Author Archives: Jude Warne

Mellow Obsessions: The Record Store of the Mind by Josh Rosenthal

So nice, we read it twice. —Ed.

Genre-wise, Josh Rosenthal’s new book is a medley of memoir, music criticism, and a how-to guide on music listening.

Entitled The Record Store of the Mind, it loosely tells the story of Rosenthal’s musical life from his origins as a PolyGram intern right up until his recent-ish (2005) founding of Tompkins Square Records. Along that route, he had stints at larger operations—Columbia and Sony.

Rosenthal’s releases through Tompkins Square over the past ten years have largely consisted of reissued and long-forgotten musical material (i.e. Roland White’s 1976 album I Wasn’t Born to Rock’n Roll) and never-before-released-but-should-have-been-long-ago material (i.e. Tim Buckley’s Live at the Folklore Center, NYC – March 6, 1967). This chosen focus stays true to Rosenthal’s record collector character—forever seeking out a classic bit of vinyl that people have forgotten about and need to hear again right away.

This kind of mindset places worth upon history, it places worth upon the effects of passed time on a work of art. It places worth upon the voice of a narrow perspective that spoke directly from a given year, a year during which a myriad of events occurred, a year that was defined by statistics which determined its color and taste, statistics that could never be reproduced in that same way ever again.

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Pete Donnelly,
The TVD Interview

Pete Donnelly’s musical resume is pretty damn impressive. He’s the bass player firmly associated with legendary rock band NRBQ. He’s the singer-songwriter with several solo releases to his name. He’s the co-writer of “I Can’t Imagine,” the title track of Shelby Lynne’s recently released album. And of course, he’s the founding member of phenomenal rock band The Figgs, having worked with The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson, as well as the great Graham Parker.

Along with Mike Gent, Donnelly founded The Figgs in 1987 and they are still going strong, with a recent album release that just might be their best yet. Other Planes of Here is an eight-track wonder of a record, a record that sets forth free-sounding tunes at once loyal to aurally stimulating melodies and compositionally new. While staying true to their rock-heavy roots, The Figgs have allowed their musicality to grow and their sound to evolve into one that incorporates and is influenced by a variety of instruments and genres. The result, manifested this year in Other Planes, is thoroughly, thoroughly good.

In conversation with Pete Donnelly, we learn more about The Figgs’ story and the making of Other Planes, as well as Donnelly’s numerous artistic influences and his warranted and well-articulated thoughts on the current state of the music industry.

First of all, congratulations on the new Figgs album Other Planes of Here, it’s really great. How did you devise its overall aural aesthetic? Because it seems to be a newer sound for you guys, incorporating more experimental musical components, more computerized effects.

Yeah, the Figgs certainly have an organic process. I think that we usually edit down quite a bit and focus on being sort of a pop band versus an experimental band. We tend to be tight and to the point, but we do have another side of us which is very experimental. I think in this case we decided to let it go and to not edit the process. We sort of wanted to take the audience into the process of recording, and I think the experimental side sort of opened a doorway into what gets our songs together. Often times we would edit that out of the final picture, but here we decided to leave it in.

How would you describe the band’s typical compositional process? Do you guys usually write together?

We do all kinds of things. I’d say that traditionally, Mike (Gent) and I write songs and come together in the studio or a rehearsal space, blast through a number of them and just see what clicks. As we’ve gotten older over the years, we’ve tried certain things where we’d write in the studio, come up with a theme or musical idea, just sort of experiment with it and write a song to it. It’s generally a more modern technique, making tracks and then writing to them. Sometimes we’ll have an unfinished song that one of us will come and finish. So it’s kind of anything goes. But because Mike and I write so much and come to the table with many songs, I think it’s the collaboration that makes it. Songwriting on paper is writing down a title, music, and lyrics, but the band contributes so much to, as you said, the aural picture. And I think on the new record, you can expect a lot more of that.

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TVD Live: Blackberry Smoke and The Temperance Movement at Webster Hall, 3/28

In the year 2015, it sometimes seems difficult to locate real and true rock and roll that’s new and isn’t just a regurgitation of rock and roll from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. This difficulty can be accounted for by any number of elements—auto tuning, the decreasing influence of record companies in the world of musical artistry, and MTV.

A while back Portlandia put forth a brilliant take on what had happened to MTV by placing a pre-teen girl in its leadership position as explanation of its ideological demise. The difficulty in question is just that however, a difficulty—not an impossibility. This past Saturday night at Webster Hall in New York City serves as exhibits A through infinity to attest to this latter fact.

Blackberry Smoke, having released four studio albums since its start in 2000, is most often described as a “southern rock” band, which it is—but this categorization seeks to minimize the band when it should be maximized and subsequently lauded. Blackberry Smoke is a straight-up rock and roll group. The band’s sound is derived from lead singer and guitarist’s Charlie Starr’s spot-on command of each song performed, along with support from fellow guitarist Paul Jackson, bassist Richard Turner, keyboard player Brandon Still, and drummer Brit Turner.

Holding All the Roses is the group’s latest release, and a number of tracks were showcased at the Webster Hall gig, including “Let Me Help You (Find the Door),” “Rock and Roll Again,” and “Living in the Song.” A terrifyingly gorgeous rendition of the group’s emotionally melodic work-of-art-track, “The Whippoorwill” would have stolen the show—if surprise guest Robert Randolph hadn’t stepped out to contribute to “Ain’t Got the Blues.”

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TVD Live: Ray LaMontagne at the Beacon Theatre, 11/14

For those of us who are retrospectively inclined music-wise, last Friday night at the Beacon Theatre was a dream come true. Ray LaMontagne put on a show akin to those we might imagine were performed back in 1971 when guitars reigned supreme, or perhaps back in 1968 when light shows were still a thing.

The collective emotions produced by those onstage and off vacillated between groove-yourself-into-feeling-good and self-reflect-yourself-into-feeling-reverent. Whatever end of the spiritual spectrum one found oneself on at any given moment during the concert, it was the hip place to be.

LaMontagne and his backup band, which included the excellent brother-sister duo The Belle Brigade (who also provided a stellar opening act of their own tunes), offered up selections from this year’s far-out(!) album Supernova; “Lavender,” “She’s the One,” “Airwaves,” and the show-stealer “Supernova” (the song) were of note. Ray’s greatest hits canon made up a large part of the show’s set list as well; “New York City’s Killing Me,” “Trouble,” “Repo Man,” and “Jolene” gradually generated eureka moments.

The best bit of the concert may just have been the acoustic set halfway through, when LaMontagne and his musical director, slash one of the wow-est bass players around, Zachariah Hickman, went to town on the best of Ray’s ballads. Stripped down and bare, the songs’ power was more immediate, and LaMontagne’s understanding of and allegiance to the history and evolution of the rock-pop-folk (ropolk?) singer-songwriter was undeniable.

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Another Top 10 list?
The History of Rock
’n’ Roll in Ten Songs

by Greil Marcus

“The story we’re telling is about imprisonment, but the music we’re making is about freedom, the tiny moments of freedom you steal from a life you don’t own, that doesn’t belong to you, that you have to live.”

Greil Marcus tells the rock ‘n‘ roll story better than most.

His 1975 book Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock n’ Roll Music managed to present an in-depth tracing of the essence of American rock music, choosing such artists as Harmonica Frank, Robert Johnson, Randy Newman, and Sly & the Family Stone as case studies. Marcus used these artists as jumping off points to tell his larger tale of the history of the American persona. His classification of “the worried man” as the constant character of The Band’s song catalogue is a testament to his ability to treat rock music as literature, giving the genre due analysis.

In The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs, Marcus does what he does best: he gives credence and worth to the world of rock and roll and its history. He reminds us that it matters, and he forces us to reflect upon what the history of rock and roll will look like to monorail riders of the future, when he lists the entirety (three-plus pages) of the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which covers most of the greats, some not-so greats, and leaves out many more (Warren Zevon! HARRY NILSSON! and so on and so on…)

Rock and roll is much more than this list of inductees. It is much more than ten songs. But there is a quark of its essence deep within each one; pick any ten rock songs and the history of rock is there. Marcus knows this; in a sense, he uses this playful title to simultaneously debunk the myth of the idea of the list and endorse the necessity of its creation in order to give it more gravitas.

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TVD Live: Paul Rodgers with the Royal Sessions band at Town Hall, 6/19

PHOTOS: EBRU YILDIZ | At a point in between songs during his New York performance of recent project and album release The Royal Sessions, Paul Rodgers remarked (half to himself, half to the packed house before him), “Isn’t this music cool? I love this music.”

This music, covers of classic blues and soul tunes such as “I Thank You,” “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” and show-stealer “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember,” was really, really cool. After all, the Sessions band, an assortment of top musicians from Memphis, gave us a tighter-than-tight horn section and an electric bongo player.

But the majority of the evening’s cool points most definitely went to Rodgers himself, because he made every move and every note look and sound easy, causing the average concert-going nerd to narrow his eyes, stroke his chin and think to himself, “Hmmm… so casual, smooth, easy—heck, anybody could sing these R&B standards and sound good, right?”

Wrong! Because only Paul Rodgers, singer of such rock classics as Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and Free’s “All Right Now,” could make these standards sound so good. Indeed, it could be said that Rodgers’ Royal Sessions project created (cue megaphone amplification) “The PERFECT… STORM… OF SOUL.”

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A Rock and Roll Soul
at its Finest: A Man Called Destruction:
The Life and Music of Alex Chilton

Last year the “alternative newsweekly” The Memphis Flyer published a brief piece titled “Local Man Loves Big Star,” a parody report of a gent who couldn’t stop raving about Big Star and their work, even when the conversations at hand didn’t call for it. This would’ve been pretty funny!  IF… the whole thing had not seemed so truthful. The discovery of ’70s band Big Star, at whatever point it might occur for any given individual, has a sort of obsessive-compulsive effect on the discoverer. How are these records so good, so… perfect? How have I not heard them until now? There is an immediate air of mystery that begs further investigation—who were these guys? In her biography of Big Star-man Alex Chilton, Holly George-Warren sets out to explain this, in part, who was Alex Chilton exactly? 

Chilton’s musical success came early—he was sixteen years old when he recorded his first single, performing vocals with The Box Tops on soon-to-be number-one hit “The Letter.” This band disassembled in 1970, and soon after, Chilton joined fellow Memphis musician Chris Bell’s group, renaming it Big Star. The band went on to make three albums (only the first, #1 Record with the original line-up; Bell split pretty early on), all three of which made it onto Rolling Stone’s “Top 500 Albums” list (do with this information what you will! It is at least worth noting.)

And yet in spite of the band’s critical acclaim and longevity of musical influence on bands like R.E.M and The Replacements, Big Star never quite made it to the big leagues. A mixture of bad decisions and bad luck with record labels (a la Graham Parker), messy distribution, not to mention raging egos and drugs (sound familiar?) led to Big Star’s legacy being maintained by a contingent of rock critics and rock nerds.

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Old Uncle Fuckwad looks back: Donald Fagen pens Eminent Hipsters

“In 1964, long-playing vinyl records sounded great. It was the age of high fidelity, and even your parents were likely to have a good-sounding console or tube components and a nice set of speakers, A&R, KLH, and so on.”

Ah, the good old days! Before eight-tracks, before cassette tapes, before CDs, before Mp3 players, when vinyl was where it was at! We’re obviously all about that here—and apparently Donald Fagen, co-founder and frontman of legendary jazztastic pop-rock group Steely Dan is as well. Some readers might conclude from his new autobiographical book Eminent Hipsters that DF is some kind of cranky old man—or as he puts it, an “Old Uncle Fuckwad.” Rest assured, he is. But he’s great at it.

If you’re familiar with the musical character of Steely Dan and Donald Fagen, you’ll know that there is an intense voice of jazz music that runs throughout their body of work. And if you’re familiar with Fagen’s debut solo effort The Nightfly, you’ll also know how in touch Fagen is with the nostalgia and romance that accompanies the years spanning his teens (cue Mad Men—so does everyone else apparently!)

Eminent Hipsters traces the development and evolution of Fagen’s musical beliefs and persona by uncovering his earliest influences and the artistic experiences that helped to define who he became. Through this, we get an excellent portrait of what life must have been like for a kid in suburban New Jersey during the Cold War era that escorted us into the golden age of rock-pop in the 1960s.

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