Spotlight on Producers

This week Jim and Greg look at some of the most recent musical collaborations. They will review new albums from The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Paul Simon, Alejandro Escovedo and recent phenomenon Gnarls Barkely, all featuring some impressive men behind the scenes. Plus, the hosts will discuss the latest music news and a track to the Desert Island Jukebox.

Spotlight on Producers
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Music News

First up in the news this week is a discussion with Dave Frey, manager of the band Cheap Trick. Jim and Greg talk to Frey about the recent lawsuit he and the Rockford natives recently filed against Sony BMG. Cheap Trick, along with the Allman Brothers Band, launched the suit contending that the label has underpaid artists for digital music transactions. Artists currently receive about 4.5 cents per 99-cent download, while the label can receive as much as 70 cents per transaction. Considering that hits like Surrender or Ramblin’ Man were made and paid for decades ago, the split doesn’t seem very equitable. The reason for this, Frey explains, is that many bands’ contracts were drafted long before digital technology emerged. In fact, CDs are still considered new media for Cheap Trick. Therefore, royalty deductions are made to account for outdated breakages and containers. But until Frey can discern what the container is for an MP3, and how it breaks, he stands by the suit, which is asking for $25 million on behalf of all Sony Music artists.

Fellow rocker Keith Richards has also been in the news. According to reports, the Rolling Stones guitarist suffered a concussion after falling from a palm tree. What he was doing climbing a palm tree is still unknown, but Richards seems to have emerged from this latest accident fairly intact. Jim and Greg muse that this is not the first time the notoriously hard-living Stone was put in harm’s way: He has previously broken ribs, punctured a lung, infected a finger, and battled heroin addiction. It seems Greg is correct to compare Richards to a cockroach; nothing can take him out.

St. Elsewhere Gnarls Barkley

St. Elsewhere

St. Elsewhere is the debut album from Gnarls Barkley, the imaginary front-person for a project helmed by vocalist and rapper Cee-Lo Green and producer Danger Mouse. Gnarls describes himself as the pen pal of long-deceased rock critic Lester Bangs, soul singer Isaac Hayes, and Violent Femmes singer Gordon Gano. He also claims to be the lover of both Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey and the man who taught Kraftwerk English. Most importantly, though, he has become a British phenomenon. The first single, Crazy, went to number one on the UK singles chart after simply being released as a download, and Jim and Greg hope that the hype can be sustained stateside. Both critics love the combination of Cee-Lo’s half-preacher, half-freak vocal style and DJ Danger Mouse’s eclectic production choices. St. Elsewhere gets a double Buy It rating.

Surprise Paul Simon

Surprise

Gnarls Barkley is not the only noteworthy collaboration discussed on this week’s show—in fact, all of the albums up for review feature artists working with noteworthy producers. For example, singer/songwriter Paul Simon made the interesting decision to work with electronic music pioneer Brian Eno. Eno, who co-founded Roxy Music, has produced for David Bowie, The Talking Heads and U2. While this is an impressive résumé, Jim and Greg explain that Eno was still a surprising choice for Simon. Eno is infamous for dragging musicians out of their comfort zones, and Simon is certainly at a stage in his career where he could remain comfortable if he wanted. The result is literally a Surprise, though not necessarily a success, according to one of our hosts. Jim is fond of both the album’s multi-layered, ambient sound and its complicated, occasionally self-deprecating lyrics. He gives it a Buy It. Greg, on the other hand, feels that this was a missed opportunity. He predicts that the two artists tiptoed around each other too much. It’s a little too gentle, too sleepy, and too stagnant for Mr. Kot, who gives it a Burn It.

The Boxing Mirror Alejandro Escovedo

The Boxing Mirror

Eno’s occasional partner in crime, John Cale, also makes an appearance in this week’s show, having produced the latest release from Alejandro Escovedo. The Boxing Mirror is the ninth album from the musician, who can only be described as part- punk, part- country and part- rock. Escovedo grew up admiring the Velvet Underground, and Jim and Greg agree that the match between him and Cale is one made in heaven. Jim has never been a major fan of Escovedo’s singer/songwriter style, but he thinks this is his best solo effort, perhaps due to Escovedo’s newly found lust for life. He survived a life-threatening outbreak of Hepatitis C a couple years ago, and the music demonstrates that he is indeed very happy to be alive. Greg agrees and compares Escovedo’s renewal to that experienced by Neil Young. Both albums give The Boxing Mirror a Buy It and urge fans try to see Escovedo, along with musicians like Susan Voelz, perform live.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Blood Sugar Sex Magik

The Red Hot Chili Peppers also released a highly anticipated album this week. Their 28-song double album was produced by superstar producer Rick Rubin. Rubin previously worked with the Southern California natives on their big mainstream breakout album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, as well as later hit Californication. As the co-founder of Def Jam Records with Russell Simmons, Rubin produced albums for The Beastie Boys and Run D.M.C. He’s also acted as producer for Nine Inch Nails, System of a Down, and the late Johnny Cash. It’s surprising then, say Jim and Greg, that Rubin would be such a poor editor on this latest effort. Both critics agree that this album doesn’t deserve to be nearly as long as it is, especially since more than half of the songs can be considered ballads—a far cry from the Chili Peppers’ punk-funk roots. Those ballads are evidence of lead singer Anthony Kiedis’ self-proclaimed spiritual transformation, but Jim and Greg are not quite moved. They can still hear a few moments when Kiedis’ former, party-loving self comes through. The album, which was recorded in Harry Houdini’s former home, is worth hearing for John Frusciante’s guitar playing, but not worth a purchase. Stadium Arcadium gets a Trash It from both hosts.

Greg

Greg’s Desert Island Jukebox choice this week was inspired by the passing of Phil Walden. Walden was a major figure in the southern rock scene, and co-founded Capricorn Records, home to The Allman Brothers and Charlie Daniels Band. Greg, however, remembers Walden as the man instrumental in propelling the career of soul singer Otis Redding. He was Redding’s manager up until the singer’s tragic plane crash in 1967, and helped expand his career into the mainstream. One savvy decision was to put Otis Redding and all of the key Stax Records players on the road in Europe in the summer of 1967. The competition between Redding and Stax acts like Sam & Dave fueled the performer’s fire. The result was a high-energy, high-impact performance like the one he gave of Can’t Turn You Loose—this week’s DIJ pick.

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