Saturday, August 23, 2008

Reviews From The Archive: Kathleen Edwards - Asking For Flowers

[Originally published on, August 2008.]

Kathleen Edwards- Asking For Flowers

Overlooked album of the year? Despite being released five months ago, Asking For Flowers remains in heavy rotation on my iPod, exposing fresh nuances with each listen. Canadian-bred Edwards mines the same bittersweet territory as Patty Griffin or Lucinda Williams, but she arguably bests both of their recent efforts with her third, career-making album. Moments both heart-rending (“Alicia Ross”) and boisterous (“The Cheapest Key”) fire on all cylinders, culminating in “Sure As S**t,” whose profanity-laced title disguises Flowers’ tenderest love song. Anyone with even a passing interest in the genre needs to check out Kathleen Edwards immediately: It’s hard to imagine a stronger female songwriter record dropping in 2008.

See the original review here... and order it through Manifest!

Hmmm... I hate hockey, but I kinda like this video. Discuss.

While not my favorite song off Asking For Flowers, this probably is the best introduction.
Check out the(coincidentally) opening track, "Buffalo."

And how much do I love a woman who covers AC/DC? Lots! This is a live version of "Moneytalks" from Kathleen's now out-of-print EP, Live From The Bowery Ballroom.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Reviews From The Archive: The Hold Steady - Stay Positive

[Originally published on, July 2008.]

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive

In a perfect world, The Hold Steady would have the mass-generational appeal of their musical forbears—Bruce Springsteen, Thin Lizzy—rather than a tiny niche audience of music critics and aging college-rock fans. Granted, Craig Finn is the definition of “workmanlike vocalist,” but his lyrical pen remains knife-sharp, crafting choruses (“I was a skeptic at first but these miracles work”) that explode like rallying cries. Behind him, Stay Positive finds the Steady’s mix of power chords and driving piano polished to a radio-friendly sheen, augmented with horns, harpsichord, and (most bizarrely) Frampton-worthy talk-box. That it works at all is a testament to the band’s ability to craft anthems (“Slapped Actress,” “Constructive Summer”) out of the mundane lives of street kids and petty criminals. Giddy on its own drunken mythology, Stay Positive has the multi-layered depth of the best rock classics—and still sounds fantastic pouring out of your car speakers.

See the original review here... and order it through Manifest!

So here's your crash course in The Hold Steady: Above is my first exposure to the band, AKA The Late Show With David Letterman performance of "Stuck Between Stations" from Boys & Girls In America.

Next is
"Two Handed Handshake," one of three bonus tracks from the Stay Positive CD. One of the album's finest songs... and it's relegated to a hidden track.

And finally, The Hold Steady do Dylan!
This is their cover of "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window," from the impeccable soundtrack to I'm Not There.

R.I.P. Leroi Moore: Confessions Of A (Former?) DMB Fan

Hearing that Leroi Moore passed away Tuesday, I thought—possibly for the first time in years—about the Dave Matthews Band. From 1994 to roughly 1997, I was a diehard: Collecting the CDs, learning the songs, trading bootlegs (on cassette!), and catching the group whenever possible. (Their gorgeous set at the Fox Theater in Atlanta in '94 remains one of my favorite live memories.)

That said, several less-than-stellar albums, coupled with my shifting musical tastes, meant I was basically done caring about DMB some ten years later. I actually loved Busted Stuff (and its bootleg cousin, The Lilywhite Sessions), but even that album's dark beauty couldn't drive me to see the band perform again. And don't get me started on the generic glut of frat-happy acoustic-driven bands that spread like fungus in the wake of Matthews' success. (O.A.R., I'm looking at you...) Is it wrong to blame DMB for the sins of their lesser knock-offs? Of course not, but eventually your tastes shift nonetheless, until listening to Remember Two Things feels like viewing an old college yearbook photo. "I remember this person.... from a long time ago..."

I never got to meet Leroi in person (though I did interview Dave himself... twice). But from all accounts, he was a quiet, gentle man with no trace of ill will towards anyone, not to mention a standout musician in a band lousy with them. In a summer of too much death already (George Carlin, Isaac Hayes), Moore's passing reminds me of the loss of Danny Federici earlier this year: A consummate sideman 'til the end, he made the people he played with sound better. And somehow, that kind of gift is never fully appreciated until it goes away.

My favorite Leroi performance... on flute, no less!

And for further reading,
here's a transcription of the interview I did with Dave for Performing Songwriter back in 2003. My earlier interview from '95 used to be online as well... but no longer...

Reviews From The Archive: Vampire Weekend

[Originally published on, February 2008.]

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

Barely a month into 2008, and yet it feels like every music blogger has already been discussing Vampire Weekend for the better part of a year: Such is the blessing/curse of Internet hype. And so, barely twenty months after forming, the baby-faced Ivy League quartet now arrives with the crush of expectations heavy on their shoulders. This year’s Strokes? Or Arctic Monkeys? Or simply another Clap Your Hands Say Flash In A Pan?
First off, check your expectations at the door, else Vampire Weekend is bound to disappoint. This is not grandiose epic music on the level of Arcade Fire, not even a “band that will change your life” a la The Shins. Rather, VW’s modest 11-song debut flies by on its own lightweight charms, barely a half hour long, tailor-made for springtime drives and picnics on the quad. The Paul Simon comparisons, so ridiculous-sounding in the advance press, turn out to be dead-on: If you always wished Graceland talked less about Africa and more about Oxford, this is your album. As his compatriots mix Soweto with Talking Heads, Ezra Koenig sings about girls with names like Bryn and Blake, then turns “Is your bed made/ Is your sweater on” into a perfect come-on on the superbly-titled “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” Precious, yes, but twice as infectious, and trust me: When Vampire Weekend hit “Walcott” and its chorus of “Don’t you wanna get out of Cape Cod tonight,” you’ll be singing right along.

See the original review here... and order it through Manifest!

I'm standing by this review some six months later. The hype is basically over now, leaving us with the perfect soundtrack for a hot summer day with the windows down.

Here's the suitably "twitchy" video for "A-Punk." And here's the international-only track "Boston."

Reviews From The Archive: Radiohead - In Rainbows

[Originally published on, January 2008.]

Radiohead - In Rainbows

If you're any sort of Radiohead fan—or if you know how to turn on a computer—chances are you've already owned this record for months now. And probably for a good deal less than you'll pay for the retail version. Yet, for those purists (anachronisms?) who still find pleasure in the physical album itself, In Rainbows is more-than-worthy, with generous, artistic packaging for both the CD and vinyl releases. (Still no sign of that bonus disc, however.) But regardless of whichever way you choose to buy, re-buy, or burn In Rainbows, it's still the music that matters. And in this case, the music is some of the strongest of Radiohead's career, ten pitch-perfect tracks wired into the avant-garde future that never abandon the band's melodic past. Accessible, sure, but certainly not simple: "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" is gorgeous, haunted, and nearly as complex in structure as past masterwork "Paranoid Android." "Bodysnatchers" kicks like The Bends but freaks out like Kid A. And "Videotape" might be the band's most-perfect closer, weightless and resigned and deeply unsettling. Perhaps it took a marketing stunt for the music press to appreciate Radiohead again, but no matter: This is 2007's album of the year, and a perfect way to begin retail's 2008.

See the original review here... and order it through Manifest!

Above is a pretty trippy video for "House Of Cards," if you haven't watched it yet.

AND finally.... A live version of the non-album "Bangers And Mash," mailed out to the mailing list a couple months back. Enjoy!