Thursday, December 31, 2009


Flipping through Rolling Stone at the drug store about a week ago, I saw a short article about the Black Keys recording at Muscle Shoals, the legendary Alabama recording studio (Aretha, Wilson Picket, Stones, etc.). I made a mental note to check out the details online (Rule #143: Never buy a magazine with a teen heartthrob on the cover), but before I got a chance to, I was told by an old acquaintance, Dave Doyle, that his ex-band mate Mark Neill was producing. I got all sorts of worked up, for a few reasons. Number one is that the Black Keys shit don't stink. Number two: neither does Neill's. There's two right there. And Muscle Shoals studio has produced some epic shit in the past, so it seems like it could be the perfect storm for a landmark album.

When the first Black Keys album, The Big Come Up, came out in 2002, there were all these stories of guitarist Dan Auerbach honing his chops and blues cred hanging out with T-Model Ford for an extended length of time (not something your everyday guitarist would bother doing). Their sound was extraordinarily full for a two piece, more so than the White Stripes, the "other two piece" band that they were often compared to. The production, by drummer Patrick Carney, was awesome and meaty. They referred to it as "medium fidelity" ("equal parts broke ass shit and hot ass shit") and had somehow tapped into that missing link between distorto-blues and the heavy thud seventies guitar sound of bands like Mountain, Cactus, and raunchier Led Zepplin. It was an impressive debut and, other than producers, they've pretty much stuck to the same formula in their subsequent releases. That's not to say they don't branch out; they do. But they do so with other projects.

A year or so ago, Auerbach released a solid solo album (mixed by Neill), and Carney followed that up with his side band, Drummer (self described as shoegaze on the MySpace page...blech). And recently, as Blakroc, the two teamed up with a hip hop A-listers, which has probably brought unfair comparisons to other hip hop/rock collaborations. It's a bit more significant, to team up a primarily roots type band with rappers doing new material, than, say, Aerosmith and Run DMC teaming up for "Walk this Way." Time will tell if it carries the weight of some sort of groundbreaking fusion, but as a concept it clearly kicks ass.

How the Black Keys know Mark Neill, I've got no idea. He's familiar to many of the old San Diego punk rock/retro crowd through his work as guitarist for the Unknowns. One of the few local bands in the early eighties that could actually play well, they somehow managed to mesh a sixties reverb drenched sound with a little organ and, surprisingly enough, actual singing. To call them a punk band is inaccurate at best, but that's the crowd they were lumped with, such was San Diego's sad state for non-cover bands at the time. Singer Bruce Joyner was studied, and really into good singers (Del Shannon and Roy Orbison come to mind). Neill was all about Mosrite guitars and the Ventures/Semie Moseley lineage, showing a keen interest in sound, not just songs. It was that interest, and his disappointment with the production of the Unknowns early output, that led him to open his own studio (in '82 or '83).

Neill's studio, Soil of the South, is, at this point, very well known for it's retro sound and vintage equipment. Not unlike Liam Watson's Toe Rag Studios in the UK, bands record there to get that stamp of authenticity. Neill's recorded the elite of the pomade army, notably Deke Dickerson, Big Sandy, Rip Carson, and the Paladins, along with Billy Zoom, Carl Rusk, the Tell-Tale Hearts and surf stalwarts Los Straightjackets. Suffice it to say, with Neill's equipment, the Black Keys sensibilities and the walls of Muscle Shoals, there's every reason to expect good things to come out of the ten day recording session. That Neill's been quoted as saying that the album would be "their biggest statement...the equivalent to Radiohead's 'OK Computer'" not only raises expectations, but begs the question: Mark Neill was cognizant of Radiohead?

Mark Neill's Soil of the South studio (with excellent in-studio photography by Dave Doyle)

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer cover Bob Marley. All three are gone. Play this sucker a couple of times in a row, and reflect. Because a little reflection won't make you a wuss, and it might do you some good. Motherfucker.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Here's another mixed bag of last minute holiday downloads. The quick lowdown on these: Nathaniel Mayer is, well, Eli "Paperboy" Reed lite. The ladies probably dig him as some sort of dreamy soul dude version of Chris Issacs (he, in his Herb Ritts meets Roy Orbison thang). Personally, I like my guy soul singers with a little more grunt, but he does have a good voice. The next one, by El Vez, is a surprisingly good rockabilly song, easy on the usual El Vez shtick. The Dirtbombs cut is of interest, if for no other reason, because, it's uncharacteristically mellow. Same goes for Rocket From the Crypt, although I'd put in on anyways to give props to my homeboys, in my opinion one of the best bands ever to come out of San Diego (really, their rockin' stuff is way better). The John Lennon song should be familiar to everyone (I really dig the "War is over, if you want it" background vocals). The Ramones cut woulda been better it it was on one of the first three albums, if'n you know what I mean. But, hey, it's the Ramones. Ooh, ooh, the Jimmy McGriff cut is way cool, in a smokey lounge sorta way. (The dude could take a shit on a Hammond B3 and I'd probably dig it). Pee Wee Dynamite's in there for a little international flava, but really, when you think afro-funk, do you ever think of Christmas? Threw in Gary Walker's take-off of the James Brown classic, I guess to represent all of those bands back in the sixties that would cover a song, right after the original came out, because either they actually thought they could do a better job or because they figured that people loved the song so much that they would buy it twice (ala the Raiders and "Louie Louie"), The Busy Boys are in here because I love the sparse DIY sound of early rap, when small labels popped up out of nowhere, and total unknowns had their own crews. The Marquees cut is straight out of the Cadets' ("Stranded in the Jungle") playbook. As much as I appreciate the smooth doowop, I really like the slightly more colorful oddball stuff. Finally, what Christmas would be Christmas without Link Wray? Leave it to Billy Childish to throwdown with some yuletide grease..
On that note, I'll now retire to getting the shit done that I've been putting off for weeks. Happy Holidays to all of you knuckleheads.
El Vez - Santa Claus is Sometimes Brown mp3 at Big Rock Candy Mountain
The Dirtbombs - My Last Christmas mp3 at Big Rock Candy Mountain
Rocket From the Crypt - Cancel Christmas mp3 at Liquid Dilemma
John Lennon - Happy Christmas (War is Over) mp3 at Yosemite Lanes
The Ramones - Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight) mp3 at
Jimmy McGriff - Merry Christmas Baby mp3 at Liquid Dilemma
Pee Wee Dynamite - Groovy Christmas and New Year mp3 at Liquid Dilemma
Gary Walker - Santa's Got a Brand New Bag mp3 at Liquid Dilemma
Busy Boys - Funky Fresh Christmas mp3 at Liquid Dilemma
The Marquees - Christmas in the Congo mp3 at Big Rock Candy Mountain
Wild Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire - Comanche (Link Wray's Christmas) mp3 at Liquid Dilemma

Saturday, December 19, 2009


The holiday cash-in shit is pretty thick, though it's pretty much always been that way in music. I wonder what it would be like if every artist who has ever cut a holiday song or album, instead chose a different unifying theme. Let's just say, I don't know, trees, or birds, or even a different day, maybe the first day of summer. Really, it's kind of a moot point, because there have been a gazillion songs written about everything so chances are that there are a whole bunch already about trees, birds, the first day of summer and everything else. They're just not packaged, and marketed as such, and pushed during a particular time of year. That may explain why there's so much holiday shake on music blogs this time of year. (Plus, people eat that shit up, so...)
If you are into holiday music (disclosure: I'm ambivalent/suspect), some holiday albums are pretty much essential. Phil Spector's "A Christmas Gift For You" is one that should be in every cane-head's quiver. You should already know it: Darlene Love, the Ronettes, the Crystals and Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans doing straight-up Wall of Sound versions of classics. Here's the Ronette's "Frosty the Snowman" and Darlene's goosebump inducing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."
The Black Crowes have a pretty decent version of "Backdoor Santa". (The original by Clarence Carter was sampled on Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis"). No idea of the details as the mp3 is buried of a fan site, the content of which I'm hesitant to wade through. (They're just a little too close to the whole Grateful Dead type fanaticism for me to go through all sorts of live shit.) But the bitchen horns reminded me of the Daptone horns, so it lead to a search for Daptone related holiday music. I quickly found Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings "Ain't Chimney's in the Projects." And serendipity struck, on the same post was a Julian (ex-Strokes) Casablancas version of the endearingly silly Saturday Night Live classic "I Wish It Was Christmas Today."
Though this may be sacrilegious to some, there's a remix of Billie Holiday's "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" by some hooligan named Yesking, who has dropped a rocksteady rhythm over the original. Verve has allowed their catalog of classics to be pillaged for a handful of remix compilations and the results are always sketchy, but at least this one answers the question "Could Billie Holiday have cut it in mid-sixties Jamaica?"
Another unlikely DJ JA mix comes courtesy of Go Home Productions' mash up of the Carpenters "Sleighride" with reggae backing legends Roots Radics. GHP is DJ Mark Vidler, whose Archies/Velvet Underground mash-up still gets laughs in these parts. Speaking of reggae, here's a bizarre treatment of the fatman by Lee "Scratch" Perry. Posted here for reggae curiosity seekers only (sorry to say, this madcap's best days are behind him as this pales next to his legendary work from the 70's).
More later if I get all of my running around done...

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Good singer, catchy songs, turn-it-up party jams on some stuff, mellower vibe on others. Hey, any band that can figure out how to toss an Ennio Morricone vibe into an acoustic song with Curtis Mayfield type vocals is A-OK in my book. On the rare occasion that my Dad would make dinner for us kids, he would mix all the leftovers in one pot and call it "stuff." The Heavy deal in "musical stuff." How is this band not huge? these days...

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I know the Nat King Cole Christmas album by heart. Likewise with the Burl Ive's pre-Rudolph outing. Both were on constant play when I was a kid, So you'll have to excuse my tipping of the hat to a few ne'er do wells. At least they're bold enough to get in the fatman's face. These two songs are for those who find the holidays are often a cone of silence over misdeeds perpetrated during the first eleven months of the year.
In "A Christmas Duel," over Spector-esque sleigh bells, Cyndi Lauper fesses up, "I burned the Christmas tree, and I slept with your brother. I wrecked your daddy's car, and went down on your mother," all before admitting to the most grievous offense "I burned your record collection"! Oh, sweet straw covered manger rat! Getting stiffed on the money day is not enough! Cyndi, I always kinda liked your cute offbeat shtick, but that's just fucking unforgivable! And Andre, dude, you're the Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot incarnate, after decades of forgetting. You get nasty, but you do leave my records alone. Still...

On a side note, if you are really into holiday music, but not necessarily the traditional type, you'll do well to stop by Big Rock Candy Mountain. An excellent blog year round, at this time of year they are indeed "serving up heaping platters of trash/soul/country/blues Xmas joy" including everybody from the Sonics to trucking god Dave Dudley. More nog, less egg!
EXPLICIT: I would advise previewing these songs before playing them in a public gathering, family, office or otherwise. In other words, they are explicit, but in a strangely amusing way.
The Hives & Cyndi Lauper - A Christmas Duel mp3 at Snuthing Anything
Andre Williams - Poor Mr. Santa (Andre Williams is Naughty mp3 at Big Rock Candy Mountain