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REMEMBERING THE BOSS: The Sonics, Phawker and me

September 18th, 2021

The Sonics Gig Poster

MIKE WALSH SIZEDBY MIKE WALSH  Back in April 2015, proto-punk garage gods The Sonics were making a Philly stop at the TLA and I knew it would be my only chance to see them. They had released a new record that year, their first in nearly a half century. Even though only three of the original members would appear on the tour, and even though they were nearly 80 years old, they were legends and it was a show that I couldn’t miss.

As a contributor to Phawker, I had a lot of conversations about music with Jonathan. It must have been during one of those conversations that he learned about my love of The Sonics, because a couple of days before the show he messaged that a ticket would be waiting for me at the box office. I was jazzed. The show was great, of course.

After the show, Jonathan asked if I wanted to go backstage to meet them. Of course I did! I followed Jonathan to the cramped dressing room, and there I found myself with three of the original members of The Sonics, who were sweaty and exhausted from their performance. I was stunned, but I did manage to chat with them a bit and got them to autograph my two Sonics LP covers. I also told them that their recent release had gotten a great review in Rolling Stone, which they hadn’t seen. They were delighted and thanked me.

During the next week, I contacted various friends in other parts of the country who were Sonics fans and excitedly relayed my improbable story.  To this day, just thinking about meeting The Sonics makes me giddy. I thanked Jonathan profusely, but I’m not sure he knew how much that meant to me.* It was something that he didn’t have to do, and he had gone out of his way to hook me up. As many people have noted since his passing last Saturday, Jonathan was a special guy.

(*Eds note: He knew. As his trusty sidekick that evening, we both remarked that you were positively beaming in that tiny dressing room, crammed on a couch and happily chatting with a bunch of smiling, sweaty Sonics. It meant the world to him to see you so thrilled … we quietly said our goodbyes and left you there engaged in conversation with the band, all of you clearly enjoying every second.)

 

After the jump, Jonathan’s beautiful piece on The Sonics for BuzzFeed. Read it. And weep.

Read the rest of this entry »

R.I.P. MAGNET Senior Writer Jonathan Valania

September 16th, 2021
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MAGNET Magazine: We are beyond shocked and saddened to share that MAGNET senior writer Jonathan Valania passed away unexpectedly September 11. Valania (virtually no one ever referred to him by his first name) was an extraordinary writer whose lengthy cover stories and features helped define the editorial voice of the print magazine throughout our 25-year, 150-issue run. He literally traveled the world for MAGNET, hanging out with and interviewing musicians at length to give our readers a glimpse of a side of these artists they could never see on their own.

Valania was a larger-than-life personality who was never afraid to ask the tough questions—repeatedly if necessary—to get to the truth. But, at heart, Valania was a life-long music fanatic, like the rest of us, who was always on the lookout for something new and great to listen to. MAGNET would have been a very different, lesser magazine without Valania. Not having him around anymore hasn’t really sunk in yet, but it will, and it’s going to be hard.

Honor his memory by reading these stories he wrote, plus anything else that you can find with his byline. And, if you have an hour to spend, check out the podcast at the bottom, wherein Valania and MAGNET editor-in-chief Eric T. Miller discuss what went on behind the scenes during the first 20 years of the magazine.

R.I.P., Valania.

MAGNET Magazine: R.I.P. MAGNET Senior Writer Jonathan Valania

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REST IN POWER: Jonathan Valania, writer and Philadelphia music and cultural scene fixture, dies at 55

September 15th, 2021

The Phawker founder reviewed acts from Iggy Pop to Celine Dion, always with a strong point of view and language that “sparked off the page,” said Sam Wood, a former Inquirer reporter and friend.

JV in Oregon, 2012

Jonathan Valania, a rocker turned widely respected music journalist, died Saturday, Sept. 11. He was 55. | Photo courtesy JoAnn Loviglio

by Kristen A. Graham
Published Sep 12, 2021

Jonathan Valania had a rocker’s swagger and a critic’s mind. People opened up to him, and then he told their stories to audiences large and small — sometimes reverently, sometimes bitingly, always with insight. For 30 years, he was a presence on the Philadelphia music and cultural scene.

Mr. Valania, 55, a musician, writer, and incisive Philadelphian about town, died Saturday, Sept. 11, at home in Old City. He had been planning to attend a concert Saturday night; he had not been ill and his death was sudden, his longtime partner said. The cause is still unclear. (Eds note: The cause was cardiac arrest brought on by undiagnosed atherosclerosis.)

Born and raised in the Lehigh Valley, Mr. Valania was the front man for the Psyclone Rangers, an Allentown-based garage rock band that signed a major record-label deal, toured extensively, and released several albums.

He settled in Philadelphia in the ‘90s and became a writerly fixture at the Khyber Pass and the Trocadero and venues around the city, writing mostly music journalism for publications from Philadelphia Weekly and The Inquirer to Rolling Stone.

He reviewed acts from Iggy Pop to Celine Dion, always with a strong point of view and language that “sparked off the page,” said Sam Wood, a former Inquirer reporter and friend of Mr. Valania’s for nearly 30 years.

In a 2001 Inquirer review, Mr. Valania wrote: “Iggy Pop singlehandedly invented the notion of the lead singer as human cannonball, rolling shirtless in broken glass, hurtling himself into hostile crowds, and leaving behind the unsettling impression that there was nothing he would not snort, shoot up or attempt to fornicate with. He has also unleashed some of the most primal, brick-in-the-face rock and roll ever committed to tape.”

Editor Eric Miller sent Mr. Valania around the world writing stories for Magnet Magazine, which focuses mostly on the alternative music scene. Mr. Valania got invited to Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson’s house in California and appears in the Wilco documentary I am Trying To Break Your Heart, interviewing the band. (Wilco did not love Mr. Valania’s piece, and a former member of the band later threatened to break Valania’s fingers because of it.)

His work was impeccable, often landing on Magnet’s cover, said Miller. He asked tough questions and had a relentless work ethic.

“We had publicists say, ‘Oh, is Valania doing it? I don’t know if this band could handle it,’” Miller said, adding that Mr. Valania was “larger than life — he was one of those people that if you met him, you’d never forget him. He was smart, he was funny, he was a brilliant writer. He set the standard, as far as we were concerned.”

When Mr. Valania wrote for Philadelphia Weekly, he and colleagues would spend lunches dissecting their work. He had high standards and treated every assignment as if it were a big one. He wasn’t afraid to tell you if your work missed the mark, said Steve Volk, a colleague from those days and longtime friend.

“Jon was the guy around whom we were orbiting,” Volk said.

In the early 2000s, when the blogosphere exploded and digital media began reshaping the media landscape, Mr. Valania was at the vanguard. He eventually founded Phawker, an online news, culture and commentary site, a platform for his distinctive voice and other Philadelphia voices. It was a place where his music sensibilities mixed with progressive politics.

“He wanted to go out and do his own things, create his own brand with Phawker,” said Dan DeLuca, The Inquirer’s pop music critic and a friend. “He became a voice for the voiceless.”

Most recently, Mr. Valania was a producer on In the Valley of Sin, a Fox Nation true-crime docuseries he had researched for years that chronicled a Washington state scandal in which dozens of people were arrested on bogus charges of abusing children.

Amy Z. Quinn met Mr. Valania through her blog and then began working with him at Phawker.

“I can see him walking down Third Street toward Cafe Ole — wearing a hat and sunglasses, the coolest thing on two legs,” Quinn said. And though he had a persona that could sometimes feel a little forbidding, “he had a very strong sort of personal ethic; he was a very, very good guy.”

He was committed to the young writers whom he edited, patient and invested in their successes.

Mr. Valania was deeply devoted to his family and to JoAnn Loviglio, with whom he shared “a love of words and of music, and spending sunny days at the beach, and crying at movies (both laughing-crying and the real deal), long road trips out West, ramen and Peroni, corn from our favorite farm stand, and the most infantile humor,” Loviglio wrote in an online tribute to Mr. Valania.

Mr. Valania was the kind of person who responded to an inquiry from a dear friend as if it were a deadline story.

“He would text me, ‘How soon do you need me?’” Volk said.

Philadelphia Inquirer: Jonathan Valania, writer and Philadelphia music and cultural scene fixture, dies at 55

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INCOMING: Back In The Saddle

September 9th, 2021

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A man who needs no last name, Willie is to Country what Neil is to rock: the Buddha, bestowing laid-back grace on all those who bask in his benevolent THC-tinged glow. Born April 30, 1933, in Abbott, Texas, Nelson begins writing songs at age seven. After serving briefly in the Air Force during the Korean War and studying agriculture at Baylor University, Nelson moves through a series of luckless, low-paying career changes–disc jockey, door-to-door vacuum and encyclopedia salesman. By 1958, in dire financial straits and married with children, Nelson is forced to sell his songs for cheap (“Night Life,” later a hit for Ray Price, went for the princely sum of $150). By 1961, he’s inked a proper publishing deal, which results in Patsy Cline turning Nelson’s “Crazy” into a Country gold mine. In 1975, he releases Red Headed Stranger, pioneering the “Outlaw Country” movement–along with Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash–with stripped-down honky-tonkisms and the most soulful nasal twang since Hank the First. Red Headed Stranger remains a marvel of American beauty. After all the highs (lending a helping hand to the American farmer and smoking a joint on the roof of the White House) and the lows (that duet with Julio Iglesias; the 16 million-dollar raft of shit from the IRS, and, as a result, his shilling for Taco Bell), he has become the embodiment of everything that is good and right about the American experience. Trust us: There are few moments more soulful in this life than hearing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” take wing on a summer breeze. — JONATHAN VALANIA

WILLIE NELSON + STRUGILL SIMPSON + MARGO PRICE @ THE MANN 9/11

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: David Byrne On Bullseye

September 9th, 2021

David_Byrne Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

NPR: David Byrne is, of course, the lead singer and frontman of the Talking Heads. The band recorded hit songs like “Psycho Killer,” “Life During Wartime,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “Burning Down the House,” and so many more.

He is also a solo artist in his own right and has recorded instrumental electronic albums, pop records, and spoken word. He’s collaborated with Brian Eno, St. Vincent, Philip Glass, and Selena to name a few. He’s written books, scored soundtracks, even wrote and directed his own movie, 1986’s True Stories.

If you wanted to find a common theme in his work, maybe it’s that David Byrne has always worked to push the boundaries of what pop music can be. While at the same time, he takes high art – the kind of stuff you see in Manhattan galleries or in repertory theaters in Brooklyn – and makes it more accessible and familiar.

American Utopia is his latest project. It started as an album in 2018, then he toured on it with a handful of dates across the U.S. Only, he’s David Byrne, so he went the extra mile and added 12 musicians, all dressed alike in gray suits, carrying their instruments like a marching band and dancing with them. Everything’s also wireless. With nothing binding them to one spot, they can dance and move completely freely. It’s not like any concert you’ve ever seen.

He parlayed the tour into a full on Broadway production, premiering in 2019. Then, American Utopia’s live show became a movie directed by the one and only Spike Lee. That dropped late last year.

If you happen to be in New York, American Utopia will be returning to Broadway on September 17. You can also experience the show on your TV. The concert film is streaming now on HBO Max. It will also be debuting in theaters for the first time on September 15. David Byrne chats with us about American Utopia and his return to playing live music. He also shares some of the music he’s been listening to lately and tells us about where he learned his iconic dance moves. Plus, he’ll tell us why his very different brain powers his art. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: David Byrne — Talking Heads architect and post-New Wave elder statesman of all things arch, artsy and oblique — is the Marcel Duchamp of 20th Century rock n’ roll, transmuting the artifacts of the mundane and the quotidian into magical charms to ward off the confusion, dread and ennui of modern life. He is, in other words, an antidote for our current season in Hell, and his arrival at the Mann last night backed by what is, for lack of a better description, The Greatest Marching Band on Earth, to deliver humane tidings of comfort and joy in the guise of high concept performance art, came not a moment too soon. For the past six months he has been touring the globe in support of his latest album, the archly titled American Utopia, and putting on what I can safely say without fear of exaggeration is, as of this writing, the Greatest Show on Earth. That is not hyperbole, if anything that is an understatement.

In terms of the setlist, the show is an ecstatic blend of modernized takes on Talking Heads quirk-pop classics and the oblique strategies and heartfelt ironies of his post-Heads solo work and collaborations with the likes of Brian Eno, Fatboy Slim and St. Vincent. Which, on paper, sounds fairly pro-forma for an artist of Byrne’s stature and vast back catalog of cutting edge work, but to see it in person, it is nothing short of jaw-dropping — a post-post-modernist miracle of human ingenuity, precision and grace. I call it MOMA-rock: A rapturous  marriage of modern dance, minimalist grandeur, shit-hot musicianship, and gorgeous gale-force chorales that sing the body electric — all performed without wires, fixed instruments, pre-recorded backing tracks or shoes. All of it cooked up by the beautiful mind of David Byrne, who, at the onset of his autumn years, with his thick shock of pure white hair, has evolved into a glorious amalgam of Mark Twain and David Lynch — simultaneously folksy and wise and kind and still barefoot in the head after all these years, displaying the tireless vitality and artistic potency of a man a third of his age. MORE

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OFFICIAL TRAILER: The Matrix Resurrections

September 9th, 2021

Get red-pilled OG in theaters and on HBO Max December 22nd.

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TONIGHT: Free Brittany!

September 6th, 2021

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Artwork by XZIRTAEBX

Alabama Shakes was formed in 2009 in Athens, Alabama — by a postal worker, a nuclear plant night watchmen, an animal clinic worker and a house painter — as a viable alternative to watching the cars rust, which was the prevailing pastime in Athens at the time. Having weathered a dues-paying, teeth-cutting cover band purgatory of sports bars and country dives and all the mightier for it, the Shakes began building buzz when the breathless blogger hype proved not just believable but vastly understated. On 2012’s million-selling Boys And Girls, Alabama Shakes sounded like Exiles On Main Street with Aretha Franklin on lead vocals and Jagger on coke and tambourine. Or Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crashing into the Big Brother and the Holding Company’s tour bus.

The sepia-toned Americana, tar-black blooze ecstasies and Muscle Shoals-inflected soul salvations of Boys And Girls blew huge smoking holes in the notion that you simply cannot make it in this business dressed in neckbeards and cat lady glasses no matter how possessed you play or how transcendental the sound you make. The follow up, 2015’s Sound & Color sounds like Nina Simone covering Bowie’s Station To Station (note the deep space setting of the video for the title track), wedding muddy water rock n’ roll to the pneumatic wheeze of analog electronica. No longer just The Mouth That Roared, singer Brittany Howard mixed it up, too, alternately purring like a cat on a hot tin roof and shredding apocalyptic like Mary Clayton at the 3:06 mark of “Gimme Shelter.” It was, hands down, the best album released that year or next and fittingly it went to number one and took home three Grammys.

And then they went dark.

At the beginning of the summer, it was announced that, after multiple aborted attempts to write and record a proper follow-up to Sound & Color, Brittany Howard was striking out on her own, leaving a question mark hanging ominously over the future of the Alabama Shakes. A few days ago, she dropped Jaime, a mesmerizing goats head soup of 21st century psychedelia, blunt-stoked R&B, gospel rapture, moonlit lullaby and greasy funk that dances with the devil and gets right with God, somehow all at once. Named in tribute to her beloved sister who passed away at the tender age of 13, Jaime is a deeply personal statement, a shape-shifting series of prismatic sonic vignettes that rips the band-aid off the psychic lacerations of race, region, religion and sexual personae. After just one listen it becomes immediately apparent why she had to walk down this road alone — and the world is a better place for it.

BRITTANY HOWARD + MY MORNING JACKET @ THE MANN WED. SEPT. 8TH

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My Morning Jacket proudly announce the upcoming release of their ninth studio album. Self-titled, MY MORNING JACKET (ATO Records) arrives Friday, October 22 at all DSPs and in various physical formats, including CD and special edition 2LP vinyl; pre-orders begin today. MY MORNING JACKET is preceded by today’s premiere of the album’s first single, “Regularly Scheduled Programming,” available everywhere now with an official music video co-directed by Jim James and George Mays streaming on YouTube.“This song really hits home for me after what we’ve gone through with the pandemic,” says My Morning Jacket’s frontman Jim James on the release of “Regularly Scheduled Programming.” “But even before then, it felt like so many of us were trading real life for social media, trading our own stories for the storylines on TV, trading our consciousness for drugs. We need to help each other wake up to real love before it’s too late.”

The band’s first new music since 2015’s GRAMMY® Award-nominated THE WATERFALL, MY MORNING JACKET reaffirms the rarefied magic that’s made My Morning Jacket so beloved, embedding every groove with moments of discovery, revelation, and ecstatic catharsis. Produced and engineered by James over two multi-week sessions at Los Angeles, CA’s 64 Sound, the album came to life after what looked like a permanent hiatus for the band. But after performing four shows in summer 2019 – beginning with two mind-blowing nights at Red Rocks Amphitheatre – My Morning Jacket was overcome with the urge to carry on. That sense of purpose can be heard throughout the thrillingly expansive MY MORNING JACKET. For all its unbridled joy, songs like “Regularly Scheduled Programming” and the otherworldly, album-closing “I Never Could Get Enough” once again reveal My Morning Jacket’s hunger for exploring the most nuanced and layered existential questions in song form while simultaneously harnessing the hypnotic intensity of their legendary live show more fully than ever before.

“I hope this album brings people a lot of joy and relief, especially since we’ve all been cooped up for so long,” says James. “I know that feeling you get from driving around blasting music you love, or even lying in bed and crying to the music you love. The fact that we’re able to be a part of people’s lives in that way is so magical to us, and it feels really good that we’re still around to keep doing that.”

MY MORNING JACKET will be available on CD as well as two vinyl configurations: 2xLP Clear Vinyl featuring a gatefold jacket with artwork by Robert Beatty, custom inner-sleeves with lyrics, and digital download; and 2xLP 180-Gram Deluxe Colored Vinyl featuring cloudy blue and cloudy orange colored vinyl, deluxe foil gatefold jacket with artwork by Robert Beatty, 24” x 24” circular fold-out poster, custom inner-sleeves with lyrics, and digital download.

PREVIOUSLY: Q&A W/ MY MORNING JACKET’S JIM JAMES

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LIVE MUSIC: Laura Mann’s Got A New Living Room

September 3rd, 2021

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Dylan_HeadshotBY DYLAN LONG Walking her dog along the streets of Ardmore last summer, Laura Mann happened upon a distinctive Masonic building that struck her fancy. “I have to see the inside of it, she said to herself. Fast forward to September 4, 2021, Ardmore will officially become home to the new-and-improved Living Room 35 E, a 300-400 music space pioneered by Laura Mann, a veteran of the Philly music scene. Located at 35 E. Ardmore Avenue, the titular venue is a precise set of steps away from her previous space, Living Room 35 East, notably located at 35 E. Lancaster Avenue.

“It’s really cool and fun that it worked out to have the same address,” said Mann, after her original Ardmore space was shuttered by the ongoing pandemic.

“I want people to wear masks when they come in, I want people to be vaccinated or show a covid test at the door,” said Laura on reopening during what is now another daunting phase of the ongoing pandemic. The new venue, which will serve a variety of light snacks, beverages, and continue to allow BYOB, comes after the pandemic caused the original and much more intimate space to shut down.

Not only was the previous space far too small to comfortably social distance, she said, the artists she had her eye on, people like Marshall Crenshaw and John Waite, typically draw far more fans than she could comfortably fit in the 40-capacity space.

“You can’t have somebody that’s a big national artist come in and make the numbers work with that many people,” she said.

While told by many that the original venue was a risk back in 2018, it became an award-winning live room destined for glory. Needless to say, the pandemic brought that momentum to a dead halt.

While perhaps a bit nostalgic for the more intimate setting she previously had, Mann seems more hopeful than ever for the future to come.

“It’s really cool. I have a lot more opportunity with who I can bring in now with the size of the venue,” she said.

The grand reopening of the Living Room 35 E takes place Saturday, September 4th, featuring feel-good folk-rockers US Rails. The venue’s quickly-growing calendar will feature performances from Mr. Crenshaw (10/16) and Mr. Waite (11/07) and more, in addition to also serving a space for movie nights, stand up, and live conversations. Check out the venue’s updated website here.

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WIRE FROM THE BUNKER: RIP Tom T. Hall

September 1st, 2021

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Houlon2BY JONATHAN HOULON FOLK MUSIC EDITOR I was always surprised that Tom T. Hall wasn’t recognized during the Great Alt-Country Scare of the 1990s in the way that, say, Johnny Cash and, to a lesser extent, Willie Nelson were.  Sure, there was the obligatory tribute album to The Storyteller (as TTH was often called) that included No Depression stalwarts at the time such as Richard Buckner, Joe Henry, Iris Dement, and Whiskeytown.  They called it Real: The Tom T. Hall Project and it almost seemed like a reclamation effort to rescue the great man from obscurity.  Hall was an enormous country music star in the ‘70s but, despite the good intentions of the alt-country crew, he never seemed to get his critical due.  Well, lemme tell ya:  Tom T. was a giant.  In his own unique way worthy of inclusion on the Hillbilly Rushmore alongside the Man in Black, Hank, Hag, or whoever else you’d put up there.

Tom certainly could veer deep deep into the cornfield at times.  Check out some of these song titles:  “Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine” (yucko).  Or how about this howler?  “I Like Beer.”  Is that so, T.?  He named one tune “I Love” and then, as he was wont to do in his less accomplished moments, listed the objects of his affection, including in the very first line, “little baby ducks, pick-up trucks, slow movin’ trains and rain.”  Doesn’t really make you wanna check him out, I know!

BUT, at his best, which was really most of the time, Hall abided by his own hard-hitting adage that “some people can go around the world and not see a thing while other folks can take a walk around their block and see the whole world.”  Hall was an eagle-eyed observer – especially of the community he grew up around in rural Kentucky – and has been compared to Hemingway and Carver.  Indeed, his lyrics possess a lapidary dignity that warrants such high praise.

Ol’ T. passed away on August 20th at the ripe old age of 85.  Here’s a baker’s half-dozen for your consideration:


 
“That’s How I Got to Memphis”:  First track on T.’s first record and one of his most covered songs.  To my ears, no one does it better than Tom.  He was not blessed with much vocal prowess but there’s a mellifluous quality to his limited range that works perfectly with his simple but compelling melodies.  Hall sings, “If you love somebody enough, you’ll go wherever they go/  That’s how I got to Memphis.”  He’s singing about a place but also a state of mind.  Legendary Nashville producer Jerry Kennedy gets it all down cold, approximating a sound, to these ears, not dissimilar to that of Blonde On Blonde.  Curious aside:  At a Musicares awards ceremony a few years back, his Bobness attacked Tom T. for writing overcooked lyrics.  The Nobel Laureate was trying to compliment Kris Kristofferson by setting up Tom as a strawman of sorts.  But the whole thing didn’t make sense:  Hall was as responsible or perhaps even more responsible for revolutionizing country music lyrics than Kris Kris and, as far as recorded output goes, the two aren’t in the same league:  T. put out at least a dozen certifiably great records.  You’d be hard pressed to find a single great-start-to-finish platter in all of Kristofferson’s oeuvre.


 
“Forbidden Flowers”:  Tom T. wrote in his Songwriter’s Handbook, “I have often lamented that some of my favorite songs are tucked away inside albums that are out of print. I sometimes wish they could have been single records and given the chance to star in the galaxy of good songs.” Indeed, there are buried gems to be found in almost of all of Hall’s records, especially through the 70s.  “Forbidden Flowers” is one such gem that, like “Memphis,” resides on his 1969 debut, The Ballad Of 40 Dollars.  Though known for his narrative abilities, here Hall leans on symbolism.  I used to sing this one with my band John Train in the old North Star days.  But I was too young at the time to really understand that “if you pick forbidden flowers, you may shatter someone’s dreams.”  I may need to give this one another shake.


 
“Homecoming”:  The title track from T.’s second record, also released in 1969.  Concerning this track, Joe Henry in the liner notes to Real: The Tom T. Hall Project writes: “Here is a one-sided conversation of an adult singing star who pops in on his widowed father for the first time in years for a brief obligatory visit while traveling through on tour.  It’s like a Raymond Carver short story – a bite out of the middle of someone’s life, beginning abruptly and dangling at the end with a flash of almost unspeakable regret.  It’s remarkable that with conversational small-talk, we know in a handful of verses all we need to about this man, his relationship to his family, his arrogant façade and his gnawing self-doubt.”


 
“I Flew Over Our House Last Night”:  I always loved Joe Henry’s version of yet another great sleeper from The Storyteller.  Joe cut it for his 1993 release Kindness In The World where he was backed by the Jayhawks on what has to be one of the best records from the aforementioned alt-country scare of the ‘90s.  At first glance, Henry and Hall seem like odd bedfellows but a closer listen demonstrates that Joe writes with the same sort of precision about our interior world as Tom writes about the outside.  Both problematize the actual distinction i.e. what counts as in vs. out?  Dig? ( Last time http://www.phawker.com/2019/05/16/tribute-let-us-now-praise-joe-henry/ we talked about Joe, he was in the middle of a very serious cancer scare.  I am happy to report that he has recovered and is actually hitting the road later this year!)  In The Songwriter’s Handbook, Hall wrote of this number: “Picture a successful businessman-type in a jetliner; perhaps separated for some reason from a girl he had loved or a woman he had been married to.  Now they are living in completely different worlds.  On this evening, he is flying over her house.”


 

“The Year that Clayton Delaney Died”: 
If Tom T. had fallen off the radar, I suppose Steve Young was never even in range as far as the general public is concerned.  I’ve written about him at length in other quarters.  https://www.trainarmy.com/single-post/2017/02/12/rip-steve-young  Check out how the Renegade Picker belts out this Hall classic which originally appeared on 1971’s In Search Of A Song, probably The Storyteller’s best overall collection and as good a place to start as any.  Tom T. travelled down to Kentucky for a week, took some notes, drove back to Nashville and hammered out “Clayton Delaney” alongside a bunch of other bangers based on his trip.  They don’t write ‘em like that anymore, Tom!


 

“Mama Bake A Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken)”:
  When I was putting together John Train’s Mesopotamia Blues LP, I tried to connect the then-raging Iraq War to past U.S. conflicts (yes, the record was a flop!).  I chose this Hall number from 1971’s 100 Children.  Hoss was prolific AF, right?  Here’s the opening stanza: “People staring at me as they wheel me down the ramp towards my plane/the war is over for me I’ve forgotten everything except the pain/thank you, sir, and yes, sir, I did it for the old red white and blue/and since I won’t be walking, I suppose I’ll save some money buying shoes.”  Damn. Convinced yet?


 
“Coffee with Tom T. Hall”:  Talk about criminally underrated, check out this one from my old Record Cellar labelmate, Chet Delcampo.  If my memory serves me well, I think the Man himself might have heard this and given it his seal of approval.  In any case, Chet’s worth checking out too! Hall certainly loved his coffee – he even wrote a couple of songs on the subject – and undoubtedly needed it to wash down the “hot bologna, eggs, and gravy” he sang so affectionately of on “A Week In The County Jail” off his debut album.  I guess Tom T. wasn’t exactly a foodie!  But a legend he was and remains.  Godspeed, Storyteller.

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IN MEMORIAM: Charlie Watts (1941-2021)

August 30th, 2021

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NEW YORK TIMES: Indeed, Mr. Watts was a man of contradictions — a jazzman in the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band, an old-fashioned gentleman among pirates and bad boys, a homebody who spent much of his work life on the road. It was also his contradictions — his loose, swinging style combined with his love of precision; his idiosyncratic technique combined with his remarkable versatility — that made him such an exceptional drummer, and the perfect musical partner for Keith Richards in forging the Stones’s signature sound.

As the band’s former bass player Bill Wyman recalled: “Every band follows the drummer. We don’t follow Charlie. Charlie follows Keith. So the drums are very slightly behind Keith. It’s only fractional. Seconds. Minuscule.” But it makes the Stones impossible to copy.

The propulsive drive of “Get Off My Cloud”; the manic, percussive beat of “19th Nervous Breakdown”; the gathering sense of menace in “Gimme Shelter”; the jazzy syncopation of “Start Me Up”; the lovely, laconic swing of “Beast of Burden” — all were testaments to Mr. Watts’s gift for modulating the mood of a track to create a musical conversation with Mr. Richards’s galvanic guitar and punctuate Mr. Jagger’s vocals and performance. The drummer had a minimalist’s instinct for how to make the most emotional impact with the most economical of licks, when to withhold and when to step on the gas, and how to effortlessly shift gears between the languid and the urgent, between savage immediacy and elegant formality. MORE

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BEING THERE: Garbage @ BB&T Pavillion

August 28th, 2021

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Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

Any aging Gen-X-er worth their scuffed-up Doc Martens will wax nostalgic for music’s middle-alt era, but Thursday night’s show at BB&T pavilion was better than any Third-Eye-Blind reunion supported by the Spin Doctors and the Nixons.  A pandemic postponement from last year, Alanis Morissette’s now-25th-plus-1 celebration of the release of her seminal 1995 debut record Jagged Little Pill traded originally scheduled supporting guest Liz Phair for Cat Power, and retained post-grunge synth-rockers Garbage when it came to at long last to the BB&T Pavillion on Thursday.

Twenty-eight years on now, after their inception as drummer and Nevermind (yes, that Nevermind)-producer Butch Vig’s side project, Garbage is touring in support of their brand new seventh studio album No Gods No Masters, an effort for which singer Shirley Manson boasts her most sophisticated songwriting yet, and an album that ambitiously takes on some heady intellectual, philosophical and current event topics while still being critically heralded as Garbage in gloriously pure form.

Perhaps that’s because Garbage have somehow managed to retain the same original four-member lineup they started with, back in their early days writing lyrics in a cabin in the woods of northern Wisconsin. Now 55, Manson still sounds as incredible as ever on both the new ones as well as the early hits like “Stupid Girl” and “I Think I’m Paranoid.” She doesn’t really dance during the instrumental parts so much as pace intently around the stage, looking as though she’s trying to work something out, and timing the circular deliberation perfectly with her arrival back at the mic to tell you what it is in charmingly menacing vocals delivered from behind her iconic curtain of vermilion hair. More, please. — JOSH PELTA-HELLER

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CINEMA: The Candyman Cometh

August 27th, 2021

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CANDYMAN (Directed by Nia DaCosta, 91 minutes, 2021, USA)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC No horror movie monster has as much socio-political bite as the titular demon in Candyman, Clive Barker’s riff on the Bloody Mary same-my-name trope. The first film in the series, 1992’s Candyman setup the franchise’s tragic origin myth, introducing us to Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd), a late 19th Century artist and son of a slave killed by an angry mob when he fell in love with and fathered a child with the white daughter of a wealthy landowner. Daniel wasn’t simply lynched either, these things require both a tragic backstory and a horrific ending to propel them into the stuff of legend. After Daniel’s right hand was severed, he was then smeared with a honeycomb stolen from an apiary, and stung to death by bees. This horrific end kept his soul from resting and allowed him to live on and torment those who were foolish enough to summon him by saying his name five times in a mirror.

Candyman is set in 1992 and follows a white college student named Helen Lyle (Virgina Madsen), who is doing her thesis on urban legends and bears a striking resemblance to the woman Daniel Robitaille fell in love with. While investigating a series of deaths that are later attributed to a drug dealer in the Cabrini-Green housing projects show goes by the nickname Candyman, Helen eventually stumbles upon the real deal. From there Helen tumbles down this surreal rabbit hole where myth becomes reality, which takes a shocking toll on her sanity as she is blamed for a series of deaths she claims were perpetrated by the ghost of Daniel Robitaille, aka Candyman. The film has become part of the modern horror canon.

Twenty-nine years later, writer-producer Jordan Peele and director Nia DaCost have delivered a reboot that was worth the wait. The film functions as a direct sequel to the first film more or less, leaving behind any real mention of the other mediocre sequels to refocus the hooked avenger’s mythology into a much more socially relevant configuration. Set in now-gentrified Cabrini-Green circa now, the film’s protagonists are Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Brianna (Teyonah Parris) a well todo black couple this time living in the newly posh neighborhood. The trouble begins when Anthony, a once-edgy visual artist who’s lately been accused of having lost the streetwise authenticity that made him a name commodity in the local art scene, decides to go poke around what’s left of the old housing project and, inevitably, leads him back to Candyman.

In Peele’s telling, Candyman has become a spell-casting incantation that allows black men who die in horrific and unjust ways to exact their vengeance on those foolish enough to Say His Name. This premise affords Peele the opportunity to tackle systemic racism, police brutality and poverty through a horror movie prism, as he did to great effect in Get Out. Aesthetically Peele’s reboot is very much inspired by the original, the cinematography features a similar stylistic approach composition and lighting, as well as the high contrast, drab color palette and the way the camera pans over the architecture of the Chicago cityscape transmuting it into an otherworldly hellscape. The atmospheric score completes the presentation by using heavy low frequency tones and bass to accentuate the scares and keep the audience in a perpetual state of unease. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II puts forth a real vulnerability on screen that allows the audience to latch onto him as a character. It’s a dynamic performance that is shockingly reminiscent of Virgina Madsen’s take in the original in how we are forced to watch helplessly as he goes from handsome and confident to unraveling at the seams. Teyonah Parris on the other hand offers an intense and understated take opposite Abdul-Mateen.

Candyman is flawless in its execution, hitting all the obligatory horror beats and imbueing its namesake with a renewed and relevant sense of purpose. Nia DaCosta and Peele have elevated Candyman and transformed him into a demon of vengeance, giving him a depth and social relevance absent in his machete wielding, hockey mask-wearing contemporaries. While the first film functioned as more of a twisted love story, this film is an exploration of the cyclical nature of violence in the black community. It’s a concept that may be a bit too abstract or heady for some, but is way more terrifying than a guy with a hook for a hand. Simply put Candyman is both a dense and brutal horror masterwork and a pitiless deconstruction of systemic racism in America that will no doubt be the subject of debate and discussion for years to come.

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CINEMA: The Tomorrow War Is Taking Forever

August 25th, 2021

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THE TOMORROW WAR (directed by Chris McKay, 138 minutes, USA, 2021)

BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC The Tomorrow War has the guy who directed The Lego Batman Movie attempting to deliver a heartfelt Terminator-eque action spectacle that ironically feels as if it was spit out by an AI. The film’s high concept story of humanity in the final throes of a losing war with an unstoppable alien race, who out of desperation draft their fathers into their war via time travel, has promise as a premise. But it becomes cliche to the point of trite when it comes to its execution. Heavily influenced by the Tom Cruise vehicle, Edge of Tomorrow, The Tomorrow War eschews that film’s cleverness and fearlessness, in favor of something more wholesome and saccharine, that feels more like it’s trying to click a checkbox on a demographic assessment, rather than tell a story.

 

In what feels like an unmade Bruce Willis vehicle from the ‘90s, we have Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), a biology teacher and former Green Beret, who is sent 30 years into the future only to be put under the command of his little girl Muri (Yvonne Strahovski), now a grown-ass woman, world-saving scientist and take-no-prisoners Army Colonel leading the charge against the alien onslaught of the titular tomorrow war. Think if Sarah Connor was enlisted by John Connor in the war against the machines. Muri is in the process of orchestrating humanity’s last ditch effort to take out the aliens, and recruits her father in the mission that she hopes will turn the tide of the war by taking out the queen of the invaders, a tip of the hat to James Cameron’s Aliens. But that’s as close as this film gets to sci-fi royalty because in the days leading up the mission the film loses itself in a melodramatic spiral as Dan discovers he didn’t become the father he thought he would be. He then spends the rest of his time attempting to mend that relationship before humanity’s last stand, in a way that almost feels like some bizarre incestial love story.

 

The Tomorrow War has all of these things that ultimately should work, and sometimes do to varying degrees. The action set pieces are effective, the narrative is derivative – but ultimately serviceable, the alien creatures definitely have a distinct nightmarish look and you have a  curmudgeonly wisecracking J. K. Simmons, as Pratt’s long-estranged Vietnam vet father to complete this package. But the film ultimately fails in the execution of its human story, because Chris Pratt who sees himself as the charmingly boyish beacon of hope just can’t let the credits roll with him being a shitty dad. So because of this we are forced to endure an ending that feels both unnecessary and tacked on, as he completely redeems his character in every way shape and form, in I might add, a bizarre homage/knock off of John Carpenter’s The Thing. This coda really hammers home the script-by-algorithm nature of these streaming service tentpoles. It’s simply two plus hours of content to consume with a name star attached and shit blowing up all over the place, which works out pretty well if you like that kind of thing.

NOW STREAMING ON AMAZON PRIME

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