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SOUNDTRACK YOUR BINGE: Orange Is The New Black releases Soundtrack album just in time for Season 2

If you, like my wife and I, became immediately hooked by Netflix’s bingeable hit Orange is the New Black, and you’re eagerly awaiting the second season so you can marathon the hell out of it, now’s your chance to pick up a copy of the soundtrack album! Among included artists are title-track songstress Regina Spektor, as well as contributions from Kelis, Betty Davis, The Staples Singers, The Velvet Underground & Nico, and much more to sink your aural shiv into. Worried you’ll miss a minute of the show? Don’t worry — “You’ve Got Time” So give it a listen! And if you get the chance, grab a copy on limited edition Orange Vinyl! Season two of the series releases in its entirety on Netflix June 6th.

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Track Listing
1. Regina Spektor – You’ve Got Time
2. Betty Davis – Walkin Up The Road
3. Latimore – Move And Groove Together
4. Tune-Yards – Gangsta
5. The Staple Singers – I’ll Take You There
6. Kelis – Milkshake
7. Leagues – Walking Backwards
8. Little Foot Long Foot – Kickface
9. Velvet Underground – Sunday Morning
10. The Dutchess and The Duke – Living This Life Makes It Hard
11. Nancy Cassidy – Chicken
12. Whispering Jack Smith – Baby Face

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Black Crowes’ Guitarist Rich Robinson will release solo album The Ceaseless Sight on June 3rd

Rich Robinson, of the Black Crowes, has announced he will officially release his third solo record The Ceaseless Sight in June, and has premiered the lead single “One Road Hill” via Paste. You can check out the song below, featuring its strong folk melody, hand-claps and Robinson’s patented jangling acoustic guitar style, all of which echoes through the entirety. I’m really excited to hear more from this one.

In related news, beginning March 8th, Robinson will proudly join the likes of stalwart names such as Buddy Guy, Zakk Wylde, Robby Krieger, Jonny Lang, Bootsy Collins, Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Billy Cox (Band of Gypsys, Jimi Hendrix Experience) and many more on the Experience Hendrix Tour presented by BandFuse: Rock Legends. Robinson will be performing on the following select dates:

March 8 – Shawnee, OK – Grand Event Center
March 9 – Midland, TX – Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center
April 4 – Milwaukee, WI – The Riverside Theater
April 5 – Merrillville, IN – Star Plaza Theater
April 6 – Peoria, IL – Peoria Civic Center
April 8 – Minneapolis, MN – State Theater

TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Welcome to the “New Industry Normal.”

Excerpted from PJ Lifestyle — to read the entire article, click here– I highlight the best of new album and DVD / Blu-Ray releases, as well as interesting tech finds. It’s my weekly column, “Tuesday New Releases,” every week at PJ Lifestyle.

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As if one needed further proof of a downward-trending music industry, Adele’s 21 became the first album of the Soundscan era to lead all album sales two years running. In other words, nothing released during all of 2012 could unseat an album released in the first month of 2011. All that with Adele sidelined by vocal-chord issues and her pending pregnancy.

Taylor Swift tried and failed to block that path, with Red falling 1.3 million from 21 despite having four top ten hits, none of which ranked inside the year’s top ten overall. The year’s big winners — Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen and Fun — dominated single sales with their first Hot 100 releases. No one knew their names when the year began, and it remains questionable whether either can follow it up.

With the fresh start a new year brings, we need to face facts: LPs no longer draw long-term interest from fans, who prefer the instant gratification of a viral hit single. And no matter how many singles get parceled out to radio stations month after month, an artist lives or dies by the success of the last one.

Singles don’t drive album sales — they simply drive demand for more singles.

Having sacrificed the long-term stability inherent in developing artists over the long term, labels must now watch as newcomers either instantly dominate or free-fall. Veteran acts, meanwhile, either find ways to continually churn out successful singles to dying radio while courting fickle audiences online or they cling to the hope that their next album will prove different. Just ask Aerosmith how that worked for them.

Welcome to the new industry normal. Observing which bands find ways to use these trends to their advantage will provide the real fun of chart-watching in 2013.

Let’s be blunt: “James, you’re quitting music? No one cares.”

James Blunt

Today James Blunt comes out of nowhere to let the world know he’s retiring from music, needing to “have time to himself” despite his actions generally speaking for themselves: no album since 2010, no touring since 2011. I can’t help but think of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” where she sings:

I remember when we broke up the first time
Saying: “This is it, I’ve had enough.”
We hadn’t seen each other in a month
When you said you needed space.


Message to James Blunt — no one’s waiting for your new album. As Bob Lefsetz outlines in his email column today, in the modern music industry you either release new material or you die. This ties into rules 3 and 4 as he relays it: “Make new music” and “keep improving your music.” If you need space, we’re perfectly happy to remember the beautiful relationship while it lasted. But let’s be blunt: We’ve moved on.

TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: A Fine Frenzy in the Shadow of Mumford

A Fine Frenzy

Can A Fine Frenzy unseat Mumford at the top of the charts?

Today marks the launch of my new “Tuesday New Releases” column at PJ Lifestyle. As it has only been up a few hours, I’m just linking to the column there. I hope you’ll check it out:

With so much new music, movies and technology available on a weekly basis, even the most plugged-in people find it difficult to find the truly interesting products. Here at PJ Lifestyle we’re all about keeping it simple. Check in each Tuesday for information about current album and DVD/BluRay releases, along with hot new technology and gadgets you’re sure to want to make your own.

This week on the music side, I’ve highlighted albums from A Fine Frenzy (Pines), Jamey Johnson (Livin’ For a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran) and Rah Rah (The Poet’s Dead) which are now out in the US, as well as past weeks’ albums from Ben Folds Five, The Mountain Goats and Diane Krall. The list ends with some cool tech finds, which may interest you as we near the Holiday shopping rush.

As usual, if you have any suggestions which might improve the column — albums, artists or products you think deserve to have a wider audience, please feel tree to email me at kroessman@gmail.com.

Diana Krall’s “Glad Rag Doll” is an intimate reintroduction to a Canadian treasure

Diana Krall Glad Rag Doll

Diana Krall turned to T-Bone Burnett to produce her latest album, Glad Rag Doll, due out October 2 on Verve, and the result invigorates what has already been a many storied career. The album’s second track, “There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth The Salt Of My Tears,” channels Tom Waits so effectively you’ll think you’re listening to a long-lost outtake from Small Change, and the remainder of the album builds on that energy. Glad Rag Doll is Krall’s love-letter to the 1920s, building up to the title cover of the Alger and Yeller theme which more than lives up to the challenge she’s set for herself to create an intimate album which feels like you’re traveling the world while being whispered to in your own living room. This isn’t the most flashy album, or even the most anticipated, to be issued this fall. But Diana Krall’s Glad Rag Doll is a significant departure from what she’s done before, and it serves as an excellent reintroduction to a performer who deserves to be more widely acknowledged.

You can hear the official first single from the album, “Just Like A Butterfly That’s Caught In The Rain,” below.

The Avett Brothers poised for big breakthrough via The Carpenter: Hear it at NPR’s “First Listen”!

The Avett Brothers

Art credit: Jeremy Okai Davis — http://www.jeremyokaidavis.com

If you think Mumford and Sons are the greatest folk band to make the crossover to pop, you’ve barely scratched the surface of what the Avett Brothers offer. Their album I and Love and You should have been their massive breakthrough to mainstream success, but instead it left room for their latest, the Rick Rubin-produced The Carpenter, which drops September 11th. But you don’t have to wait that long to hear it — NPR’s excellent “First Listen” series has the exclusive on the full album stream, which showcases how little it took to twist the band’s signature sound enough to make this perhaps the surest success of the fall thus far. “The Once And Future Carpenter” opens the album on a strong Vandaveer-esque note, but the band really gets going on the stunning ballad “Winter In My Heart,” which is everything one could want from an Avett Brothers song and more. I can’t wait to dig deeper into this album, which is perfect as an introduction or a continued exploration for fans who already know they love what the band offers.

Green Day issues new video for “Oh Love” proving harems know no age boundary

Green Day Uno Dos Tre

Three albums in four months should showcase how Green Day’s musical balls hang so much lower than the rest of ours, there’s no competition. Case-in-point: their new video, which showcases 40-year-old Billie Joe and company rocking out in front of a harem of trashy women who put Courtney Love to shame, while pretending to be twenty years younger.

Oh love
Oh love
Won’t you rain on me tonight?
Oh life
Oh life
Please don’t pass me by
Don’t stop
Don’t stop
Don’t stop when the red lights flash
Oh ride
Free ride
Won’t you take me close to you

Okay, midlife crisis. I’ll give the song a pass because the hook is mindlessly catchy and it’s sure to wind up being a staple on today’s “play twenty songs over and over” top 40 lists. But if they’re going to make three albums worth of material deliver, they’d better really bring the juice on ¡Uno! come September 25, or the real question is going to be ¿Does anyone really give a damn? about ¡Dos! or ¡Tre!

Judge for yourself and sound off in the comments. Is Green Day’s new single up to snuff, or should the band hang it up before they embarrass themselves?

New Wallflowers single “Reboot The Mission” is Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” Meets The Clash

Reboot The Mission

The Wallflowers reboot after seven years. (Photo Credit: James Minchin)

At long last the new Wallflowers single “Reboot The Mission” is available to stream via Rolling Stone, and tomorrow you’ll be able to find it for free download at thewallflowers.com. The new single off the band’s upcoming album Glad All Over, due out in October, is their first since 2005’s Rebel, Sweetheart, and showcases the band revamping its sound to be both retro and modern. The goal, says Jakob Dylan, was to be “a rock band that could make a dance track too, without crossing over to the extreme side,” and by bringing in the Clash’s Mick Jones to play guitar and contribute guest vocals, the result is a perfect blend of Some Girls-era Rolling Stones with hints of early Clash.

It’s hard to imagine Joe Strummer wouldn’t have had fun with this one. Though it is still way too early to get a sense of what the whole album’s going to sound like, but if you’re going to reintroduce yourself to the world of pop music in the year 2012, clearly the Wallflowers had the right idea here: go for the throat with a solid hook while pushing your own musical envelope in directions your band hasn’t yet taken. It’s unlikely the single’s going to get much radio play — nothing good does these days. But it’s replayable, ear-catching and an overall invigorating listen which bodes well for the band’s future. I, for one, can’t wait for my chance to hear this live!

Achtung, Baby! If you want to be in the Last Royals, better bone up on your U2

The Last Royals

The Last Royals

Achtung BabyPsst … if you want to be in the Last Royals, you better make sure you’re up to speed on your rock history. In a tongue-in-cheek email sent out to the band’s fan-list today, it was brought to our attention that Mason Ingram, the duo’s drummer, was (gasp!) not familiar with U2’s Achtung Baby. The ultimate deal-breaker supposedly left the band on the cusp of breaking up, until Ingram took writer/singer/producer Eric James’ advice and listened to the album and decided it’s worthy of a night of seminal band-based man-love. So the duo, safely reunited, will be playing a special show at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City (with a mysterious group of “good friends”) to play the album start to finish.

Could this be the start of the band’s transformation into a modern-day Camper Van Beethoven, creating ultimate nerdgasm versions of rock’s most brilliant creations? Watch out, Beatles fans, because the Fab Four could be next:

Next up: Mason discovers The Beatles’ Revolver…kidding, kidding….(Mason, you DO know Revolver…right??)

Hey, they did do a really awesome cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” so what’s to make anyone think their new-found focus on becoming America’s next great u2 cover band isn’t the next logical step? I’ll definitely be listening, though my vote is for something more adventurous. Perhaps a resurrection of Girl You Know Its True, by Milli Vanilli would be in order? I can’t wait to hear their version of “Blame It On The Rain”!

SOUNDCLOUD PREVIEW: Tenacious D – “Rise of the Fenix”

Rise of the Fenix

Even this artwork doesn’t rock as much as the D’s new album!

We’re still two weeks away from the official release of Rise of the Fenix, the soon-to-rock-your-fucking-socks-off brand-new album from Tenacious D. But thanks to the awesomeness of Jables and Kage, you can hear the full album via Soundcloud. My early favorite is the brilliant “Roadie,” but “They Fucked Our Asses” also stands out as sixty-eight seconds of riffing which deserved to become a ten minute epic. Enjoy the entire album below and let us know what you think … is this enough to make you forget The Pick of Destiny?

Serj Tankian Set To Release New Studio Album, Harakiri, July 10th

Serj Tankian

Serj Tankian to release new album in July

System of a Down’s Serj Tankian is ready to release his third solo album, Harakiri, this coming July. Recorded at his home studio in Los Angeles, Tankian used his iPad as an actual songwriting instrument. “We must trick ourselves into writing in different ways to get unexpected results,” he says. “The record is different than any I’ve made as a solo artist. It is much more driving and punk oriented with influences ranging from goth to electronic to 80’s vibes, dynamically heavy rock to epic melodic songs. Lyrically, it spans the gauntlet of themes from personal, political and philosophical to spiritual, humor and love.”

Not that Tankian’s ever someone who would likely be accused of playing things safe. His work with System of a Down has long been on the cutting edge of modern alt-metal, and his solo albums — Elect The Dead and Imperfect Harmonies — have pushed the envelope more each time out. A sample of the first single, “Figure It Out,” will be issued on Tankian’s website next week.

Until then, enjoy “Goodbye – Gate 21 (Rock Remix)” from the Imperfect Remixes EP, featuring his backup band the FCC and Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine.

Listening To Levon

Levon Helm

Levon Helm is in the final stages of his battle with cancer.

From the legendary performer’s official website:

Dear Friends,

Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey.

Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration… he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage…

We appreciate all the love and support and concern.

From his daughter Amy, and wife Sandy

All I can think about in this regard is expressed most fully by Marc Cohn. The world’s surely going to miss Levon Helm when he’s gone.

PJ MEDIA: Tupac To The Future

Tupac To The Future

When does technology go too far?

I’m no Luddite, but there are some aspects of technology which give me pause. I wrote this morning on PJ Media’s Lifestyle page of Tupac’s Coachella resurrection via hologram, and the potential future implications of such technology. I’m posting the link here so my “Hear! Hear!” readers can join the conversation. What do you think? Should posthumous record releases be enough, or would you pay to see Tupac live … or any band for that matter? Would it be even remotely fulfilling to see the Hologram Beatles onstage for one night only? Or would it be simply soul killing?

To Axl Rose, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nod is worth a thousand-word rejection

Axl Rose

No, Virginia, there won't be a G'n'R reunion on Hall of Fame induction night.

As reported by the LA Times and Spin, Axl Rose has decided that his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination is worth a thousand-word rant which, in all that fuss and fury, really stands as a gigantic “fuck you” to the Hall of Fame, his former bandmates, and anyone else who ever thought to pick up a G’n’R album. In short:

For the record, I would not begrudge anyone from Guns their accomplishments or recognition for such. Neither I or anyone in my camp has made any requests or demands of the Hall Of Fame. It’s their show not mine.

That said, I won’t be attending The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction 2012 Ceremony and I respectfully decline my induction as a member of Guns N’ Roses to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

I strongly request that I not be inducted in absentia and please know that no one is authorized nor may anyone be permitted to accept any induction for me or speak on my behalf. Neither former members, label representatives nor the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame should imply whether directly, indirectly or by omission that I am included in any purported induction of “Guns N’ Roses”.

What a shame. So here’s my shorter open letter to Axl, which I hope will clear the air once and for all:

To Indiana’s most famous misanthrope:

It’s a real shame you can’t even get out of your own way long enough to appreciate something your fans have certainly long hoped for.

You don’t have to get along with everyone, Axl, but to say you don’t begrudge the other members of their moment in the sun is just backhanded, passive aggressive bullshit, especially since, by owning the name Guns & Roses, you’ve spent the better part of the last two decades begrudging your former bandmates of enjoying their moment in the sun.

Here’s a news flash: no one cares what you or your camp think about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We’re willing to let sleeping dogs lie, or whatever the hell it is you asked for in your letter. But don’t call us all revisionists just because we loved the music and hoped you’d at least respectfully accept this honor, even if you don’t choose to reunite the original lineup.

It’s about the music, Axl. You wrote these songs, but you don’t own them anymore. They’re part of history whether you like it or not. And soon they’ll be a part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, whether you like that or not.

In honor of his 12th parole rejection, hear Charles Manson sing

Charles Manson

Charles Manson

Today Charles Manson’s parole request was denied for the 12th time, as surely everyone expected would happen. California can’t execute him, but there’s no reason they’ll ever want to release him. But what always gets me is how he could have had a decent career as a musician, had he not also been a complete bat-shit crazy psycopath. So, in honor of his dozenth parole rejection, we’ll let Charlie Manson sing a few bars: here’s his “Never Learned Not To Love,” which, when recorded by the Beach Boys, actually made the lower reaches of the Hot 100 during its day in the sun.


And a bonus: hear him sing his own few bars about a life “of hell” behind bars, while he must await yet another futile attempt at convincing folks he’s ready to re-enter society: “Twilight Blues”

HEAR HEAR EXCLUSIVE: Hear two new songs from Sunday Lane’s new album “From Where You Are”

Sunday Lane

Sunday Lane is back and better than ever with a new full-length LP.

DOWNLOAD MP4: Sunday Lane – “A Little Too Young” (right click, “save as”)
: Sunday Lane – “Waiting For You” (right click, “save as”)

Sunday Lane has warranted mention on Hear! Hear! before. Her EP Bring Me Sunshine was a breath of fresh air when I stumbled on it last summer, a piano-driven mashup of Colbie Caillat and Ingrid Michaelson which maintained enough alt-country flair to keep every song on the tip of your tongue long after you last listened. Clearly I’m not the only one to think so; One Tree Hill revived the album with their season premiere this year, which featured Sunday Lane’s music prominently enough to ignite a blowup of interest in this talented young songwriter.

But when, you might ask, are we going to get more than an EP? The wait, thankfully, is not a long one. Sunday Lane’s first full-length album, From Where You Are, releases to ITunes tomorrow, and from what I can gather from the two exclusive singles she’s graciously allowed us to share here at “Hear! Hear!” — see above, y’all! — the album is going to more than live up to the hype.

“Waiting For You” has to be the sentimental favorite. The song opens with just Lane’s stunning vocals and a bare-bones piano backdrop: “I gave you everything and truth is I’d do it all again,” she sings. “But you’ll never change for me …” The song builds magnificently, a full-blooded arrangement which more than supports Lane’s powerful vocals. The build at the chorus is so intense you’ll be singing along long before the song ends, and repeats will be mandatory. This is a single crying out for radio love.

But then there’s “A Little Too Young,” the bouncier pop nugget which shows the lighter side of Lane’s songwriting style. Even as the lyrics touch on love’s darker edges, the arrangement here keeps things sunny and bright, a singalong waiting to happen as the chorus builds: “I’m a little too young to feel this old,” she sings, backs by a chorus of “whoah oh whoah oh oh’s” and a wall of shimmering horns. This is summer in a bottle, and if the rest of the album keeps building on this momentum, From Where You Are is going to be the only place discerning music fans want to be in the coming weeks.

Live-Blogging the 2012 Grammys

Grammys 2012

Will this be Adele's year, or a year of big shockers?

10:30 p.m. — And that’s a wrap! Feel free to comment the hell out of the comments section if anyone reads this, and I’ll respond through the day tomorrow!

10:25 p.m. — Sir Paul McCartney got “a little help from his friends” and is finally in his proper element. These are the best pop songs of all time for a bloody reason! He should have skipped his new song and just done this, but what a way to bring the night to an end! Beats seeing the credits roll over Adele’s final acceptance speech.

10:21 p.m. — Okay, Adele sealed it … not that anyone expected anything else.

10:20 p.m. — Album of the Year — Adele and all the others. If Foos win this would it be the upset of the decade?

10:17 p.m. — Not that I hate Paul McCartney or anything, but with this show going as long as it is, he’d better own those Beatles songs and rock this show out in the next few minutes. Because his first song did nothing for me.

10:12 p.m. — Record of the Year is won by Adele, “Rolling In The Deep” as expected. She’s now tied with the Foos, and soon to beat them with Album of the Year as well, barring an act of pure Grammy Insanity.

10:10 p.m. — Record of the Year — Adele should win this hands down.

10:10 p.m. — Proof the Grammys are out of touch with women in music. 1) They skipped over Nicki Minaj in any major awards; 2) They force fed us Chris Brown all night. Nice to see they at least gave her Roman character some room to shine on the show, though I’m sure half the audience in middle America are like “what the fuck was THAT?” I like seeing someone original, crazy and willing to showcase it taking the stage.

10:05 p.m. — I LOVE THIS SONG by Nicki Minaj!

9:57 p.m. — Nicki Minaj gets to perform but not win anything. And hey, Deadmau5 was actually pretty solid, I thought. Not that I know much about his brand of music.

9:50 p.m. — My wife Aimee: “Who gives a shit about CHRIS FUCKING BROWN?” Agreed.

9:48 p.m. — This is insane! Can’t keep your gun to yourself for more than three hours, Lil Wayne? Seriously … way to overshadow your “music,” Weezy. At least maybe you’ll get another prison book contract!

9:47 p.m. — That was the best performance of the night not done by Adele.

9:43 p.m. — Jennifer Hudson knows how to sing Whitney songs, let’s just say that right out front. I like that they kept this part vocals only. The rest of the arrangement, with the piano backdrop, kept the focus where it belonged, on the timeless song.

9:36 p.m. — I think that’ll be the new standard against which acceptance speeches like Pearl Jam’s will be judged.

9:35 p.m. — Glad they played him off, after he was so iffy about whether he even wanted the award.

9:34 p.m. — With discomfort, he has gratitude, and Justin Vernon pisses on his great opportunity to thank his fans and be grateful for those of us who buy his music and think it’s solid that he won, even if he doesn’t respect it.

9:32 p.m. — The Band Perry? Sucks. Bon Iver? Good. J Cole? Eh. Nicki? Awesome. Skrillex? Fuck that! The Grammy goes to ……. BON IVER! CALLED IT! Grammy’s biggest fuck-up of the year, is what folks are going to call this, at least all the Nicki fans!

9:30 p.m. — An hour to go! Grammy for Best New Artist … could this be an upset? Nicki Minaj SHOULD win, but I’m thinking this could be a “Grammy moment.”

9:20 p.m. — There he is! He’s still got the sound down to an art, and it’s nice to see a songwriting legend up there having gotten the chance to clean up his life rather than flaming out. It’s too bad he’s soon not going to have any memories of it all left.

9:15 p.m. — Taylor Swift introduces the tribute to Glen Campbell. Out with the old, in with the new. With the help of the Band Perry and Blake Shelton, neither of whom is relevant enough to warrant not just letting Glen sing a couple of his best songs unencumbered by Grammy trappings.

9:05 p.m. – Adele’s performance: at long last! Apparently she’s won four awards so far, not the two we’ve seen on TV … her voice is still in top form, that’s for sure! “Rolling In The Deep” is definitely the song of 2011 people will still remember in 2031. It’s also proof that the best songs are the ones with the most emotion behind the writing and performance. You can tell she’s invested in this song to the core. Same goes for the entire album 21.

9:00 p.m. — Entering hour three … we’re officially halfway there. Wow. I’ll buy an album if the money goes to the Grammy Foundation for Making Grammys Shorter and Awarding More Music On Screen. Join me!

8:57 p.m. — Best Country Album — Should go to Taylor Swift. Actually goes to Lady Antebellum. Double yawn. That album sucked!

8:53 p.m. — Katy Perry, one of the many who will lose to Adele, performs … by which I mean lipsynchs the hell out of things. Glow in the dark outfits are fine, but there was nothing about this “E.T.” performance that made me disappointed when the sound cut out. Then there was more. Yawn.

8:50 p.m. — An AWARD presented by Neil Patrick Harris: Song of the Year — four nominees + Adele. The award goes to Adele, who gets her second! Who thought “Rolling In The Deep” wouldn’t win?

8:41 p.m. — Chris Brown blowback:

8:40 p.m. — Taylor Swift may never be someone with wide non-country appeal, but I like her sound. At least she keeps things interesting, and her voice is better than she gets credit for. She brings out a banjo tonight and wins extra points from me.

8:35 p.m. — Common’s presentation of Gil Scott Heron was a nice touch — Best R&B album though: Chris Brown and R Kelly are terrible … of the five I preferred Kelly Price, but they gave it to Chris Brown. Disappointing. “Look at me now … I’m getting paper for being an asshole …” Ugh. Thank God and the Grammys for letting him “do his thang” …

8:32 p.m. — Stevie Wonder introduces Macca on the show, after busting out some “Love Me Do” on his harmonica … but man, I want to see Paul McCartney rock, not listen to this standards shit. Can’t we have a few more years of him as a pop singer and Beatle, rather than as the next Tony Bennett?

8:25 p.m. — Finally the Beach Boys show up and take over the Grammys with the real deal rather than lame cookie cutters of the real deal. “Good Vibrations” actually benefited from having Maroon 5 and Foster the People to add oomph to the layered harmonies. Maybe I was too harsh on both of those acts; they did good workmanlike covers of hard to imitate songs. But I wish there’d been more with the REAL Beach Boys.

8:20 p.m. — Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to hear Foster the People pretend to be relevant? We want the Beach Boys!

8:18 p.m. — Grammys take credit for the Beach Boys reunion. Lovely … by bringing in Ryan Secrest to then introduce Maroon 5, doing a surprisingly decent version of “Surfer Girl” which still doesn’t introduce the Beach Boys we want to hear from.

8:16 p.m. – The award goes to a garage and a tape machine! Long live rock … “the human element is most important!” DO YOUR CRAFT!

8:15 p.m. — Best Rock Performance: 1.) Coldplay isn’t rock. 2) The Decemberists aren’t rock. 3) Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower” isn’t rock. 4) Mumford isn’t rock. Give a fifth to the Foos!

8:07 p.m. — As the Grammys enter their second hour, as much as I’m enjoying it, I have to wonder why they booked three and a half hours for this, when they are only giving a handful of actual awards. So far we’re two awards in, and the score’s tied Kanye 1, Adele 1.

8:02 p.m. — No medley is complete without “Paradise,” the flat-out strongest pop song on the entire album! Hard not to do this song justice.

8:00 p.m. — Rihanna is proving why she’s the one who America wants to continue to hear more from (not that particular ex of hers who will not be named anymore on here.) And Coldplay’s not bad either … this is one of the better songs off their Mylo Xyloto album. So far the Grammy performances are definitely doing it for me for the most part!

7:46 p.m. — At least I can hear the Foos … so far, despite Adele’s best efforts, they’ll remain Grammy’s biggest winner for at least another couple hours.

7:45 p.m. — Shut up idiots! I can’t hear Jack Black talk!

7:38 p.m. – She’s a guilty pleasure, but damn it, I like Kelly Clarkson! And her new album’s nothing to sneeze at either. This performance is solid, but a bit odd coming right after Best Rap Performance gets handed out.

7:35 p.m. — The Grammy for Best Rap Performance goes to Jay Z and Kanye, so Kanye can … not show up! SUCK IT, GRAMMYS!

7:30 p.m. — I just got retweeted by Bruce VanWyngarden!

7:28 p.m. — I’m fine with turning up the music, if I can turn down Chris Brown. Weakest performance of the night so far.

7:25 p.m. — “Someone Like You” gives Adele her first award. No surprises there, it was definitely the best pop vocal performance.

7:20 p.m. — Alicia Keys is among the few today who can still do Etta James real justice. I love this performance!

7:12 p.m. — Bruno Mars’ Doo-Wops and Hooligans is better as an album than the sum of its parts, and he’s a great performer. This one gets the feet pumping and does a lot to lead credence to the idea this is going to be a celebratory night, not a mournful one.

7:05 p.m. — I had no idea the Grammys needed a host. Let the music speak for itself, do we really need a voiceover? At least in the case of Whitney’s death, I think so.

7:00 p.m. — Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band opened the Grammys with their new single, and I stand by my opinion that the Boss could sing from the phone book and still draw a crowd into a frenzy. But “We Take Care Of Our Own” does a good job of introducing an album I suspect will be more varied than the song’s detractors would expect. Seemed a good way to get the show started.

6:54 p.m. — Should Chris Brown get a pass on his past re: Rihanna and being a spousal abuser?

6:50 p.m. — Spin’s spin on Adele’s 60 Minutes interview just went up here. My favorite quote:  “I don’t want to be some skinny mini with my tits out. And I don’t want people confusing what it is that I’m about. I just stand there and sing. And I don’t do stunts or anything. if I wanted to do all that, I don’t think I’d get away with it.”

6:10 p.m. — We’re still an hour out from the broadcast, but just keeping an eye on Twitter and Grammy.com, there’s a great deal going on that won’t make the broadcast but which is still worth noting — among the leaders being, as Jian Ghomeshi, co-creator of Q on Radio & CBC TV, notes:

Nice to see the Foos getting noticed for White Limo, which was a leader among the notable lack of solid rock albums from 2011. Too bad none of their glory is going to make it into the live broadcast.

As expected, Whitney Houston is also dominating pre-Grammy conversation. I particularly liked Eric Alper‘s take on comments by Tony Bennett, who for once was spot on:

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I tend to badmouth the Grammys a great deal, but was thinking about it today and realized I actually haven’t “watched” the live ceremony in several years. So my wife and I are going to “take one for the team” and give this year’s proceedings a live viewing, and we’ll be posting our commentary on this page throughout! That way those of you reading here can view vicariously through us.

Early questions:

1. What will the tribute to Whitney Houston be?

2. Will this be the year of Adele, or a year of typical Grammy “surprises”?

3. Will Bon Iver translate into a “good winter” evening for Nicki Minaj in the “Best New Artist category, or will indie rock rule the day?

Drop me your thoughts in the comments section. I’ll be updating this page throughout the night, starting at 7 p.m. Central!

Aaron Freeman, sans Gene Ween alias, goes solo!

Aaron Freeman Gene Ween

Aaron Freeman (a.k.a. Gene Ween) goes solo to promote songs inspired by Rod McKuen

For those of us who loved Ween’s miracle of genre worship known as 12 Golden Country Greats, there’s no surprise that Aaron Freeman (a.k.a. Gene Ween) is teaming back up with producer Ben Vaughn for his first solo album, Marvelous Clouds, due out April 10th on Partisan Records. The interesting twist: you’ll hear Freeman like you’ve never heard him before, featuring 13 interpretations of songs written by Rod McKuen, beat poet and songwriter who has lived privately and never really received the reappraisal his body of work deserves. Freeman, who has with Ween managed to build a career based on range, reinvention and constant innovation, has chosen to use McKuen’s work to “articulate one of his most personal efforts to date,” which makes the album a must-hear from the start. But adding McKuen’s reputation as one of the most prolific poets and songwriters of the 20th century puts this over the top. His songs have been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Johnny Cash to Madonna, and now they’ll be filtered through one of the most innovative voices in alternative music. What more can you ask for?

I don’t have a full sample song from the album yet, so “Japanese Cowboy” will have to suffice. Enjoy!

Shonna Tucker leaving Drive-By Truckers

Shonna Tucker

Shonna Tucker announced today she's leaving the Drive-By Truckers

Shonna Tucker, bass-player for Drive-By Truckers since replacing Earl Hicks prior to releasing The Dirty South, has announced today that she’s leaving the band to pursue “the next great thing, whatever that may be.” Patterson Hood responded hours later to confirm that Shonna has indeed left the band, to be replaced on upcoming shows by David Barbe, who has played with the DBTs since 2000. “We appreciate our fans and supporters and your caring and concern,” Hood writes. “Decisions like this are not made lightly … everyone involved deeply cares for each other.”

Membership changes have been no shock to the Truckers, who have seemingly undergone more changes than any band since Fleetwood Mac. But Tucker’s absence will be missed. Here’s hoping she has as much success in her post-DBTs career as her ex-husband Jason Isbell has had with his band the 400 Unit.

2012 WATCH: Lana Del Rey’s “Born To Die” set for January 31st release

Lana Del Rey Born To Die

Lana Del Rey’s video for “Video Games” took the web by storm earlier this year and the question became when would she dare release a full length album and prove there was more to her success than a fluke viral video? The answer, I’m told, is that Born To Die will be issued on January 31, 2012 on Interscope Records. Recently featured in Rolling Stone’s “Hot Issue” while being dubbed Vogue’s “most striking singer of 2012,” Del Rey’s shows have been selling out amid strong demand for this young songwriter’s innovative blend of retro torch music. Needless to say, Born To Die is set to be this critic’s most anticipated album of the first quarter (so far). I suspect that if the material on the album matches the quality of her early internet work, she’ll have a surefire hit on her hands. You can listen to the title track below:

Jeff Mangum to return to the stage in 2012

Jeff Mangum

Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel

Okay, so I’ll admit my day hadn’t been going quite as planned. But it’s hard to be depressed about anything when you learn one of indie music’s most reclusive modern songwriters is going to actually make more live appearances in 2012. According to Pitchfork, Mangum will be playing a string of dates in the US and Europe, including two-night stints at Chicago’s Athenaeum Theater and Atlanta’s 40 Watt Club.

Surely these dates are going to sell out insanely fast, but if any one musician is worth fighting it out for tickets, Mangum would be among most music fans’ top five. The dates are below, and for kicks, enjoy this live version of “The King of Carrot Flowers 1 – 3″ from 2001:

01-18 New Haven, CT – Shubert Theater
01-20 Brooklyn, NY – Gilman Opera House at Brooklyn Academy of Music
01-25 Philadelphia, PA – Irvine Auditorium at University of Pennsylvania
01-27 Washington, DC – Lincoln Theatre
01-30 Chapel Hill, NC – Memorial Hall at University of North Carolina
02-01 Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse
02-04 Minneapolis, MN – Pantages Theatre
02-06 Chicago, IL – AthenaeumTheater
02-07 Chicago, IL – Athenaeum Theater
02-08 Milwaukee, WI – Pabst Theater
02-10 Athens, GA – 40 Watt Club
02-11 Athens, GA – 40 Watt Club
03-07 Dublin, Ireland – Vicar Street
03-09-11 Minehead, England – ATP Curated By Jeff Mangum
03-13 London, England – Union Chapel
03-14 London, England – Union Chapel

REM’s Five Most Essential Albums


R.E.M. may have broken up, but there's still the music.

Together for thirty years, R.E.M.’s greatest albums showcase the Athens, Georgia legends’ incredible artistic progression for what it was — a true Rock rarity. They also serve as a welcome introduction to the rest of the band’s deep discography. Though there’s plenty of great writing about what the band’s music means to contemporary listeners in relation to their breakup earlier this week, I prefer to focus on the music itself to see what made R.E.M. stand apart from the crowd.

Few bands in the modern rock or alternative landscape have managed to craft such a diverse discography, so many albums which managed to build upon each other, creating mainstream success through recording, touring and then living the music and letting it live through them. I’ve published my take on the five most essential R.E.M. albums at a new site I write for, P.J. Media — you can read the article here, including reviews of each of the five key albums, ranked and featuring key tracks for those who have yet to discover the band, or who want to dig deeper.

If you missed it, you should also read my piece “Four Emerging Artists on the Cutting Edge”, which ran on September 8th on the same site. I will be contributing a weekly piece of music criticism to PJ Media as one of their few non-political voices. Hope you’ll all stop by!

Andrew McMahon’s stunning trailer for Jack’s Mannequin’s “People and Things”

Andrew McMahon of Jack's Mannequin

Andrew McMahon of Jack's Mannequin

When I wrote in July about Jack’s Mannequin’s upcoming new album People and Things, due for an October 4th release, I knew I was going to have plenty to enjoy about the new songs regardless of long long I’d have to wait to hear them. But the more I’ve learned about Andrew McMahon’s latest effort, the more I am convinced this is certain to become his magnum opus. I present for you his own trailer for the album, which describes in his own words the pain and power behind the material on People and Things. I’ve transcribed his words below. They say more than I could say about why this should be one of the most invigorating listens of the fall. [Any mistakes in the transcription of the video are my own. And all the links have been added by me, for those of you who want to explore deeper.]

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Seven years ago I started making music for a project I called Jack’s Mannequin. I was 22 years old. I wanted to tell a story. Up to that point the story was pretty interesting: My high school band had become teen idols. We toured and recorded constantly. Eventually things came apart. In my life, when things fall apart, things start coming together. I started over. I made a record about breaking up, week-long benders and pop music.

The next part was unexpected. I got sick. So sick that, six years later, it’s the one thing people talk to me about the most. People called me a lot of things after I got better – a fighter, a hero, an inspiration. I didn’t see it that way. I made a record about that. I hated that record for some time. It was a reminder of what sickness had taken from me: my youth.

I love that record now.

I thought about not making records after that. I thought about a lot of things. I started writing music; lots of music. I wanted to talk about the world I lived in. A world where love is not the stuff of greeting cards. An entrenched world, worth fighting for. A world of tenuous connections, drifting in and out of relevance. I travelled the country with these songs. I wrote some of them with dear friends. I began recording, but something was missing.

I started over.

I wrote more songs. I moved to the desert with my band and they learned to play them. We returned to LA, and with the help of some friends, we committed them, once and for all, to record.

I love this album for what it says and for what it took to get there. It may not be life or death, but it’s life. It’s my new record, and it’s called People and Things.