Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lee Rocker plays SoCal in support of 'Night Train to Memphis'

Lee Rocker is best known as a member of the Stray Cats, for which he played wild standup bass guitar during the rockabilly band's 1980s heyday and frequently during the intervening decades.

The Grammy-nominated group including Brian Setzer and Slim Jim Phantom scored top 10 singles with "Stray Cat Strut," "Rock This Town" and "(She's) Sexy + 17," sold nearly 10 million albums and amassed nearly two dozen gold and platinum record certifications worldwide.

Since then, Rocker has released a dozen solo studio or live albums and EPs.

Last year, he appeared in the hit Broadway musical "Million Dollar Quartet" - inspired by the legendary 1956 recording session at Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and others.

Rocker played Perkins' brother and bass player, Jay Perkins. "The story [was] especially close to my heart," says Rocker, who was a close friend and musical collaborator of Perkins up until his death.

2011 also saw the release of the Cover Sessions EP, where Rocker put his Americana twist on classic rock radio hits like The Beatles' "Come Together," Elton John's "Honky Cat" and Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man."

Now Rocker is back with another new effort. Night Train to Memphis is classic rockabilly done in his trademark style. The proceedings kick off with a fast take on Johnny and Dorsey Burnette's "Rockabilly Boogie." There are spirited covers of '50s numbers "Real Wild Child," "Twenty Flight Rock," Perkins' "Honey Don't" and "That's Alright Mama/Blue Moon."

On the more contemplative side are Buddy Holly's "Lonesome Tears" and the Everly Brothers' "All I Have to Do is Dream" and "So Sad." 

"It is a record that I've wanted to make for a very long time," Rocker says in the biographical notes. "Like an album spinning on a turntable at 33 1/3 RPMs, this is my 33rd year of playing music. Night Train to Memphis is the soundtrack of my life. These songs are tattooed on my soul. Rockabilly music grabbed this kid from New York, shook me, spun me round and rattled my brains. I was never the same again.

"At 16 years old, I got myself an upright bass fiddle and I started a band. We would practice in my dad's garage next to the Olds Delta 88. We would play until my fingers bled. I didn't mind one bit. The music hasn't released me yet and I know it never will. In the summer of 1980, the band moved to London and we called ourselves the 'Stray Cats.' I got to say it's been one a hell of a trip. Over the years, I devoured everything I could about rockabilly and I've played or recorded with the musical architects and pioneers, including Carl Perkins, Scotty Moore, Wanda Jackson, Levon Helm, as well as George Harrison and Ringo Starr - the Mount Rushmore of Rock and Roll. Hey, dreams do come true.

"The songs on Night Train to Memphis are classics from the early days of rock with the "Stray Cat, Lee Rocker" stamp on them. I recorded this disc in a similar way as they did back at Sun Studio, the birthplace of rockabilly, relying on spirit, energy and passion, not on studio tricks and gimmicks. Night Train to Memphis takes me right where I want to be, and where I've always been happiest. Get on board!"

At the Coach House, it's a good bet that fans will hear Cats classics, the new album songs and ones made famous by Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and The Beatles. Rocker's live band typically includes guitarist Buzz Campbell, guitarist/slide player Brophy Dale and drummer Jimmy Sage.

Doors open at 6 p.m. for dinner, showtime is 8 p.m. Saturday, March 3, the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, $18. For more info or dinner reservations, call (949) 496-8930.

Other upcoming SoCal shows include Marquee 15 in Corona on April 14, The High Desert Music Festival at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds in Victorville on May 27, Irvine Blues Festival on June 30. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Keane's next album due in May

British pop/rockers Keane will release their fourth Cherrytree/Interscope Records studio album, Strangeland, on May 8 in America. It is available for pre-order now at

First single “Silenced By The Night” will have an early TV debut on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live on March 12.

Keyboardist and chief songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley recently said of the album: "Strangeland feels like an adventure that brings with it different things for different people, and like any adventure is full of uncertainty, and the potential for mishap, as well as the possibility of amazing things and glorious discoveries. I love the idea of the journey through Strangeland being a journey of redemption."  

Adds drummer Richard Hughes, “In many respects, it feels like the completion of a circle. On the album you have songs that draw upon the experiences we used to share as kids, growing up in Battle [England]. You can never really go back, of course. Once in a while though, after a good day, we’ll go to the local pub and talk about everything and nothing until it’s time to go home. Whatever it is that makes us Keane – that invisible glue – is still there. And you can hear it all over Strangeland.”

The band is now a four piece with the official addition of bass player Jesse Quin. 
Keane recently announced a U.K. tour kicking off in May; a June tour of the U.S. is in the works, with routing to be announced soon.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Revised: John Mayer album details

At January's The NAMM Show in Anaheim, I saw John Mayer talk about a new signature acoustic guitar line and make a few comments about his next album. Now we have more details. His previously announced U.S. tour has been cancelled due to a recurrence of vocal problems. 

Multiple Grammy Award-winning artist John Mayer has unveiled new album Born and Raised, due out May 22.

Produced with Don Was, it includes David Crosby and Graham Nash handling backing vocals on the title song, while renowned drummer Jim Keltner makes a special appearance on “Something Like Olivia."

Other musicians joining Mayer on the album include keyboardist/pianist/longtime Rolling Stones sideman Chuck Leavell, bassist Sean Hurley and drummer Aaron Sterling. Rounding out the touring band are David Ryan Harris (guitar/backing vocals), Doug Pettibone (guitar) and Michito Sanchez (percussion).

Mayer recently previewed the album’s first single “Shadow Days” on his tumblr blog ( 

Mayer became passionate about supporting U.S. war veterans following a visit to the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune in North Carolina four years ago. He has since spent time with active military and veterans while touring, and partnered with the Northern California Institute of Research and Education (NCIRE) to provide veterans with a healthy reintegration into civilian life which will help heal the battle scars caused by the trauma they experienced.

In 2011, through his partnership with NCIRE, Mayer was able to launch the first of several pilot programs to benefit the young men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Programs include a mobile exercise and wellness program; the development of a program of integrative medicine for traumatic stress; a study on veterans’ readjustment to civilian life which aims to develop new therapeutic tools to aid the transition; and a first-of-its-kind screening and intervention program for women suffering from eating disorders triggered by post traumatic stress related to combat.

Born and Raised
Track Listing:

Queen of California
The Age of Worry
Shadow Days
Speak for Me
Something Like Olivia
Born & Raised
If I Ever Get Around To Living
Love is a Verb
Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967
Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey
A Face To Call Home
Born & Raised (Reprise)

Spiritualized news

Spiritualized’s Jason Spaceman unveils seventh studio album Sweet Heart Sweet Light, released through Fat Possum, on April 17.
The first track available from the album is “Hey Jane,” more than eight minutes of organ, guitar fuzz and choirs. It can be streamed here:
Jason is also joined by his 11-year old daughter Poppy on “So Long You Pretty Thing,” which she co-wrote the opening couplet. “I Am What I Am” which was co-written by Jason and Dr. John. 
Sweet Heart Sweet Light tracklist:
1. Hey Jane 
2. Little Girl
3. Get What You
4. Too Late
5. Heading For The Top
6. Freedom
7. I Am What I Am
8. Mary
9. Life Is A Problem
10. So Long You Pretty Things
North American Tour Dates:
5/02 Minneapolis MN @ First Avenue
5/03 Chicago, IL @ Metro
5/04 Detroit, MI @ The Majestic Theatre
5/05 Toronto, ON @ The Phoenix
5/07 New York, NY @ Terminal 5
5/09 Boston, MA @ Paradise
5/10 Washington, DC @ The 9:30 Club
5/11 Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre Of Living Arts
5/12 Carrboro, NC @ Cat's Cradle
5/13 Atlanta, GA @ The Variety Playhouse
5/15 Dallas, TX @ The Granada Theatre
5/16 Austin, TX @ Emo's East
5/18 Tucson AZ @ The Rialto Theatre
5/19 Phoenix AZ @ The Crescent Ballroom
5/20 San Diego CA @ Belly Up Tavern
5/22 Los Angeles CA @ The Wiltern
5/23 San Francisco CA @ The Fillmore
5/25 Portland OR @ The Wonder Ballroom
5/26 Vancouver BC @ The Rickshaw Theatre

Thursday, February 23, 2012

New Delta Spirit tour dates for new album

Delta Spirit announces the release of their teaser video for "Empty House," the opening number from their self-titled release, out March 13.

The video can be viewed at Fans will get a chance to listen to the album in its entirety through a First Listen exclusive with starting Feb. 27.

In support of their forthcoming release, Delta Spirit fans can hear un-released songs at a Brooklyn, NY Pub Crawl/Album Premiere event on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Beginning at 3 p.m., Delta Spirit will invade three bars in Williamsburg and Greenpoint to play select tracks from their new album. Event details here:

"Delta Spirit" follows 2010's "History From Below." Through the recording process, the band grew their sound sonically, inspired to use instruments they had not previously experimented with.

Delta Spirit 2012 headlining tour dates:

March 19 Little Rock, AR Revolution Music Room
March 20 St. Louis, MO The Old Rock House
March 21 Minneapolis, MN First Line Music Cafe
March 22 Milwaukee, WI Turner Hall
March 23 Chicago, IL Metro
March 24 Indianapolis, In Radio Radio
March 26 Cleveland, OH Beachland Ballroom & Tavern
March 27 Boston, MA Paradise Rock Club
March 29 New York, NY Webster Hall
March 30 Philadelphia, PA Union Transfer
March 31 Washington, DC 9:30 Club
April 2 Charlottesville, VA Jefferson Theater
April 3 Carrboro, NC Cat's Cradle
April 4 Asheville, NC Greg Eagle Tavern & Music Hall
April 6 Nashville, TN Cannery Ballroom
April 7 Atlanta, GA The Masquerade-Hell Stage
April 9 Birmingham, AL WorkPlay Theater
April 10 New Orleans, LA One Eyed Jacks
April 12 Houston, TX Fitzgerald's-Upstairs
April 13 Austin, TX Emo's East
April 14 Dallas, TX Granada Theatre
April 30 Salt Lake City, UT Urban Lounge
May 1 Boulder, CO Fox Theatre
May 2 Boise, ID The Nurolux
May 4 Seattle, WA Neumo?s
May 5 Portland, OR Wonder Ballroom
May 6 Vancouver, BC Electric Owl
May 8 Sacramento, CA Ace of Spades
May 10 San Francisco, CA Fillmore
May 11 Los Angeles, CA The Music Box at Fonda
May 12 Solana Beach, CA Belly Up
June 7-10 Manchester, TN Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival

Crocodiles on the road, announce June album

San Diego's Crocodiles have signed to Frenchkiss Records and will release their third full-length album, Endless Flowers, in the US on June 5.

The band premiered the debut track off the album, "Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)", via RCRD LBL, which can now be downloaded as a free MP3 at 

While following in the footsteps of the raw, anthemic psychedelia of 2010's "Sleep Forever" and the " renaissance" (Rolling Stone) of their 2009 debut "Summer of Hate," the songs on "Endless Flowers" add a refined cohesion and unmistakable sunnyness to Crocodiles' glorious, noise and echo-cloaked pop.

The title track opener is 4 1/2 minutes of soaring, alarm-ringing guitars, while "Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)" comes with a punk-inflected charge. The 7+ minute "My Surfing Lucifer" begins with two minutes of grimy, hissed spoken word before ascending to glammy, distorted heights; the bass-heavy and buzzing "Dark Alleys" is a motorik march; and the swirling "Bubblegum Trash" has a sweet, dirty charm. Nearly all are single-worthy, and are embellished with singer/guitarist Brandon Welchez's newly forward-mixed croon. 

Crocodiles are: Brandon Welchez (vocals, guitar), Charles Rowell (guitar), Marco Gonzalez (bass), Anna Schulte (drums), and Robin Eisenberg (keyboards).

"Endless Flowers" track listing:

Endless Flowers

Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)
No Black Clouds For Dee Dee
Electric Death Song
Hung Up On A Flower
My Surfing Lucifer
Dark Alleys
Bubblegum Trash
Welcome Trouble
You Are Forgiven

Crocodiles tour dates:


The band fun. album+tour news

photo by Lindsey Byrne
fun. has announced a flurry of activity surrounding the release of their Fueled By Ramen debut, “Some Nights.” The album – which includes the hit single, “We Are Young (feat. Janelle Monáe)” – is now available in stores and at all digital retailers.

On Feb. 24, fun. will visit to VH1’s Big Morning Buzz Live (check local listings).

A series of rare in-store events are scheduled as well as a headlining North American tour. The pre-sale for fan club members for newly announced dates (see below) has started at, with general on-sale beginning March 2. For complete details and ticket availability, see

fun. is teaming with LGBT rights organization Revel & Riot as their official charity partner for the spring tour. Revel & Riot is an organization that promotes LGBT rights, awareness and equality through art, design and education resources.

The band collaborated with the organization to design a shirt reading “It’s all fun. and gay ‘til someone loses their rights,” and proceeds from the shirt, which is available at tour dates and in the band’s webstore ( An outspoken advocate for equal rights and marriage equality, fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff recently published the first in a series of blog posts for Huffington Post’s Gay Voices, titled “Straight Allies: The Importance and the Realities.”

Currently a top 5 favorite at Alternative radio outlets nationwide, “We Are Young” is a major breakthrough for fun., with sales surpassing 600,000. The track claimed the top slot on Billboard’s Digital Songs chart and the #3 slot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Clear Channel recently named fun. one of their “Emerging Artists,” and iHeart Radio is currently featuring an interview with the band and very special acoustic performances of “We Are Young” and “Carry On.” The videos are posted at

In addition, fun. is MTV’s P.U.S.H. (Play Until Someone Hears) featured artist of the week. The “We Are Young” companion video is earning major play across the MTV network, including rotation at VH1 and mtvU, where fun. was recently named among the nominees for the 2012 mtvU Woodie Awards’ “Breaking Woodie” – fans are invited to vote for fun. at

“We Are Young” was also prominently featured in Chevrolet’s 2012 Super Bowl XLVI ad campaign promoting the 2012 Chevy Sonic. “Stunt Anthem” can be viewed online at

As if all that weren’t enough, a companion video for the first track on Some Nights, “Some Nights (Intro)” – directed by filmmaker/photographer Poppy de Villanueve – is premiering today exclusively at at

* * * * *

Having earned widespread acclaim with their 2009 debut album, “Aim and Ignite,” on “Some Nights” fun. teamed with producer Jeff Bhasker (Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Drake). The band and Bhasker have worked to evolve the idiosyncratic fun. sound by marrying their robust melodies with elements of hip-hop.

“We Are Young (Feat. Janelle Monáe)” received instant applause upon its arrival last year, with USA Today hailing the “baroque indie-popsters” for “(making) a counterintuitive play for the big time, slowing down for the massive sing-along chorus.”

fun. began in 2008 when Nate Ruess teamed up with Andrew Dost and Jack Antonoff to meld an array of diverse inspirations into their own irresistible and freewheeling pop songcraft. The band drew immediate attention for their contemporary rethinking of classic 70’s pop, where ornate arrangements and inspired orchestrations meet present-day rock ‘n’ roll.

For more news and information, please see,,, and

fun. North American Tour 2012
*denotes newly announced date


29 South Burlington, VT Higher Ground

1 Providence, RI FYE (In Store Event – Free)
1 Pawtucket, RI Lupo’s
2 Towson, MD The Recher Theatre – SOLD OUT!
3 Carrboro, NC Cat’s Cradle – SOLD OUT!
7 St. Petersburg, FL State Theatre
8 Orlando, FL Beacham Theatre
9 Atlanta, GA Center Stage – SOLD OUT!
10 Birmingham, AL WorkPlay Theatre – SOLD OUT!
18 New Orleans, LA House of Blues
20 Houston, TX Warehouse Live Studio
21 Dallas, TX House of Blues
23 Tucson, AZ Rialto Theatre
24 Pomona, CA The Glass House – SOLD OUT!
26 Sacramento, CA Sac State University Union
28 San Francisco, CA The Independent – SOLD OUT!
29 San Francisco, CA Bottom of the Hill – SOLD OUT!
31 Salt Lake City, UT In The Venue
31 Sandy, UT Graywhale Entertainment (In Store Event – Free)

3 Fort Collins, CO Aggie Theatre
5 Denver, CO Ogden Theatre
5 Fort Collins, CO Twist & Shout Records (In Store Event – Free)
6 Boulder, CO Fox Theatre & Café – SOLD OUT!
7 Kansas City, MO Beaumont Club
8 Iowa City, IA The Blue Moose Tap House
10 Omaha, NE The Slowdown
11 Madison, WI The Majestic Theatre
13 Minneapolis, MN The Brick
14 Chicago. IL Vic Theatre – SOLD OUT!
15 Detroit, MI St. Andrews Hall
18 Grand Rapids, MI The Intersection
19 Columbus, OH Newport Music Hall
20 Rochester, NY Water Street Music Hall
21 Boston, MA House of Blues
25 Toronto, ON The Guvernment
27 Clifton Park, NY Northern Lights
26 Montreal, QC Cabaret du Mile End
27 Clifton Park, NY Northern Lights
28 Philadelphia, PA Theatre of Living Arts – SOLD OUT!
30 Montreal, QC Cabaret Du Mile End

3 Washington, DC 9:30 Club – SOLD OUT!
4 Washington, DC 9:30 Club – SOLD OUT!
5 Charlottesville, VA Jefferson Theatre
28 George, WA Sasquatch Festival @ The Gorge
29 Portland, OR Roseland Theater*

5 Flagstaff, AZ The Orpheum*
6 Santa Fe, NM Railyard Plaza*
8 Oklahoma City Diamond Ballroom*
9 St. Louis, MO The Pageant*
13 Indianapolis, IN Deluxe at Old National Centre*
14 Cleveland, OH House of Blues*
15 Pittsburgh, PA Mr. Smalls*
16 New York, NY Terminal 5*

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mitch Ryder's first U.S. album in 30 years out now

I first really became aware of Mitch Ryder's work via Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, who used to regularly cover a couple of his tunes in their killer live "Detroit Medley."

My favorite cut on Ryder's new album The Promise (coincidentally also the title of a Springsteen song) is the very soulful live recording of “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” - best known from Jimmy Ruffin's 1966 hit. Fans of 1960s rock 'n' roll will want to read the press release below...

Before Jack White, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger or Iggy Pop, Detroit’s number one rock export was Mitch Ryder. Fronting the Detroit Wheels, Ryder spun out a string of rock ’n’ soul hits — “Jenny Take a Ride,” “Devil With a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Sock It to Me, Baby” — in the mid-’60s that landed in the charts alongside the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Ryder’s album The Promise, just out on his own Michigan Broadcasting Corporation label, finds him in prime form. The disc’s dozen tracks feature 11 originals plus that live Motown classic.

He teamed up with acclaimed producer and fellow Detroit native Don Was (Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt) to create a record that’s full of soul yet grounded in rock: music that acknowledges the past while looking forward. Ryder writes songs from personal experiences. “When I am in the writing mode, I don’t listen to other music. I just shut down and draw on what my mind and my soul tell me to do.”

The Promise starts off capturing a particularly personal moment with “Thank You Mama.” This Motown-esque rocker serves as a eulogy to his parents. Ryder wasn’t able to attend either his mother or father’s funerals for various reasons (including a promoter who threatened to sue him if he went to this dad’s funeral) and he wrote this song, he reveals, “because I needed to get it out of my system. I never got to tell them thank you.”

The title track is a deeply soulful number — both through the music and the message. Combining a slow-burning rhythm with incendiary social commentary, this powerful ballad offers an unflinching portrait of a working-class American who is struggling to make ends meet yet holding on to “the promise” of a better tomorrow, when “my child will have doctors and my child will have good schools.” The song’s gritty quality, with its rock-edged funkiness, also fuels tunes like “One Hair,” “The Way We Were” and “Junky Love.”

However, it’s not a Mitch Ryder album without some party music too. The Latin-flavored “Let’s Keep Dancing” shakes up the disc’s tempo with a tango. Similarly, the piano-based ballad “Crazy Beautiful” gives Ryder an opportunity to show his vocal range extends beyond that of a belter.

This song also provided him a chance to perform with keyboardist Patrick Leonard, who led the short-lived 1990s band Toy Matinee. Ryder says the band's sole album stands as “one of the best pieces of American music I’ve ever heard.” When Was said that Leonard was working in the same studio where they were recording, Ryder went over to meet him. “I was brought to tears during the conversation,” Ryder admits. “That’s how powerful an impact he had on me.”

Ryder was also thrilled to have Was on board. The two met when the famed producer worked in the studio where Ryder was making his 1980 release Naked But Not Dead. Although they’ve worked together over the years (“Brokenhearted” comes from one of Was’ annual “Concert of Colors” in Detroit), this was the first time they collaborated on an entire album.

Was didn’t ask to see Ryder's lyrics before recording the songs and told him that the only other artist similarly treated was Bob Dylan, which Ryder found a high compliment. Ryder also raved how Was was “able to bring the real exact sound of my voice as it exists today without using any gimmicks.”
The team of talented players included keyboardist Jamie Mahuberac, bassist Reggie McBride, guitarist Randy Jacobs and drummer James Gadsen, who gave Ryder all that was  needed — explosive guitar solos to soulful grooves. Ryder re-did one of his older songs, “My Heart Belongs To Me,” because he realized correctly that this band could give it the proper Stax-type sound that he wanted.

Born William Levise Jr., Ryder grew up in working class Detroit and started working as a singer while still a teen. He performed in a black soul club and fronted the Peps, a black vocal trio. As Billy Lee, he led a popular local band, the Rivieras.

After Four Seasons producer Bob Crewe was blown away by one of their live performances, the group re-located to New York; however, they had to change their name due to the Rivieras of “California Sun” fame. Ryder, as the story goes, found his new stage name while flipping through the Manhattan phonebook — and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels were born.

With Crewe at the helm, Ryder and the Wheels quickly developed a potent music style that infused R&B with high-octane rock ’n’ roll. Their biggest success came with the “Devil with a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly” medley, which hit #4 on the charts. Ryder says the band’s magic came from wanting “our records to sound live,” adding that “listeners responded to the energy.”

However, the success came with a price. Although they wrote their own material before, that changed when Crewe took control of the band. Ryder states, “We were told in no uncertain terms that we would be doing songs that Mr. Crewe presented to us and all he was doing when he wasn’t writing originals was throwing us covers. It was screwed up.”

By 1967, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels had splintered. Ryder later went to Memphis to do an album with Booker T. and the MGs before returning home to front a band called Detroit. Their one release included such a powerful rendition of Lou Reed’s “Rock N’ Roll” that Reed nabbed guitarist Steve Hunter for his own band.

While The Promise is Ryder’s first American-released record since his 1983 John Mellencamp–produced Never Kick a Sleeping Dog, he has been a busy musician over the years. He has a very devoted European following, especially in Germany, where a 1978 TV performance catapulted him to stardom.

He has released 14 CDs in Germany and regularly puts on 2½ hour concerts. “I don’t have to do any of my American hits. They don’t care,” Ryder states. “It really makes me happy to have that alternative career.”

The Promise is just one of Ryder’s several current projects. His just published memoir, Devils & Blue Dresses: My Wild Ride as a Rock and Roll Legend chronicles his colorful career — and how he suffered through addiction, bankruptcy and more — and survived to talk about it all. In addition to the new book and album, Ryder is working on stage musical that he describes as “intensely emotional” and like “a Russian novel.”

An energetic 66-year-old, Ryder doesn’t think “time is an issue that should be treated so seriously.” He just strives to be productive and continue to grow as an artist. “I don’t feel old,” he proclaims, “I feel great about what I am trying to accomplish.”

Sinead O'Connor concert review: Los Angeles

photo by Kevin Abosch/courtesy
A version of my review originally appeared on the Soundcheck blog at

When it comes to religion and politics, Sinead O’Connor has never shied away from speaking her mind or taking action wherever necessary.
After an acclaimed, platinum-selling 1990 disc (I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got), that brash attitude made the Dublin singer/songwriter a polarizing figure, but she influenced countless angry young female alt-rockers in the process.
Adopting a slightly lower profile career role during the 2000s, O’Connor put out traditional Irish, Jamaican reggae and spiritual-leaning albums on indie labels to mixed results, toured sporadically and worked on raising a family (four children, ranging in age from 5-24).
Despite a difficult period last year where O’Connor publicly searched for a mate (contrary to some reports, she’s still hitched to Barry Herridge) and battled health issues up until a month ago, the veteran artist finally seems to be back on track.  
O’Connor can currently be heard on “Lay Your Head Down,” the Golden Globe-nominated ballad from Glenn Close film “Albert Nobbs.” Then there’s “Property of Jesus,” among the standout tracks off Chimes of Freedom, a multi-disc tribute collection to Bob Dylan.
How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?, her first new studio album since 2007, came out today on One Little Indian Records. Produced by regular collaborator/drummer/ex-husband John Reynolds, it finds O’Connor back in fine form mixing vitriolic lyrics with some – gasp! – happy sentiments.  
Amid a galvanizing El Rey Theatre performance on Monday that launched a quick run of Los Angeles and New York City shows, the singer looked and sounded better than ever. Boasting a mischievous streak and flashes of humor, O’Connor kicked off the 1 hour, 45-minute set in highly dramatic fashion with an eerie “Take Off Your Shoes.”
Inspired by an official 2009 Irish government enquiry into Catholic school child abuse and church cover-ups, the harrowing song found her defiantly intoning “I bleed the blood of Jesus over you” and “you’re on hallowed ground.”
Clad in tasteful all black attire and sporting glasses, O’Connor was admittedly nervous at first. A music stand with lyric sheets didn’t get used much. Though constantly dissatisfied with the in ear sound monitor, the vocals and six-piece band (especially journeyman guitarist Robbie McIntosh, known for successful stints with the Pretenders and Paul McCartney and more recently, John Mayer) came across well live.
The 21-song concert included eight selections from the new album. Fans who packed the venue were overjoyed to see O’Connor again after more than four years away. Some near the front of the stage gave flower bouquets; others loudly shouted out requests.
With one raised arm raised and singing in trademark head turning style, O’Connor nailed her old KROQ hit “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Quiet, airy keyboards gave way to cathartic primal wails on “Never Get Old” (written while she was a teenager). The pop-inflected “No Man’s Woman” was elevated by high-flying female harmonies from cellist Vanessa Smith and bassist Yolanda Charles.
Their vocal blend was equally strong on uplifting new single “The Wolf is Getting Married,” where O’Connor sang about a significant other’s smile, laugh and joyful disposition. If this isn’t a radio success, I don’t know what is.
Chiming, slow chugging rocker “Old Lady” (key line: “make me laugh like an idiot/not be so serious”), penned about Irish filmmaker/novelist Neil Jordan (Interview with the Vampire, The Crying Game) and onetime O’Connor crush, was another highlight. Former Adam & the Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni had a hand in creating those two (he also featured on I Do Not Want).
The bleak, yet hopeful “Reason with Me,” driven by mournful piano, surrounds a junkie thief. O’Connor’s emotional delivery was riveting. When one sardonic lyric prompted a couple people to laugh, the singer said, “it’s not funny; kinda sad, actually” mid-song, without missing a beat.
She dedicated the compelling, a capella “I Am Stretched on Your Grave” to Whitney Houston and the El Rey was totally quiet. A running joke about not saying anything inappropriate was ended before the tender Celtic-leaning “Three Babies,” when O’Connor had to pull her pants up and made a remark about male anatomy. I loved Kieran Kelly’s flute work.
“Red Football” gave the group a chance to flaunt its chops on the fast tempo change. Meanwhile, the feisty accordion-led folk ballad “Petit Poulet” (off 1997’s Gospel Oak EP), was dedicated to Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina. Sprightly new folk tune “4th & Vine” provided the perfect segue and saw O’Connor dance a quick jig.
Reggae is a big part of O’Connor’s life and “The Lamb’s Book of Life” (from 2000’s Faith & Courage) included her fierce vocals. Accompanied by piano and cello, “Nothing Compares 2 U” remained stirring after all these years (O’Connor flubbed a phrasing and said so under her breath, mid-song). Closing out the main set was an exultant “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance.”
For the encores, O’Connor covered an obscure reggae song on acoustic guitar, then did the haunting, whispered “VIP,” which takes Bono, Bob Geldof and others to task for indifference to religious wrongdoings.
Noisy bottles at the El Rey bar interrupted the hushed atmosphere and prompted a good-natured retort. O’Connor recalled Patti Smith on searing ominous rocker “Jackie” and did the chilling, profane version of John Grant’s “Queen of Denmark” with intensity.
Next up for O'Connor are shows Thursday-Friday at the Highline Ballroom in New York City.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

David Sylvian compilation coming in April

Due out April 3 on EMI, “A Victim Of Stars, 1982 – 2012,” brings together material from the last 30 years of David Sylvian’s solo career, encompassing material released with Virgin Records, more recent work released on his own label samadhisound and a brand new recording exclusive to this compilation.
On his solo records of the '80s, Sylvian's explorations in music took him from the pop-funk, stylish jazz and windswept exotica of 1984s Brilliant Trees; the ambient landscapes and epic ballads of 1985's "Gone To Earth"; and the romantic orchestrations of 1987's "Secrets of the Beehive." His collaborators included leaders of progressive music, from jazz men such as Mark Isham, John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler to the rock and fusion guitarists Robert Fripp, Bill Nelson, and David Torn.
Regular collaborations with composer and Yellow Magic Orchestra star Ryuichi Sakamoto yielded Sylvian's first international hit "Forbidden Colours,” along with “Bamboo Houses” and “Bamboo Music”.
In the early '90s, Sylvian embarked on a series of acclaimed tours with Robert Fripp, leading to their 1993 studio release "The First Day." 1991 saw the release of Rain Tree Crow, a Japan reunion under a different name. But Sylvian grew less prolific as the decade wore on, taking four years to finish 1999's "Dead Bees On A Cake." "Dead Bees" included the hit single "I Surrender," where Sylvian crafts an eye-openingly beautiful vessel around his spiritual journey.
His determination to confront his vulnerabilities led to arguably his most powerful album to date, 2003’s "Blemish." More recently, he has also released "Snow Borne Sorrow and Money for All," an LP and EP from the band Nine Horses. Nine Horses is a trio that includes his brother and regular collaborator Steve Jansen and electronica artist Burnt Friedman, as well as contributions from singer Stina Nordenstam, trumpeter Arve Henriksen, and Ryuichi Sakamoto on piano.
In 2009, the project that began in Blemish continued with "Manafon," an album that assembled the world’s leading free improvisers, including Evan Parker, Keith Rowe, Fennesz, Sachiko M, Otomo Yoshihide, and John Tilbury, among several others. Completing the source material for the compilation is his most recent release "Died In The Wool," made up of variations on "Manafon" and including collaborations with acclaimed composer Dai Fujikura, producers Jan Bang and Erik Honoré and a stellar roster of contemporary musicians and improvisers.
Track Listing
Ghosts (Remix)                                                                 
Bamboo Houses                                                               
Bamboo Music                                                                  
Forbidden Colours                                                           
Red Guitar                                                                         
The Ink In The Well                                                           
Pulling Punches                                                                
Taking The Veil                                                                 
Silver Moon                                                                       
Let The Happiness In                                                       
Pop Song                                                                           
Every Colour You Are                                                      
Heartbeat (Tainai Kaiki II)                                               

Jean The Birdman                                                            
Alphabet Angel                                                                
I Surrender                                                                       
Darkest Dreaming                                                           
Fire In The Forest                                                             
The Only Daughter                                                           
Late Night Shopping                                                        
Wonderful World                                                               
The Banality Of Evil                                                          
Darkest Birds                                                                        
Snow White in Appalachia                                              
Small Metal Gods                                                           
I Should Not Dare                                                           
Where’s Your Gravity?*                                                            
*New track