Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Portfolio entry Part 3 (Dr. John)

The end of a trio of CD reviews recognized by the New Jersey Newspaper Association in 1999. This one could be the closer that prompted VH1 to contact me in March 2000. The network tapped me to be among 300 other critics nationwide to offer 50 suggestions for a "Top 100 Rock and Roll Movies of All-Time" special. Sadly, I don't believe the countdown was made.

This review appeared on page B2 of The Daily Journal in Vineland, N.J., on Sept. 19, 1998.

Headline: Dr. John's "Anutha Zone" will put a spell on you

By Todd Norden
Staff writer

Name: "Anutha Zone"
Artist: Dr. John
Label: Virgin Records

From the moment Dr. John opens his latest recording with the brief, downcast piano solo "Zonata," the listener is transported to some lonesome, smoky dive found in some foggy Louisiana swamp.

Blending Creole and pop like a bewitching shaman, John (a.k.a. Malcolm Rebennack) has an enduring, magical touch that stirs the imagination and cleanses the soul.

Feel the snakes slither between your muddy toes on the sinewy "Ki Ya Gris Gris." Its funky bayou rhythms, accompanied by slapping congas, effectively put the album's juju in motion. Note the crazed South Louisiana field holla by percussionist Herman Ernst, too.

"Voices In My Head" has a catchy, but diffused, power-rock vibe to it, and it's boosted by brass inflections from The Kick Horns.

How do he do the voodoo that he do? Wish I knew.

But Dr. John's charm is almost formulaic. His appeal rests in that scruffy Southern cadence, paired with a jolly piano meter during the chorus and stream of trumpet toots. It's a classic combination that makes "Voices In My Head" and the title cut swing.

John's a clever songwriter, too. "Hello God" has the artist chatting with The Man Upstairs as if the two were sitting on the front porch. Its lazy groove and wah-wah guitar contrasts its soaring chorus and playful keys. And the grammatical travesty "Why Come" is a platform for John's jive-talkin' romp. When John fusses in his phlegm-soaked growl about why boss spelled backward is "double s-o-b" and warns people on the lookout for #1 to watch out because you might step into #2, you just hafta admit this is freakin' cool.

The dull "Party Hellfire" and a bland, quizzical ode to history, "The Olive Tree," hex "Anutha Zone." But there are heaps of dazzle and musical integrity here to make the album a scintillating and worthwhile buy.

Keep on keepin' on Dr. John.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Portfolio entry Part 2 (The Rolling Stones)

Here is the second of the CD reviews that garnered attention from the New Jersey Press Association. A complementary copy of a Rolling Stones CD landed on my desk. That's all I needed to start hitting my stride.

This appeared on B2 of The Daily Journal in Vineland, N.J., on Nov. 7, 1998 (less than a week before I turned 28. Maybe that's why I was hitting my stride, too -- hunger for success was growing).

Headline: You'll get "Satisfaction" out of Stones' latest

By Todd Norden
Staff Writer

Disc: "No Security"
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Label: Virgin Records

The Stones keep rolling and gather no moss on their seventh live album built with highlights from shows during their "Bridges To Babylon" tour.

Few groups endure long enough to record seven live albums (unless of course you're The Grateful Dead). But beyond The Stones' incredible longevity is a vault of timeless songs.

You won't get no "Satisfaction" here, and "Jumping Jack Flash" takes a seat to mid-1970s nuggets and recent singles. That's a welcome treat.

"No Security" begins with Mick Jagger and the gang actually sounding a bit worn on a note-for-note version of the "Voodoo Lounge" anthem "You Got Me Rocking." However, an enthusiastic Ron Wood guitar solo and Chuck Leavell's rollicking honky-tonk piano save the day. Other newer songs included in this set are "Saint Of Me," "Flip The Switch" and "Out Of Control." "Saint Of Me" transforms into a clap-along, sing-along arena chant with a revved Jagger intermittently spitting "C'mon y'all" and "C'mon sugar" between refrains.

Bigger surprises are delivered when The Stones delve into their catalog and share the stage with special guests. Dave Matthews collaborates with Jagger on a foggy-blue version of "Memory Motel" from The Stones' obscure 1976 album "Black and Blue." And blues great Taj Mahal offers an appropriately loose and sloppy interpretation of his song "Corinna" to the mix, while Jagger puffs away at the harmonica.

The redeeming value of "No Security" is several songs that haven't been, or were rarely captured, on live Stones albums. Even Jagger admits before "Live With Me" that it's something they hadn't done in a very long time. Thank God they brought it here. "Live With Me," from 1969's "Let It Bleed," is classic and dirty Stones, especially with Darryl Jones' vigorous bass line drawing naughty grins from listeners' faces. The Stones also effectively recreate "Gimme Shelter's" creepy undercurrent, although Lisa Fischer's backup wailing about rape and murder isn't nearly as spine-tingling as the original. The Stones do its fans a favor by dusting off "Sister Morphine" from 1971's "Sticky Fingers." A rubbery slide guitar gives the song its seedy edge, but when Jagger sings, it eerily recalls another era and yet firmly describes the drug daze of today. And much like the United States since the turbulent 1960s, our country's "stained white sheets are now stained red."

Jagger's and guitarist Keith Richards' songwriting abilities are too often ignored. Compare their mop-topped dance-hall jam "The Last Time" to the snotty and cynical "Respectable," to the soul-searching "Saint Of Me." The differences are like black-and-white versus Web TV.

"No Security" is not "Get Yer Ya-Yas Out," but it shows why you can't keep this good -- actually, the world's greatest -- rock 'n' roll band down. The Rolling Stones' lyrical power has matured from a stealthy panther into an arresting other-worldly power.

Portfolio entry Part 1

I've been digging through past articles I've done during my journalism career and because I failed to keep a digital portfolio during that time and don't have a scanner, I am retyping some of my favorites -- and some to show just what I did. It's kind of a "greatest hits" if you will. Or, better yet, a digital perspective on my past work.

I am starting with one of three CD reviews (yes, CDs -- remember 'em?) written for The Daily Journal in Vineland, N.J., in the late 1990s that, together, earned an award for critical writing from the New Jersey Press Association. Music always has been a favorite subject of mine.

This review was published, as written, on B2 of The Daily Journal on Nov. 28, 1998:

Headline: "Soundtrack remembers glitter rock era"

By Todd Norden
Staff Writer

Disc: "Velvet Goldmine" soundtrack
Artist: Various
Label: London Records

"There was a time\everything was fine\...and all the children\they put the flowers in their hair\and all the grownups\they put daggers there instead." -- From an intro to 1971's "RawRamp" by T. Rex

Every decade has its day, whether it's grunge of the 1990s or disco from the 1970s.

Besides disco, another scene flickered and faded quicker than a moon-age daydream in the '70s. It was glitter rock; part bubble-gum bliss, part gritty hard rock with an undercurrent of sexual ambiguity.

Several British artists were caught between the demise of hippie culture and the advent of punk -- T. Rex, Mott The Hoople, Sweet, David Bowie, Slade, Gary Glitter -- and they wrote songs about alienation, spacemen, unicorns and being pretty. Todd Haynes explores glitter rock's sheen in his new film "Velvet Goldmine." And the soundtrack is a fitting tribute to all those young dudes.

"Velvet Goldmine," named after a Bowie B-side, forges a bond between the old and the new. The Venus In Furs and Wylde Rattz are two glitter band prototypes fronted by Radiohead's Thom Yorke and actors Ewan McGregor and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. McGregor and Meyers play the lead characters in the film, which are very loosely based on Bowie and Iggy Pop.

Meyers does a fine job singing "Tumbling Down" and injects Brian Eno's "Baby's On Fire" with demented glee. Yorke astonishingly sounds like Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry on the smoky, dreamy "2HB" and the band supplies "Ladytron" with the quirkiness of Mott The Hoople during their "Brain Capers" period. However, McGregor's flat take on "T.V. Eye" is a downer.

The best efforts from a newer group come from Shudder To Think. On "Hot One," the band arranges the perfect balance of fayish falsetto and machismo characteristic of glitter rock. Shudder's "Ballad of Maxwell Demon" also contains the perfect guitar notes, pristine harmonic trills and chopsticks piano accompaniment. Other highlights are Grant Lee Buffalo's campy "The Whole Shebang," the raucous "Personality Crisis" by Teenage Fanclub with guest vocalist Donna Matthews, and the razor-sharp snap of Pulp's "We Are The Boys."

The few bad spots are the boring schmaltz of "Bitter's End" by Paul Kimble and Andy Mackay, and the equally patience-testing "Bitter-Sweet" by The Venus In Furs, lead by Meyers. And while most original glitter rockers either took themselves too seriously or not seriously enough, the cheeze and indifference becomes too heavy-handed after listening to the soundtrack's 19 songs.

While reflecting on this disc, I discovered it's easier to embrace cynicism and reproach as you get older; when I loved glitter rock as a youngster for its imagination and innocence. "Velvet Goldmine" is a worthy nod to the Children of The Revolution. And the Children of Rarn would approve.

Other recommended listens: Sweet's "Desolation Boulevard"; T. Rex's "The Slider" or "Electric Warrior"; Bowie's "Hunky Dory" or "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars"; and Mott The Hoople's "All The Young Dudes."

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Incident: A fresh voice in the Sioux Falls music scene

The Incident performed a 16-song set full of original music Thursday night at Old Skoolz Wine House & Pub (www.oldskoolzsf.com), 921 E. Eighth St., in downtown Sioux Falls. The band brings a refreshing voice and alternative to a scene full of popular cover bands. The Incident are David Hatt (vocals, trumpet), Sean Egan (lead vocals, lead guitar, saxophone), Jim Kirby (rhythm guitar), Greg Hill (bass, background vocals), Lora Egan (trombone) and Mike Glau (drums). The group formed in 2010 and began playing locally in August 2011. Sean Egan describes the band's music as "skunk," or a mash of ska and punk. The Incident's material recalls the sounds of punk and ska heavyweights such as The Clash or The Mighty Mighty Bosstones but with an attitude usually associated with that hunger burning within a spirited, intimate Irish pub. It's music that's not overtly aggressive but balanced with punchy brass accompaniment. "Better Than None" is one such bright and catchy original featuring Hatt on lead vocals and solid drum fills by Glau near the closing. Sean Egan leads the band and his snarl resounds on songs such as "Building An Apocalypse" and "Staring At The Sun." "Staring" also is a song that best exemplifies how this band works together. Egan and Kirby's crisp guitar licks lead in tandem with tight flashes from the horns. Another highlight, "Cropsey," features a tin whistle solo by Lora Egan. It's those types of touches that help The Incident stand out and draw in an audience. Also worth noting is the group's originality. Of the songs performed, The Incident played one cover: "The Silver Tongued Devil And I" by Kris Kristofferson. It was a great take on an old (and somewhat obscure) country nugget. The group closed with "I Need A Beer." It was the first tune the band wrote, according to Lora Egan. Hopefully, it won't be this band's last. The Incident performs Jan. 14 at The Phoenix Lounge, 321 Willow St., Harrisburg. For information, visit www.the-incidentband.com and The Phoenix Lounge's official page on Facebook. The Incident's show was part of January Jazz, Blues & Brews @ Old Skoolz. Coming up: Geoff Gunderson, 9 p.m. Jan. 7; Abita Beer Tasting, 7 p.m. Jan. 12; Elisabeth Hunstad, 9 p.m. Jan. 13; Sena Ehrhardt, 8 p.m. Jan. 14 (tickets are $10 in advance, $12 day of show); 47Fires, 8:30 p.m. Jan. 19. For more, visit www.oldskoolzsf.com or oldskoolzsf@gmail.com.

Location:Sioux Falls