Saturday, September 14, 2013

Tim O’Brien And Darrell Scott: “Memories And Moments” (2013) CD Review

Last October Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott released We’re Usually A Lot Better Than This, a live album with tracks from concerts in 2005 and 2006. In my review of that release, I wrote, “This is a really good folk album, and these guys clearly need to do more recordings together.” Well, good news: They have a new album coming out this month.  Titled Memories And Moments, the new one is a studio album, and includes mostly originals, though with a few well-chosen covers and one very special guest.

I love this kind of intimate, even occasionally rough-sounding folk music. It feels like it was captured live on some porch somewhere rather than in any kind of sterile studio environment. It feels real, you know? This feels like these two excellent musicians are playing their hearts out just for the joy of it, and someone just happened to record it.

Both Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott are excellent musicians and songwriters. But they can also sing the hell out of a tune. Check out the chorus of “Brother Wind,” where their vocals sound so great and sweet together. And in “Angel’s Blue Eyes,” they sing, “Give me something to believe in/When this world turns dark and cold/Tell me sunlight’s shining somewhere.” 

“Time To Talk To Joseph”

The album opens with “Time To Talk To Joseph,” which has a great raw folk, bluegrass sound. The instrumental intro is wonderful, and I also dig the instrumental section toward the end. I also love how their voices work together – loosely, like just a bit off, which adds to the impromptu tone and feel of the tune, as opposed to being over-rehearsed. “Don’t you worry about me, darling/I’m coming back again/My spirit will be stronger from a power deep within.” “Time To Talk To Joseph” was written by Tim O’Brien.

“It All Comes Down To Love”

“It All Comes Down To Love” is one of my favorites. It opens with the line, “Well, the thing about a dead-end road, for a while it’s easy to follow.” Then: “Well, the thing about a love gone wrong, inside goes where outside once was/Here I sit with a bucket of songs that no one else will sing.” Nice, eh? There is something intimate about the sound of this one too, like they’re playing in your living room. Oh man, I have to imagine these guys would put on one hell of a good house concert. Again, I love the instrumental sections. There is a joy in their playing. And I dig this line: “The thing about a broken heart, the remedy is the same as the breaking.” After all, as the title tells us, “It all comes down to love.” This rings so true to me these days.

“Keep Your Dirty Lights On”

“Keep Your Dirty Lights On” begins with a bit of vocal play and guitar. “Oh, play that blue guitar, boy.” Then the lyrics begin a cappella before that great loose, bluesy guitar comes back in. This one has the feel of being a great old traditional tune, but was actually written by O’Brien and Scott, the only track on this release that they wrote together. This is a very cool tune, and is another of my favorites.

“Memories And Moments”

“Memories And Moments,” this CD’s title track, which was written by Scott, features some nice work on fiddle between verses. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I try so hard to be at peace/To still my mind, catch and release/From walking tall to on my knees/It’s these memories and moments.” There is a nice section where the lines are echoed. And I really like this line: “She hears the words he never said in her memories and moments.”

John Prine

This album includes a really wonderful, moving cover of John Prine’s “Paradise,” helped greatly of course by John Prine’s presence on vocals and guitar. The vocals sound perfect on this track. “Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking.” There is also some pretty work on fiddle, adding to the great sad tone of the song. (This song was originally on John Prine's 1971 self-titled debut album.)

Covers of George Jones and Hank Williams

There are two other covers on the album. The first is “Just One More,” by George Jones. It begins with Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott singing a cappella, their vocals blending gorgeously. “One more drink of wine/And if you’re still on my mind/One drink, just one more, and then another.” Oh yes, drinking to get a girl off your mind. It seems like it should work, but it never does.

The other cover, Hank Williams’ “Alone And Forsaken” also begins a cappella, and this track is really about the vocals, with the guitar coming in quietly beneath them. The guitar then gets louder, and this rendition has a great, understated raw power. Though it’s the vocals that mainly give this song its power, there is a nice instrumental section. This track is just beautiful.

“You Don’t Own Me”

“You Don’t Me” opens with the lines, “You don’t own me/I just let you treat me like you do.” Then: “Someday I’ll break away from you.” Yes, this is one of those great, twisted bluegrass relationships. And it makes for a great song, one of my favorites from this release. This one also has one of the best instrumental sections on this CD.

Memories And Moments ends with the pretty “On Life’s Other Side,” this one featuring piano. Their vocals rise high above the piano on the chorus. This song, and thus the album, ends with the lines, “We’ll walk with each other with nothing to hide/Every sorrow a memory on life’s other side.”

CD Track List

  1. Time To Talk To Joseph
  2. It All Comes Down To Love
  3. Keep Your Dirty Lights On
  4. Brother Wind
  5. Memories And Moments
  6. Paradise
  7. Just One More
  8. Fiddler Jones
  9. The Well
  10. Alone And Forsaken
  11. You Don’t Own Me
  12. Angel’s Blue Eyes
  13. Free Again
  14. On Life’s Other Side

Memories And Moments is scheduled to be released on September 17, 2013 on Full Skies Records.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Billy Bragg and Wayne Kramer at Amoeba, 9-5-13

Billy Bragg receives certificate from Mitch O'Farrell
Billy Bragg and Wayne Kramer founded Jail Guitar Doors, an organization which provides musical instruments to inmates. The organization was named after the song by The Clash, a song that actually mentions Wayne Kramer in its lyrics. Today at Amoeba in Hollywood they were given certificates by Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, honoring them for their work in that field.

The presentation started just after 11:30 a.m., with Councilman O'Farrell introducing them and speaking a bit about their work. He mentioned that online they’re labeled “left wing activists,” but he thinks of them as human rights activists. He read one of the certificates, then presented them, first to Wayne Kramer and then to Billy Bragg, both of whom then spoke. Billy Bragg said, “We understand as a musician that a guitar can help you, or any instrument can help you to momentarily transcend your surroundings.” This presentation ended at 11:49 p.m.

At precisely noon, Wayne Kramer took the stage and performed two songs solo on acoustic guitar. The first was that wonderful Merle Haggard tune, “Sing Me Back Home.” Years ago I heard an old recording of the Grateful Dead performing this song in the early 1970s, and it struck me as so sad and beautiful. And since then, this song has held a special place for me.

After that song Wayne talked a bit about The Clash, and how he found out they were MC5 fans (Wayne Kramer was a founding member of MC5). And then he played “Jail Guitar Doors.” It was great hearing a solo acoustic version of this song.

He then introduced Billy Bragg, and yielded the stage to him. Billy also played two songs, the first being a cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Both that and his second song are songs that he plays when he visits prisons. The second song was his own “I Keep The Faith.”

This short concert ended at approximately 12:25 p.m. Tomorrow night the two of them (along with Jackson Browne, Dave Alvin, Jill Sobule and others) will be performing a show at the Ford Theatre to benefit Jail Guitar Doors.

Wayne Kramer, Mitch O'Farrell and Bill Bragg
Wayne Kramer introduces "Sing Me Back Home"
Wayne Kramer sings "Jail Guitar Doors"
Billy Bragg sings "Redemption Song"
Billy Bragg sings "Redemption Song"
Wayne Kramer and Billy Bragg after the show

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

CBGB Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2013) CD Review

The film CBGB tells the tale of the famous New York club started by Hilly Kristal, portrayed by Alan Rickman. As you’d expect, there is a lot of music in the film. CBGB Original Motion Picture Soundtrack contains twenty tracks, including songs by Talking Heads, New York Dolls, The Velvet Underground, Dead Boys and Joey Ramone.

This collection includes some music that came before the club, like the excellent “Psychotic Reaction” by The Count Five. It also includes The Dictators’ cover of “California Sun,” with some lyrics certainly not in the original version. Most of these tracks were previously released. But this collection does include a new version of “Sunday Girl” by Blondie.

Talking Heads

Talking Heads is a band I really wish I’d seen in concert. They recorded so many fantastic songs, including “Life During Wartime,” originally on Fear Of Music, one of their best albums, and included as the opening track of this soundtrack. “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco/This ain’t no fooling around.” And then the second time those lines come around, CBGB is mentioned: “This ain’t the Mudd Club, or CBGB/I ain’t got time for that now.”


Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” Yes, this collection includes that loud, messy, completely wonderful rock tune, “Kick Out The Jams” by MC5.


“Careful” is a fun tune with a good groove by Television, one of the first bands to play at CBGB. “Your wine is just sour grapes/Pour me a glass anytime I'm not there/I don’t care/It doesn’t matter to me/I don’t care/I never think about it.”  This song was originally issued on the 1978 record Adventure.

“Blank Generation”

One of the CD’s best tracks is “Blank Generation” by Richard Hell & The Voidoids. This song still has so much power. “I belong to the blank generation/And I can take it or leave it each time/I belong to the (pause) generation.” The vocals come at you like a declaration. And then it has a kind of sweet ending. I love this song. It was the title track of a 1977 release.

Wayne County & The Electric Chairs

“Out Of Control” is a high-energy song by Wayne County (who would soon become Jayne County). It has a very simple, but effective chorus: “Out of control/Here we go/Out of control/Go, man, go.” And that’s part of the appeal – the loss of control, the embrace of chaos, of the moment. Here, and gone. These lines still speak to us. “Everything is out of control.”

“All For The Love Of Rock ‘N’ Roll”

“All For The Love Of Rock ‘N’ Roll” is a live track from Tuff Darts, originally on the album Live At CBGB's. It includes a spoken intro: “Coming to you from the Bowery, New York City. Welcome to CBGBs.” It starts, “I don’t care about the money/I ain’t seen none/And I don’t care about the women/’Cause I just need one.” This is certainly more firmly in the rock category than in the punk.

Dead Boys

Dead Boys play an important part in the film CBGB, and as a result they’re the only band to have two tracks on the soundtrack. The first is “Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth,” a fast-paced, somewhat wild rock number.

The second is “Sonic Reducer,” another wild, rocking track in which they start with the line, “I don’t need anyone.” The lyrics are sung angrily, defiantly. Both of these songs were originally included on the Dead Boys’ 1977 release, Young, Loud And Snotty.


“Sunday Girl” is the collection’s one new recording. And Debbie Harry still sounds fucking awesome. This is a cool track. The original version was included on Blondie's 1978 album Parallel Lines. It was also released as a single in UK, where it reached #1.

The Police

The Police enter the picture toward the end of the film, auditioning for a spot in the club with “Roxanne.” Of course, this would turn out to be one of their most well-known tunes. I hadn’t listened to this one in a long time, and it was great revisiting it. This is still a really strong track.

Hilly Kristal

The album ends with a song by Hilly Kristal himself, “Birds And The Bees.” This is a fun and somewhat silly tune. In the film, we’re also treated to a version of this song performed by Alan Rickman, and I wish that had been included too.

CD Track List

  1. Life During Wartime – Talking Heads
  2. Kick Out The Jams – MC5
  3. Chatterbox – New York Dolls
  4. Careful – Television
  5. Blank Generation – Richard Hell & The Voidoids
  6. Slow Death – Flamin’ Groovies
  7. I Can’t Stand It – The Velvet Underground
  8. Out Of Control – Wayne County & The Electric Chairs
  9. Psychotic Reaction – The Count Five
  10. All For The Love Of Rock ‘N’ Roll – Tuff Darts
  11. All By Myself – Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers
  12. California Sun – The Dictators
  13. Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth – Dead Boys
  14. I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up) – Joey Ramone
  15. Get Outta My Way – The Laughing Dogs
  16. Sunday Girl – Blondie
  17. I Wanna Be Your Dog – The Stooges
  18. Sonic Reducer – Dead Boys
  19. Roxanne – The Police
  20. Birds And The Bees – Hilly Kristal

CBGB Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is scheduled to be released on October 8, 2013 on Omnivore Recordings. It's being released on vinyl as well, as a double album (on translucent pink vinyl).

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Ski Lodge: “Big Heart” (2013) CD Review

Big Heart, the debut full-length CD from Ski Lodge has more than a bit of a 1980s flavor to its sound. Think Modern English or The Smiths. This is a very strong album, with not a single weak track. There are lots of good vibes, positive sounds, catchy rhythms, and beautiful vocals. And actually this CD features a great mix of dark and light tones. All songs are originals, written by Andrew Marr. An impressive debut album is made even more impressive by the fact that Marr plays nearly all the instruments on this release.

These songs are also interesting lyrically. In “Does It Bring You Down,” for example, Andrew Marr sings, “You think that you’re so hard/You act like you’ve got something to prove/Emotionally scarred/Nobody’s got it as bad as you/And now you’re saying you don’t want to be this way.” We all know someone like this, eh? In that song, he also sings, “You say that you’ve got faith/You look like you could use some more/Or maybe just a taste of everything you lost the night before.”

“Anything To Hurt You”

Big Heart opens with “Anything To Hurt You,” which boasts a great pop rhythm, with beautiful, moody vocals. And yes, it has a definite 1980s vibe, particularly in the instrumental sections. But the song is certainly no rehash of other, older material. It is vibrant and original. At the end, Andrew Marr sings, “I never wanted anything to hurt you/And it feels so good to know there’s nothing I can, nothing I can do.”


“Boy” is one of my favorites. Every time I listen to this song, it immediately makes me smile with that great, bright pop guitar intro. I’m so glad people are still writing songs like this. I’d love if this became a dominant strain in pop music again. Hell, if that happened, I could go back to listening to pop radio stations (something I haven’t been able to do since the mid-1980s). “Son, you’ve got much to learn/You’ve got much to learn/So read a book or maybe two.” This song was released as a single, as well as a music video.  Luke Top plays bass on this track.

“Big Heart”

At the beginning of “Big Heart,” the album’s title track, the guitar feels like a slowed down version of a 1960s riff. The vocals have a near-ethereal quality on this track. It’s a strange, slower tune, with a vulnerability. “Big heart, when will you fail me?

“I Always Thought” also has just a bit of a 1960s flavor.

“You Can’t Just Stop Being Cruel”

“You Can’t Just Stop Being Cruel” has an interesting combination of a moody atmosphere with a pop beat to get you dancing. I found myself moving to this song, only to then stop and be moved by it on a more emotional level. And then I’d be dancing again. “Tell me how you’ve come, how you’ve come so very far/And if you only saw what a train wreck you really are.”

“Dragging Me To Hell”

“Dragging Me To Hell” opens with the lines, “Don’t say that I haven’t been there for you in any ways/I cut myself just to make you happy/And you’ve been so condescending to me.” This is one of my favorites, and this is one that might get you dancing. I dig how the vocals at moments are really at the fore, over a good, simple, fun beat.

“Just To Be Like You”

“Just To Be Like You” is another beautiful pop gem with a good beat and wonderful vocals. It has a bright feel, even as Andrew Marr sings lines like, “Oh, just to be like you/Is all I ever wanted to be/Scared and uncommitted to the truth/That’s what I thought I should be.” This track was recorded with the full band, the only such track on this CD.  Tim McCoy is on drums; John Barinaga is on guitar; Jared O’Connell is on bass; and Kevin McMahon is on keys. There is a cool change in the second half of the song, with a catchy riff. (This was the first track to be released from this album.)

“I Can’t Tell”

“I Can’t Tell,” the album’s final track, begins with ethereal vocals, leading to the lead vocals, which also have an otherworldly quality about them, playing over piano. This song has quite a different feel from the other tracks. There really is something angelic about it. “Am I holding on for no reason, for no reason?” This is such an interesting track to leave us with, with its very sparse percussion and its last line of “I’ve given you everything.” The song then slowly fades out.

CD Track List

  1. Anything To Hurt You
  2. Boy
  3. Looking For A Change
  4. Big Heart
  5. You Can’t Just Stop Being Cruel
  6. Dragging Me To Hell
  7. I Always Thought
  8. Does It Bring You Down
  9. Just To Be Like You
  10. Down On This Southern Tip
  11. I Can’t Tell 

Big Heart was released on August 20, 2013 on Dovecote Records.

Note: I also posted this review on Pop Culture Beast.