Top 10 List – Non-Traditional Holiday Songs – “Everybody’s Waiting for The Man with The Bag” (Brini Maxwell)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

# 10

Early in the new millennium, New York drag icon Brini Maxwell (aka Ben Sander) lit up the stodgy Style Network with The Brini Maxwell Show; an offbeat home improvement/cooking program that gave helpful tips on how to make stoplight dip, proper escalator etiquette (you stand in front of your date going down), and decorating your home with thrift-shop art. Think of a younger, hotter Martha Stewart crossed with the sauce and sass of Eve Arden (yes, I’m that old). 1960’s kitsch with an industrial strength twist.

The show was so subversive and had so many layers of irony, it’s a minor miracle that it lasted two seasons. In a perfect world it would have gone mega.

Brini also sings. “Everybody’s Waiting for The Man With The Bag” is one of my holiday favorites. But, I consider Brini Maxwell’s version definative.

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Big Screen Bjork – “Biophilia Live” (Movie Review)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

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It’s safe to say that “Biophilia” is Bjork’s most ambitious and labor intensive project to date. The album was released in 2011. It also holds the distinction of being the first album to be released as an APP. Soon to follow was an album of radical remixes, a “Biophilia” music school, an ancillary natural history DVD, museum installations, art exhibits and a concurrent mammoth two year world tour.

The cherry on this very dense and substantial multi-media cake is “Biophilia Live”, a feature-length concert film of the tour’s final date in London, England. It’s a tough brief for any film to replicate the buzz and excitement of Bjork in the flesh. But, “Biophilia Live”  comes close. It puts you onstage with the woman herself. Her facial expressions, gestures and stage moves are viewed under the microscope, the same as her beloved rock crystals, microbes and viruses that constitute the visual narrative of her album length love letter to the natural world, “Biophilia”.

The film is directed Peter Strickland and Nick Fenton. And, their approach is to keep it simple and clean. The majority of the film’s special effects come courtesy of video that was already part of the “Biophilia” stage show. Also, the “Biophilia” stage show featured a dazzling array of eclectic and unique musical instruments; many of which were invented and designed specifically for the artist. These built-ins made the film director’s job one of documentation rather than invention. However, Strickland and Fenton do get their licks in; specifically, the moment where Bjork shares stage time with a very large and realistic giant squid.

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“Biophilia Live” probably does its greatest service to the incredible backing band that sustained Bjork during her Herculean two-year odyssey (which included mid-tour throat surgery). Watching Bjork live, your eye is understandably obsessed with the movements of the star herself and the onstage eye candy courtesy of multiple video screens and Bjork’s charming Icelandic female choir Graduale Nobili. On film, the talents of master percussionist Manu Delgado are generously documented; specifically, his contributions on synthesized vibraphone and a fascinating metal hand drum called The Hang. Additionally, Sound Designer/Keyboardist/Programmer/ Matt Robertson also shines as the musician most responsible for maintaining the musical superstructure of Bjork’s live show.

Not much more to say. Bjork and Co. have re-defined the musical delivery medium, the methodology of music instruction, and have codified the nature/music/technology nexus as a new field of academic study. She will continue to entrance her cult following of millions while flying just below the radar of crass pop-culture. While Beyonce, Pink and Lady Gaga grab the headlines and voluminous wads of cash, Bjork will have to content herself with the knowledge that she is the future of music.

So long “Biophilia”. It’s been a wild, intoxicating ride. What could possibly be next?

80’s Bands Time Forgot (Spotlight) – BEAST OF BEAST

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Beast Of Beast (Sex Drugs And Noise) 1982

Vocallist/Songwriter/Chanteuse Virginia Macolino paid her L.A. dues in spades.  While leading the Prog-Punk outfit Virginia And The Slims through an 18 month club slog,  she was poached by Orange County Euro-pop wanna-bees Berlin….. Not allowed to write for that group, she got fed up after recording one album and left the band only months before Berlin became international stars.  Her answer was to take back control of her muse and form the band Beast Of Beast.  The frustration she endured in her previous bands found expression in the spleen venting debut EP – “Sex Drugs and Noise”.  Dame’ Macolino’s ‘Persian cat on a hot tin roof ‘ growl paired perfectly with the serrated edge scrapings of  guitarist Roy Felig.  On the vanguard of noise-pop before it became mainstream; “Sex Drugs and Noise” carries a hefty price tag on the collectible vinyl market.

Girl Uninterrupted – Guide to Bjork on DVD

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More Bjork?..click>>>>  medullabiophiliaolympicsMatmos /bjork

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Bjork saw the future, and it was her. Bjork cultivated visuals as a vital and equal component to her art right out of the starting gate. Future musical archaeologists looking for the roots of Lady Ga Ga and her ilk will need to look no further than the rich video legacy left by Bjork.

In a addition to a dazzling array of innovative music videos, Bjork has also maintained a steady flow of concert videos documenting every album in her discography with the exception of her soundtrack album for the film “Dancer In The Dark” and her a Capella album “Medulla”.

Viewing one concert video by Bjork only scratches the surface of her range as an artist. Each concert video is a unique experience unto itself. Bjork chooses a different character for each album and constantly changes band personnel to meet the demands of her ever-evolving music. So, the artist you watch on the “Cambridge” concert DVD is (in essence) a different person from the one performing on “Vessel” (Bjork’s first concert DVD). Only David Bowie matches Bjork in the ability to shape-shift public image while remaining true to the art.

Here is a consumer guide to the world of Bjork on video:

Vessel:

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Bjork’s (1993) major label solo debut, the enigmatically titled “Debut” roared out of the gate at warp speed. Along with a smorgasbord of album remixes, Bjork later issued a companion concert video titled “Vessel”. “Vessel” gives us Bjork in her “Icelandic bumpkin in a strange land” persona.  Her band of immigrants play with a precision that is both jazzy and inspired. This would be Bjork’s only tour with a traditional band set up (including a  bass and drums rhythm section). The songs on “Debut” are brought to life stripped of the heavy electronic veneer found on the studio release. Candid home movies cut between songs give “Vessel” the requisite ‘period’ charm.

MTV Unplugged:

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Bjork pulls out all the stops on the British version of the MTV franchise (Unplugged). Bjork employs a different instrumental configuration for each song performed.  Again, the material is drawn exclusively from her smash “Debut”.  Where “Vessel” was organic in an electric context; “….Unplugged” has Bjork sticking rigidly to the acoustic concept with the use of Harpsichord, a tuned percussion ensemble, horn section, glass harmonica, concert harp and stand-up acoustic bass.  This DVD is value for the money due to the quality of the “Unplugged” performance alone.  However, you get a bonus live in-studio performance of songs culled from later albums, “Post” and “Homogenic”. However, the visual effects are gimmicky and her dress is ill fitting.

“Live At Shepherds Bush”

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With the release of Bjork’s second long-player “Post”, the specter of Bjork being a ‘one hit wonder’ was obliterated completely. “Post” exceeded the bar set by “Debut”. Hit singles started to pile up and music videos kept coming along with bigger budgets and bigger ideas. “Live at Shepard’s Bush” finds Bjork re-tooling her touring band with two programmers, a live-mixer, one keyboardist, an electric accordionist and a live drummer. Bjork herself sports a space-age flight attendant look and pumps up the electronic beats without losing the feel. 

“Live At Cambridge”

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“Live At Cambridge” is perhaps Bjork’s finest moment in concert. Bjork to this point had never been anything less than  compelling on record and on video. With “…Cambridge” she shifts into a whole new gear and is truly mesmerizing. A vision in white as the ‘Icelandic Warrior Princess’, Bjork gobbles up the stage accompanied by only an eight piece string section and mixer/programmer Mark Bell. With an impressive repertoire to draw from, and legs to die for, Bjork delivers thrills and chills with this “Homogenic” tour document. No back-up singers or dancers to be seen. Just pure uncut talent.

” Royal Opera House”

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Bjork’s relentless push upward and onward finds expression in her most ambitious album and tour yet, “Vespertine”. Where “Debut” and “Post” documented the travails of the alien, country girl coming of age in the big city, “Vespertine” chronicles Bjork’s retreat to the  domesticity of her homeland (Iceland). However, as Bjork’s star ascended, her quest for excellence became insatiable. For “Vespertine”, the string octet was expanded to a full orchestra. Bjork travelled to Greenland to hand pick her women’s choir. Bjork retained outside artists/sound designers Matmos to give her beat structures a nip and tuck. Lush, expansive and not in a rush to go anywhere, ”Vespertine” stunned opera house audiences world-wide with the first successful attempt at quadraphonic surround-sound in concert.

Dancer In the Dark:

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Bjork got a lot of mileage out of her only starring role in a feature-length film. Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival as well as an Oscar nomination for the film soundtrack. What about the film itself?  “Dancer In the Dark” was an offbeat amalgam of melodrama, dance numbers and Shakespearean tragedy. The world was put on notice that Bjork could do just about anything. However, it was Bjork herself who pulled the plug on her acting career and never looked back.  She turned down a mega-buck offer to co-star in “Tank Girl”…..thank god……

The Making of Medulla:

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With the success of all things Bjork steaming along unabated, the artist decided it was time for a reset and re-think. She went through a period of exploration. She gave birth to her second child and investigated the limits and possibilities of the human voice with her a Capella album “Medulla”. Obviously logistics precluded a tour of the album, so Bjork instead chose to release a documentary on the making of “Medulla”.  Bjork talks about her old bands, the challenges of making a vocal album and childbirth. There is plenty of cool studio footage of Bjork in charge and on a creative roll. If this isn’t enough, a DVD of the music videos for “Medulla” is also available.

“Songs From The Volta Tour (2008):

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Bjork’s sabbatical from touring ended with the completion of the album “Volta”. One of the missions of “Volta” was the exploration of horn arrangements. The tour found a forty-something Bjork backed by an Icelandic female brass band, Mark Bell, two additional programmers, a keyboardist and a live drummer. The “Volta Tour” was as much a roll out of the “Medulla” material as it was for the new album “Volta”. This bottle of lightning was captured in Paris at the Olympia and finds Bjork at her most electrifying and commanding. This live concert integrates her audience more than any of Bjork’s other concert DVD and finds them in a state of euphoric rapture. As a bonus, we also get a brief sampler of Bjork at an intimate church in Reykjavik performing a brace of vocal-heavy tunes from “Medulla” with a guest choir and brass section. The Reykjavik performances are not essential but a nice curio for the true Bjorkhead.

Also Essential…..

Inside Bjork’

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This is the authorized documentary. You won’t see any tabloid revelations or regurgitation. The focus is on the artist, her roots and her muse. Sir Elton John and Sean Penn, Beck and Thom Yorke make vital and intelligent comment on Bjork’s art and aura. There are lots of interesting tidbits of information and  revealing interviews with the subject herself. My personal highlight is Bjork performing “Anchor Song”  on an old church pump organ in a chapel in Iceland.  Bjork’s connection to the topography of her homeland is palpable.

Volumen:

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“Volumen” presents the golden age of Bjork’s music videos from “Debut” through “Homogenic”. These include her groundbreaking work with directors Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. “Isobel” is a noir masterpiece and “I Miss You” is an animated hoot and a half.  You can find dazzling special effects on most music videos nowadays. But, most lack the intelligence and wit displayed on “Volumen”.

“Later with Jools Holland (1995-2011)”

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The Jools Holland show is a British television institution that attracts A-list musicians  from every country. It’s a show that Bjork has revisited several times and the show’s intimate staging and excellent sound has always inspired great performances. The DVD shows Bjork in all of her chameleonic glory. It’s also helpful that the song selections proceed chronologically. Moreover, (at this writing) it is the only official source for performances of her “Biophilia” material.

If all the above isn’t enough…….

“Miniscule”

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The least essential Bjork DVD, it does have its charms. The DVD is (for the most part) only an expansion of the mini-documentary found on the “Royal Opera House” DVD.  Miniscule details her “Vespertine” period. It also boasts some creative, home-video experiments and some rare interview segments with the artist.

“Volumen Plus”

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After her big budget music video extravaganzas of the late 20th Century, Bjork starts to go introspective and reductive in her music videos. Don’t let me buzz kill this collection, but it’s a bit skimpy and self-indulgent. On the plus side, the provocative “Alarm Call” and the controversial “All Is Full Of Love” shine brightly.  

“Screaming Masterpiece”

Screaming Masterpiece: El legado musical de Islandia

This is not a Bjork release. But since any documentary about the music of Iceland must begin and end with the word Bjork, this fascinating study is loaded with rare Bjork concert footage and rare video clips. Additionally, the artist is interviewed extensively regarding the pop music explosion of the worlds youngest and most volatile landmass. Essential purchase for Bjork the completest.

Profiles in Outsider Music #2 JAN TERRI

Authored by Dale Nickey:
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Jan Terri embodies the never say die spirit of the outsider artist. She boldly and heroically acquired the necessary skills to present her art to the world. In 1983 Terri earned her B.A. in Broadcast communications and a Certificate of Management for Sound Engineering from Columbia College. Her outsider roots formed early courtesy of her membership in a jug band that played the clubs in Chicago. Her band mates consisted of her mom and dad. Her father gained notoriety for performing in black-face as “Black Elvis”.

Jan Terri gained notoriety with music videos that are compelling in their period cheesiness. Most of the videos were shot in Jan Terri’s home town of Chicago. In the 80’s and early 90’s the world was all about flash and glitz, Jan Terri’s attempts to crash the cool kids party gives us a bizarro perspective of the post Michael Jackson world. Late 20th century Pop fashion forced Jan Terri into an alien landscape. And for me, it’s a far more interesting landscape than the Wal-Mart America of today.

Jan Terri has secured her legacy in the world of Outsider Music, If she is a put-on, then it’s an elaborate Seinfeldian lampoon of disposable pop culture. If she is genuine, then she has met and exceeded the bar for inclusion in a very strange and fascinating club. Her cult following is formidable, loyal and growing. She’s been profiled on “The Daily Show” and can boast the admiration and patronage of Marilyn Manson.

IF the Outsider Music genre really gains currency, then they’ll need a “Queen”. Jan Terri is the class of the field so far.

Bjork + Biophilia + Bowl = Brilliant (Concert Review)

Bjork at The Hollywood Bowl – (06/11/13)

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More Bjork?..click>>>>  medullabiophiliaolympicsMatmos /bjork

Reviewed by Dale Nickey:

After three intimate in-the-round performances at the Hollywood Palladium, planet Bjork landed at The Hollywood Bowl Tuesday night for one last blast of the potent nature/technology/music cocktail that is her current Biophilia project.  One wonders if the Hollywood-specific focus of her efforts is, in any way, a statement to Tinseltown that there is more to Bjork  than the much ballyhooed swan dress that she wore at the 2001 Oscar ceremony.  Probably not.  She has never been known to give a crap about celebrity gossip.

No matter, the assembled multitude at The Bowl will only remember Bjork and Graduale Nobili (Icelandic ‘choir girls gone wild’) performing a generous, lavish set of outsider Art-Pop.  Bjork has recovered fully from throat surgery that forced date cancellations earlier in the tour.  If you’re worried about the state of her voice, don’t.  She pushed the degree of difficulty and stuck every landing.  And, if the adoring Bowl throng was disappointed at not hearing fan favorites “Isobel”, “Human Behavior”, or “Bachlorette”, they didn’t show it.  Give Bjork her props;  she held a canyon full of hyperactive metrosexuals and millennials spellbound with a set of brainy, complex, and (for the most part) downbeat selections from her latest album “Biophilia”,  as well as some eclectic offerings from her back catalog.

After the audience bestowed their patience on the sacrificial opening act, our heroine made sure we cooled our heals in the parlor an appropriate amount of time before she deigned to descend the staircase and receive callers.  All the while a curt text message appeared on the five massive video screens (in Spanish and English) informing us that her majesty did not appreciate bootleg recording or I-phone waving at the expense of her performance…tank yu…

Initially, this writer had some concern about the diminutive warrior princess getting lost in the vast expanse of The Hollywood Bowl.  Fears were put to rest quickly with the opener “Cosmology”. The video images were celestial and stunning.  More important, they were relevant. Bjork’s latest work “Biophilia” is an album length love letter to nature in all its forms and substructures. Deep space, moon, rock crystals and microscopic organisms. The resulting live show is equal parts multi-media rock extravaganza and x-treme power point presentation.

One small beef was that Bjork only appeared on the big screen once during her performance. That was on the second song “Hunter”.  It was a tease not to be repeated.

Sound was precise, full, clear and excellent throughout.  Sonic integrity was even maintained during the mega-decibel set closer “Nattura”, where Bjork and the girls let their hair down and had a collective spazz attack while flames engulfed the stage.

There was a scarcity of classic material on the set list.  However, when Bjork did lob a chart hit into the audience it was gobbled up voraciously like sharks to chum.  “Joga” (from Homogenic) was moving and poignant; an emotional highlight.  Also, “Possibly Maybe” benefited greatly from a post-modern makeover from her skilled and focused two- piece band.  Again, a shout out to Graduale Nobili .  Refreshingly free of spandex and danskins;  all of them sang their asses off,  all of them had a blast,  and all were real  flesh and blood beauties who looked like they didn’t mind eating a healthy meal.

In the end, Bjork rewarded our adoration with three encore pieces.  First off was a gorgeous a cappella workout by the girls titled “Oskasteiner”.  Then Bjork came out sporting some sort of spiked plastic head-wear. She then gave us a proper orgasm with “Hyperballad”.  When Bjork and band finally floored the gas pedal on “Declare Independence”, she had all the shiny happy people dancing in the aisles.

It’s nice to know that in this dystopian, Duck Dynasty world, it’s still possible to enjoy an alien visitation. In our time and place, Bjork is as close to an extraterrestrial as we’re likely to get. Seeing her live should definitely be on your bucket list.  Because, like the snow leopard; when she’s gone, that’s it, show’s over. There won’t be another coming along to replace her.

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Top 10 “Story Songs” # 2 Bobbie Gentry (Ode To Billy Joe)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Number 2 …..

Ode To Billy Joe – Bobbie Gentry (1967)

Click for other story songs>>>>>> 10  9  8 7 6 5 4 3 1 

Southern Gothic meets Twin Peaks. Just as circle jerks around the water cooler in 1990 proffered theories on ‘who killed Laura Palmer?’ So did we muse and ponder in 1967 exactly what the hell it was that Billy Joe McAllister threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge? It was such an enigma that a feature length movie was produced based on the lyrics to the song.

In many ways, Bobbie Gentry was the Kate Bush of her time and place. Like Bush, Gentry was a white hot classic brunette with a lot going on under the hood. She was one of the first female country music artists to pen her own material (Kate was the first Brit female to pen a number 1).  And, after the hoopla and lucre generated by “Ode”, Gentry began a slow but sure retreat from celebrity. By the late 70’s had removed herself from the harsh spotlight of performing and had chosen the soft afterglow of domesticity (ala’ Kate).

 “Ode To Billy Joe” is a humid, steamy invocation of rural, Deep South culture.  Gentry’s near Bossa Nova guitar plucking has the thick, stagnant funk of swamp gas on a hot, August Delta night.   The string arrangement is as greasy as bacon drippings. Gentry obviously embodied small town Southern culture,  yet crafted ‘Ode..’ with a narrative punch that should remind us that our perception of the double- wide, cousin humpin’ Deep South (formed by a thousand Deliverance jokes) must also include towering literary icons like Falkner, Twain and Tennessee Williams.  Rooted deep in the saga of ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ is agrarian plantation society – although built on the backs of conscripted humanity- it still gave us a culture rich in art, architecture and a certain ironic civility we call Southern hospitality.

 

The story is set around the dinner table. The news is disseminated that local boy Billy Joe has jumped to his death off the Tallahatchie Bridge. Ominous plot points and mundane family chatter are intermingled as the chronology of events slowly unfolds:  

 Papa said to mama as he passed around the black-eyed peas,
“Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense,
pass the biscuits, please.”
“There’s five more acres in the lower forty I’ve got to plow.”
Mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow.

Exotic theories abounded regarding the various unanswered mysteries imbedded in the song. Gentry wisely never made any attempt to explain or reveal them. Her masterpiece had been painted; never again to be equaled or duplicated.