Friday, January 29, 2010

Cats vs Dogs: The Puppy Files

So the cats got their turn on Wednesday. The dogs have waited patiently.

Let's end this debate. It's time to release the hounds...

David Bowie - Diamond Dogs (Diamond Dogs, 1973)

"This ain't rock and roll...this is...GENOCIDE!" I don't need to add much more to get across the point that this is one of the most aggressive, most searing things that Bowie ever did.

Garbage - Dog's New Tricks (Garbage, 1995)

Some day soon I'll do a list of bands who put out one stupendously good album, then never followed it up with anything half so worth while. Garbage will be on the list. Dog's New Tricks isn't one of the stand-out tracks, unfortunately, but it does neatly sum up the dark, brooding feel of this mid-90s classic.

Big Mama Thornton - Hound Dog (1952)

Although later made world famous by Elvis Presley, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote Hound Dog for Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. It was her only true hit, and sparked not only a long series of cover versions, but also a number of retorts, not least the Bear Cat song featured here on Wednesday.

Soledad Brothers - Sons of Dogs (Voice of Treason, 2003)

The Soledad Brothers' third album saw them strip down their rock 'n' roll edge to return to a more languid blues sound. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than the country-blues Sons of Dogs.

The Beta Band - Dogs Got A Bone (The Three EPs, 1998)

So completely did Dry The Rain come to define The Three EPs and become most people's first and perhaps only impression of the Beta Band, its all too easy to overlook the rest of their debut. Dogs Got A Bone is one of those highlights. Originally released on the same EP as Dry The Rain, it shares a similar groove, albeit stripped right down.

The Obits - Talking To The Dog (I Blame You, 2009)

The Obits were credited with saving rock and roll before they'd even put out their first single. But a very healthy hype machine can't overshadow the fact their debut, I Blame You, is a raw but smart rocker. Talking To The Dog is one of the better tracks from a collection that includes a couple of belters but isn't quite strong enough to prove rock n rolls saviour just yet.

Vic Chestnutt - Bilocating Dog (Dark Developments, 2008)

Vic Chestnutt's death on Christmas Day has sparked another re-evaluation of his extensive and varied output. 2008's Dark Development was a collaboration with fellow Athens residents Elf Power and that lent Chestnutt a fresh sound to produce one of his more satisfying later albums. While Chestnutt was often dour, Elf Power's pop stylings give the album an uplifting feel.

The Stooges - I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges, 1969)

If one song could win this debate hands down for either side, the dogs would have it with the Stooges' 1969 classic. Featuring one of the all-time classic riffs, sneering vocals and a menacing one-fingered piano monologue, I Wanna Be Your Dog is one of the greatest rock n roll songs ever recorded.

Led Zeppelin - Black Dog (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971)

First the Stooges, now Led Zeppelin. It's clear that rock's Gods are siding with the dogs. The opening track from their masterpiece, Led Zeppelin IV, set the tone with a trademark power riff and bluesy styling.

Johnny Cash - Dirty Ol' Egg-Suckin' Dog (At Folsom Prison, 1968)

Cash introduced this as a "love song" to his audience of convicts at Folsom Prison. But it's not really a classic of that genre, even if you sense the dog is still his master's best friend either way. It's another song Cash selected because it was perfectly suited to his audience and his setting.

Cymbals Eat Guitars - What Dogs See (Why There Are Mountains, 2009)

One of the more low-key tracks from Cymbals Eat Guitars' acclaimed debut, What Dogs See is a dreamy introspection, all swirling guitars and barely audible lyrics. The conclusion, I guess, is that dogs don't see too much...

Seasick Steve - Dog House Boogie (Dog House Music, 2006)

Seasick Steve's second album was dedicated almost entirely to dogs. From the messy opener, Yellow Dog, to the closing story of him looking for his runaway dog after being arrested and jailed, it's an album that seems permanently at risk of collapsing in on itself. But it is held together, if just barely, by tracks like Dog House Boogie, in which Steve's love of the traditional blues shines through.

The Fratellis - Doginabag (Costello Music, 2007)

There was nothing massively sophisticated about the Fratelli's debut - it was just a hell of a lot of fun. But while they ripped it up on tracks like Henrietta and Chelsea Dagger, there was also a little more depth to the album, which came from the likes of this bluesy number.

The Be Good Tanyas - Dogsong AKA Sleep Dog Lullaby (Blue Horse, 2001)

The Be Good Tanyas have never released a song that is anything less than beautiful, and it is no surprise that a lullaby of theirs should be no exception. They obviously liked this one too, because they went back to record "Dogsong 2" and put it on their next album Chinatown.

Sparklehorse - Dog Door (It's A Wonderful Life, 2001)

It should be clear by now that dogs and the blues go closely together. And so the most bluesy, dark, imposing track from Sparklehorse's It's A Wonderful Life is Dog Door. Yes, that is Tom Waits you can here on vocals.

Green on Red - Hair of the Dog (Gas Food Lodging, 1985)

Quite simply the best thing Green on Red did. It might primarly be about being hungover, but there are enough actual dogs that get a menion for it to qualify here. Plus they howl. Say no more.

Alessi's Ark - The Dog (Notes From A Treehouse, 2009)

Alessi's dog helps her fall in love. Good boy.

Rufus Thomas - Walkin' The Dog (1963)

I'd dearly love to be able to put up the Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels take on this, but don't have it except on vinyl, and alas, I have not yet acquired the means. But its kind of fitting to sign off with Rufus Thomas after we had his Bear Cat on the Kitty Files on Wednesday. It's just a flat-out classic soul song.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cats vs Dogs: The Kitty Files

Depending on your viewpoint, it's either an age old debate, or no debate at all.

It seems like cat lovers and dog lovers will always bicker, never able to share the others point of view. People who love both are in short supply.

Having had this argument more times than I care to remember of late, I thought it was time to put it to the musical test.

Here's our cat-loving playlist. Check back Friday for the dogs.

I'm not going to keep score - my biases are too strong - but I reckon it should be obvious by the end of the week which animal has won.

Muddy Waters - Tom Cat (Electric Mud, 1968)

Electric Mud provokes mixed reactions. Kind of like when Dylan went electric, the idea of Muddy Waters playing through a wall of fuzz just didn't sit well with most people. Not at all well. But while it tends to get slated, thay overlooks some of the fine tracks on here, not least opener Tom Cat.

Johnny Cash - Mean-Eyed Cat (Unchained, 1994)

When Johnny Cash came to record the second volume of the American Recordings series, he revisited a handful of old songs, including Mean Eyed Cat which he'd first recorded for Sun way back when.

Rufus Thomas - Bear Cat (1953)

Rufus Thomas was one of Memphis' great entertainers in the 40s and 50s. Among his varied roles, he was a DJ on WDIA, a rare black-owned station. It was there that he received a promo copy of Big Mama Thornton's Hound Dog and promptly cut a none-too-subtle retort, Bear Cat, at Sun Studios. It may have been witty, and it may have been a huge R&B success, but it also caused Sam Phillips no end of trouble as he lost a copyright lawsuit for ripping off the original.

The Miller Sisters - Ten Cats Down (1954)

A short-lived act on the Sun label, the Miller Sisters never had a hit, and split soon after forming. One of the few things they did leave us with is Ten Cats Down, a simple enough but not particularly special track.

Carl Perkins - Put Your Cat Clothes On (1956)

Sticking with Sun Studios for a third track in a row, this is a classic every way up. While Elvis went off to take over the world and Cash scored the kind of crossover appeal most country artists can only dream of, Perkins was sadly left to toil on without any of the fame his outstanding work deserved during those early Sun years. It has come to him since his death, and deservedly so.

The Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (Beggars Banquet, 1968)

This, put simply, is debauched. Essentially a song about sleeping with underage groupies, the Rolling Stones were going for the shock factor for one of the first times, but certainly not the last time, as they began to turn to a darker side on Beggars Banquet.

Royal Bangs - Cat Swallow (We Breed Champions, 2008)

Two albums in and I'm still trying to nail down Royal Bangs' style. Certainly they don't follow the lead of their mentor, Patrick Carney of the Black Keys. It's fun, upbeat, garage rock, but there's a healthy dose of electronica involved at times.

The Cure - The Love Cats (Japanese Whispers, 1984)

Okay, this is the coolest song on the cats side. Never actually on an album, but thrown on to the Japanese Whispers EP, this funky bit of pop features the Cure managing to get that guitars to squeak like cats. Nice.

The Kills - Cat Claw (Keep On Your Mean Side, 2003)

The second track from their debut album, I think this is still my favourite Kills song, and - even though I like the Dead Weather stuff well enough - the best thing that Alison Mosshart has been involved in.

Lou Barlow - The Ballad of Daykitty (Emoh, 2005)

I prefer my Lou Barlow a little more raw, either through Dinosaur Jr or Sebadoh, but this is at least a charming enough song from his more polished solo effort Emoh.

Friday, January 08, 2010

He Was The King - Happy Birthday Elvis...

Whether he's performing cabaret in heaven or bagging groceries in Kansas, we'd like to wish a happy 75th birthday to the King.

We're not going to wax lyrical about Elvis' impact here at length - plenty of others are doing it already - so we'll not add to the noise. But as a sign of his influence, no artist has been the subject of so many songs by others, and that is what we celebrate here.

We did a rather half-hearted marker of his death last year, but always said we'd come back for more on his birthday, and here we are. Some of the tracks below are repeats, but I figured it was best to get this playlist up in full.

Patti Scialfa - Looking For Elvis (Play It As It Lays, 2007)

We kick it off with this quite beautiful bluesy offering from Patti Scialfa's latest album, one of the two tracks (along with Gillian Welch) that first inspired me to make this compilation about a year ago.

Paul Simon - Graceland (Graceland, 1986)

The most famous song on this list by some margin is one of the defining moments of Paul Simon's solo career. It speaks of the power of Elvis as a cultural icon in modern America, a man who, while he may have been a simple entertainer, was able to unite the country. Dealing with the break-up of his marriage, Simon expects to find solace not in a church or anywhere like it, but at Graceland. "I'm going to Graceland/For reasons I cannot explain/There's some part of me wants to see Graceland/And I may be obliged to defend/Every love, every ending/Or maybe there's no obligations now/Maybe I've a reason to believe/We all will be received/In Graceland".

Gram Parsons - Return of The Greivous Angel (Grievous Angel, 1973)

The Elvis references in this one are less obvious, but Parsons finally gives away the identity of his subject in the final verse as he hints at Elvis' journey from Mississippi and Tennessee to his drug-addled days in Vegas: "The news I could bring, I met up with the king/On his head an amphetamine crown/He talked about unbuckling that old bible belt/And lighted out for some desert town".

Emmylou Harris - Boy From Tupelo (Red Dirt Girl, 2000)

Like Paul Simon, Emmylou Harris seems to have decided that Elvis is the man who can bring solace after a break-up. But rather than head to Memphis, Emmylou wants the boy Elvis, and heads to Mississippi and his childhood home of Tupelo. "Just ask the boy from Tupelo/He's the King and he oughta know..."

Neil Young - He Was The King (Prairie Wind, 2005)

There's no claims of higher powers or anything here - this is a straight homage from one great musician to another. And it's quite wonderful.

Drive-By Truckers - Carl Perkins' Cadillac (The Dirty South, 2004)

One of my favourite songs of all time, the Drive-By Truckers encapsulate the whole wonderful story of Sun Records through the tale of the Cadillac that Sam Phillips offered to the first artist to break

John Fogerty - Big Train (From Memphis) (Centerfield, 1985)

Like Young's He Was The King, this is the musician's tribute to the "Big Train From Memphis" who inspired so many kids across America to pick up guitars and learn to play..."Like no one before/He let out a roar/And I just had to tag along/Each night I went to bed with the sound in my head/And the dream was a song.

Smokin' Dave & The Premo Dopes - The Last Elvis Song (Too Many Years In The Circus, 1989)

Okay, so this one doesn't quite fit into the "tribute" bracket, but Todd Steed and friends let loose their feelings on Elvis in this riotous little song that deals not with the King's impact life but in the continuing obsession with him - which we continue here - after his death.

Bruce Springsteen - Johnny Bye-Bye (Tracks, 1998)

A young Bruce Springsteen first saw Elvis perform on the Ed Sullivan show in 1957. He was seven. "I couldn't imagine anyone not wanting to be Elvis Presley," Springsteen said. He did his best to meet him too, jumping the fence at Graceland in 1976 during an early national tour, and racing to the front door to ask if the King was home. He wasn't. The man who was later seen wearing an Elvis fan club badge on the sleeve of Born To Run wrote this short but sweet account of the night Elvis died but only put it out on the Tracks collection.

Ronny Elliott - Elvis Presley Didn't Like Tampa (Hep, 2003)

I've no way of knowing for sure whether Elvis did or did not like Tampa. I'm sure the tourist board of the Florida city would dispute it, but for now we'll take Mr Elliott's word for it.

Cowboy Junkies - Blue Moon Revisited (Song For Elvis) (Trinity Revisited, 2007)

For footballing reasons, Blue Moon will always stand out as one of my favourite Elvis songs. The Cowboy Junkies first re-did it in 1988 on The Trinity Sessions and then again 19 years later (why not wait for 20?) on Trinity Revisited.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Tupelo (The Firstborn Is Dead, 1985)

In his practically apocalyptic ode to Elvis' original hometown, Cave seems to have compared the arrival of the King to the birth of jesus. Much of the imagery is the same as the town is sinking on its knees "Until the King is born!" like some kind of saviour. And when that happens, it happens like so..."In a clap-board shack with a roof of tin/Where the rain came down and leaked within/A young mother frozen on a concrete floor/With a bottle and a box and a cradle of straw". Elvis was born in his parents' shotgun house in Tupelo, arriving 35 minutes after his stillborn twin brother, a fact Cave does not shy away from: "Well Saturday gives what Sunday steals/And a child is born on his brothers heels/Come Sunday morn the first-born dead/In a shoebox tied with a ribbon of red".

Bob Dylan - Went To See The Gypsy (New Morning, 1970)

There were plenty of claims that Elvis was descended from Romani gypsies on his mothers side - not true, but its a theme Dylan picks up on in another tribute to the enduring power of Elvis, this one released while the King was still very much alive and performing in Las Vegas. "Go on back to see the gypsy/He can move you from the rear/Drive you from the fear/Bring you through the mirror/He did it in Las Vegas/And he can do it here".

U2 - A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel (Angel of Harlem 'B' side, 1988)

Given that U2 went to Memphis to record Rattle and Hum in the shadows of Elvis at Sun Studios, it's no surprise that they wrote and recorded a song about Elvis. But A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel never made the album, instead appearing as a B side to the Billie Holiday ode Angel of Harlem.

Gillian Welch - Elvis Presley Blues (Time (The Revelator), 2001)

It was Advent Calendar panelist Pranam who first pointed out to me the beauty of so many songs about Elvis - and this was the song he first pointed to. One of the two original inspirations for this compilation, Welch's tribute is simple but touching, and a fitting way to round this out. It is taken from the Time (The Revelator) album which also features I Wanna Sing That Rock N Roll, a song not clearly about Elvis but another one that always makes me think of the King and his boundless enthusiasm for music.

Happy birthday, Elvis.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year - What's on the way?

It's a new decade. And everyone should be taking the opportunity to play the Verve very loudly to celebrate. But we can only do that for so long before we start to look forward.

2010 will bring us many things. A World Cup, a Winter Olympics, and with a bit of luck a global economic recovery.

But none of these things will be quite as exciting as some of the albums on their way.

You're all already, no doubt, eagerly anticipating follow-up efforts from the likes of the Pains of Being Pure At Heart, the Fleet Foxes, the Hold Steady, Midlake, MGMT and more, but here are 10 more to keep an ear out for.

Call this a preview for the 2010 Musical Advent Calendar. But be sure to note that unlike almost every other post on here for the last month, this one is in no order whatsoever.

Sparrow & The Workshop - (As yet untitled, no release date set)

Track: Devil Song (Sleight of Hand EP, 2009)

Technically Glaswegian, but also Welsh and American, Sparrow & The Workshop were the latest band to join the ever-growing folk revival in 2009. Their delightful Sleight of Hand EP, from which Devil Song here is taken, was followed by the Into the Wild mini-album, but 2010 should bring a full-length debut.

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals - (As yet untitled, due Spring 2010)

Track: Ragged Company (Nothing But The Water, 2005)

With Catherine Popper on board fresh from working with Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, the Nocturnals are substantially reinforced to work with Grace Potter on her third album, due sometime in spring. Here's hoping for a return to the bluesier sound of 2005 debut Nothing But The Water, rather than the jazzier This Is Somewhere from 2007.

Peggy Sue - Fossils And Other Phantoms (Due April 2010)

Track: Lover Gone (Lover Gone EP, 2009)

If I had been putting this list in order, this might have been at the top. Sporting a heavy lean on Americana that belies their Brighton roots, Rosa Rex and Kate Klaw have been charming pretty much everyone who has come across them since 2007. Their bluesy sound has landed them a big following on the other side of the Atlantic, and they seem to be spending so much time over there we can only hope they remember to pop back once in a while. A string of excellent sounding EPs has whetted the appetite for the full long-player, which is apparently recorded, mixed and ready to go. Making us wait until's just cruel...

Spoon - Transference (Due January 26)

Track: Rhythm & Soul (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, 2007)

And if I was putting these in order of release, this clearly would be up first. Spoon, one of the rawest, most exciting rock 'n' roll bands out there right now, will not allow January to pass before they hit us with their seventh full-length effort, and the first since the pick of the bunch to date, 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. From what we've heard so far, this should be a very worthy follow-up.

Caitlin Rose - (As yet untitled, due summer 2010)

Track: Dead Flowers (Dead Flowers EP, 2009)

Listening to Caitlin Rose takes you back. All the way back. Back to Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, and Emmylou Harris and the classic country music of the late 60s and early 70s. The Dead Flowers EP, released late in 2009, only has me aching for more. Seven tracks long and featuring a couple of covers, including the title track, it hints in a very bright future for the 20-year-old.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson (As yet untitled, no release date set)

Track: The Ongoing Debate Concerning Present vs. Future (Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, 2009)

Given that MBAR, a man who received oodles of love on this blog during the course of the Musical Advent Calendar, actually released two albums during 2009 - his eponymous debut and the follow-up Summer of Fear - it seems a bit much to expect another one in 2010. But when Dollard and myself accosted him in a Leeds pub following his May gig, he told us he had his first three albums ready and waiting to go just as soon as he got a deal for them. Having signed with Saddle Creek in time to put out Summer of Fear, that deal is now in place. Considering the huge difference in sound from the raw and edgy debut to the more playful follow-up, there's really no telling what it might sound like.

Smoke Fairies - (As yet untitled, no release date set)

Track - Frozen Heart (Frozen Heart EP, 2009)

Much like Peggy Sue, the Smoke Fairies are a female pairing from the south of England who sound much more at home in the south of the United States. Their bluesy/countrified sound has already earned them a strong and prominent following, one that saw their third major single, Gastown, recorded and released with Jack White through his Third Man Records company in Nashville, while they've also toured the UK with Richard Hawley, a man who knows a good record when it slaps him about the ears. There's been no official word of an album, but after two years of putting out singles and building a buzz, we can only hope one is on the way.

She & Him - Volume 2 (Due March 23)

Track: I Was Made For You (Volume 1, 2008

This most delightful pairing of M Ward and actress/vocalist Zooey Deschanel will return for a second instalment in March, and we can only hope its half as good as the first. We're wondering if this one might have a very different sound, though. Where Volume 1 had a strong 60s vibe to it, both in the original material and the covers of the Beatles and the Miracles, Volume 2 will have a Skeeter Davis and an NRBQ cover. Do with that what you will...

The Drive-By Truckers - The Big To-Do (Due March 16)

Track: Birmingham (Southern Rock Opera, 2002)

When recently asked to draw up a list of my top 20 albums of the decade off the top of my head, the Drive-By Truckers' The Dirty South sat proudly at No. 1. Put simply, I adore that album. But while the reviews have only gotten better for subsequent releases, something seems to have been missing on more recent DBT albums. However, I can declare myself officially excited about The Big To-Do. Patterson Hood, whose outstanding solo LP Murdering Oscar restored all my faith in the band, has promised it is "very much a rock album. Very melodic and more rocking than anything since disc 2 of Southern Rock Opera." I can't wait for that.

Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can (Due March 2010)

Track: My Manic And I (Alas, I Cannot Swim, 2008)

One of the key characters in the current UK folk scene, Laura Marling has mainly been in the news during 2009 as she, and her break-up from Charlie Fink, became the subject of Noah & The Whale's acclaimed second album The First Days of Spring. But Marling should get the headlines to herself in 2010 as she returns with her second solo disc, produced by the esteemed Ethan Johns, the man behind such classics as Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker, the first three Kings of Leon albums, and Whiskeytown's Pneumonia. Just don't expect this one to be a direct response to Fink or anything - we get the sense that Laura has moved on.