Monday, January 11, 2010

Jimi Hendrix's Posthumous Album Release

If I could go back in time and see any concert ever performed, it would be a Hendrix show. No question. I would melt directly to the floor if I heard that dreamy, haphazard voice in person, and someone would have to scoop me up into a bucket and take me home.

So this is almost like a dream come true: an album Jimi Hendrix recorded (and never released) in London in 1969 called Valleys of Neptune is to be released in March, followed by a slew of Hendrix DVDs and re-releases.

But a posthumous release is not exactly rare in Hendrix's case. In fact, his collection is rather extensive (Rolling Stone lists 50 albums, although many are compilations and 'best ofs'). These albums have recordings he never got a chance to release, outtakes and jams.

It does make me wonder what Hendrix would have wanted done with his unreleased material. Hidden away in a vault as it had been until now? Or produced and potentially exploited for loads of cash? (I'm not sure how I'd feel about a Jimi Hendrix Rock Band release...)

That, I suppose, is something we'll never know. Regardless, I'm going to revel in the small sense of "I was totally there" that I'll get from buying a new release from one of the greats!

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Eye-Opening Lesson in Country Music

When I realized Wilco's "Summerteeth" album came up as Country on iTunes, I almost had a heart attack. Heresy! Certainly no album that I had listened to countless times was Country in disguise. It was as if broken-down pickup trucks, countless bottles of Jim Beam and throngs of buxom blondes in denim jackets were hiding behind the captivating melodies of my favorite songs.

But I really liked the album. Hence my dire, internal struggle.

Up to that point, I had associated Country music with what I heard when I flipped past Moose 96 on the radio. It all sounded the same (inconceivably drippy), and I came to assume that all Country music was worthy of detesting.

If Wilco was considered country, either Apple's system of musical classification was faulty or I would have to attempt to be a little more open-minded about particular genres.

My biggest mistake in this Country music debacle was with what I classified in the genre. As it turns out, Bluegrass is Country's father - far more traditional, upright and wise. He's also pretty disappointed in how sappy and flavorless his son turned out. Bluegrass leans heavily on fiddle, banjo and mandolin, whereas Country tends to rely solely on a guitar. Now you know.

Although I'd pick bluegrass every time, it's still impossible to completely write off country. It represents a huge historical element of American music history. You can't say no to a genre that claims Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. Like any genre, this one has its ups and its downs, its classic can't-say-no artists and it's embarrassing cookie-cutter talking (or singing) heads. And, like any genre, the crappy stuff is played on the radio.

Even after serious investigation and a new musical outlook, I still think it's fair to separate "Pop Country" from the rest of the genre. (You're cute, Taylor Swift, but it doesn't work for me.) I will also assert that iTunes does not know its folk from its country from its bluegrass.

But it's okay. I'll take another round through "Via Chicago." You can call it what you like.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Rhythms and Rhymes of 2009

I've started an annual tradition this year of making a mix of songs that came out in the last year that I really liked. In general, the popular music of the year was kind of terrible (remember this? Or this?), but there were some redeeming tunes (Am I right?) along the way. A lot of really good and interesting stuff got overlooked, but with the nature of the music industry it's hard to catch everything.
Here's a list of the songs on my 2009 mix:

Monsters of Folk: Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)

The members of Monsters of Folk certainly weren't thinking modesty when naming the band. This supergroup is made up of Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket, solo performer M. Ward, and Mike Mogis, who's appeared with bands like Bright Eyes and The Faint. Monsters of Folk is one of my favorite of the modern freak-folk genre and I can't wait to hear more of it.

Phish: Backwards Down The Number Line

Phish is back! I've always preferred live music, so most of the stuff this band has produced has treated me well in the past. Joy is a studio album, so it's not quite up to snuff as far as their other releases go. I just couldn't resist adding a song considering they've been apart and not recording for so long.

Paolo Nutini: Coming Up Easy

Of all the pop singer/songwriters out there, Paolo has got to be
my favorite. His style is sweet and genuine, and any of his songs makes for a good, uplifting listen. Maybe it's the charming Scottish accent, but it certainly doesn't take long to fall for Paolo.

Mason Jennings: Pittsburgh

Nobody writes lyrics like Mason Jennings does, and "Pittsburgh" is a testament to his talent. He describes various traumatic adolescent experiences with phenomenal imagery and tangible emotion. "Blood of Man" is a fantastic album, and I would recommend to almost anybody. It's definitely one of my favorite albums this year.

If you could spend your life with a big group of hippie friends driving around the country and playing music, would you do it? These guys are living the dream. The band, headed by Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos, released its first album, "Up From Below," this year. Every song on the album is guaranteed to make you grin like a fool, and I can't wait for more.

Weezer: Let It All Hang Out

Say what you will, but Weezer's one of my all-time favorite bands. And although I wasn't thrilled with Raditude, this song is reminiscent of their older albums. It's just goofy enough, and you can't say it isn't catchy.
I'll stand by this band forever, Weezy or not.

Wolfmother: New Moon Rising

I just got into the Australian trio Wolfmother this year, and it's refreshing to hear a modern, sturdy rock band. The vocals and guitar wail on "New Moon Rising," and the whole album is really well-done. I'd love to hear this band live.

The Flaming Lips: The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine

Another good psychedelic rock song from a really talented group. "Embryonic" has nothing on Yoshimi, but it's still a good album. There's a great video of the band in the studio at NPR's Morning Becomes Eclectic.

All of my music-snob friends have messed themselves over Them Crooked Vultures. I'm getting to that point, but still working on it. The band, another supergroup, is made up of John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and Nirvana, and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. The album is exactly what you'd expect (fantastic) and they're already working on a second.

Telekinesis: Coast of Carolina

This is by far my favorite song of 2009. It gets better every time I listen to it, and trust me, I listen to it a lot. The song describes the confusion of a big city, and the thirst for open spaces. You can taste how much frontman Michael Benjamin Lerner yearns to be on that coast. Listen to this one, and then listen to it again.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ukulele Boy!

This one is fast on its way to viral video fame, but I wanted to make sure that nobody was missing out.

I can't wait to see what happens to this kid in the
future. Clearly, he's got cool parents who hopefully won't let him get caught up with anyone from

Hold out, young ukulele virtuoso!
You're worth more than that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Weezer's Rivers Cuomo in an accident

On Monday, the Weezer tour bus was in an accident. Rivers Cuomo is still in the hospital, and his daughter and her nurse have suffered minor injuries. Check their blog for updates, and as a get-well-soon gift to Cuomo, buy a Wuggie!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Six-Gun and a Freight Train on Grand River

He wore an old plaid shirt, brown leather shoes and a pair of faded Levi’s with Marlboro Reds in the back pocket. Sweat dripped off his beard in the hot September sun, past the harmonica on his lips and Martin guitar at his waist to the sidewalk below.

He’s like something Woodie Guthrie would have written about. A boy graduates from high school at 17, leaves home to ride the rails. He spends two years on his own, going from city to city and playing his guitar and harmonica for spare change.

He’s a vagabond. A drifter, of sorts.

But when Jack Grendel left, he wasn’t looking for any sort of title. He was looking to live. He wanted to see the world, be on his own and learn about himself. It’s when you don’t have the pennies to call home, that’s when you discover who you really are. That’s when you stop just being your parents’ son.

Now, as a sophomore at MSU, Grendel’s still interested in the experience. He’s studying History, but without a particular career in mind. In East Lansing, the real education doesn’t happen in the classroom. It happens in places like the sidewalk outside The Peanut Barrel on Grand River.

That’s where Grendel spent a lot of time this fall: on the sidewalk playing his guitar and harmonica with an open guitar case in front of him and a sign that read “Scramblin to pay my rent.” People pass by, some look up and smile, some toss a few coins. But everybody notices when Grendel growls a tune and pounds his guitar.

Playing on the sidewalk, Grendel makes about $10 an hour, and all of it goes to his rent.

Grendel describes his style of music as six-gun and a freight train. It’s influenced by some of the greats – Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Muddy Waters – and some recent musicians – Conor Oberst and Old Crow Medicine Show.

Grendel plays some songs he’s written, some he hasn’t. But he makes every song his own and writes extra verses to the covers he plays. Folk is passed down through generations, he says. It’s meant to be changed.

Outside of the sidewalk, Grendel plays at small local venues in East Lansing and his home in Traverse City. You can listen to his music on his Myspace.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Macpodz Groove at Mac's Bar

If you have ever seen The Macpodz, you probably remember. Whether it’s because of the band’s funky, upbeat energy, the improvisation breaks or the flute, a party with The Macpodz is not easy to forget.

Over their four years as a band The Macpodz, based out of Ann Arbor, has created a unique musical and onstage style. They play a high-energy fusion of jazz and rock music that’s totally danceable, as shown by the audience members any time the band plays.

One thing’s evident from seeing a Macpodz show: every person on stage is a master at his instrument. The band may lack discipline as a whole, but can easily pull off a show relying on improvisation and the individual talent of the musicians. The ad-libbing on stage only perpetuates the band’s groovy, entertaining onstage character.

On Thursday night at Mac’s Bar, the band opened their set following Cloud Magic with “Nine Lives,” a song not released on any of the band’s four albums. The band played through some of their older, beloved songs like “You Got Me,” new ones like “Six Doll Hairs” and broke into some halftime jams and an impressive, albeit extensive, drums and percussion break. Towards the end of the set, the guitarist from Cloud Magic Dave Menzo and harmonica player Craig Griffith sat in.

The Macpodz rely on festivals for exposure, and have played at big festivals like Rothbury and 10,000 Lakes and smaller, more local, festivals like Dunegrass and Harvest Gathering. They like the relaxed atmosphere of an outdoor festival and like knowing that they’re almost guaranteed an audience and some new listeners. Outside of festival season, the band tours the Midwest playing every chance they get.

The Macpodz will be back in Lansing on December 6 playing at Cram Jam with The Ragbirds, Ultraviolet Hippopotamus and Griff & John’s Afterhours Experience. In the meantime, check out the band’s music at their Web site and Myspace and make sure not to miss the next show!