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Gig thoughts – 10/29/08 – MarVell, Durham, NC
October 30th, 2008 under blog. [ Comments: 1 ]

Setlist: Lady Pilot, The Storm, Abused’s Song, August, 10K, Matte Kudasai, Travelers Merchants & Masters, Hanging Up the Dream, Snow, Surrounded By Trees, She Waits By the Sea

August was debuted.

I had a few nerves earlier in the evening before I headed out and also a bit on the way there. Once we set up and waited around to start, I was fine. Not a single nerve for this show! HOORAY! It was like, no pressure whatsoever. Just get up there and play. Extremely sparse audience…I only saw 5 people total, not including the bands (Yohimbe & Durham Ukulele Orchestra). Matt the hopeful drummer showed up. He said he really liked it and had lots of ideas for the songs. For the most part I think I played pretty well, maybe better than I ever have in this group. Of course I made some massive clams and I had some big troubles with Matte (but I heard the chick from Yohimbe say at the end of the song how beautiful it was), but overall I think I played well. Some songs, hell yeah, were spot-on. A few lyrical mess ups from Jenn and a couple of chordal mess ups as well, but mostly she sounded good. She said afterward that she couldn’t hear herself too well, but from my end of the stage everything sounded good.  I especially loved the perfect telepathy between us in the improv section of Lady Pilot.  That was sweet.  The sound in club was quite cavernous, but that’s expected with such a low turn out. Where were our friends? I don’t know.  I *hope* it’s just MarVell and they’ll come out to the Cave show. The “trilogy” went pretty well. We haven’t quite got the transition from Abused’s > August, but I know it’ll come. Having a drummer will certainly help out. Uh, yeah – for the most part I was happy. I’m thoroughly glad the nervousness has gone and now I feel like I should. I was pretty happy while playing and happy overall.

Van Halen – Van Halen
October 20th, 2008 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]

Released: 1978
Tracks: Runnin’ With the Devil; Eruption; You Really Got Me; Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love; I’m the One; Jamie’s Cryin’; Atomic Punk; Feel Your Love Tonight; Little Dreamer; Ice Cream Man; On Fire
Best track: Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, I’m the One or Ice Cream Man. Or On Fire…or Running With the Devil…
Track to skip: Little Dreamer is decent, but it’s clearly the weakest of the bunch

Running With the Devil is an astounding way to start off a band’s recorded existence. Eddie Van Halen’s tone is simply kick ass and the song makes a great a statement to the world about this band. I really just had my ass kicked by this album. Growing up in the 80’s, this album was inescapable if you were alive and now, in 2008, this 30-year-old album is pretty much one of the Holy Books of Rock. One of my goals in these reviews is to reassess these so-called “classic” albums and try to listen to them without the hype and just see how they measure up. Why is it that tonight was the first time I’ve ever truly appreciated the absolute power of this album? I listened to it a lot growing up and I certainly liked it, but I never truly thought it was as great as it is for me right now. I didn’t get to experience it as a NEW album, it was just one of the many VH albums that existed when I first started hearing the band around ’84 (8 year old for me) and there were already hundreds of copy cat bands out there that probably diluted the band for me. I have noticed that the more I’ve listened to it in recent years I’ve developed a bigger appreciation for it. And tonight? It destroyed me.

There are a lot of great things about this album – the guitar playing, the attitude that permeates throughout, the high-flying vocals, the monstrous riffs, the eclecticism, the bare-bones production. OK, I love how raw the production is, how REAL it sounds, and how every band after this (including VH) tried to get an album to sound this good…and they never succeeded. I’m not saying this is the best-sounding album ever. It’s not. It is, however, distinctive and raw and it comes at you like punch in the face. This is a great headphone album, just to get the full appreciation of it.

Awright, I want to talk about the songs. I noted the eclecticism of this album. It’s certainly a heavy metal album and I love how they cover The Kinks’ You Really Got Me, a song that was perhaps the first heavy metal song. The metal is here (Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, Atomic Punk, Runnin’ With the Devil), but you also get the bebop-on-steroids I’m the One, I Cream Man’s redefining of the “blues”, the groove of Jamie’s Cryin’ and the Beach Boys-influenced harmonies on Feel Your Love Tonight. They simultaneously created boundaries and pushed the already existing boundaries for heavy metal. It’s pretty impressive, to be honest. Man, I mean, just listen to Eddie Van Halen’s guitar playing in I’m the One. Phenomenal. What else can I say? This is truly a ground-breaking album and one of the greatest rock debuts in history. I know that sounds incredibly lame to say, not to mention clichéd, but it’s true. Van Halen I rocks and there’s no other way to say it.

Rating: 95

Adrian Belew – Lone Rhino
October 20th, 2008 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]

Released: 1982
Tracks: Big Electric Cat; The Momur; Stop It; The Man in the Moon; Naive Guitar; Hot Sun; The Lone Rhinoceros; Swingline; Adidas in Heat; Animal Grace; The Final Rhino
Best track: Lone Rhinoceros
Track to skip: Animal Grace has cool sounds, but isn’t a very good “song”

Lone Rhino is Adrian Belew’s first solo album, coming off of the heels of his work on King Crimson’s Discipline & Talking Heads’ Remain in Light…not to mention his work in the late 70’s with David Bowie & Frank Zappa. All 4 of those groups definitely exert a strong influence on Belew’s work (The Beatles too, of course), but in the end it’s unmistakably Belew’s sound. I love that his voice on guitar is completely intact here and from the first note you know who it is. Of course, I’m looking back with hindsight, but his distinctive tone is there right from the beginning.

I like how Belew’s not afraid to present both very serious & ultra absurd songs on this album. Both are important parts of his songwriting. For the serious songs we have The Man in the Moon (written about his father) & The Lone Rhinoceros, an “animal hugger” song dealing with the treatment of the Rhino. Lone Rhinoceros is clearly the best song on here and I honestly think it’s one of the most important and thought-provoking songs he’s ever written. I especially love the sequencing that goes from two excellent instrumentals, Naive Guitar & Hot Sun, into Lone Rhinoceros. This chunk in the middle is definitely the best part of the album. The bookends are where the goofy songs are found. The Momur is an extremely fun romp of a song, while Adidas in Heat is a VERY Zappa-influenced tune and a definite feast for the ears. The Final Rhino closes out the album in a duet with Belew and his 4 year old daughter.

Belew’s guitar work and slightly-odd compositions are the focal points of this debut. There is some very cool guitar playing here, even if the actual tones are pretty out-dated. Overall I think it’s a fun album and a good start for Adrian Belew, but it’s certainly not his best work. Songs like Swingline and especially Animal Grace drag it down a bit. You can definitely see that the creativity is there, but he just needed some more practice at composing before he consistently hits it out the park. Both this and his second album, Twang Bar King, have been re-released individually, as well as a two-fer with both albums on one CD. This is what I bought and I think it’s pretty cool this way.

Rating: 81

An Introduction to Square One
October 6th, 2008 under blog. [ Comments: 1 ]

I mentioned this in the Protean Mean blog, but a few weeks ago Jenn & I were discussing the idea of structuring our free time in a better way.  Maybe toying with the idea of a set schedule in which to get the stuff done that we “need” to do.  I tried to adhere to a schedule a few years ago…it obviously didn’t work.  Ideally I’d love to have set time to do all of the various things I like to do (album reviews, regular website work, recording, writing new songs, practicing guitar/bass/piano/vocals/lap steel, etc.).  Unfortunately, I’m horrible at time management; I always have been, and it’s a very difficult habit to break.  So in our conversation I mentioned to Jenn that the idea of my “solo album” is always in the back of my head, and more importantly has been in the forefront of my thoughts since I finished the Protean Mean demo a couple of months ago.  We talked about the need for such a thing as a “James Solo Album” and even though I’m sometimes reluctant, Jenn encouraged me to finish and get it out there.  Introduce it to the world.  She’s right in that it would be great sense of accomplishment for me.  I also agree with her that even though some of the songs are repeats from the current PM song list, there are enough differences in those original versions that it would make for an interesting comparison and would present them in a different way.

I appreciate her views on this, because what she said has definitely grounded me and made me realize that not only do I NEED to finish the album, I WANT to finish the album.

Tonight I was looking through various word documents on my computer and eventually landed on the tracklisting for the album.  I looked at it and thought about it for a while, around 15 minutes, and had the idea of, YES, I should spend my evening practice time running straight through the album.  I haven’t played through the whole thing in a year or so and it was a lot of fun going through all of the songs.  I had written out the possible tracklist, but I was unsure on a couple of songs.  Well, you’ll be happy to know I have officially settled on a final tracklist and I really like how the whole thing flows together.

So here we go – I’m really going to finish the thing.  I’ve determined that it’s what I want to do right now.  It’s been “in production” for far too long and it desires to be completed.  If you’re any sort of a regular reader to this blog, you’ll remember how I was going to finish at various times back a few years ago.  I think my first “official” finish date was August 1st, 2005.  Yeah, THAT LONG AGO.  Various dates have come and gone and my most recent thought, at the beginning of the year, was that I’d finish it before the election.  Well, we have 30 days until Maverick or Goose becomes our leader and I know that realistically I won’t finish it before November 4th.  No big deal.  My promise is that I will finish it and it’s now re-become my top creative priority.  I really don’t have that far to go, a few bass tracks, drum programming, vocals then mixing…and I’ll be done.  It’s a tall order, but it’s time.

So, in anticipation of that moment when you can download it here, I present the final tracklist to my first solo album, Square One (times are current estimations, final times will vary slightly):

  1. 10K [3:16]
  2. (The Last Romantic) Part 2 [4:49]
  3. The Big Yellow Bastard [3:20]
  4. KC [5:37]
  5. Travelers, Merchants & Masters [4:10]
  6. M.E. [7:14]
  7. Big Red Bus [6:02]
  8. Mine [4:55]
  9. Larry [2:44]
  10. Niagara on the Pacific [3:29]
  11. Rings [3:40}

Total Time ~50 minutes

You heard it here first.  I’ll let ya know when it’s done.

NP: Bryan Beller – Thanks in Advance (a fellow bassist’s solo album, his second, and I’ve been devouring it constantly for the past few days.  Great stuff)

U2 – The Joshua Tree
October 5th, 2008 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]

Released: 1987
Tracks: Where the Streets Have No Name; I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For; With or Without You; Bullet the Blue Sky; Running to Stand Still; Red Hill Mining Town; In God’s Country; Trip Through Your Wires; One Tree Hill; Exit; Mothers of the Disappeared
Best track: Bullet the Blue Sky or Where the Streets Have No Name
Track to skip: none

I’ve noticed that some of the hardest albums to review are ones that everyone is so intimately familiar with – things like this album, Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt. Pepper’s, Kind of Blue, etc. Does Joshua Tree belong in the conversation with those three? Sure, why not? Like those mentioned, it’s usually the first point of entry for a certain band and probably the most popular (White Album/Abbey Road thoughts withstanding). I think it’s safe to say that U2 won’t make another album that’s as universally popular as this one. There’s at least 5 hit singles here and a few more that most everyone else could name as well. U2 were certainly popular before this album, but this one completely shot them through the roof and made them one of the biggest bands of the 80’s. Generally speaking, when you have 5 songs from an album all become massive hits, it’s a good indication of the quality of the album as a whole. That’s where it comes into focus for me, because Joshua Tree isn’t about “hits” or a certain song that I love; it’s a *very* cohesive album. Front to back it’s solid.

I don’t need to spend a lot of time talking about Where the Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With or Without You, Bullet the Blue Sky and In God’s Country…but what the hell. Yeah, they’re still heard on the radio all of the time and they’re all great songs. 20 years later and they have only gotten better. For me, Bullet the Blue Sky is probably the best song here, featuring some excellent slide guitar work from The Edge. It has a great mood to it, slightly creepy and a little bit on edge. I’m also especially fond of the album opener with its mellow beginning before it explodes into the song proper. It’s the perfect opening for this album. For With or Without You, probably the biggest single on the album, they really perfected that “orgasmic” thing they do so often. Repeat the same riff over and over…and somehow it never gets old, and when it hits the crescendo…bam, you’re right there with it. I think they’ve mastered this technique over the years.

Man, this is a GREAT headphone album. Daniel Lanois & Brian Eno’s production is excellent throughout and they play as important of a role as the band does. Eno’s use of keyboards on this album is just brilliant. There’s a major ethereal quality to these songs and to the album as a whole. I know that comes from Lanois & Eno’s production. Listening with headphones gives you the opportunity to hear all the various layers of sound on the album, specifically The Edge’s sonic contributions. As great as Bono is on here (and yes, this is his best vocal performance on record), The Edge completely steals the show.

The non-hit songs are all good songs as well, and that certainly helps the overall quality of the album. I really love the juxtaposition between Bullet the Blue Sky and Running to Stand Still. Such a great shift in mood and a great change in the use of slide guitar. Yeah, I’ll admit that I do love the first half of the album more than the second half. Not by much, though. The first 9 songs are all pretty easy to digest, while the last two, Exit & Mothers of the Disappeared, are the ones where the band really pushes things. They’re pretty experimental in a way and they almost exist outside of this album, if such is possible. I guess it’s that they’re so different that you might almost not even realize they’re there. I’ll be honest, I don’t like them as much as the other 9, but they’re still really interesting songs and reward the listener with active listening. To me Mothers of the Disappeared doesn’t necessarily wrap up the album in a nice and tidy way, but maybe the album isn’t supposed to have that kind of resolve. I think One Tree Hill provides that resolve and the last two tracks are there for those willing to delve into them. Regardless, The Joshua Tree is a stellar album and probably the best album U2’s ever made. Avoid the “hits” compilations and go straight for the real thing, it’s more than worth it.

Rating: 95

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble – Texas Flood
October 5th, 2008 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]

Released: 1983
Tracks: Love Struck Baby; Pride and Joy; Texas Flood; Tell Me; Testify; Rude Mood; Mary Had a Little Lamb; Dirty Pool; I’m Cryin’; Lenny; [reissue bonus tracks] SRV Speaks; Tin Pan Alley (aka Roughest Place in Town); Testify (Live); Mary Had a Little Lamb (Live); Wham! (Live)
Best track: either Testify or Lenny
Tracks to skip: SRV Speaks, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Tin Pan Alley

The first time I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan’s music he was playing on the Tonight Show; I had to have been somewhere around 9 or 10. I remember really liking it and unfortunately I didn’t come across his music again until a few years later when he died in 1990. I remember listening to the radio the next morning and hearing the announcement and remembering him from that one time on the Tonight Show. The station played his music endlessly that day and it really sunk in for me how great of a musician he was and what a major loss his death was. 4 years later I started college in Austin and it’s like he never left – you can hear his music all day long on many radio stations or hang out by his memorial statue at Auditorium Shores. He still casts a HUGE shadow over that town and his influence can be heard in every guitar player there. Living in the “SRV Epicenter” for 7 years was a pretty cool experience for me.

Since I came into this whole thing late, it’s been harder for me to identify him with individual albums; it was always everything together for me. So, it’s interesting to go back and listen to these albums as individual statements and delve into them that way. I think “Texas Flood” is a perfect name for this album, the introduction to the world outside of Texas to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. You can clearly hear where SRV came from in players like Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix and especially Albert King, but he managed to always have his own identifiable sound. You can hear one note and know it’s Stevie Ray Vaughan. I love the statement this album makes, it’s a very direct and “you have no choice but deal with it” kind of statement. A very commanding statement.

Love Struck Baby is a good song, but a slightly tame opening before Pride and Joy hits with the full knock-down tone of Stevie’s guitar. Pride and Joy is probably the band’s most famous track and one that still holds up 25 years later. Texas Flood is a tremendous song that shows the band tackling the slower material and making it shine. My favorite song from side 1, and maybe for the whole album, is the first of three instrumentals, Testify. Talk about ruthless guitar playing…wow. The song is fast, furious and so thoroughly kicks your ass that you can’t possibly think about getting a break before Rude Mood comes and knocks you down again. Back-to-back, these two songs feature some absolutely punishing guitar work from SRV.

The rest of side two is pretty solid, but I’m not a huge fan of Mary Had a Little Lamb. The song has a nice groove to it, but the nursery-rhyme lyrics really turn me off. I usually end up skipping the track because it doesn’t give me too much that I like to hear more than once. The album proper closes with Lenny, a song Stevie wrote for his wife. It’s a gorgeous and mellow song and even though they didn’t come out too often, you get the feeling that he could write stuff like this and Riviera Paradise all day. Lenny is a great composition and it returns to the theme at the right time, every time. It’s such a well-written song. The rest of the album features 5 bonus tracks: an excerpt of Stevie speaking about where his playing comes from, an outtake from the sessions, Tin Pan Alley, & 3 live tracks. “SRV Speaks” is pretty useless and I dislike its inclusion here. Tin Pan Alley…eh, I like that he was attempting the “ultra-slow blues” with this one, but it just doesn’t work as a composition for me. The live tracks that end the disc are excellent and I wonder why the full show hasn’t been released. You get a version of Testify (holy crap!), a much better version of Mary Had a Little Lamb & the show’s closer, Wham!, a track that wouldn’t see a release until the posthumous The Sky is Crying in 1991. These 3 tracks just go to show how even more powerful this group was in a live setting.

I really love the sound of this album, it’s really “bare bones”. There are no overdubs here, just bass, drums, guitar and vocals – exactly as you’d hear them live. Both Tommy Shannon (bass) & Chris Layton (drums) are great throughout this album, but I have to point out Tommy Shannon’s bass tone here is especially thick and excellent. You know, this is a great debut. There are some iffy tracks, but overall it’s solid. You get a strong sense of power from this album and you know more great things would come from this guy. I absolutely love the guitar playing on this album; it’s just astounding how good he is.

Rating: 92


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