entertaining on stage.

    Comment by Chris — November 22, 2006 @ 6:09 pm | Reply

  2. Chris, it was actually your frequent mentions of Harding that got me to check him out!

    Comment by Tom — November 22, 2006 @ 6:36 pm | Reply

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