I partook in my first livestream show in several months yesterday afternoon: Juliana Hatfield from the Q Division studios in Boston. She played her 1998 Bed album from top to bottom, plus a few contemporaneous b-sides and “Staying In” from Weird, her 2019 outing, as non-encore encores. One thing that made it cool: She recast those electric songs into acoustic marvels. Another thing that made it cool: her dog Charlie lumbered into frame toward the end. (My Shuffled Life has an excellent recap.)

It got me to thinking back to what was a truly magical evening: When Diane and I saw Juliana and Evan Dando at the World Cafe Live in our stomping ground of Philadelphia – 10 years ago tonight (Jan. 24th) as I write. Like last night, it was an acoustic affair.

The calendar shows that the night in question was a Monday, which means Diane likely took the train into Philly while I drove in from Radnor, where my office was located. Late at night or on a weekend, the trip generally takes 20 minutes, but rush hour can turn the ride into a grueling slog that takes forever. It was also a cold, cold day and and slightly not-as-cold night, with the temperature clocking in at 9 degrees (Fahrenheit) when I rolled out of bed at 6am and climbing to a balmy (all things being relative) 25 degrees by 6pm.

We ate dinner at the World Cafe Live Upstairs, then took our front-row seats in the main room. (You can see the backs of our heads as the video starts – that’s us in the first two seats to the right of the middle aisle; I ‘m wearing a baseball cap.) Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, who has since truncated her name to just Lady Lamb, opened and, honestly, threw me for a loop at first, as her deep, blues-drenched vocals didn’t match her tiny frame. I enjoyed her set enough, however, that I picked up her CD (and got it autographed) after the show. 

No matter how good or bad an opening act, of course, the reason for attending most concerts is the headliner: In this case, Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield. Evan looked like mountain man Grizzly Adams, while Juliana could well have stepped from the pages of a fashion magazine. When their voices blended together, they stopped time.

The set spanned both of their careers, from the Blake Babies to Juliana’s oft-overlooked (and under-appreciated) 2010 album Peace and Love. What I found cool: Juliana often sang along silently on Evan’s songs. One highlight: “Somebody Is Waiting for Me.” Others: “Into My Arms,” with Juliana taking lead; “It’s About Time”; “Tourist”; covers of the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” and Gram Parson’s “$1000 Wedding” (if only for Diane’s scream after the first line); “It’s a Shame About Ray”; “So Alone”; and…well, watch the video – which contains the concert in full – for more. (It’s mis-marked as the 28th.)

After the show, Juliana, Evan and Lady Lamb lingered in the lobby for a spell, answering questions and signing autographs. I mentioned to Juliana that she and Evan should release an album together, as they sounded so good together, and she replied, “Maybe we will.” (Or words to that effect.) I’m sure she was just humoring me. 

When I arrived home, I posted this to Facebook: “Juliana Hatfield and Evan Dando = hands down, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Utterly mesmerizing. (Didn’t hurt that we were front row center, with Juliana literally 10 feet away from us.) “It’s About Time,” “$1000 Wedding,” “Somebody Is Waiting for Me,” and tons more. AND opening act Lady Lamb the Beekeeper was spellbinding. Plus, we got to meet Juliana and Lady Lamb!” A good time was had by all, in other words.

1970 is likely remembered, at least within the U.S., for what came to be called the Kent State massacre. On May 4th, Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on college students protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War to Cambodia, killing four and wounding nine. It spurred an in-progress student strike at some 450 college campuses – which had begun on May 1st, the day after President Nixon announced the expansion – to explode. What had been a primarily peaceful movement flirted with violence, especially when 100,000 anti-war activists descended upon Washington, D.C., the following weekend. The anger was real and can be heard in the ardent strains of CSNY’s “Ohio.”

A month and change later, on June 19th, Diana Ross released her eponymous solo debut, which sports a soulful pop sheen that may seem miles removed from the revolution brewing on college campuses. But, at least from where I sit, it was – in its own way – revolutionary all the same: “Reach out and touch/Somebody’s hand/Make this world a better place/If you can…”

Working with writer-producers Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson for all but one of the 11 tracks, she crafts a set that both reflects and transcends its time. Some songs, such as “You’re All I Need to Get By” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” were recycled from other Motown artists; others are original to the album. No matter. By the time the tracks were set to wax, they were hers. It’s not a statement of purpose, but a declaration.

Of course, most everyone knows the basic outline of Diana’s story: Born in Detroit, her name was and is Diane everywhere but her birth certificate, where it was listed as “Diana” by mistake. At age 7, her father relocated the family to Alabama after her mother was felled by illness, but they returned to the Motor City in 1958, when she was 14. At that point, her dream was to become a fashion designer – but she was also flirting with music and soon joined the Primettes, whose other members included Florence Ballard and, in time, Mary Wilson.

In 1960, Ross convinced childhood neighbor Smokey Robinson to arrange an audition for the group with Motown; Berry Gordy liked what he heard but, after learning their ages, told them to finish school first. They signed with another label instead, released a single that went nowhere, and then began to hang out at Hitsville, doing this ’n’ that (aka backing vocals and handclaps) before, in 1961, officially joining the fold. Rechristened the Supremes, they languished at the bottom of Motown’s hierarchy until late 1964, when “Where Did Our Love Go” topped the pop charts – the first of 11 singles to do so. Intra-group (and intra-label, for that matter) tensions soon surfaced due to Berry Gordy’s infatuation with Ross, however, especially once he decided to do what it took to make her a star.

As I noted a while back, the final No. 1 single by Ross and the Supremes, the Johnny Bristol-produced “Someday We’ll Be Together,” was originally slated to be Diana’s debut single – and was actually recorded without the other Supremes. Its success, along with the ad-hoc Cream of the Crop album, pushed plans for her solo debut to the following year (plus gave Gordy more opportunities to milk money from her exit, including the live Farewell double-LP set that was released in January 1970.)

By the time of her solo debut, she was 26 – and, yet, still deemed a “girl” by legendary Hollywood hack writer Leo Guild in a 1970 newspaper series that spotlighted (I’m not making this up) “black beauties.” (One excerpt from the article about her: “She has a peculiar ambition in that she wants the general public not to think that she’s a symbol for the blacks. She wants them to accept her as just a groovy girl.” She’s also quoted as saying, “I don’t think anybody needs a sex symbol. That’s out of date. I’d rather be thought of as someone with brains and maybe have a little sex appeal in back of them.”) It wasn’t just the mainstream press that could be so callous, either; Rolling Stone wasn’t exactly a bastion of feminist thought and pretty much ignored artists of color. Part of that was the era, of course, but – to my ears, at least – it’s the casual affront to those attitudes that gives her debut its revolutionary zeal.

Although it’s probably best known as the original album home of two of her classic singles – “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – it’s not a stereotypical singles-and-filler Motown album. Over the course of the 11 tracks, she’s independent, affectionate, confident and aware. Something’s on her mind, in other words, that’s been troubling her a long, long time…

Did I mention that, vocally speaking, she’s at the top of her game? Although I dispute the assessment, it’s sometimes said of her work with the Supremes that her vocals are light and frothy, essentially the frosting atop a layered cake. There’s none of that here. Her vocals are full and developed, driving the lyrics instead of riding them. You hear her smile, hear her frown. She pulls you into her world.

If you haven’t heard the album, definitely check it out. It sounds as fresh today as it must have in 1970 and is a true essential album – alongside her 1976 eponymous and 1980 Diana albums. (The 2002 “deluxe version,” I should mention, adds a bunch of bonus tracks, including two Laura Nyro songs that stem from unreleased sessions with 5th Dimension producer Bones Howe, and is available on all the usual streaming services.)

The track listing:

And for those curious: Here’s the newspaper article referenced above… if nothing else, it shows how far we have come in the past 50+ years. (Each section can be clicked on to enlarge; it was too lengthy to fit into one, unfortunately, so you’ll have to hop between the two images.)

Here’s something from my digital attic: A review from the original Old Grey Cat website, circa 1999, that focused on an out-of-print CD few had heard then and even fewer have heard now. A few months prior, I stumbled across it in the same overly bright CD store I mentioned in my take on Juliana Hatfield’s Bed. I likely payed a dollar for it.

One note: My CD went the way as most of our other CDs at the end of 2018, when we sold them prior to our move to North Carolina, but I still have and listen to the MP3s on occasion. Because of that, and the fact that there is no evidence of the CD online, the graphics are remnants of the late ‘90s, when the standard display for computer monitors was 800 x 600 pixels (and many monitors could only display the previous standard, 640 x 480). Which is to say, what looks small now looked normal-sized then.

One other note: I’ve lightly edited the piece. I had a propensity for using expletives in print back then, but – aside from an occasional “damn” or “hell” – find doing so rather gauche now. (Call it a curse of growing older.)

And another note: I discovered an article (written by one John Morgan) about the band in the Sept. 12th, 1997, edition of VMI’s student-run newspaper, The Cadet. I’ve included that after my review, as it fills in several blanks, including the band’s history.

A final note: Four or five years after I uploaded the review to my site, one of the band members emailed me to thank me for it. He had stumbled upon it and was surprised that anyone beyond their circle had heard and liked the album.  

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“R.I.P.: Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

That was going to be my title for this review. Why? Bands come. Bands go. It’s the cardinal rule of rock ‘n’ roll: For every group that makes it, tens of thousands fail to get any farther than the garage. And even those that manage to make it to the driveway…there’s no guarantee. They’re just as likely to end up flipping burgers at the local fast-food joint as they are to make money from an independently financed and released CD, if they choose that route. In a very real sense, talent means nothing. How many great bands never get beyond the local dive?

From all accounts, the Whethermen were a happenin’ band in and around William & Mary, that fine institution of higher education in Virginia. Notice that I used the past tense there. They were a happenin’ band. They broke up earlier this summer – I don’t know the specifics, but I’d wager the parting had less to do with music and more to do with graduation.

Fare thee well, Whethermen.

This CD, then, recorded and released in 1997, serves as a lasting testament to their talents. I know, I know. I can hear it now: Why spotlight a two-year-old CD by an obscure band that’s kaput? I’ve asked myself that time and again since And Let Me Tell You Something… came into my life a few months back. I’d put it on, groove to it and think: Should I write about this? There are so many – too many – CDs that come my way. Why take my time with this? And especially when I look around the site. There are too many sections that I’ve started and stopped, intending to return but…I get pulled away. Distracted.

By CDs like this.

To the point: And Let Me Tell You Something…ain’t no over-produced hunk of aluminum. It’s alt.country minus the twang, similar in that the music has a pulse. You can feel it thump-thump-thumping as clearly as the heart in your chest.

Consisting of Knox Hubard (vocals, guitars), Jesse Chappell (bass, fretless bass, harmonica, penny whistle) and Dave Murawski (drums, percussion), their sound is relatively straightforward, with the focus where it should be: the songs. They remind me somewhat of Velvet Crush, circa Teenage Symphonies to God. This is a bit more acoustic, though. “Hey You,” the opener, jumps right in: “What she give you for the number? What she give you for the time?” Fact is, it’s a great kickoff to what proves to be an excellent album “Shari,” the disc’s third track, is another memorable tune. “Hold your breath and just reach out your hand/Shari…how’d you get so alone?” It’s a call to a friend, one suspects, but really it doesn’t matter. It’s as much about me as it is you, a personal message expanding to become a metaphor. And, as David Crosby says, metaphors are the driving force behind great songs. Here, the songs blend together – always a good sign – and become inseparable, one leading into the next, linked together by texture but differentiated by themes and tempo. The album is best heard in one sitting, standing, party, etc., with each song building upon the previous. It’s an “album” in the grandest sense of the word. One of the best moments, “Execution,” starts softly, Hubard offering a plaintive vocal. “To crawl away from justice/was to succumb to fate…” The pieces fit together here, a gradual layering effect that adds to the mood the song creates. “You still got a heart,” Hubard pleads and exclaims at once.

It’s a shame that the Whethermen have broken up. That’s about all I can say. God knows where you can find the CD, now. But, if by chance you happen across it – don’t think twice; it’s alright. Plunk down your hard-earned change and enjoy…

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Like many a rock nerd, I became infatuated with Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend in late 1991. Shimmering electric guitars and hooks a-plenty mixed together like morsels in a magical power-pop elixir that simmered atop the dying flames of ‘60s idealism. That unsung guitar heroes Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine (the former of Television, the latter of Lou Reed’s early ‘80s band) were whipping the white noise made the concoction even more tasty. Sweet’s fatalism, fueled by a failed marriage, rang as loud as the guitars. It was and remains a great album.

Altered Beast (1993) – his next album – sharpened the cynicism while trading the Beatlesque overtones of Girlfriend for a more overt Neil Young vibe – and the Son of Altered Beast EP (1994), which featured a handful of live tracks, upped the Neil quotient by including a cover of “Don’t Cry No Tears.” I played both a fair bit at the time and included tracks from each on various mixtapes.

My memories of 100% Fun (1995), however, are far more hazy; for whatever reason, the music simply didn’t connect with me – no doubt because of me, not it. Maybe if he’d released another album the following year, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but by the time he put out his next set, in 1997, I had moved on. As one does. The next times he popped up on my radar, and the only albums of his I’ve since purchased, are the three Under the Covers albums (2006, 2009 and 2013) he made with Susanna Hoffs.

I share that because I am not now, nor have I ever been, an omniscient music critic (though I did, for a short spell, sell reviews) who knows every artist’s oeuvre inside and out. I like what I like and write about what I like. So when I say that Catspaw, Sweet’s 15th solo set, is a damn good outing, believe it. Like Girlfriend, it contains high-octane guitars and hooks galore. And like Altered Beast, it occasionally veers into the darkness.

Another thing that old music geeks like me may appreciate: Playing “Name That Influence” with some songs. “Give a Little,” for instance, conjures Mott the Hoople. 

He recorded the album in his home studio in Nebraska, playing all the instruments except for the drums, which were handled by Velvet Crush’s Ric Menck. The guitars are upfront and in your face, which is always a plus, but what I enjoy even more are the little things. “Drifting,” for example, contains a guitar pattern (more noticeable via headphones) that conjures the Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” while the ending channels the Beatles. It’s quite cool. 

I went for a brief drive earlier today, cranking Catspaw. In a flash, I was in my mid-20s and behind the wheel of my old car, simultaneously optimistic and cynical about the future. While all tomorrow’s parties have not come to pass (though some days it may seem that way), there are fewer of them left. if, like me, you drifted away from Sweet at some point in the recent or even distant past, give his latest a go. It’s a 40-minute trip well worth taking.

The track list: