Pete’s Music Highlights: My Top 12 of 2012

I’ve been as quiet here on Ickmusic as I ever have during its eight year run.  Worry not, nothing (outside of my family) has taken a back seat to music in my life. It still fuels everything I do. But there has been a definite lull in my desire to sit down and type out regular blog posts. I know it tears you up inside (whoever “you” may be).

But it’s okay, Ickmusic.com is still here when I need it. Like today, for instance, when I feel like sharing my music highlights from the year Twenty-Twelve.

Here are some of the albums, songs and live shows that enriched my world in 2012…

1. Album: Band of Horses – ‘Mirage Rock

Fans and critics who were praying for another Everything All The Time or Cease to Begin cried foul when Mirage Rock was released this year. Me? I ate it right up. The album, produced by legendary classic rock engineer/producer Glyn Johns (The Who, The Stones, to name a couple) definitely steers heavily into 70’s classic rock and even soft rock category. I am just fine with that. In fact, the wistfully sweet “Long Vows” and “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” are two of my favorites. But the boys sure crank it up with tunes like “Dumpster World”, “Knock Knock”, and the early 70’s Stones-ish “Electric Music.” Yep, I’m all in on this record. Oh, and if you’re looking for beauty, track down “Relly’s Dream” from the Sonic Ranch Sessions bonus disc on their deluxe edition. I spun this album start to finish more than any other release this year.

2. Show: World Party – Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix – 12-02-2012

worldparty1

Thanks to Zia Records, the top independent record store here in Phoenix, I won a pair of tickets to see Karl Wallinger and his band World Party. As a big fan especially of the Goodbye Jumbo album, it was a rare honor to see Karl play an intimate venue like the Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix (my #1 room in town). After a serious health scare in the early 2000’s (a brain aneurysm), Karl’s voice is as pure and dynamic as you’d hope for. Along with his sharp young Nashville bandmates, he tore through WP classics like “Is It Like Today”, “Ship of Fools”, “Way Down Now” and (my favorite) “Put The Message In The Box”; and also sat down at the keys for “She’s The One” and “God On My Side.” This gig far exceeded my expectations (I didn’t know what to expect, really), and I sincerely hope Karl continues on with making music and touring. I can’t wait to see him again.

Here’s a video I shot of Karl and violin/mandolin/harmony vocalist extraordinaire David Duffy singing “Mystery Girl” (bump up the quality to 720p or 1080p):

3. Show: Band of Horses, Marquee Theater, Tempe 10-26-2012

ben-peteLG

I’d seen Band of Horses a couple of times before, but only in a festival setting (Austin City Limits). This first true headlining show came out of the cancelled Railroad Revival Tour with Willie Nelson. Ben Bridwell and the boys set up at Tempe’s Marquee Theater in late October and tore the roof off the dump. Drawing from all four of their studio albums with a couple covers thrown in (Them Two and Hour Glass, nice & obscure!), the songs were rambunctious, mellow, inspiring, wistful, beautiful, rocking… all the adjectives that reminded me (and the full house) why we love them so much. Not to mention getting to chat for a while with Ben after the show. The dude abides.

4. Album: Ryan Bingham – ‘Tomorrowland

Ryan-Bingham-Tomorrowland-album-cover

Give me the cool, gravelly roots/folk/country rockin’ twang of Ryan Bingham any day of week. Tomorrowland is a return to the more straight-ahead rockers that seemed to be missing on his last album, the T-Bone Burnett produced ‘Junky Star.’ He wastes no time on Tomorrowland’s opener, launching into “Beg for Broken Legs” with urgency and force. “Guess Who’s Knockin” is another strong one, featuring a satisfying F-bomb chorus. “Never Ending Show”, “Flower Bomb”, “The Road I’m On” – all standout tracks. If you haven’t checked out Tomorrowland (or Ryan Bingham) yet, you’re missing out. Just do it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftBWG1U09OA

5. Show: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Jobing.com Arena, Glendale 12-06-2012

IMG_4755

I took a couple of Bruce first timers a few hours early to go through the wristband lottery to try and get up near the front of the stage (“in the pit”, as they say). Sadly, our numbers were not of the lucky variety, and we were shut out. So we ended up behind the pit right next to the sound booth. The disappointment was very quickly washed away with Bruce’s first strum of the acoustic for the opener “Surprise, Surprise.” The first 30 minutes was a showcase of career nuggets: “No Surrender”, “I’m a Rocker”, “Hungry Heart”, “Prove It All Night”, “Trapped”, and “Lost in the Flood” – and all those before launching into the new Wrecking Ball material! Three plus hours from a tireless 63 year old and his very large troupe of supporting members – the E Street Band and then some. My eighteenth live Bruce experience, and yet another reminder why The Boss sits on the top of the pile in my world.

6. Show: Girls – Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix – 03-03-2012

IMG_3860

Who would’ve thought I was seeing Girls the band in one of their final performances? For not long after, frontman, songwriter, and singer Christopher Owens announced on Twitter that the band was done. He’s moving on in another musical direction (his debut solo album, Lysandre, comes out in just a couple weeks). So I am fortunate to have seen Christopher and the band play songs I’ve come to absolutely love since discovering them a couple of years ago: “Laura”, “Alex”, “Honey Bunny”, “Love Like a River”, “Die”…

Something about Christopher’s music draws me in – the beauty and innocence, the light in the darkness – and I’ll basically be following him around for however long he decides to make music. A great show – short, but sweet.

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

7. AlbumNeil Young & Crazy Horse – ‘Psychedelic Pill

untitled

A 27 minute album opener with the lyrics “I wanna get a hip-hop haircut”? Check. Something about this record, particularly the longer running tunes (“Driftin’ Back”, “Ramada Inn”, “Walk Like a Giant”), really grabbed hold of me. It’s the loud, distorted (and long) guitar solos, it’s the way Neil sneers his way through the lyrics… It’s the unconventional and F-you attitude of it all. Everything Mr. Neil Young represents.

And of course Neil has a 27 minute long official video for “Driftin’ Back”…

8. Show: Lenny Kravitz – Comerica Theater, Phoenix – 02-12-2012

lennylive

Rock Star. Completely and indisputably. It’s fun to sit back and watch a performer just turn on all the glamor, glitz, and poses of a Rock Star. Lenny has perfected this persona over his 20+ years of performing. He’s got a quite the catalog to choose from, and watching him perform the hits (“Are You Gonna Go My Way” being my favorite) as well as tunes from his surprisingly strong latest album, ‘Black and White America‘, had us out of our seats the entire gig. Lenny has always been and remains a total badass. Such an entertaining show.

9. Song: Bruce Springsteen – “Jack of All Trades”

This is my favorite Bruce tune in years. I thought about including the whole ‘Wrecking Ball‘ on the “list”, but that wouldn’t be an honest assessment. While I enjoy Bruce’s Great Recession album from earlier this year, I just haven’t connected too much with the songs (of course, hearing them live is a whole ‘nother ball of wax – see above for my December 6th Bruce show). “Jack of All Trades” though, wow. A slow, dirge-like bass drum and piano start off the song. It builds and builds with each verse and ends with a forceful guitar solo from Tom Morello. The theme of strength, perseverance and optimism in the face of adversity is a common one in Bruce’s music, but he really connects with this tune in a goosebumps and tears kind of way.

“I’m the jack of all trades / honey we’ll be alright”

10. Album: Delta Spirit – ‘Delta Spirit

deltaspirit1

Matt Vasquez and company continue to evolve, refusing to stay pigeonholed the way some fans prefer (see Mirage Rock comments). “California” was the lead single and the most obvious stray from their former indie/folk sound – a more electronic modern pop sound. But they still rock out – “Money Saves” is one of my favorites, as are “Tear It Up” and “Tellin’ the Mind.” Nothing matches my three standout tracks from their last album, ‘History From Below‘ – “911”, “Bushwick Blues” and “Salt in the Wound” – but that’s not a knock on this record. I love a band that explores new territory and challenges themselves to try something new – Delta Spirit is a band I’ll be following for years to come.

11. Album: Fred Eaglesmith – ‘6 Volts

fredeaglesmith_6volts

It wasn’t until about midway though the year that I reconnected with Canadian singer/songwriter Fred Eaglesmith. I listened to him in the late 90’s and early 00’s, but for some reason, I seemed to veer away. ‘6 Volts’ was released in January, and quickly reminded me what drew me to Fred: clever songwriting and storytelling, and great folk/root-rock sounds and rhythms. ‘”Betty” is a standout track from 6 Volts, with Fred conjuring up dark imagery on as cheerful a melody and cadence as possible: “Betty what’d you do with the gun? There’s strangers at my door / and there’s more where they come from / …was it the money, was it the drugs / was it somebody that you used to know / …Betty Betty why won’t you tell me”.

12. AlbumTrampled by Turtles – ‘Stars and Satellites

cover-stars-300px

Straight out of Duluth, Minnesota, I became aware of Trampled by Turtles when I saw them at the 2011 Newport Folk Festival. I’ve seen categorizations bandied about in the past for this band, like “newgrass” and “speedgrass”… but with this year’s release, people will have to search for new adjectives. They jump into more rootsy, Americana-inspired territory here, bringing the tempo down with some great tunes like “Midnight on the Interstate”, “Alone”, “Widower’s Heart” and “Beautiful.” Of course, they haven’t abandoned their bluegrass roots, their banjo and fiddle players remain. So if you want your speed fix, listen to “Don’t Look Down” or “Walt Whitman.”

Lenny Kravitz Live in Phoenix

Lenny in Phoenix (from Lenny's Facebook)

This is short and simple. Last Sunday night, I saw Lenny Kravitz in concert at Comerica Theater in Phoenix. Is there a cooler motherf*cker than Lenny Kravitz? Not many, bud. Swagger, sex appeal, and pure and unadulterated rock star cool.

A set list full of hits, past and present…
An intimate rapport with the crowd of 2,200, which included a trip through the seats for some high fives and hugs during “Let Love Rule.”

“Are You Gonna Go My Way” was my personal highlight, as populist or cliche as it might sound. The whole crowd was whipped into an absolute euphoria. It was one of those otherworldly moments I experience in very few live shows – Springsteen, Prince, Tom Petty being among the few. A musical moment in time that lifts an entire audience out of reality into some dreamlike state. Pure rock & roll.

It’s been 4 full days and I’m still coming down.

During “Let Love Rule”, Lenny invited the crowd to come close to the stage. My friend Jen and I accepted the invite. I shot some quick video to capture the moment.

Lenny Kravitz: just an absolute rock & roll badass.

Sunday was also the day after the world lost Whitney Houston. Lenny dedicated “Push” to her and posted it to his YouTube channel after the show…

Pete’s Top Albums of 2011

2011 was another year of musical discovery for me. Clocking in highest on the discovery meter were San Francisco’s Girls; but right up there with Girls were two bands that can’t technically qualify for my best of 2011 album list: Delta Spirit and Titus Andronicus. Their latest albums – History from Below and The Monitor (respectively) – were both released in 2010, but I didn’t hear them until this year. Overall, when I think of 2011, these three groups reigned supreme in my corner of the world.

When it comes to 2011 live shows, it was also Titus Andronicus that blew my mind (back on April 18th at The Rhythm Room in Phoenix). All punk and passion, courtesy of front man Patrick Stickles. My jaw hit the floor.

But on to the albums. Looking back at my iTunes and Last.fm listening history, it was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to muster up a Top Ten list. Sure, I could B.S. and include something like the Beasties’ Hot Sauce Committee Part Two – which I enjoyed on some level, but never listened to straight through more than twice. Thinking about albums, ’tis all about honesty, and what’s truly important to me as a full body of work. So in that spirit, here are my Top 8 albums of 2011…

1. GirlsFather, Son, Holy Ghost ($5 on Amazon)

I had heard – and loved – “Laura,” a single off Girls first album a couple years back. But it wasn’t until this year that I fell completely head over heels for the San Francisco band led by Christopher Owens. The quirky “Honey Bunny” video drew me in – and when I tracked down the new album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, it was over – I was hooked. It’s rich with emotion, it rocks, it’s delicate… I can’t wait to follow Christopher around from here on out and hear what he has to say. Both Girls full lengths and the EP are excellent – discovering them has been the music highlight of my year.

Highlight: “Alex” – Hypnotic. Beautiful. Sublime.

2. Greg BrownFreak Flag ($4.99 on Amazon)

Here’s one that surprised me. Though I loved “The Poet Game” single many years back, no full album of Greg Brown’s had really come along that knocked my socks off. Freak Flag did just that. Full of beauty, wisdom and Greg’s wry sense of humor, it’s the folk masterpiece of 2011.

Highlight: “Where Are You Going When You’re Gone” (mp3) – All groove and growl. Toe tappin’ funky folk (there is such a thing).

3. Middle BrotherMiddle Brother ($5 on Amazon)

I love Delta Spirit. I love Deer Tick. I love Dawes. So it’s no surprise that Middle Brother was up among the tops this year, since the group is made up of the front men of all 3 groups. I had the pleasure of seeing Middle Brother live this summer at the Newport Folk Festival, which may very well have been their last performance… but something tells me Taylor Goldsmith, John McCauley and Matt Vasquez will be making more music together somewhere down the road.

Highlight: “Million Dollar Bill” – This is a Goldsmith-penned song that also shows up on Dawes’ new record, Nothing Is Wrong. On the MidBro version, the three guys each get a verse, and the result is profound, in my ever so humble opinion. I prefer it to the Nothing is Wrong version.

4. DawesNothing Is Wrong ($4.99 on Amazon)

It’s hard not to be endeared to this L.A. band that channels the SoCal /  Lauren Canyon 70’s vibe. Taylor Goldsmith is a brilliant lyricist, and they’re just getting started. That’s scary (in a very good way). And their live show? Forget about it. Passionate and fiery stuff…

Highlight: “Fire Away” – This tune features Jackson Browne on background vocals, Taylor’s brother Griffin taking lead vocals on the bridge, and the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench on the organ. Great sing along chorus – a tune that really takes off into the stratosphere by song’s end – especially live.

5. My Morning JacketCircuital ($4.99 on Amazon)

Jim James (er – Yim Yames) and the boys of MMJ always put me in a good place. Another solid studio album featuring tunes that ignite in a live setting. I must have watched MMJ on at least 3-4 festival webcasts this summer. Another mind-blowing live band that can also deliver in the studio. Confession though: I just don’t like “Holdin On To Black Metal.”

Highlight: “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” – I’m a sucker for some mellow MMJ. A great moment when the drums come in at “I-I-I-I’m going where there ain’t no fear…”

6. Deer TickDivine Providence ($5 on Amazon)

Snarly wild man John McCauley is back with another Deer Tick record. This time he shares the spotlight with drummer Dennis Ryan and guitarist Ian O’Neill, who write and sing on a few tunes. Divine Providence has a little bit of everything – honky-tonk rock, punk, pop. Oh, do I need to mention they’re also a killer live band? I saw them three times this year – twice in their home state of Rhode Island as they took over the Newport Blues Cafe during Folk Festival time.

Highlight: “The Bump” – The Deer Tick theme song. “We’re full grown men! But we act like kids!” The drunken devil strikes again.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_tC4_zaqaQ

7. Lenny KravitzBlack & White in America ($10.49 on Amazon)

I was frankly surprised by Lenny’s latest. Rock, funk, soul, pop – yep, pretty much the Lenny Kravitz blueprint throughout his career. But the hooks and melodies caught on quick with me, and had me coming back for more helpings. The last time I enjoyed a Lenny album this much, I was 21 (1991’s Mama Said)!

Don’t knock it ’til you’ve heard it.

Highlight: “Liquid Jesus” – A sexy 70’s soul vibe as Lenny channels his inner Curtis Mayfield.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyyznmFosi4

8. Frank TurnerEngland Keep My Bones ($9.99 on Amazon)

I was looking forward to a full length album from the UK’s Frank Turner since stumbling across his set at the ACL Festival a couple years back. It was worth the wait. Frank’s working class, populist folk/punk is alive and well in England Keep My Bones.

Highlight: “If Ever I Stray” – Certain songs give me goosebumps and make my eyes well up with their sheer power. This is one of those songs.

Lenny’s New One

The big surprise of the last week or so is how much I’ve been enjoying the hell out of Lenny Kravitz’s new album, Black And White America. Lenny holed himself up on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas, stayed alone on the beach in an Airstream trailer for a couple of years, and emerged with a funk / soul / rock n roll tour de force of an album.

The tune that caught on immediately was “Liquid Jesus” – a 70’s Mayfield / Gaye soul feel, and despite the initial oddity of the title, it had me singing along by the second chorus.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwHXaL67NnI&w=420&h=345

This album got me to thinking… Lenny Kravitz has been churning ’em out since Let Love Rule in 1989. And instead of reinventing himself over the years, he’s stayed solid and consistent. Rock, funk, soul in that laid back but powerful Lenny way…

Great album.

The Friday Five: April 29, 2011

On the sixth day of every week, Michael Parr shuffles through his library to bring you five random tracks.

Friday Five

Friday Five : ‘frī-(,)dā,-dē ‘fīv : On the sixth day of every week, I hit the shuffle button on my iTunes, then share the first five tracks and thought for each track. Sometimes there is a playlist involved, occasionally we’ll have a guest, but most of the time it’s just me. The rest is up to you, our friends and readers! Fire up your media player of choice and share the first five random track of your shuffle in the comments.

The Five:

“Manifest Destiny” by Jamiroquai (from The Return of the Space Cowboy, 1994)

If only every plonker that bought Travelling Without Moving for “Virtual Insanity” had reached back one release, they’d find the acid jazz informed soul-funk of Return, and be all the better for it.

“The Body That Loves You” by Janet Jackson (from janet., 1993)

One hundred percent throwaway track from an otherwise awesome record. At this point, though, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis could do no wrong. Must be something in the waters of Lake Minnetonka that removes local artists ability to edit themselves.

“One Mic” by Nas (from Stillmatic, 2001)

I’ll be damned if I know anything about reppin’ this or any hood, but I know there are few that can challenge Nasir Jones in this moment. Built on a sliver of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” the track maintains the stark intensity of the original, bubbling over as Jones’ frustration manifests in increasingly tense verses and resolves with the request for a more simple life.

“Again” by Lenny Kravitz (from Greatest Hits, 2000)

I’m just going to go ahead and say it … what the fuck ever happened to Lenny Kravitz? The featured new tune on his greatest hits package, this tune is plain lazy. Don’t get me wrong, I dig it, but it is late ‘90s power balladry 101. Where’s the “dig my heart out of my chest with this rusty spoon” emotion of a tune like “It Ain’t Over, Till’ It’s Over”? Further than that, this came out over ten years ago! Paging Mr. Kravitz … I’m doing something I don’t often do, and hitting the “skip forward” button.

“Knockin’ Da Boots” by H-Town (from  MTV Party to Go, Volume 5, 1994)

Aww yeah! That, boys, is the sound of some panties dropping.

What’s on your shuffle today?

Prince & Lenny – American Woman

If you do a little digging, it is possible to track down some quality Prince video action online. This comes from the Pay-Per-View concert (Rave Un2 the Year 2000) that Prince broadcast on New Year’s Eve 1999. It was a few months after Prince had released the disappointing Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. The album was released on Arista, and was conceived by Clive Davis as a comeback/collaboration album, similar to what Supernatural had done for Carlos Santana a couple years earlier. It featured artists like Chuck D., Gwen Stefani, and Sheryl Crow, and well, it didn’t turn out to be the smash hit they were looking for.

As for Lenny, he had just contributed his version of the Guess Who classic “American Woman” to the Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack.

And here, the two sashay to the stage in dramatic fashion, and do proceed to rock the house.

[dailymotion id=x66l3y]