Friday, September 29, 2017
I first heard Bradley Skaught (foreground with guitar) when the late Scott Miller contributed to Bradley’s project Belle De Gama. It was wonderful. The next time I heard him, it was his band The Bye Bye Blackbirds, as great as Belle De Gama and still rock and roll. I would love to see them live someday, if I ever make to Oakland, California.
Bradley was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new Bye Bye Blackbirds album "Take Out The Poison." His answers are wonderful, so enjoy.
Andrea Weiss: Power pop is such a catch-all term, but would you say your music is, or is it something else?
Bradley Skaught: I try to remind myself that people are generally being complimentary when they’re looking for a genre to apply to a band or record. Personally, it’s hard for me to relate to, especially when there’s some kind of cultural or social baggage attached to it. I really like the term “rock and roll” because it feels like it encompasses the actual musical DNA of what we do and it’s not trying too hard to fence things off in order to reach a specific group of people. But I guess that’s the problem, right? Folks want things narrowed down. It starts to feel like market-driven behavior and it makes me itchy.
AW: Your songs are really direct and honest about relationships. Are they about real people, or more about hypothetical situations?
BS: All real people, although it’s more the feelings that are real than the specifics in the song, you know? I don’t feel like I’m necessarily telling the stories of my experiences, but the experiences are finding their way into songs via whatever images resonate with me when I’m writing.
AW: There seem to be more happy songs on this album than on your previous albums. What brought about this change?
BS: I don’t know if I feel like it’s a happier album, but I do think there’s more diversity of mood and subject matter – it covers the scale a little more. I think that’s mostly a reflection of the songs being written over a relatively longer period of time, and more in isolation from each other, than before.
AW: Where did the album title come from?
BS: I really don’t know! I’m always jotting down phrases that strike me as good titles and I’ll usually have a big list to choose from while we’re working on an album. It could’ve been something I overheard or misheard or read. It was right in the middle of the list, but actually didn’t stand out as a good option until fairly late. But now it seems so appropriate it’s hard for me to remember why it didn’t stick right away! There’s always a real danger that my good phrase ideas come from Harry Potter, but I’m pretty sure this one didn’t.
AW: Would you ever write anything political?
BS: Maybe? I don’t generally write with a topic in mind or a specific meaning as a goal, so whatever is in the pipeline in my sub-conscious that wants to come out is what gets written. It’s hard for me to imagine looking at current events and deliberately putting my thoughts into words, and it’s not an exercise that I find too attractive. That said, I’ve got a new-ish one that clearly seems to have come out of the economic and social changes going on around here in the Bay Area. So if it’s in there and it wants to come out, I suppose it could happen.
AW: You worked with the late Scott Miller. What was that like?
BS: Really fun and a great education – he had brilliant and unique insights into songs and songwriting.
AW: Are there any dream musicians you’d like to work with?
BS: I already play with them! I look at the band and there’s nothing they can’t do, you know? It probably sounds cocky, but any songwriter would dream of having a band this good to work with. These guys are the dream musicians other songwriters would want to work with! I suppose there are times when I think about someone who could do string arrangements or something, but then I meet a guy like Mark Clifford (who did the arrangements on the new one) and, again, I’m working with someone who is bringing brilliant and accomplished work to the table that’s as good and cool as anything. I will say that I would love to know what it’d be like to play with the E Street Band or The Imposters or The Heartbreakers or any of those amazing groups that have spent decades behind a great songwriter, but, once again, I sort of feel like that’s what we are.
AW: Any plans for a national tour, or at least the East Coast, or is that not something you want to do?
BS: The logistics and economics are really against it, sadly, because I’d love to do it. Maybe an acoustic thing would work, but I’d rather do it with the band and it’s hard to imagine it happening without support of a label or someone.
AW: If a well-established indie label wanted to sign you, say Merge or Sup Pop, would you?
BS: I would, yeah. There’s a lot of pride in doing things in this DIY fashion, but, frankly, I’m not super good at it and it’s a weird burden that I don’t always weather that well. Having distribution and some press and the credibility that would come with that would be great. And, more than anything, just reaching more people. I think folks would dig it if they heard it, and my ability to get it heard all by myself is pretty limited.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Queens Of The Stone Age
I’ve always liked this band, but never more than with this new album. I’d feared the worst when I found out Mark Ronson had produced it. I did not want Josh Homme turned into Bruno Mars, or the band aping Uptown Funk.
Thankfully that isn’t what happened. Instead, the production has an organic feel. Their angular, irregular hard rock packs a bigger punch than most, and when synths are used, it’s with a light touch. While I always loved their sense of melody, this album sounds even more melodic to me than their previous work. The songs flow both melodically and lyrically, not just within themselves, but over the album as a whole, pulling it all together as a unit.
The lyrics are dark, but done smartly, so they never go overboard. My favorite lyric on this album is "Hideaway," and anyone who has been in an unequal relationship will relate to this song. It's balanced by "Fortress," where Josh offers shelter and comfort to someone he loves, tells them to let their guard down, and be with him. In its own way, it’s sweet.
The moral of this review is never judge a book by its cover. Ignore Ronson’s pop work and approach this album with an open mind. If you’re a fan, though this is a little different, there is plenty for you to sink your teeth into. If you’re new to the band, let the guys take you on a ride, then go on into their past work from there.
Sunday, August 27, 2017
The Bye Bye Blackbirds
Take Out The Poison
The follow-up to 2013’s "We Need The Rain" is more shimmering power pop/college rock from this long-running Oakland band.
Every track has something to recommend it, but three songs that stand out without diminishing the rest are noted here: the anthemic “Let Your Hair Fall Down” and “Baby We’re Fine,” and the Elliott Smith-like “I Meant To Write.” All three can be the gateway to the album, and while I’ve already reviewed it separately, “Duet” is another standout track, with a very sweet video.
The wait for this album was worth it for music this great, so do your ears a favor.
Thursday, August 24, 2017
Where to start with a heartbreaking review like this? With the basic story? I can, but I know there’s more.
Scott Miller was working on this album, had the title for it, the first GT album since 1988, and then he died before he could finish it. His wife, Kristine, with a whole cast of people helping, finished the album. While it was first crowd-funded, demand is such that it now has a general release on Bandcamp.
There are so many what ifs here. Scott’s voice and writing hadn’t aged a bit; these songs could have been on most any Game Theory album, or maybe "Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things," the first album by the Loud Family, Scott’s band in the 90s. With this expanded posse the songs were finished in ways not anticipated, but as close to Scott's vision of it as possible. It’s heartbreaking that it has to be like this. He still had it, which is what makes this album so good. Everyone involved pays fine tribute with their playing, and in some cases singing (Scott had recorded some vocals), but I’m going to single out the late Gil Ray here, a member of both Game Theory and the Loud Family, who lost his battle with cancer before the album was released. His percussion tracks are great. After that, it’s all equal.
Most of those who played with Scott are on here, along with others who were influenced by him. Did you know Aimee Mann was a Scott fan? Ted Leo, Will Sheff from Okkervil River, the Posies, and Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices and Nada Surf? You’ll hear what they got from Scott here.
With the exception of a comp of demos from the final Game Theory lineup in the pipeline, this is it. There wasn’t anything else, which means this is good-bye. I know for me Scott’s songs will live forever, and this album now belongs to history, and eternity. Thanks, Scott, if you’re anywhere, for all the great music.
Sunday, August 20, 2017
Mark Lanegan Band
I’d always liked Mark Lanegan, but I’d never seen him live, until now.
Duke Garwood and Lyenn were the two opening acts. Duke plays guitar in Lanegan’s band. He sounded like a good Chris Cornell emulator, circa Chris’s songs from the Singles soundtrack. Lyenn sounded like a more amplified Elliott Smith. They were good, but I wished they weren’t just solo guitarists, as the bare bones of their songs were good enough to make me wish for a full band. I liked their take on electric folk.
Lanegan and band hit the stage around 10:40. As dark as his songs are, there is also a lot of hope in them, and he seemed happy and to be having a good time onstage, which I found very likable. His voice has gotten better with age, a very rare thing, and his band is top notch.
The crowd, mostly 50-something’s like me or younger, seemed to be long-time fans. The venue can hold about 300 people. All hung on his every word, something I joined in on. And for the encore he played Joy Division’s "Love Will Tear Us Apart" very well.
Mark doesn’t tour the East Coast that often, so I knew this was a treat, and a great one. I left that night very happy. I hope to get to see him again.
Monday, July 24, 2017
The Bye-Bye Blackbirds
"Take Out The Poison," the upcoming BBB’s album, will be released August 25th, and this excellent clip is a great run up to it. In the clip, a man and woman walk separately through the streets of San Francisco. They could be the duet, but they don’t know it yet. The music is college rock on its jangly side, very sweet, very nice.
I got a real kick out of watching this, too, because it reminded me of the one time I visited San Fran and how much I liked it. City Lights Bookstore, the famous one, plays a prominent role in the video, and I have some hazy memories of being in there, and how much I liked it, too.
Sunday, July 23, 2017
Everybody Hits, Philadelphia, PA
R. Ring’s return to Philly was wonderful, a show I’d been looking forward to. This time they got to Philly without a hitch. For their gig here back in April, their van had broken down, and other mishaps, so all of us were very thankful they arrived this time with no problems.
Everybody Hits is a batting cage facility that also books concerts, and while it’s tiny, the sightlines are good everywhere, and it’s very clean and comfortable. The audience ranged in age and gender and was a very good mix.
The two opening acts didn’t disappoint. Joe Jack Talcum, a member of Philly punk icons the Dead Milkmen, and a very nice guy, played the best set I’d seen from him yet, and he's always good. Straightforward indie folk.
Sam from Radiator Hospital was next. I’d not seen him with his band, but I’d heard enough on Philly’s indie rock internet radio station, Y-Not Rock, to know that I’d like him. Very soulful, great lyrics, very cool.
R. Ring, who are Kelley Deal and Mike Montgomery, played most of the songs off their album from earlier this year, "Ignite The Rest," and were damn good on all of them. They had a new drummer, Roseanna Safos, from Cleveland band The Goldmines, and she was excellent. While I didn’t catch the title or lyrics, they played one new song, and it rocked. It’s amazing to hear the interplay between the guitars and drums; it's their own sound and style of experimental electric folk, no comparisons to anyone else.
After the show I said hello. They were happy to see me again. Kelley was thrilled I'd purchased Breeders tickets, another show I'm really looking forward to. https://www.facebook.com/rringsings
Sunday, July 9, 2017
William Way LGBTQ Community Center Ballroom
Philadelphia, PA 7-7-17
I’ve been into Jill since 1995 and "I Kissed A Girl," which is not a cover of the Katy Perry song. I saw her for the first time at Lilith Fair, and have continued seeing her to this day. My fandom has stretched across three states, and many albums, all good. And she’s a blast to see live.
William Way, named after a 70s Philly LGBTQ rights activist, is a great place for everything LGBTQ, located in the heart of the “gayborhood,” Philly’s LGBTQ area. I was thrilled to find out Jill was playing there, and bought tickets immediately.
She was great, as usual, and played most of her best known songs plus a few new ones, just her and a modified backpacker guitar, which she’s been known to solo on like a guitar hero. She did play a short solo on it this night.
Her back stories were great, too, like how much flack she got for her song "America Back" (“When they say they want their America back, well what the fuck do they mean?”). Another was about a troll, and getting that troll off her back with a new song. Other stories told of her teen years in Cinnamon Park, taking magic mushrooms to watch the Battle Of The Bands, with Chicago’s "Saturday In The Park" as a motif, and making sure everyone knew that the two woman in "I Kissed A Girl" did more than kiss (“They can have their diamonds, and we’ll have our pearls”).
After the show I said hello to Tony, Jill’s longtime webmaster and moderator of her email discussion group Happytown, named for her song about the joys of Prozac. Tony's a really nice guy. Then I spoke to Jill, who I’ve known for twenty years. She loved my anti-Trump shirt. I had a fantastic evening.
The shirt in question. The feminist group Ultra Violet had a fund raiser with this shirt, and it was too good to pass up. More here: https://weareultraviolet.org
And Jill's site: http://www.jillsobule.com
Friday, June 16, 2017
2 Steps From The Middle Ages
This album is the final one in Omnivore’s reissue series. Originally released in 1988, it was an album that the late Scott Miller said he wanted to tear up the Billboard charts, and if not, to be let out of his contract. It didn't, and the band broke up after this album was released.
If this album had come out in, say, 1993, it might have hit. Alt was sort of the mainstream then, and to give two good examples of the kinds of songs that hit, think Bob Mould’s "If I Can’t Change Your Mind," or "Cannonball" by The Breeders. But there weren’t so many charts and formats as there are now, so here are some hypotheticals if it were a brand new album being released today.
While this album is too indie to fit into the “mainstream alternative” radio format, I can see this hitting on non com AAA radio, like NPR and its offshoots, listener supported stations, and so on. It’s streamlined enough, catchy, accessible, with all the right quirks. There are straightforward lyrics about good times, romance on the rocks, and being nonconformist. It rocks when it wants to, but can be quiet enough to pack a stealth punch, like on “Initiations Week.” One of Donnette Thayer’s best songs is her duet with Scott on the gentle “Wyoming,” another great song on a great album.
This reissue is also chock full of bonus material, demos, live tracks, and rough mixes. My favorites are the demo for a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s "America," which is as lovely as the original, and the live version of "Waist And The Knees," especially since it features backing vocals by the late, great Gil Ray.
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Room For One More, Honey
As there is a pre-sale for the reissue of 2 Steps From The Middle Ages, I took it as a cue to review the single/ emphasis track, Room For One More, Honey. The album will be released Friday June 9th. And if this any indication of how great it is, with remastering like this, what a way to send the reissue series of the late Scott Miller’s band off in sttyle.
While Mitch Easter’s production made everything sound very crisp and clear, the remaster is more so. It’s pitch perfect now, a good balance of bright, shiny, rich and solid. I remeber a few reviews back in the day saying this song was about an airline distaster, and in one interview Scott somewhat confirmed it. But decide for yourselves, my memory might be hazy. But what isn’t is that I still love this track, the way Scott and Donnette Thayer sing on it, and haven’t forgotten hearing it on the radio, how good it sounded there. You may feel the same when you hear it on your media player device of choice.
(I find the pre-sale on Amazon easier than iTunes.)
Friday, May 19, 2017
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