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Anywhere She Lays Her Head

Posted by on Jan 30, 2008 One Comment

Between possibly getting engaged, starring in movies that aren’t as good as Ghost World, getting hot and steamy with Justin Timberlake, and acting as a modern-day Betty Grable visiting the troops in Kuwait, it’d seem that Scarlett Johansson’s dance card is totally full.

But in news that pretty much has the entire world’s panties in a bunch, Johansson’s been busy putting the finishing touches on a solo album. No big deal, you say? Then smoke on your pipe and put this in: it’s a solo album of ALL TOM WAITS SONGS.

To the casual observer, this in itself is pretty nuts. But to longtime Tom Waits fans, it’s even more insane, like Jesus coming back and ordaining Waits as the official MC for the resurrection. To further spark those indie-nerd juices, Johansson hit the Louisiana studio with the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner on guitar and TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek on production.

The track listing’s not been made available yet, but speculating about the hundreds of song choices available is half the fun (“Pasties and a G-String”? “Christmas Card From A Hooker in Minneapolis”? “Better Off Without A Wife”?).

Mark your calendars: the album, called Anywhere I Lay My Head, is due out on May 20 via Atco Records.

Teenagers In Other Countries Did Acid Too

Posted by on Jan 27, 2008 One Comment

Prevailing trends in World Music compilations are funny things. After Paul Simon’s Graceland, the record market was flooded with South African compilations; after Buena Vista Social Club came the glut of Cuban compilations; and between U2, Enya, Riverdance, Loreena McKennitt, Sinead O’Connor and Titanic, the ‘90s had a good ten-year run of hot-selling, yawn-inducing Irish compilations.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact genesis of the latest compilation trend, but lately people can’t seem to get enough of psychedelic music from around the world.

Whether it’s imported from West Africa (Luaka Bop’s excellent Love’s A Real Thing), Ethiopia (the crazy vibraphone sounds of Mulatu on Ethiopiques Vol. 4) or Brazil (Love, Peace and Poetry: Brazilian Psychedelic Music), world psychedelic music is super-duper hot right now. So hot, I hate to say, that lame-ass collections have started popping up under the false banner of “psychedelia,” corruptly hornswaggling us poor music hounds into chasing the diluted coattails of a trend that, barring any basement discoveries of Os Mutantes or Alla Pugachova outtakes anytime soon, appears to have run its ethno-trippy course.

Case in point: The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias From Peru, which is a very fine collection of dance bands from ’68-’78. The music, played largely by working people from poor backgrounds, is tropical and percussive, sometimes utilizing surf-style electric guitars, farfisa organs and moog synthesizers. The culmination of sounds evokes hot, dry days, dirt roads, lush foliage, and butterfly collars, and though rudimentary, it embodies the flavor of its era.

It’s pretty groovy. But is it psychedelic? Not in the slightest.

Just as film sequels are prime fodder for disappointment, music trends can industrially produce truckloads of hoppin’-on-the-bandwagon mediocrity. The difference is that it’s harder to trace the lineage of music trends, which don’t share franchise names as much as movies do. If they did, it’d be easier to sniff out the perpetrators—like if the Dave Clark Five were called “The Beatles Part II.”

But when a certain catch phrase does catch on and starts making the cash registers ring (a mixed blessing for world “psychedelic” music), you can bet your Salvadorean hookah that copycat products will line up and run the whole damn thing into the ground.

I’ll never forget the time I bought Oliver Nelson’s More Blues and the Abstract Truth, excited as all hell ‘cause I’d just discovered his flawless The Blues and the Abstract Truth album. Realistically, More Blues was a decent enough jazz album, but man, he shoulda just called it something different. Similar disappointments have plagued otherwise fine compilations like Night Train To Nashville Vol. 2, Bay Area Funk Vol. 2 or California Soul Vol. 2, all of them overflowing with weak sauce in inevitable comparison to each series’ kickass first volumes (get them now, if you know what’s good for you).

I won’t even start in on the obvious losers like Metallica’s Reload and Run DMC’s Back From Hell, or b-side cash-ins like Sufjan Stevens’ The Avalanche or Ghostface Killah’s More Fish. We’d all just get depressed. On the bright side, a small handful of sequels are warranted— Julie London’s Julie Is Her Name Vol. II isn’t that bad, come to think of it. But, you know. That was 50 years ago.

Lila vs. Kells at the Roll Call

Posted by on Jan 26, 2008 One Comment

It was a hella enjoyable night last week at Kate & Coalmine’s Roll Call, thanks largely in part to the very funny and ultimately surreal set played by Lila Cugini (seen here getting clubbed by, uh… a sadomasochistic police officer?).

The Roll Call, a recurring feature on Wednesday nights at the Toad in the Hole Pub in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, operates like a well-organized (and, thanks to the beers on tap, well-oiled) open mic. Performers are booked in advance, but the carefree, anything-goes attitude is the same. Basically, you never know what you’re gonna get; a time-honored concept which can be excruciating when it fails but awesomely surprising when it succeeds.

It worked for Lila, who happened to be celebrating her birthday last Wednesday and had plenty of well-wishers in tow. Lila opened her set by showing off and reading from her latest present, just given to her by a friend outside on the sidewalk: an autographed script of the pilot episode from M*A*S*H.

Then, kicking things off with a tongue-in-cheek ditty called “I Want An Ugly Man,” Lila told a story about copying and pasting the song’s lyrics onto a personal ad on Craigslist, just as an experiment. “And here’s the really terrible thing about dating in Sonoma County,” she related: two hours later, she opened an inbox full of responses from 19 homely, disfigured, fat slobs, all professing their undying, requited love.

Lila plays simple chords and sings simple melodies, and even when she forgets her own lyrics, she’s got a charming, hey-I-could-do-that-too thing going on. Her voice reminds me of a younger Lucinda Williams circa Happy Woman Blues, and her songs—“My Lovin’ Days Are Over,” “She Wants Him Back”—reveal a similar plaintive heartbreak.

But it was the set’s closer that brought the house down.

Last time I saw Lila, oh, about five years ago, she dedicated a cover song—Green Day’s “She”—to her son, Adler. On Wednesday, her cover song of choice had changed considerably: R. Kelly’s “Real Talk.” Totally goddamned hilarious. You haven’t lived ‘til you’ve seen a birthday girl with a voice full of heartbreak, strumming slow chords on an acoustic guitar, singing lines like “I been with you five years and you listenin’ to your motherfuckin’ girlfriends / I don’t know why you fuck with them ol’ jealous, no-man-havin’-ass hoes anyway.”

(P.S.: Throughout the set, North Country bike enthusiast and all-around man-about-town Chris Wells projected weird-ass videos on a screen, and just when the night couldn’t get any stranger, he quickly followed “Real Talk” with a candid clip of Lila, Kate and Dani (all of whom were at the Toad, none of whom knew they had been filmed) sitting around a campfire at a dustbowl hoedown party, singing Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers” at the top of their lungs. Awesome.)

Whither Thou City Sound Inertia?

Posted by on Jan 24, 2008 7 Comments

Why is this blog called City Sound Inertia?

I’m destined to be asked this question sooner or later, so I may as well answer it in my first-ever blog posting.

In 2003, I put together a compilation CD of local Santa Rosa bands who, due to a variety of reasons (lack of press coverage, the nonexistence of MySpace), no one had heard outside of occasional house parties and dingy fly-by-night clubs. I wanted to remedy that. So I collected together 11 songs that I felt were best representative of Santa Rosa’s local music scene at the time, put them on a CD, and sold it for $2.99.

Lots of people, including those at the Bohemian (funny how life works out), took note; but unfortunately, more than a few people, while I was getting songs together, told me something along the lines of “that’s so great, man, ’cause this town sucks for music!”

It hurt. Those of you who know me also know that I’m awfully defensive about Santa Rosa, and by putting together the compilation I wanted to outline precisely that this town does not suck for music; in fact, there’s fantastic music in this town around every corner. It’s hard to get people to take notice of it, true, and being in a band can be a very uphill and very expensive battle, but year in and year out, good music seems to constantly prevail.

With that in mind, I gave the CD a title: City Sound Inertia.

Half the bands on the CD have broken up by now, but the compilation’s liner notes conveying my optimism still hold true. I wrote them quickly but passionately, and in essence, they apply to the future of this blog as well. Read on: