Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dave Daniels, and the joy of discovery

Atlanta contributor Mike Tierney has never played a vibraphone. Heck, he probably never even heard of Lionel Hampton! But he is a musical vibemeister with unnaturally ecletric (yep, we just coined a word for the urban dictionary) taste. Do not miss his occasional musings at the Sanctuary.

By Mike Tierney

One of the unadulterated joys of rock 'n' roll is stumbling blindly into a gifted under-the-radar musician in your town and going "Holy moly" -- or, more likely, holy bleep -- "this dude can really play."

In metro Atlanta recently, I was introduced in to Dave Daniels, who offered that he had a band and invited me to see them perform. With modest expectations, I caught Daniels at a free show in a neighborhood establishment.

A few songs into the set, I'm thinking, "Shouldn't this guy be pulling in 15 to 20 bucks a ticket at some semi-spacious venue?"

Then I reminded myself that there are hundreds of Dave Daniels from sea to shining sea who generate sounds as impressively as the artists who make a comfortable living at it. That dynamic illustrates the yin and yang of the business. It might be unfair to the creators, but listeners can dig up hidden treasures without much effort.

Daniels crafts clever tunes that cover a wide spectrum, with sprinklings of folk and jazz and country and blues. If you are a prisoner of pop music, as I am, you are continously amazed at the talent on a level where players must maintain day jobs to support their muse.

The other day, I punched up Daniels' website to check on upcoming gigs, only to read that he is cutting back drastically on shows. "Trying to make a living off my own music actually hinders my life," he explained.

Such a painful transition is inevitable for the bulk of musicians who brighten clubs and bars and basements with their art.

Here is hoping Daniels gets his moly together, reassembles his teammates and cranks out more songs for more audiences.

If not, well, there are plenty more Dave Daniels coming down the pipe. It is all part of rock 'n' roll's circle of life.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A whole lotta love for Wilco

If you watch this video of Wilco performing on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series and don't go out immediately and buy their new album, well, you can't blame us.

The Whole Love is sounding like the best we've heard from Jeff Tweedy & Co. NPR's Bob Boilen calls Wilco "the best rock band in America," which is begging for an argument, but he won't get one here. There are four songs and more than 18 minutes to help convince you.

Those who know us are aware that when Uncle Tupelo disbanded in 1994 and split into two groups we stubbornly aligned ourselves with UT's leading protagonist, Jay Farrar, and his new band Son Volt -- largely on the strength of Trace, one of the best albums of 1995. When Tweedy and Wilco countered with A.M. a rivalry was born, tipping heavily in Farrar's favor at the start.

We eventually decided it was OK to appreciate both artists, and it didn't hurt when Wilco began to kick out some memorable albums. The turning point actually came in 1998 with a joint effort (how could that not be a success?) when Billy Bragg dragged Wilco into the studio to help produce Mermaid Avenue, a splendid album of songs born out of old Woody Guthrie lyrics.

But it wasn't until the release of the band's fourth album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2002 that Tweedy and Wilco began to gain their now mythic foothold on American rock. That stood as our favorite until 2009's Wilco (The Album). And now, here we are, singing the praises of The Whole Love like it's the best thing that ever came down the pike. This will require further review, which we're more than up for.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

They're coming to take him away

By Al Tays

A novelty himself,
Sunday contributor Al
Tays knows a little bit
about whacky songs.
Six million record buyers were responsible for Rick Dees' "Disco Duck" going to the top of the Billboard singles chart on this date in 1976.

I am proud to say I was not one of them.

It's not that I have anything against novelty songs -- I think that's the most interesting music genre.

But "Disco Duck" just ... sucked.

You wanna talk good novelty songs? The problem is not so much where to begin, but where to stop.

I mean, "Weird Al" Yankovic should have his own sub-category. "Lose Yourself," "E-Bay" and "The Hardware Store" are classics, and "Genius in France" is to novelty songs what "Stairway to Heaven" is to classic rock.

As a kid, I remember listening to "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor," "They're Coming to Take Me Away," and "The Jolly Green Giant." That last one is still on my iPod.

In adulthood, I discovered other gems such as "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago," "Valley Girl" and, of course, "Fish Heads."

In researching this subject, I came across a song I've never heard, but which might have the best title of all time:

"I'm at Home Getting Hammered (While She's Out Getting Nailed)"

Now THAT'S songwriting.

Friday, October 14, 2011


It's Friday, and once you click on this it only gets better...

The song Stephen Colbert is singing sounded vaguely familiar, but we admit we didn't recognize "Friday" until we did a search. Even then, the name Rebecca Black didn't immediately click -- even though we wrote about her hated video some time ago.

Colbert does such a great job we were thinking the song must be something from a popular group like the Smashing Pumpkins.  It isn't, but Colbert certainly is smashing himself as he pays off a bet he lost with Jimmy Fallon.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Catchin' that Yelawolf fever

By Robert Nelson

You can ask Sanctuary rapconteur
Robert Nelson what's in his player,
just don't ask him what's in the trunk.
I discovered Yelawolf through my friend Stan. He told me Eminem signed him to his label and mentioned he’d seen him on BET’s The Cypher. So, that’s where I started, and there was plenty more on YouTube. Then, I bought the Trunk Muzik mixtape on iTunes, and I’ve been listening to it for the past 10 or 11 months.

I usually keep a pretty tight rotation of new music circulating in my car. In the past year, it’s been mostly Trunk Muzik. I continue to develop a new favorite song. It started with Daddy’s Lambo, then Box Chevy, Pop the Trunk, and now, Love is Not Enough. If I’m picky, I might skip through one or two tracks, but it rides from top to bottom. It’s the CD I leave in the deck when there’s nothing else I want to hear. You might say I’m enamored with it.

Guests include Raekwon, Gucci Mane and Bun B over a blend of hip-hop and dirty south beats. Yelawolf raps circles around them with a syrupy twang delivery as dynamic as I’ve ever heard. Despite the proliferation of Southern artists within the genre over the past decade, he’s managed to maintain a distinct point of view and proves capable of incorporating popular hip-hop storytelling elements into his narrative in a fresh, palatable way.

He’s performing Oct. 19 in Minneapolis at First Ave in support of his major label debut, entitled Radioactive, due Nov. 21. I’m not really wild about the first single but anticipating the record nonetheless. I’ll let you know how the show goes. I’m looking forward to that, too.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Imagine John Lennon at 71

By Al Tays

Pretty amazing day today for music-related birthdays. We have John Entwhistle, who would have been 67 (he died in 2002), and Jackson Browne, 63.

But one other birthday dwarfs those: John Lennon.

Lennon, who was murdered in 1980, would have turned 71 today. (He would have shared his birthday with Sean Lennon, his only child with Yoko Ono, who turns 36 today.)

What can you say about John Lennon that most people don't already know? Let's concentrate on the day he came into the world. He was born at Liverpool Maternity Hospital, his parents were Julia and Alfred Lennon, and he was named John Winston Lennon after his paternal grandfather, John "Jack" Lennon, and then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Couple pieces of Lennon trivia: He ocasionally played bass on Beatles songs, using a six-string Fender BassVI on some songs where Paul McCartney was playing piano. And he hated his own singing voice, often asking producer George Martin to help it electronically.

Watching this clip, I think he was too hard on himself. Happy birthday, John.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Baby steps

By Robert Nelson

Quick, hide the stash: Baby DJ (wearing red cap) checks
out the tour bus with Pete, Sam and Dean of Chevelle.
During my freshman year in college, my buddy Ta and I bought tickets to see Filter in Minneapolis. It didn’t happen. The lead singer checked into rehab and cancelled the tour. So, when I found out they were coming to town with Bush and Chevelle, naturally, I thought of inviting Ta to go with me. We were all Bush fans in high school. Filter would be a huge perk. And Chevelle … well, let’s say they made this experience unlike any I’ve had before.

My DJ career is still in its infancy. It’s not uncommon for me to be referred to as “Baby DJ” around the office. It’s cool. It’s not meant to be disparaging in any way (at least, I don’t think it is). In fact, I’ve received more support from my radio family than I could have ever imagined. Still, when my boss offered to let me conduct my first artist interview with Chevelle before the show last night, apart from being totally elated, the confidence instilled in me got taken to a whole new level.

I walked into the nearly empty venue to find Filter on stage sound-checking “Take a Picture.” That’s when shit got real. I understand, now, why kids line up outside so early before a concert. On the off chance you can catch a glimpse of or hear just a little bit of your favorite band warming up, why wouldn’t you? With nobody else around, it’s so intimate, like they’re performing in your living room. When they started “Welcome to the Fold,” James, Chevelle’s tour manager, approached and took me backstage to meet the band.

Actually, he escorted me to the back of the club and outside to their bus. They’d definitely been living in it for a while. It was in the same sort of disrepair as my bedroom, comfortably disheveled. Pete, the lead singer, sat waiting, flipping through his phone. He seemed somewhat distracted at first. The business of prepping their new record for release in December weighed heavily on his mind. As I set up my equipment, his brother Sam, the drummer, stepped out and helped break the ice. They told me about a recent trip to Vegas where, at 4 a.m., some chick was trying to seduce Pete and his extremely hot wife. Happens to me all the time.

I think the interview went fairly well, not without its moments, but the good news is I got it out of the way, hopefully, to the boss’ satisfaction. I was, then, immediately ready for a drink and a smoke and a kick-ass rock show. All of which were conquered, in that order, with several more drinks and a couple more smokes. Ta showed up just before Filter took the stage, and it felt like high school again. The Baby DJ’s learning to walk.

Follow the musical musings and escapades of Baby DJ on Wednesdays at Six String Sanctuary.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pssst: Ryan Adams rises above Ashes

Do yourself a favor. Put on a set of headphones and click here.

What you'll be doing is taking a beautiful trip through the gentle peaks and valleys of Ashes and Fire, the latest -- and possibly the greatest album yet -- from Ryan Adams. This is a First Listen freebie from NPR, so enjoy the ride. Don't let yourself be interrupted.

We've been fans of Adams since his barnstorning alt-country days with Whiskeytown. Come to think of it, that may have been our problem. While nursing the hangover that was the breakup of our favorite band, we were slow to embrace Adams' early solo work, good as it was.  Part of our hesitation was the troubled artist's tendency to self-destruct while he was churning out a confounding catalog of music --  some of it very good, but just too damn much of it.  Does that make any sense? We wouldn't have been surprised by a tragic outcome.

Happy to say, with Ashes and Fire, everything has come into focus. We've gone from fans to disciples, and we need to start by thanking Adams, who appears to have grown more as a person than an artist during his two-year hiatus. He already had the songwriting and musicianship down.  What happened to him?  Life lessons and love. He fell in love, really fell in love, as the writing in Ashes and Fire clearly reveals. We don't believe you can write "I Love You But I Don't Know What to Say" without discovering answers about life and love along the way.

I was lost I was lost
I tried to find the balance and got caught up in the cost
I let it go when I met you
The clouds inside me parted and all that light came shining through

I promise you I will keep you safe from harm
Love you all the rest of my days
When the night is silent and we seem so far away
Oh I love you but I don't know what to say

Adams, who is now married and finally clean, also had to deal with a painful inner-ear affliction that made music-making virtually impossible. We're sure it's all much more complicated than that, but the results are crystal clear. Ashes and Fire, produced by Glyn Johns and due out Oct. 11, is one of the best albums we've heard this year. It's going up on the big board as Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout (PSSST) No. 25.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Much LeDoux about cowboys

Chris LeDoux was a true cowboy.
By Al Tays

We're mighty happy
those cowboy boots
didn't fit Al Tays --
not that he doesn't
know a good ropin'
song when he hears it.
 During my country and western period (1990-95, when I lived in Atlanta and decided to "go native") one of my favorite songs was Chris LeDoux's "Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy?" in which he's joined by Garth Brooks. I don't listen to C&W radio anymore, so I hear that song only when the shuffle function on my iPod cues it up. But the witty lyrics, zippy fiddle and catchy tune never fail to make me smile. And I think about how LeDoux wasn't just a guy with a hat singing about cowboys -- he really was one. He won the world bareback riding championship at the National Finals Rodeo in 1976.

And then I think what a shame it is that Chris LeDoux died before his time.

Born on this date in 1948, LeDoux was 51 in 2000 when he was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a chronic liver disease.

He had to have a liver transplant. Brooks volunteered to be a donor, but his tissue was incompatible. LeDoux underwent a transplant from another donor later that year. Four years later he was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, cancer of the bile ducts, and died on March 9, 2005.

Shorty after LeDoux's death, Brooks recorded the song "Good Ride Cowboy" as a tribute. "I knew if I ever recorded any kind of tribute to Chris, it would have to be up-tempo, happy ... a song like him ... not some slow, mournful song," Brooks said in an interview with CMT. "He wasn't like that."

Thinking about LeDoux and "Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy?" got me thinking about how many songs with "Cowboy" (or "Cowgirl") in the title are among my favorites. And make no mistake -- I'm no cowboy. This Boston tenderfoot (literally) tried wearing cowboy boots in Atlanta and found them to be the most uncomfortable things he ever put on his feet. And I'm allergic to horses. But I love these songs:

Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy? (Chris LeDoux and Garth Brooks)
The Cowboy Tune, also known as The End is not in Sight, (Amazing Rhythm Aces)
Honky-Tonk Stardust Cowboy (Jonathan Edwards)
Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys (Willie Nelson)
King of the Cowboys (Amazing Rhythm Aces)
Should've Been a Cowboy (Toby keith)
What the Cowgirls Do (Vince Gill)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Three verses to go

Last weekend I received the biggest boost ever for a song when my brother-in-law Mike heard me play "Red Dress" -- which has only three verses (so far) and no bridge -- and said it would have been perfect at the end of the Jeff Bridges film Crazy Heart. Well he is an old schoolboy friend married to my sister, after all. And Bridges, while no slouch as a singer and musician, is not quite Bob Dylan.

And neither is Donovan, who drew those inevitable comparisons when he came up through the British folk scene in the Sixties. We mention this because it was on this date in 1965 that Donovan made his U.S. television debut on Shindig!  Looking back at him performing "Catch the Wind" we see a poised young songwriter with a positive vibe that would soon play to his laid-back, flower child persona. We also see some really bad fake trees.

In the chilly hours and minutes
Of uncertainty, I want to be,
In the warm hold of your loving mind

To feel you all around me
And to take your hand, along the sand
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind

When sundown pales the sky
I wanna hide a while, behind your smile
And everywhere I'd look, your eyes I'd find

For me to love you now
Would be the sweetest thing, 'twould make me sing
Ah, but I may as well, try and catch the wind

When rain has hung the leaves with tears
I want you near, to kill my fears
To help me to leave all my blues behind

For standin' in your heart
Is where I want to be, and I long to be
Ah, but I may as well, try and catch the wind

A beautiful song by a great artist. But what was it like battling those Dylan comparisons? Donovan gave this thoughtful response in a 2001 interview with BBC:

"The one who really taught us to play and learn all the traditional songs was Martin Carthy—who incidentally was contacted by Dylan when Bob first came to the UK. Bob was influenced, as all American folk artists are, by the Celtic music of Ireland, Scotland and England. But in 1962 we folk Brits were also being influenced by some folk Blues and the American folk-exponents of our Celtic Heritage...

"Dylan appeared after Woodie [Guthrie], Pete [Seeger] and Joanie [Baez] had conquered our hearts, and he sounded like a cowboy at first but I knew where he got his stuff—it was Woodie at first, then it was Jack Kerouac and the stream-of-consciousness poetry which moved him along. But when I heard "Blowing In The Wind" it was the clarion call to the new generation – and we artists were encouraged to be as brave in writing our thoughts in music...We were not captured by his influence, we were encouraged to mimic him—and remember every British band from the Stones to the Beatles were copying note for note, lick for lick, all the American pop and blues artists—this is the way young artists learn.

"There's no shame in mimicking a hero or two—it flexes the creative muscles and tones the quality of our composition and technique. It was not only Dylan who influenced us—for me he was a spearhead into protest, and we all had a go at his style. I sounded like him for five minutes—others made a career of his sound. Like troubadours, Bob and I can write about any facet of the human condition. To be compared was natural, but I am not a copyist."

That's good enough for me. So is "Catch the Wind," which Donovan completes in five verses without a bridge, just a short harmonica flourish. I'm halfway home.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Movie review in a music blog: Drive

By Robert Nelson

We plan to reward Twin Cities
contributor Robert Nelson for
doing double duty this week
by reimbursing his fiancé for 
her portion of the bill.
 I love movies. I can get into a Rom-Com as easily as an action flick. I enjoy art-house as much as grindhouse. I’ll give anything a fair shake, but I hate crap. So when my buddy Kevin, who shares a similar, perhaps even more rabid flair for cinema, told me Drive was the best movie he’d seen all year, the fiancé and I decided to split the bill on dinner and a movie Friday night.

I thought it was another Fast and the Furious cash cow, but it’s not. They’re just selling it totally wrong. What you see in the trailers is really the backdrop for the main character. The plot evolves into a violent, romantic tragedy delivered in this moody, nuanced tone that calls to mind a litany of influences within a style entirely its own. It’s visually compelling, performances are stellar all around, and punctuating it all is the eeriest score since Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (composed by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood; Drive’s composer: one-time Red Hot Chili Pepper Cliff Martinez who also composed Pump Up the Volume, the movie that made me want to be a DJ).

The title song, “Nightcall” is by French house DJ Kavinsky and features Lovefoxxx, a Brazilian indie singer of German, Portuguese and Japanese decent. She delivers breathy, surfer chic vocals over a slow, haunting synth beat that totally captures the pace and cadence of the film. “Under Your Spell” by Desire, a producer-drummer-singer trio, evokes similar notions with a bit more rising action and even more melancholy. It’s a strange amalgamation of electro-synth-pop on Ambien and coke. Also heard in the film, “A Real Hero” by College featuring Electric Youth, which reminded me instantly of “Mouthful of Diamonds” by Phantogram; both are great tunes.

If you haven’t heard of any of these artists, you aren’t alone. Kevin said he might go buy the soundtrack, something he hasn’t done in a long time. I plan to dig a little deeper into their respective bodies of work, first, maybe go scavenging through iTunes or Grooveshark before I make a purchase. We can agree on one thing, however: Drive is the best movie of 2011.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pssst: Mercury rising for Pieta Brown

Let us tell you how much we enjoy Pieta Brown's new album Mercury, which is out today on Red House Records. Once we heard it we immediately checked her tour schedule to find the closest venue to our home here in Milwaukee. There is simply no way we're going to miss her this fall. Not the way this music sounds.

There are no dates in Wisconsin, so it'll be an enchanting October Saturday night in Iowa City, Iowa, and do not doubt such a possibility exists. Brown has roots in Iowa, after all, and the Englert Theatre is the perfect place for her CD release show. And for kickers, Iris DeMent is there a night earlier to help celebrate the theatre's 99th anniversary.

Lucky us. And lucky you, if you can make it there or anywhere along the tour to catch the brightest new star in Americana music. (Sadly, not everyone has recognized this. Even our hometown newspaper, which tries be musically hip, ignores Mercury in its weekly New CDs feature while mentioning releases by Maria Muldaur, LeAnn Rimes, Daryl Hall, Switchfoot, Chickenfoot, et al.)

Brown, daughter of troubadour Greg Brown (who recorded Pieta's tender "Remember the Sun" on his new album Freak Flag), has come into full bloom as an artist. She has always had a dreamy, sensual voice with a magnetic pull. And now, on Mercury, we hear lyrical poetry that begins to set her apart from the best in the genre.

Tonight I’m dancing alone
The world left me on my own
I’m not the first
I’m not the last
Rolling stone

There are several gems on the 13-song Mercury, but none more magical than "How Much of My Love." You would love to have this dance with her, but she is confident and content to do it alone. A true rolling stone, as we have suspected since we heard her for the first time years ago at a smoky dive in Minneapolis. Guitarist Bo Ramsey was with her that night and has accompanied her most of the way. His contributions are evident on Mercury, along with those of bassist Glenn Worf, drummer Chad Cromwell, multi-instrumentalist David Mansfield and Mark Knopfler ("So Many Miles.") It is Knopfler who calls Brown's singing "effortless and natural, like rain on earth."

Mercury was recorded in three days in a studio near Nashville, where producer Richard Bennett (Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Knopfler) was clearly moved. "Pieta's songs and melodies are beautiful, mystical, at times, frightening," Bennett wrote. "Among the many miracles about Mercury are those disarming vocals, recorded live as Pieta was also playing some very righteous guitar. Records are not made this way anymore and there aren't many artists capable of pulling that sort of thing off for three days running or even just one song. Most artists aren't Pieta Brown."

No they aren't, and Mercury is all the proof you need. It's time for Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout (PSSST) No. 24, Brown's second album to make the big board. We expect there will be more, and by then the rest of the world will surely know of this stunning jewel.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Does bubblegum lose its flavor?

Yep, our guy Al Tays is right:
Susan Dey (front right) was
pretty much the ONLY reason
for us guys to watch
The Partridge Family.
By Al Tays

Now THIS is an anniversary: On this day in 1970, the first episode of The Partridge Family was shown on U.S. TV. The idea came from the Cowsills, a REAL musical family. Apparently the original plans were to use the Cowsill kids, but that was dropped because they weren't TRAINED ACTORS.

You know, I think if someone had told me I was losing a role because Danny Bonaduce was a better actor, I might have gone right over the edge.

As for the other Patridges, well, let's just say that like most males, I paid a lot more attention to Susan Dey than to David Cassidy. I'm not sure I even knew what an overbite was, but on her, it looked good.

The Partridges' biggest hit was their 1970 release, "I Think I Love You," which made it to No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Don't remember? Click here. (And this is a good place to note that only Cassidy and Jones actually sang on the early recordings.) C

Overall, the Partridges released an astounding 89 songs on eight albums. That is a heck of a lot of bubblegum.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The new X games

We had to check out The X Factor last night. HAD TO. Simon Cowell back in the saddle with a new show? And no Ryan Seacrest? We're there, if only for half of the two-hour premiere. Hey, it's a school night.

One pet peeve about American Idol is its limited age group. Why not give an old rocker a chance to show up the kids? (X Factor has four categories: Girls, Boys, Over 30s and Groups.) So while we we're waiting for that old rocker to appear a spunky 13-year-old, Rachel Crow, comes onstage and we immediately become fans of the kiddie corps.  Rachel wins over the judges and audience with an audition more memorable than just about anything seen on Idol. Give her the $5 million now and we're outa here!

Another incredible moment is supplied by Stacy Francis, a 42-year-old single mom with two young kids who says "This is my last shot ... the time is now. I don't want to die with this music in me, Simon." She belts out an amazing rendition of Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman" that has nearly everybody spilling tears. Even our no-run mascara springs a leak. Simon, who has often played the bad cop but probably knows musical talent better than all of the judges on all of these shows, proclaims: "One of the best auditions I have ever heard in my life." Well, it's his show and he'll up the ante any way he can.

It isn't all good. Dan and Venita, a married couple ages 70 and 83, sing a dreadful "Unchained Melody" that leaves the judges unhinged, and they trot out some other freak shows just for shock value. The last performer is a recovering meth addict who sings an original song "Young Homie," that we're truly sorry we missed.

We're guessing X Factor will be BIG, with us or without us. Probably without us, at least until baseball is over. We're also guessing (hoping) that Rachel and Stacy will be around for awhile, so we'll have somebody to root for when we check back.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Foo in review: St. Paul rocked

By Robert Nelson

It's true, Woody did the wave.
At a Foo Fighters concert. The wave.
And it was ... cool. 
I ended up going to the Foo Fighters concert in St. Paul last week. We got in line for beer just in time to hear their first song. It was 8:30, which seemed insane until we left the arena at 11:30. For nearly three full hours, we rocked.

They played a cool hour and a half of notable tunes, pulling deeply from their new stuff before they got into the hits. That was the second half of the evening. Twice, somewhere in the middle of the night and again at the encore, Dave Grohl performed from the center of the floor on a small platform that elevated a good thirty feet into the air. The second time around, it was acoustically and without the band. This was the only part of the night they let us catch our breath. That’s when we did “the first ever wave at a Foo Fighters show.”

The wave doesn’t seem like a terribly rock ‘n’ roll thing to do, at first, and I think that’s why Grohl prompted us to go for it. It’s so un-rock ‘n’ roll that by doing it, we were rockin’ in the face of rock ‘n’ roll, and were thus, more rock ‘n’ roll than if we hadn’t rocked it out to begin with.

That's the Foo Fighters. Check out the video above. The wave’s at 4:25.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Junior moment

By Al Tays

The Sanctuary condones
quitting your job and
driving across the
country like Al Tays,
especially if you get
to see Junior Brown
somewhere along the way.
Mrs. Assistant Music Blogger and yours truly have been semi-crazy about Junior Brown since we stumbled upon him on Austin City Limits while channel-surfing one haze-filled late-1980s night in Fort Lauderdale. We had no idea who this goofy-looking guy with a Blues Brothers suit and a Quickdraw McGraw cowboy hat was, and we SURE as heck didn't know what that double-necked guitar-like contraption was that he was playing, but DAMN, was he ever playing it!

Some research revealed that his name was Jamieson "Junior" Brown, he was from Indiana but had moved to Austin and become a guitar legend. Actually, he became a "guit-steel" legend, as that was the name he had given to his fusion of the neck and pickups from a Fender Bullet electric guitar and a lap-steel guitar.

We bought his CDs and fell in love with his blend of twangy-country witty lyrics ("you're wanted by the po-lice and my wife thinks you're dead") and greased-lightning fretboard work. When you listened to Junior, you weren't just listening to Junior. Through the riffs in his various medleys, you were listening to Hendrix, Page, Clapton, et al. When I moved to California, one of the first things I did was take my car out onto the Pacific Coast Highway, put the top down and crank up the volume on Junior's ode to the Ventures, "Surf Medley." I told friends that the karma was so intense, my head almost exploded.

We had a chance to see Junior once. He was opening for the Mavericks at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. We were running late, but weren't worried, because no concert ever starts on time, right? Wrong. Apparently the ones in casinos do, because when we walked in a half-hour late, Junior was already gone.

A second chance presented itself last week. We were moving back to Florida from LA, driving across the country. As luck would have it, Junior was playing in Austin, at the place he got his start, the Continental Club, on the night we were scheduled to stay in that city. We drove 10 hard hours from Las Cruces, NM, hoping we wouldn't get shut out again. We were just a few minutes late, but Junior and his band were delayed, so we didn't miss a thing. We stood at the bar, maybe 20 unobstructed feet from the stage, drinking the Continental's homemade ginger ale (and a Lone Star beer, just for authenticity).

Junior obliged with all the crowd's favorites, even taking requests. When he was done with his 90-minute set, we followed the band to the back door and bought some T-shirts from his drummer (whose name, alas, is on a slip of paper somewhere well hidden among all the stuff that was jam-packed into our car). The guy manning the front door of the club reminded us that our $15 cover was not good for admission to see the night's headliner. Didn't matter to us. We had already seen our headliner, an experience we'll never forget.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Requiem for a rapper

Tupac Shakur: June 16, 1971-Sept. 13, 1996
By Robert Nelson

When I was in junior high, virtually all the boys in my class had divided into two giant gangs. Best friends were separated by allegiances. Guys who’d never spoken before became brothers watching each other’s backs. This went on for a month or so. On the day of the rumble, maybe 50 kids filled the hallway of the second floor, squaring off, ready for battle. When the first bell rang, the melee began: fists flying, bodies being tossed into lockers, and at the second bell, we scattered, laughing and talking trash. It was fantastic.

This was in the middle of the East Coast vs. West Coast rap rivalry, and a year or two after we read The Outsiders in grade school. Blame either, but we were just horsing around. Nobody got hurt. In fact, it was probably the last time we really unified as a class. Ah, the stories I could tell you.

In U.S. History class, I sat next to Jessica Morales. One day I showed up and she was crying. She had these high, strong cheekbones that lifted her smile, almost perky, and a single crooked tooth that could be completely distracting when you saw it, but on that day, was more conspicuous for its absence. Her hair was thick and long, and strands of it clung to the tears running over her lips. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me Tupac died. I don’t know if I ever spoke to her again. It was September 13, 1996.

In 1991, Pac was still a part of Digital Underground when they appeared in the movie “Nothing But Trouble” with Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Chevy Chase and Demi Moore. An abbreviated version of “Same Song” was featured in the film, and I ran out and bought “This is an EP Release” which included the full track with Tupac’s verse. That year, he released his first solo record 2Pacalypse Now. He was 20 years old.

Over the next five years, he released six studio albums, four of which were certified platinum (All Eyez on Me went 9x platinum), wrote enough material for as many posthumous albums, starred in as many movies, and in the 15 years since his death at 25 years old, has sold more than 75 million records. In 2010, he was inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. His murder remains unsolved.

I watched a few 9/11 documentaries this weekend. Each touched on how quickly we seem to forget. I don’t remember how I felt when Jessica Morales told me Tupac died. I can recall everything about that moment but the feeling. It evolves. Tupac’s legacy is vast and rich and complicated, but that’s not so important to me. What matters is the feeling. Sometimes, it’s for the sake of nostalgia, sometimes it’s sorrow, but more often, it’s just because he was so good. The feeling is why he’s important. That’s music.

Join Twin Cities contributor Robert Nelson on Wednesdays at Six String Sanctuary and gain a temporary asylum for your soul.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Big Fish story

“I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars.”
-- Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea

Not every big fish makes a splash: 
Gavel Ridge's 2010 Big Fish
is under the radar but over the top.  
Terry "Doc" Holliday does not sell wine produced at his fledgling vineyard in west central Wisconsin. Not before its time, not any time. It is made in extremely limited batches and reserved for the enjoyment of family and friends. (He did sell about half his Marquette grapes last fall, which helps pay for the fun he is having as a winemaker and grower, and he will do the same this year.)

But Doc, a research and development manager by trade, is quickly mastering his new craft. Perhaps the only thing keeping his 2010 Big Fish Marquette from becoming legendary is the fact that so few will have a chance to put their lips to it. Or perhaps that is why it WILL become legendary. Barely five cases were produced; only a dozen or so bottles remain. And Doc seems intent on killing the rest. His reasoning: If it's this good now, why not drink it?

Robert M. Parker Jr. will never have a chance to rank 2010 Big Fish, critics and aficionados will never discuss its immense possibilities, and Wine Spectator will never devote a spread to the tiny vineyard on Gavel Ridge. They will never know, and neither will you -- unless you join Doc and Patricia Holliday Saturday for the new Marquette harvest on the picturesque wind-swept hills north of Whitehall. Your reward: a Gavel Ridge T-shirt, and a chance to taste the jam-o-licious Big Fish before it disappears.

Already a curious story is circulating about the lush grapes of Gavel Ridge, a story that supports the ancient notion of grapes as an aphrodisiac. One area winemaker who bought Marquettes from Doc last year swears this is true: He gave a bottle of his wine to a brother, who shared it with his wife and later regaled a story of wild love-making that lasted through the night. Believe what you want, that winemaker has already placed his order for the new grapes.

We are very fortunate to have a bottle of Big Fish stashed away, and it might as well be the '61 Cheval Blanc from the movie Sideways. To paraphrase: The day we open that bottle of '10 Big Fish, that's the special occasion. We might even drink it out of a paper cup.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Leaving Rome

Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble
Ancient footprints are everywhere ...

This ain't Lambeau Field: The Colosseum by day.
ROME, Italy -- There is only one way to leave Rome at 4:45 in the morning. By limo. A cab ride to the airport is no way to put the finishing touch on a brief, magical brush with the ancient city.

The streets were nearly empty as a new day began to flicker. The limo arrived at the Baglioni Hotel, exactly on time, with two Italian gentlemen dressed in white longsleeve shirts, ties and black trousers. The driver was slightly older, with thick black-rimmed glasses. (He could have been the guy driving the Charger in the car chase scene from "Bullitt," sans gloves.) The other man, riding shotgun, was much younger. He carried a clipboard and spoke English well enough for a conversation.

When the door to the limo opened you could hear music blasting through the speakers. This was not music to help ferry passengers around the city, but rather something to help these men get into the spirit of their work day.

We weren't expecting Emilio Pericoli singing "Al Da La," although that would have been a nice touch. The Band's version of Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece" (lyrics above) had been buzzing around in my head throughout our tour of the city the previous day, but again, the limo music hadn't been chosen for our listening enjoyment.

So what do a couple of sharp looking Italian men jam into the player before their first morning cappuccinos? The music du jour was the Allman Brothers, with Berry Oakley's instantly recognizable bass line to "Whipping Post" filling the limo and making, for a brief moment, this big old world seem just a little bit smaller.

Strumbum adds: I couldn't resist the Rome, Italy dateline. I mean, how many chances do you get?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Woody, briefly

By Robert Nelson

It's Wednesdays with Woody at
the Sanctuary, where our intrepid
blogster is experimenting with the
short form.
As a follow-up to a post from a couple weeks ago (and because I didn't go), I'd like to direct you to Rolling Stone's review of the Pearl Jam 20th Anniversary festival that occurred this past weekend.  It includes video of Chris Cornell joining the band to perform "Hunger Strike," which should completely blow your mind. 
It's a 2-page review, so don't get so caught up in the video that you forget to finish the story.  As a reward, they'll provide you with a link to the trailer for the Cameron Crowe documentary on Pearl Jam that hits theatres on the 20th ( 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day state of mind

It's Labor Day weekend and our favorite working class heroes -- the dedicated contributors to Sanctuary Nation -- have been too busy to post blogs. What's wrong with this picture?  Thought we'd better scramble together a list of songs to show some solidarity for the working man.

Remember if you're stuck at work today or returning to the grind on Tuesday, at least you have a job. There are 14 million employable Americans who aren't earning a paycheck.

1. Working Man Blues, Merle Haggard
2. Take This Job and Shove It, Johnny Paycheck
3. Working for the Man, Roy Orbison
4. Maggie's Farm, Bob Dylan
5. Working Class Hero, John Lennon
6. Chain Gang, Sam Cooke
7. Welcome to the Working Week, Elvis Costello
8. Hard Day's Night, Beatles
9. Takin' Care of Business, Bachman-Turner Overdrive
10. 16 Tons, Tennessee Ernie Ford

Friday, September 2, 2011

Losing their grip

By Mike Tierney

For music devotees, nothing approaches the nearly carnal experience of hearing a kick-ass song by an unknown artist for the first time, then setting aside everything -- work, family, food -- to research the band's background and its other offerings.

Mike Tierney
often gets stuck
between blogs,
but when he
delivers he's as
reliable as an old
Atlanta Journal
One of those moments, for me, was triggered by "Stuck Between Stations" a well-paced pleasure of organized chaos by The Hold Steady from late 2007. Melodic, grinding guitars blend perfectly with a creative rhythym section and a helpful piano.

Geeky songwriter Craig Finn's half-sung, half-spoken vocals is an acquired taste that I have yet to fully acquire. But his thoughtful narratives, if tarnished slightly by a habit of repeating lyrics and themes, inject a mostly welcome flavor.
The boys passed through my town the other night, enthusiastically churning out 90 minutes for a crowd of under 1,000 that suggest their following has flattened out. That is hardly a surprise.

The band has painted itself in a box, which speaks to a challenge for any musical act nowdays. To get noticed, you must stake out a piece of ground that is unplowed. Once you claim it, how do you expand and grow?

Since the coming-out, the Hold Steady limited itself further by jettisoning the piano man. It is all bass, drums and guitars -- 2 1/4 of them, given that Finn strums only every now and then. Finn and lead guitarist Tad Kubler have a good enough ear to find some freshness in most numbers, and I am content if these guys keep stringing together crunchy chords until they have run out of combinations.

I suspect the vast musical audience, impatient by nature, will move on, even those among them who were bowled over by that breakthrough song, The audience last night skewed Gen X and Baby Boomer, making the average older than the onstage players. Not a good sign.

Most bands unable to advance to what the sports world calls The Next Level soon dissolve. This one might stick around awhile -- a new record is around the corner, which might provide a bump -- but I'm guessing we will not have The Hold Steady to kick-ass us around much longer.

That would be too bad. As a keepsake, though, we would have a nice body of work. And I will have the memory of my introduction to them through "Stuck Between Stations," a song for the ages.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Foo fight

On September 14, Foo Fighters kick off their U.S. tour here in St. Paul. It’s a Wednesday, and the night jock at our station wants to go. I’m working his shift with him this week, so there’s a fair chance I’ll pick up those hours. I’ve been a DJ less than six months. This is a great opportunity for me, so if I get it, I have to take it, and moreover, I can’t blow it.

Join Robert Nelson for
Wednesdays with Woody, where
there is always Foo for thought
I’ve seen the Foo Fighters twice before. The first time they opened for Bob Dylan with an entirely acoustic set and blew him off the stage. It was kind of embarrassing. The second time they headlined, but it was more humiliating. There was, let’s call it an incident before the show, and I ended up pouting through it. Nothing’s quite as sensitive as the male ego, and mine got stung.

As we found our seats, my admittedly clumsy girlfriend, who’s now my lovely fiancée, spilled a tiny splash of chardonnay on this belligerent whore in front of us. First of all, they give you those chintzy plastic cups, the same ones you get on an airplane, and you only fill them halfway because you know at any moment, the little kid in front of you could start jumping up and down in his chair, or the cow behind you might have to hit the latrine and pound you on his way to the aisle. That’s why they give you the cup and the can. They’re accidents waiting to happen. Second, we had our first drinks in hand, and this broad was gone, totally drunk, running her mouth, attacking my lady. A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, so I let her have it. Verbally, I mean.

Well, as it turns out, my lady hates conflict, so she focused her frustrations on me, and I got upset about it. I tried as hard as I could to not enjoy the show. Damn near impossible. We’ve talked about making up for it since. I almost even postponed proposing until the 14th. Now, it’s in the boss’ hands. I know, it’s kind of a lame dilemma to have, but we’re talking about the biggest band in the world right now. They just made a promotional video for the tour called “Hot Buns,” set to Queen’s “Body Language.” You could call it a spoof of Queen’s original video, but the original is already a bit of a spoof. Anyway, it’s hilarious, and if you get a chance to see Foo Fighters while they’re on the road, do it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

They were gold, Jerry

By Al Tays

Does the name Jerry Leiber mean anything to you? Didn't to me, either, until I read his obituary after he died on Monday at the age of 78. Leiber was the lyrics half of the songwriting team that also included composer Mike Stoller.

If you've ever listened to 1950s rock and roll, you know Leiber and Stoller. The pair, who met in L.A. when Leiber was still at Fairfax High (a scant few blocks from the former West Coast HQ of Six String Symphony) wrote such hits as"Kansas City," "Love Potion No. 9," "There Goes My Baby," "Hound Dog," "Yakety Yak," "Stand by Me" (with Bedn E. King), "Charlie Brown," "Jailhouse Rock" . . . the list is seemingly endless. They also produced the 1972 Stealers Wheel classic, "Stuck in the Middle With You."

The team almost was broken up in 1956, when Stoller and his wife found themselves aboard the SS Andrea Doria when it was accidentally rammed and sunk by another ship. The Stollers were rescued, and when they got to New York Leiber met them and told them that "Hound Dog," which they had first written for Big Mama Thornton, had become a hit for Elvis Presley.

Tons of material to choose from, video wise, but for those who know "Jailhouse Rock" only from the Blues Brothers, let's check out the original Elvis version, shall we?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Every bridegroom's dream

By Robert Nelson

Earth, Wind and Fire played Kim Kardashian’s wedding. It’s… wow. There aren’t words. I’m at a loss. Earth, Wind and Fire played Kim Kardashian’s wedding. That hurts to type. It’s just so unfair.

I’ve been watching more TLC lately. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Say Yes to the Dress. This news shouldn’t hit so hard.

I don’t give a squirt about the Kardashians. Okay, maybe one, but only by marriage. I’m a Laker fan, and believe me, nobody was more disappointed in Lamar Odom than me. I hoped that’s where it would end. I might be slightly on edge.

Oakley’s our new kitten. I bought him last week before I proposed to Jess. I put the ring around his collar. She said, “Yes.” We haven’t been getting much sleep. This morning, Oakley found something about my face worth scratching at relentlessly. If I threw him off the bed three times, he came back four. You shouldn’t throw cats.

My mom’s excited, but she broke her femur, and the hospital doesn’t get the E! channel. I guess they televised the Kardashian nuptials. That’s how I found out about Earth, Wind and Fire. When I was a teenager, she took me to see them at the Target Center with the O’Jays and the Isley Brothers. It’s in my Top Five, maybe even Top Three.

I can only imagine what kind of DJ we’ll have at our wedding. There’s a slim chance I’ll be completely satisfied. We could hire a band. They’ll have to know some Earth, Wind and Fire.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Making it Count

By Al Tays

Let's talk a little Count Basie, given that today marks 107 years since he was born in Red Bank, N.J., in 1904. Now, Basie's a little before my time (yes, such a thing is possible), but he is clearly in the first column of immortal American music artists.

You can always count on
Al Tays, but you really
have to wonder what sort 
of trouble he might start
while Strumbum is out 
on assignment (heh, heh).
There was a time when I wouldn't have known Count Basie from The Count on Sesame Street (except that only one of them dressed like a pimp, as Dave Chappelle points out). I got a little more curious about Basie after acquiring Tony Bennett's outstanding 2001 album, Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues, which included "Old Count Basie Was Gone."

But it wasn't until the other day, noting the anniversary of Basie's birth, that I did some reading about him. Interesting nuggets: He might have become a drummer rather than a pianist, but there was another drummer in the Red Bank area, Sonny Greer, who reigned supreme and Basie decided not to challenge him, turning to the piano. Also, Basie learned how to play the organ from Fats Waller.

But enough talk. You can't appreciate Basie without hearing him. Even though "One O'Clock Jump" was, along with "April in Paris," one of his theme songs, I prefer this "Basie Boogie." It's one of the few Basie clips I could find with a guitar player, although this one is strictly consigned to a rhythm role. But no worries — good music is good music, no matter the instruments.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Jammin' with the Worm

By Robert Nelson

Be sure to catch Wednesdays
with Woody, a midweek snack
served only at the Sanctuary.
This past weekend Dennis Rodman was deservedly inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Everyone knows Rodman, the gregarious, tattooed freak who married Carmen Electra and, most notably, himself (the most hideous bride ever). Fewer, fans of the game like me, know “The Worm,” the mercurial rebounding machine for the championship Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls. Far fewer know Dennis, whose heartfelt, albeit awkward, speech at the HOF ceremony was as touching as it was confounding. But the sentiment wasn’t lost on everyone. Not on me and probably not the guys from Pearl Jam.

In 1991, Worm was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in a row, and on August 27, Pearl Jam released their first album, Ten, and became the most commercially viable artists of the Grunge Era, often cited as the last great era in popular music (sorry, Latin Invasion fans). But from the early to mid-90s, it was a veritable smorgasbord of important music across genres. Metalheads got new Guns N’ Roses & Metallica in 1991. Grunge had Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and, of course, Pearl Jam. Rap came into its own with Tupac, B.I.G., and Snoop. Punk Rock gave us Green Day, and Funk Rock gave us the Red Hot Chili Peppers. To steal a phrase from Charlie Sheen, we were all “Winning.”

In 1996, the Bulls went 72-10, still the best single-season record in NBA history, and won their sixth championship. On August 27, Pearl Jam released No Code, though the band hardly toured to support it, spiteful of Ticketmaster. Around this time, the band befriended Dennis, who often cited their significance to him publicly. On stage at a rare show in September, Eddie Vedder gave Dennis a piggyback ride. That same month, Tupac was shot and killed, and in 1997, Worm played his last meaningful games as a Bull. Soundgarden broke up, and the Backstreet Boys debuted in America.

This September, Pearl Jam will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a concert in East Troy, Wisconsin. I might go, at least for the sake of nostalgia. There was never such a robust, eclectic selection for music lovers. Since then, borrowing from The Worm, you might say music is still on the rebound.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The beet goes on

OK, so I am an old fart. I graduated from Whitehall High in 1969 and spent my first summer as a legal beer-drinking adult, first as a lifeguard at a resort in Wisconsin Dells and then -- because there was nobody to save in the pool -- painting barns in Iowa. 

My new buddy Byron, who was a bellhop (or whatever they called 'em) at the resort, coaxed me into quitting and bolting to his hometown of Lansing, Iowa. There we worked with his grandpa, but it was his grandma I remember most for introducing me to boiled oxtail soup and beet wine.  (Well, his sister was also fine.)

The beet wine is responsible for us missing out on some pretty historic events that summer. You know, the moon landing. Chappaquiddick. The Manson murders. Revelations about Mai Lai. Hurricane Camille. Hey, we were in Iowa. I don't remember seeing any TVs. The folks there were more concerned about their hogs and the corn crop. At night we hit that beet wine and the world just spun around.

My way of saying we definitely weren't aware of a concert in upstate New York that began on this day that summer. Who really was, other than the 500,000 who showed up for the "Aquarian Exposition"?  If we had known, I'm guessing Byron and I would have loaded the car with jugs of beet wine and headed for Woodstock. If you think those acid trips were bad ...

Woodstock surprised everybody. I don't even remember when I realized the scope of it, probably after heading off for my first semester of college in La Crosse -- where Byron, his sister and I in a fit of boredom had driven up to watch True Grit at the Rivoli Theatre. John Wayne's only Oscar performance. Go Duke.

That was the most memorable event of my lost summer after high school. Music? We were boom-chick-a-booming to Johnny Cash's new album Live at San Quentin, on which "A Boy Named Sue" mentioned "kickin' and a gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer."

Almost like Woodstock.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bottoms up for Larry Graham

By Al Tays

Al Tays is the ace
of bass -- not to mention
rhythm and lead --
Sundays at the Sanctuary.
Here's wishing a happy 65th birthday to Larry Graham, former bass player for Sly and the Family Stone and founder of Graham Central Station. Graham is the baritone-voiced singer of the "Dance to the Music" lyric "I'm gonna add some bottom/so that the dancers just won't hide" followed by his signature slap-bass technique. Graham is considered a pioneer of slap bass, which is familiar even to non-music fans from the "Seinfeld" audio.

I've loved "Dance to the Music," with its one-at-a-time introduction of the band's instruments, since it came out in 1968 on Epic Records. Interestingly, the band didn't care for it. They thought it was a sellout, and they weren't entirely wrong. The song came about because producer Clive Davis wanted something more commercially acceptable than the band's previous work.

He got it. "Dance to the Music" went to No. 8 on the Billboard Pop Singles Top 10.

Of course, you can't judge a song strictly by what it does on the charts. Does anyone need reminding that "Achy Breaky Heart" got to No. 4? Anyone? Bueller?

But as the lyrics say, "Dance to the Music" makes it "easy to move your feet." So get up and dig it, y'all, while "all the squares go home."

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bon fires

We were going to write a few simple words about homeboy Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, whose mystical musical path is one of the more fascinating success stories of recent years.  Then we read a bio on that stopped us in our tracks.  An excerpt:

First it was For Emma, Forever Ago. The soul in a refraction of icicles. A moment hanging like breath on air. And yet life – even still life – is not still. The story is not a story if it does not unravel. Your eyes you may cast backward, but the heart is locked in the chest and must beat forever forward. Bon Iver, Bon Iver is the frozen beast pressing upward from a loosening earth, one ear cocked to the echo of the ghost choir still singing, the other craving the martial call of drums tumbling, of thrum and wheeze. The desolation smoke has dissipated, cut with strips of brass. Celebration will not be denied, the cabinet cannot contain the rattle, there is meat on the bones.

A refraction of icicles? Thrum and wheeze?  OK, we're never going to get a gig writing online blurbs. We thought Vernon was just a guy who went to a Wisconsin cabin alone in winter, recorded the sublime music that would become the 2008 breakout album Emma, For Ever Ago, and almost instantly became as famous as an Impressionist painter. Now we learn with his latest release that he has unleashed "a frozen beast pressing forward from a loosening earth."  It's almost too much.

And all we really wanted to do this morning was pass along a list of's "Best Music of 2011 So Far"  and congratulate our man for cracking yet another Top 10 (we're pretty sure this will make many year-end lists as well):

1. Foster the People, Torches
2. The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow
3. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues
4. Foo Fighters, Wasting Light
5. Adele, 12
6. The Decemberists, The King is Dead
7. Bon Iver, Bon Iver
8. My Morning Jacket, Circuital
9. Cut Copy, Zonoscope
10. Tune-yards, Whokill

The thrum and wheeze was recorded and mixed at a studio in Fall Creek, just up the road from our old hometown.  So close, and these days it seems, so far away.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Have your cake and eat it too

He sports tattoos, wears NBA jerseys, jocks at a Twin Cities rock station and still gets carded at bars. What's a nice kid like that doing in a joint like this? We shall see. Meet Robert "Woody" Nelson, the newest -- and easily the youngest -- former newspaper hipster to cue up at Six String Sanctuary. Good thing this isn't a No Smoking venue.

By Robert Nelson

A full Nelson: Our new guy fills the 18-35 demographic,
digs everything from jazz to hip-hop, and knows a good
dessert when he scoops one up. The real dish.

The Bailey’s Irish Cream Mousse Cake was delicious. Three layers of chocolate cake separated by two layers of mousse, and on top of a thin spread of rich chocolate frosting they sprinkled a thousand little curls of milk & white chocolate that looked like chopped walnuts and added a similar depth of texture. Truly magnificent.

Anyway, Jess and I were here for Sade.

Our ticket package included a couple drinks and some nosh at a pre-show cocktail party inside Target Center. The savory could have been better, but the liquor was hard and the aforementioned sweets, delectable, so by the time we found our seats we were primed for some good Soul. We’ve seen John Legend headline at a smaller venue. The guy doesn’t disappoint.

He played all the hits, one or two deep cuts, and a new tune, "Dreams," which, aside from the occasional swoon, hushed the arena. For a moment, we could have been at a Minnesota Timberwolves game. But when Legend turned it on again, going back and forth across the stage, to his piano, on top of it, he was dynamic. The man’s a pro. And his backup singers wore these flesh-toned tights that, at first glance, made them look straight out of King Magazine. This is what you get with a Grammy-winning undercard.

Now, Legend did his thing, but he wasn’t gonna steal the show. Did we say we were here for Sade? She is still more than capable of holding her own, and everything they say is true: sultry, sexy, even cute. And her voice. My god, her voice. Within the first few lyrics, you wonder how we haven’t achieved world peace or ended poverty or starvation. By then we’d all but forgotten about the cake.

Kudos to Jess for the video:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

We can dig it

It's been three years since Isaac Hayes died after suffering a stroke in Memphis, Tennessee. He had been on a treadmill and was just 10 days short of his 65th birthday. 

Now any day is a good day to celebrate the music and legacy of Hayes, as our buddy Bill "Psycho" Ward would attest. Bill delivers the best (well, most hilarious) white rendition of the "Theme From Shaft" we've ever heard.  He's also a big fan of South Park, which used the voice of Hayes for its Chef character and uncorked the hilarious "Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You)."  Click on this link to hear the song, which topped the U.K. singles chart.

But it was the sheer badness of "Theme From Shaft" -- which won an Academy Award for Hayes in 1972  -- that made a lasting imprint on our brains. We went to a lyrics site to refresh our memories and discovered there have been 383 hits this week alone for "Theme From Shaft." Three-hundred and eighty three hits. It's barely Wednesday.

Can you dig it?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Kinda fonda Wanda

The rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson was in the middle of a rip-roaring set at the Minnesota Zoo Saturday night when she paused to introduce her next number.

She said that when Jack White was producing her album The Party Ain't Over he asked her to record the Amy Winehouse song "You Know That I'm No Good." Jackson, 73, liked the the song but found some of the lyrics sexually explicit and age-inappropriate, a problem solved by White's rewrite of the offending second verse.

The song made the album, helping launch Jackson's spirited comeback, and Jackson became a fan of the troubled singer. She was planning to look up Winehouse during one of her frequent trips to England. Then Winehouse died suddenly at age 27.

"I'll never get to meet her," said Jackson, "but I'm going to keep playing this song."

Jackson and the Hillbilly Voodoo Dolls then launched into "You Know That I'm No Good" and the sky, as if on cue, opened up over the amphitheater.  Some people scurried for cover but we hung in there and took the soaking, knowing it was just one of those moments that can't be explained but must be experienced.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Front row, bright glow

David Bromberg put on a cosmic show Friday night in the venerable back room of McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica.  Our LA tuning fork, Al Tays, is still reverberating from the experience.

By Al Tays

What was I thinking, ignoring David Bromberg for more than 30 years? That's how long it had been since I last bought a Bromberg album (1975's Midnight on the Water), or attended a Bromberg show. Mrs. Assistant Music Blogger and I caught him at the New England Folk and Blues Festival in the early '80s, where I recall him being much more folk than blues and ending his set by telling the audience he had to get up early the next day to get to his violin-making class.

But all those years I kept my Bromberg albums (I also had Demon in Disguise, Wanted Dead or Alive and David Bromberg) until I no longer owned a turntable to play them on. Bromberg's covers of "Statesboro Blues," "Kansas City" and "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," plus his own "Danger Man" went on my iPod.

Then I finally saw him again, Friday night in LA.

Playing two sold-out sets at the legendary McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, Bromberg brought his typically eclectic mix of humor, folk, country and blues to an enthusiastic crowd of about 150. How enthusiastic? Bromberg didn't even have to sing the chorus to "I Like to Sleep Late in the Morning." We sang it for him. Most of us even knew the proper place to interject "Fingers do your stuff," and "See, this is bass and treble at the same time."

Like George Harrison, with whom Bromberg wrote "The Holdup," Bromberg, 65, can still make a guitar gently weep. But there's nothing gentle about his electric work on "I Will Not Be Your Fool" from 1976's "How Late'll Ya Play' Til?" I still have the burn marks from sitting in the front row. Welcome back, David.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A songwriting son of a gun

It was about this time in 1964 that Roger Miller became a household name, soaring to the top of the Billboard country chart with "Dang Me." It was a crazy song for a crazy time, sandwiched as it was between Buck Owens' "Skip a Beat" and Jim Reeves' "I Guess I'm Crazy."

Miller was probably a touch crazy himself, enabling him to write other novelty hits such as "Chug-a-Lug," "You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd" (a personal favorite) and "Do-Wacka-Do." But we cannot forget some of his other less-zany classics like "King of the Road" and "Walkin' in the Sunshine." He was truly one of Nashville's greats.

One mystery surrounding Miller is the origin of "Dang Me," which he claimed he wrote in 4 minutes while holed up in a Phoenix hotel room. But Johnny Cash said the lyrics came to Miller while the buddies were visiting the Joshua Tree in California. Johnny claimed Miller just got out the car with a pencil and paper and "Dang Me" was as good as done.

With both legends long gone we'll probably never know the true story. Either way it's a clever, funny song and you should do yourself a favor today by giving it a listen.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Swing for the fences

C'mon people now, it's time to Rock for Kids (or another favorite charity).

We hadn't even heard of Rock for Kids before today, and already we're swinging for the fences with a chance to help a worthy cause.  The non-profit's mission is to "provide music education to underserved children in Chicago, sparking creativity and passion, teaching critical thinking, supporting academic achievement and enriching young lives." All well and good, so once we learned this does not aid the Chicago Cubs in any way we were all in.

Here's the deal: State Farm has launched a Go to Bat promotion that offers participants a chance to win a trip to the 2011 World Series (hopefully for the first time at Miller Park).  The real winners are the 44 participating charities, including Rock for Kids which we chose for its connection to the Sanctuary's overarching goal of saving the world through music. (What, you didn't know we had an overarching goal?)

Here's a link to the game, which you can play three times each day:

We hit 20 home runs in our first 30 pitches -- a nifty .606 clip -- but the Week 3 standings show Rock for Kids mired in 28th place. With your help we can move up the standings and maybe spread some musical love along the way.  Just swing for the fences with us -- and watch out for that high cheese.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

John, Paul, George and ... Jimmy?

It looks like a "doctored" photograph, but that's really
Jimmy Nicol taking the place of Ringo. Too weird.
When Ringo Starr fell ill with tonsilitis and was hospitalized in early June of 1964, the Beatles had a problem.  They could cancel the start of their tour, which was to begin in Scandanavia. Or they could hire a replacement drummer.

George Harrison voted to bag the tour, reportedly saying "if Ringo's not going, then neither am I. You can find two replacements." But Beatlemania was running rampant, and manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin decided it was better to have an unhappy Beatle than a disgruntled fan base.

So Nicol, a session drummer who would later form the Shubdubs, filled in and played nine gigs before Ringo rejoined the group. 

Nicol -- who turns 72 today -- wound up making a lasting imprint on the Beatles' music, though not as a drummer. When members of the band would ask Nicol how he was doing, he always answered "it's getting better."  Which is a line Paul McCartney remembered when he began writing "Getting Better," a song that John Lennon collaborated on (adding "it can't get no worse") for Sgt. Pepper.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Along came sunshine pop

Someone commenting on a different "Along Comes Mary" video wondered if 'Mary' referred to marijuana. Another replied that this was The Association, forget about drugs.

The clean-cut California band brought "sunshine pop" to the Sixties with hits like "Windy," "Cherish" and "Never My Love." We are not embarrassed at all to say we enjoyed their peppy music and sweet harmonies.  And we were as surprised as anyone to learn that bass player Brian Cole died of a heroin overdose on this day in 1972. He was 29.

Who would have figured?

What's cool about this video from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour is that the intro has been included. And that intro, corny as it was, consists of Cole introducing the band members as musical robots. (He introduces himself as a "consisent low range modulator.")  So we actually get to see the bass player we're writing about. How rare.

Pressed on the tiny Valiant label, "Along Comes Mary" put The Association on the map, reaching No. 7 on the Billboard chart in 1966.  And, whether it references the evil weed or not (it probably does), it's our favorite song by the band.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Red necks and red lips

Today is the 30th anniversary of MTV. We're nearly speechless.

We were already grizzled newspaper editors by 1981, which only meant that we had a natural dislike for everything, especially anything new.  Showing music videos on TV was actually a cool concept, but we hardly noticed because we were working 80 hours a week and the rest of our time was spent watching sporting events, tuning into Sports Center -- which was only 2 years old -- and drinking heavily. Hey, we had reputations to uphold.

And MTV did just fine without us.  They had an instant audience for "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles, which was how the network chose to pop its cherry. We don't remember the launch, much less what followed. If forced to declare our favorite MTV videos we'd settle on a couple of classics from 1985: "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" by the Georgia Satellites and Robert Palmer's exquisite  "Addicted to Love,"  which couldn't be more different.

The truth is, those are the only ones we remember.