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The OGC Log 2004
12.29.2004 - One of the nice benefits to running OGC Theatre in all of its ramshackle, infrequently updated glory arrives every three months: I receive a gift certificate from Amazon for the monies the site's earned during the previous quarter. I.e., every time someone clicks on one of my Amazon links and buys something, I score a tiny cut of the proceeds. In total, it usually doesn't add up to much - between 20 and 30 dollars - but it's nice all the same. Very nice in that I can then turn around and, in my indecisive deliberations, go back and forth on what to get with it. Such was the case with the $32 I earned for the third quarter of '04. There was much I wanted (there's always much), and honing in on one or two choices took so long Diane was beginning to wonder if I'd ever make a choice.
I decided, finally, to go with the Valley Girl DVD - it's a movie she had fondmemories of and one that, while I'd never seen it, I thought I'd like. And, indeed, I did. It's not a great movie by any means - but it is fun with a capital F. It ably captures the flavor of the early '80s while relaying the basic plot that anchors many a teen flick: a girl (Deborah Foreman) falls for a guy (Nicholas Cage) from the wrong side of the tracks. It also features a rollicking soundtrack - the most notable song is Modern English's incredibly catchy "I Melt with You." (I saw them in 1983 when they opened for Roxy Music). Also featured: the Plimsouls, Josie Cotton and the Flirts. As much fun as the movie itself are the DVD bonus features. Nicholas Cage, in all of his Elvis-like glory, sits down with the film's director, Martha Coolidge, for a fascinating conversation; and there's a way-cool documentary that hones in on the tubular soundtrack, with the various performers (few of whom went onto be a major act) discussing their histories. The singer from Modern English, for example, recalls how Modern English was playing to, at most, 200 mostly indifferent club-going folks a night in England when "I Melt with You" - thanks in large measure to MTV - became a major hit over here. They flew into Florida for their first gig (dressed for cold weather, no less) and in short order played to a crowd of 10,000 screaming fans who knew all of the words to their songs. Okay, he's probably exaggerating a might with that - what other songs could the fans have known? I was 18 in '83 ... the only Modern English song anyone knew was "I Melt with You." Which, I might add, is as addictive as it ever was.
So, all that's a hint for this: my Album of the Month is Music from the Soundtrack of Valley Girl. It wasn't the official soundtrack, which was way-laid in '83 due to a licensing mix-up. (If anyone has the original on vinyl, as a few - as always - slipped out, get this: it's worth $150, easy.) Anyway, this "soundtrack" was put together in the mid-'90s - an homage, if you will, to a movie that personifies the early '80s as well as any other. Better than any other, almost. Among the gems: the Plimsouls' hit-that-should-of-been "Million Miles Away"; Josie Cotton's incredibly funky and funny (and Go-Go's-like) "Johnny Are You Queer" and almost-as-catchy "He Could Be the One" and "School Is In"; and, yes, Modern English's "I Melt with You."
Another real treat this month has been a TV series we missed the first-time around, but are catching up with on DVD: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. You may say it's staked us as fans. Seasons One, Two, Three and Four have been a load of fun; we're expecting the same from Five, Six and Seven, too. –Jeff
Sept. 7th, 2004 - Yes, yes, late to the game again ... been grooving to the max with the iRiver. Until today, I had it filled with what might be called a Juliana Hatfield mega-block - 51 songs, in all: the Blake Babies old and sorta-new ("Disappear" has re-emerged as a fave anthem of mine), the one-off Some Girls, plus heaps of Juliana on her own. In Exile Deo is, hands down, my album of the year thus far. It has it all: jangly guitars, irresistible melodies and lyrics that delve deeper than your average pop song (see "Because We Love You"). At the same time, I've fallen in love - again - with Juliana's sublime Beautiful Creatures, from 2000. An overlooked gem, it is a bit more laid-back than In Exile Deo, but no less powerful. "Cry in the Dark" makes the heart ache ... of course, to quote the bard-ess, "a heart that hurts is a heart that works."
Anyway - onward to September's Album of the Month - Steve Earle's hard-hitting The Revolution Starts Now, which I've been cranking up in the car. Folks who've visited the site through the years may recall that, once upon a time, we had a Steve Earle section - some of it is now available in The OGC Compendium (thanks to all who purchased it, by the way). The reason we took the section down had nothing to do with Earle's music, just time: there's not enough of it in the day to get everything I want to do done. I'm as much a fan as ever, in other words. Revolution is a hard-hitting, politically charged collection of songs that should sate anyone who leans left (as I do), the title tune and profane "F the CC" especially. And, too, the Emmylou Harris duet "Comin' Around" reverberates through soul. No, it's not his best work, but the highs here match the best he's done. And because I am a fairly political person, I will overlook the few flawed songs.
On other matters - as I mentioned, I do lean left. Hence the newsfeed on the left. David Brock's Media Matters website does an excellent job of collecting the misinformation (and outright lies) many political pundits and reporters pass on as truth. (So does his recent book, The Republican Noise Machine.) Sometimes, yes, it goes a tad overboard ... but what the hell? –Jeff
8.27.2004 - Good news, music fans. MusicMatch 9.0 supports the iRiver player ...
8.8.2004 - Egads. I'm still slacking ... but with a purpose: For the past few weeks I've been enjoying a remarkable little gadget: the iRiver IFP-790 MP3 Player, which Diane and our friend Luanne bestowed upon me for my 39th birthday last month. It's a 256mb flash-memory device that holds about 40 songs when they're encoded at 192kps (more, obviously, if you encode at lower rates).
The big plus, for me, is that I can record with it - both through a microphone and from the stereo. Thus far, I've encoded two wondrous Natalie Merchant shows from 1988 and '98; a 1983 Stephen Stills gig; and, for Diane, a Lou Ann Barton concert from 1985 and a Nanci Griffith show from 1992. (Up next: a few vintage 10,000 Maniac gigs.) In between, I've been feasting on Bob Seger's songbook ... one of my favorite artists of all time who I've returned to w/a vengeance of late. Now playing: "Understanding," a gem from the Teachers soundtrack that's on his Greatest Hits Vol. 2. About the only downside? My download site of choice, MusicMatch, doesn't support the device. So, if I want to take my downloads with me, I have to burn the WMAs onto a CD and then rip 'em back as MP3s ... a cumbersome process that has me on the lookout for a new download service. (I blame MusicMatch - and the RIAA - for the lack of compatibility, not iRiver. It's amazing how mind-numbingly dumb they are with the many restrictions they place on the tracks. But that's a post for another day.)
Anyway, onward to the Album of the Month ... and, for the second month in a row, Diane does the honors for the very seductive A Girl Called Eddy's self-titled album.
"Forget Joanie and Chachi. The Erin Moran we care about is A Girl Called Eddy, a Neptune, NJ native who crafts sweet and poignant melodies and troubled lyrics that she sings like a haunted angel with a great jukebox. While the Dusty Springfield influence is acknowledged, there are shadows of Dionne doing Burt Bacharach, Everything but the Girl's Tracy Thorn--and even the good songs by Carpenters ("Rainy Days and Mondays," "Superstar"). Despite these influences, Eddy is her own girl, a siren who lures us with her tender voice, a hypnotic production and songs as compelling as Circe herself. Highlights include the single, "Somebody Hurt You," a track so timeless my husband swore he heard it before, the soulful "People Used to Dream About the Future" (which you can download for free from her website), and "Tears All Over Town," a mid-tempo pop gem. But there's not a bad track on the CD."
One more recommendation. No, not Maria's Live at Hamburg (the obvious choice, I suppose). Instead, I'm checking in with what might be called my "Retro Album of the Month" ... Bob Seger's Against the Wind. Not his best album by any means, but still one of my all-time favorites. "You'll Accompany Me," "Her Strut," "No Man's Land," the title tune and "Shinin' Brightly" are, to my ears, as good as songs come. "No Man's Land" especially - "sanctuary never comes without some kind of risk." Truer words never spoken, ya know?--Jeff
7.4.2004 - Yes, yes, I've been slacking big-time the past month - few dispatches and even fewer updates. No excuses other than: Juliana Hatfield's In Exile Deo. One of the best albums of the year, says I, if not the best, though Maria McKee's Live in Hamburg (due July 27th) may just give it a run for its money. We'll see.
This month, Diane chimes in on the "Album of the Month" - Patti Scialfa's wondrous 23rd Street Lullaby, which was released June 15th:
Patti Scialfa's 23rd Street Lullaby is a poignant and beautiful sliver of shimmering 60's-era soul, served up with memorable melodies, impeccable production and an updated Phil Spector feel that just won't quit. From the title track to the last song ("Young in the City"), this CD takes you to Scialfa's version of NYC, a little bit Lou Reed, a whole lot of Jersey Girl-comes-to-the-big-city, determined to take her shot. She may get roughed around a bit, but she emerges from the wet asphalt unscathed and reborn. The lyrics can occasionally verge on awkward ("he's the walking definition of what it is to be mean"), but the sound is pure and right and perfectly evocative (and didn't Phil Spector's lyrics get brutally mocked way back when...and don't those songs hold up in the Light of Day 40 years down the road?). Bonnie Raitt (or Marcia Ball) could do a mean cover of "City Boys," but Patti does just fine on her own. While others have heard traces of Laura Nyro, I think the only connection there is the "Up on the Roof" ambiance--Nyro was a Native New Yorker, after all. Still, 23rd Street Lullaby has the thematic unity and aural cohesion (if not the innovative brilliance) of Nyro's classic paean to her hometown, New York Tendaberry.
Diane also spotlights the new archival Laura Nyro release, Spread Your Wings and Fly: Live at the Fillmore East May 30, 1971.--Jeff
6.5.2004 - Juliana: "I'm a goddess in your eyes/and I will never die/I was born of people's needs/and what they don't want to believe/but I'm a liar, that's the truth/go home and think it through ..."
Those lines come from what is, without doubt, one of my all-time fave songs by Juliana or anyone - "Got No Idols," which can be had in a scintillating electric version on her early '90s album Become What You Are. She also released a sparse, piano-only version as a bonus track on the "For the Birds" CD single that's positively spine-tingling. I've probably put them on more tape and CD mixes through the years than any other song, often leading off with one and closing with the other. Why? The song deconstructs the "rock god" syndrome many fans fall into and flips it on its head ...
I almost included it on May's home-recording project (Pop Tarts Not: Ear Candy, Vol. 1), but decided against it at the last minute. Why? Why do ya think? Here's June's home-burning project: a 78 minute, 40 second opus I've dubbed ... Got No Idols: The Best of Juliana Hatfield. Of late, I've been alternating it with In Exile Deo, which is hands-down the best new CD of 2004 thus far ... one (of many) songs that's stolen my affection is the blast of pure pop "Sunshine":
"Everybody gets down sometime/you get happy with a sugar buzz/white chocolate is your favorite drug ..." It's a delectable and intoxicating outing, the kind of upbeat tune that couples soul-cleansing confessions with unfettered optimism - and a melody that can't be beat. "I've been sleeping through my life/now I'm waking up/and I want to stand in the sunshine ..." Give it a go if you haven't, already.
6.1.2004 - If it's the 1st, it can only mean one thing: it's time to name a new Album of the Month. And, as the above photo of Juliana Hatfield indicates, the honors go to In Exile Deo, her latest CD, which was released May 15th. It is, in short, a tour de force that's packed with tasty, guitar-driven melodies and lush, to-die-for vocals - and may well be her best recorded effort yet.
From her days with the Blake Babies in the late '80s to her alterna-pop solo work in the early '90s, it seemed as if the indie star was on the verge of achieving mainstream success. With the Blake Babies, she capped the 1980s with one of that decade's best albums in Sunburn; and then released a trio of good-to-great albums (Hey Babe, Become What You Are, Only Everything) before fading from earshot. She returned in 1998 with the burning Bed, a glorious, gut-first exercise of electric rock and pop that, again, failed to push her over the top. 2000 saw her release a two-fer: the red-hot metal of Julia's Pony: Total System Failure and the more subdued, introspective Beautiful Creature. "Introspective." That may well be the keyword for Juliana's recorded oeuvre as a whole, and the reason why she's failed to catch on to a wider audience. With her wistful, vulnerable vocals and oft-wounded lyrics set aside sarcastic, spiteful rejoinders accented by jangling guitars, listening to a Juliana album can, at times, feel like you're listening to an audio diary.
In Exile Deo maintains that feel. Many songs ache; others mix sly asides with brash confessions, and diatribes about fighting and feeding addictions, be they to love, to drugs, to cigarettes ("Forever"). "Tourist" is one such high, Juliana's voice filled with empathy and more. The acoustic "Tomorrow Never Comes" quivers with hurt and regret. "With a little lovin' and time/you might forgive me," she intones, her voice threatening to break. It's fragile beauty in a song. Fragile beauty buttressed by strength, I hasten to add.--Jeff
5/30 - Frontline "reported" Thursday (5/27) on the sales slump that's ensnared the record industry the past few years. As always, these days, pot-shots were taken at various pop artists ... with specific artists (Britney Spears, most notably) singled out for blame. David Crosby, interviewed at length during the course of the program, quipped that "Britney is as shallow as a bird bath" and, in essence, said she's symptomatic of the record industry's ills. Yes, because everyone knows the music of the '60s was "deep." The Mamas & the Papas ... deep? The Supremes ... deep? The Monkees ... deep? Give me a break. I could go on for hours here, spitting out pop artists from bygone eras whose music was, is, will always be ... fun to listen to, but not "deep." (Check out Rhino's Have a Nice Decade series for a lot of pop fodder from the 1970s, for example.) As Paul Simon once sang (in "Boy in the Bubble" from Graceland), "every generation throws a hero up the pop charts." Every generation also creates its own pop and rock stars. Yeah, maybe the record execs can "create" a hit once ... but twice? Three times?
No. Consumers may get rooked once, but that's it. We see and hear through the hype ... hell, think of the many expected hits through the years that missed. To be blunt here: The record industry's slump is not a result of Britney Spears or any other "pop" artist currently topping the charts. Rather, the slump is the result of several factors that dates back to the late '70s and early '80s, when the music industry again faced a big drop-off in sales ... only to be saved by the CD revolution in the mid '80s. Those of us old enough to have amassed large LP collections by then essentially, slowly and methodically, re-placed many of the same albums with the CD equivalent. My trek began in earnest in 1987; and stopped, for the most part, in the late-'90s. Nowadays, I just buy new releases ... or download specific songs from MusicMatch.
Younger music fans, however, don't have back catalogs to replace (and here's hoping they never will). At the same time, the consolidation of the many record companies into the few, and the expansion of radio station ownership, has totally changed the way music is made and sold. There are fewer outlets for new music to be heard; and new artists are given less time to succeed. Give young musicians a chance to grow - few are gonna hit homeruns their first time up at the plate.
At the same time, don't blame those who manage to succeed for the ones who don't. If they're selling CDs, regardless of whether or not you like them, it's obvious - to me, at least - that they're connecting with someone. What is it John Lennon sang? "Whatever gets you through the night, it's alright"? So true, so true. Plus, think of it like this: the profits the pop acts bring in essentially enable the labels to continue to support lesser-selling artists. At least, that's how it once operated. Nowadays? I'd wager those profits go into the pockets of the record-company men (and women).
(One last thing: Crosby's wrong. "Shallow" Britney's last album, In the Zone, is one of the strongest albums I've heard in the past year ... it'd make my top ten, easy.)
5/27 - For a short time, I've re-posted my interviews with Crosby, Jeff Pevar, Stephen Barncard & other CSN-related folk. Check out the Contents pages for links. If you like what you read, buy the OGC Compendium.
On another front: I logged onto MusicMatch earlier tonight to peruse its vast, if frustrating inventory of songs and what's one of the "recommended" tracks? Lone Justice's "I Found Love"! Yowza. A great song, but I'd say don't buy the song ... buy the album This World Is Not My Home instead. Lone Justice, of course, was Maria McKee's old band ... and, as I wrote in my review of that compilation way back when, "Fuck the Beatles. Fuck the Stones. And, while I'm at it, fuck Bob Dylan and Neil Young, too. Written in jest? No. While listening to this combined best-of/rarities collection, that's exactly what I think ..."
Oh, and Ashlee Simpson's "Pieces of Me"? Damn good. Download it (legally, of course) if you can ... and pair it with this recommendation: Michelle Branch's "Are You Happy Now?," which I downloaded last December and am still enjoying. (Same for Michelle's "Breathe," another gem.)
5/26 - We just finished watching a wonderful music DVD: Garland Jeffreys' Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll Live, which features a 1992 appearance of Garland's on a German TV music show - essentially, a mini-concert. It's nine songs; and features one kick-ass performance after another. Highlights include "Racial Repertoire," which is punctuated by a glorious snippet of Marvin Gaye's classic "What's Going On," and Garland's own "I May Not Be Your Kind," "Don't Call Me Buckwheat" and the classic title tune. Great stuff.
Turning from the serious side of music to some fluff-n-stuff: Ashlee Simpson's "Pieces of Me" is a song well worth downloading. If big sister Jessica is a little bit pop (okay, a lot pop), Ashlee's a little bit punk ... oh, alright: pop-rock. She sounds a bit like Michelle Branch. In fact, the song sounds a lot like one of Branch's. (That's not a knock against Ashlee, either. Just an observation.) If the rest of her debut album, which is due July 20th, is half this good ... egads. Talent must run in the genes. And jeans.
Another fun find: Kylie Minogue's "Slow." I've heard a lot about the Aussie superstar, but never actually heard her. The song is as sexy and saucy a song I've heard since Britney's delectable "Brave New Girl." In fact, her vocal mannerisms are very reminiscent of Britney's ... or maybe that should be the other way 'round? Whatever, I have a hankering to buy the parent CD, Body Language, now.
5/24 - Well ... I've finally managed to hear a crappy 96-kbs MP3 of Hilary and Haylie Duff's take on the Go-Go's "Our Lips Are Sealed." Why do people even bother encoding at that level? It's the big plus of MusicMatch, which generally encodes stuff at 160-kpbs - the higher the number, the better the sound quality. The larger the file, too, but ... some sacrifices are worth it. Anyway, I won't say where I found the MP3 in question other than I Googled for it and, to my surprise, there it was ....
To the point, though: despite the lossy, lousy sound, I found myself boppin' along to the the Duffs' version ... and delving into the collection for a long-ago favorite, ex-Go-Go Jane Wiedlin's self-titled solo debut, which came after the group's swan song, Talk Show, which featured one tasty treat after another ... and the heart-stopping Wiedlin-penned "Forget That Day." It's easy to hear why Belinda Carlisle sang lead; hers was the more honeyed, radio-friendly voice (as evidenced by her solo success, no doubt), whereas Wiedlin's is something of an acquired taste. I love it, myself. Anyway, from the looks of it, her debut's now out of print - it goes for $25 (or thereabouts) via Amazon ... you can probably find it cheaper elsewhere. Whatever, do keep an eye - and ear - out for it. You'll be glad you did. (Belinda's Greatest Hits is another surefire pop treat - "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" is probably my fave of her solo stuff, tho' "Mad About You" still packs a wallop.)
5/23 - I've added a Google Search so folks can ... what else? Search the site and the web. I've also loaded up a few links to mostly general purpose sites that I frequent. Check it out!
5/22 - We saw a funny and inventive film today: Mean Girls. It stars Lindsay Lohan; and was written by - and co-stars - SNL's Tina Fey. Essentially, fresh from a life-long stint of home-schooling (in Africa, no less), Cadie - pronounced "Katie," as she explains - adjusts to the jungles of ... the American high school social scene. In other words, she's landed in suburban Chicago for 11th grade. Lohan, as in the delightful Freaky Friday, is a pint-sized comic goldmine. Likewise, the supporting cast - led by Fey and Lizzie Caplan (little Millie Cooper from Freaks & Geeks!!!) - sparkles.
5/21 - Here's a way to feel old fast: read this MTV News report about the Hilary & Haylie Duff duet on "Our Lips Are Sealed." The way Hilary - who's 17 - talks about the song and video shoot, one gets the distinct impression that she never heard of the Go-Go's before, let alone listened to them! "The video is awesome," she then says, noting that "we were in a car driving around the city and we were in a fountain." Is my memory going or ... isn't that what the Go-Go's did in their "Our Lips Are Sealed" video?! I remember them driving around L.A. in a car, that's for sure. A fountain, too. You can't hold it against Hilary - she's 17, after all, so her knowledge of rock/pop history has just begun. But ... egads. Call me the Old Grey Cat, indeed. (Damn, the Go-Go's were good, though. A pop band, yes, but shades of punk - and plenty of talent -tossed in for good measure. Give Talk Show a whirl if you don't believe me.)
4/30 - Nelly Furtado's Folklore. It's a strong sophomore set from the talented songsmith that, best that I can tell, sunk like a stone since its release late last year. Furtado's 2000 debut (Whoa, Nelly) was spiced by the utterly timeless single "I'm Like a Bird." That's a song that ... let's just say I've put it on a ton of home-made compilations since. While there's no one song on Folklore that's quite that catchy, a few come close--the second track, "Powerless (Say What You Want)," especially. The lyrics speak for themselves: "Paint my face in your magazines/make it look whiter than it seems/paint me over with your dreams ..."). I'm not sure how many folks download from the legitimate music sites--I use MusicMatch on occasion, myself--but if you do, look for it. If it's not there, e-mail 'em and ask "why not?" Or ... buy the album. It's worth the investment.
4/28 - We'd like to thank those folks who've purchased The OGC Compendium and its spin-off, the Special Edition, this past week ...
4/18 - If you've visited these pages before, you know that Diane and I always endeavor to entertain, educate and offer a fan-first, occasionally hyperbolic perspective on music. We've collected much of our Old Grey Cat-related work into what we call "The OGC Compendium." It's a tote-able, 226-page paperback book that includes much of what was once on the site in one handy, tote-able tome. The price: $17.99, which is mostly due to the print-as-you-go publishing scheme. For folks who'd just like the CSN/Y content, we also have a slimmer "special edition," priced at $13.99, that just spotlights them. (The same 132 pages of CSN/Y-content appears in both volumes, so don't buy both.)
4/11 - Ah, tax season. I hate it - but, as always, there's some good music and video around to ease the pain. Earlier today and yesterday I listened to what would've been one of my Top 5 albums of 2003 if I'd bought it in 2003 ... Britney Spears' In the Zone CD. Yeah, yeah, I can hear the complaints, sighs and raised eyebrows now. My retort: Get a life! It's pop music. Pop has its place. It can be cool. It can be hip. And it never hurts when the person singing the songs is a babe ...
Fact is, it's a damn fine album - surprised the hell out of me, I'll admit, as I'd bought into the media-driven backlash most folks my age (late 30s) read and hear when it comes to Britney. But since receiving a promo copy of In the Zone in early March, I've listened to it more than any other CD in my collection. From the taut trip-hop of "Breathe on Me" to the sultry "Early Morning," the pure pop of "Toxic" and the wink-wink humor of "Outrageous," to say nothing of the utter joy that is "Brave New Girl," the beats, melodies, Britney's intoxicating vocals, the music and album as a whole, takes me there, wherever there is. My recommendation: download "Early Morning" ... give it a chance. Then move onto "Brave New Girl" and the others.
The other item that's taken me out of tax hell: the Freaks & Geeks DVD box set. If you never saw the short-lived series when it ran on NBC from 1999 to 2000, it's the story of high school-aged Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and her younger brother Sam (John Daly) coming to grips with the complexities and contradictions of life, circa 1980. There's none of the touchy-feely (i.e., manipulative) moments that pockmark most domestic dramas, past or present. Rather, the show is accented by the awkwardness that comes part and parcel with being a teenager. Don’t get me wrong--it’s funny, too. Hilariously, laugh-out-loud funny. But unlike the many hackneyed sitcoms, dramas and reality shows that litter the networks’ lineups, the humor is organic, arising from honest interactions between the characters. Do yourself a favor: buy the box set. Amazon has the 6-CD version (perfect for all but the utter diehards) for a reasonable price. (Diehards would do well, however, to pick up the limited edition 8-CD set from the F&G website.)
4/3 - My Album of the Month for April: Janet Jackson's Damita Jo. It's filled with melodies that slink, knead and seduce the soul. If you download music from the likes of MusicMatch, Napster or I-Tunes, "Spending Time with You," "Moist," "I Want You" are three songs well worth the dollar investment.--JGG