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.