Monday, February 28, 2011

Nicole Atkins "Cry Cry Cry"

Jesse Barnett of Right Arm Resource is our guest blogger this week. He spends his days on the phone with radio stations across the country, advocating for records he believes in. While PJ is on vacation, Jesse talks to you about 5 new songs he thinks radio, and you, will love.

Hello? Is anyone looking?

Well, this is strange. I feel like I’m sneaking into someone’s room and writing in their diary. Sure, a blog is not private like a diary, but you know what I mean.

Don’t you?

I’m honored that PJ asked me to guest-blog for a week while he and the family take a much-deserved vacation. He didn’t tell me where he was going, but I’m going to assume it has something to either do with a drink with an umbrella in it, or a seven foot tall cartoon character. Either way, my hope here is to keep from doing irreparable damage to his good name.

Part of PJ’s daily existence is taking (and dodging, when needed) an insanely large volume of calls from folks like me each week telling him about all the great songs piled up on his desk and just why, why oh why, each one deserves their place in rotation on WMVY’s airwaves.

Over the next week, I’ll highlight five of these songs, making my case to you, the reader. Perhaps together, we can convince PJ to find a home for them.

So here we go…

When I first heard Nicole Atkins in 2007, radio was awash in a sea of pretty female singer songwriters and their acoustic guitars. Then the album Neptune City hit my desk. A mix of swooning 60’s-girl-group melodies, vocals with attitude, indie cred album tracks and a band that could actually PLAY. Dang.

The first single, “Maybe Tonight,” was like Phil Spector meets the Go Go’s and the second, “The Way It Is” was throat-clearing sexy. When I got the chance to see her perform in a couple different settings at South By Southwest in the spring of 2008, she exuded an air of confidence and killed it every time she took the stage.

Like so many music industry stories go, after the promotional well for the album ran dry, she and the label parted ways. Over the next few years, she wrote the tracks for her new album Mondo Amore, playing anywhere possible to support the recording of it. Long story short, she’s got a new label, a new lease on life, and a killer album to back it all up. She also got a great opportunity to perfect the songs live as she spent last November opening up for The Black Keys.

The first single (ahem – this is where we all team up together to get PJ to play it) is called “Cry Cry Cry.” It comes out of the gate with a driving beat, her trademark soaring vocals and a chorus that is impossible to get out of your head after one listen. Radio has responded kindly, with major airplay nationwide. The album was just released, selling over 2000 copies in its first week, and she capped it off with a performance of the song on Conan. Watch it below. I dare you to not find yourself singing it out loud later in the supermarket.

Read a little more about Jesse in this previous post, and visit his site at Right Arm Resource.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Go-Gos "Vacation"

Here's another Weekend Post:

I'm not actually headed out on vacation until Tuesday, but since I save the weekend posts for simple nostalgia, here's some ex-punks-gone-pop gone on vacation.

Weekend posts are a chance to revisit songs that have happy memories, not of anything in particular, other than just hearing the tunes.

Many of these songs were tracks that I played during my 90s stint as an Alternative/Modern Rock radio show. They're tunes that I hardly hear these days, but are wonderful to revisit.

Click on the "Weekend Posts" label below, to see other posts like this.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Raphael Saadiq "Stone Rollin'"

Jesse Barnett is going to be guest blogging here next week. And to get things off on the right foot, here's a free iTunes download that we received, via of Mr. Barnett.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Guster "Airport Song"

The scene: Backstage at the Life Is Good Festival 2010

I'm talking to Jesse, who's holding a big framed poster covered with the autographs of most everyone who has played at the two day event.

Jesse was one of the top fundraising VGP's (Very Good People) for Life Is Good's Kids Foundation, earning him all kinds of great perks. He and his wife and two kids met most every band, had special on-the-stage seating and backstage access throughout the weekend, thanks to his tireless, months long charitable efforts leading up to the festival.

Guster---who have just come off the main stage---will be his last "get" for the weekend. He has otherwise filled his commemorative poster will the scribbled sharpie signatures of folks he's just seen live.

If you've ever been to a Meet & Greet, there is usually this awkward moment, when the band files into the room (or in this case, tent), and the band and the fans look at each other, waiting for somebody to go first.

Jesse---he's not shy---jumps right in, offering the band compliments and thanks, and then he mentions, "I worked the Hybrid record for you guys."

I tell you this story to point out that, Yes, Jesse works in Record Promotions. But more importantly he's a music fan first.

There really aren't cultural tales of heroic record promoters. No, unfortunately, folks who make a living trying to get radio stations to play certain records are generally painted with the same dirty brush that people use to describe Used Car Salesmen.

And, outside of my subjective experience, I might see how you could be cynical, and equate those who make commerce out of art as being worthy of contempt.

But thankfully, my subjective experience has educated me otherwise.

On a daily basis, I interact with folks who devote their lives to getting records played on radio. And by and large, these people are music lovers first and foremost, who happened to work in a field they are passionate about.

Jesse Barnett, and a couple dozen other folks like him, call me every week to talk about records they're promoting and why they think mvyradio listeners might like them.

I know that not every radio station Music Director enjoys taking these calls, but I find them to be really rewarding. I spend a few hours each week, talking to people who are not just passionate about music, but are willing to be evangelical about it. Sure, sometimes it's rote. And yes, I only end up playing a fraction of the records I get talked to about. But to be a part of the conversation is pretty exciting for a music fan.

I'm on vacation next week, so I am asking you to take my music calls.

Jesse will be calling you, via this blog, to talk directly to you about five records he's working, that he thinks mvyradio should be playing. Read what he has to say, listen to the tracks, and leave some feedback. It'll be great to have you in on the conversation, too.

A bit about Jesse. His company is Right Arm Resource, based out of North Easton, Massachusetts. He graduated from Emerson, and worked for A&M Records and then Hybrid Records among other places, before starting his own independent company.

Jesse, like most of the Record folks who call me at mvy, is an independent promoter. Instead of working for a label (where label heads decided what artists they will work with, and the promotions department goes about promoting those artists whether they like them or not) an independent promoter is like a freelancer. Jesse will get hired by Sony or New West or Universal to work Raphael Saadiq or The Old 97s or Jack Johnson records. He has to scrap for each job he gets, but he only has to work records he really believes in.

Starting Monday, read about the songs Jesse is getting evangelical about. Think about how it might sound on mvyradio. And let us know what you think.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Foreigner "Waiting For A Girl Like You"

There's a Steven Wright joke about driving cross country, with only 1 cassette in the car.

But this wasn't really a joke for the Finn Family. I only owned 2 cassettes, and both were in the car with us.

Now, the reason I only owned 2 cassettes, was that I had finally reach an age where my allowance was such that I could save up and buy my very own music purchases. So I was just at the beginning of my lifelong record collecting habit.

I was 12 years old, and I bought two very super cool hip cassettes: The J Geils Band "Freeze Frame" & Foreigner "4."

We weren't quite rich enough to afford a Walkman, but I did have my own tape recorder and some headphones, and knowing that we'd be spending close to 50 hours in the car together, I made sure to pack them.

It was 1981 and we were making our BIG first family trip, in the blue station wagon, to Disneyworld.

If you've ever driven the East Coast, you have probably spent a large portion of the trip spinning the dial, looking for some kind of consensus music that will satisfy the musical needs of the travelers.

(Yes, this story is so old, that I am mentioning things that barely exist anymore: station wagons, tape recorders and non-digital radio dials that actually need to be spun to be tuned)

By somewhere in Maryland, Dad was ready to try a change. He asked if what I had for my tape recorder.

I looked at the J. Geils tape. Would a song about a high school crush becoming a Playboy Centerfold pass parental muster? Uh, probably not. I passed Foreigner "4" forward.

The tracks were generically rocking enough that we were all tapping along as we made our way down 95. But there was actually some interest when "Waiting For A Girl Like You" came up. Even Mom could overtly like this one.

When the cassette finished, Dad popped it out, and to our surprise, "Waiting For A Girl Like You" was the first song that came up on the next local station we found.

And when that station faded and we picked up another, it was in short order that "Waiting For A Girl Like You" rang out again.

By this time, it was practically a game. We'd try to catch the song in each state we passed through. And we listened to the cassette a couple more times, too.

Between the trip down and the trip back, we heard the tune a couple dozen times. And even today, if by chance someone in the family hears that song, we immediately recall that trip to Florida.

I had this story on the brain, because my wife and I are taking the kids to Florida next week. And now, as a parent, I realized all the sacrifice and savings and planning that go into making a major family trip and I wonder and worry:

30 years later, will my kids mostly just remember a song they heard on the radio?

*fun fact: Thomas Dolby (not yet famous for "She Blinded Me With Science") is the playing the keyboard on this!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cowboy Junkies "Flirted With You All My Life"

I've blogged before about the dangers of being The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Knowing some background about a song or artist can help, but sometimes it can hurt.

I think the Cowboy Junkies have done the world a tremendous service with their album "Demons." It's a collection of songs written by their late friend Vic Chesnutt.

Despite the excellent readings of these songs, it's just a little too heart-wrenching to hear them sing "Flirted With You All My Life."

This was a track from one of Chesnutt's final records. The "You" in the song is suicide. He sang openly about his lifelong flirtation with suicide. But he sung it in such a way that it made you feel like he had moved on, that he was alright.

Having the Cowboy Junkies take on that song, knowing Vic took his own life, just makes me sad that this was something he couldn't overcome.

That he lost. And we lost.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Phish "Down With Disease"

The harsh light of day was not forgiving to The Omelet Shoppe.

I was used to coming to the only all-night place in Abingdon after a night out on the town, drinking and listening to music and such. After midnight, before sunrise. At night, the dark hid the dirt. And more importantly, I'm sure the dark (and the drunk) hid how ragged I looked at 3:30am snarfing on an egg sandwich.

But this day, I was here at a time that a big plate of eggs and waffles makes much more sense---brunch.

It was a goodbye breakfast. Goodbye to a girl with whom I'd had a brief, unusual relationship.

Two weeks prior to the breakfast, we'd met and hit it off.

"Figures," she said, "I'm moving in two weeks."

But for young, twenty-something single (and not-uncreative) me, I saw it as an open opportunity.

"Then let's enjoy each other, and skip any of the usual dating B.S."

I realized that we didn't have time, or need, to move cautiously. Or to say "I'll call you" and wait the appropriate number of days so as not to seem too eager. There was no need to present this false-ish "best behavior" version of yourself. Or to not say what was on your mind. It was an opportunity to really let go of the railing and run down the stairs.

There was no need to negotiate, calibrate, or obfuscate. It would be over in two weeks, good, bad or indifferent.

It was good. Skipping the B.S. allowed us to really get to know each other, and be open to each other in a way that other early relationships had never been. She shared much about herself, including her bitterness about her time in Abingdon. The idealism that had brought her to a public service job in the area, had been squashed by insecure bosses and small-minded thinking. And with no sentimental attachment to her time, she had been ready to leave and never look back.

But over breakfast, her car loaded up with all her belongings, ready for the highway, she did have a reason to smile and look in the rearview mirror when she headed up Route 81.

"It's like that Phish song, 'Down With Disease.'"

Uh-oh. I had had a long standing policy against anyone who explained themselves via questionable song lyrics.

What's the line?

"Waiting for the time when I can finally say / That this has all been wonderful but now I'm on my way."

She explained that she had hoped to stick around long enough that some element of her time in town was positive. And now she had.

I liked her philosophy and it made it easier to say goodbye, which we did not long after paying the check.

That was the day I let go of my prejudice against defining yourself through song, that she let go of her prejudice against Abingdon, and that daylight in The Omelet Shoppe was more forgiving that it at first seemed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

They Might Be Giants "James K Polk"

Here's another Weekend Post:

Happy President's Day!

Weekend posts are a chance to revisit songs that have happy memories, not of anything in particular, other than just hearing the tunes.

Many of these songs were tracks that I played during my 90s stint as an Alternative/Modern Rock radio show. They're tunes that I hardly hear these days, but are wonderful to revisit.

Click on the "Weekend Posts" label below, to see other posts like this.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Semisonic "Closing Time"

Recently I decide to start a weekend feature called "Random Ridiculous Songs That Have No Business Being Played In Public Again But I Heard In The Grocery Store Today."

This song should only be played in bars. Or, if you're really depressed, when you're at home drinking by yourself.

It does not make sense in the supermarket. You can't even buy beer in grocery stores in Massachusetts.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The B52s "Butterbean"

Here's another Weekend Post:

This song is so insanely stupid, but wonderful. It's like one of those 80s Chevy Chase comedies that wasn't very good the first time you saw it, but by the 5th time you've seen it, it's the funniest thing ever and you're quoting it non-stop. We loved this one in the UMass dorms. Makes me smile, just thinking about how drunk we must've been.

Weekend posts are a chance to revisit songs that have happy memories, not of anything in particular, other than just hearing the tunes.

Many of these songs were tracks that I played during my 90s stint as an Alternative/Modern Rock radio show. They're tunes that I hardly hear these days, but are wonderful to revisit.

Click on the "Weekend Posts" label below, to see other posts like this.

Friday, February 18, 2011

MxPx "Move To Bremerton"

I am sensitive to the punctuation-ally challenged.

kd lang wants her name in all lower case, despite what Spell Check tells me.

If his name were William, it wouldn't be as interesting as Will.I.Am.

Was (not Was) needs those parentheses.

Panic! At The Disco wouldn't be as urgent without that exclamation point.

I'm sure it's frustrating when they see their names in print, spelled with incorrect punctuation.

And with a name like P.J., you know I know their pain.

When I was in Little League, we were having a championship season, and against one of our big rivals I had the game of my life. Not only did I get a hit all 4 times I went to bat, that last hit drove in the game winning, last inning run.

It made it to the local paper's sports page later that week, with the headline "Finns Fourth Hit Wins Game." I was thrilled, until I read the article.

In those pre-digital days, the coaches sent in hand-written notes to the newspaper for these articles. And when my coach wrote my name, instead of using dots to create periods in my name, he made little, tiny circles.

So the article, my glory story, instead of lauding the offensive prowess of "P.J. Finn," the sportswriter complimented "Pojo Finn."


You know, 30 years later, there are a couple of guys that I can still run into when I go back to my hometown, who'll see me and shout "Pojo! Good to see you!"

That's why I have sympathy for MxPx.

They were formerly Magnified Plaid. They had gotten so locally popular in their native Northwest, that they could produce hand-drawn show posters and abbreviate their name to M.P.

Only, the guy that wrote the posters, instead of drawing dots for periods, drew little x's. And the band suddenly became known as MxPx.

I feel their !@#$% punctuation pain.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bruce Cockburn "Call Me Rose"

There is a mathematical sequence that goes:

Comedy = Tragedy + Time

Watergate and the fall of Richard Nixon was perhaps the lowest ebb of America's 200+ year history.

And yet, Nixon has definitely had the most hilarious Presidential after-existence in Pop culture.

Whether it's the Watergate farce "Dick," or the floating head of Nixon in a jar running for office on "Futurama," our 37th President's fictional incarnations are invariably the funniest of all the Presidents.

As are the RE-incarnations.

I laughed out loud at the first line of the new Bruce Cockburn song, which imagines Nixon reincarnated into less privileged (but more ironic) circumstances.

Instead of me spoiling the joke, you should head to Cockburn's website for a free preview of "Call Me Rose" from Bruce's forthcoming album.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Steve Earle "Carrie Brown"

I often wonder what life was like before instant replay.

I mean, in sports, there are infamous cases of officials making calls that were shown to be blatantly wrong on replay.

And beyond sports, tapes and recordings and photographs offer a chance to look back at a moment, and see it in a clearer light without the distractions of your own bias or self-perception.

Sometimes, you can even see a whole new narrative.

I’d gone with a group of friends to Nashville to the historic Ryman Auditorium, for a benefit show put on by a few groups who had come together to oppose the death penalty.

After an afternoon talk by Sister Helen Prejean (the nun who was portrayed by Susan Sarandon in Dead Man Walking), we were treated to an evening with The Indigo Girls, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle.

We bought the upgraded tickets that got us to a Meet & Greet backstage after the show, and that was my chance to talk to Steve Earle.

And as I waited my turn for an autograph, I tried to think of something thoughtful to say.

At the time, I was living in Abingdon, Virginia, working at a radio station there. But just prior to my radio gig, I had been a producer at an NBC affiliate in Bristol.

Bristol is actually two towns---Bristol Virginia and Bristol Tennessee. Two towns, two mayors, two police forces, two everything. And the border runs right through State Street. On the left side of the street it’s Virginia and on the right side it’s Tennessee.

By coincidence, Earle had recently put out his first bluegrass album, with The Del McCoury Band, called “The Mountain,” and it contained a song about a young man who kills the boyfriend of the girl he longs for but can't have. And the song contains this great line:

I walked around in Bristol town a bitter broken man
A heart that pined for Carrie Brown and a pistol in my hand
We met again on State Street poor Billy Wise and me
I shot him in Virginia and he died in Tennessee

Perfect! I’ll tell him I live right there! That’ll open up a dialogue and Steve and I will become friends forever!

So my turn comes around and I hand him my ticket and a Sharpie. And as he’s signing the front, I tell him I’m from Bristol and I think it’s cool that he wrote a song set in my town.

He finishes his signature, looks up and hands me back the ticket and the marker, and says kinda gruff-ly, wearily, “Yeah, I thought Bristol was a pretty good place to set a Hillbilly murder ballad.” And he moves on to the next guy in line.

That's how I remember him---gruff, a little weary from working all day (he was one of the event organizers), and just a notch above tolerant.

My friend Rita snapped a picture of a moment in our exchange, and seeing the photo gave me a whole different perspective.

(I didn't see the photo until several weeks after the incident. This story takes place waaaayyy back in 1999, when we actually had to get film developed, so you didn't know how your pictures came out)

Earle's face is much brighter in the photo than how I remembered it. In fact, the moment it captures suggests that his delivery of the "Hillbilly murder ballad" line was gruff and crusty and a bit drawn out, purely for comic effect, and that cracking the joke made him smile.

Here's the photo.

And it even lends itself to a sillier interpretation.

With the ticket and the Sharpie in his hand, and the bright smile on his face, doesn't it look a little bit like Steve Earle is asking me for MY autograph?

Somewhat surprisingly, I couldn't find the Steve Earle/Del McCoury version of this song. But Youtube is always good for some amateurs taking a crack at a good tune.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Esperanza Spalding "Little Fly"

There's a saying that goes: If you're not angry, you're not paying attention.

That seemed to be in play on Sunday night, when a gasp went up from the crowd at the Grammys, during the announcement of the Best New Artist Award.

The gaspers seemed to fall into two groups.

One group was angry. They were Beliebers, who had felt with dogmatic certainty that Justin Bieber would be crowned Best New Artist.

And the other group had not been paying attention, because the gasp was something along the lines of "Esperanza who?"

(There was a third group, known as People Who Knew About Esperanza Spalding Because They're Into Jazz, but that group contains so few people that it is statistically insignificant. "JK!" As a Bieber kid might say, or text)

The angry folks---like most folks who spend a lot of their time being angry and want to you be angry too---took the constructive path of threatening Grammy voters via Twitter, and changing Spalding's middle name to "Quesadilla" on Wikipedia.

The folks who were not paying attention said (somewhat inaudibly), "I should probably check her out or something . . ." their voice trailing off.

And as usual, the People Into Jazz just felt a little smug about their music taste. Zing! JK. Love you, PIJ's.

For those of you who weren't paying attention but want to catch up, here's some background

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Replacements "Valentine"

I spent a long stretch of the post-college, pre-Martha’s Vineyard part of my life, living in Abingdon, Virginia.

People always ask me where that is and I say that it’s in the western part of the state.

“You mean, like Charlottesville?” No, more West.

“West like Lexington?” Wester.

“Is it near Roanoke?”

I tell them it’s near the Virginia/Tennessee border.

There is usually a blank expression, which tells me that they didn’t know that Virginia and Tennessee bordered each other.

I wasn’t near any major American city, so if I wanted to see a Name band in concert, it meant a minimum of a 2 hour road trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, or Asheville, North Carolina, or someplace further.

And if the closest that Paul Westerberg was going to come to Abingdon was Athens, Georgia, then dammit, I was driving to Athens, Georgia.

The girl I was dating at the time wasn’t familiar with Westerberg or The Replacements, but agreed to go with me, if we made a full day of it. Meaning, if we left early in the morning, spent some time visiting North Carolina art museums, and had plenty of time to check out the college town of Athens.

Being the somewhat obsessive paranoid freak that I am, when we rolled into Athens at about 3 in the afternoon, I wanted to find the venue, so I would know where it was, and that it actually existed, even if the show wasn't for 6 more hours.

Georgia Theatre was a beautiful old style movie house where cool bands that passed through town came to play. We wandered up to the box office to see if we could grab our Will Call tickets in the early afternoon, to avoid waiting in line that night.

No one was at the Box Office, or at the door, but there was an unmistakable sound coming from inside.

And with no one at the box office or the door, there was nothing to stop us from just walking inside, to stand at the back of the room and listen to Westerberg’s sound check.

It’s hard to put into words, my feelings about Paul Westerberg’s music.

Sometime soon, I promise to write about going to see my first concert ever, The Replacements, which is probably the most important Every Day I Write The Blog entry, in that, it is probably the most influential song/memory of my life in music.

So I’ll just say this about my feelings . . . this was the music I listened to when I was the happiest, when I was the saddest, when I was the most angry, when I was the most confused---when I was the most emotional. My attachment to these songs is most emotional.

To be in this large, empty theatre, listening to my favorite songwriter . . . well, it was about as Fan-Geeked-Out as I could possibly ever get.

Of course, it couldn’t last forever. We got to hear about 3 songs before someone on the Theatre staff politely told us we couldn’t hang out, and we were ushered outside.

I stood outside the theatre, knowing that later I’d be inside for a full Rock N Roll show experience. But I wanted one last taste of my private Sound Check.

See the Box Office in the picture? That’s an old photograph, but Georgia Theatre still looked just like that in the late 90s. The box office window had its shade pulled.

But look closely, and you can
see that little box office slot where you’d slide your dollar through, to pay for your movie. If I got on my knees, I could see through it, into the box office. And the back door to the box office was open, which meant I could see through that door, and all the way to the stage. It was like looking through a spy-glass, with the center stage microphone on the other end of the lens.

Paul led the band through “Valentine” as I watched through my little key-hole vantage point.

And it was there that I reached Fan-Geeked-Out nirvana.

Bonus entry!!!

I love it when you discover something about a tune, years after you first heard it.

I've been listening to this tune for over 20 years, and heard something for the first time today, as I wrote this entry.

Twenty-something me was not musically educated enough to catch this, but after years at mvyradio, I finally realized that Westerberg does what seems to be a hat tip to Joni Mitchell in the lyrics.

"Valentine" -- If you were a pill, I'd take a handful at my will, And I'd knock you back with something sweet as wine.

"A Case Of You" --- Oh you're in my blood like holy wine, You taste so bitter and so sweet, Oh I could drink a case of you darling

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hall & Oates "Adult Education"

Last week I decide to start a weekend feature called ""Random Ridiculous Songs That Have No Business Being Played In Public Again But I Heard In The Grocery Store Today."

I know someone programs the music that plays in the grocery store. They pick songs that make for a pleasant shopping experience, or create a mood, or evoke nostalgia.

But it just seemed randomly ridiculous to unearth this later period Hall & Oates tune, that I can't imagine anyone is really nostalgic for.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dandy Warhols "Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth"

Here's another Weekend Post:

I kinda knew that the punk-ethos that had invaded mainstream music of the 90s (through Nirvana and the like) was gone, when I saw this (otherwise awesome) video, replete with fashionable choreography and bright colors, from this Next Big Thing band.

Weekend posts are a chance to revisit songs that have happy memories, not of anything in particular, other than just hearing the tunes.

Many of these songs were tracks that I played during my 90s stint as an Alternative/Modern Rock radio show. They're tunes that I hardly hear these days, but are wonderful to revisit.

Click on the "Weekend Posts" label below, to see other posts like this.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wanda Jackson "Shakin' All Over"

The last decade and a half have seen some notable, and nice, comebacks of aging genre icons via a younger, savvy, and generally unmeddlesome supporter/producer.

The template for this, of course, the the Rick Rubin produced Johnny Cash "American" series.

Pre-Rubin, Cash had been dismissed and relegated to the "ignored old guy" status. But Rubin knew that Cash still had power, and spurred Johnny on to create these great albums. Most remarkably, the records are pretty devoid of any kind of producer "stamp." If you had received the record without any liner notes, there would be virtually no way to tell that this was a Rick Rubin-produced record.

And that's a good thing, because it cleared away all the brush, put the man and his voice up front and reminded you that Johnny Cash was amazing.

Numerous records have been made since under this model. And they have been fun to champion, because you felt like you were supporting a worthy underdog.

Solomon Burke made an amazing comeback record with Joe Henry. And Henry did what no other producer had been able to do in nearly 40 years---get folks to pay attention to the bursting supernova that is Bettye Lavette. Rubin had less commercial success with his Neil Diamond record, but it was still an artistic step forward for Neil. And though Mavis Staples has made solid records in the last decade, her collaboration with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco seems to have made the most hay of her considerable talent.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch, was the Loretta Lynn/Jack White project.

It was the first real indication that White wasn't just an indie-rock guitar guy---he was a restless listener and experiencer with a wide range of taste and knowledge. And while they didn't seem like an obvious match, one listen to "Van Lear Rose" and it became obvious that they were making better records through chemistry.

I mention all these records, because they were my first real entree to each of the aforementioned artists. And a large part of the reason I turned up to listen in the first place, was because I am a fan of the aforementioned producers.

All that, to get to this: When the new Wanda Jackson record came in the mail, before I listened to it, I put it into my laptop's iTunes. That is to say, I was pretty sure I was going to enjoy it, simply based on historical precedence.

It seemed great on paper.

And if you check out the video below, you'll see that White is clearly in control. The band is absolutely smoking.

But . . . I dunno. I'm not sold on Wanda Jackson here.

I feel mean even saying that.

She's a legend. She's an icon. And at 73, it's fucking amazing that she's fronting a band of any kind.

But the other examples I cited . . . Johnny Cash, Bettye Lavette, Solomon Burke, Mavis Staples, Loretta Lynn . . . they all seemed to retain their power, and their listen-ability, in their comeback. Stripped of any band of studio aces, they could still kill it. Check out low key numbers like Burke's "Fast Train" or Lavette's version of "Isn't It A Pity."

But Ms. Jackson . . . her voice hasn't aged the same way. It didn't gain gravity. And unfortunately, it seems to be the weakest element of the record.

Low expectations and high expectations.

I wonder if part of the success of the relaunch of Johnny Cash and Mavis Staples and the others had to do with the fact that little was expected of them at this point. There was no reason to think that they could do what they used to do.

But now I have this expectation that a great performer can actually become greater with age. And if they don't it's a disappointment.

Is that fair? No.

Is it rude? Well, no. But it feels rude.

Because if I go on Letterman in my white fringe jacket at age 73 and sing my damn heart out, and some punk blogger poo-pooed my performance. I'd want to kick him in the teeth until he had to wear dentures, too.

For a taste of what she used to sound like . . .

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ray Charles "Night Time Is The Right Time"

I was reading this article in the AV Club about sitcoms in the 80s, which posits that The Cosby Show was one of the most important sitcoms of its era, if not of all time.

And it got me thinking: The Cosby Show was a strange paradox.

On the one hand, the sitcom couldn't have been more mild-mannered and tame. Plots revolved around peer pressure and homework and never approached a tone harsher than good-natured geniality. It was no more profound or adventurous than scores of shows that came before it, or after it.

And yet on the other hand, The Cosby Show has this enormous cultural legacy. It brought a version of the African-American experience (perfectly normal, largely apolitical and upper middle class) to a viewing audience that hadn't seen a minority family on television without overt and often stereotypical allusions to race. (Not everyone thinks this is a good thing, including two of my favorite UMass Professors)

For me, not surprisingly, the cultural impact was more musical than social.

For me, and for my teenage friends, The Cosby Show was our first experience with more than a couple of significant African-American and Latino musicians.

I know this is hard for folks who are, say, over 55 to believe, but my first exposure to people like Tito Puente and Dizzy Gillespie was through Cosby. (I remember Lena Horne being on there too, but I already knew who she was, from Sesame Street)

I'm sure I knew "Hit The Road Jack" by that age, but I can't say that I knew much about Ray Charles. And I'm fairly certain I'd not heard "Night Time Is The Right Time" at that point in my life.

But when the memorable scene in the video below aired, it motivated me to head to the stereo cabinet, and find Dad's banged up LP copy of "Ray Charles Greatest Hits." It didn't have "Night Time Is The Right Time," on it, but that only encouraged me to explore more.

So thanks, Cosby Show, for both a better understand of race, perhaps also a worse understanding of race and certainly a better understanding of Ray.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

John Mellencamp "Cherry Bomb"

We all exchanged wordless looks across the Pizza Hut table, a mix of mild amusement and mild annoyance.

The restaurant's Jukebox (remember Jukeboxes?) was skipping. And skipping. And skipping.

John Mellencamp's "Cherry Bomb," stuck, forever repeating the line, "We were young~~We were young~~We were young~~We were young~~We were young . . ."


In adulthood, you become friends with people because of the things you have in common.

But in middle school and high school, it seemed like many of the people I aligned myself with were guys who could make up for my deficiencies. They were outgoing when I was shy. Bold when I was cautious. Fun when I was responsible.

I'm sure it worked both ways. I'm sure I brought things to their lives that they felt was lacking within themselves. That's how it works.


So there I was. In Pizza Hut. Bemused, but becoming increasingly annoyed at the skipping John Mellencamp disc.

I just sat there, waiting for the Pizza Hut people to do something.

Waiting. Waiting.

The same thoughts, I'm sure, were going through Tip's head, across the table.

But he was my flip side, and Waiting, Waiting, was anathema to him.

He quickly stood up from the table, crossed the room to the jukebox and fished his hand behind the machine.

Here is what we heard over the Pizza Hut PA system. (Listen to the full 30 seconds)

Part of me feels like if Tip wasn't there to pull the plug, I might've just sat through the noise for my entire meal. I think that I literally didn't know what to do.

But I had Tip, who could do the things I couldn't, and who, in that moment taught me a little bit more about how to be a complete person.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

REO Speedwagon "Take It On The Run"

I was on this championship Little League baseball team in the early 80s. I brought a baseball to our final game and asked all my teammates to sign it.

One kid, instead of writing his name, drew the REO Speedwagon logo on the ball.

Even though he was supposedly one of the "Cool" kids, from that point forward, I thought he was kind of a tool.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Little Feat "Cold Cold Cold"

The good thing about working for an independent radio station is that there is no corporate overlord who is telling me how to program the station, or what songs we should be playing.

Corporate, mainstream stations have lots of rules about what they will play and won't play, and on some level, it's understandable. If you need to capture a mass audience to make it in the Big City, you can't take chances, you can't make choices that might alienate the "political" center of your listenership and you can't be to niche-y.

So if a great song has some kind of cosmetic problem, that's just too effin' bad. It's not going to get played on the Big City station, even the cool Triple A Format stations that are similar to mvyradio (but corporate owned and in large markets). If it's too slow and could drag down the station's tempo, it's out. If it's too folky or too country or too urban, no way. And God forbid that it's too long.

Even stone cold classics like the 6 minute "Tangled Up In Blue" aren't likely to make the daytime playlist of a Big City station. There is science and statistics behind this choice---if you have pushed the attention span of your audience too far, you're going to lose them to the channel-changing button. So you find what the median threshold is, and you make sure you don't cross it.

You're unlikely to hear a song ramble past the 4 1/2 minute mark, on a Big City station.

But we have the good fortune to be in a small market, where, if our ratings change two 10ths of a percent, we will not lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. We're a niche radio station that only appeals to a single digit percentage of the local audience, but because we're streaming on the web, we can actually program to that very small niche of folks, in every city in the world.

It provides a lot of freedom.

The freedom to occasionally play Little Feat's "Cold Cold Cold/Tripe Face Boogie" which is nearly 10 minutes long.

I only play this song a couple of times a year, but I LOVE to do it, because it always garners a couple of reactions.

When I play it, without fail someone calls the request line, freaking out. "I can't believe you're playing this! I haven't heard it on the radio in 20 years!" We can actually take advantage of the adventurousness-less of corporate stations, and make ourselves stand out.

The flip side, of course, is that the corporate stations are not entirely wrong.

Because also, without fail someone calls the request line, distraught: "What are you playing!?! Uggghhhh . . ."

There is a large percentage of the audience that just isn't going to stick with a song that's 10 minutes long.

I'd say, "Who needs em!!!" but that would be cold, cold, cold.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Dire Straits "Twisting By The Pool"

I'm thinking of starting a new weekend feature on the blog called "Random Ridiculous Songs That Have No Business Being Played In Public Again But I Heard In The Grocery Store Today."

I'm not really sure how songs make it onto the playlist of one of those satellite stations they pump into businesses. But lately, the grocery store I go to has been playing really obscure tunes, and I can't imagine who picked them or why.

Given the over-the-top winter weather we've been having, it just seems perverse that this one was rocking the cereal aisle today.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Supergrass "Alright"

Here's another Weekend Post:

In the 90s, there was a rumor that Steven Spielberg was going to work with Supergrass to make a new "Monkees"-type TV show. Never happened. I was disappointed. I loved "The Monkees." I'm going to have to write about that soon.

Weekend posts are a chance to revisit songs that have happy memories, not of anything in particular, other than just hearing the tunes.

Many of these songs were tracks that I played during my 90s stint as an Alternative/Modern Rock radio show. They're tunes that I hardly hear these days, but are wonderful to revisit.

Click on the "Weekend Posts" label below, to see other posts like this.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The White Stripes "Icky Thump"

Let me be the last blogger on Earth to tell you that The White Stripes announced their break up this week.

Sad news, but I was heartened to read this, posted on their website:
"The White Stripes do not belong to Meg and Jack anymore. The White Stripes belong to you now and you can do with it whatever you want. The beauty of art and music is that it can last forever if people want it to. Thank you for sharing this experience. Your involvement will never be lost on us and we are truly grateful.”

So there you go. Here is the rare person (people) that truly knows when to exit the stage gracefully. It's nice to actually see it. Class act, Jack and Meg.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sting "If You Love Someone Set Them Free"

Let me ask you a question . . . when you were in that final English class in college (or High School), and you had that big paper to write . . . what did you write about?

Can you remember the subject?

Could you quote a line?

Could you recite any of it from memory?

I think about this when I think about artists who've been around for a long, long time. The Rolling Stones, Lucinda Williams and R.E.M. have been sufficiently mocked for not remembering the lyrics to their songs, mocked for using lyric sheets on stage.

But shit, can you do your monologue from that play you were in 20 years ago?

It is maybe too tall an expectation to have from an artist, who, believe it or not, is only human.

Then again, it is kind of fun to pick on them, and be a little shocked at how they could lose touch with the art that made them famous.

I saw this documentary a couple of weeks back, and in one scene, Sting has been convinced to sing a Kinks song on camera, with the interviewer.

The song is "Set Me Free" and when they have finished, after repeating the songs refrain a number of times, Sting gets a kind of foggy look on his face and says something like, "I think I stole some of that tune for my song, uh . . ."

He then struggles to name the song, his song, "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free."

He free associates the words he half-remembers, "Set You Free, Someone Set Them Free, If You Set Someone Free . . ." before finally pulling the title out.

So feel free to mock him. And just be glad that you aren't being asked to recite that poem you wrote for English Lit.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ben Folds "Fred Jones Part 2"

I wonder if Hosni Mubarak listens to Ben Folds?

I've been watching the developments in Egypt, heard translations of some of the signs being carried and slogans being chanted, and I thought of "Fred Jones Part 2."

Let me lay down the disclaimer here that I don't know a thing about Egyptian politics and I won't act like I do (unlike so many of the talking heads I've been hearing jabber on the coverage). I don't know if Mubarak's exit from power would ultimately be a good thing, or a bad thing.

Here's what I do know: It is a rare person that truly knows when to exit the stage gracefully.

In this song, Fred Jones is a newspaper man of 25 years who is let go and escorted from the building. The world has changed and he has not changed with it, and the newspaper and the world have moved on without him.

A leader of 30 years clings to power, but has the world around him changed so irrevocably that he cannot possibly move forward with it? And is anyone in that position---Mubarak, the aging Rock Star, the bookstore owner who will not sell an eBook---ever willing to admit that their time is drawing to a close?

Or are they always surprised, angry and disappointed, when they hear:

"I'm sorry Mr. Jones, it's time."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fleet Foxes "Helplessness Blues"

Jess Phaneuf did a Hot Seat last night, featuring songs with a Winter feel. Not necessarily songs about Winter, but songs that have that kind of cold, melancholy spirit.

My thoughts turned to "White Winter Hymnal" by Fleet Foxes, and really, to pretty much everything I'd heard from that band.

The go-to comparative point, whenever you read about this band, is Crosby Still & Nash. And for sure, you can draw a straight line between the Melodies, Harmonies and Chemistry** of the two bands.

But the one thing I hadn't really felt from Fleet Foxes was the Joy.

CSN could be grave, and even over-self-serious. But they also excelled at making songs like "Our House" and "Southern Cross" that were gorgeous and fun.

I hadn't felt that way about Fleet Foxes.

Until now.

Shortly after I left Jess behind to work on her show, I got word that Fleet Foxes has a new songs up for free download.

And yes, it's joyous. A little missing piece for me, that makes a great band, beloved.

** Can't "Chemistrys" be a word? Or "Chemistries"? Blogger spellcheck is not allowing it.