Monday, July 23, 2012

Tom Flannery and the Shillelaghs: Rock and Roll with a Bit of Angst Thrown in For Good Measure

Tom Flannery and the Shillelagh's debut album, Teen Angst and the Green Flannel is not available on vinyl.

But it should be.

It has a pure rock and roll sound that is a throwback to another era; something you rarely hear on the radio today.  And it is a refreshing accompaniment to a hot summer.

I've known Tom now for a few years.  He was one of the composers for my two films, Facing Sudan and Crayons and Paper.  In fact, he provided the very moving song "Crayons and Paper" that accompanied images of war and death drawn by children in Sudan and Sri Lanka and is the centerpiece of both films.  Tom has always been the acoustic guy with a guitar.

Not any more.  Wanting to deliver a hard rocking sound now for years, Tom assembled a band and put together a stellar album of pure rock, full of angst, pain, and love (or something like it).  It is a guitar driven reflection on life from the point of view of what has always driven rock and roll:  youth.  Teen Angst and the Green Flannel is a rock album done right, meant to be played loud.

The album opens with the hard hitting "If I Only Knew" and truly captures the spirit of the entire album:

’cause being me ain’t easy 
like being you must be 
invisible in the hallways 
staring right through me 

I had the pleasure of creating a video for the song.  The images and the story are taken from the liner notes, written in the voice of an 18 year old kid named "Jimmy" who realizes that "maybe I'm in danger of not being a kid anymore.  It sucks feeling this way."  Check out the video below.

Like all great legendary songs of rock and roll, many of the tunes on this album are about girls, love and lust.  "She Ain't Mine (But She Should Be)" opens with a Benny Goodman-esque drum roll and powers through with screaming guitar and a classic rock beat.  Then there's "Now She's Gone" and "I Just Want Her Off My Mind,"  reflecting on feelings we all had growing up.  Listening to them made me wonder how I even made it out of my teen years, when every look, every gesture was misinterpreted and reinterpreted into something much more than it actual was.   "I Just Want Her Off My Mind" hits this home nicely, with Flannery's voice accentuated by solo guitar between stanzas and ending with a melancholic harmonica, reminiscent of vintage Dylan.  It's great hearing Flannery with more than just an acoustic guitar and he seems at home in the midst of distortion, power and beat.  Electricity flows freely through this album.

The album slows down twice, in the retrospective "Cincinnati" and "Maybe It's True."  "Cincinnati" is a stunner of a song, with a beautiful piano accompaniment and lyrics reflecting a love lost and an uncertainty about what lies ahead:

Wounds as raw as a name carved in stone 
When love comes tumblin’ down 
Before I get old there’s safes to be blown 
I’ll dive in the river and drown 

Overall, Teen Angst and the Green Flannel is a hard-hitting rock album that does not disappoint.  True to form, Flannery has crafted an album full of songs that not only reflect on life, but celebrate the essence of rock and roll .

"Once rock got into your head it stayed there," Flannery writes in the voice of Jimmy.  "And if you tried to run away it tracked your ass down and did it to you all over again. Rock that mattered I mean. The kind that made people wince. It’s still around if you look hard enough."

Indeed, it is.


Visit Tom Flannery and the Shillelaghs website.  There you can listen to the entire album online and, if so inclined, purchase a copy from the band.  You will not be disappointed.  The album is also available for download on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

It's 1984 on Adventures in Vinyl. Get Ready for "Sound System"

1984 was the year I got my driver's license.  It was also the year of the Macintosh computer. Night Court premiered on NBC and a gallon of gas cost $1.10. Michael Jackson was severely burned while filming a Pepsi commercial and his album Thriller was the best selling album for the second year in a row.

It was a stellar year for movies as well:  Ghostbusters, Amadeus, Gremlins, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom---just to name a few.  Entertainment Weekly recently argued that 1984 was the greatest year for films ever, even better than 1939.

It was also the year K-Tel released Sound System, which features songs from Huey Lewis and the News, Pat Benatar, the Police, the Kinks and Styx.

Take a trip with us to 1984 on Adventures in Vinyl.  Sound System is the featured album for July Plus, movie clips, trivia and music from 1984 as well.   

Adventures in Vinyl is the only radio show dedicated to the magic of the K-Tel record compilation.  It can be heard on Vinyl Voyage Radio (all times Central):

Saturday 11 am
Sunday 4 pm
Tuesday 1 pm
Wednesday 2 am
Thursday 10 am

Monday, July 2, 2012

Meadow, Laura Branigan and "Folk-Rock" of the early 1970s

When I was a kid, I had a 45 rpm record of the song "Cane and Able"  by some band named Meadow.  I knew nothing of the band or the song.  It was given to me by the lunchroom lady of my elementary school who also happened to hold a summer Bible camp in her garage every year.  I listened to the song several times and never forgot it.

Not that the song was particularly good.  But it did have an interesting hook:  "Throw away your cane and you are able."

Over the years I lost track of the record, but never forgot the song.  It stuck with me for almost forty years.  I could hum the song and sing much of the lyrics.  I went searching for it and found the full album on Ebay, of course.  So I bought it and became reintroduced to a band that was such a part of my childhood without me even realizing it at the time.

The album is called The Friend Ship and its cover is adorned with four hippies, locked hand in hand, floating above the ground.  Pretty typical of the time. Turning the album over I was surprised to know one of the band members:  Laura Branigan. That's right, the same Laura Branigan who would "call" Gloria about 10 years later.  She was only 15 years old when The Friend Ship was recorded. But she had such a beautiful voice, as can be heard on several tracks--most notably in a song called "Artist," written by founding member Chris Van Cleave:

My sleep is sound
I lay me down upon the ground
In my mind while the time is still kind
Now here is room for things to bloom
Above the sky for me to fly

This is a concept album that explores the journey through life, from beginning to end.  I still knew all of the words to "Cane and Able," surprisingly.  One thing I realized listening to the song, is that it helped me throughout my life remember the Lord's Prayer.  Yes, the Lord's Prayer is in the song.   This was pretty typical of a trend in the late 60s and early 70s of merging spirituality to popular music.  Songs such as "Spirit in the Sky" and "Jesus is Just Alright" were very popular.   Let's not forget Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, as well. Plus, some nun from Australia released a rock version of "The Lord's Prayer" that made it to the number two spot of the Billboard charts in 1973.  Meadow was very much a part of this movement in music.

The Friend Ship is a surprisingly good album, even with the somewhat cornball hook of "Cane and Able."   Well-worth a listen.  Check out the video podcast below for two songs from album.

Chris Van Cleave is the sole remaining member of Meadow.  He has been pretty prolific over the years, having written some 600 songs of various genres.  On his website he has a detailed history of Meadow and is well worth a read.

As for The Friend Ship, it isn't available on cd---but you can download the entire album on iTunes, EMusic or Google Play. 

You can hear several songs from the album  (plus some later Laura Branigan, too) on Vinyl Voyage Radio, where all music is played in glorious vinyl, just as it was meant to be.