MAGNET Feedback With Michael Cerveris

MichaelCerveris

It’s one thing to be a creative quadruple threat (film actor, stage actor, television actor, musician); it’s another thing entirely to excel as a quadruple threat for the better part of 43 years. From multiple Tony nominations—and wins—to starring roles on Fame and Treme, Michael Cerveris may be best known for his versatility as a thespian, but he proves just as formidable behind the mic on his long-awaited sophomore solo album, Piety (Low Heat). His sonic pedigree is unsurprisingly impressive, having shared the stage with the likes of the Breeders, Bob Mould, Teenage Fanclub and Frank Black. We celebrate workaholic Cerveris’ latest triumph by mining the veteran’s thoughts on indie, country and jazz contemporaries.

Big Star, “Jesus Christ” from: Third/Sister Lovers
I have always loved this song—one of the few bright moments of Third/Sister Lovers, which is such a beautiful, dark record. It’s always been one of my favorite Christmas tunes. In fact, it was the first one Loose Cattle recorded in our annual free Christmas single series. It just seems so unabashedly hopeful and, well, Christian in a non-dogmatic, embracing kind of way. I never knew if Alex Chilton was being sarcastic (that always seemed like a possibility), but with the production and all, it seems sincere—and sincerity in pop music is pretty rare, especially when it’s a song about being joyful. I guess that’s what I love about it: the lack of a need to mask joy, even if you’re playing music for the cool kids.

Boston Spaceships, “How Wrong You Are” from: Zero To 99
Despite being a devoted, rabid, borderline obsessive GBV fan and Fading Captain completist, there came a point some years ago when I confess I got a little overwhelmed trying to keep up with Bob. So, I somehow missed a lot of Boston Spaceships, and this total Pollard gem. Robert Pollard always makes me smile and turn into a kid bobbing my head in my bedroom or behind the wheel of the ‘69 Dodge Dart I drove into the ground. I admire the hell out of how he’s made music utterly on his terms for years and never let growing old or people’s opinions of age in rock mean a fuck to him. And this song is just vintage Bob: Kinks-y, Beatles-y, 120 Minutes-y. It’s like an indie-rock time machine.

Death Cab For Cutie, “Codes And Keys” from: Codes And Keys
I never quite got on the Death Cab train, for reasons I’ve never understood. I probably had an ex-girlfriend who loved them so much and then stomped on my heart at some point, and I just associated them with fecklessness. Which is a shame, because I think a lot of their songs are great, like “I Will Follow You Into The Dark.” Additionally, Ben Gibbard will always have my respect for taking Big Freedia out on tour with the Postal Service in 2013, broadening and blowing the minds of their wispy indie-kid followers.

Ella Fitzgerald, “Mack The Knife” from: Ella In Berlin
Ella Fitzgerald is just amazing, and one of my favorite scat singers next to Louie Armstrong. She does things with a melody and a lyric that defy description, and her take on this song is a wild one that’s fun to hear. But I’ve always been kind of confused by how this really twisted piece of Weimar jazz cabaret by Kurt Weill has been such a popular standard, often sung by crooner types who just kind of neuter it of its darkness by making it swing like they want to show us they’re “wild hepcats, man.” When I was playing Kurt Weill in LoveMusik, I found a recording of Bertolt Brecht singing it in German with Weill’s original orchestrations. That weird mixture of off-kilter calliope brightness and dark maniacal glee is what I feel this tune should always have, whoever’s singing it.

Hawkshaw Hawkins, “Lonesome 7-7203” from: Lonesome 7-7203
From my hometown, Huntington, W.V.! Most people know his name because he died in the same plane crash that killed Patsy Cline. Fewer know that he bought his first guitar by trading five rabbits that he’d trapped. These are things you learn when you have West Virginia studies in high school. This is one of my favorite kinds of country tune. A whole story and character delivered in less than three minutes with a great hook and a melancholy, but witty lyric. And props to Hawkshaw for bringing vibraphone into the country-music palette.

Hollywood Vampires, “My Generation” from: Hollywood Vampires
I’m sorry. I like Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp and Joe Perry as much as the next guy who likes them OK. But I don’t really see the point of this. On the other hand, maybe that’s unfair. I mean, why shouldn’t massive rock stars and their movie star friends get together with their other equally or more famous random friends and play through the songs they wish they’d written, just like the rest of us do? Just because their pickup band plays live on AOL from Rock In Rio and ours plays for tips for the bartender and the guy fixing the toilets, that doesn’t mean they’re bad …

Hüsker Dü, “Green Eyes” from: Flip Your Wig
One of many songs I love from Flip Your Wig. That blend of pop songwriting and blistering delivery that Hüsker Dü invented is a deep part of my musical soul. Even though this one is a Grant Hart song, it of course makes me think of my brief time playing guitar for Bob Mould on his ’98 U.S./U.K. tour. That was one of the highlights of my whole life—not just the creative part of it. The hours playing onstage, trying my absolute fucking best to deserve to be there and trying to conquer my fear that I didn’t, and the many more hours of Bob and I taking turns at the wheel of our rented sedan, driving cross-country and talking into the night about life and music and deep stories from his past, while Matt Hammon and Jim Wilson slept in the back seat. And while it didn’t all go precisely according to plan (or maybe exactly as remembered in his book), I will always be grateful for the time he gave me the gift of that experience and trust and respect.

Cyndi Lauper & The Minus 5, “Midnight Radio” from: Wig In A Box: Songs From And Inspired By Hedwig & The Angry Inch
I love this cover. I’ve always admired Cindy Lauper—classically trained, genre-defying and -defining. I love how she completely gets parts of this song wrong, but just holds on by force of will (and remarkable breath control) until the band comes around to where she is. I’d say she really gets the heart of this song. Which is good, because it’s always been one of my favorites from Hedwig. It was the moment in every show where I would be soaked in sweat, covered in bits of smashed tomato, seeds and juice running down my near-naked body, lipstick and glitter in my teeth, and strands of wig hair in my throat, my voice on its last cords … and then have to sing this Bowie-esque song of redemption, release and communion. It felt like the purest rock ‘n’ roll catharsis and apotheosis every time. It still does.

The Sex Pistols, “No Feelings” from: Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols
I am proud to say that when I sang this as Ian Ware on Fame, I believe I was the first person ever to sing a Sex Pistols tune on American national television. Possibly including the Sex Pistols. And even though it was a na show populated by mid-to-late 20-somethings pretending we were in high school, we did deserve some cred points for having Lee Ving of Fear in one episode. For the club scene where I sang “No Feelings,” I told the producers not to get extras from central casting, that I would go to the Scream Club (my regular weekend haunt in L.A.) and get real punks and musicians to come be in the background. The o er of $50 and free catering and craft services was enough incentive that I managed to fi ll the studio with leather, chains, mascara and hair gel to last all season. You can spot members of the Zeros, Kommunity FK and my friend Kaptain, who sometimes did costumes for Troma features and porn films, and insisted he had been Guns N’ Roses’ first drummer when they were all squatting in a house in the Hollywood Hills. (Who am I to question him?) I’m very proud to have brought that to television screens across the country.

Simon & Garfunkel, “America” from: Bookends
One of my favorite S&G songs. It’s folky and pop, and has that swelling B3, the Leslied guitar, the crazed clarinet sounds. I love pop music that’s so lovingly orchestrated and meticulously arranged. Serge Gainsbourg, Van Dyke Parks, Scott Walker. This song is somehow simple and epic at the same time. Which makes it a perfect representation of the subject in its title. It also feels so Super 8-movie kind of nostalgic, and speaks to that idealism and innocent belief in the idea of our country that so often gets co-opted by rightwing conservatives. This is the sound of progressive America being patriotic. Sure, the idealism is tempered with irony and cool—I don’t see the problem with that. And the Kathy (Chitty) verse breaks my heart every time. Also it makes Saginaw seem as exotic as Xanadu.

Sleater-Kinney, “A New Wave” from: No Cities To Love
Name me another band that has come back from a 10-year hiatus with a return to form that not only doesn’t miss a beat, but actually one-ups its own genius catalog of passionate, thoughtful, impossibly cool rawk. Yeah, I thought so. Full disclosure: These are friends of mine, and Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss played on my first record (Corin even co-wrote a track), but that only makes me more of a fan. Their gender is both beside the point and exactly the point. Janet pounds harder than almost any drummer I can think of, but with such tasty, surprising and intricately melodic parts; Carrie shreds like a mother, is a great writer and comedienne, and has the best rock-star moves of any guitar player working; Corin is a mother and a subtly brilliant writer with a voice that is a force of nature. Thank God(dess) for Sleater-Kinney.

Teenage Fanclub, “Baby Lee” from: Shadows
More full disclosure: Norman Blake is a longtime dear friend, and I’ve spent a fair bit of time with the Fannies over the years. I made a record with Norman, Raymond McGinley and Francis Macdonald that never got released, but contains early versions of some songs on my Piety LP. I can listen to TFC anytime, anywhere and be immediately happier. Those harmonies! Those melodies! Those chiming guitars! I love that with three great songwriters, they make a policy of each having four songs per record and sharing duties and spoils. Even in the early distortion-drenched records, the songwriting and melodies were there. They have that gift for writing tunes you feel you’ve always loved from the fi rst time you hear them. This is one of many favorites. Two decades and nine albums in, and they’re still writing songs like this. I can’t wait for the next one.

MAGNET Feedback With Eleanor Friedberger

Eleanor

What do the songs “Anything You Want” by Spoon and “Eleanor Put Your Boots On” by Franz Ferdinand have in common? They’re both written about one down-to-earth chick: Eleanor Friedberger (Fiery Furnaces). Growing up singing with her grandmother in a Greek Orthodox church, she has strayed from the spiritual, but not the soulful. Her new album is called New View, out now on Frenchkiss. MAGNET sent Friedberger some tracks from classics, newcomers and here-to-stays for her feedback.

Michael Hurley, “You Get Down By The Pool Hall Clickety Clack” from: First Songs
I was introduced to Michael Hurley by my friend Mike Fellows, who I met when I first moved to New York. I played a few shows with Mike, including a show opening up for Michael Hurley. He gave me this album, which includes a song called, “You Get Down By The Pool Hall Clickety Clack.” I liked the song because it’s this guy singing about, “Get away from my sister, my little sister,” and I imagine my brother singing it about me.

David Byrne, “Ex-Guru” from: Plum 7” Box Set
David Byrne’s version of “Ex-Guru” is a very “Furnacey” song. I grew up with him. The Talking Heads were a band that my brother and my mother, the three of us, could all listen to together. So, hearing David Byrne singing words that I had sung was truly bizarre. You know, it’s funny—I’ve met him since, a few times, and we’ve never talked about it, but it was really surreal.

Sleater-Kinney, “No Cities To Love” from: No Cities To Love
Sleater-Kinney is one band that I don’t own any of their records. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that. They’ve been a huge influence on me, but not necessarily musically, if that makes any sense. I relate to them more as, like, fellow women musicians. The first time we ever played in London, we opened up for them at the Astoria. That was like the greatest night ever.

The Fall, “Winter (Hostel Maxi)” from: Hex Enduction Hour
I listened to just a little bit of it last night, and I forgot “Colder Accordingly.” That was the song my brother and I covered. It was a little intimidating trying to sing like Mark E. Smith. He’s somebody that I revere, and also am repulsed by because he’s so erratic. I’ve seen him drunk and not be able to finish any songs, and I’ve seen him perform brilliantly.

Robert Wyatt, “Just As You Are” from: Comicopera
I know Robert Wyatt mostly from his work with Soft Machine, and I love their second album. It’s my favorite. And, of course, there’s Rock Bottom. Just to have that kind of longevity is, I think, really incredible. The melody and, really, everything he does has this kind of sadness to it. It’s just like this kind of sweetness in sadness that is pervasive in all his work, which I love.

Built To Spill, “Jokerman” from: Bob Dylan In The 80’s Volume One
“Jokerman” is a song I love, and I thought it was funny that it was included in some kind of ’80s Dylan comp. I thought it was fun; I just thought, like, whatever. I didn’t think it was radically different, and I love the original so much that I think it’s weird enough. I think maybe there’s a line in “Jokerman” that mentions “the fiery furnace,” but that’s not where we got our band name.

Yoko Ono, “Open Your Soul To Me” from: Onobox
I’m a huge Yoko Ono fan, so someone gave me the boxed set, and that was when I really dove into her work. I was asked to do a cover of basically anything for this Merge Records anniversary singles collection, and I chose that song. Nobody’s heard it because it’s not available on mp3 or anything, but I love our version. I wish more people could hear it.

Sebadoh, “Not Too Amused” from: Bakesale
I was always under the assumption you could either like Dinosaur Jr or like Sebadoh. You couldn’t like both, at least in the ’90s. I was a huge, huge Dinosaur Jr fan. It’s funny to fast forward many years later, and I end up in a band with Jason Loewenstein, who’s the bass player of Sebadoh.

Gerry Rafferty, “Baker Street” from: City To City
I recently got into a little bit of a Gerry Rafferty binge because one of my bandmates was singing “Right Down The Line” at karaoke night. “Baker Street” is one of those songs you can appreciate it, but there’s something that makes you want to throw up a little bit. It’s got this nauseating quality where you can’t keep it on. I guess it’s kind of like this visceral gut reaction to music.

MAGNET Feedback With Kinky Friedman

Kinky

For The Loneliest Man I Ever Met, his first new studio album in 32-plus years, Texas-based songwriter, essayist, cookbook author and Manhattan mystery novelist Kinky Friedman decided to drop the satirical humor that made him a self-designated “Jewish Cowboy” and the most caustic candidate to run for the governorship of Texas (Rick Perry beat him). Instead, Friedman’s new album fi nds the grizzled singer focused on spare, un-comic renditions of his favorites—vividly detailed, emotional songs of lost love from the pens of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Tom Waits and Warren Zevon—as well as several of his own most serious titles. That doesn’t mean Friedman doesn’t still think comically when you get him in the clutches. Here are some musings.

—A.D. Amorosi

Willie Nelson, “Bloody Mary Morning” from: Phases & Stages
You can hear Willie in every part of this song— his guitar Trigger as well. Lots of heart. His sister Bobbie is nice, too. Willie once told me a story about this song. Turns out that Glen Campbell gave him $25,000 to publish everything he wrote that year. What, 1970? Well, Willie says that he only wrote one song that year, and this was it. Glen didn’t like the song either. It’s out of rhythm, or o the rhythm. That’s just how Willie writes and plays. Plus, I love that “leaving baby somewhere in L.A.” line.

Tom Waits, “A Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis” from: Blue Valentine
There’s nothing to not like about Tom Waits. This song in particular is audacious. I mean, the whole song is a lie except for the last lines: “I don’t have a husband/He don’t play the trombone/I need to borrow money to pay this lawyer.” Classic. We might be more similar to the lies than the truths.

Faron Young, “Hello Walls” from: Hello Walls
Willie wrote this. Real honky-tonk, too. Reminds me of a West Texas beer hall. Whenever I want to have that feeling, this is the song I put on the record player; that or “Silver Wings” or “Me & Bobby McGee.”

Merle Haggard, “Mama’s Hungry Eyes” from: A Portrait Of Merle Haggard
Merle’s got the best voice in country music, and this is one of his truly brilliant songs. He’s a poet. It’s about his daddy trying to feed his mama’s every hunger. Merle’s version has 10 background singers, and strings, and Nashville session cats. Mine is a spare as a skeleton, and I think we served the song just as well. You can’t miss, though, with it; the song is so fucking beautiful.

Lee Marvin, “Wand’rin Star” from: Paint Your Wagon
First off, I grew up with Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe musicals, the gentlemen of My Fair Lady fame. There was more to this song, though. That’s how I was born: under a wandering star in the sky. If you were truly born under one of these, that explains a lot about your life. That is my blessing and my curse. I roam. So, this song cuts deep, really means something to me. It’s not usual compared to what I’ve recorded before. And thanks for saying I sound better than Lee Marvin.

Bob Dylan, “Girl From The North Country” from: Nashville Skyline
This tune is my halfway point between him and me, between who he is a songwriter and who I am. I hung with him during his Rolling Thunder Revue show. Played a few dates. Decent fellow. He wanted to write songs together with me and do an album. I chose not to. Does that tell you anything about how stupid I can be? I get this song of his because I had a girl from the North Country. I left one there, too. I know what he’s talking about, and every line, is … you just know that they know. Everything, however, is written between the lines.

Johnny Cash, “Pickin’ Time” from: The Fabulous Johnny Cash
That was the very song that ever made me—how do you put it—swoon. It was my dad’s favorite song too. John’s a silent witness.

Judy Campbell, “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” from: New Faces
That was our song—the one between me and the lovely Miss Texas of 1987—when we lived in London. Very pretty. Of course, I was Miss Texas of 1967, so I’ll always have that title.

Warren Zevon, “My Shit’s Fucked Up” from: Life’ll Kill Ya
Warren and I were never really close, but I always appreciated him. You know, I think I was born in the same hospital as him in Chicago; Zevon, me, Shel Silverstein, Steve Goodman, all Jews. Zevon wrote this knowing that he was dying of cancer, but—I repeat—but, it is not, in my mind at least, about just one man dying of cancer. It just happens to be an aptly told tale of the condition of the world as it stands today. Not to beat a dead horse, but things are a mess; irrevocably, at that.

Kinky Friedman, “Ride ’Em Jewboy” from: Sold American
Sold American is probably the one album of mine that, back to front, I consider my most wonderful musical achievement. Not just because it still sounds great—heh, heh—but because that’s the one with “Ride ’Em Jewboy.” It’s not a funny song. It’s got heart. “A melody which burns you deep inside/May peace be ever with you as you ride.” Nelson Mandela used to listen to this song every night in his jail cell, in that cassette tape player that he smuggled in. His cellmate of 17 years, his right-hand man, once told me that, so that’s coming from the horse’s mouth. Dolly Parton was his favorite singer and “Ride ’Em Jewboy” was his favorite song. Wow. Politically, we don’t have a Mandela out here right now— a Martin Luther King, a Jesus. That involves sacrifi ce. So, if you gave me the choice of playing a stadium or writing a song that you know Nelson Mandela listened to late every night—maybe gave him solace or hope—I’d take the latter. I’ll be that guy.

MAGNET Feedback With Maynard James Keenan

MaynardJamesKeenan

One can easily imagine piss-taking Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan smirking while fanboys squirm in anticipation of the prog-metal outfit’s first album since 2006’s 10,000 Days. The once reclusive, mysterious vocalist has exhibited impressive public versatility in recent years, launching Arizona winery Caduceus Cellars, penning his autobiography and staying musically active in longtime avant-rock project Puscifer (third full-length Money Shot was appropriately released just before Halloween). We sent the always entertainingly opinionated Keenan 10 tracks from openers, contemporaries and idols. He did not disappoint.

Failure, “Petting The Carpet” from: The Heart Is A Monster
Greg Edwards is one of a few artists I imagine listening to any new material I’m working on. I imagine him tearing it apart with single words. He keeps me on my toes. Greg, P.J. Harvey, Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits are just of the bar-raisers toward which I reach.

The Dresden Dolls, “Sing” from: Yes, Virginia…
Songs like this, that are rooted in so much joyful sadness, drive me. Super happy songs make me want to punch stuff. I’m not familiar with the entire Dresden Dolls catalog, but if it’s anything like this, they will make an appearance on the Caduceus Cellars Harvest playlist next vintage.

The Mars Volta, “The Widow” from: Frances The Mute
We need more bands like these crazy fucks. Raising the bar ain’t easy, and they still managed to do it while stoned.

The Nightwatchman, “Shake My Shit” from: The Fabled City
When I hear any of Tom Morello’s material, I’m transported back to the early ’90s. Tom would organize bowling night with the L.A. transplanted Libertyville crew. A grounding experience I often miss. Our Midwestern roots go deep, and it’s those simple gatherings that keep your compass true.

Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody” from: A Night At The Opera
No one has pipes like Freddie Mercury. I’m humbled every time I hear this track. I remember the first time I heard it. I was living just outside of Akron, and it changed the way I thought about music.

The Police, “Synchronicity II” from: Synchronicity
This Police album has some overlooked musical gems on it. Never mind the popular tracks and singles. If you can look beyond the silly MTV designer homeless bag lady wardrobe, there is much to discover.

Alice In Chains, “Man In The Box” from: Facelift
Few people know just how insanely funny Sean Kinney is. The perfectly in-thepocket timing of his chops extend to his mouth. One night with him will leave your funny bone bruised but good. He also has a friend named Steve who shows up on occasion. Not as funny.

The Stooges, “I Wanna Be Your Dog” from: The Stooges
Perfect example of a time and a place. So many attempts to cover this song by a bazillion lo-fi bands. And they never quite get that it’s a moment, not a song. The notes are secondary.

Nirvana, “Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam” from: MTV Unplugged In New York
Not my favorite Nirvana moment. But it does remind me of hearing (comedian) Greg Berendt saying, “Apparently, ‘Unplugged’ means ‘to sit down.’” I think it was Greg. I forget. Anyway. Bleach redirected the ’90s rock-band GPS. Mostly in good ways.

Melvins,“Night Goat” from: Houdini
My favorite Brown Note track besides any Swans Holy Money/Greed track. I almost sharted just thinking about it. Powerful PoohJo. It reminds me of my favorite Melvins T-shirt. Big skull on the front with “the Melvins” just above it. And on the back it says, “Why did the metalhead cross the road?” “Because he’s a gullible moron who’ll buy anything with a skull on it.”

MAGNET Feedback With Craig Finn

CraigFinn

Hold Steady frontman (and longtime MAGNET fave) Craig Finn has a great new solo album out, Faith In The Future (Partisan). Do yourself a favor: Buy it immediately. Knowing what an insightful music nerd that Finn has been his whole life, we thought, “Who better to get feedback from on these 10 songs?” There are some classics and some soon-to-be-classics. Read all about them.

Cheap Trick, “Tonight It’s You” from Standing On The Edge
People think of mid-’80s Cheap Trick as being past their glory period, but they continued to release amazing rock songs, and this is one of them. Just like “Surrender,” the end chorus here goes on forever and somehow keeps getting better. The thing is, you need a really great singer like Robin Zander to pull these songs off. I know because I’ve tried to take part in Cheap Trick covers. It’s a dangerous business for a limited singer. I especially love One On One, the record before this one. Despite the fact that they have a ton of big hits, I still think Cheap Trick is an underrated band. They are certainly one of the only bands that every person in the Hold Steady actively loves.

Drive-By Truckers, “This Fucking Job” from The Big To-Do
Patterson Hood is a master of telling stories of the people on the fringes and how economics and politics actually affect them. Nearly every day, the front page of the New York Times has stories about minimum wage and a disappearing middle class, but Patterson brings it life here in a haunting song disguised as a sing-along rocker. I think the big takeaway here is the character wanting to accept doing what his dad did before him, only to find that it’s not available anymore. I admired Patterson’s songs greatly long before he became a good friend.

Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear” from I Love You, Honeybear
I love both FJM records a ton. I think it’s fascinating how he blurs the place between his real person and this character. It’s amazing how often his songs are both tender and honest while still being funny on some level. And sexy. The line that kills me most here is the nod to genetics and mental health, right in the middle of an (admittedly twisted) love song: “I’ve brought my mother’s depression/ You’ve got your father’s scorn and a wayward aunt’s schizophrenia.”

Heartless Bastards, “Black Cloud” from Restless Ones
Erika Wennerstrom’s voice is, to me, one of the most awesome and unique instruments out there. I just got o tour with them and had the pleasure of hearing the Heartless Bastards play this song every night. I’ve known them for a while now, and they just keep getting better and better. This song is a great example of what they do best: a soulful hook that just stays with me for days. I love the fuzzy bass on this, and it works within more of a classic pop structure than some of their bluesier songs. But in the end, it’s Erika’s voice that takes it over the top, especially in the chorus, which has such a fantastic melody.

Hüsker Dü, “Green Eyes” from Flip Your Wig
I have this song on my mix for the gym, so I hear it a few times a week. Hüsker Dü really had two incredible songwriters in one band, and this is one of Grant Hart’s classic pop songs, which seemed to really hit their peak around Flip Your Wig. I think if you took the distortion off of this, it would sound right at home on ’60s AM radio alongside the Association or something like that. It sort of has a spooky California vibe, too, like a lot of great songs from that era. I never get tired of this band.

The Replacements, “Unsatisfied” from Let It Be
I got into the Replacements after they put out their Hootenanny record, so this is the first record I remember waiting on release with bated breath. I was only in eighth grade, but I could tell this was a special record. Or maybe it was so special to me because I was in eighth grade and having a difficult time. Both “Unsatisfied” and “Sixteen Blue” are like tender asides to a troubled kid, which I really needed then. But maybe the most amazing thing is that those songs co-exist on the second side of Let It Be with “Gary’s Got A Boner.” In that dichotomy lies the ragged genius of my favorite band.

Spoon, “The Agony Of Laffitte” from A Series Of Sneaks
Britt Daniel brings such an elegance to all of his songs; I’m always in awe of him. This is obviously a harsh song about their A&R guy, but it’s also beautifully rendered and works whether you know the story or not. In fact, in 2015, this era of the music business is so far gone, it’s hard to imagine it existing. Perhaps the lesson is that great songs live on, while expense accounts get shut down. The whole thing comes off as a monument to artistry and persistence.

Strand Of Oaks, “Goshen 97” from Heal
This band’s Heal was one of my very favorite records of the last year. It has all this kick-ass guitar playing alongside really great songs with honest—almost jarring—lyrics. This is one of the more rousing songs on the album, but still has some sadness in there. I like how Tim Showalter goes back to capture what music meant to him as a kid, and how it seemingly saved him, but then let him go. “Before I got fat, drunk and mean/Everything was still ahead” is a pretty incredible line. Somehow, in acknowledging his adult pitfalls, he takes back the hope he once had and makes it his own again.

Bruce Springsteen, “The River” from Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Live 1975-1985
This is one of the peak songs for me as a lifetime Springsteen fan. I love the story here before the song starts about how he deals with his draft notice, and how complex the whole thing is regarding the war and fi ghting with his father and confusion and fear. I can tear up listening to it still, and I’ve heard it a million times. And then he gets to the song, which is crushing in itself. I really love songs that are able to move the story forward quickly. Bruce does that in this song so well: “Then I got Mary pregnant /And man, it was all she wrote/And for my 19th birthday /I got a union card and a wedding coat.” In one stanza he bridges childhood to adulthood with all the detail the audience needs.

Velvet Underground, “We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together” from 1969: The Velvet Underground Live
A few years back, I got really into the version of this on Lou Reed’s Street Hassle LP. I ended up chopping it up and turning it into walk-on music for the Hold Steady. I had to chop it up because I wanted to come onstage at the big drum fill, and it sort of comes later in the song. When I made my first solo record, Clear Heart Full Eyes, producer Mike McCarthy and I were listening to a lot of solo Lou Reed. There are a number of songs that were recorded by both VU and Lou as a solo artist. Listening to both versions helped me grasp the differences between songs, instrumentation, arrangement and production. Those run together in a lot of rock situations. This is just one of the many ways Lou Reed has helped me out over the years.

MAGNET Feedback With Tommy Keene

TommyKeene

Musical opinions are entirely subjective, so when MAGNET approached me to offer my thoughts on some songs, both old and new, I hesitated. I’m not a critic. (Thank god!) But in addition to being a musician, I’m a fan, and it’s fun to discuss what you might like or dislike about whatever record or song you’re digging (or not) at a given moment. I was a bit worried about being too harsh on a tune I might not be into, but the sentiments offered here are sincere. That’s all you can ask, right? Although, if one of my songs is part of a future edition of this exercise, please be kind! (No, just be honest.) —Tommy Keene

The Psychedelic Furs “Sister Europe” from The Psychedelic Furs
When I first heard this one, the opening drumbeat sent me and many fans of producer Steve Lillywhite to record stores to investigate his latest project. The Furs here unleash a worthy take on the Roxy Music classic “A Song For Europe.” Long live the chorused guitar!

The Dream Syndicate “The Days Of Wine And Roses” from The Days Of Wine And Roses
Steve Wynn does Lou Reed better than Lou Reed. This iconic masterpiece and its searing title tune arrived amidst the jangly forest of American indie rock that was emanating from the South in the early ’80s and sliced right through it. I saw the Dream Syndicate in L.A. right after this LP came out; they opened for the Psychedelic Furs and proverbially blew them off the stage. Wynn smirked to the new-wave teens in the audience, “I’m an American, ha ha ha.”

The New Pornographers “Dancehall Domine” from Brill Bruisers
The Pornographers consistently have such fantastic production and arrangements, which always turn great songs into true gems. Also, Carl Newman and Neko Case’s harmonies are so beautifully right for each other.

Matthew Sweet “You Don’t Love Me” from Girlfriend
This is simply a beautiful song from his most acclaimed record. I had the pleasure of opening solo for Matthew and his band last year and witnessed the way this number has matured and transformed into a powerhouse assault. Quite astounding! Think of “Overture” from the Who’s Tommy versus the fiery version on Live At Leeds.

Doug Gillard “Ready For Death” from Parade On
Doug Gillard is one of the most underrated singer/songwriters around, but undeniably one of the greatest and most creative guitarists on the planet. The solo on this one is proof. There’s a great hook in the chorus to boot.

Paul Weller “Saturns Pattern” from Saturns Pattern
A brilliant number from the Governor, with a generous nod to one of his muses, Sly Stone. Weller has inexplicably reinvented himself many times, and this one is pointed in a groovy direction. But where did that accent go?

Blur “There Are Too Many Of Us” from The Magic Whip
Not quite the triumphant return to greatness one would hope for now that their secret weapon, guitarist Graham Coxon, has rejoined the lineup, but a snaky, insidiously sublime track nonetheless. The many moods of Damon Albarn’s other projects seem to dominate here. I wish they’d let Coxon rip on guitar a little more, like on his gem of a solo album, Happiness In Magazines.

The Kinks “Dancing In The Street” from Kinda Kinks
Ray and Dave Davies have so many great songs of their own, but the urgency of the rhythm guitar and Ray’s ultra-cool double-tracked vocal put this cover of the Martha And The Vandellas hit in a league with other great British Invasion Motown takes, like the Beatles’ “You Really Got A Hold On Me” and the Who’s “Heat Wave.”

Courtney Barnett “Pedestrian At Best” from Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
I’m always wary of people who seem to come out of nowhere and get this huge hype. Sometimes it’s warranted, and sometimes it’s not. I loathe irony in rock ‘n’ roll unless it’s truly funny—this isn’t. And blatantly singing off-key to appear indifferent or more punk rock is incredibly annoying.

Ricked Wicky “Mobility” from I Sell The Circus
It’s amazing how Robert Pollard can write a cool, sexy song with just three chords or so, but there you go. By the way, it’s a lot more difficult to come up with a tune like this than, say, “The Long And Winding Road.”

MAGNET Feedback With Chris Stamey 

ChrisStamey

There are a few classic modalities of musical commentary. One is where an observer writes about how the music makes him feel, including thoughts that come to mind in an almost stream of consciousness way—Paul Nelson rhapsodizing about Dylan in Crawdaddy! comes to mind. Once you get familiar with, say, Robert Christgau’s tastes, you have a slide rule by which to take it with a dash of salt (to mix metaphors) and decide if it’s something you, too, might like or dislike.

Another modality is that of the trees-not-the-forest variety, i.e., Stravinsky’s famous record review where he said nothing about musical intention or evoked emotions or grandiose literary allusions, but simply noted places where “the tuba came in early in bar 58” and “tempi were ignored in the last movement” (not literal quotes here).

And then there’s the “everyman/woman” utilitarian approach, one I love. I’m not sure which Atlanta/Athens ’80s fanzine it was—maybe Tasty World or Flagpole?—whose every live review had this form: “They started around midnight,” followed by one or two details, maybe about the band’s clothes. Then it gets to the point: “And we danced and danced and danced.” I’m not sure which of these camps I fall into, since writing (or even talking) about music is something I have until now managed for the most part to escape doing! But it was nice of MAGNET to ask. Let’s see what happens. —Chris Stamey

Ryan Adams “Gimme Something Good” from Ryan Adams
Hypnotic Fender rhythm-guitar accents with spring reverb in a minor key, a good backbeat, organ drones from the Benmont Tench school of stealth (and it’s actually him; how perfect). I could listen to a loop of just the intro, even, for a few hours. It reminds me of the similarly ’verby cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” that Whiskeytown and I cut years ago during one long, long session. Desolation reverb, minimal elements, nothing extraneous, classic tones.
The static texture fits the lyric about “waiting here until the end of time.” Then the launching pad of the VI-VII (IV-V of the relative major) seems about to move it forward, but it gets stuck on the insistent title “gimme something good” and moves into 3/4 phrasing until the 3 against 4 adds up to an even sum to bounce it back into the minor verse groove again. A tight connection between a song’s lyric and music is what good songwriting is all about. It’s so cool that, the next time it launches into the “gimme something good” 3/4 phrasing, it goes on and on, entreating, seeming much more desperate because of the unexpected extra bars as the math collides and spins out of control.
I’m with Letterman: This is an easy song to listen to over and over. (The last dB’s record had a tune that reminded me at the time of Ryan’s writing, I guess in the drop-D guitar chord fingerings—pinkie finger required—but also in the dissatisfaction with status quo, the plea for help; it was similarly entreating, and similarly titled: “Send Me Something Real.”)

Big Star “Nightime” from Third
I know this one well, having played it with Chilton in the late ’70s, and more recently at a series of international concerts of Third/Sister Lovers, the album it’s on. (And, by the way, does “sister lovers” come partly from that line in David Crosby’s “Triad”?) This recording was mind-blowing when I first heard it on a raggedy bootleg cassette, and once I dug into the specifics of its notation for the concerts (courtesy of original arranger Carl Marsh), its icy artificial harmonics and vibrato shivers, its specific “text painting” of the lyric, my mind was blown again. (I have to tell you, to stand onstage right next to a good string quartet and play this song and hear those combinations of sounds en plein air is transporting, amazing, every time.) Even the one-“t” misspelled song title seems to say this is one of a kind here. It was one of the real handshake drugs for me and many others, early on—that combination of folk guitar, confessional lyric and chamber music. Still unique now, but really groundbreaking then, and doubly so when following two landmark electric-guitar records. In contrast, when Chilton would play this song in our CBGB sets in NYC, it became a wild, demonic thing at times: gloves off, feedback in place of string harmonics, and the lyrics would shift around: “When you’re in the moon, you look more like a werewolf,” for example. And that vindictive version, too, was very, very nice.

Wilco “Candyfloss” from Summerteeth
Wilco is a band that doesn’t let grass grow under their feet. I like this period of their landscape, although Being There is the record I know better from around this time. There’s a lot that sounds Beach Boys-y to me on this, in that handmade piece-by-piece manner, but it also has a little bit of the sound of that era’s digital convertors, perhaps, that kind of grain. (As we all did in those years.) Very nice to hear the bass panned all the way to one side; CDs really liberated the sonic panorama in some ways. If you did this positioning on vinyl with any big low end, the lopsided groove pits might make the needle flip right out of its road.
I think it’s the jolliness of the melody that reminds me most of Brian Wilson, perhaps circa Love You, but also Pet Sounds in the “what the hell’s going on here?” clatter and space echo of the harpsichord-like intro, the happy fairgrounds organ throughout, and the stacked-guitars-and-keys handoffs during the instrumental. Of course, any song that talks about a Slip ’N Slide sounds summery to the max. Maybe the acoustic guitar could have, in hindsight, been cut in the verses to leave some more room in the mix there? Or maybe not … Jeff Tweedy is so adept with a turn of a phrase, his lyrics have that “did he really say that?” quality. You hear more cool lines every time you spin his songs. A good song for the morning. (Like one of the Three Stooges, I’m perpetually surprised by Opera Man there at the end.)

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MAGNET Feedback: Allen Stone

AllenStone

Seattle-based pop/soul upstart Allen Stone continues to impress on his recently released third album, Radius (Capitol). Whether he’s subtly bemoaning materialism or diving headlong into songs of unabashed devotion, Stone is fast establishing himself as not only a vital modern voice, but the coolest of cool locals. He hand-picked some of his favorite up-and-coming Emerald City bands to open a five-show record-release homestand. Take leadoff singles “Upside” and “Freedom” for a spin as you check out Stone’s impression of 10 tracks we sent his way: a mix of new releases and old standards that are right up his alley.

My Morning Jacket “Compound Fracture” from The Waterfall
The drums sound as big as Nicki Minaj’s tutti frutti. I dig that. This song makes me feel like doing illicit things in the freezer at a BK. I like that. Although I did have a compound fracture when I was a child, which I did not like. I give this song a win.

The Tallest Man On Earth “Dark Bird Is Home” from Dark Bird Is Home
Dig this tune. Makes me feel light. I enjoy songs that have dark lyrics, but yet make me feel good. It’s like a veggie burger. Is it meat? Kobe beef? Nope. It’s quinoa, bro. I wish I was a bird.

Alabama Shakes “Don’t Wanna Fight” from Sound & Color
This is the jam! I love this track. Mad pocket. Brittany’s voice is a force. Also the sickest of sick intros. The message is needed as well.

Sharon Van Etten “I Don’t Want To Let You Down” from I Don’t Want To Let You Down
Love the harmonies. I don’t want to let you down either, Sharon Van Etten. Meow. Played right after Sharon at BottleRock a couple years back. She slays.

Father John Misty “I Love You, Honeybear” from I Love You, Honeybear
“Fuck the world, damn straight.” Father John comes correct. Love this song and record.

Bob Dylan “I’m A Fool To Want You” from Shadows In The Night
Haunting. Follows you home at night. Steals your mail, but then replaces it with coupons for IHOP. Don’t turn this song on at a party or a wedding reception. Or do, actually.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings “Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In” from The Dynamic Sound Of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Love this version. This is one of the best songs ever. It is really easy to ruin this song. They succeeded at making it their own, but remained respectful to the original.

Stevie Wonder “Living For The City” from Innervisions
I opened for Stevie last year in France. He played this song, and it’s still as relevant today as the day he wrote it. The musical breakdown is my favorite part of the song.

Hall & Oates “Sara Smile” from Daryl Hall & John Oates
Oh yeahhhhhh, Hall & Oates. Those are the dudes. I toured with Daryl and Sharon Jones a couple years back, and we did this song. His delivery on the first chorus is timeless. So smooth. Like a cold beer at a Mariners game. There’s a sweet story behind this song as well.

Björk “Stonemilker” from Vulnicura
Björk is a pioneer of mushroom songs. I like this track. I think the full effect is experienced on hallucinogens, though.