parade

Tommy Keene's 'Behind the Parade' coming on August 30

When you’ve been pursuing your craft for the better part of 30 years and approximately a dozen albums without the benefit of universal adulation, you’re either wholly obsessed or doggedly determined. In Tommy Keene’s case, it’s likely a mixture of both. Hailed by some as power pop’s most fervent champion, he has been obsessed with making music for nearly three decades, toiling away with impressive results while winning the respect of a small but loyal group of listeners who hold everything he’s ever offered in the highest esteem. Long before now, Keene should have been welcomed into the pop pantheon, alongside McCartney, Rundgren, Wilson and all the other meticulous musicians long acknowledged for their creativity and consistency. Ask his devotees and they’ll tell you Tommy Keene is the equal of them all.

Behind the Parade, Keene’s latest album and his third release on Second Motion (including last year’s career spanning retrospective You Hear Me), schduled for August 30, 2011 release in three formats (CD, mp3 and limited-edition 180-gram vinyl), provides the latest body of proof. Like its predecessors, the disc affirms his pop proficiency, mastery of his craft and his ability to ensure instant accessibility given the benefit of emphatic hooks, irresistible refrains and the kind of vibrant, jangly melodies that bring to mind a distinctly ’60s sensibility. Keene may once have worshiped at the altar of the Beatles, Byrds and Beach Boys, but his synthesis of sounds transcends these retro references and stirs it into something that’s wholly fresh and exhilarating.

Ranging from the proto-Keene jangle of “Already Made Up Your Mind” and the edgy, power pop (no, he doesn’t mind that description — much) storytelling of “Running For Your Life” and “His Mother’s Son” to the moody, ambient instrumental “La Castana” and the horn-infused opener “Deep Six Saturday,” Behind the Parade finds Tommy ably taking a few risks while managing to play to his considerable strengths. Behind the Parade, along with his recent output, shows Keene is akin to an athlete rediscovering his prime, only in this artist’s case, he never left it.

Back in 1984, a six-song platter of pop perfection titled Places That Are Gone (Dolphin) put Tommy Keene onto the CMJ charts and atop the Village Voice EP of the Year poll. Blatantly romantic, unapologetically melodic, bittersweet but absolutely invigorating, it still stands as a powerful statement, not only establishing Keene as a unique singer-songwriter, but also as a guitarist with a sound as distinctive as Pete Townshend or Johnny Marr.

Keene made enough noise in the early ’80s to get the majors involved, and in 1986 he released Songs From the Film on Geffen. Produced by Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, the album featured two MTV videos, “Listen to Me” and a re-recording of Places That Are Gone’s title track, and spent 12 weeks on Billboard’s Top 200. The 1998 CD reissue of Songs also includes one of the all-time great Keene rockers, “Run Now,” with inspired rhythm section work from drummer Doug Tull and bassist Ted Niceley, plus a terrific extended guitar solo. The singer as well as the song appeared in the Anthony Michael Hall movie Out of Bounds.


After releasing the Run Now EP in 1986, the original Tommy Keene group, which also included guitarist Billy Connelly, disbanded. Keene headed down to Ardent Studios in Memphis to record with producers John Hampton and Joe Hardy. The result was Based on Happy Times (Geffen, 1989). The ironically titled disc is the darkest album in the Keene catalog. Although his best material has always been infused with melancholia, Happy Times’ tracks like “The Biggest Conflict” and “A Way Out” reveal a more fatalistic outlook. The guitars are heavier, there is less jangle, and there aren’t as many hooky vocal harmonies. It is a beautifully crafted, sometimes brooding, arty rock record.

In 1996, Keene released Ten Years After (Matador), his first full-length album of all-new material in seven years. Produced by Keene and recorded by pop music wunderkind Adam Schmitt, the album contains classic pop hooks and the loudest guitars to date. For his next effort, Isolation Party (Matador), Keene recruited an all-star cast, getting some fine instrumental and vocal performances from former Gin Blossom Jesse Valenzuela and Wilco’s Jay Bennett and Jeff Tweedy. A live disc called Showtunes (Parasol), released in 2000, was followed up in 2001 with The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down for the SpinArt label. Tommy used his next effort, Drowning: A Tommy Keene Miscellany (Not Lame), to clean out his closets of 20 years’ worth of rarities, demos and unreleased sessions. One of the best hodgepodge records you’ll ever hear, more than one critic felt Tommy’s spring-cleaning LP bested many greatest hits packages.

Back on the road in 2004, Keene and band joined Guided By Voices on the East and West Coast legs of their farewell tour. Apart from some great gigs, the shows also led to Keene joining Pollard as a member of his post GBV band, The Ascended Masters, for their 2006 U.S. tour and a limited-edition live LP, Moon (Merge). The year also saw the release of Crashing the Ether (Eleven Thirty), which was performed and recorded primarily by Tommy himself at home with drums by John Richardson and contributions from regular Keene band members and friends. Sonically, the album is dazzling, with big drums and open, ringing guitars, and lyrically it was arguably a great leap forward.

Tommy quickly followed up Crashing the Ether with Blues and Boogie Shoes, an LP with Robert Pollard under the Keene Brothers moniker. Although side projects can sometimes be less than wholehearted efforts, tracks such as “The Naked Wall” or “Death of the Party” — as good a song as Keene or Pollard have written together or separately — show that neither artist held anything back.

2009’s In the Late Bright (Second Motion) displayed the full range of Keene’s songcraft over 11 tracks. The album kicked into high gear with “Late Bright,” a minor-key rocker that gets its tense and dramatic work done in two minutes flat. From there on out, the album delivered a fan-friendly collection of melodic hooks, vocal harmonies, inventive chord progressions and great guitar playing.

Keene summed up his solo output to-date with Tommy Keene You Hear Me: A Retrospective 1983-2009 (Second Motion), a two-CD collection holding over 40 of his best tunes (including an unreleased acoustic take of Crashing the Ether’s “Black and White New York”). Even then, fans debated what he included vs. what he left off — further proof of the man’s enduring songwriting prowess.

Del McCoury and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band Celebrate Mardi Gras

In honor of Mardi Gras this week, Bluegrass Legend Del McCoury and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band have shared the song “One More ‘Fore I Die” off their upcoming collaborative album, American Legacies (out April 12th).  Click HERE to stream/download the track, which premiered at NPR yesterday.  The two also filled the historic Preservation Hall yesterday for a special performance on Lundi Gras Day. Today they will team up again for the Preservation Hall Parade that occurs annually on Mardi Gras.  The parade will gather on the corner of Dauphine and Frenchmen Streets and will commence at 2:00pm.  The parade route will conclude at Preservation Hall.

Del and the PHJB will also celebrate the advance release of a special Mardi Gras themed vinyl edition of American Legacies. Manufactured exclusively for Record Store Day (April 16) 2011, this special edition vinyl is green on one side and gold on the other, featuring a purple label.  Limited to 1000 copies, a small number have been made available for sale exclusively at Preservation Hall during this very special event.

About American Legacies:

American music fans have an unprecedented opportunity to hear two masterful groups explore the common ground where bluegrass and jazz meet when the Del McCoury Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band release their collaborative American Legacies project on April 12th via McCoury Music and Preservation Hall Recordings.  Inspired by the success of the Del McCoury’s participation on 2010’s PRESERVATION, a PHJB project made with multiple artists to benefit New Orleans’ unique Preservation Hall venue and its Music Outreach Program, the set offers a dozen songs filled with deep respect and joyful virtuosity.  Complementing the release, the two groups have announced a joint tour that will feature them performing on their own and together in a groundbreaking concert experience.

American Legaciesis a no-holds-barred tour of songs and sounds that sum up the simultaneous (and often intersecting) histories of two distinctively American musical forms—the jazz that has drawn music lovers from around the world to New Orleans for more than a century, and the “hillbilly jazz” of bluegrass, created more than 60 years ago by Del McCoury’s one-time employer, Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys.

Available Everywhere on April 12, 2011

Del/PHJB Tour Dates:

March 19 - Boston, MA
March 27 - Columbus, GA
April 9 - Tucson, AZ
April 13 - St. Charles, MO
April 14 - Lawrence, KS
April 15 - Appleton, WI
April 16 - Napierville, IL
April 17 - Fayetteville, AR
April 19 - Wilmington, NC
May 12 - Los Angeles, CA
May 27 - DelFest, Cumberland, MD
June 10 - Bonnaroo, Manchester, TN
July 7 - Winnipeg Folk Fest
August 6 - Edmonton Folk Fest

We Are Wolves Announce U.S. Tour Dates

French-Canadian dance/rock/electro trio We Are Wolves have announced a quick run of U.S. tour dates around the February 2nd release of their third album, Invisible Violence, on Dare To Care Records. The band will make a weekend trip to the northeast, beginning February 4th at Great Scott in Boston, MA, and wrapping up February 6th at the Brooklyn Bowl in New York, NY, before heading home to Montreal, Canada. We Are Wolves are also confirmed to open for fellow countrymen Wolf Parade on three of the band's April tour dates, in addition to traveling to SXSW in March and to headlining several shows in their native Canada next month.

Earlier this week, Brooklyn Vegan featured the second MP3 off of Invisible Violence, "Blue." The track can now also be downloaded here. First single "Holding Hands" - which was featured last month as a 'Free MP3 of the Day' on AOL Music's Spinner blog and noted for its "blistering guitar riffs, sneering vocals, and an insistent rhythm section" by Prefixmag.com - is also available for download here. The accompanying video for "Holding Hands" can be seen here.

We Are Wolves tour dates:

FEB. 4 BOSTON, MA GREAT SCOTT

FEB. 5 NEW YORK, NY THE STUDIO AT WEBSTER HALL

FEB. 6 BROOKLYN, NY BROOKLYN BOWL

FEB. 18 DRUMMONDVILLE, QC BOX-OFFICE

MAR. 5 MONTREAL, QC CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM

MAR. 6 SHAWINIGAN, QC TROU DU DIABLE

MAR. 18 AUSTIN, TX PARADISE CAFÉ

APR. 1 QUEBEC CITY, QC IMPERIAL DE QUEBEC*

APR. 6 KINGSTON, ON THE ALE HOUSE*

APR. 7 TORONTO, ON PHOENIX CONCERT THEATRE*

*with Wolf Parade

 

Nationalism on Parade

- for the Grateful Web

Watching the Winter Olympics has brought the issue of nationalism to the forefront of my mind.  (It's also brought to mind just how amazing the physical prowess of all of these athletes really is!  It would have taken me a good portion of the day to do what those cross-country skiers did in 1 hour!  I digress…)

The stories of the athletes representing the red, the white, and the blue are heavily profiled in NBC's coverage, while their wins are trumpeted from the mountains, and the heartbreak of their losses resounds across the plains.

This is not to say that America is alone in her pride, in her possessiveness, in her pursuit of gold.  Each population is focused on the athletes from their borders.  It makes sense, right?

What does it mean though?  Does it make a country better than others if their athletes earn more medals?  Does it earn a nation a free pass and trip to Heaven, far away from the nearly depleted planet we call home?  Does it make it harder to go to war against countries that we race alongside and against?

I'd like to see a change in consciousness, a mental shift that creates a unified planet.  Where borders are disregarded, and race, nationality, color of skin and language are of no importance.  Where we think of one another as neighbors, friends, and co-inhabitants of our place in space.  Where no person can be "illegal" because they're from somewhere else, where resources are equitably divided, everyone has enough to eat, and we start working together to solve the environmental crisis we now find ourselves in.   Where the spirit of the Olympics is not saved for two weeks every two years, but every day.

Though globalism (not to be confused with globalization) may sound like a lofty ideal, it would be foolish to treat it like a great idea that's not attainable.  It must be attainable.  We must start caring about every life, not just every American life.   Other countries must do the same, and it has to happen soon.

In the prophetic words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "We can live together as brothers, or we can die together as fools".