Friday, December 22, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 41 - Various Artists - A Very Special Christmas

Album - A Very Special Christmas
Artist - Various
Key Players - Various
Produced By - Various

Release Date - Fall of 1987

What caused me to blow off the dust? - Its Christmas!

Overview - This was the first, in a series of holiday themed records to be released to benefit the Special Olympics. Since 1987 it has raised over $55 Million dollars. There are four volumes (1,2,3 and 5) of "Very Special Christmas" a Jazz version, a world music version, a live version and an acoustic version. All the versions are still being pressed today.

FDF Comments (aka the songs)
1. "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" - The Pointer Sisters - Clarence Clemmons famous of Bruce Springsteens "E Street" band plays sax on this version. We can almost forgive the Pointer Sisters fo "I'm So Excited".

2. "Winter Wonderland" - Eurythmics - What a version of this song. Annie Lennox has one of the best voices in music. Listen to it again and see if I am wrong.

3. "Do You Hear What I Hear?" - Whitney Houston - Before Bobby, before the drugs, before all of it America fell under this diva's spell. We had no idea what a Diva was but this woman had pipes and the version still makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

4. "Merry Christmas Baby" - Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band - Love em or hate em Bruce does good versions of Christmas tunes. Recorded live at Nassau Coiseum in Uniondale New York the audience knew they were in for a treat that night. How often does anyone do a "non goofy 30 second version of a christmas song" when they are on tour around this time of year.

5. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" - Pretenders - To me this is "THE" version of this song. Crissy Hynde has one of the most recognizable voices in all of music.

6. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" - John Mellencamp - Even though the song is funnier when you hear versions on the old Dr. Demento Radio Show this is pretty tollerable.

7. "Gabriel's Message" - Sting - As much as his pompus and arrogant ass gets to people this a very cool tune.

8. "Christmas In Hollis" - Run-D.M.C.- Run D.M.C were one the heels of the break out crossover smash "Raising Hell" record and were on the lips of everyone new to "rap". An infectious and funky Christams had many Americans asking just what are "Collard Greens".

9. "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" - U2 - U2 actually recorded this during a soundcheck in Scotland in July of 1987. Some people can't stand U2 but even those anti-fans agree this is a pretty great version of the song. Darlene Love offers backing vocals on the tune (google her..she has done more than you'd imagine)

10. "Santa Baby" - Madonna - remember the Madonna of the 80's? Yeah me too. Singing about Santa while channeling Marilyn Monroe. Here infantitle sounding vocals are a little grating but its one of the most heard tracks from this collection. If they were to redo this version I'd put money down on Gwen Stefani doing it.

11. "Little Drummer Boy - Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band - A very strong version of the song. It can be very bare boned but the band add a little horns to it, yet they keep it true to form.

12. "Run Rudolph Run" - Bryan Adams - Yet another live song recorded for this record. Recorded in London in June of 87 (the fans that night must have been checking their calendars). Its a version you'd hear Brian Setzer do. Adams fills the track with rockabilly riffs and a hammering piano line.

13. "Back Door Santa" - Bon Jovi - The version of the cd that I have has this particular song. Doing some reaserch later pressings of the cd/album/tape had changed over to "I wish Every Day Could Be Like Christmas", done also by Bon Jovi. Check your version as you may have a "collectors item" . This was also recorded live in the fall of 87 from the Nassau Coliseum.

14. "The Coventry Carol" - Alison Moyet - A very pretty song by yet another sadly overlooked terrific vocalist. I sang her praises in the past on this very blog.

15. "Silent Night" - Stevie Nicks - again, many view this as "the" version of the song. Either you love or dislike her vocal style but this version is pretty great.

FDF Overall Take - Sure we all love the standard classic Christmas songs and many of these are now considered "THE" version of said songs. A very strong collection of music that has enormous re-playability..and you can even sneak it in during the summer months and not feel too weird about doing so.

Friday, December 15, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 40: Urge Overkill - Exit the Dragon

Album - Exit the Dragon
Artist - Urge Overkill
Key Players - National "Nash" Kato (guitars, vocals), King "Eddie" Roeser (bass, guitars, vocals), Blackie Onassis (drums)
Produced By - The Butcher Brothers

Release Date - October 1995

What caused me to blow off the dust? - The fact that Urge Overkill, one of Chicago's most beloved and hated artists, just totally rocks my socks off.

Overview - Urge started off with some very modest sales success, despite positive critical review, with their first few offerings, Jesus Urge Superstar (1988) and The Supersonic Storybook (1991). It wasn't until 1993's Saturation came along that the band tasted more mainstream fame with the release of the radio-friendly singles, "Positive Bleeding" and "Sister Havana". Despite Saturation being a strong effort from Urge, it still remains today as one of the most turned-in used discs in history. Poised on the edge of stardom, Quentin Tarantino used their cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" (from the Stull EP) in the seminal film, Pulp Fiction in 1994. Many believed this was all Urge needed to fully explode in the US. On the heels of this massive exposure, they released the challenging and highly rewarding Exit the Dragon in 1995 (which was originally to be titled "100% Not Guilty", after OJ Simpson's infamous plea). Mixing solid altern-rock/pop riffs and melodies with the cool vocal duality of Kato and Roeser (they alternate lead vocals on the tracks, Nash, with his nasal, yet clean delivery along with the edgier, rougher Roeser), the disc consists of 14 pop masterpieces. But for some reason, the album completely flopped and the band broke up shortly thereafter.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) - Exit the Dragon starts off with the groovy "Jaywalkin'", as the sinister gruff of Roeser waxes on "all the evil in the world" and really sets the overlying dark tinge that follows the rest of the disc. On the heels of that is the mid-tempo "The Break", another King tune which humorously ends with a false start into the next song ("Need Some Air"). The guitar riff starts and stops and someone says softly, "sorry", before the massive guitar crunch of the real tune (vox by Kato) kicks in. One of the catchier songs on the disc, "Need Some Air" is a real toe-tapper with a stick-in-your-craw chorus and bombastic dual guitar leads. Following that, is another brilliant Kato track, the shuffling, acoustic-driven "Somebody Else's Body". Again, catchy, melodic, and quirky (check out the swirling guitars throughout and the horns at the end), this tune caps an incredibly strong opening quartet to the disc. The disc doesn't slow down from there though. "Honesty Files" is another groove-laden mid-tempo Roeser gem as is the hard-rock riffage of "This is No Place", which follows. And if the poignant Kato ballad "View Of The Rain" sounds a little familiar to you, it's because it appeared on the wildly popular No Alternative compilation CD in 1993, only under a different title ("Take A Walk"). The disc really peaks on track ten ("Last Night/Tomorrow"), a five and a half minute opus that begins with a Roeser tale of personal woe in which he laments "I'm lost, console me again" behind catchy guitar leads and well-orchestrated rhythms. About halfway through, the barnburner "Tomorrow" section of the song kicks in, Mr. Hyde-like, behind Nash Kato's proclamation that "whatever doesn't kill me just makes me stronger" as the song regrettably fades out too soon. The disc loses a little bit of steam toward the end, concluding with the slightly overindulgent "Digital Black Epilogue", but while the cacophony winds down, a feeling of satisfaction sets in.

Where are they now? - After the flopping of Exit the Dragon and the subsequent tour, the band really floundered. Blackie was in serious with trouble with drugs and Kato and Roeser feuded. Nash and King kissed and made up a few years ago and did a reunion tour in 2004 without Blackie (whose whereabouts are unknown) and a host of supporting musicians. Kato and Roeser have been playing little one-off acoustic gigs here and there (mostly in Europe) and it seemed at first that the first new Urge Overkill material since Exit the Dragon would be released this year. But, so far, no such luck.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) - Saw them in February 2004 downstairs at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA. Finally got my chance to own a UO baseball shirt! Anyway, Urge kept adding opening bands, so they didn't end up going on until 11:00 PM. The sound downstairs at the Middle East is probably the worst in town and tonight was no different. Add to it, the rust of the new band and Kato's inability to sing some of the notes at the beginning, it was a very rough start. And for fun, don't forget to include the people that come to show to heckle them. Yes, like Ryan Adams, they have people who love to go to their shows and yell at them about how much they suck. Anyway, Kato's voice kicked in about half-way through and the band finished the set strong.

FDF Overall Take - As far as 90s bands and CDs go, Urge and Exit the Dragon are under-appreciated and underrated. The lead four tracks are fantastic and the duality of the Kato/Roeser vocal dance is prevalent throughout the 14 tracks and especially on the schizophrenic "Last Night/Tomorrow". But aside from the vocals almost all of the songs feature crunching guitars, catchy riffs and melodies, and an easily accessible sound that is still viable some 11 years after its release. All odd, considering the substantial failure that the disc was. If you haven't checked out Exit the Dragon before, why not give it a spin, especially since you can probably get it used for next to nothing. And if this one is buried in your collection, dust it off. And don't let it be forgotten.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 39: PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

Album - PJ Harvey
Artist - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
Key Players - PJ Harvey guitars and vocals as well as bass on some tracks. Rob Ellis and Mick Harvey played everything from guitars to bass to drum to piano.
Produced By - PJ Harvey, Rob Ellis and Mick Harvey

Release Date - October 24, 2000

What caused me to blow off the dust? - There was no underlying reason other than a good ass whippin musically. As I scanned the collection this just called out to be listened to.

Overview - This was the second largely popular (and 5th full length studio release) from PJ Harvey. It would go on to sell over a million copies world wide. The album was heralded as the finest of her career (to that point) and it made many year end "best of" lists. The album would also win the Mercury Prize in 2001, an award given for the best British/Irish album for the previous 12 months. The band won the award on another famous day September 11, 2001. Even before this event PJ wanted to release a more "beautiful" record than she had ever done before.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) - After a short intro "Big Exit" opens the record. Its a driving track and PJ sings with urgency. The band matches up well to her playing and no one really takes away from each other. One of the first singles from the record "Good Fortune" is next. A little more of a ringing guitar sound is used and PJs vocals are once again crisp and urgent. This was always fun to hear live. "A Place Called Home" and "One Line" have PJ starting the vocals right at the start, there is no instrumental lead in. Both these tracks pretty much give you the idea of what PJ is about. To this point the record is both up tempo and a little more "happy" than her previous records. For a song named "Beautiful Feeling" it sure starts off dark..and remains so. "The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore" follows and with a song title like that you pretty much get what you'd think. at the end she just wails, her raw emotion just comes out. "This Mess We're In" Thom Yorke of Radiohead appears on this track. More than just a guest appearance he is the primary vocalist on the track with PJ offering the backup duties. The "duet" works well. Thom has a high falsetto and PJs grit add to the effectiveness of the track. "You Said Something" was another track released as single in the USA. The lyric she sings of "you said something I've never forgotten" makes you wonder just what was said! Later she even says it was "important". The song keeps a pretty even keel until the final verse when she just oozes passion but leaves you hanging.what was it that "you said?"! "Kamikaze" builds and builds and by the chorus we are a fevered pace. PJ shrieks "Kamikaze" as the chug of the guitars and bass surround her. The song goes up and down yet never loses speed if that somehow makes sense. "Is This Love" a slight vocal distortion is placed on PJs vocal track. Its very subtle but adds a bit of gravel to the vocal delivery. Sung in the tone of a shattered romance perhaps? "Horses in My Dreams" and "We Float" wrap up the record. Both songs are also the longest tracks. "Horses" has mellow guitars and a soft piano that PJ just sings over. Gradually the guitars come in but they keep with the overall vibe of the track. "We Float" is the track with the "most going on". There are drums, piano, organ and "bells" to name just a few.

Where are they now? - PJ Harvey played a show in the UK earlier in 2006 and revealed her new studio album would be almost totally piano based. A live concert DVD "Please Leave Quietly" was released in the fall of 2006 as well as the "The Peel Sessions 1991-2004". Its noted that in November of 2006 she has begun work on her next studio album

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) June 6, and 9th 2001 opening for U2 are the only times I have seen Polly Jean live at least in a large forum. At the time of this tour I was working for a Boston radio station and PJ came in and did a solo acoustic set and interview. That show was on an off day on the U2 tour (June 7, 2000). I was able to go to the session and watch her perform and meet her afterward. The chance of meeting her was pretty low at first, she is very shy and private, which is sometimes hard to imagine given her lyrics and ability to perform in front of thousands. She did 2 songs and afterward we were able to say hello and have some things signed. She was very nice and once she was done she left so she could go bowling with her band mates.

FDF Overall Take - Per the norm with FDF one could easily go with a, what some may see "better" or "stronger" album. The idea has always been to take records for "what they are". Again, if someone said to me "I'd like to check out some of her stuff" I'd probably hand them this first. Then I might say "if you dig check out "Dry" next or what have you. If you feel like spreading your musical wings with PJ Harvey I'd go with this.

Happy listening.

Friday, December 01, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 38: The Brian Setzer Orchestra - The Dirty Boogie

Album - The Dirty Boogie
Artist - The Brian Setzer Orchestra
Key Players - Brian Setzer - guitar/vocals. There are 16+ other members of the Orchestra as well as guest players on a few tracks.
Produced By - Peter Collins

Release Date - June 23, 1998

What caused me to blow off the dust? While making thanksgiving dinner for some reason, out of nowhere I was singing the baritone sax line from Jump Jive an' Wail...(I played baritone sax in high school so I can pick out that line of music..dork I know)

Overview - Formed after the demise of the Stray Cats this is actually the third "orchestra" release. Often referred to the BSO for short the band would gain a lot of mainstream success due to the cover of "Jump Jive an' Wail". The track was used in a successful Gap ad campaign. This record could be viewed as the one that spawned record companies to rush out and sign every possible 'swing' band over the next few months. It was a quick passing fad but all in all this is a pretty solid and fun effort.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) - The album wastes no time to give you the feel of what is to be expected. "This Cat's On A Hot Tin Roof" opens with the BSO in full "swing" and the rockabilly chime from Brians guitar. "The Dirty Boogie" opens with a drum crash and a "walking" bass line that remains strong and not buried in the mix. The orchestra does some call and response verses between strong orchestral fills. During this track as well Setzer unleashes a trademark solo. Strongly compressed yet still able to pull off a jangle sound from his guitar. "This Old House" has a dirty old country feel to it during the opening guitar line. Once again the Orchestra sings verses and will call out lines. By this point if your toes have not tapped at least once you really need to check your pulse. "Let's Live It Up" musically could be the intro to any late night talk show. Even Brian goes in to vocal range not encountered prior to this track. "Sleepwalk" is the lone instrumental track on the record. It sounds musically similar to "Earth Angel". Overall its a track that is neither a stand out nor a "dud" but it prepares the listener unknowingly for: "Jump Jive 'An Wail" probably the track most folks bought this record for. A raucous, yet true to form, version of the Louis Prima song. There is not a lot this reviewer can add here to sway you one way or the other. Either you get it, or you don't. When reviewing this cd I hit repeat 3 times on this track.. "You're The Boss" is a little mellower affair to this point of the record. Gwen Stefani offers vocal styling on this track. Even if you are not a fan of her she adds a great touch to the track. "Rock This Town" yep this is a BSO version of the Stray Cats song..all 6+ minutes of it. If you are familiar with the song it gets a good full orchestra treatment and a very cool moment occurs towards the end. During the guitar solo Brian actually de-tunes his guitar, yet continues to solo. Its a trick I am sure has been utilized in the past but this was one of the fist times as a music fan I "noticed". The solo is actually pretty great as far as "guitar solos" go. "Since I Don't Have You" follows and still has the swing feel, but its sung more in a crooner style. "Switchblade 327" returns to the rable rouser form that makes this a really rocking gem. This would rock with just three players (guitar/bass/drums) but this version cooks. Opening with a surf style guitar riff its a quick jump in to the swing feel. "Nosey Joe" breaks no new ground at this point in the album but is still a decent up tempo track. "Hollywood Nocturne" is the most skippable track. There is an odd vocal effect on Brians voice and its more a throw away track. "As Long As I'm Singin'"ends the record on a high note. Everything you loved about the previous tracks is here, great guitar work a cooking full orchestra you will be out of breath at the end of this track. There are some really high notes hit by the trumpet players so if you have headphones on be warned!

Odd side bar - Load this cd in to iTunes and the genre that loads up - Jazz.

Where are they now? - The band is still at it today. They seemed to be the first in the swing revival and the last to hang on to larger success. The band released a Christmas album and will often perform on "Tree Lighting" specials on television. The band also tours and has released a live record, 2 DVDs and a best of collection to this date (as well as studio recordings).

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) - I actually saw them live on this tour. It was a lot of fun and the band really really cooks. I'd see the band live again if given the chance it is just a night of harmless fun and Setzer is a great and underrated guitar player.

FDF Overall Take - For some "swing" can get old fast but its pretty easy to tolerate compared to many other genres of music. Does one need a "lot" of swing records, probably not, but this is a record you can sit down with your grandparents and both snap your fingers along to. Also, the cover freaking rules, why is it never mentioned in "best album cover" polls?