2018 albums of the year

2018 was a hell of a year for most of us. No matter what was going on in our personal lives, most of us suffered through the constant streams of hatred, violence, misogyny and racist and anti-immigrant vitriol that we were bombarded with on a daily ( and sometimes hourly) basis. It was a very dark year for humanity and this country. Many of us watched helplessly, many of us tried to resist, but for the large majority of us, hopelessness and disbelief were the two most prevalent emotions.

Sometimes, immersed deep in the bowels of the ugliness that presides over our society currently, music was my only salvation. This years list was often political and always beautiful. Potent salves to soothe the soul.

8. Erika Wennerstrom: Sweet Unkown

When Erika , who is best known as the voice behind Heartless Bastards, released this solo album, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Her soulful and melodious voice has always been able to stand alone, but I wasn’t expecting the beauty I found on this record. Ethereal and indescribably lovely , Erika has proven she is a force to be reckoned with. Standouts on this album include “Extraordinary Love” and “Be Good To Yourself”. Erika and her band, featuring the spectacularly talented Lauren Gurgolio on guitar , were also one of the best live bands I saw this year.

7. Willie Nile : Children of Paradise

Willie has been one of my favorite artists for over 30 years. A prolific and vastly underrated songwriter, Willie has earned the respect and admiration of the best musicians in the industry. This latest album, his most political to date, includes protest songs like “ Gettin’ Ugly Out There” , “Earth Blues” and the infectious “Seeds of A Revolution”. But Willie doesn’t do darkness. In every song he sings he lifts you up and makes you believe that even through the darkest of times, love and beauty are out there. You can’t listen to this album without absorbing Willie’s belief in humanity and his hopeful, incessant and unwavering conviction that  hope and love are all we’ve got.

If you’re ever down, listen to this album. Better yet, go see Willie and his amazing band live. You can’t leave a Willie Nile  show without a smile on  your face. If you haven’t seen him live, you’re missing one of the greatest shows of your life. Just go.

6. Brandi Carlisle : By The Way, I Forgive You

This album is astonishing  in its beauty and understanding of humanity. Carlisle digs deep into her most heartfelt emotions and comes up with an album that makes the listener feel absolutely everything. Carlisle is a songwriter who excels at telling the stories of the lonely, the misunderstood and the forgotten. This album touches on subjects such as gender rolls, suicide, drug addiction and the pain of loneliness. It’s most beautiful song is “The Mother” which addresses the realities of Motherhood and all of its highs, lows and sacrifices and most especially the extraordinary love you can’t quite ever understand until you are a parent yourself.

It’s a rare human being that can succeed at making you feel exactly what she intends for you to feel with her music. Carlisle is one of them.

5. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel.

On this album, Courtney remains just as witty and self deprecating as ever, but with more maturity and preciseness. There are no signs that her moderate stardom has effected her outlook on life and her focus is on the minutiae of everyday life and the ridiculousness of The expectations of others . Like most great songwriters, Barnett seems to possess the qualities of an empath. An ability to see and feel the tiniest nuances and verbalize the things most people miss. On the song “Nameless, Faceless” Barnett addresses everything from pent up hatred, misdirected anger, misogyny and the reality of the dangers of being a woman in the age of the “Me Too” movement all while still maintaining the capacity to feel sorry for those spewing the most hate.

On the song “Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence” Courtney is joined by Breeders Kim and Kelly Deal.

“Your opinion means a lot
Well, tell me what’s the use
I never feel as stupid as when I’m around you
And indecision rots
Like a bag of last week’s meat
And I guess it’s hard to keep everybody happy”

To me, the most critical components of being a true songwriter are possessing extraordinary skills of observation as well as empathy. The best of the best are often the ones with the most self doubt. Courtney Barnett is a star, whether she believes it or not. And her incredible body of works continues to get stronger right along with the artist.

4. Kurt Vile: Bottle It In

I’m not normally a fan of long and meandering songs. I often find them self indulgent and more often than not, I lose interest before the song ever comes to an end. This album contains a lot of songs that ramble. But Kurt understands something about melody more than the average mere mortal. And each song on this album, no matter how long, feels more like a journey where one savors every step instead of impatiently rushing to get to the destination. He is the master of taking us on journey’s  where beautiful surprises lurk around every corner and where you just can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

If you have patience, it soon becomes apparent that if you allow the melodious and mellow music to wash over you, Kurt sees exactly where he wants to take you. And it’s a beautiful place indeed.

The 10 minute long “Bassackwards” is a folky psychedelic and meandering trek into a comfortable nothingness. A place where you feel right at home. Vile proves the point that a song doesn’t necessarily have to take you anywhere specific to get the job done. And don’t we all just need to wallow in comfort and melody for a little while?

Whether you listen to Vile to immerse yourself in his hazy guitar riffs or enjoy his quirky and witty lyrics, this album is an excellent  representation of the way Vile sees the world. And it’s definitely a trip worth taking.

 

 

3. J Mascis : Elastic Days

Mascis has always been a master of the great guitar hook. The albums first track to be released was the incredibly upbeat and catchy See You At The Movies, with a hook as intriguing as any Dino Jr. have ever produced. The song immediately drew me to the album, and one of the aspects I enjoyed most was hearing the moody drone of J.’s vocals paired with the lovely harmonies of backing vocalist Pall Jenkins of Black Heart Procession.   While songs like See You at The Movies are evocative of Freak Scene, the classic Dino Jr, song, the album is much more heavily peppered with a mellow and folky beauty, poignant lyrics and other intriguing collaborations with Zoe Randall of Luluc and Mark Mulcahy of Miracle Legion fame.

As always, J.’s lyrics are haunted by the beauty of the ever elusive “someone” he has been singing to for over thirty years. The sort of soul mate you know you will always love and never quite have. An ever evolving circle of melancholy, emotional uncertainty and self-doubt that every single one of us has felt, is feeling or will feel.  On this album, Mascis delivers some of his most emotive vocals to date. His guitar solos are often how he most clearly expresses his deepest feelings, a non-vocal cry of pain or frustration, or despair. For the first time, we are hearing his vocals come close to matching his guitar as a way to express himself. And it is beautiful. From the astonishingly pretty I Went To Dust to the gorgeous Web So Dense, which includes the albums most fabulous guitar solo, this album reaches a level of maturity of sound that is genuinely incredible. It is truly Mascis at his finest.

2. Alejandro Escovedo: The Crossing

A career musician and master songwriter, Escovedo  has crafted a concept album featuring the narrative of two young immigrants—Diego from Mexico and Salvo from Italy—who meet in Texas , bond over music and  go searching for their own personal versions of the  American Dream.

For Escovedo, himself the son of Mexican immigrants, this album isn’t just political in nature, but personal. And it may just be his best album to date.

“Sonica USA” is the first single off the album , featuring Wayne Kramer of The MC5 on guitar. In it Escovedo returns to his punk roots, even referencing his time growing up in Austin and playing in a very early punk band called  The Zeros. “ I saw the Zero’s and they looked like me This is the America I want to be ” . A nod to the fact that immigrant kids played a seminal role in punk.

Sometimes  in your face and sometimes thoughtful and reflective, this album tells the American immigrant story in a way that can be told only from the perspective of a man or woman that has lived it.

Escovedo is backed on the album by Italian instrumental group, Don Antonio and together, they have created Escovedos most adventurous and genre-bending album to date. Through punk-inspired guitar, to lazy jazz riffs, to soulful ballads, and even spoken word, this album tells the timeless tale of racism, repression, resistance and kick-ass spirit that are the driving forces behind the real American Dream , one that is so threatened by the current administration.

The album encompasses not just a story, but immerses us in the entire experience of the American immigrant. From the innocent belief that anyone can accomplish the American Dream, to the reality that in doing so one must often give up their culture, their way of life and their own identity.

Escovedo has crafted more than a record, this is a true work of art. Take some time and let him tell you his story.

 

 

 

 

 

1. John Prine : The Tree Of Forgiveness

This album, Prine’s first of originals in over a decade, re-establishes his place among America’s greatest songwriters. Prine , a member of America’s most elite and revered lyricists, has written some of the most beautiful and heartbreaking lyrics to have ever been written. Some of his older work, including  “ Sam Stone”and “Hello In There” are songs that stay with you for the rest of your life and characters that haunt you. Prine, who’s battled cancer twice in the last twenty years and seems to be facing his own mortality, wrote this album that, at first, may not seem as deep, but then you begin to realize the simplicity of the life of which he speaks, the sheer beauty of what life has to offer, even in its most mundane moments, is what gives this album its depth of beauty. That simplicity, in its purest form, can be breathtakingly lovely.

From the foot-stomping and joy inducing “When I get to Heaven” on which everyone’s favorite line seems to be the hilarious “Buddy, when you’re dead, you’re a dead peckerhead”, to the lovely “Boundless Love” a song that speaks to what love really turns out to be, not all roses and champagne and kisses in the rain, but forgiveness and understanding and compassion. A steadfast belief in one another. (And isn’t that the most beautiful kind of love? ) This album is about the things that truly matter, performed in a way that only Prine can. It’s a beautiful example of what life truly is. And for that, I’m very thankful.

 

 

X- Why I (finally) decided it was time to bid farewell to a favorite band.

I was first introduced to the band X in 1981, at the age of 13. A friend and musical mentor listened to them frequently and was a huge fan. As with most of his music suggestions, I loved what I heard. In fact, X quickly became one of my all time favorite bands and have remained so for the past 35 years.

X  has a sound that is a unique mixture of rockabilly, punk and even folk and country. They  remain one of the few bands in the world that always produced a  sound that was uniquely their own. From the poetic lyrics to the slightly off-kilter harmonies of singers John Doe and Exene Cervenka, I was drawn in at first listen and fully expected the band to remain in my top ten for the rest of my life.

X has been a part of my life for decades. My children know every song. My daughter attended her first concert when she joined me at an X show at the Irving Plaza just before she turned 16. This band meant something to me . That all changed after the tragedy at Sandy Hook.

I was unaware at the time, that Exene had a you-tube channel where she posted truther/conspiracy theorist rants that made her, quite frankly, sound like she had lost her mind. When a friend told me about  Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists  (A concept that literally turns my stomach), I did some research and found that Exene was among them.

To put this in perspective, I live about a mile and a half from Sandy Hook school. The families affected by this tragedy are a part of my community. I know some of them personally. I witnessed the devastation to a community and our entire country. For months after the tragedy, you could hear a pin drop while grocery shopping in town. People walked around in shock. The sadness was a living, breathing thing that I’m certain you have to experience to understand. Like others that lived or worked near other unspeakable tragedies we have experienced in this country over the past 2 decades, it’s so much more real when it happens right in your own back yard.

It was like a punch in the gut. This woman, an artist that I had admired and respected for most of my life, had turned into a human being that would accuse people in my very own community of being crisis actors. People that had suffered the greatest loss a person could imagine were being slandered by someone I’d admired and idolized. Delving deeper, her rants ranged from the typical conspiracy theorists views about the government attempting to take your rights away, to bat-shit crazy postings that made her appear racist, misogynistic, homophobic and truly scary. My mind was blown. Punk was about acceptance, right? I vividly recalled my own punk youth where, except for the greatly disdained racist skinheads, everyone accepted everyone else. But then I remembered something I’d tried to push back in my own mind for a  very long time. Something I liked to make myself believe had nothing to do with Cervenka’s own personal views (although rumors have always persisted about the racist nature of certain band members). And the lyrics to the song Los Angeles came back into my head. And they scared me.

“All her toys wore out in black and her boys had too
She started to hate every nigger and Jew
Every Mexican that gave her lotta shit
Every homosexual and the idle rich
She had to get out”.

I first became aware of Cervenka’s madness a few years ago and I stopped listening to the band. But after seeing John Doe and his band play a few X songs on tour recently, I started to listen again. I spent a month believing I was going to attend a show last night at the Irving Plaza. I even worked on getting a press pass. But yesterday morning, I was driving and decided to put X on. When Los Angeles came on, my mind was made up. I would not be going to the show and I’d be deleting the X songs from my playlists.

I’m fully aware that I certainly must listen to other songs that are, by nature, against my own moral code in one way or another. And I am certainly a huge believer in Freedom of Speech. But just as I witnessed Drive-By Trucker fans leave a show I was covering recently because the band had put up a “Black Lives Matter” poster (Really? Have you never listened to a DBT song?) it remains my choice whether or not I can support a band whose views (At least those of Cervenka) are so completely opposite of my own. And for me, the answer is no. John Doe is a different person and a different story. I will remain a fan and he remains a great musician in my eyes. He has also attempted to distance himself from the words of Cervenka.

Exene took her you-tube channel down after the shit hit the fan about it in 2014. She even issued a statement where she tried to make peace, but certainly never truly apologized. But morally, I can’t forget the things she said. Maybe Exene is truly mentally ill. If so, I genuinely feel sorry for her. But maybe this punk icon is really nothing more than a punk. There comes a time in your life when your own moral code makes you make some decisions based on what you believe is right and wrong. If I ever forget again, which I’m certain I won’t, all I will need to do is replay those lyrics in my head. Goodbye, X.

 

 

Album Review: J. Mascis: Elastic Days

821D952B-4964-407B-8832-30B212119D54J. Mascis is  best known for his role as the front man of Dinosaur Jr., a band that’s legendary loudness has been deafening its willing fan base for three decades. J. has long been the force behind the creative control of the band, and the acrimonious departure of bassist Lou Barlow back in 1989 allowed him to explore other areas of sound that Dinosaur Jr. may not have had Barlow remained a constant in the band. For a while, Mascis was able to explore and expand creatively in a way that most artists can only do when going solo. Mascis seemed to be  grasping for something that seemed just out of  reach. He came incredibly close to finding the sound he was searching for, but Dinosaur Jr.  just never felt right without all members the mighty trio of Barlow, Murph and Mascis. The band was just better as a unit. Together, their latest music has been extraordinarily cohesive, collaborative and solid. Yet It still seemed as if Mascis was still searching for something, a sound he finally understood was not possible as a member of this iconic band, and pursued a way to make the music he was so clearly meant to make. “Elastic Days” is the third solo album by Mascis, and the one that most closely reaches the ideal sound he seems to have been striving for.

Mascis has always been somewhat of an enigma, most clearly evidenced by the duality of his  indolent drawl coupled with energetic and ear-splitting  guitar riffs. A shy and introverted loneliness alongside an untamed ferocity rising up from the bowels of a Fender Jazzmaster.  It only seems fitting then, that one creative outlet would just never be enough for him. His need to express both sides equally has lent itself to an artist that best showcases his many talents both as a member of a majorly influential band that defined a whole new category of music and a laid back and mostly mellow musician whose style is best defined as folk-rock peppered with punk. While Dinosaur Jr has grown exponentially as a band over the last 3 decades, especially after the return of Barlow and Murph, Mascis has seemingly grown even faster in the 7 years since the release of his first solo album, Several Shades Of Why. While all 3 solo albums have leant themselves to a much more mellow and acoustically driven aesthetic, a more stripped down and lovely version of the guitar shred Dinosaur Jr. fans have come to know and love, Elastic Days is in a league of its own. In it, J. has finally captured the evasive sound he’s been trying to reign in all of these years. It is an album that combines all of the greatness of the often underrated musician. His beautiful lyrics, his catchy riffs and his astonishing ability to shred a guitar, albeit in a much more mellow form.

Mascis has always been a master of the great guitar hook. The albums first track to be released was the incredibly upbeat and catchy See You At The Movies, with a hook as intriguing as any Dino Jr. have ever produced. The song immediately drew me to the album, and one of the aspects I enjoyed most was hearing the moody drone of J.’s vocals paired with the lovely harmonies of backing vocalist Pall Jenkins of Black Heart Procession.   While songs like See You at The Movies are evocative of Freak Scene, the classic Dino Jr, song, the album is much more heavily peppered with a mellow and folky beauty, poignant lyrics and other intriguing collaborations with Zoe Randall of Luluc and Mark Mulcahy of Miracle Legion fame.

As always, J.’s lyrics are haunted by the beauty of the ever elusive “someone” he has been singing to for over thirty years. The sort of soul mate you know you will always love and never quite have. An ever evolving circle of melancholy, emotional uncertainty and self-doubt that every single one of us has felt, is feeling or will feel.  On this album, Mascis delivers some of his most emotive vocals to date. His guitar solos are often how he most clearly expresses his deepest feelings, a non-vocal cry of pain or frustration, or despair. For the first time, we are hearing his vocals come close to matching his guitar as a way to express himself. And it is beautiful. From the astonishingly pretty I Went To Dust to the gorgeous Web So Dense, which includes the albums most fabulous guitar solo, this album reaches a level of maturity of sound that is genuinely incredible. It is truly Mascis at his finest.

On Elastic Days, Mascis seems to have found himself. An always under-rated lyricist, the best and most revealing lyrics on the album may be from the song See You At The Movies;

” Finding you is easy/ Finding me is hard/ Finding you is easy/ I’ll just try to stall/ I don’t peak too early/ I don’t peak at all.”

To the contrary. Mascis seems to be at the peak of his career. I have no doubt his fans will have a long and amazing journey ahead, for as long as they stay along for the ride.

 

4.5 stars

 

 

Record Review: The Proletariat; “The Murder Of Alton Sterling”

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I was a huge fan of the Proletariat back in the early 80’s. While they were part of the Boston area punk and hardcore scene, they always stood out to me. A mix of rage, talent, intellect and politically charged lyrics, the band sounded different from every other band. A unique blend of hard and melodic, coupled with songs that actually meant something. They quickly became one of my favorite bands.

I was lucky enough to see the Proletariat play their first show in 30 years in October 2016 and it solidified my view that these guys are as talented as I remembered and a band that should have been a much bigger deal in the music scene than they actually turned out to be at the time, other than to those of us in the know.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting their latest music to be released and it did not disappoint.
The newest release, “The Murder Of Alton Sterling” , sounds like the Proletariat, but with a new maturity and depth of character that only comes from knowing yourselves as musicians and human beings and taking that into the art you create. Anyone that knows the band will immediately recognize singer Rick Brown ,  his vocals full of emotion and rage . Rick has always had the ability to express emotion through his vocalizations. In the punk and alternative scene, this is a rare gift. You can’t listen to a Proletariat song without feeling. This is even more pronounced with these two new songs.
The subject matter on this latest release is not frivolous but deep and dark and thought provoking. “The Murder of Alton Sterling” is about a 37 year-old unarmed black man killed by police in Baton Rouge in July of 2016. The song is full of rage and messages of social and racial injustice and police brutality. “Push Back” the second song released , is just as political, with calls for not turning the other cheek and fighting against the madness we are facing in this world today.
As far as the talent in this band, The musicianship is more solid than I’ve ever heard then. Thomas McKnight and Peter Belivacqua are an amazingly cohesive unit, playing together without missing a note and with such ease that it seems almost impossible. Guitarist Don Sanders adds another layer of originality to this group, playing a unique blend of hard and melodic.
The Proletariat have an entire album they are getting ready to release ( Produced by Lou Giordano) and will continue to tour around the country. In a time when an awful lot of bands from the 80’s are making “comebacks”, the sheer number of old bands and new releases can cause us to miss the great new music that’s still to be found from a precious few of these bands. The Proletariat are among those ones you just have to take another listen to.

Open jam reviews. Horseshoe Tavern and The Acoustic

This is the first in a series I’ll be doing about open jam nights in Fairfield and New Haven counties. We’ve been having a wonderful time attending them and look forward to trying out the few we still have to attend.

The Horseshoe Tavern  is a Southport landmark. They hold an open jam every Monday night. The first thing we noticed was that energy in the bar is great and the patrons seem to genuinely be having fun. The crowd is certainly older, mostly 50’s and 60’s and there isn’t much diversity in the music being played. But if it’s straight ahead classic rock and roll you are looking for in a very welcoming setting, this is a really fun jam to attend. It had a lot of really good musicians and the crowd was dancing and laughing and having an all around great time. The crowd and other musicians seemed to be very welcoming and inclusive,  but if you are young and if your style of music is anything but classic rock, this jam may not be your best bet.
The Acoustic, Bridgeport, CT
This is by far my favorite of the open jam venues we’ve attended so far. Nestled in the heart of Black Rock, among a treasure trove of great little bars and restaurants, The Acoustic is a hidden gem. The open jams are held on Tuesday Nights and from what I’ve witnessed, the diversity in genres and age ranges is the most impressive I’ve seen. Bands sign up and get about 10 minutes to showcase their talent. Occasionally, a band will be featured and they will get a 30 minute set. And talent is in no short supply. We watched musicians ranging in age from 20’s- 60’s playing pop, funk, rock and everything in between. This place is a music lovers paradise and features some of the most talented artists that come through the Connecticut area. There is no grandstanding, no nepotism and no narcissism. You won’t be subjected to the same 10 classic rock songs, sung by the same exact people week after week. Instead, you’ll be treated to a variety of music by those artists that understand that originality of expression is everything. The Acoustic really seems to understand this. And while I still have a few open jams to attend, it so far greatly surpasses all of the many other venues we have attended. This is the place to go if you are a real and true fan of music of all genre’s and are looking for something new and different. 13C207E7-0BB9-4BA8-AB05-36FCF30BBE4A

Drive-By Truckers, 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C. , April 22, 2017

 

I’ve spent 48 1/2 years on this earth and I’ll admit I’ve still got an awful lot to learn. There are some things, however, that I am just about certain of; punk rock is the most underrated form of music out there and has influenced just about every music genre , Donald Trump is the most dangerous thing this country has ever seen, and The Drive-By Truckers are the best live band on the planet.

Of course, you are free to disagree, this is still America, after all, (at least for now), but I will never waver on a single one of these statements, so any arguments will be futile. I realize that music is such a personal things and that we, as individuals connect with bands on so many different levels and for so many different reasons. And for a person that sees bands weekly and loves music so deeply, I am really saying something with the fierceness in which I express this opinion. For the love of music, if you have not seen DBT live, just do it. I don’t care who you are, your mind will be blown.

I’ve been a huge fan of DBT for about 15 years, and every single year my love and appreciation for the band and this incredible music they make grows deeper. Their lyrics mean more and their convictions are ones that I hold true to my own heart. But despite the beautiful left leaning and socially just messages in their lyrics, despite the fact that they’ve been together for over 20 years, they play harder and better than anyone out there, possibly ever.

I am always excited by the prospect of bringing a new member into the ever growing legion of DBT fans. I invited the man I’d recently begun dating to the show. He’s a musician and although he had previousloy had no idea who DBT were, had enjoyed the music I’d shared with him so far. I had a photo pass for the show, and even though it was in DC, I knew I’d meet up with a few fellow “Heathens” (DBT fans) down there. So the two of us embarked on what should have been a 4.5 hours drive and it wound up taking 8 hours.

We arrived at the show with only minutes to spare, and there is no designated photo area at the venue. But by some miracle, just as we walked in, a space opened up right along the rail. This would be a clear and accurate predictor of how the rest of the weekend would go.

The night opened with a stellar performance by Hiss Golden Messenger, but truth be told, I was tired and could hardly wait for the headliners. Whenever I wake up on the morning of a DBT show, it feels like Christmas morning, as silly as that seems. I was so excited I could barely stand it.

This show was the second night of the DC stop and the end of this leg of the tour. The energy in the room was a living, breathing thing, I was certain magic would happen that night. The boys certainly did not disappoint. Nobody plays a show like Drive-By Truckers. They put their entire soul into it. They clearly love their music and it’s evident that they love their fans and have an incredible time playing for us.

We danced and sang and hollered our way through about 2.5 hours of one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. The band played some of their best in addition to covers by Prince, The Ramones, John Lennon and Neil Young. The room was alive that night. And when the band exited the stage, I turned to my new boyfriend. He was sweating and smiling and exhausted. But he looked me right in the eye and told me that was one of the best live shows he’d ever seen. Right before my eyes, another Heathen was born.

That was 11 months ago. We are still together and going to see our 4th DBT show as a couple in Brooklyn on Friday. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Drive-By Truckers will be at the Brooklyn Bowl on 3/29 and 3/30. Hope to see you all at the rock show! We will be right up front!

The Connecticut music scene for musicians.

The coast of Connecticut is rife with incredible music. From Stamford to New Haven, there is great listening to be had 7 nights per week. From large venues like College Street Music Hall to tiny little gems like Cafe Nine in New Haven, some of the best bands and musicians in the country are here to play for music fans of every genre.
One of the most fun ways to enjoy music interactively around the coast is to attend open jam nights. They are everywhere and if you so desired, you’d be able to find them just about every night of the week.
Some are wildly entertaining and very open and inclusive, some are up and coming, and some, unfortunately, are teeming with those “musicians” that are self serving, unwelcoming and abundant with mediocrity.
The best of the bunch offer a place for musicians to feel welcome and unafraid to be who they are. Newcomers are welcomed onstage without hesitation and blend right into the fold of fellow music lovers, regardless of who they know and who is running the show. Many types of music are explored and everyone is always looking to hear something new and fresh in addition to the classics.
On the other end of the spectrum, we find venues that host the same people weekly and offer little to no diversity in what’s being played. While having the same crowd at an open jam night is not in and of itself a bad thing, it often lends itself to self importance and self indulgence. These are the type of venues where you are most likely to hear all of your favorite classics, played the same way and by the same people week after week after week until you silently hope that you’ll never have to hear any of them ever again. They are the places that shame bands and musicians for being too loud or too quiet or in some other way not up to the cookie cutter crap that comes out of them week after week. Where people running the show are so narcissistic and so full of nepotism that you’ll watch the same fools drone on and on so blindly unaware of their second ( or third)-rate performances that it floors you that anyone ever lets them sing anywhere other than the shower.
I believe that anyone with an instrument and a desire to play, should be welcomed, regardless of stellar or not so stellar talent. But when a venue and those running it are so mean spirited and so clueless as to what a music scene should embrace make others feel inadequate, when the same tone deaf woman or man refuse to allow anyone else their own time on stage it’s no longer about the music, but about the ego.
I’m going to be reviewing these venues in the coming weeks. Please send me your suggestions and please, please go support your local venues. Stick to the ones that make you feel welcome and inspire you! They are all over the place!

Best albums of 2017

This list is always very difficult for me to put together. Because I enjoy so many different genres, the decision-making becomes nearly impossible. I’ve scaled it down to these gems, because they are the ones that I turned to most often this year.

5. Valerie June: The Order Of Time.

Valerie opened for Drive-By Truckers at the festival at which I had my first press pass. Her music is a gorgeous and ethereal mix of blues and soul and the bluegrass she grew up singing on her front porch. June is that rare mixture of old soul and innocent child. Her songs exhibit both a beautiful and deep understanding of the world around her as well as a child-like innocence. “Astral Plane ” is a perfect example of this. June is a star on a meteoric rise. There is no stopping her. And thank goodness for that.

4. The War On Drugs: A Deeper Understanding.

This album is studio perfection. Its dream-like sound sweeps you up and surrounds you with lushness and depth and a quality of sound that envelopes you like a favorite old blanket. It’s familiar, yet incredibly new. This is, by far, my favorite War On Drugs album. Adam Granduciel never tells us the entire story. Instead, we are allowed bits and pieces of the narrative, flashes of what it is he is trying to tell us lyrically. But when you close your eyes and let the music wash over you, it all makes perfect sense.

 

3.  Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett : Lotta Sea Lice

I’ve always been a huge fan of Kurt. His quirkiness, individuality and ability to craft exquisitely catchy sings that remain beautifully unique and different are the qualities that have always drawn me to him. Courtney Barnett is his perfect musical partner. This album marries their uniqueness in a way that shines a light in both of their talents without detracting a thing from the individual merits that make them both so listenable. While at first, it seems like a simple record, its  complexities and musical depth are there in full force. I can’t stop listening.

 

2. The National: Sleep Well Beast.

This album is full of darkness, melancholy and reflection. It speaks to any one of us navigating minefields of desperation and sadness and pain. It makes one feel safe in the knowledge that even pain and longing  and grief can be beautiful roads we navigate on our way to better and happier places. And don’t we all need that from time to time?

1. Jason Isbell and the 400 unit: The Nashville Sound

There was no doubt in my mind what album would be number one on this list for me. A fan of Jason since his days in Drive-By Truckers, his songwriting is my favorite on earth. Since he was 21 years old, his songs and lyrics have touched me more than those of any other songwriter.  Isbell notices things. He is a keen observer of the world around him, noticing and feeling even the tiniest shifts in feelings and emotions. This album, which came at a time of such darkness for so many of us after the election of our current POTUS, touches upon community, love of family, humanity, and doing what’s right. It’s a glimmering light that guides us in from the storm. The song “If We Were Vampires” is one of the most beautiful love songs of all time and “Hope The High Road” talks us down off the ledge with lines like ” There can’t be more of them then us, there can’t be more.” I have a full review if this album in a previous blog post. Suffice it to say, to me, this album is a masterpiece.

 

 

 

The Proletariat, Cafe Nine, New Haven ,CT

IMG_3544I’ve been a huge fan of the Proletariat since I was a young teenager. As a lover of words and an even bigger supporter of justice and fairness as well as an enemy of political and religious corruption, they were one of the first bands that’s lyrics  hit me right in the gut and right in the heart. Literate, witty and intelligent, they were a band that just spoke to me. And their music was no joke, either!

I was lucky enough to interview the band for the second time recently. And as usual, they not only welcoming and kind, but funny as hell. Additionally, they played a kick-ass show not to be missed.

J. Tell me what’s been happening with the band since I last saw you? Any new music coming out?

Rick: Yes! We have a single coming out and we plan on recording an album in January . It’s being produced by Lou Giordano, who produced “This Is Boston Not, LA ” and our two albums.

J.  What was the songwriting process like this time?

Rick: Either Pete or Don would come up with something musically and I’d have lyrics already written.

Don: Rick’s got a whole notebook full of lyrics. So we will have the music, Rick will come over and we’ll just flesh it out some more. Rick will listen to the music and dig through his lyrics until we find what works.

J. Tom is in California, how does that work when it comes to the writing process?

Rick: We record it roughly with a drum machine and send it out to him in California.

Tom: Yeah, they try their best to get it right and send it out to me and I put it all together ( laughing)

J. The  time I spoke with you guys, it was a few weeks before the Presidential  election. Rick, you’ve always been political. Has the election of our current President influenced any of your new music?

Rick: At our last interview I remember talking about how there was no way in the world this guy was going to win. I think I said “Trump winning would be great for my songwriting”. But man , I could really do without it. It’s unbelievable that this guy is our President.

I still use politics in my writing. The single is the subtly titled ” The murder of Alton Sterling”. Politics will always influence my writing.

J. When I saw you last it was the first show you’d done in decades. How has touring been and how many shows have you done?

Rick: This will be our 85th show… no. It’s our 17th.

Don:  We do a string of shows together and then take a couple of months in between.

J. How does that fact that you’re in California factor in, Tom?

Tom: I usually fly up a couple of weeks before we go out so we get to practice and make the whole thing tight again.

Rick: And technology really helps.

J. What have your crowds been like? Old school fans? Younger kids or more of a mix?

Rick: We consciously try to put newer bands on the  bill so that we can get more of a mixed crowd. That way we get a newer set of ears listening to our stuff and our fans get to hear some good new music. It’s kind of a win-win. We don’t want that vaudevillian nostalgia act. For the most part we’ve been about 60 percent successful with doing it that way, but some promoters want to do it differently.

Don: At our show last night, the oldest kid was about 18. We’ve also played shows where it’s mostly people from back in the day.

Rick:  The youngest kid last night was about ten. And he knew all the songs on Soma Holiday. He said his Dad liked us and he’d watched us in you tube. It was wild.

J. Tell me some of your favorite stories from the road?

Peter: Well, Stiv Bators wanted to beat up Rick once. We were opening for them and the crowd was just not into us. They were acting up and not really into it.

Rick: So I got pissed and I said, ” You guys are waiting on these fat, overblown, hippie rock stars…”

Pete:  Yeah, and after that the crowd was better… they got more riled up and the second half of the show was better. But when they show was over, Rick had taken off already and Stiv walked up to me with these two big guys looking for him.”Where’s  your singer?”. He was already gone, but they wanted to find him! ( laughing)

Don: And  there was the time you got chased by Rob Halford.

Rick: I got hit by a tomato thrown by Rob Halford. Judah Priest was looking for a local band to open for them and they were auditioning this band. I guess that was probably kind of cool, but at the time I was pissed. It was pushing back the set and delaying everything. So when I got up on stage I said something like “Oh, we have to kiss the great Judas Priests ass? Ruin our show so we can listen to this hippie bullshit?? I just  went off. Then all of the sudden, I get hit by a tomato. I guess Rob Halford was pissed as hell that I was ripping his band. So he goes upstairs to the restaurant, grabs a tomato a chucks it at me. I grabbed it and chucked it back in the audience. Some kid came up to me after the show with tomato all over his clothes and glasses and told me he liked the show, but why’d I have to hit him with a tomato?”

Don: What a British  thing to do. Here I am, in my leather chaps, chucking tomatoes at the singer of another band.

J. So you have a history of pissing off the other bands?

Rick:  Yeah. I’m not a good opening act!

The Proletariat will be releasing a new record in 2018 and will be touring as well. I’ll keep you posted on tour dates as well as posting a record review as soon as the album is out. Don’t miss them, but maybe bring your raincoat!

 

 

 

 

 

An interview with Jake Hout of the Dead Boys

 

Seeing the Dead Boys play live was a dream I’ve had since I was thirteen years old. I just never expected it to come true. Last year, when I got to interview Cheetah Chrome for the first time and see he and his band perform an awesome set list that included some Dead Boys classics, I thought it was as  close as I’d ever get. When I heard that Cheetah and Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz would be going on tour with a new Dead Boys lineup, I have to be honest in saying I had really mixed emotions. Jason Kottwitz, who’s been playing with Cheetah for years, had already earned my respect, and Ricky Rat has been a mainstay in the punk world for decades. I suppose the real question in my mind was who the hell would ever sing? Who on earth could possibly fill the shoes of Stiv Bators? Stiv was my hero. He had more charisma and more stage presence that just about any other singer I could ever name. There was something so raw, so fucking real about him. You just couldn’t stop watching. So I’ll be honest when I say I had real and serious doubts about this. Who was this Jake Hout, and how would I ever stomach watching him front one of my favorite bands of all time?

The thing was, after interviewing Cheetah, I knew what Stiv meant to him. I knew how important  it would be for Cheetah to preserve his legacy and let all dignity associated with the Dead Boys remain intact. Because of this, I went to the show expecting something decent. What I got instead was a performance that blew my mind. This lineup is no joke. Cheetah and Blitz played like they’d never stopped playing together. Kottwitz and Rat were solid and very talented additions to the band. Jake Hout, however, was the one that impressed the living hell out of me. I’ve had many friends comment that the band is “Not the Dead Boys” or something similar. I get it. I’ve seen bands that were reincarnated with new front men just to earn a few bucks. And they normally make you cringe. This is not the case here. Hout exhibits a stage presence and charisma that’s rarely seen. And despite being so charismatic, remains humble enough to know how lucky he is to be fronting a band that he’s loved and admired for so long. The music industry is not normally a place dripping with humility. Jake Hout is that rare artist who is incredibly talented, but also very grateful. So before you judge, go take a listen. Trust that these guys know what they are doing and would never settle on doing this half-assed. The band means too much to them. The Dead Boys are on tour now and I’m excited to say I’ll be seeing them again at the Bowery Electric in NYC ( January 28 and 29). Stiv is looking down with a smile, gentlemen. I know he approves.

 

J. Please tell us the story about how you wound up in the Dead Boys lineup.

J.H. I’ve known Jason Kottwitz for years. He and Cheetah have been playing together since 2013 and Jason always thought I’d be a good fit. Cheetah was doing his own thing at that time with his solo album and newer songs. But when the 40th anniversary was coming up, they scouted for singers for a Dead Boys set and Jason thought of me. Misty, Cheetah’s girlfriend, showed him some video of me as well and eventually I won the job.

J. I understand you were in a Dead Boys cover band. What was it about these guys that drew you in and made you such a fan?

J.H. Yeah , for years every Halloween me and a crew of Bay area musicians would do a zombie Dead Boys cover band called the Undead Boys. I’ve loved the Dead Boys since I was a kid. It was my favorite band when I was young and just never faded for me, really. It’s the sweetest spot right between Rock and Roll and Punk Rock of anybody in my opinion. It’s got the magic of invention in the music. Something was beginning! You just can’t  fake that feeling. Also, for reasons I’m not sure of really , I’ve just always made people think of Stiv. I’ve played in several different bands, different kinds of music, and his name always comes up. I’ve  got that kind of wild, rascally, sexual way of performing. I didn’t mean to be doing Stiv you know. It’s  just we’re similar in some ways.

J. What was it like to step on stage with Cheetah and Blitz for the first time as a Dead Boy?

J.H. Oh man, it was crazy! We played the Whiskey a GoGo in Hollywood. Beyond my wildest dreams type of thing. I was so over come and high on life I totally wasn’t paying attention to how much I was drinking and was just pounding back the Jameson’s and Guinness. Cheetah didn’t know how well I can handle the drink yet, and was like “Holy shit,  this bastard is wasted!” Hahaha! I wasn’t nervous at all though. I know the material inside and out. I nailed the gig and right there and then Cheetah knew it was gonna be me.

J. How do you think Stiv would feel about this lineup?

J.H. Well, Cheetah and Blitz say he’d be proud. All his close friends at the gigs tell me he’d love it. This always makes me tear up to think about it. Obviously, we all wish it could be him up here. He just can’t make the date, ya know. I think about it everyday. I mean to honor him.

J. What’s life like on tour?

J.H. Madness! We all jump in a little van and run in circles all around the country. We are always on the run and we’re all wild. We party like monsters. We just did 14 dates straight, with only 1 night off and then it’s on to the next.
There’s always some logistical nightmare. Floods, hurricanes, bomb threats, con men, terrorists & of course,  insane Dead Boys! Its a very full lifestyle.

J.The Dead Boys are such an iconic band in the punk genre. When you look out into the audience, do you see mostly older fans, younger ones or a mix?

J.H. We draw all ages. Its great! Every gig there’ll be some real ol’ timers right down to the fresh faced kids and everyone in between. I think the majority is on the younger side. It’s  amazing to see how the music still resonates. I love giving the old school that feeling again, making the time all fade away for a moment. But what really gets me going is knowing we’re passing the legacy on to the new generation.

J. What’s the plan going forward?

J.H. After this West Coast run we’re gonna meet up in New York in January for a couple gigs then head to UK for a couple weeks. We’re gonna do Europe later in the year and more American dates I assume. We’ve talked a bit about writing new stuff. Cheetah’s got some riffs. I’d love to just get him and Johnny together in a basement like the old days and rock ’em out till we come up with somthing. It’d have to be really goddamn good with a legacy of such weight. But we’re experts at the sound so on the one hand it’d be kinda easy. Cheetah was playing this sweet, kinda tragic lick the other day at soundcheck and Johnny just busted in with a super aggressive beat to it, I sang some suicidal dirty talk & it was like… Wow. That sounds like Dead Boys! Exciting! Got my fingers crossed…