Yes! Thanks Bryan! Gonna study this tomorrow when I'm not on my phone.
I really hope to get a Prince write up finished sometime this summer. Tall order tho.
Yes! Thanks Bryan! Gonna study this tomorrow when I'm not on my phone.
I really hope to get a Prince write up finished sometime this summer. Tall order tho.
To be fair, I was going to post that awhile back then someone posted that they were finishing their reviews of the same artist and I recalled the issue with you, Greg and Bob Dylan. It's been long enough, I might as well finish that set of reviews and post it.
There was no issue with me, Greg, and Bob Dylan.
If I start finishing the things I start, it's going to lead to a total identity crisis.
I thought about doing a guide to the Fabric mixes (excluding Fabriclive), but that would be a pretty massive undertaking considering they're getting close to 70 now.
Sleater-Kinney (1995) – Grade: B-
Corin Tucker was guitarist in one of the seminal riot-grrl acts, Heavens to Betsy. Carrie Brownstein saw them perform, was inspired, and started her own band Excuse 17. They started Sleater-Kinney (named after an off-ramp in Portland near their practice space) as a side project for those two bands, both playing guitar and singing. They toured Australia not long after forming and found Lora McFarlane down there, adding her as drums. This album was recorded shortly after they got together, and reflects their roots in the Riot-Grrls scene. At this point the band was a side project for two relatively successful underground bands, but they both brought their a-game for their first record together. Their punk leaning is obvious here: more often than not, Corin is screaming rather than singing, and she plays fast, distorted riffs as Carrie lays angular guitar melodies over the top. However, songs like The Day I Went Away and Her Again point to their ability to mix fantastically catchy vocal melodies, interesting guitar tracks and huge choruses. And they aren’t all hard rock and screaming; with a winking nod, they pull of two pretty ones in a row, the first called Slow Song. The production on this is pretty thin and the drums mostly hide in the back, and the vocals sometimes get warbly and rough when they aren’t screaming. And it’s also far and away their shortest album, at 22:45. It blasts past in a rush, and you’ll wanna toss it back on. A promising start.
Call the Doctor (1996) – Grade: A+
I wrote three different, unrelated reviews for this one because it’s such a formative album for me:
The jump between the first album and this is huge. Right away, the interlocking guitars do more than a regular rhythm/lead configuration, taking cues from Wire, Gang of Four and even Iron Maiden in their assault. Carrie’s vocals soar and the chorus so urgent and driving. Corin’s turn on Hubcap is equally stunning, a tense and rhythmic verse leading into a Pixies-on-steroids chorus that could have been a hit on alternative radio when it was released. For both Corin and Carrie, the band was now their main concern, as both Heavens to Betsy and Excuse 17 had broken up recently. Lora flew in from Australia and they recorded this one quickly, but the sound is much improved and everyone turns in a stronger performance. There isn’t a bad song on it, and it deserves to be recognized as one of the strongest punk albums of the 90s.
If Sleater-Kinney had an anthem, it would be I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. On it, Corin screams that she wants to be your Joey Ramone, your Thurston Moore: your badass rock god. They always toyed with the idea of gender, and one reason Sleater-Kinney always stood out so far above the rest of their peers is they weren’t a great riot-grrl band or a great feminist band, or a great punk band: they were just a great band, and they played like rock stars. The chorus to the song is in league with some of the Ramones catchiest tunes, and the guitars are filthy and booming. It also showed that Carrie could write ‘em just as well as Corin, and sing just as convincingly.
In fall of 2002, my family took a trip from Bishop down to Lancaster, home of crackheads, desert rats and Frank Zappa. My brother was playing in the High Desert little league playoffs. Since Bishop is such a small town, I always took advantage of a trip to any area with a population above 10,000 to check a Best Buy or record store for something to listen to. I had recently fallen for Fugazi, and some random review reading tipped me to the fact that I should probably listen to Sleater-Kinney. Best Buy only had this album, and it was 7.99, so I couldn’t pass it up. As we drove towards the baseball fields, I put the disc into the new CD player I’d earned laying rock for my dad all summer. I put on the headphones and let it rip. I sat in the back of the air condition, yet sweltering, car and let the songs blast through me. I had not yet heard X-Ray Spex or Bikini Kill or even the better Jefferson Starship stuff: my idea of female rock musicians at the time was Alanis Morrissette. These ladies blew me away. I bought three other CDs that day, but I didn’t listen to them at all during the late night, four hour drive home. Sleater-Kinney had me hooked.
Get this album.
Dig Me Out (1997) – Grade: A+
Eight seconds into the opening, titular track, it becomes obvious that this is a different Sleater-Kinney. The ringing guitar that introduces the song and album is already more complex than anything from the previous two releases, but the drums come in and things go to another level. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Janet Weiss, the third core member of Sleater-Kinney, drummer extraordinaire. The drumming on Call the Doctor was good, but Weiss is a masterful beater of the skins; she finds unique rhythms, provides excellent backing vocals and can both hit like Bonham and skitter and strut like Tony Allen. The songwriting has only gotten tighter in the interim year. The second track, One More Hour, shows how far they’d come in such a short time: it’s not quite a ballad, definitely not a rocker, but completely captivating and driving, driven by a grinding rhythm guitar and a chiming lead, and a caterwauling vocal take by Corin. It’s also a nuanced love song, something you don’t get too often.
The Hot Rock (1999) – Grade: B
The first two songs will cue you in: Sleater-Kinney are working hard to keep from being pigeonholed. The Hot Rock kicks off with two songs in a row that don’t feature loud guitars, screams, pummelling drums or charging rhythms. Instead, they give you chiming sounds, prettily sung tracks and a foreboding sense of darkness. The Hot Rock is, on its face, a minor key lament, but there’s an urgency to the delivery that makes it much more haunting. A song like Burn, Don’t Freeze! would have, only two years prior, been an explosive launch into a screaming stratosphere, but here the band keeps restraint and works on a grinding groove and clean guitar tones that really benefit from the more muted sound. The songwriting shows more nuance as well, but I can’t help but miss the brash, in your face Sleater-Kinney of the previous releases. A good album to be sure, but also an anomaly in their career for it’s calmness and clean tones.
All Hands on the Bad One (2000) – Grade: A-
By this point they’ve almost got a formula: intertwined guitars, vocal harmonies behind Corin’s screams. They are a much tighter band at this point, and they rock harder than they did on the Hot Rock. Ballad of a Ladyman starts out with a similar melodic intro that suggests the calmer previous material, but it builds into an epic pop-rock song with some soaring guitar and vocals. All Hands on the Bad One is the highlight of the first half of the album. It has a really taut groove and the vocals never get to the throat shredding level of the past. There is so much tension, yet the song is energetic and almost danceable. Just fantastic. They don’t stay quite at this level throughout though, as Youth Decay and #1 Must Have are a bit unmemorable. However, most of the second side continues the huge sound from Dig Me Out to great effect. Both Youth Decay and Leave You Behind capture them in nice, twee-with-umph mode, delivering sweet indie pop goodness. Another highly enjoyable album.
One Beat (2002) – Grade: A
Combat Rock was the best response to 9/11 that a band put out in its immediate aftermath. Whereas most bands avoided political statements (Bruce Springsteen put out the Rising, Neil Young had his song that advocated swift justice and I’m sure someone else was out there, but it wasn’t common) but Corin and Carrie made their most overt observations in connection with 9/11. Check these lyrics out (I was going to pull out a quote, but they’re too astute, so this’ll be a long one:
They tell us there are only two sides to be on
If you are on our side you’re right if not you’re wrong
But are we innocent, paragons of good?
Is our guilt erased by the pain that we’ve endured?
Hey look it's time to pledge allegiance
Oh god I love my dirty Uncle Sam
Our country's marching to the beat now
And we must learn to step in time
Where is the questioning where is the protest song?
Since when is skepticism un-American?
Dissent’s not treason but they talk like it’s the same
Those who disagree are afraid to show their face
Let's break out our old machines now
It sure is good to see them run again
Oh gentlemen start your engines
And we know where we get the oil from
Are you feeling alright now
Paint myself all red white blue
Are you singing let's fight now
Innocent people die, uh oh
There are reasons to unite
Is this why we unite?
If you hate this time
Remember we are the time!
Show you love your country go out and spend some cash
Red white blue hot pants doing it for Uncle Sam
Flex our muscles show them we’re stronger than the rest
Raise your hands up baby are you sure that we’re the best?
We'll come out with our fists raised
The good old boys are back on top again
And if we let them lead us blindly
The past becomes the future once again
They question, they struggle with other people’s complacency, and they do it in a great rock song. This album is full of these juxtapositions. In addition to fantastic lyrics (also check Far Away for another strong protest song) they took some serious steps to broaden their sound. There are keyboards on a few tracks, a horn section on Step Aside, Sympathy is the bluesiest they ever got, and Janet Weiss’ backing vocals are more prevalent and varied. The guitars aren’t as blunted and sharp as All Hands, but that task is ably covered by the vocals and the aforementioned lyrics. They cover the rockers, the ragers, quieter songs and new landscapes in a complete and excellent way: this is the most representative Sleater-Kinney album.
The Woods (2005) – Grade: A+
They toured with Pearl Jam after One Beat, and playing in stadiums inspired them to write songs that hit the seats in the back. They recorded outside of the pacific northwest for the first time, holing up in Woodstock with the Flaming Lips favored producer. Oh, and they jumped ship from Kill Rock Stars, their label for nearly 10 years, to put the new one out on Sub Pop. With this much change and ambition, the Woods had potential to be a flop, a failed experiment. But, if every review above didn’t already tip you off, Sleater-Kinney were too good to fail. The Woods is their hardest, heaviest and loudest album, and a strong contender for their best. The Fox opens things with a howl, a wicked burst of distortion and overdriven drums. It’s a sonic litmus test: we’re loud, and if you don’t like this, you can leave now. The pure noise isn’t carried over to the rest of the record, but the sonic maximalism definitely is; they sound huge. Wilderness and What’s Mine Is Yours take the dual guitar attack from Dig it Out and All Hands and pushes it further than ever. They are more intricate in their back and forth, and when Corin howls on this one, she lights it up. Carrie gets more and better guitar solos here than at any other point in their career. The breakdown in What’s Mine is Yours reminds me of Whole Lotta Love’s solo, in that it’s dark, discordant, eerie and completely great. Janet gets her first lead vocal on Modern Girl (another overdriven track, this time with tons of fuzz on top of a twee-ish pop song.) The second to last song, Lets Call it Love, is essentially an 11-minute dual guitar solo that would impress Maiden. They achieved the stadium filling sound, and coupled it with stadium-ready rock songs, some of the best of their career. Sleater-Kinney went on hiatus after the tour for this one, and if they do nothing else, this is an excellent, daring and highly enjoyable way for them to bow out. They were our Joey Ramone.
Yeah, it's off the 5 right? Definitely have passed a Sleater-Kinney exit while driving south of Seattle on the 5. I'd always assumed it had something to do with their name.
I should listen to Call the Doctor again, it didn't grab me the first few times I listened to it.
I completely agree with your ratings for Dig Me Out, One Beat and The Woods. All 3 are fantastic.
We're here to play some Mississippi Delta Blues. We're in a horrible depression, and I gotta admit - we're starting to like it.
Nice work bmack!
OK Bryan here's your Gram Parsons.
The International Submarine Band – Safe at Home
45 years after the fact, the idea of a rock band playing country songs seems quaint and old fashioned. But in 1967, rock music and country music were on opposite sides of a rather polarized culture war. Rock music was for hippies and drug abusers, country for solid upright rural or southern Americans who wore their hair short and the clothes neat. So Parson’s idea to bring the two together was extraordinarily radical and as we know now wound up pretty influential, in both good and bad ways, on pop music for years to come. (note: to say Parsons “invented” country rock, as many do, is not quite fair; Dylan was recording John Wesley Harding in 1967 as well).
The International Submarine Band was formed while Parsons was a freshman at Harvard, where he dropped out after a semester and the band moved first to NY and then LA. This album was recorded in 1967 and is mostly covers (Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard) but does include a few Parsons originals including “Luxury Liner”, probably the best song on this record. This is a decent album but not the place to start with Parsons. Grade: B
The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo
Parsons left the International Submarine Band before Safe at Home was even released (note: this theme tends to repeat itself) and was recruited by Chris Hillman to join The Byrds, who were already huge rock stars with first their jangly power-pop (Turn Turn Turn) then psychedelia (Eight Miles High). Parsons steered the Byrds to country-rock and they recorded this masterpiece. The most striking thing about the record is it treats country music absolutely seriously, with respect and not as novelty or parody. The result, a mix of covers and originals, is a beautiful and stirring collection that should melt any country-hater’s attitude to the genre – it’s not all stupid right wing crap; its roots (and as interpreted here) are deeply human and soulful.
There are 3 Parsons originals on here, and two of them, “Hickory Wind” and “One Hundred Years From Now” are essential parts of the Gram Parsons catalogue. Parsons was supposed to sing lead on most of the album, but Parsons was, umm, under contract still with the International Submarine Band’s label. So Parsons vocals were all deleted in favor of Roger McGuinn, who does a decent job, but you have to wonder what this would have sounded like with Gram singing. Grade: A (but, in a way, also Incomplete).
The Flying Burrito Brothers – Gilded Palace of Sin
Parsons left the Byrds after just a few months (see what I mean?), along with Chris Hillman, and formed The Flying Burrito Brothers. In my mind Gilded Palace of Sin is the first truly great Gram Parsons record (since Sweetheart had to delete his vocals) and for the adventurer would be a pretty good place to start. Palace builds on where Sweetheart left off – but rather than treating country with kid gloves, they knock it around a bit and add some real rock components (electric guitar solos) and R&B elements. The hybrid may not have been born here but it was perfected here. Most of these songs are Parsons originals (or at least, he co-wrote them). “Christine’s Song”, “Sin City”, “Juanita” and the two “Hot Burrito” songs are among Parson’s best work.
“Hot Burrito #1” in fact is a fucking masterpiece in 3 minutes. On the surface an old fashioned country weeper from a jilted lover, closer listening reveals something far more complex. The music is as much R&B as country; the lyrics show a man not just mourning his lover but angry and resentful. Elvis Costello learned much from this song and has said so. “Hot Burrito #2” is its polar opposite, sounding almost like an upbeat Carol King song, full of confidence and swagger. As a pair, the tension in the contrast is striking.
The Flying Burrito Brothers – Burrito Deluxe
Gilded Palace of Sin didn’t sell a lot but it did get a lot of attention, including Bob Dylan and, famously, Keith Richards. Keith and Gram became good friends and spent a lot of time together talking music and partying; Keith learned about country music from Gram and it shows in the Stones’ music from this time.
So the thing is, Gram was so busy partying with his new friends he didn’t spend a lot of time on actual music. The Burritos were a notoriously bad live band, mainly because they refused to practice, ever, at all. This led to some discontent in the band and some lineup changes, notably with Chris Ethridge leaving and replaced by Bernie Leadon (yes, the Eagles guy). Leadon, being a polished professional, pushed the band in a new direction (like actually playing their instruments well outside the studio) and as a result Burrito Deluxe feels much more polished, but less inspired, than Palace. “Farther Along”, traditional cover, is pretty good, as is “Cody Cody” and “High Fashion Queen”.
Probably the most interesting song on the record is the cover of “Wild Horses” – a year before the Stones released it.
Gram Parsons – GP
Parsons left the Burritos shortly after Deluxe; the band carried on with Leadon in charge until he left to help form the Eagles. (For the record, Gram Parsons is said to have hated the slick-sounding, richly produced Eagles). Parsons foundered a bit, hung out in France with the Stones while they were working on Exile on Main St (and supposedly got kicked out by Mick for being a bad influence on Keith).
While Gram was farting around Chris Hillman discovered this woman folk singer playing clubs in Washington DC that he thought might be a good fit to work with Parsons. Thus Gram Parsons met Emmylou Harris and began a musical partnership that only lasted two albums but endures for the ages.
Inspired by (and probably trying to impress) Emmylou, Parsons wrote some of his best material in years: “She”, “A Song for You”, “How Much I’ve Lied”, and others. But the covers here feel just as inspired if not more so – “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes in the Morning” is fucking amazing, with Gram and Emmylou’s voices playing off each other; “The Streets of Baltimore”, which is old cornpone music, sounds fresh and bright and brilliant interpreted here.
This album is a serious classic and you should all listen to it. Grade: A+
Gram Parsons – Grievous Angel
Gram’s drug (heroin) use was increasing at this time and it is said it was affecting his ability to put out new music. I sure don’t hear it though, because Grievous Angel is total genius, building on where GP left off but (to me) with better songs and a more focused band. As great an album as GP is, in my mind Grievous Angel is even better, and is one of my favorite albums ever by anyone, which means I can’t write about it very well.
“Return of the Grievous Angel” kicks the album off gloriously, with Gram’s lead and Emmylou’s harmonies meshing perfectly. This is my favorite Parsons song and I think everyone should sing along with it enough times til they have it memorized. TWENTY THOUSAND ROADS I WENT DOWN, DOWN, DOWN.
But as on GP, the covers really make the album; “Hearts on Fire” and “Love Hurts” are amazing how Gram and Emmylou build a slow tension over the course of the song and then you can just feel it explode.. “My love has turned to hatred / Sleep escapes me still / God please take this heart of mine / Cause if you don’t the devil will / Hearts on fire, my love for you brought only misery”. You gotta listen to it to see what I’m talking about there.
Post script: Stop me if I've told you this one before.. Parsons died of an OD at the Joshua Tree Inn before Grievous Angel was released. Parsons body was being shipped back to his family for burial; but his buddies stole the coffin off the tarmac at LAX and hauled it back to Joshua Tree and took it to one of his favorite partying spots in JTNP. They then doused it in gasoline and set fire to it, so that Gram could be cremated in his favorite place. But they saw lights, got paranoid, and ran off with the coffin still in flames – the fire went out before much happened. I’ve done a little pilgrimage to the spot the past two years before Coachella.
Last edited by TomAz; 11-11-2012 at 07:07 PM.
Thank you. I agree on all of that, except for the wishy washy, Luxury Liner is PROBABLY the best song on the album statement. That song is one of his all-time great gems. It's like Love Me Do: not a totally developed statement, but a shot of pure talent and joy in a few minutes that far outstrips its humble trappings. I've listened to that song alone hundreds of times.
I also should have mentioned that the tribute album, Return of the Grievous Angel - A Tribute to Gram Parsons is also worthwhile - much moreso than those things usually are. Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Wilco, and usual suspects like that (including a great cover of "Hickory Wind" by Gillian Welch) but also may be the only time you'll ever hear Beck sing a duet with Emmylou Harris.
It's nice to see I'm not alone.