Little Broken Hearts

Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts

What is it about breakup albums that inspires artists to reach their greatest artistic achievements? From Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, or more recent examples like Spiritualized’s Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space or Adele’s 21, the history of popular music is filled with singer/songwriters who reach their greatest creative heights when they are at their worst emotional lows. With Little Broken Hearts, we can now add Norah Jones to that list.

Jones has spent the past several years trying to branch out from the jazz/pop/country/folk hybrid sound that made her both a star and a millionaire. From her art project/joke band El Madmo to her collaborations with Outkast, Belle And Sebastian, Q-Tip, and Foo Fighters, she’s shown that there aren’t too many genre’s she’s not interested in. Her last album, The Fall, steered her artistic course in a much more pop oriented direction. And on her newest record, producer/collaborator/co-writer Brian Burton (aka Dangermouse) has guided her further down that path and helped her create the best album of her career. Lyrically, the album is filled with the kind of regret, sorrow, confusion, longing and bitterness that generally accompanies failed romances and infidelity. Several of the songs talk about moving on, but in a way that you know there is a whole lot of baggage going along on the journey. Highlights include “Take It Back,” “Good Morning,” and “Miriam,” a straight up murder ballad made even more creepy by the fact that it’s sung in such a honey sweet voice. It’s definitely a late night, turn off the lights and drink away your sorrows kind of album.



The Wedding Present - Valentina

David Gedge is one of my all-time favorite songwriters. The way the guy can turn a phrase would make most indie screenwriters green with envy, and his skewed take on (mostly failed) relationships has made for a catalog filled to the brim with brilliant pop gems. So it’s a bit disappointing that this album just isn’t grabbing me. Sonically The Wedding Present seem to be aiming for the kind of sparse production that Steve Albini provided for their seminal 1991 album Sea Monsters, but the songs simply don’t have the hooks that we’ve become accustomed to. It’s like when you make one of your favorite dishes but it doesn’t turn out right… all the ingredients are the same, you prepare it the same way you always do, but when it comes out of the oven it’s just not good as it usually is. Whether that’s the result of the band’s lineup changes (apart from Gedge, the entire roster has turned over since their last album, 2008’s El Rey ), or it’s just the kind of inevitable down cycle that comes during a 27 year career, I’m having to file Valentina under D for disappointment.


All Together Now

All For The Hall
Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

There are some concerts you go to that simply couldn’t happen anywhere else. Keith Urban and Vince Gill’s annual “All For the Hall” benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame is definitely one of those “only in Nashville” kind of events. They’ve become a kind of annual tradition for my wife and I. She has been to all three of the events, and while last year was my first, it’s turned into a show that I wouldn’t miss. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a huge country fan, but I’m definitely well versed enough to appreciate the history and reverence that these concerts promote. But you don’t have to be a music nerd to enjoy it. With a dozen plus acts and a pre-Ticketmaster ripoff… err, fees price of $35, the entertainment value would be a bargain at twice the price.

The theme of this year’s concert was “All Together Now,” and the advertised lineup featured all duos and groups. The mix of old(er) and new groups meant that there was no need for last year’s hook, when each performer did one of their own songs and then followed up with a cover from a hall of famer that they admired. There was plenty of history just with each performer doing two of their own songs. As usual, Urban kicked off the show with a brief set from his band, and then Gill took the mic and paid tribute to the groups concept of the evening by playing “Amie” from his Pure Prairie League days, and then gave a plug.

The newer groups on the bill were represented by Thompson Square, Little Big Town, The Band Perry, and Rascall Flatts, and though all were well received, they were definitely outshined by Lady Antebellum and Pistol Annies. In general though, the “old timers” got the biggest applause of the night. Diamond Rio were the first out of the gate, and though their set was well received, they simply got blown out of the water when the Oak Ridge Boys took the stage. You wouldn’t have expected four guys who are pushing 70 (William Lee Golden actually past that birthday three years ago) to have brought so much energy to the stage. Simply put, they killed with “Elvira” and “Bobbie Sue.” Alabama went in the exact opposite direction energy wise, though their “unplugged” style takes on “Feels So Right” and “Lady Down on Love” were every bit as magical. Their harmonies sounded amazing.

Two of the advertised groups, Exile and Allison Kraus and Union Stations, were no shows, but in their place we got two special guests that more than made up for it. Midway through the show Don Williams came out to do “Imagine That” and “Tulsa Time.” But the hands down highlight of the evening was when Keith and crew brought out Merle Haggard. Being that he is The Hag, his set wasn't constrained to just two songs, and after tearing through "I'll Just Stay Here And Drink," "Today I Started Loving You Again," and "Working Man Blues," Urban staged a one man encore chant, and Haggard obliged with "Silver Wings."

The night ended on an odd note when all the performers returned to the stage for a ramshackle cover of The Beatle's "I Saw Her Standing There." Being that it was a benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame, closing with a Brittish Invasion rock and roll hit seemed peculiar, but it captured the spirit of fun that these concerts are all about.

photo by Tonya Peacock


More Juice

Epic Ditch – 36 Hour EP

For their recond release, Nashville’s skate rock super group Epic Ditch have managed to dial up both their punk and pop elements. Opener “More Juice” is probably the most intense song they have released to date, and closer “Resistance Is Victory” isn’t too far behind. But in between those two hardcore jams, they are also covering the poppier terrain that brought the band leaders to prominence in the first place. Like on their first EP, Stewart Pack’s contributions tend to be a bit more melodic, but Superdrag fans who have been dismayed by John Davis’ straight up hardcore songs with this outfit will probably be pleased with “Unexploded Ordinance,” which is undoubtedly the catchiest song the band had released to date. You can stream the EP in it’s entirety on Bandcamp.

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Let's Go Eat The Factory

Guided By Voices - Let's Go Eat the Factory

Christmas came early for indie rock fans last year when Robert Pollard announced that after a year plus of reunion touring, the “classic” lineup for Guided By Voices had recorded a new album. And even though we had to wait until January to get our hands on it, I’m sure there more than a few hardcore fans that were as giddy as a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for old Saint Nick to arrive. The results are worth the wait. It’s easily one of the best albums Pollard has released since the classic GBV’s last album together, 1997’s Under the Bushes Under the Stars.

I’ve read descriptions of Let’s Go Eat The Factory that describe it as “every bit a classic GBV record,” and that it harkens back to their Bee Thousand/Alien Lanes days. I think that anyone who describes it like that is getting more caught up in the moment than they are being honest. To me, it sounds like they are picking up where the left off after the classic lineup’s contributions to Mag Earwhig!, with their hints of synthesizers and increased production quality, even by lo-fi standards. The ensuing years Pollard spent developing his craft and improving his songwriting also shows. The songs are generally more developed than they were during the band’s early days, and 30 second song fragments that used to litter their albums are in short supply. Luckily, the hooks are still abundant.

One of my biggest problems with Pollard’s post GBV solo output is that he had outsourced large parts of the creative process. He would basically have his collaborators create music and then he’d put lyrics and melodies over the top of them. Bob called it “delegating” in a recent interview, but I always just kind of viewed it as laziness, and I think the music suffered for it (with some notable exceptions; the albums he did this way with Tobin Sprout and Doug Gillard were every bit as good as their band collaborations). So for me the most welcome thing on this album is the return of Robert Pollard the guitar player. I think that, more so than the return of Toby, Mitch, Kevin and Greg (as well as Pollard’s brother Jim) is what really makes this sound like an old school GBV record.


Kisses On The Bottom

Paul McCartney - Kisses On The Bottom

OK, first things first. The album title. It's terrible. I'm sure Paul liked the cheekiness of it (pun intended), but he really should have thought better. In theory, it's a line from the album's opener "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter," but here's the thing; I've probably heard a couple of dozen versions of that song, and I've always heard it sung "kisses AT the bottom," so it's not even the right line. But I digress...

I’ll admit that despite being a fan of both McCartney (definitely my favorite Beatle) and what’s known as “The Great American Songbook,” I was only marginally interested in checking this album out when I first heard about it. For the last few years it seems like the CD section of your favorite discount store is littered with albums of aging rockers doing their interpretations of old standards. But my interest level shot up about one hundred percent when I learned that Macca had Diana Krall and her band backing him up on the project. Rather than the kind of milquetoast orchestral schmaltz that Rod Stewart has been releasing for the past decade, McCartney and company turn in an understated and elegant set of overlooked classics. While a handful of the songs do have orchestral arrangements, most of the record is just McCartney singing with Krall’s quartet. A few of the songs are hardly obscure, but he mostly stays away from the obvious choices, which makes the album seem a lot fresher than similar projects from other artists. And it’s a testament to his continued skill as a songwriter that unless you’re looking at the credits, you’d be hard pressed to pick out the two new originals (“My Valentine” and “Only Our Hearts”) from the songs that are older than he is (the deluxe edition of the album also includes a new take on “Baby’s Request” from the final Wings’ album, Back To The Egg).

It’s almost surprising that it took Paul so long to make an album like this. From the beginning of his career he’s written songs in this kind of style, so a project like this almost seemed inevitable. But the results were definitely worth the wait. It’s probably the most engaging solo album he’s made since he teamed up with Krall’s husband, one
Declan McManus, for 1989’s Flowers In The Dirt.


2012 Grammy Awards Live Blog

I've made a last minute decision to live blog the 2012 Grammy Awards, since the slate of performers actually looks watchable this year, and I don't have anything better to do. So with five minutes to go, I'll grab a drink, and we'll get started.

7:03 - Dear all country stars, please learn from The Boss how to write a pro-America song without sounding jingoistic. Springsteen... never not awesome.

7:06 - My wife... "LL Cool J looks like a ninja turtle."

7:12 - Bruno Mars - Prince would be proud.

7:24 - Every single performer nominated against Adele tonight has to know that they really don't have a shot in hell.

7:36 - Way to be unpredictable with the Rap award Grammy voters.

7:39 - Kelly Clarkson wins the award for least flattering dress. She sounds great though. She could easily have a country career if she wanted.

7:48 - Playing drums for the Foo Fighters is my dream job.

8:02 - I know that Coldplay wants to do everything that U2 has done, but they should have let them have the Rhianna collaboration. Common denominator... both of them sucked.

8:06 - Is it just me, or does Coldplay's bassist kinda look like Adam Levine?

8:25 - Fun fact (for me anyway); I saw The Beach Boys in 1985. It was awesome. I'm not sure I'd bet on Brian to make it through this reunion.

8:34 - The new Paul McCartney album is surprisingly awesome. I'll have a review up on Tuesday.

8:45 - Dear Taylor, the whole "Wow, I cant believe people are clapping for me" face is getting old.

8:56 - Just when you think Katy Perry's costumes cant get any more ridiculous...

9:07 - The only thing bigger than Adele's voice are her eyelashes.

9:22 - This Glen Campbell tribute started off great, and has gotten progressively worse, at least as far as the songs go.

9:38 - Best way to improve award shows? Quit letting the presidents of the organizations talk.

9:45 - Since the whole Whitney Houston tribute was inevitable, that was actually fairly understated and bearable.

9:58 - Dance music might be fun to experience live, but it's not very compelling television.

10:10 - Nicki Minaj was hands down the weirdest performance I've ever seen on an awards show.

10:20 - Poor Lady Gaga... all dressed up and no one cares.

10:30 - That finale was awesome. I figured there would be a medley, but to get THAT medley was pretty badass.

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