New this week in the Rhino Room at iTunes:
J Mascis, Martin + Me: By the time J Mascis finally got around to releasing his first album under his own name in 1996, many critics – most of them old-school Dinosaur Jr. fans – were muttering, “You might as well,” since the band’s most recent album, 1994’s Without a Sound, found Mascis as the sole founding member remaining in the ranks. (As it happens, it was also their most commercially successful album up to that point.) Whether it’s because he was toying with the idea of doing away with band name altogether or just because he felt like it, Martin + Me, a live album recorded on Mascis’s Fall 1995 acoustic tour, came out under his name, and…well, frankly, it sounds like Dinosaur Jr., because what else is it gonna sound like when the lead singer of Dinosaur Jr. releases a live album that includes several Dinosaur Jr. songs in his set? Still, if you like the band, you’ll like the album, and even if you’re not a fan, you might actually become one after hearing Mascis’s low-key covers of the Smiths’ “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side,” the Wipers’ “On the Run,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Every Mother’s Son,” and Carly Simon’s “Anticipation.”
Josh White, The Story of John Henry / Sings Ballads – Blues / Chain Gang Songs / The House I Live In / Spirituals & Blues / Empty Bed Blues / The Best Of: As you may have noticed in some of our past Digital Roundups, we’ll occasionally have a week where you suddenly find yourself knee-deep in the work of an artist whose past efforts – if not all of them, then certainly quite a few of them – have suddenly found their way into our digital catalog all at once. Such is the case this week with singer, songwriter, occasional actor, and frequent civil rights activist Josh White, whose Elektra output during the 1950s and 1960s has arrived at last.
Trim your tree. Part three of our vintage holiday mix series. Find part one, here and two, here. Continuing in the vein of the past two weeks, Wassailing aims to re-frame seasonal music in a way that has nothing to do with crowded shopping malls, elves on shelves, or, as Charlie Brown once pondered, the over-commercialization of the holidays.
43 years ago today, David Bowie released the album that would give him his first top-five placing on the UK album charts, kicking off a series of ch-ch-ch-changes in the public’s appreciation of his music that would, only two years later, lead him to earn his first #1 album in the UK.
While the success of Hunky Dory no doubt had quite a lot to do with the music, which found Bowie’s confidence sky high (as well it should have been, given that this is the album that featured “Changes,” “Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Life on Mars?” and “Kooks,” among other classics), the value of Bowie making the jump to a new label must be taken into consideration as well: having concluded his contract with Mercury after The Man Who Sold the World failed to set the charts alight, RCA signed him to a three album deal after hearing the tapes of Bowie’s still-in-progress effort, and they maintained their optimism through its initially-minor success to see him through to his full-fledged commercial breakthrough. As for Bowie himself, he has rarely hesitated to cite the album as being a major turning point in his career.
Today marks the 65th birthday of a gentleman tasted his first success of note in a band that opened for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, not only earning praise for his tasty licks from Hendrix but also getting the gift of a pink Stratocaster from the guitar god. Those are the sorts of accomplishments that would be enough for a lot of musicians to coast on for the rest of their lives, so we should probably consider ourselves quite fortunate that Billy Gibbons decided to carry on with his music career beyond The Moving Sidewalks to ultimately join forces with Dusty Hill and Frank Beard for what has turned into a 45+ year career with ZZ Top.
Born in Houston in 1949, William Frederick Gibbons was the son of a musician, making it slightly less surprising that, when he got his first electric guitar not long after entering his teens, Billy was off and running, playing in a few bands here and there before starting the unit mentioned above: The Moving Sidewalks, who went on to score a minor hit single with the song “99th Floor.” Given their gigs opening up for Hendrix and The Doors, among others, The Moving Sidewalks might well have gone farther had two of the band’s members – Tom Moore and Don Summers – not been drafted, but while the US Army’s gain was a major loss for the band, it turned out to be a positive development for Gibbons: he and his fellow remaining Sidewalks member, drummer Dan Mitchell, brought in organist Lanier Greig and founded ZZ Top.
28 years ago today, Debbie Gibson released her first single, a self-composed track which ultimately climbed all the way to the #4 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Not too bad for a 16-year-old, eh?
“Only in My Dreams” was written by Gibson in 1984, two years before she actually recorded it for her debut album, Out of the Blue, but when she spoke to Rhino earlier this year, she was quick to credit her producer for taking her composition and making it such a success. “Fred Zarr, who produced and co-produced all those hits with me, he took what I was doing in my garage on the four-track and elevated it to what you heard on the radio,” said Gibson. “He really helped facilitate my vision, fine-tune it, and elevate it, so I really hold him responsible for that sound.”
45 years ago, sax man Eddie Harris released an album with a title that referenced a right guaranteed by the First Amendment…or maybe it was referencing the cost of speech. Either way, it’s still not the strongest entry in Harris’s discography, although – like virtually all of his work – it still has its merits.
Free Speech is often neglected in reflecting on the classic albums in Harris’s back catalog, and part of the reason for that may be that it came out in such close proximity to one of the best and most commercially successful releases of his career: Swiss Movement, a live performance with Les McCann at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Still, you can’t go wrong with a song called “Boogie Woogie Bossa Nova,” and the title track is nine minutes of Harris, Jodie Christian, Billy Hart, and Louis Spears just going to town. The iTunes review for Free Speech suggests that it’s an album which serves as a dividing line of sorts between “stoner jazz” and “jazz that people get stoned to,” possibly because it’s the first time Harris really went to town with his Veritone sax.
24 years ago today, The Sisters of Mercy started a five-week run at the top of the Billboard Modern Rock chart with “More,” confirming that the three years that had passed since their previous album, 1987’s Floodland, hadn’t done anything to diminish their popularity.
Andrew Eldritch, the driving force of The Sisters of Mercy, had successfully worked with longtime Meatloaf collaborator Jim Steinman on Floodland, so it wasn’t terribly surprising to see Steinman’s name turn up in the credits of the first single from the band’s eventual follow-up album, Vision Thing. As it turned out, “More” was the only song to which Steinman contributed (he co-wrote and co-produced the track with Eldritch), but, man, talk about a song that makes an impact…
Steve can shred quite nicely thank you, as anyone who's seen him tear apart "Dear Mr. Fantasy" recently is aware. But despite killing it live, despite putting out one of my favorite albums of the twenty first century, "About Time," independently, doing everything right, the man was fading in impact. So, he signed with Columbia and put out the mainstream album "Nine Lives" to almost no effect in 2008. That's right, rather than stretching out and testing limits Winwood did it their way and few cared. However, there are two killers on "Nine Lives," the opening cut "I'm Not Drowning" and this, where Clapton positively wails.