On The Fortnight Between The Beatles’ White Album and the Rolling Stones’ “Beggars Banquet”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on November 17, 2018 by johnbuckley100

 

All week long, we’ve immersed ourselves in the 6-CD 50th anniversary release of The Beatles.  In both Giles Martin’s revelatory new mix and with the legendary Esher Demos finally available, the album opens up in a way that both highlights the collective genius that was The Beatles, and provides a master course in band creativity.  But we had not realized until yesterday that while The White Album came out on November 22nd, 1968, what is likely the Rolling Stones’ greatest album, Beggars Banquet, followed two weeks later on December 6th.  Two weeks that changed our musical world.

They couldn’t be more different.  The Beatles is packed to the gills with creativity, whimsy, at once hard rocking and delicate, a summing up of the pop music Lennon and McCartney had been producing since Rubber Soul and something far different; a carry over from the near psychedelic past of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the off-balance Magical Mystery Tour and something wholly new.  Beggars Banquet, on the other hand, is a quieter, country-blues return to basics as the Stones reconfigured themselves largely without founding member Brian Jones, incorporating Nicky Hopkins, the greatest piano-playing side man in rock, as functionally a full member of the band.

The Beatles were winding themselves up to the explosion that would shut down the band, the inevitable end where the creativity among three of the greatest songwriters the world has known would, like a rocket with a MIRV warhead, shoot off in separate directions.  The Stones, with songs like “Street Fighting Man” and “Stray Cat Blues,” prepared for a run as a live band that would continue to this day.

We don’t want to set this up as a competition.  In some ways, it’s no contest.  The Beatles may be the single greatest album of music the surprisingly long-lasting genre known as rock has ever produced.  And yet Beggars Banquet could well be my entry in the next edition of Stranded, that wonderful Greil Marcus-edited book in which rock critters were forced to choose a single album to take with them to a desert island.

In part because we have the Esher Demos, where we can get a sense of how the Beatles returned from the Maharishi’s Rishikesh retreat with competing notebooks filled with songs, in part because we finally, through the liner notes, understand who played what and how the songs came together, the White Album is comprehensible not just as an iconic, massive collection of songs, but as a single piece of art. A deep dive suggests that John Lennon, in the creative turmoil that was leaving Cynthia and falling in love with Yoko, produced his greatest batch of songs; Paul McCartney, long slagged as a control freak, was the multi-instrumentalist genius that helped both Lennon’s and George Harrison’s songs reach their full potential.

What is perhaps best about the new release is the way that Giles Martin has reconfigured the songs from the inside out, and with a mix that undoes, largely, what his father did with the technology and sensibility of his day.  Martin fils reveals for our ears what long has been hidden.  Quick example: on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Eric Clapton’s guitar, which long dominated our understanding of the song, is reduced in the mix, but the piano and acoustic guitar in the middle now shine brighter.  It’s not subtle, it’s amazing. And that’s just one example among many that take less exalted songs like “Birthday” and “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” and places them on a pedestal, and elevates “Dear Prudence,” likely our favorite Beatles song ever, allowing us to see the whole world in 3:55.

Beggars Banquet wasn’t designed to be a competitor to The Beatles.  Where the Beatles were, less than 18 months later, still building on Sgt. Pepper’s (Magical Mystery Tour having been the rare misstep made understandable by the realization that it came in the immediate wake of Brian Epstein’s death), the Stones were living down their derivative flop, Their Satanic Majesty’s Request.  The Beatles were pushing to see just how far they could go, while the Stones were getting back to basics, playing the blues, woodshedding with acoustic guitars, but also going deep into a new formula of songwriting that, between December ’68 and May ’72, when Exile On Main Street was released, would culminate in their iconic oeuvre.  Both bands had a remarkable work ethic — the Beatles exhausting the studio staff (George Martin went on a holiday to Greece midway through the sessions) as they perfected their album, the Stones setting off on a half-century run of touring, largely off the strength of songs from Beggars Banquet and the next three albums. It’s hard not to admire both bands at some core level, though in part because of the work here, in part because they left us just 18 months later, it’s harder not to think the Beatles were gods, the Stones amazingly talented mortals.

We love Beggars Banquet, and the new mix, released yesterday to mark its 50th birthday on December 6th, is the one we will listen to now, as we still do often.  But this new mix and six-CD release of The Beatles is the greatest musical event of the season, as it was in 1968.

To have two of the greatest albums in the history of the art form come out within a fortnight of one another shows just how volcanic were the cultural forces in play in 1968.  We face, in 2018, an even greater crisis than we did in ’68, but the music being released this year does not seem likely to be so remembered 50 years from now.  We know a smart 21-year old who, when asked if he can appreciate the Beatles, replies instantly, “The Beatles invented music.”  And so they did.  If you’ve any doubt on that score, just listen to the new release of the White Album.

Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks” Finally Lives Up To Its Name

Posted in Music with tags , , on November 2, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Gloss on the tracks may have been a better way of describing Dylan’s greatest collection of love songs, at least as they were first released into the world.  We didn’t know that before, but we do now that the underlying songs, what Dylan first intended to release as a follow up to Planet Waves, have been revealed.

I had known from Clinton Heylin’s excellent biography Behind the Shades that Dylan recorded most of these songs, in September 1974, in the familiar confines of the Columbia Records studios in New York, several with just his guitar and harmonica as accompaniment.  And I knew that somewhere along the way, he’d scrapped those versions, recorded in less than a week, only to re-record them with a band in Minneapolis. His brother, as I recall, had predicted the album would be a commercial flop, and after the success of Planet Waves and his ’74 tour with the Band, Dylan wanted his comeback, and his return to Columbia after his interlude with Geffen Records, to continue.

What I didn’t know until I read Jon Pareles’ surprisingly good piece this week in the Times was that when Blood On The Tracks was released in 1975, Dylan had the tracks slightly speeded up, which to me accounts for why, classic song that it may be, “Tangled Up In Blue” has never been completely satisfying.  It has always seemed just a little off.

On the one-album set, released today, of outtakes entitled More Blood, More Tracks, the version of “Tangled Up In Blue,” with just Dylan and his acoustic guitar is a revelation.  Hearing it in this version has a similar impact to hearing the versions of “Someday Baby” or “Can’t Wait” on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs.  You can never again go back to listening to the “original,” never go back to the song that was released.  In almost every case, the versions Dylan, or his management and record company, chose not to release are more raw, more emotionally affecting, less commercial than what we first heard.

As with those songs, and so much of what comes out on his remarkable Bootleg Series, all of the songs on More Blood, More Tracks are the way we should have heard them.  The real Blood On the Tracks, finally available, consists of simple, blues-based acoustic folk songs, enraptured memories of the women in his life — Suze Rotolo, Sara Lownds, Ellen Bernstein — narrated by a series of characters invented for just this occasion.

Instead what we got in 1975, and what was still good enough that it has long been considered one of Dylan’s classic works, was a sped-up, fairly slick pop album, even if the instrumentation was dependent on its folk underpinnings.

But this is the real thing — “Meet Me in the Morning” containing all the pain of Dylan having to explain to his children why their mother wasn’t with them, “Simple Twist of Fate” cutting deep enough for real blood to drip from the turntable’s needle.

Dylan once had to chase away the likes of A.J. Weberman, who was intent on literally going through his garbage in order to find out more about the resonant cultural figure of his age.  We live now in an era in which, due to the miracles of technology, scientists and restorers can look under the paint to see Leonardo’s original brushstrokes.  Bob Dylan, Nobel laureate, has for more than 20 years freely flung open the vaults and shown us everything that was in there, sparing us from having to go through his garbage or operate an X-ray machine to find out what’s underneath the art that was released into the world.  Little by little, bit by bit, he’s giving us everything.

Today we learned how much was missing from an album already considered one of the high points of the ’70s.  Today we learned how great Blood on the Tracks really is.  This is a revelation and we are, all of us, so much better for it.

 

The High Heel Race Is Bigger Than Ever

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 31, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica SL and 75mm Noctilux

D.C.’s High Heel Race has gotten so big, they ask spectators to sign up in advance, so they can estimate a crowd count.  Let’s just assume that each year, weather permitting, it’s going to get bigger and bigger.

If you’d like to see monochrome images from years past, you might want to go here. If you want to see how it looked in 2018, see below.

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Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe Continue Their Glorious Run

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on October 15, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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In August, word came that, the night before, Iggy Pop had performed “Grunewald,” the best song of Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe’s “Right On” E.P.  This was the ultimate tip of the cap from one old pro to another (slightly younger one.)  We’ve been playing “Grunewald” for months, a song that sounds like something The Koolaid Electric Company could riff on the whole night through.

On their eponymous new album, Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe continue their work together three years after releasing I Declare Nothing, one of 2015’s best records.  Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe proves that each is the other’s muse.  Newcombe has long worked with female vocalists in the Brian Jonestown Massacre, from Miranda Lee Richards to Sarabeth Tucek, and Parks sang on last year’s “Fingertips” single.  Recording together, though, seems to encourage Newcombe to dig deep into his bucket of velvet hooks, and the results are seldom less than glorious.

Over the weekend, I put together a playlist comprising the best songs the Brian Jonestown Massacre have released over the past five years, coupled with the best songs Anton’s recorded with Tess on their two albums and E.P.  The playlist is three hours long.

Tess Parks has a limited range and a husky voice, but on the evidence of her strong 2013 album Blood Hot she doesn’t actually have to record with Newcombe to find something to say.  She’s a fascinating artist in her own right — and he is, this many years in, proving that being creative is the best revenge.  Their recorded relationship reminds us of how Dave Roback and Hope Sandoval come together in Mazzy Star.  Sandoval may have the more beguiling voice, but Parks and Newcombe together are every bit as magical.

 

 

In Eighteen Months of Going to Protests, the Only “Paid Mob” We’ve Witnessed In Washington is Trump, his Family and his Cronies

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 11, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Back in January 2017, when things seemed most bleak — we had no real idea how bad things would yet become — we went to the Women’s March and it was uplifting.  To see hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, black and white, thronging the Nation’s Capital to protest against Trump was a remarkable experience, and we pledged then that we’d continue to go to protests and document them.  In fact, we created a gallery documenting these protests over on our sister site, TulipFrenzyPhotography.com.

We understand that, going into the final few weeks of the election, it has become a Republican talking point that those who’ve shown up to protest Trump, and most recently, the Kavanaugh SCOTUS nomination, are a “paid mob.”  Hmm.  Let’s go through some of these demonstrations, via photos of attendees, and see if they look like they needed George Soros to write them a check before they showed up.  In the interests of brevity, I’ll show only a few photos per demonstration.  And admittedly, because I went to so many, not all of them were uploaded to Word Press, and so I’m left here tapping only into images of only those demonstrations I wrote about on Tulip Frenzy.  For photos of the Kavanaugh demonstrations, go see my Instagram: @tulip_frenzy.

womens-march-15womens-march-34These were attendees from the Women’s March.  Do they look like a “paid mob” to you?

A week or so later, people began coming out to protest Trump’s evil Muslim Ban.  Do these look like paid protesters?

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Continued protestors against the Muslim Ban.  Paid mob? I don’t think so.

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Next came the Tax March.

Then the March for Science.  Paid mob?  You decide.

The Climate March.  These people look like it too money to get them out?

March For Truth-4I think this was the March for Truth.

These people, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, came out in protest of Trump’s failure to deal with the devastation in Puerto Rico.  Paid mob?

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The March for Black Women last fall was inspiring.

And then there was the Anniversary of the Women’s March in January.

We could go on and on.  The protests we saw in Washington last week renewed our spirits.  Calling any of these American families protesting for our rights “a paid mob” is just more derp and hooey, exactly what we’ve come to expect from our President and his cronies.  They’re the real paid mob.  Lock’em up.

Receding Memories of The Summer Of 2018 Preserved In 25 Images

Posted in photography with tags on September 16, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Over on our sister site Tulip Frenzy Photography we have updated several galleries and added new ones.  And yes, this is a shameless effort to get you to go there.  But before the summer of 2018 recedes in our memory, allow us to show some — okay, an indisciplined sample of 25 — of favorite images from a well-documented summer.  And if you like any of ’em, on our photo site you’ll see how easy it is to purchase ’em.

As makes sense if you consider that our time in D.C. is not spent with a camera glued to our hand in quite the same way it tends to be during the time we spend out West, most of what follows was taken in the Greater Yellowstone.  In fact, let’s show our favorite pictures from D.C. before we dive into images from the Mountain West.

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Okay now.  Onto the Tetons, more or less in chronological order.

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How “Black Rainbow Sound” by Menace Beach Became The Album That Stole Our September

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Tulip Frenzy has been derelict in its duty to curate our readers’ listening pleasure.  You would have to go all the way back to June 10th to find the last batch of albums deemed worthy of your ear buds.  (And a pretty good batch that was: Courtney Barnett, Parquet Courts, Wand and the Brian Jonestown Massacre.)

It’s not like the rest of the summer had no good music. Though as you might see in the posts below, the editorial team was set loose upon the Mountain West with cameras and few assignments.

Still, if we were all to have turned in our notes from a summer of listening, we would have said that Oh Sees’ Smote Reverser had some incredible moments, though its thunder made us yearn for some of John Dwyer’s lighter-hearted fare; that the double-drum prog’n’metal core of this new version of the band is not, four albums in, as much fun as the prior incarnations under the Thee Oh Sees rubric.  We might have said that White Denim’s Performance has some of the catchiest songs, and best performances, James Petralli and Steve Terebecki have ever caught on a hard drive, but in the end, it’s just a tad bit too close to Steely Dan territory to claim our unalloyed affection. Unquestionably we’d have given a shout out to old friend and T. Frenzy interviewee Kelley Stoltz, whose Natural Causes is lovely, but a bit of a comedown from last year’s #1 Tulip Frenzy Top Ten List entry Que Aura.  And we haven’t even gotten to great new music, just now emerging, from Alejandro Escovedo, Spiritualized and Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe.

If you want to blame any one thing for why we’ve failed our readers, blame Menace Beach.  Right, until this summer we hadn’t heard of them either.

Menace Beach’s Black Rainbow Sound is the  album that has consumed our September, living in our dreams, commanding us to play it on our commute, while working out at the gym, even sitting and reading.  It is pure pop confection whipped up by two pastry chefs from Leeds which, once tasted, induces such pleasure, all other dishes are foresworn until you’ve had your fill.

Bear with us as we try a comparison which while imperfect, gets us as close to the matter as we can get.  We have previously described our love for the New Pornographers as an anomaly.  “Ordinarily, we treasure the analog sound of Fender guitars played by punk bands and The New Ps feature keyboard-driven synthetic sounds polished to a high gloss.”

Menace Beach and the New Pornographers do have some analogous features.  Ryan Needham and Liza Violet trade lead vocal duties the way Carl Newman and Neko Case do, and on Black Rainbow Sound, synths dominate guitars.  Like the New Ps, Menace Beach now offer “keyboard-driven synthetic sounds polished to a high gloss.”  They also offer, song by song, more hooks than a boat full of weekend fisherman setting out into the Atlantic chop.

How a band that started out two albums ago sounding like the Breeders, and which on Black Rainbow Sound deliberately invoke Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Young Marble Giants could push aside so much good music to lasso our cerebral cortex has us marveling, two weeks in.  We’re captives.  They got us.0013616929_10

We first heard of Menace Beach via Brix Smith’s Twitter feed, and in fact, the very first sound on the record is Brix’ guitar, so recognizable from her work with the greatest period of The Fall and her own Brix & The Extricated.  But it’s a tease, a false front, for soon after the sonic propulsion of the band’s new synth sound kicks in and gets the heart racing.  It’s like the best workout, where your heart rate soars at the beginning and never dips until approx. 38 minutes later you are exhausted and exalted.

We’d like to have taken time to tell you about all the great music that’s out there right now.  And yeah, we’ll get to Alejandro’s opus and a full review of Tess and Anton’s amazing second record when the whole thing comes out.  For now, ponder for a moment what the juxtaposition of the words “menace” and “beach” might add up to musically; grok on the parallel difference between “black” and “rainbow.”  Download this album, and be prepared to lose the rest of September in musical ecstasy.

 

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