The Lost Art Of Liner Notes: Billy “Crash” Craddock – Mr. Country Rock (1973, ABC Records)

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One of the things that we’ve lost since downloading and streaming took over as our main sources of music is the effort put into the packaging and presentation of music, specifically the effort put into liner notes. A recent crate digging exposition led to the acquisition of some “new” used records and got me to thinking that they just don’t make liner notes like they used to back in the day. Many of the older records of the ’50s,’60s, and ’70s would feature someone (some sort of notable music industry figure, maybe the artist themselves, or perhaps just some random writer looking to make a quick buck) waxing poetic about the contents of the record. Sure, albums today can still feature pretty extensive notes, but they’re of a different nature and as time moves on, these kinds of glowing testimonials have definitely fallen from favour. Too bad – just imagine what could have been if famous “punk” Ivanka Trump had been given the chance to give us her thoughts in the packaging for Nirvana’s In Utero.

With this in mind, we celebrate the glory of the liner note by having a look at the back cover of Mr. Country Rock by Billy “Crash” Craddock. Yes, it’s true – aside from having the nickname “Crash,” Billy Craddock also has the audacity to refer to himself as “Mr. Country Rock,” which is weird. Ain’t it? Gram Parsons should have kicked this guy’s ass for making such a claim.

Behold, the liner notes. I’m not sure who wrote this and I’m not really sure what they’re on about (“Electric sunglasses?” “Hard throbbing dance rhythms?” Psychedelic bumper stickers?), but go ahead and behold:

Ain’t it weird? I mean the way it happens sometimes.

A guy starts out to be a rock ‘n roll star, and they promote him with ads and bumper stickers and electric sunglasses and what not, and then they sit back and wait for the money to roll in.

But the magazines with yesterday’s news start piling up on the table by the visitor’s couch – their yellowing advertisements constant reminders of mistakes the geniuses would rather forget. And the crumbling bumper stickers giving way to shiny psychedelic messages such as “See Ruby Falls” or “America, Love It Or Leave It.” And another promising star-to-be becomes one more might have been.

Then somebody remembers, and somebody believes – and together they work in new directions toward new goals:

Country music – slashing twin fiddles and wailing steel guitars, mixed with the infectious beat of rock – the hard throbbing dance rhythms that exploded rock almost overnight as the pop music of the young and young at heart.

Country rock. A hybrid compound, a style, a formula for success for a might-have-been who made it to the top – and who intends to stay there:

Mr Country-Rock, Billy “Crash” Craddock.

Ain’t it weird?

Album Review: Sun Kil Moon – Universal Themes (2015, Caldo Verde)

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It’s an age old question: can you separate the artist from their art?

In many cases, we are able to sort of look the other way, ignoring an artist’s behaviour if we like the art enough.  But with a songwriter like Mark Kozelek, whose work has taken on more and more of an autobiographical, confessional tone at the same time that his public persona has become progressively more obnoxious and well, troll-like, is it really that easy to separate him from his work?

Universal Themes, Kozelek’s latest under the Sun Kil Moon moniker was just released this week, but that’s not the big story surrounding Sun Kil Moon. Instead, we’re facing yet another story about Kozelek’s bad behaviour, yet another thing that makes it hard to like the guy. But I’ll try to set all of that aside and just focus on the album, specifically the question of whether Kozelek’s music is worth putting up with his increasingly crusty public persona. The answer is yes and no. Probably mostly no.

The album is a bit of a hit and miss affair, reaching some impressive heights at it’s best moments (see “With a Sort of Grace I Walked to the Bathroom to Cry”) but it doesn’t always hit the mark. Case in point: opener “The Possum,” which almost sounds like a parody of a Mark Kozelek song with it’s rambling story of going to a Godflesh show and some spoken word stuff at the end which comes off a tad hokey. Yet later in the album, the spoken word segment on “Garden Of Lavender,” with it’s mentions of Shepherd’s Bush, the Westfield Mall, and Neil Halstead comes across as rather charming and stands up there with some of the best of Kozelek’s recent turn to slice of life style songwriting.

Ultimately, Universal Themes is a decent album, though it pales in comparison to Benji or some of his past works, and frankly, even the best album he’s ever written wouldn’t really excuse his increasingly tiresome misanthropy. It’s fitting in a way that the album cover depicts a payphone because, just like that medium of communication, Kozelek sometimes seems on the verge of making himself somewhat obsolete. Sorry, Mark, I guess I’m more like those guys you sang about  in “Cry Me a River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues:”

“It’s 2012 but I like the ones from 1992.”

Album Review: The Elwins – Play For Keeps (2015, Hidden Pony Records)

Posted on by Celeste in Albums | 1 Comment

The Elwins - Play For Keeps ART

A week ago I gave The Elwins’ upcoming album Play for Keeps a listen, and right off the bat I liked it, but I felt too lazy to write a review. Today, a week later, I was browsing through my music library and saw that I had played the album through in its entirety … 22 times. I’ve listened to this album 3 times per day for the past week. Time to put pen to paper.

On the surface everything about the Elwins’ second studio album is whimsical, light, and fizzy, from the colorful building blocks on the album cover (which read all the way through says “The Elwins Play For Keeps” – Baller) to the first bouncing beats of “Bubble.” The fivesome from Ontario produce indie pop that brings to mind Pop Rocks and Coke: crunchy, sweet, sizzling with good humor and fun, and crackling wickedly with energy.

But like any semi-explosive concoction, there’s an element of complex and dark inner workings to the tracks. While the Elwins produce a form of breezy, infectious pop with ease, it’s layered over an underlying current of darker questions and revelations, and it’s this pairing of light and dark that makes the music stick with you.

The album kicks off with “Bubble,” an effervescent tribute to love, but love that takes you too high too fast, Icarus style: “You fill me up, I fly away/you get me high, I feel the rays/I know I’ll pop, I know I’ll fall/but in this flash, I’ve got it all.” With its deceptively summery beat and addictive rolling gait, the song sends you headlong into the album with abandon.

And abandon is a necessary component if you’re listening to the album – this is not background music. As much as the tracks may have a darker side to them, it never obscures the fun of the music – in fact it enhances it. Spilling over with vibrant and hooky guitar, the tracks are nothing if not catchy. Every time I listen to track 5 of this album “Bringing Out The Shoulders” no matter where I am, in public or private, I have to give a back and forth hair whip at 0:34 to the beat drop that comes along with the question “how much longer/will I have to wander?”. Track 4 “So Down Low” also plays into the breezy but dark theme, with the band explaining that it’s about trying to do the right thing, but ultimately failing and knowing that you’re failing.

Much like the shining star in the last track, or the bubble floating into the sun on the first track, at under 40 minutes Play for Keeps is a short but brightly burning thing of beauty. The album drops February 24th on Hidden Pony Records. Give it a listen. Or 22.

Standout tracks: “Bubble”, “So Down Low”, “It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over”, “Bringing Out The Shoulders”, “Is there Something?”

Album Review: Robyn Hitchcock – The Man Upstairs (2014, Yep Roc)

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Just call it Old Man Week here at the Panic Manual. This week has seen live reviews of Tom Petty and April Wine along with Ricky’s reminscences of mail order music clubs and ’90s Canrock footnote Zuckerbaby, so in keeping with that vague theme (it’s like Shark Week, but with grey hair and guitars), let’s take a look at the latest release from another veteran performer, Robyn Hitchcock.

For The Man Upstairs, Hitchcock partnered up with famed producer Joe Boyd, known for his work with Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band, and Nick Drake among many others and in some ways it shares the spirit and the sound of those records. As they began working together, Boyd suggested a “Judy Collins” album, referring to the folk singer’s tendency to feature a mix of originals and covers of both well known and lesser known songs on her 60s and 70s records.  Instead of an album full of Dylan, Lightfoot and Phil Ochs songs, however, Hitchcock tries his hand at songs from the like of Grant Lee Phillips, Roxy Music and The Doors. Of the covers, opening track “The Ghost In You” is the highlight with Hitchcock wringing some real pathos out of the Psychedelic Furs’ 1984 hit and transforming it into a beautiful ballad. He follows that up with “San Francisco Patrol,” the strongest song of the entire collection with it’s memorable refrain of “I can’t take my eyes off you.”

Sure, I may joke about the fact that we’ve covered mostly music by “old men” this week, but The Man Upstairs, the product of a musician who’s been playing and recording since the ’70s and a producer with an even longer tenure, is evidence of a still vital and compelling artist.