Saturday, April 28, 2012



Brittany Howard and Zac Cockrell met in a high school psychology class in Athens, Alabama, and thus begins the story of the Alabama Shakes.

"Boys and Girls" is their debut, an album haunted by giant musical ghosts from the past. The band has taken the familiar and infused it with the brilliant musical feat of making it sound new and original, although the listener is immediately struck by the homage to the soulful southern stew once concocted in the legendary Muscle Shoals studio.

This mix of rock and soul is all over "Boys and Girls" and influences such as Otis Redding and Janis Joplin are worn on their musical sleeves, but they leave room in the grooves for former tour mates Drive-By Truckers to shed some inspiration.

If Otis Redding were to return to earth as a young woman, this is the album he'd make.

Simply put-this is delta blues at its finest.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I have never been a huge fan of Spin magazine, but subscribed because they kep rates cheap and I like to read reviews of new CD's.

This year they redid the magazine to the point where I am even less of a fan of it's style, plus they dropped the new CD reviews. Renewal is not a strong possibility.

They did have an article this month called Shredder Alive where they ranked roughly two hundred guitarists on attributes such as volume, emotion, originality, technique and "shreditude."

"Shreditude-" now do you see why I'm simply too old to read this magazine?

Anyway, what makes this one worth noting to me is that a certain Rundgren character is ranked at number 55, ahead of such contemporaries as Brian May, Frank Zappa, Ron Wood and Lindsey Buckingham.

Todd Rundgren was also ranked ahead of Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan-a bit of a surprise, although he has played a wider range of styles than they have.

Okay, so 54 guitarists were ranked better than Todd. But 145 were ranked behind him, and most people hearing Todd's name follow it up with...

"Todd who?"

Nice to see him recognized, even from a questionable authority.

Live At Hammersmith Odeon '75 now available from Shout Factory-features a young Luther Vandross on background vocals!

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Another Record Store Day is in the books.

Launched in 2007, Record Store Day celebrates the independent music shop, an institution that has been under attack since well before the Internet threatened to dismantle the music business.

Really, it’s a day to celebrate the relative resilience of these little shingles that could. After all, they survived the format wars, outlived massive chains like Tower Records and Virgin Megastore, and stuck out the first wave of file sharing (Napster, Gnutella, and the like).

With vinyl sales surging and interest in sprawling music discovery zones like
Amoeba Records steadily growing, it’s a good time to be a fan of black discs that go around and around and around.

I lifted this picture from Stephen T. McCarthy's Stuffs blog-hope he is not offended

That's one of two days each year where the record labels (they still exist) release exclusive titles to independent record stores in an effort to help promote purchasing music and supporting those independent stores.

With the shrinking space devoted to music at retailers like WalMart and the impending closing of many Best Buy stores, I am not certain music buyers have a choice if they want to actually walk into a building and browse.

Independent stores are all that are left. Visit them.

But why I am writing these words is to express my confusion with the record business. In their efforts to create "exclusives," they really piss me off.

So much that this year, I did not arrive early to stand in line. I figured I'll get to the store when I get there, and if nothing exclusive is left, I'll save some cabbage. I think with the collection I have amassed to date, I can find something else to listen to.

Zia Records was my only option this year, as I could not swing going to Revolver Records as well and getting into work at a reasonable time. Both are great stores in Phoenix, with Zia also represented well in Tucson and Las Vegas.

These exclusives take a few different forms.

RECORD STORE DAY EXCLUSIVE RELEASES are exclusively available on Record Store Day at Record Store Day participating stores. They are not available anywhere else in the same format.  

RECORD STORE DAY LIMITED RUN/REGIONAL FOCUS RELEASES are also exclusively available on Record Store Day at Record Store Day participating stores, but the quantities of these titles are EXTREMELY limited. Under 1000, and WAY under 1000 in some cases.

‘RECORD STORE DAY FIRST’ RELEASES  are titles that you can find on Record Store Day at Record Store Day participating stores, but at some point in the future (generally four to six weeks) these titles will be available at other retailers.

The first two categories are what piss me off.

Last year, there was almost a fist fight over "Medium Rare," a Foo Fighters vinyl collection of B-sides and soundtrack songs, and there were only two copies in the store.

I was a little interested in this, but assumed with that kind of demand, a CD release would happen. In fact, a CD release had happened, as the same music was provided as a subscription bonus to new subscribers of a British music magazine.

I tried to score the LP and CD on eBay, but they bid up in excess of $50 and I am not that interested.

Any music you want is readily available on the internet if you look for it. I wonder if maybe some people who did not want to spend in excess of $50 to listen to these songs might have such a seach and downloaded the music.

It seems to me that these people would have probably dropped ten bucks for the CD.

Record labels-you've been pissing and moaning about declining sales and piracy for a decade.

Isn't there a business model that would allow for the RSD exclusives and still put the music out there for consumers to buy?

Maybe make the vinyl release the collectible and release the CD a few months later? Maybe have an extra track on the RSD release.

I am willing to bet that a general release of "Medium Rare" would chart pretty high. Ditto for the Grace Potter live title from this year Zia had one, it was long gone by the time I got there. I can live without it.

I did score the Steven Wilson title (which they only had one of, but I think is in the third category, so not so exclusive) and the Springsteen 45 (which I will probably never play because 45's are too much effort for too little listening time).

When I leave this ball of mud for the great Zia Records Superstore in the sky
, someone is going to have a good time sorting through the plethora of CD's and LP's in my third bedroom wondering how many trips it took to get them all upstairs.

Yeah, I may drive a cheap-ass car...but it is not hard to see where my excesses lie.

The morals of this story? There are a few.

(1) Support your local record store.

(2) If you want to sell it, you have to manufacure it.

(3) You can't take it with you, so getting a decent night's sleep is more important than being first in line on Record Store Day.

(4) It is not worth fighting over a Foo Fighters record. Even if it is rare.

(5) I know your iPod, iPad, iPhone and iWhatever are convenient-but why don't you revisit listening to music on a real sound system and remember what it was like to be a teenager again, memorizing the lyrics on your favorite gatefold album jacket.

And finally, and most important, (6)-if you have a really big music collection, be good to your friends. One day you're going to need help moving.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


R.I.P. Levon Helm

With songs like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "The Weight" and "Up on Cripple Creek," The Band fused rock, blues, folk and gospel to create a sound that seemed as authentically American as a Mathew Brady photograph or a Mark Twain short story.

In truth, the group had only one American - Levon Helm.

Helm, the drummer and singer who brought an urgent beat and a genuine Arkansas twang to some of The Band's best-known songs and helped turn a bunch of musicians known mostly as Bob Dylan's backup group into one of rock's most legendary acts, has died. He was 71.

Helm, who was found to have throat cancer in 1998, died Thursday afternoon, according to his website. On Tuesday, a message on the site said he was in the final stages of cancer.

While Helm's illness reduced his voice to something close to a whisper, it did not end his musical career. Beset by debt, in 2004 he began a series of free-wheeling late night shows in his barn in Woodstock that were patterned after medicine shows from his youth. Any night of the bi-weekly Midnight Rambles could feature Gillian Welch, Elvis Costello or his daughter Amy on vocals and violin.

He recorded "Dirt Farmer" in 2007, which was followed by "Electric Dirt" in 2009. Both albums won Grammys. He won another this year for "Ramble at the Ryman."

Today, they finally drove Old Dixie down.

Saturday, April 14, 2012



For years, Todd Snider has been one of the best-kept singer/songwriter secrets, with a dedicated following who view him as a modern-day Bob Dylan or Will Rogers, a troubador whose intelligence, self-deprecation, experience and humor makes him a uniquely American character.

I lucked into Todd's music when an alternative station in Philadelphia (back then, there really WAS alternative radio) played "Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues," the hidden bonus track on his debut CD. On my earlier post about that album, I tell the story, and I have been a fan ever since.

Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables is Snider’s 12th album, and continues his pursuit of the folk-rock crown. Snider's gift for creating songs wrapped around strong narrative cores is not diminished at all on this album. Snider sings about the haves and have-nots from both perspectives, though when he adopts the persona of the former, it’s primarily a sharp musical response to the excesses of the one percent.

Known for his satirical blend of social commentary and deeply personal vignettes, Snider weaves indie-rock, sarcastic folk songs about his generation. Snider has grown into his Americana/new-folk persona, telling witty, acerbic low-life stories like a wizened coot, with cranky but incisive political rants and frank explorations of his personal pain. Folk-rock singer-songwriter records have a reputation for being soft and pristine, but Snider’s a spiritual brother to Kristofferson, Prine, Springsteen, and all those other scruffy troubadours.

Our Great Recession has found its dust-bowl balladeer.