Music is and always has been an important part of my life. Unless I'm reading, writing, watching a movie or sleeping, music is playing in my house. I think it's critical for people to love and appreciate music. I hate to see people 'grow up' and lose their passion for it. I think the soul dies when people stop listening to music.
I think it's equally important to continue to listen to new music. There's little worse than an old fogey going on about how today's music sucks and back in his day they had real bands and musicians. Sure, popular music is a wasteland, but there is probably more good music being produced today than ever before. If anyone thinks otherwise they simply aren't looking hard enough.
Here's a list of the ten albums that I've been spinning lately. In no particular order,
Arlo Guthrie and The Dillards, Thirty-Two Cents Postage Due (2008). I always liked Arlo and I had some of his records when I was a teen. I hadn't really kept up with his career, but he played at a small theater a few miles from my house last Spring. I saw the show and thought it was fantastic and now I'm catching up on him. TV Land viewers will undoubtedly know The Dillards as the stoic Darling Brothers from The Andy Griffith Show. These guys are amazing musicians. Thirty-Three Cents Postage Due is a collection of Woody Guthrie compositions. American songwriting and performance simply do not get better than this.
Miniature Tigers, Tell it to the Volcano (2008). Miniature Tigers are a young band from Phoenix, Arizona. They're wowing a lot of people on their tours and are a favorite on the college stations. Their music isn't what you'd call brilliant or innovative, but the melodies are sweet and infectious and the songs have clever lyrics. Tell It To The Volcano is highly additive stuff. In a just world Miniature Tigers would be huge. Too bad we don't live in a just world.
The Aquabats, The Return of The Aquabats (1995). This is a band I recently fell in love with. They have a ska/punk beat with a healthy dosage of retro new wave. The Aquabats have energy, wit and talent to spare. Think early Oingo Boingo, but even more frantic. The Return of the Aquabats is the intentionally misleading title of their first album.
Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band w/The Rootettes, Zoom (1979). Root Boy Slim was a DC-based singer who was quite a phenomenon in the 70's and 80's. He was kind of like GG Allin with a sense of humor and a kick ass southern blues rock band. Root Boy was the real thing: A true madman of rock. As unbelievable as it may seem, Root Boy was a Yale student who was banned from his own Frat House and the entire campus by none other than George W. Bush. After graduation Root Boy ate an insane amount of acid and climbed the White House fence and was arrested and committed to a mental institution. He was released after receiving various treatment and he started a band. Steely Dan's Donald Fagen discovered him and helped him get his first record contract with Warner. You may know Root Boy from his signature song, Boogie 'til You Puke.
Weird Al Yankovic, Internet Leaks (2009). This is a download-only EP of songs from Al's next full-length album, coming next year. Rather than let some asshole leak them, he did it himself. Many probably assumed that Weird Al was a flash-in-the-pan when they heard Another One Rides the Bus or Hey Ricky. But AL has stayed on the scene, managing to lampoon musical styles and trends for over three decades. The truth is, Al Yankovic is smart as a whip and is one hell of a funny guy. He has kept the same band members the entire time and they are as versatile as any group in existence. Internet Leaks is prime Al and the songs parody T.I., The Doors, The White Stripes, Fountains of Wayne and (I think) Queen.
Frank Zappa, Cruising With Ruben and the Jets (1968/1984). I'm a longtime Zappa devotee and I listened to his music obsessively when I was a kid. Cruising With Ruben and the Jets wasn't my favorite, but I liked it. I hadn't heard the album in ages and when I went to the Amazon page for the CD, I was surprised to find that user reviews were outraged that Frank had altered the original recordings for the digital release. Newly recorded drums and bass were used. I had to have it and I was delighted by the results. The original Mothers of Invention were cool, but they simply could not play what Zappa needed for his compositions. The new recordings on Cruising With Ruben and the Jets sound amazing. Not everyone agrees, but I feel that Frank made the right decision for posterity.
Tom Tom Club, Self Titled Debut (1981). When Talking Heads' David Byrne was doing side projects for the stage and screen and with Brian Eno, some of the other members of the band created the Tom Tom Club. This music is joyous and danceable, and they were among the pioneers of hip hop. This album always cheers me up when I'm down.
Harry Reser, Banjo Crackerjax (1922-1930). The banjo was the guitar of The Jazz Age and Harry Reser was arguably the finest player of the time. Or all time. Imagine if Steve Vai played banjo and was born 60 years earlier. Reser did a lot of what now seem like novelty songs, but these recordings are all instrumental. It's difficult to believe sometimes that there is only one banjo playing at times, but it is solely Reser on the instrument.
New York Dolls, 'Cause I Sez So (2009) This album reunites The Dolls with legendary producer Todd Rundgren for the first time since their debut way back in '73. The New York Dolls were forerunners of both punk and glam and despite lead singer's change of style for years as Buster Poindexter, they have maintained their style and attitude nicely. Sadly, most of the original members are no longer with us, but Johansen rasps through the songs with spirit and gusto. The music is basic and rather primal, sort of like early Stones. A high point is a cover of their own early hit, Trash.
Finally, the one that stays in my player more than any other in recent memory: This Gigantic Robot Kill, by MC Lars (2008). Lars is the self-described inventor of 'Post Punk Laptop Rap', but the album is a wonderfully eclectic mix of styles. Lars is smart (a Stanford grad) and a very funny guy. His songs skewer worthy targets, such as the record industry, Emo, hypocritical 'green' celebs, Guitar Hero and Hot Topic. Lars also puts his English degree to good use with songs about Moby Dick, Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare. This Gigantic Robot Kills has a multitude of guest players, like guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert, Weird Al Yankovic, Jaret Reddick of Bowling for Soup and other indie rockers and rappers.
(Mark Sieber owns and operates HorrorDrive-In.com. He's a machinist in his day job and he spends his spare time reading, wriitng, exercising, and of course listening to music. He lives in Hampton, Virginia)
(The Black Glove wants to thank Mark for his time...Mark, you rock, man!)