Bits And Pieces
Because Free CD's are Free CD's
My Aim Is True
The Essential Dolly Parton Vol. 2
This is a special section for artists that I do not have even close to a complete collection of their works in my own possession, but I still feel like reviewing a few of their albums anyway. Because there's this really cool library system where I'm living now, and my extreme and utter broke-dick lifestyle keeps me from actually buying records for the time being, I'm gonna spend some time reviewing the CD's I check out and pay late fees on here in this section. These groups and artists are no less worthy that any of the others I review, it's just that I've never gotten around to starting a collection of their works, or they're people I'm just now getting an interest in and feel like reviewing. It's all about the feel, folks. Feel on, baby.... There may not be as much insightful historical information about these people either, except for what I can gleam off a cursory glance at allmusic.com, because of their newness. And sometime in the hazy, far-away future crystal ball, I may elevate these people to having their very own artist pages, but that may be years from now.
Anyhow, some of these records are fooking ace, so if you see 'em at your brother in law's place, nick 'em off the shelf and take 'em home for yourself. Or be like me and make use of your local library.
Peoria, Illinois' Boston came blasting out of Fresno California's burgeoning 'New Memphis Smoky Mountain Rockabilly' scene in the mid-70's and possessed a sound so ragged, minimalistic, and untrained that most critics went beyond the usual Velvet Underground comparisons and likened Tom Scholz's band to a hearing-impaired 5 year old singing 'Up On The Rooftop' along with a detuned ukelele with two missing strings.
Wait, no...that's Journey. Let's try again.
The rest of the album isn't this good, but let's discuss anyway. 'Rock 'n' Roll Band' is a moronic song where they mistakenly put the emphasis on the vocals instead of the (decent) guitar hook. You're supposed to listen to the words, dig? And you're supposed to gather from those words that Boston are just a hard-workin' band of blue collar regular Joe Sixpacks who've had to avoid Cadillac-drivin', cigar-smokin' management conmen to get this record out to you...but they were glad to do it because they just love their fans so much. How sweet. I rather prefer 'Smokin', which is as raw as the band ever got (not very). 'Something About You' is the good ballad (well, I think 'More Than A Feeling' is a better love song, but that's just me. The chicks like 'em slow songs to wiggle to.) with the rockin' section, and 'Let Me Take You Home Tonight' is the bad, Southern-rock one. Hey, did you ever notice that Tom Scholz's guitar solos often sound like a bunch of Ace Frehleys overdubbed over each other? Just something to consider.
you can digest and accept into your being something that is so processed, so
planned, calculated, and dammit...dehumanized (have I
been listening to too much late-period Black Sabbath lately or what?) as this
record is, you'll have found yourself a new favorite record. Listen, this
album's faults are absolutely obvious, but it has its electric chair-worthy
guilty pleasure, too, and a boatload of it. Probably most people who like to
preach about DIY and the vacuous tendencies of the recording industry have a
well-worn copy of
Capn's Final Word: Like McDonald's food. You know it's processed. You know it's bad for you. It's not even the best fast food you can get. But there's something in there you just crave sometimes.
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Costello - My Aim Is True -Rykodisc 1977
Costello is one of those second-tier cult artists who you know is always there, just under the surface of rock radio, waiting to be discovered by yet another eclectic record collector by myself. I mean, everyone knows who Elvis Costello is, but very few people seem to own any of his albums. At least the people I know. Dokken albums, Cinderella records, Whitesnake boxed sets, sure, but Elvis Costello? No way. I live in the White Trash Midwest now, a place that punk rock forgot and EC's brand of grumpy pub rock doesn't exactly go over well here. But that also means I'm able to check out his CD's from the library whenever I damn well please, and lately it seems like I please a lot. I didn't like my first taste of this guy (a Greatest Hits album about 6 or 7 years ago) at all, and though I dug hearing 'Alison' on TV every once in a long while, I never thought I could really wrap my brain around someone who essentially breaks down to a Brit Bruce Springsteen. But I did, and I'm one happy little girl in my Costello-influenced little world.
Elvis Costello is one of those (formerly? or was he always?) geeky guys who immersed themselves in old records and started writing angry lyrics probably from the time they first secretly pined on some soft little snow-white girlie who then went off and snogged the captain of the football team behind the gym. This being his first record, it's like the words had been plugged up inside himself for so long the inevitable release of the logjam was gonna drown this album and most surrounding low-lying area with his particular brand of acidic poetry. Sorta like those early Bruce Springsteen albums where they had to put See Attached Sheets on the lyric page, like the words were gonna get away from him and run off and be lost forever if he didn't spit them out into the microphone. But Elvis' lyrics always keep a strong handle on uncool stuff like meaning and things the audience can identify with rather than Sir Bruceness' 1973 tendency to spout 'street poetry' that more often than not sounded like a bunch of random clips from his friends' bulshitting down at the barbershop on a Saturday afternoon. Costello's lyrics sound more like he's been holed up in his crappy little room, just stewing on some chick or some job or something and he finally just can't keep his mouth shut anymore, and he's gonna put everyone back in their place but good. A good Scot, in other words.
This was Costello's debut record in the Year Punk Embarrassed Itself, and though I can understand why he was grouped into such company (he's a real lyrical grouch and sounds like he's sneering all the time), he doesn't belong there at all. He's much happier being place in with other scowling singer songwriters, the kind like Randy Newman who aren't closet former hippie sissies, don't wear denim shirts, and don't make album cover photos sitting next to picturesque waterfalls like the nasty term 'singer songwriter' somehow came to represent. You know who I'm talking about: losers like James Taylor and John Denver and anyone who ever played the 1979 No Nukes benefit concert who isn't named Bruce. These guys are Pat Boone. Elvis Costello is a lot closer to the spirit of good ol' Buddy Holly (though Buddy on a particularly bad day), if you can 'remove my plaque buildup', and I think you can.
Elvis' music can be easily described as 'bar-band blandness', that usual conglomeration of 50's rock 'n' roll and mid-60's soul/British Invasion that every covers band ever to pick up a used Stratocaster could probably pump out without taking their eyes off the hot waitress with the big tits. Lovers of the E Street Band are gonna find this stuff speaks to their peculiar desires, without a doubt. Though, to Huey Lewis' band's credit (Yes! But, sorry, no Huey here, Sports-fans.) we also get tastes of bluesy boogie ('Blame It On Cain'), soul ('Sneaky Feelings' and 'Pay it Back'), country and reggae ('Watching the Detectives').
To the tunes. The songs are usually real short, no more than 2-3 minutes, a petite bite of pop sensibility with a hooky title chorus repeated a thousand times, some memorable tight band movement, and some way or other to make you love it. Let's just explore a bit. The big hits were 'Alison', a ballad that almost sounds ripped off from 'Fool To Cry', but a lot better and without the falsetto. Elvis do a falsetto? He can barely sing anyway, though his winning mealy-mouth gusto can be charming. It's also the most immediately radio-friendly song on the album, though the record is actually packed with them. I think that if this had come out in 1975 (which, stylistically, it sure could have...I mean, there's nothing here that required any walls to be broken down), everyone would have considered Costello to be a New Dylan (which he still was, but not necessarily as publicly as Springsteen was) and he would have been all over the radio. Another one that belies influences is 'Sneaky Feelings', which is exactly like an early-70's Van Morrison song, but you see...the songs just keep getting more and more interesting as the album goes on. You atart out with a short, semi-punky blast at modern working life with 'Welcome to The Working Week', a simple and sweet ballad 'Alison' comes after a few more rocking things, then '(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes' mixes in some philosophy and 'Less Than Zero' gets tough with this story about rich idiots (which is admittedly followed by a bit of rocking New York Dolls fluff called 'Mystery Dance'), gets Kinksy with the sly 'Waiting For The End Of The World' and wraps it all up with the smashingly catchy 'Watching The Detectives'. I mean, most of the better songs are on side B! How often does that happen, like once in never?
Anyway, those of you not looking for well-written lyrics over basic bar-band music that often sounds like other, more famous artists, steer clear. It's rocking, but it doesn't rock, it sure ain't punk, and I'm sure Costello improved a lot on this original idea. But if you dig a lyrical hook from a guy who might just be as disillusioned as you are, this album's for you, pal.
Capn's Final Word: A grouch who's good for some great words over basic, derivative backing. How is this different than early Springsteen exactly? Oh yeah, you can understand these lyrics.
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I know you probalbly won't read this, but I am an EC fan, as well as a Facist, and, when I cannot get to sleep I sometimes think of why the hell there'd be a song two little Hitlers. For a number of reasons I find this interesting, not the least of which bieng that I can divine perhaps half the words to that song, but still not figure out that that it was about what else-young lovers. Though I consider myself far to the right, I fear the ostracism that would come with it being widely known, so I masquerade in public as the very sort of liberal that I detest. This brings me to another EC+attractions song I think well of -less than 0, though I know it represents wreckless slander, I am nevertheless intruiged by it.
Costello and the Attractions - Armed Forces -
Not having heard the allegedly brilliant second album (which was supposed to be all 60's punky instead of 50's bar rock), I have to just sit back and be wowed by how much different this record sounds than My Aim Is True. Elvis steps into the late 70's with his music, which sounds like some weird alloy of his early stuff with liberal quantities of ABBA ('Oliver's Army'! 'Oliver's Army'!!!) and the Clash mixed in. It's all very well produced and as, um...1979 as you wish. By this advanced date, I can certainly see Costello backing off the punk and throwing in all kinds of New Wave trinkets. Listen to 'Senior Service' and tell me if that doesn't just define New Wave for you. It does for me...the faintly 50's vibe, the doinky ascending keyboard line, the disco influenced rhythm section, the rave up chorus. A great New Wave piece, no doubt, but very indicative of its time and place. 'Moods For Moderns' is bad New Wave, in case you wish to compare and contrast. This album, with whole bunches of songs about how much E hates the army and, presumably, the neo-fascist Thatcher Conservative government that rose to power this same year. C'mon, like that pruney old Nazi butch wasn't on his mind when he wrote songs like 'Oliver's Army', 'Green Shirt', 'Senior Service', or 'The Goon Squad'. And, you know, how everyone's a little Napoleon in their love life 'n' stuff. Well, I can follow what he's trying to get across here, and that's cool, but my concerns about this record are a bit more fundamental.
Listen, most of the songs are all pretty good, but there are too many of them. Especially if you get the reissue album with all those extra tracks tacked onto the end. I've identified Elvis' situation here. Now, he's always pretty wordy, and his music is not for people who care a whole lot about something interesting happening with the musical backing all the time. His music is fine and hooky and stuff, but it's designed for one purpose and only one purpose: to support the idea he's putting across with his singing. And while the words are usually pretty fucking good when compared with 99% of the illiterate 'change/rearrange' 'love/sky above' sort of crap we subject ourselves to all the time, but there's a shitload of them and nowhere to hide from their endless avalanche. I come away from this album convinced that Costello likes to hear himself talk. It's possible that the reason for that is that, other than Nick Lowe's fantastic closer 'Peace, Love and Understanding' (later covered by the Flaming Lips on their live bootleg Get Your Yo-Yos Out.), the final third of the album blows ass. I'm pretty sure of that fact, now that I think of it. 'Sunday's Best', 'Moods For Moderns', 'Chemistry Class' and 'Two Little Hitlers' (which. you know, equates lovers with fascist dictators. What, did some girlfriend get mad at E when he fooled around with a groupie or something? Wotta grouch!) are just awful, and right in a row, too. Gosh. Editing, Elvis. Editing. Get a collaborator that doesn't totally suck your penis like Mr. Nick Lowe. And no one's ever mentioned this, but the end of 'Party Girl' is totally ripped off from the Beatles' 'Carry That Weight', but it does sound cool while you're trying to figure out where that little arpeggio comes from.
Big Problem Two is Costello's voice. Now, I'm not one to pick on someone's vocal ability usually. Though I surely appreciate someone who's able to knock my socks off (your Otis Reddings and your Mick Jaggers and such), I don't much focus on this when I'm listening. But, for some reason, Elvis Costello seems to irritate me. And I've searched and ruminated and drunk a Colt 45 and listened to the album again, and I think my main reason for disliking this record is that Costello's voice is too loud, too strained, and there too much. He is definitely the main instrument, and as I said, his words just keep on a-comin' like clowns out of a Volkswagen or gays out of a toilet stall. 'Sunday's Best' is damn near made unlistenable by EC's precious delivery. With his ragged Scot's voice, he should never attempt cuteness. It's nauseating.
Oh, and the additional tracks are fucking awful. I still haven't gotten through to the live stuff without wanting to turn this record off. Elvis singing his own tunes is bad enough, but clumsily trying to croon his way through 'My Funny Valentine' is fit for a Columbian torture chamber. Ahh, and I've just had to go through too many Elvis Costello songs on this album to mention the other bonus tracks...though I sorta wish he'd replaced some of the worst songs on the regular album with these.
Okay, so there's major problems here, some of the songs just clank away like an old junkie prostitute's broken purse clasp, and for all of Elvis Costello's songwriting ability, I doubt he'll ever really be able to overcome his verbal diarrhea and lack of self-editing. His overactive creativity overrides his ability to say no to himself too often. But, dammit, I don't want to be without 'Accidents Will Happen', 'Oliver's Army', 'Green Shirt', 'Goon Squad' or '(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?' in my life. I already have to give up too much other stuff. I'm happy there's someone like Elvis Costello in the world, making this kind of music (or, more accurately, 'having made this kind of music', now that he's a certifiable Old Fart Musician who really doesn't edit himself anymore), and I'm sure if I get a few more months on this disc I'll start to love my favorites even more and maybe even begin to like the goats, but there's a lot of CD's in this world that don't have moments that make me feel queasy, too. For a classic album of the late 70's with great, classic songs on it, I sure wouldn't listen to this one all the time.
Capn's Final Word: Elvis Costello's songwriting peaks. But it's almost undone by Elvis Costello's delivery.
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Any Short Comments?: I was a freshman in college when Armed Forces came out. The initial fans had grown bored after This Year's Model and moved on. A new generation picked up with Armed Forces and grudgingly took in Get Happy and Taking Liberties. Trust lost them for good. He never got the popularity back that came on the heels of his famous Saturday Night Live US debut.
But, the loyal fans were to busy trying to keep up to notice that he fell out of popularity - or notice that they were "true fans". That band was putting out prodigeous amounts of rich music. You just couldn't digest all the bonks and banks of one album before another one would come out. Trust and Almost Blue gave us some catch up time. But then they hit us with the grand slam - Imperial Bedroom. 25 years and 25 albums later the early hold out fans still find it as fresh as the day it came out.
Your comparisons with Bruce Springsteen are confounding. How in the world did you connect those dots? They certainly lose their efficacy at Imperial Bedroom.
What amazes me is that the Elvis Costello brand-name in all its forms has continued to put out interesting, fun, and potent music up to the present - and without the usual "dark periods" that haunt most (See David Bowie). Few, if any, 70's rockers can say the same.
Armed Forces started it all for me. I place it as one of the albums that changed my life. Mainly because the arrangements struck me as pure genius. They were simple enough to be within the reach of a mere mortal like myself, but required the talents of each of the Attractions.
It's hard to tell if each member contributed their own magic or if Elvis masterminded the whole thing. In any event, even though Elvis Costello is considered a rock and roll act, it is not very guitar driven, more ensemble. Guitar driven rock had to rise to a higher level if it were to hold my interest from then on. I could never listen to punk or 80s metal after Armed Forces, especially after Imperial Bedroom.
I'm rambling so I'll quit, but I'll leave this last note. Elvis didn't really find his guitar style until the early 90s, and music became more guitar dependent when he played rock and roll. Now you can't seperate the two. TM
- Celebrity Skin -
I've never been convinced by Courtney Love. Other than when she's playing a dirty junkie whore in a movie, then I'm riveted to the screen. She did a great job in The People Vs. Larry Flynt playing a junkie stripper, and she did an even better job playing Nancy Spungeon's best friend in Sid and Nancy, creepily prefiguring her own future role as freaky junkie hanger on/wife she would play so well in 1993-5. Her band, Hole, always seemed to me to be a Courtney Love Appreciation Society, and for all their faux Riot Grrl posing on Pretty On The Inside, they were about as close to the power of Babes in Toyland or L7 as an Iron Butterfly was to a Led Zeppelin. Once she became forever famous for being Mrs. Kierdt Kauxbbayne (probably the only he way he never spelled his name), dressing up in her nasty ripped-up satin dresses with her dark circles under her eyes and her junkie hair, it was clear to me she was playing up being married to the New Loser Rock Hero Of The Nineties. There was no way she was going to be quiet and stay being a normal rock wife taking care of cute little Frances Bean. She smelled a spotlight near, fired up her mouth, and started chewing the earbox of everyone who came within spitting distance while Kurt stayed in the background and looked medicated. When he killed himself, Courtney got that spotlight all by herself, and while I'm not so heartless as to say she didn't love Kurt or feel just as hurt and grieved as anyone in her position would be, she spent a tasteless amount of time on magazine covers proclaiming how much of a survivor she was, too.
this album came around long after that Courtney, the fucked up, cursing, dirty,
girl-in-the-backseat gave way to the New Glamorous Courtney, the one who
dresses in Versace gowns, keeps her lipstick within the lines, schmoozes at the Oscars, and hangs out with Michael Stipe all the time. And whatever it's done for her career,
it sure hasn't helped her music. Celebrity Skin is totally missing
whatever balls-out anger Hole may have ever had on Live Through This and
tossing it in front of traffic. Love is taking the age-old advice of hacks
throughout history and is Writing What She Knows, and What Courtney Knows is
lyric problem is exemplified by the idiotic half-grunge background piff that passes for music on this piece. Hole intended to
make this album sound like a 70's
Capn's Final Word: Just goes to further show the void that was most mainstream 90's rock, and how great Rumours was.
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Essential Dolly Parton
Vol. 2 -
I'm feeling a bit beaten down by all the
Black Sabbath I've exposed myself in the last few weeks, so instead of tackling
Deep Purple like I'd originally planned now rescheduled for, umm...sometime in
2004), I'm gonna review a country retrospective.
There! And not some tough Texas outlaw singer either, but Dolly Parton, one of the paragons of big-haired, big-stringed,
sloppy traditional Nashville slickness. And one of the best pure country
singers besides Patsy Cline I've ever heard. Dolly, if you haven't heard the
story, comes from cousin-fuckin' country out in the
Anyway, now she's sorta been forgotten because she's not in movies and TV and
stuff, and her hits stopped coming, and all she does is hang around at her Dollyland theme park and buy ever-more rigid female supportware, but she's also released a hell of a lot of
good singles, and this collection is just some of 'em.
And you know what? She wrote all the good ones. I don't much like the uber-hicky opening tune promoting abusing animals with
sticks, but I sure can get up and inside the creepy, worn out haunt of 'Bargain
Store', where she intones 'If you don't mind that all the merchandise is used,
with a little fixing up I can be as good as new' with a down-home Joan Baez
flutter. Fantastic song. It's not hard to like this
stuff, really...and whatever you do, don't think the picture on the cover looks
like your mother, like I do. That'll mess you up when Dolly sings some of those
I don't know if I like it when Dolly gets rockin'. Her voice gets a little too much like a football color coordinator belting out one of those particularly gruesome stories about torn ACLs and multiple splint pins inserted into moustaches and stuff. 'Joshua' not only takes that rah-rah voice, the lyrics also deal with this totally precious story about some gruff recluse siccing a big dog on lil ol' lost Dolly, who unwittingly stumbled onto his prop'ty, then talking all night and falling in love and getting married. Bleah. When the most realistic thing would be that Joshua would shoot Dolly and invite the Unabomber and the entire Montana Republican Militia over for a pit barbecue. But this is country...it's okay to talk about how nasty men are ('Because I'm a Woman'), you know, which is pretty true unless you're nice and pussy-whipped like myself. (It rules!), and I think that 'Jolene', which finds Dolly pleading with her man's prettier suitor, is fit for daytime television (complete with all those pantyliner ads. You should see my wife blush when those come on. She gets so pissed! Man, it's cute. My wife rules!) but the music and delivery are just desperate enough. And 'Here You Come Again', which I know you've heard, though it was a huge hit, is simply gutter trash. It smacks so much of movie theme-songism (though the movie theme songs that Dolly wrote were actually much better...this was done by hired guns who no doubt studied under the tutelage of one Barry Mannilow) that I can't get the image of Tootsie's huge red Early-80's specs out of my head. Yikes. And 'We Used To' grabs each and every note of the intro to 'Stairway to Heaven', like we wouldn't notice. Okay, so Dolly's contingent wouldn't notice. But you aren't getting past me with that, Ms. Parton. If that's your real name. And those are your real mammary glands. Okay, so they are. Bully for you. The song is fucking great, a real heart destroyer ('you went awayayayayaaaaay...' damn.), I wish she hadn't sullied it with that five finger-discount on the intro.
Nah, Dolly's forte is ballad stuff like 'I Will Always Love You'. Yeah, that which was stolen and ruined by Whitney Houston, who ripped and tore out all the subtlety and made it into the musical equivalent of a wrestling match. Well, if you've heard and disliked that version as much as me, you'll be mighty refreshed by the tasteful, emotional way Dolly does it, which is obvious because she wrote it and didn't want it treated like a tackling dummy. And she does it without all that screaming in the final chorus Whitney tacked onto the end just so we got the point that she was capable of blowing down buildings at 500 paces. Dolly does a little gratuitous blasting on 'Light Of A Clear Blue Morning', but I guess the gospel spirit just got into her a bit much and got her chest all a-heavin'. I prefer 'The Seeker'. I still have the scars to prove it. But she uses her voice as an instrument most of the time. She's sweet and young on 'Love Is Like A Butterfly', she's a retarded little girl on 'Me And Little Andy', she's a hot horny middle-ager on 'It's All Wrong But It's All Right', she's a hefty black woman on 'It's All I Can Do', she's rewriting her movie-themes on the Seventies groaner 'I Really Got The Feeling', I'm losing my point, I'm finishing this review.
Hey, there's some fantastic stuff on the Essential Dolly, and you just gotta have the sack to put up with a few cutesy clunkers and nasty 1981-isms to get to 'The Bargain Store' and 'I Will Always Love You' and about 10 others. And to really dig country music sung by a woman who hasn't yet reclaimed her cool in the eyes of a retro-obsessed country. Be the first on your block to love Dolly again.
Capn's Final Word: Dolly Parton lived by her tough pen and died by her penchant for cuteness. She's got acres more taste than most country and R&B singers out there right now, so if you enjoy a good, soulful female singer (who writes her own stuff) at all, this is a must.
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