Thursday, January 08, 2004

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A word or two about my most recent music-type acquisitions, most of which have fallen into my possession thanks to Christmas.

My yuletide haul consisted of Paul Westerberg's Come Feel Me Tremble, The SACD re-issue of Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding, and Fountain of Wayne's Welcome Interstate Managers, all of which I've already written about in my 2003 wrap-up. I got some cash from the in-laws, and rather than buy socks or underwear I immediately hit and ordered three more CDs: Roy Wood's Exotic Mixture, Lambchop's Is A Woman, and Nice. by Puffy AmiYumi. Speaking of nice, Mark Anthony was generous and nice enough to think about me when he was cleaning out his office, and sent me promo copies of Concert For George, Beatles-Let It Be...Naked, the recent Best of Bowie, a Bob Dylan SACD reissue sampler, and the most recent solo release from Ringo Starr, Ringo-Rama, which features his tribute song to George, "Never Without You". He also sent along a DVD disc from the recent Led Zeppelin live set, and the odd DVD collection Lennon Legend. For this Mark has the eternal and undying gratitude of the Show and everyone involved. The rest of you need to get on the ball and send me stuff, too!

I'm kidding, OK? No, really- if you want to send stuff, then that's great but you are under no obligation or pressure to do so. But when I get cool stuff like that, it makes me happy, and when I'm happy, I write more (theoretically) cool stuff, and we all make out like bandits!

By far the best of my seasonal swag is that Puffy AmiYumi CD. Of course, like most gaijin I first became aware of them via the theme song to the new Teen Titans anime, uh, animated series. But the greatest revelation was yet to come...after a heads-up from Bill Sherman, I was elated to discover (no thanks to the super-speed credits) that none other than my old buddy Andy Sturmer, he of one of my favorite 90s bands, Jellyfish, wrote and performed the backing track for the Japanese duo. I just knew I had to get this as soon as possible, and for once my fanaticism was rewarded- Nice. is a tour-de-force of pop music, thanks to Sturmer and the studio musicians who back them up. The first cut is a kinda new-wavey, hopped-up rocker, the second, "Tokyo Nights" is a funny nod to the likes of the Buggles...but it was cut #3, "Angel of Love", that made me give it up for the long haul. A Beatlesque, mid-tempo confection with swirling harmonies and circusy keyboards, just like Jellyfish never went away- and when the trombone solo kicked in, I melted. Other cuts which made my ganglia twitch were "Thank You", which sounds a lot like Wings circa 1973; "Your Love Is A Drug", a catchy rocker with some daffy synth squiggles; "K2G", which is a crazy nutty Japanese ska track that puts No Doubt to shame; and "Shiwase (Happiness)", another dreamy popsong with a gorgeous melody that reminds me a bit of (Jellyfish's) Spilt Milk's "Russian Hill". Of course, the fun and rocking "Teen Titans Theme" is a highlight, and so what if it nicks "Secret Agent Man"? I haven't checked to see if Sturmer has worked on any other Puffy albums, but bet your ass I will soon and I'll have them if he has.

Exotic Mixture is a 1999 compilation of personal God Roy Wood's singles and B-sides spanning the years from his first post-Move solo album Boulders (1973) through releases by post-Wizzard groups such as Wizzo Band, Helicopters and Rockers, on through 1987- most of which have gone unreleased Stateside, and have gone unheard by yours truly. So of course, I've been wanting this since it came out in Blighty back in '99. I wish I could say it was worth the wait, and for the most part it is, but the stuff I like the best I've already heard many times over. Which is not to say everything from 1975's Mustard on is crap, far from it, but a whole lot of side two is given to earnest, but bland attempts at Springsteenish rock or attempts to work in synths and sounds contemporary in the 80s, and very little of it suited Roy at all. 1985's "Sing Out The Old, Ring In The New" is a nice Spectorish throwback to his more fertile years, the two cuts, one of which a medley of old 50s hits (you'd think he'd learned his lesson after Eddy and the Falcons, wouldn't ya?) with the all-star (Thin Lizzy's late Phil Lynott, of all people, was a member) Rockers are kinda clever but go on too long, and the two 1977 cuts from his collaboration with Annie Haslam are fine (but not the best cuts from that particular album, which I'm proud to own)...but I doubt I'll be revisiting disc two very much. The main appeal of this package to me, besides having great Wood songs like "Any Old Time Will Do" and "Oh What A Shame" on CD so I can listen to them at work, is a lot of the obscure B-sides, many instrumentals, that I haven't heard before like the cleverly titled "The Thing is This (This is the Thing)" and the bagpipe-drenched "Bengal Jim", that are completely new to me. The booklet is also a disappointment, basically a collection of pictures and one long essay which manages to ramble for several pages about Roy's story but provides little or no information about the songs on the disc. Sigh.

Lambchop is a band which hails from Nashville, but somehow I managed to never hear of them until a few years ago, when their album "Nixon" got some attention. I downloaded a couple of cuts from their most recent release, Is A Woman a year or two ago, and liked them so much I decided I'd get some of their music when I got the chance. The two cuts in question, "The Old Matchbook Trick" and "New Cobweb Summer", are the highlights, but this is one unusual album. Low-key, jazzy, kinda reminiscent sound-wise of Van Morrison's Veedon Fleece or some of the best of John Martyn, it's tuneful but static, and I find myself tuning it out sometimes. I think this is a disc best enjoyed in dribs and drabs rather than all at once. At any rate, I've enjoyed this enough to where I think I'll track down others in the Lambchop catalogue at some future date.

As far as my freebie stuff went, I've written about Let it Be...Naked and Concert For George, which I already had on DVD, and to be honest, the DVD makes the audio CD a little redundant. But the music on both is first-rate, if a little slick, and who's to say that I won't cue up Macca singing "For You Blue" or Jeff Lynne singing "The Inner Light" with Eastern accompaniment once in a while. The Bowie compilation is another repackage of previous Bowie samplers, gussied up with an additional DVD which consists of concert footage. Haven't really checked that out yet. The songs are mostly pretty good, but there are some glaring omissions such as nothing from Low or Lodger, or "The Heart's Filthy Lesson" or "Day In, Day Out"...and the version of "Young Americans" is horribly edited, like many of the songs represented here in their single versions. One of Bowie's few worthwhile 90s tracks, "I'm Afraid of Americans", suffers from this as well. It also includes the nadir of Bowie's career, his mincing, prancing cover of "Dancing in the Streets" with Mick Jagger, the video of which was absolutely embarrassing. Best of Bowie was worth what it cost me, which was nothing, but if you pay good cash money for it you might not agree. The Dylan sampler was outstanding, and I was especially tickled to see one of my all time fave Zimmytunes "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" included in its original Freewheelin' Bob Dylan glory. Another standout obscurity here is Desire's "One More Cup of Coffee". The Ringo CD is fine, and is a lot more hard-rockish than I was expecting. The George tribute song is a bland disappointment, but the sentiment is genuine so it gets by. I haven't listened to this one as much as I have some of these others; when I do and I hear something that impresses me I'll be sure to note it in the future.

One other acquisition of note: the Lennon Legend DVD. It virtually duplicates the track sequence of the CD release of the same name, but since it's a digital video disc, and to be honest Lennon didn't actually make many promo films in those pre-MTV days, someone got the bright idea to take archival footage of John and Yoko and splice it all together to accompany each song. There's also some animation of John's doodles, and to break the monotony, one or two songs have actual performance footage, like "Instant Karma" which is from some TV show and oddly enough features Klaus Voorman and some other fellow, both playing bass. There's no guitarist, and Alan White is on drums. John, freshly shorn, sits playing keyboards and Yoko knits. Seriously. A bonus is a performance of "Slippin' and Slidin'", surely one of the last TV performances he ever made, from 1975, just before he bowed out of the public eye. I could swear I saw a performance of this very same song from this very same show, but John and his musicians were wearing masks on the back of their heads. Ah, the brain cells I've killed. The long-ago video for "Imagine" (you remember, white piano, white room, Yoko walking around opening curtains) is trotted out yet again as well. Anyway, this is watchable on the whole, but many of the songs suffer from this cutting room mania format, and often the visual just doesn't go along with the song very well. Sometimes they're just plain hard to watch, such as the visual accompaniment for "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" in which we're treated to shot after shot of starving, maimed children and war footage for four plus minutes. Fellas, we got the point about a minute in. Hell, many of us got the point 30 years ago. One cut which benefits is "Mind Games", in which John walks around Central Park, wearing a long black coat and floppy black hat, interacting with people and generally seeming to have a great time. It's fun to watch, and you don't even mind for a minute or two that seven years later a person just like one of those lucky folks back in '73 took a gun and shot him dead.

Boy, that's a depressing note to close on, isn't it?

Anyway, that's most of what I got for Christmas this year. There was also that Firefly DVD I won't shut up about, a really nice book of photos of the Beatles from my son, and a leather jacket from me Mum, and some socks and underwear...but I can't see me getting three long paragraphs out of those (well, maybe the Beatle book), so I'll wind this up now.