Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tosho's Top Ten Albums of 2009

#10 - Mos Def - The Extacic
Mos Def's 4th studio album dropped like a funky bomb onto the charts this year and while I am not a huge fan of his previous works, I found this album to be a delightful mix of older rap styles yet also showing a large amount of growth in the 36 year old hip hop artists career. This album is a gem that features several diverse musical styles, including Soul, Afrobeat, Jazz, Latin, and a generous helping of funky Groove beats. He’s out to show fans and non fans alike that he is still a universal ghetto advocate with unwavering respect and admiration for the streets of his hometown Brooklyn and the tradition of hip-hop itself. There’s still some classic Malcolm X speeches, Arabic prayers, and some Spanish style grooves, but injecting some new flavor in the record is production from indie luminaries J Dilla, Madlib, Oh No and the Neptune’s Chad Hugo as well as guest spots from the legendary, longtime collaborator Talib Kweil, West Coast neo-soul experimentalist Georgia Muldrow, and samples of legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti (one of my faves in the genre of world music).
This album was a refreshing amount of funk in a relatively lack luster 2009.

#9 -
The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love
The fifth album by Portland rockers The Decemberists merges further into the realm of heavy lyric based progressive rock sort of reminiscent of an acoustic Queensryche and is a classic style rock opera at heart. All the songs contribute to a unified narrative, similar to the use of recurring stories in 'The Crane Wife'. Songwriter Colin Meloy stated he originally intended the album to be a musical play. The plot features a woman named Margaret (voiced by Stark) who falls in love with a shape-shifting Forrest dweller named William (voiced by Meloy). A jealous forest queen and William's mother (voiced by Worden), the villainous Rake (also voiced by Meloy) and an ensemble of recurring characters bring conflict to the album's overall story arc. Its modest and mellow and easy to enjoy without any gross overproduction common to many so called rock operas. The album, while heavily story driven has still got enough going on musically that they could still pull it all off in a live setting. With guest vocals by Jim James (one of my fave artists at the moment), this album definitely wormed its way into my heart and made the top ten and is probably my fave of all their works so far.

#8 - Neil Young - Fork in the road
This album is getting back to the basics for Neil and is the first album of his I have really enjoyed since 2003's 'Greendale'. The theme this time around was inspired by Neil's car that was rebuilt to run on alternative energy . This album has a straight forward and honest feel to it. If rock music was a journalistic news program, this album would have been Neil's angry editorial. The subject matter of this fine rant? That, though not quite as boldly signposted as in his 'Living With War', it is still announced pretty plainly. I thought this use of a bit more subtlety makes for a more interesting listening experience as I thought 'Living with war' was a little over the top. The subject on this new album is the recession here in North America and it’s a topic Young chooses to address using one of his most consuming passions, an everyman metaphor: the love of cars. I was really glad when I heard this album because while it was not a fave in terms of Neils work, it was a step up from the majority of the stuff he has done in the last few years (see Chrome Dreams 2, or Prairie Wind). It was also way better then a lot of the stuff that has been released by the majority of artists this year. Neil is proving once again that the greats from the classic rock era still have something to offer and many thanks to them for that because they are still out there keeping rock alive, at least for the moment.

#7 - Rancid -
Let the Dominoes Fall
It's no secret that Punk Rock has been sucking serious ass for quite a while now. Rancid are one of the only bands in existence right now that I would actually qualify as 'Punk Revivalists' The boys released this dynamite record (their 7th and their first in six years) in June of 2009. This album is what I love about a classic punk record. It is stuffed full of 3 chord awesomeness and the energy of a side street biker brawl. It gets you moving and up out of your seat ready for mischief. You get the feeling that something off the wall is coming, sort of like your trapped in an early 90's generation x' movie. The simple minimalistic guitar chords, and the power punk drum beats are totally late 70's classic punk style that a thousand albums could be spawned from. The main driving focus here remains the teeth-shattering street punk bombast that has been the group’s calling card for over 15 years. There are plenty of musical and stylistic left turns on this album that will surprise longtime fans while enticing new listeners to harbor a new appreciation for Rancid. 'Let the Dominoes Fall' definitely deserves a warm welcome in a year that had such wishy washy wannabe post 9/11 Punk.

#6 - Mason Jennings - Blood of Man
On his 8th and best album to date, Jennings begins to delve much darker. This is something I have been hoping he would try out for a while. 'Blood of Man' draws forth haunting tales of madness, addiction and loss, accompanied perfectly with warm, gritty electric guitar riffs and raw, powerful vocals. This wonderful addition to his previous works was conceived, written and recorded over the span of a few short weeks and really gives off that raw unpolished feel that helps make it a classic. It comes across as very genuine and straight from the heart which makes it easy to listen to. A great album for putting on on a rainy Sunday and curling up with a book or a cup of hot chocolate. I really liked this quote from Mason about this album: ''I wrote about how hard it is to be 34 and be a parent and sane and married and true and positive and yourself and a man and funny and a decent person and a not decent person and human and in love. I turned the music up so loud so often that my ears rang every night. I wrote about death, of course. I wrote about life. I wrote about pain and addiction. And I let it flow and left it raw. I worked fast and I let my heart lead. What you have is exactly the music I listen to in my van and the way I have given it to my friends on CD-Rs. My hope is that it can help where help is needed. Music saved my life and I am so grateful for it. Thank you for listening. Rock.''
Fair enough Mason, its a great album and thank you for writing it.

#5 - Tom Waits - Glitter and Doom (live)
This album is an instant classic and if you haven't had a chance to listen to it you should do so at once. I have heard from a few different people that have seen Tom Waits live, that this album is as close to the real deal as you can get. Tom is one of that rarest breed of artists who occupies a place that is truly unique in all of music. His career is now into its fourth decade and just as strong as ever. With that unmistakable voice, Waits adopts numerous variations of the down-on-his-luck vagabond drifter persona that he brings to life with his songs in a way few others can match. He brings it all to life perfectly on this record. The songs fit together so well and are faves from all over the last thirty years. His career has seen him take on the role of everything from carnival barker to bohemian beat-poet, to seedy piano-bar lounge singer. This live album comes from Waits' sold out 2008 tour across the states that gathered massive critical acclaim and saw Waits playing in cities he has never played before (you can hear him clearly enjoying himself). The songs, which come from all over the tour, are handpicked by Waits himself and lend a personal feel to the selection of the tracks. This is a great album to check out if you have never really given Waits much of a chance before as it is a very listener friendly album. I highly recommend it to fans of Toms, or anyone who is looking to get into a fantastic and very rare type of musician.

#4 - Levon Helm - Electric Dirt
Following on the heels of his 2007 grammy winning comeback album 'Dirt Farmer', Levon has brought the same crew back for this wonderful followup record. While this album doesn’t stray far from its predecessor’s template, it continues to recapture the voice and persona that animated The Band landmarks like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. The musical palette, however, is wider this time round, emphasizing the breadth of Helm’s interests rather than the stuff of his roots. This album has a bit of urgency to it, possibly having to do with Helm's battle with (and victory over) throat cancer. This album bounces out of the starting gate declaring that it's time to party! Overall, Helm’s recent work embraces the past alongside the present in a way that is inviting, joyous, and thoroughly satisfying. It proves once again that there have been few vocalists in the past 50 years of popular music who project such a natural authority as Levon Helm.

#3 - The Tragically Hip - We Are The Same
OK, I seriously enjoyed this album. This is a moodier, quieter and prettier affair than usual, with slower, more passionate songs, more acoustic guitars and plenty of grooves. The album as a whole has a more outdoors feel to it. It's like the sort of Hip Album you would hear the boys turn out around a campfire one mid summer night in Ontario. This album might have turned off a few Hip purists out there by being a bit of a departure from earlier work but if you want early hip go toss on 'Road Apples' or 'Day For Night' and rock on, but if you want to see a fantastic band that is not afraid to progress and show growth you will dig this record. In many ways it reminds me of the 'Phantom Power' album with its mellow grooves and easy, natural feel. The boys are still a bunch of proud Canadians with songs like the last recluse' that contain the lyrics
"Who are you. the last recluse? Who are you the last Canadian goose"
While some might put this album down, I think that after 26 years together, 11 studio albums and a reputation as one of the best live shows ever, it is a true sign of greatness that the Tragically Hip’s 12th album sounds as fresh, strong and relevant as anything they’ve ever done.

#2 - Bob Dylan - Together Through Life
Dylan, who turned 68 in May of '09, has never sounded as ravaged, pissed off and lusty, all at once, as he does on 'Together Through Life'. I usually describe this album to friends as carrying on from 'Modern Times' but showing that Dylan wasn't afraid to get a bit more down and dirty with it. Bob and his crew stopped by my area on their 'Modern Times' tour and in my opinion he is at the top of his game right now. There is an unmistakeably grim magnetism coursing through these 10 new songs and most of it is captured in Dylan's vividly battered vocals. Above everything this is a record about love, its absence and its remembrance. It all comes through brilliantly in such a way that I instantly fell in love with this album. 'Together Through Life' was generally hailed as one of the best records Dylan has released in years (should I mention it's his 46th?). The warmth of this album is uncanny. It is as if you are curled up in front of a fireplace in a rocking chair listening to him play you these songs that he had just written. A feeling of roughness plays through the record, as if many of the tracks were first takes that just worked so well they left them at that. Dylan's throat has never been anyone's idea of clear and soaring. But he has always stated that as a young folk singer, he strained to sound older and more sorely tested than he was, as if he had known the hard times of the Great Depression firsthand. He's finally there, with an authentically pitted instrument ideally suited to the devastated settings of these songs and the rusted farm-shed production present in this phenomenal album.

#1 - Monsters of Folk-
Monsters of Folk
In a year that saw me gradually listening to more and more folk rock sounds, this album was both a great surprise and a much needed album. When I heard that My Morning Jacket's front man Jim James was releasing an album with long time friends Connor Oberst and Mike Mogis, I was sufficiently stoked to say the least. I did some checking and found it interesting that the band was formed in 2004 when the members were on tour with their respective bands and solo projects. After playing together both on-stage and backstage, they started working together on various material. Due to the members' main projects, Monsters of Folk did not wrap up their first album until 2009. It was WELL worth the wait! Of all the so called 'Super Groups' that are springing up lately (Chickenfoot and Them Crooked Vultures to name a few), Monsters of Folk are really the only one that could be called super. So well favoured was this album that they were referred to by certain critics as this generations 'Traveling Wilburys' (although they sort of sound a bit more reminiscent of CSNY). After the first listen, the only flaw that I could see was that Jim James had only brought 5 songs to the mix here, but after another listen that turned into a plus because this album has helped me get into the work of Connor Oberst who brings some of my fave tracks to this album (Ahead of the curve in particular). Everyone shines on this record, although James, whose lead vocals open and close the set, beams brightest. The eclecticism of his latest 'My Morning Jacket' sounds are brought into sharper focus by the company of his new bandmates. I am hoping this is the start of much more to come for the Monsters. This album shows off the talents of these four men at the top of their respective games but creates something here that is greater then the sum of their individual parts.

Comments Fixed!

It came to my attention that the comments were disabled, (thanks to birdie!) Its all fixed now though so yay!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

#7 The Thin White Duke himself... David Bowie

The year was 1966 and a young man named David Robert Jones went to London's UFO club to see local psychedelic band 'The Pink Floyd'. As young David listened and watched the lead singer Syd Barrett, with his wild, tangled hair singing of transvestites and gnomes and play, he remarked to himself that he had never seen a man on stage wearing dark eye makeup the way Syd did. Through the influence their music and Syd's image and stage presence had upon him, David would go on to become one of the greatest and most influential Rock icons in all of Rock history. In late 1966 he chose "Bowie" for his stage name, after the Alamo hero ' Jim Bowie' and his famous 'Bowie Knife'. David Bowie was born there in the underground clubs of mid sixties London.

One of the Hallmarks of all Rock performers is to create a singular image that defines them as an artist. David Bowie, as a musician, performer and song writer defies this convention completely. He would become known throughout his career for continuously re-inventing himself and his art at seemingly sound breaking speeds. He has gathered a lot of criticism over the years for his seemingly total disregard for music genre loyalty and his love for combining the most un-likely sorts of music styles with his 'end of days' subject matter. While the critics may have at first despised him for this, in time they began to praise him for it. He would painstakingly create these often legendary characters only to completely deconstruct them in order to make way for a new one.

In 1969, Bowie had his first hit with his 'Space Oddity' about a 'Major Tom' going on a journey to space. This is one of my fave Bowie songs of all time. It has a great melody and is a very mellow song about adventuring in space. What's not to like about psychedelic astronaut songs? Of course, it is always up for interpretation:
-It can be seen as a story of an astronaut that has become lost, far from home and can no longer see any hope in human race. Feeling estranged not wanting to return home, he decides to get lost in eternal space.
-Or you can see it as a big metaphor for some serious hard drug use (it WAS 1969, and this is Bowie we are talking about.. just saying...).

His history of drug use reads like a primer on debauchery. Bowie has been quoted saying "It left me with emotional damage. My mind is like Swiss cheese. There are unbelievable holes in my memory" from substance abuse, and explained that he "can't remember, for instance, any of 1975." When his buddy, fellow rocker Iggy Pop was in a psychiatric hospital in 1975, Bowie and actor Dennis Hopper smuggled drugs inside. Bowie later recalled: "We thought we should bring him some drugs, because he probably hadn't had any for days."
His Heroin and Cocaine use were legendary in the 70's. At one point Bowie admitted that during a portion of 1974 he survived on a diet of Red Peppers, Cocaine and Milk. During this peak of his drug taking the 5'10" rock star weighed a meager 95 lbs.

His fame really started taking off with the release of the incredible album 'Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars'. The Ziggy Stardust character became the basis for Bowie's first large-scale tour beginning in 1972, where he donned his famous flaming red mullet and wild outfits. The tour featured a three-piece band representing The Spiders from Mars: Mick Ronson on guitar,Trevor Bolder on bass, and Woody Woodmansey on drums. (Had to show Ziggy Stardust Bowie... its classic).

This was Bowie’s first tour to visit the US, making his first appearance on 22 September 1972 at Music Hall in Cleavland Ohio. The album made number five in the UK on the strength of the number ten placing of the single 'Starman'. Their success made Bowie a star, and soon the six-month-old 'Hunky Dory' eclipsed 'Ziggy Stardust'.

The Facts:

-The David Bowie Discography is comprised of 25 studio albums, 8 live albums and 45 compilation albums and sets.
-Many different incarnations including: Ziggy Stardust; Aladdin Sane, Halloween Jack, The Thin White Duke and even as Jared the Goblin King!
-All Hail Sir Bowie! (Sir David was knighted in 2003)
-Rocking on. David was inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in 1996.
-ApresentaĆ§Ć£o Sr. Bowie! (in 2005, Brazilian musician Seu Jorje did the soundtrack for the Wes Anderson film "The Life Aquatic" which featured a soundtrack of Bowie covers in Portuguese!
-My orange tabby cat is named 'David Bowie'

My Fave Album

-My fave album would have to be 'Ziggy Stardust'
The album presents, albeit vaguely, the story of "Ziggy Stardust," the human manifestation of an alien being who is attempting to present humanity with a message of hope in the last five years of its existence. Ziggy Stardust is the definitive rock star: sexually promiscuous, wild in drug intake and with a message, ultimately, of peace and love; but he is destroyed both by his own excesses of drugs and sex, and by the fans he inspired. Its a terrific work and well worth checking out if you haven't already

Thanks for reading folks!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

#6 Canada's House Band, The Tragically Hip

In Canada we pride ourselves on our distinctiveness and our unique identity in regards to the rest of this world. Canada has Maple Syrup, Tuques, Kraft Dinner, Canadian Beer, and the Tragically Hip.

Growing up in Canada over the last twenty years, you tend to develop a soft spot for these five small town boys from Kingston, Ontario. If Canada was like its joking stereotype with one small city and the rest of the country just open land and scattered farms and igloo's, then when all of us Canadians gathered each Friday night in downtown Canada to have some fun at the bar drinking our Canuck beer, The Tragically Hip would be the house band that would take the stage in between periods of the Hockey game.

Getting their name from the 1981 movie 'Elephant Parts' starring Michael Nesmith (of the Monkies), 'The Hip' as they are more affectionatley referred to, all attended the same high school together but didn't officially form the band until 1983. The band got their start touring the demanding southern Ontario club circuit and became a favourite on this scene very quickly playing mostly cover tunes with a few originals thrown in that sounded like covers. They consist of: Gordon Downie (lead vocals and guitar), Paul Langlois (guitar and vocals), Rob Baker (guitar), Gord Sinclair (bass guitar and vocals), and Johnny Fay (drums). Gordon Downie supplies the fantastic lyrics that have made The Hip legendary across Canada.

The songs they have created speak of what it is to be Canadian, with influences from Canadian folk legends, historical moments, hockey, and almost every other aspect of our culture. Downie's writing of such myths and stories about life in small town Canada have helped build that image that is known from Vancouver to St. Johns. We all feel like the Hip are 'Our Band' in a way. The music of the Hip is very distinctively Canadian, which may be a reason why they have never really seemed to catch on south of the border, but is also the reason that Canadians have stood by them for so long. We can all see ourselves in it. They are singing about Our culture and they are doing it with intelligence and eloquence with an introspective feel that we can all appreciate.

The Hip soon became known for their energetic and often very improvisational live performances. Downie often strays from the song lyrics to rant to the audience or wander off into fictitious monologues and lunatic conversations about the microphone stand or the crowd itself as if the whole audience were a friend or lover or child. His maddening fits that sometimes include hacking and bashing the microphone stand to pieces are perfectly contrasted by the fact that the band keeps up with him and anticipates his apparent lunacy without missing the beat for a second and then merging back into the song perfectly with him down the line. A live Hip show is really something to see. You can see the visible stress making him sweat buckets and turn his face a fiery red as if he were about to explode from the power of the music. Rob Baker shreds that guitar with fiery intensity, seldom smiling, and completely focussed on his instrument. The man is a real pro, it's really impressive how his guitar licks are so integral to the songs but not up front taking away from the other instrumentation. The fact that they have known each other since childhood is easily visible on stage, and the audience can clearly see that these 5 guys love playing music together, which is really cool after almost 30 years together and counting. Their latest album released in April of '09 entitled 'We Are The Same' debuted at #1 on the Canadian Music charts. I hope we continue to see and hear the Hip for a long time to come because when it gets right down to it, when your having a few beers at the bar watching the hockey game, you gotta have some hip thrown in to top off the night.

The Facts:

-They also hold the record for most number one albums on the Canadian Albums Chart with a total of eight reaching the pole position.
-Over 14 Juno Awards between 1990 and 2009
-Twelve Studio Albums and a Live Album since 1987
-Fantastic party music, goes great with beer.

My Fave Album:

While I have to admit I really dig most of their discography, one album definitely stands out for me. 'Phantom Power' released in 1998, is a totally dynamite album. From start to finish it blends that fantastic canadian party rock sound with softer folk songs rich with imagery. The whole thing feels like a really complete piece of music, not just a bunch of tracks thrown together for marketing purposes or contractual obligations. It won the Juno for best rock album and it's single 'Bobcaygeon' won single of the year. It is in my opinion one of their greatest works to date. Songs like 'Something On' and 'Poets' are catchy and have a great beat as well as fantastic pieces of writing from Downie. The band recorded the song 'Something On' while stuck in the studio during the infamous ice storm of 1998 that brought havoc to much of North-Eastern Ontario, Western Quebec and the North-Eastern United States. This had an effect on the lyrical creation within the song, such as:
:"Outside there's hectic action
The ice is covering the trees
And one of em's interconnecting,
With my Chevrolet Caprice."

'Bocaygeon', the single that won them the Juno that year, is a terrific song about love in small town Canada and the choices that we have to sometimes make in our lives. It is beautiful lyrically, and has simple yet wonderfully rich melodies that make it one of the most famous and best-loved songs the band has recorded.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

# 5 Horror stories meet Hard Rock with White Zombie

Alright, I know what you are about to say to me.

"Tosh, White Zombie is NOT rock!"

Well you are wrong my friends. White Zombie was founded in 1985 by writer, vocalist, and graphic artist, Rob Zombie. Back then White Zombie was riding the forefront of the new Post-Punk revival called Noise-Rock which had its roots as far back as the 1960's. Here is a quick intro into what exactly Noise Rock is defined as.

NOISE ROCK: This sub-genre which came to strength in the late 70's early 80's makes use of the traditional instrumentation and iconography of the rock that we know, but incorporates dissonance, wild feedback and extreme distortion and also frequently discards what is considered usual songwriting conventions. Noise Rock groups have a confrontational performance style which mirrors the aggression often found throughout their music. The roots of Noise Rock go back to bands like Hendrix, The Who, Neil Young, and the Velvet Underground.

White Zombie in particular was very heavily influenced by earlier Noise Rock bands such as the Butthole Surfers and Blag Flag. Their first studio album 'Soul Crusher' (1987) was loud, fast and full of angst. You can feel echoes of bands like MC5 in between the notes on this album and while it met with little commercial success it was given high praise by other musicians including Iggy Pop and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. Kurt Cobain praised this early period of White Zombie as one of the biggest influences of his career. This album was also the start of Rob using old horror 'b movie' sound clips in the tracks, which became a signature of White Zombie's sound in later albums. Interestingly, Rob chose to write songs that had no basis in real life unlike most musicians who write about themselves or their place in the world. Rob chose to write songs like horror movies or old spooky stories. It was all about creating a new experience in rock and roll. This love of creation poured out into everything else that Rob would do in his later career. He often did all the art included with their albums and would as time go by go more and more over board in terms of set design for their live shows. I remember seeing him solo as Rob Zombie, in Vancouver when he had first started out solo on the Hellbilly Deluxe tour, and still to this day I have never seen so much theatrics at a rock show. Huge twenty foot stilt monsters, strippers descending on ropes from the ceiling, him painted up like a Zombie monster cruising around the stage in a devil mobile go cart contraption. I remember thinking 'Now THIS is ROCK!' to myself in between explosions of fire balls that kept leaping up out of the stage front.

As time went by, White Zombie started moving further out into the realms beyond rock into Metal but they still kept experimental artistic influences, fusing their past into their future creating what would be known as Groove-Metal, or Funk Metal. Its great stuff and their is nothing in Rock or Metal quite like the rich Grooves and fast furious pace that are found in White Zombie. White Zombie was only active between 1985 and 1998 but in between released some of the most terrific and strange sounds ever to grace our ears. Songs with titles such as: "Die Zombie Die"; "Welcome to Planet Motherfucker"; "Super Charger Heaven"; and "El Phantasmo and the Chicken-Run Blast-O-Rama" are just a few of the examples of Rob's great songwriting ability. A great track from their early days is "Black Sunshine" that the band had Iggy Pop come into the studio to help out on (he does the fantastic intro). Unfortunatley in 1998 Rob dissolved the band in order to go solo as Rob Zombie although shortly after he released the epic work that was the fantastic album "Hellbilly Deluxe" which is one of my fave albums of all time. Pure story rock that is as fun as dressing up and going to a Halloween party full of psychedelic crazies.

The Facts:
-The band got its name from the Movie of the same name starring Bela Lugosi (1932)
-Only 2 mainstream albums in their 13 year timespan; La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1 (1992) and Astro-Creep: 2000 - Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head (1995) which was often just referred to as Astro-Creep 2000
-Rob drew the entire peyote scene in the movie 'Beavis and Butthead do America'

My Fave Album:

-It would have to be the Astro-Creep 2000. I have loved that album since I was 15 (and in my rebellious phase). There has never been a better way to rebel against your parents then to buy an album cover with zombie punks on it, not to mention track names like: 'Blood, Milk, and Sky'; 'I, Zombie'; 'Grease Paint and Monkey Brains'; and 'More Human Then Human'.
-It has some of my fave songs they ever did. 'More Human Then Human' and 'Super Charger Heaven' are some amazing tracks and the whole album is just a lot of fun. A great album to drive by or to throw on when you need to pump things up a bit. It may seem to some people like "Devil Music" but to anyone who is a grown up and has a rational mind White Zombie is just a lot of fun and no deep meaning, that's why Rob wrote it like that, its just like stories, it has no basis on life, in fact in real life Rob is quite soft spoken and is a vegetarian folks. Its the same as Alice Cooper or Black Sabbath. Its for a show, its to make music more then music. Its all about creating the experience.

Dig this track, and check for Iggy doing the intro.
-Taker easy folks thanks for reading.

Monday, January 25, 2010

#4 A Long Strange Trip with The Grateful Dead

Behold, the pioneers of psychedelic space cowboy jam-rock!

Seriously though, what could you possibly say to describe the Grateful Dead. They flawlessly combine rock with folk, country, bluegrass, blues, jazz, psychedelia, even a little reggae and they take it all and push it through the meat grinder and beam it out into space. Space is accurate because they really did take music where it had never been before. Their musical influences were so varying between them that their live shows often became monstrous jam sessions. Each of them adding different bits here and there like musical warlocks creating some vast brew to hypnotize their audience.

I won't even get into much of their history because to talk about the history of the dead you have to get into the entire 60's phenomenon that was San Francisco in the mid to late sixties. If you want to know more about them I suggest reading the book "Living with the Dead" by Rock Skully and David Dalton or the book Living With The Dead by Dennis McNally. Or you can always check out their wiki the Grateful Dead. The Dead were part of the force behind it all. Their early music (in the mid 1960s) was part of the process of establishing what 'Psychedelic' was, but theirs was essentially a 'street party' form of it. They developed their new sounds as a result of meeting Ken Kesey in Palo Alto and subsequently becoming the house band for the Acid Tests he staged. This 'Acid Rock' sound began to take shape and by the late 60's had fueled there journey to become the phenomenon that was and is The Grateful Dead.

I first got into the dead as an early teen, but gave up on them mostly because they seemed too country. But after growing up a bit and expanding my musical horizons, not to mention taking more then my share of psychedelics, I began to let go of my old musical prejudices with a little help from some older friends that were into the classics. I also read that book by Rock Skully about them and it was such an awesome story that I had to get into them more. One of the things I love about the Dead is that they can save your life. If you are having a bad time, suffering heart break, feeling alone, or even having a really bad drug trip, The Grateful Dead can quite literally save you. That's one of the reasons they have the sound they have. They learned to play this way at Kesey's Acid Tests and they would play to keep people from going insane, though they would often let you go a little crazy before bringing it all back home.

These guys can play anything and were guided for the majority of the last 40 years by Jerry Garcia, or as he was sometimes known, 'Papa Jerry'. Jerry was one of the greatest 'Gods of Rock' that there has ever been (Ranking 13 on Rolling Stones 100 Greatest Guitarist of all time).
Other reasons to dig the Dead include: They had two drummers playing at once; Terrific base lines that weave beautifully through the songs; some of the most beautiful and ranging vocal performance of songs giving lots of range depending on the mood of the track; Outstanding keyboard work that offers some of the best work I have ever heard in rock and roll; and ENOURMOUS instrumental solos that would often be improvisatory jam sessions live on stage that would sometimes go on for more then a half hour before launching back into the song like they had never left it.

The Facts:

-22 official albums between 1967 and 1990
-A lyricist you never saw. Robert Hunter wrote most of their lyrics often with help from Jerry or one of the others.
-One of the only bands so good they created their own sub-culture (see Dead Heads)
-FREE BOOTLEGS! go to ( I recommend the mid to late 70's thats my fave Dead era. This site is awesome and is testimony to the deadication of the fans

My Fave Album:

-It would have to be American Beauty (1970) which is also usually regarded as their studio masterpiece.
-It was their Fifth album, but really the one where they began exploring the folk rock sounds they had begun with 'Working Man's Dead' the year before.
-Stand out tracks for me include: Box of Rain (A beautiful song by Hunter and Lesh); Friend of the Devil (one of my all time favorite Grateful Dead songs); and Ripple (stunningly beautiful folk song infused with a touch of the glow of the 60's)

-Also, I have to mention for live albums, I really enjoy 'The Closing of Winterland' (1978) its a 3 set show that has some of my favorite versions of songs such as: Scarlet Begonias; Fire on the Mountain; and Playing in the Band.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

#3 Ladies and Gentlemen....... The Band

The world of rock has some of the craziest band names ever seen, but there was one band so infamous even at its inception that they decided on simply being known as 'THE BAND'.
The Band Consisted of Levon Helm (drums, mandolin, guitar, bass guitar, vocals); Robbie Robertson (guitar, piano, vocals); Richard Manuel (piano, harmonica, drums, saxophone, organ, vocals); Garth Hudson (organ, piano, clavinet, accordion, synthesizer, saxophone); and Rick Danko (bass guitar, violin, trombone, vocals).
Fusion is a word that describes them. The melting pot of all musical genres, the joining of American and Canadian musicians into musical harmony. Combining Old Country, Blues, and Early Rock sounds and mixing it all with a touch of Motown and adding their own brand new sounds to it, The Band got their start as backing bands for acts such as Ronnie Hawk, and later, Bob Dylan.

The Band were all extremely talented multi-instrumentalists often taking turns at the various positions on stage, but are definitely notable for being one of the first rock bands to have the drummer as the lead singer. Levon Helm the drummer of The Band, is what got me into their music. The only American in The Band, his Southern drawl and gruff country man voice adds perfect contrast to the rest of the groups vocals. This was relatively new to rock. Sure we had Ringo, but Levon takes singing lead while still drumming at a complex rhythm to a whole new level.
Critic Jon Carroll famously declared that Helm was "the only drummer who can make you cry."
Garth Hudson's mastery of the Lowrey Organ is one of the things that really gave The Band their sound. During that amazing organ intro to their hit 'Chest Fever' you can hear Hudson's primal mastery of his instrument. In each note, you can feel him reaching back to the ancient beginnings of music itself for inspiration. I have never heard anyone play the keys quite like Garth Hudson.
Robbie Robertson's fantastic guitar playing and knack for writing song lyrics full of ancient Americana and nostalgia is fully evident on tracks like 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' and 'The Weight'.
Rick Danko started playing music from the time he was six years old and it. By seventeen he had already been performing for five years and he managed to get himself booked as the opening act for the Hawks. Levon and Ronnie Hawkins were so impressed by young Danko that Hawkins asked him to be their new rhythm guitarist. Soon after, Hawkins fired his current bassist and told Danko to learn bass so he could be their bass player. His percussive, melodic bass-playing style became an integral part of the group's sound as they grew and left the Hawks to become The Band.
Richard Manuel was the wild man of the group and was troubled with alcohol-related problems and chronic substance abuse. This aside, his Ray Charles-like vocals and complex keyboard rhythms gave the group the final tough that they needed to become The Band.

I had heard of The Band throughout my early life but my parents never gave them the airplay that was in the early days mostly devoted to bands like The Beatles; The Wailers; The Who; Pink Floyd; and The Clash. There were always the radio hits like 'The Weight' and 'Chest Fever' but I never seemed to get into them. This was probably because in my youth they might have seemed "Too Country". I would suppose that I got into The Band via the Grateful Dead. As I learned to appreciate the Dead, I really learned to appreciate that side of rock that contains folk, country and bluegrass. Since getting into the Dead, I have gotten into the actual genres of Folk, and Old Country and Old Bluegrass.

A turning point for me with The Band was seeing them in performances on the dvd release of 'Festival Express' which was a tour of the Dead, Janis Joplin and The Band among many others, across Canada on a train in 1970 (Fantastic dvd by the way I highly recommend it.) My total devotion to The Band occurred when I watched the Film of their final concert from 1976 called "The Last Waltz" Directed by Martin Scorsese. If you are on the fence about The Band, please check out the Last Waltz, it will blow your mind how tight of a band they were.

The Facts:
-The Grooves... They've got them in abundance!
-A Tight, fantastic Five piece band. They play like they have telepathic communication
-In 1989 The Band were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall Of Fame
-Only 6 studio albums exist from their 8 years as "The Band" but a GREAT 6!
-A partially re-united Band participated in former Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters ' The Wall Live in Berlin concert in 1990 (sans Robertson and Manuel)

My Fave Album:

-"Music From Big Pink" A Classic album 5 stars in my book
-Highlights for me include "The Weight", and "I shall be Released" (co-written by Dylan)

#2 Pink Floyd

If there is one band that has as strong of an influence on rock and roll, it would have to be Pink Floyd. With their psychedelic mischief and experimentation with sound, Pink Floyd is an essential band to anyone’s collection.

In the early days, Pink Floyd didn’t start off as musicians. Roger Waters and Nick Mason started as architects and would form a band with fellow student Richard Wright. They tossed about many different names and followed the path most college/university bands follow.
It wasn’t until 1963 when Syd Barrett, Roger Waters childhood friend, moved to London and joined the band. At the time, the band was called The Tea Set. Barrett came up with the name The Pink Floyd Sound by combining the names of two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, after discovering another band called Tea Set.

From there, The Pink Floyd Sound continued its exploration with sound and visual stimulation while the psychedelic movement continued to grow around them. In March of 1967, the then named Pink Floyd, released their first single “Arnold Layne” In August of that same year, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was released. This marked the first album Pink Floyd released. Come 1968, Syd Barrett’s writing methods had become so convoluted that the rest of Pink Floyd had asked Syd’s Cambridge Tech colleague, David Gilmour, to officially replace Syd. After that, well as they say, the rest is history.

How Pink Floyd has influenced me:

Well seriously, how hasn’t this band influenced me and its other listeners. The amount of ingenuity in their sound and song structure has made a fair amount of their albums, let alone songs, timeless. From using an eight part track with Atom Heart Mother and various sounds, like the sound of clocks chiming in Time on The Dark Side of the Moon, there was just no end to the creative genius that was Pink Floyd.

Where I was lost was after Roger Waters had left the band. From there, sure some songs are worth listening to, but on the whole it was just never the same.

My Favorite Album:

Honestly, my favorite album would have to be Meddle. From the album cover, to just the creativity throughout the entire album, I thought this was one of their crowning achievements. Opening with One of These Days, which in my opinion, was one of their first songs to really mix in the ambience with their psychedelic rock in a perfectly orchestrated track, to San Tropez, to the epically long Echoes, this album just had it all.

In closing, there is just so much to say about how awesome Pink Floyd are and really, we haven’t even touched on either of their masterpieces. If you have something to add, drop us a line! We’d love to hear your comments. Until next time we meet.

- J-Bong

Tosho’s two cents:

I completely agree about the Floyd. Pink Floyd is one of the greatest music groups in history. One of my earliest memories of hearing them was being like 3 years old and sitting in my living room having my dad play me dark side of the moon All The Time! I love Pink Floyd so much I don’t even want to write more about them, just listen to them!!! WHATS NOT TO LOVE?

Tosho’s Favorite Album:

It has got to be Dark Side of the Moon, not to be a band wagon jumper, but because of the early childhood memories of it. I was lucky enough to see Roger Waters perform the entire DSOTM a few years ago, and it was the single greatest concert of my life. That being said, J-Bong is correct, Meddle is THE BOMB! You gotta love Meddle.

New Co-Author!

My good buddy and musical partner in crime J-Bong will be joining us on this musical adventure from now on! So expect even more posts my friends.

Friday, January 22, 2010

#1 In the Beginning, there were BEATLES

I doubt anyone could have even guessed that in July of 1957, the meeting of 16 year old John Lennon and 15 year old Paul McCartney would have the kind of explosive impact upon Music, and cultures around the world that would soon follow these two young lads. The Beatles officially formed in 1960 and soon became one of the most successful and critically acclaimed acts in the history of music. The group consisted of John Lennon (rhythm guitar, vocals), George Harrison (lead guitar, vocals), Paul McCartney (bass guitar, vocals) and Ringo Starr (drums, vocals).

Today, 50 years later, The Beatles remain one of the top selling acts in the world, almost 40 years after they disbanded. Their album "Beatles 1" features virtually every #1 single released in the UK and USA from 1962 to 1970. Despite being issued on the 30th anniversary of the band's breakup, it was their first compilation available on one CD. 1 was a critical success, and became a blockbuster phenomenon, the biggest selling album of the 2000s. They have been awarded 6 Diamond Albums, as well as 24 Multi Platinum Albums, 39 Platinum Albums and 45 Gold Albums in the United States alone. They have won an Oscar, 7 Grammys and have occupied the number one spot on the UK charts more then any other group in History. This doesn't mean everything however; we all know that the Jonas Brothers or Britany Spears can each sell a million records. And yet, they will never impact the world or affect us as deeply as the Beatles. As I sat here trying to decide what to write, I thought I would mention that if you go to google, and type "Why do we love the beatles so much?" you get back about 8,770,000 pages.

For me, I have always had the Beatles as a part of my life. I have deep childhood memories that I can't even remember clearly but I remember infant memories, sounds, smells, etc. Of those sounds, there often consisted the Fab Four. Their music touches my soul and I can often find a Beatles track to suit any mood I might be in. Their voices reach straight into me and their message of Love and Peace have always influenced who I am in this life. They broke up over a decade before I was born but to this day they are my favorites and still a big influence on my life. You can hear on each track how they are playing in near perfect unison. The awesome thing about the Beatles: they were each amazingly talented in their own right, yet they came together as one. Everyone who loves the Beatles generally has a favorite member and it totally divides people into camps, like being asked about your political leanings. Being asked "Are you a John guy or a Paul guy?" is no light question.
For myself, I'm definitely a Lennon fan but I love them all.

The Facts:

-If you haven't heard of them, you have most likely been living under a rock on the far side of the moon for the last 50 years.
-Genius songwriting both lyrically and instrumentally.
-4 reasons: John, George, Ringo and Paul
-They took popular music to a new untouched level (see Beatlemania)
-Bootlegs Galore! The Beatles may be one of the most heavily bootlegged bands of all time (almost every single session/home recording/interview/live track that ever was exists in bootleg form)

Fave Album:

"So Tosh, whats your fave album?"

I would usually say that I can't choose just one, but for this entry I will try. It's a tie between Rubber Soul and Revolver. George Harrison once said that he thought the two separate albums should have been a single double album, and that's kind of how I like to look at it too--they are really best thought of as part one and part two.

Rubber Soul (1965)

The Facts:

-The Beatles 6th album.
-Recorded in just under four weeks
- #5 on Rolling Stone Mag, "500 greatest albums of all time" list

I love this album, the pure mellow feel of acoustics and groove abound on this album. From Harrison's budding interest in the east (i.e: his Sitar playing on "Norwegian Wood") to Lennon's move from producing love songs to producing more philosophically orientated songs ("Nowhere Man" was one of the first of such, and a big classic), to McCartney showing a bit of his darker side (his reaction to the dissatisfaction in his relationship with his then girlfriend expressed in "I'm Looking Through You")
Not to mention the album has "In my life" which is usually regarded as one of the finest songs of the modern era. The entire album is golden from front to back, and always an enjoyable listen.

Revolver (1966)

The Facts:

-instantly went to number one and stayed there on the charts for 7 weeks.
-marked a more electric feel to their music.
-released shortly before their last tour.

The Beatles explode out of the gate on this album, firing out a scathing satire of "the man" with the infamous "Taxman" a great example of Harrison's budding songwriting talent.
"Eleanor Rigby" is one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs I have ever heard, and "Tomorrow Never Knows" is Lennon beginning to explore his psychedelic future, and shows his reading of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Revolver is often cited as one of the greatest albums of all time, and one of the most innovative for the Beatles. It heralded the end of their touring days and the beginning of their middle period, leading up to the massive album Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band

I could go on of course, every Beatles album holds more for me then the one before it, and the bootlegs would be a blog unto itself. Any comments are appreciated as always.
Thanks folks; stay tuned for the next blog in this series where we continue to explore the amazing gift that is music.

As they say:
'All you need is Love'


First Post Introduction : Welcome to Rock

Hi music fans,
These entries over the next year are going to be about my love of great music, and hopefully through my journey I will learn about more great music through some of you, and maybe I will get some of you turned onto some new music you haven't dug before. I think music is one of the most amazing things in the world and is a great example of the beautiful things humans are capable of! I will start off with my super faves, and work my way out from there, I will try to have weekly themes and update the blog every few days or so, with the goal of at least a few a week. Any suggestions for music are greatly appreciated. Thanks to any one who wants to join me on this journey.

ps, I wanna thank my mom and dad for having such great music taste and exposing me to the greats at such a young age. (they named me Tosh for Peter Tosh)