Friday, November 13, 2015

So Normal, It's Weird

The musical year hadn’t been going so well. Oh, I’d been getting plenty of good, weird music but not so much good fun music. Good music that is both weird and fun at the same time seemed out of the question.

But I wasn’t even shooting for that. After Carrie and Lowell (good but definitely not fun) and Shutter Island (pretty much anti-fun) I just wanted a to have a good time. And I started to get a bit desperate about it.

I’m not exactly sure what drove me to go back to a couple of weirdos who got together to make some definitely-not-weird pop music.

While I’ve loved the Velvet Underground for a long time, I only checked out John Cale solo set a couple of years ago and found him to be a very talented if not brilliant.

I’ve been a fan of Eno’s for quite a while, too, but doubted that I’d find a lot of differences among his many, many, (many) ambient albums. And while often brilliant, you won’t play him during a party.

But together, who knows what they’d come up with?

John Cale and Brian Eno: Wrong Away Up

No ambient here. And after producing a few U2 records, Eno probably decided it was time to try his hand at pop music again. Hey, he thought, if they can do it, why can’t I?

So the rock and roll band isn’t that much of a surprise, but the singing sure is. The best you could usually hope for from Eno was a soft murmur, and Cale - a loud scream. But right off the bat, Eno projects on “Lay My Love” and several others, too.

And while Cale does hide behind a couple of quiet tunes here, he more than makes up for it by belting out “Been There, Done That”.  And he’s clearly having a good time. As anyone would be after having worked on a project with Lou Reed, which he had done shortly before this.

Another surprise is how tuneful the songs are. You usually get a lot of atmosphere from Eno and psychosis from Cale, but here it’s all about hummable tunes.

And after a whole bunch of fast bouncy songs, they have the wisdom to end on a quiet note.

So I finally get my fun. But it took a bit of time to sink in because I found the utter normality of it all to be kind of, well, weird.

So I ended up stumbling upon my holy grail of music - weird and fun together!


“Lay My Love”

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Smithstory Lesson

Back in May, Mrs. Jaybee and I caught a Smiths/Morrissey cover band at the Bell House and had such a nice time I decided it was time to finally break down and get a Smiths record.

Oh, we already had a couple of compilations that I later found out were not considered representative of the band’s best music.  

So which record would I get? How about the one that topped the 2013 NME 500 Greatest Albums of All Time poll? Seriously. They beat out the Beatles! (fill in your own favorite artist there if you like, but you’d be wrong. It's the Beatles.) Hilarious.

Those Brits are really weird sometimes, and it’s for such differences that we fought for our independence. Well, that’s how I remember it. Yes, I was there.

The Smiths: The Queen is Dead

And it’s okay. Kind of uneven, actually.

The Smiths were a tight - if a bit fussy - little band. With the bass and drums more than adequate, and  Johnny Marr’s guitar sterling all the way through, they stand or fall on how well Morrissey fits his words/voice/melodies into this scheme.

And, well, some tunes are better than others. Once I get past the songs I already know from the compilations, there’s only one or two others that even remotely compare to them. And Morrissey is more annoying than interesting.

So my supposedly lame compilations seemed to have pulled all the good songs from this supposed masterpiece. Maybe I should just stick with them.

So in the wars with the Brits, we kicked ass in 1776, happily surrendered in 1964, and somehow beat them in the 1980s when they managed to produce even worse music that we did.

Now that’s saying something.


“The Boy With the Thorn in His Side”

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Having an Awful Time, Wish You Were Here

Just when I think I’ve driven Mrs. Jaybee to distraction with all the weird sounds I drag in from outside, she goes and out-weirds me.

Shutter Island: Music from the Motion Picture

Turns out Shutter Island is one of her favorite movies (that’s an entire post by itself, but never mind) and she particularly loved the closing theme.

Almost a sister record to Ocean of Sound in its ability to unnerve with unexpected sounds, it’s ultimately sadder (what a surprise!) and prettier (ditto, but without the sarcasm).

It even shares a cut with that record, which I’ve now listened to at least 30 times and still don’t quite hear, but that’s Eno for you). But whereas that record left you feeling weirded out but vaguely thrilled about the sounds our world can create, here the general tone is of dread about the worst this world can do to you.

So this record is Not Fun. Not at all.

It’s a put-it-on-and-go-read-or-something record. Otherwise, don’t blame me that you end up digging out the razor blades.

It starts with an ten minute piece called “Fog Tropes”, which makes sense if you’ve seen the movie. It’s the sound of a ship entering a harbor through the fog, somehow created through the use of several wind and brass instruments playing at a very low register. It’s perfect for the film, providing the right amount of foreboding, and manages to be an interesting piece of music, too.

There are several other modern classical pieces whose selection for this soundtrack seems based on their ability to unnerve you and provoke anxiety. They subtly vary the overall mood from fearful, resigned, desolate, and occasionally sublime.

Also mixed in are period hits from Johnny Ray, Kay Starr and Lonnie Johnson that keeps things from getting too cerebral. But don’t be fooled. They only intensify the mood.

The peak may be the beautiful “On the Nature of Daylight”, which is sad enough by itself, but when, at the end, it's combined with Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth” with all the hope removed from it - the effect is devastating.

So if you’re the kind of person, like me, who is willing to dedicate a couple of precious hours on something that will ultimately make you feel awful (what? doesn’t everyone do that?), skip the TV for one night and listen up.

You’ll be sorry, but glad, you did.


“This Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight”

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Geezer Goes to Rock Show, Gets Money’s Worth

When we last left off, Old Geezer Jaybee (a doubly redundant appellation if ever there was one) had a less than great time at a rock show. Less than great is still very good but Old Geezer Jaybee (heretofore labeled OGJ) spent good money on those seats and, dammit, he’s going to get his money’s worth. Every. Single. Dollar.

And woe be it to him or her that gets in his way, like that couple who were sort of necking (is that what the young folk call it these days?) and thus theoretically blocking Mrs. Jaybee’s view. Mrs. Jaybee was fine with it but that’s not the point! “Money’s worth” encompasses any and all members of the attending party. Luckily Mrs. Jaybee persuaded OGJ that she had an unobstructed view, thus preventing a scene.

The main problem, of course, was that OGJ hadn’t (notice how I’m talking about me like it’s some other loser?) familiarized himself sufficiently with the artist’s latest release. Plus, he had a beer, which, at his age means he’s going to fall asleep shortly. or get very cranky.

Even though he’d already spilt half of it on the brand new carpet at the beautifully restored Kings Theatre (even without going there you can tell it’s nice by the fancy way they spell theater) trying to navigate those elongated steps that no one can walk down gracefully to begin with,

This time around, he got water, and navigated those steps by avoiding them altogether. And most importantly, getting sufficiently familiar with Yo La Tengo’s latest album, as well as the earlier record it commemorates, and another one from 2000 for good measure.

And Yo La Tengo didn’t let him down.

But first, let’s talk about opener Nick Lowe.

It’s been about thirty five years since Nick first burst upon the scene. Oh, he’d been around far longer than that as part of Brinsley Schwarz. That’s when he wrote “What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding”.  He made some classic solo records, like Pure Pop for Now People
and Labour of Lust, play with Rockpile and produce several Elvis Costello albums.

But since that time, he’s moved away from the fast, witty pop music he’s known for, opting for a slower, more acoustic sound.

And although his new music is less compelling than the old, Nick was always a charmer and could have gotten by on that alone. Luckily he mixed in new versions of some old songs, and was more than good enough. He was the perfect opener, actually.

And how about Yo La Tengo?

They were wonderful.

I was afraid that going acoustic might mean that everyone would be sitting down in a circle. It sounds nice and intimate, but it gets boring real fast.

But there they all were, standing right at the front of the stage. Even drummer Georgia Hubley, with the simplest drum kit possible - a la Maureen Tucker of the Velvet Underground. But unlike Tucker, tonight Georgia would be using brushes more than sticks, and singing.

I’m beginning to think Ira Kaplan only owns one T-shirt, since he seemed to be wearing the same one from the release party and the bio picture on His noise guitar was totally absent this night. He was content to stick to acoustic and let Dave Schramm do the electric heavy lifting

And Dave Schramm - the prodigal son returning - was brilliant, providing the touch that would give these acoustic songs reach depth and punch.

Bassist James McNew - like he told me at the release party - played stand up bass and managed to sing fantastically while doing so. He was worried about doing both. You did great, James!

You don’t expect such great music from such down to earth people, but the band was totally committed to both the sound and spirit of the new record, About 75% of the show came from either Fakebook  or Stuff Like That There. I wasn’t familiar with the other 25% but it all sounded really good.

The highlight was “Deeper into Movies” - a rouser from I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One - done with quiet intensity. I could tell they were loving what they were doing. The crowd was loving it too.

I spent the whole time grinning like an idiot. I even knew it, but didn’t care.

The show ended with Nick Lowe joining YLT for a two-song encore. Nick picked one, and YLT the other. Ira dared the crowd to guess which was which but that was easy.

First came a slow mournful “Walk Away Renee”, which had to be Nick’s pick. Modest to a fault, of course he’d do someone else’s song. One that fit his current style well.

And the closer, picked by YLT?  Why, a Nick Lowe song, of course. “The Rollers Show”. Not done in the ebullient style of the original. It was slower, but joyful nonetheless. It was like a great big thank you to Nick for all the inspiration he’s given over his career.

The crowd walked away very satisfied.

And Old Geezer Jaybee, for once, was one with the crowd.

“The Roller Show”

Saturday, October 17, 2015



Okay, so And Then Nothing..  is excellent and Fakebook is very good.

How’s the new one?

This is Yo La Tengo’s Harvest Moon. And in the same way that record commemorated Harvest, this one commemorates Fakebook, which brought together covers, remakes of Yo La Tengo songs and new originals.

It’s more muted and consistent in tone though. There’s nothing very fast or loud. The production is better because even though they sing and play quietly, the sound is sharp and clear.

It lacks the highest highs of the former. The difference between these two records is youthful exuberance vs. older contentment.  

The covers range from Hank Williams, Sun Ra, the Cure, the Lovin’ Spoonful and the Parliaments. Is that enough for you? And they manage to bring all of the disparate styles of the originals together into this very unified sounding record.

One of the weaknesses of Fakebook was Ira’s vocals, which sometimes weren’t up to the beauty of the songs. Here, Georgia is front and center and it works great! She sings just as softly, but it’s still singing, not whispering. She’s smooth as silk. Sort of like Astrud Gilberto.

I’m just now noticing now that the originals sprinkled throughout Fakebook are pretty great. The originals here are more of a piece with the overall tone and can fade into the background.  

And the highs of Fakebook were a little higher that the best stuff here, but that’s okay. There are no clunkers here.

And "Deeper into Movies" - a remake of one of their pounders from Heart is brilliant.  

Here are both of them:

Then vs. Now
Is this the same band? Is this the same song??  Yes and yes!

So you can choose which record to listen to based on your mood. I’ll probably choose Fakebook a little more often, especially in the morning. But that’s okay. I’m still glad this one’s around. And it’s better at night time.

If you picked up any of these records you could get a skewed idea of who YLT is and what they can do. I’m not sure myself anymore since I’ve only got five out of the sixteen or so albums I counted on allmusic. And aside from this one I’ve got nothing by them from the last fifteen years. But you can be damn sure I’ll be looking into it.

So aside from getting all those records (a very worthwhile idea in itself, I think) I’m as ready for the show as can be.


Sunday, October 11, 2015


I was keeping my ears open for when the new Yo La Tengo record would be coming out when I got word that they’d be having an album release party at my favorite record store!

I dragged Son Michael with me because that’s what kids are for.

And there they were standing in the middle of the crowd. If you didn’t know what they looked like, you could have walked right past them.  But a line was formed so they could autograph albums. By then even the most obtuse could figure out who was who.

So I bought a couple of records and got in line.

Guitarist and singer Ira Kaplan bore the brunt of my obnoxious questions with grace and kindness. Drummer and singer Georgia Hubley somehow balanced DJing, chatting and signing, Bassist James McNew was your pal who was happy to hang with you.

It turns out that their new album is a tribute to and re-visitation of an album they made twenty five years ago. So let’s start there.

Fakebook (1990)

"A fake book is a collection of musical lead sheets intended to help a performer quickly learn new songs. Each song in a fake book contains the melody line, basic chords and sometimes lyrics - the minimal information needed by a musician to make an impromptu arrangement of a song, or "fake it." The fake book is a central part of the culture of playing music in public, especially in jazz, where improvisation is particularly valued. Fake books are not intended for novices: the reader must follow and interpret the scant notation, and generally needs to have thorough familiarity with chords and sheet music. Fake books are often bound."

Yo La Tengo have an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music. They often show up on WFMU marathons to play Stump the Band. I saw them in Prospect Park a few years ago where they did (I believe) an impromptu version of the Monkee's "Sweet Young Thing".

So it's no surprise that after only four years of recording original material, Yo La Tengo decided it was time to put together some obscure covers with some redone originals mixed in.

As as one would expect it can be hit or miss.

The advantage of picking obscure covers is that most of the time people haven’t heard the originals and so can’t compare them to the new versions.

Of the many I’m not familiar with that sound wonderful to me, the best are The Scene Is Now's “Yellow Sarong”, the Flaming Groovies "You Tore Me Down” and Daniel Johnston's “Speeding Motorcycle” and , “The Summer”. And they do quite a creditable job on Gene Clark’s “Tried So Hard”.

Other good ones are Cat Stevens’ “Here Comes My Baby”, John Cale’s “Adalucia” and Rex Garvin’s  (I told you they’re obscure!) “Emulsified”.

And the originals they sprinkle throughout are very, very good. Especially "The Summertime"!

The only ones that come up short are the Kinks “Oklahoma, USA” - one of Ray Davies’ greatest songs - which requires more than Ira’s fragile voice can accomplish.  Don’t believe me? Here’s the original - a masterpiece hidden on side two of a fairly unknown record. (By the way, Yo La Tengo was Ray’s backup band during his solo tour in 2000.  Ira loves the Kinks, so he must have been in heaven, since Ray is such a barrel of laughs..)

And “Griselda”, about a young man trying to persuade his girlfriend to have sex with him by the moonlight, is hampered by Ira’s earnest attempt to make it pretty. The original had a horny pervy vocal that suited the subject perfectly.

But otherwise they do a fine job.

The lineup includes guitarist Dave Schramm, who knows how to add just what the given song calls for.  He prettifies what Ira might otherwise bulldoze.

So it’s a bit scattershot, a little frustrating, but very often brilliant. I’m probably grading a bit harshly on principle. In practice it glides by quite gracefully.


“You Tore Me Down”

Next: The New One

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Mrs. Jaybee liked the Kings Theatre so much back in May at the Sufjan show that she took note of the fact that Yo La Tengo would be playing there in October, and got me tickets for Father’s Day.

Yo La Tengo comprises three rather unassuming people - husband and wife team Ira Kaplan (on guitar and vocals) and Georgia Hubley (drums and vocals) and friend James McNew (bass). I think they live in New Jersey and keep to themselves. Such modesty doesn’t typically bespeak great music, but YLT have been at this for quite a while now.

By the way, the band name comes from a Met outfielder yelling “I got it.” in Spanish. Works for me.

And although I’m a big fan of the two YLT records I already owned - I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One
- one of my very favorite records of the nineties - and Electro-Pura - a loud/quiet juggernaut that I would play more often except that I got it right before 9/11 and it still brings back memories - both records are now about twenty years old. I’m sure at the show they’d get around to playing slightly newer material, so I’d better get up to speed.

Having been around for nearly thirty years, they’ve amassed quite the discography so I wasn’t sure where to continue. I noted that it would be an acoustic show and thought that getting one of their quieter albums would be a good place to go.

And Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (2000)

And quiet it is!  Quite a surprise after it’s predecessor, Heart from three years prior, which covered a wide spectrum of sounds from loud and fuzzy to samba to country to folk, with stops at electro-drone along the way,

It was relatively successful, for indie rock, anyway, so you’d think this time around they’d be poised for their next career step by polishing up their sound.

Instead, YLT doubles down on a rumbling, somewhat ominous, but definitely lower decibel sound, only ripping it up in the middle with “Cherry Chapstick”.  But in case you think they’re hedging their bets, they finish it all off with the 17 minute quietest-of-all “Hoboken at Night”, that says that they really mean it, man.

No one’s a great singer here, so the vocals tend to be low to the point of mumbling. You’d think this - combined with the overall approach they’re taking here - would wear thin after a while. And it does if you’re not willing to hang in there. But it makes perfect artistic, if not commercial, sense.

I’ll admit that my first listen left me underwhelmed. There didn’t seem to be any “there” there. (Oh wait, that’s Oakland.) One could reasonably conclude it’s a dud, throw it against the wall and move on with one’s life.

Especially in the middle of summer when the windows are open and the music is competing with the sounds of the city (which all too often resembles the sound of assholes).

But once the windows are shut and you get to really hear it, you find that there’s a real song behind each carefully crafted soundscape. Please excuse the critic-speak there. I just have to point out that they’re not coasting here. Each track is powered either by a great drum pattern, soulful harmony or subtle organ part.   

My favorite song is “Tears Are In Your Eyes” - a gentle but emotional lending hand held out to a depressed friend. And now that I can really hear it, I find that every song is at the very least worthwhile or way better.
Mostly the latter. And that commitment to tone seems less and less crazy and more and more brave.  

Lovely night music, and it would sound great out in the middle of nowhere

In fact, it’s a low-key, but definitely not mellow, tour-de-force.  Come on, this unassuming married couple and easy going bass player friend are saying. We dare you to listen.


Oh, but hold the phone! It turns out that YLT has a new record coming out!  I better not repeat the mistake I made at the Sufjan show.

I’ll have to check that record out, too!

Next: La!