“Three Songs” by Man Fighting Bear (2018)

The new EP by Chicago-based Man Fighting Bear (“Three Songs”) sees them sustaining the moody vein of their terrific 2015 album “Waiting” and they continue to impress.  While “Waiting” had the vibe of a post-John Cale Velvet Underground mixed with King Crimson and Nick Cave, “Three Songs” reminds me more of “154”-era Wire, especially on “Sand Turns to Glass” and “Stars Align.”  Equally melodic and edgy, there’s a sense of eloquent dread permeating these songs that remarkably never lapses into nihilism.  “Three Songs” oftentimes takes you to the edge of despair, but always holds out hope for something better. “Three Songs” is emotional without being maudlin, realistic without being cynical, and hopeful without being naive. It’s tremendously mature and very cool.  Dave says “Check it out!”

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“John Cale” 1998 BBC Documentary

Here’s yet another terrific BBC documentary … this time about one of my favorite musical/cultural icons, John Cale.  People tend to think that Lou Reed was the dark lord of the Velvet Underground, but these same people often forget that once Cale left the group, the Velvets recorded the considerably more mellow self-titled 3rd album and “Loaded.”  On his own, Cale continued to record beautiful, but frequently disturbing music, as well as producing some of the most influential bands of all-time (Nico, The Stooges, Patti Smith, The Modern Lovers).  A fantastic overview of one of the most under-appreciated geniuses of modern music.

“The Velvet Underground and Nico: A Symphony of Sound” (1966) dir. Andy Warhol / Paul Morrissey

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Here is some classic footage of the Velvet Underground jamming out circa 1966, courtesy of Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey. Considering that very little footage exists of this seminal band … and the fact that both Warhol and Morrissey thought enough to film this … makes this essential viewing. Put your shades on and groove, baby!

“Paris 1919” – John Cale

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This is the title track from John Cale’s elegant solo album, released in 1973. Backed by members of Little Feat, “Paris 1919” feels like an album for a lovely summer afternoon, light and airy and a big departure from his highly disturbing (but brilliant) next three albums he recorded for Island Records. One of the few musicians who can glide so seamlessly between the sacred and the profane and neither side seems out of place.

“Hallelujah” – John Cale

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This Leonard Cohen song is almost becoming a cliche in terms of being covered by singers trying to be “serious” or “spiritual.”  But it’s still a great song. Jeff Buckley’s 1997 cover is probably the most famous of all the most recent versions, but I prefer John Cale’s take. Cale’s cover was the version that was featured rather prominently in the first “Shrek” film. Hearing Cale’s inimitable Welsh voice sing this while watching a very mainstream family film was an odd, but very cool experience when I saw “Shrek” in 2001.

“Guts” (Live in Seattle KEXP-FM’s studio, 12-5-12) – John Cale

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Holy … f–king … s–t! This is a beyond incredible rockin’ version of one of John Cale’s best and most intense songs, done live in the studio for KEXP-FM in Seattle in December 2012. This was originally recorded in 1975 for his “Slow Dazzle” album, and was allegedly about Cale’s extremely angry and homicidal thoughts about a colleague of his who hooked up with Cale’s then-wife. You’ll notice in this nearly 40-years later version, Cale changes the pronoun on the infamous opening line from “my” to “his.”

Please keep in mind that the man intensely rockin’ the mic is over 70 years old. The fact that I share Welsh blood with this man gives me hope for my impending “golden years.”

“Someone I Care About” – The Modern Lovers

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Jonathan Richman and his band the Modern Lovers were a real anomaly in the early 1970s. Like many singer-songwriters of the era, Richman wrote very sensitive lyrics that wore his heart on his sleeve. But those lyrics were backed with some uncommonly abrasive music for the period (supplied by future Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison and future Cars member David Robinson). In addition, Richman’s songs decried drugs and promiscuity at a time when no one had even thought of the term “straight edge,” let alone thought it was cool. When you add his unfashionably short hair and nasally vocals into the mix, he seemed like the guy who was begging for noogies and wedgies.

But despite his “uncool for the time” demeanor, Richman was as ballsy as Iggy Pop and Lou Reed (two artists Richman admired) and like Pop and Reed, seemed to invite abuse by his mere presence. “Someone I Care About” is Richman’s declaration about wanting a girl that he cares about, or he wants nothing at all. A marked contrast to many bands of the era promising to give women every inch of their love or wanting their women hot, sweet, and sticky. Richman may not be cool in the classic rock sense, but the perspective is refreshing and a lot more sane.  Produced by John Cale of the Velvet Underground.

“Chickens–t” – John Cale

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A common misconception is that Lou Reed was the Prince of Darkness in the Velvet Underground. While Reed is pretty dark, many would argue that John Cale was the real dark one in the VU. Don’t believe me? Look at the Velvet Underground’s output once Cale left the group. With Cale, the Velvets recorded “Heroin,” “Venus in Furs,” “White Light/White Heat,” “Sister Ray,” and “The Gift.” Post Cale: “What Goes On,” “Jesus,” “Sweet Jane,” “Rock and Roll.”

Cale can dress things up beautifully with orchestral arrangements and lilting vocals (his best known song is arguably his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” from the “Shrek” soundtrack) . But during the mid-late 1970s, Cale let his freak flag fly with some brilliant, disturbing, and very heavy stuff. “Chickens–t” is from Cale’s lesser-known post-Island records period, more specifically the 1977 EP “Animal Justice.” A wonderfully malevolent and sinister hard rock masterpiece.