Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'Somewhere in the swamps of Jersey..'

Nice story in The Guardian the other day about how Jude Rogers became a traditional balladeer at the Sidmouth Folk Week.

She also wrote a good essay a couple of months ago, "Music is not dead" about the changing musical environment and how we as consumers and music-lovers fit into it. It read, in part:

"..especially in a world in which music is as ubiquitous as wallpaper (..) It is our duty to the music we first loved as young people, and still adore now, to try to live in the moment, and to engage with it properly. The difference is that we have to work harder for it."


In a similar vein, the NYT has a feature about the outlook for traditional record stores and the 100th gathering of Vinylmania.

This gives you a flavor:

"Mr. Martignon said he got a customer or so each day; sometimes they just browse, but sometimes a whale comes along. “I get these Japanese guys that spend a few thousand bucks,” he said. “All out-of-print rockabilly stuff.”


We don't cash checks, you don't sell music..?

While Bob Dylan may have left his fans a little bemused by the announcement of his first-ever Christmas album, now comes news that it will be distributed initially by.. a financial institution?

Citibank said that "Christmas In The Heart" will be available for download to 13 million customers enrolled in the company's rewards program, during the week before it hits stores on October 13.

It's a virtual deal only. The bank also said the album wouldn't be available for sale in its branches.

Dylan is donating proceeds from the album's sale to organizations that work to alleviate hunger and poverty, so much can be forgiven, but I hope he at least negotiated a big pay-off from them. And got the money upfront.


From a music-making perspective, two contrasting guitar-related stories: A good weekend for Paul Reed Smith guitars in Maryland, who held an open house that landed about a million dollars-worth of orders.

Meanwhile, after plenty of online controversy, Gibson may be be back-pedaling on the idea of a Jimi Hendrix tribute model which initial photographs indicated looked very much like Hendrix's signature Fender Stratocaster. Hendrix also played a Gibson Flying V, of course, so I don't know why they didn't just go for a special edition of that model.

We'll see what eventually emerges, I guess.


Reclusive musician Daniel Johnston has had his music turned into an iPhone game. Although he doesn't seem overly enthused by the idea:

"I don't even know what an iPhone is," he said. He did not remember "much" about playing the game. "If they make it into a real video game, [with a joystick,] it might work out," he told the New York Times.


Finally, am off to New Jersey again tomorrow - provided that mythical NJ Transit bus from Port Authority to Meadowlands actually runs - to see the opening night of Bruce's latest stint at Giants Stadium. U2's show last week apparently set a concert attendance record, with 84,000 people seeing the show in the round.

I can't think of anyone more appropriate than The Boss to close out the venue, though. It's being demolished at the end of the football season, and the new structure has already risen alongside.

He'll be playing "Born To Run" in its entirety. We also have tickets for Friday night, when the featured album will be "Born In The USA". A little relieved we didn't get both nights for either album, although you'd figure that the rest of the three-hour setlist will be mixed up to compensate.

Friday, September 25, 2009

'The wheels fly and the colors spin..'

We went to Giants Stadium last night to see U2. Remarkably, this Irish boy had never seen them play live before. The stage set just looked incredible - even from the top tier - the extent of its complexity shown by how many equipment flight cases were stacked around the mezzanine level.

A couple of decades ago I'd seen David Bowie's 'Glass Spider' show at Wembley, and tonight's spaceship setup reminded me a bit of that stage, but on a much, much grander scale. Weirdly, the stadium PA was playing 'Space Oddity' just as the lights started to go down.

This was the second night for the band (Jon Pareles' review of the first night in the NYTimes is here) and the boys were in fine form, matching intensity and emotion in a way I'd experienced only rarely at a show this big (there were about 80,000 people in the stadium, hardly what you'd call intimate).

But there were definite moments of connection - 'Walk On's dedication to Aung San Suu Kyi, featuring supporters of Amnesty International encircling the stage, as well as Bono's running with a child during 'City of Blinding Lights' and Archbishop Desmond Tutu's uplifting oration on the 360 screen before 'One'.

The whole show was brilliantly impressive: professional, and perfectly paced. But for me the songs that really stood out were a couple of new ones: 'Unknown Caller' and 'I'll Go Crazy', as well as a couple of oldies that have maintained their power for more than 25 years: 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' - its point as sharp as ever, despite being transposed from Derry to Tehran - and 'The Unforgettable Fire', its timeless riffs make it one of the most perfect of pop songs.

While the crowd hung on Bono's every word, The Edge kept his guitar tech busy: a Les Paul for the opener, then a Telecaster and a Rickenbacker before the Explorer for 'Beautiful Day', then an SG and a Strat, another Les Paul.. you get the drift.

Here's last night's full setlist:

Get On Your Boots
She Moves In Mysterious Ways
Beautiful Day
No Line On The Horizon
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For/Stand By Me
Unknown Caller
Until The End Of The World
Stay (Faraway, So Close)
The Unforgettable Fire
City Of Blinding Lights
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk On

Amazing Grace / Where The Streets Have No Name
UltraViolet (Light My Way)
With Or Without You
Moment of Surrender

This compilation clip gives a pretty good flavor of the evening (props to kskobac for a great job and a quick turnaround)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

'These two lanes will take us anywhere..'

Bruce Springsteen turned 60 today.

One of few artists responsible for the enduring soundtrack to my adult life, his songs and energy and passion have been constants for me, from the time I heard 'Born To Run' when I was a sixteen-year-old kid in Ireland; to the time I first saw him on TV eighteen months later; to the first time I saw him play live in 1981; all the way up to next week, when I'll see him twice at Giants Stadium.

It's been a great ride, Bruce. Thanks for everything.


Congratulations also to Lucinda Williams, one of my wife's favorite songwriters, who married her manager onstage at her show in Minneapolis the other day at the start of her 30th anniversary tour.


If you haven't seen this very cool video of the 'Birds on a wire' yet, check it out. According to a post by the composer, Jarbas Agnelli, the shot isn't photoshopped.


Finally, here's a really great and timely video by Paul Hipp. If Tom Lehrer and Joey Ramone wrote a song together, it might sound something like this...

Friday, September 18, 2009

'When you go through the flood..'

For a lot of folks this week is college move-in time. We're on our way back from dropping stepdaughter at the University of Cincinnati. We'd thought it would be a sad time, but we had a nice ride down and while separation is always tough, she's so happy to be there - and we're happy for her to be where she feels welcome - that I think it'll probably hit us in a few days when we realize she's not around.

We stopped last night at Somerset in Pennsylvania, not far from the West Virginia border and in the heart of coal country. The town isn't far from the site of the Quecreek mine, where in 2002 nine miners were rescued after being buried underground for three days while the nation held its collective breath and feared the worst.

A couple of months later, I moved from New York back to London and the following summer I went to see one of my favorite guitar players, Buddy Miller in a solo show at the Borderline and he played a remarkable song that his wife Julie had written, called Quecreek.

In the year after September 11 - and Somerset is also quite close to Shanksville, where United 93 went down - when we were all looking for any clue that events in our world weren't always destined to end badly, the mine rescue gave us all some hope.

Quecreek was also referenced in another beautiful song last year by another of my favorite musicians, Mark Erelli. 'Hope Dies Last' from his album 'Delivered' takes you from a feeling of powerlessness to affect world events, to a place where we can appreciate the things we can change in our own lives. Take a listen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

'And gently whispered Hope..'

For various reasons I spent a lot of time today thinking about Northern Ireland - and not just because of the World Cup qualifier, which didn't turn out so well for us. I've always found that people in the US are eager to hear about Irish singers and musicians and have been pretty good at supporting them.

When my American friends ask "who should I listen to that I might not have heard?", one of the people I point them to is Foy Vance, from Bangor, an excellent singer and clever songwriter. He was just in New York a couple of months ago and played at the Roots jam at the Highline Ballroom, and he's currently on tour in Europe with Tori Amos.

There's a nice interview with him from last year here - I love that when he's asked "which song do you wish you'd written" he replies "It's a coin toss between 'Amazing Grace' and 'Anarchy In The UK'".

Anyway - check out his work; here's his "Gabriel and the Vagabond", one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard:

And the equally lovely "Indiscriminate Act of Kindness".

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

'If I can't change the world, I'll change the world within my reach..'

Whatever your political preference, what in this world can be remotely objectionable about encouraging kids to stay in school and work hard? What can be wrong about telling kids that, sure, it's not always easy, but the rewards of hanging in there and trying your best are worth it?

And what can possibly be so awful about saying this:

"Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future."

If you honestly, truly and genuinely don't think that message is worth passing on, then I despair for you.

Friday, September 4, 2009

'The fire is sweepin' our very street today..'

In all the attention given to the 40th anniversary of Woodstock this summer, it might be easy to overlook another landmark concert, historic for different reasons.

The Rolling Stones' show at Altamont has often been portrayed as the "end of the summer of love" and this piece in The Telegraph looks at Albert Maysles' movie of the events at the show, 'Gimme Shelter' which is being re-released in a couple of weeks.


I really enjoyed the first edition of the new TV show NY FM, presented by 101.9 WRXP's Matt Pinfield and Leslie Fram, and I plan to tune in regularly.

This weekend they had an interview with Dave Matthews, and items on Rocco DeLuca and one of my favorite guitar players, Derek Trucks - next week they have a feature on Tom Morello - as well as a look at the John Lennon exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex.


Talking of the Beatles, The New York Times seems to like the upcoming Rock Band product, as the marketing hype cranks up and remastered versions of some of their classic albums get ready to ship.

Meanwhile, The Guardian has a video of Sir George Martin's son Giles talking about the production of the new game.


Really interesting band on Letterman the other night. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros initially struck me as sounding something like a jam between Sufjan Stevens, Michelle Shocked and the Spin Doctors.

To be honest, I wasn't sure whether I actually liked their song "Home" but I couldn't take my eyes off the performance, and I guess that's half the battle for a developing band.

Here's a clip of them playing the same song in Los Angeles a few months ago: