Monday, April 18, 2011

My Part-Time Cover: "Love Vigilantes"

One of my favorite short stories growing up was An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce. The story is set during the Civil War as a farmer is about to be killed for trying to thwart the Union’s plans. As the hanging commences, the rope breaks, the farmer escapes and he eventually gets back home. The twist at the end is that (spoiler alert!) the rope didn’t break and he actually died. He had imagined the whole part of escaping and returning home to his family. That’s the kind of scenario I attach to the characters in New Order’s ambiguous New Wave gem “Love Vigilantes.” The song details a soldier’s thoughts of finally returning home to his wife and kids. However, the third verse has him walking through the door to find his wife with a telegram stating that he had died. There is no resolution and the open-ended scenario could either go in the “mistaken telegram” direction of him actually being alive or it could go in the “Owl Creek Bridge” direction of him being like Bruce Willis’ character in The Sixth Sense. The second one is more interesting to me, but to each his own as there’s no right or wrong in the vagueries of storytelling. “Love Vigilantes” has a great sound and rhythm to it. During the mid-80’s, there were a lot of bands blending these alternative guitar, keyboard and dance ingredients together and few bands did it as well as New Order.

"Love Vigilantes" - New Order (Low-Life)

Sam Beam put out a great cover of “Love Vigilantes” on Around the Well a couple of years ago and he really treated it right. Making it sound like an Iron & Wine original, Sam’s smooth voice and laid back acoustic playing are the only sounds on the track and it’s really beautiful in its sparseness. Sam slowed it down a little bit and calmed the vibe from the energy found in the original. It’s cool to hear the song done in these contrasting styles and it may or may not have an effect on how you interpret the lyrics. Although Sam’s version doesn’t really change the mystery of the third verse for me, it does alter the way the chorus hits me. Where the original “I want to see my family, my wife and child waiting for me, I’ve got to go home I’ve been so alone you see” has an excited, anticipatory tone to it, the Iron & Wine cover feels a little more melancholy and pleading. It makes my “Owl Creek Bridge” theory draw even more emotion and sympathy from me as well. Maybe the “was he alive or dead” question makes the song a little more intriguing, but either way I really enjoy both versions and I recommend checking both of them out, as well as An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge, whenever you get the chance.

"Love Vigilantes" - Iron & Wine (Around The Well)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Record Store Day 2011

After my Record Store Day debacle-turned-triumph last year, I was not going to RSD 2011 go down the same road. This year, I had a plan. Amanda and I got out pretty early and really enjoyed the windy, overcast day together. Starting out at an undisclosed location, (sorry, I was third in line due to it's under the radarness and I'd like to keep it that way), I was able to quickly pick up the vast majority of what I was looking for. The store I visited didn't have large quantities of each selection, but it did have a really diverse spectrum of almost every RSD title. Everyone who worked there was super nice too and seemed stoked that people were waiting in line for them to open up. At my first stop, I was able to pick up the Hormoaning 12" EP by Nirvana, "Gotta Get The Feeling" 10" by Bruce Springsteen, the "Let's Shake Hands" and "Lafayette Blues" 7" singles by The White Stripes, the "Love Hurts" split 7" single with Jenny and Johnny on one side and Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris on the other, the R.E.M. package containing the first three 7" singles from Collapse Into Now, the Class Mythology 2x7" EP by Ryan Adams and The Cardinals and "Dance Me To The End of Love" 7" single by The Civil Wars. Although they didn't have a few of the things I was looking for, it was a nice haul for the first stop. My second stop was also unsuccessful in regards to the missing pieces, but I was able to score the "Havana Affair" split 7" single with Red Hot Chili Peppers on one side and Ramones on the other. For my third stop, I hit up Third Man Records because I knew they would be selling two of the missing records I wanted to pick up. I got there about 10am and picked the line for the Rolling Record Store over the line for the store front because it was a tad shorter. While standing in line waiting for the noon opening, we got to see both Jack Lawrence and Jack White pull up in their cars and go into the store. About 11:30 the yellow bay door opened up and RSD at TMR got kicked off. Nashville mayor Karl Dean was on hand to present Jack with the first Music City Ambassador Award, which Jack graciously and quickly accepted. Ben Blackwell said a few words and then the music started cranking, records started selling and food trucks started shelling out some warm food. The stage for the Jerry Lee Lewis concert was set up and they were transferring equipment from the indoor stage to the outdoor stage all afternoon. While the wait in line was quite lengthy, I was finally able to purchase the spectacular "Vicious" 7" single by Karen Elson and the "Two Against One/Black" 7" single by ROME featuring Jack White and Norah Jones. As an added bonus, I ran into Relient K drummer, Motorhome singer/guitarist and all around cool guy Ethan Luck and got to talk to him for a few minutes. He's been in a lot of bands that I listened to as a teenager (Dingees, Supertones, Value Pac, Project 86, My Red Hot Nightmare) and it was super cool to just talk to him about records and Public Enemy since he had just seen Chuck D at Grimey's. It's always nice when a musical hero turns out to be cool in person too. As an added RANDOM bonus, actor Edward James Olmos of Miami Vice and Stand and Deliver fame was also milling about Third Man for some strange reason. All in all, it was a fantastic Record Store Day and I was able to get more releases than I missed out on. Regardless of the convenience of digital music or the cheaper prices of big box retailers, supporting record stores who are selling tangible, vinyl releases is a great thing. A big thanks to everyone involved in Record Store Day, including the bands who continue to throw a bone to the fanatic, vinyl fan base. Is it too early to start counting down to next year?
Most Interesting Award: "Vicious" 7" by Karen Elson - A gorgeous display of peach rose petals pressed into clear vinyl. Sure it was the fake kind of flower petals that they use for gravesite arrangements, but it's still stunning nonetheless. The A side, "Vicious," is a Lou Reed cover and the B side, "In Trouble With The Lord," was recorded during the sessions for her debut album and hasn't been released before now.

Surprise Packaging Award: Hormoaning 12" EP by Nirvana - Since no special vinyl color was mentioned anywhere, I just assumed this release would be on black vinyl. I was pleasantly surprised when I opened it up to see an incredibly cool burnt orange color with black marbled streaks in it. It looks very 70's-ish and I'm really digging it.

Cool Concept Award: The "Side By Side" split singles - With an original recording on one side and an awesome cover on the other, these releases on colored vinyl have a really cool draw to them. I bought "Love Hurts" on deep blue vinyl and "Havana Affair" on red vinyl. Although the stores I visited didn't have them, there are a couple more in the series; "Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely" by Husker Du with a cover by Green Day on orange vinyl and "Just Got Paid" by ZZ Top with a cover by Mastodon on yellow vinyl. They also released 100 clear vinyl copies of each pressing, although I haven't seen any pop up yet. I really hope they do these again next year!

M.I.A. Award: "Move Over Mama" 7" single by Justin Townes Earle and Medium Rare 12" by Foo Fighters - While I knew that Third Man wouldn't be selling these, I was bummed that neither one of the other two stores I went to had any copies of them. Hopefully I can find a way to get my hands on them without paying an arm and a leg on eBay. The search continues...

Here's a picture of everything I picked up. I'll take some close ups later on and do a more in depth post of the releases:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pearl Jam - Vs. and Vitalogy reissues (Album Review)

To celebrate their 20th anniversary, Pearl Jam has jam-packed 2011 full of their unique brand of awesomeness. In January they released Live On Ten Legs, an album of live tracks culled from various shows from 2003-2010, and they’ve also got a Cameron Crowe-directed DVD with accompanying soundtrack set for release later this year. Throw in talk of a 2oth anniversary festival and recording sessions for a new album and you can see that they’re just as concerned with moving forward as they are at looking back. But most recently, the year of celebration has yielded remastered version of their second and third albums, Vs. and Vitalogy. Each album gets an amazing sonic boost and has some great bonus tracks added. You can buy the albums individually or they come in some nice packages with even more goodies attached. The deluxe edition comes with Live At The Orpheum Theater, an electrifying live show recorded in Boston in 1994 and the super deluxe edition (available only through comes with Vs., Vitalogy and Live at the Orpheum Theater on 3 cds and 5LPs, plus a 60-minute cassette tape from their 1995 Self-Pollution radio show, a composition notebook with photos, drawings and artwork and a memorabilia envelope filled with lithographs, postcards, posters and more. While some reissues don’t exactly live up to their hype, these are absolutely worth every penny.

Vs. – Following up a stellar debut is no small feat, but Pearl Jam was definitely up to the task. Setting a record for albums sold in the first week, Vs. showcased an even more aggressive Pearl Jam than we were introduced to on Ten. For me personally, the fall of 1993 was an incredible time as Vs. was released just a month after Nirvana’s In Utero album. Before I had a portable cd player, I burned my copies of each one to a cassette tape that I played constantly when I was away from my house. “Go” straight through to “Indifference,” flip tape, “Serve The Servants” to “All Apologies,” flip tape, repeat ad infinitum. This new remastered version of Vs. really amps up the raw power Pearl Jam displays in songs like “Go,” “Animal,” “Blood” and “Leash” and it deepens the spaces found in songs like “W.M.A.,” “Indifference,” and “Daughter.” The drums are crisper, the bass is bigger than ever and the guitar interplay sounds even more impressive than it originally did. For bonus tracks, the remastered Vs. has an acoustic demo of “Hold On,” an instrumental called “Cready Stomp” and their cover of “Crazy Mary” with Victoria Williams on vocals and guitar that appeared on the first Sweet Relief benefit album in 1993. Vs. has always been my favorite Pearl Jam album and this reissue boasts a great sonic upgrade to an already great album.

"Animal" - Pearl Jam (Vs. reissue)

VitalogyVitalogy was released at the end of 1994 and if I’m being honest, Pearl Jam lost me a little on this one. While I dug the fact that they were trying new things, including releasing the album on vinyl a few weeks before the cd and tape releases, Vitalogy wasn’t as immediately accessible as their previous two albums had been for me. While “Spin The Black Circle” and “Not For You” are two of my all-time favorite Pearl Jam songs, the album as a whole just didn’t grab me. That being said, the remastered version of Vitalogy has me listening with new ears. Where Vitalogy forsakes riffs and hooks for a more experimental approach, this remaster has enhanced the clarity to pick out most of what’s going on underneath the main musical ingredients. Moments like Eddie’s mumbled vocals in the fade out section of “Corduroy” and the various sounds flowing through “Aya Davanita” are a little easier to decipher due to the great remastering job. Throughout the album, the various guitar leads and bass lines stand out a little more as well. The bonus tracks include a gorgeous version of “Better Man” with only guitar and organ, an alternate version of “Corduroy” and a demo of “Nothingman” with Richard Stuverud of The Fastbacks on drums.

"Spin The Black Circle" - Pearl Jam (Vitalogy reissue)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

ROME - Official Trailer

Rumors have been swirling about the ROME project for quite a while now. Birthed out of a collaboration between Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi, ROME has been one of the most hyped, but best guarded, musical secrets I've seen in years. For me, things got really interesting after they invited Jack White and Norah Jones to help out on a few tracks as well. The album is set to release in May and their will be a 7" single released on Record Store Day. It's nice to finally get some "official" word about the project through this video trailer that was just released. Man, this album is really shaping up to be amazing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Out of the ground, into the sky... (R.I.P. Kurt Cobain)

Although a lot still remains fuzzy surrounding the death of Kurt Cobain, the fact remains that 17 years ago this month his dynamic life was cut far too short, his incredible voice was silenced and his daughter was sadly thrust into life without a father. Volumes have been written in both criticism and praise for Kurt as a person and as an artist, so it’s no surprise that his death was just as shrouded in mysteries and contradictions as his life was. His favorite instrument was contrast; noise with melody, ugliness with beauty, nonsense with meaning, and he wielded it like a classically trained composer. He wasn’t the first musician to mix quiet, nuanced verses with loud, abrasive choruses, but he did it better than most. He wasn’t the first songwriter to mix thoughtful phrases with nonsensical imagery, but he did it more poetically than most. He certainly wasn’t the first musician to be unfairly labeled with the “voice of a generation” responsibility, but he embodied it more than most. A shy, introspective guy who turned into a behemoth when he put a guitar on, Kurt brought so many people happiness with the art he created out of his pain. Although he sadly never found the resolve he had given to so many other people, I believe his voice and his songs still continue to touch people as much as they did in the 90’s. If you take Nirvana’s entire catalog and strip away all the veneer of what “grunge” and “alternative music” was categorized as, you’ll find a deeply creative well of songs, truths, mantras, melodies, invitations and catharses within the reverberating rawness. Like many other kids my age, Kurt was the reason I picked up a guitar in the first place. He let me know it was okay to write my own words instead of relying on someone else’s language to describe my own experiences and he let me know it was okay to not fit in. In fact, he encouraged us all to revel in our non-conformity. Come as you are indeed. Although Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged was recorded a few months before his death, I’ve always viewed it as a eulogy of sorts. From the somber set list to the muted set decorations, it had the eerie feel of a funeral. Their closing number, a cover of Lead Belly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night," is still one of the most mesmerizing and halting moments in musical history.