Podcasts of the Week for July 21st


Hit Parade :: The Deadbeat Club, Part 2

This examination of the late 80s output of the two great bands of Athens, GA – R.E.M. and B-52s – fills me with painful nostalgia.

Have You Heard? :: The Problem with Fear-Based School Reform

Do schools work better when they’re “run like a business” and teachers and administrators are forced to work in a culture of fear where they’re expected to get results or else?  Or do we recognize the nurturing mission of schools and support reforms lead by educators who know the children best? And how much of so-called “education reform” is rooted in anti-labor sentiment anyway?  These questions and more are discussed on “Have You Heard?”

WBUR News :: Faneuil Hall, School Assignments

Boston’s ongoing history of inequality and racism are addressed in two current stories about Faneuil Hall, a building named for a slaveholder, and the lack of quality education for the city’s most vulnerable communities.

BackStory :: The Melting Pot

Stories of assimilation of immigrants, Native Americans, and hyphenated-Americans throughout our history.

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Album Review: The Switch by Body/Head


Album: The Switch
ArtistBody/Head
Release Date: July 13, 2018

Thoughts:

Kim Gordon (of Sonic Youth fame) and Bill Nace recorded five extended tracks of crunch, feedback-looped guitar solos with limited vocals. The tracks are layered and mesemerizing as they slowly build and change. If you’d like some discordant, atmospheric music as the background to catching up on reading the news, you could do no better.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Astral Weeks by Ryan H. Walsh


Author:Ryan H. Walsh
TitleAstral Weeks
Narrator: Stephen Hoye
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2018)
Summary/Review:

This book’s title is named after Van Morrison’s seminal 1968 album Astral Weeks. The Irish singer/songwriter and his newlywed wife Janet Planet spent much of 1968 living in Cambridge where he wrote many of the songs that appeared on Astral Weeks as well as latter releases such as “Moondance.” The connecting thread of this Secret History of 1968 is Morrison touring New England with a band of Boston musicians, shifting from rock & roll to a folk jazz sound, and being awfully cantankerous and drinking too much while doing so.  The actual album was recorded in New York City with jazz session musicians, Morrison’s Boston band mates only allowed to observe what was happening in the studio, as much as Walsh tries to sell this as a Boston-based album.

A better title for the book might be Things that Happened in and Around Boston in 1968 (and a Few Years Before and After for Context).  What the book lacks in having a cohesive narrative it makes up in having lots of interesting stories of Boston in the age of the counterculture. This history is often overlooked compared with what was going on in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and elsewhere that year, but it is no less interesting for being forgotten.

The other major thread of this book is the Fort Hill Community, a commune or cult based around the Cochituate Standpipe in Roxbury lead by the messianic Mel Lyman.  The Lyman Family seemed to have their finger into every aspect of the Boston counterculture including the folk music scene (Jim Kweskin was a member), avant guarde filmmaking, and the popular underground newspaper Avatar.

In addition to Van Morrison, Walsh covers the Boston/Cambridge music scene which was shifting from the folk revival to psychedelic rock.  Unfortunately, MGM executives targeted Boston as the next big music scene and marketed a number of Boston bounds as the “Bosstown Sound.” Fans and critics saw through the cash grab and roundly rejected the Bosstown Sound.

While Boston bands were flopping, a New York band, The Velvet Underground gained a large following in Boston and played many shows in the area.  A teenage Jonathan Richman recognized Lou Reed on the street and became the VU’s superfan/mascot.  Walsh notes that in later years as original members of the Velvet Underground left the band they were replaced with Boston artists so that the final Velvet Underground album in 1973 was actually the work of a Boston bar band.

The Velvets home away from home was the South End night club The Boston Tea Party (pictured on their White Light/White Heat album).  The Boston Tea Party became the go-to place to see the latest and best music acts of the late 60s.  At the same time WBCN-FM began experimenting with a freeform rock format, first on overnights, then 24-hours a day, playing many of the same bands that performed at the Boston Tea Party and broadcasting concerts.

On television, WGBH broadcasted the experimental television program “What’s Happening, Mr. Silver?” which was part talk show, part film collage, and featured an episode that could be watched on two stations at the same time if you happened to have two TVs.

Boston also played a role in four widely diverse films in this period:

  • The Boston Strangler – a real crime drama starring Tony Curtis filmed at the time the case against Albert DeSalvo was still active.
  • The Thomas Crown Affair – a heist film with lots of scenes shot on location in Boston and vicinity.
  • Titicut Follies – a controversial documentary exposing the poor conditions at Bridgewater State Hospital (or would have if the movie hadn’t been banned for two decades).
  • Zabriskie Point – Italian director  Michelangelo Antonioni’s attempt at a American countculture drama that cast a non-actor found at a Boston bus stop as a lead character.  Both the youthful leads in the movie ended up associated with the Fort Hill Commune.

Late in the book, Walsh recounts the night James Brown saved Boston by playing a concert at Boston Garden broadcast live on WGBH.  The negotiations with the square Boston mayor Kevin White and his young assistant Barney Frank are particularly amusing.  This plays into the bigger story of racial tensions in Boston and a shift to more radical civil rights actions in the African-American community.  The Lyman Family ties in once again as the all-white commune had strained relations with their Black neighbors in Roxbury.  Surprisingly, Walsh does not cover the Tent City protests in the South End which were one of the most significant events in Boston in 1968 (unless I dozed while listening or something).

If you’re interested in Boston history and/or the counterculture, this is a good book that will fill in some overlooked parts of history.

 

 

Recommended booksBaby, Let Me Follow You Down: The Illustrated Story of the Cambridge Folk Years by Eric Von Schmidt, Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen, and Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream by Jay Stevens.
Rating: ****

Album Review: All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do by Milk Carton Kids


AlbumAll the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do 
Artist: Milk Carton Kids
Release Date: June 29, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Just Look at Us Now
  • Mourning in America
  • One More for the Road
  • Big Time
  • I’ve Been Loving You

Thoughts:

The folk duo of  Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan are reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel – tight harmonies, introspective lyrics, and understated instrumentation.  This is the first album recorded with a backing band, but nevertheless the instruments are restrained, adding resonant bass notes, thumping bass drums, and country twang only to support and emphasize the vocals.  Of course, the instrumental performances should not be overlooked, and the 10 minute long “One More for the Road” is highlighted by solos that are not at all indulgent.  While much of the album is inward-looking as you’d expect from contemplative folkies, “Mourning in America” is a standout political track.  I don’t listen to folk music nearly as often as I did about 15-20 years ago, but this is a standout album.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Heaven and Earth by Kamasi Washington


AlbumHeaven and Earth
Artist: Kamasi Washington
Release Date: June 22, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Fists of Fury,” “One of One,” “The Space Travelers Lullaby,” “Vi Lua Vi Sol,” “Journey,” and “Will You Sing.”
Thoughts:

I feel like I really don’t have the knowledge and vocabulary to review jazz.  Of course you could probably argue that for my rock and pop reviews too.  But the new album by the tenor saxophonist, bandleader, and composer from Los Angeles, Kamasi Washington, seems a significant addition to the jazz ouevre.  Washington and co record epic tracks of epic length in two parts of an hour each, with the sound veering from cinematic scores to psychedelic rock to funk to symphonic fantasia.

Rating: ****

Related Post: Album Review: Harmony of Difference by Kamasi Washington 

Monthly Mixtape – June 2018


Holy cow!  We’re already half way through this year.  Here are a few of the  new songs I was listening to in June. What are YOU listening to?  Let me know in the comments.

 

The Orb :: “Rush Hill Road”

Poptone :: “Go!”

Petal :: “Better than You”

Bob Moses :: “Heaven Only Knows”

Luluc :: “Heist”

Previous Posts:

 

Podcast of the Week Ending June 30


Decoder Ring :: Clown Panic

A history of clowns and how they’ve gone from funny to terrifying.

Hidden Brain :: Looking Back: Reflecting On The Past To Understand The Present

There are times when a song, book, or tv show I loved leaves me with a feeling of crippling nostalgia, so I was interested in this examination on how our brains reflect on the past.

To The Best of Our Knowledge :: Is Guilt A Wasted Emotion?

Speaking of reflecting on the past, how about an unhealthy dose of regret and guilt.

The Sounds in My Head :: “Hey, the 80’s called…”

A podcast full of current music that sounds like it was made in the 1980s.  But the good New Wave sounds of the 80s, not the crumby songs that actually made the top 40 in the 80s.

HUB History :: Immigration in Boston

Present day anti-immigrant prejudice and hysteria has long historical roots as seen in these three stories from Boston history: the Sacco and Vanzetti case, Chinese tongs in Chinatown, and the destruction of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown.

Album Review: so sad so sexy by Lykke Li


Albumso sad so sexy
ArtistLykke Li
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • two nights
  • jaguars in the air
  • so sad so sexy
  • utopia

Thoughts:

The album title sums it up perfectly as Swedish singer-songwriter sings heartbreaking tunes of romantic entanglings that ultimately end in failure. Stylistically, Li has shifted from indie rock and dream pop to contemporary R&B and electronic dance music.  It’s not a shift that I think works for her, as the music doesn’t sound bad, but it loses Li’s unique style for something that sounds like a lot of other music out there today. I’m thinking that this album will be recognized more as the transition to whatever Li does next than for itself.

Rating: **1/2

Album Review: Pink is the Colour of Unconditional Love by Gabriella Cohen


AlbumPink is the Color of Unconditional Love
ArtistGabriella Cohen
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Music Machine
  • Baby
  • Miserable Baby

Thoughts:

Doo wop harmonies, psychedelic twangs, and long guitar solos are all part of the genre-bending sound of this Australian youngster’s sophomore album.  A good album that should appeal to fans of music of many eras.

Rating: ***

 

Album Review: The Future and the Past by Natalie Pras


AlbumThe Future and the Past
Artist: Natalie Prass
Release Date: June 1, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Hot for the Mountain
  • Sisters

Thoughts:

This is the second album from Richmond, VA singer-songwriter Prass.  I was drawn to this album by the anthemic “Sisters” which will certainly make my end of year favorite songs list.  But the rest of the album is meh, a collection of downtempo tracks in a smooth R&B style.  That is not to deny it is a technically proficient recording with lyrics focused on protest and solidarity in the age of Trump, but it’s just not a style that resonates with me.

Rating: **

Album Review: Tracyanne & Danny


Album: Tracyanne & Danny
ArtistTracyanne & Danny
Release Date: May 25, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • It Can’t Be Love Unless It Hurts
  • Jacqueline
  • O’Keefe

Thoughts:

This duo features Tracyanne Campbell, formerly of the Scottish band Camera Obscura whose album Let’s Get Out of This Country was on my list of favorite albums of all time.  Her partner is Danny Coughlan, an English singer-songwriter from England, of whom I have no prior knowledge.  The sound of the album reminds me of 60s pop, not necessarily what the nostalgia industry categorizes as “60s music,” but the type of pop that was popular with older listeners in the period. Nevertheless, there’s a a lot of variety from folk to lounge music to jazzy to  the lushly orchestrated. The album on the whole is beautiful but melancholy, as to be expected since it is Campbell’s first album since the death of friend and bandmate Carey Lander in 2015.

Rating: ***

Related Post: Concert Review: Camera Obscura

Album Review: Nightstand by Tancred


Album: Nightstand
Artist: Tancred
Release Date: June 1, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Queen of New York
  • Something Else
  • Underwear
  • Reviews

Thoughts:

This album from Tancred, the stage name for a project of Maine’s own Jess Abbott, is a collection of 90s style power pop, somewhere in-between Letters to Cleo and The Breeders.  The lyrics are confessional and intimate.  Abbott alternates rockers with quieter, acoustic tunes.  I prefer the former, but really there’s something for everyone here.

Rating: ***

Album Review: Medicaid Fraud Dogg by Parliament


Album: Medicaid Fraud Dogg
Artist: Parliament
Release Date: May 22, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • 69
  • I’m Gon Make U Sick O’me (feat. Scarface)
  • Antisocial Media
  • No Mos
  • Medicaid Fraud Dogg
  • Insurance Man

Thoughts:

Yes, Parliament has released their 10th studio album, and first in 38 years. But can you teach an old, uh, dogg new tricks? George Clinton and company (a mix of long-time funk veterans and contemporary r&b and hip-hop artists) have a lot to say in a 23-track album that’s almost 2 hours long and focuses thematically on the corruption of the pharmaceutical industry (in Clinton’s weird way).  Hip-hop artists have been sampling from P-Funk for decades so this album returns the favor by blending hip-hop sounds seamlessly into the Parliament sound. There’s probably too much content to declare this a great album, but beggars can’t be choosers, and after such a long wait, this overdose of funk is much better than could be expected.

Rating:

Related Posts:

Album Review: Hell-On by Neko Case


Album: Hell-On
Artist: Neko Case
Release Date: June 1, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Hell-On
  • Halls of Sarah
  • Curse Of The I-5 Corridor
  • Sleep All Summer
  • Pitch or Honey

Thoughts:

Looking through my archive I’m surprised that I’ve never reviewed a Neko Case album before as she is one of the great voices of our times, whether on her own or with the New Pornographers and side projects like case/lang/veirs.  Turns out this is Case’s first solo album in five years, and I haven’t been reviewing albums that long.  Hell-On offers what you expect from Neko Case – strong singing, heartfelt and poetic lyrics, and dynamic music that surprises and pleases.  This album also has a lot of guest artists including Beth Ditto, k.d. lang, AC Newman, Kelly Hogan, Doug Gillard, Laura Veirs, Joey Burns, Mark Lanegan, and Eric Bachmann (the last two each share vocals with Case on a pair of stunning duets).  This isn’t Case’s best album (it’s a few notches below Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and Middle Cyclone) but a merely good Neko Case album is still a wonder to behold.

Rating: ***1/2

 

Related Posts:

 

Album Review: Wide Awake! by Parquet Courts


 

Album: Wide Awake!
Artist: Parquet Courts
Release Date: May 18, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Violence
  • Before the Water Gets Too High
  • Mardi Gras Beads
  • Almost Had To Start A Fight/In and Out of Patience
  • Tenderness

Thoughts:  The Parquet Courts are an indie rock band from New York City by way of Texas.  Produced by Danger Mouse, the music has a lot of elements of classic punk rock mixed with funk, psychedelia, Everley Brothers-style harmonies, dub reggae, and pub sing-a-longs.  This approach could be generic but the Parquet Courts manage to make a joyful sound that’s even danceable.  Despite the amalgam of retro sounds, the lyrics of this album are “woke” (ast the title implies) focusing on current issues, albeit not through specific references but via moods that are rooted in our times.
Rating: ****

Album Review: Kiss Yr Frenemies by Illuminati Hotties


Album: Kiss Yr Frenemies
Artist: Illuminati Hotties
Release Date: May 11, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • (You’re Better) Than Ever
  • Shape of My Hands
  • Paying off the Happiness

Thoughts:

The Los Angeles-based band lead by Sarah Tudzin plays bubblegum rock songs with an edge, a style they call tenderpunk.  Over the catchy melodies are lyrics with wit and whimsy of the woes of the twentysomething.  My favorite track, the cheerful power pop of “Paying off Happiness” is about being in constant debt.  As the young people say these days, it’s relatable.

Rating: ***

 

Movie Review: Coco (2017)


Title: Coco
Release Date: November 22, 2017
Director: Lee Unkrich
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Coco is a delightful animated film by Pixar that weaves in the traditions of Día de los Muertos to a celebration of family and music. Miguel is boy in a family of shoemakers who loves the music of the local legend Ernesto de la Cruz, and wishes to pursue making music of his own.  The problem is that his family has banned music for several generations after his great-great-grandmother and his great-grandmother Coco (then a child) were left behind by great-great-grandfather seeking a music career. What follows is a wonderful adventure where Miguel accidentally travels to the Land of the Dead (depicted humorously as a bureaucratic parallel to our own world). with the help of a  bumbling skeleton named Hector, Miguel seeks to return to his own world and get his family’s blessing to play music, learning a lot about his family in the process.  There are some unexpectedly dark parts to this film – maybe not what would scare a young child in a movie full of skeletons – but nonetheless very serious material for a family film.  Visually it’s splendorous and I enjoy the wide ranges of expressions given to the skeleton’s bony faces.  Definitely another terrific addition to the Pixar catalog.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney Barnett


AlbumTell Me How You Really Feel
Artist: Courtney Barnett
Release Date: May 18, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Hopefulessness”
  • “Charity”
  • “Need a Little Time”
  • “Nameless, Faceless”
  • “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”
  • “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence”

Thoughts:

Australian singer-songwriter Barnett’s second album contains crunching guitars and strong punk melodies over which Barnett’s world-weary voice sings quotidian lyrics of frustration and self-doubt, anger and tenderness, confrontation and ambivalence.  The 90s indie rock sound is aided by the guest appearance of Kim and Kelley Deal on “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence.” But this is not retro music, it’s fully-engaged in the cultural issues of our times, just not in an anthemic, speaking for everyone manner.  If I’d gotten around to making a best albums of 2015 list, Barnett’s debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit would’ve been a shoe-in, and Tell Me How You Really Feel builds and improves on that. I’m grateful to be alive at a time when I can hear an artist like Courtney Barnett coming into her own.

Rating: ****

Brand New Music Pages


Have you ever wanted find all of my music posts in one place?  I’ve created a new music page which you can find in the menu at the top of this blogs homepage.   The music has three sub-pages.

Album Reviews

Reviews of recently released albums.

All-Time Favorites

Lists of my favorite songs and albums.

Music Discoveries.

My attempts to learn more about a band or artist by listening to all or most of their back catalog.