Friday, December 30, 2011

Bob Seger concert review: Los Angeles

Photo by Armando Brown/courtesy OC Register
A version of my review originally appeared in the Orange County Register. 

When Bob Seger sang “today’s music ain’t got the same soul” during his signature 1978 tune “Old Time Rock and Roll” early on Wednesday at Staples Center, the lyric rang especially true.

While Seger initially wrote it (but didn’t take credit) about ‘60s groups, the sentiment has since come full circle. Few, if any, young music stars currently making waves could match him in the heart and soul department.
Those qualities have helped the veteran heartland rocker – now at the half century mark as a recording artist - retain an enduring popularity despite sporadic tours and studio albums over the past two decades. 1994’s “Greatest Hits,” a perennial best-selling catalog album, has moved nine million copies.  
Longtime enthusiasts have had plenty of freshly remastered Seger titles to savor lately. First came 1976’s superb sounding “Live Bullet” (frequently cited among critics as one of best concert recordings ever) and 1981’s equally stellar “Nine Tonight” (as a junior high schooler, I nearly wore out my vinyl copy upon release). Both contain bonus tracks.
“Ultimate Hits: Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” a new 26-track retrospective, is available as a double CD or digitally. It is most notable for the mono mix of “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” and Seger’s passionate take on Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train” (a recent top 20 hit at Adult Contemporary radio).  
Seger has recorded half a dozen songs for a new studio album expected sometime in 2012. One song features Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow (the three also appeared together on Rock’s last effort, “Born Free”). Although the 66-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has hinted about retirement, he apparently plans to hit the road again once it is finished.
Due to the long periods between studio albums and concert jaunts (the Los Angeles show was Seger’s first area appearance since 2007; prior to that, more than a decade elapsed), fans tend to speculate the reasons were about health instead of fatherhood.
One guy was overheard telling friends the musician had to lose weight and get a doctor’s approval to finally head out on the road again. True? Doubtful, considering Seger’s an avid runner and recently told Rolling Stone magazine, “on tour, it just falls away – violent exercise up there.”
Seger and the tight 13-piece Silver Bullet Band opened the engaging, nearly two hour set in a reflective manner with “Roll Me Away.” The singer was quietly accompanied by Craig Frost’s subtle piano work before everyone gradually joined in and went full throttle.
For many rock bands, the live show is all about the electric guitar. This evening, the emphasis was on brass – mainly Silver Bullet saxophonist Alto Reed and the four man Motor City Horns.
Their usually exhilarating take on the Otis Clay popularized “Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You” was just ok here. A poor vocal mix meant the frontman’s raspy (and occasionally croaky) singing was barely heard over the band at times.
Placing a now-trademark bandana around his head, Seger and company sizzled on “The Fire Down Below.” After playing the wistful “Main Street” seated on acoustic guitar, he and Reed really worked up a sweat on the party vibe of “Old Time Rock and Roll,” with the latter simultaneously stomping his feet and honking on the sax notes.
Lead guitarist Kenny Greenberg provided a dazzling solo on an intense “Travelin’ Man,” which segued nicely, as always, into the stately ballad “Beautiful Loser.” Seger gave the lowdown on several songs. Before playing piano on a wonderful “We’ve Got Tonight,” he recalled being inspired by dialogue from the Robert Redford film, “The Sting.”
Halfway through the show, things really started to cook with their usual energetic cover of Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits” and the urgent psychedelic R&B of Willie Mitchell’s “Come to Papa,” where Greenberg played wah wah effects and Laura Creamer banged on a large drum. She and the other two female backing singers did some fine call and response action with Seger.
“Her Strut” was fiery as ever (I never knew it was about Jane Fonda) and the Vince Gill-penned rave up “Real Mean Bottle” was total fun. Elsewhere, a dramatic “Turn the Page” went down a storm inside the packed arena as fans sang along loudly to the classic rock radio fave.
The fast-paced “Katmandu” was a bit taxing for Seger, but still a total blast with Reed – among many long serving Silver Bullets for decades – who slid across the stage and did King Curtis-styled blasts.
Seated with an acoustic guitar again for encores of “Against the Wind” and “Night Moves,” Seger recalled living in L.A. and going to Zuma Beach amid the recording sessions for 1986’s “Like a Rock.” By the end of “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” he left fans with a memorable concert.  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Top 10 Concerts 2011

Among the 68 concerts I've seen to date this year (counting each day of a festival as one), these performances made the biggest impression...

London Suede singer Brett Anderson
1. The London Suede, Coachella Festival, Indio, Calif. [April]

2. Keith Urban, Staples Center, Los Angeles [October]

3. k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang, Stagecoach Festival, Indio, Calif. [May]

4. Elbow, Coachella Festival, Indio, Calif. [April]

5. Duran Duran, Mayan Theatre, Los Angeles, for American Express "Unstaged" live webcast, directed by David Lynch [March]

6. Rodney Crowell, Stagecoach Festival, Indio, Calif. [April]

7. The Civil Wars, Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles [November]

8. OMD, House of Blues, Anaheim [October]

9. Noah and the Whale, House of Blues, Anaheim [November]

10. B.A.D., Grove of Anaheim [August]

My Top Albums of 2011

Part of these lists originally appeared at While many music writers randomly choose their favorite albums, my top 10 picks are in order, according to who I thought put out the strongest releases.

TOP 10 ALBUMS 2011

1. Noah & The Whale, “Last Night on Earth” (Mercury) – These Brits used to be part of a nu-folk scene that included Mumford & Sons. Then scholarly singer/guitarist Charlie Fink led them onto a more fascinating path, where synths, sequencers and drum machines mixed with the trademark violin. The result was an energetic, life-affirming dose of pop/rock influenced by Springsteen, Pulp and Lou Reed, with a bit of spacey gospel thrown in for good measure.

2. Cold War Kids, “Mine is Yours” (Downtown/DGC) – The Long Beach band ditched most of the blues and self-described "soul punk" elements that characterized previous efforts and focused on a sleeker, reverb-soaked rock sound which fit well. A more dynamic sound paved the way for anthemic winners like "Skip the Charades" and “Royal Blue.”

3. Duran Duran, “All You Need is Now” (Tape Modern/S-Curve) – The pioneering British synth-pop band found the perfect producer in Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse), who urged them to use vintage instruments and channel the old school vitality of 1982's Rio. Simon Le Bon held his own alongside guest vocalists Kelis and Ana Matronic of Scissor Sisters. Meanwhile, the musicians whipped up a sharp, frothy mix of future classics. Note: Although the album was released digitally in December 2010, the standard physical/deluxe CD versions came out early this year, which is when I first heard the entire disc.

4. Peter Bjorn and John, “Gimme Some” (Almost Gold/Startime International) - The Swedish pop/rock trio took a more immediate approach on their sixth studio release. Several songs were improvised, live takes with surprises galore, namely a dual punk blitzkrieg (“Black Book,” “Breaker Breaker”), infectious, danceable nugget (“Dig a Little Deeper”), extended kraut rock-meets-new wave (“I Know You Don’t Love Me”) and haunting ‘70s AOR (“Second Chance”). It is consistently strong from start to finish.

5. Florence + the Machine, “Ceremonials” (Universal Republic) – When raven-haired British songstress Florence Welch opens her mouth, you hear a visceral wailing rarely experienced since the early careers of PJ Harvey and Siouxsie Sioux. And it is astounding. With producer Paul Epworth (Adele) at the helm again, Welch’s darkly romantic chamber soul music - still teeming with regal harp and thundering drums – packs another emotional punch.

6. Young the Giant, “Young the Giant” (Roadrunner) – One of the Orange County music scene’s breakout success stories of 2011, the mesmerizing alt-rock band proved to be adept at dreamy excursions (“I Got,” “Strings”), rousing rockers with reverberating guitars (the top 10 modern rock hits “My Body,” “Cough Syrup”) and the occasional dose of spirituality (“God Made Man”). Morrissey was right on the money when he gave Young the Giant a rare seal of approval.

7. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, “Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds” (Sour Mash/Mercury) – Gallagher’s brother and other ex-members of Oasis failed to make a big splash with their solid, yet unspectacular first effort as Beady Eye. So the stakes were suddenly raised. The debut solo album by Noel - former mastermind behind Britain ’s biggest band of the ‘90s- doesn’t disappoint. Utilizing a chorale (evoking The Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet), New Orleans-styled brass, Ibiza dance strains and Kinksian pop, this is concise, nuanced and highly satisfying stuff.

8. The Airborne Toxic Event, “All at Once” ( Island ) – Armed with a wider, more compelling sonic palette than before, the Los Angeles alt-rock band easily avoided a sophomore slump. Literary-minded leader Mikel Jollet and company delved into rockabilly a la Johnny Cash, searing, politically-tinged, U2/Clash-inspired territory and new electronic textures with equal aplomb. Stellar string section enhancements by The Calder Quartet pushed the exhilaration quotient even further.

9. k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang, “Sing it Loud”(Nonesuch) – For the first time in decades, lang assembled a tried-and-true band, including new collaborator/onetime Guster member Joe Pisapia. It obviously rejuvenated her spirit. The outcome was a shimmering, adult alternative/pop/country mélange that accentuated those gorgeous pipes –especially the Roy Orbison-leaning “I Confess,” sublime cover of Talking Heads’ “Heaven” and beautiful “Water’s Edge.”

10. Dawes, “Nothing is Wrong” (ATO) - The L.A. rock band revisited vintage ‘70s singer/songwriter sensibilities in fine fashion on their warm and inviting second album. Front man Taylor Goldsmith deftly wrote confessional tunes about life in the 310 and expanded his electric guitar playing. Laid back group vocals brought to mind prime Paul Simon, CSN&Y and especially Jackson Browne (the latter even lent a hand and took them out on tour). An organic gem.
11. The Black Keys, "El Camino" (Nonesuch)
12. R.E.M, "Collapse Into Now" (Warner Bros.)
13. The Civil Wars, "Barton Hollow" (Sensibility)
14. Viva Brother, "Famous Last Words" (A&M/Octone)
15. The Cars, "Move Like This" (Hear Music)
16. The Vaccines, "What Did You Expect From the Vaccines? (Columbia)
17. White Lies, "Ritual" (Fiction/Geffen)
18. Edwyn Collins, "Losing Sleep" (Heavenly)
19. Elbow, "Build a Rocket Boys!" (Fiction/Cooperative Music)
20. My Morning Jacket, "Circuital" (ATO)
Honorable Mention
Ron Sexsmith, "Long Player, Late Bloomer" (30 Tigers)
The Naked and the Famous, "Passive Me, Aggressive You" (Universal Republic)
Peter Murphy, "Ninth" (Nettwerk)
Social Distortion, "Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes" (Epitaph)
Stevie Nicks, "In Your Dreams" (Reprise) 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Scars on 45 announce headline tour

A few months ago, I caught this band opening for Jack's Mannequin and was very impressed. Here is some news...

Scars on 45 has announced its first U.S. headline tour (see below for itinerary). For complete details and to purchase tickets, visit
Currently riding high with their hit single, “Heart On Fire,” the U.K. band has been named VH1’s “You Oughta Know” artist for January 2012.

The Bradford, England-based quintet recently visited VH1 headquarters in New York, where they performed a rendition of Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” The band’s stripped-down cover can be heard now at

Meanwhile, “Heart On Fire” has scored top 15 airplay at Triple A radio. The track’s companion video is streaming now at the band’s official YouTube channel.

“Heart On Fire” can be found now on Scars on 45’s recently released EP as well as the high profile "Grey's Anatomy Soundtrack, Vol. 4.



25 San Francisco , CA Café du Nord
27 Portland , OR Doug Fir Lounge*
28 Boise , ID Neurolux*
29 Hadley, ID Sun Valley Brewery*
31 Denver , CO Soiled Dove Underground*


2 Minneapolis , MN The Varsity Theater*
3 Chicago , IL Schubas Tavern*
7 New York , NY Joe’s Pub*
8 Boston , MA Brighton Music Hall *
11 Charlottesville , VA The Southern*
11 Annapolis , MD Ram’s Head On Stage – Matinee Show*
21 Los Angeles , CA Troubadour*
23 San Diego , CA Anthology

Last Minute Music Gift Guide: U2, Nirvana, R.E.M.

Achtung Baby is one of the crowning achievements in the U2 catalog and equal in stature to The Joshua Tree.

An experimental effort at the time, co-produced by Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno and Steve Lillywhite, it spawned five top 10 modern rock singles in America and blew the Irish band's worldwide popularity to gargantuan proportions.

For the 20th anniversary this year, Island/Interscope/UMe pulled out all the stops to provide the full-on reissue treatment.
There are five versions: 
1. The remastered original album
2. A double disc deluxe edition with the original album plus B-sides and rarities.
3. Super deluxe edition with six CDs, four DVDs, a 92-page hardback book and 16 art prints in a wallet.
4. Limited release vinyl box set of four LPs (two pressed on translucent blue vinyl have remixes and B-sides) and a 16-page booklet. 
5. Limited, numbered uber deluxe edition - a magnetic puzzle tiled box of six CDs, including the original album, follow-up album, Zooropa, B-sides, remixes and re-workings of previously unheard material recorded during the Achtung Baby sessions. Four DVDs, including 'From The Sky Down', 'Zoo TV:Live From Sydney', all the videos from Achtung Baby and bonus material,  the Achtung Baby double vinyl album plus five clear 7" vinyl singles in their original sleeves, 16 art prints taken from the original album sleeve, an 84-page hardback book, a copy of Propaganda fan club magazine, four badges, a sticker sheet, and a pair of Bono’s trademark 'The Fly' sunglasses.

The 'Kindergarten' disc of demos/early versions of Achtung Baby tracks on the uber set will be a revelation for diehard enthusiasts. Hearing alternate arrangements and lyrics is a real eye opener.

"Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World," for example, is basically acoustic - the way Bono and The Edge would perform it on later concert tours. An eight-minute long "Love is Blindness" is even more haunting than the version we all know.

Longtime fans will already own many of the extended remixes, but those who don't will find a U2 well-suited for the dance floor. Among the B-side covers are the band's intriguing takes on the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black," Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" and Cole Porter's "Night and Day (remix)" - all available on the 2CD version.

The deluxe edition comes in a cardboard Digipak, which folds over, book-style, with two photos and the multiple image panels from the front/back covers. The track listing folds on the inside and there is no title on the CD spine, but those are minor quibbles. Full lyrics and credits are reproduced from the original booklet. All of the rare photos are saved for the expensive box sets.
1991 was obviously a great year for alt-rock music, as it also saw the release of Nirvana's groundbreaking Nevermind CD.

Reaching No. 1 in the U.S. and elsewhere, it eventually moved over 30 million copies and became a highly influential landmark, recording, thanks to such hits as "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Come as You Are" and "Lithium." 

For the commemoration of the two decade-old classic, Geffen/UMe put out several versions of Nevermind. First is the original standalone album and a 2CD deluxe edition, featuring the remastered album and B-sides, the Smart Studio session demos (recorded with producer Butch Vig and making their full official release), "boombox" rehearsals and BBC sessions. 

The "boombox" songs are rough and lo-fi. Along with other early sessions, they provide a glimpse of how the arrangements progressed or stayed the same. A pair of BBC recordings are just as exciting as Nevermind.

As for the packaging of the deluxe, the booklet has extra photos, credits and no lyrics (like the original). The studio tape box images are reproduced under the CD trays, which is a nice touch. The overall sound is just as dynamic and hard-hitting as it was back then.   

Next up is a four LP, 180-gram heavyweight vinyl edition, featuring the same 40 tracks as the deluxe edition, a remastered CD of the original album, and digital versions of the standard and deluxe editions.

Then there's the limited, numbered super deluxe edition: only 10,000 copies were available in North America; 30,000 for the rest of the world. Featuring the original remastered album, previously mentioned studio and live B-sides, etc., the big selling point here is the exclusive Devonshire mixes - the album produced/mixed by Vig, as opposed to the commercially released final version produced by Vig and mixed by Andy Wallace.

Elsewhere on the super deluxe set is an exclusive 1991 Halloween concert at Seattle's Paramount Theatre in its entirety, available for the first time on DVD (which also features all four music videos from the album), a 90-page bound book full of rare photos, documents and other visual artifacts of the era.

The Paramount concert was transferred from 16mm film and multi-track audio and is the only known Nirvana concert shot to film. It has a 1080p high-definition picture in uncompressed 5.1 surround sound and stereo. 

R.E.M.'s expanded 25th anniversary edition of Lifes Rich Pageant was one of the year's best reissues. It features the remastered original album, plus 19 previously unreleased demo recordings cut prior to the album’s studio sessions. 

The commemorative release also adds new liner notes by music journalist/author Parke Puterbaugh, with the 2CD package presented in a lift-top box with a poster and four postcards. The remastered album was also reissued by Mobile Fidelity on 180-gram vinyl in faithfully replicated LP packaging.

R.E.M.’s fourth studio album, Lifes Rich Pageant was recorded by vocalist Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry at John Mellencamp’s Belmont Mall Studios in Indiana. 

Produced by Don Gehman (John Mellencamp), Pageant includes the singles “Fall On Me” and “Superman.” The album was R.E.M.’s first to achieve gold certification and reached the band’s then-highest chart position of No. 21. 

“The Athens Demos” includes drafts of Pageant’s 12 songs, plus additional demos of songs that were later recorded for other releases. Today, the songs sound crisp and clean on this new version and the demos are also top notch.  

After announcing it was splitting up, R.E.M. also issued the comprehensive Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage, 1982 - 2011, on Warner Bros.

The 40-track album assembles material from R.E.M.'s entire back catalog, including both the I.R.S. (1982-87) and Warner Bros. (1988-2011) labels.

Liner notes were written by band members. Three new songs were finished by R.E.M. after they completed final album Collapse Into Now: "A Month of Saturdays," "We All Go Back To Where We Belong," and "Hallelujah." 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sarah McLachlan Christmas single benefits music school

Sarah McLachlan and students from the Sarah McLachlan School of Music recorded an original Christmas song and music video last month featuring original lyrics by student Freya Cirulis (age 17) with music by SoM students.

"Space on the Couch for Two" features McLachlan on lead vocals with background vocals and instruments performed by students.

This song is offered free of charge on the Sarah McLachlan School of Music website: in hopes of continuing to provide opportunities for at-risk youth in Vancouver, BC to learn music. All proceeds from the sale of the song will go to support the Sarah McLachlan School of Music.

McLachlan posted the folowing on the website: 

Christmas isn't going to be easy for many this year, so I have decided to give the world a gift of music! The students at the Sarah McLachlan School of Music and I have created a new Christmas song that you can download entirely for free! If you can afford a $1 or $5 contribution to our school, it would warm my heart as we continue to provide free music lessons to at-risk youth. Happy Holidays! Sarah McLachlan

Paul Rodgers releases charity single

Paul Rodgers has released a new studio recording that is available exclusively on-line via CD Baby and all other digital retailers.

The song "With Our Love" has been shared with fans and the public on his 62nd birthday (Dec. 17), with 100 percent of proceeds earmarked for the charities The Racehorse Sanctuary & Rocking Horse Children's Charity and Seraphim 12 Foundation.

The composition was co-written and performed by Perry Margouleff, whose friendship with Rodgers dates back 20 years when they met in the U.K. while Margouleff was performing with The Pretty Things. 
All the charities are organizations Rodgers has offered significant support to in the past. He is a patron of one; Margouleff is senior board member of the other.
Rodgers said, "Horses are such a powerful part of human development and have been since the early ages. We humans owe them so much. My wife Cynthia and I have visited both sanctuaries and can't imagine any of these healthy vibrant beings being sent off to die."
The song "With Our Love," can be found on-line at
More information:

Last Minute Music Gift Guide: Pink Floyd, Stones, REO Speedwagon

The following are some Christmas gift suggestions for the classic rock music fan on your gift list. Most of them can be found at brick and mortar Target, Walmart and Best Buy stores.

This past fall, Pink Floyd was subject to a back catalog reissue program from Capitol/EMI Music. You can read about the lavish "immersion" and "discovery" multi-disc box sets elsewhere on my blog.

The legendary British band's 1973 opus The Dark Side Of The Moon sounds brighter than past reissues ("Money" is a prime example) on the 2CD "experience" edition, which pairs the original 1973 album remastered on disc one and a previously unreleased performance of it from the following year at The Empire Pool, Wembley, London, England. The live set finds the musicians in top form, expanding the album's running time by more than 10 minutes with added flourishes.

Housed in a outdoor carboard sleeve on shiny black stock (it is succeptible to fingerprints), the  
Digipak unfolds to display the iconic prism by Storm Thorgerson and sound waves images over three panels. The booklet includes archival concert photos of the band, more prism images, full lyrics and credits. 

On 1975's Wish You Were Here, the 2CD "experience" edition, in addition to the stellar remastered original album - where the title track still can induce goosebumps, disc two has 50 minutes more from that '74 gig.

Here, the live material comprises "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and rarities "Raving and Drooling" and "You've Got to Be Crazy" (later reworked for the Animals LP).

Additionally, there's an alternate version of the Roy Harper-sung "Have a Cigar" and hard-to-find recording of "Wish You Were Here" featuring celebrated jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.

Also housed in a outdoor carboard sleeve on shiny black and white stock, the "diving person" image is spread over three panels. The new 20-page booklet designed by Thorgerson includes larger studio recording shots from the initial CD issue, full lyrics and credits.  

Pink Floyd's 1979 concept album The Wall was included in the catalog remaster series too, but no extras (see below).

Listening to it on headphones, I suddenly noticed audio verite and other dialogue snippets that eluded me before. The three panel gatefold has three large animated characters from the film, while the booklet includes the lyrics in fanciful handwritten script (though the credits are shrunk so tiny you need a magnifying glass to read 'em) and full credits.

Come February 27, The Wall will receive the multi-disc, deluxe "immersion" and "experience" treatment. 

Everyone always blathers on about how The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street is such a classic. The double LP does have many strong tunes, but also a lot of material that should've been relegated to B-side status or left in the studio vaults. Last year's deluxe reissue exemplified that point. 

I've always been more partial to 1978's Some Girls (Universal Republic/UMG), which is strong from top to bottom. The new 2CD deluxe edition sounds superb, especially Charlie Watts' snapping drums and Bill Wyman's funky bass on "Miss You" and Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood's chunky guitars on the rocker "Whip the Whip Comes Down."

Like Exile, the bonus tracks on Disc Two are almost worth the purchase price alone. In fact, they could work as a good standalone album.

Once again, producer Don Was oversaw the outtakes  sessions - where the band made minor musical tweaks and added vocals on the demos where needed. 

The rollicking “Claudine” (long known by bootleggers) is a real barnburner and "So Young" is a dirty counterpoint to "Some Girls."

Richards does a sad cover of Waylon Jennings' "We Had It All," while Mick Jagger handles Hank Williams' "You Win Again," enlivened by Ian Stewart's piano work. They provide a good countryish reflection to "Faraway Eyes" on the main album. 

photo by Helmut Newton/courtesy UMG
Elsewhere, John Fogerty guests on - of all things - handclaps during a fun version of Freddy Cannon's "Tallahassee Lassie" (done during the recent Was sessions), the much discussed "No Spare Parts" is a highlight  and Jagger caps everything off alone on piano for "Petrol Blues." 

The booklet doesn't have lyrics, but features several previously unseen Helmut Newton shots from a '78 photo session (see one at left) and expanded artwork of the female hair/lingerie catalog on the cover.

After you open the Digipak, there are four panels of artwork in different colors. "Love and Hope and Sex and Dreams: Punk Rock, Disco, New York City and the Trimuph of the Rolling Stones' Some Girls," an essay by Rolling Stone magazine's Anthony DeCurtis, nicely puts the recording and era into perspective.

Among the extras on the super deluxe edition: of a bonus DVD of music videos, preview of the new live DVD "Some Girls: Live in Texas '78," a hardcover book, 7” single of Beast Of Burden/When The Whip Comes Down in its banned sleeve, poster, postcards and more. 
Back in 1981, REO Speedwagon ruled the pop and rock charts with its 11th album, the multi-platinum Hi Infidelity, plus hit singles “Keep on Loving You,” “Take It On the Run” (both hit the top 10), “Don’t Let Him Go,” “Tough Guys” and “Out of Season.”  

To mark the 30th anniversary, Sony Legacy/Epic put out a new 2CD edition over the summer. Diehard enthusiasts (I was a member of the fan club at age 12) will definitely want this version. Why? The previously unreleased "Crystal Demos" of nine of the album’s 10 songs (except "Out of Season"). 

Named after Hollywood's Crystal Studios, where they were recorded in 1980, the tapes had been missing for 28 years until amazingly being rediscovered in the band's manager's garage in an old box marked '1976 photos.'

Far from rough versions, as singer Kevin Cronin says in the detailed liner notes: "half the performances on the final version of Hi Infidelity are from [these demos] and the other half were overdubs we added to those." You really get a glimpse of what was later added to the tunes, whether it is missing background vocals, verse, guitar solo, etc. 

The CD booklet is filled with archival photos (band and memorabilia), lyrics, full credits and background from Cronin and former guitarist Gary Richrath. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Paul McCartney tackles standards, more on next album

Hear Music/Concord
This press release on Macca's latest musical offering just arrived...

While many a musician is often asked about the tunes that have influenced their songwriting, it is not a question Paul McCartney ordinarily gets to answer - until now.

Paul is about to offer a glimpse into "the songs which inspired the songs" with the upcoming release of a brand new album of those standards he grew up listening to in his childhood - plus two brand new McCartney compositions. The album, currently untitled, will be released on Hear Music/Concord Records on Feb. 7.

With the help of Grammy Award-winning producer Tommy LiPuma and Diana Krall and her band, as well as guest appearances from Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder, McCartney's new album is a deeply personal journey through classic American compositions that, in some cases, a young Paul first heard his father perform on piano at home.

As authentic and daring a musical statement as he could make, this is the album Paul has been thinking about making for more than 20 years - and probably the last thing his fans are expecting. "In the end it was 'Look, if I don't do it now, I'll never do it," he says.

In short, Paul believes it is about time "the songs me and John based quite a few of our things on" received the recognition they deserve. Moreover, the record also features a couple of new original McCartney compositions in the spirit of those classics.

"When I kind of got into songwriting, I realized how well structured these songs were and I think I took a lot of my lessons from them," Paul explains. "I always thought artists like Fred Astaire were very cool. Writers like Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, all of those guys - I just thought the songs were magical. And then, as I got to be a songwriter I thought it's beautiful, the way they made those songs'."

Determined to approach the record in a new and unique manner, Paul enlisted the help of LiPuma and Krall and her band who delivered ultra-high quality musicianship and were completely in tune with Paul's restraint and feel for the music.

In the studio, the recording of this album was also a new challenge for Paul who, for the first time ever, performed exclusively in the vocal booth without no instrument - no guitar, no bass, no piano - which led to a vocal performance like no other in his career.

He adds, "It was very spontaneous, kind of organic, which then reminded me of the way we'd work with The Beatles. We'd bring a song in, kick it around, when we found a way to do it we'd say 'Okay, let's do a take now' and by the time everyone kind of had an idea of what they were doing, we'd learnt the song. So that's what we did, we did the take live in the studio."

"It was important for me to keep away from the more obvious song choices; so many of the classic standards will be unfamiliar to some people. I hope they are in for a pleasant surprise."

The album was recorded at Capitol Studios in LA, New York and London throughout 2011. It also features guest musicians Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder, respectively, on the original compositions  'My Valentine' and 'Only Our Hearts'.  

Full tracklisting to be announced soon.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Fall's latest album available now

Influential Manchester, England post-punk band The Fall have just unveiled their 29th studio album Ersatz G.B on Cherry Red Records/MVD. 

Boasting a slightly rawer sound than 2010's Your Future, Our Clutter, it finds vocalist Mark E. Smith co-producing with Simon Archer and in a cantankerous mood, as usual

Surprisingly, the lineup remains the same for the third time in a row - reportedly the first time that's happened since Smith formed the group in 1976: Peter Greenway (lead guitar), Keiron Melling (drums) and Elena Poulou (keyboards/vocals).

Three of the songs stretch past the six-minute mark as Smith spits out stream of consciousness rants, that are both puzzling and humorous. 

On the rockabilly-leaning "Mask Search," he admits his disgust about Snow Patrol's omnipresence and on "Nate Will Not Return," references a character from TV's "Gossip Girl." The truly bizarre track (what would a Fall disc be without one) is definitely the heavy "Greenway," based on "Gameboy," by Greek comedy/metal band Anorimoi. Here, Smith growls in a menacing tone. The plaintive "Happi Song" provides a welcome respite from the racket as Puolou sings lead in a simple voice that has been likened to Nico.

Early in The Fall's career, it was championed by late BBC DJ John Peel, who famously said "they are always different; they are always the same." That still holds true on Ersatz G.B, which is recommended for diehard fans.

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Gary Numan back with new music

Gary Numan just released Dead Son Rising, his new studio album, via RED distribution in the U.S. and globally available through

More experimental and often more atmopsheric than prior efforts Jagged, Pure and Exile, Numan co-wrote and produced it with Ade Fenton.

Longtime fans and industrial music enthusiasts of bands like NIN will find plenty to savor, especially the tracks "The Fall" and "We Are the Lost."   

Last week, the new wave pioneer guested on NPR's World Cafe; the show is archived at

Currently, the prolific Numan is finishing up yet another new studio album for 2012, called Splinter. This past summer, he collaborated with Battles on their single "My Machines" and appeared in the music video for it. 

In 2010, Numan celebrated the 30th anniversary of groundbreaking LP The Pleasure Priniciple with a successful U.S. tour. More dates are expected soon.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Naked and Famous concert review: Santa Ana, CA

photo by Kelly Swift
A version of my review originally appeared at

An intriguing yin and yang dynamic accentuates the music of The Naked and Famous.

It’s opposite what you’d normally expect from male/female frontpersons: guitarist Thom Powers tends to sing in a quiet, hushed fashion, while keyboardist Alisa Xayalith often leans toward a more exuberant, Bjork style (both are pictured, left, from an LA show earlier this month). Their album title Passive Me, Aggressive You is totally appropriate as a result.

The New New Zealand alt-rock band formed in 2008. That captivating debut effort emerged Down Under last year, reached the pole position, spawned a No. 1 single (“Young Blood”) and helped the young Auckland natives snag seven trophies at the New Zealand Music Awards, which is equivalent to our Grammys.

Passive Me, Aggressive You arrived Stateside the following spring and was also well-received. “Punching in a Dream” is currently top 20 on Billboard’s Modern Rock radio chart; the track “Young Blood” sits atop the KROQ/106.7 FM play list.

Although The Naked and Famous toured America consistently in 2011, I never had the opportunity to catch a Southern California show. After seeing them on the station’s Almost
Acoustic Christmas concert web cast last Sunday and being mightily impressed, my attendance at the local gig was suddenly imperative.

Another good reason: Thursday night’s packed Observatory (formerly Galaxy) appearance was relatively cozy, compared to when the group steps up to the much larger Wiltern in L.A. on March 21 (tickets are on sale now, $27-$34, through

Opening the hour-long set with a brief, atmospheric “The Ends,” Powers – whose handsome looks are reminiscent of Haircut 100’s Nick Heyward circa 1984 - and Xayalith’s pipes blended smoothly. Then everyone transitioned into the near industrial assault of “A Wolf in Geek’s Clothing.”

Fans that filled the pit area immediately went bonkers upon the initial sleek, plinking synth lines in “Punching in a Dream” and danced around. Xayalith followed suit as she sang lead on the exhilarating tune (The pristine mix was another fine example of the Observatory’s recently upgraded sound system; I almost felt like I was listening to a CD).

Both singers’ monotone delivery on “The Sun,” plus Aaron Short’s sedate keyboard work, set an ominous tone. The LED screen behind them projected selected pixilated images related to the song’s risqué music video banned from YouTube (the clip is available at The pair’s vocal phrasing steadily increased with Powers’ slicing electric guitar and built up tension before deflating into a slow, Radiohead-esque piano finish.

Other highlights included Jesse Wood’s crashing drums amid the dramatic “Frayed,” where the sensual male/female vocal interplay recalled Berlin’s “Sex (I’m A).” A majestic wash of ‘80s synths (there were four onstage, used at different junctures) had a mid-period New Order vibe during the frantic, dancey electro-pop of “All of This”; the soaring “Eyes” was more dense, a la M83.

The crowd clapped along during the enticing main set closer “Girls Like You” - an emotional showcase for Powers that could’ve easily slotted on an old John Hughes film soundtrack like “Pretty in Pink,” but still comes across entirely modern. The Naked and Famous capped off the encores with a high energy “Young Blood.” The band's enthusiasts went mad for it, pogoing and singing along at high volume as Xayalith (a real spitfire) danced around some more.

All told, this was an excellent concert from the promising Kiwis.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Beach Boys 50th Anniversary news

After rumors, speculation and conflicting info, the truth about the Beach Boys reunion is finally official. Read on for details...

The founding members of The Beach Boys will reunite for a global 50th Anniversary Celebration next year. Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks will come together for a new studio album, commemorative catalog releases with Capitol/EMI and a 50-date international tour to begin in April with a headlining performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and other events to be announced. 
Brian Wilson says, “This anniversary is special to me because I miss the boys and it will be a thrill for me to make a new record and be on stage with them again.”
Mike Love says, "We got together at Capitol Records and re-recorded ‘Do It Again.’  Brian and I wrote that song which went to No. 1 in Great Britain, Australia and elsewhere some 44 years ago. Brian paid me a compliment saying, ‘How can a guy sound that great so many years later?’ Later on, while working out some harmonies on a new song Brian had written, I got a chance to return the compliment. It was a thrill to be around a piano again with Brian, Alan and Bruce and experience firsthand the brilliance of Cousin Brian's gift for vocal arrangements. I am very much looking forward to David Marks joining us and thrilling with his surf guitar licks. Music has been the unifying and harmonizing fact of life in our family since childhood. It has been a huge blessing that we have been able to share with the world. Wouldn't it be nice to do it again? Absolutely!”
Al Jardine says, “The Beach Boys were recently inducted into the California Hall of Fame. From our humble beginnings as brothers, cousins and friends, we have been honored to sing the praises of California, and I'm really excited for our fans to be able to see us again in concert on the world stage, and to celebrate our 50th anniversary together with a new studio album.”
Bruce Johnston says, "I will be looking forward to singing Brian Wilson's melodies and Mike Love's lyrics once again in concert with many of the original band members, but imagine what we all could come up with vocally in a recording studio atmosphere under Brian's musical direction."
The Beach Boys have already recorded several songs for their new album, to be released in 2012 by Capitol/EMI, with more tracks to be recorded before its completion. The as-yet-untitled album, the first to feature all of the band’s surviving original members in decades, is being produced by Brian Wilson and executive produced by Mike Love.  
The Beach Boys and Capitol/EMI have also teamed up for an anniversary campaign spotlighting the band’s entire catalog, with several new commemorative releases planned for 2012, including a new hits collection and a career-spanning box set.
Founded in Hawthorne, California in 1961, The Beach Boys were originally comprised of the three teenaged Wilson brothers: Brian, Carl and Dennis, their cousin Mike Love, and school friend Al Jardine. In 1962, neighbor David Marks joined the group for their first wave of hits on Capitol Records, leaving in late 1963, and in 1965, Bruce Johnston joined the band when Brian Wilson retired from touring to focus on writing and producing records for the group. For five decades, America’s first pop band to reach the 50 year milestone has recorded and performed the music that has become the world’s favorite soundtrack to summer. 
The Beach Boys signed with Capitol Records in July 1962 and released their first album, "Surfin’ Safari," that same year. The album spent 37 weeks on the Billboard chart, launching the young group known for its shimmering vocal harmonies and relaxed California style into international stardom. The Wilson/Love collaboration resulted in many huge international chart hits, and under Brian Wilson’s musical leadership, the band’s initial surf-rock focus was soon broadened to include other themes, making The Beach Boys America’s preeminent band of the 1960s.
In 1966, The Beach Boys were one of the first bands to found its own record label with the launch of Brother Records, Inc. (BRI), with the band’s members as its shareholders and Capitol Records as its distribution partner. BRI continues to manage The Beach Boys’ intellectual property, including the band’s catalog with Capitol/EMI and other label partners, as well as its name, logos, image and likeness.
The Beach Boys continue to hold Billboard/Nielsen SoundScan’s record as the top-selling American band for albums and singles, and they are also the American group with the most Billboard Top 40 chart hits (36). ‘Sounds Of Summer: The Very Best Of The Beach Boys’ is fast approaching triple-Platinum sales status, and ‘The SMiLE Sessions,’ released to worldwide critical acclaim in November, has been heralded as 2011’s #1 Reissue of the Year by Rolling Stone magazine.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and recipients of The Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY Award, The Beach Boys are an American institution that is iconic around the world.