Monday, September 17, 2018

The Lemon Twigs Go To School, Part Two

The Lemon Twigs just released what might end up being my favorite album of 2018.

But first---

My introduction to The Lemon Twigs was late night television and I was quite frankly blown away. This, I am sure, is why their full length debut, "Do Hollywood" was a disappointment to me. The live performances, both on the tube and YouTube, were outstanding. These D'Addario kids had talent oozing out of their pores, they were confident and they served it up like musicians who had been doing it their whole lives, and yet their average age is 20. "Do Hollywood," on the other hand, came off as too many ideas with little focus and weak production.

Since then, the hype has been non-stop, with relentless comparisons to all my musical heroes, from Todd Rundgren and David Bowie to Nilsson, Cheap Trick, Big Star and back again. And now, a concept album about a couple who cannot have children, so they adopt a chimpanzee named Shane, who goes to school, gets bullied, commits arson and kills 100 people in a fire. As Mojo magazine pointed out, at least it makes more sense than "Tommy."

The Lemon Twigs were on the verge of becoming more trouble to me than they were worth. By now, I was too overwhelmed to care. What I wanted was a new record by a new band with influences right in my wheelhouse, you know, like a perfect Saturday, record shopping in Asbury Park. (See Part One.) Instead, I was getting two smug kids, in over their heads, delivering some unlistenable double album about a monkey. The advance press wasn't helping. Some loved it. Some hated it. Best laid plans, you know...I no longer cared about The Lemon Twigs, and I already had tickets to see them live.

The album arrived on Friday in a beautiful gatefold package. I took a deep breath and listened once, cleansed the palate with that recent unreleased Coltrane album, took a few more deep breaths and listened a second time.

The Lemon Twigs Go To School is triumphant!

The story/book does not matter. Forget about chimp. Okay! Forget about the chimp, damnit!

If you have taken anything from Burning Wood in ten years, it's that I've been moaning all this time about new artists and their inability to write songs and create memorable records. So who would I be now if I didn't embrace work as ambitious as "The Lemon Twigs Go To School?"

Not all of the 60 minutes works, but most of it works like a charm. If I told you I discovered an unreleased Big Star tune and played you "Queen Of My School," you'd be gobsmacked. If I told you that Todd Rundgren hasn't sounded more Rundgren-y since "Something/Anything?" than he does on "Never Know," you'd agree, assuming you like Todd in the first place.  Even the ballad, "Lonely" would have fit perfectly on "A Wizard/A True Star."

"Go To School" is a masterwork, maybe too ambitious for those of you who need something as raw as the Stooges, as basic as early Stones or as primitive as the Velvet Underground. But records like "Ziggy Stardust," "Tommy," and "S.F. Sorrow" did not come out of the womb legendary. Do I think "The Lemon Twigs Go To School" is destined for legendary status? No. I am not that crazy. But, if you claim to love music, this record should not be dismissed. If you claim to love the classic rock of the 70's, the Raspberries, The Kinks, The E Street Band or 10cc, all with carefully orchestrated arrangements, vocals and musicianship, than a misguided story line should not get in the way of one of the most musical albums I have heard in years.  There is a lot to love here and it is worth your time.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Lemon Twigs Go To School, Part One.

Earlier this summer, I had a perfect Saturday planned, which included record shopping in Asbury Park, a walk along the boardwalk, a few beers at the beach bar, lunch, and just enjoying the ocean, music and conversation with friends. My friend found a parking space right in front of the record store, not an easy task on Cookman Avenue during the summer. I opened the car door, and as I leaned over to get out, my iPhone fell out of my pocket and into a sewer. I was frozen stiff. I became Tommy. I couldn't hear, see or speak. I wanted my phone back, sure. But the feeling of an entire day of perfection starting off and possibly ending this way was too overwhelming for me to think straight. My friend suggested calling 911. I knew this wasn't an emergency, but I couldn't respond one way or the other. I tried lifting the sewer grate like a grandmother lifting a Volkswagen to save her grandchild. It didn't work. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and reached into the sewer and felt the phone, all the time thinking, one wrong move and I am shoving this thing further into the underground. Steadily, I grabbed it, and slowly pulled my arm out, phone in hand, miraculously not getting my arm stuck like an episode of "I Love Lucy." A few minutes later, after washing up in the record shop bathroom, I had an armful of great records to purchase and the day ended up being as pleasant as originally planned.

And that is my review of the new Lemon Twigs album, "Go To School" after one pass.

The Lemon Twigs Go To School, Part Two- COMING SOON.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Another New McCartney Record, Only This One Is From Gilbert O'Sullivan

Gilbert O'Sullivan has been quietly and consistently making records since he first broke our hearts with his number one single, "Alone Again (Naturally)" 46 years ago. He's done it again with "Gilbert O'Sullivan," which dropped last week. Quite simply, this is one terrific record. O'Sullivan is a clever songwriter with an amazing knack for melody and for turning a phrase, and just about every song on this record is a pop gem. It's hard not think of solo McCartney while listening. Each track feels like it could have been on "Ram" or "Wild Life" or "Band On The Run," for that matter.  If I had one complaint it would be the overuse of the roller rink organ, which seems to appear on just about every track. The keys are played by Stephanie Jean. In what might be one more resemblance to Sir Paul, Miss Jean could be Mrs. O'Sullivan, which could explain the need. It doesn't always get in the way of the wonderful songs within, but I would have opted out on a few. That said, this new Gilbert O'Sullivan record is worth your time, if you were once a fan. If not, give a listen to at least one of the three tracks posted here. I'm really digging them all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Positively, Guilt-Free Wednesdays: Tears For Fears, There's No Turning Back

"The seven year span, 1983-1990, found Tears For Fears transforming from a band whose songs employed the blips and squeaks of eighties electronica, to a band whose elaborate productions and lush songwriting proved that the team of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith had grown. They became a band who demanded to be taken seriously and deserved to be taken seriously. But not unlike many other great teams---Lennon/McCartney, Bacharach/David, or Sonny & Cher, (to name but a few)---Orzabal and Smith let ideas, hopes and dreams get in the way of their musical magic. Much like the obligatory "I Got You Babe" finale of Sonny & Cher's television shows, Roland and Curt continued to record the final album amidst much personal unpleasantness."

This is taken from the liner notes I had written with Tony Sachs for the Tears For Fears "Millennium Collection" released on CD in 2000. I've been a fan since first hearing "Pale Shelter" on WLIR-FM back during those somewhat bleak early 80's. I knew then Tears For Fears were better than all the others on WLIR's heavy rotation and I still feel that way now.

For those who still can't get "Shout, Shout, Let It All Out" out of their heads 25 years later, here are some of my favorite Roland and Curt tracks, most of which do not resemble the blips and squeaks of their earliest work; blips and squeaks that might have kept many of you away.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Admittedly Self-Indulgent Non-Weekend Mix

There is great inspiration for this collection of songs I offer up today, as well as one hell of a back story that I will never be drunk enough to share. I don't think details will make the music any better. I am quite happy with how this "sounds good altogether," and for my personal needs, it does its job.

I will say this. The title of the mix is "As Falls Tinton, So Falls Tinton Falls," which some of you might recognize as a play on the Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays record, "As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls." I was introduced to that record in the early 80's, under some truly bizarre circumstances. I am not a fan of Pat Metheny at all, but that record will forever be a creepy footnote in my life and a part of the story that even if I was drunk enough to share, no one would believe anyway.

As for the music here, not everything serves a personal purpose. There are a few songs that just seemed perfect for a transition to the next. As I said, this is strictly for me, but I know there are some of you out there who enjoy a good mix, and I loved putting this one together.

"As Falls Tinton, So Falls Tinton Falls"

In The Morning- Squeeze
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey- Paul McCartney
Don't Take Me Alive- Steely Dan
Dogfight Giggle- Todd Rundgren
This Boy- The Beatles
Love Goddess Of Venus- The Ventures
In The Flesh- Blondie
Learnin' The Blues- Frank Sinatra
But It's Alright- J.J. Jackson
Long, Long While- Rolling Stones
Stolen Car- Bruce Springsteen
Terrapin- Syd Barrett
You're A Big Girl- Bob Dylan
Both Belong- The Grays
Little Willow- Paul McCartney
I Am A Rock- Simon & Garfunkel
Down- Nilsson
Truth- Neil Finn
The Best Thing That Ever Happened- Gladys Knight & The Pips
Just Once In My Life- The Beach Boys 


Monday, September 10, 2018

When I'm 76: Paul McCartney Drops Egypt Station

I did not want Paul McCartney’s past or his future to dictate how I listened to "Egypt Station." I didn't think that would be fair to either the fan or the artist. I didn't want to compare it to anything and I didn't want to like it simply because Paul is a Beatle and he is getting old. I just wanted to listen to new music from Paul McCartney. This was not an easy task. Facts are facts.

So what about the music on "Egypt Station?" After three focused passes, I will say that I like it. I really do.

Like most records since the invention of the compact disc, it is too long. But even saying that seems wrong. If I was asked before its release if I wanted a 38 minute version or a 60 minute version, of course I would have opted for the latter. But it is those extra 22 minutes that turn "Egypt Station" from a great record into a good record.

McCartney is finally sounding his age, and on the ballads, like "Hand In Hand" and the gorgeous opener, which was also the first song dropped one month ago, "I Don't Know," it is very effective. "Happy With You" is vying for the same vibe as "Blackbird" or the exquisite "Jenny Wren" from "Chaos & Creation In The Backyard." It is not as good as either, but still a great piece of acoustic Paul, closer to the feel of "Early Days" from his last release, "New."

I said I didn't want to compare this record to anything, but it's just too hard not to. A number of songs feel like modern rewrites of songs that could have appeared on "The White Album" and "Abbey Road." Dominoes," "Do It Now," and "Despite Repeated Warnings" all begin with chords and arrangements that bring to mind late Beatles, and in the case of the latter, Wings. Same with the medley, "Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link." There is a lot happening on Side Four. It will keep you on your toes, for better or worse.

A favorite, "Caesar Rock" sung as "She's A Rock" is a three minute blast with chords lifted from "Temporary Secretary," and a twisted arrangement, with screams and howls and a groove that won't quit.

There is a lot to like on "Egypt Station." The production, as one friend pointed out, is neither looking back nor forward. It is a bullseye. And for the wincing and groaning over "Fuh You," if that song was called "For You," it would be hard not to recognize that Paul McCartney has created a solid radio hit for 2018, on his way to 77 years old. Unfortunately, it is called "Fuh You" and that's that.

As for the filler, "Back In Brazil," is a musical postcard that simply doesn't fit well. "Who Cares"is a typical throwaway rocker that Sir Paul writes while he's writing something else. Even "People Want Peace," another attempt at an anthem, is not bad. It is actually "All You Need Is Love" compared to "Freedom."

How many more times do you think we will be able to ask our friends, “Did you hear the new McCartney record?” A friend said this to me as we both expressed our excitement over the arrival of “Egypt Station." The answer is, not too many more. That is a sad reality.

I am happy with "Egypt Station," but I was hoping to be happier. I feel spoiled. I know many will rake me over the coals for saying that, but that's how I feel after rediscovering "Chaos & Creation" and "Memory Almost Full." And let's not forget, 1995's "Flaming Pie," which I thought was fantastic right out of the gate. And what about "New" from 2013?  All of these records, at least after three passes through "Egypt Station," do it for me more than this new one. But "Egypt Station" should not be dismissed. There is a lot to love here.

Paul is not dead. This is an artist who still has plenty to say. Let's listen while we can.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Songs Of The Week, 2018: 8/25-9/7

Carouselambra- Led Zeppelin
Over To You- Black Sabbath
Love Rears Its Ugly Head- Tim Christensen
Hearts Of Stone - Bruce Springsteen
Clues- Paul Weller
Six Man Band- The Association
Famous Last Words- Tears For Fears
Honey- The London Souls
Can't Escape From You- Bob Dylan
Can't Hold Out Much Longer- Little Walter
Vanity Fair- World Party
Entangled- Genesis
My Maria- John Cale
The End Of The End- Paul McCartney


Carouselambra- Led Zeppelin
This one popped up on shuffle and it made me think two things. The first was, how much I did not like it when it first came out. It was not Led Zeppelin! What the hell are all these keyboards doing here?! The second was, how much I love it now. Mainly written by John Paul Jones, it has three distinct parts, all of which have ridiculously good playing by the band.

Over To You- Black Sabbath
This is another track from "Never Say Die," which I mentioned in Thursday's "Soundtrack To The Bay" post. I don't get why this record is trashed by all involved.

Love Rears Its Ugly Head- Tim Christensen
No back story here. Included because I wanted to hear it.

Hearts Of Stone- Bruce Springsteen
Another shuffle pop-up. Can't decide if I like this version or the Southside Johnny version better.

Clues-Paul Weller
With a new Weller record about to drop, I decided to listen to my faves, which include "22 Dreams" and his solo debut. This one is from the debut, which still holds up as a terrific album.

Six Man Band- The Association
See iPod shuffle.

Famous Last Words- Tears For Fears
I've always thought TFF were an underappreciated band. Sure, they had huge hits and were wildly popular, but it seems wrong that they get lumped in with other 80's acts, thanks to "Shout." They go much deeper. This is a personal fave.

Honey- The London Souls
A band that should have been HUGE! That is a great story for another time. For now, this is from their last long-player, "Here Come The Girls."

Can't Escape From You- Bob Dylan
I said these words to a friend during a pretty heavy discussion that did not end well. It made me think of this Dylan song, which I hadn't heard in some time. This Dylan guy sure knows how to write a song.

Can't Hold Out Much Longer- Little Walter
Was catching up on The Ronnie Wood Show, which is essentially Ronnie and a guest, sitting around, listening to records and dancing and singing. Genius. One episode had the late, great Ian McLagan as a guest and they listened to this Little Walter tune. McLagan said, "Listen to the drummer." Mac then starts air drumming. "He's playing backwards." The drummer is hitting the snare on the downbeat. Sorry, but, "He's playing backwards" cracked me up.

Vanity Fair-World Party
My Maria-John Cale
These three tunes played one after the other on shuffle, and I thought they worked brilliantly. It made me put together a Spotify playlist called, "I'm U.K., You're U.K."

The End Of The End- Paul McCartney
Why not?