Saturday, January 15, 2011

PS I Love You: "Facelove" from Meet Me at the Muster Station

Rocking band with a nice big guitar sound. Looks like their album came out in the fall, another one for the "should have heard this in 2010" files...

Video for "Facelove":

Website: PS I Love You Myspace

To order the disc: PS I Love You: Meet Me at the Muster Station

Friday, January 14, 2011

All Hail the Bar Band (and Casey Neill and the Norway Rats)

I like bar bands. 3-5 guys (though women are more than welcome in this club), guitar-oriented, chord-driven songs, heart on sleeve lyrics, scruffy appearance. They’ll play anytime and anywhere, but are most comfortable in a great neighborhood bar.

They make no secret of their influences and more likely than not, Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Berry, The MC5 and The Clash are among them. They like to throw in a few cover songs and those are heartfelt and rarely “ironic”. They take their rock’n’roll history seriously, but their shows are loose affairs with a sense of humor often on display.

The guy who writes the songs usually reads a lot of novels and is an intelligent guy, though an unpretentious type who keeps his smarts a bit under wraps.

Their shows are fun and quite a bit more unpredictable than the suggested orthodoxy above might suggest.

The best of these bands stick around for many years, play out live a lot, and at some point seem on the verge of some break that does not happen. They toil along as a local band that gets taken for granted but has an intensely loyal, albeit small following. The local press often ignores them because they aren’t cool enough or even mildly weird. They don’t get picked to play in the [your region here] equivalent of SXSW but that doesn’t bother them.

Sometimes they drink too much but they are often that much more enjoyable when they do.

A few bar bands actually make it, notably the Faces, whose Five Guys Walk in a Bar box set may be the blueprint for this genre, a must own rock’n’roll bonanza. Or they develop into something quite a bit more serious and become arena or stadium rock heroes, moving on from their rootsier more basic bar band period – The Beatles, The Stones being notable examples. A few have been in the right place at the right time or had a novelty hit that got them on the radio – The J Geils Band, the Georgia Satellites. And NRBQ and Los Lobos turned it into such an art form that they developed a devoted cult following, big enough to allow them to tour the country for decades.

Everywhere I’ve lived, I have become one of those loyal fans who gets out to see his favorite bar band often, never tiring of their thing. In the 1980s in Chicago it was The Slugs. In the Chapel Hill-Raleigh area in the 1990s it was the Woods (who wrote “Battleship Chains”, which the Georgia Satellites had a minor hit with). And in Portland OR, home right now, I take every chance I can to see Casey Neill and the Norway Rats.

Casey is a terrific songwriter, and if you don’t believe me, ask Steve Earle who is a big fan. Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5, R.E.M) are frequent attendees at Casey’s shows here. When Casey cranked out a blistering version of Springsteen’s “Prove It All Night” for a recent encore, John Wesley Harding, in Portland making a record with Buck and McCaughey, got so excited he jumped on stage to grab the mic and share the vocal.

And Portland being home now to seemingly every indie rock musician in the US (at least those not living in Brooklyn) has allowed Casey to put together a first rate band, The Norway Rats, a bit of a revolving outfit depending on the tour schedules of ace sometimes members - guitarist Chet Lyster (Eels, Lucinda Williams) and accordian/keyboardist Jenny Conlee (The Decemberists). A first rate local singer-songwriter in her own right, Little Sue, sings backup.

And unlike some bar bands, Casey Neill and the Norway Rats make great records. His new one Goodbye to the Rank and File (how’s that for a bar band album title?) is especially good. It rocks (“This Year Was A Blur”), has passionate mid tempo songs (“Al Summer Glory”), and a great cover, Husker Du’s “She Floated Away”, which features just a hint of the traditional Irish sound that makes its way into Casey’s music by way of the Pogues and the Undertones. Casey’s previous record Brooklyn Bridge was also stellar, a love letter to rough and tumble old New York and Casey’s recent stint living in the Bowery.

Casey does tour a bit and if he hits your town, you shouldn’t miss him. Meanwhile, go see your town’s bar band. Toast them when they bust out a great cover. And post something about them here or some other blog.

And always generously tip your bartenders.


By: Jim Desmond (like the founder of this fine blog, a true believer in rock’n’roll and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. I appreciate John asking me to write here. I too once lived in Nashville, 1978-81. And my favorite bar band there was Tim Krekel and the Sluggers.).

Some more old stuff, and some really old stuff.

Cassius Clay was hated
More than Sonny Liston
Some like K.K. Downing
More than Glenn Tipton
Some like Jim Nabors
Some Bobby Vinton
I like 'em all.

* * *

But I especially like K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton. I can't remember whether I was watching Bert Sugarman's Midnight Special or Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, but it was past my bedtime in 1979 when I saw Rob Halford drive a Harley Davidson out onto the stage as Judas Priest pounded out "Hell Bent for Leather". To the extent it's possible, my tastes back then -- I was not yet old enough to drive to the record store -- were more pedestrian than they are today, although I was not as self-consciously proud of my vulgar leanings then. Judas Priest would have played that song -- with Glenn and K.K. trading leads, as was their practice -- and the show would have cut to commercial. I was transfixed by the spectacle to the point that I can't remember who played next. Probably Christopher Cross or the Atlanta Rhythm Section or some such. Maybe it was something good though. There was a lot of great music that came out that year. 'The Wall' was everywhere, and all the cool people were listening to 'London Calling' (I knew one Clash song then). The Police and Joe Jackson were actually becoming famous. But 1979 saw some classic albums by less famous bands like The Specials, Joy Division, and Gang of Four. It would be some years before I'd ever hear of these people. Johnny Rotten already had formed a new band. Cheap Trick did their Budokan record.

For me, though, 1979 happened when Judas Priest came back for their second song, 'Green Manalishi'. To me, it was, and in many ways remains, pure heavy metal. And I don't even know what the hell a manalishi is. Oh, and to the extent you don't know, K.K. Downing is the one who looks like David St. Hubbins.

It would be decades before I came to know that this song, with such ridiculously awesome lyrics like "the night is so black that the darkness cooks", was a freaking cover! Of a Fleetwood Mac song! It was from the Peter Green version of the band, and is just a phenomenal piece of psychedelia. I found a beautifully stretched out version of it, which is below.

I love it when bands cover other bands' songs, especially, as here, where they respectfully rearrange a great song and then play it like they mean it.

Anyway, Judas Priest was a true music milepost for me. And it ended up being the only brush I had with parental censorship. A year or so later, I asked my mom to take me to the mall so I could go to the Record Bar and buy a new album. She waited in the car while I ran in, and in a couple of minutes I came out with my copy of "British Steel". My mom looked sourly at the hand with the razor blade emblazoned with "JUDAS PRIEST".

"What is that? Some sort of devil worshiper music?"

"No maam."

Gregg Allman: Low Country Blues (NPR First Listen)

I've been looking forward to this for a while... and it does not disappoint. Favorite so far, "Devil Got My Woman", a Skip James song from 1931. That's one of the more ethereal tracks here, but the more rocking stuff is great too... track 2, "Little By Little", is a great blues song in the ABB tradition.

They'll have it streaming on NPR's All Songs Considered until January 18, when the disc will be available for purchase. Highly recommended.

Link: Gregg Allman: Low Country Blues (NPR First Listen)

Here's Jim Fusili's WSJ article about the making of this album:

Allman's Latest Blues Were a Source of Hope

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Old stuff Friday: Saxophone Edition

I love the sound of guitars -- electric guitars, acoustic guitars, bass guitars. But sometimes the sound of a saxophone makes rock music special. Here are a few old bands that did it well. Some artists used the sax just once, or sparingly: Lou Reed's iconic Walk on the Wild Side, for example. But my focus here is on bands in which the sax was a regular, even featured, instrument.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band made the sax a featured instrument, and its player, a celebrity. I was fortunate to see the gang kick off their Thunder Road tour, and springboard to national attention, at the Bottom Line in New York in the summer of '75.

Horns, particularly trombones, were part of the ska scene in Jamaica in the '60s, and were a part of the second wave ska revival in England in the late 70s and early '80s. But one group from Birmingham, The English Beat, made the sax part of its signature ska/pop sound. This first video appears to be from the Notting Hill Festival in London.

And here is their anti-Thatcher "Stand Down Margaret, which in concert often was fused with the old Prince Buster sex romp "Whine and Grine".

And finally, for one of the most innovative uses of the sax, Morphine. Mark Sandman, the visionary behind Morphine, decided that all riffs that normally could be played by a lead guitar could be played better, and "chunkier", by a sax. So he formed a three piece with himself on bass, and Dana Colley on sax. The music from Morphine ended in '99 when Sandman died of a heart attack on stage.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Sounds of Scotland: Bwani Junction, Astral Planes, Wake the President

For its size, Scotland has a very large music scene. The focal point is Glasgow, which has produced Orange Juice, Primal Scream, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Texas and, more recently, Snow Patrol, Franz Ferdinand, Frightened Rabbit, We Were Promised Jetpacks, The Twilight Sad, Glasvegas and others. But Edinburgh has a vibrant music scene as well.

The focus here is on bands unlikely to have had any airplay in the states, and may not even be signed to a label.

The first band is Bwani Junction, from Edinburgh. Yes, they are named after the old Hollywood movie of the same name. I'm not sure whether bands enjoy having bloggers comment on possible influences, or at least bands with similarities, but it inescapably comes with the territory. One potential touchstone is Vampire Weekend, but I submit that the boys could have just as well listened to West African 70s psych bands on their own. At times they also sound like a good Seattle band called Minus the Bear.

Website: Bwani Junction Myspace
Facebook: Bwani Junction Facebook

"Two Bridges" is my favorite of the Bwani Junction songs to which I've listened, but I like the others as well. Try out "Goodnight Grievo" and "Bianco" on the Myspace page. Their Facebook page has some videos.

At this point Bwani Junction isn't fully cooked, but it is a band with a lot of potential. I may try to kick someone at Sub Pop to give them a look.

The next band is a Glasgow band with a harder edge. They are now called the Astral Planes but when they recorded "Doris Day" (a single) for Say Dirty Records they were known as Paper Planes. Without researching in detail, I think it likely to be the only Glasgow rock band fronted by a woman from New Jersey.

Website: Astral Planes Myspace

The last band for this post is Wake The President. The lead singer/songwriter and lead guitarist are twin brothers, and they also founded and run a small label named Say Dirty Records in Glasgow. Their 2009 album, "You Can't Change That Boy", from which the first song below is taken, was one of my favorites of the year, and I still play it a couple of times a week.

Website: Wake the President Myspace

J Mascis: "Not Enough" from Several Shades of Why

New J Mascis acoustic disc due out this year. I'm excited about this, I have always liked his singing...

Link: J Mascis: Several Shades of Why at

Odd Box Records Blog Top 20 of 2010

Looks like a British DIY label, with a blog exploring all kinds of indie rock and other genres. Pretty interesting list, I think... here's the top 5:

01 Kid Canaveral – Shouting At Wildlife (Straight To Video)
02 Trash Kit – Trash Kit (Upset The Rhythm)
03 Super Wild Horses – Fifteen (Hozac)
04 Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky (Young God)
05 Betty and The Werewolves – Tea Time Favourites (Damaged Goods)

Don't recognize the labels, which tells me that these may not all be available in the US, or they may be 2009 or 2011 releases here, you know how that goes...

LINK: Odd Box Blog Top 20 of 2010

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lower Dens: "Holy Water" from Twin Hand Movement

It happens every year... in fact, this is why I peruse all those "Top 10" lists, to discover music I didn't become aware of during the year. Here's my first "2010 record I discovered in 2011" and it's really good. I never understand those misanthropes who say "It was a bad year for music"... it's never a bad year for music. There's so much good music, I have trouble finding it all!


Website: Lower Dens (follow the link to their myspace page for a few MP3's from the 2010 album)