Page 3 of archived music reviews originally run on Bartcop-E.
More recent reviews on last page.
<--back to previous page
Rumor has it that Kinky Friedman is George W. Bush's favorite Jew, but you should like him anyway. Richard "Kinky" Friedman has more than a dozen books out, writes a weekly column for the Texas Monthly (registration required) and has his own line of salsa. All the money from the salsa goes toward the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch; other sponsors include Dwight Yoakam, Ruth Buzzi and Laura Bush.
I confess that I've never read his books or columns, have never sampled his salsa, and only have two of his CDs. Still, he's got a lot more going for him than his stint in Borneo for the Peace Corps. Kinky is unapologetic about being from Texas, being Jewish or being a man. Lots of songs about waitresses, small towns, travelling, lost loves and Judaism Texas-style.
The two CDs I have are Old Testaments & New Revelations by Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys and the tribute album Pearls in the Snow featuring many country stars. There is some overlap, but that's okay: Kinky's musical output is limited and his songs duplicate throughout his discography. You can order them all here.
Ride 'Em Jewboy may be the only Country song about the Holocaust. It's such a good country song that most goyim don't realize what he's singing about. "Don't let the morning blind ya, when on your sleeve you wore the yellow star. Old memories still live behind ya, can't you see by your outfit who you are." Kinky's version is good, and he treats the material like his other songs. Willie Nelson's cover leads off the tribute album; I think he understands. Don Imus treats the whole thing as a joke while introducing They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore, and he may be right. "They ain't makin' Jews like Jesus anymore. They don't turn the other cheek the way they did before."
He puts his irascible southern sexism out front for everyone to see. "Women's liberation it's a going to your head, Get Your Biscuits In The Oven and Your Buns In The Bed". I leave it to the reader to decide if this is wisdom or wishful thinking. Meanwhile, a lady instructor turned him on to Anthropology and he sings the tender ballad Homo Erectus... Of course, he encourages women to be who they are while asking Why Do You Bob Your Nose, Girl? (aka Second Hand Nose).
The seamy side of Texas is explored, as befitting the genre. Kinky made his early reputation recounting The Ballad of Charles Whitman, the law student at the University of Texas who climbed the clock tower and opened fire. Kinky is proud to be an Asshole from El Paso, "a place where sweet young virgins are deflowered." Several songs deal with waitresses and cafes and life on the road.
The tribute album, Pearls In The Snow, features Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, Asleep At The Wheel, Lyle Lovett and Tom Waits among many others. The songs are well produced, vs. the earthy renditions by Kinky himself. Most are pretty good, but sometimes only Kinky Friedman can do Kinky Friedman. He's represented on two tracks, one a medley of Kinky and the Texas Jewboys at the Grand Ol' Opry, and the other a well-bleeped rehearsal tape of Kinky and Little Jewford saying "Thank you very much" "You're welcome, Kinky." over and over until they get it right. A nice way to end the CD.
Kinky Friedman isn't as polished a performer as Rev. Billy C. Wirtz or as cutting a lyricist as Roy Zimmerman. He is what he is, and he's confident in his skin. Perhaps he's not for everyone. I hear his concerts are good. Time to start looking for his books. (Update: He's running for governor of Texas in 2005! Sign the petition to get Kinky Friedman on the ballot!)
Janus is the symbol of beginnings and endings, so it's appropriate that I review something new and something old.
Lojo Russo is part of the music scene vaguely related to the science fiction community here in Minneapolis, and her name has been bandied about in this column before.
Stoic Abandon is Lojo's latest effort, backed by Folk Underground and Adam Stemple (among others). Her songs twist with bittersweet endings and emotional leavings. In the same way that Richard Thompson's songs tend to be about balance and the emotion you feel just before you go over the edge, Lojo invokes kinesthetic sensations and how she feels just after a transition. I'm Sorry (I Love You) and I Cry When You Leave (two of my favorite songs on the album; three, actually, since the latter is done twice. Thanks for including a version I can play on the air!) are about (respectively) her leaving and being left. A tomboy grows up in Girrl.... Last Time I Saw California is when she left, and Jasmine Wind blows Across the Canyon.
Unlike some blues musicians, Lojo's life isn't one of constant pain. Maybe that's because she takes My Own Purple Pill, but she does have fun where she's planted. Her Gramma... is cool and her unreal life has made her Hollywood Savvy.
Lastly (and unfairly), I should mention the delightful cartoon-inspired ditty I Wanna Be A Powerpuff Girl. It's unfair because the song is unreleased as yet, and she sent it along as a single. If you order Stoic Abandon (or another of her CDs) perhaps you could talk her into a copy, or at least find out when it will be available. Lojo sent it to me because I collect this sort of thing, and did indeed play it on Shockwave Radio last weekend.
Lojo Russo is a feminist without slipping into the self-parody of Lisa Koch. A blues/rock musician who's not afraid to poke fun at herself. Stoic Abandon is a fine album for those who have lived life and can confront the past while looking toward the future. Her reviews are predictably effusive, and rightfully so. Recommended.
Waaaay back in the mid-60s, when I was in fifth or sixth grade, a friend of mine played a record with the story of Snoopy vs. the Red Baron intertwined with the three songs. Most people don't even know there are more than the one. Ha! I've been searching for it ever since, and once encountered a record that was mostly unplayable but I got the other Red Baron songs but not the spoken WWI introductions. Well, to make a long story short, I finally found it, conveniently combined with another album to make one long CD. The Royal Guardsmen were busier than you could tell from their single hit, but Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron/Snoopy And His Friends is delightful. The second half of the CD is the vinyl I remembered, and the first contains their cover of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and other hits of the time. The group eked out more contemporary songs, even running Snoopy for president in 1968, but I haven't heard that one as yet. Still, their one hit and sequels are worth the price of the double CD at oldies.com. Fun stuff, eh Maynard?
Quick Though 1: Congrats to Spirit, for finally landing successfully on Mars. Maybe it'll find the other landers together at a playoff game.
Quick Thought 2: This Saturday, January 10 at 3:30pm Central, Shockwave Radio will air my interview with Mpls mayor RT Ryback. See below for web streaming and archive information. Eventually, it'll be up on my Shockwave audio archive.
Quick Thought 3: Britney Spears is married, maybe. Do you feel safer now?
More than a year ago I reviewed I CD that hadn't come out yet. But now it has! And better than the promotion release, with three more songs and at least one song re-recorded. The following is an update of the original review.
To Touch The Stars has finally been released from Prometheus Music. Quick review: Filk music done right; a great compilation of great songs wonderfully produced and arranged. The Prometheus Music site has reviews and mp3s of several of the songs. The successful Mars landers (at last!) and Bush's proposed mission to Mars in the far future have sparked an interest that this CD can only flame.
The US Space Program is the single most successful undertaking in human history. It's only failure: We stopped going out into space (because Nixon hated Kennedy and couldn't stand his success, but that's a different essay). As an ideal of human achievement, the US Space Program reigns supreme. Explorers climb Mount Everest because it's there. Explorers go to the moon to open up new worlds. Leslie Fish's Hope Eyrie captures the emotion surrounding the moon landing. I have many recordings of Fish's song and this is the version I've been waiting for. Superbly sung by Julia Ecklar, Hope Eyrie captures the drama and sensawonda of July 20, 1969.
Worlds grow old and suns grow cold
And death we never can doubt.
Time's cold wind, wailing down the past,
Reminds us that all flesh is grass
And history's lamps blow out.
But the Eagle has landed; tell your children when.
Time won't drive us down to dust again.
As a victory in the Cold War, the US Space Program trumped Russia's initial Sputnik launch, demonstrated our technological superiority and set the stage for the collapse of the Soviet Union. They never spent a dime on Star Wars, but they tried and failed to catch up on rocket/missile technology. We won that battle, and now share the fruits of victory with all humans. Russia, the US and many countries are part of the International Space Station project. Leslie Fish comes up with another great song in Surprise! about Sputnik, the Russian satellite in 1957 that surprised and panicked the US in many ways similar to 9/11, since launching space satellites was directly applicable to launching nuclear missiles. Fortunately, back then our leaders took this blow to national pride and raced to the moon, leaving behind weather satellites and the internet. Done as Russian balalaika, with stern humor.
Sputnik sails giggling through the skies.
Red flags, red faces,
jump in the race as
the space age begins with a surprise.
As a return on investment, the space program has paid for itself many times over. From CAT scans to kidney dialysis machines to athletic shoe design to major advanced in metallurgy and weather prediction, looking up helped us greatly here at home. R&D always pays for itself, if you're bold. One of the people who understood that best was Queen Isabella, as recounted in a song by the prolific Leslie Fish.
Here's to old Queen Isabella of Spain,
Who was more than a little deranged.
A bigot, fanatic and greedy for souls -
To baptize the world was the first of her goals.
But she bet on a dreamer,
That's how the world rolls,
And afterward all the world changed.<
To Touch The Stars goes beyond a Leslie Fish songbook. Other great songs include Fire In The Sky by Jordin Kare, comparing the dangers of rocketry to Prometheus' hubris; we must do it, because. Christine Lavin wonders If We Had No Moon, giving the history of the creation of the moon and reminding us of all its benefits... and some of the dangers.
The moon is moving away at the rate of an inch and a half a year.
Someday, and I'm not sayin' it'll be soon,
but it just won't be the same down here
and speculating on how we can replace it with another planet's moon... A long, awe inspiring and sometimes scary song. Judy Collins flies around the stars in Beyond the Sky. People on the ground cheer shuttle liftoffs in Witnesses' Waltz. In the title song, a kids chorus joins Karl Franzen in Michael Penkava's Now's The Time To Touch A Star.
Three cuts look forward to Mars: A powerful song, The Pioneers of Mars; a hopeful song, I Want To Go To Mars; and a cynical song, Dog On The Moon. These are new to me, and add a 21st Century dimension to the collection. The moon was the first small step and one giant leap.
I still get choked up just reading the liner notes. We've got to think about the future, because that's where we're going to live. To Touch The Stars was conceived and largely put together before 9/11. The songs on the CD represent the hope and awe of success and courage in the face of failure. Terrorism is not new, but neither is bravery in the face of the unknown. Mankind's ventures out into space are an antidote to the internecine hatred between a species who dwell on artificial differences. Going back to the moon, and beyond to Mars, can only serve to energize the pride of all who dream of a loftier purpose for the human race.
To Touch The Stars is highly recommended. A much needed jolt of optimism in these pessimistic times.
Marscon countdown: one week! Come to the Shockwave Silver Album Release Party Thursday the 4th at the hotel.
I first encountered Dana Lyons from an EP at the KFAI Record Sale. One of the many serendipities that come from working for a community radio station. The extended single was called I'd Go Anywhere To Fight For Oil To Lubricate the Red White & Blue. Two of the songs were fun political parody, and two were serious post-9/11 patriotic country rock. While I picked it up for the oil song, I wound up liking the two serious songs better. Lyons has a number of EPs that overlap the albums so let me get right to the more complete collections.
Cows With Guns: The Cow Pie Nation Compilation is the CD to start with. Cows With Guns is a great song to spring on people unawares. More cow puns than you can shake an udder at, done in very hard-country Lorne Greene style. The song inspired the web site and a flash animation of The Meatrix. The lack of cow tipping is the only notable omission. A cut above the rest. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
He hid in the forest, read books with great zeal
He loved Che Guevera, a revolutionary veal
Cow Tse Tongue
Lubricate the Red White and Blue is a nice parody of rah-rah military songs. Precisely what we're in Iraq for is very much in question. No WMD, no peace in the country, heck gas prices have gone up. But I digress. RV is a trucking song about, of course, recreational vehicles, and adaptable to SUV travel. Commentary on the state of broadcast media is always welcome, and TV God slices and dices. There are songs about citizens protesting power lines by dismantling towers, getting rich from free trade if you don't care about the consequences and one for River Pheonix. Twelve cuts are listed on the cover, and the rest are silent until track 38, with is a five and a half-minute song about Canadian geese. Cows With Guns is a really wonderful album and highly recommended.
Dana Lyons is a politically aware US patriot and John Seed is an ecologically aware Australian environmentalist. The combine to bring us At Night They Howl At the Moon: Environmental Songs for Kids. They have a large following, it seems. Recorded live at a couple of concerts, the audience really gets into it. Everyone knows the songs. I Am An Animal has the audience singing along. By the second song, Lay Down Your Whopper, the crowd is yelling out the chorus. Dead Ducks is darker song about oil spill disasters that has the crowd quacking loudly. The kids insist We Don't Want To Live In The Zoo. Dinosaurs lasted millions of years yet they are in the public consciousness because Their Brains Were Small and They Died. Let's hope our successors remember us better. Not exactly hip-hop, Recycle Wrap plays to the beat. Eric Idle's The Galaxy Song is mysteriously retitled Expanding Universe and made more kid-friendly. The album ends with a nice lullabye, Soft Eyes.
At Night They Howl At The Moon works better as an environmental album than a children's CD. The kids singing along sound fairly young, but I'd put the recommended age range as 5+, though it wouldn't hurt younger children to start off green. A fun concert album with a message.
This weekend was a busy one, and so I only have time to update an old column which itself was largely a repeat. I was Guest of Honor at Marscon 2004 with (among other people) Dr. Demento and the Great Luke Ski. I taped a lot of it (including the Shockwave performance with all of us) and will have a CD available at some point in the near future. Look for pictures at the romm.org site.
Dr. Demento is the Mad Magazine of the radio, corrupting young and old since 1970. In the music biz, odd, funny, unusual songs are called "novelty" numbers; the concept goes waaaay back and slopped over into recorded music Over the years, Dr. Demento has collected some of his favorites (and the ones he could get the rights to) in CDs. While you can get some of them at other various online shops, probably quicker, the most complete collection is from the Dr. Demento web site catalog. Seems to have more stuff than last time I checked.
He's released 20th Anniversary and 25th Anniversary and 30th Anniversary 2-CD sets. They have some of my favorite demented songs: Dead Puppies, Cocktails for Two, Existential Blues, Star Trekkin' and Witch Doctor, Highly Illogical and Tip-Toe Through the Tulips With Me, Bulbous Bouffand, Dead Skunk, I'm The Urban Spaceman, and Lumberjack Song among others. These are double-CD sets. For the undemented (yet), you might get your ears wet with the single CD collection The Very Best of Dr. Demento. Many of the specialty collections dig a further niche.
Dr. Demento's Country Corn is a good collection, and his Christmas collection has both A Christmas Carol by Tom Lehrer and Green Chri$tma$ by Stan Freeberg, as well as Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer and All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth instantly making it worthy if you don't have these songs individually. This is No. 6 in a series of CDs, no longer listed on his site. You can get cassettes of compilations of songs by decades, which can be fun and hit the proper nostalgia demographic.
It's been a while since I was a member of the Demento Society, and it seems they've upgraded the membership so it includes a bumper sticker, autographed photo, a 10-inch ruler and the collection Dr. Demento's Basement Tapes #10 that isn't available elsewhere. Hmm... time to re-up.
Outside his Dr. Demento persona, Barry Hansen is incredibly knowledgeable about a wide variety of music, notably R&B. Cruise Through The Blues covers much of this American music from the turn of the 20th Century on. Forward by BB King. I haven't read the book but we had several chances to chat about the Blues and music forms. He knows his stuff and writes well.
This week, it is our privilige to have Dr. Demento as Guest Columnist.
Baron Dave has asked me to conduct some guest ruminations in the looney bin. First let me say that I truly enjoyed being a co-panelist with him at the recent MarsCon science fiction fan convention in Bloomington, and I thank him from the bottom of my demented heart for some stellar contributions to upcoming Dr. Demento radio shows.
While the commercial golden age of novelty music may have passed years ago, there's a whole lot of hilarious music being made right now in 2004. I get about 20 CD's worth of it in the mail each and every week. Some of the greatest stars of the new wave of musical mirth were on display at MarsCon...starting with The Great Luke Ski, whose CD's Baron Dave has reviewed here. A terrific live performer (you really have to see him with all his costume changes to get the full picture) and a tireless promoter for himself and all other comedy music performers within reach, Luke amazed and astounded everyone.Joining Luke were two other performers who often make the Funny Five countdown on my show, each of whom has a new CD. Tony Goldmark's disc is called Rage Against The Mundane. As any fan of science fiction (or, by extension, funny music) knows, a mundane is someone who is not a fan, someone who is content with the humdrum entertainment spoonfed to them by mass media. Tony specializes in brilliantly trashing such media darlings as Britney, Eminem and Creed (his devastating Creed satire Teeth Clenched, our #3 song of 2003 on the Dr. Demento show, is included). The new CD also has a couple of very nice song parodies inspired by the Harry Potter cycle (one of them brilliantly weaves together three different Shel Silverstein compositions) and a wickedly funny song about Iowa, along with some Pythonesque spoofs of cooking shows and other TV fare. Rage Against The Mundane, suitable for adults and older children, is available at www.tonygoldmark.com.
Worm Quartet is the performing name for the North Chili, NY software engineer who also answers to the name of Shoebox. Already well known to Dr Demento listeners for such gems as I Bit William Shatner and Frank's Not In The Band Anymore, Worm Quartet kicks it up a notch on the new CD Faster Than A Speeding Mullet. A fine singer and distinctive musician who could certainly do well in non-comedy music if he chose to, Shoebox has our most requested song so far in 2004 with Great Idea For A Song. It's here, along with what may be comedy music's best-ever song about the urge for reproduction (I'm Gonna Procreate), the world's most caffeinated song about coffee, and an affectionate but very funny song about the singer's wife. This one's not for children; details at www.wormquartet.com. While I'm here let me put in a word for another great collection of funny music by a younger artist: Goodbye My 4-Track by Logan Whitehurst and the Junior Science Club. Logan's lyrics about lizards and fish, robot cats and prosthetic brains, happy noodles and sad noodles are hilarious but his music is even better. As this CD plays it spills out one simple and natural but wonderful tune after another. The disc was not specifically made for children, but kids have a natural affinity for it. So do I -- Goodbye My 4-Track has logged more time on my personal CD player than any other new disc in years. Available through www.pandacide.com; more info at www.loganwhitehurst.com.
Update: Baron Dave's Interview with Dr. Demento from Marscon now up on the romm.org audio page and on the Let's Play Doctor CD. Dr. Demento, Richard Biggs, the great Luke Ski and many others are performers in the live presentation of the original radio play Let's Play Doctor. The CD contains many bonus features.
New CDs (at least, new to me) are piling up in both my "to be listened to" and "songs to be cataloged" bins. I'll try to catch up with recommendations, even if the CDs were mentioned here earlier.
Faster Than A Speeding Mullet by Worm Quartet fits semi-neatly in that space between the obscenity-laced rage-filled punk of the Dead Kennedys and the off-kilter viewpoint in the bouncy pop of They Might Be Giants. This is an album for adolescents, or those of us who remember adolescence with at least a grain of nostalgia. Not for kids, unless kids grow up faster than I remember. Worm Quartet, aka Shoebox, was a presence at Marscon. He performed solo on stage, singing to taped music. The advantage of this high-level karaoke is that you don't have to bring (or pay) musicians, tech set-up is a snap and rehearsals are easy to arrange. A lot of performers are going this route, even in large concert venues. The singer/songwriter has outgrown the guitar-and-harmonica of Bob Dylan. In the 21st Century, we don't have our flying cars but we do have our travelling CD accompaniment. But I digress.
When Great Idea For A Song started, I didn't like it. My initial impression: Another thrash song that gets its charm from a thesaurus and breakneck speed. But the lyrics are clever and the tune infectious. Anyone who's ever lost at love will appreciate Shoebox's sheer hatred of his former girlfriend, the extroverted take of Weird Al Yankovic's disgust in One More Minute. The CD has few songs I can play on the radio with some serious bleeping, but, oddly, one of the cleaner songs is I'm Gonna Procreate. After a couple of listenings, I'd say my second favorite song is Eskimo Pie Is Not Pie and Contains Very Little Eskimo even though those words appear nowhere in the lyrics. Coffee (2003 Blend) is caffeinated and hard to understand what the heck he's talking about until the chorus of "Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!" kicks in. The Short Bus Suite -- 17 songs in 4 1/2 minutes -- is pretty cute, ranging from the Ernie Kovacs-like intrumental Sonata For Piano and Moron in C Major to the brief capitalist exegisis Sorry, We're No Longer Buying Lizard Shit.
Faster Than A Speeding Mullet won't hang out in my car CD player, since I generally like to obey the speed limit. And it's kind of on the icky side. But I'm probably going to take the time to carefully bleep songs that might otherwise not get airplay. Recommended for adults who want to rage at the parts of life they hope they've left behind but probably haven't.
"I'm losing my hearing, I'm going blind in one eye. I'm sorry I can't hear you, did you really say goodbye." Connie Franklin, played by Andrea Martin on SCTV, precisely captured the hurt woman who keeps asking for more, a staple of country singers. This tradtion is upheld by Anne Deming in her soon-to-be-released CD, Mulligan. Heck, even the name of the CD implies you missed hitting me hard, please try again. The lyrics are pure self-pitying country: "Someone should break me, someone should make me apologize. I guess I was lonely when he was out having all the fun. I thought it was over but our love had just begun." and "I can promise you the sun and moon but you'll always have your way. I'm getting used to losing, it happens all the time. Baby you will always win because I want you to be mine." She has a lovely, full-bodied, corn-fed voice that rises above the nasal anorexic whining chicks. The arrangements are more folk than country and hit a distinctive sound of bongos, bass and guitar. This isn't really my kind of music, but when her manager/boyfriend/piano player came to the station he said there were some weird songs on it, and I promised a review before the release show on March 27. Anne is a better singer than the Connie Francis/Barbara Mandrell range of ragmop women (and the album photos of her in a negligee make her look better), and I hope she veers toward a more sensible lifestyle choice. If you like this kind of music, the purity of her voice overcomes the one-chord subject matter.
In Corporate American, nobody takes nothin'. NRun is almost gansta rap about the unfairness of corporate America getting away with massive fraud while minor crimes get major jailtime. The CD came out in December, but they were prescient in going after Jeff Skilling, who faces a 42-count indictment handed down in February. Good political rap, and one of the few songs of any genre to discuss specific pieces of legislation regulating business. Good lyrics sung to a heavy beat. Recommended for liberals who like to play their stereo loud enough for dittoheads to complain.
The CD is nine songs long, but the three most hard-hitting are presented in two forms: Radio Lyrics and Club Lyrics. Thanks! The Club Lyrics are earthier and the bass louder while the Radio Lyrics will get airplay. If you want political folk, stick with George and Julius. If you want some rap that's a bit angrier, Corporate America is for you.
New CDs (at least, new to me) are piling up in both my "to be listened to" and "songs to be cataloged" bins. I'll try to catch up with recommendations, even if the CDs were mentioned here earlier.
Kay Frances is really pissed off. Mostly at men, but sometimes at herself. I'm not sure how you can get her EP You Make Me Puke and other love songs but try sending e-mail to Kay Frances. The CD is 10 short songs totaling less than 16 minutes of music. It's well worth a listen, and she should be encouraged to write longer songs. The title song, You Make Me Puke, is the female side of Worm Quartet's Great Idea For A Song. Her update of Makin' Whoopee! is a worthy addition to the Beware of STD genre. Women will probably appreciate The PMS Song and Flannel Gown more than I did. She's the stalker in You Know You Love Me. Frances has a clear country voice and belts out the songs with the right degree of seriousness tempered with self-deprecation. If you liked Lisa Koch, you'll probably like Kay Frances.
Eric Coleman released his first full CD at age 44, so I like him already. Some See The Glass Half Empty is a pretty good debut for his first full-length CD. His solo guitar work derives from folk, though he regrets not being a metalhead in his most played song, Bang My Bald Spot, which I heard him perform at Marscon. He is exactly like that. He copes with aging in Low Self Esteem Talking Blues and Trophy Wife. I like his commentary on commercialism in Golden Age of Silicon, out just in time to be a commentary on wardrobe malfunctions. I know too many really good musicians who spent years before releasing a CD that fell flat. Many amateur musicians are great in a circle of friends but their studio albums don't capture their high points. Some See The Glass Half Empty is much better than many 25-year freshmen CDs. It's not a great album, but it has several good songs with a point of view based on long experience. (I hope he's not one of the guys Kay Frances wrote about...)
And as long as I'm talking about EPs and Marscon, let me thrown in a brief word about the 2-song Demo Possum Willy was giving out at the con. Neither of the songs, Disco Rock Song or Old Farmer, did much for me. But both got better with second listenings. They're in the rock/punk vein, and the group will only get better with time and practice. You can hear both songs off their audio page, if you can stand the Angelfire pop-ups. Not recommended yet, but worth keeping an ear on.
Roy Zimmerman has two new CDs: Homeland and Security. They're a matching set, and connecting the front covers makes one image, and connecting the back covers make another. You can see the front covers (and read a bunch of the lyrics) on the page of Roy's solo albums. The cuts are taken from several live concerts with a few studio tracks. As usual, Roy's songs range from the political to the religious and back, and as usual they're hilarious.
Roy Zimmerman started off his musical life with The Foremen, reviewed here several times. The Foremen sang highly charged political satire with earnest savior faire. They existed in that large arena between The Capitol Steps, who skewer current events, and Tom Lehrer, who added an erudite touch to satire. As much fun as the Capitol Steps are, their humor is biting but ephemeral. Few songs work after the story is no longer making headlines unless you're a political junkie with a long memory. Meanwhile, Lehrer's songs, grabbed from the headlines at the time in the 60s, still work today. Roy wrote all The Foremen songs and, even though many are about current events of the time, they're still funny and relevant today. It helps that many Foremen songs circa 1990 are about a war in Iraq and about a president named Bush. The songs are timeless even as they talk about today's pop culture. Hell Froze Over Today and Building For The Future will cause hysterics forty years after they were written, in the same way that Lehrer's National Brotherhood Week still holds true from his 1964 viewpoint.
When The Foremen broke up, Roy's solo concerts were, if anything, sharper and deeper. In concert, he can use language that isn't necessarily suited for airplay (such as ****ing for Chastity off Security). Roy's strength has always been a keen eye for detail and the linguistic chops to draw just the right image. He writes bouncy, singable songs. If you are of his political viewpoint (and I assume most of you reading this are), then his songs are what you need. Homeland contains such great work as My TV (which, believe it or not, is about Bush stealing the presidency) and Jerry Falwell's God (would you really want him at your party?). He urges Let's Go After the Buddhists (because they're pacifists and won't fight back) and asks his wife Would You Let Me. Pumping Irony, one of his two songs about the California Recall, is done nicely here. While I can see that he kept this one, about Schwarzenegger, I'm sorry he didn't include the more timely one, Mock in Democracy. Homeland has the aforementioned Chastity song exposing some of the double standard prevalent on the right while talking about how sexy Dick Cheney is, the Norwedish Hate Song (works well here in Scandahoovian Minnesota) as well as delicious commentary about Homeland Security and One World, One Bank.
Unlike many live albums, these two (especially in combination) serve as a good introduction to Roy Zimmerman's slightly tinted worldview. I highly recommend both Homeland and Security, separately or together but especially together.
It's not quite a new CD, but as long as I'm catching up on old friends let me mention Chaston and Groditski's 30-Year Reunion Sessions. If you want virtuoso performances of ennobling music that will infuse the listener with dignity and determination... run away from this CD. Run far and run fast. If you want to listen to two guys having a lot of fun, and maybe you want to sing along to some catchy but stupid songs, than you've found home. Their previous effort, reviewed here a while ago, is Rugged Hoarhadees. After thirty years, they've slipped away from most of the in-jokes (I kinda missed Aunt Sauerkraut). But they haven't grown up. Dupa Dupa Toilet Bowl, We Burned The Christmas Tree and Shower Rock Blues are fun, in an arrested developmental sort of way. The latter song has lyrics: I'm gonna put on my rock-n-roll shoes i'm gonna jump in the shower and wash away my blues. Requiem for my Girl is one of the I'm glad my ex is so miserable songs that are cropping up in my collection more and more these days. I suppose love songs aren't that much fun. From Volvites (about Yuppies) to Ubiquitous Sphee (about Viagra), the two Polish adolescents have kept their innocence and whimsey. If you liked Rugged Hoarhadees, you'll like their 30-Year Reunion Sessions.
Being a very eclectic radio producer, I encounter all sorts of people and situations that I never would have thought about before. The theme to Shockwave is Baka, by the English group Outback, and I've reviewed didjeridoo music in this column. A few days ago I got this e-mail:
Maybe this is didgeridoo spam (!) or maybe someone really cares what I say about musical instruments made by indigenous people. Either way, I feel I owe my loyal readers (and some of the fly-by-nighters) a further examination into the topic.
I have no connection to and do not implicitly endorse the web sites mentioned here, including the iDIDJ site above. I present here some --and only some-- research into native Australian music and culture. Many indigenous musical performers/shops/festivals are probably not on the web, and this too is a limiting factor. Caveat Didgeridoo. And yes, the instrument is spelled differently in different places.
Note: My examination of didgeridoo music would be helped by some of these places sending me their CDs, or even a didgeridoo or two. Thanks in advance.
Someday, perhaps, we'll see a marching band of didgeridoo, bagpipe and sitar. Yeah, that would be cool.
The Republican Party does not believe in Democracy.
Politics has always had a certain of lack of ethics. But the conservative Republicans have brought politics to a new low: A complete absence of morals.
Whitewater, the farce of Impeachment, the racist purging of the voting rolls in several states that led to the Florida 2000 debacle, the California recall... they all showed that the GOP does not believe that the will of the people should prevail. They look down on you, but they should be looking in a mirror.
The US news media hasn't practiced real journalism for decades. The money wasn't in it. Tabloid journalism, rumor-mongering and outright lying sell papers. No one wants to hear an unpleasant truth... about themselves. They'd much rather hear an oft-repeated lie about the other people (that is, us). All too often, it's up to the foreign press to provide objective coverage of US politics. It was a foreign newspaper that broke the Iran-Contra scandals. It is the British press that is doing the best job covering the Bush administration scandals.
Greg Palast has been fighting the good fight for us. As the article reprinted on his web site says, "Investigative journalism, the pride of the reporting profession, can be an exercise in pure masochism these days: As a big story takes one closer and closer to power, the costs and consequences mount." Investigative journalism is non-partisan, and his stories have gotten him sued by Bush cronies and Mario Cuomo alike. But "non-partisan" doesn't mean "if I do a story exposing one side, I HAVE to do a story from the other." A good investigative journalist follows the leads and reports what he finds out. The sleaze, corruption and moral cowardice of the Bush administration is clearly the story of the new millennium, and that's the story Palast follows. Many stories, as it turns out, mostly related to each other. As Deep Throat said of the Watergate cover-up, "follow the money". Not all the dots are connected, but the pattern of deceit, oil money and treason is emerging.
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy was about the stolen 2000 election, and has been updated for the 2004 campaign. If there's one thing we know about the upcoming elections, it's that the Republicans are going to cheat. Palast shows, with documentation, how they did it in 2000, why they did it and who benefited. As the site says:
Also available are a New World Disorder poster; a VHS documentary on how 180,000 votes were not counted in Florida, largely people of color or poor people (ie, people likely to vote for Gore); Democracy and Regulation: How the Public Can Govern Privatized Essential Services; several other Palast works and the CD Weapons of Mass Instruction.
I was fortunate to acquire a copy of Weapons of Mass Instruction (thanks again guys!), and have played selected cuts on the air. It's the full speech Palast made to an audience in Boulder Colorado on April 29, 2003. While some of the comments about the Iraq War are a bit dated (though also a bit prescient), the speech remains a powerful (and annotated) indictment of "The Bush Family Frankenstein Factory", "The 2000 Selection", "Ground Zero as a Profit Center" and many other topics. Palast gets introduced and then gives one speech, which the CD divides into tracks. Highly recommended. I would recommend you listen in your car as you drive around, but it might make your blood boil and you should vent your rage at the Bush administration, not the idiot driver who cuts you off.
A few Greg Palast links:
To be a Republican these days, you have to believe lies and not believe the truth. Real Americans shouldn't fall into that trap. It's treason to let treason go uncovered, and patriotic to demand accountability of the people leading us. Greg Palast is a thorn in the side of a lot of people, and he is a hero as much as any of our brave soldiers in Iraq. He is fighting for us.
I hear a lot of music. Not all of it is to my taste. Now, I'd like to think that I can tell the difference between something that others might like but I don't and a real piece of crap. Perhaps, but perhaps not. Here are three groups that you might like, even though they are not to my taste. No promises.
Art Schlosser belongs to that group of people who believe that if you keep plugging away, you'll eventually succeed. No matter what. And he may be right. I wish him luck. The Best of Art Schlosser was compiled by The Great Luke Ski, so on his recommendation Art and I traded CDs. He's a very persistent guy. (You can stop sending me e-mails asking when I'm going to review your CD now, Art.)
The CD is nearly 74 minutes comprising 54 songs. He sort of sounds like The Sex Pistols without the punk, Emo Phillips without the jokes or a kid brother who desperately wants something. I've only listened to a few cuts, but I think I've got the gist of his musicianship. He has great titles and good concepts, then beats them to death by repetition. Have a Peanut Butter Sandwich is most of the lyrics of that song, and it became #1 on Dr. Demento's Funny Five back in 2001. I listened to Are You Gullible? and The One Chord Song and I Don't Want To Find Waldo and a few others. I haven't gotten around to The Shortest Song I Ever Wrote, This One's Even Shorter, Another Star Trek Sequel Blues, Kermit the Frog Aftershave or Santa is Elvis. My loss, I guess.
The Best of Art Paul, in a cardboard sleeve, is the perfect gift to give a tween boy, especially if you tell him never to play it around you. It has that sense of pre-adolescent humor and an infectious enthusiasm that transcends any lack of talent. I'm glad this CD is part of my collection because I like weird things, and I'll probably slip in some cuts over the air now and then. But listen before you decide for yourself.
"When you're listening to the radio, do you ever stop to think about how few songs are played by obese schizophrenic black musicians from the streets of Chicago? I know that I think about this all of the time. The airwaves are cluttered with alternative rock, rap, and R&B; meanwhile, the 'obese schizophrenic' musical genre is severely underrepresented. That's why everyone should start calling their local radio station and requesting songs by Wesley Willis."
Or maybe not.
Rock 'N' Roll Will Never Die is a CD of introductions. Seventy minutes of the same tune. 24 intros followed by the name of the band being introduced. There's a hidden 25th track that is the same tune but he's singing Merry Christmas. If you need an introduction to Jefferson Airplane/Hootie & The Blowfish/Kurt Cobain/Foo Fighters/Pink Floyd etc etc, Wesley has one for you. This is another CD that I'm happy I have, but have never played on the air and none of the cuts has ever appeared in a mix CD. I just have no idea what to do with it. At some point, I'll probably wind up playing a Courtney Love song and to make her sound good I'll use his introduction.
Or maybe not.
Man or Astro-man? is on hiatus. "After 10 years of touring like crazy, the time has come for the Astromen to take a load off. Currently there are no plans for upcoming shows or releases. We will keep you posted of future astro-happenings." The discography on their site lists dozens of releases, mostly EPs or 10" records. I have three of their short CDs. Many years ago, I went into a Punk/Alternative CD shop that I usually don't frequent. Since I collect covers of TV theme songs, the clerk directed me to Intravenous Television Continuum, and since they were short (read: cheap), I got the other two they had in stock, Deluxe Men In Space and 1000X.
Intravenous Television Continuum is the one I've played on the air, sometimes, as part of Shockwave's intermittent Folk Songs For Yuppies: TV Theme Songs show. Their version of the Jetson's Theme is a decent instrumental, and they do a nice surf version of Out of Limits. Most of the songs are brief spoken intros followed by punk instrumentals. 1000X is probably the best of the three. Seven punk/electronic songs, mostly instrumentals. Deluxe Men in Space (in Official Astrosonic Sound Medium, according to the cover) has more songs that are basically punk instrumentals with a spoken intro. There's one about Uranus and one about Flash Gordon, and the last track is just noise.
These guys have been around long enough that they have a decent reputation, but they've been around too long without changing their style. If you like your punk with a certain competency and flair, Man or Astro-Man? are for you. I'm not enough into punk for them, I guess, though I appreciate how they use tv themes. Still, The Nick Atoms actually do the whole tv theme song punk style, and I play them all the time.
So there you have it. Let the listener beware. If you disagree (or agree more strongly) about any of these musicians, I'm sure Marty would be happy to print your comments here in Bartcop-E. Do you know of a group someone else would like even if you don't? Do you have any guilty pleasures? Let us know!
Ray Charles died on June 10, and his passing brought an outpouring of grief that rivalled that for Ronald Reagan in intensity if not hype. This biographical information comes from his site.
Born Ray Charles Robinson to a poor family in 1930, he always knew he had the music inside him. At age five, he saw his younger brother drown. At age six he slowly lost his sight and was sent to St. Augustine's, a state school for the blind. He remained in school until his mother's death. Music and the road beckoned and he travelled to Seattle, becoming a minor celebrity and taking a young Quincy Jones under his wing. He shortened his name out of deference to boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. He became the ultimate blues singer, and cross-fertilized his soulful renditions with country, jazz and pop.
After being exposed to segregation early in his career, he became a supporter of Dr. Martin Luthor King and David Ben-Gurion. The award among the hundreds he claims to have touched him the most is the Beverly Hills Lodge of B'nai Brith's tribute to its "Man of the Year" in 1976. "Even though I'm not Jewish," he explains, "and even though I'm stingy with my bread, Israel is one of the few causes I feel good about supporting. Blacks and Jews are hooked up and bound together by a common history of persecution. . . If someone besides a black ever sings the real gut bucket blues, it'll be a Jew. We both know what it's like to be someone else's footstool."
Ray Charles won many awards and was recognized across the musical spectrum. He won 12 Grammys in his time (for a listing, go to the Grammy search engine and enter Ray Charles in Artist), and received the National Medal of Arts from Bill Clinton in 1993. His Diet Pepsi ads in 1990-91 were the most popular ad campaign of 1991, and viewers ranked his commercials after the Super Bowl as first, second and fourth. He started the Robinson Foundation For Hearing Disorders in 1987 with a personal donation of $1 million, "Most people take their ears for granted," Charles remarked. "I can't. My eyes are my handicap, but my ears are my opportunity." He was one of the original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
His numerous hits are listed here, and if you follow the links some of the songs are available to for listening.
The Musical Consultant to The Muppet Show is listed as Ray Charles, but it's The OTHER Ray Charles (see entry in red near the bottom), not the blues singer, who did the music. The Ray Charles Singers were associated this two-time Emmy Award winning musician.
I confess, I was never a big fan of soul or funk, and don't have much Ray Charles in my collection. But I recognize his talent. He was clearly a genius, even if his art didn't speak to me very often. When one of his songs did appeal to me, I appreciated it all the more knowing that there was a long, difficult, journey to the music. He and his fellow musicians toured the world and they, more than any missile program, continue to show the world that America is the land of opportunity and freedom.
Art Paul Schlosser keeps plugging away.He fearlessly plunges in to a whole new set of songs in his own unique musical styling. His latest CD is Vote For Me, It's A Joke. Like The Best Of reviewed here a few months ago, it's more than an hour of music comprising 30 cuts. Unlike the other CD, it's not available from anyone but Art at the moment, so if you want a copy you have to e-mail Art Paul.
Maybe I'm getting used to his singing (he sounds sort of like Bobcat Goldthwait) and his music (which is sort of like Monty Python's repetitious I Like Traffic Lights but on a broader range of subjects), but I liked these songs better and have played several on the air. Of course, it helps that they're political just as the election is heating up. I still can't actually listen to the whole thing at once (and haven't listened to all of it yet anyway), but the fun stuff is pretty fun. He's taken to doing spoken political intros in front of otherwise unrelated songs, such as How Do They Like My Pet? about his Tyrannosoraus Rex. I'm not going to go so far as recommend Art Paul, but he's probably worth checking out to see if you share his sense of, um, proportion.
Dimpled Chad and the Disenfranchised are more directly political in their EP American Way. Bush, Schwarzenegger and company are skewered in the parody of five rock songs. While I feel the songs go on a bit too long, you might like the 8 minute parody of the 8 minute American Pie that is the title track. American Way takes you from the stolen election of 2000 through Afghanistan and Iraq to the present election. Parodies of Bachman Turner Overdrive, Supertramp, The Eagles and The Beatles are the other four cuts. My favorite is the shortest and most succinct, In 2004, the parody of When I'm 64. "Do you believe me or will you relieve me, in 2004?".
Since the Republicans are sure to cheat in the election (Republicans don't actually believe in Democracy...), I'm going to cheat a bit and review a CD from a fellow Fresh Air Radio programmer that you can only get from him.
Dean Johnson's Originals is a self-published CD in a slim-line case. Seventeen short songs, all with Johnson singing and playing the guitar by himself. He writes a pretty fair folk song. I liked World's Largest Twine Ball, a different take on the same real life tourist attraction that Weird Al sings about in The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota. Betcha didn't know that Scandinavians invented the blues, eh? Lutefisk Blues will correct your impression. And of course, with all the talk of WMD and missing WMD that you can't really be sure that they might not maybe have had, sort of, perhaps we should all have our own Atom Bomb. That would really fix Saddam's wagon, ya shure. Dean ranges from the MInnesota Ice Palace to the World's Largest Catsup Bottle to his dad's This Old Hat. Dean Johnson's e-mail.
Dean is also part of the upcoming Minnesota Fringe Festival, August 6-15, 2004 here in Minneapolis. The Fringe is a series of 850 performances of 175 shows in 19 venues. The (usually) one-hour live shows range from great to okay with a wide variety of potential audiences. I try to make at least a few every year (I've talked to people to try to see the all... *whew*) and will have some Fringies on Shockwave for the next several weeks. Even if you want to live vicariously from out of town, the web site will have reviews and comments from attendees. There's likely to be some politically oriented offerings, hee hee hee...
My name is Baron Dave Romm and I approved this message.
Election Day USA comprises twenty songs by sixteen artists. All the songs area anti-Bush/pro-America, and all the songs are available online as mp3s. A great collection that you don't even have to buy! This election is important, and Seal Lion Records wants to spread the word.
John McCutcheon weighs in with two great songs from his CD Stand Up!... Broadsides for Our Time (upper left). Duct Tape may be Tom Ridge's suggestion for how to deal with terrorism, but Let's Pretend is how the entire Bush administration deals with... well, everything. Pat Humphries's feminist call to action is codePiINK, a bit more grown up than the Barbie anthem Think Pink, is catchy and just a little angry. Yikes McGee satirizes Operation Iraqi Liberation (hint: look at the acronym). And so on. A terrific collection, which should be on everyone's hard drive.
If you happen to be in New York City during the Republican National Convention, or simply happen by pure chance to be near a den of conservatives, perhaps you should be playing these songs a bit louder than usual. Don't break any laws (heaven forbid), but blast those car stereos and portable boom boxes.
Speaking of the Republican National Convention (and you can be sure the conservative news media will cover it a LOT more than they did the Democratic National Convention), don't let them dominate the opinion pages of your newspaper or on call-in radio shows. Let your voices be heard as well! Call in! Write a Letter to the Editor! Put out those lawn signs, wear your buttons, get your Bush-B-Gone aerosol can labels!
A short one this week. Parting thought: I'd rather have a president who gets a blow job than one who gives them.
Kids love music, and they can get rather picky about it. You, as the adult, can guide musical tastes and introduce the child to new experiences. But at some point, they have their favorites and want to listen to their songs. Over and over.
Recently, I was visiting my niece's family. When she was three, I made Sydney several music CDs that they have been merrily playing since. Now five, I figured that she could pick songs out of a large selection. I'd brought dozens of songs I suspected she'd like (and that wouldn't drive the adults crazy!). As expected, she loved the idea. Not quite as expected, she wanted to do it herself.
Brief instructions. I was using CD Creator (Toast on the Mac), but most programs are similar. All this assumes, of course, that you have a) a computer and b) a CD burner and c) a sound card/speakers.
Step 1: Preload the music in a folder or directory. This is actually the most work, and the most boring. The kid can help select the possibilities (favorite album, new CD by a favorite group, a recommendation, etc.) but you should probably do most of this before she joins you.
Create a folder/directory. Make it fairly easy to navigate to.
If you already have songs in your playlist, add shortcuts to the directory.
If you don't have songs downloaded/extracted, do this manually. Put a CD in the drive. On the PC, the list of songs (numbered, not named, usually) will appear on the top half of the screen. Select one cut, and choose Extract to from the menu. (Geek note: You can choose what file type the resulting file will be. The default tends to be mp3s, but I prefer .aiff or any of the uncompressed media.) On the Mac, create an audio CD and click on the Audio button, then navigate to the CD. Then choose the Extract To... button on the bottom.
Either one at a time or by whole CD, extract songs to the directory. Rename the files. Ie, instead of "Track 1", change it to something descriptive like "Grandfathers_clock_Seeger.aiff". This will make it easier for the child to pick the songs. (Geek note: Spaces and apostrophies are bad.)
Continue adding songs to the kid's directory. Have more than you think you'll need.
Step 2: Make sure you have blank CDs, cases, the full name and credits of the songs, etc.
Step 3: Call the kid to the computer. Younger kids can sit on your lap, older kids might want their own chair. Open up CD Creator with the song directory on the top half of the screen. One by one, double click on the songs to preview them. The if the kid likes the song, drag it down into the lower part of the screen to add it to the new CD. Better yet, have the kid do it. Guide them through the mouse clicks and dragging. They'll pick it up quick.
Warning! Teaching Syd how to play the songs meant she could play them over and over. We listened to some of the cuts five or six times in a row. Fortunately, they were great songs. ("ooowee, oowee baby. oowee, oowee baby. Won't you let me take you on a Sea Cruise"). We danced and danced! And got others to dance too!
Step 4: Order the cuts. You can just leave the list alone, but I like to have a smooth track list. Pick a song to start with, then the one you want to hear after that, etc. Explain what you're doing to the kid, so they understand the concept of playing DJ for themselves. Some will be bored, but some will pick up on the concept quickly.
Step 5: Have the kid pick a name for the collection, then burn a blank CD. Save the Song List.
Step 6: Write the name on the CD. If you have a label-maker and want to do it properly, go ahead.
And now you're done... but wait! More adult stuff.
Step 7: Annotate the tracks. Okay, I'm more insistent on proper credit than some, but I do think you should keep a listing of what's on the CD. Preferably, with in the CD case. A track listing should have a) the name of the song, b) the artist and c) the time. The time of each cut is listed in the CD Creator, if not on the original album. You can either do a proper CD insert (for which there are many programs) or simply print out the listing and fold the paper up into the CD case. I have colored cardstock that I use for these purposes. You can get perforated CD inserts at almost any place that sells CDs.
Sit back and have the kid enjoy her CD! You can play it in the car, over the stereo, etc.
Keep adding songs to the directory. You may wind up making several CDs and the kid might want some of the same cuts repeated. What the heck. It's her music.
During Marscon 2005 I had a chance to hang out a little with Shoebox. He's a gentle, soft-spoken guy with a wife and a child on the way. He little shows the manic loggorhea of his music.
Worm Quartet owes as much to They Might Be Giants as any other influence, but that might just be me. He doesn't play an instrument (at least not live) but constructs odd little tunes that aren't parodies but occasionally turn back on themselves. He is willing to explore length as a musical variable. The subject matter of his rants range from places he hates to dogs he hates to his mother. John Cage would have loved this guy. Sometimes the lyrics are dead on point, and in a few words he can paint the rise and fall of an entire relationship. And sometimes you just have to let the words wash over you because if you stop to create a mental image you'll get whiplash.
Worm Quartet's initial CD was Stupid Video Game Music. As conceptual art, it works quite well. You never know what you're goin to expect and the continuous takes of Mommy's Broken serve to sew together the disparate ideas and musical stylings. He has nifty multi-track a capella instrumentals. He rants and raves about life and love. He's even got a bit of science fiction with It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Us.
Shoebox is obsessed with Pac-Man, and his First Church of Pac-Man was featured on VH1. I suppose you have to be non-verbal sometimes. He turned his obsession into a song, Pac Man Is Naked And So Should You, which is kinda fun but probably more fun if you're equally obsessed. (Will no one write a song about Pong?)
A freshmanic effort (as opposed to a sophomoric one), Stupid Video Games ups the ante for comedy music CDs. I'll talk about some of the others who have seen his raise in later reviews of Marscon.
As reviewed here last year, Faster Than A Speeding Mullet by Worm Quartet continues to fit semi-neatly in that space between the Punk and Bouncy Pop. Shoesbox has grown up a little, but not much thank heaven. This is an album for adolescents, or those of us who remember adolescence with at least a grain of nostalgia. Not for kids, unless kids grow up faster than I remember.
Great Idea For A Song wound up as the #1 requested song on the Dr. Demento Show for 2004. My initial impression: Another thrash song that gets its charm from a thesaurus and breakneck speed. But the lyrics are clever and the tune infectious. Anyone who's ever lost at love will appreciate Shoebox's sheer hatred of his former girlfriend, the extroverted take of Weird Al Yankovic's disgust in One More Minute. The CD has few songs I can play on the radio with some serious bleeping, but, oddly, one of the cleaner songs is I'm Gonna Procreate. The song I wind up playing the most is Eskimo Pie Is Not Pie and Contains Very Little Eskimo even though those words appear nowhere in the lyrics. Indeed, the Shockwave Riders declared it "the hardest song to pick the title from". I collect songs like this, and I'd really love to see the meeting between Shoebox and the Rev. Billy C. Wirtz.
Coffee (2003 Blend) is caffeinated and hard to understand what the heck he's talking about until the chorus of "Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!" kicks in. The Short Bus Suite -- 17 songs in 4 1/2 minutes -- is pretty cute, ranging from the Ernie Kovacs-like intrumental Sonata For Piano and Moron in C Major to the brief capitalist exegisis Sorry, We're No Longer Buying Lizard Shit. This compares favorably to the randomness of the placement of the short songs in Stupid Video Games but both are fun to listen to on Random... at least this album has the times listed.
Faster Than A Speeding Mullet won't hang out in my car CD player, since I generally like to obey the speed limit. And it's kind of on the icky side. But I'm probably going to take the time to carefully bleep songs that might otherwise not get airplay. Recommended for adults who want to rage at the parts of life they hope they've left behind but probably haven't.
The line of comedy music meanders from Gilbert & Sullivan through Flanders & Swann, Spike Jones, Homer & Jethro, Allan Sherman, Tom Lehrer, Weird Al Yankovic and The Great Luke Ski. But sometimes, it stops at Worm Quartet.
When we last heard from Folk UnderGround, their debut album Buried Things had just been released. Here it is a year or so later, and their second CD is now available: Get Y'er Hands Off 'Me Booty!
Booty is recorded live; a bit of a disappointment since I was expecting them to be recorded dead. They play with the Celtic Folk/Rock tradition and have a great deal of fun along the way. I suppose you can think of Folk UnderGround as a morbid version of The Chieftans or a bouncy verson of Marilyn Manson, but that's probably not a good idea. They do a lot of instrumentals and a few of their trademark dark but bouncy songs. My favorites on the CD are Knickerbocker Line/Drowsy Maggie and their cover with instrumental lead-in O'Sullivan's March/Let Your Love Flow. It's a CD that will cement their reputation as a dance band, not a novelty act.
I'd still recommend Buried Things to introduce the band to a new audience, but Get Y'er Hands Off 'Me Booty! is a good sophomore effort.
Urban Tapestry has been a favorite for a long time on the strength of their first CD, Myths and Urban Legends. The three women who sing "filk and folk music with a quirky twist" proclaim their love for a geek in Technonerdboy, go online (and this was in 1997) with Web Surfin'. Sex and Chocolate is a cappella advice on how to live a long and happy life. I still get requests to play Starsoul, a haunting spacefaring ballad. One of the mainstays of my filk collection.
Urban Tapestry's second CD is Sushi and High Tea, cuts from three concerts in the UK and California. Like the first CD, much of their music is a cappella with the occasional instrument or Xena Yell added to the mix. Friendship Song, about the stupid things you can do and still be a friend, is hilarious and touching at the same time. A bit dated now, Waiting For Frodo, about waiting in line for The Lord of the Rings movie, will still hit home with fans. They pay tribute to The X Files, Jean-Luc Picard, Susan Cooper and spicy food.
I'm moderately amused that two bands' second CDs are live recordings. Back in the day (ie a long time ago when it was expensive to produce and distribute a record), commercial bands' second albums used to have songs complaining about high taxes and how hard it was to be on the road. Science fiction fans just like to sing for their friends. Both Folk UnderGround and Urban Tapestry are highly recommended, and are good in concert too!
Dodeka Records always has good stuff. Bill has been around a long time, making music and running conventions. Bill and Gretchen Roper run a record company but don't have a website. You have to catch them at conventions. At the latest Minicon, I picked up some new CDs from old friends (which I reviewed last week) and also took a gamble on a group I'd never heard of.
Uffington Horse's debut CD is Enchantment. Enhantment is a solid effort, showing a sophisticated production technique coupled with great musicians and some fine songs. Definitely a debut album, but still a A if just a smidgen away from an A+.
I dunno. Somehow, Enchantment reminds me more of Surrealistic Pillow than Below the Salt. More rock while retaining Celtic influences. Darker in mood like a great protest album, even as the subject matter is as morbid as Celtic can get. Heather Alexander doesn't have the power of Grace Slick or Maddy Prior, but that's not much of a knock. She has the chops to handle anything from death by drowning to singing bullfrogs to a dark cover of a sea chanty. Her guitar work is expressive. Andrew Hare's bass is just the right intensity and mood for each song and Dan Ochipinti's percussion sets the tempo and tone. The three work well together, and are joined by a few Guests Artists who add a bit of diversity. Most of the songs were written by Alexander and she tells a good story, leaving a little left for the imagination to fill in.
While not immediately apparent from the liner, the website notes a movie on the CD. In fact, there is an entire web site on Enchantment, accessed from any CD drive, that has the same bio/info pages as the web site as well as a video of one of the best songs, Animals All The Same. My favorite cuts are still Ichabod Crane/Gold Frosty Morning (the one about the bullfrogs) and Yo Ho! (the one with the cover of What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor, among other things). Certainly not a kids album, it's all G-rated and I don't have to bleep any Bad Words for the air!
Alexander has been around for twenty years and Uffington Horse was founded in 1999. The experience of long-time musicians shows on every track. Highly recommended.
And speaking of Mythic World Rock...
The Village Stompers were one of my favorite bands from the 60s. They had a hit with Washington Square, but were more than one-hit wonders. They produced several fine albums. All instrumentals, all in what was considered at the time Dixieland but would now be classified closer to Klezmer. They drew material from all over the musical and cultural maps. Two of their albums have been released as one CD, and their music really holds up after forty years. The combined Washington Square/More Sounds CD has 26 tracks, including two bonus tracks not on the original records. Their version of Midnight in Moscow is hard to get out of your brain. They cover Dylan songs Don't Think Twice It's All Right and Blowin' In The Wind. No one actually wants to play it, so their version of When The Saints Go Marching In, entitled The Saints, is simply definitive. If you can't imagine a Dixieland/Klezmer version of Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport, you need to get this CD.
Passover is the most political of the Jewish holidays. It's the time we say, "we slaves once, and we didn't like it. If there is injustice in the world, it's up to me, personally, to do something about it." There is much work to do. Happy Passover everyone. And now back to our reviews...
Tony Goldmark keeps getting better and better.
His first CD (or at least the first one he talks about), Masterpiece Weirdercontains songs written in High School. You can hear the zits. Most of the songs are put-downs, not true parodies, and don't have the love seeping through of true filk/satire like Weird Al Yankovic or The Great Luke Ski (both of whom show up on the album: the former in homage, the latter as a guest artist). Kill The Backstreet Boys and The Ballad of Carson Daly are okay only if you actually care about The Backstreet Boys or Carson Daly. (And, to be fair, it's not TBB's fault that they're overplayed and Carson Daly is the best interviewer on late night tv. But that's harder to write songs about.) Tony has a good ear for music but all too often sounds like an angry Wally Pleasant.
Still, most of us are angry at Tech Support and the parody of It's A Small World, while cruel, is a good jab at the commercialization of Disney World. His Rhetorical Questions are a bit too self-referential but still valid, and The Pirate Song has some good puns. He does a good job mining Monty Python bits in his tribute Penguin on the Telly and the short routine with kids, Ritaline, hits close to the mark about relying on drugs.
Okay, so he gets his Backstreet Boy song on Dr. Demento and graduates HS and what does he do? What should he do? Rage Against the Mundane. His second CD is much better with a wider variety of musical styles, more comedy bits and better parody. Rage Against the Mundane is a bit of a Spike Jones tribute, a bit of an advancement on the freshmanic rantings of the earlier CD and now a DVD (see below) with one of my favorite themes: rejecting reality by being weird. He gets his licks on Harry Potter in two songs: Sorcerer's Stone, a parody of the Shel Silverstein hit for Dr. Hook, Cover of the Rolling Stone, from Voldemort's pov; and Sirius Black, a rap parody from Sirius' pov that ended up as the #2 most requested song of 2004 for Dr. Demento. It is Extremely Unlikely If Not Impossible that Frosty the Snowman will catch fire but you never know. I detect the influence of Work Quartet. The Johnny Explosion trilogy of bits is kinda fun, and reminded be of Stan Freberg's Banana Boat and similar parodies of behind-the-scenes at a record company. He's still angry at Britney Spears and a few others left over from his HS angst.
Tony and a host of others refine their craft on Dementia Radio, which I've never listened to so can't recommend (hey, just come on Shockwave, okay?), but seems like a fun streaming radio station. I'm glad there are more and more places that let people be weird because you never know what you'll get. I met Tony at Marscon (Marscon picture of Tony Goldmark) where he premiered his DVD. Rage Against The Mundane on DVD, much longer than the song on the CD, starts slowly but quickly speeds up to strangeness. (I'd review the whole DVD, which has lots of worthwhile bonus material, but I lost my copy at the con. Grr.)
Everything by Tony Goldmark has been better than his previous effort. I eagerly await the next CD.
Also at Marscon 2005 was Tom Rockwell, front man for Sudden Death, toting their 2002 CD Fatal Accident Zone. I confess to a prejudice: It's all parodies of rap/hip-hop, my least favorite pop genre. For a guy who looks so cuddly, SD [insert rap lingo for "really cuts a groove"]. My favorite cut is Road Ragin', a good angry song that I might actually play in my car whilst driving. Dead Rappers continues a common theme where musicians make more money after they die and Alien Probes is at least stfnal. I should probably put Fatal Accident Zone in an Acquired Tastes column, since if you rap covers you'll like Sudden Death, but I picked it up at Marscon so it lands here. The group has seven CDs which I'm unlikely to pursue, but his cut with Shoebox, Inner Voice, is a lot of fun. (Marson picture of performance of Inner Voice.)
Being funny takes time to develop. Feedback is mainly from fans, and you have to have a big ego to get up in front of people in the first place. Critics are few, in the beginning, and you're more likely to be ignored than poorly reviewed. And hecklers really are idiots.
Tom Lehrer was sure of his songwriting ability but unsure of his ability to be funny on his own. He released his first recording in 1953, not long before his 35th birthday, and rerecorded and rereleased most of his first album several times over.
Now, thanks to radio and venues like Dr. Demento (and to a lesser extent Shockwave) and science fiction/filk conventions, musical comedians are not merely encouraged to start much earlier, they have places to be heard.
That is, they have a place to be bad until they're good.
The great Luke Ski is a brilliant parodist and proudly demented performer. His first three CDs are available once again, and you can follow his progress.
Psycho Potpourri comprises cuts from Fanboys 'n da Hood (1996) and Shadows of the Bunghole (1997). The songs are mostly filk; parody lyrics to established songs. Luke likes rap and hip-hop, perhaps my least favorite pop genres, and there were several tunes I didn't recognize. Maybe you'll get into the parodies more. He does a nice a cappella rap about the Flintstones, My Name Is Fred and cleverly recaps Independence Day using a Will Smith song in Aliens Just Don't Understand. My favorite cut remains Murder Was The Play, Hamlet done in rap. He shows that he can handle Beach Boys with Cruis'n USA about video games; and Elvis in Viva Las Nagus about the Ferengi in Deep Space 9.
Psycho Potpourri comes in a slim case with little annotation. The great Luke Ski's early work is presented as is, and it's not even listed as available on his web site except as home produced. Write Luke and see if he has any left (or if he'll burn you one).
By 1999, the great Luke Ski was coming into his own. Carpe Dementia has a bunch of fun songs. Luke is better with his own material than when he relies on samples and impersonators. My favorites include Back One Week To The Future, the time travel movies set to a Barenaked Ladies hit; Mystery Science Theater Picture Show, a really clever and well done exegesis on MST3K done to Science Fiction Double Feature from The Rocky Horror Picture Show; and his Jeff Foxworthy You Might Be A Trekkie stand up comedy routine. The Star Wars Trilogy Homesick Blues is a nice Bob Dylan parody but works much better live and a video is included on Tony Goldmark's Rage Against The Mundane DVD.
Carpe Dementia is clearly the work of someone who has paid their dues. The work that went into the parody is beginning to outway the fun of merely doing it at all. The songs are well produced and well thought out. The music selection adds to the humor in the lyrics.
Luke's touring and appearances on the Dr. Demento Show have, by the turn of the millennium, sharpened his wit, musical craft and stage presence. His next two CDs, which I've reviewed here before are brilliant: Uber Geek (2002) and Worst Album Ever (2003). Both are staples of my collection and feature some of the most requested songs on Shockwave. if you're a fan of the great Luke Ski (as I am) and want all of his CDs including his Shockwave performance (and you do), get these two the CDs first. Once your appetite has whetted, get the others.
The great Luke Ski and I were fellow Guests of Honor at Marscon 2004. While I was off writing plays, interviewing Dr. Demento about his extensive blues collection and trying to get people to become citizens of Ladonia, Luke was having having a ball. Well, a concert, anyway.
Forgotten Fishheads: Double Feature is, like Psycho Potpourri and several other FF CDs, a homemade product. It's a poorly engineered recording of the Dementia Smackdown Concert at Marscon 2004. Everybody seems to be having fun, but I guess you had to be there... hey, I was there for part of it! I can't, in good conscience, actually recommend the CD for anyone who wasn't there or isn't a completist, but it does have energy that isn't in produced recordings. Luke, Tony Goldmark, Shoebox of Worm Quartet and the Nick Atoms (among others) mix it up onstage. I can pretty much guarantee that many of the people featured on this disc will be a lot more well known in years to come, so you might as well jump on the bandwagon now. Also on the disk is the Tony Goldmark-written Behind the Looney: The Brak Story. A half hour of Space Ghost pseudo-history. I confess I haven't listened to the whole thing yet, but what the heck.
Both the great Luke Ski and Baron Dave are now on Live Journal, and Luke announces his concerts and events in greater detail than his newsletter. (I just write the occasional entry and announce when convention pictures are up.)
Seattle, well-known for the grunge scene, is also home to some other energetic music. Vagrant Records is an independent label that has been around for several years, and has a large catalog of punk, surf and other music.
I'm not familiar with their studio work, but Invasion of the "Live" Boss Martians is pretty good. They do surfin' music, and do it well. Music to get sand between your toes by. I'm tired of bands that apologize for bad musicianship by claiming "energy" or somesuch. Fine and dandy, but it gets old. The Boss Martians play well; crisp and clean and layered. The problem with a lot of punk/grunge is that it's too fast to dance to. This is dance music that harkens back to the early 60s, recorded in 1997. Most of the songs are instrumentals, but sometimes they do a song with lyrics like Good Golly Miss Molly and sometimes get the audience involved as with Surfin' Bird, though that's less successful. Their best sound is when they're playing pure surf, as with AA Growler or Straight-8, and they do a credible version of Mancini's Banzai Pipeline.
The Boss Martians are a good addition to any collection full of The Ventures and The Beach Boys.
Going back a little further to the late 50's/early 60's beat movement comes Doug Savercool and Weird Poetry. Poetry, whether produced or live in "slams" is not the same thing as standup comedy, though they are related. The spoken word, often with a music bed, has been around since at least Ken Nordine's Word Jazz, with stops along the way for Tom Smith and a growing spoken word movement. Savercool's punk and often bawdy tales might have played in Las Vegas in the 50s of Lord Buckley but would never have made it to tv or records until recently. His subject matter is punk: Anger at girls, right-wing politicians, co-workers and so on. His style is almost rap: Internal rhymes with an angry cadence. Some of the cuts are live and some are produced with music beds. I'm not going to give a blanket recommendation, but if you like your spoken word with an attitude, you will like Savercool.
Here in 2004, Henry Boy's sop to grunge is a fuzz guitar, which distracts. But he's wise enough not to use it a lot. The Big Parade is driving rock that never went away no matter what was "in" at the time. The album seems a progression of craftmanship, as the earlier songs are more grunge and the later songs more pure rock. Still, the clarity of vision is evident. The cleaner sound of Aeroplanes works as well as the tuneful Summertown. Henry Boy infuses repetitious pop music lyrics with odd pop culture references. The album ends with the title cut, the longest cut, The Big Parade, which will leave you wanting more. While none of the songs grabbed me on first listening, I'd rather hear real rock than most of the junk on top-40 stations. So I guess Henry Boy falls into a brand new category of music: iPod Worthy. (Which is abbreviated iPW.)
Not every CD made winds up in the stores. Here are three that are worthy of the extra effort to obtain.
A common caveat: I've known Riverfolk for years, and can prove it with some great pictures of Chas & Becca, Andy Anda (sometimes spelled "&e &a") though while I've known Roady almost as long as I've known Andy I don't have a picture. Reviewing the work of friends is always a bit of a pickle: I want to promote my friends' work but I have to maintain journalistic integrity (such as it is these days) and I don't particularly want to say bad things about people I like. Fortunately, I get to say good things about Riverfolk today.
Meander is Riverfolk's first album, and it's excellent. In concert, Riverfolk is an amorphous group of 2 to 5 musician friends who play in a laid back folk atmosphere. They just love playing for friends. The CD captures a lot of the folksiness while emphasizing the vocals a live unmiked concert can't balance. The four main folk are joined by others on some cuts so the sound isn't the same on each song. Sometimes Andy plays fiddle, sometimes mandolin. Chas and Becca's harmonies are allowed to intertwine and counterpoint. The cover of the CD is a cutout of the four of them with a NASA photo of the Arkansas river as it goes Passing Through Tulsa, a Tom Paxton song that serves as the title cut. Like the river, Riverfolk meanders through the folk genre with a steady tug. Unlike the river, they sing of love and love lost; the folk don't expect a lot from life, but they know what makes a home.
As a fan of wordplay, my favorite song is A Member of the Rabble by Kevin Brixius, sung by Chas with harmony by Becca and Sally Heinz, violin by Andy, bass by Nate Bucklin (another friend I've talked about before):
I am a member of the rabble
I put em-PHA-sys on the wrong sy-LA-ble.
I do not meet with the social elite
I do not speak well I babble.
Or perhaps my favorite cut is the bouncy Home, featuring the four Riverfolk, a love song about coming home. Chas and Becca alternate singing their verses then sing them in counterpoint. Just like home. Or even the Nancy Griffith Grammy-nominated song Love at the Five and Dime, about young lust which blooms to true love. Chas goes deep (but not gruff) in the Woody Guthrie/Billy Bragg song Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key with a nice mandolin break from Andy and harmonies from Becca and Sally. Or perhaps my favorite song is... well you get the idea. Still, I would be remiss in not mentioning the one song that works best live: Chas' love paean to his wife, Bonnie's Song, which generally requires Bonnie being around.
Meander is more than iPw (iPod worthy), it demonstrates that Riverfolk are larger than the sum of their parts, and are as good in the studio as they are live. Recommended.
Riverfolk's first album came to their doorstep less than forty-eight hours before I'm writing this, and I was their first sale. As yet, they don't have availability info on their web site. I asked, and they said to write them about getting the CD. Mention that you heard about it from Baron Dave.
(Update: Nearly a year later the CD is still not in stores. Their website says Our shows are the primary outlet for sale of our CD, Meander, for now. If we are not coming your way soon, you can contact Becca for instructions on how to purchase one in the meantime.)
And as long as I'm mentioning albums not available in stores, let me again briefly plug Roady's 1996 CD, Rich and Roady. A nice bunch of original folk tunes, including Minnesota-inspired The Wood-Tick Song. Definitely iPw.
Sometimes, my friends will pop up with a CD and I say, "can I have one of those?" Sometimes, CDs mysteriously appear in my KFAI mailbox saying "check this out!" A few weeks ago Songs That Will Never Win A Grammy by the (wait, let me get the capitalization right) primeTime sublime Community Orchestra or pTsCO. Their web site contains the kind of hype I strive to avoid, so you can read all their attempts to make what they do sound more than it is. And what it is is: fun.
pTsCO is an electronic group, with electronic vocals and topics that range from Nixon and Bush to sex. I don't know whether the electronic vocals are entirely created by computer, as is Reed Waller's Nellie and the Drummers, or everyone gets pumped through a synthesizer. Still, the music is good -- highly orchestrated in a way that you can only do with lots of money OR a lot of computer time -- and the lyrics understandable. They try to be political and/or current, which mostly doesn't work as comment on the news but does keep them fresh. Songs include Curb Your God, about "G_d poop"; and It Will All Be Over Before You Know It, an electronic lounge song about living each day as if it were your last.
These songs will never win a Grammy because they don't deserve to. Still, they're off the beaten Top-40 path and if you like your music a bit out of the ordinary, Songs That Will Never Win A Grammy is iPw.
The Scandinavian Accordion Club of New York has been performing since 1987. A friend handed me their fifth CD, Have A Banana! from 2002, distributed in a paper CD holder. They play at SkandJam in New Jersey, which is a big Swedish gathering, and have played from Norway to South Dakota. Here in Minnesota, we have a lot of Scandahoovians (one of whom was the friend who gave me the CD) who are rightly proud of their heritage. They can be proud of the Scandinavian Accordion Club of New York.
The twenty-four cuts on Have A Banana! comprise twenty mostly instrumental waltzes and polkas plus four short cuts of Dan Knutson asking for a cup of coffee. Most people, I would imagine, associate accordion dance music with Lawrence Welk, who was really good and led a really good band. But where Welk was on tv and liked bubbles, the Scandinavian Accordion Club of New York just plays for folk. And they too are really good: danceable tunes played nicely. If you don't listen to anything but rap and hip-hop, this probably isn't for you. But these iPw cuts are going in the shuffle soon.
The CD insert says to order by e-mailing JWDragspel@aol.com but that was from 2002; on the website is the same e-mail plus another contact telephone #. Recommended for anyone making a dance mix or who just wants some sprightly music around the house.
Baby Boomers have fun. The world continues to revolve around that post WWII population bubble. If you, like me, were born in that period roughly 1946-1964, than you are part of the prime demographic that still drives American politics and capitalism. And, of course, music. Here are three collections of music you almost certainly heard -- almost certainly couldn't avoid -- back in the days of vinyl records and broadcast radio. Yes, children, there were audio files before mp3s on your iPod.
But wait! There's less!
You don't have to buy the records just for one or two hit songs! You don't have to wade through entire albums released 1964-2000, you can listen to these three collections. You can listen to Other People's Picks of the greatest of the groups. Not all Best of... collections work, but these three do.
Too many CSI shows and I had a hankering to hear an entire Who song. I wanted to get all the songs playing behind tv shows and commercials today. Found it.
The Who: The Ultimate Collection lives up to its name. The 35 cuts over two CDs range from 1964 to 1990 but concentrate on their prime period 1965-75. From Baba O'Riley (aka Teenage Wasteland aka the Theme to CSI: NY) to Won't Get Fooled Again (aka the Theme to CSI: Miami) to Who Are You (aka the Theme to CSI) to Happy Jack (used currently in commercials for the Hummer) to Pinball Wizard to My Generation to pant Magic Bus to pant pant Long Live Rock to The Kids Are Alright pant pant pant to... it's tiring just reliving the song titles.
If you don't have any Who, this is the collection to get. If none of these songs are at all familiar you need to get this collection right away.
The music of The Who was and is quirky, angry, pretentious and unforgettable. They didn't always speak for me: "I hope I die before I get old" wasn't quite my thing. (Our generation too often phrased convictions in the negative; the previous generation would say, "live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse.") On the other hand, "I don't need to fight to prove I'm right, I don't need to be forgiven" spoke to a lot of us in the neo-Beat Generation. (Unfortunately, this has been handed down to Democrats today who are right but don't feel the need to fight... perhaps we can give them different lyrics to guide them 30+ years later...) As it was for our parents trying to explain what it was like growing up in the Depression/50s, even 60s without television, unsegregated schools or stereo, it's hard to explain to our children what it was like growing up in the constantly changing environment of sight, sound, war and riots. Many of us felt like "a deaf dumb and blind kid" who could play a mean pinball but had little else going. We had to be blind to our parents' hypocrisy because the alternative was too painful. Cognitive dissonance ruled then as now.
Tommy was an early concept album, and the most successful concept. The Beach Boy's Pet Sounds and The Beatle's Abby Road were, arguably, better music. But Tommy had a concrete cohesion the others didn't and went on to become a successful play, a terrific movie and a successful revival of the play. This collection doesn't have all the songs, but does touch on the highlights.
Baba O'Riley is one of the great angry rock songs, and a defining anthem. The Baroque Rock period of the late 60s/early 70s produced several great songs from Karn Evil 9 by Emerson Lake and Palmer to Roundabout by Yes and so on. We used to call this pretentious art rock, but they learned their craft the hard way. The response to the superb musicianship of Baroque Rock groups was the neo-Dada punk movement: "Hey, we can be just as angry but we don't have to sound good. We're bad boys and bad musicians and that's what we're trying to say." Punk was fun for a few years, but left us with the Ramones and Patti Smith and precious few songs that anybody cares about now.
The extensive booklet that comes in the package is okay, and has lots of pictures of Pete smashing a guitar and the Who wearing Union Jacks and so on. The accompanying text is okay, but doesn't capture the battle between the Mods and Rockers or much of the frenetic cultural upheaval of the period.
You can view the The Who: The Ultimate Collection as the innocent rock of Chuck Berry grown up or the precursor to punk or the hard rock equivalent of Allen Ginsberg's Howl. Or don't worry about historical context and just listen to the songs: They still stand as great music, and there will be at least one that will speak to you. Highly recommended if you don't have the individual CDs.
I don't know why the Electric Light Orchestra doesn't get respect. Maybe it's just me, but I don't seem to hear about them, or hear their songs played, in proportion to their hits over the years. Maybe they came too near the end of the Baroque Rock period and get associated with their disco days. They did the music for the unfairly sneered-at 1980 movie Xanadu, but they can't be blamed for Olivia Newton-John. She was pretty good in the movie, and it was great seeing Gene Kelly, even if he didn't dance. The scene where Kelly gets talking into backing the dancehall to be named Xanadu is great. But I digress.
Jeff Lynne and company have been releasing (and rereleasing) albums since 1971 often producing hits. The Essential ELO, with digitally remastered tracks, puts their efforts on the front burner. I kept seeing Best of CD after Greatest Hits CD without the one ELO song I really wanted: Their first top-40 hit, a cover of Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven from 1973. When I saw the song in this collection, I literally didn't put the CD down until the checkout counter. It was mine! I hadn't heard it in maybe thirty years, since it was on the jukebox in college, and rushed home just to hear it. Aaaaahhh...
What surprised me was the quality of the other songs. For a collection of hits, I barely recognized the names of songs that I must have heard a lot at the time... and I don't listen to commercial radio much these days. Magic, their #1 hit from Xanadu, is not on the CD, but the 15 cuts on the CD only have a couple of songs that aren't iPw. Aside from Evil Woman, most people would be hard pressed to name an ELO song. Okay, maybe Do Ya ("Do ya do ya want my love") which major hit cover of a minor hit for The Move. These competed successfully with the disco of the day, and were eminently danceable themselves. The scored another hit with Rock and Roll is King, a 1983 piece with references to all sorts of 50s tropes including Roll Over Beethoven. 1979's Don't Bring Me Down is a pounding rocker (with no strings!) that sounds like the Bee Gees channeling Queen. Similarly, Sweet Talking Woman isn't precisely disco and isn't precisely Baroque Rock.
Without their biggest hit, calling the CD The Essential Electric Light Orchestra is overplaying their hand. Still, it's a great collection from a great band that's usually overshadowed by the punk and disco movements of the same time period. Maybe they're an acquired taste I picked up at the right moment in my youth, but their durability let's me recommend ELO without restraint. Good iPod jogging/exercising music.
Paul Simon has been around forever. From his first recorded association with Art Garfunkel in 1957 (as Tom and Jerry) through Tico and the Triumphs, back to Simon and Garfunkel and then as a solo artist, Simon has been one of the most long-lasting and consistent performers in Rock and Roll history. The Paul Simon Collection only includes songs from his solo career... which means that the CD comprises cuts from 1972 to 2000.
From Mother and Child Reunion through Still Crazy After All These Years through the still astonishing Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes (with Ladysmith Black Mambazo) through Hurricane Eye... 15 songs that touch the surface of 28 years of song writing.
Unlike The Who or ELO, Simon grew as an artist. There is no signature Paul Simon sound, and even the existential angst of his S & G lyrics are in the past. His voice remains strong and instantly recognizable, but each song is a unique ballad. Like us boomers, Paul Simon grew up but never outgrew his love of music. The Paul Simon Collection is a good overview of his solo career and recommended if you only get one CD to cover the last three decades of his work.
Seattle, well-known for the grunge scene, is also home to some other energetic music. Vagrant Records is an independent label that has been around for several years, and has a large catalog of punk, surf and other music. I've been listening to more of their catalog, and will mention a few of their CDs now and again.
The Goats is an eponymous release from this year (2005). All the tracks are rock instrumentals that would be at home in the grunge 90s or the psychedelic 60s. Throw in a twist of surf and a dash of punk. These guys have confidence in their own abilities. I don't really have a lot to say about them, except that they're going into my listening rotation. Clean melodic lines, fuzzy guitar, excellent percussion, electronic keyboard and a strong base produce some very iPod worthy (iPw) tunes.
Bastardos, by The Bastards of Jazz is Vagrant's other recent release. Like The Goats, the CD is all instrumental, but this time it's jazz. The sextet comprises excellent musicians on trumpet, trombone, sax, guitar, bass and drums. They effortlessly slip from smooth jazz to atonal to a large sound, and they're as comfortable with old standards from Thelonius Monk and Benny Goodman as they are with their original pieces. Upbeat jazz with a brassy, latin beat. Definitely iPw.
Doesn't Play Well With Others by Six Select tries to add a bit more range to the Seattle grunge scene, and often succeeds. Solid, if weepy, rock with nice vocals and occasional surprises in instrumentation; haven't heard a good flugelhorn in a long time. Well performed with good hooks. None of the songs grabbed me on first listening, but perhaps grunge connoisseurs will appreciate the lyrics more. "Would you stop pretending, you're so condescending", "You see me falling down like a satellite, the gravity is close to the hole" and so forth. Despair stuff for teens. What the heck. I'll pick a couple iPw tunes and see if I develop a taste.
I have a spare copy of Doesn't Play Well With Others which I'll include in the next order of Shockwave Silver, the 25th commemorative CD comprising 12 hours of mp3s of the show. This offer is good for readers of Bartcop-E until the next column (8/8/05) only. Order Shockwave Silver here (remember to add postage) and I'll add the Six Select CD to the mailing.
On a sad note, I mourn the passing of Pat McCormick, one of my all-time favorite comics. His career as a writer was wide and varied, and moved in front of the camera fairly often. Whether a writer for the Johnny Carson Show or a panelist on The Gong Show, he always seemed to have a knack for the right pun and the deadly comic timing. One of the original 'out of the box' writers, he will be missed.
Shockwave Radio Theater Podcast now up and running! All podcasts also on the Shockwave Radio audio page.
Lake George is slowly being pumped out, but the culture of New Orleans and the Southern Mississippi/Gulf Coast area will take a long time to heal. Here are a few recordings that feature the culture and music of the region.
Here I Stand: Elder's Wisdom, Children's Song records the voices of a time gone by, and good riddance. This Smithsonian/Folkways CD is half spoken word and half singing, and comes with a nice booklet with annotation and pictures. The remembrances include those of a "negro farmer" and the wretchedly poor miners and housewives. The tales are heart-wrenching, all the more because the stories aren't so far removed from today's poor. The songs, generally older people leading youngsters, include old Negro spirituals and gospel.
With luck, the tragedy of Katrina will force the area to take a hard look at how the poor are treated and wipe away much of the culture that still survives in areas that still fly the Confederate flag. We, as a democratic nation, need to grow up, and this is what we need to grow up from.
River of Song: A Musical Journey Down the Mississippi is a two-CD set of songs from the PBS tv series produced by Smithsonian Folkways. The second half of the second CD features Louisiana, Where Music Is King and the journey is worth the trip. Starting up here In Minnesota, with a Chippewa Nation chant and a Swedish song about a Smorgasbord and continuing downstream, the CD traces the many and various cultures that reside on or near the Mississippi. From sea chanties to Dixieland instrumentals to raw delta blues to quirky versions of classic songs, you will find something for you. I suspect this part of New Orleans culture will return to, if not exceed, normal.
When I was in Gulfport, MS in July with my brother and his family, we stopped at the Seabee Museum's Gulfport Annex. We had to get clearance and be escorted to the museum inside the Naval Construction Battalion Center. The base was sufficiently inland that the buildings are probably still there, but I suspect the place was hard hit and the museum won't open again soon if at all. And if it does, the exhibits remaining will be very different. In the gift shop, I picked up a tape Pieces of a Patriot's Heart, which is a twenty-minute tape of soldiers singing about Desert Storm and reciting poetry about their military comrades. I can't find this anywhere on the net and wouldn't mention it at all except to commemorate a trip that I won't be able to recreate for a long time.
There's quite a bit of music from or inspired by New Orleans and the cajuns in the area, far too many to review here, so I'm going to mention two: One you might even have in your collection and another more obscure.
Fiyo on the Bayou, by NOLA fixtures the Neville Brothers, is cool jazz and hot cajun. The classics are given fine treatment: Sitting In Limbo and Brother John/Iko Iko may not be the definitive versions, but they're contenders. The Ten Commandments of Love and Fire On the Bayou and others are reminders of the range of the Nevilles. Highly recommended.
The Bone Tones came to the Minnesota State Fair, many years ago, and I picked up only one of their records. For a Minneapolis group who manufactures their CDs in Canada, they play a Cajun tune like they were fresh from France. Chez Nonc Bob is definitely worth the $0.99 in the used listing. I couldn't find a more reliable source for the CD; you could try e-mailing their manager Doug Lohman, the contact person on the 1995 CD. The songs are mostly in French or fiddle instrumentals. They shouldn't be your first introduction to zydeco, but they will nicely expand a collection.
Shockwave Radio Theater Podcast now up and running! All podcasts also on the Shockwave Radio audio page.
The usual caveat: Luke Ski is a friend and Shockwave Rider. It's always tricky talking about the work of people I know on a social level, but I make the sacrifice for my readers. Some of this rant was first spewn at a filk panel Luke and I were on at CONvergence 2005.
unCONVENTIONal is the latest album by the great Luke Ski. Ironically, unCONVENTIONal is designed to appeal to his most hard-core convention fans. You should be one of them.
Luke, sometimes, has an odd love/hate relationship with science fiction fans who go to science fiction conventions. Convention attendees are his audience, his customers, yet convention members are not. The distinction between audience at a concert and participants of a convention is hard to explain, but key to the dissonance Luke and other performers feel.
Older fen, such as myself, grew up reading books and going to conventions to meet authors as well as party with like-minded people who were family even if we had never met. Movies, radio and tv are great stuff, but sf starts with the written word. For most of us, filking is participatory music, usually new lyrics written to old tunes specifically so everyone can sing along, and performers often write and play their own songs in some variant of a Bardic Circle and worthy musicians are encouraged to add their talent. We like to hear songs about stuff we know that makes us a little different, that binds us as fans of a genre and, yes, keeps us a little aloof. Filking is fun because only we get the references.
Younger fen grew up on "Sci-Fi" as a genre, a media category that stretches from Star Wars to Star Trek and maybe to Buffy. This is hardly a new phenomena; when Star Trek fandom arose in the '70s, it nearly Plunged All Fandom Into War and caused all sorts of tension... until most of us just ignored the differences and went to our pick of the ever-increasing number of cons catering to specialized interests. Still, we now have a generation or more who were born after Star Wars... heaven help us we have young fans who were born after Star Trek: The Next Generation stopped production. To these young whippersnappers, Star Wars and Grease belong to the same cultural history. Again, all geezers go through a "you kids, stay offa my lawn!" period of lamenting that the younger generation just doesn't get it... while at the same time all the newly minted adults shake their heads at the boring stories of the, um, more experienced.
For some, conventions are the second derivative of experience. That is, we don't go to cons to read books or even necessarily to read the same books as everyone else, we go to cons to meet the people who wrote the books and to party with them. It's active participation, being in the game. For others, conventions are the experience in exactly the same way as going to the theater. You sit in the audience and expect to be entertained. It's passive, like watching the game on tv. No, not all of us from the older tradition are quite so active, and not all of the younger crowd required stadium seating. But I do see fewer and fewer young faces volunteering at cons, and fewer and fewer older faces at "filk" concerts featuring rap songs.
Just as we Baby Boomers lived in a different generation than our parents (Color tv! Stereo! Post-It Notes!), today's kids simply have different priorities. That is, they fall into different marketing categories and nascent entrepreneurs are aiming for their dollars. Not ours.
Luke Ski lives in the world created by science fiction fans, built by such people as Stan Freberg, Allan Sherman and (dare I say it) Shockwave Radio, and refined by Dr. Demento and Weird Al Yankovic. It's a world where popular culture is fodder for humor, and often the sole rationale for that humor. The best of this breed are funny in addition to the pop culture references: the worst rely just make a reference and expect you to laugh as if the joke were already made. I'm happy to say that Luke is one of the best of them.
unCONVENTIONal is vintage Luke Ski. One of his talents is expressing an entire movie's worth of character in just a few lines. He's at his best in Grease Wars, a retelling of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, in a 13:41 minute medly of tunes from Grease. Leia in bobby sox. Luke in a leather jacket. Han riding a hog. The set piece is bracketed by an short introduction and outro. The CD is very much a concert, with spoken pieces in between songs and comedy skits. He does most of the CD in live concerts, in much the same fashion.
How does he remember all those words?
Between his rap songs and the longer pieces like Grease Wars, Luke stuffs an astonishing amount of lyric into a microphone. No singing along, no live musicians to bounce off an audience, no chance to feed off the energy of the crowd or perk up a dispirited one: Luke is giving a concert, damn it, so you better pay attention.
Luke raps away about The Geeks of the Industry and takes on the popular Nickelodean cartoon in The Spongy Dance (both parodies songs by by Digital Underground, whoever they are...), and raves about Vader Boy to an Avril Lavigne song featuring Carrie Dahlby and the Nick Atoms with loads of samples from Episode III. Firefly was a western in space, so it's not much of a leap to adapt Shel Silverstein/Johnny Cash's A Boy Named Sue to A Man Named Jayne.
The delightfully piquant Shoebox... er, -=ShoEboX=- of Worm Quartet shares the spotlight for a spoken interstitial or two plus the song Map Light which is conveniently a rant about a map light (sometimes it's hard to tell with Shoebox titles) and how a right-hand seat navigator can annoy the driver. Local Mpls punk tv theme cover band The Nick Atoms play on several cuts and are the backing to a freestyle rap conveniently yclept The Great Luke Ski vs. the Nick Atoms. Ren & Stimpy pound out a Public Enemy rap. Luke manages to convince three women (one of them his sister) to sing Sex Kittens From Mars, full of double entendres and suggestive noises around some rapping by Luke; reminded me a lot of Ciccolina by Moist.
Smack dab in the middle of unCONVENTIONal are four cuts of Survivor The Animated Series and one of The Simple Life. Luke plays most of the parts himself, from Hank Hill to Bender to Cartman. Since I don't care for Survivor, these didn't do much for me. (No, I didn't like Drawn Together either.) A lot of your appreciation of these skits will depend on how well you think Luke does as an impressionist. Luke, as usual, does a good job of distilling characters and putting them into odd situations. Other (more whipper-snappery?) fans of Luke liked them better. Ah well.
Luke knows his audience and has paid his dues. I think he's trying to fill up a narrower niche than he has in the past. Being a big fish in a small pond is one way to make a name for yourself. As a marketing strategy, I hope this works: Luke deserves a larger audience than his convention appearances. Still, I hope I don't land outside his circle of reference. At the moment I'm in danger of being downright avuncular.
unCONVENTIONal runs nearly 78 minutes, more than was possible to put on a CD a decade ago and nearly to the current maximum. If you liked any of his previous works (search the archive of Baron Dave's music recommendations), you'll like something on this one. unCONVENTIONal will rank with Uber Geek and Worst Album Ever in the great Luke Ski's discography.
Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal died on September 20, 2005CE after a life dedicated to remembering and bringing to justice some of the most evil villains in human history. After a life fleeing the Bolsheviks and living under the Soviets and surviving 11 different Nazi Concentration Camps, Wiesenthal hunted down amoral murderers with a remarkable track record of bringing 1,100 war criminals to trial. To honor his life -- in a very small way -- right before the High Holy Days, let me talk a little about non-traditional Jewish and Polish music from here in the States. None of these artists are directly connected to Wiesenthal, to my knowledge, but all of us owe him a debt. And if the Nazis had won WWII, or if people forgot their atrocities, none of these artists would be alive. I think it's fitting to heil, heil right in der fuehrer's face.
I've talked about klezmer and Klingon Klezmer, both of which keep traditional Easter European Jewish music alive.
Kinky Friedman owes more to his Tex-Mex roots than sephardic, but he never forgets his Jewish heritage. I've reviewed Kinky Friedman's CD Old Testaments & New Revelations, and now he's running for governor of Texas and playing golf with Willie Nelson and Jesse Ventura (or was planning to, until Rita hit). So I might as well talk about his tribute album.
Pearls In The Snow features many country performers, from Willie Nelson (doing a nice job on the Country Holocaust Song Ride 'Em Jewboy) to Dwight Yoakam to Lyle Lovett to an out-take of Kinky and Little Jewford. If you like Friedman's songs, you'll appreciate the tribute: Kinky himself is kinda rough around the edges, which is part of his charm. Only Willie Nelson really rises above the Kinky versions (can I say that?), but you'll have fun hearing your favorite country stars singing some offbeat tunes. Definitely iPod worthy.
I'm not entirely sure how to tell you about Steve Lieberman, The Gangsta Rabbi. I have two of his recent CDs, seventy-three minutes for Jewish Lightning (scroll down a bit for descriptions of all the songs) and sixty-nine minutes for In The Underground , and I haven't listened to either of them all the way through. Lieberman writes his own material (with a few exceptions), and plays all the instruments on every cut. He brings his wife and daughter into the project as photographers and such. I would describe his musical genre as thrash, though that leaves out his heavy Jethro Tull influence. The recordings are fuzzy and the instrumentation non-standard, with plenty of flute. The subject/titles of his songs range from Diaspora Blaster to Punk-Rock Jethro Tull Song to Nazis Shoveling Snow (based loosely on a scene in Schindler's List) to Jew in the Underground to a cover of Green Day's American idiot to No Holocaust Under My Watch to I Lost My Girl On the Tilt-A-Whirl.
I can't, in good conscience, give an unabashed recommendation for Steve Lieberman, but I must say his energy and attitude are infectious. He has something to say and by damn he's going to say it. If you'll pardon a very stretched analogy, I think he's as fearless as Simon Wiesenthal and just as smolderingly angry. The basement tape quality of the CDs brings us back to the roots of punk, if not the roots of rock and roll... if not the roots of our oppressed people. He reminded me of American Pop, a classic American journey of Jewish musicians. His CDs are cheap via his site or even cdbaby.com's sale. iPod worthy for fans of the punk/thrash/post-punk/pre-grunge/hassidic/celtic tradition.
Chaston & Groditski again mine their musical vaults for the presciently named Insane Doo-Wop From Chaston & Groditski. The entire liner notes read as follows: Idiotic songs in the doo-wop genre, recorded by Pete Chaston & Walt Groditski over the years in pure silliness for your enjoyment and cultural enrichment! The CD is so obscure that it's not listed on CDDB, or even on their web site. They're not going to make you forget The Tokens or even Sha Na Na, but several of the cuts are nicely done and could have been played at a Senior Prom in the late 50s. With a Polish twist, of course, as befitting the Rugged Hoarhadees: Walking With My Baba and Tell Me, Jelly Donut or even Um-Bop Waa Waa. Less successful are the covers and the more basement tape quality recordings. They venture into other forms with the semi-punk Shower Rock Blues and the downright strange The Ants Are Here to help justify the "insane" monicker.
As with their other CDs, whether you like Insane Doo-Wop depends a lot on your mood and tolerance for enthusiasm over technique. Still, if you liked the others, you'll probably like something on this CD.
So thumb your nose at a Nazi or neo-Nazi today! Appreciate the music that proves we are a free people! Exercise your G_d given, American right to listen to what you want, and not what Big Brother or Clear Channel tells you to. (Hey, I said it was a stretched analogy...)
Shockwave Radio Theater Podcast now up and running! All podcasts also on the Shockwave Radio audio page.
Tom Lopez aka Meatball Fulton, has been running the non-profit ZBS Foundation for over 35 years. He writes and produces radio comedy/drama and gets his money from grants, licensing broadcast rights and sale of CDs. I worked with him during his Guest of Honor stint at Minicon 32. By then, he was something of a legend in the audio biz.
I first heard The Fourth Tower of Inverness in the 70s: Three minute (plue or minus) little radio playlets with an overall story arc. I never really followed the story and to this day don't know what the heck was going on, but that's not important. Back then, audio was on vinyl. Records were large, unwieldy, easy-to-scratch and required non-portable equipment to generate audio. Ah, the bad ol' days. Shockwave got the rights to play the first series of Ruby, The Galactic Gumshoe. Originally, Ruby was structured as three minute playlets, 65 cuts designed to be aired one a day for five days over 13 weeks. Back then Shockwave was an hour, and we aired fived episodes during the show. Again, I never did actually figure out the plot, or even if there was one, but it was all so weird and often absorbing. Some of the episodes were better then others, imrho, and the episodes were disjointed enough that I didn't think the order mattered very much. We had the rights for a time period, not a set number of play times, and we finished airing Ruby I with time to spare. I instituted The Random Ruby, where we would play semi-random episodes, trying to pick our favorites but never playing from the same week twice in a row even if we weren't sure. It was loads of fun and we did Random Rubies for Ruby 2 and beyond.
But I digress.
Ruby introduced The Android Sisters. Two breathlessly erotic metallic women who sound like Marilyn Monroe carefully overdubbing herself. "This is Angel." "This is Angel." "We are the Android Sisters. We are solid-state. This is the future." For me, the Android Sisters' few appearances were the highlight of Ruby, and I wanted more. Tom Lopez isn't in it for the money, but he is a terrific marketeer, and 1984 saw The Android Sisters record, Songs of Electronic Despair. They aren't really songs, they're the two sisters gushing out lyrics in a stoically orgasmic way (!) over an electronic music bed. They're referred to as speak-songs, in the tradition of talking blues or songs like Alice's Restaurant or A Boy Named Sue. I got the record (which I still have) and taped it so I could play it on the air frequently. But alas, no CD.
ZBS issued a CD of The Android Sisters Greatest Hits, containing many songs from the record and adding some of the Ruby appearances. But it didn't have my favorite song! The one I played on the air the most and the main cut I've put on mix tapes for kids is Dumb Is Fun. I tried writing Tom for a digital copy, but alas. My wait was long.
Finally, the Japanese came to my rescue, republishing all the tracks of the record plus five from Ruby in The Best of the Android Sisters. It's an odd CD in many ways. Not only is it the most expensive CD I've ever bought ($22), but it comes with a 48 page booklet in English and Japanese that's so thick that the CD crystal case has to be larger than usual and I can't file the CD in any standard slot. I'm sure it's a better deal if you read Japanese, though it's nice to have the lyrics in English. I wouldn't recommend the import if you only care about the one song, but I'm pickled tink to hear Dumb Is Fun on a CD and the other songs hold up. Down on the Electronic Farm is an Old MacDonald variant. Telephone Wires In The Tropics is an hilarious combination of titilation and sound effects. The extra cuts from Ruby are fun as well, including Elephants & Donkeys, a political commentary that presages the next CD. ZBS's audio productions are supremely well crafted and decades later sound out of the ordinary. All of them are iPod worthy. The Android Sisters are the top of that food chain, as far as I'm concerned. While I have reservations about recommending an expensive CD, I highly recommend this one and wouldn't mind if you went with the Greatest Hits CD with more cuts from Ruby but sans Dumb is Fun.
The Android Sisters are best when they're on the edge or just over. Their smoldering pre-coital double-entendres (or should that be soldering free-coil binary innuendo?) make a bold futuristic technical statement without needing much more than a good hook. Still, any artist must dispair of the political situation today, and Meatball Fulton is not one to drop the ball. 2003's Pull No Punches pulls no punches. "If you support the policies of the president and his administration, don't buy this. But if you are less than delighted with Pres & Co., then get this ... you're going to hoot and stomp your feet and slap the side of your head. It's pretty hot stuff." The description on the web site is hype, but basically correct. Frankly, I think a little bit more subtlety and cleverness would have served the cause greater, but if you're going to vent your spleen it's really great to have androids on your side. Not all the cuts work, but some hit home. Holy Moly is about "The Fourth Crusade" and the religious/economic aspect of the war in Iraq. Hey, Monster Maker is about the conservative news media making demons of the administration's enemies but giving a pass to the uncaring Republicans.
Pull No Punches isn't particularly stfnal or weird, but many of the tracks are iPw for those of us who like being reminded that we're not alone in an over-hyped micro-managed media world. Since most everyone reading this is less gullible than most everyone who still approves of No Balls Bush, I'll give the CD a recommendation.
Serenity takes place after the events of the tv show Firefly. The opening sequence explains much that the show didn't have time to fill in. Then the regular characters pick up a little after we last saw them. Fans of the show will like Serenity. A lot.
The opening sequence gives newcomers most of the backstory. The characters are introduced as much as they need be in the next sequence. If you've never seen the tv show, you'll like Serenity. A lot.
The tv show was a Western in space, chronicling the adventures of a rootin'-shootin' cowboy with a brittle edge but a heart of gold. The movie is a science fiction saga of individual rights and courage vs. a controlling and repressive government. On tv, the characters are simple but the plot complex; you can only reveal so much in an hour but over many episodes the characters flesh out and the story arc builds slowly. In a movie, the characters are complex but the plot is simple; you quickly introduce quirky people and place them in situations the audience can relate to before they have to run to the bathroom.
As a fan of the show, perhaps I was closer to the characters than someone who walks in cold. I was very affected by Serenity. It seemed damn near perfect. Now, several days later, after mulling it over a bit and reading other reviews, it's not so perfect. But it's damn close. The danger is thinking it's an episode of Firefly (they can't use the name because Fox has tied up the rights).
Serenity is a movie, not a tv show. For those of you who pay attention to such things, watch the first sequence on Firefly, under the opening credits and beyond. Most of it is one long take. Joss Whedon is the director as well as the writer of the movie, and he's probably just made his reputation in the former as high as the latter.
Notice how back story gets filled in: The opening and denouement both use flashbacks that repeat. Notice how the characters are comfortable in their own skin. Whedon is famous for his dialog, and while there's not so much offhand humor there is a lot of character development. The sound and dialog are as important as the visuals. Several lines of dialog are going to wind up in the pop lexicon, so you might as well see the context.
The downside is that Serenity has a great deal more back story and character development than can fit in two and a half hours. Whedon does a great job, but the movie is far more powerful if you're invested in the characters. And while Serenity answers a lot of questions raised in Firefly, it also raises a few more. Sequel(s) anyone? Generally, that's a plus and it's a plus here, but it does serve to remind us that the story arc is not finished. While I hope for more movies from Joss Whedon, I hope he has learned the lesson of The Matrix: Making bad sequels can tarnish the original.
Serenity works as both a continuation of the tv show and as a powerful standalone movie. Highly recommended. Coming out of the theater I had a more favorable impression but I'm still going to rate it very high. At the moment, on the Shockwave Radio Theater scale of 9 to 23, with 23 being top, I'd give Serenity about a 21, maybe next week it'll be down to about a 20 depending on how I cynical feel about the ending. So Serenity is either one of the best science fiction movies ever made, or merely one of the better ones. You should see it.
Michael Mish doesn't write children's songs, he writes songs that children will understand. Unlike Joe Scruggs or Tom Chapin (both highly recommended and reviewed here earlier) who's songs are frequently from the child's point of view, Michael Mish presents adult subjects in a way that anyone can relate to. He writes about animals and the solar system, and the kids will get it.
The MishMashMusic Sampler is a very nice 12-cut selection from several releases. If you want to put your toe in the water, the CD is usually cheap (CDBaby has a nice $5 sale, if you get three or more of the Special CDs, and they have a large Kids/Family section, including this sampler) and a good start. It has the marvelous Gorilla Walk ("who took the jungle?"), the barnyard Coup de Cluck, some doo-wop with You (are the world to me) and the upbeat I Feel Good. Still, if you have kids (or want to feed your inner child), I'd recommend skipping the sampler and go get the originals.
Currently only on cassette, Sleepy Time is "for the restless baby and tired parent". Gentle lullabyes, soothing even for pre-verbalizing tots. Aside from one long story about a princess and one lullabye from a young girl to her newborn baby brother, the songs are lullabyes sung by a father to his child. After a hard day of Barney and Teletubbies, these songs are perfect naptime music.
Also only on cassette, I'm Blue refers to the Earth, and most of the cuts have kids talking about the various subjects before the adults explain the concepts. The title song is a wonderful, weightless, description of our home planet from the ground and from space. Pan flute on the ground, strings in the ether. Kids try to explain gravity, then Michael sends in the funk ("jump as high as you can jump, come down every time..."). Rockin' To The Sound of Nature is Elton John-style dance rock that teaches how to listen to sounds all around you. John Cage would be happy. I'm Blue is a friendly, tuneful, introduction to some advanced concepts that affect all children everyday. Help your child understand the world around them and provide the vocabulary to talk about some basic questions.
We Love The Animals is also available on CD and his web site claims "This is Michael's personal favorite recording" and I can see why. Loads of animal fun! Coup de Cluck is a bouncy, clucking, country tune about (are you ready) chickens. Betsy Bovine is a loping honky-tonk about a favorite cow. Gorilla Walk (my introduction to Michael Mish through its inclusion on a Radio Aahs CD) has a jungle beat, describing the primate's life and lamenting the loss of his habitat.
Michael Mish understands music; more, he understands sound. He talks to kids without talking down to them. All his CDs and tapes (even the ones I haven't heard) are worthy and highly recommended.
Michael is busy transfering a bunch of his tapes to digital, so this review covers only two that are currently out on CD and available on CDBaby: The MishMashMusic Sampler and We Love Animals. The other two were digitized review copies and they'll be available sometime, so bug him to keep at it! Even for adults, much Michael Mish Music is iPod worthy (MMM=iPw, heh).
April Winchell keeps a large collection of very strange music in mp3 form on her site. This week, she has 15 different covers of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, ranging from Paul Anka to British Ukulele to gregorian chant to (the best) Weird Al.
If you want Frank Sinatra Jr. singing the Gumby Theme Song or Norwegian Wood done to the tune of the Mission Impossible Theme or Milton Berle riffing off Yellow Submarine or the Star Trek theme as done by Nichelle Nichols or as German techno or have a desperate hankering to hear the Muppet Theme Song in Hebrew or YMCA in Cantonese or need the spiritual awakening of Amazing Grace as sung by Donald Duck... this is the place to go.
I don't know anything about her, but she was described to me as "Paul Winchell's estranged daughter", and she talks about her experiences in and around the show. She apparently has a weblog with archives going back to June 2001 and keeps a large multimedia collection available to the public. I just found out about all this from Shockwave Rider Brian Westley, and am passing the information on to you. Use your knowledge for good. With Dr. Demento not on locally, I can tell what I'll be listening to for a while.
Syd Barrett founded Pink Floyd, established their sound and direction, then burned out. In 1965 Syd Barrett's band The Screaming Abdabs disbanded and he renamed the group Pink Floyd after two obscure bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. What started out as a country blues band became a psychedelic band, perhaps the psychedelic band. The fame and/or the drugs and/or his autism and/or his delicate mental state would not let him handle the fame and pressure of success. His fellow band members never forgot him. As the Syd Barrett Wikipedia entry says, The Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here is a tribute to Barrett, and Shine On You Crazy Diamond is explicitly about him. He's produced a few solo albums, with the help of his Floyd friends, and will be remembered as a pioneer.
Much has been written about Syd Barrett, who continues to enjoy fan support more than 30 years after he retired from performing with Pink Floyd. Here is a FAQ and the Stuffit for The 60s-early-70s publication Terrapin, the Official Magazine of the Syd Barrett Appreciation Society. Here's a Syd Barrett fan site, with pictures of early releases.
I don't have a lot to add to the story of Syd Barrett, but I want to introduce him to younger listeners, or reintroduce him to those who might have forgotten, who might think that Pink Floyd began with Dark Side of the Moon. Much of the information comes from the web sites above, though he's been a hero of mine for a long time.
There is no other album like Piper At The Gates of Dawn. You don't have to be on drugs to appreciate the wall of weirdness, but you do have to pay attention. This is as far from elevator music as you can get. Combining early space program effects, blues riffs, rock drums, electronic instruments, and trippy poetry Astronomy Domine remains one of the great psychedelic songs on which to wrap your head around. Lucifer Sam is one of the few rock songs about cats, to a more traditional rock beat; a bit more angry and it could have presaged punk: "That cat's something I can't explain." Matilda Mother, as near as I can figure out, is about the magical wonderment of your mother reading a bedtime story. You want to hear more about "wandering and dreaming" and other tales. Continuing with dreamlike lyrics and swirling music, Flaming continues to touch the inner child.
The last four songs on the album cement Barrett's reputation as a producer of commercial music, even as the songs and lyrics are psychedelic. They combine a journey inward with pop sensibilities to form tight little songs that defy adequate explanation. The Gnome is about a mythical creature going on an adventure: "I want to tell you a story / About a little man / If I can." Less Bilbo than Tom Bombadil. The myth making continues in Chapter 24.
No, I have no idea what this means. But it's very important. I generally interpret it (when I bother to think linearly) as going one step beyond Chapter 23, 23 being the number of segments of the Worm Orobourous who eats his own tail and a great Illuminati number (though we didn't know that at the time). Barrett is taking us beyond the meta world of ourselves as the universe. Perhaps I'm trying to read too much onto some trippy lyrics. That's fun too.
The syncopated percussion of Scarecrow is the introduction to the most personal lyric and sweetest melodic line on the album.
Bike is about trying to find the right gift for a girl. The childlike innocence of the attempt trails off into a beautiful cacophony. Does this represent the playful child that any girl would want in a boy or the dark inner self that no woman should come near? Possibly neither. It's a great song.
Nearly 40 years after its release, The Piper At The Gates of Dawn remains a singular album of musical strangeness and magical imagery. It does not age.
A Saucerful of Secrets only has one Barrett-written song, though his presence is felt on every cut. It's still one of my favorite Pink Floyd CDs. Jugland Blues isn't exactly traditional jugland blues, but is very Syd Barrett with introspective lyrics and kazoo added to the rock instruments. Good lyrics to end a musical career with, sadly intoning:
But wait, there's more!
While Syd is a recluse and doesn't go out or receive visitors, his Floyd buddies come by every now and then to help him produce an album. The Madcap Laughs, from 1970, has flashes of lyrical and musical brilliance. But only flashes, alas. My favorite song on the 1990 reissue CD of The Madcap Laughs is Here I Go, a fairly straightforward honky-tonk rock ballad about a girl who didn't like his songs but he wins her anyway. Octopus, the title song, is close his early work with trippy lyrics and a tuneful psychedelic pop melody. "The madcap laughed at the man on the border". Like the Scarecrow, he's blowing in the wind. The lyric of Golden Hair is from a 1907 James Joyce poem, and the austere intonation and stately minor key hit the right note.
I unabashedly recommend The Piper At The Gates of Dawn as one of the great rock albums of all time, incredibly influential, which still holds up and doesn't need the context of "the first Pink Floyd album" to hold it's place in rock history. A Saucerful of Secrets probably does need the context of the transition from early to middle Pink Floyd to fully grok its impact, but is still recommended if you're blown away by the first one. I will only recommend The Madcap Laughs for Syd Barrett (not necessarily Pink Floyd) fans. Some iPw songs, to be sure.
Laughter Is A Powerful Weapon Vol. 2 moved here, Dementia Music '06 part I moved here Dementia Music '06 part II moved here Minneapolis Music '05 moved here.
...on to next page -->
Picture galleries <> Facebook page <> YouTube videos
Permanent Audio Archive <> Audio files
Dave Romm's Portal <> <> e-mail Baron Dave
This is www.romm.org/CD3.html
This page is not pie and contains very little Eskimo.
Mail to Baron David E Romm