“Christmas Morning” by Jim Fusco – FREE mp3 Download! – Day 14 of 14

By Jim Fusco:

And here it is- the end of the line.  I can’t believe we’re already through all 14 days of my Rock’n’Roll Christmas celebration!  Remind me to never do this again. 🙂

Today’s song is my original Christmas tune, “Christmas Morning”, that I wrote back in high school!  I personally think every artist has ONE good Christmas song in them.  And, to be honest, I’m not exactly sure that I’d ever be able to come up with another one as catchy as this one, so I don’t think I’m going to try!

I recorded this song for the first time back in 2004 for our Christmas album, “Our Christmas Gift To You”.  At the time, I was just getting used to playing the guitar and recording with my digital 24-track.  I had basic microphones, too.  Now, I have a Cab Clone to record my guitars, various tube amps, high quality mics, compressors, preamps, and…the same 24 track mixer.  But, if you’ve heard both versions, you can really tell a big difference.  I’ll probably end-up recording this again in the future after my equipment gets even better!

My wife Becky helps me sing on this tune, too.  I was going to have my brother Mike help out, but he was sick when he came home for Thanksgiving, so he couldn’t sing on it.  Next time, though!

I hope you’ve had as much fun reading and listening to these Christmas songs as I have making them.  It’s a pretty big accomplishment for me to do all of this while being so busy otherwise.  I hope I can maybe just do one song a year from now on, just to keep me into the recording process.  Enjoy “Christmas Morning” and have a Merry Christmas!

Steven Page (with the Art of Time Ensemble)’s “A Singer Must Die” – The Weekend Review

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  3.5 / 5  stars

According to Wikipedia, A Singer Must Die falls under the “orchestrated pop” genre.  If that is accurate, then this is my first orchestrated pop purchase.

And it’s a good one.

Along with the Art of Time Ensemble, Steven Page arranged and performed ten covers — if you include the Barenaked Ladies’ “Running Out of Ink” — that run the emotional gamut and mark a departure from the instrumental sound we’ve come to associate with Steven Page, both as a member of BnL and as the main force behind the Vanity Project.  Here and there throughout his recorded career, there have been strings or horns, but this is the first major release on which he is backed almost entirely by the orchestration of an ensemble.

And yet, the overall tones, themes, and vocal textures are still very much the Steven Page we’ve come to know, particularly in the music he has written and performed this decade.  Page always seemed to be the more serious one in his often comedic BnL partnership with Ed Robertson — the “It’s All Been Done” to Robertson’s “One Week,” if you will.  Throughout this decade, though, Page’s preferences have swung even more to the extreme, considering the beautiful, heartbreaking ballads of Maroon (2000), the topical tracks like “Celebrity” and “War on Drugs” on Everything to Everyone (2003), and the sober “Bad Day” on the otherwise upbeat Snacktime! (2008).

In a sense, the conception of this project could be traced as far back as the 2007 Barenaked Ladies Are Men track “Running Out of Ink,” on which Page voiced the narrator’s social and personal downward spiral made all the more distressing by a loss of creative energy, the bag of of all he’s ever written being tossed off a bridge, bleeding ink, and sinking out of sight by the close of the song.

Now that Page has struck out on his own, the pressures described in that song must be an even more real force for him.  As a solo artist, he will either sink or swim as a result of his efforts alone, and that must be a frightening, if thrilling, experience after two decades in a five-piece band.

A Singer Must Die carries all the maturity and experience you would expect from an artist who has spent more time in the headlines than on record the past few years. The drug-related arrest.  The breakup.

Enough.

At last, Page is back on the top of his game, having released a record that relaxes and frets, breathes and pants for breath, escapes and runs head on into pain and sorrow — an excellent record.

Steven Page (with the Art of Time Ensemble)'s "A Singer Must Die" (2010)

Steven Page's "A Singer Must Die" (2010)

The piano and string-heavy “Lion’s Teeth” kicks off the album on a suspenseful note, tension building with every second that passes.  Page builds up to a near-scream as he sings, “And my arms get sore, and my palms start to sweat; and the tears roll down my face ’til my cheeks are hot and red and soaking wet…”

He goes on to sing, “There’s no good way to end this — anyone can see there’s just great big you and little old me.”

What a way to kick off his first individual effort following the break with BnL!

The greatest strength of A Singer Must Die is the arrangement of tracks.  The opener is followed by the initially calm and beautiful opening verses of Elvis Costello’s “I Want You.”  Fiona Apple set the bar high for cover versions of this track, and Page was up to the task, even if the middle to end of the song suffers from some self-indulgent orchestration.

Next comes a track that surprised me — I never knew I could enjoy a Rufus Wainright song.  Sounding like it came from an early twentieth century crooner’s repertoire, “Foolish Love” further advances the feeling expressed on “I Want You,” if from a different angle.

Thanks to the Art of Time Ensemble, “Running Out of Ink” is even more manic and frantic here than the original Barenaked Ladies version was, and this is saying something.  For me, this is the thematic centerpiece of the album, a song originally co-written by Page himself.  Throughout rock music history, the greatest songwriters have turned to covers when they were themselves “running out of ink.”

Thankfully, Page is not, as he has set the release date for his first solo album proper for later this year.

“A Singer Must Die” and “Taxi Ride” are excellent companion pieces, the former expressing the dangers of self-expression with fitting sarcasm and the latter expressing a bittersweet departure that includes near-hallucinations and the sad, pleading, distressed vocals that few can pull off so convincingly and expressively as Page can.

If “Taxi Ride” is the low point, emotionally speaking, of this record, then “Tonight We Fly” is just the pick-me-up that it needs.  This is a case of perfect lyrics, perfect performance, and perfect timing.

“Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure” is easily the most heartrending track on A Singer Must Die, and is an exemplary case of Page’s ability to translate a fairly straightforward indie rock track by the Weakerthans into an emotive, beautiful masterpiece.  If there is one track that makes me think of the sad (if not so shocking) news of Page’s departure from BnL last year, this is it.

“For We Are the King of the Buidoir” is, unsurprisingly, a wonderfully quirky song originally written and performed by the Magnetic Fields.  Again, timing is everything as Page’s spot-on rendition of this little gem is right where it needed to be, as a transition between the solemnity of “Virtute” and the frenzied madness of “Paranoid Android,” in and of itself a perfectly placed cover of the Radiohead classic.  After all, what better way to conclude a post-breakup solo album than with lines like “ambition makes you look pretty ugly, kicking and squealing” and “when I am king, you will be first against the wall with your opinion which is of no consequence at all”?

I will be the first in line for Steven Page’s first solo album of original material when it arrives later this year, but for now, A Singer Must Die has served to at least whet my appetite for new material from a man who is arguably one of the most talented singer/songwriters of the past two decades, alongside others like Ben Folds, Elliott Smith, Jakob Dylan, Eddie Vedder, and Jeff Tweedy who have shaped the sound of modern rock music.

If A Singer Must Die is a necessary transition effort before an entirely original release, then it is a promising one.  The choices here are excellent — both obscure and ambitious — and the performances are first rate.

In the end, though, a singer’s death may be compelling, but his imminent rebirth is all the more exciting…

“Joe DiMaggio Done It Again” by Woody Guthrie & Billy Bragg – Chords, Tabs, & How to Play

For a Guthrie/Bragg/Wilco cover video, CLICK HERE!

“Joe DiMaggio Done It Again”
Woody Guthrie – words (1949) / Billy Bragg – music (1995)

G                                                D                          D7
Joe Deemaggyo done it again!  Joe Deemaggyo done it again!
G
Clackin’ that bat, gone with the wind!
D                                 G
Joe Deemaggyo’s done it again.

Some folks thot Big Joe was done!  Some jus figgered Joe was gone!
Steps to the platter with a great big grin;
Joe Deemaggyo’s done it again!

I’ma gonna tele ya jist th’ way I feel; man cain’t run without his heel.
Watch that raggypill split the wind!
Joe Deemaggyo’s done it again!

All three fielders jumped their best; tryin’ ta climb that highboard fence.
They all growed whiskers on their chins!
Joe Deemaggyo’s done it again!

Up along them clouds where the eagle roams: Joe cracked that ball to whine and moaann.
His buddies laugh as they trot on in.
Joe Deemaggyo’s done it again!

INSTRUMENTAL BREAK

Grandmaw’s home by the radio on the telleyevizzion awatchin’ Joe;
She jerks the beard offa grandpaw’s chin.
Joe Deemaggyo’s done it again!

The puppydog barked at the pooseye kat; how does it look from where you set?
Looks like a cyclone slidin’ in…
Joe Deemaggyo’s done it again!

Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” (2010) – The Weekend Review

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

In the barren land of the contemporary concept album, the band that tries is king.

The Suburbs is the year’s only true concept album, as demonstrated by the thematic threads woven through songs, the reprises and continuations of songs across the disc, and the packaging.  And, although it never quite attains the cohesion and creativity of Relient K’s 2009 offering Forget and Not Slow Down, the expansiveness of 2008’s Coldplay record Viva La Vida (or Death and All His Friends), or the dramatic force of 2008’s other great concept album, the Counting Crows’ Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, it certainly carries the torch into the coming decade as 2010’s concept album du jour.

Arcade Fire have long held indie credibility and respect, clarifying via Funeral (2004) and Neon Bible (2007) that they value record-making over single production.  Each of their first two albums made the cut on numerous “Best of” lists, not only for the year they were released but also for the decade.

So the fact that The Suburbs is an even more complex and keenly rendered effort is saying something.

This album has a sound all its own, one that is clearly Arcade Fire but also fresh and unique to this record.  For instance, as strong a composition as “(Antichrist Television Blues)” is, it would sound incomplete, empty even, were it to be placed on The Suburbs, an album characterized by a fullness of sound heretofore unachieved by the band.

What is perhaps most detrimental to the overall quality is the length of individual songs, most of which brush past the four minute mark.  Arcade Fire has never shied away from breaking the three minute ceiling, and yet there is such a homogeneity of sound throughout that the duration of individual tracks causes the listening experience to blend together.

One might argue that this is a strength, that this provides cohesion that elevates the effort as a whole, yet it is difficult to argue this when many of the strongest individual songs — tracks like “Wasted Hours” and “Month of May” — have significant thematic value while aurally distinguishing themselves and remaining in the three minute range.

Perhaps this homogeneity is an intentional compositional decision on Arcade Fire’s part, meant to help convey sonically the boredom, fear, and regularity of suburban life that The Suburbs exposes and explores lyrically.

I can certainly respect this as a creative decision, though it doesn’t change the fact that, for as good a record as this is, I simply haven’t revisited it as often as other discs from 2010.

The Suburbs cover (Arcade Fire, 2010)

The Suburbs cover (Arcade Fire, 2010)

As the cover’s vibrant but sun-spotted, seventies-esque image of a residential home with car parked out front suggests, The Suburbs comes across quite convincingly as a historical document of the rapid post-World War II expansion of suburban areas, often referred to as sprawl.  The hauntingly emotive “Sprawl I (Flatland)” aptly captures the claustrophobic nature of the neighborhood.  As Win Butler sings, “The cops shone their lights on the reflectors of our bikes / and said, ‘Do you know what time it is?’ / — Well sir, it’s the first time I’ve felt like something is mine, like I have something to give.”  Anyone who grew up in the suburbs will remember this urgency of exploration, of attempting to find a place in the larger world you felt existed but could never quite access.

Butler continues, “The last defender of the sprawl said, ‘Well where do you kids live?’ Well sir, if you only knew what the answer is worth I’ve been searching every corner of the earth.”  This motif of authority, of the norm-protectors and upholders of the public safety blurring the line between security and apathy, is touched on across the record.  As in suburban life, the authority blends into the background but is always there, threatening to impinge on the processes of youthful discovery.

On “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” Butler’s wife and bandmate Regine Chassagne takes on the role of an eighties performer, voicing over a bed of synthesized sound that, “They heard me singing and they told me to stop, quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.”  Here, she sings more directly of a fear of purposelessness, of the constrictive nature of the city lights.

As she goes on to sing, “Living in the sprawl the dead shopping malls rise like / mountains beyond mountains and there’s no end in sight. / I need the darkness.  Someone, please cut the lights!”

These two tracks provide a fitting wrap-up before giving way to “The Suburbs (continued),” a minute long reprise of the title track, which nicely fades back into the opening (and title) track.  The waning whisper of “The Suburbs (continued)” aptly makes one thrill at the returning vitality of “The Suburbs,” luring the listener back into this locale, “waiting in line for a number,” not understanding, like a “Modern Man,” getting “Ready to Start,” admiring the “Rococo” arrangement of images and sounds across The Suburbs, traversing the loneliness of the “Empty Room,” the feeling of living underground in a “City With No Children” in “a garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside of a private prison,” adding up both half lights to find “(No Celebration)” but a prayer “to god I won’t live to see the death of everything that’s wild” instead, witnessing a “Suburban War” where “the music divides us into tribes” and “all my old friends, they don’t know me now / all my old friends are staring through me now,” reliving the passion and violence of the “Month of May,” reminiscing about “Wasted Hours” that passed “before we knew where to go and what to do,” remembering how “I used to write letters” and “We Used to Wait” for a letter to return though “sometimes it never came,” and ultimately ending up back in the “Sprawl” — the “Flatlands,” the “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” all amounting to a concept of “The Suburbs,” taker of all the time that “I’d only waste… again.”

For keenly recreating the texture and the mood of the suburban life and all its benefits, shortcomings, and ramifications, Arcade Fire deserves praise for The Suburbs.  In a sense, they have created an aural landscape that is difficult to revisit for too long or too often, which suggests an interesting question as to the divide between music as entertainment and music as art.

Regardless, they have also created an outstanding concept album.