All posts tagged: Popdose Guides

The Popdose Guide to Marti Jones

To fans of her four albums of marvelous acoustic pop in the mid-to-late ’80s, Marti Jones seemed on the cusp of becoming the next (albeit far hipper) Linda Ronstadt. Jones had inherited La Ronstadt’s knack for putting a mainstream sheen on the songs of neglected rock tunesmiths; meanwhile, her partnership (professional and otherwise) with producer Don Dixon brought her music a modernist edge even as the couple matched terrific melodies with her bright, if slightly world-weary, alto voice. Their creative alchemy reached its zenith on 1988’s Used Guitars, one of the decade’s finest recordings, and a celebratory four-night run at the Bottom Line in New York that brought together all the album’s songwriters. Those shows (and a subsequent appearance on Late Night with David Letterman) were a highlight of Jones and Dixon’s never-ending tours of those years, which we discussed last week here at Popdose. But a funny thing happened along Jones’ ascent as the pre-eminent interpreter of modern pop: Used Guitars, like her previous albums, didn’t sell, and neither did its highly touted follow-up, …

The Popdose Guide to Juliana Hatfield

Listening to rock radio in the early ’90s — particularly the college and ‘alternative’ varieties — was an experience like no other. The ratio of tolerable to intolerable music was so high that no aspiring hipster ever needed to flip through top 40 stations again. The cream of those groups (Soundgarden, the Afghan Whigs, Dinosaur Jr., and of course Nirvana and Pearl Jam) were getting their due on MTV, too. There may not have been the kinds of explosive social and political issues, at that time, to galvanize a generation the way ’60s did, and that the last eight years have had, but much of that early ’90s music made a similarly strong connection and reflection of the awkward psyches that were and are common in high schoolers and college students. Seeing it that way, anyone who still grooves to the grunge and college rock of yesteryear either has some serious unresolved personal issues, or simply hasn’t learned how to grow up yet. As it turns out, one of that era’s icons, Juliana Hatfield, is …

The Popdose Guide to the Pogues

In The Pogues’ breakthrough 1988 single “Fairytale of New York” (download), songwriter Shane MacGowan and guest vocalist Kirsty MacColl portray a codependent couple. He’s an aging alcoholic, gone beyond repentance, no longer even able to summon up an insincere promise to change. Her devotion to him has destroyed her patience, ruined her health; his devotion to the bottle has left him full of resentment and self-pity. But they’ll get back together, as they always do, and the dance of love and hate will go on. They’ll remember the good times, before it all went south, and cling to each other in mutual self-delusion. MacGowan’s genius is in showing us how willing these people are to let themselves be deluded. It’s a brilliant, harrowing bit of songwriting. And, whether MacGowan intended it so or not, it’s a brutally honest summation of the group dynamic of the Pogues. Origins What you think you know about The Pogues is mostly right. Irish by ethnicity if not by birth, the name from the Gaelic pogue mahone (“kiss my ass”). …

The Popdose Guide to Del Amitri

A drunk, an atheist and a poet walk into a bar. They’re all the same guy, and there is no punchline. Welcome to Del Amitri! Anchored by the stereotypically “dour Scot” Justin Currie, Del Amitri has always been an overlooked gem of a band. Actually, perhaps not “overlooked” so much as “quickly dismissed.” It isn’t because the Dels lacked hooks – their catalogue brims with catchy, well-crafted, smart and hummable pop. It’s just that this pop is laced with lyrics that would drive Hello Kitty to drink. Heartbreak, loneliness, loss and resentment all play major roles, only stepping aside for the occasional swipe at God. Hence the Del Amitri gem: Picked up for its pretty shimmer, dropped when the edges draw blood. One wonders if that’s why the band never scored any lasting chart success – by staying relentlessly bleak, they reduced whole albums to one single note. A Del Amitri release would lure you in with sunny hooks, then frown and spit at you for an hour, dipping behind dark clouds. It’s exhausting, and …

The Popdose Guide to Badfinger

Few bands in the history of rock n’ roll have been simultaneously as lucky and doomed as Badfinger. Lucky because they were not only one of the wildly eclectic assortment of artists the Beatles signed to their Apple Records label in 1968, but also because they had the talent and the songs to actually make something of their good fortune. And doomed because of poor management and a fatal dose of hopelessness. But we’ll get to that in a bit. When the band joined the Apple roster, they were operating under the name the Iveys. And, much like their similarly botanically named contemporaries the Hollies, the Iveys – who consisted of vocalist/guitarist Pete Ham, vocalist/guitarist Tom Evans, bassist/vocalist Ron Griffith and drummer Mike Gibbins – were playing a highly melodic, often jaunty and sometimes dramatic mix of British invasion rock n’ roll. They were slightly out of fashion in the late ’60s, and yet, being that they sounded an awful lot like the Beatles, it mattered very little. The Beatles could do no wrong, and …

The Popdose Guide to Matthew Ryan

Yes, gentle readers, we treated you to an interview with Matthew Ryan on Monday, and today — which just happens to be the day his new album comes out — we’re giving him the full-on Popdose Guide treatment. That’s what the dudes in suits call “synergy,” except it doesn’t usually sound this good. Like a lot of our Popdose Guides artists, Matthew Ryan has never sold a lot of records, but he’s enjoyed consistently positive reviews throughout his career; his debut inspired critics to use magic words like “Springsteen” and “Waits” in their writeups, and they’ve continued using them ever since. Such comparisons are rarely helpful to an artist’s career — just ask the dozens of New Dylans who have been without record deals since the mid-’70s — but in Ryan’s case, it’s easy to hear why they’ve been made so often: His bruised-but-beautiful protagonists seek redemption as fervently as any of Springsteen’s working class heroes, and they’re brought to life with hard-fought vocals that suggest a raspier, more tuneful Waits. Intrigued yet? Good. You’re …

The Popdose Guide to Chris Whitley

(This guide was originally published in 2005, before Chris Whitley’s passing. It’s been expanded and edited, but may still contain a few vestiges of its original form. Apologies in advance.) Let’s talk about the blues. It only seems appropriate, after all, given that it’s Tuesday, the bluesiest day of the work week — last weekend a distant memory, Friday a tantalizing speck on the horizon — and given that we haven’t really had a blues discussion here before. Oh, sure, I’ve mentioned the blues, usually as a reference point for something an artist is doing, but that’s mostly just laziness on my part. It isn’t that I’m a blues scholar, able to draw lines between pop and jazz and rock and blues; it’s that the blues is where pretty much everything comes from, so it’s usually an easy connection to make. The blues, as a genre, is the primordial sludge of American music. You can’t get away from it (at least, not if you want to write a good song) — it’s who we are. …

The Popdose Guide to David Mead

He hasn’t released nearly as many albums as most (all?) of our previous subjects, but David Mead is a perfect Popdose Guide artist — which is to say that vast portions of his catalog (or his entire catalog — whatever) remain sadly undiscovered by the majority of the listening public. Actually, in Mead’s case, they’re not only undiscovered but out of print, which is a bullshit state of affairs which we aim to partially rectify today. So yeah, this will undoubtedly be one of our shorter guides — but trust me when I tell you it’ll be stuffed to the rafters with great songs, the kind of songs that will send you rushing breathlessly to your favorite online retailer in search of your very own copies of these fine albums. (Judging from what the Amazon links below are telling me, you can get the whole David Mead catalog for something like 75 cents used, which would send me into fits of rage if I weren’t so sleep-deprived.) On with the show! The Luxury of Time …

The Popdose Guide to Nick Lowe

Doesn’t look like the godfather of punk, does he? Well. Maybe not the godfather, but perhaps a kindly uncle. Either way, Nick Lowe’s footprint on punk — hell, on all of British pop music, really — is a whole lot larger than you’d expect for a guy whose early albums are frequently (for instance, as of this writing) out of print. How all of this came to be is a little involved. First and foremost, Lowe is known as a progenitor of what’s commonly called “pub rock,” a British phenomenon of the ’70s that sounded pretty much the way you’d expect. The big bands of the era sounded BIG — Queen, T. Rex, Yes — and pub rock’s Working Joe aesthetic provided a stark, welcome contrast. Pub rockers tended to look pretty much the way you’d expect, too; guys like Lowe, Mickey Jupp, Paul Carrack, and Ian Gomm were long on talent and short on rock-star flash. It’s that talent that made the difference. Calling their music pub rock played up the performers’ working-class roots, …

The Popdose Guide to Al Jarreau

What, you thought we were kidding around with the whole “Al Week” thing? Shame on you. And while we’re at it, shame on you for thinking Al Jarreau is too square for the retrospective treatment. Yes, he’s made his share of dreadful R&B music; yes, he spent most of the ’80s bogged down in adult contemporary hooey. But shit, people, Al’s got bills to pay just like you, and no matter how many sappy ballads he’s released, he has remained a ferocious vocal talent underneath it all. Here, check it out. I’ll show you. We Got By (1975) purchase this album (Amazon) A lot of critics say Jarreau’s first “official” release (not counting 1965, since Jarreau himself doesn’t seem to, and I’m not sure it’s ever been issued on CD) is his best, and while this is sort of a shitty thing to say about someone who’s been making albums for over 30 years, it’s easy to see where these people are coming from. All the missteps he’d make later in his career — excessive …

The Popdose Guide to Toto

I love rooting for the underdog. In almost any scenario, whether it’s sports or politics or just plain real life, I root for the little guy. This means I’m frequently frustrated, of course, but that’s neither here nor there; I’m giving you this personal detail because it’s the only explanation I can think of for my inordinate fascination with Toto. It sounds a little funny calling them underdogs — it’s Toto’s style of music, after all, that formed part of the establishment that punk (just to give one example) reacted against. Most of the bandmembers were music biz veterans well before Toto the band even existed as a recording group — keyboard player David Paich, keyboard player Steve Porcaro, drummer Jeff Porcaro, bass player David Hungate, and guitarist Steve Lukather were in-demand session players for pretty much any record being made in L.A. for years. Paich and Porcaro had well-known relatives in the industry. In other words, these guys were total insiders. And yet, in spite of all this, virtually their entire career has been …

The Popdose Guide to Tom Waits

[He doesn’t write them anymore — in fact, they aren’t even online anymore — but truth be known, it was my good friend Ben Wiser who inspired the original Idiot’s Guide series, via his impassioned, messy, and always entertaining Field Guides. He always wrote about artists I’d never bothered to investigate too deeply, or that I’d written off outright, and even when I knew I didn’t like whatever music he was writing about, he always had a way of making me want to go back and listen to it again. Anyway, toward the end of ’05, I got a request from Eric at Theme Park Experience for a Tom Waits Guide. I love Waits’ early Asylum albums, but some of his stuff is beyond me, so although I’ve got all his records, that’s something I’d never write. Luckily, though, one of Ben’s old Field Guides focused on Waits (and, actually, was my reason for going back and filling in the gaps in my own Waits collection). Through his kind permission, we re-christened it and republished …

The Popdose Guide to Lloyd Cole

[Editor’s Note: I just checked, and it was November 24, 2005 when I got an e-mail from Ken saying “If you ever want someone to do a guest Idiot’s Guide to: The Smiths, R.E.M. or Lloyd Cole, I’m your guy.” He later went on to cover the Smiths for Jefitoblog — and co-authored the Lemonheads guide last year — but the Lloyd Cole guide has been our personal equivalent of the Anselmo case for many moons. Until now, that is. Lloyd Cole has been releasing albums for damn near 25 years, and you probably haven’t heard any of them — which makes him a perfect Popdose Guides artist. Ken’s done a fine job of making a case for Cole, so sit back, open your ears, and enjoy!]

The Popdose Guide to Ornette Coleman

I am not one to toss around the word “hero” lightly. It takes extraordinary courage to earn such a designation. I am also not one to write one of these artist overviews with too much usage of the first-person singular pronoun. I like to keep myself out of it as much as I can, trying to maintain some semblance of journalistic objectivity. But you know what? Ornette Coleman is indeed a heroic figure, not just in jazz, but in popular culture. And for me to make such a statement reflects my own definition of what a hero is. So, to hell with omitting the first person singular pronoun. I’m telling this story the way I want to tell it – from my own personal, biased perspective. That perspective began when I was in college. What better time to be introduced to Ornette Coleman than during the time when our minds are being pried open and expanded farther than our confining high school institutions ever could pry? And it was in a jazz history class at …

The Popdose Guide to The Call

Welcome to the Popdose Guide to The Call, a semi-forgotten group that had a couple of hits in the ’80s, but has seen its catalog fall out of print and into obscurity over the last ten years or so. It’s a shame, if you ask me. Of all the bands making earnest, sweeping Heartland Rock during the decade (see: U2; Alarm, The; BoDeans, The), The Call were among the most talented and consistent. Though songwriter Michael Been flirted with overt Christianity in his lyrics and themes, his faith was often so tortured that even the most devout atheist would find it hard to listen without feeling a little of that old-time religion. In other words: While freshly scrubbed, L.L. Bean-wearing chumps like Michael W. Smith — or the always-vile dc Talk — were busy bringing Jesus to the mall, Michael Been and The Call were digging bare-handed through the bloodstained soil of Gethsemane. In discussing the band’s religious leanings, I realize I run the risk of scaring a few readers away from the music. For …

The Popdose Guide to Nanci Griffith

Nanci Griffith is arguably the most important folk-music artist of her generation. That statement is risky not so much because there are so many other contenders for the throne, but because we live in an era when the term “folk music” itself has lost considerable meaning — falling victim to record-biz economics and radio-industry pigeonholing. Indeed, during the most successful period of her career Griffith shifted (or, on occasion, was shifted) from indie-folk to country to pop and back to folk — pardon me, I meant “Americana” — based as much on the demographic-targeting whims of industry marketers as the evolution of her music. Griffith herself describes her music as “folkabilly,” which fits about as well as anything else.