Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Memories - Paul McCartney At Wrigley Field

Photo from Paul McCartney Facebook page.

Here’s another concert highlight from the past year. Although I didn’t have a ticket to see Paul McCartney at Wrigley Field, I guessed correctly that I would be able to hear his performance if I hung around just outside the venue. This is as close as I’ve gotten to actually seeing a Beatle perform (unless you count Pete Best at the Fest For Beatles Fans in Chicago) and it was an unforgettable experience. Thanks, Mr. McCartney, for the magic.

As I wandered down Addison to Sheffield, I could hear the crowd inside cheering and McCartney playing “Hello Goodbye.” The sound quality was great. What a thrill to hear Paul McCartney performing a Beatles song in person. The people gathered on Sheffield were in high spirits, singing and dancing along with the music, chatting with friends, and sometimes just grinning at what they were experiencing. A father held hands with his two young daughters while they danced in a circle.

McCartney continued with a rousing version of “Junior’s Farm.” I could hear most of his comments between songs, and got chills when he called out, “Here’s one you may remember,” before launching into “All My Loving.” I could see a puzzle piece of the big screen inside the stadium from where I was standing, and from time to time, McCartney’s face would appear on it.

I wasn’t able to catch all of the anecdotes McCartney shared with the audience, but I heard bits about how thrilled he was to be playing at such a historical venue; a tribute to Jimi Hendrix that followed “Let Me Roll It”; and memories of playing guitar with George Harrison back in Liverpool. And the great songs kept coming. “Jet,” “Drive My Car,” “On The Night Before,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and “Paperback Writer” were all delivered via McCartney’s high energy performance. Even the more subtle tunes like “Long And Winding Road,” I Will,” and “Blackbird” drifted over the ivy-covered wall with perfect clarity.

When McCartney at one point asked, “Is that you screaming?” he could have talking to thousands of people in attendance.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Slumgullion #94

Best wishes for everyone to have a safe and fun New Year's Eve. Be sure to celebrate with music!

According to The Hollies official website, the band’s 2012 50th Anniversary Tour will be making stops in South Africa, Scotland, and England. These are just the dates for February through April. America has become the Island of Misfit Toys in terms of Hollies tours, but maybe this year will be different.

Alkaline Trio has sold out two venues in the Chicago area this weekend. That includes an early gig tonight at Durty Nellie’s in Palatine and a New Year’s Eve show tomorrow at The Metro. After that, the Illinois-based punk/pop band is off to Europe for concert dates in England and Germany. Alkaline Trio released its latest CD, Damnesia, earlier this year.

Tomorrow night, Durty Nellie’s celebrates New Year's Eve with a double bill of Chicago-based talent; the jam/bluegrass band Cornmeal at 7:30 PM and rock singer-guitarist Aly Jados at 10:PM.

Other local New Year’s Eve action includes Material re-Issue with the lush and psychedelic Hushdrops and Redgrave (singer-guitarist Angie Mead and drummer Stephen Howard) at Reggies; synth rockers Dot Dot Dot at Giovanni’s in Rockford; 1950s -1980s cover band The Brill Babies, along with The Hornstars at Ballydoyle Irish Pub in Downers Grove; Cage The Elephant at The Aragon Ballroom; and Big Head Todd & The Monsters, Cracker, and Camper Van Beethoven at The House Of Blues.

While there have been countless parodies of public service announcements to prevent certain unsavory trends and behavior, Country & Western star Bryson Jones brings a homespun charm to the one he recently recorded. The Sin City All Stars musician’s ad to save guys from Tiny Cowboy Hat Syndrome is cleverly done, with a sharp zing toward the end.

The Court Theatre, which is now in its 57th season, will present the world premiere of Oren Jacoby’s adaptation of the Ralph Ellison novel Invisible Man. The play, directed by Christopher McElroen, will run from January 12th through February 19th at 5535 S. Ellis on the University of Chicago Campus. Call 773-753-4472 for further information.

Usually, all of the gigs listed on Broken Hearted Toy are in the Chicago area, but here’s one for garage rock fans in London. Happening Magazine, a worthy offshoot of the cool and retro Shindig Magazine, is sponsoring a triple bill at The Drop club. Thee Savage Kicks, The Mobbs (see December 13th post for CD review), and Bow Street Revolt will be performing during the 8:00 PM to 4:00 AM hours on January 7th. The 1960s/1970s inclined DJs, Phil Istine and Steve Coleman, will also be part of the entertainment.The Drop is located below The Three Crowns, 175 Stoke Newington High Street. Looks like these live events might become a regular thing for Happening.

Also, in merry old England, former Doctor Who star David Tennant can be heard narrating Earth Flight, a new nature documentary on BBC One that gives a bird’s eye view of famous landscapes. Perhaps we’ll be seeing it on public telly here in the States some day.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Memories Of 2011 - Material re-Issue At IPO - Chicago

Rather than try to recall a bunch of the year’s musical highlights in a single post, it seems more sensible to scatter them throughout the next few weeks. Here’s the first installment.

Note: Material re-Issue plays its final show this New Year’s Eve at Reggies at 2105 S. State Street in Chicago, with special guests Hushdrops and Redgrave.

The centerpiece of this year’s International Pop Overthrow - Chicago was the Material re-Issue performance at The Abbey Pub on April 23rd. According to IPO honcho David Bash, it was the first time one of his showcases had sold out in Chicago. Original members bassist-vocalist Ted Ansani and drummer Mike Zelenko joined forces with singer-guitarist Phil Angotti to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the release of Material Issue’s debut album, International Pop Overthrow.

Although no one could replace the band’s original lead-singer guitarist and composer, the late Jim Ellison, it was immediately clear Angotti had done his homework for this anniversary show. Material re-Issue performed the entire album in order, starting with the sterling trio of girl songs, “Valerie Loves Me,” “Diane,” and “Renee Remains The Same.” A thrilled audience gladly welcomed Material re-Issue back for a series of encores. With guitarist Jay O’Rourke of The Insiders joining in, the band performed “Next Big Thing,” “Goin’ Through Your Purse,” “Kim The Waitress,” and “Sixteen Tambourines.”

They could have played all night as far as the audience was concerned.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

CD Review: Slaughterhouse 5 - Wide Open

Another reason I like Facebook: Thanks to the band Go Time and musician Tim Ferguson of The Red Plastic Buddha for some kind words posted about my efforts for Broken Hearted Toy and the Illinois Entertainer. Here’s a review I originally wrote for the Illinois Entertainer in 1993.

Slaughterhouse 5’s debut CD, Wide Open, should bring a smile to the face of any Anglophile with 14 tracks of catchy melodies and unmistakably British vocals. Lead singer-songwriter Davy Lawrence uses clever lyrics to keep things engaging even when he’s depicting the pitfalls and frustrations of romantic affairs. The Manchester-based group has been racking up comparisons to The Buzzcocks with its energetic arrangements.

Lawrence is particularly effective capturing the anxiety of a guy overwhelmed with a fear of losing his girlfriend on the haunting “If She Leaves Me Again.” “You’re Not So Beautiful,” “Inconvenience,” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” bristle with hostility. Wide Open has its lighter moments as well, with “Right Next To Her” and “Don’t Go All Funny On Me,” and Slaughterhouse 5 switches from its usual frenetic pace for the more laid back satire of “The Stupid Ones.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Bit Behind My Time, As It Were

Last Friday’s Slumgullion was noticeably skimpy due to my holiday merry-making. As Bob Crachit would say, it’s only once a year, and it won’t be repeated. So here are some additional bits that should have been included.

The Seventh Annual Alex Chilton Birthday Bash takes place tomorrow night, December 28th, at The Empty Bottle in Chicago. In addition to honoring one of power pop’s most influential musicians, the event will benefit The National Association of Free Clinics. The scheduled performers are Adam Fitz, Certain Stars, For Pilots, Gran Prixx, Injured Parties, Jen Saint Stjärna, Khalid Hanifi, Love & Radiation, Michael Heaton, Phil Angotti, Urban Twang, Wells-next-the-Sea and Scott Niekelski of Go Time! There’s an $8 cover charge for all this fun, which gets underway at 8:00 PM. The Empty Bottle is located at 1035 N. Western Avenue.

Go Time! has a record release party for its new 16-song Boneshaker CD coming up on January 21st at The Horseshoe on Lincoln Avenue. Some of the tracks have already been getting airplay on college radio stations.

WhiteWolfSonicPrincess, the alt-rock band fronted by Black Forest Theatre founders James Moeller and Carla Hayden, has a gig at the Red Line Tap on January 6th. There are two other groups on the bill, which is a lot of music for a $5 cover charge. The show starts with Tron Ate My Baby at 9:30, WWSP takes the stage at 10:30, and Somersault Factory wraps things up at 11:30. WhiteWolfSonicPrincess recently completed its latest CD and will be actively promoting it in 2012. Looking forward to hearing it.

Meanwhile, The Telepaths, the more garage rock oriented combo Moeller formed with occasional Black Forest member Pat Über-Critic McDonald, has an “Eve of the Eve of the Eve” gig this Thursday, December 29th, at Ultra Lounge at 2169 N. Milwaukee in Chicago. Doors open at 9:00 PM.

Congratulations to WXRT on selling every last copy of Live From The Archives Volume 13. The Chicago FM radio progressive rock station always warns that procrastinating shoppers could be left out in the cold, but this is the first time I can think of that one of its limited edition collections has sold out so quickly. Was it a particularly strong lineup of artists, or was it the favorable review on Broken Hearted Toy? (See December 8th post.)

The Second Disc online newsletter recently reported that Squeeze member Glenn Tilbrook has just released When Daylight Appears: The Demo Tapes 1985 - 1991. The 20-track CD features stripped-down versions of melodic Squeeze gems like “Hourglass,” “Hits Of The Year,” “The Prisoner,” and “Footprints.” Currently, the only listing I see for it on Amazon is an import.

As someone who’s been known to smirk at the bad grammar and misspellings on Facebook posts, I was particularly embarrassed to discover that I had wished a number of bands a successful 2112. Can’t decide whether my excuse is going to be that I believe these musicians are going to live a very long time, or that they’re all going to record Rush tribute CDs in the coming year.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Christmas Change Of Pace

Now that everyone has watched It's A Wonderful Life at least once over the holiday season, here's a skit I wrote and performed with the Famous In The Future comedy group some years ago.

Clarence Returns

I can’t believe how crowded this store is today!
That’s what we get for shopping on Christmas Eve.
Whatever. Can you hold my bag while I try on these pants?
Waiting for someone?
Yeah. My wife’s trying on a pair of pants.
You have no wife.
How’s that?
You got your wish. No wife or family, no job, no missing $8,000. It’s like you
were never born.
(BACKING AWAY FROM CLARENCE) I’ll just wait over here for my wife.
You don’t have a wife!
If I’m not married, then what’s in this Victoria’s Secret bag?
Zuzu’s petals?
What are you, some kind of nut?
No, I’m your guardian angel.
I think you’ve had too much of some other kind of spirits.
Oh, tut tut. I may have had some flaming rum punch, but I know what I’m
doing. So, you still think everyone would be happier if you weren’t around?
They fit perfectly.
Great! Then let’s get out of here! (TAKES HOLD OF HER ARM.)
She doesn’t recognize you George! She’s an old maid!
Who are you calling an old maid?!
(TO CLARENCE) You’re just screwy, that’s all!
Clarence, you can’t keep coming down to earth like this every Christmas Eve!
But, I’ve got to help George Bailey!
George Bailey’s been in heaven for 40 years!
Then I got my wings?
Yeah, and an advancing case of senility.
You must be Vi, the town slut.
(TERRIFIED) Oh, Joseph!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Hipster Holiday With Carl

One last present under the tree. Here's a rerun of a post I first did a few years back.

Back in the year 2000, Carl Wayne took over for Allan Clarke as the lead vocalist for The Hollies. Although the band hadn’t released an album since 1983, it still toured extensively throughout Europe. Considering that Clarke had one of the more distinctive voices in rock, whoever replaced him would be facing a huge challenge. Wayne never attempted to imitate his predecessor. As a founding member of the highly regarded English band The Move, as well as a veteran of the stage, he had the confidence to be himself. In the four years he performed with The Hollies before passing away from throat cancer, he established himself as “the people’s Hollie” - - a performer who loved interacting with fans and bringing them closer to their favorite band.

In 2003, Wayne collaborated with the German synth due et cetera on a CD with three versions of the classic holiday song, “White Christmas.” The disc was made available through Wayne’s website, and fans could choose between an English language version or a German language version. The singer autographed each copy with a gold ink pen. The “True Feelings Mix” and the “Radio Mix” have slower, keyboards-based arrangements that showcase Wayne’s deep, soulful vocals. They’re nice, but perhaps a little too mainstream for a power pop fan’s taste. The “Swing Mix,” which features horns, finds Wayne taking a more peppy approach, and it’s a lot of fun. “White Christmas,” along with other Wayne and et cetera songs, like “Blackberry Way” and “Sorry Suzanne,” are available on iTunes.

The Hollies themselves never recorded a Christmas song, even though their famous three-part harmonies would have been well-suited to the task. Plus, the band reportedly took its name from the fact their first gig was on Christmas Eve, and the club was decorated with holly. The Hollies did engage in holiday revelry on British TV shows, but to my knowledge, none of that material was ever officially released. The closest I’ve found is “Julhalsning,” on the import CD, The Hollies - Swedish Hits And More. It’s a recording the band made in the mid-1960s for the blond-haired readers of Bild magazine, that features Graham Nash and the boys joking around and singing a very silly and very short version of - - - “White Christmas.”

Santa’s Grab Bag

Merry Christmas!

Here's another Post Of Christmas Past. This time, it's a collection of holiday tunes from various sources.

“Thanks For Christmas” Few bands can match XTC when it comes to crafting clever lyrics and indelible melodies. “Thanks For Christmas” stands out on New Wave Xmas, a Rhino various artists compilation that also includes “2000 Miles” by The Pretenders and “Christmas Day” by Squeeze. Introduced with some triumphant horn playing, “Thanks For Christmas” finds XTC using gorgeous harmonies while creating scenes like Santa’s reindeer resting after a hard-working Christmas Eve and ecstatic kids decorating trees.

“Come Around” Appearing on Mindy Smith’s 2007 My Holiday CD, this tune evokes vintage Bangles with ringing guitars and layered vocals as it calls on children, women, and men to celebrate Christmas by worshiping together.

“George Bailey” A lot of current holiday songs mention It’s A Wonderful Life, but Brooklyn-based singer-bass player Carolyn Sills goes them one better by devoting an entire song to Frank Capra’s put-upon hero. Set to an inviting arrangement that mixes twangy Country & Western music with a bit of the 1960s girl group sound, “George Bailey” merrily whisks us off to Bedford Falls. Sills notes that the character won her over as a kid. “George Bailey, I’ll love you ‘til the day I die,” she sings on the chorus, echoing the words of Mary Hatch. “Every Christmas Eve, you make me cry.”

“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” The Pretenders recorded this gem for the 1987 charity LP, A Very Special Christmas, and it remains one of the best versions of this popular standard.

“What’s This?” A musical sleigh ride from the soundtrack of Nightmare Before Christmas, this fully orchestrated song has quick rhymes and clever imagery. “What’s This?” follows Jack Skellington through Christmas Town as he discovers a holiday that’s completely foreign to him. Jack, of course, is more accustomed to the gross and ghoulish trappings of his domain, Halloween. “What’s this?” he continually asks in amazement as he encounters snow, caroling, gifts and elves for the first time.

“Winter Wonderland” The 1994 CD A Hello Dave Christmas With Friends aimed to raise funds to help children afflicted with or affected by HIV/AIDS. Imagine your car breaking down on a deserted country road while you’re driving to some party on Christmas Eve. You walk to the nearest open venue, which happens to be a rustic bar. Hello Dave is onstage and has the local townsfolk up and dancing to its Country & Western versions of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Silent Night,” and other classics. “Winter Wonderland” rocks to the loping bass lines played by Willis Potocki and some spirited harmonies from vocalist-guitarist Mike Himebaugh and vocalist Paul Bolger.

“We Wish You A Merry Christmas” Acoustic Christmas, released by The Daugherty McPartland Group in 1996, celebrates the holidays with an easy going vibe. Tim Daugherty’s fluid piano playing takes center stage throughout the CD, but Dennis McPartland on percussion, Bob Thompson on saxes and flutes, and Jim Munro on bass are also impressive. People who enjoyed Vince Guaraldi’s score for A Charlie Brown Christmas will find a lot to like here, and in fact, “Christmas Time Is Here” is included on Acoustic Christmas. “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” is both classy and fun, and like all of Acoustic Christmas, the perfect soundtrack for a friendly, holiday get-together.

“Double-0-Santa” The 2002 holiday compilation 50,000,000 Elves Fans Can’t Be Wrong lives up to its title with a variety of fun tracks, and “Double-0-Santa” by the Boston based band Seks Bomba is one the best. This lounge tune mixes the concepts of a Secret Santa and a secret agent, with humorous results. “Mistakes are bad for business, says the man called Father Christmas, AKA Double-0-Santa,” vocalist-guitarist Chris Cote reveals over a slinky guitar and keyboards arrangement. Santa isn’t too cool accept snacks, but it should be understood that he likes his “egg nog stirred, never shaken.”

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Time With Chris Stamey And Friends

One last weekend of Posts Of Christmas Past. Hope everyone is enjoying a festive holiday.

Back in 1993, the release of a holiday album featuring The dBs and Big Star had visions of catchy songs dancing in the heads of power pop fans. Christmas Time by Chris Stamey And Friends not only delivered the gifts, it had the feel of an old-fashioned variety show. The performers were talented, fun, and at times, even devout.

Host Chris Stamey, a founding member of The dB’s, kicked things off with the catchy “Christmas Time.” Stamey also teamed up with vocalist-guitarist Wes Lachot for the wistful “Christmas Is The Only Time (I Think Of You)” and joined vocalist-keyboards player Cathy Harrington on the high-charged romance of “You’re What I Want For Christmas.” Harrington also entertained with her own festive song, “Sha La La.”

Big Star, the band most power pop musicians cite as a major influence, checked in with an original rocking hymn called “Jesus Christ,” and founder Alex Chilton offered a positively cozy acoustic version of “The Christmas Song.”

Vocalist-guitarist Peter Holsapple of The dB’s (and later a touring member of R.E.M.) served up a simple but beautiful “O Holy Night” while acoustic guitarist Brent Lambert’s “Silent Nocturne” was an instrumental take on “Silent Night.” Brent Lambert and Kirsten Lambert performed a low-key but engaging “Silver Bells,” and singer Syd Straw dished out holiday puns with her rendition of “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear.”

The dB’s sounded like they were having a blast during the recording of this CD, especially on the high-speed “Holiday Spirit” and a totally loopy take on “Feliz Navidad.” In 2006, an expanded version of Christmas Time was released, with additional tracks from Don Dixon, Marshall Crenshaw, and other artists.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Slumgullion #93

Photo from Susanna Hoffs Facebook page.

Best wishes for a safe and fun holiday weekend!

They won’t be giving out presents or singing Christmas carols, but Aaron Fox & The Reliables will be unwrapping new songs from a forthcoming CD during an acoustic show at the Uncommon Ground on Devon Avenue tonight. The power pop band will also be performing stripped down selections from its Late Too Soon CD. Show time is 9:00 PM, and there’s a $5 cover.

Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles has a melodic new song called “This Is The Place” that she’ll be performing at the 3rd Annual 30A Songwriter Festival in January. It’s an easy-going tribute to the South Walton area of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, where the event is being held. Hoffs has a solo gig on a Friday night and The Bangles will join Matthew Sweet for an afternoon show on the following day. The 3rd Annual 30A Songwriter Festival runs from January 13 -15.

The Haymakers Reunion at Durty Nellie’s in Palatine on Sunday, February 26th has lined up The Hounds, Bitch, Pezband Allstars, Madfox, One Arm Bandit, and Tantrum for its celebration/remembrance of the popular 1970s-80s rock club. Ticket price is $15, and there will also be t shirts on sale for $10. Check out the Haymakers Facebook page for more information.

Former Off Broadway vocalist Cliff Johnson recently announced on Facebook that he’s forming a new band called JohnsonSleezer with veteran guitarist John Sleezer and bassist Gordon Patriarca. Other musicians will be added based on upcoming auditions. I’m not familiar with Sleezer, but I first met Patriarca when we were both scribes for a paper called Metro Calendar.

This was before he went on to a varied and successful career performing with the power pop bands The Trouts and The Hotheads; the Cajun flavored The Remainders; the controversial Stevie Starlite; guitar slinger Don Griffin, and the Celtic band The Chicago Rovers. It should be interesting to hear the results of his new collaboration with Johnson and Sleezer.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Have A Jolly Trolley Christmas

Trolley’s Star Of Wonder comes on heels of the Milwaukee-based band’s well-crafted CD, Things That Shine And Glow (see December 12th post). Think of it as a Christmas bonus for power pop fans. The EP, which features three originals and two cover versions of well-known carols, is filled with ringing guitars, harmony vocals, and energetic arrangements.

“Describe Eternity” is least yule-inclined of the bunch; it’s an irresistible love song with lines like, “I know that eternity is you here with me.” The mid-tempo “It’s Christmas” deals with loneliness during the holiday season, and “Christmas In The Marketplace” explores complex emotions amidst all the gift shopping and cookie baking. “We Three Kings” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” stand out for the way Trolley stays true to the original sentiment of these classics while reinventing them in a power pop vein.

Just one question: What the heck is on the cover? My guess is a Beatles doll wearing a Santa hat. Star Of Wonder is available as a digital download on Trolley’s bandcamp page and could be a last minute present for that power pop fan on your Christmas list.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

CD Review: Givers - In Light

Photo from Givers Facebook page.

When WXRT booked the Givers to play at its Live From The Archives Volume 13 bash at Martyrs’ earlier this month, the Louisiana band was virtually unknown in the Chicago area. That changed after an exuberant set led by singer-guitarist Taylor Guarisco and singer-percussionist Tiffany Lamson had audience members cheering and crowding around the stage. In Light is an adventurous debut CD that offers more of the chaotic fun that made the Givers so enjoyable in a live setting.

“Up Up Up” has the feel of children joyously playing a game, and introduces the dynamic harmonies of Guarisco and Lamson. William Henderson’s imaginative synths and keyboards create a space age ambience even as the rhythm section of drummer Kirby Campbell and bassist Josh Leblanc pays homage to the band’s Cajun roots. “Ripe,” which features some of Lamson’s best vocals, is an explosive song with abrupt tempo shifts, while “Meantime” is irresistibly festive. Most of these 10 tracks veer off in various directions, with Guarisco and Lamson taking turns on lead vocals and frequently joining forces. In Light is a unique and thoroughly enjoyable effort.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Challenge Of Changes

Author Cherie Colyer is making rather merry today, and it’s not just because there are only five days left before Christmas, or one day before my wife’s birthday. Colyer’s Young Adult novel Embrace, a paranormal romance, is now available through Omnific Publishing,, and Barnes & Noble. There’s a Virtual Party taking place on her blogsite, and while I don’t fully comprehend the technology behind this event, I’m happy to participate.

One of the themes that runs through Embrace is the challenge of coping with change. Colyer’s main character Madison doesn’t appreciate the curves life has thrown her way, which include the end of a longtime friendship, as well as some mysterious circumstances. But she does perk up when she meets the attractive though secretive Isaac. Some changes can be beneficial.

There was a time when working on a novel usually resulted in a pile of crumpled typing paper on the floor. Thankfully, we live in a time when typos can be fixed quickly and entire paragraphs can be deleted or moved somewhere else in the manuscript. Even veteran writers who initially resisted the new technology, have come to see its amazing advantages. Things always get more interesting when people take chances, overcome their anxieties, and embark on a new adventure.

Like Colyer, I belong to the Northwest Illinois Chapter of the Society Of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and attend meetings where members share their work and exchange feedback. I had a sneak peek at the intriguing Embrace long before Colyer started posting teasers on Twitter and Facebook. It’s exciting to see one of our members achieving success.

So let's raise a virtual glass of champagne to congratulate Cherie Colyer on her book Embrace.

Monday, December 19, 2011

CD Review: Peggy Sue - Acrobats

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

The deceptively named English trio Peggy Sue continues to delve into the dark and mysterious on its sophomore effort, Acrobats although with a more amplified sound than on its 2010 debut, Fossils and Other Phantoms. Vocalists-guitarists Katy and Rosa (the band members go by first name only) weave harmonies throughout ominous but melodic arrangements, much like the female quartet Warpaint, while Olly adds dramatic drums and percussion. The lyrics can be murky and cryptic, but most seem to deal with power struggles within relationships.

The woman portrayed in the hypnotic “Song & Dance” laments “But he gave me nothing he did not want back,” while “Cut My Teeth” views a first romance as a learning experience. Peggy Sue taps into traditional English music on “Funeral Beat,” while the energetic “D.U.M.B.O.” feels more like a live folk rock performance. Melancholy strings augment lines like, “Come away from the window, I’m afraid of what you’ll see” on “Shadows,” but the most harrowing moments come on the final track, “There Always Was.” “There’s trouble in my blood,” the song’s protagonist notes over a tribal drum beat. “There always was.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas A Go Go - Part Two

The second half of this weekend's Post Of Christmas Past.

Little Steven Van Zandt was determined to increase the allure of this compilation by throwing in some genuine rarities. It’s safe to say there aren’t too many other holiday CDs that have a surf rock reinvention of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” delivered by 1950s kids show host, Soupy Sales. Listening to “Santa Claus Is Surfin’ To Town,” you can almost hear Little Steven chuckling like he does when he laughs at his own jokes on his radio show, Underground Garage. The clever lyrics come in waves of surfer lingo, as Sales describes Santa hanging 10 and delivering toys on his board. People who don’t live near the water can expect to see him making his rounds in his woody.

Christmas songs from time to time have depicted women with romantic designs on Santa, and that’s what the five ladies in the Swedish band, The Cocktail Slippers have in mind on “Santa’s Coming Home.” This catchy number laments the amount of time Santa’s work keeps him away via a Go-Go’s style arrangement with some fun vocal interplay. Actor Joe Pesci brings a wiseguy treatment to Gene Autry’s “If It Doesn’t Snow On Christmas.” Backed by a big band and spouting 1940s style patter like, “I would really feel much better if the mooch could fly a plane,” Pesci makes this version sound like it could have been recorded around the same time as Autry’s.

The Seattle-based Boss Martians give Charles Dickens a psychedelic spin with their high speed rock song, “3 Ghosts (A Modern X-mas Carol).” The band adds a touch of prog rock via Nick C’s energetic keyboard playing while vocalist-guitarist Evan Foster gives a first-person account of Scrooge’s eventful night, starting with a visit from Jacob Marley.

Singer Rufus Thomas is probably best remembered for his 1963 hit “Walking The Dog,” as well as an earlier duet with his daughter Carla, but he was also an R&B pioneer who first started recording in the late 1940s. The funky “I’ll Be Your Santa” is aimed at women instead of kids, and Thomas has his own concept of what bringing holiday joy entails. The bass guitar is the most prominent instrument in an arrangement that recalls Sly & The Family Stone, while Thomas’s vocals are both ribald and soulful.

Aussie garage rockers The Chevelles unleash a spirited take on a treasured hymn with the mostly instrumental “Come All Ye Faithful Surfer Girls.” The Electric Prunes’ psychedelic and slightly unsettling version of “Jingle Bells” has a spoken word intro that includes a special holiday greeting for Underground Garage listeners. The band then slinks into a slowed-down, heavy guitar arrangement, with vocals that sound like they’re coming from a chorus of over-served elves.

Ray Davies of The Kinks has always been a master of satire, and on “Father Christmas,” he leads the band through a funny tale of a retail store Santa being pummeled by destitute children. Set in Britain’s economically troubled 1970s, the wry lyrics describe the kids screaming, “Don’t give my sister a cuddly toy/We don’t want a jigsaw or monopoly money/We only want the real McCoy.” One kid wants a job for his father so the family will have food to eat. Although Davies clearly meant the song to be funny, he sneaks in a charitable message that’s in tune with the season. “Have yourself a merry merry Christmas/Have yourself a good time/But remember the kids who got nothin’/While you’re drinking down your wine.”

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