Ani DiFranco – Pines Theatre Presale

Tickets go on sale tomorrow for a July 11 show at the Northampton outdoor venue.  I'm pleased to see that it's all general admission, as the reserved section in past years was an uncomfortable joke.   Bring your bug spray and a pre-show picnic basket.

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Paul Simon Meets Eno

Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected this collaboration, but there it is.  Brian Eno, founding member of Roxy Music, purveyor of ambient “Music for Airports” experimental records, and producer of U2 and the Talking Heads, is teaming with Paul Simon.  “Surprise” is the all-too-fitting title, due for a May 9 release.  Bill Frissell and Herbie Hancock are among the guests.  One song, “Father and Daughter,” appeared on the “Wild Thornberries” soundtrack.  Simon will appear May 13 on Saturday Night Live. 

Reunions – One Real, The Other Makeshift

Phil Collins has apparently found a way to deal with all those hearing and singing problems that forced an end to his touring career. Today, he and pals Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutheford and Tony Banks announced a re-formed Genesis. Makes sense, as Gabriel’s solo efforts have essentially plateaued, and the Rutheford/Banks collaboration as Genesis produced “Calling All Stations” – but sadly, the stations didn’t call back.

The Cars are a band one didn’t expect to see reunited. After all, smoldering singer Ben Orr died of cancer in 2000, and chief songwriter Rick Ocasek is famously antipathetic to the idea.

Enter the New Cars, featuring Greg Hawkes, and Elliot Easton of the original band, along with drummer Prairie Prince (ex-Tubes) and bassist Kasim Sultan. Sultan’s old boss, Todd Rundgren, will front the group, which I’m betting won’t sound anything like the old Cars.

Pardon me for feeling cynical, but Elliot Easton was last seen on the Discovery Channel’s Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, the kind of gig you get just after your solo career tanks and just before your old band gets together for one last run at the brass ring. How does two-fifths of an original lineup equal a reunion tour?

Used Cars, is more like it.

Wish I could figure out how Todd got invoved in all this, however. That one has me puzzled. Well, maybe not.

CD Review – Mark Erelli

“Hope and Other Casualties”

Mark Erelli departs from his chameleon-like ways with this effort, which should please fans that latched on to his eponymous 1999 debut, and the brilliant follow-up, “Compass & Companion.”. Despite the title, this is an optimistic work. “Here Now” imagines a time when “there’s no cracks to fall between.” Much of “Hope & Other Casualties” is light and easy, with multi-instrumentalist Erelli’s considerable chops evident throughout. Ultimately, his musicianship redeems a somewhat uneven record.

“The Only Way” is a rally-round-the-rainbow call to arms that evokes 9/11, with a lively beat and good harmonica playing. It falls flat, however, with lines like “it’s too much to swallow/it’s left me hollow.”

He’s on firmer ground evoking shipwreck tales on “Evening’s Curtain,” and railing against social injustice in the indignant “Seeds of Peace.” “Imaginary War” is a lovely elegy to bygone small town life, reminiscent of John Gorka’s “Houses in the Fields,” but with a bright innocence that’s missing from that song’s somber tone.

“Snowed In” is a nicely winterized romantic song, and the Greg Brown shuffle “Undone” is equally pleasant, but neither registers with any particular force. “God Loves Everyone,” clunky and earnest, should have been left off entirely. Better to have “Hope’s” penultimate track, the gorgeous, gospel-tinged “Passing Through,” and its’ declaration, “I refuse to let my hope become the latest casualty,” be the record’s final resonating thought.

“Hartfordtown 1944” is this disc’s understated masterpiece. A musical retelling of true events vividly recounted in Stewart O’Nan’s “The Circus Fire,” it begins so jauntily it seems ripped from a Raffi record. But he’s describing a tragedy, forever etched on his hometown’s consciousness. The harrowing line, “some remembered how the animals cried/but there weren’t any animals inside,” hits like an abrupt gut-punch. It’s Mark Erelli at his evocative best.

Spitzer Sues Radio Chain as Part of Music Inquiry – New York Times

Spitzer Sues Radio Chain as Part of Music Inquiry – New York Times.

Strange times in the big music biz.  Along with the payola suit, there’s news that major labels are increasingly fighting the tide of online downloads.  Ne-Yo’s latest is touted as evidence of the strategy’s success, but 400,000 or so units is chump change next to the millions of times fans grabbed “So Sick” for free from P2P sites.

Also, the American Association of Independent Music sent a letter to the FCC alleging that the broadcast industry deliberately keeps indie music off the radio.

“Well over half of the releases cited in January’s Village Voice Critics Poll were released by independent labels. The marketplace is responding, as independent labels now make up over 27% of sales in the American music market (and about 80% of the music available to consumers—representing the broad cultural diversity of the musical landscape). Yet, somehow, music released by independents is virtually absent from the commercial airwaves.”

Think about that.  Against a tide of money, the little guys are winning.