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One Pill Makes You Larger!

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Toby Keith: Hope On The Rocks (Show Dog) Sometimes you can be driving in your car, maybe feeling a little bit down--a little bit let down by life and the roads you should have taken but didn't--and you wonder if things could ever get any worse! But then, sure enough, a group of redneck thugs drive by in a pick-up truck, maybe even with a gun rack, and just happen to look your way, and maybe don't like the way you look, so they force you off the road with clearly evil intentions! The solution? If you've got this new Toby Keith CD--which, according to acknowledged retail experts at Amazon, "is as close to a sure thing as can be found"--you can simply take it out of its case, hurl it at the forehead of the most threatening thug, and then drive away safely in his pick-up truck! That's actually one of the main reasons I'm not so much into buying MP3s!

Chad Valley: Young Hunger (Cascine) Earlier this year in Austin, Texas, I had the pleasure of watching a fascinating young British band called Jonquil performing an acoustic set in my hotel room before video cameras--impressive in many ways, not least because their admittedly small brass section had to face the room curtains to muffle their sound. The band's spritely, hugely catchy material deeply recalled that sort of mid-'80s British pop that the likes of George Michael or Spandau Ballet played, say--and much of that was due to the group's vocalist and keyboardist Hugo Manuel, whose sound was no less fetching despite it being 2012. The same man returns here as Chad Valley, with guests like Twin Shadow and El Perro Del Mar, and could not be more successful: Young Hunger oddly evokes both the '80s and today's best and brightest performers. I can think of at least three people I know who would go bonkers if I played this for them.

The Velvet Underground & Nico: The Velvet Underground & Nico 45th Anniversary (Polydor) Though it seems like a 45th Anniversary celebratory blow-out of one of rock 'n' roll's all-time classic albums may be five years premature, who knows if record companies will still be around in 2017--let alone manufacturing objects one can actually buy? This is a charming set as these things go, offering mono and stereo versions of the original album, alternate versions of tracks, mono single mixes, and a boatload of things previously floating around in various bootleg versions.

And mixed in with the 6 CDs that comprise the "Super Deluxe" collection here is a nicely remastered version of Nico's Chelsea Girl album, about half of which might easily be called a VU album. Adeptly organized, very fresh sounding, and thankfully including lyrics--not a small thing for longtime listeners who never knew what Lou Reed was actually singing on "Black Angel's Death Song"--it's a worthwhile endeavor and the sort of thing you might want to have, hold, and occasionally listen to.

Dick Wagner: Not Only Women Bleed: Vignettes from the Heart of a Rock Musician (Desert Dreams book) Speaking of Lou Reed, here's a fine new book from someone who enjoyed a brief association with him as one-half of the stellar twin-guitar team powering Reed's classic 1973 live Rock 'N' Roll Animal set. Wagner went on to greater repute working extensively with Alice Cooper during his Welcome To My Nightmare period, and has a fairly astounding songwriting resume I won't dwell on--but as a fan of his earlier Detroit band the Frost, I was most fascinated to read the guitarist's account of his early days here. An honest, well-written book that is eye-opening in its frankness--and for that matter its actual existence--the hardcover version comes packaged with two CDs featuring Wagner's music and is quite a bargain. While there are hundreds of books written about the likes of the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, I think books like these--especially when penned by the performers themselves--will eventually be perceived as real jewels. Highly recommended.

Paul Buchanan: Mid Air (Newsroom) There are those who regard Scottish band the Blue Nile as absolute masters of perfectly played, powerfully retrained, powerfully powerful pop music. I am one of them, and have been since hearing their debut set A Walk Across Rooftops in 1983. Albums have been few and far between--there have only been four, and the last came in 2004. And despite critical raves, sales never quite measured up. Mid Air is the new solo album by the band's vocalist and central figure Buchanan--and to say it is subtle and low-key is not exactly an understatement. Sounding largely like piano-driven demos of quietly sung, introspective songs--really quietly, really introspective--Mid Air reveals itself after several listenings as a work of great beauty that, er, might be even more interesting if its songs were played in the context of the Blue Nile. Sounds great in your car very late at night.

Manu KatchÈ: Manu KatchÈ (ECM) Many of ECM Records' releases share such a high standard of audio quality, packaging, and exceptional musicianship that things get blurry after a while: Which Jan Garbarek album was the one I really liked?, etc. But from the first track on French/African's drummer KatchÈ's new album--his fourth for the label--there's no blur here at all. A very strong quartet, featuring Norwegians Nils Petter Molvaer and Tore Brunborg with British keyboardist Jim Watson, and surprisingly earthy, accessible music make this one of the label's strongest releases in some time, and one well worth hearing. Dynamic, hypnotic stuff.

Journalist 103: Reporting Live (Babygrande) Just as the record industry continues to implode, countless blogs such as this one have devalued the written word to a frightening extent! Here one of Earth's last remaining writers tries his hand at a new career in the music business. Dope!

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Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

More Song Stories entries »
 
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