Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Short List gets shorter

Awhile back I mentioned the Short List of Music and the sixty nominees who were up for this year's prize. Well, last week the list was shortened to an actual "short list" of ten finalists. Those who are being considered for this award, which will be given out in May are:

Band of Horses
Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham)
Cat Power
Girl Talk
Hot Chip
Joanna Newsom
Regina Spektor
Spank Rock
Tom Waits

An interesting and eclectic list and if I were a betting man I would put my money either on Regina Spektor, or the veteran Tom Waits. Band of Horses and Hot Chip are also nice picks, as is folkie Joanna Newsom.

I have to admit I'm kind of disappointed in the elimination of Mute Math, Midlake, Jeremy Enigk, and yes, even Danielson.

Give all the finalists a listen and let me know who you like the most and who you think will win. I'll let you know when the winner is announced.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Dutch, The Rebels, and some Danish...

Here are two bands that recently found me on MySpace and requested me as a friend, presumably based on my musical interests. Both of them are European and have connections to bands that are among my favorites.

First up is Munich, a Danish band featuring a laid back and dreamy indie-pop sound. The latest records is produced by Johannes of Lampshade.

And second is Dutch band, Canadian Sunset, for fans of This Beautiful Mess and The Spirit That Guides Us.

Also, just a reminder that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has a new album, Baby 81, coming out on May 1st, and it is one of their best CDs in years. The band's last disc, Howl, was a bit of a stylistic departure that led to mixed reviews from critics and fans alike, but this time around the boys are headed back closer to the sound of their earliest work, and the results are pleasing. Head on over to MySpace where the new disc is streaming in its entirety. This is a CD that will get a lot of play on my MP3 player.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Music in the meantime

I've been rather busy these past few days, up to my ears in paint, so I haven't had the time to really put together a blog of any substance. So I thought I would just list a few bands I'm enjoying right now...

First up is The Hourly Radio from Dallas, TX. Interesting indie rock sound featuring the rather high vocals of Aaron Closson, somewhat reminiscent of Lovedrug's Michael Shepard. Check out The Houly Radio's video "Deaf Ears," which is a rather interesting homage to one of my all-time favorite films, Harold and Maude.

Another band to check out is LA's The Bird and the Bee, showcasing the talents of Greg Kurstin and Inara George. The duo create a lush yet vibrant pop sound that reminds me of those late 60s/early 70s films featuring Americans travelling throughout Europe. (I can't even name one of these films, but I remember them from my childhood, particularly the musical scores...). Fans of Dean & Britta, Belle & Sebastian, and Charlotte Gainsbourgh should take note.

And finally, give a listen to Umbrellas. The band is basically an outlet or Oklahoma native Scott Windsor. Beautiful vocals and sweeping musical soundscapes. Enough said.

So check out these bands and enjoy. You can thank me later. Hopefully I'll have a time for a meatier blog post in the next few days.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Eric Volz update and a call to action

Here are some updates on the Eric Volz situation that my friend Lori passed on to me.

Dateline NBC will air their story about Eric Volz story on tonight, April 22. The show airs 8pm - 9pm (in all time zones), but please watch NBC for more information, double-check your local schedule or go to for current listings.

CNN Anderson Cooper 360 is scheduled to air their Eric Volz story on THIS MONDAY night, April 23.The show airs at 10pm ET / 9pm CT / 8pm MT / 7pm PT, but please watch for more information, double-check your local schedule or go to for current listings.

And finally:

Contact the Nicaraguan Embassy. We urge you to send this form letter to Fernando Coronel, the Press Director at the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington:

To the Honorable Fernando Coronel:In the spirit of goodwill that exists between many Nicaraguans and Americans, I respectfully write to ask that you to pay considerable attention to the case of Eric Volz. He is an American citizen currently incarcerated in the La Modelo prison, convicted of a crime he did not commit.

Eric's case is currently in the appeal process. As a result, we want to turn your attention to the fact that the justice system is in breach of articles 7 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which state, "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law" and "Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him."

Please help see to it that Eric's case be reviewed fairly and that justice be done. If interested, below is a link to the Declaration of Human Rights:

Friday, April 20, 2007

Eat, Sleep, Repeat...and more

Thursday night I had the chance to take my oldest son to see one of our favorite bands, Copeland, at the Chameleon in Lancaster. A very good show as the band from Florida tunes up to head oversees for a tour. A nice tight set featuring mostly music from their latest album, Eat Sleep Repeat, along with some selections from older albums. They sounded really good throughout and played some favorites like "When Paula Sparks," "You Have My Attention," and their current single, "Control Freak."

Got a chance to meet with a few of the members afterwards and they were extremely nice and pleasant. I love to see that, especially when it is a band on a major label (Columbia Records).

Special thanks to my friend Lori at Biscuit PR for getting us in, as well as band manager Kyle Griner.

Also...a few days ago I blogged about a song from Hundred Year Storm called "Pilot's Last Broadcast." Well, Brandon from the band contacted me and informed me that the samples used on the song are indeed actual recordings from real pilots, taken from blackbox recordings of planes that crashed. He also says that at the end, before the explosions, there are samples of kamikaze pilots from Pear Harbor. In the words of Brandon, "the song is about death. And how we're not promised tomorrow."

Makes the song that much more meaningful. Thanks, Brandon.

And, I recently blogged about the Free Eric Volz campaign, so I wanted to let you know that NBC's Dateline will be doing a story about Eric and his situation this Sunday night. Check your local listings for time.

As for new music, there are some new tunes online from The Mint and Project 86 at their MySpace pages. Check them out.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Pleasures for your way of Texas and Canada

The other morning while taking our dog for his daily 2-mile walk, a song came up on my MP3 player that I certainly had heard before, but never really listened to. The song was "Pilot's Last Broadcast" from Hundred Year Storm and their latest album, Hello From the Children of Planet Earth. The quietness and peacefulness of the early hour (6:00 a.m. and still not quite light out) allowed the song to make a dramatic impression on me. This group of guys from Austin, TX doesn’t just create music. They create aural experiences. Many of their songs are layered with samples of speaking, film clips, and assorted pieces of spoken word recordings that serve to enhance the theme and emotion of each song. No, not just songs; they are artistic soundscapes. The song I heard that morning was primarily a moving and emotional instrumental piece interspersed with recordings of a conversation between a pilot and a control tower, and it was evident that the pilot was headed for a wreck. I don’t know whether these were recordings of actual pilot conversations or whether they were created for the purpose of this piece, but the effect was rather remarkable. The interplay between the music and the recordings was amazing and I found myself very moved by the piece. You can hear the song on their MySpace.

I think I’m particularly attracted to this type of art because of my years of experience working with radio, particularly my work as the Radio Curator at the Museum of Television & Radio for 13 years. During that time I was given the chance to hear some amazing works of radio art. But as I listened to this song, I’m not sure why, but one particular radio piece came to mind. Near the end of my tenure at MT&R I was involved in putting together an exhibition celebrating the work of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. As I listened to a variety of pieces from the entire history of the CBC, there was one audio piece that just grabbed me. It was a piece that mixed music with the spoken word, and over the years I had completely forgotten all about it. It bears no resemblance to the Hundred Year Storm song, but I suddenly remembered it and came back home, got on the Internet, and without remembering much about it, set about to find it online. And it didn’t take long.

The piece I remembered was called “More About Henry” and was the work of a young Canadian musician by the name of Adam Goddard. Adam had apparently sat down and recorded his grandfather, Henry Haws, talking about life in the “good old days.” I may not have my story completely straight here, but as Adam interviewed his grandfather about farming and other issues, he recognized the musical quality of his grandfather’s voice, and then wrote some music and lyrics and laid down samples of his grandfather speaking over the music. The first time I heard the piece I fell in love with it and played it for others, all of who greatly appreciated the work of art they were hearing. I know very little about Mr. Goddard or about anything else that he has done, but I do know good radio when I hear it. I hope you feel the same way. And again, remember, there is no real relationship between these two musical compositions other than the fact that one jarred my memory in some strange way and made me think of the other.

This has gotten me in the mood to revisit my days at the Museum and listen to some more great radio. I’ll let you know what some of my other favorites are over the next few days. In the meantime, enjoy Hundred Year Storm and the work of Adam Goddard.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

MySpace Music Find of the Day

Life is rather busy right now, so I don't have a lot of time to I was thinking that on the days when I can't spend a sufficient amount of time writing, I would pass on information about some of the bands I've been discovering through MySpace and friends.

So today's MySpace find of the day is: Seabird.

This band from Kentucky is recording for Credential Recordings and their music features some beautiful piano and keyboards, as well as vocals that are reminiscent of Lovedrug.

Give them a listen and let me know what you think.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Another New Music Monday

Another new music Monday.

The new release I’m most looking forward to this week is The Well from Waking Ashland on Immortal Records. This piano-driven indie rock band from San Diego has been making waves over the past few years. The new album was recorded at Bomb Shelter Studios in L.A. (owned and operated by former Stone Temple Pilots drummer Eric Kretz). The new disc will be available Tuesday (4/17) in pretty much any chain record store and any decent indie shop. Their last album, Composure, was met with critical praise and did well on college radio, particularly with the moving song “All Hands on Deck,” and I expect this new CD could really put the band on the map.

Other discs to look for this week include:

Joseph Arthur and the Lonely AstronautsLet’s Just Be
Joshua EnglishTrouble None
HalophilePanic Bird

As for live radio on the Internet this week, check out the sparse and beautiful performance of Eleni Mandell on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic with Nic Harcourt on Wednesday (4/18) at 2:15 p.m. (ET).

Then on Thursday (4/19) listen to the unique rock sounds of The Broken West, also on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic at 2:15 p.m. (ET).

Happy listening!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

MySpace Music Find o' the Week

The beauty of MySpace and the Internet is the ability to find bands I might never have heard of...

Today, a few bands that have common roots: all of them came out of the pop-punk band The Halo Friendlies. If you like female singers, these are bands you should check out.

First, check out Scouts of St. Sebastian, fronted by former Halo Friendly Judita, along with her husband, Matt Wignall (Havalina Rail Co., Jackson Rubio Records, etc.) and some members of The Seamonsters. Nice alt-pop with an 80s flavor.

Next up is Ginger Sling, former bass player for the Friendlies. Amazing voice that will lull you into submission. Meanwhile, the latest rumors are that Ginger will be joining Billy Corgan and others as the new bass player in The Smashing Pumpkins.

And then there is the darker, more driving sound of Bloodcat Love. Not female vocals, but featuring former Halo Claudia Rossi on drums.

Check 'em out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Free Eric Volz

Eric Volz needs your help.

Eric is a 27-year old American citizen who has been living in Nicaragua for a few years. Eric is also the publisher of EP Magazine (a bilingual magazine that focuses on sustainable development and eco-tourism).

But here is why Eric needs your help. You see, Eric is now "living" in a maximum security prison in Nicaragua after being convicted of a murder he didn't, and couldn't, commit. In fact, unless his conviction is overturned, it will be his home for the next 30 years.

You can get the full facts of the case here, but in short, a young woman by the name of Doris Jiminez (a former girlfriend of Eric's) was killed on November 21, 2006, sometime between 11:45 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Despite the fact that Eric Volz has quite a few witnesses and evidence that he was more than 2 hours away that day, he was eventually arrested for the murder. And despite the fact that there was NO physical evidence at the scene to tie him to the crime, he was convicted. A conviction that came mostly as the result of testimony from some rather unsavory and unreliable sources. It was also a conviction that Over the past few months there has been a real groundswell of support growing for Eric, mostly as the result of publicity generated through a grassroots Internet effort.

I first discovered the campaign to free Eric Volz about a month ago as a result of the involvement of some friends and bands that had linked to the Free Eric Volz page on MySpace, and I've been telling others about it since then. Here is how you can help.

First, brush up on the facts. Visit sites like Free Eric Volz and Friends of Eric Volz . You can also check out a film about the case on YouTube.

Second, take action. You can contact your congressional representatives to have them put pressure on Nicaraguan authorities to investigate and revisit the case.

Third, if you are able, you can make a financial contribution so that Eric's parents and friends can continue their efforts to have him released.

And finally, you can help by making others aware. Spread the word. Link to this blog. Link to the previously mentioned sites. If you have a MySpace, put the Free Eric Volz MySpace site on your front page. In this day and age it is very easy to spread the word, so let's do our part.

Monday, April 09, 2007

New Music Monday

There are some great live performances on the radio this week, as well as a few interesting new CD releases.

On the new CD front, Conor Oberst's project Bright Eyes has a new CD called Cassadaga. Bright Eyes, incidentally, will be playing live tomorrow on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic at 2:15 pm (ET). As always you can listen online.

Also new this week is From Autumn to Ashes' Holding a Wolf by the Ears. I really like the comments from drummer Francis Mark as posted at

"Most of the record is just about living. At this point I don't think that music inspires me to make more music. Going out and living inspires me to make music. It seems like most people don't believe in themselves enough to take risks," he says. "So many people are unhappy - they let their happiness take a backseat to their obligations, and our society really reinforces that. Also, it seems like the middle ground between having total faith and not having any is vanishing and that middle ground was what functioned best. A lot of lyrics are inspired by the idea that extremes are dangerous."
And if you are looking for some nice live radio performances this addition to the aforementioned Bright Eyes performance, make sure you check out the following:
Tuesday, April 10:
Richard Buckner on KEXP at 6:00 p.m. (ET)
Wednesday, April 11:
Dean & Britta on KEXP at 7:00 p.m. (ET)
Happy listening. And I've been finding some new and interesting bands on MySpace that I'll be telling you about in the near future.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Not AN emergency...but THE Emergency

Don't have much time for a post but thought I'd give you some hard to find music to listen to over the weekend. A few years back there was a band that came together, recorded some amazing music, apparently signed with Atlantic Records...and then disappeared for a variety of reasons. Fortunately someone has put some of the music up on a MySpace site and you can hear a few songs from The Emergency, a band that I think could have really done something big.

The band consisted of Travis Zimmerman (Jupiter James/Cush), Jason Martin (Starflyer 59), Frank Lenz (Starflyer 59, Pedro the Lion, Fold Zandura), Dirk Lemmenes (Stavesacre), and Ryan Denne (Stavesacre).

Some pretty good music, but the album never saw the light of day. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Blog Updates...or...Spring Cleaning While it Snows in April

Blogger added some new features so I took the opportunity to do a little "spring cleaning" on my blog. Hope you like the new look, however I'm sure there will be some little tweaks hear and there.

Also, I discovered that my Bloglet blog subscription tool didn't work because apparently Bloglet went out of business! Which explains why I lost all of my previous subscribers. So...I've added a new blog subscription tool from FeedBlitz that I really like. If you are new to this blog, please subscribe...and if you are a returning reader, you'll need to re-subscribe.

Also, if you know of any other features, bells, whistles, etc. that I should be adding to this blog, let me know.

And just so this post isn't merely a matter of "housekeeping," I mentioned in a previous post that my friend Andy Whitman took part in the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Music recently. Well, he's back home and has put down a few thoughts on the experience in his blog that you should check out.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

It's My Web and I'll Post if I Want To!

Much of my reading, research, and writing in recent years has been in the areas of social networking and the whole Web 2.0 concept. I find myself intrigued by the Internet in ways that I have been intrigued by the medium of radio in the past (yes...I'm a radio geek.). The incredibly fast pace of technology makes it difficult to keep up with what is going on with advances in Internet applications, but I find myself riveted. I am less interested in the actualy technological side of things (HTML, RSS, Java, yadda yadda yadda) and more interested in how these applications all function together on the Internet in a way that impacts our culture. I'm interested in the synergy between content creators, content providers (there is a difference!) and content users...and how those three kind of get muddied together.

As a result of this fascination, I've been reading a lot of books, articles, etc. by Henry Jenkins, the Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program, and perhaps the leading thinker in the area of digital media technology. His book Convergence Culture is probably one of the most important books on media technology in decades, and some have referred to him as the 21st Century's Marshall McLuhan. While Jenkins' name may not become a household cultural reference in the manner of McLuhan (Jenkins doesn't seem to seek out the limelight), I think it is an apt description. For anyone interested in the future of media technology, particularly in relation to understanding the interplay between technology and culture, Jenkins and his blog are must reads. Other important books by Jenkins include The Wow Climax and Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers.

Much of Jenkins work centers around the participatory nature of digital communications, where the lines are blurred between content creation and content usage, as well as some rather interesting discussions on media convergence and cross-platform content. Jenkins does a good treatment of this in relation to the classic example of cross-platform media: The Matrix series. If you thought The Matrix was merely a series of movies, you are mistaken. From the beginning, The Matrix was branded as a cross-platform phenomenon involving graphic novels, cartoons, video games, and the Internet...all with the participation of a larg number of writers and content creators. People were encouraged to play around in the world of The Matrix. At the other end of the spectrum is the tight controls that were placed on the world of Harry Potter. While fans wanted to enter that world and create their own Potter stories, the publisher and author stepped in to protect their money-making entity. Smart corporations, marketers, web creators, and anyone creating anything for any form of consumption would be wise to read Jenkins and embrace the technology, rather than hold it at arm's length. Not that J.K. Rowling and the young Mr. Potter are suffering from poor cash flow, mind you. But the Potter experience could have been even better if they had taken a different approach to their fans and embraced the potential of participatory culture.

Finally, as someone interested in the intersection of faith and culture, Jenkins has written a number of items on the way people of faith, and particularly Evangelicals, have approached the issues of convergence and media technology. I don't know where Jenkins stands in his own personal faith journey, but he has some interesting insights into the collision of faith and technology. On that note, I'm very interested in listening in on a seminar being held at MIT tomorrow on Evangelicals and the Media. It will be available for listening and viewing following the event. Just wish I could be up in Boston to participate live, however I guess it is only fitting that I experience it in the digital realm.

And if you are wondering where I am going with all this, there is a point beyond that which I've already stated. As a fan of music I'm very interested in how this whole convergence, cross-platform, media technology and culture thing plays out for the music industry and the artists who are creating music. So...I'll be writing a little bit about that in some future blogs.

And, in the very near future I'll be giving this blog a face-lift and changing some things around. And don't worry, there will still be plenty of music talk.

Monday, April 02, 2007

New Music Recommendations

Another week, and more new music on the way

But first, let me digress a little. This afternoon at 3pm (ET), David Vandervelde will be performing live on KEXP in Seattle. Those who know me know that I’m a big fan of KEXP and love that I can listen to it online. Especially check out their morning show with John Richards, and if you go to their website you’ll find an amazing archive of live performances and podcasts…The station is a great resource for finding new music. But back to the point at hand. David Vandervelde is a musician I discovered (along with the marvelous Brie Stoner) because of his work on the Nooma video soundtracks. David’s latest album The Moonstation House Band was released earlier this year on Secretly Canadian, and he is currently touring with another of my favorites, Richard Swift. I’m hard pressed to describe Vandervelde’s music, but the following words come to mind: organic, nostalgic, dream-like, and psychedelic. But you have to listen to get the full effect. Vandervelde has worked with numerous artists, including Mark Eitzel and Wilco’s Jay Bennett. So tune in this afternoon at 3pm (ET)/12pm(PT) and hear some great music.

Now the rest of this week’s recommended live radio performances, and where you can hear them online:

Monday, April 2 – Beck on The World Café with David Dye (WXPN-FM) 2-4 p.m. (ET)

Wednesday, April 4 – Richard Buckner on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic with my friend Nic Harcourt, 2:15 p.m. (ET). I first discovered Buckner when he appeared on MBE to promote his album Since and have remained a fan.

Dean & Britta on The World Café with David Dye (WXPN-FM) 2-4 p.m. (ET). These two co-founders of the band Luna are back with yet another great album, Back Numbers, and a style of music that will bring out your inner-grooviness with shades of Bacharach. So put on your go-go boots and enjoy the duo’s unique and dreamy brand of pop.

Thursday April 5 – Brandi Carlile on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, 2:15 p.m. (ET)

Friday, April 6 – Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, 2:15 p.m. (ET).

In the meantime, here are some albums coming out tomorrow that you might be interested in:

First up, this is the 40th anniversary of Van Morrison branching out as a solo artist, and as a result his very first solo album, Blowin’ Your Mind is being re-released. This is the album that started it all, featuring songs such as “T.B. Sheets” and the classic “Brown Eyed Girl.” I have long been a fan of Morrison and have stated before that, in my humble opinion, Morrison is one of those rare artists who are incapable of putting out a bad record. Despite his varied styles and dabbling in diverse genres, I believe that every song and every album are solid efforts. He continues to put out incredible and relevant music, while staying true to himself.

Kings of Leon - Because of the Times
Poison the WellVersions
The Academy is… - Santi

That's just a taste of some of the music I'm looking forward to hearing this week. Be sure to drop me a line and let me know what you're listening to...and if you decide to give a listen to any of the artists I've mentioned, let me know what you think.

And, oh season is finally here. Go Phils!

Friday, March 30, 2007

A Whirlwind Weekend of Music

There are several musical events this weekend that I wish I could attend, but unfortunately I haven’t mastered the art of being in three places at once.

First, and closest to home, two bands that I have really enjoyed are playing up the road at Messiah College tomorrow night. The main act is The Decemberists. Their latest album, The Crane Wife, is considered one of the best albums of 2006, and has been in heavy rotation in my MP3 player for some time. Opening for the band will be My Brightest Diamond, which is a project of Shara Worden. She has the uncanny ability to mix a lot of different musical genres and styles into a fresh new sound. If you happened to see the Sufjan Stevens Illinoise tour, Shara was one of the cheerleader/singer/musicians that was part of that show. If you are in the central PA area, check this concert out. This is what pop music should be about.

Meanwhile, out in Michigan it’s the annual Calvin College Festival of Faith & Music. This conference always does a great job of attracting a top-notch lineup. Featured speakers this weekend include some of my favorite writers, such as Lauren Winner, David Dark, Steve Stockman, Brian Walsh, my friend Josh Jackson (Paste Magazine), Andy Whitman, Andrew Beaujon (Body Piercing Saved My Life), Adam Smith (RELEVANT Magazine), among others. The conference will include performances by Sufjan Stevens, Anathallo, Sarah Masen, Liz Janes, Emmylou Harris, and Neko Case. An amazing lineup. There will also be a performance by bandspotting discovery Son Lux. I’ve listened to his music online and really like what I hear.

And then across the country in California, it’s Biola University’s Journalism Conference: Music and Media: Where Does Faith Fit? This conference will address the issue of what "Christian Music" means, and whether it still exists as a "genre." It features speakers such as Tim Taber, John Fischer, Jay Swartzendruber, Mark Joseph, Lou Carlozo, and more.

This would be a good time to use those frequent flyer points….

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Batter up!

I’ve been enjoying the warmer Spring weather these days, especially at 6:30 in the morning as my wife and I take our dog for a 2-mile walk. Much more enjoyable without a heavy coat and gloves!

But my favorite part of this weather, and this time of year, is the anticipation of another baseball season. When I start seeing more green on the ground I think about my beloved Phillies taking the field and starting another campaign…hoping that this year might just be “the year.” The last time Philadelphia saw a major sport champion was 1983 with the 76ers. The Phillies last won in 1980, the Flyers in 1975, and the Eagles? Well, in 1960 they won the NFL Championship (a precursor to the Super Bowl). So it’s been 24 years… which means my kids haven’t seen ANY championships. But this year, like every year, I begin the season with anticipation and hope. Baseball is my favorite sport, and despite all the problems the game faces these days, I still come back. If the Phils don’t make it…well, I’m used to it. We Philadelphians are good at losing. It’s what we do. For a nice treatise on this phenomenon, check out Joe Queenan’s book, True Believers.

And each year I think back to my baseball memories. Particularly the Phillies of the 70s and into that World Series year of 1980: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Greg Luzinski, and more. And now we have Howard, Utley, Rowand, Hamels, and the gang. On paper, a good team. I think back to the days and nights I spent glued to my radio, listening to Harry Kalas, Richie Ashburn, and By Saam on WCAU (now WPHT, and once again the radio home of the Phillies.) Both Saam and Kalas are in the Hall of Fame as winners of the Ford Frick Award. Ashburn is in the Hall for his days as a player.

A few years ago I discovered I had a fellow fan (and sufferer) in musician Chuck Brodsky. I don’t know much about him, except that he is a folk singer who has written quite a few songs about baseball, and quite a few about Philadelphia sports (including a song about the now infamous “Great Santa Snowball Debacle of 1968” with the Eagles.) Check out a few of my favorites. These include “Lefty” (about Steve Carlton), “Letters in the Dirt” (Richie Allen), “Whitey and Harry” (about my favorite radio team), and of course “The Hockey Fight Song” (with a mention of Dave “The Hammer” Schultz). You may know Brodsky from his song “Radio” (from the movie of the same name, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.).

This time of year also makes me want to pull out some of my favorite baseball books, including the works of W.P. Kinsella, such as Shoeless Joe (the basis for the movie Field of Dreams) and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. Another favorite is Glove Affairs by Noah Liberman, which is a sociological history of the baseball glove. Sounds kinda dry, but it is actually very interesting. Other books I’ve enjoyed over the years include:

Summerland by Michael Chabon
Voices of the Game by Curt Smith
Bang the Drum Slowly by mark Harris
Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof
The Great American Novel by Philip Roth
For the Love of the Game by Michael Shaara

So baseball season begins this coming Sunday. The Phils have their first game on Monday. I’m not sure what it is, but I keep coming back. Despite its warts: the egos, the salaries, the steroid issues…there is still something about baseball that gets me excited. Or, in the words of the new Phillies promo campaign, gives me “goosebumps.”

Man, I love this time of year.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Digging for Musical Treasure on MySpace

I have a MySpace account with over 1000 friends. It has taken me quite some time to get there, and I could probably have more than ten times that amount if I accepted every random friend request from bands or individuals. But I'm picky. Very picky. First, I don't accept people as friends unless I already know them somehow. I have plenty of friends and don't need to find more artificially, thank you. I'm actually on MySpace for the music. And I love finding new bands. I get friend requests from a lot of bands, but will only accept them if I like what I hear. I probably reject about 95% of the requests I get. But I certainly have found a few gems. Here are a few of the bands I've been enjoying:

The Cinematics
This post-punk band from Scotland was a big hit at South by Southwest this year, and their album, Strange Education, on TVT Records, is very enjoyable. Musically the band is a bit of a throwback to some of the darker, more melancholy and brooding bands of the late 70s and early 80s like The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, and Joy Division. There are some similarities with current bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and, perhaps, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, and Arcade Fire, to name few. I like most of those bands, but I think The Cinematics might be the best of the bunch, as far as my ears are concerned.

Bosque Brown
There's a tiny indie label out of Philly called Burnt Toast Vinyl that has been putting out great music for years. One of their newer "bands" is Bosque Brown, which is actually the name Mara Lee Miller of Texas uses to put our her music. Miller was discovered by Damien Jurado a few years ago and has been involved in her music since then, and you can hear the similarities in their musical output. You'll want to check out her CD, Bosque Brown Plays Mara Lee Miller. Stylistically, Bosque Brown brings to mind the music of Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline, but with more of a souly-gospel sound, rather than pure country. Sparse arrangements help to highlight Miller's wonderful voice.

And finally, if you are looking for something a bit more upbeat and light...

The Brothers Martin
This is a new project from Jason Martin (Starflyer 59) and Ronnie Martin (Joy Electric) and it brings the best of their diverse musical worlds together. Personally, I have always been much more of a fan of Starflyer than Joy Electric, but this new project is a nice mix. The two actually had played together in a band more than a decade ago in Dance House Children, but this new project is far ahead of that earlier project.

Check 'em all out and there is sure to be something you like.

Monday, March 26, 2007

On the music radar...

I used to write a regular column for an online publication, The Phantom Tollbooth, highlighting the new CD releases for each week so everyone would know what was coming out and when the could expect new music from their favorite artists. Unfortunately, my life got so busy, and the task was rather time consuming, that I gave up writing for the Tollbooth, but I figured each week I could highlight a few new releases here without spending hours trying to compile a list. (By the way, The Phantom Tollbooth is a very good site to check out for music reviews, book reviews, movie reviews, interviews, articles, and more. A great place to find out about new music.)

This week I'd like to highlight the new DVD that came out last week from MuteMath called Flesh and Bones: Electric Fun. This is one of the hotter bands out there right now, and their self titled CD is amazing. If you haven't heard them, think very early-Police, with a bit of U2 or Coldplay thrown in, as well as some jazz and other influences. The resulting mix is quite an original sound, and if you get to see them live, they put on one of the best shows anywhere. The reason I bring up MuteMath this week is that tomorrow night at 7 p.m. is the "official" world premier of the video for "Typical," and it is a rather creative video. You can check it out on the band's YouTube site.

One new CD out this week that interests me is the latest disc from the Alan Lomax collection: Southern Prison Blues Songs. These are songs that Lomax recorded live at the Mississippi and Louisiana State Penitentiaries. Great music with a history lesson to boot! What more could you ask for? In my estimation, Lomax is one of the most important figures of the 20th Century in terms of cultural contributions. His recordings and oral histories are an important addition to the American oeuvre, if I can say it that way.

Bits and pieces
Other CD's I'm enjoying right now include the new Lovedrug CD, Everything Starts Where it Ends. This is a band I had the pleasure of seeing live a few months back and I expect big things from them. If you like what you hear, go on over to Yahoo! Music's Who's Next? and vote for the band, as they are one of this week's nominees.

Also enjoying the new music that The Myriad has up on their site in anticipation of their new album. Also saw them live (with Lovedrug) at the Chameleon in Lancaster. Great club that always has some great shows on tap.

Finally, my harder musical side has been enjoying the new Haste the Day CD, Pressure the Hinges. This is the first CD with new vocalist Stephen Keech. A solid CD with some really nice guitar work. The special edition of the CD comes with a nice DVD with tons of live concert footage, music videos, and interview segments.

So what are you listening to these days? Let me know what new music I should be checking out.

Friday, March 23, 2007

All That I Have Left Behind...a Musical Journey

I saw in the paper this morning that today is Ric Ocasek’s (of the Cars) birthday. He’s 58. And boy that seems old, because it feels like it wasn’t that long ago that the Cars were a young up-and-coming new wave band, popular at first with the “edgy” kids, and then hitting the mainstream. But time has passed and all of the old punks and new wavers are, well, older. We age. A basic fact of life.

But it got me thinking about the formative days of punk and new wave, first in the mid-to-late 70s and then into the 80s and the birth of MTV. The Sex Pistols are old. The Clash are old. I guess that means that at the age of 45, I am now old…or at least getting there.

I grew up in the 70s with two older brothers, so much of my musical tastes at the time were informed somewhat by what they were listening to. I spent a lot of time listening to Yes, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Chicago, Kansas, Jethro Tull, etc. In high school we had a group of kids listening to The Grateful Dead/Hot Tuna/Jefferson Airplane. Then there were the kids who lived for a young band named Aerosmith. And I remember a few kids being into some upstart by the name of Tom Petty. And since I grew up in the Philly area, there were quite a few kids who really thought there was a future for this guy named Springsteen.

But when I got to college in 1979, and began working at the college radio station, a whole new world of music was opened up to me. The music library was this small, windowless room with shelves and shelves of vinyl. And I discovered so many different artists. Bruce Cockburn, The Alpha Band (which gave us T-Bone Burnett), Andy Pratt, Mark Heard, Roxy Music, Television, The Velvet Underground and so many more. But at the time I had a friend back home who was a part of the Jersey surfer culture, and he had jumped headfirst into the whole punk/new wave thing. While they were different styles of music, they shared a few sensibilities, and by virtue of being new and edgy, they shared an audience. This kid, Adam, spent a lot of money on records from bands like Black Flag (featuring Henry Rollins), Husker Du, the Dead Kennedys, and dozens of other bands I can’t even remember. There were even early “ska” bands like The English Beat and The Specials. And I’ll never forget listening to the song “One Step Beyond” from Madness, over and over again, or "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" by Ian Dury and the Blockheads. A lot of this music was “popularized” in the U.S. by a DJ with the unlikely name of Rodney Bingenheimer on KROQ in Los Angeles, where he was known as “Rodney on the Roq.” But a few of the records Adam played for me really hit home. He introduced me to The Clash, whose London Calling and Sandinista albums are on my MP3 player. Adam was also an early adopter of The Police, and Stewart Copeland’s side project, Klark Kent. (If anyone knows where I can get the Klark Kent album, preferably on CD, let me know!) And don’t forget The Buggles and their offspring, Bruce Wooley and the Camera Club. Oh,and I can't forget the band Minor Threat, which began the whole straight-edge movement and gave birth to the first wave of emo (nothing like what passes for emo today!)

The other day I hit on something about Devo while watching TV, and saw an early performance with the skinny, geeky electronic musicians from Ohio. That was followed by a concert performance a few decades later, and the guys had, well, shall we say, “filled out” a bit? A bit larger around the paunch, a little less hair, a few more wrinkles…and…Devo just didn’t look, or sound, all that great. I’d rather just have my fond memories, thank you.

But for all these bands that have disbanded, split apart, aged, or worse yet, stuck around to tour the county fair circuit, there is one band that seems to be doing something right. If you know me, you’ll have guessed that I’m talking about U2. One of the things that Adam was able to do through his connections was get a hold of a 7” disc from Ireland that was U2’s first recording: U2-3. It featured the songs “Out of Control,” “Stories for Boys,” (both of which would end up on the first album, Boy), and “Boy-Girl.” Adam let me make a copy of the disc and in early 1980 I was playing this raw, emotionally charged new sound to an audience of probably five people in Western Pennsylvania. He also got me copies of the vinyl singles “Another Day b/w Twilight” and “11 o’clock Tick Tock b/w Touch.” Who knows, I may actually have been the first person to play U2 on the radio in the U.S. because they really wouldn’t hit this side of the ocean for at least another year or so. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, because I just got lucky. As much as I liked U2 at that point, I would fall in and out of love with them a time or two over the years, and I never thought they would be a success, let alone become possibly the biggest band out there.

But to come full circle, here we are nearly three decades after the formation of the band, and they are still together with the original lineup, making music that is relevant, meaningful, and just plain “good.” The guys in the band are all just a year or two older than I am, and they show no signs of stopping. They are proving that it can be done...with grace. And socially they are extremely educated and proactive, not merely knee-jerk and reactive. I appreciate what they have done with the One Campaign, DATA, and Red.

With all the other bands I mentioned from the early punk/new wave scene, all I have are the memories, and few choice CDs to help bring those memories back. But boy there sure is some good music, and some good memories.

A side note: My friend Adam Antosh, whom I grew up with, eventually joined me at college and worked at the college radio station with me. In 1983 he was part of my wedding. We kept in touch a little bit over the years, but sadly he passed away at the age of 40 in November, 2003. I never got the chance to thank him, but I am very appreciative of how he introduced me to so much music and helped broaden my thinking about music. In fact, most of our phone conversations over the last ten years of his life usually began with one of us asking the other "Whatcha listening to these days? Any cool new bands?"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Noncommercial Commercial Music...?

I’m always on the lookout for new music, and sometimes I find some real gems in the strangest places. A prime example of this is my latest find. While watching TV I kept hearing this beautiful song…sparse melodies with whispery female vocals. It was from a JC Penney commercial, of all places, and so I went online to find out more about the song. You may have heard it. It begins:

I say, so say I
My morning thought
It knew itself just fine…

Turns out the song is from the unsigned Aussie band Forever Thursday and the song is called “How Can it Be,” and you can listen to the song, and watch the video, over at their MySpace.

I know very little about this band except what I read about them online. The band consists of Elliott Wheeler and Melanie Horsnell (who happens to have her own separate musical career that you can check out on her personal MySpace site.)

I was discussing this idea of songs being used in commercials with a friend, and she brought up how her family had gotten into the British experimental band Royksopp after hearing their song “Remind Me” in a Geico commercial, of all places (the one with the caveman in the airport.) And lately, I’ve been hearing the surprising inclusion of the Violent Femmes song “Blister in the Sun” on a Wendy’s commercial. Surprising because the Femmes have been one of the most noncommercial bands out there, and songwriter Gordon Gano is apparently a vegetarian. According to this blog by Andy Tarnoff, the sale of the song to Wendy’s has caused quite a bit of tension within the band.

Which begs the question…what are the implications of an artist allowing the use of their music in a commercial? This has been controversial for years, especially when songs from big name bands like The Beatles and U2 are used. I don’t know the ins and outs of this, but I would imagine that in most cases, at least someone within the band’s inner circle has had to make the decision. And I’m sure the band gets paid. But is it a good thing or a bad thing?

On the one hand, the band, songwriter, etc, can do what they please with their music. They own it. Though I’m sure there are probably a few instances where someone has purchased the song usage rights and then turns around and sells it again without band permission. And there are probably instances where management or record label people make the decision. In the case of small, relatively unknown bands like Forever Thursday or Royksopp, it can be a good thing. More and more commercials and television shows are giving American consumers exposure to new and interesting music. Yes, I shop at JC Penney. No, I don’t see JC Penney as having a “cutting edge” or “indie” image. But I’ve discovered new music from a new band, and it won’t make me shop any more, or less, at JC Penney. (Though I must say that someone over at JC Penney, or their ad agency, must have some degree of hip. In other commercials they have used the music of Supreme Beings of Leisure and The Apples in Stereo!)

On the other hand, I can understand the problems when a typically anti-corporate band like the Violent Femmes is used to hawk burgers from a fast-food chain. It will be interesting to see what this means to the future of that band. Or what about John Mellencamp’s song “Our Country” in a commercial for Chevy? I’m not a big fan of his, but I can’t help but scratch my head when a song filled with social commentary is used by a huge corporation to sell trucks. Somehow it just seems…mixed up, and not in line with the political and corporate stances that Mellencamp has taken in the past. Now, from the advertiser side of things it makes sense. Every time I hear that song on the radio, all I can do is think of the commercial and Chevy trucks! And I love Johnny Cash...but...Choice Hotels??

I guess the important point here is that the use of a song in a commercial can be problematic, especially when the product seems to be in direct variance with the actual philosophy of the song/artist. For instance, the use of U2 songs in the FIFA World Cup Soccer commercials seemed appropriate, particularly in light of the theme of global unity.

Your thoughts on the issue? And additionally, any uses of music in commercials that you absolutely hate? Or love? And like me, have you discovered any new bands as the result of a commercial (or even a TV show soundtrack)? Sell-out? Smart marketing? A bit of both?

To help you out, here are a few sites that keep track of this sort of thing:

Music From TV Commercials

What's That Called?



Have at it folks, and feel free to leave your thoughts and comments.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Music to Your Ears

As someone who is a fan of music, and who has worked on the periphery of the music industry for years, I'm often asked: "What are you listening to these days?" I know that for me, when I find a band I like, I often want to know what that band listens to. And if I meet someone whose musical tastes are similar to mine, I like to find out about all the different bands and artists they listen to...because that's how I discover new bands.

So what am I listening to these days? Well, there are a few bands who have really been turning my ear a bit lately. I think the one at the top of the heap these days is the band Lost Ocean out of Bakersfield, CA. This is a piano-driven indie rock band that features some beautiful, lush arrangements and soaring, atmospheric vocals. Intelligent lyrics and wonderful musicianship. Another similar band to check out is Credential Records label mate, Future of Forestry.

And since we are listening to piano-based rock these days, why not check out Bernard. I can't wait to hear what this Florida-based band does next. They've already become a club and festival favorite, winning over new friends everywhere they play. And don't forget Copeland. Their latest album is fantastic.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

I'm dreaming of a white...St. Patrick's Day?

As I sit here, my family and I have just dug out from an 11" dumping of snow. Yes...with Spring just around the corner. 27-degrees. Don't get me started on our beloved Punxsutawney Phil and his prediction that Spring was "just around the corner." Here we are SEVEN weeks (not six) after Groundhog's Day, and it's very white outside. In fact, pretty much all of the snow we've gotten this Winter came after Feb. 2nd.

But enough of that. My real purpose here is to encourage you all to take a closer look at the man the world now knows as St. Patrick. While many Americans celebrate with green clothing, green beer, etc., the true story of St. Patrick is rather inspiring. The story of a young slave who, after escaping, returns to the land of his captors in order to forgive them and tell them about Christianity. A great story of grace and forgiveness that we all need to hear in this day and age. A story that I need to be reminded of on a daily basis. To read more about it, check out the entry at Wikipedia, or this fine site at the History Channel.

And, if you are looking for a good read on the subject, check out Stephen R. Lawhead's wonderful piece of historical fiction: Patrick: Son of Ireland. (For those of you who have never read Lawhead, he is a terrific writer, and this should whet your appetite for more. I am looking forward to reading his latest book, Hood, a retelling of the story of Robin Hood. I also highly recommend his series of Arthurian books.)

Anyway, happy St. Patrick's Day. And enjoy the snow. I'll be staying inside watching basketball and pre-season baseball.

Oh...and a late addition here. Just found this article, "The Challenge of St. Patrick" by Eric Hurtgen over at Relevant Magazine. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


This is the time of year when I always wish I could be in Austin. That's because now is the time when some of the best bands from around the world descend on the city that defines "Texas hip" to be part of the South by Southwest Music Festival (which I believe is now called the "South by Southwest Music, Film, and Interactive Festival"...or something like that.

Anyway, each year's festival is a "happening" where all the great bands and musicians gather...from veteran bands to newer bands hoping to be discovered. In looking at this year's festival schedule I find myself drooling once again. Bands that interest me include (but are not limited to): The Watson Twins, Rickie Lee Jones, Apples in Stereo, Bloc Party, Cold War Kids, Cursive, Get Cape.Wear Cape.Fly, The Lionheart Brothers, Headlights, Sondre Lerche, Listener, Lovedrug, Midlake, Mute Math, Pigeon John, Andy Pratt ( that guy can write amazing pop songs!), Summer Hymns, David Vandervelde (from the Nooma soundtracks), and oh so many more.

In my last post I also mentioned Mute Math. If you haven't checked out this band, please do. Amazing musicianship and songwriting. Shades of very early Police with some Jazz undertones thrown in, and all blended into some serious in your face, yet laid back, rock. Check out the video of their performance last year on Jimmy Kimmel Live. For those of you in the Philly area, they are playing tomorrow night at The Theater of the Living Arts on South Street. Wish I could be there...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Long and Short of It

Each year a group of "listmakers" affiliated with the music industry puts together a "long list" of nominees which is eventually whittled down to a "short list" and then the Shortlist Music Prize is given out to one of those nominees. These are generally bands and artists that are flying under the other words they have a significant following without selling massive amounts of CDs.

Yesterday the Long List was announced and included were some really interesting bands. First off, the list is put together by a group of listmakers, which this time around includes last years Shortlist winner, Sufjan Stevens. Other listmakers for this year include members of Snow Patrol, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Flaming Lips, as well as KT Tunstall and more. By the way, in case you missed it, Sufjan's album "Come on, Feel the Illinoise" was definitely one of the best albums of 2005, and his concert in support of that album was nothing short of genius.

As for the nominees, a few bigger name bands are present, including Beck, Neil Young, Belle & Sebastian, and Tom Waits. But I was particulary pleased to see Mute math on the list. Their latest album is phenomenal and I eagerly await their new DVD. I was most surprised that they were nominated by Panic at the Disco! ( a band I have NO interest in whatsoever). Other nominees of interest to me include Danielson (nominated, not surprisingly, by Sufjan), Midlake, Regina Spektor, The Roots, Jeremy Enigk, and The Decemberists. Albums from these last two were among my top albums of 2006, along with Mute math.

This is a great way to find some wonderful new music that you most likely won't be hearing on the radio. I plan on checking out a lot of the artists with whom I'm unfamiliar, and invite you to do the same.

Not sure when the winner will be announced, but I'll be sure to let you know. Personally, I'd love to see either Mute Math or Jeremy Enigk win, but I think they are longshots at best. Here's hoping!

The Arcade Fire

One of the bands I've been keeping an eye on for the past few years is The Arcade Fire. Early on there were a number of very respected critics who made comparisons to my favorite band, U2. Some were even boldly referring to them as the "next U2," and while that is a difficult assessment to make (not to mention a heavy burden to put on a relatively young band!), they are a band that is worth listening to and examining. Time Magazine even saw fit to put them on the cover two years ago, calling them "Canada's most intriguing rock band.

What makes them particularly interesting to me, aside from their music and musicianship, are the almost constant and very real mentions of matters of faith in their lyrics, particularly on their latest disc, Neon Bible. I have no clue whether any of the members profess any sort of faith, but there are many references to Christianity throughout. For the most part they have been silent in interviews, but when they DO talk about Christianity their words sound as if they are coming from someone who is "in the know" rather than from someone looking from the outside in. There's a difference. When someone is criticizing Christians, or the American version of the church, it is often easy to tell whether the person knows what they are talking about. And the assessments made by The Arcade Fire, both lyrically and in interviews, have a real ring of truth.

I need to digest the album a bit more before I talk more about the lyrics, but I think there are some interesting comments by the band about the whole concept of "church" in this interview at the Canadian music site Jam! Music. Some of the album was recorded in a church, and drummer Jeremy Gara notes:

"Us recording in a church, we had an idea for the pipe organ before that even happened. But Win and Regine, when I first met them, were always talking about if we could ever live in a church that'd be amazing. It's meant to be a place of community and of that special something that is intangible -- spirituality, openness -- and you're really just supposed to feel things, whether it be music, whether it be performance or your faith. I mean, it definitely penetrated the sound of the album."

Interesting stuff. And it certainly does have a U2-ish ring about it. It's no surprise that this band is attracting a huge crowd of listeners on college campuses, as well as among those in their 20s. I look forward to hearing more from this band in the years to come.