Jazzfest 2010: April 29 recap


Photo from fOTOGLIF

The second weekend of Jazzfest saw fans enjoy a beautiful sunny day of music, although potential thunderstorms loom. Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk rocked the main stage in the 1:20 pm slot, with bassist Tony Hall leading the way via his super funk playing. “You Can Make It” was a great funky anthem to get attendees going who were still waking up from the previous late night out.

Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys (pictured above) drew a big crowd to the Gentilly Stage, where Shaw’s bluegrassy rock entertained. A cover of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” mixed punk energy with bluegrassy fiddle breaks from Shaw with great results.

Gov’t Mule threw down an hour-long set back on the main stage, with guitarist Warren Haynes tearing it up as usual (after he’d been out late jamming with Eric Krasno at Maison the previous night.) Teases of classics like “Blue Skies” and “Get Up Stand Up” fit nicely with Mule’s bluesy hard rock on the sunny day.

New Orleans‘ own Soul Rebels entertained with jazzy flair on the Congo Square Stage, while Steve Martin and his Steep Canyon Rangers drew a huge crowd to the Gentilly Stage for their 3:35 pm set. One fan said it was the largest crowd he’d ever seen at that stage. Martin is a great banjo player and his crossover appeal made this set a huge draw.

Widespread Panic closed out the main stage with a massive two-and-a-half hour set that featured an extended sit-in by four-piece horn section, the Megablasters. The extra horns added a great touch to “Up All Night,” a laid-back rocker that is easily the anthem of the festival (since most fans are out on the town all night it seems.) A rip-rocking “Tallboy” followed for Spreadhead heaven. Many choices abounded. Other bands playing at the same time as Panic included Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes, the Average White Band, Blues Traveler and more.

The Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band threw down an incendiary evening show at the House of Blues, featuring mainly great new material and a couple choice covers like Clapton’s “Coming Home” and The Beatles’ “I Got a Feeling.” They’ve got bassist Oteil Burbridge in the band now, along with his brother Kofi on keys, plus two drummers and two backing singers to formwhat is easily one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands on the planet today. Trucks & Tedeschi close out the Gentilly Stage today for what should be another highlight performance.

Aqualung: Magnetic North


RIYL: Beck, Bright Eyes, Ben Folds

Aqualung, a group that is essentially one man, Matt Hales, flirted with retirement before realizing that his gift for songwriting needed to continue being shared by the masses. His/their latest, Magnetic North, is Aqualung’s second album on Verve and first set of new material since 2007’s Memory Man. Following a move from his native England to Los Angeles, Aqualung’s new material is slightly more upbeat and inspired in spots than some of his previous work, which tended to be mostly dark, moody and melodic. Right from the start, Magnetic North kicks off with “New Friend,” a super catchy ditty that features, for lack of a better term, a psychedelic piano riff. “Reel Me In” is like a cross between Ben Folds and Death Cab for Cutie, and it’s another upbeat anthem.

There are more melodic-as-hell tracks in “Fingertip” and “Hummingbird,” but that doesn’t mean Aqualung forgot where he came from. Some of the best numbers are the haunting and falsetto-laced “Lost,” which sounds like it could have come from 2004’s Strange and Beautiful; the powerful “36 Hours;” or the quirky and dark title track, a fitting closer to this unique batch of songs. If you’re a fan of alt-pop that has more alt than pop, chances are good you’ll love this new one from Aqualung – and as an added bonus, it’s the kind of record that will make your significant other think you’re cool and sensitive. And what could be wrong with that? (Verve 2010)

Aqualung MySpace page

Hole: Nobody’s Daughter


RIYL: Nirvana, Bush, heroin chic

Ten years removed from its last year, it appears that the ’90s nostalgia wave has officially begun. Alice in Chains pulled a shocking comeback last year, and this year will see the reformation of two of the biggest bands of ’90s alt-rock, Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden. The question is, what is driving this musical time warp? Is it the counter-culture – if such a thing still exists these days – rejecting the sounds of today, or a simple cash grab by the bands in question? The truth lies somewhere in between, but if we’re being honest, we suspect it’s closer to the latter than the former.

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That Hole is releasing an album this year as well is probably more coincidence than opportunistic timing. This is only their fourth album in 19 years, after all, so no one can accuse Courtney Love of having anything resembling a master plan. And goodness knows that she surprised a lot of people when Celebrity Skin hit the post-grunge wasteland in 1998, so with the release of Nobody’s Daughter, one is inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt – to a point, anyway. Sure, the album works here and there, but when Love tries to let loose on songs like “Skinny Little Bitch,” “Loser Dust” and “Samantha,” it is in the most mannered way imaginable. Indeed, her attempts to get snotty in that last song reveal Love trying just a bit too hard to be edgy, with the whole “people like you (fuck!) people like me (fuck!)” refrain. Frances Bean is surely in a corner saying, “Stop it, Mom, you’re embarrassing me.”

The album’s best moments come when Love acts her age. Album closer “Never Go Hungry” is a taut acoustic track – and curiously, the only song she wrote without outside assistance – that fits right in with her earlier work. The album could have used more of those and less songs like Linda Perry’s “Letter to God.” In the end, Nobody’s Daughter is slightly more than what one would expect from Love at this point in her life. Here’s to using diminished expectations to your advantage. (Cherry Forever/Island Def Jam 2010)

Hole MySpace page
Click to buy Nobody’s Daughter from Amazon

Me, Myself, and iPod 4/28/10: The Silver Seas officially own our souls

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The original title of this post was going to be “Free Crowded House!,” as in I have their new single “Saturday Sun,” which they briefly made available on their web site. I’d repost it here, but that just doesn’t seem right. Plus, I’m loath to do anything that HMFIC, who’s a lawyer, would disapprove of. Sorry, guys. For what it’s worth, it’s good.

The Silver Seas – The Best Things in Life
Their first album, High Society, is one of my favorite albums of the 2000s. Their new one, Chateau Revenge, isn’t far behind, and who knows, it may eclipse its predecessor. It’s not quite as high on the ’70s AM radio sound as the first one, but is yet another first-rate batch of classic pop songs just the same.

April Smith and the Great Picture Show – Movie Loves a Screen
I just love this girl’s voice. Impossibly sunny, and what great pitch. She doesn’t dance around notes – she fucking hits them, hard. And what a sweet refrain. “I just want to mean something to you.” I love a little moon-eyed optimism. It’s a nice antidote to our snark-laden world.

Grosvenor – Taxi from the Airport
Think Joe Jackson’s “Stepping Out” covered by Double (of “Captain of Her Heart” fame), and you’re close. Sophisticated synth pop.

Trentemoller – Sycamore Feeling (Remix Edit)
Fans of Hooverphonic and Propaganda, take note. This moody slice of electro-pop is right in your wheelhouse.

Burning Hotels – To Whom It May Concern
Next time the Airborne Toxic Event is looking for an opening act, they’d be wise to pick these guys.

Kids of 88 – Ribbon of Light
Is it wrong of me for wishing MGMT’s new one sounded more like this?

The Brute Chorus – Could This Be Love?
Attention, Anglophiles. Here’s your next UK buzz band. I like this one because it has a little American swagger in it.

Lawrence Arabia – Apple Pie
Yep, I’m still a sucker for the power pop stuff. Sue me.

The New Pornographers: Together


RIYL: Neko Case, Canada, indie-pop musical theater

Since 2003, there have been only two years in which Carl Newman, leader of the indie-pop superstars the New Pornographers, has not put out an album. And for a stretch there, that was a good thing; you’d be hard pressed to find a one-two-three punch from anyone that rivals the New Porns’ 2003′s Electric Version, Carl’s solo album The Slow Wonder, and the New Porns’ staggering Twin Cinema (2005). That last album had half a dozen songs alone that could each start its own religion.

Since then, the goings have been, well, fine, but a far cry from the band’s best work. Challengers (2007) has aged decently enough, but still doesn’t contain a moment that rivals, say, “The Bleeding Heart Show” or “The Laws Have Changed.” Unfortunately, the band’s latest album, Together, doesn’t contain anything that rivals the best work on Challengers. It’s not a bad record, per se; it’s simply an average record from a band that has to this point been anything but average.

Sure, anyone who likes “Mutiny, I Promise You” will enjoy “Crash Years,” and fans of “Use It” will like the unofficial title track “Your Hands (Together).” Likewise, there are a million bands who would kill to call this album their own. But this is not some other band’s album – it’s a New Pornographers album, and they can frankly do better than this. They didn’t phone it in – the album’s final track, the other unofficial title track “We End Up Together,” is one of those reach-for-the-stars moments – but it appears that Newman’s well is running a little drier than it had been five or so years ago. Hey, writing good songs is hard – there’s a reason only a handful of people are truly good at it. If Newman needs an extra two years between albums to charge the batteries, that’s fine with us. We can wait. (Matador 2010)

New Pornographers MySpace page
Click to buy Together from Amazon

Bullet for My Valentine: Fever


RIYL: Killswitch Engage, Avenged Sevenfold, Atreyu

Look no further than the first 80 seconds of Bullet for My Valentine’s third studio album, Fever, to see what these guys are capable of. Those seconds, filled with thumping drums and building guitars, are undoubtedly mosh-worthy, but they aren’t completely indicative of what’s in store with this record. While the band remains as polished as ever technically, the songwriting leaves a lot to be desired and singer Matt Tuck’s vocals go off the glam deep end too often.

The aforementioned opening track, “Your Betrayal,” is one of the album’s better tracks and is a great showcase of Valentine’s love for dynamic guitar solos and layered rhythms. The choruses are catchy enough to not scare the parents and Fever is, without question, the band’s most accessible release to date. “A Place Where You Belong” is an infectious power ballad, as is “Bittersweet Memories.” The first single, “The Last Fight,” has a fist-pumping chorus and energy is not in short supply.

Peppered throughout the record, however, are some seriously groan-inducing moments. Tuck has a great voice, but his persistent whisper becomes obnoxious, as do lyrics like those found in the title track. Try this on for size:

Come here you naughty girl you’re such a tease
You look so beautiful down on your knees
Keep on those high heel shoes rip off all your clothes
You smell so fucking good it makes me lose control!

Even Def Leppard in their heyday would laugh at that. Despite the moments of cheese, Fever is an above-average thrash/melodic metal record that offers great guitar licks and effectively melodic choruses. Bullet for My Valentine will crack an expanded fan base with this offering, but it does come at the expense of some quality in comparison to their previous releases. (Zomba/RED)

Bullet for My Valentine MySpace Page

Rufus Wainwright: All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu


RIYL: Leonard Cohen, George Gershwin, deathly seriousness

All musicians should have Rufus Wainwright’s ambition, with a reach that far, far exceeds their grasp the way his does. The only catch, of course, is that there is no guarantee that you will like what he’s reaching for from one album to the next. He’s like Neil Young in the ’80s, only without the whole ‘fuck you Geffen’ thing.

There are two clear phases to his career at this point: the pop years (his 1998 debut, 2001′s Poses, and 2003′s Want One), and the stage years, which is everything he’s released after Want One. Hell, the man did a show as Judy Garland, so Broadway clearly appeals to him more than conventional popular music. And that’s okay: the man is nothing if not melodramatic, so he’s wise to play to his strengths.

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This time around, though, the ‘melo’ to ‘drama’ ratio is tilted mightily in favor of the former. All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, Wainwright’s first studio effort since 2007′s Release the Stars, is Rufus armed only with a piano, a stark contrast to the elaborate productions he’s been assembling for the last, well, ten years now. It’s pretty, but hot damn, is it maudlin. Wainwright’s pulse quickens only three times here, and they wisely opened the album with one of them: “Who Are You New York?” has the album’s biggest hooks both vocally and musically, with “Give Me What I Want and Give It to Me Now” not far behind. Someone needs to talk to him, though, about his tendency to draw out the syllables to the point where it doesn’t sound like he’s singing actual words. Entire songs can go by without a single lyric leaving a mark, and when it’s one of the, ahem, many ballads that All Days Are Nights sports, the experience of listening to the album can get laborious in a hurry.

In a business where promising careers get smashed by simple-minded executives who want to put a square peg in a round hole, Rufus Wainwright is one of the few artists who could stand to benefit from a little direction. Unless, of course, Wainwright is actually trying to make albums that appeal to fewer and fewer people, in which case he should continue doing exactly what he’s doing. All Days Are Nights is fine for what it is, but if he doesn’t watch it, Wainwright’s subsequent releases will be given the same fanfare as a new album by Sarah Brightman. (Decca 2010)

Rufus Wainwright MySpace page
Click to buy All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu from Amazon

Jakob Dylan: Women and Country


RIYL: Bob Dylan, Neko Case, T-Bone Burnett

Jakob Dylan is back for his second solo album, sans Wallflowers, and he’s delivered an Americana gem. There’s not much in the way of the rock or roll here, but that clearly isn’t Dylan’s intention. There’s a mature vibe that sounds not altogether unlike some of the recent output from his dad. Jakob Dylan has teamed with producer and longtime friend T-Bone Burnett (who also produced the Wallflowers’ breakthrough album Bringing Down the Horse) to craft an old-school album of bluesy, alt-country majesty. The addition of the fabulous Neko Case and her backing singer Kelly Hogan adds an extra quality that lifts the songs to a higher plane. Instrumental enhancement from pedal steel guitar, fiddle and banjo also help to generate an authentic, way old-school sound.

Much of the album sounds like it could work as a soundtrack for a Clint Eastwood western about pioneers trying to make it through hard times, and that vibe fits all too well here in this foul economic year of our Lord 2010. “Nothing but the Whole Wide World” and “Down on Our Own Shield” open the album and immediately establish a rich sound with lush, bluesy guitars and the sweet backing vocals from Case and Hogan. “Lend a Hand” mixes it up a little by adding in some horns that conjure the Preservation Hall Jazz Band sound of New Orleans. “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” comes out with a somber vibe, but in solidarity with those suffering from home foreclosure. The backing vocals provide a haunting quality, and there’s rich texture from some timely banjo plucking by David Mansfield. “Everybody’s Hurting” mines a similar thematic vein, a retro throwback to another time, yet tuned into a lamentable 21st century zeitgeist. Mansfield strikes again by adding some sad fiddle to enhance the vibe.

“Holy Rollers for Love” is a little more uplifting with a major key tone, but still follows the down-tempo American template that informs the album. “Truth for a Truth” conjures a “High Plains Drifter” gunslinger mode with lyrics that speak of “an eye for an eye, a truth for a truth.” “They’ve Trapped Us Boys” is almost a little bit of a hoedown with its walking bass and mandolin strums, and is enhanced with glimmering pedal steel and angelic vocals as Case and Hogan sing “shine a light, shine a light.” “Standing Eight Count” closes the album with a horn intro that sounds similar to the theme from “Rocky,” followed by the album’s strongest beat to wrap it up with something of a triumphant, upbeat vibe. (Columbia 2010)

Jakob Dylan MySpace page MySpace page

The Apples in Stereo: Travellers in Space and Time


RIYL: ELO, The Beatles, Cliff Richard

If the early returns are any indication, 2010 is the year that musicians realized that it was all right to admit that they like ELO. The power pop circuit has been cribbing from Jeff Lynne for years, of course, but they have about 600 records sold to show for it. Perhaps that’s why bands like the Apples in Stereo and the Silver Seas (wait until you hear their song “What’s the Drawback”) waited until they developed a devoted fan base before dropping the news on their fans that yes, they like ELO, too. For a band that was so successful, the ELO name carries a curious amount of baggage.

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Don’t be surprised if Travellers in Space and Time, the new album by the Apples in Stereo, changes that stigma some. This is not the first time the Apples have dabbled in Lynneisms, but Travellers ups the ante by exploring different aspects of the ELO sound. “Hey Elevator” is this album’s “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” while “Dignified Dignitary” is a clear descendant of both “Do Ya” and the band’s own song “Go.” “Wings Away” is the album’s big Beatles moment, with one of those instantly recognizable ascending progressions in the chorus. The album does explore other catalogs besides ELO’s, though, as “Next Year at About the Same Time” sounds like Squeeze covering David Bowie’s “Blue Jean.”

At 16 tracks, the album does feel a tad long, even with two of those tracks being interludes. Still, it’s nice to see a band tackle the whole in-crowd notion of indie pop and declare the party open to anyone and everyone interested in attending. Get your Vocoder on. (Yep Roc 2010)

Apples in Stereo MySpace page
Click to buy Travelers in Space and Time from Amazon

Big Audio Dynamite: This Is Big Audio Dynamite (Legacy Edition)


RIYL: Public Image Ltd., Primal Scream, The Clash

Big Audio Dynamite are kind of a “lost” bands of the ’80s. Sure, you may still hear “The Globe” a cut from the band’s second incarnation Big Audio Dynamite II, on retro playlists, but aside from that they’ve all but vanished from the pop culture lexicon, not that they were that big a presence on it to begin with. The band’s measured success remains befuddling when you consider it was Mick Jones’ baby, the group he put together after getting fired from the Clash in 1983.

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Hopefully this new Legacy Edition re-issue of the group’s 1985 debut will open the band up for re-evaluation. The importance of This Is Big Audio Dynamite has faded over time, but when it came out it was a technological wonder, the first rock record to embrace the sampling movement of rap music and take it to a direction never heard before. While singles like “E=MC²” and “The Bottom Line” may seem a little quaint now, they were revolutionary at the time in how the took samples from movies and other sources and seamlessly incorporated them into the music. It’s a style you saw resurface just a few years later in bands like Massive Attack and Portishead. Ahead of their time back then, it now sounds dated in the most charming of ways.

The bonus disc is what makes this re-issue really worthwhile though, because while the album versions of their singles were always good, the 12” remixes was where the band really shined. Making the package an even sweeter deal are excellent b-sides such as “Electric Vandal” and the forgotten title track, which is a condensed amalgamation of nearly every sample that appeared on the album. Even the goofier bonuses, such as the vocoder version of “BAD” and the beyond-silly “Albert Einstein Meets the Human Beatbox” are welcome time capsules of a bygone era where stuff like this was groundbreaking and cutting-edge. A must-buy for fans of the band as well as fans of dance-punk who want to see where it all started. (Columbia 2010)

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