Appreciating a wildly unappreciated band: MMMBop, bitches (Saturday Video Roundup)

When they first hit in 1997 with “MMMBop,” I remember Hanson being dismissed by my music intelligentsia friends as some kind of put-up job, a prefab kiddie novelty act. Thing is, it wasn’t true. At all. The brothers Hanson – Taylor, Isaac and Zac – were legit talented, their shiny, radio-friendly sound underpinned by a rich sense of Chicago R&B rhythm and Gospel-inflected harmony. (It’s fun trying to write in hipster-reviewer speak, init? Hey, I’ve been telling you for years I ain’t no reviewer.)

Now, nearly two decades on, they’re better than ever. Let’s kick today’s #SVR with a recent acoustic performance of that hit, one that strips down to the naked essence of a worthy pop gem.

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Dotsun Moon, A Swan's Song

CD review: Dotsun Moon’s “A Swan’s Song” illuminates the soul of a band in transition

Rich Flierl may be at the mercy of circumstances, but new CD makes clear his rage to grow and innovate. Let’s hope A Swan’s Song isn’t.

Dotsun Moon, A Swan's Song

Dotsun Moon, A Swan’s Song

Dotsun Moon was rolling in the wake of 2011’s outstanding 4am, but a couple years later singer Mary Ognibene departed the band, leaving songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rich Flierl wondering what to do next. An extended search for a worthy replacement proved difficult – understandable, given how perfectly Ognibene’s talents meshed with Flierl’s dark, brooding vision. 4am wandered the borderlands between trip-hop, shoegaze and the lush, cinematic alt.Americana we might associate with The Lost Patrol and The Blueflowers. (Flierl describes it as “DreamBeat Noir,” which is as good a tag as anything I can come up with.) It was a seductive amalgam, and it’s hard to imagine easily replacing any element of the collaboration.

Flierl auditioned a number of singers, but no one really panned out.  Continue reading

led-zeppelin-e1401917275408

Led Zep wins “Stairway to Heaven” copyright fight. But why?

The Zep vs Randy California “Stairway” case reminds potential plaintiffs they can invest time and money in a lawsuit and still lose.

led-zeppelin-e1401917275408by Carole McNall

Classic rock fans, you can relax now.

Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are indeed the writers of the rock classic, “Stairway to Heaven.” A federal court jury ruled June 23 the estate of Randy Wolfe had not proven its argument Wolfe was the original creator of “Stairway’s” most memorable guitar riff.

“We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years,” Page and Plant said after the verdict. Wolfe’s attorney said he lost on a “technicality” and is considering an appeal.

This case, more than many rock copyright fights, had enough tangles to be worthy of a law school “spot the issues” question. I’ll untangle a few of them for you.

Who is this guy who’s claiming he wrote “Stairway?” The claim comes from the estate of Randy Wolfe, known as Randy California when he played with the band Spirit. Wolfe’s estate said “Stairway” steals a guitar riff from Wolfe’s composition “Taurus.” “Taurus” was written in 1968, “Stairway” in 1971.

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CATEGORY: Music

Asian-American band to SCOTUS: review our trademark victory

by Amber Healy

It’s not often a winning party in a long-fought legal battle asks the Supreme Court in the United States to review a lower court’s ruling that had been made in its favor. But for the Portland, Oregon-based, Asian-American dance-rock band The Slants, that’s just what happened this week.

In December, The Slants won the ability to legally register and protect their band name, something the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had said was offensive to Asian Americans. It was a victory nearly six years in the making.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in Alexandria, Virginia, ruled that the USPTO was in violation of the Constitution by rejecting the band’s trademark application by a 9-3 margin. The court found that the section of the archaic and little-known Lanham Act used by the USPTO to deny the application, the “disparagement” portion, could not be used to prevent or deny the application. Continue reading

Music

ArtsWeek: a capella, for your nerded-out listening enjoyment

MusicI think we all have something we nerd-out over. One of my weaknesses is a capella. I grew up Southern Baptist and in some ways my entire musical aesthetic is driven by the sounds of my childhood: the choir, of course, and also gospel quartets. Every Sunday I’d get up and flip to WXII for the weekly quartet show before church.

Modern a capella comes from a similar place, I think, and I can’t help my fascination with the things that the human voice can do – especially a collective of human voices. I freakin’ loved The Sing-Off, despite the fact that it was hosted by Nick Lachey and employed the utterly talentless Nicole Scherzinger as a judge and by the last season it had slaved itself to the whims of the corporate factory pop machine.  Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsWeek

The joys of binge-watching

Image (1) ArtsWeek.jpg for post 12148

For the past year I have had some health issues that have taken me out of active circulation—nothing life-threatening, but certainly life changing during the period, and for a little while yet. One of these was a broken bone in my foot that had me sitting in front of the television for a solid six weeks, leg up on the hassock and (for the moment) out of the boot thing they give you these days. The other stuff doesn’t need details, but it also involved being relatively immobile for long periods. Plus the interesting effects of some of what they put you on these days for various things. For someone with no real health issues since I got mono the summer I was 20 and some back stuff in my 30s, this came as something of a surprise. Continue reading

Prince among men… (S&R Honors)

Look for the purple banana, bitches…

I’m sitting here drinking a beer…

Let’s go crazy, let’s get nuts…

It’s not a very good beer, it’s a Budweiser…

Let’s look for the purple banana until they put us in the truck…

And I’m sad as fuck.

In fact, I’m chewing off a fingernail. It does not taste good.

We’re all excited, but we don’t know why…

There are so few true geniuses on our world, in our lives.

Most of us are too stupid to recognize true genius.

C’mon baby, let’s get nuts!

Oh, fuck off, you know I’m right.

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Moment of #Mansplanation

Actually…

I just had a chance to read this op/ed from last year’s NYT: What makes a woman? The subject is still timely, especially thanks to hijinks like those coming out of North Carolina’s statehouse. And I’ve riffed on it before, if with more vitriol. I was a meaner person back then. Now I can just rest on the laurels of my cis-gendered white male privilege, look at this modern debate and all those hoity-toity post-modern nonsensilists and be snide. It’s an important debate, exactly because it’s in the courts and involves human safety, but dammit people, bring your A-game.  Continue reading

Popular Music

Can digital music files be resold? Courts say no — so far

By Amber Healy

Walking into a used music store is akin to embarking on a treasure hunt. Whether the shopper is looking to bulk up her CD collection or find vintage vinyl — an original pressing of Pearl Jam’s Ten! — or a cheaper way to fill in the gaps, music resellers are a cost-effective way to get new material while providing the previous owner a way to create some shelf space for new additions.

CATEGORY: MusicPopularCultureThe reselling of physical media, whether books, movies or music, is permissible under Section 109 of the U.S. Copyright Act. The First Sale doctrine, as it is known, says a person who has paid for an album (vinyl or CD or, in yesteryear, a cassette) can resell that album without any legal problem. The First Sale doctrine “generally provides that once a copyright holder authorizes the distribution of a copy of a work, that copy can be further leased or transferred or otherwise disposed of by the purchaser or whoever has lawfully acquired it,” confirms Mike Keyes, an intellectual property and copyright attorney with the Seattle law firm of Dorsey & Whitney LLP.
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The Slants

The Slants, or Washington’s NFL team, might soon go to SCOTUS over their names

By Amber Healy

Just as The Slants prepare to release a new album with a new singer, it might be time to prepare to face the U.S. Supreme Court. Sadly, this won’t come as a surprise to the band.

The Slants

The Slants

In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) was in violation of the Constitution when it rejected the band’s application to register its name as a trademark. By a margin of 9-3, the federal court ruled the “disparagement” portion of the Lanham Act — a 60-year-old and little-understood law — could not be used to prevent the band from its right to trademark its name. Continue reading

Music and Popular Culture

Paul Kantner and his brainchild, Jefferson Airplane: a personal appreciation

Life is change/How it differs from the rocks… – Paul Kantner, “Crown of Creation”

Paul Kantner, rock star (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The recent series of rock star deaths  in these first months of 2016 has had me, not unlike many Boomers, pondering how to feel about the passing of my era and its music. I took a stab at explaining how it felt after three major figures – David Bowie, Glen Frey, and Paul Kantner – passed away in quick succession and thought I’d reached a satisfactory, if not satisfying conclusion: rock and roll may not be here to stay.

Writing about those figures who played such an important role in my life was cathartic. Saying goodbye, however painful that process may be, is always a good way to achieve closure. It’s a mature, psychologically and emotionally, response to the sense of loss.

Which is psychobabble, of course. And to which Kantner might say, in his own inimitable fashion, that it “…doesn’t mean shit to a tree.”

We mostly connect to our famous heroes because we admire them, because we desire them, because we want to be them. But once in a while we connect to a writer, an artist, an actor, a musician, because we can sense we’re like them.

I’m a guy like Paul Kantner. So sending some love to his brainchild Jefferson Airplane feels like a good way to say thanks to him for giving me so much. Continue reading

Love song: an open letter to Space Team Electra

They don’t even know what it is to be a fan. Y’know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts. – Sapphire, Almost Famous

Photo by Heather Ramey

Photo by Heather Ramey

My Last.FM profile says I have played Space Team Electra tracks 1,093 times. But that’s misleading. For starters, Last.FM didn’t launch until three years after the band broke up. So that’s nearly a decade of playing The Vortex FlowerThe Intergalactic Torch SongKill Apollo and Space Apple Deluxe to death. That number doesn’t include the 30-35 times I saw them live. It doesn’t count all the miles I have logged listening to the CDs on the road. And it doesn’t reflect the times I have been listening on my computer but, for some reason, the scrobbler was turned off.

Gun to my head guess? Continue reading

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Prince: R.I.P. you sexy motherfucker….

“Paisley Park” is my favorite Prince song ever.

This is the song that inspired me to start lugging around a camera when I lived in Tokyo in 1987 and 1988. The video is immediately below, which for copyright reasons I had to make a video of a video and YouTube might take it down soon anyway. Some of my Tokyo photos follow it.

Prince inspired me to be simultaneously in love with, and detached from. all of you and our places in this world.

Dig it…

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