Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sometimes the only way is jumping

I first heard Gavin Degraw several years ago in his very first television appearance, on Last Call with Carson Daly. (I think he and Carson were friends from way back, if I remember correctly, which is how he landed the gig.) I was immediately impressed by his bluesy piano-heavy style, but he didn't even have an album out yet, so I went out and downloaded a bunch of his live stuff.

Of those live songs, one of my absolute favorites was "Dancing Shoes," which has finally made it onto one of his albums - the recently released Free.

Here he is performing a beautifully sleepy version of that song on Regis and Kelly:

I'm also digging his self-titled 2008 album, which is much poppier and heavily produced, in a good way - it's pure ear candy. (This is the album that spawned the radio hit "In Love with a Girl," though I think there are several songs on the album that are even better top-40 radio hit material, such as "Next to Me," "Cop Stop," and "Untamed.")

Degraw's music is such a likeable mix of blue-eyed soul, blues and piano singer-songwriter, it's hard not to love.

As evidence, here's a live version of "Meaning," my favorite song from his first album:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You take it on faith, you take it to the heart

It may be four hours long, but the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers doc "Runnin' Down a Dream" is the best two nights of television I've spent in a long time. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, this comprehensive documentary chronicles the entire life of the legendary rock star and his iconic backing band. You'll learn that before they were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, they were a country-rock band called Mudcrutch (under a slightly different lineup) whose first album tanked hardcore.

The first third of the doc is my favorite - you see the kinetic power of the young band as they go from obscurity to darlings of the British club scene to major American megastars. There is no shortage of sheer magical serendipity in the story of their formation and their initial record contract. You get the feeling that this band was literally destined to be successful.

But the power of the documentary is in its completeness. The story of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers has a little bit of everything - addiction, battles with the record company, creative genius, wild travel, music videos, crazed fans, infighting, reconciliation and, of course, heartbreak. But through it all shines the zen soul of Tom Petty himself, who in his reflections and interviews sounds more like a Buddhist sage than a rock star from the Deep South.

The doc runs so long because Bogdanovich is not afraid to let the music speak for itself. He includes tons of live footage, sometimes whole songs at a time, preferring to let the power of "American Girl," "Free Fallin'," "Learnin' to Fly," "Won't Back Down," and "The Waiting," (among many others) make the point for him.

I was extra thrilled by this doc because, after spending four hours absorbing the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers story, Bogdanovich chooses to close on an anecdote from Eddie Vedder about a joint show they did in Milwaukee - and I just happened to be at that show! (I feel strangely immortalized in film as a result.)

Don't let the long running time scare you away - this doc is not just for diehard fans. In many ways, it tells the story of every rock band and it gives a clear picture of the changes that took place in the music business between the late 1970s and the present day. It is as much a documentary about music history in general as it is about one specific band. (MTV Executive Bill Flanagan is interviewed in this doc and without exception, every single thing he says about the music industry and the Heartbreakers specifically is stunningly insightful.)

As a sample, check out this clip about "The Waiting:"

Seriously, watch the whole doc. And when you're done, make sure you own Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Power Soul Pop

What ever happened to the Honey Cone? What ever happened to music like this?