Archive for November, 2010

Photo caption contest: Animal Farm

Erland and the Carnival (Photo courtesy of Vanessa Galvin)

It’s that time of year again. No, not Christmas. And sorry Mr. Sandler, I don’t care how many songs you’ve written, it’s not Hanukah yet either. It’s time for another photo caption contest.

This week’s photo is of British folk rockers Erland and the Carnival, but as you can see the group’s affinity for farmyard-inspired masks leaves plenty to the imagination. So, dear readers it is your turn once again.

For the next week, the Northeast Underground will be accepting entries via this post’s comment section for our latest photo caption contest. Winners will be announced on December 4, so check back soon to see if your effort makes the grade.

As always, keep it clean and have fun. There’s plenty more where this came from.

Happy captioning!



Happy Thanksgiving: Alice’s Restaurant edition

Alice's Restaurant (Album cover courtesy of Arlo Guthrie)

Ah, Thanksgiving. By now lucky reader your belly is surely full of turkey. While football plays in the background, your Uncle Mel is fast asleep on the couch. And, your mom, grandmother, and old high school basketball coach are gathered in the dining room sipping coffee with their pumpkin pie. Tomorrow your big sister and her friends will head down to the mall for Black Friday, but today it is time for rest.

However, before the tryptophan kicks in completely we at the Northeast Underground are keeping the feast going the only way we know how, with music. And what better tune for the hungriest of holidays than Arlo Guthrie’s classic protest anthem “Alice’s Restaurant.”

See Arlo Guthrie perform his best-known song here:

Hippies sure know how to celebrate, but before you get up to grab a second helping of your aunt’s deep-fried turducken listen to these words of wisdom from comedian Jon Stewart:

I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere (at least I think so), but even if there is not Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!


Girl Talk releases new album, manages to ‘break Internet’

All Day (Album cover courtesy of Girl Talk)

Fresh on the heels of announcements for his 2011 world tour, Greg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) unexpectedly released his newest album, “All Day,” online November 15. Unfortunately, for those eager to grab a copy for themselves numerous problems arose when attempting to download the free release. In fact, demand for the album was so great that excited fans temporarily overwhelmed the server at Gillis’ record label Illegal Art.

According to MTV News Gillis said,

“Since I woke up, it’s been insane, just endless messages and so-and-so person wants to talk to you today. And then, people haven’t been able to download it, because the site has been down, which I’m sorry for, so, yeah, it’s been a crazy-ass day.”

Still, for those lucky enough to grab a copy of “All Day,” reviews have been consistently positive.

Philip Cosores at Consequence of Sound says:

“As far as advanced reviews or hype, “All Day” doesn’t need it. You know whether you’ll like this album before you even listen to it.”

Elsewhere, a trio of “mashed-up” interns at Paste Magazine claim:

“At his best, Gillis’ combinations are better than even the sum of their classic parts. Even the strictest punk-rock purists have to smile hearing the Ramones up against Missy Elliott or Iggy Pop duking it out with The Beastie Boys.”

While building off the formula first introduced to the world on 2006’s “Night Ripper,” Gillis’ newest mix is an instant party album that is as engaging as it is fun. Though some may be put off by “All Day’s” steep 71 minute running time, listeners who hang on for the ride will find surprises around every corner. Whether it is Ludacris rapping over Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” or the inclusion of ‘90s faves the Toadies, part of the secret joy in experiencing the album is naming the samples as they fly by in furious fashion.

Yet, for all the potential his latest work holds perhaps the greatest area of impact for Gillis could be on the Billboard charts. Not in sales of course, Girl Talk is still too much of a fringe act for that, but what of the possible effect on popular artists and musicians?

Listen to an extract of “All Day” track “Let it Out” here:

Can one even imagine a world where top 40 songsters clamor to have their material chopped up into an alternate form for hungry music fans in search of a new morsel or treat? Imagine no more. That time is rapidly approaching, whether record companies and labels like it or not. And, I for one eagerly await the results.

To download “All Day” online for free visit

For more information on Girl Talk and future tour dates please visit,,,, or


Emily’s Toybox and “Pill”: Side effects may vary

Pill (Album cover courtesy of Emily’s Toybox)

Although it is typically the practice of music writers to cover the newest releases, there are times when older material resonates more powerfully. Simply put, nothing beats a classic. And, for every individual there are those significant touchstone records that accurately define a moment in time or the passing of a particular event.

For example, maybe you had your first kiss while slow dancing to Journey’s “Faithfully.” Or, maybe you drowned your sorrows while wailing along to the tune of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts.” No doubt there has been a soundtrack to accompany most of your life’s memorable moments.

For me, my late teens and early-twenties will forever be associated with the band Emily’s Toybox. Although popularly labeled as a “cover act” or self-crowned as “the band that fucks your mother,” this Pennsylvania-based group’s unique spin on a variety of classic songs, as well as their delightfully inappropriate original numbers and stage act, provided a catharsis of sorts for my group of friends and I as we embarked on our first tentative steps towards adulthood.

Relationships were formed by attending live performances. Other fans were recruited to our side by a fierce process of indoctrination, more often than not involving copious amounts of alcohol, and long harangues about how one just had to “see them in person man.” New experiences were had and shared. But above all else was fun. We became disciples ingrained with the gospel of the party, and nothing else mattered as long as a good time was had by all.

By the time the group released their record “Pill” in late 2005, our loyalty was without question. When confronted by the group’s decision to part ways with their longtime bassist Leon Karpovich, we readily accepted the newcomer, Matt Kyle, the moment he burst into a comical rendition of Styx’s “Come Sail Away” sung entirely in the voice of Cartman from South Park. Still, there was also the small matter of the music itself.

Pained by their pigeonholing as a cover band, Toybox often used their self-released material to try new things or craft crowd-pleasing anthems that usually ventured on the more risqué side of poor taste. Tracks like “Fuck You,” “Phuck Filly,” and “Beat the Fuck Out of My Friends” sound vulgar, but manage to walk the fine line of being sing-able, while also simultaneously offending any sensitive person within earshot.

Photo courtesy of Emily’s Toybox

Similar to their past work, the rhythms Toybox employs on “Pill” vary from punkish to near-hardcore and even venture into R&B and mock-pop. Catchy guitar riffs drive the momentum of each number, while the bass and drums remain in tight lock-step throughout. Elsewhere, searing leads by wild-man/ guitarist Todd Sensenich occasionally grab the spotlight, but always remain musically in line with the rest of the piece.

Standing out above all else are the vocals of front man Mike Wise. He screams, he croons, he raps. He even breaks out a near-embarrassing falsetto on “Fuck You Too” that oddly plays to the song’s strengths. It’s a manic performance that is never less than engaging, and all the more surprising given the grim tone of the album’s lyrics.

The subject matter of “Pill” appears harsher than the rest of Toybox’s catalog because the anger behind the words is almost palpable. Whether writing sympathetically of a soldier friend as a “Casualty” or portraying the government as a “Meat Machine” that eats up individuals in the name of progress, Wise and company drop their class clown personas momentarily to tackle issues straight out of the headlines.

Unfortunately, what was once rousing now makes portions of the record sound dated. Even though the album is a scant five years old, its references to the conflicts going on in Iraq and Afghanistan are inextricably pinned to the moments they were written. As a historical document, such instances are acceptable practice. However, for current work the sentiments expressed may too often fall on deaf ears and numb brains. Yet, through it all the charm of such a record (and group) is not lost on me.

See Emily’s Toybox perform fan favorite “Your Girlfriend is Pretty Ugly” here:

I count Emily’s Toybox still amongst my personal favorites, and their impact on my life remains immeasurable. Though as music writers we may seldom stoop to recognize such acts, since they aren’t “hip enough” or on the “cutting edge,”  they are continually worthy of our attention. If only as remembrances of times gone by or memories long since faded to legend, bands like Emily’s Toybox are the building blocks in one’s musical education. Oh yeah, and they sort of rock too.

For more information on Emily’s Toybox and future tour dates please visit Or, check the group out on Facebook at

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Reggae originators Toots and the Maytals invade Pearl Street

Toots Hibbert (Photo courtesy of Lee Abel))

Reggae and non-reggae fans alike were treated to a living legend Friday night as Toots Hibbert, the iconic leader of Jamaica’s own Toots and the Maytals, brought his group’s unique groove to the ballroom at the Pearl Street Nightclub in Northampton, Mass.

The show was part dance-party and part history lesson with the charismatic Hibbert playing the dual roles of band leader and educator.  

“I told you I was going to be your teacher this evening,” Hibbert said to the crowd part-way through his two-hour plus set. “But I never thought you would be this brilliant.”

The crowd, which grew to capacity over the course of the show, appreciably ate up the antics on stage even when matters took turns for the unpredictable. For example, almost half a dozen songs into the set, a visibly frustrated Hibbert suddenly threw his microphone to the stage after repeatedly motioning for the sound engineer to adjust his levels. However, neither the audience nor the rest of the band missed a beat during the tense moment, and the party continued while heated words were exchanged.

Still, in between ground-shaking anthems and Hibbert’s own humorous attempts at dancing, similar technical problems repeatedly plagued the remainder of the performance. Feedback from the microphones was a sporadic issue, even for powerhouse openers the Fear Nuttin’ Band, and after donning an acoustic guitar late in the night Hibbert continued his battle with the engineer by making numerous visits to the sound board to complain about his instrument. Eventually, a member of the Maytals’ staff appeared to take over sound duties as the engineer on hand threw up his hands in defeat almost half an hour before the show’s conclusion.

True Love (Album cover courtesy of Toots and the Maytals)

Yet, drawbacks aside, Hibbert and company still managed to deliver a remarkable endurance test of sorts for those looking to skank the night away. While playing fan favorites like “Pressure Drop,” “54-46 Was My Number,” as well as covers of “Louie, Louie” and “Take Me Home Country Roads” got the assembled masses swaying exuberantly along to the beat, hazy jams and frequent displays of band dynamics tended to go on longer then they should have. Again and again Hibbert would quiet the music, only to bring it quickly back up for another thrilling crescendo or moment of audience participation (hand claps were a particular favorite).

Eventually, with midnight in the rear-view mirror and those still standing looking noticeably exhausted, Toots and the Maytals left the building amidst raucous cheers and the clearing of several strange clouds of smoke. They may not have burned the house down this time, but for those in attendance the heat will no doubt remain for days to come.                

Toots and the Maytals with openers the Fear Nuttin’ Band performed Nov. 12 at the Pearl Street Nightclub, 10 Pearl St., Northampton, Mass., (413) 584-7771, For more information and tour dates please visit or

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Photo caption contest: And the winner is…

Monotonix (Photo courtesy of Giles Smith)

As promised, we at the Underground are proud to announce the winner of our first ever photo caption contest.

Congratulations to fellow blogger Ryan Robb at the Hip-Hop Report for his submission:

“Wilson! Wilsonnnn!!!”

Truly, short and sweet was the way to go this time but please check back in the future for more contests and chances to win.

As for the actual story behind the picture itself, the image is actually of Tel Aviv garage rockers Monotonix.

The group recently performed at SXSW, and will release their second full-length release “Not Yet” on January 25 courtesy of Drag City Records.  

See video of the band’s chaotic stage show here:

For more information and tour dates please visit or

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Shawn Mullins ‘lights up’ Iron Horse in Northampton

Shawn Mullins (Photo courtesy of Michael Wilson)

For many career musicians, the challenge of staying relevant to the ever-changing taste of listeners is a lifelong struggle.

While some individuals/ bands attempt to alter their style in order to suit an audience’s mood of the moment, others stubbornly stay the course and slowly fade into the background of public consciousness, or make a living as an underground favorite. However, there are also a rare few who eschew changing the nature of their work but undergo transformations of a more personal nature.     

One of these fortunate souls is singer/ songwriter Shawn Mullins. Though most popularly known for his 1998 breakthrough hit “Lullaby,” Mullins has maintained an enduring career on the fringe, recording 11 albums, and working with fellow musicians like Matthew Sweet and the Zac Brown Band.

The Underground recently caught up with Mullins before his show at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Mass., and asked him his thoughts on music today, songwriting, and what it’s like being a new father. Here’s what he had to say:

 Q. Your newest album, “Light You Up,” marks your eleventh release. How have you managed to stay so productive/ successful for all these years?

A. Well I’m not qualified to do much of anything else for one, but I think I’ve stayed busy with the writing by allowing it to come when it comes. As far as success goes, I think the trick is having your own measure of what success really means. I don’t really mark my success by record sales and hits songs but more by how much of myself I put in to the art.

Q. Also, on the new album you have noticeably opened up your songwriting process by including numerous co-writers. How has this experience changed the way you create music? What are some of its benefits? Drawbacks?

A. It hasn’t really changed the why I write, but by writing with other writers you get another perspective of what you are writing about. As for the benefits of co-writing, I have a lot of fun doing it. It’s kind of like putting together a crossword puzzle with someone you like to hang out with. My favorite part of co-writing is when you get to that place in the song where you are stuck on a particular word or phrase and you both are a part of finding it. The main drawback to co-writing is that once in a while you write with someone and it’s just not a good match.

Shawn Mullins' new album "Light You Up" out October 12.

Q. Speaking of changes, you recently experienced the birth of your first child. What has the past year been like in your new role as a father?

A. Well, it’s definitely different. It changed my outlook on almost everything. I find myself wanting to tour less than I have in the past and I feel a higher level of responsibility. I don’t feel like it’s changing the way I write songs at all. He’s just giving me more to write about.

Q. Your song “Lullaby” famously chronicled life on the west coast, yet you make your home in Georgia. While the influence of both locales is evident on the new album, how do you reconcile the differences between such opposite places in your music?

A. Well first of all, I write a lot about the places that I travel through and the people I meet. “Lullaby” is simply a story – part fact and part fiction – and it probably took an outsider’s perspective to write that song. Especially, the last verse that compares the seedy underbelly of Hollywood to Nashville. My last album, “Honeydew,” was mostly written about Atlanta and the new south. There’s only one “Georgia’” song on the new CD, “Catoosa County,” which is a civil war song. Most of the latest album is set in L.A., but that wasn’t really done on purpose. It wasn’t meant to be a theme. It’s just the way it all came out. I guess geography and setting [are]  pretty major ingredient[s] in my songs.

See the video for “Lullaby” here:

Q. A standout track on the new album is “The Ghost of Johnny Cash.” Did you ever get the chance to meet Johnny while he was alive? And what has his influence been on your life? Do you have any other figures in your life that have influenced you as well?

A. I never got to meet Johnny Cash. I’m a big fan though. I sometimes wonder if people really know how much he influenced rock ‘n’ roll as well as country music. I know Kris Kristofferson pretty well. He’s the ultimate songwriter’s songwriter, and he’s told me some great stories about Johnny. I met Kristofferson in 1995 and gave him on of my records. A few months later, I was sitting at home trying to write and the phone rang. It was Kris. He started quoting lines from one of my songs, and that pretty much blew my mind. Here was my hero quoting my lyric and calling me a great songwriter! That really boosted my confidence at a time when I desperately needed it. We’ve hung out several times and swapped songs. Hanging out with Kristofferson is just as amazing as you think he would be. There are other influences, but he’s always been the biggest for me. That song, “The Ghost of Johnny Cash,” was written by my friends Chuck Cannon and Phil Madeira. It’s the only cover song on the new record. It’s the ultimate tribute and tip of the hat to the man in black.

Q. You find recent chart success via your collaboration with the Zac Brown Band on “Toes.” Have you ever considered branching out into other genres, even those outside the realm of predictability, in order to expose your music to new audiences? If so, what? If not, why? Please explain.

A. Yeah, I’m open to writing any kind of music. I love all good music regardless of genre. Country music is an obvious one because it’s not that different from what I normally write. Some people say you have to “dumb it down” when you write a country song. Tell Kristofferson that! His biggest hits were country songs, and they’re brilliantly written. No matter what type of music it is, you want to communicate so that your audience gets it. I don’t assume that they’re not smart enough to get my meaning. It’s my job as a songwriter to write a song that speaks to the listener and makes them feel something. It’s not about genres to me. It’s about writing really good songs. That’s always the goal.

 Q. Tell us about some of your best and worst gigs. With a career as long as yours, does anything surprise you anymore?

A. My worst gig ever was at a club in Las Vegas, well not exactly. It was outside Vegas, not on the strip. I got heckled, which doesn’t happen too much to me. Anyway, this heckler was doing his best to ruin my show, and all of the sudden this woman jumped up and started giving him hell. It was pretty great. She totally shut this guy up, and the whole audience gave her a standing ovation. I guess that could count as one of my best gigs too now that I think about it. I don’t have a lot of bad gigs. The crowds are usually with me, and the most that can go wrong is a power outage, which has happened a few times over the years. In those situations, I just unplug and sing the rest of the concert totally acoustic. That can turn a potentially bad gig into something really special.

Mullins (Photo courtesy of Michael Wilson)

Q. Though many will forever associate you with a particular song, what else can listeners expect at one of your shows? What might they not expect?

A. If you think about it, most recording artists are known for one or two songs. I don’t mind that a bit. I’m glad to be known for any song I’ve written and recorded. But I like to change it up a bit at my concerts. Sometimes after my shows, people that have never heard me play live tell me that it was different than what they expected. I may do a country song or an old standard from the 1930s. Also I tell a few stories throughout my set. People shouldn’t expect pyrotechnics, dancers, auto-tuned vocals or backing tracks. It’s an acoustic show. I don’t pretend to be anything other than a singer and songwriter. Sometimes I get to play with my band, and that’s a really different show than my solo concerts.

Q. Do you have any advice for others out there, who are seeking to make music their vocation? Do you have any warnings?

A. My only advice to those who want a career in music is don’t be in it for the money. If that’s your reason for writing music or performing or recording, then you’re in trouble. Don’t ever do it for the money. Why? Because most great artists don’t make a lot of money. It’s the publishing companies, record companies (although these days, not so much), lawyers and managers who really earn the most money in this business. If you want to be a musician, be a musician. If you want to be rich, you’d better try something else. These days you can do just as well independently as you can as a signed artist, but you have to be willing to work really hard. Learn as much about the business of music as you can, and try to keep the art separate from all that stuff, that’s the hard part.

Q. Lastly, in the past you have had the privilege of having your music used on television shows and in feature films. And many listeners today hear new music for the first time through these mediums. What is your opinion of this process? What effects do you think this innovation might ultimately have on the way people hear/ find new music in the future? 

A. It’s definitely a big part of what makes music popular. But it has been for over 50 years already if you think about it. There weren’t rock stars before television. But the Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand and other television shows helped launch the careers of the greatest pop stars of the 20th century. It’s an old model with a fresh coat of paint on it. I don’t really see it as a new thing at all. But now there are more ways to be heard and seen, and I guess that’s a good thing.

Shawn Mullins performed November 4 at the  Iron Horse Music Hall, 20 Center St., Northampton, (413) 586-8686, For more information and tour dates please visit


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