Monday, December 31, 2007

...in with the new

It's the time of year when those of us so inclined turn reflective and tally up the year's events in some fashion or other. There'll be plenty of time for that later this evening though -- for now, we just wanted to point you to our annual Daily Vault cavalcade of "Best Of 2007" lists! Enjoy...

Friday, December 21, 2007

When I Was 22, It Was A Very Good Year....

All things considered, 2007 was a fairly normal year for the music business. CD and Retail sales continued to drop, while digital sales continue their outstanding growth, as they did in 06. However, as we approach the end of the calendar, there's one event that could easily become one of the most important decisions made by the industry in quite some time. We're talking, boys and girls, about DRM.

If you read my Best Of 2007 list , you'll see I alluded to this event but didn't expound upon it. Well, that's why the Vault has a blog!

The whole issue of DRM is much too expansive for me to completely cover here, suffice it to say it has become one of the cornerstones of the arguments for Digital Music. For the uninitiated, DRM is what record labels and online stores use to ensure that the music downloaded from them has restricted usage. For example, anyone who is reading this probably has an iPod, and odds are some of you have downloaded a song from the iTunes store. That song contains a DRM technology created by Apple called FairPlay. That technology only allows your purchased music to be played on 5 different computers, selected by you.

On cursory glance, that wouldn't seem to impact your normal music listening habits, but to others, it is the principle of the matter. When you buy a product, it's yours. By all rights, you should be able to do what you want with it, as long as it does not infringe on the personal rights of others. You purchase a car, and decide to fix it up yourself, adding custom parts. No one sees a problem with that, yet there is a stigma with people wanting to share their music with others. Recently, in a Peer-to-Peer Sharing Trial, an RIAA executive stated that even just ripping music from CDs is a copyright infringement. (This involves the whole notion of copyright laws and art, and that's an argument for a whole other day. I will say that I, unequivocally, have never met anyone who has stolen music.)

This year, however, the tide has started to turn for the better. Apple's CEO Steve Jobs wrote a letter early in the year decrying the use of DRM, and stating Apple would support any record labels that would remove it from their product. Shortly thereafter, EMI announced it would start selling DRM-free music across the Web, and they made good of their promise in May. Apple at that time launched their iTunes Plus portion of their store, in which the consumer is able to choose is they want the DRM-free, higher quality tracks or the standard FairPlay files. Over the past few months, other labels such as Universal have engaged in implementing similar strategies. Amazon launched their own Mp3 Download store, with every song DRM-free (As a sidenote, before you go to iTunes, check to see if Amazon has the album first. Their service is terrific, the quality of the files is better, and each has artwork imbedded in it).

However, quite possibly the biggest step forward came with the release of In Rainbows by Radiohead. They completely bypassed the record labels, releasing their album on their own online. What's more, the consumer could choose how much they wanted to pay for the album, which had zero DRM. The results? Radiohead made more off the digital sales from the album than they had with all the other albums put together, according to Thom Yorke himself. Radiohead may claim that their reasoning for the release was based on practicality, however they fail to understand just what it means from this point moving forward.

To the average consumer, this may not sound like exciting news. However, I assure you, it is important. For the first time in a very long while, the record labels are responding to consumer interests, and taking a positive step forward, instead of maintaining archaic policies that do not reflect the times. Within the next year, I would find it difficult to imagine DRM existing in any relevant fashion at all. Music Lovers 1, Labels 0.

Add to your shopping list: Chris Cubeta

I am a Chris Cubeta fan; just ask the writing staff here at the Vault how many times I have bugged and cajoled and demanded that they give him a listen. Perceptive, artful lyrics backed with stirring roots-rock/alt-country arrangements, and sung with total commitment, that's Cubeta's thing. In past reviews I've compared the quality of his lyrics to big guns like Springsteen, Dylan and Hiatt, and I'm not backing off now. Quite the contrary; his new Change EP is one of the most powerful, amazing discs I've heard all year and you should really go buy it right now.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thursday roundup

Lots of items for the roundup this week:
  • Ringo Starr's new album Liverpool 8 comes out January 15 in multiple formats, and the promotional campaign is building steam with previews, interviews, etc. already in play with Amazon.con, Quicktime.com and Time magazine. And hey, it's Ringo -- what's not to like?
  • February 12 will see the release of what sounds like it will be a mind-blowing DVD featuring the a capella septet Naturally 7 playing a set at Montreux. If you're expecting chorused vocals, though, prepare to have your preconceptions smashed, because the members of Naturally 7 mimic specific instruments, creating a full band of lead vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards drums, horns and more using only their own voices. Keep an eye on the Eagle Vision site and check it out.
  • What some are already calling the jazz event of 2008 is now confirmed: Return to Forever, one of the most influential groups of the 1970s, will reunite and tour in '08 with the classic lineup of keyboardist Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke, guitarist Al Di Meola and drummer Lenny White all on board. The developing US and European tour will be the group's first performances together in more than 25 years; stream interviews with the principals here.
  • Sheryl Crow has a new album called Detours due out February 5, and you can already catch her on YouTube talking about it, and download a free clip of first single "Love Is Free" here.
  • Aussie rockers Silverchair have a new EP out on iTunes titled The Greatest View, with significant contributions from Julian Hamilton of the Presets. Stream the track ""Straight Lines [The Presets Remix]" here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

...melt into a river of souls...

I got home late from work last night -- I'm in the restaurant business, so this time of year is busy. I ate something, then logged on to my email just to give it a quick sweep...

..and that was when I saw the subject line. "RIP Dan Fogelberg."

And that was pretty hard to take.

I am a huge fan of Fogelberg's work. I think he is -- he was -- grossly underrated as a singer, a songwriter, and as a performer. I want to celebrate the music and what it meant to me.

I want to remember the first time I heard the fantastic guitar on "She Don't Look Back." I want to once again soar high above Fogelberg's beloved mountains with "The Wild Places." I want to remember being a teenager and being inspired by "Part Of The Plan" heard at a youth Mass. I want to get teary-eyed again at "Same Old Lang Syne." I want to shudder at the power of "The River" and "River Of Souls," twenty-five years apart. I want to sit in the darkness of a Samhain ritual and drown in "Ever On." And I want to celebrate one of the first songs I learned to play on my guitar, "Tucson Arizona (Gazette)," which is one of the greatest songs of all time, period.

I want to remember all this, and I want to mourn for my own getting old and the death of my heroes.

And I want to dig in my CDs and find "The Innocent Age," "Phoenix," "Windows And Walls," and listen to them all again, and mourn for the loss of a man and a musician who cared about the Earth, about people, and about life.

What is remembered, lives -- but it's never quite as good.

"I take my place along the shore and I wait for the tide
It seems I've passed this way before in an earlier time
I hear a voice like mystery blowing warm through the night
The silent moon embraces me and I'm drawn to Her light
I follow footprints in the sand to a circle of stone
Find a fire burning bright 'though I came here alone
And in the play of shadows cast I can dimly discern
The shapes of all who've gone before calling me to return ..."
--"River Of Souls," Dan Fogelberg

Gone too soon: Dan Fogelberg

Soft rock singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg died Sunday morning at the age of 56. Fogelberg, whose melodic hit singles included "Leader Of The Band," "Same Old Lang Syne" and "Longer," was part of the 1970s sensitive-guy singer-songwriter movement led by James Taylor and Jackson Browne. Fogelberg, an environmental activist whose most recent album was 2003's Full Circle, was diagnosed in 2004 with advanced prostate cancer. After his diagnosis he spoke out often as an advocate of regular testing and exams for men over 40. Read his Associated Press obit here; check our reviews here; visit his Web site here.

R.I.P. Dan.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thursday roundup

Another Thursday, another batch of items presented for your viewing (and linking) pleasure:

  • Whether it's a publicity stunt or a sincere statement of artistic frustration doesn't really matter; the point is that Lewis Taylor is still officially retired from the music biz a year after issuing two of the mostly lovingly praised -- and commercially overlooked -- albums of the recent past, full of sunny pop melodies stretched and twisted into a sort of progressive Beach Boys daydream. Sweet, sweet stuff.

  • Yoko and Paul agree on something; that's always news. This time it's the merits of Starbucks as a distribution vehicle, as Capitol/EMI and iTunes just released a new John Lennon Video Album at SB stores nationwide, featuring 21 of Lennon’s music videos for $24.95. Buy the special gift card stamped with a silver-toned photo of Lennon, take it home and you can redeem it on the iTunes Store for a collection of music videos that includes “Imagine,” “Happy Xmas,” “(Just Like) Starting Over,” “Nobody Told Me,” “Mind Games,” “Working Class Hero” and others, many of which are available digitally for the first time.

  • This week's date movie P.S. I Love You features James Blunt's new single "Same Mistake," and you can stream the video here.

  • EndeverafteR, a Sacramento-based quartet who've opened for KISS, Poison and Cinderella (supplying their own eyeliner, no doubt) are giving away a brand new Washburn Guitar -- sign up for the contest here.

  • Sonic Past Music recently re-released the entire solo catalog of Randy Meisner, bassist, vocalist and songwriter for The Eagles all the way up through Hotel California. You can find this Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's solo work here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Grammy time, part II

Next up in our Grammy discussion are the nominees for Album of the Year:
  • Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace --Foo Fighters
  • These Days -- Vince Gill
  • River: The Joni Letters-- Herbie Hancock
  • Graduation -- Kanye West
  • Back To Black -- Amy Winehouse

Discuss...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hammer of the Gods (of rock)

If there's another story that matters in the rock and roll universe today, we're not sure what it might be. Coverage: MSNBC, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, CNN, Rolling Stone.

Oh, and: please, please, please tour. Please?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Interview: Switchfoot's Jon Foreman

Today on the Vault we're serving up a new interview with Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman, third course in a meal which includes recent discussions with members of Maritime and Superdrag. Tasty stuff; get your order in now!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Grammy time

Okay, first off: I really hate the Grammys. Most of the time, there are really only two kinds of Grammy voters: the bandwagoners jumping on the latest fad and/or industry heavy hitter, and the CYA types voting for artists who should have won decades ago but never did.

That said, they are a huge industry deal and we do have some writers on board who'd like to stir the pot with some discussion. So, starting at the top, here are the nominees for record of the year. Discuss:

RECORD OF THE YEAR
"Irreplaceable" (Beyonce')
"The Pretender" (Foo Fighters)
"Umbrella" (Rihanna featuring Jay-Z)
"What Goes Around... Comes Around" (Justin Timberlake)
"Rehab" (Amy Winehouse)

[Side note: anyone employing a tiresome pun involving the word "rehab" will receive two demerits and an iTunes gift card usable only for the purchase of tracks by Lipps Inc.]

Thursday roundup

Items, items, getcher hot'n'fresh items right here:

  • Celebrating double digits, yesterday Godsmack released a greatest hits album: Good Times Bad Times….Ten Years of Godsmack.
  • The Dept. of Twisted Christmas checks in with this press release trumpeting Wreck The Halls, an album featuring sleigh-bell mall-Santa versions of classic Metallica, AC/DC and Green Day tracks. All we can say is yikes!
  • All-female rock trio Girl In A Coma recently scored quite the coup, landing the opening slot for Morrissey's upcoming UK tour.
  • In the Dubious Distinction category, it seems Mariah Carey has a double-disc DVD coming out soon, and we've got the link to the trailer. Caveat emptor.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Journey goes international

One of the hardest things for any band to do is replace its lead singer. It surely doesn't help if said lead singer has a distinctive voice around which the band has built its entire repertoire.

Post-Steve Perry, Journey has had some significant singer issues. Steve Augeri and Jeff Scott Soto are both pros who gave it their best, but Perry's distinctive voice and amazing ability to hit the high notes made him an almost impossible act to follow.

None of which really explains this blog post since, to be honest, I've never been a big fan of Journey even if they are my Bay Area homeys. Ah, but the latest twist in Journey history is worthy of the movie Rock Star -- hell, it's worthy of a much better movie than that.

It seems co-founder and lead guitarist Neal Schon got so discouraged about finding the next "next Steve Perry" that he went on YouTube and spent hours watching bad Journey cover bands -- surely a painful process for anyone, but no one moreso than the guy at the center of the real thing.

And then he found this.



And this. And this.

Arnel Pineda is not exactly a household name in the U.S., being as his career apex to date was playing in a cover band in Quezon City, The Philippines. But one listen to this guy is all I needed to be convinced Journey did the right thing when they announced today that Pineda is their new lead singer.

Welcome to the States, Arnel!

P.S. Sample comments from YouTube:

"Man, it's ridiculous. There can't be this many guys that sound like Steve Perry."

"As a MAJOR Steve Perry fan, this guy is dead on. Bring him on!"

Funnier yet are the snarky commenters who insist he must be lip-synching over the original Perry vocal track. Um, no.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Prince F. U.

The Great Prince Fan Site Rebellion of 2007 rages on, now generating coverage from the New York Times (that's prince.org webmaster Ben Margolin in the Times picture at right). By now the Purple One is surely seeing red, having ignored the most important maxim of the last 150 years: never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel (or bandwidth by the terabyte). Gimme a "P," gimme an "F," gimme a "U," what's that spell?

I (We) got the music in me (us)

Hungry for new music? Try these tasty sample-sized morsels from all over the world:
  • First up is Tarja with “I Walk Alone” from her upcoming US debut My Winter Storm in stores everywhere on Feb 26th. This is the US solo debut of the frontwoman for the platinum-selling Finnish band Nightwish.
  • Click on "Video Clip" at this link for a look at Norway's darlings Big Bang, a Cream-like power trio who'll hit American shores with their U.S debut Wild Bird EP in February.
  • And from right here in the States, it's a treat for Weezer fans as Geffen unveils multiple streaming samples from the new disc Alone - The Home Recordings Of Rivers Cuomo.

Yum yum eat 'em up! And don't forget to brush when you're done.

Monday, November 26, 2007

News of the (music) world

It's been a big day already for health-related news in the world of rock and roll (boomer division).

Best wishes and prayers to Danny Federici (of E Street Band fame) for a full recovery.

Regrets and condolences to the family and bandmates of Quiet Riot singer Kevin DuBrow.

As for the rest of youse out there, take care of yourselves, y'hear?

He's a Pepper, she's a Pepper...

We're all for creator's rights, really we are, BUT: don't you just love it when one group of obscenely rich people sues another group of obscenely rich people, presumably in hopes of vaulting both sets of attorneys into their clients' respective income brackets? If so, you'll love reading about the Red Hot Chili Peppers suing Showtime. Sample wiseguy reader comment: “Now, if only the Scottish could sue Anthony Kiedis over the kilt thing.”

Monday, November 19, 2007

Purple reign

So. About Prince.

Those familiar with His Purpleness are probably aware of his checkered legal past -- his lawsuit against his former label, his performing in public with the word “SLAVE” written on his face, and his name-change to an unpronounceable symbol in an effort to make some sort of obscure point about his label owning the rights to market his public image. Yeah, um, whatever.

Be that as it may, and creators’ rights advocate though I am, you don’t win any points in my book by being a control freak, and you don’t win points in just about anybody’s book by suing your own fans. Let me say that again: suing your own fans. This is the second time Prince has sent his legal minions after his own biggest fans -- the ones who have spent their own time and money setting up Web sites designed to promote his career. Their alleged offense? In their efforts to promote the man and his music at no cost to him, they have supposedly displayed images of Prince and Prince-related items on which he holds the copyright.

The fans running these sites understandably aren't very happy about this, and in response have formed the ingeniously-named organization Prince Fans United. Yes, that's Prince F.U. for short.

The legal foundation for Prince’s actions is tenuous at best -- he’s a public figure and there is such a thing as fair use. The moral foundation is non-existent. The people he is suing are helping him, not harming him. What can you say about such behavior but: whatta maroon.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Love music, don't steal it

So, let’s say you’re into woodworking.

Not back-porch whittling, but carefully designed, completely unique, seven-grades-of-sandpaper, weeks-to-complete, beautifully inlaid woodworking. And let’s say your work becomes so popular among your friends and family that you decide to try selling it online. And let’s say one day not long after that you go out to your workshop to finish up that $2000 solid oak custom-engraved headboard you’ve been working on, and you discover that you’ve been cleaned out. There is not one single scrap of wood left anywhere in your 1,000 square-foot workshop.

To add insult to injury, you soon learn the thieves are getting rid of your work online -- not by selling it, though. They’re giving it away, and making their money on the banner ads they can sell based on their site’s high traffic – “Hey everyone, come get (someone else’s) free stuff!” They have stolen your livelihood from you, and now they’re making money by giving it away to people who might have been your paying customers, who might have supported your effort to make a living doing what you do the best and love the most. Who might have made you that rare species, a working artist.

Does this scenario make you angry? Do you feel like the woodworker is getting screwed? Do you think the thieves deserve to go to jail? Do you think the people who take the fruits of the woodworker’s hard labor for free rather than paying for it -- just because they can -- should be ashamed of themselves?

Welcome to the wonderful world of peer-to-peer file sharing. And welcome to one of the biggest generation gaps in society today.

I am old-school, I admit it. I bought vinyl for 15 years before I laid hands on my first CD and didn’t bother learning how to burn my own mixes until just last year. The technology is undeniably cool.

But the technology is killing the art form I love the most: popular music.

I’ve heard all the arguments – we’ve had most of them already on The Daily Vault’s e-mail discussion list, where the line of demarcation is pretty clear.

If you’re under 25, you most likely think of file sharing as part of the landscape, as institutionalized and expected as the post office delivering snail mail. To many of you, music has always been free and always should be.

If you’re over 25, you most likely fall into one of two categories: the queasy advantage-takers or the moralistic iconoclasts. Queasy advantage-takers sense on an instinctual level that there is something bad about file sharing -- but it’s so damn easy and everybody’s doing it and you get all this free stuff! Woo-hoo!

Moralistic iconoclasts sit around and lecture people and are typically ignored because, let’s face it, nobody likes to get lectured.

I don’t want to lecture. I just want to make three quick points:

File sharing is not free. File sharing deprives artists of income. The cost of file sharing is less artists making less music. It’s that simple.

File sharing is stealing. It’s only “giving it away” if the owner is doing the giving. If your neighbor gives you his old hammer, that’s giving. If some guy walking down your street hands you an old hammer that turns out to be your neighbor’s, that’s receiving stolen property.

Stealing is wrong. It’s a sign of how disorienting new technology is that this one is even necessary. But it seems that it is. Stealing is not a victimless crime. It harms other human beings. Don’t do it.

Ah, but there’s one further rationalization people use to justify stealing music: file sharing is a great way to stick it to The Man. This might be true if file sharing only harmed big corporate music labels. But it doesn’t. File sharing harms real people, actual individual artists.

If you think that by downloading music for free you’re sticking it to The Man, you are sadly mistaken. Because about 95% of the time, either you’re sticking it to the independent musicians who The Man hasn’t even noticed yet, or you’re sticking it to the aging musicians who already got screwed by The Man twenty-five years ago.

You’re sticking it to the good guys, and you’re deluding yourself if you believe otherwise.

If you still believe that I just don’t get it, and that file sharing doesn’t do real artists real harm, then maybe, just maybe, I can convince you not to take my word for it, and instead to read the July 13 entry on my friend Mark Doyon’s blog. Mark is a true d-i-y artist, the real-life self-employed singer-songwriter-label manager-distributor-promoter-marketing communications dude in charge of Wampus Multimedia (not to mention his band Arms Of Kismet). He is incredibly talented and incredibly hard-working. And if we continue on the path we’re currently on with virtually unlimited file sharing, we’re going to drive him and the independent musicians whose work he promotes out of business. We are going to rob them of their livelihood, and take away their ability to do what they do the best and love the most.

Do you really want that on your conscience?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Daily Vault 101

Do you love music? No, really love it. Not sing-in-the-shower love it. Not browse-the-shelves-at-Target-for-your-niece love it. We’re talking memorizing-liner-notes, reciting-bands’-family-trees, don’t-really-get-the-humor-in-Hi Fidelity-because-it’s-us love it. If the answer is yes (and even if it’s no, because in the end we’re just not that picky about who reads our stuff), we hope you'll enjoy the Daily Vault.

The Vault is one of the oldest and largest repositories of music reviews on the Web, founded in January, 1997, by Chicago-area music fanatic Christopher Thelen (a.k.a. Bob Pierce). Today it holds more than 5,000 reviews of more than 2,400 different musical artists. From the start, the Vault has sought to serve the widest possible audience, reviewing music of all genres (from classical to death metal, from unknown indies to global superstars) and from all eras (new, old and in-between).

In January 2003 Chris stepped down from his responsibilities for day-to-day operations and today, the Daily Vault is managed by Editor Jason Warburg and Assistant Editor Benjamin Ray. The site's review panel features writers from all across the globe (past and current staff hail from Canada, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Norway, the Philippines, South Korea, and the USA). All are welcome and, with any luck, all have a good time.

In this space we will offer random tidbits of music news, trivia, review promos and humor. What exactly that will end up looking like we can't say for sure at this point. We only know this: with the crew of writers we have working behind the scenes, it won't be boring!