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Jellyfish Tag

Last week I was happy to give you the opportunity to win the new Alex Chilton vinyl bundle from Omnivore Recordings. The contest got a great response, and a winner was chosen and notified on Friday. Thanks to everyone who entered.

If you didn’t win last week, don’t worry, I have another opportunity for one lucky reader this week. The prize is, once again, pretty amazing. It’s another Omnivore Recordings release, this time it’s reissue copies of the two Jellyfish studio albums, Bellybutton and Spilt Milk, presented on RTI’s HQ 180-gram vinyl. Bellybutton is pressed on beautiful translucent blue vinyl, and Spilt Milk on equally lovely green vinyl. Bellybutton also includes a special tri-fold LP sleeve.

A few months ago when the Popdose staff was voting on their favorite covers of all time, I placed Richard Thompson’s cover of  “Season of the Witch,” originally performed by Donovan and released 1966, at number two. I have been in love with that particular cover since I first heard it being used in an episode of the now-defunct NBC series Crossing Jordan and it really stuck with me.  When the series’ official soundtrack album was released in 2003, I bought it solely based on the fact that Thompson’s haunting, frenetic and epically wonderful “Season of the Witch” was listed in the tracklisting. Once I got the album home, I proceeded to play it on a loop for hours, despite the fact that it was more than nine minutes long. I was obsessed.

But I have a confession to make: I didn’t know Thompson’s version was a cover. At the time, I’d never heard Donovan’s original — in fact, I really didn’t know much about Donovan’s oeuvre, outside of “Mellow Yellow.” So I thought that “Season of the Witch” was Thompson’s song and I started seeking out more of his work, wondering if there were more songs like that one to be discovered. You’re laughing at me right now, I can hear you. It’s OK — I’d laugh at me, too.

Eventually, after I learned the truth about the song’s origins, I figured I should probably hear the original. And while I do enjoy Donovan’s version, I actually don’t love it as much Thompson’s cover. Sacrilege? Maybe. But that’s how I feel. Deal with it.

If you had to go away for awhile and you could only take five of your favorite albums with you, which ones would you choose? Yes, we know it isn’t a fair question, but that hasn’t stopped us from asking music fans who happen to be recording artists in their own right. This edition of Desert Island Discs comes courtesy of Megan Slankard, whose latest album, A Token of the Wreckage, is out now. Visit her official site for samples of Megan’s music — after reading her Desert Island picks, of course!

1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
I was about 10 years old when this album first blew my mind. I would sit in front of the stereo some nights with the CD or record cover (we had both) in my lap and stare at it throughout the duration of the album. It was absolutely magical. And, to this day, its chord progressions and melodies are part of the fibers that make up my being.

2. Graceland – Paul Simon
Maybe this is also an obvious choice, but it’s a very sentimental record and a part of growing up for me. I swiped most of my parents’ records, and this is one that my dad would play while working in the home office. It was on all the time, and I know it inside and out.

Happy Black Friday! If you’re a sensible human being, you’re reading this post shortly after waking up instead of reading it on your way back from a four-hour shopping spree at Best Buy. Perhaps you’re at work today, silently cursing your colleagues who made Thanksgiving a four-day weekend. Or maybe you’re lying on the couch, slightly comatose, wondering if it’s too early to eat your third turkey-related meal in the past two days. Perhaps you’re hiding from family in the other room, checking your e-mail for the seventh time in ten minutes. Or perhaps you’re getting ready to get in the car and drive back home to a world of sensibility, devoid of awkward conversation about government conspiracies and your grandmother’s incontinence problem. (If it’s not immediately clear from this paragraph, I have slept very little in the past two days.) In any case, my point is this: it’s a great time — nay, the perfect time — to listen to this fine, shiny new episode of The Popdose Podcast.

As Thanksgiving is a time when we get together with family, perhaps those we haven’t seen in a while, we decided an appropriate topic for this episode would be Reunions. We’re talkin’ ’bout the reunions we remember the most, for both good and bad reasons, the bands we still want to see reunite, the bands that should have stayed broken up, and…well, dammit, just listen to the podcast. It’s great.

The Popdose Podcast, Episode 15: Reunions (1:14:50, 68.6 MB), featuring Jeff Giles, Jason Hare, and Dave Lifton.
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Show Notes

What's the easiest way for a record company to take your money every holiday season? Box sets! Join Jeff Giles, Jason Hare and Dave Lifton for a discussion of the best and worst compilations on the most recent episode of the Popdose Podcast!

Love stinks. Trying to get to love stinks more. Here's the deal: there's a woman I've been interested in. I only cross her path every other weekend, but she's always been sweet and kind when I've had time to talk to her. Briefly, really briefly. Did

For some, the progressive rock movement was when rock ‘n roll grew up. For others, it’s when the institution fell apart. Popdose presents, in five installments, my choices for fifty important prog rock albums, but I should warn you a few things in advance. First, my definition of progressive rock is pretty inclusive. You’ll see bands in here that don’t necessarily fit the category, but some of the music they made certainly does. Second, there are some sacred cows of the genre I intend to slap in a bun and drown with ketchup. They may be interesting, they may be influential, but they might not be what I’d consider essential. Third, as with all criticism, my list is subjective and is not intended to be the end-all/be-all. When you write in to ask why I excluded Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery, understand that it might fit your criteria but not mine.

Oh, spoiler alert: I excluded Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery. Guess I should have started this off with that. Oh well, too late to drag on about the past, so let’s start with #50.

50. Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) Prog rockers consider this probably the second most influential of the form, and I couldn’t agree more. Peter Gabriel’s last studio album with the band is spread out across two LPs and spotlights both their rock and their compositional chops. As a concept album, it loosely centers on the character of Rael who leaves Puerto Rico to experience the ups and downs of New York. You’re not likely to really get the story out of the music, but for all the propaganda prog puts out about having “libretto” and “book” to collude with any band’s vision, most of these grand ideals are usually just thinly woven rock tracks. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either, and Genesis sounds like a full band on the album, as opposed to the first two Phil Collins-led albums, A Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering, where Steve Hackett’s guitars increasingly are losing the battle to Tony Banks’ keyboards. You can attempt to follow the plot or you can enjoy this as is.

Have you ever wondered what inspired the images on your favorite album covers? With Uncovered, we discuss the stories behind the artwork with the people who made them. This week, we talk with Mick Haggerty, the artist responsible for the cover of Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk, as well as a long list of other albums.

You’ve worked on some classic covers for some well-known artists — including H2O and Breakfast in America. How did you end up working with Jellyfish?

My friend Steve Samiof was the creative director at Charisma at the time, and one day the phone just rang …. We did Bellybutton together. I never really thought in “classic album” terms — it was more “how the hell can I make something half decent out of all this?” It’s like directing traffic with a blindfold on a lot of the time. I’m grateful I’m not a gambling man, because I would have put money on Jellyfish to be big. I certainly did everything in my power. Of course, it’s great when the covers you’re proudest of get to be the ones with the most popular music attached to them, but it sucks the other way around.

If you’re a regular listener of The Popdose Podcast, we can safely assume two things about you:

1) You’re passionate about music, and you enjoy listening to other people talk about that passion.

2) You enjoy jokes about our mothers.

As always, you can expect the latter (we did record this on Mother’s Day, after all), but in this Very Special Episode of the podcast, we really concentrate on the former. That’s because we’re joined by Steve Almond, author of a fantastic new book entitled Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life.

You may have read Jeff’s fantastic “Letter From the Editor” post last month praising the book, and hopefully you went out and purchased it — if not, there’s no time like the present. We think you’ll enjoy the podcast without having read the book, but there’s no doubt that you will enjoy the hell out of the podcast if you’ve read it — and vice versa! Besides, we know that Popdose readers meet at least some of Steve’s criteria for being what he terms a Drooling Fanatic — and as such, this book is required reading.

This show is longer than our usual podcasts, but that’s because Steve had so many beautiful and fascinating thoughts to share at every turn, and really inspired the Drooling Fanatic in each of us. We think he’ll do the same for you. Like listening to an album on vinyl, your patience will be rewarded.

The Popdose Podcast, Episode 9: Drooling Fanatics (1:51:37, 89.5 MB), featuring Jeff Giles, Jason Hare, and Dave Lifton with special guest Steve Almond, author of Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life: A Book by and for the Fanatics Among Us (with Bitchin’ Soundtrack).
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fun. - Aim and Ignitefun. is one of those bands that take all the music that they love, throw it in a blender, and pour the resulting mixture into an album. In this case, the album is called Aim and Ignite (Nettwerk), and while the whole is a bit less than the sum of its parts, it’s an interesting and unusual listen.

The band’s main strength is to be found in the songwriting. The production is another story. There’s nothing basic about this album, and Mies van der Rohe’s famous proclamation “Less is more” did not figure into this particular equation. There are strings galore, multilayered vocal harmonies throughout, horns, oboes, and accordions here and there, and even the appearance of a calliope on one track.

I’ve never been much of a Queen fan. There were a few songs that I like, but I always thought they sounded, well, goofy. fun., on the other hand, are obviously big Queen fans, and while modern recording technology (and basic good taste) has allowed them to improve on Queen’s cheesier sounds, it still sounds, to some extent, like Queen to me. It sounds cute. I don’t like cute. I don’t know, maybe I need to lighten up. The sounds of ELO and Jellyfish are among the blended ingredients too, but on “Walking the Dog,” fun. relies on the more current influence of Vampire Weekend. Then again, Vampire Weekend got it from Paul Simon, and he got it from musicians in South Africa, and they got it …

You guys give up, or you thirsty for more? Bobby Jimmy & the Critters - Roaches from Look at All These Roaches [12"] (1986) Bread - The Guitar Man from Guitar Man (1972) George Harrison - It Don't Come Easy (unreleased) (1971) Matthew Sweet featuring Lindsey Buckingham - Magnet

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I can still remember the first time I became acquainted with the band known as Wonderboy. I was writing for Flash Magazine – the Hampton Roads entertainment publication formerly known as RockFlash – and I’d stopped by their offices to shoot the shit with the editor in chief, Bonn Garrett. When I walked into his office, he handed me a copy of the band’s third album, Napoleon Blown Apart, and said, “Here, this just looks like something you’d like.” The best description of his tone that I can offer is that it was both boisterous and mocking – in other words, he was having fun at my expense (our tastes in music didn’t exactly run parallel) and loving every minute of it – but I have to give the guy credit: though I would come to grow very tired of being teased by him, Bonn generally did know what I’d like, even he himself couldn’t stand it.

I’m still not entirely sure what it was about the cover of Napoleon Blown Apart that set him off and convinced him that this was outside of his musical comfort zone. Maybe he saw the piece of cake and perceived it as an advance warning that the contents would be sugary sweet…? Whatever the case, I was intrigued from the moment I checked out the credits and saw one particular name: Robbie Rist.

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If you’re a trivia buff, a TV geek, or a pop culture aficionado, then you may well recognize Mr. Rist’s name. His biggest claim to fame is arguably his role as the infamous Cousin Oliver during the final days of “The Brady Bunch,” but as someone who’d recently begun devouring the Not Lame Records catalog, I had also come to know him as a power pop musician of some note. I knew of Wonderboy because I’d read about their intriguingly-titled second album, Abbey Road to Ruin, but I still hadn’t actually heard anything by them yet. What luck! Here was my chance!

As you’ve no doubt guessed, since I’m taking the time to write a column about the album, I very much dug Napoleon Blown Apart. I would later come to discover that it didn’t really sound much like the previous two Wonderboy albums, as Robbie had decided to embrace the studio and knock out some awesome arrangements with more musical flourishes than ever before, pulling in some of his pals in the Los Angeles power pop community to assist. It’s a bouncy, catchy collection of tunes, but some of the lyrics tug at your heartstrings, like “Taken,” the track that really sold me on the record. And if there’s any Jellyfish fan who can make it through “Insecurity Girl” and not want to own Napoleon Blown Apart, I’d be very surprised, indeed.

I dropped Robbie a line through Facebook to see if he’d be up for chatting about the record, and since he and I have met before and are also on the Audities list together, he gladly acquiesced. Indeed, we talked for so long that I’m going to split this into two parts, so stay tuned for the non-Wonderboy parts of the discussion in next week’s column. For now, however, let’s focus solely on the wonders of Napoleon Blown Apart!

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If you’re a guitar guy, then all I have to do is write the name “Phil Keaggy” and you’re probably already prepared to offer up praise for his abilities. The man’s prowess with the guitar is legendary, so much so that he can’t turn around without someone bringing up the longstanding urban legend that no less an authority than Jimi Hendrix once declared him to be the best guitarist of all time. It’s been pretty well decided that such words never came forth from Hendrix’s lips…or, at least, Keaggy’s pretty sure of it, anyway…but God knows that plenty of other axe men have offered compliments along those lines.

The reference to the almighty is an intentional one. Although Keaggy started in the more traditional rock world as a member of the band Glass Harp, he’s been a staple of the Contemporary Christian music industry since the early 1970s. But, c’mon, don’t freak out, okay? I’ve always been mystified about how music fans can be totally psyched to hear about an album, only to dismiss it because there were lyrical references to religious beliefs. It’s music, people. No-one’s saying you have to embrace the lyrical content as the truth…but you can certainly enjoy the tunes.

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My buddy Chris Commander is the person who was responsible for introducing me to the music of Phil Keaggy. This was in the early ’90s, when the members of my circle of friends were…you’ll forgive the expression…worshiping at the altar of Jellyfish and Crowded House. Chris said, “Dude, you’ve got to check out the album,” and he handed me a copy of Phil Keaggy and Sunday’s Child. I’m sure he mentioned that Keaggy was a Christian recording artist, but that’s not the sort of thing that would’ve turned me off, anyway, and, besides, I knew Chris’s tastes and he knew mine, so if he thought I’d like it, he didn’t have to tell me twice. And, of course, he was absolutely on the money. From the Beatles homage on the cover art to the plethora of pop hooks, this was very much my kind of album.

According to an article I found on Magnet magazine’s website, Jellyfish’s lead singer, Andy Sturmer, wasn’t afraid to sting people. “I was told that Jellyfish would be an equal three-piece, with us writing and playing everything,” said the band’s original guitarist, Jason Falkner. “That turned out to be a total joke. I felt like I was duped.” And keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning Jr., whose 2006 song “You Were Right” will never leave your brain once you let it inside, had this to say: “Except for Andy, we all speak to one another. Some of us make music together. But nobody is interested in working with Andy in a personal or creative capacity. It would serve no purpose, but I don’t say that with any animosity or sadness.”

Yeah, but it’s still sad, because the band’s second and final album, 1993’s Spilt Milk (an appropriate title, it seems), left me wanting more. Then again, a smart band is supposed to leave its fans wanting more.

Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Andy Sturmer, Chris Manning, and Jason Falkner, circa 1990

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see David Byrne live in concert. It was purported to be a celebration of the work he did with Brian Eno, famed producer and musical renegade, encompassing Eno’s production on classic Talking Heads albums as well as their collaborations like My Life In The Bush of Ghosts and a new, currently digital-only release Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. The show was composed of Byrne, a backing band, a trio of backup singers and a trio of interpretive dancers, and while that sounds like a bad, pretentious idea the whole thing came off very entertaining and ended up being a fine night of live music.

Another big plus was the lack of squirrels in the road. Come on, if you go to see bands with an extensive and memorable back-catalog you know about the squirrels. A pace is building, the classics are rolling out and the audience is having a grand old time, then suddenly the performer announces, “We’d like to play something from our new album” and suddenly it’s all screeching brakes and momentum sliding to a halt. Damn squirrels, they’ll do it every time.

That’s what’s so great about the new collaboration: nary a squirrel to be found. All the songs, even if they’re not immediate attention-getters, are very good and surprisingly song-like. I hesitate to use the word ‘conventional’ because it would tend to paint Everything That Happens… as by-the-numbers, which it definitely isn’t. These songs sat side by side with tunes like “I, Zimbra,” “Once In A Lifetime,” and even “Help Me Somebody” and never interrupted the flow, never incurred massive pee-breaks and beer raids. The album is an album, and not an excuse to tour based around weak product, thank God.

The story goes like this: Byrne found himself in the company of Eno unexpectedly, as both hadn’t co-created in awhile. Eno, over the years, made his bones by becoming an ambient artist as well as the big-time producer of several classic albums, including U2’s The Joshua Tree. Byrne mixed his sound with massive multiculturalism and founded the Luaka Bop label. Now here they were in the company of each other and the inevitable happened: one asked the other if they were up for doing something. The result? Eno sent Byrne some instrumentals he had worked up, yet these frames were distinctively song-based.

hooksnyou.jpg Even since Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus first realized that they had a knack for writing songs together, it’s been an accepted fact that there’s something in the water of Sweden which gifts the residents of this kingdom with the abilities to write inconceivably catchy pop hooks. I mean, I’m not saying anyone’s actually done any sort of chemical analysis – or, at least, I haven’t, anyway – but given the sheer hummability of the average Swedish composition, it seems like as good an explanation as any. As late as the mid-1990s, however, my knowledge of Swedish pop was limited to two groups – ABBA and Roxette – and neither were exactly the height of cool – but, then, neither was I, which is why I had ABBA’s Gold and Roxette’s greatest hits, Don’t Bore Us, Get To The Chorus! (Even if you don’t like Roxette, I think you have to admit that that’s a really awesome title.)

It was right around this time that a man named Bruce Brodeen entered my life.


Tim Smith (ex-Jellyfish, current member of Sheryl Crow’s band)

1. The Beatles, Rubber Soul

My favorite period for the band, as they were firing on all cylinders. Pre-self-indulgent, post-early-sugar-pop.

“If I Needed Someone”

2. XTC, Black Sea

Their last record as a true “band.” Full of experiments, sonically and musically. They are one of my all-time faves. “Respectable Street” has one of the most amazing guitar riffs.

“Respectable Street”