Fairfield Theatre Company welcomes band with Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist singer

On May 26, The Fairfield Theatre Company will welcome the band X. What’s the big deal, you may ask? I’ll tell you.

As one of the most important bands in my life, I was devasted some years back when I found out that singer Exene Cervenka was a batshit crazy Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist. The pain I felt when learning of this disgusting development was beyond measure. I loved this band. Really loved them. For decades.

When I contacted the Fairfield Theatre Company after learning the band would be playing there, they had no idea about Exene’s past remarks and were so concerned that they contacted the bands management. I applaud them for taking this so seriously. But somehow management was able to convince them that Exene was sorry for the things she’s done and said. The venue even shared the email of the bands manager  with me , telling me he was looking forward to clarifying . While I knew in my gut that the “apology” would not be genuine, I didn’t even get one of those. Instead, I got “I’d like to tell you that those things were never said, but we both know they were” coupled by The unbelievable  “I hope you can find  it in yourself to allow people their faults”.

Seriously? We all have faults. We all act like assholes sometimes and we all deserve opportunities to forgive and be forgiven. This is different. Sandy Hook victims and their families suffer to this day from the effects of the lies these crazy people spread about the tragedies of that day. Families are harassed, threatened and bullied. They aren’t allowed the chance to mourn in peace. They are attacked and shamed to the point that many have had to move multiple times. These families suffered the greatest loss imaginable. And people like Exene Cervenka have attacked them.

Exene  had a YouTube channel in 2014 where she posted all of this madness. She took it down when she realized it would be the end of career if she didn’t. She made vague apologies but still rants about conspiracies , albeit more guardedly and with no more mention of Sandy Hook. She’s not sorry. She’s not. And it’s a slap in the face of our community to have her play here. Who’s next, Alex Jones?

 

The beauty in the darkness; a review of Bob Mould’s “Sunshine Rock”

I keep reading reviews for Bob Mould’s latest album, “Sunshine Rock “ and except for a very small percentage of them, I’ve come to the conclusion that either they’re all missing something or that I am.
Most reviewers are touting this album as Bob finally bringing his music out of the darkness and into the light.
To me, even though this album certainly contains some more upbeat tracks, there is still the requisite darkness, albeit a more mellow and more self reflective gloom. Bob battling himself and his demons.
But why is it that the vast majority of the reviews of this latest record are praising the new and improved “happy” Bob? While it’s a fact this this album is nowhere near all happiness and light, what kind of message are we sending when we make it sound like happiness and light are BETTER? Were so many fans actually disappointed when Bob put out albums that were mostly dark? Were they less comfortable with those records that an album that was more balanced or light? And to that I’d like to ask why?
I’m no songwriter, but I imagine that just like with any other form of writing, it is an extremely cathartic process. Letting the darkness out so there is room to let the light in. An artist that can connect with his or her emotions is one that can connect with their audience. In a world full of pop garbage, to listen to an artist that can feel what I feel is an incredible experience.
Sure, it’s nice to see Bob smile. Sure,  I hope he’s genuinely happy. But in the decades I’ve loved him, he’s smiled and laughed and created great music and lived his life. As with any human being there were highs and lows, I imagine. But maybe, just maybe, in writing songs like “Black Sheets of Rain” and “The War” Bob was cleansing himself of pain in a way he best saw fit. Through his art.
I also beg to differ when it comes to the idea Bob’s music has always been all dark. As a matter of fact, I’ve always seen the hope in Bob’s lyrics. The idea that even in darkest times, there was always something to believe in and hold on to. You hear the duality of his battles in songs such as “Hold On” from Patch The Sky and most certainly on my favorite track on this latest album, “Lost Faith”.
A lifelong Mould fan, I have turned to his music at every stage of my life. His darkness has often mirrored mine, especially when my own life was difficult or filled with loss or pain. Bob is a master at making you feel. A deeply retrospective and empathic man who sees into souls.
On this album, we hear darkness, we hear joy and we hear everything in between. Bob continues to be a master, and this album contains everything from the incredible “I Fought”, which is reminiscent of his Husker Du and Sugar days, to the upbeat “Sunshine Rock” to an incredible cover of “Send Me A Postcard”. His music continues to get better with age, as do his live shows. When we saw him in Brooklyn in February I was blown away by just how amazing he continues to be. A night filled with decades of his best music, played just as loud as you’d ever want or imagine, and the witnessing of humility and grace that this artist possesses when it comes to being grateful that his audience is still so in awe after three decades.
The darkness is not something people should rejoice in him “overcoming”. We all have moments of pain and despair and emptiness. It’s been a comfort to me throughout my life to turn to Bob’s music when I most needed someone to understand how I felt.
If happiness and joy are something that you’ve been longing for in the music of this man, I’d say you have missed the entire point. 6C2339A4-29BD-4A37-940A-3816C4E46805

The Proletariat: Interview and album review.

I once had a session with a psychic intuitive that told me that my life’s theme was “Justice”. She explained that theme only applies to about 5% of the population. If The Proletariat’s latest release is any indication, singer/songwriter Rick Brown is among that 5%.
Justice has been a theme in the Proletariat’s music since the very beginning. And this album is certainly no exception. It is filled with songs about police brutality and racial inequality and gun violence. In the Trump era, the rage in singer Rick Browns voice has become even more palpable.

Many bands of this genre and era have put out new records that are mediocre at best and seem focused on a single goal; make a few bucks as a nostalgia band. They then go on tour and play half-heartedly, just wasting time until they get their pay, go home and take a nap. There is no passion, the band isn’t a cohesive unit and new music is lackluster to say the least. ( There are some notable exceptions to this rule that have been phenomenal.) The Proletariat stands in stark contrast to these kinds of bands. It’s immediately evident that their music and what it stands for remain important to them . The musicianship has only improved with age, and so has the passion. Every band member shines, with none attempting to overshadow anyone else. A true sign of a great band to me has always been a solid, singular vision shared by all of its members. The Proletariat seem to excel at this concept. And even after all of these years, they are still making exceptional music. In fact, this album may be their best.
A stand-out on the album is the fiercely anti-racist and anti-mass incarceration song,
“Incarceration Incentive”
“Incentive to incarcerate/ imprisoned, profit, product, slave/ incentive to incarcerate/ racial bias creates slaves. Prison Labor’s Cheap. They’re reinventing slavery .”

“Soft Targets” addresses the enormous gun violence issue we have in this country.
“In your search for truth/ lies offer comfort/ lies blur distinction/ lies bury lies—cowardly/ vulnerable/it’s easy when they don’t look like us.”
My favorite track on the album is the title track “Move”. This song is where Browns rage seems most evident and guttural. It’s subject is an incident from 1985 where police bombed
the headquarters of MOVE, a black liberation group, in a residential area. The fire spread to 60 building and 11 people, including 5 children, died.

I asked singer Rick Brown a few questions about the latest album and the band.
Jen: What inspired you to write this latest album?”
Rick:
The album title ‘Move’ was based on the Move House bombings in Philadelphia in 1985. There had been bad blood between the Move Org and the Philadelphia police for several years dating back to 1978 incident where an officer was shot in the back, while facing the organizations then headquarters. Nine members of Move where arrested and just over the last few years a few have been released.
Jen: The band seems more fine-tuned and cohesive than ever. You must put a lot of work in. How difficult is that at this stage if the game? To find the time and energy?

Rick: I’m glad you think were sharp and fine tuned 🙂 With jobs, families and a drummer on the opposite coast its really hard to stay sharp. When we rehearse its fairly intense, but still loose and fun.

Jen: I saw you guys play on the very first date of your first tour in 30 years. How important is it for you to play in front of live audiences?

Rick: Playing in front of live audiences is the best part of being in a band. Well, this band anyway 🙂 . Song writing and piecing together songs and regular rehearsals are OK, studio time on the other hand. Meh.
As far as today compared to 30 Years ago…two different animals. The venues then could be just about anything : lofts, garages, art spaces, etc…yeah we did play a garage/giant shed in Tacoma last year, but mostly now it’s clubs.

Jen: In the current political climate, a lot of bands get pushback for being too political. What’s your take on that?

Rick: We have never actually received push back for being political but back in the day we occasionally would catch some heat for our political beliefs. It’s hard for me to understand why the very same people that champion “freedom” are so hellbent on exercising their freedoms and then turning around and wanting to deny others the freedoms they seek.

Jen: Where do you hope to see us headed as a nation? What role to you think art and music have in shaping societies perceptions?

Rick:
One of the reasons that funding for the arts is often on the chopping block is that art, music, film and literature, by their very nature, demand your attention…the awareness that ensues scares our leaders. Work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep — a mind numbing, soulless existence for the masses will leave them little time to question authority and too little energy to resist and the status quo remains intact. I guess that sounds like a pretty grim response 🙂… For me music and the arts have always offered an alternative, a window, a hope. Whether it was Camus, Dylan or The Clash…talking about the French Resistance, Vietnam, Watergate, or Thatcher’s England, there will always be artists that question not only our leaders but ourselves as well. For that I am thankful.

I, for one, am thankful for bands like the Proletariat. Thoughtful, passionate and literate, they’ve always been a band that speaks their truth. And instead of those ideals mellowing with age, as they so often do, their message is now even stronger.BE712B03-0E49-44B8-9BCC-6FBAEDBF9C9B

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!