Friday, January 30, 2009

Top 5 Alt country songs of the 90s (that I can think of right now)

1. "Melt Show" - Old 97s
2. "Houses on the Hill" - Whiskeytown
3. "Black Soul Choir" - 16 Horsepower
4. "New Madrid" - Uncle Tupelo
5. (tie) "Blue and Wonder" - Richard Buckner
5. (tie) "Windfall" - Son Volt
5. (tie) "Green and Dumb" - Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers
5. (tie) "Fort Worth Blues" - Steve Earle
5. (tie) "Fade Away" - The V-Roys
5. (tie) "The Ride, pt. 2" - Calexico
5. (tie) "Can't Go On" - Old Pike

Wovenhand brings the guitars and still rocks harder than you

The latest Wovenhand release Ten Stones rocks hard.  Don't try to listen if you're not ready.   The band is on tour through the U.S. in the fall, and oddly, has probably toured the U.S. more than their somewhat better known predecessor 16 Horsepower.  The tour starts in Lubbock, of all places, on March 6th.  Please don't let the world down Lubbock.  Go to this show.  Don't make this like the time the Court & Spark played Whiskey River and then broke up shortly afterwards.  I'm not saying one caused the other, but just keep that in mind.  Finally, check out this NPR live concert video of D.E.E. playing solo on a wooden banjo.

Speaking of totally unrelated things, remember when Wade Bowen (the artist formerly known as West 84) released the album Try Not to Listen about 7 or 8 years ago?   I still haven't listened to that album.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What is this blog coming to?

Ironic Iconic America

Above is the link to a video, which I'm a little hesitant to post because it is to Tommy Hilfiger's site, and to a project that he apparently funded. Then again, I'm However, I'm posting it because it is a segment hosted by Rives, a spoken word artist I've been a fan of for some time. It's hard to summarize the show, but he and model Bar Refaeli travel the U.S., and in short, they link the places they travel to with attention to design and various historical minutiae. It's nothing life changing, but overall an interesting view if you've got 45 minutes or so to spare.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Where's Munly?

We are nearing five years since the last release from Slim Cessna's Auto Club member Munly Munly (a.k.a. Jay Munly), with his 2004 Alternative Tentacles label release Munly & the Lee Lewis Harlots. What makes this wait seem excruciatingly long is the fact that this most recent album, sonically, was head and shoulders above his previous releases. While De Dar He, Blurry, Galvanized Yankee, and Jimmy Carter Syndrome hold a place in the Denver sound, the Lee Lewis Harlots album really brought the sound to a new level.

In recent years, even Munly's live performances have dropped off substantially. In fact, the last two shows I'm aware of him playing are New Years 2008 and New Years 2007. That said, the Auto Club has been quite active over the past year, largely touring in support of their most recent album Cipher. While the Munly drought seems quite long, I think the die hard fans can recognize his increased presence in the Auto Club's recent work.

Yet the question remains, when can we expect a new release from Munly? Information on this remains limited, and I have no insider connections to the workings of the group. However, I am aware of various pieces of information that have made their way around various online communities.

First, it seems the Lee Lewis Harlots, as a backing band, have dissolved in their prior form. The past two shows on New Years Eve have been billed as Munly and the Lupercalians. Further, I understand that Munly's next album is to be a double album focusing on the fictional town of Lupercalia, and further, the stories within are said to be the true story of Peter and the Wolf. Recently, in fact, a "Pre-History of Lupercalia" was posted as a blog on Munly's myspace.

Moving further into the rumor mill, I've heard various reports that some of the aforementioned album was recorded, but later scrapped when line-up changes in the band occurred. Additional reports indicate that no new recordings have been done with the new lineup. What I heard from the most recent New Years show was that Munly & the Lupercalians consisted of two organs on either side of the stage, two drum/percussion set-ups, and Munly in the middle. Word was that the band sounded very solid live, so hopefully that means they'll be in the studio soon, although with upcoming U.S. and European tours for SCAC, this may be an impossibility.

Also highly anticipated, at least for my own interests, is the documentary being produced about the "Denver sound." Smooch Records initially mentioned this project, although I've heard little about its progress since. If it's anything like other projects of its sort, it may be some time circulating through film festivals, etc., before it is available to the public, and that is assuming that it is even finished. The last update on the film was in 2007, so it's anybody's guess.

Update: More recent Munly news posted here 08/22/09.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Miles of Music (quietly) Closes Its Online Doors

Speak to artists that used Miles of Music over the years to sell their CD's and you'll find mixed responses. With the Web site shutting down a few months ago, many artists are left wondering what has come of their sales money and also their unsold inventory.

I've no intention to recount a story I just read somewhere else, so I suggest if you want the details, read Nine Bullets' account of the situation here, and the original post that prompted the research here.

I actually missed the official closing of the store/site, although I understand that Jeff (one of MoM's owner/founders) posted a now non-existent blog about the closing on the Web site. Checking my email, I found the last MoM weekly newsletter went out on 10/07/2008 with no indication that the end was near. Nonetheless, as noted in the above linked blog, they continued to promote new releases right up until the end.

I've had a number of dealings with Miles of Music in the past, both as an artist and as a customer, and I had mixed dealings with them as both an artist and a customer.

First, as an artist, I was thrilled when they picked up my band's CD for their site, feeling a bit of validation from it, given that they really held a strong credibility in the alternative country world. And as I soon found out, a strong recommendation of your CD meant that your sales were likely to spike for a month or more among their faithful. This was great news to an up and coming band, in that it immediately improved our visibility to the core americana audience. In the beginning, we didn't necessarily sell a lot of merchandise, but I specifically remember getting checks here and there for 20 CDs, etc. I don't remember their exact cut, but I distinctly remember they took a little less off the top than some other sites.

In recent years however, with sales improving, I know that payments became much less easy to come by. And as of this writing, I personally know artists that have substantial outstanding sales money they likely will never see.

My experience as a customer followed a similar trajectory, in that at first I found them easy to buy from and quick to ship. However, a year or so ago, I bought some discs and almost had forgotten about them until about 6 weeks later, realizing that while my money had gone through, I still had seen no CDs. After a number of communications, successful and unsuccessful, I did receive the discs, without realizing how much trouble the site was actually in. I regret to some extent that the artists I bought discs of almost certainly have never seen that money.

So what is the point of my personal account? I don't know really, but here are my thoughts.

Miles of Music was an important cultural force in the world of alt country, and while their business failed and left their artists hurting, they were living the life of an indie band to a certain extent as well. MoM pursued their passion of alt country music and it turned out that it wasn't necessarily something that could be profited off of.

Regardless of what amount of money artists still have outstanding from Miles, there may be little left to do except at least to appreciate what they gained from the site beyond album sales. I firmly believe a number of bands have seen their fan bases expand substantially due to the efforts of Miles of Music and their promotion. The effects are hard to single out, and hard to put a tangible value on, but the broadening of fanbases and the increased internet and word of mouth exposure have been extremely beneficial to many bands.

The loss of magazines like No Depression and Harp certainly haven't helped either. These magazines served as major promoters of the music that MoM sold, and without them in circulation, the visibility of many of the bands has faded. It would seem that the network of roots music lovers was a fragile and very interdependent one, and as the various parts broke down, the other points were not able to maintain the interest.

In a sense, the last few years of MoM resemble a twisted version of the early Napster, at least as far as the bands are concerned. Was the increased exposure worth the lack of compensation for the former artists of MoM? I hope that it has been a net gain for some of the acts, and I'm sorry for those that it was not. It's hard on all independent DIY bands when the independent sites they depend on to sell their merchandise do not hold up their end.

While many artists are angry, I fear that the time has come to cut losses and move on. Maybe you will hear from MoM's lawyers in 2009 and maybe you will not? Legal action seems futile given that the site's owners are in bankruptcy themselves.

My personal recommendation at this point would be to make the effort to contact someone representing the site, and determine some way that you might find out your remaining inventory and decide if it would be worth it for you to pay for that inventory to be shipped back to you. However, I say this with a word of caution, in that I wouldn't send any money without ascertaining that you'll actually receive your inventory. I'd be interested to know if anyone has any success with this process, or other ideas about how to proceed.

Beyond that, there's little else to do but file Miles of Music away in the cabinet with No Depression, Harp, Grindstone, KTXT, Ralph's on University, the Gypsy Tea Room, and Whiskeytown.

Monday, January 12, 2009

(clever title about 7" vinyl)

Were this a blog that carried with it an army of devoted readers, I would apologize for writing a college football blog once again. However, I don't really have that problem, so if nothing else, I hope you like college football too.

Now on to more important matters, namely locating obscure music relics for one's own personal collection. I suppose this subject is tangentially related to the previous blog regarding now hard-to-find records, although less specifically directed.

Let me also preface (is it still a preface in the third paragraph?) the fact that I am in no way discovering this before anyone else. Here I submit my inferiority to the hard core collectors who have spent the past 35 years amassing piles of rare trinkets and mementos of bands that only played one show ever in Cody, WY, before disbanding and joining other bands that never did anything, except that one of them played in a band that played with a band that used to play shows with the Shins when they were still called Flake and living in Albuquerque. One of those people I am not.

So what I was really wanting to say before I wasted your time above, is that I have come to believe that 7" vinyl records are the new best thing when it comes to finding cheap and even sometimes rare releases.

Why are they the best? Well, there's a few reasons.

1. They are often poorly sorted, and hard to go through in record stores. The 7" bin is usually a jumbled mess, and given that most are not even in a cardboard case, they are a huge pain to go through. This makes it all the better when you find something good.

2. They are typically in poor condition, most often only in a generic record sleeve. You can't quickly flip through them, and so most people don't bother flipping through and reading every single title.

3. They are largely not in high demand. Judging from the 7" record bins, the height of production for them was mostly the 80s. Yes, you will no doubt find TONS of Huey Lewis, Kenny Loggins, Peter Gabriel, and hopefully some Kenny Rogers. I think this factor may be one of the driving forces behind why you can find good 7" records if you look long enough, because most people aren't willing to sort through a ton of Rush albums to find one copy of the Reejers 1995 7-inch (explained later).

4. They are largely useless, given that you can't really just put a 7" on and listen to it for half an hour. More along the lines of, put the record on, listen to one song, maybe two, and then get up and either flip it over or put a new record on.

5. They are CHEAP! You'll often be able to find them for 49 cents to a dollar, maybe more or less in some places, and maybe a bit more expensive if the record store has recognized it as something of value.

A word of caution, however, at least, as far as your excitement goes. The 7" vinyl was apparently the favorite medium of reissues for record companies for some a number of years, so if you find a Buddy Holly record for 99 cents, you've probably run across such a reissue. However, often the records themselves don't even have a date on them, so it can be hard to tell. I recently found a copy of Dion and the Belmonts' "The Wanderer," almost certainly a reissue, but still a great song.

So, while you are unlikely to come upon an untapped goldmine in the 7" record bin, you've got a good chance of finding some pretty cool stuff for really cheap. In addition to good older finds, you've also got a pretty good chance of finding limited pressings of newer 7" vinyl from indie bands.

Case in point, I recently found:

The Reejers - "Coffee Grounds / Same Key" - (This is one of Nick Urata's early bands before he started DeVotchKa)
Tom T. Hall - "It's Rained in Every Town Except Paducah" - I'm a sucker for West Texas related memorabilia
Jimmie Dale & the Flatlanders - "Joe Blon" - see above
The Sparkles - a reissue of various early releases - see above again
Michael Martin Murphey - "Wildfire"
Deathray Davies - "They Stuck Me in a Box in the Ground, Pt. 3" - a bit newer of a release by a great Dallas band.

And when you really, really want a rare 7", it's not out of line to search ebay for some good finds, as 7" records tend to be limited run and don't get re-pressed when they go out of print.

In other news, Thrift Store Cowboys' house almost burned down. Here's the KCBD story with more links to video. Luckily no one was hurt, so hopefully it won't take too long to get back on their feet after this.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Why Boise State Should Join the Mountain West Conference and Join (Save) the BCS

First of all, my sincere apologies. This is a music blog and here I go talking about football of all things. I guess it's okay when no one reads your blog anyway.

I've been meaning to write this for some time, but was spurred on finally by a fantastic article by Rick Reilly, which you can find here.

We've heard every year that the BCS system is flawed and there is typically an argument by the team who just missed (or was never considered for) the national title game. I hope to avoid rehashing the tired arguments that you've already heard here.

My interest lies chiefly with the Mountain West Conference. This is a conference that 5 years ago had very little respect in the nation and was very solidly located middle of the road, or maybe even closer to the end of the road, when it came to overall conference power. However, this is no longer the case. The MWC has steadily become a force to be reckoned with. This year is a great example, with Utah (arguably one of the best teams in the nation), TCU, Air Force, and Brigham Young all putting up great seasons.

Are they as strong as the Big 12 or SEC? No, probably not.
Are they as strong as the Pac-10 or Big-10? Overall, maybe not, but Utah and TCU could have competed very well in these conferences.
Are they as strong as the ACC or Big East? Yes. Most definitely. And these are automatic BCS berth conferences, to boot.

So why has the Mountain West been left out? Well, this falls under the category, I think, of the MWC being comprised of schools that have not traditionally been football powerhouses. Also, the population of the mountain west states has historically been much smaller than those in the eastern U.S. However, consider that last year, 5 of the top 10 fastest growing states in the U.S. were in the geographic mountain west region, and guess what, Utah tops that list.

Will the BCS get "fixed" any time soon? I don't know, but as far as Utah is concerned, the BCS is already fixed.

My solution is that the Mountain West needs to be changed ever so slightly and then included as a BCS conference, from which the winner will then have the opportunity to play for the national title. The WAC, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and MAC can't really make the same argument, so I think the argument is best focused on creating a strong conference of mountain west schools.

The primary change is that Boise State needs to be added to the MWC. Boise St. was undefeated this regular season, and then lost by 1 point in their bowl against TCU, the second place MWC school. Boise State and Utah are the 2 non-BCS schools that have won BCS bowl games. Utah has, in fact, won both BCS bowl games they have played in. Further, Boise State has been a consistently good program for the past decade, and a stronger conference is just the ticket for them to make the jump and silence the skeptics. According to some reports, they have already been invited to the Mountain West, so to an extent, they may control the BCS destiny of the top mountain west teams.

The other main change is the MWC must improve their strength of schedule for the next few years in order to gain the long term respect they need. These schools have beaten a number of BCS conference teams, but the biggest argument against them has always been their weak schedules. Add one more big conference team to the schedule, combined with the conference round robin of Utah, Boise St., TCU, Air Force, BYU, and even Colorado State, and you've got a conference that certainly deserves the same respect as the ACC and Big East. At the very least, the MWC winner should be allowed to play the winner of the ACC or Big East the last week of the season to determine their BCS status.

While I hate to discuss kicking schools out of the MWC, San Diego State is a weak link these days, and could be replaced by a school like Nevada, Tulsa or Rice, which would only strengthen the conference even more, and provide further justification for their inclusion as an automatic BCS berth school. Wyoming, UNLV and New Mexico are down as well, but showing promise, having beaten Tennessee, Arizona, and Arizona State this year, respectively.

My apologies to Hawai'i, but I just can't justify adding you into this conversation at this point.