Monday, July 20, 2009

Music Monday-How Bad's The Coffee- John Hiatt

As a musician with eclectic taste it is very difficult to pick just one song each week. Personally I tend to want to avoid the beaten path. This week I've picked an album cut from one of my favorite singer-songwriters-John Hiatt. In his long and notable career John Hiatt is responsible for some of the most excellent folk and blues rock ever written. Songs such as "Thing Called Love," "Tennessee Plates," "Drive South," "Riding With The King," "Memphis in the Meantime," "Have a Little Faith in Me" have been recorded by artists as diverse as Bonnie Raitt, Suzy Bogguss, Mark Collie, Joe Cocker, B.B. King and Three Dog Night. I chose "How Bad's The Coffee" from John Hiatt's release "Beneath this Gruff Exterior" not because it is a fun song with a great hook and some killer slide guitar work by Sonny Landreth...but because I can relate to this song on many levels.

After many years of working on the road I found myself affected by the economic downturn and knew I couldn't continue and survive. Of course life on the road leads you to many truck stops, diners and local eateries since you tend to quickly tire of the chain places because the food is the same everywhere. 2008 saw me back home in North Georgia and in the restaurant business at a 50's themed diner concept quick serve restaurant. This particular restaurant had brutally awful coffee which was so strong and bitter it would turn your stomach from the first sip. This immediately put me in mind of this song...I am no longer at that particular fact my current employer makes excellent smooth Colombian blend coffee. Still I cherish the memories of all the great greasy spoon eateries this song brings back-even if they have great coffee! Take the Trolley Stop Cafe on St. Charles in New Orleans for example. Great greasy diner food!

Sadly there is no video available of Hiatt himself performing this here is a bar band called "Bad Dog" doing their version.

Lyrics | John Hiatt lyrics - How Bad's The Coffee lyrics

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Review-Daughtry-Leave This Town

Chris Daughtry has been one of American Idol's most successful contestants post-show. Interestingly enough, he has had a more meaningful (and lasting) level of success than many of American Idol's winners. Does anyone know what Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks and Jordin Sparks are up to these days? I don't!

Daughtry is an unlikely rock star personality. He is unapologetic about his strong Christian religious beliefs and his love for his wife and children in a world where hedonism and a lack of any sort of stability and maturity seem de rigeur. This examination of the drama and work involved in a long term relationship inform many of the songs on Daughtry's latest "Leave This Town." Daughtry isn't the first to write about marriage...but he may be the first successful rocker to write about it in such unvarnished terms. Daughtry writes intimately about the downsides-the inevitable misunderstandings, the arguments, the regrets, the momentary temptations to stray and the subsequent passionate re-discovery of each other.

For example-in "Ghost of Me," Daughtry tries to soothe a lover who in her dreams has grave doubts about the relationship. "What I Meant to Say" is actually anti-apology...coming from the perspective of a guy who can't quite seem to get the upper hand in the dialogue. These songs concentrate on real problems in relationships and not on Hollywood informed romance. When Daughtry does talk about new love in "Supernatural" it is almost done in a blushing schoolboy sort of way that would be more at home on a Jonas Brothers release than a record by a serious mature rocker. Writing about committed monogamy would work better if Chris was a more on point at the line level in his songs. He is prone to using shop-worn cliches and then will indulge in flowery phrases that show off his considerable vocabulary and work against his carefully cultivated "married Joe Average" persona.

This conceptual lyrical maturity is juxtaposed with typically anthemic arena rock played by a young band with verve and muscle. Drummer Joey Barnes is the most notable player here-his use of staying ahead of the pocket a bit pushes the band forward and drives songs that might otherwise plod and dawdle. Guitarist Josh Steely has lots of great little riffs that dart in and out of these tunes. The best thing about this record by far is Chris Daughtry's is muscular and gritty and yet he hits these high notes that are laid open-clear and strong...clearly he is a considerable vocal talent.

Daughtry has discovered a vast previously untapped market for his brand hard rock. He is popular with soccer moms, PTO parents and "nice kids" that would not go for the hedonistic vision of rockers past. The music itself is instantly familiar because it is arena rock played by-the numbers. In short, there is nothing musically groundbreaking here. Chris Daughtry's mature lyrics and vocal moral life choices are the key to his enormous appeal. He has created a sound that is going to continue to be enormously popular with middle America. Ignore Chris Daughtry at your own peril. I suspect this album will be played by radio stations for the next two years. I also expect by then I will fully tire of it.

Home again...and more death... this timeThe Great One

I made it home from my week long management and motivational seminar in Nashville in one piece. I actually scored 100% on my final exam which was completely unexpected in spite of all of the time I put in studying the concepts. I couldn't resist buying a crave case of White Castle Slyders on the way home to share with my family. They didn't last long...

Upon arriving home I learned that Walter Cronkite had passed away. I have lots of memories of Walter and the CBS evening newscast he anchored from 1962-1981. To those of us above a certain age, Walter Cronkite simply was the voice of the news. Interesting historical fact-the word "anchor" or "anchorman" to describe a television newscaster was coined specifically in Cronkite's honor during his excellent coverage of the 1952 coverage of the Democrat and Republican conventions. So Walter really was the first "news anchor!" Cronkite was so popular worldwide that purportedly in Sweden television news anchors were once called simply "Cronkiters." This is reportedly due to the fact that the term "News Anchor" simply didn't translate well into Swedish and Cronkite's personal brand was so strong and identifiable worldwide.

Cronkite will be remembered for his excellent coverage of some pivotal events. These include his steady handed coverage of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, his controversial observation during the Vietnam War Tet Offensive that the war was unwinnable and his crucial analysis of the impact of the devastation of the Mississippi Gulf Coast during hurricane Camille-which was considerably worse than Katrina for Mississippi but has been largely forgotten or ignored by the modern news media. He also covered the incident at Three Mile Island, the Iran Hostage situation and so much more. He was the man America trusted to bring the news into their homes in a timely and accurate fashion...his death reminds us what a great man he truly was...and he will be missed.

...and that's the way it is...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Music Review-'Wilco (The Album)'

Wilco's tongue in cheek titled new release 'Wilco (The Album)' sounds exactly like a Wilco album. This is a very good thing. Those of us that were there for the transition from the sparse and simple days of 'AM' and 'Being There' through "Summerteeth" to 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' remember what a quantum leap that was for this band. Jeff Tweedy thrives on abrupt pitching strategy changes-'Foxtrot' was a change up. Then it was one curve ball after another...'A Ghost is Born' was artsy and heavy...then 'Sky Blue Sky' was so restrained it almost sounded like a tribute to Steely Dan. After a decade of determined running away from himself, Jeff Tweedy is back...the way we remember him. Its almost as though 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' was never released and Wilco is picking up on the heels of 'Being There' and finally releasing that continuation we were waiting on.

The album starts with a slice of silliness entitled 'Wilco (The Song)' where Tweedy actually self assuredly boasts that this group is good for what ails you and Wilco will love you. It is a perfectly tongue in cheek moment that aptly illustrates the shift away from the seriousness of the last album. The retro moments are everywhere: the light and sunny "You Never Know" is reminiscent of George Harrison. The country rock of "Sonny Feeling" could have been an outtake track from 'AM.' The garage rock staccato of "Bull Black Nova" reminds us that Tweedy was originally a punk fan. This is in sharp contrast with "You and I," the duet with Feist with its sensual shimmer and "I'll Fight," which is a minimalist straight up rocker.

This is the album Wilco fans have waited for- a solid piece of rock that draws from Tweedy's original influences without being clouded by some loftier artistic ideal. The emotions here are close to the surface, raw and most of all real.

Wilco (The Album) 4 stars out of 5. Buy this one today!

Death all around

These last two weeks have been an unusually busy time for the Grim Reaper. Interestingly, there seems to be a fetish lately for high profile people. I have been in total shock trying to process it all...and finally decided I have to take a moment to honor the memory of these individuals...and what each meant to me.

Ed McMahon 3/6/23-6/23/09-McMahon was perhaps the greatest sidekick in the history of television. His work alongside Johnny Carson is what I will remember most. 'Tonight' was a nightly ritual for me-it helped me shake off the day with a good laugh and get in bed in a good mood to wake up and face another day. Ed's "Heeeeeeeere's Johnny" will be reverberating in the heavenlies as he is reunited with Carson for their first show in eternity.

Farrah Fawcett 2/2/47-6/25/09-Its a cliche...but since I am a male of a certain age I could not escape Farrah Fawcett. Her role on 'Charlie's Angels' is enough by itself to give her television immortality. Her television roles coupled with that poster...ya know the one from '76! The men of heaven will all be at attention when their new sex symbol Farrah arrives.

Michael Jackson 8/29/58-6/25/09-Michael Jackson was the very first African-American megastar. Thriller remains the worldwide best seller of all time. Nothing that has transpired since Michael hit the pinnacle of success has erased the musical legacy of the KING of POP. His music is an inescapable part of my life.

Billy Mays-7/20/58-6/28/09-You couldn't turn on American TV for any length of time without being bombarded by the voice of Billy Mays. He was perhaps the last great 'pitch man' of the old school. He was buried in a shirt with the Oxi-Clean logo...this is fitting. Now he can pitch in heaven shilling Orange Glo products door to door on the streets of gold.