Thursday, September 2, 2010

TVD Previews the next Story/Stereo with John Davis

Our special Story/Stereo event continues with the first five random tracks pulled from John Davis's ipod:

Big Boys – Sound On Sound
The Big Boys were one of those bands that I first heard of ‘cause I loved a cover of one of their songs. When Jawbox signed to a major in 1993, they released an EP shortly before their major label full-length debut came out at the beginning of ‘94. On that EP were some excellent non-album tunes (all of which were included on the recent reissue of “For Your Own Special Sweetheart”), one of which was a faithful cover of The Big Boys’ “Sound On Sound.” Around that same time, Touch & Go released two CDs worth of Big Boys songs (“The Skinny Elvis” and “The Fat Elvis”) both of which had a big impact on me. Songs like “Nervous” and “Apolitical” were this brilliant middle ground between Gang of Four and Minor Threat. “Sound On Sound” was a different kind of song for them, though. Moody and slow, with a slightly ominous sing-song feel and a solid hook for a chorus. One of this band’s high points, for sure. I’m not quite sure why The Big Boys were overlooked when the history of American punk was written and the saints were canonized. They get a bit of attention but not enough, in my opinion. They were daring and funny and smart and could majorly throw down.

Neil YoungPhiladelphia
Neil Young knows how to write a devastating song and this is one of them. In my mind, it’s fairly betwixt with the eponymous movie that it was commissioned for and its inclusion in that final scene of old home movies of the main character that just died is, though a little maudlin, really affecting. Neil’s odd voice never sounds better or more appropriate than it does on this wrenchingly sad ballad. How hugely impressive is it that a guy can keep writing great songs for more than 40 years? Every album that he makes always has at least one notable moment on it, even now. What I like is that he made stinkers in every decade but was always able to rebound with something that was fierce and alive and still mattered. Some of the production touches on “Philadelphia” are dated (I’m mainly looking at those synth washes that also left their stain on the Boss’ “Tunnel Of Love” album and other records of the late 80s/early 90s era) but no misstep can blunt the emotional impact of a song like this.

The Cryan Shames(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave
When it comes to versions of “Heat Wave” that populate my iPod, this is probably the weakest one. It’s hard, though, to compete with The Who and The Jam and The Vandellas. Still, The Shames’ version is interesting. The chiming, Byrds-y 12-string guitar is a nice touch and I can imagine how fun this must have been to hear when they played it in some basketball gym in the Chicago suburbs of 1966. When it comes to the Cryan Shames, I think they’re a pretty underrated group. Their version of “Sugar and Spice” is my favorite of them all and some of their other songs, like “I Want To Meet You” and “We Could Be Happy” are really great. Plus, I’ve come to really love that cadre of suburban Chicago bands of the 60s (Ides of March, Cryan Shames, The Buckinghams, The American Breed, New Colony Six, Shadows Of Knight).

LemonheadsRockin’ Stroll (Demo)
I first got into the Lemonheads when their 1992 album, “It’s A Shame About Ray,” became a big success on the heels of their cover of “Mrs. Robinson.” Initially, when I heard that cover, it set off some sort of bullshit detector in my mind and I decreed that the Lemonheads sucked. As with so many other bands that I hated at first, something intangible changed and I started to like them. Soon, not only was I listening to “It’s A Shame About Ray” all the time but also the earlier records, like “Hate Your Friends” (especially that one) and “Lick.” I think the influence of The Lemonheads on Title Tracks is pretty obvious. I stood by them for the rest of their tenure, even with “Car Button Cloth,” which didn’t go over well at the time, for some reason. I think there are some excellent songs on that record, however. Anyway, I’m glad the Lemonheads are back together, per se, and Title Tracks got to play with them last year. Not that we interacted with Evan Dando at all … well, I did let him in the door to the backstage when he showed up from the hotel minutes before their set. That was about it, though. It was funny how good their set was, though, considering the ennui that Dando emits in person and onstage. You just can’t step to those songs, though. It was one classic after another. This song is a demo version of “Rockin’ Stroll” that was included on a recent deluxe reissue of “It’s A Shame About Ray.” It has acoustic demo versions of most of the songs from the album, which are nice to hear if you’re a serious fan. If not, you should still hear the standard album as its one of the best records of the 90s, I think.

Alemu AgaKeto Aykerim Motu
I could listen to Alemu Aga records all day. It’s really, really difficult for me to discern the difference between the separate tracks but there’s something that I like about that. I almost crave the dynamic homogeneousness as I listen to his records. Who is Alemu Aga? He’s an Ethiopian musician who plays the begena, aka The Harp Of David, a sacred instrument to Ethiopians. The begena looks like of like a big lyre and boasts a deep, droning kind of sound with an intermittent buzz that creates thoroughly hypnotic and enveloping tones. Even better is when Aga begins to gently sing over the quietly insistent begena drone. His voice is mixed in a way so that it sounds like he’s right next to your ear, like some benevolent ghost. I remember going off to sleep in a musty basement during a particularly contentious stretch of tour once and being completely transported to a better place by a long batch of Alemu Aga tracks on a small set of portable speakers. I do think I have an easier time than most people completely being able to disconnect from where I am and slip back into my mind but I think everyone would find it pretty easy, too, if they had some Alemu Aga recordings to help them.

Big Boys – Sound On Sound (Mp3)
The Cryan Shames(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave (Mp3)
Alemu AgaKeto Aykerim Motu (Mp3)

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