Medeski, Martin and Wood: Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set

RIYL: Fusion jazz, jambands, Bernie Worrell, Galactic

If you are sick of the state of the music business, if you need some new music that sounds truly new, if FM radio bores you to tears and even the blog-rock CDs showing up on every music site’s “best of” list lets you down because it all sounds like half-practiced, overproduced slacker junk played by snotty people you wouldn’t invite to parties at your place…please go and buy this box set. The culmination of the two-year Radiolarians project, The Evolutionary Set is the career pinnacle of MMW, jazz-rocking experimentalists who are neither jazz nor rock, but “avant-groove.” Kind of an thinking-fan’s instrumental Phish, this trio started with an idea in 2007: Write some proto-jams, briefly rehearse them, take them on tour, develop them live, and then record the finished project. It spawned three ridiculously tight, sometimes funky, sometimes rockin’, sometimes ambient-noodling numbers that sound like nothing you’ve heard. It doesn’t hurt that these guys not only have played together almost two decades, but that they’re exceptional players. The box set includes the three Radiolarians albums, a double-vinyl set, a DVD documentary, a remixes disc, and a live album. It’s intelligent jazz, it’s primitive rock. It’s funky stuff. It’s an updated 2009 version of the strangely beautiful Miles Davis period that included the records On The Corner and A Tribute to Jack Johnson. It’s everything indie music’s all about, and while the major labels and commercial radio won’t touch this stuff, you should. (Indirecto Records, 2009)

Medeski Martin and Wood MySpace page


Robyn Hitchcock: I Often Dream of Trains In New York

RIYL: Syd Barrett, Bonzo Dog band, XTC

Always the eccentric, predictable only in his unpredictability, Robyn Hitchcock has never been an easy character to decipher, frequently defying easy accessibility and offering only rare opportunity to peer below his songs’ psychedelic sheen and to meditate on his melodies. Consequently, the concert film “I Often Dream of Trains In New York”, is a rare treasure in that it gives a more intimate view of the man and his muse via a thorough track-by-track replay of an early album many consider his signature achievement.

Hitchcock’s no stranger to cinema, of course. Last year’s documentary “Sex, Food, Death… and Insects” offered a surprisingly candid potrait of the artist in creative mode, a follow-up of sorts to the musical portrait captured in Jonathan Demme’s critically lauded “Storefront Hitchcock.” Hitchcock had a cinematic reunion with Demme more recently in fact, when he was given opportunity to perform a pair of songs in Demme’s current film, “Rachel Getting Married,” following up his acting debut as one of the protagonists in Demme’s remake of “The Manchurian Candidate.”

Regardless, it’s Hitchcock’s allure as an artist with a curious magnetism and slightly off-kilter wit and regimen that enthralls his followers, and if “I Often Dream of Trains in New York” seems to strip away that elusive veneer, it doesn’t detract from his charm or appeal. Performing in a stripped-down acoustic setting and backed by multi-instrumentalist Terry Edwards and guitarist Tim Keegan, he revels in the sentiment, sarcasm and wry irony parlayed by such numbers as “Up to Our Nex,” “I Often Dream of Trains,” “America” and “I Used to Say I Love You,” songs that take on an idyllic, folk-like serenity in this live setting. Even so, the a cappella “Uncorrected Personality Traits” brings to mind the bizarre, unabashed silliness of the Bonzo Dog Band, while a cassette recording of “Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl” serves as ample reminder of Hitchcock’s penchant for bizarre lyrical twists. It’s fitting then that the tracks are interspersed with Hitchcock’s own commentary on the origins of these songs, relayed, appropriately, from a seat on a train. Likewise, a bonus feature, “Beyond Basingstoke” offers further illumination and enlightenment.

A must-see for all Hitchcock aficionados, “I Often Dream of Trains in New York” is also an ideal passage for the uninitiated. (Yep Roc 2009)

Robyn Hitchcock website


Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense

One of the best concert films of all time gets its hi-def due with this lovingly curated reissue “Stop Making Sense.” Directed by Jonathan Demme, “Sense” captures the Talking Heads at their squirrelly best, spasmodically jumping between new wave, funk, and arty Afro-pop with a crack band of ace sidemen that included Bernie Worrell, Alex Weir, and Lynn Mabry. The Talking Heads found their footing slowly, evolving from willfully experimental Rhode Island hipsters to a merry band of world music vagabonds, and Demme frames their journey with a stage setup that opens slowly; for the opening number, “Psycho Killer,” David Byrne comes out with nothing but his guitar and a boombox. He’s joined by bassist Tina Weymouth on the next number, they’re joined by Chris Frantz next, Jerry Harrison follows Frantz, and so on and so forth, until the whole entourage is under the lights, making the most joyously paranoid racket of the ‘80s.

The Blu-ray transfer doesn’t scrub every last scratch or speck of dust from the frame, but knowing the Talking Heads, that may very well have been intentional; in any case, it makes for fine viewing at 1080p, despite periodic minor problems with the picture, and the sound – presented here in a pair of DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes that let the viewer choose between the equivalent of audience and soundboard recordings – more than makes up for any visual flaws. The special features include audio commentary from the band and director (everyone’s tracks separately recorded, natch), along with other bonus content ported over from the DVD version (bonus tracks, storyboards, a few minutes of Byrne interviewing himself), plus Blu-ray exclusive footage of the 1999 press conference that reunited the band for “Stop Making Sense’s” 15th anniversary screening. There’s a short list of concert films whose contents justify a $34.99 list price, regardless of format. This is one of them. (UMVD)

Click here to buy “Stop Making Sense”


New Paul McCartney live CD/DVD on the way

Decades removed from their break up, the Beatles are possibly busier than they’ve ever been. Almost every day, an interesting bit of news surfaces with connection to the band. Earlier this week, Lucy Vodden, the underlying inspiration for “Lucky in the Sky with Diamonds,” passed away. Four days ago, an essay written by Paul McCartney when he was 10 about the Queen was unearthed. Of course, this news pales in comparison to The Beatles: Rock Band and the remasters of their entire catalog, which were released on September 9th. It looks like Beatlemania will never end and I couldn’t be happier.

On November 23rd, Paul McCartney will release a 2CD/1DVD package of his performances from earlier this year at New York’s Citi Field. Good Evening New York will highlight each night’s 33-song set filmed with 15 high-definition cameras.

A deluxe edition will feature an additional DVD featuring McCartney’s performance at the Ed Sullivan Theater. The live album will also be issued on vinyl.

The gigs, at which McCartney played songs by The Beatles and Wings, as well as selections from his solo back catalogue, took place on July 17, 18 and 21.

They were significant for McCartney as The Beatles played the venue in 1965 when it was known as Shea Stadium.

This will be McCartney’s second release on Hear Music, which is owned by Starbucks Corporation.


The Black Crowes: Warpaint Live (DVD)

RIYL: The Allman Brothers Band, Widespread Panic, The Rolling Stones

The Black Crowes hit the road in the spring of 2008 for a mini-tour that featured a nightly first set of the just-released Warpaint album being played in its entirety. This show from the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles captures the band on a hot night. Vocalist Chris Robinson has got his mojo working while then-new members Luther Dickinson (lead guitar) and Adam MacDougall are fitting right in.

Warpaint was the band’s first new studio album in eight years and the band is clearly energized. General consensus has it that the band’s new 2009 album, Before the Frost… Until the Freeze, has already surpassed Warpaint with an even stronger batch of tunes, but as drummer Steve Gorman has noted in a recent interview at, Warpaint was pivotal for the band in helping them regain their musical “compass.”

Tunes like “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” and “Evergreen” benefit from Dickinson’s charged leads and backing harmonies from Charity White and Mona Lisa Young. Guitarist Rich Robinson and drummer Gorman form the band’s backbone, laying down a Stones-meets-Zep vibe on “Wee Who See the Deep.” Solos by Dickinson and MacDougall surpass the studio performance to demonstrate why the Black Crowes have always been more about the live shows, though they generally turn out stronger and more cohesive albums than most jam bands. Dickinson moves to mandolin for the poignant “Locust Street,” with Chris Robinson pouring on the soul. As with the album, the highlight of the set is “Movin’ on Down the Line,” the first song written for the album, an uplifting psychedelic rock tour de force.

The second set is only six songs, but features stellar covers of Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett’s “Poor Elijah,” the Bramlett/Clapton gem “Don’t Know Why,” and the Stones’ “Torn and Frayed,” a tune tailor made for the Robinson Brothers harmony vocals. There’s also an extended work out on “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye.” This short but sweet second set is what elevates the DVD from three to four stars, as the band really digs in deep. (Eagle Rock Entertainment 2009)


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