Archive for April, 2012

For the week of 4/23/2012…

“Marker in the Sand” by Pearl Jam

This one is from Pearl Jam’s 2006 self-titled album, which I, as an eighth grader, bought together with Ten, thus launching my career as an avid Pearl Jam fan.  In my opinion, their 2006 album is a terrific effort and well worth listening to time and again.  And if I had to point to a favorite track on there, it would have to be… well, I’m not sure, but probably “Marker in the Sand” or “Unemployable.”  Mike McCready is credited with writing the music for both (in the latter case, as a collaboration with Matt Cameron).

I’m convinced that “Marker” is a masterpiece, or at the very least a song with awesome drumming.  Some of it, particularly during the verses, seems pretty complicated; I’m not sure how complicated it actually is, but my general impression as a big fan of both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam is that Matt Cameron is a very talented dude.  Right off the blocks, the drums are clearly driving the song; Cameron’s toms are rumbling under the relatively simple riff and angry lyrics of the first couple of verses, and the instrumental bridge serves as a sort of drummer’s showcase.  I also really like the way Cameron crescendos into the chorus.  Speaking of which, I like the contrast between the verses (fast, dirty riff, angrily howling Vedder) and the chorus (moderate tempo, a pleasantly strummed chord progression, Vedder singing plaintively), as well as the way the lyrics to the chorus are tweaked each time it’s rolled out.  And the way the song ends, starting with the conclusion of the third chorus, is wonderful.  I love this song.

By the way, the lyrics here might come across as kind of preachy, as Eddie Vedder scolds those who wage wars “in God’s name,” presumably encompassing the Bush administration as well as all combatants in the Middle East.  Even though it’s a message song, I really don’t think it’s terribly overbearing; in fact, I think the lyrics are very well-written.  But what’s most critical is that the accompanying music is excellent; that’s what makes this a big step up from some of the stuff on their largely political 2002 album, Riot Act.


“Gandhi Mandhi Mandhi” by Big Baby Gandhi

So I first heard this when it was posted on my Facebook wall earlier this month; despite my initial skepticism, I ended up liking it.  Don’t consider this an endorsement of anything else he’s done, though, as I haven’t heard any of his other songs.

By “he,” of course, I mean Big Baby Gandhi, who appears to be a young Indian-American rapper from Queens.  Indeed, he describes himself as a “brown phenomenon,” which I guess means that either he’s gunning for Lil B’s audience or he’s a real-life version of Aziz Ansari’s character on Parks and Recreation.

So as one might expect, Big Baby Gandhi is pretty weird/offbeat, but I’m kind of into it.  There’s some clever wordplay in this song, and I dig the moody-jazz-plus-dramatic-choir production.  Needless to say, while I don’t actually have confirmation that hipsters listen to this, it sure as hell isn’t aimed at a mainstream audience.  (Did I mention that this song is from a mixtape called Big Fucking Baby ?  Well, it is.)

UPDATE:  BBG is signed to an indie label run by one of the Das Racist guys, so yeah, this is hipster music.  Also, I listened to a few other songs on the mixtape and didn’t really like them.  I guess the production is what really won me over on this one.

For the week of 4/16/2012…

“Temperature Is Rising (100.2°F)” by Otis Spann with Fleetwood Mac

It’s the third week of April and suddenly it’s as hot in New Jersey as it gets during the summertime.  I was driving home in the heat, and suddenly a nice, slow-burning blues seemed to be in order, so I popped in an Otis Spann CD and listened to this track, a collaboration with Fleetwood Mac.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute, Fleetwood Mac playing the blues with Otis Spann?  What the fuck?”  What you’ve got to realize is that while Fleetwood Mac achieved fame in the late ’70s as a soft-rock/pop band, they had a decade of history prior to their breakthrough with Rumours in 1977.  And when they started out in England in the 1960s, they were a blues-rock band in the vein of Cream or early Led Zeppelin — very much a product of the British blues craze of that era.

So how did they end up becoming a pop-rock band?  Well, personnel changes played a large role.  Peter Green, the blues guitarist who also served as the band’s vocalist and the driving force behind their music, left the band in 1970, leading to their shift away from the blues.  His departure was the first in a series which led to the hiring of the band members who comprised the lineup with which Fleetwood Mac would become famous:  Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and Christine McVie.  The only members of the Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac lineup who were part of the blues-era Fleetwood Mac lineup were Fleetwood and Mac themselves: drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie.  Green, Danny Kirwan, and Jeremy Spencer all played guitar in this earlier configuration of the band.

But enough about Fleetwood Mac; after all, this is an Otis Spann song.  Spann is widely regarded as one of the greatest blues pianists of all time.  Like many other bluesmen of his generation, Spann was born in Mississippi and migrated north to Chicago as an adult; he became a blues legend as the pianist in his half-brother Muddy Waters’ band throughout the 1950s and ’60s.  In the late ’60s, he embarked on a fruitful solo career and another talented pianist, Pinetop Perkins, took over his spot in Muddy’s combo.  Around that time, producer Mike Vernon decided to arrange a collaboration between Spann and Fleetwood Mac; on a single day, January 9, 1969, they got together and recorded this album, The Biggest Thing Since Colossus.  Actually, only three members of the then-quintet play on the album:  Green, Kirwan, and John McVie.  Third-string guitarist Spencer wasn’t included, and Mick Fleetwood stepped aside to allow Otis to play with his preferred drummer, S.P. Leary.

The result was a pretty damn good blues record, and “Temperature Is Rising” is a sublime example of the wonderful piano and guitar playing these guys were capable of.  (They actually recorded two versions of it; this one was named “100.2°F” because it’s the “hotter” version, while “98.8°F” was left off the album.)  If you want to sample some more, someone actually uploaded the whole album as a single, forty-minute YouTube video, which you can find here.

For the week of 4/9/2012…

“Don’t Believe the Hype” by Public Enemy

“Don’t Believe the Hype” was one of the singles from Public Enemy’s 1988 breakthrough album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.  This track is also one of the better examples of the repartee between Chuck D (the hard-charging, serious one) and Flavor Flav (the comic relief).

The best part here is between 3:09 and 3:45.  Expressing frustration with the media’s eager portrayal of them as overly violent menaces, Chuck and Flav approach journalist Harry Allen for a non-sensationalized appraisal.  “Yo Harry, you’re a writer; are we that type?”  “Don’t believe the hype,” Allen deadpans.

In my most recent Song of the Week post, I mentioned that both Social Distortion and another band I like, the Supersuckers, have been labeled (at least on Wikipedia) as something called “cowpunk.”  Well, today I’m giving you a little taste of the Supersuckers by posting their outstanding live cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Cowboy Song.”

Thin Lizzy’s original studio version from Jailbreak is awesome in its own right, but comparing a studio version to a live cover is perhaps not as good as comparing two live versions.  So here’s Thin Lizzy’s definitive live version, from Live and Dangerous.  (Unfortunately, this YouTube clip won’t do justice to the performance, because it cuts off right before the thrilling segue into “The Boys Are Back in Town.”  And if you didn’t know that the last chord of “Cowboy Song” is the same as the opening chord of “The Boys Are Back in Town,” well, now you know.  And you know that you should get the album!)

And here are the Supersuckers bringing down the house with their live version, as heard on the Warped Tour III Live compilation.

For the week of 4/2/2012…

“Sometimes I Do” by Social Distortion

If I were exiled to a desert island and I could bring along the music of only five punk bands to listen to, which bands would I choose?  The Clash would be at the top of the list, along with the Dictators.  And I think I’d probably want to bring a few albums by Social Distortion and by the Supersuckers.  (The fifth spot is a toss-up.)

Social Distortion and the Supersuckers have a quality in common that draws me to their music:  Their punk rock is often informed by old-fashioned country, rockabilly, and even blues music.  Wikipedia says that these aren’t the only two bands to play this kind of music, and indeed that they are part of an entire subgenre called “cowpunk.”  Who knew?  Given my enjoyment of these two bands, I guess I should check out some of the other bands pigeonholed under “cowpunk.”

Social D’s fourth album, Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, doesn’t have a bad track on it.  On this record, frontman and chief songwriter Mike Ness perhaps owes a little more to Johnny Cash than he does to Johnny Ramone – but he strikes an ideal balance between these two influences.  Seriously, I don’t think it’s far off the mark for me to assert that these are the kinds of songs Johnny Cash would have written if he came up in the punk scene in the 1980s.

With the weather becoming ever-nicer, I’ve been driving with the windows down; I’ve therefore had to pick music that feels like it befits such driving.  It didn’t take me long to decide that this CD was the perfect choice.  “Sometimes I Do” is pretty simple in terms of lyrics, but regardless of that, it’s a great song for driving with the windows down.  Other, less lyrically simple tracks that I’ve been blasting on a daily basis include “Born to Lose” and “When She Begins.”  But really, the whole album is terrific, and easily Social D’s best.  Give it a listen.


Jam Bands

Well summer is approaching with reckless abandon and my Best of Blind Melon cd is getting a bit tired as my go to good weather album suitable for blasting in the car. If hanging out with Silas, Devin, and Big Riles has taught me one thing its that I need to figure out some jam bands to like. I’m basically one cd into this quest but so far I’ve found some gems, here there are, from the great minds who brought you the song Runaround:


Canadian Rose – Blues Traveler


Psycho Joe – Blues Traveler