Archive for Peter Buck

Alejandro Escovedo’s “Burn Something Beautiful”: A 2016 Highlight Of Real Rock’n’Roll

Posted in Music with tags , , , on October 30, 2016 by johnbuckley100

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Rock’n’roll is a derivative art form that as a genre of popular music has lasted an unusually long time.  The distance stretching back to when the Beatles hit our shores is longer than the period between World War I and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”  Yeah, World War I.

So one factor that surely influences our appreciation of artists is which antecedent sensibilities inform their work — can we hear traces of the Rolling Stones or the Velvet Underground in what they do?  Is it clear they listened to punk rock in its day?  Yes, of course, the work should be judged on its own, but since rock’n’roll iterates off a simple four-chord standard, the artist’s vantage point really matters.

We recently wrote about Tim Presley, whose bands Darker My Love and particularly, White Fence, have been important to us.  And of course when we listen to Presley, we know exactly how much this guy who grew up with the last name of rock’s first superstar enjoyed the Who and the Kinks, punk rock and David Bowie, and it adds to our appreciation of him.

The great Austin troubadour Alejandro Escovedo has always worn his influences on his sleeve: Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed, the Rolling Stones, Texas songwriters like Townes Van Zandt.  He’s finished sets with covers of songs by Mick Jagger and David Bowie.  And he himself embodies distinct periods in musical history, from his San Francisco punk band The Nuns, to an early stab at alt.country, Rank and File, to ’80s Austin power rockers True Believers.  He can write gorgeous ballads and thrilling rockers, and the protean assemblage of musicians he takes on the road or into the studio can include cello players and violinists, pedal steel and guitar virtuosi, kick-ass drummers or no drums at all.  Most important, his vantage point on rock’n’roll is historical, well informed, with a rock critic’s curatorial sensibility.  But no matter how pretty his songs, no matter how delicate the chamber-pop interplay between cello and acoustic guitar, his default preference is for rock’n’roll. He’s given us, over the past 25 years of albums and live shows, some of the greatest music we’ve ever heard.

And now comes Burn Something Beautiful and the musicians who back him up include Peter Buck on guitar, and on bass Scott McCaughey — who separately have forged the sounds of bands like R.E.M. and together have made some of Robyn Hitchcock’s best albums — not to mention having Jenny Lewis (Neko Case) and Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney) on back-up vox.  This is the best sounding of Alejandro’s hardest rocking albums, the songwriting is consistently great, his singing is on-key and delightful, and we have found ourselves as excited about listening to one of his records as we have been since With These Hands came out 20 years ago.

And what roots are exposed here? Well, can’t you hear Bowie’s Spiders From Mars playing “Beauty and the Buzz”?  “Johnny Volume” has a final line — “I’m just looking for a kiss” — that of course invokes the New York Dolls, and Alejandro tells the whole story of ’70s NY bands in one gorgeous song. “Shave The Cat” adds T. Rex to Escovedo’s explicit influences, which makes sense since Monster revealed the glam bands of that era as Peter Buck’s faves. Long ago, Whiskeytown invited Al to sing on Stranger’s Almanac, and on “Redemption Blues” we hear an update of that sound.  And Lou Reed’s influence?  Everywhere.

Anyone who loves Mott the Hoople or Lou Reed will love this record.  More importantly, anyone who loved R.E.M.’s Monster (made after Peter Buck had spent time with the Fleshtones, and learned a trick or two from Keith Streng about how to build a world upon barre chords), will dig this.  Most important of all: anyone who has ever thrilled to hear how Alejandro assembles a classic rock’n’roll album based upon his experiences and unique vantage point will see this one for what it is: his best album in this late hard-rocking phase of an amazing career.

 

Robyn Hitchcock Offers Clues To His Ultimate Playlist (9:30 Club, April 27th)

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on April 28, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Over a span of many years — many, many years — we’ve made playlists from Robyn Hitchcock’s albums, vinyl to cassette tape, CDs to Mini Discs, digital files to iPods and iPads.  It’s hard to do a really comprehensive and good list because, Hell’s bells, he’s been at it so long, writing songs at such a consistently high level, that a really good, career-spanning playlist — starting with the Soft Boys in 1980, up to and including the excellent Love From London, which came out earlier this year — you either fill your hard drive with an impossibly long sequence of  his 500 songs, or you skip over whole decades (the ’90s weren’t particularly memorable), or you start taking a single song from an album in the ’80s, say Element of Light, and the next thing you know, you’ve included the whole thing, the whole album, defeating your curatorial purpose.

Last night Robyn Hitchcock played D.C.’s 9:30 Club with a band so good that Peter Buck played rhythm guitar — yeah, think of that, the multimillionaire legend from R.E.M. goes out on the road as Hitchcock’s sideman — and his set list was just that sort of perfect playlist that has eluded us.  When he strapped on the electric guitar, his long fingers languorously alighting lead notes even as he sang, of course he started with “Kingdom Of Love,” a song first heard when he and Kimberly Rew were giving Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd a run for their money as the best tandem guitar duo in that confused era between punk and post-punk.  He closed his set with “Goodnight Oslo,” (sung with some missed high notes, the quality of his voice necessitating the emollient of tea), and we’d be forgiven if we said, Wow, what a span of amazing songs, except “Goodnight Oslo,” which he loves so much he’s recorded it twice — once in English, once in Norwegian — was released first in 2009, and he’s put out three excellent albums since then!   Yeah, more than three decades on, Hitchcock’s fountain still bubbles with Byrdsy jangle and folk-rock craftsmanship.

To say he is still going strong understates.  To put the timeline in perspective against the quality of music produced, what Hitchcock is doing now would be the equivalent of, say, the Rolling Stones still releasing excellent new music in the late ’90s, right? 33 years on from that first one.  The only artist in rock’n’roll music we know who has had/is having such a late phase claim to greatness is Dylan, and unlike Dylan, Hitchcock still has his voice.  Even if last night some of those high notes were just out of reach.

We love Love From London, though when it first came out, we thought maybe Goodnight Oslo or 2006’s Ole! Tarantula were a bit better.  We’ve since reconsidered.  Last night, playing the wonderful “I Love You” and “Fix You,” Hitchcock reminded us just how great that album is.  He limited himself to two songs from the new album because, clearly, even he has trouble choosing the great songs to offer, and it’s a zero-sum game, if he’d taken too many songs from Love From London, he wouldn’t have been able to give us “Element of Light,” or maybe “Underground Sun.”  (On the latter, the band did something so charming… having forgotten the bridge, after they ended the song, they remembered what they’d left off, started up again, and played the bridge!)  He wouldn’t have given us “Madonna of the Wasps” or “Adventure Rocket Ship” or “N.Y. Doll.”

He came back with an encore consisting of, get this, “I’m Waiting For the Man,” followed by Dylan’s “Too Much of Nothing,” followed by “She Said She Said” and “Eight Miles High.” Well, did we mention that Peter Buck was in his band.  Brilliant.  A complete gem of an encore package, missing only, like, “Parachute Woman” to have hit ’60s evocation nirvana.

And now, having heard the set last night, maybe we have our dream playlist, at once a concise distillation of Hitchcock’s greatness, and a reminder that it’s really just a taste of this most satisfying career.

For Robyn Hitchcock, London’s Calling With Love

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 6, 2013 by johnbuckley100

We assume that by the time a Swiss watchmaker is 60, he can do pretty much anything — make complicated watches with intricate gears, or whimsical bling, if that’s what he wants — but it all will tell perfect time.  So it is with Robyn Hitchcock, who started rock’n’roll life in the punk era, but was always too clever to be reduced to three-chord rock.  (To begin with, he’s always been too fine a guitarist, a man who could have worked sessions if he hadn’t the talent to have written 500 songs over the course of a long, glorious career.)  As a master of everything from jangling, Byrdsy folk-rock to the most intricate chamber pop, to hard-rocking three-minute entomological rom-coms, Hitchcock has always carried himself as a British eccentric, the Paul Smith of tasteful Indie rock.  But on Love From London, his 19th record — including his work with The Soft Boys?  dunno…– Hitchcock slips the non-formulaic formula that’s governed his incredible output since 2005, which includes four certifiably great albums, and shows he can still be frisky.  If we are to pay off the multiple analogies spraying everywhere in this lede paragraph, shall we consider him the Swiss watchmaker who mixes up colors like Paul Smith? Yes, let’s.

We thought 2006’s Ole! Tarantula was a great album, one of his best, but it just got better from there, as Goodnight Oslo, Propeller Time, and Tromso, Kaptein were marvels of mature folk-rock confections that still each had a kick, like Swiss chocolate with a jalapeno tang.  That he is held in such respect by his peers that guitarists like Peter Buck travel oceans just to back him up, for little pay but much satisfaction, shows the kind of artist we are talking about. On Love From London, Hitchcock’s added piano and organ to his basic band, which consists of standard guitar-bass-drums, but also cellos and the occasional horns.  On a song like “Stupefied,” it’s easy to imagine a surviving John Lennon invoking his Beatles past.  But like David Bowie, whose new album sends us back into the world he created, Hitchcock is enough of a master, with a long-enough track record, that all the references are to his massive body of great work.  For Hitchcock aficionados, the long string of Saturday morning rainy day albums that put a knowing smile on our faces continues.  May it do so for decades to come.

In a wonderful interview in Time, Hitchcock talks about how music no longer matters, at least not like it used to.  In the days when one sought out obscurities in records shops, the commodity value of music was so much greater than it is in an instantly downloadable world.  Robyn Hitchcock is the kind of artist we would have hitchhiked to the big city just to find the record bins containing his work.  Take advantage of our modern world and download Love From London today.

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