Simply Sick of these Wonderful Christmastunes

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C’mon – I know it has only been 6 weeks, but it feels like six months of the same Christmas songs repeatedly pounded into our aching heads.  In the car, in the office, in the stores, in the can, pumping gas, on television, at the strip clubs (so I am told) – there’s no escape.  It wouldn’t be so bad if they played a few new selections once in awhile or some of the many decent under-played rock songs.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love Christmas and like the concept of Christmas music, but when you start playing them the week after Easter, they kind of lose some appeal by the time Ole St. Nick squeezes through the chimney.

There’s truly a ton of interesting and sometimes even good Christmas songs floating around the digital universe.  But, for some reason we’re subject to the same forty tunes ad nauseum. Hey, Mr. Radio Station Programmer, can we limit Jose Feliciano to once every thirty minutes? Maybe, squeeze in some Joan Jett, Pogues, Alan Mann, Pretenders or God forbid some Alice Cooper? Those bands all have great versions of Christmas classics that remain unplayed. Heck, I’d settle for some of the deeper cuts off the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas trilogy.

Check out our Facebook page for some of the better and less played Christmas tunes available for our battered ears.  You’ll notice that we started sharing them the week before Christmas.  I think that’s about right; one week to sample the offerings, 51 weeks to enjoy all of the other wonderful music available to us.

In closing, I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart…

Rock On – Cretin

TSO – Wizards of Winter

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The Wizards of Winter are back on the road this winter bringing their unique show to cities across the country.  I wondered if a review of their show belonged on a website dedicated to Rock and Roll Animals.

So, let’s do multiple choice; What exactly is a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show? A.  Rock Concert; B.  Broadway Show; C.  Opera; D.  Christmas Pageant?

The answer: “E” – All of the Above.  These guys rock, but it’s so much more than your standard rock concert. The best description, with all due respect to BNL has to be a Rock Spectacle.

I’ve heard folks knock them for being overly commercialized. They might be, but they clearly care about their fans. They stick around and sign autographs after the show, they give away programs and concert T-Shirts to lucky fans in the arena, and they donate serious cash to local charities.

Then there’s the refrain “they’re not a real rock band, their members change all the time.” They do, and truth be told, they have two touring bands during their hectic Christmas season. But, the core members have been together since they formed in 1993 as a band called Savatage. The same core group writes the music, designs the shows and then divides and conquers on the stages.

“OK, fine, they’re still just a big Broadway show, with nice actors, right?” Uh, no. These guys (and gals) can rock. Sure, they all have hair the Jennifer Aniston would kill for and look like Glamour models, but they are pure musicians, too. They play with an orchestra, feature an assortment of rotating vocalists, but make no mistake, their sound is powered by the seven primary band members – and they absolutely rock.

The first half of the concert primarily revolves around the band’s trilogy of Christmas albums.  A storyteller weaves the thread tying all of the songs together, and features some of their bigger hits. The vocals are spectacular, the eight piece string section spot on, the keys magnificent, the drums and bass powerful, and the lead guitars excellent.  It’s sort of Meatloaf meets Emerson Lake and Palmer, only in the 21st Century and with an amazing stage show. “First Snow,” “An Angel Returned” and “Christmas Eve Sarajevo” were the highlights.

This was my first full blown rock show in the new Amway Center, and the sound was great.  We sat opposite the stage in the second level – a perfect spot to enjoy the full breadth of the show.  The light show is the best I’ve ever seen, the lasers are fantastic, the pyrotechnics dynamic, and the sound was perfect.  Add in a flying catwalk that raises up 40 feet over the crowd and spans the entire floor, and a telescoping 2nd stage on the floor, and you see some cutting edge stuff.

The second half of the show offered a bit more diversity from the band including a few strong songs from their Night Castles double album. This portion is a bit darker, with the selections punctuated by a heightened pyrotechnic and fireworks show.  It was quite easy to forget we were inside.  Throughout it all, the music was pristine and the band thoroughly entertaining. The best song of the night was their classic “Wizards in Winter.”

For “Queen of the Winter Night,” the female vocalist climbed onto the secondary stage at the back of the arena and blew the crowd away with her amazing vocals. The band then threw in a nice drum solo on the most tricked up drum kit I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a bunch…

As the night wound down, they kicked into a spirited dueling keyboards segment that included a cool Charlie Brown symphony, and then slid directly into one of their own classic Christmas tunes “Wish Liszt.” From there, 2 1/2 hours after we started our journey, they brought the house down with their finale, the reprise of “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo.”

All told, a family friendly rock and roll spectacle, well worth checking out.

Rock On – Cretin

A Little Banjo Love

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Over the last two years, I’ve noticed a new trend in some popular rock music… the banjo. Long relegated to bluegrass and country music, the banjo is appearing in many indie rock band lineups these days. Whether it be a feature in one song or an album with several songs showcasing the banjo, these bands are working to make the instrument cool.

Two of my favorite bands these days, The Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons, feature the banjo prominently in several songs. Most notably, Little Lion Man by Mumford and Sons which made the radio rounds in 2010. I had the pleasure of seeing the Avett Brothers live back in November at Orlando Calling and was struck by how well they incorporated the unassuming banjo into their music. It fit seamlessly into their sound and totally rounded it out.  The Avett Brothers album I and Love and You showcases the banjo prominently and I highly recommend it.

A little tour around the internet and I found some other great indie bands who have some banjo love going on. Modest Mouse and Sufjan Stevens to just name two more.  What’s the moral of the story… I love it when bands incorporate different instruments into their repertoire!  It keeps things interesting.  What bands that you enjoy feature interesting instruments?

Moon Tunes – The Best Rock and Roll Moon songs

The Best Rock ‘n Roll Moon Songs
Our list of “Moon” Songs that rock

In honor of the extremely rare full lunar eclipse yesterday, I decided to throw together a list of the RARA’s Farm’s Best Rock ‘n Roll moon songs.  The rules? Pretty simple stuff – it needs to rock, the word “moon” needs to be in each song title, and I have to like it.

Continue reading Moon Tunes – The Best Rock and Roll Moon songs

Songs to be “Thank”ful for

In honor of this year’s Thanksgiving, I started a list of great Thanksgiving songs.  I got to my top two and the creative juices stopped; Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” and Poi Dog Pondering’s “Thanksgiving” are both decent, but other than those two, only Adam Sandler’s horrible “Thanksgiving” came to mind. So, I shifted my focus to the Best Songs with “Thank” in the title. They’re not all beautiful, and typically have nothing to do with gratitude, in fact most of them are more on the bitter side…

So, before the tryptophan kicks in, here’s our cornucopia: the RARA’s Farm Farmer’s Dozen:

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Bonus Track – “Thank You For The Music,” ABBA – I know, this is not Rock and Roll, but I have a soft spot for this one.  It was released by the Swedish pop icons in 1977, and ultimately released as a single in 1983.  To many, it is viewed as their swan song.  It’s a fun and addictive singalong.

12. “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel,” Talking Heads – This tune kicks off the band’s second album, 1978’s More Songs About Buildings and Food. This short ditty highlights Chris Frantz’s fine drumming.

11. “Thanks A Lot,” Third Eye Blind” – This song was kind of lost in the shuffle on Third Eye Blind’s hugely successful 1997 debut release, but it is another of the many solid tunes on the album.

10. “Thank You,” Dido – In my opinion, this is not a rock song, but I included it because my wife just loves Dido, and it’s a nice song, and it’s Thanksgiving…

9. “Thank You,” The Redwalls – This little known indie outfit from outside Chicago has a great sound. This song is Beatlesesque and deserved more notoriety. If you’ve never heard them before, make sure you check this one out.

8. “Thank You Girl,” The Beatles – This tune is almost fifty years old already!  It was initially released as the B-side to “From Me To You” as a personal message to their female followers. It’s a nice tribute to their fans.

7. “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs,” Fall Out Boy – The record company wanted shorter song titles from the band, and this was their response.  “Thanks For the Memories” was a Top 10 hit in 2007 and is a fun tune about an old relationship with benefits from these Illinois rockers.

6. “Thanks A Lot,” Johnny Cash – This one from 1959 is a bitter tribute to a relationship gone bad. Not one of is hits, but it features his powerful deep distinctive voice.

5. “The Thanks I Get,” Coconut Records – Coconut Records, is the hip brainchild of multi-talented Jason Schwartzman who basically sings, writes and plays all the instruments.  “The Thanks I Get” is off of the 2007 debut effort, Nighttiming. It’s a fun pop tune about yet another relationship gone bad.

4. “Thank You For Being A Friend,” Andrew Gold – OK, I’ll admit, I succumbed to a a bit of peer pressure on this one. To me, the song is okay, but nothing special, but all of the relatives liked it, and sadly,he recently passed away, so I gave it a special holiday bump in the ratings.   The song was one of the bigger hits on this list, reaching #25 in 1978.

3. “Thank You,” Sly and the Family Stone – This funk tune was reprotedly recorded during some of Sly Stone’s deepest periods of drug use.  It’s got a great funky beat, powered by the fantastic bass of Larry Graham.  It’s a timeless masterpiece from the early 70’s. I love the official title “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).”

2. “I Thank You,” Sam And Dave (also covered wonderfully by ZZTop) – The Sam and Dave version was a gospel influenced song written by Isaac Hayes that peaked in the Top Ten in 1968.  Ten Years later, ZZ Top released it on their 1979 album Deguello.  For both artists, it became their second Top 40 hit.

1. “Thank You,” Led Zeppelin – This 1969 Plant/Page classic was actually the first song where the lyrics were penned by Robert Plant.  The lyrics were a tribute to Plant’s relationship with his wife, Maureen.  It wraps up the fantastic first side of Led Zeppelin II, and features beautiful keyboards from John Paul Jones.  To secure it’s spot atop our list, it is truly a song about Thanks.

Thanks for reading – Mike G.

Matt Butcher Carves Out a Following at Orlando Calling

After listening to three O.A.R. songs, I turned to my friend in boredom and said, “Hey you want to check out that Matt Butcher guy at the Art House Stage?” She quickly agreed and we headed from a large stage area with thousands of people and beer tubs to a tiny tent that could hold maybe 75 people. The Art House Stage was for up-and-coming artists. The baristas and red velvet couch created the appropriate atmosphere for the performance that was about to ensue.

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Matt Butcher and Justin Beckler took the stage in colorful western attire and immediately connected with the audience with a confident yet humble presence. Butcher asked the crowd to move in closer so he could see our beautiful faces. However, the real treat was when Butcher and Beckler began to play their soulful rock. Butcher’s voice and style reminded me of other folk like rock artists such as Band of Horses, Gavin Degraw, and the Avett Brothers. They both played guitar with the occasional mandolin thrown in for good measure. Their seven song set was a pure delight. I only know the name of one of the songs because it was a cover of “Sympathy for the Devil”. I wish I could tell you the names of the others…because they were really good! Butcher admitted that he is a poor self-promoter and decided not to play any of the new songs off of his latest album, Ghostwriter. However, I took a risk and decided to purchase Ghostwriter anyway since it was available for immediate purchase.

I highly recommend the album (available on iTunes). My favorite song on the album is called “Rome, Rain or Hail.” I turned my stereo up as the sweet melody filled my car with a playful beat and interjections of a harmonica. Take a chance on Matt Butcher. Walk away from the unoriginal, have a seat on a red velvet couch and take it all in.

Mango

Bobby Long Concert in the ‘Burgh

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So, after some prodding from the editor, I finally have a show to write about for RARA’s.  I recently moved back to the Pittsburgh area, so am in the process of developing a social life and finding fun places to go for live music.  Going into this show, I didn’t have any intention of writing an article about it, as I knew very little about Bobby Long. A friend of mine asked me to go to the show with her as she had stumbled across his music while wandering around the internet one night, and I agreed, because I love discovering new people and I adore British singers for some reason.

I was optimistic… the location of the concert was absolutely my speed, a small bar in the South Side of Pittsburgh called Club Cafe. It only holds about 100 people max, and was set up with small tables and some bar stools. We sat in the second row, and I love having the chance to be up close and personal with musicians.

After the opening act, Bobby Long got on stage. Just him, his guitar and harmonica. The best description of his music that I can come up with is a cross between rock, blues and folk. It’s not a hard rock sound by any stretch, but his faster songs will have you tapping your foot to the beat. His lyrics are heartfelt and seem to hint at experiences beyond what a normal 24 year old should have. He told stories in between songs that were funny and gave some insight into his personality. His guitar playing is impressive both live an on cd.

Two of his songs really stuck with me, one titled “Who Have You Been Loving” and “Penance Fire Blues” (video of it live from a different show. The second is the most he rocked out during the evening and is just a great song overall.

At the end of the night, after playing for about an 90 minutes straight, he was done for the evening, and went to a small table to sell shirts, posters and CDs. After that show, I knew I wanted a CD, so after a brief wait in line, I bought my copy and Bobby signed my CD and posed for a picture.

This young musician is just starting out, and I personally think that this is someone a lot of people will be talking about in the next one to two years. So I’ll hold on to my picture and autographed CD (that also has my name spelled correctly on it!) so that I can say that I saw him before he hit it big.

Kari

Wednesday Evening Random Thoughts

So – Orlando Calling has come and gone.  We asked for press access to the inaugural event so that we could dazzle you with our amazing coverage, but the Festival organizers ignored us.  Truthfully, I can’t really blame them, we’re still a small player on a huge stage.  You can help us for next year – follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook. Then tell your friends to do the same thing.  And finally – post on our Facebook page, share your pictures, provide your thoughts, and offer tips on new music, beer tasting and your favorite Modern Family episodes.  OK – got it?

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As for the first iteration of Orlando Calling, we’ve talked to a bunch of people who were there, and all of the reports have been positive.  Personally, Day 1 was much more appealing with The Killers, Gogol Bordello, Pete Yorn and The Pixies among the many bands spread across their five stages.  Day 2 had a totally different vibe with Bob Seger, Kid Rock, The Doobie Brothers and Blake Shelton headlining.  Truthfully a little schizophrenic.  Next year, they need to decide what they want to be when they grow up and have the entire weekend gel better as far as the line-up is concerned.  Seriously, what would a Bob Seger fan think when they saw the antics of Gogol Bordello???

Although we weren’t there, a few of our website members (oh yeah – you can register there, too) did attend, and we’ll be sharing some reviews shortly.

We’ve reviewed a bunch of great new music lately to tide you over.  Here are quick links to the last handful, if you want to check them out:

They were all good – honestly (we are not just schmoozing for more free music, although we are certainly open to that).  My favorite was Grouplove’s effort – and fortunately, they’ll be hitting the Sunshine State shortly for a few shows in early December.

We also had a great interview with Lovedrug’s Michael Shepard.  The band has a great story, a unique sound and their talented front man is a helluvanice guy.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this little tidbit from The Last Royals, who we interviewed a few months back.  Here’s a recording studio that is truly a “head” of its time: Crystal Vases

 

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