Friday, December 5, 2008

Nada Surf @ The Trocadero 12/4/08

"I'm just a happy kid /Stuck with the heart of an old punk." - "Happy Kid"

The biography of New York-based Nada Surf reads like a warning for all aspiring singer/songwriters. And the band issues a warning to other bands on their latest album in the song "See These Bones." The band formed in the early 90's when longtime school friends, singer/guitarist Matthew Caws and bassist Daniel Lorca, reunited. After trying their hand at a few different projects, they settled on Nada Surf. After some European-only EP's, one of their demos found its way into the hands of Ric Ocasek and shortly after the band was signed to Elektra.

In 1996 they released High/Low with Ocasek producing. The band was viewed as another version of Weezer, which at that time was a good thing. The single "Popular" became a surprise radio hit and things were going well. When they delivered their follow-up, The Proximity Effect, in 1998 the label refused to release it because they felt it didn't have anything on it that would be a potential hit. This was during the consolidation of the major labels during the late 90's, where this fate befell so many other promising acts (e.g., The Toadies, Huffamoose, The Caulfields, Aimee Mann, etc.) who had showed potential but lost momentum and saw their fanbases dwindle and then move on to other acts during the lull. Many artists completed albums and then were told that their label had dropped them or was refusing to release the album because of a lack of commercial potential.

And then it took Nada Surf, like many of the others, a few years to buy back the rights to the album and/or to get out of the current deal and get signed by another label. In Nada Surf's case, the label released the album in Europe, but refused to release it in the U.S. And it would be almost 2 years later when Nada Surf got the rights back to the album and released it in the U.S. in 2000. But by then most music fans were wondering, "Who is Nada Surf? Oh yeah, they had that hit a few years ago? What was the name of that song?"

The Proximity Effect was certainly no Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but it was a solid album and Nada Surf soldiered onward. They didn't tour much so they were basically on hiatus from about 1997 to 2002. They signed to Barsuk in 2002 and shortly after released their career best album Let Go. Now Nada Surf was showing their power pop influences - think more Lemonheads or Death Cab for Cutie, than Weezer. They have released a handful of covers in recent years that highlight what their influences are: The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love", The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?," the Smiths' "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out", Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart", and OMD's "If You Leave" (one-hit wonder from Pretty in Pink). So the Nada Surf stew of influences is basically 60's pop/rock, 80's Brit/pop/shoegazer bands, and some 80's pre-Grunge punk.

They followed up Let Go with The Weight Is a Gift in 2005 and then Lucky in 2008. Both were a notch below Let Go, but still very good records.

I was kind of disappointed that the Troc was so empty. It was supposed to be an all-ages show, I thought. But the 2nd act, Delta Spirit, didn't end up finishing their set until after 10. They were worth seeing. They had lo-fi rootsy vibe going that reminded me of Wilco or Dr. Dog. The 5-piece band consisted of singer/guitar, guitar, bass, drums, and multi-instrumentalist (keyboards and additional percussion). I think maybe originally it wasn't an all-ages show and they changed it to all ages a few weeks ago to try to sell some more tickets to kids under 21. Inside it was set up as usual for all-ages shows with drinking only permitted in the balcony area. But the bands didn't change their schedule, so it seems something was amiss between the bands and the venue. You can't play an all-ages show with 3 bands when the doors don't open until 8, especially if the headliner is going to play for 90 minutes and the 2nd act is going to play for nearly an hour. At about 11:45pm a lot of people started leaving. I guess they had to catch trains home and figured the show would be over by 11:30.

Nada Surf finally hit the stage at around 10:35pm and finished up around 12:15am. It was a very economical set, consisting of 23 songs in the 100 or so minutes. Only 2 songs, "Treehouse" and "Telescope" (from their initial pre-1996 EP, Karmic) were from their 90's albums. The rest of the set was from their last 3 releases, including 10 from Let Go, 4 from The Weight Is a Gift, and 7 from Lucky.

They seemed to realize they were getting a late start and appeared to rush through the first 4 or 5 songs before settling down. They pretty much played everything I wanted to hear except "Are You Lightning?", "Imaginary Friends", and "Concrete Bed." I thought "Imaginary Friends" would be a good set closer. But I can't really find anything I would have replaced with these songs. There were a lot of calls for "Popular" from the crowd during the set, but they didn't oblige. I guess this is their version of the Lemonheads' "Mrs. Robinson" cover. I did read that they played a twangy acoustic version of "Popular" a few times earlier this year, sort of deconstructing and reclaiming it again.

The crowd was a wide mix between college kids and some people with gray hair. It was funny a few times Caws said they were going to play an "old song" and it ended up being something from 5 years ago, when I was expecting something from the 1990's. I guess it's a habit due to some people at the shows only knowing the latest release. Old 97's seems to do this frequently at shows too – announcing the title and album name of anything they play that is earlier than their 3rd album, acknowledging there are probably some newbies in the audience.

1. Hi-Speed Soul
2. Happy Kid
3. Treehouse
4. Whose Authority
5. Weightless
6. I Like What You Say
7. Killian’s Red
8. Fruit Fly
9. Inside of Love
10. Beautiful Beat
11. The Fox
12. Ice on the Wing
13. Telescope
14. See These Bones
15. Treading Water
16. Your Legs Grow
17. The Way You Wear Your Head

18. Blizzard of ‘77
19. Neither Heaven Nor Space
20. Do It Again
21. Blonde on Blonde
22. Always Love
23. Blankest Year

Friday, October 31, 2008

What this championship means to me.....

What is it about baseball that turns grown men into sappy, overly sentimental fools when the hometown team they rooted for as kids win it all (especially after a long drought)?

There were so many thoughts going through my head as the anticipation was building.

I was born at the right time to grow up a baseball fan. Philadelphia natives who are my age or a few years older started following baseball during the golden age of Phillies baseball. We grew up spoiled. From 1976-1983, the team made the playoffs 6 times in 8 years, making the WS twice and winning it once. Really from about 1974-1983, it was the golden era for all 4 pro sports teams. During that time the Phillies, Eagles, 76ers, and Flyers would combine to make it to the championship round in their sport 10 times in 10 years, winning 4 of them. We were Title Town there for a few years, peaking in 1980 when all 4 teams played for the championship that year, and in true Philadelphia fashion went 1 for 4.

I obviously remember the pain of the 1993 World Series ending and I barely remember 1983 at all. But I vividly remember the 1980 World Series, even though I was a mere 7 years old at the time. The games used to start and end earlier back then, but even at 7 years old, I stayed up for the end of the night games.

I still remember lying on the couch watching the end of the 1980 World Series. It probably ended around 11pm or so. I remember the Boone drop/Rose rebound catch when it happened. I also remember not being nervous when Tug McGraw got into and out of two bases loaded 1-out jams in the 8th and 9th inning of that final game, only allowing 1 run total in a 4-1 Phillies win. I remember Tug walking off the mound after the top of the 8th after he got the last out to end the inning, patting his heart with his left hand and breathing a sigh of relief. I'm sure now I'd be pacing and wouldn't be able to watch. Back then I just assumed they were going to win. I didn’t know any better. Philadelphia sports teams won back then. Period.

I also remember something missing about 1980: my dad wasn't there. My dad was present during just about every significant baseball game memory I have from when I was a kid, except the final few innings of the clinching game in the 1980 World Series. He was working third shift in those days, so he left for work probably around the 6th or 7th inning on that Tuesday night, feeling pretty confident that they would win, with a 4-0 lead and Lefty dealing as usual. But the fact that he lived his entire life and never saw his beloved Phillies ever get to raise their arms above their heads after the final out in a championship clinching game, always makes me appreciate moments like this more. Sure, he got to listen to it on the radio and see highlights the next day, but it’s not the same. But I do remember my brothers celebrating and then my mom finally making me go to bed, but yet I still was awake listening to all the revelers outside for hours longer.

In some ways, I just wish my daughter was a little older to appreciate this more. Because it may be another 30 years before she sees it again. She's gotten into it a little through her school activities, but she really doesn't understand what is going on yet. So I've got to experience this feeling as a naïve, wide-eyed child and now as a cynical adult. It's a shame that so many people were in their mid 30's like I am now when they experienced the 1980 championship, thinking more would follow, and they never lived long enough to experience that feeling again. I hope I am more fortunate. Not to mention the first 97 years of Phillies baseball from 1883 to 1980 that was title-less. And when the A's were here, they last won a title in 1930, so from 1930 to 1980, there were only a few years where the teams even contended for the playoffs, let alone championships. The A's were terrible for most of their time here from the mid 1930's until they left for Kansas City in 1955. There were never any near-misses in there like the Red Sox had over the years.

This is all I can ask for. It'd be nice to not have such long gaps in between experiencing this, but I can’t really complain again for at least another 5 years now. If I can experience this same feeling in football in the next 10 years or so, there's not much more I can ask for in sports. See, I don't need a dynasty. I just need to experience this feeling once or twice over the course of my lifetime...or once every decade or two would be nice. Once every 10-12 years in each sport is fine. There’s just enough time to suffer a little and then appreciate it.

Oh and here's a cosmic coincidence – the calendar days fall on the same weekdays in 2008 as they did in 1980 (i.e., October 29th was on a Wednesday in 1980, just as in 2008). Also, "80" and "08" is perfect symmetry. And for now, the Phillies own the date of October 29th. This was the only time in the history of baseball that a game was ever played on this date. That will probably change starting next year, as the postseason extends even further with Game 7 of the World Series scheduled to be played on November 5th. But the Phillies will at least always have the history of being the first team to win a game played on October 29th. And other numerology - the #29, October 29th - 4 teams + 25 years = 29. Cole Hamels was MVP. He is #35. 3+5=8…..”08.

And next week we will likely have a Presidential election that also results in a similar but opposite political realignment as the one in 1980.

From “no hope” to Know Hope.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Phillies win the 2008 World Series!

Here are some pictures of the fans on Broad St, taken with my crappy 4-yeaar old camera phone.

Hard to climbing up on street lamp poles.

Fans dancing on top of a parked Septa bus.

Almost as many as people with Obama gear on as Phillies gear. Here's a woman holding an Obama/Biden sign sitting on someone's shoulders, a few feet away from my friend Brian (in the red jacket and cap and gray shirt).

The guy in the black hat looked like Cole Hamels' stunt double. You can't really see very well in the picture though. Also people in the background climbing up on stuff.

And finally just 4 general shots of fans gathering and celebrating above.

Bud Selig

Would you let this [bleeping] guy manage one of your bowel movements?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Oh well

have to go get 'em tomorrow. Hopefully Blanton will be bringing more to the table than Moyer.

home plate umps

These home plate umps are calling strikes on check swings way too freely. How about appealing?

Matt Cassel....


There's a reason this guy didn't start in college.


In the SD-NE, they keep showing the blonde cheerleader with the fake tits popping out of her top. I feel like I'm at Risque.


I know they are up 2-0 in this series, but the Phils have been playing this game with the same intensity of a laugher in May. A little urgency would be nice. Get some baserunners, work some counts, etc. Make the Dodgers use a few key short men in the bullpen at least....could help you tomorrow.

Gates TD

I have a good shot to win my IFL game!

Joe Buck and Al Michaels

They have to be my 2 least favorite national announcers and I have both of them on now. Ugh.


BTW, in re of Joyce DeWitt's 3-run triple, I predicted he'd kill the Phillies at some point the other night.


Wow...the Fonz, Jon Lovitz...big BIG celebs there tonight. Maybe Larry Dallas from Three's Company is in attendance.


Are their 15 minutes up on Geico yet?

Ruh-Roh, Raggy!

Russell Martin just got dusted. So you know the Phillies are gonna get brushbacked, warnings will be issued, maybe a bench clearing brawl. Stay tuned.....

And speaking of ads....

PA viewers are getting carpet-bombed with Obama and McCain ads during sporting events the last few weeks.

I was expecting to see one of them come on at the end of the ad with the Poltergeist girl and say, "I'm John McCain/Barack Obama....and I approved this message."

"They're Here!"

I was saying this last about the parents of the dead girl from Poltergeist still pimping out her images in commercials. That seems a little over the line to me.

Decision time

Phils have to decide if this is a laugher or don't want to wear out your bullpen tonight in a lost cause anyway. You have to try to make Moyer give you 3 or 4 innings tonight. But it looks like they are yanking him for Clay Condrey.

Powder blues

And I know I say this every time the Chargers wear them, but why aren't they wearing one of the best unis in pro sports full time?

10-0 SD

Nice to see the Bolts exacting some revenge for the last 3 Patriot defeats.

Feliz Navidad!

5-1....if Chico Ruiz can pop one out, we're back in business.


Also...Howard with a leadoff double. He's been horrible hitting with nobody on base this year. Surprising.


Burrell warning track fly ball....that's out in CBP. Manny caught in right in front of the 360 mark in left-center. What's CBP there like 340?

Well, since the Phils game is looking like a cure for insomnia....

How about them Eagles! Their season was on the line today and they rallied. And then Dallas and Washington lose to boot. A 2-4 start with another loss in the conference would have been a death knell. Still an uphill climb, but hey...they are only a game back of 2nd place now.


Yeah, I think we know if there is a Game 7, Moyer won't be starting it.

It'll be either Hamels on short rest or Blanton.

Moyer is battling

If he can out of this only down 2-0, that'll be a moral victory.

Same old Nomar....

That's the guy I remember from the 2003 ALCS.

Russell Martin...HBP

We're a couple of more runs away from me putting on NE-SD.

3 pitches

3 singles.....Get Happ up, Chollie!

And that is 2nd or 3rd time Burrell came home with a throw in the playoffs when he should have hit the cut off man. His assists have gone to his head.


2 on, no outs for Manny already. Old Man River in another 1st inning jam.

Mary Hart?

Who the fuck is Mary Hart? And why do I hate her so much already in the minute that I've seen her?

Utley steal

Bang bang play....I thought it was a tie....looked like his foot got in there just as Furcal tug him on the waist.

How much is a manager worth in the post-season?

I was debating this point recently.....Sparky Anderson said a great manager might be worth 7 to 10 more wins to a team during the regular season. So that's 10 wins over 162.....or 1 every 16 games. In the post season you only 19 games maximum. So I think that may be why you see guys like Manuel and Francona do so well (and Torre too....don't forget he was thought of as a bad manager before he took the Yankees job in 1996) while guys like Leyland, Pinella, and Cox have done so poorly overall in the postseason (in spite of each them winning 1 title....they've lost more series than they've won). But their teams always seemed better for the every day grind of the regular season rather than the post season.

Hello - long time, no post

I was reserving this page for mostly music stuff, but since I haven't seen a show since July and have nothing to post, I figured I'd try live blogging Game 3 of the NLCS.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Old 97's @ The Trocadero 07/30/2008

If anything else, the Old 97's are certainly reliable. It doesn't sound very rock 'n' roll to describe a band as "reliable", but there are worse things for a which a band can aspire. Now in their 15th year together with 7 albums + a handful of solo albums and side projects by singer/guitarist Rhett Miller and singer/bassist Murry Hammond intermingled, they have proven their worth. Their experiments are minimal and their live shows never disappoint. Their pace has also slowed down a bit since all of the band members have reached middle age and are married with children now and living in different parts of the country, away from their native Dallas. So every 3 years or so, they release another album of pleasant, easily-digestible country- and punk-influenced pop/rock. Like I said, there are worse things a band can be these days.

A recent review of their new album in Rolling Stone described the band as "four Texans raised on the Beatles and Johnny Cash in equal measures, whose shiny melodies, and fatalistic character studies, do their forefathers proud." I think that is very apt. I mean, after all, they did take their name from Johnny Cash's "The Wreck of the Old 97." Although if you scratch the surface, you will also see their other influences - the Pixies, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, the Replacements, etc. They've evolved over the years from their sweat and beer drenched country punk sound into something that is more pleasing to AAA radio.

Singer/guitarist Rhett Miller was a folk prodigy in high school in the artsy Deep Ellum section of Dallas back in the late 80's....or as critic Robert Christgau once noted of Miller's early career, that this was back when "the lead singer of Nirvana still spelled his name 'Kurdt Kobain'." He released an album of folk-inspired pop songs in 1989 called Mythologies and then recorded another that was never released (but it has circulated on bootlegs for about 10 years). After a label change and a bit of a career makeover in the early 90's, he hooked up with the rest of the band (singer/bassist Murry Hammond, guitarist Ken Bethea, and drummer Phillip Peoples) and they became the Old 97's.

Their first 2 records - 1993's Hitchhike to Rhome and 1995's Wreck Your Life were steeped in folk and bluegrass traditions, with the requisite nods to the kind of hard-drinking, outlaw "murder" ballads about love, drinking, heartbreak, and revenge for which Johnny Cash was famous for writing. There were elements of all of the above-mentioned influences present, but it leaned most heavily on Cash and other bluegrass/country pioneers like Buck Owens. But it wasn't until 1997's Too Far To Care, that the band really hit their stride. That album stands as one of the best of the alt/country or country/punk genre during the 1990's. It combined all of what they did previously, while adding more pop and punk to the mix. And that album also is where the band shifted and started moving in a more overt pop/rock direction, capitalizing on Rhett Miller's witty lyrics and infectious pop riffs (not to mention his Teen Beat pinup good looks).

So after a string of fair to great albums starting with 1999's Fight Songs (good), 2001's Satellite Rides (great), and 2004's Drag It Up (fair), with solo records in between, the band returned a few months ago with Blame It on Gravity, which stands up pretty well compared to it's previous work. I'd say it's at least as good as Fight Songs.

And with the exception of U2, can you name another band in the last quarter-century who has been together as long as the Old 97's have without: a)breaking up or b)having original band members leave the band at some point even if they do eventually return? I can't. It's especially rare for a band like Old 97's to settle in to being a cult favorite with a niche audience and still remain together, without at least one band member either getting sick of the write/record/tour grind and wanting to call it quits or someone like Miller leaving the band to chase the brass ring of solo stardom. You can tell that these guys genuinely like each other's company as much as they like playing together. And that camaraderie is generally what keeps bands together over many years.

But forget about their studio recording biography because the Old 97's are a band that you need to see play live to really appreciate their strengths. They are for the most part a glorified bar band. And they carry with them that swagger and that crowd-pleasing attitude even though they have been headlining in large theatres in every major market in the country for most of this decade. To use a sports reference, at the end of an Old 97's show you can tell the band has "left it all out on the field", as the guys are drenched in sweat and look exhausted. They aren't saving anything for the next show or the party afterwards.

And now that they have around 100 songs in their catalog, they can't help but start repeating themselves a little. I noticed a few different times during this show that it took me about 5-10 seconds to recognize the song at first, because the intro sounded like it could be a handful of their other songs.

This was the first time I have ever seen them play one of my favorites - "Nite Club" live. On their last few tours, they seem to play at least 7 new songs at every show + almost all of the old crowd favorites. And then they also try to revive 5 or 10 older songs for that particular tour that they haven't played in awhile. So the shows are always unique. Based on what I have read, on this tour they have revived "Nite Club", "Alone So Far" (also the first time I ever saw them play that), "The Other Shoe", "Oppenheimer", "Old Familiar Steam", and "Bel Air", among others. So I was hoping I'd get to see them play a few of these tracks and they didn't disappoint. And they always make sure they play 1 token song from their 1993 debut album, Hitchhike to Rhome. And they made an inspired choice with "Hands Off." On the record this song has a fiddle and an accordion, so it was interesting to see them pull it off live without the extra instruments.

It was interesting to see how they would be able to still play a lot of old favorites and mix in a healthy dose of the new album (they played 9 of the 13 tracks from the new one). And they succeeded by just playing more songs overall in order to fit them all in. The only old crowd favorites that were missing were "Victoria", "The Streets Of Where I'm From", and "King Of All The World." You can't really complain about that.

And it was a nice way to mix it up during the encore to have Rhett do "Singular Girl" solo acoustically....a song that has a full band on both the Old 97's bonus track from Satellite Rides and on Rhett's last solo album. But instead of doing "Question" solo acoustically like he usually does, the full band played on more of a rollicking back beat.

This was the 10th time now that I have seen either the Old 97's or Rhett Miller solo and this ranks as my favorite show of them all. It was a great setlist - 29 songs in about 2 hours. The Troc was packed....really packed and it goes without saying, hot and sweaty. And they had the left part of the bottom floor cordoned off for drinking. So it made the rest of the room a little too close for comfort. It appeared to be a sold-out show and seemed to be as crowded as any show I've ever seen there - including, off the top of my head - Rilo Kiley in 2007, Rancid in 2006, Face to Face in 2004, and Alkaline Trio in 2003.

Setlist (mostly right....although I think I may the order mixed up from around 13 to 18):

1. The Fool
2. Barrier Reef
3. Won't Be Home
4. No Baby I
5. Lonely Holiday
6. Color of a Lonely Heart Is Blue
7. Buick City Complex
8. Nite Club
9. Two Feet
10. Early Morning
11. Alone So Far
12. Crash on the Barrelhead
13. Salome
14. Hands Off
15. I Will Remain
16. Rollerskate Skinny
17. Smokers
18. The One
19. Murder (Or A Heart Attack)
20. The Easy Way

21. Singular Girl (Rhett solo)
22. song with Rhett and opening act the Spring Standards
23. Valentine (Murry solo)
24. Question (full band returns)
25. Dance With Me
26. Big Brown Eyes
27. Doreen

28. The New Kid
29. Time Bomb


- Early on in the set, Rhett noted that the last time they had played the Trocadero they were opening for Wilco (in 1999).

- Before playing "Lonely Holiday," Rhett said, "Like every song by the band Journey, there is song about being on tour...."

- Before "Nite Club", Rhett said, "Club owners get nervous before we play this song, but luckily we're really nice guys." This was in reference to the chorus "I think I might get drunk tonight /And burn the nite club down."

- Before "Hands Off", Rhett said, This is an old song that some people might not know, but we still like playing it."

- Before "I Will Remain", Rhett announced that this song contained his first ever guitar solo. The crowd then cheered during his 10-second solo. And the end he joked, "Look out Eddie Van Halen!"

- During the encore guitarist Ken Bethea (who rarely speaks), said it was great to be playing in a place like the Troc. He remembered the first time they played Philly they played in a diner called "Silver City" (he meant Silk City). And then he said the next they played here it was at the Khyber opening up for a guy who just played a boom box and danced. And then Rhett chimed in that the Khyber is such a great punk rock venue and he noticed a band playing there this week called, You, Me, and T-Rex....and joked, "Well, I do like T-Rex."

- Rhett brought out the first opening act the Spring Standards during the encore for a song they had written, but left off their debut album. And then Rhett apparently re-worked the song with them during this tour. Rhett sang co-lead vocals.

- After the 2nd encore, they came back in about 30 seconds. And then they joked that this was planned. "That's what known in Texas as a fraudulent encore", noted Murry. They said because of curfew, they had to wrap up soon, so they rushed through the encore b.s. so they could play more songs.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Alkaline Trio 7/15/08 @ The TLA, Philadelphia, PA.

I figured this would be a good opportunity to give my mini-review of the new album, as well as a review of the live show.

Guitarist/vocalist Matt Skiba and the Alkaline Trio have now been around for over 11 years, since Skiba, original bassist Rob Doran, and original drummer Glenn Porter met as bike messengers in Chicago, while playing in other like-minded bands. Bassist/vocalist Dan Andriano replaced original bass player Rob Doran later in 1998 and ended his band, Tuesday, to join the early version of the Alkaline Trio shortly before the release of their debut album, Goddamnit. They all bonded over their love of alcohol and for bands such as Naked Raygun, the Ramones, Social Distortion, Jawbreaker, the Misfits, the Cure, and the Smiths. Original drummer Glenn Porter was replaced by Mike Felumlee in 2000 and he was replaced by current drummer Derek Grant in 2002.

They recently made their major label debut on Epic with the release of their 6th album, Agony & Irony, earlier this month. And it debuted at #13 (an appropriate number for this band) on the Billboard chart - the highest charting debut ever for the band. So a lot of people are probably thinking "Sell out!" But I don't feel they've sold out musically at all. (However, they did work with Nike to design the new Heart and Soul shoe with a black and red color scheme as a nod to their hometown Bulls and most of their album artwork....see a clip here....probably retailing for $120 at a mall near you).

This still isn't the kind of album that would appeal to the Fall Out Boy or All American Rejects crowd. The band's music previously centered around what they knew in the early days: recurring themes of good/evil, alcoholism, loneliness, and heartache. And while some of those things have changed for the better in their personal lives in recent years, they still find ways to express these themes in their writing. And they still write great pop/punk hooks and clever turns of phrase.

I think musically the band kind of peaked on Good Mourning in 2003. That was like the culmination of everything they do well and with a new drummer/multi-instrumentalist, they were able to really hone their sound and take it to another level. And the result was one of the best records of the decade. They'll probably never record an album that good ever again. And they definitely seemed to realize they had to try new things. None of the changes are going to be that drastic. They are still a pop/punk band and they aren't going to start playing Blues or something. But I think people who follow them closely have noticed the changes.

On a few songs on Crimson - "Burn" and "Sadie" - they gave a preview of what they were capable of doing. They were two great songs that were a bit different than anything they'd ever done before, with something that builds slowly with a different kind of pacing. The first time I heard "Sadie", I said to myself this is kind of their "U2 song" - with the breakdown and then the big dramatic chorus (all of the "whoa-oh-oh-oh" stuff) at the end and a guitar line that sounds like it could have been played by The Edge in recent years. And there is a string arrangement written by drummer by Derek Grant that kind of gets lost in there with everything else going on. Never mind the fact that the song is about Sadie Glutz of the Manson family.

Agony & Irony kind of picks up where Crimson left off, as far as the direction the band is heading. It's a fairly strong album from start to finish. There are always a few tracks you wouldn't mind seeing them replace with some of the b-sides and bonus tracks, but overall it's hard to complain. I still don't know how "Burned in the House" got left off and is included as bonus material, but a song like "Ruin It" (decent song, just not as good as "Burned in the House"), makes it on there. Kind of the same thing with Replacements fans scratching their heads about how "Nowhere Is My Home" and the Tim version of "Can't Hardly Wait" could have been left off of Tim, but "Dose of Thunder" and "Lay It Down Clown" made the cut.

I do like just about every track, even though 2 or 3 certainly seem to fall into the "filler" category. Few bands have "filler" as good as the Alkaline Trio. Here are some quick observations:

The production on certain songs feels to me like they purposely made the vocals a little scratchier or fuzzier than they probably were in reality. It's hard to tell since Matt's voice usually gets shot during the recordings and he needs to rest it frequently afterwards. I wonder if on "Calling All Skeletons" and one other song (I forget which one) if they used a later vocal mix where his voice was more strained. Or it even felt like they turned the sound down on the vocal tracks at times especially during the verses, which is an odd thing to hear on a major label debut, where the vocals are usually pristine. You can hear on the choruses the vocals sound strong, but the verses seem weaker.

The guitar during the chorus of "Live Young, Die Fast" sounds like something from latter day Husker Du with their wall of sound. Or to compare to a more contemporary artist, it has a little Braid/Hey Mercedes feel to it...who I always thought sounded like vintage poppier Bob Mould /Husker Du when they were at their best.

Dan once again contributed some stellar songs - "Love Love Kiss Kiss", "In Vein", and "Don't You Wanna Know" are some of the best stuff he has written. And they compare favorably to his standout tracks on Good Mourning and Crimson.

"Over and Out." This may be their first political song I can recall. It tells the story of a spouse who is killed during the war and about the last phone conversation they had before it happened. I also think it's one of the best songs on the record and musically it's a little different in the same way that "Sadie" and "Burn" were on the last album.

"Help Me." This is vintage Alkaline Trio. I think it's a great song and they could seemingly write 10 of these in their sleep on every album if they chose to do so. It was inspired by last year's big screen bio of Joy Division's Ian Curtis, who sadly committed suicide just as the group was beginning to breakthrough in the late 70's/early 80's.


1. Calling All Skeletons
2. Nose Over Tail
3. I Lied My Face Off
4. I Found Away
5. In Vein
6. Warbrain
7. Mercy Me
8. Blue Carolina
9. Armageddon
10. Old School Reasons
11. Private Eye
12. Don't You Wanna Know
13. Dead & Broken
14. Crawl
15. Goodbye Forever
16. Bleeder
17. Help Me
18. This Could Be Love

19. For Your Lungs Only
20. Radio

Breakdown by album:
Goddamnit - 1
Maybe I'll Catch Fire - 1
Alkaline Trio (rarities collection) - 4
From Here To Infirmary - 3
Good Mourning - 2
Crimson - 1
Remains (2nd rarities collection) - 3
Agony & Irony - 5

Great show and a great setlist. They played something from just about every release, including Split EPs. My only minor complaints are I'd have rather heard one of Matt's other songs from the new album, instead of "I Found Away." I thought I'd hear at least either "Over and Out", "Lost and Rendered", or "Live Young Die Fast" instead. And I think they should play "'97" at every show...I'm always a little disappointed when I don't hear that. And I'm surprised they didn't play a few more from Good Mourning. But those minor missteps were made up with "Bleeder", "Dead & Broken", and "For Your Lungs Only" - the first time I recall them ever getting played at any of the other half-dozen shows I've seen. They may have played "Bleeder" the first time I saw them play as a headliner (at the Chameleon in Lancaster), but I didn't know their older stuff that well back then. So I can't remember.

The sound quality was a little lacking again at the TLA, as it was a few weeks ago during the Black Crowes show. The upstairs area is just not great for sound quality. The Troc is kind of the same way. The vocals sounded muffled up there during this show. Next time I go to the TLA, I'm going out on the floor downstairs, come hell or high water. Drummer Derek Grant is really great. I think he really adds that extra oomph to a lot of the older songs, which he didn't play on originally. I think he has helped take their sound to a new level, in a similar way as what Dave Grohl did when he joined Nirvana.

It was a typical all-business show by the Alk3. 20 songs in an economical 80 or so minutes. No jamming and very little chit chat. Other than introducing a handful of songs, the only commentary I recall is Matt dedicating "Nose Over Tail" to Philadelphia for the amazing vegetarian cheese steak (he's a vegetarian) he had earlier today. And when introducing "Warbrain" he said it was released on the Rock Against Bush compilation in 2004. Then the crowd booed a little. And he paused and said, "Well, it's almost over....a few more months to go." Other highlights were the crowd singing along (both verses and choruses) for most of "Crawl", "Goodbye Forever", "Bleeder", and "Radio" much so that the band let the crowd just sing a good part of it. It looked like it even threw Matt off a little because he missed his timing on a few of the verses because the crowd was already singing it. A perfectly imperfect, but great rock 'n' roll moment.

After the Occult Roots Tour in '06, where they played Goddamnit it its entirety + another full hour set of songs, I thought they were going to start playing a different kind of show - maybe playing a lot longer with an acoustic set in the middle. But they are still selling out theatres all over the country, so there is no need to change things too much. For $20 fans are still getting their money's worth and then some.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Black Crowes - 07/03/08 @Theatre of Living Arts, Phladelphia, PA


1. Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution (new album)
2. Remedy
3. Jam -> Black Moon Creeping
4. Oh Josephine (new album)
5. Soul Singin'
6. Whoa Mule (new album)
7. You Don't Miss Your Water (unreleased bonus track from new album)
8. Rockin' Chair (The Band)
9. Poor Elijah /Tribute To Robert Johnson (Medley) (Eric Clapton)
10. God's Got It (new album)
11. Movin' On Down The Line (new album)
12. Wiser Time
13. Only A Fool
14. Hard To Handle (Otis Redding)
15. Wounded Bird (new album)
- encore -
16. Hung Upside Down (Buffalo Springfield)
17. Keep On A Knockin' (1st time played) (Little Richard)

As you can see from the setlist above, out of 17 songs 12 of them were either covers, rarities, or songs from the new album, Warpaint. Only 5 other songs + Hard To Handle (cover) were from the prime 1989-2001 years. The only real highlights in the set for me was the Jam into "Black Moon Creeping", a great version of "Soul Singing", and "Only A Fool" from the notoriously short-shrifted but great 1999 album By Your Side. They hadn't played this song in over 3 years and only a handful of times since their 1999 Souled Out tour wrapped up. And during "God's Got It", drummer Steve Gorman came out and played a big drum strapped to him and hanging in front - the kind marching bands use. And on it was a picture of George W. Bush with a black eye. They never really commented on it, but they didn't have to.

But those few high points weren't enough to make up for the rest of the 2-hour show. "Hard to Handle", the only song from their debut album to get played at any of the 3 Philly shows, is probably my least favorite of their well-known songs. One, it's a cover and two, it was just completely overplayed when it came out and didn't age well, in my opinion.

Tracks 6 thru 9 were performed acoustically with the band seated. This brought the encouraging early momentum of the show to a screeching halt. And it kind of never really got back on my track for me after that.

I respect a band who does what they want to do and just hopes the fans come along for the ride. That's what someone like Wilco has done for the better part of a decade. But their live shows are always full of enough songs to satisfy all of their fans.

And what a band like the Rolling Stones and U2 now do - playing the same 25 or 30 crowd-pleasing songs just about every show is kind of the opposite of what rock and roll is all about. But they have to do that to justify charging $100, I guess. There has to be a happy medium between what the Stones or U2 do and what the Black Crowes currently do. I'm not saying I want the same hit-laden 25-song, 2 hour set every night. But it'd be nice to know that a fan like myself, who owns every song they've ever recorded, would know more than 2/3 of their setlist at show. Every once in a while, it's nice to leave a show and wonder what that song was that one of your favorite bands just played. Then you go home and Google some of the lyrics and uncover a new obscure cover. But after this show I needed to do that for about 40% of the setlist..

A band like Pearl Jam has found that happy medium that has so far eluded the Black Crowes since around 1999. They play varied setlists, often reviving old songs, but still playing enough of the old favorites to try to make both casual fans and diehards happy. I always pick nits with them too (they play "Even Flow" too often, their encores almost always include "Yellow Ledbetter" and "Rockin' in the Free World", etc.), but generally there is always enough in the rest of the set to send me home happy. That's why they offer the best live music experience of any band of their generation. You'll get a 2:30+ set that is unique compared to other shows and most fans will know and love most of the songs played.

And it would be so easy for the Black Crowes to placate fans like me by maybe replacing one cover or rarity during the middle of the set and both songs in the encore with old crowd favorites. And then people like me would cut them more slack and perhaps go back to see them again in the future, knowing there'd be a few scraps tossed their way. People would leave on a high note. But this is the 3rd show in a row I was disappointed with setlist. The show at Penns Landing in July '06 and now the TLA show from last week were both very disappointing. And the one at the Tower Theatre in Sept '05 was only saved by the fact that the Tower was a such a great venue and they played for over 3 hours with an intermission, so they had ample time to fill in the set with a lot of the crowd favorites, mixed in with the usual high percentage of obscure covers and rarities.

My point is if you want to be self-indulgent and fuck around and play covers and unreleased songs, then go play a small venue and charge $12 or $15. Then fans will have lower expectations and people will feel like they have gotten their money's worth. For example most fans' memories of the Replacements' falling-down-drunk, cover-heavy sets from their early years have probably been over-romanticized over the last 2 decades. But if the band had more notoriety and could have commanded more money for a show back then, I'm not sure fans would remember these sets quite so fondly and cut them as much slack as they did.

If that is what the Black Crowes essentially have become, then stop playing up the past catalog when these shows are marketed to the public. The reason a band like the Black Crowes can play a venue like the TLA for 3 sold out shows and charge $50 a ticket (or larger venues for even more money per ticket if they chose to) is because of the fans they cultivated throughout the 1990's with a pretty impressive output of original songs. You can't have it both ways.

And anyway, Phish just announced they are reuniting, so all of the Deadheads who had no place to go for the better part of the last 12 years (and based on what I have experienced the last 7-8 years, were overpopulating Wilco and Black Crowes shows) will have somewhere else to go soon.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Son Volt @The Trocadero - 4/26/08

I've been looking forward to seeing Son Volt play live for over a decade now. It seems like whenever they came to town it was always when I had other plans. Opening act Bobby Baer Jr. (son of a 60's Country music star) was pretty good, sounding like vintage Neil Young on many tracks.

Farrar opened the show playing about the first 8 or 9 songs on acoustic guitar. And then he went electric and rocked out most of the rest of the set. "The Picture" was kind of flat on just acoustic guitar and harmonica, without the horn section like on the record. But I suppose it's not economical to bring horn players along with you on tour for one song.

It was a tad disappointing that "Slate" was the only Uncle Tupelo song that managed to find its way into the set, after they had been playing at least a few other UT songs at most shows on this tour - including the usual show closer "Chickamauga" along with "Life Worth Livin.'" Having missed the boat on Uncle Tupelo when they were still around, I always like to hear as many of these songs live as possible. Jeff Tweedy brought a handful of these songs to Wilco setlists in the mid 90's, but they haven't really played any UT songs since around 2000. Although I do sort of remember "We've Been Had" at a 2003 show. But Tweedy still plays a handful of UT songs at his solo acoustic shows. And now it appears Son Volt's Jay Farrar has buried most of the UT songs too. But "Slate" was a such pleasant surprise. Before this current tour, I would bet he hasn't played that song live since around 1997 or 1998.

And anyway, the set closer - the cover of Waylon Jennings' "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?" regularly made it into UT's live sets done in the UT way by making a country song sound like a punk rock song. And it was included as a bonus track on the reissues of their material a few years ago. So that was sort of like an honorary UT song.

Most of the set focused on Son Volt's last 2 albums. And in general I thought they would play more from the first 3 Son Volt albums. But I can't complain, since their last 2 albums were so good. Overall, I thought they did a good job of playing a little bit from everything, along with some tracks on these older albums that they haven't played much lately. Of course, "Windfall" and "Drown" are expected at just about every show - the only semi-hits they've ever had.

As mentioned earlier the spirit of Neil Young appeared to dominate both Bobby Baer's and Son Volt's set. Young was called the "Godfather of Grunge" back in the 1990's, when Pearl Jam and others cited him as a big influence. And when you hear a band like Son Volt (or really Uncle Tupelo and those who followed) play live, you can hear all of Young's influences updated for the next generation. These artists were fans of the artists who influenced Neil Young, Neil Young himself, and also a lot of punk rock. But that in a blender, mix, and pour it into a large glass and serve. And then you have the Uncle Tupelo/Son Volt sound in a nutshell.

Set list:
1. The Picture
2. Underground Dream
3. Exurbia (bonus track from The Search)
4. Hanging Blue Side
5. Creosote
6. Slate
7. Beacon Soul
8. Big Sur (new song on a soundtrack for movie about Jack Kerouac)
9. Highways and Cigarettes
10. Methamphetamine
11. Tear-Stained Eye
12. The Search
13. Jet Pilot
14. Automatic Society
15. Action
16. Bandages & Scars
17. Satellite
18. Gramophone
19. Afterglow 61
20. Drown
21. Voodoo Candle (rocking version)

22. Medication
23. Six Days on the Road (Dave Dudley cover)
24. Windfall
25. Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way? (Waylon Jennings cover)

Song breakdown by album:

Non-album tracks - 3
Uncle Tupelo songs - 1
1995's Trace - 3
1997's Straightaways - 1
1998's Wide Swing Tremolo - 1
2001's Sebastopol (Jay Farrar solo album) - 1
2005's Okemah and the Melody of Riot - 5
2007's The Search - 9
2007's The Search (bonus track EP) - 1

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Year in Music 2007

The Year in Music 2007

2007 Shows

Jesse Malin and the Heat – at the World Café 4/10
Guster with Ben Kweller – at Festival Pier 7/27
Dinosaur Jr with Dr. Dog – at the Trocadero 9/4
Rilo Kiley – at the Trocadero 9/25
The Weakerthans – at the Trocadero 10/29
Jesse Malin solo acoustic – at the Tin Angel 11/20

Best Live, Rare, EP, Compilation, and older albums of the year

Ryan Adams – "Follow the Lights" (Lost Highway). After releasing 3 albums in 2005 before taking a year off, you know Adams couldn't release just a single album in one year. This EP is a nice compliment to Easy Tiger. It contains 2 tracks (the title track and “My Love for You Is Real”) written for the TV show October Road, whatever that is. And it contains the previously unreleased “Blue Hotel.” It also features an interesting interpretation of Alice in Chains' "Down in a Hole", done country/blues style, and 3 alternate versions of older previously released tracks.

Alkaline Trio – "Remains" (Vagrant). This is a pretty good collection of all singles, rarities, b-sides, etc, from the Alkaline Trio during the last 7 or so years. This is a great idea to get all of these tracks on collection.

Rivers Cuomo – "Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo" (Geffen). This is a collection of songs Cuomo recorded as home demos from 1992-2007. It contains a lot of original demos from hit songs plus some songs from a shelved rock opera album he was working on. It's a decent album overall, but it just made me wish he'd get back together with Weezer and hammer out another Blue Album, Pinkerton, or Green Album one of these years.

Golden Smog – “Blood on the Slacks” (Lost Highway). This was a decent EP of songs leftover from Golden Smog's comeback album last year.

Heavens – "Patent Pending" (Epitaph). This was a very Goth-influenced side project from Matt Skiba of the Alkaline Trio that came out in 2006. I stumbled upon it over the summer. The songs are more melodic in a Danzig kind of way, continuing a little with the theme some of the songs had from the Alkaline Trio’s last album Crimson.

Pearl Jam – "Live at the Gorge 05/06" (Monkey Wrench). I've still yet to digest all of this. I've only listened to about 2 and a half of the 7 discs. It's a pretty good live document of the Pearl Jam tours in 2005 and 2006, including most of the songs they played. I believe it's taken from 3 or 4 different shows and amazingly very few songs are repeated. Great version of Mother Love Bone's "Crown of Thorns" and of course "Leash" and "Why Go" which both finally reappeared in a lot of their set lists during the Summer '06 tour, after not getting played live in over decade. It's a good mix of newer stuff and older stuff, covers and originals, set list staples and rare nuggets.

Chris & Rich Robinson – "Brothers of a Feather: Live at the Roxy" (Eagle). This should have been better than it was. A live album of the Robinson brothers of the Black Crowes on their acoustic tour together last summer. But I guess the Crowes songs they've played have been done to death the last few tours, so even when done acoustically, they feel kind of boring. And the other songs in the set – mostly covers and a few new songs (which oddly included none from their forthcoming 2008 release) – aren't very powerful. And there was even the obligatory extended version of "Thorn in My Pride" that they’ve played at just about every single show since 1992. Although this was shortened at least and didn’t drag on for 15 minutes like it does at the full band shows.

Elliott Smith – "New Moon" (Kill Rock Stars). This contains outtakes and alternate versions of songs from Smith's recording sessions immediately from the late 90's and early 00's. It's a double album and has the feel of a coherent album. I actually liked this collection a lot better than his posthumous release from 2004, which I also liked immensely.

Albums That Received A Lot of Buzz That I Never Checked Out For Some Reason But Probably Will At Some Point in 2008

The Arcade Fire – "Neon Bible" (Merge).
Art Brut – "It's a Bit Complicated" (Downtown).
Black Lips – "Good Bad Not Evil" (Vice).
LCD Soundsystem – "Sound of Silver" (DFA/EMI).
Les Savy Fav – "Let's Stay Friends" (Frenchkiss).
The National – "Boxer" (Beggars Banquet).

Most Disappointing Albums of the Year

Chris Cornell – "Cry On" (Interscope). I used to think Chris Cornell was the best rock singer. Maybe he still is. But now his 2 solo albums since the demise of Soundgarden have bored me to tears. The Audioslave albums were at least sort of interesting, albeit with a lot of lower quality songs. When you have Tom Morello and the Rage Against the Machine rhythm section, you know at least the potential is there for a great rock song. But there was barely one memorable riff or hook on Cry On. The opener "No Such Thing" seems like it's going to be a great song and after a great riff, it goes nowhere. "You Know My Name" is included at the end and was originally on the soundtrack of the last James Bond movie. That's a decent track. Not really much else on here of note, besides the laughable cover of "Billie Jean."

Interpol – "Our Love To Admire" (Capitol). I really liked Interpol's first 2 releases, but this album seemed pretty bad. Also, the singer's voice, while tolerable before, grows more annoying when the songs aren't as good. This album has its moments. And how can you not a like a song called, "No I in Threesome"? But this album drags quite a bit and the songs start running together. I felt that other similar artists in this genre (Bloc Party, the Bravery) had better records this year.

Kings of Leon – "Because of the Times" (RCA). Ditto for these guys. I really liked their first 2 albums and then they lost me here. There are probably too many songs overall and not enough good ones. It kind of meanders on at times and you are kind of hoping it's over. "On Call", "Ragoo", and "Fans" are worth downloading. Not much else on here worth bothering with. They sound like they are trying too hard to become Built to Spill.

Velvet Revolver – "Libertad" (RCA). This project as a whole has been pretty disappointing so far. It's great to hear Slash playing again. But he seems like he lost a little off his fastball or something. And once again the songs aren't really that good. The first album was kind of thrown together with the band already working on songs before bringing in Scott Weiland as the lead singer. So, the follow up album was supposed to have more potential, with them working on this together as a real band. It's a decent album, but these guys should be better than that. I always thought they oversold the “super group” aspect of this project. I mean Slash and Duff were arguably only the 3rd and 4th most important members of Guns N' Roses when it came to actually writing the songs. And Matt Sorum was basically a hired gun. So you have Scott Weiland and a very talented backing band, more so than a "super group."

Honorable Mention

Tim Armstrong – "A Poet's Life" (Hellcat). While Rancid is on hiatus due to bass player Matt Freeman's recovery from cancer, front man Tim Armstrong worked on a solo project that highlighted his affinity for ska and reggae. These 10 tracks were originally meant to be a web download, but demand for the project grew and the label decided to release it as a proper album. It's a decent change of pace for fans of the band, as long you as you can appreciate Armstrong's marble-mouthed delivery. I think his voice actually works better on these types of songs where he can croon a little bit than on Rancid's more rocking tracks. There's not really anything memorable on here though. This is probably meant for Rancid devotees only. "Hold On", "Lady Demeter", and "Time's Up" are great.

Bad Religion – "New Maps of Hell" (Epitaph). Bad Religion keeps trucking on cranking out pretty good speed punk albums every few years and still going mostly unappreciated. It'll actually be kind of interesting to see if bands like them, along with the Replacements, Husker Du, and Dinosaur Jr and dozens others ever get serious consideration for the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame. Anyway, this is their 3rd release since 2002 when Brett Gurewitz rejoined the band and each one has been pretty good, and this is my favorite of the three. They really sound like a fresh band on this one. If I didn’t know better, I'd think this was a Bad Religion album from the early 90’s. There's no filler on here. “Requiem for Dissent”, “Honest Goodbye”, “New Dark Ages”, “The Grand Delusion”, “Dearly Beloved”, “Prodigal Son”, “Fields of Mars”, and “Grains of Wrath” all compare favorably to the best songs in their catalog.

Beretta 76 – "Black Beauty" (self-released). This is a local band very similar to the Donnas or vintage Joan Jett. They've gotten a lot of positive press this year locally and have been asked to play at many of the festivals. They definitely have a 80's hard rock sound to them overall, but with a little Yeah Yeah Yeah's or Hole too.

Bloc Party – "Weekend In The City" (Vice Records). Of the 3 similar bands – the Bravery, Interpol, and Bloc Party, I always thought Bloc Party had the most unique sound. They have more of a post-punk Sonic Youth influence in their music than the others, which is weird since they’re from England and the other 2 bands are from New York. "Song for Clay (Disappear Here)", "Hunting for Witches", "Waiting for the 7:18", "Kreuzberg", "The Prayer", and "I Still Remember" are all probably better than most of their solid debut album.

The Bravery – “The Sun and the Moon” (Island). The Bravery’s sound seems to have shifted away from the Cure/Smiths influence on their first album to more of a retro pop sound in the mold of the Dandy Warhols or Blur. It was a good, albeit, forgettable album. "Time Won't Let Me Go", "Bad Sun", "Split Me Wide Open", "This Is Not the End", and "The Ocean" are the best tracks.

Dropkick Murphys – "The Meanest of Times" (Born & Bred). I've always been a fan of the Dropkick Murphys from afar. I liked everything I heard from them but never got into them enough to listen to a whole album in its entirety. And I finally decided to get this album after hearing a few tracks on the digital music channels on cable. It was good. They seem to have similar influences as other Beantown faves the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, in that they have the Irish-Boston thing going along with a healthy variety of punk influences. The main difference is that the Bosstones had their music peppered with soul, ska, and reggae, whereas the Murphys lean toward an Irish/Gaelic folk flavor. And the Murphys' punk influences are more like Jawbreaker than, say, the Bosstones' Clash influences. The only downside is that since the Murphys songs have become de facto anthems for the Boston sports teams, particularly the Red Sox, the insufferable New England sports fans have sort of ruined this band for me. "The State of Massachusetts", "Echoes on 'A' Street", "Flannigan’s Ball", "Surrender", "God Willing", and "Fairmount Hill" are the highlights.

Steve Earle – "Washington Square Serenade" (New West). Earle is an unrepentant lefty and God bless him for that. But this album seems to drag on, not because of his forceful political message (which is mostly lacking on this record), but because the songs just aren't as good as they have been in the past. I give him credit for trying new things. He worked with one-half of the Dust Brothers on this album, so it does sound different for him. And it has a New York theme to it, as evident by the title. Some of the songs are inspired by that. "Jericho Road", "City of Immigrants", "Oxycontin Blues", "Satellite Radio", and "Sparkle and Shine" are most notable.

Feist – "The Reminder" (Cherry Tree/Interscope). I heard a buzz about Feist earlier in the year and kind of ignored it until the ubiquitous ad for the iPod started using the "1234" song. That’s when I took notice. Feist is Leslie Feist, originally from Calgary and former member of Broken Social Scene, who has been a solo artist now for about 4 years. Legendary music critic Robert Christgau snidely referred to Feist as "wine bar music" in his annual wrap up. I can see that. But Feist shows a lot of pop, soul, R&B, folk, and jazz influences. It's not just like "light jazz" cocktail music. The Reminder is good from start to finish, although it seems a few tracks too long near the end. Along with "1234", "So Sorry", "I Feel It All", "The Water", "My Moon My Man", and "The Limit to Your Love" are also notable. The latter two were co-written with Beck.

Foo Fighters – "Echoes Silence Patience & Grace" (RCA). I really didn't give this album a full concentrated listening until late in the year. It just came out at a busy time for new releases for me. Eddie Vedder, the New Pornographers, Bruce Springsteen, Ben Lee, Rilo Kiley, the Weakerthans, the Hives, and a few other CDs I had been looking forward to all year came out in that 3-4 week span in September-October. And they got my full attention. And the Foos album wasn't even on my radar. I had no inkling they had a new studio album ready for release. But nevertheless after listening to it later in the year, I liked it ok. It was produced by Gil Norton (the Colour and the Shape), so people were expecting this to be a huge album like that, I guess. I just don't think it was nearly worthy of the hype it received. The idea that this was the best rock album of the year according to the Grammys is just ridiculous (and how In Your Honor didn't win the same category 2 years ago is a mystery). It's probably the worst Foos album to date. It has its moments, but I found myself hitting the skip button quite often when listening to this album. It had the feel of something that was like a good EP that was padded out into an album. "Statues", "Summer's End", "The Pretender", and "Cheer Up, Boys (Your Makeup Is Running)" (a veiled rip on bands like Fall Out Boy) are the best songs. The rest is kind of similar to previous Foos albums and not nearly as good.

Marc Ford – "Weary and Wired" (Blues Bureau International). If you like the jam-influenced, bluesy rock and roll that the Black Crowes and Allman Brothers have played for many years, you'll probably enjoy this release. Ford, of course, is/was one of the guitarists in the Black Crowes (he reunited with them in 2005, but apparently has left the band again). There are some good riffs and melodies on here throughout. And I think he does a good job of capturing a "live" improvisational kind of sound on a studio album, with some of his great solos. It sounds like what you'd expect – the kind of record the Black Crowes would make if the Robinson brothers weren't there to bring more focus to the songwriting and make things a little more poppy.

Fountains of Wayne – "Traffic and Weather" (Virgin). This was very disappointing to me at first, but it grew on me throughout the year. I guess I was expecting/hoping a return to something resembling their guitar-driven, self-titled debut album, and instead they went in a more poppy direction – poppy yet not that catchy. It has its moments, but just lacks a really catchy single-ready song or two. Another review I read noted the same thing. There's no "Stacy’s Mom" or "Radiation Vibe" on here. There's not even anything as catchy as "Mexican Wine", "Denise", or "Leave the Biker." In fact, the catchiest FoW-related song released in 2007 was probably their contributions to the Music and Lyrics soundtrack like "Pop Goes My Heart." My favorites are "Someone to Love", "Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim", "I-95" and "Planet of Weed." I actually think their less catchy songs on this album are better than their more up tempo ones.

The Hives – “Black and White Album (A&M/Octane). I wasn't that enthused about getting this latest Hives album at first. Veni Vidi Vicious was great. But I thought Tyrannosaurus Hives was a bit of a let down. So I had written them off as a one-album wonder. They seemed to stretch out their sound a little on this, instead of just cranking out 2:30 garage rock songs. When I have this album on random play list with other albums, I actually have a difficult time recognizing the songs as Hives songs at first. You hear some ska, techno, and even a hip-hop influence on a few songs. And it somehow works in an unexpected yet understandable way, kind of the same way the Stones pulled off disco influenced-songs fairly well. Anyway, "Tick Tick Boom", "Try It Again", "You Dress Up For Armageddon", "You Got It All...Wrong", "Won’t Be Long", and "Square One Here I Come" are the highlights. Most of the rest are good too.

Limbeck – "Limbeck" (Doghouse). This was another solid album by this poppy alt/country group. They are kind of like a poppy Old 97's, but more with a dash of the Get Up Kids too. And they even sound a little like Being There-era Wilco or vintage Tom Petty on here too. They are laid back SoCal in the way the Eagles were. I really liked their last album, Let Me Come Home. This is a bit of step back, but still pretty good. "Big Drag", "Let Me Come Home", "Bird Problems", "Keepin' Busy", and "Wake Up" are all really good. It's a good listen straight through.

Modest Mouse – "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank" (Epic). I never noticed it before, but Modest Mouse reminds me a lot of Camper Van Beethoven on some of their songs that bounce along like shanties and polkas at times. And this album seems to have a healthy mixture of those kinds of "weird" songs again. And some of the other tracks seem to sound a bit like Franz Ferdinand. It took me awhile to get into this album, as it has with most Modest Mouse releases. Honestly, if tracks from this record weren't getting spun so frequently on 104.5 FM when I was driving around, I probably would not have given it as many spins on my own. For once, hearing something over and over again on the radio has made me want to hear it even more, rather than less. Isaac Brock and company have now had a pretty impressive run of albums since 1997 for a mostly obscure indie rock band (at least until 2004 or so), beginning with Lonesome Crowded West, and continuing with The Moon & Antarctica, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, and now the most recent one. This seemed to be most poorly received of those among long-time fans, but I enjoyed it and it had its moments. "March Into the Sea", "Dashboard", "Fire It Up", and "Florida" featuring James Mercer of the Shins is a pretty good way to begin the album, but then it seems to tail off pretty sharply. "We've Got Everything", "Parting of the Sensory", "Fly Trapped in a Jar", and "Spitting Venom" (although a tad too long at 8+ minutes) are solid efforts too.

The Nightwatchman – "One Man Revolution" (Epic). Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave is one of my favorite contemporary guitarists. He had no track record as a vocalist though, so I didn't know what to expect with this release. I actually saw him play a solo acoustic set under this moniker back in 2003 during one of those Rock the Vote type of tours with Billy Bragg, Jill Sobule, Boots Riley (of the Coup), and Steve Earle. I guess Rage is now officially back least touring together anyway. So this solid solo album kind of got lost in the shuffle. It's very stark and sparse (very little drums or bass on many songs), with only Morello on acoustic guitar for many of the tracks, so it resembles Eddie Vedder's solo album from 2007. "The Road I Must Travel" is my favorite song on the record. It bounces along like an old sea shanty. Other noteworthy tracks are "California’s Dark", "One Man Revolution", "The Garden of Gethsemane", "Battle Hymns", and "No One Left."

Queens of the Stone Age – "Era Vulgaris" (Interscope). I don't know what it is about QotSA, but I have been less into each album they've released since Rated R. I listened to the new albums and I generally like them. But they just don't grab me. I appreciate the musicianship and all that. But the songs tend to run together in my head and it becomes just background noise for me to put on while I'm washing dishes or something, rather than something that gets my undivided or only semi-divided attention. Those first few albums just seemed to have catchier songs on each album. Era Vulgaris has its moments, but again, it's something I probably won't be listening to that much ever again after early this year.

Radiohead – "In Rainbows" (self-released). This album would deserve an honorable mention just for the method in which it was originally delivered to the public. It may turn out to be a groundbreaking business model. The fact that it's also a pretty good album makes it even more noteworthy. Radiohead made its most catchy album since O.K. Computer. It's the first time in a while that the melodies are as fleshed out as this. And "Bodysnatcher" is probably their most rockingest song since the mid 90's. But in listening to this album, though, I discovered what I think has been missing from them since O.K. Computer is that there is very little "swing" in their music. The bass and rhythm guitar seem to be almost forgotten instruments on many of their tracks, although they did seem to move back in that direction on this record. But it's like the point of that column by Sasha Frere Jones in the NY Times last year, Radiohead personifies the new Indie rock bands (Shins, Decemberists, etc) that seem to have no link to the original influences of rock (i.e. "black" music – mainly Blues). But that's another topic for another day.

Overall, "Bodysnatchers", "Nude", "All I Need", "House of Cards", "Videotape", and "Jigsaw Falling into Place" are the best tracks. It's probably their most easily digestible album since O.K. Computer. For the most part their output seems more like compositions these days than the typical 3-4 minute rock songs during their more accessible period in the late 90's.

The Shins – "Wincing the Night Away" (Sub Pop). I like the Shins. But in spite of what Natalie Portman said about them in Garden State, part of me thinks bands like this (and the Decemberists) will be punch lines to jokes in about 20 years regarding bands making wimpy music, the same way people in the 90's were busting on the 70's output of Steely Dan, Dan Fogelberg, and James Taylor. The more I listen to this album, I feel myself turning into a middle-aged Yuppie and start yearning to crank up Master of Puppets or anything by Motorhead to snap myself out of it. It has that feel of the kind of music that 30-something parents listen to while driving their kids to/from art class or something to that effect. Yeah, I know that's me, basically, but I hate myself! On a serious note, the album was decent. "Phantom Limb" was one of my favorite songs by anyone in 2007. And "Black Wave", "Australia", and "Turn on Me" are good. It's a good listen, but I get the feeling that while the Shins may be a band that a lot of hipsters like, nobody truly "loves" them.

Stars – "In Our Bedroom After the War" (Arts & Crafts). Wow, I noticed a trend here. Bands releasing their 3rd album after 2 pretty good albums have been disappointing. Maybe some bands only have 20 good songs in them. They all avoided the sophomore slumps and then tanked on the 3rd one. There's nary song on here as catchy as most of Set Yourself On Fire except "Take Me to the Riot", "Today Will Be Better, I Swear!, "Window Bird", and "Bitches in Tokyo." It gets a lot better on multiple listens though. It's actually grown on me a lot since I first got it.

Eddie Vedder – "Into the Wild" soundtrack (RCA/J Records). This kind of album highlights Eddie Vedder's strength as a vocalist, however maybe not as a songwriter. It has a minimal amount of instrumentation, with just him and an acoustic guitar on most songs. Generally it reminded me of what he did on "Long Road." It consists of 9 original songs and 2 covers – "Hard Sun" and "Society." Two of the original songs ("Tuolumne" and "The Wolf") are short instrumentals and overall 4 of the 11 tracks clock in at 1:30 or less. So it's a very quick listen. A few times I've found myself starting over and listening to it again after it completes, because it is so brief. I guess that's a good thing it leaves you wanting more. Or maybe it's because some of the songs have that raw, demo, half-finished kind of feel to them. Like you're expecting a Mike McCready guitar solo followed by another verse and chorus to stretch the songs into the more familiar 3-4 minute territory.

"Society" is my favorite song on the record, followed by "Rise", "Far Behind", "Hard Sun", "Setting Forth", and "End of the Road" - which reminds me of the old Pearl Jam song "Around the Bend." The album closer "Guaranteed" reminds me a lot of "Soon Forget." Also, Corin Tucker of Sleater Kinney fame sings backing vocals on "Hard Sun." It was a good record, but due to how brief it was and how much filler it contained I couldn’t really rank it much higher. It was a decent album and it does feel like a cohesive set of songs written together so it works well as a soundtrack. But without Vedder's powerful voice I know I wouldn't have listened to this as much as I did. The songs overall are a bit lacking or too similar to previous Pearl Jam songs.

Lucinda Williams – "West" (Lost Highway). I really was bored by this album the first few times I heard it. It's kind of depressing. New Lucinda albums are pretty rare, so they are always met with great anticipation and expectations. This is only Williams' 5th studio album in the last 15 years and it was her first album in 4 years. And in that time her mom died and a long relationship ended, so the songs kind of reflect that mood. It has grown on me a lot as the year has gone on. "Are You Alright?", "Learning How to Live", and "Come On" are among the best songs she's ever written. And "Mama You Sweet" and "Fancy Funeral" are good and touching given the subject matter. There is just a little too much filler on here, in my opinion, and it drags during the latter half of the album. The album could have probably benefited from trimming it down to 10 or 11 songs instead of 13.

Neil Young – "Chrome Dreams II" (Reprise). For a guy almost old enough to be my grandfather, Neil Young sure releases a lot of albums, doesn't he? This is the 4th year in a row that Young has released a new studio album. And overall this is his 5th album since 2002. And all have had mixed results. He had the 9/11-influenced Are You Passionate? in 2002, followed by the concept album Greendale in 2004, then the contemplative and excellent Prairie Wind in 2005, then the anti-war, anti-Bush Living With War in 2006, and now this in 2007 It's cool that he is still in it for the artistic part of it at this stage, but for some reason I have not found his output as enjoyable as fellow elder statesman, Johnny Cash, whose work in his latter years was probably his best since the 1960's. It seems that particularly on Young's last 3 albums, they'd have benefited from being combined into one album with just the best 15 or so tracks making the cut. But at this stage Neil Young can release whatever he wants, right? Most of the tracks on Chrome Dreams are leftover from writing and recording sessions in the mid 1970's. Two of the tracks, "Ordinary People" and "No Hidden Path", run over 18 minutes and 14 minutes respectively, so that causes the album to drag. It has its moments, but it's not as good as his similar release and his re-recording of his older session material on 2000’s Silver and Gold.

Top 20 Albums of 2007

20. Buffalo Tom – "Three Easy Pieces" (New West). Christ, there's been a hell of a lot of reunions by 80's and 90's indie rock bands in recent years. I can barely keep track of them all. Buffalo Tom was one that I don't think a whole lot of people were really hankering for. And it was kind of coincidental that they released their reunion album the same year their mentors Dinosaur Jr. released theirs. And like most of their brethren, they were extremely underrated in their heyday. Well, you know they aren't in it for the money, so it's refreshing to see them playing together and just making music for themselves. And they produced a pretty solid, albeit unspectacular album. "Bad Phone Call", "Three Easy Pieces", "Bottom of the Rain", "Lost Downtown", "Good Girl", "September Shirt", and "Gravity" are really good. And Bill Janovitz’s voice sounds as good as ever. The rest range from good to passable.

19. The New Pornographers – "Challengers" (Matador). This was one of the most anticipated releases of the year and it was pretty good, but it was a tad disappointing, at least at first. I guess their previous albums were a little catchier at first, whereas this one requires more repeated listens to enjoy. A.C. Newman and Danny Bejar continue to write batches of infectious pop/rock songs on every album. Newman's songs seem more scattered and foot-tapping, while Bejar's are usually quieter and more melodic. And with Newman's voice which hints at vintage Elton John and the many piano-based songs, they sometimes sound like edgy versions of Elton John songs. And Neko Case's enchanting lead vocals really give some of these songs added pizzazz, like on the title track, "Failsafe", and "Go Places." I'd listen to Case sing the Yellow Pages and still enjoy it. And Case's backing vocals really help on a few other songs too. 2005's Twin Cinema was going to be tough to top and this comes respectably close. The other notable tracks are "My Rights Versus Yours", "All the Old Showstoppers", "Myriad Harbour", "All the Things That Go to Make Heaven And Earth", and "Mutiny, I Promise You."

18. Albert Hammond Jr. – "Yours to Keep" (Rough Trade). While the Strokes have been taking some time off, guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. recorded a stellar album. You can hear his signature Strokes' guitar sound in a lot of songs. And lyrically and vocally, he's no slouch either. There are actually quite a few songs on here that were better than some of the Strokes' recent output. It definitely has more of a laid back CA pop/rock sound that the gritty NYC rock the Strokes are known for. There's a Brian Wilson – Pet Sounds quality to some of the songs. "In Transit" and "101" sound like they would have been big hits on the last few Strokes albums. Some other notable tracks are "Everyone Gets a Star", "Holiday", "Bright Young Thing", and "Hard to Live in the City." This was an enjoyable album and very tight without much filler. I actually think this record would be enjoyed by those who aren't fans of the Strokes too.

17. Arctic Monkeys – "Favourite Worst Nightmare" (Domino). The old saying goes is that you have your entire life to write your first album and only a year to write your second album. And in spite of all of the hype surrounding their 2006 debut album, I think this might even be a little better. It lacks a little of the catchiness of a few of the singles from the debut, but it more than makes up for it with better songs from start to finish. This is one of those albums I enjoy thoroughly whenever I listen to it, but for some reason I just haven't reached for it that often since the summer. What I like about the Arctic Monkeys is that they have a lot "swing" in their music. Not too many alt/punk bands made music that rocked and was danceable until recently. "Brianstorm", "Teddy Picker", "Fluorescent Adolescent", "Only Ones Who Know", "If You Were There, Beware", and "The Bad Thing" are the highlights.

16. The Broken West – "I Can't Go On, I'll Go On" (Merge). Here's a great power pop record that recalls vintage Big Star, Elliott Smith, and more recently Bigger Lovers or the Capitol Years' last album or Summerteeth-era Wilco. It has a 60's Phil Specter production sound to it with a lot of reverb and that really adds to the overall sound. The vocal harmonies are great. And at 12 tracks it's all killer and no filler. This album really grew on me the last part of the year. In another era, this record would have had 4 or 5 hit singles. But now a band like this is probably stuck in the Indie rock ghetto until they eventually call it quits after 2 or 3 more great and unappreciated albums. "On the Bubble" and "So It Goes" are a great 1-2 punch to start an album and it just takes off from there. "Brass Ring", "You Can Build an Island", "Baby on My Arm", "Down in the Valley", and "Hale Sunrise" are the highlights.

15. The Fratellis – "Costello Music" (Cherry Tree/Interscope). The Fratellis have been characterized as sort of a second-rate version of the Arctic Monkeys (as if the Arctic Monkeys invented this genre or something). That's how I heard the Subways described last year and I liked their debut album more than the Monkeys' debut album. And I liked this record more than the Monkeys' sophomore effort, even though both of their albums were pretty good. They remind more of the Faces as much as the garage rock that has been prevalent the past few years. This is just good raunchy and rollicking British pub rock with the obligatory number of classic punk and indie rock influences. "Henrietta", "Flathead", "Chelsea Dagger", and "The Gutterati?" are the standout songs. And most of the rest is good, but it tails off a little during the last 1/3 of the album or so.

14. Dr. Dog – "We All Belong" (Park the Van). My first exposure to Dr. Dog was when I saw them open up for Dinosaur Jr in September. I was expecting more of a guitar-oriented rock band. And instead they were more of a traditional power pop band with a lot of lo-fi/indie influence to give them more of an edgy sound at times. When I saw them live I actually thought they reminded me quite a bit of the Talking Heads, but when I got the CD, I found them to be a much less quirkier. They actually reminded me a little of Built to Spill and Pavement with the reverb on some tracks, but they also have an obvious Beatles influence. Although from what I read they were a little weirder with rougher edges on their previous recordings. Honestly, this album sounded quite a bit like the most recent Wilco album. My favorite tracks are "My Old Ways", "The Girl", "Alaska", "Ain't It Strange", "Die, Die, Die" and the title track. This was one of 2007's most pleasant surprises.

13. Spoon – "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" (Merge). In the last few years, the Austin, TX-based Spoon has become one of the most beloved Indie rock bands around. It is interesting because much like their peers, Wilco, there is nothing "great" that jumps out at you about them on the first few listens. But after repeated listens you really appreciate what a great band they are. They sound like a little like Pavement, Cracker, or the Afghan Whigs, even the Beatles on some tracks, as singer Britt Daniel's voice recalls vintage John Lennon. On this album, they seem to use arrangements a little more and that really gives the songs other layers of depth. And at 10 tracks it's a very meaty album with no filler. "Don't Make Me a Target", "The Ghost of You Lingers", "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb", "Don’t You Evah", "My Little Japanese Cigarette", and "The Underdog" are my favorite tracks. But just about everything is good.

12. Bruce Springsteen – "Magic" (Columbia). This was kind of unexpected – that Bruce would release his most fun, rockingest album in over 2 decades. And I was probably one of the few fans who actually liked his post-E Street Band work in the late 80’s on Tunnel of Love, Human Touch, and Lucky Town, better than his reunion with them on The Rising in 2002. This was only his 2nd full album with the E Street Band since 1984. And for a change, this album really has no major theme or overall mood to it. It's just a collection of good, fun songs. So in that way, it's probably most similar to The River. And with the horns and organs, they have succeeded in creating a "wall of sound" sound on many songs, reminiscent of Phil Specter, 60's era pop/rock songs. There really isn't bad track on here. Most are catchy and easy to digest. "Radio Nowhere", "Livin' in the Future", "Your Own Worst Enemy", "Gypsy Biker", "Girls in Their Summer Clothes", "I'll Work for Your Love", "Last to Die", and "Long Walk Home" are probably the best of the bunch. Bruce does manage to sneak in a few political statements. There are more subtle hints of it throughout the album, but the most overt is In "Last to Die." In that song Bruce takes John Kerry's famous line during testimony in Congress in the early 70’s and creates a song around it, updated for our current times - "How can you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?"

11. Wilco – "Sky Blue Sky" (Nonesuch). These days it's difficult to really put a label on Wilco. Jeff Tweedy keeps pushing the band in such different directions on each record, that they really don’t have an identifiable "sound." I view Jeff Tweedy's professional musical career in at least 5 separate distinct phases. In Phase-1 he was a bass player and sometime songwriter in Uncle Tupelo – the band started by him and his boyhood friend, Jay Farrar. In Phase-2 during the last few years in Uncle Tupelo and beginning of Wilco, he became Farrar's equal as a songwriter and an icon of the alt/country movement. In Phase-3 during the first 5 years or so of Wilco, he became a prolific songwriter using more pop sounds led by his main collaborator, guitarist/keyboardist/producer Jay Bennett. This was also when Wilco recorded the two Mermaid Avenue albums with Billy Bragg. In Phase-4 in the wake of the post-Bennett years of Wilco, after Bennett's firing and the expansion of the duties of guitarist/keyboardist Leroy Bach, and the addition of Glen Kotche on drums in 2001, they changed again and went through a transitional phase up until around the live shows in 2005. And then in Phase-5 Nels Cline and Pat Sansone joined the band full time to replace Bach and they became a more of an improvisational guitar band.

They just seem like they are really missing that punch without Bennett. And overall, I think a lot of their post-Bennett songs have lacked that creative tension between Bennett and Tweedy and also Bennett's great pop sensibilities when it came to production. There is more of a layered band collaboration now, rather than just Tweedy and Bennett writing and shaping songs, but I think there is probably less tension during the songwriting process because of that. The biggest difference between the past and the present seems to be pop/rock vs. Prog rock, where the current incarnation of the band falls into the latter category.

On Sky Blue Sky, Wilco had supposedly returned to their sound on Being There, but I think it's actually still pretty close to what they did on their previous album, A Ghost Is Born, albeit with more easily recognizable traces of vintage Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and the Band influence. The Band seems to have become the new hip influence or reference of the last year or so. The biggest difference I hear is that it seems much more simple and straight-forward without all of the sonic distortions like on the previous few records. And for a band that has eschewed labels and formulas over the years, it seems a little more formulaic and somewhat more predictable than the typical Wilco record. There seems to be a certain number of quieter meditative songs. And on the others there is a pattern of slow melodic beginning, followed by a harmonic chorus, and then the band kicks in and rocks out until it's over. It's tough to really appreciate the last part until you see them play these songs live.

Oddly, the band left "The Thanks I Get" off the album. It's probably the catchiest song of the bunch they recorded. It was heard in one of the Volkswagen ads they lent their songs to last summer and was then released as a single. "Either Way", "Leave Me (Like You Found Me)", and "Please Be Patient with Me" are 3 of the few songs written solely by Tweedy on this album. And they cover similar terrain lyrically and musically, reminiscent of vintage Beatles melodies. Lyrically the subject matter is unconditional love and friendship, even when one of the people has checked out mentally and emotionally. The other highlights include the poppy "What Light" and "Impossible Germany", along with 3 tracks that highlight the new version of the band's musical strengths: "Hate It Here", "You Are My Face" and "Walken." And "Shake It Off" is interesting, as they seemed to create music that went with the lyrics, as it is unpredictable and sounds like a dog trying to shake off a flea. Overall, it was a pretty good album for a band that has seemingly been making "transitional" albums for nearly a decade now. I think they are headed in the right direction, perhaps toward a great album with this lineup in the next few years. Hopefully they'll be able to make 2 consecutive records with the same lineup on the next album for the first time since Summerteeth in 1999.

10. Son Volt – "The Search" (Transmit Sound/Legacy). Son Volt went and made their best album since their 1995 debut, and it went mostly unnoticed. When Jay Farrar started recording under the Son Volt name again in 2005, I had low expectations. But the 2 releases since then have been good because they involve Farrar's strengths, whereas his solo records were probably too experimental. "The Picture" may be the best Motown-inspired song since the 1970's. Not bad for a bunch of alt/country white guys from the Midwest. The centerpiece of the song is the sax and trumpet sections that put an exclamation point at the end of every chorus and verse, making it sound like something the Temptations could have sung. It was definitely one of the most enjoyable songs of 2007 for me. "Slow Hearse", "Action", "Beacon Soul", "The Search", "Satellite", "Adrenaline and Heresy", "Automatic Society", and "L Train" are some of the other highlights. Farrar references the military industrial complex ("The Picture"), the FISA wiretapping law ("The Search"), and the credit and housing market crisis ("Automatic Society"), among other things. So in that way, it actually reminds me of his work on Uncle Tupelo's first few albums at the end of the first Bush’s presidency in the early 90's. Overall, it was a great album.

9. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – "Living With the Living" (Touch and Go). Ted Leo has always sort of reminded me of the American version of Billy Bragg, balancing his folk and punk influences pretty well. He's had a pretty solid 4-album run since 2001 with The Tyranny of Distance, Hearts of Oak, Shake the Streets, and now this one. This album covers the same ground as his last few – passionate, angry, rebellious folk-punk. The highlights are "The Sons of Cain", "Army Bound", "Who Do You Love?", "A Bottle of Buckie", "La Costa Brava", "The Unwanted Things", "The World Stops Turning", "Some Beginner's Mind", and the excellent "C.I.A." Overall it was another very good album from Leo. The only complaint I have is that it sounds very similar to his last few albums and at 15-tracks, runs a bit long. He does a great job with these types of songs, but part of me is interested in seeing him try something new and challenging.

8. The Weakerthans – "Reunion Tour" (Epitaph/Anti). There is something about singer/songwriter John K. Samson and the Weakerthans' songs that really resonate with me. I can't quite explain it. They sort of have a unique sound, and their songs are often really quirky and contain a lot of references to their native Canada (Winnipeg, to be exact). Has any other band ever penned two songs (the 2nd a sequel) about a cat? But yet I've really gotten into their previous albums over the past few years, namely Left and Leaving and Reconstruction Site. So I was greatly anticipating this release in September '07. And it didn't disappoint. They certainly take their good old time between albums, as this is only their 4th release since 1998. And it was well worth the wait. "Civil Twilight", "Relative Surplus Value", "Tournament of Hearts" (about the Canadian pub pastime Curling), "Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure" (the cat song sequel), "Sun in an Empty Room", "Night Windows", and "Utilities" are my favorite tracks. The rest are pretty good too. "Bigfoot!" is interesting with just a spoken word thing by Samson with some light guitar plucking. I’ve often replayed this album after listening to it straight through this year and it seems to get better every time I listen to it.

7. Rilo Kiley – "Under the Blacklight" (Warner Bros). I discovered Rilo Kiley about 3 years ago when I heard WXPN spinning their single "Portions from Foxes" from their current album at that time, More Adventurous. I finally picked up the album several months later and loved it and that was around the time when lead singer, Jenny Lewis was releasing her first solo album and the band was going on hiatus. Guitarist Blake Sennett was also working on his side project, The Elected. And Lewis and Sennett's personal romantic relationship was also ending. I really enjoyed Lewis' solo album and Rilo Kiley's back catalog, so I was excited to hear that they were readying a new album for their major label debut for a late summer '07 release. And it didn't disappoint. When they band started it appeared to be more of an equal partnership between Sennett and Lewis. But now it appears to be more Lewis' band and they seem to be showcasing her star power. Sennett only sings lead on one track on this album – the forgettable "Dreamworld." While Lewis gets a few star turns on "Breakin' Up", a disco-influenced song, presumably about her break up with Sennett, where the protagonist shouts her independence in the refrain – "Ooh, yeah, it's good to be free!" Interestingly, the song was co-written by Lewis and Sennett, so you wonder if that was their way of trying to move on in a creative way. And the album closer a sad ballad by Lewis - "Give a Little Love" – sounds different than just about everything else on the album.

The overall theme of this album seems to be sleazy underside of life in L.A., which is reflected a bit in the album title. They still retain a little bit of their country-folk influences, but this album has a lot more new wave and 80's college radio sounds on it. Sex seems to be a major topic on this record – whether it's prostitution on "Close Call", using one's sexuality to make money on "The Moneymaker", the teenage girl who looks much older on "15", a threesome on "Dejalo" or just regular steamy sex on "Smoke Detector." There probably hasn't been this many awkward sexual references on one album since Kiss' heyday. "Silver Lining", the title track, and "the Angels Hung Around", play more to the band’s previous strengths.

I really liked this overall even though it's a bit of a departure from the band's previous work. Although the band's story has a very Fleetwood Mac mythology to it, their rise is actually much more similar to the 10,000 Maniacs, minus the romance angle, as I remember one review referenced appropriately. I don't know if an album of dance-pop-rock and 80's college radio rock can really be called a "sellout", as many have accused. "Selling out" to whom, exactly? What big market is there for that music these days? But it does appear to be a more conscious effort to market the band to another audience. And I think in that regard it was pretty successful both artistically and commercially.

6. Against Me! – "New Wave" (Sire/Rhino). I had been reading mostly good things about this band for several years, so I finally decided to check out their latest release over the summer and I was very impressed. Think of Modest Mouse crossed with the Pixies, inspired by Billy Bragg. I'll probably be checking out their back catalog in the future, since Tom Gabel and company did not disappoint. They are just one of many bands who fit into the oxymoronical-but-accurate category of "major label indie rock." That would probably describe about half of the artists on my list. From what I've read, this album is a bit of a departure from their sound on the first few releases, which might owe to the fact that they hired a big name producer (Butch Vig) for this record. It still feels like a pretty angry, heartfelt artistic statement to me. I liked it because it is a concise, focused, 10-song set. "White People for Peace" is one of my favorite tracks, and I believe it may be the first ever both pro- and anti- protest song. Gabel notes both the need for and ineffectiveness of political protests in this era. "New Wave", "Up the Cuts", "Thrash Unreal", "Stop!", "Americans Abroad", and "Animal" are a fine collection of prescient, angry (and yet bouncy and catchy) rock songs. The fist-pumping chorus on “Up the Cuts” sets the tone for the entire album when Gabel bellows, “Are you restless like me?!”

5. Ryan Adams – "Easy Tiger" (Lost Highway). For starters, this album had one of the best covers of the year. Adams is shown leaning over with his head in his hands, smoking what appears to be a cigarette. But if you look close, you can see it's really a joint. And on his digital wristwatch, the time reads "4:20." That must all be ironic though, since Adams is clean and sober now and seems more at ease with himself and not as worried about his place in the music world.

Adams' last few records with the Cardinals are sort of folkier versions of what Jeff Tweedy and Wilco have been doing – improvisational rootsy Americana music. And anybody who writes, records, and performs, "improvisational rootsy Americana music" can't help but sound a little like the Grateful Dead in their prime. And you can hear that with both artists. Adams, like Tweedy, has the added dimension of being gifted with a great unique voice. He croons like Roy Orbison on some songs while sounding like an American version of Johnny Rotten on others. I really picked up on the Roy Orbison/Chris Isaak voice comparisons on 2005's Cold Roses and it's continued since then. Adams has taken on a lot of different musical challenges over the last decade, playing country and punk and everything in between. But these kinds of rootsy folky songs are really his strength. His other efforts, while good, have often seemed scattered and unfocused. He has written hundreds of average-to-good songs, but very few great songs. Adams has always given the impression that can lazily write average-to-good songs in his sleep.

He's kept rather busy, releasing 9 full-length albums between 2000 and 2005 (including 1 double album). So after turning 30 in 2005, he took some time off to straighten his life out, kick his drug habit, and refocus himself. And the 18-20 month break in between releases for him is like a decade for most artists. Easy Tiger is like a more focused version of Cold Roses, with less filler and better songs.

"Two" got the most attention of any song because of Sheryl Crow’s backing vocals. And it was released as the first single. Other notables include "Goodnight Rose", "Tears of Gold", "Off Broadway", "Halloween Head", "The Sun Also Sets", "Pearls on a String", and "Two Hearts." Overall, it was a great album – probably his best since 2001's Gold.

4. Ben Lee – "Ripe" (New West). It seems like every year there's an album that comes out in late summer/early fall, that wasn't even on my radar. But I then get it and love it. The 2007 version of that was Ben Lee's Ripe. It's nothing groundbreaking for Lee, but overall it's just a stronger set of songs with less filler than his previous effort Awake Is the New Sleep. In fact, the whole dozen of these songs are very good. Awake had a few more high points, but kind of tailed off during the latter 1/3 of the album, whereas this remains strong throughout. Lee continues on his singer/songwriter path, writing intelligent pop/rock songs similar to Evan Dando, Ben Kweller, and with more piano-based songs than his peers. I came pretty late to the Ben Lee party, not really discovering him until about 4-5 years ago. I didn't even have any idea he was Australian. You certainly can't tell from his voice. I just figured he was just a Jewish guy from Brooklyn or something.

Overall, Ripe seems to have a more playful theme running through it. There is a lot of humor on this record, some subtle and some overt. Having a song titled "What Would Jay-Z Do?" underscores this point. "American Television" is another lighthearted song. The other songs all sound similar and yet all are a little different. The previous 2 songs and "Love Me Like the World Is Ending", "Is This How Love's Supposed To Feel?", and "Just Say Yes" are straight forward pop songs. "Blush" is a little twangy. With the horns and more noticeable guitars, "Numb" and "Home" sound like anything from a Motown R&B song to a rock song. "Sex Without Love" sounds almost like a dance song. The only song that makes you cringe a little is the duet with Mandy Moore – "Birds and Bees." Other interesting album notes are that former Heartbreaker Benmont Tench plays on about half of the songs. And Peter Jesperson, kind of like the George Martin of the Replacements, is Lee's A&R representative.

3. The White Stripes – "Icky Thump" (WEA/Warner Bros). After the White Stripes detour on Get Behind Me Satan, fans weren't sure what to expect on this. After his side project, the Raconteurs, released a more straight-forward bluesy rock album in 2006, it seemed like Jack White may have had the whole side project thing backwards and was using his primary band for the more experimental work. But it seems as if White was inspired by his work in the Raconteurs and he and Meg White returned with a more guitar-based rock/blues album, recalling their earlier work. This has displaced De Stijl to become my 2nd favorite White Stripes' album behind White Blood Cells. It seems to have that right combination of bluesy rockers, ballads, and weirder experimental stuff, while leaning heavier on the bluesy rockers. The main riffs in the album's opening 2 tracks owe a great debt to Jimmy Page. And in general it has an early Led Zeppelin feel to it with the sharp contrasts between the electric and acoustic songs. But "Icky Thump" and "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You're Told)" also stand out as perhaps the catchiest rock songs White has written since Elephant or longer. "Bone Broke", "Little Cream Soda", "Rag and Bone", and "Catch Hell Blues" also work as up tempo rock songs. "Rag and Bone" sounds like the bastard child of Aerosmith's “Milk Cow Blues” and Golden Earring's "Radar Love." "Conquest", "Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn", and "Effect and Cause" seem to on here as their experimental tracks and they work well too. "Conquest" is a remake of an old Patti Page song, but they updated it with Mexican mariachi band sound, as if it were a pre-bull fight anthem. Overall, this was triumphant return for the band after the much more poorly-received Satan.

2. Dinosaur Jr – "Beyond" (Fat Possum). Dinosaur Jr and particularly, singer/guitarist J Mascis, always seemed to one of those artists who should have been more popular. But for whatever reasons, he always seemed to lack the ambition necessary to break through to the masses in a big way. I've never seen a genuine guitar virtuoso do what he does so effortlessly. Many view Dinosaur Jr's legacy as that of the band that helped bridge the indie rock gap between the heyday of the Replacements in the mid 80's and rise of Nirvana in the early 90's. That's a pretty fine legacy if left alone. But many felt some closure was needed after their premature breakup in 1988. So in 2005 the original lineup (J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph) reunited for a tour promoting the reissues of their first 3 albums. And in 2007 they released their first new material together in nearly 20 years.

It's amazing how much this album sounds like something Dino Jr could have recorded like around 1990 and shelved for 17 years. But this picks up right about where they left off. Although I do think that theme was played up a little too much in reviews. There are many songs on this album that actually sound quite a bit like J Mascis' more melodic solo material from the 00's or from the 90's Dino Jr years (which were basically Mascis solo albums), which for some reason have been derided over the years. But I loved all that stuff. And what works so well is that as a band Dinosaur Jr is better now than they were when they were young Indie rock darlings. It helps make a reunion more marketable when the people in the band are all better musicians now than they were before and the live shows will be less uneven and the new material will be appreciated that much more. And what makes this album so good is that it is so familiar to Dino Jr fans. It even has the standard "two Lou" songs on there – the usual two-song contribution from Lou Barlow on each album.

Mascis is probably my favorite post-80's guitar player, so I'll always have a soft spot for anything he does. But this album is really great. If there was a better opening track than "Almost Ready" on any album this year, I'm not aware of it. The rest of the album takes off from there. And this album has everything the band does well – sonic guitar assaults and even some country-rock inspired ballads. There isn't a bad track on here. Some other notables are "Crumble", "Back to Your Heart", "This Is All I Came to Do", "Been There All the Time", "We're Not Alone", "Lightning Bulb", and "What If I Knew." They have succeeded in making the case that not all reunions have to be cynical endeavors to squeeze more money out of something that was once good, but is now irrelevant. You can tell they are genuinely into this as artists. And thus they have given music fans some hope that not all reunions will be artistically disappointing.

1. Jesse Malin – "Glitter in the Gutter" (Adeline). When I was ranking my favorite albums of 2007, I kept coming back to this album by Malin and had a hard time finding anything I liked better. I've been a pretty big fan of Malin and his work for nearly 15 years now. This album came out in early March last year and I really listened to it pretty regularly since then. And I still do. This was one of those albums that came out with little fanfare, but it did have notable guest appearances by Bruce Springtseen, Jakob Dylan, Ryan Adams, Chris Shifflet of the Foo Fighters, and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. So it had the all-star guest list. This is sort of Malin's third go-round. He started fronting a hardcore punk band called Heart Attack as a teenager in the 1980's. Then he resurfaced fronting one of my cult favorites - D Generation in the early 90's. They had obvious Sex Pistols/Ramones/Stooges influences, but also would not sound out of place next to someone like, say, Guns N' Roses. When they folded after 3 pretty good albums in 1999, Malin started a band called Bellvue for a short period, where many songs that would eventually appear on his first solo album were written and recorded. Bellvue sounded a lot like D Gen. Then he went solo and began focusing more on his storytelling, singer/songwriter and country-rock influences, writing songs that fit more with his other major influences, namely Paul Westerberg, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Joe Strummer, and Bruce Springsteen. And in the meantime he developed personal and professional relationships with other like-minded artists such as Ryan Adams and Evan Dando. There was even a rumored super group forming with those three, plus Melissa Auf Der Maur (Hole, Foo Fighters) and James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins). It never came to pass though. But he and Adams did join together for an album of hardcore punk in a band called The Finger.

His solo career has been pretty fruitful. 2002's The Art of Self-Destruction was one of the best records of the decade so far. 2004's The Heat was a tad disappointing, but Glitter in the Gutter was a great rebound, surpassing any album he's ever recorded. Lately he's been described as a "street rocker with a poet's heart" and I think that fits him pretty well.

At first glance the track list for this album seemed to feel a little too familiar. There’s a piano-ballad version of The Replacements’ "Bastards of Young." And there's also a new version of "Love Streams", which he had recorded in Bellvue in a more rocking version back in 2001. And there's a sequel to "Since You're in Love" from The Heat – the same music with different lyrics called "Happy Ever After (Since You're in Love 2007)." But those are very minor quibbles. Overall, it's just a great listen straight through.

The track from this album that received the most attention was his duet with Bruce Springsteen on "Broken Radio." I like to think that Bruce's return to rocking on his most recent release may have had something to do with the time he and Malin spent together over the past year. I think both records have a Born to Run-era quality to them, in spirit if not in sound. I couldn't help but notice a guitar riff in a few songs like "In the Modern World" and "Prisoners of Paradise" that was reminiscent of the Edge on early U2 songs like "I Will Follow." Besides the aforementioned tracks, the other most notable tracks, "Don't Let Them Take You Down (Beautiful Day)", "Black Haired Girl", "Tomorrow Tonight", "Aftermath", and the Lucinda Williams-inspired "Lucinda." It has come out after the fact that he and Williams were rumored to have had a romantic relationship, at least when they were recording their most recent albums. Each has written a song about the other on their most recent albums. But the official word is they are just friends.

So Malin now moves into the elite company of former #1 album winners on my yearly music review since I started doing this in 1994.