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by Michael E. Ross

6 Oct 2010

First in 2004 and again earlier this year, Rolling Stone placed Bob Dylan’s classic “Like a Rolling Stone” at the top of its highly subjective listing of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Given the name of the magazine, it’s easy to find an association there that rewards skeptics and cynics suspicious of such deification. But in the years since its releas —as a single in July 1965, and as part of the game-changing album Highway 61 Revisited later that August—the song’s more than held its own as an expression of rock’s foundational ethos of freedom amid chaos, a crystalline document of the times. Whatever times you happen to choose.

Times like these. Some will say trying to find a connection between an apparently angry, vituperative rock song of 45 years ago and the year 2010 is a stretch. But listening to the song with ears attuned to the present day, the perilous state of the American economy, and the general sense of misfortune and dread that blankets this country, “Like a Rolling Stone” is as vital and insistent today as it was in the summer of 1965.

by Sean Murphy

5 Oct 2010

Take a gifted and successful musician; add a dash of elan, a cup of pomposity, some shoulder chips for spice, ambition and sensitivity to taste, bring to a boil then let simmer and…voila, you have Steven Wilson.

Who, you might ask, is Steven Wilson?

Here is what I had to say, about the man and his band, Porcupine Tree, in early 2009:

Steven Wilson, in short, has been one of the better kept secrets in the industry for some time…(and) for anyone who suspects prog rock is (for better or worse) dead and buried, I offer only two words: Porcupine Tree. Led by the indefatigable Wilson, the band made strides –and accumulated a larger audience– with each successive album, culminating in what is (thus far) their masterpiece, Fear of a Blank Planet.

by Jason Cook

4 Oct 2010

Reedy and sustained, “Rite of Magic” and “Great Bird of the Sky” both make for Ennio Morricone’s most focused coda-laden contributions to his soundtrack for the ill-received 1977 horror psychedelia sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic. Guided by bells, tensely shuffling percussion, and a soft lone voice representative of Regan, the film’s possessed protagonist of sorts, “Rite of Magic” first delivers the film’s coda on the 1977 soundtrack—second in the film to “Great Bird of the Sky”, which plays only 20 minutes into the film and at its first dramatic point, a moment when Richard Burton, sweaty and orange-faced as ever, is handed a portrait of himself illustrated by a not-so-little Linda Blair as Regan.

“Flames… Flames. They’re getting bigger. We’ve got to put the fire out”, he says. Morricone’s piece begins and the weird aria starts amid buzzing strings like George Crumb’s Black Angels gone soft.

“Take it easy. It’s probably an after-effect of the hypnosis”, Louise Fletcher tells Burton.

They’ve been experimenting with a remote-viewing device, and when they do find the fire, somewhere in a basement and to the tune of silence—Morricone’s piece drops out after the soloist’s first few bars, Fletcher sees Burton standing before it, crowned with flames, and the film gets a little sillier. But the coda returns in a scene almost an hour later, emerging again with Burton in Ethiopia, praying to God in, remotely speaking to Blair who lays in bed, possessed and sweating like Burton, speaking to him: “Call me. Call me. Call me by my dream name.”

by Zachary Houle

1 Oct 2010

So you’re probably scratching your head and are wondering how a band like Chicago could ever be considered Masters of the Form. After all, isn’t this the band that gave the world such syrupy adult contemporary hits like “If You Leave Me Now” and “You’re The Inspiration”? You know, the kind of music that gets piped into Wal-Marts and grocery stores across the land? You know—“mom rock”. While it may be true that some might find there’s a lot to not like about Chicago’s run of hits from the mid-‘70s to mid-‘80s (though this writer has a fond preference for “If You Leave Me Now”, which will be explored in a latter post in this series), there was a time when the band had a fuller name—Chicago Transit Authority—and a sound that was almost unparalleled in the history of rock at the time they released their debut album.

Chicago Transit Authority, also informally known as “Chicago I” or “CTA” for short, hit the streets in April 1969 and is notable in that it showcased a group that was pushing the boundaries by merging a standard guitar-bass-drums combo (with three main vocalists in the guise of Terry Kath, Peter Cetera, and Robert Lamm) with a horn section. The then six-piece band helped revitalize the use of bass instruments in rock music: while saxophones were hot in the ‘50s, only rhythm and blues acts like James Brown were using them by the end of the ‘60s (not counting the occasional rock employment, such as in the Beatles’ “Got to Get You into My Life” from Revolver, which was arguably more of a nod to Motown than the start of a trend). 

To the naysayers who only remember the saccharine ballads that mostly came from the pen of bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera—who wouldn’t begin contributing in earnest until the second album—there was a point where Chicago (which actually was from Chicago) was a transgressive group, one that has had a lasting impact on the pop culture landscape. Not only did they help pave the way for groups that dabbled in jazz-rock noodlings like Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers (whom Chicago would go on to co-headline tour with in recent years), but one can listen to a track like “Pacific Theme” from Broken Social Scene’s now legendary You Forgot It In People and, whether it was intentional or not, hear a little bit of Chicago through that band’s use of a horn section and a huge cast of supporting players. And let’s not overlook another Chicago-based band, Earth, Wind and Fire, who similarly echoed, to a degree, the sound of what would become known as Chicago.

by Joseph Fisher

30 Sep 2010

When Radiohead’s “You” saw its proper release as the lead track on the band’s debut album Pablo Honey (1993), listeners were greeted by a sparse chiming guitar figure that wrapped gently around itself before being pummeled by an onslaught of buzzsaw riffs and bottom-heavy drumming. When Catherine Wheel’s “Texture” saw its proper release as the lead track on the band’s debut album Ferment (1992), listeners were greeted by a sparse chiming guitar figure that wrapped gently around itself before being pummeled by an onslaught of buzzsaw riffs and bottom-heavy drumming.

There are a few ways to historicize this one. First, we could get all technical and argue about how “You” was released in seriously limited fashion on Radiohead’s Drill EP in 1992, which came out just prior to Ferment. The other is to state the obvious: Radiohead evolved out of the swirly waters of post-Loveless shoegaze, which oozes all over both Pablo Honey and Ferment. The other is to make a slightly bolder claim: Radiohead—The Mightiest Band This Side of the Stone Roses—got its start by ripping off Catherine Wheel. Since I’ve never been prone to impartiality, and since Radiohead left “You” in pretty much the same shape during the year between Ferment and Pablo Honey’s release, I’m going with the third option.

The implications of that thesis are pretty major, as the past twentyish years have seen Radiohead’s stock rise astronomically, while about half of Catherine Wheel’s stellar catalogue has slipped out of print. Thankfully, Cherry Red intervened and reissued Ferment in expanded form earlier this year. It’s a welcome reissue that gets just about everything right, which can often be a rarity with these campaigns.

//Mixed media

Con Brio: The Best New Live Band in America?

// Notes from the Road

"There’s a preciousness to McCarter and the rest of the mostly young band. You want to freeze the moment, to make sure they are taking it all in too. Because it’s going to change.

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