Thursday, July 29, 2010

U2: "Achtung Baby"

 Probably nothing I can say about this album that hasn't already been said, but damn it still sounds great.  Picked it up a vinyl copy last night for a really decent price, and falling in love with it again.  Every freaking song on this album is killer - no exceptions, no filler.   Absolutely amazing songwriting, and the perfect production for the time and the material.   It's dark, shadowed, exciting, electronic, guitar rock..  but the real strength is the feeling and meaning of each song.    One of the all-time classic albums in rock history, no question.   And although they have had many stellar moments, I have a feeling "Achtung Baby!" will end up being their greatest single achievement when all is said and done. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rush: "Presto"

Found a good vinyl copy of this overlooked gem at Record and Tape Exchange tonight.   Listening to it now and as always am amazed by this bands' musicianship.    They are simply extraordinary.   "Counterparts" and "Roll The Bones" were bigger hits and get more attention, but I've always had a HUGE soft spot for "Presto".    2 of my favorite Rush tunes are on this album - - "The Pass" and the title track.   "Show Don't Tell" is a killer opening track and great first single - bringing them back to tight and powerful rock after the murky and meandering MOR synth-rock of most of "Hold Your Fire."   "Presto" is far more incisive and was a definite return to form.   It was an effect u-turn for a band that badly needed one.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Best Tracks of the 70s: My Picks

1. John Lennon - Imagine
Very few songs transcend like "Imagine."   It's simplistic beauty and gleaming sincerity make it an ageless anthem that is instantly recognizable and almost universally revered.   It seems naive but is so earnestly hopeful that you think, just maybe, it could be true.  

2. Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven
The rock epic of epics.  A generation was riveted by this song.  It's lilting, folky melody, mystical lyrics and eventual eruption into an avalanche of molten rock captured the imagination of listeners since it's debut.   It's become an almost holy relic of rock and roll.   Everything about it comes together perfectly, especially Page's incendiary solo and Robert Plant's slowly building drama and voice-searing wail during the climax.  
3. Neil Young - Heart of Gold
There is a reason "Heart of Gold" was Neil Young's one and only ascent to the #1 spot on the pop charts.  It all comes together here.  Young's odd, high and wavery voice, a yearning melody, and ghostly steel guitar played by the great Ben Keith that will glide all in, out and around your brain.  

4. David Bowie - "Heroes"
Bowie looked like an alien anyway, and this was music beamed directly from whatever planet spawned him.  His Berlin period - "Low" "Heroes and "Lodger" - were the fuel that led to countless new wave imitators.  It's a dark, industrial, spooky and intense soundscape, and "Heroes" is the moment where it all soars.   In the shadows of one of the great mars on humanity, the Berlin Wall, "Heroes" is the human spirit - however dim - peering through the muck and daring to hope. 

5. Fleetwood Mac - Landslide

6. The Temptations - Just My Imagination
7. 10cc - I'm Not In Love
8. Marvin Gaye - What's Goin On
9. Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK
10. Donna Summer - I Feel Love

11. Janis Joplin - Me and Bobby McGee
12. Jefferson Starship - Miracles
13. David Bowie - Life on Mars?
14. The Beatles - The Long and Winding Road
15. Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road

16. Rod Stewart - Maggie May
17. Elton John - Daniel
18. Pere Ubu - Final Solution
19. Chris Bell - Speed of Sound
20. The Clash - London Calling

21. Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
22. Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb
23. Blondie - Heart of Glass
24. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
25. Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

26. Paul McCartney & Wings - Jet
27. Roberta Flack - Killing Me Softly With His Song
28. Simon and Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water
29. CCR - Have You Ever Seen The Rain
30. Santana - Black Magic Woman

31. Kiss - Hard Luck Woman
32. Ike & Tina Turner - Proud Mary
33. Bob Dylan - Tangled Up In Blue
34. Fleetwood Mac - Dreams
35. Pink Floyd - Sheep

36. Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run
37. Joy Division - Transmission
38. Neil Young - After The Gold Rush
39. Climax Blues Band - Couldn't Get It Right
40. The Cure - Boys Don't Cry

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Strand of Oaks: "Pope Killdragon"

Made a wonderful discovery on emusic today.   Strand of Oaks is the project by songwriter/musician Tim Showalter, and it's a stunner.   It was just released and is available for now only at   It's a taut, incredibly tense collection of haunting acoustic-based tracks, with the occasional release into gripping electric rock.   Showalter's voice is expressive and beautiful, and musically he incorporates just enough color and unexpected twists to add the right flair of drama and feeling to the songs.   Truly imaginative production.

"Alex Kona" is an immediate standout for me.  Definitely a Neil Young "On the Beach" vibe.   The lyrics are sparse and enigmatic, but powerful.  They hint at horrible things untold.   "You don't understand what it's like growing up here" is the ending refrain, repeated forlornly... before the burst of Crazy Horse-style feedback called "Giant's Despair" provides release. 

Even on first listen, I have the feeling I will be spending a great deal of time with this record.  It's exceptionally well done;  vocally, lyrically, musically - and a gorgeous, rich production that is warm and immediate.

Get this album.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Prince: "Lotusflow3er"

Been in something of a Prince mood lately, since his new album "20ten" hit newsstands.   Ordered the "Lotusflow3r" 2-LP set on vinyl from  It arrived yesterday, and getting a chance to listen to it now.

Sounds remarkably rich and full.   In my view, "Lotusflow3r" has been criminally underrated, and it may be Prince's best album of the last decade.   It has a very warm, vibey sound to it that gives it more depth than some of his other work, which can sometimes sound overly clean and sterile to me.   The songwriting on this record also seems to be at a higher level than other recent albums.   This album lends itself to the advantages of vinyl, for sure.  Another interesting thing about listening to the vinyl version is envisioning the album in "sides".    Growing up listening to vinyl (and even cassettes), there was always a distinct impression about a particular side of an album.  That has been lost with the ascension of first CDs, and then the digital mp3 takeover.   But to me its part of the whole process of absorbing an album.

I do prefer "The Morning After" in place of "Crimson & Clover", though.  It sounds evident to me that "Crimson & Clover" was a late addition to the record.  It sounds a bit out of place and less natural than "The Morning After", and mars the record a little in my opinion.    Maybe at the last minute Prince decided he needed something with more commercial spark, but at this stage in his career he should just focus on putting out the best records possible.   His days of having multiple Top 40 hits from each album are sadly over.

Not that there aren't some strongly commercial tunes on this record.  "Dance 4 Me", "Dreamer", "Feel Good, Feel Better Feel Wonderful", "$" and others - - all would have been potential major singles if Prince still had the commercial appeal as in the 80s.   "Dance 4 Me" in particular has the sound of a classic Prince hit - - very funky, groovin' tune.  Nowadays the only Prince songs radio stations play are his classics, and it's mostly the die-hard fans (of which there are still plenty) paying much attention to his more recent work.

I also think one of the reasons why this album doesn't get more acclaim is lingering fan resentment over the website fiasco that accompanied this album's release.  $77.00 for a years membership that basically got you the album (which could be purchased at Target for $12.00), the ability to navigate a few videos, and pictures.  That's about it.   Huge scam, and a miracle Prince didn't get hit with a suit of some sort. 

Anyway, it's a true shame this album is so neglected.  "Lotusflow3r" (with "MPLSound" comprising the 2nd disc), is a terrific Prince record, and I'm definitely enjoying it tonight.

Smashing Pumpkins: "Gish" & "Siamese Dream"

Hit the CD Cellar in Falls Church this weekend for a little record shopping.  They didn't have what I was looking for, but I ended up with an excellent alternative - sealed vinyl copies of the Pumpkins' stellar debut "Gish" and the monumental "Siamese Dream."   Played them both back to back and enjoyed the swirling guitars, the immense, psychedelic sound.

Melissa Etheridge: July 20, 2010, The Strathmore in Bethesda.

Saw Melissa Etheridge last night at the Strathmore.  It was my first time seeing her, and my first time at that venus.  Had a terrific time.   Melissa's voice is incredibly strong and she played for about 2 hours, 40 minutes.   Most of her new album "Fearless Love" was performed, as well as many old classics.  I was a little disappointed that so many of the songs were drawn out with long segments in the middle that seemed unnecessary, especially since she could have fit in some tracks from albums that were completely ignored (especially the stellar "Breakdown").   But that minor quibble aside, it was a great show.

Set list:

We Are The Ones
Fearless Love
Miss California
If I Only Wanted To
Yes I Am
I Want To Come Over
The Wanting of You
Nowhere To Go
Come To My Window
To Be Loved
No Souvenirs
I Run For Life
Drag Me Away
I'm The Only One
Bring Me Some Water
Like The Way I Do


Gently We Row

Friday, July 9, 2010

Prince: "20ten"

Prince releases his latest studio album, "20Ten", tomorrow via a unique distribution method that he's used before.   It will appear free in various magazines throughout Europe - in the UK, it's the Daily Record.   He used a similar tactic with his "Planet Earth" album, although it was released via more traditional means in the US.   No word yet on a US distribution of "20Ten", but diehard fans who care enough about Prince's music will no doubt have little trouble getting their hands on a copy.

Prince has taken some heat and been the object of some scorn lately for his comments that seemed to suggest the internet is "dead."   Well, let's examine what he is doing here.   He is getting paid upfront by these magazines - presumably huge sums.   He then walks away.   The magazines have the burden of promotion, and they are the ones on the line for production costs and making their sales goals.  Let's face it, Prince is no longer selling huge numbers through traditional music outlets (nor is most everybody else.)   He gets paid without the risk of having a flop album, he gets music to the fans, and is free from the shackles of a major label deal.    He's making far more $$$ on "20ten" by doing this than if he had released it via more traditional means.  If you're Prince, or a Prince fan, what's not to like?  

So from his perspective, maybe the internet IS dead.   He's getting "20ten" into the homes of far more people this way than if he'd released it on iTunes or in record stores.   People who wouldn't bother surfing the web to pay for and download the newest Prince album, or go to the mall and spend $14.99 at FYE, or who may only know Prince from "Purple Rain" will see stacks of the album in their daily newsstand.   It has a far greater reach.    It's really quite a brilliant move.

The paradigm has shifted and the music industry is forever changed.   Prince has been able to successfully manuever through the different landscapes in this industry for 30 years.  He releases what he wants, when he wants, on his own terms.   

It's good to be Prince.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

a-ha: "Scoundrel Days"

Now is the perfect time to discover one of the great, undervalued albums of the 80s.   a-ha is mostly known in the US for "Take On Me", but they've had an incredible run of hits internationally.   They recently decided to call it quits - they are touring, releasing a 2-disc compilation, and just put out their first 2 albums in deluxe, 2-disc remastered form.

"Scoundrel Days" is a brilliant collection of 80s pop - dark, atmospheric, edgy and strongly melodic.  The songwriting and production is top notch, and it benefits mightily from the new remastering.  It sounds fuller and more alive than the original pressing, and I've been hearing details I had missed previously.   Great to hear this classic record in such terrific sound.

And if you're a fan of 80s pop at all, this is an album worth checking out.    It was a flop in the US.  First single "I've Been Losing You" didn't catch on.  Only one single, "Cry Wolf," had any amount of American success, but not enough to make the Top 40.  "Scoundrel Days" spawned 3 hits internationally (the 2 above plus the wonderful hyper-dramatic "Manhattan Skyline," and has remained a fan favorite.   I was a huge fan of this album from the early days, and it's remained one of my favorites of the decade.   

No question, a-ha's best album - but many of their others are stellar as well.   I'll be picking up the deluxe reissue of their debut, "Hunting High and Low."   And hopefully later albums like "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" will be reissued.

Bob Dylan: "Dylan" (1973)

Yes, I realize "Dylan" is widely regarded as the worst album of the man's career.   As Dylan fans know, it was released without the artist's consent by Columbia Records after Dylan made the move to Asylum Records.    Made up of outtakes from "Self Portrait" and "New Morning" - not 2 of his most acclaimed works - "Dylan" is basically a collection of rejected tracks.  

But for me in a weird way it works.  It's not ever gonna be mistaken for "Highway 61 Revisited" or "Blonde on Blonde" or "Oh Mercy" - or even lesser albums such as "Infidels."   But, still, there is a certain charm to it.   It's listenable, and even interesting in its way.  

In particular, the performance on "Lily of the West" is enjoyable.

Listening to this album tonight, and the kitschy background vocals are annoying at times, to be sure... but at the same time it adds to the overall out-of-place peculiarity of this album.   If this album had never been released but leaked, its tracks would have greedily been circulated by traders.  

It's not the place to start, and will never ever be considered one of Dylan's essential works, but "Dylan" doesn't deserve all the hate and disdain it receives.  

Monday, July 5, 2010

this is me

Blue Groove Soundz - Arlington, VA

Last day before going back to work, so I thought I'd do a little record shopping while I still have the opportunity.

First went to the CD Cellar in Falls Church, VA.  I had been a big fan of this place back in my CD-buying days, but I hadn't been back in a while - and actually thought they had closed.   They are very much open, and in fact now have a large vinyl section, so I'm very happy about that. 

I picked up the following:

Eurythmics - Touch.  Yes, already have this but they had a nice UK pressing with a Tour Book as an added extra for $10.00.   Very cool.

Robert Fripp - Exposure

Warren Zevon - Sentimental Hygiene

We then headed to Blue Groove Soundz in Arlington, the newest local record shop.    It was my first time there, and I quite liked it.  It's a fairly small shop in a basement store area, but they had a nice sized collection.   Certainly comparable to a couple of the DC stores.   I ended up getting Prince's "Rave un2 The Joy Fantastic" LP.   Not his best work, but it does have some good stuff, and I'd never seen in on vinyl before.

Nice day shopping.

Suzanne Vega

Listening to Suzanne Vega's self-titled debut album tonight.  Released in 1985, standout tracks are "Knight Moves", "Undertow", "Small Blue Thing" and "Marlene on the Wall."  Definitely enjoying it, although I think "Solitude Standing" is much stronger overall.

For some reason I thought "Left of Center" was on this album, but I guess it was only on the "Pretty and Pink" soundtrack.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tidewater, VA Record Stores

Down in Williamsburg, VA for a few days with the family, so while they drove to the Beach I decided to spend some quality time exploring the local record shops.

I found a couple stores online so drove out to the Tidewater area. First on the agenda was Birdland in Virginia Beach.

I loved the atmosphere right away. There were a couple guys just hanging out talking about music, and the place had a very laid-back, music-lover vibe to it. It's not really a vinyl specialty shop, though - - more CDs. But they did have some vinyl - all in stacks on the floor, completely out of order. The good news is they were cheap. I did find some gems:

David Lee Roth - Eat 'em & Smile
Steve Winwood - Back in the High Life & Roll With It
Sheila E. - The Glamorous Life
Jody Watley - Some Kind of Lover (12" single)
The Young Rascals - Groovin'
The Police - Ghost in the Machine
Suzanne Vega - self-titled

After Birdland, I headed over to Norfolk and found Skinnies Records. This was a real treat. Very easy to find, awesome vibe, great owner who is very helpful and knowledgeable about music. EXCELLENT vinyl selection - definitely top notch place. Cool atmosphere, and really a must stop if you're in the area. In addition to vinyl they have tons of CDs, t-shirts, and other cool stuff. They have a great selection of vinyl - classic rock, punk, new wave, metal, cool 45's - plenty of collectibles.

I picked up a couple gems that I'm very happy about:

The Cure: The Top
Nirvana: Unplugged in New York

Great to have both of these on vinyl. Both classic albums. Had a good time shopping and chatting with the owner - Skinnies is a MUST for any music fan if you're in the Tidewater area, especially vinyl lovers like me.