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The Dead Weather: So Much More than Jack White’s Other Other Band July 17, 2009

HorehoundEver since March, when word got out that Jack White had formed a new band called The Dead Weather, I’d been anxiously awaiting the release of their debut album, Horehound.  Around that time I had started regarding Mr. White as the savior of high-quality rock and roll in this era of overall musical mediocrity, so naturally my expectations were high from the start.  Now that I’ve finally gotten Horehound and have listened to it, I am amazed to say that the album has exceeded those already astronomical expectations.  I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive when I looked through the insert before putting on the CD (as I’ve mentioned before, the pre-listen glance through the insert is a new-CD ritual for me) and upon skimming the lyrics realized that pretty much all the songs (with the exception of “3 Birds”, which has no lyrics) have similar subject matter:  almost all the songs seem to be about someone in a mutually abusive, destructive, and/or sadomasochistic relationship.  I wondered if The Dead Weather’s music would be interesting enough to carry a common theme without sounding monotonous.  After listening to their album a couple of times, I can confidently say that they’ve succeeded.

There was a time when I referred to The Dead Weather as “Jack White’s new band.”  I have since seen the error of my ways, as this description doesn’t do the band justice.  Perhaps the biggest surprise I came across whilst listening to Horehound is that Jack White, much as I revere him and his seemingly boundless talent, is not the most impressive part of The Dead Weather.  Don’t get me wrong, his drumming is fantastic, and not just for a guy who’s mainly recognized as a guitarist.  It’s just that, on the few opportunities that White gets to provide lead vocals (with the exception of “Will There Be Enough Water?”), he comes off as…well…kind of annoying.  I’m not saying that his vocal itself is annoying; I’ve always been a fan of White’s voice and one album isn’t going to change that.  But “I Cut Like a Buffalo,” on which White provides lead vocals throughout, could have been a pretty good song if it didn’t feature the sound of simulated choking, which is at best unnecessary, and at worst downright disturbing.  Then there’s “Treat Me Like Your Mother” and “Rocking Horse,” on which lead vocals alternate between White and Mosshart.  In the former, the verses sung by Mosshart alone are great, and the part where she and White simultaneously spell “M-A-N-I-P-U-late” is pretty good, but the “Who’s got it figured out?” rap segments of the song, performed primarily by White, are less than extraordinary.  As for the latter, the only real problem I have with that one is the very fact that the lead vocals do alternate, and a bit too frequently (in the first couple of verses, the vocals are swapped every two or three lines).  I honestly think the song would sound much better if only one of the two members provided the lead vocals, or at least alternated every verse instead of every few lines.  But hey, that’s just me.

No, the member of the band who steals the show – quite possibly the only person who could ever upstage Jack White…well, short of Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn, or Mick Jagger – is Alison Mosshart, hands down.  Her vocals – which sound like the love-child of Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison – suit the band’s dark and heavy blues-rock sound perfectly.  At times, the band even sounds like a modern, female-fronted equivalent of The Doors.  This is especially true for the songs “So Far from Your Weapon” and “No Hassle Night.”  In my humble opinion, the former is the best song on the album, with the slowly building music and threatening lyric (sample:  “There’s a bullet in my pocket burnin’ a hole. / You’re so far from your weapon and the place you were born.”) meshing perfectly with Mosshart’s low, seductive lead vocal, which is complemented perfectly in a call-and-response between her and all three of the other members.  Another high point on the album is the opening track, “60 Feet Tall,” in which Mosshart confidently wails to a lover who’s “cruel and shameless…cold and dangerous” that she’s up for the challenge:  “I can take the trouble, / I’m 60 feet tall!”  The album’s closing track, “Will There Be Enough Water?” also stands out.  It’s long and slow, not as heavy as the other songs on Horehound, and reminiscent of Bob Dylan (one could even say the lyric makes reference to an early Bob Dylan song, “When the Ship Comes In.”  And knowing what a huge influence Dylan has had on White, it’s probably a conscious reference).  The song features Jack White on the lead vocal, singing what Jack White, after all, sings best:  pure blues-rock.  After the song fades out, the sound of crickets can be heard for several seconds before the album finishes completely.  Quite a marvelous way to finish a great album.

Those of us who’ve waited as long for Horehound as I have were teased with a couple of singles and maybe a handful of live performances posted on YouTube while we waited.  Yet the two songs that were released as singles so far (“Hang You From the Heavens” and “Treat Me Like Your Mother”), though both fairly good, don’t even begin to demonstrate how great The Dead Weather really are.  If you haven’t gotten Horehound yet, and you’re into hard rock and/or blues, or are otherwise open-minded when it comes to music, I would highly recommend that you run – don’t walk – to your nearest music-selling establishment as soon as possible and get Horehound.

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And Since We’re on the Subject of The Wallflowers… July 13, 2009

Filed under: Reviews,The Wallflowers — yourbirdcansing88 @ 10:36 PM
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Let’s take a trip back in time, shall we?  It’s the mid-1990s, my age is still in the single digits, and there’s this song that’s always playing on the radio. I don’t know most of the words, but I know there’s this one line that goes, “They said she died easy of a broken-heart disease.” And believe me, those lyrics are enough to make a lasting impression on my elementary-school-aged self.  Along with a handful of songs from that Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young tape my mom’s always playing in the car, it’s probably one of the darkest songs that I’ve paid any attention to up to this point in my life.  I find that single line both intriguing and unsettling.  What is a broken heart disease?  Is it some kind of disease where your heart physically breaks?  Or can you really die from being heartbroken in the emotional sense?  Just that one line plagues me with questions, and I don’t even know what the song is called or who it’s by.

 

Fast forward about a decade and a half later, to Wednesday, July 8, 2009.  Over the years, I’ve learned a great deal about that song that so puzzled me as a young’n’.  I now know that the song is called “One Headlight”, that it’s performed by The Wallflowers, and that it was written by the band’s lead singer Jakob Dylan, a man for whom abstract poetic phrases like “broken heart disease” (which I never did find out the meaning of, nor do I now feel there’s any reason to), are – let’s face it – something that runs in the family (“heart attack machine”, anyone?).  So why is this so important now, on this Wednesday night in early July?  I’ll tell you why, my pretties.  See, not only have I learned more about “One Headlight”, but I’ve also grown a new appreciation for that and other Wallflowers songs.  You could even say I’ve become somewhat of a fan of The Wallflowers.  Maybe not as big a fan as Alex, a good friend of mine whose favorite band is The Wallflowers and who has been a fan since the age of ten.  But you could safely say I’m a casual fan, at least.  Certainly enough of a fan to go and see them in concert.  Which is exactly what I was doing on Wednesday night, along with my mom and my Wallflowers-loving friend Alex.

 

The concert took place in a small community theater in Morristown, New Jersey.  Since the place was so small, there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house.  Which was a good thing, because our seats were way up towards the very back of the balcony.  We were basically in the closest a venue this small could get to having a nosebleed section, and we were still close enough so we could see the performers’ facial expressions.  We also noticed that the house was far from being packed, which puzzled me, since, to my knowledge, The Wallflowers are fairly popular.  That is, it puzzled me until I noticed whole gaggles of people coming in between the opening act – a practically unknown rock band called Wild Light – and The Wallflowers.  Their loss for being opening-act-skipping snobs, since Wild Light was one heck of a band.  On first glance, seeing the young quartet’s shaggy hair and skin-tight jeans, I thought:  oh, no, this is a bunch of emos, isn’t it?  But to my surprise, and my delight, these guys actually rocked (and anyway, I need to stop judging individual bands based on what genre they’re labeled as).  Much like The Beatles, every member provided vocals, and three of the four members played lead vocalist at least once (the drummer never sang lead, but he did provide lots of harmony vocals).  Actually, they did The Beatles one better in the versatility department by having every member (except, once again, for the drummer, who nevertheless was the most impressive member of the band.  On one song he drummed with one hand and shook a tambourine with the other, every now and then whacking the cymbal with the tambourine.  That’s what I call resourceful!) switch instruments between songs.  The guy who played the bass on the first song moved to the keyboards on the next song, handing his bass over to one of the guys who was previously playing guitar.  I think on one song they even had one member of the band pull a Geddy Lee and play both the bass and the keyboards.  At the end of their set, Wild Light spent about a minute thanking The Wallflowers for letting them be their opening act, which I thought was really gracious of them.  I’ve seen my share of opening acts, both good and bad (okay, mostly good.  The only bad one I can think of was one of the opening acts I saw at a Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson concert held in a tiny church), but never have I seen such appreciation such openly displayed by a supporting act before.

 

After a short break between the acts (during which awesome classic rock music was played, which really made time fly), The Wallflowers finally took the stage.  Jakob emerged wearing something that looked like a cross between a fedora and a cowboy hat.  I guess an affinity for hats must run in the family, too.  The band kicked off with “Sleepwalker”, which, along with “One Headlight”, is my favorite Wallflowers song (hence this week’s choice for “Video of the Week”).  As I sang along to the chorus (which, at the time, was the only part of “Sleepwalker” that I knew), I already had a great feeling that this would be a good night.  A few songs in, Jakob spoke to the audience for the first time, saying, “We’ve got a pretty good-looking audience tonight.  And I don’t say that at every show,” or something to that effect.  Whether he meant it or not, Alex and I both smiled.  Being called “good-looking” by a man who still frequently makes “sexy musician”-type lists is like being told by Eric Clapton that you’re a great guitar player, or having Robert Plant tell you that you’ve got a powerful set of pipes.  And anyway, I wasn’t sure if Jakob was going to talk at all during the concert, as he’s a notoriously private person (once again, something that runs in the family).  But he was surprisingly talkative, and – gasp! – even playful during the course of the concert.  “I think someone’s asleep in the fourth row,” he whispered into the microphone about halfway through the concert.  After the sleeper woke up, Jakob continued to gently tease him, asking if the woman next to him was his date, and then asking who she told the drowsy audience member they were going to see.  Someone a few rows in front of me yelled “Bob Dylan!”  I’m glad someone else did before I got the bright idea to, because I would have hated to have the second or two of cold silence that followed from Jakob to have been directed at me.  But all of Jakob’s agitation was in jest, and he even had the good humor to turn the joke on himself.  “I’ve never fallen asleep at any of our concerts.  I know I look like I’m asleep, but I’m not.”  And, around the same time he played “One Headlight”, I can’t remember if it was before or after he played it, he noticed some people in the audience were dancing and said something like, “Finally I got some of you to stand up.”  At this point, Alex and I decided to get up and dance, and didn’t sit down for the rest of the concert.

 

To my surprise “One Headlight” was not saved for the encore.  It turned out that there was a good reason why, as the theater’s 10:30 curfew limited the time they would have for an encore, and since they’d be extremely foolish to skip their most well-known song, and also since “One Headlight” is about five or six minutes long, it would not be wise to save it for the encore in case there wasn’t any time for it.  But sure enough, after the band left the stage for the first time that night, they returned a minute later to perform one last, short song.  “We don’t have much time left, and we really need to get out of here,” Jakob said, as he introduced the band.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I don’t recall the names of any of the other members of the band, but I feel better about it now that I know that even Alex doesn’t know any of the other band members’ names.  After introducing all the other members of the band, the singer simply said, “My name’s Jakob, and we’re The Wallflowers.”  I admired his modesty, and his refusal to bring any attention to his very famous last name.  He’s always wanted to make it on his own, and he’s certainly succeeded.  As for my experience at the concert Wednesday night, I have to say it’s one of the best concerts I’ve been to, and even though I only knew a handful of songs, I enjoyed myself immensely the entire time.  In fact, I might just have to get a few of their albums now so I can hear some more of their songs.  Once again, The Wallflowers have made a lasting impression on me.

 

Dylan may have turned 68 today, but he’s still got it! May 25, 2009

Filed under: Bob Dylan,Reviews — yourbirdcansing88 @ 1:49 AM
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Together Through Life album coverI apologize for the delay, everyone.  Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to post anything for the past three weeks, but now I’m back with that Bob Dylan review I promised.  And just in time for Dylan’s birthday, too!

 

Mr. Dylan’s career spans nearly fifty years, and if his latest release, Together Through Life, is any indication, he’s far from becoming a has-been.  Though perhaps not quite as good as 1997’s Time Out of Mind or 2001’s “Love and Theft”, his latest album exceeds 2006’s Modern Times, if only slightly, and that album was by no means a subpar effort.  The album starts off with the Latin-flavored “Beyond Here Lies Nothing”, followed by “Life is Hard”, which, in spite of its title, has an extremely laid-back sound reminiscent of “When the Deal Goes Down” and “Beyond the Horizon” from Modern Times.  The third track, “My Wife’s Hometown”, tells of a wife from Hell — literally — and closes with some sinister cackles from Dylan.  “If You Ever Go to Houston” is pretty, and told from the point of view of someone who lived a century or two ago, or at least that’s what I’m assuming from its reference to the Mexican War.  “Forgetful Heart” is, alas, the most forgettable track on the album, though still enjoyable.  “Jolene” is one of the standout tracks and, contrary to what I initially assumed, has nothing to do with the Dolly Parton classic of the same name.  One of the things that makes “Jolene” so great is a catchy, upbeat guitar riff delivered by none other than Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), who provides the entire album with his excellent guitar playing, as well as lovely Mediterranean-inspired mandolin work on “This Dream of You”.  “Shake Shake Mama” is a raunchy blues number that will likely get you out of your seat and dancing.  “I Feel a Change Coming On”, is, quite possibly, the best song Dylan has released in over a decade, and sounds like it would have fit perfectly on one of Dylan’s late-sixties or early-seventies albums, like Nashville Skyline,  New Morning, or possibly even Planet Waves.  Likewise, the final track, “It’s All Good”, a harsh satire on blind optimism, sounds almost like it could be an outtake from 1988’s Oh Mercy

 

My only complaint with Together Through Life is this:  this is a ten-track album, with none of the tracks being exorbitantly long (which is actually pretty unusual for Bob Dylan, who has released at least four songs that exceed eleven minutes), so I cannot fathom why the vinyl version of the album is a double disc set, with only two or three songs on each side.  They could have easily fit all ten tracks on one disc, but noooooo, they had to go and waste plastic like that in these trying times, and make me get off my butt twice as many times to flip the record over.  But since that’s my biggest complaint regarding Together Through Life, I’ll let these mild annoyances slide and just enjoy the album.

 

Together Through Life was released last month and is Bob Dylan’s 33rd studio album.

 

Worst. Biopic. Ever. March 21, 2009

On Sunday night, I unfortunately had nothing better to do than watch the 1994 Beatles biopic “Backbeat” on VH1 Classic.  And now I’ll never get those two hours of my life back.  The movie takes place during The Beatles’ pre-fame years, back when they were touring in Hamburg, Germany.  At the time, they had five members:  John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, drummer Pete Best (who would later be replaced by Ringo Starr), and bassist Stuart Sutcliffe.  The film is mostly Sutcliffe’s side of the story, focusing on his friendship with John Lennon (who was really the only reason he was in the band in the first place), his romance with German photographer Astrid Kirchherr, and finally his 1962 death of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 21.  “Backbeat” plays out like a movie adaptation of a mediocre fanfiction, complete with gratuitous love scenes and gay subtext.  And those were some of the less horrific aspects of the film.

 

As characters, all the Beatles besides John and Stu are pushed far into the background, having barely any part in the film whatsoever.  For no apparent reason, “Backbeat” decides to impose some “silent drummer” stereotype on Pete Best (which is expanded upon in the form of a weak joke much later in the film, long after the viewer has forgotten that Pete even exists as a character, much less as the “silent drummer”).  Ringo Starr is introduced halfway through the film and is never mentioned again.

 

Oh, and the music!  The music was the worst part of the film.  During the performance scenes, rather than having the actors merely lip-sync The Beatles’ own recordings or at least decent soundalikes of The Beatles, the film instead chose to have the actors lip-sync (and lip-sync poorly, I might add) re-recorded versions that sounded nothing like The Beatles.  After doing some research on this aspect of the movie, which I assumed to be the result of mere carelessness, I found it to be much worse:  it was fully intended.  According to the film’s trivia section on the Internet Movie Database, the film used 1990s punk artists to re-record the songs performed in the film, since, according to whatever pretentious twit was behind this decision, the savage rock that The Beatles performed in Hamburg was “the punk of its day”, so using punk-rock versions of “Long Tall Sally” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” was somehow an attempt “to better convey the way the music felt to the early Beatles audiences.”  Give me a break.

 

As for the plot itself, I would have much preferred a film that documented The Beatles’ Hamburg days from a more omniscient point of view.  Stu’s relationship with Astrid was a poor subject to focus on, since so little is known about it.  If you ask me, the attempts to flesh out their romance sabotage the only thing that made it marginally interesting, which was its mystique.  The lovemaking scenes, though thankfully brief and not at all graphic (though I did see a TV version, so some stuff may have been cut out), are overabundant, and worse still is the nausea-inducing scene in which Stu first romances Astrid, peering at her over his sunglasses as he croons “Love Me Tender”.  In addition, there were so many more interesting (or at least more amusing) things that happened to the other Beatles while in Hamburg, which the film either neglects to mention or makes only passing reference to.  The Beatles were all relatively sheltered boys from Liverpool; when they got to Hamburg, their eyes were opened to an alien world full of strippers, hookers, transvestites, and amphetamines.  A seventeen-year-old George Harrison, who had to lie about his age so the band could play in the seedy Hamburg nightclubs, lost his virginity to a practical stranger.  Paul McCartney and Pete Best had to spend the night in jail after a childish prank involving a condom, a concrete wall, and slightly pyromaniacal tendencies.  This period of The Beatles’ career could have made a great film about the loss of innocence that comes with breaking into the music business, but instead it chose to focus on a romance that no one really cared too much about and the largely unprovoked (and possibly homosexual) jealousy it may have sparked in one John Lennon.  The result was a movie so painful to watch that I would gladly exchange the two hours I spent watching it for two hours re-watching “The Doors”, which, until Sunday night, was by far my least favorite music-related movie.