Known Johnson

February 11, 2008

Empty wallet again: three U2 deluxes due May 20

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 2:29 pm

But happily this time. As expected, The Joshua Tree was just the beginning – next up are Boy, October, and War. Who knows what the extra content is at this point, but it would be wise to hit the Buy Now button at Amazon on these in case they spontaneously dip in price over the next three months. This may explain why U2 fans have noticed that the Complete U2 virtual box on Itunes suddenly disappeared a few months ago.

And the even more enticing rumor that I’ve seen is that September will see the release of a special expanded edition of Under A Blood Red Sky complete with the long-awaited full-length video of the concert on DVD.

February 5, 2008

The Breakdown: Iron Maiden, Killing Joke

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 1:17 pm

Iron Maiden – Live After Death (DVD): FINALLY! The moment Maiden fans have been waiting for – LAD on DVD years (almost “decades” now) after the video tape went out of print. I saw this in high school – nearly 20 years ago – and almost instantly regretted not buying a copy for myself. Held by many as the greatest live rock album of all time – me included – it seems ridiculous that it’s taken this long to officially be released on DVD. The band apparently really wanted to do this one right. Not only do we get the legendary concert full of giant mummified Eddies and such, we also get a second DVD filled with archival footage including the show that is said to rival the Live After Death show, Maiden’s 1985 Rock In Rio appearance (50 minutes), Behind the Iron Curtain (a 57 minute documentary shot in Poland and other eastern bloc countries,) the History of Iron Maiden, pt. 2 (50 minutes,) and a few other smaller things.

Killing Joke – Fire Dances, Night Time, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, and Outside The Gate: There seems to be some confusion on which of these are coming out today, and which have actually already been released, so I’m throwing them all in at once. The Killing Joke remaster campaign has not been the most organized, but it has been one of the more respectful ones. Not only are they excellent quality remasters, the band has compiled intelligent and rewarding sets of bonus material for each album. In the case of Brighter, the album is almost entirely new – this version features the mixes the public never got to hear, which make it sound more like the traditional, ferocious Killing Joke and less like a synth-pop band. Also be on the lookout for a very limited edition of the band’s Extremities Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions which features a bonus disc of extras, greatly expanded book, and a disc-sized box to house it all in.

January 30, 2008

The Final Breakdown: Favorites of 2007

Filed under: Best of 2007,Music,The Breakdown — Tom @ 5:48 am

What a strange year. Unlike most years, when I find myself all over the place musically, this year found me focused on a small collection of albums that repeatedly drifted into my ears. I’m not like this – I’m not one of those people that sits back and says, “What a crappy year for music this has been,” but when I look back on 2007 for truly notable music, I simply come back to a small handful of my very favorite releases where most years find me struggling to pick which ones were my favorites. Not so this year – it’s pretty cut and dried.

Are they artistically important? In some cases, yes, but does it really matter? What matters most to me, at least, is that the albums are ones that I’m going to be coming back to year after year. If they’re not groundbreaking, earth-shattering redefining examples of music, so be it. This list, in a way, is a prediction of sorts – I am attempting to predict the albums that are going to have staying power with me, at the very least. And, who knows, maybe in a few years we can look back and these albums will have withstood the test of time for many others. I’m pretty confident they will, in fact.


Wilco – Sky Blue Sky: Opening with the gentle guitar of “Either Way,” a film begins to unreel in my mind. The black screen, the titles, and then Jeff Tweedy’s soft, scratchy voice crackles out “Maybe the sun will shine today” just as a scene of the open road is revealed. That’s what Sky Blue Sky is to me – road music, an escape, transportation away from the everyday nothingness that often drives us insane. And, more than any other piece of music, escape is exactly what I did with this album since it came out earlier this year.

Wilco may have taken a quiet and calming turn here, but there’s so much more going on. The music is subtle, revealing layers of intricate, thoughtful, and sometimes downright weird stuff going on underneath the top coating of amiable, easy-going tunes. Listen close and it’s impossible to ignore jazz guitarist Nels Cline’s contributions, or the unusual drumming that Glenn Kotche lays down behind the band. These elements take Sky Blue Sky from simply being a good album to being something that needs to be listened to again and again. It’s an instant modern classic rock album – a rarity these days.

Crowded House – Time On Earth: Sometimes you just can’t hear things right. Or maybe it’s just me. I don’t know – whatever the case, that happened here. Time On Earth eluded me for months after its release. As expected, given my love for Neil Finn’s songwriting, a few songs grabbed me quickly, and that’s exactly the problem with the album. Some of these songs were so good that they eclipsed all the others. In their brilliant light the album as a whole slipped away from me. I fell into a bad rut. I heard it in chunks – “this” little group of songs was great, “that” little group of songs was good, and others, well, I just didn’t care for. The whole didn’t jell – and this was unusual for me. I usually love an album or I don’t. Something was wrong here, and I began to think it wasn’t the music.

I found myself presented with a few opportunities where I couldn’t focus on the music like I normally do. When I opted to listen to a playlist I’d created that mixed things up just a tiny bit by throwing in two b-sides to mirror the tracklisting of the vinyl version of the album, I realized that all of the songs were powerful and beautiful. That little change created a new terrain out of the familiar, somehow, and I could hear the album anew. The clouds parted, as they say, the light shone down from above, and the haze cleared, illuminating what is a powerful collection of songs dealing with love, death, and the state of the world.

We can argue if we want about whether they’re truly Crowded House songs or “just” more Neil Finn songs. That’s what some are doing. But in the end, does it matter? I’ll take more of either.

Rush – Snakes & Arrows: While it may not quite be the wild and crazy effort that producer Nick Raskulinecz promised, it is a solid, enjoyable effort. If anything, it suffers mainly from the band’s attempts at covering so much ground. Where they had formerly been so focused on a “sound” for each album, this album is all over the place, picking bits and pieces from all over their catalog. It makes for a fun listen, but not an especially focused listen when you’re in a particular mood. What I respond to on this album, more than many other Rush albums, are drummer Neil Peart’s lyrics, which seem to be misunderstood by many as the words of a very bitter man about a very cold world rather than what I believe them to be, which is one man attemping to show that while there are terrible events of every kind taking place, there is beauty and belief and justice to be found if we would just trust in each other. A unified message of hope ties an album of loose ends together in a fantastic way.

Radiohead – In Rainbows: Even after only a few months with this album, it’s hard for me not to look back on their catalog and think of the high points as OK Computer, Kid A, and In Rainbows. Somehow, after years of really doing their own thing, going their own way, which kind of means that they had a bit of a “Spinal Tap Jazz Odyssey for a new generation” thing going on for some, they veered back to territory closer to OK Computer and the prettier parts of Kid A and made a bunch of really beautiful songs. Sure, there are lots of bits of experimentation here and there, but where it used to take the front seat, it’s now more background, with melody upfront. Part of me wants more of the weird, angular, gritty stuff, because I loved that, but when they make music this compellingly lovely, it’s impossible to deny wanting more.

Blackfield – II: Guitarist and vocalist Steven Wilson seems to have split his pop sensibility off from his “other” band, Porcupine Tree, so they could focus more on delving into darker subjects with heavier music, using Blackfield, his project with Israeli singer Aviv Geffen, as an outlet for his more, um . . . “upbeat” material. I say upbeat in quotes because it’s hard to call it that, exactly, since the songs are still filled with tales of heartbreak and personal woe, but in comparison to the pure angst experienced in recent Porcupine Tree material, where societal ills are front and center, it does indeed feel lighter. Here is where Wilson and Geffen allow their catchiest, most beautiful harmonies to emerge, even while turning out some of the year’s best hard rock – if “Epidemic” is not one of the best straight-up rock songs of the year, something is wrong.

The Shins – Wincing the Night Away: Maybe it’s a “sophomore slump” of sorts to some – despite it being their third album – since their big break came with Garden State a few years back when Chutes Too Narrow was all the rage. Will they really change your life? I think a lot of people thought they would and are holding this album to that standard. This is not that album. In fact, it’s an album made for the people who scoff at such notions and wanted something beyond more of the same from the band. It’s mature pop, darker, weirder, a little off-putting – a decided step away from the candy-coated elixir of their first two albums that hooked so many, and it’s exactly the kind of move a band needs to make to stand the test of time. I, at least, hope to see many more Shins albums lining the shelves of my CD rack.

Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger: Adams has regained the focus he had with Heartbreaker and Gold and turned out one of the strongest sets of music in his career here. What came through after a few spins for me, what grabbed me, is that behind the usual country tinges was a little swagger found in soul and r&b that I hadn’t really noticed before. It’s not pronounced, but it’s there nonetheless.

Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet: It might be easy to go on and on about the themes of isolation that waft through Blank Planet‘s lyrics, but for me, it’s all about one thing: the music. Honestly, sometimes the lyrics are a little pedestrian and it’s not like this isn’t a topic that hasn’t been covered a million times before. They’re simply excuses for Steven Wilson to lay down some of those gorgeous harmony choruses. But back to the music – Wilson cranks things up a bit here, and, as I said above, he seemingly has split off the pop-side of the band to Blackfield so Porcupine Tree can focus on the darker, heavier, grittier, weirder stuff. And we get it all – “Anesthetize” expands to nearly 18 minutes in basically two movements and features some of the heaviest, fastest playing the band has ever done, and then is followed by one of the prettiest songs they’ve ever done, “Sentimental” (which features the memorable riff from In Absentia‘s “Trains.”) The album is nothing if not an intense song-cycle of despair.

Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau – Quartet: This is one of those pairings that could have gone either way. Two extremely strong, vibrant leaders in their own right getting together and turning out an album where they simply butt heads for an hour or so and nothing transcendent happens, or, simply put, magic. Luckily, it was the latter, and even more luckily for us, our hunches were true that there was a second offering coming with the full band backing the two.

David Torn – Prezens: I have used the word “alien” to describe David Torn’s guitar work so many times that I’m afraid to say it anymore. And yet I can find no other words that adequately convey the qualities in his sound and style without picking that one. His is an utterly alien sound. No one, I mean no one sounds like him. He manages to take things that sound like an amp dying and turn it into sheer beauty – and he purposely makes these sounds, mind you – and then he twists them just enough so that nothing about it sounds “pretty” but manages to sound right. He is one of few guitarists that I willingly label “genius” and it’s because he focuses so little on being a guitarist and rather intends to simply be a musician. There are no blazing solos or fretboard runs in his music – just searingly weird landscapes of tones and textures.

Mörglbl – Grötesk: Don’t even bother: it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a weird band name they use because it sounds funny. And that, in itself, should tell you something about this band – they’re French and they have this kind of sense of humor. Add in the fact that guitarist Christophe Godin plays like the lovechild of a bizarre mating of Mike Keneally, Frank Zappa, and John McLaughlin and you’ve got some pretty weird territory. Zappa asked, “Does humor belong in music?” That question could be appended with the phrase “instrumental music.” They don’t descend into Keystone Kops-like moments, but it is clear that the intent of their music is serious fun, and there’s an element of humor. In fact, there are times when I laughed to myself at the often ingenious approaches the trio takes to music. Not necessarily “funny ha-ha” but “funny clever.”

Grant-Lee Phillips – Strangelet: Every time Phillips puts out an album this happens: it comes out, I love it, and then it just falls into my routine. Whatever it is about Grant-Lee Phillips, he somehow has the right gearing to mesh with the gearing of my life with nary a hitch. And therein lies the rub: he gets forgotten. Strangelet popped up earlier this year and slipped right into my listening for a while, becoming a quick fave, and then just became part of the background. When I began thinking about the year’s releases again, suddenly I realized that this album came out this year, not much longer ago even though it feels far more familiar than that. Phillips’ music is that tired cliche of comfortable old shoe – it fits perfectly and feels good, but goes neglected until you really think about it. Don’t neglect this album.

Michael Brook – BellCurve: After the disappointment I felt with 2005’s RockPaperScissors, I would never have expected this “remix” album of that material to not only stand on its own but be as strong as it is – nor be a favorite of the year. And yet . . . BellCurve takes the strongest elements of RockPaperScissors and re-molds them with very different, much more suitable backing music, and, except in the case of one song, does away with all of the vocals that, frankly, cluttered up what most people are tuning into Brooks for in the first place: his beautiful guitar work. The result is a far more pleasing album that ranks with his fantastic Live at the Aquarium and Cobalt Blue releases, rather than down with the confused murk, say, of Albino Alligator. (In an incredibly stupid and frustrating move, the CD is only available for sale at Barnes & Noble. The album may be downloaded from Itunes and Amazon, however, if files are your thing.)

In closing

I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my thanks to readers of Overlooked Alternatives and its offspring piece, The Breakdown. As has a tendency to happen, life has started to impinge upon my time to devote to writing this and keep up with reviewing music and, you know, having a life. While I enjoy getting to explore the new releases every week, I’d really rather put my time into actually reviewing recently released albums rather than simply speculating about them. The opportunity arose recently to join forces with Glen Boyd and Mark Saleski on Blogcritics’ weekly New CDs piece and I jumped at the chance. I won’t be a weekly presence on the list but I will contribute when the beacon of new music that needs a spotlight lights up the sky. Suffice it to say that I will be there more often than not. It’s not “goodbye,” it’s just, you know, “see you in a bit. I have to run out to the store for some bread. Do you need anything?”

January 23, 2008

Buy it again, again: another deluxe edition of This Year’s Model

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 1:28 pm

You know, I like bonus content on deluxe editions when it’s significant – unreleased songs and/or concerts – and with last year’s deluxe edition of Elvis Costello’s debut album, My Aim Is True, we got both, which made it impossible to do without the excellent Rhino deluxe edition which also had a disc full of non-album material. I thought that was a one-off. I didn’t expect to see another following six months later.

Why am I not feeling even a tinge of excitement for this? A full disc dedicated to a live show – I love that shit. I usually eat that up. But here . . . I don’t know. I am decidedly “eh” about it, perhaps because I simply don’t find myself scrolling to the MAIT live disc very often. The price doesn’t help either. Had this been priced like the Rhino 2-CD deluxes, which were basically “two for one,” I might have jumped. But My Aim Is True was the full “Deluxe Edition” price and, frankly, the package wasn’t all that special. The book wasn’t anything new or revealing. What were we paying so much extra for? I know how much CDs cost to produce. That live disc didn’t cost double the amount to make.

Maybe I’m a bit burned out on Costello, I don’t know. The constant reissuing is getting a little old. This makes 4 versions available since 1993’s first Ryko expanded issue – three of which are all from the past 6 years! I know, I know, I don’t have to buy anything and everything that’s put out for sale. But as a fan, I want this stuff. Had I just gotten into him now, the latest ones would be the ones I would buy – I’d much rather have live stuff than demos, frankly. But the bigger problem is simply market burnout – having that name out there, again and again, with the same titles attached to it, it starts to look like desparation and greed to outsiders who happen to notice. I fear Elvis is hitting that terrible spot in his career where he’s treading water and there just happens to be a quick way to keep things going with these reissues. I know there have been multiple times when he’s been accused of treading water and managed to come back with some fantastic music, but there’s just something kind of extra unappetizing going on here.

The Breakdown: Super Furry Animals

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 12:53 pm

Things are going to be a little different around here from now on. The Breakdown is no longer what it used to be. I’ve decided to not keep a full list going from week to week for various reasons, the biggest of which are that I simply don’t have time to follow the new releases like I used to, and I found more often than not that I wound up writing extensive pieces for albums that I would have liked to use for a full review later on. I also used a lot of my time for reviewing for this one piece – as I said, I don’t have a ton of time for writing on this site anymore, so when I do so, it needs to be focused, and this is just not my main focus anymore. However, all is not lost. I will be contributing shorter pieces to a larger collective new release list put together by Glen Boyd at, the first of which went up this week. Instead of three good lists of new releases happening there every week we now will have one great list (Mark Saleski is also retiring his Tuesday Morning Purchase piece.) When I contribute something, which probably won’t be every week, I will post my piece here as well within a day or two. As always, there will continue to be new music content going on here, but things are lessened because I’m focused on keeping KnownJohnson updated daily because of my involvement in Blog365. I’m really enjoying it and I hope you’re all heading over there to keep up to date on all the really exciting, you know, stuff of my life.

Here’s my first installment in the new New CDs list at Blogcritics, in complete, unedited form:

Super Furry Animals – Hey Venus!: Things fall through the cracks, whether it be a tiny band that many don’t notice or a major artist that many write off as a has-been. For whatever reason, the publicity machine churns is fueled by certain combinations of factors that few really understand, and so much good music goes unnoticed. Take Super Furry Animals, for example. They’re not that strange that the mainstream can’t get into them and yet . . . they’ve never really taken off, especially here in the US. But a rabid fanbase they do have, there’s no doubt about that. Perhaps that’s why they seem to have been part of an experiment of sorts.

Maybe as a sign of “things to come,” this album came out back in the early fall on vinyl and mp3, with the CD release held off for months – but only in the US. Obviously it was a marketing strategy – we’re seeing it all over the place in varying ways, mostly with live albums and their accompanying DVDs being separated by months to encourage buyers to pick up both rather than just one. This one, however, stings just a bit for those who fell for the mp3 side of things (the vinyl buyers get the whole “analog sound quality” thing to balance it out, however.)

Now that it’s coming out on CD, however – and here’s the “ha ha – burn!” – it’s coming with a second disc of extra songs, five to be exact (one is a video, however.) Ooohh – feel the sting. Are they worth the extra investment? Well, I don’t really recall finding any casual SFA fans – people either want it all or nothing when it comes to this band. Few aren’t going to want these, but, as these things go when it comes to die-hard fans, some may already have them as singles b-sides.

As has been the case with the previous Super Furry reissues, those “leftover tracks” found on singles are really just songs they couldn’t fit logically into the flow of the album – not necessarily throwaway songs. We fans seem to make out pretty well with this band, even if maybe Love Kraft didn’t quite meet the high expectations many had. Word is that Hey Venus! makes up for lost time.

January 18, 2008

Rush announces new live album and 2008 tour

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 12:05 pm

It’s official, Rush will be heading out on the road once again this year in support of, apparently, Snakes And Arrows Live, the upcoming live album slated for sometime in April. The 48-date tour will kick off in San Juan, Puerto Rico on April 11 before hitting the US in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida April 13 and continuing through the end of July. A number of these shows will see ticket sales beginning as early as January 21, so keep an eye on Ticketmaster for a venue near you.

Long time Rush fans may want to prepare for this one. There is speculation that the band may play the 18 minute epic from 1978’s Hemispheres album, “Cygnus X-1 Book II,” which will be celebrating its 30 anniversary this year. Drummer Neil Peart’s site plays a snippet of the song just after the entry page loads. Seems a rather random thing to focus on given that the band is supporting their latest album, no? If you, like I, have always wanted to hear this one live, well, now might be your chance.

Tour dates as follows (stolen shamelessly from from the great RushIsABand):

APRIL 2008

11: San Juan, PR – Coliseo de Puerto Rico
13: Ft Lauderdale, FL – Bank Atlantic Center
15: Orlando, FL – Amway Center
17: Jacksonville, FL – Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena
19: New Orleans, LA – Arena
20: Houston, TX – Woodlands Pavilion
23: Austin, TX – Frank Erwin Center
25: Dallas, TX – The Music Center at Fair Park
26: Oklahoma City, OK – Ford Center
29: Albuquerque, NM – Journal Pavilion

May 2008

1: Phoenix, AZ – Cricket Pavilion
3: Reno, NV – Reno Events Center
4: Concord, CA – Sleep Train Pavilion
6: Los Angeles, CA – Nokia Theatre
10: Las Vegas, NV – Mandalay Bay Events Center
11: Irvine, CA – Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
20: Moline, IL – iWireless Center
22: St Paul, MN – Xcel Energy Center
24: Winnipeg, MB – MTS Center
25: Regina, SK – Brandt Center
27: Edmonton AB – Rexall Place
29: Vancouver, BC – GM Place
31: Seattle, WA – The Gorge Amphitheatre

JUNE 2008

1: Portland, OR – Clark County Amphitheatre
3: Boise, ID – Idaho Center
5: Denver, CO – Red Rocks
7: Kansas City, MO – Starlight Theatre
9: Chicago, IL – United Center
10: Detroit, MI – Joe Louis Arena
12: Montreal, QC – Bell Center
14: Philadelphia, PA – Wachovia Center
15: Boston, MA – Tweeter Center
25: Indianapolis, IN – Verizon Amphitheatre
27: Milwaukee, WI – Summerfest
28: St Louis, MO – Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
30: Cincinnati, OH – Riverbend Music Center

JULY 2008

2: Pittsburgh, PA – Post Gazette Amphitheatre
4: Atlantic City, NJ – Marc Etess Arena
5: Saratoga, NY – SPAC
7: Uncasville, CT – Mohegan Sun
9: Toronto, ON – The Molson Amphitheatre
11: Manchester, MA – Verizon Arena
12: Holmdel, NJ – PNC Bank Arts Center
14: Wantagh, NY – Jones Beach
17: Hershey, PA – Hershey Stadium
19: Washington, DC – Nissan Pavilion
20: Charlotte, NC – Amphitheatre
22: Atlanta, GA – Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park

November 30, 2007

Queen + Paul Rodgers release “Say It’s Not True” for World AIDS Day Awareness

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 11:46 am

No, not “say it’s not true” about Queen + Paul Rodgers, but a new song from the trio called “Say It’s Not True” available today only for free at their site to commemorate Nelson Mandela’s 46664 HIV AIDS global campaign. This originally appeared on the group’s live album, Return of the Champions, in a more stripped down, “acoustic” form sung by Roger Taylor. This version, however, is a much more embellished studio recording with Brian May and Paul Rodgers contributing significantly.

Let’s put aside the problems many have with Queen carrying on. It’s a done deal – Queen has suffixed their name with Paul Rodgers and is recording a new album, supposedly due out in 2008, and based on the live album put out a couple years ago, and which I finally just gave in and bought, if Rodgers can lend that kind of vocal talent and May and Taylor can keep up typical Queen quality, it could be fantastic.

But what about this song? Well . . . I don’t know. It’s a very typical charity song – the lyrics are a bit trite and obvious, the melody is also a bit simplistic. It feels like something we’ve heard a million times before. No real surprises are in store here and yet it manages to invoke some of the magic of Queen – it builds at just the right moment into a glorious power ballad when Rodgers comes with that voice to take it through to the end and May comes with that guitar to carry it over the top. It’s hard to fault these guys – they just sound so damned earnest. I guess that’s why I’ve just listened to this “trite,” “obvious,” “simplistic” song three freakin’ times in a row. It takes the short acoustic number Roger played in concert and shoots it into the stratosphere – simplistic and trite or not. It just works in grand Queen fashion.

But is it Queen? Is it just Taylor/May/Rodgers? Ask yourself this: does it really matter? Does the name really mean anything? Isn’t it the music that means the most? I found distaste in Queen + Paul Rodgers a few years ago solely because of the concept – I didn’t listen to anything, I ignored reports of the shows. And then I realized that I was balking at a concept, not actual music, which is something that goes against everything I stand for about music. And so I listened to clips on Amazon – why bother investing if perhaps my fears were true? – and what I heard sounded good. Return of the Champions soon found itself in my hands and ears and I fell for it. I put aside my misgivings, forgot who I was listening to, and just enjoyed. Not just that, but I heard something else – I heard England proclaiming its love for one of their great bands, and at that, I came back around again and embraced this again as Queen . . . okay, + Paul Rodgers.

It’s hard to dismiss the outpouring of love and the warmth with which the fans welcomed Rodgers. Freddie may be long gone, but his spirit was alive and well in the music the band was playing, and the audience’s enthusiastic reaction bore that. It was a celebration, and while this new song here was written with the intent to be a message about AIDS, its music, to me, is also a celebration of all the things Queen has been – big and bombastic, but so full of beauty. Sure, it’s not the most complex song, it does nothing we haven’t heard before, but it hits all of the Queen hallmarks that have grabbed most of us over the years. Does Queen still have to prove anything to us anymore, other than that they are still Queen? They’ve proven that to me already.

November 27, 2007

The Breakdown: Dave Douglas

Filed under: Music,News,Reviews,The Breakdown — Tom @ 4:39 pm

Thanksgiving has come and gone, Black Friday has come and gone, the stupidly named “Cyber Monday” has come and gone . . . and now we’re left with those last few, dry weeks before Christmas where the labels don’t even feel like shoving out box-sets, best-ofs and live albums. No, what we’ll get now is stuff the big labels probably didn’t thing could sell any other time of the year, and things from small labels that realize that their audiences don’t pay attention to goofy things like the calendar. Take, for instance, this week’s one lone recommendation . . .

Dave Douglas – Moonshine: I really admire trumpeter Dave Douglas. Not only is he world-renowned as one of jazz’s best, he has taken the high and difficult road by setting out to create his own little sanctuary for musicians, a label, Greenleaf Music, where they get treated fairly and where listeners can feel the same. My dealings with them have always been nothing less than wonderful – great products and quick shipping, what more can you ask for . . . other than “more”?

Well, today we get a little more – Douglas called together his Keystone band (Marcus Strickland: saxophone; Gene Lake: drums; Brad Jones: bass; Adam Benjamin – Fender Rhodes; DJ Olive – turntables and electronics) for another album based around, like Keystone, a silent film, this time the unfinished Buster Keaton/Fatty Arbuckle project, Moonshine, from 1917.

Where the first project worked as a soundtrack to the accompanying DVD, which included Arbuckle’s “Fatty and Mabel Adrift” and a shorter video of footage compiled from “Fatty’s Tin-Type Tangle,” Moonshine is meant to stand on its own, simply using the film as inspiration, a jumping off point. And, just like the first project, you don’t really need to know the films to enjoy this – Douglas’ band is a powerhouse that will have listeners riveted with or without a concept. The result is much like the music of Keystone – gritty and urban, but filled with exactly the twists and turns one would expect from Douglas. Rooting itself in several genres and eras at once, DJ Olive keeps things firmly in the world of today with his electronic explorations while the horns display a distinctly European flair and Adam Benjamin’s Rhodes work reflects a bit of 70s fusion. Gene Lake’s drumming spans it all, tying everything together – much of the time he’s deep in a groove with bassist Brad Jones but often he’s coloring the air with little percussive fills that, you know, “really tie the room together.”

Dare I say that it’s among the best jazz of the year? It’s certainly the very last best thing to emerge this year – which is no backhanded compliment. It’s very hard to find a truly disappointing Douglas release, especially in the past few years when he seems to especially have been on his game, and that’s no different here. What’s unfortunate is that the album is out so late this year, when it will surely go ignored by many, and only available through his site until sometime in the spring when it will get wider release. Perhaps it’s a small Christmas gift from the man and the band to the fans – we get to enjoy it early. What’s more, we get to enjoy it even earlier – when placing an order, you’ll gain access to downloads of high quality mp3s of the album tracks in about a day. Not only that, but included in that is one non-album track download in the form of “Photosynthesis.” Like I said, Douglas and Greenleaf Music have been good to their supporters. Why not find out for yourself?

Samples (full-length tracks):

Dog Star (5:01)
Moonshine (7:30)

November 20, 2007

The Breakdown: Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Nine Inch Nails, Opeth, U2

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 8:11 pm

One last big blast of what the labels hope are massive, can’t-miss releases before the shopping season begins – it’s pretty obvious looking at the list this week. It’s all greatest hits and weird repackagings the likes of which we would never see any other time of the year. However, it’s also the day that brings two of the biggest re-releases of the entire year, the ones that will likely not end up under many music freaks Christmas trees – they’ll have already bought these themselves.

Genesis – Live Over Europe and 1983-1998 (Box and Individual releases): Given the fact that I’ve seen absolutely no talk about Live Over Europe, I’m going to assume that few really care about this live album that documents the reunion tour from this past summer. It looks almost to be buried by the label with no warning whatsoever of its impending release – it’s just here with no fanfare, and given the lukewarm responses to the shows, that’s no surprise.

On the other hand, the second installation in the remix/remaster campaign curiously focuses on the band’s least appealing period, from the self-titled 1983 album through the final, Phil Collins-less Calling All Stations in 1997. It’s as if the label actually wants to show you that they’re really not tuned in at all. This box of material that few fans are dying to get is readied for the hot Christmas season while the box that all the fans are eager to wrap their ears around, the Gabriel years set, lingers in limbo . . . ?

As it is, the material on these albums has been remixed from the masters to update their sound, so they won’t sound exactly how you remember them, and each album has a DVD with surround-sound versions of the album tracks. If you opt to buy the box, you get not only the requisite book but also a disc of bonus tracks (and the surround DVD of those as well.)

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains the SameCD and DVD: I remember one of the fundamental disappointments when getting into Led Zeppelin was, sadly, this live album. It was just a mess. Sprawling, rambling, incoherent, it just didn’t jell, and there was good reason: it had been chopped up to fit on two pieces of vinyl and was never readjusted for CD. We could go on and on about the video version of it, the fantasy segments of which were a complete surprise when my friends and I rented it one night as teens just getting into the band. Confused is about the only word that comes to mind. “What is going on here? Why are his eyes glowing? Why is he sword fighting? Why are we watching cars?” Now, having seen it via VH-1 Classic a few times, those fantasy segments merely look quaint and a bit charmingly self-absorbed.

Now we finally get the CDs the way they should have been – all 15 songs represented in the setlist played on the nights at Madison Square Garden in 1973, remastered for sound quality and reflecting the actual concert represented in the film. The DVD, unfortunately, does not represent the concert alone – it is still the movie as it was back then, due to legal reasons that I don’t understand that prevented Page and engineer Kevin Shirley from re-editing it back to just the music, but now it’s in Dolby 5.1, and includes a second disc with the four missing songs, some interviews, coverage by Tampa news crews of the band’s arrival there, and a few other small things.

The DVD set can also be had in a special edition with a shirt bearing the album cover, lobby cards, tour schedule, and other stuff.

Nine Inch Nails – Y34RZ3R0R3MIX3D: 133t!11!! H4x0rd! w00t! LOL WTF?! OK! Pandering title aside, the concept is pretty cool – the usual NIN remix album that follows in the footsteps of a regular album, but this time it’s accompanied by a DVD containing all of the multitracks for the songs so you can do whatever you feel like with them, then upload them to for Trent Reznor’s amusement (and, presumably, other fans, too.) This is not entirely as unique as Trent and Interscope want you to think it is – Duncan Sheik’s 2006 album, White Limousine, also came with a DVD with audio tracks, but I believe the NIN DVD has them broken completely down where Sheik’s had them broken down into simple categories – one track of already multitracked vocals, another of multitracked guitars, etc. Regardless, it’s a cool idea, and for $11.99, it’s kind of hard to pass up the opportunity to play. (The disc also includes a demo of Ableton Live so you can get playing immediately, but they will work in other audio programs.)

Opeth – The Roundhouse Tapes (Live): While the Lamentations DVD represented Opeth following the low-key, but amazing Damnation (that is to say, quiet and contemplative – not to mention all singing, no growling,) this live set is more representative of a normal Opeth concert, which presents the band in all their glory, touring for Ghost Reveries. Speed, heaviness, and those vocals are in full effect, mixed in, as usual, with Mikael Åkerfeldt’s surprisingly beautiful singing voice. Be forewarned: a DVD is likely coming sometime early next year, so if you crave watching and not just listening, you might want to wait.

U2 – The Joshua Tree Magical Ultra Super Special Deluxe! Edition: 20 years ago, all I wanted was for people to just stop talking about U2. Oh my God, they were everywhere. My best friend, he’d been brainwashed, plastering his room with posters and hand-drawn replicas of their albums. The song he and his girlfriend called “theirs” was “With or Without You.” I couldn’t bring myself to tell them it wasn’t really all that happy of a song, kind of like how people dedicate the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” to loved ones not realizing it’s actually about an obsessive stalker. People don’t want to hear that, they have to learn some things on their own. But I digress.

20 years ago, all I wanted to do was ignore U2. I let the band click with Achtung Baby and it’s been a slow climb ever since then. I’m thoroughly in the “fan” category now, and I fully acknowledge that The Joshua Tree absolutely is one of the best albums of the 80s, if not the best. I’m obviously not alone, hence this special edition. Two CDs – the remastered album on one, non-album tracks on the other – and one DVD with a full concert, a documentary, and a couple videos, packaged in a very elaborate box with a 56-page hardback book. If you don’t buy this version, you’re really kind of wasting your time – you’re really missing out on something special.

Oh, and my friend? He married that girl – and their song changed to Tracy Chapman’s “The Promise.” Much better choice.

November 19, 2007

The rumors are true

Filed under: Music,News — Tom @ 1:58 pm

Robert Fripp, in his latest diary entry, confirms that Gavin Harrison has taken up residency as the fifth member of the latest incarnation of King Crimson. Speaking of a four-night engagement at the Park West in Chicago, next year, where the band will be preparing for 2009’s 40th anniversary tour, he mentions the band’s dual-drummer history:

The first formation: Jamie Muir & Bill Bruford (1972-73);
the second formation: Pat Mastelotto & Bill Bruford (1994-97);
the third formation: Pat Mastelotto & Gavin Harrison.

What this 40th anniversary tour has in store for us, I can’t imagine – Fripp and the band in general have always been very hesitant to look back and revisit the past with much more than a cursory glance. The announcement of a 40th anniversary tour signals that something of that sort is going to happen, but with the current lineup, one has to wonder if maybe something unusual is going to happen with the material. Whatever it is, I think I’m going to have to find a way to get to one of these shows, wherever they may play. It may very well be the last King Crimson shows ever.

In other Crimson-related news, Adrian Belew has Side Four available to purchase now both signed and unsigned. Come on, for like $4 you can get this legend’s signature. Don’t be a cheap bastard.

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