Monday, November 09, 2009

Treble's Best Tracks of the 00s: No. 18 - "I See Monsters" by Ryan Adams

My Ryan Adams song review can be found (click here) on

Ryan Adams
"I See Monsters"
from Love is Hell (2203)
and Loft Sessions (2005)

I've recently discovered that the most terrifying images we experience are not found in any horror movie but what we see on the inside--our own personal demons. It's the voices and flashes of fear that stir inside of us until the moment it takes us over and paralyzes us with the kind of dread only our own minds can imagine.

This has happened to me three times in my life, once as an overindulgence of excess in New Orleans. Another time when I was in Paris, sirens brought back flashbacks of a near death experience with a hold up in the Garden District that I tried to bury inside of me. And, most recently, an experience in our apartment last week. I had gone through weeks of illness, depression, self-doubt and so many tests by doctors, aches and pains that I wouldn't want my worst enemy to experience. I thought it was all over but I was wrong.
Imagine for a minute you're trying to fall asleep so you can some prescription medicine to help you get drowsy. But instead of relaxing, you experience a panic attack. And not just any panic attack but the kind where, for a few hours, you're trying to not lose your place in your own mental universe. Your own existence is being questioned by your mind. All the memories, good and bad, that you have experienced are vanishing by the second. And all that's left are the flashes and whispering monsters in your head trying to take you away from the life and love that you have been cherishing for over three years.

When I hear the "I See Monsters" by Ryan Adams, it brings back and makes sense of that terrifying night that I experienced. What I recall most is towards the end of my ordeal having all those memories that I thought were gone come back to me at a fast pace in the middle of the night. Imagine reliving all the pain and agony of lost love, break-ups, betrayal, hurt all coming back at once. All of those emotions of hurt going through you in the matter of minutes. Horrifying is not even the word. I don't think there is one for what I experienced. But Ryan's incredible freaked-out guitar solo at the end of the Loft Sessions in his awe-inspiring version of Love is Hell's "I See Monsters" comes close. "And then after the song is over, you hear handclaps in the studio and one of Ryan's Cardinals says it best when trying to describe Ryan's solo, "It sounds like Monsters."

The incredible thing about Ryan's song is that he's lived through similar events in his life. In the song, Ryan's in bed with the one that he loves and in his mind, the demons are coming to life in the middle of the night. And these aren't the CGI creatures from your overindulgent horror films that we've all seen. No, these are monsters that live inside of us. They hold our fears and come out in the dark trying to paralyze us with our own personal fears. Something that no film or ghost story could ever emulate, Adams brings to life in the climax of "I See Monsters."

I do feel stronger having gone through this harrowing time. And "I See Monsters" has now become one of my favorite Ryan Adams songs. I used to think that "I See Monsters" was a beautiful song, but the Loft version is more than that. He understands. He almost whispers the vocal as if he's trying to ease himself to sleep. And then at the end he brings out his electric axe and slays his monsters for another night. After it's over, they will be back, but we're all a little stronger for living through these moments of trepidation.

Loft Session

Adrian Ernesto Cepeda

Review: Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970

My review of Leonard Cohen's Isle of Wight 1970 can be found (click here) on

Leonard Cohen
Isle of Wight 1970
Columbia/ Legacy

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be one of the wasted wordsmiths like Jim Morrison and Hunter S. Thompson. Before moving towards a life of overindulgences in the French Quarters of New Orleans, I grew up a confused soul in the suburbs of Ann Arbor and San Antonio. I knew I wanted to take the road less traveled, so I followed the adventures excess of Thompson. But instead of Vegas, I went to New Orleans. I attempted to be like Hunter, but failed miserably. I was no drinker or aficionado of drugs. All it did was made me hung-over, sick and feel even more alone in the city of myths. Some of my favorite moments in New Orleans were when I was locked away in my room, writing all hours of the day. Even my neighbors knew my routine. When I would leave they would snicker, "there goes the poet to lock himself in his house for days. See you in a couple of weeks, dude." At the time, I was hurt by the snide comments. I didn't want to be a recluse. I lived to be the life of the party. I never was.

In reality, my life mirrored the romantic frustration of one Leonard Cohen. I wouldn't want to compare my writing with Cohen. If I could one day equal one of his eternal lyrics, just one line from one of his songs I would be grateful. Looking back, without the greatness, my life as a loner writer was like Cohen's. I experienced the lows and loneliness of bachelorhood and desperately searched for love in every siren I longed to be with. Most of the times those sparks faded to blue after a first kiss but still searched for her. It would take ten years to find my true love but all those years on my own taught me to keep writing and never give up.

To this day, I follow the reflective wisdom of Leonard Cohen. To me Cohen is a truth-telling troubadour who was born a sonneteer, a poet whose words reflected the pain and longing that scar us all from within. But even through all the hurt, after all of these years, and even in those early days of the 1970s, Cohen never lost his hope. And just like Cohen, what I leaned most from Leonard was his unwritten creative creed. He loved, lost and learned to write through the scars and sing through the agony. The thing is that his results are international treasures such as "So Long, Marianne" and "Famous Blue Raincoat."

Cohen sang a plethora of what are now classics during his legendary performance at the Isle of Wight in 1970. Cohen was awakened from a nap at 2 a.m. and followed the explosive set of Jimi Hendrix with his transcendental lyrical journey in front of 600,000 friends. At the time Cohen took the stage, he had released two albums: Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs from a Room. A few weeks after, he would record his third album Songs of Love and Hate, which would include "Sing Another Song, Boys" from this same event at the Isle of Wight.

What makes his performance unique was the stripped, honest nature of each song. It starts with Cohen's voice who sings like a lover sharing his tales of lost love, proud of his scar-like choruses as a choir of backing angels harmonizes behind him in such songs as "Lady Midnight." The choice of "Lady Midnight" is a curious selection for it contains some of his most powerful religious imagery, like future wordsmith singers like Johnny Cash and Nick Cave, whose conflict with their personal faith is something you can hear them struggle with in almost all of their songs. To me "Lady Midnight" has more kinship with the myth of Orpheus that Cave himself sang about 30 years later. In Cohen's song, you hear his fair maiden calling out "You won me, oh Lord."

One of my favorite aspects of the Isle of Wight show was the way Cohen changed some of the lyrics of songs like "Bird on the Wire" if only slightly. But just like a master poet, once you replace a word with another one it changes the meaning completely. Instead of saving the ribbons Cohen switches that line with "I have saved all my sorrow for thee." It matches the reflective mood of his desolate life of unrequited love.

But my favorite part of "Bird on the Wire" is at the end of the second verse when Leonard updated his lyric from "and if I have been untrue/ I hope you know it was never to you, " to "and if I have been untrue/ It's just that I thought a lover had to be some kind of liar too." His one lyric was a reflection of my own past lies and romantic failures. Who else can do this? With one line he encapsulates a lifetime of heartache. This is why, to me, just like Dylan and Shakespeare, Cohen is one of the eternal lyrical geniuses.

Other highlights are the acoustic solo version of "The Stranger Song." In this performance, Cohen's words come to life. He was the stranger and with every chord he has mesmerized the crowd with his poignant journey. And Cohen became something more, a lyrical laureate of truth and love. I loved the emotional version of "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong" with Cohen playing what sounds like a flute-like instrument with his hands. You can see this on Murray Lerner's documentary of Cohen's concert. This version includes interviews with Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Kris Kristofferson as they recant their memories of Cohen's amazing performance. The film is remastered and looks beautiful, but not all the songs from the show are featured and for some reason Lerner edited them out of order. Seeing a young Cohen crooning to this conscientious crowd is a delight.

Comparing Cohen's Live in London live disc that was also released this year with this performance at the Isle of Wight, I prefer this one. This one is for the die hard Cohen fans. There were not many hits in this show and Cohen's young voice has yet to ripen to the lower register we have grown accustomed to. His emerging voice still sounds powerfully poetic as he sings the lyrical letter of "Famous Blue Raincoat." (Surprising this song was absent from the Live in London show.) To me this Isle of Wight rendition is my favorite and one of the best on this amazing performance. It has a flamenco guitar vibe that I still can hear delightfully in my head.

Leonard Cohen's Isle of Wight 1970 CD/DVD is an album that all music connoisseurs must own. There's something mythically inspiring by his performance during his magical show. Leonard Cohen has always transcended time and lyrical spaces with his songs. And this show is no different. Cohen may now be a middle aged crooner but looking back at this magnificent concert is like watching the master with new and unheard gems that he shares from his arsenal of artistic greatness.

Not only do you get the songs but you also hear reminiscences with poems and stories from his childhood. He tells a story about when his father would take him to the circus when he was younger. There was one part that the young Cohen always waited for, when a man at the circus would stand up and he would say "would everybody light a match, so we can locate one another…" Cohen then asks the crowd to light a match so "you can sparkle like fireflies at your different heights." He longed to see those matches flare.

Long after this performance, Cohen has been lighting the spark of inspiration in my life as a solitary writer and lover. Now on the cusp of my wedding, I can look back with the pride and glory of Leonard Cohen's young voice. Going back with his lyrics I have no regrets, just a lifetime full of memories that ring truth in the songs that have guided me throughout these years from the poet/singer that I still long to honor. Thank you, Leonard, for this beautiful and timeless lyrical gift. I will continue to reach for the moon. Your voice will guide me as my journey continues the same one that started in June, a year after your famous performance at the Isle of Wight. I am listening with matches that I light from within.

Adrian Ernesto Cepeda


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Review: The Dead Weather: Horehound

My review of Horehound can be found (click here) on

The Dead Weather
Third Man

From the opening sounds of "60 Ft Tall" from Horehound, it's apparent this isn't your everyday super group. The Dead Weather creates cerebral, bluesy cock-fueled rock, using not just the tip but the whole entire head of their explosive arsenal. The difference is there's a luscious lady assassin who is the sensual leader of this operation, and her name is Alison Mosshart. Yeah, I know the brainchild of this group is Jack White III, he's the producer and plays drums, but The Weather would be limp and lifeless without the front-woman of The Kills. She slays, sulks and seduces you through this electrifying debut album. But she's no damsel; in fact Allison seems to have a desire for danger as you can hear throughout the very lustful and fiery "60 Ft Tall."

But this just isn't Alison's show—she's backed up by three prominent counterparts. The first is guitarist Dean Fertita from Queens of the Stone Age. His riffs are the backbone to this 21st Century sound (think Hendrix-meets-Yeah Yeah Yeah's Nick Zimmer, with a slice of Rage's Tom Morello) creating earth shattering riffs that are simply intensified greatness. Yes, the new single "Treat Me Like Your Mother" even has that Rage Against the Machine-meets-Southern Delta sound. Even Jack's vocals echo the living spirit of aggro activist Zach De La Rocha on "Treat Me Like Your Mother."

Speaking of Jack, our favorite axe-man has taken the sticks and is now sitting behind the drum kit. You may notice that the backbeats are turned up in the mix. This reminds me of a story of when Mick Jagger went to go visit Keith Richards during their much-publicized split during the '80s. Richards played Jagger tracks from his then new album Talk is Cheap. Jagger's one comment was that the drums were turned up a little high. Richards' response was that the drummer Steve Jordan was the one that produced the sessions. Jagger's response was, "There you go," and just laughed. As I mentioned before, White is the producer of Horehound so you will notice his drum fills louder than on most of his recordings. I love his Ringo-like opening count-out in the "Yer Blues"-inspired cover of Bob Dylan's "New Pony," one of the most original covers of a Dylan song re-imagined by a band I have ever heard. This rendition is simply a modern day classic.

At first, White's cranked up drums are noticeable but as you go further down the rabbit hole that is Horehound the other elements of the band—especially bassist's Jack Lawrence killer fills, Fertita's robust riffs and Allison's sultry vocals—all take you over. You are useless to resist the power of The Dead Weather.

I've never really been a fan of instrumentals but "3 Birds" is an all assault of riffs, fills and boisterous bass licks, with a sinister vibe that would make Portishead proud. Another highlight is the raga, hip-hop and organ-infused brilliance of "I Cut like a Buffalo." Jack's lyrics are hilariously wicked when he sings, "You know I look like a woman but I cut like a buffalo." But my favorite song is Alison's "So Far From Your Weapon." When she sings, "There's a bullet in my pocket burning a hole…" Alison sounds like an assassin savoring the moment right before she kills for the thrill.

I love it when Alison and Jack sing together—their voices merge perfectly throughout. On "No Hassle Night" hey sound like a futuristic Bonnie and Clyde on the run when they sing, "I'm looking for a place to go/ where the sun goes down…where I can lay low," leaving behind a trail of scars and broken hearts inside these saga-like songs. The one weak link on Horehound seems to be the faux electronic inspired backing beats of "Bone House." I have to admit this song seems out of place on this hot-blooded debut album. To me The Dead Weather's Horehound sounds like a soundtrack to an unmade, futuristic Western motion picture where these outlaws kill for the thrill, and live to sing about it.

Jack White's newest vehicle, featuring Alison Mosshart as his lyrical executioner, is impossible to resist. Dean Fertita is the unheralded all-star of this album. His riffs are the ones that bring White's 21st Century artistic carnage to life. White, Mosshart, Fertita and Lawrence are an ideal match that you must discover. Get ready to be hooked on Horehound. Death, blues and rock never sounded this good, buried in the mix together.

Adrian Ernesto Cepeda

Friday, June 12, 2009

Review: Jeff Buckley: Grace Around the World

My review of Grace Around the World (Special Edition) can be found (click here) on

Jeff Buckley
Grace Around the World

After reading Jeff Apter's brilliant bio, A Pure Drop, I was ready for the new compilation featuring our favorite rocking chansonnier Jeff Buckley, Grace Around the World. In theory, this two DVD, one CD collection looks tasty for the Buckley fan in your life. Finally we get the release of the documentary Amazing Grace along with a plethora of live performances Jeff and his band recorded around the globe during his very lengthy tour promoting his first and only album, Grace.

I'm no casual Buckley fan—I like to think I know a little about the life and music of one Jeff Buckley. He is the one we reach for during the peaks and valleys of our everyday lives. He's the imperfect soul who sang for our lonely souls, longing for true love. When he sung words like "She's the tear that hangs inside my soul forever," we felt every syllable as a reflection for the ones we once adored but have since left us with only ripples of lost legendary kisses.

Grace Around the World does give those of us who never had a chance to see Buckley in concert a glimpse into his live shows, which is the reason I loved the Live in Chicago DVD. So what's the deal with adding "Lover, You Should've Come Over" from that same Chicago show? Was there no other video of the band playing "Lover" in all the Buckley archives at Sony? This is the problem I have with this compilation—it has style but is missing the substance that we have come to value from most Buckley posthumous releases. We Buckley fans deserve better. We need more releases like the Live À L'Olympia show in Paris. I was in fact listening and loving this disc today, especially his rendition of "Hallelujah" with the Parisian faithful cheering him on with every lyric and his cover of Edith Piaf's "Je N'en Connais Pas la Fin," both of which are breathtaking editions to the ever evolving Buckley canon.

Even Amazing Grace was lacking. There was a BBC documentary, which you can watch for gratis on You Tube that is better, quality wise. It seems like the creators took footage from Buckley's videos and the Electronic Press Kit that is already available in the Legacy Edition of Grace and mixed it with new interviews. We've seen most of this footage there's nothing really new here to discover. I learned more about Buckley from Apter's bio than from Amazing Grace. Although, I must admit I did appreciate all of the artists who were inspired by Buckley and are influenced by his words on a daily basis within their creative canvases. There are some people interviewed in Amazing Grace that have business talking about Buckley. The majority of his most dedicated supporters still refuse to speak on the record to anyone about their friend that left us over ten years ago

I met one of his close friend's a few months back. I had a copy of Apter's book on display at the bookstore when she came in. She spent a few minutes looking inside A Pure Drop before being overcome with emotion. "He's been gone this long and it still hurts. I'm not ready," she told me before walking away. We talked about him, the real Buckley and his legacy which she claimed should be in better hands. After experiencing Grace Around the World I tend to agree with her.

Jeff Buckley deserves a Doors-like Bright Midnight label so the estate can release all of the individual shows that Columbia has gathering dust in the Sony archives. What are they waiting for? We are still waiting for an outtakes album with the official release of the "Flowers in Time" duet featuring Cocteau Twins vocalist Liz Fraser.

That's not to say the performances on the Main Program of Grace Around the World are lacking. His version of "Mojo Pin" that includes the introduction of "Chocolate on the Tongue" is similar to the one that was released on the Grace EP from a show at the Wetlands. In this one performance on this German TV show captures the essence of the voice within the voice, and the sound within our sound that we have come to love of Jeff. In fact this live version showcases the Buckley was one part Nina Simone and the other half Led Zeppelin.

It's been said that Jeff never played a song the same way twice and thankfully Grace Around the World is proof of this. My favorite part of this compilation is the memorable interview clips by good friend and photographer Merri Cyr that are intertwined between each performance. The first one shows the true goofy side of Jeff even before his band plays a note. There is a clichéd introduction where they mention Jeff's dad and at that moment Buckley sarcastically raises his hands in the air. I wish we had more glimpses of this kind of Jeff on Grace Around the World. Watching Jeff on screen you realize that we will never see culmination of his future greatness of this one-of-a-kind soul who never took himself seriously, but his music was his lifeline. Although I appreciate the intent, Buckley deserves better quality releases that will seal his legacy within the hearts and ears of music devotees everywhere.

Maybe I'm hard to please, and watching him on screen I realize that he's never coming back. In some ways it is difficult to come to terms that one of your favorite singer/songwriters will never write another new song ever again. At least we have Grace to give us hope. It may be over but we hold on we wait for something new to cling to like a message from an old lover that will spark the memories with a single note. This is what Buckley and his music means to me. At least with Grace Around the World we can drink up the sight and sounds of "Lilac Wine" and toast to the memory of the one that left us behind.

Adrian Ernesto Cepeda

Monday, April 27, 2009

Review: Sinéad O'Connor: I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (Special Edition)

My review of I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (Special Edition) can be found (click here) on

Sinéad O'Connor
I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (Special Edition)
EMI/ Chrysalis

Has it really been almost 20 years since the release of Sinéad's I Don't Want What I Haven't Got? I was 19 years old, just out of high school and started my extended run at a local junior college in San Antonio, Texas. Sinéad herself was only twenty four when she gave birth to I Don't Want with her husband, drummer John Reynolds. Most of the tracks were recorded with very few takes. The record company initially rejected the record because in their words it sounded like `…reading somebody's diaries.'

The personal nature of I Don't Want is what made Sinéad an international phenomenon. To me, being a young poet, I connected to her words. It takes a true artist to connect beyond their gender and age. Sinéad was this artist. All you have to do is listen to her lyrics, especially on "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance." Her words and vocal performance perfectly reflected the initial sound and emotions when heart shatters during the first moments of a break up. It starts off with Sinéad quietly whispering her vocal over her acoustic guitar. It climaxes with Sinéad finding her voice and becoming louder in a moment of empowerment. It's no coincidence of the song's placement at the end of the record. Sinéad's vocal in her anthem was the signal of her true nature. Sinéad was always an outspoken artist who told her version of the truth, no matter what cost. She was brave and uncompromising from the beginning, and it startled a male-dominated entertainment world.

It's hard to separate all of the events following the release of the album because in my memory they're tied together. I remember I was at the same junior college and proudly wearing my oversized, black Sinéad t-shirt with a huge portrait of O'Connor's beautiful bald head on the front during the height of her controversy. This was the time when even Frank Sinatra was condemning her. But not me, I never wavered even with all the looks and stares around this very conservative Texas city. I recall one of my history professors walking with me across campus admiring me wearing Sinéad's shirt during the time the public was turning against her. Looking back, I wish I still had that shirt.

It's amazing that the public so quickly rallied against the artist who only a few months back had a number one single written by Prince himself. "Nothing Compares 2 U" is what most will remember I Don't Want, but to me the legacy of Sinéad's second album is the legion of artists who came after her. By standing up to the status quo, O'Connor opened the door for Polly Jean Harvey, Tori Amos, Cat Power and so many more. Sinéad symbolically took the arrows for those future artists. I believe she laid the dynamic foundations for these women and their art to thrive during their respective eras.

I Don't Want is not just a singer/songwriter's manifesto and it's reflected in this newly released Special Edition. Not only do you get this now classic album remastered, but also a disc of live rarities, remixes and b-sides. One of my favorites is the Daniel Lanois-produced "Mind Games," a cover of the John Lennon song. and Sinéad's voice is perfect for this version. Lennon would proud of the way she sings the original title of the song, "Make Love Not War," over and over on the fade out. O'Connor also adds a little Jamaican flavor to a faithful cover of Gregory Issacs' "Night Nurse."

If there was any doubt about the greatness of Sinéad, press play and listen to the dynamic fire in her passionate voice in this acoustic version of "Troy" recorded live in London. Also available on the bonus disc of I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, this is reason enough to buy the reissue. When she sings, "I'll remember it/ every restless night,"you are there reliving it all. Fucking amazing!

Let's not forget some of the gems from the original album that made I Don't Want an electric listening experience. Sinead brought the noise on the memorable rock anthem "The Emperor's New Clothes." (Listen for the killer bass lines from former Smiths member Andy Rourke.) We can't forget the sizzling "Jump in the River" with bullets firing the single that dropped before the album's release. Who could forget the time Sinead once claimed "Rap is the folk music of this generation." You can hear O'Connor incorporating a hip-hop feel with the James Brown back beat sample on the very lovely and potent Frank O'Connor poem "I Am Stretched Out on Your Grave."

I Don't Want was and still is a very diverse album that changed music within the confines of these timeless songs. We owe a lot to Sinéad. She proved to her label, the music world and every artist that writing from the heart, no matter how personal, will connect with every man, woman and child on the planet and she did with I Don't Want What I Haven't Got. She inspired me and continues to today. Sometimes it's difficult to reflect your own voice within your own personal canvas but Sinéad proved it's the only way to be true to yourself as an artist. This is still a bold and delicate album that grows stronger and more beautiful with age. More than a work of a vilified anti-hero on a t-shirt or on a video screen, I Don't Want What I Haven't Got is the album where Sinéad found her voice. It was not only hers but the voice of a generation who searched for love, honesty and devotion in an uncompromising nature that only Sinéad O'Connor could bring to life.

Adrian Ernesto Cepeda


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Review: PJ Harvey and John Parish: A Woman a Man Walked By

My review of A Woman a Man Walked By can be found (click here) on

PJ Harvey and John Parish
A Woman a Man Walked By

Unfortunately for John Parish, fans of multi-talented Polly Jean Harvey often overlook his contributions when collaborating with the songstress. It's just a simple fact: the singer that gets most of the recognition. Look at Bright Eyes—songwriter Conor Oberst gets all of the laurels while instrumentalist Mike Mogis creates all the visually inspiring soundscapes for his singing counterpart to craft his lyrical magic. Oberst frequently acknowledges Mogis' role in the band, but for the most part Conor gets all the glory. The same goes for Harvey, whose A Woman a Man Walked By is not a proper solo album. We are so used to Polly doing it all on her own that when we hear singing, we assume it's 100 percent Harvey, all the time.

Multi-instrumentalist Parish has produced some of the most electrifying atmospheric sonic textures for Polly Jean to create her intimate lyrical rhymes. A Woman is a breathtaking effort with equally sinister and sweet, seductive sounds coming from my favorite siren. Parish brings the good stuff with his searing guitar riffs especially in the explosive opener "Black Hearted Love." When Polly Jean sings, "I'd like to take you to a place I know…" we, as her devoted audience, are sure to follow her. This is what makes "Black Hearted Love" the perfect introduction as Polly Jean's vocals invite us to follow them down the rabbit hole beneath this new rhythmic canvas.

Ever since the opening salvo of greatness was struck in her debut single "Sheela-Na-Gig," we devotees of Polly Jean have been with her every step of the way throughout the progression of her career, as heard in the dynamic Rid of Me, the dramatic Stories from the City, the cinematic Is This Desire, the bare melancholy of Uh Huh Her and the haunting melodies of White Chalk. Parish makes Harvey fans roar with gratefulness by reuniting Polly Jean's voice with his electric guitar. But A Woman is not just a ten song axe fest; think of this as Harvey and Parish following the Radiohead post-Kid A/Amnesiac method. Starting with Hail to the Thief the band reincorporated the guitar back into their repertoire, but didn't completely abandon the creative elements of their most recent musical experimentation. Parish gave Harvey minimalist musical textures in songs like "A Soldier," with Harvey's ghostly vocal that would have fit perfectly on White Chalk.

One of my favorite songs on A Woman has to be Parish's Krzysztof Komeda inspired rhythms of "Leaving California." This song has an eerie Rosemary's Baby-esque vibe which Komeda famously composed for director Roman Polanski's classic thriller in 1968. Harvey's poignant vocal reminds me of Mia Farrow's character from that same movie. "California" is very cinematic and one of Parish's musical triumphs. He should be writing music for films. Harvey even claims that his music for a college production of Hamlet is what inspired their first collaboration Dance Hall at Louise Point.

Fans of Harvey's classic Rid of Me will recognize the "50ft Queenie" shock from Parish's electric riffs on the climactic title track. Oh how we have missed that lusty seductress spitting vulgar rhymes of yesteryear. Parish then mixes the title cut with a locomotive-inspired instrumental, "The Crow Knows Where All the Little Children Go."

A Woman displays the ultimate blend of their strengths: Parish's melodic muscle and Harvey's lyrical intensity. "Pig Will Not" is another vintage Harvey track, with howling vocals and Parish supplying a cacophony of backing riffs and rhythms that match her lyrical fire.

The album closes with Harvey's very beautiful spoken word vocal on "Cracks in the Canvas." Parish's simple harmonium and single chords connect with Harvey's memorable lyric, "Cracks in the canvas look like roads that never end." And just like that the journey that was A Woman a Man Walked By ends. Within the confines of ten incredible songs, Harvey and Parish have surpassed the promise made with Dance Hall at Louise Point.

A Woman a Man Walked By is an unforgettable exploration with John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey as our guides. If A Woman a Man Walked By is any indication, I look forward to their next musical endeavor where Parish will continue feeding Harvey sonic dangers made eloquent by her lyrical genius. In the guise of these songs, these two artists find the way to constantly connect the passionate rhythms of human nature. The emotional resonance of lust and their revealing loves are brought to life by Polly Jean Harvey and John Parish. The ripples of these melodies will linger long after the cracks on their musical canvas have subsided.

Adrian Ernesto Cepeda

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Review: Leonard Cohen: Live in London

My review of Leonard Cohen's Live in London can be found (click here) on

Leonard Cohen
Live in London

I remember standing in the darkness of Tower Records in Lincoln Park, Chicago. We were about to close and walk out the door about four years ago, and I had just read the news that Leonard Cohen was coming out of retirement. Cohen was suing his accountant for embezzling his funds. I was so disgusted that I stopped and turned around to face my closing crew and said, "Who in the fuck would steal from Leonard Cohen?" They looked at me like I was crazy. "Whoever did is going to hell."

Four years later, because of this criminal, we are blessed in witnessing the return of a living legend. Leonard Cohen is touring again. If you're like me and can't afford to go see Mr. Cohen in concert because you're feeling the aching effects from this current financial crisis, you'll be will be happy to know that there is an alternative—a double live CD and DVD called Live in London. This may be the closest I will come to hearing or seeing Mr. Cohen on stage, but what a delight this live document is.

It's hard to believe that Mr. Cohen is 75 years old, because his voice sounds resurrected and alive in this London setting. You would think someone who has been robbed by someone he once trusted would feel some kind of animosity, but not Leonard Cohen; he has a graceful and humorous presence on stage. You can tell he's having the best time on the road during this time.

From the opening strands of "Dance Me to the End of Love," you realize that this isn't just another live album for the sake of album sales. I myself considered purchasing this concert collection, because four years later I can't believe that someone would steal from this saintly poet. Now that I have it, Live in London is one of the best live CDs I've ever had the pleasuring of owning. I have to say it's up there with Bob Marley's 1975 Live at the Lyceum, in the same setting in London. Those Londoners sure know how to appreciate the great ones.

All the old favorites from Leonard Cohen's vast and eternal canon are represented on Live in London. One of my favorites is Mr. Cohen's poetic recitation of "A Thousand Kisses." Sounding like a universal poet laureate, the way his deep voice recites this classic will send shivers throughout your musical soul. Cohen also shows the music world who originally wrote and recorded his classic "Hallelujah." Leonard brings it back home in the voice we know and have loved for all of these years. "Sisters of Mercy" soars angelically in this live setting. Speaking of angels, the Webb Sisters shine with Cohen as they take on "If It Be Your Will."

I do have a few complaints, however. Some of the backing vocals are turned up too much and at times may seem to be mixed higher than Mr. Cohen's voice. There's one too many sax solos. I would have loved to have seen and heard an all-acoustic show, but Cohen does have an awesome backing band whose arrangements equal Leonard's legendary vocal delivery.

So if you're not going to have the opportunity to go see Leonard in concert, you must go out and invest in the next best thing, this breathtaking double CD collection, Live in London. Just hearing Cohen's voice coming out of your headphones will soothe and inspire you as it makes your year. Powerful and poetic, Leonard Cohen returns, and we all are witnesses. Don't you dare miss out.

Adrian Ernesto Cepeda

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: Marianne Faithfull: Easy Come, Easy Go

My review of Easy Come, Easy Go can be found (click here) on

Marianne Faithfull
Easy Come, Easy Go

Throughout her elegantly infamous career, Marianne Faithfull has lived her life through songs with this creed: "Music is best when it's sexual…and if it's not there's something wrong." This is why I have adored her for so long. In my ears, Faithfull today is sexier than she has ever been. To me it starts with the voice. Nothing is sultrier than the voice of a chanteuse, and Faithfull is one of the originals. Since the '60s she's been taking on cover songs like "As Tears Go By" so fluidly, like slipping on the sexiest dress, she inhabits these songs and eventually takes them over, making them her own.

She hasn't stopped since her comeback with 2002's Kissin' Time, and its fabulous follow up, Before the Poison. Faithfull has become Bowie-esque by surrounding herself with modern day collaborators like Beck, Polly Jean Harvey and Jarvis Cocker. With her latest Easy Come Easy Go Faithfull has shown that she is a timeless siren, seducing us with her memorable vocal prowess that continues to excite and astound us with her unique style that oozes sensuality.

Easy Come Easy Go is Faithfull's collaboration with legendary composer, curator and producer Hal Willner. Willner orchestrated Marianne's first major sonic return with 1987's Strange Weather. More than 20 years later, Willner and Faithfull have teamed up to tackle a new set of songs, modern and classic alike to give them an everlasting feel with Marianne's alluring voice as our sensual guide.

With Willner's assistance, Faithfull set out to capture the feel of a collection of songs from her past and some post-modern selections to inhabit with her passionate presence. Easy Come Easy Go starts off with Marianne's very eloquent interpretation of Dolly Parton's "Down from Dover," but Faithfull's version becomes more than a country cover. With the help of Willner and his magnificent backing band it's more of a jazz-filled glory, with shades of bluesy guitar riffs that fuel Faithfull's vocal of luscious longing.

From the outset you will hear that Easy Come is quite the eclectic endeavor with Willner's decision to use an all star selection of session musicians to back up Faithfull with the grace and desire that her voice deserves. It's this dynamic combination that makes Easy Come a climactic success.

Not only did Willner pull together the best band, but he also assembled a collection of heavyweight vocalists. You may recognize the backing vocals of one Ms. Chan Marshall on Marianne's splendid cover of Neko Case's "Hold On, Hold On." Although I would have loved a straight and proper duet between Chan and Faithfull, just like she did on Beck's Modern Guilt album, Marshall's voice fuses perfectly with Marianne's throughout this organ-filled cover. It's incredible the way Marianne becomes the protagonist in "Hold On." Listen as Faithfull sings,

"In the end I was the mean girl
Or somebody's in-between girl
Now it's the devil I love
And that's as funny as real love

You'd swear she's singing about her own life. But that's the power in her performance, the way she inhabits Case's words and reflects them with her own personal world. If you get the feeling that the arrangement has a Bad Seeds, end of the world vibe, you're right, thanks to the explosive electric violin solo by Cave's right hand man Warren Ellis.

Faithfull goes the classic route with her very voluptuous cover of Duke Ellington's "Solitude." Guitarist Marc Ribot's wailing guitar riffs match Marianne's tempting torch song vocal that's perfect for a late night candle-lit dinner for two. Put this song on, start a little slow dancing and you will feel the inspiration.

With help from Nick Cave, Marianne takes on The Decemberists' "The Crane Wife 3." Marianne's captures the emotional resonance of the songs theme when she sings "I will hang my head low." No offense to Colin Meloy, but her vocal delivery makes her the perfect candidate to sing this song. She makes this character come alive. She becomes real; you feel all of her vulnerabilities throughout Marianne's aching vocal. Just like Johnny Cash did with Trent Reznor's "Hurt," Faithfull's version is the definitive one.

Cash and his late creative resurrection with Rick Rubin is the perfect foil for Faithfull's current resurgence with Willner. Both singers took words from modern day troubadours and gave them their distinctive touch. Even songs that should be somehow out of their vocal reach became effortlessly flawless under their unique vocal direction. Cash did it with Danzig's "Thirteen," Faithfull does it with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's "Salvation." Sean Lennon's guitar and vocal escort Marianne on this exceptional cover. When Faithfull sings, "Do you feel alive?" this becomes more than a cover, it's a personal anthem and a symbol for her creative rebirth.

Unfortunately if you purchase the American version of Easy Come Easy Go you will not be hearing this cover and a plethora of others. The release on Decca U.S. only gives you half the story. I recommend you dishing out for the three-disc import version (2 CDs and one DVD documentary on the making of the album). My fiancée gave me this for Navidad. Eighteen songs from my favorite chanteuse reflect the best gift I got last year. Not only is "Salvation" missing but so is Faithfull's cover of Sarah Vaughan's "Black Coffee" and her incredible duet of "Somewhere (A Place for Us)" with Jarvis Cocker. Invest in the super deluxe edition, think of this as a directors cut, more Marianne for your money.

If you're on a budget like the rest of us, the American version of Easy Go does include covers of Morrissey's "Dear God Please Help Me" and her awe-inspiring duet with Antony Hegarty on Smokey Robinson's "Ooh Baby Baby." I can't forget her collaboration with Rufus Wainwright on "Children of Stone" and the countrified cover of Merle Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home" with Keith Richards. "Home" sounds like two friends crooning this classic at an empty dive bar, ready to call it a night. It's a very intimate performance between two friends with who were closely connected professionally in the swinging '60s.

How do I love Marianne's voice, let me count the ways? The 18 songs on Faithfull's Easy Come Easy Go easily place it up there as one of the front runners for album of the year. Are ready to feel her sensual vocal touch? Dim the lights, pour a glass a wine and light a cigarette. She will ravish you from beginning to end of this spectacular album.

Adrian Ernesto Cepeda