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Social Distortion – Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes

January 18, 2011 1 comment

We are currently eighteen days into the new year, and already an album that will be on my shortlist of “Favorite Albums of 2011.”  “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes” is the seventh studio album (their first on Epitaph Records) from legendary (a term that I do not use loosely) SoCal rockers Social Distortion (stream the album by clicking on their name).  Almost thirty years after the release of their seminal debut album “Mommy’s Little Monster,” their first new album in seven years finds “Social D” firing on all cylinders.

Don’t be confused; this is not your father’s punk rock album.  Actually, on second thought, perhaps it is your father’s punk rock album.  Unlike fellow elder statesmen Bad Religion, who dropped the blistering  “Dissent of Man” last year to coincide with their own thirty-year anniversary, Social Distortion has mellowed their sound over the years with great results.   Frontman Mike Ness has released two countrified solo albums (1999s “Cheating at Solitaire” and “Under The Influences”) that focused less on his gutter punk background and more on the Hank Williams/Bob Dylan influences from his youth.  “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes” finds Ness skillfully combining both worlds into one dynamite rock record.

The first chords of the instrumental opening track “Road Zombie”  highlights the signature Les Paul/Marshall cab sound that Social D fans have come to know and love, and segues nicely into “California (Hustle and Flow),” which features Ness’s trademark vocal stylings (which I guess can best be classified as a whispery whine)  a Stones-y groove and a gospel choir (you heard me right…a gospel choir).  “Gimme The Sweet and Lowdown” has a traditional Social D hook and a chorus that will get stuck in your head for hours (but in a good way, not like a Barney song).  Other highlights are “Machine Gun Blues” and “Bakersfield,” the latter of which checks in at well over six minutes; that’s practically half an album of traditional punk songs.  The album’s closer, “Still Alive,” has a classic rock feel that will have you playing air guitar in your kitchen (just be careful to tone down the Townshend windmills when others are in the room).

Social Distortion has taken some flack from “old school” fans who claim that the band “isn’t punk” anymore.  Those are many of the same fans who chastised Face to Face for going soft on 1998s “Ignorance is Bliss.”   Apparently some people would prefer to continue living in their parents’ basement while safety pinning “Casualties” patches and anarchy pins to their faux leather jackets without realizing that musicians grow and change and develop artistically.  Ness, who is rapidly rounding the corner toward 50 years old, has been hanging with Bruce Springsteen a lot in recent years, and “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes” would find a comfortable home in the rock album collections of many Springsteen fan.  All of the ‘bottom of his heart’ lyrics and intense vocal urgency that you would expect from Social Distortion are there, but the years have left Ness sounding more hopeful and optimistic than ever.  In my opinion, their best album since 1996’s “White Light, White Heat, White Trash,” and maybe their best album hands down.

Listen to “California (Hustle and Flow)” above.

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Video of the Day

January 14, 2011 Leave a comment

This is what kind of mood I’m in today. Watch and enjoy!

 

Present Tense (McCready/Vedder)

Do you see the way that tree bends?
Does it inspire?
Leaning out to catch the sun’s rays
A lesson to be applied
Are you getting something out of this all-encompassing trip?

You can spend your time alone, re-digesting past regrets, oh
Or you can come to terms and realize
You’re the only one who can’t forgive yourself, oh
Makes much more sense, to live in the present tense

Have you ideas on how this life ends?
Checked your hands and studied the lines
Have you the belief that the road ahead, ascends off into the light?
Seems that needlessly it’s getting harder
To find an approach and a way to live
Are we getting something out of this all-encompassing trip?

You can spend your time alone re-digesting past regrets, oh
Or you can come to terms and realize
You’re the only one who cannot forgive yourself, oh
Makes much more sense, to live in the present tense

Favorite Music of 2010

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s that time of year again, faithful readers (both of you). January brings with it my annual recap of the music that moved me the most for the past twelve months. I used to do a Top Ten list, then a Top Ten-ish list, but I tend to find that my tastes vary so much week-to-week that there would be fourteen or fifteen albums that could fit into a “Top Ten” based on my given mood. So I’ve decided this year to just rank the albums that I really find to be solid albums (some great, some good). Everything below the top five changed spots at least once or twice, but I really think this list accurately represents where I am right now. But enough for the intro…

…okay, maybe not. A couple other notes:

Hookiest song of the year: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Beat The Devil’s Tattoo. This was one of the first albums that I picked up this year, and the title track (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYkhNWIdra0) blew my doors off from first listen. I’m pretty sure that it has been stuck in my head since March. BRMC at their best.

Most disappointing albums of the year:
Neil Young – Le Noise. Just Neil and a guitar and Daniel Lanois. My disdain for Lanois producing “skills” grows year-by-year.
Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown. Great first single. Mediocre My Morning Jacket the rest of the way.
Finger Eleven – Life Turns Electric. F11, whom I used to love dearly, releases their second turd in a row, though at least it has 4/5 songs that are marginally listenable and the lyrics aren’t quite lame enough to sound like cast-offs from Amy Lee of Evanescence’s 10th grade songbook (like their last album)
Linkin Park – A Thousand Suns. I get them trying new things, they just don’t do all of them very well. Another album with 4/5 listenable songs.

Now, on to the good stuff.

1. Viva Death – Curse The Darkness. I’ve tried not to be abnormally biased, given that this album is 100% the brainchild of Scott Shiflett with a big assist from Chad Blinman, but I genuinely do think that this is the best album of the year from start to finish. My longer review can be found here (http://screamandwail.blogspot.com/2010/07/viva-death-curse-darkness.html). Curse The Darkness covers the most sonic ground on the album, and nails each style it goes for, whether that be “zombie surf rock,” “post-punk,” trippy space rock or tribal, drum heavy sounds.

2. Bad Religion – Dissent of Man. My favorite punk album of the year, though admittedly that list isn’t nearly as long as it used to be. Most music that gets passed off as punk nowadays has been passed through such a watered-down Blink-182/Good Charlotte filter that it is not recognizable as being from the same genre that the old staples used to reside in. Thankfully Bad Religion is still raising the flag for the old school, now thirty years deep into their career. The Dissent of Man is their fourth very solid album in a row, making the Brooks Wackerman era a perfect 4 for 4. While not quite a home run, it is certainly a stand-up triple. Where the album errs is in its length…15 songs isn’t exactly an epic from a punk standpoint, but if the Gregs had decided to pare a couple songs off the tracklist (namely “I Won’t Say Anything”), it may have been #1A at the very least.

3. Josh Ritter – So Runs The World Away. It is probably safe to say that Ritter has shaken off the “next Springsteen-meets-Dylan” tag and arrived as his own artist. While I don’t think it is quite as solid as “The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter,” SRTWA highlights Ritter’s continuing evolution as an artist. While the music isn’t as much of a departure from his last couple albums, the lyrics show Ritter testing boundaries by taking listeners on a voyage that includes stops in the Southern Pacific, the Mississippi delta at the turn of last century (the John Hurt-inspired “Folk Bloodbath”), a North Pole expedition (the Poe-inspired “Another New World”) and the Egyptian exhibit at a natural history museum (“The Curse”). Perhaps a bit too ambitious, but with his first full-length novel due out in 2011, it makes sense that Ritter would be pushing his limits to the brink. Great stuff.

4. Tony Sly – 12 Song Program. Previously reviewed when it first came out (http://screamandwail.blogspot.com/2010/03/best-of-2010volume-two.html), but it has held up over the year. No frills, just a great punk songwriter and an acoustic guitar (and the occasional drum loop).

5. Gaslight Anthem – American Slang – I loved this album when it first came out, but after four or five listens, it wasn’t quite grabbing me the same way. I put it down for a while, and just listened to each of the songs in the normal “shuffle” rotation of my MP3 player (not an iPod!!) and it gradually started to grow back into favor. I’ve got the utmost respect for Brian Fallon as a singer/songwriter, even if he is a Yankees/Jets fan. He really has the market cornered on early Springsteen, suburban American youth storytelling, but mixes it with the urgency of a three-chord punker.

The Other Stuff, that remains quite good.

6. The Black Keys – Brothers. Another album that could have been considerably higher on the list if it weren’t so damn long. Clocks in at 15 tracks, much like BR’s “Dissent of Man,” but this is no punk rock album. Solid delta blues straight out of a post-punk Detroit garage, when this album excels, it REALLY excels (listen to: Next Girl, Tighten Up, The Go Getter, etc). But the last three songs slowly meander to nowhere, making the listener wish they were left on the cutting room floor or, at best, were B-sides (do they still make singles anymore)

7. The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever. Probably the “rockiest” THS album, in that it features no piano/keyboards for the first time (prompted by the departure of the mustachioed Franz Nicolay). The result is an album that still contains THS’s trademark hooky guitars, sing-a-long chorus’ and epicly wordy lyrics from Craig Finn, but in some ways, the comparatively stripped down sound almost sounds bigger and fuller than their previous efforts.

8. Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants – self-titled. I’m gonna say that this album is the most “outside my comfort zone” of any album on the list. I really took a flier on it because A)it is the brainchild of Chris Shiflett and B) well, there really is no B. For those that are outside the loop, Shiflett is the lead guitar player for the Foo Fighters and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and previously held the same role in No Use For A Name. As brother to Scott Shiflett, he also played baritone guitar on the first two Viva Death albums, and has fronted a couple other punk-inspired side project albums under the names Jackson and Jackson United. Dead Peasants is certainly no Jackson United (whose most recent album remains in heavy rotation in my playlist). Instead, the self-titled album is nine songs of countrified rock music, complete with all the pedal steels and twangy guitar riffs that you might expect on a Merle Haggard LP. I’ll admit that this was an acquired taste, but Shiflett’s songwriting makes it much more palatable, and in fact has made this one of my favorite albums of the year. Thanks to the Shifletts for broadening my horizons yet again!

9. Alkaline Trio – This Addiction. Alkaline Trio put out an album this year that sounds very much like…Alkaline Trio. They have a Springsteen-like formula for writing depressingly morbid (morbidly depressing??) 2:30 punk songs with just enough pop sensibility to make for a good, fun listen.

10. The Greenhornes – FourStars. Only learned of this album late in the year so I’ve only been able to listen to it a handful of times, but it is really a great listen. The first album in eight years for the Cincinnati-based trio finds them firing on all cylinders. Sounds are straight out of Liverpool via North London (yes, those are Beatles and Kinks references) in 1965. Timeless pop-rock music. Great listen.

11. The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards. I’m a little late to the Dead Weather party, but I’ve had a growing man-crush on Jack White for some time now, so late this year I figured it was time to become more familiar with his non-White Stripes catalog. The Dead Weather sounds like a combination of The White Stripes (natch) and the Black Keys – Delta blues run through the a gritty, dirty, Detroit-garagey filter. Not for the faint-of-heart.

12. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor. Gritty indie rock from New Jersey with lyrics that invoke Springsteen (moreso than Gaslight Anthem, which is tough to do!) and Ritter (many, many references to old literature and Civil War history), with a perhaps the most raw, passionate, earnest vocals of the year (shades of Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes). Definitely deserves to be on the myriad year-end “Top Ten” lists that it shows up on.

13. Joey Cape – Doesn’t Play Well With Others. What can I say…when you are a sucker for a genre (that being the punk rock frontman playing solo acoustic material), you are a sucker for it. Been a fan of Joey’s work for years now. His album is a little different than others in the same category, as it has a very indie/DIY feel to it, and features an appearance by his (seven-year-old?) daughter, Violet. Also, all of the artwork was done by his daughter. And, the album was released over the course of the year…one song per month, culminating in the twelfth and final song (I Always Knew This Was Going To End Badly) being released in early December.

14. Legion of Doom vs. Triune. From my prior blog review: To quote Legion of Doom’s own website, “strange, dark and densely layered, this is not a typical hip-hop record.” That couldn’t be more accurate. There is a lot going on musically (it ain’t a Lil Wayne album, let’s put it that way). Triune (who I was only partially aware of) hits a lyrical home run (more Common/NOE than Weezy or Jeezy). Sadly, it is only available via digital download (I’m still an old school, “like to open the album and flip through the liner notes and absorb the artwork” kinda guy and I hope that never changes).

15. Brian Eno – Small Craft on a Milk Sea. Complex, beautiful, at times haunting instrumental album from the master. Classic ambient Eno for the new crowd. Love this album.

16. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Beat The Devil’s Tattoo. I want this album to be much higher, I really do. I’m a big fan of the Been/Hayes duo, and I like the depth that new drummer Leah Shapiro brings to the mix. This album is dynamite at the start; the title track which serves as the album opener is hands-down the hookiest song of the year. The first four songs are all solid and find BRMC at their classic gritty-garage blues best. But then the album seems to stall for a long time. An early review that I recall reading (perhaps from the WFNX site) commented that it “plods along without really going anywhere,” and that is entirely accurate. There area about 8 or 10 songs in a row (aside from the stellar “Aya”) that fit virtually the same formula, and the over-fuzzed guitars (and especially vocals) tend to become a little grating after a while.

17. Pete Yorn – Pete Yorn. Solid release from Pete Yorn. If you like slightly-above-mid-tempo alternative-inspired rock, Pete Yorn is for you. He’s a great songwriter, and his voice has progressed over the years, but aside from that, this is a basic Pete Yorn album. I guess if it ain’t broke…

Honorable Mention:
Flogging Molly – Live. I don’t include live albums in my top albums lists, but this one was almost an exception. Such a great band, and this album really captures the passion and the urgency of their live shows.
Jamie Cullum – The Pursuit
Murder By Death – Good Morning, Magpie
Blitzen Trapper – Destroyer of the Void
Ben Harper and the Relentless 7 – Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival
Eels – End Times
Eels – Tomorrow Morning

Reading List

January 12, 2011 1 comment

I’m going to import a couple of posts from the other blog just in case this one sticks…

Going to try to log each book that I finish this year.  I’m making it a personal goal to actually finish books this year.

Date Finished                Book Name
1/8/11       I’m A Stranger Here Myself – Bill Bryson
1/9/11       Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin – Stephen Jay Gould.

In Progress

The Portable Atheist – Christopher Hitchens, editor

The Drunkard’s Walk – Leonard Mlodinow

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat – Oliver Sacks

Categories: Literature

Testing, part two…

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

We’ll see how long it takes before I determine whether or not I’m a WordPress fan. Seems okay so far, though the dashboard is a little more cluttered than I’m used to. Submitting this via the QuickPress function. Let’s see how it works….

Categories: Uncategorized

Test Post

January 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Testing out WordPress…trying to get a feel for it, and figure out why I should move from Blogger.  We shall see. Stay tuned, I suppose.

Categories: Uncategorized

Random Musings on 2010

January 1, 2011 1 comment

2010 was a year that, on paper at least, could very easily have sucked, at least on a personal level. It certainly started out okay…accomplished a few little things, like finally paying off our car. Just when it seemed like we were going to start getting ahead a little bit, the wheels started coming off a tad. Literally. Had to have some work done to the Chevy, as the bearings and tie rods that help hold the front wheels on were beyond repair. Then the timing belt blew on the Chrysler…while heading down the highway on a trip back from Connecticut, with the wife and the wee one in the car. On a Sunday. Fun times (thanks for coming to rescue us, Dad). Thankfully the engine didn’t need to be rebuilt, but damn near everything around it did. Cha-ching.

After getting that fixed, I continued to not have warm fuzzies about the Chevy, so it was time to trade it in. Liberty Mazda in Wakefield would give us over a grand sight unseen, so we jumped at the chance and bought a Mazda. Granted it was a 2003 with few bells and whistles, but it had low miles and was fairly cheap. And it meant another car payment (yuck), but not a bad one.

Late summer brought with it news that tuition at the wee one’s daycare was going to increase. We’d been through this before and were about to leave at one point, but the old Center Director worked hard to keep us there, so we had stayed. New Center Director, while personable enough, was less receptive, so when we told her we were probably leaving, she asked only “when is your last day?”. Needless to say, we left for a new place.

Fast forward to late fall, and more car trouble. Chrysler again, but this time it was the transmission. Never, ever good. It should be pointed out that the wife and the wee one were in the car, and that we were on our way back from Connecticut on a Sunday…again. Sound familiar? This time, the car wasn’t worth fixing…any amount spent to repair the transmission would be more than we’d get for it if we traded it. So, it was determined that we’d sell the car to our mechanic and buy a new one. This time? A Toyota. Yes it is another new car payment (that makes two this year), but the car should last a while, as it A)has low miles and B) wasn’t involved in any of the recall shenanigans.

Bring on New Year’s Eve…and some idiot drilling the front driver’s side of the new car while backing out of a driveway across the street, and then taking off from the scene without leaving a note or anything. Thankfully, the mailman saw the whole thing happen and got the idiot’s plate number. More on that later, I’m sure…

In spite of those issues (especially the car troubles), I’d have to say that 2010 was really a pretty good year, all things considered. The decision to move the wee one from KinderCare to The Goddard School has been a great one; she is really thriving in the new environment, and the entire center seems to be a more nurturing environment. We’ve also (very luckily) been able to keep in touch with some of the families that we got to know quite well from our time at KinderCare, and they’ve been great us and to Morgan.

Some other pretty cool things that happened:
-I decided to get in shape. No New Year’s resolution required, just sort of a few ‘enough is enough’ moments. As of this writing, I’m down somewhere in the neighborhood of 52 pounds since June 1st through diet and exercise only. The diet stuff came first: exercise started a month-or-so later. According to the program that I use to map my rides/runs, I’ve logged 524 miles either cycling or running since July 9th. Not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things compared to some people out there, but it is 524 miles more than I’ve done in the last several years combined. Goal this year is to hit 1,000 miles total, which shouldn’t be too much of a stretch, given that I have six extra months to play with, and I’m starting from a point where I’m in better shape.

-Saw Pearl Jam again. That’s always a highlight of any year!
-Saw a reunited Face to Face again, and got to hang with Scott more than ever (between the Warped Tour and a Gimme’s show). He’s a great dude that I am lucky to consider a friend. Also, got to share the experience with Morgan…first punk rock show! And she was definitely a highlight of the show (or so the band said).
-This brings to a close the 13th year that I’ve been with the love of my life. Pretty remarkable in this day and age, I think. Still feels like we are 18 sometimes…don’t let the gray hair (on me, not her) fool you! Though actually, I feel younger than 18 sometimes…and I’m certainly in better shape now than I was at 18!

Again, there were more than a few reasons that 2010 could have sucked (I didn’t even include the whole fiscal crisis in Massachusetts and the goings-on in the Trial Court/Probation system that have cast an uneasy pall over everything at work), but those things really seem trivial in hindsight. I’ve grown a lot personally, and those areas where I feel I’ve improved myself had led to a more positive way of looking at the world around me and allowed me to gain inspiration from the people around me. All of that has made me a better husband, a better father, a better person…and you can’t ask for much more than that.

Bring on 2011.

Categories: Uncategorized