Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lists, Lists, Lists: Best Of 2009

The holidays are a time for listmaking of all sorts, including our personal favorite -- lists of the best musical offerings of the year. The Vault's annual "Best Of" feature this time out offers lists from Sarah Curristan, Melanie Love, Sean McCarthy, Mark Millan and yours truly. For added fun, check out the contrasting views of albums like Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion, which one writer named album of the year whilst another was busy trashing it with her "Emperor's New Clothes Award"!

Friday, December 11, 2009

All aboard the Big Big Train

British prog-rockers Big Big Train return this week with The Underfall Yard, a classic Genesis-Yes-Floyd smashup that adds brass and strings to half of the band's most moving set of songs to date. Building out from BBT's founding core of Greg Spawton (guitar, keys, songwriting) and Andy Poole (bass, production), new lead vocalist David Longdon -- who nearly succeeded Phil Collins at the mike for Genesis in 1996 -- is a terrific addition, as are extended guest shots by Nick D'Virgilio (Spock's Beard) and Dave Gregory (XTC). Other prog luminaries on the scene include Jem Godfrey (Frost*) and Francis Dunnery (It Bites), making this a virtual all-star affair. That said, there's not a wasted moment here; The Underfall Yard is an amazing, moving, truly impressive piece of work, and a sure thing for my upcoming Best of 2009 column.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Old And Wise.

Yesterday, Eric Woolfson, the lead vocalist and lyricist of the Alan Parsons Project, died at age 64.

For anyone with even a passing familiarity with my musical tastes and my ten years of reviews on the Daily Vault, this is obviously a huge, earth-shattering, sad and painful time for me. The first album I ever bought was the Project's Turn Of A Friendly Card.

It's been 24 hours or more, and I still haven't fully comprehended my feelings about it. I feel old. I feel worn. I feel like more and more of my childhood is slipping beyond that big grey veil -- the veil that I get closer to every day. And, frankly, I don't like it.

What I'm clinging to now is a line from Woolfson's post-Project work, the musical Poe. This is a video of Steve Balsamo singing Eric's song "Immortal":



There's the lines, at the end:"If you remember me... I am immortal."

What is remembered, lives.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Top 100 Albums of the 2000s

A hundred albums spanning a full decade, summed up in just five weeks... that's the gist of Sean McCarthy's Top 100 of the 2000s, a feature that hit its much-anticipated apex just yesterday when we posted Sean's capsule reviews of numbers 20 through one. Who made the top 20 for 2000-2009? Read 'em and weep (or cheer, as the case may be).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

John Mayer's Battle Studies

Oh, John Mayer... we remember when your only goal seemed to be becoming a heartthrob with your breathy-voiced sweet nothings. Then you got a little more serious and we all took notice... then you studied up on the blues, gave us your best shot and knocked one out of the park... then you released an impressive live album... and now you're back to crooning about heartbreak. Some would call it coming full circle; others would call it two steps forward, one step back. Readers, we'll let you decide...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Santas, They Are a Changin'

Loathe though we might normally be to recommend anything in any way associated with Rolling Stone (is there a sadder story arc in the world of music than starting out as the voice of the fan and ending up as the voice of the industry?), one particular teaser that crossed our desk recently was just too amusing to pass up. Let's face it -- they had us at "Bob Dylan in a Santa hat..."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

1,000 true fans = a career in music?

The peripatetic Ariel Hyatt of Ariel Publicity recently spotlighted a fascinating piece by technology blogger Kevin Kelly -- now 18 months old but relevant as ever -- in which he argues that all the DIY musician needs to establish a viable career as an independent musical act is to cultivate 1,000 true fans. Agree or disagree, Kelly's piece makes for fascinating reading for anyone interested in exploring what the still-emerging new music business paradigm means for artists in the trenches.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Album of the Year

It's a little early for 2009 list-making, and it's just one writer's opinion. But from this writer's perspective, the long-awaited new album from Switchfoot is more than just a straight "A" -- Hello Hurricane is nothing less than the album of the year. If you want to know the reasons why... read on.

Top 100 of the 2000s

Today on the Vault we kick off a new feature from Sean McCarthy, spotlighting the top 100 albums of the decade. Don't miss Sean's look at #s 100 through 81.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The '70s roll on

A relatively well-researched and reasonably respectful piece on the many '70s acts still finding an audience on the road appeared n MSNBC.com yesterday -- it's worth a read for any fan of the era.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

It's a Beatles blowout on 9/9/09

If you're looking for something special to occupy your time on 9/9/09 -- other than the somewhat obvious choice of catching Tim Burton's new animated flick 9 -- there's always, say, arguably the most musically significant release of the century.

Yes, today is the day the Beatles box sets (stereo or mono) come out -- the day you can purchase the entire series of albums that changed the music world, in pristine remastered condition, with recreated original album artwork, lyric sheets and all manner of photos and liner notes. The folks at Apple/EMI have also made available this brief but fun streaming video clip of "I Saw Her Standing There." Enjoy...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kansas co-founder Kerry Livgren suffers stroke

Legendary musician and composer Kerry Livgren suffered a stroke Tuesday morning. Livgren was a founding member of Kansas, and has been a tireless creative force since the early 70s. Currently he is a busy solo artist and producer, and manages his own label, Numavox Records.

Kerry is currently hospitalized near his home in Topeka, Kanasa, where surgery was performed to remove a blood clot in his brain. Kerry's nephew and Proto-Kaw bandmate Jake Livgren has stated the family continues to be encouraged by signs his uncle is giving following the stroke he suffered Tuesday morning.

Currently Livgren is working on a cantata based on the life of Lazarus, and will soon make his screen debut in the film The Impostor. He will also appear on the upcoming Kansas anniversary concert DVD Know Place Like Home due to be released in October.

We at the DV wish Kerry a full and speedy recovery.

Kerry Livgren suffers stroke

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Music legend and innovator Les Paul dies

Now known more for the guitar that bears his name then for his music, musical pioneer Les Paul died of complication from pneumonia yesterday. He was 94.

Les Paul would have great success as a recording artist largely with his wife Mary Ford. But his real impact came in the invention of one of the earliest solid-body guitars, the progeny of which are now the most popular guitars in use around the world. Additionally, he was in innovator in the studio, considered to be the father of multi-track recording. His experiments with multi-tracking and audio effects would completely revolutionize the recording industry.

At a 33, he shattered his right arm in a car accident, and was told he'd never play again. The doctors told him that whatever position they set his arm in would be locked in that position forever. "Set it so I can hold a guitar" he told them. He continued to record and perform well into his 90s.

His contributions to modern music are immeasurable, and his name will live on with guitarists for many generations.

Monday, July 20, 2009

MCA dignosed with cancer - tour dates canceled

The Beastie Boys have put a hold on their current touring and recording activities as Adam Yauch (aka MCA) announced that he is having surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. He is expected to fully recover. "I was really looking forward to playing these shows, but the doctors have made it clear that this is not the kind of thing that can be put aside to deal with later.” Among the shows the Beasties are canceling are headlining slots at Lollapalooza, All Points West and the Austin City Limits festival.

“I just need to take a little time to get this in check, and then we’ll release the record and play some shows,” Yaunch said in a statement following the annoucment of his condition on YouTube. Their new album titled Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 1 was originally scheduled for a September 15th release.

All of us at the DV wish Adam a full and speedy recovery.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson, dead at 50

Man, I am getting tired of posting these.

Whatever else can be said about Michael Jackson -- and there's plenty -- he was a music legend, one of the most gifted performers of his generation and, once upon a time, a sweet-voiced kid who amazed the world with his precocious talent. You always wonder when someone falls as far as he did if he might get one more shot at redemption. Now we'll never know.

R.I.P. Michael.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

R.I.P. Jay Bennett

The Chicago Sun-Times has the sad news about longtime Wilco member Jay Bennett, dead in his sleep at age 45.

R.I.P. Jay.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jon Troast: halfway to a hundred

Singer-songwriter Jon Troast hit the halfway mark the other night on his "100 Concerts in 100 Days" trek across the United States. Since launching this latest run of 100-dollar-a-night house concerts in March, Troast has traveled through Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and is currently in my neck of the woods, California.

Having hosted one of Troast's living room concerts last year, I can testify to what a unique and memorable experience it is. The comfort and ease this approach offers for the audience is unbeatable, and Troast is a blast to hang out with, as evidenced by his road diary, full of wry observations and affectionate asides. He even played a show the other day for a guy named Jon Troast. No, really -- a different guy named Jon Troast. I can relate, having discovered a doppelganger of my own.

In any case, it's a little late for "bon voyage" or "break a leg," so let's just borrow a baseball phrase here and wish Troast a great second half of his road trip...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Talking Heads take over

Once you've ascended to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and been repeatedly declared one of the most influential acts of your era, what's left?

Being named Artist Of The Month on The Daily Vault, of course.

Talking Heads get the nod this month in a retrospective fueled by fans Sean McCarthy, Michael R. Smith, Kenny S. McGuane, Christopher Thelen, Jeff Clutterbuck and Bruce Rusk. As if the band's parade of classic albums (starting with memorable debut Talking Heads: 77) wasn't enough, we'll also be covering a number of discs from side project Tom Tom Club and frontman-gone-solo David Byrne. Trust us, this one's going to burn down the house for sure...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tales of the new music industry model: Wonderlick

Add to the tales of the new music industry model (coming someday in the future to a wireless card near you), the saga of California indie band Wonderlick's new album.

Wonderlick recently conducted an "extremely successful" fan pre-order campaign on their forthcoming album Topless At The Arco Arena. The band ran a month-long pre-order offer via their Web site which allowed fans to set their own price for the album, with an additional incentive offered to fans who paid median price or higher: a thank-you by name in the album package. The final median price was $29.13. The low price paid was $5, and the high price paid was $500. Several fans paid over $100 for the disc.

Says band member Tim Quirk: “I wasn’t too worried about people paying less than the CDs themselves cost, but I was completely unprepared for just how generous fans were. When the first $30 payment came in, that was pretty cool. Then they just kept getting higher -- $45, $50, $100. I’m writing them all personal thank you notes, like my grandma taught me.”

Topless At The Arco Arena will be released on July 7, 2009 via Missing Piece/Rock Ridge Music. According to Quirk, the record, “examines the intersection of art and commerce from people who have been on every side of it.” In fact, Quirk and bandmate Jay Blumenfield both have successful careers in other endeavors: Tim is VP, Programming of Rhapsody and Jay is a TV producer and video director. Wonderlick has experimented with the donations-for-downloads approach previously while posting songs from their former group Too Much Joy. Based on the response this time around they seem to be onto something -- at least for their own small niche in the great big Wild West that is the music industry today.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why not Chickenfoot?

As long as we’re talking modern-day supergroups, why not Chickenfoot?

...which seems to be exactly the attitude that pervades the latest major-league musical mash-up, consisting of Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, ex-Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, guitarist extraordinaire Joe Satriani and ol’ shaggy himself, Sammy Hagar. I mean, if you put together a group with that much amperage, wouldn’t you call it… Chickenfoot?

Fine, maybe not. But as you can see for yourself on their recently-unveiled Web site, these guys are pretty determined not to take this (or at least themselves) too seriously. The samples on the site and their MySpace page sound pretty much like you’d expect – jet-fueled old-school hard rock with Satriani and Hagar dueling for space and Anthony’s serially undervalued background vocals helping with the melodic side. (Just for the record, this makes four of the era’s sharpest rock guitarists Hagar has teamed with – Ronnie Montrose, Neal Schon, Eddie Van Halen, and Satriani. Makes you wonder who’s next…)

The album is out June 7 in the US and European tour dates are popping up for the summer. Chickenfoot – making tracks in the sawdust near you soon.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Beck is back (Jeff, that is)

Jeff Beck has had a career anyone would be envious of, from The Yardbirds to his partnership with Rod Stewart in the Jeff Beck Group to years of solo instrumental work with the likes of Jan Hammer. What he's never had before this year, is a live performance DVD. And perhaps you're thinking "Yeah, but the guy's in his mid-60s... do I really want to see a former great on the downside of his career?"

You do. You really do, because no one who watches his new DVD Live At Ronnie Scott's would even think of suggesting that Beck has lost a step. To the contrary, his technical mastery of the electric guitar is apparent in every frame, and he plays perhaps more soulfully and subtlely than ever, supported by a truly stellar backup band featuring legendary jazz drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, 21-year-old bass prodigy Tal Wilkenfield and British jazz pianist of the moment Jason Rebello.

It's one of the best performances you'll see this year, it features guest shots from the likes of Joss Stone, Imogen Heap and Eric Clapton, and you can pick it up for free by signing up for our April 14 drawing here. You won't regret it...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Feature: Mott The Hoople & Ian Hunter

Hundreds of bands have tried to cop that Rolling Stones sneer, and hundreds more songwriters have tried to model the earthy poetic flow and hard-won wisdom of Bob Dylan. Mott The Hoople and its frontman Ian Hunter are perhaps the only ones ever to accomplish both at the same time, making music that explores emotional hills and valleys with penetrating insight, while delivering the whole package with a healthy dose of Mick Jagger swagger.

The saga of Mott The Hoople as a band could fill pages (and has); suffice it say, the five-man troupe of British rockers seemed star-crossed from their first gigs in 1969 through their semi-final implosion in 1974. From their debut through two years of storming live shows and meager record sales, Hunter and guitarist Mick Ralphs, keyboardist Verden Allen and rhythm section Pete (Overend) Watts and Dale (Buffin) Griffin built a reputation as one of the great live bands of their day -- and also as a band that could never quite put together an album that lived up to the promise of those memorable live shows. Just when oblivion beckoned, none other than David Bowie stepped in to help them record their most successful LP (1972’s All The Young Dudes), keeping them in the game for two more tumultuous years as the band flirted with glam-rock and first Allen, then Ralphs and finally Hunter departed.

Launching out of Mott as a solo artist in 1975, Hunter built a solo career marked by both very human missteps and moments of utter brilliance, a magnificently gifted songwriter who has typically been at his best when well-partnered musically, which he most notably was several times with ex-Bowie (and briefly Mott) guitarist Mick Ronson. After a relatively fallow period in the 1980s and 90s, Hunter re-emerged in the 21st century -- by which time he had reached his 60s -- with a pair of the best albums of his or anyone’s career in Rant (2001) and Shrunken Heads (2007).

Collectively, Mott The Hoople and Ian Hunter have had a major influence on acts from Queen (who opened for them in 1973) to The Clash, whose lead guitarist Mick Jones idolized Mott and eagerly signed on to co-produce Hunter’s 1981 solo disc Short Back ’n’ Sides. With their place in rock and roll’s pantheon of historic and influential characters assured -- and a set of first-time-in-35-years reunion gigs lined up for this October -- Mott The Hoople and Ian Hunter were a natural choice for The Daily Vault’s April 2009 Artist Of The Month.

Enjoy!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Modern prog retrospective

Our March retrospective -- kicking off today with dueling reviews of Dream Theater -- finds the Daily Vault exploring the fertile soil of modern progressive rock. All those fans who think prog began and ended with Pink Floyd, Genesis, King Crimson, Tull, ELP and Yes should sit up and take notice, for there's plenty of fine recent work to be discussed by the likes of Porpcupine Tree, the Flower Kings, Cairo, Circa and Spock's Beard. From now until March 31, prog once again rules the Vault...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tinted Windows prepare to conquer the power-pop universe

It's not exactly news by now, but what better excuse could there be to dive back into the blog pond than the unveiling of a genuine power-pop supergroup? Tinted Windows is the mind-boggling musical milkshake consisting of James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), Adam Schlesinger (Fountains Of Wayne), Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick) and Taylor Hanson (yes, THAT Taylor Hanson). Appearances are set for South by Southwest on March 20 and The Bamboozle Festival on May 3. A bare-bones MySpace site with a single tantalizing streaming track from the forthcoming album is also live, and damned if "Kind Of A Girl" doesn't sound just like it ought to, except even better.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

You've gotta have Heart

While you’re out exploring the nether regions of the Internets, don’t forget to tune in to the latest Daily Vault retrospective, featuring one of the most successful female-fronted bands in rock history – Heart. Beginning Wednesday, February 4 and running every weekday through Friday, February 27, we’ll be featuring 18 reviews covering Heart’s entire studio catalog, plus a handful of live releases, collections and surprises. So sit back, relax, and watch the Wilson sisters reel in that barracuda…

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sign of the times? Langerado Festival cancelled

The economic downturn today spilled over into one of the most recession-resistant sectors out there, as the 2009 Langerado Music Festival was cancelled due to "sluggish ticket sales." The 7th annual event was slated to happen March 6-8 downtown Miami's Bicentennial Park.

Langerado's local promoters, faced with a tough decision in a dismal economy, cancelled the 2009 event today after it had "become apparent that we cannot execute a production that lives up to the high standards of our past events. Putting Langerado on hold was the toughest decision we have ever had to make. We are very grateful for the support of the greater-Miami community and the music community during this difficult time."

Festival organizers stated that all tickets purchased will be refunded and directed tickey-buyers to visit www.musictoday.com for more information.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hear Neko Case's new song - for a good cause

Anti- is doing an incredibly cool promotion of Neko Case's latest song, "People Got A Lotta Nerve," from her upcoming release, Middle Cyclone. For every blog that posts Neko Case's new song, Anti- will donate $5 to the Best Friends Animal Society. Here's the song. As far as the song, it hasn't won me over...yet, but I said the same thing with 'Star Witness' from her excellent Fox Confessor Brings The Flood album.

Listen to her song here: http://www.anti.com/media/download/708

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fiction Family spins stories

Once upon a time, the unlikely collaboration between Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman and Nickel Creek wunderkind Sean Watkins was tentatively named "The Original Sean Jon." We can only assume Mr. Diddy was not amused -- or that Watkins and Foreman came to their senses -- but in any case, the long-gestating project recently saw its official release under the nom d'art of Fiction Family. The vibe is low-key, thoughtful, singer-songwriter acoustic rock, but these two are restless enough souls to throw in all sorts of twists on what was essentially a homemade two-man album passed between them for a couple of years before completion. Available via the FF Web site or iTunes, and take note that the boys are out playing shows now through Feb. 7.

Monday, January 12, 2009

January Retrospective Features Depeche Mode & Tears For Fears

Fresh on the heels of news about a new Depeche Mode album in '09, we're featuring DM and Tears For Fears in an all-80s retrospective this January on the Daily Vault. If moody British electro-pop is your thing, you won't want to miss this.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Music: The Universal Language

Yes, Where The Hell Is Matt was brilliant. But so is this variation on the theme of music/dance as a universal, unifying force. "Stand By Me" has never sounded better. Do yourself a favor and watch the whole thing:

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's roundup

A trio of items for the first roundup of 2009:
  • Rock musicians including Jon Langford (The Mekons), Jordan Pundik (New Found Glory), Kevin Hearn (Barenaked Ladies), Matt Skiba (Alkaline Trio) and Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit) will feature their visual art at "Side Show - Art by Musicians and Music Inspired Art," an art show presented by Alternative Press magazine and debuting January 2 at Philadelphia gallery T & P Fine Art. In addition to 20 notable punk, metal and indie musicians, the show features paintings, illustrations and photos by several graphic artists who work with, or are inspired by, those musicians. For more information visit T & P's MySpace.

  • On March 17, Coheed And Cambria will release Neverender, The Children of the Fence boxset, a release chronicling last October's historic four-night event featuring the band performing each of their four albums in their entirety on four consecutive nights. The shows took place October 22-25 2008 at New York’s Terminal 5 and was the first time that Coheed had performed the saga that connects the albums in order. Nearly 11,000 of their most passionate fans flew in from all over the world and lined up all day in the rain to get the best spots on the floor for Neverender’s New York dates, prompting three other sold-out Neverender stands in LA, Chicago, and London. The box set documents the New York stand (as well as clips from all three other cities) in one massive package that will include four live DVDs, four live audio CDs, one documentary DVD, a 10x10 hardcover 48-page photo book and a 7-1/2” custom metal dragonfly. A condensed two-disc DVD will also be made available. Pre-sales for the box began on Friday, Dec 12. Fans who pre-order it will get their names included on a “Children of the Fence” page inside the book, and the first 3,000 copies will be signed by the band.

  • In 1972, Rick Wakeman, the keyboard player with the supergroup Yes, released the iconic album The Six Wives of Henry VIII. album was a massive success all over the world and to date has sold more than 15 million copies on vinyl and CD. Amazingly, the music has never been performed in its entirety -- but that is about to change. On May 1 and 2, The Six Wives of Henry VIII will be performed in spectacular style on Hampton Court Palace's West Front, to a limited audience of 5000 for each performance. On stage performing with Wakeman will be an expanded band, The English Chamber Choir, an orchestra and a guest narrator. In addition to The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Rick has also composed three additional pieces to perform that evening; Tudor Overture, Defender of the Faith and Tudor Rock. The whole event will be a 'mock rock Tudor experience' from the outset with a variety of ticket packages available.