Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kickin' Down the Cobblestones in Folk Alley

I always say there's nothing better than a mandolin in the morning.

Even though I'm having a fairly cranky day, this holds true - the luminous WXPN out of the University of Pennsylvania managed to put a smile on my face with their "Folk Alley" channel. They describe it this way:

"Folk Alley is XPN's NEW 24/7 music stream featuring a blend of singer-songwriter, Celtic, acoustic, Americana, traditional and world sounds. It is produced by WKSU in Kent, Ohio." (Having lived in Ohio for 4 years, I had to appreciate the shout-out.)

Just heard a few hysterical anti-Administration songs by Christine Lavin ("The Liar Sleeps Tonight" was particularly amusing) and a song from the Once soundtrack.

Cue it up and enjoy!

JPP Review: Aimee Mann, Whatever

The latest Just Press Play review is Aimee Mann's debut.

The first paragraph:

In 1993, amidst little attention, former ‘Til Tuesday frontwoman Aimee Mann released her debut album, Whatever. Until that moment, Mann was something of a one-hit wonder, known in mainstream America, if she was known at all, for Tuesday’s 80s radio hit “Voices Carry”. And while few people took notice of Whatever at the time, it signaled the arrival of a formidable songwriting force and a return to a solidly poppy sound that was suffering at the time. Against the backdrop of music that made up 1993, from the grunge of Pearl Jam and Nirvana to the hardcore of Tool and Sepultura to the angry-girl eclecticism of PJ Harvey and Bjork, Aimee Mann, with her jangly choruses, intelligent lyrics and solidly memorable tunes, sounded like she came from another planet.

For the rest, click here.

Ignoring how creepily, Clockwork-Orange high she looks, here's an excellent rockin' version of "I Should've Known " from 1993:

And here' s a cool behind-the-scenes doc from the Live at St. Ann's Warehouse dvd set to an acoustic version of"Way Back When" (it's bookended by part of a fairly nervous interview - pay no heed):

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New album alert

I'm totally running around like crazy right now, but I wanted to share a new artist I recently discovered thanks to Whitney and the always-awesome Pop Candy.

Jeremy Fisher's debut album "Goodbye Blue Monday" was released on Tuesday and if the four songs he's posted on his MySpace page are any indication, it's pretty awesome. I am particularly obsessed with "Scar That Never Heals" ("She runs guns, everyone wants guns...") It almost sounds like a Graduate-era Simon and Garfunkel with a really dark sense of humor. Well worth checking out.

Friday, September 14, 2007

JPP Review: Leona Naess

This week's contribution to Just Press Play is the self-titled album from folkstress Leona Naess.

The first 'graph:

Leona Naess has the kind of sultry, wounded voice that jazz legends are made of. But she is no chanteuse- in fact, there are very few jazz influences at work on this self-titled album, her third major-label release. She often sounds like she's had one too many glasses of Scotch, so her confessional style of folk-pop lends itself nicely to that atmosphere. Listening to this album, her third major-label release, it often feels like you just pulled up a bar stool next to her as she started singing her troubles. Or that you ran across her at a campfire and she pulled out her acoustic guitar to lament lost love into the night sky. The album sounds organic and warm, the sparse accompaniment allowing her distinctive voice to shine through. (A strong Edie Brickell influence is evident in the character of her voice, a sort of little-girl innocence mixed with the Scotch.)

For the rest, go here.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Have some fun with it

Modern-rock god Elvis Costello is all the more admirable for being so humble, down-to-earth and funny. So I was totally unsurprised to see him admitting to a clever and creative prank:

"I recorded some new melodies for some of my older songs, and for a gag I recorded them on just a cassette player. And I didn't have a microphone so I plugged in headphones into the tape recorder, because you switch them backwards, they work as a microphone. I didn't want to be like a Luddite, so I put them on a CDR, and I put 10 of the CDRs in 10 copies of the 'best of' record that we released in April, and hid 'em in the shops in America, just to see whether anybody bought records anymore.

"And as nobody's found 'em yet and it's now September, I guess nobody buys records anymore. But somewhere somebody's gonna get a little surprise one of these days . . . They're gonna be in Wal-Mart or somewhere, and they're gonna buy one of these records and they're gonna discover a little free gift from me. . . . There's not enough fun with the business of music. It's all very serious. The record thing for as long as it's gonna last, it needs a little mischief put back into it." - Elvis, Sept. 7 (2007), in The Tennessean.

(Thanks Elvis Costello Home Page!)

Here are a couple of a classic Elvis performances:

The rebellious performance of "Radio, Radio" on Saturday Night Live in 1977. Costello was asked to perform "Less Than Zero," which he starts here before stopping and relaunching into "Radio, Radio." For this, he was banned from SNL for 12 years. (The irony to me is that they preferred he play a song about a man with a Swastika tattoo.)

Then, in a genius comic twist, Costello mocked his own rebellion on SNL's 25th anniversary special in 2000, interrupting a performance of the Beastie Boys "Sabotage" so they could perform the iconic Costello song together.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Song a Day

For the past year, I've been getting a daily e-mail from Page-A-Day Calendars with a different song recommmendation on it every day. I've compiled about 50 of the suggestions into a new LTF playlist, at right.

It's a pretty eclectic assortment of classic jazz, early rock 'n roll, vintage independent releases from the 80s and 90s and very current stuff, from Andy Williams to Bowling for Soup to Brian Eno to Buddy Holly. (And those are just the first four artists.) I guarantee you'll discover a song you've never heard before in this mix. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The right song at the right time

I know I'm supposed to have moral issues with the use of real music - particularly cutting-edge indie music or iconic, groundbreaking rock music - in advertising. Something about artistic integrity being mutually exclusive with the soul-lessness of trying to sell mass quantities of unnccessary products, if I understand it correctly. But I can't help it: if an ad is done well, it's like a beautiful little piece of art that makes you look at the world differently and appreciate a song in a whole new way as well.

That was the case when I saw my favorite commercial of all time, the (controversial) Nick Drake/Volkswagen commercial:

And it's also the case for this inspired and beautiful Sony commercial that features the song "Heartbeats" by Jose Gonzalez. I just love all those colorful bouncing balls and the song in the background:

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Feist does late-night TV right

I often wonder, when I'm watching artists take on the circuit of late-night TV, why they don't try to do something more interesting, provocative or creative than just rehash a album-sounding version of the latest radio hit. Well, as if she sensed my criticism, Canadian indie rocker Feist has been putting in some awesome performances on late-night TV lately. First there was a peripatetic version of "I Feel It All" on Jimmy Kimmel:

The spontaneity and the improvised feeling really reminds me of the Take Away Shows I told you about a few months ago.

Then, to raise the stakes, she did an AWESOME version of "1 2 3 4" on David Letterman with a backing choir Rolling Stone refers to as an "indie-rock all star choir." It included members of Broken Social Scene, Grizzly Bear, New Pornographers, the National, Mates of State and Nicole Atkins & the Sea.

Why aren't more artists doing things like this?

You want some lovely? I've got some lovely

I just reviewed what may be my favorite pop album ever over at Just Press Play.

The first paragraph:

There are two kinds of people: those who love XTC rabidly, passionately, without logic, hesitation or reservation, and those who have never heard XTC. For those who have never heard of XTC, there is absolutely no better place to start than Wasp Star: Apple Venus, Vol. 2.

For the rest, go here.

As a bonus, here's an interview that explains why the album is called what it is:

"Wasp Star came along because i just didn't want to call it Apple Venus Volume 2, because it was a little lame and a little confusing. And I had a book of Aztec art. While we were mixing the record I bought this book of Aztec art, and found in there the Aztecs' phrase for Venus which was 'wasp star'."

There's actually more to the story, which you can check out here.

There aren't any songs from Wasp Star on their MySpace page right now, but there are a couple of excellent tracks from other albums, including "Summer's Cauldron" and "Mayor of Simpleton." Definitely check them out.