Sunday, September 30, 2007

Desert Island Discs

The “Best of…” list is a highly subjective exercise by some expert attempting to convince us that their list of favorite artists, songs or albums has merit beyond being a list of personal favorites. I say this because selection criteria is rarely included with the list. If I don't know what it takes to "make" the list then why should the list have more significance than being an amalgam of favorite songs/artists? If you said “Top 50 Albums Recorded in Non-Smoking Studios” or “The Best 25 Singles With Left Handed Drummers” at least I’d know what you were thinking about when you decided to put the list together.
Two lists that support my perspective of “Best of…” lists are from Rolling Stone magazine.
They asked a group of musicians, critics and writers to pick their favorite artists and guitarists respectively, but then they promote the list as the ultimate authority on great artists & guitarists. Dress it up however you'd like Rolling Stone, it's still a list of favorites! Any way, here are the lists
1. "The Immortals: The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time" Note: Prince and Nirvana above Eric Clapton and The Allman Brothers Band.
2. “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” Note: Jack White is way above Mark Knopfler, Dickie Betts and Steve Howe.
When it comes to “Best of… lists, most of us take exception with the list’s order of priority, what they omit and what they include. Maybe that’s what makes them entertaining, we all think we can do better. And since most of these lists are a group of someone’s favorites, why not make your own list?
There used to be a weekly music magazine, The Rocket, which was available at any Puget Sound record store. Every issue of The Rocket included reader submitted Desert Island Disc lists. The idea is you are stuck on a desert island and have to choose 10 discs to listen to. Please don't ask how you'd play the discs on a desert island. Maybe I'll be address that in a future column. Here’s my DID list alphabetical by artist.

The Allman Brothers – Fillmore Concerts. Eat A Peach used to hold this spot, but then they released the concerts as a set.

The Band – The Band. Most fans would pick Music From Big Pink, but then they'd be without the songs Rockin’ Chair and Unfaithful Servant.

The Beatles – Abbey Road. Trying to pick a favorite Beatles disc is like trying to pick a favorite appendage. How does one choose between such greats as The White Album, Revolver, Rubber Soul & Sgt. Pepper? For my money Abbey Road, the group’s final recording together, is their best work.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Four Way Street Four Way Street. A fantastic live recording by America’s first “super-group” (even though one was British and one was Canadian), has something for everyone. Acoustic love songs, electric jams and harmonies that will make you weep!

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue. I can listen to this disc non-stop for days, weeks at a time. Miles was a god.

Bob Dylan – Blood On the Tracks. While Dylan single-handedly changed popular music in less than five years, his greatest recording didn’t happen until his second decade as an artist, after he’d gone electric and returned to his roots.

The Grateful Dead – Europe '72. If I was limited to one band to listen to for the rest of my days it would be The Grateful Dead. Granted their live shows could be a gamble and they didn’t always have the greatest vocals (Brent Mydland?) but Europe ’72, even without Dark Star, is stellar.

Jimi Hendrix – Electriclady Land. My friend Merritt and I used to listen to this on his older sister’s quadraphonic 8-track.”I’m standing next to a mountain, chop it down with the edge of my hand,” need I say more?

Led Zeppelin – II & IV (tie). I feel a need to clarify the tie for Led Zeppelin II & IV. I couldn't choose between the two because "Stairway to Heaven" is Led Zeppelin's greatest composition as well as one of the greatest Rock songs of all time. I must admit, when I heard the opening arpeggios drifting up from my family room two years ago, as my son was learning the song on his Stratocaster, it brought a tear to my eye. However, Led Zeppelin II is full of great songs with thick rhythm guitar & juicy licks that most aspiring guitarists attempt to duplicate at one time or another. Didn't every 14 year-old boy from my generation want to be Jimmy Page?

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon. DSotM, one of the biggest selling albums of all time and a great soundtrack for Wizard of Oz.By the way, this title has been on my DID list since 7th grade.

Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle. The best thing The Boss ever did!!!

Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street. Jagger wants to remix it, Keith finally likes it and Allen Klein wishes he had a piece of it. Captured during their most creative period, it’s the finest example of the Rolling Stones sound.

Doc Watson – Memories. If Bill Monroe is the king of bluegrass then Doc is his ambassador. He’s responsible for bringing that sound to the masses.

You've probably noticed that I have more than 10 titles. In fact I have 14 titles. Hey it’s my list. You can choose 25 titles if you’d like. The point: When it comes to deciding your favorites, you are the expert. So go out and build your own DIDs and support your local music scene.
More to follow…

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Music Resources: Print & Digital

The Internet is overflowing with music resources. Heck, Seattle is home to a few hundred music blogs and everyone is an expert at what they like. So how do you wade through all that information and find something relevant and helpful? First of all, READ MY BLOG!!! Secondly, try a few of the publications listed below. These are the resources I use to help me select music for my library system and I would consider them to be authoritative on all things music. Nearly all have print versions to supplement their web content (or vice versa.)
For those of you keeping score at home I have institutional subscriptions to:
§ Billboard
§ Dirty Linen
§ Downbeat
§ InRadio
§ Spin
And I personally subscribe to:
§ Global Rhythm
§ No Depression
§ Paste
§ Rolling Stone
§ Seattle Sound

Of course I get The Stranger and The Seattle Weekly. You can't swing a cat around here without hitting one of their distribution boxes and they have great content for the local music scene.

Have fun, feel free to let me know what you like and please, give me a heads-up for any great resources that I’ve missed.

More to follow…

Magazines, Newspapers and Other Resources
Christian Science Monitor (all genres)
News, Pop-ups, Reviews, RSS feed,

New York Times (all genres)
Blog, News, Pop-ups, Reviews, RSS feed, New York venue calendar

Billboard (major labels, all genres)
Charts, News, Pop-ups, Reviews, RSS Feed

Entertainment Weekly (what’s hot, all genres),,,00.html
Charts, News, Reviews, RSS feed

The Stranger (major label and indie music, all genres)
Blog, News, Podcast, Reviews, RSS feed, Seattle venue calendar,

The Seattle Weekly (major label and indie music, all genres)
Blog, News, Podcast, Reviews, RSS feed, Seattle venue calendar,

Rolling Stone (major label and indie music, all genres, but leans heavily toward Rock)
Artist info, Blog, Listen to Music, News, Podcast, Reviews, RSS feed, Tour schedules

BBC Music Magazine (Classical, Opera & Jazz)
Artist Info, Concert Search, Reviews

Downbeat (Jazz)
Artist Info, News, Reviews

Gramophone (Classical & Opera)
Concert Search, News, Podcast, Reviews

Paste (major label and indie music, all genres, but leans toward Rock)
Blog, Free music sampler CD with every print edition, Listen to Music, News, Podcast, Reviews, RSS Feed

Seattle Sound (major label and indie music, all genres)
News, Reviews, Seattle venue calendar,

Spin (major label and indie music, leans heavily toward Alternative Rock)
Artist info, Blog, Listen to Music, News, Podcast, Reviews, RSS feed,

Country Music (major label C&W)
Artist info, Charts, News, Reviews

Dirty Linen (major labels + indies, leans toward Roots: Bluegrass, Blues, Country, Folk & Rockabilly)
News, Reviews, Tour Schedules

Global Rhythm (World)
Charts, Concert Search, Downloads, Free music CD with every print edition, News, Podcast, Reviews, RSS Feed

No Depression (Alternative C&W and Roots)
Blogs, Downloads, News, Reviews

Metacritic (what’s hot, all genres)

Pollstar (concert searches by artist, venue & city)
Concert Search, News, RSS Feed

Friday, September 14, 2007

Music on the World Wide Web

I listen to music nearly every waking moment. I have it on in the car when I’m driving, at work I listen all day to Jazz, Classical or World music through my headphones and at home I have a stereo turned on in my kitchen. I even installed speakers on the patio so I can listen to music while working in the backyard. What can I say? I love music.
Living in the age of technology offers many options for enjoying music via the Internet. With a click of the mouse we can be transported from our desktop to a smoky bar room or to an exotic land. The only downside about this is that there may be too many choices. Hopefully this passage will help.
For the sake of discussion I’ll group the Internet listening choices into a few categories: radio stations, performer websites, subscription services and general music sites.

Internet Radio
Many radio stations have live feed options, i.e., you can listen to the broadcast as it is taking place. Some stations have created an archive of past shows where you’re able to search for a particular topic or performance and listen to it.
My current favorites for streaming music are:
KEXP A listener supported, Seattle based radio station that put the independence back in music!!! You can: listen live to the broadcast, check out the playlists, read reviews for new releases, browse the archives to find an interview and in-studio performance with some great artists. Check out The Believers, Mark Kozelek or The Long Winters.
KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic with Nic Harcourt (author of Music Lust). From the site, “Morning Becomes Eclectic is committed to a music experience that celebrates innovation, creativity and diversity by combining progressive pop, world beat, jazz, African, reggae, classical and new music.” So you get a litle bit of everything. I like to go to the archive and scroll through old Morning Becomes Eclectic shows. I suggest listening to the following: Joe Henry, M.I.A. and Robbie Robertson.

Performer Websites
Websites maintained by the artist either on their own or through a social network site such as Myspace. This a great place to stay current with your favorite artist. You can hear new tracks, sample alternative takes, get free downloads not to mention staying on top of what’s happening: tour dates, current projects and general news. I used Myspace links in my last post. It was a great way to find out more about the bands I saw at Bumbershoot. And locating a band-maintained site is as easy as typing their name into Google and following the link.

Music By Subscription
There are many companies offering subscription services for music. I don’t subscribe to any so I choose not to speak to that option. However, there’s an excellent article from CNET which was written earlier this year.

General Internet
Mondomix is a great site to sample World Music, read reviews; find downloads and listens to three great music shows;
Archives of Charlie Gillett’s BBC world music radio show.
Ian Anderson’s recommendations from his monthly World Music magazine fRoots
Dori Stein’s Tangents
Note: Some of the links no longer work

Shoutcast allows you to listen to mainly, commercial free music by genre. It does require that you download Winamp media player which is pretty quick & painless with DSL or better. I find myself going to this option regularly during the work week. Where else can you hear Algerian Disco?

The result of The Music Genome Project, these folks have created an Internet radio station that builds playlists based on your input. You can search by song or artist and determine what you want to hear next by indicating what you like or don’t like.

Type in the name of an artist of band you like and LastFM will list and play similar artists. You can try it with tags (think genre) and listen to music that way.

More to follow…

PS. Thanks to Washington Representative Jay Inslee, for leading the charge to thwart the efforts of record company moguls to silence Internet Radio stations.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bumbershoot 2007 Day One

I recently spent three days at Bumbershoot, the Seattle based arts and music festival that occurs over Labor Day weekend. The event takes place on the 74 acres at Seattle Center and consists of seven music stages, three comedy stages, four performance stages, a film festival, an independent publishers’ exhibition as well as countless artisans peddling their wares, numerous street performers honing their craft and food vendors with a selection so ethnically diverse it’s like a trip around the globe. It is with bittersweet anticipation that I look forward to Bumbershoot each year. The conflict stems from the excitement of seeing many great performers in a small location over a short period of time for a reasonable price, but it is tempered by the fact that it signals an end to summer. In the immortal words of Robert Hunter, “Every silver lining has a touch of grey.”

Saturday: My wife and I arrive at the Mercer Street entrance courtesy of the Metro system and head straight to Horn of Africa for chicken, lentils and that wonderful, spongy, fermented bread. Over the previous few days I’ve scoured the Bumbershoot sections of the Seattle Weekly and The Stranger, two of Seattle’s weekly newspapers, and made notes on my schedule to determine which acts we should see. Once nourished we proceeded to the Wells Fargo Stage to see The Cave Singers (Seattle Weekly pick) an acoustic-based trio and veterans of Seattle bands (Pretty Girls Make Graves) who play some pretty nice stuff. Their sound leans toward folk but the stripped down arrangements have a somber, almost haunting tone. I imagine that this is what Woody Guthrie would sound like if he’d been exposed to punk, grunge, rock, seemingly endless precipitation and great coffee during his formative years. Invitation Songs, their release on Matador is scheduled to come out 25 Sept 07. I would recommend getting it. If you’d like to hear a few of their tracks you can check out their Myspace page.
After The Cave Singers we hustled through the crowd to the Mainstage to see The Shins (Seattle Weekly pick.) I know they are the most popular band to come out of the Pacific Northwest in recent years and they are quite talented, but my mood for the show was soured when Bumbershoot staff made me dump my water bottles out before entering Memorial Stadium because a full water bottle could be used as a projectile (I’m certain it had nothing to do with stadium vendors selling bottled water, evidently equipped with projectile-restricting technology, for $3 per half liter) and then shut down the line just as we were getting through the checkpoint. Inside the stadium was hot with nary a breath of air. We sought relief from the heat in the shaded seats on the side but the sound mix was muddled. We stayed for three songs and left.
We navigated toward the Starbucks Stage to see The Honey Dripper All Stars, a group of accomplished Rhythm & Blues musicians assembled for the new John Sayles film Honeydripper. These guys were tight! Great sound, great songs, great delivery, all in all an excellent show! I can’t wait for film. It’s due out this fall.
After that performance we worked our way into the Starbucks VIP area, in the cool, cool shade and sampled free lattes while we reassessed our game plan and poured over the pages of the Bumbershoot Official Program, The Seattle Weekly and The Stranger in an attempt to create a new itinerary. We decided to stay for The Avett Brothers, three young, good-looking musicians from North Carolina. The trio consists of upright bass, banjo & guitar with all three sharing vocals. At first I thought it was going to be a Bluegrass band but shortly in to the first song they started jumping and dancing and hootin' & hollerin'. It was more like Black & Bluegrass. I heard once festival-goer refer to the music as Punkgrass. Whatever it’s called I liked it, high energy deliveries of fun melodies. The Avett Brothers have several releases with Emotionalism being their latest CD. If you’d like to hear a few of their tracks you can check out their Myspace page.
We topped off our lattes and waited for The Gourds (Seattle Weekly pick), a group of shit-kickers from Austin with ten years of touring and 9 albums under their belt. Sadly, most folks only know them for a countrified cover of the Snoop Dogg song, Gin & Juice. However, The Gourds’ are a talented bunch of boys who have a lot of fun playing music. They have a wonderful stage presence, they’re relaxed with the audience and you can tell that they are really having as much fun playing as the audience is listening & watching. To top it off their songs are wonderful! If you’d like to hear a few of their tracks you can check out their Myspace page. Unfortunately we had to leave their set early to catch a boat and get back home to feed the dog.
More to follow...

Bumbershoot 2007 Day Two

Sunday: I entered at the Broad Street entrance with the big man and four, 13 year old girls whose sole mission was to see Fergie on the Mainstage at 9:45 PM. The show was nine hours away. We set the ground rules, designated a meeting place in case someone got cut from the herd and came up with a cell phone “check-in” schedule. I found out later in the day that the wireless mics used at every Bumbershoot stage interfered with my cell phone signal so I couldn’t talk or text when someone’s performing. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Once the big man and I were happy with the details, we proceeded to Horn of Africa for chicken, lentils and that wonderful, spongy, fermented bread. We sat on the grass in front of the Bagley Wright Theatre and reviewed our options for entertainment and planned our day.
First up was The Watson Twins (Seattle Weekly pick) at the Sound Transit Stage. The LA based girls, who are actual twins, caught the attention of some while working on Jenny Lewis’ (of Rilo Kiley fame) solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat. The sound mix was a little shaky to start, not the girls fault. The techies couldn’t get the vocals sorted out until the fourth song. It was worth the wait. The blend of the voices was as good as it gets. Their Folk-Rock style betrays their Kentucky roots by leaning a bit toward country. The sisters traded lead singing roles and swapped an acoustic guitar back and forth. They spoke of a CD coming out at the end of the year, but for those who can’t wait The Watson Twins EP Southern Manners is available now. Check out their appearance on Morning Becomes Eclectic.
After The Watson Twins we set a course for the Mainstage and the other end of the musical continuum to see Kings of Leon. The Kings are three sons of a preacher and their cousin playing their version of Southern Rock. I say their version because it definitely ain’t Skynyrd. It’s Southern Rock as Jimi Hendrix or Joe Strummer would have played it and it’s very good. The boys have a tight delivery, tasty licks, nice hooks and I’m sure they would be very loud at an indoor venue. The big man was impressed as indicated by his nearly imperceptible swaying to the beat. The Kings of Leon have several releases including their latest Because of the Times. If you’d like to hear a few of their tracks you can check out their Myspace page.
We left the Mainstage and returned to the Sound Transit Stage to hear Portland’s Stars of Track and Field (Stranger pick) excellent vocals over attractive melodies. The lads have talent. Unfortunately their sound seemed derivative. It lacked uniqueness. I really like bands who take a genre of music and make it their own. The Stars didn’t do it for me. Additionally, there was a similarity that was present in many of their tracks. Don’t get me wrong, what they do they do well, it’s just that there are so many others who’ve come before them who’ve done the same thing just as well. Sorry…I should say that the Stars have an EP and an LP available for purchase. The LP Centuries Before Love and War was released last winter. I encourage you to form your own opinion. Contempt without prior investigation is just plain wrong. Here’s the link to their Myspace page.
After the Stars the big man was feeling a bit subdued and needed something with more energy. I had no back-up plan on the itinerary so we started through the crowd for something else and ended up at the Starbucks Stage watching Rose Hill Drive, a Colorado Trio whose bass & guitar player looked like Greg & Duane Allman circa Fillmore East, sounded like a hybrid of early ZZ Top, AC-DC and Led Zeppelin. These guys rocked!!! We stayed for the entire set. Note: I went to their Myspace page and listened to some tracks. Reptilian was the track that most accurately captured the show witnessed by the big man and me. They have a self-titled release from 2006 and in the their Apr ’07 issue Rolling Stone magazine tapped Rose Hill Drive as one of ten artists to watch, which is exciting for the boys but I hope that’s not a kiss of death. If you’d like to hear a few of their tracks you can check out their Myspace page.
After Rose Hill Drive we had to rendezvous with the girls. We met them alongside the Esurance Stage partially because that’s the stage they were nearest to and partially because I wanted to hear Barrington Levy, a Jamaican artist who was big in the 80’s. Believe it or not the girls hadn’t seen a single music act all day and two of them wanted to get in line for the Fergie concert that was still four hours away. Through negotiation, compromise and outright manipulation we convinced the girls to wait for another hour before entering the Mainstage. The big man had to leave and attend to other matters so I was flying solo for the rest of the night with four teens who were talking about getting close to the stage and crowd surfing, just what a dad wants to hear from his daughter and her three friends. I bought strawberry shortcake and had the girls accompany me to catch the end of Barrington Levy’s performance. I don’t think they enjoyed it as much as I did.
At 7:15 we began the gauntlet into Memorial Stadium to see Sean Paul on the Mainstage. Once inside I admonished the girls on crowd behavior, imposed a strict no-surf rule and we designated another cut-from-the-herd meeting spot. Lastly, I showed the girls my location for the duration of the show. I sat on the comfy field turf reading Sound Magazine waiting for the show to begin.
Around 8:15 the lights dimmed, the musicians took the stage and laid down a bass & drum track and we waited. The MC came out and at the end of a three minute intro engaging the crowd and getting folks hyped up for Sean Paul, another MC came out and did the same thing. This happened a few more times and after 14 minutes, I actually timed it, Sean Paul finally appeared with four very scantily clad women who proceeded to gyrate and grind suggestively for the duration of the show, pole dancing without the pole. Sean Paul rapped on ad nauseam about sexy women. I’m trying to be open-minded here. I do like some rap and some hip-hop, but all of his music sounded the same and it wasn’t that good.
The girls returned at the end of Sean Paul sans one of the quartet. They complained of being squished, pushed, bumped as well as subjected to cigarette and pot smoke. They decided that the front of a big concert was not the place to be. We busied ourselves with the task of finding the missing member before Fergie took the stage. We had about 15 minutes. The girls circled back up to where they were during Sean Paul and then went to the designated rendezvous point. I stayed where I was. They found their missing compatriot with two minutes to spare and then plunked down on the field turf beside me for the Fergie show.
I have to say Fergie has talent. She sings well. Her stage show is nicely choreographed, her band is tight and even though she’s not my cup of tea her performance was good. She left the stage around 10:30 with a simple thanks thrown over her shoulder as she sauntered to the wings. She didn’t return for an encore for a full ten minutes. By that time the girls had had enough and we were on our way to the bus. More to follow...

Bumbershoot 2007 Day Three + Wrap Up

Monday: I entered at the Broad Street entrance solo. As on the previous two days, I proceeded directly to Horn of Africa for chicken, lentils and that wonderful, spongy, fermented bread. I walked back across the Center and found a great spot next the red tube sculpture for The Blakes (Seattle Weekly pick) at the Sound Transit Stage. I finished my food while they completed the sound check. Wow!!!! The Blakes were great!!! I loved this band. High energy, Rock N’ Roll with catchy melodies, infectious beats all delivered with a presence and confidence to match the most polished veterans. Their EP, Streets is available now via their Myspace site.
After The Blakes I decided to go free style and dabble. I had no one that I really had to see so I and followed the recommendations of The Weekly and The Stranger. For the next hour I split my time and sampled performances at two different stages.
I ended up at the Esurance Stage enjoying Kultur Shock (Weekly and Stranger pick.) Gino Yevdjevich, the lead singer, describes Kulture Shock as, “Balkan punk rock gypsy metal wedding-meets-riot music from Bulgaria, the US, Japan, and Bosnia. Six members, and no two of us really speak the same language” And I can’t think of a more accurate description. This was a fun performance to watch and not a single person in the crowd was standing still. Go to their Myspace page and sample some of their tracks.
I spent 40 minutes with Kulture Shock and then returned to the Sound Transit Stage to see Viva Voce (Weekly and Stranger pick), a Portland, OR-based, husband and wife duo. Basically Rock N’ Roll with drums & guitar reminiscent of The White Stripes (the drumming was better, but the guitar wasn’t.) They were OK, it’s just that with a guitar/drum duo there’s only so much you can do before you begin to sound repetitious. 30 minutes was enough. If you’d like to hear a few of their tracks you can check out their Myspace page.
I had every intention of staying to see Steve Earle at either the special ticket KEXP performance (enter 3 Sept 07, 5:26 PM on the KEXP website to hear Steve) or the show at 8:30 PM on the Starbucks Stage. I caught a few tunes by his wife, Allison Moorer, at the Starbucks Stage while transiting from venue to venue. Unfortunately I ran out of gas before Steve was scheduled to play. What can I say? I'm no longer 25. I wish I had a better excuse, but I don’t. I walked out the Broad Street Gate down the hill to SAMs Sculpture Park before heading south on Alaska Way.

The wrap up: Bumbershoot was great as usual and once again the best acts were not at the Mainstage. However, it was clear from this year’s line-up that I am not a member of the Festival's target demographic. Fortunately, my diverse taste in music combined with a willingness to venture into unknown territory allowed me to not only see some artists that I was already interested in, but I was able to enjoy some great musical discoveries.
I couldn't sleep nights if I didn’t mention a couple of things to the folks at One Reel, Bumbershoot’s producers. While I appreciate the effort that goes into producing an event like Bumbershoot I’d like to share my perspective as a veteran of nearly two decades worth of Bumbershoot:
1. Thanks for making it easy to get tickets. Basically, any Starbucks has them prior to and during the festival. That’s a great move on your part. Please don’t increase ticket prices any more. $35 per day plus $10 for food not to mention transportation costs, makes the minimum per day investment approximately $50. Some would say that’s cheap for a day of great art & music, but fifty bucks is fifty bucks. It’s expensive enough for a working man, but nearly unreachable for a teen with a part-time job and the teen to twenty-something bracket seemed to be your target demographic.
2. Telling me I can’t bring a water bottle into Memorial Stadium because it can be used as a projectile and then trying to sell me bottled water inside for $3.00 is disingenous, greedy and wrong. Please change that practice before Bumbershoot 2008.
3. The temporary barricades installed to contain concert-goers enroute to the Mainstage literally bisects Seattle Center in an east/west line and nearly stops the flow of north/south foot traffic. Please figure out a better way to get people in and out of Memorial Stadium.
4. Please work with Metro to increase the number of buses leaving Seattle Center, particularly around the time that the Festival closes for the day.