Two Reluctant Heroines
Published on August 20, 2012 by guest author: Tony Are

This country has a long dark history that's better documented in its stories and songs than in its official biographies. Among the former slaves and their descendants who became the sharecroppers in the South, that existence was nearly 100 years of living in the margins as semi-slaves, bounded by the myriad written and unwritten laws (and the ever-present threat of lynching) of what we now call “Jim Crow,” with no hope of escape except to move northward, which came with its own set of tribulations. And in the southeastern mountains, another set of ill-fated people scratched out a bare living on farms and in the coal mines, cut off from the affluence that started to brighten the urban centers of the country after the Civil War.

The most vivid picture we have of these people is in the rich musical legacy they left us. Especially after the popularization of the phonograph and the mass availability of records starting a few years after WW1, this oral tradition could be preserved — not just the works themselves, the way we have Homer and Shakespeare and Yosa Buson, but also the performances of the artists. For the first time in history, we had the disembodied voices of the dispossessed themselves narrating the fever dream that is America.

These voices were lost for a time as “modernity” swept across the country like a wave behind the cultural changes after WW2. But they were rescued and reintroduced to a world that needed some expression of the dark thing people were feeling just below the surface. They became the spirit guides of a new cultural expression. Now “modernity” has swept over us again, but although these voices have receded, they are still with us, and make their presence felt in bits and pieces.

Based on all that, I guess I'm writing about a couple of folk singers. I like to think of them as “reluctant heroines” because they seem disconnected from the self-promotion machinery, but at the same time they are doing something so quietly remarkable that when you stop for a second to appreciate it, a doorway to something much larger and older than yourself opens in your brain. These are people who are reaching into what ordinary folks used to listen to and delicately trying to pull something out of it that means something to them and will mean something to you even the first time you listen to it. These are people who are trying to place themselves in the poetic mystery tradition that eventually birthed rock music — but in a world that has already been listening to rock music for about 60 years.


Devo on Mitt Romney's Dog
Published on August 16, 2012 by Sara Foss

By now, those who follow the news are likely familiar with the story of Mitt Romney's dog, Seamus, who once spent a long car ride in his carrier, tied to the roof of the car.

This week, Devo released a song about poor Seamus, titled "Don't Roof Rack Me, Bro! (Seamus Unleashed)." Here it is.


Favorite Movie Soundtracks
Published on August 16, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my favorite movie soundtracks.

Click here to read more.

Wilco at Ommegang
Published on July 30, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about Wilco's concert at the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown.

Here's an excerpt:

"I’ve never been to Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown before, but I’m happy that they’re hosting concerts, because it gave me a good excuse to visit. I headed out there on Saturday for the Wilco concert, and by the time we located the overflow parking lot, took the shuttle to the concert grounds and made our way into the venue, I was ready for a beer. Good thing I was at a brewery!

There are advantages and disadvantages to holding a concert in an out-of-the-way place. Getting there can be a bit of a chore, and once you’re there, you’re there — you can’t just run out and grab some food downtown, because that would require getting a shuttle, retrieving your car and driving 15 minutes. But the seclusion of such places can create a magical and unique experience, especially if the area is pretty. Brewery Ommegang is a little bit like Saratoga Performing Arts Center, but much smaller, with a sloping hillside and a nice view of the countryside and nearby farms. (The stage overlooked a silo.) Once I got in there, found a place to stand, grabbed some food and a beer, I was able to relax and just enjoy my surroundings. One of the nice features of going to a brewery concert is that all of the beer is basically brewed on site, so even though you’re paying $6 for a beer, it’s not like you’re drinking Budweiser or Rolling Rock."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Thoughts on The Wall
Published on July 9, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I give my impressions of The Wall - Roger Waters' concert tour of the Pink Floyd album of the same name.

Here's an excerpt:

"One of the last things I did before I left on vacation was catch Roger Waters’ Wall tour when it stopped at the Times Union Center in Albany in late June. Pink Floyd’s 1979 album 'The Wall' is one of my favorite albums of all time, and I was eager to see how Waters and his band perform the songs on the album from start to finish. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, other than a spectacle. And that I got.

The concert was dazzling, both visually and musically, integrating footage from the landmark 1982 film based on the album, 'Pink Floyd: The Wall,' deploying grotesque marionettes (including an angry-looking flying pig) above the stage and erecting an actual wall on stage. But while the album and film are largely personal works, exploring the unhealthy intersection of repression, depression, alienation, fame and war, the current tour has more of a geopolitical focus, attacking government, war and corporate greed in pretty much equal doses. If the album and movie are among the most chilling depictions of madness ever created, the Wall tour is more of a rant, directed at the powers-that-be. There’s nothing wrong with this, and on the whole the concert was quite powerful, with imagery of war victims and pleas for justice in cases of police brutality providing a grim, real-world undercurrent to the show. But the shift in emphasis made the concert feel a little less personal, at least to me. I was awed by the Wall, but not as moved by it as I expected to be."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Also, click here to read Rule of Thumb contributor Brian McElhiney's less-than-positive take on the concert.

A Dissenting Opinion on "The Wall"
Published on June 29, 2012 by guest author: Brian McElhiney

Part of the problem with writing concert reviews on deadline all the time is that I often find myself scrambling to write something, anything, the first thing that comes to mind, about the show I am reviewing. There’s no time to collect my thoughts and really reflect on what I have just seen and listened to.

Roger Waters’ performance of Pink Floyd’s opus “The Wall” at the Times Union Center on June 28 is a perfect example. My opinion of the show didn’t really form fully until about an hour after the final song, as I was driving home. And it seems to me, at least judging from reactions I’ve been reading on Facebook and conversations I’ve had with friends who were at the show, that my opinion is in the minority.

Visually, the show is overwhelming. The huge Wall, the floating pig with glowing eyes, the fireworks, the airplanes, the huge projections — it was a total feast for the eyes. But amidst all the eye candy, one important element — actually, the single most important element — felt sorely neglected. Strip away all the bells and whistles and flying pigs, and the performance just didn’t do anything for me.


A KISS for the Family Guy
Published on June 26, 2012 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

Regular viewers of Family Guy know that the Griffin family has crossed paths with the rock band KISS, with hilarious results.

These episodes have provided for some interesting revelations, such as the discovery that Lois Griffin, the matriarch of the Griffin clan, once dated KISS bassist Gene Simmons. She even earned the nickname “Loose Lois” in the process.

In another episode, viewers watched Peter Griffin struggle to see that made-for-TV holiday movie classic – KISS Saves Santa.

So, it makes perfect sense that KISS would join forces with Family Guy to produce a line of merchandise ranging from bobble heads to clothing. This recent announcement by the band certainly isn’t their first merchandising deal. They’re legendary for their marketing prowess. They have licensed everything from KISS coffins to condoms. And, of course, there are the KISS comic books, action figures and T-shirts.


The Beach Boys, in Concert
Published on June 25, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the Beach Boys' Saturday night concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which was absolutely delightful.

Here's an excerpt:

"When I was a kid, my best friend Jennifer’s mother informed me that you could like the Beatles or the Beach Boys, but you couldn’t like them both. I nodded solemnly, decided that the Beatles were the superior band, and never gave the Beach Boys a second thought. Until my mid-20s, when I came to my senses, bought 'Pet Sounds' and became fascinated with Brian Wilson, the band’s reclusive, troubled and ultimately brilliant leader.

So when I heard that the surviving members of the Beach Boys, including Brian, were embarking on a 73-date, 50th anniversary tour, I was interested. The fact that Brian is still alive and making music is something of a minor miracle, as is the fact that the Beach Boys are willing to get up on stage and perform together. Wilson had not toured with the Beach Boys in 46 years, and his relationship with founding members Mike Love and Al Jardine had long been strained. A recent Rolling Stone article, titled 'The Fragile Beach Boys Reunion,' touched upon this history, and contains numerous quotes from people fretting over Brian. 'There’s no doubt the talent’s there,' Love told reporter C. Taylor Crothers. 'I wonder about his health. He’s overweight and out of shape, and he doesn’t seem to pay much attention. ... It’s tough, when you’ve seen the Brian Wilson you grew up with and the Brian Wilson that’s going to be onstage nowadays.'

The Beach Boys stopped at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Saturday night, and I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Would the band sound good? Or would I spend the whole performance shaking my head, lamenting their decline?"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Also, here's a link to Tony Are's November post about the release of The Smile Sessions Box Set, containing everything the Beach Boys recorded for the album "Smile," which was never released.

The Ethics of Acquiring Music
Published on June 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

I still buy CDs, which makes me old-fashioned, and I occasionally burn CDs from friends, which is also old-fashioned - the modern-day equivalent of copying tapes, which I did with some regularity, back in the day. When all is said and done, I spend a lot of money on music. I don't want musicians to starve, and I'm not really sure why, in a world where people are willing to drop huge sums of money on things like coffee, the idea of buying music rubs people the wrong way.

Anyway, David Lowery, of Cracker, has written a thoughtful letter in response to an NPR intern who recently wrote a piece in which she confessed to basically never buying music, despite being a huge music fan. Needless to say, Lowery takes the intern to town, describing what it's like to watch musicians struggle to meet basic expenses while people enjoy their music for free, and suggesting that young people think more about how their behavior impacts the musicians and bands they supposedly love.

Click here to read Lowery's piece.

Five Songs
Published on June 7, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about five songs I'm currently enjoying on the radio.

Click here to find out what they are.

Music, Memory and "Marquee Moon"
Published on June 5, 2012 by guest author: Eric J. Perkins

I shouldn't be writing a blog post right now. I should be working, which is what I was doing about 14 minutes ago. But as I was doing some DNA sequence analysis from home (I know, you're jealous), I was listening to random songs from my iTunes and Television's "Marquee Moon" came up. I had to stop. I closed my eyes. I wasn't sitting at my desk in suburban Boston anymore. I was 23-years-old and I was in Hell.

Let me back up a bit. Hell was the name of a private club in Chapel Hill, N.C., where I went to graduate school. Any bar that served booze and not food had to be considered a "private club" due to North Carolina's blue laws. At that stage  of my life, I was as close to being a hipster as I would ever be, so it was a given that I would be a card-carrying member of Hell. It was the dive bar of dive bars. It was in the basement of a building off Rosemary St., and it was too scary for most undergrads. If you went after a heavy rain, there was often an inch deep puddle of water in one corner over by the decrepit pool tables. In the men's room, the "urinal" was a trough in which there were usually a number of rubber ducks one could use for target practice. The beer was often skunked, but it was cheap. There was also Ms. Pac-Man, and a jukebox.


Tisziji Munoz, In Concert
Published on June 4, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the excellent jazz concert I attended on Friday night - the Tisziji Munoz Quintet.

Click here to learn more.

Great Covers
Published on May 23, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I list my favorite cover songs.

Click here to see what they are.

New Afghan Whigs!
Published on May 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at Rolling Stone, you can listen to the Afghan Whigs' first new recording in five years - a cover of Marie "Queenie" Lyons 1970 song "See and Don't See." Every Afghan Whigs song I've ever heard is excellent, and this one is, too.

Last Dance
Published on May 17, 2012 by Sara Foss

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