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Posted by Paul in "Art"




Posted by Paul in "Art"


Posted by Paul in "Art"

Favorite Music 2018

Ten favorites from 2018, presented in alphabetical order.

The Decemberists – I’ll Be Your Girl

This band had worked themselves into a safe folk-rock cul-de-sac over the last couple of albums, so it is great to hear them try some new approaches (synthesizers, more abrasive guitars). Highlights include sing-along songs for the slow apocalypse we live in (“Everything is Awful”, “We All Die Young”), “Severed”, and this albums long suite based on a folk story (Russian folk story, this time): “Rusalka, Rusalka / The Wild Rushes”. Vocabulary words from the lyrics (there’ll be a test later):

  • abrades
  • alight
  • anon
  • augur
  • bereft
  • clamber
  • cusping
  • fey
  • glowered
  • liminal
  • lolled
  • petard
  • wrought

Ekoin Temple Morning Service

Ekoin Temple, Koyasan, Japan
November 11, 2018, 6:30 am

On our trip to Japan we (Caitlin and I) spent a night at a Buddhist temple in Koyasan. The next morning, a little sore from sleeping on a thin cushion laid on top of tatami mat flooring, we got up early to attend the 6:30 am morning service. The service was in a candle-lit temple. Four monks were arranged around an altar. The service, about 30 minutes long, was very musical in nature, with chanting punctuated by a gong and cymbals. I’ve heard recordings of ceremonies like this in the past, but to see and hear it in person was a powerful and memorable experience.

The Hold Steady – Three Singles: “Eureka” / “Esther”, “The Stove & The Toaster” / “Star 18”, “Confusion in the Marketplace” /” T-Shirt Tux”

It is so great to to have Franz Nicolay and his keyboards back in the band. These three singles harken back to The Hold Steady in their 2005-2008 prime. Unreliable narrators exhibiting poor judgement in sketchy situations in the company of dubious friends. All described over killer guitar riffs.

IDLES – Joy as a Form of Resistance

“If someone talked to you
The way you talk to you
I’d put their teeth through
Love yourself!”
(From “Television”)

A great punky rock record from the UK. The two guitars are loud and often distorted, with bass and drums holding the songs together. Singer Joe Talbot writes lyrics that are angry, funny, and empathic (sometimes all at the same time). The songs often have great sing-along choruses, although lyrics sometimes fall back on cliches. The song “I’m Scum” is about class differences, “Danny Nedelko” is about immigration, “Great” addresses Brexit, “June” is about the heartbreak of a stillborn child, and “Love Song” is a funny take on modern relationships.

A key theme of the record is finding a healthy identity as a male in an era when the ugliness and brutality of traditional masculinity have become all too apparent. This is explored in “Colossus” (“I am my father’s son/His shadow weighs a ton”), “Never Fight a Man With a Perm”, “Television”, and most directly in “Samaritans”:

“Man up, Sit down, Chin up, Pipe down
Socks up, Don’t cry, Drink up, Don’t whine
Grow some balls, he said
Grow some balls

The mask
Of masculinity
Is a mask
A mask that’s killing me
The mask, the mask, the mask”

Great record, great band.

Angélique Kidjo – Remain in Light

Kidjo takes Talking Heads back to Africa in a delightful bit of cultural re-acquisition. The original Remain in Light is one of my top 10 albums of all time. Kidjo’s version brings a warmth and vitality to the songs that the original lacks (I love David Byrne, but warmth has never been one of his stronger attributes).

Zoë Keating – Snowmelt EP

Four tracks of warm, embracing music. The sound of healing, the sound of the ice cracking, the sound of emerging from darkness. A self-described “one-woman orchestra”, Keating coaxes every kind of noise you can imagine out of her cello, using looping and multi tracking to build up intricate pieces.

Lydia Loveless – Live Performance, Roswell, NM, 8-Jun-2018

One Friday I drove three hours down to Roswell to see Lydia Loveless perform solo, opening for Justin Townes Earle. If you’re a singer/songwriter, performing alone with just an acoustic guitar in a tiny club leaves you no place to hide. Lydia Loveless is the real deal. She writes great songs (think young Chrissie Hynde), plays a serviceable guitar, and has a HOLY SHIT FORCE OF NATURE voice.

After her set she sat behind her merch table. I said “Hi” and she sold me a t-shirt. Such is the life of a critically acclaimed musician on tour.

Michele Mercure – Beside Herself

My archival release of the year. A collection of synthesizer recorded in Mercure’s home studios between 1983 and 1993, much of it recorded for theatrical productions and self-released on cassette. The music shows the inventiveness of a talented and curious artist exploring a new medium. The music transfer from tape and remastering make the material sound great, and the packaging and liner notes do a great job of putting the music, and Michele Mercure’s career, into context. It is always great to see wonderful but lesser known music rescued from obscurity.

The National – Live Performance, Berkeley, CA, 24-Sep-2018

The first time I saw The National in concert was on September 28, 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin. Earlier that day the band had played in front of over 25,000 people before a speech by President Obama at a rally on the UW Madison campus. As you might imagine, the band were in a particularly good mood that evening, even a little giddy. I clearly recall two impressions from that concert: 1) The National are a lot looser and funnier live than they seem on their sometimes dour sounding records, and 2) Bryan Devendorf is an amazing drummer. On the whole it was easily one of my top 5 concert experiences.

What a difference the passage of eight years can make. The National still have their sense of humor, and Devendorf is still an amazing drummer, but the music was grittier and singer Matt Berninger’s performance had an angry edge to it. At one point he encouraged the audience to express their feelings about the Kavanaugh nomination. The audience responded vociferously. “Oh, I needed that” said the woman next to me after she sat down. Highlights for me were an emotional “Bloodbuzz, Ohio”, “Mr. November” (celebratory in 2010, a little desperate in 2018), a defiant “Fake Empire”, and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, where Berninger turns his microphone stand around to face the audience, abandons the stage to wander through the crowd, and leaves the singing to the fans. The fans didn’t miss a word. All in all, a memorable and cathartic concert experience.

Comparisons are always treacherous, but at this point I can’t help but compare The National to another of my favorite bands, Radiohead. Both bands have compelling and quirky singers/front men (Berninger/Thom Yorke), both have brothers in the band (Jonny and Colin Greenwood in Radiohead, Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf in The National), and both have guitar players who are notable musicians in non-rock contexts: Bryce Dessner is a composer who has co-written a Grammy-nominated film soundtrack (The Revenant) and written for the Kronos Quartet, and Jonny Greenwood composed the score for the film There Will Be Blood, has recorded Steve Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint”, and has collaborated with Krzysztof Penderecki. Both band write surprisingly sophisticated music (often with cryptic lyrics) and seamlessly incorporate electronics into their live performances (although Radiohead have been doing this longer than The National).

Richard Thompson – 13 Rivers

The Best Guitarist You’ve Never Heard Of has released his best album in 10 years. He’s accompanied by Michael Jerome on drums, who has been playing with Thompson since 2003, and Taras Prodaniuk on bass, who have been with Thompson since 2010. The new additions to the line up are Bobby Eichorn on guitar and three back-up vocalists (Siobhan Meyer Kennedy, Zara Phillips, and (on one track) Judith Owen). The new additions bring some welcome textural diversity to the record. The addition of a second guitar, in particular, seems to give Thompson more room to solo, which is always a good thing. Early stand-out tracks are “The Storm Won’t Come” (a slow burn that ends in guitar pyrotechnics), “The Rattle Within”, “Do All These Tears Belong to You?”, and “Pride”.

Posted by Paul in Music

Nick Lowe: Lowe Constellation 1976-1985

Nick Lowe is an English songwriter, producer, bassist, and vocalist. His musical career started in the late 60s and in the first half of the 70s he saw some success as a member of the beloved pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz. Over the years, Lowe has evolved into a silver haired introspective crooner. He has a devoted fan base and continues to tour and record (he is, in fact, on tour as I write this). In this essay and its accompanying music mix, I am focusing specifically on the decade between 1976 and 1985, an astonishingly productive and artistically vibrant period in Lowe’s career. I will also bring attention to the array of talent that Lowe tapped into consistently, a constellation of talent that made possible his accomplishments during this decade.

I am not exaggerating when I say that Nick Lowe was astonishingly productive during this decade. Between 1976 and 1985, Lowe released six albums under his own name, contributed significantly to three Dave Edmunds albums and the Rockpile album, produced two albums for Carlene Carter, one for Paul Carrack, as well as five Elvis Costello albums. He also produced recordings (singles or albums) for 12 other artists during this decade.

As a producer, Lowe has what I think is an undeserved reputation for just bashing recordings out quickly (“Basher” is his nickname). To my ears, his production is often keenly tuned to the specifics of the song and the artist. Listen to Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ “Radio Radio”, where Lowe pushes the guitar back in the mix and brings a surgical focus to the extraordinary performances of keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Bruce Thomas, and drummer Pete Thomas. Contrast that with a song like Dr. Feelgood’s “That’s It, I Quit”, where Lowe brings you into the bar with the band (I can smell the spilled beer), or Lowe’s own “Cruel to Be Kind”, a glowing example of pristine guitar pop (“pure pop for now people”). Another example of focused production is The Pretenders’ “Stop Your Sobbing”, which puts the spotlight on Chrissie Hynde’s distinctive voice. Far from being a “basher”, Nick Lowe’s production work showed careful attention to the artists and material he was working with.

Lowe’s own recordings during this decade were made with three different bands. The first, Rockpile, worked together between 1976 and 1981. Rockpile were Dave Edmunds (guitar, vocals), Nick Lowe (bass, vocals), Billy Bremner (guitar, vocals), and Terry Williams (drums). Edmunds is, like Lowe, a multi-talented musician; guitarist, singer, songwriter, and producer. As a member of the band Love Sculpture, he had a #5 single in the UK (“Sabre Dance”). In 1970 his solo recording of “I Hear You Knocking” was a #1 single in the UK and a #4 single in the US. As a successful artist in his own right, Edmunds had very much a co-equal role in Rockpile. Like Lowe, Edmunds has a deep affinity with American rock, R&B, and rockabilly. This is reflected in the work they did together.

Rockpile released only one album under their own name (Seconds of Pleasure, 1980) because until 1980 Lowe and Edmunds had contracts with different record labels. However, the Dave Edmunds albums Tracks on Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary, and Nick Lowe’s album Labour of Lust were all essentially Rockpile albums. Repeat When Necessary and Labour of Lust were even recorded and released concurrently. Rockpile were also the band on Mickey Jupp’s album Juppanese and Carlene Carter’s album Musical Shapes. Reportedly, tensions between Lowe and Edmunds were responsible for Rockpile’s break-up in 1981. In the liner notes for a Seconds of Pleasure reissue, Lowe stated “We got together for fun and when the fun had all been had we packed it in.” Billy Bremner and Terry Williams both appear on Nick Lowe records through the 80s, but Lowe and Edmunds wouldn’t work together again until 1988.

Paul Carrack is a keyboardist and vocalist, best known for his “blue-eyed soul” singing voice. He saw early success in his career as a member of Ace, whose 1975 single “How Long” hit #20 in the UK and #3 in the US. In 1981 he joined Squeeze where he sang one of the band’s most enduring hits, “Tempted”. Carrack left Squeeze in 1982, having joined Nick Lowe’s band Noise to Go. Like Dave Edmunds, Carrack was a peer and partner to Lowe. The other members of Noise to Go were Martin Belmont (guitar), James Eller (bass) and Bobby Irwin (drums). Like Rockpile, Noise to Go served as the “house band” for a number of Nick Lowe-produced recordings: Carlene Carter’s Blue Nun, Carrack’s Suburban Voodoo, and Lowe’s Nick the Knife and The Abominable Showman.

“Tempted” is the one song I’ve included in my mix that has no direct involvement from Nick Lowe. However, Elvis Costello’s production and Paul Carrack’s vocals bring it firmly into my Lowe Constellation. Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook also sang on Costello’s “From a Whisper To a Scream”. Interestingly, the original plan for Squeeze’s East Side Story was to make it a double album, with sides produced by Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and (supposedly) Paul McCartney. In reality, Dave Edmunds produced one track on the album, with Elvis Costello (with Roger Bechirian) producing most of the rest of the record. The 1997 reissue of East Side Story includes “Lookin’ For a Love”, an outtake produced by Nick Lowe.

Nick Lowe was married to Carlene Carter in 1979. They partnered in songwriting and recording. Lowe produced two Carlene Carter albums, and Carter added vocals to several Lowe solo recordings. Their union also brought Nick Lowe into the Royal Family of American music, the Cash Carter family. Johnny Cash recorded Lowe’s “Without Love” in 1980 with Lowe producing and members of Rockpile and The Attractions playing on the recording. In 1994 Cash would record a powerful song that Lowe wrote specifically for him, “The Beast in Me”.  

Late in 1982 James Eller left Noise to Go. Nick Lowe picked up the bass and the group continued as a four-piece band with a new name: Cowboy Outfit. In English slang, a “cowboy outfit” is an organization that does shoddy work and exhibits dubious business practices. Cowboy Outfit, active until 1985, would record two albums, Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit and The Rose of England. They also played on the tracks Lowe produced for John Hiatt’s album Riding With the King. Hiatt and Lowe would work together again as members of the “supergroup” Little Village in the early 90s.

I believe that the first time I became aware of Nick Lowe was when I noticed that he had written “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?”, the last song on the US version of Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces album. Soon after I figured out that Lowe had not only written this song, but he had produced Armed Forces… and all the other (at that time) Elvis Costello records I loved. It is difficult for me to imagine how Elvis Costello’s career would have evolved without Nick Lowe’s involvement.

Even though they had been working together since 1976, Costello and Lowe did not record a song together until 1984’s “Baby It’s You.” In his liner notes for the Rykodisc reissue of Goodbye Cruel World, Costello provided some background for this recording. “As Nick and his Cowboy Outfit were to join us on the US leg of our ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ tour Columbia Records suggested that we cut something ‘extra’ for a joint twelve-inch promo record featuring each of our latest single releases. Despite all our studio work together this was our first duet on record. Unfortunately the record company deemed the track ‘too good’, fearing that it would draw airplay from the ‘real’ singles.” Because of the label’s reservations, this track would remain obscure until it was released on a Costello compilation in 1987.

In 1985 the professional relationship between Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe would come full circle when Costello produced the track “L.A.F.S.” on Lowe’s album Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit.

Looking back on this remarkable decade in Nick Lowe’s career, what stands out to me, besides the number and quality of the records he was involved in, is just how successful he was at developing (often enduring) relationships with top-tier artists, many of them legends: Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello, Paul Carrack, Carlene Carter, Billy Bremner, Terry Williams, Martin Belmont, James Eller, and Bobby Irwin. A truly amazing constellation of talent.

Part 1: 1976-1979

“So It Goes” – Nick Lowe
Nick Lowe’s first single as a solo artist, released in 1976.
The first single released by Stiff Records, catalog number BUY 1.
Musicians: Steve Goulding (drums), Nick Lowe (vocals, bass, guitar).
Written and produced by Nick Lowe.

“New Rose” – The Damned
The Damned’s first single, released in 1976 (Stiff Records BUY 6).
The first single by a British punk rock group.
Musicians: Dave Vanian (vocals), Brian James (guitar), Captain Sensible (bass), Rat Scabies (drums).
Written by Brian James.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Don’t Ask Me Questions” – Graham Parker & The Rum-our
Released on the album Howlin Wind in 1976.
The debut album by Graham Parker & The Rumour.
Musicians: Graham Parker (guitar, vocals), Bob Andrews (keyboards), Brinsley Schwarz (guitar), Martin Belmont (guitar), Andrew Bodnar (bass), Steve Goulding (drums).
Written by Graham Parker.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Less Than Zero” – Elvis Costello
Elvis Costello’s first single, released in 1977 (Stiff Records BUY 11).
Musicians: Elvis Costello (guitar, vocals), John McFee (guitar), Johnny Ciambotti (bass), Mickey Shine (drums), Stan Shaw (organ).
Written by Elvis Costello.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Whole Wide World” – Wreckless Eric
Wreckless Eric’s first single, released in 1977 (Stiff Records BUY 16).
Musicians: Wreckless Eric (guitar, vocals), Nick Lowe (guitar, bass), Steve Goulding (drums).
Written by Wreckless Eric.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“That’s It, I Quit” – Dr. Feelgood
Released in 1977 on the album Be Seeing You (United Artists Records UAS 30123).
Musicians: John B. Sparks (bass, vocals), The Big Figure (drums, vocals), John Mayo (guitar), Lee Brilleaux (vocals, guitar).
Written and produced by Nick Lowe.

“I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” – Nick Lowe
Released in 1978 (Radar Records ADA 1).
Reached number 7 on the UK singles chart.
Musicians: Uncredited.
Written by Andrew Bodnar, Nick Lowe, and Steve Goulding.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“You’ll Never Get Me Up in One of Those” – Mickey Jupp
Released in 1978 on the album Juppanese (Stiff Records SEEZ 10).
Musicians: Mickey Jupp (vocals, piano) and Rockpile.
Written by Mickey Jump.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Radio Radio” – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Released in 1978 (Radar Records ADA 24).
Musicians: Elvis Costello (guitar, vocals) and The Attractions (Steve Nieve (keyboards), Bruce Thomas (bass), and Pete Thomas (drums)).
Written by Elvis Costello.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Television” – Dave Edmunds
Released in 1978 on the album Tracks on Wax 4 (Swan Song SSK 59407).
Musicians: Rockpile.
Written by Nick Lowe.
Produced by Dave Edmunds.

“Cruel to be Kind” – Nick Lowe
Released in 1978 (Radar Records ADA 43).
Reached number 12 in the UK and US singles charts.
Musicians: Rockpile.
Written by Ian Gomm and Nick Lowe.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Girls Talk” – Dave Edmunds
Released in 1979 on the album Repeat When Necessary (Swan Song SSK 59409).
Musicians: Rockpile.
Written by Elvis Costello.
Produced by Dave Edmunds.

“Stop Your Sobbing” – The Pretenders
The Pretenders’ first single (Real Records ARE 6).
Musicians: Crissie Hynde (guitar, vocals), James Honeyman-Scott (guitar), Pete Farndon (bass), Martin Chambers (drums).
Written by Ray Davies.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding” – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Released in 1979 on the US version of Armed Forces (Columbia 35709).
Musicians: Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Written and produced by Nick Lowe.

“Without Love” – Nick Lowe
Released in 1979 on the album Labour of Lust (Radar Records RAD 21).
Musicians: Rockpile.
Written and produced by Nick Lowe.

Part 2: 1980-1985

“Without Love” – Johnny Cash
Released in 1980 on the album Rockabilly Blues (Columbia JC 36779).
Musicians: Pete Thomas (drums), Nick Lowe (bass), Bob Wootton (guitar), Dave Edmunds (guitar), Martin Belmont (guitar).
Written and produced by Nick Lowe.

“Too Bad About Sandy” – Carlene Carter
Released in 1980 on the album Musical Shapes (Warner Bros. Records BSK 3465).
Musicians: Carlene Carter (guitar, vocals), Rockpile.
Written by Carlene Carter.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Riot Act” – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Released in 1980 on the album Get Happy!! (F-Beat XXLP 1).
Musicians: Elvis Costello & The Attractions.
Written by Elvis Costello.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“When I Write the Book” – Rockpile
Released in 1980 on the album Seconds of Pleasure (F-Beat XXLP 7).
Musicians: Rockpile.
Written by Nick Lowe and Rockpile.
Produced by Nick Lowe and Rockpile.

“Crying In the Rain” – Nick Lowe & Dave Edmunds
Released in 1980 on the EP Nick Lowe & Dave Edmunds Sing The Everly Brothers.
The EP was included with US copies of Seconds of Pleasure.
Musicians: Nick Lowe (guitar, vocals) and Dave Edmunds (guitar, vocals).
Written by Howard Greenfield and Carole King.
Produced by Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds.

“Do Me Lover” – Carlene Carter
Released in 1981 on the album Blue Nun (F-Beat XXLP 12).
Musicians: Carlene Carter (vocals), Noise to Go, Billy Bremner (guitar), Huw Gower (guitar).
Written by Carlene Carter, James Eller, and Nick Lowe.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“From a Whisper To a Scream” – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Released in 1981 (F-Beat XX 14).
Musicians: Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Martin Belmont (guitar), Glenn Tilbrook (vocals).
Written by Elvis Costello.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Tempted” – Squeeze
Released in 1981 on the album East Side Story (A&M Records AMLH 64854).
Musicians: John Bentley (bass), Gilson Lavis (drums), Chris Difford (guitar, vocals), Glenn Tilbrook (guitar, vocals), Paul Carrack (keyboards, vocals), Elvis Costello (vocals).
Written by Glen Tilbrook and Chris Difford.
Produced by Elvis Costello and Roger Bechirian.

“Raining Raining” – Nick Lowe
Released in 1982 on the album Nick The Knife (F-Beat XXLP 14).
Musicians: Noise to Go.
Written and produced by Nick Lowe.

“I’m In Love” – Paul Carrack
Released in 1982 on the album Suburban Voodoo (Epic ARE 38161).
Musicians: Noise to Go.
Written by Nick Lowe and Carlene Carter.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Ragin’ Eyes” – Nick Lowe
Released in 1983 on the album The Abominable Showman (F-Beat Records XXLP 18).
Musicians: Noise to Go.
Written by Nick Lowe.
Produced by Nick Lowe and Roger Bechirian.

“Time Wounds All Heels” – Nick Lowe
Released in 1983 on the album The Abominable Showman (F-Beat Records XXLP 18).
Musicians: Noise to Go, Carlene Carter (vocals), Simon Climie (vocals).
Written by Nick Lowe, Carlene Carter, and Simon Climie.
Produced by Nick Lowe and Roger Bechirian.

“Riding With The King” – John Hiatt
Released in 1983 on the album Riding With The King (Geffen Records GHS 4017).
Musicians: John Hiatt (guitar, vocals) and Cowboy Outfit.
Written by John Hiatt.
Produced by Nick Lowe.

“Baby It’s You” – Elvis Costello & Nick Lowe
Released in 1984 on the single “The Only Flame in Town” (Columbia 44 05081).
Musicians: Elvis Costello (guitar, vocals) and Nick Lowe (bass, vocals).
Written by Burt Bacharach, Mack David, and Barney Williams (Luther Dixon).
Produced by Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe.

“L.A.F.S.” – Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit
Released in 1985 on the album Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit (F-Beat ZL 70338).
Musicians: Cowboy Outfit, Jeff Blythe (saxophone), Paul Speare (saxophone), Jim Paterson (trombone), Dave Plews (trumpet).
Written by Nick Lowe.
Produced by Elvis Costello and Colin Fairley.

“The Rose of England” – Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit
Released in 1985 on the album The Rose of England (F-Beat ZL 70765).
Musicians: Cowboy Outfit.
Written by Nick Lowe.
Produced by Nick Lowe and Colin Fairley.

Photo: Star from the Lizard Constellation, NASA

Posted by Paul in Mix, Music