Tuesday, April 30, 2013
This week's Short List.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 6: George Jones

Monday, April 29, 2013

I just did the first mix in this series for a country artist, Brad Paisley, a couple weeks ago, and I figured at the time that I'd revisit the genre later down the road -- possibly with some more contemporary acts, and maybe, eventually, my favorite country singer of them all, George Jones. But then The Possum up and died the other day, breaking my heart and sending me to pore over his huge, daunting discography, and here we are.

With these mixes, I like to try and familiarize myself with all the available album tracks, which of course is not too hard if the artist has a dozen or fewer albums. George Jones, however, had over 60 solo studio albums, along with dozens of collaborative albums. Even just listening to the 20-something albums of his on Spotify (not counting compilations) would take forever. But then it occurred to me that I'd always been curious to look more deeply at George Jones the songwriter, rather than just George Jones the singer.

Obviously, George Jones was a singer, first and foremost, and any auteurist or rockist argument that most of his hits being written by others would diminish his accomplishments as an artists is bullshit. In fact it's a testament to his skills as an interpreter that he was able to own and inhabit those songs so deeply, that so many of them mirrored his life and his voice so perfectly. After a while, of course, that may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy -- once he was country's most famous alcoholic and one of its greatest balladeers, of course every writer in Nashville was happy to save their best drinkin' songs and heartbreakers for Jones. But it still speaks to his power as a vocalist that it really doesn't matter that he didn't write "He Stopped Loving Her Today" or "White Lightnin'."

Of course, George Jones did write some of his own hits -- most of the early ones, including his first, "Why Baby Why," along with a handful of other stone classics any fan would know, like "Tender Years" and "These Days (I Barely Get By)." But the compilation that fostered my love of Jones's music, Essential: Spirit of Country, a 44-track double disc set that as far as I know is the only comp that covers all eras, all the major hits, is a good illustration of the ratio -- only 9 songs written or co-written by Jones, 8 of which are on the first disc that runs chronologically up to 1974.

But for the most part his work as a songwriter was relegated to albums, where his own compositions would sit in the shadows of the smash hits -- often several per album in the first decade or so of his career, and after that just one or two per album, if any. The rest often came from frequent collaborators like Earl Montgomery and George Richey, or Jones's longtime producer Billy Sherrill, or from other Nashville pros, or even covers of standards and hits by his contemporaries. But amid the thousand or so songs that George Jones the singer recorded are a few dozen works by George Jones the songwriter that warrant attention.

So after culling the songs written or co-written by George Jones from his albums that are on Spotify, minus the singles, this is the resulting Spotify playlist:

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 6: George Jones

1. That's The Way I Feel
2. Gonna Take Me Away From You
3. A Hard Act To Follow
4. A Drunk Can't Be A Man
5. You're Looking At A Happy Man
6. Ain't It Funny What A Fool Will Do
7. Never Grow Cold (with Tammy Wynette)
8. Our Private Life
9. I Don't Want No Stranger Sleepin' In My Bed
10. Life To Go
11. You Done Me Wrong
12. Ain't Your Memory Got No Pride Got No Pride At All
13. Wandering Soul
14. Touching Shoulders (with Tammy Wynette)
15. It's So Sweet (with Tammy Wynette)
16. Help The People (with Tammy Wynette)
17. Giveaway Girl
18. Don't Do This To Me
19. If You Loved A Liar (You'd Hug My Neck)
20. Flame In My Heart
21. Jesus Wants Me
22. Wine (You've Used Me Long Enough)
23. Things Have Gone To Pieces
24. Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me

Tracks 1, 10, 13, 17, 18, 20, and 21 from White Lightning And Other Favorites (1959)
Track 6 from Songs From The Heart (1962)
Tracks 2 and 23 from Mr. Country & Western Music (1965)
Tracks 7 and 15 from We Go Together (1971)
Tracks 14 and 16 from Let's Build A World Together (1973)
Tracks 5 and 22 from Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half As Bad As Losing You) (1973)
Track 8 from The Grand Tour (1974)
Tracks 4 and 24 from Alone Again (1976)
Tracks 9, 12, and 19 from Bartender's Blues (1978)
Track 3 from I Am What I Am (1980)
Track 11 from And Along Came Jones (1991)

What these songs confirm for me that if George Jones ever had behaved like a capital-A artist -- taking his time to write entire albums himself every couple years, instead of cranking out platters every few months of whatever songs were around -- he still would've been one of the great ones, if a very different George. The songs he wrote often had all the emotion and humor and intelligence of his best known hits, and if he hadn't become such a magnet for songwriters maybe more of his own songs would've been hits.

Even though Jones often told the story of his life in songs written by others, it's still fascinating to hear the words that come direct from him pen. The most pointed moments come from Alone Again, the album recorded shortly after he divorced Tammy Wynette -- "A Drunk Can't Be A Man" is a brutally self-lacerating song for a guy whose frequent songs about his most famous vice tended to be merely bittersweet, if not outright celebratory, and "Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me," though a story-song written in character, is still an epic of self-pity. "Our Private Life" from 1974 is perhaps the first example of a recording artist ranting at the tabloids in song, and sounds genuinely bitter and angry (unless "The Ballad of John and Yoko" counts, I guess?).

Through it all, though, it's all about the voice. I always loved seeing George Jones sing, because sometimes he'd kind of grit his teeth and swing his head slightly, in this way that made me feel like he had the song caged in his mouth and it was fighting to get out. I still picture that whenever I listen to him. Just like some artists in this series, like Madonna, all but demand that I come back for a second volume somewhere down the line, at some point I definitely want to return to George's catalog, for another mix that won't focus just on songs he had a hand in writing.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley

Reading Diary

Sunday, April 28, 2013

a) How Music Works
by David Byrne
I got this for Christmas and wasn't really sure whether I would cotton to it, the reviews made it sound like it'd be kind of dry and bland. But I have to say I'm really enjoying it so far -- it has a little of that slightly flat, affected unemotional tone that people are used to Byrne projecting as a performer, but it's also a bit warmer and more human than that and he actually gets into the nuts and bolts of how he came to perform that way. It's almost disillusioning to here him kind of pick apart the origins and motivations behind various aspects of his and Talking Heads' music, but his almost clinically removed approach actually ends up being a good way of reading about this stuff so it doesn't come off like a narcissistic "you had to be there" musician memoir. Some real food for thought about the nature of creativity and the social or financial realities of performing or recording music.

b) Music At The Crossroads: Lives and Legacies of Baltimore Jazz
edited by Mark Osteen and Frank J. Graziano
Stumbled upon this at a bookstore and snapped it up, was published in 2010 by Loyola University and features local writers, many of whom I'm familiar with or a fan of, writing essays and capsule biographies of various jazz legends and cult heroes who spent some or all of their lives in Baltimore. It's fun to get a Baltimore-centric view of Cab Calloway or Billie Holiday but since I'm not a big jazz head a lot of the stories about people Eubie Blake or Chick Webb were just a revelation and have loaded me up with records I now need to hear. Given the number of different writers, not all chapters are created equal, and there are one or two in particular that just come off very cold and academic and focused on the least interesting details, but otherwise the whole thing just radiates with love and dedication, really fun read.

c) Franny and Zooey 
by J.D. Salinger
I had read Catcher In The Rye when I was younger like anyone else and enjoyed it without really feeling too strongly about it, but it was actually my dear old dad who's been going through a bit of a Salinger phase lately and was really urging me to check out some of his other books, so I grabbed this one a while back. I guess this is just a little novella that's linked to some characters in other books I haven't read, but I really enjoyed it, just as these three long, intensely detailed scenes telling a relatively simple story but cramming so much characterization and dialogue and ideas in every page, really gave me a better appreciation for Salinger's talents.

The First 1/3rd of the Decade

Thursday, April 25, 2013
It's been 3 years and 4 months since the beginning of 2010, which means we're about 33% of the way through whatever this decade is called (the teens?). I did a similar list 10 years ago, in a message board post that predated this blog, and it's fun to compare that to list I made at the end of the decade. Who knows how my opinion will change in 7 years -- some of these are pretty recent 2013 ones I've been really digging but haven't written about yet (one just came out this week!), but this is how I feel right now. In a weird way it already feels like these years constitute their own 'era' -- it helps that I became a father 3 months before the end of 2009, so all my personal memories and emotions tied up in these records reflect a very specific and important period in my life. So, here are my 33 favorite albums and singles of the decade so far.

My 33 Favorite Albums of the Decade So Far (Spotify Playlist): 

1. Diddy-Dirty Money - Last Train To Paris
2. Patrick Stump - Soul Punk
3. The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
4. Waka Flocka Flame - Flockaveli
5. Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream
6. Future - Pluto
7. Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park
8. Meek Mill - Dreamchasers
9. Butch Walker And The Black Widows - I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart
10. Paramore - Paramore
11. E-40 - Revenue Retrievin'
12. Jazmine Sullivan - Love Me Back
13. Dead Sara - Dead Sara
14. Lady Gaga - Born This Way
15. Lou Reed and Metallica - Lulu
16. Yelawolf - Trunk Muzik
17. Beyonce - 4
18. Mark Lanegan Band - Blues Funeral
19. The Nels Cline Singers - Initiate
20. They Might Be Giants - Join Us
21. Melanie Fiona - The MF Life
22. Rufus Wainwright - Out Of The Game
23. My Chemical Romance - Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
24. Lloyd - King of Hearts
25. Dwight Yoakam - 3 Pears
26. Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin'
27. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)
28. The Disciplines - Virgins of Menace
29. DJ Quik - The Book of David
30. Fantasia - Side Effects of You
31. Casual Curious - Casual Curious
32. Dev - The Night The Sun Came Up
33. Nice Nice - Extra Wow

My 33 Favorite Singles of the Decade So Far (Spotify Playlist):

1. Miguel - "Sure Thing"
2. AWOLNATION - "Sail"
3. Meek Mill f/ Rick Ross - "I'm A Boss"
4. Rihanna - "Rude Boy"
5. Gucci Mane - "Lemonade"
6. Adele - "Rolling In The Deep"
7. Future - "Same Damn Time"
8. Miguel - "Adorn"
9. Kelly Rowland f/ Lil Wayne - "Motivation"
10. Katy Perry - "Teenage Dream"
11. Beyonce - "Countdown"
12. Sade - "Soldier Of Love"
13. Trey Songz f/ Fabolous - "Say Aah"
14. Eric Church - "Springsteen"
15. Pitbull f/ Ne-Yo, Afrojack and Nayer - "Give Me Everything"
16. Wiz Khalifa - "Black And Yellow"
17. Big Sean f/ Nicki Minaj - "Dance (A$$)"
18. Calvin Harris f/ Florence Welch - "Sweet Nothing"
19. Lady Gaga - "The Edge of Glory"
20. Keri Hilson - "Pretty Girl Rock"
21. Elle Varner - "Refill"
22. Gotye f/ Kimbra - "Somebody That I Used To Know"
23. Marsha Ambrosius - "Far Away"
24. 30 Seconds To Mars - "Kings and Queens"
25. Travis Porter - "Bring It Back"
26. Lady Antebellum - "Need You Now"
27. Drake f/ T.I. and Swizz Beatz - "Fancy"
28. Kem - "Share My Life"
29. Sugarland - "Stuck Like Glue"
30. Neon Trees - "Animal"
31. Tim McGraw - "Felt Good On My Lips"
32. Tamar Braxton - "Love And War"
33. Bruno Mars - "It Will Rain"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013
This week's Short List.

TV Diary

Sunday, April 21, 2013

a) "Defiance"
I always try to give new SyFy shows a shot, because some of them are pretty enjoyable, if not especially well crafted. But I shoulda known better about this one based on a video game, and the 2 hour pilot sapped me of any motivation to watch any further.

b) "How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life)"
Jesus, what a long title. Theoretically, the premise has mileage, and Sarah Chalke and Brad Garrett are solid leads for a sitcom (despite it being kinda distracting how close they are in age to play father and daughter), but this was pretty dull.

c) "The Real Husbands of Hollywood"
This may not be as good as "Burning Love" at taking aim at a subgenre of reality show that's ripe (perhaps overripe) for satire and just hitting all the marks perfectly. But it does take the format as a good jumping off point for being just fun and ridiculous. Robin Thicke, as ever, makes a hilarious token white guy, this time on purpose.

d) "Happy Endings"
It's bumming me out that they're dumping episodes of this two at a time on Fridays and it looks really likely for cancellation, hoping it gets another chance on cable if ABC does get rid of it. Because fuck, this show just keeps getting funnier and funnier, like even Zachary Knighton and Elisha Cuthbert are hysterical now, which I never expected.

e) "The Voice"
I haven't been following the show very closely this year, because really I just don't think I have it in me to follow these singing shows closely anymore, especially now that it's clear "The Voice" will never launch a major recording artist. But what I have seen has made me really feel like the change up in mentors has been good for the show, Xtina was always the most boring of the bunch and Cee-Lo the most obnoxiously hammy, and Shakira and Usher both seem more relaxed and genuine so far. And I mean, Shakira just lights up a room, it's nice to have her on TV every week.

f) "Shameless"
Third season was really good, kinda felt like the first time that I don't feel too much like the show is a guilty pleasure. Honestly the characterization and writing has always been solid, and the cast fantastic, it's just hard to handle how unabashedly ridiculous and trashy the show sometimes gets. I still get disappointed with the roles William H. Macy and Joan Cusack have been saddled with, but Emmy Rossum and the younger kids are all great.

g) "Parenthood"
Another, albeit completely different kind of show about family that I've had something of a love/hate relationship that I am feeling really good about as of its latest season. In fact, I was kind of disappointed by how early in the year NBC wrapped up this season, but I liked where they left the storylines, for once it didn't feel like they were rushing to resolve things for the finale or set up obvious new directions.

h) "Best Week Ever"
It's weird to have this show back on the air, after a few years of identify crisis with the Paul F. Tompkins iteration and then indefinite hiatus. But it's also, like, the same show as ever, even with different comics, and I don't mind the new set of faces, there's some funny people. Still kind of a ridiculous excuse for a show, but what the hell, I enjoy it.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 5: Brad Paisley

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Country's a genre that can often post up huge numbers while still being virtually invisible to most of the, er, country. But some country stars are less visible than others, while still being huge deals in their own world, like Brad Paisley. He's topped Billboard's country singles chart 18 times (10 of them consecutive singles, amazingly), but there are millions of Americans who never heard his music before last week, when a track from his new album Wheelhouse became infamous overnight and inspired a thousand thinkpieces (it speaks volumes of how little the internet usually cares about country that nobody seemed to have heard this album until Monday of its week of release -- try to imagine any major rap or pop album not being heard and discussed everywhere until the day before it was due in stores). "Accidental Racist" featuring LL Cool J was the deep cut heard 'round the world -- to the point that half the people writing about it seemed to be under the impression that it was actually a single (the album has yielded two radio hits so far, neither of which was that song).

In a way, I saw the whole "Accidental Racist" thing coming -- I tweeted about the eyebrow-raising title and feature credit a month before the album's release, after I'd spotted it on the album's tracklist, the record's lead single "Southern Comfort Zone" having recently become the latest in a long line of Paisley singles I've enjoyed. I actually was surprised by the song, though; Paisley has a history of loading up his albums with both non-country celebrities (Clint Eastwood, Don Henley, William Shatner, Dan Aykroyd) and topical or conceptual songs, often with a heavy dose of humor (one of his albums actually has a comedy skit entitled "Cornography"). One of the new album's other guests is Eric Idle! So I expected "Accidental Racist" to be a short, knowingly ridiculous novelty song, and not the slow, 6-minute power ballad it ended up being, much less just how clueless and ill-conceived many of its lyrics are.

Also, "Accidental Racist" was a surprise because of how utterly devoid of controversy or any kind of failure Paisley's career had been for the 14 years that preceded it. His first single was a hit, his second went to #1, and nearly all of the 30 singles that followed peaked no lower than #2. His biggest baggage as a new artist was being a prodigiously talented guitarist who had to prove he could also sing and write well, which he quickly did. He married the girl of his dreams, collaborated with many of his idols, even had a pretty good critical rep for a mainstream country artist. And then he wrote that stupid song about racism.

So I thought it'd be a good time to look at Paisley's catalog beyond the singles, even though most of the people reading this are probably not even familiar with the singles (and really are missing out on songs like "Me Neither" and "Whiskey Lullaby" and "Little Moments"). And it's a pretty entertaining discography -- a mix of heartfelt ballads, goofy novelty songs, Southern slice of life narratives, and token instrumentals where he gets to solo to his heart's content (he even leveraged his fame to indulge in a mostly instrumental album, Play, later in his career, something it's hard to imagine any other current country star of his stature even wanting to try, much less pull off). So I tried to include a little of all of that on this Spotify playlist:

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 5: Brad Paisley

1. Don't Breathe
2. Part Two
3. She's Her Own Woman
4. The Pants
5. Toothbrush
6. Runaway Train
7. Come On In featuring Buck Owens
8. Famous People
9. Some Mistakes
10. Munster Rag
11. Love Is Never-Ending
12. Better Than This
13. It Did
14. Catch All The Fish
15. Oh Love featuring Carrie Underwood
16. The Cigar Song
17. Tin Can On A String
18. A Man Don't Have To Die
19. Les Is More
20. Time Well Wasted

Track 1 from Who Needs Pictures (1999)
Tracks 2 and 10 from Part II (2001)
Tracks 8 and 16 from Mud On The Tires (2003)
Tracks 11 and 20 from Time Well Wasted (2005)
Tracks 9, 12, 13, and 15 from 5th Gear (2007)
Tracks 7 and 19 from Play (2008)
Tracks 3, 4, and 14 from American Saturday Night (2009)
Tracks 5 and 18 from This Is Country Music (2011)
Tracks 6 and 17 from Wheelhouse (2013)

The first few tracks mimic the arc of his life during the first few years of his career -- one of the many songs of heartbreak from his debut, followed by the title track from Part II, a metaphor about movie sequels and relationships inspired by watching Father Of The Bride Part II. And then, a couple of his best songs about the woman he soon married, Father Of The Bride actress Kimberly Williams. "She's Her Own Woman" and "The Pants" are not merely his best love songs (he's got a lot of those) but two great looks at relationships from a man's point of view that give the woman respect and dignity rather than just admiration or lust (although the latter may playfully indulge in the latter). It's the progressive attitude and emotional intelligence in songs about the opposite sex like that that made me hope "Accidental Racist" might not be a trainwreck. And then there's "Toothbrush," a playful little 'noun' song (in the tradition of his hits "Alcohol," "Water" and "Ticks") that damn near makes me tear up when it gets to that corny little ending allusion to parenthood.

As great a singles artist as he is, it's a testament to how consistent he is that any number of these songs could have also been huge hits had they been released. In fact a lot of them could easily be reasonable alternatives to some of his hits -- "Famous People" from Mud On The Tires is a better satire of show business than that album's lead single, "Celebrity," and the sentiment of his current single, "Beat This Summer," of never being able to top a particular great moment in your life, was explored both more and less sentimentally on a pair of songs from 5th Gear, "It Did" and "Better Than This." His first duet with Carrie Underwood, "Oh Love," is on par with the next one, "Remind Me," that became his highest charting Hot 100 hit a couple years ago. One of his signature songs, "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)," is far from his only fishin' song, and "Catch All The Fish" is my favorite of the rest. In any event, after this little speedbump with LL, he will no doubt keep racking up the hits.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In this week's Baltimore City Paper I wrote a Rap Sheet column, with news about StarrZ, A$AP Ant, OG Dutch Master, Tom Delay Beats, and the late Low Key God.

Also, as usual, wrote the Short List.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

My band Western Blot is playing this Saturday at the Charm City Art Space, which I'd already posted about before but we just added another band, JAN, to the bill, and John from CCAS made a new flyer. I'm really excited to be playing with them and Special People and Bricklayer and Your Solar, I think it'll be a pretty awesome show. Come out if you can!

2013 Remix Report Card, Vol. 2

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe (Remix)" by Kendrick Lamar featuring Jay-Z
The thing that's interesting about this to me is how it in many ways poorly fits the event remix format -- Kendrick is one of the first major stars to come along in hip-hop in a long time who didn't get, seek out or particularly need a Jay co-sign, which has nonetheless come along surprisingly late in the hype cycle when you think about it. But more than that, he's a rare new star whose musical DNA contains little to no Jay, lyrically or production-wise, which shows in how awkwardly Jay sounds here, even by latter day awkward Jay standards. It's also just kind of a weird song to bestow this prestige remix upon -- sure it fits better than "Swimming Pools" or "Poetic Justice," and this is after all the biggest deep cut/potential single. Still, the bars Kendrick piggybacks onto Jay's verse are easily some of my favorite shit he's ever done, much better than any of his verses on the original cut. "Trick, Don't Kill My Vibe" radio edit is just sad, though.
Best Verse: Kendrick Lamar's 2nd verse
Overall Grade: B+

"Cruise (Remix)" by Florida Georgia Line featuring Nelly
A couple years ago I dropped the ball on covering the Jason Aldean/Ludacris remix in this space, so NEVER AGAIN! I listen to country radio here and there, but not quite enough to be familiar with every big hit, so I didn't even know this one too well and man is it lousy. I was never mad at the Nelly/Tim McGraw record, though, so I'll give old Cornell the benefit of the doubt. And I mean, this is an improvement, it works. I may soon regret praising this, though, since it just entered the top 10 of the Hot 100.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B-

"Hello Love (Remix)" by T.Rone featuring Juicy J, Jim Jones, Fat Joe and Raheem DeVaughn
I love this song that's been buzzing for a minute, and I figured at some point a rapper or two would jump on it. But it's a little funny that the first thing that happened after Cash Money scooped up T.Rone is that a remix dropped with nobody from YMCMB and a bunch of old dudes who are, Juicy J aside, not really popping at all at the moment.
Best Verse: Juicy J
Overall Grade: C-

"How Many Drinks? (Remix)" by Miguel featuring Kendrick Lamar
This is great synergy, both in terms of two guys from L.A. who made huge critical and commercial splashes on their genres last year, and in terms of this being the Miguel song best suited for Kendrick to jump on. But I dunno, it falls pretty flat for me, in part by fulfilling my expectations right down to the "Swimming Pools" references. Conventional wisdom would be that Miguel's little "that ass is colossal" rap is dragging down the song, and Jordan Sargent accurately predicted that this song would be more radio-friendly with a big name guest rapper dropped into that slot of the song. But I honestly miss that section, and the way it leads into the melodic bridge and ad libs that make the last chorus soar.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"I Been On (H-Town Remix)" by Beyonce featuring Bun B, Z-Ro, Scarface, Willie D, Slim Thug and Lil Keke
I kinda wrinkled my nose as "Bow Down/I Been On" when I first processed it as an another annoying aggressive trend-jocking Beyonce single in the vein of "Run The World" or "Diva," but the contrast between the two halves of the song works for me and the vocal performance has its moments. Still, isolating the lesser half for a remix that plays up the somewhat forced Houston reminisces was a move I was not necessarily on board with. Like the selection of Texas MCs she got, though, good that it's Slim Thug as the token Swishahouse-era dude instead of a bunch of guys from his generation and a token '90s cat. Also dig the way Beyonce's 'appearance' on the remix is to take her screwed vocals from the original back up to normal pitch.
Best Verse: Scarface
Overall Grade: B

"M.I.A. (Remix)" by Omarion featuring Rick Ross, Rockie Fresh and French Montana
The original is kinda dope, think it should've been a bigger hit than it was, and it should be easy to do a MMG posse cut remix full of better verses than Wale on the original, but this falls pretty flat. Not in any mood to hear a Ross verse about sex ever, but especially now after the date rape line. French is a fucking mess, though, I still have no idea how that dude got on.
Best Verse: Rockie Fresh
Overall Grade: D

"My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Remix)" by Fall Out Boy featuring 2 Chainz
Obviously this is not nearly as much of a surprise as 2 Chainz starring in the video for the original version of the single that it almost feels kind of perfunctory and expected, especially given the run of rapper collaborations Fall Out Boy had back in 2007-'08. The fact that they went back and changed up the beat with some trap hi-hats to make it fit him better is kinda cool, but the verse is whatever.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C+

"News For You (Remix)" by Eric Benet featuring 2 Chainz
Actually a more hilarious combination of artists than Tity with Fall Out Boy, and also ends up sounding a lot better. The original Benet track was some dope smooth shit with Frankie Beverly guitars, the remix is only slightly more 'urban' with a nice sample of Lenny Kravitz's "It Ain't Over Til It's Over," and 2 Chainz comes with this sly, almost old school flow while still bringing his weird reckless energy.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B+

"Pour It Up (Remix)" by Rihanna featuring Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, Juicy J and T.I.
Given how much "Pour It Up" is thought of as a "Bandz A Make Her Dance" retread, I figured Juicy's verse would be the most unnecessary, but instead he just proves once again how great he sounds on these kinds of tracks while finding a more novel flow to approach it with than anyone else.
Best Verse: Juicy J
Overall Grade: B-

"R.I.P. (Remix)" by Young Jeezy featuring YG, Kendrick Lamar and Chris Brown
Since Jeezy's appearance on E-40's "Function" remix was really the first time he'd been on any kind of West coast post-hyphy beat like that and directly presaged "R.I.P." it makes sense that he'd make a remix to the latter featuring YG, who was on the original "Function," and Chris Brown, who was on the remix with Jeezy, as well as another Cali rapper. Generally though this track has just made a bunch of headlines for Brown's gay-baiting Drake diss, not for otherwise just having 3 actual rappers kick dope verses on it. Given how ill-suited Kendrick often seems to club bangers like "Fuckin' Problems," it's good to hear him just rip into a beat like this and sound comfortable. YG's Too $hort impression is fun too.
Best Verse: Kendrick Lamar
Overall Grade: B

"R.I.P. (G-Mix)" by Young Jeezy featuring Snoop Dogg, Too $hort and E-40
Really irritates me that a week or two after the first remix, Jeezy dropped this one, so I felt obligated to go in and add this to the post I'd already drafted. The multiple remix craze is outta control. He really shoulda just had everybody from both remixes minus Chris Brown on one track and kept it all Cali. Obviously, I already outlined E-40's role in this song existing, and he sounds great on this track.
Best Verse: E-40
Overall Grade: B

"Yes (Remix)" by Q Parker featuring LL Cool J and Raheem DeVaughn
I always dug Q's voice in 112 and appreciated that he was kinda the group's secret weapon on the writing/production side, so I always root for dude to do something on a solo tip. This song has never really done anything for me, the chorus is like an even dumber version of The-Dream's "Falsetto." Corny ol' LL is kind of the perfect look for this, though, I love that his first line on this is "your body needs a remix."
Best Verse: LL Cool J
Overall Grade: B

Movie Diary

Wednesday, April 10, 2013
a) Rock of Ages
Obviously this is garbage but I was kind of curious exactly what kind it really was. I don't even think it was necessarily a given that this couldn't be a fun movie, but it seems like they didn't really know how far to go. Given the casting, it's clear they were more interested in how well people acted than how well they sang, but clearly nobody's doing any dramatic heavy lifting and the people with comedy chops never really get to totally let loose to the point of actually being funny. Which just leaves a bunch of mediocre singing. Tom Cruise has his moments, though.

b) Wanderlust
Not as good as Role Models, but a pretty funny flick with some memorable moments, actually almost kinda sorta cared about the plot and the characters too, which can be rare with these kinds of comedies.

c) Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
I really enjoyed the first Downey/Law flick, but this one just seemed to be one of those sequels that wasn't bad, but by not raising the stakes or changing much ended up being really forgettable.

d) We Need To Talk About Kevin
This movie was interesting but ultimately frustrating, possibly even just aggravating. Tilda Swinton gives a pretty powerful performance, really transforms the character over time as you see what she goes through, but the movie's whole handling of Kevin, both in terms of how the actor plays him and the light the movie shows him in, I don't know, it all felt really unsubtle to the point of just being unrealistic. As I understand it, the book is in first person, with the mother as an unreliable narrator, and I suppose they were trying to preserve that in the movie by letting him be so exaggerated that you would suspect that what you're actually seeing is her perspective. But it was never really made clear, and the movie told the story in a more third person way, so it just ended up feeling like a hamfisted movie and performance.

e) Hubble 3D
My family's in Alabama this week visiting my in-laws, and today we went to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and ran around seeing all the spaceships and stuff. And while we were there, we went into the IMAX theater and my son had his first experience watching a movie in a movie theater. He was pretty well-behaved, and it was pretty cool! Wasn't wild about the narration by Leonardo DiCaprio, but visually it was just astonishing.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013
The Short List in this week's City Paper of the best concerts to catch in Baltimore.

Monthly Report: March 2013 Singles

Sunday, April 07, 2013

1. Demi Lovato - "Heart Attack"
I do a lot of teleprompting work around D.C., and occasionally work with famous people, but mostly just politicians. Now and then there'll be someone whose movies or music I've enjoyed, and now and again you work with them for a whole afternoon and get to build some rapport, but usually it's pretty impersonal, which is fine by me. A few months ago I was working on a bunch of PSAs with celebs that happened to be at an event, so they'd just come in for a few minutes, read the script, and then go, so I worked with Demi Lovato for a few minutes but wouldn't really say I met her. It was kind of funny, though, none of the rest of the crew really knew who she was, and I had a hard time admitting in front of a bunch of other 30-somethings and 20-somethings that I like Demi Lovato's music and consider her first album a minor classic. Probably good that I didn't get a chance and try and tell her that, I also worked with Mandy Moore once and felt like a gross old dude, and she's much closer to my age. Anyway, glad that Demi's career is doing well and her new song is pretty good. Follow along at home with the favorite 2013 singles Spotify playlist, by the way.

2. Little Big Town - "Tornado"
This is the follow-up to "Pontoon," my favorite country summer jam of 2012, and it takes the similarly modern, almost clubby production style (those synths!) in a totally different, more foreboding direction, which works out well.

3. Rihanna f/ Mikky Ekko - "Stay"
A year and a half ago, I wrote a Radio Hits One column about Adele's "Someone Like You" becoming the first piano-and-vocals-only ballad to ever top the Hot 100, at a time when ballads and slow songs in general had been virtually banned from the upper reaches of the pop charts. At the time, I pointed out how some of pop's biggest stars, like Rihanna, seemed virtually incapable of pulling off ballads, and that "Unfaithful" was pretty much her worst hit. So while I'm not surprised at all that we've now got some major stars following Adele's lead with piano ballad singles, I'm pretty shocked that Rihanna's is really good. In fact it's far better than the Bruno Mars one that's also out right now -- and it's been pretty weird lately to look at the top of the Hot 100 and see those two songs alternating with Macklemore and Baauer's wacky YouTube memes. "Stay" sounds like it probably could have, and maybe should have, been Mikky Ekko's solo single, but even though Rihanna sometimes sounds a little silly singing his Anglophile lament, her voice is pretty beautiful on it, she's really gradually grown as a vocalist over the years.

4. Miguel - "How Many Drinks?"
When I put "Do You..." in this space a while back, I noted how that song had kind of gotten lost in the shuffle of the enormous, unprecedented radio domination of "Adorn" (which now hasn't left the top 3 of the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart for about 7 months, and recently returned to #1). And the song that I predicted would be the next single has in fact been picked, with a Kendrick Lamar remix of  "How Many Drinks?" slated to drop soon as the official radio/video version. I'm somewhat wary of how Kendrick will sound on the song, but I love it as is -- it's obviously a shrewd pick for radio, and the most sonically similar song to "Adorn" on Kaleidoscope Dream, but it also feels kind of appealingly langorous in its length, which over a minute longer than the previous two singles off the album. I especially love the way the 'rap' section drifts into this great bridge and all the melodic embellishments on the final single, just a great vocal performance.

5. Raheem DeVaughn - "Love Connection"
Speaking of "Adorn," the latest entry in Raheem DeVaughn's increasingly desperate career is major label R&B's first official attempt to brazenly copy that song. Although in DeVaughn's defense, I could totally see him waiting his whole life for an excuse to do a "Sexual Healing"-type song. And it's not bad, even if those drums are totally shameless. I also like how the "good love and affection" hook also recalls Mario's "Let Me Love You," which in a way is also a close cousin to "Adorn."

6. Ke$ha - "C'Mon"
It would figure that the first Ke$ha I actually like is her first to totally flop and miss the top 20, after seven consecutive top 10 singles. But all in all I'm glad her career is on the decline, even if this song deserved better. It's funny how Ke$ha is the first person to jack Nicki's "Super Bass" flow.

7. Tyga f/ Rick Ross - "Dope"
Tyga is someone else I find completely reprehensible, who now and again is able to stumble onto a hot beat. It's interesting to hear a "Deep Cover" sample, that bass-driven G-funk sound, retrofitted to a rickety clapper track, like it's this strange top-heavy construction that actually works.

8. Bridget Kelly - "Special Delivery"
Bridget Kelly is a Roc Nation second stringer who would sing the "Empire State of Mind" hook when Alicia Keys wasn't available. This single hasn't really gone much of anywhere, I think it actually did better in the UK than here, but it's really good.

9. Kelly Rowland - "Kisses Down Low"
Mike Will Made It's domination of urban radio at the moment is pretty incredible -- 5 of the top 15 records right now. So it's very likely you could listen to a station for an hour and one in three records would be his, no exaggeration. This one may not be my favorite of the pack, but it's been growing on me. And it's just kind of funny to hear the chorus to T.I.'s "Top Back" rewritten to be about eating out.

10. Beyonce - "Bow Down / I Been On"
I really hated this song at first, and still am not wild about the sentiment. But after being afraid of it being another obnoxiously aggressive and trend-jocking Beyonce single in the vein of "Diva" or "Run The World," it's starting to look like just a quick teaser single, more a statement than something for the radio, like it's her "Stupid Hoe," and I like it more in that context. Plus there's all these little harmonies and vocal subtleties in the first half that always seem to crop up on Beyonce songs that initially seem like they're not really about melody.

Worst Single of the Month: Swedish House Mafia f/ John Martin - "Don't You Worry Child" 
Lots of people complain about the crossover US hits by European dance producers like David Guetta, but those usually feature American stars who do something decent or palatable at least some of the time, the Swedish dude singing on this is just torture, like why would anybody ever choose to sing like that.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Last year I picked up Roger Ebert's memoir Life Itself, which had been recently released on paperback, and have read a chapter or two of it before bed many nights the last few months. In a way, I feel guilty to admit it, but I kind of figured that, slow reader that I am, there was a good chance he'd be dead by the time I finished the book, and it'd be a book I'd definitely want to read at that point. It's really a lovely read, though, I'm glad I have it, especially this week, when he finally did pass, after a decade of publicly struggling with the physical effects of cancer while remaining not only mentally sound but becoming a better and more prolific writer.

Anyone who survives that long with that kind of illness is admirable, but there was something almost wonderfully defiant about how, having been diagnosed not long after cancer took his old co-star Gene Siskel's life in a matter of months, Ebert just kept going. Last year he reviewed 300 movies, the most in his whole 46-year career.

One of the many remembrances of Ebert written this week was by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, the co-host of the short-lived reboot of "At The Movies" that I found pretty enjoyable even without Ebert's onscreen presence. Vishnevetsky only knew Ebert in his frail final years, and at one point notes how slowly Ebert typed, sometimes as slow as thirty seconds per sentence. Reading that kind of stopped me in my tracks. I had assumed, given his voluminous recent output, that his fingers where still in good enough shape to type 80 words per minute (and of course, Vishnevetsky was referring to how Ebert typed on the apparatus that 'spoke' for him -- perhaps at a laptop he was a bit faster).

That he was writing so much, so well, when even the physical act of writing was slow and difficult, is just amazing. But towards the end, that was one of the only things he had left. And he made the most of it. I've had the thought, many times, that I am prepared for whatever physical challenges old age brings me, as long as I have my mental facilities, and am able to read and write, and keep stimulating my mind and communicating with people. Ebert's final years were like an embodiment of that idea, and a strangely reassuring one to me. He wrote a lot, sometimes well, sometimes not so well, but always honestly and with thought and effort. One of the most bizarre things he ever penned, a positive review of Garfield: A Tale Of Two Kitties written from the perspective of the animated cat himself, was published on the day he underwent the surgery to remove his jaw and permanently take way his ability to speak.

Ebert is, of course, a touchstone for any critic of any kind, even if he kind of fell into film criticism; he grew up loving words and wanting to be a newspaperman, but 'film critic' was kind of a nascent, undignified profession when he was assigned the beat. It's something of luck and timing that he was so good at it, and that he and another not especially photogenic man became the trade's television celebrity representatives. But what's remarkable is how much he continued to devote himself to writing, even after it would've been easy to bring in easy TV money. Think of how few writers, in any medium, have or would stay so dedicated to the word processor even after becoming regulars on the talk show circuit.

And again, his longevity and stamina as a writer, in addition to the eloquence and humor and humanity in his writing, are a huge inspiration to me. Writing is not something everyone enjoys or excels at doing, but it unites nearly all of us. And it feels almost absurd to be able to make a living at it, the same way some people would feel about getting paid to play video games or walk their dog or something. But again, it's something that should be consistent throughout your adult life. And while we're used to the idea of an artist, say a novelist who writes some masterpieces and then spends his later years stuck in writer's block, laboring over a follow-up, or a newspaper hack heartlessly churning out copy for a paycheck until the day he dies, Ebert showed another way. A way to dedicate yourself to a type of writing for decades, while constantly expanding your subject matter, drawing readers more and more into your own world while ostensibly informing them about something else entirely.

One of the reasons I loved Roger Ebert is that he was a great practitioner of negative reviews, which are the main reason critics are often looked at as cranky takedown artists, but are simply a necessity of the job. I'm a huge fan of his book I Hated, Hated, HATED This Movie; I actually saw the original airing of the infamous Siskel & Ebert episode in which they reviewed North, the movie that inspired the books title. On my Twitter, I quoted some of his greatest pans under the hashtag #EbertEther. I'm primarily a music critic, but on the couple dozen occasions my paper had me review movies, I can only hope did it half as well as he did. And no matter what medium I'm reviewing, I aspire to his mastery of tone, his balance of humor and respect for the artform, his social conscience and his love of every experience, even the worst art he ever had to sit through.

Friday, April 05, 2013

As a follow up to my feature in this week's City Paper about the Baltimore Popfest, happening this Saturday at the Charm City Art Space, I wrote a post on the Noise blog about the new song just released by one of the bands playing the festival, Wildhoney.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The next Western Blot show is coming up quick, at the Charm City Art Space on April 20th, in case you missed the last one. This one will start a lot earlier, too, which I think will be nice considering we played like after 1am at that one. Really pumped about the lineup, too -- saw Special People a while back and they kicked ass, ajnd have been looking forward to seeing Bricklayer live based on their demo. Your Solar have been sharing their practice space with us, and Tim actually stepped in to play bass with us at the Golden West show when we were shorthanded, so I'm hugely grateful to him, and the stuff I've heard from Your Solar has been stellar. New Western Blot music coming soon too!

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Lots of stuff from me in the Baltimore City Paper this week:

- a BPM column on dance and club music, with news about Deep In The Game, Say Wut, Matic808 and Rod Lee.

- a feature on Baltimore Popfest, which is happening at the Charm City Art Space on Saturday, and

- The Short List, as usual.