Critical consensus rules the rock world. We need look no farther than the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which is populated by – and only by – those bands approved by Jann Wenner, Dave Marsh and other such twats. That is, those musicians and groups that have played nice with Rolling Stone and thus get four stars for every release, regardless of how much it might actually suck (hello, REM!). So…Billy Joel, you’re in (bleh)…Blue Oyster Cult, sorry.
Well, the same often goes for albums…there are records revered as classics, and others as duds, and often the general consensus is right on – but not always. And, many of those albums revered as “classics” have lousy stuff on them, just as those held in critical disregard have at least a couple of great cuts. As for Neil Young’s 1986 release “Landing On Water”: as the kids say, it’s all good.
If you’re the kind of person that can’t get past a certain type of production, forget it. Of course, if that’s a problem, you’re also probably the kind of person that can’t get past a certain type of voice, in which case you most likely aren’t a fan anyway. But the sound of this record is, to put it mildly, in your face. Particularly the drums, which, had the record been a hit, would have boosted Excedrin sales considerably.
Get around that, though, and what you have is a set of really strong tunes, typically gnarly guitar work, and solid ensemble playing, as well as a Neil Young record that you haven’t heard several thousand times. I mean, honestly, when was the last time you played Harvest? Let alone Tonight’s The Night? If you’re like me – that is, a longtime fan and general obsessive – those records, as well as the Rust bunch and the so-called “Ditch Trilogy” (…Night, Time Fades Away, On The Beach) are stored in your brain-RAM, and actually putting them on for a listen is, in fact, redundant.
In a perfect world, Young would go back and re-mix this record and it would be rediscovered as the gem it is. These songs were, supposedly, originally recorded by Crazy Horse a year or two previous, but didn’t have what Young refers to as “the spook.” As told in James McDonough’s spotty bio Shakey, Young then convened with drummer Steve Jordan and guitarist Danny Kortchmar to re-cut them. It would be interesting to hear the original Crazy Horse sessions, because the songs are all solid – perhaps a future Archives release will offer a listen – but in the meantime, don’t ignore this record, it’s fantastic and,for me at least, it’s in my Young top-ten-albums list, quite possibly top five. Which is to day, I really dig it – the whole thing, front to back.
Check “People On the Street”:
And the song that got the most attention when the record was released, a love song/poison pen missive aimed at David Crosby, then languishing in a cloud of freebase:
All the elements that make Neil Young what he is are right there: the acid tongue, barbed-wire guitar, brilliant songwriting, brutal honesty, and underlying love/despairfor humanity – wrapped up in a big, noisy package. What’s not to like?
I love the Sound Opinions podcast; the only music podcast I’ve ever found that’s worth a download, I rarely miss it, but their musical guests – mainly fished from the indie stream - often annoy me. No real surprise there, lots of things annoy me, but this couple, Mark Lanegan of grunge wave-riders Screaming Trees, and Isobel Campbell of twee-sters Belle and Sebastian, really rang the bell. They have a new record, Hawk. Vanguard has apparently written a nice big check for promotion, because I see the above picture everywhere. Now, I haven’t heard the entire record – that cover, with its serious-artist-preciousness is quite enough to scare me off – but I knew I was in for it when, in their introduction of the band, the Soundcheck hosts played a cut that featured the pair mewling their own set of lyrics over James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World”. Has that song not been abused enough? Apparently not. Please let it end here. Write your own damn song, peoples. Leave the Godfather to rest in peace.
So. Apparently the critical touchstones here are the semi-classic Lee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra cuts of the mid-60s (Jackson, Boots are Made for Walking, Summer Wine, Some Velvet Morning et al) but this pair lack the special something that make those tunes – enjoyable, interesting, fun, but hardly great art – stand out. Take a listen to “Time of the Season,” as performed by the Desultory Duo on the program, and tell me I’m wrong – is there not far too much effort being made to appear effortless? The song’s kinda lame to begin with (it’s not the Zombies number, they just borrowed the title – again, originality not a real concern here); it was probably doomed from the start with me, anyway, because this wifty oh-so-fragile female vocal style is something I’ve hated forever. Combine it with the guy from the Crash Test Dummies (not literally in this case, but close enough) and – oy.
Chase it with some Pretenders to get back to zero.
Cibo Matto only lasted for two elpees and a few odd what-have-yous. This in no way diminish their greatness. Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda put out some of the kickingest, funniest, most tuneful hiphop the world has ever known, and while their subsequent solo efforts have much in the way of charm, the sum of the parts etc etc.
They’ve been gone a long time, but now I read that they will play the Hollywood Bowl this summer…this after another one-off show in NYC earlier this year. I continue to be pissed off that I live in the boondocks. Seriously: I love this band.
“Spoon” from their 2nd/swan song, “Stereotype A,” is a serious slice of funkiness:
Earlier on, they cut this killer cover of Nirvana’s “About A Girl”…they worked with latin-style beats fairly often, and quite effectively. The vocals are always charming, the beats in the pocket, the lyrics and attitude hilarious. I have to fight the urge to post their cover of Sammy Davis’s “Candyman”. Go buy their records.
As I gear up for a slew of music-related efforts (record a CD, shoot a video, book some gigs) I find myself wondering what, exactly, is the point? Of course, the larger answer to that is, I will make money. But is it money that I absolutely need? Not really. So, what else?
This is a lot of work, especially in the start-up phase, and fairly expensive to boot. I’m 51 years old, which means I’ve been running around gigging for 32 years. At what point does one say, “enough”? What am I trying to prove? A question I ask myself a lot lately. And my answer is something along the lines of, well, I’ve been working on this craft for all this time – wouldn’t be kind of a waste to stop now?
But between a 40-hr-a-week job, a family, a dog, and a 70-year old house, free time is not at a premium. Maybe a couple of hours in the evening, just as fatigue sets in…I head to my man-cave to try practice, write, arrange, plan, correspond, etc…when most guys my age are sitting on the couch watching TV, or reading a good book. Both of which I do, but it takes me weeks to get through a whole movie, months to read a book.
I should add that booking a band is a nightmare of unreturned phone calls, unacknowledged emails, and general asspain; especially in the start-up phase, when nobody really knows who you are or how incredibly tremendous your music is. Nor do they care; generally, bookers and clubowners just wish you would go away.
So, again…why? I guess because it’s what I do, what I’ve always done. To impress my friends, hopefully, and others as well; show ‘em how fantastic I am, theoretically. The need to express myself? Not so much, I don’t think. Everything I need to express, I’ve expressed over the years; I’m pretty much expressed out.
I guess a big part of it is keeping up with the Joneses…especially with Facebook now, everyone’s fabulous existence is visible, and I want to keep up. Pathetic? Slightly, but at the same time, it keeps me from sitting on that couch in front of the TV every night.
Anyway, as you can see, it’s been a busy 30 or so years. This photo presentation does not include the San Francisco funk band Moe’s Kitchen, because for some reason there was little to no photographic documentation of that band. It was a pretty good one, comprising (for me) the years 1997-1999.
While in SF, I started my own band, a blues-based act called the Converse All Stars.
The name followed me back east.
Immediately after returning to the East Coast from San Francisco, I joined a Harrisburg variety band and played weddings and corporate gigs for seven years, before quitting at the end of 2009. I resurrected the Converse All Stars shortly after that…and that’s where I am today: trying to get things off the ground, once again. Why bother? Who the hell knows. Here we go.
I blog to document the idiocy going forward. Whatever happens, it’s sure to be somewhat entertaining. For somebody.
I like this picture from the Converse All Stars gig last month. Shortly after it was taken, we all burst into flame and were incinerated. L-to-R, Yers Trooly, George Yellak, Andy Roberts. Photo by Jeff Triick.