Thursday, June 30, 2011

South Carolina Gamecocks: 2011 National Champions

The following has nothing to do with music and everything to do with college baseball. Continue at your own risk.

You may remember this post from exactly 365 days ago. It had nothing to do with music, but instead chronicled the University of South Carolina's unlikely run through the 2010 College World Series, culminating in their first men's national championship of any kind. It was a major coup for a school whose athletic programs sport long histories of accomplishing very little. But going against any number of odds, including no national seeding, losing our first game in Omaha, and just being the Gamecocks--our team banded together to take one home for the garnet and black nation.

Does anyone ever bet on a repeat? The odds of doing so are slim, no matter how good a team is. Too many unknowns, potential mishaps, injuries. Plain old slumps. It can all happen. And you know what? It did happen.

But the team persevered.

The 2011 Gamecocks were ranked #8 in the preseason by ESPN. We returned a handful of players, good ones, to our batting line-up. Our great losses were in the rotation, when we lost two starters to graduation. But we managed to fill our gaps. Michael Roth, who'd staged a coming out party in the CWS, became a legitimate ace. Our other starting spots materialized throughout the season, and our bullpen was as sturdy as it gets. But injuries assaulted our team as the year progressed, at an almost unfair pace. At one point, our entire starting outfield was sidelined. We had a pitcher playing left field. Our future first round pick, Jackie Bradley Jr., was well into a mediocre season before breaking a bone in his wrist and missing the latter half of SEC play. He was not expected to return for the postseason.

But the team persevered.

Coach Ray Tanner finessed the line-up every night. He knew his team, put faith in his guys, and always made it work. Early in SEC play, we went into Gainesville and took the series #1 ranked Florida. We did the same, at home, against #1 ranked Vanderbilt. Walk-off wins here, dominating sweeps there--the team was doing it, despite the injuries. The Gamecocks finished the regular season tied atop the SEC, earned the top seed in the conference tournament, and ranked #1 overall. But like last year, they hardly showed up for the SEC tournament. One win was followed by two straight losses, and we were out of the tournament. Once again, our momentous advance was sutured off by a tournament flop.

But the team persevered.

When the regional seedings were announced, more than a few pundits had the Columbia regional pegged as the most treacherous. The Gamecocks were the #4 overall seed, and drew a dangerous Stetson, North Carolina State, and Georgia Southern--the latter a team that had some impressive out of conference wins on the season, and boasted the NCAA's top home run hitter. Should we survive the regional, our likely opposition in the super regional was Clemson. We'd won our regular season series with Clemson by a hair, but they were a different team now, having picked up steam late in the season. Our road to Omaha would not be simple.

But the get the idea.

The regional opening 2-1 win over Georgia Southern was the closest game the boys would play before Omaha. Carolina took the next two over Stetson to advance to the supers against...Connecticut? The upstart Huskies blew out Clemson in consecutive games to end the Tigers' 2011 campaign. So much for the postseason rivalry match-up. The Cocks took care of a talented UConn team in two games, and the ticket to Omaha was punched.

Would our stay in Omaha be as stressful as last year? Ostensibly, no. We drew the easier half of the bracket, despite drawing #1 overall seed UVA. But Florida and Vanderbilt were on the other side, meaning we'd only have to face one of them were we to reach the finals. Even so, stress abounded. Our first half-inning in Omaha was atrocious. We allowed four unearned runs to Texas A&M. But as if scripted, we tied it in the bottom half of the inning. It was the first of a handful of instances of the Gamecocks playing with fire but never getting burned.

That game went down to the wire, with no team scoring again til the bottom of the ninth, when the Cocks loaded the bases with no outs. Senior second baseman (and scorer of last year's championship-winning run) Scott Wingo launched a game winning single off the right-field wall. Game over.

The Gamecocks spanked #1 Virginia 7-1 in the next game, and were then one win from the finals. UVA turned around and dismantled Cal in an elimination game, meaning we'd have beat the Cavaliers once more to reach the finals. Thus brings us to the first of two consecutive extra inning, nutty games.

The game was a high-stress affair, with both teams escaping trouble repeatedly, especially in the top of the 13th. This is when Virginia loaded the bases with no outs. Just like we'd done to Texas A&M five days earlier. The only thing we had going for us was that Virginia was the visiting team, meaning we'd get another go on offense regardless. But at the rate runs were coming in this one, the feeling was that one was all it would take.

As a fan, there's nothing so demoralizing as seeing the other team load the bases with no outs. They're virtually guaranteed a run. Not always though. Matt Price, our stud closer who had been pitching since the 8th inning (unheard of for a closer,) blew away the next batter. He then induced a double play, via a line out and a quick toss to second. And wouldn't you know it, the very next inning, we scored on consecutive UVA errors. Game over. On to the finals, where we'd face a dangerous Florida team.

If the second Virginia game was a 9/10 on the stress meter, this one broke the needle. Florida was up 1-0 for most of the game, their starting pitcher Hudson Randall blowing away virtually every batter he faced. But in the eighth inning, on two strikes, Scott Wingo poked a dribbler up the middle and pushed a run across, tying the game 1-1. The next inning, it happened again. Florida loaded the bases. With no outs. And this time, they were the home team. All they needed was a run and it's over. Miraculously, John Taylor induced consecutive ground balls. The first necessitated a diving stop by--who else--Scott Wingo. He winged it home, getting the force out, but everyone else was safe. Bases still loaded. The next pitch was grounded right at Wingo. He went home with it to get the force there, and catcher Robert Beary fired to first for the (admittedly questionable) third out. Regardless, the Cocks made it out alive.

The next inning, the Cocks managed to stave off another walk-off situation. With runners on first and second and two outs, a base hit to left field forced left fielder Jake Williams--not the strongest arm on the planet--to come up throwing. It had to be perfect, and it was. Tag applied. Runner out trying to score from second. Another bullet dodged. And, amazingly, it was another series of errors in the top of the 11th that allowed Carolina to score the go-ahead run. We shut Florida down in the bottom of the inning, and that was that.

Even though we still had one more to win, you got the sense that the series was as good as over. It was a gut-wrenching loss for the Gators, having come so close to winning on several occasions. But that's been our team's MO all year: making whatever play the situation called for, no matter how unlikely. Nothing was off limits, as long as everyone was on the same page. An error or a pitching miscue could be accounted for. If we needed a run back, we got it. If we needed to get out of a jam, we did that too.

The final game wasn't quite as exciting as last year's clincher, a fact that was welcomed by Gamecock fans everywhere. The team never trailed. Michael Roth pitched a gem, going over 120 pitches on 3 days rest. Matt Price--who'd gone 90+ pitches against Virginia--came back in to save both final games. Oh, and the final out? A fly ball, caught by Jackie Bradley Jr. Defying predictions, Bradley made it back to Omaha after that broken wrist held him out of action for most of the SEC schedule. He struggled to find his swing, but his ability to track down balls in the outfield is staggering.

By the way, Jackie wasn't the only Gamecock nursing a broken hand. All-American first baseman Christian Walker was nearly ruled out of the finals, having sustained a broken bone in his glove-hand against Virginia. But he played anyway, and went 4 for 9 in the finals, scoring the game winning run in game 1. Just another example of this team adapting to injuries.

Aside from becoming only the 6th team to repeat in the College World Series, the Cocks took home a few records as well: their 10-game CWS winning streak and 16-game postseason winning streak are both the longest ever. Not sure if it's a record, but the pitching staff posted a ludicrous 0.88 ERA in the CWS. Our bats weren't exactly on fire, but they came alive when we needed it. Lots of close games, won in stressful fashion. I wonder if there's ever been a clean sweep through the playoffs in any sport that seemed to take as much effort as this one did.

It's going to be tough to watch the boys next year without the likes of Jackie Bradley, Scott Wingo (the '10 and '11 CWS Most Valuable Players respectably,) gruff third baseman Adrian Morales, and lights-out set-up guy John Taylor. We may also lose Price to the majors, and a few other guys are graduating. Michael Roth has all but confirmed his return to Columbia, and we have a lot of young talented pitchers returning. Christian Walker will be back. Assistant head coach Michael Holbrook, a coveted name in the coaching carousel, turned down offers to stay at Carolina.

But there was a certain something about this year's team that I'll miss. A sort of synergy that made them untouchable. Setbacks seemed to make them stronger. They thrived on adversity. Never truly an underdog, but they had to earn every win. Last year, our road to the championship had a "backs agains the wall" feel to it. This year, we just surged ahead, took our punches, ran the gauntlet, flirted with disaster but never flinched, and took home the hardware.

Congrats, guys. See you at the parade tomorrow.

Programming Note

The Midway Through the Year Awards will have to wait til July. The good news is I can include some albums that wouldn't have made the cut had I made the list on time. The bad news is you have to wait on it because I need to be a fanboy for a minute. Stay tuned for another post coming shortly....

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More Wilco News: New album on the way!

You needn't scroll far to discover that this is the second consecutive Wilco post. Don't like it? Tough! There's a reason they're the most posted about topic in this blog's history. Anyway, I shared that new song other day. It's called "I Might" and it's pretty great. But now I have even better news: the new LP has been confirmed! It'll go by the name The Whole Love and it drops on September 27. Tracklist is as follows:

  1. Art of Almost
  2. I Might
  3. Sunloathe
  4. Dawned On Me
  5. Black Moon
  6. Born Alone
  7. Open Mind
  8. Capitol City
  9. Standing O
  10. Rising Red Lung
  11. Whole Love
  12. One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)

And the award for "Most Wilco-y Sounding Trick Title" is: "Rising Red Lung", edging out "Sunloathe" by a nose. There are a few tour dates as well, although the closest they'll get is Atlanta and I doubt I'll make it out there in September. Still! Damn exciting news. Will be watching this one closely.

Monday, June 27, 2011

New Wilco song marks return to form

I love Wilco like no other band, but I'll admit to losing a bit of faith in their creative output. Can you blame me? The band has more misses in their last two albums than they've had in their entire career up to that point. Disagree if you must, but I proclaim that "Hate It Here", "Sonny Feeling", and "You Never Know" be stricken from the record! If only they'd decided to combine the best of the last two LPs, then we might have had something.

But unfortunately, Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album) weren't hailed as triumphs like their predecessors. I've made peace with that, though. After a streak of four unimpeachable albums, I'm not about to get depressed if they level out a bit. Hell, they still bring it live.

But Wilco are apparently not content with coasting, because they're Wilco. They're not naive, as I posited in a review last year, and I wonder if Jeff Tweedy was a little concerned by middling reviews and a lack of fan enthusiasm regarding the newer material. "This is from the new album, amongst yourselves," said Jeff Tweedy prior to the band performing "Deeper Down" in Savannah last year. It was a tongue-in-cheek statement, but I can't help but think there was a bit of genuine self-deprecation involved.

We've been hearing about a new LP for a few months, and on Friday the band released a single that may or may not show up on said LP. And guess what? The single is great. It's lo-fi garage pop, anchored by a rumbling bassline. Tweedy's double-tracked vocals lack any sap, with lyrics spit with a sneer reminiscent of Britt Daniel. In fact, the song as a whole reminds me of Spoon's highly rhythmic approach. It's yet another unique aesthetic for Wilco, occupying similar territory as "I'm a Wheel" and "I'm the Man that Loves You".

Who knows if this song represents the aesthetic of the new LP. We'll find out soon enough. But it's an encouraging example, and an indication that Wilco isn't ready to lay down creatively.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Weekly Whathaveyou - Friday, June 24

Various and Sundry Goings On About Music:
  • I have a tale of grassroots triumph to share. As I mentioned last week, Gillian Welch is playing here in Charleston in August. Tickets were slated to go on sale at 10 AM this morning. On a whim, I checked the ticketing site, and noticed the sale was live. A password was the only thing in the way of me getting tickets early. It only took me a few tries to crack the painfully obvious password. Next thing I knew, I was sitting on front row tickets. I was curious to know how this happened, so I contacted a friend with connections to the ticketing company. Turns out I just got lucky--the presale was unannounced and supposed to be uber-exclusive. More importantly, they didn't care. So, hey: front row to Gillian!
  • This week, Rolling Stone compiled a list of the 25 Best Road Trip songs, comprised of fan suggestions. Among the entries that I was happy to see: Led Zep's "Immigrant Song", Wilco's "Passenger Side", Tom Waits' "Ol' 55" and Modest Mouse's "Gravity Rides Everything". Fine choices, but I can't help but think Lucinda Williams' "Car Wheels On a Gravel Road" should have been somewhere.
  • Finally got around to that new Black Lips album, Arabia Mountain. It's 16 songs of high-octane indie punk (or something). Celebrated producer Mark Ronson gets production credit. I haven't had time to get through it but a few times, but it's gaining traction.
  • Stephen Colbert was busy this week throwing bones to music fans. He had Bon Iver and Jack White, among others, appear on his show. A few stray observations: Bon Iver, as a band, sounds really good and I wish I was seeing them live on this tour. Jack White is a pretty good sport. He's also putting on a few pounds. He also has a passing resemblance to University of South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia:

    Imagine if Garcia was in the early stages of going transgender and still not really passing. (But let's hope he's passing plenty this fall to my boy Alshon!)
  • Speaking of Bon Iver, the song "Beth/Rest" that closes his excellent new album is creating a lot of buzz. Seems critics either love it or hate it. Pitchfork suggests that "heard in context, it stands as one the record's bravest and most deftly executed moments." Meanwhile, AllMusic calls it "laughable." I understand the aversion to those 80's prom-song keys, but I tend to agree with the Forkers on this one. If you can make peace with the keys, the rest unfolds into one of the most beautiful ballads of the year.
  • Blitzen Trapper took some time off their harrowing frontier expedition to record a new album. It drops on September 13.
  • Housekeeping: next week we'll roll out our 5th Annual Halfway Through the Year Awards. In preparation, be sure to vote in the poll at the right. And as always, follow us on Twitter.
Recent Listening:
  • Black Lips - Arabia Mountain
  • Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest
  • Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo
  • Red House Painters - Song For a Blue Guitar
  • Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Upcoming Releases of Import:
  • Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest (June 28)
  • Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing (September 13)
My Upcoming Concert Schedule:
  • Josh Ritter (Charleston, July 24)
  • Gillian Welch (Charleston, August 28)
A Tube For You:
I mentioned Stephen Colbert's music stuff earlier, but here's a bit more. It's a video (reversed for copyright reasons, I guess) of he and his backing band, the Black Belles, performing a stalker break-up tune called "Charlene II (I'm Over You)". Intro'ed by Jack White :

Thursday, June 23, 2011

11 Best Covers: Conclusion

Another calendar month, another 11 Best in the books. Just to remind everyone for the umpteenth time, this wasn't an ordered countdown nor do I claim that these comprise the 11 best covers on an otherwise original-heavy LP. Instead, they're just 11 darned good examples. Here's the list:
Spoon - "Don't You Evah" (The Natural History)
Local Natives - "Warning Sign" (Talking Heads)
M. Ward - "To Go Home" (Daniel Johnston)
Uncle Tupelo - "Atomic Power" (Louvin Brothers)
Middle Brother - "Portland" (Replacements)
George Harrison - "If Not For You" (Bob Dylan)
The Low Anthem - "Home I'll Never Be" (Tom Waits/Jack Kerouac)
Red House Painters - "I Am a Rock" (Simon and Garfunkel)
The Pogues - "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" (Eric Bogle)
The White Stripes - "Conquest" (Patti Page)
Ryan Adams - "Wonderwall" (Oasis)
Again, the key factor here is that all these songs are functional contributors to an original LP. No gimmickry, just a means to an end.

This months wild card is brought to you by balls. Namely, the balls it takes to cover yourself. I can think of a few instances of this--Wilco and Sun Kil Moon, for example--but I'd like to turn your attention to Bob Dylan. First, there was "Girl From the North Country." One of the most celebrated of his early folks songs, Bob decided to call his pal Johnny Cash and throw together a new version for Nashville Skyline. (I'm not a huge fan of that latter version, but it's still cool in principle.) A few years later, Bob not only covered himself again, but the cover was the very next song on the album after the original. The inspiring ballad version of "Forever Young" is immediately followed by a springy, upbeat version. Technically, the latter version is called "Forever Young (continued)", but it stands on its own.

Here are the two self covers:

(God damnit, it pains me to do this but the only youtube I could find is the Super Bowl commercial that used the song, so it's abbreviated and remixed by that douchebag Will.I.Am. *shudder*)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

11 Best Covers: Pt. 3

I don't know why I've been using the heading tags 11-8, 7-4, etc., since I mentioned that these aren't in any order. So consider this part 3.

The Pogues - "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda"

Only seven of the 13 tracks on Rum Sodomy & The Lash are original--most of the others are traditionals. The album closer, however, finds Shane McGowan setting down his Guinness glass and assuming the role of crippled Australian veteran. "Matilda" was written in 1971 by Aussie folk singer Eric Bogle (actually a Scottish immigrant). The song details one soldier's journey to and from the battle of Gallipoli, the grizzly World War I conflict that yielded almost 400,000 causalities. Bogle's original version tells the story with bittersweet honesty, but when Shane McGowan sings it, he is that soldier. And not only does he plausibly resemble the narrator due to his timbre and accent, he wrings the pity out of those piercing lyrics. Hard not to be overcome by empathy at the line, "Never knew there were worse things than dying."

The White Stripes - "Conquest"

The White Stripes are supposedly kaput. I don't read it as a permanent situation, but if it is, they went out with a bang with Icky Thump. One of the standouts from IT is its only non-original, "Conquest". Originally performed by Patti Page way back in the 50s, it's a spicy tale of an opportunistic femme fatale becoming "the huntress". The original's up-beat theatrics were tailor made for a Stripes-style punch-up. White supercharges the song with his vocal wails, churning guitar and horn interplay. As is his gift, Jack White manages to simultaneously occupy the role of purist and innovator.

Ryan Adams - "Wonderwall"

Detractors of Adams' 2004 double LP Love Is Hell claim that the album is merely a string of homages. Ryan writes a Coldplay song, Ryan writes a Radiohead song, Ryan writes a Prince song, etc. Say what you will--I happen to think it might be the best of his solo work--but Ryan Adams gained the most attention for the one song that was actually a cover. An unabashed Oasis fan, Ryan took the 90s megahit and turned it on its ear. Ryan's version is sparse, acoustic, and ghostly. Moonlight glints off the edges of the "You're my wonderwall" refrain. It's a breathtaking composition, one that was curiously nominated for a Grammy.


Conclusion to come. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

11 Best Covers: Pt. 2

Middle Brother - "Portland"
The most recent entry on this list comes from the "supergroup" comprised of Deer Tick, Dawes, and Delta Spirit members. Full disclosure: I didn't realize this was a cover of a Replacement's B-side until I did a little homework. I do recall thinking it was the best thing on the Middle Brother album by a mile. Now, we know why: because Paul Westerberg wrote it. But John McAuley handles the vocals well--his voice is sort of a middle ground between Westerberg and Axl Rose as it is.

George Harrison - "If Not For You"

Since about 1963, it's grown into a musical constant: everybody covers Dylan. I mentioned Hendrix in the introduction, but his take on "Watchtower" is just the tip of the iceberg. But in my opinion, few interpretations are as perfect as George Harrison's take on "If Not For You". Harrison's cheery-calm vocal style was made for this upbeat Dylan number, and so it slots in comfortably on Harrison's brilliant All Things Must Past.

The Low Anthem - "Home I'll Never Be" 

The Low Anthem have something of a Jekyll/Hyde dynamic. They split time between delicate, whispered balladry and ragged anthems. Kinda like--I dunno--Tom Waits? On TLA's Oh My God Charlie Darwin, they calcified such a comparison by covering Tom's "Home I'll Never Be", which itself was written by Jack Kerouac (at least the words.) Hard to believe Ben Knox Miller can conjure up such a firestorm with his voice, only to coo a falsetto mere minutes later.

Red House Painters - "I Am A Rock" 

Mark Kozelek is almost as known for his covers as he is for his material. Hell, Sun Kil Moon released an entire LP of reinterpreted Modest Mouse tunes, one of which would have made this list had it met the requirements. But my favorite in the field is the Red House Painters' cover of "I Am a Rock" from Red House Painters II (a.k.a. Rollercoaster). It's reasonably faithful to Simon & Garfunkel's original, but swapping out S&G's sweet harmonies for Kozelek's sad, elongated notes yields a strikingly fresh listening experience.

Monday, June 20, 2011

11 Best Covers: Pt. 1

Reminder: These aren't in any order. I won't be crowing a winner this time; just rolling out 11 covers that fall on otherwise original-heavy LPs.

Spoon - "Don't You Eva"

A few songs on this list fit so neatly into their adoptive albums that you wouldn't know they were covers. Perhaps none embody that description more than "Don't You Evah", Spoon's remake of The Natural History's "Don't You Ever". It's faithful in most respects, but Britt tweaked the lyrics here and there and, as you've probably already noticed, phonetically altered the title. Spoon was so big on the song that they based an EP on it, and it was the set opener the one time I caught the band back in 2006.

Local Natives - "Warning Sign"

As far as bands that I've inexcusably failed to explore go, the Talking Heads are one of the biggies. I'll get to them sooner or later, thanks partly to the Local Natives covering a TH tune on their Best of '10 effort Gorilla Manor. Their version of "Warning Sign" retains the loopy snap of the original, but cleans it up a bit to keep with the Natives' aesthetic.

M. Ward - "To Go Home"

It's not uncommon for prominents artist to cover Daniel Johnston--it's something the likes of Beck, Flaming Lips, and Wilco have done--but M. Ward went so far as to slot a Johnston tune into his best record, Post-War. Ward takes a song of desperation--with its sweet, wounded lyric set and rise-and-fall major chord chorus--and turns into an inspirational affair. But Ward's version doesn't abandon the wide-eyed awe for existence that defines the original. 

Uncle Tupelo - "Atomic Power"

Uncle Tupelo's March 16-20, 1992 doesn't shy away from non-original material. Seven out of the album's 15 tracks are covers, although only one of those seven isn't listed as "traditional". That one? "Atomic Power", an apocalyptic anthem by the Louvin Brothers. The Tupelo version is largely faithful to the Louvin's original, but is completely within the spirit of March 16, Tupelo's acoustic turn. Uncle Tupelo's songs are defined by modern-day anxiety, and the lingering potential of nuclear war is just as valid today as it was in the 1950s.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

11 Best Covers: Introduction

A few weeks ago, a commenter and I had a spirited conversation about cover songs. He suggested that I take a stab at doing an 11 Best Cover Songs feature. This was certainly something that crossed my mind when I conceived the feature, so why wait any longer?

No sooner did I begin compiling material than I realized that I had an abundance of tracks. Parameters were needed. To wit: I decided to make this hard as hell on myself, and enact the following criteria:

1. The cover has to appear on an LP proper. No bootleg live performances, no bonus tracks.
2. The cover has to appear in the sequence of a album largely comprised of an artist's original material. So no tracks from tribute albums or compilations.

Why these restrictions? Aside from the aforementioned need to pare down the entries, I think it's a feat for a musician to reinterpret a song to an original end, without it seeming like too much of a fanboy moment or a publicity stunt. If done right, the novelty factor boils away after a few listens and the track becomes as crucial to the album as any. And that, by the way, is the ultimate reason for the parameters. I'm such a huge fan of the album experience that I have to give particular credit to those who are able to not only do the song justice, but again, harness is quality in such a way that it contributes to the greater work.

Admittedly, after adopting these guidelines, I found myself facing the opposite issue. Can I dig up 11 albums that contain worthy cover songs? The answer, thankfully, was yes, and that even excludes Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" which would have just been too easy.

One big thing: This month's 11 Best will not be in any particular order. My pool of potentials was so small, I can't in good conscience call them "11 Best". So think of this month's feature as "11 Good Examples of A Particular Subject".  There will be three posts, comprised of four, four, and three songs respectively. But no winner, per se.

Before we get to the list, here are a few I might have submitted had I not installed the parameters. These are either live cuts or b-sides:

Iron & Wine w/Calexico - "You Were Always On My Mind" (Willie Nelson cover)
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings - "Black Star" (Radiohead cover)
Wilco - "Thirteen"(Big Star cover)
Elliott Smith - "Thirteen" (Big Star cover)
My Morning Jacket - "Going to Acapulco" (Bob Dylan cover)
The Hold Steady - "American Music" (Violent Femmes cover)

These are the first that sprung to mind, but there obviously exist a host of others. Feel free to post your favorites. Look for the first entry in the not-too-distant future!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Weekly Whathaveyou - Friday, June 10

Various and Sundry Goings On About Music:
  • Been a little quiet on the concert front lately, but a big announcement came yesterday when the first leg of Gillian Welch's tour was revealed. She'll be wrapping it up here n Charleston at the Charleston Music Hall. The Music Hall is a criminally underused venue in a prime location. I saw Wynton Marsalis there a few years ago, and I also worked a Bryan Adams show at the Music Hall. Quite a crowd, as you could imagine. As for Gillian, I had the shot to see her in Charlotte when I was in college, but missed the gig for some inexcusable reason. Really am excited about this one.
  • In other concert news, hell hath frozen over because I'll be seeing Josh Ritter in July. I've had a hit-or-miss relationship with Josh's music over the years, although So Runs the World Away was in my top 25 last year. I've heard from various sources that his live show could win anyone over, so I'll put that theory to the test at the Music Farm on July 26.
  • I'll probably never get around to it, but a good idea for 11 Best would be "11 Best Album-Starting One Liners." The first ten would be a formality, because we all know the winner would be from Silver Jews' "Random Rules": "In 1984 I was hospitalized for approaching perfection." That said, there are at least three Wilco albums whose first lines are pretty terrific. Maybe this is a list worth exploring after all...
  • Ryan Adams is back on tour. Weird to even write that, but it's true: he's played a few dates in, I think, Ireland, kicking off his mini-European swing. The shows featured Ryan solo, on acoustic guitar or piano, and have been largely well-reviewed even by fans soured by his recent output. Let's hope this breeds some U.S. dates, although as any fan of televised golf knows, we don't know how to act when it comes to staying quiet in an audience. We shall see.
  • I'm only the 198,304th person to blog this, but anyone else see the Google logo yesterday, in honor of what would have been Les Paul's 93rd birthday? It's still up on as of this writing, but go here to check it out if you missed it. It allows you to strum the notes, which is a marvelous interactive touch on Google's part.
  • Vote in the poll at the right, dudes! And follow us on Twitter.
Recent Listening:
  • Silver Jews - American Water
  • Phosphorescent - Here's to Taking It Easy
  • TV On the Radio - Nine Types of Light
  • Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
  • Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Upcoming Releases of Import:
  • Bon Iver - Bon Iver (June 21)
  • Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest (June 28)
My Upcoming Concert Schedule:
  • Josh Ritter (Charleston, July 24)
  • Gillian Welch (Charleston, August 28)
A Tube For You:
My Morning Jacket's new album, Circuital, is pretty darn good, but it was a recent performance of "Wordless Chorus" from Z that's had the internet buzzing due to the guest vocals provided by Erykah Badu. Unfortunately, I kind of feel like she's subtraction by addition here, but any chance to watch this band perform live is worth your minutes. Check it out:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

More musical lookalikes...

As far as this blog goes, Ian Felice has had a pretty good run. In 2009, we ranked Yonder Is the Clock as the year's second best album. 17 months later, he and his band took top honors in the second installment of Indie Music MAYhem, for their synth-affected folk rock effort Celebration, Florida.

And now we bestow yet another honor on master Ian: his resemblance to future baseball phenom Bryce Harper. Who, you might ask? Bryce was the first overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft, and is already on the fast-track to the majors. The dude once went 6 for 6 with four homers, a double, and a triple in a junior college World Series game. "Junior college?" you ask. "If he was any good, he'd have been drafted out of high school." Don't worry, he was only killing time in junior college because he graduated high school early to pursue baseball. He was drafted #1 as a 17-year-old. Incidentally, his big brother Bryan plays for the defending National Champion South Carolina Gamecocks (but I digress...)

Obviously, Bryce is a tad bulkier than the spindly Ian Felice, who's more storklike than anything. But the thin eyes, flat nose, slit-sized mouth and pale complexion are enough to warrant this feature. Protein supplement companies looking for scammy banner-ad models for before and after pics: take note.

Also of note: Bryce Harper now has a trash-stache, which only strengthens the argument.

New Poll: Who released the best album of the first half of 2011?

Folks, I've got big things planned for this new year. I tell you, this is going to be the Year of George. I'm gonna make changes--big changes. Get my act together. Settle down a bit. Take on some projects I've long-meant to--

[Glances at calendar]

Holy shit! It's June already? The hell with it then. Anyway, we've barreled through the first half of 2011, but thankfully we stopped and smelled the new music along the way. Later this month, I'll be doing my Fifth Annual Midway Through the Year Music Awards. But first, I want to get your input.

Which of these albums is the best we've heard so far? Was it one of the big January releases? A MAYhem contestant? Your favorite may not be on there, but hang your hat on whichever of the choices is best for you. For the first time, I've even allowed you to select more than one. And if you feel the urge, post your favorite in the comments section. Voting starts now and ends on June 30 at noon. Jump on it!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

HSW (markedly tardy) Newsflash: Gillian Welch readies long-awaited 5th LP

"Be cool, Gillian, but I'm pretty sure there's an owl on my head." -- David Rawlings

On June 3, 2003, Gillian Welch released her fourth album, Soul Journey. It features one of her most popular songs in "Look at Miss Ohio". Think she'd want to build on that momentum, right? Well since then, Gillian has stayed out of the studio, leaving us fans to wonder: when do we get another LP? I think I've read a "release is imminent" rumor every year since 2005. It's turned into the Chinese Democracy of folk music.

Alas, Gillian finally announced (like, two weeks ago) that her new album, The Harrow and the Harvest, will drop on June 28. This is huge, folks. Gillian (with guitar-slinging partner David Rawlings) is one of the crown jewels of Americana. My expectations for this one are pretty lofty, but I trust she'll meet them. Also, a 70-city tour is soon to be announced. Surely one of those 70 cities will be within driving distance, right? Maybe even biking distance? Stay tuned to find out.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Weekly Whathaveyou - Friday, June 3

Various and Sundry Goings On About Music:

    • I was a tad late on this one, but I highly recommend Kurt Vile's new release, Smoke Ring For My Halo. My first foray into Vile's music, the album dropped in early March after plenty of buzz in the weeks leading up. It's easy to lose yourself in the album's slouching trip-folk, defined by verbed-out acoustic picking and hardly-sung lyrics in the style of Lou Reed. My personal favorite: "Runner Ups", which rolls out some hard-hitting downer lines: "When I'm walkin' my head is practically dragging/All I ever see if just a whole lotta dirt/My whole life's been one long running gag." Yikes...
    • I won't be doing a proper live review, but I saw Old Crow Medicine Show last week. Was the show great? Sure. Should I have skipped it? Probably. Unlike the last time I saw them, the band was crammed into the Music Farm, a venue that's a fraction a size fo the one the sold out only two years ago. The crowd was full of drunken frat stars and oddballs. The heat was unbearable. I appreciated the band's top-tier musicianship and Ketch Secor's charming pandering ("I rode the FREE TROLLEY today! [audience cheers] I ate okra and tomatoes and FLOUNDER for lunch!" [audience cheers]) but still I think a quiet night at home might have been the better option.
    • The new Bon Iver album is floating around, and boy is it good. I'm glad, too, because I wouldn't have been shocked if For Emma, Forever Ago was one of those albums whose backstory and context wouldn't allow the artist to step out of its shadow and release another relevant effort. Not the case!
    • So Bob Dylan made a cameo on Pawn Stars. While they make it seem like this tubby dude just stumbles across Bob and nabs a sig, rest assured that this wasn't a act of serendipity caught on camera. You're not going to walk up to Bob Dylan, camera crew in tow, get the guy stop and sign an album, and get a fist bump without a ton of planning. This is my general issue with reality television. While they might be "unscripted", heavy editing and situational set-ups are the oil that make these machines run. But I digress.
    Recent Listening:

    • Felice Brothers - Celebration, Florida
    • Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
    • TV On the Radio - Nine Types of Light
    • Death Cab For Cutie - Codes and Keys
    • My Morning Jacket - Circuital
    Upcoming Releases of Import:
    • Bon Iver - Bon Iver (June 21)
    My Upcoming Concert Schedule:
    • (none currently)

    A Tube For You:

    In a few weeks I'm playing a gig with a new songwriting/playing buddy. We're trying to do mostly original material, but are slotting in a few covers here and there. One of these covers you'll find below: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings' version of "Wichita". I've been listening to it again and again trying to get that solo down, so now I'm forcing it on you. But hey, at least it's an enjoyable song. Imagine if we were covering "Party In the USA" or something...

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011


    I don't skimp on self-praise around here, but in all honesty I hadn't looked at our post count lately. What with all the MAYhem and other excitement that 2011 has brought us, I guess I'd lost track of how many posts had piled up. And wouldn't you know it, we're sitting smack-dab at 400. I guess this post makes 401...but anyway. It's also worth noting that May 28 marked our 4 year anniversary. Someone may want to check my math, but I do believe we're averaging about 100 posts a year. In fact, our 300th post was only about seven months ago.

    So thanks to all the readers who keep this measly little pet project going. Without the occasional user comment, new follower, or repost, I'd probably have given up on this thing a long time ago. So thank you all again, and here's to maybe--just maybe--hitting 500 before the year is out.