Ladies of the canyon
This afternoon, I caught Laurel Canyon today only a few yards away from where Crescent Heights Blvd becomes Laurel Canyon itself. I had read mixed things about the film, but I really liked it -- from the opening credit sequence's aerial views of the ribbons of Los Angeles freeway interchanges, to the grainy cinematography's capturing the unique light quality of a unique canyon, to the performances, especially Frances McDormand as a 40something record producer involved with the lead singer of the band she's currently producing. McDormand has a great weathered sexuality in the role -- she looks like Sheryl Crow after years of bad vibes and worse relationships.
Alessandro Nivola does a very believable job as the lead singer of the band, and Lou Barlow and Daniel Lanois show up for parts of it. The production design itself is terrific -- little details, like concert posters on the walls and LPs lined up on the walls of the guest room, all feel real.
I usually find myself particularly picky about films set in Los Angeles, but this is the best one I've seen since The Big Lebowski. There isn't enough resolution at the end -- the director clearly had some difficulty in figuring out how to finish things -- but overall, it's a beautifully shot movie with some vivid performances and lovely character studies.
posted by Anon. 6:21 PM
More EC on TV
Tricia writes to remind me that Elvis Costello had broken his sitcom cherry years before ... having appeared on the season finale of Third Rock from the Sun. (And yes, he appeared on Larry Sanders, too, but so did everyone.)
posted by Anon. 6:16 PM
Elvis has left the building
Apparently, Elvis Costello appeared on Frasier last week. I'd say this kinda represents the coming of the apocalypse, but I think the floodgates were thrown open back when Bob Dylan decided to appear on... Dharma and Greg.
posted by Anon. 9:21 AM
The Lanois show at Amoeba was cancelled, due to there being a massive day-long power outage covering much of Hollywood. Alas. I'm not sure anyone told Lanois that, because while I was standing outside waiting to meet my friend who was meeting me there for the concert, Lanois sidled on up, thin and small, wearing a little black ski-cap and a black pull over zipper-sweater. He went in for a little while, signed a few random things -- CDs, and a mixing deck -- and then left with a woman who I assume was a little bit over-the-hill but still cute publicist.
The show is rescheduled for this Sunday, at 2 p.m., at Amoeba.
posted by Anon. 9:18 AM
Walking to me with the Maker
Hitting Amoeba Records tonight at 7 p.m. to see Daniel Lanois do a live performance in support of his brand-new record. Lanois produced or co-produced some of the greatest records of the last 20 years: U2's Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby, All That You Can't Leave Behind; Peter Gabriel's So and Us; Robbie Robertson's first solo record; Bob Dylan's Oh Mercy and Time Out of Mind; Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball; even Luscious Jackson's Fever In Fever Out. (Not that he didn't produce some duds, too: Willie Nelson's Teatro comes to mind, as does the Neville Brothers' Yellow Moon.) He also recorded two inconsistent, but often rewarding solo records, and wrote at least one legitimately great song, "The Maker."
At his best, his music has amazing textures and atmosphere, full of steel guitars and dobros and distant percussion. At his worst, all that atmosphere can choke or lend a coldness to the proceedings. I'll be looking forward to seeing what he's like live. If you're living in LA, you might want to check him out, too.
posted by Anon. 8:10 AM
Let us now praise famous blogs
I'm a firm believer that part of being a member of the blogging community is supporting your other bloggers when they support you. Blogging hits are generally determined by two things: search engines and links from other sites. I often get emails from people saying, hey, check out my blog.
I don't always link to them. I was guilty in the early days of sending out emails to Grade-A bloggers saying, "hey, I love your website, check out mine," in the hopes that they'd link to me and bam, I'd suddenly have new readers. Sometimes, it worked. But because I know that ploy, I'm choosy to link to other blogs unless they seem to have some content and something to say. Well, okay, I'm choosy to link to other blogs unless they praise my blog on a post.
Chris Ingalls' Pressure Drop blog -- taking its name from one of my fifty favorite songs of all time, Toots and the Maytals' classic -- has a kind post about Palmermix today. Thank ye, Chris. Chris' site seems to be a blog about everything, but he does have a recent post about his favorite Desert Island discs. His list:
Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks
A diverse, interesting list! Well done.
Joe Jackson: Look Sharp!
Frank Zappa: The Yellow Shark
Lyle Lovett: Pontiac
They Might Be Giants: Lincoln
Paul Weller: Wild Wood
Hilliard Ensemble featuring Christoph Poppen: Bach - Morimur
Miles Davis: Kind of Blue
The Beautiful South: 0898
Mike Keneally: Wooden Smoke
John Wesley Harding: Here Comes the Groom
Glenn Gould: State of Wonder
Billy Bragg: Talking with the Taxman About Poetry
Graham Parker: Howlin' Wind
Keith Jarrett: Whisper Not
Van Morrison: Astral Weeks
Elvis Costello: Get Happy!!
Warren Zevon: Excitable Boy
The Smiths: Meat is Murder
The Jam: All Mod Cons
First of all, Chris selected my favorite Elvis Costello record. Way to go.
He also picked the often forgotten Graham Parker's Howlin' Wind, a record I received as a gift a few months ago, and which I like quite a bit.
His Bragg choice is an interesting, yet by no means embarrassing one -- Taxman doesn't have the lyrical heft of Back to Basics or the melody and music of Worker's Playtime, but it does have a couple of Billy's greatest songs, especially "The Warmest Room."
I'd like to hear the Weller record; Astral Weeks and Blood on the Tracks are kind of obligatory, I think. Pontiac, featuring "If I Had a Boat," is a favorite of many Lovett fans; I've written here before of how while I think Lyle has written great songs, he's never put together a great whole album -- the closest that comes to that for me is Joshua Judges Ruth or the covers record, Step Inside This House.
The only album which jumps out at me as a so-so choice is the They Might Be Giants record. But that was a band where I felt I was never let in on the joke. They seemed to be a band made for people who don't really like music, people who were members of co-ed literary fraternities in college, people who wear black metal glasses and plaid short-sleeved shirts, people who aren't actually nerds but seek to look like nerds as part of their shtick.
I've been surprised at TMBG's recent resurgence from oblivion, which I credit mainly to their getting new-found street cred from Eggers and the McSweeny's gang. One of TMBG's shticks was their Dial-a-Song thing, which allowed people to call a phone number in Brooklyn and hear a new song every few days. Apparently, song-writing is a snap for the TMBG boys.
But if only being prolific was the standard of greatness -- Joel Schumacher would be revered in the company of John Ford, and Joyce Carol Oates would actually have the Nobel Prize she covets.
posted by Anon. 2:55 PM
All I have to do is dream
Felice Bryant has died. That name might not mean much to you. But she and her husband Boudleaux were one of the greatest songwriting teams in the last forty years of pop music, deserving to be up there with Mort Shuman and Doc Pomus, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David. A glance at Felice's AllMusicGuide entry will point you to some of the great songs she and Boudleaux wrote. The most famous of which were their hits for the Everly Brothers: "Bye Bye Love," "All I Have to Do is Dream," "Wake Up Little Susie," and "Bird Dog." They also wrote the country standard "We Could," which was recently featured on that great John Prine disc of country duets; "Rocky Top," one of the great Tennessee songs; and "Love Hurts," which has been recorded by everyone from Roy Orbison to Gram Parsons to Joan Jett.
in some ways, the Everly Brothers were my entry into loving rock and roll. My earliest music memories aren't the Everlys -- my earliest music memories are my mother playing Sam Cooke or the Ink Spots in the car. But the Everlys came soon after, and I remember making my dad play the Cadence Classics tape whenever he drove me to school, and the Everlys were my second real concert, after the Jacksons bombastic Victory tour. (Nanci Griffith opened up for the Everlys. I remember that.) I loved their harmonies, I loved the acoustic guitars -- to this day, I probably should blame my over-fondness for acoustic music on the Everlys, and I know I owe them my love for classic country music -- and I loved the songs, with their tight structures and smart lyrics. So a tip of the hat to Felice Bryant.
posted by Anon. 12:13 PM
There hasn't been anything recently in the news about progress (or decline) in Pete Townshend's legal battles over child-pornography accusations. So I skipped over to his website and found his most recent entry in his diary, explaining that it's now a waiting game. (That same entry also reprints his statement claiming his innocence of all charges.)
I was having a conversation last night about Townshend's solo work, which in my opinion has dried up in the past ten years. Iron Man was a bore, and Psychoderelict, his concept album exploring virtual reality, was excruciating. What's sad is that before these, Townshend had one of the most consistent solo album outputs this side of Peter Gabriel.
His first solo record, Who Came First, re-released several years ago by Ryko, is terrific, especially "Pure and Easy," easily one of the best songs Pete ever wrote. (Alas! Just checked, and it's out of print again!) Then came his excellent disc with Ronnie Lane of the Faces, Rough Mix. This was followed by Pete's biggest solo success, Empty Glass, featuring "Let My Love Open the Door" and "Rough Boys." (If you never owned this album, you should buy it; it resembles less the bombast of the Who and more the clean layers of Peter Gabriel, minus the world music influences.)
After that came All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, a record featuring some pretentious and ponderours lyrics, but also some of Pete's best music with unbelievably clear and clean production. And, in "Slit Skirts," Pete recorded the best song about being an aging rocker that anyone has yet come up with. (Bruce should take a page from that.) White City, his next, featured some great songs, such as "Brilliant Blues" and "Crashing by Design," and another hit single in "Face the Face." And after that, things started goin' downhill.
Does he have another great album in him? I'm sure that when people were listening to Knocked Out Loaded, coming after Empire Burlesque and some other lousy ones, Dylan fans were thinking he was washed up. And then, ten years later, he delivered works good enough to stand at least within shouting distance of his best. I hope Pete can do the same.
posted by Anon. 9:05 AM
Nina Simone, RIP
Nina Simone has died. I never owned any of her records, but I did like her smoky, textured voice. For some reason, she was an American artist that Eurotrash college students always dug. I never really understood how and why she became the jazz singer of choice for that unique and lambasted clique, but so it was. The only CDs in my collection she appears on include Pete Townshend's Iron Man, his concept album based on the Ted Hughes children's story (which later formed the basis for the fine animated film The Iron Giant) and featuring the voices of John Lee Hooker, Simone, and Roger Daltrey in what I thought was the last actual new studio recording by the Who, but now that I think of it, their cover of Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" from that Two Rooms tribute record is even more recent.
Anyway, the other CD in my selection where Simone appears is the excellent soundtrack to the Bernardo Bertolucci movie Stealing Beauty, a soundtrack that far exceeds its superficial, if beautiful, trifle of a movie. Its Simone's calling card song, her version of "My Baby Just Cares for Me," and there it is, alongside Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," a Liz Phair song, Portishead, Hooverphonic, and Billie Holliday. I'll dig it out today and listen to it. You can find it here.
But read Simone's obituary. She's more interesting for her political stances, I think, than for her actual music.
posted by Anon. 7:41 AM
Bruce supports the Chicks
Here's some good morning reading: Bruce Springsteen has posted to his site a letter supporting the Dixie Chicks and condemning the censorship that's been going on at Clear Channel over their songs, following Natalie Maines' comment at a British concert that she's embarrassed about her fellow Texan G.W. Bush.
The Dixie Chicks have taken a big hit lately for exercising their basic right to express themselves. To me, they're terrific American artists expressing American values by using their American right to free speech. For them to be banished wholesale from radio stations, and even entire radio networks, for speaking out is un-American. Way to go, Bruce.
posted by Anon. 7:23 AM
A Mighty Wind, reviewed
Saw A Mighty Wind this afternoon with co-workers. My reaction is mixed. On the one hand, it's just not funny enough -- not as funny as Guffman or Best in Show, and I was never an enormous fan of either of those, preferring parts of them to the wholes. (For example, Fred Willard in Best in Show.) A few people consistently deliver -- Harry Shearer is terrific, Jane Lynch is great (and underused), and Fred Willard is very, very funny. But overall, just not enough yuks.
On the other hand, Christopher Guest and co. have done a terrific job in capturing and lampooning the folk revival culture. Everything from Guest sporting Tom Paxton's haircut to Shearer sporting Greg Brown's facial hair, to the send-up of the New Christy Minstrels. And Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy do a great semi-send-up of Mimi and Richard Farina (even if Levy's hair resembles old Dylan manager Albert Grossman). In a strange way, it's a film that I think will appeal most to those with a familiarity of that period of music, who can get the references. And in that way, it's enjoyable.
posted by Anon. 8:04 PM
Kentucky woman she shines with her own kind of soul
I've finalized plans to travel to Louisville next week -- we're done with the season this week, and I wanted to get a few days away from LA before doing meetings in May (since my fate is still up in the air). So I'm heading out to Louisville, Kentucky a week from tomorrow. Why? The Derby? Well, that does sound like a good reason to go to Kentucky, but really it's because a good friend and his wife live there. I haven't been to Louisville since I did a big trip around the South right after college. I had a great time in Kentucky -- I was dating a woman originally from a town 40 miles south of Louisville at the time, and, as I usually find, your experience in a foreign land (which for this West Coast native was essentially what the South is) is greatly improved by a seasoned guide.
This time, I'll be staying in the city. The friend I'm staying with is a folksinger masquerading as a philosophy professor by day. He's also an even bigger Dylan fan than I (meaning he can make apologies for Street Legal where I cannot), and, lo and behold, there's a Dylan concert that Wednesday night. I've been looking at the setlists for recent Dylan shows on BD's website.
On the one hand, he's playing some of my favorite songs -- stuff like Tonight I'll Be Staying Here with You. On the other hand, the shows seem very short and brief -- 14 or 15 songs including encores, which even if some of those 14 and 15 songs are long ones -- and he has been playing Desolation Row frequently lately -- still makes for a show that's barely 90 minutes. Ah, well. I haven't seen Dylan live since seeing him at L.A.'s Greek Theatre when I was 14. Those were the days when he was playing with G.E. Smith of the SNL band. I hear he's been playing much better the last couple years, complementing his artistic revival with the one-two punch of Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft. Glad to hear it. I'll be glad to hear it in a week, too.
posted by Anon. 1:13 PM
I've got Leonard Cohen Live in my car, as well as the second-most recent White Stripes record (figured I'd try to give it another shot -- like it more than before, but it's still all mood and no songs, to my ear, anyway) and Bringing It All Back Home and one of this year's Palmermix Year in Review discs. Let's hear it for six disc changers!
The LC song I can't get out of my system is "Heart With No Companion," which is one of my favorite things LC ever recorded/wrote, up there with "There Is a War," "So Long Marianne," and, I dunno, "Everybody Knows." It has a great, jaunty rhythm, at odds with the song's lyrics. Ron Sexsmith did a lovely cover of it for his first, eponymous record; I recommend hearing that, too.
Then tonight, I put on some Tom Waits. Which has lately been my record of choice for background noise for late night conversations, both when I had a friend in town last weekend and tonight when I had company. "The Heart of Saturday Night," "Shiver Me Timbers," but most of all, "Please Call Me Baby" -- so good.
It's strange to me that Waits has never gotten the box set treatment -- he's an artist who would be well served by a four disc set, and my gut thought is that his being affiliated with several different labels over the years would make the licensing and rights arrangements to be horrific for a box set. (Joni Mitchell has no box set, either, now that I think of it. She and Waits kinda have had similar careers and trajectories.) With the spare instrumentation -- a piano, a guitar, maybe a little bit of sax -- there's just a very comfy shoe feel to the Waits records, especially those from the 70s before he fell into the avant garde. I might pick up some more from that period, soon.
posted by Anon. 10:47 PM