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January 21, 2008

CREATIVE AWAKENING

The Kennedys explore the unconscious mind

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Dreaming is a great source of creativity, says singer/multi-instrumentalist Pete Kennedy, and he and wife Maura tested that theory while writing songs for the latest Kennedys album, Better Dreams (Appleseed).

"Maura had been reading up on dreaming, and she had started keeping a journal of dreams," he recalls. "She discovered that if you write things down right away when you wake up, and you go back a few months later, you’d be amazed at some of the stuff you wrote down -- stuff you hadn’t thought about since then.

"When you’re dreaming, you're not thinking about stuff like, 'I gotta go to the post office and the bank,' " Pete adds. "That never enters in -- you're just acting on your creative impulses in a dream. And if you write that stuff down, suddenly you have all these songs that have no mundane quality about them."

Maura wrote a few songs in that manner, Pete says. When she discovered that some friends were interested in doing the same, the folk-rock duo conducted dream-unlocking songwriting seminars in late 2006 and early 2007.

"Everybody in the course had written songs, and they all felt they had made some breakthroughs [from the seminars] in their songwriting," Pete recalls.

By summer 2007, the Kennedys started thinking about making an album of dream-themed songs.

"You have artistic license once you start writing, so you can take part of the dream and build a song around it," he says. "You didn't necessarily write down what's in the dream."

Not every song was literally from a dream -- "there just had to be connections throughout the album," Pete says.

" 'Sago Mine' -- that's a real event that happened; it's about those guys who died in that mine in West Virginia," he explains. "When you die that way -- we didn't get so graphic in the song -- you go to sleep from lack of oxygen, so that's obviously a really different kind of dream. Then the very next song is 'Light My Way' -- it's picturing a loved one in a dream."

The Kennedys recorded Better Dreams in various locations around the United States, including motels in Austin, Texas, and Flagstaff, Ariz.

"We always take portable recording stuff with us," Pete says. "We haven't been in a real recording studio since '95, so we've done about eight albums since then all on our portable gear -- sometimes at home, and if we go on the road, we take the stuff with us."

-- By Chris M. Junior

January 13, 2008

2008 NEW YORK GUITAR FESTIVAL

The "Royal Albert Hall" Project
Jan. 12, 2008
World Financial Center's Winter Garden
New York, N.Y.

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Belle and Sebastian's Stevie Jackson performs "Visions of Johanna"

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Former Drive-By Truckers guitarist Jason Isbell performs "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"

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Kelly Joe Phelps performs "Mr. Tambourine Man"

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Jim Lauderdale (left) and John Leventhal perform "Tell Me, Momma"

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Laura Cantrell performs "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)"

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Chocolate Genius Inc. performs "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat"

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Lenny Kaye performs "One Too Many Mornings"

-- All photos by Chris M. Junior

RADIOHEAD -- IN RAINBOWS

Rewarding music and unique CD packaging

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Last October, Radiohead released its new album on the Internet with a risky pay-what-you-choose option, and the marketing strategy apparently was a major success. But despite the numerous downloads, In Rainbows (TBD) also made a splash this month in its physical form, selling enough CDs to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.

No matter the form, it's a rewarding collection of music from a band still at the top of its game.

Radiohead has never been a very pop-oriented or idealistic band. The sometimes razor-sharp (but obscure) lyrics by frontman Thom Yorke have tackled the bleaker aspects of the human condition. The new disc confronts alienation, answered prayers, depression and obsession with the most mellifluous melodies in rock music today.

In "15 Steps," the opening cut, the Sisyphean narrator intones the repetitiveness of life. He climbs "15 steps/then a sheer drop/How come I end up where I start up?"

"Reckoner," one of the more up-tempo cuts on the disc, alludes to the album's title and perhaps the band's pragmatic view of life as a short bittersweet affair: "Because we separate like ripples on a blank shore/In Rainbows."

"Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" is a tale of obsession and one of the highlights of the album. The subtle guitar and drum effects are used to perfection, wrapping the lyrics in a sublime aura that echoes "How to Disappear Completely" from Kid A.

"All I Need" is about the dark side of an answered prayer. The main character is disconnected, yearning for a relationship of value. "I am a man who just wants to share your light," he pleads. But in the end, he resigns himself with "I only stick with you because there are no others." This is about as close as Yorke and the band get to a drippy love song.

Confusion and angst abound in "Bodysnatchers," and the song ends with the defeated lyric "I'm a lie."

The closing track, "Videotape," is perhaps the most chilling song on the album, concerned with a dying man ("When Mephistophilis is just beneath/And he's reaching up to grab me") recording a message that will be played after he is gone. "This is my way of saying goodbye … I won't be afraid."

The actual CD packaging is unique in that it consists of one piece of paper, and the package houses the CD (and booklet with lyrics) and two stickers (front, back and two edges) that the buyer can place in a regular jewel case.

The quality of the musicianship is top-notch. Yorke is in especially fine form, his voice occasionally soaring over the music, or echoing from a dark hallway. Jonny Greenwood's quirky arrangements using guitar, strings and an obscure instrument called an Ondes Martenot (a keyboard similar to a theremin) adds to the band's unique sound.

Some of the tunes sound as if they were composed in a mental asylum by characters out of Edgar Allan Poe. Many of the band members are multi-instrumentalists, and this illuminates the density and complexity at the core of the group. With repeated listenings, the music seeps into the pores and stays there.

-- By Donald Gavron

January 08, 2008

SONGS APLENTY

Ari Hest launches ambitious Web service

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It's not unusual for a musician's calendar to be filled with commitments a year in advance.

New York singer/songwriter Ari Hest's datebook for 2008 is rather unique, though. Throughout '08, he will deliver one new song per week to subscribers of his Web-based service called 52, which he launched Jan. 7 with the song "One Two."

Hest says he felt it was time to try something different after parting ways with Columbia Records. He asked out of his deal last July, roughly two months after the label released his most recent album, The Break-In.

"[The disc] was getting no push," he says. "It had already happened with another album of mine there [2004's Someone to Tell], and I was not gonna waste any more time."

He'll need to make valuable use of his time in 2008 in order to keep up with his one-song-per-week commitment.

"I had a good 15 or so [tunes] in the works [prior to launching 52]," he says, "but none of them were finished except for 'One Two.' I have a lot of half-written material and plan on writing a whole lot more for this.

"I'm finding the challenge to be more with the recording/production phases, where I am treading in unfamiliar waters. I'm expecting a lot of stress each week, but I think the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks."

Listeners will play a role in the creative process, Hest says.

"I will be asking them to submit possible song titles to me throughout the year and pick a few to do," he explains. "Those will probably be the most difficult because there will be less time to think things through, but who knows? Maybe that's a good thing."

Hest is leaning toward sparse production, and there will be some full-band-type recordings among his high-quality MP3s.

"I am trying to play all the instruments, but there are going to be some [songs that will require] outside help," he says.

Hest's 52 initiative will not prevent him from concert performances in 2008. He expects to do "a good amount of both college and club tours."

"I plan to be out on the road in March and April a good deal," he says. "I can bring everything I need to record with me.

"That's the beauty of the 'studio' I have. It fits in a bag -- a small bag. I haven't made plans for summer or fall touring but do expect to do some then as well."

At the end of '08, Hest will compile the top songs as voted by listeners for an album that will be released in 2009.

-- By Chris M. Junior

January 01, 2008

TEN YOU MAY HAVE MISSED IN 2007

Once again, I, Gary Pig Gold, lived the year with ears wide open, forever scouting far under the socio-musical radar for sounds that may just have passed you by over the past twelve months and counting.

So, here then is a Top 10 of sorts, respectfully listed, as always, in strictest alphabetical order.

* Debris -- Static Disposal (Anopheles)
Like its creatively miscreant Canadian cousins Simply Saucer, Chickasha, Okla.’s one and only Debris spent those dreaded mid-'70s recording some of the most totally incongruent, while at the same time brilliantly iconic music this side of your nearest, dearest Dictators demo. And, thanks to those ultra-visionaries at Anopheles Records, more than a full hour of these historic, histrionic sounds -- including the band’s entire semi-self-released 1976 vinyl long-player -- are herein recycled for all the world to embrace and/or run screaming in the opposite direction from.

Veering most wackily from post-"Trout Mask" repartee to EchoPlex-laden merry lo-frequency modulations, the hard bedrock ‘neath it all somehow always keeps things concrete and coherent in solid Blue Cheer style. Is it any wonder then that Debris had a standing invitation throughout '76 to play both Max’s Kansas City and CBGB (too very, very bad they never made it, though). Suffice to say, "Static D" must certainly be 2007's most challenging, yet ultimately rewarding, deep sonic experience.
www.myspace.com/debris1975
www.anophelesrecords.com

* The Doughboys -- Is It Now? (Ram)
The true teen originators of vintage-‘66 Jersey Beat (read all about it in Richard X Heyman's literally loud Boom Harangue book), Plainfield, N.J.'s very own Doughboys have just now released their first new recordings in -- wait for it! -- four long decades. Yet so far from sounding in any way retro-stalgic, the band's debut CD (produced at the House of Vibes in Highland Park, N.J.) is quite simply, quite pimply, a red-white-and-blues-too, all-American roller-rock wonder that easily puts such pretenders to the Jersey throne as that Boss man, for one, straight to shame and back. Nothing but cool, crafty meat 'n' potatoes rock and soul -- and whenever none other than original Nashville Strawb John Hawken adds his Alan-priceless 88's to the equation, things get even, well, doughier!

Yes, in a fair and just world, the D-Boys' "Too Little Too Late" for starters would be tops inside not only Little Steven's Underground Garage -- but that's hardly any excuse to keep on waiting to get your own copy of this disc.
www.myspace.com/thedoughboysnj

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* The Freddie Steady 5 -- Tex-Pop (SteadyBoy)
Bonafide-and-then-some Texas Hall of Famer Freddie Krc -- yes, he of Explosives and even Roky Erickson fame -- keeps things more than merely steady throughout this 13-track, 38-minute breath of fresh Austin, Texas, air. Ably astride alongside Patterson Barrett's Farfisa-soaked carnival keyboards, Freddie dreams of 2001's Cavestomp Fest, crossing Jackie DeShannon by way of Gene Clark ("She Has a Way," indeed). And as if all that wasn't nearly more than enough, "What’s So Hard About Love" nods most reverently toward Augie Meyers whilst whipping up its very own Texas tornado or three.

Meanwhile, in between spinning all this Tex-Pop (and waiting for the next Bill Lloyd disc), check out Mr. Krc's other grand 2007 project -- none other than SteadyBoy’s Jenny Wolfe and the Pack.
www.myspace.com/freddiesteady
www.steadyboyrecords.com

* The Lickity-Splits -- Another Taste of the Lickity-Splits (Lickity-Splits)
I duly raved rabid all over (Col. Knowledge and) The Lickity-Splits' 2005 Bomp!/Alive disc, but despite even that, somehow this delicious combo's latest and greatest has yet to find an actual real-world release! Nevertheless, said grand new lickity taste continues mining that same rollicking frat-rock as ever, conjuring the perfectly greasy pre-Beatles production, um, values of no less than Sen. John Kerry's 1961 Electras LP whilst sometimes – simultaneously! – shakin' and quakin' with all the anti-aplomb of Otis Day and his Knights' bastard sons.

These never more than four- to eight-track home-recorded gems just go to prove, yet again, that it's the song that honestly counts.
www.myspace.com/colknowledgeampthelickitysplits

* Lolas -- Like the Sun (Jam)
The first three bars may sound terrifyingly (late-period) Frank Zappa, but fear not, for the remaining 58-minutes-plus of this latest day-glo treat from Tim Boykin and company is one harmony 'n' soleil-drenched, slap-happy pickin', grinnin' treat throughout. You see, as he makes sure within all his powerfully popping productions, Boykin never ever fails to keep it infectiously melodic, yet whilst always remembering to layer the snap and crackle. For example, “Watch the Movie” is enough to make one toss their last three – at least! – Paul McCartney albums, "Sticker" could revive those Swinging Blue Jeans with one white guitar stuck behind its back and "Going All the Way," for starters, should absolutely score the very next Quentin Tarantino epic.

Meanwhile, "Ramon Ghetto Chef 2" is the great Black Sabbath/Sweet gunfight that, most unfortunately, never was.
http://timmehworld.com
www.jamrecordings.com

* The Modd Couple -- Daze Gone By (Modd Couple)
Brooklyn, N.Y.-born, street (and AM radio) raised, and today warmly Florida-based, the most moddest couple I've ever really known have created another half hour of sweetly sublime, wholly two-straw shake-worthy soft pop pleasure for your lazy next Sunday afternoon. Only ever needing Rick Silver's guitar, Terry Bo Berry's percussion and their twin voices like (as per "When We’re In Love") chocolate/vanilla, Dacron silk rainbow snowballs, theirs is the kind of quite quietly understated music which, if you’ll let it, draws you instantly, welcomingly and entirely in. And then once you’re “there,” the rewards can be many, and often. For example: "Baby Don’t You Turn Your Back on Me" turns into the finest slice of Belmont Avenue doo-wop of the strictest, sweet city Dion caliber I've heard in pig’s years!
www.myspace.com/themoddcouple

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* Jack Pedler -- Let's Get Nervous! (Race)
Welcome to Wonderful J.A.C.K! (Do not adjust your set). Voted Drummer of the Year at the Hamilton Music Awards -- Hamilton, Ontario, Canada being, and remaining, the most musical ‘burg in all of North America, at least – the beat beneath most every single great white northward record of note now unleashes his latest uneasy listening masterwork. And what a nerve-mauling delight it surely is, extremely broadcast throughout in true Firesign Theatre by way of Who Sell Out pirated radio waves.

We belt immediately off with that one and lonely "Diesel Drivin’ Dyke" deep into "Toxin Town," which, by the by, should be adopted without delay by the aforementioned Hamilton’s Chamber of Commerce. And speaking of the newest world orders, "Mapled Red and White" just must be the definitive alt.-Canuck national anthem some of us have been waiting all along for.
www.racerecords.ca/artist2.html

* The Sprague Brothers -- Best of the EssBee CD's Vol. 2 (El Toro)
Here they both come again! For the third – count 'em – year-end in a row, Frank Lee and Chris Sprague made my list with this Spanish (!) assemblage of tracks originally released on a series of albums for their legion Japanese (!!) fans. Yep, the Sprague Brothers’ indisputably international way with a tune run rampant from, speaking of fellow Lone Stars, the Bobby Fuller-y "All Night Long" and even a couple of ravin’-on pre-Crickets Buddy Holly hoppers ("Down the Line" and my long-time fave "Gotta Get You Near Me Blues") clear on cross-pond toward several hunks of Frank Lee's be-luv-ed Merseybeat ("She Won’t Stay For Long," most especially).

And while they’re at it, where would John and Paul ever been without Don and Phil (e.g.: the Spragues' startlingly mature reading of the Everly Brothers' "So How Come" and a similar take on the Searchers' "Goodbye My Love”). Mix ‘em all together and top with some hot country and surf instrumentals, and you have here 20 choice cuts that, as Frank Lee himself insists, are "influenced by none, inspired by many."
www.thespraguebrothers.com
www.eltororecords.com

* The Squires of the Subterrain and Big Boy Pete -- Rock It Racket (Rocket Racket)
This brazenly self-confessed "mostly mono split CD hootenanny" between the most legendary Big Boy Pete Miller (got any Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers vinyl in your collection?) and that equally stature-esque Squire Christopher Earl is one half-hour’s-plus of rockin' and then rollin’ bopabilly, guaranteed to send stockings to the closest dance floor within a half dozen shakes of Tom T. Hall's opening "Make Like a Snake." Yes, the source material is, not surprisingly at all, impeccable throughout (Charlie Rich, Larry Williams, Buddy Holly 'n' Bobby Fuller, again!) and the performances never less than reverent, but without putting anything, or anyone, in any museum whatsoever, musical or otherwise. Just take the Big Boy’s fractured 'n' frenzied take on "Queen of the Hop" -- why, I haven’t heard such a joyous jumble since those Cramps hijacked the first Mungo Jerry album.

And the Squire's original compositions herein are nothing to be sneezed upon, either -- in particular the two-by-four to the floor'd "86 Lumber" and that completely hungover "I Quit Quit Drinking Today."
www.squiresofthesubterrain.com
www.bigboypete.com

* Robin Stanley -- Chronic Empire (Creative Artists)
My good longtime Vancouver pal Robin, who I spent many an evening playing bass for within the Fun With Numbers band a decade or two ago, at last returns with another thought-provoking yet ultimately uplifting collection of ruminations upon home, heart and matters even further and deeper reaching. Now, unlike the majority of his contemporaries, here is a man, and a songwriter, with a keen eye for detail and an ear set to make some sort of sonic logic from all around him, and me, and you. In other words, this is one disc that proudly wears its lyrics right there on its inner sleeve.

Then musically, too, each track sports a gaunt sophistication in both arrangement and performance ("Born Under a Bad Sign" in particular). "A Heart Without a Home" effortlessly drags Blood on the Tracks Dylan clean into chronic R.E.M. fields, "Love’s Made a Fool of Me" similarly declouds the often foggy Daniel Lanois approach and you’ll find Robin’s "Suburban Lawns" spread happily beneath their fondest waterloo sunset. Elsewhere, Lyndon Toftager’s accordion adds a perfectly sorrowful world-weariness to "Angel of Mercy," and also bringing much to the mix is lead guitarist Ian Crew, whose "Best Mistake" solo cuts just like a Mick Taylor of old.

But always atop it all, Robin's vocals are extremely assured and biting in their sincerity, necessary indeed when singing of "Waiting for the World to End" in frightful John Fogerty fashion, for one. Indeed, this is a collection of songs that may require repeated close listens before fully revealing their close-knit weave of lyrical and musical sophistication, but Robin always was a novel as opposed to comic book sorta guy.
www.robin-stanley.com

Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M'Lou Music label.