Monday, June 29, 2009

First Listen: Shawn Colvin, Live

I really like Shawn Colvin. Sometimes, though, I need to be reminded that I really like Shawn Colvin.

This solo acoustic live album fits the bill well. In fact, there's more of what I like about Colvin on this album than I found on her last two studio releases, which were staid and over-produced affairs. The focus here is on her voice and her nuanced songwriting, where it should be, and what emerges is a set of clear-eyed and memorable tunes.

Highlights include the mesmerizing "Shotgun Down the Avalanche" and the great "Sunny Came Home." In fact, "Sunny" provides one of my favorite moments, as some segments of the audience recognize it from its opening chords, and some only catch on with the first verse. But the thing that makes Live a must-hear is the respectful and soulful cover of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," which she released as a single two years ago. She performs it like an old standard, and it slides into the set list nicely.

Colvin doesn't make records very often, and Live might seem like a slight release, especially since it comes three years after her last album. But it's a delight from start to finish, a gentle reminder of Colvin's oft-forgotten talent.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

RIP Michael Jackson

So I was in Hix Brothers music store in Aurora today, interviewing some teenage guitar prodigies for a story, when I heard the news. The guy behind the counter started yelling it out, and then running to tell everyone in the store one at a time.

"Michael Jackson died. I'm serious. Michael Jackson is dead."

The moment was decidedly surreal for me, and I'm still not sure how to process the information. I honestly haven't thought about Jackson as a musician in more than 10 years, and I'm sure I'm not alone. His personal troubles dominated the news, and talks of a comeback album were routinely laughed at. There wasn't a redeeming moment on 2001's Invincible, his final album. (Maybe "Whatever Happens." But nothing else.)

But let me say this right now for the record: Michael Jackson was one of the best and most important pop musicians ever.

His old Motown singles are stunning pieces of music. His work with the Jackson 5 is legendary. But for me, he never got better than the music he made at the height of his popularity. 1982's Thriller and 1987's Bad are unimpeachable pop albums. Seriously, go back and listen to them again. The closest either one comes to a bad track is "The Girl Is Mine," and that one has Paul McCartney on it. When these records are on, they are amazing.

"Wanna Be Startin' Something." "Billie Jean." "Beat It." "Human Nature." "The Way You Make Me Feel." "Another Part of Me." "Bad." "Smooth Criminal." "Dirty Diana." "Man in the Mirror." There is no bad here. These are all terrific songs.

I'm still taken aback by the news of Jackson's death. He was such a constant in the pop cultural universe that it seems strange to me to read his obituaries. The first piece of music my parents ever bought me was Thriller, on cassette. (I had to share it with my sister, but she soon lost interest.) It's just weird to think about. But I'll tell you this: I'm not going to need this blog post to remember where I was when I heard about it.

Rest in peace, Michael.

Less Than Meets the Eye

If you have not seen Roger Ebert's takedown of the new Transformers movie, well, it is a must-read. Just the first paragraph, to whet your appetite:

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New Column: Giving In to Gimmicky Goodness

Do you respond well to gimmicks? I can tell you, as a writer, I love them - they give me an easy hook, a way in. But as a music fan, I usually couldn't care less. Unless the music is there, the substance, a gimmick is just an empty sales tactic. Ideally, I'm looking for both - a good record with a good concept, or story behind it.

I've got two of those this week. Ben Folds enlisted college vocal groups for his not-quite-a-best-of University A Cappella, and British Sea Power took on the task of re-scoring a silent movie from 1934 called Man of Aran. I enjoyed them both. Click on over to find out how much, then come back here to discuss this week's missive. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

First Listen: Rob Dickinson, Live and Alone

Catherine Wheel was one of those bands that should have been huge. Frontman Rob Dickinson has a fantastic voice, and one of the best falsettos in rock, and he writes swirling, melodic pop songs with bite. I like all six of their records, but I have a special fondness for Chrome and Adam and Eve.

The Wheel broke up about a decade ago, but Dickinson is still making swell music - his solo album Fresh Wine for the Horses is poppier, but still a delight. I got the chance to see Rob play a solo set at Schuba's in Chicago on Sunday, and he was terrific. Live, he plays an acoustic through a distortion pedal, so the sound is huge and intimate at once. He played loads of old Catherine Wheel songs, including rarities like "Mouthful of Air," and he included lovely versions of Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street" and the Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want." Great show, and I got to meet Rob afterward, which was a treat.

And while I was there, I picked up this little live document, from 2006. The track order is similar to the show I saw, minus the covers, and the quality is pretty good. This kind of one-man reinvention is where Rob Dickinson really shines - the versions of "Oceans" and "The Storm" knock over those on Fresh Wine, and his stripped-down "Ma Solituda" is wonderful. "Black Metallic" (the first CW song I heard) goes on for a blistering six minutes or so, all screaming distortion, and encore "Future Boy" is a nice comedown.

You can only get Live and Alone at shows or on Rob's MySpace page. While you're there, listen to a few tracks. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Go See Now: Away We Go

Been away from my blogging duties for a while, but I wanted to mention that I saw Away We Go, the new Sam Mendes movie with John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. Honestly, if this isn't my favorite film of 2009, then we're in for the best year ever.

Away We Go is the story of Burt and Verona, a young couple about to have their first child. They are islands of sanity in a sea of madness, and as they travel around the country, searching for the best place to raise their daughter, they encounter that sea head-on. Away We Go is about what it takes to raise a child in this world, and about how difficult it is to keep love strong. It's also the funniest and best-written movie of the year so far, with a central performance by Rudolph that will erase all images of her from Saturday Night Live.

The ending of this movie is sweet and sad and exactly right, and I left the theater with a wide smile. For some reason, even though it stars two well-known television personalities and was directed by a guy who's won an Oscar, this movie is only playing in select theaters right now. I had to drive 20 miles to see it, but believe me, it was worth it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Another Mutemath note

As some of you are no doubt aware, Mutemath originally released their self-titled debut album independently. This version of the album is pretty much perfect, as far as I'm concerned, but when it came time to re-release it on Warner Bros., they messed with it. They truncated some of the longer songs (most notably "You Are Mine," which went from seven minutes to four), added a few inferior tracks from the Reset EP, and removed one song altogether.

It's still a great record, but not as good as the original version. The thing that bugged me the most is the song they removed - "Without It" is just tremendous, and belonged on the record. I wondered aloud at the time whether it would find a home on Mutemath's second album.

Well, the tracklist for Armistice, Mutemath's sophomore effort, was released last week, and "Without It" isn't there. On the one hand, I'm glad. This means the band has grown beyond its old sound, beyond recycling old songs. But on the other hand, this means those who missed the independent release of Mutemath will be, well, without it.

Just to let you know what you're missing, here's a Youtube audio-only clip of "Without It." Such a good song. I hope they give it a wide release someday.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New Column: Brought to You by the Letter E

This week, I took a look at three albums linked by the letter E. The Eels are back after a five-year break with Hombre Lobo, Elvis Costello hired a bluegrass band and T-Bone Burnett for Secret, Profane and Sugarcane, and Ace Enders, formerly of the Early November, released his solo debut, When I Hit the Ground. I liked all three, more or less. Click on over to read all about it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

First Listen: Sonic Youth, The Eternal

The older the guys in Sonic Youth get, the funnier their band name becomes - leaders Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon are now 50 and 56, respectively. But you'd be hard-pressed to find any sign of middle-age slowdown on The Eternal, SY's 16th album. Their first for Matador after nearly 20 years on Geffen, this album finds the band energized, refreshed, and kicking ass.

The basic sonic template has never changed: driving rhythms, dissonant guitar explorations, a few hooks sprinkled about, mostly monotone vocals, and a sense of telepathic interplay. But this album not only contains some of the band's loudest material in some time ("What We Know," "No Way"), but also some of its prettiest. "Antenna" is slow and layered, guitars stacked one atop the other, while "Malibu Gas Station" starts with some gorgeous clean guitar, then grows menacing, Gordon's sinister vocals atop a slowly building fury. Nine-minute closer "Massage the History" is just lovely, acoustic guitars underpinning electric soundscapes and Gordon's semi-drugged line readings.

Overall, this is another Sonic Youth album, but it's a very good one. Despite a nearly 30-year history, the band sounds like they're just discovering one another again - they're awake and alive here. The Eternal is a good name for a record that proves there is a lot of life left in this sound.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Two Black Crowes albums this year!

That's right, two! Dos! Deux! You buy one on CD, and you get a download code for the other, which is pretty cool, although I would prefer CDs for both. The albums were reportedly recorded live in front of a small studio audience. 20 songs total, 19 originals and a cover. They're out September 1.

More info here. I've said this before and I'll say it again, the Black Crowes are the best rock 'n' roll band in the world.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

First Listen: Mae, (m)orning

I almost missed this entirely. Mae is a three-cuts-above modern rock outfit - they made two very good albums for Tooth and Nail, and one superb one for Capitol. Now they've struck out on their own, releasing this, the first of a series of three EPs, on their own label. (The EPs will be called (m)orning, (a)fternoon, and (e)vening. M.A.E. Get it?)

Mae has always been good, but this EP is excellent. The eight-minute "The Fisherman Song" shows the musical growth, leaping from section to section with aplomb. Ditto the seven-minute "The House that Fire Built," a huge-hook pop song with a multi-layered midsection. The rest of the tunes are classic Mae pop numbers, chock full of delirious melodies and produced beautifully. The whole thing is held together by three instrumentals, including the complex, orchestrated "Two Birds."

This whole thing is terrific, but it gets better. All the proceeds from this EP have gone to charity - in this case, Habitat for Humanity. The (m)orning songs (premiered one month at a time online, for a buck each, then sold together in this package) paid for a home for a Virginia family who couldn't afford one. Future song proceeds will go towards an organization that matches donors with schools that need funding. They've raised more than $44,000 so far. This is just cool.

So it's great music, for great causes. There is no bad here. The website is Check it out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Mutemath: "The Nerve"

If you know me at all, you know one of my most anticipated albums this year is the sophomore effort from New Orleans quartet Mutemath. Their self-titled debut was virtually perfect, and they've taken ages crafting the follow-up, but it will be out on August 18.

The album is called Armistice. The single is "The Nerve." Hear it here.

On first listen, it has a truckload of energy, but no melody, and some ill-advised lyrics. I'm sort of let down, but I didn't like "Typical," the first single from the self-titled, all that much the first time either. I note that with "Spotlight" (from the Twilight soundtrack) making the cut, Armistice now sports two high-energy, heavy-rhythm, melody-deficient tunes. Hope it's not a trend...

New Column: Hail to the GrooGrux King

This week, I took a look at Dave Matthews Band's new one, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, an album made in the wake of saxophonist LeRoi Moore's accidental death last year. To me, it's not tragedy that defines you, it's your reaction to tragedy, which makes Big Whiskey the most important album Matthews and company have ever made.

How is it? Click on over to find out.

First Listen: Radiohead, In Rainbows Disc 2

I wasn't rich enough to order the super-deluxe version of In Rainbows back in 2007. That boxed set came with a second disc of songs from the same sessions, and I had resigned myself to waiting for the inevitable rarities compilation to hear them. But lo and behold, Radiohead has opened up a digital store, and made the eight-song bonus disc available for the princely sum of six British pounds.

It's very much worth it. As you might expect, the second disc continues the organic growth of In Rainbows - it's a little moodier and more repetitive, but these are good songs, if not quite as good as the ones that made the record. Yes, there are two useless instrumental interludes, but the six proper pieces are all varying shades of excellent. The slower ones work best, especially "Go Slowly" and gentle closer "4 Minute Warning," while "Down is the New Up" could have slotted onto the main album without any trouble.

Bonus points for the Doctor Who reference in the first line of "Up on the Ladder": "I'm stuck in the Tardis, trapped in hyperspace..." Overall, I'm pleased with this, and I hope the complete In Rainbows experience bodes well for the future of this brilliant band.

Favorite song on first listen: "Down is the New Up."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Friends of Mine

If you're looking for more stuff to listen to, check out a pair of podcasts from my friends Derek Wright and Tony Shore.

Derek's Liner Notes Magazine is posted twice a month. It's a critical look at six albums each time out, and Derek is an insightful and engaging host. Check that out at

Tony's Obvious PopCast is more of a celebration, the good Dr. Shore playing a bunch of songs he loves. It's less frequent than Liner Notes, but Tony's always introducing me to things I've never heard. Check that one out at

First Listen: White Rabbits, It's Frightening

It's tempting to call these guys Spoon Jr., since they have a similar to-the-point, piano-pounding sound. Since Spoon's Britt Daniel produced this, the band's second record, it's even more difficult to avoid the comparison. But White Rabbits have a few things up their sleeves as well, including a knack for atmosphere and some very pretty melodies in the album's second half.

But to be honest, it took me four tries to get past the first track. "Percussion Gun" is just so awesome, taking the template Radiohead laid with "15 Step" and exploding it. The song is driven by a barrage of drums, a clean guitar line and Steve Patterson's escalating, reaching voice. It's pretty terrific, and leaves the rest of this decent little record in the dust. The rest is good, especially "Right Where They Left" and "Company I Keep." Worth picking up, certainly.

Favorite song on first listen: "Percussion Gun."

Monday, June 8, 2009

RIP Jeff Hanson

Just heard the news that Jeff Hanson died. He made three decent albums on Kill Rock Stars, which no one really heard, but I liked. His voice was the main attraction - high, swooping, almost ethereal, like Elliott Smith at 78 RPM. Very strange at first, but very effective. Hanson died after an accident at his home in St. Paul. He was only 31.

More here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

First Listen: Chickenfoot

So my birthday was Friday. I turned 35. Today I trundled down to Best Buy and bought my first CD as a 35-year-old. (Why Best Buy? Because they'd finagled another of their bloody exclusive release deals.) While paying for it, I chuckled at the irony: this album was made by people I liked when I was 16.

Yes, it's Chickenfoot, the "supergroup" made up of Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony of Van Halen, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Joe Satriani, of 500 instrumental guitar-shredder albums. (Satch is a bit more famous these days for suing Coldplay than for anything he does on the six-string, sadly.) This sounds exactly like you'd expect, given the participants: it's mid-tempo, mostly bluesy rock, with a lot of flailing solos. The songs have titles like "Oh Yeah," "Sexy Little Thing" and "My Kinda Girl." It is exactly what you think it is.

It's not monumentally bad, but it is kind of typical, and gets fairly boring by the end. The songs are all too long, because Satriani has to solo (and solo, and solo, and solo...), but if you like sleazy, blues-based rock, this will give you what you're looking for.

Favorite song on first listen: "Avenida Revolution."

First Listen: Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

So I first encountered the dazzling leadoff track "Lisztomania" by watching this mashup, and that may have colored my opinion. I love this video, and the song goes with it so well. Happily, even divorced from a bunch of giddy images from my childhood, "Lisztomania" holds up. And the rest of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is pretty awesome as well.

My favorite is "1901," but this entire album is just swell dance-rock, with a gentle edge. The surprise is "Love Like a Sunrise," with its five-minute instrumental "Part I" and its one-minute lullaby "Part II," but that's the only thing here that won't make you want to get up and dance. I'd never heard of Phoenix before this, but this record's a lot of fun - lightweight, but satisfying. It probably won't edge Tinted Windows for my "Most Fun of 2009" award, but I like it a lot.

Favorite song on first listen: "1901."

First Listen: Eels, Hombre Lobo

The new Eels album is... well, it's the new Eels album. I find it difficult to explain why I like Mark Oliver Everett and his work. The songs are simple, the lyrics are pedestrian. (Seriously, check this out, from "All the Beautiful Things": "Birds come down from skies so blue, see all the beautiful things you do, why can't I just get with you." That's for real.) Everett's voice is ragged and raw, and has no range.

But I love the Eels. Love them. Don't know why. This one rocks a little more than I expected, especially "Tremendous Dynamite" and "Fresh Blood," but the backbone is still simple, sweet pop songs. They breeze by, they sound delightful while they're playing, they don't stand up to scrutiny, but I don't care. E's beard is ridiculous, but the album is standard Eels.

Favorite song on first listen: "The Look You Give That Guy."

It's better than fun, it's blog!

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the tm3am blog. Thanks for stopping by.

I'm Andre Salles, and I've been doing Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. online at since 2000. It's a weekly chronicle of my obsessive music habit, and it usually concentrates on one or two albums a week, exploring them in detail. It's a lot of fun for me, which is why I do it for free - I buy a ridiculous amount of music each year, and I'd probably be writing about it anyway, so tm3am has given me a good outlet.

But I'm finding more and more that there's just too much music out there, and I can't get to it all. That's where this blog will come in. I plan to use it as a first stop, a listening post, if you will. I'm going to be posting my first thoughts on CDs here, as I listen to them. Some of those CDs will eventually make it to the column proper, but most probably won't.

And unlike the column, which I intended to be just my voice, I'm hoping the blog will spark some conversations. I've met some very smart and opinionated people through my years doing tm3am, and I hope they join me here in some dialogue about the thing we all love, music.

Again, thanks for coming by. I kicked off the column with this quote, and it seems fitting to kick off the blog the same way:

"Music is the Best." - Frank Zappa.