Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Decemberists - The King Is Dead

After flirting with 12 minute songs that verged into Jethro Tull territory on 2006's The Crane Wife, The Decemberists decided to dive headfirst into the pool of self-indulgent prog-rock with 2009's Hazards of Love. After getting that out of their system, Colin Meloy and company have thankfully decided to get back to basics with the loose and vibrant The King Is Dead. Meloy, always quite the literate wordsmith, even amusingly acknowledges the pretentiousness of their recent work in the rollicking "Calamity Song": "Hetty Green/ Queen of supply-side bonhomie bone-drab/ (Know what I mean?)." Uh.... suuuuure we know what you mean.

The band's trademark English folk influences are still the foundation, but this time they have added more American influences to their sound. In particular, there is a distinct American country/roots feel to this batch of songs. The opener "Don't Carry It All" would fit perfectly on Tom Petty's Wildflowers album while there are more than a few nods to R.E.M. throughout the album. Meloy openly admits that he had R.E.M. in mind when he wrote some of the songs for this album. He even went as far to get Peter Buck to play on three tracks: "Don't Carry It All," "Calamity Song" (which would fit nicely on Murmur or Fables of the Reconstruction) and first single "Down By The Water." However, the secret weapon on this album is Gillian Welch. Her sublime background harmony vocals launch seven of the ten tunes into the stratosphere. Her voice meshes perfectly with Meloy's. In particular, she helps make the chorus of the Celtic-tinged "Rox in the Box" soar.

It is early in the year but I have a hunch that this album will wind up in my Top 10 list by the end of the year. Every song is an absolute winner and the melodies will stick in your head days after you've last listened to this album. Highlights include "Calamity Song," "Rox in the Box," "January Hymn," "Don't Carry It All" and "Down By The Water." You can check out a video of the band performing "Down By The Water" with Gillian Welch on Conan below.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Toronto Band Getting Set To Rock With Bon Jovi

Bon Jovi will be tearing the lid off Toronto’s Air Canada Centre in just three days. I am pleased to tell you that hometown rockers Frankie Whyte and the Dead Idols will be fueling the crowd up Tuesday night with their unique blend of 80’s metal and modern day rock’n’roll. It’s no accident they sound and look this way, their sound and look is something that melds together perfectly. The members of FWDI, Frankie, Danny, Monti and Steve obviously put a lot of time into their music.

Frankie Whyte and the Dead Idols burst onto the scene in 2008 and are on of the hardest working bands going. They are no strangers to the big stage. FWDI did 4 nights with KISS across Canada in ’09 and have shared the stage with other acts such as LA Guns, Faster Pussycat, Thornley, My Darkest Days, Econoline Crush and many more.

The band released their first ep ‘Hollywood Ending’ in June of ’09 which was produced by Duncan Coutts, the bassist for legendary Canadian band Our Lady Peace. They currently are working on a full length record with producer Brian Moncarz (Silverstien, Moneen). There is no set release date as of yet, however a sample, Keep Walkin' (see below) has been released as a free download for fans and friends on the bands site.

Frankie and the band along with her have spent most of the year writing songs, picked up cool festival dates and shows along the way, but focused primarily on writing and recording. While this keeps the band busy, they still make time for and are always accessible to their fans.

Frankie Whyte and the Dead Idols are a high energy good time rock’n’roll band that makes them a perfect fit for Bon Jovi Tuesday night. Fans and soon to be fans will not be disappointed by either band. If Bon Jovi is your favourite band in the world FWDI are going to be the cherry on top.

Cheers Rockers,

Thursday, February 10, 2011

JJ Ramone's Top 10 Fave Cover Songs

After reading Kent Rock's list of his favourite cover albums, I got thinking about some of my favourite cover tunes. Cover bands and cover songs sometimes get derided, but there is definitely room for an artist/band to reinterpret a song. The Beatles and Rolling Stones started out as cover bands; R.E.M. covered everyone from Aerosmith to The Velvet Underground to Television to Syd Barrett; U2 began by covering Ramones songs... Well, you get the idea. Some of the greatest artists have had no qualms about paying tribute to some of their heroes. Johnny Cash's 90's comeback largely consisted of him taking others' songs and making them truly his own.

So without further ado, here are 10 cover tunes that make me smile.

10. Bruce Springsteen - "Jersey Girl" (Tom Waits)

Tom Waits is the living embodiment of the "cult artist" so his dalliances with the mainstream are largely due to other artists covering his tunes. Some are atrocious (Rod Stewart), some are interesting just for the curiosity factor (Scarlett Johansson), and some truly do justice to the original. The Boss' live rendition of this classic Waits tune is transcendent. In fact, it almost seems like Waits wrote this song specifically for Springsteen.

And no... this song is NOT about Snooki. Although, Wait's original line "Don't want no whores on 8th Avenue" could be interpreted as such.

9. The Beatles - "Money" (Barrett Strong)

While John Lennon and Paul McCartney were honing their songwriting chops, they did killer versions of Motown, Blues and girl-group songs. In the process, they made the songs their own. This version of Motown songwriter Barrett Strong's song is arguably one of the first proto-punk songs ever released.

8. Iggy Pop - "Louie Louie" (The Kingsmen)

Iggy takes this classic 60's garage rock party anthem and makes it into a social commentary on the end of the Cold War, AIDs and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. He probably figured that since there were really no real words to the original tune that he had to sing about something. But the main thing is that you can still shake your butt to it.

7. Tegan and Sara - "Dancing in the Dark" (Bruce Springsteen)

These two Canadian sisters take The Boss' biggest pop hit and strip it down, giving it a sense of yearning and soul that Springsteen only hinted at. On paper, this cover shouldn't work but I may actually prefer it to the original.

6. R.E.M. - "Pale Blue Eyes" (The Velvet Underground)

The "little band that could" from Athens, GA takes this sad, frail Lou Reed song and turns it into a sad, midtempo country song. The harmonies between Michael Stipe and Mike Mills really elevate this cover.

5. Johnny Cash - "Rusty Cage" (Soundgarden)

During his Rick Rubin assisted comeback, Cash covered many (then) contemporary artists like Beck, Nine Inch Nails and Danzing. However, my personal fave is his take on this Soundgarden tune. With Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as his backing band, Cash completely reinvents this song and OWNS it. Chris Cornell has even said that it's no longer their song anymore.

4. Ramones - "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" (Tom Waits)

The Ramones and Tom Waits seem to have nothing in common on the surface, but there was definitely a mutual respect between them. Joey and Johnny and the boys got their first major MTV airplay with this Waits cover from their final studio album. In turn, Waits covered two of their songs a few years later. I'm not sure if I like this version better than the original, but the Ramones definitely put their classic stamp on it. This is one of those songs that instantly puts me in a great mood when I've had a bad day. The world might suck that day, but I suddenly become okay with that. :-)

3. The White Stripes - "Stop Breaking Down" (Robert Johnson)

The Rolling Stones do a fantastic job of this Robert Johnson tune on Exile on Mainstreet. However, this version absolutely pummels Mick and Keef into the dirt. Jack White sounds like a man possessed on this track from The White Stripes' debut album. Reason #759 why Jack and Meg will be missed.

2. Joey Ramone - "What a Wonderful World" (Louis Armstrong)

Joey Ramone recorded his first and only solo album while dying of cancer. I think it's pretty incredible that while he was facing mortality right in the face he decided to cover the most hopeful and uplifting song ever recorded. Joey definitely went out with a bang. RIP Joey.

1. Social Distortion - "Ring of Fire" (Johnny Cash)

It takes quite the feat to take perhaps the definitive song by the Man in Black and make it your own definitive song. But with "Ring of Fire" Mike Ness and company have done just that. Ness would likely get lynched if he ever decided not to include this tune in a Social D setlist. I love how they take the classic melody and slightly off-kilter time signature and put their own spin on it. It is still true enough to the original, yet it sounds like it could be penned by Ness. This is hands down my favourite cover song ever. Enjoy.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Kent Rocks' Top Five Cover Records

Cover records are fun. You get to hear (or hair in some cases) a collection of songs that you love redone by a band you probably love. I mean people have made careers of it; look at Me First & the Gimme Gimmes for example. I realized recently I have a few of these albums and decided to make a top five. I did not count tribute records by one artist for one artist. I only included ones by one artist covering multiple artists.

Without further a do, prepare to disagree with me.

5. Poison ‘Poison’d!’ 2007

I have a love/hate thing with this band. I can help liking them as much as they can help being the talented players they are (please know what I did there). That fact is Poison was always a party band that played anthemetic party songs and tear jerking ballads. Some of the covers on this record are new and some are old. I usually don't look past the ‘Doin’ It For A Pay Cheque’ type record thing but I can’t help but really enjoy this one. On this one I think they do KISS better than KISS.

Anyways here are the highlights: Suffragette City (David Bowie), I Need To Know (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) and Just What I Needed (Cars)

4. Wildhearts ‘Stop Us If You’ve Heard This One Before’ Vol 1 2008

The Wildhearts just might be front runner for my favourite band in the last few years. Styles from metal to hard rock to punk to power pop, the Hearts have the rock’n’roll bases covered. It’s probably oddest collection of covers. This record has the bands influences and those influences are probably the only common thing across the board. Switching it up all the time are the musical stylings of Fugazi, Descendents, Warren Zevon and many more

… like the Wildhearts needed to prove they could do it better than GG Allin… but they did.

Highlights: Understanding Jane (Icicle Works), Battleship Chains (Georgia Satellites) and Carmelita (Warren Zevon)

3. Mike Ness ‘Under The Influences’ 1999

Mike Ness is no stranger to covers. On ‘Under the Influences’ he carefully selects a string of country, rock and bluegrass wonders. It was a record that would be a little lighter after the heavy and dark ‘White Light, White Heat White Trash’ he released 3 years earlier. He even covers his own song from Social Distortion’s self titled album ‘Ball and Chain’ in a honky tonk fashion that deems it fit for a cover record.

Highlights: I Fought the Law (Sonny Curtis), All I Can Do Is Cry (Wayne Walker) and Wild Wood Flower (Carter Family)

2. Hellacopters ‘Head Off’ 2008

In 2008 just before parting ways, the Hellacopters of Sweden put out a record loaded with the best songs you’ve never heard. Seriously. Head Off was released to show their fans acts that the band felt their fans should know about and listen to. Much to the bands dismay, it had a similar reaction from their fans that Gun N Roses got after the ‘Spaghetti Incident?’ which was released 15 years earlier. They had fans not overly thrilled. They had fans that thought this record was too clean and too pop for the dirty rock’n’rollers the Hellacopters. I stand beside it as number two on the list

Highlights: Electrocute (Demons), Midnight Angels (Peep Shows) and Darling Darling (Royal Cream)

1. Guns N’ Roses ‘Spaghetti Incident?’ 1993

The title refers was an inside joke regarding a food fight between former drummer Steven Adler and Axl Rose. The record was a disappointment to fans of Gun N Roses and also to the fans of the 70’s and 80’s glam punk scene. Many questioned the authenticity of the record and didn’t believe it was angry or honest enough. I think it’s one of the best selections of covers ever put out. Even if I may be the only one. That being said, what record is complete without a hidden track written by wacko Charlie Manson entitled ‘Look At Your Game Girl’?

Highlights: Down On The Farm (U.K. Subs), Ain’t It Fun (Dead Boys) and I Don’t Care About You (Fear)

Cheers Rockers!!

Thanks for checking out the top five cover records as chosen by me.