Initial Reactions (2012): Beach Boys, Best Coast, Bap Kennedy

Initial Reactions are just that: my reactions to records after only a few listens (usually 2 or 3). I try to be fair, but if a record doesn’t make much of an initial impression on me, someone’s going to need to tell me to pay closer attention if they think it deserves better. (see the sidebar for rating descriptions)

Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made The Radio [A-]: The Boys didn’t enlist Jack White to produce, so there is the cheezed-out sound. But be slaked by those opening harmonies. Enjoy the jingle of "Isn’t It Time." Marvel at the concept of "Bill and Sue." And just relish the fact that these well-advanced pop godfathers crafted a dirge for the closer "Summer’s Gone." TWGMTR isn’t a perfect album by any means, but it more than proves the abundance of greatness that is the Beach Boys. ("The Private Life of Bill and Sue", "Summer’s Gone")

Best Coast – The Only Place [B+]: Didn’t dig on Best Coast’s first album. Something about the "a-melodic drone" of the guitar, but I can safely say that the guitar playing here is jangly, sunny, and sprite-ish. Furthermore, the girl-group harmonies and Spector-ish flourishes realize an altogether lovelier sound. Now despite the presence of a couple of greats, the songs aren’t quite ‘A’ material. But the trajectory is on target, and I’m expecting big things from BCLP3. ("The Only Place", "How They Want Me To Be")

Bap Kennedy – The Sailor’s Revenge [B]: Mark Knopfler‘s production cred garnered my attention, but I’m pleased to report that Bap Kennedy has written a strong set of songs to boot. These are tunes shot through with a gentle sea, making TSR a reflective bookend to Fisherman’s Blues. Like any sea voyage, though it starts out full of promise, by the end it’s worn on you a bit, but all in all, you’ll keeping coming back for nothing more than the song of the sea away on that horizon. ("Shimnavale", "Jimmy Sanchez")

Quick Review (LP): How To Become Clairvoyant by Robbie Robertson

Robbie Robertson
How To Become Clairvoyant
429 Records; 2011

My Rating: C (48/100)

Best Tracks: "When the Night Was Young", "He Don’t Live Here No More"

Is Clapton a verb? As in, “He totally Clapton’d this record?”

RANDOM NOTES:

– He was rarely The Band’s voice, but he was its chief songwriter, and a darn good one at that.
– A bit smooth and suave, and sort of bland in a Clapton-ish sort of way.
– Honestly, I was hoping for a record of big Americana pop songs, much like his solo debut.
– And then Clapton shows up on Track 6. It had to happen, right?
– It all sounds a little bit too good times-ish. I’d love to hear something with a little more bite.
– "Madame X" rocks it Weather Channel style.
– There’s no stamp here, nothing that screams at me "This is the new Robbie Robertson record!" Other than the fact that it is the new Robbie Robertson record, but you know what I mean.
– Is it just me, or does he sound like a less talented John Mayer knockoff?
– "He Don’t Live Here No More" recalls some of the pop brilliance of his eponymous solo offering, which is a far superior record.
– I do like "When the Night Was Young", but it does seem a bit pathetic lyrically.
– "She’s Not Mine" sounds a bit like something U2 might produce today, which unfortunately is not a compliment.
– In my mind, the ability of old rock stars to age gracefully has a gold standard represented best by Mark Knopfler, with the last 10 years of Bob Dylan recordings as a close silver.
James Leven (Paste) gets it right: "Still, Clairvoyant feels a bit underpowered when you consider the sheer tonnage of talent surrounding it." "With Peter Wolf and Robert Plant out making records that push the needle in the revered oldster lane, Robertson and his famous friends could easily have taken more names."
– Queue us all wishing that he’d get back together with Levon so that he could get re-inspired by a little southern badassery.
– As far as aging rock stars go, you have a spectrum that ranges from Eric Clapton to Bob Dylan. This clearly leans heavily to the Eric Clapton side of things.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Songs (3/5)

Best Breezes: 5/31/10 – 6/6/10

Been away for a little while. Should be pretty consistent this week…

NPR: Best Opening Tracks?

(via NPR Music) If you follow this blog, you know by now that I am a music obsessive. So I love lists, especially when they discuss things like “best opening tracks.”  NPR’s editorial list can be found here. Interesting stuff. I’d have to include:

REM (“Radio Free Europe”, “Harborcoat”, “Finest Worksong”)
Radiohead (“Airbag”, “Everything In Its Right Place”, “15 Step”)
Wilco (“Misunderstood”, “I am trying to break your heart”)
Crain (“Car Crash Decisions”)
Slint (“Breadcrumb Trail”)
Rodan (“Bible Silver Corner”)
Belle & Sebastian (“Stars of Track and Field”)
Innocence Mission (“Keeping Awake”)
My Morning Jacket (“Mahgeetah”)
Mark Knopfler (“What It Is”, “Why Aye Man”)
Elvis Costello (“Accidents Will Happen”, “Clubland”)

in my own long list.

New Sun Kil Moon

(via onethirtybpm) I have a friend who was really into Mark Kozelek’s Red House Painters in high school, back when it was hard to get your hands on their stuff. I never got into them myself, but after hearing these new tracks from Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon project (awesome name by the way), I might just dive headfirst into the world of “the other” MK.

GY!BE + “Weird Al” = WHAT???

(via Pitchfork) File this one under strange, even by the standards of both artists. Dear Lord, let there be a collaborative effort in the future.

New Superchunk On The Way

(via onethirtybpm) New Superchunk on the way. Superchunk is hit or miss with me, but when they hit, they knock it out of the park. (See “Driveway to Driveway”, “The First Part”, “Hello Hawk”, “Burn Last Sunday”)

Career In Brief: Mark Knopfler

CAREER IN BRIEF: MARK KNOPFLER

Mark Knopfler is the wildly accomplished guitar afficionado who fronted the pub-prog stadium act Dire Straits. His “sound” is easily distinguishable from that of other guitarists because of his finger-picking style, a sort of languid-staccato if you will. While the artistic output of the Dire Straits years was more focused on his fabulous guitar chops, Knopfler’s solo work has been more along the lines of singer-songwriter work, although his guitar-playing still figures prominently.

In my opinion, Knopfler is the epitome of how a rock and roll artist should mature, probably oweing something to the fact that he is a prodigious talent. Although he’s not normally put on the same pedestal as the great guitar players of rock and roll, such as Hendrix, Clapton, Van Halen, or Page, there is no doubt that Knopfler is in the same categories as these guitar heroes. The difference, I would say, is in Knopfler’s influences. Traditionally, the guitar gods have been rooted in the blues, but Knopfler’s style owes more to jazz (Django Reinhart) and Opryland country (Chet Atkins) influences.

Although his career as a solo artist proper really came post-Dire Straits, he did plenty of notable soundtrack work in the 80’s and early 90’s. Those interested in his scores should check out Local Hero and, of course, his iconic work for Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride. Otherwise, I’m going to jump right into his solo records, one of the most under-celebrated album catalogs of the last twenty years.

One other note: while some artists may write sad songs that don’t sound so sad and happy songs that sound the same as the sad ones, Knopfler, though under-stated, wears his songwriting soul masterfully on his sleeve. His music is devoid of irony, unless he intends to convey it. In our age of hyper-hipsterism, it’s rewarding to find an artist who doesn’t need to be hip to win our hearts.

MAJOR RELEASES:

Golden Heart [1996] (A): Come on, isn’t this really just the latest Dire Straits album? Knopfler downplays the prog grandiosity and instead takes aim at rootsy chamber folk. For a guy who spent the 80’s blowing out stadiums around the world, he proves himself adept at turning down the volume and turning up the celtic and cajun influences. It’s a true masterpiece. (R:  “I’m The Fool”, “Done With Bonaparte”)

Sailing to Philadelphia [2000] (B)
: Knopfler always had a knack for “storytelling” via song, but the way his lyrics unfold before you like a film on “What It Is”, you’ll feel like you are right there on Charlotte Street. A sprawling meditation on America’s wide open spaces, it features many wonderful moments, but ultimately loses itself somewhere around the “Sands of Nevada.” Features a great duet with Van Morrison on “The Last Laugh.”  (R: “What It Is”, “Silvertown Blues”)
The Ragpicker’s Dream [2002] (A+): As homey and comforting a record as you will ever find anywhere, what makes The Ragpicker’s Dream is Knopfler’s ability to seamlessly shift from a peppy novelty like “Devil Baby” to a sadly mortal meditation like “A Place We Used To Live” without skipping a beat. The title track may be the best Christmas carol to emerge from the British Isles since “Fairytale of NYC.” One of my all-time favorite records. (R: “Why Aye Man”, “The Ragpicker’s Dream”)

Shangri-La [2004] (A): Fourteen tracks about all the ways we try to find heaven on earth, lead single “Boom Like That” is the best satirical piece Knopfler has written since “Money For Nothing.” It’s also highly informative and educational. Elsewhere, “All That Matters” gets all sweet on us, and “Back To Tupelo” is some beautiful Elvis-perspective blues.
(R: “Back to Tupelo”, “Donegan’s Gone”)

All The Roadrunning [2006] (A): This isn’t properly a Mark Knopfler record, since he shares the spotlight with Emmylou Harris, but in all reality, he wrote 10 of the 12 songs, and it all sounds more like his work than hers. They go together well, and this is a great travelling record. Really, truly wonderful. (R: “Right Now”, “Rollin’ On”)


Kill To Get Crimson [2007] (A-)
: At this point in his career, MK isn’t really turning over any new stones, but when you know what you do better than anyone else in the world, why do anything else? At this point, Knopfler demonstrates his greatness in the sheer fact that he can churn out 12 tracks of such astounding quality every 2 years at the age of 58. Shouldn’t somebody name this guy the godfather of something??? (R: “Heart Full Of Holes”, “Secondary Waltz”)

Get Lucky [2009] (B+): Well, it is all starting to run together a little bit at this point, but for the most part, I stand by what I said about Kill To Get Crimson and apply it to this one. Knopfler has nothing left to prove – Lord knows he doesn’t need money. Knopfler is the type of guy who can just sit back and be artistic with his life for the rest of us. And tracks like “Cleaning My Gun” prove that he still has a few powerful turns of phrase left in him. (R: “Border Reiver”, “Cleaning My Gun”)

OTHER KEY TRACKS:

“Long Highway”
“Let’s See You”

What do love about Mark Knopfler?

Mark Knopfler: The Ragpicker’s Dream (2002)

Mark Knopfler
The Ragpicker’s Dream; 2002
Warner Brothers
My Rating: 89/100
Singular. If Mark Knopfler has proved anything in the new millenium, it is that his years spent as the frontman for the Dire Straits were merely formative. His most vital and meaningful work has happened in the last fifteen years, and at this point, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight to his latter day glories. His third solo effort, THE RAGPICKER’S DREAM, is his greatest, and a classic album, though criminally under-recognized at present. Knopfler’s genius as a solo artist rests in combining the pub-to-prog rock aesthetic of his Dire Straits era with the atmospherics and localization of his numerous soundtrack works, such as THE PRINCESS BRIDE and LOCAL HERO. While “Why Aye Man” certainly harkens back to the Dire Straits track “Calling Elvis”, the music transports the listener to the world of German expatriates seeking a new and better life. “Hill Farmer’s Blues” similarly transcends its folkish roots and finds an epic arc, yet Knopfler can keep it light and matter-of-fact just a few tracks later with “Quality Shoe.” Still, RAGPICKER’S canonical status is afforded by its sheer vision. For all of its inherent darkness, it is a hopeful and idealistic record, a musical good times brew. While Knopfler sings with deep sadness of “A Place Where We Used to Live”, he also sums it all up in optimistic fashion with the title track. A “ragpicker”, says Merriam-Webster, is “one who collects rags and refuse for a livelihood.” Thus, THE RAGPICKER’S DREAM may well be the Knopfler album most representative of his vision, a collection of tracks yielding to the simple joys of human existence, a theme wondrously captured in the Elliott Erwitt photo that graces the cover. It’s a “mulligan stew” of pure delights, a feast of the “brotherhood of man.” Now go on and dig in.
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Tracks:
1. Why Aye Man (5/5)
2. Devil Baby (5/5)
3. Hill Farmer’s Blues (5/5)
4. A Place Where We Used to Live (5/5)
5. Quality Shoe (5/5)
6. Fare Thee Well Northumberland (4/5)
7. Marbletown (5/5)
8. You Don’t Know You’re Born (4/5)
9. Coyote (4/5)
10. The Ragpicker’s Dream (5/5)
11. Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville (4/5)
12. Old Pigweed (5/5)

the ragpicker's dream-mark knopflerMark Knopfler
The Ragpicker’s Dream; 2002
Warner Brothers

My Rating: 89/100

Singular. If Mark Knopfler has proved anything in the new millenium, it is that his years spent as the frontman for the Dire Straits were merely formative. His most vital and meaningful work has happened in the last fifteen years, and at this point, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight to his latter day glories. His third solo effort, THE RAGPICKER’S DREAM, is his greatest, and a classic album, though criminally under-recognized at present. Knopfler’s genius as a solo artist rests in combining the pub-to-prog rock aesthetic of his Dire Straits era with the atmospherics and localization of his numerous soundtrack works, such as THE PRINCESS BRIDE and LOCAL HERO. While “Why Aye Man” certainly harkens back to the Dire Straits track “Calling Elvis”, the music transports the listener to the world of British expatriates seeking a new and better life in Germany. “Hill Farmer’s Blues” similarly transcends its folkish roots and finds an epic arc, yet Knopfler can keep it light and matter-of-fact just a few tracks later with “Quality Shoe.” Still, RAGPICKER’S canonical status is afforded by its sheer vision. For all of its inherent darkness, it is a hopeful and idealistic record, a musical good times brew. While Knopfler sings with deep sadness of “A Place Where We Used to Live”, he also sums it all up in optimistic fashion with the title track. A “ragpicker”, says Merriam-Webster, is “one who collects rags and refuse for a livelihood.” Thus, THE RAGPICKER’S DREAM may well be the Knopfler album most representative of his vision, a collection of tracks yielding to the simple joys of human existence, a theme wondrously captured in the Elliott Erwitt photo that graces the cover. It’s a “mulligan stew” of pure delights, a feast of the “brotherhood of man.” Now go on and dig in.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (5/5)

Tracks:

1. Why Aye Man (5/5)
2. Devil Baby (5/5)
3. Hill Farmer’s Blues (5/5)
4. A Place Where We Used to Live (5/5)
5. Quality Shoe (5/5)
6. Fare Thee Well Northumberland (4/5)
7. Marbletown (5/5)
8. You Don’t Know You’re Born (4/5)
9. Coyote (4/5)
10. The Ragpicker’s Dream (5/5)
11. Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville (4/5)
12. Old Pigweed (5/5)

Mark Knopfler: Golden Heart (1996)

Mark Knopfler
Golden Heart; 1996
Warner Brothers
My Rating: 78/100
As frontman and artistic visionary for the wildly successful pub/prog act Dire Straits in the 1980’s, Mark Knopfler might not have become a household name but his signature guitar style was as omnipresent as the voice of Huey Lewis. After Straits fell apart in the early 90’s, Knopfler embarked on a solo career which begins with GOLDEN HEART. Judging from these results, leaving behind the overamibitious aspects of his mid-80’s work may have been the best move Knopfler could make. While acknowledging the requisite lyrical guitarism and flawless execution, Knopfler makes his greatest strides as a songwriter. There isn’t a skipper on here, which could only be said of one Straits album (their last, actually, ON EVERY STREET), and there are at least five songs that are as close to perfect as an artist can get. Additionally, Knopfler plays up the Celtic and Euro-continental influences, making this a world/roots rock record of sorts, a fabulous modernization of folk styles. With GOLDEN HEART, Knopfler artistically eclipsed the work he did in Dire Straits, and the great thing is, it keeps getting better from here.
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Tracks:
1. Darling Pretty (4.5/5)
2. Imelda (4/5)
3. Golden Heart (5/5)
4. No Can Do (4/5)
5. Vic and Ray (4/5)
6. Don’t You Get It (5/5)
7. A Night in Summer Long Ago (4.5/5)
8. Cannibals (3.5/5)
9. I’m the Fool (5/5)
10. Je Suis Desole (4/5)
11. Rudiger (5/5)
12. Nobody’s Got the Gun (3.5/5)
13. Done with Bonaparte (5/5)
14. Are We in Trouble Now (3.5/5)

MK_Golden_HeartMark Knopfler
Golden Heart; 1996
Warner Brothers

My Rating: 78/100

As frontman and artistic visionary for the wildly successful pub/prog act Dire Straits in the 1980’s, Mark Knopfler might not have become a household name but his signature guitar style was as omnipresent as the voice of Huey Lewis. After Straits fell apart in the early 90’s, Knopfler embarked on a solo career which begins with GOLDEN HEART. Judging from these results, leaving behind the overamibitious aspects of his mid-80’s work may have been the best move Knopfler could make. While acknowledging the requisite lyrical guitarism and flawless execution, Knopfler makes his greatest strides as a songwriter. There isn’t a skipper on here, which could only be said of one Straits album (their last, actually, ON EVERY STREET), and there are at least five songs that are as close to perfect as an artist can get. Additionally, Knopfler plays up the Celtic and Euro-continental influences, making this a world/roots rock record of sorts, a fabulous modernization of folk styles. With GOLDEN HEART, Knopfler artistically eclipsed the work he did in Dire Straits, and the great thing is, it keeps getting better from here.

Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)

Tracks:

1. Darling Pretty (4.5/5)
2. Imelda (4/5)
3. Golden Heart (5/5)
4. No Can Do (4/5)
5. Vic and Ray (4/5)
6. Don’t You Get It (5/5)
7. A Night in Summer Long Ago (4.5/5)
8. Cannibals (3.5/5)
9. I’m the Fool (5/5)
10. Je Suis Desole (4/5)
11. Rudiger (5/5)
12. Nobody’s Got the Gun (3.5/5)
13. Done with Bonaparte (5/5)
14. Are We in Trouble Now (3.5/5)