Culturespill » 2008 » June

Everlast: Folsom Prison Blues

21st June

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At long last, we can now hear Everlast’s mash-up cover of Johnny Cash’s legendary “Folsom Prison Blues,” which is slated to appear on his long-delayed new album, Love, War, and the Ghost of Whitey Ford. The album’s currently on deck for a September 24 release–which means absolutely nothing, of course, because the album has been on deck for a release for months to no avail, pissing Everlast off to no end and infecting his fans with a brutal case of rumor-mill blues. And that’s no fun at all–just ask AC/DC fans.

Improbable as it may sound, it turns out that Johnny and hip-hop go damned well together. That’s hardly surprising–the man did pull off completely convincing covers of tunes by Danzig, Soundgarden and NIN before he died. Now Everlast’s cover of Johnny is powerful and inspired, bringing new life to the country anthem with a full-bodied production that verges on overkill but, ultimately, walks the line between tact and bombast with stirring restraint (BTW: we proudly accept the “Worst Pun of the Year” award–we’d like to thank the academy, our mothers, and every bad joke ever told.)

Now if only we could get this fucking album in our hands! Good grief, Erik–you made music with a group called La Cosa Nostra, for Christ’s sake. Give the bastards an offer they can’t refuse, will ya? Check out the “Folsom Prison” cover here. Enjoy!

Bob Dylan: Outtakes and Oversights

19th June

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Bob Dylan’s recording career is replete with tragic omissions that might have turned mediocre albums into masterpieces–and sometimes at the least likely points of his career. In a fit of indulgent self-pity amid his now-infamous period of artistic oblivion in the 1980s, Dylan willfully refused to release some of the greatest songs he ever recorded–songs that might have established the 1980s as one of the most peculiarly fertile moments in his creative life. Many Dylan dorks (myself included) know that he kept from the public such sublimities as “Blind Willie McTell and “Foot of Pride,” recorded during the sessions for 1983’s Infidels with Mark Knopfler on guitar. He similarly refused to allow the great “Series of Dreams” to be included on 1989’s Oh Mercy–despite producer Daniel Lanois’s impassioned arguments to the contrary–taking the attitude that one more Bob Dylan song really doesn’t matter much in the scheme of things, a callous indifference that lends credence to one of two possibilities: 1.) artists really aren’t great judges of their own work, or 2.) Dylan struggled mightily to overcome the deliberate destruction of his reputation that he began after becoming disgusted with his fame in the late 1960s, a disgust that produced Self Portrait in 1969, probably the most famous “fuck you” album ever made (right up there with Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music and Neil Young’s Everybody’s Rockin’).

It was a disgust that Dylan transformed into a concerted and enduring project of public self-destruction. In Chronicles, Vol. 1, Dylan describes going to such lengths as pouring bottles of liquor over his head and wandering around in public wreaking of alcohol to perpetuate the myth that he was little more than a hopeless and washed-up drunk, an artifact of a dead era to be swept under the unclean rug of American culture. In that fabulously written–if occasionally strange–memoir, we also watch Dylan wince on a car ride with Band guitarist R0obbie Robertson as Robbie asks Dylan where he will “take the whole scene,” never considering for a minute whether Dylan had any interest in being nominated Cultural Czar of the world–he clearly did not; and that, more than anything, is exactly the disdainful reluctance that contributed to so many mediocre albums Dylan produced in the wake of his creative renaissance in the 1960s. The music sucked because he wanted it to suck. He wanted to be left alone, and damaging his own reputation as persistently as he did with garbage like Down in the Groove offered him the most likely path to that desired infamy.

Throughout the book he recalls time and again a feeling that the world really did not need another Bob Dylan song, a conviction that made it rather difficult for him to turn what he called “pieces of songs” into the full-fledged comeback album they became in 1997: the brilliant Time out of Mind. Only when he saw fans thirty years his junior sing along to “Love Sick” and “Cold Irons Bound” did he realize that, yes, the world really did need more Bob Dylan songs. More to the point–the world craved them, helping Dylan rediscover an inspiration he’d left behind so long ago.

Some say that the Oh Mercy and Infidels omissions were ultimately of little consequence, because they were eventually released on the 3-disc Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 in 1991. That, of course, is totally beside the point: not only did the electric version of “Blind Willie” never see the light of day, but the withholding of these tracks kept two decent albums from ranking among his very finest at exactly the moment in his career when the world had damn-near left him for dead (and perhaps with good reason.) You only get one chance to make a masterpiece; many great bands fail to produce even one. But to hold one in your hands and send it down the trash-shoot is both inconceivable and tragic.


Bob Dylan: “Band of the Hand,” Band of the Hand (1986)

But the Infidels and Oh Mercy outtakes are merely the better-known instances of this sad pattern in Dylan’s creative life. Other work is scattered across bootlegs, obscure soundtracks and tribute albums–work which proves that, contrary to popular belief, Dylan was still operating on all cylinders in his creative dark ages from the late 1970s and through the 80s–he just didn’t want anyone to know that. Until Columbia Records decides to avail the world of these performances, a full understanding of why Dylan’s name is engraved in the American consciousness is impossible. Just listen to the work he recorded with the Traveling Wilburys–particularly “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”–and tell me he was washed up in the late 80s. To the contrary, the man remained in full possession of his faculties throughout that period, but he chose instead to take a torch to his reputation and stand by watching while it burned.

“Band of the Hand,” a track recorded for a forgotten movie of the same name from 1986, is a devastating tune produced by Tom Petty that Dylan recorded around his Knocked Out Loaded period–it is, predictably, a million times more powerful than anything that unfortunate album offers, and yet it only saw the light of day on the soundtrack to a film nobody remembers. His early-80s masterpiece, “Caribbean Wind” is, in its original form, quite simply one of the best songs the man ever put to tape. But he murdered it later on with Joan Baez and released that pathetic byproduct on Biograph after trying–and failing–to redo the song long after the fire that produced it had faded.

But perhaps no album more thoroughly illustrates this unfortunate mishandling of Dylan’s most inspired recordings than 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Dozens of tracks were recorded for the album, and while only a fraction made the cut and some of those songs went on to define his legacy (“Masters of War,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” or “Blowin’ in the Wind”) a score of absolutely devastating acoustic blues numbers–tracks that foreshadow an early and growing affinity for rock ‘n roll–was tossed to a scrap heap of genius that would grow over the decades. We’re proud to offer a few glimpses of those gems here. Check out these unreleased cuts from the Freewheelin’ sessions, material that Dylan’s label bafflingly allows to languish in the vaults while releasing one inconsequential live set after another (like the 1964 Halloween concert which, compared to the Freewheelin’ outtakes, is an utter bore.) Sadly, the only way to get your hands on this stuff is if you’re lucky enough to live near an indie record shop somewhere in a large city (like NYC) that carries bootlegs (also remember that ebay is your friend.) Click on any of the titles below to hear for yourself . . .

Hero Blues (includes a false start)

Goin’ Down to New Orleans

Witchita

Baby Please Don’t Go

Quit Your Lowdown Ways

That’s Alright Mama (with full band)

Watcha Gonna Do (includes a false start)

Mark Knopfler: 2008 Tour Dates

17th June

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If you ever expected Mark Knopfler to become as good a songwriter as he is a guitarist, you’re lying. Yet that’s exactly what’s happened. While we make the case for this in our flashback to 2002’s Ragpicker’s Dream, really anything the man has done since Dire Straits ran out of ideas and called it quits offers its generous share of brilliance–from Golden Heart’s scorching “Imelda” and “Don’t You Get it” to Sailing to Philadelphia’s anthemic “Your Baby Now” and, well, anything on Ragpicker’s Dream, Knopfler’s decision to make music for grownups has, for once, not translated into a bunch of boring bullshit. And if he’s mellowed on more recent records–the guy’s 58 years-old, give him a frickin’ break–the results are far more beautiful than bland. 2004’s Shangri-La–while packing some teeth with such rockier moments as “Boom, Like That“–was otherwise a devastating exhibition of restraint that culminated in the most gorgeous album of the man’s life. And if his latest, Kill to Get Crimson, suggests that Knopfler may finally be softening into the smoother sail of retirement, still he’s served up enough great music over three decades to put on a live show that promises to keep you wondering why you haven’t listened to this guy since he was singing about installing microwave ovens and color TVs. Check him out this summer–these shows may be the most guaranteed pleasures 2008’s summer tour season is offering . . .

Mark Knopfler: 2008 Tour Dates

June 24, 2008 Red Rocks Amphitheatre Morrison, CO Buy Now

June 25, 2008 Abravanel Hall Salt Lake City, UT Buy Now

June 26, 2008 The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas, NV Buy Now

June 27, 2008 Greek Theatre Los Angeles, CA Buy Now

June 28, 2008 The Greek Theatre Berkeley, CA Buy Now

June 29, 2008 Britt Pavilion Jacksonville, OR Buy Now

July 1, 2008 Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall Portland, OR Buy Now

July 2, 2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery Woodinville, WA Buy Now

July 3, 2008 Orpheum Theatre Vancouver, BC Buy Now

July 4, 2008 Prospera Place Kelowna, BC Buy Now

July 5, 2008 Jack Singer Concert Hall Calgary, AB Buy Now

July 7, 2008 Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium Edmonton, AB Buy Now

July 8, 2008 Sid Buckwold Theatre Saskatoon, SK Buy Now

July 9, 2008 Conexus Centre of the Arts Regina, SK Buy Now

July 11, 2008 Centennial Concert Hall Winnipeg, MB Buy Now

July 12, 2008 Orpheum Theatre Minneapolis, MN Buy Now

July 13, 2008 Chicago Theatre Chicago, IL Buy Now

July 15, 2008 Ryman Auditorium Nashville, TN Buy Now

July 16, 2008 Fraze Pavillion at Lincoln Park Center Kettering, OH Buy Now

July 17, 2008 Molson Amphitheatre Toronto, ON Buy Now

July 18, 2008 National Arts Centre Ottawa, ON Buy Now

July 19, 2008 Bank of America Pavilion Boston, MA Buy Now

July 20, 2008 Landmark Theatre Syracuse, NY Buy Now

July 22, 2008 The Filene Center Vienna, VA Buy Now

July 23, 2008 Rumsey Playfield New York, NY Buy Now

July 25, 2008 New Jersey Performing Arts Center (Prudential Hall) Newark, NJ Buy Now

July 26, 2008 Mann Center for the Performing Arts Philadelphia, PA Buy Now

July 27, 2008 Ovens Auditorium Charlotte, NC Buy Now

July 29, 2008 Chastain Park Amphitheatre Atlanta, GA Buy Now

July 31, 2008 Fillmore Miami Beach @ Jackie Gleason Miami Beach, FL Buy Now

Young Knives: Superabundance

15th June

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When Franz Ferdinand followed up their brilliant, eponymous debut with that frenzied and self-conscious clunker of a second album, You Could Have it So Much Better (how right they were), it seemed that we had another one-trick pony on our hands, that what glories they had brought us in 2004 were not the kind of thing that comes around every year–or every ten, for that matter. As much as I hate to describe one band by discussing another–comparisons do a lot more to confine bands than they do to illuminate them–Young Knives, a geek-rock outfit out of England that look and sound every bit as “Young” as their band name suggests, are both picking up the torch that Franz left behind and taking it to the places we expected them to go. If Ray Davies is correct in his theory that a band’s third album is really the one that shows you whether or not the kids are for real, then Superabundance, the third Young Knives album (if we’re counting their 2002 EP–and why not?), documents the arrival of a potentially great band.

Nothing on the band’s previous and comparatively straightforward releases foreshadowed what Superabundance serves up: an onslaught of excellent indie pop that’s not afraid to show a fang now and then with tougher tracks like “Up All Night” or “Terra Firma”–a kind of exceedingly English Hot Hot Heat–but only kind of. Speaking of “exceedingly English,” this is perhaps the most shamelessly English group since Syd Barrett was cutting tracks like “Astronomy Domine” with Pink Floyd–”Knives” is British for “Knaves,” for instance, which is exactly how they got their band name. These tweed-clad Brits made a rather auspicious entry onto the scene by declaring themselves “Dead” on their debut EP, The Young Knives . . . Are Dead. But they’re not, you see. Last year they were nominated for the really important-sounding “Nationwide Mercury Prize,” and now they’re giving geek rock a good name on tour in support of an album that debuted at the 28 spot on the UK Charts (you know, over where good music actually makes the charts–ah, the luxuries of being English!)


Young Knives: “Terra Firma,” Superabundance (2008)

I’m not sure what makes a “geek rock” band other than looking really geeky. For the most part, these guys look like a bunch of overdressed potato farmers from the Ukraine–which makes sense, since they’re featured delivering carts of produce to one another in the supremely weird video for “Terra Firma” as they shout “Fake rabbit! Real Snake!” (hopefully those items aren’t also on the menu.) Appearing in public only in tweed suits and coming from someplace called Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire probably doesn’t help much either.

But, geek or no geek, give the “Terra Firma” video above a little look if you doubt for a second the comparisons to Franz. The song is an incorrigible fit of post-punk revival sweetness that drives relentlessly through an adrenaline-overdrive of manic guitars laced over a backbone of disco that puts a lot into perspective: Why, for instance, a previous label of theirs was called “Shifty Disco,” or why an acoustic take on “Turn Tail,” one of several singles the album has spawned, was recorded directly to vinyl all in one take at London’s Westbourne Studios–something that hasn’t been done commercially since people like The Partridge Family could actually make a living in music. In other words, it’s been a long, long time.


Young Knives: “Turn Tail,” Superabundance (2008)

But that’s OK–like so many great young bands, Young Knives are looking back to find what worked rather than storming blindly ahead to repeat what hasn’t; and the results, despite a few baffling missteps along the way (the tossed-off and boring “Flies,” for instance, or the totally discordant “Back to Back”), are marvelous. While the Franz comparisons work, Superabundance is hardly some derivative replica of albums that have already been done. The string arrangements on “Turn Tail” elevate the song to a sublimity that has never factored into Franz’s play book–the song is an absolutely gorgeous and cleanly produced pop-rock masterpiece–no wonder it’s both the opener and one of the record’s several singles. Other tracks betray a kind of pop sensibility we might expect of Teenage Fanclub or Phoenix. The sum of all these parts is a band with their influences in check and a vision of their own to master–and it is our boundless fortune that we get to listen in as they try to do so.

The Spill on Young Knives’ Superabundance . . .

Pitchfork: “Comparable bands have toyed with similar tweaks, but what the Young Knives have going for them is a lower profile– even if it’s about the equal of the follow-ups from the Gang of Four gang of four (Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, Futureheads, Maximo Park), it’s more likely to be seen as a part of a journey as opposed to an endpoint after a fantastic debut . . . “

Drowned In Sound: “Despite intimations to the contrary, The Young Knives aren’t the humdrum bunch some people have them pegged as . . . “

Contact Music:Superabundance steals the show and proves to be an incredibly infectious and breath-taking album . . . “

Soundbites: “Their trademark post-punk-i-ness and sense of humor are still intact, but the new album finds more melodicism, and a strong psychedelic influence in some of it’s deeper cuts . . . “

Soundcheck Magazine: “Superabundance, the second full-length release from England’s Young Knives, is a surprisingly exciting album . . . “

The Guardian: “The follow-up to 2006’s Voices of Animals and Men is a slick collection of darkly sketched Britpop that combines in-jokes and jagged pop riffs . . . “

Mog: “Probably the most rewarding – and just generally well crafted – sophomore album from a British band in a very long time indeed . . . “

Music Remedy: “A muscular clatter of pulsing guitars, head-spinning percussive thuds, and harmonic, brotherly vocals provide the backbone to a rich throng of giddy, excited ideas and ageless, wry lyrical themes . . . ”