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Thursday, May 26, 2011
There's another theme to the well-received new album from the chart-topping Chicago punk band besides cutthroat riffs and raucous drums: the end of the world.

Graduating in the same class as mainstream punk rock acts Green Day, Anti-Flag, the Offspring, and others, Chicago, Illinois-based band Rise Against crafts songs born of an ennui that long ago boiled over into rage. And there’s plenty to rage about, of course. Economic hardship, domestic and international imbroglios, and a rash of other injustices—plenty evidence for a gloomy forecast on the future. Add to this mix the prophecies of oddballs like Harold Campbell, the California man who caused a worldwide fervor when he predicted the Rapture would literally occur on May 21, 2011. These problems, and the anxiety they cause, infest Rise Against’s latest album, Endgame (2011)—a hymnbook of laments from a frustrated generation.


For the past ten years, Rise Against has conducted a series of Platinum- and Gold-certified seances where it channeled the collective consciousness of the self-proclaimed “orphans of the American dream”, those who grew up in the shadows of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, children who came of age in a era where people tweet about a tsunami’s rampage one minute and Justin Bieber the next. Obsessed with the search for truth, the band’s lyrics personify the anger beneath modern malaise, and document what happens when the inability to discern right from wrong collides with the desire to do so. What results, perhaps not surprisingly, is music rife with religious terminology.


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Tuesday, May 17, 2011
While AC/DC's still-standing refusal to make its music available on iTunes is rooted in the widely-held view of the album as a complete work, it’s important to acknowledge that LPs really aren’t the immutable documents we tend to think of them as.

In an interview with Sky News during the premiere for AC/DC’s new concert DVD Live at River Plate earlier this month, schoolboy-uniform-clad guitarist Angus Young reaffirmed his band’s still-unwavering stance on not making its music available for sale as digital downloads on iTunes. Even though notable major holdouts from the online marketplace—Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles—have one by one acquiesced to digital sales in recent years, the Thunder from Down Under is having none of it. As Young told the interviewer, “For us it’s the best way. We are a band who started off with albums and that’s how we’ve always been… We always were a band that if you heard something (by AC/DC) on the radio, well, that’s only three minutes. Usually the best tracks were on the albums”.


Certainly the veteran Australian rock band is free to distribute its music the way is sees fit, although it’s necessary to point out that iTunes allows artists to make certain tracks “Album Only” purchases. Still that only goes so far, as Radiohead discovered when the retailer refused to honor the band’s wishes to make all its tracks “Album Only”, causing the British alt-rock group to balk at offering its catalog there (Radiohead eventually relented, and now all its album cuts can be bought individually at the store). No, AC/DC wants classic albums like Highway to Hell (1979) and its immortal masterwork Back in Black (1980) to be consumed by buyers as unfractured wholes, and nothing less will do.


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Thursday, Apr 14, 2011
The complicated origins of rhymin' and stealin'... Few, if any, artists have been as controversial or better practitioners of TS Eliot's famous dictum "good poets borrow; great poets steal" than Led Zeppelin.

“Good poets borrow; great poets steal.” That’s according to the great T.S. Eliot. Or is it?


Debate rages (well, amongst the handful of people who are aware of—or care about—quotations like this, or literature in general) as to who actually said it. Pablo Picasso occasionally gets the attribution, as does the critic Lionel Trilling (replacing poets with artists in his version).  So, even trying to correctly identify the ultimate epigram about plagiarism can lead to charges of… plagiarism. Brilliant! And, upon reflection, could it be any other way?


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Thursday, Mar 31, 2011
Has there been anything else remotely akin to the waste of potential, time, and opportunity that we’ve had the last two decades with Eddie Van Halen?

Sammy Hagar seldom disappoints. When I heard he was tapped to replace ass-clown extraordinaire David Lee Roth in 1985, I anticipated uninspiring results. I was correct (your mileage may vary). And when I saw there were “tell-all” excerpts from his new book in the latest Rolling Stone, I figured there would be some avert-your-eyes ugliness. I was correct.


Look: it’s obvious that Hagar is a good businessman. The dude has made tens of millions from his own brand of tequila. Who knows how much coin he has pocketed from the Van Hagar albums and the recent tours? His book will sell plenty of copies and who can hassle that? The question could be begged: why would a very wealthy dude take the time to write a book detailing the degeneracy of his former bandmate? To make money, obviously. Of course, he also has a tale to tell, particularly as he may want to set the record straight regarding his involvement in the band (and the on-again/off-again status of the various redux reunions). It is a poorly-kept secret that Eddie Van Halen is difficult to get along with, and who could blame Hagar for wanting to put his imprint on the permanent record?


(Breaking news, real-time edit: he is now claiming he was abducted by aliens! And here I was, just praising his business acumen. Holy “let me learn from Charlie Sheen and up the ante to move more product”, Batman!)


The parts of the book that focus on pre-and-post Van Halen life will probably appeal only to the most ardent Hagar fans (are there ardent Hagar fans? Anyone whose life has been missing the inside scoop of the Montrose years or an elaboration on why he can’t drive 55?). And yet, whatever its literary merits, it may ultimately become a useful historical document. Since the semi-reclusive Eddie Van Halen is less than likely to ever write an autobiography, this may be the closest eye-witness account we’ll ever get from someone who lived through it—not necessarily the good but definitely the bad and most definitely the ugly, of which more shortly. Not necessarily the studio antics that produced OU812 or F.U.C.K., but rather some explanation (or evidence) for why exactly Eddie Van Halen went from being one of the best guitarists of his generation to the punch-drunk burnout he’s become.


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Tuesday, Feb 1, 2011
Each of these songs, in my mind, would fit Alison Krauss and Union Station’s unique blend of bluegrass traditionalism and progressionist spirit.

It has recently been announced that Alison Krauss and Union Station—the biggest band in bluegrass music today—will be releasing a new album, Paper Airplane, on April 12th.  This news has been greeted with much excitement from fans who have been waiting patiently since Lonely Runs Both Ways (2004) for a new full-length effort.  They now eagerly anticipate the record’s release to see what musical paths this veteran group will tread.  Will the remarkable critical and commercial success of the 2007 release Raising Sand, Krauss’ creative collaboration with Robert Plant, influence the course of the music Krauss makes with Union Station?


While Krauss has been known for working within the limitations of traditional bluegrass, no matter how far she might push these boundaries, it is interesting to note how much of her artistic success has been due to an apt and diverse song selection.  Although Krauss and Union Station fill their set list and album repertoire with traditional bluegrass standards by the likes of Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley, they mine the fields of many musical genres to turn previously recorded tunes into newgrass masterpieces.  Krauss’ past albums have included covers of the Foundations’ “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You”, the First Edition’s “But You Know I Love You”, Dan Fogelberg’s “Stars”, Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty”, Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All”, and Shenandoah’s “Just a Ghost in This House”, just to name a few.  Union Station often closes its live shows with a particularly rousing, jammy rendition of Bad Company’s “Oh, Atlanta”.  Krauss and Plant’s Raising Sand further solidified Krauss’ reputation as a bluegrass artist exceptionally willing to explore unchartered territory.  Under the guidance of veteran producer T-Bone Burnett, Krauss and Plant covered tunes by the Everly Brothers, Townes Van Zandt, Gene Clark, and Tom Waits. Notably, Krauss has stated that some of her primary musical influences include not just traditional bluegrass icons like Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, but also figures from the rock and pop worlds, like Journey and Steely Dan.


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