It struck me the other day as I was reading Waging Heavy Peace, the fabulous new book by Neil Young, that only a book by Neil Young—obviously put together by the man himself, with little help from editors or other humans—would not only devote a significant passage to the merits of shopping at Costco, but also of his quest to buy new heads for his electric toothbrush, which, not incidentally, he considers quite fabulous.
My own copy of the book, coincidentally, was also purchased at Costco—at a fine price, I might add!—where I'd also return the next week to buy the new book by Pete Townshend. Also written by the man himself, with little outside assistance.
That I would purchase both books quite willingly, and with my own money, I found interesting. Though I regularly read e-books via my Kindle, in both cases here I wanted to buy the physical product—the tome, the pages, the cover picture, etc.—mostly because in late 2012, when record albums are likely as not wave, flac or MP3 files capable of simply evaporating on a faulty iPod or hard drive, I wanted to own the actual thing that both artists produced, to hold it in my hand, to put it down and leave it half-opened on the chair next to my computer while I downloaded flac versions of albums by Brit band Kaleidoscope that I had yet to physically purchase, and probably never would.
Plus, the Costco cashier always looks at me funny when I only buy scotch and cartons of cigarettes!
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Psychedelic Pill (Reprise) While I have been a lifelong fan of Neil Young, around long enough to buy his first album when it came out, I can't say I've bought into everything he's ever done. My favorite album of his is—ironically, since he rails against it in his book—his very first, which along with scattered tracks he wrote like Buffalo Springfield's "Expecting To Fly," and, way later, "We Never Danced" from Life, contain a certain melodic flair that's absolutely heart-wrenching, though it's a part of what he does that he's tended to underplay. That said, his manic workouts with Crazy Horse—the intense one-note twang, the primitive beat—are inspiring in another way entirely. It's just the stuff in between that I like but don't love. Psychedelic Pill is more the latter than the former—particularly via the three extended tracks proudly on display here—but there is a hint of melancholy melody on the opening mega-opus that recalls Young's other side, and that it is paired with a rock romp in which Young tosses off lyrics that read like sentences from his book, about religion, MP3s, and the actual act of writing his book, that in terms of really odd appeal rank right up there with his "got mashed potatoes—ain't got no T-bone" lyric from 1981's Re-ac-tor. The band is great throughout, the vocal harmonies inspiring, and the fact that a major artist is allowed to release an album like this on a major label in 2012 absolutely stunning. Pretty great, actually.
Flyleaf: New Horizons (A&M/Octone) While I'm not the world's biggest fan of hard rock/metal at this late date, I confess a peculiar fascination with Texas-based Flyleaf, who return here with their third album, and apparently their last to feature lead vocalist Lacey Sturm—who is mind-numbingly fantastic, particularly if you're a fan of early '70s Eurotrash movies. We shot her in our studios here in 2008 or so doing "I'm So Sick" (check out this clip) and my jaw dropped; that the band has roots in Christian Rock is the clincher. They're great, and she's greater! There are fewer screams here—odd, since she just had a baby!—but I still find what they're doing unique, in its way, and very much worth checking out. Also: she's kind of hot!
Calvin Harris: 18 Months (Roc Nation) There's a lot to be said about rising Scottish DJ Calvin Harris! First, his new album's cover picture looks like it was shot in 1) the San Fernando Valley, 2) on the way to LAX in Los Angeles or 3) Las Vegas! Cool! Secondly, it's the follow-up to his apparently successful album Ready For The Weekend! Third, he's famous by association for all the fab work he's done with artists such as Rihanna, Kelis and Ne-Yo, all of whom can be heard here along with Florence Welch of "+ the Machine" fame, Dizzee Rascal, Tinie Tempah, Chatty Cathy, Ellie Goulding, and Example—the world-famous celebrity renowned for entering bars and causing fights when people ask him his name! Apparently this album has been streaming for weeks now, so we all know how good it is! (Sadly, every time I tried to listen, my phone rang or I had to go to a meeting! But the person sitting next to me said it sounded great—especially that time I went downstairs to get a Diet Coke!) I think it may be the greatest album ever streamed on my computer!
Toby Keith: Hope On The Rocks (Show Dog) Sometimes you can be driving in your car, maybe feeling a little bit down—a little bit let down by life and the roads you should have taken but didn't—and you wonder if things could ever get any worse! But then, sure enough, a group of redneck thugs drive by in a pick-up truck, maybe even with a gun rack, and just happen to look your way, and maybe don't like the way you look, so they force you off the road with clearly evil intentions! The solution? If you've got this new Toby Keith CD—which, according to acknowledged retail experts at Amazon, "is as close to a sure thing as can be found"—you can simply take it out of its case, hurl it at the forehead of the most threatening thug, and then drive away safely in his pick-up truck! That's actually one of the main reasons I'm not so much into buying MP3s!
Chad Valley: Young Hunger (Cascine) Earlier this year in Austin, Texas, I had the pleasure of watching a fascinating young British band called Jonquil performing an acoustic set in my hotel room before video cameras—impressive in many ways, not least because their admittedly small brass section had to face the room curtains to muffle their sound. The band's spritely, hugely catchy material deeply recalled that sort of mid-'80s British pop that the likes of George Michael or Spandau Ballet played, say—and much of that was due to the group's vocalist and keyboardist Hugo Manuel, whose sound was no less fetching despite it being 2012. The same man returns here as Chad Valley, with guests like Twin Shadow and El Perro Del Mar, and could not be more successful: Young Hunger oddly evokes both the '80s and today's best and brightest performers. I can think of at least three people I know who would go bonkers if I played this for them.
The Velvet Underground & Nico: The Velvet Underground & Nico 45th Anniversary (Polydor) Though it seems like a 45th Anniversary celebratory blow-out of one of rock 'n' roll's all-time classic albums may be five years premature, who knows if record companies will still be around in 2017—let alone manufacturing objects one can actually buy? This is a charming set as these things go, offering mono and stereo versions of the original album, alternate versions of tracks, mono single mixes, and a boatload of things previously floating around in various bootleg versions. And mixed in with the 6 CDs that comprise the "Super Deluxe" collection here is a nicely remastered version of Nico's Chelsea Girl album, about half of which might easily be called a VU album. Adeptly organized, very fresh sounding, and thankfully including lyrics—not a small thing for longtime listeners who never knew what Lou Reed was actually singing on "Black Angel's Death Song"—it's a worthwhile endeavor and the sort of thing you might want to have, hold, and occasionally listen to.
Dick Wagner: Not Only Women Bleed: Vignettes from the Heart of a Rock Musician (Desert Dreams book) Speaking of Lou Reed, here's a fine new book from someone who enjoyed a brief association with him as one-half of the stellar twin-guitar team powering Reed's classic 1973 live Rock 'N' Roll Animal set. Wagner went on to greater repute working extensively with Alice Cooper during his Welcome To My Nightmare period, and has a fairly astounding songwriting resume I won't dwell on—but as a fan of his earlier Detroit band the Frost, I was most fascinated to read the guitarist's account of his early days here. An honest, well-written book that is eye-opening in its frankness—and for that matter its actual existence—the hardcover version comes packaged with two CDs featuring Wagner's music and is quite a bargain. While there are hundreds of books written about the likes of the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, I think books like these—especially when penned by the performers themselves—will eventually be perceived as real jewels. Highly recommended.
Paul Buchanan: Mid Air (Newsroom) There are those who regard Scottish band the Blue Nile as absolute masters of perfectly played, powerfully retrained, powerfully powerful pop music. I am one of them, and have been since hearing their debut set A Walk Across Rooftops in 1983. Albums have been few and far between—there have only been four, and the last came in 2004. And despite critical raves, sales never quite measured up. Mid Air is the new solo album by the band's vocalist and central figure Buchanan—and to say it is subtle and low-key is not exactly an understatement. Sounding largely like piano-driven demos of quietly sung, introspective songs—really quietly, really introspective—Mid Air reveals itself after several listenings as a work of great beauty that, er, might be even more interesting if its songs were played in the context of the Blue Nile. Sounds great in your car very late at night.
Manu Katché: Manu Katché (ECM) Many of ECM Records' releases share such a high standard of audio quality, packaging, and exceptional musicianship that things get blurry after a while: Which Jan Garbarek album was the one I really liked?, etc. But from the first track on French/African's drummer Katché's new album—his fourth for the label—there's no blur here at all. A very strong quartet, featuring Norwegians Nils Petter Molvaer and Tore Brunborg with British keyboardist Jim Watson, and surprisingly earthy, accessible music make this one of the label's strongest releases in some time, and one well worth hearing. Dynamic, hypnotic stuff.
Journalist 103: Reporting Live (Babygrande) Just as the record industry continues to implode, countless blogs such as this one have devalued the written word to a frightening extent! Here one of Earth's last remaining writers tries his hand at a new career in the music business. Dope!
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