Monday, December 31, 2007

Music Industry Has Lousy Year; Hopes for Boost from Early 2008 Releases

The downturn in sales of recorded music isn't going away. In fact, an article on Arstechnica reports that music sales are down 21% this Christmas season (Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve), according to Variety. The article notes that Josh Groban's "Noel" was the best-selling album of 2007.

These losses came, the article notes, as sales of videos stayed pretty much the same, and that of games registered a 5% gain.

With this bad news, it's no surprise that the music industry is hoping for a lift from new albums from established stars. An article from Billboard looks at some of the major releases slotted for early 2008. Among some of the new releases expected from heavy hitters in the industry from January through March:

  • Willie Nelson, "Moment of Forever" - January 29
  • Sarah Brightman, "Symphony" - January 29
  • Motel, "17" - January 29

  • Lil Wayne, "Tha Carter III"
  • Nas, "Nigger"
  • Ja Rule, "The Mirror"
  • Nicole Scherzinger, "Her Name Is Nicole"
  • Sheryl Crow, "Detours"
  • Lenny Kravitz, "It Is Time for a Love Revolution"
  • Anthony Hamilton, "Me"
  • Jack Johnson, "Sleep Through the Static"
  • Dolly Parton, "Backwoods Barbie"
  • Simple Plan, "Simple Plan"
  • Rick Ross, "Trilla"
  • Janet Jackson, "Discipline"
  • Erykah Badu, "Nu Amerykah"
  • Goldfrapp, "Seventh Tree"

  • Ashlee Simpson, "Bittersweet World"
  • The Offspring, TBA
  • Gavin DeGraw, TBA
  • Estelle, "Shine"
  • Alan Jackson, "Good Time"
  • Bauhaus, "Go Away White"
  • Michael McDonald, "Soul Speak"
  • Moby, "Last Night"
  • Leona Lewis, "Spirit"
  • Panic! at the Disco, TBA

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Live Music in NYC on New Year's Eve

For people who don't want to pay outrageous amounts of money for an open-bar party on New Year's Eve or, at the opposite extreme, stay home that night, there are plenty of options for the music fan in New York.

Some musicians love performing in NYC on New Year's Eve, and have made a tradition of it. Blues and roots rockers Gov't Mule are doing their usual multi-night stand at the Beacon Theatre, Dec. 28th to 31st, with different opening acts each night. Tickets cost the most on the New Year's Eve show, but that gig features three full sets of Mule.

Patti Smith and her band also perform several shows in NYC at the end of the year, Dec. 29th to 31st, at Bowery Ballroom. All three are sold out, but you can probably buy tickets from a scalper outside the hall.

Chris Rock performs at Madison Square Garden, with musical guest Jill Scott also on the bill.

Gogol Bordello brings its gypsy punk rock to Midtown's Terminal 5. Tickets are still available as of Saturday p.m., Dec. 29th.

Studio B is having a New Year's Eve party with Slick Rick the Ruler, Moby, Frankie Bones , Kudu, Holy Ghost!, Jacques Renault, The Bangers, and Eamon Harkin.

The Village Voice has a whole page full of New Year's Eve parties and events.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Podcast Review: Hit It! The Redd Kross Podcast

The McDonald clan has been one of the most prolific families in rock music over the last 20 or so years. Steven and brother Jeff have been in Redd Kross since 1980, and one or both of them have number of albums for artists including The Donnas and Imperial Teen. Redd Kross itself re-emerged to play live in 2006, and is coming out with a new album in 2008.

Hit It!: The Redd Kross Podcast features tunes by the band, of course, but includes tracks from lots of other artists as well. There are songs by some of the musicians and bands associated with Redd Kross and the McDonalds, including The Muffs and the Steve MacDonald Group. And you'll find tunes by some musicians who were part of the L.A. rock and punk scene that gave birth to Redd Kross, such as Frightwig.

In addition, the podcast includes music from the McDonald extended family: as if having Jeff and Steven in the same family wasn't enough, Steven is married to Anna Waronker (formerly of the band That Dog) and Jeff is married to Charlotte Caffey from The Go-Go's.

Episodes not only cover the band and its progeny, but explore L.A.'s emerging punk scene of the 1980s, feature live tracks from a Redd Kross concert, and includes visits from musicians including Redd Kross guitarist Robert Hecker.

I didn't know much about Redd Kross before hearing this podcast, but now I'm a fan of the band and enjoy learning about, and hearing, their various musical side projects and progeny.

Hit It! is a great way to get up to speed on the past work of Redd Kross, and to stay up to date on their present activities... including hearing a track or two from their forthcoming album.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Samantha Murphy's 2007 Compilation Podcast

As I've written here before, singer-songwriter Samantha Murphy has been producing the SMtv podcast, which features interviews and music with other performers... as if she wasn't busy enough with her own career!

She's really picked up the pace recently with eight new episodes since the end of October, and now she's come out with a compilation program that features some of the highlights from her 2007 podcasts. This compilation has some great artists on it, including Matthew Ryan, Abra Moore, Rob Giles, and Jesse Malin. I have to admit I haven't yet gotten up to date on the recent SMtv podcasts; Samantha has just been so prolific lately.

Maybe I'll start out listening to this compilation podcast and then work my way backwards to the individual episodes.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Yo La Tengo Wraps Up 8 Nights of Hanukkah

Maybe it's taken me a week to recover from the Dec. 11th Yo La Tengo show at Maxwell's, the eighth and final night of Hanukkah, and of the Hoboken band's eight-night run at the club. It's a great tradition and a great idea: each show begins with a different opening act, followed by a set by a comedian, followed by a full set from Yo La Tengo, plus some very special guests (more about that later). In addition, YLT designates a different charity (or two) to receive the proceeds from the night's ticket sales.

Though YLT has been doing these multiple Hanukkah shows for several years, this is the first year I've actually thought about the event enough in advance to snag a ticket before all the shows sold out (I bought mine at least a month before the show). It's probably been at least a decade since I've seen Yo La Tengo in concert (and it was probably at Maxwell's), and I wasn't an unabashed fan. Some of the more experimental, free-form, guitar-noise pieces grated on me, so I usually passed on seeing the band when they came around.

Their Dec. 11th was very enjoyable, though, and while it did have its moments of discordant noise, the band played a number of tunes from all phases of its career, from soft acoustic tunes to straight-ahead rockers like their cover of "Eight Day Weekend."

The young Columbus, Ohio band Times New Viking opened the show, followed by comedian David Cross recreating his "Ask a Rabbi" routine. Then came YLT. Reading Ira Kaplan's diary of the previous shows, I was marveling at some of the special guests the band had managed to get to come to the shows to perform: Redd Kross (who have a fun podcast; more about that in a later post), Alex Chilton, and The New Pornographers. I would have loved to see the latter, but I was completely satisfied with the eighth night's guest: none other than Howard Kaylan, a.k.a. Eddie of Flo & Eddie and The Turtles.

Kaylan popped up on stage to sing harmony vocals on the latter part of YLT's first encore, a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart," and then did some great rock and pop tunes, starting with The Turtles' hit "You Baby" and continuing with some Turtles and non-Turtles songs, including "She'd Rather Be with Me."

It was a great show in all, and a Yo La Tengo Hanukkah concert (at least one each year) is going to be part of my holiday season from now on.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Singer-Songwriter Dan Fogelberg, 56, Dies of Cancer

Dan Fogelberg, the popular singer-songwriter who had a string of hits in the 1970s and 1980s, died on Sunday morning, Dec. 16th, of prostate cancer. He was 56 years old and passed away at his home in Maine, with his wife present, according to a message on his Web site. Fogelberg was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004.

I've always been a fan of folk and singer-songwriters, and I liked Fogelberg's music dating back to the late '70s. Somewhere in the vast warehouse that is my apartment I still have my copy of "Nether Lands," the 1977 Fogelberg album that has songs including "Love Gone By" ... um, on cassette. (I did say that I liked him going back to the 1970s.)

Dan Fogelberg's biggest hit was the ballad "Longer," and he was also known for the tunes "The Power of Gold," "Leader of the Band," and "Illinois." "Same Old Lang Syne," his wistful tale of a chance encounter between two former lovers at Christmastime, was a top 10 hit in 1980 and has been a standard holiday-season song on the radio ever since.

You can find out about Dan Fogelberg's music, career, and life at his Web site, above. while this is a sad loss, the length of his illness allowed time for Fogelberg's many fans and colleagues to express their support.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ike Turner Has Died - Music Pioneer and Ex-Husband of Tina Turner

Ike Turner, who is best known as the husband of singer Tina Turner but was a music innovator in his own right, died December 11. He was 76 years old.

The Ike and Tina Turner Revue had a number of classic hits in the 1960s, including "River Deep, Mountain High" and "Proud Mary." Tina left Ike after being abused, and while Ike had troubles with the law and substance abuse, Tina Turner experienced a huge career revival in the 1980s beginning with her album "Private Dancer," which contained huge hits like "What's Love Got to Do With It?"

Although Ike was the quiet counterpoint to Tina's exciting showmanship on stage, he developed a reputation as an innovator and pioneer in rock. blues, and R&B. He was not only a musician and bandleader but also a talent scout and producer.

Ike and Tina Turner were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

In 2007, 35 years after Ike and Tina won a Grammy for "Proud Mary," Ike won his first solo Grammy Award, taking the Best Traditional Blues Album award for his CD "Risin with the Blues."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Led Zeppelin Reunion Concert: NME's Review and Photos

NME (New Musical Express) blogged the Led Zeppelin reunion concert live, song-by-song, and as promised they've posted a review of the show. (They claim it's the first review of the Led Zeppelin reunion show, but of course I have no way of knowing if that's true. But they did pop it out pretty damn fast.)

Here are the links to NME's Led Zeppelin reunion concert review and to their photos of the event.

Bottom line from the NME review: "If there were sceptics here tonight - there weren't but just for the sake of argument consider it - Led Zeppelin silenced them and banished any rotten memories of their shambolic Live Aid reunion."

I was a huge fan of the Led Zep in my formative years, when they were one of the biggest acts in rock. Here's hoping that this reunion concert is the start of something like a tour, if even a small one, rather than just a one-off.

Hey, when another of my childhood favorites, Cream, reunited at Royal Albert Hall they did a couple of shows at Madison Square Garden later on, and I was thrilled to attend. Maybe I'll have the same luck with the Led Zeppelin reunion.

Led Zeppelin Reunion Concert is Tonight

After a delay caused by a finger injury to Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin is ready for its delayed and much-anticipated reunion concert tonight, December 10th, at the O2 Arena.

Guitarist Jimmy Page tells the NME not to compare it to Led Zeppelin shows of the past (but how can anyone not do that?).

NME will apparently be liveblogging the show, posting song-by-song updates throughout the concert. (Link has been fixed; sorry for the bad link before.)

[UPDATE: NME has indeed provided the songs in the setlist, with commentary on how each one sounded. And they've promised to provide a review of the Led Zeppelin concert as a whole soon.]

Led Zeppelin has returned to the public consciousness in a big way recently, with this concert being discussed for months before it happened, as well as the band making all of its music available in Apple's iTunes music store.

Grammy Nominations Out; Problem Children Score Big

Being a temperamental, or downright self-destructive, artist seems to be no obstacle to racking up Grammy nominations. Kanye West, who likes to take the stage to voice his displeasure when he doesn't win, scored a total of 8 nominations for the 2008 Grammy Awards, while train wreck Amy Winehouse, who seems to see how many times and ways she can mess up her career and life, racked up 6 nominations.

I have to admit I haven't heard all of Amy Winehouse's much-praised album, “Back to Black.” The song rehab I found to be catchy upon first listening, but now I find it tiresome. I like the old-style soul sound of her CD (from what I've heard of it), but I'm not sure whether credit should go to Winehouse or to her producers and her outstanding backing band, the Dap-Kings (who are also the band for Sharon Jones, a journeywoman soul artist who gets about 5% of the attention the tattooed, drunk-and-disorderly Winehouse garners).

I'll need to look over the 2008 Grammy nominations in more detail before deciding how good a job the Grammy folks did in their picks. I was glad to see one of my favorite singers, Feist, nominated for Best New Artist (even though she came out with her third album in 2007), and to see the Albuquerque-born band The Shins nominated for Best Alternative Album.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Best CDs of 2007 ... It's That Time of Year Again

I've never really been into creating lists of the top 10 (or whatever) CDs of a given year, because any number you choose is going to be totally arbitrary. And with some years having an abundance of riches and others being pretty thin, the quality can vary widely from year to year.

So while I won't be picking a certain number of best CDs, I do offer my votes to a variety of online lists, so that the CDs I like best can be tallied in the totals. One of my favorite radio stations, New York City's WFUV (90.7 FM), lets you choose five CDs and three songs. So here's what I put down on my WFUV list, along with other favorites... keeping in mind that that the 10th CD I put on the list may be as good in my eyes as the number 5 CDs.

WFUV makes the task easier by providing a list of the CDs that game out in 2007, fallling into the station's broad category of Americana/folk/singer-songwriter category. And I have to note that although I'm a big music fan, there are many acclaimed CDs that come out each year that I just haven't heard enough of to consider them for a best-of list (or a worst-of list, for that matter).

Here's a list of some of my favorite CDs of 2007:
Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
Brandi Carlile, The Story
Bruce Springsteen, Magic
Feist, The Reminder
Jonatha Brooke, Careful What You Wish For
Kelly Willis, Translated from Love
Kim Richey, Chinese Boxes
KT Tunstall, Drastic Fantastic
New Pornographers, Challengers
Suzanne Vega, Beauty and Crime
The Donnas, Bitchin'

I'm sure I'll be adding to this list in the days to come as more CDs come to mind. What are your favorites?

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that in 2007, as in the previous two years, many of my musical discoveries were made through podcasts, from the CBC Radio 3 podcast to Morning Becomes Eclectic to the live concert downloads offered by All Songs Considered.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Podcast Review: Filmspotting Offers Movie Reviews and More

It would be easy to say that the movie review podcast Filmspotting is a thinking man's Ebert & Roeper, but that might make it seem pretentious. Rather, it's a more thoughtful, in-depth look at current movies, but with extra features for movie fans.

Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson's podcast takes the format Siskel & Ebert established many years ago--two critics with different backgrounds and opinions offering their takes on movies--and gives it a more detailed treatment, and while these two critics are considerable younger than Ebert and his co-host Roeper, they have a decent grasp of cinema history, and a good handle on film history in the last 20 years or so.

Kempenaar and Robinson discuss two or three main movies each week on the show, but the "extras" in the show are what make it really enjoyable. They usually have a "Top 5" list that ties into one of the main films under discussion (top 5 films about brothers, etc.) They also have an ongoing series of "marathons," in which they decide on a genre or subject to tackle--Westerns, silent films, documentaties, etc.--and choose a half-dozen or so films in that genre to review, considering one per week. (Following the death of Ingmar Bergman they embarked on a Bergman marathon, still in progress at this time.)

Filmspotting also includes other fun features, including "massacre theater," in which the hosts read lines of dialogue from a well-known movie and challenge listeners to identify the film, with the chance to win a DVD of their choice. Feedback from listeners is another regular feature, and Filmspotting also includes snippets of several songs from a particular independent musician each week--a good chance to discover some new or lesser-known musical talent, such as Alejandro Escovedo or Calexico.

Filmspotting is a very enjoyable podcast for movie watchers of all interests and backgrounds.

Suzanne Vega Returns to New York

Although best known to most people for her 1987 hit song “Luka,” singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega has had a long and varied career for more than 20 years. Her concert at Manhattan Center on Thursday was a great chance to see this native New Yorker performing in her hometown, playing songs from her very New York centric new album, Beauty and Crime.

In some of the new songs Vega harkens back to an earlier era in New York, and this look is also captured on the photography for the new album, and in her appearance onstage. For the entire show Vega wore a trenchcoat that would have been at home in a 1940s filim noir, with one side pulled down seductively to reveal a bare shoulder. And when playing several songs from Beauty and Crime she donned the type of old-fashioned hat you'd expect a hardened noir detective to wear.

The songs she played from Beauty and Crime talked about New York City of the past—New York is a Woman (“But not always a lady,” she noted), Edith Wharton's Figurines, Frank and Ava (about the stormy romance between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner). But one poignant number, Angel's Doorway, tells the story of an NYPD cop named Angel who worked at Ground Zero.

While Vega's early work had acoustic roots, calling her a folk singer vastly oversimplifies the many styles she's worked in over the years. She showed this range during the concert, from the remix dance-pop version of her a capella hit Tom's Diner to the clanging industrial sound of Blood Makes Noise to the jazzy bossa nova feel of Caramel.

The Manhattan Center show was a fitting example of the many styles and faces of Suzanne Vega.

Sunday, November 18, 2007's Kindle: Can it Succeed Where Other eBook Readers Have Failed?

The idea of eBooks sounds great: Download entire books to a little PDA-like device, and carry around an entire library with you to read at your leisure in one compact package. The eBook format has been hailed as the next big advance in media... except that it's never really taken off.

People just don't seem to like the idea of reading an entire book on a small computer-like screen. But now the 800-pound-gorilla of retailing,, is launching its own eBook reader, called Kindle, on Monday, November 19th. In doing so, Amazon is trying to succeed where many respected companies (including Sony) have failed.

An article from Publishers Weekly has links to several reviews of and comments about the Kindle eBook reader, including some from Newsweek, Engadget, and PW's own commentator.

Will Amazon's eBook reader succeed where others have failed? Amazon definitely has the marketing savvy and the customer-service expertise, but are they out of their comfort zone with trying to launch their own electronic device? We should find out soon, especially with Amazon's habit of ranking the sales of the items they sell.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Good News: Travis Barker is Very Much Alive

Turns out that rumor flying around cyberspace about Travis Barker dying was just that: a rumor. It's hard to tell who started it, but Barker's wife ended the speculation on Friday when she issued a statement that he was indeed alive.

Barker's wife Shanna Moakler confirmed today on her MySpace page that her husband is still alive. I haven't seen the statement, but apparently she went on to rip the rumor-mongers a new a-hole for spreading the rumor... which I fully agree with. Celebrities are always the subject of rumors, but to spread around news that someone is or may be dead with no proof at all is totally cruel and pathetic.

I posted an article to this effect at

Rock on, Travis.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What's the Story with Blink-182 Drummer Travis Barker?

The Internet has been on fire November 15th with the rumor that drummer Travis Barker of Plus-44 and Blink-182 has died. There have been some postings on a MySpace to this effect, but it's not known how legitimate the news is

Supposedly Travis Barker died while returning home from an awards party or dinner, or died shortly after arriving home. But again, nothing is known for sure at this time.

Is this a hoax? It's hard to tell, but Travis Barker turned 32 on November 14th, so it's possible that someone set up this whole story as a cruel hoax. As sick as that would be, I'm hoping that it's the case, only because it's a far more desirable outcome that having Travis Barker actually no longer with us.

If I find out any more details, I will post them here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Quarterlife": The Web-Only TV Show from the Creators of "thirtysomething"

Producers Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz have always felt out of step with the whims of the traditional TV network game, even though they've definitely had success with it. So now they're making TV show on their own terms, except that you won't find it on any TV.

The show, "Quarterlife," involves a group of people in their twenties trying to manage love, life, work, and other things while trying to figure out what to do after college. "Quarterlife" can be viewed only on the show's MySpace page.

Zwick and Herskovitz have the creative chops to attract viewers and keep them engaged. Their series "thirtysomething" captured the minds (and eyeballs) of young professionals during the late '80s and ran for several years, attracting lots of critical acclaim (and some derision) along the way.

They had mixed luck with their later TV series, gaining more critical praise and loyal audiences (but the size of those audiences was modest by major-network standards). Each of these shows—"My So-Called Life," "Relativity," and "Once and Again"—ended up being shuffled around to different times and days, which Zwick and Herskovitz feel made it tough for them to gain a steady audience.

I've always liked the work and the approach of Zwick and Herskovitz. They presented characters who felt like real people in real-life situations, not cardboard cut-outs. And they've always had some great young actors. The 15-year-old Claire Danes played 15-year-old Angela Chase in "My So-Called Life," which also starred Jared Leto in his first widespread exposure as an actor. And I seem to recall that the young Brad Pitt even played a bad-boy motorcycle boyfriend of the family's babysitter on one episode of "thirtysomething."

So I'm glad to see these two pros at work again and having more control than they've every had. With "Quarterlife," Zwick and Herskovitz are producing the show they want without having to worry about network schedules, oversight, or bottom-line issues. (In fact, "Quarterlife" was originally supposed to be a network TV show, but never got aired, as far as I know.)

And if "Quarterlife" doesn't last very long, don't feel bad for Zwick and Herskovitz. Like I said, they're definitely got creative chops and can find work: Together they have produced movies such as "Blood Diamond," "The Last Samurai," and "Legends of the Fall." And Zwick has been the director of a number of films including "Glory" and and "Courage Under Fire."

It'll be interesting to see how the "Quarterlife" experiment turns out. If it goes well, we might see other creative teams deciding to bypass the whims of network programmers and seek out their own audience on the Web. Considering the tremendous network pressure for a hit, with new shows being pulled off the air after only one episode if they don't draw an immediate audience, it might be a smart move. Or the only move.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

R.I.P. Linda Stein: Former Punk Rock Manager Murdered in NYC

Linda Stein, a key figure in punk rock history as a manager of acts like the Ramones, was murdered, the NYC medical examiner has said.

Stein's body was found in her home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan Tuesday by her daughter. Stein was formerly married to Seymour Stein, at one time the president of Sire Records, which was the original record label for bands including the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Madonna.

Stein was co-manager of the Ramones, and she's credited with bringing the Ramones to England for a July 4, 1976 show, which is often called the start of the punk rock scene in Britain.

In recent years she was a real estate agent, where she was called "Broker to the Stars" because of her many clients in the entertainment business. Her clients included Madonna and Sting.

Her profile at Prudential Elliman, the real estate company she worked for, is rather modest in referring to her previous careers, saying simply, "She taught elementary school for six years and managed rock and roll bands in the 1970's and 1980's."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wendy O. Williams Makes a Comeback..But NOT with TV's "Heroes" Cheerleader

After a lot of rumors, reported today that Hayden Panettiere, who plays the cheerleader on TV's hit show, "Heroes," will not play legendary punk-metal singer Wendy O. Williams in a new biopic about her band, The Plasmatics. The movie is said to begin filming in March 2008.

This middle-aged punk-rock fan will be glad to see Wendy O. Williams and her band are getting more exposure in front of today's music listeners. Punk rock was all about rebellion, but even in that genre The Plasmatics were pushing boundaries.

They had a large and loyal following, and were a punk rock band that could sell out concert venues that previously only more established bands were able to fill. Their music was loud and hard, and their live shows were famously audacious: Williams and the band (who often sported Mohawk haircuts) would cut guitars up with chainsaws, explode their speakers, smash TVs with sledgehammers, and on more than one occasion, bring a car on stage to blow it up.

Then there was Wendy O. Williams herself. She usually performed (and was often photographed) completely topless, with only small pieces of black electrician's tape covering the nipples to avoid censorship.

That wasn't enough to keep The Plasmatics out of trouble, though. Their wild stage act, which often included Williams simulating one or other sex act, got the band charged with numerous obscenity raps. Wendy O. Williams was arrested in Milwaukee in 1981 and was beaten after she allegedly resisted arrest.

Williams was nominated for a Grammy in 1985 for best Female Rock Vocal.
Wendy O. Williams recorded some solo albums after The Plasmatics broke up, but is said to have become increasingly unhappy with her life, and committed suicide in 1998.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Spooky Spanish Pop Music for the Day of the Dead and Halloween

UPDATE, Oct. 31st, 2014: L.A. radio station KCRW has put together a Dia de los Muertos/Halloween Playlist that you can stream on Spotify or listen to on YouTube. It includes spooky tracks from Kinky, Ozomatli, Los Carniceros Del Norte, and more. Enjoy!

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
If you're marking Halloween or the Spanish occasion Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), you might want some tasty Spanish-language pop and rock music to accompany the festivities.

Ritmo Latino, the self-styled "booty-shaking" podcast that offers a fun variety of Spanish-language tunes, has once against put together a collection of tunes for Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. Some are spooky and Halloween-themed; others touch on the Day of the Dead or just have a supernatural feel.

[UPDATE: Sadly, the Ritmo Latino podcast is no more, and the Day of the Dead music files are no longer on the Internet. However, the radio program Alt-Latino has an article with 11 scary Spanish songs for Day of the Dead (and descriptions of some spooky stories).]

Here's the Ritmo Latino playlist, if you want to track down the songs and create your own playlist:
  • Upground, "Suerte de Mi Muerte"
  • Grupo Fantasma, "Chocolate"
  • Maria Daniela y Su Sonido Lasser, "Miedo"
  • Los Peyotes, "El Humo Te Hace Mal"
  • Misterio, "Vampirella"
  • Conjunto Jardin, "La BrujaƦ
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela, "Diablo Rojo"
  • La Bruja, "BrujeriaƦ
Have fun, dance along, and don't eat too much candy corn.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mac OS 10.5 Leopard (OS X) Reviews and Info

Mac OS 10.5 Leopard came out yesterday, and there are plenty of reviewers busy kicking the tires. And they're almost unanimous in liking the experience.

Walt Mossberg, the highly respected personal technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal, has tried out Apple's new operating system and writes about it on the All Things Digital Web site. Mossberg finds that Mac OS 10.5 is "evolutionary, not revolutionary," but is faster and easier to use than Microsoft's new operating system, Vista. (No surprise there; most Windows users who've upgraded to Vista would rather be back on Windows XP.)

Mossberg offers a good overview, but if you're a tech fan who really wants to get under the hood of MacOS 10.5 Leopard, check out the detailed review from Computerworld. It looks at Leopard's new Finder, improved apps like iChat and Mail, and running Mac and Windows under Boot Camp.

Computerworld also offers an extensive photo gallery of screenshots from Mac OS 10.5 Leopard.

Friday, October 26, 2007

NJ's Own Bon Jovi Opens New Prudential Center in Newark

New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi opened the Prudential Center in Newark with the first of the band's 10 shows in the brand-new arena last night.

Tomorrow night, the NHL's New Jersey Devils will play their first game in their new permanent home. "The Rock," as the new arena is being called, will also be the home arena for the Seton Hall University basketball team (from nearby South Orange), and a team in the Major Indoor Soccer League.

For the Prudential Center, the first major sports arena built in the tri-state area in a quarter century, the Bon Jovi shows are giving a jump-start to the opening of the new center. The Prudential Center has a number of high-profile rock and pop concerts scheduled for its opening weeks, including Mary J. Blige, R.Kelly, the raised-from-the-dead Spice Girls, and two shows featuring the hottest concert ticket in the country, Hannah Montana / Miley Cyrus.

The 10-night opening stand by Bon Jovi reminds me of a similar inauguration by a Jersey artist more than a quarter-century ago, when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played multiple nights to open the new Meadowlands Arena (now to be called Izod Arena, formerly Continental Airlines Arena, formerly Brendan Byrne Arena).

Is this the long-awaited revival of downtown Newark? It may just be, with the slate of sporting events and concerts bringing a diverse crowd to the City. The Performing Arts Center, which features mostly classical music brings in a specific type of audience, as does the Newark Bears minor-league baseball team.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Free Download: Tribute to R.E.M.'s "Automatic for the People"

It makes me feel really old to admit it, but it's been 15 years since R.E.M.'s classic album "Automatic for the People" came out.
Now the music blog Stereogum is offering a tribute album to "Automatic for the People" called "Drive XV."

The free album download includes songs covered by artists including the Meat Puppets, Rogue Waves, Dr. Dog, Jana Hunter, You Say Party! We Say Die!, and the Shout Out Louds.

Did I mention, it's FREE?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bruce Springsteen Rocks the Garden in His Return to NYC

With his detours into the solo-oriented approach of "Devils and Dust" and the folky big-band sound of his Seeger Sessions project, it had been five years since Bruce Springsteen had been to New York City with a full E Street Band performance.

With his return to the City at Madison Square Garden last Wednesday night, he and the E Streeters seemed to pick up right where they left off back in 2002's tour to support "The Rising." If anything, this show was overall more uptempo and raucus than anything Bruceand the boys had done in a numberof years, due to the new album "Magic" being Springsteen's hardest-rocking effort in quite a while.

As with his last few albums, this new one considers things like getting older and looking back, and the message was brought home by watching the proceedings on stage. While Bruce and the boys still put on a high-energy two-hour show, he's definitely slowed down a bit since the tour for "The Rising." During shows on that tour he grabbed onto his mic stand and pulled himself up parallel to the stage at one point, and at another time range the length of the stage and slid on his knees. He didn't attempt either manuever this time around.

His voice doesn't have quite the same reach either. On a few songs, such as "Adam Raised a Cain," he didn't even try to hit the high notes, he just opted for a lower one.

But with his energy and enthusiasm, a good mix of the newer songs and the older ones (including a few surprises), the "Magic" tour is an essential show for any Springsteen fan who, like me, passed on seeing the Devils and Dust and Seeger Sessions performances, preferring to see The Boss in the full E Street Band configuration.

The Donnas Spend the Night at Highline Ballroom

It had been a long time since The Donnas had played New York City, but the ladies from California made up for the absence with a high-energy show at the Highline Ballroom last week.

Their new album, "Bitchin,'" has a harder edge than their last few releases, reminiscent of Joan Jett in several songs, and this rougher sound comes off great in concert, where there are no overdubs or editing, but the unvarnished sound of the crunching guitar. Speaking of that guitar, this harder sound means that Allison Robertson, the band's lone guitarist, has to be on top of her game at all times, and she was up to the challenge.

Brett Anderson's voice was in fine form, as usual. And drummer Torrey Castellano, who has had problems in the past (and maybe still does) with wrist injuries from drumming, was wailing away on the skins with abandon, oftentimes practically jumping off of her stool. She's been a very enthusiastic and active drummer every time I've seen The Donnas, but she seemed to be even more revved up this time around. I wonder if her injuries have subsided, allowing her to whack on the drums harder, and enabling the band to pursue songs with a harder edge and a more driving beat.

As expected, the setlist included a number of songs from "Bitchin'" along with a collection of tunes from their last few albums. A couple of pleasant surprises were a song from one of their early albums, "Let's Go Mano," played during their encore, and a cover of the Ratt tune "Round and Round."

The only complaint I had about this show is the same one I have of every Donnas show I've attended: the band plays the shortest sets I've ever seen in a headlining band. I've seen The Donnas four or five times now and they've never played long than an hour, and sometimes the sets are closer to 50 minutes. I had sometimes suspected maybe this was due to Castellano's injured wrists--maybe they couldn't handle much more pounding than that on any given night--but she seems to be pounding the skins pretty hard these days.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Hear New R.E.M. Song "Day Is Done," with Video

R.E.M. has a new song, "Day Is Done," and it has been made into a video that is being used to promote Anderson Cooper's CNN environmental documentary, "Planet In Peril." The video features images and film clips from the documentary with the R.E.M. song playing in the background

You can hear the song and view the video of the song with the documentary images here.

"Day Is Done" will be on the new R.E.M. album, which will be coming out in 2008.

Radiohead "In Rainbows" Download Goes Off On Schedule

As everyone in the world now knows, Radiohead decided to offer its new album, "In Rainbows," exclusively on through its Web site on a pay-what-you-want download. Meaning that it could be a free download if you choose to pay nothing.

Well, Radiohead was true to its word: it said the download of "In Rainbows" would begin on Oct. 10th, and those who ordered the new album online did indeed receive an email from the band this morning saying that the album was ready for download.

I ordered the album and received the download email the morning of the 10th. Downloaded the zipped filed took a few minutes, then I unzipped the file and found myself with 10 brand-new Radiohead tunes on DRM-free MP3.

"In Rainbows" is still available for free download, or paid download, at

At Radiohead's Web site you can find information on Radiohead tour dates, announcements, links to other Radiohead sites, and more.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Free Concert Downloads by Some of Today's Top Rock Artists

NPR's All Songs Considered podcast has always been a good podcast for introducing new albums by current and emerging artists. Most of the artists fall into some area of the rock genre, but the program also covers world music, jazz, and otherThe show also presents periodic live shows, but lately the podcast has been busting out by offering a lot of great live shows, almost all of them available as free MP3 downloads.

Since July All Songs Considered has offered free downloads of full concerts by everyone from British rockers Travis to gypsy punk outfit Gogol Bordello to '70s rock pioneer Nick Lowe, indie pop band The Apples in Stereo, alt rockers Rilo Kiley, and folk artist Iron and Wine.

The last few months have also seen concert downloads by The Polyphonic Spree, African star Femi Kuti, Okkervil River, John Vanderslice, and the duo of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who perform under the name The Swell Season. If the names of Hansard and Irglova are familiar, it's because they're the musician-stars of the well-reviewed movie Once, about musicians busking on the streets of Dublin.

On the Web site you'll find past concerts you can stream from artists such as the the White Stripes, the New Pornographers, Modest Mouse, Lilly Allen, Arcade Fire, and Regina Spektor.

Of course, the show is enjoyable and informative even when it's not providing free concert downloads. Host Bob Boilen discusses new albums and plays excerpts or full songs by the artists, and when the show doesn't have rights to play the full songs, you can stream them from the All Songs Considered Web site.

Besides the free downloads I've mentioned here, there are many other past concerts listed on the Web site. Some you can download, others are available only for streaming.

For listeners with a somewhat eclectic taste in rock and other current music, All Songs Considered is a great resource for hearing extended offering by a wide range of artists.

Monday, October 08, 2007

CMJ Music Marathon Ready to Descend Upon NYC

If you're an indie music fan, you'd better start catching up on your sleep now. From October 16th to 20th the annual CMJ Music Marathon is coming to town, cramming about a month's worth or regular concertgoing into five days.

I couldn't even begin to name the many bands, from Eisley and Mates of State to British Sea Power, ....And They Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Band of Horses, M.I.A., St Vincent, the Meat Puppets, Funky Homosapien, and many more. I think there are upwards of 100 performers playing out during the Marathon. See the Web site for details on who's playing where, and to stream songs from some of the artists.

To try to make sense of it all, and find the shows that you most want to see, the site includes pull-down menus that let you display the showcases by date, by band, or by venue. Brooklyn Vegan, probably the best NYC music blog, will undoubtedly have extensive coverage of CMJ that you'll want to check out (in addition to sponsoring a few showcases of its own at the Marathon).

Also, the good folks at Flavorpill have put together a handy guide to what they consider the best picks at CMJ. If you see something that interests you, pounce. Most of the shows are in small venues and some have already sold out.

Rest up, everyone.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Verizon LG Voyager Cell Phone: Reviews, Photos, More

OK, this isn't specifically podcast related, but since lots of people are opting for cell phones that play audio and video content, I thought the subject was appropriate.

The LG Voyager cell phone from Verizon was designed to take on Apple's iPhone. It's got a large touch screen on the outside, then opens up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. How does it look and work, and is it really an iPhone killer? Here are some sites to find pics and more...

* Tech blog Electronista reviews the LG Voyager and how it stacks up against similar cell phones and multifunction devices

* You'll find nearly 20 photos of the LG Voyager in this gallery from tech blog Gizmodo

* The Voyager isn't the only hot new cell phone from Verizon; Engadget Mobile looks at the Samsung Juke, Blackberry Pearl, and the LG Venus and LG Voyager

* How does the LG Voyager compare with these other new LG cell phone models? CNNMoney compares different models and which one might be best to give (or get) this holiday season.

Official names of the products: Verizon LG VX10000 Voyager; Verizon LG VX8800 Venus; Verizon Samsung U470; Blackberry Pearl 8130

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Bongos Reunion: Drums (and Guitars) Along the Hudson

James Mastro (left) and Richard Barone (right) of The Bongos

Back in the early '80s, Hoboken, New Jersey gave birth to a thriving alternative rock scene epitomized by The Bongos. Though lead singer and guitarist Richard Barone and guitarist James Mastro have both continued music careers since then, The Bongos have not performed more than a few shows together since they broke up 20 years ago.

They had a rousing reunion yesterday as the headliners of the Hoboken Music and Arts Festival, which also featured sets by other New Jersey artists from the same era. The Bongos' set was preceded by The Health and Happiness Show, Mastro's 1980s roots-rock ensemble; Glenn Mercer, leader of The Feelies, the much-loved and acclaimed late '70s/'early '80s band from Haledon, NJ; and Chris Stamey, former frontman for The dB's.

The Bongos sounded like they picked up right where they left off: they played a tight set of their old tunes, including most of their Drums Along the Hudson album. The reunion timing was uncanny: this summer saw the issuing of a remastered, expanded version of the CD, including live tracks from a concert in London and the first recorded Bongos show... and even a 2007 remix of the song "Bulrushes" by Moby.

Before beginning their set, The Bongos were presented with a proclamation by the mayor of Hoboken. While I couldn't hear the whole thing--I'm not sure if they proclaimed Sept 30th "Bongos Day" or something--it was great to see them getting this recognition from the city that was their home base. And judging from the amount of gray-haired folks I saw standing in the front of the audience, I'm not the only person in the crowd who remembers The Bongos from their heyday at Maxwell's more than 20 years ago.

Seeing the sets at the Festival reminded me of just how much I enjoyed these bands in the past, and still do. Creative, inventive pop with catchy hooks galore. Some music from that era sounds dated and I can't listen to it anymore. I bought the new version of "Drums Along the Hudson" at Tunes, the local record store, while walking home from the festival, and it still sounds good.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007 Starts MP3 Store: Cheaper than iTunes is the latest challenger to Apple's iTunes store, announcing that it has started its "Amazon MP3" service that sells songs and albums for less than iTunes... and without digital rights management (DRM) restrictions.

That means that the songs you download from Amazon can be copied and played on any music player, and copied as many times to as many devices as you want.

Single songs will sell for 89 cents and up; albums range from $5.99 to $8.99. On iTunes songs sell for 99 cents, with albums going for $9.99 and up. You can buy DRM-free songs from iTunes, but it'll cost you $1.29.

Amazon MP3 doesn't have nearly as large a selection as the iTunes store, however. Of the music mega-giants, Sony BMG and Warner Music are not offering any titles on Amazon's store; Universal and EMI are offering only certain titles.

The home page of Amazon MP3 lists the top-selling songs and albums, giving you an idea of the digital downloads that are available.

With its extensive market reach and marketing power, Amazon MP3 may become a true competitor for the iTunes Store.

Monday, September 24, 2007

And the Polaris Prize Goes to...

Patrick Watson! For the second year in a row, the Polaris panel Monday night passed over a number of high-profile, commercially successful critical darlings in favor of a lesser-known figure. Last year's inaugural prize went to young singer and violinist Final Fantasy.

I have to admit, of all of this year's nominees Patrick Watson is the least well-known to me. In fact, I can't recall that I've heard any of his music, though if it's been featured on the CBC Radio 3 podcast, then it probably has crossed my ears, even if it hasn't registered in my brain.

The Polaris Prize was established to recognize what the judges felt was the most talented Canadian independent artists, regardless of commercial success or record sales, so in a way choices like Final Fantasy and Patrick Watson aren't totally unexpected.

Now I'll have to make sure I hear some Patrick Watson and see what the hubbub is all about.

Polaris Music Prize to be Awarded Tonight

The best in Canadian indie music will be recognized tonight when the Polaris Music Prize is awarded tonight in Toronto. CBC Radio host Grant Lawrence, who also hosts the CBC Radio 3 podcast, will be host (wonder if the wacky emcee will play it straight, or if he will have any humorous tricks up his sleeve?)

The Polaris Music Prize is a pretty simple, straightforward affair; there's just one prize, for best album. And the 2007 nominees are:

  • Neon Bible, Arcade Fire
  • The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse, The Besnard Lakes
  • Gang of Losers, The Dears
  • Woke Myself Up, Julie Doiron
  • So This Is Goodbye, Junior Boys
  • The Reminder, Feist
  • Five Roses, Miracle Fortress
  • Ashtray Rock, the Joel Plaskett Emergency
  • Skelliconnection, Chad Vangaalen
  • Close to Paradise, Patrick Watson

Lots of good CDs in the list, and I'm a fan of a number of these artists. But having seen Feist live in person and listening to her new CD over and over this year, I'm pulling for The Reminder. (I wrote about Feist in a previous post.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Meltdown Podcast Full of Catchy Rock Tunes

For a guy only in his early twenties, Phil Coyne has a lot of experience in music and podcasting. The Meltdown Podcast is his latest effort, and features catchy rock songs from variety of artists, often British (as is Coyne) but also from the U.S. and elsewhere.

I first heard of Coyne through Bitjobs for the Masses, his previous podcast, which concentrated on indie rock, often with a punk element. In the summer of 2007 Coyne changed the name of the show to The Meltdown, and broadened its focus to indie music of all styles. Blog entries state that he originally intended to have three regular Meltdown podcasts per week, each focusing on different types of music: one of his blog posts says he intended to have it feature "punk, funk, ska, blues, pop, metal, dance and everything in between." But it sounds like that plan has been derailed by a number of illnesses in Coyne's family and just the one Meltdown show has been available, with a hiatus in between episodes.

Coyne has been podcasting for more than two years and has also been involved in music booking and computer geekery. Here's hoping that he'll be able to achieve his vision for the Meltdown podcast(s).

Sunday, September 09, 2007

CD Sales Down... How Accurate are Those Numbers?

We've all heard the statistics over over the last few about CD sales plummeting, largely due to music downloading (mostly illegal ones). Everyone seems to assume those stats are accurate and that the sale of recorded music is a business permanently in decline.

But I heard an podcast recently that made me question these stats and some of the assumptions behind them. Namely, who conducted the research, what channels of CD sales did they measure (and which did they not cover), and how much of recorded music sales do they actually cover?

The LiveWire podcast from Portland, Oregon featured an interview with Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby, the successful online seller of indie artist CDs. I first heard of CD Baby about eight years ago when I noticed that a number of my favorite folk/Americana artists were selling their albums there.

Sivers said that contrary to the doom and gloom figures about declining CD sales, sales of independent music CD were actually up 60% or so over the last few years, I believe. So are the doom-and-gloom figures reported over the last few years only measuring CDs from major labels and not indie outfits? Do they cover only major bricks-and-mortar outlets and big online sellers like Wal-Mart and

The discrepancy between the much-quoted stats and Sivers's figures make me wonder. After all, music sales charts rely on SoundScan, which is known to count sales from certain outlets and is accepted to exclude other channels.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Podcast News: New iPods, "Quick and Dirty" Podcasts

Apple Refreshes, Revamps iPods:
The big podcasting news this week was Apple Inc.'s announcement of new and rejiggered products in its market-leading iPod media player line. In brief:

* The Nano has been reconfigured into more of a square shape to accommodate the viewing of video, the first time that's been possible with that model.
* The traditional hard-drive iPod is now called iPod Classic, with a larger storage capacity (up to 160GB).
* A totally new iPod, the iPod Touch, combines the features and user interface of the new iPhone with iPod media playing functions. Basically, it's an iPhone without the phone. It's flash-based, which limits storage capacity (going only as high as 16GB).

If you're interested in buying an iPod, which should you get? Fortunately, there's a handy column on iPod Observer that explains the pros and cons of each option.

Publisher Seek Profits on "Quick and Dirty" Podcasts:
Publishers Weekly has noted that publisher Holtzbrinck has launched a network of downloadable audio clips called Quick and Dirty Tips, based on the ever-growing "Quick and Dirty" series of podcasts. (I've reviewed two of the Q&D podcasts here, those by Grammar Girl and Money Girl.)

PW notes that Holtzbrinck's move is the first time a publisher has tried to establish a money making podcast business. It says that the site,, will get revenue from online ads and content licensing agreements. The arrangement arose because of the publisher's relationship with Mignon Fogarty, a.k.a. Grammar Girl, who has a book coming out with the publisher, "The Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Clean Up Your Writing."

The Quick and Dirty site was launched this week with five other podcasters, PW says.

Monday, September 03, 2007

NoisePop Podcast: 10 Free Indie Songs Each Episode

One of my new favorite music podcasts is the NoisePop New Music Podcast, produced by radio station KQED in San Francisco. Each month is offers a generous assortment of 10 full tracks from independent artists, with a minimum of chatter in between.

The August edition features songs from the popular Welsh indie pop band Los Campesinos, Canadian indie rockers Stars, and more. Previous programs have featured quality acts including Mary Timony, John Vanderslice, DNTEL (featuring Jimmy Tamborello of the Postal Service), the French Kicks, and more. You get the idea.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Tartanpodcast Closes Up Shop

When I first got into listening to podcasts a few years back, Mark Hunter's Tartanpodcast was one of the first that I heard and subscribed to. Hunter's mission was to play what he considered the best in independant music written, played, and produced in Scotland. Sadly (for listeners, anyway) Hunter has decided to end the show.

The Tartanpodcast was clearly a labor of love, and Hunter managed to produce it weekly (as well as a more international podcast, the Mellow Monday Show) pretty much every week. Obviously, it was a lot of work to do the shows, in addition to holding down a full-time job and being a family man. Hunter is continuing to produce the Mellow Monday Show, with a different host.

Here's the comment I posted on Mark Hunter's blog after hearing that the Tartanpodcast had come to an end.

"Mark, I’ve enjoyed the podcast immensely almost since the beginning, so I’m sorry to see it end. But I can understand your reasons. A podcast is very demanding to create and produce. And even in a place as musically rich as Scotland, there’s only so much good-quality music to enable a weekly show to be produced, without repeating the same songs and artists over and over.
I hope you’ll consider doing an occasional Tartanpodcast once in a while, when the mood moves you and when you find you’ve accumulated enough new music that you find you’re excited about. Glad to hear Mellow Monday is continuing.
Thanks for all the great music!"

You can still listen to and download Tartanpodcast episodes here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Midtown NYC Gets New Live Rock Venue

Amid all the bad news about live rock music venues in New York City closing down, here's a bit of good news: a new concert space that holds 3,000 is set to open in midtown in October.

Terminal 5, as it will be called, is run by Bowery Presents, the same organization that puts on shows at Bowery Ballroom and Webster Hall, and is behind the recently opened Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Bowery Presents says that Terminal 5 (formerly the Exit dance club) is "the largest midtown venue to open in more than ten years."

Terminal 5 will be at 610 West 56th Street between 11th and 12th Aves.

So who's playing there? I got an email from Bowery Presents that mentions a number of shows at all their venues, including Terminal 5. Here's the "starting lineup" of live gigs for the latter:

11: The National
19: M.I.A.
20: Justice
23-24: The Shins with Vetiver

1-2: The Decemberists
23: State Radio with The Beautiful Girls
30 - 12/1: Ween

Tickets for these shows will go on sale this Friday, August 17th or the next day at Ticketmaster. (I'm assuming you can also buy them at the Mercury Lounge, 214 E. Houston Street, but check the Bowery Presents Web site (below) for details.

Sounds like Terminal 5 will get off to a great start with that slate of shows. It's always good to have more live rock concert locations in the City... especially in places that are near mass transit or at least a short cab ride away.

Bowery Presents Web site:

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Thermals Heat Up Maxwell's

Portland, Oregon's The Thermals rocked a sellout show at Maxwell's in Hoboken Friday night, August 10th, even sparking a minor mosh pit at a couple of points. (This can be a somewhat unsettling event in a small room that holds only a couple hundred people.)

The trio, which calls its music "post-pop-punk," put on a set of relentlessly loud, fast, catchy tunes, including "Here's Your Future, "A Stare Like Yours," and "Pillar of Salt." The band's Web site says "The Thermals are well known for their joyously punishing live shows," and after seeing them, it's hard to disagree.

The combination of Hutch Harris (guitar and vocals), Kathy Foster (bass), and Lorin Coleman (drums) make a wonderfully tuneful racket. While it's not always easy to catch what Harris is singing, there's often a sharp-edged commentary on the world and society. The band's Web site says that their latest full-length, "The Body, The Blood, The Machine" (produced by Brendan Canty of Fugazi), is about "a young couple who must flee a United States governed by fascist faux-Christians." A couple of times Harris held up his guitar to show the crowd a message pasted on it that seemed to say "This machine kills fascists" — the same phrase that Woody Guthrie had written on his folk guitar.

As a big fan of music podcasts, I must note that it was podcasts where I first heard of The Thermals and their music. The IndieFeed podcasts, which feature daily downloads of one free track accompanied by a bit of description about the artist, introduced me to "Here's Your Future," I heard "A Stare Like Yours" on the defunct Free Radio Sub Pop, and a video podcast I used to follow featured a live performance of "Pillar of Salt."

After their show at Maxwell's, The Thermals are playing to a much bigger crowd today at Brooklyn's McCarren Park Pool, on a bill with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. That show should pack in about five or six thousand people, and should win The Thermals some new fans.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Get Concert Dates with a Free iTunes Plug-In

Here's a great idea... this free download surveys the artists in your iTunes Library and shows you, in iTunes, when they're coming into your town (and other towns too, if you're traveling).

This personalized calendar is called iConcertCal, is available for both Windows and Mac OS X, and supports worldwide searches.

The recently released Version 2.0 provides a calendar of upcoming album release dates for artists in your library, links to pre-order upcoming albums, calendar sharing with friends, highlighting of shows you're most interested in.

I like it and find it pretty useful. I'd find it even more useful if I used it more often, but I keep forgetting it's there.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Reunited Squeeze Delights New York Audience

From Rage Against the Machine to The Police, this has been one of the biggest years for rock-band reunions in some time. This is not always a good thing, of course, but in the case of Squeeze it worked well.

Last night at New York City's Beacon Theater they played an hour and a half set that kicked off with "Take Me, I'm Yours" and briskly browsed through the band's most popular tunes. Consisting of originals Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, John Bentley on bass (who was with the band in the early '80s, and players from Tilbrook's touring band on keyboards and drums, Squeeze seemed to be genuinely enjoying the reunion concert.

The one complaint I had (or maybe it's more than one) was that the show was maybe a little too brisk. There was minimal chatter with the audience, and when one song ended the band launched right into the next one. And since most Squeeze songs are quite short, the tunes just flew by, which brings up another thing: I'd wished the band would have expanded some of their songs, playing longer solos or adding new elements. Basically the songs sounded just as they did on the original LPs (yes, Squeeze's heyday was back in the age of vinyl).

But it was definitely an enjoyable show, and the rest of the crowd was eating it up. And unlike many concerts I've been to with bands from the '70s or '80s, in which the audience was full of gray-haired baby boomers, this one had a large number of people in their 20s or 30s. I guess Squeeze's brand of bright uptempo pop has a lot of fans among the younger generations.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Michelle Shocked, Toshi Reagon in Free New York Show

The free summer concerts just a-keep on comin' in New York City. Last night Korn gave a free show at South Street Seaport; tonight the legendary Mavis Staples performs downtown as well, and there's more.

The folks at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater have just announced some free shows (and for-pay ones) at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, home of the Shakespeare in the Park festival (complete schedule). A free concert on Friday, Sept. 28 will feature Michelle Shocked, 
Toshi Reagon & BIGLovely, and John Boutte. And the week before the series will feature a 40th anniversary concert of the groundbreaking musical "Hair," which included a lot of great music.

Here are some of the shows that are NOT free, but sound good nonetheless:
Lesley Gore, Jill Sobule, and The New Standards 

Patty Griffin, Allen Toussaint, and the CMA Songwriters Series 

Beirut, Balkan Beat Box, and NY Gypsy All-Stars 
Presented in association with The NY Gypsy Festival 

The Delacorte Theater is a beautiful venue for concerts; I saw a fantastic show there a few years ago featuring Jonatha Brooke and Suzanne Vega. I'm definitely going to try to go to a couple of the shows above.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Record Labels Try MySpace, Other Sites to Sell Music

Record labels are desparate to recover some of the money lost to lower CD sales, and one option they're checking out is selling tunes through social networking sites. An article today in iPod Observer looks at how the labels are seeking options to compete with iTunes, which they have long complained charges too low a price (99 cents per track)... and of course, iTunes takes a cut out of that amount.

One leading choice for the record labels, the story notes, as been SnoCap, which runs a service on musicians' MySpace pages. I've seen these SnoCap "MyStore" options on more and more MySpace pages, and I recently bought a new single from The Donnas via SnoCap. When it first appeared on the band's MySpace page, the SnoCap store didn't work. Clicking on buttons for "register" and "buy" didn't take me anywhere. A few weeks after that I tried it again and, presto, it worked flawlessly, and I had The Donnas' latest single for 99 cents. The tracks are in MP3 format, so they'll play on iPods and just about any other music player.

I'm all for SnoCap and similar ventures, especially if they mean more of my payment goes to the artist (which I'm not sure about).

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Jonatha Brooke Rocks Weehawken Waterfront

Though it's accurate to call Jonatha Brooke a singer-songwriter, the term doesn't really do justice to her. Though she usually plays acoustic guitar on stage, she can rock out (and often does) on her CDs and especially in her concert appearances, as with her free performance on the Weehawken, New Jersey waterfront Wednesday night.

Brooke became known in the 1980s as part of the acclaimed folk-pop duo The Story (with Jennifer Kimball), which featured innovative variations on the tradition pop song. Brooke has been forging her own solo career over the course of more than a half-dozen albums. She puts on a great show, especially with her tight four-piece band. Catch her on tour if you can.... here is her upcoming schedule of U.S. gigs (all dates, including European shows, can be found at her Web site (above):

The Stephen Talkhouse / Amagansett, NY
08/02/2007, 8:00 PM / Band

Ridgefield Playhouse / Ridgefield, CT
08/03/2007, 8:00 PM / Band

Foy Hall - Moravian College / Bethlehem, PA
08/04/2007 / Solo

Copley Square / Boston, MA
08/16/2007, 5:00 PM / FREE!

U. Of Hartford, Millard Auditorium / Hartford, CT
09/07/2007, 7:30pm

Belcourt Theater / Nashville, TN
10/26/2007, 8:00 PM / Band

Varsity Theater / Minneapolis, MN
10/27/2007, 7:00 PM / Solo

The Tangier Cabaret / Akron, OH
11/03/2007, 9:00 PM / Solo

Lyric Theatre / Stuart, FL
11/04/2007, 8:00 PM / Solo

Tampa Bay Peforming Arts Center / Tampa, FL
11/05/2007, 7:30PM

Sellersville Theater 1894 / Sellersville, PA
11/10/2007, 8:00 PM

Rams Head / Annapolis, MD
11/14/2007, 8:00 PM

Barns at Wolftrap / Vienna, VA
11/15/2007, 8:00 PM

Rubin Museum of Art / New York, NY
11/16/2007, 'Naked Soul' acoustic un-amplified series

Tupelo Music Hall / Londonderry , NH
11/17/2007, 7:00 PM & 9:15 PM / Solo

Stone Mountain Arts Center / Brownfield, ME
11/18/2007, 8:00 PM / Solo

Joni Mitchell Signs With Starbucks' Record Label

In another sign that conventional music labels are seen as inflexible and out of step with the times, legendary singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell has signed with the new record label started by the Starbucks coffee house chain.

Mtichell becomes the second high-profile artist to have recently signed with Hear Music, the label that Starbucks and Concord Music Group formed. Paul McCartney's latest album, "Memory Almost Full," was released on the new label.

McCartney was said to be unhappy with the sales of his last few CDs (which were on a major label), and so was willing to give the upstart Hear Music label a try. "Memory Almost Full," which came out last month, has been McCartney's bestselling CD in years. Starbucks says that the disc has sold nearly 450.000 copies, and that 45% of those sales have come in Starbucks stores.

Mitchell's new CD, "Shine," is to be released on September 25th and will be her first new album of new compositions in almost a decade.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Podcasters Seek System for Using Ads

Nobody likes to hear ads on podcasts, but let's face it, ads can give podcasters the income they need to get a return on the time and money they spend on podcasting.

An article in today's New York Times examined some initiatives to help standardize and track ads on podcasts, so advertisers can get a better idea of how much exposure their ads are getting. This in turn will give advertisers more of a reason to place ads on podcasts, and thus bring more income to podcasters, so they can keep doing podcasting. (It's always sad to see a good podcaster stop because he or she couldn't keep spending the time and money to produce their program while holding down a regular job.)

Several developments are in the offing, including improvements in delivering and tracking ads, and the formation of a new industry group, the Association for Downloadable Media, which seeks to "help executives improve methods for creating, distributing, and tracking advertisements in podcasts." About 15 organizations are said to be in the new group, including Apple Inc. and National Public Radio (NPR), which produces dozens of podcasts based on its programming.

Podcasting, and advertising, has a lot of room to grow, as the article points out: only a little more than 10% of all Internet users have listened to a podcast, and the amoutn of money spent on advertising on podcasts was only $80 million last year, a research firm reported.

Let's hope these initiatives mean a long future for podcasting, and some remuneration for podcasters for all the hard work they put into creating their programs.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Podcasts to Satisfy Your Harry Potter Fix

In honor of the publication of the final Harry Potter novel, and the release of the latest movie, it's time to look at some of the podcasts out there devoted to the fabulously wealthy boy wizard.

I haven't listened to these, but they are the best-reviewed ones I'm aware of (and the first couple have won awards):
* Pottercast, hosted by the popular Harry Potter fan site The Leaky Cauldron
* Mugglecast, hosted by the creators of Mugglenet
* Hog's Head Pubcast, from the creator of the Web site Sword of Gryffindor
* Snapecast, dedicated soley to the menacing Hogwarts professor Severus Snape--"All Snape, all the time"
* Spinnerscast, whose slogan is "Lighter talk on darker matters"

You can find these and others by doing a search for "Harry Potter" in iTunes or other podcast programs.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry Potter, Boy Wizard, is King of All Media

A few facts and tidbits about the Harry Potter-mania, building toward a crescendo this weekend:

* says it has received 1,383,311 pre-orders for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as of 7pm Wednesday night.

* In addition, Amazon has named Falls Church, Virginia as the "Harry-est town" in the U.S.: it has bought more copies of Deathly Hallows per capita than any other town in America. It lists the "Harry-est" state as District of Columbia (even though it's not a state). (The five top actual states are: Vermont, Utah, Washington, Massachusetts, and Maine.)

* While it might not be the "Harry-est" town in America, Crawfordsville, Indiana may be the country's Harry Potter Central. It's rumored that that's where the book is being printed. Employees of the RR Donnelley & Sons printing plant have been instructed not to comfirm or deny questions about whether Harry Potter is indeed in the house.

* The film of the fifth Harry Potter book, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," has pulled in more than $159 million dollars... in just seven days.

* Lots of bookstores and other places are holding Harry Potter parties on Friday night going into the wee hours. (My almost-17-year-old niece in New Mexico will be one of them.) Perhaps the biggest one will be in New York City, where a block-long street fair will be held in front of the headquarters of Scholastic, Inc., Harry Potter's publisher, in trendy Soho. The party goes from 5 to 11 pm.

With all those late-night Harry Potter parties taking place Friday, be prepared to run into a lot of bleary-eyed young people stumbling around on Saturday. And if there's a teenager behind the counter at your local coffeeshop or convenience store, be sure to count your change twice.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Elvis Costello Podcast Looks at his First 10 Years

A number of musicians have created their own podcasts, and now Elvis Costello has joined in. As its title suggests, "The First Ten Years" takes us back to Costello's early days in the music business.

So far there are only five episodes, each about 8 minutes or so, but they are a good start. Costello talks about the music he listened to as a child, his musical influences, the recording of his first album "My Aim is True", the origins of the song "Allison," meeting Nick Lowe, and even how he chose his name.

It's not clear how many episodes there will be in this podcast, but there seems to be enough events in Costello's first 10 years for quite a few more episodes. Such podcasts can suffer premature deaths, however, if funding runs out or the producers or artists find themselves without sufficient time, interest, or momentum to continue the project.

Oldies Are Back in NYC Radio as Jack Hits the Road

It wasn't too many years ago that radio programmers thought that the "Jack" or "Bob" music format would be the magic bullet that would lift sagging ratings. The format, which often calls itself an iPod replacement (playing many types of pop hits without regard for genre or continuity between songs) and sometimes replaced human DJs, has succeeded in some markets but suffered a big blow in the Big Apple.

Just two years after Jack FM replaced beloved oldies station WCBS-FM at 101.1 on the radio dial, the station announced it was booting Jack and returning to the previous oldies programming. The change took place last Thursday, July 12, amid jubilation from some of the returning DJs and many messages of support received from fans (and from the likes of Franki Valli and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys).

The new WCBS-FM has more of a focus on newer music than the old version. While the original station played tunes from the 1950s through the 1970s, the latest incarnation covers the 1960s through the 1980s (but not the entire decade; it seems to play music as late as 1985 or so).

While I sometimes listened to Jack FM, I'm glad to have WCBS-FM back.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Jesse Malin, Eleni Mandell, and More on SMtv Podcast

When I reviewed singer-songwriter Samantha Murphy's SMtv podcast recently, I mentioned that she hadn't had a new episode up in recent months. Either she'd been very busy producing new episodes since then or was motivated by my comment (not likely), because in the last couple of weeks she's put up not one but three new SMtv epi's.

The first is with Jesse Malin, a New York-based punk rocker turned singer-songwriter who I've been a fan of for several years now. His new CD Glitter in the Gutter is getting some welcome attention because of a duet Malin does with Bruce Springsteen on one of the tunes.

The next episode features Eleni Mandell, who I also like. Can't wait to listen to this episode as well. The most recent SMtv program features Mere Mortals, a band I haven't heard of. But Murphy has a great ear for good new talent, so I'm curious to hear this program also.

You can listen to Samantha Murphy's SMTV podcast or subscribe to it.

CD Sales Still Down, But Vinyl Rebounds

CD sales continue to fall, but there's actually a small bit of good news for the recording industry: people are buying more music in vinyl. Yes, you read that correctly, vinyl.

You would have thought that downloads killed the music star, but an article in the July 16 Guardian newspaper in the U.K. says that young music listeners have sparked a revival of the vinyl record. Sales have increased notably in the first half of 2007, and the boost is coming not from older listeners but from young music fans, many of them buying 7-inch singles.

The article says that two-thirds of all singles in the United Kingdom now are issued in the 7-inch format, with sales coming in at more than one million. The White Stripes' Icky Thump is the best seller.

Buyers apparently like the idea of having tangible copies of their music, rather than just a collection of thousands of songs on a hard drive, while music companies are attracted by putting out limited numbers of vinyl recordings that quickly become valuable collectors' items.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

American Uprising Tour Brings Hardcore Rock to 50 Cities

As a middle-aged guy I haven't really been familiar with the rock genres known as emo and hardcore. Yes, my friends consider me somewhat hip because I listen to a lot of obscure alternative bands, but I got a taste of something new when I chaperoned by 16-year-old niece to a show in the American Uprising tour, a barnstorming series of shows featuring young, up-and-coming hardcore rock bands.

Finding the venue in Milford, New Hampshire wasn't easy, because the concert was held in a Knights of Columbus hall set back from the street, with only a small sign identifying it. As for the half dozen bands on the bill, they reminded me of some early punk, some old hard rock, and pioneers such as Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins. The was basically hard rock (one band's riffs reminded me of Deep Purple), but the vocal style was what was distintive. Though it's often called "screamo," the vocals are actually in more of a low gutteral growl.

Most of the bands were far from home--one from Chicago, a couple of bands from Cincinnati, and a couple from California, including Sacramento-based Catherine and headliner Winds of Plague from Los Angeles. Also on the bill were Born of Osiris, Beneath the Sky, and At The Throne of Judgment.

I'm sure at least some of these bands are featured on podcasts somewhere, and I'll include links to those if I find them. I thought some might have been played on Martina Butler's Emo Girl Talk pocast, but these are not emo, I guess (I'm still not sure of the exact distinctions between the two).

The vocal style wasn't really my taste, and I probably wouldn't be too enthused about listening to the bands on CD or radio. But hearing them live and up close--literally from a couple of feet away, in most cases--made this an exciting show.

The American Uprising tour is still out on the road. It's a loud, high-energy show, so make sure you bring your earplugs.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Podcast 411: Meet the People Behind the Mic

As you'd guess from its name, Podcast 411 gives you information and links on many different podcasts. You can find these details other places, of course, but what I like about the site is that it also features interviews with many of podcasters.

If I like a podcast I'm interested to know how the host got started, how they became interested in podcasting, whether they had any experience in radio, etc. Naturally most good podcasters keep their shows focused on the content and don't often talk about themselves... unless it's one of those highly personal podcasts (which I tend not to listen to).

Among the other features you'll find at Podcast 411:
* the Podcast 411 blog
* directory of podcasts
* instructions on how to get podcasts
* details on how to learn to podcast
* podcasting software
* sites about podcasting (for podcasters)

I'm always on the lookout for new podcasts to listen to and review, so I'll be heading back to Podcast 411 in a few days to find new shows and listen to some of the interviews with my favorite podcasters.

O Canada Day ... Saluting the True North

While preparing to celebrate the Fourth of July, many people in the USA are probably unaware that our neighbors to the north will be observing their own independence day.

July 1st is Canada Day, and as anyone who reads this blog knows, I'm a big fan of Canadian music and especially, appropriately enough for this time of year, independent Canadian artists. There are always a few concerts in New York City featuring Canadian artists to celebrate the holiday, and I usually try to make it to one of them. The shows are sponsored by the Canadian Consulate in New York (which cleverly calls itself the "Upper North Side") to help give a taste of Canadian music to U.S. residents and ex-pat Canadians.

For those unfamiliar with Canadian contributions to music and other entertainment, here's a brief recap of some of the brighter stars of the True North:

Music: besides indie artists like Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, and The New Pornographers, also hailing from up north are Neil Young, the Guess Who, Diana Krall, Leonard Cohen, Shania Twain, and Joni Mitchell, among many others

Comedy and TV: lots of Saturday Night Live alums, including Phil Hartman, Dan Akroyd, Mike Myers, and John Candy, as well as Jim Carrey, Tom Green, and Leslie Nielsen

Movies: prolific director Norman Jewison and horror master David Cronenberg

Sports: I was a hockey fan as a kid, back when 90% of NHL players were Canadian. 'Nuff said.

And of course, I've got friends and acquaintances up north. One of my blogging buddies, Kim D, has several children but nevertheless seems to be one of the most busiest bloggers in North America. She writes at least three blogs that I know of, including a great-looking new one, and did more than five posts on one of them in one day. That's more than I typically write in a week.

And, if you've got a hankering for some fresh Canadian rock music, go to the CBC Radio 3 Web site and check out their podcasts. There's the CBC Radio 3 program with Grant Lawrence, the R3 30 countdown, and the Song of the Day.

So happy Canada Day to all the great entertainers from the North part of North America. I'll be seeing some of them this weekend at a few different Canada Day concerts in the New York area. Should be fun.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Joan Jett: Still Rocking After All These Years

If you remember the song "I Love Rock and Roll," then you know Joan Jett. What you may not know is that Jett is still rocking today, and touring, and recording, and she's sounding better than ever.

I've been a fan of hers since I got my copy of the "Bad Reputation" album when it came out in the '80s (on, um, cassette). I bought a few more of her albums, but never managed to see her in concert, though I wanted to.

Fast forward about 15 years, and it turns out she's playing an outdoor set for the runners in a race I'm running in, in New York's Central Park a couple of summers ago. Finally, my chance to see Joan Jett, and she didn't disappoint. She and the Blackhearts really DO love rock and roll, and even though us runners were sweating in shorts and t-shirts, there were Joan Jett and her bandmates staying true to their punk roots, rocking out on stage in black leather pants.

I've seen Joan Jett concerts three times since then, and she's never disappointed. She came out with a new album last year, "Sinner," and it's a good one. And at age 48 she's looking better than ever, looking buff and muscular, and rocking out to her songs, old and new. She's still touring, and if you'll be in New York City on June 28th, she'll be playing a free outdoor concert at Hudson River Park on Manhattan's west side. If past experience is any guide, it'll be a great show.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Write a Blog Post, Win an LCD Monitor

Writing a blog can bring you exposure, fame, a little cash, and now a 24" wide-screen LCD monitor from LG Electronics. Tech blog, in which a dot-com mogul gives advice on how people can use the Web to make money, is having a contest that's offering a L245WP LG monitor to one lucky person who writes about the contest and links to it... just like I'm doing right now.

The contest is being sponsored by BlueFur, which is NOT a company that sells colored fur but is in fact a Web hosting firm that wants to get out the word that it is hosting Canada and the rest of the world as well (whether or not those places have fur in blue or any other color).

See the "make money" link above for contest details. It's pretty easy... you don't have to live in Canada, have blue fur (or any fur), or even speak English! Check it out and you may win the LG monitor.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Help to Free Kidnapped BBC Reporter Alan Johnston

This post is a bit unusual for this blog because it's not about music or a podcast, but about something more important... in fact, the subject is a matter of life and death.

Alan Johnston is a BBC reporter from Scotland whose "beat" is the Gaza strip, in Palestinian territory. Johnston is the only full-time reporter in Gaza, or rather he was, until he was kidnapped more than three months ago. A shadowy group has said it is holding him, demanding the release of a number of prisoners (including at least one held in Britain) as conditions for Johnston's safe return.

This actually does have something to do with podcasting, because Johnston is one of the reporters whose voice I've heard on one of my favorite news podcasts, the BBC's "From Our Own Correspondent." His voice has been absent for the last few months, and a valuable source of information on events in the Middle East has been silenced.

The Hamas authorities who recently took over Gaza had promised they will try to obtain the release of Johnston. This is the most hopeful sign in this episode since the kidnappers released a video of Johnston showing that he was still alive and apparently being treated well.

You may have noticed the button in the right column with Johnston's photo. This is part of a campaign the BBC is conducting to help raise awareness of the reporter's plight and put pressure on those holding him. Click on the button (or here) and you'll find out how to put it on your own blog or Web site, to help spread the word. There's also a petition calling for Johnston's release and a place where you can add your own message of support.

The last few years have been some of the deadliest of all time for reporters working in war zones and other conflict areas. Fortunately, Alan Johnston is still alive and pressure is being brought to bear to get him released. Whether you're a follower of international news or not, I encourage you to add your efforts to help get Alan Johnston freed. Thanks!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Canadian Singer Feist Takes New York City by Storm

Canadian singer-songwriter Feist came to NYC for two sold-out shows at Town Hall this week, and from all account the hard-to-impress natives went away impressed. I was at the first of the two shows Monday night and Feist and her band were certainly in good form.

I saw them a little over a year ago at a smaller, standing-only venue in the City, and the show transfers well to the bigger, seated format. As expected, Feist played most of the songs from her new CD, The Reminder, hot off the presses just last month. While I miss hearing songs from her previous album, I was eager to hear her do the new songs live.

One special treat was when the band left the stage and Feist was momentarily alone until she introduced special guest Kevin Drew who, like Feist,is a member of Broken Social Scene. Drew played piano and Feist sang on a nice two-person version of the BSS favorite, "Lover's Spit."

Coming out of Town Hall, I was handed a flyer for another Feist show in New York, this one in late August in Brooklyn. The flyer said Broken Social Scene will also be on the bill, playing a new work by Drew. Their record label's Web site says, "BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE PRESENTS KEVIN DREW, 'SPIRIT IF...'"

I have no idea what it is exactly, but this sounds like another show I'll definitely want to check out.

Friday, June 01, 2007

SMtv Podcast: No TV, But Plenty of Fine Music

There are plenty of music podcasts that include songs and interviews with the artists, but SMtv is one of the few I've heard of that's actually hosted by a singer-songwriter. Samantha Murphy is the "SM" in SMtv, but oddly enough it's not a podcast of her music. Instead, Murphy interviews and plays songs from other artists, from folky singer-songwriters to pop bands to rockers.

What's more, there's no "TV" in SMtv--this is an audio podcast only--though Murphy has mentioned in the past that she'd like to make a video version of it. Nevertheless, it's a good way to learn about new artists. Each one-hour podcast contains three or four songs from the artist (full versions, not excerpts) and several interview segments. I find the interviews interesting because since Murphy is a fellow performing artist and asks her guests different questions from the same old ones asked by radio DJs or music journalists.

SMtv has been around for two years now, but podcasts don't come out regularly--some months there will be several of them, other there won't be a podcast for a couple of months. Considering that Murphy is a touring musician, I'm impressed that she has time to produce a podcast at all.

Some of the artists she's featured this year are Derren Raser and AJ Croce (son of the late great singer Jim Croce). Some of my favorites from last year include Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Clare Burson (whose songs have been recorded by Maura O'Connell and featured on Dawson's Creek), NYC rockers Jared Scharff & The Royals, and power-pop quartet The Animators, who have played with artists including Norah Jones and Ray LaMontagne.

SMtv has even presented a live show recently, at The Mint in Los Angeles.

If you like discovering music by new artists and "meeting" them in interviews, SMtv is a podcast you'll want to check out.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Polarbear Podcast: Everything Swedish But the Meatballs

Sweden has always seemed to me to be a country of laid-back, easygoing people who don't take themselves too seriously. I don't know if that image is correct but Andy Nyman, the host and creator of the Polarbear Podcast, fits right in with my perception.

[UPDATE, Sept 26th, 2012: I'm pleased to report that, after going dark for a few years, the Polarbear Podcast has returned! Doing a podcast is a lot of work, so for this reboot Nyman has taken out a number of the special segments of the previous podcast, and is looking to make a shorter podcast that comes out more frequently. The first new episode came out in late August, and another one has appeared already. See more information at the Polarbear Podcast website.]

Banner of the newly rebooted Polarbear Podcast.
The podcast offers a fun and relaxed look at happenings in Sweden, and a Swedish perspective on the world. The fact that Nyman doesn't take himself too seriously is evident in the podcast's name: He realizes that folks outside Europe may not know too much about Sweden except that it's very far north and is cold, and so they may think that polar bears live there. (To help further clear up confusion about the country, there's a link at the top of the podcast's Web site that reads, "Sweden, Not Switzerland.")

Polarbear Podcast offers interesting and often humorous glimpses of Sweden as seen through the eyes of an average Swedish family guy who wants to help listeners learn a bit about his home country.

My favorite episode of the Polarbear Podcast came last December, when Nyman described the customs of a Swedish Christmas and New Year's Eve, and told us about his family's preparations for the holidays. To me, there are few vacations I'd love more than a Swedish Christmas.

The show features several regular segments. There's a brief travelogue description of interesting historical or cultural spots in Sweden—not the typical sights you'd read about in a tourist guide, but places that Swedish residents know of.

Another segment called "Swe-News" offers short new tidbits involving odd or scandalous news items from Sweden.

There are a couple of segments from regular guests, both from the U.S. One is "Email from America," from a listener who'll sometimes contrast American and Swedish approaches to issues. In another segment, a Swedish woman living and working in the U.S. gives her insights on being a Swedish expat wife and mother living in America.

The podcast has recently begun offering brief lessons in the Swedish language. (In keeping with Nyman's self-deprecating style, the segment is called "Swedish as a Seventh Language.")

Each episode also features a few new podsafe songs by Swedish artists in each episode. Often they are mellow folky tunes, but Nyman recently gave listeners a shot of adrenaline when he played a song by a heavy-metal band.

If you've ever been interested in learning about Sweden and life in the country today, check out the Polarbear Podcast. It's a fun glimpse into life in contemporary Sweden.