B-Sides in the Bins #44 : Interview with Marco Benevento

Marco Benevento

On Easter Sunday evening, April 12th, Marco Benevento performed at CSPS in Cedar Rapids in his trio with Reed Mathis on bass and Simon Lott on drums. The tour was in support of Marco’s latest solo release Me Not Me, which is also his second solo release. Sunday night was the last night on a brief tour that included stops in Chicago, Des Moines, and Minneapolis. Unfortunately, a mixup about the show start time had me miss the first of two sets. Apparently shows at CSPS start an hour earlier on Sunday nights (note to self!). I wasn’t aware of Marco’s fairly extensive career leading up to his latest release, but I had been giving Me Not Me pretty heavy rotation leading up to the show. Me Not Me is a collection of original songs and an insteresting and eclectic selection of covers from artists as wide-ranging as Leonard Cohen and Led Zeppelin to My Morning Jacket and Deerhoof.

 Marco, Simon and Reed

The second set started with “Atari” and was followed by “Twin Killers” and a really smart “Mephisto” that ended with an impromptu vamp of Jane’s Addiction’s “Summertime Rolls.” It was clear that the trio was in rare form and were having a really good time on stage and probably looking to wrap up the tour on a high note. After the show was over, I got the opportunity to sit down with Marco and talk a bit about his music. Marco was a fun and very laid-back interview. He’s a guy who has very specific ideas about his art and it was a very enlightening conversation.  I followed Marco and the guys back to their hotel so they could get checked in, and Marco and I sat in the lobby for the interview while they waited for the hotel shuttle to take them to dinner.

playbsides: Prior to Me Not Me, I hadn’t heard any of your albums and I wasn’t sure what to expect with the album based on the descriptions online. Your combination of piano jazz and indie rock sensibilities is very unique, but there was something about the piano parts that I completely latched on to. Parts of it remind me of my favorite classic jazz piano from guys like Vince Guaraldi, Dave Brubeck or Bill Evans– I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. It isn’t like Bill Evans covered My Morning Jacket!

Marco: Maybe it is the “pop” sensibility– if I may go so far as to say that.. The Bill Evans stuff– even the way he voiced the melodies– like “Waltz for Debbie” for example is almost a pop sensibility. Like, the focus on the melody and the chords underneath it– yeah.

There is a gray area there. There is a line between the rock and jazz pianists– like the George Winston and the Bill Evans– there is a line that is sort of thickening and widening and becoming this gray area and a lot of pianists are landing in there– like EST, you know Esbjörn Svensson Trio— check them out a really cool trio– the use effects on the drums and the bass. The piano player is incredible… actually he just passed away– a freak scuba diving accident.

While doing some research trying to get caught up on your career, I noticed that it seems that a lot of people represent you as this “jam band” pianist. But, my observation watching the show tonight was that you are taking the traditional jazz piano trio and kind of flipping it on its side a bit with the circuit bent toys and in the same fashion that the great jazz trios were performing “standards” and putting their improv on it, you are taking newer songs and doing a similar thing.

Marco Benevento

Yeah, it’s definitely based on tradition, you know and playing other people’s songs– the pop music of the day and doing what you want to it– whether it be rearranging it or soloing over it or producing it in this cool way– overdubbing stuff on it.

At first blush it could seem like the circuit bent toys could be perceived as “gimmicky” but it’s clear from tonight’s show– when you don’t turn that stuff on– your trio has the chops!

Circuit Bent Toys on the piano

Yeah, there is definitely the musicality there. We said that even tonight. Simon said, “Yeah there are so many options, there are so many different places you guys can go– we could stay in like a Creedence Clearwater type jam– a funky sort of thing, or we could go into a sort of psychedelic “free” section, we could go into odd meter. Interplay– kind of a jazz harmony, soloing– where we take turns soloing– that’s also in other music, like Rock, too. But, yeah it’s really fun to do– to really connect with the audience like that, because when they here a tune they know from another band it really draws them in more because they can relate to it.

Yeah, like with your version of “Friends” by Led Zeppelin, you pull the main hooks from the song, but the rest of the song is completely different and new. Yeah, it’s like the way that Miles Davis covered “Guinnevere” by Crosby Stills and Nash, have you hear that one?


[Davis’s 18-minute take on “Guinnevere” was recorded in 1970 during the sessions that would be used on Big Fun, and released on a compilation called Circle in the Round that was originally released in 1979 and is currently out-of-print. -ed]

It’s killer. I need to dig that out again– I haven’t heard it in a long time! It’s cool to hear other people’s interpretation of a song, like if it’s really minimalistic, stripped down approach, and it becomes a completely different song, “I don’t even recognize that song at all!” It’s like Brad Mehldau— the way he does “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” the Paul Simon song. Have you heard that?

I know the Paul Simon song, but not Brad Mehldau’s version.

It is this incredible improv over some changes– they get really experimental for a while and then by the end of the tune– if my memory serves me right– they just play the melody– and then that’s it! It’s like this really long thing, and you’re like “what’s going on?” and then it’s in seven– this completely other time signature– then they just do the melody [sings] “it’s 50 ways to leave your lover” and then it ends!

I guess you need to bring it back around, huh?

Well, they didn’t even start there! (laughs)

I’ve covered “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, too.” I went to Brad Mehldau’s house, actually, and got a lesson with him. I sat down at his piano, and he was just doing some stuff in the kitchen, and he’s like “ah, just go sit down!” I was psyched to be there, you know? I sat down at the piano and there was a sheet of paper at the piano, and I’m like “I wonder what he’s working on?” I had been playing a lot with Joe Russo (of the Benevento Russo Duo) and we had been covering “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” actually for a while as part of our set– so I look up at the sheet of paper on his pianio and it says “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” So he comes back and tell him that I play “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and he’s like, “How do you play it” and I’m like “we play it pretty straight” and he says that he wants to play it with his trio. It’s so funny when someone comes up with the same idea you have– you know, when like an idea drifts through everybody.

It seems that the choices of covers on Me Not Me really run the gamut, how did you arrive at the covers you chose?

A lot of them we favorite songs, really. Like the My Morning Jacket song– the first time I heard it I was driving– I think it was somewhere around the Midwest– it was just a perfect song at a perfect time. I’d actually wanted to make a record of covers for a long time. The idea came to me in 2000 when I moved to New York, and it is finally coming out now. It didn’t take us long to record the album, but a lot of the covers I’d been playing for a while, like the Leonard Cohen cover I’ve been playing since 2000. We took two days to track it, and then I took it home and overdubbed some stuff on it.

Marco Benevento

Speaking of covers, I like your version of “She’s Not There” by the Zombies.

A lot of the songs we cover are songs that move me. The way we play “She’s Not There” harmonically is how the song appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill volume 2. It was a piece done by some DJ that used samples of “She’s Not there”– so our version is actually a cover of a cover.

[This is “About Her” by Malcolm McLaren -ed]

Coincidentally, the Zombies are back together and will be performing a concert of Odessey and Oracle along with some other music by Rod Argent like “Hold Your Head Up” its an anniversary of that album.

[The 40th Anniversary shows took place in the UK in April -ed]. Oh, really? That’s cool! So, do you ever get concerned that you’ll get pigeonholed as doing covers?

No, I like doing covers. They’re gorgeous songs and I like playing them. Of course, I like playing my own original music, too! So, no I think it’s a great way to connect to people, because it makes them want to check it out even more, right? I like to shake it up, though. Some shows will be mostly original songs, with maybe one cover. It also depends on how long the show is, if we need to stretch it out. I did have a moment when I was editing the album when it hit me– “Wow, these are all cover tunes.” I’m glad I have the three songs I do have on there of my own. But, it’s really inspired me to write more other music and not spend as much time searching for covers. I’ve been writing a lot of more upbeat almost electronic sort of circuit-bent poppy sounding stuff. We played one tonight.

What is that track called?

It’s now called “Greenpoint” we included it on the bonus disc that we included if you did the pre-order– there was a live version of it on there. It’s a new way of composing music for me– more loopy, repetitive almost monochromatic.

I like how you’re using the circuit bent stuff as an extra element to what you’re doing rather than the main element. While I can appreciate what some musicians are doing with circuit-bent–

It’s a wild horse, you know, and it’s hard to ride. If you don’t have a volume pedal, or delay or a way to really finesse it when using it live some times it comes off as a mess. When I first started using it– a couple of times it just was not musical. But, over time, I figured out how to bring it in here and there– otherwise it becomes this blanket that is way too thick.

You’re using it as kind of a way to color the music.

Right. It also ends up adding another section to a song.

For me anyway, some of the circuit bent music out there I really can’t get into. I guess, at the end of the day, I really need something to hang my attention on – there needs to either be a strong beat, or there’d better be a melody. Sometimes it gets a little difficult to swim through those waters.

(laughs) Right, right. And variety for me is important in a show otherwise it gets to be too one-dimensional. It’s important to have these moments in the songs where you can freak out to get into this different color for a second. But sometimes it can get to be almost an indulgence– like you might want to alienate yourself from the audience when my whole thing as a musician is about entertainment. People actually left their house to come here so I don’t want to burden them with anything… they’ve got to escape, you know? It’s important for a listener to just lose it. And then, in order for them to lose it you have to give them something to grab their attention– some melody, some simple chord changes. But also music that grabs myself. When I watch someone else play, I really like it when I can tell that they really love what their doing, first of all– and, you know when your a kid and you’re in church and everything seems funny that you can’t stop laughing– that feeling that “this is SO much fun!”

It’s funny that you mention that. Earlier, Simon came out with this grin on his face, and I asked him, “What are you smiling about?” He said, “Nothing, it is just really great to play these songs!”

At that point, the driver showed up and Reed, Simon and Marco wanted to get some food, so I let them head out after thanking Marco for taking the time to talk to me.

Recently Amazon listed its 100 Greatest Jazz albums of all time list, and maybe not surprisingly the majority of the albums were from the halcyon jazz years of the 50’s and 60’s. This lack of more recent releases was a criticism of the list. Why, for example, does Kind of Blue— an album recorded over 50 years ago– continually show up as the best? Many of the releases on the list were groundbreaking at the time, but certainly stood the test of time to become standards. When I look at current jazz, most of it is derivative of different periods of jazz history. I’m not suggesting that Marco’s new album will stand next to Kind of Blue as a classic, but it is the mix of his unique approach to his music while recognizing the jazz tradition that would seem to me to be the right formula for longevity.

Click Here to visit Marco Benevento’s website

Click Here to visit Marco Benevento’s MySpace Page

Here are the photos from the 4/12/09 show at CSPS in Cedar Rapids, IA.

B-Sides in the Bins #39 – What I Got For Christmas! (12/24 & 12/25)

Stevie Nicks - Crystal Visions 180g 2 LP

2008 was the year of new vinyl for me. Between my 40th birthday and Christmas I ended up with some cool pieces for the collection. Likely, my family is breathing a collective sigh of relief as I think I was a bit difficult to buy for when someone would get my name from the gift exchange drawing. Since I don’t really buy that much new vinyl for myself– I tend to stick to used– pretty much any title that they would like, I would probably like, too. I got a couple of CD’s as well. I keep my Amazon wish list up-to-date which is pretty helpful for gift selection as well.

Jurassic 5 – J5 Deluxe Re-Issue (2 CD, 1 DVD, Decon DCN65, 2008) (gift) My daughter got me this from my Amazon Wish List. I totally forgot about this release, so this was a nice surprise! The J5 Deluxe Re-Issue is a reissue of the first Jurassic 5 album from 1997. The original album was released on Interscope and had apparently been out-of-print since 2004 and held up due to contractural disputes. The original album is here along with a second CD full of hard-to-find and previously unreleased stuff. The DVD has a movie from J5’s first world tour, some concert footage from Brixton Academy and the “Concrete Schoolyard” music video. Nice to get back to this– I stopped listening to J5 after Cut Chemist left and they released Feedback, which was not great. When the hell is 2na going to release his solo joint?

Vince Guaraldi – A Charlie Brown Christmas (3 CD Collector’s Edition Tin, Madacy Entertainment TC2 53161) (gift) This was a stocking-stuffer. A festive metal tin holding two Fantasy CD’s– The 2006 remaster of A Charlie Brown Christmas with the bonus tracks, and Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits which has some of the songs from Christmas, but has songs from A Boy Named Charlie Brown, the wonderful “Thanksgiving Theme” from the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, “Great Pumpkin Waltz” from “It’s The Great Pumpkin,” and others. The third disc is the David Benoit Jazz tribute  40 Years – A Charlie Brown Christmas with some notable assistance from The Rippingtons, Chaka Khan, Dave Koz, Brian McKnight, Toni Braxton and Vanessa Williams. A neat collection in a tin that shares the artwork with the 2006 Christmas release, which used the original 1965 artwork. Unfortunately, the liner notes for Holiday Hits don’t do a good job of explaining where the songs that aren’t from Christmas and A Boy Named Charlie Brown came from. A little digging turned some information up. Special thanks to Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts Song Library at fivecentsplease.org which is the insanely comprehensive Peanuts site.

Tracklisting for Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits:

1. Joe Cool (2:03) apparently not the version from “He’s Your Dog Charlie Brown.”
2. Surfin’ Snoopy (1:09) from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” where Snoopy is decorating his doghouse (1965)
3. Heartburn Waltz (2:36) from “Be My Valentine Charlie Brown” (1975)
4. Track Meet (2:37) from ? (this song and the next one don’t seem to be in the TV cue list but seem to have been recorded at the same time.)
5. Camptown Races (2:22) from ?
6. Oh, Good Grief (1:56) actually “Schroeder” with Lee Mendelson’s son Glenn’s sixth-grade class singing.
7. Charlie Brown Theme (4:19) on A Boy Named Charlie Brown, but included in a bunch of the specials.
8. Schroeder (1:50) on A Boy Named Charlie Brown
9. Charlie’s Blues (1:20) from “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” (1973)
10. Great Pumpkin Waltz (2:26) from “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (1966)
11. Thanksgiving Theme (1:59) from “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” (1973)
12. Linus and Lucy (3:03) from A Charlie Brown Christmas
13. Christmas Time Is Here (vocal) from A Charlie Brown Christmas
14. Christmas Time Is Here (inst.) from A Charlie Brown Christmas

Mudcrutch – Extended Play Live! (12″ EP & CD,  Reprise 516850, 2008) (gift) In a similar fashion to the Mudcrutch LP, this EP came with a “full dynamic range” CD. This means that the CD isn’t suffering from the compression that a lot of releases have today. Mudcrutch was the band that Petty along with Heartbreakers Tom Leadon, Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell were in before Tom formed the Heartbreakers in 1976. Rather than succumb to fans requests for releasing Mudcrutch’s “lost album” Tom brought the band back together and recorded a new album which used some of the original tracks recorded for Shelter records. This live EP is made up of songs recorded over three shows in April and May of 2008. I need to go get the Mudcrutch album, too.

Various artists – Music from the Motion Picture Pulp Fiction (LP, MCA 0008811110314, 1994) (gift) This is the first of the new “Back to Black” pressings I have– at least the first with that identified on it. Looking at the Back to Black website, it would appear that the new Police Live album is a Back to Black as well. 180g vinyl in the original packaging– which doesn’t mean a lot since it wasn’t a gatefold cover or anything exciting like that. I wasn’t aware that this soundtrack had been on vinyl originally. One of my favorite movies and certainly soundtrack with its fun blend of surf tunes and 60’s songs. Mastered by Steve Hau at Future Disc Systems.

Stevie Nicks – Crystal Visions… the Very Best of Stevie Nicks (2 LP, Reprise 100363-2, 2007) (gift) All I can say about this is… “wow!” Everything about this release is an audiophile’s dream: 2 180g LP’s in lined paper sleeves housed in a gatefold with beautiful artwork and very flattering photos of Stevie at various points in her career. In addition, there is a 1-page sheet with the credits that is in the pocket with the first LP which also includes Stevie’s notes on each song! The compilation draws mostly from her very successful solo career, but also has some choice Fleetwood Mac tracks. Again we get “Silver Springs” which was rescued from certain obscurity during the Dance tour and album and has been restored to every pressing of Rumours since. We get a recent live version of “Rhiannon” and the 2005 clubby remix of “Dreams” (which apparently has new vocals). We get a couple of live tracks performed with the Melbourne Symphony including “Landslide” and a nine-minute “Edge of Seventeen.” The album is bookended by two versions of “Seventeen”– it opens with the original album version from Bella Donna, and closes with the live version. Although the live version is longer and involves the symphony, it really isn’t dramatically different than the orignal song since it has drums and electric guitars. Half-Speed Mastered by Stan Ricker, Plating and Pressing at R.T.I.

B-Sides in the Bins #38 : On A Charlie Brown Christmas by The Vince Guaraldi Trio

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" on my turntable

I made a quick stop in at Half-Price books last Thursday. Sherry needed me to stop at GNC for some flu-fighting stuff on my way home from work, so I took the opportunity to stop in. I saw a couple of interesting pieces in the Rock section that I need to get at some point including The Knack’s Get the Knack, and Isaac Hayes Hot Buttered Soul, but I didn’t want to pick up a bunch of stuff. I walked around to the Jazz section and I was really happy to see A Charlie Brown Christmas in the nearby Children’s section! The cover has no ringwear, but the sleeve was curved which has seemed to cause the printing to separate from the sleeve and wrinkle a bit. No matter, the vinyl is in fantastic shape and with the season upon us, I laid out the $2.98.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is a very important album in my life in that it was the gateway to my appreciation of Jazz music today. I wish I could say that my Jazz listening started with something much more complex like Miles Davis, or Thelonious Monk or even John Coltrane– all of which I listen to today– but it started with the seminal Peanuts Christmas special.

In 1965, the pairing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” the TV special and Vince Guaraldi was initially met with resistance from executives from the show’s original home at CBS. They felt that Guaraldi’s West Coast Jazz was not a good fit for a children’s TV show. According to the Wikipedia article on Guaraldi, Lee Mendelson– the producer of the show– had heard “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” which was a huge single for Guaraldi and felt that his style was the right fit for the show. In retrospect, it was this innovative decision that lends to the timeless charm of the show and defined popular Christmas music for the generations of people like myself who make it a tradition to watch the delightful show year-after-year. It was the choice of the signature Guaraldi sound that would define all of the Peanuts specials made (sixteen!) until Guaraldi’s untimely death in 1976 shortly after he wrapped up “It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown.” Guaraldi was only 47.

Fantasy Records issued A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy 8431) that same year as the soundtrack to the show and added “The Chrismas Song,” which wasn’t in the special.

In the liner notes for George Winston’s 1982 release December– itself a hallmark of Christmastime music– he says,

“There is a great wealth of traditional and contemporary music to draw from in doing an album for the winter season. These five albums have been very inspirational to me in conceiving of this album for the seasons.”

Of course the first album listed is A Charlie Brown Christmas. I first heard December standing in the Musicland in Dubuque when I was in high school around Christmas and bought it immediately. When I got it home and read the liner notes I took note of the A Charlie Brown Christmas mention. George Winston would go on to record a complete album of Guaraldi compositions called Linus and Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi in 1996.

In 1988, Fantasy finally released A Charlie Brown Christmas on CD (Fantasy FCD-8431). I picked it up a couple of years after that, and that is the version I have on CD today. The 1988 release of the CD and the LP included the song “Greensleeves” which was recorded during the sessions but not included on the original release. In 1997 Fantasy made a Starbucks Exclusive edition which was faithful to the original release by omitting “Greensleeves.”

My pressing of A Charlie Brown Christmas is a 70’s issue. It has a new cover that uses the original illustration, but has a different font and that It has the newer “circle-F” logo on the LP label, but doesn’t have that logo on the front cover– unlike the 1988 release. The front cover has “The Original Sound Track Recording of the CBS Television Special” across the top. This is the same cover that was used in the 1988 remaster (aside from the logo change).

In 2006, Concord Music Group— which has Fantasy Records these days– reissued and remastered A Charlie Brown Christmas and added some bonus tracks in the form of alternate takes of  “Christmas Is Coming,” “The Christmas Song,” “Greensleeves,” and the vocal take of “Christmas Time Is Here.” Unfortunately, during the remastering process they used the wrong takes for “Linus and Lucy” (actually half of a take as the standard “Linus and Lucy” is made of two takes) and “Christmas is Coming.” They initially offered a replacement for people who got the “bad” disc. I think that if I had gotten one of those, I would have kept it! This release also extended some of the original songs that were edited. “O Tannenbaum” was missing the intro, “Christmas Time Is Here (Instrumental)” was missing the last chord of the song, and “Skating” gains an additional ten seconds restoring the bass solo at the end. They also brought the original cover back which gets rid of the “CBS Special” line at the top of the front cover.

Of note also is the 2006 remastering done by legendary mastering engineers Steve Hoffman and Kevin Grey at AcousTech for Analogue Productions. This was available in a limited (1000 copies)  numbered series of two 180g 45RPM records and is faithful to the original release by not including “Greensleeves.”  A quick search on the ‘net yields none to be had at the moment (although they apparently were available until earlier in December– DRAT!). I’ll have to keep an eye out for one of these. Click Here to see other titles that were and are available from their Fantasy Jazz series of reissues.

The special was aired the night before last on its new home at ABC and even though I own it on DVD, I was transfixed to watch it on TV. One thing I noticed that I’d never noticed before was the song “Skating” is not played during the skating scene in the beginning– it is “Christmas Time Is Here.” I think– like most people who’ve grown up since 1965– the Charlie Brown Christmas special represents the beginning of the holiday season. I usually break out the CD shortly after Thanksgiving (much to my wife’s dismay) to help get into the season. It’s also the ’60’s bebop Jazz sound of A Charlie Brown Christmas that moved me to look for other artists who shared a similar sound like Dave Brubeck and Bill Evans for the piano sound, and Miles Davis’s years on Prestige Records which led me to John Coltrane. Although I listen to other Jazz styles, I tend to come back to this style most often.

A cool find in the used bins in time for the holidays.

Update: Acoustic Sounds found another crate of these in early 2009, and I bought a copy. I traded my 1970’s copy to a friend for an early pressing of Led Zeppelin II.  On Christmas Day 2010, it looks like Acoustic Sounds has these in stock again. Click Here.

B-Sides in the Bins #33 – Zzz Records – Des Moines, IA 10/18/08

Sherry and I were in Des Moines to talk to an Espresso Machine distributor about a machine for her cafe/bakery that she is planning. While were were there, I got to make a quick visit to Zzz Records. Apparently this would be my last trip to their old location as they have moved. I quickly thumbed through the new vinyl and then made my way back to the 80’s/New Wave/Alternative section. It was an 80’s day…

Simple Minds – Once Upon A Time (LP, A&M/Virgin SP-5092, 1985) ($4.25) I’m getting pretty close to having all of the Simple Minds I want. If there are any other period 12″es maybe I’ll pick those up. I want to get Live in the City of Light, which was recorded during the tour of this album.

The Fixx – Reach the Beach (LP, MCA Records MCA-5419, 1982) ($3.50) Possibly one of my favorite albums. I can put this on and listen to it at any time. I got this on cassette from the Kennedy Mall Wards in Dubuque along with U2’s Live Under a Blood Red Sky on the same day. I remember seeing footage on TV of U2 at Red Rocks and knew I wanted that. I distinctly remember being sick with the flu at home in bed with the vaporizer running listening to those two cassettes back-to-back all day long.

B-Sides in the Bins #29 – Boston – Newbury Comics 7/31/08

My last business trip to Boston was happily full of music between seeing Sheryl Crow and getting to run to Newbury Comics before dinner the next night. Thankfully, the restaurant we were going to was just down the street from Newbury Comics. I had hit their website before we went out and they had listed in their Top 100 Vinyl Records sale that Beck’s new album Modern Guilt was on sale as was Endtroducing by DJ Shadow. I was disappointed to find out that these were apparently on-line only, and not in-store. I still picked up a couple of records, though.

Beck – Modern Guilt (LP, DGC Records B0011630-01, 2008) ($14.99) This album just begged to be released on vinyl– from its retro Blue Note-looking sleeve, to the production by Danger Mouse– so I was happy when they announced its release. The record is a hefty 180g slab, and there is a sheet included with lyrics and credits. In addition there is a code to download 320Kbps mp3’s of the album that were ripped from vinyl! I downloaded them promptly and compared them to my other 320Kbps rip from CD. Before the first track “Orphans” you get a needle drop sound and after the last track of side one “Youthless” sound of the needle lifting again. This is repeated for “Walls” and “Volcano” on side two. Cute. The coupon says “This higher quality sound has been taken directly from the vinyl playback — offering a broader sound spectrum to enhance your audio experience.” Well, I don’t know about that. It’s a pretty good rip, but even 320Kbps is compressed. They should have offered .wav’s if they wanted to maintain the fidelity. I read a lot of reviewers complaining about Modern Guilt dismissing it as Beck fronting Gnarls Barkley and other really clever criticisms. This is probably my favorite Beck album next to Sea Change which was another misunderstood Beck album.

Arbouretum/Pontiak – Kale (LP, Thrill Jockey Thrill 201, 2008) ($12.99) This is an interesting release in that the only physical media will be vinyl. Thrill Jockey, consistant with all of their vinyl releases in the last year also includes a coupon for a free mp3 download which is great. BTW: all of the mp3 downloads from the Thrill Jockey store are 320Kbps, so there is someone there who gets it. This is a split release between Arbouretum and Pontiak. This is the third release for both bands. I saw Arbouretum at the Thrill Jockey 15 shows last December and was floored by their live performance and their 2007 release Rites of Uncovering is in regular rotation for me. Both bands try their hand at covering John Cale songs in amongst original songs. Arobouretum tackles “Buffalo Ballet” from Cales very influential and groundbreaking 1974 album Fear. “Buffalo Ballet” is a beautiful song and Arbouretum’s take on it leaves it pretty much in tact other than adding some sludgy distortion goodness to it. (Note to self: go buy Fear) Pontiak takes on two songs “The Endless Plain of Fortune” from Cale’s brilliant Paris 1919 album from 1973 and “Mr. Wilson” from the 1975 follow up to Fear, Slow Dazzle. The original tracks for both bands are great and stand up well against their recent releases. I especially dig the track “Green Pool” from Pontiak in which the slapback echo vocals ride the wave of a circular guitar line and slinky bass to a crest that fits nicely next to their very delicate take on “Mr. Wilson.” “Green Pool” ends waaaay too soon. I hope they jam a bit more than the 3:27 lets them do in a live setting.

I’m still bummed that Pontiak didn’t make their show in Iowa City due to the floods. I’m hoping they’ll be back soon.

B-Sides in the Bins #28: Amazon.com part 1 – The Del Fuegos – The Longest Day

The Del Fuegos – The Longest Day (CD, Wounded Bird WOU 5174, 2008) ($7.33)

This was the week where I revisited my favorite music from the 80’s in my purchases. I was reading the very helpful Monday post from Largehearted Boy that lists the Tuesday CD and DVD releases and was surprised to see that the first three albums from 80’s roots rock band The Del Fuegos were listed as being reissued! WTF?

In 1985, probably watching Night Tracks on WTBS or Night Flight on the USA Channel, I encountered The Del Fuegos and their breakout single “Don’t Run Wild.” We didn’t have MTV in my hometown so these shows in addition to Radio 1990 and Friday Night Videos were the only music video sources available to me. “Don’t Run Wild”‘s opening muted guitar and bass riffs and snapping fingers made me a believer and this little band from Boston became one of my favorite bands and is still one I listen to.

In the summer of 1985 I discovered R.E.M. during a family vacation in California which triggered in me the desire to search out bands that other kids in my hometown of 1200 people hadn’t heard of. That summer I was 16 and with driver’s license clutched firmly in hand I would cruise around town with friends listening to a lot of bands that had this retro Midwest 60’s garage sound– The Smithereens, The Del Fuegos, The BoDeans, Los Lobos, Violent Femmes, R.E.M. and others– and this would be the sound that would carry me to the “alternative” college rock bands after high school.

The Del Fuegos were a hard-working, hard-rocking, and apparently hard-drinking bar band from Boston who were signed to indie label Slash Records which at this time was being distributed by Warners. Their first two albums The Longest Day and Boston, Mass were well-regarded critically, but it wasn’t until they were approached by Miller Beer to appear in a commercial representing a hard working blue collar band that they grabbed national attention to the din of longtime fans’ cries of “sellout!” In 1987 they followed up with Stand Up, their third album with the winning partnership of Mitch Froom at the boards.

That summer my family and my best friend Kurt went to Chicago to see The Del Fuegos along with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and The Georgia Satellites as part of Petty’s “Rock and Roll Revival Tour” at Poplar Creek on June 20, 1987. The Fuegos, the band that didn’t have a hit on the charts at the time– unlike the Satellites was made the opening act. We were really excited to see the band and to see Tom Petty. Unfortunately, dwarfed by the huge stage in the hard light of the afternoon and possibly seventeen dates into a 33-date long summer tour their abbreviated opening slot seemed to lack the magic we’d expected from the band we listened to regularly over the last two years. I was also hoping that Petty would have joined the band to reprise his harmony vocals from the album on “I Can’t Take This Place” but that wasn’t meant to be, either.

According to this biography of lead singer and founder of the Del Fuegos Dan Zanes, following that tour Warren Zanes and Woody Giessmann quit the band and the band was dropped from Slash. That Fall I went to College and focused on other bands I was being exposed to by new friends I was making there.

In 1989 Dan and bass player Tom Lloyd attempted to revive the band– this time with members replacing brother Zanes and Giessmann with a new guitarist and drummer and new label RCA. I didn’t purchase Smoking In The Fields initially– my brother Steve had a copy of it and listened to it quite a bit as I recall. Producer/Engineer Dave Thoener provided a more lush, updated version of the sound of three previous records and it yielded a rocking first single in “Move With Me Sister” which got to #22 on the Modern Rock charts. However, it died quickly with a lack of support from the label or it’s A&R army– a record out-of-time in some respects. It sadly made its final rest among the cut-out bins which is where I got my copy. Listening to it today as I write this article, it is a solid record from beginning to end and sounds as good as some Tom Petty records in his catalog and shows Zanes as the strong songwriter and frontman that he was. Smoking in the Fields is as deserving of a reissue as the other three albums in my opinion.

In 1994 he came out of a period of retirement during which he started a family and quit drinking by providing a very short instrumental titled “Moon Over Greene County” to the soundtrack to “Natural Born Killers.” This was followed in 1995 by his first solo album Cool Down Time which was released on short lived Private Music which was bought by BMG the following year and has been out-of-print since. (There are a bunch of copies for under $5 on Amazon, BTW). This record was a return of Mitch Froom at the helm and brought his clank-and-rattle percussion and odd keyboard sounds he developed in the Latin Playboys to Dan’s trademark roots sound. I love this album and it’s shared production style with the Latin Playboys, 99.9 Fahrenheit Degrees from Froom’s ex-wife Suzanne Vega, and Colossal Head from Los Lobos is an interesting mix. Dan provided an e-mail address in the CD booklet and he and I exchanged a few e-mails which was cool.

The story has been told a number of times elsewhere on the net about Dan being disappointed with the children’s music available and how he has reinvented himself as a children’s/family-friendly artist and this path gave him a Grammy in 2007 for Catch That Train! in the Best Musical Album for Children category.

In 2001 Warner Brothers sort of righted a long-standing wrong by providing The Longest Day on CD. The two following albums had existed been released on CD, but not Day. They did this strangely by including the whole album as part of an import Best of the Del Fuegos : The Slash Years which also had tracks from the subsequent two albums. I hadn’t gotten around to purchasing this album and now I don’t need to since it has been reissued by a label I hadn’t heard of called Wounded Bird.

Wounded Bird is a reissues label that has been in existence since 1998 and has a pretty impressive catalog of releases including most of Bread’s catalog, Marshall Crenshaw, the solo work of the Cars and many others. It appears based on the two CD’s I bought so far that they are licensed and manufactured by Rhino Entertainment. So, this implies that they have access to the original masters to make them. I have read some reviews on Amazon that people have been disappointed with some of the releases’ sound quality. So, I think releases from this label come with a bit of buyer beware in that they aren’t re-mastering these recordings, so if there hasn’t been a CD transfer done these are coming from LP/Cassette masters. In the case of The Longest Day the production sounds great, so I’m assuming they are using the masters that were used for the 2001 Best of release. In the case of Boston, Mass and Stand Up they would be using the CD masters.

It’s great to have this on CD, finally and completes my collection. I have the Slash catalog of the Del Fuegos on vinyl as well so I feel that my collection is pretty complete with this band.

Click Here for Dan Zanes’s Website

B-Sides in the Bins #27 – 7/19/08 – Lindale Mall Starbucks (R.I.P.)

As word of the Starbucks in Lindale Mall closing as part of a larger store closing move by Starbucks to close 600 stores nationwide including six in Iowa to “weed out unprofitable locations” rumors at Lindale on Saturday were spreading that the location was giving away drinks. Sherry and I were going to visit our daughter RaeEllen at her last day at Kitchens and Koffee so we stopped at Starbucks to see what was going on. While they were giving away drinks– they were samples of chocolate banana smoothies with shots of espresso in them (yum!).

While we were there, I was surprised to see that Starbucks was having a “Summer DVD and CD Sale” where ALL CD’s and DVD’s were $7.95 — inluding the new Coldplay! The Starbucks retail price for CD’s is typically an inflated $12.95 or better. I guess this shouldn’t be much of a surprise after the announcement that Starbucks was going to dump or dramatically reduce the number of CD’s they are going to sell. So, I expect there is going to be a purging of inventory across the chain.

One of the downsides to Starbucks getting out of the music biz is the Starbucks Entertainment business that partnered with the Concord Music Group to create some not-shabby compilations of artists and notable record labels. I wrote about the great Prestige Jazz compilation last year. In the CD racks at the doomed Starbucks was a couple of other compilations including a Buddy Holly one and a John Coltrane one in addition to the Stax one I picked up. They had some new titles- including John Mellencamp’s recent one, too.

Coldplay – Viva La Vida (CD, Capitol 509992 16886 0 7, 2008) ($7.95) I thought that this was about the price I’d want to pay for this — new at used price. I like a couple of the songs I’d heard on this album including “Viva La Vida” which was used in the iPod commercial as well as the new single “Violet Hill” which Sherry likes as well. Tired of the comparisons to Radiohead, Coldplay switched its sights to U2 with the “sonic landscapes” from erstwhile-and-again U2 producer/collaborator Brian Eno. I really liked the overplayed Rush of Blood to the Head and was as confused as everyone else about the X&Y followup. This is a very strong release from the band and solidly positions them as alterna-rock for the softening Gen X crowd.

various artists – “Soulsville, U.S.A.” – Stax Classics 1965-1973 (CD, Starbucks Entertainment CDS-131, 2008) ($7.95) This was the one I was pretty excited about. I’m becoming more of a fan of the legendary Stax Records catalog as time goes. The scrappy label from Memphis that represented was the “dirty South” answer to the more “clean” Motown and Philly labels of the time. I started as a fan of label houseband Booker T. & the MG’s and slowly expanded to include artists that they recorded behind. Working with Concord gave Starbucks the licensing power as well as the extensive catalog knowledge required to put these excellent comps together. This release stayed away from the big hits from Stax that have been represented in about a million other comps. Instead of including “Soul Man” we get “Hold On I’m Comin'” from Sam & Dave. Instead of “Green Onions” from Booker T. & the MG’s we get “Soul Limbo” and their instrumental cover of “Groovin’.” Incidentally, “Soul Limbo” has the distinction of being the first release on the freed-from-Atlantic Stax. Sadly, this was the beginning of the end for the label. Instead of “I’ll Take You There” from the Staple Singers we get the sound-alike “If You’re Ready.” Every track on this comp is a winner and a good mix for about any occasion with Otis Redding, Albert King, Eddie Floyd and Mr. Hot Buttered Soul himself Isaac Hayes. Hayes weighs in with “Walk On By” which I only recently realized was sampled by Portishead for its biggest hit “Sour Times” from 1994’s Dummy with its repeated “Nobody loves me– it’s true.”

So, if I run into any other interesting comps while traveling I may pick them up at this price. I’m hoping some company like Half Price Books will pick them up for sale in their stores as cut-outs.