My Cross To Bear – Gregg Allman’s Book

This one was so good, I almost started it right over again.

After losing his dad as a very young kid (a senseless murder victim, no less), and then his brother, legendary slide guitarist Duane Allman in 1971 (when Gregg was just 23), Gregg persevered and carried on the musical torch – taking the Allman Brothers Band to greater heights as well as embarking on a successful solo career.

It hasn’t been easy, obviously. Gregg writes openly about his struggles with drugs and alcohol, his many failed marriages (that’s 6, folks), among them the one and only Cher.

But it’s all about the music, and thanks to the book, I’m diving deep into Gregg’s solo stuff and some of the deeper Allman Brothers Band cuts. Gregg’s 1973 debut, ‘Laid Back,’ is stellar, as is the The Gregg Allman Tour record, which was recorded on the Laid Back tour in 1974.

By the way, Mati Klarwein created that trippy Laid Back cover. He also painted the covers for Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Santana’s Abraxas records, among a bunch more.

Great rock n’ roll read. Pick it up…

Amazon: My Cross to Bear

Deer Tick roll through Phoenix [May 3rd Recap]

For the second time in seven months, Rhode Island band Deer Tick stopped into the Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix to rock the joint with their good time fusion of bar room rock n’ roll, folk, country and punk.

The set list was largely similar to their last stop in October, featuring a bunch of tunes from their latest album Divine Providence. Once again, front man & “drunken devil” John McCauley showed why he’s one of the most raw and charismatic live performers out there. But he also shared the spotlight with his band mates – guitarist Ian O’Neil taking lead vocals on the fiery “Walkin Out the Door” and the electric piano-powered ballad “Now It’s Your Turn” (a tune whose intro reminds me of the Stones “Melody Motel”); and drummer Dennis Ryan sang “Clownin Around”, a tune he wrote about John Wayne Gacy.

The DP songs grow stronger live as they log more days and weeks on the road. “Main Street”, “Funny Word” and “Miss K” are as strong and explosive as ever.

Non-Divine Providence highlights for me were “Ashamed” (cool arrangement & a killer sax solo from Rob Crowell); “Easy” (my favorite tune from Born On Flag Day); “Not So Dense” (watching John scream “I watch 60 minutes go by hour after hour after hour!!“- priceless); but most of all, my favorite Deer Tick tune of ’em all – “Dirty Dishes” – which I’d never seen performed live in my previous three DT shows.

Unlike the album version, they do the song a Capella in five part harmony. It started off a little shaky, with O’Neil jumping ahead of the others during the first verse. But everyone laughed it off and they were right back on track. The harmonies capture the sad beauty of the song, and it was a hell of a treat to see it live. If only we could get the crowd to shut their mouths during the quiet songs like this. Some people sure like to go to shows and spend their time talking and talking (and talking and talking). But what are you gonna do…

Deer Tick delivered again – a fun, killer live band – one I’ll be obliged to go out & see whenever they roll through town.

→ And I have to mention the opening band, Nashville’s Turbo Fruits. I’d never heard of these guys before seeing them on the bill with Deer Tick. But Wowee & Holy Sheeet – pure adrenaline, hard-driving, Les Paul-thrashing, cymbal-crashing, flying scissor-kicking ROCK AND ROLL. If you’re going out to see Deer Tick, get there in time to see Turbo Fruits.

Here’s “Dirty Dishes” from last night, starting near the beginning of the first verse…

Team Coco’s Zombie Music, Girls, etc.

I can confirm after this morning’s run that Team Coco’s Rdio playlist entitled “Good Zombie Killin’ Music” happens to double as a mighty fine runnin’ mix. Rage’s “Bulls on Parade”, Maiden’s “Run to the Hills”, the Black Keys’ “Gold on the Ceiling”, and some new tunes for me – including the strange but fascinatingly entertaining “I Fink U Freeky” by Die Antwoord.

I think my favorite of the bunch was Outkast’s “B.O.B.” off their Stankonia album. It reminded me that there’s a treasure trove to be found in Outkast’s stuff. This week, I’ll be diving into Stankonia with fresh ears. I’m not sure if I’ve ever listened to the whole thing.

If you’re on Rdio, you can follow Team Coco, and subscribe to the handful of playlists they have up thus far.
The Zombie mix? Solid.

Back on April 18th, my favorite band of the last few years – Girls – took to Conan’s stage for a performance of “Love Like A River.” See it? No? Well here…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-J6aXK39qVQ

A New North Woods Legend

There are many myths, legends and stories that come from the North Woods of America. The wood spirit of Wendigo which could only be seen when facing it head on…the little people who lived among the trees and distracted many a traveler…and, of course, that giant bearded man whose pet was on Ox named Babe.With no need for any hammers from gods, The Stereo Pirates are wielding the full power of Paul Bunyan’s Ax, poised to make their mark in the musical zeitgeist of Minneapolis and beyond.

When I first heard them play a few weeks ago at the Nomad World Pub on the West Bank, the first thing that struck me was how catchy and accessible their music sounded. The song “Fall Back Man” is a great example of this.

The pen of lead singer and chief lyricist Bryan Pertinen is matched only by his voice that cuts through the coldest of North Woods winters, soothing the scenesters as if they were in front of an open flame. Fire continually flies from the fingers and fret board of lead guitarist Jon Wefel as he takes his flower covered flock on many Kesey-esque journeys.

Yet the key to this voyage into pure pop heaven lies in Bryan Rubbelke‘s black and white ivories that happily dance for the various denizens of pubs and clubs, scooping them all up for the ride. The rhythm section of Mark Thoreen (bass) and Jeremy Krueth (drums) provide the kind of foundation from which aural skylines are constructed in Rock City, USA.

The Stereo Pirates have just released their self titled debut and it is a corker. It’s been in constant rotation on my iPhone, my home stereo, my computer and even my minivan as I haul kids around town. In fact, I can imagine soccer moms around the country re-embracing, and perhaps re-imagining, Twin Cities Pop with tracks like “Blue Eyes”, “Crooked Smile,” and “Painted Ladies.” The latter track nods wonderfully to Motown with a totally fab horn section that actually drove me to skipping as I was working out at the gym the other day. And I can’t help but chuckle at the obvious Zep influenced “She Cut Me.” This one gets my son’s nod for best track of the album as he always yells at me to crank the van stereo when it comes on. “Rock and Roll should be LOUD, Dad,” he reminds me and that’s exactly how this tune should be played.

But the album’s true gem and the one that will ultimately write their fire in the sky is “Take Me Home.” Ranking right up there with “Fix You” by Coldplay and “Bedshaped” by Keane, “Take Me Home” is the classic rock anthem in every sense of the word. I can already see former cigarette lighters and now cel phones lighting up arenas as this is one of those show closing songs that will simultaneously existing at every point in music history-adding another mythic and brilliant note to the infinite lexicon that comforts me every single moment of my life.

The Stereo Pirates will be playing live at the Fine Line Music Cafe on Thursday, March 8th. If you live in the Twin Cities area, I highly recommend seeing this band live. Click here to friend them on Facebook for all their latest news!

Mark’s Best of 2011

2011 was truly a blessed year for music. Many of my favorite groups released new records and, as always thanks to NME, I found some fab new ones to geek out over. Without further adieu, here are my Top Ten Albums and Top Ten Tracks of 2011 (Click on the album or track to purchase).

Albums

10. Unknown Mortal OrchestraUnknown Mortal Orchestra

This Portland, Oregon band have a a combo lo-fi, groovy throwback sound that makes me smile. “Thought Ballune” is a must download.

9. American RevivalThe Worst Is Over Now

My fave new local band by way of Pete getting me back into alt.country. Their debut is magnificent. Here is their first video which showcases one of the best local bars, Williams Pub.

8. ElbowBuild A Rocket Boys!

Yes, these Ramsbottom, Bury lads sound like Genesis avec Peter Gabriel but so what? Every new release sees treasure after treasure.

7. The VaccinesWhat Did You Expect From The Vaccines?

I can’t wait to see all the music this band is going to make over the years. Caught them live in a warm up for the Arctic Monkeys last spring. Bril!

6. Noel GallagherNoel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

It’s about time that Noel did his own thing. I say it all the time – he’s the better singer. This album has been like a comfy blanket to me of late.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZT1RZzuU4M

5. Beady EyeDifferent Gear, Still Speeding

I was pleasantly surprised to see Liam try on some different musical styles. The results speak for themselves.

4. The Arctic MonkeysSuck It And See

Another great fucking record from the Sheffield lads. I don’t think it’s possible for them to make a bad one.

3. The KooksJunk Of The Heart

Every three years The Kooks make an album that is seamless from the last one in its perfection. Just a joy to play over and over again…like this Simon and Garfunkel-esque gem..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXsMxP7shSE

2. The Original 7venCondensate

This barely missed being the album of the year. The only thing that honestly held it back was it came out later in the year (October) and I haven’t lived with like I did with my #1 pick. Morris, Jerome, Jimmy, Terry, Jesse, Monte, and Jellybean made the best Time album out of the five with this absolute corker of a record. Done without the help of that dude from Chanhassen, the greatest band in the history of funk delivered a stunner that has deepened my desire to be Morris Day.

1. Friendly FiresPala

The soundtrack to my summer and, indeed, the entire year. I think I have played this disc at least 200 times start to finish since it came out and I still find layers to it previously unheard. Pala sets a mood that is sorely lacking today, not just in music, but in our culture in general. I’m not entirely certain I can describe it in words but it’s reminiscent of what the most gorgeous flower would sound like as it blooms…in a club at 1:30am with piles of sweaty bodies writhing around to massive and thumping beats. And if it could tell Robert Browning-esque love stories. Like their self titled first release, Pala deserves to be forever enshrined in any Hall of Fame.

Lay back in the sun and listen to the title track…

Tracks

10. “Whirring” – The Joy Formidable

I imagine this song as being the soundtrack to an indie love story. A true gem from this North Wales group.

9. “Endless Blue” – The Horrors

It begins like a gentle kiss from a beautiful woman and switches mid way through into a full on frenetic, saliva-dripped shag…just like love making should be.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cjCPS-_eO0

8. “Boogabear” – American Revival

“I’m so tired of fighting the battle for who could care less…” singer Thomas Pendarvis croons in my fave from the Mpls alt. country outfit’s debut. This song is now officially the anthem of every bar in every small town for every person having a cold one. (No video here so go listen to the track by clicking on the song).

7. “Minnesota, WI” – Bon Iver

The Eau Claire, WI natives perfectly captured that autumnal shimmer that I write about constantly. A nice shout out to my neighborhood of the country.

6. “Wasted” – Glass Rock

I love the mood this song sets and the album cover art is the best of the year. It’s a photo I would take. And it came out on my birthday! (No video here so go listen to the track by clicking on the song).

5. “Shuffle” – Bombay Bicycle Club

This Crouch End, London group may become my new Brit Rock darlings. This track struck me as sounding very different from what I normally hear from across the pond. It’s free on Amazon!

4. “Days” – The Drums

This is my son’s best track of 2011. He wanted me to make note of it and it’s funny because it’s appropriate considering the video below. This Brooklyn based guitar pop outfit continues to make great music with their third release, Portamento.

3. “Post Break-Up Sex” – The Vaccines

If Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks is the best break up album of all time, this track holds the best break up song mantle. We’ve all been there, and it’s wonderful.

2. “Junk Of The Heart (Happy)” – The Kooks

A perfect pop song in just about every way. Luke does it again!

1. “Blue Cassette” – Friendly Fires

Not simply the best track of 2011, but one of the best of all time. Friendly Fires really outdid themselves with this stunning song that waxes nostalgic about cassette tapes and lost love. My heart melts every single time I listen to it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxHo7iS9WJQ

Those are my albums and tracks. What are yours?

It’s So Hard To Just Walk Away

For the past several weeks, I have tried to get myself to the point where I could tell all of you that the new album by Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto, is a must for your Christmas stocking this year. Sadly, I have to report that I am not at that point and likely never will be. The London Lads’ 5th release is mediocre at best.

Certainly, Mylo Xyloto has some Parachutes-like moments but they don’t arrive until the middle of the album. “Us Against The World” is the first such example, a nice track to be sure, that has Chris Martin’s voice looming large in the mix with that familiar, dreamy echo. But then it’s right back to the keyboard driven pomp pop that one would expect from the likes of the latest American Idol contestant (“Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” the first single). Indeed, this is what we sit through on the first four tracks of the disc. Perhaps it’s because I yearn for a return to the simpler time of Parachutes, their first full length release, and the mood that went along with it that was captured so beautifully over a decade ago. In many ways, that album ushered in the Era Of Dream Pop, unleashing such wonderful bands as Keane, Snow Patrol, Star Sailor, and the Delays into the world.

Thankfully, the track after Teardrop is the one that saves the album from being a real stinker. “Major Minus” is vintage Coldplay and one of their best tracks of all time. Martin’s “Ooo-ooo” ing along with a catchy acoustic guitar, terribly sick drum beat, and Edge-like electric guitar from Jonny Buckland make this song simply amazing.

“U.F.O.” also finds some Parachutes magic as does “Up In Flames” but this is largely due to Martin’s voice which most definitely does not disappoint. Of course, this has always been the case on all their records. He derides himself constantly, saying that he is a “4th rate Bono.” Nothing could be further from the truth. His singing brings a layer of emotion that speaks directly to points in the human condition (especially love) that Bono has never seemed to capture in his career.

The album’s closer, “Up With The Birds,” has the line, “It’s so hard to just walk away” which I found to be terribly appropriate. Coldplay are one of my favorite groups and it’s like pulling teeth to write this post but my inner Cusack in High Fidelity simply has to be honest. Download “Major Minus” for sure…”Us Against The World”, “U.F.O.” and “Up In Flames” if you must fill it out a little to get more of a taste but really that’s it.

Here’s the track, “Major Minus.”

Impossible But…

Before it had even arrived in the mail my mind was made up. There was no way in hell that the new Subways album, Money and Celebrity, was going to be as good as their last one. All or Nothing is one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time. Seriously. I listed it here as the 2nd best album of the last decade because it defines the very essence of the mixed up love affair I have with women and music.

So, the very notion of it being as good or better was impossible. Indeed, the first listen didn’t go very well as I had this bias firmly entrenched in my mind. The same thing happened with the second and third listens. But the fourth listen was the one where I decided that it didn’t have to be as good as or better than All or Nothing.

Because it’s still way fucking better than 99 percent of the boring shit that’s been put out this year! And, honestly, Billy, Charlotte and Josh have turned in one heck of a third record. In many ways, it reminds me a great deal of their first album, Young For Eternity, in both theme and style

With this, we also see an attempt by the band to achieve more of commercial sound. This is evident in the first single, “It’s A Party” as well as “I Wanna Dance With You.” The producing talents of Stephen Street (The Smiths, The Cranberries, Blur) are evident in both of these tracks that were tailor made for radio. This record is also kind of a concept disc with the title coming from two most excellent tracks on the album (“Money” and “Celebrity”) which both offer biting social commentary.

My faves are “Popdeath” (timely, considering the recent passing of Amy Winehouse), “Like I Love You” (classic Billy in love track), and “Down Our Street” (ok, I’m always a sucker for stories of British towns).

Although the record has not been released here in the US, Amazon Uk has it available. I’d recommend it as a stocking stuffer!

Here is the song “Popdeath” performed acoustically on Carnaby Street at a recent guerrilla gig.

He Stands The Test of Time…Like Beatles and Stones

(Beady Eye, Live in the Main Room, First Avenue, 5 December 2011)

Liam Gallagher is doing just fine without Oasis. Well, actually, he took most of Oasis with him and formed a new band called Beady Eye so he’s not really suffering. Last night, this new outfit descended on First Avenue and put on a corker of a show. Part of it had to do with the venue, of course, as I hadn’t seen Liam in such a small setting for quite some time (1994, at the now departed Uptown Bar on Oasis’ first ever US tour before the “Supersonic” single had even come out).

Here was their set list.

Four Letter Word
Beatles and Stones
Millionaire
Two of a Kind
For Anyone
Three Ring Circus
The Roller
In the Bubble With a Bullet
Bring the Light
Standing on the Edge of the Noise
Kill for a Dream
The Beat Goes On
Man of Misery
The Morning Son
Wigwam

Encore:
World Outside My Room
Sons of the Stage

As you can see, no Oasis songs were played but that was just fine with me. Beady Eye’s first album, Different Gear, Still Speeding, brings a fresh mix of styles as well as familiar, Beatles-esque yarns. Highlights for me last night were “The Roller” (another channeling of Liam’s inner Lennon), “Bring the Light” (the first single from the album which I didn’t really like right away but has since grown on me with its Jerry Lee Lewis piano…ballin’!) and “Kill For A Dream” (I think I got a contact high from this number and the pot was from 1967).

The show also saw Liam being his usual self (posing god like, picking fights with the crowd, general misbehavior fueled by titanic hubris) which made me crack up several times. The rest of the band showed the crowd their musical talents as well. Gem Archer and Andy Bell were both fantastic on the guitar. Chris Sharrock drummed his fucking heart out. Matt Jones added several layers of texture with his keyboard work.

I’ll be looking forward to the second record which Liam has promised will drop late next year. Mega!

Check out the band’s remaining tour schedule for the US.

Here is my photo album from the show.

Sons of Anarchy, Katey Sagal, and Leonard Cohen

I’m knee deep in another great TV series courtesy of Netflix’s streaming. A couple months ago, I fell into Breaking Bad, and it was without question the best damn TV show I’d ever seen in my 40 plus years. I still believe that – but not far behind has to be FX’s Sons of Anarchy.

The series about a northern California motorcycle gang features the great Charlie Hunnam as Jackson “Jax” Teller, the VP of the Sons of Anarchy. I wasn’t familiar with Hunnam before this series, but it’s hard not to fall for his badass portrayal of Jax. You develop a bond with the whole motley cast of characters – Clay Morrow, the prez, played by Ron Perlman; Tig, Half Sack, Opie, Police Chief Unser…

And then there’s Katey Sagal, who most of us know as Peg Bundy from Married With Children. Truthfully, not being a big TV guy over the years, I don’t remember even seeing her since her Peg Bundy days. But she’s been busy over the years as her IMDB entry will attest. And her Sons of Anarchy role as club matriarch Gemma Teller Morrow has blown my mind. Gemma is mother to Jax, and wife / “old lady” to club president Clay Morrow. She’s fierce and mean as a pitbull, but devoted, loving and oh, just a bit protective of her family. You love her one minute and despise her the next.

Toward the end of Episode 4 of Season 3 (‘Home’), a great version of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire” began to play. It featured a soft, beautiful female vocal. A-Googling I went, and lo and behold, it is Katey Sagal singing (along with backup band The Forest Rangers). There’s actually an album out – Songs of Anarchy: Music from Sons of Anarchy Season 1-4 – that features a few other Sagal-sung songs, including “Son of a Preacher Man.”

The pairing of film & TV with the right music is a talent unto itself, and Sons of Anarchy picks some great music that is both familiar and unfamiliar to me. You can make some great discoveries this way. While I was loosely familiar with Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire”, I was never impacted as much by the song until I heard Sagal’s version while watching the ‘Home’ episode of Sons.

Well, better get back to the series. The boys are going overseas to Ireland, and some shit is about to go down.

UPDATE (Dec 6th): Rolling Stone just posted an interview with Katey Sagal in which she talks about her singing. I didn’t know that she’s married to the show’s creator, Kurt Sutter.