Somewhere north of Apache Junction, there's a long road leading to a rock on the edge of the Salt River that Jesse Elliott still needs to see.
For a songwriter who makes the most out of near-endless traveling, that rock represents just another one of those tempting little side roads in life.
"When I find myself in Phoenix I will drive straight east on the freeway til I hit Apache Junction, take the largest road that I can find / Avoiding any obstacles, I will focus on the present, I will melt into the desert, I will sense everything around me deeply / Finding the Salt River, sitting on a rock," sings Elliott on "Vince," a track on These United States' self-titled album.
The song came to him in the form of a note. An old friend from middle school turned up out of the blue at a show These United States were playing in North Carolina. At the end of the night, he handed Elliott a note saying good-bye, but also advising that Salt River detour.
"It was more or less the start of the lyrics and I thought it was a funny premise for a song," Elliott says.
These United States' fifth album is a self-titled road map of sorts, celebrating life on the road, capturing the sense of freedom in motion and toasting those quirky places and people you can only get to know first hand. -- Eric Swedlund
The saxophones and trumpets came two by two, followed by guitars, bass, and drums, with a vintage keyboard steering the ship. Waves of sound washed over the ensemble and groovalicious music played for 40 days and 40 nights. When the last cymbal crash faded away, the Funk Ark sat high upon the mountain of righteous vibes, and there was much rejoicing and boogieing.
With a name like Funk Ark, one would think this is how the band's bio would read. Although it doesn't, the band is a blessed gathering of funk musicians partaking in a diverse array of styles -- wonderfully on the same song. On High Noon, the Washington, D.C., group's latest release (produced by Adrian Quesada of the Grammy-nominated Grupo Fantasma), the music takes the best of African, Latin, and homegrown funk idioms -- from Fela Kuti's Afrika 70 to James Brown's JB's, the Fania Allstars to Ramp, Tower of Power to Ocote Soul Sound -- and churns out an alternating gritty, greasy, gyrating groove that, in today's standard thump-and-bump funk scene (think George Clinton) is entirely fresh, contagiously moving, and decidedly original. Imagine that Fela's Afrobeat gestated in Cuba or James Brown hailed from Venezuela and, well, that's Funk Ark. -- Glenn BurnSilver
Old 97's should have hit it big in the late '90s, when fellow alt-country bands like Whiskeytown were riding the No Depression wave to success. Over the course of their 18-year career, Old 97's (named after a Johnny Cash cover) have toured consistently with the original lineup.
And although they never reached breakout status, primary singer Rhett Miller and the Old 97's have successfully built a dedicated fan base -- on the strength of their revved-up live shows, which showcase songs from their powerhouse alt-country albums like Too Far to Care and Fight Songs and their later works, such as the pop hook-heavy Satellite Rides (2001). Fans and critics appreciated the return of the Old 97's to Americana, which remains their dominant style. They are currently touring in support of The Grande Theatre, Volume Two. -- Melissa Fossum
Few musicians polarize critics like Neil Diamond, but love him or hate him, you can't deny his ability to write unforgettable pop numbers. Just consider how many of Diamond's songs have become standards and then, as covers, became standards again. While trying to catalog such a list, we discovered a number of forgotten covers you, like us, probably haven't heard. Check 'em out.
"America" by Daddy Yankee
We're still hoping this one hits the airwaves soon. Reggaeton artist Raymond "Daddy Yankee" Ayala became an international star with "Gasolina," but he's still trying to establish himself as a true crossover success. This bombastic cover of Diamond's beloved ode to the immigrant seems like a surefire way to do just that, especially given the fact that Senator John McCain is a fan . . . right? After all, they appeared on stage together . . . right? To be honest, we kind of expected Daddy Yankee's "America" to become McCain's theme song. Would've been a real maverick move . . . right?
"Captain Sunshine" by Elliot Smith
Most Elliot Smith fans are aware of how his vision for his final recording From a Basement on the Hill was supplanted by his family and former producer/engineer Rob Schnapf after his suicide. Less known is the fact that a Converse box full of four-track acoustic recordings was found in his car's trunk -- the most curious (and ironic) among them is a raggedy, morose, and yet strangely optimistic cover of Diamond's "Captain Sunshine." Though not widely disseminated, combing music-sharing sites can sometimes reveal this affecting cover listed as a track by Diamond himself even though Smith's warm, melancholic voice can hardly be mistaken for the Jewish Elvis'.
"Kentucky Woman" by the White Stripes
Long before Jack White revealed he had a thing for a real Kentucky woman, Ms. Loretta Lynn, he and Meg covered Diamond's "Kentucky Woman." And why not? The Stripes have covered everyone from Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan to Burt Bacharach and Dolly Parton. One small hitch: Their Diamond cover was a comical 1990s Halloween-night show in Detroit performed by Jack in full spandex and sequin regalia. Look for the video on YouTube.
"Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" by Clay Aiken
Seeking to build a fan base for Aiken not primarily composed of overweight pre-teen girls, RCA hatched a plan in 2003: inject some manhood into the then-sexually ambiguous "American Idol" runner-up. A cover of Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" was recorded and a video shot, but the dark sexuality Diamond had infused into the song wound up neutered by Aiken's soaring voice and inability to glower. In fact, the video features Aiken crawling into bed with a young "virgin" who, even as he awkwardly prepares to make her a woman, can't help but squirm next to his effulgent smile. "This Is the Night" was quickly recorded instead and debuted at number one on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
Note to readers: Don't try looking for these covers too hard. We're obviously just having a good time, which is all Diamond's music is really about. -- Cole Haddon Thursday, August 30: Static-X @ Rocky Point Cantina
If you're a Static-X enthusiast, then you'll probably like Pighammer, the latest album from Wayne Static.
Actually, when Wayne Static founded Static-X, his original vision was the concept of Pighammer--more electronic and industrial, not based on live performance. Imagine plenty of the evil disco, compressed guitars and hazy vocals, smothered in the electronic treatment, with the same metal DNA as Static-X.
Released on October 4, 2011, on Static's own Dirthouse Records, Pighammer isn't much of an evolution, but that's not what fans are looking for anyway. In his first single, the hyper-glamorized "Assassins of Youth," Wayne recalls back to 2007 when he locked himself in a hotel room for an entire drug-addled month; a song that has now taken on an entirely different meaning for him since he wrote the second half of it clean.
But judging Wayne Static by his cover--or comparing his work to the rawness of Nine Inch Nails or the dark dirges of White Zombie--would prove to be a waste of time. He knows what his fans want and he's been delivering it for more than a decade. However, it can't be denied that Pighammer could provide a pretty kick-ass soundtrack to a Zombie Strippers sequel.
Up On The Sun sat down with Wayne Static to talk about the influence of Crown Royal, whippets and Joshua Tree, hair maintenance, and how his 14-year legacy has brought him to Pighammer.
Up On The Sun: Your first-ever solo album, Pighammer, came out October 4. You've said that for 10 years you've been wanting to do a solo record, but as the main songwriter for Static-X, it wasn't really possible. How was this writing and recording process for you?
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Wayne Static: It was very refreshing actually. With Static-X, it would take months to do the writing and instrumentals, and then by the time it came around to do vocals I'd hate the song already. I was sick of it. So this was refreshing because I wrote and recorded at the same time by myself and didn't have to compromise with anyone. In a strange type of way, this was the vision I had when I started Static-X, this evil disco, electronic feel, rather than a live band. So it has come full circle. -- Lauren Wise