Tuesday, December 30, 2008


It's been a somewhat mild year in music, but as always I've found plenty of new stuff to enjoy. The last two reviews are copies of earlier reviews by fellow blogger A Scale Canadian and are reprinted with permission. The 'Vagabonds' review is also reprinted from my own bi-annual Music Report. In an interesting 2008 twist, all of these releases are also available on vinyl LP.

JOHN HIATT - SAME OLD MAN - I initially wasn’t all that thrilled with ‘Same Old Man’. Hiatt’s voice seemed rougher and more strained than even a couple of years ago, the songs made me recall songs of earlier albums, and “On With You” seemed to borrow too much from “All Along the Watchtower” to be considered an original composition. All my complaints fell away on the second listen, with his odes to love and aging struck a chord with me (though only in my mid-thirties, I’ve always felt like an old man). The set opens with “Old Days”, a humorous autobiographical ramble of his early career, spent opening for blues greats like Sonny Terry and John Lee Hooker. The rest of the album is full of love songs: love’s desired (“Let’s Give This Love A Try”), love’s regret (“Love You Again”), love’s forged over time (“Two Hearts”, “Same Old Man”). Another love song, “Our Time”, features some of his cleverest lyrics in awhile:

I traded your arms as you laid spread out on the Sunday paper.
Looked like the crime scene of an angel ghost.
I heard the gate clatter to on the elevator.
I wrapped myself up in it like a cold beef roast.
Fell asleep, was cooked medium and placed on a dining room table in Brooklyn.

THE FIREMAN - ELECTRIC ARGUMENTS - I originally panned this album, but did it before I ever heard a note. The two previous Fireman albums were Paul McCartney’s ongoing collaboration with Youth in making ambient/electronica/experimental music that sounded nothing like normal McCartney or like anything the public wanted to hear. They were primarily anonymous in that you had to be a Macca devotee to know that he was the man behind it. I was puzzled by this release because the patina of secrecy was wiped off and Sir Paul was promoting the album in interviews and on his website

McCartney kicks off with a bluesy rocker, letting the listener know right away this isn’t their weird uncle’s Fireman. He follows with “two magpies”, a quiet acoustic song that would have been at home on the recent ‘Chaos & Creation in the Backyard’ and is a direct descendant of “Blackbird”. The third track is a pop song, and any pretense of hiding behind the heavy coat of the Fireman has sloughed off. That’s not to say it’s your typical solo McCartney, either. There are soundscapes, funky double-track harmonizing, whale song, dog growls, and landing alien craft. On the fourth song, “traveling light”, I swear he’s using the old Beatle mellotron (he owns it). So, while there are flights in to the bizarre, there’s also some classic Macca. The song “highway” sounds like a refugee from the ‘Driving Rain’ album. In fact, I’d put this up ahead of ‘Driving Rain’ in the catalog. Bottom line – McCartney is in a particularly joyful mood that passes through to the listener.

GARY LOURIS - VAGABONDS - Gary Louris has created his own kind of gospel, but they are hymns for the desperate corners of life. They’re not just about the drifters and drug abusers, but folks like you and me, some drifting through life. The occasional use of a small choir, which includes Jenny Lewis and album producer Chris Robinson, elevates the emotional timbre, particularly on “She Only Calls Me on Sundays”, where it seems in conflict with the song’s subject. The album at times feels depressing, but the arching message is uplifting, as represented in the snippets of lyrics below and summed up by one song’s title lyric “We’ll get by but we don’t know how.”

Some folks look for saviors
Some for missing pieces
Some for earthly ecstasy
Some they look for Jesus
- “Omaha Nights”

I want to laugh or say a prayer
I never had a cross to bear so beautiful
- “To Die a Happy Man”

Find a way
Feel without a trace
Feel fulfillment in this small corner
- “True Blue”

MUDCRUTCH - MUDCRUTCH - I have no idea what possessed Tom Petty to reunite his early 70s band Mudcrutch, but boy am I thankful that he did. Recorded mostly live in 10 days Mudcrutch’s decades late debut album has an early start as one of the best albums of 2008 and in many ways it adds a new chapter to Tom Petty’s storied career.

To catch you up on the story, Mudcrutch was formed in 1970 in Gainesville, Florida. Moving to California they signed with Shelter Records and recorded a single. In 1975 the band broke up and it appeared they would be best remembered as Tom Petty’s first band. However, here we are in 2008 with a Mudcrutch album. Mudcrutch is Tom Petty on bass and vocals, Mike Campbell on guitar, Randall Marsh on drums, Tom Leadon on guitar and vocals, and Benmont Tench on keyboards and vocals.

This is Tom Petty and company at their most country rock. They seem to have more energy and passion then seen in the last few Petty albums. It sounds like everyone is having fun. Apparently the loose fun breeds success. Standouts include the opening folk cover “Shady Grove,” the first single “Scare Easy”, and the Stills inspired “Bootleg Flyer.” You many not be surprised from the titles that these are story songs. “Crystal River” finds a way to be pretty, psychedelic, and hypnotizing. Petty tends to keep it tight on his records, but in “Crystal River” the band jams and stretches out. “Oh Maria” recalls the Almond Brothers and tells a tender love/stalker story about a drug dealer. “Topanga Cowgirl” makes me want to move to Topanga Canyon right this minute. Benmont gets to take lead vocals on “This Is A Good Street. Hey Ben…that is a good song…you should get to write and sing more often. Clearly the highlight of the album is a rocking cover of the Byrds “Lover of the Bayou.” In fact this album seems Byrds inspired. Not the early Byrds Petty usually references, but the later Sweetheart of the Rodeo and beyond Byrds. The album’s only misstep is a cover of “Six Days on the Road.” Not that it is bad, but the world just doesn’t need another average cover of “Six Days.” Note to rock bands…forget this song…

Tom Petty sounds rejuvenated and has crafted the most enjoyable album of 2008 so far. I wonder if we will ever hear from Mudcrutch again? [Matt's note - since this writing, Mudcrutch have toured and released a Live EP]

JENNY LEWIS - ACID TONGUE - In 2006 Jenny Lewis broke free from the reins of Rilo Kiley and released 'Rabbit Fur Coat', not only one of the best albums of 2007, but also one of the best solo debuts of all time. 'Rabbit Fur Coat' was a flowing masterpiece of county rock/folk singer-songwriter tunes with great lyrics and nice harmonies provided by the Watson Twins. After the success of 'Rabbit Fur Coat', Jenny returned to Rilo Kiley for an attempted pop cash-in with 'Under the Blacklight'…a highly uneven effort with both some great songs ("15" and "Smoke Detector") and some bad (the woeful "Dejalo") Now, Jenny returns with her next solo album, 'Acid Tongue'. It doesn’t have the flow of her debut and at times comes across as a disjointed set of songs.

Jenny opens up the album with her little girl voice on the pretty "Black Sand". "Pretty Bird" could be a Neil Young and Crazy Horse song…but without the guitar freak-outs…and…well, with a girl singer. Next up is the slinky and shape changing "The Next Messiah". Here, Jenny drops the little girl voice and starts to rock out. The song is eight minutes and forty seconds of Bo Diddley beat rock and male/female sing-alongs. If Jenny wanted to be less generous it almost could have been broken up into two or three songs. Other highlights include the “interesting family dynamic” tempo-shifting rocker "Jack Killed Mom", and the energetic country-rock pop of "See Fernando"…no not the ABBA tune. "Carpetbaggers" starts out strong and only stalls when Elvis Costello starts mumbling his way through the second verse. Jenny recovers, but she really should just have excised Elvis from the song. Also, don’t miss the stunning title track with Chris Robinson on backing vocals. Here Jenny strips down to just acoustic guitar and vocals and comes out with an amazing song about a hole in her shoe, liars, acid, and love. A few of the lesser songs echo 70s pop/rock/country/jazz with a few chamber music touches…nothing bad, they just aren’t that memorable.

This is a good album and it is growing on me, I just don’t think Jenny has equaled Rabbit Fur Coat…yet.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


numbered, but in no particular order...

1) SECRET INVASION: After last year's 'Civil War' comic event lost me amid its ridiculousness, this year's Secret Invasion not only found me, it brought back that 11-year old in me who was knocked out by 'Secret Wars' 25 years ago (btw, just typing the phrase "25 years ago" in relation to my life scares the crap out of me). Writer Brian Bendis gave us surprises aplenty, bringing together elements over three years in the making, and making this fanboy, as my pal Ted might put it, all 'gooby'. Now, I don't think you have to buy the whole thing, all the tie-ins and such, because that will run you about a kabillion dollars. If you stick to the main series and the other Bendis-written series, 'Mighty Avengers' and 'New Avengers' you'll be ok. Avoid the other stuff, like 'Improved Avengers...now with 30% more Avenging'.

2) CAPTAIN AMERICA: Consistently the most exciting, well-written monthly superhero title, courtesy of Ed Brubaker and the consistent, underrated knockout art of Steve Epting. The original Captain America, Steve Rogers, has been "dead" for over a year now, and the book suffers not. It's incredible that 60+ years on, there are still satisfying Red Skull stories to be written and read. The best part is that Brubaker didn't have to detour a great storyline to match up with the 'Secret Invasion' event. These company crossover deals tend to muck with the regular comics. Kudos to Marvel editorial for letting Cap's creative team do their thing.

3)THE COMPLETE TERRY & THE PIRATES Volumes 2-5T: Drama, humor, and action combined with masterful illustration. We get to see the main character, Terry Lee, grow up along with the skills of his creator, Milton Caniff. He showed everybody how adventure comic strips could be done, and nobody did it better. These volumes are essential to any library. The 6th and final volume is due next month.

4) SCORCHY SMITH AND THE ART OF NOEL SICKLES: Sickles was Caniff's close friend and one-time studio partner, and both formed a mutual admiration society. But while Caniff saw the comic strip as a lifelong avocation and a business, Sickles just loved to draw, and tired of his own strip, 'Scorchy Smith' after a couple of years. Sickles' entire run of the strip is reprinted here, bookended by the artist he replaced and the one who replaced him. The real bounty of the book is in the first half, which includes the first full biography of Sickles as well as the only extensive reprinting of his post-Scorchy illustration work for magazines and advertisers. There's still a good deal for it on.

5) DAVE SIM: Sim had a wildly divergent year when you compare his launch of the 'Glamourpuss' series and the 'Judenhass' graphic novel. Glamourpuss, which I wrote about here is an odd hybrid of fashion illustration, fashion parody and study of comic strip illustration. Judenhass is an historical look at anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. I believe 'Glamourpuss' will appeal to an esoteric handful, while school systems should be ordering 'Judenhass' by the crateload.

6) CHUCK DIXON: Dixon was hurriedly dumped by DC this year, apparently for writing some great comics. Memo to DC, after you dropped Dixon, I dropped 'Robin' and 'Batman & the Outsiders'. Outside of DC, Dixon continues to give us clever, episode-worthy stories in 'Simpsons Comics'. He also snuck in a Western, 'Wyatt Earp vs the Cisco Kid', from Moonstone. I haven't read his war mini-series, 'Storming Paradise', but Beau Smith, and that's good enough for this hombre. I'll also mention that Chuck wrote an adaptation of Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: Prodigal Son. There are many problems with cramming a novel into a comic book series. It seems like there aren't enough issues to get everything in and I keep forgetting who is who. It's a five issue series, but the ending doesn't resolve anything and we're told to stay tuned for the second volume of the series. Chuck's a pro's pro, and I know he's doing his best to keep it all straight for us, but this one's lost me. Maybe it's the artist who seems to draw most male characters with the same face.

7) ACTION COMICS: Marvel artist Gary Frank defected to DC late last year to draw a run of 'Action Comics' with writer Geoff Johns. Frank's Superman is decidedly Christopher Reeve-ish and in doing so was able to capture some of the magic of 'Superman: The Movie'. Perhaps that's the influence of Johns' recent collaborator, Richard Donner. Johns is keyed into Superman's comic heritage, showcasing Frank's art with a Legion of Super Heroes story followed by a Brainiac/City of Kandor story. The only downer? Somebody decided it was time to kill off Pa Kent...again.

8) SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN v.1 - In the not-so dim past (the 1970s), a popular format for comics were monthly magazines, geared for *gasp* adults. 'Savage Sword' was a long running mag featuring Conan the Barbarian. I picked this up thinking it was going to reprint the magazines in their entirety, but it only has the Conan stories. Initially disappointed, I was soon captured by the timelessness of the tales, and John Buscema's art has never looked better. Like the magazine, the stories are in black and white. At 500+ pages, you won't find a better comics bargain for $17.95.

9) BAT LASH - I've never read the original 'Bat Lash', the short-lived series from the late '60s by Sergio Aragones, Denny O'Neil and Nick Cardy, but it's always come up as one of those obscure but outstanding series that's remembered with reverence. So I was excited for this new 'Bat Lash' series, again co-written by Aragones and drawn by living legend John Severin. Both add nuances to the story of an outlaw-ish ne'er-do-well who falls for the beautiful daughter of the powerful villain who controls the town. To see Severin, now in his mid-80s, turning in a story that lacks none of his skilled craftmanship, is reason enough to give this a look.

10) THE COMPLETE PEANUTS, 1967-1968 and 1969-1970 by Charles M. Schulz - There's so much of these books that's ingrained in my childhood. It's impossible not to love events like the introductions of Franklin and Woodstock, Snoopy as the Masked Marvel, Snoopy goes to the moon, the kite-eating tree, and Lucy at her crabbiest. There was also a run where it seems Schulz thought the word "blighter" was funny. (click the strip to view the whole strip)
and this strip blew my mind...
ok, I could post these forever, but does it get any better than this?
and one of my favorite Sundays...

All of these books are available at your local comic shop. I go to this one.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I've compiled a list of folks in the field of comic books, strips, animation, illustration, etc. who have passed this year. If you see that I've missed someone, please let me know and I'll update the list! The formatics is kind of goonie with pictures being separated from the obit due to conversion from Word to .pdf. I'm sure there's a fix, but I'm challenged in that area. Special thanks to Mark Evanier and The Beat who did the first (and best) reporting on a lot of these individuals.COMICS 2008 Update 2

Monday, December 22, 2008


I was pleased to be a guest on "Northern Kentucky Magazine" last week and play this song that I wrote ten years ago and first performed on the show in 2001. I hope I didn't make too many mistakes! Enjoy and Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008


December 16th, 1773, as seen by John Severin (from Cracked Magazine #230 (9/87)...click to enlarge

Sunday, December 14, 2008

BETTIE PAGE (1923-2008)

Just a few words about Bettie Page, '50s pin-up extraordinaire, who died this week at the age of 85. Most of you know that revived interest in Page was the result of Dave Stevens including her in his 'Rocketeer' comic in the mid-1980s. I encountered her image frequently during my years working at Comic Quest. There was no end to folks capitalizing on her image, whether is was via trading cards or old burlesque films like 'Teasearama' -

Page was also a recurring subject of the artist Olivia, and during the non-sport trading card craze of the early '90s, her image was hard to miss. It didn't seem strange then, but looking back now it's interesting to me that Bettie Page was embraced and beloved by comic book fans moreso than any other model, even Marilyn Monroe. Her clean, girl-next-door looks mixed with the 'anything goes' style of her fetish pictures give viewers the idea that she can be anybody.

After a couple of decades of obscurity, poverty and mental institutionalization, the revival of interest caught up with Page herself. She submitted to interviews, but declined to be photographed and had her face blacked out for TV. She hired an agency to pursue remuneration for the myriad uses of her image. I was shocked to see her on "The Girls Next Door", showing up as a guest at a Playboy mansion party (she was a 1955 Playmate (NSFW). In her last years she was able to receive the respect and reverence given her work a half-century ago, giving the Bettie Page story a happy ending.

Friday, December 5, 2008


I came in late to the "Boston Legal" tea party. Though I had never watched it’s parent show, "The Practice", I had always meant to watch the spinoff since I heard William Shatner talking about it on Howard Stern (when the new series had the working title of "Fleet Street"). I caught it midway through season two, and then it wasn’t for series stars Shatner, James Spader, but episode guest star Michael J. Fox. To my pleasant surprise, the series regulars included some old TV friends: Rene Auberjoinois (“Benson”), Candice Bergen (“Murphy Brown”) and the delicious Julie Bowen (“Ed”). So I stuck with it, and enjoyed the three seasons to follow.

“Boston Legal” ends Monday night with back-to-back episodes on ABC, ending an abbreviated fifth season. It’s a leaner cast, down to just six lawyers from last year’s nine. Cast changes were the norm, and the only survivors from season one are show stars William Shatner and James Spader. Their roles brought both actors their largest acclaim, with five Emmy nominations and two wins for Shatner as Denny Crane, four Emmy nominations and three wins for Spader as Alan Shore. My wife, Jill, always asked me while I watch this show. It's the polar opposite of my politics. In fact, it continually assaulted and insulted my beliefs and ideals. It went out of its way to make liberal ideas and causes seem like the obvious choice and those who do not agree are idiots. This was particularly on display when Alan Shore made his extensive closing arguments. I've fast-forwarded through most of them. The only right-wing character is Crane, portrayed often as a buffoon who's losing his mind.

That said, what keeps me watching are the people, not just the regulars but the recurring wacky judges (like Henry Gibson and Shelley Berman) and Betty White as a perpetual scofflaw. But "Boston Legal", for all it's in-your-face politics, is really the love story of two men, two friends, Denny Crane and Alan Shore. There friendship is implausible, unconventional, but honest and uplifting to both. It's also been a great showcase for Candice Bergen (Shirley Schmidt) and John Larroquette as the sane wardens of a bin of lawyer loonies. The best character, for me, is Christian Clemenson as Jerry Espenson. Jerry started out as a recurring character nicknamed 'Hands', because he was most comfortable always keeping his hands on his thighs (even while walking). He went from taking a senior partner hostage at gunpoint to becoming a partner himself with the firm. Clemenson's Emmy-winning portrayal of this sympathetic, troubled man gave us a character for the viewer to root for each week.

I'm glad we got a last chance with these characters. We even got the contrived TV Thanksgiving episode where the co-workers have dinner together, causing Shirley to exclaim, "Do we have to fight? Can't we just eat and make small talk and pretend we like each other?"