The Sheepdogs – Future Nostalgia or Everything Old Is New Again…

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As the album title suggests, The Sheepdogs are a band lost in time. With absolutely no pretense to suggest anything else, they are what they are, and you can accept it or move along. The choice is yours.

So here is Future Nostalgia, an album that sounds like it was recorded at Muscle Shoals during the studios glory days. Opening track “I’m Gonna Be Myself” is instant proof as you get the Skynyrd riffs and Boz Scaggs vocal styles that were so recognized from the legendary southern studio.

Of course, if you are going to play with the sounds of the classic rock era, you might as well be as expansive as possible. “Downtown” throws in some Eagles harmonies and references them again on “Bad Lieutenant.” The swampy Bernie Leadon like guitar lead is reminiscent of the 1972 classic “Witchy Woman.” From there you get another Eagles guitarist, Joe Walsh, being reflected in The Sheepdogs “Take A Trip.” If you add the easy listening, Michael McDonald era Doobie Brothers sound, coming off “Jim Gordon”, and add in riffs that could come from rock stalwarts like Spirit, Free, Rick Derringer, James Gang and even Canada’s own Lighthouse, you have a pretty insane package.

The thing about the Sheepdogs is they’re not so much influenced by “classic rock” as actually sounding as if they stepped off a time machine from the era direct. If most any other band on the planet tried this, I’d be tossing out tired accusations of being poseurs. However, the songs are just too damn catchy for me to get a hate on for them. Yes you could slip them into a 70’s rock mix and someone could confuse it as a deep cut from an unknown, yet awesome, band from back in the day; but rock ‘n’ roll is nothing if not one giant recycling project.

So, how does that saying go? “Everything old is new again!” It’s kinda hard to argue with that when Future Nostalgia is spinning.

Overshadowed or Overlooked? Screaming Trees – Sweet Oblivion

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It had been years since I last played a Screaming Trees record. Once a staple that sat by the CD player and saw pretty regular rotations in the carousel, it had moved to a secondary location for music seldom played. New music, new bands, new sounds had found their way into my imagination and I moved on. Then the other day I saw a post for an advance order of Sweet Oblivion on vinyl and my mind flashed back – “damn, it’s been too long” as I started to type my order.

A few weeks later the gold coloured vinyl is spinning on my turntable and it feels like an old friend has returned from a long trip away. The conversation flows easy as if no time has passed at all, and I’m at ease just listening when I hear the old familiar stories. Not epic like Soundgarden or angry like Nirvana, Screaming Trees were a pretty straight forward gritty rock band with a penchant for great song writing and one of the best vocalists of the era in Mark Lanegan. Unfortunately, like many of the great 90’s rock bands, they didn’t stay together past the turn of the century, and faded from view.

Anyway, for vinyl junkies you have three choices to spin Sweet Oblivion. The original ’92 release had a limited vinyl printing that came with the CD booklet and a sticker on the shrink wrap declaring it the “One Foot In The Grave” version. If you can find it, it will set you back a minimum of $50.00 plus shipping.

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In 2010, Music On Vinyl released a 180 gram version that had fans giving compliments for quality. You can still find it most anywhere.

Finally, Newbury Comics released a limited 1000 copies on 180 gram translucent gold vinyl. In addition to the foil stamped numbering on the cover it included new liner notes written by Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin. They still have copies, so don’t go crazy ordering from resale sights asking for a $100.

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Overshadowed or overlooked, I’m not sure which, but Screaming Trees should have been bigger than they got. Regardless, Sweet Oblivion is sure appreciated and is once again sitting in a spot close to the stereo.

 

Buying New Vinyl (In Canada)… when the economy has gone to shit!

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“Are you sure you really needed that album” asks my wife as she looks at a recent credit card statement. Don’t get me wrong, we NEVER carry a balance from one month to the next, it’s just that the exchange rate has gone through the roof recently. So, what cost a dollar last year is costing a buck thirty plus shipping (which is also far more expensive because of the falling dollar). In other words, “OH WOE IS ME!” if you’re buying new vinyl from south of the border, you can quite easily go broke.

To make matters worse, some of the best music sites have yet to figure out how to ship items at anything near a reasonable cost. For instance, let’s take a look at the recent rerelease of Urge Overkill’s Stull EP on Touch & Go Records. The white vinyl edition of Stull sells for $16.00 USD, a price I’m willing to pay for a ten inch record. However, the shipping is $34.30 through the USPS (United States Postal Service), meaning the record is now triple its retail value. Then if you add the exchange rate the price jumps up to $66.89, making Stull’s cost quadruple the original asking price.

Now, not all sites use USPS to ship, and thank goodness for that. Recently, I ordered two albums from Newbury Comics and it was a better scenario. Paul Simon’s Graceland and the Modern Lovers eponymous record on coloured vinyl had asking prices that, combined, cost me $45.98 and another $16.00 in shipping for both. Newbury uses a courier service that charges only $14.00 for the first item and another $2.00 for each additional item. Of course, now with the current financial crisis sending the Canadian Dollar to an eleven year low, that small fortune I was spending is now an actual fortune and quite a bit more difficult to justify. My $62.97 USD bill shows up as $83.73 CAD on my credit card statement. OUCH!

When I first started ordering stuff from the US, the Canadian dollar was on par or better than USD. Now I’m looking at a huge markup that has made internet ordering direct from US record labels far less desirable.

Still, you do have options. First, if the label is using USPS, fire off a quick note to them expressing interest in their product, but not their shipping method. If they care about customer service, they will investigate alternate shipping methods. If that doesn’t work, go to your local record store to find out if they can order it in. It isn’t likely that you’ll get the “collector’s edition coloured vinyl” available only to fans making advance orders… but it is worth a shot. Finally, if that favorite artist of yours is coming to town, bring along some cash to their merch booth. Chances are, if they didn’t sell out during the advance order stage, it will be on the tour bus waiting for a chance to separate you from your money.

Regardless, even for a hardcore music buyer, the prices are now out of range. If only some entrepreneur with more brains than I could devise a way to distribute exclusive items in Canada, the costs would come down and music fans in the Great White North would be very happy. As it is, my vinyl orders will have to be filed under occasional – if at all. The vinyl revival may end not because of lack of interest, but instead because it is cost prohibitive… at least for us Canadian shoppers!

“Open Up You Heart And Let The Sunshine In” or Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits

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The 90’s may have a lot of detractors, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t put out a nice bundle of compilation records. Near the top of my list was a whole ton of great artists giving a giant nod to my childhood – Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits. Featuring the Ramones, Liz Phair, Violent Femmes, Matthew Sweet, Juliana Hatfield and a host of others, Saturday Morning featured covers of some of cartoons finest moments.

Frente! covers the Flintstones “Open Up You Heart And Let The Sunshine In.” The duo of Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donelly blast through “Josie and the Pussycats” and the Ramones tackle my personal favorite “Spider-Man.”

The biggest problem is that there has been no reissue since its 1995 release, meaning that it can be a bit difficult to find and, in some cases, resellers have asked outrageous amounts of money for a disc. Getting it on vinyl is that much worse. Saturday Morning was released as a two disc wax set, but it is difficult to find anywhere close to home. Discogs has two on the resale market, but they are in Japan and Australia respectively. In these cases the asking price is near $50.00 plus shipping.

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Then you get others asking over $200.00 for the cassette.

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While I would love to get my hands on the vinyl, I guess my kids and I will have to dance around the house to the CD for the time being.

“Good From Far, but…” or The Maccabees – Marks To Prove It

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Let us suppose for a second that artists are looking to direct your attention to a universal truth. That brush strokes are meant not only to communicate emotion but also to enlighten a patron on the depths of the human condition. Within that context, picture a bespectacled man walk to a microphone, clear his throat, drink from a glass of water at the podium, and finally speak these words: “Dude! Growing up kinda sucks! Ya know what I mean?”

This is the dilemma of The Maccabees

Guys who once sang love songs to “Lego” suddenly ‘growing up’ enough to tell us that life can be a drag in over arching metaphor is a pretty big leap. So when Orlando Weeks sings “tell yourself you’re getting wiser / the truth is we’ve all done the same” on “River Song” you can’t help but wonder if it is a hangover talking, or a real attempt at artistic expression.

It’s this idea that becomes rather distracting. For a band that was once full of twenty something fun, their conversion is disconcerting. Yes there is high energy in much of Marks To Prove It, which plays well with their new ‘confusion and anger,’ but when they drift towards the more melancholy the record loses cohesion.

This entire idea plays itself out in the title track which starts as an ‘all hands on board’ rocking number, but finishes in raindrop falling keyboard loneliness. Throughout the record they spend a lot of time describing things, but not much on drawing you in. Like my ‘bespectacled surfer dude’ the idea is amusing, but the realityis not compelling enough to make you stay.

A friend of mine used to have a saying a long time ago that best suits Marks To Prove It – “Good from far, but far from good.”

“Classic Alternative” Oh for F!%k sakes,…. ! An Opinion Piece…

Running errands with my kids in tow, I was listening to a local radio station when their identification said they play “classic alternative.” Now I’m not meaning to make something out of nothing (yes I am), but – WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN!

“Alternative” as a genre was so broadly based it needed to create a plethora of sub-categories otherwise you wouldn’t know what the hell anyone was talking about. You got shoegazing, grunge, jangle-pop, indie-rock, Britpop, Madchester, industrial, gothic rock, alt-country, adult alternative, and so many more I can’t even remember on the fly because the mere thought hurts my brain.

Sure, I know what the station was getting at… I’m fucking old, and so is that genre tag! Yesterdays ‘alternative,’ was the day before yesterdays ‘classic rock.’ They want me to feel welcomed and nostalgic when I hear Nirvana and say to my kids, “I saw them back in the day.”

“Really, they’re pretty cool, in an old guy kinda way!”

“Oh yeah! This old guy might not pay for your education, if you keep up with that ‘old guy’ crap.”

“Are you sure you should talk that way to an eleven year old dad?”

“When you’re old enough to attempt sarcasm, you’re old enough to hear me say crap brainiac! Now show some respect for your elders you young whippersnapper.”

“What is a whippersnapper?”

“I don’t know! I heard Bugs Bunny say it.”

Shit… where was I… memory is getting foggy with… never you mind… Frickin’ classic alternative”

So I listen to a station that wants to attract a younger demographic. A station that sees the 90’s as a place of flannel, woolly mammoths, sabre tooth tigers and some “classic tunes.”

Oh damn I am old.

Time to sell the electric guitars and get a walker I guess.

At least, I can keep my vinyl, “kids still think that stuff is cool… right?”

Circumstances & Connections: Music Memories or Vic Chesnutt – Drunk

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Fucked up beyond all recognition, I pace the floor wildly with pen in hand, scribbling indecipherable notes for a movie script I’m writing. Thirteen types of prescription medication, ten of which are treating my “so-called depression” (depression caused by the painkillers themselves) and three for the nearly severed sciatic nerve in my back (depression caused by the painkillers themselves). My thought processes are in all places at once, perhaps I’ve reached cosmic enlightenment, or maybe I’m just screwed. Vic Chesnutt is in the background singing “Supernatural” and I’m wondering how to incorporate my own scene of waking up in a hospital bed after surgery, with my push button for morphine drip in my arm and nothing else. That is to say, completely naked because apparently I’m a “bleeder.” I catch the lyrics “Out of body experience / I flew around the hospital room once / On intravenous Demerol / It weren’t supernatual” and I’m running for the rewind. Sure I had heard the song many times before, but a baker’s dozen of different coloured medication gives you a different perspective on what you’re hearing.

Several months later I’m detoxing from the one psychiatrist’s human experimentation by being in a hospital full of head shrinks. My boom box has Chesnutt singing “I tried to learn from the psychiatrist / how to stay calm and minimize risk / I should have kept all those appointments / I’m gonna need em / I’m coming disjointed” as I simultaneously weep and draw the now abandoned script idea.

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Listen now children – drugs are bad – getting off them – worse!

Still, Chesnutt keeps me grounded. Inspired. If he can get past all the shit and turn it into beautiful art; my penny ante crap should be a cinch.

A few weeks later, my wife and I are in sitting in our car at Fundy National Park having stopped for an odd little animal. This porcupine has its ass in the air threatening our Ford Contour with a face full of quills if we proceed. Vic is again providing the soundtrack. “I showed my behind so frequently / my dear old mother wouldn’t recognize me.” Sure it is entirely out of context, but my wife and I are in stitches at this little bit of coincidence.

2001 was pretty much the most challenging year I had faced in my adult life (up to that point anyway), but Vic Chesnutt and his album Drunk certainly made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my journey.

Thanks Vic, I hope you’ve found peace in whatever smoke filled dive you’re playing in the great beyond.

Great album… too bad it costs so much or Travis – Good Feeling

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Some things are expected and some things, well, not so much. One very unexpected result of Radiohead’s success with The Bends is that many bands, fairly or not, were lumped into a category of pretenders and wannabes. Some became super popular like Coldplay and the Killers. Some had moderate success in North America, for example Keane. Still others barely made it onto the radar like California’s Paloalto.

Then there was Travis.

By design or not, Fran Healy’s phrasing of vocals bore a resemblance to Thom Yorke which was enough to get the critics calling foul. The thing is, they wrote some really good songs and albums like 1997’s Good Feeling were damn likeable.

Featuring a bunch of well crafted tunes, the Steve Lillywhite produced Good Feeling was by no means a commercial success, but it did act as a great stepping stone towards broader appeal for later releases.

Still, if you’re a vinyl lover, what would getting a copy set you back?

Well, quite a bit. Not a lot of vinyl was being released back in ’97, so that limits the number available. Then you have the fact that Good Feeling wasn’t a big seller during its initial release and again this limits how much vinyl goes into the pressing plant. In the end, you get two options and both will set you back a bit.

The first was the original 1997 U.K. release with the vibrant white cover above. Resellers are asking for over $115.00 plus shipping.

Two years later Good Feeling got reissued with a different cover featuring the band on a black background. One reseller is asking over $200.00 for it and outside of discogs, I couldn’t find any available.

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Basically, if you see one while crate digging, grab it – otherwise it is a small fortune to get hold of a copy. Great record, but the price kinda hurts.

More Splash! … Already!… or The Breeders – Last Splash

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So only one month removed from writing a post on the Breeders biggest selling record, I’m writing a second post on the classic Last Splash. Last night I saw a Facebook post from Runt Records who are also the people behind 4 Men With Beards and Plain Recordings. They are putting out Last Splash on red translucent vinyl. You can pre-order the record now or wait until the September 18th release date… if they have any left by then.

Mining The Unconscious Depths or Tame Impala – Currents

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A few years back Grandaddy and The Thrills tried their hands at expanding our musical psyche by creating a more atmospheric brand of pop using electronic elements to create complex landscapes. Tame Impala has just taken that idea and upped it by a large margin. Perhaps it’s the drugs; maybe the work of a deeper genius; whatever it is, Kevin Parker has taken Tame Impala into a hazy dance utopia and Currents is the staggering result.

Parker has admitted in interview that the concept for this album came from a mix of mushrooms, coke and the classic Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive.” This makes perfect sense as Currents removes the fun elements of disco and replaces it with a laid back reflective quality. The funk is slowed to a point where dance is done in a slow fluid sway. Instead of John Travolta doing a 12:30 AM splits with arm raised, you picture a 5 AM sway of people who refuse to let the party die.

Parker sings “giving in to all this bullshit / is this what you want? / is this who you are?” on the song “The Less I Know The Better.” However the atmospherics reduce the sentiment to more of a lazy refrain than an accusatorial question. A sort of “I’m quite tired, and this is so a conversation for tomorrow” thing.

Currents has an emotional resonance that rises slowly from unconscious depths only to reach an epiphany when you stop trying to grasp it. Like a great sunrise, it is best if you just lie back and enjoy the moment.

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Currents was available in limited coloured vinyl… but it sold out. Oh well…