Known Johnson

January 29, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: Iron Maiden, Pain Of Salvation, “Me”

Filed under: General — Tom @ 8:41 pm

Iron Maiden – Death On The Road (DVD): Finally this thing sees the light of day in the US. Initially proposed to be released last February, then pulled at the last minute due to some kind of catastrophic pressing errors on the discs, we Maiden fans who wanted this thing waited and waited, patiently enduring month after silent month of absolutely no word at all. At times, it seemed as if Death On The Road wasn’t going to materialize at all. Well, here it is now, and it looks like it’s legit this time – you may actually get your hands on this thing for reals. And what is it? Well, for starters, it’s three DVDs – the first two being the same 16 songs found on the CD release from fall of 2005 (one disc being stereo, the other being surround, as I understand it,) and the other disc filled with all kinds of extras – a 75 minute documentary featuring interviews with the band, crew, and management about the previous studio album and tour, a 45 minute documentary about the tour itself, another documentary, 30 minutes long, about the fans, and the two music videos shot for Dance Of Death as well as a bunch of promo photos and other things like that. For basically the price of one normal DVD, this is a steal – and it should work without problems this time around.

Pain Of Salvation – Scarsick: The band I consider to be the modern masters of the concept album are back with, of course, another concept album – because that’s all they record. Some have speculated that Scarsick is the long-awaited follow-up to 2000’s The Perfect Element I, but I’m not so quick to believe that – I’m guessing they’d name it so if it truly were a sequel. I think we’re left waiting a bit longer for that. Equally unknown is if they’re going to retain their place at the top of the conceptual-music mountain, having really dropped the ball in this listener’s eyes with the mess that was Be and the dreary and boring 12:5 live album (yes, they even manage to turn live albums into concept albums by recasting their previous songs in new incarnations – and it didn’t work, either.) For me, I prefer to look at Be as an unfortunate experiment, one that I’ve gladly forgotten and moved on from. I’m looking to Scarsick to be another challenging and weird metal album that demands that I listen to it from many different angles like their previous albums have – and that it will reward me like the others have with years of enjoyment in exchange.

Tom Johnson – Music For 88: I apparently wrote some avant-garde pieces that attempt to explain the relationship between music and mathematics, and it’s finally being re-released today. This is a good thing because I don’t remember a thing about this album, so a refresher is definitely in order.

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January 28, 2007

Bill Frisell – Rambler

Filed under: Music,Video — Tom @ 8:28 pm

Thanks to fellow Blogcritic Mark Saleski for pointing out what I’d been looking for on YouTube a while back . . . Bill Frisell videos:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRU9GNot1ZE”>

January 24, 2007

Little Man II: The Ruse

Filed under: General — Tom @ 11:23 pm

Another proud Arizona moment . . . this dude . . .

. . . Neil Rodreick, 29 years old, managed to attend classes at two middle schools for 50 days this year and only got kicked out due to poor attendance. That’s right, he passed as 12 years old. Oh, and he was living with two other guys, whom he conned into having sex with him based on the sole belief that he was indeed 12 years old. There’s an even older guy who was somehow involved to the point that he pretended to be this guy-kid’s grandfather. And said dude has a record: he’s a sex-offender himself, having assaulted a girl at some point. At least he’s an equal opportunity offender.

What’s best is that even though Rodreick is an adult, because the guys thought they were having sex with a minor, they’re in jail too. I think we can all agree that’s a good place for these guys. There’s a sick, but fascinating story behind all this that hopefully will come out someday, I’m sure. Let’s hope the Wayans brothers score the rights to this one – I smell a “hilarious” sequel to their “smash” comedy last year, this time starring David Spade as the baby-faced man conning some older guys out of, well, something, until he gets himself in a little too deep. Hilarity ensues!

January 23, 2007

And now James reunites?!

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 11:35 am

Crowded House isn’t the only band getting back together . . .

James are back. Still fresh as a daisy. Ready to be the bride not the bridesmaid. With a back catalogue to die for and a bunch of new songs the “Laid” six will be playing live for the first time in 6 years . . .

Despite threatening to carry on without lead singer Tim Booth following his departer over 5 years ago, James never did carry through on that one, thankfully, and now they’re back together.

Funny enough, just a short while ago I was listening to the great catalog of James’ music and comparing it to Booth’s relatively small output. While I’ve enjoyed Tim’s solo material, I’ve simply found it wanting and missing that special something that James was. Even on their final album, Pleased To Meet You, James always had that special touch that turned even mundane material into ear-pleasing gems.

When paired with the magic touch of frequent producer Brian Eno, Tim Booth’s falsetto topped some of the catchiest singles of the 90s but, aside from the hauntingly beautiful Laid which landed them fleeting world-wide fame, the band managed to linger in relative obscurity even while turning out consistently great material (the sadly overlooked Millionaires may be their best album and didn’t even garner a US release.) But now the world’s getting a second chance – the band is back together with Booth and they’ve put new material together. Let’s hope we don’t ignore them a second time.

January 22, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: Exploding Star Orchestra, Sonny Rollins, The Shins

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 9:55 pm

Exploding Star Orchestra – We Are All From Somewhere Else: This one is just intriguing as hell: Tortoise band-member Rob Mazurek heads up a big ensemble of avant-garde musicians attempting to tell a musical story about . . . you know what? I’m just going to lift some text right off the Thrill Jockey site for this one because I can’t even begin to make sense of this:

We Are All From Somewhere Else is comprised of 3 distinct sections, and corresponds to a story involving an exploding star, cosmic transformation, a sting ray, the travels of the sting ray, intelligent conversations with electric eels, the destructive power of humans, the death and ascension of sting ray, the transformation of sting ray ghost to flying bird, and the transformation of bird to phoenix to rocket to flying burning matter to a new-born star.

Mmm-hmm. Well, whatever it means, it sounds damned interesting because among the many instruments and sound-makers for this one is the sound of electric eels. Not that electric eels themselves make it interesting, but the fact that someone was creative enough to make electric eels musical – THAT is interesting.

Sonny Rollins – Sonny, Please: Well, now we can find out what the hubbub is all about – it’s already been nominated for a Grammy (since it was technically available on Rollins’ website until now, but at a ridiculously high price.) I’m sure it’s a good album – this is Rollins we’re talking about, afterall, the Saxophone Colossus, but I still have a hard time thinking that it beat out the many other really wonderful releases last year.

The Shins – Wincing The Night Away: Come on – it’ll change your life! Blessing or curse Garden State may have been, one thing’s for sure: The Shins are on everyone’s minds lately. And why not? It’s only taken them some 3+ years to turn out this third album, a move that is almost career suicide for most bands. Will it live up to the hype? No – most fans seem to have already decided that if it doesn’t immediately provide the hooks and choruses that Chutes Too Narrow did for them, the band has obviously lost it, and that’s too bad because this album is a much more mature glimpse into the band’s psyche, and therefore it’s a much more slow-grower than their previous two albums. Maybe not as immediately satisfying, but it seems to work on a deeper, different level. Give it some time, that’s all I ask.

Don’t dream, it’s not over: Crowded House reforms

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 12:07 pm

Well, look at that. I post my piece about their DVD and say it’s too bad they can’t reform (and tour and record again, of course) and what do you know but they go and do exactly that.

In short, Neil Finn has put Crowded House back together with former band members Nick Seymour and Mark Hart along with a new drummer to be announced later in place of Paul Hester, and they’ve recorded a new album for which they will be touring shortly. While some may balk initially at the thought of Finn carrying on with the band name without Hester, who committed suicide nearly two years ago, let’s not forget that the drummer had left the band in the mid-90s before the break-up. While it’s true that Neil broke up the band following the tours minus him because he felt that something vital was missing without his presence, a lot of time has passed since then. This fan certainly isn’t begrudging this reunion.

One confirmed live appearance they will be making is this year’s Coachella, April 27, 28, 29. You can bet a tour will hit big cities everywhere if you can’t make it, however. And, of course, there’s certain to be some kind of audio/video documentation of this if you can’t make it out to one of the shows.

But it’s a dry heat

Filed under: General — Tom @ 9:07 am

For those out there who say it never gets cold in Phoenix, let me post this picture stolen from AZCentral.com:

That was taken in the middle of Phoenix yesterday when it actually snowed. And Mesa woke up to more snow this morning that actually stuck around long enough for some kids to make a big snowman for the news reporter who got stuck shivering out there with them.

Unfortunately for us, the downside to this cold weather is that our plants have suffered – just when we get things green for once, this comes along and turns everything brown and nasty. Well, hopefully they’ll recover in the spring.

January 19, 2007

Rodrigo Y Gabriela

Filed under: Music,Reviews — Tom @ 12:08 pm

There was a time when I was pretty consumed with, and you could make an argument that it could be considered “obsessed with” Robert Fripp’s Guitar Craft legion – the California Guitar Trio, the League of Crafty Guitarists, and various smaller splinter groups. There was something about the shared skills of the many guitarists balancing complex pieces of intricate music, much of it approaching classical in style at times – it grabbed my imagination, filling my head with thoughts of notes dancing between nimble-fingered guitarists.

Over time, the effect wore off a bit – I still listen to some of the various Guitar Craft outings from time to time, but as I grew older, I found something missing. Maybe a bit of heart, I don’t know. As highly technical as the music was, I have to say that it was a bit cold at times. And sometimes that’s just the right thing – cold precision can be fascinating and beautiful in the right circumstances. But a lot of the time, I’m looking for more from guitarists and that’s where the Crafty Guitarists and I slowly parted ways.

I’ve found that “more” in the same genre that many others have – jazz – but from time to time, something astonishing comes along that also provides “more” that just sweeps me off my feet. Rodrigo Y Gabriela, a pair of flamenco guitarists, have done just that – they’ve appeared out of nowhere and given me more when I least suspected it.

I can’t pretend to know much about flamenco guitar, but I can say this: their self-titled album is rich with invigorating music that can barely be contained by that genre alone. The pair, having fled both Mexico and a metal band for Europe and acoustic guitars, developed a style that bridges a style deep in tradition with their roots in metal to give listeners something unique: dark, sometimes disturbing flamenco guitar.

Punctuated by the smack of percussive hits on the bodies of their guitars, this is hard, driving music – it feels as if the two were accompanied by drums much of the time, but the entirety of the album is two guitars, save for one song (“Ixtapa,” where violinist Roby Lakatos joins the duo.) Elsewhere, the pair show off their taste in covers by taking on Metallica’s “Orion” with a rendition that will have you shaking your head in disbelief. And if, you, like me, cringed a little bit seeing Led Zeppelin’s overplayed classic “Stairway To Heaven” listed among the songs, have no fear. While the guitar shop in Wayne’s World may have had a “No ‘Stairway To Heaven'” rule, they would lift it to hear Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s take. Where many would simply “Latinize” the original, they use it as a jumping-off point for some creative and fascinating exploration of the sounds of their world. The steps may lead up to heaven, but somehow we wind up deep in the heart of Mexico.

And that’s what makes it all work so well – heart. For all their technical prowess, behind it all is a great love of playing all this music and entertaining listeners. Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s music is plainly driven by the giddy “what next?” desire that had them jumping out of the metal band they were in and the comfort of their homeland for foreign lands and music they surely weren’t certain would take them anywhere. And now, for us listeners, we’re left with that same excited desire to know what’s next for the two.

January 18, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: Crowded House, Ron Sexsmith

Filed under: General,Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 9:16 am

Crowded House – Farewell To The World (CD and DVD): It took 10 years, but Crowded House’s final concert has finally been released on CD and DVD. Playing in front of an astonishing 120,000 fans at Sydney’s famous Opera House, the band runs through an incredible selection of their very best songs. The only thing missing now is a reunion – sadly impossible due to drummer Paul Hester’s unfortunate suicide in 2005. But at least fans have this great reminder of a great band.

Ron Sexsmith – Time Being: Shhh – don’t tell anyone, I’m late reporting on this one from last week. Better late than never, right? Actually released last year everywhere but America, this finally saw release here and the wait was worth it. More infectious but dark songwriting from one of the best, most sadly overlooked songsmiths out there. A recent discovery for me, I have found Sexsmith’s voice is probably the one thing that less adventurous listeners might have an issue with – you might call it “Kermity” at times, if you were cruel, but it’s a warm, velvety “Kermit the Frog” and his earnest, compelling lyrics are so powerful that good listeners should easily be able get past this quickly. Time Being is just another album of great songs following a string of great albums from this guy – nothing new, but not a letdown in the slightest.

January 16, 2007

Lost and found

Filed under: General — Tom @ 11:48 pm

I lost my truck this weekend. Oh, don’t worry – only for a few days for some warranty work to be done. I saved up a bunch of little things that had been nagging me for a while and decided that, now that I’ve had it a year and – believe it or not – nearly 26,000 miles, it was time to get all those little things taken care of. So Saturday I turned her over to Honda for what I knew would likely be at least 3 days and mostly like 4 as they needed the time to dig through all of my issues – small rattles here and there that I already knew were being addressed by Honda but only if you actually ask about them (in the form of “service bulletins” – and found at the very informative and handy Ridgeline Owners Club site (check for your car, there most likely is a “support group” for yours, too, that may answer every weird little issue you’ve had.) What’s nice about this site is that some actual Honda people are kind enough to alert the other owners about new bulletins that are up and how to go about getting them – because some service people aren’t so easy to deal with.)

Today wound up being one of “those days.” Not a true bad day, really, just one of “those days” that seem like they could easily head that direction. Bad traffic that made me nearly late for a doctor’s appointment, but it didn’t matter because the appointments were all running very late anyway. I just gave up and gave in. There seems to be a point at which you just mentally throw your hands in the air and stop worrying. That happened this morning. I wasn’t even aware of it happening, I just know it happened in retrospect. I gave up and let things happen as they happened, for a while at least. My appointment was extremely late and long, so what? I took the day off work instead – screw it. I went to Costco and did what Alissa and I would have had to do tonight. I bought a big-ass box of saltines. Would I have bought that tonight? Maybe not. I ate lunch with my mind in neutral until it occured to me that I could use the free time I had to finally knock out the final CD rack that I’ve been meaning to put together. So I finished up, got out in the garage and put it together. Now I’m done – except for the organizing. Now I can expand everything from the four nearly-full racks that I had and make space on each shelf for future growth – because there always will be something coming in.

And then I went to Zia and I think that’s where I threw it all off – I didn’t really want to, I didn’t have anything in mind that I wanted to buy, but I had some time to kill before I picked up Amanda from my parents and so I went. I wandered around and found nothing of interest – no, that’s a lie, I found things, stuff, junk, things I didn’t really need or want, just stuff I could have bought, but ultimately I just thought, “Do I really need this right now?” Nah. I put stuff back where I found it and shuffled out the door, wishing I’d just stayed home and rested instead.

I say that threw me off because up until then, the day had gone really nicely after that doctor’s appointment, but that unnecessary Zia trip screwed it up because immediately after that it just became a mess – I ran into a huge construction project that made me late to pick up Amanda and therefore Alissa. But once I got them, things fell back into place – I got to entertain Amanda, and Amanda distracted me from the stupidity of the stress of the drive over to get her, and by the time we got to Honda, I was back in a good mood again.

I picked up my keys from the counter at the dealership and headed out to my truck and realized that, for the first time since my first truck, a 1991 Nissan Hardbody (kind of like that one linked, but way better looking,) I just plain love my truck. I haven’t loved anything I’ve driven like this since then. I’ve really liked some of the cars and trucks I’ve had, but this one’s really special. And when I drove it off the lot tonight, I felt why – it’s just a wonderful truck to drive. So smooth, so quiet (especially now that all the rattles I asked about are gone) and so right. The only concern I have is simply due to everything being so technology-driven – will it last? Can cars of today possibly last as long as cars from the past? Will we see these computer-driven behemoths on the road in 20 years? I sure hope so – I really hope to keep this thing a long, long time.

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