Friday, April 27, 2007

A Man, A Plan, A. Diagram

The label LTM recently reissued the sole album from the Diagram Brothers, Some Marvels of Modern Science. I have it on vinyl, and the sleeve contained a portfolio that you could assemble from die-cut posterboard, which housed a marvellous set of postcards with lyrics and credits for the songs.

I did some reading about Andy Diagram, the Diagram Brothers' trumpet player, and discovered a musical career that would be a challenge for Pete Frame to diagram. Andy's first band (in 1978) was Dislocation Dance, followed by the Diagram Brothers and the Pale Fountains. In 1988, Andy Diagram joined the band James. Since then, he has been a member of the duo Spaceheads (who have several albums on Merge Records), the Honkies, and Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas' Two Pale Boys. As one of the Two Pale Boys, Andy Diagram helped to remake Frank Black's songs for the Frank Black Francis album; and the Two Pale Boys performed onstage in the musical Shockheaded Peter after the Tiger Lillies left the show.

Andy Diagram has played with A Certain Ratio, the Durutti Column, and the Dog Faced Hermans; and he has collaborated with Nico, Peter Hammill, Jim Thirwell (Foetus), Stephen Thrower (Coil), and former Henry Cow members Chris Cutler and Tim Hodgkinson. Most recently, Andy Diagram has participated in the group Strings of Consciousness (listen to them on their myspace.)

As I jumped from link to link, reading about the range of musical projects that Andy Diagram and his treated trumpet have been part of, I began to think of him as a Jon Hassell for the blank generation. His musical career is comparable only to that of Terry Edwards, another horn player who started out playing with the Higsons and has been busy ever since (see Edwards' discography at Here are two tracks from the Diagram Brothers. The first is as pertinent as ever:

I'm Not Going to Fight for Oil
I Didn't Get Where I Am Today by Being a Right Git

Buy LTM releases from eMusic or

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sum-1's 41 2-Day

On this date in 1966, your humble blogger was born. My parents bought me a hammock (and lunch). Mrs. Manyjars turned me loose with the credit card. The damage so far?

Two pairs of jeans (one black, one blue): $15 each
Harry Crews: Classic Crews (to read during my trip next week): $4
Sonny Vincent: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: $8
Rich Kids: Ghosts of Princes in Towers: $8

I also hit a most excellent garage sale this morning. For $8, I got five LP's:
The Best of Junior Parker (MCA, 1980)
Soul Shouts, Volume 5 (ballads) (Rhino, 1987)
Les McCann Ltd. Plays "The Shout" (Pacific Jazz, 1960)
Miriam Makeba (self-titled) (RCA, 1960)
Linda Jones' Greatest Hits (Chess, 1984) (who?)

I left behind albums by Johnny Hartman, Jimmy McGriff, Dakota Staton, the Delfonics... hmmm, maybe I should go back.

According to the liner notes for the Rich Kids' disc, Midge Ure was Malcolm McLaren's first choice to sing for the Sex Pistols. Whaaa? Somewhere I read recently that McLaren wanted Iggy. Was that after Winterland? I know that Lydon wanted to join Devo after he left the Pistols (before he formed PiL). It's strange to think about these near-misses in rock history. Another example (from another decade): Janis Joplin considered joining the 13th Floor Elevators before she left Texas.

Vandals: Happy Birthday to Me

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Totally Classic Movies

Friday night (or early Saturday morning), the cable channel TCM will be showing two Ed Wood films: Plan 9 from Outer Space (2am EST) and Bride of the Monster (3:30am EST), followed by a strange little monster movie from 1959, The Killer Shrews (4:45am EST).

Plan 9 is worth watching at least once, and Bride of the Monster is more of the same (both films feature Bela Lugosi and the Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson). Not sure if this song by the Damned is a tribute, but it seemed appropriate to this post:

The Damned: Plan 9 Channel 7

Next Friday (April 29), TCM will be showing two classic Russ Meyer films: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (at 2am), and Mudhoney (at 3:30am). Again, well worth viewing, especially for Tura Satana's performance in Pussycat. Here's a version of the film's theme song, peformed by the Cramps:

The Cramps: Faster Pussycat

Several records that I'm looking forward to will be released in the next month or two. Dinosaur Jr will release their reunion album, Beyond, on May 1st. Maximo Park's second album, Our Earthly Pleasures, will be out on May 8th. And the Bad Brains are supposed to release their reunion album, Build a Nation, on June 26th.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Read All About Her

I first heard Eddi Reader when the producers of 1 Giant Leap (a world music compilation) paired her lovely voice with the Mahotella Queens on the track Daphne. I began to search out Eddi's solo albums, and learned that she had fronted the band Fairground Attraction (whose song "Perfect" was a UK hit in 1988). Eddi Reader has also sung backup for the Waterboys, Big Country, John Foxx, the Eurythmics, and many others.

She has a new album, Peacetime, which continues her collaboration with Boo Hewerdine (a singer-songwriter who once led the band the Bible). Peacetime is Eddi Reader's first record since 2003, when she made an album of Robert Burns songs, and when a half dozen albums of her live performances were released. Eddi also recently sang on the new single by the Broken Family Band, Alone in the Makeout Room. American fans will be able to see her onstage at Irish festivals in Boston and Milwaukee (?) this August. Visit for more information.

Eddi's music is by turns folksy (specifically Celtic) and new agey, sometimes in the same song; for example, The Blacksmith, a traditional tune she performed on her 1992 album Mirmama. Eddi's voice and music will appeal to fans of the Indigo Girls, kd lang (whose bandmate Teddy Borowiecki plays on several Eddi Reader albums) and the late Kirsty MacColl (Eddi has performed several songs written by Kirsty and her brothers).

Strangely enough, although I've been listening to lots of female singers lately (Eddi, Etta, Betty Harris, and Cassandra Wilson), I've also been checking out some of the newer metal bands (Meshuggah, Converge, Isis, and Mastodon). Me likey Meshuggah!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Twice as Nice

Roller derby fans in the Atlanta area get twice the derby action this month. The regularly scheduled bout will pit the Apocalypstix against the Toxic Shocks (with music by Kenotia) this Sunday, April 15th.

On April 29th, interleague play begins! The Atlanta Rollergirl All-Stars will host the Pikes Peak Derby Dames, all the way from Colorado Springs! Musical guest TBA. The ARG travel team will go to Pikes Peak in May for a rematch.

Both April bouts start at 7pm, at the All-American Skating Center in Stone Mountain. $12 gets you in the door.

I am trying to get back to posting more frequently. I've added two more blogs to my sidebar that I strongly recommend to anyone who enjoys punk rock: Fits and Starts (where Americana, Britpop, and the pursuit of "the perfect pop song" get as much love as the Clash and their descendants) and Bleedin' Out (Nazz is both funny and knowledgeable about great bands from the 70's and 80's).

Karp: Connect 5
Red Aunts: Rollerderby Queen


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Turn the Beat Around

Jeff (with two f's) probably knows if there is a name for this musical phenomenon: a song begins, and the listener thinks the emphasis will fall on certain beats; but when the rhythm builds, the listener discovers that the beat of the song is almost the opposite of what was anticipated. It's hard to put into words, but easier to show by example.

I can listen to Rev It Up by Jerry Harrison several times back to back, and I will still be fooled each time I hear the opening guitar line (played by Chris Spedding). This is from Jerry Harrison's 1988 solo album, Casual Gods. I can imagine Grace Jones singing (or more accurately, intoning) a gender-switching cover of this song.

A similar phenomenon occurs when I listen to the Digable Planets' brilliant Four Corners. It's the drum pattern itself that tricks me: if I try to count out a 4/4 beat over the rhythm (before the horns and the voices begin), I will inevitably begin on an off-beat. I'm amazed that the rappers were able to follow the rhythm. This is from the unjustly neglected Blowout Comb album (1994).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Whine House

I recently read in Rolling Stone a description of Amy Winehouse as "Etta James reincarnated", which is a remarkably ignorant comparison for two reasons. First, because Etta James is still alive (and still performing and recording). Second, because I don't think Amy Winehouse is half the singer that Etta James is (in terms of the physical, emotional, and tonal range of their voices).

When I tried to google the reference, I discovered comparisons between Winehouse and many classic soul, jazz and R&B singers: Billie Holiday, Esther Phillips, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, Ruth Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Ronnie Spector, Mary Wells, Mary Weiss, Shirley Bassey, Aretha Franklin, and even Janis Joplin. Clearly, Winehouse doesn't sound like all of these singers; they don't even sound like each other. I would probably agree most with the Esther Phillips and Shirley Bassey comparisons, in terms of Winehouse's brassy, sometimes nasal tone.

Some of the comparisons are probably based on the persona that Winehouse has cultivated, through her lyrics and her public appearances (independent, occasionally lewd, often intoxicated). That would be the only reason to compare her to voices as dissimilar as the artful Billie Holiday and the artless Janis Joplin. Other comparisons may be intended to convey that Winehouse's style is closer to older performers than to the melismatic Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige (though Winehouse has been compared to Blige, again more likely based on lifestyle than singing style).

I don't blame Winehouse for her press, except to the extent that she encourages the public's perception of her. It's truly the fault of music writers who make lazy and inept comparisons (and they call bloggers lazy...). Whoever called Back to Black "a marvelous debut that would do Etta James proud" was ignorant of the fact that it isn't a debut album. The rapturous reception that Amy Winehouse has received raises other questions: why do people get so excited when a white performer sounds black? Or when a "skinny" singer has a "big" voice?

I think writers are also encouraged to make these comparisons based on the musical backing that producer Mark Ronson created for the Winehouse album. Yes, it sounds like classic Motown. Sure, that's an admirable technical achievement. But is Back to Black the equal of the classic recordings that it tries to evoke? If not, why listen to it when the originals are readily available? It's the same question that comes to my mind when artists do a tribute album or a cover. Why bother, unless you're going to reinterpret the original, add something different to it, or at least bring the original artist to the attention of younger listeners?

And that may ultimately be the point. Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson may prove to be more than the sum of their influences, and the praise they receive may encourage fans to seek out the sources of their inspiration. If that search has led you here today, here are two such classics. I believe Etta recorded "Loving Arms" while she was in rehab, so don't say no, no, no. It's a song that I would like to have played at my funeral (which I haven't planned, other than the playlist). Oh, and no headstone.

Etta James: Loving Arms
Esther Phillips: (Don't Put) No Headstone on My Grave