Archive for the 'Bluegrass/Appalacia' Category


Waiting for Zeppelin, not Columbus

Phish has always bucked convention – improvising set lists, performing vacuum cleaner solos, an a capella redition of Free Bird (including the guitar solo), and what they’ve become known for on Halloween, covering an album in its entirety (they call it their “musical costume”).  In the past they have covered the White Album, Quadrophenia, the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, the Velvet Underground’s Loaded, Dark Side of the Moon (performed two days after Halloween in 1998), and last year’s Halloween album, the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street.  When Phish announced they would be playing a Halloween show in Atlantic City this year, speculation began to flood the interwebs and Phish message boards as to what album they would cover.  The most popular guess was Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.  This began due to Phish covering the song The Rover from that album earlier this year.  Plus P.G. is a double album, which fits Phish’s formula for album covers.  There were a lot of other albums that people were theorizing would be covered, but Zep’s classic was by far the frontrunner.  On October 30th, Phish added fuel to the Physical Graffiti fire by playing the Zep classics Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker, Ramble On, Thank You, Stairway to Heaven, and Good Times Bad Times during that night’s 2 sets.  But on the 31st, Phish truly played a trick – and a treat.

Phish decided to cover the album “Waiting for Columbus,” the 1978 live concert release from the band Little Feat.  Most Phish fans know of Little Feat – Phish has covered Time Loves a Hero in the Past, and recently has been covering On Your Way Down (a great song that I saw them do in Albany in 2009).  And Little Feat covered Phish’s Sample in a Jar on the “Sharin’ in the Groove” album, a Phish tribute by many different artists.  But no one could have predicted that Phish would pull this out of their hat on Halloween.

The response from the Phish online community has been mainly positive – most people did not have a clue as to what album Phish was covering, they just knew it was high-energy and awesome.  I’ll admit I wouldn’t have known either, as I am very unfamiliar with Little Feat…but according to Phish, that band has been a tremendous influence on them, and if you listen to the songs, you can hear their influence in Phish’s music. 

I admire Phish for doing what has made them great for so many years – playing what they want to play, not what they think their audience wants to hear.  Had they not covered Remain in Light or Loaded, I probably would have never been exposed to those amazing albums.  Now of course I will go buy Waiting for Columbus, because if it’s good enough for Phish, I know I’m going to love it. 

There were of course some negative-nellies on the message boards, complaining that Phish played an album nobody had heard of, etc.  But those idiots are in the minority – any music fan should #1 be grateful they were even at a Phish Halloween show, and #2 they shouldn’t resist Phish’s attempt to broaden their musical horizons.  Embrace what you have been exposed to – drink it in and be happy.  Because that’s what Phish has always been about.


Van Halen album and tour for 2011…yeah, right.

Sorry if I seem so pessimistic about this recent announcement, but I feel that we fans have heard this stuff about Van Halen re-uniting in the past several times over…and with great fanfare, has come great dissapointment. Honestly, many of us really don’t care anymore if they tour or make another album.  If they do it will be nothing more than a pleasant surprise at best.

Supposedly the band is back in the studio laying tracks down for their first album with Roth since 1984 (1983); but past history has shown that Eddie Van Halen and his brother Alex can take about 5 minutes with Roth in the same room, then the bottles begin to fly!  I would imagine that Diamond Dave has become even more annoying in his older age; he was irritating in his 30’s and 40’s, can you imagine his 50’s?  The most recent news I heard about David Lee Roth is that he was changing careers and becoming an EMT in New York City while also pursuing a musical career in bluegrass…so for him to get back with Van Halen is quite suprising to say the least.  Strummin’ with the Devil: A Bluegrass Tribute to Van Halen  (2006) and wasn’t a band album; I happen to like these alternative genre cover/tribute albums and this one is not band, it actually feature’s Diamond Dave on a track or two, but Dave’s pipes are rusty and this mellow style is more fitting today.  Since we are on the topic of cover/tribute instrumental albumsI must admit that the Iron Maiden Piano Tribute album is by far my favorite and I suggest you check it out if you get a chance; the version of “Aces High” is pretty cool.

Is it true that founding member Michael Anthony was kicked out and  replaced with Wolfgang Van Halen (Eddie’s son) as the band’s bass player? Man, so now Roth is really outnumbered if things go sour in the studio, eh?  At least Anthony wasn’t related and provided Dave some type of neutral ear if things weren’t working out with the other two.

Roth’s vocals are not the same that he had back in the early 80’s, so I’m very skeptical if Van Halen was actually to release an album if it would be worth listening to, let alone buying.  I personally would give it a listen but I would not expect much in the way of fireworks like their early work.  It would be best, in my humble opinion, for Van Halen to let sleeping dogs lie and go out (literally) on a good note.  Albums like Van Halen I, II, and Fair Warning are the highlights of when the band was at their peak; I can’t imagine an album 30 years later will be anything  good, we’ll see I guess.  Hell, Ozzy is still churning out albums and that guy sounds the same after all these years, so…

Just thought you might like to know the gossip about a reunion of the band; as much as I would like to see them tour part of me is saying save my money and my attention elsewhere.


The Essential Bill Monroe 2-Disc Set (1945-1949)

Recently on a canoe / camping trip to The Adirondacks in Upstate New York my father asked me for some music that would inspire him during the drive though the Eastern High Peaks Region.  Instantly I thought of Bill Monroe, if you are not familiar with this bluegrass icon you should be, this is vintage bluegrass at its best.

I picked up this box set a few years ago on a lark since I wanted to add some dimension and variety to my music collection.  I had been familiar on a superficial level with Bill Munroe and Earl Scruggs (a protege of Monroe) and liked what  I had heard, normally the only time I listened was on my local college radio station (WRPI). 

I had picked up the two-disc set of Allison Krauss and Union Station Live and was really intrigued by bluegrass and modern country. If you are not famliar with Krauss’ live album it is one of the best live albums I’ve heard, incredible.  I’ve never been one to feel compelled to pick up a Tanya Tucker, Merle Haggard, or Willie Nelson album; that type of Country/Western music never really has appealed to me.  However, vintage Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Sr. always has, so I figured that why not Bill Monroe .  Luckily my bet paid off and this 2-disc set is worth every penny as an introduction to the roots of bluegrass.

Although Monroe had many hits over his 40+ year career, one of the highlights of his music was his hit “Blue Moon of Kentucky“; this song is featured on this collection; one can plainly see why this song was so appealing, but there are 39 other songs as equally as impressive.  The biggest gripe however about this box set is that a majority of the songs are not the actual studio hits, many are alternate versions or unreleased studio tracks of hits.  There is a companion cd that Columbia released “Bill Monroe: 16 Gems”, this is more of a “best of” album than anything else, good yes, but for a purist I feel that the box set is far more a better investment.

The overall sound quality is good but not incredible, most of the tracks were recorded in the early to mid-1940’s so you can understand why it may sound “boxy” at times.  You can get a used box set for about $12.00 on Amazon.  Do yourself a favor if you are a bluegrass fan, or looking for an inspirational album to set the mood as you head on your epic camping trip.

The Essential Bill Monroe (1945-1949) 2-disc set gets 4.0 out of 5.

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