April 29, 2010
In the third part of my 4-part series on comedy albums worth knowing, I’m offering an alternative to last week’s entry about Old Black Guys and allowing the under-represented contingency of white male comedians to get a column.
Andy Griffith | The Wit & Wisdom of Andy Griffith
Though obviously best known now as a TV star, both on the sitcom named for him and as the wily old lawyer Matlock, Andy Griffith’s first gig in showbiz was retelling stories from history and literature in nightclubs. Definitely more of a monologist than a traditional stand-up, Griffith did for country bumpkins what Lord Buckley did for ‘50s beatniks. Where Buckley told the “hip” story of Jesus (renaming him “The Nazz”) and rewrote Shakespeare’s funeral oration from Julius Caesar to begin “Hipsters, flipsters, and finger-poppin’ daddies, knock me your lobes,” Griffith takes a similar tack, giving the story of Caesar’s murder an earthy spin so that Brutus replies, “Yup, me too.” Griffith also explains that Columbus decided to travel around the world because, “he hadn’t gone to camp or nothin’.” The best, and probably most famous, track from this album is “What It Was, Was Football,” where an utterly bewildered Griffith describes being shoved by a pack of people into a stadium to witness a sporting event he is completely unable to comprehend. Despite the title of the track, Griffith never does figure out what they call that sport where those fellers run up and down in that cow pasture chasing a pumpkin.
Bob Newhart | The Best of Bob Newhart
Bob Newhart, like Andy Griffith, is now best known for his TV work on two classic self-titled sitcoms, although his comedy albums are what put him on the map. His debut was the first comedy album to make it to #1 on the album charts, beating out “real albums” full of music. This compilation is a handy sampler to show you why Newhart’s so great (it has since been superseded by a 2-disc anthology of material from this period – but this particular collection is solid). Generally, a Newhart bit involves some high-concept idea – What if I was the security guard on duty in the building that King Kong decided to climb? What if modern-day PR people were already in place when Abe Lincoln was campaigning for president? – with Newhart making a speech or handling one half of a conversation (a lot of his bits are imaginary phone calls) with no partner to reply, leaving us to imagine the response of the crowd being addressed or the person on the other end of the phone. It’s simple, and yet it’s so deftly executed that the laughs come easily. I can’t really think of too many other comedians who worked like this, so this is one-of-a-kind stuff.
JezebelMusic.com @ Union Pool
April 20, 2010 | Ava Luna, Air Waves, Total Slacker, Your Nature
Aside from Ava Luna, who’d sparked my interest in the first place, I’d purposefully gone into Tuesday night’s Union Pool show blind so as to keep myself from harshly prejudging bands based on the first ten seconds of the first song on their Myspace page, as we are all wont to do in this internet age. So, while openers Your Nature set up a forest of guitar pedals and tweaked their vocal mic echo effects, I eyed their tie-dye and wide open collars (like, wisps-of-chest-hair open) and began to worry about the next 40 minutes of my life. After a minute of guitar-pedal noises and nearly inaudible, reverb-soaked vocals I was ready to call it a loss, and then they blindsided me with an entire set of fantastic, well-written 1970s-heavy rock songs, loaded with buoyant high vocal harmonies, agile guitar leads, and even some prog rock touches like long forms, odd meters and non-diatonic harmony, which they pulled off effortlessly. The tightness and skill with which they executed their songs was a perfect contrast to their low-key, silly stage presence (they looked like your little brother’s high school band circa 1973 and had stage banter to match, complete with 4/20 jokes and a Hawkwind mention), and the room warmed up instantly in their capable hands.
April 27, 2010
2010 | True Panther
Remember last summer? The muggy haze of humidity that crept over New York City in mid-July coupled with the onslaught of lazy, sticky tunes from Washed Out and Neon Indian? It was like three months of lying on the floor—because the fabric on the couch was too hot—in just a pair of shorts, with a pack of frozen food or a can of beer resting on your forehead, unable to move because, you know, that would just make things worse. A chill-wave summer. Or something like that. But amidst all this was Delorean’s Ayrton Senna EP—four tracks of sun-drenched, electro-dance pop that felt like someone had just dunked your head into a bucket of ice water. Now, one year later, with temperatures climbing, the Spanish four-piece is back with their second full-length, Subiza, a fine record that highlights Delorean’s knack for crafting wonderfully simple yet layered melodies that dance, swell, and fall almost effortlessly.
April 26, 2010
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses Great Splits in History. For earlier installments, go here.
As things started to crumble in the executive echelons of corporate rock, the (smart) little guys started to think of other ways to get new folks into their music. With your continued interest, I’d like to spend the next few weeks talking about innovative ways in which rock musicians have thrived in the decidedly lower-stakes climate of the last twenty years.
First, the split release. Kind of like rock star “team ups,” e.g. Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks’ “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure,” etc., though not nearly as crassly commercial (and usually just plain better, as I can think of few other “team ups” in history that have stood the test of time), split releases typically combine bands from two different regional scenes, who share a similar sound or aesthetic. Also, typically, the release is available in a limited quantity, which (ideally) causes great fervor around the record, driving it quickly out of print, and into legend. Here are four splits that sound great and worked really, really well.
The Rudiments/Jack Kevorkian and the Suicide Machines | Skank for Brains (Self-Released)
If you’re into ska, there’s no better place and time to have come of age than Detroit in the mid-90′s. According to some, the national ska scene grew from a dozen or so groups at the dawn of the 90′s to about five hundred by the time the scene hit critical mass in ’97 or ’98. Though most early-90′s ska bands featured the horn sections typical of the 2nd Wave or 2-Tone ska of the early 80′s, by the middle of the decade, just as many bands were doing ska without the horns, dubbing the new microgenre “Punk Ska.”
Whether these bands were eschewing the horn element out of fiscal necessity (I think most ska bands fell apart because it’s so hard to keep eight or more musicians on the road and fed) or an interest in standing out from the crowd (think of how the Minutemen approached punk, if they were rude boys), I never heard anyone on the scene griping that Punk Ska wasn’t legit.
Skank for Brains celebrated Punk Ska with a short album’s worth of songs each by Toledo’s Rudiments and Detroit’s Jack Kevorkian and the Suicide Machines. The Rudiments were a three piece group that barely seemed to be able to keep it together: this release alone features multiple lineup changes, and the front half of the disc never quite excites.
April 25, 2010
In the second part of my 4-part series on comedy albums worth knowing, I’m highlighting 4 albums by black comedians from the ’60s. (Next week is Old White Guys. Last week, if you missed it, was Stone Cold Classics). You’ll notice I didn’t include Bill Cosby or Richard Pryor. It’s not because I don’t love the crap out of their albums; I do (most of them). But this column is called “Hidden Gems,” not “Gems Everybody’s Heard Of.”
Godfrey Cambridge is remembered, if at all, as an actor who fluctuated between serious roles (unusually in blaxploitation flicks) and funny roles (like the bigoted whitey magically turned into a black man in Watermelon Man) the same way his weight fluctuated between heavy and slim. His stand-up work, though less remembered than his acting, is definitely worth checking out. During this set, taken from a show in Vegas (no doubt in front of a largely white audience), Cambridge deftly deals with racial issues in a showmanly fashion that neither alienates the white folks nor panders to them in stereotypical Stepin Fetchit style. Cambridge died at age 43 from a heart attack, probably from the constant back and forth with his weight, and this disc proves that a great talent was lost. You can hear the album over at this blog.
Redd Foxx | On The Loose Recorded Live
Redd Foxx is legendary for inspiring top black comedians like Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, by making best-selling “party records” full of jokes about normally unmentionable things — mostly sex — starting in the ‘50s. This set is from the late ‘60s, and what is unusual to the modern listener is Foxx’s distinctly old-fashioned style. He tells jokes like your dirty-minded uncle tells you jokes — set-up, punchline, set-up, punchline — not like more observational or storyteller-type comedians of recent years. But he gets the laughs. My favorite joke from the album: “Do you know the difference between a light sleeper and a hard sleeper? A light sleeper sleeps with a light on and a hard sleeper can sleep through anything.”
April 23, 2010
ART OF SONG
“Dancing On My Own”
Body Talk Pt. 1
Konichiwa | 2010
Robyn was the reason my best friend in sixth grade came out of the closet. One summer afternoon in 1996, he and I were jumping on his enormous backyard trampoline, screaming along to “Show Me Love” like we always did. “I’ll love you / I’ll miss youuuuu / I’ll make sure everything will be alright” we belted; for some reason – maybe her refusal to appear in a schoolgirl’s uniform in videos – Robyn embodied pop music we could admit to liking, (I secretly liked the Spice Girls, but that’s another story). Even in her career’s infancy, the seeds of a rebel had been planted, and she resembled more mature disco queens like Kylie Minogue and Cyndi Lauper than the bubblegum droids of the day. And now, like Alec Baldwin’s Brando-ization, Robyn has come of age (the ripe old age of 30!) and flourished, leaving her Mickey Mouse Club contemporaries in the dust.
Enter Body Talk, an intergalactic dance triumvirate, and her second studio album since an infamous split with Jive in 2005. A friend of mine passed along the first single off the album, and I hate to say it, but it gives Lykke Li a run for her money.
Stream it here. Get ready to dance June 7th.
by Drew Citron
April 22, 2010
2010 | Captured Tracks
The May 25th release date for Brooklyn-based Beach Fossils‘ debut LP is more than apt. The record sounds like summer, so why not send it public on Memorial Day Weekend?
It’s a short record, and each track blends into the next. It’s difficult to distinguish them from each other. If there has to be a standout track on this record — and I’m hard pressed to find one, as the whole album sounds fairly cohesive — it’s likely “Youth,” where the vocal melody echoes beautifully, coasting along the surface of ringing, reverb-soaked guitars. The lyrics, unsurprisingly, are relatively ambivalent, “I don’t know just what I feel / But I feel it all tonight.”
April 20, 2010
Welcome to the first edition of Stomping Grounds, a new column focused on neighborhood venues and music establishments, and the proprietors that make them unique. Free ideas, charming characters, and some friendly incentive to get off your computer and onto the street.
Not that I’ve been to the MoMA in person lately, but I did hear Marina Abramović interviewed on NPR the other week discussing her latest venture – “The Artist is Present” – a retrospective of her performance pieces spanning 40 years. The part that struck me was not Marina’s artistic mission (energy shifts, awareness, world domination?), but more the performers she cast in the roles of her younger selves, and what they had to say. Apparently, to train for the MoMA show, the group of forty lucky apprentices trekked upstate, slept on the floor of a barn without food for a week, washed in ice-cold river water, and, here’s the kicker, SORTED GRAIN all day. They testified that the experience was at once calming and energizing, and established just the sort of zen focus necessary to, say, ride a bike in a museum, in the nude, in the middle of Manhattan for hours and days at a time. This, in so many melodramatic words, describes the reverence I have for dumpster-diving. Scrounging for records, books, photographs, and clothes is a zen art form. It’s cyclical: the goods are far and away useless and recycled, and your fingernails always end up impossibly filthy. Some love junk, and some don’t get the point. Not everyone has the stamina to sort the barley from the rice; it takes one devoted kook to get it done. That kook is Larry the Junkman, founder and owner of The Vortex in Bushwick and The Thing in Greenpoint. I caught up with him this weekend to hear why he thinks the remnants of somebody’s Spring cleaning rampage, sudden breakup, or Great Aunt Elna’s passing are as valuable as I do.
JM.com: How did you become “Larry the Junkman?”
Larry: When I started in the junk business, I knew immediately I was in it for the metaphor, as well as “The Maltese Falcon” I would find one day. I knew Hemingway had his bullfight, and I wanted to have something that I could write about that no one else had done. As far as I knew, nobody had examined the world of recycled possessions and the characters who dealt in this business – except for Sanford and Son – and that really never examined the inner life of collecting or the business. Quickly, I learned that there were characters in this world who were like legal pirates capturing treasures, and that they had stories to tell about the estates they found and the collectors they sold to. I was hooked.