Monday, December 31, 2007

Ten Frank Black Singalongs, Song 10: Oddball

Let's complete this 10-song series with an anthem of sorts. It's Oddball, and though it might not really be, it's about Frank Black fans.

In between the matter I would fall
Like the notes between the chords of this song
Impossibilities would be great
I could attend I would not be late
For the gathering of the society of the

Though everybody's different
I might as well be all alone if I'm not
'Cause time between the oddballs is so very long

"The gathering of the society of the oddballs" is like attending a Frank Black concert. We won't be late - we oddballs want the whole 3+ hours of sweat and noise.

It also occurred to me that this might describe pockets of the Times Square gathering tonight.

Frank Black - Oddball (mp3)

From the Headache single.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ten Frank Black Singalongs, Song 9: His Kingly Cave

Fans know that His Kingly Cave, from Devil's Workshop, is about a visit to Graceland with a head full of shroom:

It's about a trip that I took to Graceland many years ago. I thought it would be fun to take hallucinogenic mushrooms while I was there. I was much younger than I am now. It's not something I would really do now. I was young and dumb and I went to Graceland with my girlfriend and we took mushrooms and it was a horrible and tense day. That's a telling of that day in that story.

-From this priceless interview on

But is it also a dark parable about recklessly chasing death?

He’s tripping over graves
As the rain begins to fall
And finally they escape
When the shuttle bus is called
The mourners now abate
As one begins to say
I scream I scream for all


He wants an altered state
Inside the mansion walls
She says she’d rather wait
Yeah, for evening to fall
But still the cap they ate
And with a drink they chased
The ghost that called

Frank Black & The Catholics - His Kingly Cave (mp3)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ten Frank Black Singalongs, Song 8: She Took All The Money

Okay, so this is not exactly "Frank Black," and some may give me a generous eyeroll when I call a song that came out on this year's scorching Bluefinger "enduring." But those who have heard it will nod their heads in perfect agreement. Of Francis' wife, Violet Clark (who sings background in this song), drummer Jason Carter said:

She's a capable rock and roller on her own, and she brought a very cool element to the record. The background vocals for 'She Took All the Money' were recorded at the breakfast table, while the kids were eating! They synched right up to the song, too. She sang at the first show, and has been to a few since, but she's expecting another baby, and didn't feel up to performing. But we don't sound as good as she does on the backing vocals!
(from this Redbrick interview)

You might wish that the couple team up for a special project. And your wish may come true. They are working on a project called "Grand Duchy." You can find a leaked track, "Fort Wayne," out there in the 'sphere.

Black Francis (with Violet Clark) - She Took All The Money (mp3)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ten Frank Black Singalongs, Song 7: Nadine

I remember picking up a promo copy of Show Me Your Tears at CDepot in College Park, MD, a few weeks before it was released, for something like five bucks. I felt a little dirty about the whole affair - here I was, driving home with an advance copy cd of something I planned on buying anyway, hole punched in the UPC and "Not For Sale" stamped on the cover, with the realization that this was a noir heart-on-sleeve classic set in a beautiful rock and country framework, with some of the best solos and licks you'll hear on any Frank Black and the Catholics album. And I got it for practically nothing. I couldn't wait to read the reviews.

I should have known. The critics had contrasting opinions. Popmatters said that the album represents some of FB & The Catholics' best work, and Rolling Stone gave it 3 1/2 stars, but Pitchfork, whose reviewer opened with the absurd anti-rock plea, "Pixies! Do Not Reunite! Please!", gave it a 5.3. The album went largely unnoticed at the time.

Now, time is mostly a nasty, unforgiving asshole that ruins our physical selves and brings us ever closer to death, but the one good thing about it is that it reveals the classics to us over its course. Initial reviews are often mixed for albums, but in the end, the critics, having earned a buck, are often proved wrong, and artistic merit is redeemed. Take Weezer's Pinkerton, for example, which was initially called "aimless" and "juvenile," and is now widely considered an alternative/indie milestone. Hopefully the same justice will be reserved for Show Me Your Tears.

Revisit the album's opener, the primal Nadine, with the volume cranked way the hell up. Frank Black said of this song, "Maybe NADINE is a sexual celebration, but man, I get so sad when I think about her, way back when, ah fuck, whatever happened to me and her?"

And in those two words lie the heart of blues, rock, and country: "whatever happened?" On Show Me Your Tears, Frank Black stretches that question artfully across 13 songs.

Tell me what you think.

Frank Black - Nadine (mp3)

Ten Frank Black Singalongs, Song 6: Dog Gone

I could not pray
I felt so dog gone
Couldn't get no witness but I did not know
Then a voice in a whisper said you've got to carry it on

Why carry "it" on, why not just "carry on"? Carry what on? And whose whisper? The narrator's?

And the news is gonna break
And the news is gonna break
Yeah, your noose is gonna break when I am there

No Paris
No Nepal
No Barstow
Won't be none of them at all

No Congo
No Kish or Kishangargh
No Memphis
It doesn't matter who you are

The news/noose is gonna break when you are where, then?

Ahhhh, the mysteries, the ambiguity...and the gorgeous somber tone of the song.

In an interview, Frank Black said that Dog Gone was inspired by religious music, though the theme of this song is not religious.

Frank Black - Dog Gone (mp3)

From Frank Black and the Catholics.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ten Frank Black Singalongs, Songs 4 & 5, The Hostess With The Mostest and Bad, Wicked World

There are Frank Black songs, and then there are Frank Black songs with Joey Santiago on lead guitar. I love both, but fans know that they're two totally different things, and can tell the difference immediately. Here are two of the latter.

Frank Black (with Joey Santiago on Lead Guitar 2)- The Hostess With The Mostest (mp3)
Frank Black (with Joey Santiago on Lead Guitar)- Bad, Wicked World (mp3)

From Teenager of the Year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ten Frank Black Singalongs, Song 3: Adda Lee

In Frank Black's own words:

'Adda Lee' is a fictitious name, but it's a real person. A person I loved very much and who is dead. Normally, I wouldn't write about a topic quite so personal, but it was a short song and it was a nice song and, for whatever reason, Adda Lee crept into it; it became a lyric and felt right at the time. It's a little ditty about a very big thing. I con't think I could ever write an epic called 'Adda Lee'.
- Frank Black, VOX Issue 30, March 1993.


This might be his most heartbreaking song. I imagine him driving out to a lake, where he is overcome not by the world's cold indifference, but by some sort of consciousness that a good life was now gone, and he sees her wave goodbye in the breaking moonlit waves, her way of telling him that she forgives him.

I'm a wishbone
And I'm breaking
Yeah, I'm wishing for Adda Lee

And the lake sings
And the dogs don't
They are quiet for Adda Lee
Adda Lee

I`m sorry and I miss you
And away, I went away
Cause I wished I was away
I wished I was away

A wishing well, of well wishing
And Adda waves away
Adda waves away

Frank Black - Adda Lee (mp3)

From Frank Black.(1993).

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ten Frank Black Singalongs, Song 2: St. Francis Dam Disaster

At 11:57:30 PM on March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam surrendered to an angry wall of water that swept up and killed over 500 people, as it sought its path to the ocean. The chief engineer of the dam-building project, William Mulholland, helplessly observed the damage upstream from high ground the morning after the disaster. Mulholland is the man Frank Black (a.k.a. Black Francis) refers to in the first verse:

There was a well known water master man
He was the king
He could do anything
The St. Francis Dam disaster man
Thought she was all right

Mulholland and assistant survey the damage.

Hollywood cashes in.

Black personifies the great wave as a powerful enslaved woman, seeking freedom and bent on destruction:

Until around midnight
Because that water seeks her own
She had a desire to flow
She was looking for somewhere to go

She was a slave to the great metropolis
She was feeling choked
She pushed the wall 'til it broke

St. Francis Dam Disaster seems to be a parable on the hazards of containment versus will, a warning that no matter how grand our structures, control is no more than a dangerous illusion.

Frank Black - St. Francis Dam Disaster (mp3)

From Dog in the Sand, which was recorded live to two-track, with no edits, in Los Angeles, CA (2000).

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ten Frank Black Singalongs

Between now and the end of this year, I'll be posting one Frank Black song per day. These are a few of the songs that 'stuck' for me - the enduring songs that revisit my playlists often.

Why? First, because I'm a card-carrying member of the cult following. Second - move over, Paris, Lindsey, and the sisters Spear - he's the teenager of the year, no matter what year it may be.

Here's my first choice, 85 Weeks, a Captain Beefheart ode from Pistolero. I love the acoustic licks, the fast singing, and the way he makes the high strings ring. This is an anxious ballad, the perfect ode to a perpetually stressed, wide awake, conscious sleepwalker.


"We were just sitting around, I told him a story about Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) and his lack of sleeping at one point in his life."
- Eric Drew Feldman, "Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies" (US Edition, Pg. 241).

Definitions and References:
som·nam·bu·list (n.)
A person who is subject to somnambulism; one who walks in his sleep; a sleepwalker; a noctambulist.

Eric Drew Feldman, off and on keyboardist for Frank Black and the Catholics.

Don Glen Vliet, aka Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart.

Frank Black - 85 Weeks (mp3)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sloan, Live At A Sloan Party

It's their party and they'll play what they want to.

I haven't listened to this in a while, until today. These are from the bonus disc to Sloan's One Chord to Another (1996!), a live performance, full of infectious pop and handclaps, recorded at a 'Sloan' party.

Sloan - live at a Sloan party (mp3s):

Dignified And Old
Glitter And Gold
Over You

*note* I don't know where you can find the bonus disc. One Chord to Another is a great listen, though a lot less dreampop than these songs.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Georgie James on Project Song

You can now watch Georgie James on the most recent episode of Project Song, in which an artist is challenged to write and record a song in two days. Laura Burhenn and John Davis rose to the occasion. It's fascinating to watch this abridged version of the creative process given external and unusual constraints.

Check it out here:

White Williams, Live on Fair Game

White Williams' Smoke was a pleasant, laid back pop surprise. It's the sound of youth in no hurry to get anywhere, and I'm in line to tag along.

This is the time of the year that good in-studio and TV performances become scarce, so White Williams' recent loose yet invigorating performance in Faith Salie's Fair Game studio is a gift to us.

White Williams - Live on Fair Game (12-13-2007)(mp3s):

In The Club
Fleetwood Crack

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Return Of Imperial Teen (Live, on the Radio)

The last time I went to an Imperial Teen live show was in the late-90's, when they were supporting What Is Not To Love. They were great. Now, I'm not positive about this, but I think I might have accidentally drank somebody else's beer at that show. If you recall having lost a beer at one of their shows at either the Black Cat or the 9:30 Club, I apologize and owe you one.

Now that that's out of the way, and my conscience is clean, you can stop your mental math and just read on.

Imperial Teen made a triumphant return this year with the release of The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band, and it was a treat to hear a rare in-studio radio performance by them on Terre T's Cherry Blossom Clinic show on WFMU this weekend.

Imperial Teen - Live on WFMU (12-15-2007) (mp3s):

Do It Better
Fallen Idol
Shim Sham
Room With A View

Friday, December 14, 2007

Top 15 of 2007, With (Mostly) Live mp3s.

Here are The Smudge's favorite 15 albums of 2007, not counting Elliott Smith's New Moon or the Deluxe Edition of U2's The Joshua Tree. I was only going to do 10, but couldn't find it in my heart to exclude the last five. There are many other strong releases that I loved this year - albums from LCD Soundsystem, Black Francis, Animal Collective, Bat For Lashes, Jesca Hoop, and Mavis Staples among them, and if you asked me at the end of next year, this list might look different. But for now, here they are.

*updated on 12-17...corrected the M. Ward gaffe*

1. Okkervil River - The Stage Names

Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe (Live on Conan 8-28-2007)
Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe (Live SXSW 3-16-2007)(mp3)

Will Sheff brings songs to life through imagery like no other. He's as much a screenwriter as he is a songwriter. Part of his genius is his way of seemingly summoning the listener's life into a movie. Here's one of those universal scenes, from the anthemic Unless It's Kicks, that many of us can relate to:

He's been driving too long

On a dark windless night
With the stereo on
With the towns flying by
And the ground getting soft

And the sound in the sky
Coming down from above
It surrounds you at times
And it's whispering, oh

...and this, from the same song...
What breaks this heart the most is the ghost of some rock and roll fan
Exploding up from the stands
With her heart opened up
And I want to tell her, "your love isn't lost"

And from A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene:

Like it's lived in these nights, holding your hatred tight
Like a sign that you're right and you're strong
When all the doors are shut tight, I will dream you tonight
And my dream will just sweep you along

And from A Girl In Port:

Well, I'm a weak and lonely sort
Though I'm not sailing just for sport.
I've come to feel, out on the sea,
these urgent lives press against me.
I'm just a guest, I'm not a part
With my tender head, with my easy heart.
These several years out on the sea
have made me empty, cold, and clear.
Pour yourself into me.

The first two songs on The Stage Names are my two favorite songs of this year.

2. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

(Antichrist Television Blues)(Live on Austin City Limits (PBS) Nov 2007)(mp3)

Perhaps the most enduring video image of this year is their performance of the title track in an elevator for a Blogotheque Take-Away Show, with torn magazine pages as percussion.

Death, religion, the tension between modern desires and traditional beliefs, the distance between consciousness and reality, and the pressing need to escape remain recurring themes for Arcade Fire, and in this album, they effectively use overwhelming sonic force to reflect the often overwhelming fears associated with these themes. In Keep The Car Running, they excaim,

Every night my dream's the same
Same old city with a different name
They're not coming to take me away
I don’t know why but I know I can’t stay


They know my name because I told it to them
But they don't know where and they don't know when
It's coming or when
But it's coming, keep the car running

And in My Body Is A Cage:

My body is a cage
That keeps me from dancing with the one I love
But my mind holds the key

I’m standing on the stage
Of fear and self-doubt
It’s a hollow play
But they’ll clap anyway

3. The Pipettes - We Are the Pipettes

I Love You (Live on MPR's The Current, 6-8-2007)(mp3)

This counts, because it's the U.S. release with bonus tracks, and I didn't do a list last year.

They've been both lauded and cursed as a Phil Spector throwback girl band with a modern twist. Let's get past that, and admit that we can't resist the urge to joyfully sing the background "thoughts have turned to murder" in It Hurts To See You Dance So Well:

Half past one on the dance-floor,
and my thoughts have turned to murder,
can't these strangers feel my eyes, burning into them,
they know that i wanna kill them,

And don't deny that you love the enthusiastic cruelty of Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me:

Get out of my face
I'm gonna back out to chase
some other guy
Who I might like

4. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - 100 Days, 100 Nights

100 Days, 100 Nights (Live On KCRW, 12-3-2007)(mp3)

Sharon Jones can sing...she does it with spiritual power like Aretha or Patti. The Dap-Kings, though, are the absolute essence of this record. The descending horn line that opens the title track, echoed in the guitar line that opens Let Them Knock, sets the dramatic tone, and it only gets better. This is one of those rare albums that rewards the listener instantly and reveals itself with repeated plays.

5. Georgie James - Places

Long Week (Live on MPR's The Current, 11-12-2007) (mp3)

The Smudge blogged and blogged about GJ over the last two years, after discovering on Laura Burhenn's website that she was partnering with Q and Not U's John Davis for a special project. The result of their efforts beautifully reflects their love for classic 60's & 70's pop with big voices and big keys, a la Donovan, The Zombies, and Captain and Tennille. I listen to Places when I'm in the mood to overindulge in hooks and harmonies, which turns out to be several times a week.

6. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha

Imitosis (Live on Faith Salie's Fair Game 12-5-2007)(mp3)

The first time I listened to this album was in bed, enclosing headphones on tight, with a CD player instead of my iPod. It made me switch back to my portable CD player as a lullaby machine. The whistles sound absolutely pure on CD, and instead of falling asleep, I found myself laughing aloud as my ears absorbed each song's passing brilliant moments, spellbound by the dynamics, the tension, and the release.

7. The White Stripes - Icky Thump

Icky Thump (Live on Conan 6-18-2007)(mp3)

One day, Jack White will run out of fresh ways to make guitar and drums do as much as he makes them do. And on that day, the earth shall mourn the fact that it rocks a whole lot less. Luckily, that ridiculous, sick solo that closes You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told) is freaking eternal. Intergalactic beings will find it long after we've been swallowed by the sun, and determine that it was created by a higher intelligence. They will recreate the Gretsch, but will find that no alien can make that sound with it.

8. Radiohead - In Rainbows

Thom Yorke has the dark gift of being able to draw the listener in, only to make him squirm in anguish, the way that a brief shower beckons an earthworm onto a sunlit sidewalk. People who find a macabre beauty in scenes like that are likely to be Radiohead fans.

The piano on this album gives it an air of mystery. Whether a harsh and dissonant noise, or a somber whispered melody or chord, it reinforces the hard truth you hear in Yorke's voice. When it repeats like clockwork, the time tricks in the rhythm section pull the stability from under you.

9. The Comas - Spells

Spin and Rolling Stone both named their last release, Conductor, one of the best albums of 2004 that you didn't hear. You'd think that we wouldn't overlook their brilliant 2007 follow-up, Spells, but I'm not seeing it on many best-of lists out there. Maybe someone can explain why this album was so quickly forgotten, with songs like Red Microphones, Come My Sunshine, and I Am A Spider (mp3), with that tornadic solo just after the three-minute mark.

Here are the last five on my list, which I won't elaborate on, but each of which brought me hours upon hours of listening ecstasy, and hey, enjoy the mp3s.

10. Menomena - Friend and Foe

Do these lines from Muscle'n Flo still hit you?'s light out
and I now
face just what I'm made of


Come lay down your head upon my chest
feel my heart beat feel my unrest
If Jesus could only wash my feet
Then I'd get up strong and muscle on

They still hit me, every time, and this CD came out in the beginning of the year. It's more than just the album cover that endures. There is a total absence of rock cliches on this album, and creative uses of power piano, including the pedal point solo on Wet and Rusting and the attacked chords and single notes on Rotten Hell. This is a muscular effort, and I have a feeling that Menomena is going to be pushing out future classics for a long time to come.

Wet And Rusting (mp3)

11. Klaxons - Myths of the Near Future

It's Not Over (Live on MPR's The Current, 4-18-2007)(mp3)

12. The National - Boxer

You've Done It Again, Virginia (Live on WOXY 9-23-2007)(mp3)

13. New Pornographers - Challengers

My Life Versus Yours (Live, Acoustic on MPR's The Current, 10-17-2007)(mp3)

14. The Octopus Project - Hello Avalanche

I Saw The Bright Shinies (mp3)

15. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam

I'm convinced that this album is better for your brain than the Nintendo DS.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"I Want To Keep It Positive. Until The Day I Die. Yeah."

"People have a lot of misconceptions about me because of what they read or see," Turner told Texas' Austin Chronicle in 2001, "but I love me today."


"Tina is aware that Ike passed away earlier today," her publicist said. "She has not had any contact with him in 35 years. No further comment will be made."


Born Nov. 5, 1931, in Mississippi, Turner launched his music career in the 1940s as the guitar-playing bandleader of the Kings of Rhythm. His outfit's 1951 recording "Rocket 88" is considered by some music historians—and indeed by Turner himself—to be the first rock song committed to vinyl, hence his sobriquet.

- from Ike Turner Dead, on E! Online

Ike & Tina Turner - Cussin', Cryin', And Carryin' On (mp3)
Ike Turner & The Kings Of Rhythm - Getting Nasty (mp3)

Taken from Superfly Soul and Superfly Soul, Vol. 2: The Return of the Hustlers.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nellie McKay on The Current

Nellie McKay went a-caroling for Minnesota Public Radio's The Current today, gleefully filling the studio with holiday cheer. You can feel the spirit of the season oozing out of her. You can't not smile during "A Christmas Dirge." Whatever she's saying, the piano music and vocal melody are so incredibly charmingly Christmassy.

So think about her when you go home and look at your axed tree, every needle illuminated by 1000 bright bulbs, plugged in and turned on between now and 2008. But it sure does smell fine, doesn't it. And that deer made of lights and wire that acts like it's eating something on the ground, but really it's sucking on nothing but oil, and hell, if it were real you'd probably shoot it and eat it, unless it were Santa's.

As she exclaims at the end of one of these songs, "Merry Christmas!"

Nellie McKay - Live on The Current (12-11-2007)(mp3s):

Mother of Pearl
A Christmas Dirge
Take Me Away

Donate to the Nellie McKay Disaster Fund on her website.

Own Obligatory Villagers, which I reviewed in an earlier post after dribbling some nonsense about the Poconos.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Live on KCRW, 12-3-2007

In the intro to this live version of "What Have You Done For Me Lately," Sharon Jones says, in waves of brass like little tsunamis filling the KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic studio, "Goin' back to the Dap-dippin', the first album, 'What Have You Done For Me Lately?', MY style, not Janet's."

This song is Sharon's now. And the Dap-Kings', of course.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - Live on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic (12-3-2007)(mp3s):

07 What Have You Done For Me Lately (Live on KCRW 12-3-2007)

The rest of this performance is equally badfreakinass.

01 Casella Walk
02 Introducing Sharon Jones
03 I'm Not Going To Cry
04 Keep On Looking
05 Be Easy
06 Let Them Knock
08 How Do I Let A Good Man Down
09 100 Days, 100 Nights
10 Nobody's Baby

If you haven't already, get 100 Days, 100 Nights NOW. It's one of the year's very best albums.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Andrew Bird, Live on Fair Game, 12-5-2007

Andrew Bird's Armchair Apocrypha is deservedly showing up on Best of 2007 lists everywhere. He and Faith Salie remind us of the beauty in his songwriting, his music, and his whistling, with this Wednesday's acoustic in-studio performance on Fair Game. This version Heretics is so gorgeously fingerpicked, strummed, and whistled, unaffected, or blessed, depending on how you hear it, by a minor error, it's the stuff of immortalization, Jeff Buckley-esque, but God, it's just too bad that it will probably be heard by so few.

Andrew Bird - Live on Fair Game, 12-7-2007 (mp3s):

Tin Foil