Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Week In Review: Montage Of Heck, WGN RIP

The dry days of April went away in a hurry.  Like clockwork, the stalled front came on May 1st and has stayed since then and every day has been a storm or two.  Not only that I've been stuck with yet another fucking flu cold crap, the endless hacking and coughing, the endless flow of snot down the throat and if I get any sleep the dumbest dreams and nightmares.  It makes you just wanna lose the Kurt method of relief.  Speaking of which I did watch the HBO doc about him, Montage Of Heck and found it entertaining during the first hour, not so much the second and the ending was odd and left more questions than answers.  It's hard to believe that the 21 years since Cobain's end how much the players have changed.  And seeing Kurt's original girlfriend years later showing time has changed her as well.  While it was nice to see Krist Novosetic add his thoughts to the movie, what was missing were the original Nirvana drummers and even Dave Grohl was MIA in this thing.  Never a big Nirvana follower, Bleach is still hard to listen to, Nevermind is Kurt's classic and the big success lead to the downfall, and In Utero was that suicide note in writing a half year before the 1994 endless nameless death.   It's interesting to hear in Kurt's words of the days of growing up and not fitting in and attempted to lay down in front of the 11 oclock express only to have the train go on the opposite tracks.  Fate stepped in that night, if not, the only Nirvana remembered would be a forgotten UK band of the 60s.

Another thing we know of Kurt was when humiliated he would get real angry and all bets were off then.  Consider Nirvana's Love Buzz single of the late 80s, and the old Creem Magazine bashed it all over the place. Lynyrd Skynyrd without the flares?  The Creem reviewer probably didn't even listen to it while putting those hipster funny words down.  However, Cobain would get the last laugh as Creem Magazine became less and less popular and basically shut down by the time Nirvana broke the big time.   Never in my years would I ever put Skynyrd and Nirvana in the same sentence.  Or perhaps his mom hearing Nevermind for the first time and having a fear that it would be something that Kurt would not be prepared for.  And who would have prepared for a first album breakout, sellout stadiums and concert halls and having MTV chasing you around 24/7, they came a long way from playing in front of 2 people three years earlier.  Certainly Kurt did want the fame, it's written in the many journals and notebooks that he wrote in.  If you read the journal of Kurt you can sense the method to this madness.  The final half hour of Montage is dedicated to his time with Courtney Love, the chain smoking punk chanteuse actress who people still blame for Kurt's suicide.  She recants the time she thought about cheating and Kurt found out about it by overdosing in Rome.  He would survive that but the documentary suggests that a month later Kurt would finally end it all with a shotgun blast and into the unknown.  Could it have been that Kurt thought that Courtney shattered that sacred bond between them by even thinking about cheating to the point that he didn't want to be with her anymore?  Or did he just gave up and couldn't deal with the ongoing stomach pains and a life that didn't seem to be worth living.  That's when the panel groups discuss of the mind set of Kurt and the conspiracy theories of did Courtney kill Kurt.  I doubt that but the main point of the movie was that Kurt hated being humiliated and would get angry if he thought that he was ridiculed, just like that poorly planned Creem review.  But being trapped in the success of Nirvana probably made going out to the record store even more of chore of being bullied in high school.   I don't condone what he did but sometimes I do feel his pain of growing up as well.  Most folks do in life at that time.  Despite the cold ending, Montage of Heck does managed to hold my attention for most of the two hours that is shown.  And you can get to see Courtney in the bluff as well, in fact the imitate scenes between Kurt and Courtney were shot by her ex boyfriend and Hole Guitarist Eric Erlander.  Kinda creepy in its own way I guess. 

WGN is dead.  The WGN Chicago channel that I grew up watching Cubs games and other sports has decided to go full Walker/In The Heat Of The Night reruns and will not show sports anymore. In other words WGN America has become USA Light.  So basically watching Cubs games will be about as much watched as going to a Quad Cities River Bandits or Cedar Rapids Kernels game in person. But without the annoying ED and Bud Light commercials in tow.  It is the end of a era, to which the original WGN would give us the Chicago land news and weather, adios Tom Skilling. Even though the Tribute company was no better than PK Wrigley owning the Cubs, at least we got to see them about 100 times a season.  But I have no intentions to moving to Chicago to get the original WGN and the programming that I grew up with.  But this has been the way cable has been going, taking away things we were used of seeing, and replacing them with reality crap or the same reruns over and over again.  Of course wasting a Monday Night watching the Cubs blow a 5 run lead and Travis Wood serving up a grand slam to strike out artist Mark Reynolds and eventually the Cubs lost that game and 3 out of 4 to the Cardinals.  I'm sure the Cubs will eventually become a playoff worthy team within the next year or two but thanks to WGN America we will be able to see that.  Basically I can live without baseball like I have been most of April since WGN America does not show the Cubs on TV anymore.  Another sorry excuse of a channel that used to be one of the most watched channels, now watched as much as MTV and TV Land. 

Passings: Errol Brown, lead singer of Hot Chocolate (Disco Queen, You Sexy Thing, Every 1's A Winner) from liver cancer.  He was 71.   Marv Hubbard, fullback with the bad bad Oakland Raiders during their ugly years from prostate cancer.  He was 68.  Randy Chortkoff, founder of Delta Groove Records and blues player from liver disease, he was 65. Craig Gruber, bass player for Elf and the early Blackmore's Rainbow, he was 63.


Blur-The Magic Whip (Parlophone 2015)

In the 90s there was this Oasis vs Blur in the battle of the bands and while Oasis had the overplayed radio hits, the only song you ever hear is Song 2 from the S/T album. To which Blur went the US independent alternative music route rather being the heir apparent to The Kinks.  But where the Gallagher brothers ended up fighting each other and broke the band up, Blur quietly returned to the stage to make their first proper album in 16 years and perhaps their best since Parklife. Which is saying something. They can certainly rock up another Song 2 with I Broadcast complete with Graham Coxon's noise and guitarwork, it is Graham that has shaped this album a lot more and now tends to be the most important member of this band.  But it is still Damon Albarn's show too, he explores his inner Bowie on Thought I Was A Spaceman, make a vocal statement on New World Towers and if he can get Noel Gallagher to say that Lonesome Street is the best song he's heard all year that is a major statement itself.  Alex James and Dave Roundtree remain a tight rhythm section that helps keep Coxon and Albarn into one place too. Certainly there's plenty of the alt rock of the 90s that makes The Magic Whip what we know about Blur but the final track Mirror Ball is what I like love about Blur is that they can revisit their working class Brit roots as well.  Getting Stephen Street back in the producer's chair (or Co Producer's chair that is) works to their advantage too.  A great comeback album from a band that never really did go away.
Grade A-

The Pursuit Of Happiness-Love Junk (Chrysalis 1988)

Canadian power pop, produced by Todd Rundgren who turns TPOH into Utopia soundalikes but with female backing vocals.  Moe Berg being the hopped up horny guy writing about not writing songs for girls anymore, I'm writing about women on the hilarious I'm A Adult Now, looking for girls (to fuck) and if you want to keep your man, go down on him, you pretty much get the picture of the songs that Berg writes. Really not a lot of variation to the three chords and the straight four four beat but if not nothing else, Love Junk could be Get The Knack for a source point.  Just like Get The Knack, TPOH didn't have much of a recording career, two albums for Chrysalis and one for Mercury and then some Canadian only 1996 album that suggested that the gig was up.  I like this record for the Kris Abbot and Leslie Stanwyck adding their angelic vocals to Moe Berg's devil lyrics and intentions.  It makes Beautiful White and When The Sky Comes Falling Down sound more classic than they ought to.
Grade A-

Chris Stapleton-Traveller (Mercury 2015)

One of the more anticipated albums of the year was from Chris, who penned some of the best country music songs for hacks like Luke Bryan (Drink A Beer) plus better ones like Keith Urban but his debut album shows a bit more a bit more blue eyed soul than either one of them, especially on the last two numbers Outlaw State Of Mind and Sometimes I Cry, which IS blues than country.  He was part of the Steel Drivers before striking out on his own and on this promising debut, Stapleton proves he's the anti Dallas Davidson.  You know damn well Davidson would never pen Sometimes I Cry, that song is way out of his league.  Traveller while marketed as country wouldn't get much airplay on K Hack, but I'm sure KUNI would plug it more.  Wife Morgane adds perfect harmony, at times sounding like Emily Lou Harris.  While the comparisons to  Jamey Johnson is not bad,  I hear more Travis Tritt, or even moreso Mark Germino, the overlooked singer songwriter from the late 80s and early 90s.  I wished Chris would have added more uptempo numbers such as Nobody To Blame, the midtempo and slower songs that start the album kinda puts me out of the mood to continue to listen.  But Traveller takes a while and repeated listens to get the feel of things.  But make no mistake, Stapleton is one of the best if not the best Nashville songwriters out there and if Mercury Universal gets behind him (which they won't) you'll be hearing a lot more from Chris in the near future on his own.  And he's a cool guy, he was suggesting a list of songwriters to collaborate on a project and I thought of Tom T Hall, and he tweeted back that was a fine suggestion.  Even on the cutting edge, he's taking notes from the unknown record reviewer.  Which is more we can say of....uh Luke Bryan?
A promising debut.
Grade B+

George Jones-Hits By George (Musicor 1967)

No shortage of George's material in the late 60s thanks to Pappy Daily who continue to reissue product after George made off for Epic and Billy Sherrill and he was revisiting his classic songs and this record is no exception, remaking tracks from his Starday/Mercury/United Artists stay.  The 2nd version of White Lightning charted again in the early 70s via Pappy's deal with RCA Records but this version is more country than the rockabilly attempt years ago.  Most of side 1 is trademark Jones ballads to The Window Up Above with even the Jordaniares  backing up, it still full of trademark Jones's doubt.  The originals are better of course, right up to She Thinks I Still Care, perhaps his best UA single.  But I like this version of White Lightning better, don't ask why.  While folks like Jones the balladeer, I rather hear him uptempo a lot more.  No denying, he was the voice of Country Music.  The album while brief (22 Minutes both sides) still worth finding for a dollar (which I did).
Grade B+

Jack Webb Presents Pete Kelly Lets His Hair Down (Warner Brothers 1958)

The unique thing about Jack Webb was that he loved jazz and dixieland jazz at best.  He wrote and starred in Pete Kelly's Blues which came out on Warner's but the record was on RCA Victor.  The followup was a collection of light jazz done by the guys who did the Pete Kelly soundtrack including Ray Sherman on piano  and Dick Cathcart on Cornet.  With one side label the Blue side and the second Red, the blue side is perfect for being up at 2 AM writing this review with the record playing in the background.  The Red side, slightly uptempo but not by much includes Nick Fatool's drum solo on Lobster (get it, Lobster is red?) with songs about red things (Flame, Magenta, Rouge etc etc) and the blue side, the songs about blue things (Midnight, Sapphire, Turquoise etc).  I'm guess Webb along with Matty Matlock (who probably arranged this, the record really doesn't say) told each band member to pick a tempo and key and work with it and most are one take songs. For improvised light jazz, it's not ground breaking but it is fairly good and perfect to wind down to a chaotic day at work.  For an added plus, this album had the original Warner Brothers insert on how a record was made back then, full of colorful pictures.  Back then Warner Brothers was getting their foot in the door of record making, and not the cutting edge record label they would be a few years later.  A fun read.  Side note:  this record along with and Jack Webb album of his doing his Joe Friday vocals to songs like Try A Little Tenderness and others would be paired with this album under the banner of Just The Tracks Ma'am and released on CD.  The Webb vocal album is for acquired tastes only.
Grade B

Sunny Sweeney-Heartbreaker's Hall Of Fame (Big Machine 2006)

Bro country is a joke, in today's world, Florida Georgia Line is the Insane Clown Posse of country music. And yes, country is a man's world, and it seems only Miranda and Carrie are the only females you hear on regular country radio.  Basically, when a woman pops up into the charts, it's eye candy and they're forgotten a year later most ones are.  Once in a while, a left field woman will strike the right song for the right time.  Gretchen Wilson 10 years ago gave us Redneck Woman and managed to be flavor of the year for a couple before relocating to the minors.  She keeps trying though.  Sunny Sweeney does have a new album out probably worth hearing if you can find it.  We go back 9 years ago to this stunning debut of pure country released independently before the hated Big Machine, home to bro country finest now issued this and it got lost in the cracks.  Sweeney owes more to Elizabeth Cook than Miranda, lacking the latter's sassyness but more than makes it up with the honest country side that Elizabeth tends to favor.  This mirrors, Cook's forgotten Warner Brothers Hey Y'all, at that time, reassigned to that label when Atlantic shut their country division down for a time (they're back in it again with Hunter Hayes being the big deal star) and Warners wrote her off as a tax loss.  Sweeney had the good sense to hook up with Jim Lauderdale on a couple songs he wrote and a duet Lavender Blue which got scant airplay.  I consider this record to be more Americana than what passes for country and Sweeney is a underrated songwriter. I do enjoy her scat singing to If I Could, and like Cook praises her momma on Mama's Opry and gives the session guys a shout out on 16th Avenue, at that time trying to preserve the country  as it was and not the autotuned chipmunks of today.  It probably would have been more to Sunny's benefit if she namechecked CMT or GAC rather than MTV on Next Big Nothing, by then MTV was reality crap and not music, and CMT was reality crap as well.  The Lauderdale penned Refresh My Memory is hardcore country, probably more suited for the 1990s and Lorrie Morgan  instead of the 2000's. Even in 2006 it was too country for country radio. For a debut, Heartbreaker's Hall Of Fame is about equal to Lambert's Kerosene in terms of country goodness.  Sweeney would return a few years later with Concrete, but Universal Republic's indifference buried that album.  And like Lizzy Cook, Sweeney is on 30 Tigers, the alt country label.  Still, Heartbreaker's Hall Of Fame is damn good debut and still holds up better than the Bro Job that is FGL or Brantley Gilbert.  The girls know how to make a decent country album.  Big difference.
Grade A-

From Robert Christgau:  The Review of Sunny Sweeney Provoked (Thirty Tigers 2015)

 Another gal gives bros the finger. With Sweeney among the creators of 11 of these 13 songs and Angaleena Presley, Ashley Monroe, and Brandy Clark all helping out for a track or two, the former Republic Nashville wannabe turns her whole album into what Clark or Jessie Jo Dillon or maybe it was Shannon Wright thought to call “a bad girl phase.” And by the way, how marketable a singer is this Natalie Hemby chick with her name on “Used Cars,” which explains her preference for previously owned men? And how about Connie Harrington or even Brett Beavers with their co-writes on a finale called “Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass,” which rhymes with “So if you’re with me, raise your glass/Here’s to working class”? A MINUS


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