Monday, January 01, 2007

Best Album of 2006: Weird Al "Straight Outta Lynwood"

I have been a fan of this whacked out dude for decades but this album might his best yet. The first track, "White and Nerdy" (a parody of "Ridin' Dirty") is flat out hilarious, especially since it might be my life story and Al proves he still knows how to make a video too, with guest appearances by fellow nerds Seth Green and Donnie Osmond.

For other parodies, Weird Al dips into punk with "Canadian Idiot", a spoof on "American Idiot", because everyone loves to make fun of Canadians!

Confession Part III, a parody of Confession Part II shows Al is still as high on romance as ever (not at all).

And of course since no one needs making fun of more than American Idol winners, there's even a parody of Taylor Hicks' "Do I make you proud" which is the very disturbing "Do I creep you out".

In the original tracks on the album, Al keeps with the theme, exploring such geek pasttimes as picking up computer viruses ("Virus Alert") and illegally downloading music ("Don't Download this song").

And of course, there's a polka montage of the best and worst recent music because, well, it's a Weird Al album, duh.

For an act that seemed to be wearing thin a decade ago, Weird Al has managed to reinvent himself yet again and each time he seems to just get funnier.

You can listen to some tracks from the album on Al's myspace page, including an outtake from the album, "You're pitiful" and of course, "Don't download this song".

And finally, you can watch the video for White and Nerdy below.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Reel Big Fish: Greatest Hit and "more"

The title of this Greatest Hit album tells you something about the band it covers. Tongue planted firmly in cheek this high-energy ska band sends up a lot of things, especially the music industry and themselves.

The lyrics are consistently sarcastic but the music packs a lot of toe-tapping energy into the album's 19 tracks.

There may only be one hit here (that's "Sell Out", a hit you actually might have missed). But as for the more, there's a lot that's great, from a cover of 80's hit "Take on Me", to a song about Beer, called, well, "Beer" to a couple of great tracks about wanting a girl who doesn't want you, either because she has a boyfriend "I want your girlfriend" or because she has a girlfriend ("She has a girlfriend now").

Reel Big Fish's brand of rock might not be ready for primetime, but it's certainly infectious and a great pick for a rainy day or just when you're tired or bored.

Monday, December 25, 2006

James Brown will be missed

A music icon died today. Let's take a moment to remember the Godfather of Soul on this Christmas day in the best way possible.


So on the advice of my first comment (that's right, posting the first comment gives you REAL POWER) I tweaked the template, and changed a few other things while I was at it, including moving the ad banner to the side and adding an email link at the bottom of the page where you can drop me line.

So if you have a comment about the changes, go to the bottom of the page!

Santa thought I was good this year... sucker!!!!

But he did get me a 1 GB mp3 player compatible with Napster to go... meaning my music addiction is about to get worse.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Nickel Creek: This Side

For a band I discovered not that long ago, Nickel Creek has quickly become one of my favorite bands. A jazz-inflected bluegrass, Nickel Creek is one of the tightest bands I have ever heard, and they gained their virtuosity the old fashioned way: playing together. A lot.

The band's three core members are in their 20's and have been playing together for 12 years. In other words, they have spent more of their lives as a band than not.

Their second album, This Side sees the band pushing the boundaries of bluegrass a little more in the direction of folk rock while still keeping the jazz and classical overtones that marked their first album. The result is an even richer and more satisfying album. It's like chili- more ingredients just make it better.

Like their first album, This Side establishes itself right away with an instrumental, just in case you thought the band had all started drinking heavily and lost their chops between albums, they decided to let you know right away they still got it. The song is called "Smoothie" and it lives up to its name, with a smooth groove sure to have you tapping your feet.

Another good trait carried over from their first album is that this is album you will want to listen to all the way through. Alison Krauss has returned as a producer and helped craft an album without a weak link and the song arrangement is excellent, without a lag caused by too many mellow songs in a row or too many similar-sounding songs in a row. In other words, you will want to listen to the whole album.

Other stand-out tracks include "Speak", "Seven Wonders" and perhaps my single favorite Nickel Creek song on all three albums, "Beauty and the Mess" which is interesting lyrically (in other words you want to know the words- they actually say something) as well as a fine showcase for Sara Watkins' vocals.

A lot of bands with great debut albums suffer a sophomore slump. I'm happy to report that wasn't the case with Nickel Creek's second album, This Side.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Speechwriters LLC: Bull Moose After Party

Speechwriters LLC is a funky, California-based acoustic pop quartet. Bull Moose After Party is their 4th CD since 2001 and is a great testament to all the work this band has put in on the road of late.

While the instrumentation is acoustic, this album is pure pop-rock, the kind of music you want to tap your foot to. Every track on the album is loaded with hooks and the guys can really play. A lot of places categorize it as "folk" because (I'm guessing) you need electric guitars, a lot of synthesizers and a sexy girl or two for it to be pop. But unless you're allergic to real guitars, it qualifies as pop to me (which isn't necessarily a bad word either- it isn't all soulless crap).

Though this one of those albums without a lot of filler (in other words the entire album is worth a listen), the strongest tracks are track 2 and track 6. I think track 6, "Blood on the frets" is the best track on the album. It has a real dark energy to it that a lot of acoustic music lacks.

Track highlights:

Track 2: Spaghetti Streetwalker
Track 6: Blood on the frets

Blood on the Frets

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Weird Al Yankovic: Poodle Hat

Weird Al takes another acerbic look at modern music and shows he hasn't lost his touch. On display are the usual things one expects from a Weird Al album: plenty of spoofs of current hot songs, songs about food, songs that are really gross and a scalpel-like take on modern pop culture.

Track 1: Couch Potato spoofs Eminem's "Lose Yourself" but saves its most wicked barbs for the state of television with lyrics like "Fear Factor I watched maybe a half hour/after that felt I needed a long shower" and "next week on Fox watch lions eat Christians". When Al decides to put you in the crosshairs, he doesn't pull any punches and as someone who looks at the current flood of reality shows and says "WTF" I was laughing with every jab.

Track 2: Hardware Store is one of Weird Al's originals about, well, a hardware store opening in town and how orgasmically happy it makes him. One thing (among many) to like about Al is that he has a tremendous band, I love to see him live because his backing group is a tight, professional unit. Often the songs he covers don't give them the chance to show it. Al's originals however, are always written with his band in mind and are thus some of the most interesting songs on his albums.

Track 3: Trash Day is a parody of Nelly's "Hot in Herre". Al takes a groovy original and makes a groovy remake that is laugh out loud funny as he sings about deciding not to take the trash out for a few months.

Track 4: Party at the Leper Colony Just cataloguing all the gross double entendre in this song, in the style of songs like "Footloose"(though not directly spoofing any particular song). With lines like "met a pretty lady so pretty and young/she was quite a talker till the cat got her tongue" and "there's a guy in the hot tub I don't know who/wait a minute it looks like Stu!". Plenty of the lines in this song make you laugh and then go "ewwww" and not always in that order.

Track 5 might just be the best track on Poodle Hat and as is often the case, it's a polka, a genre of music Al loves. His polkas are much loved by his fans and this track, Angry White Boy Polka, which takes a look at "angst rock" like Pearl Jam, Rage against the Machine and similar bands shows that anything is better (and funnier!) when you make into a polka. Having listened to this track about 100 times, I am STILL trying to catch all the songs he blends together. Sometimes he gives you one line of a song and moves on.

Track 6 Wanna B Ur Lovr is another hilarious original and contains every bad pick up line known to man. Seriously. Plus a few that I hadn't even heard before like "maybe you've seen my picture it's in the dictionary under kablam".

Certainly not every track on the album is as good as these first 6, which are all winners. I think Track 9, Ode to a superhero, a spoof of the Billy Joel classic "Piano Man" is the weakest track on the album, despite being about Spiderman. While Al had a big hit as well as a tremendous success spoofing an enduring classic on his last album with the American Pie-inspired Star Wars Episode 1 send up "The Saga Begins", this track is much less successful and I can't put my finger on why.

In other places, such as Track 11, Ebay, a spoof of Backstreet Boys' "I want it that way" Al shows how much his sense of humor has entered the zeitgeist, since this song had been used in an Ebay commercial before his album was released! That said, Ebay is not one of the album's weak tracks, thanks to Al's fantastic wit and love of pop culture kitsch. Lines like "I bid on Shatner's old toupe" and "a smurf TV tray" are two of MANY lines in this song that will have you laughing, especially if you're a geek like Al (and me).

Another nice track on this album is Bob, a send up not of a specific song but of a singer, Bob Dylan. Immitating the singer's delivery and musical style, Al speak volumes about Dylan's supposedly deep lyrics and when you realize every single line in the song is a palindrome (saying the same thing forward then backwards) from the first line "I man am regal/A German am I". This song makes me laugh every time I hear it (especially the line "do nine men interpret/nine men I nod" because it's the kind of crap stoned Dylan fans have been trying to tell me was deep for decades) and has a great Dylan-inspired video to boot.

In short, Poodle Hat shows that Al hasn't yet lost the midas touch. He makes fun of us, he makes fun of our sex symbols, he makes fun of our music and we thank him for it, laughing all the way. Since a good laugh is always welcome, thanks Al.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Live on Letterman: Music from the late show

I am a part of the "Letterman Generation". If you don't know what that is, either you go to bed early or you're a part of it too.

See there used to be this guy named Johnny Carson who was on the Tonight Show before Jay Leno. His show was the grand tradition of late night TV. And then there was this guy behind him who my parents didn't get.

They didn't get his sarcastic sense of humor. They didn't get why that sarcasm was frequently trained on his celebrity guests. And they didn't get his music.

Along with his comedy style, the other reason to watch Letterman for me was his musical guests. He had people on I listened to, people Carson would never have on in a million years.

This CD collects some of the best live performances on Letterman's CBS Late Show and it's a knockout live sampler that shows how great a muscial venue the Letterman show is. I used to consider Saturday Night Live to be the best live music on TV but this CD shows Letterman now deserves that mantle.

The CD opens with an acoustic performance by David Grisman and Jerry Garcia, then moves to another acoustic performance, this one by Sheryl Crow performing "Strong Enough". Both songs are quiet and ease you into the album, allowing the virtuoso musicianship of Grisman and the pure Americana of Crow to shine through.

After this the album takes it up a notch in a big way, with the Dave Matthews Band performing "Too Much" and showing why they might just be the best live band touring today.

For a lot of albums this would be the high point but the next track is Aretha Franklin bringing the house down with one of her many seminal classics "Think".

After these two amazing tracks the album goes for another quiet song with Paula Cole doing a simply beautiful rendition of her hit "I don't want to wait".

After some very nice numbers by Elvis Costello, Lyle Lovett and Rod Stewart, the album takes it up again for the finish in a big way, beginning with one of my favorite REM songs "Crush with eyeliner". REM is a fantastic live band and this track is often overlooked among their many hits. This driving, raunchy live rendition is simply not to be missed and for me is the "must have" track on this CD.

The CD follows this track with Lenny Kravitz performing "Are you gonna go my way". Lenny is a great performer and always brings a ton of energy to his live performances and this track does not disappoint.

In short if you're looking for a live anthology or are a fan of any of the artists on this disc and want to pick up a live rarity that you may have missed, this CD is one you won't want to miss.