Friday, December 31, 2010
The second, being a "webisode" produced by the band:
It's just a great, great song, the highlight of their 2010 album, "The Big To-Do." I'm just sorry they didn't play it the night I saw them in Chicago!
And now, we're getting down to the real nitty-gritty: the songs that always perked me up when I was down, the songs I turned up loud when they came on the radio, and the songs that most frequently made it onto my MP3 playlists.
The first of those is "Lasso," by Phoenix.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
I could have chosen a lot of different Avett Bros. songs for the best-of list this year, even though none of them were released in 2010. But I didn't discover the duo until last Fall, and chose this song for two reasons - it came close to being released in 2010, and it comes as close as anything I've seen to capturing the exuberance and joy of their live shows. I was lucky enough to see them in April during their visit to Sacramento, and hope to see them again someday.
Ol' John had gotten a little boring on his recent releases, but "No Better Than This" was a great comeback - even though it sounded old, it never sounded less than vital.
And I don't know if the woman dancing in this video was planned or spontaneous, but either way, it works beautifully.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
"The Union" was surely the best album that either Elton John or Leon Russell has released in over 30 years. While I'd still like to spend more time with it before I render a final opinion, there's no question that "Hey Ahab" is a terrific song - one of the best of the year.
Peter Gabriel's album of cover versions, "Scratch My Back," was a bit of a mixed bag, but at least three songs were spectacular - Elbow's "Mirrorball," Talking Heads' "Listening Wind," and this one - Bon Iver's "Flume."
And for comparison, the original:
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
It was a pretty damn good year for the old white guys, as I like to call them. John Hiatt, Elton John & Leon Russell, John Mellencamp...and Robert Plant.
Robert made a great album with a host of southern and folk luminaries, and here he is joined by the great Patty Griffin on a terrific live version of "Silver Rider," my favorite song on his album "Band of Joy."
M.I.A.'s "Maya" was another album I didn't quite get into like its immediate predecessor ("Kala"). But "XXXO" jumped out of the earbuds on first listen, and after six months is still sounding great. And it's bound to sound great one, five and ten years from now.
Monday, December 27, 2010
A year ago at this time, I'd never heard a single song by the Drive-By Truckers. Now, they may be my favorite band.
Their 2010 album, "The Big To-Do," was not their best, but it was 3/4 of a great album. The strength of the band is that they have two terrific songwriters and singers, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, whose styles are very different but complement each other perfectly.
This won't be the only DBT song on the list, but we'll start with a great Cooley rocker - "Get Downtown."
"Challengers" was one of my favorite albums of the last decade, but the new one, "Together," didn't quite click for me the same way. I'm still holding out hope, because it took a LONG time for "Challengers" to sink in.
But no matter how you cut it, "We End Up Together" is a great song, and a perfect example of what the band does so well.
This clip was filmed at The Vic Theater in Chicago, where I was lucky enough to catch Drive-By Truckers in April. More on that later.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
This is actually a song that was released last year, but I didn't get around to buying the album until this year - Loudon Wainwright III's "High Wide and Handsome - The Charlie Poole Project." On the album, Loudon sings it, but the only version on YouTube is the one above, with Rufus handling the vocal with Loudon playing guitar. I don't know what it is about this song, but it never failed to bring a smile to my face - even though it is a bit of a sad one.
I think 2010 was the year that I finally allowed the MP3 revolution to overtake the way I listen to music - I've always been an album man, but now the bulk of my listening is on my MP3 player (usually when I'm running), and I find that for the most part I lack the patience to listen through an album in one sitting. That makes me a bit sad, because I think there are still a lot of great albums out there, but when I'm out running, what I really want is variety.
So instead of listing my top albums of the year, I'm going to share my favorite songs - the songs that defined the year for me.
Leading off, the great Johnny Cash, from what I assume will be the last Rick Rubin collaboration that gets released. "Ain't No Grave," the terrific title track from American VI.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
And as always, the calendar concludes with the greatest Christmas song of the rock era. Darlene Love, singing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."
Merry Christmas, everyone. I hope your holiday is filled with joy and good cheer.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
No, not because today is my last day of work until January 3...
No, not because I'm just generally in a good mood...
Why? Because I was able to get my email inbox down to 155.
Perhaps a sad commentary, but one which still makes me feel pretty darn good.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
I don't hesitate in calling this one of the two greatest rock and roll Christmas songs ever written - thank you Lieber and Stoller!
But as David McGee once wrote, the King was spitting fire back in those days, and this song was no exception.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
When I was growing up, we wore out a copy of "The Andy Williams Christmas Album." Side One was the secular songs, and on Side Two you had the religious classics. Here is one of the latter, Andy turning in a great rendition of "O Holy Night."
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
A very nice version of the Vince Guaraldi Classic, "Christmas Time Is Here," by Mike Conley and the Beef Manhattans.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Saturday, December 11, 2010
The movie has a 7.1 rating on the Internet Movie Database, which is good but not great. It received mostly positive reviews upon its release, but some leading critics - Roger Ebert included - thought it mediocre. Rock critic Dave Marsh also blasted it at one point or another, mostly criticizing the film's sense of nostalgia and the shallow politics of its characters.
Marsh's criticisms are somewhat valid - to this day, I cringe a little bit when Harold Cooper (Kevin Kline) makes his comment about there having been no great music released since the 1960s. It's an attitude I've railed against plenty in my lifetime, and it just isn't true. And when you hear someone say something like that, you can pretty much guarantee that they have a closed mind about a great many things.
But, 27 years later (which I can hardly believe), the movie can be watched and enjoyed on the basis of how it portrays the relationships between the characters, rather than on the politics of those characters. Frankly, those politics weren't particularly believable in the first place - to believe that all seven of those characters morphed from being college radicals to becoming successful capitalists is just a little bit too much belief suspension to expect from any audience.
But no matter - because the writing and acting are superb, and there is a great deal of truth to how each character has come to grips with their own lives, and is now trying to figure out how to work their loved friends into that reality. If the movie strikes a false note at all, it's on its seeming insistence that those friends were "better" in college than they are now, when that just isn't true. You can't possibly know such things when you're 23 years old (my age when I first saw the movie), but after a lifetime of living and experience, you know that it can't be true. As Nick (William Hurt) says to Sam (Tom Berenger),
"A long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don't know anything about me. It was easy back then. No one had a cushier birth than we did. It's not surprising our friendship could survive that. It's only out there in the real world that it gets tough."
The only character that truly comes off as unlikable is Karen Bowens (JoBeth Williams), and that could be because writer-director Lawrence Kasdan decided to make her the example of what happens when you "drop your dreams and decide to have children instead." Of all the roles in the movie, this is probably the one that is most under-written, and it ends up as a choice that isn't really real. You don't "give up yourself" when you choose a different path, and that seems to be the argument that Kasdan is making with the character.
The other actors are all given wonderful, and wonderfully funny, lines to work with, particularly Jeff Goldblum as Michael Gold, the quick-witted and somewhat cynical writer for People Magazine, who writes articles that can't be any longer "than it takes to read during the average crap." Of particular note are Mary Kay Place, whose character after all these years seems more real than any of the others, and Meg Tilly, who turns in a terrific "fish out of water" performance as Chloe, the young but very wise woman who was living with Alex (the character who committed suicide, bringing all the friends together again) at the time of his death. She doesn't know these people, but she seems to instinctively know when they are wandering in absurdity, and there is a wonderful moment when you can see that she really wants to say something to snap them back to reality, but holds back at the last moment.
So it may not be a perfect movie - but it's sure close enough for me.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Finally, the obvious answer seems to be yes. As beat up as he is right now, and given the fact that the Vikings are playing for nothing but pride for the rest of the season (and Leslie Frazier's job, which seems to be secure right now), it's incomprehensible that anyone would even contemplate Favre returning for another season.
And so what hath Brett wrought with his ongoing "will he or won't he" soap opera of the past few years? At this point, as awful as I think the whole escapade was, I doubt it will matter much. The fact that it is not ending well for Favre will probably even allow him to regain some of the fans that he lost with his behavior over the past few off-seasons. The sexual harassment issue appears to be be going away (and please don't interpret that as commentary on the justice or injustice of that), so I imagine that within a season or two, we're going to see Favre running onto Lambeau Field, to tumultuous cheers, to receive some sort of award or other.
It's not the script I would have written, but then again, it wasn't up to me.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Like hundreds of thousands of other people, I remember exactly where I was when I heard that John Lennon had been murdered, because I was watching Monday Night Football when Howard Cosell broke into the telecast to make the announcement. Of course it was a huge shock, but Lennon was not an artist that I’d thought about for a long time. Unlike his fellow Beatles, Lennon had decided to drop off the face of the Earth for five years, upon being reunited with Yoko and celebrating the birth of his son Sean. And in the years leading up to that joyous occasion, Lennon had set something of a record for embarrassing public drunkenness, going on what he referred to later as an 18-month bender which featured such highlights as getting thrown out of the Troubador one night after putting a Kotex on his head. Hardly the stuff of which legends are made.
Like all The Beatles, Lennon’s solo career was maddeningly inconsistent. He was capable of greatness, and he was capable of pure dreck. And most astonishingly, he was capable of perfectly adequate, mediocre music – something that he’d never been accused of as the leader of the fab four. Listen today to something like “#9 Dream,” and your first thought is “yeah, that’s pretty cool, that sounds good.” But then you remember you’re listening to the same guy who just 4 years earlier had sung “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” as vital a piece of music as has ever been recorded during the rock era, and all you can think is “what the hell happened?”
And of course, the comparison is patently unfair. Because as Robert Christgau once wrote, John Lennon’s greatest accomplishment was The Beatles. And make no bones about it, John Lennon was the leader of The Beatles. And that is in no way intended as a slight to the remaining Fab Three. Paul McCartney was a magnificent collaborator, and fully capable of greatness on his own. George Harrison was a great lead guitarist. And Ringo Starr, while not Keith Moon or Charlie Watts, deserves his place in the pantheon of great rock and roll drummers. But it was Lennon’s wit, and Lennon’s audacity, that made all the difference. He was the straw that stirred the drink.
And John Lennon was smart enough to know that what he had with The Beatles was something special. He was never going to top what he had accomplished as the leader of the greatest band of the rock era. So he cleaned himself up, he reunited with the love of his life, and he dropped out of the public eye so he could take care of his young son. And then, while on vacation in the summer of 1980, he went into a club and heard The B-52s, and in a spasm of excitement, immediately realized that the sounds they were making represented exactly the kind of music that Yoko had been wanting to make for years. And so he went back to the studio, recorded new (and outstanding) songs of his own, but primarily to make her the star he always thought she should be.
And then, on the night of December 8, 1980, Lennon heard, in the words of a great essay penned by Jay Cocks for TIME magazine after the murder, “a voice out of the American night.” He turned, and he was cut down.
No one can know what would have happened, had Lennon not died on that night. It would have been nice to find out. After all, Bob Dylan went 22 years between masterpieces, and I like to think that John Lennon could have done the same thing. Everyone who cares about music – even a little bit – should be missing John Lennon today.
Jars of Clay is a Christian rock band out of Nashville, Tennessee. It's not a genre I normally go for, but this is the Christmas season, after all - and wouldn't you expect a Christian rock band to do a good job with Christmas songs?
Here, the band takes on "The Little Drummer Boy," and turns in a nice performance.
Monday, December 06, 2010
He was a very good but not great quarterback, and he certainly was not a great announcer. But he was a great personality. The first Monday night play-by-play man, Keith Jackson, once famously referred to it as "corn pone and bullshit," and even though Jackson (truly a great, great play-by-play man) did not intend the comment as a compliment, he was pretty much spot on. When Meredith and Howard Cosell almost immediately developed a chemistry that has rarely been seen in the booth (the dumb country boy and the city intellectual), it was apparent that Jackson was the odd man out. That was a good thing for Jackson, who went back to college football and became the greatest announcer ever of the college gridiron. ABC added another jock to the mix, USC and New York legend Frank Gifford, and for a couple of years the trio could do nothing wrong. It was the one of the golden eras of the NFL, and the Monday night ratings went through the roof, no matter who was playing.
Maybe it was inevitable, but after a couple of years it appeared that success went to Meredith's head. He moved over to NBC, where in addition to being paired on NFL broadcasts with Curt Gowdy (who by that time was far past his prime, and the team never really clicked) he was allowed to test out his limited acting chops, most notably in a recurring role on Police Story. What became obvious when Meredith was part of a crew that was actually interested in calling a game was that the game was slowly passing him by, and that he was never that good with the analysis or the details in the first place.
He went back to ABC for another 7 years on the MNF crew, and after that, he pretty much dropped off the face of the earth. But he always seemed like a nice guy, and he was a genuinely funny guy. And after all, MNF did revolutionize the sport - or at least the television coverage of it.
I'm on record as being a huge fan of Sufjan Stevens' five-disc Christmas collection, the songs on which were recorded for friends and given as Christmas presents.
Some of the songs are traditional, some are original, some are joyous, and some are...well, not.
This one falls into the latter category, but it's a wonderful song.
Sufjan Stevens, with a live performance of "That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!"
Sunday, December 05, 2010
Harry Connick, Jr. has released three Christmas albums, and before his career is over I suspect we'll be over half a dozen. He's a talented, charismatic guy, and very likable to boot - in short, perfect for the holidays.
As Joe puts it,
"...and, in the end, who beside for some people in Miami will care about a pretty good, star-laden, self-indulgent NBA team that plays boring basketball? There are so many star-laden NBA teams that play wonderful basketball. If I were one of those poor shleps forced to follow around this Heat team, I'd beg to be reassigned to Oklahoma City."
Read the whole thing.
Saturday, December 04, 2010
Friday, December 03, 2010
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
And so it begins...the 3rd (or 4th) annual Musical Advent Calendar! Today we kick off the festivities with a little British pop from the great British pop band, Pet Shop Boys, with "It Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas."
And now it can be safely said...Happy Holidays!