Archive for August, 2009

Les Paul/Jim Dickinson…RIP.

Posted in Bent Notes Column with tags , , , , , on August 17, 2009 by Todd

I suppose tears are called for, but somehow it just doesn’t seem appropriate.

Les Paul and Jim Dickinson, two very different but equally unique and talented musicians, producers and inventors passed away within days of each other this week – Paul on the thirteenth and Dickinson on the fifteenth. One was venerated the world over for his contributions to the arts of music and technology, helping shape the sound of rock, country and just about anyone who’s picked up a guitar since the 1950’s; the other is known mainly for his work on one song, the Rolling Stones “Wild Horses” and his association with eccentric Memphis cult act Big Star. And yet they each, in their own unique fashion, played an important, often indefinable role in nurturing the very essence of what makes American music such a vital force of innovation and joy.

In my own universe, at least, they loom equally large.

Through his invention of the electric guitar and multi-track recording techniques, Les Paul stands as one of the major architects of the sound world we all inhabit in the 21st century: Hendrix, Jamaican dub, Sergeant Peppers, the whole 60’s psychedelic head rush — none of these would be imaginable without innovations such as overdubbing, tape delay, phasing effects, etc., all of them dreamed up and worked into the fabric of modern day recording techniques by Les Paul.

But most of all the man was a musician, a lifer, who continued to perfect his craft and lose himself in the same river of sound he dreamed of and conjured into being as a young high school dropout coaxing small torrents of notes from the first crude, electric guitar prototype, called simply “The Log,” which he duck taped together during his days on the Wisconsin barroom circuit. With a bit of reworking, “The Log” would eventually become better known as the Gibson Les Paul, one of the world’s most venerated guitars, beloved of everyone from Eric Clapton and Keith Richards to B.B. King and Chet Atkins.

He may have looked like an accountant, but his music told a different story: The man flat out rocked. Compare his playing to any of the early rockabilly guitarists like Scotty Moore or Cliff Gallup and the influence is obvious. Compare his playing to more recent guitarists and you’re confronted with the degree to which the influence of jazz, that all pervasive swing which always permeated his playing, has been leached out of not just rock, but modern music in general.

Some of Paul’s early, multi-tracked recordings with his wife, Mary Ford, sound like they come not just from another time but another planet. He created orchestral pop music years before Phil Spector and, I would argue, bent the world of sound into a nearly psychedelic prism of harmony and rhythm decades ahead of the likes of Brian Wilson or Pink Floyd. He wasn’t just ahead of his time; he was damn near inventing the future every time he went into the studio.

Les Paul

Les Paul

For anyone who can’t get past the trappings of 1940’s fashion or lyrical content, I would urge you to simply turn out the lights, turn up the music and pretend you’re listening to a record that came out last week. What you’ll hear is a man determined to do it his way, fools and consequences be damned; a scientist exploring the outer realms of sound as surely as Timothy Leary and B.F.Skinner would later explore the inner realms of consciousness; a musician of the highest order reeling and picking out songs of joy and wonder at volumes that lifted those songs into spheres undreamt of by the staid conservatives dominating the music of the day.

Still not convinced of the man’s conviction and dedication? Consider this: After living through a near-fatal car crash in 1948, doctor’s informed Paul that there was no way for them to rebuild his shattered elbow in a way that would allow him to regain movement, that in fact his arm would be permanently locked in whatever position they placed it in. Most people would have immediately thought about the everyday necessities of eating or bathing. Not Les Paul. Without blinking an eye, he told the doctors to set his arm at an angle, so he could cradle and pick his customized instrument with the least amount of trouble.

By contrast, Jim Dickinson was the hero of a much smaller universe, namely the storied musical community that grew up around a handful of record labels in Memphis, Tennessee during the late 60’s and early 70’s.

Barely out of his teens, Dickinson began doing session work at one of the emerging enclaves of southern soul, Chip Moman’s American Sound Studio. Shortly thereafter he added his honky-tonk piano and vocals to one the last singles for Sun Records, “Cadillac Man.”  In the Late 60’s Dickinson teemed up with fellow Memphis musicians to form “The Dixie Flyers” one of the all-time great session groups, providing backup for musicians ranging from Aretha Franklin and Sam and Dave to Jerry Jeff Walker and Albert Collins. Dickinson and his band, which included legendary guitarist, dope fiend, raconteur Charlie Freeman, could do it all and then some: smooth jazz, funky R&B, and some uncategorizable blend that sounds a lot like punk rock played by members of a hard core country band on acid.

When the Rolling Stones dropped by Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama during their 69 tour of the states, Dickinson just happened to be in town. The Stones put the Memphis native to work, adding his elegant, understated piano to their finest ballad, “Wild Horses.” The infamous Stones documentary “Gimme Shelter” offers a brief glimpse of Dickinson, kicked back on a couch in the studio with Keith Richards, eyes closed, lost in the music as they listen to a playback of one of the song’s early mixes. In 71, Dickinson lent his talents to another masterpiece, of sorts, the Flamin Groovies’ proto-punk classic, “Teenage Head.”

Jim Dickinson

Jim Dickinson

By the early 70’s Dickinson was working mainly as a producer, nurturing local Memphis odd balls and outcasts to mid-wife such alternative touchstones as Big Star’s “Third” and Alex Chilton’s “Like Flies on Sherbert” as well as a classic set for reggae legend Toots Hebert, “Toots in Memphis.” In the eighties, he would befriend a new generation drawn to his outlaw image, producing the Replacements, Mojo Nixon and Seattle home-town heroes, Mudhoney.

As much as I love the man’s guest musician and production work, I’m convinced Dickinson’s greatest contribution is his 72 solo album, “Dixie Fried,” which I have no qualms singling out as one of the most important musical documents of the 20th century. Occupying a musical Twilight Zone somewhere between the Stone’s “Exile on Mainstreet,” “The Soft Parade” by the Doors and Tom Waits more off-beat efforts, the record offers the title track’s gospel rockabilly take on Carl Perkins’  classic tale of redneck madness; a Jim Morrisonesque spoken word version of Dylan’s “John Brown,” and the hillbilly funk of the obscure vaudeville piece “O How She Dances.” Both avant garde and ancient, filled with more soul, grit and mind-numbing weirdness than any 10 records you care to name, it stands as both a summation of everything that makes southern music special and a grand, rollicking party for all the dead bluesmen, war vets and old west gunslingers who move through its songs like guideposts to the end-of-days decades to come.

Like Les Paul, Dickinson never stopped doing what he loved most. He continued to record solo albums, including several with his sons, Luther and Cody, of the North Mississippi Allstars. In the last several years he both played on and produced projects with the young singer-songwriter Amy Lavere, who’s own mix of blues, jazz and country-noir can be seen as a direct descendent of Dickinson’s early work.

As I said at the beginning, the loss of two creative freedom fighters in one week would seem to be cause for sorrow, but honestly, these two lived far too fully, too far off the beaten path on their own yellow brick roads, to mourn or feel any sense of loss. They had the courage to do what they were put on this earth to do, despite criticism, scorn, and the prejudices of their eras.

My world, for one, has been a far richer place for their having passed this way.


The best band in America?

Posted in Bent Notes Column with tags , , , on August 10, 2009 by Todd



Drive-by Truckers

Rolling Stone magazine recently graced the public with one of their annual “best of” music roundup issues, highlighting their choices for the hottest, hippest, most noteworthy music currently available. Everything from Best Live Act to Best Indie Hip Hop Artist was highlighted in detailed, authoritative prose by writers for, supposedly, the end-all and be-all of up-to-date music journalism.

Nowhere in this once distinguished tome, however, was there any mention of what, to this writers ears, may just be the single most important American band currently working. The Drive-By Truckers are a five-piece rock outfit whose members hail mainly from the Muscle Shoals region of Alabama. Although sometimes held up as the leading lights of the so-called “alternative country” or “Southern rock” movements, the breadth of the groups work argues for a band whose importance lies far beyond the shackles of labels or genres.

Over the course of seven studio albums the Truckers have grown from a somewhat tongue-in-cheek, punk-influenced country act, into a band who can rock as ferociously as AC/DC or choose just the right bent note to break your heart on a soulful, folk influenced number.

But where this band truly excels is in their gift for storytelling. Founding members Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, who’ve been writing and performing together for over two decades, have developed into two of rock’s premier yarn spinners. Whether they’re chronicling the whistling-past-the-grave yard courage of a musician dying from AIDS (The Living Bubba) or the devastation wrought by the suicide of a close friend (When the Pin Hits the Shell), the duo have laid claim to a lineage that stretches from the wry, furious humor of Mark Twain to the gothic horrors of Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy.

Their lyrics are littered with small, descriptive details more than worthy of their literary predecessors. Whether they’re singing about the plastic flowers on the highway marking the spot where an accident victim died; a small scar on a man’s head where the hair never grew back from a beating he received long ago; or a woman sitting in a silent house after her husband’s left for work, trying hard not to think about the loaded shotgun in the closet, the band is without peer in using rural imagery to investigate what it means to be not only southern, but economically and spiritually depressed, desperate and scared to the point of hopelessness. The protagonists of these songs inhabit a land of myth that works to both nourish their sense of identity and trap them in a vicious cycle of poverty and self-destruction.

As impressive as their lyrics may be however, they would have little impact without the superb music the band surrounds them with. Loose-limbed and even at its darkest conveying a sense of the sheer joy of shared experience and creativity, their music has grown in scope and complexity while maintaining its earthy, gnarled rawness.

While much has been made of their superficial similarities to groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band, the Truckers are actually closer in spirit to a gang of gothic troubadours spinning a modern version of 18th-century protest songs and murder ballads. Besides, calling a band “Southern rock” is simply redundant: All rock, whether intentionally so or not, has a common, southern ancestor.

One area where this band does call to mind classic acts of the past is their dedication to the concert stage. Having seen the Truckers twice, I can attest to the fact that their reputation as one of the best live acts on the planet is well deserved. Running nearly three hours in length, the band’s concerts somehow manage to maintain an intensity and connection with the crowd that would make many young punk-rock bands green with envy.

And if the music’s not enough, it’s well worth attending one of their shows just to take in the eclectic mix of the fans. Somehow cow-punks, goths, rednecks, emo kids and hippies have found a common thread that ties them to this music.

One could go on at term paper length about the Truckers artistic and cultural merits, but frankly, to over-intellectualize their work is to miss the point entirely. Their talent is there for anyone with a pair of ears and a little patience to appreciate.

Like all great artists, it’s easy to take what they do for granted because they make it seem so effortless. The mix of chemistry, intelligence, confidence and god-only-knows what other ingredients that go into the makeup of a successful band is a strange witches brew that even the keenest scientist could probably never unravel.

In the end, what makes the Drive-By Truckers work so beautifully is simply a mystery, just like the South itself.

Apparently, it’s a mystery the editors of Rolling Stone Magazine have yet to unravel.

Soul Revival

Posted in Bent Notes Column with tags , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2009 by Todd


As the first decade of the twentieth century nears its end, a number of discerningly gifted young musicians find themselves held in sway by a sound once coaxed out of the back door of sanctified southern churches and pulled kicking and screaming into the national limelight some 40 years ago. Soul music, a term coined in the mid-60’s to describe a style of emotionally raw, southern-fried, groove-based music, is once again asserting its timeless influence in the charts and on the albums of some of the most critically acclaimed acts in the business.

Pioneered by a young Ray Charles in the 50’s and perfected by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave and others in the following decade, soul music in its earliest form was basically a secularized offshoot of the gospel hymns familiar to any church going African American of the time. In fact, many of the earliest soul music practitioners, such as Sam Cooke, began their careers as successful gospel performers. These artists quickly discovered that a few lyrical changes, switching “my God” to “my girl” for instance, and the addition of a skilled R&B drummer not only increased their earning potential but also opened up an entirely new world of creative possibilities.

Though performers such as Cooke and Ray Charles were openly criticized for their decisions to take gospel in a secular pop direction, by the mid-60’s a handful of small, independently owned studios across Alabama and Memphis had begun turning out music of staggering emotional power that combined the force of gospel with country harmonies and a swampy, guttural rock-based groove. Combined with the more refined approach of the music coming from Detroit’s Motown label, this music essentially owned the upper echelon of the charts throughout the 60’s.

While 70’s acts such as Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, and Ann Peebles managed to carry the soul banner throughout that decade, the 80’s and 90’s proved lean times indeed, as the rise of glossy, synth-based rhythms and pulverizing rock left little room for heartfelt sermonizing.

By the turn of the century however, the world’s musical psyche seemed to heave a collective sigh as both fans and musicians, grown weary of the synthetic drivel cluttering popular culture, discovered once again the earthy, raw-boned passion of a music that never truly faded from memory.

As I write this column, soul-influenced artists as diverse as Grammy winners  Amy Winehouse and Alicia Keys, gritty southern-noir rockers Drive-by Truckers, battle-scarred  veteran Bettye LaVette and retro-chic hipsters Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are all either sitting comfortably on the charts or receiving rave critical reviews and drawing sell out crowds. Even critic darlings Radiohead, one of the most self consciously “modern” bands working today, has fallen under the music’s spell on their latest album, “In Rainbows,” pouring forth a symphony of pleading, space/soul rock that conjures the ghost of Otis Redding while harmonized vocals rise and ebb like a choir shouting from the basement of a storefront church at midnight.

These artists continue to make stubbornly individual, terrifyingly human music in the face of every trend to the contrary. Thanks to the CD reissue revolution, somewhere on the planet at this very instant an aspiring musician is hearing the artistry of Aretha, or Otis, or Brother Ray for the very first time. Though the production values and sound quality of these recordings stamp them as mementos of their specific time, the emotion buried deep within this music’s DNA is simply eternal. As long as musicians are willing to lay themselves on the altar and expose the very essence of their fears, desires and passions, music that speaks to the human condition in a creative way—true “music of the soul” — will never die.


Adapt or Die

Posted in Bent Notes Column with tags , , , on August 7, 2009 by Todd


Adapt or Die! The clarion call that’s been heeded by every species seeking to escape certain extinction throughout our planet’s history has been pointedly ignored by one of its most bloated, stagnant beasts: The Music Industry. While thriving for years on a curdled diet of consumer fraud, royalty rate thievery and artistic indifference, the great behemoth now finds itself marred in the tar pit of 21st century technology, public disgust and withering competition.

According to Soundscan data, CD sales in the U.S., the world’s largest market, were down 19 percent in 2007, while music sales worldwide dropped approximately 11 percent, making last year the worst for the recording industry in more than a quarter of a century. Columbia, Warner and Island Def Jam, three of the major industry players, have begun laying off not only low-level employees but also top A&R executives in heretofore unheard of numbers. Add to this the dismal Christmas sales numbers (down 21 percent) plus forecasts for an even darker 2008 and it’s no wonder moral at these companies has reportedly hit an all-time low.

 While the old-boys club dinosaurs are quick to blame everything from piracy to video games for their current woes, the painful truth is that signs of impending disaster have been looming in plain sight for at least a decade. The advent of Napster and file sharing software should have sent these companies into a frenzy of innovative brain storming as they sought new ways to market and distribute their products in an increasingly computer-driven, net-savvy world.

 Instead, the fat cats hunkered down with their lawyers and attempted to sue their way towards a future of continued relevance and prosperity. Having grown lazy and smugly contemptuous of any model that deviated from their decades-long reign, they were understandably loath to break with tradition.

 But as often happens when stagnation and entropy overtake an outdated life form, the wolves of innovation have circled the beast and begun slowly but inexorably devouring its putrid carcass. Try as they might, their too little, too late attempts to launch themselves into the new digital world, via online record stores such as iTunes and eMusic, simply will not stem the tide of public and artist defection already well underway. Years of ripping off consumers with over-inflated CD prices won’t be forgiven anytime soon and with a multitude of free music available elsewhere the equation is really quite simple: If you rip off your customers they will, eventually, rip you off in return.

 Fortunately, the artists themselves are well ahead of their overlords. Major players such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have recently come out with albums driven by innovative, web-based marketing campaigns and free downloads. Prince, a true innovator in this area, has managed to forego record company oligarchy for extended periods and sale his music and merchandise directly from his web site.

 Prince learned years ago, as many other bands are just beginning to, that due to the increased profits of self-promoted, internet-based sales, the need to move millions of copies in order to pay back the record company for royalty advances and studio time simply vanishes. Perhaps most importantly, these artists have renewed the essential pact between themselves and their public, recognizing the fans as intelligent, flesh and blood human beings worthy of respect and not merely numbers on an executive’s profit margin graph.

 Speaking from personal experience, I can attest to years of frustration over rising music prices and being forced to sift through the infinitely repackaged, sub-par products from companies that seem more interested in draining every last cent from the fan base coffers than actually delivering affordable, quality music.

  Though I’m not without my own qualms concerning the way music is currently being bought and enjoyed (atrocious MP3 sound quality, fans losing the experience of listening to entire albums, etc.), I’m a firm believer that the recent innovations have benefited not only music consumers but the artists as well.

 The recent signs of desperation from the major record companies is proof positive that even these slow witted behemoths have finally realized that their days of acting as music’s middle men are all but numbered. Schemes such as raising CD prices and attempting to cut themselves in on a piece of their artist’s merchandising and ticket sales should only hasten their demise.

 The sooner these companies accept the fact that the glory days of the 80’s and 90’s are gone for good and begin working with artists and consumers to develop viable models for the future, the less painful their death throes will be for everyone involved. Until then, music fans can sit back and enjoy the desperate whimperings and fading influence of these crippled giants as they shuffle off into the graveyard of music history.

The Sounds of Torture

Posted in Bent Notes Column with tags , , , , on August 7, 2009 by Todd


The United States has long been the world leader in musical influence, pouring forth the revolutionary sounds of blues, jazz, rock and roll, country and western and hip hop in a seemingly endless parade of creativity and forward-thinking innovation. As the first decade of the new millennium nears its end, it would seem our national leaders have had the foresight to add yet another ground breaking development to that list — the art of musical torture.

 Various media outlets recently broke stories regarding the American militaries use of music to induce sleep deprivation, prolong capture shock and disorient detainees during interrogations of enemy combatants in Iraq. While the militaries use of high-volume noise as a tool of harassment is nothing new, playing music in order to break the will of detainees while attempting to gain information is an entirely unprecedented technique.

 As troubling as this revelation may be on its surface, the list of songs the military has deemed torture worthy is not only disconcerting but almost mind-bendingly surreal. That list, as printed in “Mother Jones” magazine, includes in no particular order: “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen; “White America” and “Kim” by Eminem; the “Barney” theme song; the “Meow Mix” TV commercial song; the “Sesame Street” theme song; “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees; “All Eyes on Me” by Tupac; “Dirrty” by Christina Aguilera; “America” by  Neil Diamond; “Bulls on Parade” by  Rage Against the Machine;  “American Pie” by  Don McLean; “Raspberry Beret” by Prince  and a little ditty called “F***  Your God” by Deicide.

 While any of these songs, played at sufficient volume, would be enough to keep a prisoner awake for extended periods, the emphasis on tracks containing lyrics deemed culturally offensive to Muslims and patriotically supportive of the United States points out a few glaring ironies inherent in these choices.

Taking the Springsteen and Rage Against the Machine tracks as examples, one can only surmise that the military geniuses behind this plan never actually took the time to listen to the lyrics to these songs which, in the case of the former, uses the words of a struggling war veteran to criticize U.S. involvement in Vietnam,  while the later bemoans the greed and callousness of profiteers who use war as a means to line their own pockets. As Ronald Reagan found out during his ’84 presidential run, when he attempted to co-op “Born in The USA” as his campaign song, it helps to actually be familiar with a song’s lyrical content before attempting to put it to extracurricular use.

 Even Reagan wouldn’t have been obtuse enough to use the Eminem track “White America,”  which takes the nation-gone-wrong theme to an almost absurd level. With lyrics that include everything from urinating on the White House lawn to a description of America as a “democracy of hypocrisy,” you’d be hard pressed to dig up a more blatantly unpatriotic song if you tried. Using music like this to terrorize a U.S. hating enemy combatant is the equivalent of using hard-core rap to break down a gang-banger.

 Not only do these song choices play into the terrorists hatred of America, but several of them give voice to their views of women as untrustworthy, subservient beasts of burden whose lives are of little value ( “Kim”) as well as their fanatical intolerance of any faith that worships a god other than their own (the cartoonishly satanic “F*** Your God.”) And while I can only guess that Neil Diamond and Don McLean were added simply because their songs include the word America, the use of the theme songs to “Barney” and “Sesame Street” are just downright bizarre. And for the love of God, can someone please explain the inclusion of “Raspberry Beret.” Frankly, the only choice that makes any sense to me at all is the “Meow Mix” jingle, which I’ve often found excruciatingly irritating even in short doses.

 That particular song is one of the few on the list that doesn’t rely on lyrics that the military would deem culturally offensive to the enemy.  Which brings up yet another ridiculous lapse in reason: In order for these detainees to be disturbed by a song’s lyrical content they would have to actually be able to understand the lyrics in question. As I’m assuming that the vast majority of the detainees have a somewhat limited grasp of the English language, the only possible reason for choosing these songs is for the gratification of the interrogators themselves. If you can picture a group of uniform clad, women hating, unpatriotic Satanists who have a secret fetish for TV shows that feature prepubescent children frolicking with adults in animal costumes, well, perhaps you have a fairly accurate image of the kind of people who came up with this scheme.

 All humor aside, and apart from any questions about whether these methods violate either the law or the spirit of the Geneva Convention, these juvenile tactics disgrace not only the instigators and the artists whose work they’ve involved, but everyone who considers themselves an American.

 Lets hope the rest of the world doesn’t follow our lead and seek to imitate this shameful chapter in our nations history as eagerly as they’ve clamored to assimilate the life affirming sounds and creative exploits of our past — and greatest — musical exports.

Christmas in August

Posted in Bent Notes Column with tags , , , , , , on August 5, 2009 by Todd


While the Christmas season may be a few months away, I thought I’d take this opportunity to bestow an early gift on Opera readers. What follows is a list of seven artists or albums that have been essential to my listening experience over the past several decades, yet have been, perhaps, unduly neglected or overlooked in the current haze of mass consumerism and media-driven, ADD marketing schemes.

These artists have little in common other than a fiercely individual, down right stubborn refusal to accommodate any vision other than their own, and the talent and drive to turn that commitment into stunning works of art. In no particular order, I give you:

1-Chris Whitley:
Over the course of twelve albums this Houston, TX native explored everything from southern gothic balladry to full blown electro-rock mayhem, every bit of it filtered through a uniquely personal strain of hard-core blues. Whitley, who passed away in 2005, left behind a musical legacy to rival any of the last several decades. Anything the man touched is worth lending your ears to.

2- Drive- By Truckers-Decoration Day:
Although the albums that bookend this release, “Southern Rock Opera” and “The Dirty South” are more widely discussed and praised, this is the album that introduced Jason Isbell, one of the finest young singer/songwriters in the country. His self-penned title track is one of those rare examples of a perfect song: Isbell’s parched, soulful vocals spitting out a tale of two family’s hate filled blood-feud and one mans determination to move beyond revenge.

3-Marvin Gaye-Here My Dear:
Marital meltdown music at its finest. A bitter, disgusted and brutally funny Gaye turns what was initially planned as a quickie, throwaway album to cover divorce expenses into a sprawling soul/funk opera. Brilliant.

4-Neutral Milk Hotel- In an Airplane Over the Sea:
Populated by an unlikely cast of holy rattle snakes, shape-shifting ghosts and two-headed boys trapped in jars, this disturbing, hauntingly melodic song-cycle rewards the kind of repeated listening most so-called music fans no longer have the patience for. Definitely an acquired (very acquired) taste, but well worth the effort for anyone interested in what Bryan Wilson of the Beach Boys may have conjured up had he been a deranged, southern commune dweller instead of a burnt-out, California-bred man child.

5-The Congos-Heart of the Congos:
With all due respect to Mr. Bob Marley, this is the finest reggae album ever recorded. Period.

6-Junior Kimbrough-Sad Days, Lonely Nights:
A collection of some of the densest, deepest blues ever committed to tape. Kimbrough, who passed away in 1998, was one of the last of the original Mississippi Hill Country bluesman. The music he created is simply timeless–hypnotic, brutal and sexy as hell.

7-Grant Lee Buffalo-Mighty Joe Moon:
One of the great lost albums of the nineties, Grant Lee Buffalo’s second disc offers a sometimes subtle, sometimes brutal look at the myths that surround American history, wrapped in a sweeping musical mélange of banjo, violins and distortion that somehow manages to be every bit as dark and modern as a Nine Inch Nails album. Frontman Grant Lee Phillips sings lines like, “Have you tasted the finest in trout? Have you slept in a log burning house?” with an intensity bordering on the erotic. Add cover art that beautifully compliments the music found inside and you have yourself a modern classic.

So there you have it: A  grab bag of unique musical delights spanning the mid-70’s up through the first decade of the new millennium. There’s hundreds more where these came from: Orphaned sounds from across the decades searching for a friendly ear and a charitable heart. But be warned: The ghost of music’s forgotten past is rattling its chains outside the chambers of all you miserly, holiday-hardened souls. Take heed of its venturesome spirit or be damned to a future of stale sounds and  humbug hymns.

“God bless us, every one!”