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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

29. Alejandro Escovedo: Bourbonitis Blues

I do not claim to always know of what I speak. Those of you who choose to have conversations with me daily can attest to that. However, when it comes to writing, I usually research like nobody's bidness! I've had lots of fun reviewing the first 28 albums on Marc, Turn That Down! I enjoy sharing the music I like with you and sharing what I know from my own experience. It's important, as a writer, to write about what you know, and up to now, the albums I've reviewed have been some of my best friends. It's been easy to write about them. I do enjoy researching each particular album and sharing what I learn after looking for that extra tidbit of interesting info...a piece that might nudge a reader to try something new.  And now, I am going out on a limb at #29 with Alejandro Escovedo's 1999 album Bourbonitis Blues, because it breaks the mold...shuns the format....ixnay with the atternpay. Of Bourbonitis Blues and Alejandro Escovedo I knew next to nothing last week. It was the unwelcome visit to the east coast by Hurricane Irene that is responsible for today's post...but we'll put a pin in that...I'll explain in a bit.

Alejandro Escovedo was there when punk began...first-wave punk called The Nuns (big enough and punk enough to open The Sex Pistols' last show). The Escovedos are a big Mexican-American family...mostly all musicians (including his niece, drummer Sheila E...see...there's one of those tidbits of info). I mention his family because when the 80s came around he changed his style to more of a roots rock/alternative country sound (in the bands Rank and File and True Believers with his brother Javier). However, it wasn't until the 1990's and the release of his first solo albums that he really found himself, musically speaking.

Bourbonitis Blues was Escovedo's sixth solo album containing nine songs (five of which are cover songs); which leads me to Hurricane Irene and how I came to write about this album. I wanted to be funny and liven the spirits of friends and family on the east coast by posting a song's video on facebook about "Irene" (as if that's all it would've taken..."We're anticipating one of the scariest moments of our lives, but look Honey...Marc posted a video of a song with the word 'Irene' in the title. Everything's going to be just fine now!"). So, while searching my iTunes library to see if I had any "Irene" songs, I came across "Irene Wilde" by Escovedo (I've had this album for a long time, but really never gave it any play). As I listened to see if it was the song that would make everyone smile...make them forget about the impending onslaught bearing down upon them I was. I know that sounds silly, but, at that moment, it was one of the most magnificent songs I had ever heard. I don't know why I never "heard" it before. Anyway, I didn't post it on facebook. I decided to devote some time to it and now, here it is.

"Irene Wilde" is a beautiful song written in 1976 by Ian Hunter (of Mott The Hoople). It's the story of Hunter's rise to stardom as a result of his being rejected at 16 by his lifelong desire, and Escovedo's acoustic guitar and string arrangement does it some wonderful justice. It's a song with a familiar feel. I don't think I'd ever heard it before, but it sure sounded like the comfort of an old blanket. Other cover songs include a wispy-soft "Pale Blue Eyes" (Velvet Underground), the pretty "Amsterdam" by John Cale, and a super version...lazy and strange...of The Gun Club's "Sex Beat" (a song from my recent list). One standout from his original tracks is the lead song "I Was Drunk", a slow-rolling tale spun from an experience common to many. Other essential songs include "Everybody Loves Me"(the chorus of which I can imagine being sung loudly by a bar full of drunks), and "Sacramento & Polk" which harkens back to days of punk...powerful guitars that start loud and stay there until the soft surprise of a violin finish.

Bourbonitis Blues is all I know of Alejandro Escovedo, but it won't be for long. Most reviews of this album steer the reader toward other Escovedo releases..."better" ones. I can't wait to check on that. Here is a video for "I Was Drunk" with Escovedo (a fine guitarist in his own right) playing alongside the incredible David Pulkingham in 2007 (Pulkingham's expertise kicks in around the 2:35 mark). A live and loose version of "Irene Wilde" follows. The images are somewhat blurry and annoying, and the song seems more haphazard than planned, but its beauty shines through just the same.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

28. Shriekback: Oil And Gold

I've said before that the musical heyday for my ears was 1985/1986. You've already read about The Cure's The Head On The Door, The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead, and The Cult's Love...and there are many more reviews to come, as it was during this time when lesser-known underground bands began gracing mainstream ears. Today, I highlight an obscure and very underrated album from 1985 that finally gets a facelift this the form of a remastered 2CD edition including B-sides and live tracks. It's one of my absolute favorites...Oil And Gold by the band Shriekback.

In 1981, former XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews and former Gang Of Four bassist Dave Allen joined guitarist/vocalist Carl Marsh to create Shriekback. After 3 years of marginal dance chart success and label hopping Shriekback made Martyn Barker an official band member (he had signed on as drummer to help with the previous recording) and recruited the ubiquitous ex-Damned guitarist Lu Edmonds...thereby adding muscle to the somewhat tinny dance sounds of the previous albums Care (1983) and Jam Science (1984). The result is an eclectic mix of jungle-thumping dance music (slinking into punk rock when Lu Edmonds is involved). That's the overall feel of the album, however, the band weaves four beautifully sinister pillow-soft ballads into the fabric. The album succeeds despite the fact that Carl Marsh left the band midway through the recording (Barry Andrews took over the vocal duties). It flows smoothly from track one to track ten.

Oil And Gold opens with the 1-2-3 punch of "Malaria", "Everything That Rises Must Converge" (borrowing the title from the short story by Flannery O'Connor), and "Fish Below The Ice" (all sung by Marsh). These are followed by two of the slower songs "This Big Hush" and "Faded Flowers" (Incidentally, director Michael Mann was a Shriekback fan, and used "This Big Hush" is his 1986 thriller Manhunter...the first to feature the serial killer Hannibal Lecter. He also used "Faded Flowers" in Band Of The Hand). Both (sung by Andrews) are tremendous songs nestled in perfectly amongst the higher octane tracks.

Then comes "Nemesis", Shriekback's most well-known song. Based upon the Nemesis hypothesis first proposed in 1984, it states that a hypothetical dwarf star is out there orbiting the sun and that it gets a little too close every 26 million years causing mass extinctions. "Nemesis", the song, sounds like our party theme the night before it all hits the fan. It's big and brash, and it sounds like nothing Shriekback had done before. It's a great song that showcases the intelligence of Shriekback's lyrics as well. Name another band that rhymes "parthenogenesis" successfully in a recurring chorus.

Shriekback are still around producing wonderful music (welcome back Carl Marsh). And again, this, in fact...the 2CD edition of Oil And Gold is released giving this great 1985 album the extra attention it deserves. The original disc is remastered and a second CD contains B-sides and live tracks. Here is the video for "Nemesis". It's safe to say we won't be around for the next cycle of mass extinction (at least according to the Nemesis hypothesis), but if I get word that something major is going down, this song will be on my turntable.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

100 Great 80s Songs from 100 Different Artists

It feels good to be back! I spent the last few weeks in the Netherlands having a great time with new family (new to me) and drinking some fantastic new beers (again, new to me). The beer drinking experience was so good that I want to post about it separately. For now, I wanted to get reacquainted with you by posting more of a discussion topic than an album review.

One evening, in the town of Groet (near the North Sea coast in North Holland), soaked in La Chouffe while enjoying some new family members, I mustered a bit of Dutch courage and began a discussion of 80s music at around midnight...the best songs from all the bands we could remember. The discussion lasted until the beer was gone, but a massive list we concocted. I've arranged 100 of my favorite songs from the 80s...without repeating a quasi alphabetical order.

The music I'm feeling here begins post-punk (about 1978), goes through the goth stages of the early 80s, the alternative new wave of the mid 80s, and ends about 1988 (only one song from this list was released in 1989). A new style began to take over in 1989 leading into the next decade. While it's great music, I don't think anyone would classify Jane's Addiction, Stone Roses, or even Pixies as distinctly 80s.

I'd love to hear your ideas. What would you add to the list? What would you take off? Did I get the best song from your favorite band? Tell me, where did I go wrong? Click on songs for videos...some videos are official, some are live, some were unavailable and simply have stills throughout the audio. See you soon with another album review.

ABC <><> Be Near Me
Adam & The Ants <><> Antmusic
The Alarm <><> Strength
apb <><> Shoot You Down
The B-52's <><> Private Idaho
B-Movie <><> Nowhere Girl
Bauhaus <><> Bela Lugosi's Dead
The Beastie Boys <><> She's On It
Berlin <><> Sex (I'm A...)
Big Audio Dynamite <><> E=MC2
Billy Bragg <><> A New England
Black Uhuru <><> What Is Life
Blue Zoo <><> Somewhere In The World (There's A Cowboy Smiling)
Book Of Love <><> Boy
The Buzzcocks <><> Ever Fallen In Love?
The Call <><> Everywhere I Go
Captain Sensible <><> Wot
China Crisis <><> King In A Catholic Style
The Church <><> Reptile
The Clash <><>Train In Vain
The Cult <><> She Sells Sanctuary
The Cure <><> In Between Days
The Damned <><> Eloise
Dave Edmunds <><> Girls Talk
Dead Or Alive <><> You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)
Depeche Mode <><> Everything Counts
Devo <><> Girl U Want
Duran Duran <><> Rio
Echo & The Bunnymen <><> The Killing Moon
Elvis Costello <><> (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea
The English Beat <><> Mirror In The Bathroom
Erasure <><> Sometimes
Fishbone <><> Bonin' In The Boneyard
Gene Loves Jezebel <><> Desire (Come And Get It)
The Glove <><> Like An Animal
The Gun Club <><> Sex Beat
Haircut 100 <><> Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)
Heaven 17 <><> Let Me Go
The Hoodoo Gurus <><> Like Wow-Wipeout
The Human League <><> Don't You Want Me
Husker Du <><> Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely
Ian Dury & The Blockheads <><> Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick
Icicle Works <><> Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)
INXS <><> Don't Change
The Jam <><> Town Called Malice
The Jim Carroll Band <><> People Who Died
Joe Jackson <><> On Your Radio
Joy Division <><> Love Will Tear Us Apart
Kate Bush <><> Hounds Of Love
Killing Joke <><> Eighties
King <><> Love And Pride
The Knack <><> My Sharona
Ledernacken <><> Amok
Love And Rockets <><> Ball Of Confusion
Madness <><> One Step Beyond
Marshall Crenshaw <><> Someday, Someway
Men Without Hats <><> The Safety Dance
Midnight Oil <><> The Power And The Passion
Ministry <><> Work For Love
Modern English <><> I Melt With You
Naked Eyes <><> Always Something There To Remind Me
New Order <><> Temptation
Nick Lowe <><> Cruel To Be Kind
The Normal <><> Warm Leatherette
The Ocean Blue <><> Between Something And Nothing
Oingo Boingo <><> Only A Lad
OMD <><> If You Leave
Our Daughter's Wedding <><> Lawnchairs
The Pet Shop Boys <><> West End Girls
Polyrock <><> Romantic Me
The Psychedelic Furs <><> Love My Way
Public Image Limited <><> Rise
Quando Quango <><> Love Tempo
R.E.M. <><> It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
The Replacements <><> Alex Chilton
Romeo Void <><> Never Say Never
The Screaming Blue Messiahs <><> Smash The Market Place
Secession <><> Touch
Shriekback <><> Nemesis
Sigue Sigue Sputnik <><> Love Missile F1-11
Simple Minds <><> Don't You (Forget About Me)
Siouxsie & The Banshees <><> Cities In Dust
The Smiths <><> How Soon Is Now?
The Specials <><> Gangsters
Split Enz <><> I Got You
Squeeze <><> Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)
Stephen "Tin Tin" Duffy <><> Kiss Me (With Your Mouth)
The Stranglers <><> Golden Brown
The Sugarcubes <><> Birthday
The Swinging Laurels <><> Rodeo
Talking Heads <><> This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)
Talk Talk <><> It's My Life
Tears For Fears <><> Change
The The <><> Infected
Timezone <><> World Destruction
U2 <><> New Year's Day
Violent Femmes <><> Blister In The Sun
Wall Of Voodoo <><> Mexican Radio
Wide Boy Awake <><> Slang Teacher
XTC <><> Dear God
Yaz <><> Situation