Friday, April 27, 2007

Morning Shorts

Brooklyn Vegan has teriffic pictures and a review of Leonard Cohen's brief but apparently thrilling appearance at Joe's Pub with with current collaborator Anjani. There are rumors of a Cohen tour, the first in many moons, which may or may not be a good thing. After all, in this effusive review, the focus is on the fact that he's there and singing at all, not on the transcendant nature of his performance, his voice. The voice has dropped from baritone to deep dark bass to low-level rumble on record, and live may be a different story still. But many of us too young to have seen him on his last, early-90s tour would probably still jump at the chance.

Stereogum has a couple of tracks from the new Veils record Nux Vomica, which just got released stateside. "The Tide That Left and Never Came Back", from their first album The Runaway Found, was one of my favorite straightforward rock songs of the past few years, the kind of ultra-catchy, fun song that you'd think would have been accessible enough for mainstream radio, in a sane world.

Idolator posts a new Bob Dylan song, "Huck's Theme", from the Lucky You soundtrack. Is a video with Drew and Bob cavorting far off?

Luna covering Paula Abdul? Jim O'Rourke taking on the Spice Girls? Now how much would you pay? Pitchfork has more.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More New Releases

A few things more I didn't mention yesterday...

The wonderfully named Whiting Tennis is not only a singer-songwriter but a visual artist of some acclaim. His new album Three Leaf Clover (buy it) is instantly appealing due to the airy, intimate production that creates a close-in feeling. The songwriting reminds me of Neil Young with a touch of Robyn Hitchcock or even Bevis Frond, with country, folk and psychadelic elements all on the verge of implosion. Listen to Whiting on his MySpace.

Also, if you're picking up Bill Callahan's Woke on a Whaleheart, be sure to supplement it with the Diamond Dancer single, for the brilliant b-side "Taken". A palm-muted guitar repeats a catchy hook over gentle rhythm guitar as Bill deadpans "In every picture you take of me, I look like a dog". The line is pitched somewhere between sheepish and silly. It's a rewarding moment of vulnerability, especially if you've been following Mr. Callahan's career, looking for cracks in the armor. If it seems too much to buy a single with one bonus track, you can also download the song off of eMusic.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New Release Tuesday: Part 1

The biggest NRT in a while brings reissues of Leonard Cohen's first three albums, Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs from a Room and Songs of Love and Hate (buy it). I'd say that all are must-haves, and the first one is on some higher plane of necessity. You need this album, and the Greatest Hits really doesn't count. Admittedly, mid-spring is an odd time to reissue these transcendently gloomy, bracing, hyper-real albums - couldn't they wait until some snowy winter midnight? - but go for it anyway. For those who already own, the bonus tracks look meager, unfortunately.
Elsewhere, Smog becomes Bill Callahan with Woke on a Whaleheart (buy it), and while Stylus seems to think Neil Michael Hagerty's ruined the thing, I'm nevertheless excited to hear it. Even the New York Times has chimed in, which just goes to show what dating a harpist will do for your career that umpteen brilliant albums won't. And speaking of that, Joanna Newsom returns with the EP And the Ys Street Band (buy it), featuring one new song and two reworkings of old ones, including favorite "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie" from The Milk Eyed Mender.

The Blow's Poor Aim: Love Songs (buy it) gets the reissue treatment with bonus remixes, and this is a fun, fun disc, with more pop sensibilities than Paper Television.

Stay tuned for even more new releases this evening...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Morning Shorts

Bill Callahan's "debut" comes in on Tuesday, and the NYT is on board: "by Mr. Callahan’s standards, “Woke on a Whaleheart” is an exuberant album; it includes a skewed gospel song (“The Wheel”) and an unexpectedly forthright, if long-winded, love song (“From the Rivers to the Ocean”). “Day” seems to be a bitter (if vague) protest song, but the stern opening line — “Some people are a sickness on this land” — soon gives way to a playful instruction: “Learn from the animals/Monkeys do, monkeys do, monkeys do piggish things too.” Meanwhile, Fader has a video of Callahan, Joanna Newsom and Jim White performing oldie "Bathysphere".

Daytrotter brings in an Eef Barzelay session, including two new tunes and a gorgeous solo version of "Collapse" from End of Love.

I've got one Shannon Wright album in my collection, and I admired it more than I listened to it. It's "difficult". But wow, the preview track from her new album Let in the Light, due May 8th on Quarterstick, is of a different world, an indie-classic rock mashup with soul and deep, rich vocals. This has been added to my buy list...

MP3: Shannon Wright - "Everybody's Got Their Own Part to Play"

Living With Legends pointed me to a fine YouTube cover of Dan Bern's great, underheard song "Chelsea Hotel", given an appropriately whiskey-soaked vocal treatment.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pssst! Secretly Canadian Release 100th Album, Celebrate Quietly with Molsons

Secretly Canadian is actually up to release number 122 (The Horns of Happiness, natch) but their official 100th, apparently long-delayed, comes out next week. Long a wonderlabel, a source of generally uncommercial, often unhinged, and almost always top-notch music, they've scored some bona fide hits lately with Antony, and on a smaller scale Jens Lekman. (I've got a special place in my heart for a sadly out of print a capella comp The Unaccompanied Voice, featuring Mark Kozelek, Damien Jurado, and Mia Doi Todd in French).

Their "100th" release is a collection of SC artists covering each other, and they've made two of the tracks available for download, along with an online bonus non-album song. The best of these three is probably Dave Fischoff's take on Damien Jurado's "Abilene", although the late Nikki Sudden is in top form as well. Marmoset's cover of "Black Cab" might not need to be heard more than once, but you can always enjoy the fantastic original, one of the best pop songs of the century.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

New Release Tuesday: Beware Young Ladies!

Some fine old-time folk tunes from Tom Paley will be released tomorrow as Beware Young Ladies! (buy it) on Swedish label Gravitation. 79-year-old Paley is best known as a banjo player and former bandmate of Pete Seeger in the 1950s, and later a member of the New Lost City Ramblers and the Old Reliable String Band. You can stream a number of the songs on Gravitation's web site, including a version of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times" with affecting vocals for the ages.

Also out is Bay Area songwriter Sonny Smith's Fruitvale (buy it), a concept album about the title's neighborhood in Oakland. Edith Frost and Kelly Hogan lend vocals to the affair; he's toured with Neko Case. Looking forward to hearing this one based on the preview track.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Uncommon Folk: Linda Draper

Uncommon Folk is a feature in which artists we admire talk about the music and other media that inspired and influenced their own work.

Linda Draper's fifth album, Keepsake, will be released by Virginia-based Planting Seeds Records on May 8th. A veteran of New York's loose anti-folk scene, Linda's songs are instantly accessible but hold plenty of depth. Her sturdy songwriting and calm, confessional vocals go down easy, but surprise with shades of darkness finely calibrated to remind listeners of life as it's lived. After a longtime partnership with the legendary Kramer, she worked with Major Matt Mason in producing Keepsake.

To record something with the intent of it being released on a Compact Disc (even though it’ll also be available on iTunes, etc.) is starting to feel like a nostalgic thing to do, especially with everything becoming digital/invisible/portable these days. CDs are starting to lose their sense of purpose, almost. Thinking about this is how I came up with the title for my latest CD, Keepsake, as well as a couple of the other songs that are on it, like “Cell Phone”.

From 1999 – 2006, I’ve moved 8 times - all around Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Queens. The good thing about moving this often is that you don’t accumulate too much junk. I actually enjoy throwing things away. I’m a packrat’s worst nightmare. But every now and then, I come across something that I want to hold onto.

In 2004, after bouncing around from place to place, I moved into what would be my 3rd basement studio apartment in Queens. When cleaning out the apartment, I discovered a bottle of prescription medication that probably belonged to the person who lived there before me. I looked up online what the medication was for. Apparently they either suffered from anxiety, depression or both. The first song I wrote while living in that apartment was inspired by the former tenant, someone I never met. It’s called “Kissing The Ground”. This song would find its way onto Keepsake, which I recorded in bits and pieces over the course of about a year, from 2005-2006. I was listening to a lot of Cake in 2004, in particular the Pressure Chief album. Thinking back on it now, the lyrics in “Kissing The Ground” were probably at least partially inspired by their song “Tougher Than It Is”. “End of the Movie” is another one of my favorite Cake songs.

Listen to Cake at MySpace

“Among Every Stone That Has Been Cast” was inspired by the music/melodic structure and phrasing of one of the best songwriter/poets of all time, Leonard Cohen.

Watch a video for "Chelsea Hotel #2" at YouTube

The lyrics that are in the title track of “Keepsake” came from my experiences of living in my 1st basement studio apartment in Queens (Astoria) back in 2002-2003. That building caught on fire. My upstairs neighbors, two kids and their mom, died in it. It was all over the news because the kids were related to the actress Marcia Gay Harden. I remember I was actually inside of my apartment making breakfast at the time of the fire. It was late Sunday afternoon in mid December of ‘03. (I like to sleep late on weekends.) I was in my kitchen when I first heard the sound of breaking glass, which I later realized must have been the windows upstairs exploding from the heat of the flames. Outside my own window I saw what I first thought was snow falling but then quickly realized were ashes, followed by chunks of fire, burning ember of tar and wood. I remember I looked out my front door and saw big clouds of black smoke and flames pouring out of the window a couple of stories above me. I yelled “Holy Shit!” a few times, grabbed my guitar and my cordless phone to call 911 and ran like hell out the front door – and then (of course) slipped and fell just like in the movies. Lucky for me, with the exception of a very tiny piece of ember that burned a little hole right through my favorite pair of jeans when I fell, I escaped completely unscathed -- as did my little black kitty.

I’ve gone through some trying times before as we all have, you know, but when you experience and see firsthand how fragile it all is, you can’t help but find it to be that much more valuable and worth fighting for – or running like hell for - even if it’s not that pretty to look at sometimes. The inspection later concluded that the fire started as a result of an unattended candle someone had left in one of the apartments upstairs.

Besides the song “Keepsake” some of the ideas for a couple of the other songs, like “Traces Of”, came from this experience too.

Back to the present: I finally gave into the ways of the world and bought my first cell phone the end of 2006. But I still don’t think I really need one and rarely if ever, answer it…much to the annoyance of most of my friends.

You can pre-order Keepsake here.

The Keepsake CD release party will be at the Cake Shop in NYC on May 26th, with Carolyn Alroy and Kat Hayman.

MP3: Linda Draper - Shine
Stream: Several songs at MySpace

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Morning Shorts

Following up on the Vic Chesnutt post of the other day, greater New Yorkers can see him free at Fordham U.'s Flom Auditorium May 9th. If you wanna see the singular Vic, you'll need to RVSP to WFUV's Assistant News/Public Affairs Director George Bodarky at (718) 817-5561 or at gbodarky@wfuv. org byApril 18th. The performance is in conjunction with the premiere of an audio documentary on disabled musicians called "Musical Abilities", which will air and stream May 23rd at 8:30 PM on WFUV.

To add to the steadily growing surreality of Bright Eyes' rise as massive pop culture icon/object of derision from the humble beginnings of Saddle Creek home recordings: Pitchfork reports that Costco is/was hawking Oberst-autographed guitars for the bargain-basement rate of $899! However, a call to Bright Eyes' publicist revealed that they had no idea, and they'd be getting in touch with Costco. Lo and behold, the listing is down. The price of fame, Omaha!

Somehow on New Release Tuesday I missed an available track from Jana Hunter's great new record on Gnomonsong, There's No Home. Get woozy and weepy to "Valkyries".

MP3: Jana Hunter - Valkyries

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

New Release Tuesday one we missed

Fast becoming one of my favorite labels, Gnomonsong is releasing Jana Hunter's second album There's No Home (buy it) tomorrow. Sadly no download is available, but you can hear the gently prickly "Babies" at her MySpace. This is the sort of personal songwriting that you want to take pleasure in savoring; listen to the slight variations in the insistent offbeat chord. Pick of the week!

Laura Veirs returns with Saltbreakers (buy it); a few songs from the record are up on her MySpace, including "Don't Lose Yourself", a jerky track with dub elements that makes me think Karl Blau had a hand in it, or at least an influence.

Finally, I was remiss in not posting on power-pop eminence Mitch Easter's new record, Dyamico (buy it), which came out a few weeks ago. "Time Warping" is more proof that good loud hooks & strained, lovelorn vocals are all you need. He's touring the Southeast in May and playing Let's Active songs, by request, for half the gig.

MP3: Mitch Easter - Time Warping

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Vic Chesnutt smothered with covers

Vic Chesnutt mailing list members compiled a tribute to the iconic Southern man a few years back, Humble and Gracious. In terms of affinity for cover versions, I'm firmly in the "fuck, yeah" camp - a well-chosen cover song in a band's set is a sure way to earn my affection, and I generally can't get enough. And while Chesnutt's idiosynchratic style might resist covers, this tribute has some fine ones. And the price is right.

Here are three songs from Humble and Gracious, which would make a nice companion to Sweet Relief 2 on the shelf of the Chesnutt completist.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Dan Bern writes the books

At the risk of posting too much Dan Bern, I thought I'd let the faithful readership know he's got two new books available via his website: sequel The Glorious Return of Ted the Cow and short story collection Tales of Toscana. I haven't made it through the latter, but Ted charms as a simple graphic novel of a cow seeking his place in life "There were baseball tryouts! Ted is going to go! Ted proved to be a decent glovecow, and had a fair arm. But he couldn't hit his way out of a paperbag." Mostly it reminds me, in a good way, of The Onion's Scott Dikkers' sadly out of print and therefore very pricey Jim comics.

There's a new recording online of Dan's March show in Berlin, and it includes the non-album song "Big Old Blue Highway". On the surface it's your basic travalougue/vagabond road song, and most other singer-songwriters couldn't pull this off in an interesting way. But Dan totally sells it, makes it sad and funny and not too sentimental. "And when the train station station was warm enough I played the harmonica low and rough/sometimes made a dollar a day/slept on the edge of that big old blue highway". Go see him on tour.

MP3: Dan Bern - Big Old Blue Highway

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Morning Shorts

Loudon Wainwright III will appear in and release the soundtrack for Judd Apatow's summer comedy blockbuster Knocked Up! I'm already excited about Knocked Up, but this kicks the fever pitch up to 11. The soundtrack will be out May 22nd and is called Strange Weirdos: Music From And Inspired By The Motion Picture Knocked Up.

Spin has the scoop and pictures on an invite-only NYC Fader show with Bill Callahan and special guests, along with who a series of hipsters think would make "the ultimate indie rock power couple".

The Invisible Blog ponders the eerily similar career paths of Mark Eitzel and Bob Mould. Meanwhile, Mould has a new advice column set to debut on Thursday in the Washington City Paper and needs your questions.

Lullabyes has a great Bishop Allen set from SXSW.

I'm debating whether to go to the Xiu Xiu/Castiotone show tonight; anyone with intel on this tour should feel free to chime in. This is a cover from the upcoming 5RC Xiu Xiu remix/cover comp.

MP3: Kid606 - Fabulous Muscles (Xiu Xiu cover)

Monday, April 02, 2007

New Release Tuesday

Jarvis Cocker returns stateside for the release of Jarvis (!) (buy it)- not a talk show but a post-Pulp solo offering. The two free tracks making the rounds won't knock you out, but "Running the World" is cheeky, obvious anti-war bombast you can sing along to, and "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time" boasts some nice hooks and brass flourishes. Something is missing, though - the latter is emotionally flat, and it all kinda seems like an audition for whatever the British equivalent of Vegas is. Maybe there are some gems on the album, or maybe you're better off getting the Peel Sessions.

Elsewhere, Houston Party Records has the new Centro-Matic EP Operation Motorcide (buy it), which has leftovers from the Fort Recovery Sessions. And Scottish band The Twilight Sad have an anthemic sound that mixes folk, rock squalls, and accordians. Worth checking out on their MySpace page is "That Summer, At Home I Became an Inivisible Boy". Their record Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters (buy it), on Fat Cat, has a cover worthy of a dark Hefner EP, and they're on the road in the US now.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Voyces - Kissing Like It's Love

Planting Seeds Records are releasing the second album by pop band The Voyces, Kissing Like It's Love, on May 8th, and if they can get past the ambiguously salivary album cover, the title track should have pop-underground devotees swooning.

Lead Voyce Brian Wurschum sings "You smell like every summer should/my favorite time of year/like Coppertone and firewood/how am I supposed to steer" and you can hear it coming out of top-down convertibles in July, a big summer hit in an alternate universe. The vocals and charmingly lo-fi production are highly reminiscent of early, underappreciated Matthew Sweet (it would fit snugly next to Inside's "Blue Fools" or Earth's "How Cool") and his friends and frequent collaboraters Velvet Crush. Full of familiar and satisfying hooks and changes, this is a fun, guileless pop gem that's hard to get out of your playlist.

The Voyces play the Bowery Ballroom in NYC April 28th.

MP3: The Voyces - Kissing Like It's Love