Known Johnson

March 30, 2007

Grant-Lee Phillips: Strangelet

Filed under: Music,Reviews — Tom @ 10:18 am

You could be forgiven thinking that Grant Lee Buffalo was still around if you heard what Grant-Lee Phillips was doing in his solo career. His music is not so drastically different that it makes much sense to the outsider why that band had to end, but then it doesn’t matter much either way – the quality work continues, and that’s all that really matters. Phillips still churns out solid singer-songwriter material with folky roots-rock as its basis, his characteristic cracked and soaring croon still sounding as strong as it did back in the Buffalo heyday. What you couldn’t be forgiven for, however, is passing up Strangelet thinking that just because he’s not breaking new ground that he’s not turning in one of his best works.

Phillips took a slightly quieter route with his solo work, preferring to work in a more acoustic vein on 2004’s Virginia Creeper, it is nonetheless similiar to his previous band in most ways, feeling like a natural, more mature extension of where GLB could have gone. What works against Phillips is how subtle his music is – like that earlier album’s title, it seems to creep up on the listener by being both immediately familiar and comfortable and yet slightly too much so, so that it doesn’t stand out. Yet it winds up sneaking up and surprising by quickly becoming a favorite, effortlessly.

Strangelet nearly falls victim to the same tendency, but this time a few tunes immediately stick out and prick at listeners in just the right way. “Soft Asylum (No Way Out)” is one such tune, being the great U2 mid-tempo ballad that they’re going to wish they’d written (and Phillips is going to hope his promotion team pushes the right way.) “Fountain Of Youth” wins not just because of the tune but because of the gentle intoxication provided by the ukelele that drives the song – and it makes me glad Phillips has pursued the use of this instrument.

What makes Strangelet more immediately accessible is more variation due to songs with more aggressive stances – that’s relatively speaking, however. This is still a quiet album, in general, but distorted guitars are peppered more liberally throughout than have been in the recent past, such as “Chain Lightning,” “Johnny Guitar,” or “Raise The Spirit” which resurrects some good old loping T. Rex rhythms. The heart of the album, however, like most of what Phillips does, is in the more melancholy material – because he does that so well – and there’s plenty of that for the listener, new and old, to dive into. Strangelet might just be the most well-rounded set of music that Grant-Lee Phillips has released yet.

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Overlooked Alternatives: Grant-Lee Phillips, Gant Font feat. Interloper, Turtle Island String Quintet

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 9:40 am

Forgive me, I’m a few days late in delivering the new release news this week. I’ve been tied up with all this Rush-stuff going on – tickets, the album-art controversy, and just general little tidbits going on – that I haven’t had a whole lot of time to concentrate on the new stuff out this week.

Grant-Lee Phillips – Strangelet: I’m not going to say too much because I’m going to review this soon, but it’s simple: if you like Grant-Lee in any capacity, be it fronting Grant Lee Buffalo or solo, you’ll probably enjoy this. It’s just another album of solid songs from Gilmore Girls’ crackly voiced town troubador.

Gang Font feat. Interloper: Imagine, if you will, if Fugazi suddenly decided to throw out the vocals and ramp up their musical skills to the level of jazz musicians. That’s what Gang Font feat. Interloper sounds like – a punk band gone jazz. And they’ve got the roots to prove it – Husker Du’s (I’ll let you put in the umlauts) Greg Norton on bass, taking a break from restaurant duties, with The Bad Plus’s drum-basher Dave King, the keyboard oddities of Craig Taborn, and Happy Apples’ guitarist Erik Fratzke. Check out Blogcritic Mark Saleski’s review of the disc.

Turtle Island String Quartet – A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane: Usually, these “string quartet tributes” elicit groans from me, but in this case, it’s worth further investigation. First, this isn’t your usual string ensemble – rather than coming from the classical world, these guys are a jazz ensemble of string players, and even a quick listen to clips on their site shows that these guys actually swing.

Not only do they tackle the entirety of Coltrane’s classic A Love Supreme, they take on a number of other well-known piece by the giant such as “Naima,” “My Favorite Things,” and “‘Round Midnight.” For once, one of these string tributes appears to actually do justice to the source material.

March 29, 2007

Bill Bruford’s Earthworks Video Anthologies

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 8:15 pm

Bill Bruford’s Earthworks is, along with John Zorn’s Masada, one of my very favorite jazz groups, especially in its acoustic incarnation. At its heart is the amazing drumming of Bill Bruford, the escapee from the Yes camp in the early 70s who fled to King Crimson where he found refuge that would allow him to flex his creative muscles. Visual representation of this group has been unfortunately minimal until now, when Bruford releases a set of DVDs comprising footage from six concerts from 1991 to 2005.

Reporting on this got difficult, however, as I had to sit through the two long YouTube videos of live footage embedded on this site to report this for you, Dear Readers. Not a bad chore, mind you, as the videos were obviously a subject I enjoy – Bruford’s great Earthworks bands in their two incarnations (that is, acoustic and electric).

The two new DVDs former Yes and King Crimson drummer Bruford is soon to release will contain a bunch of live footage, not “videos” as the titles may suggest. Why they couldn’t just say that in some text on the site, I know not – instead, the text is written in an annoying fashion as a scroll at the bottom of the video, so you have to pay close attention to that, instead of just watching the great Earthworks bands do their things, to figure out exactly what these DVDs are.

I figured they had to be something along the lines of live releases, since I couldn’t imagine that Earthworks songs got the typical MTV-type video treatment, but, again, simple text on the site would have sufficed. Unfortunately, these are going to be imports for us Americans, but as I’ve come to learn with this band, it’s been worth it.

Here are some details culled from various places: each DVD is region 0 and NTSC formatted, $29.50 each or about $49.20 purchased together, the first 500 copies of each will be signed by Bill Bruford himself. Volume 1 focuses on the acoustic quartet years from 2000 to now, showcasing concerts from NYC 2001, Buenos Aires 2002, and Paderborn Germany 2005, the last of which features the quartet’s new pianist Gwilym Simcock. Volume 2 spends the majority of its time on the electric band with concert footage from Tokyo 1991 and Stuttgart 1992, plus some acoustic band footage from Bulgaria 1999. The artwork was created by the renowned Dave McKean, whose inventive and unusual works have graced several previous Earthworks album covers. Obviously not a cheap investment, but for the fan, these DVDs are must-haves. The band’s previous DVD, Footloose In NYC, is a great glimpse of a working jazz band, but is sadly out of print and is only available at Bill Bruford’s site. These new DVDs give us fans even more, thankfully.

More on the Rush DVD-Album

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 12:14 pm

Just adding another piece to the confusing DVD-Album puzzle, thanks, as usual, to Power Windows: the official press release for Rush’s Snakes & Ladders, DVD-Album version. It’s official now – there is NO CD in the package. If you want this, you’d better pre-order it, chances are it’s going to sell pretty quick. Amazon’s got it for $20.99.

Update! Amazon appears to have pulled the page for the above link, probably due to the confusion over what this thing is. They had it listed as a CD, which it obviously is not, and I’m guessing that they’re doing some early damage control to prevent a huge number of returns when people get this thing and it won’t work in their CD players. I’ll keep everyone updated when I find out the latest – it will be back up for sale, I’m sure.

Robot Jackson

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 11:13 am

I’m kind of in love with this idea Michael Jackson has of creating a 50 foot tall robot in his likeness and setting it free to roam the deserts around Las Vegas, shooting laser beams out of its eyes. I’m guessing that guitarist Buckethead is probably very excited at the prospect, too, as this would probably help him get his immense Bucketheadland abusement park plans off the ground finally.

I don’t gamble, so if anything would get me to Vegas, it would be a giant, free-roaming laser-eye shooting Michael Jackson robot. Honestly, I need things like that in life to keep me going.

Save One Show: Veronica Mars

Filed under: News,TV — Tom @ 10:17 am

E!’s Kristin, the TV gossip know-it-all, is holding her annual “save one show” campaign, wherein we get to vote on a set list of shows that we feel deserve the chance to be saved. That show, of course, if you can’t tell by the title, is obviously Veronica Mars. I want you to do me a huge favor and head over to this page and click the little radio button next to “Veronica Mars”, then that cute button that says “Submit,” and then send it to all your friends to do the same. Nothing else on that page needs the vote – Scrubs is all but a sure thing because what else is NBC going to do, it’s a hit, and Gilmore Girls NEEDS to end even if it wasn’t already pretty much set in stone that it was ending anyway. Veronica Mars: vote it, save it, then WATCH IT.

March 28, 2007

Neil Peart’s latest essay and the cover art “controversy”

Filed under: General — Tom @ 8:05 am

Man, it’s been a week of Rush news! Here’s one more little bit for the Rush lovers out there: Neil Peart’s latest essay about the creation of the album. I must warn you, however, that this is likely what will accompany the tourbook, so if you like to have that to read in that big glossy book we all pay so much for at each concert, you might want to skip reading this and save it for then. For those of us who’ve been salivating over the thought of this new album, it might just hold you over and help explain why they chose this ugly artwork:

Ugly artwork

Yes, yes, I get the tie-in with the theme of the album and all, but I really wish they’d done something creative with it rather than just plop the whole Leela gameboard on the cover like that. Very un-Rush-like, if you ask me. I was really looking forward to another typically surreal Hugh Syme cover. I guess he’s instead provided a bunch of his usual stuff for the rest of the package, perhaps artwork for each song, but I still want to know what this was going to be used for:

Original cover?

That looks like it was intended for use as the cover since there isn’t a song called “Snakes & Arrows” on the album, and the artwork’s being used by Musictoday on their tour pre-sale page and not the Leela gameboard cover, so it sounds like the idea to use what we know is now the cover was made pretty late – long after everyone had set up their sites (including Rush’s site, which has artwork revolving around the color scheme of Syme’s road/arrows/snakes and baby-carriage-on-the-pier themes.)

I’m a designer myself, and I can’t say for certain, of course, what exactly has gone on here, but I’ve had to shoe-horn in things that people have wanted well after everything has been finished and that’s what this feels and looks like to me. I’m guessing that Hugh had the road/arrows/snakes cover finished and Peart found the Leela board and the band demanded that they change it. Those kinds of things happen, and, as a designer, I’ve fought very hard to maintain the integrity and flow of the artwork as designed, but sometimes people just don’t see what we know is best and can’t see beyond what, as Neil describes in finding the Leela game in his essay, they feel is some kind of serendipitous discovery. What I find unfortunate is that Syme didn’t find some creative way of incorporating elements of the gameboard into the artwork rather than plopping it on the cover like that, but maybe they didn’t give him the opportunity either due to time constraints or maybe they just plain didn’t want him to. I don’t know.

But I must keep in mind that Neil does mention that he researches the album title and artwork to make sure that it’s somewhat unique, and Syme’s road/arrows/snake artwork really wasn’t. As Chris pointed out in a comment previously, it’s almost identical to Pearl Jam’s Yield cover, and I think the band probably would have gotten a lot of flak for that:

pjyield.jpg

So maybe it’s for the best that it’s changed. I just don’t like what it’s changed to. I have a feeling, however, that the tour merchandise is not going to revolve around this Leela board and instead will feature the enigmatic “circular snake surrounding arrow” found in the background of Neil’s essay (those of you who chose not to read, you’ll just have to wait and come back to see if I’m right.) We’ll see in a few months, but I’m betting that will be an icon for the tour.

March 27, 2007

Rush pre-sale contest to win signed tourbooks and meet the band

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 7:21 pm

It’s no secret that I’ve been hanging out on various Rush sites and forums lately, watching for news and interesting tidbits for readers. The big stuff has come and gone for now, I’m afraid – with tickets already on sale for many cities, there won’t be much to report until the album hits stores May 1st. However, one last thing I can report on is a contest put on by Musictoday, the site that is holding the Rush ticket pre-sales.

Five lucky grand-prize winning fans who enter have the opportunity to win a hard-bound tour book with ever tour program from 1977 through 2004, autographed by the band for the winners, plus an opporunity to meet-n-greet the band in the city in which the tickets were purchased, and an additional first-prize winner will get to meet-n-greet the band (but no signed book).

Musictoday is no dullard – they know a marketing opportunity when they see one. They’ve wisely paired this contest with the pre-order of the new Rush album, Snakes & Arrows, as well as a combo of the CD and an album-themed shirt. Unfortunately, having hung out on so many forums, I’ve seen numerous people saying that they “had to” purchase the CD/shirt combo to enter the contest to win the hardcover tourbook/meet-n-greet. I wish I’d posted this earlier because I could have saved some people some money.

I don’t know the exact details, but I do know this: In the US, it’s illegal to hold a contest where any kind of criteria other than age or safety restrictions must be met, so they have to provide some way of allowing non-purchasers of participating. That’s right – EVERY contest in America that involves a product has a way of entering for free (I’m not talking about the lottery, of course – that’s a whole different system: gambling.) This contest is no different – the policy page that is linked on musictoday’s site lists an address to which we can all send our entries for this contest, regardless of whether we bought the CDs and shirts.

To save everyone some money and some headaches, here’s a copy-paste from the policy page (among some other rules – please read it before following through):

How to Enter. No purchase is necessary to enter the Contest. To enter the contest via mail, mail your name, address, daytime telephone number, age and e-mail address (if any) to: Rush Pre-Sale Contest, c/o Musictoday, P O Box 880, Crozet, VA 22932. Any error or omission in the information on the Entry Form will void the entry. Limit one entry per person. If multiple entries are received from any person, only one entry will qualify for the random drawing. By participating, all entrants agree to abide by these Official Rules.

To those who already bought the CDs and shirts, look at it this way – you’ll already have some cool merch before most everyone else. 🙂 And everyone else: The contest ends April 16 at 5pm Eastern time, so get writing!

March 26, 2007

Rush’s Snakes & Arrows debuts on DVD-Album format

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 8:17 am

According to Rush news site Power Windows, Snakes & Arrows, Rush’s upcoming album, will be releases not only on the venerable CD format (and surely Itunes as well) but will be the frontrunner for Warner Music’s latest prank on the public, the DVD-Album format.

Just what is the DVD-Album format? Good question! Basically, it’s a typical DVD with only music content on it in both stereo and surround-sound formats, and it’ll be augmented with some extras of some kind (including, apparently, some digital audio formats for your Ipods and the like.) Sound familiar? Yeah – we’ve been buying these things as bonus discs in deluxe editions for a couple of years now. Only now they’ve taken away the CD and give us only the DVD, then jacked up the price! Brilliant! As one analyst says in the article linked, “Is it going to be a big deal? I tend to think not, given the failures of previous high end formats.”

Anyway, back to Rush’s DVD-Album version of Snakes & Arrows: in addition to the music, it’s reported to contain a first-ever “behind the scenes” documentary following the band as they record their latest album, which will likely drive nearly all of the sales of this ridiculous format for most fans, which is why Warner chose this title for the debut of the format in the first place: guaranteed success. They know the Rush fans have never had an opportunity to see inside the working process of the band and the band documentary on R30 was the surprise hit of the set. This dumb format is guaranteed to sell out its 25,000 copy limited-edition run pretty quickly because all of us Rush fans are going to eat this crap up. I know I’ll be buying a copy and, if you can’t tell by now, I think this is a stupid, stupid format.

Rush announces tour dates

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 7:43 am

Ahead of the release of their 18th full-length album (19th if you include the Feedback EP), Rush today released the full lineup of tour dates for their upcoming summer tour. The official Rush site has been updated with the information and links to pages to buy tickets, but the most important thing to know for fans is that pre-sale tickets go on sale tomorrow, March 27, at 10 am local time.

Musictoday, who is handling the ticket pre-sales, is also holding a contest wherein the winner could win a hard-bound copy of the tour-book collection that the band put out not too long ago, but it would also be signed by the band, and they would also get to meet the band when they came to their town. The page claims you enter if you purchase the CD or CD/shirt combo with tickets, but we all know that’s illegal, so be sure and read the “How to enter” legal mumbo-jumbo for the “no purchase necessary” part (there’s no saying they have to make it as easy as they did for those ordering the CDs and shirts from them, of course.)

So on to the exciting part, the dates (borrowed with no shame from the effervescent Rushisaband.com):

June 2007 11 cities, 11 dates
Jun. 13 – Atlanta, GA @ HiFi Buys Amphitheater
Jun. 15 – West Palm Beach, FL @ Sound Advice Amphitheater
Jun. 16 – Tampa, FL @ Ford Amphitheater @ Florida State Fairgrounds
Jun. 18 – Charlotte, NC @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
Jun. 20 – Raleigh, NC @ Walnut Creek
Jun. 22 – Virginia Beach @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
Jun. 23 – Bristow, VA @ Nissan Pavillion
Jun. 25 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Post Gazette Pavillion
Jun. 27 – Mansfield, MA @ Tweeter Center
Jun. 29 – Scranton PA @ Montage Mountain
Jun. 30 – Saratoga Springs, NY @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center

July 2007 13 cities, 13 dates
Jul. 02 – Wantagh, NY @ Jones Beach Amphitheater
Jul. 04 – Darien Lake, NY @ Six Flags
Jul. 06 – Camden, NJ @ Tweeter Center
Jul. 08 – Homdel, NJ @ PNC Arts Center
Jul. 09 – Uncasville, CT @ Mohegan Sun Arena
Jul. 18 – Calgary, AB @ Pengrowth Saddledome
Jul. 20 – Seattle, WA @ White River Amphitheater
Jul. 21 – Portland, OR @ The Amphitheater at Clark County
Jul. 23 – Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Bowl
Jul. 25 – Irvine, CA @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
Jul. 27 – Phoenix, AZ @ Cricket Pavillion
Jul. 28 – Las Vegas, NV @ MGM Grand Garden Arena
Jul. 30 – San Diego, CA @ Coors Amphitheatre

August 2007 13 cities, 13 dates
Aug. 01 – Mountain View, CA @ Shoreline Amphitheater
Aug. 03 – Concord, CA @ Sleep Train Pavillion
Aug. 04 – Marysville, CA @ Sleep Train Amphitheater
Aug. 06 – Salt Lake City @ USANA Amphitheater
Aug. 08 – Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Aug. 11 – Dallas, TX @ Smirnoff Music Center
Aug. 12 – Selma, TX @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
Aug. 14 – Houston, TX @ Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion
Aug. 23 – Kansas City, MO @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
Aug. 24 – St. Louis, MO @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
Aug. 26 – Noblesville, IN @ Verizon Wireless Music Center
Aug. 28 – Detroit, MI @ DTE Energy Music Theater
Aug. 30 – Cuyahoga Falls, OH @ Blossom Music Center

September 10 cities, 10 dates
Sep. 01 – Cincinnati, OH @ Riverbend Music Center
Sep. 02 – Columbus, OH @ Germain Amphitheater
Sep. 06 – Milwaukee, WI @ Marcus Amphitheater
Sep. 08 – Chicago, IL @ Midwest Bank Amphitheater
Sep. 09 – St. Paul, MN @ Xcel Energy Center
Sep. 12 – London, ON @ John Labatt Centre
Sep. 14 – Quebec City, QC @ Colisee de Quebec
Sep. 15 – Montreal, QC @ Bell Centre
Sep. 19 – Toronto, ON @ Air Canada Centre
Sep. 21 – Ottawa, ON @ Scotiabank Place

October 13 cities, 15 dates
Oct. 03 – Glasgow, UK @ SECC Arena
Oct. 05 – Newcastle, UK @ Newcastle Metro Radio Arena
Oct. 06 – Sheffield, UK @ Hallam FM Arena
Oct. 09 – London, UK @ Wembley Arena
Oct. 10 – London, UK @ Wembley Arena
Oct. 11 – Birmingham, UK @ NEC Arena
Oct. 14 – Manchester, UK @ MEN Arena
Oct. 16 – Rotterdam, Netherlands @ Ahoy’ Rotterdam
Oct. 17 – Rotterdam, Netherlands @ Ahoy’ Rotterdam
Oct. 19 – Oberhausen, Germany @ Oberhausen, Germany
Oct. 21 – Mannheim, Germany @ SAP-Arena
Oct. 23 – Milan, Italy @ Forum Arena
Oct. 26 – Oslo, Norway @ Spektrum
Oct. 27 – Stockholm, Sweden Globe Arena
Oct. 29 – Helsinki, Finland @ Hartwell Arena

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