Blog reviews

Sgt. Pepper’s Endlessly Touring Band

paul-tug-of-war-liner-notesDid Paul McCartney record a follow-up to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? He didn’t ever say so, at least to my knowledge, but his 1973 album Band on the Run could be seen as a continuation of the Sgt. Pepper story.

McCartney was the one who came up with the original idea to have the Beatles record an album as another band. Sgt. Pepper is credited as the first concept album: an album that is not simply a collection of songs but a thematic whole. In this case, The Beatles became Sgt. Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band. The songs they played were not Beatles’ songs, they were Sgt. Pepper songs. I’m not sure how much differently the songs would have turned out had they simply recorded “another Beatles album.” With the exception of the first two tracks and the closing Sgt. Pepper’s (Reprise), there isn’t much inherently different from songs the band was playing already. What the heck, it was the first concept album, they were allowed a little leeway.

McCartney was the driving force behind the idea of playing as Sgt. Pepper, so it would be natural for him, of all the former Beatles, to do a sequel of sorts.

Band on the Run begins with the title track about an unnamed band. They first become bored within “these four walls.” Could this be the studio in which the Beatles trapped themselves for the second half of their career? Then, the unnamed band apparently gets tangled up with the local law and have to make a run for it. Sgt. Pepper’s band is no doubt an unruly group of miscreants, so it wouldn’t be hard to imagine them being pursued right after a gig (kind of like a psychedelic Blues Brothers).
There are more echoes from Sgt. Pepper’s to Band on the Run. Mrs. Vandebilt is a character sketch in a similar vein to Lovely Rita. Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me) uses a cut-and-paste technique that reminds me of Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! Bluebird…well, okay, that one sounds like Blackbird, from the White Album. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five is an exercise in forward-thinking, a funky (and, admittedly, not very successful) version of A Day in the Life. While Day in the Life was (and still is) a singular, masterful song, 1985 sounds like the disco that was becoming more and more popular through the 70’s. Sgt. Pepper lost a few of his key bandmates between the two albums, and while they’re still trying, the sound just isn’t quite the same. One thing to note about 1985, though, is that, at very end of the song in the fadeout, it cuts back to Band on the Run, giving the album a circular feel. Also, and important to my theory, it closes the album in the same way that Sgt. Pepper’s (Reprise) did for its album. It’s like a band closing a live show with an encore of their big hit.
In my mind, Sgt. Pepper fronts a jokey road show band. They travels from town to town, endlessly touring, losing and gaining members as they roll down the road. It makes me happy to think Sgt. Pepper and his friends are still playing somewhere, maybe getting enough money together to record another album from time to time. That’s why, flaws aside, Band on the Run is special to me. Sgt. Pepper resurfaced, however briefly, in 1973.
autobiography Blog

Andy K from Otago Bay

fourcornerscoverIntroducing: my friend Andy. He writes and sings awesome songs. As Falling Rock National Park is the place to go for new music, and given its massive audience, I figured this would be the perfect place to break this young and exciting artist.

To hear the song, Healthy Happy Family, just press Play on the music player to your right.

UPDATE: Do to popular demand, I’ve added MORE SONGS to the right. Just click on the one you want to hear, and it will magically play. Enjoy!

autobiography Blog reviews

My Hero: Jack Johnson

jack-johnson2 What attributes does your hero have? Would your hero be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Have a special “Spidey sense” to know when trouble is afoot? Dress up like a big bat and fight crime? Know when microwave popcorn is done without being burned? Be able to steal and feel no remorse?

Fortunately for me, my hero exists in the real world. His name is Jack Johnson. He is a singer/songwriter. You may have even heard some of his songs.

Jack grew up in Hawaii. He loved to surf. After high school he went to college, but not any old boring institution for higher learning. He went to school in Santa Barbara to be a filmmaker so he could make surfing documentaries of his friends. After college he bummed around with his friend, G Love. G Love put Jack on one of his songs and it was a hit. Then Jack made an album of his own: Brushfire Fairytales. It was also a hit. Now Jack and his other good buddy Ben Harper write songs, hang out, surf, and talk about saving the environment.

Jack, who is not related to the boxer, is supremely mellow. He is also tall, and awesome. Every one of his albums sound relaxing. Some people – naive and petty people – say all his albums sound the same. Do not believe their lies. While I’d happily put on a Jack Johnson album at a chill party or a BBQ, I would most likely opt for In Between Dreams or his newest, Sleep Through the Static. That’s just the way I roll. Other people may prefer Brushfire Fairytales or the Curious George Soundtrack (which features G Love and Ben Harper). I don’t think anyone likes On and On. Sorry, Jack.

One theory, put forward by my mother, states Jack is the Jimmy Buffet of my generation. He’s mellow, makes you feel good, and has a kind of island-vibe. I agree with that, although I also think Jack is a more dedicated artist than Jimmy. Jimmy is fine, but sometimes he tries too hard to sound laid back. Jack is the real deal.

While I’m not out to convert anyone (Jack would totally oppose proselytizing), I do think that Jack Johnson is worth checking out if you haven’t heard anything beyond “Flake.” I’ll be the first to admit I used to be a Jack naysayer. Then I liked him ironically. Now, I just like him.

Hats (and shoes) off to Jack Johnson: singer, songwriter, surfer, filmmaker. Saving the environment one album at a time.jack-johnson

autobiography Blog

top of the charts

Warren Zevon 1980
I’d like to live alone in the desert
I’d like to be like Georgia O’Keefe
So begins Warren Zevon’s “Splendid Isolation,” the most-played song on my ipod. Why does this song have the highest play count of them all? In a machine that contains over 8,000 tracks – almost 40 gigabytes’ worth of music – why does a non-hit by an artist best known for “Werewolves of London” top them all?
Part of the reason is accessibility. I’ve had all my Beatles and Bob Dylan CDs for years and played the heck out of them. When I finally migrated to ipod, the need to listen to any one song by either of those artists had mellowed. I still love it when “Come Together” or “Visions of Johanna” come up on shuffle, but I rarely seek them out. The songs I listen to most on my ipod were purchased after I began listening to it more than CDs. The only place I can hear them is there.
As for the song itself, “Splendid Isolation” is a perfect mix of happy beat and wry humor. Zevon was a master at writing meaningful songs that were funny. “Like Michael Jackson in Disneyland/Don’t have to share it with nobody else/Lock the gate Goofy, take my hand/And lead me through this world of self.” In the end, the song seems to be a simple break-up story, with the narrator saying he wants to be alone when he’s really just sad. The long lyrical lead-up keeps you guessing.
All this is a long way of saying that I’m totally happy with my current “favorite” song. If somebody were to ask me about it (which they won’t have to now, after reading this blog), I would proudly tell them.
This small bit of credibility is totally canceled out by the 1452 Hannah Montana bootlegs I’ve got on there, though.
autobiography Blog

cat power, roseland, 4.13.08

chan_roseland “Hello Portland People.”

The Roseland Theater could barely contain the awesome might of Cat Power and the Dirty Delta Blues band. It was a spectacle, a force, an unrivaled artistic masterpiece that will undoubtedly become legend in the annals of rock lore.

Roseland Theater has standing room on the main floor and a wraparound balcony. Adrianne and I sat in the first row of the balcony, which gave us a good view not only of the stage but of the crowd below. During the opening act we had a fun time watching various reactions of people in the crowd, but when Chan Marshall and her band entered the stage, there was no denying their godlike rock ‘n’ roll power.

The opening act was a woman named (I believe) Appaloosa, a singer Adrianne described as “very French.” She came on with no instruments, just a little electronic device which she plugged into the speakers. She was blonde and wore a bomber jacket and glittery green dress. She did jumping jacks onstage between outbursts of singing. It was funny, because she took breaks during her songs, not between them. The little device she had played a series of beats; to start a new song she simply pressed a button and the next beat played. She was at times off-key, and had a cavalier attitude. There were a few in the crowd who really dug her. She played to them, smiling and dancing. She sang a couple songs about horses.

There was a long break between Appaloosa and Cat Power. When the lights finally went down, it would not be an exaggeration to say that everybody there was ready to go. Fortunately, Cat delivered the goods. Her greeting, “hello Portland people,” received a big cheer which was cut off as the band began to play.
chan_roseland3An early highlight was the song “Silver Stallion” off her new album, Jukebox. Many of the songs were from that album, although she did throw in a few from The Greatest and even a terrific cover of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Tracks of My Tears.”

Cat had a great, funny way of dancing around the stage. She didn’t play any instruments; she left that to her able band. There were times that she came right out to the edge of the stage and reached out to the audience and times when she slid to the side and let the band bask in the spotlight.

“Would you like something high-end or with sibilance? We’ve got everything tonight.” I heard a few shouts, nothing definitive, and she launched into “Aretha, Sing One For Me.”

As for the sound itself, it was a loud muddle, but not in a bad way. As in the album, I think there was a deliberate attempt to ratchet up the reverb and bury her vocals a bit. Cat kept asking “are my vocals too loud?” It was apparent that she enjoyed her band immensely. Her band, four men, made her look even tinier up on stage.

At the end she thanked us. “You guys are so fucking nice,” she said. She repeated it, and then played “Lived in Bars.”chan_roseland2Photos courtesy chuffpdx’s flickr page. We were sitting on the opposite side of the room, but we came down for the encore.


Stephen Malkmus & Cat Power

I’ve been listening to two new albums this weekend as I draw comics. I can’t listen to music with lyrics when I write; that’s when I listen to Classical and Jazz. I always break out the rock when it’s time for drawing. This time it’s Stephen Malkmus & Jicks’ Real Emotional Trash and Cat Powers’ Jukebox. Both are great, destined to be on my Top 10 albums of 2008 (barring an outpouring of new music. But hey, it’s March already. How much more music can possibly be released this year?).

My friend Nate (of McBone fame) reccommended Cat Power to me and I must say the man has taste. The question, as I listen to each beautifully fragile yet well-constructed song, is not so much “is this a good album?” as “would I run away with her if we ever meet?” The answer is a definitive yes. Lest you think simple infatuation is the reason for my review, have a listen. There is something deep & meaningful in these interpretations.

Stephen Malkmus, a fellow Portlander, has made his second great album since the break-up of Pavement. I’m constantly wondering how he constructed such long songs. Is there a structure at all? Each seems to have two or three different elements that he switches between. I’ll have to listen some more to see if I can figure it out. Rest assured you will be the first to know once this nut is cracked.

For the record, I wouldn’t run off with Stephen Malkmus if we ever met. I would, however, play a game of pick-up basketball with him. If I’m going to run off with a guy, I’m holding out for Jimmy Carter. I heard a rumor that he might be our next President.

I’d better get back to drawing comics. This brief post has been a nice diversion from blue pencil maddness here at Falling Rock Headquarters.


Ian Wilson, Musician Extraordinaire!

Ian Wilson is a good friend, fellow Oberlin alum, and the discoverer of radium. Now we can add published musician to the list.

That’s right! Ian has a BRAND NEW ALBUM out, called The Crater EP. Since I’m part of his inner-circle of confidantes, I had a chance to hear his fantastic album already. If you like piano-based pop but hate Billy Joel and really wish you get that awful Joel taste out of your mouth, give Ian’s album a listen. Also, if you want to increase your street “cred” by listening to the latest underground musician before he explodes on the scene, here is your chance. Go quickly, now, because he will be opening for the Rolling Stones in 2010.

As part of his Coordinated Marketing Quick-Strike Task Force, I was hired to conceive and draw his album cover. Now, for the first time, here is the official album art for The Crater EP.

The cover:ianwilson_Crater-EP_Large-Sized-Cover
Front and back cover, including tracklist:ian_wilson_craterCD imprint:ianwilson_Crater_CD_imprint

Want to know what those fish are about? And where the comet fits in? Please refer to Ian’s myspace page to hear his new album. Enjoy the swinging grooves.