Saturday, December 4, 2004

A mighty fine collection between pals


Mighty Fine Wine's fourth CD offers its best work to date


By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU
December 3, 2004

SCRANTON - Mighty Fine Wine has found its groove. Three years after the release of its first CD, the hard-playing, hard-drinking rock 'n' roll blues band seems to be hitting on all cylinders. The live shows cook. The songs jell. The vibe is evident.

“Everybody has their own individual job, and everybody does their part in making one great sound,”' says bassist and vocalist Timmy Hopkins. “That's what we do. We try to find ways to make it all blend together by understanding who's in the limelight at one particular time. There's no egotistical behavior. There's no ‘It's about me.' It's about us, and it's about the song, and you put the song first.”

The band's fourth CD,  “Vino Vidi Vici,” is its best work to date. It will be released Saturday at a special CD-release party in Scranton. It also will be available at Gallery of Sound stores Tuesday. The 13-song collection was recorded at Sound Investment studios in Scranton, with additional mixing and mastering in New York City and Florida. Tracks include “Junk,'”  “I Am Somebody,”  “Dedicated,''  “Two of a Kind” and “Skult.''

Hopkins says the band, which also includes John “Fud” Zavacki, Jay Noble, Bill Orner and Bob Schappert, has been blessed with the support it's received from the local music community. He adds that people might connect with the band simply because they see the connection between its members.

“When we're on stage, there's definitely a chemistry between us,” he says. “That's why we play music together. And obviously that chemistry that we have transcends.”

Hopkins says he has no problem with the band's hard-living reputation. If anything, he embraces it.

“I have four brothers that I'm stuck with, and we have fun together on stage and off stage,” he says. “That's who we are. We work hard, and we (expletive) play hard. When we play music, we play as hard as we possibly can, and when we let loose, we let loose.”

 Hopkins gives props to bands such as Breaking Benjamin and The Badlees, who have taken their careers and their music to  “another level.” He hopes Mighty Fine Wine will do the same.

“It took us a while to get that groove and that sound that we wanted,”  he says. “But now that we've got it, we're trying to build on it even more.”

---------------------------

WHO: Mighty Fine Wine, with Okay Paddy
WHERE: Moonshine Theater, 335 Adams Ave., Scranton
WHEN: Doors at 8:30 p.m., music at 9 p.m.
TICKETS: $10 in advance, $12 at the door
INFO: www.mfwmusic.com
ON THE RADIO: Mighty Fine Wine will appear Sunday on `Music On The Menu Live.' Showtime is 9 p.m. on WDMT-FM, 102.3 - The Mountain.

 (This story was first published in The Times Leader on December 3, 2004. Tim Hopkins passed away five months later.)






Friday, April 9, 2004

COBAIN'S GIFT



MUSIC, IMPACT CLEAR DECADE AFTER DEATH

By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU
April 9, 2004    

Ten years ago this week, Kurt Cobain was found dead in a room above the garage of his Seattle home. He had placed a 20-gauge shotgun to his head and chosen to end his life.

Cobain was 27 at the time, just a few months older than I, and though some considered him the spokesman of my generation, I never connected with him, nor his band, Nirvana, that much. Truthfully, I just didn't understand him.

He seemed to carry his fame and Nirvana's commercial success like a cross, yet wasn't it he who signed a big record deal with a major label? Wasn't it he who appeared in those expensive music videos?

If he had chosen, Cobain simply could have kept playing Seattle's clubs, but, at least initially, he tried to become a rock star, and when "Nevermind" sold 10 million copies, it seemed he'd gotten just what he wanted.

But he didn't want it. And I didn't get that, nor did I get too excited about his band's sometimes gloomy persona.

I grew up seeing very charismatic bands in concert that were not only great musicians, but also great showmen. Yet Cobain, the biggest rock star in the world and the recipient of much critical acclaim, also was one of the the so-called angst-filled "shoe-gazers." These were the groups - and there were others from the Seattle grunge scene - that seemed like anti-entertainers.

Some said the grand performers of the '80s were too indulgent, but to me, copping a "we'd-rather-not-be-here" attitude while on stage before a house full of fans was equally self-absorbed.

And so, at least initially, I didn't get Kurt Cobain.

After his death, and even in the months leading up to it, some media reported he had suffered from depression, which was completely foreign to me then. How could a seemingly happily married man with a beautiful baby and the founder of the biggest band in the world be depressed, I and many others asked. But now, 10 years later, after seeing depression up close, I no longer judge him on that. It is a serious condition and very real, and no matter how pretty a picture you might paint of your life, it can still consume you.

Even though it seemed so cowardly at the time, I now have some understanding and even some empathy for Cobain in the way he ultimately decided to deal with his condition. Condone it? No. Understand it? Yes, partially.

Considering how silly and formulated some hard-rock music had become by the time Nirvana released "Nevermind," I also can now better understand Cobain's approach to both his music and even his live presentation. Nirvana - and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, who I thought were much better bands - gave rock music a swift and hard kick in the tail just when it needed it. They were energetic yet without the pretense and, save for the commercial explosion of hip-hop, there hasn't been a musical movement like it since.

Grunge offered change, and Cobain was at the forefront. He mattered.

I get that now, and I get him a lot more.

The night his body was found, I was at Market Street Square seeing a band called Tribes. They were one of the biggest groups in town at the time and specialized in covering the big alternative sounds of the day. About 2 a.m., as the night was winding down, they played Nirvana's  "Heart Shaped Box," which I always thought was their best song.

It was a moment I've always remembered and one I now hold with some fondness.

Someone asked me last week if Cobain's death marked the end of the grunge movement. Probably not. It would have come anyway. By the mid-'90s, "shoe-gazing" and bands like Silverchair, Bush and even Stone Temple Pilots, whom some considered Nirvana and Pearl Jam copycats, were already getting some backlash. And I'll never forget the day I saw a mannequin in Boscov's dressed in flannel.

Grunge, despite its purest intentions, was not immune to corporate America. It had become fashion, and fashion always dies.

Cobain missed most of that. Maybe that's how he wanted it. He will always be 27, blond-haired and wrinkle-free, and rather than be remembered for all the silly things some bands that stick around too long are sometimes remembered for, he's remembered for what mattered to him most: his music.


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(Originally published in The Times Leader on April 9, 2004. To follow Alan K. Stout's musings on music, visit www.facebook.com/musiconthemenu.)

Friday, January 2, 2004



WITH 'LET IT BE,' LESS IS MUCH, MUCH MORE

January 2, 2004

By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU

Paul McCartney was indeed right.

McCartney has always said that he dislikes The Beatles' “Let It Be” album, mainly because of the strings and orchestration added to the original sessions, which were tacked on by renowned knob-twirler Phil Spector after the Fab Four decided to scrap the project. To McCartney, simpler was better, and he's been quoted as saying he simply hated what Spector did to some of the album's tracks, particularly his own “The Long and Winding Road.''

Now, with the recent release of  "Let It Be ... Naked,'' the world can finally decide for itself whether Sir Paul was right, and we can hear some of the songs as he had originally hoped and intended.

As anyone who's ever seen the "Let It Be'' film can attest, the album-in-making documentary shows a disjointed band that had grown greatly apart, but the album - even with Spector's lush tweaking - always did a fine job of masking such internal problems and letting the music shine.

"Naked,'' however, does so even better.

Here, the band sounds marvelously tight, and there's a fresh energy and warmth to the tracks, which have been remixed and digitally fine-tuned. It's just John, Paul, George and Ringo, original producer George Martin and some keyboard work from Billy Preston, and unlike the film, the vibrant recording gives no indication that the group is in its final stages.

(Only "Abbey Road,'' the band's true swan song, would follow.)

“It's a beautiful CD,” said Ringo Starr in an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year, after he first heard the “`Naked” remixes. “Paul was always totally opposed to Phil, and I told him on the phone, 'You're bloody right again. It sounds great without Phil.' Which it does. Now, we'll have to put up with him telling us over and over again, `I told you so.' "

In the same interview, original "Let It Be" engineer Glyn Johns went as far as to say that Spector  “puked all over'' some of the album's tracks and added that: “If you hear `The Long and Winding Road' without all of that schlock on it, it's fabulous just as it is.''

Indeed.

What's most striking when listening to the stripped down version of  “The Long and Winding Road'' is the beauty of the piano, which was completely lost in the Spector mix and perfectly accents the sadness of the song's lyrics. The `"Naked'' version also features a different vocal track than that of the original “Let It Be'' album. Here, McCartney sings, “Many times, I've been alone, and many times I've cried, anyway you've always known, the many ways I've tried,'' rather than ``anyway you've never known, the many ways I've tried.''

The changing of one simple word changes the meaning of the entire verse, and in some ways, changes the feel of the entire song.

There's also a stronger sense of soul on numbers such as “I've Got A Feeling,'' and of band unity on tracks like tracks like “Don't Let Me Down,'' where Lennon and McCartney, whose personal relationship was already strained, can be heard singing together in perfect harmony. The sequencing of songs is also superior to that of the original and provides for a much better sense of flow and balance.

Personally, I've never minded Spector's “schlock'' that much, and have always named “The Long and Winding Road'' as my all-time favorite Beatles number, but after listening to “Naked,'' it seems that the band's bassist may have indeed known best.

With these wonderful tracks, Spector simply should have abided by the album's title.

He should have let them be.

WITH 'LET IT BE,' LESS IS MUCH, MUCH MORE

January 2, 2004

By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU

Paul McCartney was indeed right.
McCartney has always said that he dislikes The Beatles' “Let It Be” album, mainly because of the strings and orchestration added to the original sessions, which were tacked on by renowned knob-twirler Phil Spector after the Fab Four decided to scrap the project. To McCartney, simpler was better, and he's been quoted as saying he simply hated what Spector did to some of the album's tracks, particularly his own “The Long and Winding Road.''

Now, with the recent release of  "Let It Be ... Naked,'' the world can finally decide for itself whether Sir Paul was right, and we can hear some of the songs as he had originally hoped and intended.

As anyone who's ever seen the "Let It Be'' film can attest, the album-in-making documentary shows a disjointed band that had grown greatly apart, but the album - even with Spector's lush tweaking - always did a fine job of masking such internal problems and letting the music shine.

"Naked,'' however, does so even better.

Here, the band sounds marvelously tight, and there's a fresh energy and warmth to the tracks, which have been remixed and digitally fine-tuned. It's just John, Paul, George and Ringo, original producer George Martin and some keyboard work from Billy Preston, and unlike the film, the vibrant recording gives no indication that the group is in its final stages.

(Only “Abbey Road,'' the band's true swan song, would follow.)

“It's a beautiful CD,” said Ringo Starr in an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year, after he first heard the “`Naked” remixes. “Paul was always totally opposed to Phil, and I told him on the phone, `You're bloody right again. It sounds great without Phil.' Which it does. Now, we'll have to put up with him telling us over and over again, `I told you so.' ''

In the same interview, original “Let It Be'' engineer Glyn Johns went as far as to say that Spector  “puked all over'' some of the album's tracks and added that: “If you hear `The Long and Winding Road' without all of that schlock on it, it's fabulous just as it is.''

Indeed.

What's most striking when listening to the stripped down version of  “The Long and Winding Road'' is the beauty of the piano, which was completely lost in the Spector mix and perfectly accents the sadness of the song's lyrics. The ``Naked'' version also features a different vocal track than that of the original “Let It Be'' album. Here, McCartney sings, “Many times, I've been alone, and many times I've cried, anyway you've always known, the many ways I've tried,'' rather than ``anyway you've never known, the many ways I've tried.''

The changing of one simple word changes the meaning of the entire verse, and in some ways, changes the feel of the entire song.

There's also a stronger sense of soul of numbers such as “I've Got A Feeling,'' and of band unity on tracks like tracks like “Don't Let Me Down,'' where Lennon and McCartney, whose personal relationship was already strained, can be heard singing together in perfect harmony. The sequencing of songs is also superior to that of the original and provides for a much better sense of flow and balance.

Personally, I've never minded Spector's “schlock'' that much, and have always named “The Long and Winding Road'' as my all-time favorite Beatles number, but after listening to “Naked,'' it seems that the band's bassist may have indeed known best.

With these wonderful tracks, Spector simply should have abided by the album's title.

He should have let them be.