Year in review, Amazon-style
Amazon has released their critics' 100 best list, and it's not a very good list. It's pick of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as the top one is acceptable, its choices of the Flaming LIps, Elvis Costello, and Solomon Burke releases to round out the top 4 is fine, but to put Paul Westerberg's Stereo in the top 10, and to put Steve Earle's awful Jerusalem in the top 15, while not placing Springsteen in the top 40 is nothing short of bizarre.
It'll be interesting to see if Pazz and Jop mirrors this list's same general penchant for the obscure. Frighteningly enough, the Customers' Best list at Amazon is less offensive, despite the presence of, eep, Celine Dion and, uh, "Ultimate Manilow."
Thanks to C.W.L. for the heads up.
posted by Anon. 10:55 AM
Year in review begins
I'm starting to bring together all my CDs released in 2002 to start compiling by Palmermix Year in Review Disc. A lot of good songs to choose from.
But for those of you with Kazaa or Limewire or similar sharing program: the #1 contender for song of the year, in my book:
"Nothing But the Wheel," by Peter Wolf with Mick Jagger.
Just download it and see for yourself.
posted by Anon. 8:55 AM
I hear children singing, it must be Christmas time
My favorite Pretenders song might also be my favorite Christmas rock and roll song: "2000 Miles."
It's not an easy song to listen to if you're far away from someone you love, whether your separation from him or her is a geographic one or an emotional one. But it's a song that proves that the 80s weren't all about synth-pop.
posted by Anon. 2:25 PM
An enormous survey of this year's Christmas releases and box sets, courtesy of the New York Times.
posted by Anon. 2:23 PM
Dylan, Chapter fifty-eight
I posted recently about Dylan's website offering RealAudio streams of Dylan performing Warren Zevon and Don Henley songs.
Now the site is offering a RealAudio transmission of Dylan performing George Harrison's "Something" on November 13. I just listened to it. Dylan introduces it with, "I'd like to do this song for George... because we were such good buddies." It's a lovely and heartfelt rendition, especially in the bridge when Dylan sings, "You're asking me will my love grow? I don't know... I don't know."
A nice tribute to a fellow Wilbury.
posted by Anon. 2:01 PM
The big question
Have you bought it yet?
And if not: why not?
posted by Anon. 1:55 PM
Sometimes you can put a new record on, and two songs into it you know it's going to be a great one. I'm having that one right now with Peter Rowan and the Nashville Bluegrass Band's 1988 New Moon Rising. In addition to beautiful fingerpicking and mandolins and fiddles, it has beautiful vocals and melodies. I'm loving it.
I picked it up, strangely enough, on Steve Earle's recommendation, through Steve's "Artist Choice" picks at HEAR Music. I know that I shouldn't be extolling the virtues of HEAR, seeing as its now part of the great Starbucks Empire. But the fact is, whenever I go into HEAR I find new discs and sounds I wouldn't have found otherwise.
In a strange way, its highlighting of staff picks (or even the picks that were determined by people in the front office -- well, those at least people seem to have good taste) mirrors what I love best about independent bookstores -- the little handwritten recommendations in front of some books on the shelves that say, "you've got to read this."
HEAR doesn't employ that kind of endearing ramshackle system, but their sales staff, unlike that of a Barnes and Noble or Borders, knows their stuff well -- on this last trip to the Santa Monica Promenade store, I had a great long talk about the Blasters with a bearded, friendly salesperson.
Independent record stores tend to have different sales etiquette than independent book stores. While people at bookstores seem legitimately excited to share the love of their finds, too many of the guys at an independent record shops have exactly the same attitude as the High Fidelity guys -- they're losing something by turning you on to something special and little known, they're cheating themselves by letting you in on a secret. I still love shopping at Amoeba Records, but I don't find myself chatting up the sales people there.
Bluegrass is a genre which doesn't always hit me. As I've written here before, O Brother Where Art Thou sometimes sounded like a museum piece to me. Allison Krauss has never done much for me, either, though Dan on the Upper West Side does say her new live two disc record is terrific. I like the Del McCoury Band, and enjoyed the disc they did with Steve Earle, especially the song "Pilgrim." And there are other examples here and there -- classic Bill Monroe, a J.D. Crowe and the New South recording of Dylan's "Nashville Skyline Rag."
But this Rowan record -- it has much more energy and melody, and isn't near as staid, as much of the other bluegrass I've heard. On this Friday morning in sunny Los Angeles, I'm enjoying happy sounds from a state not on a coast. "I'm gonna love you like there's no tomorrow/I'm gonna love you like there's no yesterday," Rowan sings on my favorite song on the record -- a love song sung from a guy on Death Row. But it's not done in a maudlin arrangement, instead with quick guitars and a falsetto singing. Sounds ridiculous? Well -- okay, you're right, it's kinda ridiculous. But it's wonderful, anyway.
Pick it up, if you can spare the dollars amidst the Christmas shopping; it's a hard record not to like.
posted by Anon. 9:54 AM
Department of good lyrics
Caught this lyric while listening to David Baerwald's most recent album on the drive in today:
"Love is eternal... as long as it lasts."
posted by Anon. 9:43 AM
Glenn Reynolds was kind to link to an earlier post here on John Kerry's guitar-slinging capabilities.
But Bill Clinton certainly hasn't been the sole candidate to sacrifice musical talent for political gain. Lamar Alexander on both of his presidential campaigns was known to tickle the ivories (often playing "Alexander's Ragtime Band"). And one of the more famous, and telling, incidents of Richard M. Nixon's administration was when at an annual Gridiron Club dinner, Nixon played on piano the favorite songs of FDR, Truman, and Johnson -- with Spiro Agnew drowning the President out with "Dixie" as the crowd roared. Not a class act, that Spiro. But what did we expect from a man whose name is an anagram of "Grow a penis?"
And let's not forget that Al Gore, Sr., played the fiddle and "You Are My Sunshine" was written by the a man who became Governor of Louisiana.
And we haven't even touched Sonny Bono, who for all his other misdeeds earned himself a place in Rock and Roll Heaven simply by writing "Needles and Pins."
Kerry has been playing guitar since the 1960s. I've even heard word that recordings exist of his playing... Beatle songs. No unilateralist, he!
posted by Anon. 3:04 PM
Now it can be told, as Lock explains here, how exactly I ended up in the pages of my favorite magazine here.
The author of the piece has become a reliable and enjoyable correspondent, and, in what might be called serendipity, is a Dylan fan herself. In an earlier email, she chastened me for leaving "Idiot Wind," which she describes as "the best break-up song ever," out of this conversation.
We're waiting for Rebecca's complete top 10. But for now, she does report that it would certainly include "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Baby Let Me Follow You Down." Is this Dylan thing contagious?
As Bill Altreuter reports (scroll down to December 5 -- I can't figure out how to link to a particular post on Bill's blog), perhaps it is.
posted by Anon. 2:51 PM
Bit of a slow mid-day after a hectic morning. So in the Christmas spirit, I thought I'd share with you a few of my favorite books about popular music. Click the book, and you can go to the Amazon page. Buy the book while you're there, and you get to support poor old threadbare Palmermix while you're at it.
posted by Anon. 11:35 AM
Listened to Freewheelin' in the car this morning. I skip past "Masters of War" and "Blowin' in the Wind"; the songs that I focus on are "Girl of the North Country" and "Don't Think Twice It's All Right," both of which boast such beautiful and quiet fingerpicking guitar, it's almost like he's anticipating Nick Drake. And then I also listen to "Oxford Town," about the Chaney et al murders in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a song which should sound dated, but doesn't.
In other, stranger news, the song that was stuck in my head for our morning meeting today was somehow "This Will Be," Natalie Cole's first hit, from 1975. I don't know why it was in my head. It just was.
posted by Anon. 11:10 AM
A pain I could live without
Last night, while driving over to pick Matt and Phil up to go to El Chavo in Los Feliz, I listened to "Maggie May." I've written about Rod Stewart and the frustration of where his career went. I think I've even written about "Maggie May" before in these pages. But what got me last night was the bassline. I had never paid much attention to bass lines, always preferring to focus on the guitar and piano or organ. I'm paying attention to them now, and Maggie May -- and the rest of Every Picture Tells a Story, for that matter -- has got beautiful bass work.
posted by Anon. 8:35 AM
Someone said dignity was the first to leave
Stop me if I've told this one before.
Last year, I was working as the speechwriter for a guy who lost his bid to become Mayor of New York. By the last day or two, my main distraction from drafting both a victory speech and a concession speech was coming up with songs to be played on election night.
The disc jockeys found most of the songs I requested. "I'll Take You There," by the Staple Singers, was a particularly good one. But I knew they wouldn't have Ryan Adams' "New York, New York" -- which after 9/11 was an incredibly relevant song -- and so I brought it with me to the hotel where our election night party was taking place. I was upstairs with the candidate for most of the evening, but I did come down probably at 10:30, about twenty minutes before the broadcasters called the race for the other guy.
I wanted to get the Ryan Adams song played when our candidate came out to take the podium. Instead, some control freak with a shaved head who had been working on the campaign for a week sent me away, and instead put on, yawn, "New York, New York," the Sinatra song. Ugh.
As everyone shuffled out of the Sheraton ballroom, and off to pass through the cold November air and the comfort of a nearby tavern, the DJs played one of the lesser known songs I had requested: Bob Dylan's "Dignity," a song only available on Greatest Hits Volume 3 and his 1994 MTV Unplugged. A wonderful song, and, if I do say so myself, not a bad song to listen to after losing a mayoral race where we were outspent by $75 million.
posted by Anon. 3:11 PM
Time after time
I'm interrupting this Dylan reverie for a quick thought. Do you remember that Cyndi Lauper and Madonna were once stars of equal stature? That Lauper seemed to be everyone's pick for the star to watch as we headed on into the second Reagan administration? Well, even if you don't remember that, it was so.
Cyndi later collapsed, probably due to a combination of increasingly garish fashion choices and her decision to spend a lot of time with pro wrestlers. There were good moments, though -- "I Drove All Night" comes to mind.
But I was thinking today about her first album, She's So Unusual. Two of the biggest hits from that -- "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "He Bop," the latter a paen to masturbation -- were novelty numbers that were dated the third week they were released. But the rest of the album featured at least three outstanding songs. The sweet lullaby of "All Through the Night," written by Jules Shear; the realist rocker "Money Changes Everything," a cover of a song by Atlanta's the Brains; and her own composition, "Time After Time," which has since been covered by the likes of Everything But the Girl. All three of those songs were terrific, and all three manage to mostly survive the synth-heavy production of Lauper's debut.
And now, back to Dylan...
posted by Anon. 2:20 PM
Ain't it just like the night to play tricks...
AIM conversation, from earlier today.
MichaelOPalmer: tangled up in blue, such a perfect song
lockloct: you know... no (expletive deleted)... tangled up has fallen from my dylan #1
MichaelOPalmer: what's your current #1
MichaelOPalmer: here's my top 10, in no order
MichaelOPalmer: rolling stone
MichaelOPalmer: make me lonesome when you go
MichaelOPalmer: she belongs to me
lockloct: visions of j.
MichaelOPalmer: day of the locusts
MichaelOPalmer: don't think twice
MichaelOPalmer: shelter from the storm
MichaelOPalmer: when i paint my masterpiece
MichaelOPalmer: series of dreams
MichaelOPalmer: boots of spanish leather
MichaelOPalmer: visions of j is a great choice
MichaelOPalmer: perhaps his best opening line
MichaelOPalmer: though i prefer the live 66 version to the bob version
lockloct: that's the one
MichaelOPalmer: in the last two years, i kinda discovered freewheelin for the first time
MichaelOPalmer: live 1966 might be the album i'd take as a desert idsland disc
MichaelOPalmer: it is nearly perfect
lockloct: so good
lockloct: really, my all-time #1 dylan, and personal top 5 of all songs, is Mr. Tambourine Man
lockloct: i can live forever inside it
posted by Anon. 1:32 PM
You think I was joking about a Dylan thing fast approaching? We had a basket full of Naked Juices (which is probably the Enterprise to Odwalla and Fresh Samantha's Hertz and Avis) on the table in the conference room this morning. I picked up a Tangerine flavored one.
While sitting in the meeting, I read the side of the juice bottle.
"Hey, Mister Tangerine Man. Here's some juice for you."
posted by Anon. 12:27 PM
... a revolution in the air
And while I'm at it: I think if the gods were really going to be mean to me and throw me on a desert island and limit me to not one disc but one song, "Tangled Up in Blue" would be up there. It's just the best.
posted by Anon. 8:51 AM
There was music in the cafes at night
I can feel a Dylan thing fast approaching. I know this thing, this feeling, this phase. Sometimes it lasts for a week; other times for a month. Other times it was just a small brushfire, and I had to listen to Dylan for the day. But it's approaching -- no, it's already here. I listened to Time Out of Mind for the first time in six or seven months; I actually think its successor, Love and Theft is a superior record, but it's like comparing a castle to a mansion: either one will do just fine, thanks. My favorite song on Time Out of Mind has to be "Trying to Get to Heaven," but "Not Dark Yet" is a close second. The whole record has this great New Orleans seedy feel to it, while on Love and Theft it feels like he headed up the Mississippi.
What's remarkable about these two records is that before them, it looked like Dylan had completely burned out. Since Desire, there were few "great" Dylan moments -- a song like "Blind Willie McTell" or "Series of Dreams" or "Every Grain of Sand" or "Dignity," and there sure weren't any great Dylan albums. I know people who swear by Infidels or Slow Train Coming, but could these stand next to Blonde on Blonde or Freewheelin' or Blood on the Tracks or even Nashville Skyline? No way. For a long time, the best of the bunch seemed to be Oh Mercy, with its Lanois production and instrumentation. And then there were the two endearing albums of folk covers he released in the 60s.
But Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and even the song he released between those two albums, "Things Have Changed" which won him the Oscar, blow all those away, making Oh Mercy seem like a minor experiment and making the last twenty years seem like not an artist having lost it, as we had previously thought, but an artist ignoring it. It being the muse, inspiration, the talent he had buried in there. It's not just in the performance -- though it's clear he's trying again -- but also in the words. Dylan has rarely been as funny or smart in his lyrics as he is on much of these records, such that you feel in listening to them that you gotta listen good, 'cause you might miss something.
The best songs on Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft -- "Not Dark Yet," "Mississippi," a handful of others -- rang among Dylan's best ever. But the rest of it is far from filler.
posted by Anon. 8:50 AM
But the press let the story leak
My favorite articles in the New Yorker tend to be those unusual ones that wouldn't find a place in any magazine oriented with particular subject matter. A recent example: the oncologist who wrote recently about handing patients bad news. (We at Palmermix also like Rebecca Mead, who served a vital role in pushing the author into finally plunking down the $15 to register the domain name Palmermix.com, thus alleviating all the pain that thousands of web-travellers had to experience in remembering to type "blogspot.com.")
There's an Alec Wilkinson profile on Paul Simon in a recent New Yorker -- maybe three issues ago -- that I finally got to reading this week. I've written here before about how the New Yorker coverage of music can be a bit scattershot.
Sometimes the magazine's profiles of fairly established musicians feel as if the writer were explaining them to a Martian. Or at least to an Amish farmer. While Anthony Lane and David Denby write about music presupposing that their readership already has a somewhat substantial knowledge of cinema, the music coverage displays no such confidence.
The Simon profile, unfortunately, suffers from that same problem. While Alec Wilkinson described going here, there, and everywhere with Paul Simon -- a Yankee game, Memphis and Clarksdale, Mississippi, his Times Square office, he neither delved into how Simon writes songs -- the supposed theme of the piece -- but also resulted in making his subject seem like a self-involved, emotionless, dullard.
Which he may very well be. But don't then expect me to read an eleven page profile on him. Especially when there were such fawning moments as Wilkinson describing Simon as the best lyricist in music except for Bob Dylan and... James Taylor.
James Taylor?! I'm as big a fan of "Fire and Rain" as the next cat, but James Taylor wouldn't make my top 40 best lyricists in popular music. Let alone the big top three. He also suggests that a difference between Simon and Dylan and Lennon and McCartney is that "Dylan and Lennon and McCartney did most of their memorable work as young men." Huh? Dylan was 34 or 35 when he did Blood on the Tracks, arguably the greatest work of the singer/songwriter movement and also arguably Dylan's best album (with Blonde on Blonde and Freewheelin the other contenders).
The strangest thing, though, about the piece was just its timing. Why a piece on Paul Simon now, two years after his last release, You're the One, and long before he has any new product out? Where's the timeliness of that kind of profile? Especially after the New York Times Magazine did such an extensive profile on Simon when his failed Capeman musical premiered -- that was the one, if you'll remember, with the famous cover that showed that all those years, Simon had been wearing a toupee.
Is Wilkinson a fan? I think he clearly loves Paul Simon's music, but I'm not sure he knows it all that well: he suggests that with Graceland, Simon took his first steps into tapping (or exploiting, depending on your POV) world music strains. Yet Simon had been actually doing that since his first solo album (the self-titled one featuring "Mother and Child Reunion")drew heavily upon Carribbean influences.
Instead, we're left with details of Simon getting a little queasy on an airplane, building a house in Connecticut, and listening to music from the next car over while stuck in traffic after a Yankee game. The true highlights of the article are when Wilkinson talks with Joseph Shabalala (spelling?), the leader of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and a major collaborator with Simon on Graceland (an album which, by the way, I love and think will always love).
Shabalala in the piece translates for Wilkinson exactly what Mambazo's callout responses in the sublime "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" mean.
"Paul ask me, 'Joseph, can you please bless this song?' Shabalala said. 'He play it for me, and I listen and said, 'This song is OK.' He say, 'I still need your blessing,' so I write five lines in Zulu... He sing, 'She's a rich girl, she don't try to hide it, diamonds on the soles of her shoes.' So I answer what he said. 'It's not usually so,' I say, 'but now we see girls that can afford to maintain themselves.'"
posted by Anon. 5:53 PM
Rock crit is dead, long live rock crit
Avery recommended I check out this piece in the Louisville Courier-Journal on Rolling Stone collapsing into a heap of irrelevance (and teen-oriented irrelevance at that), and the magazines that have sprouted up that actually cover music. Et cetera, et cetera, insert rest of predictable rant here. But it's a pretty good piece, including a couple of classic quotes from my erstwhile uncle-like writing mentor, Dave Marsh. Here's a sample Marsh moment:
"I was at the airport yesterday looking over the magazine rack and saw the new Blender and Rolling Stone, and I was looking at them thinking, 'These have just become a cowardly version of Playboy'," Marsh said. "One of them had a picture of LeAnn Rimes with her ------ sticking out, and that told me all I needed to know about what was inside."You never have to ask Dave Marsh what he really thinks.
In surveying the music magazines out there, the piece endorses No Depression -- the alt-country, low-budget magazine that I've liked okay when I've read it -- but I think I've responded less to the quality of writing in the publication, and more just out of the thrill that someone somewhere is devoting ink and space to music I love. Mojo is a more reliable read -- I think that's where I first read Greil Marcus' excellent history of the Stagolee myth.
posted by Anon. 5:13 PM
Sopranos music watch
A little bit of the fun of watching the Sopranos for me is catching the soundtrack choices in each episode. Whoever is doing the music supervision over there in NYC, they're doing a helluva job. Last night's episode was no exception. When Tony and Carmela go over to Meadow's apartment to have dinner, and meet all of Meadow's roommates, what's the musical cue? The Shins' "New Slang," a perfect indie college radio choice. Then, after the episode's excellent last scene, as Tony assumes that Carmela's sadness is just over her little girl growing up, and not of her own disappointments in romance and life, Annie Lennox's "Little Bird" starts playing as the credits start.
posted by Anon. 7:52 AM
Music drifted in and out of my weekend. Yesterday, while meeting B for brunch at Snug Harbor, they played a disc that sounded like it could have been a KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic disc, but not sure -- there was a cover of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," a Paula Cole song that B described as "the one good Paula Cole song," Patty Griffin's "Mad Mission." And then, a live version of Ted Hawkins' "Green Eyed Girl" -- a song that one would never normally hear in public, and a song that I last heard... while placing it on a mix I gave to B. Interesting coincidences continue to dot my skyline, like craters on a lunar landscape.
Then last night, I did my final lunge of Christmas shopping -- yes, I finished it all, before December 1. Went to the Hear Music on the 3rd Street Promenade, which is ridiculously overpriced, but they do have great recommendations and the guys who work there know their stuff pretty well. Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams' favorite discs were the Artists Choice feature of the month. Lucinda's choices were disappointing -- a Ryan Adams record, a Ron Sexsmith record, Paul Westerberg's Eventually which I'd suggest is one of the four or five most disappointing discs I've purchased in the last decade, and a Yo La Tengo disc, probably to prove she's hip with the urban intelligentsia.
Steve Earle's choices were a bit more interesting. The Bill Monroe box set. A Buddy Miller disc. And a Peter Rowan bluegrass record that I picked up, based on Steve's recommendation. Thanks, Steve. This almost makes up for the fact that you were gruff and cold to me when I shelled out $23 for your book of short stories at your signing (you didn't even read, man) last year at Tower Records.
After shopping, I met up with Erich for a dinner at Lilly's (pork tenderloin, on a bed of mashed potatoes and spinach, with caramelized onions -- yum), and then we walked over to Hal's for drinks. Good times were had at Hal's. Good times are often had at Hal's. It was a Venice evening; as soon as the over-due payment for completion of a feature rewrite comes in, I hope to begin the apartment search for a new place in Venice or Ocean Park, which will officially commemorate my transition from the 323 to the 310. And which also would seem to be one of the stupidest moves ever from a commute standpoint, going from a 15 minute commute to Burbank and my day job to a 50 minute commute. Good times await!
Then I got pulled over by a friendly cop, who let me off while explaining he could have arrested me for a DUI. Since he pulled me over literally 15 feet from Erich's doorstep, he told me to go into Erich's for an hour to sober up. Which I did, and which turned out to be a treat, as Erich proceeded to play some jazz standards on his gorgeous upright Steinway piano. "Don't Come Around Much Anymore" was played, I do remember that.
Just got home from mass and brunch, and am settling in for an afternoon of work. In the meantime, I was given a nice plug on On His Permanent Record, a new blog dealing with law and culture. The nota bene here is that I went to nursery school and 6th grade with the author, but blogging has given Nick and I a chance to reconnect after all these years. Nick was always ahead of his time, especially in wit: in 6th grade Halloween, he dressed as a flasher. Hey, that's pretty good for a 6th grader. And the last time I actually ran into him -- I think in 9th grade, we were attending rival boys schools -- he was hugely into the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. And that's pretty ahead of the curve for a 9th grader, especially one with no hip older brothers.
Check his blog out: it's smart and well-written. Two qualities very much welcomed (and not in abundance) in the blogging community.
posted by Anon. 1:41 PM