Wednesday, May 19, 2010

#40 Tom Waits May Be The Devil, But We Still Love Him

Tom Waits is one of those musicians who's work is instantly recognizable. Along with Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Tom has one of those voices that are totally unmistakable in that as soon as you hear the first words, you know it is him singing. In the case of Tom Waits, his voice sounds like it has been soaked in harsh whiskey for a few years and then beaten with a stick and left for dead hanging in a smoking house for another few years. That may not sound pleasant but it comes across as travelled and gives him this unique ability to convey these feelings of sorrow and remorse that no one else can quite manage to capture. While I sit here in my cabin listening to the rain fall on this foggy, Vancouver island afternoon, I have a collection of Waits' music on in the background and it fits perfectly. My vision of Tom is in a post apocalyptic world. The wars are finally over and humanity survives in isolated pockets and in one of them, high up in the mountains of the pacific north west, Tom waits sits behind a piano in a make shift saloon and he sings of the things that came before the end. His voice echoes the nostalgia of long ago and his words tell us of that love we have all lost and those memories of things that have passed us in the foggy clouds of time.

His first record captures this mood perfectly. 1973's 'Closing Time' is stripped down and soaked with emotion. The album is a man at the piano with minimal accompaniment, singing songs of loneliness and bitter sweet memories. The lyrics are proof in my opinion that Tom Waits is one of the Beat Poets born a few years too late. I have always thought his lyrics reminded me of the works of Kerouac and Burroughs. With lyrics such as in his song '
Martha' like:

"And those were the days of roses,
poetry and prose and Martha
all I had was you and all you had was me.
There was no tomorrows,
we'd packed away our sorrows
And we saved them for a rainy day."

This early period Tom Waits is very proto-rock with a heavy swing towards early Jazz and Folk music from ages long before he was born. His ability to capture that style is really quite amazing especially when you consider it was the mid 70's when he started releasing music. Since those humble beginnings, he has branched out into what can only be described as a totally new genre of music. It is part rock and roll, part blues and part folk-jazz. In the years since his voice has gotten more and more ancient sounding to the point of sounding like something beyond human. It is sort of what I would expect from the lips of some kind of ancient trickster or immortal soul who wanders the lands singing the tale of humanity to passers by. Check out his vocals in the fantastic track '
Get Behind the Mule' on his 1999 album 'Mule Variatons'. I have yet to see Tom Waits perform live and I really hope I get the chance especially after the live collection he just released from his last tour entitled 'Glitter and Doom'. He is such a fantastic musician both lyrically and instrumentally and the world of rock is richer for his contribution.

Enclosed is a selection of Tom's work throughout the years to give you a bit of a glimpse into his career.

#39 WTF is this??? Oh, it's Frank Zappa! Ok, carry on then.

In my years of being a hardcore rock and roll fan, I have never encountered anything as strange as the works of Frank Zappa. At first listen to many of his songs, your first impulse may be to turn it off as fast as you can hit the power button, or that being unavailable, to run screaming for the plug before you are assaulted further. This is a fairly normal response to the man who had posters printed for his fans featuring himself, buck naked, sitting on the toilet. If you have the courage to stick it out however, you will find the true Zappa underneath that initial horror. This voyage is not easy but I would equate it with sushi in the way that it is an acquired taste. If anything in rock was that way, it is Zappa.

In the mid sixties, Frank formed the group 'The Mothers of Invention' and released the d├ębut record 'Freak Out' which is rock and rolls first debut album that was also a double album. This record, as well as their next few releases, shocked the burgeoning underground of the sixties into an early sort of self recognition. If you were really into Zappa and the Mothers in the mid sixties then you were definitely one of the underground and you probably knew it. 'Freak Out' was this bizarre masterpiece of ironic pop art, and social commentary fused with rock and roll that somehow combined and worked really well. This grand mutation came to fruition through Zappa's unique avante-garde view of life in late twentieth century America.

Throughout his multi decade career, Zappa challenged the status quo on many fronts. Never afraid to hop up on the soap box and tell it like it was, he confronted the corrupt politics of the ruling class in America and held the banal and decadent lifestyles of his countrymen to totally unforgiving and unheard of amounts of scrutiny. He pioneered the artist-run independent record label, launching his Straight and Bizarre imprints back in 1969 and later founding the Zappa, DiscReet and Barking Pumpkin labels. In the Sixties, he mocked middle-class morality in tracks such as “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” (from Absolutely Free) and sang about the climate of racial inequality and discord on “Trouble Every Day” (from Freak Out). In the Seventies, he satirized everything in sight, including disco music (“Dancin’ Fool,” from Sheik Yerbouti) and new-age movements (“Cosmik Debris,” from Apostrophe). In the Eighties, he enjoyed his one and only Top Forty hit, “Valley Girl,” and took on the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), delivering memorable testimony about the First Amendment at a congressional hearing.

He has left us with such a staggering body of work that at the time of this article, there are a total of 87 albums to his credit and more are on the way, leaving him in the running for the title of most prolific rock musician of all time. With an unswerving conviction in his own rectitude, Zappa remained an often brilliant voice of dissent to the end of his career. When the music industry began branding albums with voluntary warnings about offensive content under pressure from the PMRC in the mid-Eighties, Zappa wrote a disclaimer of his own, which he stickered on his releases:

“WARNING! This album contains material which a truly free society would neither fear nor suppress. The language and concepts contained herein are guaranteed not to cause eternal torment in the place where the guy with the horns and pointed stick conducts his business. This guarantee is as real as the threats of the video fundamentalists who use attacks on rock music in their attempt to transform America into a nation of check-mailing nincompoops (in the name of Jesus Christ). If there is a hell, its fires wait for them, not us.”

To further his hatred of censorship, his estate released the posthumous album "Have I offended Someone?" which was a compilation record featuring some of Zappa's most notoriously offensive songs including "Catholic Girls", "Jewish Princess" and "He's So Gay".

All in all, Zappa is not for everyone but I think most people would have to admit that the sheer level of his talent is staggering and his imagination and ability to write in such a bizarre fashion are almost unbelievable, especially when you factor in that Frank was a staunch opponent of drugs and critic of anyone who even tried them. Clearly this was a man who didn't need to take drugs. Other people needed to take drugs to be more like Frank Zappa.

If you have the courage, try taking a spin through some choice Frank Zappa cuts that I have selected for your listening pleasure!
Enjoy all!!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

#38 On a Bridge to Nowhere with Sam Roberts

When I first Heard the mini album 'The Inhuman Condition' in 2000, I thought it sounded remarkably like a Canadian mash up between the 'Revolver Era' Beatles and Electric Era Dylan. It grabbed me and pulled me in with the memorable (sadly at this date WAY overplayed and slightly annoying) hooks and sounds of songs like Brother Down and Don't Walk Away Eileen.

In 2001, Roberts recorded and released a six-song EP, The Inhuman Condition, independently. The EP sold slowly at first, but following a re-release of the EP in the summer of 2002 on MapleMusic Recordings, his first single "Brother Down" became one of the biggest Canadian hits of the year, and the second single, "Don't Walk Away Eileen", followed suit in the fall. His popularity was really beginning to take off within Canada at this point. It was shortly after that Roberts was signed to Universal Music and released his full-length major label debut, We Were Born in a Flame, in June 2003. That album's singles, "Where Have All the Good People Gone?" and "Hard Road", received a large amount of success, though still mainly in Canada.

The band's second album, Chemical City, was released in Canada in April 2006. In Canada, the first single was "The Gate", which quickly shot to number one on Canadian rock radio. The second single in Canada was "Bridge to Nowhere". "With a Bullet", the third song used to promote the album on Canadian radio, received little attention and no video was made for it. In my opinion they should have made the track "The Resistance" the third single. It is my fave track off the album and one I still like to listen to today. (see playlist) I also really liked the track "An American draft dodger in Thunder Bay". It has great imagery and could have also been a pretty decent single.

Roberts' most recent album, Love at the End of the World, was released in May 2008. It debuted at the number one position on the Canadian album chart[2], a first for Roberts. It further amplifies his devotion to crafting good old school feeling Canuck Rock with lots of Beatles influence. One thing I really appreciated about this album was that he toned down the singles so it feels like more of a full album then his previous works. I heard he has his 4th album coming out later this year so I am interested to see what kind of direction he will be taking himself and his band since the last record.

Overall I am not GA GA over Sam Roberts but he is decent and some of his tracks I quite enjoy. I also have to admit his live shows are quite enjoyable I have seen him live 4 times and his shows are fun, high energy and he plays the songs with a lot more ferocity and passion then it seems he expresses on his albums. Worth checking out if you have never seen him live.

Here are some of my fave tracks by Sam over the last decade.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

#37 Happy Mothers Day, Here Is The Queen Of Rock, Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin was the queen of all Rock. She brought her powerful, bluesy voice all the way from Texas to San Francisco’s psychedelic rock scene, where she attained her success while changing the entire view of women in rock. She has been called “the greatest white urban blues and soul singer of all time.” Her vocal intensity proved a perfect match for the high-energy music of Big Brother and the Holding Company, resulting in a mix of blues, folk and psychedelic rock. Joplin’s tenure with Big Brother may have been brief, lasting only from 1966 to 1968, but it yielded a pair of albums that included the milestone Cheap Thrills. Moreover, her performance with Big Brother at 1967’s Monterey International Pop Festival, a highlight of the film documentary Monterey Pop, is among the great performances in rock history.

Joplin left Big Brother in December 1968, taking guitarist Sam Andrew with her. Her first solo album, I’ve Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, appeared in 1969, and she toured extensively with her Kozmic Blues Band. By mid-1970, however, she’d dissolved that outfit and formed a superb new one, Full-Tilt Boogie. They gelled over the course of several months of touring and entered the studio to record what would turn out to be Joplin’s swan song. Sadly, only a short time later on October 4, 1970 Janis passed away in her hotel room from a drug overdose, she was 27. The posthumously released Pearl(the title was her nickname), comprised nine finished tracks and one instrumental to which she was supposed to have added vocals on the day she died. It was prophetically titled “Buried Alive in the Blues.”

Janis Joplin has passed into the realm of legend: an outwardly brash yet inwardly vulnerable and troubled personality who possessed one of the most passionate voices in rock history. She remains today, one of my favourite singers of all time and every time I hear her sing it still gives me goosebumps. Of all female vocalists she is by far my fave. I LOVE Janis Joplin! She was flawed in many of the same ways that Lennon was and as someone with a savior complex I wish I could have rescued her and treated her right. She was a beautiful person and deserved the love that she was always seeking, yet destined never to find.

Here are some of my favourite songs for your enjoyment.
Happy Mothers Day!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Introducing The Belle Game

I first heard about this awesome local band on the new Vancouver radio station 104 The Shore FM the other day. The Belle Game first got together in the summer of 2009. Local Vancouver artist Adam Nanji and started hooking up with fellow musicians Andrea Lo and Alex Andrew. Adam had already released a studio EP the previous September. After jamming together and playing together at a few local gigs, the trio realized that their sound had the potential to evolve into something pretty spectacular.

Only a month after forming the band, the three of them decided that they would head into the studio and they proceeded to record a brilliant 4-song EP entitled “Inventing Letters”. They released the EP in the winter of 2009, and they quickly began to gain notice in the Vancouver area both from the EP and their local gigs.

Incredibly, since the summer of 2009, the band has been divided between Vancouver and Montreal because of post-secondary education locations. However, they have persevered through the difficulties of living on opposite sides of Canada and they have managed to gain a hold as wicked local bands in both cities.

Post "Inventing Letters", the band has also continually added more members to their family. In October of 2009, Adam met Katrina Jones, a talented singer/songwriter from Montreal, and when she joined the band, she brought a second beautifully distinct voice to the Belle Game. Since then, Adam met Cory Lipman, a talented drummer and actor, as well as Aaron Kahn, one of the best trumpeters in the McGill Music program, and Tim Beeler, who is now their brilliant bassist. Tim also plays in his own band called The Crown Vandals, and you can check them out here. Last, after going through a bunch of violinists, the Belle Game found a perfect fit: Aliza Thibodeau. Classically-trained, Aliza is everything the band was looking for in a violinist. These new members have all helped make The Belle Game what it is today – a family of musicians looking to play beautiful music for lovely people.