Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A circle needs a what, now?
Okay, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy is a great musician and all. But he can't seem to get along with guys named Jay, and he really ought to. Uncle Tupelo was one of the greatest bands of all time, due to the collaboration/competition between frontmen Tweedy and Jay Farrar. But after Farrar left the band (apparently due to some weird shit on Tweedy's part), the first Wilco record, while excellent, didn't measure up to the Uncle Tupelo legacy.

That all changed after multi-instrumentalist studio-whiz songwriter Jay Bennett joined Wilco, however. The band's next three records were groundbreaking masterpieces. Then when Bennett became more of a force in the band (or more of a egotistical perfectist pain in everyone's ass), Tweedy fired him. Predictably, the next Wilco record, A Ghost Is Born, was a bit of a letdown, marred by uneven songwriting and some seriously overindulgent noodling (aided and abetted by Jim O'Rourke). I think he needs another Jay in his life! (Jay Z? ... no, that would end poorly.)

Jay Bennett has since released three albums that prove he is a major talent in his own right (and as a producer he almost made Blues Traveler sound good).

A few years ago I saw Bennett perform with collaborator Edward Burch at The Fire, a scummy dive bar in Fishtown. I rode my bike in the rain to get there, spent my last crumpled fiver on too much Schmidt's (always a regret) and enjoyed one of the best shows I've seen anywhere.

Talk to Me (served on
Want You Back (served by Jay's site)

Buy the albums at

P.S. Stay tuned for a post on Jay Bennett's first band, Titanic Love Affair, which were a total ripoff of The Replacements and Soul Asylum ... but in a good way.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Another forgotten band: The Dambuilders

My four regular readers know I have a thing for obscure power pop. Here's another band in that mold: The Dambuilders. Their big hit was Shrine in '94. You remember right? She doesn't speak much English but she tells me all her favorite bands...

Well, sometimes a big hit like that, especially a tongue-in-cheek one, can doom your career. (Just ask The Knack.) The Dambuilders got lost in the post-Nirvana indie rock feeding frenzy, tagged as a one-hit-wonder novelty act despite producing two more excellent albums that ended up in the dollar bin. A sad end to one of the only indie pop bands to successfully employ a violin.

There's not all that much info about the band online. It seems the members have all had projects here and there (the drummer was in Guided by Voices for a while). I used to have a great article about them that I cut out of their hometown paper The Boston Phoenix in '94 but I don't know what became of it. Their major-label releases are all out of print but readily available online for $2.50 (as in a penny plus shipping). So anyhow, here are the songs:

You Might Want Me Around (from Against the Stars)
Drive By Kiss (from Ruby Red)

P.S. I don't have their Encendedor album on CD or I would have uploaded Shrine too but you can watch video (and two others) here provided that you have/get a Yahoo ID.

As promised, more Hamell songs
Two of my faves:
In a Bar
First Date

And please visit for Hamell's own generous offerings.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Hey Hey it's The dB's!
Bands with two singer-songwriters seem to produce some of the freshest, finely-crafted music. I guess it's the power of competition. Of course, bands with two strong songwriters or personalities of any kind tend to explode. "A circle needs a center" is what Jeff Tweedy says when he's kicking guys names Jay out of the band.

Which brings me to the dB's, an early 80's power-pop band fronted by Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey that sold even fewer records than Big Star. But man, they made some great music. Lots of mutual friends with REM but the sound is more in line with bands like Pylon and Dramarama.

The tracks below are drawn from the first two Db's albums, available as a twofer on Collector's Choice.

Black and White
Ask For Jill

Also visit for more downloads and news about the band, which is apparently nominally reunited, and some new and classic downloads.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Hamell On Trial

Ever since Ed Hamell, a.k.a. Hamell On Trial, found his voice on his major-label debut, Big As Life (out of print by the way) he has produced some of the most uncompromising, creative, funny, moving, rockin' music anywhere. So why am I still buying his records from Hamell's suitcase after the show? This guy should be huge by now.

I guess American pop culture just isn't ready for a sweaty pasty bald man who plays an acoustic 30's Gibson small body guitar like a Mack Truck and blends top-notch songwriting with a powerful spoken word assault. Silly me.

Just a few years ago, Ed Hamell survived near death after crashing his VW on the PA turnpike driving through the night with nobody by his side but his old guitar, just to bring his music to you. So do your part. Buy all his in-print albums on Righteous Babe. Then go knock on the door of Mercury records and demand that they release the rights to Ed's other albums so you can buy those. And if Hamell on Trial comes to your town, get your butt to the show.

Visit http://www.hamellontrial.comfor more info and live dates.

Here are some bootlegs Mr. Hamell has kindly made available on his site. They but scratch the surface of his brilliance...

It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) (.mp3)
Piccolo Joe - Spoken Word (.WMA)
In a Bar
First Date

And please visit for Hamell's own generous offerings.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

James Carr - You Got My Mind Messed Up

Some soul junkies like to refer to James Carr as the greatest soul singer who ever lived. Of course, a lot of them are probably insufferable dweebs who think their obscure tastes prove they're better than you. I'm not willing to say Carr was greater than Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye or Levi Stubbs. But he could sure as hell hold his own.

His is certainly a twist on the doomed sould singer story. After all, he didn't meet his end in the flames of a plane crash or at the barrel of a gun. Basically he recorded a bunch of records in the late 60's, had a few small hits, but never quite broke through. He did get his mind messed up though and a lot of the time he should have been singing he was in seclusion or various mental institutions blowing whatever chance he had to finally make it. That's worse, isn't it? For the record, he died in 2001 at the age of 58, having made just the smallest little comeback in the early 90's before he got sick.

There's a hint of detatchment in the music, perhaps the result of Carr's mental state. However, this stuff still sends shivers up my spine. The sound is absolutely classic. The voice is the epitome of soul, and the backup is tight - completely free of the cheesiness that sometimes marred the output of other greats. Carr could make even a silly song sound deep. I'll stop gushing. The songs below (including the classic Dark End Of The Street, of which you have no doubt heard later renditions), say it all.

A great article on Carr can be found here

You should also buy the CD.

Dark End Of The Street
You Got My Mind Messed Up

Friday, November 11, 2005

Graham Lindsey

Jaded music fan that I am, not many new recordings stop me in my tracks like they used to. And I guess I'm a serious snob now because the music that does impress me is hopelessly obscure - so overlooked I'm amazed I even found it. Which brings me to Graham Lindsey.

Lindsey's record came out way back in September '03 but I just got it today, turned on to it by my Yahoo Launchcast station of all things. Damn. It is really good.

This record clearly owes a serious debt to early Bob Dylan (one song, Dead Man's Waltz is pretty much To Ramona with different lyrics) but Lindsey still manages to offer something entirely his own. Besides, Bob Dylan hasn't sounded like early Bob Dylan for 40 years - somebody ought to.

Here's hoping Graham Lindsey comes out with a new record soon and finds a label that can do a little more promotion than the one that put this one out. He's got a song on the Bloodshot anniversary comp, so that's a good sign right there. If he can hold back the spirit of Robert Zimmerman and come out with another set of songs half the caliber of the ones on his debut, the kid'll be alright.

Emma Rumble (via Savefile)
Hutch Jack Flats Rag (Via SaveFile)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

When murder is out of the question...

So I haven't gotten around to posting for a few days - I have some fun stuff planned: obscure classic soul, new wave, and overlooked new from Graham Lindsey (NOT the Republican senator Lindsey Graham) that'll knock your socks off.

But at the moment, I'm feeling a little cranky and nothing helps more than listening to The Murder City Devils.

I saw them at an R5 show at First Unitarian and they were so good I forgot I was smashed into that hot july basement with a bunch of smelly punks (plus the Devils insisted on burning about 20 candles, which didn't much help.

Anyway, I only have their stuff on vinyl and I haven't gotten around to setting myself up to rip my records, but happily enough Sub Pop has a song posted that does the trick quite nicely. First Unitarian is just a few blocks away from The Mutter Museum, that much storied collection of 19th Century medical oddities (world's largest colon, mummified corpse, etc) which inspired the song below.


Murder City Devils - Midnight Service at the Mutter Museum

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Some kind of savior singing the blues

Musician's Musician - n An artist unknown to the world at large yet venerated by singers who sometimes actually sell a record or two. See Blaze Foley.

The late Blaze Foley is a legend in the Austin, TX music scene and beyond. You can read all about Foley's wardrobe of duct tape and aluminum foil, semi-homeless "couch circuit" lifestyle and more here, but the music really beats the hell out of the myth. Merle Haggard learned his song his song "If I Could Only Fly" from Willie Nelson, played it for Tammy Wynette's funeral and made it the title track of his most personal record. John Prine and Lyle Lovett have both included Foley songs on their recent albums. Townes Van Zandt wrote Blaze's Blues for him and Lucinda Williams composed Drunken Angel as a memorial. Do you really need more convincing?

Two CD's drawn from a live performance at a neighborhood bar in December 1988, two months before he was murdered are available at Lost Art Records and you should buy them. The label is nice enough to provide these three tracks for you to sample:

If I Could Only Fly (live/solo)
Clay Pigeons (live/solo)
Oval Room (live/solo)

Some full-band studio cuts Foley made around the time of the above recordings were thought lost but were recently found on an unmarked burned CD and have been restored and released as Wanted More Dead Than Alive. That label has also graciously provided these tracks, albeit versions of the same songs offered above:

If I Could Only Fly (studio/band)
Clay Pigeons (studio/band)

Another studio album was released in very limited quantities but the masters were supposedly confiscated by the DEA (you would think maybe our good Texan in the White House could clear that up). And apparently the masters from another record (or was it the rediscovered one?) were stolen from the back of a car. So maybe with renewed interest in Foley's music, more stuff may one day be released.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Your Sister Says That I'm No Good
Most are aware of the amazingly influential music recorded by Big Star in the 70’s. I think some reviewer or another quipped that only 10 people bought Big Star’s original records but they all started bands. Alex Chilton gets most of the credit, his name in the title of a Replacements song, his latter day career mumbling obscure covers buttressed by the reputation of his former band.

Let’s not forget, however, that Chilton shared singing and songwriting duties with Chris Bell on nearly every track of #1 Record. Listen to Chris Bell’s solo recordings collected on I Am The Cosmos if you don’t believe me. Every element – the vocals, arrangements, songwriting - are spot on, standing right beside the first two Big Star records and far outshining anything Chilton has produced on his own, including Sister Lovers and that new “Big Star” he just released, from the little I’ve heard.

Okay, it’s not as good as the second Big Star record, Radio City, on which Bell’s participation was apparently quite limited. But I’m still willing to say Chris Bell was the real brains behind Big Star. Had he had the chance to release a proper album before his wrapping his TR6 around a telephone pole ’78, maybe he would have managed to find the fame that Big Star never did.

Buy I Am The Cosmos (I'm serious, do it. i didn't upload the amazing title track and a lot of other killer shit)

Here are a couple tracks I did upload for your sampling pleasure, in keeping with my tendency to post one sad song and one rockin' song:

You and Your Sister (alternate "country" version) via savefile

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia Hey, I'm feeling a little down on the city right now, what with the SEPTA strike and city hall corruption and cheesesteaks being so damned bad for you. But hey, we did produce The Philadelphia Sound.

Wilson Pickett is one of the most recognized soul/R&B singers in history, but he is often remembered mainly for his raw, "aggressive" dance songs, more James Brown than Sam Cooke. I think the diversity of his catalog is often overlooked.

Here we have a couple tracks from In Philadelphia, an album cut at Sigma Sound Studios with the legendary Kenny Gamble and George Huff at the helm. The "Wicked Pickett" signature delivery is evident here, but the production adds a complexity lacking in many of his recordings. It was the second to last album Pickett cut with Atlantic before departing for RCA. Bad move - Pickett never had another hit.

I often wonder what would have happened had Picket moved instead to Philadelphia International, the label Gamble & Huff launched around the time of Picket's label jump. Judging from the quality of this record, it's best not to think about what could have been. Both of the tracks below tend to get short shrift in reviews and compilations, and the album itself is out of print, although a nice Rhino reissue CD was out a few years ago. Help The Needy is a ballad that shows off Pickett's sensitive side without sounding sappy. International Playboy is downright silly, but I like it more every time I hear it.

Pickett is apparently still alive but doesn't seem to be playing the oldies circuit or making any new music. Joe Henry should really give him a call. Better yet, Rick Rubin.

Help The Needy