Sunday, February 26, 2012

B-sides the '90s: Pearl Jam, Juliana Hatfield and Oasis

I seriously love the concept of "the single." By pulling a song from the safe confines of an album and presenting it as a singular experience, it makes the song stand on its own and either hook you or lose you by its own merits. Not to mention, you also get some cool new artwork and a diversity of physical mediums (7" vinyl, 12" vinyl, flexi-disc, cd, cassingle, etc.) to choose from. However, what can sometimes be the defining factor of whether a single is worth picking up or not is the hidden gem known as the B-side. In the 80's, the B-side was almost always just a remixed, longer version of the single tagged with a moniker like "extended cut," "dance edition," "club version" or "swing beat dub mix." They're all fun and nostalgic to listen back to now, but for the most part it wasn't anything terribly original or different from the A-side single. In the 90's however, there was a unique mixture of relaxed "radio friendly" expectations and an onslaught of bands who wrote and played all of their own stuff and had prolific (for better or worse) songwriters. This allowed for there to be a lot of "previously unreleased" and "non-album track" type of brand new songs to be tucked away on the B-side. Some of them even found their way onto greatest hits packages, compilations and movie soundtracks. In most cases though, that specific single would be the only place you could even hear the song. So that's what "B-sides the '90s" is going to be all about; a reoccurring feature that highlights some of my favorite songs, covers and live tracks that were hidden away on the b-side of a single from the '90s.

"Yellow Ledbetter" by Pearl Jam (1992) - Appearing on the single for "Jeremy" from Pearl Jam's legendary Ten album, "Yellow Ledbetter" is probably one of the most popular B-sides from the 90's. As "Jeremy" was hitting maximum radio exposure, radio deejays started playing "Yellow Ledbetter" instead and the response was incredible. Especially for an unofficial release. It even made its way onto the charts, eventually hitting #21 on the Billboard Rock charts. The mellow musical vibe of "Yellow Ledbetter" sounds incredible and guitarist Mike McCready's Hendrix-inspired riffs and blistering solo helped make this one of their most memorable fan favorites. Just don't try singing along with any sort of accuracy. Eddie definitely does his best Michael Stipe mumblings throughout but everyone usually hits the "box or a bag" line pretty well.
"Yellow Ledbetter" - Pearl Jam ("Jeremy" single)

"Hello My Name Is Baby" by The Juliana Hatfield Three (1993) - I'm a huge fan of angsty girl alterna-rockers like Liz Phair, Tanya Donnelly from Belly, Nina Gordon and Louise Post of Veruca Salt and Kim Deal from The Pixies and The Breeders. For me though, Juliana Hatfield is probably the queen of the hill. Not only did she put out some of the best melodic, aggressive girl grunge of the era, she also did some incredible work with The Lemonheads and surprisingly showed up on a couple television shows like The Adventures of Pete & Pete and the christmas episode of My So-Called Life. Game, set, match Juliana. Her 1993 album, Become What You Are, got a ton of spins in my middle school cd player and I was constantly scanning my classes for a spunky girl like her. While "My Sister" and "Spin The Bottle" were certainly bigger radio hits from the album, "For The Birds" was released as the middle single and its B-side, "Hello My Name Is Baby," easily turned into of my favorite songs of hers.
"Hello My Name Is Baby" - Juliana Hatfield Three ("For The Birds" single)

"You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" by Oasis (1995) - Another nice function of the B-side is to have a little fun doing a super cool cover song. For the Japanese import release of the "Some Might Say" single from (What's The Story) Morning Glory, Oasis covered "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" by The Beatles. While the Gallagher brothers could certainly spark some magic in between all of the fighting, this one's kind of extra cool for a couple of different reasons. First, Noel always does a great job taking Liam's place on lead vocals. Second, come on, it's a Beatles cover and for Oasis, who were always getting ripped on for "borrowing" too much from The Beatles, covering one of their songs was essentially an audible middle finger to the critics. Third, this cover could ONLY be found on the Japanese version of the single and that's still the only release they've put it on. I remember purchasing this import at an amazing store called Media Play that carried a lot of rare releases and imports that were pretty much impossible to get otherwise. They weren't procured without a price though. If I remember correctly, this "single" cost me $22 which, even in 1995, was pretty hefty. Thankfully my sizable bankroll from bagging groceries at Kroger helped me land this one with minimal monetary impact.
"You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" - Oasis ("Some Might Say" single)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Artwork/Tracklists from Norah Jones and Jack White

It may sound a little archaic, but I still get really excited when artists release news about things like artwork and track listings for their new albums. Two of my favorite artists, Norah Jones and Jack White, both have albums coming out pretty soon and both have been trickling out some cool information to help ease the wait. Norah's album is coming out May 1st and it's called Little Broken Hearts. Produced and co-written by Danger Mouse (Brian Burton), this one sounds like it's going to be one of her most interesting and most adventurous albums yet. The campy album artwork is based on a movie poster for the film Mudhoney (yes, they got their name from the film too) that was hanging in Danger Mouse's studio during the recording sessions. Norah and Brian have worked together previously on the ROME album and that led to them collaborating for Little Broken Hearts. Not only is Danger Mouse producing, he also shared in the songwriting and instrumental contributions as well, playing some drums, bass, guitar, keys and strings arrangements alongside Norah's piano, keyboards, bass and guitar.

Little Broken Hearts - Norah Jones (May 1st)
1. Good Morning
2. Say Goodbye
3. Little Broken Hearts
4. She’s 22
5. Take It Back
6. After The Fall
7. 4 Broken Hearts
8. Travelin’ On
9. Out On The Road
10. Happy Pills
11. Miriam
12. All A Dream

Fellow ROME participant Jack White has got a new album on the horizon as well, with his first solo album Blunderbuss being released on April 23rd and 24th. After years of fronting The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, Jack is going it alone for the first time and his first single, "Love Interruption," sounds completely unique, original and wholly Jack. Folky, soulful and brimming with a restrained energy that threatens to take off at any moment, "Love Interruption" has really set a cool precedent for the album. Jack is joined by Nashville's own Ruby Amanfu on the track and the two sound really amazing together. I'm really excited to see what all Blunderbuss is going to hold, as well as what sort of two day, multi-package release shenanigans it's going to get. Fingers crossed for some swanky colored vinyl!

Blunderbuss - Jack White (April 23rd/24th)
1. Missing Pieces
2. Sixteen Saltines
3. Freedom At 21
4. Love Interruption
5. Blunderbuss
6. Hypocritical Kiss
7. Weep Themselves To Sleep
8. I'm Shakin'
9. Trash Tongue Talker
10. Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy
11. I Guess I Should Go To Sleep
12. On And On And On
13. Take Me With You When You Go

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Great Big World" Video - Tumbledown

Just in time for Mardi Gras, alt-punktry foursome Tumbledown have released a super fun video for "Great Big World" to help your Fat Tuesday rock a little harder. This is the second single from their sophomore release, Empty Bottle, and it's the perfect tribute to traveling the world and having fun out on the road. Returning as director is Chris Crary, the guy who also directed Tumbledown's "Arrested In El Paso Blues" video and MxPx's "Gimme Christmas" video. Combining snazzy performance shots and some laid back, behind the scenes footage, the video captures the feel good vibe of "Great Big World" really well and it's hard not to watch it without smiling. Especially when you get to see Mike Herrera cracking up at yet another van breakdown. He should totally be sponsored by AutoZone by now!

Speaking of that great big world, Tumbledown still has a few shows left on their current tour and you should definitely check them out if you're anywhere near the following areas:

2/21 - Denver, Co - Larimer Lounge
2/22 - Salt Lake City, UT - Tony's
2/23 - Spokane, WA - Red Room Lounge
3/2 - Bremerton, WA - Manette Saloon

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Ladykiller" - The Horrible Crowes

The Horrible Crowes recently released "Ladykiller"(the second single from their debut album Elsie) and like everything else they've touched, it was done with style. It was pressed in three different shades of wax (black, yellow and red) and the sleeve keeps with the cool black and white photo/black and gold writing aesthetic from Elsie and their "Behold The Hurricane" single. Personally, I went with the translucent swirly blood red variant to match the gorgeous version of Elsie I already have. These two pieces of vinyl look really great next to each other and it's always cool to see a band that still puts thought and creativity into their physical releases. But what is this, "House of Style" or something? Let's talk about the music! "Ladykiller" is one of the mellower cuts off Elsie and I totally dig the antsy pulse of the drums matched against the smooth sway of the guitars and bass. Frontman Brian Fallon really lets his voice ease gently into the verses, while still opening up to his honed-in growl once the chorus hits. Co-Crowe Ian Perkins adds some really nice accompanying guitar work that fits perfectly within the track as well. The b-side is a live cover of INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart" that was recorded live at the Sirius/XM studio in New York City. Between "Never Tear Us Apart" and their Elsie outtake version of Concrete Blonde's "Joey," these guys seriously know how to pick some tasty cover songs.

Here's a cool video of the guys playing "Ladykiller" live at WFUV's Studio A and to give even more weight to my cover point, they throw in a little of The Cure's "Pictures of You" towards the end.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Amos Lee - As The Crow Flies EP (Album Review)

Soulful singer-songwriter Amos Lee is one those artist whose unique sound blurs every genre tag you try to stick on him. Is it folk, blues, Americana, jazz, alt-country, gospel, roots rock? Thankfully his voice and his songs are so good that the labels don't really matter at all. After four amazing full length albums, you can just say the name Amos Lee and you know what kind of rich smoothness you're going to get. This is definitely the case with As The Crow Flies, Amos' new EP that comes out 2/14 on Blue Note Records. Featuring six songs that were recorded during the sessions for last year's critically acclaimed Mission Bell album, As The Crow Flies continues on in the dusty, laid back vibe created my Amos' relaxed songwriting and the sonic touch of producer/multi-instrumentalist Joey Burns (Calexico). Every song is built around the acoustic guitar and is supported by some of the most gorgeously unencumbered playing that perks the ears without ever demanding attention. Add Amos' bluesy, emotive voice on top and you've got a recipe for one of the most layered and textured releases of the year.

As The Crow Flies kicks off with the atmospheric "The Darkness," showcasing Amos' ability to get a little brooding, though still encouraging that "we all fall into the darkness before the dawn." Adding to the beautifully morose feeling are some elegant strings, dense percussion and some great fuzzed out electric guitar, courtesy of Amos himself. "Simple Things" features a finger-plucked acoustic and some simple piano and glockenspiel lines that really allow Amos' voice and note selection to really shine. There's also some great Weissenborn slide guitar on this track, courtesy of veteran studio sideman Greg Leisz. Greg also shows up on electric guitar on the harmony-rich country shuffle of "Say Goodbye" and on Weissenborn again for the folky "May I Remind You." "Mama Sail To Me" is another finger-plucked acoustic ballad where the lush background instrumentation just swells and breathes around Amos' voice, continually reminding you what is so special about it. As The Crow Flies closes out with "There I Go Again," a rousing organ-fueled number that really highlights Amos' ability to combine moods and instruments in a way that creates something wholly and uniquely him. It's folky and funky and never strays into any odd or confusing areas. Many artists try to do this same thing and many artist just create an unfocused, musical mess. Amos really shows how it can and should be done; genuinely, authentically and most of all pleasing to the ears and heart. As The Crow Flies is not only just a great companion EP to Mission Bell, it also stands on it's own as a collection of Amos' particular brand of expressive, soothing songwriting.

"Say Goodbye" - Amos Lee (As The Crow Flies EP)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

MxPx - Both Ends Burning (DVD Review)

Sometimes the term "retrospective" can be used as a finalizing period for a band and sometimes it can be used as a continuing comma. Sometimes it can also start off as one and then gracefully turn into the other. Such is the case with MxPx and their incredible new DVD, Both Ends Burning. It's described by the band as "a film that captures MxPx at a crossroads in their seasoned career" and a "documentary (that) not only follows the band's struggles in the face of the new touring climate, it also looks at the legacy and impact that Mike, Tom, and Yuri have had on the music industry, fellow bands, and their fans." While that may sound like a daunting task, it certainly captures the overall mood of Both Ends Burning perfectly. Part reminiscing, part forecasting and part detailing of what's currently going on smack dab in between the two, Both Ends Burning is a great snapshot of MxPx's stamp on the musical landscape and their continuing pursuits to make good music, have fun and most of all, remain wholly and completely MxPx.

Both Ends Burning starts off back in 2010 with drummer Yuri Riley's decision to quit the band and their subsequent monumental Las Vegas show where they played Life In General in its entirety as their last show with the original touring members. What was meant to serve as an awesome send off show for Yuri ended up provoking him to remain with MxPx and it inspired the guys to start working on a new album (Plans Within Plans set for an April 3 release). From there, Both Ends Burning takes turns looking backwards and forwards with incredible concert/rehearsal footage, awesome interviews and some behind the scenes insights about the ups and downs of life on the road. From awesome international trips to stressful vehicle breakdowns, MxPx endures it all with a small. The interviews are pretty great as well, with some really nice things to say from Stephen Egerton (Descendents, All), Ethan Luck (Dingees, OC Supertones, Relient K) and Mike Shea (Alternative Press), as well as members of Flatfoot 56, Simple Plan, Against Me!, A Day To Remember and others.

As a diehard MxPx fan since I was thirteen years old (way back in the Pokinatcha days of 1993), my absolute favorite part of Both Ends Burning is Mike's guided tour through The Clubhouse, the old MxPx practice and recording space that's currently serving as their office, merchandise and storage facility. As Mike picks through a storage tub of jaw-dropping early MxPx memorabilia, you can hear the interesting mix of wistfulness and excitement in his voice. While Mike's never been content to just sit back and enjoy what has already happened, there is a lot of merit in taking time to remember what you've done to get where you are. Plus, it's just really cool to see him go through the cassettes, vinyl, VHS, pics, posters and shirts, including the very first shirt they ever made. Whether you're a casual fan, a long-timer or brand new to the MxPx fold, Both Ends Burning is an interesting and fun look at where MxPx has been and where they are headed. Or as the closing scroll of Both Ends Burning so eloquently puts it, "celebrate the past, embrace the future."

Both Ends Burning can be ordered directly from MxPx HERE.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Black Belles @ The End (Concert Review)

When it comes to The Black Belles, don't let the make-up and heels fool you. This all-girl garage goth foursome mean serious musical business and they came to play. Sure, the spooky aesthetics, black outfits and campy vibe are intentional, but underneath the tongue in cheek exterior are four fierce ladies that can really play their instruments and can command a crowd's attention. Both characteristics were clearly evident last night during their super fun show at The End. Their demure countenance and soft-spoken between song banter quickly gave way to an explosive musical performance that was equal parts mighty, melodic and macabre. Using fuzzed out guitars, bubbling bass lines, ghoulish organ stabs and pounding drums, The Black Belles conjure up creepy, garage rock, surf-tinged singalongs that harken back to the days of Lily Munster, Annette Funicello and Elvira. But make no mistake about it. Lurking beneath the retro-freaky facade are some really good songs and a thirst for a good time. The Black Belles poured out both to an eager audience at The End and I think the enthusiastic response might've even elicited a black-ringed smile or two from underneath those spooky black hats.

Playing mostly songs from their self-titled debut release, The Black Belles tore through their fantastic set with a compelling stage presence, tight musicianship and a surprisingly powerful backbeat. Head Belle Olivia Jean sang and played like a woman scorned and each lyric was barked out over greasy guitar riffs and catchy lead lines. Tina NoGood provided some perfect haunted church organ and Ruby Rogers kept the bass low and groovy. The secret weapon of The Black Belles is behind the drum kit though. Deceptively small Shelby Lynne played as loud and as powerful as any drummer I've ever seen and she propelled the band into each playful groove they played. The standouts moments in the set were definitely the singalong vocals of "What Can I Do?" and "Hey Velda," the walking dead bass line of "Wishing Well," the organ intro of "Honkey Tonk Horror," the deranged carnival drums of "Leave You With A Letter" and my absolute favorite overall song of the night, "The Wrong Door." They even played a couple of awesome new songs that haven't been released yet, including the galloping "Cuddly Toy" and the funky "Ms. Black Boots," which is slated to be the B-side of their next single. The Black Belles sounded great all night and they seemed to have a good time dancing and bobbing up and down while they played. The crowd was dancing and singing along as well, so a great time was had by everyone there. The Black Belles still have some shows left on their current tour and if you check them out, you're guaranteed a night of great music and ominously fun times. Also, you can still pick up their debut full length, The Black Belles, or their "Honkey Tonk Horror" 7" single from the Third Man Records store HERE.

Remaining Tour Shows:
2/9 Durham NC @ The Pinhook*
2/10 Harrisonburg VA @ James Madison University*
2/11 Brooklyn NY @ Knitting Factory*
2/13 Cleveland OH @ Beachland Ballroom*
2/15 Chicago IL @ Empty Bottle*
2/16 Farmington MO @ The Vault
3/18 Houston TX @ Warehouse Live^
3/19 Laredo TX @ Old No. 2^
3/20 Dallas TX @ La Grange
3/21 Hot Springs AR @ Valley of Vapors Festival

* w/ Bleached
^ w/ Strange Boys