Monday, December 31, 2018

Playlist December

  • Robben Ford—Purple House (2018)
  • Steven Wilson—Weekender 221115 (2018)
  • Joe Bonamassa—Redemption (2018)
  • YES feat. Anderson, Rabin, Wakeman—Live at the Apollo (2018)
  • Henrik Freischlader—Hands on the Puzzle (2018)
  • Tinariwen—Elwan (2017)
  • Amplifier—Trippin' with Dr. Faustus (2017)
  • Gary Moore—Blues and Beyond (2017)
  • Joni Mitchell—Transmission Possible (2016, live radio broadcast compilation, '60s-'90s)
  • Thom Yorke—Tomorrow's Modern Boxes (2014)
  • Sufjan Stevens—Seven Swans (2004)
  • Slowdive—Just for a Day (1991, two-disc reissue), Souvlaki (1993, bonus tracks edition), Pygmalion (1995, two-disc reissue), Slowdive (2017, Japanese bonus track edition).
  • Peter Gabriel—Peter Gabriel (1977), Peter Gabriel (1978)
  • Bob Dylan—Blonde on Blonde (1966)

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Various reviews I've written recently

Here's a rundown of some recent reviews I have written...

Evenings with Led Zeppelin: The Complete Concert Chronicle may just be the biggest, heaviest book I own. Dave Lewis and Mike Tremaglio's gargantuan tome, which offers a detailed history of every single Led Zeppelin show, takes pride of place in my small collection of books about the band.

I wrote an extensive review the book, framing it in the context of how Zep's live shows fit into its legacy, for Under the Radar magazine. As I noted in my piece, this exemplary piece of rock scholarship offers valuable insights into how perspectives on the group have changed over time:
'Evenings with Led Zeppelin also illumines how the public and press alike viewed the band during its 12-year lifetime. Though some notable rock writers such as Robert Hilburn and Charles Shaar Murray offered rave concert reviews, other write-ups ranged from less-than-appreciative to openly hostile. There's good reason that Cameron Crowe's movie Almost Famous mocked Rolling Stone magazine's snobbish coverage of Zeppelin. Reading through the reviews collected in Evenings with Led Zeppelin, it's apparent that an older generation of music writers simply wasn't prepared for the radical power of Led Zeppelin. They were frequently bewildered by its genre-spanning progressions. A frequent complaint leveled at the band is the old fogey complaint that they're "too loud."' 
You can read my full review here.

Under the Radar Magazine recently released its list of the Best Albums of 2018. I contributed new reviews of the debut albums by Loma (#16) and Soccer Mommy (#35) for the list, which you can access here.

Of late, I've also written a few short blurb reviews of a few new releases for Monitor Weekly magazine:

Joni Mitchell—Live at the Isle of Wight

Sheryl Crow—Live at Capitol Theater

Mark Knopfler—Down the Road Wherever

Ingrid Michaelson—Songs for the Season

David Byrne—The Best Live Show of All Time

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Playlist October/November

  • Steven Wilson—Home Invasion (2018)
  • Thom Yorke—Suspirium OST (2018)
  • Julia Holter—Aviary (2018)
  • Mark Knopfler—Down the Road, Whereever (2018)
  • St. Vincent—MassEducation (2018)
  • Sheryl Crow—Live at Capitol Theatre (2018)
  • Richard Barbieri—Variants 5 (2018)
  • Blackfield—Open Mind - The Best Of (2018)
  • Eilen Jewell—Sea of Tears (2009)
  • Radiohead—Pablo Honey (1992)
  • The Vaughan Brothers—Family Style (1990)
  • Neil Young—Freedom (1989)
  • Pete Townshend—Empty Glass (1980)
  • Jeff Beck—Beckola (1969)
  • Bob Dylan—The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

"The Art of Rush" reprint

Here's a video that peeks inside the recent reprint of The Art of Rush, which I wrote in 2015. The band Rush and its longtime art designer Hugh Syme commissioned me to write 40,000 words for the beautifully designed tome. Interviewing Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, and Alex Lifeson about their extraordinary back catalog was a dream project. (I wrote this lengthy post about the project a few years ago.) Here's a peak inside its pages...

Friday, August 31, 2018

Playlist June/July/August

As usual, my eclectic tastes in my latest playlist spans indie-rock, hip-hop, ambient, blues, singer-songwriter/folk, progressive rock, classical, Americana, and jazz.

  • Low—Double Negative (2018)
  • The Pineapple Thief—Dissolution (2018)
  • Interpol—Marauder (2018)
  • Neil and Liam Finn—Lightsleeper (2018)
  • Hermit and the Recluse—Orpheus vs. the Sirens (2018)
  • Iceage—Beyondless (2018)
  • Iron and Wine—Weed Garden (2018)
  • Lunatic Soul—Under the Fragmented Sky (2018)
  • Richard Barbieri—Variants.4 (2018)
  • Joseph Arthur and Peter Buck—Arthur Buck (2018)
  • Sweet Billy Pilgrim—Wapentak (2018)
  • Henrik Freischlader—Blues for Gary (2017)
  • Steve Earle and the Dukes—Terraplane (2015)
  • Steve Reich, feat. Jonny Greenwood—Radio Rewrite (2012)
  • Jaga Jazzist—One-Armed Bandit (2010)
  • Laura Veirs—Year of Meteors (2005)
  • Howlin' WolfMemphis Years compilation (2004)
  • Ray LaMontagne—Trouble (2004)
  • Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Steve Howe—Symphonic Music of YES (1993)
  • Frank Zappa—Sheik Yerbouti (1979), Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970)
  • Joni Mitchell—Both Sides Now: Isle of Wight (1970), Miles of Aisles (1974), Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (1977), Shadows and Light (1980), Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm (1988)
  • Jeff Beck—Wired (1976)
  • Brian Eno—Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) (1974)
  • Jeff Beck—Beck-Ola (1969)
  • The Beatles—Revolver (1966)

My Latest Album Liner Notes

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to write liner notes for two new albums, Blackfield’s Open Mind and Vertical Horizon’s The Lost Mile.

The pressure was on. It always is. I wrote sleeve notes for the previous Vertical Horizon record and I’ve written numerous sleeve note essays for Steven Wilson but, like any writing assignment, it’s always slightly daunting and a fresh challenge.


The brief from Steven Wilson was as follows: Could I pen sleeve notes for an upcoming best of Blackfield album, and could I write it without doing an interview but “maybe something more poetic,” or just highlight how the long-running side-project collaboration between him and Aviv Geffen came together.

What Steven envisioned by "poetic" was something akin to the sleeve notes of the first Roxy Music album. Those liner notes, penned by Bryan Ferry’s good friend Simon Puxley, are a blast of fun. They read like a hallucinogenic fever dream in which random thoughts and observations are scattered on the page with ellipses as the only connective tissue between them. Cut-and-paste Beat poetry with shifting time signatures!

Not very easy to emulate....


In my first attempt at writing something inspired by that style, I also took cues from, variously, Susannah Clarke's novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (a sort of literary Harry Potter for adults), the fanciful origin story of Porcupine Tree, and the terminology of 19th century medicine peddled by quacks.

The result was as bizarre as it sounds. There's a perilous line between the ridiculous and the sublime and I teetered over into the former territory. It had to be scrapped.

Back to the drawing board.

The final version of the sleeve notes was a more straightforward telling of the Blackfield origin story combined with some of the more toned-down elements of my attempt at bizarrely styled sleeve notes. The end result retains a bit of mystique and mischief, I think. (Though Aviv modestly axed my line about how he’s such a superstar that even Gal Gadot wants to take selfies with himwhich is true!)


Speaking of Steven Wilson, the first time I met Matt Scannell was backstage after a Porcupine Tree show in Los Angeles. Matt's band, Vertical Horizon, was the soundtrack of 1999, the year that I first moved to the USA. Their #1 single, “Everything You Want” was the single most played song on all American radio that year. Other singles “You’re a God” and “Best IEver Had (Grey Sky Morning)” were also ubiquitous. The first time I heard the album Everything You Want was through my then-girlfriend, now wife.

That night in Los Angeles, Porcupine Tree decamped to a bar a block from the venue with a few friends in tow. I recall that Porcupine Tree were in great spirits after their show, laughing about how an Italian girl in the front row kept lifting her top and flashing them while they were trying to play very complex parts! My pal John Wesley, the touring guitarist in Porcupine Tree and a solo artist in his own right, introduced me to Matt. He and I sat down and began talking about music. We are both Rush fans and I was aware that he is one of Neil Peart’s best friends. I was thrilled to find out just how wide-ranging Matt’s music tastes are and how many favorites we enjoy in common, including—to name but just a select few—Peter Gabriel, Yes, Robert Plant, Kate Bush, and, of course, Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree. Soon after, Matt came over to our little West Hollywood apartment on a sweltering hot day for a listening session to some music from my collection. And thus began one of my most treasured friendships.

It’s hard for me to adequately express just what a special person Matt is. He’s someone whose focus is outward, rather than inward. His natural instinct is to be attentive and attuned to others. He gives of himself, selfless and egoless. He has such a joyful zest for life as he pursues his various interests, which include test-driving sports cars and collecting wristwatches.

Matt is a very talented songwriter. How does he continually come up with such great melodies and hooks? I once told him that he writes the best middle-eights so that his songs suddenly veer off in a thrilling new trajectory midway through. Matt told me that Alex Lifeson had also commended him on that aspect of his songs. Matt’s a killer guitarist—the last few Vertical Horizon albums really showcased his six-string solo skills. The dude's also just, well, naturally cool

It was an honor to receive Matt’s invitation to write a short essay for Vertical Horizon’s sixth album, Echoes from the Underground, which included the rare privilege to go into a studio to watch Neil Peart lay down drum tracks on two songs. A few years later, I've now written sleeve notes for Vertical Horizon’s new album, The Lost Mile. It’s Matt’s best work to date (he keeps one-upping himself). This was the most difficult and boldest project he’s undertaken. I attempted to capture in words just how difficult the act of creation can be, and how transformative it is when an artist breaks through barriers to achieve what he set out to do.

I am very blessed to work again and again with both Steven and Matt. They’re each incredibly talented and I am such an admirer of their respective work. Make no mistake, it is work. Their albums are so good because they both put in the blood, sweat, and tears into their music. In my own writing endeavors, I continue to learn a lot from both of these artists.

Blackfield: Open Mind is released September 25th and can be ordered on Amazon or Burning Shed.

Vertical Horizon: The Lost Mile can be ordered on Amazon, and is available to download/stream at all the usual outlets.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Playlist April/May

  • Laura Veirs—The Lookout (2018)
  • LUMP (Laura Marling + Mike Lindsay)—Lump (upcoming 2018)
  • Father John Misty—God's Favorite Customer (upcoming 2018)
  • Ry Cooder—Prodigal Son (2018)
  • Sonar with David Torn—Vortex (2018)
  • Beach House—7 (upcoming 2018)
  • Jess Williamson—Cosmic Wink (upcoming 2018)
  • Buddy Guy—The Blues is Alive and Well (upcoming 2018)
  • Sting and Shaggy—44/876 (2018)
  • Marillion—Brave box set (2018)
  • Richard Barbieri—Variants 3 (2018)
  • Snow Patrol—Wildness (upcoming 2018)
  • Adam Holzman—Truth Decay (2018)
  • Steven Wilson—How Big the Space? (Record Store Day single 2018)
  • Led Zeppelin—Rock 'n Roll (Record Store Day single 2018)
  • Botany—Deepak Verbera (2016)
  • Nik Bartch's Ronin—Stoa (2006)
  • Jah Wobble + Bill Laswell—A Dub Transmission (2001)
  • Fleetwood Mac—25 Years: The Chain box set (1992)



My interview with Loma in The Boston Globe

Many musicians compare being in a band to a marriage. In the case of Loma, their debut album almost prematurely ended in divorce.

I'd been anticipating the trio's eponymously titled debut for quite some time. Loma is a hybrid of two great groups from Austin: Jonathan Meiburg from Shearwater + the two members of Cross Record. Shearwater has long been one of my top-five favorite bands. I first came across the band's 2007 masterpiece Rook and I think my review of it at the time, below, captures my astonishment at my discovery. It was like finding America's answer to Talk Talk.

SHEARWATER: Rook (Matador Records) 

This Texan art-rock group, fronted by Jonathan Meiburg, has caught the ear of music critics but has yet to colonize the charts. Perhaps that's because there's little evidence that the four-piece has ever thumbed through the Lennon/McCartney songbook. There are few discernible choruses and the tracks eschew conventional pop-song structures. Opening track "On the Death of the Waters," for example, is structured like a bell curve: It starts out hushed as a prayer, swells into an outburst of guitar and trumpet, and then subsides into the ether once again. That's not to say that Shearwater can't pen a good hook. "Rooks" is propelled by a sure-footed backbeat, a glissando guitar progression, and horns straight out of Morricone Western as Meiburg, a part-time ornithologist, sings of birds ensnared in washing lines to evoke the natural order in disarray. Just as compelling: "Leviathan, Bound" is built on a duet between a hammered dulcimer and a piano. Elsewhere, the band employs violins, harp, banjo, tuba, French horn, trombone, and vibraphone, but the organic music feels minimalist and spacious rather than baroque and cluttered. Shearwater's main instrument, however, is Meiburg's one-in-a-million voice, a sonorous vessel of unfiltered emotion. The headphone album of the year.

Since then, I've done many interviews with Shearwater's songwriter, singer, guitarist and sole constant member Jonathan Meiburg. (See the right-hand side column of this page to find them.) He's one of rock music's most intelligent, erudite, and interesting musicians. Who else spends their spare time outside of music doing ornithological research in some of the world's remotest regions. Over the years, Jonathan's work as a naturalist has taken him to the Falklands, Masoala peninsula of Madagascar, the Chatham Islands of New Zealand, a tiny Inuit village in the Canadian Arctic, and an Aboriginal settlement in the croc-filled swamps of northern Australia? Jonathan was once stranded for a month on an uninhabited volcanic desert island.

One of my favorite aspects of Shearwater is that its sound is constantly evolving. So when I heard that Meiburg was making an album with the duo Cross Record (who were the impressive support act on the last Shearwater tour), I was highly intrigued by the prospect of the collaboration. But then I heard a rumor that the project had fallen disastrously apart.

I recently interviewed Loma for The Boston Globe to get the full, fascinating story of how they overcame difficult circumstances to finish their glorious debut record - You can read the story here.
Catch Loma's current tour of the US and Europe at these dates:

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Playlist March

  • Wye Oak—The Louder I Call, the Faster it Runs (2018)
  • Soccer Mommy—Clean (2018)
  • Ed Schrader's Music Beat—Riddles (2018)
  • I'm With Her—See You Around (2018)
  • Francis Dunnery—Live in Japan (2018)
  • Snow Patrol—Wildness (2018)
  • Loma—Loma (2018)
  • Mark Pritchard—The Four Worlds (2018)
  • Sufjan Stevens—Age of Adz (2010)
  • TV on the Radio—desperate youth, blood thirsty babes (2004)
  • Sigur Ros—() (2002)