Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Invitation

Writing is an activity that has always brought me much enjoyment. From High School through College each of my English teachers encouraged me to make it my profession. There have always two major obstacles. First, my skepticism about how an individual can making a good living as a professional writer (The bohemian lifestyle holds no romance for this rampant consumer) and second the creative muse only seems to visit me when there is an assignment, preferably one with a deadline. Douglas Adams once declared, " I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." But for me there is a strong internal drive to meet my obligations at all costs that trumps my natural laziness.

Recently an opportunity has presented itself to write about topics for which I have no shortage of opinions. is focused on supporting Mom and Pop record stores, Indie Rock, Hi-Fi, and vinyl records. If there is someone that you know would enjoy my writing or has an interest in those topics please forward this email to them. The site goes live on August 15th and I hope that all of you will join me. Feel free to leave comments good and bad. If you want me to know which comments are yours simply post with your first name and last initial. As a preview to entice everyone to check it out I’ve included the introductions to my first four reviews. You’ll have to stop by on August 15th to read the rest, just call me a tease. ;-)

Black Keys-"Attack & Release"

Is heavy, riff based Rock back in style? If the likes of The White Stripes, Wolfmother, Secret Machines, and The Black Keys have anything to say about it the answer is a rousing “Hell Yes!” Recorded in just 14 days, the Black Keys’ “Attack & Release” has a strong DIY feel from the water color and pencil cover to the hand built recording console that was used during the sessions.

The pressing is an extremely quiet and utilized the half speed mastering technique. Included with the record is a copy of the album on CD, at $18 the package is a bargain. Other artists should take note, it’s a nice touch for many reasons. It makes importing into iTunes a snap, listening to it in the car easy, it aids in the comparison of vinyl vs. CD for those on the fence, and it comes in handy for loaning to friends who are curious about the band. After spending the last several years servicing other people’s turntables it’s doubtful that I’ll ever lend out my records. The number of people who feel that it’s appropriate to put spare change on top of their tone arms in order to make sure that it tracks or are completely missing the diamond of their stylus is just plain alarming. Records, like girlfriends and wives are not for lending. Use the CD to help spread the word, cherish and hoard the record.

Jeffery Lewis-"12 Crass Songs"

It was once remarked in my presence that if an old painting was put into a new frame it forced the view to re-evaluate the work from another perspective. That's exactly what Jeffery Lewis' "12 Crass Songs" sets out to do. Jeffrey Lewis re-interprets 12 songs by punk band Crass as folk tunes. It's not such a strange idea as it first seems, in some ways punk and folk are closely related. Both genres are democratic musical forms. Anyone can form a punk band or become a folk troubadour. Being able to play an instrument competently , follow a melody, or in anyway sing are strictly speaking optional. All one really needs is a quick fire vocal delivery that's almost fast enough to slip by the standard left wing observations as being profound. A skill perfected by Bob Dylan.

Guster-"Ganging Up on the Sun"

Hidden on Chicago's FM dial is one of the most eclectic stations in the country. Driving with the windows down on a forgotten Saturday afternoon WXRT played the Cure's "Just Like Heaven", Muddy Waters' "I'm a Man", and Queen's "Fat Bottom Girls" back to back to back. How many radio stations would play these three songs in the same year, let alone as part of the same set? XRT displays the same passion and courage when championing new talent. They freely lend their support to Guster and many other under-exposed artists. If you're thinking about being jealous, don't. Through the miracles of the internet it's now available world wide, make sure to send Al Gore a nice thank you note written on a palm leaf using soy ink, delivered by Pony Express. Maybe he'll read it while riding on a private jet to one of his $175,000 speaking engagements. Remember do as he says, NOT as he does and Mother Earth will be just fine.

Guster's "Ganging Up on The Sun" is a meticulously recorded and mixed, ambitious pop album lovingly crafted to induce toe tapping. By the second or third listen the album already sounds familiar, like an old favorite. Except of course it isn't, it's a brand new favorite. . .

Mark Knopfler-"Shangri-La"

Mark Knopfler is such a fluid, tasteful, and literate guitarist that he makes it sound easy. This more than anything else accounts him being one of the most under-rated guitarists plying his trade today. He never uses his well formed technical abilities to needlessly dazzle, his gifts are only utilized to serve the song. Not only is Mr. Knopfler an instrumental virtuoso, he is also a compelling song writer. Imagine the pick of Stevie Ray Vaughn and the pen of Pete Townshend and the level of Mr. Knopfler's talents come into focus. Not only is he a great talent, but his modesty allows him to be surrounded by performers of similar talent. Just so my biases are clear to all I wrote the above before compressed carbon met this helping of dead dinosaur for the first time. So I guess that you could say that I'm predisposed to like the disc.

About half of the songs on Shangri-La have a common theme, but not to worry it avoids stepping over the line to become a pretentious concept album. The majority of songs are about the struggles of the working class and their exploitation at the hands of the Bourgeoisie. For me listening to an album about the plight of the working class on a system that costs more than many people make in a year is the source of a bit of chagrin. But if Mark Knopfler is comfortable making more on said album and associated tour than those same people make in a lifetime I guess I can soldier through my guilt.

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