Every New Years Eve The Parson Red Heads cover a different album and invite friends to do the same, creating a night where everyone dresses up like someone else to listen to bands playing someone else’s songs. These kinds of tributes are very popular in Portland, which is odd given the huge amount of talent and original music coming out of this city. But I guess it’s also a fun way for some of these bands to wear their influences (or at least their interests) on their sleeves.
Those influences linger just below the surface in the band’s new single, “Coming Down” from their upcoming fourth studio album, Blurred Harmony. According to their press release, the new album is “the overdriven jangle of Teenage Fanclub and Big Star power-pop, the skewed psychedelics of the Paisley Underground, the bittersweet energy of New Zealand’s ‘Dunedin Sound’ movement, and the muted twang of Cosmic Americana, all crammed into 44 minutes.” All of which is true, but mixed up into a stew of its own.
Singer-songwriter Evan Way describes the track as “a song about anxiety, about how life and all it’s mania can start to make you feel like you’re losing it, and how in those moments the people that you love can sort of ground you and bring you back to reality and that sense of safety.”
I was lucky enough to have spent some of my formative music years in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Not only was it a tour stop for national bands (Kalamazoo being exactly half-way between Chicago and Detroit), but it also had a banging local scene comprised of bands that I still count among my favorites. All of this was built on the foundation of a guitar company that stands as one of the pillars of American musical instruments: Gibson Guitars.
Founded in 1902 as “The Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co., Ltd.” in Kalamazoo to make mandolins and guitars, the main plant was at 225 Parsons St. when Gibson left for Nashville in 1984. Heritage Guitars moved in shortly thereafter and while they made fine guitars, the small company kinda let the building go to pot.
But now new owners Archie Leach and Jeff Nicholson, who bought Heritage Guitars in 2016, are bringing the old girl back to life. Local Spins reports that the company is investing in their history and…ahem…heritage with a $12 million renovation of the plant to “turn the factory into a destination for tourists and local residents, while keeping the legacy of Gibson and Heritage alive and well in Kalamazoo.”
And because this is Michigan, there are plans to include a beer garden and restaurant as part of the renovations, which are expected to be complete by the end of 2018 or in early 2019.
I was listening to one of those new music mixes on Apple Music and catching up on work when this song popped up and I thought, ‘This new Heart sounds pretty good!” Except it wasn’t Heart, it was Frankenmuth, Michigan’s own Greta Van Fleet. More on that in a bit.
Heart is one of those bands that had a bunch of chart dominating singles, insanely talented writing, vocals and musicianship, especially in the sister duo of Ann & Nancy Wilson, but very few bands wear them on their sleeves as obvious influences. I’m not sure why that is, but I can’t think of a single band where I can say, “Oh yeah, these guys obviously love Heart.”
So when the vocals came in on Greta Van Fleet’s new single “Black Smoke Rising,” I was pleasantly surprised to hear the connection. I mean, there’s no way this vocal performance is not influenced by Ann Wilson, right?
Black Smoke Rising
It gets better. It turns out that it’s not even a modern-day Ann Wilson fronting this band. In fact, there’s isn’t a female in sight! Greta Van Fleet is a four-piece band of dudes—three brothers and a friend! So it’s not a sister act emulating the Wilsons, but a brother act. How great is that?
I have no idea what is going on in this video from Tara Jane O’Neil but it’s vaguely cult-ish and I am fascinated by cults so…
It’s also a lovely, whispy song. From her self-titled ninth album, “Blow” is a bit of a musical meditation. I’m told she’s hypnotic live and lucky for you and me she’s on tour right now. Check her out.
Kendrick Lamar and Don Cheadle Go Head to head in this video for the single, “DNA” from Lamar’s new album DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar – DNA.
I ran into Don Cheadle once on Michigan Ave. in Chicago. It was cold but sunny and we were walking toward each other when he recognized that I had recognized him. We both played it cool though. He flashed that Cheadle smile as an acknowledgement that yes, it was indeed him. I nodded and we kept walking.
In case you haven’t heard, June 1 marks the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Debates rage as to whether this is simply a great album or the greatest album, but there’s no question of its musical and culture importance as a work of art. You cannot watch anything about the 1960s that doesn’t reference it as a touchstone. It is endlessly dissected and studied and what better opportunity to do so once again than with an anniversary!
Coming on May 26 is a mega super duper deluxe reissue of the album itself with various packaging and trappings. As reported pretty much everywhere, “The ‘Anniversary Editions’ of “Sgt. Pepper” will include a single CD version with the new stereo mix (priced at $18.98 on Amazon) and a deluxe two-CD and digital version ($24.98) containing 13 alternate takes of all the “Sgt. Pepper” songs in the original sequence plus five additional takes.”
It also includes news stereo and 5.1 surround mixes. I still marvel at the remastered versions of the album (stereo and mono) that came out in 2009 so I can barely contain my excitement to hear this new set.
Also in the mix is a new documentary about the album, which claims to have “rare archived footage of their heyday, including footage that hasn’t been seen since the 60’s.” Directed by Alan G. Parker and produced by Reynold D’Silva and Alexa Morris, It Was Fifty Years Ago Today! Sgt Pepper & Beyond is also due out May 26.
What the band describes as, “Telling the story of a man who is stuck in his head and riddled with social anxiety to the point where he is unable to leave his apartment,” the video for “Trouble” is a little bit of synth-y dream pop and a little bit outer space/inner space anxiety.
Featuring Kyle Pacek (Guardians Of The Galaxy) and David Child (Life Hold On), the video shows that if you free your ass, your mind will follow.
The Knocks – TROUBLE ft. Absofacto (Official Video)
From the Testify EP, out now on Big Beat Records/Neon Gold. Catch this New York duo on tour.
They say you shouldn’t trust anyone who doesn’t like puppies or babies. That’s kinda how I feel about anyone who doesn’t love Spoon. I mean…what’s not to love? Soulful vocals and witty lyrics; smart, economical instrumentation; beats and rhythms that make you DANCE; all peppered with hoots, hollers, grunts and groans that let you know rock music is supposed to be visceral.
Full transparency: Jake Brown was not always on the Spoon train and I can tell you that there were several whispered conspiratorial conversations around the office keg. We considered executing the 25th Amendment until he started to come around. I am pleased to say the state of the GLONO union is now strong.
Hot Thoughts is Spoon’s ninth studio album and builds on the same blue print established way back on 2001’s Girls Can Tell. This is a band who is consistent, if not creatively challenging. Once they broke (albeit slightly) from the jagged corners of their first two albums, the mold was set and they’ve honed the product more than redesigned it. And I am totally down with that. It’s a wonder how consistent, and consistently good, Spoon is. Given how shitty things are elsewhere in this country it’s really nice to know we can count on a solid record from this band every 24 to 36 months.
One area of exploration I have enjoyed from these guys is their occasional dips into dance-y pop music. I think it started with 2005’s “I Turn My Camera On,” which is a staple of any indie kid’s dance mix. This year we have “Can I Sit Next To You” as an early contender for Summer Jam 2017. It’s the kinda song that will make middle-aged dudes pine for pool parties that don’t include swim diapers.
If you’re reading this then you probably already have the new album so I’m not going to sell it. But I’d love to open up a conversation in the comments about the elements of Spoon that make them our favorite band. Because there are common elements, some of which are noted above and some of which get turned into criticism for other bands. Why?