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Friday, Sep 25, 2009
After taking Arrested Development back to Tennessee, Dionne crafted a musical hit that still resonates today.

In the summer of 1992, Arrested Development had the first of three top ten hits with “Tennessee”, a song as powerful and hypnotic today as it was seventeen years ago. A quest for spiritual enlightenment hindered by the anger and pain of growing up in a world that often makes no sense, the song ended with the strong, pleading voice of Dionne Farris echoing the song’s search for home.


Dionne, who was more one of the “extended family” than an actual member of Arrested Development, got noticed after the song became such a major hit, and Chrysalis (Arrested Development’s record company) offered her a solo contract. Looking for more creative control than the company was willing to give, Dionne turned down the offer. Fortunately, Sony Music heard a demo she made with David Harris, and they offered her a contract that was more flexible.


The result was one of the best albums of the year, Wild Seed, Wild Flower.


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Thursday, Sep 24, 2009
Music writers have tried to correlate the death of the CD with the release of the remastered albums from the Beatles. But as long as we like having a physical copy of a special album, hard copy formats will not disappear anytime soon.

For music journalists, it would be easy to declare the release of the remastered versions of the Beatles albums as the end of the CD era. Bloggers and music writers, most notably NPR’s “All Songs Considered” host Bob Boilen said the new Beatles remastered CDs will likely be the last CDs many people will buy.


It would be a fitting epitaph for the format: Born: 1984 with Born in the U.S.A the first CD massive produced in the United States. Died: September 9, 2009 with the Beatles boxed set. Where I live, there is even some serious circumstantial evidence to back up this claim: the same month The Beatles released their remastered albums, Homers Music & Gifts, the largest independent music distributor in Nebraska will close two of its four locations.


Unfortunately, the end of CD purchasing just isn’t true. Yes, downloads are eclipsing CDs in terms of how people get their music, but what will keep the CD alive is not lower prices or even the quality of the product, but our insatiable desire to display stuff.


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Thursday, Sep 24, 2009
Bluegrass band Iron Horse created a Modest Mouse cover album with amazing results.

A good cover song should change a song yet still retain enough of its character that you find a new way to appreciate the original. Where lyrics had gone unnoticed before, a new version can emphasize different moments or add unique twists by changing the delivery. A new beat or even a few new chords could add a whole new element to a classic piece and give something for both new and old audiences to appreciate. The principle is true enough that for bluegrass band Ironhorse, doing tribute albums for their favorite bands along with their own original recordings led to a remarkable discovery. Modest Mouse songs sound fantastic as bluegrass.


Each song gets translated to a style of bluegrass that matches its character. You’ll have a plucking piece, a waltz, a crooning song, or sometimes just a rapid dance. The dark, moody song ‘Trailer Trash’ is an easy fit for a slow plucking tune. Yet the more the band gets into Modest Mouse’s more distorted, warbling sound the more the bluegrass version pulls it back to its roots. The dramatic beats and shifts in tone of ‘Ocean Breathes Salty’ and ‘Float On’ are wiped away in their covers, leaving a steadier progression that delivers the chorus through crooning instead of shouting. Nor does Iron Horse always go for a conventional adaptation, ‘Baby Blue Sedan’ becomes a plodding waltz instead of being just another acoustic adaptation.


Creating these songs is a trial and error process. In an e-mail band member Vance Henry explains, “CMH Records comes up with the ideas for the covers. Once a project is agreed upon, we will listen to the songs that the producer has selected for any that we feel just can’t cross over into the bluegrass style and if everyone agrees we will replace it. Sometimes we notice them upon first listening, but occasionally we discover them when we start putting an arrangement together….It is a group effort where we will just chart the song and get in a circle and start playing and let the arrangement evolve and I think these turn out to be the best arrangements/projects.” The album was recorded in two weeks through the group plucking in the studio, leading to a real sense of cohesion and balance as they make each song have its own spin.


The most impressive thing about this cover album is how much it will increase your appreciation for Modest Mouse’s lyrics. The clever wordplay of the band was always noticeable, but having their lyrics be sung elegantly in bluegrass style adds a new sense of quiet desperation to them. The lines “I miss you when you’re around” ring even colder when sung to a waltz that is meant to be slow danced with a partner. Instead of lead singer Brock angrily shouting, “Outside naked, shivering looking blue, from the cold sunlight that’s reflected off the moon, Baby come angels flying around you, reminding you we used to be three and not just two” in the cover it is now a careful and earnest solo. The repeated lines of, “Don’t you worry, we’ll all float on” become a group harmony, with each member of the band joining in until everyone is singing. Hearing these new versions gives new dimension to these songs, so that you’ll want to hear the original and just as much as the bluegrass cover.


You can find the album through the band’s website and through most online services.


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Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009

In belated recognition of the recent release of Beatles CD remasters, I thought I should briefly discuss my favorite Beatles song.


“Dear Prudence” is the second track on the group’s 1968 double album The Beatles (more commonly referred to as “The White Album”).  It was one of several songs the band members wrote during their early 1968 trip to study meditation under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. John Lennon wrote the song about attempts to get one of his fellow meditation students, actress Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence, to come out of her room after suffering a panic attack. During recording sessions for “The White Album”, Paul McCartney played bass, piano, and drums on the song, the latter the result of the temporary resignation of drummer Ringo Starr from the group.


The most distinctive aspect of “Dear Prudence” is its ethereal, almost foreboding quality, something which is quite uncommon in the Beatles’ discography. The song’s sound is partially due to the fact that the group recorded it on eight-track equipment. However, the arrangement of much of the song is intentionally sparse; after the upbeat power-chord Beach Boys homage of album opener “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, “Dear Prudence” wafts onto the record like a gentle breeze. At first “Dear Prudence” seems nothing more than low-key ballad wrapped in sadness; its strength lies in how it builds up to a fantastic finish that banishes the negative atmosphere just like the sun breaking through on a cloudy day.


Tagged as: the beatles
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Tuesday, Sep 22, 2009

It’s a huge release week, one of the most packed of the year. Fall is indeed here in force. Pearl Jam self-releases, but partners with retail behemoth Target, while indie rock unloads a treasure trove of new music, and British pop stages an invasion of sorts with the return of Mika, Richard Hawley and David Gray.


Pearl Jam - Backspacer: This is a giant release and marks the former grunge band’s embrace of pop, so perhaps it’s fitting that the normally anti-corporate Eddie Vedder and co. steered the exclusive big box store release to Target. The band is going it alone here with a self-release, something only the world’s biggest artists like them and Radiohead can really do and still move major units. The result has been near universal critical acclaim for the band’s new musical direction.


Basement Jaxx - Scars: The South London house duo release their first record since 2006’s Crazy Itch Radio. While nothing here trumps the sublime beats of 2003’s Kish Kash, Scars does offer an engaging selection of collaborations, including turns with Santigold, Amp Fiddler, and Yoko Ono.



Tagged as: new cd releases
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