May 31, 2010
Live albums are often odd ducks. Even for bands who are known for being better in concert than in the studio, the magic doesn’t always translate. Now, this column is far from definitive, but here are a handful of live tracks worth hearing.
The Whites Stripes | “Jolene” from Under Great White Northern Lights
The new White Stripes tour documentary Under Great White Northern Lights is excellent and may stand up over the years as one of the all-time great rock movies. The accompanying soundtrack, compiled from different shows throughout the movie’s Canadian tour, is pretty good, though not as likely to be deemed a classic. The highpoint of the album, however, is the band’s utterly memorable cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” which has an intensity and a sense of over-the-top melodrama that’s mesmerizing. White’s voice quavers as he picks arpeggios, singing from the point-of-view of a wronged woman pleading with a temptress who is out to take her man. Inevitably, the emotional dam breaks, and White lets his guitar squall and squeal while he lets out a few pained howls of “Jolene!” It’s far more theatrical than the studio version, and it’s dynamite stuff. Stream it here.
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers | “Mystic Eyes” from The Live Anthology
The four-disc (or five-disc or seven-disc, depending on how “deluxe” your edition is) box set of live tracks by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that was released last year is not a for-completists-only collection. Anybody who likes their rock on the rootsy side will gobble up all the goodies that Petty has compiled from more than 25 years worth of shows. Also, each disc is so smoothly edited that it’s impossible to tell that almost none of the back-to-back tracks are from the same show – or even from the same decade. The whole collection has a smattering of cool covers, and the second disc is bookended by two of the best. It starts off with an awesome version of Bo Diddley’s ”Diddy Wah Diddy” and closes with a 9-minute version of “Mystic Eyes,” originally performed by Van Morrison’s ‘60s band Them. Though they’ve long had a rep as a tight and concise band, Petty’s Heartbreakers have gotten jammier as the years progress. This track is not at all indulgent though, as the band shifts flawlessly from simmer to boil and back again, without letting the tension subside. If you get bored or distracted at any point during this track, maybe you need to see a doctor about getting ADHD medication.
February 24, 2010
From wholly original soundtracks like Curtis Mayfield’s work for Super Fly to iconic oldies compilations like American Grafitti, the 1970s was the first golden age for the movie soundtrack.
After a glut of ’80s crap, the art form of the movie soundtrack bounced back in the ’90s. Pulp Fiction is the key example of a soundtrack that was not only essential to the movie it supported, but became essential listening on its own (although the soundtrack to Tarantino’s follow-up, Jackie Brown, gets my vote for soundtrack of the decade). Other soundtracks were so popular (Lost Highway, Empire Records) that more people had them in their CD collections than had ever bought a ticket to see the movie. The following 4 selections were not so popular, but they remain worthwhile listening experiences whether you’ve seen the movie or not.
Out of Sight | Music From the Motion Picture
1998 was the moment when DJs were making their biggest impact as solo artists in mainstream music, thanks partially to Fatboy Slim’s “Rockafeller Skank.” One DJ who got a leg up in this climate was David Holmes, whose first 2 albums were more often groovy than glitchy. Hired to do the music for Steven Soderbergh’s French New Wave-style take on an Elmore Leonard novel, Out of Sight, Holmes delivered a super-cool score that’s funky without being hectic and is ambient without being somnambulant. The soundtrack album seamlessly blends Holmes’s music cues with dialogue from the film and classic hits by The Isley Brothers, Dean Martin, and more. Twelve years later, it still sounds fresh and unembarassing in a way that those Fatboy Slim records sadly don’t.
October 28, 2008
1990 | Twin/Tone
I don’t really know if Robyn Hitchcock is an undiscovered treasure, of if I’ve been living under a rock for decades. Surely, chances are the average listener is at least peripherally familiar with a fraction of his catalog – countless bands have taken a pass at “I Wanna Destroy You,” the one truly sterling moment Hitchcock’s first band, The Soft Boys, produced. Their lone album, Underwater Moonlight, hinted at Hitchcock’s promise as a songwriter, but never quite coagulated. No, it’s the later, less celebrated stuff that really knocks it out of the park.
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