Live – Local 717

My background with the band Live coincides with my discovery of “alternative” music in the early 90’s, my desire to seek out bands that did things their own way, and a mentor who helped introduce me to many bands that I still love to this day. The band cut a record in the late 80’s while still in high school under the Public Affection moniker, fell in with Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads and released their masterful debut as Live in 1991, Mental Jewelry (still my favorite). From there the band became more and more popular, selling tens of millions of records along the way. Throwing Copper, Secret Samadhi, and The Distance to Here all were records that helped solidify Live as a household name. From there, the band experimented with their sound (V), released a somewhat underappreciated album (Birds of Pray), and released an album with some strong songs but overall didn’t showcase the band’s strengths (Songs From Black Mountain). The band went on hiatus, followed by solo albums, one-off projects, and a Live album cut with Chris Shinn of Unified Theory fame. A reunion of the original four members seemed to be an impossible scenario.

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Sunstack Jones – s/t

Liverpool’s Sunstack Jones have long been one of my favorite indie bands over the last 5 or 6 years. Hints of 60’s psychedelia, nods to 90’s Britpop, and meticulous attention to detail make for an engaging listen. The band operates as a collective, something that has been part of their modus operandi since day 1. Christopher Jones is on vocals / guitar joined by Richy (drums), Lorcan (guitar), Dave (vocals / guitar), and Jules (bass). The band have a number of releases to their name, all evoking nostalgia, coastal drives by sunset, and life’s regrets. The latest self titled LP takes these traits and perfects them.

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Mudhoney – Digital Garbage

I first fell in love with Mudhoney in the summer of 2013. You could say I was about 25 years late to the party. I’d owned their records and liked them. But it wasn’t until I was at my first Mudhoney show at the Sub Pop Festival in Seattle that everything clicked for me. The perfect unholy alliance of garage rock, punk, and grunge. Fortunately, Mudhoney play a ton of local shows and I’ve had the opportunity to meet members of the band, catch their live show over a dozen times, and even appear in one of their music videos. Digital Garbage is the band’s first album in 5 years and reflects the uncertain times in which it was recorded.

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Tom Petty – To Find a Friend

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

A year ago I was in disbelief as the news about Tom Petty made the rounds. Seemingly invincible, he was on his deathbed – in fact, his death was prematurely announced and quickly retracted. The inevitable was upon us – a musical icon taken much too soon. In the aftermath of his departure I indulged in the works of Tom Petty like I never had before. His biography was enlightening and had me obsessively listening to his 1994 solo album, Wildflowers. The entire Rick Rubin produced album is incredible, but To Find a Friend spoke to me in a way that it never had before. Now I had the back story of Tom’s personal life changing rapidly around the time it was cut. The opening lines are autobiographical somewhat. “In the middle of his life / He left his wife / And ran off to be bad / Boy, it was sad”. It is about as direct as can be. Musically, this a breezy, Beatles by way of the American South tune. It is perfection. It is my absolute favorite Tom Petty song. A year gone today. “And the days went by like paper in the wind / Everything changed, then changed again / It’s hard to find a friend”.

Beached – Footprints In Time

One of my favorite indie acts over the last few years has been England’s Curry Quiche. They found that sweet spot blending hooks with social commentary – not unlike The Clash. Lyrically, they cut to the core of the issue while making the listener sing along – it doesn’t get better than that. After 2017’s Behind the Machine I was dismayed to hear that the band had disbanded. Fortunately, 2 of the members regrouped as Beached. The intent with Beached is to go down a more commercial, more electronic path. The theme of their debut album, Footprints in Time, is time & relationships. How does it compare to Curry Quiche? Very well, as it turns out.

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Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

It took me some time to appreciate the genius of Marvin Gaye. Of course, like most people growing up in the 80’s, I had been inundated with various Marvin Gaye duets and songs on the oldies stations my parents would play. It was only after listening to a cover of I Heard It Through The Grapevine by The Slits in my late teens that I decided to seek out the originals. And what a treat that was. What’s Going On marked the dawn of the 70’s for Marvin Gaye. In fact, the song was deemed too political and was almost not released. Fortunately, Marvin stuck to his guns and refused to record or release anything else unless this song was released as a single. January 20, 1971 saw the official release of the song – it had been recorded 6 months earlier. The song is directly inspired by – and addresses – police brutality as witnessed by Obie Benson of the Four Tops. Vocally, it is one of the best performances of Gaye’s career. His voice pulls off the trick of sounding relaxed, emotional, and pained – sometimes within the same sentence. Musically, this is classic soul – infectious beats and a strong, strong melody. Lyrically, it is timeless – and modern. Unfortunately so. “Don’t punish me with brutality / Talk to me / So you can see / What’s going on”. On the full album, the song segues into What’s Happening Brother – the songs tied together lyrically with the beat acting as a segue between the tunes. Embedded below is a live performance of both masterful songs.

There Was a Light: The Cosmic History of Chris Bell and the Rise of Big Star by Rich Tupica

The legend of Big Star – and the solo careers of Chris Bell and Alex Chilton – came to me sometime in the mid 90’s while I was deep in my pseudo intellectual elitist underground band phase. The idea that this deeply emotional – spiritual, even – music failed to make an impact when released intrigued me. Big Star’s #1 Record is the only Big Star album to feature Chris Bell, one of the band’s founders who would go onto lead an interesting life in the 70’s and unfortunately became a member of the “27 Club” after a car wreck in 1978. His solo recordings were released posthumously on the 1992 compilation I Am the Cosmos. Alex Chilton gained notoriety for his prickly personality, his association with the punk scene, his drug fueled sessions for Big Star’s Third / Sister Lovers, and basically being dismissive of Big Star for most of his life. I like Alex Chilton – respect him, like most of his music, and am appreciative of his contributions to the Big Star legacy. I LOVE Chris Bell with all my heart. The 1st time I heard his solo music, it was an eye-opening experience. Pain, spirituality, longing, and romance all seemed to coexist within these songs. They spoke to me on a visceral level in a way that I’ve experienced with only a few other artists. This book takes various interviews conducted over the last 45+ years and tells the narrative of the Big Star story with a focus on Chris Bell. It features countless photos that haven’t been seen before and a unique perspective that makes the reader feel a part of the story. Chris Bell is still gaining fans in the modern era which is an incredible feat for someone who sold so few records in his lifetime. The book outlines what was happening with Big Star after Chris left the band and explores what Chris was doing in those years. Not just a music based biography – this is an interesting overview of his entire life.  There have been a few other Big Star books that I enjoyed – this one is the best of the lot. People close to Chris have done well preserving, building up, and promoting his legacy and genius. The book is available here and the 1st printing is a limited run of 500. I highly recommend it.