Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Music and DVD Releases this week

A few years ago I used to provide a regular feature of upcoming CD and DVD releases. I'm thinking I might want to bring that back.  But I definitely wanted to do it this week because one of the most important DVD releases of the year is happening today.

Released today is the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies: The Official World Series Film featuring highlights of the season and the series. Important because these things don't happen very often for us Phillies fans. However this DVD may be eclipsed by the December 9th release of the 8-disc The Philadelphia Phillies 2008 World Series Collection which features complete games. I think I want them both. Hope my kids read this blog before they do their Christmas shopping! Also hope they are saving their money...

Other cool DVDs this week include a boxed set Freaks & Geeks Yearbook Edition. This was one of my favorite shows from the late 90s, mostly because it pretty much chronicled the era of my high school years fairly accurately (note: I was neither a freak nor a geek.) I won't be getting this one because I already have an earlier boxed set of this show. Really funny stuff from Paul Feig and Judd Apatow. And since we're talking about boxed sets, how about EVERY Pink Panther movie ever made? 18-discs in the Pink Panther Ultimate Collection. Not for me, but I'm sure someone must want it...

As for music I'm looking forward to this week:

Coldplay - Prospekts March EP 
David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
Death Cab for Cutie - Something About Airplanes (remastered with bonus disc)
R.E.M. - Murmur (remastered with bonus disc)

Yeah, there's a whole lot more coming out today, but those are the highlights for me. 

Keep enjoying music and have a great Thanksgiving holiday. See you on the other side of November!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jim McGuinn to leave XPN for The Current

When I checked my email this morning I was greeted by an email from Jim McGuinn telling the rest of the staff at XPN that he would be leaving the station and heading to Minnosota Public Radio's The Current in January. Not the kind of news with which I wanted to start my week. I love listening to Jim on the air, and while I don't get to see him very often, he's a great guy. Great knowledge of music combined with a nice sense of humor. You can read more about his departure on the XPN All About the Music Blog as well as at City Paper

While I've worked with Jim for the past year, I first met Jim back in 2001 when he was at Philly's legendary Y-100, the predecessor to Y-Rock on XPN. When I came on board at XPN, Jim reminded me of our previous meeting. Y-100 and a radio station from Atlanta each had contests whereby each station brought about 20 listeners to New York's Museum of Television & Radio for two separate private concerts with R.E.M. Think about it. You and 19 friends getting your own private show with R.E.M. What made it more interesting is that the concert was held in a very small gallery on the first floor of the Museum. About one third of the room held the full band, another third held the sound mixing equipment, and the middle third held the audience. The room was packed and incredibly hot. 

During the Y100 concert, one of my MT&R co-workers was filming the performance and was overcome by the heat and passed out. Michael Stipe stopped the show immediately, rushed across the room and shooed everyone away and attended to her, showing genuine concern and making sure she got proper treatment. How many people can say they were revived by Michael Stipe? But it certainly made that event memorable. A video of the performance is available at the Museum (now the Paley Center for Media) for viewing. And I believe one of the songs from that show made it on to a bonus disc on one of the R.E.M. greatest hits compilations. 

Those were interesting days. But now fast forward to 2008 and Jim McGuinn, the architect of Y100 and Y-Rock on XPN is headed to Minnesota. You'll be missed Jim, but congratulations on landing such a great gig!

Central PA Spotlight: Jersey Mike and Roundtable Presents

The other night I dreamt that I blogged about my friend Jersey Mike. No offense Mike, but you're not really whom I would expect (or choose) to show up in my dreams. But, I decided to blog about him since he is worthy (of a blog, not a dream). What's a guy named Jersey Mike doing in Central PA anyway?

Jersey Mike is Mike Van Jura: concert promoter, blogger, agitator. He's the straw that stirs the Harrisburg cocktail. And he's a nice guy.  I've had the pleasure of working with Jersey over the past year or so as the result of some shows that XPN has helped to promote at the Abbey Bar in Harrisburg. Jersey, under the name of Roundtable Presents, books some pretty cool shows into the Abbey. These are mostly shows featuring local and regional bands, but he's also hosted artists like The Hold Steady and Mike Doughty. Always some great music over at the Abbey, so you should bookmark their concert calendar. Indie rock, funk, and a healthy dose of hip bluegrass are always on the calendar.

Additionally, Mike likes to stir things up in the Capitol region with his blog. He shoots from the hip and is willing to take the city and state to task for their increasingly obvious lack of common sense. From parking issues to enforcement of the state's new smoking ban, Jersey has opinions. His pet project is working to overhaul and reform Harrisburg's Amusement Tax, a tax which Jersey believes is seriously hurting the city's entertainment and nightlife industry. 

And Jersey always seems to be on the go, working on various shows throughout Central PA. Jersey is someone you oughta get to know. He's very approachable, and you can even get to know him online via his blog, Facebook, or even Twitter. He even hosts the monthly Harrisburg Tweet-up at the Abbey on the third Thursday of every month.

Here's a video from The Shackeltons during one of the events we did with Jersey back in February at the Abbey, courtesy of the folks at Roxbury News

The Shackeltons - Get Out 

When it comes to music, and pretty much everything else, Jersey Mike gets "it." So head on over to the Abbey and ask for Jersey. And tell him Ken sent ya.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christmas in November???

I hereby declare a moratorium on all things Christmasy before Thanksgiving. For weeks I've been subjected to Christmas music in area stores. There are two local adult contemporary radio stations that have switched to an all-Christmas music format, both claiming that they are MY Christmas station and Central PA's Christmas music station. That's right. Two of them. Blanketing Central PA with Christmas music. In November. EARLY November. No no no no no!

Last night I was driving through my neighborhood and some folks were already setting up the Christmas decorations in their yard. Lights. Illuminated candy canes. Inflatable snow globes and Santas. Hello? Isn't this why most of us get to take off from work the day AFTER Thanksgiving? So that we can start decorating for the next holiday??? 

Sorry, but this is just wrong. I love Christmas music as much as the next guy. In fact, I probably love it MORE than the next guy. I'm not a grinch. I collect cool Christmas music, particularly from rock and alternative bands. I love watching Christmas specials on TV or video. But not in November. The earliest that this madness should start is the day after Thanksgiving. December 1st would be even better.

So AFTER Thanksgiving I'll be breaking out my Christmas music collection, and even blogging about some of my favorite Christmas CDs. But not before then.

Maybe the solution is for us to create more Thanksgiving music. Songs about turkeys and stuffing. Pumpkin pie songs. Football songs. Pilgrims and Native Americans. Songs about Maize. At least we have the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. How about "A Thanksgiving Story?"  You know, a movie about Thanksgiving where they go hunting for their turkey and the dad says "You'll shoot yer eye out!"

Please...anything to help stave off the pre-Thanksgiving Christmas onslaught.

OK. I'm done. Enjoy your turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie. We'll have plenty of time for Christmas later...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Five Things...

There is a popular Internet meme called "Five Things" whereby users can post pretty much any list of five things. One popular variation is to list five things about yourself that other people may not know about you. So...since I'm a Web 2.0 kinda guy and I love the participatory possibilities of blogs, let's go for it. I won't be revealing anything earth-shattering or necessarily particularly interesting. In fact, I like that my life is kinda boring. But...something to start discussion.

Here are Five Things you may not know about me:

1. My first job in radio involved reading local obituaries on the air. It was at WBVP, a small local station in western PA where the local funeral  directors paid us to read the obits. And this was an area with lots of eastern European families. Long names with lots of consonants and very few vowels. Try pronouncing Bryocyczny on the air! (OK, I made that name up, but you get the point). The funeral directors left the details on an answering machine and we would have to transcribe them from a crappy recording. If we missed an obit, got one detail wrong, or mispronounced a name...boy would the phones light up. I think people grieved more over a mispronounced name than they did over the actual deceased person.

2. I once rode in the Goodyear Blimp. While working in Lancaster radio about twenty-some years ago, a local tire dealer was celebrating something like their 100th anniversary. So the Goodyear Blimp came in for the celebration. I was actually surprised at how small it seemed up close. The gondola was incredibly small and noisy. But it was a very cool experience.

3. I received a lovely framed platinum CD from the Spice Girls. Ok, maybe not something I should brag about, and I don't have it anymore as I gave it to a former coworker. But when I worked in NYC for 13 years my job entailed working with a lot of bands and celebrities. We hosted two satellite radio tours with the Spice Girls. The first one was right before they hit it big, and the second time around they gave me the platinum CD out of appreciation for my help. They were actually very nice, and it was cool to see them in a setting where they were able to be themselves.

4. I'm in a Blink-182 video. Not a music video, per se, but a long-form VHS that follows the band behind the scenes. They made a visit to the Museum of Television & Radio at one point while they were filming the video. I can be seen in the background, in my suit and tie, for about...oh...one second. I can't remember the name of the VHS, but if you know what it is...let me know. I'd love a copy! They were also nice guys, but they could be real pigs.

5. I once portrayed a thumbtack in a theatrical production. Yup. Third grade. And I was the star. It was a play called something like "Panic in a Desk Drawer." Stupid little play, but I wore a huge aluminum foil collar and then a big aluminum foil cone on my head. Wow. I actually starred in quite a few plays during my elementary school years. I portrayed Santa Clause, Tom Sawyer, and Hans Brinker. But my acting career died in sixth grade when all they offered were musicals. I don't sing. I can't sing. And I guess my ego wouldn't allow me to resort to playing the part of "Man #5." I coulda been a star, I tell ya!

Well, there's my Five Things. How about you? And if you can't think of five things, just comment here and list one or two interesting facts about yourself. It'll be fun. I promise !

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Music Game: What's Your Name?

A simple little variation on the Friday Music Game since it's snowing here in Central PA! This time, go to your MP3 player/iPod/iTunes or other music device and alphabetize your music by Artist. Skip to the letter "S" and pick an artist whose name begins with that letter, pick a song, and tell us what it is. Then go to the letters "N," "O," and "W."  So let's see what our snowy day music is like.

Here's mine!

1. Soul Coughing - Super Bon Bon. Just a fun indie-rap kinda tune. Move aside and let the man go through...

2. Neilson Hubbard - Towns. First song from the album "Why Men Fail." This guy is a freakin' genius from the vibrant Oxford, Mississippi music scene. Nice slo-core sound. Probably my favorite of his albums.

3. O'Death - Lowtide. Southern gothic Americana punk rock via Brooklyn. They kinda remind me of 16 Horsepower/Woven Hand. Glad I discovered their music this year.

4. Wild Sweet Orange - Wrestle with God. This is another band I discovered through WXPN and the My Morning Download. Also similar to the sounds of 16 Horsepower/Woven Hand, but more in the indie-rock vein. Really cool song.

OK. Your turn. Four songs or artists that spell out S-N-O-W. And if you don't have anything from that letter...be creative. I know you can do it!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Live Music in Central PA This Weekend and beyond

Once again we have some great live shows for you here in Central PA. Great music all around us. In fact, I'll give you two week's worth since we have the holiday coming up and I'm not sure if I'll have Internet access where I'm going...

11/20 - Bombadil w/ Perkasie at the Lizard Lounge (Chameleon) in Lancaster

11/21 - XPN Welcomes Keller Williams to the Chameleon in Lancaster
11/21 - Music Friday in Downtown Lancaster
11/21 - Hackensaw Boys w/ Mason Porter at the Abbey Bar in Harrisburg
11/21 - Derek Trucks Band at Whitaker Center in Harrisburg
11/21 - Laura Love & Orville Johnson at Whitaker Stage Two in Harrisburg

11/22 - Perkasie at Senorita Burrita in Lancaster for an FDR CD Release party
11/22 - Ben Arnold at Gullifty's Underground in Camp Hill

11/23 - The Eagles at the Giant Center in Hershey

11/26 - Lotus at the Chameleon in Lancaster

11/28 - Kheris at the Harp & Fiddle Pub in York
11/28 - Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes at Whitaker Center in Harrisburg
11/28 - Slimfit at Lancaster Dispensing Co.
11/28 - Paul ZC CD Release party at Building Character in Lancaster

11/29 - Slimfit at Quips Pub in Lancaster

12/2 -  Boys of the Lough at the State Theatre in State College

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another Cool Music Video: Herbie Hancock

Just having a little fun looking back at cool music videos from time. Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" is from 1983 whent MTV was still young (and still playing videos!) At the time this was certainly one of the most creative videos around, and was directed by some of the best directors out there: Lol Creme and Kevin Godley (of 10CC fame).


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Year-End Lists: Top Songs of 2008

In my previous post I gave you my top ten albums of the year. Now, as XPN prepares for its year-end countdowns, I give you my top ten songs of 2008, and I've included videos where available.

1. Death Cab for Cutie - I Will Possess Your Heart - Death Cab was #1 on my album list and now tops my song list. A haunting, stalkerish song, but one that gets stuck in your head...in a good way.

2. Ben Folds w/Regina Spektor - You Don't Know Me - Just a simple, cute, catchy pop song. It's fun...so sue me.

3. Jim White - Crash Into the Sun - I've enjoyed Jim White since his debut disc, Wrong-Eyed Jesus. This song is from his 2007 release Transnormal Skiperoo, but the song was one of this year's releases. Again, a very catchy tune sung in White's typical laid-back style.

4. Cold War Kids - Something is Not Right With Me - I love the frenetic tunes these guys come up with. Great song from a great album.

5. Perkasie - Ginger Sobs - I love the sound of this Lancaster-based old-timey indie band. Can't wait for them to put out a full CD. If you ever get a chance to see them live, do it.

6. Gnarls Barkley - Run - These guys really know how to record memorable tunes, and this one is jam-packed with some serious fun. Love the video as well. I get out of breath just thinking about it.

7. Phantom Planet - Do the Panic - I never really got into this band, but for some reason this song impressed me. Just seems like this year it's the catchy songs that are finding their way onto my MP3 player.

8. Joe Jackson - Invisible Man - My favorite song from one of the best albums of the year. Vintage Jackson.

9. The Shackeltons - The Breaks - Chambersburg, PA's own Shackeltons put out a great debut CD, and this particular song is a great representation of their trademark sound.

10. Farewell Flight - Begin Again - Yeah, I'm biased toward Central PA bands, but then again that's where I spent most of my listening time. Every time I hear the opening notes of this song on XPN I get a smile on my face.

And now it's your turn. What were your top 10 songs of 2008? Post them here and then submit them to XPN for our year-end countdown. We'll be playing back the top albums on December 30 & 31, and then the top 100 songs on January 1st. 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Year-End Lists: Top Albums of 2008

Well, it's only November but...it's that time again. Time to take a look back at 2008 and the best music of the year. At XPN we are now asking you to tell us your top ten songs and top ten albums of 2008. In preparation for that, we were asked to submit our own lists. So here are my Top Albums of 2008. One caveat...I did this with XPN in mind. So following my top ten list for the year I've included some other albums that I really liked from 2008. 

1. Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs - Over the years Death Cab has always been flying just under my radar. For some reason, this album really grabbed me and made me a believer. Plenty of strong songs here and they never seem to get old. Now I have to go back and revisit all of their older stuff.

2. Cold War Kids - Loyalty to Loyalty - I loved their debut disc, Robbers & Cowards, and was worried about how they would fare with their sopohomore effort. A pleasant surprise. Much stronger than I expected. These guys have a unique sound: catchy, smack-you-in-the-face indie rock.

3. The Shackeltons - The Shackeltons - Self-title debut from this Central PA band. First saw them live at our Y-Rock on XPN Free at Night at the Abbey Bar back in February. The CD is wonderful, but hardly does the band justice as their live show is a sight to see. Great guys, great music. Really looking forward to what they do for a follow-up.

4. Joe Jackson - Rain - I'm a big fan of Jackson's music, all the way back to his strong debut disc, Look Sharp! Over the years I've appreciated his thumb-your-nose at the industry attitude, as he slid from genre to genre. He disappeared from my musical consciousness for awhile, but this new disc is a return to form for Jackson. Incredibly strong stuff here.

5. Bob Dylan - Tell-Tale Signs - I'm a big Dylan fan and I have really enjoyed his material from the past two decades. This disc features rare and unreleased tracks from that time period and has some real gems.

6. She & Him - Volume 1 - M. Ward and the adorable Zooey Deschanel team up for one of the most listenable albums of the year. Even though most of the material is new, this disc has a very comfortable and familiar sound that hearkens back to the music of the '60s. Here's hoping that the title of the disc means that Volume 2 can't be far behind.

7. Farewell Flight - Sound.Color.Motion - I got to know a few of the guys in this Central PA band over the past year and fell in love with this new disc. Great indie-pop from a band that can really put on a great live show. I'm really glad that XPN jumped on board and started playing these guys.

8. The Sleeping World - The Sleeping World - Self-titled EP release from another Lancaster-based band. Jessica Smucker and her band have put together a really strong disc of well-written, well-performed songs. The in-your-face honesty of Smucker's songwriting really punches you in the stomach at times. I think this band has the chops to move on to something bigger and better.

9. O'Death - Broken Hymns, Limbs, and Skin - The first time I heard this band on XPN I knew I had to hear more. Their gothic/country sound reminds me a bit of one of my all-time favorite bands, 16 Horsepower.

10. R.E.M. - Accelerate - Another band I've loved for decades, and this time around they return to the rockin' sound of their earliest discs. I love that these guys are still able to put out strong releases of relevant music.

But beyond my top ten, there are a lot of other discs I enjoyed this year. Here's a quick list, in no particular order:

Woven Hand - Ten Stones
David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
T-Bone Burnett - Tooth of Crime
The War on Drugs - Wagonwheel Blues
Van Morrison - Keep it Simple
Wild Sweet Orange - We Have Cause to Be Uneasy
My Brightest Diamond - A Thousand Shark's Teeth
Dead Confederate - Wrecking Ball
Ben Folds - Way To Normal
Thrice - Alchemy Index III & IV
Welcome Wagon - Welcome to the Welcome Wagon
Al Green - Lay It Down
The Myriad - With Arrows, With Poise
Cool Hand Luke - The Sleeping House
Lovedrug - The Sucker Punch Show
Copeland - You Are My Sunshine
Damian Jurado - Caught in the Trees
Haste the Day - Dreamer
Black Kids - Partie Traumatic
Ratatat - LP3

So there ya go. Now it's your turn to tell us what your top ten albums of 2008 are. Post them here and make sure you also submit them to XPN for our year-end countdown. When you vote you'll be entered to win an iPod Touch. They'll be tallying up your votes and playing back the top albums of the year on December 30 & 31, then they'll play back the Top 100 Songs on January 1st.

And tomorrow I'll post my Top Ten Songs of 2008

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Smoke 'em If You Got 'em

During my thirteen years as Radio Curator at the Museum of Television & Radio in NYC (now the Paley Center for Media) I was able to listen to a lot of radio and watch a lot of television. I loved telling people that I got paid to listen to the radio. But I loved going through our archives and finding all sorts of odd and interesting things. The young among us may not realize it, but there actually was a time when it was legal to have cigarette commercials on TV and radio. And boy, there were some real interesting ones. I think you'll have fun with these.

First off, smoking wasn't always seen as harmful. And even if it was, why not lull the masses into thinking that smoking is actually GOOD for you!

If that doesn't work...why not find out what brand your doctor smokes!

Celebrity endorsements were also a big part of selling cigarettes. Actors like Steve McQueen were pimping smokes long before they died of lung cancer. But what about this nice, wholesome guy? Feel free to light up, but please be sure to spay and neuter your pets first!

I've always heard that either "love" or "music" were the universal languages. Wrong! Apparently smoking brings us all together!

Cigarettes don't just bring us all together, they also help solve the age old question of "What do you get for someone who already has everything??" Ah...just in time for the holidays a little gift giving tip:

Back before the beer cartel cornered the market on sports, the cigarette makers told us how important smoking was if you wanted to enjoy a ball game.

And the athlete's themselves even got into the act. Can't find any TV commercials for this, but here are a few great print ads that let us in on a little secret: Want to be an all-star? Well, smoke! And you'll notice that several of these ads even promise "no coughing."

And if you think Joe Camel inspired kids to smoke, how about a cute little penguin?

And if the penguin doesn't do it, how about some bona fide beloved family cartoon heroes? These celebrities did a whole series of cigarette commercials, but this one is my favorite.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Friday Music Game: MP3s all around

On Friday's we like to lighten it up, let our hair down, and just have some fun. Yep, it's that time again: time for the MP3 Game.

Put your iPod/MP3 player/iTunes, etc. on shuffle/random and list the first ten songs that play and tell us something about them. Only rule: NO SKIPPING! That's right, if you have a Celine Dion song, or the soundtrack to High School Musical 2 on your MP3 player, we wanna know about it. So here's my list:

1. Copeland - You Have My Attention - Just a nice, beautiful love song. Yeah. But the good kind.

2. The Violet Burning - Low - Nice dark, emotional song from one of my all time favorite albums.

3. Sufjan Stevens - The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us! - Some nice Sufjan. 'nuff said.

4. The Smoking Popes - Don't Be Afraid - This is the live version from their show at Metro. These guys have really grown on me.

5. Pony Express - Middle Class Death Rock - ah yes...shall we gaze at our shoes?

6. Richard Buckner - Faithful Shooter - This guy's voice fits so well with the kind of music he writes and sings. I mean, you really believe every word he says.

7. The Police - Can't Stand Losing You - A classic from my much younger years.

8. Trent Dabbs - The Love Goes - one of my favorite singer/songwriters. Trent is part of the Ten out of Tenn tour which features a lot of great musicians.

9. Sixpence None the Richer - Amazing Grace (Give it Back) - this is one of the songs on their new My Dear Machine EP which you can download for free at Noisetrade.com.

10. MuteMath - Break the Same - still amazed at the live performance these guys do. You must check out their live DVD.

And...ten more for the road...

11. Julie Miller - Can't Cry Hard Enough
12. Rainer Maria - The Seven Sisters
13. Led Zeppelin - All of My Love
14. Glorybox - Gold Flake
15. Rich Creamy Paint - This Song
16. Kansas - Dust in the Wind
17. Hem - Dance With Me Now, Darling
18. Mark Heard - All Too Soon
19. Transition - The Issue
20. The Five Stairsteps - Ooh Child

Alrighty then. You're turn. Tell us what you're listening to.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Music Videos I Like

So for lack of anything better to post, why not feature one of my favorite all time music videos. Sound like a plan?

I've been a fan of Brandtson since their earliest releases. Well, they've changed their style over the years, and this video makes me smile. Great song, great video from 2006. I saw them do this live at the Chameleon. Enjoy Brandtson's "Nobody Dances Anymore" from the album Hello, Control. I just wish I had a video camera to watch you all as you try some of these sweet moves.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This Week in Music: Denison Witmer and more

Apparently you CAN go home again. While Denison Witmer is now a resident of Philadelphia, he's decided that there's no place like home when it comes to having a CD release party. The Lancaster native will be unveiling his new CD tomorrow night (11/13) at the Chameleon Club as part of an XPN Welcomes event. Carry The Weight is Witmer's seventh CD, and this time around he's put together a rather upbeat album which pays a musical nod to such '70s singer-songwriters as Jackson Browne, Carole King, and Leonard Cohen.

You can listen to, and even download, a free EP featuring four versions of the song "Life Before Aesthetics" over at My Old Kentucky Blog

Opening for Witmer tomorrow are Tyler James, St. Narcissus, and talented local musician Adam Blessing.

Also on tap this week:

11/13 - Kheris at the Harp & Fiddle Pub in York
11/15 - Perkasie at the Abbey Bar
11/15 - James McMurtry at the Chameleon Club
11/18 – Tea Leaf Green at the Chameleon Club
11/21 – XPN Welcomes Keller Williams to the Chameleon Club

Yup, another great week with more great music here in Central PA.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Music for....Everyone!

One of the organizations I'm most excited about here in Central PA is a small non-profit based out of Lancaster called Music For Everyone. In a day and age when budget cutbacks are forcing many schools to scale back or even eliminate arts and cultural classes, MFE is trying to do something about it on the local level.

Music for Everyone was started by John Gerdy and others a few years back in order to raise money for the purpose of supporting music education in the area. To that end, MFE produced a CD, Music For Everyone, Volume One. This CD features the music of Lancaster county bands and musicians including Slimfit, Hiram Ring, Katie Becker, Share the Bread, Mindy C. Nolt. A few of the songs have even been played on XPN's Philly Local.

Now, just a few months after the release of that first CD, the folks at MFE are already putting out a call for entries for Volume 2. I have to confess that when John sent me a copy of Volume One, I had no idea what to expect. I honestly figured that since we were talking about local music, there might be one or two gems on the disc, along with a lot of half-hearted, poorly recorded efforts. But I was very wrong. There were quite a few songs on the disc that I liked, and even the ones that weren't quite up to my personal tastes, I had to admit, were recorded and produced rather professionally. Volume One is a strong disc with just a sampling of the musical talent Central PA has to offer, and I'm sure Volume 2 will be even better.

Musicians and bands can find information on how to submit their music on the MFE website.

So check out Music for Everyone...buy a CD...and perhaps make a donation to this very worthwhile cause. They also have an Alternative Gift Fair coming up on November 22nd at the Farm and Home Center in Lancaster, with some great gift giving ideas for the holidays. Check it out!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Music You Should Know: Katie Becker

When I first began to check out the local music scene, one of the names that kept popping up was Lancaster's Katie Becker. My friend Hiram Ring told me about her and I knew that he and some other friends had been working with her on some recordings. My first exposure to Katie's music was the song "Spring Rondo" from the first Music For Everyone compilation CD, featuring the music of quite a few Lancaster-based bands and musicians. From the first hearing I was sold.

Now Katie has just released her first official CD, the EP titled Firstborn, and after listening through a few times I'm even more convinced that she's one of the musical gems of Central PA. With influences as diverse as Bjork, U2, and Brandi Carlile, Becker's music is presented within a framework featuring a Sufjan Stevens sort of sensibility. The music is dreamy and pleasant and sucks you in further with each new listen. At times her vocals reminds me of everyone from the aforementioned Bjork to others such as Sigur Ros, Eisley, and even a bit of Natalie Merchant. Katie's voice is truly a musical instrument in and of itself, moving fluidly up and down the scales.

The EP starts off with the popular "Spring Rondo," then moves into the vocal instrumental "Chant in A-flat" which sounds like something that should be used in a film soundtrack; a truly angelic piece of music. The CD really picks up steam with the airy and pleasant "The Garden," then heads into "Widow Makers." The final song is the sparsley arranged "Age + Hope (sketch)" which features Katie's versatile vocal gymnastics.

Helping out on the CD are guitarist Hiram Ring, pianist Matt Monticchio, bassist Rob Nye (Kheris and The Sleeping World), and others, including a few of Katie's sibling. Make sure you contact Katie to get a hold of this EP or purchase the download at iTunes for just $4.95, and you can even check her out this Saturday night, November 15th as she opens for Josh Garrels beginning at 8pm at Senorita Burrita in Lancaster. I've never had the pleasure of seeing Katie perform live, however I've heard from people I trust that her performances at The Chameleon Club and other venues are truly stellar.

Adventures in Neti Land

I'm not a believer. I'm a skeptic. Now, I'm not talking about matters of faith and religion, I'm talking about products, and concepts, ideas, and people. I'm not the kind of person to jump on the bandwagon of "the next big thing" just because "it's the next big thing." That is why you won't find me endorsing political candidates, and only very rarely will you hear me actually endorsing a product. For instance, you WILL hear me blather on about Dunkin' Donuts coffee because I really like it and think it's the best coffee out there. (Note to Dunkin' Donuts: I believe in your product and I CAN be bought). I also will go on and on about certain bands or television shows or movies that I happen to really like. But other than that, you generally won't hear me waxing eloquently about any products.

Having said that, I'm now beginning an experiment. Over the past few years I've had a number of friends and relatives tell me about this thing called a Neti Pot (which in this case also goes by the name of SinuCleans) and how wonderful it is for getting rid of colds and sinus headaches, etc. When I asked them about it, I found out that it was a "nasal irrigation" process that emerged from the east. (the east being India, not New Jersey. I will always remain skeptical of things from Jersey). In short, it's a process whereby you pour some sort of saline solution up one nostril and out the other. Sound fun yet? And then I was pointed to this video which pretty much sealed it for me: No thanks, I'll rely on regular over the counter medicines to combat my various maladys.

Well, several friends pretty much swear by this procedure, to the point where they would have you believe that the Neti Pot can solve everything from world hunger and poverty, to curing cancer and bunions. Seriously. That's how devoted these people are to it. On first glance it looks kinda like the lamp you would rub to summon Aladdin's genie, and a giant blue guy with Robin Williams' voice would pop out and cure my headache. No such luck. 

Anyway, while chatting with friends on Twitter I found out that @thenetipot was also on Twitter, and one friend told the fine folks at the company of my solid unbelief. The challenge was on. So the company has sent me a free Neti Pot, which arrived in the mail yesterday, and I have agreed to try it out for awhile, and blog about my experiences. I told them I would be brutally honest, and that if I like the Neti Pot and it works for me, I'll shout it from the mountain tops. On the other hand, if I find out it's a bunch of hooey (hooey being the latin word for snake oil), I would let the world know that as well.

Now I have to admit, I have only heard people raving about the Neti Pot. If you are one of those, feel free to comment here about your experiences. But as of yet I have not found anyone who has tried it and NOT liked it. So I'd love to hear from you as well. 

And...let the games begin. Here's to shoving water up my nose!

Friday, November 07, 2008

First Friday in Lancaster

Today is the first Friday of November and that means time for another great First Friday in Lancaster. Check out the schedule of events from Lancaster Arts. You can even download and print out your own schedule. And don't forget to check out what's happening from the fine folks at Building Character

Hope to see you all there, and if you spot me, don't forget to ask me for your "I (Heart) XPN" pin!

Friday's Music Game: The Perfect Disc

We all have them...those perfect or near-perfect albums. You know the ones. Great from start to finish, the kind of CD you can put in anytime and listen straight through without even a consideration of skipping a track. I have a few of them, so this week I thought we could reveal just one of our perfect discs and talk a little bit about them. What makes them perfect? Is there anything else significant about the disc? Whatever you want. So go for it. We may all discover something new to add to our personal CD collections.

My first perfect CD is Bruce Cockburn's Humans. I discovered Cockburn while working in college radio in 1979, first with Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws, featuring the hit "Wondering Where the Lions Are," and then the prior album, Further Adventures Of. By the time Humans dropped in 1980 I was a huge fan and was eagerly awaiting this new disc. And I certainly wasn't disappointed. Lyrically it is much darker and more depressing than the previous few albums, and is sort of a bridge between the folky-acoustic Cockburn, and his more rock and world music influenced material of the eighties. Evidently much of the lyrical impetus for the album was born out of the muse of personal failure, and the songs really hit home.  And while there are numerous socio-political references on this album, Cockburn still hadn't become overly preoccupied with world politics in ways that would hamper the beauty, and effectiveness, of some of his later works.

If you are a Cockburn fan, make sure you revisit this album. If you've never really heard much of Cockburn's work, this would be a good place to start. Check it out.

Now...tell me about one of your perfect albums...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Mmmm. Coffee.

One of my fondest childhood memories was coming downstairs in the morning to the smell of coffee. My dad drank it every morning. Black. I loved the smell, but hated the taste. Didn't start drinking coffee until I was in college, and then became more "addicted" to it when I began working overnights in radio. Not black. Cream and sugar, thank you.

In the years since I began drinking coffee (late 70s/early 80s) there has been a real boom in the coffee culture. I imagine that Starbucks gets much of the credit for that, but I have to admit up front that I'm anti-Starbucks. I really don't like their coffee ("overpriced swill" is usually how I refer to it) or the way they do business. Having said that, I will also admit that I am a huge fan of Dunkin Donuts. Not the atmosphere, just the coffee. I think their coffee is really the best thing going.

But working in Central PA I've gained a real appreciation for small, independent coffee shops. I've visited quite a few throughout the region and I love sending my business their way. So my criteria for what makes a good coffee shop? 

First, and foremost, it's the coffee. I like a good selection of coffees, though I'm more of a medium/mild blend kinda guy. Not really into the strong stuff. 

Second, I really appreciate if the coffee is Fair Trade

Third, the atmosphere is very important. I like to be comfortable and have room to relax and converse with others. 

Fourth, it's always nice to have free Wi-Fi. Makes it easier to get some work done and have meetings. 

Fifth, good music. Always like a place that either plays XPN or XPN-ish kinda music. Good indie music. Perhaps even hosts live music events from time to time. And a general appreciation of the arts and culture, in general, is also nice to have. 

Finally, a nice selection of teas and food. I'm the only coffee drinker in my house, so it's always nice if the place provides things that my wife and kids can enjoy.

With that in mind, here are some of my favorite coffee shops throughout Central PA, followed by some others recommended by friends that I haven't had the chance to visit yet:

Lancaster County
Prince Street Cafe - probably my favorite coffee shop in the area. Nice size and great atmosphere as well as great music from Jed's iPod. Live music and gallery space. I like that they have long hours (and are now even open 24 hours on weekends).

Square One Coffee - smaller shop featuring some nice of their own custom roasted coffee. All the coffee is certified organic Fair Trade. Nice alternative when Prince Street is too busy, though this shop can get packed as well.

Dosie Dough - Haven't been to this one in Lititz but a lot of my friends speak highly of it. There is also one in Lancaster city.

Chestnut Hill - this is Lancaster's newest coffee shop, with a great atmosphere in a nice neighborhood setting. Would love to have a place like this within walking distance of my home

S. Clyde Weaver's - This shop in East Petersburg is more of a deli/butcher/bakery kind of store, but has a nice coffee shop at one end.

The Coffee Company - live music and a good vibe at this Lancaster shop according to one friend.

Harrisburg Area

Crimson Frog Coffeehouse - this nice little shop in Camp Hill suffers a little from being in a strip mall, but the coffee and atmosphere more than make up for it. They often feature live music, but otherwise they play XPN and offer discounts to XPN members.

Famous Reading Cafe - This one isn't quite open yet, but is part of Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg. The shop is supposed to open sometime this month and will feature a nice food menu and live music. I'm really looking forward to checking this one out.

Cornerstone Cafe - This Camp Hill cafe is Fair Trade certified and wins all kinds of regional "best of" awards. Comes highly recommended from a number of friends.

Caffeine Connection - small little shop on Third Street in Harrisburg. Nice atmosphere but has limited hours. One plus is that they play XPN!

Bridge Street Coffee - New Cumberland
The Hard Bean - Camp Hill
Juice & Java - Mechanicsburg
Your Daily Grind - Mechanicsburg
St. Thomas Roasters - Linglestown

Hershey Area

Cocoa Beanery - Located in an old house in Hershey, this is the newest addition to the Hershey Resorts & Entertainment empire. Fortunately, it doesn't have that corporate feel. Nice and roomy with several "living room" areas for meetings or just relaxing.

York County

Sparky & Clark's - Several locations throughout York and Central PA with more on the way. Some feature live music.

Other Central PA Locations

Casa Mani Cafe - Carlisle

I hope to eventually try all of these shops. Am I missing any? Comment on your experiences at any of these places (positive or negative) and let me know of any other places in Central PA I might be missing.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Great Music Week

Wow. Have you seen the concert calendar for this week? Some seriously good music with some very cool indie artists coming through Central PA. Wish I could make the rounds and hit all these shows.

Thursday, 11/6
This is my chance to appease the harder side of my musical sensibilities. The real focus for me here is Haste the Day, who is sadly not the headliner.

Friday, 11/7
XPN Welcomes Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band to Messiah College. Messiah College's Student Activities Board continues to book some great national indie acts. Previous concerts have featured The National, The Decembrists, Wilco, Ingrid Michaelson, and...yes...Bob Dylan. And since my daughter attends there, it gives me one more reason to visit. This particular show also features Ben Kweller as an opening act.

Saturday, 11/8
I blogged earlier this week about the great job the folks at Cap Live Music are doing, and this is just one more example. This promises to be a great show that will put York on the concert map.

The Shackeltons, Kheris, and The Sketties at Gullifty's Underground in Camp Hill. Three great local bands at this nice little club that is starting to attract some cooler shows. The Shackeltons are one of my favorite finds from the past year, and they hail from Chambersburg. Kheris and the Sketties are both from Lancaster, and if it weren't for prior committments I would definitely be at this show. I've never seen the Sketties live, but both Kheris and The Shackeltons put on great shows. You won't regret heading out to this one!

Pennsylvania native Fitzsimmons is really making a name for himself with music that had been compared to Iron & Wine, Elliot Smith, and Sufjan Stevens. This tour is being sponsored by the fine folks at Paste Magazine.

Sunday, November 9
These guys were the XPN Artists to Watch back in September and their rootsy folk/country/rock blend has won them plenty of fans, including Conor Oberst who signed them to his label, Team Love Records. This is a pretty big deal for a band of this stature to make its way through Central PA.

Monday, November 10
Folk-music legend Arlo Guthrie returns for his annual visit to Whitaker and, as always, he is bound to delight his fans with both classics and newer songs. I have no clue whether he'll do a version of "Alice's Restaurant," but it is November and the song is a Thanksgiving tradition...so who knows?

And if that isn't enough to get you through the weekend, as we head further into next week we have:

Enjoy your week, and may it be filled with music. GOOD music. 

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Decision '08!

This is an election-free, politics free, non-partisan zone.

And I approve of this message.

Our regularly scheduled programming will return tomorrow.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

York Comes Alive

I spend a lot of time talking about all the great things happening in Lancaster, as well as Harrisburg, but I want to make sure I give York its due as well. Because something is definitely happening in York, and some very cool music is coming to the area...but more on that later.

About a year ago a group of concerned citizens formed an ad hoc committee with the goal of bringing fairly prominent regional and national acts to the city, particularly at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center. After several meetings things fizzled, but a few of these folks wouldn't give up. In particular, my friend Sean Kenny had a real vision for what could happen in downtown York if only people could be exposed to some real, quality music. Oh sure there were the occasional bands that came through, but entertainment in York seemed to primarily center around the York Fair and guys in big hats. Sean partnered with the guys from CODO, who also have a very real vision for downtown York.

Developers Bill Swartz and Eric Menzer are the principals behind CODO, which is a group of luxury condos being built in an old factory in downtown York. Swarts and Menzer are smart enough not to buy into the "if you build it they will come" mentality. They realize that just building nice rental units in the downtown area won't attract people. They know that you have to actually give people a reason to move to the city. The first part of that plan was the creation of the Fresh York campaign which seeks to promote the arts and culture in the region. And the campaign was also designed to poke fun at the biggest knock against York, with t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, "York isn't boring - you are!"

The next step in the campaign was the aforementioned partnering with Kenny and others to actually do something about bringing music to the Strand. The result: CapLive Music. As of last month, the Capitol Theatre at the Strand began hosting some very cool concerts. The first concert was Philly and regional favorite Hoots & Hellmouth.

October also saw a show from Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts. And coming up there are several more great shows including Kathleen Edwards and John Doe with their "Hurtin' and Flurtin' tour" this Saturday, November 8th.

Other shows coming to York and the Strand-Capitol Performing Art Center include:

11/15 - Barleyjuice
12/4 - XPN Welcomes David Byrne
12/27 - XPN Welcomes Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers

...and the guys at Cap Live Music will continue booking these shows, I'm sure.

So if someone ever asks you "What's there to do in York?" just point them to the Cap Live Music site. I love what these guys are doing and how they are going about it, and hopefully more folks in York will get on board and support these efforts to make York come alive.

You can read more about Cap Live Music in the November issue of Fly Magazine.