Archive for the R.E.M. Category

Happy Birthday: Michael Stipe

Posted in Michael Stipe, R.E.M. on January 5, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Today is the birthday of Michael Stipe of R.E.M. I wished him a happy 49th last year, and this year he is celebrating the big 5-0. I would break out a special birthday post again today, but Whitney Matheson at USA Today’s Pop Candy Blog has already beaten me to it.

As the frontman for R.E.M., Stipe is one of my favorite musical figures of all time. I didn’t have a favorite artist before I was introduced to Berry, Buck, Mills, & Stipe in high school. Maybe I wouldn’t be such a musical freak if I hadn’t been.

Follow this link to see Pop Candy’s tribute to Stipe in the form of ten amazing YouTube videos. Here’s one more video featuring Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant.

Random Weekend Post: R.E.M. – Nightswimming

Posted in R.E.M. on November 28, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

I hope to get back to my favorite albums of the decade soon. Until then, here’s something from my favorite band of all time.

Used: Bombadil & R.E.M.

Posted in Bombadil, R.E.M. on August 10, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

There is no better way to kill some time on a lazy afternoon than browsing through your local used record store. I used to spend hours (and hundreds of dollars) going through stacks of used discs when I was in college. My time (and budget) are a little more limited these days, but I still love to check out the local shop when I get a chance.

Luckily, Knoxville has several great places to find new old music. My first stop is always The Disc Exchange, the store that always lands on the top of any local “best of” polls. If I don’t find anything there, I can always move on to McKay’s. This place is essentially a giant warehouse filled with used junk, and a few gems. Books, CD’s, video games, movies, iPods… you name it, they sell it. I’ve also told you before about the $1 bin at the local Cat’s Music. There are more than a few places to find some pre-loved music in this town.
Now that I have a record player set up in the house, I’ve also been discovering some of the local shops that actually sell “records.” Lost & Found Records and Basement Records are the two I’ve stumbled upon so far, but if anyone knows of any others please let me know.
The purpose of all of that is to say that I had some time to kill this past Thursday and was able to unearth a couple of worthy additions to my collection.
First was A Buzz, A Buzz, the first full-length effort from the North Carolina collective known as Bombadil. Like their new album, Tarpits and Canyonlands (reviewed here), this record is full of musically whimsical and often lyrically dark compositions. This band is stylistically unique and instantly captivating. Both of their albums come with high recommendations.
Here’s one from A Buzz, A Buzz that showcases the light/dark dynamic that they pull off so well. It’s a lighthearted tune about self-mutilation called “Johnny.”
Bombadil: Johnny (Buy Album)

I also came one step closer to completing my R.E.M. vinyl collection when I found a copy of their debut album Murmur. R.E.M. is my all time favorite band, but I was still just a child when they started releasing albums. I didn’t discover them until much later. Consequently, my entire R.E.M. library has always been on CD.

Now that I have the means to play them, I have made it my personal mission to own the band’s entire catalogue (especially the early, IRS recordings) on vinyl. That’s how most fans first experienced their music, and that’s how I want to experience it now. Of course, Murmur is an all time classic and a record that I’m glad to hear again for the first time.
R.E.M.: Radio Free Europe (Buy Album)

Notes for the End of a Vacation

Posted in Ben Gibbard, Jay Farrar, John Hartford, R.E.M., Those Darlins on July 30, 2009 by AmericanaPulse
Unfortunately, my vacation has come to an end. I am, however, happy to be back home in Knoxville after having some fun in Cooperstown, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. last week. We went to the Baseball Hall of Fame, several of the Smithsonian museums, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a brewery, a cider mill, and a handful of wineries. All in all, a fun and relaxing trip.

Oddly, it was the first vacation I’ve taken in quite some time that didn’t have some sort of musical bent to it. My wife and I usually plan our vacations around some concert or another, but we couldn’t seem to find anything this time. Unless you count the piano bar insanity at The Howl at the Moon Saloon in Baltimore. If you’ve never been to one of these fine establishments, just picture two guys playing piano and taking requests from a room full of revelers who are all partaking of their favorite alcoholic beverages. They played everything from Garth Brooks to Weezer to Vanilla Ice in the couple of hours I was there. Needless to say, I sang along with every song and had a pretty darn good time. It’s not the kind of place I usually frequent… but it was certainly fun.

Anyway… some musical notes from things that happened while I was gone…

***The coolest thing I read about this past week was the upcoming collaboration between Jay Farrar of Son Volt and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. The collaboration holds a great deal of interest for me since the two artists seem to come to their music from different starting points. Farrar is much more the Cosmic-American troubadour while Gibbard mostly plays the role of the navel-gazing indie popster. Regardless… they are two of my favorites, and I can’t wait to see what their pairing yields. You can read all about it over at Paste’s website.

I should also say that I’ve been slowly absorbing Son Volt’s latest release American Central Dust over the last few weeks. It didn’t really grab me on the first few listens (nothing here really has the raw power of something like “Drown”), but has started worming its way into my ear a bit more and more. Jay’s steel guitar has settled down a bit on this release, and he seems to play more in the country than the rock on this effort. Give it a second listen if you have to.

***Paste also had a great conversation starter that went up on their site Monday. Editor Josh Jackson listed his Top 20 R.E.M. Songs of All Time. The top two from my Top Five didn’t make the cut, but it’s still a strong list overall. The greatest thing about it is that you can listen to all twenty songs on Paste’s website. It’s a great R.E.M. primer if you’ve never explored their music before.

***I should also mention that I first came across each of those two links over at USA Today’s Pop Candy Blog. Whitney Matheson, the blog’s author, is a former Knoxvillian (current New Yorker) who posts several daily updates on anything and everything pop culture related from music to movies to comic books to an almost unhealthy obsession with moustaches. My wife turned me on to her site about a year ago, and her daily “Morning Buzz” posts have become required reading in our house ever since.

Music only makes up a small portion of what Pop Candy covers, but I do have to give Whitney credit for introducing me to Those Darlins a few months ago when they played SXSW in Austin. I probably wouldn’t even have opened the recent email I got from the band if I hadn’t read the positive reviews from Pop Candy. I accepted their invitation to attend a Darlin’s show in Knoxville back in May, started playing their music on WDVX shortly thereafter, blogged about them, and started pushing our Music Director to listen to their album. Now, Those Darlins are in heavy rotation at WDVX and will be featured on August’s Tennessee Shines concert broadcast along with Vienna Teng, Shawn Camp, and Guy Clark.

Check out Pop Candy if you get a chance. Whitney also weighed in on the R.E.M. debate with her personal Top Ten.

***By now you’re probably wondering what the picture at the top of today’s post has to do with anything.

As I mentioned earlier, I spent a good deal of last week in Washington D.C. taking in the sights of our nation’s capitol. On Wednesday, my wife and I toured the National Gallery, The Smithsonian Museum of American History, and The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

The Air and Space Museum had a rather large exhibit dedicated to Orville and Wilbur Wright, the brothers from Ohio who designed and built the world’s first successful airplane. The exhibit had a replica of their famous aircraft that took that first flight in Kitty Hawk, NC, design models from some of their earlier attempts, and a bevy of other artifacts.

Included in one of the displays was the mandolin pictured above. It seems that Orville Wright was known to pick a little from time to time, and that particular mandolin was his instrument of choice. I don’t know why that instrument struck me so… but I like the idea of Orville and Wilbur sitting around a campfire at the end of the day and picking out a tune.

As a tribute to Orville & Wilbur Wright… here is a tune from John Hartford that would not have been possible without their contributions.
John Hartford: Steam Powered Aereo Plane (Buy Album)

A Few Quick Notes

Posted in Alexi Murdoch, Michael Jackson, R.E.M. on June 29, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Just a few quick notes to wrap up the weekend and start the new week off right.

***Last week, my mother-in-law gave us her old record player and a decent collection of old vinyl. I hooked the record player up to my wife’s stereo system on Saturday and spent a good part of the weekend listening to old Beatles and Springsteen albums the way they were originally released. The sound was warm, and fuzzy, and real… a sound I haven’t heard in a long time.

I grew up in the 80’s with cassette tapes and CD’s, but I did have a record player when I was a kid. Of course… the only records I owned as a child consisted of The Pink Panther singing punk songs, Cookie Monster singing disco tunes, and The Smurfs just being generally smurfarific. I can’t tell you how great it was on Saturday to spin R.E.M.’s Document on an actual turntable. I can’t wait to fill out my R.E.M. vinyl collection.

R.E.M.: Welcome to the Occupation (Buy Album)

***Sunday afternoon, my wife and I went to see a matinee showing of Away We Go with John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. We both enjoyed the film immensely and found it to be quite funny with a great deal of heart. I don’t want to give anything away about the movie, but I will say it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I recommend it if you can find it at a theatre near you.

The reason I’m writing about it here is the stellar soundtrack featuring singer/songwriter Alexi Murdoch. Songs from Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and The Velvet Underground were used in various scenes in the movie (and appear on the soundtrack), but the most pivotal moments were accented by original tunes from Murdoch. His hushed vocals and gentle melodies really added to the film.

Alexi Murdoch: All My Days (Buy Album)

***Finally, I feel obliged to add my contribution to the ongoing Michael Jackson tributes that have consumed the blog world since Thursday afternoon.

The first “real” album that I ever owned (outside of The Smurfs) was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I won a cassette copy at the faculty Christmas party at the high school where my parents worked. I still remember getting excited when I saw the tape as one of the possible prizes for the faculty raffle, and being absolutely thrilled when my parents allowed me to pick the prize for them when their number was called.

The choice was easy, and I wore that tape out. I loved every second, and learned every word of every song on it. I was five years old.

My favorite song was “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” I’ve probably listened to it fifteen times this weekend.

Michael Jackson: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ (Buy Album)

Links and Notes for 01/04/09

Posted in Alejandro Escovedo, Death Cab for Cutie, R.E.M., She and Him on January 4, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

* The two people you see pictured above are actress/musician Zooey Deschanel from the duo She & Him and Ben Gibbard from the band Death Cab for Cutie. They got engaged last week. Normally I don’t really care about celeb gossip, but Deschanel was largely responsible for one of my favorite releases of 2008, and Gibbard fronts one of my favorite bands.

I just hope that this happy news will lead to Gibbard actually writing some music in the new year that doesn’t make me want to kill myself. I love Death Cab for Cutie, but their music ranks among the most depressing I have ever heard. It stands in stark contrast with the sweet sounds of She & Him. Here’s wishing these two kids the best.

* In case you don’t trust my judgement, a twelve member panel of Austin music critics has named Alejandro Escovedo’s Real Animal as the Album of the Year for 2008. Escovedo also was tabbed as Best Live Act, and “Sister Lost Soul” and “Always a Friend” tied for Song of the Year honors. Earlier this week, I pegged Real Animal as my favorite release of ’08.

Author Stephen King, always a vocal advocate for Americana artists, also placed Alejandro in his best of list for the year. James McMurtry is in there as well.

* You may have caught this link in the post dealing with Tift Merritt as one my Top 10 posts… but I’m going to throw it up again. The Americana Music Association has released its list of The Top 100 Albums of 2008. The list is based on radio airplay from November 19, 2007 to November 10, 2008 (albums did not have to be released in . Each week several reporting radio stations, specialty shows and internet and satellite radio stations from all over the country report their playlists to the AMA.

This list is unique because it tracks album airplay instead of singles airplay. Anytime a song (any song) is played from an album, it counts as one spin. The AMA tallies the spins each week and posts the chart on their website at http://www.americanamusic.org/. It’s a great way to keep up with new and current Americana releases.

This year’s Top 10 Albums for radio airplay according to the AMA Chart:
10. Real Animal by Alejandro Escovedo
09. Dirt Farmerby Levon Helm
08. Band of Heathens by Band of Heathens
07. Same Old Man by John Hiatt
06. Mescalito by Ryan Bingham
05. Another Country by Tift Merritt
04. Washington Square Serenade by Steve Earle
03. Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
02. Just Us Kids by James McMurtry
01. Trouble in Mind by Hayes Carll

* Some good stuff went on over at Star Maker Machine this past week. The theme was “In Memoriam,” and we posted music from artists who passed away in 2008. I posted on LeRoi Moore of The Dave Matthews Band and Chris Gaffney of The Hacienda Brothers.


* Anyone who reads this space regularly knows that I love two things… R.E.M. and birthday posts. Today I get to combine the two again and wish a very happy birthday to Michael Stipe of R.E.M. who turns 49 today.

Stipe began his career as the shy, unassuming singer who mumbled his lyrics and hid his face behind his long hair. He eventually embraced his fame, and now, Michael Stipe is the face of R.E.M., the face of any number of political and social movements, and the face of American Alternative Rock music for an entire generation. Hard to believe he’s been at it for over 25 years now.

Here are a few R.E.M. b-sides for your listening pleasure… links go to R.E.M. web store.

R.E.M.: Dark Globe (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: Fretless (Buy Album)

Top 10 Albums of 2008: #10 – Accelerate by R.E.M.

Posted in R.E.M., Top 10 of '08 on December 22, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

I know it’s a tad late to be just starting my Top 10 list for the year, but I’ve been a little extra busy at work lately (retail + Christmas = awful), shopping, trying to fill in a few extra shifts at the station, and working on a few extra projects. Blogging has been on the back burner for a bit.

Now, however, it is time without further ado to lay out my Top 10 favorite albums of 2008. We start at the end of the list with #10…

Accelerate from R.E.M.

This album is a bit of a nostalgia pick as R.E.M. has always been my favorite band. On their last couple of records, however, I didn’t feel the same sort of connection to the music that I did with their earlier albums. With this one, the connection is back. I’ve already listened to this album more than any R.E.M. effort since 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

Sometime early this year, I first heard the debut single from this record, “Supernatural Superserious,” and knew immediately that Accelerate would be different. For the first time since original drummer Bill Berry left the band, the group’s energy was back. The sense of fun was back in the music. Most importantly, the supporting vocals of bass player Mike Mills’ were back. Mills’ harmony vocals were always one of my favorite parts of the R.E.M. sound, and they’ve been severely lacking over the last decade. I am more than happy to have them back.

Mills’ biggest contribution comes on the track “Man Sized Wreath.” That song actually features a bit of the old school R.E.M. staple that I like to call the “call and answer” chorus in which Mills echoes the vocals of lead singer Michael Stipe instead of just providing harmony. On this track, just like the old days, I can often be found singing along with Mills’ vocals instead of Stipe’s. This is also the song that provides the most unlikely of R.E.M. lyrics… “Kick it out on the dance floor like you just don’t care.” Somehow, it seems to work.

Other standout tracks include the politically charged “Hollow Man” and the album closer “I’m Gonna DJ.” Both tracks provide a workout for lead guitarist Peter Buck (as do most songs on the raucous album), and the latter recalls the band’s 1987 hit “It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine)” with visions of a party at the apocalypse.

It seems the primary focus of this record was to strip away some of the sheen and polish and experimentation of their other post-millennial work, and just create a gritty rock and roll record echoing back to the early days when R.E.M. was little more than a punk influenced rock band playing clubs and frat parties back in Athens. In that effort, they largely succeed by keeping the songs short (five of the albums eleven tracks clock in at less than three minutes in length) and raw (Buck’s guitars have a fire that hasn’t been heard since 1994’s Monster).

In short, this is easily my favorite R.E.M. album in over a decade. That alone is enough to merit inclusion on this list. When I saw the group perform in Atlanta this summer (my wife bought me tickets for my birthday), my opinion of the album was only strengthened. The band (all in or near their 50’s) filled the stage with as much energy and passion for the music as I had seen in quite some time. That let me know that the initial feeling I got from the album wasn’t just an act… R.E.M. was having fun again, and it showed.

R.E.M.: Supernatural Superserious (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: Man Sized Wreath (Buy Album)