HITS Daily Double
By Bud Scoppa While we’ve been ceaselessly grinding away at the HITS cesspool, my longtime colleague Simon Glickman has somehow found the time and energy to moonlight as a rock artiste, writing and recording the six-song EP Get on an Ice Floe with several talented pals, including multi-instrumentalist and onetime 20/20 member Chris Silagyi and bass player Bill Tutton, ex-Geraldine Fibbers. As far as I know, The Ex Teens, as he’s dubbed his project, is Simon’s first undertaking of this sort since he hung up his rock & roll shoes; he spent a chunk of the ’90s and the early part of this century as the floppy-haired frontman of L.A. power-popsters Spanish Kitchen. What’s intriguing about these songs and performances is that Simon and his mates are determined to have it both ways, embracing classic-rock tropes while cunningly sending them up. On the intricately structured mock-epic opener “Empire in Decline” as well as twin slammers “Kiss Me, I’m Dead” and “The New Victorians,” the Ex Teens’ take on serious playfulness is less Spinal Tap and more Tubes, right down to Simon’s Fee Waybill-like winking theatricality. The overarching mode of Simon's lyric is self-recrimination, fermented to 120-proof self-loathing during his years of hiding under his desk at HITS, which is most melodramatically overt in “The Wretched of the Earth (Isabel).” The psychochemical killer “Shy People Need Alcohol” has a “been there, done that” veracity, while the downtrodden suburbanite narrator of “Sunday Band” would much prefer to crank up some power chords in his garage than spend the weekend cleaning it out. Throughout Get on an Ice Floe, Simon and his fellow Ex Teens inflate First World problems to grandiose proportions, only to gleefully puncture their own pretensions. Not that far removed from his day job, in a sense.   Apple Music/iTunes: Get on an Ice Floe - EP  
By Bud Scoppa Arcade Fire manager Scott Rodger makes some provocative points about the disadvantages rock bands face nowadays in the Pitchfork think piece “Why Indie Bands Go Major Label in the Streaming Era.” In the piece, Marc Hogan asks, can the Big Three help bands like Grizzly Bear (Warp to RCA), The War on Drugs (Secretly Canadian to Atlantic), LCD Soundsystem (DFA to Columbia) and Arcade Fire (Merge to to Capitol to Columbia) better navigate the shift to streaming? Rodger reveals that although Everything Now was his clients’ third straight #1 album, it sold 60k fewer iTunes downloads than 2013’s Reflektor. Applying the 1,500-streams-to-one-sale measurement, it would have taken 90m streams to make up that difference on the charts. “We’re probably still getting the same amount of people in real terms listening to the music,” Rodger speculates, “but it’s not volume enough to make a dent on streaming.” According to the manager, “Our whole ambition on this campaign was just, how do we engage our audience and try to be a talking point for people who have never heard of our band? How do we become that talking point over dinner, over coffee, over breakfast? That really was our ambition. We’re not gonna be on daytime TV… They want to play with the Beyoncés, the Taylor Swifts. They will never be as big as some of those acts, but they want to play in the same field.” In the same piece, SONGS CEO Matt Pincus points out that “The only guys that are going to get you on Pop radio are the majors, or people with a bona fide promotion system. Alternative radio doesn’t move volume anymore.” The KillersBrandon Flowers and Ronnie Vannucci Jr. expressed a more troubling view in an interview posted on Noisey and picked up by Pitchfork. When asked if they thought a band like theirs could gain similar traction in the present day, Flowers replied, It could happen—but there hasn't been anybody good enough. If there was a band like The Strokes or Interpol, people would talk… But there isn't. Vannucci reinforced his bandmate’s point, stating, “People are very quick to blame a changing of the times for a lot of things, when it's really that they're just not good enough yet.” “A lot of us in that scene were fully realized on our first record,” Flowers continued. “In the ’80s and ’90s, people had time to grow, and that is definitely not going to be allowed anymore. Look at us, The Strokes, White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand—even Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs, all that stuff. Kings of Leon. The songs were strong on those first albums. Usually it takes people three or four records to get there.” It bears mentioning that all the bands referenced in the Pitchfork piece have released four or more albums.
Weeks after announcing the release of 1976 solo recordings, Reprise has released two Neil Young boxed sets of previously released 70s material. Picking up where Original Release Series 1-4 left off, Original Release Series 5-8 comprises four albums: 1973’s Time Fades Away, 1974’s On the Beach, and 1975’s Tonight's the Night and Zuma. Limited to 3,000 sets, the releases are available on CD and vinyl. The second CD box, Original Release Series 8.5-12 gathers together The Stills-Young Band’s Long May You Run from 1976, 1977’s American Stars 'N' Bars, 1978’s Comes a Time, and 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps and Live Rust. On 9/8, Reprise will release Young’s Hitchhiker, a 10-track acoustic solo album recorded in 1976 that features versions of many songs that wound up on Rust Never Sleeps. Young’s concerns about audio quality kept many of the titles off download and streaming services for years. Certain titles spent decades out of print. Each albums has been remastered from the original analog master studio recordings at Bernie Grundman Mastering, working with John Hanlon of Young's production team and approved by Neil. Reprise says “the new remasters sound absolutely superior to any previous iteration and will allow the listener to hear these albums as a brand new listening experience.” We’ll have to check that out.
By Simon Glickman The audience assembled at The Village on 8/17 had been invited to “An Exclusive Music Experience of Southern Gothic.” What we got, when we first put on our wireless headphones, was a bewildering array of random video on giant screens. The clips toggled restlessly between the real horrors of our time and the trivialities intended to distract us from them. Then all the screens settled into a cinematic landscape, somewhere in a possibly mythical American South, and the music began. That music, from the now wildly buzzing album Southern Gothic by Mercury Nashville’s Tyminski (due 10/20) is not simple to describe. Its creator, Dan Tyminski, is best known as the singing voice of George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou, a longtime member of Alison Krauss and Union Station and the vocalist on Avicii’s smash “Hey Brother.” Here he steps way out of his musical comfort zone with 13 songs (five of which were previewed at the event) about sin and salvation, love, loss, faith, redemption and pain. What does it sound like? A sort of pulsing electro-bluegrass, at times. Boozy, smoky, secular gospel at others. Elsewhere, country-rock with a doomy, Nick Cave-ish air, not to mention swampy blues, nocturnal pop, Appalachian EDM, hip-hop/folk and other unexpected concoctions that color way outside the lines of the current country mainstream. The beats are big. Tyminski’s expressive, soulful vocals are the through line. (In a Q&A session afterward, Tyminski credited the unbidden Avicii project as having given him the courage to follow new musical directions.) What matters is that the songs—co-crafted by Tyminski and a raft of great co-writers, and shepherded by canny producer Jesse Frasure—are superb, and also that the label doesn’t give a shit about trying to make it fit in some format pigeonhole. UMG Nashville President Cindy Mabe, who hosted the event and was visibly glowing with pride, knows this is a powerful, unique work of art. The lush, ambitious visuals accompanying the music and the elaborate trappings of the party itself underscored that the company is investing considerable resources in this decidedly offbeat project. I happen to believe a number of these songs would blow up on Country radio from spin one, but however listeners discover Gothic, I expect they’ll have a hard time putting it down. It’s hard to pick a favorite among these gems, but the standouts of my last few listens are the thumping, banjo-laced “Breathing Fire,” the questing, anthemic “Gone,” the visceral “Perfect Poison,” the impassioned “Hollow Hallelujah,” the lovely and rousing “Good for Your Soul” and the searing “Bloodline.” In truth, I don’t think there’s a bum track here, and the set’s stormy themes speak to these desperate times—sometimes with reassurance, sometimes with despair, but always with honesty. Will Southern Gothic go on to commercial glory, connecting like great, authentic albums deserve to? Will Tyminski and team scoop up an armload of Grammys and give other musical experimentalists the courage to burn genre restrictions to the ground like a rotten old barn? I’ve got no clue. I only know that this record scratches an itch I didn’t know I had. I’m glad it found its way to the light.
The four albums Robert Plant has released over the last decade have displayed the Led Zep singer’s affinity for folk music, both in its natural and hybrid form. One of Led Zeppelin’s great contributions to rock was its adventurous layering of musical elements culled from all corners of the globe, a trait Plant has employed with tremendous distinction for decades and continues on his next release. “The May Queen,” the first song released from Plant’s upcoming Nonesuch/Warner Bros. Records album Carry Fire, incorporates gospel, blues, Middle Eastern rhythms and a deployment of the guitar in circular style that’s part raga, part Leo Kottke. It goes without saying that his voice is simply divine. Plant says, "It's about intention, I respect and relish my past works but each time I feel the lure and incentive to create new work. I must mix old with new. Consequently the whole impetus of the band has moved on its axis somewhat, the new sound and different space giving way to exciting and dramatic landscapes of mood, melody and instrumentation". Carry Fire, set for release on 10/13, is Plant’s 11th album and he is again accompanied by The Sensational Space ShiftersJohn Baggott on keyboards, moog, loops, percussion, drums, brass arrangement, t'bal, snare drum, slide guitar, piano, electric piano, bendir; Justin Adams on guitar, acoustic guitar, oud, E-bow quartet, percussion, snare drum, tambourine; Dave Smith on bendir, tambourine, djembe, drum kit; and Liam "Skin" Tyson on dobro, guitar, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, 12-string.  Chrissie Hynde joins Plant on Ersel Hickey’s the duet "Bluebirds Over The Mountain"; Albanian cellist Redi Hasa and violist/fiddler Seth Lakeman perform on three tracks. Plant and the Space Shifters will embark on a world tour starting in November.
By Bud Scoppa   Lavish box sets and career-overview compilations have long been the sexy attention-getters for catalog labels, but the album-by-album reissuing of the discographies of important artists is just as significant for music lovers who want to delve deeper. Rhino, which has quietly been doing a quality job on this front, has begun working through the six LPs cut by The Cars for Elektra, releasing the band’s second and third albums, Candy-O and Panorama. Both were part of 2016’s The Elektra Years 1978-1987, remastered under the supervision of Ric Ocasek, but these two new reissues add outtakes, B-sides, alternate mixes and demos for a more in-depth look into the recording process of the great Boston band. Candy-O’s seven extras include four songs cut at Northern Studios in Boston suburb Maynard, where The Cars had been demoing material since their formative stages. Early takes of “Candy-O’ and “Dangerous Type” underscore the band’s signature fidgety intensity, their dynamic immediacy comparing favorably to the more streamlined final versions produced by Roy Thomas Baker at Cherokee in L.A. The three previously unissued Panorama tracks—“Shooting for You,” “Be My Baby” and “The Edge”—as well as B-side “Don’t Go to Pieces,” are suffused with the dark melancholy of the released album and performed with taut, sinewy energy, making the expanded reissue even more of a complete thought. If the CD rather than the vinyl LP had been the configuration of choice in 1980, all four might well have made the original album—they’re definitely strong enough.            Coming in September are a half-dozen albums Steve Earle released on E-Squared/ Artemis between 1999 and 2004, as Warner Bros. undertakes a reissue program on the writer/artist’s catalog following his return to the label. For my money, the essential LPs in this batch of extra-free re-releases are 2002’s Jerusalem and 2004’s The Revolution Starts…Now, each seething with the accrued frustration and bitterness that beset much of the nation during the first term of Bush the Younger. Co-produced by Ray Kennedy and featuring a core band comprising guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, drummer Will Rigby, bass player Kelley Looney and percussionist Patrick Earle (Steve’s kid brother), the two records rock as hard as anything in Earle’s bountiful discography. Just as significantly, the sociopolitical payloads of songs like Jerusalem’s “Ashes to Ashes” and “Amerika v. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)” as well as The Revolution’s title song and “F the CC” are startlingly relevant today. So are Earle’s original liner notes. “We are a people perpetually balanced on a tightrope stretched between our history and our potential, one faltering step away from a headlong tumble from the most dizzying of heights,” he writes in the notes for Jerusalem. “But fear not—we’re working with a net.” That net Steve’s referring to is the U.S. Constitution.
Thirty years ago, Mojo Nixon sang “Elvis is everywhere/Elvis is everything/Elvis is everybody/Elvis is still the king.” He could not have predicted that, three decades later, the owners of Elvis Presley’s catalog would have the power to take his music and spread it everywhere for everybody under the title of Elvis for Everybody.  As part of the annual Elvis Week, the August ritual that includes the date of his death—8/16/77—Sony Legacy has created a playlist generator that takes into account a fan’s level of interest in the King and their current state of mind. Our first shot at the list opened with “Hurt”—does that give you a hint about our early Monday temperament?
The Grateful Dead did 74 shows and released their final studio album in 1989 and in the middle of the summer landed at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, D.C. Heavy rain and oppressive humidity greeted the band, but the performances they delivered there are considered among the tour’s best. Those shows are being released 11/10 as a six-CD set titled Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, Washington, D.C., July 12 & 13, 1989 via Grateful Dead Records/Rhino. The set is taken from the band's master 24-track analog recordings, which have been mixed by Jeffrey Norman at TRI Studios and mastered in HDCD by David Glasser.  The set will also be available as a digital download in Apple Lossless and FLAC 192/24 exclusively at Dead.netDavid Lemieux, Grateful Dead archivist and the set's producer, notes, "RFK Stadium '89 fell right in the middle of one of the best tours of the last 15 years of Grateful Dead performances, with these shows being the sixth and seventh of an 11-show tour. This tour is widely considered the start of a nine-month period of sustained excellence, which ran from summer '89 through spring '90. “The RFK shows are as good as any of the more famous shows from this period, including July 4 in Buffalo, July 7 in Philadelphia, and the Alpine run. When Bob Weir has asked me to provide copies of Grateful Dead songs to give to his bandmates to learn and rehearse, he almost always requests summer '89, and I've often drawn upon the RFK shows for this purpose.” Some trivia about the shows: The first set on 7/12 features at least one song sung by each of the band's four lead singers; "Sugaree" appears in the second set instead of the first; and Bruce Hornsby is a guest at both shows. More D.C. trivia: Rhino President Mark Pinkus continues to roll blunts in the shape of the Washington Monument.
$tateside Records, a label EMI formed in 1962 to release licensed American recordings to the U.K. and Europe, is being revived as part Warner Music’s Global Catalogue Division. The will be a marketing imprint focusing on classic jazz, soul and R&B. The first $tateside releases are mostly jazz, titles from Lee Morgan, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and others. The launch includes a new website and a Spotify playlist.  
By Simon Glickman Dan Wilson’s Re-Covered (Ballroom/Big Deal) revisits 13 tunes the widely adored tunesmith/artist wrote or co-wrote with or for Adele, Taylor Swift, Chris Stapleton, The Dixie Chicks, John Legend and others; in addition to Wilson’s own nuanced, emotionally rich readings of the songs, the set includes his charming illustrations and enlightening commentary, bound in a handsome hardcover book. All the versions on this lovely album, co-produced by Wilson and Mike Viola, demonstrate the warmth and beauty of his impulses as a melodist and lyricist. For my money, the standout is his take on “Someone Like You,” with expressively tasteful accompaniment by The Kronos Quartet (arranged by Wilson’s erstwhile Semisonic bandmate Jacob Slichter). But his renderings of the Stapleton gem "When the Stars Come Out" and Semisonic's "Closing Time" are also stunners. Check out the video below, which also showcases Dan’s calligraphic prowess.   The guy’s abundance of talent can be a tad annoying to us mere mortals—he writes giant hits like “Someone Like You,” “Not Ready to Make Nice” and “Closing Time,” sings like an angel, plays guitar like a demon and, we now discover, is a cartoonist whose work could easily run in The New Yorker. But Dan’s such a mensch it’s hard to hold it against him.  What's more, the project is coming out via Kenny MacPherson's Big Deal Music, so there's more than one mensch involved.
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