Wednesday, December 12, 2007

In My Mind, I'm Going To...The Troubadour

Recently James Taylor and Carole King performed at the L.A.’s fabled club, the Troubadour. They had performed there back in 1970 (this is the club’s 50th anniversary) back when they were both fresh young faces. While the show undoubtedly was a study in nostalgia, it did succeed in making my mind go wandering (“in my mind, I’m going…”).
Although it might not be hip to admit nowadays, I was a fan of James Taylor back in the day. Had most of his Warner Brother albums on 8-track (yes, those were the days). I even picked up a probably not quite legal copy of his Original Flying Machine album (also on 8 track) that had a number of charming tunes many of which later resurfaced on his Apple album. I vividly remember Taylor being on the cover of Time magazine (it was March, 1971, according to a Google search).
While I read the story, what I reminded most (and retained for years) was a psychedelicishly drawn “family tree” of folk-rock. Maybe that was a nascent sign of my interest in music criticism/writing/etc. Maybe it fueled the same part of my brain that also liked to memorize the facts on the back of baseball cards.
The other interesting thing about the show was that the backing band was the same band that backed them in 1970. Guitarist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, bassist Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel. It’s sort of amazing that all of these guys are still around and playing. Any fan of the ‘70s SoCal singer/songwriter scene will recognize these names from the liner notes of albums of by Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne...oh the list is probably endless.
Anyway, it must have been quite a night, not that I was there

happy holidays,

Michael B

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sitting by a doc(umentary)

I went last night to a screening of Dreams To Remember, an upcoming dvd doc on the great soul singer Otis Redding. It’s a fine, affectionate look at this king of soul, who died tragically young at the age of 26 in a place crash. Just before the release of his most successful song, the classic Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay.
The doc contains some terrific archival footage, but also some of it comes off as dated. Performance clips from Dick Clark’s Where The Action Is program show some disinterested teens standing around half-heartedly clapping to the energetic, although lip-synching Redding. Also in the background is a member of Paul Revere’s Raiders, in his Raiders costume, which made a young woman next to me say, “look there’s a Pirate”. I, like it or not, am old enough to have watched the show (I believe it was on in the afternoons and I watched it after school, but my memory could be faulty). There also were clips from a Cleveland, OH tv performance shot the day before he died. I knew immediately it was the Upbeat Show, a wonderful (Okay, an often wonderful) local music show that I also watched as a kid.
Anyway, fans of soul, R&B or just simply American music will enjoy this doc. It also pairs up nicely with another recent doc Respect Yourself that looks at the history of Stax Records, Reddings’ label.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Emmylou Does the Derby

The highlight of the week was getting to go see Emmylou Harris tape a special for BBC TV. Tied in with her new retrospective Songbird, it’s going to be called something like the Ten Commandments of Country. Harris used this concept – she preferred the term “suggestions’ to Commandments – to perform selections from this new boxset. Some of her “commandments” were (and I probably don’t have all the phrasing right, but you’ll get the idea): Help Yourself to Tradition, Love Hurts, Write What You Know, Always Do A Waltz, Do lots of harmonizing, Death Comes To Us All and Always Have A Number to Go Out On. She covered songs by Merle Haggard, the Beatles, Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe. My personal highlights were her renditions of the Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman classic Sin City and Lucinda Williams’ Sweet Old World. I had seen Emmylou earlier this month join Lucinda on stage – another highlight of this month. Like that show, this one had several song false starts and do-overs. Unlike the Lucinda show, she had no guests play with her. Although she had a fine acoustic band backing her which featured two Seldom Scene founders, bassist Tom Gray and dobro wiz Mike Auldridge. The acoustic band gave her “country” songs a bit of a Bluegrass edge. Also, differing from Lucinda’s show was the presence of Emmylou’s personal hairstylist, who came out and fixed her hair several times between songs. This was strictly because it was being taped for TV. I have no idea when this will run on the BBC. But hopefully it was always be telecasted on BBC America. Overall, it was a night of sublime Americana music performed by one of the living icons of the scene.

Monday, June 4, 2007


I am a couple days late in posting this but the words still ring true.

As a longtime, long-suffering Cleveland sports fan, I find it very difficult to watch Cleveland teams playing in important games. There have been just too many letdowns. The Indians - Marlins World Series Mesa meltdown, The Browns repeated Bronco fiascos, the Cavs versus the Michael Jordan (the famous Jordan shot over Craig Ehlo was later used in a tv commercial; I've blocked out just what product it was for).

So it was with mixed emotions that I turned on games in the Cavs-Pistons series. But I kept reminding myself. Detroit's the experienced team. I will be good for the Cavs just to play in the finals. I didn't become anguished when they lost two close games in Detroit. They were competitive. They weren't getting embarrassed like Utah. Then they won their home games. Good for them. Game Five was unbelievable. In so many ways. I did watch the fourth quarter and first overtime. I didn't watch the second, not because it was too ulcer-making but because I had to put my daughter to bed. But did that win convince me that they were a team of destiny. No, I have had my heart broken too many times for that.

Then I watched the second half of Saturday night's game. The third quarter was tight but the Cavs were playing well without Labron scoring. always an encouraging sign. I missed the beginning of the fourth quarter and when I was watching again. they were up by ten. I couldn't believe it. they actually were going to win it. and not only did they extend their lead but they won convincingly. it was amazing.

Now I just have to readjust my emotions again for the Finals. The Spurs are the experienced team that is playing well. The Cavs are just Finals rookies. . .well, cocky Finals rookies.

So here's to Bingo Smith, Luke Witte, and all the other Wine & Gold-sters whose names have drifted out of my memory...

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Aristocrats vs. The Aristocats

Tivo is a wonderful thing. Well, I guess any dv-r is but we are a Tivo family. The easy ability to record and zip back and forward through shows is a marvel. But it does some interesting things – particularly when it tapes…er “records”…programs it thinks you would enjoy. Sometimes it records shows in channels we don’t receive or in languages we don’t understand.
Recently, however, it recorded the documentary The Aristocrats – a movie was I actually a little interested in watching. I started to watch some of it the other night. I was rather amusing in its telling and retelling of the warhorse of a filthy joke. The night reached the point where sleep was winning over my waking consciousness so I thought about saving the film with our other tivo’d shows. And then it hit me. We already had saved the old Disney film, The Aristocats, for our five year old daughter. And I could imagine that either myself or my wife, in our perpetually distracted parental mindstate, selecting the ‘crats and the not the ‘cats and having our daughter discover the most infamous joke in jokedom.
So the Aristocats ruled the day and remains among our saved programs - still unwatched I might add. Yes, it would have been a better story if our daughter had mistakenly watched some of the documentary but that's for some other parent to tell.
over n out, Michael B.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Honky tonkin' at the Mint

over the weekend, I saw two impressive acts playing around the corner at the Mint here in Los Angeles. First up was Elizabeth Cook, straight from Nashville. A sassy blonde whose dress was almost as long as her guitar, Cook played both sides of the Nashville fence – Music Row and East Nashville. The titular tune from her new album, "It Takes Balls to Be A Woman" is a feisty feminist-style anthem that Gretchen Wilson would have all over CMT (I actually did see Cook’s video on GAC). But she also does more stuff and certainly doesn’t fix into the typical Nashvegas stereotype. She broke out some clog dancing while her guitarist Tim Carroll (definitely check him out as well) did a number. She closed with a version of "Soap, Soup and Salvation" by Lone Justice, not even knowing that Lone Justice guitarist Ryan Hedgecock was in the crowd.
Following her was a local guy David Selby, whose set of old school, but rocking honky tonk scored a high grade too – even if he didn’t clog. If a musician can be judged by his backing band, Selby then is easy to recommend. His guitarist/producer is Ed Tree (Spencer Davis Group) while is bassist Taras Prodaniuk has played with Lucinda Williams and Dwight Yoakam. But Selby would have won me over even without his savvy veteran crew.

On a sadder note, I learned that Nancy Tannenbaum, who was known as Nancy Rideout when she played guitar in Moonshine Willy, was killed May 13 in a motorcycle accident in New York City. She apparently swerved her motorcycle to avoid hitting someone who strangely ran out onto the West Side Highway and she had a fatal crash. While Moonshine Willy wasn’t a particular favorite of mine, they were part of the early Bloodshot Record crew that captured my attention back in the ‘90s. She is the second member of the Bloodshot family to pass away this year. In February, Split Lip Rayfield’s Kirk Rundstrom succumbed to a long bout of cancer. Belated wishes of condolences go out to both families.

Michael B

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Second Best English Pop Tune From Sweden

Here's one more thing to cross off my list. While “Young Folks” by Peter, Bjorn and John has been getting a lot of buzz in the last couple months (yes, I know, they’re old news by now), I have wanting to toot my horn for another catchy pop tune from Sweden – Tobias Froberg’s When The Night Turns Cold. It could be called happy Nick Drake, with doesn’t quite nail it. There’s a great bongo beat to it but it’s not kitschy. You won’t get sick of it as fast as those whistle solos that permeate “Young Folks.” “When The Night” balances its melancholy with some ‘60s folk-rock and ‘00s bedroom pop.
The song was used somewhere in a Panasonic ad but hold that against it. There’s a lot of cool music coming out of Scandinavia (Norway's Ane Brun whose A Temporary Dive features a duet with Ron Sexsmith is another fave). But more on her and others at another time. For now, you can check out Mr. Forberg on here:

Friday, May 11, 2007

A few minutes on the Minutemen

I’ll fess up. I never got into the Minutemen when they were playing clubs and making records. And I’ll fess up. I never caught up with during the fIREHOSE years, and the subsequent years. It’s not that I even gave their music a good listen during all this time. But I noticed that their documentary We Jam Econo was on Sundance, IFC, one of those indie movie cable networks. I tivo’d it so I don’t really remember. But that’s besides the point. I watched the film and it was really mind-opening. I have always lumped the Minutemen in with the Southern California ‘80s punk scene. Black Flag, Descendents, and the whole SST scene. But I was surprised their sound, which is something like a cross of Wire post-punk with something much more American and earthy (they were Creedence fans). There was something arty yet primitive, skilled yet amateur about them. I got why they attracted such a loyal following and became such a mythic cult band. There was a great dynamic between D. Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley both on stage and off. Not that I’m rushing out to buy Double Nickels on a Dime, 3-Way Tie (for Last) of What Makes A Man Start Fire? But it did spur me to jump belatedly on their bandwagon and sing (okay, type) their praises. Check them out.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

There, I Said It - Hail, Hail Tommy Womack!!

I have recovered from the NFL Draft and I'll be merciful and not bore you with any amateur analysis.
I'll get back to the music.
I had been meaning to write and praise Tommy Womack’s new album There I Said It. and since I didn’t get an assignment for it, let me just praise it now. Womack is one of those “other side of Nashville” cats, like Todd Snider or Tim Carroll. Rockin’ witty singer/songwriter who don’t write for Alan Jackson or Shania Twain.
Womack was in the bands Government Cheese and the Bis-quits. They probably don’t ring many bells. He wrote a rock n roll memoir the Cheese Chronicles. It didn’t make the best seller list. He made some dandy solo albums, with sharp, ragged tunes about the Replacements, Cheetah Chrome, getting drunk and women.
Then he disappeared for a while. He had a little breakdown. He got a 9-5 job but couldn’t shake rock n roll.
Earlier this year, he released There, I Said It. It’s another terrific album made all the most powerful by his open grappling with his “troubles.” The album title comes from the tune “I’m Never Gonna Be A Rock Star”, which pretty summarizes his warts-and-all admission about his career. His slice of life tunes range from the bluesy “Too Much Month At The End of the Xanax” to the rather hopeful “Nice Day”, which talks about the joys that his son brings him. Other songs like “Alpha Male & The Canine Mystery Blood” and “A Cockroach After The Bomb” are funny/sad looks at the life he has and the life that he had.
On “25 Years Ago” he draws poignant but unflinching portraits of Nashville’s musical fringe, folks who had 15 seconds of fame or none at all.
Womack hopefully won’t be one of these folks in the future. He’s too talented a guy.
And that’s not just a fellow fortysomething with Womack.
There, I said it.
His website is and you can find him on youtube at

Michael B

Friday, April 27, 2007

Coach vs. Coachella

Since I am a music writer, a music writer based in Southern California no less, I should be all amped up this weekend about the massive Coachella music festival. I guess it's another great bill. Crowded House has reformed. But quite frankly I haven't paid that much attention. out of sight out of mind, perhaps. I'm not going to be there so why get emotionally involved in what I'm missing.
However, I'm not going to be in New York City either for the NFL draft, or any of the teams' draft rooms, yet I'm emotionally involved there. maybe not as much as I once was. but I still have been checking various mock drafts (although not so much that I'd paid a site to see) in order to check on what the "experts" think. and I won't be sitting home all weekend watching the ESPN coverage - just watching it when I can.
I was remembering yesterday how I was doing mock drafts before it became such a business. When the Seattle Seahawks came into the NFL, I did my own draft for them. not in real time, but the next day. I think I drafted Jackie Slater, who later went on to be an all-pro with the Rams. Oh, and I'm not even a Seahawks fan. they were just the new expansion team.
And while I no longer, buy the draft mags and make predictions, the draft has been engrained in my dna. I don't think I can even explain why. can other otherwise rational draftniks explain why? those who don't get paid for being a draft expert? my wife just rolls her eyes over it.
so hopefully by some time after noon on Saturday, after my hometown team the Cleveland Browns make their first round selection (Peterson? Quinn? Thomas? someone else?) then my preoccupation will dissipate (and move on to something this)
enjoy your weekend
and don't spend it all watching tv
Michael B

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Return of the Wurlitzer Jukebox

Okay, more catching up of old business. Last week, word came out that there’ll be a reunion of the fabulous early 80s Welsh cult band Young Marble Giant.
(Here’s how Pitchfork reported it:
Your reaction will either be HOORAY or who???, depending if this name rings any bells. But of course isn’t that always the case.
For those uninitiated, YMG was a quirky DYI new wave band featuring Alison Statton’s charmingly deadpan vocals, Backing her were Stuart Moxham on guitar and organ and his brother Phil on bass. That was it. not drummer. Not even a “bunnyman” drum machine if memory serves.
On a personal note, YMG were one of those odd bands you hear in college that catch your ear and find a place in your heart. I think it was Susan, the head of my small college’s small radio station who had the album. The vinyl album. Yes, I’m talking about the dinosaur days.
Anyways, their debut full length Colossal Youth was full of oddly appealing minimalistic pop. Songs like Searching for Mr. Right, Music for Evenings, Wurlitzer Jukebox and Credit in the Straight World stick out as standouts. You can go to youtube to find some old clips
but better yet just find the music and listen in some dark, lonely room. There’s an eerie, other worldly feel to the music that old performance video doesn’t do justice. Yes, they are an acquired taste but one worth exploring imho.
If I had been thinking about it Music for Evenings might have made a good blog title.
Oh well...
Michael B.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Cleveland (30) Rocks

okay, I’ll cop to it early on. I’m from Cleveland, Ohio. Even though I’ve lived more years in Los Angeles than Cleveland. Cleveland’s my hometown and I still carry that Cleveland chip on my shoulder. The city has been the butt of jokes for so long that you’d think it’s a mine that has been stripped bare.

But I have to tip my cap (Browns, Tribe, Cavs, Barons if you got it) to the folks at 30 Rock. Last week they did a hilarious “salute” to the Cleve that got big laughs from this Ohio ex-pat. Part of the genius of it was that they poked fun at both Cleveland and New York City so it didn’t seem like just another comic gang-tackle on the “Mistake By the Lake”.

And in case you missed it, you can find it somewhere on

Oh, and see I'm getting better. Now I'm just talking about something that happened last week, not a half a year ago.

Okay, back to work or sleep.

Michael B

Welcome to...Musical Shapes

Welcome to the inaugural posting of Musical Shapes. The idea came to me last fall when I was in Nashville for the Americana Music Conference and saw a performance by Carlene Carter. I was a fan of hers back in her heydays of the late '70s and early '80s. I had read about her addiction problems and was curious about what she'd be like. She didn't disappoint. She was in great voice - full-bodied rockin country - and had a great presence on stage. It was one of those experiences that I felt I wanted to share. To stand up on a virtual rooftop and shout to the world: "Hey, Carlene Carter is back and just as cool as she ever was!"

Okay, so that was some seven months ago and I'm only now starting a blog. (and I pledge not to take seven months between future posts) But it's still timely to spread the word on Carlene. Check out her website for more information about her new cd that she's label searching.

Oh, wait, what about this name, Musical Shapes, you're asking. Well, it's the name of Carlene Carter's wonderful 1980 record. Not that this will be about her. Far from it. But the album did have a terrific mix of New Wave, Country and Rock music - three styles that I really dig. Also I'll be writing about music in various shapes and sizes, although I'll be peeking at other topics with my semi-random ramblings...ah, observations.

And I'm not going to more about me at his moment. I thought it might be better to do piecemeal over the course of the blogs. Or maybe I'm just too sleepy to get into my life and interests at this moment.

and now I'll let you back to your lives...