Artist of the Decade: Steve Wynn

December 31, 2009

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “there are no second acts in American lives.”  But Fitzgerald never met Steve Wynn.

Wynn’s first act occurred in the 80s, when he was leader of  The Dream Syndicate, a guitar based band with musical links back to The Velvet Underground, Television and Neil Young.  That band was the most notable one to come out of the Los Angeles scene known as the Paisley Underground in the early 1980s.  But Wynn broke up The Dream Syndicate at the end of the 80s, figuring that the band had gone about as far as it could go.

In his work in the 90s, Wynn mostly moved away from the slashing guitars sound of The Dream Syndicate and tried a variety of styles.  He also moved from his native Los Angeles to New York City’s Upper West Side, where he still lives.

But in the fall of 2000, Steve, a large number of songs and his band, guitarist Chris Brokaw, bassist Dave DeCastro and drummer Linda Pitmon, all went to Tucson to record an album.  When he left, he had finished his first double record set, Here Come the Miracles.  Miracles solidified Steve’s sound and his band, now christened The Miracle Three (Chris left the band at the end of 2000 and was replaced by Jason Victor).

Steve, along with The Miracle Three traveled to Tucson twice more to record 2003’s Static Transmission and 2005’s …tick…tick…tick, which along with Miracles Steve now calls his desert trilogy.  Steve even wrote his best song out of his long career during this period, Amphetamine, which appears on Static Transmission.

Steve and The Miracle Three are, in my opinion, the best live rock band in America (and probably the world).  They have a great catalog of songs stretching from the 21st century all the way back to Steve’s days with The Dream Syndicate in the 1980s.  They are not afraid of, and understand how to use the power of loudness.  And Steve, Jason, Dave and Linda are excellent musicians who enjoy playing with and off each other.

There have also been a number of side projects over the last ten years, the most notable of which is The Baseball Project, a group which writes songs about baseball and about some of the characters inhabiting that world.  It consists of Steve and Linda as well as Scott McCaughey of  The Minus 5 and the REM touring band and Peter Buck of REM.

Therefore, in recognition his consistently excellent, exciting and exhilarating music over the past ten years, Now I’ve Heard Everything makes Steve Wynn our Artist of the Decade.

Still No Plans for New Year’s Eve? Try This…

December 30, 2009

Maybe your New Year’s Eve plans have fallen through, or maybe you just kept putting off planning what it was your were going to do or maybe you just don’t want to empty your bank account to do something overpriced and under wonderful.  But whatever the reason, New Year’s Eve is tomorrow and there’s nothing on your calendar.

Here’s the last refuge for you last minute types.  The Rockwood Music Hall will be sticking to it’s usual policy on New Year’s Eve.  That means no reservations.  There’s no cover charge with a one drink per set minimum (but a $5 contribution for each band is requested).  Not only will they will have a full night of music, but NIHE fave James Maddock will be playing during the 10pm to midnight slot.  Not only is James a great live performer but his album, Sunrise on Avenue C, is on the NIHE Top Ten for 2009.

The only downside is the size of the Rockwood; it holds only about 40 people in the main room, which is where the stage is.  There’s a back room which holds about another 25 or so, and it does have a closed circuit TV view of the stage.  So if you want to see James, get there early, maybe an hour early.

James Maddock, The Rockwood Music Hall, 196 Allen Street (F or V Trains to Second Avenue, use the First Avenue exit), 10pm-midnight

Music Video: Or, The Whale – Rusty Gold

December 29, 2009

Or, The Whale is a seven piece band out of San Francisco.  They take their name from the subtitle of Moby Dick (hence the comma).   Their self titled album released this year made my Best of 2009 list.  This video, which I believe is their first official one, spotlights one of the songs from that album.

Introducing NIHE Tech: How to Download – Part 1

December 29, 2009

There’s plenty of music out there on the Net.  But from time to time I hear “but I don’t know how to download.”  OK, no more excuses, as NIHE Tech begins today.  Follow along and you’ll be able to find and download music.

But first you need to have the right tools, which in this case means the right browser, which is Firefox.  The video below shows you how to install it.

There’s A New Rockwood Coming in 2010

December 28, 2009

The Rockwood Music Hall is a small club located on Allen Street about half a block south of Houston Street.  It’s the home base for many local musicians including Leslie Mendelson, James Maddock and Sasha Dobson.  Sometimes big name acts, including Ryan Adams, Matisyahu and a Norah Jones side project have played there.

But the place is small.  It holds 40 people in the music room, if everyone is really friendly.  Another 25 or so can fit into the back room.

But the word is that owner Ken Rockwood has taken the space immediately south of the current Rockwood and will be opening that new space in early February.  From the information I’ve received, it appears that the new space will be a separate club from the current Rockwood and hold 300 people.  It looks likely to open in early February.

Best Albums of the Decade – Part 2

December 27, 2009

The second half of my best of the decade list.  If you missed the first part, you’ll find it here:

Matt Mays & El Torpedo – Matt Mays & El Torpedo (2005): First released in Canada, this record produced a huge hit there for the band in Cocaine Cowgirl. Finally released in the US on Halloween 2006, this album is straight ahead rock of the Neil Young – Tom Petty school. And the fact that MM&ET may just be the loudest band I’ve ever seen live is, in my book, a point in their favor.

Milton – Grand Hotel (2008):  Milton is both the name of the lead singer and of this New York City based band.  This album, the band’s third, shows them at their peak with their brand of rock, Americana and even some alt country.  Everything here is extremely radio friendly, the only problem being that radio as a means of exposing new music has basically ceased to exist.

The Watson Twins – Southern Manners (2006): An “Oh Wow” moment for me came as I was sitting in the cafe at the South by Southwest music festival and heard the Watson Twins do a semi acoustic live set.  This eight song CD (which makes it either a short album or a long EP, take your pick) has the absolute standout Shoot the Lights Out, which will make you utter the word gorgeous.  If you know the Watson Twins (which is actually the name of the band) from Jenny Lewis’ album, you only know a little of what they are capable.

Winterpills – The Light Divides (2007): The second effort from the band, this is a CD to which I listened again and again.  You can call this music chamber pop; I’ve always described this band’s sound as quiet songs played loudly. Perhaps a bit more polished than their debut album from 2005 because this was a studio set as opposed to the recorded at home first set.

Steve Wynn – Here Come the Miracles (2001):The leader of the 80s band The Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn played around with a variety of styles in the 90s.  With this double CD, Steve finally returns to straight ahead rock, finds his 21st century band and produces a double album that is worthy of being a double album.

Best Albums of the Decade – Part 1

December 26, 2009

This decade has been around for ten years now and we still don’t have a name for it.  No, it will never, ever be called the aughts or the naughts.  The zeroes are a possibility, but I think eventually we’ll settle on calling the last ten years the two thousands.  But no matter what it’s called, these are the ten albums released during the past ten years I think were the best, presented in alphabetical order in two parts.

Dan Bern – New American Language (2001): This album finds Dan singing about the Alaska Highway, playing with Keith Richards and hanging out with Britney Spears.  He also has a song in which he talks to God.  It’s that latter song, God Said No, in which Dan shows what makes him a wonderful lyricist.  It’s all wrapped up in rock music that will make you move and smile and maybe even consider the metaphysical.

Kathleen Edwards – Asking for Flowers (2008): A rocker who knows how to tell a story, this album finds Kathleen at the top of her game.  A remark by a friend suffering in a failing relationship gave rise to the title song.  Musically, Kathleen goes from solo acoustic to Neil Young like rockers and even plays a little violin.  A couple of all star players are on this record, including Benmont Tench from Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.

The Hold Steady – The Boys and Girls in America (2006): I missed out on this one when it first came out, but when I found out that The Hold Steady were headlining a show in my backyard (Prospect Park) in 2007 I got hold of it.  What I found was 11 songs with incredible lyrical density and music not unlike early Bruce Springsteen.  Live this band, especially it’s lead singer, Craig Finn, is charismatic.

Norah Jones – Come Away With Me (2002): When I reviewed this album back in 2002, I noted that this is not the kind of record I usually listen to, but that it was so good that I had to listen to it and then declared it my record of the year.  The passing years have not changed my opinion one bit.  Solid, subtle vocals and great songs (five by Jesse Harris) made this the runaway hit that it was.

Scott Kempner – Saving Grace (2008): Scott was a fixture on the New York music scene for years, appearing in bands like the Del Lords, The Dictators and for a while in the mid-90s, in The Little Kings, Dion’s backing band.  Then he moved out to LA about five years ago.  Last year a friend told me about this record and once I got it, it quickly became one of my favorites.  If a record can sound like New York City, this one does: gritty, heartbreaking but resilient.

To be continued tomorrow.

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