Monday, August 31, 2009

Amy Rigby “20 Questions”

This entry represents my biggest professional failure. It’s almost hard to look at. I feel like Charlie Brown, my eyes going between the Football and Lucy, the Football and Lucy. Should I really try this again?

I think “Diary Of A Mod Housewife” is one of the best singer-songwriter semi-concept records ever made.

It comes from a brilliant place. Amy Rigby played in bands on the indie music circuit in the 80s and early 90s. What becomes of a 30-something rock-n-roller? These are the songs she wrote. About being a wife, and a working stiff, being too old to be naïve and starry-eyed, but too young to be cynical and pragmatic. The collection of tunes paints such a vivid portrait of a certain person in a certain place in life.

And the music slips in and out of pop and country and rock to give the album more diversity, tempo and dynamic than your average singer-strummer.

It is the only album I’ve ever owned spare copies of, to give to worthy friends.

And it is my failure as a DJ, as a man who’s vocation it is to turn folks on to good tunes, that I haven’t gotten a single person to love this record.

Sure, I’ve met people who are fans of this album. But not once have I given a copy of this disc to someone, and had them come back and say “Great record!”

Jess, overnight DJ at mvy, was the last person I shared “Diary” with. The next day, she just made a sour face and said, “I didn’t even make it through 3 songs.”

I know I’m not wrong about this record. The year it came out, Spin voted Rigby “Songwriter Of The Year.” Robert Christgau praised the record. It’s listed in Tom Moon’s “1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die.” So I’m not nuts.

Just unsuccessful at convincing others.

But I’m willing to try this one more time.

Hear Amy Rigby “20 Questions”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Joss Stone/The White Stripes “Fell In Love With A Boy/Girl”

It’s nice to discover the original, even if you love the remake.

Barbara did an interview this week with the director of a documentary featuring Jack White. And shortly after the interview, I heard Joss Stone’s version of “Fell In Love With A Boy.” It made me go back to the iTunes list, to listen to the original “Fell In Love With A Girl” by The White Stripes.

mvyradio played the Joss Stone version quite a bit, so I’m much more familiar with it, than the original. Even if you’re not a garage rock fan, you can’t deny Jack White’s frenetic charisma. Then going back to the Joss Stone version, it makes you realize what an amazing job Stone, her producers and band, did, reimagining the track, so it could sit alongside Aretha Franklin and Betty Wright covers.

It’s like going back to find the British version of The Office, when you’re already a fan of the American version. You see the seeds of the idea, in there original state, and you can marvel at the way the re-makers made it their own.

Hear Joss Stone “Fell In Love With A Boy”

Hear The White Stripes "Fell In Love With A Girl"

See the amazing White Stripes video, plus live Joss Stone here

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sara Watkins “Long Hot Summer Days”

Sara Watkins was one-third of the band Nickel Creek, and this is from her 2009 solo album.

It’s a funny thing, going from a democratic band, to being the solo force.

In the band, you are part of the sound, part of the chemistry. Your contribution is balanced or buoyed or offset by the contributions of the other players.

So when you are on your own, the dynamic that was evident as an ingredient in the group, is suddenly the only flavor there. It’s like eating chicken soup, chicken soup, chicken soup, and then you’re served a steaming bowl of just carrots in broth. It’s not that the carrots taste bad, but you immediately, naturally, miss the other flavors.

It’s kind of unfair. This is a really cool song, with an effective arrangement and some great playing, but the initial reaction is that it sounds like an incomplete Nickel Creek song.

Prejudice is just no good.

Hear Sara Watkins “Long Hot Summer Days”

See her perform it live, here

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Smiths “Panic (Hang The DJ)”

It was one of those days. I was coming back to the Island on the Steamship Authority, and I was already late.

It’s summertime and the boat was an Ark overflowing with summer visitors, pushing and jockeying to make sure they were going to set foot on the Martha’s Vineyard before the 800 lumps in line behind them, who themselves were trying to do the same thing.

“I’M going to work,” I grumbled to myself, in full August-annoyed mode.

The Island Home had left Woods Hole 20 minutes late, so I was going to get to the radio station later than I’d planned to start with.

But now I’m out in the hot sun at the Vineyard Haven Pick-up/Drop-off, and my taxi is nowhere to be found. I’d called as soon as I got on the boat, to make sure they were waiting for me, so I could go straight to the radio station.

Twenty minutes tick by, and I realize that they’re not just late or caught in traffic.

“Hey, it’s PJ Finn. I called for an appointment an hour ago . . . “

“Ah crap,” the dispatcher says, “I forgot you. I don’t have a cab anywhere near you right now. Hang tight, I’ll see who I can send.”

Ah crap.

So there I stand for another 20 minutes, wilting in the sun. I’m dressed for the mvyradio offices, which have to be kept super-air-conditioned cold, due to the equipment. I’m wearing a sweatshirt and jeans and socks for God’s sake.

Finally, a cab swings around the corner, piloted by one of the young, bearded, college student summer drivers.

As I pull myself into the van, I hear what’s coming out of his iPod.

“Hang The DJ. Hang The DJ. Hang the DeeeJaayyy.”

I don’t hate much. But I hate Morrissey.

“Are you guys trying to send me a message?” I ask the driver. He shrugs, not clued in to where I’m coming from, and off we go.

Hear The Smiths “Panic (Hang The DJ)”

See the video, here

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Ramones “California Sun”

You know, when the character “Fonzie” was introduced on the TV Show “Happy Days” the network would only allow him to be seen in a leather jacket if he was near his motorcycle, because the leather jacket made him look like a dangerous character.

The same year “Happy Days” debuted, four guys in their black leather jackets formed a band, and became the progenitors of that most dangerous, rebellious music form, Punk Rock.

What was dangerous yesterday, is positively quaint today.

Could “California Sun” be any more the antithesis of dangerous?

Hear The Ramones “California Sun”

See them perform it live, here.

And also, see an amazing Fonzie Motorcycle toy commercial, here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Parliament “Flashlight”

I’ve never been confused with someone who is funky. But I can always dream, right?

A few years ago, we visited the Experience Music Project in Seattle, an interactive music museum. On top of having some pretty cool exhibits (dozens of Hendrix guitars; Gene Simmons outifits; footage of the Beatles only visit to Seattle), the whole third floor was like a Children’s Science Museum, for music loving adults. It's called The Sound Lab.

There were interactive guitars, and DJ scratch turntables, and keyboards and mixing boards. You could mix the vocals on The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations,” and pull up or down each different vocal part. There was a harmony singing station, where you went in a soundbooth, with microphones and headphones, and followed a video hosted by the women of Seattle’s own Heart. Ann led my wife on the lead vocal line for “Crazy On You” and Nancy showed me the harmony. Then we put them together.

But the Highlight, was “Flashlight.”

In a small, closetly room, was a large drum kit, with a couple of drumsticks, and a big button that said “Start.”

On “Start” the room lights go down, and a big, bassy, baritone starts the instruction:

“Today, we’re going to learn how to play ‘Flashlight’ by Parliament/Funkadelic.”

Suddenly, the whole kit rumbled to life, with a music track on the speakers, the drum kit started playing itself, banging out the funky beat of “Flashlight.”

“Okay, that’s ‘Flashlight.’ Now you’re going to do it. This big drum at your feet is the kick drum.” The kick drum lit up, and banged out a few beats. “Hit the kick drum on the 1 and the 3. Ready? ONE, two, THREE, four, ONE, two, THREE, four.Good! Now with your right hand, you’re going to hit the snare on the 2 and the 4. Ready? One, TWO, three, FOUR, one, TWO, three, FOUR. Now let’s put it together.”

The tutorial went on for several minutes, breaking down the parts of “Flashlight” then slowly putting them together, until, What do you know? I’m giving up the Funk!


Hear Parliament “Flashlight”

See the George Clinton perform "Flashlight" in 1978, here

See a kid trying to learn "Flashlight" at the Experience Music Project, here

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Everyday Visuals “Florence Foster Jenkins”

I saw these guys open for Fountains Of Wayne at The Paradise this Spring, and was knocked out.

Right up my alley---harmonies and heartaches.

And I liked the band’s presence. The right mix of humor and comfort and humility and confidence.

The real-life subject of the song is a woman who became a famous soprano, despite being a horrible singer.

Hear The Everyday Visuals “Florence Foster Jenkins”

See the band perform the song on the side of the road, and hear the real Florence Foster Jenkins, here

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Victoria Williams “Summer Of Drugs”

What thrills you as a kid, terrifies you as a parent.

The first time I heard “Summer Of Drugs” I was living post-collegiate, single, and responsibility-free. I mean, I had a job, but there was no reason not to be up until 4am, indulging in whatever entertaining activity (or vice) floated my way.

Victoria Williams is the perfect vessel for this song, in that she is perhaps the most non-threatening voice to sing about the perils and pleasures of recreational drug use. She speaks of her square parents, in an almost pitying voice, smiling at how quaint their notion of fun is (a tally pull!). Meanwhile she’s having a high time with her friends, knowing that Ma and Pa are completely unaware.

I can remember thinking, “If my parents only knew what I was doing right now . . . “

Now, what seems like just a couple of years later, I have a kid, and I look at her and try to imagine her as a young woman, inserted into some of those scenes I was a part of in that big farmhouse/bachelor pad.

And I want to tell her, trying to remain non-hysterical: “Sure, Victoria Williams seems innocuous, and gentle and sweet and hippie-dippy with her tossled hair and rickety voice and bohemian attitude, but that’s poison in her mouth!”

And I think about my parents, wondering if they actively worked at not-knowing, not-thinking, not-imagining their son’s 20-something years. I imagine it’s the only way a parent survives it.

Hear a live version of Victoria Williams “Summer Of Drugs”

See the Victoria Williams and Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum on David Letterman, here

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ben Taylor "Wicked Way"

I was doing research for my Monday afternoon interview with Ben Taylor, and I came across the video for "Wicked Way," which is super-cool. Ben is an independent artist, so usually there isn't much of a budget for a music video. But when you are a creative type, surrounded by other creative types, you can often get people to go to bat for you.

"Wicked Way" falls into a long tradition of songs that work really well when received as Tongue And Cheek. But fall flat when people take them at Face Value.

Think Randy Newman's "Short People." I can remember being in grade school, and the teachers getting so mad when we would sing that song, because it made fun of short people. A sane rational adult knows that the song is about random bigotry. But the artist can't always count on the audience to read between the lines.

Ben's song is silly and sassy, but I know that a number of folks who heard this song and found it a little "date-rape-y" for their tastes.

There's that great quote from Spinal Tap: It's a fine line between clever and stupid. When you are clever, but too dry or deadpan, do you come off like a jerk?

Where do YOU come down on this tune?

Hear Ben Taylor "Wicked Way"

See the video Here

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Beatles / Paul McCartney "Blackbird"

I saw Paul McCartney at Fenway.

It was incredible. No surprise there. I mean, the man has hit after hit after hit. He could have just played the first few bars of 50 different songs, and that would have been enough for the crowd to be apoplectic.

Earlier in the week, my wife had gone to see Coldplay in concert. On the way into Fenway, we were talking about how Coldplay’s songs, like U2’s, are stadium-ready. Their anthemic nature worked really well in the less intimate setting of an outdoor venue.

Paul has no shortage of anthems, and he pulled out the BIG songs, including “Day In The Life,” “Jet,” and a totally over the top “Live And Let Die” complete with flashpots and fireworks.

But the amazing surprise of the night was his ability to pull off quiet songs. Can you imagine being able to pluck an acoustic guitar, and have 30,000 plus people sit in rapt attention?

Paul introduced “Blackbird” as a song he’d written in response to the Civil Rights movement of the 60s, then rendered it beautifully on guitar. It was magic, how something so massive could be so intimate and moving.

I don’t know if the video captures it, but here’s a bit of footage my wife took on her camera, as well as the original song.

Hear The Beatles "Blackbird"

See the video shot by the lovely Mrs. Finn, Here

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Old School Freight Train “Heart Of Glass”

You hear that a bluegrass/Americana band is going to do a Blondie song, and you automatically assume that it’s going to be an ironic take. But kind of like when Richard Thompson did Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time,” while the initial idea might have been ironic, the actual execution really, really works. This Old School Freight Train version, again like the RT song, loses any arch-ness that inhabited the original, and reads the lyrics with gravity.

The first time we ran across this band, at Merlefest 2005, I think, they did Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927.” There’s another song that can have the gravity and the irony dialed up or dialed down in the delivery, but still remains serious and sarcastic in the right places, no matter how it’s sung.

Hear Old School Freight Train “Heart Of Glass”