HITS Daily Double
It’s hard to believe, when the dust has cleared, the likes of #1 seeds like Stanford, Duke and Kentucky won’t be around, although St. Joseph’s, with just a single regular-season defeat, seems the most likely in the bunch not to make the Final Four. So, get comfortable, pull out your office pool, maybe turn down the sound on ESPN’s always-voluble Dickie V. and "Just watch, bay-beeeee!"


Nellie McKay, Peter Yorn, Homestarrunner.com, Jethro Tull and Grant Lee Phillips Provide Blows Against the Empire
The 2004 presidential campaign is underway, and if the initial TV spots are any indication, it sure looks like Bush and Kerry are going to wage a nasty, no-holds-barred war against each other, with nothing less than their very manhood at stake. The horse-faced Kerry, with his JFK initials and Kennedy head of hair against the goofily earnest frat boy with the rich oilman friends who proudly insists he doesn’t read a newspaper. A coupla wealthy yahoos who could care less about a middle class suddenly realizing it’s got more in common with their hired help than the bosses they so ardently hope to become. It’s a mess any way you look at it, folks, but maybe this week’s bread and ciruses can offer some solace. We could all use it…

1. Nellie McKay, Get Away From Me (Columbia): Starting with the title of her debut, this precocious 19-year-old London-born, Harlem-raised white girl prodigy positions herself as the anti-Norah Jones. Her twisted PoMo boho cabaret combines Rickie Lee Jones, Astrud Gilberto, Dan Hicks, the Roches and Manhattan Transfer with the narrative satirical bent of Randy Newman and the camp sensibility of Bette Midler. Signed to Columbia by A&R vet Mitchell Cohen, her label debut, produced by longtime Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, is a two-CD, 18-song affair separated traditionally into Side 1 and Side 2. The lyrical flow includes a steady stream of pop culture and political references, with the targets including war ("Waiter," with its nod to "Carolina in the Morning"), genetic engineering ("Clonie") and, most memorably, Yuppie fucks like herself ("Really"). With a range that includes a self-deprecating hip-hop tune ("Sari") and a dreamy urban reminiscence ("Manhattan Avenue"), this genre-busting teen could finally make Broadway hip. (Roy Trakin)

2. NCAA Basketball Playoffs: For college basketball junkies, it doesn’t get any better than this weekend, when 64 teams are reduced to the Sweet 16 by Sunday night. Already 12-seed Manhattan, the only team from New York City, has bested Florida, 10-seed Nevada surprised 7-seed Michigan State, while 4-seed ACC champ Maryland barely topped 13-seed UTEP. It’s hard to believe, when the dust has cleared, the likes of #1 seeds like Stanford, Duke and Kentucky won’t be around, although St. Joseph’s, with just a single regular-season defeat, seems the most likely in the bunch not to make the Final Four. So, get comfortable, pull out your office pool, maybe turn down the sound on ESPN’s always-voluble Dickie V. and "Just watch, bay-beeeee!" (RT)

3. Runner and the Thermodynamics at the Thirsty Hippo, Hattiesburg, MS: I had my mind completely blown last night by this Boston band. I completely fell in love with their album more than a month ago; it's filled to the brim with great catchy songs that are begging to be played on the radio (esp. "So Sorry," "Powerlines" and "Mechanical Heart"). Anyway, through good luck and great enthusiasm, I got them to come here and play in Hattiesburg on their way to SxSW. They were amazing. This band is going to be huge. They are probably going to be over-hyped, etc., but live, they are incredible. I'm still so elated from the show that I haven't slept. I just keep going through it in my brain. Drummer Roger Knight is a monster, his arms flailing everywhere like a cross between Keith Moon and Animal. Marc Pinansky is an ace guitarist/singer/songwriter who has some real gems on the album that spring to life in their explosive live show. Finally, bassist Mike Oor holds it all together with an incredible array of licks ranging from muscular pounding to intricate chords and parts. The resulting "melodic assault" had the 60 people here on Spring Break at fever pitch. You can hear some of the music at their website (www.runnerrock.com) or on the label site (www.acefu.com). They have a live album posted on EMusic as well. (Mik Davis, GM, WUSM-FM, Hattiesburg, MS)

4. Pete Yorn, Live from New Jersey (Columbia promo): For those who insist this shaggy-haired hearthrob alt troubadour isn’t a dynamic live performer, here’s living proof he can be. Playing in front of an adoring hometown crowd last October in Morristown, NJ, Yorn comes off just fine, thankyou. A sterling backing band including guitarist Jason Johnson, bassist/producer R. Walt Vincent and all-around MVP Joe Kennedy on an array of instruments brings out the color and nuance of the Yorn songbook. Strange, I’d a bet Yorn would have achieved mass stardom before labelmate John Mayer—his songs have more depth, and his looks are at least as pop idolish. But Yorn’s sophomore album, Day I Forgot, just didn’t have the defining hit his debut did ("Life on a Chain"), and that hurt him in a marketplace which moves very quickly onto the next big thing. But check out this live promo set and tell me Yorn doesn’t deserve to be every bit as big. (RT)

5. Donald Rumsfeld: MoveOn.org has posted some incredible Face the Nation footage in which Rummy flat-out denies claiming Saddam was an imminent threat—and then, when confronted with evidence to the contrary, back-pedals as only an expert functionary can. Happy anniversary, baby. (Simon Glickman)

6. Michael Ramirez: The right-wing cartoonist draws Al-Qaeda guys putting up John Kerry posters and the L.A. Times runs it. Are they high on crack? (SG)

7. Stephen King: In a trenchant, thoughtful Entertainment Weekly column about The Passion of The Christ, the man who terrified millions simultaneously praises Mel Gibson’s film and damns parents who expose little kids to its visceral horrors. Guess he’s off the list to write the sequel. (SG)

8. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: Had to see it before it hit the DVD shelves, and while it’s the best of the bunch, the only thing I could think of was, couldn’t this have been edited into a single movie? I mean, the series was definitely enlivened by the appearance of Andy Serkis’ uniquely malevolent Gollum/Smeagol and the final chapter is ennobled by Sean Astin’s adoring, selfless gaze on his beloved, blue-eyed Mr. Frodo, while Viggo Mortensen’s sullen King is a starmaking performance. But after awhile, the conflicts begin to wash over you and become rather indistinguishable from each other, and the individual characters aren’t nearly enough to help it along. Certainly Peter Jackson’s achievement is a remarkable one, but it’s not nearly as engrossing—or mythic—as any nine hours of The Sopranos. (RT)

9. Albums With Legs: Last week in The New York Times, Neil Strauss asserted that the only way to determine the real worth of an album is to live with it. "[E]very now and then in the last 10 years," Strauss wrote, "one album has stood out and remained in steady rotation in my CD player or, nowadays, on my iPod. And there have been many of those. They may not be among the most important or the most popular releases of the last decade; they are simply personal favorites…that have charmed their way to the top of my listening pile and are highly recommended as permanent additions to almost any CD collection or iPod playlist." As a list fanatic, I compared Strauss’ picks with my own quickly assembled batch of faves and found we had several in common: Lucinda WilliamsCar Wheels on a Gravel Road (Mercury, 1998), Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York (DGC, ’94), Jeff Buckley’s Grace (Columbia, ’94), Radiohead’s The Bends (Capitol, ’95), Ryan AdamsHeartbreaker (Bloodshot, 2000) and, in his honorable mentions, Portishead’s Dummy (Go! Discs/London, ’94). Apart from Heartbreaker, those LPs would comprise half of a top 10 of endlessly listenable CDs from the ’90s. To those I’d add Tom Petty’s criminally underrated Wildflowers (WB, ’94), Emmylou Harris’ country/trip-hop tour de force Wrecking Ball (Elektra/Asylum, ’95), Matthew Sweet’s timeless Girlfriend (Zoo, ’91; along with its companion piece, the collectible promo CD Good Friend), Jellyfish’s haute-pop icon Belly Button (Charisma/Virgin, ’90) and Aimee Mann’s smart-pop hookfest Bachelor No. 2 (SuperEgo, ’99)… But wait—I’m forgetting U2’s epic Achtung Baby (Island, ’91); oh well, let’s call it a top 11. As for the early ’00s, I’m still crazy about Shelby Lynne’s I Am Shelby Lynne (Island, 2000), Beck’s Sea Change (DGC/Geffen, ’02), John Mayer’s ubiquitous Room for Squares (Aware/Columbia, ’01), Fountains of Wayne’s Welcome Interstate Managers (S-Curve/CMC, ’03) and, as a wild card, St. Germaine’s truly postmodern Tourist (Blue Note, ’00). Got your own road-tested top 10? Lay it on us and we’ll run it next week—and that certainly includes you, Lefsetz. (Bud Scoppa)

10. Homestarrunner.com: A website that’s a combination South Park and Odd Todd, this crudely drawn animation creates a fully articulated universe of characters who star in their own adventures and have their own lives. Homestar Runner, Coach Z and the Poopsmith, whose job it is to shovel shit all day, are featured in a series of Toons that include laugh tracks and stuff like the Reddest Radish Contest that is at once Spongebob Squarepants childlike and subversive. Check it out when you’re bored at the office. Thanks to Hollywood Records' Cori Sommers for the recommendation. (RT)

OK, cards on the table time. It’ll scarcely surprise some planner readers—or at least Alan Mintz—when I aver that I’m a big prog/art-rock fan. But because we trust and love one another, I can share with you my longtime Jethro Tull fixation. Even Karen Glauber, whose adoration of Yes is a matter of public record, pretends not to know me when the subject of Ian Anderson and pals comes up.

Still, the English collective’s flute-laden riff-rock occupies a privileged place in my development. I was an impressionable adolescent when the already over-the-hill Tull lurched into town for the bloated arena-fests that were the Stormwatch and A tours; now that EMI has seen fit to reissue both albums, along with the 1978 live disc Bursting Out, I owe them a mention.

1979’s Stormwatch is probably the last halfway good Tull album, due to its rather touching folk-rock moments—not its oddly sanctimonious broadsides about fossil fuels and ecology. Ballads like "Home" and "Dun Ringill" are lovely, and the sprawling rocker "Dark Ages" has much to recommend it—though I’d scarcely call it "one of Tull’s greatest moments," as the press release does. The bonus tracks are a decidedly mixed bag, the best being "King Henry’s Madrigal," which is not about the energy crisis.

A, originally conceived as an Anderson solo offering, is more problematic. Clad in white jumpsuits, the band attempted to put a space-age gloss on its Elizabethan boogie, and the results were, um, weird (especially given the leg-lifting flautist’s increasingly fusty politics). But ex-Roxy Music violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson added a lot—even if he perplexed his bandmates by wearing make-up. Hey, man: tights and thigh-high boots are manly. But mascara? Disc 2 of A is a live DVD from the same period, Slipstream, but it appeared to be in the wrong format for my player. Damn.

Bursting Out is a representative sampling of Tull’s greatest hits and late-’70s tidbits, a tad overwrought but jolly enjoyable. (SG)

The arrival of a double-disc Grant Lee Buffalo compilation may seem odd, since the L.A. band’s evocative, anachronistic American glam-roots hybrid hardly saturated the airwaves during their ’90s heyday. But Rhino’s anthology, Storm Hymnal: Gems From the Vault of Grant Lee Buffalo, is a most welcome document. Singer-songwriter Grant Lee Phillips and primary bandmates Paul Kimble and Joey Peters made some truly wonderful music, and at least a handful of the songs included here already sound like classics. I threw my copy in and went right to the incandescent anthem "Mockingbirds" (from their sophomore disc, Mighty Joe Moon) and the strangest thing happened: women started pouring into my office, declaring their love for GLB. (I need hardly add that the aforementioned Jethro Tull reissues failed to produce the same results.) The first disc culls tracks from the group’s Warner Bros. albums, including standouts like "Fuzzy," "Jupiter and Teardrop," "Honey Don’t Think," "Bethlehem Steel" and almost-hit "Truly, Truly." The second is an impressive compendium of acoustic takes and B sides, though it’s sad that the brilliant songs written for the movie Velvet Goldmine (especially "The Whole Shebang") aren’t here. It makes me feel old that "Mockingbirds" first hit 10 years ago, but it makes me feel young to hear it. And it makes me happy to hear Grant in fine fettle on his new solo outing, Virginia Creeper (Zoe). He’s replaced the kaleidoscopic distorto-folk of GLB with a leaner, more acoustic approach (buoyed by sensitive musos like Greg Leisz, Jon Brion and Danny Frankel), and his honeyed voice sounds terrific on songs like "Mona Lisa," "Lily A Passion" and Gram Parsons’ "Hickory Wind." (SG)

This weekend’s concert roster has something for everyone. On Friday (March 19), The Proclaimers play B.B. King’s Blues Club (243 W. 42nd St.). In New Jersey, Kanye West lights up Asbury Park.’s Paramount Theatre (1300 Ocean Ave.) while Puddle of Mudd play Sayreville’s Starland Ballroom (570 Gmee Mill Rd.). Smile Empty Soul open.

On Saturday (March 20), Neil Young takes the stage at Radio City Music Hall (1260 Ave. of the Americas) to present his Greenvale show.

On Sunday (March 21), Saves The Day turn it out at Starland Ballroom. Grandaddy, Hey Mercedes and The Fire Theft are also on the bill. (Valerie Nome)

"I embarked on a journey more fascinating than I could ever imagine, but a word to the wise to the young artists -- without spiritual guidance too much freedom can lead to spiritual decline," Prince said during his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Monday. According to New York Post’s Page Six, he refused to perform signature hits such as "Cream" and "Sexy Mother f*****" due to his growing Jehovah’s Witness faith. (VN)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Focus Features)
: An introspective guy follows his longtime girlfriend into an experimental procedure where his memories, good and bad, are eliminated one by one, leaving him with no memory of their affair. Title comes from a line in an 18th century poem by Alexander Pope.
Stars: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, David Cross, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood
Music video auteur Michel Gondry’s second collaboration with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman follows the unsuccessful Human Nature. Kaufman has also penned a pair of screenplays directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation)
Thumbs Up: More metaphysical romance, questioning mind-body dualism and the nature of the thoughts created by your mind, with strong performances by Carrey and especially Winslet.
Thumbs Down: Plenty of snazzy style for a story about learning how to get outside your head and love someone else.
Soundtrack: Hollywood Records album features music by Jon Brion, a new track by Beck ("Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometimes"), The Polyphonic Spree and, a Kaufman staple, ELO’s "Mr. Blue Sky."
Website: www.eternalsunshine.com is in the form of a medical report from Lacuna, Inc., in charge of memory loss, with a checkerboard pattern of scenes, film information, plot synopsis, production notes, cast and crew profiles, trailer and downloads on a post-it.

Dawn of the Dead (Universal Pictures)
Second remake of 1979 George Romero horror flick about zombies who slowly take over a midwestern shopping mall, as the U.S. is turned upside-down by a plague-like event in which blood-thirsty monsters pursue a small group of survivors.
Stars: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer, Michael Barry, Lindy Booth, Ty Burrell, Jayne Eastwood
Feature film debut for commercial director Zack Snyder with a screenplay by Trauma veteran James Gunn (Scooby-Doo 1 and Too, Tromeo & Juliet)
Thumbs Up: The gore factor has been multiplied, and the underlying attack on consumerism seems as poignant as ever.
Thumbs Down: Will these zombies seem lethargic compared to the speed merchants in 28 Days Later?
Soundtrack: None
Website: www.dawnofthedeadmovie.net/ features a creepy intro and a trailer.

Taking Lives (Warner Bros.)
A successful female FBI profiler is summoned to help Canadian law enforcement in Montreal hunt down a serial killer who assumes the lives and identities of the people he kills as he travels across North America. She is helped by a museum employee "deputized" into trying to find an art professor wanted for stealing several priceless works.
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Gena Rowlands, Kiefer Sutherland
Thumbs Up:
Well, at least it’s not Lara Croft: Tomb Raider 3.
Director: D.J. Caruso gets his shot at the big time after the cult success of the Inner Empire tweaker indie The Salton Sea.
Thumbs Down: Can anybody outdo David Fincher’s chilling 7 as the ultimate serial killer thriller? With its iconic credit font, this one looks like it’s trying to.
Soundtrack: None
Website: http://takinglives.warnerbros.com/features story, downlodas, cast, gallery, video, tickets and showtimes.

Thanks to Roy Trakin, Simon Glickman, Bud Scoppa, Valerie Nome and Mik Davis for working the corner.