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Rob Smith Tag

Interesting sounds can come from the most unexpected of places. Not long ago, I received an email from Jenn Grauer, a producer at HBO, inviting me to check out some music she had just released. To be honest, I didn’t expect a whole lot; I’ve known and encountered lots of people who made a living doing one thing and made music on the side—a banker, an office supervisor, teachers, several computer technicians (lots of computer technicians, now that I think about it). Hell, for a while I’d done it, too, in a long-running musical partnership with a dude who’s a deputy chief of staff for a member of the PA House of Representatives. We rocked, too, on our best nights; can’t say much for the rest of them. Suffice to say my expectations were not very high for Ms. Grauer.

My expectations need to be put in their place from time to time, and they were, once I heard Grauer’s music. Her 2011 record A Million Fires is a solid, often beautiful affair, showcasing her distinctive, soulful voice (think late-Eighties Natalie Merchant, with a touch of Norah Jones) in a variety of settings, most built around her plaintive piano. I highly recommend checking out the stream on her Web site, then firing up iTunes to buy it; it’s seriously affecting stuff, and Grauer is following it up with an EP by The Black Moon Project, a collaboration with musicians from the roots label Old Boy Records. The first single, “Do You Call This Love,” was released last week.

Five or six years ago, I dropped off my son at a birthday party and was struck by the sound of a familiar melody being performed in a wholly unfamiliar manner. The song was “Float On,” a quasi-hit for indie stalwarts Modest Mouse, and it was being sung by some dude who was definitely not MM front man Isaac Brock, backed by what sounded like Mrs. Curry’s second grade chorus, in which I performed back in ’77 (before I was kicked out for my meth problem).

There was definitely no shortage of incongruity present in the record, which I was informed was part of a Kidz Bop compilation, a name with which I was familiar from television commercials my boy routinely used as fodder for begging. These records, released at a rate of two per year, feature the hits of the day, sung largely by an anonymous group of children—sort of like NOW collections, only for kindergartners. They are quite popular; since 2005, all but one of the 13 consecutively numbered hits records released under the Kidz Bop moniker have debuted in the Billboard Top Ten.

My favorite episodes of The Brady Bunch were the ones in which the kids would get up on stage or in a studio and sing. As the Brady Six (so named because their surname was Brady, there were six of them, and the name Creeping Death Maggot had already been taken), they would brighten whatever room they were in with their unison melody-making, their sweet choreography, and Greg’s original songs about change, sunshine, flying down the highway, good time music, and feeling, in a word, groovy. And while I would argue that the subtext of songs like “Time to Change” was really about getting it on with your sister-by-marriage (you could actually see the hormones sailing through the air, and I’ll bet that shared bathroom of theirs reeked of sex), it’s probably just my dirty, dirty, filthy mind at play.

If the three brothers who comprise three-fourths of the Chicago’s Filligar have any sisters-by-marriage, they’ve wisely kept them out of the group. For Johnny (guitar and lead vocals), Teddy (bass), and Pete (drums) Mathias and their keyboard-playin’ buddy Casey Gibson, music is less about sunshine days and more about bringing the rock to people who want and need it.

Bob Dylan is 70 years old. That statement is at once momentous, and irrelevant. Irrelevant because Dylan has always seemed to stand apart from any mere concept of time. While he has certainly aged physically, he is as alive in the flesh, and in our memories, as he ever has been.

It is hard to think of a public figure who has been the object of as much speculation as Dylan. Some of it was honestly come by, other parts by digging through his trash cans for clues. When it came time for Todd Haynes to make I’m Not There, he had to cast six different actors to play Dylan because although no one really knows who Dylan is, he is everyone.

Recently, in a rare posting on his official website, he said “Everybody knows by now that there’s a gazillion books on me either out or coming out in the near future. So I’m encouraging anybody who’s ever met me, heard me or even seen me, to get in on the action and scribble their own book. You never know, somebody might have a great book in them.”

So you’re Nazareth—big-willied purveyors of Seventies cock rock. In your native Scotland and across the UK, you’re a sizeable hard rock presence—your singles and albums skirt just under the radar of mainstream success, but your fan base is loyal, and you make a decent enough living headlining theaters and hitting the arena circuit in Europe with blokes like Uriah Heep and Rory Gallagher. In the U.S., though, you’re a perennial second-tier act—a Scottish REO Speedwagon, if you will. In fact, once in Peoria, you even opened for REO Speedwagon. And Kevin Cronin made fun of your hair.

He was probably right. You’re not very attractive men. Only the guys in Blue Oyster Cult and the douchebags in Uriah Heep pull fewer chicks on the road. It’s one reason you love to tour with Blue Oyster Cult and Uriah Heep; next to them, you are the golden gods you always imagine yourself being. If your wives back home ever find out, though, you’re done for.

This is not Escape. This is not Frontiers. This is certainly not Raised on Radio, nor is it the new material in the Revelation package. If you’re looking for carbon copies of those prior touchstones and do not wish to open your ears, head, and heart to something new, you’ll be disappointed in the new Journey record. Just move on. Go see them live this summer—you’ll get “Separate Ways” and “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Open Arms,” no problem.

Eclipse, for better or worse, is none of those things. Yes, it is a denser, fuller, busier record. Most of the songs clock in at over six minutes. That’s a good thing. Yes, Neal Schon and his guitar armada have a more pronounced presence on the album, and Jon Cain has stepped back to assume a secondary instrumental role, yet one that is so important—the keyboard flourishes and piano arpeggios join the layered guitars to form a full-on attack that is miles removed from the accepted pop moves of the late Perry period. Eclipse is a perfect storm of ambition and commercial concerns, an album of dreaming and drive, and it stands as some of the finest work anyone involved with it has produced.

Last year I was wowed by a record by Oranjuly, a Boston-based power pop “band” that was essentially the work of one man, Brian E. King, spiritual godson of Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, and Tom Scholz, who was visited by the ghosts of these and other not-yet-dead dudes in his laboratory-cum-recording-studio. From his bunker hidden deep in the bowels of Beantown, he emerged with one of my favorite albums of 2010, an American pop record with few peers, forged with great skill over the course of three years and fed by a complex imagination and a boundless reverence for classic sounds.

King has a thousand kindred spirits out there in the cities and hinterlands of our world, maybe even ten thousand, or a hundred thousand—each with a unique vision, a special synesthesia that enables them to see the world through melody, to hear the brightest colors and taste the simplest profound thoughts. They may toil in obscurity or touch the outer rim of public consciousness, or even—dare I say it—popularity (coo coo ca-choo, Karl Wallinger).

I was disappointed with Sammy Hagar’s memoir Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock for two related reasons. Number one—it’s too damned short. The man is 102 years old (he only looks 63—tequila is a wonderful preserving agent) and the book is only 240 pages long. Granted, I’m not all that interested in how little Sam Roy Hagar came out of the womb screaming, “Hello, bayyyyyybaaaay; or how he clawed his way up from a hardscrabble childhood as a sharecropper’s son in Tuskegee; or how he traded licks with Robert Johnson and Satan as a teen; or even how he uploaded dirty jokes from his brain to the computer aboard a passing UFO. But 240 is too damn short—hell, David Lee Roth’s book weighed in at 360 pages, was infinitely more entertaining, and was published when Roth was a sprightly 44.

We have been at war so long, it is difficult to recall a time when we were not at war. ‘Twas not always so. There was, in fact, a period when the idea of being at war was a new and frightening thing, for people of a certain age. Twenty years ago, the first Gulf War introduced a generation who had come of age after the end of the Vietnam War to the fears and uncertainties that had been the norm for those who lived a generation before. Although, in terms of lives lost and time and treasure expended, the effort to extract Saddam Hussein from Kuwait pales in comparison to our current situation, in 1990 and early 1991, the nation had little to use as reference except Vietnam, and most were understandably skittish about their loved ones’ participation in desert warfare.

In many ways, the first Gulf War was conducted and portrayed in such a way as to make amends for Vietnam—not to apologize for it, but to gather support at home for a military that had, as an institution, suffered from nightly television coverage of death and destruction, from horrific events like My Lai, from political upheaval at the highest levels of our government, and from general cultural insanity back home. Everything about the first Gulf War was calibrated by the powers that drove it, to shape the perceptions of the war effort in the U.S., and to contribute to a general “Support the Troops” ethos that had eluded the country in the wake of Vietnam, the lack of which had haunted military brass for two decades.

I’ve been compelled by the rules of this column, as well by my own expanding tastes, to listen to a lot of kindie music in the last year. As I’ve explained previously, there’s a lot of the stuff out there—a veritable universe of artists addressing the whims and peculiar mindsets of kids, explaining to the rest of us what it’s like to see the world through their eyes, and setting those expressions to music that is, at its best, as good as anything I’ve heard from “hipper” artists of the day. Part of me wishes I’d been exposed to this stuff years ago; that’s the part of me that last year heard my 11-year-old son listening to Rihanna sing “Come here rude boy, boy, can you get it up? / Come here rude boy, boy, is you big enough?”

Prudish protectionist regrets aside, there are fine sounds to be exposed to in the genre, and it didn’t take long for me to find a favorite band out of the bunch. Renaissance art had Michelangelo; Romantic poetry had Keats; detective fiction had Chandler; swing had Sinatra; Metropolis had Superman. Kindie music has the Hipwaders, a California trio who specialize in perfectly written and performed anthems for the kiddies. Quite simply, they are a great power pop band that just happens to play music for children. Think Fountains of Wayne performing songs aimed at six-year-olds, instead of thirteen-year-olds.

The power ballad arts, I am happy to say, are still being practiced today by a small cadre of artists both old and new. This is a good thing, possibly the best of all things, particularly for those of us who still crave moments of artistry that entice us to hold lighters above our heads and sway in unison. It does my stony little heart good to hear new examples of slow, dramatic statements of purpose or declarations of desire or love or determination—chill-inducing stuff that puts to music the swells of passion that rise in the listener, or that the listener would love to have rise in him or her.

Last time in these parts, we covered a new John Waite song that fits perfectly into the pantheon of power ballad greatness. Recent stuff from old hands like Foreigner and Journey and Jeff Scott Soto (both solo and in the guise of a band called W.E.T.) and by-God Whitesnake also fit the bill. The influence is even felt in recent work by acts you don’t tend to associate with power ballads, like (gulp) Train and even Miley-fucking-Cyrus. And no,  it’s not a stretch to say that something like Cyrus’ “The Climb” belongs in the same conversation as Waite and Whitesnake—had, say, Vixen recorded the song in ’88, it’d be on every Metal Ballads compilation you find at Wal-Mart these days.

Back once more with a whole bucketload of kindie goodness, for listeners of all ages. For those who missed the first two installments of this apparently ongoing series-within-a-series, click here and here. And I must, in all good conscience, give a shout-out and a hundred thankyuhs to Elizabeth Waldman Frazier, kindie P.R. goddess, who keeps me updated on the comings and goings and doings of her clients—all outstanding performers, every one of ’em. I also wish to throw a peace sign, a thumbs-up, and the sign language gesture for “turtle” to the artists themselves, who have made and shared their splendid sounds with me, lo, these last few months. Bravissimo, dudes and ladies!

While I’ll refrain from discussing this music in alphabetical order by title or artist’s name, I do feel the need to start us off with something that contains the word aardvark, namely Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals‘ new record, All I Want (no label). M4A&OM, as the act is known in my head, is the brainchild of David Weinstone, self-proclaimed “Berklee College of Music-trained ex-punk rocker,” who created M4A&OM as an “alternative” music class for kids in 1997. Lauded by parents as diverse in their day jobs as Jon Stewart, Page McConnell, Helen Hunt, and Philip Glass, the program now has a worldwide reach, and a presence on such kid-centric outlets as Nick Jr.

Memory Lane has potholes deeper than sinkholes, stuff that never quite gets repaired.

One Friday night, I went for a walk. Turned the corner at Memory and Luck, stepped off the sidewalk, and down I went. Tripped so easily; fell so far. Didn’t think I’d ever hit bottom.

They didn’t find me until Monday morning. No one had thought to look for me there.

It was the best weekend I’d had in years.

I was a John Waite fan before I even knew who John Waite was. “Everytime I Think of You,” the 1978 hit he had with The Babys, was an AM radio staple at a time when I listened to a lot of AM radio, and the song was a favorite of mine. When he next surfaced in my consciousness six years later—with his solo masterpiece, “Missing You”—I was older (14 years old, instead of eight) and wiser (well … I was pretty decent at Algebra), and still enamored with the radio and all the amazing sounds that emanated from it.

When my evil editor Jeff Giles (y’all) tweeted me with the assignment of writing about the new Yanni album, my response was simple. Direct, even. ‘Twas a four-letter word, starting with s and ending with t, with a big ol’ “Hi!” in the middle. He probably thought he had me—I can’t say no + Yanni’s got a new record + Yanni is painful to listen to = making me listen to Yanni will cause me pain. I’ll bet Giles even cackled like a little schoolgirl (something he usually saves for tickle-fights with his kids. Or with Jason Hare).

Well, touché, Jeffy-Poo! Cuz you just handed the new Yanni record to the Number One Yanni fan in, like, anywhere! See, I come to praise Yanni, not bury him. Live at the Acropolis? More like Live at the Awesomeness. Niki Nana? Niki Nanalicious! And my relationship with In My Time can only be described as beautiful and extremely sexual. Extra points to Mr. Hrysomallis for banging Linda Evans before the former Mrs. Blake Carrington had the ol’ Katherine-Helmond-in-Brazil facial treatment. In other words, I come to bring forth the word. I’m gonna use my little corner of virtual space here to spread the truth. I’m gonna let ’em know that Yanni is back on the scene! I’m gonna let ’em know that Yanni is his name, and fuckin’ up motherfuckers is his game!

These are hard times, people—difficult days lay behind and before us, and in these, our most desperate moments, there’s little joy to be found. This trickles down to our kids, whose innate prescience hips them to the fact that something is amiss, that the grown-ups done fucked something up again. We’re all but unable to protect them from images of war, the aftereffects of economic distress, or the nation-splitting cacophony of our loud and loutish political discourse. They should be worrying solely about the missing piece of their Lego set, the fact that it’s too cold to go outside for recess, or the difficulties they’re having mastering “Sex on Fire” on Guitar Hero. They shouldn’t have to hear Daddy wish aloud for Mitch McConnell to engage in sexual congress with a cattle prod. The young’uns deserve some modicum of joy in their lives, don’t they?

It was with all that in mind (plus my desire to sew up “Dad of the Year” honors early this year) that I acquiesced to my 11-year-old son’s request to see the Justin Bieber movie, Never Say Never, on opening night. My kid is hooked. Knows the words to all the songs, has the poster in his room, can do some approximation of Bieber’s dance moves. We even have the same kind of argument I used to have with my parents, over haircuts—it’s just that, instead of a mullet, we’re arguing about the tousled, windswept, Simple Jack ‘do Tha Biebs has perfected.

Consider my vote for Coolest Guitar Player Ever cast for the late, great Steve Clark, Def Leppard’s doomed riffmaster. Like a blonde Jimmy Page, he stalked, sauntered, and stomped around the world’s stages, Les Paul slung impossibly low, stopping only long enough to lean back and spit out occasional sparks of tasteful lickage. He’s been gone 20 years, and though his band has soldiered on, in many ways they’ve never quite recovered from his loss.

By the time Clark’s self-prescribed medications took his life in 1991, Def Leppard had moved from making hard rock records the masses enjoyed to making rock music aimed squarely for the mainstream. The band that had blasted out of Sheffield with tracks like “Wasted,” “Rock Brigade,” “Let It Go,” “Lady Strange,” and “High ‘N’ Dry (Saturday Night)” would probably have sneered at the band that sent “Animal,” “Hysteria,” and “Love Bites” up the charts. It was all good stuff, though, and Clark was an essential component of the band’s sound, as both soloist and creator of the inescapable hooks and riffs that practically defined the golden era of melodic rock.

Clark shines particularly brightly on Def Leppard’s first (and arguably best) contribution to the power ballad arts, 1981’s “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak.” It’s a classic piece of slow-burning rock balladry, a song that stands with some of the early examples of the genre (think “Dream On” or “Free Bird”) as a timeless standard bearer.

I am 40 years old, the same age as Graham Parker was when he recorded and released Struck by Lightning, one of his best records, in 1991. Yup, when Graham Parker was 40, he made Struck by Lightning. And what, exactly, have I done with my life?

Tagged (quite fairly, as these things go) as one of the premier British “angry young men” of the late Seventies, Parker had come roaring out of the gate in 1976 with the twin salvos of Howlin’ Wind and Heat Treatment, and, three years later, released the classic Squeezing Out Sparks. After several relatively fallow years in the Eighties, he reminded everyone of his greatness with 1988’s wonderful The Mona Lisa’s Sister, a record that prominently featured acoustic guitar and Hammond B-3 organ, and which contained songs like “Back in Time,” “I’m Just Your Man,” and “Get Started, Start a Fire,” among the finest pieces Parker has ever written.

There’s a coffeehouse attached to a single-screen movie theater about four miles from where I live. Both are owned by a man I’ve known for 20 years, and managed by him and his wife, both retired teachers. Our friendship is founded on a shared sense of humor (strange though it is) and what appears to be a mutual admiration. I admire him for fulfilling his lifelong dream to own and operate a theater; for revitalizing a small college town with his dedication to the arts and local organizations; for providing good films and great coffee and food for a reasonable price; and for being a smart, funny, fun guy to hang out with between writing sessions at my “office” (first table on the left, on the raised floor). What he sees in me, I have no idea.

I was lucky. I turned 14 in 1984—a goofy, hormonal, awkward, music-obsessed 14. To have been an adolescent tuned into the radio in 1984 was to have experienced musical nirvana (with a little N—kids who were seven years old in ’84 would have their own moment seven years later). The winter gave us Van Halen’s 1984, the Pretenders’ Learning to Crawl, Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga,” the Go-Go’s Talk Show, the Footloose soundtrack, and the Cars’ Heartbeat City. Spring saw the release of Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” Steve Perry’s Street Talk, Laura Branigan’s “Self Control,” Chicago 17, and Tina Turner’s Private Dancer.

The summer, however, was the mother lode: Born in the USA, Purple Rain, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” The Warrior, “I Can’t Drive 55,” “Infatuation,” Ice Cream Castle, Diamond Life, “Lights Out,” “Sister Christian,” “Naughty Naughty”; the radio filled with those and others by Wham, Cyndi Lauper, Billy Idol, Phil Collins, Rick Springfield, Huey Lewis, the Pointer Sisters, Madonna, Deniece Williams, Ratt, Rockwell, Lionel Richie, Bryan Adams, Genesis, Ray Parker Jr., ZZ Top, Duran Duran, and so on and so forth. I won’t even get into what cool shit was to come in the fall, or even what was happening on college radio and in metal. Suffice to say, it was a great year, the very best of years, a year that comes along once an adolescence, if you’re lucky.

I was lucky.

Blue Period: Songs for the New Same Old Depression

The kick inside is in the line that finally gets to you
And it feels so good to hurt so bad
And suffer just enough to sing the blues

—Bernie Taupin/Elton John

I’ve long been a believer in the catharsis that occurs when periods of depression have a soundtrack. That unnamed darkness that envelopes you when you are in your lowest moments has no voice—it is up to you to provide that, to give it some form or substance so you can engage it, perhaps handle it, keep it from killing you in small increments.

Such blue periods can be long and unsettling, and we sometimes fear they will do us in. This soundtrack is here for you, for those times; the catharsis is real, and healing. – RS

I understand I’m getting older and I recognize what that means in terms of my physical, mental, and emotional decline—weight gain, hair loss, long-term memory depletion, dry-eye, acid reflux, lower back pain, upper back pain, knee pain, joint stiffness, cotton mouth, ear wax, nose hair, wrinkles, tooth enamel decay, hearing loss, excessive flatulence, hardening of my political positions, hypertension, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to half-light, sensitivity to insensitivity, quickness to anger, slowness to recover from hangovers, and an unnerving propensity to sound like my father when arguing with my son about getting his hair cut (talk about déjà vu). ‘Bout the only condition I’ve been spared is the mythical four-hour erection, and there are some days when I’d welcome that. It’d take my mind off the tooth enamel decay.

I say all this because I cannot remember how I came to own a copy of Holly Conlan’s third album, Fascinator. I’m guessing one of my promo buddies at one or another management company sent it to me (Conlan is represented by Shore Fire Media, so that would make sense). I typically, however, save the envelope and press material that comes with such packages, and I have none for this record. Fascinator has also been out a while (like, 15 months), which means either my promo buddy is trying to breathe new life into the record, or it’s been sitting on my desk for 15 months. Either could be true.

While by no means indisputable proof, most available evidence points to the conclusion that ex-Journey front man Steve Perry is a dick. Oh, sure, he’s happy to pop up at baseball games and victory rallies to lead crowds through lip-synched renditions of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the rallying cry for perceived underdogs and streetlight people everywhere. He’ll even hang out near his former band’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and pose for pictures with surprised fans. And his interest in bovine insemination has helped many hopeful cows become parents (though adoption is always a good option, as well).


Are you tired of all the year end lists yet?  Well, here at Popdose, we love our lists — and it seems our readers do, too.  But one list that was begging for a Mix Six was our Top 20 Albums of 2010 that ran last week.  Punning Pundit of Indignant Desert Birds — who’s one of our faithful readers — lamented that we didn’t include any music samples in our Top 20. So in order to rectify that omission, I thought I would put together a little sampler from said list.  Now because I’m constrained by the whole “Mix Six” format of this feature, you’re only going to get six songs that I thought really mixed well.  So, with a lot of help from my Popdose colleagues, here we go with a sampler culled from the Top 20 Albums of 2010!

Jason: Oh, Jeff. This Mellowmas season has really worn me out.

Jeff: I’m not feeling so good myself, buddy. What’s got you down?

Jason: Hm, what could it be? Could it be THREE GODDAMN WEEKS OF AWFUL CHRISTMAS MUSIC?

Jeff: But we do this every year!

Jason: And I feel like this during the last week every year! I’ll tell you, one of my only pleasures has been listening to some old, soulful Christmas classics.

Jeff: There’s nothing like some good soul music, is there?

Jason: Nope. Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Lou Rawls…

Jeff: Those are all wonderful artists, but you’re starting to make me nervous.

Jason: And just the other day, I was listening to one of my favorites: “Christmas Ain’t Christmas (Without the One You Love)” by the O’Jays.

Jeff: That one is okay, but I prefer “Christmas Time in the City.” Don’t you?

Jason: I think you know I do not. What year did we cover that song? Was it last year?

Jeff: I could have sworn it was at least three Mellowmases ago, but no, it was last year.

Jason: Honestly? I had forgotten all about that New Jack piece of dung.

Jeff: I just replayed the first few seconds of “Christmas Time in the City.” I had forgotten it too, but now I love it again. Aww yeah, Jason!

Jason: Yeah, I did the same thing. Except I do not love it again. So anyway, here I was, enjoying my old soulful Christmas music, and I check my inbox.

I don’t have much to say as a benediction to 2010. While I enjoy a good disposable pop song as much as the next person, there were so damned many of them this year, it all just became white noise after a while. My moods tended to be a bit darker than usual, for whatever reason, so there were only so many times I could hear “California Gurls” or “Alejandro” or their ilk before tuning out.

That’s not to say I didn’t want to have fun—my album of the year, by the phenomenal Truth & Salvage Co., starts with a chorus about “heads full of reefer and … bellies full of beer.” I bobbed my head to the Roots and the awesome Nas/Damian Marley combo, and looked around for a lighter to hold up when listening to the new Manic Street Preachers record.

But none of these records are as ephemeral as I imagine Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, or others who have commandeered the radio this year. I imagine ten years from now, possibly on my fiftieth birthday, pulling up Truth & Salvage or Oranjuly on whatever we’ll use for music playback then, and listening with a smile. I can’t say I’ll remember any Ke$ha song then. In fact, I’m having trouble coming up with a Ke$ha song right now, as I’m writing this.

Anyway … Fare thee well, 2010. Here’s how I’ll remember you:

It’s pretty amusing (at least to me) that I wound up watching this fecal coil of a Hallmark holiday film mere days after its star, Billy Ray Cyrus, discovered, along with the rest of us, his daughter Miley’s appreciation for psychedelic herb. And while watching the phone camera video of her going all Cypress Hill on her career as a tween star was more than a little awkward, it was infinitely more entertaining than slogging through 90 minutes of her old man’s earnest slow-motion attempt at being the next Andy Griffith.  I’m not certain who provided Miley with a bongful of salvia, but I know I can thank my editor, Jeff Giles (y’all), for sending this southern-fried, vanilla-scented dump my way.

So here’s the plot (based, oddly enough, on a book co-written by Kenny Rogers): Cyrus is a poor farmer named Daniel, who lives in Canaan, TX in 1964 with his three kids and his father-in-law’s reanimated corpse (played convincingly by real-life representative of the undead, Tom Heaton), having lost his wife after the birth of their third child. Oldest boy DJ (Zak Ludwig), a fifth-grader, gets into a fight with bookish black kid Rodney (Jaishon Fisher) and, to punish his son and make him more sympathetic to “coloreds,” Daniel arranges for the boys to spend a week staying over at each other’s houses. Of course, they detest each other, until they find a dog that’d been shot by crazy, shotgun-toting neighbor Carl Hammer (the squirrelly lookin’ Tom McBeath), nurse it back to health, and become BFFs.

Before we kick off today’s round of exquisite Mellowmas torture, how about some discount music and a contest? Our friends at Rhino are celebrating the Twelve Days of Chri — er, Rhino, and for the tenth day, they’re not only offering a whopping 40% discount on the limited deluxe edition of Let It Bleed, but they’re giving away a $25 promo code to one lucky Popdose reader! Here’s what you need to do to enter:

Visit the Rhino site and find out how many Grammy nominations Jeff Beck’s latest album has earned. Then email the answer to Jon Cummings with the subject line “Eddie Money Has Nominated You for President of the PTA.” Our winner will be chosen at random, and all entries must be received by noon PST tomorrow. Good luck!

Jeff: Before we get started today, we should pause and make sure everyone knows it’s Rob Smith’s fault that we have this song.

Jason: Great. Another thing we get to blame on Rob Smith, that assjack who can’t say no.

Jeff: He can’t say no to downloading Coke jingles recorded by bands that won’t go away.

Jason: So this isn’t an actual song? It’s a Coke jingle? Or is it both?

Jeff: It’s almost four minutes long, so I guess it’s an “actual song,” but Train recorded it for Coke, so it’s also kind of a jingle. I don’t want to know what kind of deal with Satan prompted a collaboration between Coke and Train, but there you go.

Jason: If they’re going to sell out, I hope they sell out big. You know, like Coke mentions every third line or something.

Jeff: It’s kind of funny that they decided to call it “Shake Up Christmas.”

Jason: Maybe their original title of “A High Fructose Corn Syrup Christmas” was rejected.

Jeff: It’d be kind of like if they recorded a Christmas song for Coors and called it “Warm, Flat Christmas.”

Jason: Or one for Red Bull entitled “You’re A Douchebag For Drinking It Christmas.”

Jeff: I mean…who associates Coke with shaking things up? Coke is about as established as you can get as a brand, first of all.

Jason: Right.

Jeff: Second, if you shake a can of Coke, you don’t really drink it so much as you end up wiping it off your face, the walls, and your clothes. I just wonder why they didn’t call it “Christmas on Ice” or something. Even “Christmas Cherry Zero” would have been better.

Jason: …because Coke told them to call it “Shake Up Christmas” and they listened?

Jeff: Excellent point.

Jason: I’m sure focus groups were involved.

Jeff: Do you have a can of Coke to shake up before we play this track? I’m aiming mine at my speakers.

Jason: My sister-in-law loves Coke Zero, so we have some in the kitchen, but right now I’m paralyzed with dread, so little good that does me.

Jeff: If it’s good enough for a Train/Coke/Sony focus group, isn’t it good enough for us and our readers?

Jason: I think you know the answer to that question. Let’s go!

Train — Shake Up Christmas (download)

From Save Me, Boundaries of Good Taste San Francisco

We hold these truths to be self-evident: all men and women are created equal, though those who order their booze from the top shelf behind the bar were apparently created more equal than others; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that those with D-cups and trust funds share special endowments that have little to do with their creator; that Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness were fine, though Neil Young and Duran Duran made better records, and TPOH hasn’t done much worth pursuing in the last 15 years or so.

Also self-evident is the truth that many, if not most, of the best-loved examples of the power ballad arts are about finding love, pursuing love, falling in love, yearning for love, coming off the road to rediscover one’s love, celebrating extended periods of love, waiting for love, fighting back the urge to fight the onset of love, pining for an unrequited love, apologizing for loving someone one shouldn’t love, looking for everlasting love, never saying goodbye to love, ending one’s search for love, or treading the mean streets and blind alleys where the currency of love changes hands. Very rarely do you find an example in the great power ballad pantheon that expresses the lack of need for love, where the singer loses love and says, “Meh. Don’t need it. Think I’ll just be moseying along.”

Leave it to those marketing trailblazers and soda pitchmen in KISS to take the lead in the “I ain’t cryin’ over lost love” theme in power balladry, with “Reason to Live.”

Back in April, I devoted a column to a couple artists that fell, more or less, into the genre of “kindie” music—essentially, indie pop for children. It was a fun thing to cover; I was able, however briefly, to engage in what is unquestionably the coolest part about listening to this music—eschewing my grown-up sensibilities toward lyrics and letting the rug rat within me be entertained (when he’s not setting fire to ants or teaching the dog to pee on the sofa).

Since the initial piece ran, I’ve amassed a pretty decent amount of the stuff, both directly from artists, as well as from their representatives. Since the holidays are upon us, I thought it would be useful to present the best of the bunch, in case any of you out there in Readerville might need an idea for a music-loving kid in your life. You could do far worse than updating your shopping list with any one (or more) of these fine kindie titles.