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Alejandro Escovedo's Joyous Rebirth

John Vanderslice Kicks Genre

Paul Duncan's Elusive Pop

Stephen Yerkey's Wandering Songs

French Kicks Complete 'Two Thousand'

Spazzy Romanticism: Love Story In Blood Red

Brain Surgeons NYC Rock The Big Questions

Jarboe's 'Men' Charts Turbulent Emotions

Delta 5's Edgy Post-Punk Resurrected

Blitzen Trapper Spiff Things Up

Minus Five: Booze, Betrayal, Bibles and Guns

New Compilation Spotlights Forgotten Folk Guitar Heroes

Chris Brokaw's Experiment In Pop

Old And New With Death Vessel

Silver Jews: Salvation And Redemption

Jana Hunter's Beautiful Doom

Vashti Bunyan Finds Her Voice Again

Nick Castro's Turkish Folk Delight

Katrina Hits New Orleans Musicians Hard

Paula Frazer's Eerie Beauty

The National Find Emotional Balance

Death Cab For Cutie's New Album, Tour

Heavy Trash's Rockabilly Rampage

Help The Wrens Get Their Albums Released!

Devendra Banhart, Andy Cabic Launch Label

Lydia Lunch's Noir Seductions

Bosque Brown's The Real Deal

PDX Pop Now! Fest Announces Lineup

Sarah Dougher Starts Women-Focused Label

Jennifer Gentle's Joyful Psyche

Mountain Goat Darnielle Gets Autobiographical With 'Sunset Tree'

Mia Doi Todd's Beautiful Collaboration

Return of the Gang of Four

Martha Wainwright Finds Her Voice

Brian Jonestown Massacre's Acid Joyride

Solo Disc Due From Pixies' Frank Black

Heartless Bastards' Big-Hearted Rock

Mike Watt's Midlife Journey

The Black Swans Balance Old And New

Nicolai Dunger's Swedish Blues

The Insomniacs' Hard-Edged Pop

Yo La Tengo Collection Due

Juana Molina's 'Homemade' Sound

Beans Evolves

Earlimart's Songs Of Loss

Devendra Banhart's 'Mosquito Drawings'

Negativland Rerelease 'Helter Stupid'

Alina Simone Transforms The Ordinary

Sounds From Nature: Laura Veirs

Octet's Fractured Electric Pop

Sleater-Kinney Working With Lips Producer

The Cult Of Silkworm

The Evolution Of The Concretes

Devendra Banhart's Exuberant New Songs

Catching Up With The Incredible String Band

Gram Rabbit's Desert Visions

Three Indie-Rock Stars Unite As Maritime

Remembering Johnny Ramone

Jarboe's Many Voices

Phil Elvrum's Long Hard Winter

First U.S. Release For Vashti Bunyan Album

Incredible String Band To Tour U.S.

New Music From Lydia Lunch

Le Tigre Protest The Bush War Presidency

Joel RL Phelps: Bleak Songs Rock Hard

Time Tripping With Galaxie 500

Patti Smith Wants Bush Out!

Sharron Kraus: A New Kind Of Folk Music

The Fiery Furnaces' Psychedelic Theater

Harder, Heavier Burning Brides

Sonic Youth's Ongoing Experiment

The Dt's Do It Their Way

Poster Children Cover Political Rock

Rare Thelonious Monk Recordings Due

Uneasy Pop From dios

Beck, Lips, Waits Cover Daniel Johnston

Understanding Franz Ferdinand

The Truly Amazing Joanna Newsom

Mylab's Boundary-Crossing Experiments In Sound

Have You Heard Jolie Holland Whistle?

The 'Magical Realism' Of Vetiver

The Restless, Rootsy Songs Of Eszter Balint

The Sun Sets On The Blasters

Devendra Banhart To Tour U.S.

The East/West Fusion Sounds Of Macha

Destroyer Gets Mellow For Your Blues

TV On The Radio Get Political

Sonic Youth, Modest Mouse To Play Lollapalooza 2004

New Music From The Fall

Apocalyptic Sound From The Intelligence

Fast And Rude With The Casual Dots

'Rejoicing' With Devendra Banhart

New Album, Tour From The Polyphonic Spree

Shearwater Take Wing

Sleater-Kinney To Tour East/West Coasts

Resurrecting Rocket From The Tombs

Visqueen Want To Get A Riot Goin' On

Lloyd Cole Makes A Commotion

Funkstörung's 'Cut-Up' Theory

Waiting For Mirah's C'mon Miracle

Electrelane Find Their Voice

The Television Is Still On!

Experimental Sounds From Hannah Marcus

The Ponys Play With Rayguns

Ex-Mono Men Leader Returns With The Dt's

Mountain Goats' Darnielle Adopts A More Hi-Fi Sound

Sun Kil Moon To Tour U.S., Europe

Nothin' But The Truth From The Von Bondies

Sultans Survive 'Shipwreck'

Sebadoh Reunite For Spring Tour

Xiu Xiu's 'Reality' Rock

Meet The Patients

Beth Orton, M. Ward Make Sadness Taste Sweet

Oneida's Pathway To Ecstasy

Radiohead, Pixies, Dizzee Rascal To Play Coachella

Young People Tour Behind War Prayers

Pixies Tour Dates Announced

Ani DiFranco Tells It Like It Is

Deerhoof Back For 2004 With Milkman

McLusky Set To 'Bring On The Big Guitars' Again

Pixies Reunite For U.S., European Tours

American Music Club, Decemberists To Play NoisePop 2004

Damien Rice Set To Tour U.S.

The Frames Accept Your Love

Punk Rock's A-Frames To Re-Record Third Album

Finally! Mission Of Burma Record New Album

A Solo Detour For Ladybug Transistor's Sasha Bell

Return Of The Old 97's

Spending The Night With Damien Rice

Tindersticks Reissues Due This Spring

The Evolution Of 'A Silver Mt. Zion'

Neil Young Rocks Australia With 'Greendale'

Poster Children Back In Action

'The Great Cat Power Disaster Of 2003'

Chicks On Speed's Subversive Strategies

Oranger At A Crossroad

Peaches On Tour And In Control

Jawbreaker's Complete Dear You Sessions To Be Released

Belle & Sebastian + Trevor Horn = Sunny Pop Nirvana

Von Bondies' Pawn Shoppe Heart

Descendents Are Back!

Modest Mouse Touring; Album Due in 2004

London Suede Take A (Permanent?) Break

Saul Williams Wants You To Think For Yourself

The 'Zen' Sound Of Calexico

Elliott Smith Dead AT 34

Debut Due From Mark Kozelek's Sun Kil Moon

The Hunches: Music That'll 'Fucking Live Forever'

Vic Chesnutt Speaks His Mind

90 Day Men Cancel Tour

Keith Jarrett, Cecil Taylor Highlight SF Jazz Festival

For My Morning Jacket, It's The Music That Matters

EP Due From The Polyphonic Spree

Bright Eyes, Neva Dinova Collaborate On EP

The Rise & Fall & Rise Of Ben Lee

Catching Up With Cheerfully Defiant Tricky

Hanging Around With The Polyphonic Spree

Sophomore Album Due From The Shins

Noise Rock From Iceland's Singapore Sling

Death Cab To Tour U.S.

Rufus Wainwright's Want One Is 'Family Affair'

Death Cab's Transatlanticism On The Way

Heartfelt Rock From Sweden's Last Days Of April

The Minus 5 Get Down With Wilco

Tywanna Jo Baskette's Southern-Gothic Rock

Xiu Xiu's Stewart Takes On 'Gay-bashing'

Portishead Producer Resurfaces Behind New Diva

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Wire, Primal Scream On Buddyhead Comp

Yeah Yeah Yeahs To Tour West Coast

Sonic Youth, Erase Errata Kick Off 'Buddy Series'

The Locust Are One Scary Band

Damien Rice In The 'Here And Now'

Remembering Karp's Scott Jernigan

ATP-NY Postponed 'Til At Least 2004

The Soul Of Chris Lee

Gits' Frenching The Bully To See Re-Release

Stephen Malkmus Is In Control

Superchunk To Release Rarities Set; Teenage Girls To Swoon As A Result

Summer Touring For The Gossip

Babbling On About Deerhoof

Irish Song Poet Damien Rice's O Released In U.S.

Chatting With ATP's Barry Hogan

Former Digable Planets Frontman Surfaces With Cherrywine

ATP L.A. Festival Rescheduled For Fall

Freakwater's Janet Bean Takes A Solo Turn

Lee's 'Cool Rock'

Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs Highlight YES NEW YORK

Mark Romanek's 'Hurt' Revives Johnny Cash's Career

The Rapture's Post-Punk, Post-Dance Sound

R.E.M., Wilco, Modest Mouse Highlight Bumbershoot Fest

Set Fires To Flames' Sleep-Deprivation Sound

Southern Gothic Past Shadows Verbena's La Musica Negra

The Subtle Evolution Of Yo La Tengo

Spring Tour For Jolie Holland (Plus A Live Album)

Liz Phair Still Pushing The Limits

Gold Chains Wants You To Dance And Think

Young People's War Prayers On The Way

peruse archival

edited by michael goldbergcontact

How Weird Is Frank Black? That Weird, And I Love It!

About three-quarters through his half-smoldering, half-mourning set, Frank Black said: "We're gonna play for two more hours, if that's all right with everyone," to which the crowd at Portland, Oregon's mid-sized Wonder Ballroom roared and hollered.

"Nah, you don't want us to do that," he continued shaking his shiny bald head."Then things might get really weird."

And all I could think to myself was: Get really weird? As if everything weren't already really weird?

First off, it's you, Frank Black, Black Francis, Charles Thompson, the weirdest (and most brilliant) musician of all time, in my lifetime anyway. Second, you're alternating between blistering, manic punk rock (Frank Black-style, for which there is no other descriptor) and crooning, tears-in-my-beers country ballads — and that's just weird. Third, you're drinking, ho hum, water. I know, it's not your fault, it happens (getting older, and country tends to accompany it) but it's making me feel old and nostalgic and uncomfortable and, well, weird.

Not that all the weirdness is bad, because it's not. It's fitting, actually. You've made me feel weird since the first time I heard you about 15 years ago. And I'm sure that's why I liked (and like) you so much. I was never sure exactly what was going on in your, um, unusual and mind-blowing Pixies songs, but I picked up on some things: Sex, violence, awkwardness, surrealism, science fiction, atypical time signatures and genius oddball arrangements that only a mind not restricted to four-count measures could follow.

And it was still all there at the Wonder Ballroom, desecrating the clean, smoke-free venue with complex guitar crunching that took sudden left turns, fervent, sweat-drenched screams toward the heavens, a band who, at times, couldn't keep up with the smart and strange changes in your songs and the sad, warbled country laments about dying and going six feet under.

In fact, many of the warm, trotting country songs — filling the gaps between early solo tracks like "Places Named After Numbers" from your self-titled solo debut, "Headache," Teenager of the Year and a cover of Bryan Ferry's "Remake/Remodel" — seemed to echo death, yet with a wink.

And towards the end of the set, I began to think, Frank/Francis/Charles, throughout your lifetime, no matter what role you've played — science fiction reader, college kid, Pixies' main man, solo artist, country purveyor — you've forever been fascinated with the otherworldly, with the other side, the dark side, the way pain makes you feel human — and always, always with the outright weird. And it's your genuine and brilliant weirdness (unrehearsed, perhaps unwanted) that makes your presence so valued, so wanted, at any age, on any stage, playing anything. — Jenny Tatone [Tuesday, November 21, 2006 ]

How The Hold Steady Really Feel

Certainly, you've heard a lot about the Hold Steady by now, maybe too much. You've seen them in big-time magazines and on Web sites like these. You've read words like barroom, Springsteen, Midwest, drugs and religion so many times you're not even sure what they mean.

You've probably also heard something about big riffs and literary lyricism, but has anyone shown you just how good these guys really are? Because a band this great deserves more than a bunch of articles spitting the same descriptors — Catholicism, addiction, recreational medicine — for hype's sake, without ever attempting to explain just why these five fellows are so darn good at what they do.

Five Dudes With Beer Cans

"We're just five dudes drinking cans of beer in a shitty practice space," guitarist Tad Kubler claimed recently by phone.

There's a lot more to the Hold Steady than that. Maybe it's their humility and untainted sense of purpose. And the fact that they just really love making music, and have little interest in much else. That they care, above all else, about the music, writing music that means something to them, that means something to their listeners, that they enjoy playing and that their fans enjoy listening to. Indifferent to trends, to styles, to anything that they or their music might stand for, the Hold Steady's music comes out honest and strong, free from the confines of starry-eyed self-consciousness.

The Brooklyn-based band has had the press fidgeting since its phenomenal sophomore album, Separation Sunday, a couple of years back. Their newest release, Boys and Girls in America (Vagrant), has the Hold Steady splashed across a slew of glossies and e-zines. Which is kind of funny, because the group, mostly native Minnesotans, is an unlikely candidate for such widespread hype. Band members are — gasp — mostly 30-something (nearing ancient in the music biz), their clothes aren't flashy, their hair isn't spiky, and their songs aren't fashionable. That they came to garner so much attention, especially in the mainstream and against all odds, is a sign of real accomplishment, of something special.

But with one article seemingly regurgitating the last, it seems no one has cared to capture just what makes this band so good without having to fall back on what everyone else is saying. The Hold Steady are one of the best bands out there right now and, perhaps if the press could get it right, more people would understand this. Very few bands hold that special unspeakable high-impact thing that results in great — no, incredible — music. Spewing fiery, classic rock 'n' roll, witty lyricism and odes to their heroes (Springsteen, Hüsker Dü, The Replacements, Thin Lizzy), the Hold Steady are among the lucky few.

Oliver Stone vs. Ang Lee

I fell hard for Separation Sunday. So much so, I was unusually nervous to hear Boys and Girls in America; God forbid I be let down and lose faith.

Separation Sunday is a hard act to follow. Violently powerful and superbly worded, the album sucks you into tales of falling into drugs and being born again, floods your arteries with intense emotion, and has you coming back for more, turning you into as much of an addict as vocalist/guitarist Craig Finn's recurring characters Charlemagne or Holly. It's a listening experience so engrossing it could be neither repeated nor trumped.

Boys and Girls doesn't trump Separation Sunday, but it doesn't pale next to it either. Where Separation Sunday clubbed you over the head and pulled you into its cave almost instantaneously, Boys and Girls hangs in the corner, luring you a little closer with each listen. I've listened to it maybe 42 times now and it just keeps getting better.

"Separation Sunday is like an Oliver Stone movie and (Boys and Girls) is more like an Ang Lee movie," Finn recently said by phone. "Separation Sunday was meant to be epic and huge and cinematic, and that's what we achieved. The new one is as deep and heavy, but more subtle. It's more for people to think about, rather than just listen to."

The Hold Steady were adamant about trying something new. They realized they'd achieved something special with Separation Sunday, but they're not fools — they would never attempt to exploit something that was only meant to work the first time around. "We never want to make the same record twice," Kubler said. "Certainly we aren't going to do a fucking electronica record, but we always want to get better."

Boys and Girls shows the band doing some things better: the production is better and the musicianship is tighter, but I wouldn't say the album is better. I would simply say it's as good (meaning exceptionally great), just different.

If Separation Sunday was a crucifixion, Boys and Girls is a resurrection. While the first talked about being down and out at bloody parties, the latter talks of falling in love at massive parties. And both communicate with sheer conviction and unmistakable soul the sort of real energy that can't be ignored. It doesn't matter if you prefer grit or sheen, it's still the Hold Steady. Cleaned up or dressed down, it's still five guys kicking out big jams, showing you how a resurrection really feels, leaving you high as hell, shivering and smashed.

Inspired by Jack Kerouac's On the Road, or, rather, plain coming-of-age love relationships, Boys and Girls is, fittingly, more pop — Hold Steady pop, meaning it still rocks in classic air-guitar-playing fashion. It's just cleaned up, and not quite as rough and upset as Separation Sunday. Maybe because it's free from druggy disillusionment, free to celebrate party pits, massive nights and young, awkward love. Both albums reflect on youth and self-discovery through relationships, but Boys and Girls looks back on bygone times, not bleary-eyed, but with a smile, as if to say: "The drugs may have fucked us up a bit, but we had one hell of a time falling in love."

Music to Relate To

"There's a theme, one boy and one girl, love relationships," Finn said, "which is not new to writing, not new to rock 'n' roll. But there are specific universal themes that everyone can relate to — everyone has experienced these things."

Indeed, yet it doesn't seem to matter what Finn writes about. The Hold Steady have a way of making music to relate to. They share their sentiment (cynical, serious or otherwise) in such a way that anyone can draw a line from their life to the Hold Steady's — it's what makes their music so powerful and strong. "When you can convey words to musical passage, that's when you're doing something right," Finn said.

Chief songwriters Finn and Kubler have an indescribable kind of chemistry that allows for the perfect melding of lyrics and music. You wouldn't ask which came first — the words or the riffs — because it feels as if they were born together, as if one couldn't exist without the other. When Finn sneers a line like "She's got blue-black ink/ And it's scratched into her lower back/ Says damn right he'll rise again / Yeah damn right you'll rise again," just before riffs rush in, chilling your spine, lifting you into a strange mix of sadness and euphoria, you know they've hit on something special.

While songs like "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" and "Multitude of Casualties" (from Separation Sunday) expelled vicious emotion as if to release old demons, the Hold Steady's new songs ruminate with less urgency on what it means to be young, in love, and a little wasted all the while: "How I'm supposed to know that you're high if you won't let me touch you," Finn sings (something he does a lot more of on Boys and Girls) on "Chips Ahoy!" The new lighthearted demeanor is matched aptly with polished, crisp production and choruses that beg for repeat listens.

"I didn't want to just challenge the listener this time, but make something that was more palatable," Finn said. "I made a conscious effort to make things shorter, to get away from the six-minute epics and have more pop songs."

Such an admission could have hipster snobs calling Finn a sellout. The best part is that Finn and company wouldn't care. It's the band's apathy towards image that makes them who they are: Five dudes drinking cans of beer in a shitty practice space. Oh, and five dudes who — unbridled by phony ideals — make magic sharing the same room, or stage; who create something unspeakable, something inexplicable, something to love.


In addition to leaning towards more pop-oriented songwriting, Boys and Girls features a couple of firsts for the band. It was the first time they worked with a producer — John Agnello, who's known for his work with Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., The Breeders and many others — and the first time they wrote songs with the piano player Franz Nicolay, meaning the piano parts stand out more than on previous albums.

"One of the criticisms I had about Separation Sunday is that it didn't always sound like five guys playing music," Finn said. "Recording-wise, we wanted to hear the whole band playing, and wanted it to sound more live."

A good goal, given that the Hold Steady's live set is not to be taken for granted. A feat in itself, it's the sort of balls-out concert-going experience that lingers, rattling around your brain for days following the event, convincing you that you must find a way to travel to their next show because they might not be back to your town for another year — a heartbreaking thought after a night spent with the band, their killer guitar playing, scorching rhythm section, intense chemistry, witty banter, and obvious love for playing live.

Just as Separation Sunday sounded more sonically accomplished than their full-length debut Almost Killed Me (released in 2004), Boys and Girls shows progression over its predecessor, not outdoing it, but showing growth; it shows expansion, and it shows a band willing to take risks and still come out ahead. It shows what a group of guys who never try too hard do, how a group like this respects what they've got going, loves what they do, refuses to exploit and instead commits to share it; understands that, without a crowd of people touching people they don't even know, they couldn't do it.

"There's a lot on there that will reward repeat listens," Finn said. "Lyrically, there are hopefully rewards on the 35th listen."

Hey, I'm up to my 46th listen now and I'm still being rewarded.

"We always said someday we'd grab our ladies, some bottles of wine, be the Woodstock band and just go make music," Kubler said, "and, in a way, we kind of did that.

"It was easily the most fun time I had making a record."

If you are interested in what Tad Kubler listens to, check out his
MOG page.

The Hold Steady are currently on tour; find tour dates here.— Jenny Tatone [Tuesday, October 24, 2006]

Considering Those Classic Dylan Interviews

Lately I've begun to think that Bob Dylan does not exist. That the boy who made him up might still be dreaming. And we are all inside his dream.

It's said the man we now know as "Bob Dylan," born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota on May 24, 1941, was raised in the nearby mining town of Hibbing, the elder of two sons of Jewish parents, Abraham and Beatrice. Hibbing was right up on the Canadian border and very cold; the boy liked listening a lot to the radio at night: Hank Williams' country, Muddy Waters' blues, Presley, Holly, the birth of rock 'n' roll.

This feeling for the magic of radio, for the transport of music, probably explains Dylan's recent decision to do a program for XM Satellite Radio, running with a theme for each show: "The Rain," "Fatherhood" and "Weddings" thus far inspiring song choices from his personal record collection.

Unexpected career moves like this, along with last year's four-hour Martin Scorsese documentary "No Direction Home" and the 2004 publication of Chronicles Volume 1, a fragmentary memoir told in free-flowing Kerouac-like reveries, have contributed to a reassertion of one of the greatest artistic careers of this past century.

That Dylan's last two albums, Time Out of Mind (1997) and Love and Theft (2001), have been two of his best — the former acclaimed by critics as the first masterpiece of rock 'n' roll through an old man's eyes — has only intensified this renaissance. The arrival of Modern Times (
see review) completes what Dylan apparently regards as a trilogy of recordings, sending this latest "Dylanfest" into overdrive.

And yet through it all Dylan remains as enigmatic as ever. As fellow songwriter Tom Waits once observed, "With Dylan, so much has been said about him, it's difficult to say anything about him that hasn't already been said, and say it better. Suffice to say Dylan is a planet to be explored... His journey as a songwriter is the stuff of myth, because he lives within the ether of the songs."

Hundreds of books have nonetheless been written about Dylan, thousands of articles. One of Dylan's favored masks has been that of the put-on artist and barbed surrealist, particularly in younger days when journalists must have quaked at meeting him head-on. Change, evasion, contrarianism, aimlessness, and prodigal return — these have become "Dylanesque" traits, from his folkie beginnings to the rock 'n' roll dandy of Blonde on Blonde (1966) to the Rimbaud of rock who produced Blood on the Tracks (1975), to the born-again Christian of the early 1980s, to his startling comeback in recent years as a latter-day Wyatt Earp of wisdom and regret.

Mapping this elusive and mobile persona across such a vast canvas is no easy task. But in Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews (Warner Books) editor and longtime Rolling Stone contributor Jonathan Cott does an admirable job through a well-chosen array of interviews that charts Dylan's career from whoa to go and then some. Where many such collections feel Googled-up and bagged together, The Essential Interviews excels for quality, chronological pace and genuine rarity, as well as contrast and insight. If you're a fan, it really is an "essential' buy.

The book's multifaceted nature and the fact that it is predominantly made up of Dylan's own words give a surprising feeling for who Dylan might be. Even his attachment to the French poet Rimbaud's dictum "I is another" takes a fascinating turn as he tells his most obsessed fan and interviewer, A.J. Weberman (famous for trawling through Dylan's garbage), "I'm not Dylan, you're Dylan."

In what is perhaps the most famous interview of them all, Nat Hentoff's 1966 Playboy article, Dylan responds to a question about jazz music and its fading appeal to young people with typically obtuse fire, as well as the kind of Beat-inherited rapping style that energized his music, and indeed his entire life, and the cultural dreaming he himself propelled when an entire generation called "the '60s" found its finest voice:

"I mean what would some parent say to his kid if the kid came home with a glass eye, a Charlie Mingus record and a pocketful of feathers? He'd say, 'Who are you following?' And the poor kid would have to stand there with water in his shoes, a bow tie on his ear and soot pouring out of his belly button and say, 'Jazz. Father, I've been following jazz.' And his father would say, 'Get a broom and clean up all that soot before you go to sleep.' Then the kid's mother would tell her friends, 'Our little Donald, he's part of the younger generation you know.'" — Mark Mordue [Monday, October 16, 2006]

Beautiful Ambient Pop From Mojave 3

It makes sense that Mojave 3's live set would be simple. After all, British group's latest release, Puzzles Like You, collects the simplest songs of Neil Halstead's career.

Ever since he started making music (in 1994, with his first band, Slowdive), singer/guitarist Halstead has spent each year moving further from ambient and closer to pop, trading experimentation with sound for obsession with song.

And, playing live onstage at Portland's Aladdin Theatre Tuesday night (September 26), his musical gravitation makes sense: In person, it's obvious he's most at home in the comfy realms of sweet simplicity.

Strumming at an acoustic guitar that sat high on his body and appeared almost oversized for his thin frame, a half-smiling Halstead gently plucked the catchy country chords and cooed words of heartbreak and life, backed by his band's hazy, lazy arrangements.

Unfortunately, guitarist Rachel Goswell, who helped found Mojave 3 about a decade ago and has played music with Halstead since Slowdive, was missing Tuesday night. According to her
blog on MySpace, she is suffering from a rare inner-ear infection; it's causing hearing loss, affecting her balance and weakening her immune system.

While Mojave 3 felt incomplete without her, the band's relaxed, lackadaisical presence made for a tranquil and intimate setting. Alan Forrester provided warm, rich organ from a Hammond C3, while barefoot guitarist Kevin Hendrick carved out riffs and walked gently about, his ankles exposed by rolled-up jeans. Drummer Ian McCutcheon filled in the mid-tempo country-pop cuts with dense layers of softly-hit beats, while Halstead crooned such lines as "Lay your love on me," "You were beautiful, I was happy to fall," "I don't love you anymore, I'm just keeping score" and "I was drunk when I met you, I was drunk when I walked out the door."

There's nothing especially complex or attention-grabbing about Mojave 3's music or, specifically, their live set. Yet it's strikingly beautiful, escaping the Aladdin's antiquated stage, washed in a mix of yellow, white and red light. The theatre was about full, but it was easy to forget the other people there. Immersed in the band's gently textured, Neil Young-influenced songs, it was easier to sink in your chair and get lost in your own thoughts, serenaded by a dozen or so unobtrusive, simple pop songs, a countrified twang and a big heart.

Openers Brightblack Morning Light were equally impressive. Out-of-the-norm slow and quiet like Low, the Alabama folk trio's arrangement of harmonies, harp, acoustic guitar and keys was so gentle and hushed that clearing your throat in the room might have caused offense.

Mojave 3 continue their U.S. tour through October, followed by a handful of dates in the UK and France in early November. For a complete listing, see dates on mojave3online.com — Jenny Tatone [Thursday, September 28, 2006]

Music. Mystics. Politics. Pluto. Flaming Lips' Michael Ivins Speaks

Who would have thought, nearly a quarter of a century ago, that these gracious Midwestern boys would grow to become one of the most entertaining, imaginative live acts of the 21st century? Yet here the Flaming Lips are, warding off middle age with fake blood, confetti guns, and infectious enthusiasm. ...

Neumu recently spoke with co-founder and bassist Michael Ivins. Amid the background noise of guitar tunings and equipment configuration (he was taking a brief break from setting up for that night's show), he told us all about the Lips, with plenty of detours for rants about the current administration, hybrid cars, Pluto's recent downgrade, and the band's recent tour with Sonic Youth. ...

Ivins: "We didn't have to be tied down as just being this rock band that makes records and goes and tours, and lives and dies by that. We could go out and do stuff and sort of not 'reinvent' ourselves, but add more dimensions to ourselves, even in the way that we approach making music in the studio. It's not, 'Oh, here's the singer, here's the bass player, here's the drummer,' and then the drummer lays down his tracks and goes and plays Nintendo for three weeks."

Use this link to read the entire story.

Ramblin' Jack Elliott:
Always A Traveler, Never A Tourist

Ramblin' Jack Elliott's best stories — and he's got a bunch of them — all seem to involve the road, whether they're about heading west with Woody Guthrie and $25 in his pocket or riding the Rolling Thunder bus with Bob Dylan or pulling his guitar down from the train overhead in Franco's 1950s Spain to introduce the locals to the blues. Now, at 75, he's slowed down a bit, sticking closer to his Bay Area home than he used to, though still making occasional forays to Nashville and West Virginia to play his axe. But even today, he's got a traveler's contempt for tourists, a distaste that almost made its way into the title for his first album in seven years.

The album that became I Stand Alone began, he said with a conversation with his daughter Aiyana Elliott, a documentary filmmaker who had, in 2000, produced "The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack," a biographical film about, according to Elliott, "what it's like to be the daughter of a no-account guitar picker.

"See, she asked me if I had some songs that she never heard me sing, some old songs that I don't do in my shows anymore," Elliott remembered. "So I came up with a few and I sang them. And she thought that was cute, and she liked this one and she liked that one, and she said, 'Why don't you sing them in your shows?' And I said, 'Well, they're not for the tourists.'" So originally, the album was supposed to be called Not for the Tourists, but cooler, more commercially-minded heads prevailed at Anti- and it became I Stand Alone.

It's a curious title for an album that borrows little-known covers from many of traditional country, blues and pop's best-loved artists — Cisco Houston, the Carter Family, Leadbelly, Hoagy Carmichael and others — and enlists current stars like Lucinda Williams, Flea, David Hidalgo and Corin Tucker to flesh out his songs. But while Elliott will admit to picking the songs, he says he knows next to nothing about his collaborating artists. "Well, I don't know any of them," he said. "The record company down in Los Angeles picked them."

Lucinda Williams, for instance, harmonizes with him on the rollicking "Drivin' Nails in My Coffin," but the two have never been in the same room together. "It's pretty good the way she harmonizes with me, but I've never even seen her or met her," Elliott admitted. "I'd like to meet her some time. Send her a thank-you note."

A Lifetime in Music

I Stand Alone contains 15 well-chosen covers and a single recorded monologue ("Woody's Last Ride"), reflecting Elliott's lifetime of traveling, playing and learning songs along the way. Yet while he knew Alan Lomax, and considered him a father figure when he first traveled to England in the 1950s, Elliott made it plain that his song collecting was a far more casual thing than Lomax's. "I'm not a musicologist, at least I don't think so, though I did come up with some songs as I was traveling around," he said. "I'd meet other musicians and hear a song I liked and fall in love with it and I'd learn it. And I've read a few books about folk music and stuff like that, but I don't consider myself a musicologist."

Born in Brooklyn in 1931, Elliott was the son of a doctor, expected by his parents to follow in his father's conventionally successful footsteps. That all came to a screeching halt, however, when Elliott ran away, at 15, to join the rodeo. "One of the clowns on the rodeo played the guitar and banjo and sang cowboy songs, and he would entertain us. He would go up into the stands between the afternoon and the evening performance of the rodeo and we'd put a quarter in his hat and he would sing songs and tell stories. I was fascinated by that," he recalled. "When I returned home after that trip, I started listening to hillbilly music on the radio."

A cheap acoustic guitar was dragged from a closet and Elliott laboriously learned to play. "It was a really bad guitar. The strings were about an inch above the fingerboard, so it really hurt my fingers to play on it," he added. "But after hearing that cowboy playing, I was so enthusiastic about it, and I was going on 16 years old. I practiced five hours a day on that rotten old guitar."

A few years later, Elliott befriended Woody Guthrie, then the reigning king of American folk music. "I went to see Woody Guthrie in 1951 after speaking to him a few times on the phone," he said. "He was not feeling well. In fact, he was very sick with appendicitis and had to go right to the hospital, soon after I talked to him. I went and visited the hospital a couple of times but he was still so doped up from the operation that he couldn't make a lot of sense."

From his hospital bed, Guthrie told Elliott to go across the street and visit his then-wife Marjorie and children. Elliott stayed with the family for a short period, then drove to the West Coast with a friend. When he returned to New York a few months later, he called Guthrie again. "Woody invited me to meet him at a party where he was going to sing," he said. "I met him over there and I sang with him, and he gave me a ride back over in his car. And we ended up going straight to his house. We started rehearsing the next morning. And I lived at the Guthrie house there for about a year and a half."

The two became close, and in fact, I Stand Alone's final track commemorates a cross-country trip that Guthrie and Elliott took, driving from New York to Florida to California and back again. Elliott stayed in California, though, smitten by an actress who later became his wife. The two played folk music at Topanga Canyon joint called Will Geer's Theater, where they first heard bluesmen like Big Bill Broonzy and Muddy Waters. From there, they were off to Europe, to busk their way through the UK and the continent from 1955 to 1961.

In the mid-1950s, England was abuzz about Lonnie Donegan's "Rock Island Line," and skiffle clubs were sprouting up everywhere. American blues players who languished in obscurity in the U.S. found themselves famous in the UK, and even little-known folk musicians could make a living. "I was working six nights a week in pubs and skiffle clubs and folk clubs, performing with people like Ewan McColl and A. L. Lloyd and Stan Kelley," he remembered warmly.

Still, an accomplished musician like Elliott could see very little to like in the skiffle craze. "Skiffle was mostly a lot of amateur musicians who just bought a guitar last week and they could play one or two chords, and they were earning a living playing in these cafés," he remarked. "A lot of young people over there were itching for some means of getting together and tapping their feet and drinking coffee in these coffee houses."

From there, he and his wife headed to continental Europe, where they were among the first U.S. citizens to travel through Franco's Spain. "You could stay in a pensione for $1 a night, if you were a poor artista with a guitar," he remembered. "They would try to charge you three or four dollars, but if you argued with them, then you could get them down to a buck a night."

Elliott learned to respect, but never to play the traditional flamenco styles of Spain, though he fondly recalled exchanging musical ideas with local musicians. "On trains, people very politely would see the guitar in the overhead rack. They'd point to it and say 'Es suyo, es suyo!' And they'd coax me into getting it down and playing a song for them, and I'd sing them 'The Muleskinner's Blues' and a couple of other hot numbers and they'd clap politely," he said.

A song was often worth a bit of bread and cheese, which Spanish travelers would share freely with whoever was in the train compartment with them. "Then one of them would ask if he could play the guitar and sure enough, there was always somebody who could play the guitar," he added. "They'd play some flamenco on the guitar, which was... they could play it on any kind of guitar. But it's not the same sort of neck and strings."

Elliott came back from Europe in 1961, again finding Guthrie in the hospital, this time with a young folk musician named Bob Dylan paying his respects. "He was just starting out. He was 19 years old and I was 29," said Elliott. And what about his music? "I liked it. It was little rough at first. He wasn't a very, very good guitar player and his singing was sort of out of control, but he had something there... a certain drive. An energy that was very focused."

Years later, Elliott would tour with Dylan on the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue, which he describes as "like a circus of poets and musicians." It included not just Dylan but Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Roger McGuinn. Dylan and his compadres were big stars, well enough known that the next stop on the tour was always secret until they got there. "They didn't want to cause accidents on the highway, you know," said Elliott. "It was a security precaution."

Always a musician's musician, Elliott also opened once for the Grateful Dead, whose Jerry Garcia was a longtime admirer. "It was the worst concert I've ever played," he said. "I was the opening act, and it was very noisy. They were extremely noisy and rude. I was looking at a lot of backs and I got disgusted after about five songs and left the stage early." As he stomped off stage, he saw Jerry Garcia grinning sidelong at him from the wings.

Garcia urged him to play a few more songs, and Elliott snapped "Nobody's listening." But Garcia replied, "I'm listening," so Elliott went back out onto the stage. "I was trying very hard to appear cool and collected and Mr. Nonchalant, but I can hear it on the tape that I wasn't fooling anybody," Elliott said. "I wasn't concealing my desire to murder the whole batch of them."

As I spoke to him, Elliott, still the traveler, was getting ready to hit the road again for a pair of shows in the Southeast. Asked if he had expected to be journeying this late in life, he answered, "No, I didn't, and I really don't like it, but I've got to do it I guess.

"I like performing. I love performing. I just hate airports," he added. "Changing planes with a guitar is extremely dangerous. Because they want to take the guitar and break it. Not all of them. Every once in a while. It only happens to me about once every three or four years. I'll get someone who says that there's no room on the plane and I have to check it for baggage, and that's where they have to take it and break it."

You can catch him this fall — if you're lucky his guitar will still be intact — at a series of shows in California and a few other places. For complete dates and other Ramblin' Jack news, visit his Web site at
http://www.ramblinjack.com. — Jennifer Kelly [Thursday, September 21, 2006]

Parts & Labor's Manic Anthems

So far, no one has captured post-millennial angst better than Brooklyn's Parts & Labor, whose latest album, Stay Afraid, now out on Jagjaguwar, blends the headbanging release of hardcore punk with the soaring song structures of arena rock. With "A Great Divide," the album kicks off half a minute of pummeling guitar-and-drum assault, a wall of frantic noise, aggression and chaos that breaks, unexpectedly, into melody.

"Rock music has always been about finding ways to combine melody with something threatening, and we aren't even that threatening," said Parts & Labor's Dan Friel, when asked about the band's balancing act in a recent email interview. "Sonic Youth and Hüsker Dü both did a little of that, with Sonic Youth always leaning more noise and Hüsker Dü always leaning more big rock. We're also big fans of bands who combine noisy rock sonics with folk musics, like The Ex, Amps for Christ, and Boredoms. We borrow a lot from all three of those as well."

The new album is the culmination of a punk-rock experiment that started in 2002, when keyboard/guitarist Friel and bass player BJ Warshaw met at the Knitting Factory, where both worked. With drummer Jim Sykes, they made their first album, the noise-inflected, all-instrumental Groundswell, in 2003. "Groundswell was also originally intended to have vocals, but we had hardly any experience writing lyrics and singing. Personally, I was scared to death of it," Friel said. In fact Groundswell ended up as an entirely instrumental record, partly because, with Sykes moving to Chicago, Friel and Warshaw wanted to document their first lineup, even if they weren't ready to pick up the mic yet.

A new drummer, Joel Saladino, joined the band later that year, and the Parts & Labor continued to work on incorporating lyrics. Rise Rise Rise, a split with Tyondai Braxton, came out in 2004. It had singing on two cuts. Then in 2005, current drummer Christopher R. Weingarten joined, as Saladino left to found Narchitect (he's also in Knife Skills). About this time, the band began working on Stay Afraid, an album conceptually united by its dark, politically-tinged lyrics. "It's been a deliberate and slow progression," Warshaw said. "With Stay Afraid we just finally bit the bullet, so to speak, and focused harder than we ever have on our lyrics and our singing."

A Cohesive Statement

Lyrics on Stay Afraid are dark, ominous and reflective of the band's uneasiness with post-9/11 America. For example, the words to "A Great Divide" came to Warshaw during the run-up to the 2004 elections. "It started just from thinking about the whole 'red state/blue state' thing," he explained. "That we're led to believe that we're a country divided into two diametrically opposed groups. It's such a gross oversimplification, in no small part due to the stranglehold the 'two party system' has on politics in this country.

"So then the verses are kind of thinking about the divisions between people, some very real divisons: the class divide, the urban versus the rural, the religious versus the secular," he added. "But the conclusion of the song alludes to how inept this line of thinking can be, that we're all related, and that there may not be so clear-cut a distinction between the supposedly big choices we make."

Similarly, the title track, "Stay Afraid," draws uneasy resonance from the government's manipulation of our fears. "It's more [a song] about questioning people who encourage a sustained state of fear, because they are probably using it as a distraction," Friel said, adding, "Mostly I just like the absurdity of the phrase. You want to hear something empowering, like stay strong, stay black, but nobody in their right mind proudly encourages fear. The song is mostly a meditation on the patriotic and paranoid mood around the country in the last five years, the mentality of 'America Is Stronger Than Ever, But Don't Trust Anyone!' You just can't maintain that."

Lyrics, plus a consistently raucous punk-anthemic sound, unite Stay Afraid into a pummeling whole, not quite a concept album but certainly a cohesive statement. "We were definitely seeking to make a record that was more than just a collection of songs, where the lyrics and the sounds were cohesive, that you could listen to all the way through and enjoy it as a whole," Warshaw said. "We also wanted it big and noisy and loud as hell."

Knob-twiddling and Straightforward Bashing

As the third drummer in three albums, Weingarten also puts his mark on Stay Afraid, providing a solid foundation for the band's wild, experimental style. "Chris is extremely loud, which has made us extremely loud," Friel said. "He's more straight-ahead than Joel was, which will probably force me and BJ to get progressively weirder."

"I'm more of a straightforward basher than their previous drummers," Weingarten agreed. "Since so much of the songs are based on the unscientific twisting of knobs, unpredictable bursts of feedback and completely unmanageable billows of distortion, I tend to think of my drums as the thing that tethers the band to the familiar. That being said, the band constantly pushes me to find unique patterns. Plus, I love to play until I reach a threshold of physical pain, so my fills usually end up being as fast or hard as I can physically play them."

Weingarten added that he had originally wondered whether a more straightforward drumming style would work with Parts & Labor's music. "They had just started writing their more melodic, vocal-oriented stuff when I was trying out. I honestly thought they would laugh me out of the audition, since their last two drummers were really busy and skittery," he remembered. "So I played some of their new stuff with some relatively straight-ahead smashing and pummeling and said, 'That's not really what you're looking for, huh?' And they essentially replied, 'No, that's exactly what we've been looking for.'"

The new album, recorded with Scott Norton at Williamsburg's Headgear studios in nine days, is drawing comparison to a whole raft of melodic punk influences, but the one that sticks the most is Hüsker Dü. It's a point of reference, Friel explains, that's anything but accidental. "We listened to a ton of the Hüskers leading up to this record," he said. "When we were starting to write this record I began listening to Zen Arcade a lot, and BJ started listening to New Day Rising a lot, and well, now we have a new record."

Warshaw agreed. "I remember hearing Land Speed Record early on in high school, and just kind of having my mind blown." He added, "Definitely an influence, both melodically and in their push to be as explosive and full-sounding as a trio possibly could."

Stay Afraid is explosive and a close approximation of Parts & Labor's live show. The band is known for intense, revelatory performances that combine pure guitar heroics with complex electronic experimentation. "There's only a tiny handful of overdubs on the record that we're not capable of playing live," Warshaw said. "Dan and I have both grown adept at juggling our electronics and guitars, so the vast majority of noises and details you hear on the record you'll hear at the live show as well."

Parts & Labor will be taking their frenetic show on the road through the summer, with dates the U.S., Canada and the UK. (See their
Web site for a list of shows.) "Other than that, I'll be working on new songs, planning for the new record, and watching ugly high-rise luxury condominiums invade the Williamsburg waterfront from my apartment window," Warshaw said. And, one assumes, occasionally cranking out the kind of tuneful noise-pop that will make the band's Brooklyn neighbors very, very afraid. — Jennifer Kelly [Friday, June 30, 2006]

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