Wait a minute! There’s no Angus McCloud in North Kilttown! Why, you’re not from Scotland at all!

Got a few things in my brain…let’s pour ’em out…

  • Let’s start by mentioning that my now-former co-worker Christine will no longer be working with our company.  I don’t have all the details on the whys and whats, and unless someone wants to tell me about it, it’s not really my business in the first place.  But, I will miss Christine, and I hope she finds herself doing something awesome very soon.  Kind of a bummer to find that out today, but hopefully we’ll stay friends and all that stuff…  Anyway…  Dunno if she reads the blog…but just in case — Have an awesome summer, Christine!  See you next fall!  …wait…that’s what you write in a yearbook.  Dammit!  ALMOST had it there…
  • My guitar rig has gotten stupid.  I set out to scale-down my effect board.  I removed some stuff I haven’t been using, and put in some stuff I thought might be useful in the future.  And instead of using my one, multi-purpose, Blue Tattoo-era board…  I am now running TWO boards, chained together, with both pre and post effects.  I’m not sure how that happened, but it’s insane, and it sounds GREAT.  I love it…but do I really want to cart all of that around?!?
  • I’ve been sleeping TERRIBLY lately.  I think the past two nights, I’ve gotten to sleep around 4 a.m.  It’s currently 12:30-ish, and tonight’s not looking much better.  I don’t know what the deal is…but I wish I could get some freaking sleep.
  • I’ve been searching and searching for a misplaced lyric.  About two or three years ago, I started writing a song about a long-deceased relative of mine names Walter Winn.  He has some ghost-stories wrapped up around him (nothing serious…just stuff to scare the little kids, back in the day) and it made for a good lyric.  But it’s gone.  I can’t find it anywhere.  I think I found page TWO of it tonight…but I’m missing most of it.  Guess we’re in for a re-write.  Oh well.
  • On a related note…  While I’ve been looking through old notebooks, I’ve been running across a lot of abandoned TERRIBLE lyrics.  I write a LOT of crap that never sees the light of day, and with good cause.  I found one such lyric that made me laugh out loud, but not so much because of the lyric, but because of what I wrote underneath it.  I had written 6 or 8 lines and abandoned it, apparently deciding it wasn’t worth finishing while I was still in the middle of it.  I then drew an arrow from the bottom of the page, up to the abandoned words and wrote next to the arrow: “That, only good.”  Why would I write that?  To remind myself that maybe I liked writing about that topic, but the lyric at hand was crap?  Made me laugh and I told my brother about it tonight and he laughed about as hard as I did.  Thought I’d share with the rest of you.  🙂
  • Banjo Update – There has been no banjo purchased.  However, I am hoping to come into some money in the next couple of weeks, and maybe I’ll be able to swing it soon.  Here’s hoping.  I started going over some of the repairs needed to my grandpa’s, and it’s a BIG job.  He was fairly rough on it—which makes sense, since he actually PLAYED it and it didn’t just sit in a closet somewhere.  I’ve got guitars in worse shape that I’ve played less…so it stands to reason…  But still, it’s a little bit disappointing and the thought of doing the whole of the repair-job is overwhelming.  So…anyway…hopefully a new banjo will come into my life BEFORE I finish the lengthy repair process on Grandpa’s.
  • One of my neighbors is running for Mayor in my town.  So, people of Florissant, when the ballot is out there, please vote for Tom Schneider, okay?  (I’m sure he’ll be on it.  He’s in the “petition” phase now to get his name on the official ballot, and from what I hear it’s going very well.)  He’s a good man, and he’s got a good family.  He had my vote from the moment I heard he *might* run.  He’s not a typical politician.  He uses his head, thinks things through, and is honest.  We need that in my town, and we need that in America.  So, I just wanted to say that.
  • I had Chinese food from my favorite place last night.  That makes me happy.
  • Working on the Two Hangmen EP.  I’ve got some (VERY) rough scratch tracks that I’m hoping to clean up this weekend.  I think we’ll have something good on our hands once it’s done.  I’m excited about it.  I’ll keep you posted.

And that’ll do it…just wanted to get those few things out of my brain.  Thanks for reading.

Oh…and the post title is a Simpson’s reference, if you didn’t know.  Saw that episode last night and that line’s been bouncing through my brain all day.  Has nothing to do with anything else in the post.  🙂

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Current Listening:

  • I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Rufus Wainwright and Elton John.  Kinda works, but I’m afraid I might fall in love with a man if I keep this going for too long.

The “Also-Rans”

Hope everyone enjoyed my top 10 records of 2010 yesterday.  Today, I’ll present the “Also Rans”—the stuff that was also released and purchased this year, but that didn’t make the list for one reason or another.  Some were ineligible for various reasons…some just weren’t top 10 material.

I should note that there are two 2010 releases out there that I have not yet purchased, and they may figure in as well.  I doubt that either would make the top 10, but they would probably get write-ups here, if I’d have bought them.  Sooner or later I’ll buy them, but for the moment, I’m still missing Bruce Springsteen’s “The Promise” and James Blunt’s “Some Kind of Trouble.”

Other than those…here’s the other stuff!  They are listed in no particular order, this is just how they came to mind as I was writing.  Enjoy!

1. Alice Cooper – “Theatre of Death”

Also pictured: My reflection.
  • This was ineligible due to being a live record, containing no new material.
  • This is a CD/DVD combo featuring a recording of Alice’s concert in (I think) London in 2009.  Lots of classics.  A couple of not-so-classics, and four “deaths” for Alice.  They keep killing him.  He keeps coming back.  Awesomly fun, especially the DVD, where you get to see all the chaos.  (My favorite part is that when they grab him for one of the executions, and his only defense is yelling, “Hey!”  Who yells “Hey!” when they’re about to be killed?)  Really good, fun release.  But not eligible for the top ten.

2. Hank (Williams) III – “Rebel Within”

 

  • This one didn’t BELONG on my top ten list.  (Sorry III fans, but this is going to get a little harsh.)
  • Let’s forego the fact that I felt awkward buying this album cover from the black girl who was at the register at Best Buy and just criticize the music…
  • I used to think Hank III was the savior of Outlaw Country.  I thought he would carry on his grandpa’s legacy in a way Hank Jr didn’t have the guts to attempt.  Then he released the past two records, and frankly, he’s beginning to scream “one note” to me.  This was a major disappointment—but that’s not to say it’s entirely bad.  He released a record reflecting where he IS right now, and there is some decent material here.  This is also his last release with Curb records, and that probably made him less interested in putting his all into it.  I think he was shooting for combining the vibe of “Lovesick, Broke and Driftin'” with the edge of “Straight to Hell” but it just failed on both levels…  And more than anything else…  We get it.  You love Satan and doing drugs.  Please write about something else now.  It’s old.  (Also, it’d be great if you wrote at least one or two songs that didn’t have the word “fuck” in them, so maybe you can get some airplay and/or I could play one of your records in my car when my more conservative friends are around.  There’s a time and place for that, and it’s not on every track.)  Maybe III has another good record in him now that he’s “free” from Curb…but frankly, I’m beginning to think he should’ve listened closer to what Curb was telling him all along, because he hasn’t been as restrained on his recent releases…and they’ve been boring, derivitive, and just plain pointless.  Sorry III…I really tried, but this one just didn’t work for me.  (But, hey, as long as the drug addicts and racist rednecks keep coming to your shows, who cares, right?)

3. Band of Horses – “Infinite Arms”

  • This one just didn’t quite make the cut…
  • I like the record a lot—I do…  But it just wasn’t the cream of the crop.  In a year where there was less to choose from, it probably would’ve found its way onto the list, but in this year, it just didn’t.  Still good though, and I enjoy it when I put it on.  My only real criticism is that I wish they’d explored more of the alt-country vibe and less of the Brian Wilson vibe…but even still, it’s a good listen.  No regrets about buying it, and I’d recommend it to others…but the stuff on my top ten was just better, in my eyes.

4. Queens of the Stone Age – “Rated R”

There's my reflection again!
  • Ineligible because it is a re-release/deluxe edition of a previously released record.
  • For the 10th anniversary of QOTSA’s “Rated R” they put out this nice little two-disc containing some B-sides and live tracks.  It’s pretty cool.  Mostly, it’s just good to hear that record again.  It’s the best thing they’ve ever done, and probably the best thing they ever WILL do, and it’s nice to see that I’m not alone on that.
  • 

5. Leonard Cohen – “Songs from the Road”

  • Ineligible because it’s a live record.
  • Contains a CD and a DVD.
  • This is more or less a companion piece to Cohen’s “Live in London” release from 2009.  It contains performances from other shows on that tour.  Some of the same songs show up (I mean…how does Leonard Cohen release something that doesn’t have “Hallelujah” on it at this point?  Of COURSE it’s there!).  There are also some songs not heard on “Live in London” that are welcomed additions to the Cohen live catalogue.  It lacks the focus and flow of the previous release, but that does not invalidate the quality of the music.  It’s still excellent and still Cohen in top form.  Now…if only I’d remember to watch the freaking DVD!  🙂

6. Johnny Cash – “American VI: Ain’t No Grave”

  • Didn’t quite make the cut, and also possibly considered ineligible for being filled with cover songs.
  • It was kind of heartbreaking not to put this on the top 10.  I love Johnny Cash.  I’ve loved everything in the “American” series…but this one just kind of fell flat in comparison to the rest of the series.  Just seemed like Rick Rubin needed a few bucks and said, “Well…I’ve still got these Cash songs sitting around…”  (Not that I’m accusing him of that…)  This isn’t the best of the series…  But at the same time, it is an END to the series.  This is it.  The capstone.  No more Johnny Cash “American” records are forthcoming.  If you look at it that way—as the final chapter of a book—it’s really good.  But if you stack it up song-for-song against the rest of the series, it’s not as strong.  I mean…there’s a version of “Aloha Oe” on here.  But still…I like it, and I wish I could have justified putting it on the top ten…but it’s just not as strong a release as I was hoping, and also there’s the “no cover records” rule that I tend to maintain (although I’ve broken that rule for Cash before…but it makes me feel better to cite that rule in this situation!).

7. Iron Maiden – “The Final Frontier”

My reflection really gets around!
  • Didn’t quite make it…
  • It’s a good record.  It sounds more like classic Maiden than their previous release (or possibly previous TWO).  But for me, it gets a little too rambling toward the end, and there’s just not much that’s “catchy” on the record.  The catchiest songs are the first three (technically FOUR…I have no idea why they didn’t split the first track into two separate tracks…) and the rest is the kind of lengthy, proggy, exhaustingly long songs that are sometimes hits and sometimes misses for the band.  Frankly, I think there were just a couple more “misses” on this one.
  • Plus…I’m still pretty pissed off that I paid DOUBLE PRICE for a fucking t-shirt at the show, compared to what it cost on their website. And the webstore didn’t even reply to my e-mail—no surprise there…

8. Neil Young – “Le Noise”

  • Just barely fell short.
  • I like this one a lot.  I really do…but I thought long and hard (heh!) about it and I just don’t think it has the staying power (heh-heh!) that would make me stand by it in a couple of years.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still enjoy listening to this one down the road.  Some of the songs are immediately catchy and I really dig the concept (it’s just Neil playing guitars and singing and then throwing on a bunch of crazy-ass guitar and vocal effects, with no other instrumentation)…but I might like the uniqueness of it more than I like the actual record, and I’m not sure that when I look back on the top ten NEXT year, that I’d still want this on the list.  But it’s definitely worth a listen, and I highly recommend it to Neil fans and fans of weird recording methods alike.

9. Squeeze – “Spot the Difference”

  • Ineligible because there is no NEW material on it, despite every song being a new recording.
  • Squeeze went into the studio with their NEW lineup and recorded (most of) their OLD hits.  It’s great.  It sounds just like the old versions (with some minor variations) and you might not even be able to “spot the difference” in the band now from what they used to be—hence the title.  If nothing else, it’s good to have those songs FINALLY up to a listenable volume level, and it’s always good to hear these tunes.  But, since it was basically them going into a studio and saying, “Let’s play those songs we wrote 20 years ago…I bet we get them right!” it just can’t make the list.  That’d be unfair to all the people who put out NEW songs this year.

10. Legendary Shack Shakers – “Agri-dustrial”

  • Just BARELY didn’t make the list.
  • If I hadn’t bought The Punch Brothers “Antifogmatic” this would’ve squeezed into the co-holder of the #10 spot.  As such, I could justify 11, but I couldn’t justify 12…which is a shame, and I almost regret it.  This is a really good record.  It’s fun.  In places, it’s spooky.  It’s funny, when it needs to be, dark when it doesn’t.  And it rocks.  My only criticism of it is the same criticism I have of every Shack Shakers record…I wish it was less “produced” and sounded more like they sound live…but I guess I’ll have to wait for (another) live record for that to happen.  Still, a GREAT release that I wish there had been room for on the top 10.

11. Willie Nelson – “Country Music”

  • Ineligible because it’s a covers record…
  • I almost had to break my “no covers” rule for this one.  It’s SO well done and sounds GREAT.  The only thing that kept it off the list is that I had so much NEW material to choose from that the “no covers” rule almost HAD to come into effect just to trim down the nominees.  But, if you want to hear country music how it SHOULD be done, pick this up TODAY.

And those are the ones that didn’t make the cut for one reason or another.

I look forward to 2011’s releases, and I’m sure I’ll have lots of fun sharing my thoughts with you as the year goes by.  Hope the new year contains much for your playlist as well!

Oh…and also, check later tonight for TWO new podcasts on the “Empty Checking” blog.  I did one as a Christmas wrap-up, and one detailing the top 10 and also-rans in spoken word (with different stuff than what I wrote on the blog).  I’ve just got to upload the tracks, and they’ll be good to go.  Check around “Prime Time” for that.  🙂

First Post of 2011 – Top Ten of 2010

NOTE: Sorry if the pictures take a while to load.  For some reason WordPress seems to be having trouble with the file size.  That has never happened before, and I find it very disappointing.

Thought I’d ring in the new year by remembering the music of the old one.  This was a GREAT year in music, and any ONE of my top ten would have been a #1 in almost ANY other year.  Several of the “also-rans” that didn’t make the top 10 would have been in the top 5 in any other year as well.  (I’ll do a whole post about the “also rans” tomorrow, by the way.  They’re so good they deserve mention even if they didn’t make the final cut.)  There was a WEALTH of stuff to choose from and I had trouble limiting it to only ten.  In fact, I had SO MUCH trouble limiting it that for the first time EVER on my list, there are 11, with #10 being a tie between two records.  

With no further ado…here they are.  My top ten records of 2010!

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10. [TIE] – Henry Clay People – “Somewhere on the Golden Coast” / Old 97’s – “The Grand Theatre”

  • Yep.  A tie.  First time ever for a tie.  At least I’m not one of those idiots who puts a tie at #5 or something like that.  I’m at least admitting that I COULD have limited it to only 10.  But I would have felt bad eliminating either of these records from the list.
  • To begin with, the Henry Clay People’s “Somewhere on the Golden Coast” is a great record.  I saw them a couple of months ago, opening for the Drive-By Truckers, and really enjoyed their set.  The record is a lot of fun and has a jangly punk edge to it while still managing to stay on the “rock” side of the fence.  My only criticism of it is that I think the vocals could have been brought up in the mix a little bit…but song to song, there’s nothing I don’t like.
  • The Old 97’s are always a good listen.  They’ve got a country edge with a rock and roll heart…and not in that horrible, insulting “Zac (Douchebag) Brown” way.  “The Grand Theatre” isn’t their strongest record…but it’s strong enough.  A lot of it is immediately catchy and fun, and some of it is moody and reflective in a way that only happens when a guy who knows how to write a country song writes one (looking at YOU, Murray! …and NOT at YOU, Zac!).

9. Punch Brothers – “Antifogmatic”

  • I’m new to the world of the Punch Brothers.  I saw them on David Letterman back in October performing with Steve Martin as a special guest.  (Steve’s got a little bit of a bluegrass career going now.  The Punch Brothers are not a comedy act.)  I liked the song they did so much, I ran out and bought the record the next day.  I think I’ve described them before as “what would happen if Kansas had any idea of what to do with a banjo.”  I stand by that.  It’s a sleepy listen in some places, but I welcome that.  For weeks after I bought “Antifogmatic” I woke up with one of the songs from the record stuck in my head.  So they accomplished everything they needed to.

8. Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs”

  • I was very disappointed with Arcade Fire’s previous effort in “Neon Bible.”  Apparently I was alone in that…but I still don’t think it was a very good record, with the exception of the song “Intervention.”  But this year’s offering of “The Suburbs” made up for the previous disappointment.  Long-winded, sprawling epic pieces mixed with catchy little pop songs.  Felt like a return to the “Funeral” writing style, while embracing the meandering structure of “Neon Bible” in a GOOD way.  They hit the nail on the head with this one.  By the time I got to “Modern Man” (which is in 5/4 time, incidentally) on my first listen, I knew this was an instant add to the top ten.  I read somewhere that one of the music critics described his anticipation of this record by saying, “It’s like a new Beatles record is coming out.”  That guy needs to get out more—or at least re-listen to Sgt. Pepper.  But it’s still a good record, delusions aside.

7. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo”

  • I got into the BRMC because my brother wanted to go see them earlier this year and I was going to go with him.  We ended up not going (I think I was sick, but I don’t recall right now…I’m sure I mentioned it on the blog), but I did listen to “Howl,” “Baby 81,” and this latest offering “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” enough to know it was GOOD.  Of the stuff I’ve heard, this record is probably the band’s most accessible, while still maintaining the uniqueness that drew people to them in the first place.  Catchy, but dense.  Rock, but with a soft side.  Plus, they’ve got a girl in the band now.  So that’s cool.  (And on a side note, once again RIP to Michael Been from The Call, who is the father of BRMC’s Robert Levon Been.)

6. John Mellencamp – “No Better Than This”

  • Mellencamp has become something of a footnote in rock and roll history, with most people only really seeming to recall “Jack and Diane.”  And he seems to be fine with that.  🙂  “No Better Than This” doesn’t have anything on it that sounds like that.  “This” embraces Mellencamp’s fondness for when Sun Studios was king.  He even recorded a majority of the tracks there, using vintage recording equipment.  It shows.  This easily could’ve come out of a jam session between Jerry Lee and Elvis…and maybe Carl Perkins stopped by with Haggard in the backseat, just to mellow it out a little.  Packaged, as you see it above, in just a folded over plastic bag (yet still costing $16.99…wtf?), with a fairly sloppy piece of paper shoved inside serving a “liner notes,” this record celebrates the rawness of music, as it SHOULD be.  Mellencamp performed “Save Some time to Dream” at Farm Aid when it was in St. Louis, and I knew he had something good coming in this record.  I was right.  It’s great.  Probably his best work in YEARS.

5. The Drive-By Truckers – “The Big To-Do”

  • Okay.  Not their best record.  But how often can they release “Decoration Day?”  “The Big To-Do” is a solid record by one of the most solid bands working today.  Jewels like “After the Scene Dies” and “Drag the Lake Charlie” will be in the consciousness of every DBT fan for decades.  “Birthday Boy” and “This Fucking Job” will have you screaming for more every time.  And even my least favorite track on the record (which is also one of my least favorite tracks in DBT’s career—sorry) “The Wig He Made Her Wear” is a pretty good story, even if it lacks melody and smacks of over-effort.  So yeah…not the best thing they’ve ever done, but one of the best things anyone did this year.  Even when DBT releases a record that, for them, is just “okay,” it’s still top 10 material.  Even top 5.  🙂

4. The Black Keys – “Brothers”

  • When I first heard this record I thought it was dismissable.  Then I heard it again.  And again.  And now I don’t know WHAT I was thinking on that first listen!  Easily one of the best records of the year.  I bounced back and forth between putting this at #4, #3, and #2.  It ended up at #4, mostly because I’ve just listened to the top three more than I’ve listened to this one.  (Plus, the top three also have a special something to each of them that made them rise above the pack.)  “Brothers” brings back memories of classic R&B while still making sure your feet are planted in the 21st century.  And there’s only two guys in the band, and they produce awesome music.  So that’s cool too.  Maybe Dave and I will give that a shot.  😉

3. Rufus Wainwright – “All Days are Nights / Songs for Lulu”

  • Easily one of the ballsiest records I heard all year.  It’s just Rufus and his piano.  That’s a format that is almost BOUND to irritate pop critics.  But Rufus wrote such a dark, personal record in “All Days Are Nights / Songs for Lulu” that it’s virtually a middle finger to the critics, without ever feeling like it.  I don’t even MISS the other instruments.  This record allowed Rufus such an opportunity to shine with his amazing voice and equally amazing piano playing that any other instruments would ruin it.  It’s a very brave, personal, deep record, written in the struggle of knowing that his mother (Kate McGarrigle) was dying—being completed just days before her death.  Most of the tour has featured Rufus travelling with just his piano and no band, performing the record in its entirety alongside other songs from his catalogue.  And—suck it record execs—he’s been regularly selling out huge theatres, even playing a HIGHLY esteemed show at Carnegie Hall this year, and boasting an upcoming five-night stay at the Royal Opera House in July.  The songs are absolutely beautiful and the execution is one of the bravest things any performer can choose to do.  Rufus presented his songs naked to to the world.  They returned clothed in white.

2. The Hold Steady – “Heaven is Whenever”

  • The Hold Steady just keep getting better and better at what they do.  I don’t know that anyone else mixes the rawness of rock and roll with the sweet, soft grind of a slide on an acoustic guitar as well as they did on “Heaven is Whenever.”  Notably Southern in influence (as most things on this list seem to be), the sing-talked vocals bounce off rich keys, and screaming guitars in a way that’s just magical.  No track on this record is a miss.  “Soft in the Center” will be on my “awesome songs” playlist for YEARS.  “We Can Get Together” provides a lush, invigorating tale of what music can DO between two people.  “A Slight Discomfort” brings us into a epic-sounding, almost overwhelming realization of just why people pick up guitars and drumsticks in the first place.  The Hold Steady may be one of the best bands going today.  And this is certainly one of the best records anyone produced this year.

1. Shooter Jennings & Hierophant – “Black Ribbons”

  • There was no question.  The second I heard this record, I knew it would take the number one spot on my list this year.  Shooter Jennings BROKE with his country roots to deliver something really special with the concept-record, “Black Ribbons.”  Built on a foundation of political, musical, and personal intrigue, layered with cynicism and fun, fueled by anger and longing for change…and then there’s the music.  This is one of the few records I’ve heard in years that actually manages to capture the same thing in the music that it does in the lyrics.  Genre-defying?  You better believe it.  I don’t know HOW to classify this thing.  There’s standard rock.  There’s an acoustic ballad.  There’s hip-hop.  (And yes, even our old friend auto-tune makes an appearance or two!)  There are spoken word moments—provided by Stephen King, no less.  There’s borderline metal, in places…  Fuzzed-out guitars…  No one word or genre expresses it.  Polt-wise, it’s a chilling story of what actually COULD happen to freedom of speech/freedom in general in this country (don’t fool yourself) mixed with the escapism of an awesome rock record.  This works on EVERY level and is not only the best record of this year, it’s probably the best record I’ve heard in about 5-10 years.  It’s that good.  If you missed this, GO BUY IT NOW.  But be forewarned…it just might change how you see the world.  But…that’s what art is for, isn’t it?

And there you have it.  I hope you enjoyed the read, and I hope you’ll go out and discover some new music because of it.  If not…it’s your own fault.  🙂

Tune in tomorrow for the list of “also-rans.”

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And on a side note…  America…I love you…but you’ve GOT to stop putting sea salt all over everything.  Sea salt blows, isn’t much better for you than real salt, and I miss eating things that taste good.  There.  I said it.