Sunday, May 31, 2009

Song of the Week 5/29/09

Neko Case - "People Got a Lot of Nerve"

Between WFUV and Starbucks, I could not escape this song. I heard it four out of five mornings this week--and I didn't even need a dentist to tell it was playing four out of five days. I have always thought of Case as a great singer of other people's material (i.e. everything she's sung in New Pornographers). But I've never been a fan of her own originals until "Nerve." The way she sings "I'm a mana mana mana mana maneater" makes me think she has a tiny bit of experience in that department.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Song of the Week 5/22/09

Billy Bragg and Wilco - “Another Man’s Done Gone”

I was hanging out at a 33rd birthday party-slash-BBQ Sunday night when I happened to check my work mail on my iPhone. (Why would I do that on a holiday weekend? I am a moron, that’s why.) The subject of the 7:07 p.m. email from my co-worker Dave almost made me drop my drink on the rooftop patio:

“Shit…Jay Bennett Dead?”

I silently said “no no no no no no no no” and hoped that I would find out it was not true. Alas, word came in quickly (via numerous comments on my Facebook status) that Bennett had indeed died in his sleep sometime Sunday morning, with the news confirmed to the Chicago papers by his longtime friend and musical collaborator Edward Burch.

Most people who knew of the former Wilco multi-instrumentalist have only one impression of the man, which come from the compelling 2002 documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. The film shows Bennett as a cranky, pushy musician who can’t understand why Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy doesn’t appreciate what he brings to the band’s in-progress album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Having met Bennett only three times in my life--two of them in interview sessions--I definitely saw those parts of his personality up close. What the film doesn’t show is that he was a very intelligent (he had multiple college degrees), well spoken, funny, somewhat sarcastic and always engaging man whose musical knowledge seeped through everything he touched. Bennett, like all of us, was certainly not perfect. His battles with various addictions have been mentioned in various histories of Wilco. And this year the man himself started pouring out his thoughts about his up-and-down-life on a very compelling MySpace blog. The last entry mentioned his lack of health insurance and how he was saving money to get a hip replacement. I remember thinking, “A hip replacement at 45? That’s too young.” And dying at 45 is most certainly too young.

There are people who say Wilco was never the same after Jay Bennett was booted in 2001, while others say the band has gotten more interesting since then. Both sides are right. Wilco, like most great bands, has never stopped changing and searching for what is their next musical path. That journey has kept them as a vital act, even 15 years after Tweedy convinced Uncle Tupelo bassist John Stiratt and drummer Ken Coomer to join him in his new band. Wilco became different after Bennett left. Not better or worse, just different. Both eras of the band have been filled with great songs, great recordings and great performances. And that definitely would not have happened without one Jay Walter Bennett. He helped push the band’s arrangements to encompass more than just their alt-country roots. And while he might have had his problems with the sonic direction of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, he was the one person who knew how to get those sounds Jeff Tweedy was hearing in his head.

Bennett was a great songwriting foil for Tweedy as well. He co-wrote such Wilco classics (yeah, I feel like calling them that) “California Stars,” “War on War,” “ELT,” “I’m Always in Love,” “Jesus etc.” and “My Darling.” That last song was close to Bennett’s heart, as it was a lullaby he wrote with Tweedy for his niece. Bennett even re-recorded it for his first post-Wilco project, the highly underrated The Palace at 4a.m. (Part 1). That disc with Edward Burch was such a joy to hear. Bennett poured every sonic trick he had into that album. Back in 2002 I wrote, “Bennett was known as the jack of all instruments in Wilco, and on Palace he doesn’t disappoint. The orgy of overdubs is incredible in the middle section of ‘Talk to Me’: there are solos from a banjo, a mellotron, some unidentifiable ’70s keyboard and a lap steel guitar. After seeing this duo play together, I have a hunch that this partnership might last. I for one can’t wait to hear what Part 2 brings.” The two Burch and Bennett shows I did see had great tunes, but best of all showed off a great humorous chemistry between the two. At one show I remember saying to my friend April, “These two ought to do a comedy album.” Bennett made four solo albums after Palace Part 1, all of which have compelling dark pop songs. Burch and Bennett had made plans to record a Palace Part 2 this year and Bennett was working on another solo effort, even with his hip pain. I can only wonder what is left in the vaults of Bennett’s Pieholden Studios in Urbana, Illinois.

The Jay Bennett I choose to remember is the one that made me laugh and get swept up in the power of music at the same time. He showed some of that wit on stage in bantering with Jeff Tweedy. However, most of the time he was a man always moving on stage--from keyboard to keyboard, to guitar, to guitar and keyboard in the same song, he was always making Wilco sound bigger than a five piece. And when the man played guitar, he laid down some great solos. I was fortunate enough to see Bennett perform as a member of Wilco 14 times from 1996 to 2000. And they always delivered. When the band became a four piece after he left, their sound became extremely thin. It took three years--and two people--to replace the sonic void that Bennett filled was when he was onstage. (And as I mentioned before, some people still don’t think that hole has been filled in Wilco’s soul.)

Lastly, I’d like to share a funny anecdote about Bennett and his take on his own music. Back in 1999 Cheap Trick were playing a late afternoon show at CBGB to promote their upcoming live album Music for Hangovers. I was one of the lucky few to pack myself inside the club to witness a great set. I noticed that Jay Bennett and Ken Coomer were in the club, which made me laugh since I was going to see them do the first of two shows at Irving Plaza that night. After the Cheap Trick show wrapped up I walked across the street to grab a bottle of water at a deli. As I got in line to pay, I noticed this dreadlocked guy standing in front of me. Sure enough, it was Jay. I said hello to him, and he grudgingly remembered me (we had done an interview only a couple weeks before). I said to him, “It's gonna take a lot to top that show.” He replied, "We can't top Cheap Trick," and then broke into this huge smile.

“Another Man’s Done Gone” is the shortest song on the two Mermaid Avenue albums, but it just may be the most powerful. Legend has it Jay Bennett and Billy Bragg were working on a melody for a piano piece that Bennett had. Tweedy woke up from a nap, happened to grab a scrap of Woody Guthrie lyrics and within a short time they had recorded the song, which brought tears to the eyes of many in the studio. And what a masterful stanza of words Tweedy chose:

“Sometimes I think I'm gonna lose my mind
But it don't look like I ever do

I've loved so many people everywhere I went
Some too much, and others not enough

Well I don't know
I may do
Down or up or anywhere
But I feel
Like this scribbling might stay

Maybe if I hadn't seen so much hard feelings
I might not could've felt other people's
So when you think of me, if and when you do
Just say, well, another man's done gone
Well, another man's done gone”

This clip from the Mermaid Avenue documentary Man in the Sand always struck a chord with me. It’s got a whole different meaning now:

Jay Bennett never got his peace of mind with Wilco or Jeff Tweedy (he filed a lawsuit against Tweedy looking for royalties from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and I Am Trying to Break Your Heart earlier this month). I hope now that somehow he’s found that peace.

In the YouTube age, Jay Bennett’s amazing catalog of work lives on. Here are some of my favorites I found over the past few days.

“James Alley Blues”


“I’m Always in Love”

“My Darling”

“Poor Places”

“Cars Can’t Escape”

“I Got You” (From Jay’s next to last show with Wilco)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Song of the Week 5/15/09

Wilco - "You Never Know"

Wilco ended up having to stream their new album--which they dubbed Wilco (The Stream)--on their website after it leaked last week. And after a couple of days of listening to it one song seemed to be the obvious choice for the first single, "You Never Know." It's Jeff Tweedy's catchiest song since "Heavy Metal Drummer" and has a slicker than usual sound for the band.

Then I woke up Friday morning with "You Never Know" in my head and it dawned on me why it was so catchy--it's an out and out homage to the Traveling Wilburys. The wall of strummed guitars and the descending piano riff during the chorus? Straight from Jeff Lynne's production handbook. The chord progression those acoustic guitars are bashing out? It could be mistaken for "Won't Last Long" from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers highly underrated 1999 album Echo. The dual slide guitar parts in the solo? George Harrison patented those with the Wilburys and his solo career. Those massive backing vocals? I swear you could hear a mix of Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan in there.

Normally I'd be a bit dismissive of someone so closely aping someone else's style. But this is done so well (and sounds like so much fun) I'm sure Tweedy and company knew exactly what they were doing in paying tribute to one of the best supergroups of our time.

Oh, and the rest of the album is worth listening to as well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Song of the Week 5/7/09

I spent Sunday afternoon trying to come up with songs for a couple of mixes, and I stumbled onto a 2009 album I had forgotten about already -- Doves' Kingdom of Rust. The UK trio have made two amazing albums (2000's Lost Souls and 2002's The Last Broadcast) and one good one (2005's Some Cities). I've written about my love for this band a few times over the past nine years, so there's no need to repeat myself here. I'll just say that the title track to Kingdom of Rust fit perfectly as a transition between two segments of a mix, so a couple of folks will be getting to sample Doves in their mailbox soon.

BONUS: This video is, well, kinda moving.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Song of the Week 5/3/09

Tommy Tutone - "867-5309/Jenny"

Derby Day '09 coincided with a visit from my dear college friends Lisa and Lois. They had never gotten to see Bunnie England and the New Originals in action. So I decided that the one song I was going to sing during the almost overwhelmingly attended Live Band Karaoke had to be something from the 80s, something I knew by heart and--most importantly--something I knew I could rock close to its original key. So it was time to dig Tommy Tutone out of the vaults.

And damn, it sounded good. (But looks kind of sweaty.)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Derby Day 135 The Bell House 5/2/009

Wow. The amount of people that showed up for Michael Boyd's annual Derby Day party was, well, overwhelming. It was an honor to spin at this party for the fourth year in a row. And with help from my iPod I was able to spin tunes in both rooms at the same time. So here's what you heard (or didn't hear) in the front lounge and in the main room Saturday.

(Just a couple of quick notes: To challenge myself this year, I decided to do blocks of music from each decade I have been alive, and do those block in chronological order. Sigh. I am a loser. The year after each song is the year it was released. Also, songs on the list that are in italics were heard only in the main room, as I deviated from my list a few times. I also need to pad at the end, since I started spinning about 25 minutes earlier than expected.)

Kentucky Derby - Chet Atkins
Roadrunner - Bo Diddley - 1960
(Cathy's Clown - Everly Brothers - 1960)
Sure Fire Bet - Ricky Nelson - 1961
Twistin' the Night Away - Sam Cooke - 1962
My Boyfriend's Back - The Angels - 1963
(Louie Louie - The Kingsmen - 1963)
Can't Buy Me Love - The Beatles - 1964
California Girls - The Beach Boys - 1965
Old Kentucky Home - The Beau Brummels - 1966
Kentucky Woman - Neil Diamond - 1967
To Love Somebody - Bee Gees - 1967
This Will Be Our Year - The Zombies - 1968
Kentucky Rain - Elvis Presley - 1969
No Matter What - Badfinger - 1970
Dead Flowers - The Rolling Stones - 1971
Jackie Wilson Said - Van Morrison - 1972
Ooh La La - The Faces - 1973
Back Of A Car - Big Star - 1974
Evil Woman - ELO - 1975
Magic - Pilot - 1975
I Wish - Stevie Wonder - 1976
Lido Shuffle - Boz Scaggs - 1976
Lovely Day - Bill Withers - 1977
What A Fool Believes - The Doobie Brothers - 1978
Thunder Island - Jay Ferguson - 1978
Dream Police - Cheap Trick - 1979
I'm So Bored with the U.S.A. - The Clash - 1979
Teenage Kicks - The Undertones - 1979
The Only One I Know - The Charlatans UK - 1990
There's No Other Way - Blur - 1991
Bad Luck - Social Distortion - 1992
Into Your Arms - The Lemonheads - 1993
Cut Your Hair - Pavement - 1994
Sick of Myself - Matthew Sweet - 1995
(Just - Radiohead - 1995)
El Scorcho - Weezer - 1996
(Radiation Vibe - Fountains of Wayne - 1996)
Bulldog Skin - Guided By Voices - 1997
The Way - Fastball - 1998
Nineteen - Old 97's - 1999
Son of Sam - Elliott Smith - 2000
Firecracker - Ryan Adams - 2001
What A Wonderful World - Joey Ramone - 2002
One Horse Town - The Thrills - 2003
Me And Mia - Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - 2004
Spit It Out - Brendan Benson - 2005
Chips Ahoy! - The Hold Steady - 2006
Keep The Car Running - The Arcade Fire - 2007
Horse To Water - R.E.M. - 2008
Something Is Squeezing My Skull - Morrissey - 2009
Monkey Gone To Heaven - Pixies - 1989
Punk Rock Girl - The Dead Milkmen - 1988
Sometime To Return - Soul Asylum - 1988
Can't Hardly Wait - The Replacements - 1987
Behind The Wall Of Sleep - The Smithereens - 1986
The Bottom Line - Big Audio Dynamite - 1985
Your Love - The Outfield - 1985
The Warrior - Scandal - 1984
Let's Go Crazy - Prince and The Revolution - 1984
Our House - Madness - 1983
Just Got Lucky - JoBoxers - 1983
In A Big Country - Big Country - 1983
Heat Of The Moment - Asia- 1982
Beat It - Michael Jackson - 1982
(I Melt With You - Modern English - 1982)
(Billie Jean - Michael Jackson - 1982)Private Eyes - Hall and Oates - 1981
(I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" - Hall and Oates - 1981)
Under Pressure - Queen and David Bowie - 1981
Jessie's Girl - Rick Springfield - 1981
Centerfold - J. Geils Band - 1981
Keep On Loving You - REO Speedwagon - 1981
Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Pat Benatar - 1980
You Shook Me All Night Long - AC/DC - 1980
(Bring On The Dancing Horses - Echo and The Bunnymen)
Hungry Like the Wolf - Duran Duran
Cruel Summer - Bananarama
Voices Carry - 'Til Tuesday
Bring On The Dancing Horses - Echo and The Bunnymen
You Got Lucky - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Veronica - Elvis Costello