Best of 2008-ish…

Okay.  I was hoping to have a more definitive list than this by now.  There are still a couple of things out there that I haven’t listened to (like Sammy Hagar’s new one) and I’m sure there’s some stuff I missed…plus I felt like numbers 9 and 10 on the list were kind of variable…but the top five or so are so strong, that I’m prepared to call this my “Top Ten Records of 2008” list.  Let’s get to it…

 

10. Gutter Twins – “Saturnalia”

  • This mostly makes the list because I’m a big fan of Mark Lanegan (one of the members). It’s dark and heavy in places, but also has some nice quieter moments. Good listen, but probably too weird for a lot of people.

9. Centro-matic/South San Gabriel – “Dual Hawks”

  • Centro-matic has a really folky alter-ego called South San Gabriel. This is a double disk by the two projects. I like the Centro-matic disk a lot, but have had trouble getting into the SSG one. Still, the Centro-matic disk makes this record more than top 10 worthy.

8. Alanis Morissette – “Flavors of Entanglement”

  • Nice to have Alanis back. This time she’s pissed off at Ryan Reynolds (who she dated) and wrote songs that return to her “Jagged Little Pill” lyrical style. It’s a little dance-heavy, but that doesn’t make it bad. In fact…it’s really good. 🙂

7. The Hold Steady – “Stay Positive”

  • I only got into The Hold Steady this year, and this seems like a good record to come in on. Definitely their nicest SOUNDING record, though arguably a departure from their usual sound. The title track alone makes this one for me, but I also dig the catchy-as-hell refrain of “Subpoenaed in Texas / Sequestered in Memphis.” Really strong effort, even if their long-time fans feel like it’s a departure.

6. Hayes Carll – “Trouble in Mind”

  • Heard this guy open for the Old 97s and fell in love with his songs. If you haven’t heard “She Left Me for Jesus” yet, Google it and prepare to laugh (which, of course, will require a sense of humor…so if you don’t have one, avoid it). Hayes has a really great earthy sound and really fun, Southern-fried lyrics. (Personal favorite, aside from “Jesus” is “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.”)

5. Metallica – “Death Magnetic”

  • I went on record when this came out as calling it the only thing Metallica’s done in about 10 years that I’ve liked. It’s still awesome a couple of months later and it needs to be on every metal fan’s shelf, or if it’s not there, it should be on their Christmas list. I thought that Metallica would NEVER get on my top 10 list. I thought those days were in the past. But now look. They’re not just in the top 10…they’re in the top FIVE!

4. Old 97s – “Blame it on Gravity”

  • I dig the Old 97s a lot. This one’s catchy and less of a departure as their previous record (though I really enjoyed that one too). Nice listen with plenty of energy, but it’s got some nice relaxing tracks, too. I don’t really know what to say about it. It’s just good.

3. Ray Davies – “Working Man’s Cafe”

  • Part of me wanted to put this at #2 but I dig Aimee Mann just a little bit more, so I couldn’t do it. It just might deserve to be there. Shoot, if I wasn’t letting brand/band loyalty slip into this list and took everything just on pure merit…this one might deserve to be at #1. It’s a masterpiece. Davies’ writing has always had an unmistakable “it” factor, ever since his days with the Kinks. He brought it to this record, too…and he brought it in spades.

2. Aimee Mann – “F****** Smilers”

  • Okay. We all know that I’m weirdly in love with Aimee Mann (though not in the “stalker” way). She’s a huge influence on my solo-writing (though not in Blue Tattoo) and I like pretty much everything she’s done. This one has awesome songs, smart lyrics, and one of the better record titles I’ve heard all year. Big winner with me.

1. Drive-By Truckers – “Brighter than Creation’s Dark”

  • This one shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me. I’m a DBT freak. This is quite probably their best record (though “Decoration Day” will always hold a special place on my record-shelf). It’s more chilled-out than a lot of their previous work — and it’s a “grower” that you might not like as much on the first listen as on the third. But it’s unmistakeably DBT and it’s awesome. I really wish these guys were all over the airwaves, but they just plain aren’t. Hopefully they’ve got an album in them somewhere that’ll change that. Should’ve been this one. If you’ve missed it, you’ve missed the record of the year, and the best record of their career (so far).

Additional Mentions:

  • Black Francis – “Svn Fngrs”
    • Fun enough, but it’s only seven tracks, and the first one is incredibly irritating. Plus, I got a little bit burned by his online store, and that shouldn’t make me feel differently about BF himself…but it kinda did…so I couldn’t put this one in the top 10 as a result.
  • Murray Hammond – “I Don’t Know Where I’m Going but I’m on My Way”
    • At the six-month mark, this one would have been on my list. In fact, it probably still should be. Feel free to substitute this one at either #9 or 10. A lot of people would’ve found it boring…but I loved it.
  • Judas Priest – “Nostradamus”
    • Haven’t heard all of it. The concept is remarkably silly and from what little I’ve heard, it sounds long-winded and weird…but I liked a couple of things, and I’m sure that out of the two-disks it’s made up from, there’s ONE solid record in there somewhere, if not more. Y’know…’cause Priest is awesome.
  • Chris Difford – “The Last Temptation of Chris”
    • This also very nearly snuck onto the list…but I took into consideration that I’ve not lived with it that long and I might just like so much because it’s still so new to me. This is also a possible substitute at #9 or 10…possibly higher, in fact.
  • Alice Cooper – “Along Came a Spider”
    • Stupid but fun.
  • Motorhead – “Motorizer”
    • Sounds like Motorhead, but it’s not one of their best records. If I were doing a top 15-20, this would probably find its way in, though.
  • Felice Brothers – self titled
    • Liked it a lot more when I first got it. Still good, but not top 10 good.
  • Hank Williams III – “Damn Right Rebel Proud”
    • I want to like this more, but frankly III’s starting to wear on me, especially in lyrical content. It’d be nice to have a song that — I don’t know — could conceivably be played on air. But the rate at which he drops the f-bomb, talks about drugs, talks about Satan, and overall just says inappropriate things will make him a pariah for years to come (and that’s coming from ME!). If his next one is more of the same, I might be done with him…musically, it’s still excellent…but I just can’t get past his personality and lyrics. Which brings me to…
  • Guns N’ Roses – “Chinese Democracy”
    • Crap. Absolute crap. Took too long and it’s crap. Plus, Axl is still a complete ass (and that’s coming from ME!). Just crap. Which brings me to…
  • Black Crowes – “Warpaint”
    • WTF happened to the Crowes??? I used to love these guys, but I guess they got high enough and boring enough that it’s just over. Hated the hippie, jam-band, dull show I saw them do a few years back, and this record just fails to deliver on all counts. When it was first seeing press, Rolling Stone gave it a bad review before they even got their preview copy, for which they then had to issue a retraction. Turns out they were right. Sometimes a prophet is a prophet…and for this, the Crowes deserve no profit. (See what I did there?)
  • The Killers – “Day and Age”
    • I had high hopes for the Killers when I heard their first record, but they’ve just not been as good since. Peaked early, I guess. I’m not going to trash this record. It’s passable…but it’s just not what I know they’re capable of, so it’s a little bit of a disappointment. Still singable, but not list-able in the top 10.
      That’s it for this year. Join me next year where I’ll piss off more fans of stuff I don’t like! 🙂

On a side note, the spell-checker on WordPress keeps underlining the word “like” as being misspelled in this post. That’s weird.  Plus it’s doing weird stuff with the formatting and it’s really frustrating me.  Sorry for anything that looks weird or is spelled wrong…it’s more their fault than mine this time.

Music I Missed

I’m getting ready to list my favorite records of 2008…but first, here’s a list of stuff I’m pissed off that I either didn’t know about or forgot about last year (for inclusion on the “Best of 07” list)…  No particular order to the list, but this is stuff that definitely would have been in contention for last year’s top ten, or would have at least gotten an honorable mention.  (It’s amazing how many of them I got into because of Graham Norton’s show on BBC America.)

 

  1. KT Tunstall – “Drastic Fantastic”
    • Scottish girl who’s totally NOT a lesbian, even though everyone seems to think she is.  She writes really smart songs and has a great pop sensibility alongside edgy rock mentality.  (Credit Graham Norton for this discovery.)
  2. Tori Amos – “American Doll Posse”
    • This record finally got me into Tori’s music.  It’s got a different vibe than her other records and it’s a semi-concept record.  Really cool rock moments and some almost house-music moments make for nice accent to Tori’s typical piano-stuff.  Plus…y’know…she’s still hot.  (Again, credit to Graham Norton for hipping me to it.)
  3. John Fogerty – “Revival”
    • I don’t know how I forgot about this one.  CCR’s frontman (I don’t care how good the guy they have now is, he’s no Fogerty) DELIVERS on this record.  It’s back to his angry roots and it brings back memories of the first time you heard “Fortunate Son.”  In fact, the whole thing’s crammed with political protest.  The record may as well have just been called, “F*** George Bush.  F*** Him in the Ear” by John Fogerty.  🙂  (Graham had nothing to do with this one.)
  4. Bloc Party – “A Weekend in the City”
    • I got into Bloc Party by accident when I heard “This Modern Love” in an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” and fell in love with it.  Bought “Silent Alarm” and this one at roughly the same time.  Good stuff, even though it’s mostly a background noise band…but I dig that kind of thing.
  5. Rufus Wainwright – “Release the Stars”
    • Loudon Wainwright III came to fame in the 70s with “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” and via a couple of irritating appearances on M*A*S*H.  Rufus is his son — and he’s now more famous than his father ever was.  He’s also gay as the day is long.  Saw him on Graham Norton, and as soon as he walked out I said, “There’s a gay man.”  Then he spoke and I said, “There’s a really gay man.”  Then I found out that he’s been out of the closet since he was a teen.  His sexuality bleeds over into his music…but his music’s also BEAUTIFUL.  As a straight man, I have some trouble identifying with some of his work, but I can definitely appreciate the sounds he makes.
  6. The Eagles – “Long Road Out of  Eden”
    • The Eagles returned and put out a pretty good record.  Sounded like them.  Not much to say about it…it was just nice to have them back.
  7. Melanie C – “This Time”
    • Another Graham Norton discovery.  I haven’t actually heard it, but I loved her record “Northern Star” a few years ago.  Amidst the Spice Girls reunion, this kind of got lost in the shuffle, I think.  She’s definitely the talented one of the fab-five girls and I hope she one day is able to live down having been “Sporty” and can get the respect she deserves as a serious artist.  (She’s come close…but she’s not there yet.)  I’m going to pick this one up soon and I expect to enjoy it after having heard the single.
  8. Paul McCartney – “Memory Almost Full”
    • Okay…Paul’s my least favorite Beatle.  There.  I said it.  However, this record is really good.  He reminds us that Lennon wasn’t the only one with talent and he does so by proving that he STILL has it.  I may not care for him much…but a good record’s a good record.  (I’m officially out of Graham-bands, btw.)
  9. Alison Kraus and Robert Plant – “Raising Sand”
    • Really.  Really.  Good.  If nothing else, one of my new favorite versions of “Fortune Teller” is on this record.  Their voices really compliment each other in ways I wouldn’t have expected.  Definitely worth a look, if you missed it.

…and that’ll do it for stuff I missed last year.  Planning on doing the 2008 list next time.

Comics… (Or “Nerdology…”)

Recently I had the opportunity to speak about graphic novels/comics as an art form (thanks again for the invite, Kent).  It was for a class at the college.  Lots of fun.  It’s always good to get to speak about your hobbies and loves in life.  What’s more, I’ve found that there are more than a couple who were in the class that have some genuine interest in the subject — including a couple of folks who have told me they wouldn’t have thought about comics as art before that presentation, which is awesome.

 

So, I’ve been in a comicy place lately.  I’m going to list a few I’ve recently read, just to entertain the fanboys out there.  🙂  For the non-geeks among us, I’ll limit it to five.  FYI – I tend to lean toward the true-life stuff as opposed to snapping up ever superhero book I can get my hands on.  Don’t get me wrong…I keep up.  I’m way into Batman.  I followed the Marvel Civil War.  I can dig on the X-Men until the cows come home…but the stuff that really speaks to me tends to be the stuff that’s someone’s true story.  I just dig the whole “this is my life” thing.  (But, yeah…I’ll always read a Batman.)

 

  • Blankets – I’ve blogged about this one extensively.  (If you’re interested, just type “Blankets” in the search field.)  It’s a story I identified with in big, big ways as I read it, and it just really grabbed onto me.  I can’t say enough about this book, and I recommend it to everyone.  Especially those who’ve ever been disenchanted with the church and/or torn about your faith.  I can’t say I recommend taking the route the guy in the book takes…but at least it’s nice to know you’re not alone in your struggle.
  • Maus – This book is without precedent.  Even the people who hand out the Pulitzer Prize recognize that.  (They awarded the book in 1992.  That doesn’t ever happen to a comic book.)  It’s the story of a guy and his relationship with his dad, who was a survivor of Auschwitz (and later Dachau).  The kicker is that all of the people are portrayed as animals.  The Nazis as cats (which kept striking me as funny because of www.catsthatlooklikehitler.com), the Jews as mice.  It’s intense.  Hadn’t read it until recently, but it’s one of the best comics I’ve ever read.
  • Local – This was an impulse buy because the comic shop I was in didn’t have stuff I was looking for, but I chatted with the dude behind the counter long enough that I felt I had to buy something.  It’s really good, though.  The cover described it as “the coolest short film never shown on the IFC or Sundance channel.”  That’s pretty accurate.  It’s 12 semi-related stories revolving around the same girl.  They’re all pulled together in the final story and it’s a pretty good payoff.  Kind of a coming-of-age, fish out of water thing.  Really good read.
  • Death of Captain America – Okay…I’ll throw in one of the stretchy-pants stories.  🙂  I dig the “Death of Cap” story.  I was very disappointed by the ending of the Civil War arc (as were many, many, many others).  But this pretty much makes up for it.  It’s gripping and really cool to investigate what the reaction of the world would be if a superhero died.  (The “Death of Superman” fiasco didn’t do a very good job with it in the 90s, IMO.)  I won’t say much else about it because I’m hoping one or two of you will go read it…but it’s really good.  I was kind of surprised by that.  I’m not a big Cap fan, usually, but this really grabbed me.
  • The Arrival – This one’s unique.  It’s the story of an immigrant arriving to a new country for the first time and trying to find his feet.  Nothing too remarkable about that story…except that this book’s done almost entirely wordlessly.  The only lettering in it is an invented alphabet, used to represent the lack of understanding an immigrant must feel in a land not his own (gibberish words, used sparingly).  I didn’t think I’d like it.  I’m not as into the art of the comics as some fanboys are.  I like a good story and I need panels with dialogue, usually…but this was really effective.  It told a story without having to say anything.  Pretty cool, and it reaffirmed my feeling that comics can do things that neither books nor movies can do — and in this case, it was done really well.

That’s it.  I have a few things on my list to read.  I’m going to get around to the “Dark Tower” series sooner or later (and I’ll read “The Stand” once it’s all bound into one issue).  “Sleepwalk and Other Stories” has been on my “to read” list for months, but I’ve just not picked it up yet.  I know all about the “Batman RIP” series, but I haven’t gotten there yet.  It’s soon to happen (actually, they haven’t released THAT part in novel form yet but the build-up to it is out, so I’m going to pick that up shortly).  And I hear Harvey Pekar’s got another new one slated.  His stuff’s usually a good read.  (Though I didn’t much care for his last one about the Students for a Democratic Society.  It was just a little too information-heavy for me.)  I hear the new one’s supposed to be about his life again, in true “Splendor” fashion, so I’m looking forward to that.

 

That’s it for now.  Sorry for geeking out on ya’.  🙂

 

Current Reading:

  • “The Book of Air and Shadows” by Michael Gruber.  Decent Read.  Story’s interesting enough, but every chapter (so far) ends with excerpts of a “letter” written in period-speak.  That olde-tyme English which wert verily difficult whereupon the discern-er to find his whereabouts, aye!  I kind of hate those parts.  I’m beginning to wonder if I can still get a good story out of it by skipping those parts.  I don’t know why authors insist upon doing that crap…I probably wouldn’t have even picked it up in the first place if I’d known that was coming…but now I’m into the story…so I guess I’ll finish it, unless it just totally drives me nuts.

Music…

I’ve had a lot of balls in the air lately, musically.  Blue Tattoo finally has its first gig on the calendar (Jan 17 at The Chapel).  The Feldman Group has a bunch of dates scheduled.  My solo record is ready to go at any moment.  I’m recording an EP for a friend’s band.  And there’s a piece of information I recently found out that is also of interest…

 

Let’s take them one by one.

 

  1. Blue Tattoo – We’ve been wanting to get a gig together for some time.  Honestly, I’d just about given up hope.  We sent out press packets and directed booker after booker to our website…and NOTHING.  No calls, no e-mails…nothing.  For months.  Then, out of the clear blue sky, Johnny gets contacted by The Chapel, and they want us to play an opening set for someone.  At first, it was going to be the 9th, but now it’s the 17th — which actually works out a little better for me.  I was getting worried.  I was actually thinking that if we didn’t get something on the calendar soon that someone was going to quit.  I won’t say who I thought it would be…but it would’ve created some problems.  Hopefully this gig will lead to other gigs and we’ll all be happy.
  2. Feldman Gigs – Those who’ve read my blog regularly (pray for them) will know that I have a love/hate relationship with playing the 4-hour bar gigs with Mike.  But, we keep busy, and it keeps putting money in my pocket.  There are a couple of very lucrative ones on the horizon, too.  Also, we recorded a new demo at my house recently, and it’s pending Mike’s approval.  Hopefully he likes it.
  3. Solo Record – It’s done and ready to be sent out, except that I’m a little lower on cash than I expected, and I’m also needing to finish up a couple of things on the bonus disk.  I was saying I was sending it out “just before Thanksgiving,” but now that’s looking like “just before Christmas.”  Sorry, stocking stuffers.
  4. The Lower End of Normal (LEON) – My friend (and drummer on my new record) Dave Knobel is in the band Lower End of Normal (LEON).  They’ve been meaning to put together an EP for about ten years, and it’s finally coming together, with me at the sound-board.  I’m enjoying it, and I hope it ends up sounding as good as they’re all hoping.
  5. …And one more thing…  I mentioned the Feldman band and how regularly we’re gigging.  However, I  was recently informed that Kenny (the drummer) is going to be quitting the band after our Jan 10th gig.  That sucks.  I like Kenny.  But, he’s got other interests, and the schedule with Mike can get grueling — especially when the shows are crappy.  We’ve had more than a couple of those lately, and I totally get his reasons for leaving.  I’ll just miss hanging out with him, is all.  Also, I would imagine we’re going to be slowing down a little with the loss of Kenny, and we’ll probably have less gigs for a while.

So…that’s pretty much what’s been taking up all of my free time lately.

 

Current Watching:

  • Okay…not today…but almost definitely tomorrow, I’ll be picking up season four of LOST on DVD.  I’ve seen all the episodes…I’m mostly in it for the commentaries and bonus features.  🙂