Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Album Review: Soundgarden’s Screaming Life/Fopp EP

December 9, 2013

Soundgarden Screaming Life

Sub Pop Records did everyone a favor and, at long last, re-released Soundgarden‘s debut EPs “Screaming Life” and “Fopp“. It wasn’t the first time they were recorded (they had singles on a few compilation albums before this), but it was the first time it was just them. These two EPs set the stage for one of the most popular bands of all-time.

If you are only familiar with Soundgarden from “Superunknown“, then these two EPs will be a much different sound than you are used to. They are must more straight-forward rock where “Superunknown” is a more brooding album. “Screaming Life” was produced by the “Godfather of Grunge” Jack Endino and “Fopp” was produced by another grunge veteran, Steve Fisk.

Screaming Life is very hard-hitting. It is as ‘in your face’ as the album cover suggests. One of the more fun tracks is “Sub Pop Rock City”. It was originally not on the EP and was only on the seminal Sup Pop 200 album, but they included it for the re-issue. The song features cameos from Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman. The EP also has the first Soundgarden song ever recorded, Hunted Down.

Fopp provides a slightly different, more experimental sound. It shows signs of what would become “Ultramega OK” and the perennially underrated “Batmotorfinger”. It is a much shorter EP than “Screaming Life”, but it’s just as good. It really only has three songs as one of the songs is a “Fopp” remix. The title track provides a lot of fun and the remix is a great listen, as well.

These EP provide an early glimpse in to the early days of Sub Pop and the formation of what would be come to be known as “Grunge Rock.” Soundgarden played as big of a role, if not much bigger, as any other band and now we have a chance to listen to some of their earliest work and find out what helped shape their sound. It should’t be passed up.

Album Review: Imitations by Mark Lanegan

November 25, 2013

20131125-153149.jpg After years of drought between solo albums, Mark
Lanegan finally unearthed his solo career in 2012 with the release of “Blues
Funeral
.” He followed up later in the year with a collaboration with guitarist Duke Garwood for the haunting “Black Pudding.” September 2013 brought Mark to the return to his solo records of past years with a stripped down band (most songs just have a single guitar) in an album of cover songs called
Imitations.””Black Pudding” offered the same tone, but it was more of a collaboration and not a true solo album. The album also marks the return of former collaborators – Mike Johnson, who provided the guitar for most of Mark’s early solo albums, and former Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel.

The album starts off with the slow-paced “Flatlands,” and it only varies from the tempo it sets occasionally. I the album, he covers Greg Dulli, Nick Cave, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, and others. It really shows the wide-range of influences that have led to a career spanning four decades. One particular standout for me is a tremendous version of Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice.” He takes the former James Bond title track, and makes it his own by providing his trademark grizzled vocals. It’s album is a departure from the previous two Lanegan solo albums. “Bubblegum” and “Blues Funeral” had a full band (the artist credited was the Mark Lanegan Band) and took a more traditional rock approach, while still providing haunting songs that defined his earlier work. When asked why he made “Imitations” he replied:

When I was a kid in the late sixties and early seventies, my parents and their friends would play the records of Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como, music with string arrangements and men singing songs that sounded sad whether they were or not. At home my folks were also listening to country music, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, George Jones and Vern Gosdin were some of our favorites. For a long time I’ve wanted to make a record that gave me the same feeling those old records did, using some of the same tunes I loved as a kid and some that I’ve loved as I have gotten older. This record is it. Imitations.

If you like Mark Lanegan, you’ll loves this album. Even if you don’t like him, there are certain songs you can pick out and really enjoy. The album is very accessible to everyone, and deserves a place in your record collection.

Album Review: Nirvana In Utero 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition

November 19, 2013

NirvanaIU

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, The Grunge Rock Guru has returned! I have many, many new albums and music experiences, so I will have plenty to write about for a long time. So, without further ado,  let’s get started.

20 years ago (where does the time go??) Nirvana released their follow-up to the seminal “Nevermind” and it was titled “In Utero“. The album was released with a lot of fanfare as it was the first truly new music from Nirvana since the unexpected success of “Nevermind” and fans were clamoring for more. They tried to hold people over with a mix of B-Sides and other unreleased tracks in a pseudo-compilation album called “Incesticide”, but it didn’t work out like they hoped. Were early hit singles like “Heart-Shaped Box”, “Dumb”, and “Rape Me,” the album was poised for success, and it was – both commercially and critically. That was 1993.

Now, in 2013, DGC released the 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition.  There were a few deluxe editions (the two CD version and the three LP version), but I went all out and got the three CD/DVD super deluxe versions, so I will focus on that one. The $150 price tag was a little steep, but I was really impressed with what they did with the super deluxe version of “Nevermind”, so there was little hesitation to pull the trigger. I was not disappointed.

It came with three CDs that had over 70 unreleased tracks, a DVD of the 1993 “MTV Live and Loud” concert (that I do not think has aired since the days right after Kurt died), a two-sided poster, and a 50+ page book. That was the first thing that I gravitated towards. The book started off with a four page fax (ask your parents) from “In Utero” producer Steve Albini. It really lays out his vision for the album and gives the reader insight to why the album sounds the way it does.  In today’s sea of over-produced records that hardly sound anything like what was actually recorded, this Albini quote from 1992 is still a breath of fresh air:

If a record takes more than a week to make, someone’s [expletive deleted] up.

The CDs it came with were great. CD 1 was simply the original album remastered (this was not counted towards the number of unreleased tracks) with 7 extra tracks, including some original Albini mixes for some popular songs. The remastering didn’t add much to the album, and it’s skippable if you are familiar with the original (and who wouldn’t be that has this set?). The Bonus tracks, however, are awesome. The Albini mixes of “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies” are as raw as can be. It matched Albini’s philosophy and his recording technique. CD 2 was interesting because it was a brand new mix of the original album. The mix was OK, but it took out things I have been used to hearing for 20 years.  They took out things like Kurt clearing his throat before “Pennyroyal Tea” and the cello out of “Dumb.” I can live without the throat clearing, but I was dumfounded as to why they took out the cello. It’s such an integral part of the song. The demos that were on this disc were also pretty cool because they included instrumental versions of songs like “Dumb” and “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle.”

The third CD was the soundboard audio from the “Live and Loud” concert. I was thrilled it was included because it is one of my favorite concerts of all time and it finally got a proper release. the CD had he entire televised concert as well as songs that were not included on the original telecast. The DVD of the “Live and Loud” concert was just awesome. It included all the songs that were on the CD, but added two versions of the famous “Heart-Shaped Box” video, and live performances from Italy, France, and a few songs what ended up being their last ever performance in Germany.

The celebration of “In Utero” is bittersweet in a way. On one hand, we get to celebrate a band who broke through the mainstream on their terms and changed the face music and pop culture. On the other hand, it is really the last flash of brilliance we got from a very talented song writer as well as a true end of an era, however short it was.

Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell

October 16, 2010

October 15th was the date. The Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington, DC was the venue. I had been waiting four years for this concert. Since 2006 and the release of Ballad of the Broken Seas (their first album together) I have waited, impatiently at times, to see them together in concert. I have seen Lanegan in concert seven times in a variety of settings and styles. From stripped down acoustic shows with Greg Dulli, to production heavy shows with the Soulsavers, to hard rocking shows with the Gutter Twins. However, I still had not seen him with Isobel. I had seen reports and videos of their concerts throughout Europe over the years, and always thought that they would come over here. It didn’t happen with Ballad of the Broken Seas, and it didn’t happen with their 2008 follow-up Sunday at Devil Dirt.

I began to lose hope. I began to hear rumblings of another collaboration, that was to become Hawk. I was excited about the new album, but I didn’t think about a possible U.S. Tour. I assumed that they would do their usual European tour and be done with it. After all, Campbell is on a British label and not many people have heard of her, or Lanegan for that matter, in the U.S. It didn’t make that much sense to spend all the money sending them to the United States. However, I saw that they were having a U.S. tour. I still wasn’t convinced though. They had announced a few U.S. dates in 2008, but were ultimately canceled. I bought my ticket to the DC show a few days after they went on sale and I waited. The day finally came. On to the show!

I met up with about five friends and we got to the venue about 20 minutes before the opening act started. Willy Mason opened the show and set the tone with his solo Alternative Country set. Mason is a really talented performer who had several good songs. As much as I wanted to see Mark and Isobel, I was content with Mason singing as many songs as he wanted. He ended his set at about 945 and we waited for the main act. We waited some more. Finally, after about 30 minutes, the band came out. Finally, Isobel and Mark were taking the stage.

They started the set with the chilling “We Die and See Beauty Reign“. They sang a few songs from their newest record, Hawk, including the rollicking “You won’t Let Me Down Again“, the sultry “Come Undone“, and a great version of Townes Van Zandt’s “Snake Song“. They chose a few songs from Ballad of the Broken Seas including the title track complete with cello solo by Campbell. Lanegan sang the always chilling, “The Circus is Leaving Town“. He thanked the crowd and went off stage.

Willy Mason who provided vocals on the album came on stage again much to the crowd’s delight, as his opening set was very popular. He sang the other Townes Van Zandt cover on the album, “No Place to Fall“. Being a huge fan of Van Zandt, I was very excited. He also sang “Cool Water” and one of his own original compositions. He left the stage to great applause and Lanegan came back on stage to great applause. It should be pointed out Campbell was very adept at getting Lanegan to smile and speak on stage – a rarity.

They focused more on songs from 2008’s Sunday at Devil Dirt. They sang “Salvation“, “Who Built the Road” and “Backburner“. The band went off stage to great applause, and after a minute or two they came back on stage for the encore. They started the familiar strings of “Revolver” from Ballad of the Broken Seas. They also sang “Do You Wanna (Come Walk With Me)“. But, for me the highlight came at the end, with a rocking version of Hank Williams, Sr.’s “Ramblin’ Man” that appeared on Ballad of the Broken Seas, and the Lanegan classic “Wedding Dress” that tore the house down.

I waited four years for that show. It was worth it.

Mark Lanegan

Isobel Campbell

Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell

Hawk, Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan

Album Review: The Manics – Fruit EP

February 28, 2010

Wow, that was a quick couple of months of silence from his blog, but I was inspired by something and I had to share. I got my hands on an EP from a new band called The Manics. I didn’t know what to expect from it. I had never heard of them, but I love trying out new bands and getting pleasantly surprised. The EP is not out yet, but will be soon. It is called “Fruit” and it is not one to be missed. It starts off with the heavy title track that let’s you know right off the bat the direction of the EP and it does not disappoint. The second track, “Doll” is a great ballad that has the singer crying out in despair that he “needs to feel something real”. Not the false hope that people usually cling to.

The third track, “Ellen’s Scars” stands out to me the most. It is seemingly rooted in alternative history. Takes a little form the Pixies with soft verses and very hard choruses. The guitar solo is a lyric copy a la “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. The chorus has a lot of fuzz-tone and feedback to make any “grunge” fan proud. The band took a chance with “Tell Her No”, a Zombies cover. I don’t like covers as much, but I love it when bands take chances and this is a very big chance for a few reasons. the most obvious reason is The Zombies are not that well known.  The Manics pulled it off though, and it is a great cover that has their own stamp on it.

The EP comes to a close with the softer “Stars” that has a simple chord progression a la Weezer. It doesn’t let you off the hook very easily as the EP begins, very hard and fast. “Fruit” shows a lot of range for the band and is a very good effort. I am very excited about what the band will put out in the future. There seems to be a wide range of influences that will prove beneficial in the future. The Manics seem to be well-grounded in music history which automatically makes them better than 90% of bands out there. I hope that everyone else will be as excited about them as I am. If you want to hear their first album (and you should want to), it is available here.

Here are a few pictures of The Manics:

The Manics

The Manics

The Manics

The Soulsavers feat. Mark Lanegan

September 22, 2009

The Soulsavers came to the nation’s capitol on an absolutely beautiful day, and the Soulsavers only added to the day’s beauty. Touring for their new CD “Broken” (and we are all thanking them for choosing a shorter album name) they decided to play intimate venues. For Washington DC, that meant the Rock and Roll Hotel. The venue was indeed small. They had a soundboard on the stage and there was barely enough room on the stage for all of them, but there were still rocking out.

The opening act was Red Ghost who provided vocals for the cover of “Praying Ground” on “Broken”. I got there in time to hear about half her set (My apt is not Metro accessible and neither is the venue, so getting there was quite a journey). The songs I did hear, however, really impressed me. She has some pipes and can really belt out a tune. I am going to have to get her EP. The rest of the crowd agreed with me as she left to a good ovation (as good as it could be with small crowd).

She walked off stage and I knew what was next. The last time I saw the Soulsavers was in 2007 in Los Angeles. I count that as my favorite concert of all time. A lot of stars were aligned that night. It was the first time I had seen Mark live in over a year, it was at my favorite venue, it was with a band I really enjoy, and I was there with good friends. Now seeing Mark play live is old hat. I’ve seen him 3 times since then and 6 overall. But it is always different when he comes around with the Soulsavers and tonight was no different.

They started with a rocking version of “Ask the Dust” off of the “It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land” CD. Mark walked on stage and they went right into “Ghosts of You and Me” and we were on our way.

The night was a mix of songs from “Broken” and songs from “It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land” with highlights that included “Some Misunderstanding”, “Paper Money”, “Jesus of Nothing”, “Unbalanced Pieces”,  “You Will Miss Me When I Burn”, and “Kingdoms of Rain”. The band was in top form, it seemed, really adding a lot to the music and the live experience.

They ended the set with the seminal “Hit the City” and they walked off stage. The facade quickly ended as the band walked back on stage (minus Rich and Mark) and sang a stirring rendition of “By My Side”. After the song was over, Mark and Rich joined the band back on stage and BLEW us away with the powerful “Revival“. I’ve heard that song over 50 times in the last 2 years, and it still blows me away every time.

The show seemed to end as quickly as it started, but we were left in amazement. After the show was over I made my way over to the merchandise stand to pick up a shirt and a live CD I had heard about. To my great surprise, the live CD was from the show at the Troubadour back in December of 2007. It came full circle.

Interestingly enough, due to the “no flash” rule, I was able to snap probably the best picture I have ever taken.

Mark Lanegan

DSCN0546

DSCN0549

An Evening with Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan

February 11, 2009

February 10, 2009 at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, CA will go down as one of the concerts where all who attended will count themselves as lucky. The concert was billed as “An Evening with Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan.” They promised a stripped down acoustic setting featuring songs that neither of them have performed in years. It did not disappoint. In fact, it far exceeded my already high expectations. At this point, I should point out that the opening act – Happy Chichester – was really good. Fans at the Troubadour were demanding that he play more songs when he finished his set.

Photo by: Nancy Paulikas Used with permission

Photo by: Nancy Paulikas. Used with permission

After the opening act, chairs were set up and Greg Dulli, Mark Lanegan, and Dave Rosser walked out. Dave and Greg, carrying guitars, Mark with his signature black shirt and disheveled hair. They started the evening with a couple Gutter Twins tunes – “The Body”, “All God’s Children,” and “The Stations.” They then moved to their extensive back catalog. Greg first tore the house down with the Afghan Whigs tune “If I Were Going.” After he was done he said:

Mark sees that and raises me

Mark raised him indeed with an absolutely incredible rendition of the Screaming Trees classic “Sworn and Broken.”

Greg moved to the keyboard and they sang “We Have Met Before” from the Gutter Twins’ EP “Adorata.” Mark followed with a cover of “Creeping Coastline of Lights” and his own “Resurrection Song” I really wish I could say that the Troub was silent during the downbeats of these songs, but there was plenty of chatter. Way too much chatter for such a great concert. Now it was Greg’s turn and he threw in “The Twlilte Kid” and “The Lure Would Prove Too Much” in this seeming game of one-upmanship by the two artists that have reached “cult status,” but as Dulli pointed out:

Cult status isn’t financially lucrative. Look at the cars we drive. Thank God for Europe

It was Mark’s turn with “Kimiko’s Dream House”. Greg followed with “Summer’s Kiss” and “King Only”. Mark answered that call with “Sunrise” and “The River Rise” Both blew me away as I am a huge fan of the album “Whiskey for the Holy Ghost” from which both songs appear. The show ended with “Sunset Machine” and “In a Heavenly Way.” The latter song was absolutely incredible.

After a few minutes of applause they came out for an encore that included “Candy Cane Crawl” and “One Hundred Days” If there is anything that can make “One Hundred Days” better it was most definitely Petra Hayden’s violin. They also did “Tennessee Waltz.” Dave Rosser sang that song and whenever he releases a CD, I will be first in line to get it. Amazing musician. They ended the show with “All I Have to Do is Dream” and Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You.”

Probably my favorite aspect of the show was the relaxed nature and the back and forth banter. They were putting themselves out there with the stripped down set and could not hide behind the rock, or pyro. It is something that is very rare in music today and something that is desperately needed. Instead of creating “bands” that music execs think will sell records and hide their lack of talent behind studio tricks and pyro, why don’t they sign people with talent? The last time they did the record company made more money then they ever had before and they haven’t made that much since. Why doesn’t someone put 2 and 2 together?

Todd Thurman

Gutter Twins Part Deux

November 9, 2008

The Gutter Twins Hit the City on November 7th, so I took the Metro over to the Black Cat club in Northwest DC to see them. Doors opened up at 9:00, and I got there around 9:45. When I got there the scene was pretty empty. I made my way to the front of the stage and settled in for the show.

Afterhours started playing at around 10. For those who do not know of the Italian band, get to know them. They are really good. They started of the night with a cover of “My Time (Has Come)”  They hit us hard with their songs and never let up. It was truly the best opening act I have ever seen. They could headline any other venue, just not when the Gutter Twins are on the same bill.

Afterhours ended at around 1105 and the roadies started to tear down their stuff and get ready for the Gutter Twins. They laid out the setlists

After a few more minutes, the band finally came out and came out rocking with “Idle Hands”. “Seven Stories Underground” was among many highlights as Mark’s vocals seemed to be in top form. the next went to 2004’s hit single “Hit the City” and it was an awe inspiring performance. For “Hard Time Killing Floor,” “Bete Noire” and “Down the Line” Greg Dulli came over rand sat at the Rhodes Piano and the Keyboard which were about three inches from my face, so that was cool.

No zoom was used in that photo. They slowed it way down for “St. James Infirmary Blues”, and let me tell you, when Lanegan sings it, you can feel it. Here is a sampling of the kind of intensity he brings to the table.

The set was a good mix of stuff off of “Saturnalia“, covers, and stuff from their EP “Adorata“. That was really good for me because I have not heard anything off of “Adorata” because it’s an electronic only release and I don’t like not having a physical copy of the records. I enjoyed the songs so much I almost wanted to buy it. I’m not going to until I see a physical copy though.

The highlight of the night, for me, came at the end of the set. “Front Street” was the song. It was Greg Dulli’s first song as a member of “The Gutter Twins” and I know how proud of it he is. He started to sing it and the crowd quickly joined in. By the end of it, he had trouble singing over the crowd and was putting everything he had left into this song. Really amazing. Really cool to be in a place that enjoys music as opposed to the hipster LA scene.

The band went offstage and I had flashbacks to the Avalon concert when they did not come back. I knew this would be different though because we were really into the show and we wanted more. The band was happy to oblige and after no more than two minutes, came back on stage. Mark sang a chilling version of “I Was in Love With You” and we were also joined by the lead singer of Afterhours on keyboards. They continued with “Methamphetamine Blues”. That also rocked the house down. Fittingly, they finished the night with the down-trodden “Number 9”. A somber song that capped off the evening perfectly.

More Pics:

Review: MOJO Magazine: Aug. 2008

August 16, 2008
August 08

MOJO Magazine August 2008

The current issue of MOJO Magazine is devoted to the 20th anniversary of Sub Pop records. It does not just mention the anniversary, it tells the story of the history of the label and its influence on music. Of course, it is impossible to talk about Sub Pop without talking about Nirvana, so the magazine also dedicates the cover and a feature story about Sub Pop’s most famous band.

For the Sup Pop interview, they got together “grunge royalty” if ever there was such a thing. They brought in former Nirvana drummer Chad Channing, Mudhoney and Green River frontman Mark Arm, and TAD frontman Tad Doyle. They also brought together the founders of Sub Pop Records Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt. The article talks about the very humble beginnings where they would ship orders from the Musak Corporation where Pavitt worked part time until 1988. It is a true DIY label and pretty soon the Major labels could not avoid it.

The article really starts with the culmination of Sub Pop’s efforts: Lamefest in 1989. The Lamefest show sold out the iconic Moore Theater in Seattle headlined by all local bands, a feat that was thought to be out of the question. This showed Pavitt and Poneman that they were on to something. Bands like Green River, TAD, Mudhoney, Nirvana, and Mother Love Bone really helped define the Seattle Sound as well as Sub Pop itself.

Sub Pop has had its ups and downs over the last 20 years, but with bands like Iron and Wine, Flight of the Conchords, Mudhoney, and The Gutter Twins they are as strong as ever. The magazine also comes with a free CD titled “The Sub Pop 300.” It has some of the same tracks as the Sub Pop issue “The Grunge Years” but there are some great tracks including: “Change Has Come” by the Screaming Trees, “Shove” by L7, and “Retarded” by the Afghan Whigs. There are also tracks by other Sub Pop artists like Pissed Jeans, Red Red Meat, and Flight of the Conchords.

Todd


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