Tuesday, May 3, 2016

singer-songwriter-bandleader at the Hall of Fame

If you've spent any time here at Reason to Believe, then you know I love me some Bruce Springsteen. But this clip—and we'll see how long it stays up (I've got the under on three more days)—throws some stuff into stark relief.

The thing about Prince and Springsteen is that they were essentially doing the same job: they were both singer-songwriter-guitarist-bandleaders. So Prince was from the midwest and Bruce from New Jersey. And Prince was nearly a decade younger. But they were both voracious listeners with many, perhaps most, of the same touchstones in common. And they both praised each other publicly. Sure, their music tended to sound very different from each other's—with a few arguable exceptions (I've long been convinced "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" was not only the greatest song Springsteen never but should have covered but that it was Prince's nod to the Boss)—but then R.E.M. and the Replacements were both brilliant alternative rock bands in the early 80s and no one would have mistaken one for the other.

So the difference between how good at it Bruce was at the bandleading part of the gig (best in the world...except for one guy) and Prince was (#1 in the world) is amazing. 'cuz Springsteen was like an absolutely outstanding college basketball team going up against the Chicago Bulls during Michael Jordan's glory days. There's simply no competition, really. Springsteen was and is fantastic. Prince was simply on another level. I prefer Springsteen's writing, and his shows are spine-tingling. But Prince, man...

But speaking of his writing, this clip gives an idea, I think, of just how amazing he was: at his Hall induction, he didn't play "1999," "Little Red Corvette," "Purple Rain," "Raspberry Beret" or "Cream" or "Diamonds and Pearls" or "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" or, oh yes, "When Doves Cry." Because he only had room for three songs and there were so many others to choose from. I mean...what in the hell? Who had such a catalog that he could afford to not play "When Doves Cry," perhaps the single greatest single of the entire 1980s—a damn good decade for singles—or his signature song, "Purple Rain."

We shall not look upon his like again.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Even Flow

Eddie Vedder on Prince:
"People know him from the ways he looked, and the different ways he looked, and different things he said – a lot of incredible things to remember him by. But I gotta tell you, and you just saw some great guitar playing. Prince was probably the greatest guitar player we've ever seen."
A little overstated perhaps? Let's go to the tape:

Yeah, okay. I'm sold.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sometimes It Snows in April

Sometimes It Snows In April.mp3

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad
Sometimes I wish that life was never-ending
But all good things, they say, never last
All good things, they say, never last
And love...it isn't love until it's past

RIP Prince

I just...

...damn. Damn damn DAMN!

"Paint a perfect picture. Bring to life a vision in one's mind."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Trouble Boys

I am just about finished with Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements, Bob Mehr's exhaustively comprehensive account of the seminal Minneapolis band that some of us think, despite total lack of commercial success during their lifespan from 1981-91, may have been the greatest American band ever to live. Scott and I have written fairly extensively about our love for the Replacements, and in fact it was Scott who first introduced me to the band. The bastard.

For someone like me whose love of the band cannot truly be expressed in words, I honestly never want the bio to end. Because I know we'll likely never see something this expansive written about the Replacements ever again, and because once I'm done, it will be one more reminder that the band is done as well. And will have lived and died (and briefly reunited recently before going away again) without ever achieving the commercial success they so clearly deserved. Even though it was that very success that terrified them to the point of hitting the self-destruct button on their careers so often they practically wrote the instruction manual on how to do it.

The book is an exhilarating ride all the way through, at times hilarious, awe-inspiring, infuriating, mortifying and horrifically decadent. And sometimes all at once. Mehr's research and ability to actually get inside the troubled heads of Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, Chris Mars and the tragic Bob Stinson may be the most impressive thing about what he's done.

As I've been reading Trouble Boys it once more dawned on me why the Mats meant to so much to me and continue to be so embedded in my DNA, and why it's different than, say, listening to other favorites like Bruce Springsteen or R.E.M.

We listen to devotedly Bruce Springsteen to be inspired and moved, to believe in the glory of rock-n-roll as a force, though good times and bad, that keeps us moving towards something bigger.

We listen to R.E.M. because it makes us part of something, a club for people who are in on this amazing secret and even though we were never ever the cool ones, the fact that we are part of this club is the coolest thing of all.

But we listen to the Replacements not for coolness or glory, but because when we do, we finally get this sense that someone, somewhere out thereeven though they have no damn idea who the hell we aregets us.

Thanks for that, boys. You can color me impressed.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Psycho Killer

Apparently the band thought this version sounded too much like a novelty song. I...dunno. I would have said it was impossible to top the well-known version...but this...this is pretty unhinged—that cello is pretty damn demented—and I mean that in a good way.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

I Want to Talk to You

It seems like no matter how hard I try to keep up, I can't possibly—there's just too much music, and too much good music, coming out. Not that I'm complaining; it's a good thing.

And there are even more gaps when it comes to already released stuff. So there are so many artists like Elliott Murphy, whose names I've known for literally decades but just never found the time to actually listen to. And then you hear a song and you think, well, damn...this is pretty much perfect. (The fact that musically the writing sounds exactly like something Bruce Springsteen would have written for the Asbury Jukes in the late 70s, while in terms of its lyrics and instrumentation it's more like this century's Springsteen obviously doesn't hurt.)

Friday, April 1, 2016

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Watch the Sunrise

"I'm in love—what's that song? I'm in love with that song."

This. This is that song.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Against All Odds

You know, for all the fecal matter slung his way, even some of Phil Collins's most popular ballads were really kinda weird structurally and harmonically.

"Against All Odds," with its rising chord progression that methodically works its way through almost every chord in the key of A minor, skipping E minor only to return to it later, unexpectedly, after G major, and shifting the D minor chord to a D major chord for the chorus, is, well, weird. The lack of a bridge or solo, the ever shifting lyrics, which reuse lines but rarely exactly...it really does sound like what it was, a guy in pain playing just for himself in his empty house as way to try to ameliorate or at least work through his issues. It's just that, in this case, the guy in question turned into a major pop star and was able to rework some of his musical therapy sessions and turn them into massive worldwide hits. But the unusual elements and the pain remains.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

RIP Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Man. Christopher Hogwood, Claudio Abbado, Nikolaus Harnoncourt...it's been a tough decade for maestri. And, not to be grim or nothin', but I just discovered that my boy Herbert Blomstedt—maybe my all-time favorite conductor, which is a bit like preferring the Replacements to the Rolling Stones—was born two years before Harnoncourt, six years before Abbado, fourteen before Hogwood...

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Like a Rolling Stone

As I've written, I'm pretty lukewarm on David Bowie the cover artist, even as I remain fairly insane about David Bowie the artist.

But this is a pretty stellar version of a Bob Dylan song which hasn't had a whole lot of great versions by anyone other than the man himself. (Although, yes, there have been some.) It's hard not to think that Bowie's stint in the not very good but very rejuvenating Tin Machine had more than a little to do with how he tears into this, but it's also notable that he does a much better job with it than that band did with the Dylan cover "Maggie's Farm." How much of it is due to this being a much better song ("Maggie's Farm" is, to my ears, one of Dylan's three most overrated songs ever), and how much of it's due to how much better or at least simpatico (read: better) a match Mick Ronson was for The Thin White Duke than Reeves Gabrels remains open to debate.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pictures of Lily

I've liked very few of David Bowie's covers: he's one of those artists whose own identity is so strong and, conventional and actual wisdom somewhat to the contrary, so sui generis that his covers rarely rise to the level of the original, much less surpass.

I'm not going to say this surpasses the original, since you can't surpass perfection, but taking it in a dream pop direction was pretty brilliant, as it works both sonically and thematically.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Like a Rolling Stone

So I guess this has been a thing for ten years and I'm just now coming across it. In an effort to make up for lost time, I've listened to it on repeat for 5 hours now. And it's not getting old.

This is probably the finest cover of this great song I've ever heard—although that's actually kinda damning with faint praise, since I've heard a few good covers (Jimi Hendrix, Green Day), a couple okay (the Rolling Stones' version actually was better than I'd expected if still not exactly transcendent) and a bunch of terrible (John Mayer, sure, but David Gilmour?! What were you thinkin', man?), but few if any great. (Maybe Hendrix simply set the bar too high with "All Along the Watchtower," but I find his "Like a Rolling Stone" good—of course it is, it's Jimi—but far from great).

But the Drive-By Truckers make this their own without changing a damn thing. The finest southern rock band since the heyday of the Allman Bros and Lynyrd Skynrd, one listen makes it clear that they've heard the original hundreds of times. And like Dylan, they're fluent in rock, country and blues, as well as alternative. And the fact that each verse is sung by a different band member is sheer gold, bringing to mind the glory days of The Band, not inappropriately. Having the finest singer-songwriter of the past decade, Jason Isbell, taking a verse certainly doesn't hurt, but so good are the others that his doesn't even (especially) stand out (much); Patterson Hood's Henleyesque voice fits perfectly, and the addition of Shonna Tucker is always a welcome one, while Mike Cooley's country punk caps things off perfectly. And when they all shout the final chorus, it brings it all home in a way the song hasn't often since being played fuckin' loud at the semi-apocryphal Royal Albert Hall gig.

So how does it feel? Pretty sweet, actually.

(Also, the pumpfake of the snare shot at the beginning's pretty damn funny.)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Life on Mars?

Well, this choked me up more than I was expecting.