30 April 2007

Ipso facto, using up your oxygen you know I’m shallow…

Last week I mentioned the artist Badly Drawn Boy and I got to thinking – perhaps there are those of you out there who may not have heard of him. His real name is Damon Gough, he grew up in Lancashire, England and he has been releasing albums (vinyl and CD EP’s) since 1997. I didn’t hear of him until he put out his first full length CD, Hour Of The Bewilderbeast in 2000. But I admit I wasn’t a real fan until he did the soundtrack to the film About A Boy in 2002.

One of my all time favourite films (and books) it’s a story about immature Will, a guy who’s a bit lost in his own world, doesn’t have much purpose and thinks about his days in blocks of ‘units’. In fact he seems to learn more about life from a 12 year old boy than he has from his own experiences. Since this is a music review blog, and not a film review I’ll spare you more details. Suffice it to say as Abby and I sat around on my patio having drinks Friday night I was reminded of how not only is it one of those films that we both can see over and over again (yes, I own the DVD) it’s also one of the best soundtracks ever written and produced.

Rarely I think has an artist so well captured the essence and meaning of a film as BDB did on this release. Every song, including the above quoted line from “Something To Talk About” relates to the story line, and the overall feel of the character of Will. One can easily listen to the CD and relive the movie while gaining more emotional insight into the minds of Will, the boy and his troubled mother. There is an evolution to these characters that one appreciates even more after a few listenings - even if you have never seen the film, you can still gain so much. It is easily one of the best CD’s, not just soundtracks, of the last 5 years. You should check it out! www.badlydrawnboy.co.uk or www.myspace.com/badlydrawnboy

I have been in love with Hugh Grant since I saw him in the Merchant Ivory film, Maurice, released in 1987. There was something about him that captured me. It wasn’t just his stunningly handsome good looks (this was well before his floppy bumbling character in Four Weddings and a Funeral that made him a star) there was a quietness to him that I found appealing. I have been a fan ever since. If he’s in a film, I’ll see it (coincidentally he stars in 3 of my all time favourite films – Love Actually and Notting Hill being the others besides About A Boy).

Despite his indiscretions with a hooker – I’m still a fan. I’m even more of a fan after last week. If you ask me – he should have hurled a whole POT of beans at that paparazzo who was stalking him outside his apartment in London. I don’t get this. Why are guys with camera’s allowed to sit outside some person’s house thereby invading their privacy? When Hugh Grant or any other celebrity complains to the police they are told that they have every right to be there and there’s no cause for ‘complaint’.

I’m tired of the argument that if you are in the public eye you leave yourself open to people taking pictures of you and if you don’t want your picture taken – don’t go anywhere. That’s silly! Why are celebrities entitled to any less privacy than the rest of us? Why was Princess Diana stalked to the point of death (conspiracy theories not withstanding)? Why is our society so obsessed with people who take their pants off one leg at a time just like everyone else? I think celebrity obsession has gone too far.

I get it – we, the public, feed into this frenzy by reading the magazines and web sights that give the paparazzi a ‘reason’ to exist. But there needs to be boundaries, lines that shouldn’t be allowed to be crossed, and consequences for stalking someone – even with just a camera. Maybe if more people hurled baked beans at the paparazzi they would learn to respect their ‘targets’ and back off when asked to do so. Perhaps even soon they would take up less oxygen.

Thanks for tuning in…Until next Monday…CHEERS!

23 April 2007

Make a plan to love me sometime soon….

Conor Oberst, better known as Bright Eyes to the world at large, is an Omaha, Nebraska native with a cool voice and a unique outlook on the world. This guy, who at 27 just released his tenth album (some were compilations or live CD’s), two weeks ago entitled Casadaga, spares no cruelty on the world. He calls it as he sees it and sometimes it can be shocking, sometimes alarming, and sometimes sweet. While I think the comparisons to him and Badly Drawn Boy (whom I adore) are obvious I do believe he has his own voice, but like most people I didn’t hear of him until his 2005 release Digital Ash In A Digital Urn.

I must say, ‘Urn’ is a fine piece of work, but I think Casadaga is a finer piece (with some help from Rachel Yamagata it’s even better than better). There is a feeling that everything ties together more on this CD. You get more of a sense of where this guy is coming from and where he’s been. You can feel the earthiness of Nebraska and his roots. The song “Middleman” is about a man with dreams that have never quite come through. You can taste the dust in your mouth as the lap steel and the woodwinds play on but with a twist – it feels like you’re listening to a 1920’s folk song while the lyrics speak of modern day times.

“I traveled through the atmosphere as a wall of feedback climbed, the pegs were gold, the band was old, they played in half time, now every dream gets whittled down just like every fool gets wise, you will never reap of any seed deprived of sunlight, so I have become the Middleman, the gray areas are mine, the in-between, the absentee is a beautiful disguise….”

The topics on this CD range from needing love, such as “Make a Plan to Love Me” a sweet calling out to a lover, and a guy in a traveling band as on “Soul Singer in a Session Band”. All of these songs have a lot to say and aren’t as simple minded as some of the other music coming out these days. But what really ties them together even more is the country-alt feel – modern, sometimes slow and breezy, sometimes drier than a hot July afternoon in Nebraska. It’s everything you picture it to be and he captures it well. I feel like I could be in a bar in the middle of nowheresville, the sun creeping through the tattered drapes while the jukebox plays the latest greatest hit from 1990 - and it feels good! www.thisisbrighteyes.com/ or www.myspace.com/brighteyes

It was a great weekend in Los Angeles. I am happy to report that thanks to my friend, Julie Neumark (www.myspace.com/julieneumark), the finishing and final unexpected tracks of NUMB have been laid down. It was a total fluke. I had invited her over last weekend to have a listen after the second ‘final mix’. I wanted fresh ears, a fresh perspective and someone who didn’t know my earlier work, or really any of it, actually. I wanted her instincts to speak out and they did – loud and clear. Not only did she like what she heard (which was a relief to realize I’m not off my rocker in offering these songs to the world), she had some ideas about the order, and ideas about what would enhance the overall production. While I’m not sure if she offered or if I asked, Julie ended up filling in some gaps with her beautiful voice and her awesome percussion playing.

It’s weird, really, I knew something was missing but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was too close to the music and it had been too many months working on these six songs. The work Julie and I did – or really she did as I just played engineer and producer – in two hours made a huge difference in making these songs sound more complete and full of life. She added her talent, her energy and her good vibes! I owe her a huge debt of gratitude and want to dedicate this entry to the hard work and intuition that she brought to this project. She is the cherry on the sundae, the frosting on the cupcake, the hollandaise on the Benedict. Julie, YOU ROCK!!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!!!

Thanks for tuning in…Untill next Monday…CHEERS!! And thanks to all who have tuned in over the last year – somehow it got by be that I started this blog one year ago on 3 April 2006. This is my 54th posting.

17 April 2007

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry?

I love Pink. I’m going to say it right now and I mean it. I’ve been a fan of hers since 2001 when I heard the song “Get The Party Started” (how could you have NOT heard it?). The song is from her second CD, Missundaztood, co-produced and co-written by Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes) who is in her own right a truly amazing singer and songwriter. When you get past the hit and listen to the rest of the CD what you find is not only catchy, it really makes you think hard about addiction, divorce, and what it means to be a social outcast. That’s a heady lot of tunes for the then 22 - year old to be singing about, but it worked. It was real, it was mature music beyond her years and it was impressive!

Needless to say I wasn’t surprised when I heard last year’s release “Dear Mr. President” (featuring the Indigo Girls). Right off the bat you are smacked by the intelligence and insight of the song.

“Dear Mr. President, Come take a walk with me. Let's pretend we're just two people and you're not better than me. I'd like to ask you some questions if we can speak honestly…How do you sleep while the rest of us cry? How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye? How do you walk with your head held high?
Can you even look me in the eye And tell me why?...”

(For the rest of the lyrics go to this link: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/pink/dearmrpresident.html)

I think what’s cool about the song is that it poses some serious questions about the world to an important man while maintaining a pop sensibility. You can hum along, you can sing along and if you want to – you can think about what she’s saying. Not that anyone hasn’t said this before or even written it before, but she asks direct questions and calls him on the carpet while doing so. Certainly she is not the first to write an accessible protest song, but the timing of it is what makes it even more powerful. No doubt, as others have said countless times before me, this song will be the anthem of this time in our history.

I was in Vegas yesterday (hence my not posting this on my usual Monday schedule) when I heard the news of the Virginia Tech massacre. While I try to keep this a blog about life in Los Angeles, I can’t help but on occasion comment about the world at large and how it affects me and the people I love. It was a fun trip and the cool thing about Vegas is that you go there and you forget the world. It’s easy to do and certainly we did it! We stayed at The Luxor, we ate at the buffet (twice) and I went to see my first Imax show. Amazing fun!

The horror of what we awoke to yesterday morning was unimaginable. Not only are too many people dead (one is too many in my book) what it says about the state of our country at this moment is hard to miss. We are a country filled with troubled and violent people (where isn’t?) and we don’t seem to care about our own. As congress debates funding today for the war that no one but Mr. President (and his cohorts) wants how about funding instead for people on our own soil? What about this kid who thought that by killing 33 people his problems would be solved. No matter that he was not an American born citizen, but he was a child of this country.

Why are we ignoring our fellow citizens? Why still are thousands from New Orleans not home in their rebuilt houses and apartments? Why do I have a homeless guy(s) sleeping out back behind my building? Why are we trying to save other countries from dictators when we have our own to worry about? One can only imagine the desperation that all these people feel and felt. The system we have is failing. We failed the students of Columbine, we failed Cho Seung-Hui, we ARE failing the victims of emotional and nature imposed disasters. So Mr. President, how DO you sleep?

Thanks for tuning in…until next Monday…CHEERS!!!

09 April 2007

I’ll be perfect in my own way, when you cry I will be there I’ll sing to you and comb your hair…

I can’t resist quoting my all time favourite Everything But The Girl (EBTG) song, “Apron Strings” from their 1988 album, Idylwild. Actually they (a duo comprised of Tracy Thorn and Ben Watt) are one of my all time favourite bands and a huge influence of mine. Most people, however, know them from their 1995 disco hit, “Missing” from Amplified Heart, not one of my favourite CD’s of theirs but a cool song nonetheless. One can only imagine my excitement the other day when I was listening to XM radio and on came a new song by, not EBTG, but the amazing Tracey Thorn. Out Of The Woods is her first solo project since 1982 and from what I can hear on her myspace page it’s pretty cool. www.myspace.com/traceythorn

Not since the late great Karen Carpenter has there been a voice as angelic as Tracey Thorn’s. It’s a silky smooth resonating voice that few can even comprehend of until they hear it.

While it’s hard to imagine her without Ben Watt, the songs on this CD are truly her own. While much of the CD seems to be along the lines of a mellow electronica dance mix (which I really like), the songs “Hands Up To The Ceiling” and “By Piccadilly Station” are quieter tunes that remind us of her softer more contemplative side. Either way, whether it’s a collaborative song with Ewan Pearson or Cagedbaby, whatever your mood, this work is just as relevant and amazing as her work with Ben Watt. I highly suggest you check it out because clearly she is more than Everything But The Girl.

I’m posting this late because it felt like a good day to mix up the morning routine. Usually I wake up every Monday and write this blog while drinking my coffee and having a bite to eat. Then I post it, go for a run and lately prepare for work or prepare to look for it. After a week off it felt time to go back to Solstice Canyon Park. This time, however, we managed to stay on the path, we didn’t get lost and so far I don’t have Poison Ivy.

I’m not sure I ever mentioned that after the last hike I got very ill because of that silly plant. I was hot during our hike so I unzipped the legs off my North Face pants thinking that it was chilly enough not to be concerned. And heck, why would I still even be allergic? Allergies run in seven year cycles, it’s been years since I’ve gotten it (or maybe years since I’ve been exposed) so I should be ok, right? NO.

It was a slow attack, in fact, I felt fine for a few days. An itch here, an itch there, but nothing major. Than, WHAM! All of a sudden my legs were on fire. I paid a heavy price for that lack of connecting the dots. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t sleep for a week despite creams, lotions, 3 salt baths a day and countless other tricks. I was in pain, I was cranky, I was in HELL. It was stupid and it was my fault. I should have rubbed my legs with baby wipes when I got back to the car, run home and jumped in the shower, just to be safe. NOPE. I should have known better. I’m not super-human, I’m clearly not immune and I’M clearly STILL FREAK’N ALLERGIC!!

This morning I took the last of my ‘medication’, Rhus Tox (you can find it at Whole Foods) that I succumbed to ingesting, 3 times a day, after a week of getting worse not better. It saved my life and it saved me from having to take steroids as I’ve had to do in the past. Today’s hike was a ‘facing my demon, getting back on the horse’ victory of sorts. Not only did we hike up and down 6 miles of terrain, I never once unzipped my legs despite the sweat pouring out of me, I didn’t touch any plants I shouldn’t, and I rushed home after a trip to the beach to jump in the shower. Hmmm…maybe I’m not too old to learn new tricks after all. Of course we’ll see how I feel next week ;).

Thanks for tuning in…Until next Monday…CHEERS!

02 April 2007

I’m open, you’re closed, I follow, you’ll go…

It might be one of the more over-used promo songs of the last two years, but “Collide” from Howie Day’s major –label debut, Stop The World Now (2005), is not just some junky overwrought sappy tune. If you listen to more than the catchy ‘doo doo do do do” part they use in those ads you’ll find a song that at it’s heart is about how opposites attract, and despite conventional wisdom, don’t always stick. It’s a clever song and probably one of my personal favourites of the last couple of years. In fact, the whole CD is pretty cool, while not earth shatteringly different in it’s production values the way Mat Kearney’s CD, Nothing Left To Loose, is, he definitely sings some good material and gets to the heart of things.

This Bangor, Maine native started playing music at the age of five and by the time he was fifteen was already playing in bars and working towards performing on the college circuit. He basically landed on the map by playing any gig he could, and allowing his shows to be taped and thusly shared – in fact he encouraged it. He got where he is because of hard work and word of mouth. This technique helped him to sell over 30,000 copies of his self -financed first full length CD, Australia (2001, produced by the incomparable Boston legend Mike Denneen), over the internet, or at his shows. It’s an impressive feat and one that should be looked upon as a lesson to any up and coming singer - songwriter. Hard work, talent, and a desire to get your word out there despite not having a label to back you can get you pretty far.

This year we can expect a new full length CD to be released. In the meantime, I encourage you to look a little deeper into Stop All The World Now. It’s more than just one good, over-used promo song. Have a listen to “She Says”, “Perfect Time Of Day”, “End Of Our Days”, or “Sunday Morning Days”. Wow. Ok – I just caught myself – lots of “days” mentioned in those songs, the irony not being lost on me at this moment, but still – you get the point. Sometimes you have to dig deeper to really appreciate an artist, and just because a record label releases a song as a single doesn’t make it the best tune that the artist wrote. www.myspace.com/howieday or www.howieday.com

Speaking of writing some good work, I want to take this time to tell you about a blog that I think is really cool. One of my oldest, dearest friends in the world and a good friend to my family, Henry Beecher Stowe (yes, that Stowe family), writes a politically minded blog called Henry’s Corner http://www.freewebs.com/swamprat73/index.htm.

At times it’s a hilarious view on the world of local and national politics and at other times it’s a serious and meaningful commentary on the world around him. He’s a reformed Republican (both of our families are rolling in their graves at that thought) who currently resides in Florida, which alone has its many rib-tickling quirks. It’s interesting to read his blog because like me he’s a die hard New Englander who loves his Martini’s and loves to talk politics while drinking them. It also happens to be very well written, well spoken and thoughtful. He’s a very cool guy who has some fascinating paradoxes and for those who don’t know him, can be a hard man to figure out. But that’s what makes him and his blog so interesting. I am eternally grateful to him, and his family, for their love and support currently and during some very formative years of my youth. So do yourself a favour – check out a new perspective and check him out!

Thanks for tuning in….Until next Monday…CHEERS!!!